‘YOU’RE NOT TO leave me alone with him, you understand?’ Stephanie Johnson—Steffi Leigh to her quadrillion blog subscribers—closed the passenger door and glared at her best friend.
‘Stop stressing. It’s not like he’s dangerous.’ Tara rummaged in her oversized handbag as she walked round to the footpath, not bothering to look up or to lock the car.
‘He’s more than dangerous. He’s like God,’ Stephanie argued. Because Jack Wolfe held her whole world in his hands. ‘And you know I can’t keep the act up for long.’
Long enough for the ninety-second vlogs she recorded in the corner of her bedroom—sure. But staying as ‘Steffi Leigh’ for a three-hour meeting out in the real world? She hadn’t a hope. At least not without help.
Absently she nibbled on her fingernail, only to get a bite of fabric. Ugh. She’d forgotten she was wearing sleek white gloves—their purpose to hide the chewed-to-the-quick ugliness of her nails. Her whole vintage look was to hide her real, slightly screwed-up self.
‘Well, if you’d stop rubbing your face…’ Tara stepped in close, her blusher brush raised like the weapon it was. ‘And stand still…’
As if that was possible. Her kitten-heeled shoes were half killing her toes, her stomach was churning and she was freezing, despite the weather app on her phone reckoning it was thirty-two degrees already. Stephanie waved Tara’s annoying brush away and checked the time on her phone again.
‘Let’s go. We can’t be late.’ She didn’t need the blusher—she’d probably turn beetroot the second he asked her a tricky question.
As she turned towards the hotel her panic sharpened. She was going to give herself away in the first five minutes… Because Steffi Leigh was all fiction. And Stephanie Johnson was a phony.
‘Of course you can be late,’ Tara scoffed, burrowing in her bag again. ‘You’re Steffi Leigh. You’re going to make an entrance.’
Stephanie winced. That was going to happen anyway, given she looked as if she’d just stepped out of a nineteen-fifties sewing catalogue—all full-skirted dress, nipped-in waist, kid gloves, kitten heels and pin-curled hair. She could see people driving past and turning their heads, probably wondering if it was a photo shoot—what with the make-up artist touching up her face on the street.
If only she was a model. If only she wasn’t going to have to speak and try to sell her site as some stellar investment.
‘Stephanie.’ Tara looked up and eyeballed her. ‘You can do this. You need to.’ Tara smiled. ‘You’ve got to get on with your life.’
Stephanie looked at her friend and a fatalistic determination sank into her bones. Yeah, she could do this. Because she had to—not for her life, but her brother’s.
She tucked her phone into her vintage bag, squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. She was Steffi Leigh, and today she’d do the best job of staying in character ever.
Fake it. Make it. Rake it in.
She walked the few yards to the grand columned entrance. The Raeburn Hotel was one of the oldest, and definitely the most glamorous of Melbourne’s many five-star hotels, and the venue for her meeting with Jack Wolfe, CEO of the massive global media conglomerate that been publishing the world’s most popular and trusted travel guides for years. His company had transitioned well into the online environment, and he was interested in talking to her about her blog.
Monetising had been a key word in the blogging/vlogging/have-your-own-channel world of the internet for years now. Anyone could start yapping online, but getting people to part with their cash to hear what you had to say…? That was the Holy Grail.
But right now an even better grail was within her grasp. Because it wasn’t just a few followers wanting to pay her a couple of dollars a day, or funds from the few ads she could bear to have littering her design, it was a famous heir to a fortune offering a bundle of cash for the lot. And Stephanie was willing to do almost anything to get her hands on a decent amount of money. It was the only hope she had left to lift her brother out of his downward spiral. To get him into study, get his life started again.
A one-off instant cash offer would be incredible.
So Jack Wolfe could never know how much of a faker she was. That the huge platform she’d somehow accumulated was built on a façade that she projected from one corner of her small bedroom. If anyone ever saw the rest of the room…
The CEO of Wolfe Enterprises certainly wasn’t going to. Jack Wolfe was getting nothing but the façade for a few hours. She had to get him to buy it. Literally.