The VIP Doubles Down
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“So what happened to these two lovebirds, Pie?” she asked, scratching behind the cat’s ears.
She switched from pictures to articles. The standard story went that the two had met on the set of a Julian Best movie and had fallen in love instantly. The photos that went with the gossip showed them walking in and out of restaurants in LA and New York City. Allie spared one glance for Irene’s outfit and then went straight to Gavin in a perfectly fitting suit or khakis, and a white button-down shirt or worn jeans and a black leather jacket. “Yummy!”
His hair was shorter, and his smile seemed easy.
After their engagement became public, there were several posed photos of them, with Irene displaying a ruby-and-diamond engagement ring.
And then the breakup announcement. Irene gave multiple interviews after it happened. She said it was mutual and amicable. They were still friends. There was no problem with her continuing to star in the Julian Best movies.
Gavin had no comment. One gossip site had posted a photo of him looking grim and tight-lipped, but the photographer might have snapped it when Gavin was ticked off over a parking ticket or something.
However, Allie knew what he looked like now, and it wasn’t happy. In fact, he had looked at Irene with downright revulsion.
She scrolled through more articles and stopped at a photo that showed Gavin and Irene standing by a mound of dirt beside an open grave. The actress looked elegantly mournful in a fitted black coatdress, her downward-angled head crowned with a wisp of netting. Gavin wore a black suit and a dark tie. His face was somber and his jaw tight as he stared into the distance.
They held hands with fingers intertwined.
She checked the date on the photo. It was last fall, nearly a year after their breakup. The caption read: Actress Irene Bartram supports former fiancé and bestselling author Gavin Miller at his father’s interment.
Sympathy twisted her heart. The loss of her mother still sometimes blindsided her. But since Irene had been there for him when he needed her, why had Gavin been so rude to her today?
Although Irene hadn’t exactly exuded affection, despite calling Gavin “darling.”
Allie remembered two actors she and Troy had known when they were married, who would spend several weeks demonstrating their love so publicly it was awkward for those around them. Then they would have a screaming fight, also generally with an audience, breaking up and declaring they couldn’t bear to be in the same room with each other. They’d end up at a party together at some point, have sex, and fall passionately in love again. Allie found it baffling and exhausting, but Troy said some people needed that kind of drama to feel alive.
Maybe Irene and Gavin were like that.
Allie couldn’t picture Gavin enjoying an emotional roller coaster, but she barely knew him. With a shrug, she swiped away from her Gavin research and checked her e-mail.
No response to her résumés.
Anxiety wrapped its fingers around Allie’s throat. She picked up the cat and cradled her against her chest, soaking up the comfort of her purring. She turned Pie to face her. “If I don’t get another job soon, I may be dining on Chunky Tuna Feast along with you.”
Gavin’s fitful sleep had been tormented by sordid, sweaty dreams featuring a slit-eyed, naked Irene beckoning him into a giant spiderweb, which annoyed him for being a terrible cliché. Even his subconscious lacked creativity these days. His waking hours had been unsettled by anticipation of the book signing he’d agreed to do that evening. He cursed as he pictured the endless line of fans stepping up to the table piled with two-year-old books and asking, “When’s the next Julian Best story coming out?” He wasn’t sure whether his nightmares were worse than his waking visions.
Allie’s arrival had been like a fall of fresh snow, clean and bracing. But even Allie’s magic fingers couldn’t release all the tension that the night had speared into his muscles and his mind, so he decided to cancel the Julian Best discussion part of their session. He couldn’t face the many troubles swirling around his super spy.
Yet he found himself reluctant to let Allie leave. Her cheerful presence was a powerful antidote to Irene’s poison and his looming public appearance.
“You look like something out of a Currier and Ives print,” he said as she pulled on a blue wool cap with a yellow pom-pom on top.
The little therapist smiled. “Better than a vision of hell by Hieronymus Bosch.” Her smile faded into a look of concern. “I hope you’ll try the water exercises I gave you. The warmth and buoyancy help relieve stress.”
Not once had she mentioned yesterday’s ugly scene with Irene, but she’d clearly noticed the increase in the tension in his back and shoulders. Even though he’d claimed that the pain level was no different, she’d prescribed additional treatments for him. He needed to remember that she was trained to judge discomfort in many ways, so she wouldn’t rely on his verbal answer alone. He said, “I’ll give it some thought.”
Much to his delight, exasperation flitted across her face for a split second. He loved provoking her into an unedited reaction. However, she said nothing as she picked up the equipment-loaded duffel bag that she wouldn’t let him carry because it was too heavy. When she started toward the door, he frowned. “How do you get to my house?”
“So you carry your satchel of gold bricks for twelve blocks from the subway stop. Remind me never to get in a wrestling match with you.”
She turned to give him a full body scan that he felt almost as a touch. Heat streaked down to his groin before she shook her head. “You have more leverage, so I wouldn’t challenge you to wrestle.”
Now he couldn’t shed the image of his body and Allie’s interlocked on a floor mat, their skin glistening with sweat as they slipped and rubbed against each other. Pushing that stirring but misplaced picture away, he made a decision. “I want you to save your strength for my back, so I’m going to send a car to transport you to and from our sessions.”
“Send a car?”
“Yes, one of those things with four wheels and a driver.”