Disclaimer: Beastly is based on a book by Alex Flinn. I do not have any claim on the story or the characters.
Rob Kingson sat in the broadcast booth at the Cool 99.7 studio, about to be interview by Stacy Flash, one of the main DJ's. He'd already had to do this twice before today, and had the procedure down pat.
"And we're back with Mr. Rob Kingson, the host of – you guessed it – 'The Rob Kingson Show.'," Stacy Flash announced. "It's the talk show that all of New York has been buzzing about for weeks. Rob, thanks for joining us."
Rob leaned forward slightly towards the mike and smiled. "Thanks for having me, Stacy," he replied in his best news anchor voice, treating the blonde radio host to one of his patented smiles.
The disc jockey was just barely able to keep a blush from reaching her cheeks, and Rob was sure she was grateful she was in radio and away from the eyes of her 50,000-plus listeners. "Can you tell us a little about the show?" she purred.
Immediately Rob launched into the pre-composed spiel that the network's PR team had meticulously compiled for his city-wide publicity tour. His show was going to be one that the family could watch together, tackling the tough issues with honesty, integrity, and grace (the network had drilled it into Rob that he needed to use those three specific adjectives, in that specific order). He also mentioned that the show would have lighter moments as well, with celebrity chefs, celebrity animal trainers, and celebrity celebrities as guests.
When Stacy asked the previously arranged question of the truth to the rumor that the talk show would be carried in other cities, Rob answered smugly that his show had indeed been picked up in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Richmond, and they were planning to add more major cities as time went on.
"Just one more question off the record, Rob. The word on the street is that you're single and available. Would you care to confirm that for our lady listeners?"
With a forced laugh, Rob replied, "I don't kiss and tell, Stacy. But I will say that I'm an incurable romantic. I firmly believe here's someone out there for everyone."
"There you have it, folks. Be sure to watch Rob weekdays from 11 am to 12 pm on channel 6. Thanks again for chatting with us, Rob."
"Thank you, Stacy."
Once they went to commercial, Stacy eagerly turned to Rob, hoping to find out just how "single and available" he might be. But he coldly sidestepped her approach, and without another word to her, quickly exited the booth to meet up with Larry, the network's assigned PR rep.
Larry looked over his shoulder at the pouting blonde DJ standing forlornly at the end of the hallway. "Well, she looks disappointed," he observed.
"Nice enough girl, but that ethnic nose is a problem. I guess the station hasn't gotten any offers to advertise for a good plastic surgeon yet. I'm sure she'd get a good discount."
Larry blanched at Rob's comments. Being short and balding, he'd kill to have the attention of a girl like that. But that was Rob for you. He'd gotten used to it.
The two men made their way out to the limo that was waiting for them. Automatically Rob pulled out his Blackberry to check his mail. "So where are they making me go next?"
Larry double checked his schedule. "Actually…99.7 FM was the last interview for the day. We're headed back to the office. Apparently your new intern is starting today."
Rob snorted, his eyes glued to the glowing screen of his handheld. "Well, as long as she knows how to make a decent cup of coffee and looks good in a skirt, it's no skin off my back. She'll be Julie's problem."
Julie, Rob's assistant, wasn't kidding when she said his new intern was odd-looking. In fact, she was far too kind. This girl could have given the boogeyman nightmares. Deathly pale skin, eerie green eyes and hair to match, weird tattoos twisting across her brows and temples, a heavy black cloak that looked like something out of a gothic novel. Rob gaped at the girl standing in front of his desk for several seconds, then recovered himself and managed to utter, "You're the new intern?"
"I am," the girl answered with a smile and a confidence that surprised him. "Kendra Hilferty. Very pleased to meet you, Mr. Kingson." There was something about the way this girl phrased the words in her mouth – knowing, almost condescending. Did she even know who she was talking to?
Newscaster and intern stared each other down for a few seconds, until Julie broke up the uncomfortable silence and said, "Kendra will be with us until January, Mr. Kingson, when she begins her winter break from NYU."
Rob then remembered that his assistant was there and snapped an irritated look at her. She paled under the withering glance. "Julie, may I speak with you alone for a moment? Ms. Hilferty, if you'll excuse us?"
Once they were in the hallway and out of earshot, Rob cornered Julie, his face contorted with rage. "Have you lost what little sense you have? How could you bring that tattooed freak into this office?"
"M-Mr. Kingson, please, it wasn't my idea—"
"You screen my interns, don't you? What did you do, go to her to get some tea leaves read? Thought she'd make a good addition to a respectable, twenty-five year old network? What was your major in college – idiocy?"
"Mr. Kingson!" Julie exploded, then recovered herself. "Mr. Lauter hired her."
Rob groaned and pinched his nosebridge between his fingers, as though a headache were coming on. Bernie Lauter was beginning to worry him. He'd never been the sharpest knife in the drawer, even from the time he'd first started seven years ago. Rob was wondering if he was starting to get dementia or something.
Still, he was the head of the network, and if Rob wanted to keep Bernie happy and keep his job, he'd have to go along with this travesty. He sighed and squared his shoulders, putting on his best game face. "Fine. But you'd better keep an eye on her and out of my way, or you'll be looking for a new job."
The next three hours of Rob's working day dragged. He did his best to avoid his creepy new intern, and to Julie's credit, she did a fairly decent job of keeping Kendra out of her boss's way. Every now and then he'd lift his head and scowl at the sight of her, whipping those lime-green tresses of hair around like it was attractive, stomping around in those vaguely menacing looking black velvet stilettos. He even heard her and Julie laughing at something together at several points – probably at him. Rob would remember that. He might not be able to fire Kendra himself, but Julie he could flick off like a flea from a dog's ear, anytime he wanted. He was sure that would sour their blossoming friendship.
He had an hour-long meeting at the end of the day to do a final run-through of the first episode of his talk show, and was pleased to find that by the time it was over, the little freak had left for the day. Rob breathed a sigh of relief, collapsed into the backseat of his car, and unwound with a glass of chardonnay from the cooler while his driver wrestled with 5 PM New York traffic.
"You still haven't told me if you're going to make it on Saturday."
Rob inclined his head slightly to look at his redheaded companion for the evening, who was busy combing her fingers through his chest hair. "Sorry, what's on Saturday again?"
With a huff, she sat up in Rob's bed and glared at him. "The Harvest Ball my parents throw every year at their house for Garden of Hope. I've been trying to get an answer out of you for two weeks now, Rob! Jeez, do you ever listen to me?"
Rob rolled his eyes. He was getting tired of Lana trying to turn him into her boyfriend. They'd already established long ago – they were friends with benefits. No, actually, from Rob's point of view, they were acquaintances with benefits. Lana was far too annoying to ever be a friend of his.
But, she was gorgeous, successful, and came from old money – the perfect arm-candy for professional and social outings. So he indulged her. "Yes, yes, I'll be there."
She grinned. "Perfect, I'll pick you up at seven." She was about to snuggle back against his chest when he gently pushed her aside and sat up. "I'm going to get drink. Want anything?"
"Gin and tonic sounds great," she breathily told him, lying seductively on her side with a smile.
Rob made his way downstairs, feeling irritated. Lana was getting too familiar. That was one complication he didn't need. He opened the fridge to look for the bottled water and was met with further irritation. Beryl, his housekeeper, had forgotten to stock the shelves with Evian like she was supposed to. Instead the bottles were sitting in the corner, still in the cartons. He was really getting tired of her incompetence. Why, just this morning he opened his armoire to find that his pants weren't pressed the way he liked them – with a crisp, clean seam running down the front. It was times like these that he actually missed Zola. His former maid did her job far better. But Rob had sent her to live with Kyle during his condition, and she'd given him notice that she'd taken another job a few weeks ago. He never should have sent her to the apartment in Brooklyn. It's not as if Kyle needed that much attention – he had a tutor, after all.
He sighed in regret, made Lana her drink, and resigned himself to having a room-temperature water. When he returned to his bedroom, he found his lover sitting up, looking at a piece of paper in her lap. As he handed her the drink, he realized she was looking at the postcard he'd received from Kyle a couple of days ago. He snatched it from her hands.
"Sorry," she said, looking hurt. "I just saw it lying on the night table. That's Kyle?"
Rob gave the flimsy piece of cardboard a cursory glance. The front was a print of Rue de la Paix by Beraud, the back had Rob's address scribbled in along with a note from Kyle: Having a great time in Paris, heading to Spain next. Hope all is well. Love, Kyle. Glued to the back was a photo of his son and that girl he was living with before, standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, their arms around each other. Rob knew Kyle had included that picture to prove to his father how happy he and that girl were together, that Rob had been wrong.
Rob wasn't looking forward to the collect call he'd inevitably get from Kyle, his son angry and distraught when he discovered his "true love" had skipped away with all of his money. "I just don't understand it, Dad," Rob could picture Kyle telling him. "I just woke up and she was gone with everything. How could she do this to me? What do I do now?" Rob hadn't decided yet whether he'd bail out his son or not.
"Yes, that's my son," Rob answered Lana's question.
"Aww, he looks like he's having a great time. Is that his wife?"
"Ha! Hardly. Some girl he met at school that he decided to squander his trust fund on."
"Do you miss him?"
"I haven't really spent time with him in over a year."
"Was that your choice?"
Rob scowled at Lana. He'd invited her over to blow off some steam, not to get psychoanalyzed. "I don't want to talk. That's not what you're here for."
With that, she sat up, her lips pursed in indignation. "I'm a Harvard-educated junior partner at one of the best law firms in the city, not a hooker. Screw you, Rob!" She began to gather her clothes.
"Oh, come on, that's not what I meant. Don't do that."
She stopped buttoning her blouse. "Are you saying you want me to stay?"
Rob hesitated, considering it. He wouldn't mind Lana staying, if she'd just shut her mouth and they could do what they did earlier. Then again, it was going on eleven. He needed to get to bed soon if he was going to get his seven hours of sleep and be refreshed for tomorrow. It wouldn't do for him to miss sleep – that's how devastating dark circles under the eyes began. He didn't want to rely on oil-based concealers, not with the glare the lights threw off in the studio.
He didn't answer her fast enough. Pulling on her skirt and shoes quickly, Lana said coldly, "Don't bother. I have my answer. And don't worry about escorting me to the Harvest Ball either." She crossed the room with a fluid dance and slammed the door behind her.
Rob leaned back in bed and shut his eyes. That was upsetting, but it was better that it happened now. Things were getting too serious – at least, on Lana's part. Women were all the same: no matter how passionately they claimed that they were fine with a casual relationship, they never were. They always fell in love. And Rob knew all too well – love was for fools.
At least awards season wasn't for another couple of months. Plenty of time for him to secure a new flavor of the month to escort to the ceremonies and parties. Until then, he'd keep his options open. He finished the last of his warm Evian and got up to brush his teeth.
The master bath always had interesting acoustics, but somehow, the echo seemed even more pronounced tonight. Rob brushed his teeth and leaned his arms against the polished marble counter, inspecting himself in the mirror. He was forty four, but he could easily pass for thirty eight or thirty nine, he knew. The lines in his face were beginning to come in, but they were thin, delicate. He worked hard to keep them that way: plenty of water, rest, exercise, rare botanicals.
The rest of his body was a study in precision as well. Toned arms, chest, stomach, legs. His exercise routine was rigorous but sensible as well. Too much muscle on someone in his business was intimidating, and besides, it did no good to look like a stuffed sausage in a well-tailored suit.
He had the body, the career, and the life that everyone dreamed about, and he knew it. He could see it in himself when he studied his reflection. But, as always, he didn't linger too much on his eyes. He didn't like to look at his eyes. Not that they weren't appropriately expressive when necessary; he just didn't feel the need to look into them.
He finished his self-inspection and turned out the light.