Authors: Eden Bradley
YAMASHIRO IS AN OLD
Hollywood institution. A bit old-fashioned, a place the Hollywood Old Guard frequents, but more quiet, more intimate, than any of the current hot spots. Great sushi, superb service. It's a sprawling Japanese-style structure perched on top of a hill with big banks of windows overlooking Hollywood. Below the restaurant is a meandering garden built into the hillside, a small pagoda.
The bar has been modernized, with slick wood floors and high bar tables done in black lacquer. Very Zen. Very polished. The tall windows look into the center courtyard, where a pool filled with lilies and koi carp is surrounded by potted bonsai and iris, and a deck where patrons eat in the warm weather.
It's empty out there now, the late September evening cool for us weather-spoiled Los Angelenos. Out of habit I've arrived early, as I always do for a client.
He's not a client.
A small, inexplicable thrill ripples over my skin at the thought.
God, I'm fucked up.
I've gone ahead and ordered a drink, one of their exotic martinis made with saki and lychee juice. Tapping my fingernails against the stem of the glass, I check out the room. There are only a few couples seated in the bar. It's early for the Hollywood crowd. Thursday evenings are party nights in this town; the real action won't begin until after ten.
I sip my drink, carefully set it back on the small paper napkin on the sleek black table. I'm a little chilly. Or maybe it's nerves.
Checking my watch, I see it's still early: five minutes to seven. I should have made a grand entrance, been fashionably late. But old habits die hard.
I tap my nails against the table, notice it and make myself stop. Maybe I should go to the ladies' room, refresh my lipstick?
That pure pleasure in his voice again, as there was on the phone. It makes my heart pound, makes me hot all over.
I turn and smile at him. “Hi.”
He takes my hand, lifts it, and as I stare like some sort of idiot, he brushes his lips over my knuckles. Heat shimmers up my arm, burrows deep into my body. I'm as wet as if his mouth were between my thighs.
Jesus. Can't even think about that now.
“You look beautiful,” he says, smiling. Fucking gorgeous,
that smile. Absolutely devastating. “Even better than I remembered.”
I know I look good. I dressed very carefully in my black crocheted dress. It took me forever to pick my outfit, which is totally unlike me. I wanted something elegant but sexy. Short but not too short. Fitted but not too tight. I don't normally dress like a whore, anyway. I always take care with my appearance, and let's not waste any time considering ego here; this is my job. But tonight it feels nice that he noticed.
“Thank you.” I cross my legs, an unconsciously seductive move that I am aware of only after I've done it. But my sex is aching with need already. I can hardly stand to look at him.
He's wearing a pair of black slacks that hang perfectly on his hips, a midnight blue shirt with some tiny, subtle pattern in black. Beneath the collar I notice a narrow chain in silver, or maybe platinum. His watch is a heavy silver Rolex.
I take in all of this in an instant. I am trained to assess a man. I like everything I see. But it's his smile that leaves me breathless, his eyes that make me yearn to touch him.
He orders a cold bottle of the Suishin Tenjomukyu sake without looking at the menu, an excellent choice. The waitress brings it quickly, eyeing Joshua as she sets the bottle on the table, arranges his cup, his napkin. I can't blame her. He is nearly gleaming, all raw male beauty. Or perhaps that's only my own warped perception, seen through the haze of my obsession with this man.
I shift, uncross and recross my legs.
“I'm glad you came,” Joshua tells me.
“So am I,” I answer, although I'm not really sure yet. What is this going to mean for me later, when I have to go home alone and frustrated? Empty.
He leans forward, fills his cup, sips it, sets it back clown. I can't tear my gaze from his hands. They're strong-looking, with long, agile fingers. I bite my lip when he leans closer. “Tell me about yourself, Valentine.”
“I'd rather talk about you.”
Oh, yes, I'd rather talk about anything else but myself.
“Not every man on the planet is entirely narcissistic, you know.” He's grinning at me, a lovely, crooked grin, and I notice then that he has a small scar at the corner of his lower lip.
I can't help but smile back at him. He is charming in some old-fashioned way, and I love it. “Maybe not. But I'd really like to know about you. I'm intrigued by a man who will indulge his mother by taking her to the opera.”
“Ah, you think I'm a momma's boy,” he teases.
“No, not necessarily. I think it's nice.”
He shrugs. Wide shoulders beneath the dark fabric of his shirt. “I'm a nice guy.”
“I'm sure you are.”
He locks his gaze on mine. His eyes are glittering in the low lighting of the bar. “Oh, I'm not
nice,” he says, his tone full of dark promise.
I shiver. Clear my throat. “Tell me about your family, Joshua.”
“You can call me Josh, if you like. Most people do. Except for my family.”
“I like Joshua. I always call people by their full names, for some reason. I get the idea you're close to your family.”
“I am. We lost my dad about fifteen years ago, so it's just my mother and my younger sister, Lanie.”
“I'm sorry. That must have been hard.”
He shrugs again. “It made me grow up a little faster. I had to take over the family business. But I don't regret that part.
Too many young people have no sense of responsibility these days. Turns them into slackers. The world is too easy, in some ways.” He pauses, laughs. “I sound like some old man, don't I? Some old curmudgeon bitching about today's youth.”
“No, not at all. And I happen to agree with you. The hardest things in life teach us the most.”
“Sometimes. Sometimes it just teaches us to be pissed off. It takes more than just the hard part to channel all that into something else.”
“Yes, that makes sense.”
“You should see these kids I work with. All of them from the worst parts of the city. Broken homes. Drugs. Absent parents. A lot of these boys have spent their whole lives having to fend for themselves. And when they first join the team they're out there trying not to slip on the ice and trying to bash the hell out of anyone who comes near them. But after a while, they get it. Every single one of them. Just having someone give a damn about them transforms them.” He pauses, laughs. “I'm sorry. I'll get off my soapbox.”
“No, I like it.” And I do.
He smiles, nods, and I sip my drink, enjoying the heat of it going down my throat. Enjoying talking with him. He really is an incredibly good guy, which makes me yearn for him all the more in some perverse way. Perverse for a woman like me, anyway.
“So, you became a businessman at an early age,” I prompt him, wanting to understand him, his life.
He nods. “Real estate. Dad had been prepping me since I was a kid, and I was already studying business in college, so I wasn't completely unprepared. It was rough for a while, but now it's just… my life. I even enjoy my work sometimes, which is more than most people can say.”
“And your sister? Are you close with her?”
He pauses for a moment, his gaze wandering, as though he's really thinking about his answer. “In a strange way, we are. Even though she has a tendency to drive me crazy. Classic little-sister syndrome. And she hates that I'm always telling her what to do. Classic big brother syndrome.” He flashes a quick, devastating grin at me and I go hot all over. “She's always been spoiled. By my parents. By me, to be honest. Lanie's an unbelievable bundle of energy. Luckily she lives in D.C. with her husband; she's his problem now. He's a great guy; I know he takes good care of her. But I miss her. I don't get to see her enough.”
So sweet, the way he talks about his family. His affection for them shines through everything he says.
“It must be lovely to be close to your family.”
“You're not close with yours?”
“Do they live in L.A.?”
“My mother is still here, but my father … I honestly don't know. That sounds pathetic …”
“No, it doesn't.”
I shrug. “I never really knew him, anyway. He wasn't a part of my life even when he was around, so there's nothing to miss.”
“And your mother?”
“We're … estranged.”
“No, don't be. It's fine. Fine.”
Don't think about her now. Don't let her ruin this evening.
“So I guess that means you grew up here in L.A.?”
I nod, take a sip of my drink. “In the Valley.”
He smiles at me. “A real California girl.”
“I suppose. Although my childhood wasn't beach parties and surfing. In the Valley we rode bikes, skateboards, roller-skated. But there were a few kids in the neighborhood who had pools. My girlfriends and I used to slather ourselves in suntan lotion, close our eyes and breathe in that coconut scent, and pretend we were at the beach … Isn't that funny, how kids think?”
In my mind I can see the sparkling blue of the water in the neighbor's pool, smell that scent of chlorine and wet cement, along with the suntan lotion.
“That doesn't sound like a bad life, even if you weren't at the beach.”
“No. It doesn't sound like a bad life.”
Suddenly I remember being about twelve, coming home from one of those pool parties to find my mother passed out on the sofa, her dropped cigarette burning a hole in the cushion. I remember standing there and staring, watching the hole smolder, grow. The sharp odor of burning fabric, smoke filling the room. I remember how utterly sick I felt. Even worse that when I poured a whole pitcher of water on the fire to put it out, she never woke up. And she never said anything about it, as though that hole wasn't there. She just flipped the cushion over.
I look away, tightening my fingers around the stem of my glass.
“Are you okay?” he asks.
I turn back to him. “You're a very nice man, Joshua. You really are, you know.”
He reaches out and takes my hand, and the heat is there, enveloping me, my hand, my entire body. And I can't seem to sort it all out—the heat of him, my response, the strange thoughts going through my mind. Thoughts about how lovely
it would be to do this, to date this wonderful man. To have a normal life.
There is nothing normal about your life.
No, there's not.
I want to pull my hand back. I start to, but he hangs on to it.
“Am I doing something wrong, Valentine?” he asks me, his voice low.
“What? No. Of course not. I'm just… out of practice.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“I haven't dated in quite a while.”
“I haven't, either.”
“It sounds as though you work an awful lot,” I say, trying to change the subject. My hand is burning in his.
“I do, but that's not it. To be honest, I broke up with a woman a while ago, and I've been hiding away ever since.”
“Ah. You were in love with her.”
“That's the sad part. I'm not sure I ever was.”
I look up at him. His eyes are shadowed, unreadable. He pours another glass of sake and drinks. “Anyway, it was what it was. I needed to be on my own for a while. Needed to figure a few things out.”
“And have you?”
“I like to think so. I'm more clear on what I want.” He's smiling at me again. Such a dazzling smile, those strong, white teeth.
I know what I want. I want to kiss him.
to kiss him.
I haven't kissed a man on the mouth in years. We don't do that, we working girls.
I don't want to think about that now. All I want to think about is
I want to continue with this little charade, pretending to myself that I can have him.
“And what about you?” he asks. “You said you haven't been dating. Is there a reason why?”
I pause, bite my lip. What can I possibly say? And why do I want to tell him the truth, all of it? It's not about being self-destructive. I just want to. But of course that's impossible.
“Not that it's any of my business,” he continues. “I know that. But I'm curious. You're welcome to tell me to go to hell, if you like.”
One corner of his mouth is cocked in a small, crooked grin, and it is irresistible. He is irresistible.
“I just… Dating is not a successful venture for me. It never has been.” I shrug my shoulders, feel them loosen up. “I can't seem to get it. All the rules, the posturing. I wish the whole dating thing was more honest. I don't understand why people feel they have to lie to each other.”
Isn't that what you're doing now?
Yes, but in some way, I'm being more honest with him right now than I have with anyone in a very long time. Other than Enzo, no one really has any idea of what goes on in my head. Not even Regan and Rosalyn, my only real friends, and frankly, I'm not too sure how real they are. A part of me is always hidden away behind the walls I've spent my life constructing. We talk about clothes, shopping, celebrity gossip, my girlfriends and I. Nothing any deeper. This is more truth than I've spoken in years. It's freeing, as clichéd as that may sound. And it's addictive. I want to tell him more.
Get yourself under control.
“I don't get that part, either,” he says. “The games. All that shit—and pardon my language, but it
shit—about not calling a woman for three days, a week.”
“Exactly. And you don't have to worry about language
with me. There was plenty of it in the house I grew up in. I'm used to it.”
Damn it. I'm saying too much. But he hasn't noticed.
“I'm going to be honest with you, Valentine.” My hand is still resting in his, and he uses both his hands to turn mine over. He strokes my open palm with his thumbs, and I am shivering immediately with lust. Drenched. Aching. “You are the most beautiful and fascinating woman I've ever met. I know you're holding something back from me. But I find it intriguing. I don't mind that little bit of mystery.”