Authors: Ginger Voight
“I thought you wanted epic and splashy,” I retorted. He merely shrugged.
“Whatever floats your boat, sweetheart. As long as they buy what we sell.”
I studied him for a moment. He looked particularly smug. “You’ve got it all figured out, don’t you?”
“I’m just a pragmatist.”
“You’re an opportunist,” I corrected.
“And a damned good one,” he agreed without one iota of shame. “This is why I never let any opportunity pass me by if I can help it.” He looked me over. “So when should I put you down to move in?”
“Tuesday,” I said. “The day after never.”
He chuckled. “I like you, Carly. You’re fun.”
Our waitress arrived with the food. “The lover’s special,” she announced happily as she put the plates on the table, prime rib for him and a dainty little filet mignon for me. “More wine?”
“Bring the bottle,” he told her with his most charming smile. Ever ‘on,’ Eli took my hand in his; bringing it to his lips to kiss it so our cute little server could see. “Enough to convince this lovely lady to move in with me,” he added as he sent me a moony-eyed gaze that nearly made me wretch all over my perfectly charred steak. To make matters worse, he pulled my hand into his lap, resting it on his upper thigh, within touching distance of ‘little Eli.’
The look in his eyes dared me to pull away. Instead I just dug my fingernails into his thigh, which made him chuckle, like we were sharing a delicious little secret. This was, of course, how the server took it.
“On it,” the waitress chirped happily, easily living up to her cheerful moniker, DeeDee.
He kept my hand in his even after she flitted away. I tried to pull back, but he just held on even stronger. “I need you to clear Friday for me. We’ve got a lot to do.”
He glanced me over, taking in my simple top, slacks and cardigan. “We need to style you.”
I glared at him. “And here I thought you loved me just the way I was.”
He swirled his forefinger around the top of my hand. “Aren’t you the least bit curious about the kind of person you could be if you had the chance?”
I tilted my head to the side with a coy smile. “What’s that? Another person entirely?”
He leaned forward. “If you’re lucky.”
I snatched my hand back, which only amused him further. I slid the napkin across my lap and dove into my tiny steak with relish. And of course he had a comment about that, too.
“It’s refreshing to be on a date with a woman who enjoys food.”
I spared him another side-eye glare. “It helps when you date actual women, not stick figures.”
He laughed. “You’re so angry with me for being a sizeist pig, yet it never occurred to you that you might have your own biases.”
I sat back up and gaped at him. “Are you fucking kidding me?”
He shrugged. “You tell me. You say the songs I sing are lies just because I don’t date fat chicks, right? Aren’t you being a little hypocritical to assume just because the girls I date are thin that I’m
dating them for that reason? You don’t know who they are. And really, you don’t know who I am, either.”
I blew up my cheeks and mooed at him for effect, reminding him of that hateful video that Rhonda posted.
“Bad example,” he conceded with a nod.
“Face it, Eli,” I said. “You could never fall for someone like… well, like Jordi for instance.”
“True,” he agreed. “But maybe that has nothing to do really with her size. Maybe I just feel we wouldn’t have anything in common. I like to be active. She’s clearly an indoor kind of girl.”
“So you’re saying a fat chick can’t be active,” I surmised.
“No one who has ever been able to keep up with me has been fat. I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” he concluded.
My pot was boiling by the second, and the lid was about to come off. “Fine. I’ll go shopping with you on Friday. But clear Saturday for me.”
He leaned across the table with that provocative smirk of his. “You gonna teach me some things, Carly?”
I speared a piece of red meat with my fork, popped it in my mouth and chewed, making him wait for my response until I was done. “One year with me, honey, and you’ll learn more about fat chicks than you ever thought possible.”
His blue eyes sparkled, endlessly entertained. “It’s a date, then.”
The days alternately sped up to and stalled leading up to our double dates at the end of the week. Of course I was nervous about what kind of blow-up doll he had in his twisted little mind to make me up to be. I was likewise nervous to introduce him to my friends, nay my California family, for Saturday’s festivities. It didn’t help that all his lovey dovey tweets were all dedicated to the girl who wouldn’t unlock her social media accounts. I had disabled Facebook entirely, making Twitter and Instagram private. He, on the other hand, was milking this new “relationship” for all it was worth. He had even managed to sneak in a selfie in the car, where he introduced me. “This is Carly. She hid her face. She’s shy.”
Of all the things I had ever been called in my life, shy had never been one of them.
But the marketing ploy was working so far. He had crafted this asinine story that I was intimidated by all the attention from dating a superstar, since I was the “girl next door,” which is why it took him seven long months to get me to go out with him. This also explained my dour demeanor whenever PING got anywhere close to me. At this point, I was pretty sure they were having me tailed like the CIA. I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything without some paparazzo there to snap a photo.
Even Ling, my sweet, grandfatherly Ling, had been snapped waving his broom at the moochers who dared loiter near the entrance to his restaurant.
It was clear I was going to have to move sooner than later, but I sure as hell didn’t want to move in with Eli. I hunted for houses in my spare time, thinking that I could use my unexpected windfall to secure a permanent residence in Los Angeles. I made the disheartening discovery that a million dollars just didn’t go as far as it used to. Factoring in the cost of a car and what funds I wanted to invest in FFF into the budget, not to mention what Uncle Sam might end up taking out of the pie, since technically the money had come from the agency and not Eli (because, you know, paper trail,) and I barely had enough left to pay for a condo.
Of course, I probably would have had a lot more if Clem had her way. I went to FFF that Thursday afternoon, to propose my beyond brilliant idea. Antoine had already directed me to their “first choice” of a new club in Hollywood, right off the Sunset Strip. This would give FFF visibility in ways we could have only dreamed of before.
But Clem shook her head and shoved my check back at me. “Antoine never should have told you,” she dismissed at once.
Antoine, who stood nearby, wasn’t the least bit apologetic. “We needed the money, Clem.”
She glared at him. “I already told you. We do it on our own or not at all.”
“Exactly,” I inserted gently. “
do it. Us. The three of us.”
Again she shook her head. “This is your money, Carly. I can’t take this from you. You should get a house. A car. A yacht. Whatever it takes to make it tolerable to date someone like Eli Blake for a year.”
“Don’t you see?” I implored. “That’s what this is. You need the money. And I need to spend it doing something that clears my conscience. Win/win.”
She sighed. She knew she was in no position to refuse, but she still felt like she had to. The stakes were just too great. “If I don’t do it all on my own, then that means someone else can take it away. On a whim. Just because. I need to earn it. Myself. I’m no charity case, Carly.”
“This isn’t charity,” I promised, crossing my heart. “It’s an investment. I put a down payment on the new club and I get… I don’t know… 15 percent of the revenue once we start making money. And we will start making money,” I assured. “It’s the right location. We’ve already got the clientele. And not for nothing, but you would be partnering with someone who knows a little bit about marketing and PR. There’s no downside.”
“Except that you want to fork over hundreds of thousands of dollars to me with no guarantee you’ll see any of it back. You know how hard this kind of money is to come by?”
I made a face. It had been easy to come by so far, but hard was coming and I knew it. I still had eleven months, twenty-eight days and twelve hours to go, pretending to be gaga over someone I couldn’t stand. “It’s an opportunity,” I found myself saying. “We can’t let it pass us by.”
“She’s right,” Antoine agreed again. “We already split FFF two ways. Let’s split it three. Before long I’ll graduate medical school and work my ass to the grave as an intern anyway. We could use the help.”
She glanced back at me. “Fine. But if it’s a three-way partnership, then it’s a three-way partnership. You get one-third of the revenue.”
I held out my hand. “Deal.”
In the space of a handshake, I became a businesswoman. I didn’t have a place to stay yet, but I did have a place to call home. That Friday morning we made our down payment on the new club.
club. Antoine popped a bottle of bubbly to toast our success, but I could only indulge one glass before I headed downtown to a department store where Eli waited for me.
Cabot’s Department Store had been a L.A. staple of fashion since the 1940s, and in the past couple of years they had started up a new plus-line of clothing called
, which, for the beginning of their run anyway, was modeled by heiress C.C. Cabot herself, who, like me, had an ample figure.
Her sister-in-law, Darcy Masters, was the mastermind behind all the amazing creations, and it was her genius that guided our personal shopping experience when we got there for our eleven o’clock appointment.
Eli had beaten me to the store, where he turned on the charm for our personal shopping assistant, Ashley. Since she was thin and pretty, he got her name right the first time, and used it often with that blinding white smile of his.
That wasn’t what bothered me. I was used to that. What I wasn’t used to was the way he hung on me like a cheap coat, trying to sell this new romance to the 20-something salesgirl.
“Hey, gorgeous,” he greeted with that same smile as he walked right up to me, put his arms around me and reached for a kiss.
Though I was no prude, and PDAs never really bothered me, having that mouth open over mine—again—made my skin crawl. It wasn’t that he wasn’t a good kisser, of course he was. It was that he was Eli Blake and the kiss was for show and I was a big fat phony faking liar, just like he was.
Needless to say, my response was lukewarm, which earned his cheerfully delivered reproach. “Come on, baby. No one cares,” he murmured as he cuddled me close, his hands sliding down my back to rest on either hip. I used my eyes alone to warn him of the boundaries he was crossing. It only made him smile wider as he turned back to Ashley. “You’ll have to forgive her. She’s shy.”
She giggled. “Not a problem. I’m the same way. My boyfriend always wants to get cozy in public. Drives me crazy. Of course I don’t have the whole world watching,” she added empathetically as she glanced my way.
I could barely unclench my jaw. “That does make it a little more challenging,” I agreed.
Ashley remained cheerfully on point. “Darcy looked over your list of events and she sent over quite a few options for you to consider. Give me five minutes to get everything started.”
“We’re in your hands,” Eli smiled at her while he cuddled me closer, squeezing one ass cheek for effect.
The minute she left the mirrored room, I thrust him away. “I wish you’d stop telling everyone I’m shy.”
He shrugged as he made his way to the tufted upholstered loveseat. “Which would you rather be? Shy? Or a frigid bitch? Because it could go either way.”
I glared at him. “I’m neither, for your information.”
He crossed one leg over the other, his eyes icy as he stared back at me. “Could have fooled me. We’re supposed to be crazy about each other, remember? That’s the story you’re being paid quite well to sell. Haven’t you ever been in a relationship before?”
“Is that what you think?” I gaped. “That I’m some sad wallflower that has never been kissed?”
“I know you’ve been kissed. You’ve been kissed by me.”
I barely concealed my growl of frustration just as Ashley lowered the lights and began our own private fashion show. I glanced back to Eli, who patted the space beside him with that self-satisfied smirk of his. My teeth clenched together tightly as I walked over to the love seat and squeezed myself next to him on the tiny, intimate piece of furniture. He wrapped his arm around my shoulders, almost like a vice grip to keep me in line, as the first model appeared.
She was a size 14/16 like me, but her look was far more stylish than the nondescript pantsuit I happened to be wearing. She wore funky layers and bright colors, with the sass and attitude to match as she sashayed from one side of the room to the other, with a twirl as she reached us, so we could get the full 360-degree view of her outfit.
“This is for those casual occasions,” Ashley said. “Going to the movies, out to the mall, maybe meeting for lunch at an outdoor café. Just add some funky jewelry or maybe a jacket over a casual shirt and you’re ready to take on the town.”
“I like it,” Eli told her. “But I would like to see something a bit sexier.”
Ashley bestowed a smile. “Not a problem. Next is Emma, who will model one of our more versatile looks that would work for day or night, dressy or casual.”
Emma wore a sleek pencil skirt in snakeskin print, with a white blouse and an olive-colored leather jacket, along with the kind of high heels I had given up in middle school, when my growth spurt put me eye-to-eye with most the boys in my class.
Given my new steady Eli was a good seven inches taller than me, this was no longer a concern. I could only hope I remembered how to walk in the silly things.
When Eli commented he would like to see more skin, the next model, Ariel, walked out in silky black palazzo pants with a corset top with sheer lacy sides. “Add a black leather jacket and you’re good to go,” Ashley said.