Jennifer’s heroine is no longer a victim...
Valerie is the heroine of Skin Deep. When I wrote the book, her name just popped into my head. I haven’t heard that name since I was in elementary school, but somehow, it fit her. According to a popular baby name website, it means “strength, health.” If that’s true, than the name is even more perfect.
In my book, Valerie is a survivor. She survived domestic abuse and has rebuilt her life—she has a successful job as a makeup artist on a popular TV show, has surrounded herself with good friends, has reunited with her family and is in a good place.
She has emotional scars from her previous marriage—who wouldn’t—but they don’t define her and she is slowly recovering from them. Her husband, who is dead when the story begins, was a alcoholic, and the smell of alcohol bothers her. She’s used to being belittled by him, and is surprised when men treat her with respect, but she’s getting used to that respect and really is on her way to healing.
When I wrote the book, I wanted to do something good for someone, so I’ve donated a portion of the sales of that book to a local shelter that helps battered women. The shelter even invited me to meet some of the people who work there and it was a wonderful experience.
Here’s an excerpt:
“Hey Valerie, a bunch of us are going out after work. Wanna come?”
Flashes from her past competed with images from the present at the sudden voice and Valerie stiffened. She shook her head to clear the jumble of images.
“Where are you going?” She wiped the remains of the foundation on the short cotton apron over her turquoise shirt and faded denim jeans. Eyes closed, she inhaled. The thick weave of rough fabric scraped her fingers and anchored her in the present, despite her body’s momentary lapse.
“Tico’s for some drinks. There’s about eight of us going. It’ll be fun and you can meet some of the crew.”
Valerie’s hands shook and knocked into the plastic bottles on the tray. They clinked together as the tubes slid into the scissors and destroyed their recent orderliness. She kept her face down, eyes averted, as her cheeks heated and her palms became sweaty. She had dreaded this moment. If they’d been going anywhere but a bar, she’d have joined them, but she couldn’t bring herself to go there. So, she had to perform a delicate balancing act. Somehow, she had to refuse this invitation, but leave open the possibility for others. Despite their different personal styles, she and Michelle had formed an instant bond. The last thing she wanted was to hurt their new friendship.
“I can’t tonight. Thanks for asking though. Maybe another time.” She took a deep breath and pasted on a smile.
“Hot date?” Michelle raised a perfectly plucked black eyebrow and grinned.
Valerie grinned back. “Just with my laundry.”
“You’re turning me down for laundry? Come on, you can do that tomorrow.”
Valerie shook her head. “I really can’t tonight, Michelle. Next time.”
Michelle muttered under her breath as she left. Valerie sighed as the door banged shut and left her alone with her memories.
That night, after all the scenes had been shot, Valerie waited for everyone to leave. She didn’t want to answer questions or receive pity.
She arranged and rearranged drawers and tools. The trailer contained three stations, each with its own make-up chair. A long table ran down one wall, with plenty of drawers for storage space. Well-lit mirrors hung above the table. Unable to find anything else to do, and convinced by the silence that everyone had to have left, she took out her keys to lock up. She jumped as a knock sounded at the door, the trailer rattled and a head peeked in.
“Oh, hi, John.” She expelled a deep breath and willed her heart to slow its frantic beat. “Do you need something?”
“No.” He entered and stood by the door. John Samuels played the lead. At almost six-foot three, he dwarfed the trailer and had to tip his head to fit. He folded his muscular arms across his chest and spread his feet apart. “Michelle told me you were not joining us tonight. I thought I would see if I could change your mind.”
Valerie rolled her eyes. “She is persistent.”
“You noticed.” John’s dark eyes twinkled. His mouth widened with a ghost of a smile. Valerie tried not to gasp.
He reminded her of a rugged cowboy — broad-shouldered, with a prominent brow, dark piercing eyes, high cheekbones and a cleft chin. When he smiled, even a slight trace of one, his eyes looked like liquid velvet and his dimples twinkled like stars in the night sky. A five-o’clock shadow covered his cheeks. Her fingers itched to brush against their rough texture, to tease his mouth into a full-blown grin.
“So, what can I say to make you join us?”
As he leaned against the wall in well-fitting jeans and a T-shirt that left nothing to the imagination, Valerie’s mind said, “Sleep with me.” Heat crept up her neck, over her cheeks and continued to the roots of her hair. A thin sheen of sweat dampened the space between her breasts. She felt the sudden urge to fan herself, like a damsel in distress in an old B-movie. Instead, she ignored her traitorous thoughts. Her balled fist pressed into her tight stomach.
“Tonight, not even chocolate will change my mind.”
She didn’t exactly lie. She had no intention of going to the bar, or of sleeping with him, no matter how her thoughts might try to sabotage her good intentions. She’d been fooled by surface finery before, and it had almost killed her. She wouldn’t let it happen again.
“I will remember that,” he promised. “But next time you will not get off so easy.” His eyes bored into hers for a moment, and then he turned on his heel and left.
True to his word, John arrived the following day prepared for battle. With a cursory knock on the door, he dangled a bag of M&Ms inside the trailer, but snatched it back before she could grab them. “We are going out for pizza. I will pick you up in ten minutes.” Before she could answer, he walked out.
Valerie shrugged as she finished her work. The new Valerie never allowed other people to make decisions for her, but she’d practically handed John a permission slip. And, he had M&M’s. How could she refuse?