“I’ll be in hair and makeup.”
I didn’t turn, didn’t look, but heard every sound Emma made as she left the kitchen and headed down the hall.
Dana’s gaze flicked to me. “Did you have a good night, Cash?”
The question was loaded with meaning, none of which I wanted to dissect. I grabbed my coffee cup and left.
My parents were Catholic, when they decided to acknowledge a religion, so the confessional was a concept I was familiar with. MTV’s was set up in the laundry room, with sheets hung in front of the washer and dryer, two microphones sticking in your face, and a small loveseat crammed in between the cabinet and the wall. The loveseat was roomy for one, but crowded for two. Emma wedged herself in as best she could, our legs pinching together, then opted to sit on the arm of the sofa.
“There, is that okay?”
“Her head’s cut off,” an operator mused. “Can you scoot back, honey?”
“Or slouch,” another remarked.
There were four crew members, plus Dana, who crouched in front of the camera, a headset on, her coffee cup cradled in both hands.
After five minutes of discussion and testing, we managed a shot that included all of Emma yet hid the fact that my elbow was brushing against a jug of detergent.
“Emma, why did you punch Cash?”
Beside me, she shifted, and I watched as the toe of her sandal twitched. She had a chip in the polish of her big toe, and that shouldn’t have been endearing, but it was. “I don’t know. He was there. He was annoying me. I—”
“Wait.” Dana stood, blocking the shot. “This isn’t working. I need to feel more animosity between you too. Cash.” She looked at me. “It’s been less than 24 hours before you were cold-cocked by this bitch.”
I frowned. “Don’t call her that.”
“It’s okay,” Emma drawled. “The shoe fits.”
I leveled Dana with a glare. “Don’t call her that.”
She slowly squatted back down, and from this angle I could see a slice of bright purple underwear up the edge of her shorts. “Yes, keep that irritated look on your face. Just—point it toward Emma. You guys hate each other, remember?”
Emma cleared her throat. “Anyway, it was stupid. I wasn’t thinking. I did it.”
“Because you were mad at him? He was laughing at you,” the moderator prodded. “You had just accused him of hiding the phone message because he was afraid of competing with you, and he started to laugh.”
“Yeah,” Emma managed. “I was mad. He was being a jerk.”
I scrunched up my face at that.
“Cash, do you view Emma as competition?”
“No.” I hastened to explain. “I mean, not that she isn’t good enough to be my competition. But we have different audiences. There’s no reason why my agent can’t also represent her. I’m not going to lose a sponsor over her. They could have both of us.”
“Oh, that’s kind of you,” Emma said sweetly. I looked over, and she gave me a sardonic smile.
“What?” I countered. “What was wrong with what I just said?”
“It’s just interesting that now you’re all of a sudden Mr. Helpful and Accommodating. Oh, Emma,” she intoned, in a masculine voice that was no doubt me, “there’s plenty of followers for all us.” She twisted to me, her eyes sharpening, and I wondered how much of this was for the cameras, and how much was authentic. “If we can all succeed together, why do you constantly attempt to keep me down?”
“What are you talking about?” I turned to face her, my butt cramming into the opposite end of the loveseat. “I helped you. No one would know who Emma Blanton was without me.”
“You honestly believe that, don’t you? You honestly think that you alone are responsible for everything I’ve busted my butt for?” She pushed to her feet and turned around, jabbing a finger in my chest.
“No punching…” Dana warned.
I grabbed her finger and rose, the action causing a mad scramble of cameras and riggings as they tried to fit us both into the shot. “I think that from the moment you ate my lunch at Frenchy’s, you’ve milked every possible interaction with me to get the biggest media coverage you can.”
Her eyes held mine, and if I didn’t know better, I’d think we were about to kiss. I certainly wanted to. I bet her mouth took as well as it gave. If she’d fight me or melt. Kiss back or concede. I wanted to taste the sugar and donut sprinkles and deepen our kiss until her back was sinking into the loveseat cushion and my knees were settling in on either side of her, and her hand was on the drawstring of my shorts, and her breath was ragged against my lips, and she was—
“I hate you.” She said it simply and sadly, then stepped back, pulling her hand free of mine. “Do me a favor and stay away from me.”