The Way I Hate Him: Chapter 12

HAYES

I don’t like that she cried.

I don’t like seeing it, and I don’t like hearing it.

I thought it was me . . . the one she was upset with, and I wouldn’t blame her if it was.

After I drove her desire to the point of breaking, then pushed her away . . . Yeah, I’d be pissed too. Did she have to finish the job?

But if this morning proved anything, it’s best I didn’t take it any further.

So when she showed up, quiet and subdued, I assumed it was because of me. But what’s strange is that knowing I’m not the one who brought on the tears, I now want to know who did this to her.

Who made her hurt?

I want to take care of her, take that pain away. Knowing her situation with her family, that’s my one guess.

Which means . . . fuck, did Ryland say something to her about me? Shit, maybe this really is my fault.

Did he warn her? Did he question her? Does he know?

Did they have a falling out?

Nerves creep up my neck, making my mind uneasy as I navigate the situation.

I started this entire interaction with her based on my need to control the people around me. I had no clue she’d take over my mind. That every second of the day, I’d be thinking about her.

And with every second I spend with her, I regret blackmailing her to work for me because, yeah, I might have been lonely, I might have needed the help—she sure as hell needed the help—but now, now I could have truly fucked her over.

Jesus, what’s wrong with me?

And then practically forcing her to come with me to San Francisco? Technically, I don’t need her there. The production company would have enough people on set to help me out . . . but I wanted her there. Ask me to explain that, and I can’t.

I don’t want to like her.

I don’t want to touch her.

I don’t want to get involved.

Yet I like seeing her . . . I need to see her.

I want her involved.

I want to hold her hand because she’s sad, and I want to make her feel better.

I don’t . . . fuck, I don’t want to be lonely. Her silence today has been painful. I know she was mad from last night, but I still thought that maybe . . . she’d at least shake it off as a drunk thing and move on.

She moved on, all right, but she left me in the dust.

And it stung.

I didn’t like one second of it.

So seeing her upset now has created a protective instinct within me. And I felt like I could do nothing but reach over the center console and hold her hand.

And that’s how it’s been for the past half hour—holding her hand and listening to music.

“Are you okay with the music?” I ask her.

“Yeah, I love it,” she says softly. Thankfully the tears are gone now. “I didn’t know you listened to Aerosmith. When Dream On started playing, I was surprised.”

“Love Aerosmith,” I say. “I know my music is different from theirs, but if I ever did the rock thing, I’d want to be in a band like Aerosmith.”

“Interesting,” she says, her voice becoming lighter, not so distressed anymore, which puts me slightly at ease. “Is there a song you wish you wrote?”

“Yeah,” I say as I keep my hand clasped around hers, glad she’s talking. Talking and not fighting with me . . . because I feel like that’s what we do, nonstop. “More than a Feeling by Boston. It’s probably my favorite song ever. The premise of how a song can connect you to someone, past and present, is truly what music is all about. I often do a cover of it during my concerts. I have a rotation of a few, and that’s one of them.”

“I’ve seen it,” she says softly.

“You have?” I ask.

She nods. “Yeah, for some reason, Instagram thinks I like to see videos of you. I was scrolling and stumbled across it. I watched because, well, I was hoping you fell off the stage or something—”

“Liar,” I say, causing her to chuckle.

“Anyway, I thought it was good.”

“Just good?”

She sighs heavily. “Fine, more than good. But the acoustic version is my favorite, if you need to know.”

“I do need to know. I need to know everything you think about my music.”

“I think Maggie told you enough.”

“Not nearly enough,” I say, loving that she’s being playful now. “Did you have me under a secret playlist because you didn’t want your family to know you like my music?”

“Exactly, but I’m pretty sure Cassidy knew. She never said anything, but she’d mention one of your songs every once in a while and give me a knowing look.”

“Did you have a secret poster of me as well?”

“No,” she scoffs. “I liked a few songs, that’s it.”

“Sounded like more than a few songs.”

“We can move on from this. We’ve already talked about it, so there’s no need to rehash it.”

“I’m pretty sure I’ll never let it go since you were so adamant about hating my music. Calling it swill.”

“Well, now you know the truth, so drop it.”

I chuckle. “Fair enough. But did you have any posters of any crushes on your wall?”

“No,” she answers. “I was never really like that. You know, we were raised in a single-parent household. Dad never let us fantasize, especially Ryland and Cassidy. When he was at work, working extra shifts, they were taking care of me and Aubree. There wasn’t much room for dreaming.”

“You didn’t dream at all?” I ask.

“Not about crushes. I dreamed about what I wanted to do when I got older.”

“What was that?”

“When I was younger, I wanted to own a coffee house, which is so silly because I didn’t even drink coffee, but I just thought it was this romanticized notion, a place where all the fun happens. I blame it on all the Friends reruns I was addicted to watching on TBS. I wanted my very own Central Perk. As I grew older, I held on to that idea, so I went to school for business. But the coffee dream faded as I spent more time at The Almond Store with Cassidy and helped her create every vision she had for it.” She grows quiet and then looks out the window again.

“Everything okay?”

She shakes her head. “No. It’s not, but nothing I want to talk about.”

“Are you sure?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says, shutting down quickly, which clarifies one thing. Whatever she was crying about earlier has to do with Cassidy. I don’t want to push her, though. She normally doesn’t shut down like this, despite our on-and-off friendship—if that’s what you want to call it. She hasn’t been shy about talking or holding back. Whatever is bothering her, she truly doesn’t want to share.

I’ll respect that.

For now.


“ADAM SANDLER,” I say, breaking the half hour of silence. I couldn’t take it any longer.

She glances over at me. “Huh?”

“Alphabet game, haven’t you ever played it on road trips before?”

“Oh . . . yeah, but say that. Don’t just say the actor’s name.”

“Go ahead. Your turn. And don’t worry about repeating the previous answers. I just like hearing answers.”

“Okay,” she says, slightly skeptical. “Do we have to play?”

“Yes,” I answer. “I’m bored out of my mind. And stewing in silence isn’t going to help anything.”

“Says the guy who let me stew in silence all day.”

“That was your choice. You blocked me out with headphones.”

“Because you were a jerk to me the night before.”

I sigh. “Hattie, I wasn’t a jerk. I was protecting you.”

“I don’t need you to protect me, Hayes. I’m a big girl. I know what I’m doing.”

I grip the steering wheel tighter. “You have no idea what you’d be getting yourself into if I didn’t hold back last night or the night before. When I said I’m trouble, I meant it.”

“Yet you have no problem being confusing by holding my hand and trying to play a game to get my mind off things. I mean, what is it, Hayes? You’re constantly giving off different signals.”

“I’m just trying to be nice. Would you prefer it if I laughed in your face while you cried?”

“Don’t be an asshole. You know what I mean.”

“And you know what I mean when I say I’m trouble. You’re better off moving on to something else. Someone else.”

“Done,” she says, her chin held high. I don’t like the sound of that. “When we get back, I’ll ask Abel out.”

“Abel?” I ask. “My best friend Abel?”

“Yup. He’s hot. He’s a doctor. He’s best friends with Ryland. Bet he would approve of our love affair.”

“Don’t say shit, Hattie, just to piss me off.”

“But when you say things to piss me off . . . it’s okay?”

“Jesus,” I mutter. “What happened to playing the alphabet game?”

“What happened is that I’m calling you out on your bullshit. You’re a dick to me, then you’re nice. Pick a lane, Hayes, and stay in it.”

“Is that what you really want?”

“Yes,” she nearly shouts. “That’s what I want. I want something, anything, to just be normal in my life. If you don’t want me, then be a dick to me, make me hate every second I’m with you. Don’t let me cling to hope that maybe there’s a chance.”

“Don’t ask for something you can’t handle.”

“I can handle it,” she says. “Trust me, at this point, I can handle pretty much anything.”

“Fine,” I say.

If she wants me to be a dick . . . I can be a dick.


“WHAT DO you mean we have to share a bed?” she asks, staring at the king-sized bed in my condo.

For the rest of the drive, we sat in silence, my playlist thankfully filling the air. The entire time, I tried to wrap my head around the confusion of the last few days and brought it back to one thing . . . I fucked up.

I let her get too close.

I let her see how she affects me.

And I let her feel my desperate touch.

My will slipped and I haven’t been able to handle the realization of that, hence confusing the shit out of her. Hell, I’m confused as well. Could I allow myself to indulge in her for one night? Of course. I’d love nothing more.

Fuck . . . I’d love to have her crawl between my legs and play with me right before I pushed her on her back and played with her . . . all night long.

But it can’t happen.

It just can’t.

I set my bag down on the dresser and say, “You could take the couch, but it hasn’t seen an ass . . . ever so it might be stiff. And if you’re expecting me to be chivalrous and take the couch, I must remind you, you told me to be a dick. So either sleep next to me or spend your night tossing and turning.” Eyes on her, I reach over my head and grab my shirt, pulling it off.

Her gaze roams my chest for a moment before she turns away and walks into the living room.

The couch it is.

Less temptation for me.

I grab a pillow off my bed and walk into the living room where I toss it on the couch.

“There’s a throw blanket in the drawer of the coffee table.”

“Wait, you don’t have sheets or anything?”

“On my bed, not for you.”

“Not even an extra comforter?”

“Do I look like a five-star resort? Be happy I have soap to wash your hands with.” I turn away and grab my toiletry bag before heading into the bathroom.

It’s fucking late and my mind is exhausted from the constant rethinking of every interaction I’ve had with Hattie, so I need sleep. I rinse my face, brush my teeth, and I’m about to take a piss when Hattie charges into the bathroom with her clothes and toiletry bag as well.

“Uh, do you mind?” I ask.

“Nope,” she says as she turns on the sink faucet and rinses her face.

Okay . . .

I turn my back toward her and whip my dick out to pee. I wait for her to say something to me, but when she doesn’t, I finish up, give my dick a shake, and then stick it back in my briefs before flushing.

She’s drying her face off as I wash my hands.

“Turn the light off when you finish,” I say.

“Just because you said that, I’m not going to now.”

“Is that how it’s going to be?” I ask her.

“Yup,” she says before shutting the door in my face.

Jesus.

I move over to the bed and plug my phone in to charge. I take a seat, not getting comfortable yet because I wouldn’t put it past her to keep to her word. And instead, I set my alarm and then check the email Ruben sent me one more time with all the information I need about where I’m going tomorrow and the premise of the shoot.

Basically, shirtless bedroom scenes.

Nothing new here.

When I first signed this fragrance contract, I was excited to take on anything that offered me money. Who wouldn’t be? But fuck, they’ve sexualized me on a whole new level, and there’s nothing I can say about it. They make me great money, that’s not the problem, but at some point, I want to move on from these ads and not have to take my shirt off for all the attention. I want to be taken seriously for my music. My craft. Not just something superficial like my looks.

The bathroom door opens, and I glance up just in time to catch Hattie walk out—leaving the light on—in a pair of bikini-style underwear that sits high on her hips and a thin crop top that is loose enough for her breasts to peak the fabric.

Fucking Christ.

As she retreats to the living room, she glances over her shoulder, my eyes on her pert ass, and she says, “Sweet nightmares.”

I drag my hand over my mouth and stare down at the floor. Fuck, she’s so painfully hot.

Good thing she’s sleeping on the couch.

I push off the bed, turn off the bathroom light, and then crawl under the covers, letting them sit at my waist. I run hot, so submerging my body completely under the covers makes me sweat.

I prop one hand behind my head and stare up at the ceiling.

Jesus, I was just saying how exhausted I was, but after seeing Hattie in her version of pajamas, I feel wide awake. And from the creaks of the couch, it sounds like she’s having a hard time getting comfortable. The couch was a shit purchase. I let an interior designer pick everything for this space because I truly didn’t care. I just needed a place to sleep when I was in town, recording. I remember the first time I sat on the couch, I immediately stood back up and vowed to never sit on the damn thing again.

“Ugh,” Hattie grumbles in the living room, then she appears at the doorway of my bedroom. “You did this on purpose.”

I sit up on my elbows to get a good look at her. Those curvy hips, propping up the strings of her underwear, her tapered waist and small belly button. Proportionate breasts that are just big enough to push at the fabric of her shirt. Yeah, she’s so my fucking type.

Nothing fake about her.

“Did what on purpose?” I ask.

“Brought me here to create a one-bed scenario.”

“What?” I ask, confused as she moves over to the other side of the bed and flips down the covers to get in.

“It’s the oldest trick in the book, Hayes. You want me in bed, so instead of getting us two hotel rooms, you bring me back to your condo that only has one bed? What a coincidence.”

“What are you implying?” I ask as she fluffs her pillow.

“That your horny ass wanted to get me into bed with you, and instead of just telling me you want me, you’ve created a scenario where we have to share a bed, giving you full access to tease me. Well, guess what?” She turns toward me and lies down. “It’s not going to work.”

I stare at her for a few seconds. “First of all, I brought you here because I’m not going to waste money on a hotel room when I have a perfectly decent condo to use. Second, I assumed you would be mature enough to share a bed without issue, but obviously, that was a misjudgment on my end.”

“I can share a bed. That’s not the problem. It’s that I don’t want to share a bed with you.”

“Because you’re too tempted, I get it,” I say, being the dick she so desperately wants me to be.

“Oh fuck off, Hayes. You’re not that appealing.”

“Says the girl who’s made two advances on me.”

“Wow,” she says. “You really do play the ass so well.”

“You asked for it. I’m just delivering.”

“The only thing you could probably deliver,” she says. “And for the record, I could easily turn you on without barely trying.”

“You think so?” I ask. “Because I specifically remember how quickly I made you beg with just a few touches.”

Her eyes narrow. “If I allowed myself to touch you, you’d beg too.”

“I don’t beg . . . ever,” I say.

“Prove it,” she says.

“Prove it?” I ask. “How?”

She thinks about it for a moment and says, “Sixty seconds. We see who moans first in sixty seconds, point proven.”

“You want to try to turn each other on in sixty seconds to prove a goddamn point?”

“Yeah,” she says, a smile on her lips. “Scared?”

“No, worried about you, though. You won’t be able to handle it.”

“Way to deflect. You’re worried you’ll spend the night with blue balls once the sixty seconds is up.”

“Trust me, that won’t be a problem.”

“Then let’s see if you’re so confident.”

This can only end badly, but I get it. She’s trying to feel something. Trying to prove something.

When I’m spiraling, I use the same techniques. I become unhinged and stab away at anything that will make me feel anything other than the agony I’m mentally going through.

And from the look on her face, I don’t think I can back down. She needs this challenge. She’s trying to fight some inner turmoil, and this seems to be one of the ways to do it.

And as we know, despite trying to stay away from her, I will also do anything to remove that frown from her face.

So stupidly, I say, “What are the terms?”

“No touching between the legs. No kissing. And when the sixty seconds is up or the first person to moan or touch themselves after . . . loses.”

“Fine,” I say and then turn over to grab my phone. I pull up the timer and set it for sixty seconds. “You ready?” I ask.

“Yup,” she says with an insane amount of confidence.

Well, fuck . . . here we go.

I press start on the timer and then toss the phone to the side. Hattie scoots closer, and her hand finds the edge of my boxers, and immediately, I know I’m going to get hard in seconds.

This was a bad fucking idea.

Her finger runs along the thick elastic band of my boxer briefs, toying with the idea of what it would feel like if she slipped her hand inside. And I realize at that moment, I could make this easy on me. I could let her do the hard work and strike when the moment’s right. So I lie flat on my back and place one hand behind my head as she moves in closer. My arm moves around her as her warm body becomes plastered against mine. I clutch the strap of her underwear in my fist, possessively holding her close to me.

She glances up at me, slightly surprised, but then focuses back on her task and drags her fingers up my stomach, paying attention to every divot and curve of my abs, swirling around, rubbing and then moving up to my pecs. I watch her pull on her bottom lip with her teeth as her finger runs over one of my nipples.

Yup, I’m hard. One swipe of my nipple and I’m fucking gone.

But she said the first to moan or touch themselves. I haven’t lost, I’m just on an uphill climb now.

I grip her a little tighter, tugging on her underwear so she can feel my possession. She swallows tightly and then rubs her pointed nipples against my chest as she flicks my nipple.

Fuck, it feels amazing.

Everything about this feels amazing.

Her tight body up against mine.

The way she’s touching me.

The possibility that I could just flip her on her back, claim the loss, and fuck her into the headboard until she’s crying out my name.

She has me turned on. Easy.

But I won’t let her know that. Ever.

She wants a challenge, so she’s going to get one.

I remain stoic, unmoving, as she brings her hand back to my abs and down to my boxer briefs, where she slips one finger past the elastic.

Fuuuuuck.

I maintain even breathing, reject the need to tighten from her touch, and remain as calm as can be even though my cock presses against my boxer briefs, looking to play.

And I can tell she’s getting frustrated as she glances at the timer.

Her mouth works to the side, clearly trying to think of something nuclear that will tip this game in her favor. Unless you plan on grabbing my dick. I’m not sure she’ll think of anything else, so I need to make a move.

I tug on her underwear, pulling her back, but before I can move on top of her, she brings her chest close to my face. And then to my surprise, she lifts her crop top to reveal her gorgeous tit.

Fuck.

Me.

Jesus, it’s perfect.

Small, but it still makes my goddamn mouth water. And with her tightened nipple, pointed and looking for someone to suck on it, I feel my chest grow heavy as my hand itches to take her into my palm.

In my mouth.

Lap at her with my tongue.

But despite what my body wants, I don’t move. I tighten my grip on her underwear, my fingers digging into her hip now as she brings her pointed nipple right to my mouth.

Yes. Fucking. Please.

And I realize what she’s doing. She’s pulling the nuclear card.

I’m such a tit man, I want it in my mouth.

My lips part slightly as she rubs the nub along them.

I nearly flip her onto her back in desperation but remember to hold it together as I choose subtlety for the biggest impact.

As her nipple tantalizes my mouth, I barely part my lips and gently wrap my lips around her nipple.

Her eyes connect with mine in shock, and that’s when I bring it home. I suck on the nipple, just enough of a pull to ignite a flame within her, and then I let the nub go, pulling my mouth away.

Subtle, barely a touch, but the damage has been done.

To my fucking satisfaction, her head falls back, her teeth clamp over the corner of her mouth, and the lightest moan falls off her tongue just as the timer goes off.

Winner.

Her head snaps forward, and when she looks down at me with surprise in her eyes, I smirk in response.

I reach for my phone and plug it back in before painfully turning to my side, facing her, and tucking my pillow under my head. I might have won this game of hers, but it doesn’t negate the fact that she turned me on as well. I just did a better job of masking it.

“Nice try, Hattie,” I say, taking steadying breaths to regain some semblance of control over my body.

She just stares at me, breathing heavily for a few moments before she huffs something under her breath and turns away, curling into her pillow.

Do I feel bad?

No.

She brought this on herself.

Do I wish I could rip that shirt off her and pay more attention to those delicious tits?

Yes.

But instead, I’m going to drive home the storyline she wants me to play out between us, the one where I’m the dick who tortures her.

I reach across the bed, curl my hand around her waist, and then with one pull, I bring her straight to my chest on a gasp.

“What are you doing?” she asks as her ass lines up with my hard-on.

Speaking closely to her ear, I say, “Do you feel that?” I press her in even closer. “Do you feel what you did to me?”

“Y-yes,” she says, her voice shaky as I slide my hand up her stomach. The rise and fall of her chest spurs me on as I brush my thumb lightly across the underside of her breast. “God,” she says as I do it again, enjoying her reaction and the softness of her skin. I could easily get lost in her. She’s so responsive, needy, the perfect combination for what I want when it comes to a woman.

I move my palm up to her breast and cup her, rolling my thumb over her nipple, just a brief pass, but it elicits a moan from her as she presses her ass against my painful erection. I move my hips against hers, seeking friction, just enough to make me starve for more.

With my forefinger and thumb, I gently pinch her nipple, the tiny nub pebbled, begging for more. I want to give her more. I want to tear this top off and bury my head between her small breasts. I want to lick them, suck them, play with them until she can’t breathe anymore and all she can focus on is her release.

“Fuck, Hayes. More,” she begs, the sound of her throaty voice such a turn-on, but . . . fuck, what am I doing?

The point of playing with her was to show her I have control and she doesn’t, yet with every grip of her breast, every roll of her nipple, my control is slipping.

And it can’t.

I can’t fucking lose. Not with so much on the line. Not with the thought of Ryland in the back of my head.

So I pause, and even though I can hear the beat of my own heart in my ears, as well as the need to fuck this woman deep in the marrow of my bones, I say, “This is the difference between you and me . . . I know how to control myself, whereas you don’t.” I push away, putting distance between us and scooting to my side of the bed.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” she asks as she turns toward me in bed, a furious look on her face highlighted by the moonlit room. “What the hell, Hayes?”

“Do you have a problem?”

“Yes,” she says, her eyes now furious. “You’re messing with me.”

“No, I’m being exactly what you wanted. You asked for this. You started it.”

“I did not ask for you to lie next to me and tease me.” She shakes her head. “Do you truly think you can fuck around with me?”

“I told you, I’m not interested in you in that way.”

“Then why even bother with all of this?” she asks, waving her hand about.

“You’re here for a job. You’re the one who brought on the intimacy.”

“And you keep feeding into it,” she practically yells. “And not to mention, you’re the one who held my hand almost the whole drive down here. So tell me what that was about.”

“It’s called comforting someone. I thought you needed it.”

“That’s not comforting. That’s sending mixed signals.”

“Believe what you want, Hattie.”

She shakes her head and says, “This is so fucked up, Hayes. And I don’t want to deal with it anymore. After this trip is over, I’m done with you, done with this job.”

She turns away from me, as far away as she can go, and curls into her pillow, silent for the rest of the night.

She’s done with this job?

Done with me?

Not sure I like that.

Actually, I know I don’t like it.

I like knowing she comes to my house every day and is there if I want to talk. I like that she’s organizing my life even though it’s made my house more chaotic, and I hate to admit it, but I like that she’s been able to help me break through my writer’s block.

She’s peace, but she’s anarchy.

She’s a challenge, but she’s effortless.

She’s simple . . . yet complicated.

And I like all of it.

I’ve become accustomed to her presence.

Tempted to pull her back into my chest, I turn away so I don’t make another mistake. Apparently, I’ve made so many already, but as I try to get some sleep, I know one thing for sure—she’s not going to be leaving this job.

Not going to happen.


HATTIE WALKS BESIDE ME, falling in line with my stride as we work our way through the sound stage where we’ll be working today. On the drive over, where she remained silent just like the rest of the morning, I told her what we’d be doing today and what was expected of her. Basically, to help out with anything that needs to be done.

She didn’t acknowledge me, so we’ll see how today goes.

I didn’t get much sleep last night, constantly in turmoil over Hattie.

I like her. There’s no questioning that. The problem is, she seems to be already having issues with her family, and if they find out that she’s been working for me, if I . . . if I made a move or worse, gave in to her temptation, they’d never forgive her. I’ve known Ryland long enough to know he’s not one to forgive. And for Hattie to lose her family, that’s not something I can stomach.

But fuck, I’ve found myself making stupid decisions. Like last night, like holding her hand, like pinning her against the fridge and exploring her body. Like tasting her. Fuck.

I’ve pushed it too far, I’ve pushed her too far, and now, even though I don’t want her to move on to another job, it might be best.

Fuck . . . I’m so confused.

“Do you have any questions?” I ask her as we near the director.

“Nope,” she says as Kevin approaches us.

“Hayes, thank you for coming in on such short notice. We truly appreciate it.” He shakes my hand.

“Not a problem at all,” I say with a smile. “This is my assistant, Hattie. She’ll be able to help with whatever we need.”

“Wonderful,” Kevin says as he greets her. “Hattie, it’s very nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you as well,” Hattie says, life coming back into her face for the first time this morning. “If you need anything, just let me know.”

“We will. We’re short-staffed because this wasn’t planned, so we’ll use you all day.” Kevin turns his attention to me. “Hayes, I’d like you to meet who you’ll work with today.” Kevin turns to the group and says, “Odette, can you come over here and meet Hayes, please?”

From the group of people, a woman in a black silk robe turns around, her wavy brown hair floating around her shoulders as her gaze locks with mine. Deep-brown eyes peer up at me as a beautiful smile crosses her pouty lips.

Hell . . . she’s . . . she’s gorgeous.

“Odette, this is Hayes Farrow. Hayes, this is Odette Jenkins, the wonderful woman you’ll be working with today.”

“It’s so nice to meet you,” Odette says as she holds her hand out to me. I take it and give it a soft shake.

“It’s nice to meet you as well,” I say. “And I’m going to apologize in advance for anything Kevin makes us do.”

She chuckles. “It’s okay. I’ve done quite a few of these types of shoots. I’m well seasoned at this point.”

“Maybe you can walk me through it then,” I say, sticking my hands in my pockets. “And this is Hattie, my assistant.”

Odette looks over at Hattie and offers her a genuine smile. “Hattie, what a beautiful name. It’s nice to meet you.”

“You too,” Hattie says as she moves an inch closer to me.

“Well, why don’t we get you into hair and makeup, Hayes? Wardrobe, as you know, is pretty much nothing.” Kevin glances up and says, “Ah, there’s the bed, they’re rolling it in now. Let me go check on it. Freddie, can you show Hayes and Hattie to makeup? Odette is all set.”

“Sure thing, boss,” Freddie says, coming up to us. “Right this way.” He directs us down a hallway and to the first door on the right.

The door is already open, so the makeup artist stands to attention when I step in. “Hayes, how are you?” Jacklyn says. I’ve worked with Jacklyn a few times on different projects.

“Great. How are you, Jacklyn? How are the kids?”

“Annoying as usual,” she says with a laugh. She gives me a quick once-over. “Been working out a lot lately? You look bigger.”

“Can’t hear that enough,” I say as I sit down in the makeup chair. “This is Hattie by the way, she’s my assistant.”

“Hattie, great to meet you,” Jacklyn says. “What happened to the annoying guy who used to follow you around?”

That makes Hattie snort right before I say, “He was stealing from me. So I fired him. Luckily, I was able to hire Hattie on short notice.”

“Lucky girl,” Jacklyn says as she starts wiping down my face. “Hayes is one of a kind, one of the sweetest in the industry. You couldn’t have found a better boss.”

Hattie presses her lips tightly together as she glances at me in the mirror. “She’s right. I’m pretty awesome,” I say, hoping it gains a response from Hattie, even if it’s just a smile. But nothing.

Instead, she asks, “Would you like me to get you some coffee?”

Jacklyn shakes her head. “No coffee for this guy. Just water and some mints. Given the intimate close-ups with Odette, you’ll want nothing on that breath of yours.”

From the corner of my eye, I catch the look of surprise on Hattie’s face. I didn’t explain the shoot to her, just that she needed to be here. But these fragrance shoots usually have limited clothing, lots of oil, and smoke. Close-up shots of my abs, of my arms, of me tugging on my hair . . .

But this shoot is for a fragrance that both men and women could wear. Ruben sent me the premise yesterday, and when I read through it, I realized how different it would be.

It’s going to be intimate.

“Then would you like some water?” Hattie asks me.

My eyes connect with hers, and I say, “That would be great. Thanks.”

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