Ryan waited as the realtor closed the door behind them. This was the third house and the worst of the lot.
House one had been a condo crowded onto the beach. Totally unsecured.
House two had been perched on a ridgeline with stunning views of the most recent fire damage.
This house had initially looked like a two car garage with a little room in the middle. Once he got inside he’d discovered that it was three stories built into a hillside, so not as bad as he feared, but there were neighbors on either side close enough to answer if he asked Siri a question.
“These were the three best properties you could come up with?” Ryan asked.
“On short notice. You must understand, with the budget you set pickings are going to be very slim in Malibu,” the realtor said as she started her car. “Why don’t you let me show you a few properties in a slightly higher price point?”
Ryan ground his teeth. He had money in the bank. His finance guy had said he could spend twice what Ryan had told the realtor, but the idea of sinking that kind of cash into a house without talking it over with Taylor made him queasy. “This is a bad idea.”
“Real estate is never a bad idea. It’s just a matter of finding the right location for the right price.” The realtor guided the car down the winding road. “What are you looking for in a home? Maybe we’ll do better if we start there.”
“My girlfriend likes to have a view, but she wants something secure to keep the press out. It’s got to be safe too and we don’t want neighbors on top of us. We need something with space for a baby and a nanny. She likes modern, I think. Her place is modern.”
“And what do you want?”
Ryan sighed. He wanted the perfect house that would make Taylor agree to move in with him instead of the other way around. “I just want to find something she’ll like.”
The realtor sighed like she was annoyed. “That doesn’t answer the question. This house is for you.”
“I’m sorry for wasting your time.”
“You haven’t. I’m just trying to help you refine what you want so I can locate it for you, but all you’ve talked about is what your girlfriend wants and what you need for your family, but nothing about what you want.”
She had been acting like she didn’t know who he or Taylor were even though he was staring into her office with Taylor in profile beside him from a billboard advertising this summer’s Hercules release.
“When you think about your dream house, what does it look like? Where is it? What’s in it? Do you want a big kitchen to cook in? Do you want a tennis court? In home gym? You’re getting a pool. You have to have an exemption to build a house in Malibu without a pool.” She laughed at her own joke.
Ryan laughed to make her feel better. He’d never imagined being able to buy a house. When he was growing up his family had lived in shitty apartments until they were kicked out because his dad spent the rent on booze. His standard for houses still hinged on how much pest control it needed. Taylor’s place felt palatial even though it was too small. “I guess I don’t really know.”
“Okay, here’s my suggestion. You think about what you want and what you don’t want for a couple of days and send me a text or an email with that list and I’ll comb though the listings to see what’s out there. But I’m warning you, that budget is really low for the area you want. I’ve pulled off some amazing deals, but even getting four beds on your budget is going to be tricky.”
Ryan nodded. He really didn’t care where he lived as long as Taylor was there. “I’ll talk to my money manager again.”
Once they got back to her office, he sat in his SUV to call his money manager. That billboard stared down at him. The movie didn’t open for six weeks, but Disney had debuted a Mythic Heroes ride in their parks this summer so they were getting as much bang for their promo buck as possible by promoting both. His face was plastered all over the country.
“Ryan! How is the house shopping going?” Keith always sounded happy. He should. He got a healthy fee for handling all their money and he and Taylor were small fires compared to most of Keith’s clients.
“Badly.” Ryan scowled at his face on the billboard. “Everything is small and crammed next to the neighbors.”
“You are going to have to loosen your purse strings a little more to get what you want.”
“I don’t have that much money in the bank.” A small foray onto Zillow last night had made him dizzy. Everything he thought Taylor might like cost more than his net worth.
“Ryan, there are these things called mortgages. The bank will let you use their money to get more house than you have the cash for right now if you promise to pay them back. I can get you a good one. Based on your projected earnings over the life of just your Disney contract, you could go low-eight figures.”
“Eight?” Ryan swallowed hard. It was too easy to remember not so many years ago sitting in discarded lawn furniture that he and Gale and Mick had salvaged from the curb and keeping their savings in a peanut butter jar.
“Easy. If Taylor went in with you, you could go higher.”
Taylor was picking up extra work to make sure they could afford a baby now. He didn’t want to ask her to pony up for a house too. No, the point was to prove that he could provide for her, not to sponge off her more. He needed to get more work.
“And I’m taking into a account property taxes and upkeep.”
Ryan clenched the steering wheel. “Property tax? I hadn’t even thought about that.”
“You pay me to think about those things. Honestly Ryan, you and Taylor are my only clients I would say this to. Go spend some money.”
“I just want to get someplace she’s going to like.”
“Yeah, can I ask a personal question?”
Ryan drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “I know. Why am I not looking for this house with Taylor?”
“Bingo. Because I’ve seem people surprise their significant others with houses and the results are always spectacular. You should ask Candy Perry about the rifle story.”
“The rifle story?”
“Oh yeah. Jason Callisto bought a piece of land—not even a house—for his wife before they were married and she pulled a gun on him. I heard it was still hanging over the fireplace in their East Coast house. Ask her about it.”
Candy Perry. The reason Mick was so connected was because he knew Candy. Candy was a really nice lady with great taste who could help him figure out what kind of house Taylor would want for their family.
Taylor slid into the chair in the private showing room of the boutique. Stella hadn’t missed a beat when Taylor asked her for the number of a good PI. No questions. That was Stella. Whose side would she land on between Taylor and Ryan? Both of them earned her a lot of money. It would depend on which side the public took who ended up with a career in the aftermath.
When she called the number Stella sent, a cheerful sounding woman had booked her for a three o’clock fitting. She’d been met at the door by a slender girl with and asymmetrical haircut and ushered past a pair of women discussing the shade of a scrap of material that was probably supposed to be a dress. Tanya Bauer was going to want to know why Taylor had come here. They had an onging contract where Tanya kept Taylor in casual clothes and then didn’t have to pay her to wear her designs on red carpets. When she wasn’t wearing Tanya Bauer, it was by agreement. Taylor had no reason to be in another clothing store. But if she lost her career, she’d lose that deal too and she’d be back to shopping at Target.
Couture hung on pipes bounded by gossamer curtains. At least three inches between each hanger. The carpet was white shag that had to be cleaned weekly. Any place with that little merchandise had to be expensive.
Not that it mattered. She wasn’t buying clothes and knowing was worth any price.
The guy who walked in had apparently not been informed that the eighties were over. He wore a blue and white Hawaiian shirt with jeans and feathered his hair. There were even a pair of aviator sunglasses sticking out of his shirt pocket. If he was planning to be inconspicuous he was failing. He dropped into the club chair beside the couch. “So you think Ryan Asher is cheating on you.”
Taylor blinked. “I just—he’s been acting funny lately. I want to know what’s going on.”
The PI stood. “I’ll bill you through Stella.”
“That’s it? Don’t you want to know what I’ve noticed?”
He shook his head. “It’ll just cloud the picture.”
Taylor stood. “What are you going to do? Pull his phone records? Follow him? What?”
“It would be illegal to hack his phone. Just trust me.”
Trust him? When she was having him tail the man she trusted more than she’d ever trusted anyone? “Why did I have to come here? We could have done all of this by text.”
“To make sure you were serious.” He had the flat eyes of a shark. If he weren’t on her side, she’d be scared.
“I use to have people say they wanted me to follow their wife or husband, but when I showed up with records they changed their minds. They wanted to know, but they didn’t want to know, you know?”
Taylor sucked in a breath. Ignorance had been bliss for a long time with Garett, but the humiliation when the truth came out had almost crippled her. She couldn’t go through that again. “So this was a test of my commitment?”
“Yup. I’ll give you a call in three days with preliminary findings. Then we can discuss how to proceed.”
“We’re going to—“
“Greece a week from tomorrow. You’ll be there for three weeks before you move on to London for eight weeks, then you’ll be back in L.A. for two weeks before you go to Vancouver.”
And Stella had this guy on file. Scary. “So you won’t be able to do anything while we’re gone.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“So, do you think you’ll find something?” Taylor’s whole body clenched against pain. If Ryan was cheating on her how could she ever trust anyone again?
“Ms. Elgin, in my experience, if somebody feels like something is going on they are usually right.” He held her gaze for a moment before nodding sharply and leaving the way he’d come in.
Taylor checked the time on her phone. She had an hour to get to her next appointment, which was three blocks away. No message from Ryan wondering where she was. She hadn’t put either appointment on their shared calendar and if he wasn’t wondering where she was, then he wasn’t home to notice she was out. If he wasn’t home, where was he?
Anywhere else in the world, Taylor could have walked the three blocks to the doctor’s, but this was LA so she navigated traffic. At the office she was ushered into the doctor’s small, sunny office and seated in a guest chair that looked as if it had been pulled out of a box five minutes before she arrived. The cushion had given off that new chair smell when Taylor sat down.
Dr. Singh swept in a few minutes after Taylor arrived, her dark, oval face pinched with disapproval. “I did mention last time you were here that conception might not occur on your very carefully crafted time table, didn’t I?”
“I just wanted to make sure.”
“If I recall correctly, I counseled you to get pregnant first and work on the schedule second. Even the mighty House of Mouse must bow to Mother Nature.” Dr. Singh crossed her arms.
“I just wanted to make absolutely sure you didn’t see any chance that I might not be able to have children.” Taylor knitted her fingers together to keep them under control.
“I would have told you if I saw anything when you were here a week and a half ago. You’re in good health, though you could stand to gain a few pounds. You have no risk factors. All the plumbing works as it should. The only piece of information we’re missing is family history, but we can do without that if we have to. This is nature. It will happen when it happens as long as you are doing your due diligence.” The doctor winked.
Taylor licked her lips. She always got the feeling she should giggle or something when people made comments like that. Mostly though she just felt embarrassed that people were so interested in her sex life. Ryan knew how much it bothered her. He’d refused to be nominated for People’s Sexiest Man Alive last year to spare her feelings.
Did he want someone who would flaunt their sex life? Someone more extroverted who would wear next-to-nothing dresses on red carpets and get “caught” nude sunbathing?
“Taylor?” Dr. Singh leaned forward. “Is something wrong?”
Taylor blinked. A tickle on her cheek told her a tear had escaped. “I’m just nervous.”
“That you won’t have a child of your own?”
“That I won’t be able to have a child and I’ll lose Ryan and my career because of it.” Taylor covered her face with her hands.
“Oh, my dear. Surely it’s not so desperate.” Dr. Singh’s lab coat rustled and her hand clasped Taylor’s shoulder.
“He really wants kids. He said he’d love to have children. And if I can’t what good am I?” Taylor sobbed.
“He said what good are you?”
“No, he’d never say that out loud, but he has to be thinking it.” Taylor rubbed her eye. Damn, she hadn’t worn the waterproof make-up this morning. Waterproof make-up every day from now on.
“He does not. You can’t put words in his mind. You need to talk to him.”
“He’s cheating on me anyway. It’s just a matter of time before he leaves too.”
“I can’t believe that. It’s perfectly normal to become afraid when you face such a big life change. He is probably nervous also. It really sounds like you need to have a conversation with him.” Dr. Singh patted her shoulder. “I hate to leave you like this, but I have a patient waiting. Feel free to sit here as long as you need. There is a bathroom through that door to wash your face.” The doctor pointed to the only other door in the room before she left.
Taylor leaned back in her chair, tipping her head back to stop the tears. Everyone left. Boyfriends, co-stars, acquaintances, her father. The only one who hadn’t was Marty. In all these years he’d been a staunch supporter. Taylor fished her phone out of her purse. “Hi Marty, are you busy?”
“For you, the schmucks can wait. What’s up? You sound blubbery.”
Taylor’s breath hitched. “I’m at my doctor’s office.”
“Is anything wrong?”
“No. Not yet.”
“What do you mean not yet? Do you need me to come get you?”
A voice spoke in the background.
“Okay, then do you need me to send someone to pick you up?”
“No, I just needed to hear your voice.”
“Oh-kay.” Rustling on his end followed by a door closing. “What is going on?”
“Cold feet? Did you two set a date finally?”
“What!” Taylor jerked to her feet. Marriage? No. What? No. “Did he say he wanted to?”
“No! We didn’t talk about you at all when he was here.”
“He was there? When?”
“No—I didn’t—He wasn’t here. Didn’t he tell you we talked the other day?”
No. “Yes. Where did you see him?” And who was he with? Was she pretty? Blonde? Brunette? Pregnant? Did everybody know? Was half of Hollywood laughing at her, the washed up child star with delusions of grandeur?
“Um. It’s—I don’t remember. We talked about Melinda’s project. You’re in on that too, right? I think it’s going to be fun. A little light thing you can do around shooting Space Odyssey with a bunch of old pals. Just your kind of thing. You know, I think this little sabbatical you’re planning will be good for you. You’ve had a really busy year—three years really. Between shooting the show all year and then the Herc movies in the summers. This is like those years when you were a teenager making all those crappy kid movies.”
So Ryan had Marty lying to her now. Taylor drew a deep breath. Something was up. The doctor was wrong. If she talked to Ryan he would only lie to her. Again.
She’d turned into her mother. Abandoned with no career and she didn’t even have a child to support her.