《Not If I Date You First》Chapter 4



It should take a guy by surprise when his girlfriend chucks a cup of green juice at his head. But after six months of dating Mia—two years of dodging anything from cell phones to entire plates of food—I've developed a sort of sixth sense. I probably realize Mia's going to throw that drink before she does.

I duck just as it leaves her hand. Drops of juice rain across my back as it sails overhead, leaving a trail of cold, tacky spots soaking through my worn t-shirt.

There's a splash, and someone behind me gasps. I jump to my feet, whirling around.

Oh, shit.

A girl stands a few feet behind me, blinking. Her mouth drawn in an almost comical "O." She's soaked head-to-toe in Mia's juice. It runs in rivulets down her skin, puddling on the concrete. Her ponytail is congealing in a green, gooey clump. She'd be attractive if she didn't look like something that just crawled out of the Black Lagoon.

My stomach sinks. I'm not the one who threw the drink, and I feel like a complete ass. I turn back to see if Mia's going to bother apologizing only to watch her vanish into the waiting SUV.

It pulls away from the curb and into the stream of traffic, abandoning me to the wolves. I try to swallow, but my mouth has gone dry. Panic crackles through me as people begin to swarm, pressing closer, phones raised. Proof that I ditched out on the press conference is probably plastered all over their InstaStories already.

I'm so screwed.

Burying my face in my hands, I groan. This day couldn't be a bigger train wreck if one of the show's writers scripted it. Briggs fights to keep the mob at bay, yelling at anyone who gets too close. When I left the apartment, I didn't plan on needing a full goddamn security detail.

I catch his eye to ask him to call for a car, but he's already pulling his phone out of his pocket. The eyes of the crowd sear my skin as I turn back to the girl who just got juice bombed. She's crouched next to a potted tree, frantically examining her camera as though checking for damage.

I zero in on it, and the blood rushes to my head in an agonizing throb. That's no tourist's camera. Not with a lens like that. If I didn't know better, I'd say it belonged to a pap. But there's no way. A girl that young couldn't possibly...


She shoves the camera into her bag, slinging it across her shoulder and grabbing a to-go cup from the sidewalk. As she turns, I see the words written across the side in big, black letters.

Paparazzi Queen

My jaw clenches so hard my teeth ache. My personal life was just obliterated in public, and this girl—no, this soul-sucking photog—was standing behind me taking pictures?

It's one thing for fans and randoms to take their shots. Running into a celebrity is probably the highlight of their year. But it's another for someone to exploit the worst, most painful moments of my life to make a buck.

Anger flares inside me like a lit fuse. I should go back inside the juice shop, find a table in a corner, and put my head down until the car arrives. But I can't think clearly through the white-hot fury clouding my mind.

"I was going to apologize," I snap when she finally notices me watching her. "But it looks like I should be congratulating you. I'm sure those shots are going to make one hell of a payday for you. That's what you bottom feeders care about, right?"

There's an intake of breath from the crowd like they're a well-trained audience at a play.

The girl stares at me for a beat, and I watch as the stars in her eyes wink out. She wipes a hand over her face, flicks the juice from her fingers, and glares at me like I'm the bad guy here.

"If you hate having your picture taken so much, maybe you shouldn't get into screaming contests with your girlfriend in the middle of the freaking sidewalk."

Right. Because breaking up with Mia in public was totally how I wanted to kick off my Monday.

"Seriously? Are you even old enough to be a dirtbag stalkerazzi?"

I sound like a condescending jerk, especially since she's got to be about the same age I am, but I don't care.

"Are you even old enough to be such a cliché? I mean, a celebrity who hates photographers? How original." She rolls her eyes. "And it's paparazzo."


"Paparazzo is singular. Paparazzi is plural." She runs her fingers through her slimy ponytail, making the strands poke straight out.


"Are you really giving me a grammar lesson right now?"

"You know, you wouldn't even be famous without us." She says 'us' with so much pride it makes me want to smash something. "You're welcome by the way."

"Listen to the baby photog." I give her a slow clap. "You actually think you're doing me some kind of favor, don't you, Ace?"

She straight-up sneers at me. "I'm surprised you were able to get that t-shirt on over that giant chip on your shoulder, Superstar."

I open my mouth to tell her where she can stick that camera of hers, but I'm cut off by a deep voice, booming from behind me.

"Liam! Liam, over here!"

Fuck. My. Life.

I turn. A dozen paps are descending on us, lenses trained on me.

"This way, Liam! Look this way!"


"Great. Your friends are here." I practically spit the words at her.

"Yeah, watch out for those cameras. They might do something awful like—I don't know—make sure you stay relevant."

"Go back to paparazzi preschool."

If what Faye said is true, I'm on the verge of losing my job because of the paps. Sure, they keep my face on magazine covers, but there wouldn't be any bullshit rumors about me if it weren't for them.

Everyone laps up the stories about me smashing cameras or punching photogs. They all want to see me snap, to witness what they think is my perfect life going up in flames. That's the kind of trash that sells magazines. No one ever bothers to ask what the paps did to push me to the breaking point—not that I could tell them anyway.

"I'm pretty sure I got this week's cover shots for every tabloid in the country." The girl pats her camera bag. "So I think I'm good on the paparazzi preschool."

The sarcasm is strong with this one. She's right about one thing though; those pictures are going to be everywhere. I give it an hour, two at the most, before the rags start snapping them up.

The door to the coffee shop bangs open, and a girl with her hair piled in a crazy knot on top of her head comes barreling out, shoving her way through the swarm of bystanders. She sees me watching her and stops running so suddenly, her shoes skid on the concrete. It would be funny if I weren't so pissed off.

She looks from me to the photog girl. "Okay, I don't know what is even happening here, but Ada, you're gonna be late!"

The photog looks down at her watch and gasps. "No! No! No! No! No!"

Without another glance in my direction, she takes off running, leaving a path of green splatters across the sidewalk as she disappears into the throng.

"Liam! Who was that girl?" one of the paps shouts.

I turn away, reaching to cover my face on instinct, but that doesn't stop them. The incessant flickers of light flashing behind me reflect in the juice shop window as the paps hurl questions at me. They call my name again and again until the word becomes meaningless. The syllables are nothing but an echo of the pounding in my head.

"Anders, the car's here." Briggs's voice cuts through the clamor.

I school my expression into practiced indifference before turning and shoving my way through the crowd to the town car idling at the curb.

Cameras fire inches from my face, flashbulbs erupting, making spots dance in my vision.

"Yo! Let's get some space in here!" Briggs hollers, gesturing for them to back off.

A few fans have managed to worm their way to the front of the pack. They hold out pens for autographs or ask for selfies. I ignore them, keeping my eyes glued to the ground.

Briggs holds the mob back as I swing the car door open and dive inside. He follows after me, slamming it shut and muffling the tumult of voices outside.

"Where to?" asks the driver.

"Just get me the hell away from here." I collapse back on the cool, leather seat, rubbing my temples.

It's barely nine in the morning. If this is how my day is starting, I can only imagine the dumpster fire it's going to become when those pictures hit the internet.

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