Feb. 3, 2010— -- Following up on the New York Times bestselling book "L.A. Candy," Lauren Conrad's new novel "Sweet Little Lies" tells the tale of a girl who finds herself in the spotlight of a Los Angeles reality TV show and navigates her way through gossip, scheming friends and scandal, all in the public eye.
Read the excerpt below, and then head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.
Just before 9 a.m. on Monday morning, Jane pulled into her usual parking spot behind Fiona Chen's building. She turned off the engine and carefully searched the entire lot through the window. Good—no photographers. She'd had to fend off two of them outside the apartment earlier. They were so obnoxious, shouting questions at her about Braden and Jesse—"Jane, why did Braden move to New York?" "Jane, what do you think of Jesse's new girlfriend?"—and snapping picture after picture of her while she gritted her teeth and tried to ignore them. She hadn't heard anything about Braden going to New York or Jesse having a new girlfriend. But she knew better than to talk to paparazzi.
Still . . . the thought of Braden and Jesse moving on without her, and so quickly, made her heart feel heavy. Neither had tried to contact her since the Gossip story broke. Obviously she hadn't tried to contact them, either. She knew she had to at some point. She owed Braden an apology—for hooking up with him when she was so mixed-up about everything, and for inadvertently getting him involved in this whole mess. And she owed Jesse an even bigger apology. She had no idea how she could possibly make things right after cheating on him, and in front of the whole world, too.
There was one guy she didn't owe anything—and he seemed to have no problem getting in touch with her: Caleb had texted her yesterday, from Vail—something about the awesome powder, and did she remember when they went to Tahoe during her senior year, and she wiped out on her new snowboard, like, twenty times? A few minutes later, he had texted her a photo of her lying in a pile of snow and laughing hysterically. Jane had no idea why he was sending her this stuff. It was nice that he was thinking about her. But confusing. And she didn't need "confusing" right now, on top of everything else.
Riding up to her office in the crowded elevator, Jane felt butterflies in her stomach. And not the good kind. She hadn't been to work in over a week, and she was really nervous about facing Fiona. She had sent her boss a quick email yesterday, saying that she would be back in the office on Monday. Fiona had responded right away, writing simply: SEE YOU TOMORROW AT 9 SHARP.
So what was in store for Jane at 9 sharp? A furious Fiona waiting with a long lecture? A pink slip, telling her that she had two weeks to find new employment? Maybe one followed by the other. Can't wait.
To make things worse, the L.A. Candy cameras were up there already, prepared to shoot Jane's return to work. When Trevor had called Jane yesterday, Jane had felt compelled to pick up after ignoring him for so long. He asked her if it would be okay for them to shoot her at work the following day. After going MIA on him, what could she say but yes?
Much to her surprise, Trevor had been really sweet on the phone and didn't sound angry at all about the Gossip thing or her disappearing to Cabo. Which was weird, since he'd sounded so stressed in his messages. He told her that he was happy she was back, and that everything was going to be fine. He said that he'd been thinking about how to present "recent events" on the show, and thought her story line should be that she had cheated on Jesse (without naming Braden, of course), and that she wasn't sure who had spilled the news to Jesse. Maybe she could confess to someone, like her coworker and friend Hannah Stratton, that she felt really bad about the whole thing. It would be Jane's opportunity to tell her side of the story. He promised her that after people saw her side, everything would be better. And that was that. Trevor added that he would talk to each of the girls—Madison, Gaby, Scarlett, and Hannah—to clue them in on his ideas.
Lauren Conrad's "Sweet Little Lies"
Jane was relieved that Trevor was being so nice about everything. At the same time, she wasn't sure how she felt about his interpretation of "recent events." Trevor's story line wasn't exactly accurate. On the other hand, it sounded a lot more PG—and more protective of Braden's privacy—than what had really happened.
Jane also didn't like the idea of Trevor talking to Hannah about his ideas. Hannah wasn't one of the main girls on the show—just someone who was lucky or unlucky (depending on your perspective) enough to have a desk across from Jane, which meant that she was almost always shot as part of the office "scenes." Hannah wasn't used to dealing with Trevor and Dana. Couldn't he leave her out of this?
Trevor had also emailed Jane some short scripts he wanted her to record later that day, at the recording studio. They were the voice-overs that Jane always narrated for the show, recapping previous episodes for each new episode. Months ago, before the series premiere, Dana had told Jane that she had been chosen for the voice-overs because she was thought to be the most relatable of the four girls. Whatever that meant.
Jane pulled out her blackberry, opened the e-mail and glanced over the lines briefly as several people got out on the fourth floor. (The elevator was moving soooo slowly today—and Jane didn't want to be late on her first day back.) One of the lines caught her attention: Last week at the gym, Scarlett and Gaby met a couple of cute guys from Texas. Will there be a double date in their future?
What? Scar and Gaby were going to the gym together now? Scar couldn't stand Gaby, or at least, that was what she had always claimed. Jane couldn't picture Scar and Gaby working out together—much less going out on a double date together. Had the world turned upside down while she was in Cabo?
The elevator doors finally opened on the fifth floor, and Jane stepped out. She was disoriented for a moment when she saw that the waiting area—usually so peaceful, with its dark gold walls, soft lighting, and miniature Zen garden complete with trickling waterfall—had been overrun by the PopTV crew. A couple of guys were running around with equipment, while Dana and Matt, one of the directors, were having a conversation by the receptionist's desk.Dana snapped to attention when she saw Jane. "Good morning, Jane! Hope you had a great Christmas. Not to rush you, but we gotta get a mike on you right away."
"Not to rush you"? "Good morning"? Had someone slipped a Prozac into Dana's morning coffee?
"Fiona's all ready for you in her office," Matt added. Matt was a nice guy, even though Jane had been confused by his presence the first time they met. After all, L.A. Candy was a reality show. Why was a director necessary? Like someone had to "direct" her getting a cup of coffee or chatting with her friends? Jane had quickly figured out that he was there to direct the shots, not the girls. His job was to watch all the cameras at the same time on his portable screen and make sure they got the necessary footage.
Matt frowned into his headset. "Or . . . not. What, Ramon?" he said to the person on the other end. "Well, fine. Let me know when she's done with hair and makeup." Jane knew that Fiona called in her own hair and makeup stylist on shooting days. The boss lady pretended not to care about things like her TV image, but she did.
One of the crew members came over and handed Jane a small silver microphone attached to a wire. "You wearing a bra under that?" he asked, nodding at her pale blue halter dress. That question used to make Jane blush. But she was used to it by now.
"No, it's got, like, this built-in bra. But I can tape it onto the dress.""Great. You know the drill."
Lauren Conrad's "Sweet Little Lies"
As Jane worked on the mike (it created a little humpback under her dress, which she covered with her hair), she saw the receptionist out of the corner of her eye giving her a little wave. Naomi was petite, blond, stylish, and whispered most of the time, not because she was naturally soft-spoken but because she was terrified of Fiona and took her philosophy of keeping a calm, tranquil atmosphere very literally. Which was pretty hilarious, given the chaos Jane and the PopTV crew brought to the office. Jane waved back. It was nice to see a friendly face.
"Okay, Fiona's ready for you now," Matt called out to Jane. "Let's get a quick shot of you coming out of the elevators and saying hi to Natalie."
"Naomi," Naomi whispered.
"What?" Matt frowned.
"Her name's Naomi," Jane said helpfully.
"Naomi. And then Naomi will tell you that Fiona wants to see you, and you'll head on back," Matt went on.
After shooting the exciting scene for twenty minutes—they had to let several crowded elevators go by, and then a FedEx delivery guy wandered into the frame, requiring a retake—Jane was ready to go face Fiona. Well, readyish.
Fiona sat behind her desk, busily typing on her computer. Two camera guys were in opposite corners of the room, filming. Forty-something and striking, Fiona was wearing one of her trademark all-black ensembles. Her freshly done hair and makeup looked lovely, especially with the help of the muted lighting, which Jane knew had taken the crew about two hours to achieve. They always had to go through this when filming in Fiona's office. The fact that she insisted they leave her office exactly the way they found it meant they couldn't leave the enormous lights in there and had to bring them in and out every time they filmed.
"Good morning, Fiona," Jane said with a nervous smile.
Fiona stopped typing and glanced up. "Good morning, Jane," she said simply, nodding toward the chair on the opposite side of her desk.
Jane sat down on one of Fiona's prized Eames chairs, set her bag on the floor, and waited. She mentally braced herself for the worst: Your behavior has disgraced this entire company! You've made one mistake too many! You're fired! You're—
"I have a new assignment for you," Fiona announced. "Crazy Girl has hired us to do a Valentine's Day party to launch their new drink flavor. I'm putting you in charge of it, and Hannah will be helping out. Ruby Slipper will be doing the PR, so you and Hannah will be coordinating with Gaby Garcia."
Jane was stunned. No chastisement from Fiona for leaving without notice? It was as though nothing had happened. It was business as usual. And a new assignment? With a major client like Crazy Girl?
Also, how was it that she was going to be working on the assignment with Gaby, who happened to be on L.A. Candy, too? Had Trevor intervened somehow?
"The budget will be . . . Why aren't you writing this all down?" Fiona demanded sharply.
"What? Oh, I'm sorry!" Flustered, Jane reached into her bag and pulled out a small notebook and pen.
Lauren Conrad's "Sweet Little Lies"
Despite the unanswered questions in her mind, Jane couldn't help but feel kind of excited. Crazy Girl was a new brand of energy drink designed to appeal to a female market that might be put off by seemingly macho energy drinks like Katapult and Dragon Fuel. Even though it was new, the Crazy Girl name seemed to be all over the place. Now it would be all over a Valentine's Day party organized by her, Jane Roberts. It was pretty amazing.
Fiona proceeded to give Jane more instructions about the assignment, while Jane took notes in her nearly illegible shorthand. When Fiona was finished, Jane said, "Great. I'm on it. I'm really excited about working on this project."
"Crazy Girl is a very important new client for us, Jane. I need your full attention here."
"I haven't had a chance to discuss this with Hannah, so please fill her in."
As Jane put her notebook away, she remembered something. "Isn't . . . didn't we have another party scheduled for Valentine's Day? Anna Payne's wedding or recommitment ceremony or something?"
"Recommitment ceremony. And no, that's been canceled. She and her husband split up."
"Really? What happened?"
"Apparently she cheated on him with his best friend while he was in rehab."
Jane felt heat rising to her cheeks. "Okay, well, um . . . is there anything else?"
"No, that will be all," Fiona said without looking up from her computer screen.
As the camera guys started to move their equipment to film in her and Hannah's office, Jane gathered her stuff and stood up. And sat back down again. She had a few minutes between scenes, and she had something she wanted to say to Fiona off-camera. She waited as the room slowly emptied.
"Yes?" Fiona picked up her cell and began punching in a number.
"I'm . . . well, I wanted to apologize. For everything that happened, and for disappearing last week. It was really unprofessional of me, and I'm really, really sorry."
Fiona stared at Jane, then clicked her phone shut. Her dark eyes softened. "Apology accepted," she said gently.
"You've been through a lot. I'm sure it hasn't been easy for you. But you're a strong, smart girl, and you'll survive this. I have faith in you."
Jane blinked. Had Fiona, the world's scariest boss (in Jane's opinion, anyway), just decided to be human?
"Thank you," Jane gushed. "Thank you so much, it's really nice of you to—"
"Yes. Well, sorry, but I've got to take this," Fiona cut in as she brought her phone to her ear. Her voice was hard again.
Lauren Conrad's "Sweet Little Lies"
Jane scrambled to her feet. She'd better get out of there before Fiona decided not to be so understanding, after all. No point in pushing her luck!
"I'm so glad you're back. Things haven't been the same without you," Hannah said. She hooked a long strand of honey-blond hair over her ear. "Did you have a good Christmas?"
"Yeah, it was nice to see my parents and my sisters," Jane said. She glanced briefly at the two camera guys filming in the corners, then at the top of her desk, which was cluttered as always with files, fabric swatches, and magazine clippings. There was a vase of frilly peach tulips next to her Mac. "Where'd these come from?"
"Oh, I picked them up on my way in. I thought they'd cheer you up."
"Wow. That was really sweet. Thank you!"
Jane smiled at Hannah. Hannah had started working at Fiona Chen Events shortly after Jane. She was one of the nicest people Jane had met in L.A., and she was a good listener, too. In fact, Jane used to confide in her a lot about Jesse—not just because of her listening skills but because she was one of Jane's only friends who actually liked Jesse. Madison, Gaby, Scar (especially Scar), and even Braden had all advised her to stay far away from him because he was trouble. Hannah was the only person who had encouraged Jane to follow her heart. And back then, before everything blew up, Jane's heart had told her that she was falling for Jesse. That they belonged together.
"So we're gonna be working on the Crazy Girl party together," Jane said. "It's gonna be amazing."
"Definitely," Hannah agreed.
"We need to go over some details, then set up a meeting with Ruby Slipper."
"Yes! Anytime is fine with me. My schedule's pretty clear." Hannah peered at her computer monitor. That girl was always on IM at work.
Jane felt her phone vibrating and fished it out of her bag. It was a text from Dana.
CAN YOU SAY GABYS NAME WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT RUBY SLIPPER? Dana had written.
Jane ignored the text and shoved the phone back into her bag. Guess that's confirmed, she thought. Trevor had obviously intervened, convincing Fiona to pair Jane and Gaby up for the Crazy Girl party. The PopTV cameras would be all over their entire event-planning process from beginning to end.
"Soooo. Have you, um, talked to Jesse lately?" Hannah asked, breaking the silence of the room.
Jane shook her head. "No. I've been meaning to call him, but . . ." Her voice trailed off.
"You really should call him," Hannah told her. "I'm sure he wants to talk to you."
"I'm pretty sure he doesn't," Jane said. "I don't think he'll ever forgive me."
"You made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes."
"Yeah, well, this wasn't just a mistake. I really screwed up, Hannah."
Lauren Conrad's "Sweet Little Lies"
Then, before Jane knew what was happening, her eyes welled with tears. She wiped a tear off her cheek. "I really screwed up," she repeated, whispering.
Hannah got up from her desk and hurried over to Jane. She wrapped her arms around Jane's shoulders and gave her a big hug. "We all screw up once in a while," she said. "Call Jesse. Apologize to him. You're gonna feel so much better if you do."
"I'll think about it," Jane said, wiping away another tear.
Jane remembered then that the cameras were still rolling. She had just confessed to Hannah on-camera how bad she felt about cheating on Jesse. This was what Trevor had told her to do when they spoke on the phone last night, wasn't it? Did that mean he'd put those words into her mouth? No, they were her words. So why did she feel a strange sense of . . . what? Being directed somehow? And had Trevor directed Hannah, too? No, that's crazy, she told herself. Trevor's suggestions were no different from Dana's text-messaged requests. They were simply meant to help shape the girls' conversations while they were on-camera. To make things more interesting for TV. After all, they couldn't just sit there and talk about nothing, right?