“Hello?” The voice was still as familiar as her own. More.
The pause lasted a week and an instant. “Taylor?”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.
“How is she doing?”
Probably should have asked. “Seemed fine. So what do you want to do now?”
Mel was right. This was too much. “The house, your mom, having a baby.”
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?”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.”