I remember the first time I read a Christina Lauren book. Me – who blushes at the word penis – wasn’t sure that I could make it through the pages of Beautiful Bastard. There were things that I had to Google (look, don’t judge – I admit I am a prude).
But as time went on I realized something. Christina Lauren books aren’t all about the sex. They are a love story that has sex. Their stories are about the complexities of relationships; all different kinds of relationships.
Yes, Christina Lauren are master story tellers who leave you yearning for more with every passing word. Now, I have always been a Max girl, but then Dark Wild Night landed on my doorstep and I will admit my loyalties became torn.
Because there is no one like Oliver. No one even close.
Hey every girl has to have a roster – and Oliver definitely has made it onto my book boyfriend roster. So without further ado – we give you the first chapter of Dark Wild Night.
From Dark Wild Night
© 2015 Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings
I MENTALLY DRAW THE panels of the scene before me as we follow the receptionist down the marble hallway: the woman wears six-inch black heels, her legs go on forever, her hips shiftwith each step.
Her hips shift left.
Her hips shift right.
Her hips shift left.
My agent, Benny, leans in. “Don’t be nervous,” he whispers.
“I’m fine,” I lie, but he just snorts in response, straightening.
“The deal is all drafted, Lola. You’re here to sign, not to impress anyone. Smile! Today is the fun part.”
I nod, trying to trick my thoughts into agreement—Look at this office! Look at these people! Bright lights! Big city!—but it’s a wasted effort. I’ve been writing and drawing Razor Fish since I was twelve, and every single second of the fun part, to me, has been creating it. The terrifying part is walking down a sterile hallway lined with glass-front cubicles and glossy framed movie posters to sign a seven-figure contract for the film translation.
My stomach seems lodged somewhere in my windpipe and I go back to my safe place.
Her hips shift right.
Her hips shift left.
Her long legs span from the earth up to the clouds.
The receptionist stops at a door and opens it. “Here we are.”
The studio offices are almost obscenely fancy; the entire building feels like the modern equivalent of a castle. Every wall is brushed aluminum and marble; every door is glass.
Each piece of furniture is either marble or black leather. Benny leads us in with confidence, crossing the room to shake hands with the executives on the other side of the table. I follow him in, but when I release the glass door it swings closed heavily, and the jarring gong of glass abruptly meeting metal echoes through the room—a sound broken only by two startled gasps coming from across the table.
I’ve seen enough photos of myself in stressful public situations in the past three months to know that, right now, I don’t look ruffled. I don’t duck my head and apologize; I don’t slouch or wince even though, as soon as the door slams dissonantly shut, I’m tied into a hundred thousand knots inside.
Apparently, I’m just good at hiding it.
The New York Times gave Razor Fish a brilliant review, but found me “aloof ” during an interview that I’d believed to be spirited and engaging. The Los Angeles Times described our phone call as “a series of long, thoughtful pauses followed by single-word answers” whereas I had told my friend Oliver that I was worried I’d talked their ear off.
When I turn to face the executives, I’m unsurprised to find they both look as polished as the architecture. Neither woman across the table says anything about my less-than-subtle entrance, but I swear the slamming echo reverberates throughout the room the entire time I walk from the door to the table.
Benny winks and gestures for me to sit down. I find a soft leather chair, smooth my dress over my thighs, and carefully take a seat.
My hands are clammy, my heart thundering. I’m counting to twenty over and over to keep from panicking.
The panel shows the girl, chin up, with a ball of fire in her lungs.
“Lorelei, it’s wonderful to meet you face-to-face.”
I look to the woman who’s spoken and take her offered hand to shake. Her hair is blond and glossy, perfect makeup, perfect clothes, perfectly expressionless. From my early-morning creeping on IMDb, I’m fairly sure she’s AngelaMarshall, the executive producer who, with her frequent collaborator Austin Adams, fought to win the rights to Razor Fish in the bidding war I didn’t even know was happening last week.
But her hair in the picture was red. My eyes shoot to the woman on her left, but she has soft brown skin, black hair, and enormous brown eyes. Definitely not Angela Marshall. The only person I’ve seen frequently in magazines and photos is Austin, but there isn’t another man besides Benny in the room.
“Please, call me Lola. It’s nice to meet you . . . ?” I let the question hang, because in normal situations I think this is where the names are exchanged. Instead, the handshake goes on forever, and now I don’t know where to direct my effusive gratitude. Why isn’t anyone introducing themselves? Am I expected to know every name here?
Releasing my hand, the woman finally says, “Angela Marshall.”
I sense that it was some sort of test.
“So good to meet you,” I say again. “I can’t believe . . .”
My thought ends there and they all watch me, waiting to hear what I’m going to say. Truthfully, I could go on for days about all the things I can’t believe.
I can’t believe Razor Fish is out in the world.
I can’t believe people are buying it.
And I really can’t believe fancy people working at this enormous movie studio are making my graphic novel into a movie.
“We can’t believe any of it.” Benny comes to my rescue, but laughs awkwardly. “We’re just thrilled about how this all went down. Thrilled.”
The woman next to Angela gives him the Oh, I’m sure you are face, because we all know Benny made out pretty great in the deal: twenty percent of a lot of money. But that realization pulls the other one with it: I made out even better than he did. My life is forever changed with this single transaction.
We’re here to sign a contract, to discuss casting, to lay out the schedule.
The panel shows the girl, waking up with a start as a steel rod is shoved into her backbone.
I hold my hand out to the other woman. “Hi, sorry I didn’t get your name. I’m Lola Castle.”
She introduces herself as Roya Lajani, and then looks down at some pages in front of her as she takes a breath to start whatever conversation happens in these moments. But before she can speak, the door swings open and the man I recognize as Austin Adams breezes in, letting in a blast of ringing phones, heels clicking down the hall, and voices booming from adjacent rooms.
“Lola!” he says to me in a warm, cheerful voice and then winces as the door crashes shut behind him. Looking to Angela, he says, “I hate that fucking door. When the hell is Julie getting it fixed?”
Angela waves her hand in a Don’t worry about it gesture and watches as Austin ignores the seat next to her and pulls out the chair on my right. Sitting down, he studies my face, smiling widely at me.
“I’m a huge fan,” he says without further preamble, without even introducing himself. “Honestly. I’m just in awe of you.”
“I . . . wow,” I say, laughing awkwardly. “Thanks.”
“Please tell me you’re working on something new. I’m addicted to your art, your stories, everything.”
“My next graphic novel is out this fall. It’s called Junebug.” I sense Austin leaning in excitedly and instinctively add, “I’m still working on it.” When I look back up at him, he’s just shaking his head at me in wonder.
“Is this surreal?” His eyes turn up warmly as his smile softens. “Has it sunk in yet that you’re the mastermind behind the next huge action movie?”
This line, in this situation—where I worry I’m going to hear a lot of empty praise—would normally make me hold my breath in order to tamp down a skeptical reaction, but despite being a big-shot producer and director, Austin already seems so genuine. He’s good-looking but totally disheveled: his reddish blond hair looks finger combed, he’s unshaven, in jeans and wearing a button-down shirt that he’s misaligned, leaving it longer at the hem on the right side than the left. The starched collar is tucked in on one side, too. He’s a very expensive mess.
“Thanks,” I say, balling my hands together so I don’t start to fidget with my earlobe or my hair.
“I mean it,” he adds, leaning both elbows on his thighs, still focusing only on me. I’m not sure he’s even acknowledged Benny yet. My knuckles have gone white. “I know we’re supposed to say that, but in this case it’s really true. I was obsessed from the very first page, and told Angela and Roya we had to have it.”
“We agreed,” Roya chimes in, unnecessarily.
“Well,” I say, struggling to find something other to say than another thank you. “That’s great. I’m glad that it seems to have grabbed a little audience.”
“Little?” he scoffs, leaning back in his chair and glancing down at his shirt before doing a double take. “Motherfuck. I can’t even dress myself.”
I pull my lower lip into my mouth to crush the laugh that is threatening to burst from my throat. This entire situation was sending me into mute-panic territory until he walked in. I grew up shopping at Goodwill, we were on food stamps for a few years, and I still drive a 1989 Chevy. I can’t even process how this is going to change my life, and the sterile Stepford Sisters across the table only add to the foreign atmosphere of the room.
But Austin seems like someone I can imagine working with.
“I know you’ve been asked this before,” he says, “because I’ve read the interviews. But I want to hear it from you, the true inside scoop. What made you start writing this book? What really inspired you?”
I have indeed been asked this before—so many times, in fact, that I have a standard, canned answer: I love the everyday female superhero because she gives us an opportunity to handle complicated social and political imbalances head-on, in popular culture and art. I wrote Quinn Stone as the everygirl, in the spirit of Clarisse Starling or Sarah Connor: she becomes a hero via her own bootstraps. Quinn is found by a strange, fishlike man from another time dimension. This creature, Razor, helps Quinn find the courage to fight for herself and her community, and in so doing, he realizes he doesn’t want to leave her to go home, even when he eventually can. The idea came to me from a dream where a big, muscular man covered in scales was in my room, telling me to clean up my closet. The rest of the day I wondered what it would be like if he really did show up in my bedroom. I named him Razor Fish. I imagined my Razor wouldn’t give a crap about my messy closet; he’d tell me to get the hell up and fight for something.
But that isn’t the answer that bubbles up today.
“I was pissed-off,” I admit. “I thought grown-ups were either assholes or fuckups.” I watch Austin’s green eyes go a little wide before he exhales, nodding subtly in understanding. “I was angry with my dad for being a mess, and my mom for being such a coward. I’m sure it’s why I dreamt of Razor Fish in the first place: he’s abrasive and doesn’t always understand Quinn, but deep down he loves her and wants her to be looked after. Drawing him and how he initially doesn’t understand her humanity but then trains her to fight, and eventually defers to her . . . getting lost in their little story was the treat I gave myself when I finished dishes and homework and was alone at night.”
The room is quiet and I feel an unfamiliar need to fill the space. “I liked seeing Razor start to appreciate the ways Quinn is strong that aren’t classic. She’s scrawny, she’s quiet. She’s not built like an amazon. Her strengths are more subtle: she’s observant. She trusts herself without question. I want to make sure that’s captured. There is a lot of violence and action there, but Razor doesn’t have a revelation about her when she learns to throw a punch. He has a revelation about her when she figures out how to stand up to him.”
I glance at Benny—this is the most open I’ve ever been about my life and my book, and surprise is clear on his face.
“How old were you when your mom left?” Austin guesses. He’s acting like there isn’t anyone else in the room with us, and it’s easy to pretend there isn’t, the way everyone has grown so still.
“Twelve. Right after my dad got back from Afghanistan.”
The room seems to be swallowed by silence after I say this, and Austin finally heaves out a sigh. “Well, that’s shit.”
Finally, I laugh.
He leans in again, eyes insistent when he says, “I love this story, Lola. I love these characters. We’ve got a screenwriter who will knock this out of the park. Do you know Langdon McAfee?”
I shake my head, embarrassed because the way he says it makes me feel like I should, but Austin waves away the question.
“He’s great. Laid-back, smart, organized. He wants to cowrite this with you.”
I open my mouth at this unexpected revelation—me, cowriting a screenplay—and nothing but a choking noise comes out.
Austin keeps talking through my stunned reaction: “I want to talk a lot, okay?” He’s already nodding as if prompting “I want this to be everything you want it to be.”
Leaning in, he smiles and says, “I want you to see your dream come to life.”
“TELL ME THE details again,” Oliver says. “I’m not sure you were speaking English the first time.”
He’s right. I’ve barely caught my breath—let alone remembered how to make words—since I tripped into his comic book store, Downtown Graffick, already babbling. Oliver looked up when I burst in, his sweet smile slowly dissolving into confusion as I spilled a thousand incoherent words and my emotions all over the floor. I spent two hours on the drive back from L.A. on the phone with my dad, struggling to process the rest of the meeting. Not that it really helped because, here, saying it out loud in front of one of my favorite people makes it surreal all over again.
In the eight months we’ve been friends, I don’t think Oliver has ever seen me like this: stuttering and breathless and near tears because I’m so overwhelmed. I pride myself on being steady and unruffled even with my friends, and so I’m trying to get myself together, but goddamn, it is hard.
out of my childhood ideas.
“Okay,” I start again, taking a huge breath and blowing it out slowly. “Last week, Benny called and said something was going on with the film option.”
“I thought he sent it out—”
“Months ago,” I interrupt. “Right. It’s always silence before the explosion, I guess? Because on the drive from his office to their office this morning, he told me it sold in this insane bidding war. . . .” I press my palm to my forehead. “I’m sweating. Look at me, I’m sweating.”
He does look, eyes softening as he laughs, then shakes his head a little before he blinks back down at the box he’s cutting open. “This is unbelievable, Lola. Keep talking.”
“Columbia and Touchstone won,” I tell him. “We drove to the offices and I met some people today.”
“And?” He looks back up at me as he pulls a stack of books out of the box. “Did they impress?”
“I mean . . .” I flounder, remembering how it felt when Austin turned his attention to everyone else in the room, andthe meeting dissolved into a blur of acronyms and under the breath instructions to make note of Langdon’s schedule for the script kickoff and see if we can get the P&L to Mitchell by noon. “Yes? There were a couple people there who were sort of quiet and stiff, but the executive producer—Austin Adams—is so genuinely nice. I was so overwhelmed that I don’t know how much I was processing.” I run both hands into my hair and tilt my head up to the ceiling. “This is all so insane. A movie.”
“A movie,” Oliver repeats, and when I look back at him, I see him watching me with his mysterious, warm blue eyes. He licks his lips and I have to look away. Oliver is both my former husband and my current crush, but it will forever remain unrequited: our marriage was never really a marriage. It was that-thing-we-did-in-Vegas.
Of course, the other two couples who hooked up in Vegas—our friends Mia and Ansel, and Harlow and Finn—are happily married. But Oliver and I occasionally (especially when drunk) like to commend ourselves for being the only ones who did the shotgun Vegas wedding thing like normal people: with nothing but regret, an annulment, and a hangover. Given the emotional distance he’s always kept, I’m pretty sure he’s the one out of the two of us who really meansit when he praises our choice.
“And it isn’t just oh, we like the idea, let’s buy this option and sit on it,” I say. “They bought it and already have a director in mind. We talked about possible casting choices today. They have a big effects guy asking to be involved.”
“Unreal,” he murmurs, leaning forward to give me his undivided attention. And if I didn’t know Oliver better, I would think he just glanced at my mouth. But I do know him better: he just looks at every part of my face when I’m speaking. He is the best listener.
“And . . . I’m going to cowrite the script,” I tell him, a little breathless, and his eyes widen.
“Lola. Lola, holy hell.”
While I launch into a replay of the entire meeting this morning, Oliver goes back to unpacking the newest shipment of comics, looking up at me occasionally wearing his absorbed, little smile. I thought that over time I might figure out what he’s thinking, how he’s reacting to something. But he’s still largely unreadable to me. The loft apartment I share with my friend London is only two blocks away from Oliver’s comic store, and even though I see him nearly every day, I still feel like I spend half the time we’re together trying to work through what he might have meant by this or that single-5P_ syllable answer or lingering smile. If I were more like Harlow, I would simply ask.
“So you’re looking forward to seeing it on the screen?” he asks. “We haven’t talked about this because it all happened so fast. I know some artists aren’t wild about the idea of an adaptation.”
“Are you kidding?” I ask. How can he be serious with that question? The only thing I love more than comics is movies based on comics. “It’s overwhelming but amazing.”
And then I remember that there is an email with seventeen scripts attached in my inbox, for me to read “as reference,” and a wave of nausea sweeps through my torso. “It’s a little like building a house, though,” I tell him. “I just want to be at the part where I can go live in it, and skip all the parts where I have to pick out fixtures and knobs.”
“Let’s just hope they don’t George Clooney your Batman,” he says.
I give him my best eyebrow wiggle. “They can George Clooney anything of mine they want, sir.”
Not-Joe, Oliver’s sole employee and a mohawked stoner we all feel a certain pet-owner level of fondness for, steps into view from behind some shelves. “Clooney is gay. You know that, right?”
Oliver and I both ignore this.
“In fact,” I add, “if George Clooney is ever accepted into the Oxford English Dictionary as a verb, that activity is immediately getting added to my bucket list.”
“As in, ‘Have you ever been George Clooneyed?’ ” Oliver asks.
“Exactly. ‘We went for a walk, and then George Clooneyed until around two. Good night.’ ”
Oliver nods, putting some pens away in a drawer. “I’d probably have to add that to my bucket list, too.”
“See, this is why we’re friends,” I tell him. Being near him is like a dose of Xanax. I can’t help but be calmed. “You would get that George Clooney as a verb would be such a monumental thing that, gay or straight, you’d want a piece of it.”
“He’s totally gay,” Not-Joe says, louder this time.
Oliver makes a skeptical noise, finally looking over at him. “I don’t reckon he is, though. He got married.”
“Really?” Not-Joe asks, coming to rest his elbows on the counter. “But if he was, would you do him?”
I raise my hand. “Yes. Absolutely.”
“I wasn’t asking you,” Not-Joe says, waving me away.
“Who’s the front and who’s the back?” Oliver asks. “Like, am I getting George Clooneyed by George Clooney, or am Idoing the Clooneying?”
“Oliver,” Not-Joe says. “He’s George Fucking Clooney. He doesn’t get Clooneyed!”
“We’re turning into idiots,” I mumble.
They both ignore me and Oliver finally shrugs. “Yeah, okay. Why not?”
“Like, actually losing IQ points,” I interject again.
Not-Joe pretends to grab a pair of hips and thrusts back and forth. “This. You’d let him?”
Shrugging defensively, Oliver says, “Joe, I get what we’re talking about here. I also get what the man-on-man sex would look like. What I’m saying is if I’m going to be with a guy, why not Bad Batman?”
I wave a hand in front of his face. “We should get back to the part where my comic is going to be a movie, though.”
Oliver turns to me and relaxes and his smile is so sweet, it makes everything inside me melt. “We absolutely should. That’s bloody brilliant, Lola.” He tilts his head, his blue eyes holding mine. “I’m really fucking proud for you right now.”
I smile, and then suck my bottom lip into my mouth because when Oliver looks at me like that, I can’t even be a little cool. But it would terrify him to see me swoon over him; it’s just not what we do.
“So how are you going to celebrate?” he asks.
I look around the store as if the answer is right in front of “Hang out here? I don’t know. Maybe I should do some work.”
“Nah, you’ve been traveling constantly, and even when you are home, you’re always working,” he says.
Snorting, I tell him, “Says the guy who is in his store every waking hour.”
Oliver considers me. “They’re making your movie, Lola Love.” And the nickname makes my heart spin in my chest. “You need to do something big tonight.”
“So, like, Fred’s?” I say. This is our usual routine. “Why pretend we’re fancy?”
Oliver shakes his head. “Let’s go somewhere downtown so you don’t have to worry about driving.”
“But then you have to drive back to Pacific Beach,” I argue.
Not-Joe pretends to play the violin behind us.
“I don’t mind,” Oliver says. “I don’t think Finn and Ansel are around, but I’ll round up the girls.” He scratches his stubbly jaw. “I do wish I could take you to dinner or something, but I—”
“Oh, God, don’t worry.” The idea of Oliver leaving his store to take me out to dinner makes me both giddy and totally panicky. It’s not like the building would catch fire if he left here before dark, but it doesn’t mean my body doesn’t feel that instinctive panic. “I’ll just head home and freak out alone in my room for a bit, and then get exceedingly drunk later.”
His smile melts me. “Sounds good.”
“I thought you had a date tonight,” Not-Joe says to Oliver, coming up behind him with a giant stack of books.
Oliver blanches. “No. It wasn’t—I mean, it’s not. We aren’t.”
“A date?” I feel my eyebrows inch up as I try to ignore the growing knot in my stomach.
“No, it’s not like that,” he insists. “Just the chick across the street who works—”
“Hard Rock Allison,” Not-Joe sings.
My heart drops—this isn’t “just the chick across the street” but someone we’ve all remarked upon once or twice for her keen interest in Oliver—but I work to give an outwardly positive reaction.
“Shut up!” I yell, smacking Oliver’s shoulder, and adding in a dramatic French accent, “A very hot date.”
Oliver growls at me, rubbing the spot and pretending it hurt more than it did. He nods to Not-Joe. “She wanted to bring us both dinner, here in the store—”
“Yeah, so she could bang you,” Not-Joe cuts in.
“Or maybe because she’s nice,” Oliver says, a playful challenge in his voice. “Anyway, I’d rather go out and celebrate Lola’s movie. I’ll text Allison and let her know.”
I’m sure Hard Rock Allison is a nice woman, but right now—knowing Oliver has her cell number, knowing he can just casually text her to change some plans they made—I sort of want her to get hit by a train in the blackened-soul way that you want horrible things to happen to the new girlfriend. Allison is pretty, and outgoing, and so tiny she could fit in my messenger bag. This is the first time I’ve been faced with the prospect of Oliver dating, the first time our friendship has been faced with this, at least as far as I know. We got married and divorced in less than a day and it’s clear he was never really into me, but we’ve never discussed dates with other people before.
How should I react here?
Cool, I decide after checking myself. Happy for him.
“Definitely reschedule,” I say, giving him the most genuine smile I can manage. “She’s cute. Take her to Bali Hai, it’s so pretty there.”
He looks up at me. “I’ve been meaning to go there for ages; you love that place. You should come along.”
“Oliver, you can’t bring me along on a date.”
His eyes go wide behind his glasses. “It’s not. I don’t—I wouldn’t,” he says, adding quickly, “Lola. It wouldn’t be a
Okay, so he’s clearly not into Allison. The knot in my stomach uncoils, and I have to stare at the countertop with mighty concentration to keep from smiling.
After a few deep breaths, I succeed.
I look back up at him and he’s still watching me, expression as calm as the surface of a lake in a canyon.
What are you thinking? I want to ask.
But definitely don’t.
“Lola,” he starts.
I swallow, unable to keep from blinking—for just a second—down to his mouth. I love his mouth. It’s wide; his bottom lip and top lip are the same size. Full, but not feminine. I’ve drawn it a hundred times: with lips barely parted, lips pressed closed. With lips curved in his tiny smile or arced in his thoughtful frown. Lips with teeth sharply sawing across or, once, his mouth soft and open in an obscene gasp.
The count of two is all I get before I look back up at his eyes. “Yeah?”
It’s a year before he answers and by the time he does, I’ve gone through a million possibilities for what he’ll say next.
Have you ever thought about kissing me?
Reckon we could go shag in the back room?
Would you ever cosplay Zatanna?
But he simply asks, “What did Harlow say when you told her about the movie?”
I take a deep breath, shutting down the image of him leaning forward and putting his mouth right up against mine. “Oh, I was going to call her next.”
And then what I’ve just said sinks in.
Oliver’s eyebrows go to his hairline, and beside him, Not- Joe makes a high-pitched noise of panic that tells me either the cops are at the door or we’re all going to be murdered by Harlow and it’s my fault.
“Oh, shiiiiiit, why did I do that?” I ask, covering my mouth. Harlow is always the one I tell after Dad. She would kill me if she knew I came here. “What was I thinking telling you first?” I take a step closer and give them both my most threatening face. “You cannot tell her you knew before she did and that I’ve been here for—”
“A half an hour,” Not-Joe interrupts helpfully.
“A half hour!” I cry. “She will cut us into tiny pieces and bury us in the desert!”
“Call her right the fuck now, then,” Oliver says, pointing a finger at me. “I am not prepared to face Harlow with an ax.”