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Don’t Say a Word Chapter 6 (draft)

Chapter 6

 

“Hello?” The voice was still as familiar as her own. More.

“Mom?”

The pause lasted a week and an instant. “Taylor?”

“Yes.”

“Sweetheart. I never thought…. Are you all right? I’ve been following your press.” She laughed. “I imagined what I would say so many times and now I don’t know what to say. I’m so sorry.”

Taylor swallowed. She had meant to ask her question and get off the phone, but her mind was blank. “Sorry for what.”

“For being so terrible to you those last few years. I was afraid you’d end up like me and I wanted you to have enough money to protect yourself.”

“End up like you?”

“Frightened, alone, hungry, almost homeless.”

“We never went hungry.” Taylor frowned at her hand. Her earliest memories were auditions and sets, pagents and lessons.

“No, not you. I always made sure you had food even if I had to stuff my purse from the craft table.” Her mother laughed. It had a sour note. “I watch some of these stage parents now and I want to shake them. They’re getting it all wrong and they don’t know what they stand to lose.”

Ryan walked in with two glasses of wine. He didn’t look at all surprised to find her on the phone. Instead he sat down beside her and handed her a glass.

“What happened to my father?”

“He left us. When I got pregnant he promised to stick around, but that only lasted until you were nine months old. My parents disowned me when I got pregnant so I was alone with you. Everybody said what a beautiful baby you were and so quiet. That first diaper commercial was an accident.”

“What diaper commercial?”

“You wouldn’t remember. You were only a year old at the time. I bumped into an advertising guy in the grocery store. Honestly, I was trying to figure out how to steal a package of diapers because we were out, but those packages are so big. He was surprised you were in the carrier because you were so quiet.”

“So my father just walked out?”

“Yes. He said it was too hard. We were only seventeen. He might have been eighteen by then. I don’t remember. I was seventeen the day he left.”

Taylor sipped her wine to buy herself a moment. She’d never thought about how old her mother was. “So it wasn’t difficult for you to get pregnant.”

Her mother laughed. “No. You were determined even then. We used even used protection. You’re planning to have a baby with Ryan Asher. Is that why you called? Honey, I’m so happy for you. And I’m so sorry I wasn’t a better mother. I was just so afraid I would screw up again and you’d be back where we started. You have done so much better than I ever would have hoped. I couldn’t have done it for you.”

Taylor set the glass aside. Her head was spinning. All those times her mother had said she had to do things or behave in a certain way, it had been because she was afraid. “Mom? I’m going to have to go. It’s been a long day.”

“Of course, sweetheart. Call me anytime. Anytime at all.”

Taylor handed her phone to Ryan without disconnecting and walked into the bathroom.

Ryan stepped in a moment later. “You okay?”

“I don’t know. She said my father walked out on us when I was nine months old and she was always worried that we would end up hungry and homeless. It’s nothing like I thought it was. She had no trouble getting pregnant. She was sixteen.” A sudden sob caught her.

Then Ryan had his arms around her. He stroked her hair. Taylor sobbed against his shoulder. He picked her up and carried her back to the bedroom, holding her until she fell asleep.

 

Ryan left Taylor sleeping on the bed. He needed help sorting all this out. Settling next to the flowers at the table, he scrolled through his contacts. Mick was out. Too paranoid. Marty too. Still too pissed at Taylor’s mom. Devi was in Hawaii. His contact list was massive and growing since he moved in with Taylor. People who worked for him. People he worked for. People he worked with. Only a few of them could be counted as friends. People who knew him before, or who didn’t treat him like an income or a star.

People like this one.

“Hollywood Hunks Cleaning Service.”

“Hi Mel.”

“Oh hey, Ryan. How’s the house hunting going?”

“You heard about that?”

“Sure. Mick and Sarina book us so often that we have a weekly scheduling appointment.”

“So the business is running well?”

“I didn’t come to Hollywood to run a cleaning service, but Gale did me a great turn when he signed it over to me. But that’s not why you called.”

“How do you know?”

“Because you leave for Greece in eight days and your place is already on the books for the week before you come back. Plus, I know you’ve got a ton of stuff up in the air, so you aren’t taking time out of your day to chat with me. What’s up?”

Ryan laughed. Mel never had wasted time. “Taylor and me are planning to have a baby.”

“I know. It’s all over the news. House, baby, are you guys finally going to tie the knot?”

Good god, that had come up too and they still hadn’t set a date. Taylor was right. At least three days had passes since he stepped out of the shower and now. He refilled his wine glass. Too bad he didn’t have anything harder in the house.

“Ryan? What’s going on? You’re really quiet for the guy who called me.” Something crashed on her end? “No! Hold on a sec. one of my guys is doing something stupid.” Her voice faded like she’d taken it away from her ear. “Last warning, Poe. Be careful with the client’s shit. I don’t care that it’s okay this time. You can’t afford for it to not be okay. Trust me, that end table is worth more than your life.” Her voice came back on the line. “Sorry, some of these guys have the body for moving furniture, but not the brain.”

“I don’t want to bug you while you’re working.”

“Please. I’m watching a bunch of shirtless hot guys carry heavy stuff around. If this is work, give me more. What’s up?”

“Taylor talked to her mom.”

“Her mom? It’s been what? Twenty years? How did it go?”

Ryan frowned at his wine glass. “It sounded okay what I heard. She asked a lot about her dad and why he left. Her mom didn’t have any trouble getting pregnant.” He wanted to fill Mel in on all the details, but it seemed wrong. Taylor hated having her stuff in public and while Mel wasn’t public, it wasn’t his to share. Did Marty know her dad walked out and might be lurking someplace ready to spring out of left field?

“Where’s Taylor now?”

“Sleeping.”

“How did she seem when she got off the phone?”

“Confused. Marty didn’t want to give her the number.”

“But Marty had it. Of course he did.”

“I don’t know what to do now.”

“Doesn’t sound like you get to do anything.”

“What do you mean?” Ryan twisted the glass. He could get anything delivered here. If he didn’t want anybody to know who it was for he could have Boz order from the desk and bring it up. Sadly, he couldn’t order a script for exactly what to do next. Not if Mel couldn’t give him direction.

“It’s her mom. You’re there for the ride on this one.”

“What about the house?”

“I’m not sure how you were going to find and buy a house in less than two weeks to begin with, but maybe you could. I don’t have your income. Look, I know you’re staring down the barrel of a lot of changes right now. Personally, I’d try to space them out a little more.”

“What do you mean?”

“Kids, marriage, home ownership, international travel, big career stuff, now she’s in contact with her estranged mom? This is heavy stress. I mean it’s great that she found out her mom didn’t have any problems getting pregnant, but I’d think having mom back in the picture is going to be more stressful.”

“I have an appointment to look at a place tomorrow.”

“Of course you do. You thrive on stress, don’t you?”

“I made the appointment before we got her mom’s number. It kind of kicked off the whole thing.”

Mel muttered something that sounded like it was in another language. “Well, if she knows about the house, I guess you can at least go look at it together. And that house thing? It has Mick written all over it. Next time Mick gives you advice, do the opposite.”

Movement caught his eye. Taylor was coming down the stairs. She looked like she’d been sleeping for a week now a few minutes. “I gotta go.”

“Sure thing. Take care.” Mel disconnected.

“Who was that?” Taylor slid into the chair beside him and leaned her head on his shoulder.

“Mel.”

“How is she doing?”

Probably should have asked. “Seemed fine. So what do you want to do now?”

“About?”

Mel was right. This was too much. “The house, your mom, having a baby.”

“Getting married.”

Ryan looked down at her. “Do you want to get married before the baby comes?”

“I’m not pregnant yet as far as I know.”

“Which means the baby isn’t here yet.”

Taylor sighed. “True. What did Mel have to say?”

“About what?”

“Well, you called her for advice. What did she say?”

“To space things out and next time Mick gives me advice to do the opposite.”

“Sound advice.” She curled her fingers through his. “Candy went to the trouble to arrange this viewing for us. We should look at the house.”

“Tomorrow at two.”

“And everybody says I won’t have trouble so we should have a baby this time next year.”

“Great.”

“Even if we don’t like the place tomorrow, this condo isn’t big enough for a family. You were right.”

“We have plenty of time to find the perfect place.” He kissed the top of her head. “I’ve got a real estate agent who can find place for us to look at when we’re home.”

She nodded. “I want to keep talking to my mom.”

“It sounds like she had reasons for what she did.”

Taylor gestured to the condo. “I have all this because of her. She put back a lot more that the Coogan money.”

“Coogan money?”

She sat up. “The money parents are required to set aside from their kid’s earnings.”

Ryan cupped his hand on her cheek. “I won’t let her hurt you again.”

She put her hand over his. “I know.”

 

Epilogue

Taylor stepped through the door of the master bedroom to the small, private patio with a hot tub in the corner. Greenery surrounded the property creating a lush little world. “This place is amazing, Ryan.”

“I know.” Ryan stepped into the closet. “This is its own little room.”

They hadn’t been able to see the house from the road and after the gate, the drive curved through a canopy of green that would hide it from the most determined paparazzi. The house was Spanish style, white stucco and clay tile. The front of the house faced the street, but wasn’t visible. The front door opened to an open plan with the living area to the left and the kitchen and dining area to the right. The entire back wall was floor to ceiling windows and sliding doors that opened into a backyard with a lavish pool and entertaining area. Behind the kitchen and opening into the backyard were the housekeeper’s quarters. A hallway off the living room. A right turn led to four pastel painted rooms with a courtyard in the middle. The left led to the master bedroom. White washed walls and crimson gossamer curtains. Room enough for a sitting area in front of the fireplace in the corner.

“It’s not very modern,” Ryan grumbled.

“It’s nice, though. Don’t you think?”

“But you like modern.”

Taylor stepped back through the patio door. “What makes you say that?”

“The condo is modern.”

“The condo in Vancouver is rustic.”

Ryan cocked his head, frowning. “I figured that was just what you got stuck with.”

“No. I mean, yes, it came that way, but so did the condo. Did you think I decorated it that way?”

“Yes. The Christmas ornaments match and everything.”

“Because it came to me that way.”

“Why didn’t you tell me? I thought you liked modern.”

“Why didn’t you ask?” Taylor put her hands on her hips. Then she laughed. “This is silly.”

“Yes, it is. What kind of style do you like?”

Taylor looked around the room. She’d spent so much of her life fitting chameleon-like into the surroundings she’d been placed in that she’d never really thought about it. “I like this. It’s private and comfortable. Is there someplace for your weights?”

“There’s a basement we haven’t seen yet.”

“Okay, so do you like it?”

“I like it if you like it.” Ryan reached for her.

“No, do you like it yourself. We both have to live here.” She took his hands and pulled him close. She could already imagine making a family in the room.

“I do.” He looked out the patio doors. “There’s space for the kids and space for us to be alone. Plenty of room to have people over. Private.”

“Are we actually going to buy the first house we look at?” Taylor asked. It seemed reckless, like she wasn’t doing her due diligence by not touring thirty houses and creating a spreadsheet of pros and cons.

“I already looked at a couple others. Believe me. This is the best of the bunch by far.” He slipped his arms around her waist.

She leaned her cheek against his chest so she could hear his heartbeat. He’d already done the due diligence for her. He would always be there, protecting and supporting her. She would never be in the position her mother had been and not just because she had money in the bank. He would stay to build their family with her. Just over two weeks ago she had wondered aloud what their kids would look like and now he’d created the structure so they could find out. All he needed from her was the go ahead. “Lem would go completely crazy if we got married while we were shooting in Greece.”

“Yeah, he would.” Ryan’s time was absent, Like he was still surveying the room, mentally measuring for furniture.

“Mick and Sarina would be happy too. And Disney. Automatic press.” She sighed. “I wonder what it would take to get married in Greece.”

Ryan straightened, his arms tightening around her. “Taylor, do you want to get married next month while we’re shooting in Greece?”

Taylor looked up at him and smiled. “Yes. I do.”

Don’t Say a Word Chapter 5 (draft)

Chapter 5

 

“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.

“Mid-six figures.”

“Six figures?”

“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?”

“Yeah?”

“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.”

“Why?”

“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?”

“My mother.”

“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.”

“Yes.”

“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?

“There’s wine?”

“Sure. You want a glass?” He jumped up.

“To start.”

“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.

 

Chapter 6 here

Don’t Say a Word Chapter 4 (draft)

Chapter 4

 

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.”

“Good idea.”

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.

“Serious?”

“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.”

“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.

Chapter 5 here

Don’t Say a Word Chapter 3 (draft)

Chapter 3

 

Taylor drummed her fingers on the tabletop. To confide or not to confide, the eternal question. But Livia had never been viciously competitive and Melinda had no reason to leak anything. In fact, since she’d moved into directing, she had a vested interest in keeping her actors happy. “Ryan has been acting funny.”

“Funny how?” Livia asked.

“He’s been quiet. Withdrawn. And he hates the arc the writers have planned to get me off screen.”

“Since you started talking about having kids?” Melinda sipped her coffee.

“Yeah.”

“Maybe he’s just nervous about becoming a father.” Livia shrugged. “Perfectly normal.”

“He’s been really driven about making sure my shooting schedule is clear for my pregnancy though. Why wouldn’t he want me off screen at the end of the season?” Taylor stared at Melinda’s coffee cup. A mocha with whole milk and whipped cream. Taylor couldn’t remember the last time she’d had whole milk. Oh wait, yes she could. The night she vomited all over that Spencer psychopath at Marty’s dry New Year’s Eve party where she secured the Disney deal for herself and Ryan. Suddenly whole milk was not as appetizing as she imagined.

“Sounds like nerves to me. He can’t have the baby for you so he’s making sure you have everything you need,” Melinda said.

“So you don’t think he’s cheating on me?” Or thought she was lazy. He took every part he could schedule while she stuck to Space Odyssey and the Hercules films. And she had a smaller part in the Hercules films. Most of her time on set was just because he was there. What if he thought she didn’t work hard enough? She was the one who’d said she would need to clear her shooting schedule if she was going to have a baby. That was so her delivery wouldn’t disrupt shooting, but did Ryan know that?

Livia laughed and Melinda snorted, covering her mouth with her hand.

“Ryan?” Melinda asked when she’d recovered enough to swallow. “Cheat? Unthinkable.”

“How can you be so sure?”

Livia leaned forward. “Ryan is devoted to you. He has been since he met you.”

“How can you be sure?” When I’m not.

Melinda reached for her hand. “Honey, I’ve have watched him through a camera lens. Nobody is that good an actor. When he looks at you, it’s utter adoration.”

“He looks at you the same way off screen, too. He can be deep in conversation with somebody, but you blink and all his attention is on you. I wish I could meet a guy who is half as into me as Ryan is into you.”

“Me too.” Melinda slouched back in her seat.

“I thought you and Mark Pollitz…” Livia trailed off, glancing at Taylor.

“No.” Melinda shuttered. “I did those two directing stints on Internal Affairs and things were going well, but as soon as I was out of town again it was over. Out of sight, out of mind.”

“That sucks. I thought you really liked him.”

“I did, but I’m not settling for another self obsessed actor.” Melinda picked up her cup again as she turned to Taylor. “And you, Ryan is not cheating on you. You’re more likely to cheat on him than he is to cheat on you.”

Taylor nodded. The only person she’d ever trusted as much as Marty was Ryan, and Marty, in twenty-five years, had never steered her wrong. “How are things going with that pitch you were working on?”

“Great! I met with the production company yesterday and we’re a go for five episodes.”

“Five?” Livia curled her upper lip. “That doesn’t sound like confidence.”

“The short season allows me to lure in some bigger, busier names.” Melinda smiled. “Speaking of which, would either of you ladies be available for a two or three week shooting commitment with an eye toward a recurring role?”

Livia pressed her hand to her chest and batted her eyelashes. “Are you implying that I’m a big star like Miss Thing here?”

“I am. From a certain point of view.” Melinda lifted her cup with a coy eye roll.

Livia laughed and Taylor laughed with her.

“I was thinking of the oddball mayor for Taylor and the crystal shop owner for you, Livia.”

“Who’s playing the doughnut shop owning rival?”

“I’m hoping to get Addy Gates.”

“Well, that’s the most perfect part I’ve ever heard for her.” Livia finished her coffee and shoved the cup away.

“I thought she quit acting.” Taylor twisted her cup on the table. Addy had been so pleased with her part in Lem Sharrod’s Clockwork New York. Lem had come out of that mess with the Hercules movies, but Addy? She’d done a couple of guest roles and a few failed pilots before disappearing. Taylor had been headed for that exact trajectory when Marty intervened and asked her to coach Ryan.

“She just took a little hiatus. Have you approached her yet?” Livia asked.

“No, but we kind of developed that character with her in mind.” Melinda grimaced.

Livia glanced at her phone. “I’ve got to go. I’m meeting my agent. Speaking of whom, you should give her a call about that crystal shop lady part.”

Melinda clapped. She waited until Livia walked away from the table before turning to Taylor. “Well, what about you? Do you think you have enough time to play my oddball mayor?”

Taylor shook her head. “I doubt it. We leave next week to shoot the third Hercules movie. We’ll be back in the middle of August long enough to do the press for this year’s release and then we leave for Vancouver to shoot Space Odyssey. Ryan is doing a small part in the Poseidon movie shooting over the winter break and a supporting part in the Artemis film shooting next summer. With any luck, I’ll be pregnant. Jeannie is already planning light duty episodes for me next year.”

“Congratulations. I’m so happy for you.”

“I’m not pregnant yet.” Taylor glanced around. Nobody was close enough to their table to hear. She leaned forward. “What if I can’t? I mean, it’s not a sure thing.”

Melinda leaned forward too. “Is there any reason to believe you can’t?”

Taylor bit her lip.

“I take it that’s a no.”

“I’ve been on birth control since I started menstruating. You know how it is. I couldn’t afford an accidental pregnancy and it’s a lot easier when you can schedule your PMS.”

“Don’t I know it? Do you know how many times I’ve had guys on set ask me if it was that time of the month when I called them out for being dicks?”

“I know, right? But if you don’t put up with their crap you get labeled ‘difficult’ and can’t get parts.” Difficult. She’d had that sign around her neck before and it had taken a Disney tentpole and Ryan to really get rid of it. If she lost Ryan, she’d lose her career. Again. She needed to make new connections and Melinda’s little series might help. At the very least it might prove to him that she wasn’t lazy.

Melinda groaned and rolled her eyes. “Can you talk to your mom? I mean, if it was easy for her, it should be easy for you, right?”

“I suppose so.” As if talking to her mother was an option. She could pick up the phone and say, hey, I know we haven’t spoken since I was sixteen, but can I ask you a few awkward questions about how I was conceived and why dad left us?

“Look, before you get all twisted up about this, go to your doctor and get checked out. She’ll tell you if there’s any physical problems. And if there are, there are alternatives.”

“I don’t have much of a window to do a lot of rounds of IVF.” No point in mentioning that she’d already been to the doctor. Melinda would just tell her she was being silly.

“No, but there’s surrogates or adoption. You could pull an Angelina Jolie and adopt from another country.” Melinda patted her hand. “You have options. Don’t freak out yet.”

Too late. “About that oddball mayor.”

“Yes?” Melinda batted her eyelashes.

“Don’t give it away just yet. I might have some availability after all depending on the time commitment.”

“Don’t worry. We can shoot around your Odyssey schedule and your baby schedule.” Melinda patted her hand. “Us girls have to stick together.”

Taylor forced a smile. That’s what she was afraid of.

***

Marty’s assistant pranced to the door of his office. “Can I get you anything? Coffee? Bottled water?”

“No thanks.”

The assistant pushed open the door. “Ryan Asher is here to see you.”

“Thanks, Bel. Top me up, would you?” Marty held out his cup. “Ryan, have a seat. I just need a minute to finish this thought.”

Ryan sat down in the chair by the window. Marty’s Old English style study in his Spanish style house always rattled him. It didn’t fit. The assistant swanned out, returning a few minutes later with a steaming cup. Marty jabbed a key on his computer and stood to carry his refilled cup to the chair beside Ryan. “Damn, if I had had any idea how much work running a big production company was I never would have bought out Kaleidoscope. How is everything going at home? I have to tell you, I was so happy when you and Taylor got together. She deserves to be loved.”

“She’s great. I’m grateful for every day with her.” Sometimes he woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t believe she was in bed beside him. It made no sense that a woman like her wanted to be anywhere near a guy like him, but she seemed to.

“You have no idea how happy it makes me to hear you say that. And planning to have a baby. You’re a lucky man. She’s going to be a wonderful mother. If you need anything, anything at all, you let me know.”

“Actually, that’s why I’m here.” Ryan swallowed. “I want…I mean, I’m thinking…it’s just…”

“Ryan, spit it out.”

“I want to buy a house for her.” Ryan stood and paced across the floor. “I don’t think this is a good idea. I mean, she loves that condo. She keeps telling me how she bought it with Second Chances money and it’s really safe. Nobody gets inside who shouldn’t be there. I shouldn’t have bothered you.”

Marty stepped in front of Ryan before he could bolt out the door. “Junior, you need to stop. This is way too much stress over a house. What’s really worrying you?”

“I love her, Marty. I’m afraid of losing her.”

“Why would you ever lose her?”

Ryan sunk into the chair he’d just abandoned. “I don’t deserve her.”

“Junior, if there is anyone in the world who deserves her, it’s you and I say that with the wholehearted belief that she is too good for this world.”

“How do you know?”

“That she’s too good for this world? Because I have seen her deal with shit that would have broken anyone else and I know you have quite a horror story of your own. Speaking as a recovering alcoholic, I’m daily amazed that neither one of you ever turned to drugs or alcohol.” Marty sighed. “Would you feel better if I talked to her? See if I can figure out why she’s stubbornly clinging to that little bachelorette pad.”

“Would you?”

“Feels a little like junior high, but for you, I’ll do it.” Marty eased back in his chair. “Since I’m doing you a favor, do you think you could reciprocate?”

Ryan raised an eyebrow. This was why he usually only saw Marty when Taylor was with him. He still had a hard time saying no to the boss, but she could do it and laugh as she did. “Like what?”

“Ex-girlfriend of mine just got the green light for a passion project and a little bit of star power would go a long way to getting eyeballs on screens.”

“I don’t have time to pick up a regular part.” That made it easy.

“It’s not a regular part, only a couple of episodes. I told her you’d be great as the alpha werewolf. It’s shooting in Vancouver with all the same folks and they’ll schedule around Space Odyssey. So I can tell her you’re in?”

“Once Taylor gets pregnant and after the baby comes, she’s going to need me.” But if he was going to buy a house more money meant more house.

“Don’t worry about that. You know I’ll make sure you two have everything you need.”

“I need time. I want to be a father to my child.”

Marty blinked. Taylor was the closest Marty had to a child making him the closest Ryan had to a father-in-law. “I wouldn’t expect anything less. You heard me say it’s shooting in Vancouver while you’re both already there for Space Odyssey, right?”

Ryan rolled the fabric of his jeans between his fingers. This was the other reason he liked to negotiate business with Taylor or his agent around. They kept him from overreacting. “Send the scripts to Stella.”

“I can do that.” Marty stood and held out his hand. “Glad you could come by. I’ll talk to Taylor about how she needs a bigger house with a baby in the future. I doubt she’s going to say no.”

Which wasn’t certain she would say yes.

***

A crowd of paparazzi clustered around the gate to the parking garage. They started shouting questions as soon as she turned in. Boz hurried out to herd them away from the gate as it slid up. Taylor needed to send them lunch or something as a thank you. They’d been doing a lot more guarding since the leak.

“How was your lunch?” Ryan’s voice came from the top of the stairs when she got inside her condo.

Taylor glanced at the table. What did she expect to see? Two empty plates and two half finished glasses of red wine? Ryan wouldn’t be that cruel, or that stupid. Ryan was smart enough to cheat where she wasn’t going to walk in on him. He’d take his cheating someplace else.

“Taylor, is something wrong?” Ryan stood at the top of the stairs looking down at her.

I don’t know, is there? Taylor shook her head.

“How was your lunch?”

“Good. Melinda is doing a short series and she wants me for a bit part.” Taylor put her purse on the table by the door. “I’m having her contact Stella.”

Ryan bounded down the stairs, frowning. “I thought we were clearing your schedule so you’d have time to take it easy for the baby.”

Did he not remember that she told him she might not be able to even get pregnant let alone carry to term? “It’s only a little part. She said a few weeks around Odyssey.”

“I guess if you’re sure.”

“A little more money and a little more exposure isn’t a bad thing.” Taylor forced a smile. She could have been working as much as Ryan had the last three years. They could have easily been Kristen Bell and Dax Sheppard in funny refrigerator commercials. She could have been in all the Mythic Heroes movies.

Ryan’s frown deepened.

“What were you doing upstairs?”

“Looking at the guest room. We’re going to need to do some redecorating for the baby.” He ran up the stairs.

Taylor followed him.

“Once we get a crib and a changing table in here, there’s no room to divide this room so there’s space for a nanny. I talked to the desk about bigger condos inside this building, but they’re full so this is the floor plan we need to make work.”

“This is a very safe building.”

“Malibu is safe.” He leaned his forehead on hers. “We could find a place close to our friends with nanny quarters for Devi.”

“You’re not going to be able to convince Devi to become our nanny. She has a career.”

“A guy can dream.” Ryan brushed his lips across hers.

Taylor stretched against him, letting him melt her with his kiss. He was so strong and determined. Nothing stopped him when he, and now she, wanted something. He’d make everything work out.

Ryan hooked his arm under her knees and carried her into the bedroom, settling her on their bed as she slid a hand under her shirt.

“I think I know why you agreed to have kids,” she murmured, arching at his touch.

“Because making them will be so fun?”

“Them? I thought we were talking about one.”

He nibbled her ear. The heat of his breath tingled. “We’ll see.”

Chapter 4 here

Don’t Say a Word Chapter 2 (draft)

Chapter 2

 

“I want to buy a house,” Ryan announced as Gale lifted the bar over his head.

“Okay, buy a house.” Mick focused on his bicep curls.

“I thought you were living here with Taylor. Are you breaking up with Taylor?” Gale asked.

Mick stopped mid-curl. “Do not tell me you are breaking up with Taylor. We just released a statement saying you were starting a family.”

“I’m not breaking up with Taylor. I want to buy a house for her and the baby.” He needed to pull his weight in this relationship. When he moved in with her, she didn’t want to talk about money. She could cover everything. Now she was going to be carrying their child and what was he doing? Nothing. Standing next to her while she did all the real work. They weren’t even going to let him protect her on the show and that had pretty much been his job for the last two seasons.

“Oh.” Mick resumed his curls. “Then buy a house. What’s stopping you?”

“She is. She doesn’t want to move out of here.” Ryan studied a patch of floor a few inches above the toe of his shoe. The weight room in Taylor’s building was so much nicer than the lifting in the living room of that house he, Gale, and Mick had rented together when he landed the part on Space Odyssey. All of it was light years from the shitty apartment they’d had in Harvard Park.

“I thought you guys were going to have a kid,” Gale said between presses.

“Are you kidding?” Mick asked. “Have you been in a cave? It’s all over the news.”

“Some of us don’t live and die by TMZ and Perez Hilton.” Gale shot back. “Your place is nice, but it’s not really big enough for a kid. You will be amazed at how much space kids take up.”

“So how do I convince her to move?” Ryan asked. “She really likes this building.”

“It’s a great building, but that condo isn’t going to be big enough for a family.” Gale dropped the weight bar into the rack. “You’re never going to get a housekeeper and a nanny in there, let alone a kid.”

“Taylor’s still hoping Devi will take on babysitting duties. She lives two floors up and the Sunlight gig is pretty light duty.”

“Has anybody heard from her since she left for Hawaii?” Mick asked. He picked up a second hand weight to do tricep lifts.

“No, and leave her alone for five minutes,” Gale said. “She hasn’t had a vacation in forever.”

“I will. I just wondered if everything was going okay.”

“Guys,” Ryan broke in. “I have a problem.”

“Right.” Mick set down the weights. “You need to convince Taylor to move out of here and buy a house.”

“I want to buy the house so she can live with me for once.”

Gale mopped sweat off his face. “See now that puts a different spin on things. Is she getting antsy about you living rent free?”

“No.” After he’d moved in with her he asked about splitting the bills at least because he never wanted to be like that freeloader she’d been living with before, but he was freeloading and it had to stop. “I just want to have something between us. Something permanent.”

“Like a child?” Mick asked. “Because property is really easy to split.”

“Why don’t you get married?” Gale offered. “You asked her years ago. Set a date already.”

Mick snapped his fingers. “That would be a huge promo opp. We could set up the whole wedding for you. Just get her to the right place at the right time. Imagine the press.”

“Imagine Taylor decking him when he springs a wedding on her in front of cameras.” Gale shook his head. “That is the worst idea you have ever had.”

“Are you kidding? It would be incredible press. You star in a long running television series and a Disney movie series as a couple. Now you’re going to get married and have a kid? Ovaries would explode all over the world. We could get everything paid for by sponsors, too. Imagine what dress designers would pay to have Taylor get married in one of their designs.” Mick pulled out his phone. Why he had it in his gym shorts was a mystery, but that was Mick.

“Marriage would be more of a commitment.” Ryan sat down on the weight bench beside Gale. After they got engaged, he’d asked about setting a date, but they had always been heading off to shooting and Marty had made dark comments about a laundry list of things they needed to do before they could marry. Marty had been married a couple of times, so he probably wasn’t joking about how much they needed to do beforehand. So Ryan had let it drop and Taylor had never brought it back up. He’d been waiting on her and she’d been doing what? Second-guessing choosing him? Deciding marriage was too much of a hassle? Why did Devi have to go to Hawaii right now? She would have been a much better source of advice. “I think I’d rather just start with a house.”

“That would make good press too, I guess.” Mick stabbed at his phone.

“No. No press. This is my life, not a publicity stunt.” Ryan ground his teeth.

“Yeah, let’s focus on getting you guys into a big enough house.” Gale cocked his head. “Maybe you could start showing her how inadequate your place now is? Talk about what you need to adapt to fit everything you’re going to need.”

“You guys should have a bigger house to suit the world you’re in now anyway,” Mick mumbled, still on his phone. “That condo screams has-been.”

Gale caught Ryan’s gaze and rolled his eyes. “You’d have to convert your guest room into a nursery and with a baby you’re going to need a sink in there which means plumbing. You’ll need a nanny too so you need a room for her or him unless you find someone willing to sleep standing up in a closet.”

“There is no way I could spin a story like that to make you look good. No, what you should do is track down a couple of really good options. Houses she can’t say no to.” Mick stashed his phone back in his pocket. “You need a property that will blow her away. I can hook you up with a real estate agent.”

“Do both,” Gale said. “Get her freaked out about all the work you’re going to have to do to get the condo up to snuff and then show her places where all she has to do is unpack her stuff.”

“Are you kidding? Stars at their level don’t unpack their own stuff.” Mick smirked. “They’ve got people for that.”

Ryan stood before they could start bickering. “I’ll do both. Mick, hook me up with that real estate agent and soon. We leave for Greece in nine days. Gale, how do I figure out what renovations we’d have to do?”

“Pintrest,” Gale said.

“Pintrest? Really?” Mick sighed heavily. “How does Lisa put up with you?”

“Just fine, thanks.” Gale turned to Ryan. “You could get an interior designer to come over for a consult.”

“That is a terrible idea.” Mick glared at Gale. “The designer will leak pictures of their place when he doesn’t get the contract. You think Taylor was upset about the baby news leaking, imagine what she’ll say when her house are all over the internet.”

“I don’t want to drag somebody out to give me an estimate on work I won’t have done.”

Gale shrugged. “So pay a consulting fee. If you’re paying the designer, you can make them sign a non-disclosure and sue them if any photos show up on the internet.”

“Of course if pictures do get leaked, Taylor’d be more likely to move.” Mick narrowed his eyes.

“Let’s just start with what I can find online and hunting for perfect places.” And end this conversation before it develops into a brawl.

Might have been easier to surprise Taylor with a wedding.

Chapter 3 here

“Makoa in trouble now.”

 

 

 

Excerpt:

“Wait!” Davy shouted from across the room. Three other kids sat around his table all of them scowling at textbooks. “Do you know anything about Macbeth?”

“Yes.”

“Can you help us? We have to figure out how this dude telling stories adds to the suspense.”

“Davy, the lady is on vacation. She’s not here to explain Shakespeare to you,” Mak snapped.

Yeah, but it was a good excuse to hang around. “I don’t mind. It gives me a chance to use my degree.” Something she definitely did not do putting together press junket wardrobes. As she crossed the room, an itch formed in the middle of her back that could only be Mak’s gaze, one of the kids at the table pulled a chair from another table for her.

Mak appeared to provide coffee and snacks as they studied. The sound of the ocean outside mixed with the burble of voices, punctuated by the occasional “Oh!” She had worked with the group at her table through a worksheet on building suspense in the third act of Macbeth and they were in the middle of story boarding the act when a weird hush fell over the room.

“Hey Shona, what are you doing here?” one of the kids asked.

The woman didn’t answer because she was busy staring at Jami. Mak stood from where he’d been working with Kayla and her friends on their essays. He strode across the floor and grabbed Shona by the arm, hauling her through the kitchen door. Davy whistled. The hush broken, the kids laughed and turned back to their homework.

“Makoa in trouble now,” Davy muttered.

“Shut up.” Precious punched his shoulder. “What’s happening in this scene, Miss Jami? Can we make it one panel because then we’d be all done, and it’s just that dude talking, right?”

Ah, the distinct sound of someone changing the subject. The woman, Shona, was gorgeous. She looked like she should have been on a poster of Hawaiian beauties with a lei around her neck and flowers in her hair. She should be smiling too, but she had not been doing that. Instead, she had been glaring daggers. Should have stuck with the impulse to get out of here when Mak wasn’t pleased to see her.

“Is that woman Mak’s girlfriend?”

Davy snorted. “She wishes.”

Precious punched him again. The boy was going to end up very bruised before the day was over.

“She was his girlfriend, but they broke up when he left.” Julie closed her English book.

When he left. The memory of him imitating Stitch rang in her ears. “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind.” Jami nodded to make them think she understood. Unfortunately she had more questions now than she had before.

 

Jami doesn’t see it yet, but she’s already part of Mak’s ohana. This scene came about in part because I was working with a student on Macbeth, which is my least favorite Shakespeare play after I studied it three times in school and my group nearly burned down my friend’s house making a video for a class project. (We thought it was be more interesting to have our credits on a piece of paper and film it burning. We had water handy, but an ash did not fall straight down and landed on the carpet instead. Cue 5 girls screaming and stamping out a flame.)

Borders Wrapping Paper

 

 

Excerpt:

Mrs. Kohler had gravitated to a group near the Christmas tree. Two older ladies sat side by side, wiping their eyes. She probably needed a minute.

Flora sat down next to a blonde woman at the wrapping table. Laundry baskets full of toys lined the wall, each with a little tag on it. In front of each seat at each of the six-foot tables was a huge roll of wrapping paper on a metal rack.

“Here, let me show you.” The blonde pulled some paper from the roll under a metal bar. Then she ripped it along the bar. “It works like a big roll of waxed paper. We got these when the Borders at the mall closed. The paper, too. It’s made the whole process so much easier.”

“Thank you.” Flora grabbed a toy from the basket behind her chair and wrapped it in the paper the blonde had just ripped off.

I worked at Borders for 10 years. We did free gift wrapping. The wrapping paper was on these huge metal racks that allowed us to pull it off in lengths. The rolls were massive. A few times while I worked there we were told to throw out paper before the roll was finished. That never happened. I got 2-3 rolls over my years. They weren’t as easy to use as they had been with the racks, but man that paper lasted forever. Good sturdy paper, too.

I miss Borders.

Christmas in The Philippines

 

 

Excerpt:

“What is your family doing for the holiday? They have Christmas in the Philippines, don’t they?”

“The Philippines has the longest Christmas season in the world.” Flora passed over the next dish.

“Really?”

“We start in September and finish in January on the Feast of the Epiphany. There’s caroling and food and decorations.”

“It sounds lovely.”

Flora nodded and swallowed. “When my grandmother was alive, the whole family would come to our house on Christmas Eve for a big dinner and we would all go to midnight mass together.”

Do yourself a favor. Look up Christmas in The Philippines. It’s amazing.

Riding Boots

 

 

Excerpt:

“Are those the shoes you’re wearing?” he asked as they got to the rental.

Flora looked at the UGG Australia boots Amanda had gotten for this trip. They were lined and laced up the front and reached right to where her jeans fell. The look was perfect. “Yes.”

Wally shook his head. “You need a heel.”

“A heel?”

“So your foot doesn’t slide through the stirrup. Come on.” He went to the huge garage and opened the person-sized door on the left. The inside was huge and empty enough to shoot an indie movie in though there was a big piece of equipment on the last bay. It even had a second floor. Wally climbed the stairs.

“Where are you going?”

“There’s some old boots up here.” Wally stepped off the top step and the rafters creaked.

Years ago, I took riding lessons. I went to my first lesson (which I had worn sneakers to) my instructor told me I needed boots. She took me out to her car and opened the trunk. In her trunk, were approximately thirty pairs of boots. She found a pair in my size and sold them to me for $15. I still have those boots.