The Has-Been and the Hot Mess by Isabel Jordan

 

Chapter 1

Whoever said sleeping with the boss was a bad idea was wrong. It was when you stopped sleeping with the boss that the trouble really started.

Kendall Quinn flopped down on the couch next to the battered cardboard box that now represented the remains of her career. Four years as a PR manager with the most prestigious talent representation agency in LA and all she had to show for it was an over-watered Philodendron, a half-eaten container of Tums, and a severance check that wouldn’t even cover her half of next month’s rent.

She kicked off her heels and tossed her iPhone on the coffee table, not bothering to check for messages. Kyle had almost certainly made sure no one would try to contact her—none of her clients, none of her coworkers. She was well and truly screwed.

Metaphorically, of course. Because to add insult to injury, Kyle had been a lousy lay. Bastard.

It wasn’t even like she could turn around and sue him for wrongful termination. Even though he’d all but admitted he’d fired her because it would be uncomfortable for his new girlfriend to have to work with her every day, Kendall had failed to bill the required number of hours for the past two months, which was the official party line for why she’d been terminated.

And as far as party lines went, it was super credible. Especially since she recently lost her biggest client to the hateful little bitch—her protégé, no less—who’d also stolen Kyle from her, making it nearly impossible to bill the required monthly hours.

Getting new clients took time, too. Wining, dining, schmoozing, and convincing Hollywood types to trust her with their precious PR, social media, and crises management wasn’t an easy task. It especially wasn’t easy for someone like Kendall, who had very little control over the filter between her brain and her mouth, which was why she’d lost Lynsay Storm, country music’s flavor of the month, as a client in the first place.

But that wasn’t worth thinking about right now. It was done and there was no going back. What she needed now was a plan for how to recover from this fiasco.

First and foremost? She needed a new place to live. Kyle had given her a month to vacate the townhouse they shared. The miserable asshole didn’t even have the decency to offer her the place as a parting gift, which was just spiteful, seeing as he was staying with his new fuck toy.

She also needed to figure out what she was going to do for work. Because apartments in LA didn’t just magically pay for themselves.

She wished she could pull a Jerry McGuire and try to convince some of her old co-workers and clients to follow her. But the non-compete she’d signed when she was hired by Walker and Patrick PR was iron clad. If she tried to steal any of their clients and employees now that she was a free agent—even though that status had been forced on her—she’d pretty much owe a kidney and her firstborn to the firm’s lawyers.

Even if she could find a way to weasel out of her non-compete, it wasn’t like any of her clients would leave Walker and Patrick for her. Sure, her clients liked her, but Kendall was sure they loved the firm’s endless resources and connections even more.

Honestly, until she ran the out the clock on her non-compete (five years, if she remembered correctly), the best she could probably hope for here in LA was occasional consulting work, or finding brand new, awesome, unrepresented talent.

And finding brand new, awesome, unrepresented talent in this place? Her odds of finding a unicorn with the Holy Grail shoved up its ass were better. Practically every waiter and waitress with a dream and a modicum of talent had representation here in La La Land.

Sweet crap on a cracker, what had she gotten herself into? Had she really lost her career over a douchenozzle like Kyle Walker?

It didn’t escape her attention that nearly every mistake she’d ever made in her twenty-nine years of life could be traced back to a good-looking, smooth-talking, dark-haired, bad-boy asshole.

Losing her virginity at sixteen to a guy who’d told the entire school she’d given him crabs when she broke up with him? Yep. That’d happened. Vance McNeil—quarterback of the football team and hotter than he had any right to be, with hair and eyes the color of melted dark chocolate.

Then there was the bartender with the deep, grumbly baritone and midnight eyes she’d dated for two weeks. That relationship had come to a screeching halt when she found out he’d stolen her jewelry and pawned it to pay off his gambling debts.

Kyle was no better. He hadn’t stolen from her or told the entire office she was an STD-ridden whore or anything, but he’d done something much worse. He’d actually tricked her into thinking he was a good, decent guy. The kind of guy who, despite his gorgeous face, olive-toned skin, and wavy chestnut hair, would never fuck her protégé on his desk where anyone could walk in and find them only weeks—WEEKS!—after asking her to move in with him.

Gah! Her taste in men was shit. Her next boyfriend would be a blond with absolutely zero alpha tendencies, by God.

Kendall jumped when her phone rang, then she lunged for it. With any luck, Kyle had realized he’d been a short-sighted jackass to fire her and that there was no way he could keep the agency going without her.

She sighed with disappointment when she realized it wasn’t Kyle calling. But hey, at least this caller was a blond. Maybe her luck was starting to turn already.

“Hi, Ray,” she said, trying not to sound like a defeated, pathetic, desperate loser. “It’s not a good time. Can I call you back later?”

After I’ve eaten the giant bag of cheese puffs I bought on the way home and washed it down with a cheap bottle of wine?

She could practically hear Ray rolling his blue eyes heavenward. “Oh, please, Ken Doll,” he said. “I know you’re about two seconds away from carb-loading and binge-watching The Great British BakingShow. You have nothing better to do than talk to me.”

“Rude,” she grumbled. True, but rude, nonetheless. “And don’t call me Ken Doll. You know I hate that.”

“Whatever you say, pumpkin.”

Pumpkin was only marginally better, but she’d allow it. “I was fired less than an hour ago, Ray. How do you already know about it?”

“Your ex-protégé,” he said. “I called your office because you weren’t answering your cell and she spilled the beans. Gleefully, I might add. She has absolutely zero discretion.”

“Yeah, I kind of figured that out when I caught her banging Kyle on his desk yesterday at lunch,” she said dryly.

And she’d only caught them because she’d felt bad when he told her he had to work through lunch, so she’d picked up his favorite sandwich—chicken salad on rye—from Joe’s deli where they usually ate lunch together.

But apparently all he’d really needed for lunch was Tiffany bent over his mahogany desk with her skirt shoved up to her waist and her thong around her ankles while he fucked her from behind as hard as he could manage with his pencil dick. Asshole.

Ray let out a disgusted sound. “Ugh. I knew I hated that guy as soon as he said The Rise of Skywalker was the best Star Wars movie ever. There is no one on earth less trustworthy than a straight white guy who loved that movie more than The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi. Dumb motherfucker.”

Kendall knew better than to engage in a Star Wars discussion with Ray. It was a never-ending rat hole that often led to him asking if she knew anyone who could get him a meeting with JJ Abrams so that Ray could kick him in the shins.

So instead, she just sighed and said, “I should’ve known Kyle was too good to be true. Tiffany, too. It was at least partially my fault for trusting the wrong people. Again.”

“I knew neither of them would last.”

“And now you’re psychic? Great,” she said, her voice completely devoid of emotion. She held up her middle finger. “Tell me what I’m thinking right now.”

He chuckled. “Oooh, feisty. I like ‘em feisty.”

“That would be great for my ego if I didn’t also know you like ‘em male.”

This time he let out a sharp laugh that actually made her smile. But only a little. “Baby,” he said, “if you were a dude, I would’ve married you by now.”

Now that one hurt a little. The closest thing to a marriage proposal she’d ever had, and it was from her gay best friend. “Good to know that if I only had a penis, I’d be married and employed.”

“’If I only had a penis’…the forgotten song lyrics that never made it into the final cut of The Wizard of Oz,” he quipped.

Kendall shook her head. “Funny. You’re a funny guy, Ray.”

“Oh, buck up, buttercup. It can’t be as bad as all that. Why did the asshole fire you, anyway?”

“The real reason? He thought it would be awkward for his new fuck toy to have to keep reporting to his old fuck toy every day. The made-up reason? I lost the Storm account.”

“Well,” he said, “you did call her a brainless twatwaffle. On national television.”

Kendall threw a hand up in frustration. “Just how many times do you have to flash the paparazzi before you start wearing underwear, huh? It’s not rocket science, for fuck’s sake. And she completely ignored the script I gave her and said, on camera, that she didn’t usually participate in children’s charities because kids are gross. She said the sick kids in the cancer ward were gross, Ray. How am I supposed to spin that? She is a brainless twatwaffle.” She sniffed indignantly. “It’s just my unfortunate luck that I said it within earshot of so many hot mics. It was an honest mistake that could’ve happened to anyone.”

“Agreed. But that doesn’t make you any less fired. Anyhoo, I’m bored with feeling sorry for you. Let’s talk about me.”

She blinked. That was abrupt, even for Ray, who was not known for his tact. “Wow, thanks for the sympathy, pal. You’d think that losing a boyfriend, my career, and my townhouse in one day would earn me the right to wallow at least a little.”

Ray made a disgusted sound. “Kyle was a shitty boyfriend with a tiny dick who cleared his throat every eighteen seconds and said ‘irregardless.’ No loss there. And you’ll have another job before this phone call is over.”

She frowned. “Once and for all, Ray, I’m not going to dress up like Betty Draper and pretend I’m your secretary.”

He scoffed. “No, silly. I mean a real job. Although I don’t know what you have against Mad Men. You’d look just like January Jones all dolled up in a flouncy little skirt.”

She was so not going to have this conversation with him today. “What job?”

Ray took a big dramatic breath. “I’m about to tell you something I’ve never told anyone in LA.”

Anyone who didn’t know Ray would probably be intrigued by the gravity of his tone. But Kendall knew him better than that. “Is this about the time you saw Ashton Kutcher at Starbucks?”

A pregnant pause on his end was followed by, “Dumbass, I told everyone that. I said I was going to tell you something I’ve nevertold anyone in LA.”

True enough. She’d heard the Ashton Kutcher story at least twelve times. “OK, so spill.”

“I have a brother.”

“Great. Is he blond and single?”

She heard him slap a palm to his forehead. “Damn it, Kenny, I’m serious.”

So was she. At least a little bit.

Ray then said the magic words. “He was a bit famous a few years ago.”

Kendall leaned forward, suddenly very serious. “Why am I just now hearing about this?”

“Because I’ve seen you go after celebrities and it’s like watching the shark swallow that little boy in Jaws. And he wasn’t ready to be in the limelight again. If you’d convinced him to hire you when we first met, today he’d be the biggest name in the business, because you’re incapable of half-assing anything. And he just wasn’t ready.”

“But he’s ready now? So, what, is he some kind of washed-up child star looking to make a comeback?”

Kendall practically salivated at the thought. Washed up child stars were her specialty. If she’d been around to convince David Cassidy to sign with her, he would’ve had his own number-one-rated reality series or been the host of a top-tier talent competition instead of that Vegas residency he did.

“No. And I’m not telling you anything else. Not yet, anyway. I want you to meet him before you make any snap judgments.”

She pursed her lips in frustration. “I don’t make snap judgments.”

“Puh-lease. You’re Snappy McSnaperson, mayor of Snappytown.”

“Well, that’s just childish.” A little true, too. Not that she’d admit that to him. “You have to give me something here, Ray. How do you even know I’ll want to work with him after I’ve met him?”

“One, you love a challenge like no one I’ve ever seen in my life. And two, you don’t have a choice, Kenny. You have posh taste, high-maintenance hair, and a shoe fetish. You need the job. Plus, you have little-to-no savings.”

“How do you know I have little-to-no savings?”

He snorted. “Hel-lo? Not only am I a CPA, I’m your CPA. Did you forget that? So, unless you have an account in the Caymans I’m not aware of, you’re damn near broke.”

“It’s not like I blew all my money on hair product and shoes, you know,” she grumbled.

“I know, I know. You paid off your student loans and your parent’s house like a good little girl. Oh, come on, sweetie. What do you have to lose?”

Thanks to Kyle, a whole helluva lot of nothing. Her name would be shit in this town by tomorrow. If it wasn’t already. “Tell me this mystery brother doesn’t already have an agent, and isn’t in LA,” she said.

“No agent. And he is hell-and-gone from LA.”

And he was Ray’s brother, so chances were good that he was a blond, not some hot, dark-haired, alpha jerkwad that’d be her Kryptonite. Again. A blond paying client who wasn’t in LA sounded really good right about now.

Besides, she hadn’t met a client yet she couldn’t handle. Drug addicts, sex scandals, has-beens and never-were’s—she was a publicity goddess who could deal with them all.

How bad could it be?