Page 25 of Lavish Loving

“I can understand that. Northern California has a bit of that feel. So many easterners moved west and settled here. If you look at San Francisco’s architecture and structure, it’s a lot like Philly or Boston, definitely nothing like LA.”

“That’s for sure.”

“How’d you like living there? I imagine you fit right in.”

“I’m not sure how to take that comment, but yeah, I loved Los Angeles. Sure, there’s a lot of phony people and fake smiles and two-faced ridiculousness, but I didn’t have to deal with much of that.”

“Maxwell kept you shielded from it?”

“The people in his circle are all successful. They don’t have to fake it—they actually live the big life.”

“Do you miss it?”

“No. I enjoyed the Hollywood lifestyle, I won’t lie about that. His making the movie and me starring in it was the common interest we talked about most and bonded around, really. Outside that, it was always the parties and screenings and dinners, always something going on. But when it was just Max and me—which, with all his assistants and the maid and the chef and the nonstop entertainment schedule, wasn’t often—something was missing. I can’t explain it other than to say it didn’t feel the way forever should. We were in the relationship for very different reasons.”

Ace made a disgusted grunt. “I can definitely relate.”

“Tell me about it. Since you told me you’re all grown-up and only have special sex—” the way she said it made him laugh “—how does that work, exactly?”

“Once you fully commit to a relationship and are then betrayed, it changes you.”

They were quiet as Ace exited the bridge onto the I-80. It was late evening. Traffic was still heavy in certain places but he navigated with ease, neo-soul music playing low, caressing London’s body the way she wanted Ace to do.

“My mother introduced me to Jessica. They taught at the same school.”

“You were engaged to a teacher? Wow, considering the women who’ve been on your arm, that sounds totally unlike you. She must have been something special.”

“She’s a beautiful girl. On the outside, anyway. Came across as caring, thoughtful. My mom has a program where she works with young girls, teaches life skills, etiquette and stuff like that. Jessica volunteered to help her, seemed very enthused about shaping young lives. She’s a great actor. The girls loved her. She reeled them in, along with my mom…and me.”

“What happened?”

“To make a long story short, she wasn’t in love with me as much as she was with my money. So much so that she helped herself to quite a lot of it without my knowledge.”

“She stole from you?”

“Not in a way I could have had her prosecuted. And believe me, I would have. But yes, she took advantage of the access she had to a couple of my accounts and drained them without asking. I think that was always her agenda. She loved the lifestyle I gave her. I was all in, and she knew it. So there was an underestimation of how I’d react. She tried to excuse her behavior and change the facts, but trust had been broken. It wasn’t even about the money. It was about the trust. I forgave her. But I was done.

“It took me a long time to get over that, over a year, really. OTB Her is my woman right now. Totally unpredictable but much more faithful.”

They drove by Lake Merritt. It was an area where Ace spent a lot of time as a kid, and he plied her with tales of youthful ignorance. They drove by the school where his mom taught, and the old neighborhood where he’d grown up. London learned the reason Ace had driven over when they stopped by a neighborhood store, one she found out Ace had bought for the man who ran it, a man who’d been like a father figure before his stepfather entered his life. That man was now in the hospital, battling cancer, and the business had suffered because of it. Ace dropped off a loaded debit card to the nineteen-year-old who was running the place in his dad’s absence. Told the young man he’d help in any other way he could. That he would do something so selfless didn’t go without notice. As they rode back to San Francisco, London was extremely aware that she sat next to a very good man.