I try to rid my mind of Aiden and focus on the task at hand.
Keeping Eastbrooke safe from Vincent.
I walk toward the room where Cooper and the dean have corralled the press.
As I get to the door, they’re both walking out.
Cooper speaks to the dean in rapid-fire fashion. “She lied because she’s being stalked. I’m her bodyguard. We cannot let this get out on social media or Eastbrooke itself will be in danger.” Cooper points to some students on the dance floor who are on their phones.
“I can handle the students,” the dean says. “What I can’t control is the press.”
“I’ll handle them,” I say confidently.
The dean walks onto the stage and takes the microphone. “All right. Everyone listen up. Take out your phones. Excellent. I’d like you to delete any photos you took of Keatyn. If any of you posted about her, Abby Johnston, Eastbrooke, or what just transpired, I’d like you to delete it immediately from any and all social networks. At Eastbrooke, we pride ourselves on our students’ security and privacy. Each and every one of you knows security, excellence, leadership, and a sense of community is what keeps Eastbrooke strong. As is always our policy, we will be monitoring your social media to make sure you are showing yourself and our school in the best light. Anyone who publicly speaks of this will face detention and possible expulsion. Do I make myself clear?”
Cooper says to me, “One down, one to go. You ready?”
“I need to make a quick phone call first. While I do, could you find me some paper?”
He grabs a large decorative snowflake off the wall. “Will this work?”
I can’t help but chuckle. “Yeah, that will work.” Then I call Damian.
“I heard what you did for Peyton,” he says immediately. “Thank you.”
“Is she okay?”
“Because of you, yes. But she’s a wreck. I’m headed to the airport now.”
“I have a favor.”
“Anything. You know that.”
“I’m about to talk to the local press. In order to keep them quiet about me being at Eastbrooke, I need to give them a bigger story.”
“Bait and switch. Hollywood does it all the time.”
“Unfortunately, I don’t have a bigger story to offer.”
“But I do. That’s why you called me.”
“You’re right. Damian Moran’s date in New York City with his new girlfriend would do the trick. But we’d have to fix Peyton’s social media first so Vincent can’t connect her to me.”
“Of course. We’ll do whatever you need. It’s the least we can do.”
“Aiden walked out when he heard the truth about my mom.”
“You told everyone the truth? Peyton was sobbing, so it was hard to follow exactly what happened. She just kept saying you saved her.”
“I told them who my mom is, but I didn’t tell them the truth about why I lied. I told them it was because I wanted to prove I could act.”
“Why didn’t you tell them about the stalker?”
“Because there are people here who would call Vincent themselves if they knew the real story. I have to protect my friends. Protect Eastbrooke.”
“You should be protecting yourself.”
“That’s next on the list. Okay, I have to go.”
“Let’s meet tomorrow to discuss.”
“Thanks for always being my friend.”
“I love you. I’m pissed and scared that you outed yourself but, at the same time, I’m proud of what you did for Peyton. Seriously, Keats, you’ve changed. I like it.”
Cooper motions for me to follow him.
“Thanks, Damian. I gotta go.”
I follow Cooper into a room where the press, three reporters and two cameramen, have gathered. All of them are young.
And, hopefully, hungry.
I was going to emulate my mother. She handles the press so well.
But my mom didn’t go through what I did with Vincent.
I’ll just be me.
I smile, shake each one of their hands, and introduce myself. “Hi. I’m Keatyn.” After that, I address them. “So, I have a huge favor. I’d like for you not to report what you just heard.”
“Are you kidding me?” the short, blonde reporter says. “Abby Johnston is big news.”
“You’re right. She is. But I’m not her. I mean, what would you report exactly?”
“That you’re at a boarding school using a different last name than hers. Trying to hide who you are.”
I nod, agreeing with her. “Except that my mom and I have had different last names my whole life. Douglas for me. Johnston for her.”
“But you lied about it.”
“So what? I didn’t want people to judge me. I wanted to make friends because of who I am, not who my mom is. Not exactly a scandal. I doubt your editors would even print it.”
She looks defeated, but the other reporter narrows her eyes. “Why do I get the feeling there’s something more to the story?”
I give them my slow smile, the one that’s exactly like Mom’s.
“Because you’re a good reporter.” I turn to Cooper. “I’ll take that paper now.”
I show them the snowflake and my purple glitter pen. “I’m going to write up a simple non-disclosure agreement. If you sign it and agree not to tell anyone, I’ll tell you the truth.”
“But we can’t talk about it?”
“Yes. The story has purposely been kept out of the press.”
They all look at me like I’m nuts.
I start writing, reading aloud as I do. “This says, I agree not to disclose any details about Keatyn Monroe, Keatyn Douglas, Eastbrooke, or Abby Johnston. I will not discuss what Keatyn tells me with anyone. If the truth comes out before the specified time, I will be subject to a damages lawsuit. This contract will become null and void upon two events: Keatyn’s death or when she gives written consent otherwise.”
I turn the paper around and place the pen on top of it.
No one moves.
“In return for doing me this favor, I will give you two things. The first is that when my story is ready to be shared with the press, you will get that story exclusively.”
The looks on their faces tell me they aren’t really all that excited about a possible future story, so I dangle the bigger bait. “The second is a story you can use now. One every entertainment reporter in the country has been dying for.”
“What’s that? Is Abby pregnant again?” the red-haired reporter asks, perking up.
“Are she and Tommy breaking up?” her photographer asks.
“Is it true that Tommy is having an affair with the nanny?” another says.
“If you agree to my terms and sign the NDA, you will get to report on and photograph the first public date of Damian Moran and his new girlfriend. The date will take place in New York City. It will include dinner, a romantic carriage ride through Central Park, and a kiss. Who knows, maybe they’ll even window shop at Tiffany’s. You’ll be given a media packet with pertinent information about the girlfriend along with the story of how they met.”
None of the reporters can hide their surprise.
And I’m sure none of them ever thought coming to a high school dance would net them a story like this.
I hold out my pen to the blonde closest to me.
“I think we can all agree to those terms,” she says, quickly signing the agreement.
Once everyone has signed, I turn to Cooper. “Would you please sign as a witness?”
I photograph Cooper signing the snowflake, take another of the document itself, and forward them to Sam.
“Now that the business part is out of the way, I’ll tell you my story. If something happens to me, you’ll have the inside scoop—”
I’m interrupted by pounding on the door.
Cooper and I share a glance, mine probably more panicked than his.
Could Vincent have found me already?
And would he knock?
Cooper cracks the door and says, “Not now.”
“Keatyn, we’re not leaving!” I hear Riley yell.
Did he say we?
Tears start prickling my eyes. I rush to the door and motion for Cooper to open it.
And that’s when I see all of them.
Riley, Ariela, Jake, Dawson, Maggie, Logan, Dallas, Bryce, and even Katie and Annie are standing outside the door.
“We’re not leaving,” Riley states. He’s standing straight and tall with his chin confidently jutting out.
“And we know you’re lying,” Jake says, surprising me.
“I’m not lying, Jake. Abby Johnston is my mom.”
“That part I believe. It’s the rest of it. About why you came here. You didn’t come to act. And don’t think you can fool me. I recognize your mean girl character from drama.”
“And you better have a damn good reason for lying to your best friends,” Dallas pipes up.
I look at Annie. Her eyes are full of tears. She mouths, I’m sorry.
Cooper moves between us. “They need to go, Keatyn.”
I remember being in Malibu and wondering who my true friends were. I close my eyes for a moment and make a decision. “Why don’t you all come in and have a seat.”
Cooper shakes his head. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”
“I trust them,” I say loudly, as much to them as to Cooper.
I give everyone a hug, ask them to take a seat, and then address them. “I’m about to tell you a secret. It’s very important that this secret doesn’t get out. If you don’t think you can keep the secret, it’s okay. We’ll still be friends, but I’ll have to ask you to leave for a bit.”
No one moves, so I go to Annie. “Are you sure?” I ask her.
“I’m sorry for what I said. I was hurt and just reacted.”
“I’m sorry for what I said too. While you listen, can you do me a huge favor?”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Take everything off the Kiki Kiki profile. Delete all the photos. Unfriend everyone. Then delete the account.”
I take a deep breath as I walk to the front of the room.
Then I start talking.
And don’t stop until I’ve told them every bit of the truth, from the moment I met Vincent until the moment he tried to kidnap me.
“Why isn’t he in jail?” one of the reporters asks.
“There wasn’t enough evidence to prove attempted kidnapping, so they let him go. Basically, it was his word against mine. He told the police that we were friends. That I invited him to the party. That there was a commotion and he was trying to help. When we were back home, I remembered he mentioned a van out back. The police found a van with duct tape and drugs in it, but it was stolen so they couldn’t trace it back to him.”
“Sneaky bastard,” Dallas says.
“Yeah, well, it gets worse.”
“Keep going,” Riley encourages.
“So, we were back at home, just trying to wrap our heads around it all. How I knew him. How they could let him go. What it would mean—when a house alarm went off down the beach at my boyfriend’s. It was quickly discovered that whoever broke in took just one thing.”
“What was that?” one of the reporters asks breathlessly.
“My bikini. The one I was wearing when I first met him on the beach.”
“Oh, that’s sick,” she says.
“He also left us something.”
“An envelope addressed to my mom. Inside were photos of me. From everywhere. School. With friends. Boyfriends. He’d been following me for months.”
“Wow,” Maggie says.
“And that’s why I was sent here. And why I had to lie about who I am. I’m hiding.”
“So, are you going to hide out forever?” Riley asks.
I tell them the rest. About Vincent following my friends. About the break-ins at the rehab centers. About Vincent showing up at the surf tournament and later in Miami. About the nationwide search for the next Abby Johnston. About the photos of Tommy and Brooklyn with their heads blown off.
About going back to the club to see Vincent.
About the girl’s death.
“That’s why I lied. I wanted everyone to hate me because I need to protect you. Protect Eastbrooke. Because if he finds out where I am, he’ll come here. And it won’t be pretty.”
“What are you going to do now?” Maggie asks.
“I’m fighting back. I’ll probably end up kidnapped or dead but, hopefully, he’ll end up in jail.” I shut my eyes tightly, not loving my odds. I look directly at the reporters. “Either way, you’ll have another story.”
Cooper escorts the press out of the room while I get hugs and words of encouragement from my friends.
Riley wraps an arm around my shoulder and whispers, “You told me the truth. Mostly.”
“Yeah, I did.”
“I got it all done,” Annie says, handing me back my phone. “You should have told us.”
“At first, I didn’t know you well enough to trust you. Once I did, I was afraid to put you in danger.”
“You were going to take me home to meet your parents,” Dawson says flatly. “Your real parents?”
“Yeah. I was going to tell you the truth on the plane.”
“And I fucked it up. I’m sorry.”
“Which really made me afraid to trust any of you.”
“Okay,” Cooper says, heading back into the room. “I think you should all either go dance or head out. It’s getting late.”
Dallas narrows his eyes at me. “Coach Steele is being awfully helpful.”
“After the Miami incident, he was brought in to babysit me. Be my bodyguard.”
Maggie gives me a smile and a wink. “Lucky girl. Have a good Christmas break. Be safe. And I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too.”
“You better be coming back to Eastbrooke.”
“If I can’t, at least now you’ll know why.”
Dallas joins the hug. “If you don’t, you better stay in touch.”
“I will. I promise.” I turn to Riley. “Hey, can I catch a ride to the hotel with you and Ariela?”
Riley looks around, seemingly surprised. “Where’s Aiden?”
I put my head down. I don’t want to say it. My heart hurts.
“Is he meeting you at the hotel?”
“He walked out and didn’t want me to follow him.”
Riley shakes his head. “Why would he do that?”
“I don’t know, Riley!” I snap.
“We’ll give you a ride,” Ariela says sweetly, comforting as always.
“Thank you. I’ll meet you out front in a couple minutes.”
As soon as everyone leaves the room, Cooper says, “I’m coming to the hotel with you. And you need to explain to me what really happened.”
“Whitney was going to share something about Peyton. It was bad, Cooper. Something that should not have been shared. I couldn’t let her do it.”
“So you outed yourself for a friend?”
“Yeah, I guess so. It just all happened so fast. In retrospect, I should have confessed to having an affair with you or something like that. We could have dealt with it a whole lot easier. I mean, big deal if you got fired and I got expelled. I didn’t tell you this, but I was going to tell Aiden the entire truth tonight as soon as we left the dance. I guess it was what was on my mind. And you don’t need to come to the hotel. I’ll be fine there. Just meet me at my loft on Monday morning, as planned.”
“Look, I know you want to call the shots. I get it. I like your bravery and your boldness, but you need to listen to me and do what I say.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Let me guard you 24/7. I believe it’s in your best interest. At least until we know if this is contained.”
“You’re probably right.”
His eyes get big and he laughs. “Did you really just agree with me?”
“Yeah, I did. I don’t think I’ll be in danger at the hotel. Even if it gets out, Vincent won’t know where I am. Everyone else is staying at another hotel near here. It’s where all the parties are. Riley and Aiden wanted us to be somewhere . . . nicer . . .” I sigh, thinking about the amazingly romantic night I was supposed to have.
“What’s your room number?” Cooper asks, getting out his phone.
He calls the hotel and makes himself a reservation, securing an adjacent room. “Don’t leave the hotel room without me.”
“Aiden walked out when he heard the truth. If he’s gone when I get to the hotel, I’ll want to go home. To my loft.”
“Sounds reasonable. I need to tie up a few loose ends with the dean and break the news to Garrett.”
“Do you have to?”
“He has computer experts who can monitor social media sites. They’re skilled hackers, which may come in handy. We need to be sure you aren’t compromised.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Don’t let him yell at you. It’s not your fault.”
As I leave, I can’t help but glance back at the students dancing to a slow song and wish Aiden and I were still out there.
Riley hands me a flask the minute I get into their limo.
I shake my head. “I’m okay.”
“How did you speak so calmly about almost being kidnapped, the stalker, and possibly dying?” Ariela asks.
“It’s been four months since it happened. I suppose I’m just used to the facts. I hope I didn’t ruin your night.”
Riley grins at me. “Some of the events were a bit unexpected but, you gotta admit, it’s been an interesting evening.”
Ariela nods in agreement. “Was it hard for you to lie?”
“At first, it was easy. All I was really lying about was my parents. But the more I got to know people, became friends with them, the harder it got. That was another reason why I almost didn’t come back to Eastbrooke after Thanksgiving break. I felt like I was being eaten from the inside out. I love you guys. It was killing me.”
She pulls me into a hug. “I’m glad we know the truth.”
My phone starts buzzing. I look down at it, hoping it’s Aiden. Instead, I see the name of someone I don’t want to deal with.
“Shit, I better take this,” I say. “Hey, Garrett.”
“What the hell were you thinking?!”
I hold the phone out as Garrett continues to yell at me. About Vincent finding me. About how stupid what I did was. How he’s going to come get me himself.
Riley and Ariela start making funny faces at me.
It feels so good to have them on my side. To not have to hide all this.
I start to laugh.
Like I’m high.
I used to wish I were dreaming. That this whole thing was just some epic, weed-induced dream. But I’m glad it’s not. Because I would have missed out on making some amazing friends.
“What the hell are you laughing about?!” I hear.
I put the phone back up to my ear. “Nothing. I’m with some friends.”
“Did you hear anything I said?”
“Kinda hard not to. Are you done?”
“I don’t need to be yelled at, Garrett,” I say calmly. “I know what I did was not good for me, but it is what it is. I can’t change it. Why don’t you take some of that passion and use it to motivate your computer wizards. The dean threatened students with expulsion if they didn’t comply, but I need keywords relating to my family and all the students’ social media monitored. If anyone posts anything, it needs to be deleted somehow. I need major damage control. Vincent cannot find out about Eastbrooke.”
“You know you’re not going to be able to go back there now.”
“I know I can’t. Um, I have to go. I’ll text you,” I tell him because I don’t want Riley and Ariela to hear what I need to say.
Me: Just because I can’t go back doesn’t mean I don’t want to protect the school. Please monitor it. Please, do whatever computer magic you can to keep it and my friends safe.
Although it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, Keatyn spends Christmas in France with her family. And she gets to give them the extravagant gifts she bought them in person.
When Mom opens the gorgeous diamond Chopard cuff I gave her, she says, “Keatyn, this is beautiful. How did you—” She stops and puts her face in her hand. When she looks up, her eyes are full of tears. She motions with her head for me to come to her.
I drop to my knees on the floor in front of the ottoman she’s perched on, take the bracelet out of the box, and put it on her wrist. “I knew it would fit you perfectly.”
“Your gifts are very extravagant this year.”
I nod, tears filling my own eyes. “I bought the girls each a pair of earrings that match your bracelet. Sam, my financial guy, has them. You know, just in case, like, something would happen. They’re a bit extravagant, too, but let them wear them, okay?”
Mom nods, pulling me into a hug. “With all of us here—with the wedding—I almost forgot about it, you know?”
“Me too. It’s been an amazing few days. I’m so glad I got to be here.”
“Your grandfather told me not to worry, but I overheard him telling Garrett that he is worried.”
“They weren’t talking about me, Mom. I’m going to be fine. I promise,” I lie. “The gifts for the girls aren’t because of Vincent. I just realized life is short. And, if anything happens to me between now and their sixteenth birthdays, I just wanted things to be in order. Grandpa gave me a big trust and I needed to be certain it would all go to them someday. But I hope that I can give them the gifts myself.”
“The mom in me says I should make you take this back.”
“And the daughter in me will be crushed if you do.”
She hugs me again tightly. “I love you, Keatyn.”
“I love you too, Mom. I hope you know that. I know this has been hard on us—that it’s driven us apart. But it doesn’t matter. Nothing will ever keep me from loving you.”
“I’m so sorry I haven’t talked to you more. I was just trying to protect you.”
“I know, Mom. I was, too. Garrett says we’re a lot alike.”
She laughs. “We are, but you have your father’s stubbornness.”
“And his eyes,” Grandma Douglas adds, joining our hug. “You both need to take care of yourselves. You understand me?”
While in France, Keatyn hears from Brooklyn.
I’m putting our gifts from Santa in my room when my phone rings. I look down and see that it’s B. I had texted him, along with all my other friends, last night, wishing them a Merry Christmas, but he was the only one I hadn’t heard back from.
“Hey, B!” I say. “Merry Christmas!”
“Keats, um . . . shit.”
“Brooklyn, what’s wrong? Are you crying? Are you okay?”
“Not really. My mom just called me.”
“Your mom? But it’s been . . .”
“What did she say?”
“That she was sorry. She’s apparently going through rehab and trying to get her life together. I’m one of her steps.”
“Do you know why she left?”
“She says she left because my dad was too controlling and she was tired of him telling her what to do.”
“That might be a good excuse for why she left him. It doesn’t explain why she left you.”
“I always thought it was because I got in trouble for not paying attention at school.”
“Is that what you’ve thought all these years?”
“I did when I was younger. Now, I know that’s not why you leave someone. She wants to see me.”
“Are you going to?”
“My dad will be pissed.”
“Brooklyn, you’re twenty years old. You’re in charge of your life.”
He sighs. “I’m not in control of anything, Keats. My dad controls my career. Fucking security controls everything else. I’m sick of everyone telling me what to do and people getting mad at me for what I can’t do.”
“I’m trying to get our lives back.”
“I’m sorry I bailed on you.”
“I understand why you did it. I just don’t understand why you didn’t tell me yourself.”
“It’s not just my dad. It’s her.”
“The girl you’re seeing?”
“Yeah. What I said about you when I won hurt her. She didn’t know about you. About us.”
“What did you tell her?”
“That you’re the only girl I’ve ever loved, but that we couldn’t see each other.”
“Did she want to know why?”
“I told her your parents don’t like me.”
“We tell similar lies, B. That’s what I came up with too.”
“Do you feel bad lying?”
“I did, yes. Aiden knows the truth now. I had told him a lot about you, but when Damian put you on speakerphone, he was there. He heard.”
“How did he take it?”
“He was upset.”
“He’s in love with you?”
“This is hard. Us. I need to see you. Figure my life out.”
“What do you need to figure out?”
“Our lives. My career. Everything just feels out of control. I hate it.”
“Life is divine chaos, isn’t that what you told me?”
“Yeah, but mine doesn’t feel very divine right now.”
“So decide what you want to do and do it.”
“I need to see my mom, Keats. I was sort of hoping maybe you’d go with me.”
“Where is she?”
“Oh, B. I’m not sure being in Malibu is a good idea for either of us right now.”
“I heard you went back and danced at that club.”
“How did you hear that?”
“Garrett’s security guys were talking about it. About how stupid it was.”
“It was well-planned. I was in and out of there fast.”
“So, in theory, if we planned it well, you could come, right? And it would give us a little time together. We need it, Keats.”
“Where are you now?”
“Hawaii. The first three stops next year are in Australia, so my dad has us booked to be there until the tour starts back up in March.”
“So, the tour is over for the year?”
“Yeah. When did you think it would be over?”
“I don’t know. You talked about going away for a year. I guess that’s what was in my head.”
“We said we’d give it a year and see how I did. If I could get sponsors. I won one event, but I didn’t do all that well in the others, so my dad will be picking up most of the tab for next season.”
“Which means you’ll still have to listen to him?”
“Yeah,” he says somberly.
“If you didn’t have to listen to him, what would you do differently?”
“I’d focus on surfing. Nothing else.”
“Isn’t that what your dad wants?”
“He’s more focused on the business side of it. The social media. He thinks I’m going to get sponsors, commercials, and deals because of his business savvy. That I don’t have to be that good to be famous. That I have a marketable look.”
“Did something happen between you and your dad? You’ve always gotten along.”
He’s quiet for a second. Then he sighs. “He lied to me.”
“All this time, he’s known where she was. He purposely kept us apart.”
“I’m not sure what to believe. She said that he wouldn’t let her see me.”
“B, your dad loves you. There has to be a good reason.”
“We got into a fight. Today. On Christmas. I wanted answers. He said she was mentally unstable. Didn’t want to talk about it. I kept pushing. I asked how I could trust him when all this time he’d been lying to me. You should’ve seen the look on his face when he walked out the door. It killed me.”
I picture the look on Aiden’s face when he walked out of the dance.
“You need to find him and apologize.”
“How do I trust him?”
“Sometimes you have to lie to protect the people you love.”
“I want to see my Mom. I need to see her. I need to understand.”
“Then see her. But listen to your dad’s story before you decide he’s lied to you about everything. Maybe he only lied to you about one thing. When are you supposed to see her?”
“What’s taking you so long?” Aiden says as he walks through the door.
I hold a finger up, asking him to give me a minute. He narrows his eyes at me, trying to assess the situation.
“On January third,” Brooklyn says.
“I’ll go with you, B.”
“I can’t believe I’m going to see her. After all this time.” He starts crying, and then so do I. I wish I could reach through the phone and hug him.
“It’ll be okay. B?”
“I didn’t send you a Christmas gift because you’re supposed to be with that girl.”
“I didn’t send you anything either.”
“I want to sponsor you next season. No strings attached. Just text me what you need. It’s my Christmas gift to you.”
“Keats, I can’t let you do that.”
“I went crazy on Christmas this year.”
“In case it’s your last one?”
“Yeah . . .”
“Don’t fucking say that.”
“I’m saying it, B, because it’s true. Now, go find your dad and let him tell you his side of the story.”
“Fine. I will. Merry Christmas, Keats.”
“Merry Christmas, B.”
Aiden looks at me expectantly.
“Um, I need just a minute.” I put my face into my hands, take a few deep breaths, and try to process everything that just happened.
After a few minutes, Aiden sits on the bed next to me, wraps his arm around me, and kisses the side of my face.
“Wanna talk about it?”
“Not really, Aiden,” I say, but then I see his eyes and remember what he said at Stockton’s about his imagination. “It was B, as you heard. He was upset.”
“Where are you going with him?”
“To visit his mom. He hasn’t seen or heard from her since she left over ten years ago. Until today. And, to top it off, he found out that his dad has been lying about her all this time. He told B he didn’t know where she was, but he just didn’t want him to see her.”
“His dad says she was mentally unstable. They got into a fight about it. He was upset.”
“Why were you crying?”
“Because he started crying when I said I’d go with him.”
Aiden is quiet and seems to be choosing his words carefully. “Will you be gone for long?”
“He wants . . .”
“He wants to see how we feel. When we’re together.”
Aiden looks up at the ceiling, closes his eyes, and goes, “Boom.”
And that sets me off.
“You’re right. I’m in no position to be saying I love someone or sleeping with them when my life is such a mess. It’s not fair to you. It’s just, you made me feel—never mind. I have to go.” I’m ready to start crying, and I’m tired of letting him see me cry. “Uh, I’ll see you later,” I say as I rush out the door.
I don’t. I run outside, down the long drive, and to the gate. I see the guards and feel trapped.
Like an animal in the zoo.
I have to get out of here, so I walk to the gate and open it.
“You can’t leave,” one of the guards says to me in French, another guard quickly repeating the same phrase in English.
I drop to my knees, bang my head against the gate, and start bawling.
A few minutes later, I hear Grandpa’s voice.
“What’s all this ruckus about?”
I wipe my eyes and turn to look at him.
He hands me a to-go cup.
Grandpa smiles. “My special lemonade, of course.”
“I need to go for a walk,” I tell him.
“Then let’s go,” he says. “Boys, open the gate.”
Surprisingly, the guards listen to Grandpa.
As we walk out onto the road, he turns back and instructs them not to follow us.
I take a deep, cleansing breath, pulling as much air into my lungs as I can before exhaling it.
“Talk,” Grandpa commands.
“I’m hurting people that I love.”
Grandpa studies me for a moment. “Sam told me you picked out a resting place.”
“I thought our dealings were supposed to be privileged.”
“They are,” he laughs. “From everyone but me.”
“So you know everything I put in my will?”
“Yes. You’re a smart and caring young woman. I’m very proud of how you’ve changed. You’re not the same girl you were when you visited me last summer.”
“Having your life in danger makes the things that should be important more clear.”
He nods, agreeing. “In the grand scheme of life, that’s all that really matters. The people who you love.”
“I need a plan, Grandpa. Mine is a mess. And, between filming and the wedding, I haven’t had time to think about what’s next.”
“Then start with what’s first. What will you do when you take over the company? How will you handle it?”
“Mostly, I want Vincent to know it was me. I want to personally fire him. I want to tell him I’ll be remaking A Day at the Lake. Then I want him escorted out of his building.”
“So do it.”
“Do you think it will actually happen?”
“Do you doubt your Grandpa?”
I smile. “No.”
“I won’t let you confront him in person. But if you want to see him, I’ll agree to a video conference.”
“Put me on a big screen, huh? Hell, that’s even better. Honestly, if I really wanted to piss him off, I’d wear Mom’s bikini from the movie and scream.”
“That’s brutal,” he says, slapping me on the back. “I love it. Then what will you do?”
“The movie is cast except for three characters. I’m going to do a press release. And then I’m going to cast the parts. I’ll go back to New York City. I’ll go to Malibu. Be seen around.”
Grandpa shakes his head.
“It will be okay. We’ll have Mom’s publicist set it all up. He’ll only see pictures of where I was last night, not where I am now.”
“I had a chat with Garrett. He thinks pushing Vincent is a bad idea.”
“I think it’s a bad idea too, but it’s my only option.”
“Your Cooper is very loyal to you, isn’t he?”
“Yes. He’s become more than a bodyguard to me. He’s more like a friend. His sister was killed by a stalker.”
“No wonder he’s on your side.”
“If something doesn’t happen quickly, I may have to deal with Vincent face-to-face.”
“Hotshot, there’s bravery and there’s stupidity. It’s a fine line.”
“I hope to be on the smart side of stupid.”
Grandpa breaks out laughing. “Now tell me the real reason why you were crying.”
“You love him. It’s pretty obvious.”
“I do, but I shouldn’t.”
“Because he makes my life feel like a fairy tale when it’s not. I’m setting us both up for heartbreak. I told him I loved him. I shouldn’t have.”
“Did you mean it?”
“With everything I am.”
Grandpa’s face changes.
“What?” I ask.
“Grandma had a bit of a scare this week.”
“What kind of scare?”
“A man followed her from the grocery store and tried to run her off the road.”
“What did she do?!”
“Your grandmother is one smart cookie. She turned onto one of the dirt roads that lead through the fields. He didn’t follow her.”
“Do you know why?”
“We put the hostile takeover together fast. The ownership of one of the shell corporations wasn’t as tight as it should have been. My name was on it. Since our last names are the same, it probably didn’t take Vincent long to figure out who’s behind the takeover. This trip came at a good time.”
“Stay here. Until this is over.”
“Your grandmother is.”
“You too, Grandpa. You can help from here.”
“I can handle myself.”
“I know you can, but you’re not getting any younger.”
“Cunning beats youth any day.”
“Except in a fight.”
“We’re in a fight right now. This takeover is part of the beat down. You want Vincent humiliated. You want him too hurt to fight back. The only problem is that when a man has nothing to lose, he becomes desperate.”
“That’s exactly what I want. For him to be so desperate he won’t be able to think or plan. Up until now—following people, breaking into rehab, maybe even the killings—were probably jobs he paid someone to do. I need him so beat down that he won’t be able to think straight. I want him so mad he’ll do things himself. I want him to feel trapped. Caged. To feel like everything he loves is lost. I want him to feel like I do.”
“Cooper told Garrett he’s afraid you’re going to let yourself get kidnapped.”
“There’s really no other way. And, once we take over the company, it’s got to happen quickly. Because no one I love will be safe. It would also make me feel better if you were here. Those highly-trained guards of Garrett’s just let target number one walk out the front door simply because you have an authoritative voice. Vincent is a good actor and a good liar. I’d feel better with you here.”
“Good point,” he says with a nod. “If I agree to stay, will you agree to discuss your plans with me first?”
I consider lying to him, but I can’t. “I’ll try to. I value your opinion, Grandpa.”
“That’s good enough for me,” he says as a black car pulls up next to us. “Looks like our walk is over.”
Garrett gets out of the car and motions for us to get in.
On the short ride back to the house, he starts to chew me out, but Grandpa quickly intervenes.
“You should be chewing out your boys at the gate. They’re the ones who let me walk out with her.”
“You’re a guest,” Garrett counters.
“Shouldn’t matter. It’s a weakness.”
Garrett thinks about that for a second then says, “You’re right.”
Vincent spends the holidays at his grandmother’s house, revising the script. He has to make sure everything is perfect.
Keatyn goes back to New York.
“You’re going to have dinner with Knox? Alone. In his hotel room?” Aiden asks me, reading over my shoulder.
“Yeah, I feel like I need to tell him what’s going on with Vincent before he’s photographed with me. I want him to know that it could put him in danger.”
“I don’t think he’ll care. He’s a publicity hound.”
“A very calculating publicity hound, from what I can tell. And this is just the first step of my plan. I want to be photographed. I want Vincent to start seeing pictures of me. Going clubbing with Knox practically assures that I will. And, hopefully, it will draw some of the attention away from Damian and Peyton. I’m gonna go get ready.”
“I’m not sure I like this,” Aiden says as I walk away.
I hear Cooper say to him, “Don’t like what?”
I pull on a slinky dress. I’m sitting on my chaise, putting on a pair of platform heels when both Cooper and Aiden join me in the closet.
“What’s up?” I ask them.
“We’re coming with you,” Aiden says.
“No, you’re not,” I reply adamantly.
“Didn’t you just tell me a few days ago that you’d listen to me?” Cooper says.
“Yes, Cooper, I will consider letting you come with. I will not consider letting Aiden.”
Aiden taps his foot and purses his lips.
“Aiden,” I say. “You promised.”
He runs his hand through his hair, frustrated. “Yeah, I did.”
“Tell me your plan,” Cooper says.
“I’m sure Aiden already told you, but I’m meeting Knox at his hotel. While we have dinner, I will tell him the risks of being seen with me. Then, depending on his reaction, I may go to a club with him. And, hopefully, we’ll be photographed together. It’s all part of my plan, Cooper. Is Vincent in California right now?”
“Then there’s nothing to worry about.”
“There’s a lot to worry about, but you’re right that I don’t think we have to worry about Vincent in this situation.”
“Awesome,” I say, grabbing a Fendi baguette. “Don’t wait up.”
I walk to my front door as Aiden says, “How are you getting there?”
“His driver should be here to pick me up in a few minutes.”
Aiden pushes me against the door and kisses me hard. “You better be careful.”
“I know you worry about me, Aiden. But I’ll be fine. It’s not really any different than being on set together. It’s just for the cameras.”
“I’m not worried about you and Knox. I’m worried about your safety. You keep talking about a showdown. About how you might not make it.”
“We’re not to that point yet. This is just a little prequel. Something for him to think about while we take over his company.”
He kisses my nose. “I love you.”
“I love you too. I’ll text you.”
“That would make me feel better.”
I kiss his nose. “Good.”
“Using my own tricks against me, huh?”
I give him a smile as I walk out the door.
Knox greets me with cheek kisses, escorts me in, and gives me the grand tour of his hotel residence. It’s gorgeous. Dark wood, modern furniture, lots of glass, steel, and marble. Big, fluffy bed, dining table set with candles.
“Champagne?” he asks.
“I’d love some.”
“Sit,” he says, gesturing to a pair of chairs set in front of an expanse of glass looking out at a beautiful view of the Manhattan skyline.
We take a seat as a butler serves the champagne.
“You have a gorgeous view.”
He clinks my glass. “Here’s to sharing something special.”
I lean toward Knox, knowing full well the butler will hear my whining. “Knox, baby, I thought we were going to be alone tonight.”
Knox touches my face and stares into my eyes, much like he did the other day when we ran through some new lines. “Your wish is my command.”
He waves a finger at his bodyguard. “Make yourselves scarce.”
The bodyguard nods and leaves, taking the butler with him.
I’m about to spill my guts when the doorbell rings.
Knox rolls his eyes and goes to the door.
“Our food is here,” he says, looking irritated at the waiter for intruding. “Just set it up on the dining room table.”
The food is set up painstakingly slowly; Knox signs the bill and puts the Do Not Disturb sign on the door.
“No more interruptions,” he says, politely holding my chair out for me.
“That’s good. Shall we eat first? The food looks amazing.”
“It is. One of the reasons I’m staying here. So, what’s the deal with you and Aiden? I noticed your new ring.”
I glance at the beautiful ring Aiden gave me in the gazebo. “He just gave it to me.”
“Is that what you wanted to talk to me about?”
“No. I wanted you to know about my situation before we’re seen together.”
“I have a stalker.”
“Don’t we all? The one here almost had someone at the front desk convinced she was my sister, that I was in danger, and she needed to check on me. I think she’s pitched a tent outside, so she’ll know if I leave.”
“Mine is a little more than that. His name is Vincent Sharpe.”
“I know that name. He does, um—movie futures, right? And, oh, I know, he was doing that nationwide search for the next Abby Johnston.” He pauses and stares at me. “That’s a weird coincidence.”
I take a big drink of champagne. “Knox, I don’t know you very well yet. And I want to trust you. Can I trust you?”
“I’m not my image. You know that.”
I nod and keep going. “Vincent is a long-time fan of my mom’s, although Mom never knew who he was. He was just someone who sent her sweet stuff over the years, starting not long after A Day at the Lake released. He had a rough childhood, but was taken in as a young teen by his grandmother, a former film star, and sent to the finest schools. He inherited money when his mom and her—I think—sixth husband were killed. He took that money and invested it in a small production company. One that owned the rights to A Day at the Lake. Since then, he’s built up the company and become known as a movie futures golden boy. This past spring, we believe, he got into my mom’s trailer on set and left her a gift. We also believe he took a photo of me and Mom from a Hawaiian vacation. We were on the beach, both in bikinis. The theory is that he saw the Abby he fell in love with in that photo. Me. After that, I met him. He told me he wanted to make a movie with me. We became friends, sort of. I had dinner with him. Invited him to my birthday party. Where he tried to kidnap me.”
“Kidnap you? Why isn’t he in jail?”
“It was my birthday party. I’d been drinking. He’s rich and good-looking. He said it was just a mistake. That he’d been trying to help me. The police didn’t have enough evidence to charge him. But he had a van out back with drugs and restraints. He told me we were going to make the movie together. Even after it all happened, part of me still didn’t believe it. Like, did I make a mistake? Mom had just finished filming To Maddie, with Love, and we think those sex scenes set him off. He started calling her a whore. He put a threatening note in my little sister’s backpack. And his grandmother, who he idolized, passed away. Hell, I even helped him spread her ashes on the beach. But that same night—the night of my party—after I was back home, he broke into my boyfriend’s house, took one of my bikinis, and left a packet of pictures for my mom.”
“Your mom was smoking hot in that film. I loved it. So, what were the pictures of?”
“Me. He’d been following me and taking photos for months. I had no idea. Everyone freaked out. They thought about putting me in a witness protection program but ended up sending me to boarding school. They made me leave my friends without telling them a word. Set me up with a different name. I had to lie about who I was. They said he’d forget about me. But he hasn’t. He broke into rehabs trying to find me. He messaged me on my old Facebook page. He showed up at my ex’s surf tournament. He followed my mom shopping in New York City and accidentally found me. I was lucky to have gotten away. He almost got me in Miami when I saw Damian. He sent photoshopped pictures to my mom where Tommy’s head gets blown off. After my ex won his first pro surf tournament and dedicated it to me, he got the same type of photo. And the nationwide search . . .”
“He was trying to find you.”
“Yeah. And it almost worked. Both my drama teacher and a friend offered to nominate me. But that’s not the worst of it. The guy who did my tattoo was murdered after Vincent got a matching one. I went to the club where he always goes looking for me and danced in a cage to piss him off. The next week, a girl from the club was murdered, her body stabbed with scissors. After the New York incident, he sent a photo of me to my mom. The photo was stabbed with scissors. Going back to the club in L.A. was the start of me fighting back. I’m also trying to do a hostile takeover of his company. If that works out, I’ll own the rights to the movie he so desperately wants us to make. And when that happens . . .”
“He’ll really be pissed?”
“Yes. And anyone close to me will be in danger. That’s why I needed to talk to you in private. I want to make sure you understand the risks of being photographed with me.”
“You want to be photographed, though?”
“Yeah. It’s part of my plan. I’m hoping to take his attention off the people I care about by allowing him to focus on me. Up until now, he’s been meticulous in his planning. I want him desperate, so he’ll start making mistakes. Then maybe we can get the proof to have him arrested.”
“Do you want him to find you?”
“For now, I just want him to see photos of me from the night before.”
“So a different club every night?”
“Different club. Different cities. Different guys, even.”
“Basically, my plan, only with higher stakes.”
Knox grins at me and cuts a piece of his steak. “Eat up. Our food is getting cold.”
I take a bite of the lemon chicken pasta he ordered me. “This is really good. What are you thinking?”
“I’m letting it all soak in first.”
We eat in silence for a few minutes. Then he asks, “So, what about Aiden?”
“I don’t want him to find out about Aiden.”
“So you won’t be photographed with him?”
“So you need me?”
“Not exactly. You would just up the stakes a little.”
“I’m shooting a music video with Twisted Dreams this week.”
“That’s Matt Moran’s son, right?”
“Yes. Damian is my best friend. The video will premiere on New Year’s Eve. I’ll be Keatyn Douglas again.”
“Do you act slutty in the video?”
“I’m in a bikini for most of it because it’s set at the beach. There are a lot of similarities between the video, my real life, and A Day at the Lake.”
“Nice. I’m in, by the way. We’ll be careful. Make some noise. See what happens.”
“Are you sure?”
“Hell yeah. You’re practically Hollywood royalty, sugar. I’d be stupid not to have a fake affair with you. Besides, the more press we get together, the more people will want to see our movie.”
“Unless you end up dead.”
“I have a bodyguard. You have a bodyguard. Surely, they can keep us safe.”
“The paparazzi know where you live.”
“It will be fine. Finish your food. Drink up. Then we’re gonna party Knox-style.”
I drink the rest of my champagne then laugh. “You have your own style?”
“Yep. Be prepared.”
“You better like to dance.”
“I love to dance. By the way, what does Aiden think of this? Is he going to be pissed at me?”
“He understands what I have to do to get my life back. But he really doesn’t like it.”
“I’m surprised he didn’t want to come with. Even just to watch out for you.”
“Oh, he did.”
“But you’re stubborn, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. He knows if he pushes me, I’ll be gone and he won’t see me until this is over.”
“Do you like the champagne?” he asks, filling up my glass.
“It’s good champagne,” I reply.
“If you had your choice, would you drink it at the club?”
“I don’t usually sip champagne in the VIP section, if that’s what you’re asking.”
He looks at his watch. “Thank god. I’ll only deal with girls like that if I’m gonna get laid.”
While he grabs his wallet, I text Aiden, who I know will relay the information to Cooper.
Me: He’s in. Headed to a club. ifly.
Hottie God: Be careful. ifly2.
“I just realized something,” I tell Knox as we’re being driven to the club.
“You’ve fallen madly in love with me?” he says with a mischievous grin.
“Afraid not. It just hit me that all my life I’ve been taught to avoid the cameras and the places paparazzi hang out. How do you know where to go? What if we go and they aren’t there? This will be a waste of time.”
“You will never again say time spent with Knox Daniels is a waste. You will ruin my well-honed reputation.” He pats my hand. “You have a lot to learn. It’s cute. Tonight you will watch and learn from the master.”
“But how do you know they’ll be there?”
“My assistant tips them off. They all think I’m a horrible boss and she’s on the take.”
“So, she tells them where you’re going to be?”
“When I want them to know, yes. The first club we’re going to allows them inside. Photos will be taken of us when we arrive and when we’re on the dance floor. They usually don’t allow them in the VIP section, but the staff talks to them. So, if you want people to think we’re together, you’ll need to act like it the whole time.”
“Sources at the club say the couple were dancing closely and seen canoodling in the VIP lounge. They barely looked at me when I took their order, a waitress says. They only had eyes for each other.”
“Exactly,” Knox says with a laugh. “After we are seen canoodling, we’ll go to another club. We’ll let it slip that we’re headed there next, but it’s much more private. We can just have fun. It’s when we leave there that will matter.”
“What do you mean?”
“Are we drunk? Are we kissing? Do we look high? Are we in a fight? Am I taking you home? Are we going back to my place?”
“I clearly didn’t think far enough ahead.”
The car pulls to a stop. “You ready for this? I’ll get out of the car, put my hand inside to help you out, being the gentleman that I am. Come out slowly. Let them get a glimpse of those luscious, long legs first. Then gracefully get out of the car.”
The photographers are there, just like Knox said, and we do exactly as we planned.
Once I’m out of the car, the reporters yell, “Who’s your date tonight, Knox?”
Knox slides his hand down the side of my face and under my chin, gently raising it upward as the cameras flash.
“All I’ll say is she looks a whole lot like her mother.”
I decide to give Knox and the cameras the works, moving the corners of my mouth upward, curling my lips into a little smirk, and then giving them the full smile that people say is just like my mom’s.
He shakes his head at me, leans in, and whispers loudly, “Beautiful.”
I toss my head back just a little and laugh, like he said something funny, as he grabs my hand and pulls me into the club, his bodyguard leading the way.
Even though I know Vincent is in California, I still find myself on edge, searching faces for one that looks like his. Looking for someone who might be watching me a little too closely.
A guy in a suit leads us to the VIP area that rings the dance floor and is very visible from the rest of the club. Our section will seat a party of twenty, even though it’s only the two of us. There’s a chilled bottle of Don Julio waiting for us along with a full bottle service set up.
We haven’t even sat down before a group of girls bounce over, calling out Knox’s name. The VIP bouncer stops them by putting up his thick hand. “I’m sorry, ladies. You’ll have to leave.”
“But we partied with him last week,” a pretty brunette pouts. “Knox!” she says again. “It’s Marcy, remember?”
Knox surprises me when he leaves my side and joins her.
“Marcy,” he says, giving her air kisses. “Of course I remember. Have you ever met Keatyn?”
The girls don’t look thrilled, but are polite as he grabs me, kisses me square on the lips, and then drags me over to meet them.
“Ladies, this is Keatyn Douglas. Bet you can’t guess who her mom is.”
It’s then when I realize why he talked to Marcy.
And that I should play along.
I lay my hand on his chest, pushing away from him just like my mom does to Tommy. It’s adorable because she never leaves his arms. Then I use her voice. Older, more mature, with a slight southern twang to it. “These girls don’t care who my momma is.”
Marcy’s smile fades. “Oh. My. God. You sound just like Abby Johnston.”
I roll my eyes at Knox like I’m irritated he spilled the beans then give him my pout. “Knox, baby, I thought it was going to be just us tonight.”
He hugs me tighter, kisses my neck, and says sexily, “Oh, it most definitely is,” as his bodyguard stands shoulder to shoulder with the VIP bouncer and says, “Sorry, ladies.”
Knox sits down and pulls me onto his lap, snuggling with me. “Am I good or what?”
“You’re devious, that’s what you are.”
“Shots, then dancing?”
He raises a finger and a waiter rushes into our section. “We’ll have some tequila shooters.”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Daniels,” the waiter replies, pouring shots and lining them up in front of us.
Knox clinks my glass with his and we down the first shot, then the second.
He leads me out to the dance floor and pulls me into his arms.
It’s at this point I realize that sometimes I’m not very good at pretending.
Because sometimes my real life gets in the way.
And it’s because I’m not dancing with Aiden.
As much as I want to pretend that I’m into dancing with Knox, I’m just not.
This is going to be harder than I thought.
I close my eyes and try to pretend I’m dancing with Aiden. But Knox doesn’t move the way Aiden does. His leg doesn’t fit between mine like it should. His hands don’t grip my hips like he owns them.
“Uh, I need to pee,” I say, suddenly coming up with a way to get off the dance floor and quickly fleeing.
I don’t even think about my safety or Vincent until I’m rushing out of the bathroom and a brick wall of a man is standing in front of me, blocking my way.
“Where’s a pretty little thing like you going in such a big hurry?” he says, taking a step toward me.
I back up as warning bells go off in my brain, the hair on the back of my neck stands on end, and my stomach feels sick. This man is dangerous, and I’m not sure even with all of Cooper’s training that I’d stand a chance against him.
I look behind him, hoping someone else will need to use the bathroom, but there’s no one coming. He takes another step toward me, but this time I don’t step back. Instead, I move toward him, letting my shoulder bump into his and say, “Excuse me.”
He doesn’t move, so I speak louder. “I said, excuse me!”
He grips my shoulder tightly and pushes me against the wall, setting off visions of being raped in the bathroom.
“I’m going to say it one more time. Excuse me.”
The guy laughs at me, so I do what I’ve practiced over and over. I curl my fist, punch him in the throat, sweep kick his kneecap with my heel, and then stand back up quickly, using my leg strength for leverage as I thrust my elbow up under his chin.
He groans and falls to the floor, clutching his knee. I step over him and run back to the VIP section in tears.
Knox is out dancing, surrounded by women, but his bodyguard rushes toward me. “What’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong is you suck as a bodyguard. I was attacked by a huge man coming out of the bathroom and you were nowhere to be found. Tell Knox I said goodnight.”
I pick my handbag off the couch and storm out the door, completely forgetting about the cameras until they start flashing.
“Keatyn! Where’s Knox?”
“Why are you crying?”
“He’s a cad, isn’t he?” a girl without a camera says. She has a wild look on her face, and I’m sure she’s the stalker he spoke of.
I cover my face with my hand, turn around, and run straight into Knox, who wraps me in a hug.
“I’m sorry,” he says as the cameras flash around us.
He pulls me back into the club as the valet waves our driver forward. It’s then that Knox’s bodyguard finally does something worthwhile, working with the club’s bouncers to shield us as we get into the car.
“Tell me what happened,” Knox says, still holding me protectively.
I shake my head. “I just want to go home.”
“They’re following us,” his driver says.
“Then take us back to my place.”
Once we’re safely back in his hotel, I take out my phone and call Cooper. “I need you to come get me, but there’s paparazzi everywhere.”
“They’ll be out there until morning,” Knox says. “Waiting to get the morning after photos. So they can say you spent the night. They can see if I walk you to the car. If it’s a walk of shame or if we get coffee together.”
“What happened?” Cooper says in my ear. “You sound upset.”
“We’ll talk about it later. It sounds like I’m stuck here.”
“Aiden wants to talk to you.”
“Boots, are you okay?” Aiden’s silky voice comes over the phone, which makes me start crying.
“I’m coming there.”
“Keatyn, no one knows me. I’ll look like any other guest checking in.” I hear Cooper talking in the background. “Cooper says he’ll bring your wig and some clothes.”
I take a deep breath. “I need a minute to think about what I want to do. I’ll call you back when I figure it out.”
“You just told me you weren’t okay.”
“I wasn’t. But now I am.”
“I talked to you.”
I swear I can feel him smiling through the phone. “Okay. Call me back.”
I end the call and set my phone down.
Knox sits down and hands me a bottle of water. “I’m sorry. I didn’t tell Hugo to watch you. He doesn’t normally watch out for the girls I’m with.”
“It’s okay. I handled it.”
“The bouncer said you took some big guy down. Wiped out his knee.”
“When I came out of the bathroom, he wouldn’t let me by. I asked nice twice. Then he grabbed me by the shoulder and tried to force me into the bathroom. I don’t even want to think about what he wanted to do to me in there.”
“So you punched him?”
“Yeah. Jab to the throat. Heel to the knee. Elbow to the chin. Cooper taught me well.”
“What do you want to do? We’re in this far. If you really want to play it through, you let me kiss you and put you in a car in the morning.”
“I have to finish shooting a music video tomorrow at the studio. Why don’t you come with me?”
“Sounds like a plan. Do you want to watch a movie?”
“I’d really just like to go to sleep, Knox.”
“Come on then, I’ll show you to your room.”
I tell Knox goodnight, wash my face, lie in bed, and call Aiden.
“Can you put me on speakerphone for this part, so Cooper can hear?”
“So, I’m going to spend the night here. I was wrong not to bring you with, Cooper. He told me his bodyguard was the best, but he was wrong. I sort of almost got attacked by a huge guy at the club.”
“What do you mean, almost attacked?” Riley says.
“I didn’t know you were on too, Riley. How’s the video coming?”
“It’s coming fine,” Aiden says. “Tell us what happened.”
I tell them what the guy did, what I did, how we left, and how the photographers followed us here. “So, my plan is to just go with it. I mean, I went through all of that to make people think we’re together, I might as well let them think I spent the night. I can’t come home. I don’t want to risk it. We’ll both come to the studio tomorrow, as if he’s filming. Then, later, he can go home without me, and I’ll go home with you guys.”
“It’s good to know you can handle yourself under pressure,” Cooper says. “But you shouldn’t have had to.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I’ll see you all in the morning.”
“I’m taking you off speaker and going in the bedroom,” Aiden says sternly. “We aren’t done talking.”
“Good,” I say. “Because I’m not finished talking to you.”
“Where are you right now?”
“Lying in bed, wishing I was with you.”
“I’m kind of mad at you.”
“I know. Aiden?”
“I’m not that good of an actress.”
“What makes you say that?”
“I was fine pretending to be into him when we got out of the car at the club. He even kissed me on the lips for the cameras. Didn’t faze me. I was just playing my role. Inside the club, I pretended some more. Until he took me out to dance.”
“And then what?”
“I couldn’t pretend anymore. Dancing with him felt so—wrong. So foreign. Not the way it feels with you.”
“How does it feel with me?”
“Don’t you know?”
“Of course, I know. We fit together perfectly. And not just when we’re dancing. In every single way. I told you: BK. Before Keatyn. You’ve ruined me.”
I smile, thinking about all the ways Aiden has ruined me. With his lips. His tongue. And even some other parts. But it’s not just physical. It’s not just the way we fit together on the dance floor. Or the way our bodies mold to each other when we’re in bed. It’s the way he talks to me when he’s upset. His unwavering faith in us. In me.
“I’m sorry I have to play these games, Aiden. Don’t lose faith in me, okay?”
“Am I going to see a picture of you kissing Knox in the papers tomorrow?”
“And you think that will help your situation?”
“Hopefully. I’m tired, Aiden,” I say. Not just because I’m sleepy, but because this whole ordeal is wearing on me.
“I’m tired too. Night, Boots. I love you.”
“I love you too, Aiden.”
“Rise and shine,” Knox says, bouncing on my bed early in the morning.
I open one eye. “What time is it?”
“Why are you up so early? And so happy about it?”
He pats his firm stomach and flexes a bicep. “You don’t think I look like this naturally, do you? I work hard for it.”
“At seven in the morning?”
“Yes, ma’am. Wanna go work out with me? Show me some of those moves you used on that guy last night?”
“I don’t have any workout clothes. And I’m not really awake.”
“I ordered some clothes for you to wear. They’re being sent up when the store downstairs opens up at nine.”
“Really? That was sweet of you.”
“If I’m right about things, we’re going to be starring in a lot of future movies together. I need to protect your reputation.”
“Protect it? It was your idea that I spend the night.”
“Yeah, but if you leave in last night’s dress, it looks like a one-night stand. If you leave in something else, it looks planned. Subtle difference, but still.”
“Yeah, I suppose you’re right.”
“And maybe I’m trying to be nice to you.”
He pulls a newspaper out from behind his back and tosses it on the bed. “Page six.”
I flip the paper open.
Knox Daniel and Keatyn Douglas: Hollywood’s new couple?
Rumors are flying this morning after resident playboy, Knox Daniels, and the daughter of Abby Johnston, Keatyn Douglas, shared a night out. Onlookers at the club say the couple kept to themselves in a large VIP section, snuggling and kissing when they weren’t glued to each other on the dance floor. “She pouted and called him baby when a group of girls tried to crash their party,” a waiter said. Knox, who is a regular at the club, usually keeps the section filled with gorgeous women. “He only had eyes for her,” a clubgoer tells us. Friends of the couple say the two met when Keatyn visited her mom’s long-time beau, Tommy Stevens, on the Trinity: Retribution set before the holiday. Although, if these photos are any indication of the volatility of their relationship, we’d say this pair is in for a bumpy ride.
The accompanying photos are of Knox and me, looking perfect upon arrival at the club. He’s holding my chin and giving me an adorable kiss. There are two grainy photos of us in the club, one of us in the VIP section and the other on the dance floor. But then there’s a photo of me from when I rushed out of the club in tears.
“I look horrid!” I screech.
“You don’t look horrid. I mean, it’s not the most flattering angle, and you do have mascara running down your face, but you look pretty in all the other ones.”
“Oh, and look at the caption under the photo of you hugging me and helping me into the car. Knox knows how to make up.” I roll my eyes until I see a smaller photo of Damian and Peyton below this article. Peyton’s face is partially obscured by Damian’s arm as he leans in to kiss her. There’s a little story about the normal girl from Napa Valley who caught the rocker’s attention. I decide that one bad picture of me is worth burying the story of their date.
“So, all in all, it was a good night. We planted our relationship seed.”
“Are we having a relationship? I thought you were into one-night stands.”
“Normally, I am. But I can see the value of this. For us. Long term.”
“Knox, when things go down with the stalker, I’m not sure if I’ll survive it.”
“Even better. I can be in mourning. Imagine the sympathy sex I’d get.”
My eyes get huge. “Knox!”
He pats my shoulder and smiles. “I’m just joking. You can untwist your panties now.”
He laughs. “Now that you’re awake, do you wanna go for a run?”
“A run? But you said the reporters will still be—”
“Exactly.” He points to a little pile of running clothes. “Before you go off on me, these are my sister’s. She visits a lot and keeps stuff here so she never has to check a bag.”
“Does your bodyguard run with you?”
“Does he look like he can run? No, I go by myself. Part of why I run. Gotta be fast enough to get away from the hordes of women who chase me.”
“I’m calling Cooper and having him meet us.”
“Cooper looks like he’s in pretty good shape. Sucks at poker, but could probably kick my ass.” He sizes me up. “Although, from the sound of it, you probably could too. Do you think he’d teach me to fight?”
“Maybe.” I grab my phone off the nightstand and see some texts from Aiden.
Hottie God: Good morning, beautiful. I miss sleeping with you.
Hottie God: And waking up with you.
Hottie God: I just miss you.
Me: I miss you more.
I’m smiling as I call Cooper. “Hey, Knox and I are going running in the park. I’d like you to join us. Just come over to his place and we’ll meet you in the lobby.”
“Does Knox go for a jog in the park every morning?”
“Um, I don’t know. Let me ask. Knox, do you go for a run in the park every morning?”
“No. I usually run on the treadmill. Especially in the winter.”
“Did you hear that?” I say to Cooper.
“You’re in the paper this morning. We don’t want to do anything routine. Make sense?”
“Yes, it does.”
“But it is a beautiful morning. I’m assuming there are photographers who will see this run?”
“That’s the plan.”
“I’ll be right over,” he says before hanging up.
With Los Angeles three hours behind New York, it’s hours later when Vincent arrives at his office and overhears his assistant and one of the girls who works in accounting gossiping about Knox Daniel and Keatyn Douglas.
He goes into his office, locks his door, and searches for the story.
And wonders just what she’s up to.
Why now after all the hiding is she going out with a high-profile actor and getting photographed? He thinks about the hostile takeover. How Hondo discovered the ownership of one of the shell corporations. How it is owned by none other than her poor, dead daddy’s father. How Hondo suggested sending one of his guys there to send them a little message.
The question is, who is fighting back? Abby or Keatyn?
It’s got to be the whore, he decides. She’s always been adept at manipulating the press.
That’s when it hits him. He does another Internet search, finding all the tabloid articles about Abby Johnston in the last six months.
He glances in his calendar to verify the date he sent her the photo of Tommy getting his head blown off.
Son of a bitch!
She’s playing him. She wants him to think that she doesn’t love Tommy any more, so he won’t go after him. She’s ratting out her daughter to the press, to keep Matt safe.
He closes his eyes, quickly doing another rewrite. One that includes them both.