He gave a last look, then followed the map past the office and down the stone path. On the turn before the little bridge, he stopped abruptly. Could that be her? He checked the map. Yes, that was the cabin.
She was nothing like he'd expected. Younger, at least from here. Hardly looked much older than he, five years, eight at the most. No way could she be over forty, and with the sun shining behind her... she could be walking out of a wheat field. Minnesota.
She saw him and seemed to register his looks without so much as a flicker. He crossed the bridge. She stood, smoothed her dress. Pretty dress. Pretty face, completely natural. What a change that was. Not the usual stretched and tucked look from multiple lifts, no Botox or permanent make-up. Like trying to beat the mortician to his job.
And the rest of the package... Not bad. Not bad at all. He'd been with a lot of women in the last three years, more than he cared to count, but one thing he'd decided early on was that Madison Avenue didn't know shit about real beauty.
"Lucille?" he said, stepping onto the patio, and she laughed, happy, as if this were the perfect way to start.
"No," she said, "Julia. Lucille's my sister. I used her credit card." She offered her hand, as if they'd just been introduced at a reception.
"You're taller in person," she said, and then thought, shit, how stupid is that? As if you could tell height from a photo. She started again. "I... I hope you didn't mind the William thing. I didn't know your name, but... you don't look at all like a William."
God, he was gorgeous, like Johnny Depp in that Don Juan movie, only more Hispanic, skin like Antonio Banderas. Jeans and a white collarless shirt, those dark, dark eyes... She felt sick. Something horrible was going to happen, nuclear attack, earthquake; she'd come to California just in time for the Big One. A person just did not have this much luck, not in a lifetime, much less a weekend. Stop. Stay calm, don't let it show. Her nickel.
"William's fine," he said, smiling, "not a problem." No need for his real name, unless she asked. He doubted she would. So she was married, why else borrow a credit card? Too bad. Married women were more often sad and bitter, or just pathetic like Mrs. Carlton.
"Shall we sit here for a few minutes?" He held the chair for her, took the one across. This part was always awkward, better to get right to it. Nothing like a good fuck to break the ice, but he could tell she wasn't ready. Besides, he was curious. Why would a woman who seemed about as worldly as a patchwork quilt, who could walk into any bar and get laid in twenty minutes... why fly all the way across the country and pay for it? But he knew better than to ask. Asking broke the spell. The first rule, never talk about your real lives. Still, they couldn't just sit here.
"So, what did you have in mind, Julia?"
She looked away. "Oh, I don't know." The words came with a snap. All her silly fantasies, all her 'she had paid' toughness, and now that he was right here... She wanted to go inside, fix herself better. Maybe the whole thing was a mistake. Maybe she couldn't do this.
She turned back, softened her tone. "Or, I... I thought we might go for a drive."
"A drive?" He pictured the cab of his Tacoma, cluttered with Taco Bell wrappers, ashtray overflowing. Not to mention his "goodie case" disguised as a laptop. Smart to leave it in the truck. This woman hardly seemed the type for black leather and purple dildos. Never mind vibrating butt plugs.
Then she said, "Well, it's just, I rented a Lamborghini. Incredible car. Seems a shame not to drive it." A lease purchase, but no need to go into that. When she returned it on Monday the deal would cancel, except the weekend charged to Lucille's credit card.
His eyes widened a little, but he said nothing. He had years of practice not overreacting to a lady's wealth. She didn't seem that rich. Rented, she'd said, but still.
"Oh, we wouldn't go far," she went on, "just a little drive, and then... Then we could come back and have dinner. The restaurant here is wonderful. There's a balcony that looks out at the mountains. We could watch the sunset."
There, he thought, there was beauty. A look to slay dragons for, if there were any dragons left to slay.
"I checked the menu," she went on, "they have this special Hidden Springs gaspacho to start, and rack of lamb and a braised salmon and a whole tray of desserts, raspberry swirl cheesecake and baked Alaska, and..."
He knew then precisely what she needed.
He stood, lifted her to her feet, kissed her, his hand behind her neck, softly at first, holding her as she gasped, tears starting, which he kissed away, until gradually, gradually she began to let go of whatever had held her, and she kissed him back, hard, greedy, starved kisses, there in the sunlight, and what amazed him most was that he was willing to trade, okay, postpone, a drive in a Lamborghini Murcielago to give her what she needed.