The Publicist's Plight (Book I in The Harrison Inc. Series)

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Chapter 39

I hadn’t realized how hard I was gripping the table until I could feel my fingernails indenting the wood.

I was so invested in Loretta’s story, so drawn to the smiles and the frowns that she carried, that it didn’t seem like I was even in my guest house, but following Sebastian around in his teenage years.

So when she suddenly stopped talking, I was pulled back into reality. And realized that my fingernails were indenting the wood.

But why had she suddenly stopped?

“What happened in Garrett’s office?” I ask Loretta quietly after a moment’s silence. She mimics my body language—taut, nervous, anxious and stiff. The only difference is, Loretta knows the next chapter in Sebastian’s story. I do not.

She opens her mouth a bit, but my phone rings in place of her speech. We both jump at the same time at my ringtone.

“It’s Sarah,” I tell her. “I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s fine. You should get it.”

I smile kindly before answering.

“This is Leslie King.”

“Great news,” Sarah says foremost. “I know we vowed to take a break, but Remy Callaghan has just invited Sebastian to his charity ball in Atlanta on Friday—Leukemia awareness. It’s not enough time to cover too much press, but I think that this could really help us out.”

Remy Callaghan. A wealthy and esteemed businessman who happens to be a big shareholder in Harrison Incorporated’s stocks. No wonder he invited Sebastian to his ball.

Or is there a reason to wonder?

“Do you have any idea why he invited Sebastian?”

“I don’t know. Maybe Garrett asked him to, or maybe he saw the way Sebastian was with the kids at the hospital. The point is, we got a really good gig, and if things go well, we could have Remy-Freaking-Callaghan under our belt.”

Sarah’s right. Gaining Remy Callaghan’s support for Sebastian in the very near future would be useful beyond current comprehension. But I just don’t know if Sebastian is ready for this yet.

“You’re skeptical,” Sarah sighs. “Why?”

I lie. “I’m not skeptical. I just—”

“It’s fine. I don’t expect you to tell me since you and Sebastian have been very secretive lately.”

My words become caught in my throat. “I-I…excuse me?”

“I see how you guys are together. I’m not mad or anything, but I’m just not surprised that you’re refraining from—”

“No, no, that isn’t it at all. Sebastian will be at the ball on Friday, and I’ll put out a statement about it and reach out to a couple of outlets. Thank you, Sarah.”

And then I hang up.

I look at the blank screen on my phone and replay Sarah’s words in my head. She thinks we’re being secretive? In truth, we are, and we have been since we were stranded out in the middle of nowhere for hours, but it’s something more than that. Does Sebastian want Sarah involved in what we’re doing?

“Maybe you should get to work on your statement thing. I wouldn’t want to keep you.”

I meet Loretta’s eyes, which are more antsy than before. I don’t oppose her method for wanting to take a break; this could motivate her to keep going later on.

So with that, I remove myself from the table and get to work.


The next day, Sebastian, Lucas, Sarah and I traveled into the city to get Sebastian measured for a tuxedo to wear to the charity ball. We managed to make it inside the tuxedo shop without any paparazzi scoping out, but I’m positive that in a couple of hours, we can expect some waiting outside with their cameras ready.

Lucas had gone inside with Sebastian to get measured for the suit while Sarah and I wait out in the lounging area. We had reserved the entire shop for our arrival today, so the only people in here are us and a few employees, who seem to be occupied with Sebastian’s presence. Him and I haven’t said much, with I not engaging mostly after what Loretta told me. I don’t want him to know I’m acquiring information about him from her, so distancing myself from him on a “friend” basis seems like the most doable option; the only time him and I have actually talked was to discuss the ball, in which he had little opposition about.

And I know that Sarah is beyond suspicious now.

“Do you think we should go in there and see how it’s going?” I ask her.

She shakes her head, her eyes glued to whatever is on her phone. “No. I think they’ve got it down tight. And besides, he’ll come out and show us how it looks and we’ll go from there.”

“Yes, you’re right,” I bite my lip. “But we’ve been out here for a while.”

“Look, if you want to go in there and help him put his pants on, be my guest.”

Even though her obsidian locks serve as a curtain to hide her face, I see the hint of a smirk behind the sheet of her hair. I laugh to shake off my embarrassment, but I find her comment anything but funny; I’m too noticeable, perhaps. I need to refrain more. But how do I balance getting to know the deepest depths of Sebastian all while trying to prove to everyone else that what “relationship” we have is strictly professional?

Sebastian comes out with Lucas at his side while the owner of the shop, Enrique, and the rest of his associates come out from behind the fitting room. Once Sebastian finally stands on the podium in front of the lounge room couch, nonchalant yet also irritated at the congregation of people around him, I finally quench the thirst of my curiosity pertaining to how the tuxedo would look.

But somehow, my mouth goes dry.

“What do you think?” Enrique says, his Spanish accent large and lively ironically compared to his short frame and feminine attire.

Everyone looks to Sarah first. She stands up, eyeing Sebastian playfully as he does the same. Her eyes travel up and down the ebony fabric contrasting against the white, the lapels, the bow tie, even down to the hem of his pants.

“I can hear the panties dropping already!” she exclaims.

Sebastian laughs with everyone else. “Shut up,” he tells her before she sits down on the couch, satisfied with her input.

Am I next in line to give my opinion? Because I’m currently at a loss of words at the moment.

“Leslie?” Sebastian says, extending his arms for overall approval. “What do you think?”

What do I think? I think Sebastian looks so ravishingly good that heads will be turning at the charity ball. It’s rare that I see Sebastian wearing clothes that are actually fitting to his body, let alone a tuxedo at that. But the way the black complements his long legs and lean torso, not to mention the bow tie to give the finishing touch is distracting to say the least. All in all, Sebastian looks sharp, sophisticated, and very…very—

“Leslie?”

I realize that everyone is staring at me, waiting for me to reply. God, how long have I been silent!?

“I think it looks good,” I say finally. I try to refrain from fanning myself because suddenly the room went up a couple degrees.

Sebastian frowns a bit, playing with the sleeves of the jacket. “You sure? I think it’s a little tight in some places.”

Enrique is suddenly alert. “Oh, my apologies! Where, exactly, is it too tight?”

“I don’t know; I mean maybe it’s the way the suit is designed to be. But is it supposed to be this ‘fitting’ back here?”

Sebastian turns around and happens to showcase is ass to us during his concern on the trousers and how they fit him back there. God, I can’t breathe. Is this a joke? Someone must be pulling a joke on me. Or maybe this is all Sebastian’s doing? Shit, what if he knows about the dream? How would he know about the dream if I never told anyone?! Or maybe this has to do with the time he found me watching him shower, which was not my initial intention, if I may defend myself!

“Leslie,” whispers Sarah to me. “Are you okay?”

Back into reality, and I see Sebastian being ushered back into the fitting room by Enrique and the rest of the workers. I feel like I can breathe again…comfortably.

“Y-yes, I’m fine. I’m fine.”

“No you’re not. Something’s bothering you. Is it the paparazzi outside?”

Shit. Paparazzi outside already? I had estimated they would find out we were here much later, but obviously that’s not the case, because the camera men on the other side of the street and by the bushes on the sidewalk say otherwise.

“I’ll tell the receptionist to close the blinds.”

“No, it’s fine. I expected this.”

“Okay,” she raises an eyebrow at me. “Then what is it?”

I contemplate telling Sarah about the dream. Why? Because that’s the reason why I’m having a hard time concentrating on the suit rather than what Sebastian looks like in it and out of it. Is it my fault necessarily? No. I believe that dream happened because I’m spending too much time with him. But I can’t let this get in the way of making decisions because I’m too focused on how good his ass looks!

I tap my heels together, thinking on admitting my reason for distancing myself.

“It’s embarrassing.” I finally say. Now Sarah is completely invested, eyes wide and phone turned off and placed to the side.

“What’s embarrassing?” she asks slowly, like she’s treading dangerous waters.

“You can’t tell anyone! Especially the person involved. I’m only telling you this because I feel like I need to tell someone.”

Me trusting Sarah is like someone trusting a Peeping Tom to install their blinds. But at this point, I’ve gone too far for it to be easy to turn back.

“I’m not going to tell anyone,” she assures sincerely. Surprisingly, I believe her. “I promise. Besides, knowing you, it’s probably not that bad.”

Oh, trust me. It’s bad.

The quaint waiting music plays softly in the background as I try and figure out where to start.

“Okay. Back in Seattle, when we were staying at the hotel, I had a dream—”

“Champagne, ladies?”

The receptionist is in front of us with two tall glasses of the sparkling wine. We take it kindly and watch her walk away from us back to her desk. I sip the drink gradually.

“So you had a dream?” Sarah asks. I have a feeling she knows where this is going.

“Yes. I had a dream. And it was a kind of dream that I don’t have. A dream that is very…inappropriate.”

“Oh. So a wet dream?”

Shh!” I snap. It’s alarming how cool and collected she is, especially when she starts chuckling to herself.

“Shit, Leslie. That’s what you’re worked up about? I thought it was something a lot worse.”

“It is a lot worse!” I lash out in a hushed voice. “Because I woke up with my hand where it shouldn’t have been!”

Sarah is laughing even harder than before. I don’t know if I should be relieved or insulted.

“So you’re telling me that you not only had your first wet dream, but you diddled your fiddle for the first time, too?”

Please never say that again.”

“It’s completely normal, Leslie. If I had a dollar for every wet dream I’ve had, I’d be a very wealthy woman right now.”

“But you don’t understand—”

“You know,” she interrupts as she drinks her wine, “I’d never think that a serious woman like you would be so innocent. It’s actually adorable.”

“It isn’t adorable when the wet dream I had was about Sebastian!”

Her eyes almost pop out of their sockets before she spits out the wine in her mouth from shock.

“WHAT!?”

It’s too late for me to try and quiet her down, because Enrique, Lucas and Sebastian are already out of the fitting room and looking at us as if we’re crazy.

“My couch!” Enrique exclaims. I thought his accent couldn’t get any thicker.

Sebastian stares at us, mostly at Sarah catching her breath with wine dripping from her mouth, and decides to approach us.

“What the hell happened?”

“Nothing!” Sarah yells at him in the most non-threatening way Sarah Gonzales possibly can. I’m blushing so hard I need to stand up from the seating area and turn away from the commotion, but unfortunately, the paparazzi outside got a good look at what happened.

“Um…I think we’ll take the suit,” I hear Lucas tell Enrique after looking at the minor chaos long enough.


When we arrive to the location of the charity ball on Friday night in Atlanta, the venue reminds me of something out of a dream. Wide, classic architecture with a large glass chandelier that sparkles up above. Everyone there, except for the press, is in ball gowns and tuxedos. Sebastian, like I predicted, turned female (and male) heads when we walk inside the ballroom. He is one of the few who attended without a date, but since he didn’t want to bring one, I respected his wishes.

And Lucas and Sarah looked at me like I was crazy when I didn’t oppose his request.

Soft music from a live ensemble is playing in the main room, where people are waltzing to the sound of the violin while others socialize at their designated tables. I spot a journalist from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Newspaper coming our way.

“Okay, here’s reporter number one,” I tell Sebastian in his ear when I spot her.

He fixes his bow tie. “Alright. Is there anything specific I’m supposed to say?”

I open my mouth to answer, but go over the reply I have in my head before scrapping it and telling him:

“No.”

“N-no?”

I smile. “No. Just answer truthfully.”

Hell must have frozen over, Sebastian is probably thinking. Even though this is a brand new form of thinking, it’s one that I think we should have tried from the beginning: letting Sebastian be honest and true to himself and accepting the reaction, regardless of what it is. He looks confused and weary—this is the first time I’ve let him out of the nest, if you may. But I take a deep breath and counsel myself to support whatever he decides to tell the reporter, given she asks a question that may warrant an unfavorable reply.

The reporter, who is an older yet beautiful woman with jet black hair and bright blue eyes, asks Sebastian questions about the party, about Remy Callaghan and if he knows him well, and also about Harrison Incorporated.

“My father and I are not on the same page when it comes to how a company should be run,” he answers when the reporter—Sylvia Moghadam—asks about Sebastian’s opinion on Garrett’s leadership abilities.

“How so, specifically?” she asks further as she jots down his words as quickly as she can on her notepad.

Here it comes.

“Well, for starters, my father is a capitalist,” he tells her. Sylvia laughs harder than I had expected. “And capitalists are notorious for claiming that their businesses and corporations are helping out the ‘welfare’ of the American people—creating jobs and whatnot. But I think that principle, which is formally known as ‘Trickle-Down Economics’ is just ridiculous. It’s just a way of masking the fact that here in America, the rich are staying rich and the poor are staying poor. It’s that simple.”

Not only is Sylvia intrigued, but a few more reporters and guests of the ball are too as more people gather around Sylvia and listen in on what Sebastian is saying. But me? I’m too shocked to do anything, really. If this were me two weeks ago, I would have dragged him away quicker than he could finish his sentence. But now I realize I need to let go. So I laugh uncomfortably and stand by his side in support.

“So, hypothetically, if you were to become the President of a corporation in the future, how would you do things differently?”

Sebastian thinks hard about the question; his attitude is collected, as if there aren’t five other people waiting for an answer.

“I would do everything that isn’t being done now,” is all he says.

“Can we expect you to take the chair in your father’s place in the future?”

The golden question. I’m ready to usher Sebastian away, cutting their session short, but Sebastian replies with:

“Well, I’m just a reckless bachelor, right? What would I know about running a company?”

The reporter doesn’t know how to take the answer. And that’s a good thing, because it stems mystery and will eventually draw up discussion. But this also prompts us to work harder to make the public support the potential idea of Sebastian taking the chair.

Sylvia thanks Sebastian for his time, and the people who were listening in try and engage in a conversation with him. But they all stop talking before they can really start with Remy Callaghan approaches Sebastian. Remy Callaghan is young for a businessman, but not as young as Sebastian. Yet the moment he speaks, the youthful charisma I’m used to seeing from Sebastian exudes out of him.

“Sebastian Harrison. Nice to finally meet you!” he says happily.

Sebastian returns the greeting with the same amount of kindness and a firm handshake.

“Likewise, Mr. Callaghan.”

“Please, call me Remy.” A brief moment of silence. “I couldn’t help but listen in on what you were telling the reporter.”

Shit.

“Yes, well I understand it’s not the most supportive thing to say—”

Remy suddenly cuts Sebastian off with a loud laugh. “Are you kidding? I haven’t heard anything that refreshing in years!”

And like the snap of a finger, Remy guides Sebastian away from me and down the opposite direction. I can feel the excitement running through me—Remy Callaghan, in a matter of thirty seconds is in full support of Sebastian Harrison? If only I could listen in on what they’re talking about.

It takes me a solid minute until I realize that I’m standing near the dance floor by myself. And what’s worse is I’m wearing nothing worth marveling at: a black pencil skirt, a tucked in buttoned up shirt covered by a gray suit jacket, and black heels. So knowing I’m nowhere near the importance of the women waltzing in their extravagant ball gowns, I make my way to the bar in the corner, where bartenders are conjuring up modest drinks to the few who wait on the stools.

“One appletini,” I tell the bartender. He nods and begins making my drink. As he does, I stare idly at everyone, mentally assessing their attire until I become bored with the activity myself.

My phone vibrates in my hand—a text from Sarah:

“ur fav booty,” it says, with a picture of Sebastian’s ass right about the text. I scrunch up my face, mostly out of anger that she took this picture now, but also in an attempt to prevent myself from blushing.

How do I even reply to this?

Ever since I told Sarah about the “dream” yesterday, I can’t even look at Sebastian without her giving me the creepiest smile. Questions like “how was the sex?” and “did you see him completely naked?” have popped up so incessantly, I’m sure we’ve both become broken records when I reply “I’m not telling you” with every question. But to my knowledge, she’s remained true to her word by not telling Sebastian about it.

For now.


Well into the night and Sebastian has become the crown jewel of the ball. Despite the focus of the event being on Leukemia, the mood of the venue has gradually heightened as Sebastian spoke to many of Remy’s friends, made groups of people laugh until one of them couldn’t breathe, and even waltzed with one woman three times his age. And I was unsure if I had too many Appletini’s or not when I saw said woman sneak an ass grab out of Sebastian during the dance, but I knew it wasn’t a result of my alcohol consumption when Sebastian’s body went stiff as a pole after the old lady’s contact.

All she did was smile widely up at him as I saw him say down to her politely, “I don’t think your hand belongs back there, Ma’am.”

Hours into the ball, and the crowd has gradually died down a bit. Sebastian is still talking to Remy, only this time the assistance of champagne has made their conversations louder and more comical. This is a good sign. A very good sign.

I part away from the bar that has been my ally for the last two hours. There’s a hallway some ways away from the ballroom, and for some odd reason I decide to wander down the vibrantly lit area. All I see are a few couples talking and laughing against the walls. Not unusual for an event like this.

When the music of the main waltz is muffled, I can instantly hear the sounds of a female voice singing, paired with the deep sounds of the double bass and soft drums. Confused but allured, I walk further until I’m in front of a door. And like the nosey creature I am, I open it.

The room that I walk into is like a smaller version of the main ballroom, painted with the same designs, lit with the same lighting fixtures, and dotted with windows blessed with intricate wooden frames. The only difference is, there is no one in here.

Well, no one except a band that I notice at the edge of the room.

They stop playing when they see me. I curse myself quietly for being so prying.

“God, I’m sorry!” I yell to them; my voice echoes. “I didn’t mean to intrude, I just…I just wanted to know where the music was coming from!”

The woman, lead singer of the band, is a frail coy miss with a small smile but a big pair of eyes.

“Oh, no it’s fine!” she assures me nicely into the microphone. “You didn’t bother us at all. We have an hour before we go out for the slow dance anyway.”

I’m hesitant to ask. “Is it alright if I watch you rehearse? You sounded so amazing.”

They all nod without a second’s delay. And as if I didn’t even come into the room, the man playing the violin starts off the music with a slow gradual glide of the bow against the strings before the rest of the instruments join in and open up the air for the woman to sing her soft melody. Her voice is angelic, gentle, yet powerful in the essence of jazz. Hopefully I’m here to see them perform out in the main ballroom.

“My gut told me you would be in here.”

I turn around at the voice. Sebastian inches into the room with his hands in his front pockets. His hair is much more frazzled than the neatly combed style he had at the beginning of the night, but somehow he still manages to look extremely attractive in his specially tailored tux.

I smile placidly. “When has your gut ever been wrong?”

He laughs at my sarcasm. The band continues to play, but I notice the lead singer’s eyes watching us innocently as she sings.

“I’m surprised you’re not drunk yet,” I tell him.

“Me too. The champagne isn’t that heavy, and I haven’t had much time to go check out the bar.” As he stands next to me, he smirks deviously before his next sentence. “But I saw you enjoying yourself with your little Appletini’s over there.”

“Oh, God,” I groan before covering my face in shame. “I only had two. Two!”

“Hey, I’m not judging.” He tries not to laugh, but fails horribly.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. By the way, I saw you and Remy together. You two were getting along very nicely.”

“I know. I gave him my number, too. Hopefully he’ll call me back and he’ll take me out for a walk around the park.”

God, he’s such an ass.

As much as I try not to laugh, a rogue snort escapes my mouth before I burst out cackling at his sarcasm. We laugh together until the musical background suddenly stops.

When we look over, the lead singer of the band is discussing something quietly to her bandmates. They agree wordlessly before the double bass starts off with something much slower. Her voice chimes in again, in a seductive, slow and entrancing manner. Her eyes glued onto us, I know exactly what she’s trying to do.

“Oh, no, no, no, that won’t be necessary,” I project to them. “We have to get back anyway.”

“The ball is almost over anyway,” Sebastian says nonchalantly to me. “I doubt they’ll realize we’re gone.”

Before I can protest, his hand is extended outwards towards me, and his feet haltingly move closer and closer to the center of the ballroom floor.

I shake my head. “Nope, nope, nope.”

“Oh, c’mon. No one is watching.”

“The band is watching,” I reply smartly. “And besides, there are plenty of women out there who would die at the chance for you to carry them off into a dance.”

“But I don’t want to dance with them. I want to dance with you.”

I ignore the increasing tempo of my heart. “You told me that verbatim at Oliver Epp’s party in North Carolina.”

“I know,” the playful smile on his face is abruptly gone. “But this time…I actually mean it.”

When I say that I have nothing clever to reply with, I mean it. I go over anything I could possibly say that would get me out of embarrassing myself in a dance with him, but nothing comes out of my mouth. But the issue is, everything I want to say is too honest for me to have the confidence to confess.

Until I allow it to slip.

“I’ve never danced before, Sebastian,” I explain to him. “I…I don’t know how; no one has ever asked me to so I’m not very knowledgeable of the craft.”

His eyes become pitiful at how much I have faltered. All I can do is give him a smug smile and hope he understands. But adversely, he proceeds to take my hand in his and pull me closer towards him. And when he places his left hand on my lower back, I suddenly forget how to form words.

“Then I’ll teach you,” he tells me with a confident smile.

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