I peek over at them. In the first, my hair is a wild halo of shimmering auburn. Crystal earrings dangle from my ears to my shoulders, and my makeup is an aggressive streak of black across my lids. The coolest part of the photo (and thank God because it took nearly four hours): my shoulders, my arms, and face are dotted with thousands of tiny crystals.
“Wow,” I mumble, pointing. “I like this one.”
“Me too. You’re like a glammed-up Imperator Furiosa.”
I high-five him, and he slips it to the back of the pile. In the second photo, my hair and makeup is done in the style of my breakout role—the crafty and complicated vampire Violet Bisset from Evil Darlings, the sexy, campy, and totally addictive CW show that ran first in its time slot for six consecutive seasons. I suppose it’s meant to show the grown-up side of Violet/Tate: I’m kneeling on the sofa with my back to the camera, looking over my shoulder at the photographer. And, I’m naked. My breasts are pressed against the back cushion, but my ass is almost completely exposed. It’s a great ass—I work hard for it—but . . .
“I mean, I like this one,” I admit, “but I’m not sure I want it on the cover of Vogue.”
“Agreed. I think it would be great to include in the profile inside.” Marco slides it to the back.
The final one makes something itch along my skin, and I’m not entirely sure why. I remember the styling and liked it at the time, but here . . .
I’m a modern-day Audrey Hepburn: smooth hair, artfully jagged bangs, pearls, wide eyes. The beauty mark near my lip, admittedly my trademark feature, is a dramatic and perfect circle; a bold, bombshell flirtation in stark contrast to my soft, pink mouth. Discomfort works through me at the round innocence of my gaze, the surprised circle of my lips.
Marco takes it from me, studying it. “I absolutely adore this one. You look innocent, young.” He glances at me, reading my expression. “It reminds me of when I first met you.”
The twist in my gut intensifies. Is that what I don’t like about it?
I rarely let myself think of what brought us together, but the sense of calm I felt that first day in London when he pulled me out of the black car into the chaos and ushered me into the quiet room—the reassurance that everything was under control, and that Marco was there for me and me alone—has never wavered. He was in his late twenties then, with the same dark hair and fine, chiseled features, but he’s wiser and seasoned now. We’ve grown up together, sort of.
I like my face, my body, my mind so much more than I did back then. This picture sends me tumbling back in time. Makes me realize that I’ve grown into myself, that I’ve had to work to do it.
He blinks up at me, gauging my reaction. “You okay with me sending this one? I can see it makes you uneasy, but Tate, it’s so fucking beautiful, I’m genuinely speechless.”
Objectively, it is a beautiful photo. I hand it back to him, choosing to let it go. Marco’s instincts are razor-sharp. He’d never steer me wrong. “Either this or the first. No naked Tate on the cover.”
“Done.” Marco lifts my hand, kissing my knuckles. “Now let’s get up on set and crush this.” He smiles over at me. “I smell life-changing. I smell critical, darling. I smell awards season.”
I laugh. “I smell pressure.”
THE TIRES CRUNCH OVER gravel, and I stir awake at the sound: we’ve reached Ruby Farm. I’m nervous and excited and feel the proverbial weight of a thousand pounds on my chest, but still—something tight inside me unwinds instinctively at the unfolding green serenity directly ahead of us.
We pass through the gates, waving to a guard there who notes the license plate and, I assume, checks the box to indicate Tate Butler has arrived.
I am officially on set.
Marco and I came up to Ruby Farm a few weeks ago for the hair and makeup test, and to choose my on-site cabin for the duration of the shoot. Even having grown up on the Russian River, I can say there’s nothing quite like the peace here. It’s 240 acres of serenity. The moment I stood in the Magnolia cabin, in front of a mirror and wearing a beautiful wig and the housedress the wardrobe stylist, Naomi, picked out for me? I felt like Ellen Meyer. I’d never felt so powerful, so excited to start a shoot, like being shot through with adrenaline at the possibilities.
On paper, Ellen is formidable. In my everyday life, I want to have a tenth of her strength and composure. But in that costume, in the cabin on the farm, I saw her fire in my own eyes. It made me itch to get back here and get working.
Our car slows in front of the Community House, which is a long wooden structure immediately neighboring the enormous barn. For the time being, the Community House appears to have become the social center and craft services hub where we’ll take most of our meals, and the barn seems to be where the props master has brought in all of the props and set pieces. I grab my folders and reach for the door handle, but the door swings open seemingly on its own to reveal the irresistible, smiling face of Devon Malek, the 2nd AD.
“Tate!” He reaches a hand out, helping me from the car and giving me a warm embrace. His sparkling brown eyes, dimples, and flirty mouth make my stomach do a fluttery nosedive. “How was the drive?”
“Easy for me.” I inhale as deep as my lungs will let me. “I slept.” The air isn’t like this in LA; not on the coast, not even in the mountains.