Authors: Caitie Quinn
“Hailey, anyone can see how much he cares for you. You’re the girl. Smart, funny, cute. You know him, all of him, and still care about him. He’s more than fond of you. You’re the total package.”
I snorted because, hey. It was so insane it deserved a snort. “That’s ridiculous.”
“You’ve met Dane, right? He’s not always in step with the norm.”
“So, he just thinks that when he’s done sleeping around and figuring out what he wants to be when he grows up, I’ll meet him at the front of a church and tie myself to his brand of insanity for the rest of my life.”
“Yeah, that’s probably pretty much how he thinks.” She refreshed her glass and pulled a new one out from where they hung under the counter, splashing the rest of the bottle into it and sliding it over to me. “Now he’s got competition and he’s worried.”
“Where are you getting all this?”
“Watching. Then talking to Ben about it. Then convincing Ben and watching more.”
“So, Ben thinks you’re right?” Crud.
“But, I’m not going to marry Dane. And it’s not because of Connor.” Wait. “Why is
competition? What about all my other boyfriends?”
As if I was going to marry Connor. Ha.
“None of those guys were going to last.” She took a sip of wine, a little smile playing around her lips. “They didn’t get what we do. The crazy writer thing. All of us knew none of them would make it past a book cycle. Maybe two if they were really patient.”
“So, Connor also has a job that isn’t nine-to-five. He gets year cycles and having to be unavailable for stretches because of work.” She made a little motion with her hand as if none of that really mattered. “He’s also incredibly good looking, successful, rich, and famous. All the things Dane excels at, Connor does too.”
“Yes. Because I’m looking for an idiot of my very own.”
“Plus, Connor is looking to settle down.”
“No, he isn’t. That’s the last thing he wants to do.” Ever. And hadn’t that been made incredibly clear?
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Trust me. Dane will be a grandfather before Connor settles down.” And that was a thought to avoid pondering.
“So, you’d be interested in Dane then?”
“Jenna.” I set down my glass. “I feel like we’re having a conversation where you forgot that I wasn’t insane.”
Jenna smiled a super, sticky sweet smile. The one she gave us when she knew something…or was up to something.
It was time to sleep with one eye open.
The only thing Conner said about our “date” tonight was to dress casually.
After consulting Becca’s binder, that still left me with too many options. Which meant, girlfriend consultation.
“Hailey, this is nuts. You’re not really dating.” Kasey’s frustration threshold was a lot lower than Jenna’s. “Just put on a pair of jeans and a nice top.”
“I’m not dressing for him. I’m dressing for the pictures. I know that I’m going to get ambushed again by crazy people with cameras. I need to look the right type of casual.”
Oddly, the pictures were easier than I’d expected. I hadn’t had to pose for one yet. And still, there were pictures of us everywhere. It was a lot easier emotionally having pictures taken covertly. Social media was, for once, my friend. Kasey said we even had a hashtag.
“What exactly is the right type of casual?” The sarcasm was more than implied.
“When you were figuring things out with Max, did I or did I not support you through your stupidity?”
“Wait, what?” Kasey sounded much more alert now. “Are you
“No. That’s not the point. It’s that when you were being an idiot about Max and your new business and your lack of home and your idiot ex-boyfriend and the fact that you almost got yourself arrested like fourteen times—”
“Four. Four times. Let’s not get crazy.”
“Sure. Because almost getting arrested four times in a week is totally normal.” If she needed to be humored, I’d humor her. “And, all I’m asking is that while trapped in this insane world, a little support would be nice.”
I waited, wondering what was going to come out of this, but I really needed to not have to worry about my girls having my back.
“You’re right.” Kasey sighed. “I know you’re right. I just think this is ridiculous. And unfair. And I’m worried about you. But, yeah. So, you should wear the Lucky jeans with that black, fitted Guess t-shirt. Add the red necklace you liked with the red ballet flats and put your hair up in a low ponytail. Make sure to wear a warm scarf since you don’t know where you’re going and the warmer jacket Becca got you. Just casual enough.”
I pulled things out as she named them, half-annoyed I had that many high end brand names in my closet now, and pulled them on while I had her on speaker phone.
“Oh, this looks good.” I turned sideways to look at the perfectly fitted tee in the mirror. “Why do my t-shirts never look this nice?”
“First, that is your t-shirt now. And, second, we buy things at stores where the fabric isn’t scientifically engineered to not lose its shape.” She laughed at her own joke as I rolled my eyes. “Hailey, sorry about all that. Try to have fun tonight.”
“You know,” I edged into my statement, like softly stepping into a room where people were talking about you. “This isn’t Connor’s fault either.”
I waited, knowing she’d have to admit that if I didn’t fill in the silence.
“That doesn’t mean I have to like it. You know I’m not pushing one way or the other, even if he’s not the ogre you made him out to be while drunk and pitiful.”
“Hey.” I cut in. “I was neither drunk nor pitiful. I was just annoyed. And trapped.”
“I know.” She sighed as if this were all inevitable. “He’s putting you in a tough position with the press even if it’s not directly his fault.” I could picture her pacing around her living room, waving her arms about. Kasey was nothing if not animated. “His agent wouldn’t have had to make this bargain if he could just behave.”
I bit my tongue knowing no matter what I said the jury was still out.
“But,” Kasey went on. “I’ll try to like him next time I see him. He sounds like he’s playing nice. As long as he doesn’t do anything to hurt or embarrass you, he’s fine with me.”
“Wow, Kasey,” I jumped in, knowing that was as good as it was going to get. “Don’t set the bar so high.”
She laughed as I hung up on her. Fifteen minutes to go before Mr. Punctual arrived and I still had hair and makeup.
When did my life start to feel like a Broadway show? There better not be singing later.
I tamped down my excitement. Any girl would be excited to go out with a millionaire with a surprise, right? It had nothing to do with looking forward to seeing Connor.
That would be crazy pants.
Connor arrived ten minutes early.
If he was going to deviate from the plan, we were going to have words. I still had to do my makeup and make sure my ponytail was fuzz proof and figure out what earrings went with the necklace.
“Hey.” He pushed his way into the apartment and looked at me and frowned. “You’re already ready.”
“Um, no. I’m not.” Obviously.
“But you look ready.”
“I don’t have makeup on yet.”
“Well, you don’t need that junk, then.” Connor wandered into the kitchen and pulled the scotch from above the fridge. Pouring himself a glass, he went and settled into the leather chair. “See? This is how a date starts.”
“Really?” I asked, trying to catch up from the accidental compliment. “That’s why you’re early?”
Part of me was ridiculously happy I’d bought the stuff. The other part of me was annoyed that while I went on primping, he got to hang out having an insanely marked up glass of liquor in a really comfortable chair.
“Yup.” He took another sip. “But, don’t let me distract you.”
Picking the remote, he turned the TV on. I shouldn’t have been surprised it was still on SportsCenter.
Connor must have this down to a science, because he was taking the last sip of his drink as I came out and grabbed my jacket.
After getting ready with him lounging in the other room, I began to wonder what it was like to deal with this every day. How glad was I that my life as a writer mostly involved being around my girls, writing for my readers, and wearing yoga pants?
“You look cute.” He grinned at me and I tried not to roll my eyes at the word
“So, where are we going?” I figured I should check before we left in case I needed to update my look. Not that I’d know how to update it.
“Nope. It’s a surprise.”
That was not going to help me. “Do I look okay?”
“I told you, you look cute.”
“I mean, do I look right? For where we’re going?” I swatted at the panic rising up.
“Sure.” He held my jacket out for me to slip into as I contemplated not killing him.
The cab drove us downtown. Every time it slowed, I thought we might be at our destination. But, it took us all the way to the arena and pulled into the VIP parking. Connor gave me a goofy smile.
“I thought we’d go low-key tonight.” He paid the cabbie and slid out, holding his hand to me even though a girl in flats and jeans could hop out on her own.
Or, at least I think most of us could. Maybe really tall model girls can’t. Their giraffe legs got in the way or something.
“We’re going to a game?” I’m not sure I liked the sounds of that. I wasn’t really a sports fan and Connor was…well, fan is a weird word to use for a guy who other people were fans of.
“Yup. Courtside seats. We can hangout and chill and not worry about interacting with people.” He grinned. “It’s one of the few events we can go to and security is there to keep people away from a place we just happen to be.”
Okay. That didn’t sound so bad. But…
“Are you going to feed me or not?” Because, honestly, as far as dates went, that’s all that really mattered to me at this point. Food was always an important part of every evening. Maybe he didn’t expect me to eat anything. Did the giraffes eat when he brought them out?
“I would pay half a million dollars to know what you’re thinking right now.” He ushered me toward the arena, giving me the side-eye as we went.
?” Because that would solve a lot of problems.
“Um, no.” Connor laughed, dropping his hand to my back and steering me to a side entrance where he flashed some credentials. “But, yes. I will be feeding you. They have people who take care of that. You can have whatever you want. There’s a really nice restaurant. We could have something brought down.” He paused, and I could see he was thinking something over. Food did not seem very controversial to me. “Or, if you wanted, we could go eat up there.”
I glanced up at him looking straight ahead and realized he was playing nice. If I wanted to go up to a restaurant to eat for part of the game, he’d take me. Chivalry in the face of missing out on his favorite pastime.
“Well, as long as you’re going to feed me, we can eat wherever you want.”
The look of relief was almost comical. “Great!”
We got to another security guard and Connor went to flash our credentials again, but the guard beat him to it.
“Mr. Ryan. Mr. Johnson called ahead to make sure your tickets were waiting for you. Mike will show you to your seats.”
A young man in a team shirt stepped away from the wall and motioned for us to follow him. “Mr. Ryan, it’s great to have you here.”
Connor stuck his hand out toward the teen. “It’s Connor. How’s it going, Mike?”
I thought the boy was going to pass out. “Connor. Wow. Nice.” He shook his hand, not letting go as Connor smiled at him.
“This is Hailey.” Connor motioned to me with his head since his hand wasn’t free.
“Oh. Hailey Tate. I think you’re so cute!” The teenager turned bright red after he said it. “I mean—”
“Thanks, Mike.” Finally. It took a fifteen-year-old to appreciate my not-quite-hotness.
Connor freed his hand to slap Mike on the back. “A man after my own heart.”
By this point, we were coming out of a tunnel right at court level and ushered to our seats in the front row, just off to the right of the bench.
“I asked for seats off to the side since you’re so little. I know center court is great, but you’d never see over those guys.”
That was oddly sweet. Connor wrapped my hand in his huge mitt and glanced around like a kid excited to be at his first game. Our seats were lower than I expected, forcing Connor’s knees up.
“You’re a fan, right?” He looked anxious, like this was a make or break question. If we were really dating, I’d be worried. “I mean, you like basketball?”
better than baseball.” I grinned, waiting for the retort.
“You’re a pain in the butt, Hails. It’s a good thing you’re adorable.”
“You’re just saying that because Mike said it. Now you’re competing with a fifteen-year-old.”
“It’s only competition if I might not win.”
I had no idea what to do with that. But… “You sound like Dane.”
“Dane?” That sounded suspiciously like a curse word. “There’s no way I sound like that—him.”
“I don’t know. Apparently he thinks you guys are competing too.” I laughed, because, seriously. When did this become my life? As if I was going to date either of them, let alone marry them.
“What does he think we’re competing over?”
I was glancing around the arena, not paying attention, otherwise I might have noticed the absurd tone of voice he asked this in.
“Me.” I snorted.
“Yup. I guess in a few years Dane is going to get bored dating and marry me.” I still couldn’t say it with a straight face.
Connor’s tone finally broke through and I shifted my gaze to meet his, surprised to see how annoyed he was.
“Marry me?” I suddenly wasn’t sure why this conversation wasn’t the
ha ha ha
I expected it to me.