DALTON

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Chapter 15: Manipulation And Nonchalance

Manipulation and Nonchalance



We spend the next few hours calling newspapers, reporters and magazines. They all refuse to carry a different story. Their excuse is that this one is currently trending all over the UK and they plan on riding the momentum. Some did offer to get back to us tomorrow or the next for a counter-story.

"That was the Independent," I say to Avery. Our call is still going on and she's seated in her home office. It looks so pretty, the interior is both expensively and tastefully furnished. I always knew Avery and her husband were rich but that is ridiculous. "They refused." I honestly thought they would agree, considering the owner owns part of Dalton.

Avery grunts. "Not even local news will say the truth. I have called in favors and everyone is either not taking my calls or not agreeing."

I brace myself to say what has been on my mind for a while. "Avery, will it be the worst thing in the world if we just didn't do anything." I say carefully. "I mean is it really that bad."

Avery looks at me, we're not in the same room but I still feel the chill in her stare. "I am tired, please don't vex me." She says quietly.

Okay. I sit there trying to think of another solution. All this is just stupid, why are we wasting so much time making plans, we should just let it go. And the guys, instead of resting and focusing on the game, they're stressing about Southampton. Then a solution hits me.

"Avery." I say an idea slowly forming in my head. "I have it." She looks at me her eyes brighter. "We do nothing."

Her eyes flare up. "Riley, I swear..."

"Not actually do nothing." I add quickly. "We do something that is so effortless, it doesn't look like we're even taking the other team seriously." She raises her eyes for me to continue. "Tomorrow during practice, we take pictures of the guys training and post it to their socials. We put funny captions on the pictures, everything. In one of the pictures, we'll put Aidan there with his teammates and say something like 'a leader leads by example' or whatever. There will also be a picture of the coach and another good caption like 'best coach ever'. Plus we can tag Miguel's page. It will be a great way for him to get more followers and endorsements. If we're questioned, we can say it's to promote some publicity for him."

Avery takes a minute to examine what I just said. She closes her eyes and opens them. "The captions are ridiculous, we'll have to change them. Maybe go with something that's catchy and rhymes."

I feel a smile coming on. "So what I'm hearing is that we're going with what I said."

I see her trying to suppress a smile. "Now your head is going to start getting all big. Oh Riley, you're just insufferable sometimes." She finally cuts the call.

I smile and go to my bathroom to finally run my bath. As I'm about to get in, Avery calls me again. "I just talked to Gabriel and Coach Alvaro. They don't hate your idea. I need you to make arrangements for a photographer. And also, it sounds like you might have to come in earlier than planned." She almost sounds happy.

I seethe. "I'll leave a message for photographers tonight. Whoever responds first will get the job." There is no way I'm coming to work before lunch tomorrow.

"Coach already told the boys and Gabriel is telling some investors. So just take care of the actual shoot."

"I will. Is there anything else Avery." I say trying to keep my voice level.

"Yes, get a good night's rest." She says. I cut the call, I hate my job. I enter the bath and just soak deeper in the hot water. Liam calls me as I'm finally in bed after midnight.

"Hey." He says. "I heard about your idea to fix our little problem."

I scoff. "I'm just happy she didn't take credit for it, I was prepared for no recognition for my genius."

He laughs. "Avery won't do that. She's not like that, she wouldn't steal ideas from her employees."

"Nope." I agree. "She steals other things from us instead. Our time, our youth, our will to leave." I exaggerate. "I mean I knew what I signed up for but this is ridiculous."

"Like football." He says. "Train every day, watch what you eat, be nice to every fan you meet. It's not just a job, it's a lifestyle."

"Well unlike you I'm not making a million pounds." I reason.

He laughs. "Oh you think I make a million pounds. I can assure you I make a lot more than that."

"I'm cutting the call now." I say. He apologizes still laughing.

"Sorry, sorry. But on the bright side, nobody is watching and judging your every move and you can eat what you want."

"Can we talk about... I don't know, anything else." I ask.

"Yes, it got pretty boring after you left." He says. "I wish Rothes didn't spoil our night though."

"Yeah." I say and draw my blanket to my chin. "So, the players. They talked about a girl named Sophia I think." I say trying my best to sound nonchalant. "That isn't by any chance the Baroness."

"It is actually. We had an on again off again relationship for two years. Ade just wanted to know if we got back together." He explains.

I bite my lip. "Well, will you. Hypothetically she knocks on your door right now, will you get back together with her."

I don't know why I'm asking these questions. It's hardly any of my business, it's not like we're dating. He thinks about it for a second. "I don't know."

I bite my lip again, hard. "That's nice. You know keeping your options open."

"What." He scrunches his eyebrows in confusion. "Oh no. It's not about you, it's me. Okay, let me rephrase that, it sounds like the beginning of every bad breakup." I smile. "It's just, Sophie and I never end well. At first, it's amazing, then we meet her family, the tabloids, our personalities. It's just a tragedy waiting to happen."

I nod. "It's alright. I shouldn't have ambushed you, it's not like we're a couple. I don't even know what we are."

He's silent and I'm scared I've scared him off. "I don't know what we are either but I know I really like you and I enjoy being around you."

"Same." Is all I respond. He bursts out laughing

"Same?" He repeats.

I frown "What, you like me and enjoy being around me, I feel the same."

"I thought I'll get more than 'same' after professing my feelings but... you know, it's fine." I laugh and hear him climbing into bed. "If that whole thing didn't happen, would you have spent the night."

I stare down at my duvet. "Well I have work tomorrow so...maybe not."

He smiles. "Speaking of work it's pretty late. You should get some sleep."

I roll my eyes. "Seriously Liam, you're going to bed because I said I didn't want to spend the night."

"No, you saying you didn't want to spend the night showed you prioritized work. I wanted to respect that by saying you should get some sleep."

"Oh. That's sweet." I beam. "As for work, I'm not coming in before lunch. If there's anything I need to do I'm doing it from home after I wake up."

"Avery's going to kill you." He jokes.

"She's the one who told me to do it. She took it back some hours later but I'm not going to listen to that."

He smiles. "She is definitely going to kill you."



***



The next morning my alarm goes off and I instinctively sit up straight. I'm about to get out of bed when I remember that today is my half-day and I'm not leaving till noon. I lay back down and get two more sweet hours in before waking up again to different messages.

One from a photographer I contacted. He said he'll be willing to take the pictures on such short notice and that I should get back to him as soon as possible. Another from Avery asking where I am and another from one of the players, Collin saying he has some funny ideas for the captions. He said he would have asked Avery but... you know. Unfortunately, I do.

I reply the photographer and tell him that we are still interested in using him and give him the accountant's number to confirm the price and payment. I also tell him to come around noon.

I answer Avery next. She tells me that she needs me to get here so I can oversee the sound and lighting equipment.

I reply by saying that seems a bit excessive. I cook myself a big breakfast and dance around the apartment for some time. Avery replies by saying that I need to oversee it nonetheless. That we might still end up using it. I call Shelby and ask for the technician's number.

I go over the details with him and he tells me that he's setting up in the far end of the field because the guys are using the rest of the space to train. I continue to enjoy my morning, going about all my tasks for today. Around ten-thirty I go to take a shower and get ready for the day. I settle on a Burgundy long sleeve shirt and black tweed pants. I pair this with grey flats.

I carry my bag and drive to work. I get there fifteen minutes to noon. "Damn, Avery is going to murder you." Shelby says as I enter the building. "Like actually murder you."

"You made that sound very scary." I say my heart feeling heavier.

"Good. Then I said it right." She nods. "You're just lucky she has a lunch meeting. I'll advise you to hide before she gets down here."

I speed walk to the elevator and redirect to the stairs out of fear we meet there. I get to my office and call both the photographer and the technician. The photographer is almost here and the technician is done setting up. I settle some small matters before going downstairs.

I reach the field where a makeup team is running around making sure everybody looks 'natural'. I'm kind of regretting not coming earlier.

"Riley." One of the guys, Collin runs up to me. "Did you see my text"?

I nod. "Yes, I really like them. I promise to show Avery when she gets back."

He smiles. "Thank you. I worked hard on those." He turns back to his friend. "Hear that Ron, she likes them."

I suddenly remember something. "Hey Ron, can I talk to you."

Ron waves the makeup artist away and gestures for me to come. I roll my eyes and walk over. "What can I help you with."

"It's about your girlfriend." I start. He stops me.

"If you want her to sign your crap or sing happy birthday to your friend, I can tell you no on her behalf now."

"No." I say slowly shaking my head. "It's about Sunday's game. Mr. Montague and Avery want her to attend. I was supposed to send a luxury gift basket but..."

"Raina will never go for that." He finishes for me. "That girl gets so many gift boxes, delivery people visit our house every day."

"So can you talk to her. Convince her to come maybe." I ask. "It will really boost ratings."

He gives me a double-take. "No. I'm not doing that."

"Why not." I ask.

He laughs and bends back in his chair. "Hey Daniel." Daniel looks at us. "Riley wants me to invite Raina to our game so she can boost ratings."

Daniel laughs. "You lost me at invite Raina to the game."

"What's so bad with her coming." I ask confused.

Ron stops laughing and stares at me. "Raina gets paid a lot of money to attend events or post about it, and you're not offering her money."

I fold my arms across my chest. "Well no but you're her boyfriend. Wouldn't she want to support you or something."

"You really don't understand the dynamic of our relationship." He says gesturing for the makeup artist to come back.

I need this, I need a win with Avery who's probably thinking up the different ways she can fire me. "Can you at least try to convince her."

"No way." He says forcefully. "I rather die than ask Raina for help. She'll never let me live it down. She'll bring it up during every fight and just be even more unbearable than she already is."

Wow, true love. "Okay then let me talk to her." I ask. "Just a few minutes, I won't even ask her. In the end, she'll be begging you if she can come to the game."

"Manipulation." Daniel chips in. "That's your talent, isn't it."

"I'm not apologizing for what I did to you." I say to him. "You saw the pics, did they or did they not come out right. Even the Nike people agreed, they scheduled a video for next month."

He scoffs. "It would have come out good either way." He says before turning back to his makeup artist.

"See, I'm good." I plead. Ron looks unsure. "I promise I wouldn't ask her and if she says no I will never ask you again."

He thinks for a second before a creepy smile appears on his lips. "Under one condition." He says. My heart drops to my stomach, this doesn't seem like it will end well for me. "I need you to take care of something for me. Complete discretion."

I frown. "Isn't that Avery's thing. She's usually so good at it."

He shakes his head. "I don't want Avery finding out about this. She'll be so pissed, she might even report me to Gabriel and we wouldn't want that."

My heart beats wilder, what did this idiot do. "What will I be taking care of."

He wags his finger. "I can't tell you now, you might back out. I'll tell you after you have talked to Raina and worked your cunning magic on her."

Nope. Absolutely not, I'm not getting into a deal I know nothing about with this arsehole. "No way, Ron. That sounds scary and like something that will put me in trouble. I might even lose my job."

He looks past me and his smile intensifies. "Well, I hope you have a plan on how to save your job now because Avery is here and she looks pissed."
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