It’s a sunny Wednesday afternoon in L.A.—just one more perfect day if you don’t count the heavy blanket of smog hanging over the city like acid-tinged perfume. In the distance, the Hollywood sign that is ubiquitous to this small section of Southern California is nearly obscured by the cloying, smothering stuff, but no one on the patio where I sit, waiting, even seems to notice, any more than they notice the goddess—no, strike that—the legend,—no, not that either—the siren—yes, that works—any more than they notice the famed siren who weaves her way between the cramped and crowded tables.
The lunch rush is over, but the small sidewalk café several blocks off the main see-and-be-seen drag that makes up so much of Los Angeles’s entertainment-based culture continues to do a brisk business as Veronica Romero slides into the seat across from mine.
She’s all bright eyes and smiles, all shiny blond hair and tight jeans and colorful gemstones glittering on every finger. Her blouse is white—her signature color—and oversized. Her shoes are high heeled, and the telltale soles of Christian Louboutin are the same shade of crimson as her lips. And yet there’s a casualness about her, an openness, that I don’t think anyone expects when they think of Hollywood’s most powerful—and highest paid—actress. As she introduces herself, I even catch a glimpse of the elusive dimple that many speak of but few ever get the chance to see.
It’s charming, and so is she.
“I’m so sorry I’m late,” she tells me in the throaty rasp that has sent shivers down the spine of many a red-blooded male through the years, myself included.
“You’re not.” A quick glance at my watch speaks to the veracity of my answer. “I’m always early.”
“I like that in a man.”
It’s a canned response, one that I can’t help thinking is beneath her. At least until I see the dimple flash again and realize she’s poking fun—at herself as much as at me and the artificiality of this situation.
“So, how do you like L.A.?” she asks after ordering a sparkling water from the hovering waiter. The patrons might not have noticed she’s here yet, but the waitstaff certainly has and they circle like buzzards around a freshly killed carcass.
“It’s . . .” I pause, try to think of a description that isn’t a lie but that also won’t offend this Beverly Hills–born- and –bred icon.
She just laughs, though. “Yeah. That’s what I figured. Thanks for doing this”—she gestures between the two of us—“out here. I just couldn’t fit in a trip to New York this week.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s my job to come to you. You’re the star, after all.”
“And you’re the Pulitzer Prize–winning, New York Times bestselling author who’s slumming by doing this piece.”
I crook a brow. “Writing the cover article for Vanity Fair is never slumming. Doesn’t matter who you are.”
“Funny. That’s exactly how it feels to be on this side of the story, too.”
She grins at me—and it’s not the exotic—sexy—man-slaying—grin that graces so many movie screens. It’s softer, more human. The goddess with feet of clay.
“What does it feel like?” I ask after the waiter has delivered her water and taken our order—a grilled salmon salad for her and a burger for me. “To be on that side of the story?”
She reaches up, toys with one perfect, golden lock of hair, and for a moment—just a moment—a shadow falls over her face. It’s gone almost before I can register it and then she’s tossing her hair, stretching languorously, yawning delicately, one pale, fine-boned hand pressed to her mouth.
“Are we there already?”
“Where is ‘there’ exactly?”
“The boring interview questions.”
“And here I was trying so hard to be interesting . . .”
“Oh, you don’t have to try.” Her smile is impish now, inviting me to share the joke. “I’ve spent the last few days trying to cull down the million or so questions I want to ask you.”
Now both my brows are up. “I’m pretty sure that’s not how these interviews are supposed to work.” This one in particular, considering I have a limited amount of time with her and so many, many things to figure out. Only a few of which are also part of Vanity Fair’s agenda.
“Interview-shminterview. Let’s just have a conversation. You ask me a question and I’ll answer it. Then I’ll ask you one and you answer it.”