Home > The Proposition: The Ferro Family(6)

The Proposition: The Ferro Family(6)
Author: H.M. Ward

How did I end up paired with Bryan Ferro? He must know. There’s no way in hell that he doesn’t. His hand is barely touching my back, but I feel him there. I can’t tolerate him touching me, standing behind me like that. It brings back the memories and I remember vividly what he’s done to me, what I begged him to do.

I say my set of lines and push forward, pressing my ribs into the podium, trying to create some distance between us. Bryan steps in again, not giving me the space, so I try to squish myself into the thing harder.

Bryan finally smirks his sexy face and says in that deep voice of his, “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were trying to get away from me.”

My face flames red and I look at him wide eyed. “That might be true. You’re much too sexy for one girl to handle.” By one girl, I mean me, but the bronzed god doesn’t take it that way.

He ditches the rest of his prompted lines and gives me a steamy look that would make the panties fall off of anyone else. “Why, Miss Raymond, you are as naughty as your book.” He winks at me and the audience eats it up, clapping wildly, until my face reaches a deep shade of burgundy.

“Mr. Ferro, remind me to introduce my foot to your ass once we’re off stage.” The audience that looked positively lethargic moments ago, is on the edge of their seats as we spar, thirsty for more.

“I’m not really into that kind of thing, Miss Raymond, but for you, I might make an exception.” The stage manager is having a stroke, waving his arms like an axe, trying to get us to stop. Bryan doesn’t falter. He jumps right back into the text on the screen and finishes presenting the award before we’re led off different sides of the stage.

I have to run. I can’t talk to him. Why is he even here? Ignoring the stage hand that’s chewing me out for deviating from the teleprompter, I haul ass trying to find Neil. When I smack into him, Cecily is standing by his side.

“And there she is!” Cecily, takes my arm, grinning ear to ear. She’s had so much plastic surgery that I’m afraid her face will split open when she smiles. “You couldn’t have done a better job out there! Everyone will be talking about you! Add in the fact that you were with a Ferro and it’s perfect!” Cecily is twice my age with fewer wrinkles and big brown hair. She’s wearing a clingy dress that shows off cl**vage that looks completely fake, but that doesn’t keep Neil’s eyes from wandering. Hell, my eyes wander. It’s impossible not to look. They’re like bowling balls, shoved into her flashy dress.

I smile nervously and press my hand to my stomach. “We need to go. I’m sorry, Cecily, but I can’t—”

“The hardest part is over with,” Cecily’s voice has that chain smoker raspy thing. She coughs and Neil picks up where she left off.

“You can handle a party, babe.” Neil gives me a side hug and smiles down at me. “I’m so proud of you. You didn’t look nervous out there at all. You’re a wonderful little actress.” He presses his pointer finger to the tip of my nose and laughs.

I’m a wonderful little liar. I should tell him. Bryan and I were together once. I should just say it, but Cecily has that vulture quality that makes me keep my mouth shut. I’ll have to tell Neil later. It’s something that I think he should know, but I don’t have to tell anyone else. “Thank you, but I feel really sick. We should go.”

“Don’t be silly. It’s just post-show jitters. Some food will help you feel better. Come on.” Neil tugs my hand toward the banquet room.

We head through twisting hallways, passing movie stars and celebrities, following after Cecily as she explains things to me. “I’ve been discussing everything from movie rights to merchandising. You’re a hot ticket, kid. If we play our cards right, you’ll be one of the wealthiest writers this year. They’re asking about you faster than I can keep up. It’s nonstop action, which is what we want.” She waves at people as we pass. When we enter the room, it’s done up in dark reds with white lights everywhere. It’s beautiful, but I need to get out of here before Bryan finds me. My pulse pounds harder when we stop. “Oh, there’s Eric. Let’s pose for a shot, for the papers.”

I force a smile onto my face and pose with some guy. I don’t know who he is, but Cecily pulls people over one by one to meet me. Someone shoves a drink into my hand and I hold it like a lifeline, practically hiding behind it, watching people from under my lashes. Glancing around the room, I look for Bryan, but he’s not here. Neil is enjoying himself, no doubt hoping to make business connections for years to come. He probably thinks he’ll be a shrink to the stars or something like that.

A young actress is watching me and not saying much. She’s been standing in our little circle of people, sipping something from a tall glass. Dark hair is piled onto her head and bright blue eyes carefully watch me. She finally interjects, “It’s true, isn’t it?”

I glance at Neil and Cecily before I realize she’s talking to me. “I’m sorry, is what true?”

“That you’re shy? I heard it before, but there’s something so sweet about you, and innocent. I read your book and think it’s interesting that those two qualities can coexist within one person.”

I laugh nervously and look at Neil for help, but he seems enthralled. Gee, thanks. The girl mentions dual personalities and my boyfriend lights up. Great. I sputter a response quickly, “The book is fiction.”

“Yes, but fiction is based in fact to some extent.” She smiles at me as she tips her pretty head to the side, like that action will make it easier for me to understand. “I find it difficult to believe that you have no interest in such things on a personal level when you can write about them with such intensity.”

Holy fuck. Someone hit me in the head with a frying pan. Cecily laughs, and raises her glass, like the girl is correct. Neil’s eyes are glued to the woman and I half expect to see hearts and daisies form a halo around her head. I laugh lightly, fakely. “If that were true, then every author who wrote a murder mystery would have dead bodies in their basements. I’m sorry, I need to find the ladies room. Please excuse me.”

I duck away from the group before anyone can tell me which way to go. The room is packed with people, but I bob and weave through them with ease. Stopping for a moment, I look around the room trying to find a way out.

“Nice to see you again, Hallie.”

Every hair on the back of my neck stands up as my breath catches in my throat. My body tenses from the sound of his voice. My chest rises as I suck in a startled breath and hold it, unsure of what to do. “Bryan. I—”

The smile he wore on stage is gone. The kind features of his beautiful face are concealed by anger or something worse. He presses his lips together. “I don’t want to hear it, Hallie. Your little house of cards is about to fall.”

Mustering false confidence, I retort, “I have no idea what you mean.” When I turn to look at him, the hollow place in the center of my chest constricts. Bryan’s green eyes burn like twin flames. His dark hair is smoothed back from his beautiful face and a dusting of stubble covers his jaw.

“We both know that’s a lie. Here,” he presses a plastic key card into my hand. “Room 3601 at midnight or I talk.”

Every other person is suddenly sucked out of the room. There’s only Bryan and he’s pissed. My throat tightens, but I manage to speak, “You wouldn’t do that to me. If I mattered to you at all—”

His gaze narrows as he looks around the room, and then finally at me. It’s like he’s disgusted, like he can’t stand the sight of me. “Don’t pull that shit, Hallie. It’s way past that point and we both know it. You used me and I’m returning the favor.”

Fear and fury mix together and race through my veins, souring in my stomach. Bryan Ferro once meant something to me. His smile could fill me with happiness and his laugh was so contagious that I couldn’t help but giggle. Even now, with him standing there, part of me wants things to be like they had been. My body remembers him and reacts to his proximity. Tingles shoot through me and I feel hot all over.

I’m shocked, unmoving, unblinking, and frozen in place with my pulse pounding violently in my ears. Bryan grins and taps the card. “Midnight, Hallie.”

Before I can answer, Bryan slips back into the crowd and disappears from sight.


I don’t know what to do. Everything is riding on this moment and Bryan could destroy it. Not only is he magnificently wealthy, so the press will flock to him like flies on a dead body, but he’s a Ferro. Ferros have power and resources that I’m lacking.

I try to handle it on my own, but I can’t. I need Neil. He’s been my emotional crutch through this and a piece of my past just reared up and kicked me in the stomach. I can’t breathe and I don’t want to go to Bryan’s room.

I don’t understand this side of him. Cruel isn’t a word I would have used to describe him, but the way he looked at me just now makes me sick. I feel like I’ve done something horrible, but when I stop to think about what my reaction would be if our roles were reversed, I wouldn’t do what he’s doing. I’d silently steam about it and then rationalize that it must have been about someone else. Bryan loved me once. He wouldn’t do this, but he is and I need to deal with it. Now.

By the time I find Neil in the cluster of people, fear is choking me. I manage a smile, but he sees through it quickly. Someone makes a joke and the circle of people all laugh. Cecily tries to take my arm to introduce me to more guests, but I hold up a finger and gesture for Neil as I step away, indicating that he should follow me.

We cross the room quickly, and head away from the crowds of people. Neil grabs a champagne glass off a tray. “Here, drink this and calm down. You can’t be known as the romance writer who throws up. That’s not the reputation we want you to have.” Neil shoves the glass into my trembling hands and wraps my fingers around it.

I stare at it for a second, and then back up at my boyfriend. I don’t know what to say, or how to start, so I blurt it out. “Bryan Ferro and I had a relationship when I was younger. No one knew about it.” Neil’s eyes bug out of his head in a cartoonish way right before his jaw drops. I muster a shaky breath and continue. “That’s not the part that has me freaking out and covered in sweat. He thinks the book I wrote is about him.”

Neil folds his arms across his chest and tucks his chin. His eyes flick up to meet mine for a split second, before scanning the faces in the crowd. He speaks softly, so no one else can hear. “Unbelievable. And he intends to tell everyone about it?”

“Yes, plus anything else he needs to say. Neil, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean for this to happen and now that it has, I don’t know what to do. Bryan isn’t like this—”

“How would you know? I mean, some of the things he was doing—a man will say anything to get what he wants. You’re not that naïve, Hallie.” Neil shakes his head as he rubs his thumb across his lower lip. “Besides, I don’t see how this situation is bad. Adding a Ferro to the mix will just bring you more publicity and more publicity will bring more money.”

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