Every woman in America wanted him.
Cole Masten. Abandoned by his superstar wife, Hollywood’s Perfect Husband is now Hollywood’s Sexiest Bachelor: partying hard and screwing even harder. Watch out Los Angeles, there’s a new bad boy in town.
Summer Jenkins. That’s me, a small town girl stuck in Quincy, Georgia. I cook some mean chicken and dumplins, can bluff a grown man out of his savings in poker, and was voted Most Friendly my senior year.
We were from different worlds. Our lives shouldn’t have collided. But then Cole Masten read a book about my small town. And six months later, his jet landed on our dusty airstrip, and he brought Hollywood with him.
From the start, I knew he was trouble. For our town. And for me.
Sometimes, opposites just aren’t meant to attract.
Southern women are unique, there is no disputing that. We are women born of conflict, our past one littered with battles and chaos, self-preservation and protection. We’ve run plantations during wars, served Union soldiers tea before watching them burn our homes, hidden slaves from prosecution and endured centuries of watching and learning from our men’s mistakes. It is not easy to survive life in the South. It is even more difficult to do it with a smile on your face.
We have held these states together, held our dignity and graciousness, held our head high when it was smeared with blood and soot.
We are strong. We are Southern. We have secrets and lives you will never imagine.
Welcome to Quincy.
Average Household Income: We’ll never tell.
*note: The town of Quincy was once the most wealthy town in the United States. Home to Coca-Cola millionaires, each original share is now worth ten million dollars, making this small town of Southern Belles one very lucrative place. Yet, you don’t see Bentleys and butlers as you drive through this town. You see a small town, its plantation mansions gracious and well-tended, keeping with the simple Southern traditions that have existed for centuries. Smile. Treat your neighbor as yourself. Be gracious. Keep your secrets close and your enemies closer.
Hollywood doesn’t mix well with dirt roads. They don’t understand how we work. Don’t understand the intricate system of rules that we live by. They think that because we talk slowly that we are stupid. They think that the word ‘ya’ll’ is an indication of poor grammar. They think that their Mercedes makes them a better person when – to us – it just an indication of low self esteem.
The cavalry arrived on a Sunday in June at 1:15p.m. Semi trailers followed by limos, work trucks, buses trailed by matching sedans. Catering trucks – as if we don’t have restaurants in Quincy. Some more semis. The scent of our camellias competed with their exhaust, the huff of diesel bringing with it the scent of presumption and importance. Brakes squealed and everyone in the tri-county area heard it. Even the pecan trees straightened in interest.
A Sunday. Only Yankees would think that was an appropriate time to thrust themselves into our lives. Sunday. The Lord’s day. A day spent in the pews at church. Under live oaks eating brunch with our friends and families. Napping through the afternoon hours. Dusk is front-porch visiting time. Evening is for quality time with your family. Sunday isn’t a day for upheaval. Sunday isn’t a day for work.
We were at the First Baptist Church when the word hit. A whispered stream of excitement down the long line of the table, scooting by and hopping over cornbread, dumplings, pecan pie and broccoli casserole. Kelli Beth Barry was the one who passed it to me, her red hair coming dangerously close to some marshmallowly sweet potato during the relay. “They’re here,” she said ominously, the excited glow in her blue eyes not matching the dark tones of her message.
I didn’t have to ask who ‘they’ were. We, as a town, had been waiting for this day for seven months. Ever since the first hint reached Caroline Settles, assistant to Mayor Frazier, who received a photo call on a Monday morning from Envision Entertainment. She had transferred the call to the judge’s office, picked up her box of Red Hots, and settled into the chair outside of his door. Chewed her way through half the box before scooting to her feet and back to her desk, her round butt hitting the seat just in time for the Mayor to walk out, his chest poofed out, spectacles on, a notepad in hand that she knew good well only contained doodles. “Caroline,” the man drawled with some level of importance, “I just got a call from some folks in California. They want to film a movie in Quincy. Now we’re just in preliminary talks but –“ he looked over his spectacles with a degree of sternness and dramatics – “this needs to stay in the walls of this office.”
It was a laughable statement, Mayor Frazier knowing good well what would happen the minute he turned back to his office. In small towns, there are two types of secrets: the kind that we pull together as a mini-nation to protect, our differences united in the common goal of What Isn’t Meant To Be Uttered, and the juicy. The juicy things don’t stay quiet. They aren’t meant to. They are a small town’s sole source of entertainment, the morsels of fat that keep us all healthy. Those secrets are our currency and little is as valuable as a first person – no-one-else-knows-this – testimony. Within five minutes Caroline called her sister from the Mayor’s personal bathroom, and settled in on a padded toilet seat where she breathlessly recounted every word she’d heard through the closed door:
“They said ‘Plantation’ – like Gone with the Wind…”
“I heard the name Claudia Van – do you think THE Claudia Van is coming to Quincy?”
“He mentioned June, but I don’t know if that’s this June or next.”
The gossip circle had just enough information to run wild, and speculation and false assumptions spread like the lice epidemic of ’92. Everyone thought they knew something and every day a new piece of information was offered up like manna to our starving social lives.
I got lucky. I nabbed a front row seat to the action and became, in the short span of one week, valuable to the town, respected. Included. Something that Momma and I hadn’t been able to accomplish in our eighteen years in Quincy. My insider knowledge was valuable enough to move me from my place as a Have Not across the clear and defined line into the world of the Haves. Not a place I particularly wanted to be, but a place I was intelligent enough not to turn up my nose at.
It was the most exciting thing that had ever happened and the town counted down to their arrival with breathless anticipation.
Hollywood. Glamour. Movie Studios. Celebrities, the most important of which was Cole Masten.
Cole Masten. The man women think about in the dark of night. When their husbands are snoring, or – in the case of me – when mothers are sleeping. Quite possibly the most beautiful man to grace Hollywood in the last decade. Tall and strong, with a build that looks perfect in a suit but reveals the muscles of his body when he strips down. Dark brown hair, enough of it to dig your hands in and grab, short enough to look polished. Green eyes that own you the minute he smiles. A smile that causes you to forget the words out of his mouth because it draws your body into such a state of hopeless need that thought become irrelevant. Cole Masten was the epitome of sex on a stick and had every woman in town drooling over his arrival.
Every woman but me, that is. I couldn’t be. For one, he was a train wreck, screwing anything in a skirt when he wasn’t in Vegas blowing his fortune. For two, he was – for the next four months – my boss. The entire crew’s boss. Cole Masten wasn’t just the star of this movie. He was sinking his own money into the production, bankrolling the entire operation. It was Cole who read the little Southern novel that no one had ever heard of. The novel about our town, the novel that exposed the Southern mansions and Ford trucks for what they are: camouflage. The camouflage of secret billionaires.
That’s right. Our quiet town of seven thousand residents holds more than southern manners and prize-winning fried chicken recipes. We also hold discretion, the biggest indication of which lies in our bank’s coffers and buried in our backyard’s dirt. Stacked in freezers and attic eves.
Cash. Lots and lots of it. In our small town we have forty-five millionaires and six billionaires. That’s a rough guess, the best estimate our whispered calculations can attest to. It may be more. It all depends on how stupid or smart the generations have been with their Coca-Cola stock. That’s where it all came from. Coke. Say the word Pepsi in this town, you best watch your back on the way out.
So Cole found out our wealthy little secret. Was fascinated by it, by our little town of so little pretense. And so he assembled a team. Hired a writer. Stayed out of the bedroom long enough to build a three-hour movie around a seventy-two page book. And now… thirteen months after Caroline Settles started the buzz, here they were. Hollywood. A day early. I told them to arrive on Monday, told Ben all of the things wrong with a Sunday arrival. But he either chose not to listen or was overruled. I wondered how many other hiccups laid before us.
I followed the crowd onto the church’s lawn, watched main street become invaded, men hopping from busses and trucks, a swarm of shouting and pointing as everyone ran in different directions that seemed to make no sense. I smiled. I couldn’t help it. This expensive fat bully, pushing its way in on a Sunday. Thinking they were in control. Thinking that this was suddenly their town.
They had no idea what they had just walked into.
Meet the Characters
Abandoned by his wife, Hollywood’s Perfect Husband is now Hollywood’s Sexiest Bachelor: partying hard and screwing even harder. Move over Colin Farrell, there’s a new bad boy ruling Los Angeles.
A small town girl stuck in Quincy, Georgia, I cook some mean chicken and dumplins, can bluff a grown man out of his savings in poker, and was voted Most Friendly my senior year. Other than that… I don’t have too much going on.