“Teddy, I understand you have reservations, I do,′ I reasoned, stuffing all the clothes I could manage into the single suitcase I had brought over from Australia. “But, this is what’s best for everyone.”
“Angel,” he sighed and I didn’t have to turn back and look at him to know that the look on his face was disapproving. He’d been trying to convince me to change my mind since Xander had left his place over an hour ago. Including, the excruciating car ride back to my place to collect my things. “I don’t want you jumping into this because you think you are protecting anyone because you aren’t. You’re the one that needs protecting, not us.”
“It’s not fair that I implicate Sarah and you in this mess. It’s safest for everyone if we just let Xander deal with it. He did make this mess, after all. He should be the one to fix it.”
“I don’t trust him,” Teddy all but growled in frustration. I had turned my back for a moment to collect some more of my things only to find the what I had already packed had been removed from my suitcase.
“Teddy,” I sighed, walking back over to my drawers and taking out the things Teddy had so childishly put away. “I need to do this. Give it a month and then everything will be over and we can all go back to living our regular lives.”
“Did he tell you that?” He asked incredulously. “He’s a trained liar, Annie-”
“Actor,” I muttered, unconvincingly it seemed, judging by the disbelieving look on Teddy’s face.
“I don’t want you living with him.” He declared, crossing his arms over his chest. A move, I had seen him use on the guys back at the gym and every time I had seen them back down under his intimidating glare.
“I know you don’t like it but it’s only a month, I promise.” I reasoned, running over the deal I had struck with the manipulative movie star. As long as I played along with his little charade he would pay the years rent on Sarah and mine’s apartment.
He offered to pay more but that was as much as I was willing to take from him. It should give me enough time to organise my work situation without needing to take drastic measures. I never wanted to revert to my plan B. It was too slippery a slope.
Agreeing to his deal to live with him also allowed my friends to get on with their own lives without the nuisance of reporters camping out where they lived and crazies, like the mysterious brick thrower from targeting them because of my supposed “relationship,” with Xander. What was a month of my life anyway?
Slamming my overstuffed suitcase closed, I turned back to a disapproving Teddy, complete with anxious feet shuffling on my worn floorboards.
“It’ll be fine Teddy.” I tried to reassure with a weary smile.
“Come here,” he groaned, opening his arms wide and dragging me in for a bone crushing hug. “I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all but I trust you. Him? I’d like to go a few rounds with but I’ll trust that you know what you’re doing.”
“Thanks, Teddy,” I smiled, pushing back from him and grabbing my suitcase. “I should get going, Greg and Harold should be waiting for me outside.” He gave a gruff nod, crossing his arms over his chest again as I walked to my door but before I left he had one last thing to say.
“You’re wrong, you know?” I glanced back at him and gave him a perplexed look before he continued. “No way is he letting you go after a month. If I had you, I’d never let you go.” He finished with a fierceness that had my skin tingling with a warmth that made me squirm. The silence between us felt awkward and all I wanted to do was break it. We’d been down this road before.
“Get going, Angel, you wouldn’t want to keep pretty boy waiting,” Teddy forced a smile on his face but it was exactly that, forced. As was his laughter that accompanied it. “Go.”
Cowardice won out in the end and I ducked out of the room and disappeared down the hallway. Teddy was many things to me but what he was suggesting was not one of them.
Harold had ridden up with me in the elevator to Xander’s apartment, insisting he needed to carry my single bag for me. I thanked him when he set it down for me before he tipped his head and disappeared back into the elevator.
Once he was gone, I took the time to look around the apartment, only to realise that I was alone.
Where was Xander?
Frowning, I crossed the room and headed for one of the doors that led from it. The first one I opened was a coat cupboard and the second was a pristine white bathroom. Even the towels were white.
The third door I opened was a bedroom but it didn’t seem grand enough to be the main one, so, I assumed it was the guest bedroom.
I threw my suitcase inside before continuing my search for the vanishing movie star. He told me he would be here when I came back but it was looking more and more likely that he wasn’t.
I moved towards the next door and opened it to find what I assumed was the master. The bed in the centre of the room commanded the space with its deep blue and grey bed linens. Other than the bed, there were very few outstanding features in the room, almost as if it was a display room.
I was beginning to wonder how much time he spent here if any at all. Apart from a few photos on the wooden bedside tables and an out of place pair of sneakers in the corner of the room, there were no personal touches.
The most redeeming quality of the room was the floor to ceiling windows that captured the breathtaking Manhattan skyline. It was made even more surreal by the afternoon sun as if glittered and shone off every surface and cast long shadows down the crowded streets.
Satisfied I wasn’t going to find him in the apartment, I moved back to the guest room and proceeded to make it my own.
I unpacked my meagre clothes into the impractically, small wardrobe. I stuffed my empty suitcase at the back before setting out a few of my personal things. I set up a few pictures of me with my first class back in Melbourne, as well as the photo frame that had all of their fingerprints shaped into a tree, with all their names written on it. Even if I only taught them for a few months, they were still the first class I had ever been given and that meant a lot to me.
When I was satisfied that all my things had been put in their places, I flopped back on the slightly smaller bed. Sinking blissfully into the beige comforter and letting my tired eyes fall shut. If he wasn’t here then I wasn’t going to sit around waiting for him to return.
“Annie,” I groaned and twisted away from the intruding voice. I tried to shrug the hand from my shoulder but they squeezed again. “Annie, I have someone here who needs to speak with you.”
“Go away,” I grumbled, annoyed that the person wasn’t taking the hint. Can’t a girl get some shut eye?
“Come on, sweetheart,” he chuckled and I rolled over, opening my eyes reluctantly. Looking down at me was an amused movie star who was looking frustratingly tempting with his ruffled brown hair and smiling hazel eyes. In my vulnerable, half asleep state, it didn’t seem so bad that he had manipulated me into being his fake girlfriend. However, it didn’t take long to find my anger and frustration that had been present when I had agreed to his ludicrous plan. Not to mention my anger about being left alone in an empty apartment.
“Where have you been?” I demanded, sitting up and pointing an accusatory finger at his chest.
“Damage control,” he shrugged, gripping my hand and pulling me from the bed. “Come on, teach, there’s someone here who needs to talk to you.” I didn’t have the chance to reply before he pulled me out of the room and back into the living area. It was the same as before except for the tall, slim woman, perched precariously on the edge of one of the wooden kitchen stools. Her sleek black hair was pulled back into a professional looking bun and she wore a flattering pencil skirt and expensive looking baby blue blouse. She was stunning. Especially, when her only competition in the room was a girl in a checkered pink top and daggy jeans. I wasn’t even going to try and compare our hairstyles. It would be an insult. My hair currently, didn’t even have a style other than a frumpy mess. Then she stood up.
“Annie, this is my publicist, Dee-Anne and my manager Giovanni.” Manager? Glancing quickly around the room, I found a tiny, mouse-like man sat on the couch. He was balding on top but had a healthy red beard spurting from his chin. His eyes were black and beady and were now watching me with a calculating expression. I tugged at the sleeves of my shirt and then shoved my hands in my back pockets to stop from fidgeting.
“This is her?” I winced at the shrill sound of his publicist’s voice and kept my eyes downcast. I wasn’t in the mood to face off with her. She seemed like a formidable force.
“Where did you find this one, Xander?” The mouse-man scoffed. How many had there been before?
“Dee,” Xander warned and I glanced up to see him scowling at the twig-like woman.
“Xander, do you understand the mess you have made?” She ploughed on.
Sneaking a peek, she looked furious with her hands placed firmly on her hips as she glared down at him from the height of her heels.
“I am well aware of the problem, that’s why she is here.”
“You’ve been careless, Xander,” she muttered, taking out her phone and tapping away on it. She was making it seem like he had killed her cat.
“I know, Dee. You don’t need to tell me that. What I need, is for you to fix this.”
“I’ve been ducking Forevermore’s producer’s calls all morning. They’ve been putting pressure on me to sort this mess out or you know what the consequences are,” Giovanni warned, absently rubbing his balding head.
“I know, Giovanni. I’m trying,” Xander sighed, rubbing his temples.
“You need to do an interview with a morning show. Georgia Templeton is willing to have you but you need to be careful with her. She’s manipulative and always gets the truth but she’s your best bet for dispelling these rumours for that same reason. People trust her.” Dee-Anne explained. I noticed the hint of a southern accent that was in opposition to her sleek style. I couldn’t help but wonder how she had ended up in the city.
“Fine, book it,” Xander sighed, tiredly. Dee-Anne tapped away on her phone for a minute before she spoke again.
“You’ll both be on tomorrow morning. She should wear something a little less...” She glanced up at me, running her disapproving eyes over my body before she finished, “humble.”
“We’ll deal with that comment later,” I frowned, raising my hand to her as I spun on Xander. “What do you mean both of us?”
“I am not going on that show with you.”
“You agreed to this Annie. Interviews, appearances, dates, they’re all part of the package. I need you to attend all of them, as my girlfriend, otherwise, this isn’t going to work.” He patiently explained. Much the same as I would explain the task to a child for the hundredth time when they hadn’t listened to me any of the previous times.
“I thought you said she had agreed,” Dee hissed.
“That’s enough out of you,” I ordered, pointing a finger at the woman across the room.
“Two days, Xander. Forevermore has given you a deadline and if you can’t turn it around they’re going to give it to Taylor Henlee.” Giovanni announced and I felt as if I was defending myself on every front. None of this was my fault.
“They wouldn’t give it to him,” Xander dismissed, crossing his arms tightly over his chest.
“They’re already speaking with his agent.”
“This is bull-”
“Language,” I cut across and I suddenly felt all eyes on me. There was a beat of silence before his shrill-voiced publicist made us aware of her opinion.
“Is she for real?” She asked in disbelief and I quickly turned my glare on her.
“My name is Annie,” I replied coolly, barely restraining my anger.
“Come on, sweetheart,” Xander murmured, gently taking my elbow and leading my stumbling feet from the room.
Once he had deposited me in the room and shut the door behind himself, he let out a long, drawn out breath before he turned to face me.
“What were you going to do Annie? Give her a detention?”
“Some manners wouldn’t go astray,” I mumbled, crossing my arms tightly over my chest.
“Sweetheart, they’re just doing their jobs.” He reasoned, walking over to me so there were only a few feet between us.
“So, her job is to what? Humiliate and belittle me? Why would you pay someone to do that? I’m sure you could find someone off the street to do it for free.”
“She wasn’t trying to humiliate you,” he tried to placate and all I did was level him with another glare.
“I’m not doing this interview,” I announced, changing the subject. “You never even asked me, you just assumed.”
“I thought you had agreed to be my girlfriend.”
“I didn’t agree to interviews.”
“Why are you fighting this? You won’t even need to say that much. You just have to sit there.” He shrugged and I felt my face scrunch up.
“Xander,” I started but be didn’t let me finished.
“Look, Annie,” he began, uncrossing my arms and taking both of my hands in his large, warm ones. Despite it all, I felt a strange sensation wash over me and to my dismay it wasn’t an unwelcome one. “I know I’m asking a lot and I know you don’t want to do this but please, I need you.
“Without you, it could take me years to rebuild my reputation. I know you don’t owe me anything but I’m desperate.” The pleading look in his eyes was my undoing. My father had always said I had a bleeding heart. I couldn’t watch anyone suffer, even if I knew there was nothing I could do about it.
The moment of silence seemed to last for as long as I needed. He didn’t rush me or press me for answers, he just waited patiently for my response, rubbing soothing circles against my wrists. I was trying to muster up my opposition to the plan but I had agreed to this. I had only ever gone back on a deal once in my life and it was the reason I was here. I wasn’t going to do it twice.
“I guess it wouldn’t be so bad,” I began but before I finished he had wrapped me tightly in his arms and smooshed my face against his firm chest. I didn’t want to admit even to myself that having his arms around me felt right. I needed to put some distance between us. I needed to remember that no matter what he made me feel, to him, everything we shared would always be fake. I couldn’t fall. I couldn’t even toe the edge because if I did, there was no telling where I would land when everything was all over.
“Thank you, sweetheart,” he beamed, pressing a gentle kiss in my hair as I desperately tried to apply ice to my melting heart.