chapter 15 - it's getting old

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ACE

The press conference room feels like a feeding frenzy waiting to happen. Reporters circle the long table with their beady eyes, scanning the empty seat where I'm supposed to answer their intrusive questions. They're hungry for any juicy gossip they can sink their teeth into with their microphones and recorders steady in their hands. Every rustle of paper, every cough from the back of the room, and every shift in weight show they're becoming impatient.

Let them wait. What else did they have going on, anyway? Turning my life into clickbait headlines seems to be their sole purpose. I bet their own lives aren't thrillers, so they crave the chaos surrounding my name like a celebrity. I also wouldn't say I'm a celebrity. Sure, I've got the whole heir-to-a-hotel-empire thing going on, millions of followers, and some good looks. But the media? They've turned it all into some Hollywood drama, making me a playboy prince in their trashy narrative.

Luckily, our PR team had convinced the publication company to hold off on releasing the photos for now. They weren't keen on agreeing to our terms for handing them over. After all, that paparazzo was able to get a clear shot of Elle's face. I wouldn't say lucky is the right word since my dad would've thrown those pictures to the wolves without a second thought. After our tense talk about the situation with Elle, we reached a shaky truce. I sure as hell wasn't going down without a fight, but this whole thing just keeps spiraling further and further out of control. The women refuse to tell the truth, even after the lawyer, Mr. Caldwell, sent them a strongly worded letter of demand.

I'm not sure why my dad needs Mr. Caldwell to work with him, considering he's got a solid team that has backed him up for years. They must be getting along, and maybe he might fire his current team in favor of Mr. Caldwell. Dad didn't mention that he was taking on my possible cases. Our talk about the fake dating situation ended when Dad picked up a call from Mr. Caldwell, and they nearly spoke for an hour. I'm not sure what it was about, but I heard my dad say something about Richard's Finance Group—I couldn't care less about lawyer-related stuff when it comes to other people.

Maybe if I play along with this charade with Elle, these women will have the heart to back down and own up to their lies. Too bad, it was all I had for now. They're probably reveling in the attention by using my name, even if it meant negative exposure and comments. Theri difference is that Elle hasn't done anything that these women have... yet. But trust me, I wasn't naive enough to believe she wasn't playing her own game. If so, she's a master manipulator.

Dad's expression turns grim as he steps up next to me with the PR manager, Nathan Bennett, flanking him. The guy is slick, influential, and a master manipulator of public opinion. I'll admit, he knows what he's doing—the guy can sway opinions faster than my three-year-old sister, Giselle, on a sugar high. But even with all his smooth talk, there's only so much he can do before I decide to tell the actual truth.

In the end, people need to mind their own business, whether I'm in the spotlight or not. Why does it seem like I have to explain myself with every little thing I do? I can't even grab a bite to eat with the guys without someone trying to stir up trouble behind my back. At least that actress had the brains to take my advice and tell the truth. I didn't even feel bad when everyone called her a stalker. How else would she know about me going to the hotel party or the pizza joint?

Nathan clears his throat, launching into what I already know is a pep talk. "Alright, Ace," he begins, "this sucks, but sometimes the easy way out is the best. Just come clean. Trust me, people will see reason."

I try not to scowl when he pats me on the shoulder, offering hollow reassurance everyone seems to think I need. Easy for him to say. I'm way less optimistic about this as I catch my dad's eye, and he gives a curt, almost imperceptible nod, a silent command to confront the crowd. I step out of the back room and onto the stage, and a barrage of flashes assaults my eyes as the cameras click away. The microphone points right at my chest like a judgment hammer.

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