Marty Weiss believed he was the luckiest man in all of Chicago. He’d fantasized about meeting the pop star, Audrey LaRue, since his ten year-old granddaughter, whom he’d been stuck babysitting one night, had introduced him to her by way of MTV. From the moment Audrey had appeared on Marty’s wide screen plasma TV with that curly blonde hair and the bare belly and stiletto heels, he’d been bewitched.
He’d sat on the edge of his seat, his eyes and ears taking in every inch and every sound of Audrey.
The next day, he bought the two CDs she had released and played them over and over in his car. In a month’s time, he knew the words to all twenty-eight tracks. He’d read the liner notes until he’d all but memorized them and had a concert date list for her upcoming summer tour.
He’d also joined an on-line Audrey LaRue fan club where her most rabid fans posted daily. Marty became a regular poster there, offering his opinion about her love life (she’d been with Lucas Bonner, a second-rate musician, too long to Marty’s way of thinking); her oft-rumored pregnancy (she looked too thin to be pregnant, and as father for four, Marty knew from pregnant); and the meteoric rise of her last CD up the charts (spurred along, in part, but Marty’s bulk purchase).
It was only natural when Marty’s wife, Carol, began to plan his sixtieth birthday party that Marty would call an old business acquaintance in Hollywood and cash in a favor the guy owed him. He told his online pals that he was certain he could get Audrey to attend his party.
The other cyber fans scoffed at him. They said there was no way Marty could get Audrey to a birthday party. One guy said he’d give Marty one hundred bucks if he could get even a reply from her record label.
Marty knew that those cyber yahoos had no concept of the sort of dough he had to work with to make sure it happened. Thanks to his ownership of a series of computer chip manufacturing plants, plus some dubious connections with some “businessmen” in Chicago, Marty had some serious scratch in his pocket.
His birthday party was Carol’s brainchild. She’d heard from her cousin in L.A. about an extremely private outfit that would arrange an extremely private and extreme outing for the adventurous at heart. “They did Olivia Dagwood’s wedding,” Marsha said as she and Carol spent a day at the spa. “I mean, almost—they had it all ready to go until disaster struck.”
“Really?” Carol asked breathlessly. “I read about that in People!”
“Mm-hmm,” Marsha said. “They’ve done a lot of dangerous stuff like that.” She said it as if all weddings were dangerous, and proceeded to tell Carol about this outfit—Thrillseekers Anonymous—that arranged extreme outings for a fee. Their specialty was extreme adventure with guaranteed privacy. But what appealed to Carol the most was that TA worked with movie stars on a routine basis.
When she told Marty about it, he was all for it. He didn’t care so much about the guaranteed privacy aspect, but some of his friends did, as they had some rather strained relationships with the federal, state, and local authorities.
With the help of a couple of women from TA, Carol planned the whole birthday bash. It would be held on a private island off the coast of Costa Rica. They would do some ocean kayaking, some zip-lining through the jungle, and some waterfall hiking up to a volcano. Caterers would be brought in from the finest establishments in the U.S.A.
When Carol asked Marty if there was anything special he wanted in addition to all that plus the two hundred names on his guest list, Marty said yes. He wanted Audrey LaRue.
Carol thought he was nuts. “That girl you are so enamored with is younger than your daughter, pervert,” she reminded him. “And a whole lot younger than the whores you usually hook up with.”
There were certain things a woman never forgave, and an extramarital affair or three topped the list.
But Marty was steadfast, seeing as how he controlled the purse strings for this party, and Carol had no room to argue. Besides, as it turned out, Marty’s friend in Hollywood knew a friend who knew Audrey LaRue’s business manager.
And now, on the day before his sixtieth birthday, Marty was standing on a private beach on a private island off of Costa Rica and was already lit, even though it was just two in the afternoon. He was wearing his new Tommy Bahama board shorts whose waist kept folding over below his belly, his fifteen year-old leather flip-flops were keeping the sand from burning his feet, and he was holding a scotch neat with a little paper umbrella in one hand as he watched the boat ferry Audrey and her crew into the island.
Marty Weiss could not have been happier. And he could not wait to tell the cyber fan club all about it.
After two days of fun in the sun with the gang from Chicago, the Thrillseekers Anonymous crowd was exhausted. The four partners—Michael, Eli, Cooper and Jack—agreed that this was one of the hardest gigs they’d ever done. Not sports hard, because what they were doing here could hardly be called sports, but hard like a big kiddie birthday party with unruly kids. Of all the trips they’d taken, this one had to rank right up there with Satan’s Wedding at the top of the Rocky Mountains, otherwise known as the melt down of Olivia Dagwood, an A-list movie star.
They couldn’t quite put their finger on what, precisely, it was about this group that was making this so hard. The wind surfing had gone off without a hitch, mainly because only three of the two hundred had tried it. The ocean kayaking had turned out to be nothing more than a bunch of fat guys paddling around the shallow end of the pool playing bumper boats. The hike up the waterfall to the volcano had included six trophy wives and one personal trainer—and not one guy from Chicago.
They weren’t certain what made this trip so miserable, but as two young Costa Ricans strapped the birthday boy’s fat ass into the harness to ride the zip line down to the beach, Jack Price thought he had a pretty good idea—it just wasn’t any fun to babysit.
As Cooper gave Marty Weiss a healthy push off the rock outcropping, Jack cringed—either at Marty’s girlish shrieking or the way the zip line bounced, bungee-like, to the tops of the trees and back up again, high in the air.
“I said we should have done a load test, but no one listened,” Cooper sighed as they watched Marty land on the beach and face plant in the sand.
When TA had signed up to stage this birthday party on a private island in Costa Rica, they had thought the zip line would be a safe, easy form of entertainment for a bunch of Chicago business moguls who wanted extreme adventures. But what these guys really wanted was extreme adventure without the extreme. Every one of them who’d ridden the zip line from the hilltop to the lagoon had screamed with terror on their way down.
These guys didn’t want to do anything but sit on their asses, drink mai-tais and eat. And that wasn’t what Thrillseekers Anonymous was all about.
“Whatever happened to a little kite surfing?” Michael had complained last night as the fat cats danced a drunken rumba around them. “Since when did we become event planners?”
“Since you saw the green,” Eli’s girlfriend, Marnie, cheerfully reminded them. No one could argue with her. It was true that they were being paid a king’s ransom by some of the richest men in the U.S. for this party, and wads of cash did have its own special attraction.
Still, if someone was going to pay that kind of money, the least they ought to do is try a few of the excursions TA had set up for them. But oh no—more than one man had asked if there was a golf course on the island, and then had complained when told no, as if that was the only sport that interested them.
As Jack and Cooper watched Marty’s pals pick him up and toss him into the surf to wash off the sand, a woman said, “Excuse me, Mr. Hunk, but Ms. LaRue would like to ride.”
Jack and Cooper turned to see a pretty redhead wearing a pair of board shorts and a very tiny swim bra. She smiled at Jack’s crotch.
“Who?” he asked, momentarily distracted by her bold smile.
The redhead glanced up. “Ms. LaRue? The singer?” she said in a tone that suggested he was a moron.
“So where is Ms. LaRue?” Cooper asked.
The redhead jerked a thumb over her shoulder at almost the same moment Audrey LaRue, arguably the hottest pop star in the country, and dressed in very short shorts and a skimpy tee, picked her way down the path, pushing through underbrush and looking very irritated. “Good God, where is this place?”
Courtney sighed wearily as Audrey cleared the brush and inched her way to the edge of the outcropping. She ignored Jack and Cooper, stepping in between them to have a look over the edge. She craned a very lovely neck to see down, and instantly grabbed their arms. “Shit!” she whispered.
“It’s a zip line,” Courtney said. “It has to be high up.”
“I know that,” Audrey snapped.
“What…are you afraid?”
Audrey gave Courtney a cool look over her shoulder. “No… Just a little.”
“If you aren’t comfortable, you probably shouldn’t do it,” Cooper suggested.
“I have to,” Audrey grumbled.
“Because they promised a sizable donation to my foundation.”
Standing behind her, Courtney smiled at Jack again, and let her gaze slide down his body to his crotch again. What was wrong with this girl? He glanced at Audrey. “If you want to ride, strap up, sweet cheeks. We need to wrap this up.”
Audrey glanced at him. “Where do I…strap up?”
He pointed to the two young Costa Ricans standing a few feet away. One of them held out the harness to her.
“Oh my God,” she sighed, and started picking her way toward them.
Courtney followed her. Jack and Cooper watched as she the Costa Rican boys strapped her into the harness.
“What foundation, do you think?” Cooper asked idly.
“Got me,” Jack said with a shrug. And frankly, he didn’t care. He’d had about as much fun in the sun as he could stand this weekend. He couldn’t wait to get off this island.
Given how lame the entire event was turning out to be, the mystery of Audrey LaRue’s presence at this shindig was growing. The TA guys had wondered more than once how the real estate guys, who were currently splashing around like whales in a lagoon, could have enticed her to come to a private island in Costa Rica.
“Money,” Eli had hypothesized over beers one night. “What else? That’s why we’re all here.”
“Yeah, but you guys will do anything for money,” Leah, Michael’s wife said, oblivious to their startled looks. “They must have offered her a lot of money, like platinum record money, because I cannot imagine what would possess any woman in her right mind to go to Costa Rica and spend an entire weekend with a bunch of drunks.”
Jack was half-tempted to ask Ms. LaRue as she struggled to untangle the lines of the harness she had managed to tangle in the space of two minutes. “Can you fix it?” she asked one of the boys. He responded in Spanish as Audrey pushed a thick curl of blonde hair from her eyes. She turned to Jack and Cooper. “Can someone help me?” she demanded.
Courtney turned her back and snickered.
Jack hoped Cooper would do it. But when he glanced at Coop, he noticed he wasn’t exactly looking at her harness. Jack couldn’t blame him—with those long tanned legs and green eyes that could light up a stage, this girl was hot.
But Jack didn’t realize just quite how hot until he stepped up to help her with the harness.
“How did you get the straps so twisted?” he asked.
“I don’t know!”
He grabbed the end of two straps and gave them a good tug, cinching the harness up, and almost yanking Audrey into his chest in the process. She looked up at him with those remarkable green eyes and raised one dark gold brow high above the other. “I think it’s tight.”
Jack smiled a little. “You sure?”
“Yes. I’m sure.”
He let go and stepped back, and gestured for her to precede him to the edge. She carefully inched her way forward to have another look over the end of the rock.
“You sure you want to do this?” Jack asked her most excellent ass.
“Like I have a choice,” she said irritably.
“She means she has to if she wants their fifty thousand dollars,” Courtney snickered.
“Auuuuud-drey!” Some numb nuts who stood in the shallow end of the lagoon was shouting up at her, flailing his massively white and flabby arms. “Come on down, baby! I’ll catch you!” A roar of drunken laughter went up from his compatriots.
Jack glanced at the sots below, then at Audrey. “Like I was saying…are you sure you want to do this?”
She groaned. “Dude. I’ve been here twenty-four hours now. I think I am battle tested, and besides, a few middle-aged men and a few beers don’t scare me.” She paused and looked at the beach below. “I mean, theyscare me, but not like that. I can handle them. I just want to get this over with. So can you just back up and give me some space?”
Jack lifted his hands and did precisely that.
“Let’s go over a few things,” Cooper said. “Hands on the line,” he said as he hooked her harness to the line. “Legs together and in front of you. Eli and Michael will help you at the end of the death slide.”
She frowned at Cooper. “That’s a funny name for it. So okay, here I go.” And before Cooper could tell her not to jump, to step off the ridge, she jumped and bounced.
“Damn,” Cooper said, shaking his head. Courtney muscled her way in between them, and the three of them listened to Audrey squeal all the way down, landing on the beach in one huge sprawl. She was immediately swarmed by two or three fat guys, as well as Eli and Michael, who put themselves between her and the others so they could unhook her.
Courtney suddenly started laughing. But Cooper let out a low whistle. “Damn,” he said. “Damn.”
Jack’s sentiments exactly.