The Consequence of Seduction
“Ghosts don’t have shadows, dumbass.”
“She’s gone.” He yawned. “Boxes packed, all because somebody decided to be an absolute ass.”
“Gone?” I repeated. “But she’s moving in with me. We moved her damaged shit into the warehouse, right? She’s . . . there’s no way. Why would she be pissed?”
“Men.” Max took a long swig of whiskey and slammed the glass down on the counter. “They never listen! Only thinking with their dicks and refusing to acknowledge a woman’s need for a little bit of attention after a night of sex!”
“See!” Max shouted. “You’re all the same! ALL OF YOU!” He paced in front of me. “Did it ever occur to you that Jordan may have needed a bit of, oh, I don’t know . . . encouragement after your wild night of passion? More than a slap on the ass and a thanks-for-the-good-time note on her pillow?”
“That’s your thing, not mine.” I held up my hands.
“Women like to be appreciated in Hallmark form.” Max shrugged. “Besides, Becca loves my notes.”
“Becca’s also a ghost in this scenario?” I took a seat. Conversations with Max were like all-day marathons where people needed to stock up on Gatorade and protein bars if they were going to make it to the finish line.
“Please.” Max grinned smugly. “Becca, a ghost? What are you? Five?”
I pressed my lips together and damn near sat on my hands to keep myself from strangling him.
“She heard our conversation.” Max’s eyebrows shot up. “And now she’s gone.”
“Oh, you know.” Max bent down and picked up Otis and began petting him in the same manner Dr. Evil pets his cat. “The one where you said you two were just having fun, oh, also, the bet was mentioned . . . right, so she probably wants to run you over with a golf cart.”
“Where. Is. She.”
Max kept petting Otis. The little traitor licked his hand and let out a groan. “It’s going to take more than your Carmen Sandiego skills to find her; I’ll tell you that much. This girl, she doesn’t do well with you going behind her back and making decisions. She’s not the type. So now, you have a choice. Prove your love . . . or die alone.”
“The ghost of Christmas future was always the scariest one, Reid. Always.”
“But you said you were Christmas present.”
“Now I’m future. I changed like two seconds ago when I picked up Otis and my voice even got gruffer.”
“Hmm, didn’t catch that.”
He deepened his voice. “I am the ghost of Christmas future, and you’re screwed. Better?”
I groaned into my hands. “Max, stop, just tell me where she is so I can fix it.”
“Nope.” Max set Otis back down on the ground. “But I’ll tell you tomorrow once you give me your plan.”
“To seduce the shrew.” Max winked. “After all, that’s how this all started, right? Seduce the shrew, make her believe that true love conquers all? I mean, the press is convinced. I’m convinced. Hell, I think even you’re convinced, but Jordan? Well, she just might need more convincing. After all, girls like that rarely believe in happily ever after.”
“Girls like that?” I fumed, clenching my fists.
“The invisibles. The ones who spend their life cast as streetwalker number one or dancer number two. After so many failed auditions, they just come to expect the fact that they’re going to be a chorus girl.”
“She’s not a chorus girl; she’s the main attraction!”
“Oh”—Max held up his hands—“you don’t have to convince me of that . . . but Jordan?” He slapped my shoulder. “Good luck with that. I’ll be waiting for your text. And Reid? I suggest you stay up all night and plan. A girl like that doesn’t happen twice.”
“I know.” My chest constricted painfully at the sound of Max’s footsteps as he made his way to the door and slammed it behind him.
Otis pranced around my feet doing his potty dance. I glared at him. My apartment felt empty, too big.
“C’mon, Otis. It looks like we got some planning to do.”
As much as I wanted to seriously murder my brother—he was right. My stomach clenched with nausea the more I thought about what Jordan might have overheard back in Vegas. I thought I was helping by not telling Max all the details of what I was thinking—I mean, it’s Max. I might as well have taken out an ad on every billboard in America. The man didn’t do secrets well.
The man didn’t do secrets well.
Damn it, why didn’t I just torture the information out of him? I was just about ready to run over to his apartment and give him hell when Otis barked.
“You’re right,” I sighed, irritated that I was talking to a dog, and a bit alarmed that his bark made sense. Maybe I was the one who ate the funny cookie? “She deserves more than that.”
“Something that sweeps her off her feet and proves once and for all that she’s not invisible.”
Two more barks.
“Any clever ideas, Otis?”
“I’m not giving her a bone.”
Seven barks later and I had a plan that would, in fact, most likely end with . . .
I opened my eyes and yawned, then nearly had a heart attack as a green gecko stared at me from the nightstand.
“Hey, there,” I said in a groggy voice.
The gecko didn’t move.
Were geckos a bad omen? Because my pounding head and hurting heart both kicked into overdrive as I gained my bearings and glanced around the room.
It was as if Max had moved me into his apartment in the middle of the night. A few duffel bags sat in the corner and two garment bags hung on the door.
So why the gecko?
“Jordan.” Becca’s voice sounded on the other side of the door; she knocked and then walked in. “I see Little G gave you a nice wake-up call?”
I frowned at the gecko. “Does he often do that? Just roam around wherever he pleases?”
Becca snorted. “He’s like Max in gecko form. What do you think?”
“That thought alone makes me want to sleep with the lights on at night.”
“Me too.” Becca grinned. “And I sleep with the man.”
“Knife under the pillow?” I asked, genuinely curious.
“Nah, but I do keep fruit snacks next to the condoms just in case he has a nightmare.”
“Because fruit snacks stop nightmares?”
With a shrug Becca made her way around the bed and sat. “According to Max.”
The gecko did a little hop. Becca held out her hand; he walked onto it, slowly, and then lay down. I’d never in my life seen such a thing, a domesticated gecko. Then again, if you could domesticate lizards, why not the tiny ones?
“So.” She cleared her throat. “Max said something about an emergency on set.”
“An emergency involving Reid.”
I licked my lips and looked down at the comforter, silently counting to keep myself from bursting into tears.
“And”—Becca nudged me with her elbow—“I know that this is a rough time for you, but you still need your job, right? And as his publicist, it’s in your best interest to spin things.”
“So why do I need to spin the emergency on set?” I asked, curious. “What? Did he lock himself in his trailer or something and then put aluminum foil in his microwave? Press would eat that up. Reid Emory—idiot.”
“No.” Becca stifled a laugh. “But he did have a nervous breakdown.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Nervous breakdown.” Becca winced. “And not the typical I’m an artist, blah, blah, blah nervous breakdown where the actor just freaks out on the director and drops a lot of f-bombs.”
“He, uh”—Becca leaned forward and whispered—“he’s saying he’s Batman. At least that’s what the Twitter hashtag is, though, honestly, I think you can spin it so he can audition once Ben Affleck’s time is up, you know?”
“Batman.” I repeated. “As in the caped crusader?”
“The very one.” She grinned. “So suit up, Jordan. You’ve got an actor to save.”
“And if I don’t?” I argued, already getting out of bed.
“Who knows, maybe you’ll lose your job?” Becca offered. “I’m not really sure how those things work.”
With a grumble, I forced my legs to walk over to the garment bag, which I unzipped, then grabbed the first and only dress available.
“Uh, what’s this?” I pulled out the white lingerie-looking spectacle. The lacy corset flowed down into a see-through skirt and was covered with a lacy wrap that looked like anything but normal daywear. More like I just woke up in a historical novel and the only thing I have to wear is a night rail.
“That”—Becca pointed—“is Max. Believe me, it’s best to just wear what he has for you and ask questions later.”
“Screw that.” I went to the duffel bag.
It was filled with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fruit snacks.
Cursing Max, I stomped over to the next duffel bag. That one was filled with poker chips. Great.
One duffel bag left. “Do I even want to know?” I asked aloud.
“Probably not.” Becca burst out laughing.
The bag wasn’t very heavy. I unzipped it and sighed. See-through glass shoes sparkled from the middle of the bag. “My shoes, I take it?”
“For the outfit.” She nodded.
“You’re in on this.” I sat down on the floor and sighed. “Whatever this is.”
“Yup.” She winked. “It’s always best to just do as he says. I stopped fighting long ago. Now put on the silly outfit, go out in public, and you just may be surprised what happens.”
“Is Reid really having a breakdown?”
Becca pulled out her phone and tossed it to me. It was open on her Twitter page. With a groan I scrolled through all the hashtags: #ReidisBatman #gothamissaved #capedcrusaderreal #batmanandtheshrew.
Several pictures of Reid were tagged.
And in all of them he was wearing a black cape.
And a white mask.
Batman didn’t have a white mask, but whatever. I groaned and shoved the phone back into Becca’s hand. “I guess I have work to do. And why can’t I just wear normal clothes?”
“Max’s idea of PR genius.” Becca shrugged. “You show up like you’re in costume while Reid is already in costume and it looks planned and not like he’s actually off his rocker and about five seconds away from talking to himself and feeding a dead pet bird.”
“Great,” I croaked. “I guess it semi works since we’re in this together, until I publicly shame him and then eat a pint of ice cream in my new apartment he found for me without telling!” I yelled the last part.
Becca winced. “Trust me, it will be fine. Just get through today.”
“That”—I pushed to my feet—“is going to be my mantra for the day.”
Ren, Jordan’s boss, was ecstatic when I called him first thing in the morning, although he said Jordan wasn’t a fan of surprises or public displays of affection.
I told him it was all I had.
After a lot of silence and then a healthy amount of cursing, he’d told me it better go over well with the media or he was going to hang me by the balls and sprinkle me with birdseed.
I was trying to figure out why he was so upset, but then he explained that if things went wrong it wouldn’t just be Jordan’s job but his firm’s reputation at stake.
I shivered and checked my watch. Becca texted that Jordan was on her way. The crew had torn down most of the set, but I didn’t need anything other than the park and my girl.
Well, that and a stage, props, and a few friends from Broadway.
Hell, I’d said good PR so much that day I was pretty sure it was going to become my new catchphrase: As long as it’s good PR.
“Well.” Max crossed his arms. “Our work here is done. It’s all you, kid.” He slapped me on the back. “Don’t screw up.”
“Already did.” I put the mask back on. “And thanks for trending the whole Batman thing on Twitter.”
“Dude, what else are brothers for? All I needed to do was put it on my blog. Seriously, you guys need to read my blog. I have millions of followers.”
“You have a picture of a goat, a gecko, and a snake as your background. I still don’t understand how people even take you seriously.”
“Because I’m awesome.” He frowned. “Thanks for your vote of confidence. Now go get your woman.”
I attached the mask and nodded just as a cab pulled up and Jordan stepped out.
Performances had always been easy for me. I’d never been the nervous type. Acting was in my blood. Even if the audience hated me, I was in my own world when I was on stage.
Now I was bringing her into my world and praying she wouldn’t stomp all over my heart, then shoot me.
“Showtime.” One of the PAs spoke into his headset just as the lights hanging on the trees flashed.
It was overcast.
And starting to rain.
Which was perfect, because it made the lights stand out.
I waited for Jordan to turn the corner.
Max held his phone up so he could do the live feed. Now that we had our own YouTube channel, our subscribers were able to actually watch this take place.
Talk about sinking my career if it didn’t work.
The Phantom overture began to play through the hidden speakers as Jordan made her way toward me, her eyes narrowing.
I held out my hand.
She stared at it.
“Music of the Night” started.
And I began to sing.
“Nighttime sharpens, heightens each sensation, darkness stirs and wakes imagination. Silently the senses abandon their defenses . . .” I crooned, twirling her in to my body so I could sing in her ear. “Slowly, gently, night unfurls its splendor.” I could play the Phantom in my sleep. But I wasn’t playing the Phantom.
I was acting out a part.
And making sure she knew that she was the main attraction.
The main everything.
“Close your eyes and surrender to your darkest dreams, purge all thoughts of the life you knew before.”
Jordan’s eyes were wide with shock as I continued singing. A crowd gathered around us as I twirled her with my hand and gripped her hips, tugging her against me.
I walked her backward toward the stage.
Where an entire orchestra was sitting and playing the song. The music crescendoed as I sang one of the highest notes of the song.
“Only then,” I whispered, “can you belong to me.”
She gasped as I lifted her into my arms and carried her onto the stage. The crowd swayed in front of us as I kept singing, then gently lowered her into the boat.
“Let the dream begin! Let your darker side give in!” I sang. “The power of the music of the night!”
Cymbals crashed around us as I reached into my cape and pulled out a single red rose.
“You alone can make my song take flight. Help me make the music of the night.”
The music ended as I slowly caressed her face with the rose.
She was breathing hard, her eyes filled with tears. Gently, I wiped them away with my thumbs. “You told me you liked capes.”
Jordan nodded. Damn, she was beautiful. Her white dress looked exactly like the one Christine wore in the movie.
“You aren’t really a shrew. You never were.” I sighed. “Just like you’ve never been invisible, not to me. You’re vibrant.” I swallowed the emotion in my throat. “Just like this red rose, you stand out among the rest. And I’m sorry for not telling you that sooner. I’m sorry for trying to keep my feelings private. I’m sorry that I never got the chance to tell you how desperately I need you in my life. I think it’s finally time to tell the truth.”
“Reid, wait!” She gripped my hand.
I addressed the crowd and looked directly at Max, who held the phone higher. “It was never Jordan that needed taming. It was me. It’s always been me. She turned me from a man who was afraid of commitment, who thought that roses were the way to a girl’s heart, into a man who’d be willing to do anything, even sacrifice his own career . . . in order to tell a girl he loves her.”
The crowd simultaneously ahhed.
“I’m the shrew.” I smiled wide. “But I’m happy to say this woman here has turned me into a man no longer afraid to take that big step. But a man who can’t wait to leap.”
Tears streamed down her face as I lifted her into my arms. “I wanted to buy you roses, lots and lots of roses, but someone said roses are lame.”
“I love roses,” she blurted. “I’ve always loved them.” Big tears streamed down her cheeks, meeting her lips.
“Well,” I chuckled. “I figured since I gave you a rose in the Phantom costume, you’d give me a free pass.”
“I think the Phantom costume counts as a free pass for anything,” a woman shouted from the crowd.
“I never meant for you to misunderstand my intentions.” I kissed her softly on the lips. “I moved your furniture into storage because I want you to stay with me. But I did tell Max to keep it a secret, since he has a big mouth and apparently a blog with over five million followers.”
“Huh.” Jordan’s eyebrows knit together. “You mean you weren’t kicking me out?”
“NO.” I chuckled. “The exact opposite.”
“But Max said—”
“Exactly.” I shook my head. “Though, had he actually told you last night, we wouldn’t be here now, making PR history, hmm?”
“So is it all about the PR?” Her eyes narrowed.
I dipped her back, kissing her soundly. “No, you should know by now. It’s all about you. You deserved the big gesture. Screw the media.”