BURNING BLAZE

Chapter 1

Blaze

 

Did you ever have a night where you couldn’t believe your luck? You’re having one of the greatest times of your life and you feel on top of the world? But then when the night ends, you think it has ended, but no, it lingers. That great night sticks around and as fun as it was while it was happening, living with it day after day isn’t as fun?

Let me tell you about my night like that. It started with me getting back into town and feeling as horny as fuck, excuse my language. So, what do I do? What I usually do. I call up a few friends and tell them to tell their friends that I’m throwing a party.

On the night, my penthouse is jumpin’. There are beautiful women for as far as your eyes can see and everyone is having a great time because of me. Circling the place I’m deciding who I want for the night, ‘No, not her. No, not her. Oh, but how about them?’

At the bar next to the DJ booth, I spotted a set of girls who had to be twins. I get hard just looking at them. I decide that I want them both, which would be hard to get, even for me. But I head over to them and see what’s possible.

“Your glasses look empty. What are you drinking?” I asked them.

“Water,” one of them says in a very hot accent.

“Water? What are you doing? You can get whatever you want. Wait, are you two mermaids?”

The two girls look at each other confused. But they had to find it amusing because they started smiling. When they turned back to me I said,

“Mermaids. You don’t know mermaids?”

The closest one to me shook her head, no.

“They’re incredibly beautiful women, who live in the ocean. They have fish tales instead of feet except when they’re on land. But then they have to keep drinking water?”

I wasn’t sure if I was getting the legend right, but it was right enough because they got it.

“Ahh, mermaids!” They giggled. “No, we are not mermaids.”

“Are you sure because I would definitely swim to my grave chasing after you two.”

The girls laughed.

“I’m sorry, what’s your names?”

“I’m Kaitlyn and this is my sister Katia,” the more attractive identical twin said.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Blaze. Are you enjoying the party?”

Kaitlyn shrugged unimpressed.

“Really?” I asked surprised by her bluntness. European women. Am I right? “You know why you’re not having fun?”

“Why?” Kaitlyn asked.

I pointed to her glass. “Water.”

They both smiled knowing I was right. “We don’t drink,” Kaitlyn says.

That should have been my first warning sign. But, what can I say, they were beautiful, so I didn’t listen.

“You know why you don’t drink? It’s because you’ve never tried a 1982 Dom Perignon.”

Kaitlyn chuckled. “Really?”

“It will change your life,” I told them feeling very confident.

“Where do we get some of this Dom Perignon?”

“Follow me to my wine room. I’ll show you what true pleasure is.”

“Is this your place?” Katia asked finally showing some interest.

“It is. Want a tour?”

After giving them a taste of the bubbly and showing them around, they were a lot more into what was going on. I know what had to come next. I had to let them think about what they saw and enjoy the rest of their drink. My penthouse was designed to get women into the one room I hadn’t show them, my bedroom. But you had to take things slow with women like them. And sometimes, you even needed a little help.

Leaving them to wonder, I made sure they saw me talking to a few other women. I saw them staring. They could barely take their eyes off of me until at some point they got bored of it and disappeared onto the balcony.

Clearly, they were going to be tough nuts to crack, which is why when I saw Laine Toros enter and grab himself a drink, I nearly got hard. Laine was the ultimate wingman. The man was almost as good looking as me with a few billion dollars under management. More than that, he could get a woman naked faster than a gyno. The man had skills.

Bringing Laine in on the hunt was exactly want I had needed. Minutes later the twins were in my bedroom dropping their dresses in unison. When Laine told his girl to focus on me, I thought I was in heaven. I was getting exactly what I needed. I had a set of twins all over my jock and I was loving it.

The problem came when Laine suddenly took off. Yeah, that left me both twins, but two girls are hard to keep track of. At one point both were underneath me as I was rockin’ their world. Then the second one came and I again focused on the first. I thought I was safe. How wrong was I?

When I was again drilling Kaitlyn, apparently Katia retrieved her purse and took out her phone. I didn’t see it until the camera was squarely pointed at me. Did I stop right then like any sane man would have? Of course not. I have an unhealthy relationship with being recorded. I love it. So, seeing the camera, I took hold of the Swedish sisters and really went to work.

I would like to say that I made sure that you couldn’t see my face in the video before they left. I would like to say that. But, I’m not gonna lie. I didn’t. Who would have anticipated the girls’ desire to be famous? I tell ya, Kim Kardashian has ruined the innocent pleasure of making a sex tape for everyone.

The girls could at least have been polite enough to blackmail me. Were they? No. As far as I could tell, they didn’t even sell it to a distributor for cash. They just put it on the internet for the whole world to see.

Am I embarrassed by a video of me looking like an absolute stud living out every man’s fantasy? No. Katia captured some good angles. Her camera work was on point.

No, the problem is that I’m not a 25-year-old NFL running back anymore. I am the CEO of a publicly held biotech company with assholes on the board. Shareholders were never happy when their CEO popped up on TMZ with a sex tape, no matter how hung they looked in it. The stuffed-shirts were crazy like that. Corporate life, am I right?

“Mr. Turner, the board will see you now,” the receptionist said ushering me in.

I gotta say, knowing that everyone I knew had seen the video was quite a rush. The receptionist who had just spoken to me had seen it. I could tell by the way she looked at me. Before her, the security guard had seen it. There wasn’t anyone I passed on the street that hadn’t seen it. And, God did that feel good.

“Blaze, we’re going to need you to resign as CEO.”

“I’m sorry, what?” I asked sure I hadn’t heard what I thought I had.

I looked around the conference table into each of the men’s eyes. What the hell was happening?

“I’m not resigning as CEO. This is my company and I’m the largest shareholder.”

“You’re the largest individual shareholder. But, you only hold 49% of the voting shares. The rest of us hold 51%,” Charles, the grey-haired lead asshole said.

“Yeah, but that would mean that every single one of you would have to vote to remove me. There is no way everyone thinks this is a good idea… could you?”

I scanned all of the faces and they stared me in the eyes except for one person, Dillion. He was the ex-teammate I gave 1% of the company to for the sole purpose of having my back. That bastard betrayed me too.

“Look, Blaze, you’ve embarrassed the company before and once again the company stock is in freefall.”

Is it? I didn’t see that. Crap, this is serious.

“The market just doesn’t see you as stable. Blaze, it’s not that we don’t like you. You founded this company. You’re the face of it. But the problem is that you are the face of it. This little stunt of yours has cost us a billion dollars in valuation. That’s billion with a ‘B’, Blaze. We can’t just do nothing. The board has to act. And now, you have to resign,” Charles explained like the heartless prick he was.

It was at this point that I had to ask myself if the night with the twins was worth it. I know, the answer should have been obvious, but you weren’t there. It was pretty fuckin’ hot. I refer you to the video.

“I’m not gonna resign,” I told Charles and the rest of them.

“We’re not giving you another option,” Charles challenged.

It was around that point when the receptionist entered the room and whispered something into Charles’ ear.

“Put it up,” he told her giving me time to think up the greatest comeback ever.

“I’m not resigning because… Let me tell you. I’m not resigning because… Because…”

“…Blaze Turner and I are engaged,” a voice from the TV said.

Wait, I’m Blaze Turner, I thought before shifting my attention to the TV. I recognized the woman saying it. Her name was Ariel Katt. She was the CEO of Vermagin, a rival biotech company, and a world-class pill.

The last time I was in the same room as her, we got into an argument that turned into a food fight and $50,000 worth of damage to a hotel conference room. Like I said she was a real pill. And she was tough to swallow.

That made it even stranger that she was now on TV having what looked like a press conference about being engaged to some a guy named Blaze Turner. How many Blaze Turners were there?

“Blaze and my engagement might come as a surprise to some of you. A few of you might even be shocked. But I can assure you it’s true. It was only because of our respective jobs that we decided to keep it quiet.

“In light of the released video, we can’t keep it quiet anymore. Yes, this does not make me look good. Yes, Blaze Turner has cheated on me. But as the wise Tammy Wynette once said, if you love him, you will forgive him. I do love Blaze Turner. So, I will be standing by my man.”

What the fu…

“Is this true?” Charles asked me snatching me out of downtown crazy town. “Blaze, is it true? Are you engaged to Ariel Katt?”

“Ahhh.”

You would think that the answer to this question would be easy. Of course I wasn’t engaged to that psycho. The woman just held a press conference proclaiming her love for me like a world-class stalker.

“Blaze, are you engaged to her?” Charles asked again.

“And if I was?”

“It would make things a little different.”

“Because?” I questioned.

“Because relationships are hard. No one likes it, but stockholders can forgive infidelity as long as it is accompanied by a willingness to change.”

“So, you’re saying that if I am engaged, I wouldn’t have to resign?” I asked not believing what I was hearing.

“If you were engaged — and really were engaged — and the world saw you as engaged, then certainly the board might be able to give you the time and space to work on your relationship.”

“And that’s because…?” I asked needing clarification.

“Because who hasn’t been there,” Charles said looking around the table for confirmation.

Well, wasn’t this a bitch? Who would have guessed that all I had to do to get out of this shit pile was to make up something about having a fiancé? Certainly not me. If I had, Ariel Katt would not have been cast as my leading lady. But I hadn’t thought of it. So now, here we were.

“Blaze, tell me, are you engaged to Ariel Katt?” Charles asked with the entire board staring at me waiting for an answer.

 

 

Chapter 2

Ariel

 

Here’s a little known fact. When it comes to geniuses, I, Ariel Katt, am their queen. Don’t believe me? Let me share with you what just happened. I just had a televised press conference forgiving my fiancé, Blaze Turner, for his infidelity. Am I really engaged to Blaze? Oh, god no. The guy’s a muscle-brained, jock man-whore with a Peter Pan complex. You’d have to be a complete idiot to get involved with him.

Then, you’re probably wondering why I did it. Why did I tell the world that said man-whore had won my heart and that I was going to stick by him like a pathetic, spineless, amoeba? Because I’m queen of the geniuses, that’s why.

In spite of all of his faults, there is one thing that Blaze has that no one else does. He has Quin Summers as his best friend. Quin is an odd guy. I would describe him as part shut-in and part madman scientist. Or, perhaps that’s giving him too much credit. Quin is a biotech engineer who cofounded a company with Blaze and then broke off from said company to do top-secret research of his own.

I happen to know what that research is. And, let me tell you, it is earth-shattering. In a few years, humanity is going to be defined in two parts, before Quin’s invention and after. That means that the company in control of that patent will shape the world.

I know as a fact that Quin doesn’t have the money to bring his invention to market. He should be rolling in money from his association with Blaze, but he isn’t. So, that means he will need an outside company to step in and invest.

That is where I come in. I own Vermagin. It’s a biotech startup that got a hundred million in startup capital. That sounds like a lot, right? That’s because you’re not in the biotech industry. At best, that money represents four times up at bat. I’ve already swung four times. I’ve more than struck out.

But, I do have some money left. It’s not the company’s money. It’s mine. I’m willing to invest in this sure thing like any sane person would be. The only problem is that Quin is an odd guy. He trusts no one and won’t even tell anyone what the invention is.

I happen to know what it is. In fact, I might be the only person outside of his lab who does. I don’t even think Blaze knows what it is.

That means that I’m in the pole position. I can snag the deal of the millennium before anyone knows what’s up. And, what’s the only thing I need to make this happen? I need to save Blaze’s sorry ass from himself.

Imagine my delight when a little bird told me that Blaze would be having a meeting with his shareholders today at this time. Considering how much that video of him and those two women blew up, I didn’t need my informant to tell me what the meeting was going to be about. They were going to want his head for what he did. His company’s stock was down 50%. It would take a miracle for his company to recover from that. It would take a miracle to save his ass. Call me the miracle worker.

Now I just needed to wait for the phone call. Are you wondering what phone call? I’ll tell you in three… two… one… and…

When my phone rang I smiled knowing exactly who it was.

“Hello?”

“Okay, Ariel, what the fuck are you up to?” Blaze said from the other end of the phone.

“Blaze, please, the language. That’s no way to speak to your fiancé.”

“You’re not my fiancé,” he insisted.

“You’re goddamn right I’m not. I’m your fucking savior, Blaze. I’m the only person in the world who can save your miserable ass from the hurt you caused yourself. And for that, I’m gonna need some goddamn respect!”

Silence. Blaze had nothing to say after that. That was good because it meant that he knew I was right. I had him. I really did have him. Did I tell you that I was queen of the geniuses or not?

“That’s better,” I told him feeling much more relaxed. “Now, Blaze, my fiancé, I suggest that we schedule a time when we can get together and discuss this. I recommend we schedule it quickly because who knows how a fickle heart can change with too much time to reconsider.”

“When do you wanna meet?” Blaze asked defeated.

“How about tonight? I have a meeting room booked at the Soho House at 7:30. We’ll have dinner and discuss the nature of our arrangement.”

“Our arrangement?”

“What? Did you think that I was saving your ass out of the goodness of my heart?”

“You have no heart,” Blaze spat.

“My goodness. That is no way to speak to your selfless fiancé. What would the world think if they heard you talk to me that way after I showed such blind devotion to you?” I asked enjoying every second of this.

“You’re an evil woman, Ariel.”

“You keep up that type of talk and I’ll show you how evil I can be. You know what they say, hell hath no fury like… me.”

“You’re a psychopath.”

“Right back at you, sweetie. So, I’ll see you there?”

What followed was a much longer pause than I had expected. But in the end, he said,

“Yeah, I’ll be there.”

And that’s when I knew that all of my wishes were about to come true. Can I tell you how much I deserved this?

Let me tell you something that the biotech industry doesn’t want you to know. It’s run by a bunch of backward thinking, fragile male egos with one foot in a bucket of hair loss and erection drugs, and the other in the 1950s.

Judging from all of the self-congratulating articles they write about themselves, you would think that starting with Marie Curie, it’s been one long march towards progress. But let me rid you of such nonsense. It has not been. And real change won’t happen until some brassy-ass bitch kicks down the door and shakes the establishment like a British nanny.

Well, meet that brassy-ass bitch. The cost of changing the world for you, me, and all of womankind, is a little bowing and scraping about standing by my man. But let me tell you, when I’m done, the establishment won’t even know what hit them. Because, ladies, the nuts I’m cracking aren’t from Planters.

 

 

Chapter 3

Blaze

 

God, I hate her. What is wrong with that woman? Does she even know what she sounds like? She’s clearly a psychopath. How the hell did I get myself into this? Oh right, the twins. God, they were hot.

Okay, fine. Clearly, the witch has something in mind. Whatever the arrangement she’s thinking of can’t be that bad, right? I mean, I’m already having to listen to her screeching harlot voice by going there. What could she propose that could be worse than that?

Maybe I shouldn’t have told the board that she and I were engaged. I could have told them the truth. Or, even better, I could have taken her idea and come up with someone else I was engaged to. Would they have believed it after watching Ariel say the same thing? Probably not. Damn, that woman really knows how to screw a guy. How did she do it?

You know what? I wouldn’t even be surprised if she was the one who sent the twins to my party. I wouldn’t put it past her. Well, the joke would be on her because I screwed their brains out. Don’t believe me? Then I refer you to the video. And God did I look good doing it.

Nah, I’m not giving her credit for getting those two girls naked and on my jock. That was all me… and Laine, of course. No, she’s just a vulture that scavenges the land looking for rotten carcasses to feed off of.

Wait, in that scenario, I’m the rotten carcass, so scratch that. She is a vulture scouring the land for incredibly hot and unbelievably built carcasses to feed off of… Hmm, I’m not sure if that’s any better. But, you get my point.

  The only question now is, how am I going to approach this meeting? Do I go in ready for battle, or do I approach it with an open mind? Considering she has a vice grip on my balls, maybe an open mind would be smart.

On the other hand, have I ever limited myself to doing what’s smart? Did you see the video with the twins? Case closed.

As much as I didn’t look forward to meeting up with the wicked witch of the west, there were a few things I had to do before then. For one, I needed a haircut. I’ve been putting it off. While I’m there, I may as well get a manicure because, you know, I’m not an animal. Then, since I’m in the area, perhaps I’ll pick up my new suits from Rober’s. He’s my tailor. I only wear custom. And finally, I needed to get my pumps in at the gym.

I had a lot to do in three hours. For that reason, I headed out. Was it a good look to leave work early on the same day that the board threatened to remove me? No, it wasn’t. But this meeting was important. I had to prepare for battle.

By the time that 7:30 rolled around, I felt fresh and ready. Rober was a genius. His suit fit me like a second layer of skin. The suit was cut to allow my freshly pumped biceps to show and I was having a very good hair day. I looked fantastic.

At the last minute, I decided to slip into my favorite wine shop and pick up a 1995 Bordeaux. I thought it was fitting. And with that in hand, I strolled over to the Soho House prepared for whatever would happen next.

“I’m here to meet, Ariel Watt,” I told the doorman.

The Soho House was a private club for those who had more money than time. It was a pretentious place. There were a lot of famous actors and way too many Wall Street types. This was the type of place where powerful executives colluded on how to screw over ‘the little guy’. I hated this place and it made so much sense that Ariel would be a member.

The first floor of the club was the restaurant. The second floor was the cigar lounge. The third floor had the movie screening rooms, and the fifth floor had the offices.

Stepping off the elevator I took a deep breath. I didn’t know what was coming but I was sure I wasn’t gonna like it.

“Ariel!” I said with my most charming smile.

“Blaze, honey, you made it,” she said equally as fake.

“I would never miss my engagement celebration. You know that,” I said crossing the room to the two-top where she sat.

“Of course not,” she said gesturing for me to join her.

I sat gathering my bearing. The table was at the far end of the narrow room and Ariel sat with her back to the floor-length window. It was night, so the city lights lay stretched out behind her.

Behind me to the left was a leather couch and an armchair. In front of them was a coffee table. That area had to be for after-dinner drinks. What better place to bend over ‘the little guy’ and really give it to him good?

“What do you have there?” Ariel asked seeing the wine.

“A ’95 Bordeaux,” I informed her with a smile.

I stared at her wondering if she knew what I was saying.

“A wine that was heralded when first introduced but has since been determined to lack charm,” she said eyeing me.

“Considering the company, I thought it was fitting,” I told her feeling really good about my selection.

“That’s clever. How did your dick think of it? And, did you record yourself having sex with anyone on the way over?”

“Okay, first of all, about that video, I didn’t know I was being recorded.”

“Blaze, you turned to the camera, flexed, and then asked if she was getting your good side.”

“Yes, but I didn’t know what she was recording.”

“You pulled out of the girl, pointed at your penis and told the person recording to “get this” before putting it back into her and making exaggerated movements with your hips.”

“It was meant to be an intimate moment which I presumed would be kept private,” I said deflating.

“You came all over the girls, and then said to the camera that “this should be posted online because”, and I quote, “everyone needs to see this”.”

“What’s your point?” I asked hating Ariel even more.

“My point is that you fucked yourself and you need me,” the witch said with a self-congratulatory smile. “Oh, and I ordered for you. You will be having the chicken tonight,” she said like a complete bitch.

I took a moment and stared across the table at the person I hated more than life itself. What must it be like to be her? After all, I had never had a coat made from puppies.

“Fine,” I said in resignation. “I made a mistake. We all make mistakes and this was mine. I allowed the moment to get the better of me and I made a bad decision. You ever make a bad decision, Ariel?”

My question wiped away Ariel’s smug smile. “Of course I’ve made a bad decision. I’m sitting here with you, aren’t I?”

“You invited me,” I told her feeling the weight of everything.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Then, what did you mean?”

“I meant that you wouldn’t be sitting here if I had never made a bad decision.”

It was then that there was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” Ariel said ushering in the waiter.

Without a word, the server put plates of food in front of us.

“If you please,” Ariel said pointing to my bottle of wine and then her glass.

The waiter opened the bottle and filled our two glasses. When he was done, he set the bottle on a side table, asked if we needed anything else and then left. Ariel raised her glass and offered a forced smile.

“Too bad decisions,” she said.

“Too bad decisions,” I repeated and then took a sip. The critics were right. The ’95 definitely lacked charm.

“How’s the chicken,” Ariel asked after an extended silence.

“Fine,” I told her even though it was very good. “And, for you?”

“The same,” she confirmed. “So, should we get to business?”

“Why not,” I said shoving another piece of chicken into my mouth.

“So, you are in desperate need of reputation rehabilitation…”

“I wouldn’t say that,” I said hating how that sounded.

“Then, what would you say?”

“I would say that I need a sturdy change of topic,” I said forcing a smile.

“Fine. You need a change of topic. The topic right now is that you recorded yourself fucking two girls while acting like a douche causing your company’s stock to tank and your board to want to replace you as CEO. Am I correct?”

I looked at Ariel suspiciously. “How did you know about the board?”

“I hear things. But, that’s not important. What is important is what you’re gonna do about it. You’re not the first guy to stick his dick where it shouldn’t be and get in trouble for it. Bill Clinton got impeached for getting a blow job then left his presidency with one of the highest job approval ratings ever. The public forgives men their indiscretions as long as they have a brilliant woman by their side.”

“And you’re saying that you’re that woman?”

“I can be. It will take a lot out of me and I’ll hate every moment of it, but it’s something I’m capable of doing.”

“And, what exactly would you do?”

“Well, there are a lot of options. The best is probably that we make the world think that we really are engaged. If I handled the press conference correctly, I should have attracted the attention of tabloids. My guess is that, our supposedly discrete waiter, left this room and immediately called a paparazzi friend. If I’m not mistaken, there will be one waiting downstairs for us hoping to get the first shot of us together as a couple.”

“You think so?”

“I know so,” Ariel said confidently. “And that gives us an opportunity to put on a show for them.”

“So, we would have to be all lovey dubby?” I asked not liking the idea.

“Hell no. You were just caught having sex with two other women. There’s no way I would forgive you so quickly for that shit. No, you’re in the dog house. People need to see you in the dog house. But it will be my slow forgiveness for what you did that will allow the public to forgive you too. Then finally, when your stock is back up, we can announce our amicable breakup and move on with our lives.”

“And, you’re willing to do this?” I asked figuring that this would take a while.

“I am… at a price.”

“And, what is that price?”

“Maybe we should retire to the couch,” she suggested seeming to stall.

I pushed my empty plate forward and got up. Allowing Ariel to lead the way, I sat on the edge of the couch after she took the armchair.

“So, what’s the deal, Ariel? What’s this gonna cost me?” I said getting to the point.

“Not much, really. In fact, all I need are a few words from you.”

“What do you mean?”

Ariel squirmed. “How’s your relationship with Quin?” she asked uncomfortably.

I froze.

“Quin, as in Quin Summers?”

“Of course Quin Summers. Who else would I be referring to?” she snapped.

I had a right to call her on her rudeness but I didn’t have to.

“I’m sorry. Yes, your ex-business partner, Quin,” she said regaining her composure.

I stared at Ariel not sure how to respond. What did she know? My relationship with Quin was questionable at best. It would be more accurate to say that it was shit.

That’s not what others would guess, though. From the outside, people probably thought that we were the best of friends. After all, we started the company together, and we went to every event together. Hell, we were seen eating together so often that, at one point, people thought we were dating. That wasn’t how things were now, though.

Our relationship took quite the turn just before the company we started went public. We had an advisor who gave us some bad advice. The advisor had suggested that since I was the face of the company, I should hold the majority of the founder’s stock. He thought that potential shareholders would be more comfortable with someone they already knew.

It would only be a 1% difference between the two of us. Money-wise it was no big deal. But, what it gave me was controlling interest. So, when it came time to file for the patent to our first product, it was filed under my name.

Apparently, Quin didn’t like that. I mean, he really didn’t like that. And he found out about it days before we were meant to go public. Things were threatening to spiral out of control, so I arranged for a side deal which would ensure that Quin would be adequately compensated in exchange for him not blowing our stock’s launch. He signed it and the rider attached to it.

The rider made clear that he couldn’t say anything bad about me and that for all public appearances he had to act like everything was as good as it ever was between us. He agreed to it and he honored it. But he also sold his stake in the company as quickly as he could.

Maybe things between us would have not gotten so bad if shortly after selling, the stock’s value didn’t increase tenfold. And then, after a year, increase another tenfold. He ended up getting about two million dollars for stock which grew to be worth close to half a billion. Whoops! And since our arrangement required that he sell those shares to me, I became stupid rich.

Hey, I wasn’t the one who told him to sell. In fact, I tried to convince him not to. He was my friend. Hell, he was my best friend. During my professional football days, he was the one I would call after games. In the offseason, I lived in a house down the street from him. And, when I finally made enough that I could afford to, I hired him to work for me.

So technically, when he invented the supplement we later based our company around, he was working for me. Legally, the patent belonged to me. No matter what he claimed, I didn’t steal anything. Unfortunately, he never saw it like that.  

The problem now was that it had been a while since the two of us had spoken. Again, because of the rider on his contract, no one could know about our break. But, he was definitely still bitter. So now, with Ariel asking about my relationship with Quin, what was I supposed to say?

“It’s good,” I told Ariel summing everything up. “Yeah, it’s good. Why do you ask?”

Ariel shifted in her seat uncomfortably. “Because in exchange for repairing your reputation, I need a favor. I need you to convince Quin to let my company fund his research.”

“His research?” I asked having lost track of anything Quin was up to.

“Yeah. I take it that you don’t know the details of his latest research?”

“What, has he come up with a new supplement?”

“Supplement? No. Okay, so he hasn’t told you. Well, what he’s researching isn’t important. What is, is you convincing him to let me fund it. You think you can do that?”

Let me think. Could I convince the guy who hates me to let the woman I hate fund his research? What could be difficult about that?

“Why don’t I just put you in contact with him? That way you can convince him yourself?”

“That won’t work. I need you to use your influence with him to get him to do this.”

My influence with him? That’s a laugh. I probably couldn’t convince him to breathe if he was holding his breath.

“Look, Ariel, I’m gonna be straight with you. I know it seems that everything is good between Quin and me, but it really isn’t.”

“What do you mean?”

“How do I put this? He might be a little frosty about how things ended with the company.”

“That was three years ago?”

“Exactly.”

“Exactly,” she repeated.

“Right,” I confirmed confused.

“Oh, you think he’s still mad at you about you screwing him out of his patent?”

“His patent? I think you might be referring to the patent he created while I was employing him.”

“Yeah, I know all about the issue with the patent,” she said dismissively.

“Wait, how would you know that?”

“Because he told me.”

“Why would he tell you about that?”

“What do you mean?”

“What do you mean, “What do I mean”?”

Ariel tilted her head and stared at me out of the side of her eye. “You do know that he and I dated, right?”

What the fuck? Wait, what? WHAT? First of all, I did not know that. Second of all, what the fuck?

You might be wondering why I’m so surprised. Well, ask yourself, who would ever willingly stick their dick in her. But more than that, I was, like, 98% certain that Quin was into dudes. He never said that he was, but he didn’t have to.

Quin and I had been friends since we were sophomores in high school and during that entire time, he never once dated. He barely even talked about anyone. Sure, every so often when I would be talking about whatever chick I was banging he would bring up some girl he was interested in, but it never sounded convincing. He may as well had said that he had a girlfriend in Canada who he lost his virginity to during summer camp.

And, his constant singlehood wasn’t the only reason I thought he was gay. The other reason was that I could have sworn that Quin was into me. It wasn’t anything he had done in particular. It was all of it.

It was the look on his face when I caught him staring at me. It was the fact that he always had time for me, day or night. Sure, he worked for me for a part of that time, but it always felt like more than that.

I can even admit that I kind of liked it. No one ever accused me of shying away from attention, but it was more than that with him. I always considered him the one person in the world who knew me, the real me, and liked me, warts and all. So, to hear now that, not only had Quin dated a woman, but that it was this woman, was mind-blowing.

“Sure, I knew that you two dated,” I said unconvincingly.

“You didn’t know, did you?”

“Okay, I didn’t know.”

Ariel looked away. “For professional reasons, I had suggested that we not flaunt it, but I always assumed that he told you.”

“You mean because we were such close friends?”

She looked back at me. “Anyway, will you do this or not?”

“Will I convince him to allow his ex to fund his research?”

“Yeah.”

“Wow, Ariel. That’s a big ask.”

“Is it a billion dollars big? Because that’s how much your company stands to gain if your stock rebounds.”

“Can I think about it?” I asked her not sure if I could convince Quin if I tried.

“No. You need to decide right here, right now.”

“And if I say no?”

“Then I’ll hold another press conference telling the world that after much thought, I have come to my senses and have kicked your ass to the curb.”

“But, that’s not true.”

“What does that matter?”

“I’ll tell everyone that you made all this up because you’re a crazy person.”

“And I’ll release some of the many texts we’ve exchanged.”

“I’ve never texted you.”

“And, I’ve never texted you. But, what does that matter?” she said with a smirk.

“So basically, you’re blackmailing me?”

“Think of it more as, me strongly encouraging you to do the right thing for yourself and your company.”

I stared at the increasingly evil witch considering my options. There were two problems. If I refused to go along with her plan, at best, things would revert back to the moment before she announced our engagement when my head was on the chopping block. And if I did agree to do it, there was a good chance that things between Quin and me could get worse… if that was even possible.

“What if he refuses to see me?” I asked Ariel knowing it was a real possibility.

“He’ll see you,” she said confidently.

“How do you know that?”

“Trust me, he’ll see you.”

“Ariel, you say you dated him. But, I’m not sure you really knew him.”

“Blaze, I don’t think you knew him. I’m telling you, he’ll see you and if you ask him to let me fund his research, he will.”

“Okay, that’s crazy. I don’t have that type of pull with him.”

“Well, you better hope you do. Because if you can’t make it happen, the deal’s off.”

“There’s got to be something else that you want from me.”

“Believe me, Blaze, you have nothing I want. It’s this or I call it off right now. Ask yourself, is your pride worth a billion dollars?”

“It’s not my pride.”

“Isn’t it?”

Was it? And, why was she so confident that Quin would do it if I asked? Did she know something about Quin that I didn’t? Or, was this just her blowing smoke up my ass? It was hard to tell.

“I can’t guarantee that he will talk to me much less take my suggestion.”

“He will.”

“So you say. But I can’t guarantee it.”

“Well, if he doesn’t, you’re screwed. So you better make it happen.”

I looked down as I considered what I had to lose. Yeah, there were probably other ways to regain my reputation, but this was by far the easiest. Besides, I had no doubt that Ariel would screw me if I didn’t agree.

“I’ll do it.”

Ariel tried to hide the relief on her face but I saw it. “Good,” she said in a measured tone. “Then your rehabilitation will start tonight. In a few minutes, we’re going to leave here for my place. Guess where you’ll be spending the night?”

Woah! Did Ariel think that there was any way in hell that I was going to have sex with her?

“Ariel, I don’t know what you think is going on here but…”

“Don’t kid yourself, Blaze. That wasn’t what I was suggesting.”

“Oh. Then what were you suggesting.”

“We need to appear to be engaged. The world needs to think that we’re engaged. And, what do engaged people do? They stay over at the other person’s place. And since there’s no way I’m going to be inconvenienced anymore by this, you’ll be staying at my place. In the morning, you can head home and get whatever you’ll need for an extended stay.”

“I don’t know about this,” I said not liking what this would do to my social life.

“You think I like it either? I don’t. But if you want your reputation back, this is what we’re gonna have to do.”

“Fine. Then let’s get this over with,” I said getting up.

“Let’s do it.”

 Exiting the building with Ariel, the first thing I heard was a camera click. Ariel was right… and I didn’t know how to feel about it. On one hand, it meant that everything else she said might also be correct. Maybe she could help me rehabilitate my image. Maybe Quin didn’t hate me as much as I thought. But on the other hand, it also meant that the she-beast was right and the idea of admitting she was right crawled my skin.

She was wrong about one thing, though. There wasn’t just one photographer outside. There was a sidewalk full of them. And as we pushed past them, they yelled out questions.

“Ms. Katt, do you think he’ll cheat on you again?”

“Ariel, how do you think your body compares to the twins your fiancé slept with?”

I looked back into the crowd looking for whoever said that last thing. That was rude and hearing it kind of ticked me off. I mean, yeah, the twins… And Ariel was a larger woman with plenty of curves. But no one deserved to hear things like that, not even an evil witch like her. And honestly, there was a part of me that wanted to go after whoever yelled it. I didn’t, but still.

What kind of amazed me, however, was that Ariel seemed unfazed by what people were saying. She simply held her chin up and powered past everyone. Good for her. If they were yelling the same things at me, things would have gotten ugly fast. But no one was.

That brought up another interesting question. If they all believed that I cheated on my fiancé, why wasn’t anyone yelling anything insulting at me? I don’t know what they could be yelling because, you know, they were hot Swedish twins. But, it felt like a double standard somehow.

Anyway, working our way through the throng of paparazzi, we made it to the edge of the sidewalk and flagged a cab. Opening the door, Ariel slid in and I quickly followed. Leaning forward, Ariel gave the driver an address. Like that, our first public outing as an engaged couple was complete.

“That was… different,” I told Ariel wondering what she thought about it.

“What? Did it bring back old memories?”

“Of what? My football days?”

“No, when you sang opera at the Met. Yeah, of course your football days.”

“Alright! You didn’t have to get snippy about it. And, yeah. I guess a little bit. But mostly on media days. Oh, and probably the first time I was the MVP of the Super Bowl. And, I guess the second time, too.”

“Okay asshole, I get it. You won the Super Bowl.”

“Actually, I was MVP of the Super Bowl. Which means that we won it and I was the most valuable player on the team… twice.”

“Alright! Jesus! I know you work that into every conversation with a woman, but lower the charm, douchebag.”

Wow! What was that? Hadn’t she asked me about it? And no, I didn’t work that into every conversation with women. In fact, I rarely brought it up anymore. It became played out a few years ago, because, hello, I run a billion-dollar company. Who has to say much past that?

But the fact that she reacted so intensely was worth keeping in mind. I don’t know what was up with that, but I was going to keep my eye on it.

“I assume we’re heading to your place?” I said trying to change the topic and the tone.

“Brilliant deduction.”

“What’s up with you? I was just asking a question.”

“One you already know the answer to. All I ask of you is that you don’t be dumb,” she said ending any empathy I might have had for what she had experienced.

The remainder of the taxi ride was quiet until it stopped and she said, “Pay the man.” I did and slipped out behind her.

The taxi ride had been long. We had started in Manhattan and had ended in Brooklyn. Why anyone would choose to live outside of the city, I didn’t know. She didn’t even live in a high-rise. It was a brownstone and I could practically hear the children playing hopscotch in the streets.

There weren’t really any kids, thank god. But that was the type of place it was. It was where interesting single people went to die. If I stayed here more than a few days I was going to throw myself out of a window. I hope she understood that I wouldn’t be staying here very long.

“Home sweet home, honey,” she said with another of her fake smiles.

I didn’t reply.

Following her up the stoop, I watched as she fumbled with her keys and the lock. She tried three different keys before she found the right one.

“Did you just move in?”

“Shut up,” she spat.

What the hell? I was just asking a question. See if I try to be friendly again.

Stepping inside, I had to admit that it was nicer than I had expected. There were wide panel hardwood floors with light grey furniture and white walls. The place was long and narrow flowing from the living room to the stairway, to the kitchen. Past the kitchen was a small patio. Like I said, it was nice… in that clearly-I-don’t-have-a-life way.

“Take off your shoes,” she barked at me.

I took off my shoes and pushed them alongside a line of hers. After, I strolled through the space examining everything. The place kind of reminded me of a photo from a design magazine. She was clearly very uptight. I could already tell that she was going to be a pain to live with.

“Listen, we are going to have to suffer through this for a while,” she began. “So, I just want you to think of my place as my place. This is not your place. You will not be inviting any of your bimbos over. In fact, while I’m pretending to be your fiancé, you will refrain from doing anything that has any chance of going public. Do you understand?”

“So, you’re telling me who I can and can’t sleep with now?”

Ariel looked at me, gave me a confused look and said, “YES! For god sake, yes. Let me make this clear. You make bad decisions. That is the only reason you’re standing here today. So, help me, help you stop screwing up your life. Do you get me?”

“You know, I don’t think your attitude is helping,” I told her calmly.

“Is it? Is it not helping? Because from where I’m standing, it’s helping quite a bit.”

“You know what? If you’re going to be a bitch about this, we may as well not do it. This was a mistake,” I told her heading for my shoes. “Good luck with Quin.”

I got all of the way to the door before she replied.

“Wait, stop,” she said getting me to turn around. As I watched, she took a deep breath and did some sort of yoga move. When she was calmer, she spoke. “Okay. Fine. I’ll cut back on the snark. Having you here is not easy for me. This is my home, you know. And you are… well, you’re you. Those things don’t work together in my head.”

“This was your idea,” I reminded her.

“I know. It was. But still, it’s going to take a second. And, the sooner we can get this over with, the better.”

“Agreed.”

“And, I would appreciate it if you don’t make it harder on me by being… you.”

I wasn’t sure who else she was expecting me to be but I decided to let it go. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Good,” she said starting to relax.

“So, where will I be sleeping?” I asked looking at the stairs.

 Ariel led me upstairs and pointed at the first door on the right. I opened it and looked in. There was a bed which was 95% comforter. Beside it was a nightstand. Opposite both was a TV. The room was pretty bare.

“You can use that bathroom there,” she said pointing to the next door over.

“What’s that room?” I asked pointing at the door at the end of the hall.

“None of your business,” she said before leaving me for it.

“And if I need anything?”

“Keep it to yourself,” Ariel said before disappearing within the mystery room and slamming the door behind her.

“The door was your bedroom. You could have said it was your bedroom!” I said loud enough for her to hear. “Why couldn’t you just say it was your bedroom?” I said to myself as I retreated into my room.

With nothing else to do, I sat on the bed and retrieved the remote control. Turning on the TV I flipped through the channels.

“She doesn’t have ESPN,” I flipped through the channels again. “She doesn’t have ESPN!” I turned to the door and yelled, “What type of person gets cable without ESPN? You’re living in a madhouse!”

I couldn’t stay here. I had to get out. Feeling the walls close in around me, I took out my phone and did the one thing that I knew would speed up my release.

Dialing the number, the phone rang forever. Then just as I thought it would transfer to voicemail, someone picked up. My heart stopped.

 

 

Chapter 4

Quin

 

I knew it! I don’t know how, but I did. First, it was that video of Blaze having sex with those women. Then there was that bizarre press conference where Ariel said that she was engaged to Blaze. Those two things couldn’t lead anywhere else but with Blaze’s name showing up on my caller ID. I just knew it.

The question was whether or not I should answer it or let it go to voicemail. I wanted to let it go. I wanted my voicemail to be a big fuck you to him. But just when the call was about to switch over, I felt my thumb move. The call connected.

“Hello,” I heard Blaze say on the other end of the phone.

What was I supposed to say to him? What would anyone say to him if they were in my position? There was nothing that could be said… oh yeah, I guess there was, “Hello.”

“Quin,” Blaze said timidly.

“Yes, who’s this?” I asked hoping the question would further his discomfort.

“This is Blaze. How have you been?”

Really, Blaze? Really? You’re asking me how I’ve been? Fuck you, Blaze. FUCK YOU! …is what I felt like saying. “I’m fine. Why are you calling?” is what I said.

“Ummm, no reason. Just thought I’d check in on you and see what’s going on.”

“Bye, Blaze,” I said in no mood for his bullshit.

“Wait, wait, wait, wait. Don’t hang up. That wasn’t the reason I called.”

“Really? Then why did you call?” I asked knowing full well why.

“I was hoping that, ah, we could get together for dinner or something.”

“And, why would I want to do that?”

“Old-time sake?”

“Try again,” I told him.

“I thought it would be nice to catch up?”

“One more chance,” I said readying myself to end the call.

“Okay, look, there are some things I need to tell you. Actually, there are a lot of things I need to tell you. I’ve been a bit of a shit to you. And, I’m wondering if you would be so kind as to give me the opportunity to make it up to you.”

I had to admit, this was a reply I hadn’t expected. Yes, Blaze had been a royal shit to me. That man stole the one thing that mattered to me and treated me like a piece of garbage as he did. I had given up hope that he would ever recognize that fact. But, maybe he finally had.

“Go on,” I told him very curious about what he would say.

“Not over the phone. How’s tomorrow? We could meet at that pizza joint you used to like to go to.”

“Palermo’s?”

“That’s it.”

I found the nearest chair and sat down. I hadn’t thought about Palermo’s in a long time. It was down the street from our company’s first laboratory. I had grabbed a lot of late-night dinners there, many of them with Blaze. It was a much more innocent time. With all of Blaze’s football money sunk into the company, we were both as broke as hell. It might have been the best time of my life.

“Okay, sure,” I told him softened by the nostalgia.

“Really? Okay, great. How about we say 6:30. I remember how you like to eat dinner early.”

“6:30 is fine,” I told him unnerved that he remembered that.

“Then I’ll see you there at 6:30. Quin, I’m looking forward to it.”

“Yeah,” I replied and then hung up.