Drawing in a shaking breath, she lifted her head. Pointing a damning finger at the grotesque woman in the mirror, she said, “You can’t let this happen.”

Sniffing, she swiped at the offensive tears and drew herself up. Squaring her shoulders, she saw the ugly woman staring back at her do the same. As if that obscene bitch with the sickening orange mouth and mascara running in rivers down her face had an ounce of backbone.

Ignore her. She’s not the enemy!

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She blinked.

Managed to retrieve some of the shreds of her sanity.

Felt her strength, her purpose returning. Sensed again her need to become the characters that Jenna Hughes had portrayed.

Absolute despair and self-loathing gave way to a slow-burning anger at her own ineptness to recapture the image, to prove to herself that she was as good as Jenna Hughes. Not just as good, but better. Younger. Stronger. More beautiful.

She glanced to the mirror and the hideous image glared back at her, as if she knew a secret. Was the woman laughing at her? Did she know that Jenna Hughes could never be bested?

Instinctively she yanked open the makeup drawer and rattled through the jars, pencils, creams, and shadows until she found the palette knife. Dull, but good enough.

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Flinging one last look at the ugly woman in the mirror she kicked back her chair and crossed the few steps to the bench and the poster of Zoey Trammel.

Before her anger ebbed, she jabbed the dull knife into the poster, gloried in the sound of paper tearing.

Then she pulled the knife back and stabbed again. And again. And again. Faster and faster. In a frenzy, her gaze glued to the calm features of Zoey Trammel until Jenna’s beauty was obliterated, her eyes disappearing, her mouth stretched into a monstrous slash.

She was breathing hard, her heart a drum and in her furor, she stumbled backward. Falling, she hit her arm on the edge of the dressing table aggravating the scratch on her wrist.

Pain sang up her arm.

She dropped the knife.

It clattered to the floor near to where she, herself, dropped. Wrapping her arms around her knees, her head tucked between her shoulders, she rocked slowly back and forth, trying to pull herself together.

Her rage spent, she drew in deep breaths and closed her eyes. “Oh, God,” she whispered as slowly, bit by rational bit, sanity returned. The fire that fueled her madness eventually died, not to ashes, but to glowing embers that could ignite with just a little bit of stoking.

The pain remained. And the fear. That she was so different. A monster.

She knew she had to stop this. She had to stop accidentally maiming herself. She couldn’t mar her skin. For the love of God, what was she thinking? That would be stupid and she was far from an idiot . . . right?

She managed to climb to her feet, then fall into her chair again. Now her reflection appeared clownish and sad, a pathetic creature. She told herself to calm down and think.

Go slow. Stick to the plan. Don’t get distracted. Things will work out. You will make them work out.

Finally she breathed more easily.

Calmer, she picked up the knife and placed it back in her drawer. Once she’d swept the floor and thrown away the broken bottles and jars, and the tabletop was straightened to her satisfaction, she walked to the small window and peered through the clear glass.

A smile touched at the corners of her lips as she saw, through the fronds of palm trees, the Hollywood sign mounted high on the hills. Illuminated, its white letters stark against the night, the iconic sign was a silent reminder of her mission. And what she had to do next.

She was the one who should have been the star.

She was the one who should have taken Hollywood by storm, been adored by a million fans.

Fame was yet to be hers.

She turned and once more studied her wall where she’d remounted the disfigured poster of Jenna as Zoey Trammel. Wincing, she forced herself to stare at her handiwork. Maybe she’d learn to control herself. The torn print was a harsh reminder of her thin grip on reality.

Slowly, she turned and focused on another poster. This one of Allie.

In the poster for Wait Until Christmas, Allie was a vision, like a damned angel. With her face upturned as if she were actually glimpsing heaven and a divine light shining upon her, she was the picture of innocence and virtue.

Yeah, right.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

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