James sauntered to our group with the self-assurance of a man who knows women want him. Only I would get him.
“Any of you lovely ladies ready to leave with me?” he asked.
“Every single one of us,” someone said and giggled.
“Every married one too,” Cynthia said. “You’re a lucky woman, Natalie.”
“I think so,” I said, taking James’s arm. “Excuse us?”
To James I said, “Part of me wants to get you home right away, but part wants to see the terraces in person, not pictures, then get you alone.”
“You’ll freeze in that dress. You can see them from the great room,” he said, guiding me down two steps.
Cigarette smoke curled near the recessed lights in the high ceilings. Most of it seemed to come from the men singing Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” around a baby grand, where a man played with more enthusiasm than skill. His bumbling segue into Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” met with applause.
“It’s like freshman dance,” James said.
“All the boys on one side of the room, all the girls on the other.”
I hadn’t noticed, but the women clustered around a man backed against the picture window. They all talked at once, clamoring for his attention. His head swiveled, but his smile seemed dazed.
“They’re blocking the terraces,” James said. “Take my jacket. We’ll go outside.”
“Later? The show’s in here, I think.”
“Yeah. Who is that guy?”
“Give me a minute.” Over the rim of my glass, I studied him. As tall as James but slimmer, his pale skin contrasting with gleaming hair swooping backward in two dark wings.
“Some boy band?” James said.
“I don’t think Bonnie Bailey and Naomi Kline would be drooling over some pop singer too old to be called a boy.” Whoever he was, he was our age, not handsome so much as beautiful without being feminine.
“Is that Larry’s wife?”
“Yes. She’s nice. By the way, she says not to lowball on the bid. Larry’s been known to go with the highest bidder when quality matters.”
“Maybe we should be networking at parties more.” He leaned back, his hips and shoulder blades on the wall, and took my champagne from me with a smile. He sipped and returned it. “Got it yet?” He tilted his head toward the man.
“Still working on it.” Small eyes announced an Asian or perhaps a Native American in the family tree, the fit harmonious. Mentally I retouched, subtracting years, trimming and gelling hair, exchanging the sleek suit for khakis and a button-down shirt.
No, wrong. More hair, and messy, with worn jeans and a T-shirt, a wider smile, a graceless exuberance.
I laughed aloud when I got it. “Tommy the Rocket.” At James’s blank look I elaborated. “From Airspace
? You saw that.”
“I did?” He took my champagne again.
Why didn’t he just get his own? “Try Faking Love
and, what’s that lawyer movie? Point of Order
The actor tilted his glass to his lips. Empty. He looked in our direction. I made a too-bad face and smiled. He pouted in return, then grinned.
James raised the champagne glass in a silent toast. “Poor son of a bitch. Which one was Point of Order
The handsome man licked his lips, then smiled for the camera in somebody’s cell phone. He flinched when another camera’s flash went off too near his face.
“He gets the child molester off, only once they have a baby he wishes he hadn’t, so when he gets this murder case, he makes the deal that if he gets an acquittal, instead of a fee he--”
“Hires a hit. What’s his name again?”
“Um...Gage Strickland. What’s he doing here?” The artistically long hair seemed at odds with the severe European suit, far too sophisticated for Tucson.
“Maybe he knows Doug and Cynthia from New York.” James paused. “Good-looking guy, even in person.”
James has always been attuned to the lens. Before we met, he did a little modeling and acting, and befriended the guys behind the camera by asking intelligent questions. Why this angle? Why the light placed there? My Aunt Donna, who brags that she gave up a photography career for love, adores him, since he’s the only person she has to talk to about how studio skills turned an ordinary person attractive or made an attractive one stunning.
“I remember his picture in the ‘Beautiful People’ issue.” I took my champagne back while there was still any left. “Aunt Donna’d be gushing about his bones.” The angular face with sharp cheekbones tapered to a girlish chin saved by a generous mouth beneath a small straight nose.
If I weren’t with James, I might join the gaggle just wanting to be near him, to touch the creamy skin of that face, to be touched, even if only by those hooded eyes so dark the pupils disappeared.
“He deserved it. I can tell you think so too.”
“Yes, but I already have a good-looking guy, Jamie. Take me home, and I’ll show you how good-looking.”
He smiled at my use of his “bedroom name.” “I bet he wishes he was an ugly nobody right now. I’m going to rescue the bastard.”
James moved through the throng, touching shoulders, murmuring in ears, and once kissing a cheek.
Gage Strickland’s pleasure at James’s arrival was obvious; with a handsome smile he flung an arm across my husband’s shoulders. “I didn’t know you’d be here,” the actor said. The group made disappointed sounds as James led Gage away.
“Thanks,” he said to James as they reached me. “I’ve never been so happy to see another guy in my life, even if I had to fake knowing him. I love women, but one at a time.”
“Me too, if it’s the right one,” James said and squeezed my hand twice. He led us into a windowed corridor. Through the glass I admired the herringbone walkway gracefully following the lines of the cactus garden’s low retaining walls, then dropping away in flowing steps that led to the desert floor.
“Funny, women love men, but we’re pretty sure two at a time would be better.” I kept my eyes on the panes.
James stopped, took my arm, and turned away from Gage to scowl at me. For more than a year we’d talked about adding another man to our sex life. We agreed we didn’t know anyone suitable and couldn’t imagine broaching the subject if we did. The desire was only fantasy talk and, until now, private.
Gage’s laughter cut through James’s chagrin. “Well, you ladies manage to keep it a secret.”
“It’s hard finding one man who’s good enough, much less two.”
“I bet. When are you holding auditions? I’m a quick study.”
James grabbed Gage’s hand for a testosterone-laced shake that made Gage wince. “I’m James Bedwell, and this is my wife
“Gage Strickland. Did you say ‘Bedwell’?”
“Don’t do it,” I said. “He heard every possible joke about his name before I ever met him.”
“I’m sure he has, probably before he finished middle school. Pleased to meet you. You’ll have to excuse me; I’ve got to move. Incoming.” Gage gestured toward the big room and the knot of excited women, one pointing, hurrying our way.
“There’s a door at the end, just past the turn,” James told him, speed-walking toward it.
I tripped along in my heels and smiled my gratitude when Gage Strickland took my arm. We stepped outside, into a cold breeze beneath thousands of stars. He kept going until we all stood in the bricked driveway, well beyond the warm yellow light spilling from the house. My nipples stood up, so I crossed my arms over them.
“Here.” James slipped off his suit coat and wrapped me in his warmth and scent. He turned to Strickland. “If you didn’t get a space out front, I can show you the brick path to the side.”
“‘Follow the yellow brick road?’” He did a decent munchkin voice.
“It’s Milwaukee Cream City brick,” I said, “from a flour mill built in 1860-something.”
“Parts of it blew up in 1877,” James added. “There’s some Old Chicago brick in there too. That’s more yellow.”
“He designed the brickwork, and his masonry firm did the installation. Which way is your car?”
Gage Strickland pulled a slim cell phone from his jacket but didn’t turn it on. “Ah, north? I get turned around when I can’t see the mountains. It’s sitting at Euroworks, waiting for a part. I’ll call a cab, wait out by the street. Maybe walk down a couple houses, for just in case.” He glanced back at the house.
“You’ll freeze before a cab gets way out here,” I said.
“We’ll drive you,” James said, squeezing my arm.
“Only if you’ll let me buy you a drink, to thank you for saving me. If you don’t mind stopping, I’ll buy something nice--Bordeaux?--and we’ll take it to my hotel. Public places can be a nuisance. People don’t mean any harm, but still...”
“Lucky you,” I said. I promised myself I’d treat him like anybody else. “Want to come to our house instead? It’s clean enough. I hope.”
“I’m sure it is--I’m not hard to please. So yeah, I’d like that.”
While James made good-byes to our hosts, I led Strickland to the car and out of sight, insisting he take the front seat and its leg room. Thank goodness we hadn’t brought James’s truck. We talked about the stars and how I’d never seen Kitt Peak Observatory.
“Cynthia wanted to be sure she can get you on the landline where she gets me,” James said, climbing in.
“We’re going out for coffee sometime soon. I’ve got half the same books.”
“I thought you’d like her. Where are we going?”
Strickland directed us to a store that had what he called “an impressive selection.” The clerk didn’t recognize him, leaving him free to examine wine labels the way I do back covers. Minutes later he took three bottles to the counter and paid with two hundreds. He didn’t get a lot of change.
“Are you sure it’s no bother, going to your house? We’re pretty close to the hotel. That’s why I know about this liquor store.”
“Is that what you’d rather do?” James asked.
“No, I just don’t want to be pushy is all.”
“Our place it is.”