‘You know one of these days Annie you’re actually going to use that thing for a real fire,’ Sarah chuckled, leaning over the back of our couch and watching me climb out the window.
‘Yeah, probably not today, though,’ I shrugged, jumping out the window and looking down at the alley below. No photographers, perfect.
With any luck, I was going to disappear from my apartment without them even realising I had gone. No way was I being cooped up in there all day. Not with Sarah on the couch watching the entertainment news on a loop.
Now, by some rotten stroke of luck, as witnessed by the press outside my apartment, they have my name and probably every life detail right down to what the name of my first pet was.
How is it that Sarah goes out, gets drunk and hooks up with some guy and I’m the one suffering from the major hangover?
Shimmying down the fire-escape, I tried to remain as quiet as possible. Just in case, some of the vultures were smart enough to check the back of the apartment block.
When my feet finally hit the ground all I wanted to do was run. Instead, I threw my hood up, stuffed my hands in my pockets and started to walk casually up the alley hoping not to draw any attention to myself. Casting a quick glance down the street when I made it to the sidewalk I saw that they were still all milling around the front entrance. Some were eating lunch, whilst others were focused on their phones.
Overall, they were unprepared for the woman in the hood walking down the street. Not one of them lifted their heads in response to my sudden appearance and I started to wonder if they were any good at their jobs. However, only moments later I realised that I had I spoken too soon.
Giddy over my escape, I walked straight into a man apologising without thought. Only to watch as his face went from anger at being bumped, to recognition. He was one of the beady-eyed paparazzi and he was already reaching for his camera. Without a second thought, I sprinted down the street, shoving him out of the way in my haste to put as much distance between us as possible.
Almost instantly, I heard their shouts and the sound of their pounding feet against the pavement as they chased after me. What a sight this must be?
With my destination in mind, I knew I needed to give them the slip before I got there. Otherwise, this was all for nothing.
Casting a quick glance back I saw many of the overweight cameramen were struggling to keep up. Using this to my advantage, I increased my speed and skidded around the corner. I hastily ducked down the first familiar alley. I crouched behind a stack of discarded boxes and a set of old gym equipment.
From my hiding place, I watched as the army of camera-wielding men went trundling down the street. A few stopping to catch their breath and scan the street. Obviously confused by my sudden disappearance. A couple glanced down the alley but none of them thought to venture any further.
When the last of them had gone I let out a relieved breath only to hear the squeak of the door beside me. Followed by the familiar hearty chuckle of just the man I was coming to see.
‘What trouble have you got yourself into now, angel?’ Teddy chuckled. I straightened and dusted the dirt from my jeans wearing a smile of my own.
‘Just the regular nefarious activities. You know me, I’ve been on the run from the cops for years,’ I smiled as he pulled me in for a big bear hug. His large frame easily engulfed my much smaller one.
I had known Teddy, or Ed, as everyone else called him, since the first week I had arrived in New York. It hadn’t been the greatest week and all I wanted to do at the end of it was spend hours in a bookstore browsing. Probably spending the last of the cash I came with. Instead, I found Teddy and his ragtag bunch of boxers. Our first meeting was a memorable one, to say the least.
I walked into his boxing club thinking it was a bookstore and nearly had a breakdown. Inside I found a bunch of sweaty men gaping at me as I discovered, ‘Boxing Books,’ was not in fact a bookstore but a cleverly named boxing club. Apparently, Teddy had been too lazy and cheap to change the name from the previous owners.
It resulted in my yelling at Teddy for the better part of an hour as the rest of the club watched on in shock. Until finally, I ran out of things to rant about. Then Teddy offered me a cup of tea, set me up in the reading corner. He hadn’t bothered to remove that either. I sat there for hours cooling down. I came here whenever I have a tough week and Teddy makes it all better. I spent most days at Teddy’s establishment.
‘I’ve heard you’ve been having man trouble,’ he smirked, ruffling my hair and leading me inside.
‘The man is trouble,’ I mumbled.
‘I’m guessing he’s the reason for the pack of wolves that were on your trail just before.’
‘Yeah,’ I sighed. I slumped into the plushy chair blowing my loose hair out of my face. I already felt more relaxed surrounded by the familiar dusty bookshelves. It always made me chuckle just thinking about how out of place this corner was when compared to the rest of the gym. Much like me really.
‘What have you gotten yourself into angel?’ He chuckled, sitting across from me as he tapped out a message on his phone.
‘It wasn’t my fault,’ I pouted as the big burly man across from me rolled his eyes. ‘There were these guys and they were following me last night and-’
‘What have I told you, angel?’ He demanded, sitting up straighter in his chair, his dark brown eyes settling on me angrily.
That sure got his attention. He was one scary guy when he wanted to be. Generally, when he wasn’t around me. ‘You can’t be walking the streets alone at night. That roommate of yours is a bad influence,’ he scolded. He made no secret of how much he disapproved of Sarah’s influence on me. It was a constant source of debate between the two of us. As of yet he had never come out on top but last night was definitely going to count as a point against her.
‘It was only a few blocks,’ I defended. Absently tracing the paint splatters on my pants from when we made Halloween masks in class.
‘It only takes a second Annie,’ he sighed. Shaking his head disapprovingly.
‘Well, that wasn’t really the main part of my story,’ I grumbled. ‘They’re not the reason I’m in this mess.’
‘No, I’ve heard it’s some big movie star that has landed you in this particular pickle,’ he stated, raising his eyebrows at me accusingly.
‘He gave me a lift,’ I shrugged.
‘You let a strange man drive you home?’ He asked, outraged. ‘Do you listen to anything I say, angel?’
‘Yes,’ I replied in exasperation. ‘I made him drop me off outside a different apartment block.’
‘So you had to walk the rest of the way home alone?’
‘Well, yeah,’ I frowned, shifting uncomfortably in my seat. The intensity of his stare making me anxious. ‘What else was I meant to do?’
‘Call a cab. Hell, call me. Stay home.’ He glared at me, my own eye narrowing in reply. He was too overprotective for his own good.
‘Wow, it’s icy in here,’ Piere chuckled, setting down a pot of tea and a chocolate croissant. ‘What have you done this time Annie?’ He asked, amusement lighting his blue-green eyes.
‘I didn’t do anything,’ I ground out.
‘Ah, did this big oaf try and kiss you again, ma chere?’ He chuckled, stepping back and running a hand through his tangled mess of blond hair. Sometimes, he couldn’t be any more French if he were holding a baguette and wearing a barrette.
‘No,’ Teddy grumbled, never taking his eyes off me. That kiss was always a sore spot with him. It was actually how Piere and I met. Now, he brings me over tea and a croissant whenever I’m here. Teddy always lets him know when I arrive.
‘Oh, does this have anything to do with that hunk of a man that’s been plastered all over the entertainment news all day? Who knew our little Annie was such a topic of discussion?’ Piere always loved a good scandal and this one just seemed to fall straight into his lap, no digging required. He must be in heaven being so close to the source of all the gossip and hysteria.
‘So, what’s our megastar like? Is he as dreamy in real life as he is in his movies?’ He asked wistfully and I sighed in frustration.
‘He’s nothing of the sort. He’s rude and obnoxious,’ I spat, remembering the call I had with him before.
‘Oh, trouble in paradise?’ He asked excitedly.
‘Don’t you have a cafe to run?’ I grumbled, slumping further into my chair. Piere was always fun, except when you were the fish he was ogling in the fishbowl.
‘Oh it’ll be fine, Jerry’s there,’ he dismissed, sitting on the arm of my chair. Eager to hear more. Sometimes, I wondered how Jerry handled Piere. He was trouble, with a capital T. Whereas Jerry was a shy guy, who blushed under any form of compliment. The two had met here one night when Piere had been bringing my tea and croissant from his cafe. He liked to come and check out some of Ed’s fighters and a certain brown haired, green-eyed mountain of muscle had captured his attention. They had been going strong ever since. I liked it when Jerry brought me my tea.
‘So Annie, tell me everything,’ he demanded dramatically.
‘Ed, get this crazy person away from me,’ I pleaded, trying to move the immovable gossip monger.
‘Come on baguette boy,’ Ed grumbled, grabbing hold of Piere’s arm and pulling him towards the doors of the gym.
‘Oh so rough,’ Piere complained, almost gleefully, sending me a wink. All I could do was shake my head. ‘I’m sorry Edward but I’m taken.’
‘I wish Jerry would take you somewhere,’ Ed mumbled. ‘Far away from me hopefully.’
‘The heart wants what the heart wants,’ Piere replied wistfully as he was unceremoniously thrown from the gym. The doors slamming on him as Ed let out a long breath.
‘Jerry better control that boy or one day I might just strangle him with his cravat.’
‘Cravat? I think I’m losing you, Teddy,’ I answered, trying to hide my giggles.
‘Don’t you start missy, we’re not through discussing your complete disregard for your own safety.’
‘Oh,’ I frowned as he took the seat across from me again.
‘So, how bad is it?’ He asked, breaking my croissant in half and taking his half.
‘You saw that herd,’ I gestured weakly to the door. ‘And that was just at the suggestion we might be together.’
‘Well, you aren’t, are you?’ He asked dubiously.
‘God no,’ I scoffed. ‘The guy can’t stand me, thinks I’m some reporter or something.’
‘My angel? A reporter?’ He chuckled and I bristled slightly.
‘I could be,’ I muttered, crossing my arms tightly over my chest.
‘Annie, you get flustered when there’s a new guy at the gym,’ he smirked, nudging my knee with his.
‘You guys are big...and intimidating,’ I pouted.
‘Doesn’t stop you from calling me Teddy,’ he shot back playfully.
‘You’re not intimidating,’ I laughed. ‘You’re cuddly, like a big teddy bear.’
‘You really know how to bring down a guys ego.’
‘Good, it could do with coming down a few pegs.’
‘Yo, boss?’ One of the guys called, drawing both of our attention to the door. Where two guys held a frowning guy who was trying to shake them off. I recognised him immediately. Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled by his sudden appearance. ‘This guy says he wants to speak to Annie.’
‘God,’ I groaned. ‘How did he find me?’
‘That’s him?’ Teddy asked and his outrage was clear by his raised eyebrows and flexing muscles. ‘Throw him back out in the street Dan. We don’t need him causing my angel any trouble.’
‘Wait, no,’ Xander shouted as the two burly men started to move him towards the door.
‘Let him go, Teddy,’ I ordered, feeling anger start to bubble in my veins. ‘I have a few things I’d like to say to him.’
‘Do you want me to take him out back angel?’ Teddy offered as he gestured for the two guys to bring the struggling Xander over.
‘No,’ I answered, never taking my eyes from Xander. Who seemed to let out a sigh of relief knowing he wasn’t going to be taken out back by the hulk standing beside me. ‘Not yet.’
‘Go in my office,’ he offered, nodding at Dan and Tommy. They were brothers and if you didn’t know them you would swear they were twins. Both brown haired, brown eyed mountains, just like everyone else in Teddy’s gym. I went to follow after Xander when Teddy pulled me back, leaning in close to my ear. ‘Leave the door open, I’ll be right outside if you need me.’
‘Thanks, Teddy,’ I smiled weakly, pushing up and pressing a gentle kiss to his cheek. Luckily, he was already leaning down. Otherwise, I would have never been able to reach.
‘Anything for you angel,’ he smiled as I pulled away and started walking into the office that Dan and Tommy had just deposited Xander in.
‘Angel?’ Xander questioned as I walked in. He was leaning against Teddy’s desk trying to act casual but I could tell he was nervous. His mouth twitched slightly when he tried to smirk. Even he wasn’t immune to the intimidating boxers.
‘What are you doing here?’ I asked in a low, threatening voice. ‘Where’s my stuff?’
‘Back at my place,’ he answered, his smirk growing as well as his confidence. I could already feel him getting under my skin.
‘Why are you here?’ I demanded. ‘Why didn’t you bring my stuff with you?’
‘You know Annie, I’m sensing some hostility.’
‘Get to the point before I get Teddy in here,’ I growled.
‘Teddy? How intimidating? Do you get your boyfriend to fight all your battles? Where was he last night?’
‘He’s not my boyfriend,’ I hissed before taking in a deep breath to calm myself. ‘Look, all I want is to get my stuff back. Then I want to forget any of this ever happened.’ He didn’t reply immediately. Instead, he looked me up and down, making me tug on the sleeves of my hoody nervously. His green eyes scrutinising every inch of me.
‘That doesn’t really work for me, angel.’ He mocked causing me to scrunch my face up in disgust.
‘Don’t call me that.’
‘All right, sweetheart,’ he smirked, pushing off from the desk and moving over towards me. My skin flushing hot as he moved into my personal space. ‘Here’s my proposition.’
‘Proposition?’ I frowned, stepping back from him and looking in his eyes. Instead of at his chest, which I had been staring at in the hope of settling the butterflies in my stomach. It didn’t help. He had a really nice chest.
‘Yes, you see, last night has caused quite a few problems for me, sweetheart and I think you might be able to fix them.’
‘Me?’ I laughed, taking another step back from him. Just to be sure.
‘Shocking, isn’t it?’
‘I thought you believed me to be nothing but a lying, no good, rotten reporter.’ I snapped, pressing my hands firmly to my waist.
‘I checked you out,’ he shrugged. ‘Turns out you were telling the truth.’
‘Shocker,’ I mumbled, tapping my foot impatiently.
‘I was pleasantly surprised to find that you had been telling the truth.’
‘Wonderful, so what do you want from me?’
‘Nothing too big,’ he shrugged.
‘Oh really?’ I asked sceptically.
‘Just something small.’
‘Will you get rid of the vultures from my doorstep?’ I questioned.
‘Then, no,’ I said shaking my head and turning for the door.
‘Wait, you haven’t even heard me out yet?’
‘I’m not interested, I just want my stuff and my life back.’ I answered, staring at the wall while holding the door open for him to leave.
‘No, please just hear me out,’ he almost begged and I looked up to see his calm demeanour quickly fall away. Replaced with a desperate glint in his eye.
‘Fine,’ I sighed. Letting the door go and walking back over to him. ‘Speak.’
‘I guess you’ve heard about my recent break up with my girlfriend,’ he explained. His nose scrunched up in disgust. I couldn’t help but notice it was one of the most adorable things I had ever seen and I work with young children.
‘Briefly,’ I answered in a clipped tone.
‘Well, she humiliated me.’
‘I saw that,’ I smiled, remembering the lost puppy look in his eyes from earlier.
‘It’s not funny. Do you know how embarrassing it is to have you most vulnerable moment plastered all over the tabloids? It was hard enough that she cheated on me but now everybody gets to sit back and scrutinise me, feel pity for me.’ He spat, his disgust evident from his tone.
‘I have a vague idea,’ I muttered, remembering my lowest moment. The moment that led to my abrupt move from Melbourne to New York.
‘I doubt it,’ he scoffed before he continued. ‘Well, it’s degrading and a severe knock to a guys ego.’
‘Oh, I’m sure that ego of yours could do with some knocking around.’
‘Look, are you going to listen or not?’ He asked angrily. I obnoxiously gestured for him to carry on, earning me a snide smile. ‘I have a plan.’
‘Oh, this should be good,’ I laughed, rolling my eyes at his theatrics. He and Sarah would get along swimmingly.
‘Don’t laugh too soon sweetheart. You’re an integral part of this plan,’ he warned, stepping closer to me again. I backed up until I was pressed up against the window in Teddy’s office. It looked out over the gym so he could keep an eye on things when he was working.
‘O-oh yeah and how do I come into your master plan,’ I stuttered, cursing my shaky voice.
‘We’re going on a date sweetheart,’ he smirked, his eyes running over my face until they rested on my lips. Could this day get any more bizarre?