In the next second she was gone.

“I cannot believe that! I liked her, and all this time she was just fucking using me.”

“The press will use any means necessary to get what they want. I’m surprised you didn’t get suspicious of her. Did you give any information away?” Hunter asked.

Payton stared at Rick, and saw the sadness in his eyes. “You told her about Bethany, about my promise.”

“I wanted her to like you, Payton. You’ve talked about Bethany before.”

“Yeah, she’s going to go and dig deeper. It’s okay. She’ll probably latch onto the fact I’m screwing Hunter Reynolds, and I’m currently working on Elise Hamilton’s latest shoot.” She rubbed at her brow. “I hate the press.”

“I’m going to go.”

“You are not. I’ve got dinner. She was the bitch. You’re still my BFF. Nothing will change that. Not even scheming bitch girlfriends.”

“Or boyfriends,” Rick said.

“You mean shitty boyfriends, not the good ones.” She looked toward Hunter.

Hunter held his hands up. “I know I’ve got to deal with you to be with her. Let’s call a truce. I’m not going to hurt her.”

“Payton, I’m going to need more than wine,” said Rick.

Chapter Eight

The first story arrived three days later. This was connected to Payton and Hunter being together, addressing the question of how far Payton would go to land the job, which he hated reading.

“This isn’t good. You know that,” Daryl said.

They were in his office while the entire shoot was downtown. They had rented out a local restaurant for the romantic scenes. Marcel was there and would be acting opposite Payton. Hunter didn’t like it, but he couldn’t do anything about it.

“It’s the press telling tales.”

“Yeah, and those tales are partly true. Not the part about her screwing you to get a hand up, but you are in a relationship.”

They had surpassed just sex, even though neither of them mentioned it.

“What do you suggest?” Hunter asked, leaning back in his chair. He wanted to call Payton. See how she was feeling. The article had made her sound like a whore, which really bothered him. The article online had links to several kiss-and-tell stories, all of them lies. Those men couldn’t even describe her naked.

“I suggest you be seen. You show that this isn’t some dirty little secret, and that a lot more is going on that her getting the job on her back.” Daryl held his cell phone up. “How about you help your cousin out? The romantic scenes are not working for the shoot, and there’s bitchiness being directed at Payton. Go down there. Offer to stand up, and do the job no one could.”

“I’m not a model.”

“Let Elise guide you. You’ve got feelings for Payton. Let them be seen. Don’t hide them from anyone.”

“You want me to encourage this?” Hunter asked.

“What I want, Hunter, is for you to see that this looks badly on you as well. If, however, it is shown as say … a love story, then it’s not so bad. Come on. Think about it. Rich billionaire falls for rising plus-size model. It’ll be good for her, and for you.” Daryl stood, and made his way toward the door. “I already called Elise. She’s expecting you to arrive.”

“I should fire you.”

“You’ll do that when you know I’m wrong about everything. Right now, you know I’m right. Do as you’re told.”

Hunter laughed, and then made his way downtown toward the restaurant. There was a line of press outside of the building, and he was able to get through. Cameras were flashing, questions fired his way. He didn’t like it, not one bit.

This life was something he never wanted.

Rick was there waiting for him.

“You made it,” he said.

“You saw the headlines?” Hunter asked.

“I saw them. Payton saw them. I apologized to her, and I’m doing the same to you.”

Hunter held his hand up. “I don’t want to hear it. We can handle this.”

“Payton was really upset,” Rick said, making him pause. “Usually she doesn’t care what gets written, but they’ve been pulling other stories, and sounding like a whore was never something she enjoyed.”

Hunter turned to Rick. “I don’t want to hurt her.”

“Unless you have no intention of ever walking away, you’re going to hurt her.” Rick stood before him. “She likes to talk the talk. You’re the first man that has ever gotten this far.”

“What do you mean?”

“She’s had boyfriends in the past. When we were younger, she didn’t trust anyone because she was always bullied by kids. You know the kind of stuff. One guy hurt her, laughed at her, and since then, she struggles to trust easily. Still doesn’t. You’re the first guy she brought back to her place, and made part of her world.”

“She said it was all about sex.”

Rick laughed. “Take a good long look at Payton. She’s a forever kind of girl, and she tries to play in this world. The stuff that has been said to her. She’s ‘really pretty for a fat girl’. ‘Obese women are ruining the world.’ She needed someone strong enough to keep an eye on her.”

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