Authors: Caitie Quinn
"What exactly does he think he's going to get from me?" Because the dating thing had to be a red herring.
Catherine glanced away as if she was afraid to admit how ridiculous this was. "Your reputation."
"What is this, 1811?” I laughed at my own joke, because the day I was having, someone had to. “What does my reputation have to do with anything?"
"I'll be honest, he suggested Jenna Drake first. But then he heard about her lovely lawyer-boyfriend. You were next and had what he was looking for. The stats, a certain level of success, a new book coming out in a few weeks, and your very strong following of young women between the ages of fourteen and twenty-six. Which would be exactly the group Mr. Ryan's new, ah, adventure has managed to alienate. It also happens to be the group his latest sponsor is trying to reach. You see the problem?"
I had no idea what Connor Ryan had done to tick off girls fourteen to twenty-six, but I didn't see how anyone might think I'd be able to help. I was just…me. They wanted Taylor Swift.
Where was Tay when you needed her?
Of course, I should have known Catherine would have an answer.
"He needs to be seen with someone nice. Someone smart. Someone who shows he's turning over a new leaf, treating women well, and that he's a good guy."
"He's a rude, egocentric womanizer."
Catherine smiled at me, an odd little smile as if she knew something I didn’t. "Maybe you'll have fun being pampered in public by a rude, egocentric womanizer."
"No way. I'm not going out with him.” It was pretty much my worst nightmare. Being forced to live in public scrutiny, pictures, people, attention. I just wanted to sit in my apartment and write or hang out with my girls. "He wants arm candy who probably doesn’t talk in public."
"Honey, I'm pretty sure he doesn't care if they talk in private either."
think this was funny.
"But, here's the problem.” I crossed my arms, digging my metaphorical heels in. “I won't do it."
I know a lot of girls dream about the popular jock in her school waking up and realizing she's secretly gorgeous and awesome. But I'd never been attracted to that type. I'd grown up with that type—or grown up with that type sending alimony to my mom—and really didn't need a repeat of the last generation.
My dad had been a division one college football quarterback. Mom had been his hometown sweetie. Or, so she’d thought. But, with the fame, popularity, and potential big career came the ego to match.
Dad may not have made it to the pros, but he managed to keep the ego and drop the
Catherine studied me, a long look that even after knowing her five years I couldn't read.
"Oh, you'll do it." She leaned forward, bracing her hands on the roughed leather of the chair's arm. "You'll do it because if my career goes, yours goes too. It's not a threat. Dex put us both in a bad place. It’s a ridiculously high stakes world. And so, if you want to keep publishing with a house who prints more than two-thousand copies at a time, you'll do it."
She wasn't kidding. I could even see she was sorry. But she'd do whatever it took to get both of us on the other side of this ridiculousness.
"There's self-publishing,” I challenged. “I have enough of a following to make the jump. A lot of my readers would follow me."
"That's true. You do. And, I wouldn't blame you. Your work is universal enough to do well."
It was as close to a blessing as I was going to get in this situation. Not that I felt I needed it at this moment.
"But," she continued. "One book to hit it big is all you need. We've always said a breakout would raise your boat high enough that it would stay there. And this...this mess I walked us both into, it could be the tide that does it. Free publicity, your face out there to go with your name, young women dreaming of living your life not just your characters’ lives. This could be the thing that bumps you over the edge. Look at all the celebrity YA books over the last decade."
And isn't that what we all wanted? The magic bullet?
If there was one thing I'd learned from Catherine, it was never sign a contract without three sets of eyes.
"What's the fine print?"
"You date for four weeks and act like a real couple. A
couple. The kind of couple where everyone who sees you goes,
Oh, they're so sweet
. He cleans up his rep and saves his contract with his sponsor, and you get a month of free publicity." She crossed her arms, finishing off the deal. "You'll go on public dates. Hands will be held. Autographs will be signed. From the sounds of it, you'll be getting a makeover."
I rolled my eyes. Yes, I knew she could see me do it.
"Hailey, a makeover wouldn't kill you."
"I'm not paying for a makeover. Or the clothes to play this part. If he's unhappy with my wardrobe, you're all going to have to find a way to magically make me have clothes everyone’s happy with."
Which wasn't a bad deal. I needed some new things for the conference I'd be speaking at next month.
"Fine. I'll have Meg open you an expense account. One-thousand dollars should do it."
Geez, I could buy six of everything in my size at Target for that much money.
"You," Catherine pointed her pen at me like it was a weapon, as if she knew what I was thinking. "You will shop at socially acceptable stores for a Page Sixer. Actually, you will go with the personal shopper I hire for you to whatever stores she brings you to."
"Fine." It was her money.
I closed my eyes, picturing the woman he'd flirted with in the elevator. Then the look he'd given Dex when Catherine had introduced us. I knew the type. Maybe I’d be more excited about this if I hadn’t watched my mom deal with my mostly-missing jock of a father for two decades.
I had a rough time equating them with anything less than untrustworthy.
"This isn't going to work. No one is going to buy this."
Catherine took my hand and squeezed it. "It is going to work. And it's going to be good for you to get out there too. Everyone knows how sweet you are under all that sarcasm. He's turning thirty-two. That's like sixty in ballplayer years. He's settling down. With a nice, smart girl. Someone who makes him laugh and doesn't drain his time and energy. And he's exactly what your book sales need. I almost wish I'd thought of this myself."
It could work. That was the problem.
"I have a few demands of my own."
"One, this is not to cost me a penny. Two, he is to understand what my deadlines are and how they are to be treated."
"Okay. Those are reasonable."
"And finally, he's not to humiliate me. If he does, I will take this whole train down. Him. Dex. You. The mythical Agent Game. Everyone. I'm not becoming a laughing stock because you can't count cards."
"Sweetheart, if he humiliates you, I'll take him down myself."
What I learned about Connor Ryan while being shopped for and styled could fill an old-school encyclopedia.
Beyond all the tabloid and Nighthawks’ stuff I already knew, there was one final piece I’d missed because I’d been on deadline at the end of the baseball season.
It wasn’t his typical shenanigans this time. Connor Ryan was caught in an elevator with a very hot Harbor Island Beer girl wrapped around him who just happened to be his new captain, Ackerman’s, girlfriend.
He and Ackerman came to blows in the dugout at the end of their last game of the season, which managed to piss off people in sports, advertising, and fans of his personal life in one swoop. Fines normal people would use for a down payment on their house were involved.
Leverage. It’s a nice thing.
I’d dressed exactly like Personal Shopper Becca had instructed. A professional, but slightly short skirt to show off what she called toned legs with a loosely fitted pink top to “frame me.” She claimed I looked pretty, professional, and feminine.
I sashayed—or at least, my version of a sashay—my way into the posh offices downtown a mere four minutes late. Which was a personal record for me this week. Especially considering I had on makeup and something other than a messy bun going on. I felt more confident. More in control of the situation. But, no sooner had the mirrored elevator doors closed behind me than I realized just how out of my league I was.
The office was gorgeous and screamed
successful money-making rich people
. These guys had image down to a science. If I was here to assist in their PR, we were all in trouble. I started toward the high mahogany and glass receptionist desk and waited while the woman with a throaty voice finished redirecting a call.
"Can I help you?" Her tone had shifted, making,
Can I help you?
sound distinctly more like
Are you lost, because you sure don't belong here?
"Yes. I'm Hailey Tate. I have an appointment."
"With who?" This seemed more of a challenge than a question.
But, I was up for the challenge. Or, at least, I really did have an appointment and so I really did have an answer.
She ran her finger down the third column over in her schedule until she reached the eleven a.m. time slot and tapped it with a perfectly manicured nail. I glanced at my own nails, one of which I’d already managed to chip, and hid them in my pockets.
"I'm sorry. Mr. Falco already has an appointment. I'm sure if you want to call his assistant later in the day she might be able to..."
Receptionist Girl shrugged, as if to say, even if I called the assistant, there really wasn't anything anyone could do for me.
I got it. She worked with super famous people. I had to assume the rudeness was a defense system to keep the press and non-clients—as well as all Connor Ryan’s ex-girlfriends—from sneaking into the land of hot ball throwers.
"I assume Dex is meeting with Connor?” I gave her my best
I belong here
smile. “Could you let them know I'm here?"
"Sweetheart.” Gone was the cultured, throaty accent. "If I let every girl who was looking to get next to an athlete—especially Connor Ryan—by, I would have lost this job thirty minutes in. Now, if you don't mind, I'll have to call security if you keep this up."
"I completely understand.” I tried to stay nice. This was her job. “But they're expecting me."
She looked at me as if I'd just claimed I lived on the moon.
I was beginning to doubt my makeover. I ran a hand over my hair hoping it wasn’t doing something really weird.
Receptionist Girl finally broke and gave me a smile that most likely cost her more than I made last year.
"I'm sure they are. If you'll just have a seat..." She motioned to the waiting area in a windowed alcove. "As soon as they’re ready for you, I'll let you know."
"Oh, great. Thanks." Well, that was draining.
I wandered over to the waiting area and slid onto a butter-soft, oversized leather couch made for giants where my feet barely brushed the floor. The glass and chrome coffee table was covered with a smattering of sports magazines and business journals.
There was nothing remotely feminine about the waiting area. Except Throaty Receptionist, Guardian of the Agents. She more than made up for the testosterone soaked domain.
I pulled out my Kindle and started a read I was doing to give feedback on a friend’s manuscript. Luckily, it was fascinating and the next twenty-minutes flew by...until I realized it had been twenty minutes.
Maybe they'd changed their minds and I was off the hook and Catherine had forgotten to tell me. Or she was fighting to try to keep the deal alive since she'd convinced herself it was an Epic Win of PR.
Or maybe, I'd forgotten to charge my cell phone.
That happened about three times a month and sometimes took days for me to realize. I'd suddenly grasp that no one had called me and BAM. Dead battery.
I dug to the bottom of my new Becca-approved leather tote, looking for the cell. Pens. Post-its. Gum. All the essentials
When I finally found the phone, it was…yup. Dead. I must have run it down yesterday doing the catch-up thing with my girls after the shopping death march of makeovers.
Before I could work up the courage to approach the receptionist again, a door opened down the long, polished hall, voices mumble-spilled into the lobby before Dex, Catherine, and Connor came around the corner. I stood, dead phone in hand, the Post-its, pens, and gum falling from my lap onto the floor.
They all came to a halt, looking past the reception desk to the waiting area I'd all but converted into an office in the last twenty-seven minutes.
"Hailey, what are you doing out here?" Catherine moved across the lobby in the strong, sleek way she walked that managed to convey power, yet still be completely feminine. It was halfway between a storm and a swagger. "We were waiting for you."
I brushed my hand down the sides of the burgundy skirt Becca assigned for today.
"I..." I didn't know what to say. "I was told Dex was still in a meeting."
I glanced at Receptionist Girl waiting for her to clarify. But, she looked halfway between annoyed and panicked.
"Ava," Dex's voice was smooth. Nice. But there was an undertone that made me nervous. "Is there a reason you didn't let me know Ms. Tate was here?"
She glanced between us all and sent me a look that was pleading. I'm not sure what she thought I could—or would—do.
"Well, she wasn’t in your planner." She sounded so nervous, I almost felt bad for her. "And, your hour is blocked out as Cross-Promo Meeting." Now she sounded defensive. As if she hadn't been given the correct information.
"That's right. And Ms. Tate is a bestselling author who had been invited to the meeting to discuss a charity event opportunity with Mr. Ryan." Dex leaned against the receptionist counter and laid his portfolio on it.
Receptionist Girl—I mean, Ava—glanced at me. Another accusatory look. I must not have appeared Bestselling Author enough for her. It was obviously my fault. "I'm sorry Mr. Falco."