The Consequence of Seduction
“Please don’t pray for my balls at the dinner table.”
“Silly, we pray for them in bed.”
“Good night, Max!”
“Night, Reid! Remember, get on the horse!”
I pressed “End” and threw the phone against the black leather couch. Max was the confused one, the deranged one. I was happy! I was just fine living the high life of a bachelor!
Hell, I was an actor, well known on Broadway and soon to be all over the media, especially considering I’d just been cast in the film role of the century playing opposite A-lister Mona James.
I didn’t need a woman.
I wasn’t off the horse, therefore there was no need to hop back on and ride it. Riding had never been the issue. I did just fine with one-night stands—no need to add a relationship to the mix.
And I hadn’t lost my touch with women. So what if I’d had a few bad dates in the past month? It wasn’t my fault my last date accidentally set herself on fire. To be fair, the candles had burned a bit out of control, but candles were romantic. I was setting the scene, damn it!
And the other two girls? Well, they just lacked—something. I wasn’t sure what, which was exactly how I’d worded it when I took them both out to a fancy dinner the night before my flight out to LA. I didn’t have time to separate the dates, and it wasn’t like we were serious. I couldn’t even remember one girl’s name, but when you’re in bed, does it really matter? I received wine in my face from one and a swift knee to the balls from the other, which meant I spent the majority of my five-hour flight with an ice pack on my crotch.
I refused to believe it was bad luck.
Bad luck was seeing a black cat and then getting hit by a semi, not going on bad dates with overly emotional women who got pissed because I refused to commit.
I flipped off the lights in the living room and made my way to the bedroom.
Sleep—that would cure everything. Besides, I was meeting with my new PR company in the morning. My manager was adamant that we use the best company in the business, considering this movie was going to either make or break my career. I hated that it was a necessity, but I wasn’t going to say no even though it was so expensive I wondered if each publicist came with their own private jet and small island.
Ridiculous that in this day and age I needed to have a glorified babysitter because I couldn’t be trusted on my own. Now, if it was Max, I’d get it. But I’d never had a problem being in the public eye. I’d just have to make that crystal clear when I met with them. Hell, I’d probably be the easiest client they’d ever had.
“Sleep,” I repeated to myself.
After all, tomorrow was another day.
As luck would have it, I was late for my nine a.m. meeting. It wasn’t my fault. I was one of the “lucky” people in my apartment building who suffered from a freak power outage.
I was midrinse when the lights went out in my bathroom and the shower turned frigid.
Which meant no hair dryer.
Making my normally smooth and at least semiglossy brown hair the current obsession of at least two poodles, both of which tried to hump my leg on the short walk to work.
It didn’t help matters that I’d had to put my makeup on using a tiny mirror and sunlight from the window.
Lipstick did, however, manage to make it on my lips and I think I managed to draw a semistraight line on for eyeliner. Though by the odd looks I was receiving from people walking down the street—people who seemed to be giving the crazy lady a wide berth—regardless of how straight the eyeliner, it wasn’t helping.
The only bright spots in my morning were the Starbucks in my right hand and the promise of a promotion if I was able to make the next client as squeaky-clean and shiny as a new toy.
I was one of the best publicists at my firm.
The other star students were all glossy haired and perfect. The women had magic faces that kept makeup on even into the wee hours of the morning and the men had chiseled jaws and killer smiles. So basically I was the evil stepsister of the firm, or it sort of felt like it. Then again, I wasn’t a horrible or jealous person, so maybe I was just the ugly duckling?
My heel caught on the sidewalk, and as I moved to brace myself, my coffee flew out of my hand.
“Nooo!” I could have sworn it happened in slow motion, my athletic body flying through the air while I reached out to grasp what was left of the only good thing in my day—nay, my life—and missed. My body collapsed against the stairs, scraping up my palms as my hands braced for the impact.
And honest to God, tears welled in my eyes as I glanced down at my venti mocha with extra whipped cream.
And like Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage, my cup was squashed under the heels of busy New Yorkers as they made their way into the same building.
Nobody offered a hand.
Because this wasn’t a fairy tale.
And I was no Cinderella.
Instead, my cup was shredded to pieces.
Sticky coffee stained my bloody hands.
And what were at least cute shoes—though not glass slippers—now missed a very vital part—the heel.
With a sigh, I pushed to my feet, my body aching, hands stinging, and hobbled into the building, clutching my purse to my body. My Gucci was now my armor as it shielded me from anyone and anything that would and could push me down.
Finally, I made it to the elevator and squished in between a woman who smelled like too many one-night stands and a man who clearly had onions on his bagel, with a side of hummus.
I breathed through my mouth.
My floor dinged.
“This is my floor.” I pushed through the throngs of confused faces and wasn’t surprised at all when I heard someone mutter. “Who’s that?”
“Only been riding the same elevator for the past eight years, but no sweat,” I muttered under my breath, hobbling toward the glass doors of Platt Publicity.
“Jordan!” Ren, my boss, flashed a pearly white smile and then frowned. “Did you get in a car accident?”
“Don’t own a car,” I said through clenched teeth.
“Did you get run over by a taxi, then?” He opened the door for me, and his concerned expression choked me up a bit. He was nice and the only man who noticed me. Then again, he was like sixty and married with five kids. So there was that.
“No,” I huffed. “Just a rough start to the morning.” I stopped at my office and tossed my things onto the nearest chair. “Tell me they’re late, Ren. Tell me I have time to change clothes and tame my hair and—”
“They’re here!” Ren’s assistant rounded the corner and ushered us toward one of the meeting rooms. I was half-tempted to dig my broken heel into the ground, but knew it was pointless. I was going to meet one of the biggest clients of my career looking like roadkill.
“Just smile,” Ren said under his breath.
He winced. “Less aggressive, more . . . friendly.”
I tried again.
He patted my hand, his kind brown eyes looking me up and down with pity. “Why don’t you just let me do the talking?”
“Fine,” I grumbled. The silver-haired fox of a boss could charm anyone and anything with a pulse, so it was probably best he did the talking anyway. After all, it was his company, and I was just one of his favorite publicists.
At least I could do something right.
I averted my eyes as he’d instructed and made my way to my usual chair, only to find it occupied.
I blinked, my gaze narrowing on an athletic, lust-inducing body that definitely knew how to fill out an Armani suit.
The body was attached to large hands that looked strangely familiar.
I continued my appreciative stare all the way up his broad chest and stopped when my eyes zeroed in on his mouth.
It was a nice mouth.
One I wouldn’t forget.
Even after the oddnes
“Handsome Stranger?” I blurted.
His eyes narrowed. “Don’t you mean Gay Handsome Stranger?”
I smirked. “How is Max?”
“You two know each other?” Ren asked.
“Yes,” we said in unison while I continued sizing him up. I wondered if it was a bad sign that he recognized me after the chaos of the morning. Why even try, am I right?
“Good.” Ren took a seat. “That will make things so much easier, don’t you think, Ella?”
“Yes!” Ella, who I recognized as an agent, reached for Ren’s hand and squeezed. “So good to see you.”
They were of similar age.
And started talking about their kids.
While I took a seat next to the handsome guy and tapped my chin. “You look . . .”
“Handsome? Not gay? Take your pick.”
“Bummer, I was going to say sober.” I smiled sweetly.
He rolled his eyes. “For the last time, I’m not gay. It was a mistake; if you knew my insane brother, you’d understand.”
I held up my hands.
“So does that work out?” Ren asked from the front of the table.
“Er.” I cleared my throat. “Absolutely.”
Handsome Man narrowed his eyes. “Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention. Care to reiterate the conversation?” This he directed at me.
I felt myself flush from head to toe.
Ren slid a folder across the table. “Everything should be there. The contract isn’t your usual, Jordan.”
I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
“Jordan.” Mr. Handsome rolled my name around on his tongue like he wanted to take a taste. I shifted in my seat and shot him a glare. Total self-preservation move. “Isn’t that a guy’s name?”
“Reid.” Ella coughed from her end of the table.
I smiled sweetly. “Reid, hmm, what an interesting name.” Isn’t that something that grows out of algae-infested water? That’s what I wanted to say, but because I needed him as a client, I refused to comment further. Not that it mattered, since it seemed like he could read my thoughts.
His lips twitched with a suppressed smirk.
“Ha-ha.” Ren laughed uncomfortably, breaking the silent stare-down Reid and I were having. “So we’ll just let you two discuss the details of the contract. I assume you’re able to do that now, Jordan, or did you want to reschedule?”
What? Because I looked like I’d been the unlucky recipient of swine flu? No, thanks. This was my job, and regardless of how I looked, I could do my job.
I nodded as Ella and Ren exited the room.
“So, you’re my client,” I said blandly. “Can’t say I’m surprised. You look the type.”
Insulting the client wasn’t part of the plan—in fact, the entire plan went to hell the minute my brain recognized the guy from the bar the night before. He didn’t seem like he’d be a diva actor who needed babysitting on the weekends because he’d decided to fly to the South of France for the weekend, get drunk, then miss his call time. I pressed my lips together. He didn’t seem violent either, or aggressive, but then again, what did I know? I’d had to lie plenty of times to protect my actors from the press. If I was paid for how many times I said, “They’re being treated for exhaustion,” I’d be a millionaire.
“So.” Reid leaned his forearms against the table, his muscles glistening under the fluorescent lights. How was that possible? “What type is that?”
“Arrogant self-absorbed actors are my specialty.”
“You forgot gay.”
“So now you admit it.”
He rolled his eyes. “I was joking.”
“I didn’t get it.” I sighed and opened the folder. “Okay, so this is how it’s going to work. I make sure you keep an impeccable reputation during filming, show you how to make the people love you—and I do mean love you—and if I do a good job, which I will, we’ll renegotiate for higher pay, which you’ll happily agree to, so we’ll sign on the dotted lines and be a match made in PR heaven. Questions?” I was being harsh, which was not normal for me. I usually started meetings with compliments and by the time we were finished signing the contract the actor was convinced that they couldn’t so much as breathe without me. I was torn between wanting to prove to Reid that he needed me versus it being the other way around. I’d never been in a situation where my client made me feel defensive, like I needed to wrap myself in body armor to keep myself safe.
“One,” he whispered. “What really happened to you this morning?” He leaned forward and sniffed. “And why do you smell like chocolate dog?”
“Aw, you’re such a charmer. We’ll have to work on that.” I patted the folder and pulled out my business card. “From here on out, I’m your girlfriend, your wife, the best friend you never had, your sister from another mister. I am your world. Stick with me, keep it in your pants, and make sure all big decisions happen before midnight and without the aid of alcohol, and I think we’ll do just fine!”
He took the card and gave me a blank stare. “Who are you?”
“Right now?” I stood on wobbly feet and inhaled sharply. “I’m your ticket to being the biggest A-list star Hollywood has ever seen.”
Clearly it was time to sell him, since his blank stare didn’t exactly exude confidence in my abilities.
“Tom Williams.” The name alone used to inflict fear in publicists around the world. He was a nightmare. A stuck-up man-child who was known more for his nightly conquests and arrests for drug possession than his acting chops.
Reid’s eyes narrowed. “He won an Academy Award last year.”
“He did.” I nodded smugly.
“Claimed his life was changed after seeing a bright white light after nearly getting hit by a car.”
“He was high.” I rolled my eyes. “And the car was electric. It ran over his toe and he collapsed, but I was sick of his crap, so I made up a story about how he should have died and was clearly spared so that the world would be a better place . . . gifted.” I rehearsed the speech all over again word for word as I locked eyes with Reid. “Gifted with the voice of angels and the heart of a saint, this is your wake-up call to be the best actor in the world. Are you going to take it?” I wiped a fake tear from my cheek and gave him a smug grin as I leaned back in my chair and crossed my arms.
Reid stared at me, dumbfounded. “Clearly they gave the Academy Award to the wrong person.”
I examined my chipped fingernails. “Like I said, I’m the best.”
He grunted. “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“My track record is pristine,” I said in a clipped voice.
“Even if your appearance is—” He waved a hand in front of me.
“Awesome?” I added.
“I was going to say lacking.” He scrunched up his nose. “Seriously, though, what’s that smell?”
I rolled my eyes. “My mocha spilled and I may still have some shampoo in my hair because the electricity went out in my building.”
“No, no, that’s not it.” He leaned forward, his nose almost colliding with my neck as he inhaled deeply. “You smell like . . . cinnamon?”
I rejected my body’s natural reaction—the same reaction that had me wanting to lick the side of his neck to see if it tasted as good as it looked. Down, girl. “It, uh—I always put cinnamon on my whipped cream.”
He jerked back and grinned, his full mouth making me dizzy with desire. “Do you now?”
I stood on wobbly legs. “I’m off-limits, just so you know. Flirting with me will get you nowhere. In fact, I’ll probably just end up charging you more because you piss me off.”
Reid leaned his muscled body back against the chair. “Why are you the best? Really? You don’t look the part—no offense.”
Rejection slammed into me as I lifted my chin in defiance. “I’m the best because none of my clients can charm their way into my pants. I’m the best because I take my job seriously. I’m the be
Reid gulped. “Okay. I can work with that.”
Relieved, I almost collapsed against the chair. I really did need him to sign with me. I wanted that promotion so bad I could taste it. I deserved something after spending countless hours answering three a.m. phone calls and working fourteen-hour days. I loved my job, but getting a promotion meant I could finally relax rather than bust my ass like I had been since getting hired. I needed to prove myself one last time. “Fine, I’ll get your information from Ren and meet you on set later this afternoon.”
Reid stood and shoved his hands in his suit pockets. I had a brief fantasy of doing the same. Not to be weird, but he had nice hands and the pants were getting all the touching. “Maybe fix your shoes before then.”
“And your hair.” He pointed.
“A little makeup . . .” He eyed me up and down. “Or a hat, a hat might work.”
I gritted my teeth and let out a growl. “Anything else?”
“Yeah.” He flashed a beautiful, heart-stopping grin that I was 99 percent convinced would be plastered all over teen girls’ walls six months from now. “I’ll take a grande latte, two raw sugars.”
“I’m not your personal assistant.”
He shrugged and made his way toward the door. “I figured you’d want another coffee since yours spilled, and you’d want to be polite, right? Isn’t that what a good publicist teaches? Manners?”
Manners, my ass. Steam was probably billowing out of my ears. I’d fought hard to climb my way to the top and I didn’t need a spoiled Hollywood actor making the last rung on the ladder difficult.
“Fine,” I snapped. “Anything else, Reid?”
“Shouldn’t it be ‘sir’?”
“Ask me to call you ‘sir’ and see what happens.”
“Tsk, tsk.” He frowned. “So violent. Oh, and also.” He moved back into the room and touched my face. His finger came back with a dollop of whipped cream. With evilly seductive eyes, he dipped his finger into his mouth and moaned. “You’ve had this on you since the beginning of the meeting.”