“You’ve got a major problem.”
I perked up my ears for the first time in this long, boring meeting. “What problem is that?”
My lawyer, Tanya Fallon, leaned toward me. “Have you heard a word I just said?”
I shifted in my seat on the couch. “Sure, I have. You said I’ve got a major problem.”
“Before that,” Tanya snapped. “If you don’t clean up your act in a hurry, you’re going to wind up in court. Maybe you don’t care about that, but I think these other folks do. This scandal is all over the headlines—again.”
She waved her hand at my PR team standing in a half-circle around me. Jason Frasier the press agent, Serena Faulk in charge of social media, and Pete Koch, my publicist, all glared down at me.
I squared my shoulders to meet the daggers shooting out of their eyes. “I don’t care what that woman said. I did not slap her ass.”
Tanya crossed her arms. “Are you sure about that?”
“Of course, I’m sure,” I shot back. “I would definitely remember that.”
“I don’t know,” Tanya went on. “You go to that club just about every Saturday, and you’ve pulled stunts like this before. Why should I believe you now?”
“She just wants money,” I told her. “She’s a gold-digger just like all the others.”
Tanya cast a sidelong glance at the rest of the team. Serena didn’t even bother to hide when she rolled her eyes. Pete bit back a rude smirk. He wouldn’t look at me. Not one of these fuckers believed a word I said.
So, what if some little sleaze-bag called me a bunch of dirty names and ran screaming to the tabloids? So, what if she accused me of sexual advances and told the police? I’d faced situations like this before. All she wanted was a fat settlement. That would shut her up just like the rest of these women hounding me.
When your brother becomes the President of the United States, people come out of the woodwork. Especially people who want money.
And I had lots of it.
Tanya slapped a file folder on my desk. “Listen, Gray, we’ve been through this before, but we’re going to play it differently this time. We’re not going to just pay this girl off.”
I started out of my seat. “Not pay her off! Are you nuts? That’s basically telling the world I really did slap her ass.”
Tanya shrugged. “If you hadn’t done exactly the same thing a dozen times before in the last six months….”
“I have not done exactly the same thing,” I spat back.
“You may not have slapped some silly little waitress’s ass,” Tanya replied, “but you’ve gotten yourself in hot water enough times over girls in bars. You can’t keep your hands to yourself, and you think you can buy their silence when they get mad at you. If she decided to take this to a judge, he’s going to take one look at your record and lock you up. Do you hear me? You’re looking at time in jail. And even though your brother won’t want to help you. Now do I have your attention?”
I pulled my head down between my shoulders. This couldn’t be happening. How could an innocent pat on the butt get me jail time? And I hadn’t even fucking done it!
Tanya smacked her lips. “I thought so. Now you’re going to listen to me. We are not just going to pay this girl off. That won’t work. Even if she accepted the settlement—and we have no guarantee she will—you would wind up in the same situation a few weeks from now, and we would be back to square one.”
“So, what do you suggest?”
“We’ll offer her the settlement. Then you’re going to change your M.O. You’re going to turn over a new leaf. You’re going to convince the paparazzi and the police and this girl and anybody else who cares to turn their attention your way that you're not a womanizing douche-bag. You’re going to convince them you’re a model citizen who respects women and honors their feminine empowerment.”
I snorted out loud. I always respected women. I just tended to know what I liked, and I was never shy about sharing it.
Tanya smiled, but she held up her hand for quiet when she continued. “You’re going to change your ways, Gray Donovan. If you want to stay in business with your investors, if you want to stay out of jail, and keep your brother off your back, you’re going to do it our way. You’re going to become a new man, and you’re going to start right now—right this very minute.”
I narrowed my eyes at the rest of the team. They all stood perfectly quiet. Not one of them argued or disagreed with her. They all looked at me. That could mean only one thing. They were all in on this together. “I don’t like where this is going,” I grumbled. “I don’t like where this is going one bit.”
“Well, then, you’re really not going to like where this is going when we tell you what it’s for.” Tanya took a step back to take her place with the rest of the team.
Serena came forward to take Tanya’s place. She handed me a clipboard stacked with papers. “We’ve got it all arranged. We’ve got press conferences booked and a few photo shoots to supply pictures. That should get us started until the paparazzi takes over.”
“What are you talking about?” I glanced at the clipboard. A standard job application form sat on top, and more peeked out underneath.
She handed me another loose sheet of paper. “This is a list of the bars, clubs, and restaurants you’re allowed to frequent over the next year. I’ve transferred them to an app on your phone so you can find them whenever you want. We’ve even set up bar tabs, but you can only drink within a designated range. We can’t run the risk of you becoming intoxicated in public. We’re trusting you to comply with all the safety precautions. If we find you broke any of your conditions, your investors will leave.”
I gasped out loud. “Serena! This is insane. You can’t...”
Pete spoke up. “Just go along with it, man. It’s for your own good, and it’s only for a year. We’ve got to do some damage control to salvage your reputation. You gotta admit you’ve given it a hammering these last few months. And your brother has been noticing.”
I blinked at these people. I never really gave public relations much thought before now. I did what I wanted and let them clean up the mess. Isn’t that what I paid them for? I certainly didn’t pay them to put me on a leash. But they mentioned Lewis, my brother. That asshole was doing this to me. I was sure of it. This was more about his image than it was mine. And he still had shares in the company, so he could still control me. Fuck, when he asked me if he should go into politics I should have said no. Instead, I pushed him to do it, and get the hell out of my hair. But somehow, he still managed this.
In my more drunken moments, I actually deluded myself into thinking these people were my friends. I let myself believe that shark Tanya actually liked and respected me. How could they turn on me like this?
I turned to the one person left who hadn’t thrown me to the lions—not yet, anyway. “Jason! You can’t be in on this, too. Tell me you’re not going along with this.”
Jason shrugged inside his white shirt. “I’m sorry, man. We’ve covered for you as long as we could, but there’s just so many outrages the public will put up with.”
“Outrages!” I thundered. “I never….”
Jason cut me off with a shake of his head. “Don’t bother denying it, man. We all know you. There’s nobody here but us, so you don’t have to pretend. We all know you could have and you would have, even if you didn’t. You’ve done a lot worse than this, and you even stupidly bragged about it to the press. Don’t go telling us you never.”
I swallowed hard. I had to get myself together. I couldn’t show any sign of disturbance. “So, what do you want? You want me to clean up my act?”
“For a year,” Serena replied. “It’s the only way to convince the public, your investors and more importantly your brother, that you would never do something like this. We’re going to turn you into Joe Average.”
I would have laughed in her face if that prospect didn’t give me the heebie-jeebies. Joe Average—me? I prided myself on being the biggest badass on the block. I threw my weight around. I saw what I wanted, and I took it. I bedded any woman within a hundred miles of me who looked remotely available—and now this. Fucking Lewis.
I tossed the clipboard on the couch next to me and shook my head. “I don’t know what you guys are up to, but I’m not buying it. I’ve always lived by my own rules, and I’ll keep doing it.”
Serena and Tanya exchanged a knowing glance. Jason looked away. Pete smirked worse than ever.
Tanya lowered her voice to that confidential murmur I knew so well. That voice meant I better do what she said, or I would be sorry. “You better take a look at those applications. We have ten interviews lined up for next Monday. Your brother vetted them himself. You’ll need to familiarize yourself with the applicants’ backgrounds so you can ask relevant questions.”
“Interviews?” I asked. “What for?”
She leveled me with her crisp green eyes. “Your wife.”