‘Okay,’ she says, so very serious. And trusting. Which is why tonight, I chose one of the places celebrities go when we want to feel a bit like ordinary people – ordinary, wealthy people who don’t have to endure being photographed everywhere they go: Chateau Marmont. Paparazzi aren’t allowed into the long bricked drive, let alone up the steps or inside. Cameras are completely prohibited in the restaurant, in fact – and unlike some Hollywood spots, that decree is strictly enforced. Not that obsessive fans don’t ever break the rules and get away with it – but dinner on the patio is a dark, candlelit affair. Good luck getting off a perfect shot with a cell phone and no flash.
The valet exchanges keys and a ticket with the driver in front of us and I slide my fingers down Dori’s arm, taking her hand. ‘Have you been here before?’
She laughs as though that’s the most ridiculous question ever posed. ‘Uh, no. I’ve heard about it, though. Does that count?’
‘Hmm. I’ll allow half a point for knowledge of it. Sounds like we might need to schedule a weekend in the penthouse, though. Or maybe you’d prefer one of the cottages.’
She smiles up at me. ‘A cottage?’ Of course she’d be more intrigued by a creaky, cloistered 1930s bungalow than a sumptuous, high-ceilinged suite with patio views of Sunset and the West Hollywood hillside. ‘That sounds like a storybook suggestion. Should I bring my red hoodie and a picnic basket?’
‘Only if you’re going to say, Oh, Reid, what a big –’
‘Stop!’ she laughs, pressing her hand to my mouth. ‘Don’t you dare finish that thought!’
I run a finger over the curve of her ear, knowing it would be bright pink if I could discern the colour in the dim confines of the car. ‘I’m afraid it’s too late for that …’
Adorably prim, she purses her lips and changes the subject. ‘Staying at a hotel in the city where you live seems like an impractical thing to do, though I guess that’s normal for celebrities.’
‘You’ve never done that?’ My last in-LA hotel stay was at Brooke’s insistence, when her whole convoluted plan to lure Graham away from Emma blew up in her face.
Dori shrugs lightly, glancing forward as I pull up to the valet stand and remember that her high-school jerk of a boyfriend took her to a motel when she turned fifteen, and then dumped her a month later – when he turned eighteen and she became jailbait.
I’d like to beat the shit out of that guy, even if it has been nearly four years.
‘Looks like I have a new goal: teach Dori to be impractical.’
She shakes her head, bemused. ‘I don’t know, Reid – that sounds like an unattainable goal.’ The valet opens her door and she starts before taking another deep breath and accepting his hand. She’s a bundle of nerves. I doubt she’s going to relax all evening, and God knows I probably won’t be able to talk her into loosening up the Reid Alexander way – with a shot of something old and expensive.
‘Challenge accepted, Dorcas Cantrell,’ I murmur, jumping out of my side of the car and coming around to encircle her shoulders and lead her inside. Challenge accepted.
I order the chilled crab and avocado for an appetizer, and a bottle of Torrontés. Dori asks for a glass of water. At my nod, the waiter fetches a trendy bottled water, decanting and pouring it into her glass while maintaining a perfectly blank expression. Dori arches a brow and mouths impractical at me with a smirk. I smirk back. She has no idea what impractical things I can come up with where she’s concerned.
By the end of the meal, she’s more relaxed. Despite the crush of people, the lush vegetation and flickering candles render the patio cosy and intimate instead of congested. There’ve been no camera flashes, of course, and no one’s paid us any particular attention, other than the waiting staff – all of them serving us with the same pleasant but impassive expressions. It won’t be this way in other LA haunts. At some point soon, Dori will be fully initiated into the public scrutiny that comes with being or dating a celebrity. She had a minor taste of it last summer, after the patio incident – but that was nothing.
Not that I’m telling her that.
John’s high-rise apartment is bursting at the seams by the time we arrive, which wasn’t exactly what we agreed on when he begged me to let him host Dori’s coming-out party. (Another thing I’m not telling her – that John and I devised the party specifically to introduce her to our crowd in a less public venue.)
‘Wow,’ Dori murmurs, leaning close. ‘Your friend has lots of friends.’
John doesn’t have friends as much as he has a network of useful acquaintances, and those acquaintances are all not-so-slyly eyeballing us the moment we hand our jackets to the girl at the door and begin to make our way through the crowd. I follow the sound of John’s laughter over the music, feeling Dori’s hand clamped to mine like our palms are permanently bonded.
‘Reid – hey, dude. Where’s –? Oh, there she is,’ he smiles, spotting her behind me. ‘Even smaller than I remembered.’
Dori has only the vaguest of memories of John, since their only meeting occurred during the most inebriated night of her life – if not the only inebriated night of her life. She smiles back at him, but her grip on my hand doesn’t loosen. I bend that arm behind her back so I can pull her closer. She may be curvy and strong, but John’s right, she feels small tucked to my side.
‘Hey, John. Lots of people here,’ I say pointedly. We’d agreed on twenty or so, and there’s easily two or three times that many wandering around his place and spilling on to the balcony.