Riley introduced me to her lawyer and his wife, and I shook hands with both of them, then waited to see what was up her sleeve.

“Clay, do you and your fabulous wife have two seconds to hear a pitch for my production company?” Riley asked.

“Of course,” he said, in a deep, gravelly voice, and if he weren’t a lawyer, he’d make a hell of a voice-over actor. Come to think of it, he’d be pretty damn fine on camera, too, since he had the tall, dark, and handsome look down pat. His wife, all curves and confident beauty, was a perfect match.

“Lay it on us,” she chimed in, and he gripped her hand and smiled briefly at her. I felt a momentary pang of missing—these two seemed like such a team, and I had felt that with William. But I had to brush away the thoughts of him.

Riley began by holding up her hands and spreading them slowly, the universal sign language in Hollywood signaling the start of a pitch. “My Life as a Teen Paparazzo. Celebrity photographer and senior in high school—we’ll call her Tess in the script—becomes involved in a plot to take down a director who can’t keep his hands to himself. Everyone has an agenda and everyone is trying to give someone else the screw, except for our fearless heroine who’s simply trying to pay for medical school. Along the way she has to team up with a hotshot young private eye to try to crash the wedding of the century, but in the end he’s working for the director. She wonders if she can ever trust him again?”

She held out her hands in a what-more-could-I-want gesture. “What do you think?” she asked, directing her question to Clay. “Should I do it for McDoodles Productions?”

“Riley, you should work on the projects that make you happy,” he said, keeping his eyes fixed on his client the whole time. “That’s my best advice to you as a person. As your lawyer, it sounds like the kind of project that you would love, which means it sounds like you could turn it into a big hit.”

“I’d go see that movie, and I’m not just saying that because my husband’s client is behind it,” his wife said.

“What do you think?” Riley asked, and I wasn’t sure who she was speaking to at first. Then I noticed she was looking down. At her lap. Asking her dog. “Do you think it’s a good idea?” She lowered her ear to the dog, pretending to listen to him. When she raised her head, she said, “Sparky McDoodle agrees, so it’s settled. Clay, can you draw up a deal memo tomorrow and get it to my friend Jess? It’s her life story, and I’m buying the rights, and I’m playing her.”

Riley tossed around some figures, and they all sounded marvelous to me, but then again, numbers in the high five-figures with dollar signs attached to them had a way of sounding marvelous to me. Even so, I wasn’t going to fall in love with the possibility of a big payday again. I didn’t know if Riley meant any of this. I didn’t know if I’d ever hear from her again. I’d believe it when and if it happened, because I’ve seen enough of this town to know that a deal isn’t done until it’s signed, sealed, and delivered, and even then the terms could change.

I couldn’t let myself get wrapped up in the prospect of winning the lottery, when the lottery could just as easily go bust. I’d saved enough already for a few classes, as Anaka had said, and if I had to keep taking pictures of pedicures and parking tickets to pay for another year and then another, I’d do that. I’d layer in my occasional shoots with Jillian when she needed a local photographer for the football team. If I had to find a loan, then I’d go that route. I knew who I was, and I knew who I would be. I wasn’t the star, I wasn’t an actor, I was simply a paparazzo who wanted to be a doctor, and who had to pay her own way through Hollywood. That was fine by me.

“I’ll get you the deal memo in the morning,” Clay said as his wife stroked the little dog’s tan chin. He lifted his tiny snout closer to her hand, savoring the attention.

“Is Sparky McDoodle going to play himself?” Julia asked, and it was endearing how everyone treated the dog as if he were a vital cog in the Riley machinery, because, of course, he was. Sparky McDoodle made this actress tick. He was her one true thing, the creature in her life whose reactions she could trust completely, I suspected.

Riley shook her head and covered the dog’s ears. “I want him to grow up and have a normal life. I don’t want him to feel the pressure of show biz. There’s only one thing, though,” Riley said to me and I figured this would be the moment when she told me it was all a joke. That once again, I’d been played. “We need a happy ending,” she said to me.

Tags: Lauren Blakely Stars In Their Eyes Romance