“I am so sorry,” Marty said when Ryan answered.
“For what?” Ryan stared across the desk at Candy.
“I may have let it slip that I talked to you the other day.”
Ryan frowned. “I told her about that. Maybe I didn’t. Did you at least talk to her about moving?”
“I clean forgot about it because I was too busy trying to do damage control.”
Damage control. Ryan closed his eyes. Taylor was probably packing his stuff and putting it in the hall right now. Or having security take it down to the desk.
“We can fix this,” Marty said.
Candy cleared her throat.
Ryan opened his eyes.
“Hi,” Candy said. “Can you put that on speaker so I know what’s going on?”
Ryan jabbed the speaker button and set the phone on the edge of the desk.
“Hello, this is Candy Perry and you are?” Candy asked brightly as if Ryan’s life hadn’t just ended.
“Martin Wellborne. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms Perry. I’ve heard great things about you.”
“Mr. Wellborne, we did meet once at a fundraiser for Tunes For Schools. My husband is very involved with keeping music in the public schools.”
“Oh, yes. Tyler Franklin. I remember now. Call me Marty.”
Seriously both of them were acting like he wasn’t homeless…again. Maybe he could buy a condo in Taylor’s building and try to run into her enough to win her back. Boz would clue him into her comings and goings. Shit, no. When he’d asked about other units, Boz had said they were at capacity.
“Ryan and I were just talking about his future and browsing Zillow for ideas, but I told him that there’s a house for sale near me that is just out of his range.” Candy tapped her bright pink fingernails on the track pad of her computer making the cursor jump. “Five bedrooms, screening room, pool, good schools. A friend of mine teaches at the elementary.”
“And you found this on Zillow?” Marty didn’t sound so apologetic now. Had he completely forgotten that he’d just ruined Ryan’s life?
“No, it would have to be a private sale, but I think that would make it better. No pictures, no listings, very quiet.”
“That would make Taylor happy.”
“My thought exactly, but as I said, it’s just above Ryan’s range and I know the owners. They re not going to go much lower. Taylor and Ryan would be very happy raising a family there.”
Ryan studied Candy. She wasn’t even looking at him. Why were they even talking about this house? Wasn’t the damage Marty had done the priority here?
“Well, I’m sure Taylor has the funds to cover any shortfall. Especially once she sells her condo.”
Candy licked her lips. “Yes, but I’m sure you understand that Ryan wants to take care of his family.”
Marty made a growling noise that Ryan had only ever heard him make during production meetings when the budget came up. “Yeah. I see what you’re driving at.” Marty sighed heavily. “Ryan, you know that you and Taylor are getting top money on the show.”
“Yeah.” What did that have to do with Marty telling Taylor that he’d been to Marty’s house? For that matter, what did it have to do with buying a house? A house he didn’t need anymore now that Taylor found out he’d told a little white lie. That was the only thing she’d ever asked him for. Honesty. He never should have listened to Mick. Sneaking around looking at houses was a terrible idea.
“It is customary to give the new parents a gift for the bundle of joy.” Candy winked at Ryan. Maybe she had something in her eye.
“And how many figures is this baby gift?” Marty asked.
“Babies need a lot of stuff. Bottles, diapers, houses in great neighborhoods.”
Ryan opened his mouth to point out that there wasn’t going to be a baby if Taylor never spoke to him again. Boy, was that going to make shooting difficult. The Space Odyssey arc had them in a long-term relationship and they were married in the Hercules movies.
Candy held up one finger.
Marty sighed heavily. “Okay. I can go a generous baby shower gift to fix things.”
“Thanks, Marty. It’s been great doing business with you.”
“Yeah.” The screen lit up as Marty disconnected.
“Great.” Candy sat up. “I’ll call the owners and set it up so you can look at the house.”
“What just happened?”
“I twisted Marty’s arm for you to get you a great down payment on this house to make up for his being a blabbermouth.” Candy grinned. “Now, you need to call Taylor and tell her what’s been going on. No woman likes to be kept in the dark, even if the surprise is good.”
Ryan grabbed his phone and called Taylor. It rang through to voice mail.
“It’s gonna be okay.” Candy walked around her desk, reaching for his shoulder. “You go home and wait for her.”
“If she hasn’t already changed the locks.” Ryan stood too. Candy was almost a foot shorter than he was, even in her heels, but right now he felt smaller than her.
“She hasn’t changed the locks on you. Not yet. Just explain. I’ll text you the address and a time for you to do a walk through.” Candy walked him down the hall. “Tell her everything. You know what, before I set up the house, I’ll call Evan Bonano and arrange to have a nice bottle of wine delivered. He owes me a few favors.”
“White. Red wine gives her migraines.”
“Can’t have her getting a headache, not if you’re planning to have a baby.” Candy smiled and patted his shoulder. “It’s going to be okay. You’re going to come out of this better. I promise. When you get home, take a shower, get the stage set, and be prepared to apologize, because honestly, who goes and buys a house without consulting their partner?”
Ryan blinked when he got out of the building. Candy was right. Who buys a house without consulting their partner? Especially when their partner was Taylor who needed to control everything. What had he been thinking? He was obviously listening to the wrong people.
Taylor texted the PI as she rode up in the elevator. Thanks, but she didn’t need his services anymore. Bill her through Stella.
Ryan had lied to her. His call had come twenty minutes after she got off the phone with Marty. He must have had a hard time coming up with a convincing lie this time. He hadn’t left a message either. No proof.
Damn it. Everybody did leave. Now she’d even lost Marty. Ryan was the bigger star. He got three times the fan mail she got. They were probably going to write her off the show and out of the movies. Jeanie and Grey wouldn’t even have to do that much more. Tweak the script a little bit and her kidnapped character became a dead character. Ryan’s character became even more sympathetic with the love of his life dead. And the Disney movies? All they had to do was send Hercules on labors away from his wife. Her character wasn’t even supposed to be in all the films.
She was left with the oddball mayor in Melinda’s show. Everyone would know how far she’d fallen. She was going to end up living next door to Addie Grant in the neighborhood of washed up actresses.
The elevator doors opened on her floor. She stepped off, but instead of opening the door, she stood in front of it breathing deeply to keep from crying. This condo had been her refuge, but how could it be anymore? Twice she’d had cheaters here. She’d need to move. Sell the place. Move full time to her place in Vancouver. Livia was doing quite well up there.
Taylor opened the door. Upstairs the shower was running. On the table was a bottle of white wine, two glasses, and a vase of bright flowers. Lilies and baby’s breath with a spill of pink sweet pea down the side. The apology. Or a set up for the final conversation. She went upstairs. The shower was still going. Ryan’s phone sat on the dresser. She picked it up.
2:30 tomorrow, from an unknown number, followed by an address in Malibu.
Taylor put the phone down. She couldn’t do this. Nope. Nope, nope, nope.
“You’re home. I’ve been waiting for you.” Ryan rubbed a towel through his hair. He was naked, every inch of him chiseled and camera ready.
Taylor held out his phone so he could see the screen.
“Yeah, that’s a house Candy Perry arranged for me to look at.” Ryan reached for the phone.
“And the flowers?” She felt hollow. When she caught Garrett cheating on her in this house, she’d thought she was upset, but this was so much worse. She had nothing. Nobody.
“Candy’s wine guy threw those in.” Ryan dropped his towel and stepped forward, curling his palm around her cheek. “Let me explain.”
Taylor jerked backward. Her hollowness was rapidly filling with lava. She wouldn’t call security to escort him out. She’d throw his stuff out the window. “You’ve got Marty lying to me. Marty has never lied to me. What is going on that Marty needs to lie for you?”
Ryan closed his eyes. “I know. I’m sorry. Candy is right. This is messed up.”
“What is messed up? What are you saying?”
“I just wanted to find a house for us. I wanted to support my family.”
“Support your family? Your other woman has a child already?” Taylor’s voice cracked on the last word.
“Other woman? What are you talking about?”
“This family you want to support. This…” Whatever she had been about to say dried up in her mouth. Ryan had cocked his head to the side like he was trying to do calculus in his head. She’d seen that look on his face a thousand times before. It was his signature “I don’t understand and I need to” expression. He was completely baffled and completely naked. His acting had improved since he started on Odyssey, but nobody was this good an actor.
“Taylor?” Ryan asked.
She swallowed and slumped on the bed. “I thought you were cheating on me.”
“But I’d never do that.” He sat down next to her. “I’m sorry.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you talked to Marty?” Taylor leaned her head on his shoulder. His skin was still damp from the shower and her skin stuck to him. He put his arm around her shoulders, anchoring her against him.
“I asked him to convince you to move out of here.”
“Why?” Taylor sniffled.
“Because I want to support you for once. You’re paying all the bills and doing all the work.”
“Not all the work.”
“I can’t carry a baby.”
“And what if I can’t?” Taylor whispered.
Ryan cupped her cheek, turning her face to his. “Are you scared?”
She nodded because she wasn’t going to be able to speak past the boulder in her throat.
“I’m scared too.” Ryan pressed his forehead to hers. “I don’t know how to be a good dad.”
Taylor closed her eyes. “My mom used to make everything fun when I was little. We were always traveling or on a set. It was just the two of us mostly until Second Chances. She wasn’t a bad mom; she was just a terrible manager.”
“You’re going to be a great mom,” Ryan murmured.
“If I can be a mom at all.” She wanted to pull away. Tuck her feelings away before he saw the truth in them.
“You’ll be a mom. We will have a family if that’s what you want.”
“Is it what you want?” She opened her eyes. How had they not had this conversation? She’d mentioned kids and he’d just set about making it happen, but she’d never asked him if it was what he wanted. Dr. Singh said she had to have this conversation with him. “If it was only up to you, would you want kids?”
“Your kids? No doubt.”
“And if they’re not mine?”
He smiled. “No matter what, they’ll be yours.”
“Ours.” She stroked his cheek. When she met him, he’d been supporting Mick, Gale, Devi, and Mel, though he hadn’t known about Devi and Mel and he hadn’t cared when he found out. After he moved in with her, he’d kept renting that house so they all had somewhere to stay until they got their own places. He liked helping people. He wanted to help her. It wasn’t so bad to rely on other people. She was still holding his phone. It seemed like she’d discovered that text yesterday, but it could only have been a few minutes. “This is a house?”
“Yeah.” Ryan lifted his phone out of her hand. “I went to talk to Candy Perry about finding a place for us and she said her neighbor was selling. Then she got Marty to put up half a mil toward the purchase price. She said the schools are good.”
Taylor nodded. How that all went together she didn’t know, yet, but knowing Ryan it would all become clear eventually. How had she ever imagined that he was lying to her and sneaking around? He didn’t always connect all the dots right away, but he would never intentionally hurt her. The PI had been right. She’d thought something was going on and it was. She’d just been wrong about what. Ryan would do anything for her. Anything. “Ryan?”
“I think I need my mom.”
“Your mom?” Ryan pulled back. “Why?”
She tried to blink back the tears, but it was too late. They spilled down her cheeks.
Ryan wiped the tears away with his thumb. “I’ll make some calls. First, I’m going to put on pants.”
Taylor’s smile came out tangled with her sob. Everyone had been saying she should ask her mother if it was difficult for her to have kids. Getting that question answered would help a lot.
When she was just starting out, her mother had been great. She remembered shooting a commercial for some fast food chain when she was about six and the kid playing her little brother getting really upset that the French fries were styrofoam. The other kid’s mom had unhinged on him, telling him he needed to get it together and do the job. Her mom had put that screaming stage mom in her place and gotten both of them calmed down enough to finish the shoot. Immediately after that shoot, the campaign had been retooled to the daddy-daughter series she’d done around auditions and guest parts until she got Second Chances.
“It’s what she wants,” Ryan was saying. He’d pulled on a pair of jeans, but no shirt. He took the phone away from his ear and put it on speaker.
“…woman is toxic. There’s no reason for Taylor to want to talk to her,” Marty was saying.
“I need to know if she had trouble getting pregnant with me,” Taylor looked at the phone Ryan held out.
“Oh Jesus. Ryan, give a heads up, why don’t you? Taylor, we had to dance really fast to get you away from her last time.”
“I know. I did most of the dancing. Why did you call Marty, Ryan?”
Ryan shrugged. “Seemed like a good place to start.”
“What information could you get from her that a doctor can’t tell you?” Marty asked.
A voice spoke on Marty’s end. “Sometimes a girl needs her mom.”
“You keep out of this. It’s a private conversation.”
“It’s on speaker,” the voice said.
Marty grumbled, but the sound of the call didn’t change so he didn’t take it off speaker either. “Maria was not a nice lady. There’s no indication that she’s changed.”
“Marty, do you know where my mother is or not?” Taylor asked. For the first time in years, probably since that fast food commercial shoot, Taylor wanted her mom. She wanted that woman who walked onto a live set to get in the face of a woman screaming at her kid like the fury of God and then turn around to two crying children, calming them and promising real French fries later. And now she wanted french fries.
“Of course I know where your mother is. She’s living in <someplace> working as a set tutor and kid wrangler.”
“My mother is allowed to work with kids?”
“Allowed? Darlin’, she’s good at it.”
“How did I not know?” Taylor stared at Ryan. He shifted from bare foot to bare foot and shook his head.
“You never did anything with kids and she’s working under her maiden name.”
“Why do you know?”
“Other than the fact that I work in Hollywood on shows that occasionally need kids, I have been tracking her since your emancipation.”
“I didn’t want her popping out of left field on you. Jeez, kid.” Marty’s voice trailed off. She’d seen him do remorse and shame, on a set and in real life. This wasn’t quite those, but it was a kissing cousin. He was embarrassed. He’d been keeping an eye on her mother for almost twenty years to protect her. He’d practically begged her to take a part on Crider Investigations when he’d first started his production company and he’d put her in Space Odyssey years later. He’d matched her up with Ryan to save her career three years ago. Over the years they had had thousands of conversations about what to do next and which part to take. She’d thought she was on her own, but she never had been. Marty was like that poem about footsteps in the sand. Looking back at her career, every time she thought there was only one set of prints, it was because Marty had been carrying her, sheltering her, guiding her. Taylor blinked back tears.
“Taylor?” Ryan knelt in front of her. “Are you okay?”
“What’s wrong? What’s happening?” Marty demanded. “Do I need to come over there?”
“You have people waiting,” the other voice said.
“Fuck ‘em. They can wait,” Marty shouted.
“No, Marty, it’s okay. I’m just a little emotional.” Taylor swiped her hand across her cheek. “I don’t know how to proceed.”
“With what, kiddo?”
“I say you don’t. God knows what that woman will do if she gets her hooks into you again. Just because she’s good with other people’s kids doesn’t mean she’s going to be good for you all the sudden. You do remember the crushing schedule she had you on.”
“I remember.” Back to back sets, schoolwork completed in the makeup chair, the never ending feeling of being on whether she was in front of the camera or not. “But I need to know.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll send you her contact information.” Marty blew out a noisy breath. “But you’re not doing this alone.”
“Of course not. Ryan’s with me.” He was still kneeling in front of her with his hand on her knee. She laid her hand over his.
“Right. Ryan.” Marty muttered.
“I’m not a little girl anymore, Marty.”
“I know that.”
“Do you?” the voice at the other end said.
“Why are you even still in here?” Marty snapped. “Go make sure the natives aren’t getting restless out there.”
A door opened and closed on his end.
“Marty, I’ve got this.” Taylor squeezed Ryan’s hand. “We’ve got this.”
“Fine. I’m supposed to be talking you into buying a house too.”
“That’s a conversation I need to have with Ryan.”
“I’ll talk to you soon.”
“I don’t doubt it.” Taylor ended the call and handed Ryan’s phone to him. “Why haven’t we gotten married?”
Ryan set his phone on the bedside table. “I was waiting for you to set a date.”
“I was waiting for you.”
“Mick wanted to set everything up and surprise you with a wedding.”
Taylor grimaced. “You did tell him no.”
“Good.” Taylor’s phone chimed. That would be the contact information for her mom. When she’d asked, she had assumed it would take a while. Like, long enough that she would be out of the country filming so she’d have weeks to prepare. “I feel like we’ve been in this room for about three days.”
“You don’t have to talk to her right now. You can hold onto the number until you’re ready.” Ryan squeezed her fingers.
He would do anything she asked. Whatever she wanted, he would make it happen.
So what did she want?
“Sure. You want a glass?” He jumped up.
“I’ll be right back.”
As soon as he left the room, Taylor grabbed her phone. While the number rang, she stared out the window. It was a great view. She’d miss it.