Getting called into your boss' office sucked.
Getting called first thing in the morning sucked ass. I'd just arrived at the office, hadn't had coffee yet, and the computer was still cold. When I saw Tad Brown standing in front of my office door, I knew this was going to be a Monday morning I should've stayed in bed.
With a flick of his head, he motioned for me to follow him into his office.
Damn Monday mornings.
Twitching my lips, I dropped everything and made my way to him, sitting in the padded brown club chair he pointed to. I liked his office; it was warm and inviting, something Tad Brown was not on the best of days.
It was obvious his wife had decorated this space. It was masculine, yet feminine. The dark brown walls of the office were lit up with cheery wall accents and pictures of family in various stages of vacation. A weekly vase of flowers was prominent on the credenza behind his desk. Definitely the work of Mrs. Brown.
I sat down, gazing over his shoulder at the current arrangement of calla lilies and birds of paradise flowers—an anomaly to the type of person he was—wondering why he would want to speak to me so early. I'd been working with Andrew Grant for a few months. He'd been keeping me busy, learning the ins and outs of working for a public relations firm. I'd sat in on a few meetings with him, soaking in all the knowledge of how the industry worked. Knowing Andrew had been giving Tad updates, I thought maybe this was the reason for this impromptu meeting.
With my background in communications, working in public relations was the dream job I'd wanted since I could speak. College groomed me for this job, and all I'd ever thought of was being a public relations guru for the likes of Brad Pitt—sans Angelina—or even the yummy, and scrumptious Henry Cavill. Hell, I'd even take on Jennifer Lawrence. This! This was my life.
Tad sat down at his desk and rifled through the drawers. Moving piles of paperwork from the top of his desk, he looked up at me and gave a slight shrug. He came precariously close to knocking his coffee cup over several times. I sat on the edge of my seat, practically waiting to stop a catastrophe, my nerves hopping along with his unruly hand.
"I hope you had a nice weekend," I said, trying to lighten the moment.
He grunted at me as he continued looking around his messy desk.
As I stared at the precariously placed coffee cup, I thought I heard him say "voilá" under his breath. Holding up a thick file, he leaned over his desk to hand it to me. Most people these days were using tablets or laptops. He was still working in the twentieth century.
He nodded to the file. "Andrew's been giving me some great feedback on your work, so I thought it was time to give you a client of your own." A bright smile lit his face, then shifted to something more serious which reflected in his voice as he propped his elbows on the desk. "It's basic publicity with a bit of management involved. He's an out-of-control rock star, and the label, our clients," he pointed to the both of us, "want to get him back on the straight and narrow, or they'll negate his contract."
Somehow, this didn't seem very basic to me at all. "My first client…" I looked down at the folder in a happy daze. It was just a plain manila folder with some scribbling on it, but inside it would be the first step into the career that I'd been dreaming of. This was my 'make it or break it'.
Tad nodded as I placed the folder in my lap, now dying to finish up this meeting. My fingers tapped anxiously against the paper surface. I was ready to throw myself into figuring out how to deal with the client. What type of management and publicity would he need? Would he be the typical spoiled rock star, women hanging off of each arm? Would he treat me like the person who wanted to help him? So many questions…
Then it hit me—this was going to be my first real client. Without the help of anyone else. And he was a rock star. I was excited. And I was terrified.
"So why me?" I asked, my voice croaking due to lack of caffeine intake.
"Tamsin, you've proven yourself to everyone here." His eyes softened a bit, a smile threatening to break his slash of lips. "You're ready to be out there on your own, and I know fully well that you'll be successful at it. I have faith in your ability. You've been groomed for this since your internship. This is the job you've been training for."
I nodded, still in my daze. "I'm definitely ready to work on my own, and I'm really excited—nervous—but excited."
"You're more than capable of handling this client. In fact, it should be fairly easy for you, I think."
It was said in such an ominous tone, I just stared at him. "So this case isn't in Phoenix?" My voice wavered as I rubbed my sweaty palms against my skirt. A part of me wondered if I could deal with a big-time rock star. There was no way I would measure up to the bevy of beauties that surrounded the rich and famous. I was attractive, about five-seven, and lucky to get my thick, natural blonde hair from mom. My eyes—a greenish-grey—were all my dad.
"Nooo." He shook his head. "You'll be heading to L.A. once you're up to speed. Everything you need to know is in that file." He indicated the seemingly plain manila folder that was starting to make me sweat. "We'll set you up with a hotel and credit card, the usual stuff that comes with traveling."
"I'm heading to L.A.?" I asked.
He gave me a beatific smile. "Just read it over and come in with any questions." He got up from his seat, brushing a hand down his pant leg. Stepping toward the door, he stopped behind my chair. "I know you'll do well, Tamsin. I have faith you'll do this company proud." He placed a gentle hand on my shoulder.
A small smile played on my lips. Getting any type of compliment from Tad Brown was indeed high praise. I held the file against my ample chest as a way of slightly protecting myself, and I nodded once. "I understand, sir." I stood up, knowing the meeting was ending.
I had just made it to the door when he gently turned me to face him, a tender glint to his eye as he held my chin in his hand. "You're the best girl—" He cleared his throat. "—woman, for the job."
I smiled proudly and looked straight into his eyes, trying to steal a bit of his confidence, something he'd taught me to do long ago, and I pressed the plain manila folder tighter to me. Then I did something I never do. I let my professional wall fall away and said, "I know, Daddy."
Once I left my father's office, I rushed back to mine to look over the client information. Coffee was long forgotten, unfortunately. But after I made my way through the file, I sat at my desk in a shock. The back of my skull was pressed into the headrest of my chair, and my eyes were closed as I willed away the panic attack that was developing. I was so tempted to march right back into my father's office and demand to be taken off the case. There was no way in hell he was giving me this job.
For some reason, I just knew Mom had something to do with this. I loved my mom to death, and I knew she was excited that I was working for Dad's company, but to be involved in picking my first client? I just wanted to shake my damn head. My face fell into my hands after I stared with bleary eyes at the name.
Fingers at my temples, I tried to rub the stress from the headache that was fast approaching migraine status. When I first opened the folder and saw his name, my heart sped up to tachycardia speeds. Out of the thousands of stars in the world, this was the one I got.
He's got to be fucking joking.
Tossing the file on my desk, I finally wandered into the kitchen to grab that elusive Cup O'Joe I so desperately needed. If we'd had Bailey's or Jameson in the building, I would've spike the coffee to calm my jittery nerves. Leaning up against the counter, I stirred cream into my cup, in my own world when Andrew Grant came in. He had been my dad's right-hand man since the company started in the eighties, and was a big cheerleader in my corner. They'd gone to university together, and he'd been a fixture at Casa Brown for as long as I'd been alive.
He was divorced with no kids, currently playing the field. Most women loved him, more for his British accent than for the great person he was. To me, he'd always be Uncle Andrew. He mentored me during college breaks, and when I interned during the summers. He also had me sit in client meetings with him, which, for interns, was highly unusual. To some it might seem like special treatment, but he made me work my ass off for his respect. In turn, he was a great teacher, and I'd always respected him.
"You can't hog the coffee machine, you know." He looked at me meaningfully.
Glancing around, I realized I was standing right in front of the machine, still lost in my own world. I slid to my left but remained deep in thought while Andrew prepared his coffee.
"Dad called me into his office this morning," I said, staring at the back of Andrew's pinstriped suit. He was slightly peppered with gray at the temples, but it looked good on him, distinguished. He was extremely attractive for an older guy.
Andrew nodded, his back still to me. Finished making his coffee, he turned around, his eyes flickering to the lip I was chewing. With an aggravated sigh and an arched brow, he asked, "Are you going to spit it out, or do I have to guess?"
I smiled at his accent. It was always so British this early in the morning. "He gave me my first client today," I mumbled, my gaze dropping to my coffee.
He clucked his tongue after taking a long sip of his coffee, his eyes softening like my dad's did earlier. "Getting your first client is equally exciting and terrifying. You've done well with the clients while working with me. What's making you so nervous?"
I took a sip of my coffee, trying hard not to burn my tongue on the hot liquid. Thankfully, that first sip seemed to calm the nerves, if just for a second. "It's not the so much the what. It's more the who." I was being deceptively vague, but I still wasn't one hundred percent sure if I could or would take this client. Can I deal with seeing him again?
Placing his coffee cup on the counter, he led me over to the table, pressing me into a chair as he placed a warm, gentle hand on my shoulder. It was a familial touch, and I appreciated it. His eyes were zoned in on me. "Didn't you just say the other day that you were tired of being the errand girl around here? You know the biz. We have to get our hands dirty sometimes, and we can't always be choosy."
Of course. I knew all this. My dad had been running this company since before I was born. It was his passion. He didn't take on many clients anymore, but he had a team that he respected, with proven track records. But for some reason, I felt like I was being tested because I was his daughter. I was the new kid on the block.
I fiddled with the rim of my coffee cup, and he asked, "Who's the client?"
"Joey Carino." I gave him a worried look, then jumped out of the chair, straightening my blue suit jacket and pacing back and forth.
Andrew's brows shot up into his hairline as he choked on his coffee. Regaining his composure, he blinked a couple times. "Holy shit," he said, wiping the coffee from his chin.
I frowned at him, my eyes blazing. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"Tam," he started sounding defensive. "Joey could be a difficult client at best, and with the hist…" His thought trailed off. He gave me a kindly stare, but I knew exactly where he was going.
"I know what you're thinking." I nodded with confidence I didn't have. "Yes, Joey's career is hot. But according to the file, he's all over the place." It was kind of a lie. I really wasn't sure what Andrew was thinking, but I wanted to prod him a little, make him finish what he was saying. It wasn't typical of him to clam up when I needed advice. He would never go against my father, but he also respected the hell out of me.
"So why does your father want you, specifically, to take this job?" He rubbed his chin in thought.
"That's a good question that I haven't been able to figure out yet. Joey's been on a bit of a destructive streak." I plopped back into the chair again and ticked off the facts. "His record label is threatening to cancel his ass, and he's got a huge concert coming up at the Hollywood Bowl. It seems his drug use is becoming an issue. He's been missing some publicity events set up by the label. From what I read, it looks like he's embraced the typical rock-n-roll lifestyle. And all I can come up with is that Dad thinks I'm the one to help him." Blowing my hair out of my eyes, I shook my head in misery.
Andrew whistled through his lips. "This could be a tough one." He stood up and walked over to me. I knew Andrew would understand the conflict I was feeling. "Are you sure you're the right person to handle this?"
"I don't know," I said, confused. "A part of me feels like I should at least take a chance, and then the other half tells me to run screaming in the opposite direction." I smirked at him.
Andrew picked up his coffee cup as he headed to the door. "Your father had a reason for giving you Joey. It's up to you to see if you're ready to deal with it. This type of client needs a firm hand, but a kind heart." He smiled at me, tender in his wisdom.
"Dealing with Joey doesn't really scare me," I admitted, then grimaced. "It's Matthew. Matthew scares me."
Matthew was Joey's best friend and manager. He could be brutal when it came to Joey. Something I'd seen firsthand.
Andrew laughed. "Oh, chicky, he'll be a piece of cake. It's the kid gloves with Joey that might give you problems."
"I suppose." I sighed. Andrew's talk was making me feel better, but I was still feeling blindsided.
"You'll do fine, and you can come to me any time you need help," he said happily. "I promise you, we won't allow you to be eaten by the sharks."
A sudden giggle escaped from my lips. Andrew was always finding humor in my distress.
"Sure." I humorously rolled my eyes. "Thanks for the chat."
He winked. "Not a problem." He tilted his head as I ran my finger around the rim of my coffee again. "You'll be fine, I know it."
Then he headed out, leaving me to my thoughts and wandering emotions. Damn this day.Chapter THREE
With Andrew's promise and solid wisdom, I went back to my office with a sense of renewed purpose. Daddy was giving me this case for a reason. And being the professional I was, I would do everything in my power to make sure this company looked good and that I was someone he could trust. Now I just needed to trust that he had my best interest in mind and wasn't throwing this case at me willy-nilly. This would be my chance to prove myself.
I sat straighter in my chair, forcing myself to feel strong and ready to tackle this case head on and make Dad proud.
Over the next hour, I read through the file a few times to see exactly what Joey had been up to since I last saw him. He'd been highly successful since he broke into the market a few years back, selling out concerts worldwide, and record stores couldn't keep his stuff stocked. Several times in a row, he'd been named one of People magazine's most beautiful. And beautiful he was.
He was thickly built, but in a muscular way. He kept his head shaved close to the scalp, which highlighted his carved cheeks and strong jawline. However, it was the pale green eyes with the pinprick pupils that looked like he could see through you. I could never forget those eyes. When he was looking at you, you felt it in your soul. Just thinking of him made my heart race. Which was definitely not what I needed right now. Conflicted feelings aside, this was a job.
It appeared Joey had been suffering the typical downfall of fame. Too much drinking in public and getting fall-down drunk. According the tabloids—which I always took with a grain of salt—his drug use was becoming a problem. However, the label hadn't exactly come out and said that drugs were an issue, and rumor rags were sketchy at best. I could only hope he wasn't doing cocaine, heroin, or pills. Trying to keep that out of the news would be tricky.
I stared Joey's picture. He was jammed between two busty blondes, and I rolled my eyes. How cliché. In the background was Joey's partner-in-crime and manager, Matthew Johns. He was holding an unopened champagne bottle and had a smile plastered on his face. I shuddered involuntarily and rubbed my forehead as I flipped through the few other pictures, either taken by paparazzi or professional photographers. They all captured Joey in his absolute gorgeousness, but there was something missing. A notable difference from earlier pictures compared to shots taken recently. There was a lack of emotion in his eyes. He'd have a smile on face, but it never seemed to reach his eyes. I went back and forth between the various photos, trying to piece together when that may have happened. He had such light when I knew him. I felt a sadness overcoming me as I wondered about how much he'd changed.
Looking at the clock, I noticed it was lunch time. My stomach grumbled, but I wanted to hold off until I called L.A. The idea of talking to Matthew Johns on a full stomach made me nauseous. Sighing, I spun in my chair to stare out my tiny office window. I was a nervous wreck. My heart was beating up into my throat, and my palms were a sweaty mess. I was dreading this more than my twice-a-year dental appointment. (Bad recollections from a younger age.)
Tapping my pencil against my desk, I heard a knock at my partially open door. My dad walked in, holding up a piece of paper.
"Hey." I tried to smile at him, but it came out more as a twist of my lips.
"How's it going?" He nodded at the files and pictures littering my desk.
I sighed again. "It's going." I was afraid to let him know that I was feeling less than capable at the moment. How in the hell would I help Joey? I hadn't seen him in so long, and with our history…
"Did you eat lunch yet?" he asked me sympathetically.
I just shook my head and waved a hand over the paperwork and my iPad that was propped up against the desktop computer.
"This just came through my email. I haven't switched everything over to you yet. Thought you might want to include it in your files." He handed me the paper with a wink.
It was a picture. As I glanced over it, my hand went over my mouth. I couldn't believe it. I looked up at Dad, who just shrugged and walked quietly out of my office.
"Jesus," I muttered under my breath. If I thought this case was going to be simple, I was deluding myself.
In the photo was Joey Carino in all his naked glory, pissing in a water fountain while a large cluster of people stood around him. I ran a hand through my thick, blonde hair, now dreading the call even more. Swallowing hard, I swore under my breath, flipped the picture over, and picked up my damn phone.
I was on hold for a few minutes while the secretary got Matthew Johns on the line. My heart was beating triple time. I hadn't talked to Matthew in years, since I was a sophomore and he'd graduated high school.
When I finally heard a click on the line, I took a sip of my water and fisted my hand, needing to feel the bite of my nails dig into my palm.
"Tamsin?" a shocked voice replied.
"Hi, Matthew." It came out breathier than I intended, but my nerves were getting the better of me.
"Wow, I'm just, wow…How are you?" I could hear the false smile that I remembered all too well.
"I'm fine, but Matthew," I took a deep breath, "that's not why I'm calling." I frowned at the sharpness in my voice.
"Hmm…You're calling about Joey?" he asked suspiciously. I didn't think he knew I was working for Dad.
"I am," I said in a clipped tone. I was sure he thought it was for a much different reason than what it was. Dealing with Matthew was not at the top of my bucket list. It wasn't on any list, other than 'how to make myself miserable. We'd never really seen eye to eye when it came to Joey. Mainly, he hated me, and I never played nice.
"You saw the picture that was in the tabloids today?" He guessed as he sighed into the phone.
I rolled my eyes at his lame sigh. A part of me wished I could strangle him through the phone. "I think it's safe to say everyone saw the picture. It's all over the Internet."
"What do you want me to say, Tam? I wasn't there. He was probably three sheets to the wind." He sounded defensive. There was the Matthew I remembered. "Why are you calling anyway? There's been other pictures of him that didn't seem to bother you." I could tell he was getting argumentative.
"I'm sure you heard his record label hired my Dad's firm. As a friendly gesture, I'm calling you to get some information. Just because I haven't called beforehand doesn't mean I wasn't paying attention. " He started to say something else, but I cut him off. "As his manager, shouldn't you tighten the reins? Especially when his label is threatening to drop him?" The anxious tapping of my pencil became faster and louder.
"I'm his manager, Tam, not his babysitter," he growled at me.
"Well," I said sarcastically. "It's a good thing I've been hired to be his personal babysitter then. I've been brought in to be Joey's publicist."
Matthew cursed in the background. "What the fuck are you talking about?"
I leaned against my desk in a virtual power position. "I've been brought on to be Joey's publicist," I said slowly.
"No, absolutely not," he hissed through the phone. "Who hired you? This is crazy. You of all people shouldn't be crossing paths with him."
"That," I said prickly, "would be the label." I sneered, even though he couldn't see it.
God, I hated him. It was all coming back now. How he treated me, belittled me, and he definitely knew how to push my fucking buttons. "I need you to clear his schedule for the week, and I need you to get me onto your schedule."
There was a static sound, then Matthew yelled for his assistant; obviously, he'd thought if he put his hand over the receiver I wouldn't hear it. You're an idiot like you always were. I heard him demand she call the—and I quote—"fucking label".
I felt my face flushing with anger. "I don't know what the label will say to you, Matthew. But I know for a fact they don't have a clue who I am, and I'd prefer it remain that way." I said this quickly before he could rake the label over the coals.
When he finally calmed down, he said, "Shit, Tam, this is not going to go over well with Joey at all."
I had already figured that out. How the hell do you think it's already been going over with me? I didn't say this out loud. Being back in Joey's life after all these years of not would be difficult. Perhaps he'd be pissed off and tell me to just fuck off. But I seriously didn't think that was what motivated Joey. I had a job to do. Regardless who my client was or wasn't, I would get it done right.
"Matthew, I don't care if it goes over like a ton of fucking bricks. I have some serious cleanup to do and, unfortunately, you and I will have to work together do that." I planted my hand on my cheek. I couldn't believe after all the history and fighting, Matthew and I would have to team up and work together. I hesitated at the thought, the blueberry muffin I'd had earlier threatening to make a nasty comeback.
Matthew sighed loudly. "What am I supposed to tell him?"
Unfortunately, this was a delicate situation. I couldn't afford to piss off my first client, and I needed time to think through a strategy. I tapped my pencil frantically as I tried to formulate a plan. Which was hard to do with Matthew's huffing and puffing in my ear.
"Don't tell him anything right away," I said quickly. "We'll figure things out."
"I'm not sure, Tam." He sounded pissed off. "I mean, you're his ex-girlfriend. This could explode in both of our faces."
I'm more than his ex, douche bag. In fact, I was Joey Carino's high school sweetheart.
From the moment I read the file and saw that I, Tamsin Brown, would be my ex-boyfriend's publicist, I tried hard not to fall apart. But talking to Matthew was bringing everything closer to the surface. The lies, the cheating. The way I found out. Being a naïve college student didn't prepare me for losing what I thought was the love of my life.
"You don't think I realize that?" I hissed. "This is the last thing I want to deal with. He's the one who broke my heart!" I closed my eyes, feeling all those old emotions and hurt trickling back.
I will not allow Matthew to get to me.
"Jesus, Tam," he breathed.
Clearing my throat, I told him, "I'll be flying out of Phoenix tomorrow morning, and I'll be in L.A. mid-morning." He needed to know that I was coming, regardless. This was his fault anyway. If he'd kept Joey's leash a little tighter, I wouldn't be in this position. "Let's set up a meeting for tomorrow."
"Fine." Matthew's voice was odd. There was an emotion there I didn't think he was capable of—defeat. "I can pick you up at the airport or send a car. Whichever you want." His tone softened, and I found myself sinking into my seat, wanting to soften as well. But knowing Matthew, he was biding his time. He'd reach for my jugular soon enough. He'd always hated me. I was certain that wasn't going to change.
Wondering what kind of game he was playing, I immediately requested the car service. We went over a few things on his calendar that he'd have to move around, then I told him I'd be arriving in town around lunch time.
"Noon works for me," I said. "Just have the car service take me directly to your office."
"Well, Tamsin, I guess after five years I'll get to see you again. It's been a long time." His tone could either be construed as mocking or flirtatious. I'd stick with mocking.
After ending the call, I let out a loud frustrated groan and tossed my pencil across the room, hoping it would break or stab the wall—I was really in the mood to stab someone—but the eraser just bounced off, not even leaving a mark. It reminded me of how Joey bounced back after shattering my heart.
For a while after we broke up, all I could do was listen to people tell me what he was up to and who he had been seen with. Who the flavor of the week was. While I tried to nurse a broken heart, he was off with starlets, models, and whoever the hell else. Meanwhile, my heart had been crushed sideways to Sunday.
I bet there still wasn't a mark on him.Chapter FOUR
Touching down in L.A. felt weird. I wasn't sure what to expect for this meeting. I was worried about seeing Matthew after so many years, but I was mostly nervous about Joey's reaction when we finally told him. However, I also had to think of my own self-preservation. As much as I worried about Joey, I wondered if my heart could take it.
Joey and I were together during high school and for a year or so after I went away to college. I was young and in love, but this was long before he'd become the 'Joey Carino of the people'. He was just my Joe, and we were inseparable. We had a lot of fun together in our North Phoenix suburb. He was a couple grades above me, but he always made sure I was treated with respect. Unfortunately for me, it didn't go over well with Matthew Johns. Even back then, he was Joey's best friend, and that somehow instantly made me his nemesis.
After high school, Joey decided that college wasn't for him. He wanted to try his hand at music, working his way around local clubs in Phoenix and the surrounding areas. Once I graduated high school, I knew right away I wanted to go to college. Though it was a struggle to keep my relationship with Joey strong, while knowing that I'd be heading back east, two thousand miles away.
We did everything right. "You'll be by my side always, baby," he'd said to me. "You're my rock, I need you."
"And you're mine," I'd tell him.
We were solid.
Leaving Arizona and Joey was hard, but we did what we could to make our relationship work.
During my time away, people started seeing Joey as the talented singer/songwriter/guitarist that he was. He'd booked a few small stints at some local pubs and bars in Phoenix, but when he started branching out to California, Oregon, and Washington State, people took notice.
I'd always known Joey was talented, and I'd been happy for him. But being so far away and not being able to support him in person had been difficult. It definitely put a strain on our relationship.
I hated when we'd argue over the phone. It was bad enough that he wasn't there with me, but he promised me that he wanted our relationship to work.
During my second year in college, I started receiving weird text messages and emails from an anonymous source. It bothered me that some anonymous person would know enough about me to send me texts. Some of the pictures were tame, like Joey talking to a girl while sipping on a beer. In the end, I'd ignore the texts and my trust in Joey remained intact.
We managed to see each other as often as possible, but with the distance things became harder. The breaking point was when he was finally discovered. He signed with the record label, and suddenly I started receiving more invasive texts. This time they were blatant proof of his cheating. Pictures of him making out with women, him in various modes of undress with naked women sitting on his lap, straddling him. The one that drove home the point that my relationship with Joey was over was of him in bed, snuggling with another woman while both were stark naked.
When Joey finally came out to Boston for a local show, I confronted him and demanded the truth. He couldn't justify the pictures, and I couldn't tell him who was sending them because I had no idea. He was pissed off, and I couldn't trust him. I'll never forget our last fight, the last time I saw those green eyes.
Joey stood in the middle of my dorm room, pacing back and forth. He'd stormed in after his show, shouting and crying about the pictures and texts. How could he do this to me? He loved me.
"You were my everything," I told him with a heartbreaking look.
"Tammy, I fucked up." He sounded so lost as he sat next to me on my bed. "I promise it meant nothing."
I could feel him right next to me, but I refused to look at him. Tears ran uncontrollably down my face. "Obviously, I meant nothing to you, Joe. Four years we've been together and just when things start moving for you, you do this! How do you expect me to ever trust you again?"
He kneeled in front of me, taking my shaking hands into his big ones. He rubbed a calloused thumb over my smooth knuckles. It was a touch that I would miss.
"I'm so sorry, baby. I was drunk. It was stupid and it won't fucking happen again, I swear—"
I cut him off. Now I was getting pissed off. "You don't know that, Joe. I'm here in Boston, and you're in California making a name and life for yourself. We're in separate worlds now. Obviously, this is the life you've chosen."
"Tammy, I love you so much." He sounded wrecked. I wanted to believe that he meant it, but the pictures were like a loop in my head. Unforgettable. Desperately squeezing my hands, he added, "It was a stupid one night thing. I promise you that."
I closed my eyes to the sadness invading the room. His words were heartfelt, but I knew there was no going back. This was over, and I needed to make a clean break. "It's too late for us, Joey," I whispered, feeling my heart breaking with each word. I looked into his green eyes one more time, wondering if I'd ever get to see them again. How would I recover, and would I put myself back together again?
We were over, but I was far from over him.
"I'm sorry, Joey. But it's over." I whispered.
For months, I wallowed in my dorm room. Friends urged me to go out and get back on that horse, but it hurt too much. Of course, once our relationship was over, the mysterious texts stopped as well. Whoever had sent them was probably relishing in their victory. They won.
Not that I could blame them. All they did was show me the truth. And I had to thank them in a way for that.
Around the first of the year, I decided to listen to my nagging friends and come out of hiding. Still heartbroken, I tried to maintain some semblance of sanity. I found myself with serious trust issues that couldn't just be forgotten by dating here and there. I did date and have fun, but a long-time boyfriend just wasn't in the cards for me yet. Having fun was all that mattered.
Once I finished up my degree in Communications, I came back home, still nursing a smarting heart. With Joey out of the picture, I did everything I could to excise him from my thoughts.
That is, until yesterday morning when Dad threw a whopper at me.
And of course, with Joey came Matthew. They were still best friends. But it was going to be difficult to let go of the past. Matthew and I had never got along. Our personalities clashed. He was rude to me. I tried to be nice. He ignored me, and I did my best to include him. He'd talk over me, I'd wait for him to be finished. After a while, we both just became indifferent to each other.
Matthew could be snarky, sarcastic, and biting. He could cut you to the quick as fast as he could compliment your mother. Unfortunately, I was at the end of a lot of those quips. Even though some of them hurt, I did my best to keep my mouth shut. I didn't need to add to the existing ripple of tension in the group.
When Joey and Matthew decided to put together a garage band, things between Matthew and I reached a boiling point. He didn't want me around practices. Joey told him to suck it up. It was a different story, however, when Matthew had a girl show up. He could have whatever the hell he wanted, it was just me he hated, and it was impossible not to take that personally.
After a few months of practice, their sound was solid. Matthew was really good on guitar and Joey's voice was amazing. He had that throaty, sexy growl going that would even make Jared Leto jealous. Joey also played guitar, so he and Matthew played off of each other really well. They found a decent drummer, Kevin Hayes, another kid in the same grade as Matthew and Joey. One day, after they'd been playing for a couple months, I was surprised by Matthew's guitar work. I knew he'd taken lessons, but I never thought he'd gotten good. Once they brought in David Miller, the bassist, their sound gelled.
Whenever I'd show up for a practice, Matthew would throw out the Yoko-name-cough and then go sulk in a corner. He was always pissed off when Joey spent any time with me. In turn, I'd be pissed off when Joey would blow me off for Matthew. There was no happy medium, and one of us always inevitably felt like a third wheel in the Joey relationship
Now as I sat on the plane, running all my memories of us through my head, I wondered which version of Matthew I'd be dealing with. Would I get the childish asshole that treated me like shit, or the grownup, Joey's manager? Straightening my spine and taking deep calming breaths, I forced myself to realize that I'd be dealing with the devil today either way.
When the captain announced that we'd be deplaning in a few minutes, I started biting my lip nervously. Out of my seat, I grabbed my laptop bag from compartment above and made my way to the front of the plane. I headed toward baggage and parking. For eleven in the morning, LAX was packed. It one of the busiest airports in the world, but I guess it just took me by surprise that it was so busy on a Tuesday morning.
Before leaving the secured area, I stopped in the ladies room to check my appearance. Hair and makeup—check. Adding more lipstick and fluffing my hair—check. Black silk Elie Tahari suit looking somewhat impeccable—check. Awesome turquoise kitten heel pumps—check.
As I stepped off the escalator, I searched for my driver. Of course, he or she was nowhere to be found. I was starting to pull out my phone when I saw Matthew casually leaning against a concrete pillar. His arms were folded across broad chest, and I had a momentary lapse of…Well, any thought.
This was definitely not the boy I remembered from high school.
There was a languid look to him that had me absolutely mesmerized. I stopped in front of him, and he gave me a lazy, yet extremely sexy, smile. His auburn hair was messily styled, probably with some store brand gel. He wore a basic T-shirt in a drab green, but it looked good on him. He seemed to have filled out in the years that I hadn't seen him. He wore a pair of relaxed, straight leg jeans with black chucks. For an executive, I thought his style was a bit too casual.
"Tim-Tam!" he drawled, pulling me in for a surprise hug. I cringed as I always had at the horrible nickname he'd given me when I was fourteen. And Matthew and I were never touchy feely, so this was odd.
I looked up at him, noticing all the various changes in his face. He was a couple years older than me, so the crinkles around his eyes were a bit more pronounced. His tanned face looked bronzed but healthy. His eyes were still the color of the Mediterranean Sea: deep azure blue. But his hair had darkened slightly into a reddish brown. He was model beautiful.
I found myself being pulled into those pools of blue before his chuckle woke me up. I wasn't sure if my mouth was propped wide open or if drool was dripping down the side, but I needed to get my hormones under control, and fast.
Clearing my throat, I said, "You know how much I hate that nickname, Matty."
Matthew stood back and studied me for a minute. "Wow, Tam, you've grown up." His gaze started at my shoes and slowly traveled up my legs, my hips, over my chest, and finally landed on my face, when he gave me a brilliantly white smile. I felt my heart zing a little.
He kept shaking his head, trying to say something that just wouldn't come out. The way he was staring, I was starting to feel self-conscious.
I smoothed a hand down my suit jacket. "So where are we heading?"
Matthew cleared his throat. "I thought we could grab lunch at a Middle Eastern place not too far from here. We should be able to talk there."
I nodded when his hand lightly brushed mine, causing a ripple of surprise as he took my laptop bag and led me toward the parking lot. What he walked me to looked like a prop out of a movie set. My jaw hit the ground. The machine was all sleek silver and chrome, like a car of a science fiction movie. Flashy but beautiful.
"Joey's doing really well," he mentioned simply with a shy smile.
I let out a short laugh. That was an understatement. Joey was doing more than well if he could buy this obnoxious thing for his manager/best friend. Realizing my ex-boyfriend was loaded had never once crossed my mind. But now as I thought about it, I wasn't sure what I'd be walking into. Money changed people. Had Joey changed? And just how much had he changed?
The butterflies in my stomach started acting up again. Maybe lunch wasn't in the cards for me today.
Matthew leaned over me and opened the door, jarring me from my thoughts while helping me into the low-riding car. I caught a whiff of his cologne mixed with the clean scent of his soap, then I closed my eyes and inhaled. When I sat down, I melted into the softest, creamiest leather seat. It enveloped yet cushioned me comfortably.
Matthew folded his long legs into the driver's seat and started the car with the push of a button. The engine practically purred, it was so quiet. This beauty put my Jetta to shame.
"What kind of car is this?" I asked, stroking the leather seat.
Looking over at me, he signaled to pull out of the parking spot. "Do you remember that car Justin Bieber got for his eighteenth birthday?"
I shrugged and shook my head.
"Well, this is it." He grinned and winked at me, then clarified, "Um, not his, but mine. I don't know where his is," he cracked. "It's a Fisker Karma. Completely electric and a very sweet ride."
"Huh," was all I could say, nodding. It was impressive.
After that, we drove in silence. Being in such a small space with Matthew—after having no contact in five years—was definitely awkward, and I was wondering what the hell was going on with Joey. Had Matthew told him already?
Rubbing my forehead, I sighed. What kind of shit did my father get me into?
Matthew parked in front of a seedy-looking building, and I frowned. From the sign on the place, I gathered this was our lunch stop. Looking around the neighborhood, I could tell no hotel concierge would ever send me here. But seeing as Matthew was considered a local, he probably knew where the good food was.
He caught my frown. "It doesn't look like much, but the food is delicious."
The restaurant was fairly quiet since it was still just before the lunch rush. The lunch crowd wouldn't be making its way out for at least an hour.
I was studying the menu above the counter when Matthew leaned down to speak into my ear, again causing goose bumps to ripple down my spine.
What the hell is going on with me?
He grinned, and I wondered if he could tell how he affected me. "The falafel here is the best around. I suggest you order the plate."
Taking his suggestion, I ordered my meal with a bottle of water. Once the food was ready, we found an empty, quiet table in a corner so we could discuss things. I was starving, and the smell of curry and roasted lamb invaded my senses. My nausea from earlier had subsided, and I couldn't wait to dig in.
"So how did you end up here?" Matthew asked, opening his arms wide around him.
"I'm not sure what you mean," I said, taken by surprise.
"What I mean, Tam, is how did you end up as the publicist for Joey?" He tilted his head, giving me a conflicted look, then he started moving his rice around on his plate before digging in.
I bit my bottom lip. For some reason that made him smile. What was he thinking? I couldn't stop wondering. Did he think I asked for this case? Did he think I was on a mission to get Joey back?
"Joey is my first client, truth be told," I said after I swallowed a piece of the falafel. "I started working for my dad's company after I graduated college. And early yesterday, he pulled me into his office and literally threw Joey's file at me."
Watching Matthew eat was a bit of an orgasmic experience. With each bite, he'd lift his fork to his lips and practically fuck the utensil. At one point, I had to force myself to look away before I started getting hot flashes.
After another sip of water, I placed my fork down and steepled my hands under my chin.
"Ah, and how did you feel about that?" he finally asked as he wiped his face with his napkin.
"Truthfully?" I raised my eyebrows, and he nodded for me to continue. "I was blindsided. I'm not exactly sure I'm the best person for the job. Our shared history goes back nearly a decade, and he may not be extremely happy to have me mucking around now in his personal life." Sure, people were concerned with Joey's feelings, but mine were important too. However, I couldn't let my feelings get in the way of this. This was a job to me, and I wanted to be as successful as I could. So Joey might be mad, he'll get over it.
Matthew didn't say anything. He just tilted his head, again encouraging me to continue.
"I'm scared how he'll react," I admitted quietly. "Our breakup wasn't pretty."
Matthew stared at me. Perhaps the hand I should've played was one that really didn't care or give a fuck what happened to Joey. But I was giving him my vulnerable side and knowing Matthew, I expected him to jump on that right away. I wished I could be the hard ass that some people were, but it just wasn't me.
Self-conscious, I looked past Matthew's shoulder and noticed the clock on the wall. I hadn't realized time had vanished. Literally and figuratively. It had been three years since I'd seen Joey. And now my Joey was a grown man, responsible for his actions. Suddenly, a part of me felt extremely sad as I reached down into my bag to pull out the damning picture of him pissing in the fountain.
I slid it toward Matthew. "This isn't him. That's not how he was with me," I said sadly, my eyes conveying the message.
"It's been a while since you've seen him, Tam." His look barely softened. "He's not the same person. This industry changes you. Usually for the worse. The kid you knew isn't the guy he is now."
I swallowed roughly, the falafel feeling like razorblades in my throat. "You think this person is better?" I was a bit dumbfounded. How much could a person change from a career?
Matthew leaned forward, his eyes flashing with anger. I couldn't tell if he was trying to frighten me or get me to back off, but I wouldn't, I couldn't. I had a job to do.
"I think," he said menacingly, "you really don't have a say what type of person he's turned into. He's Joey fucking Carino, and the women love him. His concerts are selling out. He's still on top of the charts, and he's relevant." He laughed bitterly.
"Yet," I gave him a condescending smile, "if he continues down this path, he'll be irrelevant because we'll have a dead rock star, Matthew."
My challenging tone caused him to flinch. "Dammit, Tamsin." He ran a hand down his face. "What the fuck? You don't think I do everything I can to keep this sort of shit out of the papers? I'm his manager. I do what I can, when I can. But there are times when even I can't control him. If you think you can babysit him twenty-four-seven, good fucking luck."
He took a sip of water, probably to cool down, and I sullenly pulled up Joey's contract on my iPad, specifically the section that reiterated his contract would be null and void should he breech the morality clause. "Pissing in water fountains and showing up drunk at charity events is a definite breech of this clause," I said in a bitter tone, trying to keep my voice level since the restaurant was getting busy. "They'll have no problems negating this if he continues down this path. This is serious, Matthew. We need to do something now and quickly."
"First off"—He held up his thumb— "he's not going to be happy when he realizes that you're the publicist. Second of all, he'll be confused you're back in his life when you said goodbye three years ago."
I took a deep breath. Even though I understood—and was wondering the same thing—it was beginning to piss me off that he was only worried about Joey. What about me? What about what Joey did to me?
Hiding my emotions, I put on my professional face. "We'll deal with the punches as they roll. Let me get some things together. Once I have them in order, I'll give you a schedule. As to what or how we'll break it to him, we'll deal with that later." Just like I would deal with my own issues about seeing Joey.
I picked my fork back up and attacked my now cold rice. I was still starving, my emotions were all over the place, and I knew Matthew could see my fork shaking as I tried to take a bite. I had a feeling I wasn't fooling him with my take charge attitude.
Watching me eat, he started to say something, then immediately closed his mouth.
"What?" I snapped.
"It's good to see you," he started carefully, "but I'm concerned about Joey's state of mind when he sees you. He wasn't exactly the easiest person to deal with when you two broke up."
"Yeah sure," I said sarcastically, though an old part of me wanted to believe that he'd been as broken as I was when we split. Then again, he couldn't have been that upset with the pictures of him partying and hooking up with various women all over the trash rags. "That's what happens when you cheat," I mumbled.
Matthew just raised an eyebrow at me. "And there weren't any guys at school that caught your attention?"
I scowled. "If you're asking if I cheated on Joey, that would be a no. I was too busy with classes. Not every mouse plays when the cat's away," I said snidely.
Eyes blazing, Matthew threw his dirty napkin on his empty plate. I guessed lunch was over.
I sighed. This was going to be a long day.