Well, I am living that story right now.
The man settles into a seat at the head of the conference table (instead of the chair nearest me) and just stares in my direction.
Maybe he thinks I’m going to be that stupefied girl. That I will cower beneath his deep gray eyes and his combed dishwater blond hair. He’s twenty-eight, stained with Hollywood elitism and self-righteousness. When I first talked to him, he name-dropped actors and producers and directors, waiting for me to go slack-jawed and dopey. “I know so-and-so. I did a project with what’s-his-face.”
My boyfriend had to grab the phone out of my hand before I cursed at the Hollywood exec for irritating the shit out of me.
He finally speaks. “Do you have the contracts?” His chair screeches as he leans back.
I pull out the stack of papers from my handbag.
“Bring them here.” He motions to me with two fingers.
“You could have sat beside me,” I retort, standing on two chunky heels with brass buttons, military-inspired and part of the new Calloway Couture collection.
“But I didn’t,” he says easily. “Come here.”
My heels clink across the hardwood, and I make the perilous catwalk up to Scott Van Wright.
He props one ankle on his thigh, his finger to his cheek as he unabashedly peruses my body. From my slender legs, to the hem of my black pleated dress with sheer quarter-sleeves, and to the high collar that frames my stiff neck. He traces my dark-glossed lips, my rose-blushed cheeks, and bypasses right over my pissed-off eyes, spending an extra moment fixated on my chest.
I stop by his legs and throw the contracts on the table in front of him. They slide off the polished surface and land on his lap. One stapled stack even slips to the floor. I smile wide since he has to bend down awkwardly to reach them.
“Pick that up,” he tells me.
My smile fades. “It’s underneath the desk.”
He cocks his head, giving me another long once-over. “And you dropped it.”
He cannot be serious. I cross my arms, not responding to his request. He just sits there, waiting for me to comply.
This is a test.
I’m used to them. Sometimes I even dole them out myself, but this one is going to lead me nowhere good.
If I bend down, he’ll establish this strange power over me. He’ll be able to command me in the same way that Connor Cobalt can force people to do his bidding with simple words.
It’s a manipulator’s gift.
I’m not even close to possessing it. I think I wear my emotions too much to have that type of influence over other people.
“Grab it,” he says, his gaze halting on my br**sts again.
I remind myself why I need Scott and why I want the swarm of cameras to document my every move. I inhale. Okay. You have to do it, Rose. Whatever it takes. I cringe and drop to my knees. In a dress. This is a job for a personal assistant, not a client.
I hear him click his pen as I scoop up the papers. I’m not wearing a low-cut top where I’ll flash him. I don’t have huge br**sts to really ogle either. The most he can do is slap my ass and try to peek up my dress, the hem perilously rising on my thighs.
When I stand back up and smack the papers to the table, his lips curve upward.
Scott Van Wright (a**hole) 1 – Rose Calloway (pathetic) 0.
I sit in the nearest chair while Scott stuffs the contracts in his briefcase.
My boyfriend urged me to bring his lawyer to the meeting, but I didn’t want Scott to think that I couldn’t handle the situation myself. I won’t have a lawyer while the cameras follow me, and I’d rather take command now.
Not that I’m doing a terrific job.
If I ordered Scott to do anything, he’d laugh at me. But I attended a few law courses before I graduated from Princeton. I know my rights.
“Just so we have this clear, you work for me,” I remind him. “I hired you to produce the show.”
“That’s cute. But after you signed that contract, you’ve officially become my employee. You’re the equivalent of an actress, Rose.”
No. “I can fire you. You can’t fire me. That doesn’t make me your employee, Scott. That makes me your boss.”
I expect him to withdraw from this losing battle, but he shakes his head like I’m wrong. I know I’m right… Right? “My production company has sole ownership over anything the Calloway sisters film on network television. If you fire me, you need just cause and you can’t jump to another producer. I’m your only shot at having a reality show, Rose.”
I remember that clause, but I never thought it would be an issue. I figured I’d be around Scott maybe twice during the whole filming process. But these were his first words when he walked into the conference room: “We’re going to be seeing a lot of each other.” Lovely.
My eyes grow hot. I have to concede on this one. He won. Somehow. I hate it.
“So, now that we have that clear,” he says, sitting up and edging closer to me. His knees almost knock into mine. I go utterly rigid. “There are a few details we need to go over in case you misread them in the contract.”
“I don’t misread things.”
“Well evidently you weren’t using a portion of your brain or else you would have realized that you work for me now. And we wouldn’t have wasted…” He checks his watch. “…five minutes of my time.” He flashes me a sardonic smile like I’m a little girl.
“I’m not an idiot,” I retort. “I graduated at the top of my class with highest honors—”
“I don’t care about your f**king degree,” he says sharply. “You’re in the real world now, Rose Calloway. No university is going to teach you how to navigate this industry.”
Doubt surfaces. I don’t know much about reality television, but I’ve been immersed in the media long enough to know it can help someone as much as it can destroy them.
And I need that help.
I understand exactly why the network would take an interest in the daughters of Fizzle. My father’s brand has beat Pepsi for the past two years in sales, and he’s working to make Fizzle the soda of choice among southern states. We should be as anonymous as the face behind Coca-Cola, but ever since my family was thrust into the public eye, we’ve been under intense scrutiny, and it’s all because of my younger sister’s scandal.
My brand should have exploded from all the media and press, but the name Calloway Couture has been linked with Lily’s dirty secrets. And what once was a thriving fashion line in H&M has been destitute in boxes and boxes, piled in my New York office.
I need good exposure, the kind that will have women desiring a one-of-a-kind coat, a unique pair of a boots, an affordable but chic handbag. And Scott Van Wright is offering me a primetime reality show that will tempt viewers to purchase my pieces.
So that’s why I’m agreeing to this.
I want to save my dream.
Scott says, “There will be cameras in your living room and kitchen at all times, even after the three-person crew leaves. You’ll only have privacy in your bedrooms and bathrooms.”
“I remember this.”
“Good.” Scott clicks his pen. “Then maybe you’ll remember that each week, I expect to have interviews with the cast, which includes you, your three sisters—”
“Not three,” I say. “Only Lily and Daisy agreed to the show.” My eldest sister, Poppy, wouldn’t sign the contract because she didn’t want her daughter to be filmed. My little niece has already endured enough paparazzi since Lily’s scandal.
“Fine, she would have been a boring addition anyway.”
“I’m just being honest.”
“I’m used to blunt honesty,” I tell him. “I just find yours crass.”
He eyes me in a new way, as though my words carried a plume of toxic pheromones. I don’t understand. I am so mean. I am glaring like I want to rip off his penis, and yet, he’s attracted. There is something seriously wrong with him.
And maybe my boyfriend.
And really, any guy who’d like to be with me. I’m not even sure I want to be with me.
“As I was saying…” His knee brushes mine.
I roll backwards, and he only grins more. This is not a cat-and-mouse game like he believes. I am not a mouse. And he’s not a cat. Or vice versa. I am the f**king shark, and he’s a lame human in my ocean.
And my boyfriend, he’s the same species as me.
“Continue,” I snap.
“I’ll be interviewing you, your two sisters, Lily’s boyfriend and his brother.” 6 people + 6 months + 3 cameramen + 1 reality show = infinite drama. I’ve done the math.
Scott will be conducting the interviews though… I internally gag. “You’re forgetting my boyfriend,” I say. “He’s a part of the show too.”
“Don’t act like you forgot, Scott. You just said you were practicing honesty, and now, well, you’re a bit of a liar.”
He ignores my slight. “Every episode will be aired one week after we’ve filmed. The premiere will be in February, but we’re filming ASAP. Like I mentioned over the phone, we’re trying to make this show as real-time as possible. It’s been six months since it was publicized that your sister is a sex addict. We need to capitalize off that buzz as quickly as we can.”
“You and every other person with a camera,” I say. There’s always at least two chubby males stationed outside my gated house with lenses pointed at us. Lily jokes that they’re probably hanging around waiting for her to give them bl*w j*bs. I would be more amused if I didn’t see the mail that perverts send her, most accompanied with pictures of their hairy gen**als—it’s a sick fan club. I sift through her letters before I hand them to her now.
“And lastly,” Scott says, “you have no control over how you’re edited. That’s my call.”
I have about as much power over the reality show as I do paparazzi’s snap-quick photos.
I can try to act like a non-bitchy, non-argumentative angel on film, and Lily can try to be a virginal saint. But at the end of the day, the cameras will catch us. Flaws and all. And there’s no forcing something different. That was the stipulation that all my friends and sisters agreed to.
To do the show, we’re not pretending to be someone else.
And I would never ask that of them.
We’re rolling the dice on this one. People may hate us. They already call Lily a whore on gossip blogs. But in the small chance that people grow to love us—my company may be saved. I just need good publicity so that a retailer has a reason to stock my clothing line again.
And maybe Fizzle won’t be so bruised by Lily’s impropriety too. Maybe my father’s soda company will rise in stocks rather than fall.
That’s the hope.
“Are you okay with this?” Scott questions.
“I don’t know why you ask. I signed the contract. I have to be okay with it or else you’ll take me to court.”
He lets out a short laugh and scans my body for the third time. “I can’t imagine your boyfriend knows what to do with you.”
“Because you’ve never met him.”
“I’ve spoken to him. He sounds malleable.” He taps his pen. “If I told him to drop on his knees and suck my cock, I think he would.”
My nostrils flare. I am fuming. “You think that.” I stand. “And when he stabs you in the f**king front, I’ll be the one smiling by his side.”
Scott grins at this. “Challenge accepted.”
Stupid intellectual pricks.
Funny thing is, I’m dating one.
So while I’m stuck in this moronic c*ck fight, I know I’m partially to blame.
I knew I should have lowered my standards—dated a guy who rides around on his skateboard with his shirt inside-out. I grimace. Just kidding. I’ll take my suit-and-tie boyfriend. I’ll take the high IQ and the rapid-fire banter. I just hope Scott’s eagerness to unsettle him won’t disrupt the reality show.
But if I know anything, it’s this:
My boyfriend loves winning.
And he hates to lose even more.
[ 2 ]
I juggle a box of old invoices and a bag of salads and chicken primavera that’s hooked on my arm, searching for my keys in my clutch. My phone occupies one palm, and I struggle to maintain perfect balance on my wrap-around porch, teetering in a pair of four-inch booties.
I live in a college town: Princeton, New Jersey. And my gated colonial house has acres of sprawling green lands, black shutters, and winter flowers. But right now, I can’t take pleasure in the serene atmosphere.
A lens gleams to my left, filming. The camera guy is roughly around my age, wiry and lanky. In two days, Ben has talked as much as his other two cohorts, which is not much at all. They just shoot.
His sole presence distracts my juggling act.
And red sauce leaks from the white plastic bag, missing my pea coat and dribbling on my romper. I flail in distress, trying to maintain a morsel of grace, but my box of invoices starts to tilt off me.