Authors: Caitie Quinn
My whole body went cold at the words
"So, if you think of it that way,” she continued. “It's more like we won."
I still had no idea what she was talking about, but when Catherine changed
that quickly, even I could see the spin.
But, when she said, "Screw it," and lit a cigarette for the first time in three years, I really started to worry.
"Hailey, I lost you to Dex Falco in a poker game and you're going to have to fulfill the bet for me."
"Catherine, I'm not really sure this sounds like something I want to do...I mean, I don't even know what it is, but you're making me really uneasy." Understatement.
"It’s not that bad. Like I said, it's a great opportunity. You're going to be the envy of all your girlfriends."
"You know all my girlfriends. If this doesn't involve a Newbury Award, they pretty much aren't going to care."
"I'm betting they care about this." She stubbed the cigarette out and came around the desk. Her hand wrapped around my arm and gently urged me to my feet before steering me toward the door. "We'll just head down to the conference room and meet with Dex. Once he explains everything you'll be excited about it."
I figured at this point there was no stopping her. Plus, I was really bad at stopping her...or anyone for that matter. I was Anti-Confrontation Girl. I deserved a cape and some funky bangles to go with a Utility Belt of Anti-confrontationalism. Maybe Boots of Avoidance. Compact of Deflection.
She continued babbling as we wove past a still dazed Meg and toward the small office they insisted on calling a conference room.
Her running commentary had gone from
. My level of anxiety was now on par with waiting for a
Paige & Prejudice
review...and that woman hated me. She said my first book was drivel, but she kept buying them and reading them. Which, honestly, made me feel bad. It seemed like such a waste of money to buy stuff you hate.
But it wasn’t that she gave everything I ever wrote a negative review. That’s completely fair. Not everyone is going to like your stuff. It was the fact that she managed to call me
or some version of that in every review that hurt.
We reached the conference room door and, after taking a deep breath, Catherine pushed it open with a flourish. There, sitting at the table with his designer shoes propped on the edge was none other than Mr. Dismissive. Connor Ryan.
It wasn't just that he was good-looking. Or famous. Or a known womanizer. It wasn't that he spent more time on the cover of
than Mel Gibson after a drinking binge. Or that he’d been rude in the elevator. None of those were what caused me to pause this time. It was the fact that he was one of the best shortstops who ever played the game. I wasn’t even a sports fan, but in this town, you couldn’t help but be hyper-aware of everything sports-related. And, just like any top tier professional, I expect the best from you. And that’s why all other behavior seemed even worse.
He glanced at me, his eyes narrowing, before he dropped his feet to the floor and shot out of his seat.
"No. No way.” He pointed at me as if no one knew who he was talking about. “You said she was a stunner."
"I said she was cute." This from the over-suited man seated next to him. He glanced at me and then frowned at Catherine. "You said she was cute."
"She cleans up well."
Thanks for the support, Catherine.
"She's not my type,” Connor stated as if I weren’t right there.
Not that it wasn’t true. His type was high-profile, famous women. Models, reality
actresses, news anchors, senators’ daughters…basically, anyone seven-to-twelve times more famous than me.
"That's the entire point.” The man in the very expensive suit, who I could only assume was Dex, crossed his arms, looking at his client in a way I hoped Catherine didn’t typically look at me.
"I don't care if that's the point.” Connor Ryan raked a gaze over me in disgust. “I won't be seen with someone who doesn't even know how to blow-dry her own hair."
Everyone’s gazes drifted up toward my hair and I knew—I
I was entering nightmare land. I was wrong. This was
than a Paige & Prejudice review. This was a general assault on my person and I didn't even know why.
By this point, I could pretty much guarantee I was not one bit "excited" about this situation.
"She does.” Catherine waved in my direction. “I've seen her use a hair dryer on book tour. She's really handy with the mascara too."
I glanced at Catherine like she was nuts—because I was beginning to think she was. The last time she saw me use mascara it was to put a blue streak down my over-long bangs I'd blown out. Of course, it wasn't even my hair dryer. The truest part of her statement was that it did happen while on book tour.
Besides, I did have a hair dryer. It was in the closet with those really uncomfortable boots I enjoyed owning and never wore.
Or, more accurately, wore once and almost killed myself getting my heel stuck in a sidewalk drainage grid.
Connor Ryan came around the table as smoothly as he moved on the field and pulled me about to face him. His eyes were darker than they looked in magazines. A blue so deep it was like the ocean at night. Not a surprise so many women slipped into them. It was like skinny-dipping in a room full of people.
Then, he pivoted to face Dex, giving me his back, and placed his hands on the table in front of him.
"Absolutely not.” His voice had dropped, low and sure. Not coming off as angry or upset. Just, strong and filled with authority. “We're looking to clean up my rep, not ruin it."
Without a word, he swung to the door and marched out, leaving me alone with the two blushing agents.
I stared at the door as it slammed shut behind him and grinned, finally feeling at ease now that the tension had walked out the room with the pro-baseball player. “So, that went well.”
"I guess we're done here." Catherine pulled on the cuffs of her jacket, a sure sign she was packing it in.
I grabbed my bag, ready to escape to my yoga class. We made it as far as the lobby before Dex caught up.
"Hold on a second." He snapped his briefcase shut and joined us at the door. "We had a deal. He'll agree to it because he doesn't have a choice. Just—"
He glanced my way, taking me in from the tips of my Pumas to my loosened fishtail braid. Shaking his head, he gave Catherine a look that I wouldn’t have wanted pointed my direction. I was glad she just quirked an eyebrow at him and didn't try to convince him I knew what lip gloss was.
"Just clean her up, alright? I'll call you with the details."
Before I could ask what details, Dex was out the door and pressing the down button like he could conjure the elevator with the power of his finger.
"Do I want to know what this was all about?" Sadly, I already knew the answer to that question: No. I doubted very highly I did.
She led me down the hall and, instead of going to her desk, she dropped into one of the overstuffed chairs in front of her bookshelves and waited for me to join her.
"You know about the APC—the Agent Poker Collective, right?"
Of course. It was myth or legend depending on who you talked to. Agents from every industry worked their butts off for an invite. Lots of liquor. Lots of poker. Lots of cross-the-table deals made.
I'd always leaned toward
myself. Maybe it had been true back in the thirties...or even the eighties. But now? This wasn't only a different generation, it was a different century.
"I've heard of it."
"Well, I've been going for a few years. That's how I got Bria that movie deal to work with a certain celebrity last year. The bets that are thrown around in that place can get a little..."
"Insane?" I filled in, thinking that matched my morning so far.
Catherine shook her head and laughed. "I take it you know who Connor Ryan is?"
A year ago I probably would have thought the name sounded vaguely familiar, but lately, it had been all over the news. And the tabloids. Connor Ryan was the latest playboy athlete to hit town. He'd joined the Nighthawks, made some amazing, sportsy moves, and become the Next Big Thing.
But, sports were really not my gig. I didn't even write jock heroes. Not only did I not watch them, I didn't get the appeal. Of course, Connor Ryan was a celebu-jock, so even I was aware. It was all hard to miss.
“He’s the model magnet, right?” As demonstrated earlier.
"Honey, he's more than that. The Nighthawks brought him in near the end of last season to replace Johnson when he blew out his elbow. Connor was our top defense with his speed and accuracy. But it’s his batting average that’s off the charts. He’s the reason we
made the playoffs.”
But, if she was being honest, she would have led with what he was known for: Leaving his girlfriend behind in Texas to start over here with supermodels, heiresses, political mogul’s daughters, and one cover-worthy night with a reality "star." Oh, and that sportscaster who lost her job for sleeping with him...or if you listened to Connor Ryan, stalking him.
Through it all, he refused to comment on his personal life. If asked a question about any of his off-field shenanigans, he turned the answer to baseball. It was almost magical the way he did it.
I remembered seeing an interview that went something like this:
"Con, tell us about the tall, hot, blonde seen stumbling out of your hotel room after the game with New York."
"Bobby, the only stumbling I've seen lately was a certain third baseman who missed that grounder and let us bring home two more runs."
I'd been oddly impressed—and not more than a little jealous—of his interviewing skills. I was pretty sure Catherine was embracing this opportunity because every time someone asked to interview me, I all but created a natural disaster. I’ve spilt drinks on me…on other people. I’ve gotten so nervous I’d forgotten my character’s name and book titles. She wasn’t kidding about every picture of me looking like I was about to throw up.
Any time I was the center of attention all motor skills went right out the window.
So, yes. I found his skills in front of a camera were awe-worthy.
"Okay. I know who he is.” I admitted, because it seemed silly not to. “He's enough of a celebrity that even I’ve heard of him.”
"Great.” She stubbed out cigarette number two. “Because he's the man who’s going to put you on the map."
But, we might as well get this over with before the butterflies in my stomach morphed into huge pterodactyls.
"Alright.” I pulled out the little notebook I brought everywhere, ready to get down to the details. And then recover from whatever she’d gotten me sucked into. “Don't hold me in suspense. What did you sign me up for?"
"Hailey, really. You need to look at these opportunities as adventures that are allowing you to never, ever, ever have to work in a bank again. Isn't that what you told me when I signed you? Two books a year, no more banks."
It was true. But her bringing it up didn't help the nervousness she was feeding.
"Right.” I sighed, hating that she was right. “I'm sure I can do an event or something with him. I mean, people won't even notice me standing there with him being all flashy, high-maintenance guy."
She smirked. When Catherine smirked, even the most powerful senior editors got nervous.
"Oh, people are going to notice you. Trust me. Noticing you is the entire point."
Her words slipped into my gut, turning over my nerves one at a time as I wondered just what exactly she'd done.
"Catherine, spit it out. What was the bet?"
"If you do this right, it will be hours of exposure and you probably won't have to give a single interview. Maybe ever. Not that every magazine and local news station won't be asking for one." She paused, all dramatic-like. "And all you have to do is date the hottest guy in town."
"What?” I gasped, leaping up and sucking in air. Maybe I was having a panic attack. Or a heart attack. Or some type of attack where you can't breathe and you consider throwing heavy objects at someone.
"Hailey, a fresher image isn't going to hurt." She eyed my yoga pants skeptically. A sad attempt at calming me down.
I wasn't going to fall for it. I had a feeling this was more than just an image update or charity event we were talking about. One night out even I could live through. Probably.
“Catherine, please stop side-stepping into this and just…spill it.”
Another sip. Another sigh. Dead silence. And then, "Fine. But, sit down for goodness sake.”
I eased into the chair, eyeing the door to make sure I still had a clear path for a quick escape.
“I made a bet at the APC. One I thought I couldn't lose.” Catherine glanced around her office as if the answers might be there for her. “A straight flush. I
She leaned back away from her desk, away from me and for the first time since I’d known her, I watched Catherine unable to meet someone’s gaze.
"I lost.” She rolled her eyes as if this was obvious. Which, it was, but still not a plot twist I wanted to admit was coming.
"Yeah, I'm getting that.” I paused, taking a moment, trying to piece it all together. “But since there's no longer such a thing as indentured servitude, I'm wondering how you think you're handing me off to another agent. Especially a sports agent. He didn't look like he'd
a book this year, let alone knew where to sell one."
Catherine snickered and filled her glass again. "Dex is, luckily, smarter than he looks. He's the best in his field."
Which shouldn't have been a surprise considering how many deals I was betting he'd gotten Connor Ryan.