And Playing the Role of Herself... (Part 4)
For disclaimers, see part 1
The sounds of a shower running along with quiet singing woke me the next morning, pulling me from dreams that I couldn't remember, but that left me slightly unsettled. I rolled onto my back and opened my eyes, blinking groggily at the unfamiliar, sunlit room around me. My eyes fell on a pile of clothes on the floor, and I smiled slowly, remembering the night before and just who it was singing Prince's Kiss, slightly off-key, in the next room.
I yawned and stretched luxuriously, humming in satisfaction at the pull from muscles long unused. With any luck, I'd have many chances to whip those muscles back in shape. I tucked an arm behind my head, smiling at the thought. The shower turned off but the singing continued and I watched Robyn exit the bathroom wearing a short, black robe - damn, that woman looked good in black - and toweling her hair dry.
"Act your age mama, not your shoe size maybe we could do the twirl..."
She stopped abruptly when she caught sight of me.
"Morning," I smiled. "I can't remember the last time I was serenaded in bed."
"Uh...hi." She looked around the room, anywhere but at me, obviously uncomfortable and at a loss for words. I fought back a stab of panic. She couldn't be done with me already, could she?
Not if I could fucking help it.
I pushed the covers off and threw my legs over the side of the bed, never losing eye contact. "Come here."
I think we were both surprised by the authority in my tone, and she blinked and dropped the towel to her shoulder, staring at me.
"Please," I added, holding out a hand to her.
She hesitated, obviously warring with herself over something, before finally draping the towel across the back of the chair and slowly approaching the bed. She stopped a few feet from me and I reached out to pull her forward the last few feet until she came to a stop standing between my legs.
I stared up into her face for a moment, looking for a hint of what we shared the night before. Come on sweetheart; don't do this to me...
With careful deliberateness, I untied the belt of her robe and spread the material, drinking in the sight of her. She did nothing as I slowly ran my hands up her thighs and over her stomach, but when I nuzzled the hair at the juncture of her thighs and placed a gentle kiss on small swell just about it, I felt a tremor run through her body and a shaky sigh escape her lips.
I wrapped my arms around her waist and laid my cheek against her stomach, squeezing tightly. "Please Robyn," I whispered, "don't pull away from me. I don't think I could stand it."
She let out another shaky breath, and I felt a gentle hand on my head, stroking softly through my hair. "Oh, Caid...you scare the hell out of me, you know that don't you?"
"You scare me, too," I mumbled in response, and her hand paused briefly before resuming its stroking.
We stayed that way for a few minutes, and finally I looked up to find her gazing down at me with a tenderness that calmed my fears. She cupped my face with both hands and leaned down to kiss me. "I'm sorry Caid. I'm not used to someone staying the night...I guess I freaked out just a little. Let's start again, okay?"
She kissed me again, this kiss much more involved, and when she finally pulled away, she was on top of me in a tangle of limbs, her robe discarded somewhere on the floor, and her breasts warm and supple in my hands.
She sighed and lifted off of me slightly. "Good morning." She gave me a gentle kiss. "I had a wonderful, wonderful time last night, thank you."
"I..." I didn't know how to begin telling her what last night had meant to me, and I was fairly certain we weren't ready for declarations of love, regardless of my nocturnal realizations. I settled for a heartfelt, "me too," satisfied for the moment with the pleased smile my words elicited.
I raised my head and nibbled along the line of her chin, stroking my thumbs gently over already hardened nipples and feeling the answering surge in my body at her sharp intake of breath. "God...." She tucked in her chin, putting it out of my reach, and laid her forehead against mine. "Damn...as much as it kills me to say this, we need to stop. My flight leaves at 10:20 and I have a car coming in an hour, and I still have some things to take care of..."
I dropped my head to the pillow with a tiny noise of distress. "Son-of-a-bitch." Slowly, with supreme effort, I pulled my hands from where they cupped her breasts and laid them, palms down, on the bed. "Unfair. So unfair."
"I agree," she said with obvious regret and kissed my nose before rolling off of me and climbing out of bed. "I'm sorry, baby."
I sighed dramatically, but smiled inwardly. I could get used to that voice calling me baby in the morning. Or any other damn time she pleased. I rolled on my side and watched in disappointment as she retrieved her robe and shrugged it on, hiding all that glorious skin from my appreciative eye.
"I trust you'll make it up to me later, Ms. Ward?"
Her gaze swept my naked body, and the smile she gave me could only be described as wicked. Deliciously wicked. "Count on it."
The look didn't do anything to calm the heat in my belly, and I groaned and pulled a pillow over my head, hearing her laughter move out of the room. "Right now," she called to me as she moved down the stairs, "all I can do is offer you coffee...come on down when you're ready, help yourself to whatever you need."
I lay still for a minute, attempting to get this thing...this amazing thing...that Robyn did to me under control.
She had a car coming. She was leaving. For two months.
I pulled the pillow tight against my face in frustration.
I wasn't going to see her for two freaking months. Wasn't going to feel what I'd felt the night before for two goddamn months. Wouldn't touch her, hold her, taste her...Christ, she's not even gone yet and I already miss her. You've got it bad, Caid.
The sound of a phone ringing, muffled by the pillow but still audible, stopped the depressing direction of my thoughts. I tossed the pillow to the side and rolled off the bed, realizing that I was wasting what little time I had with her, and that I should get my butt downstairs pronto. After a quick perusal of my wrinkled clothing from the night before, I grabbed a t-shirt and some shorts from the shelves in Robyn's closet, pausing to breathe in the familiar scent of her that lingered on the clothes before pulling on the faded UCLA t-shirt and black soccer shorts.
I started down the stairs, whistling happily, and was nearly run over by Robyn, barreling up the stairs full-tilt with a panicked look in on her face. She skidded to an abrupt halt at the sight of me, a brief smile flickering across her features as she took in my outfit.
"Damn. You look good in my clothes." She blinked, and her expression closed. "But you need to leave. Now."
The quip about looking even better out of her clothes died on my lips, and I stared at her. "Pardon?"
She pushed past me into the bedroom, returning a moment later to shove a bundle of clothes - my clothes - into my hands. "My sister just called. She'll be here any minute, and you can't be here."
I took the clothes automatically and let her direct me down the stairs, bewildered by the turn of events. We were at the entryway and Robyn was muttering something about her sister's bad timing when I finally snapped out of my paralysis.
I planted my feet and shrugged off the hand that had been none-to-gently pushing me towards the door. "Why?"
She frowned, glancing nervously at the door. "Why what?"
"Why do I need to be gone when your sister gets here? You're an adult, Robyn. You own this house. You can have whoever the hell you want here, and it shouldn't make a difference to your sister."
Her eyes narrowed, her face becoming cold, and I watched the transformation from lover to stranger happen in seconds. She stepped back and crossed her arms. "Careful, Caid. I don't like to be pushed. A night in my bed does not give you the right to tell me how to deal with my family. I'm not coming out to my sister because you're a good lay."
I blinked, and my ragged, surprised intake of breath was audible.
Amazing how much hurt a few careless words could cause. A part of me knew she didn't mean it - couldn't mean it. She was stressed and scared and would regret those words as soon as she had a chance to think about them. In fact, I could tell she was already regretting them as she closed her eyes pinched the bridge of her nose, swearing softly.
"Shit, Caid, I'm sorry..."
Knowing she was sorry didn't make her words hurt any less, or dim my flare of anger one bit.
"Christ, Robyn, I wasn't asking you to come out to your sister, I was just asking you to treat me at least like someone you give a shit about, that's all." Her eyes widened as I stripped out of the t-shirt and shorts I'd borrowed in jerky, angry movements, tossing each item in her direction as it came off.
"What the hell are you doing?"
I shook out my own wrinkled clothes and started pulling them back on. "There's a woman I assume is your sister walking up the drive. Wouldn't want her to see me in your clothes, now would we? She might get the wrong idea." I finished dressing and laughed bitterly as I stuffed my bra and underwear into my pocket. "I can't freaking believe this. It's been a long time since I've had to sneak out of someone's house with my underwear in my pocket."
I pulled at the hem of my silk sleeveless shirt in an ineffectual attempt to get rid of some of the wrinkles, and ran an unsteady hand through my tangled hair, but it didn't help. I looked exactly like I should - like someone who'd spent the night screwing and was now getting kicked out on her ass.
I gave up with an annoyed expletive and straightened, looking over at Robyn. "Thanks, babe, for turning something I thought was pretty damn amazing into a bad teen movie. Now I know if I ever want to feel like crap, you're my go-to gal."
She winced and stepped forward. "Caid..."
I cut her off with a wave of my hand and yanked the door open, startling a blond woman standing on the other side, hand raised to knock. "Morning," I said, nodding politely. "You must be Robyn's sister. Nice to meet you. I work with your sister occasionally and stopped by to say hello. I was just leaving."
"Caid...wait." Robyn reached for my arm but I slipped past her very confused looking sibling, glancing back when I reached the edge of the porch.
"Safe trip, Robyn. I'm glad, at least, it was good for you."
"Goddamnit, Caid, I didn't mean..."
I whirled and stomped down the walk in very mature, righteous anger, not realizing until I got to Twila's door that I didn't have my keys. Or my wallet. Or my cell phone. All of these items were in my bag, on a stool in Robyn's kitchen.
I closed my eyes and leaned my hands against the roof of the car, trying to calm my anger that was now mixed with acute embarrassment. I cannot go back in that house. I cannot go back in that house. I can NOT go back...
I stamped my foot against the driveway and my eyes popped open at the sudden pain. I looked down and realized I wasn't wearing any shoes.
"Isn't this just perfect! Last night's clothes, no keys, no wallet, no phone, no goddamn shoes..."
"Hey, shhh...." Robyn was suddenly behind me, wrapping long arms around my body and pulling me against her. She rested her forehead on my shoulder, tightening her arms. "God, I'm such an idiot, Caid, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it...please, baby, don't leave. I'm sorry..."
My anger drained away at her panicky tone; I sighed and relaxed back against her. "Shit." Jesus, weren't we a pair. One step forward, eighteen back.
She raised her head and kissed my hair just behind my ear. "I'm so sorry, Caid. I keep fucking up. I never, ever want to make you feel like I did...you're not a good lay..."
"Hey!" I squawked, turning my head enough to frown at her.
"Ah, damn, that didn't come out right...of course you are...great, actually...I mean, not that I think of you that way, despite what I said..."
She looked so flustered, so damn earnest...I laughed.
Her forehead creased in confusion and she turned me around to face her, holding me by the shoulders. "You're not mad?"
I snorted. "Of course I'm mad - it was a shitty thing to say, and a shitty way to treat someone."
She dropped her hands from my shoulders and looked at the ground, shuffling her feet like a scolded child. A gorgeous, six-foot tall, dressed in a slinky black robe that was a much to short to be standing around in her driveway scolded child. "I know," she said quietly and looked up remorsefully through long lashes.
Damn. No wonder she got away with acting like an asshole. Whip that look out and no one had a chance. I sighed, and tilted her chin up with my hand. "I'll get over it, Robyn, but this is the last time you get to use the 'I'm not used to this' card, okay? This is new to both of us, but that's not an excuse to act like a jerk."
"I know, Caid, and I'm sor..."
"Uh, Robyn? What's going on?" Both our heads jerked towards the tentative voice.
Whoops. Forgot about the sister.
Without any urgency, I dropped my hand from Robyn's chin and took a casual step back, moving out of her space. She might have been a bit callous in her phrasing earlier, but Robyn had been right. How she interacted with her family wasn't my business.
Robyn's eyes flicked over to her sister briefly, and then came back to me, pinning me as though I might leave. She must not have heard my little tirade about not having my keys, wallet and cell phone. "Sorry, Trish...we'll be right in. Can you give us a sec? There's coffee on."
"Robyn, I need to..."
"Trish. Please. Just give me a minute, okay?"
I felt pressure on my fingers and looked down to see that Robyn had taken my hands in hers. I looked at her in surprise. Ten minutes ago, she had been terrified that her sister would find me at her house and get the wrong idea. Or the right idea. Now she was standing here, holding my hands in her driveway.
There was an annoyed huff and light footsteps retreating back up the walk, but Robyn kept her eyes on me.
"So." She absently stroked her thumbs over my knuckles, looking at me intently. "Are we okay?"
I resisted the urge to lean in and kiss the lines of worry from her forehead, settling for a nod and a squeeze of her hands.
Her body sagged visibly in relief, and she blinked slowly and smiled. "Thank you."
"Do it again, though, and I'll kick that lovely ass of yours into the next century." I was only half kidding, and she knew it.
"If I do it again, I'd deserve it. I'm truly sorry, Caid. I acted...horribly. If I were in your place..." She shook her head, looking blindly over my shoulder for a moment. "I don't know if I'd have forgiven quite so quickly."
"Hey." I tugged on her hands, bringing her eyes back to mine. "Don't think that because I'm quick to forgive that it didn't hurt me, Robyn. It hurt. But I'm not ready to throw the towel in quite yet, and I hope you're not either."
"No way," she said fervently, shaking her head.
We stood smiling shyly at each other, until she bit her lower lip and looked towards the house. Ah yes, the sister. I kept forgetting about her. Robyn glanced back at me and hesitated, her internal debate surprisingly easy to read in her normally guarded expression.
"Would you come inside? I'd like...I'd like you to meet Trish properly." Some of the surprise must have shown on my face, because she hastily amended, "Not as a someone I...not as my lover, Caid, I don't think I'm quite ready for that yet, but I do want her to know you're more than just someone I work with occasionally."
My lover. The words gave me an unexpected thrill of pleasure and I smiled. "I'd like very much to meet your sister."
"Well then," she said and grinned, "let's not keep her waiting."
She turned towards the house, dropping one of my hands but keeping a firm grip on the other as she pulled me up the drive.
When I resisted, she stopped and looked at me curiously. "What's wrong?"
"Should we..." God, I couldn't believe I was saying this. I felt like I was fifteen, and out past curfew. "Should we get our stories straight or something?"
Her forehead furrowed in confusion. "Stories straight?"
"For your sister. You don't want your family to know about...us, but when you came after me, well, that probably looked a little more than friendly. What are you going to tell her?"
She shrugged. "Nothing."
"Yes, nothing, because she won't ask."
"She won't. My family..." She shrugged again. "Some things we just don't mention."
I had a hard time believing that a half-naked Robyn running out of her house and practically tackling a woman in her driveway would be ignored, but soon found that Robyn was right. When we pushed into the kitchen, her sister looked more annoyed than curious, and I got my first lesson in Ward family dynamics.
Don't ask, don't tell, was alive and well in more places than the U.S. military.
Robyn went straight to the coffeemaker, filled a mug already sitting on the counter and handed it to me. I looked into the mug and smiled at the milky color, pleased that she'd remembered how I took my coffee. "Thanks." I took a sip, using both hands to bring the cup to my mouth in an effort to quell the urge to touch her.
She smiled slightly and turned to her sister. "Trish, I'd like you to meet a very good friend of mine, Caid Harris. Caid, this is my older sister Trish."
Trish was shorter than Robyn by a few inches, with dark blond hair cut in a stylish, chin-length bob. Her features were rounder than Robyn's, and her eyes a light brown instead of the piercing near-black of her sister's, but there was no doubt that they were siblings, and that good looks ran in the family.
She gave me a polite nod over the top of her coffee cup, her eyes curious. "Nice to meet you."
"You too," I said, trying to remember the different family members that Robyn had talked about the night before. Oldest sister, Santa Monica, restaurant..."You must be...the chef?"
"Yes, I am. I have a restaurant in Santa Monica." Her smile widened, and I congratulated myself on picking a topic of conversation that Trish was obviously fond of. "Keeps me running almost non-stop, but I love it. And you...." Her eyes widened and she put her cup down on the counter. "Wait. Caidence Harris? The one who disappeared?"
I stifled a sigh and decided now was not the time to go into a defensive diatribe about how I had not disappeared, and how it had been a big misunderstanding. Instead I smiled. "That would be me. But in my defense," I added lightly, "I knew where I was the entire time."
"Well, whatever happened," she cocked her head slightly to the side and regarded me thoughtfully, "it sure had Robby tied in knots. I'm glad it turned out alright."
"Me too," I said simply, feeling the weight of Robyn's gaze.
Trish's brow furrowed slightly - exactly like Robyn, I thought fleetingly - and she looked me up and down. "I don't watch a lot of TV, but I've caught your show a few times, when Robby's on it." I could tell that information both surprised and pleased Robyn. "Sorry I didn't recognize you, you look...different."
Wrinkled clothes and bed head will do that to a girl, I thought dryly, and ran a self-conscious hand through my hair. "Not being recognized is fine with me. On screen I'm normally hidden beneath several layers of makeup and mousse, so it's understandable."
She stared at me a moment, then laughed and picked her coffee back up. "With a face like that, I doubt you need many layers." I raised an eyebrow in surprise and she laughed again. "Don't look so surprised to hear you're gorgeous. All Robyn's friends are. After all, it's what you get paid for, isn't it? Go on camera, look pretty, make a fortune..."
I blinked at the sudden turn in conversation, and wondered if maybe she was kidding.
"Trish." Robyn's tone was a mixture of impatience and warning, and let me know Trish wasn't kidding. She really had gone from complimentary to insulting in the span of a few words, for no apparent reason. Unless her reason was to piss Robyn off, and in that case, she had succeeded admirably.
"Well," I said, keeping my voice mild, "I like to think there's a little more to it than that." I smiled coolly at her and picked up my bag, checking the contents quickly before slinging it over my shoulder. "Kind of like being a chef is more than just following recipes. Isn't it?"
Trish opened her mouth, and then closed it again, and a slight blush appeared on her cheeks. "Yes, it is," she said quietly. "I'm sorry, I was out of line."
"Yes, you were," I said evenly, thinking I should just leave it at that. Unfortunately my mouth, angry at the implied insult to Robyn, had other ideas. "I don't mind so much for myself - hell, I know why I got my job, and it wasn't my acting ability. But your sister is good. Very good. And she's had to work twice as hard to get where she is because of her looks, and because of attitudes like the one you just expressed." I put my hands on my hips, my voice angry now. "Were you ever turned down for a job because you're too pretty to possibly be a good chef?"
"I..." She was staring at me, wide-eyed in the face of my sudden anger.
Shit. Way to make a good first impression. I bit my lip and took a deep breath, forcing myself to relax. "Sorry, I didn't mean to go off like that." My apology was met with silence as I dug my keys out of my bag. "I should probably go. Trish, despite how it might seem, it really was nice to meet you."
She nodded slowly, glancing from me to Robyn, and said faintly, "Yeah, you too."
"Robyn..." I turned towards her, expecting anger or disappointment but finding instead a warm smile.
"I'll walk you out." She glanced at her sister. "I'll be back in a minute."
We walked up the stairs in silence, and when we reached the front door I paused and turned towards her. "I'm sorry, I got a little carried away..."
The ferocity of her kiss took me by surprise, and I'm sure the whimper I heard as our bodies pushed up against the door was mine. Her tongue plunged into my mouth and my keys clattered to the floor from fingers that suddenly, urgently, needed to feel her skin. My hands went under the hem of her robe, squeezing the soft flesh of her behind, and she moaned when I trailed them down her upper thighs and then back up, drawn to the heat, dipping briefly into wetness...
"God..." She pulled herself away abruptly and stepped back, leaving my hands grasping air. "You..." She shook her head, breathing heavily.
"You started it," I accused, sagging against the door, trying to get my own labored breathing and wildly beating heart under control. "You can't expect nothing to happen when you kiss me like that. Whenever you touch me..." I shook my head, amazed and a little scared by our loss of control.
"I know...god, I know. It's..."
"Crazy." I finished for her.
"Yeah," she breathed. "Crazy."
She moved forward tentatively and I completed the motion, pulling her into my arms and resting my chin on her shoulder.
"I'm going to miss you," I whispered finally after we stood in silence for several long moments. I hesitated, knowing we had already talked about this, but I needed to ask. "Will you call me when you can?"
"Caid..." She sighed heavily and pulled back a little, cradling my face in her hands. "I thought you might be a distraction before. And now..." She shook her head. "I really want this, Caid. I need this part, need to do it right. I don't know if I can..."
I stopped her with a kiss, smiling apologetically. "I know, and I'm sorry. I told myself I wouldn't push, but...two months is just a long damn time."
"I know." She stroked my cheek, her eyes searching my face. "I'll call when I get settled, and then I'll see how things are going, okay?"
"Okay." I nodded and pulled her back into an embrace, holding her tightly. "I should go."
I felt her nod, but neither of us loosened our grip. Finally I took a deep breath and stepped away from her to slip on the shoes that I'd kicked off in the foyer the night before. She bent down and picked up my keys, handing them to me silently.
I leaned in and kissed her gently one last time, lingering for a moment to memorize the texture and taste of her lips before pulling away. "Be safe, sweetheart." The endearment slipped from my lips without thought.
She smiled, slow and sweet. "You too, baby. And Caid?" she said as I pulled the door open. I stopped, looking at her expectantly. She pressed her hand to my chest. "You were right when you said it was pretty damn amazing. It was."
I pushed off the wall into another lap, settling easily into a comfortable rhythm through the water.
She'd been gone two weeks, and I'd talked to her three times. Three damn times.
She had called from Marathon the night she left L.A. and we'd had an awkward but sweet conversation about her flight, my day, and our night together. I'd shyly told her I missed her, and she said she missed me too, and I'd hung up with a huge, stupid grin plastered on my face. Two days later she had called again between takes to bitch snarkily about what an asshole Lonnie Colchev was. She'd made me laugh and then had to hang up too soon, before anything remotely personal was said. And the final phone call had taken place four days after that and consisted of a stilted conversation about the weather, the island where they were filming, and Josh, who'd made it through the first two rounds of the French Open and was looking very strong. I'd hung up frustrated and unsatisfied; a feeling that hadn't gone away in the seven days since, despite the flower delivery I'd received four days ago and the accompanying note that she missed me.
I knew what this part meant to her. I knew what she felt she had to do to be successful. Her focus and drive were one of the things that attracted me to her in the first place. I knew she thought talking with me would be a distraction that she couldn't afford and I had expected that as she got deeper into filming, I'd hear from her less. I knew all these things, but hadn't been prepared for how damn frustrating it would be. I missed her, and it was driving me crazy.
I glided into the wall, finishing my last 500, and pushed my goggles up. Checking my time by habit, I wasn't surprised I'd shaved a good bit of time off my normal workout. I'd been pushing myself lately, in an effort to keep myself sane, and if nothing else, the next month and a half was going to put me in better shape that I'd ever been in my life.
After a few minutes of stretching out my shoulders on the diving blocks, I dragged myself out of the water and walked to the locker room, my feet slapping wetly on the concrete. It was mid-afternoon and the gym was sparsely populated, so I took my time showering and changing, having nothing planned until dinner this evening with Liz.
Showered and dressed in shorts and a baggy t-shirt, I dropped my locker key at the front desk.
"Thank you, Miss Harris." The dark skinned, athletically built man behind the desk took my key with a smile. "Would you like to set up something with Shawn for later in the week? He has openings on Thursday or Friday at one and three."
I nodded, adjusting my gym bag higher on my shoulder. "Let's try for Thursday, three o'clock. And does Toshi have any time after?"
"Let me check." He glanced down at the monitor behind the desk and pressed a series of keys. "Toshi is already booked for that time..." A few more keystrokes. "Colleen has time at five..."
He entered the information, and looked back up at me. "Okay...I have you booked for a training session with Shawn at three on Thursday, and a massage with Colleen after that at five. Let us know if you need to change any of that around."
"I will. Thanks Greg, have a good one."
"You're welcome, Miss Harris. You have a great day too, and we'll see you on Thursday."
I waved and walked through the lobby and out into the smog-filtered sunshine, checking my cell for messages as I walked to where Twila was parked. Two messages from Connie. I frowned, thinking over my schedule for the week, knowing I had nothing, business-wise, scheduled. I called her back instead of listening to her messages, figuring if she left two, she'd want to talk to me anyway.
She answered immediately, launching into me without greeting. "Caid, hon, I'm all for you seeing someone, but if you're going to end up in a lip-lock on the cover of some tabloid, I'd like a little notice."
My lungs stopped working, and even though physically I knew it was impossible, my stomach fell to the pavement with an audible thud.
Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit...
There was no way someone could have gotten pictures of Robyn and me but apparently, somehow, someway, someone had.
God, if this doesn't send Robyn to freakville, nothing will.
"Caid? Are you still there?" Connie's slightly chastising tone had turned to one of concern.
"I..." I cleared my throat and took a calming breath. "Yeah, I'm here."
"So, something you'd like to share with me?"
She clucked in annoyance. "Caid, I suppose it's not imperative that you tell me who your gentleman friend is, but since there's a blurry but recognizable picture of you kissing some blond hunk on the front page of The Hollywood Seer, I'm going to get some calls. What would you like me to say?"
"Gentleman friend?" I repeated dumbly, going over her words again.
Gentleman. Blond. Kissing.
James and his sneak attack at the beach house.
The relief was so intense that I felt light-headed, and I started laughing, not stopping until there were tears in my eyes. "Oh...god...Connie, I'm sorry," I apologized, getting myself under control. "You just...I thought...never mind." I giggled again. "Um, I'm not involved with the guy in the picture; it was sort of an accident."
"An accident," she said in disbelief.
She paused. "Well, do you want me giving out this gentleman's name?"
I thought for a moment. Despite the fact that James might like to be named as the person in the photo, it would cause more trouble than he realized, and I really didn't need a story circulating about how I was prone to kissing barely legal friends of my brother's.
"I don't mind telling you who it was, Con, if you'd really like to know, but I'd rather not name him to the press, okay?"
"Sounds fair," she said cautiously, "Caid, is this going to be something I don't want to know?"
I laughed. "It's not terrible, but I'd rather it not get around. My brother and a friend were staying with me at Liz's beach house, a few days after the whole Big Bear thing, and the friend - James - kinda ambushed me out on the deck."
"So, are seeing him then?"
"God no!" I said, appalled at the thought. "Connie, he's just turned twenty-one, for Christ sakes. Give me a little credit."
Connie laughed. "You certainly wouldn't be the first actress to take a younger man as a lover, Caid. Happens all the time. Makes good press, usually."
"Yeah, well...not this time. Sorry to disappoint."
"I'm not disappointed, hon. But for future reference, if you do decide to date a younger man, I'm all for it. As long as he's legal, that's gold."
I rolled my eyes. "Would you like me to start trolling the local high school parking lots? Anything particular I should look for? Jocks, potheads, musicians?"
"I don't think that will be necessary." She laughed, and I could hear typing in the background. "So, you're not seeing anyone?"
I didn't want to lie to Connie; there was a chance she'd be handling fallout from something a lot bigger than me dating a teenager. But I wasn't quite ready to tell the truth, either.
"No, the James thing was a one-kiss deal, I'm not dating him."
She was silent for several moments, and I knew she'd picked up on my change of wording. "Caid, let me ask you again. Is there something you want to tell me?"
It was my turn to be silent before finally answering, "Not right now, Con, no."
She sighed. "Just don't let them blindside me, please. I hate when people know more than I do."
I laughed lightly. "I'll try to make sure that doesn't happen, I promise."
"Alright," she said grumpily. "Now back to the kissing bandit. You know if I give them a no comment, it might get you more attention instead of less, and I know how you hate that."
"I know." I rubbed my forehead with the heel of my hand. "I thought about that, too, but I really don't want James named. It's just the Seer, right?"
I sighed. "If it gets me more attention, I'll just have to deal with it. They're never interested in me for very long - I live a very boring life. Hell, I disappeared and was possibly murdered by a roaming motorcycle gang, and that died down within a week."
She chuckled. "Okay, it's your call. But how about we say he's a friend and it's not serious, instead of no comment. Might stir up less interest."
"Whatever you think is best, as long as his name stays out of it. Thanks, Con."
"You are quite welcome. Now while I've got you on the line, the studio called earlier. They want you on the network morning show next week before they air the final 9th Precinct episode, and Night Talk right after."
"Ugh." Somehow, in all that had happened in the last few weeks, I'd forgotten about my big primetime kiss. That was going to bring more press than any teenage lover would. "This is going to suck, isn't it?" I asked, already knowing the answer.
"For you personally, I'm afraid so, hon. But I still think it'll be a good move professionally."
"Like I had a choice," I grumbled.
"Nothing. Do you have an itinerary?"
"Of course. The finale airs Tuesday, and they'd like you for the morning show that morning, and Night Talk on Wednesday...the four-thirty taping. Do you want to stay over, or shall I book two flights?"
I grimaced, not liking the thought of flying back Tuesday morning just to turn around and fly again on Wednesday.
"Staying over is fine."
I heard more typing. "The morning show tapes at seven, and they expect you there at six...you want the redeye, or afternoon flight on Monday?"
"I hate the redeye, especially if I have to function that morning...put me on the five o'clock - I can have a late dinner at Ono."
"Okay...I'll have Danielle book you for a Monday afternoon flight; two nights at the Gansevoort, and the...eight o'clock back to LA on Wednesday?"
"Ugh," I repeated, and Connie laughed.
"Eh, I chose this job, guess I gotta live with the consequences. Oh, you'll be happy to know that Liz is dragging me to Crustacean tonight - she was feeling like a photo op, and somehow talked me into joining her."
"It won't kill you to get a little press, especially with Liz," she said in a scolding tone. "You might get some questions tonight about the Seer photo...try not to be belligerent, okay? Just smile and say nothing, and if they want a quote, they can call me."
"Ugh." I hadn't thought of that. I contemplated canceling, but the wrath of Liz was much worse than a few nosy photogs or reporters. "I'll do my best. Liz says I need to work on my charm skills."
"Liz is right. Now have fun, and wear something with cleavage."
She laughed as she hung up and I closed my phone absently, thinking about the appointments I'd need to rearrange next week, calling Perry to get him to talk with James for me, and of course Robyn, who was now a constant presence in my thoughts.
My panic earlier had been completely for her benefit, and in reaction to any consequences exposure would have had on our relatively shaky relationship. The thought of any other consequences - my family, career, friends - hadn't even crossed my mind, but I thought of them now.
Mom and Larry would be confused but generally supportive, Grandma might be a little scandalized, Perry would think it was cool, and Sebastian would call me a filthy, whoring, sinner. Nothing new there.
I had another two years on my contract with 9P - there were, of course, ways to get rid of me if they wanted, but considering the new direction my part was taking anyway, I doubted it would be an issue. After 9P, or picking up anything substantial on hiatus? Well, that was an unknown. There were plenty of gay actors in the biz, but not so many out ones. So future fallout to my career had yet to be seen.
And finally, friends. Old college friends might be a bit thrown; Toby, who I still loved dearly as a friend and kept in touch with, would probably come up with some statistical model that would have predicted this happening, and my friends here in LA? Some raised eyebrows, backroom gossip...but general acceptance.
There would be other consequences, certainly, but those were my main concerns. Was this worth a possible risk to my career, and a loss of a few friends? Was Robyn worth it?
I thought of how it felt, just be in her presence. How her smile warmed me, how her skin felt, soft under my hands...
That, and whole lot more.
I started Twila up and headed for home, smiling.
A knock sounded at my door and I walked down the hall to the front door, fastening a dangly, silver earring as I went. The sturdy form of Liz's driver Walter was visible through the glass block window, and I pulled open the door, still fastening the other earring.
"Good evening, Miss Harris. You look lovely." He smiled slightly and crossed his hands behind his back. He wore a black suit with a black shirt underneath, and a deep purple tie that shimmered in the light.
I grinned. "Thank you, Walter. Great tie. I'll just be a minute."
He nodded. "Of course."
I ducked into the bedroom for a final check of my outfit; dark brown slacks with a flared leg, low heels, and a brown and white geometric print sleeveless blouse that showed plenty of back, and had a neckline that fulfilled Connie's joking request for cleavage. On the way back to the front door I snagged a small brown purse from the hallway table, checked it for keys, cell phone and wallet, and slid the thin strap over my shoulder.
Walter nodded and stepped back as I closed and locked the door and I followed him to the black limousine idling in the drive.
Liz was already sipping on a glass of white wine when I slid into the cooled interior of the car and she handed me a tumbler with a few ice cubes and a whole lot of scotch as soon as I sat down. She wore a simple, sky blue cocktail dress that matched her eyes, and her hair was swept back in an artfully mussed coiffure that reminded me vaguely of an exotic bird.
"Hi." She touched her glass to mine. "Cheers."
"Hi." I raised an eyebrow quizzically. "Not that I'm complaining - you know I won't turn down good scotch - but are we celebrating something?"
She picked up something on the seat beside her and handed it to me. "Your first truly scandalous front page, Sugar. I'm so proud. Why didn't you tell me you had a new beau?"
I looked at the item in my hand. Three grainy but recognizable black and white newspaper pictures detailing the moments just before, during, and after James laid the kiss on me. James' back was to the photographer and it was hard to recognize him unless you knew him by the back of his blond head, but each shot showed my face clearly. The first picture showed me smiling at him, the second, the actual kiss, and the third showed our faces still close together, with my hands on his shoulders as I pushed him away, but looked as though I was pulling him closer. The clippings were neatly trimmed and laminated, along with the headline "Was she really camping?" and the caption, "Caidence Harris finds more than wildlife on her infamous camping trip."
"Oh, god," I groaned.
Liz smiled delightedly. "Paula insisted we laminate it. I think it's a nice touch. She sends her congratulations, too."
I scowled at her and threw the pictures onto the seat in disgust. "How sweet," I said sarcastically. I pointed to the pictures. "That was taken at your house, you know. Maybe you better talk to your neighbors about who they let on the beach."
Her smile faded, and she grabbed the lamination, studying it carefully. "Well, fuck. I'll have to talk to Melaine about that. I didn't pay close to four million dollars for a house that just anyone can snap pictures of whenever they want."
Four million? Sheesh. That ended any thoughts I had about buying in that area.
"So if this is my house..." She looked at the photo again, frowning and then with dawning realization. "Oh, Caid..." She looked at me in disbelief. "James? You're doing James?" She sat back and laughed, shaking her head. "I wouldn't have guessed that one."
"I am NOT doing James." I snatched the lamination from her hand. "We were out on the deck, watching the sunset, and suddenly he's kissing me. Goddamn little hormonal twerp."
She laughed harder, and I glared at her. "Liz, it's not funny."
"Oh, I disagree. It's hilarious. The boy barely spoke, yet somehow he worked up the nerve to kiss you. It's...priceless. Oh, I would have loved to have seen your face." That sent her off into more peals of laughter.
I frowned and tossed the lamination down, crossing my arms and sipping my drink broodily until Liz calmed herself.
"Oh...god that was good." She magically pulled out a tissue from some dark recess of the car's interior and dabbed at her eyes.
"Glad to be of entertainment value to you, Liz," I said with irritation.
She giggled and patted my leg. "And you're so damn cute when you get all torqued."
I grunted and sipped my drink while Liz repaired the damage her laughing fit had done to her makeup. After a few minutes, she started giggling again.
"Liz..." I said warningly.
"I'm sorry, Caid, it's just so...not like you. To get caught kissing some kid. Although, you know there's a lot to be said about dating younger men. I'm somewhat of an expert at it, myself, so I know what I'm talking about."
I smiled slightly. "That's what Connie said. Not about you, but about younger men. Said she'd be tickled pink if I brought one home some day, because it's good press."
"Well, Connie is right." She drained the rest of her wine in one gulp and smiled knowingly. "And there several other benefits that I can mention..."
I raised a hand. "Spare me the details, oh experienced one. I'll leave the young studs to you."
"Okay, Sugar." She patted my leg again. "We'll find you someone a little older to play with. You know," she mentioned casually, "Anthony asked about you the other day."
I gave her a look. "Anthony is a cokehead, Liz. And he can't seem to talk about anything but partying and sports cars."
"But you slept with him, didn't you?"
"Jesus..." I wondered how many other people had heard that. Remembering Anthony's big mouth, I was guessing quite a few. "A cokehead with a big damn mouth. Not a mistake I plan on making again."
She took in my angry posture and nodded slowly. "Okaaay...that's a big N-O on setting you up with Anthony again, I guess. What about Patrick...or Cameron?"
"Liz, I don't need you to set me up with anyone."
"Caid, your little tussle with James aside, I bet you haven't even been kissed, much less done anything else, in ages."
I was swamped with memories of soft, demanding lips, warm hands on my skin, and the feel of her inside me... I blinked and drew in a slow, steadying breath, unable to stop my smile.
"You're blushing! And smiling! Caidence Harris, what are you not telling me? Tell me who he is, this instant!" Liz demanded.
I looked over at her and said mildly, "No."
That stopped her and she straightened in surprise. "No? Did you just tell me no?"
"Wha..." She frowned in confusion, and then her face took on a calculated look. "But that means there's something to tell me, right? You are seeing someone?"
"Maybe." I smiled at the frustrated noise she made, and finished my drink. "We're here."
She glared at me. "We are not done with this conversation."
"Yes, we are," I shot back, stepping out of car as soon as Walter opened the door.
I glanced around, swearing under my breath when a chunky, balding man leaning against the railing outside the restaurant look over at me in interest and slowly lower his newspaper. When Liz stepped out of the car, he straightened and dropped the newspaper completely, grabbing up the camera around his neck.
"Smile, Sugar," Liz said softly, flashing a dazzling smile at the man who was snapping shots frantically. "It's why we're here. And we are so not done talking about this."
I forced a smile and followed Liz past the photographer and into the restaurant.
Inside we walked atop a glassed over stream filled with koi, crossed a tiny wooden bridge and past a huge, floor to ceiling aquarium and a gurgling waterfall. The Maitre d' greeted us both effusively by name and seated us almost immediately at a small table in the spacious main dining room, which boasted marble floors, skylights and a grove of what looked like bamboo.
The curious, excited stares we received as we crossed the room and sat down made me nervous, and once the waiter had left with our drink order - more wine for Liz, and sparkling water for me, since I'd knocked back at least a double in the car in about fifteen minutes - I grumbled that we should have sat upstairs in the private dining room.
"Caid," she said with an exasperated sigh, "This is why we came here. I certainly didn't do it for the food - you know I don't like seafood."
"So you're going to spend fifty bucks for a plate of fish that you don't want, just to get some new photo's circulating?"
"It's not like I can't afford it. If it makes you feel better, I'll buy your dinner, too." She opened her menu and began studying it.
"Damn straight you're buying my dinner - this was your damn idea." I looked around nervously.
She lowered her menu and stared at me, frowning. "I take back what I said about you being cute when you're torqued. It's not cute at all. It's downright annoying. If you're going to be like this the whole night, I can have Walter take you home."
She was right. I was being a big baby. Suck it up, ya big weenie.
"Sorry," I sighed and gave her an apologetic look. "I'll behave. Can I get the lobster, Mom?"
"You can get whatever you want, but don't ever, ever call me mom again." She smiled slightly, and I knew I was forgiven.
I grinned and looked down at the menu, studying the choices. I'd heard wonderful things about the food here, and I hoped it wasn't all hype.
"Oh, look, Caid," Liz started innocently. Whenever Liz did anything innocently, I knew to be wary. "They've got James Bay shrimp." She smacked her lips. "Young and tasty."
"Shut up," I muttered, but couldn't stop my lips from curling upwards. Liz's ringing laugh drew more attention to us than we had already getting, but I was starting to get used to it.
"There's the Caid I know and love," she said softly and winked.
I tilted my head to the side, watching her read the menu. "You're in awfully good spirits this evening. It can't all be the excitement of me getting my first truly scandalous rag headline. What gives? Or is Bruce just satisfying your needs?"
She looked up from the menu absently. "Who?"
"Bruce. Pretty boy from Scotty's party. Big lips, nice butt, vacant stare..."
"He did have a nice butt, didn't he?" She smiled in fond remembrance, and waved her hand in front of her. "No, he's history."
She looked at me and smiled secretively.
I closed my menu and laid it across the table. "Why Liz Ann Stokley, I do believe you're keeping secrets from me." I was charmed and intrigued by the thought. Liz normally couldn't keep a secret to save her life.
The waiter came with our drinks, and when he left, Liz leaned towards me. "You tell me yours and I'll tell you mine," she raised her eyebrows suggestively.
I pretended to ponder. "Well, I think...no."
She sat back. "You're really not going to tell me, are you?"
I reached over and patted her hand before opening the menu again. "Nope."
"I can't believe you're not going to tell me." She pouted and took a sip of wine. "Fine then. I'm not going to tell you either."
I shrugged, not looking up from the menu. "Okay."
A bewildered silence followed my statement, and I tried to hide a smile.
"Caaiiidd..." The petulant tone was right on cue and I burst out laughing. She frowned.
"God, Liz, you're so easy." I grinned at her and took a swallow of water.
"Bitch," she huffed good-naturedly, and my smile widened.
"You know you love me."
She sighed resignedly. "Yes, for reasons I can't recall at the moment, I do."
I laughed and leaned back in my chair. "And you say I lack charm."
She smiled and looked down at the menu again.
After the waiter took our orders, conversation turned to other topics. The show, my upcoming trip to New York for the talk show circuit, Liz's summer plans, and the good-looking men in the landscaping crew working at her house. Liz could always make me laugh, and we chatted easily over dinner, occasionally interrupted by autograph seekers, but mostly left alone.
We ordered a dessert to split and I sipped a cognac while Liz decided on some foofy coffee drink with lots of whipped cream.
"You want that and lime whatchamacallit? You glutton." I leaned back in my chair and crossed one leg over the other.
"You'll be eating most of the whatchamacallit," she told me, blowing ineffectually on her coffee through a mountain of whipped cream. "I just want a taste."
"You always say that, and then I look down and poof! The plate is clean."
She pursed her lips and continued blowing, and I smiled into my cognac. "So. Is it one of those handsome gardeners who has you so happy?"
She stopped blowing and took a spoon to the whipped cream. "Not until you tell me yours."
I shrugged. "I can wait. Can you?"
She put the spoon down slowly, her mouth set in a stubborn line. "Of course I can."
Oops. I'd just ruined any chance of finding out anytime soon. I should have known better than to challenge her. Like waving a red flag at a bull.
There was a commotion towards the back of the restaurant and the room seemed suddenly charged. People were muttering and craning their necks to see, and I'll admit to doing the same for a moment before stopping myself. I glanced self-consciously at Liz, but she was busy rubber-necking with the rest of the room.
"Caid," she said and touched my arm. "Isn't that Josh Riley?"
My head turned so fast my neck nearly popped, and indeed it was Josh, smiling and making his way through the dining room towards us, looking casually elegant in dark pants, a crisp white shirt and a black jacket.
He caught my eye and his face broke into a warm smile.
"My," Liz breathed. "Isn't he pretty."
And he was. I hadn't seen him since the night of Scott Ziem's party, and I'd forgotten how affecting his mix of incredible good looks and charisma was. I found myself unconsciously smiling back, sincerely glad to see him.
He reached our table and leaned down to brush his lips across my cheek. "Caid. It's so nice to see you." He took my hand in his and held it, smiling down at me.
"Josh." I smiled back, and squeezed his hand. "Nice to see you too." I glanced over at Liz who was looking at me impatiently. "Josh, this is my good friend Liz Stokley."
He dropped my hand and turned to Liz with a charming smile. "Of course I recognize you, Miss Stokley. It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Call me Liz, please," she said breathlessly, "and it's an honor to meet you, Josh."
"Thank you, Liz." He smiled again at Liz and glanced back at me. "Sorry to interrupt your dinner."
"It's fine," I told him. "I'm glad you came over. You played great in the Open...when did you get home?"
Josh had made it to the semis, a very respectable showing, but he shook his head in disgust. "If I'd played great I would have won, but thank you anyway. I got back yesterday." He looked at me intently. "I made a quick stop in Florida first."
For the second time that day, my lungs stopped working, and with effort, I kept a relaxed smile on my face. She'd actually seen Josh, in person - touched him, talked to him - but she wouldn't even talk to me over the fucking phone.
"The Keys?" I tried to keep my voice neutral. My frustration and jealousy weren't Josh's fault.
I nodded slowly. "Nice for you." Yeah, okay...maybe not doing such a good job of keeping my feelings to myself.
He shrugged helplessly. "Caid..."
"I think..." Liz said uncertainly, and stood quickly. "I think I'm going to find the powder room. It was nice meeting you, Josh."
He smiled easily at her. "You too, Liz."
When she left, he slid into her chair and touched my hand. "You look wonderful, by the way. I can understand how you'd be considered a distraction."
"That's nice of you to say, Josh, but you'll understand when I say that's not really what I need to hear right now."
"Well, how about this then." He leaned forward, lowering his voice. "She said, and I quote, 'tell her I miss her so damn much, it's crazy.'"
I closed my eyes at the words. "Yeah." I blew out an explosive breath that I didn't realize I'd been holding. "Crazy." I opened my eyes. "God, I miss her too."
Josh smiled softly at me and leaned back. "I'm glad I ran into you. I was going to call you later in the week to see if you wanted to have dinner with me."
"I think...that would be nice."
He squeezed my hand and stood up, and on impulse I stood also and gave him a hug.
"Thank you, Josh." I stepped back and punched him lightly on the arm. "I'm jealous as hell, though. You know that, don't you?"
He laughed and leaned in to brush my cheek again with his lips. "From the looks of things, I'm the one who should be jealous," he said softly before straightening. "I'll call you, okay?"
"Yes, I look forward to it."
He smiled his million-dollar smile. "Me too."
Liz was just making her way back through the dining room as Josh left, and the two stopped and talked for a moment before Josh continued on and Liz came back to the table.
"Sweet, isn't he?" She slid back into her seat, her eyes on his retreating back.
"Yeah," I agreed with an absent smile, thinking more of Robyn's words about missing me than about Josh being sweet.
Robyn. Damn, I loved that woman.
"Robyn's a lucky woman," Liz continued, turning her attention from Josh when he finally moved out of sight.
My smile grew wider. "Uh-huh."
She frowned, picking up her spoon to stir her coffee absently. "Caid...you and Robyn are friends, right?"
She sounded so serious, and my smile faded. "Yes," I said cautiously. "We're friends."
She tapped the spoon against the side of her cup, and then started stirring again. Liz was fidgeting, and Liz rarely fidgeted.
I watched her stir for a few more moments, and then rapped my fingers against the table. "Looks like you've got something on your mind, Liz. Spit it out."
She looked up and met my gaze for the first time since she'd returned to the table. "You and Josh seem kind of...close. How does Robyn feel about that?"
It finally dawned on me what she was probably thinking, and what she was getting at. "Oh." I stifled the urge to laugh. Laughing would be bad. "Um...no, Liz. I think I know what you're thinking, and it's not Josh."
She gave me a skeptical look.
"Honestly, Liz. Josh is just a friend, I swear."
We were quiet while the waiter set down the dessert we were splitting, and then Liz sighed and pushed her well-stirred coffee away. "Promise?"
I almost told her then. I wanted so badly to grip her hand and tell her how I'd fallen in love with this amazing woman who thrilled me, pleased me, made me feel alive, and made me happier than I'd ever been. Christ, I wanted to tell someone.
Instead I just smiled.
"I..." She paused, and picked up a fork to try the lime thing we'd ordered. She looked at it in surprise, and took another bite. "Damn. This whatchamacallit thing is great."
I picked up my fork and tried some, and had to agree with her. It was damn good.
We spent a few minutes decimating the dessert, and after Liz had taken a final swipe of the plate with her finger and licked it clean, managing somehow to make the action look polite, she looked at me again. "Sorry, it just seemed like an impossible situation, and I didn't want to see you hurt."
She really could be very sweet.
"Thanks, Liz. But no need to worry about Josh."
Let's hope you're as supportive when you find out what's really going on.
"Yes, yes...good. Cross to the corner now..." Eladio Sabatis called to Josh in heavily accented English as he hit ball after ball in a steady rhythm over the net.
Josh returned each ball with a powerful, spinning backhand, each shot varying only inches in placement along the baseline. His short, blond hair was dark with sweat and moisture glistened on his skin; I watched his fluid movements in appreciation from my spot on the courtside bleachers, my elbows propped against the bleacher bench behind me and my legs stretched out on the bench below. Seeing the game from this distance was completely different than watching on television; everything seemed faster and more intense, increasing my already healthy admiration for Josh's talent.
"Good. Now. Show your beautiful friend how fast you can run." Eladio grinned at me, his teeth very white against dark skin, and sent a ball deep into the opposite corner of the court, forcing a swearing Josh to scramble after it.
"Damnit, Eladio..." Josh chased the ball down in a few long strides and sent a sizzling forehand down the line, turning immediately to sprint the other way when the dark-haired coach hit the next ball into the other corner. That ball was crushed by a backhand down the line, and Josh was off and running again to chase Eladio's next offering.
"Cross, Josh, not line," Eladio chided, sending another ball into a corner. "We work the cross today."
Josh grunted and continued to chase down balls for another five minutes, hitting deep cross-court returns on each ball Eladio sent him. After a final forehand return that had enough velocity on it to raise even Eladio's eyebrows, the coach called an end to practice.
"Good, Josh. You move your feet and your form is very good today. " He glanced over at me and flashed another brilliant smile. "I think you are showing off for your lady friend, yes?" He laughed at Josh's scowl and waved him forward. The two men talked quietly at the net for several minutes then Eladio slapped Josh on the arm and turned away to begin collecting balls in a green wire ball basket.
Josh put his racquets in a large bag and grabbed a bottle of water and a towel before walking over and sitting down on the bleacher next to my outstretched legs.
"Very impressive." I smiled down at him, shading my eyes against the late afternoon sun. "A lot different than watching on TV."
"Thanks." He wiped his face with the towel and took several deep gulps of water. "I was surprised when you said you wanted to come by early and watch - not many people like to watch practice."
I raised an eyebrow and nodded at the small crowd of about fifteen people slowly vacating the bleachers on the other side of the court behind a barrier, most of them watching us with open curiosity. "Looks to me like you've got a nice little cheering section."
He drained his water bottle and wiped his face with the back of his arm, glancing across the court. "Yeah, we usually have some watchers for my afternoon court time. Mornings are always closed, but we have afternoon time at least once a week and people come and watch, and I sign some autographs...and here they come now." He smiled wryly.
I looked up to see several people being escorted past the barriers and across the court by a young, painfully cheerful looking woman dressed in club whites. Josh swiped his hair one last time with the towel, pushed himself off the bench and stepped away from the bleachers to meet the oncoming group with a wide smile.
The group gathered around him, some pushing forward eagerly while others hung back shyly, but Josh greeted them all with a friendly smile, chatted briefly, signed whatever item they gave him and posed for pictures. A middle aged couple - two of the first to push forward and get Josh's attention - turned to me when he had signed a few tennis balls and a hat for them and looked at me speculatively.
"Are you someone?" the woman asked after taking a few hesitant steps in my direction, eyeing my reclining form doubtfully.
I'd stopped for a run along Manhattan Beach on my way to Josh's club in Torrance and I was dirty, sweaty, and not a little rough looking in loose t-shirt, running shorts and shoes, a baseball cap, and wrap-around sunglasses. I smiled slightly and crossed one leg over the other. "No, no one important."
The husband frowned, looking at me intently, but the woman just nodded, her original opinion confirmed. I watched in amusement as she latched onto his arm and dragged him back across the court, chattering about who they might see in the dinning room. A few more of the group around Josh who had been eyeing me lost interest after watching the couple talk to me and leave without an autograph; no one else approached me until the group was gone and Josh himself came over.
"No wonder the public loves you so much." I sat up and handed him my half-full water bottle. "You have the patience of a saint."
He took the bottle with a nod of thanks and drained it quickly, picking up his towel and wiping the back of his neck. "I honestly love the attention. Robyn will tell you, I'm a complete and total attention whore."
Just the mention of her name caused a flutter in my stomach and a slight hitch in my breathing. I scowled at my body's reaction and my inability to control it.
"Caid? You okay?" Josh's voice was questioning, and pulled my attention back to him.
"Oh, yeah. Sorry. I just...listen, Josh. About Robyn..." I trailed off as he held out a hand to help me off the bleachers.
"How about we both get cleaned up and I take you to that dinner I promised? Chelsea can show you where you can shower and change, and I'll meet you out in the front lobby when you're ready." He gestured behind him and I realized that the staff member who had led the group of autograph seekers across the court was waiting respectfully several yards away.
I gripped his hand automatically and let him pull me up. When I was standing, he leaned in and said softly, "We can talk there, okay?" I nodded and he turned, not dropping my hand. "Chelsea, can you show Miss Harris to the locker rooms and make sure the bag she dropped at the front desk gets to her?"
"Of course, Mr. Riley." She stepped forward, glancing quickly at our linked hands before favoring me with a professional smile. "If you'll just follow me, Miss Harris?"
I resisted the urge to drop Josh's hand like a hot potato, annoyed at the vague feeling of guilt her furtive look produced. "Thank you, Chelsea. See you in a bit, Josh." I squeezed his hand and let it drop slowly before following the young woman across the court and into the main club building. We stopped at the main desk and picked up my bag and a locker key, then Chelsea directed me to the locker rooms and gave me a polite, "Have a nice day" before hurrying off to another duty.
I showered and changed quickly, hoping that Josh's idea of 'casual' jived with mine and the well-worn sandals, demins and black silk halter neck would be appropriate wherever we were going for dinner. After drying my hair for a few minutes and gathering up my things, I returned the key to the front desk.
"Thank you, Miss Harris." The desk attendant was a fit, twenty-something blonde with a deep tan and a near blinding smile. "Mr. Riley is waiting just outside for you. Through the doors to your right."
"Thank you..." I glanced quickly at her nametag, "Bridget."
Her smile, if possible, got brighter. I returned her smile with a smaller one of my own, and turned towards the doors she had indicated.
The tentative voice stopped me and I turned back to Bridget and found her looking around cautiously. "Yes?"
She licked her lips nervously, not meeting my eyes. "Um...I really like your show...do you...do-you-think-I-could-get-an-autograph?" she finished with a rush, looking up at me with a hopeful expression.
"Sure." I smiled at her encouragingly, and her nervousness disappeared.
"Oh, thank you!" She produced a pen and piece of paper from behind the desk, handing them to me. "I knew you'd be nice in person. I mean, I could just tell. Those stories in the paper about how you're mean - I just knew they weren't true. I watch 9th Precinct every week, and..."
I blinked. Mean? The papers said I was mean? Belligerent, possibly. Surly, maybe. I'd never been particularly friendly with the press, but I always tried to be at least polite...and they thought I was mean? It bothered me how much that thought...bothered me.
Bridget was still chattering on when I focused my attention back onto her. "...I had no idea you were dating Mr. Riley. Did he and Miss Ward break up? She's come in several times, you know. She's very...intimidating in person. Not like you. You're not intimidating at all. I feel like we could be great friends..."
I started to correct her about me and Josh when I recalled something Liz had told me once. Nothing gets people's curiosity up quicker than a good denial, and curiosity draws the press like ants to a picnic. I closed my mouth and hastily scrawled my signature across the paper before shoving it back at her, my smile turning slightly brittle. "There you go. You have a nice evening, okay Bridget?"
Not waiting for a response, I strode to the side doors and pushed my way outside, looking around for Josh and spotting him climbing out of a white, low-slung Jaguar coupe parked at the curb. I waved in acknowledgement and walked over as he rounded the car and held the door open for me.
"Thanks." I ducked into the car, tossed my bag in the tiny back seat, and settled into the plush leather seat as Josh walked around to the driver's side and slid in beside me. He pulled away from the curb and maneuvered the car out onto the main road at a speed that had me glad I'd put on my seatbelt.
A few more quick turns and we were on the entrance ramp to 405, and I gripped my seat as casually as I could as we merged onto the freeway. "So, where are we heading?"
Josh sped up even more, sending the car zipping in and out of traffic. He crossed three lanes of traffic with a casual flick of the wrist and glanced over at me. "Santa Monica."
I waited, watching him, using the opportunity to keep my eyes off the scenery flying by at an alarming rate. When nothing further was forthcoming, I quirked an eyebrow at him. "That's a little vague - want to narrow it down a little?"
"It's a surprise." He grinned like a little boy, and I was reminded of another reason he was so popular with the press.
I shook my head, unable to keep from smiling back. "As long as I'm not underdressed, that works for me. You did say casual, right?"
He took perused my outfit and nodded in approval. "You'll do."
"Gee, thanks." I tossed him a crooked grin. He was wearing khakis and an un-tucked light blue and white striped bowling shirt, so I guessed casual was indeed ok. "You know, the desk attendant at the club thinks we're dating," I told him idly as I turned my attention back to the road, bracing my feet against the floor and settling as far as I could into the seat.
"Does she?" He looked over at me with raised eyebrows and laughed. "Damn, I'm good. I'm dating two beautiful women." He passed a slow-moving truck, muttering to himself as he glanced behind him and changed lanes. "...and don't have a chance with either of them."
There was no bitterness in the words, only an underlying sadness. I said nothing for a moment and then decided to go ahead and ask what I'd wanted to ask since I found out that he and Robyn weren't a couple. "Why do you do it then?"
He changed lanes again and sped around a bus. "Why do I do what?"
"This...thing that you and Robyn do. I can understand why she does it, to keep the press off her back about her sexuality, but you..." I waved a hand, gesturing at his body. "Jesus, Josh, you're gorgeous, famous, wealthy, charming...you must have women falling over themselves to be with you. Beautiful women who would do just as much for your image as being seen with Robyn does. So..."
"So you want to know what's in it for me," he stated, not taking his eyes off the road.
I winced slightly at how callous that sounded. "Well...yeah. You could have any woman you want. Or two. Or six..." I quirked a grin to take the sting out of my next words. "I think you're a nice guy, Josh - really, I do - but I have a hard time believing a guy would give up the possibility of all those fawning women because their lesbian best friend needed a date. Once or twice, maybe, but for two years?"
He actually smiled at that. "No," he said with a soft laugh, "I'm not doing this out of the goodness of my heart. Believe it or not, the reason is actually because of those fawning women." He glanced in his rear view mirror, and then at me quickly before focusing his attention back on the road. "I'm twenty-nine years old, Caid. In tennis, I'm practically an old man. There's a very small window of opportunity when you've put enough years into the game to have the benefit of experience, and you're still young enough for your body to do what you want it to." He gestured with one hand to himself. "I'm in that window now. I don't make it into the top five in the next year or two, it's not going to happen. Doing the 'thing me and Robyn do', as you call it, allows me to keep my focus. I do what is expected of me to keep the sponsors and advertisers happy, but I don't have to worry about getting involved with someone, and getting distracted, which I know from past experience messes with my head. We keep each other out of trouble, with the benefit of spending time with someone we enjoy being with."
I pondered that for a moment, and then hesitantly asked, "Do you still love her?"
He glanced at me in confusion. "Of course I love her. She's my best friend..." His eyes widened in sudden understanding. He turned his attention back to the road. "Ohhh...you mean, am I in love with her? That whole straight-boy-pining-away-after-his-lesbian-best-friend thing?"
Well, when you put it that way, it did sound kind of cliché...
At my slow nod, he smiled wryly. "No, I'm not in love with her. I used to be, a long, long time ago. And I like to think she was in love with me, too." He slowed a little and looked over at me. "Lord knows it would certainly be simpler if we were both still in love with each other, but we're not." He glanced in his rear view mirror, and then at me. "I'm not competition, Caid. As long as you make Robyn happy, I'm on your side."
I shook my head, starting to protest, "That's not what I meant..." I stopped myself and sighed. "Oh hell, maybe it was. You two are just so close - you know each other so completely, and all I have are these little...pieces of her. It's frustrating."
We were quiet for a minute before he reached over and patted my knee. "If it makes a difference, Caid, she doesn't give those pieces up easily and she's given more to you than anyone else has gotten in a long time."
I turned my body to face front again, thinking of the brief glimpses I'd gotten behind dark, guarded eyes. "I want them all," I said quietly, watching the traffic around us. "I want every last piece."
He squeezed my knee and I looked over at him. "Good," he said, a smile spreading on his face. "Good."
Conversation moved onto different topics and we quickly regained the comfort level we had shared the night I joined he and Robyn for dinner. The twenty minute trip went by swiftly, and soon we were pulling into a parking spot on Main Street in Santa Monica.
We walked a few blocks, commenting on the art displays in various windows until we arrived at a restaurant called Sophie's where Josh held open the door and gestured for me to enter. Inside was an airy, brightly painted, café-style restaurant decorated in a curious mix of South-Western and Mediterranean décor; I glanced around, appreciating the mix of colors and textures and the appetizing smells wafting through the air.
Along one wall was a long counter with several glass cases displaying an array of desserts and other goodies, and behind the register at the end of the counter stood an elegant woman with dark hair shot through with silver, writing in a notepad. She looked up when we entered, her piercing dark eyes taking me in and then traveling to Josh. Her face lit up in an open, welcoming smile, and the jolt of recognition left me momentarily speechless.
"Joshua!" She moved from behind the counter and the two kissed each other on both cheeks and embraced.
"Buenas tardes, Sophie." He stepped back and gave her a warm smile. "This is an unexpected pleasure. What are you doing down here? Checking up on your temperamental chef?"
The woman laughed and patted Josh on the arm. "Eh, you know my Patricia. She does as she pleases, no matter what her mamá says." Her English was precise and slightly accented. "No, Marcy is on holiday for a few days and I have volunteered to help until she returns." She paused, and then winked. "And to keep an eye on my temperamental chef."
The two shared a laughed, and the woman looked over at me curiously. "Where are your manners, Joshua?" She prodded him with an elbow. "Who is your friend?"
Looking properly chastised, Josh placed his hand on my back and gestured to the woman. "I'm sorry. Sophie, this is my friend, Caidence Harris. Caid, this is Sophie Ward, Robyn's..."
"Mother." I finished for him, reaching out to grasp Sophie's outstretched hand. "Encantada, Senora."
Mom would be so proud that her emphasis on languages finally paid off.
Sophie raised an eyebrow at my greeting, and the gesture so achingly familiar that I couldn't stop a tiny laugh of delight. She frowned slightly, and I hurried to apologize. "I'm sorry, Senora, for laughing, but I've just realized where Robyn got..." I raised my own eyebrow and tapped it with my finger, "...that."
Her frown turned into a wide smile. "You know my Sabina?"
"Sabina is Robyn's first name," Josh explained. "Robyn is actually her middle name."
Sophie waved her hand in a graceful, dismissive gesture. "Eh, she prefers Robyn, but she will always be Sabina to me." She leaned in and added conspiratorially, "And it drives her loco, so of course I call her that."
I smiled, easily picturing the exasperated look on Robyn's face. "I can imagine, Senora, how that would definitely drive Robyn loco."
Sophie raised an eyebrow again and looked at me speculatively. "Please, call me Sophie. And I will call you Caidence," she announced. "So tell me, Caidence. How is it that you know my daughter?"
I'm completely, utterly, helplessly in love with her...
I cleared my throat. "She and I work together. Well, sometimes we work together."
"You work on this lawyer, defense show with her?"
"No. I mean, yes. Sometimes." I shook my head at my sudden inability to communicate. "I work on a different show, but sometimes I work on Robyn's show, and sometimes she works on mine."
"Ah...the police show. 9th Patrol, is it?"
"9th Precinct." I said automatically, and then felt slightly silly for correcting her.
She nodded slowly, her eyes sweeping me from head to toe. "You are the friend who became lost," she said bluntly.
I kept the explanations to myself and replied with a simple, "Yes."
"My Sabina, she was very upset. I have never seen her so..." she searched for a word, "distraught. I am very glad you were found, and I am very glad to meet you. We do not meet Sabina's friends often, so it is good to meet a friend of my hija who she must care for very much." She glanced at Josh. "It is good, Joshua, that you brought Caidence to meet me. Thank you." She stepped between us and linked an arm through each of ours. "Now come. I will seat you, and Patricia will make you something special."
She seated us in a private corner and brought a bottle of wine before hurrying off to seat another group who had just arrived. It was still early - only five-thirty - and the restaurant wasn't full, so Sophie came by our table often over the next half hour, asking me questions about my family and work, and telling an hilarious story about catching Josh and Robyn in a rather...compromising position when the family had visited Robyn one weekend while she was at UCLA.
"And then Lori, in the way only teenagers can, told her sister that Joshua, he had a very nice ass..."
"Sophie!" Josh flushed an interesting shade of red and excused himself, murmuring something about seeing someone he knew. Sophie and I watched him stride quickly across the room before turning to each other, smiling.
"He is such a good boy," she said fondly, looking over to where he was talking to a couple seated on the other side of the restaurant. "My hija is very lucky to have him in her life."
"Yes." I swirled my wine, watching the deep, red color coat the glass. "They are lucky to have each other. They are both very special."
I felt a light hand on my arm and looked up into dark, intelligent eyes so like Robyn's. "I think, Caidence, that she is lucky to have you, also. You care for her very much."
I hesitated, and nodded. "Yes, very much," I said quietly.
"Yes, I can see. You smile always when you talk about her, and your eyes...they show much. It is good, what I see. Sabina...she has not been happy for some time. Yes, she is famous, and knows many people, and likes what she does...but she has lost her smile. I would like to see her smile again." She patted my arm and stood up. "I think, Caidence, that perhaps you can make her smile again."
I stopped swirling my wine and stared at her. Did Sophie just give me approval to be in a relationship with her daughter?
"I..." I looked up into her face and saw nothing but openness and warmth, and a hint of amusement. "I would like to try," I said carefully, watching for any change of expression, "if she will let me."
She smiled widely, and reached across the table for the wine bottle, deftly filling my glass. "Bueno. If she is smart, she will let you, but sometimes, she is stubborn. She gets that, of course, from her father." She set the wine bottle down and placed a hand on my shoulder. "You will have patience with my Sabina, eh, Caidence Harris?"
I could only nod, overwhelmed by the conversation and not sure whether to be elated or terrified.
"We will keep this conversation between you and I, yes? When Sabina is ready, she will talk to me." She moved her hand from my shoulder to cup my cheek and stared into my face, nodding briskly. "Yes, you are very pretty. My Sabina always did have excellent taste." She patted my cheek and walked off, leaving me blinking and speechless.
I slumped back in my chair, absently sipping my wine and staring sightlessly out the restaurant's front window, thinking over the conversation. I was sure I wasn't reading anything into it. Robyn's mother knew she was a lesbian, seemed fine with it, and wanted me to make her daughter happy. But Robyn didn't know her mother knew, and her mother didn't want her to know that she knew, and wanted Robyn to tell her herself...
I sighed. Christ. Ward family dynamics just got weirder...
"My mother is quite taken with you."
I nearly spit out a mouthful of wine as a woman in a white, short-collared chef uniform appeared seemingly from nowhere and slipped into the chair Sophie had recently vacated.
I swallowed deliberately and set down my glass. "Trish, hello. Nice to see you again." I nodded and gave her a friendly smile, hoping she didn't hold the other morning against me. "Your mother is quite charming, and I'm quite taken with her as well."
"Yes, Mamá can be very charming." Her expression was bland, the smile pleasant. "She likes to see the good in people."
"Trish, about the other morning..."
She leaned forward abruptly, her face now anything but pleasant. "I'm not fooled by you, not for one minute. I know what you want from my sister."
Guess that answered my question about whether she was still pissed about the other morning. And for fuck sake - did her whole family know about us?
"Josh is with Robyn," she continued fiercely, "and you weaseling in on him while she's gone isn't going to work."
...and that answered that question.
There were several ways I could have handled the situation and of course, I chose the worst way possible. I laughed. Still reeling from my conversation with her mother, the incongruity of Trish's accusation struck me as funny and I laughed.
I stopped myself almost immediately, but the damage was done. Trish's eyes narrowed, sparking with anger and she leaned in even closer. "Stay away from Josh," she hissed through gritted teeth, and then whirled and stalked away, ignoring my attempts to call her back to apologize.
"Well, shit." I slumped back in my chair, glancing around and noting our altercation had drawn some attention. I forced a polite smile and nodded at the on-lookers, casually looked around for Josh, relieved to see him crossing back to our table with a worried expression on his face.
"What was that?" He sat down in his chair and looked in the direction Trish had gone.
I rubbed my forehead and then ran a hand through my hair. "That was Robyn's sister telling me in no uncertain terms that she is not going to allow me to weasel my way into your bed while Robyn is gone."
"You're shitting me." He turned his head to stare at me, his mouth slightly open.
"I shit you not. I seriously think she might come back with a meat cleaver or something. She was pretty pissed off. And I didn't make things any better by laughing at her."
He winced. "You laughed at Trish?"
I shrugged apologetically. "I'm sorry - she accused me of wanting to get into my girlfriend's ex-boyfriend's pants. Right after her mother told me she thought I could give Robyn her smile back. It just seemed...funny. At least at the time." I finished lamely.
"Damn, I'd better go talk to her." He started to stand and then stopped and sunk back into his chair. "Wait. Her mother told you what!?"
I shook my head. "Never mind - it was kind of a private conversation and I shouldn't go into it. But believe me, it made what Trish said seem funny."
I could tell he wanted to press me for more details, but a waiter had arrived with a flat skillet piled high with a rice, seafood and vegetable mixture along with a basket of tortillas and small bowls of pureed gazpacho.
"The chef's special paella for two and Sophie's gazpacho..." the server announced with flair as he set the sizzling skillet in the middle of the table and set warm, empty plates in front of us. After dishing us both up generous portions, he stepped back. "My name is Tom, please let me know if you need anything else."
We asked for a large Pellegrino to split and I immediately picked up my fork and started eating, more relieved than I should have been that the paella was for two; I doubted Trish would try to poison Josh along with me.
After the first bite I let out a contented sigh. Great cooking, as well as great looks, ran in the Ward family, and I happily dug in for more, enjoying each and every bite for its subtle difference in flavor and wondering what spices she used.
"Those Ward girls can cook, can't they?" I mumbled, rather impolitely, around a half-chewed mouthful of rice when I noticed in embarrassment that Josh hadn't picked up his fork yet but was instead just watching me eat with a tiny grin on his face.
I finished chewing, swallowed, and took a sip of water. "What?"
He gave a quiet laugh. "When I saw Robyn last, in Florida, we were talking about you - we didn't talk about much else, to be honest - but anyway...she was extolling your many virtues, and then she got this really goofy smile on her face, and when I asked her what she was smiling about, she said she loved how you ate. Said you ate like you truly enjoyed it, and like every bite was special, and it really turned..." he stopped, looking slightly uncomfortable, and cleared his throat "Um...anyway, now I see what she meant."
I looked down at my food, not bothering to hide my own goofy grin, ridiculously pleased that not only had she talked about me favorably, but that a quirk of mine that annoyed more than a few people was something she actually...liked.
He picked up his fork with a smile and took a bite, chewing slowly. "Mmm. Yes, those Ward girls sure can cook."
We ate our meal slowly, talking about Wimbledon, which he was leaving for on Monday, recent movies we'd seen, and my worry over how the 9P finale would change facets of my life I'd rather not change. He told me stories about run-ins he and Robyn had had with the press, and talked about his recent visit to her; about how excited she'd been to be working with Lynne Wesson, and that Lonnie Colchev was an arrogant prick, just like people said.
Talking about her made me miss her, and I sighed discontentedly. "Damn I miss her. I wish she'd at least call me a little more often."
He took my hand across the table. "I know, Caid. Just give her a little more time. I think she's going to realize soon that she's more distracted from missing you than she would be if you two were talking, or even if you'd visit."
"I hope you're right. God, I'd love to see her, but I'd be happy with just a damn phone call."
"Just be patient with her, she'll come around."
I smiled. "That seems to everyone's advice when it comes to Robyn." And patience has never been a particular strength of mine. Guess I'll have to learn some, because I'm not letting this go.
The restaurant filled up with Friday night diners and we were approached by a few autograph seekers, but in general, we weren't bothered. By the time we finally decided to leave, darkness was falling and the restaurant was packed. I argued good-naturedly with Sophie about the bill while Josh went into the kitchen to try to reassure Trish that I was not looking to jump his bones, but from the slight frown on his face when he returned, I wasn't very hopeful that he'd been successful.
My argument with Sophie hadn't changed her mind and she flatly refused to let us pay for dinner, also extracting a promise from both of us to come to Santa Barbara soon and let her cook for us at her restaurant. She kissed and hugged us both goodbye, ignoring the curious stares we were getting, and told me softly, "I am glad to have met you, Caidence. Bring her smile back, please."
I smiled in response and squeezed her hand. "I'll do my best, Sophie." I placed my other hand on my chest. "Prometo."
She smiled warmly and then pushed me gently towards Josh who was eyeballing the desserts. "Go, or you will never get him out of here."
I laughed and tugged him by the arm towards the door. "Come on, Josh, let's get out of Sophie's hair." He looked longingly at the desserts, even though he'd finished off his own huge piece of flan and half of my cheese tart. I grabbed his hand when he hesitated, and physically pulled him out the door, laughing.
The flashbulbs going off as we stepped outside blinded me for a moment and I stumbled a bit, throwing up a hand in an automatic defense. Josh's arm went around my waist in support, and he had a second to mumble, "Let me handle this..." before the barrage of questions started, and another round of flashes.
"Mr. Riley, how long have you and Miss Harris been seeing each other?"
"What is your relationship?"
"Miss Harris, over here!"
Josh stepped slightly in front of me, keeping a hand resting lightly on my back. "What's all this," he asked with an easy smile, sending the photographers into a frenzy of clicking and whirring. "Slow news day?"
"Does Robyn know you're here with another woman?" Someone yelled, shoving a microphone into Josh's face, and it was then I realized this wasn't just photographers, there were video cams as well, and reporters from TV tabloids.
Shit, shit, shit.
"Caidence is a friend of both Robyn and I..." Josh tried to explain, but another volley of questions and yelling drown him out.
"Over here! Josh, Caidence, over here! Give us a smile..."
"Josh, when did you and Robyn break up?"
"Miss Harris, what will it be like to work with Miss Ward now that you've stolen her fiancée?"
"Oh, hell," Josh said under his breath, "I think that's enough of this - come on."
We pushed through the group and walked as quickly as possible down the block, the group trailing behind us, still yelling questions and taking photos. I kept my eyes to the front, so I didn't get an exact count, but there must have been at least twenty, if not more.
"Josh, is it true that you, Caidence and Robyn had a threesome?"
Oh, Liz would have loved that one...
"Caidence, were you actually with Josh when you 'disappeared'?"
Goddamnit, how many times do I have to say it - I didn't disappear, I didn't get lost...
"We have a source that tells us you're trying to weasel your way between Robyn and Josh to break up their relationship...is that true Miss Harris?"
My steps slowed. Weasel? Now how was that for a coincidence? I felt my jaw tighten and my temple start to throb in anger.
I was never a big believer in coincidences.
I slowed even further, ready to go back into the restaurant and kick some elder Ward sister ass, but Josh tugged at my hand, urging me on. I quickly decided he was right, and kicking Trish's ass, with twenty-some reporters and photographers as well and her own mother looking on, wasn't the best idea right now.
Maybe some other time.
I lengthened my stride to keep up with Josh and soon we were slipping into the car and slamming the doors behind us while the group continued to film, yell and take pictures.
"Goddamnit!" Josh jammed the key into the ignition in disgust. "What the hell was all that? Shit, I hate when they get like that." He started the car and jammed it into gear, backing swiftly out onto the street and scattering reporters as he went.
I fastened my seatbelt, remembering Josh's penchant for speed, and gripped the seat with shaky hands, holding on tightly as Josh led a determined news van and a few photographers on a merry chase. We squealed onto Pico at dizzying speed, our pursuers still on our bumper, but a harrowing left onto Lincoln lost two of them, and when we hit the Santa Monica Freeway and Josh opened up however many horses that little car had under the hood, they didn't have a chance.
After a few more minutes of white-knuckle driving that would have made Dale Earnhardt Jr. proud, Josh slowed to a more sedate - if you can call 90 sedate - speed and I loosened my grip on the seat and the door.
"God damn," Josh said finally, and flashed a smile at me. "That was kick ass."
I frowned at him and punched him in the arm. "Jerk. You coulda killed someone. Someone like me, for instance."
He just laughed, and I grunted and rubbed my face with my hands, hiding a smile.
He glanced over at me, caught the smile and laughed again. "Admit it. It was kick ass."
I just smiled and shook my head, relaxing back into the seat. After a few minutes of driving in silence, I asked curiously, "Does that happen to you a lot? The press just waiting for you like that?"
He shrugged. "Sometimes, when it's a publicized event and I'm with Robyn, it can get a little crazy, but they're usually a little less...nasty." He paused, and looked thoughtful. "This was kind of strange."
When I'm with Robyn...that brought up a whole set of insecurities I didn't feel like dealing with at the moment. Robyn and Josh did the public couple thing for publicity and for there careers...what happened if...when...things got more serious between me and Robyn? Where did I fit into her life? Or did I? Did she assume things would just stay the same, and I was just something on the side? I pushed the thought away with an annoyed shake of my head, concentrating instead on whether I should tell Josh my suspicions about Trish.
"Josh..." I started hesitantly, still not sure of how to bring it up. "Did you hear one of those guys ask me if I was trying to weasel my way between you and Robyn?"
He nodded. "Caid, don't let it bother you..."
"No, no, it's not that," I said, and shook my head. "Although it does bother me that people think that." I paused. "When I talked with Trish earlier tonight, she told me she wasn't going to let me weasel in on you while Robyn was gone..."
He swore softly and shook his head sadly. "Goddamn Trish. She said something tonight about how I'd better be honest with Robyn, because she was going to hear about this whether I told her or not. Shit. She must have called someone. I can't believe she'd do that! I know she likes to give Robyn a hard time, but this is ridiculous. Damn, Robby's going to kill her..."
"Not if I get there first," I mumbled. "What's with those two anyway? One minute she's defending Robyn and acting like the proud sister, and the next, she's cutting her to shreds..."
"Yeah, they've always had a strange relationship - I think Trish is totally jealous of Robyn's fame, but at the same time she's incredibly loyal..." He looked over at me curiously. "You got all that from her tonight?"
"No." I shook my head. "Trish came by to see Robyn the morning she left for Florida. I'd just spent the night...when Robyn introduced us, she talked about watching 9th Precinct whenever Robyn was on, and then proceeded to basically call her, and every other actress, a pretty face with no talent. It was...bizarre."
"You spent the night? At her house?" He asked in surprise. I nodded. "And she introduced you to Trish?"
I nodded again, and smiled wanly. "Not quite as simple as it sounds - there were some...issues. But yes, I stayed the night, and yes, she introduced me to Trish."
He let out a low whistle. "You've got more pieces of her than you think then, Caid. She never lets her women stay over. Never even invites them to the house. Never."
The words hit me like a punch, and I let my head fall back against the headrest. Her women.
I couldn't even be glad about the other things he'd said. All I heard was her women...
He looked over at me apologetically. "Ah, shit. That sounded bad. I..."
I held up a hand, stopping him. "No, no...don't apologize. I pretty much knew about," I waved my hand vaguely, "that. I just..." I shook my head. "Let's just change the subject though, okay?"
He looked at me worriedly, but obliged. "So, ah...you said you were going to be in New York next week?"
"Yeah. Monday through Wednesday, probably. Connie is still working out the details."
"My dad lives upstate...I'm stopping over for a couple of days on my way to England. Do you know where you're staying? Maybe we could have dinner or meet for a drink or something."
I looked over at him and laughed lightly. "I love ya, Josh, and enjoy your company, but do you really think that's a good idea after what just happened?"
He frowned. "I'm not going to let the press dictate who I do things with, Caid, and neither should you."
The irony of the statement wasn't lost on me, since in essence he and Robyn had been doing exactly that for two years. But I knew what he meant.
"I have a feeling we're going to be doing a lot together in the future, Caid," he continued. "The press is going to have to get used to it sometime."
"Ugh." I rubbed my forehead with the palm of my hand and then ran my hand through my hair. "I know, I know, and I might as well get used to it, too, since it's going to be a little crazy for a while after the finale airs..." I sighed. "How about a compromise? I'll be at the Gansevoort - I fly in on Monday night, and was planning on a late dinner at the hotel restaurant...want to join me? It would keep the press to a minimum. They're good about security."
"That'll works for me - how about I call you later this weekend to firm things up?"
I nodded. "Thanks, Josh...and...can you call Robyn and tell her about all this? You can call her, right? I don't want her to be surprised, or to think..."
"I'll call her, but she's not going to think anything bad, Caid - not about you and me. I doubt she'll even hear about it - she's pretty wrapped up in the movie, and it's a closed set." He patted my leg. "You shouldn't worry so much. They'll lose interest in no time."
I desperately hoped he was right.
He was wrong. No one lost interest.
If anything, the recent mix of stories about me - my disappearance, the photos of me kissing an unidentified blond man, and my dinner with Josh - combined to set the press into something of a feeding frenzy.
My flight out of LA the afternoon before had drawn a good bit interest from the lurking LAX celebrity photo corps, and my arrival in LaGuardia had been just as well documented. Annoyed by the growing group of press following my every move, I wasn't as charming as I could have been as I made my way through the cadre of photographers at the hotel that evening, or this morning, on my way to the morning show taping, when I was swamped again outside the network building.
"Shit." I grunted in disgust, tossing the paper I'd been looking at onto the table nestled in the bay window seating nook of my hotel room. It skidded across a stack of other papers and internet printouts already there, scattering them and knocking several to the carpet.
Pictures of Josh and me at Sophie's, smiling and laughing over dinner.
Pictures of Josh with his arm around my waist as we left the restaurant and others of us as we hurried to the car ahead of the press, our hands linked. I don't even remember holding his hand, but there it was, in full color.
Pictures of the two of us at dinner the night before at Ona, again smiling and looking very chummy. The security at the hotel was good and to my relief we hadn't been bothered once during dinner, but they couldn't stop every enterprising diner with a camera-phone.
The pictures taken on the balcony of Liz's Malibu house, of James kissing me.
Grainy covert photos from the supposedly 'closed' set of Lost Key, showing Robyn looking gaunt, pale and un-kept, along with accompanying stories of her rumored breakdown. I knew she was playing an addict in the film, and I applauded her makeup artist, but the photos gave me a twinge of concern - the thinness was real, and she was too thin already. I hoped she wasn't taking this looking like an addict to the extreme.
Scattered throughout the pages were pictures of Josh and Robyn, looking happy and beautiful together, gazing at each other with obvious affection and adoration.
And then there were the headlines.
Home-wrecker. Temptress. Seductress. Back-stabber. Harlot. Conniver. Schemer.
Basically, a thesaurus of words meaning nasty bitch.
I sighed again and dropped heavily onto the couch, staring out the window at the Hudson and cityscape, leaving the papers where they lay.
Seemingly overnight, I had become a certified jezebel; a prickly slut who had broken up one of the most recognized celebrity pairings of the last several years, and caused a nervous breakdown in the process.
Josh had tried to reassure me last night, telling me again that this would blow over; that another celebrity would do something shocking or just plain stupid and the press would forget all about us, but to me it seemed doubtful. I'd never been the focus of so much press, nor did I ever want to be again.
I'd have to examine that wish carefully, considering the relationship I was fumbling around in with Robyn. If the press ever got the points of the triangle of Josh, Robyn and I connected correctly...I shook my head, not even wanting to imagine the kind of frenzy that would provoke. What was happening to me now was quite enough to deal with.
And I still have the fallout from the season finale to go through, which should be just about...I checked my watch...half-way through right now.
I ran a hand through my hair, still slightly damp from the shower I'd taken after making use of the rooftop pool and the very fancy exercise facility the hotel boasted. The workout had helped my stress levels a little, but not as much as I'd hoped, and the tumbler of scotch and ice I was sipping on was the next step in trying to relax enough to sleep.
The buzz of my cell phone vibrating against the glass-topped bed stand interrupted my next sip, and I rolled my eyes, thinking it was probably Connie. Again. She'd been calling me almost hourly to give me pep talks, advice on what to say and more importantly what not to say to the press, and updates on what steps the agency was taking to get things back under control. While I appreciated her concern and support, more press-talk was the last thing I wanted to hear right now.
I pushed myself reluctantly off the couch and crossed to the phone, not even bothering to check the display. "Connie, I think you're the best damn agent in the world, but honestly, I don't need to be babysat. I fine, really."
There was a pause, and then a low chuckle that sent my heart pounding and made breathing suddenly difficult. "I'm glad to hear it," the familiar voice rasped, and I closed my eyes, savoring the riot of emotions that voice produced.
"Robyn..." I steadied my breathing and sat down on the bed. "Hey."
Neither of us spoke for several moments - I was happy just listening to her breathe, to know she was at the other end of the line, to finally be connected to her again in some way. I lay back on the bed and closed my eyes, trying to picture where she was, what she was doing, what she looked like...was her hair loose around her shoulders or tied back? Was she dressed for an evening out, or in casual clothes - jeans and a t-shirt maybe?
"Goddamn, I miss you," I said finally, gratified at the slight catch in her breathing.
"I miss you too," she said softly. "I think I might have a remedy for that."
"Do you." I smiled slightly. "Why, Miss Ward, are you suggesting..."
"Open the door, Caid."
My eyes popped open and I sat up fast enough to make me dizzy. "What?"
There was a soft tapping on the door. "Open the door."
"Holy shit." I tossed the phone down, scrambled off the bed and flew to the door, fumbling with the different chains and locks before finally throwing the door open and staring dumbly at the sight that greeted me.
Damn, she looked good.
Faded jeans, tennis shoes and a blue hooded UCLA sweatshirt pulled up to cover her head...
"Surprise." She smiled hesitantly. "Can I come in?"
I blinked and shook myself out of my frozen state. "God yes. Of course, come in." I stepped back to let her in. She brushed past me, closer than necessary in the wide door and the slight contact and accompanying hint of her perfume set my skin and senses tingling.
She moved further into the room, looking around curiously. I flipped on a light to dispel the gloom I'd been sitting in and followed her across the room. She stopped in front of the bay window and looked out over the city.
"Nice." She turned to me, pulling back the hood of her sweatshirt to reveal a loose tumble of dark hair. Her movements stopped and her lips parted slightly as she looked at me. I was dressed - or rather undressed - for bed, and her eyes wandered my body, starting at my bare feet and moving up from there, taking in my bare legs, baggy cotton boxers and snug tank top...when she reached my face and our eyes met, the emotions on display there had me moving towards her without a thought other than wanting to immerse myself in what I saw.
We came together furiously, desperately - no finesse or tenderness, just raw need and instant, overwhelming arousal. I was dizzy from it; dizzy from the ferocity of her kisses, from her tongue seeking mine, from her lips and teeth on my neck...it was overwhelming and held an underlying desperation that even in my brain's addled state, set off warning bells.
I tried to slow it down, to get things back in control by breaking the kiss and pulling away slightly, but Robyn took the opportunity to quickly pull the sweatshirt over her head and the t-shirt beneath it - did the woman ever wear a bra?? - tossing them haphazardly to the floor as she kicked off her shoes and worked at the buttons of her jeans. In seconds she was naked and any thoughts of slowing things down to ascertain the reason for her desperation vanished when she took my hands and lay them on her skin.
"Oh, yeah..." she breathed. "Jesus, Caid, I need you to touch me. I just need to feel you..." Another heated kiss pushed me backward and I fell onto the bed; she came after me and straddled my waist, grasping my hand and guiding it to her sex. "Inside...please, Caid. I need..." She pushed my fingers into her warmth and moaned, falling forward and bracing herself above me, one hand next to my head and the other against the headboard. Her eyes closed and she threw her head back, moving against me with increased urgency.
Oh my god...
It was wildly erotic, to be inside her like this as she moved above me; my own hips moved in response, rising to meet her thrusts and drawing low moans from both of us. With my free hand I grabbed her waist and pulled her against me harder.
"God..." her breaths were almost sobs, her eyes shut tightly, and I felt a flicker of uncertainty. I needed to see her eyes, needed to know she was here, with me...
"Look at me, baby. Don't close your eyes...look at me..."
Her slowed her movements and lowered her head, her hair cascading over one shoulder and tickling the skin of my chest. Her eyes opened, so dark they looked black, staring intently into mine.
"Caid..." she whispered, raising her hand from the bed to cup my cheek. "I...oh, god..."
Her eyes widened when I gently stroked her clit with my thumb and I watched in wonderment and reverence as her breathing stopped, only to be let out in a rush as her body stiffened and release washed over her face.
There were no words to describe it, watching her at that moment.
It was terrifyingly personal, so intimate that I had to force myself not to look away, even though it had been at my request. I continued stroking and the gentle rhythm of my fingers until she stopped my hand with her own and slowly collapsed against me, burying her face in my neck, her breathing harsh and labored in my ear.
I slowly withdrew my fingers and wrapped both arms around her tightly, pulling her closer and kissing her temple. I held her as her breathing returned to normal and her trembling stopped; held her as the tears I could feel on my neck dried and her body relaxed in my embrace.
"Hey," I said finally, and kissed her hair. "You okay?" I felt her nod, and stroked her hair with one hand. "Honey..."
She raised her head and kissed me, silencing my words. "Shhh..." she said softly, and kissed me again. "No talking. Just let me touch you."
Her hand had already worked its way under my shirt, stroking the skin beneath my ribs, and I made no protest as she pushed herself up and straddled me again, pulling the material over my head and tossing it to the floor. As much as I wanted to know what was going on in her head, something told me to keep quiet and let her control things; she needed this somehow and to be honest, so did I.
So I said nothing as she sat back and her gaze raked my naked torso, claming it as hers. I said nothing as her mouth licked and sucked at my neck and breasts and a hand tugged my boxers down over my hips and off my legs. I said nothing as she kissed her way down my body with infinite tenderness, so different from her desperation of minutes before. I said nothing until I breathlessly gasped out her name as her tongue brought me to climax once, and then again, and I lay exhausted in a tangle of sheets, her dark hair spread out across my stomach and her lips soft against thigh.
"Jesus," I breathed when I'd gotten my breath back. I stroked her head. "Come up here, please."
She did as I asked, placing gentle kisses as she went, her hair brushing softly against my skin as she moved up my body. She looked into my face for several long moments, her eyes swirling with emotions I couldn't decipher. I almost told her then. Almost said the words, almost blurted out I love you...but she broke eye contact, kissed my chin and laid her head on my chest and the moment slipped away.
My arms went around her automatically, and I touched my lips to her hair. "Rob..."
"Shhh..." she quieted me again. "I don't want to talk right now, okay? Just hold me."
I hesitated, wanting very badly to know what was going on, but not wanting to spoil the moment.
I sighed and kissed her head again, rubbing a hand up and down her back. She felt my acquiescence and draped an arm across my waist, turning her head to kiss the skin below my collarbone. I closed my eyes and relaxed, enjoying the feel of her weight on me, and the heat of her skin. As I drifted off to sleep, she whispered something and I stirred, fighting against a dragging tiredness caused by sleepless nights, stressful days and recent physical activity. A soothing hand on my stomach calmed me; I gave up and let sleep come.
"I don't really give a flying fuck about what the studio's normal policy is towards handing the press at the building entrance, Connie," I snapped. "I just want to know if they're going to do anything about it today."
The silence on the other end of the line told me that I'd again let my nasty mood get the better of me. Damn. First it was the poor room service guy this morning; the first person I'd seen after waking up alone. Then the concierge who had asked me, innocently, if I'd enjoyed my stay. And now Connie. I sighed, and leaned my head back against the leather interior of the network furnished limo.
"Shit, Connie, I'm sorry. Pay no attention to the raving lunatic on the other end of the phone...she's had a bad couple of days and wants nothing more than to be home and away from this damn city."
Connie laughed lightly, but her voice held concern. "You seemed okay when I talked to you last night, Caid...did something happen? You didn't go out, did you, and run into more press?"
"No..." My lesbian lover stopped by for a lovely fuck and then snuck off without a word while I was sleeping. But she was nice enough to order me croissants and coffee before she left. "...I'm just tired, and ready to go home."
"Well you're almost done, kiddo. Just charm the pants off Brandon Marcus and you'll be home in no time."
I barked out a laugh. "I'll do my best, but if he starts taking his pants off, I'm outta there. That is definitely not in my contract."
Connie giggled and I grinned, glad I'd been forgiven for my previous outburst. "You could do worse than Brandon Marcus, Caid. He's kind of cute in a..."
"...geeky, teddy bear sort of way?" I finished for her, and laughed. "He actually kind of reminds me of an ex-boyfriend I had in college."
"Really?" I rarely spoke about my personal life or my life before she'd been my agent, and I could tell she was intrigued.
"Really," I told her, and laughed again. "But I still don't want to see him without his pants. And what's with you trying to hook me up lately? Teenagers last week, and now nerdy talk show hosts..."
"Well, lately your choices in men could have been better..." She stopped herself and there was heavy silence. "Ah. Damn. I'm sorry Caid, I shouldn't have said anything, it's none of my business."
The beginnings of an improved mood dissipated instantly, and I rubbed my forehead vigorously with my palm. I'd assumed, when Connie didn't ask questions about Josh and immediately put out a press release that we were just friends, that she actually believed we were just friends. Apparently not.
"No, I don't suppose it is your business, Con, but you could have asked, and then you wouldn't have had to think you've been lying about it for the last four days." I was disappointed but not surprised. I had implied recently that I had a big secret that I wasn't ready to tell her; I couldn't really blame her for jumping to conclusions. "Josh and I are friends. That's it. There is nothing romantic between us. Nothing."
"Robyn and I are friends, too. She's aware that Josh and I are friends and do things together - she introduced us for god's sake. And she knows I would never do something like make a play for Josh."
For more reasons than you realize, Con, I thought, and frowned.
Robyn did know that, didn't she? Could that be the reason for her desperation last night? I shook my head. If she entertained that thought for even a second, I was going to have to smack her upside the head.
Right after I kicked her in the ass for leaving me this morning without a word.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly. "I should have asked if I had doubts."
"I'd rather you didn't have doubts, but I guess I don't blame you."
"Don't worry about it, Con. It's alright. Now...can you find out about the entrance for me? Maybe there's a back way or something?"
"Yes, I'll find out and let you know. Where are you now?"
"Oh, hell, I don't know this city..." I squinted at a passing street sign. "Uh...Ninth and...Thirty-second, I think."
"Okay...you've got a fair bit to go yet. I'll call you back."
"Yep." I hung up and leaned my forehead against the glass. Watching the people and cars around us as we crawled through traffic, I thought back on the morning.
A knock on the door and a muffled words, "Room service!" had pulled me from sleep just before eight, and after a surprised glance at the clock, I'd sleepily reached behind me, expecting a long, warm body but finding a cold, empty space. I wondered, briefly, if I'd dreamed the entire thing, but the smell of her lingered on the pillow, and my body...it remembered.
I'd called out for her, thinking she was in the bathroom or the shower, not even considering the possibility that she was just...gone. The room service waiter had received the brunt of my disbelief and anger when I'd realized Robyn was indeed gone, and after stammering a confused apology for something he certainly had nothing to do with, he scurried off with his cart, taking the silver serving tray of pastries and coffee with him.
I'd called her cell phone - my resolve to honor her request of no contact flew out the window the minute she showed up at my hotel room in New York - but I'd been immediately sent to voicemail. I left a sarcastic, scathing message that made me feel a little better for about two seconds, but didn't change the fact that she'd left.
She hadn't even left a note. No note, no message, nothing.
Once again, she'd managed to astonish me with her passion and her touch, and then make me feel like just another lover in a long line of lovers.
If this was what loving Robyn Ward was going to be like, maybe I could live without it.
I rapped my forehead against the glass a few times, and shook my head.
No, I can't.
"You assaulted me, detective. I could have you thrown in jail for that." The voice was low and smoky, doing its normal number on me even though it wasn't live and at the moment, I was thoroughly pissed off at the woman generating it.
"Why didn't you?" I winced at the breathiness of my reply.
Some big, tough cop I was.
I watched from behind the stage curtain as the clip of our now infamous finale lip-lock rolled to its conclusion on the screen behind the host's desk. The audience erupted in whistles and loud applause and I took a deep, calming breath and tilted my head from side to side to relieve the tension.
Unlike other talk shows I'd been on, the rotating hosts of NightTalk didn't meet their guest beforehand, and that sense of unfamiliarity was making me more nervous than usual, especially with all the press I'd drawn lately. I was hoping he was as amiable as he appeared to be, since my mood had yet to improve today, and I wasn't particularly confident I'd be able to hold my temper if he started picking at me about all the things the press had accused me of. What great headlines that would make. Slutty Man-Stealing Seductress Brains Talk Show Host With Coffee Mug and then Steals Stage Manager's Husband. Film at 5, 5:12, 5:20, 5:25...
"From the hit series 9th Precinct, please welcome Caidence Harris!"
I brought my mind back to business and shook the tension out of my body one last time before plastering a smile on my face and walking out onto the set to meet Brandon Marcus. I smiled and gave the audience a quick wave, then stepped up onto the stage and shook the host's hand. He was about my height; just shy of heavy with a neatly trimmed goatee and a mop of dark curly hair that looked about to spring free, at any minute, of whatever hair product was keeping in place. Up close he reminded me even more of my ex Toby - aside from his green eyes and a suit that Toby wouldn't have been caught dead in - and I flashed him a genuine smile that he returned along with a gentle handshake.
I sat down in the overstuffed armchair he indicated, and he sat behind a curved wooden desk. "It's great to meet you, Caidence. Really a pleasure." He sat back in his chair. "So, how ya doing? How's our fair city treating you?"
In an effort to look non-temptressy, I'd gone casual with low-rise denims, a stretchy, dark green and white zip-up mock T and black, thick-heeled oxfords. I was comfortable, and glad for it now as I crossed my legs and rested my elbows on the arms of the chair, swinging my foot a little.
"Well, let's just say it's been an interesting stay..."
He was funny and charming and we talked easily for a few minutes, eluding to my current status with the press and moving into how I'd gotten started in acting - my days as a 'beer bitch' I'd called it, and got a good chuckle from the audience - and my work on 9th Precinct and In Their Defense.
"So I have to tell ya, I watched that finale last night, and I think it took a lot of people by surprise. Is that something that had been in the works for a while, or was it kind of a last minute thing?"
"The finale script never changed," I answered, "from the first time we saw it, but I guess you could say it was a relatively recent storyline."
"Was it hard for you at all, or strange to do that scene? Do you get, like, performance anxiety during a scene like that? I mean, you were kissing Robyn Ward!" He waggled his eyebrows, and the crowd laughed. "I guess I shouldn't assume my male fantasies apply to you, right?"
Oh, you'd be surprised...
I smiled. "I was nervous, for sure...god, it seemed like a million people showed up for the taping. The crew can tell you that I was maybe a little...ah...touchy on the set. But I was incredibly lucky to be working with Robyn - she's such a professional, you know, as well as being just a damn nice person...she really kept me sane."
Okay, just a teeny-weenie lie...sane was something I rarely felt in the company of Robyn Ward.
"Well, I'm glad to hear you say that..." he grinned at me and winked, "because I've got a little surprise for you."
I forced a smile. Crap. Surprises on late-night TV talk shows were rarely good. At least not for the surprise-ee.
He stood up and gestured toward the curtain I'd recently stood behind. "Ladies and gentlemen, as an extra special treat tonight, another 9th Precinct regular, and also star of the popular series In Their Defense, give it up for my good friend Robyn Ward!"
A quick blink was my only reaction.
Oh, goody. What a great surprise.
I'd had quite a bit of practice over the last few days at keeping my emotions hidden, and I needed every bit of that practice to keep my expression pleasant and smiling while I was flooded with the contradictory emotions of fresh anger and the elation that seeing Robyn always produced. I pushed up from my chair, clapping with the rest of the crowd as Robyn appeared from behind the curtain and crossed the set towards us.
She wore a long suede skirt in deep burgundy that had tiny black buttons down each side, more than half of them undone to show plenty of thigh and calf as she walked; black, knee-high lace-up boots, and a black silk camisole...
The whistles and cheers from the crowd were raucous. I smiled to myself. And people thought little 'ol me could seduce Josh Riley away from this woman.
How completely and utterly ridiculous.
Brandon moved from behind his desk and greeted Robyn with a one-armed hug and a light kiss on the cheek. She smiled as he said something into her ear, but her eyes were on me; hesitant and shy, full of guarded pleasure.
I couldn't help myself - I smiled.
Yes, she'd left me alone without a word that morning.
Yes, I was angry.
Yes, every damn thing she did seemed to confuse me more.
But I couldn't help myself.
I smiled, and admitted that despite everything, it was very good to see her.
She stepped around Brandon and grasped my hands in hers, brushing cool lips across my cheek. "Surprise," she said softly as the audience continued to noisily voice their approval.
I let out a short, soft laugh with no humor and kept my voice low and even. "Think you might stick around after this one, and not run off like last night?" I felt her stiffen and start to pull back, but I held on tightly. "Nevermind...it's good to see you." I kissed her cheek and squeezed her hands, leaning in until my mouth almost touched her ear. "You look incredible."
I felt a tremor in her hands and pulled back, releasing her. She gave me a tiny smile that spoke volumes and then turned to the still rowdy audience and waved, her professional smile back in place.
I moved over a seat and Robyn sat down in the chair I'd just vacated. The crowd finally quieted, although there were occasional whistles and yells, and a loud "I love you Robyn!"
"I love you too," she said with a grin and crossed her legs, showing enough thigh to set off another round of shouts and whistles. I willed myself not to stare at the exposed skin that was close enough to touch, and instead focused my attention on Brandon.
He smiled and sat back in his chair, obviously pleased with the reaction his surprise had gotten from the crowd.
"Hiya, Robyn," he said when the crowd quieted again.
"Hiya, Brandon," she replied with obvious fondness. She pushed a strand of long, loose hair behind her ear.
"I've just been chatting with your co-star here...she's got some good things to say about you."
Robyn looked over at me and smiled. "I heard, and I'm completely flattered. I'm the lucky one to get to work with Caidence on this..."
The three of us chatted back and forth for another ten minutes, hitting all sorts of topics that seemed natural but that I quickly realized were carefully chosen to create opportunities for Robyn to mention thinks like "Caid and I did this," or "Josh, Caid and I did that," subtly but determinedly emphasizing the friendship between the three of us, and her obvious trust in Josh and I as friends without coming right out and saying Josh and I weren't sleeping together.
Nothing gets people's curiosity up quicker than a good denial...Robyn and Liz must have read the same handbook of how to handle the media. I needed to get myself a copy of that book sometime soon. Wonder if they sold it on Amazon.
Just before the second commercial break, Brandon wrapped up the interview, thanking us both and announcing his next guest. As soon as someone yelled, "And...we're clear. Three minutes!" we all stood, and Robyn gave Brandon a warm hug.
"Thanks, pal - I owe ya." She touched him gently on the arm.
He grinned. "No problem, beautiful. Always great to see you, and my boss is loving me right now. Can you stay a bit after the show?"
She shook her head and glanced at her watch. "I'm going to be cutting it close as it is...sorry. I'll see you at the Open, though, right?"
"Wouldn't miss it." He turned to me and shook my hand. "Caidence, it was so nice meeting you. I enjoyed talking with you."
"You too, Brandon," I nodded and smiled.
He looked behind us with a frown, and waved a young woman over. "Sorry to dash, but Mike is waving frantically and I'd better go see what's up. Sherri will show you back to your dressing rooms."
He gave Robyn another quick peck and left, and we followed the fast-moving assistant backstage.
"Miss Harris, this is you," she gestured at a door. "Miss Ward, you're down this way..."
"Thanks, Sherri, I can find it." Robyn interrupted with a courteous smile. After a second of hesitation, Sherri nodded and hurried off down the hall.
I pushed open the door to my dressing room and stood aside to let Robyn in before closing it behind us. She immediately moved towards me, but I held up my hands and backed away.
"No-no-no." I pointed to the other side of the room. "You stay over there - I can't be pissed at you when you touch me, and I need to be pissed at you right now."
A look of hurt confusion passed over her face and her brow furrowed. "Caid, why are you so angry with me? I thought...last night we were so close..."
"And then this morning, after all that closeness," I said sarcastically, "I woke up alone."
She blinked at my tone. "Caid, I'm sorry about this morning...I had a string of interviews, and had to get back to change. I didn't realize it would upset you so much. I was on my way to the airport when I finally got your message this afternoon, and you sounded so angry...That's when I called up Brandon and asked to get on the show - I wanted to talk with you before I left."
"Why couldn't you have just told me that?" I asked in frustration, shaking my head. "You couldn't just tell me that you had interviews, and that you would have to leave in the morning?"
She looked at me and raised an eyebrow. "And when exactly was I supposed to tell you that, Caid? We weren't doing much talking last night, if you remember correctly..."
"I remember," I said quietly. "And I also remember waking up alone this morning."
"And I'm sorry about that, truly I am." She took a step towards me. "I wanted to stay this morning, more than anything, but I had those damn interviews. You didn't seem to mind when I said goodbye, and I told you in the note why I had to go..."
"Whoa, whoa...wait. Told me goodbye?"
She looked at me strangely. "You don't remember? I know you were a little out of it, but I thought you were awake...you mumbled something about me smelling good, said goodbye, and smiled when I kissed you..."
On more than one occasion when I was with Toby, he'd said he kissed me goodbye in the morning and I'd responded, and had no recollection of it after.
"And the note?" I asked hesitantly. "You left a note?"
She gave me another strange look. "Of course I left a note. Didn't they deliver breakfast this morning? I wanted to be there when you woke up, but I figured that since I couldn't be, I'd try to start your day out with something nice..."
"The note was with breakfast?" I asked in a small voice, remembering the uniformed waiter practically sprinting down the hall to get away from the crazy, pissed-off lady in 7210.
"Well, yeah." She smiled sheepishly. "I know - kind of corny, right? It seemed - I don't know - sweet and kind of romantic at three in the morning, but..."
I rubbed my forehead with my palm and shook my head. "Jesus Christ. I'm an idiot."
"I never got the note," I told her softly. "I thought you didn't leave one. And I don't remember you saying goodbye. I thought you'd just...gone."
She frowned. "Come on, Caid, you can't believe I'd do that..." she looked at me for a moment, and read the truth. She shook her head sadly. "But you did, didn't you? You really thought I'd do that to you." She took a few steps across the small room and studied a framed poster on the wall, hugging her arms to her body defensively. "Nice to know you think so highly of me."
Shit. I ran a frustrated hand through my hair. Shit, shit, shit. What was it with the two of us? If it wasn't one of us letting our fears and insecurities get in the way, it was the other.
I walked over to her and after a moment's hesitation, put my arms around her from behind and rested my chin on her shoulder. "I'm the idiot this time," I whispered. "I'm sorry."
She was unyielding for several moments, but eventually relaxed against me and shook her head. "We're both idiots." She let out a short, cynical laugh. "I don't know why I got so offended. You had good reason to believe I'd just leave. Lord knows I've done it in the past - many, many times."
Ouch. Was it really necessary to add the second 'many'? Wouldn't one have sufficed?
Feeling me stiffen reflexively, she turned in my embrace and put her arms around my neck, running her fingers through the hair at the nape of my neck, waiting until I met her gaze. "The keyword is past, Caid. You and I..." She looked away from my face to where her fingers played in my hair. "This thing between us, it happened so quickly and then I had the film shoot, and we never got the chance to talk about anything. About expectations, what we wanted out of it...anything." Her eyes came back to mine. "You have to know that I want you, Caid. That physically," she placed a hand on the side of my face, stroking gently with her thumb, "you make me so crazy I can't think. But I also want you to know that I honestly care about you. You're my friend, and I respect you so much - I would never purposely hurt you. We haven't had much time together, and my track record isn't so great, but I hope you believe that."
So...we're friends with benefits?
I knew that wasn't what she was trying to get at, but my mind couldn't help but get stuck on it. I didn't want to be her fuckbuddy, I wanted to be her...everything.
Great. I was quoting Andy Gibb songs. That couldn't be a good sign.
I forced a smile that I hoped wasn't tinged with disappointment. "I do believe you. I know you care about me...as a friend, Robyn, and you'd never purposely try to hurt me. I'm sorry I doubted that."
She frowned. "That's not exactly what I meant, Caid...of course I care about you as a friend, but..."
"Miss Harris?" Sherri's voice and tentative knock on the door interrupted, and we both jumped a little. Robyn made a cute little noise of frustration as we reluctantly pulled apart.
I smiled. "I guess this isn't the best place to be having this conversation anyway, is it?"
She glanced around and shook her head. "No, I don't suppose it is."
Another knock came and I walked to the door and opened it. "Yes?"
"Hello Miss Harris, sorry to bother you, but do you know where Miss Ward went? There's a driver here waiting for her, and she's not in her dressing room..." her voice trailed off as Robyn stepped up behind me. "Oh, Miss Ward. There you are. Your driver..."
Robyn nodded. "Is waiting for me, yes, thank you Sherri. Can you tell him I'll just be a moment? Maybe you can let him grab a sandwich or something from the green room? I'll find him there."
She nodded, and rushed off in what seemed like the only other speed she possessed besides 'stop'.
I closed the door again and turned, and the two of us stared at each other for several seconds.
"Damn," she said finally, pushing her hair behind her ear. "I wish I didn't have to go. I feel like we're leaving things hanging." She chewed on her lip. "Are we okay?"
I pulled her into a hug, running my hands up and down her back and kissed her hair. "Yes, we're okay."
We stood in each other's arms for nearly a minute, and finally I kissed her lightly on the neck below her ear and pulled away. "I know you want to concentrate on filming, but do you think we could at least talk on the phone a little more often? I think..."
She quieted me with two long fingers against my lips. "Yes. Definitely. Trying to keep myself from thinking about you isn't working anyway. I'll call you when I get back tonight."
"I'll probably be in the air..."
"Tomorrow then, after filming?"
"Any time...I'll take what I can get."
She leaned forward and kissed me lightly on the mouth. "I'll talk to you soon, then. And Caid, thank you for last night. I needed to reconnect, to feel you..."
I smiled. "I needed it too, and I enjoyed every second." I took her face in my hands and kissed her, slowly and deliberately, before pulling away and waiting until her eyes fluttered open. "But next time, I don't want to rush, and I don't want to wake up alone."
She smiled softly. "You got it."