The Consequence of Seduction

  Words always failed to describe my brother.

  He was an enigma.

  The only of his kind.

  And hopefully the last.

  His deep-set dimples slowly appeared as he smiled at Jordan then back at me. Standing, he made a sweeping gesture with his hand. “I imagine you want answers.”

  “Max.” I gritted my teeth. “What the hell were you thinking?”

  “I saved his life once,” Max acknowledged. “Actually, more like three times, but who’s keeping track, right?”

  “You are.” I let out a heavy sigh. “You have tally marks on a chalkboard back at the apartment.”

  He waved me off. “So you must be the lovely shrew.”

  Jordan’s grip on my arm tightened enough to cause severe blood loss to all my lower extremities, which was probably a good thing, considering she was ridiculously sexy when angry. Her hair seemed to continuously grow the more time I spent with her, like the stress fed the frizz. And her lips? Well, she bit them. Hard. All. The. Time. Which made them swollen and red and completely distracting.

  “Why?” she croaked. “I’m supposed to be launching your brother’s career! Not ruining it!”

  Max nodded, his expression one of concern as he pressed his hands in a prayerlike motion in front of his lips. “I see, and when did you know you had this problem?”

  “What?” Jordan blinked. At least her left eye had stopped twitching. She turned to me for help. “What are we talking about?”

  “Exactly.” Max nodded. “Well, it’s worse than I thought. You both needed me, and I knew you were too proud to say something.”

  “What’s happening here?” Jordan hissed under her breath.

  Max went over to his desk and hit a button. The room fell dark and, much to my horror, a slide show of Milo and Jason’s grandma started playing on the wall. There she was, toothless, smiling, beckoning.

  I shivered, then hid behind Jordan like a real man.

  “See?” Max clapped his hands. “You need me! You can’t get back on the horse and I’m going to force it! It’s not like I told you that your publicist had to be the one you rode.”

  Jordan raised her hand. “Just to be clear, there will be no riding. Of any kind.”

  Max pouted, hitting the button so the creepy pictures of Milo and Jason’s grandmother disappeared. “But that’s the best part.”

  “You?” She pointed. “You run a billion-dollar company?”

  I’m sure she was trying to figure out how the hell he ran anything but his mouth, considering his desk was void of any sort of paperwork. All he needed was a computer. It was a bit terrifying how Max could do the work of ten men in less than half the time and with one tool.

  “Yes.” His shoulders sagged. “But it runs itself. I’m just biding my time.”

  “Biding your time?” She just had to ask.

  “Until the presidency beckons.”

  Jordan burst out laughing.

  I remained silent—because I knew Max. With his luck? It was bound to happen. I could see it now. Max in the Oval Office sipping whiskey, smoking cigars, his twitchy finger hovering over all sorts of red buttons of mass destruction. I shivered.

  Jordan crossed her arms. “You can’t be serious.”

  I held up my hand. “Don’t get him started.”

  “Four score and six months ago”—Max thrust his hand into the air—“I was a sad, lonely bastard without any real direction in my life—”

  “He’s still a bastard,” I pointed out.

  Max glared.

  “Sorry.” I smiled. “Continue.”

  “And this one . . .” He pointed to me. I was the one. I wanted to duck, but what was the use? Plus, I had a plan, one even Max wouldn’t see coming. “Saved me. I was on a dating show. You may know me as Bachelor Maximus.”

  Jordan’s eyes narrowed and then bulged out of her head. “Holy crap! The guy who’s scared of goats?”

  Max flushed and tugged at his collar. “I’ll have you know Hades and I have a very complicated relationship that I don’t need to defend to anyone, least of all you.”

  I eyed the wet bar in his office and made my way over. “This may take a while. Jordan, you want a drink?”

  “It’s one in the afternoon,” she pointed out.

  My response: “It’s Max.”

  With a quick nod in my direction from Jordan, I knew I had at least one person on my side against the terrorist that was my brother.

  Max yawned. “Whiskey, two cubes. Thanks, bro. So, Jordan, as his publicist I’m sure you’re aware that most Hollywood actors fizzle out after a breakout role mostly because they aren’t able to handle the fame and the pressure that comes with it.”

  Jordan opened her mouth and then closed it.

  “I’m sure you’re also aware that seventy-point-two percent of American viewers admit to liking a male actor not based on his acting performance but his dating life?”

  She scoffed. “That isn’t even a real figure and you know it.”

  “Fifty-two percent”—he just kept going—“of producers are more likely to hire an actor who’s willing to try Method acting for a role. And ninety”—he adjusted his tie as I brought him his drink—“ninety-eight percent of producers are more likely to hire an actor based on his ability to stay in a committed relationship.”

  Jordan gulped. “So that last one may be true, but—”

  “Tsk, tsk.” He winked. “I helped him.”

  She tilted her head. “You think selling him out to the media without even telling him your plan is helping?” She took the drink out of his hand and knocked it back before handing the glass back to him. “I’m calling your bluff. You’re just a bored, sad little man.”

  “Nothing about me is little.” He smirked. “You’ll have to get Reid to drop his pants to witness the definition of little.”

  I muttered a curse and poured myself another drink, then brought over Jordan’s.

  “Well!” She shrugged and downed her entire drink. She didn’t even choke or wheeze. Impressive. “Good job, Max. Now we have to pretend we’re in a relationship, and if it goes bad—if people find out that it’s fake or that it was a setup by his evil brother—then Reid’s finished. Done.”

  “I’m not worried about that.” Max puffed up his chest. “Because by the way he’s looking at you right now, and the way your breath hitches every damn time he looks in your direction, I did better than I thought. Didn’t I?”

  “How do you live with him!” Jordan threw her hands into the air, nearly hitting me in the arm as I handed her another drink, while I was still focused on the fact that she had trouble breathing around me. That was a good thing, right?

  A knock sounded at the door.

  Max frowned.

  “What’s wrong, Max?” I walked over to the door. “Not part of your plan?”

  “You sneaky little whore.” Max pointed an accusing finger in my direction. “What hast thou done?”

  “Dad!” I damn near shouted, making my own father teeter on his heels. “You’re here.”

  Our father wasn’t a man of many words—he was black-and-white, old school. Which really begged the question, where the hell did Max come from? No, really. I’d like to know.

  One time I asked my mother if he was adopted.

  And she just laughed and said, “Oh, your father used to be just like him!”

  My father wore the same color tie every day for forty years. I highly doubted it.

  “What can I do you for, son?” Dad’s hair was completely white and slicked back. He wore a black suit, white shirt, blue polka dot tie. Always. It never changed. He eyed Jordan and held out his hand. “Allen Emory. Pleased to meet you.”

  She shook it, then took a step back.

  “Well . . .” I cleared my throat. “I’m the eldest son.”

  Dad nodded and sat down on one of the white leather couches in the corner.

  “And Max inherited the company. He’s doing such a great job, by the wa
y.” I winked at Max. He gave me the finger behind our dad’s back while Jordan choked on what I assumed was my drink considering she’d tilted back both hers and Max’s.

  Max’s eyes narrowed into slits. “Reid, what are you doing?”

  “And I know how important image is for this company. I mean, Dad, you built this ship from the ground up. The good Emory name is known around the world. Because of you. I don’t think”—I wiped a fake tear—“I don’t think I’ve ever thanked you.”

  “Shit,” Max muttered under his breath, then spread his arms wide. “Papa, we’re so proud.”

  It was on.

  “But”—I forced two real tears down my cheeks. Beat that, Max!—“I just feel like we’re lacking. I mean, your name, our name, it’s everything. And as the eldest I just, I don’t know, I thought, doesn’t it look bad that the youngest is running the company? The youngest is getting married first.” I slammed my fist against my chest. “It kills me that I’m considered the disappointment.”

  “Son!” My dad stood and walked over to me, arms open. “You could never be a disappointment.”

  I put my fist into my mouth and let out a hoarse cry, the type that appears to be so painful you don’t want to make an audible sound. “Oh, but I am. And I just . . . I just wish I could make you proud.”

  “Son, you make me proud.”

  I nodded wordlessly. “Can I be honest?”

  “Of course!” Honest-to-God tears started to fill his eyes. Did I feel guilty? Maybe a little, but would it be worth it in order to destroy my brother? Hell, yes.

  “It hurts my feelings that Max is getting married first. He’s gotten everything in this family and . . . I just, I just wish I could be first.”

  “Uh.” Max charged toward us, a small bead of sweat pooled around his left temple. “But Reid, you don’t have any prospects, and come on, that’s kind of silly. It’s marriage. Since when have you cared about marriage?”

  My dad’s chest puffed up. “Marriage is the most sacred of all bonds!”

  I nodded and wrapped my arm around my father. “It is, oh, but it is.”

  I could have sworn in that moment Max had a silent panic attack, where the insides scream but nobody can hear you but you.

  His eyes frantically darted left to right and then zeroed in on me, his face impassive other than a small tic that started at his jaw.

  “Dad, let me get married first. Let me bring the first Emory girl into the family. Nay, into the fold.” I grabbed his shoulder and squeezed tightly.

  “But,” Max sputtered, “we just picked a date!”

  “Well, I don’t see the trouble with pushing the date back at least a few months. We were having issues with getting the whole family to Bora Bora on such short notice.” My dad nodded, then patted me on the cheek. “Let me do this for your brother, Max. We can push your wedding back—after all, it’s a destination wedding. Give your brother some time to settle down, at least a few months. That way, both of you are happy.”

  Jordan had no idea why this was a big deal.

  I imagined she wished she had popcorn. As it was, she was watching the exchange with rapt fascination, and she wasn’t even commenting, which I could tell, even in my short time knowing her, was totally out of character.

  Though she was tilting the whiskey back like it was water—then again, that was a common occurrence where Max was concerned. You either drink or wish you had a drink.

  “Will that be all?” Dad asked.

  “Yes.” I nodded, wiping my cheeks again. “Thank you, Father.”

  “Anything for my sons.” He embraced me, then held open his arms to Max. My brother stepped into his arms and hugged him tightly before Dad excused himself and walked out of the office.

  “You lie!” Max roared the minute the door closed. “How could you?”

  Jordan cleared her throat. “What just happened?”

  I smirked. “Max’s fiancée asked him to make a promise. To make the wedding night more . . . special. Once they have their engagement party, no sex until the wedding.”

  “And?” Jordan stumbled toward me. “When is the party?”

  “It was supposed to be this weekend.” Max started tugging at the collar of his shirt. “Leaving three months without sex . . . but now—”

  “Now,” I said cheerfully, “she’ll make you keep your promise, because what happened the last time you didn’t keep your promise? Oh, that’s right, she said, and I quote, ‘Max, prove to me you love me. Keep this promise, just this once.’”

  Jordan was full-on leaning against me. Too much whiskey—hell, too much Max—did that to a person. Laughing, she shrugged. “So what, Max can’t have sex for a few months. Who cares?”

  “Me!” Max roared. “I care!”

  Jordan kept laughing.

  “I’ll get you for this, jezebel!” He thrust his finger at her.

  “Whoa!” She held up her hands. “You started this, not me!”

  Max nodded his head. “Too many uncontrollable factors . . . I should have taken Reid’s shrewdness into consideration.”

  “So.” I clapped my hands. “Looks like I have to start taming my shrew.” I held out my arm to Jordan. “Shall we?”

  “No,” she yelled, then stomped her foot. “I hate you! I won’t go anywhere with you, you horrible man!” She let out a drunk giggle.

  “Oh, oh, shucks.” I snapped my fingers. “Guess this is going to take longer than I originally thought.”

  Max glared. “I’ll get you for this.”

  “Do say hi to your fiancée for me.” I saluted him with my middle finger and walked Jordan out of his office.



  I was tipsy.

  The Britney-glammed elevator dipped, and I gripped the railing on the side and tilted my head as “. . . Baby One More Time” started playing. I could have sworn the Britney poster was moving. All I needed was a schoolgirl outfit and I’d be all set to star in my own music video. Then again, I’d probably end up getting arrested, because that was JUST the type of day I was having. I could see it now—Reid Emory’s newest publicist arrested for pretending to be a teenage woman and hitting on a minor after chasing him down the street over a stolen doughnut.

  Whoa. I swayed on my feet. How did I get from schoolgirl outfit to doughnut? Or taking advantage of minors?

  “Hey.” Reid elbowed me as the elevator finally rumbled to a stop. “You did good in there.”

  I nodded, not trusting my voice to be slur-free as I continued digging my fingers into the metal rail.

  The doors opened.

  I didn’t move.

  Afraid that if I did I’d puke.

  Just how much did I drink up there?

  “It happens.” Reid gripped my arm and led me gently out the doors. “He has that effect on people.”

  “I have . . .” I cleared my throat and widened my eyes, thinking, Surely if I go all owl-eye on Reid, I won’t look intoxicated. Right, because not blinking really sells someone on your sobriety, said no person ever. “No idea.” I licked my dry lips. “What you’re referring to.”

  Reid released my arm and very gently pushed my body with his pointer finger. I nearly toppled over—would have, had he not grabbed me again and sighed. “That’s what I’m talking about. Don’t blame yourself. It’s the Max effect.”

  “But we won.” I nodded. “Or actually, you won, with your quick thinking. Now we can just pretend we hate each other.” I frowned. “No, wait, that won’t work. We still have to date and convince the media that you’re taming me.” My head started to pound. “I’m starving. Are you starving?”

  Reid said nothing and just held me closer to his body.

  “You smell like—” I inhaled his shirt, my nose plastered against it like a hound ready to chase a coon across the country. “Sexy sex cologne.”

  “Oh?” Reid nodded. “Good, because that’s what I was doing the whole time you were tossing back whiskey upstairs, having sex so that my na
tural musk would attract perfect strangers.”

  “You were?”

  “Jeez, where do you live? I need to get you home.”

  It started to rain. “I live in a pond.” I spread my arms wide, then toppled forward, my purse falling down around my wrist. I swung it around in the air like an ax. “Under the sea . . .” I giggled, then started wiggling my hips. “Under the sea, down where it’s wetter, down where it’s better, take it from me!” Somehow I’d taken on a very convincing accent. I was seriously hilarious. Why wasn’t Reid dying of laughter?

  Reid grinned. Then pulled out his cell and snapped a few photos.

  “That good, huh?” I winked, then nearly fell backward down the concrete stairs leading to the street.

  “Yeah, Sebastian, words can’t describe. So I took a picture. Might post it to Facebook later, tag you in it, add a few choice hashtags, like #sebastianlives, #savecrabseatshrimp, and #Girlsgonewildtheshrewedition.”

  I saw two Reids. My stomach plummeted, sinking to my feet. “Ugh, I don’t feel so good.”

  “Well, you look awesome.” Reid grabbed my hand.

  I curled my lips up at him in disgust.

  “Especially that face—that one’s my favorite. If I squint and tilt my head you resemble a pissed-off poodle. Tell me, does your hair have a name? Considering it’s like a separate organism living off your body? Let’s call it Parasite Bob.”

  “You’re a parasite!” I yelled.

  “Shh, Sebastian. We’ll get you back to the ocean, just calm down.”

  “I’m not a crab!” I wailed, suddenly craving crab like none other.

  “Of course you don’t have crabs!” Reid countered. “Poor thing.” He motioned his head toward curious onlookers. “It’s a good thing our city cares for the homeless.”

  I dug my feet into the ground. “I’m not homeless, you bastard!”

  “Then show me where you live so I can make you a pot of coffee and hatch out a plan that leaves Max out of our lives and keeps us from going to prison.”

  “Prison? Why would we go to prison?”

  “Max. I may kill him. I’ve threatened him for years, but this may just be the one time I follow through.” His face was serious; not a hint of humor marred his perfect features. Okay, so maybe it was safer for all parties if we got farther away from the building.

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