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"WHAT'S SO WRONG WITH missionary?" Paige Favreau looked around the restaurant table and shook her head, the smooth strands of her blond bob settling perfectly. "If you've got to spend ten minutes staring at a book and half an hour getting into position, it's too complicated. The Kama Sutra"s for people who like gimmicks."
Sabrina Costas's dark eyes glimmered with fun. "Yeah, but there's something to be said for variety with the simple stuff. Like doggy-style, say."
"Arf," put in Delaney Phillips, putting up her hands like paws and panting happily.
"No way." Trish Dawson tucked a strand of red-brown hair behind her ear. "You do it doggy-style and you've got your butt sticking up in the air right in front of the guy. Not flattering."
"Are you kidding? It's all just cushion for pushin'," disagreed Cilla Danforth, resplendent in the latest Prada.
"Besides, Ty worships your butt every bit as much as the rest of you, at least judging by the way he was staring at it at Sabrina's party last week."
Thea Masterson glanced at her watch and grinned. "All right, I proclaim this meeting of Sex & the Supper Club officially in session."
"How long'd we take?" asked Trish. "Five minutes. Slow for us, don't you think?"
"That's only because we spent the first four minutes ordering drinks," Trish said.
There were some conversations, Paige thought, that you could only have with girlfriends you'd known forever. The group of them had met in college while working behind the scenes on a play. Days spent slaving over sets and costumes and scripts turned into late-night pizza sessions and bonds that had survived the years.
Paigelaughed. "You know, it's been--what?--eight years since we graduated? One of these days we could start talking about other things besides sex."
"Name one that's even remotely as interesting." Delaney looked up as the waiter appeared with a tray of drinks.
"Oh, the state of the world? Religion? The economy? The environment?" Paige picked up her pinot grigio.
"Some people would say sex should take a back seat to them, at least occasionally."
"Sounds like you've been talking with Jim the Diplomat again," Delaney said.
Paige looked at her as if she had a screw loose. "Trust me, I don't chitchat about sex with my father."
"He probably disapproves of all of us anyway," Sabrina said.
"Pretty much since the sophomore-year play that had the lead actor standing buck naked in front of God and everyone, yeah," Paige agreed cheerfully. "He wasn't hot on the full-frontal-nudity thing."
"It wasn't full-frontal nudity," Cilla protested. "I designed those costumes out of flesh-colored mesh."
"I'm not sure a flesh-colored athletic sock counts as a costume," Paige said. "Especially when it slips off during the first act."
"That part specifically was not in the script, I'll just point out." Trish took a drink of her Cosmopolitan. "I had no part in that."
"Was it my fault that Perry refused to even consider using double-sided sticky tape?" Cilla's voice was aggrieved.
Sabrina hooted. "You're surprised about that? You know how guys are. Anyway, aren't you supposed to have a special costume for the understudy if you find out he's a different size than the lead?"
Cilla glowered at her. "That was a conversation I had no interest in having, thank you very much. Perry should have warned me that we might have a problem."
"When you're an understudy trying to, er, measure up to the leading man, it's sometimes hard to admit." Paige stuck her tongue in her cheek.
"So it caused a little bit of a stir," Delaney said. "The first rule of marketing--there's no such thing as bad publicity."
"There is when your father's the United States Ambassador to Romania," Paige reminded her. "Of course, I told him that you guys were the perverts. All I did was dress the set."
"You still almost had to quit the play over it," Thea said.
"Things were sensitive then," Paige defended. "The Iron Curtain was coming down, I was his kid. It could have reflected badly on everyone."
Delaney tipped her head consideringly. "What about now?"
"What do you mean?"
"When do you get to stop living to ensure Jim the Diplomat's job security and start enjoying life?"
Paige frowned. "I enjoy life."
Delaney snorted. "You just told us you preferred missionary. Look at all of the two-month wonders you date. What about the Ken doll you brought to Cilla's wedding?"
"His name is Ross and he's a very bright man."
"He's a wonk," Delaney snorted. "Talking with him was as exciting as watching paint dry.
"Maybe he's got other qualities," Trish offered.
"You're exactly right, Trish." Paige raised her chin.
"Ross is doing some pretty important work in the mayor's office, even if he is kind of a dud as a date. Was," she corrected herself.
"I'm not seeing him anymore."
"And he was a carbon copy of--who's it?--Marty?"
"Mitch," Thea contributed.
"Mark," Paige corrected drily. "No, Marcus," she amended.
"See, you can't even remember their names," Delaney said.
"So what if I can't? Mark--"
"Marcus was six months ago."
"And let me guess--he was the U.S. delegate to Free-donia."
"I don't think dating intelligent men is a crime," Paige defended. "You have to sleep with the guy's head as well as his body."
"And you have to sleep with the guy's personality and body as well as his brains," Delaney countered. "Come on, Paige. You deserve to get out and have some fun. Your guys may be bright boys in training, but they usually have about as much character as tapioca pudding."
"There's nothing wrong with tapioca pudding," Trish objected. "I like tapioca pudding."
Delaney gave her an alarmed look. "Trish, sweetie, don't ever say that at one of those Hollywood power dinners you go to or they'll kick you out of the club."
"Comfort food is all the rage in Hollywood these days, haven't you heard?" observed Sabrina, who had reason to know, as one half of the hottest couples--and teams--in documentary circles. "Meat loaf, tapioca pudding, mac and cheese. Besides, they'd never dream of kicking Trish out of the club, not with the film of her first screenplay hitting the box office top ten."
Paige remembered the premiere and the party afterward. It had started off merely celebratory but rapidly degenerated into raucous singing and dancing. Not that Marty-- Marcus, she amended--had wanted to stick around.
Just then Kelly Vandervere, the missing member of their group, showed up bright-eyed and out of breath. "Cranberry juice," she told the waiter as she took off her jacket and sat.
"About time you got here," Sabrina said.
"Sorry I'm late. I was at the allergist and then I had to go home first."
"Yeah. Kev and I want to get a dog, but they make me sneeze and puff up, so we wanted to see if we could do anything about it."
"First living together, now a pet? Our little baby's getting so grown-up," Cilla choked, dabbing at her eyes.
"You don't know the half of it," Kelly replied. "So has anyone here ever gotten allergy shots? They do a bunch of tests on you beforehand--pregnancy, infections, everything. Then they draw this grid on you and poke you with little bits of all kinds of stuff to see which square gets red."
"And you found out you're allergic to housecleaning," Sabrina guessed. "I don't know. We never got that far. I was sitting there in the examining room in my little paper prom dress, waiting for them to do the grid thing, and the doctor comes in and says they can't do it."
The waiter stopped by. "Your cranberry juice."
"Thanks." Kelly picked it up and took a drink. "Says the tests showed up some unexpected results and they're going to have to reschedule on the allergy stuff because I'm--"
"Pregnant!" Delaney squealed.
"You're pregnant?" Paige demanded just as her cell phone shrilled. Impatiently she pulled it out to turn it off. Then she recognized the area code on the display and frowned. "Hello?"
"Paige, honey?" She heard her grandfather's voice. "I need your help."
THE EMERGENCY ROOM smelled like antiseptic and floor polish from the big industrial-size buffer a cleaning staffer was running in the hall. Paige ignored the machine and hurried up to the counter and the admitting clerk. "Hi, I'm Paige Favreau. My grandfather is in here. Lyndon Favreau?" she supplied. "He's been in a car accident."
The clerk nodded and clicked some keys on her computer. "You'll have to wait just a minute."
"Can I just go back? He knows I'm coming," said Paige in a rush. "He called me on his cell phone." He'd said he was fine, but that didn't explain why he'd been taken to the emergency room.
And why he wasn't waiting out front to be driven home, as she'd expected.
At the clerk's glance, Paige smoothed her hair self-consciously. The frantic hour-and-a-half drive from L.A. had to have taken its toll. The more sober and sedate she looked, the more likely she was to get cooperation.
"You'll have to wait," the clerk repeated. "Please sit down and we'll call you."
It wasn't what she wanted to hear. Granted, her grandfather had sounded in pretty good shape when he'd called her from the scene of the accident, but he was eighty, after all.
"I'm a family member. Can't I just go in to him?"
"Not until we get his approval."
Paige battled frustration and lost. "That's ridiculous. He called me. All I want to do is see him."
The clerk looked at her. "Legally we can't notify anyone of anything without his consent and we've got our hands full with other cases right now. We'll get to you when we can."
Glowering, Paige stalked back into the waiting area. Ridiculous, she lectured herself. He was probably fine. To hear him tell it, it had only been a fender bender. Still, until he was completely checked out and had a doctor's release, she wasn't going to be able to completely relax.
It happened that way when your only other living relative was a father who lived permanently overseas.
"Makes you want to strangle someone, doesn't it?" a voice said cheerfully, and Paige turned to see a rough-looking guy sprawled in a chair against the wall, lanky legs stretched out ahead of him on the carpet.
Perfect. Just who she'd expect to run into in an emergency room, she thought, looking at his stubbled jaw. A gleam of white teeth glinted below his black Pancho Villa mustache. It made him look like one of those bandits who'd ridden along the border back in the Wild West days.
Probably waiting for a buddy who'd gotten knifed in a bar fight, before they hopped on their Harleys and headed off to the next biker rally. "I'm sure they're doing the best they can," she said to herself as much as to him.
He winked. "You could just break the rules and walk in," he suggested sotto voce.
Paige gave him a meaningless smile and chose a chair on the other side of the room. She had more things to worry about than shady-looking men with lawbreaking friends. She picked up a women's magazine from the table next to her and leafed restlessly through Christmas cookie recipes and instructions on making appliquéd throw pillows for every holiday of the year. Even at the best of times it wouldn't have grabbed her attention. Now, concentrating on anything was impossible.
To one side, a group of people who were obviously related sat around a tense couple. She wasn't the only one who was worried about her loved one, Paige realized. From the white knuckles on the woman's hands, there were far worse things going on that night.
"Paige Favreau?" A nurse stood at the door to the E.R. Paige rose.
Behind the door, the emergency room was a scene of controlled confusion. Nurses and orderlies bustled to and fro, carrying basins, pushing gurneys or patients in wheel-chairs. Her stomach tightened.
And then she saw her grandfather.
Lyndon Favreau lay in the bed with his eyes closed, looking subdued and uncomfortably frail. His thick, wavy gray hair was disheveled. He'd hate it if anyone saw him looking like that, she knew, and crossed to him to straighten it.
His eyes opened. "What? Oh, Paige. How are you, sweetie?"
"I'm fine. What I want to know is how are you?" No IV, she saw in relief. No obvious bandages. Only his eyes looked funny, a little glassy and unfocused. "The doctor won't tell me anything until they get the go-ahead from you."
"Tight-lipped bunch here." Lyndon nodded wisely, but his head bobbled a little. "I'm fine.You know me, raring to go."
He giggled and Paige blinked. In the thirty years she'd been alive, she couldn't ever remember hearing her grandfather giggle. Laugh often. Giggle? Never. What the hell was going on?