“This way,” I said, pointing.
“Maybe I should find the car,” he said, “if I can even remember what color it is. Rental. Otherwise we’ll be frozen by the time we get there.”
“Don’t be a sissy,” I said, starting across the large parking lot. “It’s got to be nearing fifty. This is a warm spring day.”
“Oh, right.” He walked at my side, matching the pace I set, taking my arm when we had to stop for cars exiting.
“Aren’t you courtly?”
“Back when I was seventeen, eighteen, my agent had somebody from her office watch me when I was out in public. She’d give me notes. I wasn’t rude or anything, but my public persona’s manners needed major upgrades. I took big bites, and I scratched a lot. I laughed too loud, and I touched my date’s ass on the way out when it should be her arm. The next time, it’d be something else. Interrupting, as bad as Jardine, looking around instead of at my companion, scratching.”
“You must have really dry skin.” Or itchy balls.
“And decent manners. It only took a couple of decades before it came naturally.”
“Thank your agent for me. I don’t see many men who are sure it’s okay to offer their arm or open the door if my hands are free.”
“Sure you do. They’re all old, like me.”
“Ha. You and I are in our prime. They’re two decades older than us,” I corrected.
“Or from the South,” he suggested.
Although I’d grocery shopped in a sweater and jeans, I hadn’t planned on a brisk walk beyond Row 5. By the time we reached the restaurant, my hands were cold and my eyes teared, neither as uncomfortable as my risen nipples throbbing with each step’s jounce. Did my sweater hide that enough? I didn’t look down to check. It would only draw Curtis Wilde’s attention there too.
Once the door swung closed, Frazetti’s was warm and smelled of baking bread and spices I couldn’t identify. A pretty hostess in black pants and white shirt smiled at us. “Welcome.”
Curtis stepped slightly in front of me. “Hello. You should have had a call for a table—”
“Of course. Right this way, sir. Ma’am.”
I walked in front, self-conscious about my posture, the size of my ass, whether my hair was in snarls from the wind. It was strange, caring. My self-worth wasn’t about looks.
Frazetti’s had the VIP area Jardine’s did not, a small room visually separated from the rest by racked wine bottles. At most, other patrons might get a glimpse of the actor best known for his sweat-glistening muscles, what-the-hell grin, and ability to fight bad guys with a gun in each hand.
People noticed Curtis as we made our way to the table through a sudden hush in everyone’s conversation. Was Curtis Wilde as famous as all that? Maybe. In a city devoid of celebrity sightings, he was wise to demand his privacy. People made a fuss over a local news anchor buying her groceries at Jardine’s like anyone else. Where was she supposed to shop, Hollywood?
Curtis pulled out my chair, and I sat, hanging my scuffed purse on the chair’s arm. The hostess set menus on the table and bobbed a half curtsey before leaving.
“You should have let me drive us. Your nose and cheeks are all red.”
“I’m fine. My skin colors if you look at it too hard.”
“I’ve seen that before, mostly in redheads.”
“Like my dad, my aunts, and me?” Well, in my case and my Aunt Libby’s, more a ginger-tinged light brown.
“Exactly like them. I bet you sunburn too.”
“And get as red-faced as this when I eat spicy food or work out—because I ate all that spicy food.”
Curtis grinned at the open wine list. He pulled a pair of half-moon reading glasses from his pocket and put them on. Adorable. “Pretty decent selection, I think. Not that I know. Red or white?” The eyes above the glasses were so blue they pierced, pale as his faded jeans near the iris and ringed with a deep shade nearing navy.
“That depends on what I’m eating.”
We studied the menus, chose different fish and the same white wine, ordering a glass apiece. Curtis stretched his long legs beyond the table as he put the half-moons away but remained adorable. He knew it too.
I tried to think of any other man I’d ever known who was so very self-assured. Curtis Wilde didn’t demand the attention of everyone in the room yet felt at ease in the spotlight. He seemed neither conceited nor especially alpha male. Instead, he was fully and visibly pleased with how the world perceived him. It was very attractive and just a little intimidating.
His charm extended to being an excellent audience for my small wit unleashed by the pinot grigio. Curtis was adept at turning the conversation back to me, which probably served celebrities well if they preferred to keep their private lives private. We talked and laughed so much our meals were half-eaten when the wine was gone.
“Another glass or a bottle? Or do you have things you need to do? I don’t want to get in the way of any plans. It’s just that I’m really enjoying this.”
To my surprise, so was I. It had been a long time since I’d shared a meal with a person who listened, laughed at my jokes, and seemed so easy to talk to.
“Damn. You do, and I ruined it.”
“No. I’m thinking.”
“That’s a relief. What about?”
“I have a thing about driving drunk. I need to figure out how to get home. And I still have groceries in a cart in the beer cooler. Not a lot, just produce and fish. I’d only just started shopping.”
“Taxi, my treat.”
“It’s not close. Twenty minutes, usually.”
“I can swing it. Phone call to, ah, what’s-his-name. Jardine, to reshelve everything. Problems solved. Bottle?”
“But I won’t have anything for dinner if I don’t have my salmon.”
“I’ll take you to dinner too. Is this a great plan or what?” He chuckled. “I forgot how fun it is being spontaneous.”
“That’s life at the monastery, all work and no play.”
“Life after trial separation. All guilt, no play.”
“Oh. I didn’t know. I won’t pry.”
“It’s not prying, it’s part of my life. I was married for sixteen years. You know who Michelle Colson is?”
“Of course.” Wilde and Colson fit. She was willowy, bubbly, quick to share her infectious laugh, the sort of woman who made a man feel manly in movie after movie. “Although I haven’t seen her in anything in a while.”
“Twelve years. No, thirteen now. She aged out of the romantic comedy roles she’s so damned good at and refused to play anybody older. Certainly not anybody her own age, even though she looks great.”
“She does.” I sat straighter, unwilling to compare myself to an actress but aware I’d relaxed into a slump that probably wasn’t attractive. I gulped the last of my wine.
He lowered his voice to a confidential hush. “That’s no accident. She’s had a lot of work done. Good work, for which I paid plenty. But she’ll never see fifty again, much less thirty.” He shrugged. “Fine by me if she’d rather end her career than admit she’s getting older same as everybody else. It meant she had more time for the kids, and I still had income.”
“Residuals, is that the word?”
“It is, and I still get some. I was working a lot then, one movie after another, guest shots on TV when it suited me, usually a favor for a friend. These days, I don’t get as many offers, and the roles aren’t as good. Supporting, usually, not the lead. Most of my current income comes from producing.”
“What do you—I’m invading your privacy. Stop me before I demand to know your credit score.”
“Hell, I don’t know my credit score. I got a guy who handles my finances, since I get swamped sometimes.”
“Don’t we all?”
“Life. What you gonna do?” He stroked his upper lip, index finger and thumb going separate directions, a sure sign of a mustache in the past. “The marriage started out good, and it held for nearly ten years. I raised her kids like they were my own. That earned me a lot of brownie points. Their dads lived in the area and didn’t even call on birthdays, the fuckers. Excuse my language. I still get angry.”
“I wish more men would be angry at absent fathers. Make it socially unacceptable to abandon the child you helped create.”
“Amen. Three kids from three dads, all different but all good. A few bumps in the road when they were teenagers, but overall, I thought we were a happy family.” He turned in his seat. “Where’s our waiter?”
“Around.” I waved my hand. “We’re not in any hurry, right?”
“So let’s talk about something else.”
“Let me finish the sob story real quick so we don’t have to go there later. Okay?”
“I guess.” So long as I didn’t have to share mine.
“Things in the bedroom cooled first. No need for details, just that we both kind of lost interest in seeing to the other person’s needs. We were both selfish in that regard. My work was keeping me away a lot, and when I was home, I was all about being the dad, even though they don’t call me that. It wasn’t just fun-Dad either. I talked to Holly about cutting classes while the school looked the other way because she rocked the theater arts department even though other actors’ kids went to the same school. I was the one who took the call from Matt’s English teacher about him writing way above grade level and how we should be taking him to libraries and bookstores, which I did. His stay-at-home mom couldn’t find the time. I knew Tim wasn’t doing so hot in math or chemistry, but Michelle didn’t mind because he was popular and a jock. I drove him to the damned tutor three times a week while Michelle reminded him school wasn’t everything, like everybody was going to get rich in the movies because she did.”
“You mean they don’t?” I batted my eyelashes at him.
“Only Holly, and her career’s already peaked, I think. We talk about what her next step ought to be—I think she could do romantic comedies every bit as good as her mom’s—but she listens more to her mother than me. I worry about how much she spends on clothes and wrangling invitations to red-carpet events. And I worry how she wants to be a movie star more than she wants to be an actor.” He sighed and took a quick sip of his wine, emptying the glass. “So between work, travel, and parenting, I wasn’t as available to Michelle as I should have been. I accept some blame, but it’s more her fault. It all fell apart when I got really sick.”
My belly lurched. She left him when he had cancer? “I hope you’re okay now,” I said carefully.
“I’m fine. What happened is I started feeling really bad at a meeting in San Diego, right after New Year’s. So sick I chartered a flight home and had a driver meet me, damn the cost. I’ve never felt so awful in my life. Do you get your flu shot every year?”
The flu. I barely knew Curtis Wilde, but my relief must have showed.
“Shit, I need to learn to tell this better. What did you think, MS or cancer, liver failure, something serious like that?”
“No, no. I’m as healthy as any other guy my age. I take blood pressure meds, and my doctor would love it if I lost a few pounds, but that’s it. I don’t think I’d ever had the flu before. Man, it puts you flat on your back. So the driver drops me off, and I go in, just drop my suitcase inside the door. My head’s pounding and I’m sweating bullets, aching all over. I should take a shower and some Tylenol, but screw that. I just want to crawl into bed. I stagger into the bedroom, and there’s Michelle, naked. With a friend of Matt’s. This kid’s what, twenty?”