Featured Author: Rachel McMillan
Cecily watched the most handsome man in the world (according to RadioPlay) through a world of paint and celluloid attempting to be an Edwardian Mayfair Estate. Beyond the brocade fainting couch and paisley screen, she leaned over a table where cigarette butts squished into half-empty whiskey tumblers.
Tap Buchanan’s (or here, Lord Fitzhenry Montague) square jaw was steady as he swept Daisy Fontaine (or here, Lady Hortensia) into his arms.
“If only I could see you once more on the weekend,” Tap said with middling British elocution. “To explain.”
“Cut!” The director’s clapboard echoed over the soundstage. “Cecily!”
Cecily appeared from behind the screen. “Yes?”
“Trudy, coffee! Cecily, you were hired as a diction consultant, and he still sounds like a corn-fed hick!”
Cecily pulled at her skirt. “We just rehearsed this morning and …”
“It’s my fault!” Tap disengaged from Lady Hortensia and smoothed the smoking jacket that accentuated his broad shoulders, yet was as naturalized on him as socks on a cat. With his blond hair and Midwestern flair, he simply could not play the role of a rakish lord returning from war to the fiancée who’d fallen into another’s arms. No matter how many times Harrowgate-born Cecily attempted to smooth out his consonants and clip his vowels, Tap spilled errors like water.
How this man from Somethingsville, Iowa, won the Vices of Valour lead from British import Miles Huntington perplexed Cecily. Yet she enjoyed their elocution lessons. He often brought her Red Vines from the five and dime, and he always had a terrible joke from Archie Andrews.
“Take five!” The director swerved to motion a roaming spot into place.
Cecily tugged Tap behind the set. “It’s at the weekend. Not on.”
“At the weekend.”
“And we drop our ‘r’s in the middle of a word if it is after a vowel. You’re dragging out every letter of turn. Pretend the ‘r’ isn’t there.”
Cecily smiled. “Well, now it sounds like ton. And that will get us nowhere.” She blew a curl away.
“At the weekend.” Tap repeated. “Tun.” He shoved his hands in his jacket pockets. “I’m quite a dunce, huh?”
“No, you’ve just been given a fortnight to speak differently.”
“Daisy has it down pat.”
Daisy also subsisted on cottage cheese, lettuce, and raising a thin judgmental eyebrow while conveniently forgetting to address the crew as anything but “you!” and “girl.” Cecily preferred Tap’s unbearable English.
“We all have our strengths,” she said diplomatically.
Tap gave her sleeve a pinch before strolling back to Lord Montague’s errant lover’s arms. He caught Cecily’s eye, and she smiled.
In a way they weren’t that different. She’d flown to Hollywood, taking advantage of a job offer and a distant relative to get as far away as she could from her bombed London house and deceased family. And Tap’s agent and the studio meant to capitalize on his war hero status and turn the farm boy into leading man material.
“Lady Hortensia, it is a question of honor.” Tap took a breath, and Cecily silently cheered him on. “You must not turn from me.”
So far, so good.
“Honor?” Daisy huffed. “Like the honor you showed in not responding to my telegrams.”
“Darling, I could barely find time to open a tin of bully beef. My world was with the lads in the mud, little but sardines in an aluminum tin!”
“Cut!” The director bellowed.
“It’s alu-mini-um, you oaf!” Daisy thwacked him. “We’ll never finish this scene.”
“Cecily!” the director repeated.
She peeked around the boards and smiled. “Alu-mini-um.”
“Right-o.” Tap said, finally getting it on the tenth take.
The arid night contrasted with the stuffy painted world in which Cecily attempted to wrangle words out of a sweet, tall man who wasn’t nearly as prepossessing or dashing as the RadioPlay magazine people believed. She strolled toward the cab queue where Tap sat alone popping the tab on a Coca-Cola bottle on the back of a studio cart.
She grinned, and he waved her over.
“Alu-mini-um,” he said by way of greeting.
“Perfect! You get to say it again in the final reel.”
Tap’s laugh was a genuine rumble she felt through her shoulder pressed against his. He nudged it with playful camaraderie that belied the tingle in her fingertips.
He offered her the cola, and she took a drink.
The fizz of the soda and the tang of the night emboldened her to meet his eyes. He was more handsome when the spotlight wasn’t trying to spin all his features into flawless alchemy. He had scars—from the war, if the tabloids were right—and slight cuts of purple under his eyes.
She took a long sip of soda to iron out the sudden gruffness of her voice. “Tell me something, Tap Buchanan.” She loved his scent and smile. “Something no one else knows.”
“My real name is Fred.”
Her laugh bubbled. “Well, I can see why they changed it.”
“First the name, then the voice…” He sobered, ironed out his voice. “Then these …” He motioned to the scars that were apparent even under the moonlight, even with a bit of leftover makeup. “And I have more money and champagne and suits than I know what to do with …” He shrugged. “But I’m trying to be something I’m not.”
“You’re an actor,” Cecily teased. “It’s part of the job.” She stretched her legs.
“I mostly came to Hollywood to see the palm trees. They don’t even look real! They look fake like the plastic ones on the backlot.” She sighed. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do when your picture wraps.”
“Work for another instant classic like Vices of Valour?”
She shook her head. “I feel like one of those pictures where the starlet goes to the big city and is picked out of the chorus line for a lead. Except I don’t want to be in the picture. I want to find something with purpose.”
“Other than teaching me how many syllables are in aluminum?” He grinned then gave the prop trailer a hard stare. “This isn’t enough. There’s no vice in valour anyways.”
“It’s just a title.”
“And you might say it’s just a role. But that role on top of the role I play every time I step onto this pavement makes me feel …” He studied the cola bottle.
“And yet there are wonderful men using their talent to build a community. Jimmy Stewart, for one. The Best Years of Our Lives. Your gift transports people from their world. We even had Brick Bruneau playing in Leicester Square right up to when the Blackouts started.”
“And what did you think of old Brick?”
“That he made America seem like a wonderful place. State fairs and pickup trucks and football on a fall night.” She peered up and over the trailers to the California hills. “This wasn’t the America I wanted to see. Where everyone wants something and has too much money and eats salad for Teatime.”
“What America did you want to see?”
She didn’t take a beat. “Yours.”
“I don’t think it’s in Vices of Valor.” Tap shifted so he was an inch from her chin.
“I always thought Miles Huntington was a little more Vices of Valor and you were a little more …”
“A little more what?”
She moved swiftly until her mouth was occupied in a language devoid of diphthongs or consonance or long, low vowels. He framed her face and kissed away the idioms and rolled ‘r’s, the added syllables that stretched the Atlantic Ocean. Kissed her until midnight rolled over the lot.
“It’s gotten dark,” she said against his lips.
“There must be a flashlight around.”
“Torch,” she said.
But her lips were far too occupied in the ensuing moments to even think of correcting him.
She is also the author of Dream, Plan and Go: A Romantic’s Guide to Independent Travel and A Very Merry Holiday Movie Guide, which explores her love of made-for-TV Christmas movies. Her upcoming historical romances The London Restoration and The Mozart Code (Harper Collins) take readers deep into an atmospheric look at post-war London, Vienna and Prague.
Rachel lives in Toronto, Canada. Connect with her at her website, or on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram.