Hollywood, CA, 1943
Pins? Check. Tape measure? Check.
“Hurry up, Miss James. It’s time to go.” Mrs. Charles tapped her toe as Deborah James fished in the basket for her sewing scissors. Stuffing them into her apron pocket, she hurried after the head seamstress, following her across the bustling set to the row of dressing rooms that housed the actors and actresses.
Butterflies careened recklessly in Deborah’s stomach. Her first time on a movie set and here she was about to meet one of Hollywood’s most famous actors. Thankfully, Barbara Charles was one of the most respected costumers in the business, and Deborah was grateful to be under her wing.
The dressing room door swung open at a tap from Mrs. Charles, and Deborah’s breath caught in her throat. Maxwell Russell was just as handsome in person as he was on the screen. With his dashing looks and charisma, more than one person had called him “the next Cary Grant.” Good thing Deborah wasn’t the kind to swoon.
“Good day, Mr. Russell. I am Mrs. Charles, the lead costume designer.” She extended her hand calmly, as if she spoke to gorgeous young gentlemen every day. “I’m here to take your measurements.”
“Very well.” He stepped aside to let them enter. “How long will this take?”
“It should only take a few moments. My assistant, Miss James, and I will get started right away if you will be so kind as to remove your coat.”
The actor shrugged off the garment and held it out to Deborah. She took it tentatively, unsure what to do with it, until a hand reached from behind her to take it.
“Oh, thank you.” She addressed the tall young man who had entered the dressing room so silently she hadn’t even noticed him. Of course, that could be because her attention was focused on Maxwell Russell, who now stood with his arms out, a dark, wavy lock falling rakishly across his tanned forehead. Mrs. Charles’ tape measure stretched across his impressive shoulders as she called out measurements for Deborah to take down.
“Gary.” Maxwell turned slightly to address the new arrival. “Did you get the reservation?”
“Yes, sir, for tonight at six o’clock.”
“Six? I thought I told you no earlier than eight.”
“You did, but that was the only time that was available.”
“Did you tell them who the table was for?”
Maxwell pressed his lips into a thin line, and his intense blue eyes narrowed. “Very well, then.” He let out a long-suffering sigh. “Six will have to do. And did you confirm that Miss Ashton will be available?”
“She will not. It seems she had a conflicting engagement.”
Deborah blinked in surprise at the ungentlemanly word that issued from Maxwell at this news. “I can’t be seen dining alone, Gary. You’ll have to find someone else.”
“All done, Mr. Russell.” Mrs. Charles tucked her tape into her pocket. “Your wardrobe will be ready by this time next week.”
He nodded absently, then his eyes fell on Deborah as if noticing her for the first time, and he cocked his head. “What did you say your name was?”
“Miss James.” She wanted to shrink under his intense stare.
“Well, Miss James, how would you like to accompany me to dinner tonight?”
“I … well, I don’t know what to say.” What should she do? It seemed crazy to decline a dinner invitation from such a handsome, famous man, and yet his unexpectedly harsh demeanor gave her pause. She looked to Mrs. Charles for direction, but the older woman only watched her, waiting for her answer.
“Give Gary your address,” Maxwell instructed, apparently having taken her silence for acquiescence. “I’ll have a driver pick you up at 7:30.”
“I’m afraid I can’t,” Deborah said. “I …” She looked around the room for an excuse. Her gaze landed on Gary, who was watching her. The gentleness in his green eyes, so lacking in Maxwell Russell’s blue ones, drew her in. Much to her surprise, Gary stepped forward.
“Miss James has already agreed to dine with me this evening.”
“Indeed?” Mrs. Charles smirked.
“Yes, we were planning to head to that diner two blocks down for a bite after work.” Deborah stepped forward to take the arm Gary offered her.
Maxwell frowned and crossed his arms. “You mean you would rather eat at that hole in the wall with him than at a three-star restaurant with me?”
She nodded, increasingly sure of that fact with each passing second. Glancing at Gary, she noted a hint of a mischievous smile.
“They have the best cherry milkshakes,” Gary said.
“Fine. I’ll make other arrangements.” Maxwell dismissed them with a wave of his hand. All three of them filed into the hallway.
“I need to speak with the producer,” Mrs. Charles said to Deborah, then she winked. “I’ll give you a moment to finish planning this date. Meet me in the sewing room in fifteen minutes.”
Deborah turned to face her rescuer as Mrs. Charles walked away.
“So, about the diner.” Gary rubbed the back of his neck and smiled sheepishly. “You needn’t feel obligated to uphold that commitment. You seemed uncomfortable, and I wanted to help. I didn’t intend to pressure you into a date.”
Deborah studied him for a moment, taking in his square jaw, straight nose, and wavy auburn hair, and came to a decision. “Gary, I happen to adore cherry milkshakes, especially in the company of a true gentleman. Can I buy you one as a thank you?”
A slow smile spread across his handsome face. “What kind of gentleman lets a lady pay for milkshakes?”
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