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

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Chapter 66

I wake up the next morning and immediately get to work.

I’ve been receiving calls about Sebastian’s party since I opened my eyes—E! News, People, TMZ, POPSUGAR, you name it. Apparently, they all want to know the reason for Sebastian’s erratic behavior at his house party and why he was so ballistic in the first place. Darcy and I have been commenting the same thing: “We don’t have a comment on that at this time.” The ironic this is, I’m the reason he was acting that way in the first place. Though, I’m the last person they’d expect to push Sebastian to that point.

I sit at my dining room table, sipping coffee even though I’m not in the mood to consume much of anything, and sift through the rest of my emails on my laptop. I’m trying my best to keep ‘him’ out of my mind, because whenever I think too much about him, I remember what happened last night and what he did to me. I should have expected something like that to happen—Sebastian sleeping with a hot piece of ass to soothe the pain I’ve caused him. I just didn’t expect to walk into him engaging in a threesome with one of the party members being Felicity Felix—the woman who called pretending she didn’t know where he was. I assumed giving the journal to Ingrid would rid me of the ties my heart has to Sebastian, but it only made them worse.

That’s the plight of a publicist—you know a little too much about your clients, and there’s a chance that it can pull you in too deep.

As I respond to emails with the same generated response, there’s a soft knock on my door. Of course, Pedro being the protective guard dog he thinks he is, barks incessantly.

“Pedro.” I take off my reading glasses and get up to answer the door. “Calm down.”

His barking continues, but I open the door anyway, and who I see in front of me is a surprise.

“Hey, Leslie,” Claude says, looking past me at my opened laptop on the table. “This a bad time?”

I shake my head, trying to hide the confounding look on my face. “No, not at all. Um…how did you get in?”

“Some old man let me in right when I made it to the door. I didn’t know it was a locked vicinity so I guess I’m lucky.”

Questioning it further would require energy I don’t have, so I politely invite him inside and close the door behind me. Claude slides his hands into his slacks and takes in my apartment quietly, and my eyes wander down to the black bag hanging from his shoulder down to his hip. I know he’s here because of Sebastian; why else would he be here at my apartment? We don’t know each other that well to have social visits.

“Nice place,” he comments, scratching his beard. “Roomy.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re wonderin’ why I’m here, aren’t you?”

I nod, Claude laughing meekly. I wish I would have gotten a heads up he was coming by so I wouldn’t be wearing the pajamas I’m wearing now, but he doesn’t seem to care at all. He cares more about his own appearance than anything—black suit vest, maroon button up, and dress shoes, all way out of my budget range. The several times I’ve seen him, he’s never failed at looking suave and slick, no matter what he’s doing.

“First off, how you holdin’ up, Princess?” he asks me. “Last night was a train wreck; I’ll tell you that.”

“I’ve had better days.” I sit on the arm of my couch. “Why? Did Sebastian send you here?”

“No, he didn’t actually. He’s currently going through a real good detox to get all that blow and whatever else he did last night out of his system.”

How am I supposed to respond to that? With pity? Concern? I mean, yes, I’m worried about Sebastian; I’m always worried about him. But he put that on himself. He chose to snort up enough crack to kill an elephant and have sex with two girls who obviously have an ulterior motive against me. Him and I both know that life isn’t really him—it’s a coping mechanism. I just don’t want to be the one to remind him that it is; it’s not like he’d want to hear my voice anyway at this point, being that we’re at quite an impasse.

“I don’t know how to reply to that, Claude. He has no one to blame but himself. That’s it.”

“He feels really bad, Leslie,” he says, like an adult trying to talk sense into a stubborn child. “His manager’s forcing him into isolation for the media shitstorm he’s caused, but he’s been wanting to call you all morning, and even tried coming over here himself.”

I would be lying if I said that Claude’s words didn’t change my outlook. He doesn’t seem like a man to lie about something like this; he was angry at Sebastian last night when he pulled him off of me. Still, a part of me is reminded of how each time I trust a man who hurts me, it ends up going south again—Hudson, now Sebastian. The only difference between Hudson and Sebastian, is that I’m guilty in this situation, too.

“We aren’t in a good place to talk,” I reply quietly, guilt slowly eating at me. “We both fucked up, but that doesn’t excuse Sebastian’s behavior last night.”

“Now, that’s why I’m here.”

Claude then opens the mysterious bag at his side. Inside is a manila folder that he pulls out. I stare at it, then stare at him.

“What is this?” I ask him.

“Sebastian called me last night around eight, telling me that he was a little too fucked up for his own control,” Claude explains. “Good thing I decided to make a short pit stop in L.A. before I headed back to Jersey, right? Anyway, I arrived, we ended the party, and Felicity and I had a little conversation afterwards before she left. She told me that she didn’t know who that little redhead, Claire was, and the three-way just ‘happened.’”

Felicity’s name makes the anger return to me in a sudden spurt. “So what’s your point?”

Claude narrows his eyes at me when he hears my impatience. I apologize with my eyes before he continues.

“Shit didn’t add up. Just seeing how out of it Sebastian was and hearing her story, along with the stories of Sebastian’s three little friends didn’t make sense. So, early this morning, I…looked into it a little bit more.”

What Claude shows me are developed photos with time stamps from around 8 this morning. The first photo is of Felicity walking on a sidewalk, entering the outside seating area of a restaurant—unsuspecting and trusting. The next photo is of her sitting at an empty table, her hands propped underneath her chin, staring at the cars on the street with her blonde waves blowing in the wind. Her sunglasses do a good job at hiding her possible rundown state from the night before.

“You took these?” I ask, but he doesn’t answer me. Maybe he feels there’s no need to answer a question that I should already know the answer to.

The next photo makes my heart jump a bit. Claire, her red hair tied up into a bun, sits next to Felicity in the shot. They don’t look friendly; they’re expressions are serious and focused as they speak to each other.

“So they do know each other?” I clarify. I’m taken back, but not surprised.

“It appears so. They also seem to know this woman.”

Finally, the last of the photos succeeds at knocking the wind out of me. I blink a few times like that will erase the person I see sitting across from them. But it doesn’t; my mother is still in the photograph, no matter how many times I tell myself it can’t be her.

I snatch the picture out of his hand and narrow in on the woman—my mother—talking austerely to Felicity and Claire. Snap after snap, their conversation is deep and filled with words I wish I knew. But in truth, I already have a strong idea of what they’re talking about and why my mother is involved; she told Garrett about Axel, and seeing her as an asset, Garrett used my mother’s hatred towards me to instruct Felicity and Claire on how to sabotage Sebastian and I’s relationship even further.

And I fell for it. All of it.

“My…my mom,” I stammer out. “My mother.”

“I knew there was more to this than what I was seein’,” Claude says. “I don’t know if they’re responsible for Sebastian getting fucked up, too, but I’m damn sure they have a heavy hand in everything that happened last night; those women came to the party for a very specific reason.”

“Felicity called me, pretending she didn’t know where Sebastian was. It was just to lure me in all along; she wanted me to come into the room.”

Claude shakes his head, raking a hand through his hair, but at the same time he doesn’t seem as affected as I am by all of this. I still can’t believe my mother is wrapped up in this, too; what reason does she have to ruin me? That being a question I’ve asked myself my entire life.

“I’m sorry, princess,” Claude tells me. “I just thought it was important for you to know. In case you were thinking of doing anythin’ stupid.”

He gives me a paper, telling me that his number is on it in case I need anything. That is where Claude leaves me, exiting my apartment to allow me to dwell in yesterday’s chaos and today’s discovery. What the hell has happened; what did I do?

I know what I did. I acted out of rage and didn’t sit to think of how everything plays back to one source: Garrett. He’s smart; he uses people’s emotions to make them self-destruct, leaving no trace of evidence to point directly towards him. That’s what he’s doing—turning Sebastian and I against each other and pushing me away from him. And I fell for it completely.

I need that journal back.


“Hi, I’m sorry to show up here so incessantly, but I’m here to see Ingrid.”

I can’t stop tapping my feet, waiting for the receptionist at Ingrid’s firm to reply to me. I can tell she’s irritated with me, especially due to last night when I barged in here unprofessionally. She sees the urgency in the way I stand and how I bite my lip. I won’t be able to ease up until I have that small leather booklet back in my possession.

“I’m sorry, but Ingrid hasn’t come in today.”

“Wh-what? Why?”

“She’s late, that’s why!”

The receptionist and I see a man—the same man who yelled at Ingrid when I first met her—walk into the waiting area. He’s obviously pressed and agitated.

“She was supposed to come in an hour ago,” he continues. “Hasn’t even called in.”

“Well, can you call her?” I ask. The receptionist rolls her eyes, but the manager gives her a demanding look that prompts her to dial her number.

I wait with bated breath. Five seconds…ten seconds…twenty seconds…thirty seconds…

“Voicemail,” the receptionist tells us.

“Can you try again?”

Annoyed, she dials Ingrid’s number, but after another thirty seconds, she tells me that it has yet again gone to voicemail.

“I’m going to have her head when I get a hold of her,” Ingrid’s manager lashes out. But if my guess is right, which I know it is, then he won’t ever have a chance to reprimand her.

I rush out of the firm and to my car. Vainly, I call Ingrid’s number with no answer. My hands are shaking so much that I can’t even unlock my car properly, but when I do, I get in and sit in silence for a moment. I don’t know what to do. Think, Leslie, think…

Claude.

He gave me is number before he left. Whatever the hell he does, he can track someone from their phone number, right? At this point, I shouldn’t even ask ‘what’, just ‘can.’

I dial his number and wait. He answers on the third ring.

“Hello?”

“Claude. It’s…it’s Leslie.”

“Leslie.” He pauses; God, his intuition is scary. “What happened?”

“Look, I know that…that this is crazy, and I know that we don’t know each other very well, but I need you to do something for me.”

“What is it?”

“I need you to track a number down? Tell me where they’re at? I-I don’t know how you’d do it but—”

“What’s the phone number?”

No questions; no funny business. I give Claude Ingrid’s number, listening to him scribble it on a paper with pen. Afterwards, he tells me to hold on for a moment. My hand taps impatiently against my steering wheel faster than a rabbit’s thumping foot.

“Um…Ingrid Jefferson?”

“Yes! Yes, that’s her! Do you know where she’s at?”

I expect him to tell me that she’s at Harrison Inc., in Garrett’s office, or at Garrett’s house, or some café or secret location meeting up with him. But when Claude tells me that she’s at Sebastian’s house, I freeze. At his name, at the location, and at her name in the same sentence as those subjects. Is she planning on giving the journal to Sebastian in an attempt to make me the evil one? Did Sebastian call her to his house? Jesus, why is she there!?

“Leslie,” Claude says when the line is quiet for too long. “What did you do?”

“I don’t know.” I close my eyes tight; think, Leslie, think. “I…I think I did something stupid.”

“Jesus Christ, princess. This just doesn’t end with you, does it?”

“Don’t patronize me, Claude!” I whine, on the verge of tears. “I don’t know what to do!”

“Okay, okay, okay. First, calm down. Take a deep breath, then let it out.”

Horribly, I do just that.

“Good. Now tell me why this girl is so important.”

I tell him about the journal (without the details of what’s inside) and how I gave it to Ingrid last night. I tell him about her and the relationship she has with Garrett, but at the same time, this relationship never made sense to me; I never knew what side she was on. I also explain how she believes that Sebastian is in love with her and that I’m in the way of them being together. When I finish explaining everything I can, Claude exhales loudly; I hear him scratching his facial hair over the phone.

“Alright. Meet me in front of Sebastian’s house. Don’t try to get into the gate, because security is definitely not going to let you in. I’ll be there in about half an hour.”

“Alright. I’ll meet you there.”

After our call ends, I start my car and make a bee-line for Sebastian’s house. I coach myself to take deep breaths on the way there, but the closer I get to his house, the higher my anxiety rises. Why?

Because I have no fucking clue what is going to happen. I can’t even guess.

I turn on Sebastian’s street and slowly cruise down until I see his house. But what I see outside of his house makes me slam on my breaks—paparazzi, clustering around his front gate with their cameras ready in their hands. I guess there are about thirty of them waiting outside, some snapping photos of his home that doesn’t even provide an inkling of evidence that Sebastian is home.

“Shit,” I mutter. I park a block down; I still see them from where I’m at, scouting and camping. God, can Claude get here any faster?

Twenty minutes have gone by. The paparazzi have not moved, and neither have I. I’ve been looking out for Claude even though I have no idea what car he drives. I’ve even tried Ingrid’s phone a couple of times again, but of course, no answer.

Deep breaths. Deep breaths.

RING.

I’ve never grabbed my phone so quick in my life, but the caller I.D. isn’t who I am expecting. Seeing Sarah’s name on the screen makes me stare at my phone like it isn’t real. I answer it anyway.

“Sarah, this isn’t a good time—”

“Are you happy now?!”

My skin is shivered cold at her furiousness.

“What are you talking about?”

I hear her panting, like she’s climbing a hill or something.

“Sebastian’s childhood? All of his private shit? His fucking manifesto? It’s everywhere, Leslie. Did you leak it!?”

So this is what was supposed to happen? This is why the paparazzi are outside of his house?

“I have Sebastian barricaded inside his fucking home,” she continues when I don’t reply. “He has no idea what the hell is going on; I took his phone, his laptop, everything. He has no clue that his “teenaged-crack-addiction” and “dysfunctional family history” are on every gossip site anyone can think of. I have to walk to an uber down the hill because I can’t drive my car out of the gate!”

Pulling my phone away from my cheek, I see it for myself—my email is overflowing, my entertainment apps are buzzing, and my text messages are bustling. With shaking hands, I type in Sebastian’s name into google:

“Sebastian Harrison—The Dark and Twisted Way the Playboy Received His Reigning Title.”

“Anonymous source reveals all about Sebastian Harrison’s tragic childhood.”

“‘She was like a mom to me.’ The unnamed woman who raised Sebastian Harrison into the man he is today.”

“The heartfelt relationship between Sebastian Harrison and his nanny; anonymous source shares never-before-seen information about the bachelor’s drug addiction, childhood bullying experiences, and loss of his mother figure.”

“EXCLUSIVE: Sebastian Harrison’s sexual assault experience—what the Playboy didn’t want anyone to know about his past.”

Sarah thinks I’ve hung up from how many times she calls my name. I just can’t move, or speak, or think straight.

What I’m reading is real.

“Leslie! Answer me!”

I bring the phone up to my ear and force myself to speak. “I…I…Sarah—”

“How are you going to fix this?” She asks me demandingly. “I can’t hide him in his house forever, and it’s only a matter of time before he finds out about the shit you just did!”

I want to tell her about Ingrid, but I know that it won’t justify what I did at all.

“Great job, Leslie. I hope you realize how horrible this all is. Fuck!”

The call drops.

Like clockwork, Claude is outside of my car window. I fumble with my seatbelt and stumble out of my car when the door is opened; he catches me before I land on the ground. I can’t breathe; no amount of air will help me.

“What’s wrong? Leslie! What’s wrong!?”

My reply is gibberish as a result of failing to articulate anything. Claude is holding me up with his arms because my legs have given out. I still can’t breathe, and my eyes are just a blur of Claude holding my limp body up. The conversations Sebastian and I had about Gloria, about the party he was at when he was seventeen, about the bullying and the unloving family and the drug addiction—he trusted me with it all, no matter what circumstances came in the way of that. And I betrayed him; mom betrayed me; Ingrid betrayed me; Felicity betrayed him; Garrett betrayed us.

Fainting is quick and painless; Claude’s voice is a muffled shout before everything goes black.

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