“Wray?” a voice called from the concourse. “Wray Nerely?”
I froze mid-stride. It had begun.
After ten weeks of shooting the Spectrum movie, I’d almost begun to take my privacy for granted—almost. Thanks to Bobbie’s twice-a-day, straight-to-voicemail check-ins, the convention circuit was never far from my mind.
A practiced smile tugged at my lips as I spun around, reaching for my pen. “You caught me. Where should I—?”
Mylar balloons assaulted my face, flipping around as I swatted them off. “...the hell?”
“Congratulations.” The deliveryman shoved a teddy bear into my arms, blue ribbons anchoring the balloons to its neck. “These are for you.”
I stole a glance at the generic “It’s a boy!” designs and quirked an eyebrow. “You know, somehow I doubt that.”
He shrugged and backed away, checking something off on a clipboard. “Well, they’re yours now. Maybe you oughta speak with the misses.”
“Speak with the misses...” I grumbled under my breath and stalked toward my signing table. If I had a misses, I wouldn’t be spending every weekend in a different motel, nursing back spasms and a hand cramp. I’d be eating brunch or helping her recreate some Pinterest version of the Venus de Milo with coat hangers...
Okay, so maybe conventions weren’t so bad after—
“Mr. Nerely?” A mousy, albeit familiar, redhead burst through the middle of my balloon bouquet.
“Sorry!” She flailed around, battling inflated baby bottles for an escape route. “I just wanted to say we’re ready for you at the table.”
“No, it’s...” I trailed off as she moved one of the stanchions that lined the signing area. “Did you say we?”
My blood ran cold.
I knew that voice. It haunted my dreams and filled my inbox. Bobbie...
I tossed the bear and balloon cluster behind a random table before acknowledging her presence. “Bobbie! What are you doing here?”
“What am I doing here?” Her voice raised a few more decibels. “Am I, or am I not, your agent?”
“Definitely not,” I emphasized, shrugging my bag off. “We’ve been through this. You’re my science fiction convention booker.”
“Tomato, tomato.” She dismissed the notion and I finally got a look at her, perched at the table beside mine. This was what I’d been reduced to—taking up residence alongside a middle-aged, B movie snuff actress. Not that she looked the part right now.
Instead of the business attire she’d donned for last year’s BeighCon, she now wore a curly wig with a half-dozen strands of pearls around her neck. As if that image weren’t unsettling enough, she’d paired it with some kind of floral muumuu. Very Mrs. Roper, very disturbing.
“I see you got my delivery,” she added, grinning like a Cheshire cat. “What do you think?”
“You sent me the baby balloons?”
As if summoned, they bobbed back into my line of vision.
“Here they are!” My assistant, whose name escaped me, thrust the bouquet between us. “You accidentally left them at the wrong table.”
“Karen,” she chirped, bouncing on her toes with a grin.
“Right. Karen...” I scrunched my brows together. “Weren’t you the one who...?”
A quick once-over refreshed my memory. Sure enough, she was the crazy chick who’d insisted on being my body double last year. Apparently, that thought was still in play.
“I tried to get in touch with you,” Bobbie continued, standing up, “but you must not have had signal on the set... Daddy.”
Without warning, the dots connected—the balloons, the swollen belly Bobbie had smoothed her dress over. She was pregnant. Someone had gotten that deranged woman pregnant!
Wait. Was she trying to suggest I was the father?
I held out a hand to keep both the notion and the balloons at bay. “I’m thinking you might be confused about how the whole baby thing works. You see, when a man and a woman love each other very much—”
“Oh, don’t be so old school!” She waved a dismissive hand and waddled around the table. “I know you and I didn’t—”
My hands clamped over my ears in self-preservation, but her lips kept moving. So did her hands. Obscene gesture after obscene gesture burned into my mind, until she calmly pulled my arms back with a smile. “You see now?”
I shook my head and tried to force my breakfast back down. “Uh, that would be a no.”
She clicked her tongue, wagging a finger in my direction. “Don’t tell me the great Wray Nerely doesn’t remember being a struggling, greenhorn actor—having to sell his seed to afford his lavish lifestyle!”
Little bursts of color formed webs at the corners of my vision. “You stole my sperm?”
“Not just me.” She laughed. “Leslie helped. Not to mention a few buddies I made from the set of Donor Boner.”
“Leslie Jordan?” My jaw dropped. I knew she had done... things with the guy last year, but I never thought they’d conspire for something like this. “Why?”
“He’s going to help me raise the baby, of course. You didn’t really think I was going to force you to play daddy, did you?” Her brows pinched. “Oh, honey. You’re a nice kid, but you’re nowhere near being ready for fatherhood.”
I grasped for the table. “But... you... me... why?”
She stared at me as if I had two heads. “Like my private investigator found dozens of sperm-donating candidates in my contact list. Come on.”
“Bobbie,” I half hissed, half pleaded, “you can’t do this. You can’t just steal a man’s... seed and impregnate yourself with it! How is that even humanly possible at your age?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Luckily for you, I’m going to write that off as shock and not bring it up in court.”
“For child support!” She threw her hands in the air. “You don’t think little Cash deserves some of his daddy’s Spectrum money?”
The ballroom closed in on me, and my knees buckled. This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be.
“Cash?” some random girl dressed as Ketheria shrieked, entering the scene. “Lieutenant Cash is going to be a daddy?”
“N-No, no.” I tried to stop her—to stop everything—but my words were only coming out as a slurred whisper.
“I’ve seen that look before!” Karen dropped down in front of me, tossing the balloons aside. “Mr. Nerely, have you eaten any bourbon balls recently?”
“Make it stop.” I curled into a ball and bit down on my lip. “Please.”
“It could be Spastic Seasonal Lkhioafk,” Bobbie offered, ushering the fans in closer. “Don’t worry. Mama Nerely can handle the Q&A if you need to take him somewhere.”
A single, disbelieving tear spilled down my cheek. “Please...”
“Hah!” a familiar bark of laughter came from behind me. “You were right, Bobbie. This is gold.”
I snapped my chin over my shoulder. “Jack?”
Some punk in a Captain Raaker costume held up a phone portraying none other than the devil himself. “Hey, buddy!”
“Hey, buddy,” I echoed in disbelief. “What’s going on? Why are you here—er, there?”
Jack flashed a roguish grin. “Just bearing witness to one of the greatest prank videos in history.”
Bobbie hurried over and, before I could shield my eyes, lifted her skirt to her chest. Maternity padding protruded from her middle, but did nothing to cover her... undergarments.
I blinked. “You’re not pregnant?”
“Of course not,” she chided, dropping the material. “I had my ovaries scooped out ages ago! We’re making one of those viral movies for the YouTube. The fans are going to go nuts over it.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat and rose to shaky legs. “You mean to tell me I suffered a mental trauma, falsely believed in what can only be described as a crime against humanity, and was publicly humiliated for nothing?”
“Not nothing.” Bobbie gestured around at all of the fans recording the ordeal. “Your social stock is about to skyrocket!”
My eye twitched as I turned away, putting some distance between us. “I see. Well, at least, the line finally makes sense now.”
I gritted my teeth and barreled back over the table. “I will see you in hell!”
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