My head spun, and my jaw dropped. Talk about a turn of events. Even as the shock coursed through my veins, my natural skepticism quickly returned. “But aren’t you annoyed that I’m a paparazzo?”
“Let’s see,” Riley said, lifting her perfectly manicured hands and counting off on each finger as she spoke. “You snapped pictures of my good side when I had to face-lock with that scum. You never once asked for details of my sister’s wedding when we were on the phone and you easily could have used me for information. And the first time we sat down and talked for more than two minutes, you told me exactly who you were and why. Not to mention the most important thing. You saved my dog’s life. In case it’s not clear, this dog,” she said, stopping to pet the pampered pooch again, “is the love of my life, and you made sure he’s still in my life. So, no. I’m not annoyed. In fact, I’m dying to hear more.”
* * *
* * *
A little later, we were drinking tea, like proper English men on a Sunday morning, and hatching a plan to get the girl back.
“What does she love? I mean, besides the second most handsome Harrigan brother?” Matthew asked as he leaned back in his chair, crossed his legs, and took a drink of his English breakfast tea.
“Movies. She’s completely besotted with Hollywood.”
Matthew dipped his hand into the back pocket of his jeans, and grabbed a small notebook. “Let’s be scientific and write this down,” he said, then opened it to a random page and jotted down in his blocky handwriting films.
“Dogs,” I added, thinking of Jennifer and the pet therapy work Jess did with her at the hospital. I quickly told Matthew about her volunteer gig.
“She’s a keeper. Seriously. Smart, kind, hot, loves dogs, and somehow she can tolerate you,” Matthew said, then flashed me a quick grin. “See, I can mock you now since it’s only you and me.”
“Mock away. But if this doesn’t work, I reserve the right to knock you one on the chin.”
“Okay, what else?” he asked, flipping to another page. Then he pointed to a few names written on the opposite page in the notebook. “I don’t want to write on the backside of that page. That’s the name and number of the publicist I’m meeting who set up the interview with the band I’m here to see.”
I snapped my fingers. “Publicists!”
“That’s another thing she loves.”
“Publicists?” he repeated, incredulous.
“Let me explain,” I said, and rewound to the flash cards that started this whole fiasco.
When I was finished, Matthew eyed his notebook knowingly, then waved it in front of me. “I have the answer.”
* * *
As our food arrived, I told her everything, like she’d asked for. I shared the story of how I became a celebrity photographer, how I worked the pedicure patrol and shopping beats regularly, how we’d gotten the tip about her and Miles last week, and how that shot had led Keats to call me for his phony photo agency. I told her about William as well, and how he turned out to be working for Avery Brock.
“Miles is such a sweetie,” she said, twirling a strand of her hair.
“Are you going out with him?”
“Oh no,” she said, shaking her head. “Miles and I are just friends. I would never have kissed Avery, even though I was faking it, if I was with someone. And now, you and I are going to take Avery down, right?” Riley said, as if the two of us were now in cahoots in the ultimate heist.
“Sure,” I said with a weirdly happy shrug. I wasn’t happy about William. But I was happy—in some way—to talk to Riley and tell her the whole truth. “He deserves it.”
Riley twirled a strand of her hair. “You know, Jess, I’ve been looking for a great story for my production company.”
“This is a great story. This would make a great movie.”
“You think so?” I asked as I took a sip of my water, eyeing her over the top of the glass.
She narrowed her eyes, held out her hands as if she were framing a shot. “I can see it now. My Life as a Teen Paparazzo.”
“Not a bad title. Even though I’m twenty-one.”
“I know. But in the film we’ll make you eighteen. I’m serious. I want to buy your story. For my production company.”
“Really?” I said with a scoff. I didn’t believe her, because this simply wasn’t believable. Not in my world where my tuition due dreams had been foiled by a sea of extras under a rented tent.
But the next thing I knew, Riley was waving to her lawyer across the restaurant.
“Give me one second,” she said, then scurried over to his table, Sparky McDoodle snug in her arms, and chatted briefly with him. Then he and his wife stood up, left their napkins on their chairs, and joined us at our table. In a heartbeat, a waiter appeared with chairs for them. It was good to be Hollywood royalty.