Authors: Caitie Quinn
We stood there, staring each other down. Neither one of us wanted to do this, but only one of us was willing to walk away.
"One lunch,” he pushed. “I'll have someone deliver whatever you want. We'll chat. I'll win you over."
He gave me what I could only assume was his Disarming Smile.
Consider me armed.
"The menus are in the drawer next to the fridge. Make yourself at home. I'll be right back."
I hurried into my bedroom, dropping my tote and kicking off the incredibly cute, but not yet broken in shoes.
So, Connor Ryan was in my apartment. I wish I could have gotten more excited about that. But I was just annoyed he was in my space and I didn’t have any option other than to let him stay while we figured this all out.
Taking a deep breath, I joined him in the kitchen, heading past him to the “office” I’d built out of the double sized coat closet in the “dining area.” Yes, all those quotes were valid in my tiny world. He overwhelmed the space.
It wasn’t even that my apartment was small or that he was an oversized guy. It was him. His presence. It was bad enough in the offices or on the street, but here, in my space I felt dwarfed by him.
I took a minute, sorting my notes and checking my calendar. I brought my email up to make sure nothing insane—
insane—had happened. A bunch of excited tweets about launch week. A few new reviews I swore I wouldn’t look at. And about thirty emails. I set myself up to get to work once I got rid of His Charmingness and took a deep breath.
Okay, so that may also have been a whole bunch of stalling.
"Your place is really cozy." He’d moved to the living room while I’d been working.
I didn't mean to jump, to give away the surprise I felt at finding him still there.
"I used to think
was just a word girls used to describe something small, but this really is cozy." He leaned his head back against the worn leather of the overstuffed chair in the corner. "Where’d you find this chair?"
I'll admit it didn't go with anything else in the room. My place was more cottage-chic and the chair was definitely up-town guy.
“An ex moved to California. He lived across the hall and had movers come get all his stuff. Only, that chair was in here because it didn’t fit in his living room. He forgot it…and I didn’t exactly chase them down the street when I saw the truck drive away.”
His loss. I wrote most of my books in that chair. It was the most comfortable thing I'd ever sat on in my life. Some nights I wished I could stretch it out and make it a bed.
"Serves him right." He stood, rubbing his hand along the worn-to-softness leather of the arm. "You should always arrange for your furniture to be moved yourself."
He prowled the edges of the room, picking things up and then putting them back down. He touched everything he walked by. He glanced at movies and music. He checked out my TV and shook his head—I can only assume it didn't meet with Millionaire Guy TV stature.
At the end of his circle, he collapsed back into the leather chair. Guess I wouldn't be sitting there.
I curled up on the far end of my couch, putting enough distance between us for comfort. Not to mention a cushion for all this awkward silence going on.
"I called Teo's.” Apparently he needed the silence broken too. “They said you usually get barbeque chicken pizza so I ordered that, a salad, breadsticks, soda—diet and regular—and two slices of chocolate cake."
If he was trying to buy me off, that was an excellent start.
I breathed in a deep, centering moment, taking him in. One of America's Sexiest Athletes was sitting in my living room and all I wanted was him gone. He looked comfortable, sure of himself, and devastatingly handsome just sitting there.
"Have they ever approached you to do the Bachelor?" It would make sense.
He grinned. When other people grinned you knew what they were thinking. Not Connor. Whether it was sarcastic or because I'd called him on something, who knows.
"Here's what I'm thinking." He leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees and clasping his hands together. "We need this to look realistic. Not just a pick-up or an infatuation. We need it to be just public enough for people to believe it and private enough to convince them we're serious."
I was still stuck on the
pick-up or infatuation
"I'm sorry. Back up a bit.” Because, I was pretty sure we’d already covered this. “You still think I'm going to become infatuated with you?"
"I'm just saying, one of us has a bit more experience."
"Yeah. At sleeping around.” I shook my head. His ego knew no bounds. “And one of us has a bit more experience with relationships."
"And we all see where that landed you. Single with a really comfortable chair."
Oh, he was ticking me off. This
wasn't going to work.
"Stop glaring at me." He glared at me.
"You have no idea my success or failure when it comes to relationships.” I tried not to stand and put my hands on my hips. Only one of us lived in the real world here. “Maybe because it's not splashed all over the cover of every magazine decorating the checkout at the grocery store."
"I'm—You know what. Fine.” He all but threw his hands in the air. “You have more experience with
. I could never possibly have had one."
Again I couldn't tell if that was sarcasm or not, so I steamed ahead, unworried about him and his
. I’d never met anyone who could push all my buttons like he was.
"I'm also really good at narrative." I paused when he looked at me blankly. "That's storytelling."
"I'm an athlete, not an idiot. Dex showed me your website. Saying I'm good at catching a ball is like say you’re good at storytelling.”
Since he was one of the top ball-catcher-guys in the country, I was at least a little flattered by the comparison.
"What we need to do is write the story of our relationship.” If I was going to do this, I was going to do it write…er, right. “Why wait for the media to do it? We plot it out today and then let them fall into our storyline. That seems safer than hoping we can wing it."
"That seems a little...dry."
“You have me for four weeks. How you handle the time during and after is up to you." I leaned forward, matching his body language. "The one thing—this one thing—is really the only deal breaker for me. While we're
you are sweet, considerate, and for Pete's sake you are faithful. When this ends, our busy schedules are forcing us apart. I’ll be smart and as adorable as possible. That's my deal. Take it or leave it."
The high, irritating buzz of my door’s bell interrupted him, giving me a chance to escape to the kitchen and ring the delivery girl up.
An excuse. A good one, but still an excuse.
I took the food from the teenage girl standing in my doorway and went to my room to find the tote I’d tossed on the bed. Before I could get back, I knew. I just knew.
Okay. It could have been the squealing "OMG!" that gave it away.
"You're Connor Ryan! Oh my God! What are you doing here! Connor Ryan! Oh my God!"
I tried to step between them and pay, but there was no way I'd get anywhere near him with the mini-tornado swirling around, screaming.
It was quite a sight. I felt like I’d just stepped into some type of movie premiere red carpet line her excitement was so high.
"Could you sign..." She glanced around trying to figure out what he could sign and then started to lift her shirt.
"Whoa there." Connor raised a hand as if to shield his eyes. "My days of chest signing are way over. And starting up again in front of Hailey is probably not the best idea."
Plus the whole she-had-to-be-underage thing, which was really pretty wise of him to back away from.
I tried to inch backward out of the room as gazes turned my way, but Connor threw an arm around my shoulders and pulled me into the doorway with them. "Say hello, Hailey."
I smiled. It was a less than comfortable smile as I tried to ignore the heat of his arm on my neck and the girl scrutinizing me. I worked hard to remember my lines with new people. What do normal people say when strangers were introduced to them?
“Ahhh…Hello?” I stuttered.
The over made-up teen glanced from Connor to me and back again.
"She doesn't look like a model or an actress…or
And so it begins.
Connor’s arm tightened across the back of my shoulder. Well, tough for him. He knew this was coming. Of course, we hadn’t even gotten a chance to leave the house yet, but I was an over-achiever.
"No. She's a writer. Actually, she writes books for teenagers."
I had to admit, I was impressed he knew that much.
Her little lip glossed mouth formed a perfect O.
"So, she's famous too?"
"No. I mean, she's..." He glanced at me, his brows gathering together with a look I could only assume meant he was feeling cornered. "She's popular. I think that's how you'd put it. But, unfortunately, not a lot of writers get famous. Like spot-them-on-the-street-famous."
“So, no one
knows who she is?”
This was something I'd always been happy about. I'm not a crowds person. I never wanted to be famous...never even understood the desire to be famous. And yet, part of me couldn’t understand how the creators of some of the most amazing stories were overlooked in favor of their multi-million dollar earning cousins.
Don't get me wrong, I loved Hugh Jackman as much the next girl. But, watching amazing books get turned into award winning movies that people didn't even realize had been books first—well, it kind of broke my heart.
"Nope." He grinned, suddenly looking like that was a really good thing. He even had me fooled.
Connor signed the girl's hat, took a picture with her iPhone that most likely immediately ended up on seven bazillion social media sites and—very nicely—shoved her out the door.
I carried the food to the kitchen island, finding twice as much food as he’d listed, and trying to catch my breath again. Trying to get myself back together after all that energy spent. A nice bubble bath and a good book would be great right now.
Forks. Knives. Plates. Glasses. No wine, it was too date'y. Iced tea. Napkins. What else? What else?
Placemats. That's what was missing. I grabbed some from the bottom drawer in the island and laid them out.
Should I put the food on serving plates or just leave them in their boxes? That just meant more dishes to do later, so I was voting no to that.
The counter set, I had nothing to occupy my hands and so—
"Hailey." Connor grabbed my hand as I headed back to the refrigerator for ice. "Stop. Sit."
To prove his command, he pulled me toward my chair then sat in the one across from it.
"Do you want to tell me what's going on?"
"This isn't going to work. I'm not good with people. All we did was open a door to one person and look what happened. Imagine what's going to happen in public. I'm going to be the worst-fake-girlfriend ever. Which, honestly, would serve you right. But I need to look smart. Writers need to look smart. If, by some small chance, someone meets a writer, she needs to believe that person is clever enough to create a whole 'nother world in her head. To create characters and conflict and weave a story that makes you stay up hours past your bedtime." I sucked in a breath, fighting off the panic. "So, yeah. This isn't going to work."
I watched Connor think about that while he watched me try to catch my breath. With nothing better to do, I started opening boxes and dishing myself out enough food for a weekend. With guests. What had he ordered?
My name was beginning to be one of those words that sounded wrong the more you said it.
"Listen," he continued. "I get that not everyone loves the spotlight. Some of my best buddies hate it. They don't even like giving the ten-second sound bite the team's PR person wrote for them. We can work with this."
He leaned back, watching me as I'd moved on to loading his plate up with food.
"Think about it." He dug into the salad and chewed while I—as ordered—thought about it. "This is actually perfect. You just be yourself and I'll be protective, handle the media guy. People will love that."
I fought rolling my eyes.
"You mean people will love you as Mr. Hero."
"No. I mean, we make this a win-win. I'm smart enough to know if it isn't working for you it's going to blow up in our faces. We can do this." He unfolded his napkin and pointed at my plate. "Eat your food."
"And then, you write us that narrative."
I could live with that.
The makeup artist Personal Shopper Becca hired had gone all out. I couldn't even name everything she’d put on my face. In the end, when I told her there was no way I'd be able to do that—let alone want to—she’d handed me powder, lip gloss, and mascara for everyday coverage.
Even I could handle that.
Becca called that morning to make sure I was wearing the perfect outfit that would say
I’m the woman he’s willing to change for
. Even my clothes were lying now.
With only four weeks on our deal—not to mention our schedules—Connor and I had decided to move our
up a few weeks.
It had been two days since the pizza delivery girl had posted her picture and mentioned “some short girl” Connor was with. Thinking back, he’d been brilliant. He’d given her all the info we’d want out there without making it seem planted and the girl had completely failed to mention more than my height.
Or, lack thereof.
On top of that, Connor had been caught with Ackerman’s girlfriend about three weeks before. Figuring he and I met right after that and I caved to his charm immediately, we'd be halfway through our time together. Probably magically making me his longest relationship ever. So, tonight was a big show of Just Comfortable Enough.