“I don’t pay attention to that crap,” I grumbled.
“Look at it,” Max insisted.
I tore my eyes away from my laptop screen and took the phone my best friend and business partner was pushing at me. He’d been bitching at me for the last five minutes about what he’d been reading on his page. I never paid attention to social media. It was a time suck and that was not something I had a lot to spare. My time was too important to care about what people were eating and how they looked before and after makeup.
“What am I looking at?” I asked.
“The hashtags,” he said. “You’re trending.”
“People are talking shit via hashtags,” he said bluntly.
I read the screen. “Dillion and Bronson fails. What the hell does that mean? We didn’t fail.”
“Dillion sells love but dates twenty-four women in a year,” I read and had to smirk. “Thank god they don’t know about the other fifty or so.”
“Not funny,” Max complained.
I tapped on one of the hashtags and read a few of the comments. “Well that’s just insulting,” I said. “I’m very good in bed.”
“Of course, that’s what you take from this,” he said with a sigh.
I handed him the phone. “I don’t know why you pay attention to crap like that. It’s stupid. Keyboard warriors talking shit about stuff they know nothing about. I date as much as any other single guy dates.”
“Uh, I don’t think so,” he said. “I date maybe fifteen to twenty women in a year.”
“That’s because you date the same woman several times,” I pointed out.
He slapped a hand to his forehead. “That’s kind of the point. You are on this merry-go-round of women.”
I smirked and shrugged. “Again. Single. Handsome. Wealthy. Why would I not use those things to my advantage? It’s not like I’m out impregnating them all or breaking hearts. I take a woman out and that’s it. I don’t believe in wasting time on a second or third date if the first one didn’t do it for me. There are like four billion women on this planet. We’ll assume half are married, old, or kids, and the other half are eligible. I’m looking for my soulmate. It’s a hard job, but I’m willing to put in the time to make sure I get the right one.”
He was staring at me. “It’s sad because I think you actually believe that.”
“I do believe that,” I said. “I’m not going to wait to bump into some lady at the supermarket reaching for the same cantaloupe or some shit like that. I’m actively searching for the woman I will one day marry.”
“We both know that’s a load of garbage,” he said. “You’re not trying to get married.”
“I’m not going to be a bachelor forever, but I also don’t want to be hasty and end up settling down with the wrong woman. Divorce is expensive. I have a lot to lose. I have to make sure I’ve exhausted all my options and then I’ll know I’m making the right choice.”
“We’re in the business of selling love and happy ever after,” Max said. “You pissed off the wrong woman and she has stirred up a hornet’s nest of other women you’ve pissed off. We’ve got a huge marketing campaign kicking off next week. This is the last thing we need.”
“They’ll get over it,” I said. “Like you said, I pissed off someone and she’s getting back at me. This isn’t a big deal. It will all be forgotten in a week.”
Max scrolled through his social media feed. I could see his concern written all over his face. I was trying to play it off, but this was a big deal. Social media was worse than a lit match in a dry forest. All it took was the tiniest spark to create a raging wildfire that could take down any man, woman, or business.
“It’s been going on for weeks,” he said. “Our bookings are down. This is going to start hitting the bottom line.”
“It’s a slump,” I assured him. I wasn’t going to admit I was just as concerned.
“What are we going to do about it?” he asked with total seriousness.
I would normally come back with a flippant comment, but it was pretty clear this was serious. “Sabotage,” I muttered. “This is sabotage coming from one of our competitors.”
“We’re both going to be thrown under the bus,” he said. “We’ve been playing fast and loose and it’s coming back to bite us in the ass. Our charm has worn off. When we were twenty-somethings, it was cool that we peddled love and romance while enjoying the single life.”
He wasn’t wrong. “I don’t think we’ve done anything totally egregious. We’re single guys enjoying the fruits of our labor.”
“They’re after you right now, but your stink is going to rub off on me,” he said. “They’re going to start looking at my dating history and picking me apart. Then it will be every one of the clubs and venues.”
“Hey, I don’t stink,” I defended.
“This is serious,” he said and put the phone down. “We’re not booked. We should be booked. Valentine’s Day should be one of our busiest days of the year. It’s the spring wedding season and we have openings. That’s not good. We should be promoting the business, not fending off wild rumors and accusations. You know why this is happening.”
“Don’t say it,” I warned.
“I told you that woman was dating that guy,” he said. “There were a hundred women there and you decided she was the one you were going to flirt with.”
“She flirted with me first,” I shot back.
“She was the fucking bride-to-be!”
“I didn’t know,” I said. “I apologized.”
“The player reputation was cool, but now it’s causing problems,” he said with a shake of his head.
“I have been very careful since that situation,” I said.
“Too little, too late,” he replied. “Now men are afraid to book our venues because they think we’re going to steal their ladies. Parents aren’t shelling out the money for our places because they don’t want to break up a marriage before it happens. If we have to cut rates, we’re going to look desperate.”
I couldn’t resist teasing him just a little. “The men that can afford our rates should be afraid.”
“This is serious, Beau,” he said. “We need to have a real image makeover.”
“We?” I questioned. “It sounds like you’re saying this is on me.”
“I’m not claiming to be innocent, but you’re the one that flirted with the sheik’s bride-to-be and you’re the one who is a serial dater. We don’t know where this hate is coming from, but we need to fix it.”
“How?” I asked and got up from the chair behind my desk where we were meeting. “How do I fix this? Public apology? Send the sheikh a bottle of liquor? It was an innocent mistake and I already apologized to him.”
He slowly shook his head, tapping a finger on the table while I started to pace. I did my best thinking when I was on the move. “I don’t know. I don’t think it’s any one event. It’s been a snowball rolling downhill and now we’re standing at the bottom and looking up at it.”
“I need a girlfriend,” I said. “No, a fiancée.”
“Uh, is there an app for that?” he joked.
“Yes,” I said and grabbed my own phone. “I’ve got a plan.”
“That’s frightening,” he groaned.
“I’ll find a woman to be my fiancée for a month or so,” I said and then spoke to Google and asked for the service to find me a dating app.
“How in the hell are you going to do that?” he asked. “You’re just going to call a woman and ask her to marry you?”
“Not exactly,” I said and scanned the various services. They felt a little too public. I needed something that wasn’t obvious. If I wanted to fool a few thousand people, it needed to be on the down low.
“You’re known in the city,” he said. “Los Angeles isn’t big enough for your fame.”
“You’re right,” I agreed. “I need something a little more discreet.”
I scrolled through the search results and began to realize this might not be a good idea. “I could find someone from Seattle or Phoenix. No one would know her, and she wouldn’t know me.”
“Again, I think you’re missing a really big step here,” he said. “You don’t use a dating app to find a fiancée for a month.”
“Why not?” I shrugged. “That’s exactly what the people on the app are looking for.”
“I don’t know about that,” he cautioned.
“Hey! Check this out!” I quickly sent him the link to a website that looked very promising.
He grabbed his phone. “Faux’s?” he asked with obvious skepticism. “What is that?”
“The about page says they offer dates for a night, a vacation, or whatever a person needs,” I read. “It’s basically saying they are women for hire.”
“That’s about the last thing you need to fix your image. Our image.”
I was busy reading through the question and answer section. “Check this one out,” I said without actually showing him my phone. “This testimony says the guy hired an escort to attend a family wedding. Another one claims the two fell in love. I’m not trying to fall in love, but these dates for hire could be exactly what we need.”
“Oh no.” He shook his head. “Not me. I’m not hiring an escort. That’s illegal.”
“The first question in the Q and A section asks if it’s legal,” I said. “It is. The women aren’t being paid for sex. It’s just a date. It’s like hiring an assistant or an actor. I think this is the answer.”
He put the phone down again. “No thanks.”
“Then I’ll do it,” I said.
“I don’t think this is the way to go,” he said. “How are you going to pass off a woman as your fiancée when you were chasing that blonde like a month ago?”
“I wasn’t chasing her,” I said and sat back down to open my laptop. “I took her to dinner once. She is not a woman I would ever want to date again. Want to talk about vapid? Her name should be part of the definition in the dictionary.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he argued. “You were photographed with her.”
“It was dinner,” I said and typed the name of the company into my search bar once again.
“And what if this woman you hire tells people you’re paying her to be your fake fiancée?” he asked.
“Privacy clause,” I said. “And I’ll make sure there is an NDA in place. I’ll pay her extra to make sure she keeps her mouth closed.”
He slowly shook his head. “I think it’s a risk.”
“I’ll have a contract drawn up,” I said. “Not only will the woman I hire be on the hook, so will the company. Besides, it looks legit. There are plenty of testimonies from people thanking the company for their discreet, professional service.”
“Those could have been bought,” he said.
“Do you have another idea?” I asked pointedly.
“No,” he sighed.
“Then I’m going to look into it. I’m not saying I’m going to do it. I want to do a little more research, but it’s this or we watch all our hard work evaporate because we went on a few dates.”
“A few?” He snorted.
“Hey, I don’t get it myself, but you’re the one who brought it to my attention,” I told him. “I’m not about to let some hashtag war take me down. Fight fire with fire.”
“I don’t know if it’s going to work,” he said. “I mean, you? Engaged? Who is going to buy that?”
“Then you do it.”
“Hell no,” he choked.
“It’s just a month, two at most. I can do it. We’ll ride out the little social media storm and let things die down. Then I’ll quietly break off the engagement and things will go back to normal. No harm, no foul. We’ll get the bookings we need to pay for that new venue we just bought, and all the silly drama will be forgotten.”
“I hope so,” he said.
“Relax,” I assured him. “I’ll handle this side of things. You just make sure you’ve got the menus and staff ready to handle the busy season.”
“I’m ready,” he said. “Actually, I need to get back to my office. I’ve got a call with a new winery that wants to do business with us.”
“Any good?” I asked absently while I filled out an online form.
“Yes. Very good. New and trendy.”
“Good,” I murmured.
“Let me know how this goes,” he said. “I’ll make sure our legal staff is ready to handle any charges that might come out of this little adventure you’re on.”
“It’s going to be fine,” I said. “We need to start the rumor that I am secretly engaged.”
“How do you suppose we do that?” he asked.
“I’ll finish this and call in the marketing team to get something going,” I said.
“You’re going to tell them you’re hiring a woman to pretend to be your fiancée?” he asked with real concern.
I stopped typing and looked up at him. “Good point. I’ll tell them I’ve been seeing a woman and it’s serious. I’ll let them earn their pay and figure out how to leak it.”
“I hope this works,” he said and walked out.
“You and me both,” I said as I submitted the form.