From Katherine St. John, author of The Lion's Den, comes a "reading experience that’s as layered and decadent as a slice of tiramisu" about a Hollywood heartthrob, his co-star ex-wife, and a film set on an isolated island that will unearth long-buried secrets—and unravel years of lies (Emily Henry, NYT bestselling author of People We Meet on Vacation, New York Times Book Review).
In the midst of a sizzling hot summer, some of Hollywood's most notorious faces are assembled on the idyllic Caribbean island of St. Genesius to film The Siren, starring dangerously handsome megastar Cole Power playing opposite his ex-wife, Stella Rivers. The surefire blockbuster promises to entice audiences with its sultry storyline and intimately connected cast.
Three very different women arrive on set, each with her own motive. Stella, an infamously unstable actress, is struggling to reclaim the career she lost in the wake of multiple, very public breakdowns. Taylor, a fledgling producer, is anxious to work on a film she hopes will turn her career around after her last job ended in scandal. And Felicity, Stella's mysterious new assistant, harbors designs of her own that threaten to upend everyone's plans.
With a hurricane brewing offshore, each woman finds herself trapped on the island, united against a common enemy. But as deceptions come to light, misplaced trust may prove more perilous than the storm itself.
Includes a Reading Group Guide.
The Biz Report
COLE POWER TO PRODUCE AND STAR IN THE SIREN
The first film slated for production by Cole Power’s fledgling Power Pictures will be a thriller starring Power, written and directed by Power’s son, Jackson Power. The younger Power is a recent graduate of AFI whose thesis film has been racking up accolades on the festival circuit this year. Also joining the cast is Stella Rivers, who starred opposite Cole Power in 2006’s box office hit Faster. The two were married from 2006–2007. Power Pictures is independently financing the venture, and Taylor Wasserman (formerly of Woodland Studios) has been brought on to produce.
The Siren follows a photographer (Power) married to a model (Rivers), living an idyllic life in the islands until they hire a beautiful young nanny to look after their baby. The nanny replaces the wife as the photographer’s muse, sparking a war between the women that eventually brings them all down.
The film is slated for production over six weeks beginning in June, on the southern Caribbean island of Saint Genesius, west of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, where Cole Power owns the exclusive Genesius Resort, made famous as the on-screen resort owned by Power’s character in the Gentleman Gangster series. Power purchased the resort and the neighboring film stage last year after wrapping the fifth installment of the wildly successful Gentleman Gangster series, shot partially on the island.
The Calm Before the Storm
Sunday, June 16
S he was perched on a rock like a siren the first time I saw her, face upturned to the sun, copper skin wet with sea spray. Her toes dangled languidly into the mottled azure water while palm fronds fluttered overhead, casting pom-pom shadows on the powdered sugar sand.
I wondered who she was, how she’d gotten in. I’d personally vetted every member of our cast and crew, and she wasn’t one of them. Even from fifty yards away I could see she was a stunner, with curves in all the right places and an angelic face framed by jaw-skimming brunette waves and a heavy fringe of bangs. No, this girl wasn’t one of ours. Perhaps she was an employee. A desk clerk or maid, tanning on her lunch break. We’d reserved the entire resort and it was gated, secured by uniformed guards with giant guns slung casually over their shoulders as they ate brown-bag lunches in the shade, so she had to belong.
The beach was so shockingly vibrant it bordered on lurid. A postcard-perfect crescent of bleached pink sand swaddled the ultramarine sea, rimmed by an assortment of palms and trees with waxy green leaves that concealed pathways to the pool, spa, and restaurant. Ripples tickled the shore of the tranquil bay, which, according to the island guide in my glorious over-water bungalow, was protected from the surf by coral reefs just beyond the outcropping of rocks where the girl lounged. All up and down the shore, our crew frolicked in the sultry Caribbean sun, tossing Frisbees and floating on their backs in the crystal-clear bay as if they were in a Corona beer commercial.
This was the sort of island paradise featured on office screen savers, where rich people came to decompress in seclusion and honeymooners could enjoy the ocean without ever leaving the privacy of their luxurious accommodations. Nature was king, the rhythm of the day was determined by the weather, and no one was in a hurry.
I would’ve been bored to tears if I weren’t producing a movie.
What can I say? For better or worse, I’d never known what to do with myself in the absence of a mission. Everyone talked about the importance of meditation or yoga to relieve stress, but I found stress useful. Pressure kept my feet on the ground—without it I feared I might float away. My therapist had tried in vain to convince me otherwise in recent months, but what did she know? I could only assume the entertainment industry was far more cutthroat than the mental health industry.
At any rate, I simply wasn’t made for a tropical environment like rock girl obviously was. My curly mop of dark hair didn’t do that beachy wave thing; it frizzed. My lily-white skin didn’t bronze; it burned. Also, I was allergic to sundresses, especially those in bright colors.
I spun to see Jackson Power’s lopsided grin. A pair of black Wayfarers slid down his nose, revealing mirthful muddy green eyes.
“Hard not to,” I admitted.
“I’ll say.” He dropped his backpack and towel on a lounger under one of the ten or so straw umbrellas that dotted the beach and pulled his T-shirt over his head, revealing sun-kissed olive skin. Jackson was skinny, to be sure, but not unattractive. He was our director though, and I would never cross the line with someone I was working with.
“Why didn’t you come fishing with us yesterday?” Jackson asked.
“I get seasick,” I lied.
Jackson watched our mermaid stretch her long limbs out like a cat, her chestnut locks tousled by the steady midday breeze.
“Who is she?” I asked.
“Stella’s new assistant.” He tossed his sunglasses into his bag. “She always did like the pretty ones.”
I opened my mouth to inquire what he meant, but he was already off, diving horizontally into the shallow water.
Annoyed Stella had somehow hired an assistant I knew nothing about, I collapsed on a chair in the shelter of an umbrella and gladly shed the black sun hat I’d thought ideal back home in Los Angeles last week. I’d since come to understand why everyone wore light shades in the tropics, but the appropriate hats in the gift store were so exorbitantly priced that I had yet to bring myself to buy one. I blew down my black T-shirt and tugged at the damp waistband of my jean cutoffs, which I’d taken scissors to only this morning. Denim: also inappropriate for the Caribbean. My suitcase of dark T-shirts, jeans, and cargo pants was going to have to be amended.
I’d slathered myself in SPF 70 and worn a sporty black one-piece beneath my clothes in hopes of perhaps going for a swim, but as I gazed upon the goddess on the rock, I thought better of it. Not because my sense of self-worth was tied up with my physical appearance—which it wasn’t—but because I was only human, and while the curves on my vertically challenged frame were kept mostly in check by daily CrossFit torture, I knew when I was out of my league. Not that anyone was looking. Not that there was anyone on the island I’d have wanted to look. Still, vanity.
Was vanity permissible these days? I wasn’t sure. I knew I was supposed to be self-assured and body-confident, everyone else be damned—and that sounded fantastic—but it was also a tall order for a girl who’d grown up in millennial Hollywood (oh, the midriffs!) with a misogynist father. So I buried my shameful insecurity beneath an industrial-strength steel facade and didn’t let anyone in. According to my therapist.
I observed from behind my Ray-Bans as Jackson and the girl pretended not to notice each other out in the bay. Assistant, my ass. This chick was an actress preening for the director if ever I saw one. And I’d seen plenty.
A soccer ball landed next to my chair with a thwack, sending sand flying. Even in my foul mood, I could see it was a sign too obvious to ignore. It wasn’t the crew’s fault I hadn’t been invited fishing yesterday; I shouldn’t take my anger out on them. Anyway, I enjoyed soccer.
Gathering my wild curls into a ponytail, I dribbled the ball over toward a sound guy, two grips, a PA, and an electrical engineer. “Room for one more?” I asked, squinting into the sun.
“You’re on our team,” Sam, the scrawny sound guy, called. “That’s our goal.” He indicated two orange plastic cones about fifty feet away.
I threw a thumbs-up and kicked him the ball. I hadn’t played seriously since high school, but I was a decent defender and could pull off a few tricks that made me look cooler than I was. In no time I was sandy and sweaty, my foul mood forgotten.
We’d stopped for a water break when I saw my boss emerge bare-chested from a pathway cut between the red-flowering trees. Cole Power, the Sexiest Man in Hollywood twice over: first after his breakout role at twenty-five—thick dark hair falling in front of stormy blue eyes, cigarette dangling from pillowy lips, T-shirt sleeves rolled to display bulging biceps—and again three years ago at forty-six, in a slim-fit black suit this time, close-cropped hair accentuating a square jaw, and one of the most recognizable faces on the planet, made only more desirable by age. A distinctly male advantage.
These days the hair was back, and thicker than ever. Navy board shorts rode low on his hips, threatening to slide off as he sauntered along the shoreline toward me, his bronzed chest cut by minimum two-hour workouts with his trainer every morning. He was a gorgeous man with charisma to spare, not to mention an icon: the original Outsider, a rebel artist with a dimple and a penchant for fast cars, expensive wine, and beautiful women. But I’d been working for him only three months, and his mercurial charm had already worn thin, revealing an ego larger than his home state of Texas lurking just beneath the surface. It wasn’t his fault, per se. If I’d had the entire globe sucking my dick on command and blowing sunshine up my ass for more than half my life, I’d probably be a narcissist too.
The immediate problem though—the problem that made me want to run and hide in my beautifully appointed bungalow—was the question I needed to ask him and the embarrassment it would cause me. He wouldn’t spare me any shame—I knew him well enough to know that. But time was running out.
I signaled my teammates to play on without me and joined Cole beneath the shade of a thatched umbrella, where he flopped down on a lounger and groaned. A lanky waiter in a pink polo shirt with a name tag that read “Jamal” appeared holding a menu and a large bottle of spring water, which Cole immediately grabbed and began chugging.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Power,” Jamal said. Like most of the staff, he was African-Caribbean with a lilting accent so musical, I could listen to him read the phone book. “What else can I get you?”
Cole wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, his eyes fixed on a cruise ship on the horizon. “I need a shoulder massage. From a woman.” He threw Jamal a pained smile. “My head is pounding. Had a little too much fun in Gen Town last night—you know how it goes.”
Jamal nodded, clearly pleased Cole had acknowledged him. “Yes, Mr. Power, I know how it goes.”
Jamal turned and mimed a shoulder rub to a similarly dressed female employee hovering in the shade of the thatched snack shack at the edge of the tree line. She grabbed a bottle of lotion and started across the sand on sturdy legs, her arm raised to shield her eyes from the blazing sun. There went my opportunity to speak to Cole in private.
“Can I get you anything from the menu?” Jamal asked.
“A green shake,” Cole replied, enveloping Jamal in the warmth of his famous crooked grin. “And Tylenol. Thanks, man.”
“No problem.” Jamal returned his smile. “Anytime.”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Power,” the female employee said, stepping under the shade of the umbrella. I scanned her name tag. Tina. I liked to learn names. It came in especially useful working for Cole, who loved to think he knew everyone’s name but always got them wrong, and no one ever corrected him. He had confidently called me Tyler for the first month I worked for him, which I guess would have been an understandable mistake if I were a guy.
“Mr. Power needs a shoulder massage,” Jamal told her before departing in the direction of the snack shack.
“Certainly.” Tina displayed a gap-toothed smile. “How do you like the pressure?”
“Gimme everything you got. I can take it.” Cole dazzled her with his brilliant baby blues before flipping onto his stomach.
Flustered, Tina sank to her knees in the sand and began rubbing Cole’s shoulders. “You guys have fun fishing yesterday?” I asked.
He grunted confirmation. “Bartender last night just about killed me though. Kept making specialties he thought I’d like. He was right.”
From what I’d seen on our golf cart tour when we arrived the day before yesterday, “town” on this tiny island was nothing more than one cobblestone road lined with local shops painted in bright Caribbean colors, anchored by a concrete-block post office so miniature it looked like a children’s playhouse. “There are bars in town?”
“One. If it’s still standing after last night.”
“I’d have loved to join you boys,” I said pointedly. “On the fishing trip, too.”
“I didn’t think you’d want to come.”
I bristled. “Why, because I’m a girl?”
“Because you’re a vegetarian.”
“I’m pescatarian. And anyway, Francisco’s vegan and you invited him.”
“He is? I didn’t know that.”
I sighed. What could I do? At the moment I desperately needed the admittedly liberal paycheck that no one else was willing to give me, so I was stuck with him, and he knew it. Anyway, this certainly wasn’t the first time in my career that I’d been excluded due to my extra X chromosome. Not so many years ago, I’m sure he would’ve said it outright (and would have also likely hired strippers). But times had changed: these days I wasn’t explicitly uninvited; I was just left in the dark—a miscommunication, if anyone raised eyebrows. This move would have been impossible if the handful of other women on the crew were around, but their departments—wardrobe, makeup, script supervisor, and a lone female electrician—didn’t arrive until today.
“You’ll need to call the bar and give them a card. I didn’t have one on me,” he continued.
I was his producer, not his personal assistant, though he rarely seemed to know or care where the line was. Everyone in Cole’s orbit simply did whatever he asked, no matter whether or not it fell within the jurisdiction of their job description. But a night on the town wasn’t in our film budget. “Ben has your personal cards,” I returned.
“It’s a film expense.”
I took a controlled breath. “This is an independent film. You know we’re on a tight budget. Anything you spend on things like fishing trips and bar tabs, it comes out of what goes on-screen.”
His laugh had an edge to it. “You gotta stop worrying about money, half-pint.”
I hated the way he called me half-pint, but he claimed the nickname was a term of endearment and found it hilarious. “It’s my job to worry about money.”
He propped up on his elbows, his lips curled into a smile. “It’s my money,” he said lightly. “Just pay the tab and raise the budget. The more I spend on this movie, the less I pay in taxes. You have any idea how much I pay in taxes?”
“Roughly half, I’d guess,” I muttered.
He chuckled. “Not if you have the accountants I do.”
“If we’re raising the budget, I have a list about a mile long of things we actually need that got cut after Steve—”
He held up a hand. “Enough about fucking Steve.”
I bit my tongue. Fucking Steve was the line producer hired before I was brought on. He’d been used to working on much higher-budget films and had so grossly overpaid for everything at the top of the list that he ran out of money long before he reached the bottom, leaving us scavenging for crumbs to make up the rest of the cost. I’d recognized the problem early on and had wanted to replace him, but he and Cole had been “mates” (Steve was British) for years, and Cole wouldn’t hear of it. In fact, Cole was so adamant that I had to wonder whether Steve had some kind of dirt on him that demanded Cole’s loyalty. Suffice it to say that Cole was extremely protective of his image. Unfortunately, the satisfaction of being proven right about Steve’s incompetence was far outweighed by the stress of having to clean up his mess.
Cole flopped back onto his stomach. “Get your thumbs between my scaps,” he instructed Tina. “Yeah, that’s it.” He groaned. “You’re an angel. Right there. God, I love a woman with strong hands.”
I imagined her strong hands around his neck, squeezing.
But it was his money—all of it, including the part that paid my salary.
I’d been recruited to produce The Siren mainly because Cole had gotten flack in the media for his entertainment company being a boy’s club, which it was. For my part, I’d gladly accepted Cole’s offer not only because it was generous, but because it was the sole offer I’d fielded in the half a year since I’d been unceremoniously dumped from my prior job, and I was running out of money, not to mention losing my sanity to a deadly cocktail of inertia and depression.
Power Pictures was smaller than customary for entertainment companies owned by stars of Cole’s stature and was yet to deliver anything when I came on board. He handed me The Siren—a low-budget, complicated, truly independent passion project without studio involvement or even outside money—while the rest of the team stayed in LA to develop bigger things.
Why Cole had given his son, whose life he’d never much been involved in as far as I could tell, a three-million-dollar budget to direct a movie as his film school graduation present was beyond me. He and Jackson were far from chummy, and it was certainly a lot of trouble to go to for a tax benefit. But then, God only knew how much he had in the bank after the box-office-smashing success of the Gentleman Gangster series. (The fifth installment, for which he’d been paid thirty million plus an unheard-of percentage of the back end, had opened last month to even bigger numbers than any of the previous four.) The world was head over heels for the vicious yet charming anti-hero Gentleman Gangster. In a time of ever-declining ticket sales, Cole Power was one of the few movie stars whose name still drew a crowd.
Not only was father-of-the-year Cole Power financing The Siren, but in an even curiouser move, he’d agreed to star in it. It would be the lowest-budget film he’d done since before his first turn as Hollywood’s Sexiest Man. Of course, his appearance in it all but guaranteed the film’s success, which boded well for me and everyone else working on it, so I wasn’t protesting. I was now one of the many, many people whose livelihood depended on audiences continuing to fork over their hard-earned cash to see Cole Power smolder “A gentleman never shoots a man in the back.”
Tina continued to rub Cole’s shoulders as he squinted across the water at the siren on the rock, now leaning out over the water to converse with Jackson, her breasts dangling before him like ripe grapefruits. “Who’s that?”
“Stella’s new assistant.”
“Of course.” He sniggered.
“Funny. Jackson had the same reaction.” I raised my brows.
“Did he?” Cole eyed the two of them, the corners of his mouth downturned. “What else did he say?”
I contemplated. I’d just pissed him off by reminding him the movie had a budget, and I certainly couldn’t care less about Stella’s preferences, but if a known pattern indicated there might be a problem, as producer I needed to know. I’d had a hell of a time getting Stella insured to play Cole’s wife after her checkered past, and the insurance had caveats—like her staying sober. “Is there something I should know?” I ventured.
“No.” He suddenly rose to his feet, leaving Tina kneeling in the sand with no shoulders to rub. She looked to me for direction. I knew he’d probably want her to hang around, but I saw a chance to handle my sticky business with him and decided to take it before we were interrupted again.
“Thank you.” I dismissed her with an apologetic smile, pressing a fifty into her hand. Cole had an accurate theory that people rarely had anything bad to say about stars who were generous, so he insisted everyone around him always have cash on hand to grease the wheels.
“Speak of the devil,” Cole said under his breath.
Seriously? Was I ever going to get a moment alone with him?
Stella traipsed across the sand toward us, her slender frame clad in a turquoise caftan, wide-brimmed white sun hat covering her expertly highlighted honey-and-milk-chocolate waves. She was still beautiful at what she claimed was thirty-six but I knew from processing her paperwork was really forty, her heart-shaped face and delicate features offset by large, come-hither green eyes. I also knew after seeing her barefaced at the makeup test that even with the aid of fillers and Botox, the years of partying had taken a toll. She’d mastered the art of camouflaging the fine lines around her mouth and the hollows beneath her eyes with foundation and contouring, but our cinematographer would have to be incredibly careful how he lit and shot her.
Cole fired up his megawatt smile. “Stella! Gorgeous.” He slid his arm around her and gave her lingering kisses on each cheek. “Good to see you. Mmm, you look good enough to eat.”
“Oh, stop it!” Stella swatted at Cole. “You know you’re more gorgeous than I am.”
Stella and Cole had been an item way back when, and the scandal surrounding their breakup had been massive, but that was a long time ago and Cole was so insistent on hiring Stella that I’d figured they must have made peace since. Anyway, as skeptical as I was about casting her after her multiple, very public breakdowns, she’d been nothing but agreeable thus far. It had been nearly a decade since her last stint in rehab, and all her party-girl friends seemed to have gotten it together and moved on with their lives. Maybe her troubles really were in the past. She and Cole certainly appeared chummy enough now, play-fighting about whose abs were tighter.
I stood outside the circle of mutual admiration sweating in my inappropriate clothes, my curls sticking to the back of my neck. “Glad you finally made it,” I said. “How was the flight over?”
“That little plane, my God! I don’t think I’ve ever flown on anything that small . . . Landing on the water was crazy. I thought I might die.”
Cole snickered. “Glad to hear your flair for the dramatic is intact.”
“This place is amazing.” Stella swept her arm toward the horizon. “The water is just . . . so blue. I can’t even. I’ve always wanted to live on an island, drink from a coconut. So romantic. I love it.”
Out in the bay, Jackson splashed the girl on the rock, eliciting a cascade of squeals. We watched as she stood, laughing, then dove into the sea.
More by Katherine St. John!
in the mix. It’s hell and high water. And a high old time." —Wall Street Journal