When It's Real
Two burly guys with arms like tree trunks follow him inside. One plants himself next to the entrance while the other trails behind the singer. I barely notice Jim and the lawyers entering and closing the door, because I’m too busy staring at Oakley.
He’s taller than I thought he’d be. Everyone in Hollywood is short. Zac Efron is barely taller than my five-six. Same with Daniel Radcliffe. At six-four, Ansel Elgort is a veritable giant. Oakley looks to be Elgort-size, but with way more muscles.
He’s even hotter in person. It’s not the sandy-blond hair spiked up in the front and cut short in the back. Or his moss-green eyes. Or his chiseled jaw. He actually has an aura. You hear of things like that, but until you’ve experienced it in person, you don’t believe it exists.
But he has it.
Everyone in the room is responding. People are sitting up and straightening their clothes. I dimly register Paisley smoothing her perfect hair into place.
And I can’t look away.
Oakley’s jeans are low enough that the brand of underwear he’s wearing is visible as he reaches across the sideboard to grab a bottle of water. His arm muscles are defined enough to be noticeable, and I watch in fascination as the right biceps flexes when he twists the bottle cap off. Those muscles remind me of the shirtless spread he did for Vogue a couple of months ago. It was all over the web because the editorial spread had one shot of him in underwear only, and the size of his crotch got everyone speculating whether he stuffed a sock down his shorts.
I forget I’m eating my granola bar. I forget that I’m sitting at a table with a bunch of lawyers. I forget my own name.
“Sorry. Traffic,” he says before settling in the seat at the very end of the table. The bodyguard stands at his shoulder.
I find myself nodding, because LA does have horrible traffic. Of course this beautiful god wouldn’t make us mere mortals wait for him because he was doing something—is his hair wet? Did he just shower? Is it getting hot in the conference room?
This is Oakley Ford and I did listen to his album on repeat when I was fifteen. And fine, I might have harbored a teeny-tiny crush on him, which was why I was so upset when he cheated on his girlfriend. His fake girlfriend.
Which I’m going to be.
I don’t like fake, but I’m good at it. Faking things, that is.
Paisley nudges me.
“What?” Then I realize I still have the stupid granola bar hanging out of my mouth.
A quick scan of the room reveals that everyone has noticed this. Claudia wears a worried expression. Jim is resigned. I don’t want to look at Oakley, but I do anyway. His face shows a cross between horror and fascination. The glance he throws his manager definitely says You’ve got to be kidding.
The only thing to do is act like I don’t care. I bite off the bar and start chewing. The health bar, never an appealing item to begin with, tastes like cardboard. Everyone watches me, and I chew even slower. Then I take a big swallow of Coke before wiping my mouth with the napkin that Paisley miraculously produces. I’m certain I’m redder than the receptionist’s lipstick, but I pretend that it’s no big deal. See how good I am at acting like everything is perfect?
“So this is her?” Oakley waves a hand in my general direction. I’ve heard him speak in interviews before, but his voice sounds even better in person. Deep and raspy and hypnotizing.
Jim hesitates and then looks down at his phone. Whatever he sees there stiffens his resolve. He sets the phone down. “Oakley Ford, this is Vaughn Bennett. Vaughn, Oakley.”
I start to rise and hold out my hand, but stop halfway out of my seat when Oakley leans back and clasps his hands behind his head.
Suddenly all my nervousness and embarrassment drain away. Relief settles in their place. I take another sip of my Coke. Surprise, surprise—Mr. Famous is a total jerk.
For a moment there, I felt like I was in danger of being sucked in by his magnetism. That I’d forget W, the money, April Showers, Brazilian supermodels and become caught up in his force field. But a guy who mocks me because I had the nerve to eat a granola bar while we all waited on his late ass? Who doesn’t have the courtesy to shake my hand?
There’s no way I’d ever fall for a guy like that.
I sneak a look at Paisley, who’s smiling slightly. She must have had the same concerns.
“So are we going to talk about terms? Like, what are my work hours?” I ask coolly, cradling the pop can between my hands.
“Work hours?” Claudia echoes, a tiny furrow appearing on her forehead.
“Yeah, since this is my job.”
She titters. “Not a job, more like a...”
“Role?” one of her assistants offers.
“Yes. A role in a long, romantic movie. And you’re the two leads.”
I feel actual bile rise up in my throat.
Oakley grumbles with impatience. “Let’s get on with it.”
Quickly, Claudia outlines our meet-cute with the drawing and the Twitter stuff. When she’s finished, Oakley yawns.
“Sure. Whatever. You’re going to handle it, right?”
“Well, not me, but Amy here will.” Claudia tips her head to the raven-haired woman on her right.
Amy holds up her phone in acknowledgment.
“Great.” He slaps his hands down on the table. “Then we’re done?”
Seriously? I waited over two hours and got only a granola bar and an extra serving of humiliation for this five-minute demonstration of how Oakley Ford isn’t even going to participate in this charade? Instead, I’ll be fake flirting with the assistant of one of his media people.
I turn to Paisley, who gives me a small, rueful shrug.
“No. We’re not done,” Jim barks from the other end of the table. The two of them exchange glares, but whatever power Jim holds over Oakley, it’s enough to get the young star to resettle into his chair.
“Let’s hear the rest of it.” He makes a tired gesture toward Claudia.
She picks up her notepad. “We’ll need the first date. We don’t think you should have any physical contact until after the third—” she looks at her assistants and then at Jim “—fourth date? I mean, we’re trying to sell this as a wholesome romance.”
Everyone starts throwing ideas out about when and how the touching will happen. Someone says he should kiss me on the forehead. Another suggests a hand on the small of my back. There’s another vote for hand-holding.
I’m still struggling with the concept of any touching when Paisley, the traitor, asks, “When did you and W start holding hands?”
Before I can answer, Oakley jumps in, snickering softly. “You dated a guy named W?”
“So what?” Wow. His first words to me are to make fun of my boyfriend’s name? It’s like Oakley’s trying to get me to dislike him.
“Sounds like a pretentious asshat.” He leans back in his leather chair and folds his arms across his chest. The action makes his biceps flex again.
I drag my eyes away. “Okay, Mr. I-Name-All-My-Albums-After-Me Ford.”