“Yes.” My smile is similar to that of the boy on the screen, if Wynona doesn’t look closely enough. That boy is not yet the uncaring bastard sitting in front of her.

She scoots an inch closer. “Were you and Ms. Cameron in contact between your tween romance and the filming of School Pride?” I can tell from her cold eyes she knows damned well we weren’t tweens in that photo, but I ignore her pointless taunt.

“Sure,” I lie.

Ignoring me, she asserts, “Because there are rumors that the two of you had—issues—on the set of your recent film.”

I laugh complacently and match her icy gaze. “There’s a reason they’re called rumors, right?”

She looks like she wants to bite me. And not in a good way. “What about now? Do you consider yourselves to be—friendly—now?”

What a bitch. I decide to throw her a fast ball, which turns out to have perfect timing. “Yeah. We hung out this past weekend, in fact.”

Thank God I’m occasionally truthful, because just as I admit this, she click-clicks and up pops a photo from three days ago in which I’m entering Brooke’s apartment. She’s clearly visible in the doorway, admitting me. I wonder if Brooke knows about this. I wonder if she even set it up with that photog girl she has on payroll. How else would this shot get into the exclusive hands of a common local news station when Star or Us would have paid a shitload of cash for it?

Wynona’s façade crumbles a little at the edges at losing the element of surprise, but she rallies and turns back to Emma. “So if you and Reid aren’t involved… is this due to your involvement with a—” she glances at a card “—Marcus Hoffpauer?”

The photo on the wall changes to Emma looking bored to death, arms crossed, standing next to that conceited prick at his prom. That must have been a pity date.

Emma is speechless, so I laugh and gesture to the photo, grinning conspiratorially at her. “Ah, I remember this—the community theatre guy, right?”


Emma nods, her lips compressing when she glances at the photo. “Yes, at his prom.”

I shake my head, smiling and staring daggers into Wynona. “If he wanted to score points, he could have—I don’t know—introduced her to his friends? That’s what we do when we invite non-celeb friends to our parties.” A glance at Emma makes it clear that she’s grateful for my interruption.

I turn and give Wynona a mesmerizing smile. “So, about School Pride. We’re both really excited about the upcoming release and ready to talk about the film. We brought several clips—I assume we can show your viewing audience a couple of them now?”

Emma breathes out a deep sigh the moment we shut the car doors and I start the engine, letting it idle and purr for a moment. “Wow, her face…” Her mouth turns up on one side. “I kind of expected her head to start spinning around at one point.”

Wynona was tough, but I’ve had more hostile question-answer sessions than that. No need to pass that info on to Emma, though. “Courtesy never works with people like her, so I don’t bother. If you want to shift topics, you have to force it. With a smile and an angelic look, of course.”

“Of course.”

We pull into traffic and I’m glad for the heavily tinted windows. The last thing either of us needs right now is more public scrutiny. “You looked miserable at that prom. Anyone talk to you at all?”

Shrugging, she says, “The waiters were nice.” I laugh and she gives me a grim smile in return, her head angled. “How did you know? I mean, practically everyone fell for the story that I’m so conceited that I wouldn’t lower myself to speak to regular people.”

I make a disgusted sound. “Please. You’re one of the least conceited people I know. Your best friend is a non-celeb girl—that’s evidence enough that you’re not above mingling with commoners.”

She smirks and I smirk back.

“Let me guess—you told him you’re moving across the country to go to school, so you can’t imagine a relationship between you going anywhere—something like that—and he got pissed. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wanted you to give him a leg up in the industry and he saw his chance at that falling away.”

She blinks in surprise, and her hands open on her lap. “I can’t blame him for being disappointed about that, if that was the case.”

I’m shaking my head before she stops talking. “Why should he put forth no more effort than cozying up to the right girl? Yes, there’s a lot of luck and who-you-know, but we both had to work like hell to become successful actors. We didn’t just get it handed to us. Even if you are planning to toss it all aside to become an ordinary little co-ed.”

She clears her throat, a light blush across her cheeks.

In the silence, I begin ruminating over John’s usual phenomenal luck holding steady with that under-aged girl. Once I was gone and he got her to wake up, she was more than happy to be given cab fare to get to a friend’s house so her parents wouldn’t find out she was at some strange guy’s apartment overnight.

“I’m 99 percent sure we all passed out when we got to my place,” John said.

“What about the other one percent?”

John sighs, passing on a rare piece of insight. “Dude, I hope we never have daughters.”

My best friend doesn’t know about the possible kid with Brooke. I love John, but unlike Brooke, I don’t trust anyone with that information. Thanks to her, Emma and Graham both know about it.

“Do you mind if I ask you about your relationship with Brooke?” Emma asks. I’m glad she can’t see my eyes behind these shades. I mean damn, does she read minds? “You don’t have to tell me anything. It’s not my business. But you guys weren’t friendly a few months ago and now you’re, uh, hanging out together.”

I shrug, exiting the freeway in a split-second decision that will keep her with me a little longer today. “You know that old photo of us that Wynona put up this morning?” She nods. “I guess I can’t blame either of those kids for what they did back then. Growing up in the spotlight, as you know, isn’t all that easy to handle.”

“So, you’re what—friends—now?” I can’t blame her for being incredulous. The idea of Brooke and me ever being friends is ludicrous. She glances out her window and adds, “And where are we, by the way?”

I chuckle. “We’re stopping for breakfast tacos at this very authentic place I know. And let’s just say Brooke and I have reached an understanding.”

Her brow knits as she takes in the East LA scenery. “Is this a safe spot for us to stop?”

“This car is like the Batmobile. It’s bulletproof.”

She peers at me. “Is that true?”

“Um…” I laugh at her gullibility and she swats my arm.

Pulling into a patchy, fissured parking lot and trying to avoid the potholes, I park and pull out my cell. Emma stares at the row of multi-ethnic businesses while I make a short call. With a limited Spanish vocab stemming from a lifetime of Hispanic caregivers and housekeepers, I request my usual order, doubled. Five minutes later, a tattooed guy in a wife-beater and a loosely-tied apron exits the restaurant storefront with a paper bag and two coffees. He makes a beeline in our direction. The Lotus would stand out in this lot even if it wasn’t yellow.

My window slides down noiselessly. “Gracias, Raul,” I say, passing the coffees to Emma and swapping a twenty for the bag.

Raul pockets the money and tips his chin up once, murmuring, “De nada,” before sauntering back inside.

Handing off the cream containers and sugar packets to Emma, I unwrap one of the small stuffed tortillas, suddenly starving. I’ve already finished one and am starting another while she’s mixing her coffee. By the time I’m backing out, I’ve finished a second burrito and Emma is taking her first tentative bite.


She nods. “Potato? And—?”

“Cabrito.” I hope she doesn’t know what that is.

Her brow furrows. “Is that… goat?”

Damn. “I said it was authentic…” She doesn’t look too disgusted. “Not as bad as tuna, huh?” I remind her of our first official onscreen kiss. MiShaun had admonished me for eating tuna sandwiches beforehand, and I’d played cool about it in front of them and then sprinted to my PA and demanded a toothbrush and toothpaste before we did the scene.

Emma laughs while finishing her bite, holding a hand over her mouth. “I can’t believe you remember that.”

My answer is an indirect smile and nothing more, because all I’m remembering right now is the sweetness of her kiss. Brooke can’t get her half of this insane arrangement completed quickly enough for me.

Chapter 19


My research paper boasts a formidable title concerning Flannery O’Connor and didacticism… and not another complete or coherent thought. I’ve completed the research and bits of draft, but my deductions and conclusions are a jumbled mess. Thank God this one isn’t due until Friday—I still have 48 hours to finish it.

I decide to take a break and see what Mom and Cara are doing when I catch myself staring at nothing and composing a new story for Emma. She seems fond of the steamy narratives I’ve been feeding her every night.

After which I take freakishly chilly showers.

I committed to dinner tonight with Brooke, and I shouldn’t have—not with everything I have to do. I suffer from a vague sense of guilt where she’s concerned. At times I sense that she wants more from me, but she never says so. Leading a girl on isn’t something I’ve ever knowingly done, and that’s exponentially true for someone I consider to be a friend. But she’s only pushed me for more once during the course of our friendship, and she was very drunk at the time. Ignoring that whole episode seemed like the best way to deal with it.

Brooke regards her hard shell as strength. In reality, it’s nothing more than a shield, though I can’t say I blame her for it. I’m one of the few people she allows behind that barrier, and I’ve always felt the need to prove to her that relationships, including friendships, can survive without manipulation or exploitation. Whether I’ve been successful at that attempt is debatable.

Until last fall, I was sure Brooke’s damage was mostly Reid’s fault. I still believe their relationship had a lot to do with it, but having met him and watched them interact, I think they’re just too similar. Like their impairments run parallel, and some subliminal recognition of that similarity was the reason they were originally drawn to each other.

Mom always warned my sisters and me that having been raised by a psychologist, we’d all know just enough to be dangerous; I guess I should lay off the amateur analysis. In reality, I have no clue how to help Brooke beyond preserving our friendship. So that’s what I do.

I meet Mom and Cara on the staircase. My daughter is obviously ready for a nap; when I pick her up, she drops her head on my shoulder after one huge yawn. Mom continues up the stairs and I turn and follow.

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