Party of Two Page 2

Oh no. She was shouting about dessert again. That martini had hit her hard. Well, at least she was shouting to this guy she’d never see after tonight.

“People are definitely pretty partisan these days about everything, that’s for sure,” he said. “I tend to be more of a pie person, but I agree, an excellent cake can make me very happy.” He gave her that slow smile again, and she tried not to let it affect her. “So what are you here in L.A. for? Assuming you’re a guest here at the hotel?”

Olivia fished the last olive out of her martini glass.

“I am a guest here, but I’m also here in L.A. for good—I just moved here for work, but I can’t move into my new place yet.” She supposed she had to ask him, too. “Where are you visiting from?”

He laughed, slightly too loudly.

“Oh, I’m not visiting; I live here, too. Water main break on my street, and I have a lot to do first thing in the morning, so I came over here for the night.”

She wondered what “a lot to do” in his world was. Did he work in the industry? Probably. Half of L.A. was connected to TV and movies in some way or another. As a matter of fact, this guy looked vaguely familiar. Maybe he was in a commercial she’d seen or something.

She wasn’t going to ask him what he did; people like this were way too pleased to tell you they were An Actor.

Krystal set down a plate of cookies between the two of them.

“See, no biscotti.” She glanced at Olivia’s drink. “Another drink, either of you?”

They both shook their heads.

“I wish, but I have an early day tomorrow, and more work I should get done tonight,” Olivia said. “But I’ll have some coffee to go with the cookies.”

“Coffee for me, too, please, but decaf,” Max said.

When Krystal went to get their coffees, Max turned back to her.

“So what brought you to L.A. and is giving you a late night?” he asked her.

“Oh, I’m an accountant,” she said. “Busy time of year for us.”

As a rule, Olivia didn’t like to lie. But she was having a pleasant evening drinking gin and ranting about food with a stranger, and she didn’t want him to ruin the fun vibe they had going by cracking a stupid lawyer joke she’d heard a million times before. Accountant was a good, solid, boring job, and the best part of it was it was such a boring job no one ever asked her any follow-up questions.

“Oh, really?” he asked. “That’s so interesting. What do you think of the new tax laws? Have they made your job more difficult?”

This guy, of course, would be the exception.

She reached for a cookie and bit into it so she had more time to think of an answer. She would have never figured a pretty actor would ask for details about her nonexistent accountant job, especially not details about the tax code.

“It’s been a little more challenging,” she said, after thoroughly chewing her cookie. “And personally, I’m not a huge fan of the new laws. But the good part is business is up.”

He nodded.

“I’m not a huge fan of the new laws, either, but I’m glad that— ”

“Oh wow, you should try these.” Olivia held up the cookie. “Krystal was right, they’re actually good.”

She didn’t only say that because she wanted to end this digression about tax laws, but sure, that was part of it.

Just then, Krystal brought their coffees.

“See, what did I tell you?” she said.

Max bit into a cookie and nodded.

“Sure, these are good,” he said. “But just think of how much better they’d be if this was an ice-cream sandwich.”

Olivia gasped and dropped her cookie.

“Yes! This is exactly what I’m talking about—dessert menus should have ice-cream sandwiches with cookies like this, and cakes, and pies, instead of this pistachio tart nonsense.”

Max laughed.

“I’ll add that to my platform,” he said.

Olivia took the last sip of her drink and pushed the glass toward Krystal.

“You joke, but I think someone needs to start a movement here.”

That had been a close one. Max added cream to his coffee and mentally kicked himself for his stupid “platform” comment. This woman obviously didn’t know who he was; why would he say something to help her figure it out?

Granted, most people didn’t recognize him when he wasn’t in uniform as Maxwell Stewart Powell III, junior United States Senator from California, at least not immediately, and that’s the way he liked it. Sometimes it dawned on them after a while, though, especially if he’d been on TV recently, and he’d been on TV a lot these days.

But Olivia obviously had no idea who he was—that had been clear from her withering “even this guy agrees with me” comment when he’d joined her conversation. No one had talked down to him like that in years.

Why did he like it so much?

He had no idea, but he knew he didn’t want this woman to figure out who he was and laugh at all of his stupid jokes like everyone else did these days. She barely even smiled at him, and the one time she had, he felt like he’d won a prize. It was weirdly nice to have to fight for a smile for the first time in a long time.

“So, Olivia, where did you move from? To move to L.A., I mean.”

She pushed some of her curly hair back into her bun and gave him that half-suspicious look again.

“New York. But I’m a native Californian—I grew up in the Bay Area.”

He lifted his coffee cup to toast to her.

“Well, welcome home.”

She touched her cup to his.

“Thanks. It’s good to be back. Even though L.A. is a lot different from the Bay Area, it still feels like coming home. But I’ve realized I only know L.A. from the perspective of a visitor, not a resident, so I have a lot to figure out. I haven’t even bought a car yet.”

He shook his head.

“You let yourself get too New York when you moved away. Soon you’re going to start lamenting the state of the bagels and pizza in California, and insisting you really can get good tacos in New York if you know where to look.”

Olivia burst out laughing.

He’d made her laugh. What a victory. Now all he wanted was to do it again.

“I swear, I’ll never, ever do that last thing, cross my heart! People kept trying to pretend there was actual good Mexican food in New York—and in Boston, too, for that matter. It gave me a lot of trust issues, let me tell you.”

Max grinned at her. The way she’d joked and laughed with the bartender was one of the reasons he’d initially eavesdropped on their conversation. He was so glad that smile on her face now was because of something he’d said.

“What about the bagels, though? Are you going to complain about the bagels?”

She shook her head, a smile still on her face.

“I won’t, I promise. I hate it when people do that—I didn’t even complain about the bad Mexican food on the East Coast . . . well, not until someone dragged me to a place they promised was good. Not to be weirdly patriotic, but one of the things I love about America is the regional specialties; it would feel too bland and same-same if you could get everything in the right form everywhere. I love visiting other states and finding something I’ve never had a real version of—or sometimes, never even heard of—where I live. I don’t want to change that.”

Prev page Next page