‘A date?’ I scoffed. Then I unceremoniously burst into fits of laughter. ‘With me?’
‘Why are you laughing?’ He demanded. I stopped for a minute trying to catch my breath as I realised he wasn’t joining me.
‘Why aren’t you?’
‘Because I’m serious,’ he answered angrily.
‘You can’t be.’
‘I am, sweetheart. You’re going on a date with me.’
‘Why?’ I frowned, ducking under the arm that held him over me.
‘Because the press thinks we’re together.’
‘So? they also think you’re a gentleman. They can’t help but be wrong,’ I shot back, trying to put as much space between us as possible.
‘I’ll pick you up tomorrow at eight.’
‘No,’ I answered smoothly.
‘Sweetheart, I don’t think you know what’s happening here?’
‘You’re right I don’t,’ I agreed, looking nervously at the door. ‘Teddy.’
‘What are you doing?’
‘What is it, Angel? Is this guy bothering you?’ Teddy demanded, charging into the room with the twins following closely behind him.
‘Annie, don’t be like this,’ Xander ground out in frustration. Strategically ignoring the men who had suddenly filled the office with their intimidating forms.
‘I think you should leave Xander,’ I suggested. Glaring at him from where I know stood at Teddy’s side.
‘I’m not going anywhere until you hear me out,’ he answered defiantly as the three men started to converge on him. ‘This isn’t just going to disappear, Annie,’ he warned.
‘I guess I’m going to have to take my chances.’
‘They’ll keep coming for you Annie until they have your story. They dig until they find something and I can guarantee that it is probably something that you never wanted the world to know.’
‘I don’t have any secrets, I’m boring and completely mundane,’ I shrugged, as Teddy grabbed Xander’s upper arm and started to lead him from the room.
‘They don’t care about the truth Annie,’ he answered angrily. ‘They’ll say whatever they want to get a story. You’ve seen this first hand.’
‘I’m not going on a date with you Xander, if they never see me with you there won’t be any story to tell,’ I answered adamantly.
‘You’re so naive,’ he muttered, fighting against Teddy’s hold.
‘I think you’ve said your piece,’ Teddy grunted, struggling to get Xander to leave.
‘Annie, I’m doing this for you,’ he tried. In one last attempt to get me to agree but I just glared at him from across the room. I wouldn’t be going anywhere with him, ever. Realising this, he let out an exasperated sigh before breaking the hold of the men and storming from the office.
‘You alright, angel?’ Teddy asked gently, nudging my shoulder lightly as the two other men left the room.
‘Fine,’ I mumbled, wrapping my arms around myself tightly.
‘Do you want me to get Piere back in here, you know he’s better at all of this than I am,’ he asked anxiously, running his hand along the back of his neck uncomfortably.
‘No, I’m just going to go.’
‘Annie, I don’t want you out there alone.’ Teddy said worriedly as he reached out for my hand, pulling me back in front of him.
‘I’ll be fine, those reporters should be long gone.’
‘Angel,’ he sighed. ‘He’s really rattled you, hasn’t he?’
‘I don’t want the world to know about my past,’ I whispered. ‘They won’t, will they?’
‘It’s going to be alright,’ he promised but he didn’t answer my question. Instead, he wrapped his hulking arms around me, pulling me in until I crushed into his chest. My face smushed and my breathing restricted by his stronghold.
‘Teddy,’ I grumbled, trying to pull back from his embrace.
‘You got to hug me back, angel,’ he answered. ‘Those are the rules and you know it. My angel doesn’t break the rules.’
‘You’re ridiculous,’ I grumbled, unable to fight the smile spreading across my face. I wrapped my arms around him, or at least as far around him as I could manage.
‘There’s my angel,’ and I rolled my eyes at the goofball.
‘You’re not even half as tough as these guys believe you are,’ I scoffed, pulling back from him and trying to straighten my hair.
‘They wouldn’t dare cross me,’ he laughed, messing my hair up again. Earning him a withering glare from me.
‘You’re just a squishy teddy bear,’ I joked, poking him in his rock hard abs and jumping away before he could get me again.
‘Oh really angel?’ He warned and from the gleam in his eye I knew I had to run, or that teddy bear was going to do something he would regret.
‘Pooh Bear’s got nothing on you,’ I smirked over my shoulder, knowing from the distance I had put between us that he had me. He let out a threatening growl before he lunged for me across the mats where all the guys stretching had already scattered. His arms bound themselves around my waist reeling me in until I bounced lightly off his chest, but remained firmly in his embrace.
‘You’re in trouble now, angel,’ he rumbled as I tried to catch my breath after our mad dash through the gym.
‘No, please,’ I begged breathlessly as he hoisted me over his shoulder. We were headed straight for the ring. Where there were two guys who were sparing quickly separated. They both had matching smirks on their faces as Teddy climbed through the ropes.
‘Teddy, please,’ but all he did was smile evilly before placing me gently down on the ring floor. Instantly, I tried to crawl away and as always he was there pinning me to mat.
‘Ready, angel?’ That was all the warning I got before my high pitched laughter rang out through the gym. My sides were aching already, too breathless to beg him to stop.
Teddy made sure that one of the guys walked me all the way home. He made certain that I made it all the way into the apartment before he would leave. Teddy scares the living daylights out of those guys and if one of them was to let something bad happen to me they knew they had him to answer to. They wouldn’t be lucky enough to be subjected to a round with the tickle monster like I was.
‘Annie, you have to see this,’ was the first words I heard as I walked into my apartment and I couldn’t help the groan that escaped my lips. Those words never brought good news. This morning was a testament to that.
‘Sarah, I’m not in the mood right now,’ I grumbled, kicking my shoes off and shuffling passed her.
‘No, Annie,’ she emphasised. ‘You’re really going to want to see this.’
‘Sarah,’ I groaned, turning around to face her. Only to have my eyes land on the TV screen to see what was now becoming a familiar face. ‘Oh God.’
‘Yep, wonder boy has struck again,’ she smiled deviously.
‘What is he doing?’ I asked cautiously, taking another tentative step forward as Sarah un-muted the TV.
‘No idea, apparently he has an interview, later tonight, about his latest movie,’ she shrugged, watching the promo.
‘Oh, that sounds safe,’ I muttered getting ready to disappear down the corridor again.
‘Hardly,’ Sarah scoffed. ‘Look at this.’
Reluctantly, I turned around to face the TV again and saw him wearing a sheepish smile after the interviewer asked him something.
‘So, Xander is there or isn’t there a new leading lady in your life? It seems all reports are pointing to yes,’ the interviewer prompted again. Xander’s only answer was another bashful smile and all I could think was this guy was some kind of actor to have the whole world fooled.
‘Annie, I think he’s-’
‘He wouldn’t dare,’ I cut across Sarah, glaring at the TV long after his image was replaced with another ad.
‘Annie, I think he might and it’s possible he’s going to do it tonight,’ she answered cautiously. She was watching me closely as I began to twist my hands anxiously until they were white.
‘This is ridiculous, there’s nothing going on,’ I seethed, throwing my arms wildly as I stormed down the corridor.
‘What are you going to do?’ Sarah yelled.
‘Hire a hitman.’
‘No, seriously,’ she asked, all humour gone from her tone as she leant over the back of the couch to see me.
‘I have no idea,’ I sighed, slouching away.
‘Are you at least going to watch it?’
‘Probably,’ I answered in resignation because despite all odds and despite my need to escape him it seemed he was the only person occupying my life right now.
So, hours later, when the city was alight with neon lights and the flickering of unreliable street lights I sat beside Sarah on the couch anxiously awaiting my fate. All I kept thinking was, Please pretend you don’t know me. Please pretend you don’t know me.
Sarah, the supportive friend she was had made a bowl of popcorn and popped open her favourite bottle of tequila. How you could have a favourite was beyond me. When I reminded her of my sobriety she simply shrugged and said, ‘There’s always an event that would push even you to hang up your hat.’
We were both glued to the screen, no other source of light in the room except for the glow of the television. We looked like regular entertainment news junkies. It was embarrassing. I felt my heartbeat quicken at the opening tune for the entertainment news before it suddenly sunk. Knowing he was probably about to do something I wasn’t going to like.
‘Here we go,’ Sarah squealed, bouncing slightly on the couch beside me.
‘You are far too enthusiastic about this,’ I deadpanned. Glaring at her from where I sat clutching a pillow to my chest.
‘This is all just so exciting, who would think one of my friends would be going out with a celebrity?’
‘I’m not going out with a celebrity.’
‘The world doesn’t know that and neither will Nancy at work,’ she sneered, referring to one of the other waitresses at the cafe she worked at. The two were constantly in competition with one another. Generally, their manager tried to roster them on at different times but somehow they always managed to get on together and let’s just say the customers are in for a show when that happens.
‘Alright Sarah, retract your claws she’s not here now,’ I tried to placate as I watched her evil mind start to tick over.
‘Can’t stand that bitch, did you know her cousin knows the guy who won American Idol last?’
‘Shhh,’ I hissed as his face flashed up on the screen, ignoring the annoying flutter in my stomach. I was probably just hungry.
‘Tonight on Gordon Francis we have the star of the new movie, “Riptide,” with us, Xander Collins,’ The host announced and I looked over at Sarah frowning as she seemed to be completely enraptured by the whole affair.
‘He is big enough to be on Gordon Francis? Isn’t he one of the top celebrity talk shows in America?’
‘Your boyfriend is so hot,’ she all but swooned and I couldn’t help but narrow my eyes at her in frustration. Just because he looked almost sinful in his simple black suit didn’t mean I was ready to admit out loud how attractive he was. ‘His movie is said to be the next box office hit when it’s released in the summer.’
‘I don’t care what his next movie is going to be I just hope he doesn’t say anything about me he can’t take back,’ I grumbled, reaching for the remote and turning the volume up as the crowd’s hysteria started to die down.
‘Welcome, Xander,’ Gordon beamed. It was quickly met by another round of ego boosting applause. No wonder these people thought they were gods. People were literally bowing at their feet and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those girls in the audience didn’t have altars devoted to him in their bedrooms.
‘Thanks, Gordon. You know how much I enjoy coming on your show,’ he greeted, shooting an obnoxious wink into the audience that had all the girls swooning. I bet half of them just passed out.
‘And I love having you. Let’s hope this show can be a little less Allison Kelly centred.’ Gordon teased good-naturedly, but I could tell from the way Xander shifted uncomfortably in his green chair that this was a sore topic for him.
‘I’d appreciate it,’ he tried to smile but despite how good an actor he apparently was, he came off stiff and unconvincing.
‘Aww ladies, I think our favourite nightmare slaying man needs a hug,’ Gordon joked, Getting up from his own green chair and opening his arms wide as the crowd nearly lost its collective mind. Xander got up from his chair and allowed himself to be embraced by the flamboyant host. He had somehow managed to pull off a lilac suit with golden tie.
Xander tried to pull away when Gordon shot the crowd a mischievous smirk before his hands fell to Xander’s rear end and gave it a squeeze. I let out a bark of laughter at the surprised look on Xander’s face as Gordon finally let go and gave a bow to the screaming audience.
‘Looks like I might not have anything to worry about,’ I laughed as Xander positioned himself back in his green chair. ‘Maybe I should introduce him to some of Piere’s friends.’
‘You’re crazy if you think that man is anything but straight,’ Sarah scoffed, picking up a pillow and throwing it at my head which I managed to duck easily.
‘Here’s to hoping,’ I toasted with my handful of popcorn before I stuffed all of it into my mouth.
‘Oh, that’s attractive,’ Sarah said rolling her eyes at me in disapproval.
‘Do not judge me. How many times have I sat in the bathroom holding your hair back after you had one too many the night before?’
‘Whatever,’ she dismissed, turning her attention back to the screen as Xander finished his spiel about his new movie.
‘-but what all these women in this audience want to know, as do I,’ Gordon whispered conspiratorially. ‘Is whether we’ll get another look at Xander Collins without his shirt on. I mean you look positively mouthwatering in this suit but I would much rather get to see what we already know is hiding beneath. Am I right?’ He shouted at the audience. Sending them into another frenzy and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy as a sheepish smile sat on his face.
‘I’d sure like to see some of that,’ Sarah agreed enthusiastically.
‘So, Xander, what do you say? Would you like to give us a little sneak peak?’ Gordon asked, waggling his eyebrows suggestively and I watched in surprise as a light tinge of pink rose on Xander’s cheeks as the crowd screamed themselves hoarse.
‘I think I’ll let you wait till the movie comes out and then you can see for yourselves.’ Xander answered over the top of the crowd, trying to regain some of his composure. Apparently, he wasn’t eager to get his clothes off in front of a live studio audience and the rest of America.
‘Aww, girls I think our leading man’s a little shy,’ Gordon pouted. ‘You can count on me having front row seats to “Riptide.” My eyes will be glued to the screen.’
‘Maybe they aren’t going to bring up me,’ I mused, feeling my chest begin to loosen. Maybe I was going to get away with this, maybe he was a decent guy.
‘Does this shyness have anything to do with your own new leading lady?’ Gordon asked eagerly and I felt my entire body tense. Here was the moment he denied everything. What happened at Teddy’s gym today was just in my imagination and Xander was about to set the world straight.
‘Is she the balm to soothe your broken heart?’
‘She is becoming something quite special to me,’ Xander admitted as the whole crowd erupted into a chorus of aww’s, with Gordon as their leader. I, on the other hand, was seething.
‘That low-life, slug eating, miserable little cockroach.’ I growled as Sarah turned to me with an excited look on her face.
‘This is so exciting,’ she squealed, jumping from her side of the couch to me and crushing me under her weight.
‘Sarah,’ I groaned, trying to push her off of me.
‘Oh my God. When you’re famous and attending all the A-list parties, will you please invite me? Oh my, God, do you think you could convince Xander to set me up with one of his friends?’
‘Sarah,’ I shouted, trying to get her to shut up. ‘Get off.’
‘Right, sorry,’ she apologised, taking her weight off me and resting back on her knees.
‘I’m not going out with him,’ I said adamantly, just as I turned to see a photo of us from the night he drove me home. It was when I had moved closer to him because the flashing lights had startled me. One of his arms was slung low on my waist as he looked down at me broodingly and I looked out at what I thought was darkness with an almost terrified look.
‘Aww, you two look adorable together.’
‘So, it’s safe to say your new gal is not accustomed to the world of Hollywood. She definitely gives off the look of a deer caught in the headlights.’ Gordon chuckled as the screen flashed back to the two of them.
‘No, Annie is definitely not used to me and my world yet. Actually, when we first met she had no idea who I was,’ Xander laughed.
‘And you didn’t believe me,’ I spat, the popcorn in my hand turning into crumbs as I lost my cool.
‘So, how did you meet, Annie? How long have you both been going out?’ Gordon asked eagerly, shuffling to the edge of his seat.
‘We have been going out a little over a week, I never really wanted it getting out so soon but I guess it’s too late now to shove that genie back in the bottle.’ I noticed he dodged the question of how the two of us met quite nicely. Then he flat out lied about the time we had spent together. The lies rolled off his tongue so easily.
‘And what have the two of you been doing together?’
‘Well, with my busy schedule it’s hard to fit time in and with her being an elementary school teacher we spend a lot of time on the phone, but I have something very special planned for her tomorrow night.’
‘I’m going to murder him and no one is ever going to find the body,’ I spat, throwing the remote against the couch after I switched the television off. Leaving Sarah and me in darkness. ‘How could he do this to a person? Last night he thought I was the scum of the universe and now he’s claiming that we’re what? Boyfriend and girlfriend? Well, I have news for him, I will not be playing along with his little charade.’ I seethed, getting to my feet and beginning to pace.
‘Well, you’ve got to admit he really knows how to get what he wants,’ Sarah offered and I turned to glare at her in the darkness.
‘Well, he’s not going to have me,’ I growled, spinning on my heel and storming off to my bedroom. That sleazy, little slime ball could have whatever else he wanted but he wasn’t going to have me. I was never going to play along with his scheme, no matter what he told the world.