Authors: Eileen Goudge
Grant said with a laugh, “I may be an old coot, but I
watch TV. It just took me a little while to figure out where I’d seen you before.”
Luckily for her, he was cool with it. Like a lot of celebrities, Grant could afford to be laid back because he paid others to play the heavy. Like the scary-looking bodyguard-slash-houseman who’d eyed her menacingly when they were properly introduced, then barely spoke a word to her as he was driving her home later on.
By the time he dropped her off at her condo, she was a bundle of mixed emotions. In some respects her curiosity had been satisfied, but she still had more questions than answers. What had Grant been doing with himself all those years he’d been holed up? And was there any truth to the stories told by ex-girlfriends, specifically that he turned into Mr. Hyde when he drank? More importantly, where did she fit in?
Before she’d even changed out of her sweaty clothes she found herself picking up the phone and punching in Ryan’s number. He’d been through it all with her, the endless speculating about her father and occasional bouts of weepiness after one too many glasses of wine. How could she
share something as important as this with him?
“Red Gate Productions,” answered a female voice at the other end.
“Jan? It’s me, Stevie. Is he in?” Her words came in a breathless rush.
She’d left so many messages over the past weeks, it was almost a shock when a moment or two later Ryan’s voice came on the line. “Listen, can this wait?” he said, sounding harried. “We had to do some recutting, and it’s a little crazy right now. The deadline for submission is tomorrow.” The life of a documentary filmmaker was always racing to meet a deadline, usually involving some film festival or other. She knew better than to take it personally, but she was nonetheless taken aback. It had been more than a month since they’d last spoken. Didn’t he miss her even a little bit?
She swallowed against the knot forming in her throat. “I just thought you’d want to know, I met him—my dad.” Ryan was the only person aside from Franny, Emerson, and Jay in whom she’d confided about Grant.
There was a little pause, then he said, “Wow. That is big news. How’d it go?”
“It’s kind of a long story. Are you going to be free later on? I was hoping we could meet for coffee.”
He hesitated, and in the background she could hear muffled voices calling out to one another. Red Gate’s edit bay, in full-tilt mode, easily rivaled KNLA’s. “I could probably break away for twenty minutes or so,” he said after a bit, “but it won’t be until later in the day. I’ll give you a call when I come up for air.”
Not exactly a declaration of undying love, but it would have to do for now. She consoled herself with the thought that it couldn’t be entirely hopeless, or he wouldn’t have agreed to meet her.
Stevie showered and changed into her sexiest jeans and a top that showed off every set of crunches she’d sweated at the gym. It wouldn’t hurt to remind him of what he was missing. At the same time, a voice whispered in her head:
Are you sure you know what you’re doing?
Even if she managed to lure him back, what then? She still wasn’t ready to give him what he wanted, and maybe wouldn’t be for some time. All she could do was pray that this cooling-off period had made Ryan realize she was worth the wait.
It was late in the afternoon by the time he called back. They arranged to meet at a café near his studio, just off Pico Boulevard. On the way there, cruising along in her Firebird with the top down, Stevie found herself reflecting on happier times. On their first date, Ryan had taken her to a little Mom-and-Pop Italian restaurant that was the perfect antidote to the “in” spots frequented by celebrities, then to the Cinerama Dome to see
one of her favorite old films, which turned out to be one of his, too. Afterward they’d gone for a drive up Highway 1, stopping in Malibu for a moonlit walk on the beach. As they’d strolled along the sand, the incoming tide lapping at their toes, Stevie had felt a sense of possibility she hadn’t known with other men. And when he’d paused to kiss her, a kindling, not just in her loins, but in her soul.
“There’s something I’ve always wondered about,” she’d said, as they’d strolled back they way they’d come. “Why, in all those old movies, the men are such shits.” She was thinking about the character Cary Grant had played in
who’d treated Ingrid Bergman badly throughout most of the film.
“A better question would be why the women put up with it,” Ryan had replied.
“Obviously they’re gluttons for punishment.”
“Or maybe they didn’t see an alternative.”
“A nice guy who knows how to treat a woman right.”
Looking into his long, angular face, with its intelligent gray eyes and sensitive poet’s mouth—not the kind of guy she normally fell for, but attractive in an Adrien Brody kind of way—she sensed it wasn’t just talk. He would be good to her, not just until he’d gotten her into bed, but always. Until now, she’d always gravitated toward the bad boys who were good at starting fires but didn’t stick around to watch them burn. Maybe because, lacking any blueprint for what a man should be, she’d adopted hers from old movies like the one they’d just seen. But here was one, she suddenly knew without a doubt, who wouldn’t be just another footnote in her long, inglorious history with men.
In the weeks and months that followed, her instincts proved correct. He was as good a friend as he was a lover. Even their differences complemented each other’s. He was the ballast to her occasional flights of fancy, and she provided insight into some of the more angst-ridden subjects of his films who hadn’t enjoyed the normal upbringing he had. He was also romantic where she tended to be practical, often surprising her with thoughtful, quirky gifts, like a pair of vintage platform shoes she’d admired in a thrift shop or tickets to a classic-car show.
Now, as she exited off the freeway onto Pico, she felt as nervous as she had before their first date. By the time she pulled into the parking lot behind the café, her heart was doing a drum riff against her rib cage and her stomach was where her throat should have been. Joe’s was where they’d often met after work and where she’d occasionally picked up coffee for Ryan and his crew when he was crashing on an all-nighter, and the familiar place brought a host of memories. She was almost relieved when she walked in to find she’d arrived ahead of him; it would give her a chance to collect herself. While she was waiting, she ordered for them both. She knew how he liked his coffee, black with no sugar.
She was seated at a table by the window, sipping her coffee, when he walked in. Her heart took flight. He’d lost some weight, she noted, which only accentuated his soulful eyes and angular frame—he looked like a starving Eastern European poet.
“I can’t stay long,” he said, sinking into the chair opposite hers.
They might have been any couple, except for the catch in her throat and his smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“I know.” She drank in the sight of him, storing it up for later on.
He blew on his coffee, taking a careful sip. “You look good,” he said.
“So do you.”
It was all she could do to keep from reaching for his hand. A hand he was now forking through his hair, a nervous habit of his. His hair had grown out since she’d last seen him, enough to curl over the collar of his faded chambray shirt. He was in need of a shave, too, but she thought it made him look sexy and a little bit dangerous.
“So tell me. What’s he like?” He leaned back in his chair, a genuine smile softening his stark features.
She told him about the strange morning she’d had. “It was weird. Almost like he was glad to have the company, and not just because I was his kid.”
“From what you’ve told me, it doesn’t sound like he gets too many visitors.”
She nodded thoughtfully. “It was kind of like visiting someone in prison. Though I don’t know of many where they serve caviar with the scrambled eggs,” she added, with a smile.
“No one’s keeping him there,” Ryan pointed out.
“I know, that’s what’s so weird about it. He hasn’t set foot off the estate in more than a decade.”
“Why do you think that is?”
“He’s scared, I think. Of being hounded by the press, and also of people finding out the real guy is nothing like the legend. All this publicity around Lauren Rose isn’t helping, either.”
“Which leads to the more important question: Do you think he’s innocent?” Ryan’s gray eyes fixed on her, forcing her to confront the doubts that had been plaguing her.
“Yeah, I do.” She was surprised by the conviction in her voice.
“What makes you so sure?”
“It wasn’t anything he said. In fact, the subject never came up. I just can’t picture him pulling that trigger, not on purpose.” Grant had seemed more hunted than hunter.
“You barely know him. You don’t know what he’s capable of.”
“True, but I trust my instincts.”
“What if they’re wrong? Are you willing to take that risk?” He leaned forward, wearing that stern-dad look he sometimes got when she was sticking her neck out too far, like the time she’d gotten a little too nosy with an actor at a press conference over his reputed mob connections.
She felt a little flutter of hope. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were worried about me,” she said, her mouth quirking up in a little half smile.
“Just because we’re not together, it doesn’t mean I don’t still care about you,” he said, with a touch of defensiveness.
“Ryan…” Now she
reaching for his hand. “The reason I wanted to see you, it wasn’t just to tell you about my father. I wanted you to know how much I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you, too,” he said quietly.
“You mean it’s not too late?”
“If you’re asking if my offer’s still open, the answer is yes.” His tone remained guarded.
The flutter became a surge of hope. “I still have some stuff to figure out. Are you willing to wait?”
“Maybe,” he said slowly, not taking his eyes off her face. “It depends on how long a wait it would be.”
Tears of frustration welled in Stevie’s eyes. How she wanted to reassure him! But she couldn’t mislead him. If all she could offer was honesty, she owed him that much at least. “I can’t make any promises,” she said.
“Just promise to keep an open mind.”
Her heart soared. “Does that mean we could go back to the way it was before?”
“No, but I’d settle for a long engagement.”
She saw the longing in his eyes, which made it all the more difficult to say what she had to say. “I can’t. It wouldn’t be fair to you. You want kids, and I don’t know if or when I’ll ever be ready for that.”
“You feel that way now, but—”
“Ryan, listen to me,” she said, not letting him finish. “You can afford to wait, but I can’t. Why do you think Franny’s in such a burning rush? After a certain age, it’s not an option.”
“You’re a long way from that,” he said.
“Maybe not as long as you think.”
He withdrew his hand and sat back. “In other words, nothing’s changed.” The warmth in his face was cooling as rapidly as the coffee that sat before him, scarcely touched.
“I’m sorry.” A tear slipped down her cheek.
Ryan, with a loud scrape that caused her to flinch, abruptly pushed his chair back and rose to his feet. “Look, I’m happy you found your dad. Let’s leave it at that, okay?” He pulled out his wallet, and tossed some bills onto the table. “That’s for the coffee.” He started to go, then paused, turning slowly to face her. In his starving-poet’s face a tug-of-war was going on, between blind desire to take what she had to offer and the knowledge that it wouldn’t be enough. At last, he said gently, “Be careful, okay? He may seem like a nice guy, but there could be another side to him. You could end up getting hurt.”
“Don’t worry I’ll be fine. I cover the headlines, I don’t make them.” She aimed for a brave smile that fell short of its mark.
“And just what kind of field day will the tabloids have when they find out you’re his daughter?”
“I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. First, I have to find out for sure if he’s innocent.” Not just for her own satisfaction, but to put to bed the hornet’s nest of rumors and speculation that had made a virtual prisoner of Grant.
“And how do you propose to do that?”
“I have my sources.” Actually, just one so far: Keith Holloway, a former colleague at KNLA who was writing the definitive biography of Grant Tobin. He’d spent years researching it and presumably knew everything there was to know about the dark chapter involving Lauren Rose. If anyone could supply Stevie with the facts or at the very least point her in the right direction, it was Keith. Besides, he owed her for the six-figure deal Franny had gotten him.
“Just watch your back, that’s all I’m saying,” Ryan cautioned once more.
“Ryan…” she began, but he was already walking away.
Stevie started to get up, then sank back down in defeat. What was the use of going after him? It wouldn’t change anything. Better to let him go. Let him find a nice woman who wanted kids. She only wished with all her heart that woman could be her.
Stevie hadn’t known Keith Holloway all that well when he was at KNLA. He’d covered mostly hard news and there wasn’t much overlap between that and her beat. But they’d kept in touch after he left. When he’d told her he was writing a book, a biography of Grant Tobin—apparently Keith had been a big fan of his music since he was a teen, back when others his age were into heavy metal and Seattle grunge—it hadn’t meant that much at the time. But all that had changed with the discovery that she was Grant’s child. Which was why she’d hooked Keith up with Franny and why, when she’d heard about his book deal, she’d called to suggest they get together for a celebratory drink. She already knew from talking to him that he thought Grant had gotten a bum rap, but not why. Did he know stuff that wasn’t in the police report? Something that might ultimately exonerate Grant if he were to be charged with attempted murder.
“Nice place,” she commented, as she stepped into the living room of his condo—not unlike her own, only cozily furnished and with a view of Santa Monica Bay. It was done in cool beiges and blond wood, with bold fabrics and vintage posters on the walls. “If you ever decide to take up interior decorating, I could use some help.”