But as she sat, spinning this fake conversation through her mind, she realized that she didn’t have the Prince’s phone number. The only form of contact she had with him was through the driver, Sergio, who’d just confronted her on the street corner. Her stomach churned with displeasure. “Damn,” she mumbled, shoving her phone back into her purse.
“Having an off-day?” A man appeared next to her, holding a coffee cup, his blond hair plastered down his forehead from the rain. His eyes were bright, and he looked pleased to be speaking to Lisa—a beautiful, if somewhat harassed-looking woman, with mascara running down her cheeks.
“Isn’t every day an off-day?” she asked, giving him a fake smile. “You win some, you lose some. Right?”
“Isn’t that the old cliché?” he asked, flirting with her. “As my dad used to say: ‘you can’t win ‘em all kid.’”
“What about ‘you miss all the shots you don’t take?’” Lisa asked, finding a bit of laughter within her. She sipped her coffee, eyeing him in a friendly way, hoping she wasn’t leading him on. “I’m Lisa, by the way.”
“Connor,” the man said, shaking her hand. “Full disclosure, I know who you are.”
Lisa’s eyes nearly popped from her skull. “What?” she asked harshly.
“I followed you from the Prince’s apartment,” he said, sitting cockily beside her. His bright, youthful face had been replaced by a snake’s. “I assumed the two of you would be coming out together. I had my camera ready. But you know all about that.”
“You mean you’re paparazzi?” she whispered, eyeing him fiercely. There was no camera, nothing that gave him away; there was no way she could have known he wasn’t just a guy trying to pick her up for a date. “What the hell, man? I’m just trying to enjoy this coffee.”
“Isn’t that what they’re all doing?” Connor asked cheekily. “Just trying to walk their kids to school. Just trying to go to yoga. Just trying to live their lives with as much normalcy as possible, and yet—we’re always there to take the shots.” He winked at her. “You know, I read up on you last night, Lisa. You’ve had a few good shots published. That one of that basketballer—”
“And the ice cream. Yeah,” Lisa sighed, placing her face in her hands. She suddenly felt the weight of the world upon her shoulders.
“Remarkable work, to say you don’t even have a degree.”
“I was trying to save up for one,” Lisa whispered. “I was working my ass off.”
“And then, all of a sudden, you met the Prince,” Connor said, his teeth flashing in the coffee house light. Lisa had half a mind to shove him from the wonky stool on which he sat, teetering back and forth.
“No. I know your game,” Lisa said. “I’m not going to tell you anything.”
“Not even how you met? Not even an affirmation of whether you were with him at the jazz club last night? Not even that you bribed his driver to learn about his dinner at the Matador, and then snuck your way onto the wait staff, only to be taken home by him?” Connor was practically sweating with excitement, lifting his note pad from his pocket in anticipation.
Lisa felt trapped, like a rat in a cage, the snake coiling around her. “I didn’t,” she murmured. “I didn’t spend the night at the Prince’s, and I definitely didn’t go to the jazz club with him. I don’t even know which prince you’re talking about. The Prince of Wales? The Prince of Monaco? The Prince of—”
But Connor lifted his hand, halting her. “That’s about enough,” he stammered. “You know quite well. Look at you. You’re on your walk of shame, soaking wet. If you can just confirm that you went back to his place last night, I can guarantee that your name won’t appear, and I’ll name a different source. Is that clear?”
“And let me guess,” Lisa murmured. “You’ll pay me a small fee for my trouble.”
“But of course, Lisa. I looked that up about you, as well. What a dismal credit score. Looks like you’re in need of money pretty badly. How about five hundred dollars now, and five hundred dollars after it prints?” He reached for his pocket book, ready to buy her off.
But Lisa just gave him a sarcastic smile, lifting herself from her stool. “I could have sold my own story to my editor for much, much more than that. You just followed me fifteen blocks, through the fall rain, and you’re going to get nothing but a head cold.” She felt contempt throttle through her. “Enjoy your day, sir. I hope the door doesn’t hit you on your way out.”
She fled from the café, then, and high-tailed it into the subway, throwing furtive glances behind her as she went. Connor hadn’t run after her, but could others have followed her? Was she now a target of her own grimy troupe of paparazzi?
She pushed into the subway car and allowed herself to be enveloped by the crowd of lunchtime commuters, the swarm of people enabling her to forget, momentarily, that this was the single-worst day of her life. She gripped the pole of the subway car each time the train halted, thrusting her body forward like a rag doll’s, and resolved to shove all thoughts of Prince Francesco—of the way he held her, of the way he kissed her—from her mind. She deserved a chance at a life, and she couldn’t do it knowing that the Prince was out there, living, not needing her. Not wanting her.
Two months later, it was early December. Lisa checked her watch as she slipped on her black heels, missing once and staggering through her apartment. “Shoot,” she grumbled, shoving her foot back into the shoe. “I can’t do this.”
Not long after Lisa first moved to New York City, as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed 21-year-old, she’d met Nancy—a photographer herself. The two of them had been close friends until a couple years ago, when Nancy quit the paparazzi business, got married, and settled with her husband in a tiny Brooklyn apartment, where she spent her days knitting things and waiting to get pregnant.