“Oh my God,” her friend whispered shakily.
Joy blinked at the sound of the deep, resonant voice. Everett stood right next to their table, an expectant look on his face, his gaze fixed on Joy. Sarah was looking at her, aghast.
“Uh . . . yes, I’m Joy,” she said, her feeling of disorientation only escalating. She crushed the napkin in her fist.
“Hi. I’m Everett. Everett Hughes?”
“I know who you are,” said Joy, blushing at the stupidity of her statement. Everybody in the coffee shop knew who he was. Everyone in the country did. Why was he looking at her that way? “I’m sorry . . . I’m a little . . .”
Confused, shocked, breathless.
He straightened. “You don’t remember me, do you?”
“Well, I’ve seen several of your films.”
“No. We met,” he said significantly. When she just stared at him with blank incredulity, he glanced first at Max, then at Sarah. He must have decided he wasn’t going to get any help from that department, because he returned to Joy. “On the set of Maritime? Remember? Your uncle was busy, so you gave me the starburst tattoo.”
The napkin she’d been clutching dropped heedlessly to the table.
“Joy, you didn’t tell us you did Everett Hughes’s tattoo for Maritime,” Max said. “I’m Max Weisman, and this is my wife, Sarah.” He held out his hand and Everett shook it. “We work with Joy at the Steadman School. On Joy’s résumé, she said she did body paint and tattoos for some of Maritime’s extras, but she never mentioned she did your tattoo. Modest,” Max said, giving Everett a significant glance, which Everett didn’t see. He was too busy studying Joy, his brow creased in consternation.
“No. I wasn’t being modest. I didn’t know,” Joy said in a strangled voice. “I . . . I thought he was an extra.”
“Hi.” Everett’s companion approached their table carrying two cups. Sunlight turned her hair into a golden cascade of waves and curls. She gave everyone a friendly, frank appraisal and smile, and then nudged Everett with one of the cups. “Here’s your coffee. Who are your friends?”
“This is Max and Sarah Weisman and Joy Hightower. Remember, I told you about Joy?” The blond woman’s green eyes widened and she stared at Joy with increased interest. Joy wanted to slither beneath the table, she was so mortified. She couldn’t believe this was happening to her. The man she’d shared that impulsive, crazy, steaming sexual encounter with on the set of Maritime had been him?
She’d gone down on Everett Hughes?
“I’m Everett’s sister, Katie. I’ve heard all about you from Everett.”
A wave of panic flashed through her.
“I just mentioned how talented I thought you were. As an artist,” Everett added quickly. She met his stare. His eyelids narrowed. Joy couldn’t decide if he seemed confused or concerned as he observed her.
“And of course I know all about Hightower Special Effects,” Katie continued. “Your uncle is very well respected in the business. Rill would do cartwheels to get Seth Hightower for Razor Pass,” she murmured as an aside to her brother, then smiled at Joy. “You might even see him do a couple tomorrow at the premiere to get your uncle’s attention,” she said, her grin widening as if she found the prospect amusing.
Joy inhaled slowly, commanding herself to focus. She’d been doing nothing but gaping like an idiot and blushing the entire time. “Are you referring to Rill Pierce?” she managed to ask.
Katie nodded. “He’s my husband. Do you know him?”
Joy shook her head. She’d never met the renowned Irish director, but she’d read somewhere that he’d done a screenplay adaptation of the postapocalyptic classic biker novel Razor Pass and planned to direct the film. Everett himself had been slated to play the lead role of Slader.
“You’ll get to meet Rill at the premiere tomorrow, then,” Katie said brightly.
“Oh . . . I’m not going.”
Katie’s smile faltered. “No? Isn’t that why you’re in Chicago?”
“She works here,” Everett said gruffly. He’d been standing there wearing a slight frown for the past minute, his gaze never leaving Joy.
“I teach at a high school near here,” Joy said.
“She teaches drawing and painting,” Sarah said in a rapid, pressured fashion, as if she’d just found her voice and couldn’t wait to use it. “It’s an art school for gifted students.”
“That’s interesting,” Katie said warmly. “I must have misunderstood Everett when he spoke of you. I thought you lived and worked in the Los Angeles area.”