Riley smiled that winning smile she had that won over fans and audiences and, evidently, a hard-edged paparazzo, because I was smiling, too. She was infectious. Damn her.
“That’s funny,” she said and laughed. She gripped my arm. “What is your name?”
“Jess, I have to take you out to thank you. Would you let me buy you lunch or brunch or coffee or dinner or something sometime?”
“Sure,” I said, putting absolutely no stock in the possibility that she’d follow through on her invite. It was an invite of the moment, born of adrenaline and gratitude, of a narrow escape, not of any real prospect of friendship. But she was glad her dog was safe, and so was I. The fact was, I’d have done the same for anyone’s dog.
Riley reached into her electric-blue purse made out of a quilted vinyl material. She found a pen and a piece of paper, wrote down her phone number, and handed it to me.
“That’s my direct number. Call me anytime.”
I folded it up and stuffed it into the front pocket of my jeans. I supposed I could call her and ask if she’d let me into her sister’s wedding, but I had a wild hunch she’d say no. She looked at me with her big brown eyes. They had flecks of gold in them. “Now give me yours.”
I wrote down my digits and handed her the paper.
She tucked it into an inside pocket in her purse, beaming at me. “I’m totally calling you, and Sparky McDoodle and I are going to take you out. You have no idea. This dog is my soulmate. He is the love of my life.”
Then her eyes shifted, and she seemed to notice something or someone down the street. She tipped her forehead to the end of the next block. “Say cheese,” she whispered to me, and then she wrapped an arm around me. “That girl always gets my picture. Can you cheat to the right?”
I angled myself slightly as a girl in the distance with long red hair fastened in a tight braid snapped several shots from a long-lensed camera. It was Flash, or so I called her. Another young paparazzo, she must have been staking out Riley, too, and I was about to become the subject of a celebrity photo spread, something I dreaded. My only hope was I would be identified merely as the “Good Samaritan” and not as a celebrity photographer.
In two seconds, Flash bolted, probably on her way to file the photo, and Riley turned back to me. “Thank you. My right side is so much better than my left side.”
I nodded. “Totally understand. I don’t like my left side for what it’s worth. Even though no one takes my pic.”
Riley nodded. “See? You understand. Everyone else also tries to placate me and blow nonsense out their mouths and say, ‘Oh, Riley, you look good from every side,’ but that’s crap. Everyone has one side that’s better than the other.”
Riley said goodbye, and I figured it was the last time we’d exchange words, so I didn’t waste one ounce of emotion on the guilt that slithered into me over the fact that I’d be taking her pictures tonight. I shed that feeling as I slinked off, trying to make myself unnoticeable, even as a few people stopped to say I was brave, that I was awesome, that I was fast as hell to save a dog like that. I just nodded and smiled without showing my teeth, wishing I could pull out my camera and grab a shot of Riley walking into the boutique. But I didn’t want to show my hand. I couldn’t chance it. I didn’t want anyone to snap a picture of me taking a picture of Riley. Besides, now I’d have to be extra careful tonight because she knew who I was. As she walked into the boutique, I ached to take just one shot of her entering the shop with Sparky McDoodle safely in her arms.
But I resisted.
I looked away, focusing on tonight and earning the other half of the ten thousand dollars, not the missed opportunity of a bridesmaid fitting. I pushed my bangs off my forehead and shook my head, as if I could shake off the whole bizarre encounter. Then I saw a too-familiar face across the street. Decked out in jeans and a blue faded T-shirt, William was reading a paper while sitting on a green slatted bench. His camera was slung around his neck, resting against his stomach. He wasn’t even trying to hide his camera. He waved to me and grinned broadly, and I wanted to smack him.
Because he wasn’t here for Riley this time.
The bastard had followed me. Red smoke billowed out of my eyes. Flames of anger licked my chest. I marched across the street and right up to him. “Fancy meeting you here,” I said through pursed lips.