JACK WYATT HAD ESCAPED twenty-three enemy ambushes,
survived sixty-seven leaps from doomed fighter jets and
dodged one hundred and seventy-three bullets with his name
on them, but not even Hollywood's favorite action hero
could find a taxi on Saturday night in midtown Manhattan.
"Sorry, Mr. W.," the doorman said as he scanned Park
Avenue north and south. "No cabs anywhere. You want me to
get you a dial-up?"
"How long would that take?"
"Ten, fifteen minutes," Horace said. "You'd be cutting it
close but we'll get you there on time."
Jack was scheduled to appear at the Reel New York Film
Festival awards ceremony, where he would be handing out
the trophy for Lifetime Achievement in Directing.
Root canal without anesthesia would be more fun. "It's
only five blocks, Horace. I might as well walk it."
"Not that it's any of my business," Horace said, "but I
wouldn't if I were you. Midtown's swarming with fans and
you're one of the guys they're all waiting to see."
According to Horace's grapevine, The Hotel, the trendy new
establishment where the awards ceremony was taking place,
didn't have its crowd-control chops yet and wouldn't know
how to handle a celebrity who arrived on foot and without
the requisite handlers and bodyguards.
Jack thanked Horace for his concern, then set off south on
Park Avenue just the same. This was what he was looking
for, wasn't it? No handlers. No bodyguards. A return to
real life...or what passed for real life after twelve
years in the public eye.
Tonight, after the show was over, he was going to get
behind the wheel of his car and point it east toward
Montauk, and he wasn't going to stop until he was up to
his front tires in the Atlantic Ocean. What had started
out as a plan to help an old friend had turned into
something different. Jack needed this break more than he
had realized. Years of living in a world of weekend
grosses and six-pack abs had taken its toll on him and
skewed his perception of what was normal and what wasn't.
Wearing a tux in broad daylight?
Definitely not normal. Traffic on ParkAvenue was at a
standstill. The weather was unnaturally warm for
earlyApril, and frazzled drivers leaned out their open
windows to see what was holding things up. It was tough
enough to fly beneath the radar when you were six feet
five and sporting a tux, but try keeping a low profile
when your films were a regular feature at the local
multiplex, where your face was projected higher than a two-
story house. To his dismay the buzz of recognition was
starting to build.
He deftly sidestepped a regal King Charles spaniel whose
spaced-out owner daydreamed at the other end of the leash.
It hadn't rained in New York for two weeks. The day had
been sunny and dry. So could somebody explain to him why
both the dog and its owner were wearing Burberry raincoats?
Money did weird things to people. The green stuff seemed
to climb into the cerebral cortex and yank the wires that
were linked to traits like common sense, perspective and a
sense of humor. He saw it in Hollywood. He saw it here in
Manhattan. Hell, he saw it in the mirror every morning and
it was starting to scare him.
It started small, with Burberry raincoats for King Charles
spaniels, and then before you knew it you actually
believed you needed four houses, eight cars and a private
jet. For the last year he had been teetering on the brink
of craziness and he knew it. There was still time to make
changes in his life before he found himself turned into a
parody of a human being. When the opportunity to help his
manager, Clive, and help himself at the same time arose,
Jack had jumped on it.
"I understand your need for some downtime, but you cannot
back out on the awards show," Clive had barked into the
phone. "It's far too late to bring in a replacement."
"Call Tom or Harrison. I told you, Clive, my year off
begins today." Jack had been careful not to let his
manager suspect that his own welfare was in any way a part
of the decision.
"Your year off begins at midnight as agreed. You dodged
the rehearsal yesterday and I managed to explain that
away. You bloody well better show up tonight for the show.
You're presenting a lifetime achievement award and I'm too
old to explain your absence to Clint."
"You're a year younger than Clint," Jack had said with a
laugh. "The only award I'll be handing out tonight is for
best bowl of Manhattan clam east of Riverhead."
Clive Bannister knew which buttons to push, which was
something that happened when your former father-in-law was
also your friend and manager. Clive was family, and family
had always been Jack'sAchilles'heel.
"You need a new manager," a studio executive had told him
over dinner a few months ago. "This is a young person's
It wasn't the first time someone in a position of power
had told him Clive should retire, and each time, Jack had
a vulgar two-word answer ready and waiting. They were a
team, he and Clive. Clive and his late wife, Rosie, had
seen something in a rough, unpolished dishwasher-busboy at
the Union Square Café, and had handed him a life. They
became his family. They helped him build a future. They
didn't turn away when his marriage to their daughter,
Linda, fell apart. They were family, all of them, and they
always would be.
But lately he had begun to wonder if maybe Clive deserved
more than the daily grind of keeping Jack's star burning
bright. Clive had always seemed ageless, a force of nature
who operated above the frailties of mere mortals, but over
the last few months there had been enough forgotten
messages, tangled communications and downright screwups
that even Jack had to admit his friend might be feeling
the effects of his seventy-five years on the planet.
"Why don't I just tell him he needs to slow down?" he had
said to Linda during one of their planning sessions.
"Because you know him as well as I do," his ex-wife had
said. "The only way Dad will ever slow down is if we make
sure he has no choice."
Which was how Jack finally decided to take a year off. The
idea had been floating around in his subconscious for a
long time. The thought of climbing behind the wheel of his
Jeep and taking off for parts unknown sounded pretty damn
good to him. A year without contracts or commitments. A
year where he could grow a beard, shave his head, forget
cell phones and e-mail and box office grosses. A year
where he didn't have to save the world from whatever
ninety-four minute peril was threatening it this time.
"So are you seeing anyone these days?" Linda had asked
after they had planned her father's future for him.
"A few people."
"But are you seeing anyone special?"
"You'll be the first to know when I do." Marriage had
briefly interrupted a terrific friendship, which divorce
had quickly restored.
"You have to put yourself out there, Jack, or it's never
going to happen for you."
"I'm out there on 3,123 screens this week. You can't get
more out there than that."
She gave him one of those disgusted looks that only family
can deliver. "Fine," she said. "Swell. You don't want me
to talk about it and I won't. But trust me on this — one
day some woman is going to come along and knock you flat,
and I hope I'm there to see it so I can say, "I told you
Linda believed in the kind of love that knocked you off
your feet and left you gasping for air while destiny
stomped all over you. She had wanted the whole package:
the can't-live-without-you romance, the fairy-tale
wedding, the until-death-do-us-part marriage, with
children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren all
gathered around for the golden anniversary.
He hadn't been able to give her any of that, and when they
parted he had been genuinely happy that she found
everything she wanted and more in her husband, Mike. Maybe
the second time really was the charm for some people.
Jack maneuvered around the Burberry spaniel and picked up
speed. He had been knocked flat by love a hundred times in
his movies. Love at first sight had rocked his world over
and over again, to the delight of audiences in more
countries than he knew existed. He had the dialogue filed
away in his brain. He knew how it should feel, how he
should act while it was happening, how it played out along
the way to the happily ever after ending.
But he had never experienced it for real. The thunderbolt
of legend, that pow! of recognition when the woman of your
dreams walked into your life — it was all still Hollywood
special effects to him, and he was beginning to think it
always would be.
FOR THE LAST THREE HOURS Julia McGraw Monahan had been
primped, prodded, highlighted, colored, washed, blow
dried, pinned up, brushed out, waxed, powdered, shadowed,
mascaraed, perfumed, buffed and polished to a high-gloss
gleam, all in the name of friendship.
By anyone's standards Julia was a low-maintenance woman. A
single mother of preschool twins didn't have time to be
anything else. Once upon a time she had had more than a
passing acquaintance with elaborate beauty rituals
designed to turn your average geeky computer nerd into a
bombshell, but those days were long gone.
Or so she had thought before her best friend and part-time
fairy godmother got her hands on her.
Julia's usual scruffy ponytail had been transformed into a
sexy tumble of fiery red curls that skimmed her shoulders.
Her everyday uniform of T-shirt and jeans had been
replaced by a shimmering bronze Versace knockoff that fit
her like a glove. Her skin was flawless alabaster. Her
eyes were smoky jewels surrounded by thick curly lashes.
And for the first time in years she smelled like perfume,
instead of laundry detergent.
Miracle was the only word that covered it. "Wow," she
said, adjusting her glasses. "I think this qualifies as an
"Take off those glasses," Bonnie, her best friend and
fairy godmother, ordered. "You're ruining the effect."
"If I take them off, I won't be able to see."
"I don't care," Bonnie said. "You're not doing geek chic
tonight. Off with 'em!"
Julia reluctantly slipped off her glasses and squinted in
the general direction of the mirror. "This isn't going to
work. I can't see a thing."
"Just for tonight," Bonnie said. "Think of it as one of
those sacrifices women make for beauty. Besides, it will
keep you from going crazy around all those movie stars."
The thought of Julia going crazy for a movie star made
them both laugh out loud. She hadn't been to a movie since
before the twins were born, and that was nearly five years
ago. All you had to do was look at her to know she wasn't
the type to gush and fawn over a celebrity. Julia was a
self-described nerd who by day ran a computer repair
business named Wired, and by night wrote how-to articles.
An extra 512MB of RAM would get a bigger response from her
than a candlelight dinner with Brad Pitt.
Bonnie dashed from the room, and Julia took the
opportunity to slip her glasses into her tiny sparkly
purse. There were limits to what she would do in the name
of beauty, even for her best friend.
Bonnie returned seconds later waving a pair of impossibly
high, impossibly gorgeous strappy sandals overhead. "The
pièce de résistance," she announced. "My lucky Manolo
"The shoes you won at the Actors Equity raffle last year?"
Bonnie nodded, eyes gleaming with pride. "A moment of
silence for perfection, please."
Even Julia, who wasn't a shoe person at all, knew a great
pair when she saw them. A one-of-a-kind masterpiece
created and signed by the master himself. The shoe lover's
equivalent of the Holy Grail, and probably more famous
than ninety percent of the actors who had purchased raffle
tickets for a chance to win them.
"It's been a long time," she said. "I'm not sure I
remember how to walk in heels."
"It's like riding a bike. No woman worth her estrogen
could forget how to walk in heels." Bonnie gestured for
her to sit down on the edge of the bed. "We don't have
time to argue shoes, Jules, so you might as well just give
in. Rachel's waiting outside in the limo and she's feeling
mean as a snake." Bonnie had called in a favor, and
apparently her cousin was finding it hard to be gracious.
Julia slid her feet into the obscenely expensive sandals
and tried to ignore the ripple of pleasure she felt when
she made contact. The straps felt like silky spider-webs
against her bare skin, fragile as a whisper. "What if I
lose them? You know I'm always losing things."
Bonnie shot her a look. "They're shoes. They have straps.
They won't come off unless you take them off, and I know
you wouldn't do anything that foolish, would you."
"I don't know," Julia said. "Are they insured?"
"I'm lucky my car's insured."