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Ciao, bella,” he sing-songed as I walked in. “What do you think? Tuscany chic?”

I nodded. “Very nice.”

Marco beamed.

“Hey, is my mom around?” I asked, giving a wary glance to the back room.

“Sorry, doll, she and Fernando just went to lunch,” he answered.

Chicken that I am, I breathed a little sigh of relief.

“Would you mind giving her a message when she gets back?”

“Sure thing, dahling.” Marco pulled out a grapeshaped pad of paper. “Shoot.”

I filled Marco in on my search for Larry Springer, the Houdini of dads, and my upcoming trip to Vegas. When I mentioned where I was staying he made a deep, wistful sigh that could have earned him a Tony on Broadway.

“I always wanted to go to New York.”

“Hmm. Well, it’s actually in Vegas.”

Marco gave me a blank stare. Sometimes Marco had a problem distinguishing fantasy from reality.

“Any-hoo,” I continued, “If you could just give my mom the message. And tell her that she can call if she, well, wants to talk or anything…” I trailed off.

Marco patted my hand. “Don’t worry, honey. I’ll break it to her gently.”

I thanked him and left, trying not to picture how tightly Mom’s lips would clamp once she found out. But, with any luck, I’d be on the road by then.

I made a quick detour on the way home, stopping at the Beverly Center for the perfect I’m-going-to-meet-my-dad-for-the-first-time outfit on the chance that a) we did find him, b) he wasn’t shot or wounded or…worse, and c) I actually had the courage to go up and introduce myself to him. That last thing was kind of a long shot considering my past record of chickenhood, but I figured I’d play the Girl Scout and be prepared.

Only for the first time in my life, I hadn’t a clue what to wear.

As a kid I’d always fantasized about the kind of person my dad might be. When I was six, I was certain that he’d left Mom and me to join the circus as a lion tamer. He was brave, strong, and loved animals-an all-around great guy if you ignored the fact that he’d left his family behind.

By the time I was ten he’d moved on to an illustrious career as a CIA spy, the kind who spent his life overseas drinking martinis that were shaken, not stirred. I figured that was a really good reason for not sending your daughter a birthday card, because of course, if I knew where he was, I’d be in danger. Really he was staying away for my own protection.

When I turned fifteen, I was absolutely certain my father was Billy Idol. Of course he couldn’t be there helping me with my homework; he was touring the world with his rock band, which everyone knows was no place for kids. Poor Billy. I think I sent him a copy of every one of my high school report cards.

But now, by the age of twenty…somethingish…I had finally accepted the reality that my father was just a jerk who had abandoned his family to get it on with a showgirl.

A jerk I was driving to Vegas to meet tomorrow.

I bit my lip as I stared at a pair of Jimmy Choo slingbacks in teal. Yet somehow I still wanted him to have the perfect impression of his little girl. I wondered if I should make some more copies of the report cards.

A first for me, I walked away from the Beverly Center empty handed. Instead, I swung by the local Auto Club and picked up a map of Las Vegas before heading home.

I was happy to find only one message waiting for me at my studio. Blockbuster was still on me about not returning Joanie Loves Chachi. Yeah, like they had a long wait list for that one.

Instead, I popped it into my DVD player, losing myself in puppy love instead of thinking about what might be waiting for me in the desert tomorrow.

At 7:01 I was awakened by a shrill sound that rivaled Mariah Carey’s last album. I bounced out of bed, arms flailing, wild bed hair whipping around my face as I fought through my sleep haze for the source. Fire? I blinked a couple times. Didn’t smell smoke. I finally realized it was my alarm clock. The one I’d set the night before. I smacked the damn thing with the palm of my hand, thinking for the hundredth time just how wrong it was that mornings had to start so early.

I dragged myself out of bed, made a couple thousand pots of coffee and took a long, hot shower, trying to work the sleepless kinks out of my neck. I threw on a pair of jeans and a long-sleeve, white DKNY logo top and my favorite pair of Gucci boots-the ones with the supple black leather finish and teeny-tiny hand stitching along the top that only the most discerning eye (which of course, mine was) could see. By the time Dana knocked on my front door, I was feeling human again and had almost lost my sarcastic morning edge.

I opened the door and took in her outfit. “Who threw up on you last night?”

Hey, I said almost.

Dana was dressed in a classic A-line skirt, black pumps and a white blouse, covered with green and orange stains.

“Baby food commercial,” Dana said, trudging into my apartment. “I had to audition with five different munchkins yesterday. Apparently they all have an aversion to carrots and peas. Got anything to eat?” Dana started going through my cupboards.

“And you’re still wearing it because…?”

“I spent the night at Rico’s. After the audition I needed to get a little aggression out, so he met me at the gun range.” She paused, scrunching up her nose at my Captain Crunch and frosted Pop Tarts. “You know how much refined sugar is in these things?”

“Tons.”

She shrugged and put them back on the shelf, taking out a box of Wheat Thins and popping a couple in her mouth as she talked. “Anyway, Rico asked me if I wanted to see his private collection…”

Rico, the master of the double entendre. I did a mental eye roll.

“…and of course I said yes.”

“Of course.”

“And one thing led to another and I haven’t had time to go home and change yet. You mind if we swing by my place on the way out of town?”

“Fine with me.”

After another cup of coffee-which Dana insisted on after the puke comment-we were ready to go. I was giving my studio a last once-over for locked windows and stove burners in the off position, when a sound like a dying goose singing Cabaret erupted outside my building. Dana and I rushed onto the porch.

“Hell-oooo dahlings!”

I blinked. Marco was at the wheel of a nineteen-sixties mint-condition Mustang convertible, seafoam green with white tires. He had on big Donna Karan sunglasses and a scarf tied over his hair circa Audrey Hepburn’s black-and-white days. An effect that would have been a tad more classic if he hadn’t paired it with a rainbow-striped turtleneck and leather pants.

“Are we ready to road trip, girls?”

Dana looked at me, raising one eyebrow. I shrugged.

“Uh, I didn’t know you were coming with us,” I finally said.

“Well, I just couldn’t let the opportunity to go to New York pass me up, now could I?”

Dana raised the other eyebrow at me. More shrugging on my part.

“Don’t worry,” Marco plowed on, “you’ll hardly know I’m there. Besides, I told your mom a much better story than the one you gave me. You’re going on a weekend getaway to Palm Springs with that hunky cop. So, shall we?”

I stood there with my mouth hanging open. He’d lied to my mom? I had to admit, though, it was a pretty good lie. Half of me kind of wished I’d come up with it myself.

And he had a point. Mom would be much happier with this version. But, most of all, what he had was a nineteen-sixties vintage Mustang convertible. What girl could resist the allure of riding through the desert a la vintage starlet?

“Let’s get a move on,” Mizz Hepburn called from the front seat. “Traffic’s backing up on the 10 already.” He punctuated this by laying on the horn, bringing the singing goose back from the dead again.

“On one condition,” I said.

“Yes?” Marco raised his shades.

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