The traffic moved along the Santa Monica Freeway at a snail's pace, as Allegra Steinberg lay her head back against the seat of the midnight blue Mercedes 300. At this rate, it was going to take forever. She had nothing particular to do on the way home, but it always seemed such an incredible waste of time just sitting there in traffic.
She stretched her long legs, sighed, and flicked on the radio, and she smiled as they started playing Bram Morrison's latest single. He was one of her clients at the law firm. She had represented him for over a year. She had a number of important clients. At twenty-nine, four years out of Yale law school, she was a junior partner at Fisch, Herzog, and Freeman. They were one of the most important firms in L.A., and entertainment law had always been her passion.
Allegra had known years before that she wanted to go into law, and it had only been for a brief, little while, after two years of summer stock in New Haven during her sophomore and junior years at Yale, that she had thought she might want to be an actress. It wouldn't have surprised anyone in her family, but it wouldn't necessarily have pleased them. Her mother, Blaire Scott, had written and produced one of the most successful shows on television for nine years. It was a comedy, well peppered with serious moments, and some occasional real-life drama. They had had the highest possible ratings for seven of their nine years, and iT had earned her mother seven Emmies. Her father, Simon Steinberg, was a major movie producer, and had made some of Hollywood's most important movies. He had won three Academy Awards over the years, and his reputation for box officesuccesses was legend. More importantly, he was that rarest of commodities in Hollywood, a nice man, a gentleman, a truly decent human being. He and Blaire were among the industry's most unusual, and most respected couples. They worked hard, and had a real family, which they devoted a lot of their time to. Allegra had a seventeen-year-old sister, Samantha, "Sam," who was a senior in high school and a model, and who, unlike Allegra, did want to be an actress. Only their brother, Scott, a junior at Stanford, seemed to have escaped show business entirely. He was in pre-med, and all he wanted in life was to be a doctor. Hollywood and its alleged magic held no lure for Scott Steinberg.
Scott had seen enough of show business in his twenty years. And he even thought Allegra was crazy to be an entertainment lawyer. He didn't want to spend the rest of his life worrying about the "box office," or the gross, or the ratings. He wanted to specialize in sports medicine, and be an orthopedic surgeon. Nice and sensible and down-to-earth. When the bone breaks, you fix it. He had seen enough of the agonies the rest of his family went through, dealing with spoiled, erratic stars, unreliable actors, dishonest network people who disappeared in six months, and quixotic investors. There were highs certainly, and perks admittedly, and they all seemed to love what they did. His mother derived tremendous satisfaction from her show, and his father had produced some great movies. And Allegra liked being an attorney for the stars and Sam wanted to be an actress. But as far as Scott was concerned, they could have it.
Allegra smiled to herself, thinking of him, and listening to the last of Bram's song. Even Scott had been impressed when she was able to tell him that Bram was one of her clients. He was a hero. She never said who her clients were, but Bram had mentioned her on a special with Barbara Walters. Carmen Connors was one of her clients too, the Marilyn Monroe look-alike who was the decade's new blond bombshell. She was twenty-three years old, from a town in Oregon the size of a dinner plate, and she was an ardent Christian. She had started out as a singer, and recently she'd done two movies back to back, and it turned out she was a sensational actress. She'd been referred to the firm by CAA, and one of the senior partners had introduced her to Allegra. They had hit it off instantly, and now she was Allegra's baby, literally sometimes, but Allegra didn't mind it.
Unlike Bram, who was in his late thirties and had been around the music business for twenty years, Carmen was still fairly new to Hollywood, and seemed to be constantly beset by problems. Trouble with boyfriends, men who were in love with her and she insisted she barely knew, stalkers, publicists, hairdressers, tabloids, paparazzi, would-be agents. She was never sure how to handle any of them, and Allegra was used to getting calls from her anytime, day or night, usually starting at two in the morning. The young beauty was often terrified at night, and she was always afraid that someone would break in and hurt her. Allegra had been able to control some of the terror for her with a security company that patrolled her house from dusk to dawn, a state-of-the-art alarm, and a pair of incredibly unnerving guard dogs. They were rottweilers and Carmen was afraid of them, but so were her would-be attackers and stalkers. But in spite of all that, she still called Allegra in the middle of the night, just to talk out problems she was having on the set, or sometimes just for comfort. It didn't bother Allegra; she was used to it. But her friends commented that she was as much baby-sitter as lawyer. Allegra knew it was part of the job with celebrity clients. She had seen what her parents went through with their stars, and nothing surprised her. Despite everything, she loved practicing law, and she particularly enjoyed the field of entertainment.
As she sat and waited for the traffic to move again, she pressed another button on her radio, and then thought about Brandon, as the traffic finally began to edge forward. Sometimes it took her an hour to crawl ten miles on the way home from a meeting or seeing a client at their home, but she was used to that too. She loved living in L.A., and most of the time she didn't mind the traffic. She had the top down on her car, it was a warm January afternoon and her long blond hair shimmered in the last of the winter sunlight. It was a perfect southern California day, the kind of weather she had longed for during her seven long New Haven winters while she was at Yale, first for undergraduate, and then for law school. After Beverly Hills High, most of her friends had gone to UCLA, but her father had wanted her to go to Harvard. Allegra had preferred Yale, but she had never been tempted to stay in the East after she graduated. Her whole life was based in California.
She thought of calling Brandon at the office as she picked up speed again, but she decided to wait until she got home. She returned some of her business calls from the car sometimes on the way home, but she wanted to get home and relax for a few minutes before she called him. Like her own, his workday stayed hectic right until the bitter end, sometimes even more so at the end of the day, as he met with clients he had to go to court with the next day, or arranged conferences with other attorneys or judges. He was a defense attorney, a litigator, specializing in white-collar crime, mostly federal offenses involving banks, embezzlement, and extortion. "Real law," as he called it, not like what she did, he said blithely. But even Allegra had to agree that his work was as far as you could get from her practice. His personality was just as different too, he was far more tightly coiled, much more serious, and had a more intense view of life. In the two years she'd been dating him, more than once her family had accused Brandon Edwards of not having much of a sense of humor. To them, it was a definite deficiency in his character, since most of her family was capable of being somewhat outrageous.
There were a lot of things about Brandon that Allegra liked, their common interest in the law, the fact that he was both reliable and solid. She liked the fact that he had a family. He had been married for ten years to a girl he'd married while he was in law school. He had gone to Boalt at UC Berkeley, and Joanie had gotten pregnant. He had been forced to marry her, he said, and he still had feelings of resentment about it. But in some ways Joanie was still very close to him, after ten years of marriage and two children. Yet at times, Brandon still talked about how much he had hated being married to her, how confined he felt, and how much he had resented their shotgun wedding because she was pregnant. They'd had two little girls, and after law school he had gone to work for the most conservative law firm in San Francisco. It had only been by chance that they had transferred him to their L.A. office, just after he and Joanie had agreed to a trial separation. He had met Allegra the third week he'd been in town, through a mutual friend, and they had been going out for two years now. She loved him, and she loved his kids. Joanie didn't like letting them come to L.A., so usually Brandon went to San Francisco to see them, and whenever she could, Allegra went with him. The only problem was that in two years, Joanie had still not been able to find work, and she claimed it would be too traumatic for the girls for her not to be at home for them. So she was completely dependent on Brandon. And they were still arguing about their house, and their condo near Tahoe. In fact, in two years, very little had been resolved, the divorce had not yet been filed, and the financial arrangements never completed. Allegra teased him about it from time to time, about being a lawyer who couldn't get his own wife to sign a contract. But she didn't want to push him. For the moment, it meant that their relationship had to stay where it was, comfortable, but on hold, and it could go no further until he tied up all the loose ends with Joanie.
As she thought about him, and took the turnoff for Beverly Hills, she wondered if he'd be in the mood to go out to dinner. She knew he was preparing for a trial, and more than likely it would mean that he'd have to stay at the office until late that night. But she was hardly in a position to complain. Allegra had to work many nights, though usually not preparing trials. Her clients were writers, producers, directors, actors and actresses, and she did everything for them from contracts to wills, to negotiating deals for them, and handling their money or their divorces. The legal component of her activities interested her the most, but Allegra recognized better than most attorneys that with celebrity clients, or at least clients in show business, you had to be willing to handle every aspect of their complicated lives, not just their contracts. And there were times when Brandon seemed not to understand that. The field of entertainment had remained a mystery to him, despite all of the times when Allegra had tried to explain it to him. But he said that he preferred to practice law with and for "normal people" and in legal circumstances he understood, like a federal courtroom. He hoped to become a federal judge one day, and at thirty-six that already appeared to be a reasonable aspiration.
The phone rang in the car as Allegra made a turn, and for a minute she hoped that it would be Brandon, but it wasn't. It was her secretary, Alice. She had worked at the firm for fifteen years, and she was a lifesaver for Allegra. She had lots of common sense, a bright mind, and a soothing, maternal way of handling their more irascible clients.
"Hi, Alice, what's up?" Allegra asked, keeping her eyes on the road and flipping the phone on speaker.
"Carmen Connors just called. I thought you'd want to know. She's very upset. She's on the cover of Chatter." It was one of the nastiest tabloids around, and they'd been eating Carmen alive for months, despite repeated warnings and threats from A1legra. But they knew just how far to go, and they were masters at going no further. They always stopped just shy of libel.
"What now?" Allegra asked, frowning, as she rapidly approached the little house her parents had helped her buy when she finished law school. She'd paid them back since, and she loved her little cottage, tucked away off Doheny.
"The article said something about going to an orgy with one of her doctors, her plastic surgeon, I think." Poor Carmen had been foolish enough to date him once. They'd had dinner at Chasen's, and according to what she'd told Allegra, there hadn't even been sex, let alone an orgy.
"Oh, for chrissake," Allegra muttered, as she pulled into her driveway with a look of annoyance. "Do you have a copy there?"
"I'll get one on the way home. Do you want me to drop it off?"
"That's all right. I'll take a look at it tomorrow. I'm home. I'll give her a call right now. Thanks. Anything else?"
"Your mother called. She wanted to know if you can make it to dinner on Friday and she wanted to be sure you're coming to the Golden Globes on Saturday. She said she hoped you'd be there."
"Of course." Allegra smiled as she sat in the stopped car, talking to Alice on the speaker. "She knows that." Both of her parents were nominees this year, and she wouldn't miss being there for anything. She had invited Brandon to it more than a month ago, before Christmas.
"I think she just wanted to be sure you were coming."
"I'll call her too. Is that it?"
"That's it." It was six-fifteen. She'd left the office at five-thirty, which was early for her. But she was taking work home, and if she didn't see Brandon, she'd have time to do it.
"See you tomorrow, Alice. Good night," Allegra said, and took the key out of the ignition. She grabbed her briefcase, locked the car, and hurried inside. The house seemed dark and empty, and as she walked in and tossed her briefcase on the couch, she switched on the lights and strode into the kitchen.
She had a spectacular view of the city below. It was dark by then, and the lights were twinkling like jewels, as she helped herself to an Evian and sifted through her mail. A few bills, a letter from Jessica Farnsworth, an old friend from school, a handful of catalogs, a lot of junk, and a postcard from another friend, Nancy Towers, skiing in St. Moritz. She threw most of it away, and as she sipped the Evian, she noticed Brandon's running shoes, and she smiled. The house always seemed more lived in when he left his things there. He kept his own apartment too, but he spent a fair amount of time with her. He liked being with her, and he told her so, but he was equally clear about not being ready to make a commitment. Marriage had just been too confining and too traumatic. And he was afraid to make another mistake, which was probably why he was taking so long to divorce Joanie. But Allegra had everything she wanted anyway. She had told that to her therapist, as well as her parents. And she was only twenty-nine. She was in no hurry to get married.
As she put her mail aside, she pushed her long blond hair back and flipped the switch on her answering machine, then she sat down on a bar stool at the kitchen counter. Her kitchen was impeccably neat, and everything was done in white marble and black granite. The floor was black-and-white check, and she stared absently at it as she listened to her messages. Predictably, the first one was from Carmen, and she sounded as though she'd been crying. She said something incoherent about the article, and how unfair it was, and how upset her grandmother had been. She had called Carmen that afternoon from Portland. She didn't know if Allegra would want to sue this time, but she thought they should talk about it, and she asked Allegra to call her as soon as she got home, or had a free moment. It never occurred to Carmen that Allegra had a right to her own time. Carmen needed her for her own affairs, and that was all she ever thought of, but that didn't make her a bad person.
Allegra's mother had called again, inviting her to dinner on Friday night just as Alice had said, and reminding her of the Golden Globe Awards ceremony that weekend. Allegra smiled as she listened to her. Her mother sounded really excited. Probably because Allegra's father was nominated too, but in any case, she said Scott was coming down from Stanford to watch with Sam, and she hoped Allegra would go to the ceremony with her parents.
The next message was from a tennis pro Allegra had been dodging for weeks. She had started lessons several times, but she just didn't have time to pursue it. She jotted down his name, and made a note to remind herself to call him and at least explain that she couldn't.
After that there was a message from a man she'd met over the holidays. He'd been attractive and worked for an important studio, but he wasn't playing fair. She had met him when she was with Brandon. She smiled and listened to the husky voice as he left his name and said he hoped that she would call him. But there was no question of it in her mind. She had no interest in going out with anyone but Brandon. He was the third important love affair in her life. The previous one had lasted for almost four years, through the last half of law school, and for her first two years in L.A. as an attorney. He had gone to graduate school at Yale too, and he was a director. But after four years, he had been no closer to making a commitment to her, and in the end he had moved to London. He had asked her to come too, but she was up to her neck in clients at Fisch, Herzog, and Freeman by then, and there was no way she could join him in London. Or that was what she had said anyway. But even she had figured out that there was no point giving up a great job and following him to the ends of the earth, when he simply refused to make any promises about, or even discuss, the future. Roger had lived "for today, in the moment." He talked a lot about karma, and chi, and freedom. And after two years in therapy, Allegra had finally gotten smart enough not to follow him to London. So she had stayed in L.A., and had met Brandon two months later.
And even before that, Roger had been preceded by a married professor at Yale. Allegra had gotten involved with him during her senior year, and it had been an affair filled with lust and excitement and passion. She had never known anyone like him, and the only way they had been able to end it was when Tom went on sabbatical, and hiked through Nepal for a year. He had taken his wife, and their infant son, and when they'd finally returned, she was once again pregnant. By then, Allegra was seeing Roger. But there had always been some powerful electricity between them whenever their paths crossed. Eventually, she'd been relieved when he went to teach at Northwestern. He had had overwhelming feelings of desire for her, but he had never been able to translate them into any kind of clear-cut vision about their future. All he could see, when he looked down the long road ahead of them, was Mithra, his wife, and their son, Euclid. He was something of a vestige of her past now, and her therapist rarely brought him up, except to illustrate the fact that she had never had a relationship that included any kind of promises involving her future.
"I'm not sure, at twenty-nine, I should have had that anyway," she had responded more than once. "I've never really wanted to get married."
"That's not the point, Allegra," Dr. Green always said firmly. She was from New York, and she had big dark eyes that sometimes haunted Allegra after their sessions. They had been seeing each other off and on for four years now. Allegra was comfortable with her life, it was just that there was a lot of pressure on her, a lot of expectations from her family and her law firm, and she was very busy. "Has anyone ever wanted to marry you?" Dr. Green honed in more than once on what Allegra always insisted was a meaningless question.
"What difference does that make, if I don't want to get married?"
"Why don't you? Why don't you want a man who wants to marry you, Allegra? What's that all about?" She was relentless.
"That's just stupid. Roger would have married me, if I'd gone to London with him. I just didn't want to. I had too much going on here."
"What makes you think he'd have married you?" Dr. Green was like a little ferret, she got into every corner, and sniffed out every possible lead, particle of harmless-looking dust, or insect. "Did he ever say so?"
"We never talked about it."
"Doesn't that make you wonder, Allegra?"
"What difference does it make? That was two years ago," she would say irritably. She hated it when Dr. Green would press a point till she wore it out with her questions. "This is silly." She was too young to get married anyway, and too involved in her career at the moment to think of marriage.
"And what about Brandon?" Dr. Green loved harping on him. Sometimes Allegra hated discussing him with her. She just didn't understand his motivations, or how traumatized he had been by having to get married when his wife was pregnant. "When is he going to file?"
"When they settle the questions about the property and the money," Allegra always explained sensibly, speaking as an attorney.
"Why don't they bifurcate the financial issues, and just get a divorce? Then they can spend as long as they like resolving the property issues."
"Why? What's the point of bifurcating? It's not like we have to get married."
"No. But does he want to? Do you, Allegra? Do you ever discuss it?"
"We don't need to discuss it. We understand each other perfectly. We're both busy, we both have major careers. We've only gone out for two years."
"Some people get married a lot faster than that, or a lot slower. The point is"she aimed her sharp brown eyes into Allegra's green ones"have you gotten yourself involved yet again with a man who cannot make a commitment?"
"Of course not," Allegra answered, trying to avoid the laser gaze, but never quite succeeding. "It just isn't time yet." And then Dr. Green would nod, and wait to hear what Allegra would say after.
The exchanges were almost always the same. They had been for two years, except that Allegra was no longer twenty-seven, or twenty-eight, but twenty-nine, and Brandon had been only separated for two years now. His daughters, Nicole and Stephanie, were eleven and nine, and Joanie still hadn't succeeded in securing employment. She was still dependent on Brandon for everything she needed. And like Brandon, Allegra explained it by saying Joanie had no training. She had given up college to have Nicky.
In fact, Nicole's voice was the next one on Allegra's answering machine, telling her that she hoped that Allegra was coming to San Francisco with her dad that weekend. She said she missed her, and that she hoped everything was okay, and she hoped they'd have time to go skating. "And oh ... that's right ... I love the jacket you sent me for Christmas ... I was going to write a note, but I forgot, and Mom said..." There was an embarrassed silence as the eleven-year-old voice tried to regain her composure. "I'll give you the letter this weekend. Bye ... I love you.... Oh ... this is Nicky. Bye." She hung up, and Allegra was still smiling, when she heard Brandon's message that he was working late, and was still at the office when he called her. His message was the last one.
She turned off the machine, finished the Evian, dropped it in the garbage, and picked up the phone to call his office.
She was sitting on the kitchen stool with her long legs wrapped around it as she dialed. She looked long and lean and beautiful, and she was totally unaware of her looks as she called him. She had lived in a world of extraordinary-looking people for so long, and hers was a life of the mind rather than the beauty of face and body. She never thought about it, which somehow made her even more attractive. One easily sensed about her that she didn't even care how she looked, she was totally focused on the people around her.
Brandon answered his private line on the second ring, and he sounded busy and distracted. It was easy to believe he was working. "Brandon Edwards," he said, and she smiled. He had a deep, sexy voice, and she particularly liked the way he sounded. He was tall, and blond, and clean-cut, and preppy, and perhaps a little too conservative in the way he dressed, but she didn't mind that. There was something very wholesome about him, and very honest.
"Hi there, I got your message," she said cryptically, and he knew who it was the moment he heard her. "How was your day?"
"Endless," he said, still sounding frazzled. She didn't tell him about hers. He had very little interest in the clients of her law firm, and he always acted as though he thought her field of law was really more nonsense than legal. "I'm going to trial next week. And I'm having a hell of a time with some of the research. I'll be lucky if I get out of here before midnight." He really sounded exhausted.
"Do you want me to bring you something to eat?" she asked with a small smile. "I could come by with a pizza."
"I'd rather wait. I've got a sandwich here now, and I don't want to stop. I'll pick something up on the way over, if it's not too late, and you still want me." She could hear something warm in his voice as she smiled in answer.
"I always want you. Come as late as you want. I brought some work home too." She had the papers for Bram Morrison's next concert tour in her briefcase. "I've got plenty to do to keep me busy."
"Good, I'll see you later."
And then she remembered. "Oh, by the way, Brandon, I got a call today from Nicky. She must have gotten mixed up on the dates, she thought we were coming to San Francisco. That's next week, isn't it?" The coming weekend, he was going to the Golden Globes with her, and the following weekend they were going to San Francisco to see the children.
"Actually, I ... I might have told her something about ... I thought it might make some sense to go up before the trial starts. After that, I really can't get away for a while, or at least I shouldn't." He sounded awkward as he tried to explain, and A1legra frowned as she sat looking at the view from her kitchen.
"But we can't go this week. Mom and Dad are both nominated for awards, and so are three of my clients." Among them Carmen Connors. "Did you forget?" She couldn't believe he'd changed his mind. She'd been talking about it since before Christmas.
"No, I just thought ... I don't have time to discuss this with you now, Allie, or I'll be stuck here all night. Why don't we talk about it later?" His answer didn't put her mind to rest, and she was vague a little while later when she called her mother.
Blaire was shooting her series all week, as usual, and she was tired at night, after hours on the set, but she was always happy to hear from her older daughter. They saw each other frequently, although less so now that Allegra was so involved with Brandon.
Blaire reiterated the dinner invitation for Friday night, and told her that her brother, Scott, would be there. His homecomings were important to all of them, and Blaire liked nothing better than an evening with all her children.
"Is he coming to the Golden Globes too?" Allegra asked, always happy to see him.
"He's going to stay home with Sam. He says award ceremonies are more fun on TV. At least he gets to see everyone he wants to, instead of being trampled by the crowd, unable to figure out who the reporters are running after."
"Maybe he's right." Allegra laughed at the description. She knew that Sam would have been thrilled to go, but her parents never wanted her in the public eye, or as seldom as possible, and certainly not at the Golden Globes or the Academy Awards. Every starlet in Hollywood would be there, and every possible reporter. The only reason they had ever agreed to her modeling career was because no one knew who she was when they saw her pictures. She modeled under the name of Samantha Scott, her mother's maiden name, and although her mother was well-known, it seemed less conspicuous than Steinberg. Everyone in Hollywood knew who Simon Steinberg was, and they would have done anything to take pictures of his daughter. "Anyway, I'll be there," Allegra reassured her. She was no longer quite as sure that Brandon would be there, though she didn't say anything about that to her mother. But eventually Blaire asked her. It was no secret between them that Brandon was not one of Blaire's favorite people, nor Simon's. They were both concerned that Brandon had gone out with her for two years, but still hadn't divorced his wife yet.
"Will Prince Brandon be with us too?" Blaire asked with an obvious edge to her voice, and Allegra hesitated for a long moment. She didn't want to get into a fight with her, but she didn't like what her mother had said, or the way she'd said it.
"I'm not sure yet," Allegra said quietly, which spoke volumes to her mother. She was always defending him, and as far as Blaire was concerned, she shouldn't have to. "He's preparing for trial, and he may have to work this weekend." She didn't think it was any of her mother's business that he might be going to San Francisco to see his children.
"Don't you think he could break away for one night?" Blaire asked skeptically, and the tone of her voice grated on Allegra like fingernails on a blackboard.
"Why don't you just let it go, Mom? I'm sure he'll do his best, and if he can, he'll join us."
"Maybe you should ask someone else. There's no reason for you to go alone, that's not much fun for you." It always annoyed Blaire that he left Allegra in the lurch whenever he had other plans, or too much work, or wasn't in the mood. He always did what suited him. She was always a good sport about it, and Blaire didn't see why she should be.
"I'll enjoy it either way," Allegra said comfortably. "I just want to be there to see you and Daddy get the awards," she said proudly.
"Don't say that," Blaire said superstitiously, "you'll jinx us." But there was very little that could jinx either Blaire Scott or Simon Steinberg. They had each won a Golden Globe Award several times before, and it was both prestigious and exciting, and in recent years, it often foretold how the Academy Awards would go in April. It was a night that meant a lot in Hollywood, and the Steinbergs were all excited about it.
"You'll win it, Mom, I know you will. You always do." The Golden Globe was unusual because it was awarded for television as well as for movies, so it was an award which both Steinbergs could win, and had. It made Allegra very proud of her parents.
"Never mind the flattery." Her mother smiled, proud of her daughter too. Allegra was a terrific girl, and she and Blaire shared a special bond, which had always kept them close together. "What about Friday night? Can you come to dinner?"
"I'll have to let you know tomorrow, if that's all right." She wanted to discuss Brandon's plans with him, and see what he wanted to do about San Francisco. If he stayed, then she wanted him to join them for dinner at her parents', but she thought it might be easier to negotiate all at once, so she put the conversation off till morning, and they chatted for a few minutes about Scott and Sam, and her father. Blaire explained after that that she was introducing a new character on the show, and the idea had been very well received by the network. At fifty-four, she was still beautiful, and full of exciting new ideas. She loved what she did, and she had had another show before this one on the same network. And for the past nine years, she had had incredible success with her current show, called Buddies. But the ratings had wavered a little that year, and there was no doubt in anyone's mind how much the Golden Globes would help them. This time, Blaire really wanted to win it.
From the Audio Cassette (Unabridged) edition.
Copyright 2001 by Danielle Steel