Josh was so relieved and happy about Noor, he almost didn’t care that he still faced assault and battery charges. Almost. He did care that Lila was still missing and nightmarish images kept running through his head of her being dragged out of the house by Stan’s murderer and killed and dumped by the side of the road. But if that had happened, they would have found her by now, or maybe not. Maybe her body was rotting out in the woods somewhere. He needed a drink, but the cupboard was bone dry and he didn’t feel like running out to the store. He ran his fingers through his hair in frustration but knew there was nothing he could do but wait. He was pretty sure that Sergeant Baker didn’t suspect him of killing Stan, but her bosses might, and being under suspicion was something he couldn’t dwell on or he’d end up at the bottom of a bottle.
After a night and day of sleep, he’d finally woken up with a melody running through his head and he decided to shut out everything else and concentrate on making some changes in his musical. For ten years, he had been adding to and refining the book and lyrics, trying to make it perfect. Until it was perfect, no backer would hear a note. If there was a way to make a musical rejection-proof, he would find it. Getting the boot from ad execs was one thing, but this musical was a part of him. The words and the music were his soul laid bare. Rejection of this musical would be a rejection of him, and he would rather rewrite it for the rest of his life than let insensitive assholes with ledgers for hearts invalidate his work. Ken and Jennie both thought he was crazy, but so be it. It was the one thing in life he had control of and he was going to keep it that way.
Two hours later, Josh looked up bleary-eyed from the pile of yellow legal pads and charts all around him and had to laugh. He hoped the cops would never decide they needed to search his place because if they did and they threw his stuff all over the place the way cops do, it would take days for him to figure out what went where. He was still in his terry cloth bathrobe and ravenously hungry. He decided to make himself some spaghetti, do a little more writing, and then go visit Noor. He would think about lawyers and that whole mess tomorrow.
As he stumbled into the kitchen, his cell phone rang, and he bent down and desperately dug through his pile of papers before he finally managed to snatch it up. “Hello.”
The soft, almost whispered greeting was what he had been waiting for. Josh felt pure relief surging through his entire body. “Lila!
“Can you come see me?”
“Of course, I can. Are you okay? Where are you, at your house?”
“No, I don’t ever want to go back there. I’m at the Beverly Hills Hotel.”
Josh suddenly had second thoughts. “I want to see you, Lila, but do you think it’s a good idea?”
“I don’t care what they think! I need to see you!”
Josh sank down on the couch, knowing what the cops would think if they found out he had met with Lila. On the other hand, neither one of them had killed Stan. They couldn’t prove anything, so why should they sneak around as if they were guilty?
“Take it easy, Lila. I’ll be there. What room are you in?”
After he clicked off, he showered, dressed, and noticed his arm was almost healed. He hit Sunset in record time. He wove expertly though Saturday night traffic in Billy Jordan’s old red Camaro, which Josh was borrowing for a few weeks while Ken’s son was visiting his grandparents. As a vehicle, it was on a par with his almost dead Mustang, hopefully to be revived by his ever-faithful mechanic at the Econo gas station on Hollywood Boulevard. But it was wheels, and right now he was especially grateful he had them.
He passed through the lobby feeling, like always, that he didn’t belong anywhere near such a bastion of wealth and privilege and took the elevator to Lila’s floor. He was anxious to see her but didn’t even know how he was supposed to interact with her; she had just lost her husband and may be overcome with grief. Should he act like just a friend or let her know his feelings for her? As soon as she opened the door, she erased any ambivalence about how he should behave as she flung herself into his arms before he even closed the door.
“Oh, Josh, I’m so glad you’re here!”
He led her over to the sofa and gently set her down beside him as she sobbed softly. She leaned into him and he wrapped his arms around her, a part of him knowing he was taking advantage of her vulnerability and another part knowing that this had been inevitable from the first time he saw her.
“Why did you stay away, Lila?”
“I didn’t know anything about what happened until I heard it on the news. I didn’t want to come back. I was so scared. I thought they’d blame me.”
“Why didn’t you call me?”
“I was so shocked when I heard, I didn’t know what to do or where to go.”
“You can talk to me whenever you need to. Promise me you won’t make me worry like that again.”
“I promise. You’re the one person I trust over anybody.”
She pulled back and stood up. “Give me a minute, okay? I’ve been crying and I’m a total mess. I’m sorry.”
He heard water running in the bathroom and looked around the suite, noting that it wasn’t anything special and hardly worth the amount of money it probably cost to stay here. Hopefully, Stan hadn’t spent all his money on drugs and had left Lila well taken care of.
She came back out with a fresh face, free of makeup, and looking like a teenager. She stood by the window, looking out.
“I can hardly believe he’s gone. Everything is so unreal.”
“You need to call the police and tell them where you are. It’s better than having them find you.”
“Oh, I did that already. They found out where I a couple days ago.”
“What?” Detective Baker had known where Lila was all along.
Lila saw the changed expression on his face and looked concerned. “Is something wrong?”
“No… nothing.” He walked over to her and took both her hands in his. “When is the funeral?”
“Tomorrow. His brother from New York came out with his wife. He arranged everything and paid for a plot at Forest Lawn. Stan had told me his brother is rich, real estate or something like that, so I guess he can afford it…not that I could.”
“Did Stan have insurance? Was the house paid for? He didn’t leave you in debt, did he?”
Lila walked back to Josh and pulled him to his feet. “Questions, questions, I don’t want to answer questions. I just need you to hold me.” She pressed herself against him and his body reacted instantly. He wanted her so badly it made his teeth ache, but the thought of Stan’s murdered body lying in the same house where he had first met Lila doused his libido and made it impossible for him to even think of betraying Stan before his body was even buried. He took her arms from around his waist and looked into her sweet face and realized he already loved her more than he had loved anybody in a long time. “Have you eaten today?”
“I haven’t even thought about food.”
“Well…you know what a hotel phone is for, don’t you?”
“Let’s look at the menu and see what this hotel has to offer.”
She gave him a peck on the cheek and walked over the desk. She picked up the menu and handed it to him.
“What is your pleasure, sir?”
“That’s a loaded question, miss. Mind if I give it some thought?”
She studied him seductively, “Not for too long, I hope, I’m very hungry.”
Reddening, he bent over the menu, knowing but not caring that he might be headed down a very slippery slope with this one.
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