How do you start over when the biggest mistake of your life has more than one million views?
Forget diamonds — the internet is forever. Social media consultant Isla Thompson learned that lesson the hard way when she went viral for all the wrong reasons. A month later, Isla is still having nightmares about the moment she ruined a young starlet’s career and made herself the most unemployable influencer in Manhattan. But she doesn’t have the luxury of hiding until she’s no longer Instagram poison. Not when her fourteen-year-old sister, Dani, needs Isla to keep a roof over their heads. So, she takes the first job she can get: caring for Camilla, a glossy-maned, foul-tempered hellhound.
After a week of ferrying Camilla from playdates to pet psychics, Isla starts to suspect that the dachshund’s bark is worse than her bite — just like her owner, Theo Garrison. Isla has spent her career working to make people likable and here’s Theo — happy to hide behind his reputation as a brutish recluse. But Theo isn’t a brute — he’s sweet and funny, and Isla should not see him as anything but the man who signs her paychecks. Because loving Theo would mean retreating to his world of secluded luxury, and Isla needs to show Dani that no matter the risk, dreams are always worth chasing
If Isla Thompson had known she was staring down the barrel of the end of her career, she might have dressed differently. Stilettos didn’t make for a quick getaway. Neither did bandage dresses or ridiculously small clutches that required professional-level Tetris skills to pack.
Unfortunately, she’d worn all three.
“And that’s why I chose Sahara Vanderkamp to dress me for this year’s Met Gala.” Amanda Harte, Disney princess and America’s teen sweetheart, shone her trademark beaming smile into the tiny camera in Isla’s phone. “We wanted to explore this year’s theme of flora and fauna: fashion in nature by drawing inspiration from my hometown of…”
Isla zoned out as her client explained the inspiration behind her dress. The poufy monstrosity was a retina-searing mix of gold and lime-green, with tulle and satin and sequins and beading. What had the designer said? The intersection of powerful femininity and the avant-garde?
The dress looked like a couture version of a kindergarten craft project gone horribly wrong. But Amanda had wanted to stand out in the crowd of fashion icons, Hollywood royalty and design industry movers and shakers.
And apparently lime-green was the Pantone color of the year, so what Isla thought was beside the point.
She monitored her phone, following the interactions from users watching the live Instagram video. Hearts bubbled up the side of the screen and comments scrolled to the right, littered with emojis and cries of “I love you, Amanda!” Of course, as with every young female star online, there were lewd comments, but part of Isla’s job was shielding Amanda from all that.
“This is my first year attending the Met Gala,” Amanda said, smiling at the camera as she gave her dress a swish in the luxe hotel room they’d camped out in, a block away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the background, Manhattan glittered through a large open window, the perfect backdrop for this glamorous occasion. “Actually, I’m a little nervous…”
Isla’s head snapped up. They’d talked about this. Rule number one: no showing nerves on-screen. Aspirational, aspirational, aspirational—that was the motto. They wanted Amanda to come across as confident and warm. Verging on relatable, but not quite. Their strategy was to make her appear so beautiful and talented that her fans could only hope to achieve a grain of her success.
Aka the T-Swift publicity model.
“Who are you most excited to meet tonight?” Isla asked, prompting her client to talk about her latest celebrity crush. Crushes were good; they made her seem close to the millions of fans logging on to watch her. But instead of making goo-goo eyes over a cute boy in calculus, Amanda crushed on the handsome stars who graced the posters inside her fans’ school lockers. There was that word again: aspirational!
Amanda’s tight expression morphed into pure teenage joy—pink cheeks, sparkling eyes and a full smile. “Tom Holland, of course. Who doesn’t have a crush on Spiderman?”
The comments exploded on the live video, and hearts flooded the side of the screen. Isla gave Amanda a thumbs-up and motioned for her to wrap up the livestream. They had about ten minutes before it would be time to take the private elevator down to the hotel’s back entrance and slip into a waiting limousine.
“Thank you so much for watching.” Amanda blew a kiss to the camera. “I love you all so much. Don’t forget to check out my film debut, Return to Heaven, coming out next month. See you on the red carpet!”
Isla tapped the screen to end the live video, but her phone chugged for a minute. The Wi-Fi in this hotel was appalling. How could they be in the middle of the Upper East Side and have such shitty reception? Amanda was still waving at the screen, her eyes darting over to Isla for a signal that she could relax. The phone went blank.
“Crap.” Isla twisted the device, which was nestled in a sturdy but small tripod, and tapped the screen again. The rest of Amanda’s posse was hovering nearby, anxious to put the finishing touches on the young star for her Met Gala debut.
“Can we get this show on the road?” Amanda’s manager, Manny, clapped his hands together. “We have to leave in five.”
“One more touch-up.” The makeup artist came closer, holding a compact and a fluffy facial puff. “She’s glowing under all these lights.”
“Glowing.” Amanda rolled her eyes. “I’m not glowing, I’m sweating. Everywhere.”
“Okay, okay,” Isla muttered, still tapping the screen. Her phone had completely crapped out. Oh well, it would mean they probably wouldn’t save the live video to Amanda’s Instagram profile but at least the session went well. “My phone died. I’ll plug in my battery pack—”
“We don’t have any more time to fuck around.” Manny loomed over her, the smell of his cigarette-infused breath making Isla’s stomach curl. “We need to get Amanda downstairs. Now.”
“I need a minute.” Amanda fanned herself. The poor girl had gone pale, nerves clearly taking ahold of her. Tonight was a big night. An opportunity for her to grab the attention of the public right before her first movie came out.
“We had more people watching this live session than any other video you’ve done before,” Isla said, trying to get Amanda to focus on something positive. They needed her in fine form tonight. Aside from the movie, she’d recently signed a deal with a major cosmetics house to be the face of the youth line they were about to launch.
At seventeen, she was on the verge of great things.
But the internet could be as cruel as it was adoring, and if Amanda didn’t perform tonight…well, then she could end up turning into a meme. And nobody wanted that.
“The fans think you look beautiful,” Isla added.
“I look like something a cat choked up.” Amanda’s chest started heaving, her bust straining against the tight bodice of her dress. “What even is this dress? I would never have chosen this ugly piece of crap if any other designer had wanted to dress me. But oh no. They’re all saving themselves for the Kardashians.”
Shit. Her client was about to enter full-blown panic mode—Isla knew the signs well. Her skin was sweating faster than the makeup artist could blot the moisture away and her hands fluttered uselessly by her sides. If she went downstairs and anyone snapped a picture of her looking like this…
“Amanda, it’s fine.” Isla left her phone sitting in its tripod and went to the young star. “The Met Gala is the one event where you should go over the top. It’s the whole point. Trust me, when you’re trending on Twitter tomorrow for this amazing gown, you’ll be happy about it.”
“And if I’m a joke?” Amanda shot a steely-eyed glare at her stylist, who looked like she was about to burst into tears. “This is my one chance. Oh God, what if people make fun of me? What if I end up on some gross, pimple-faced blogger’s worst dressed list?”
Think, dammit. We do not need a teenage meltdown right now.
“I can’t do this.” Amanda shook her head, almost dislodging the carefully pinned hairpiece. The hairstylist shrieked and rushed over, forcing the young star to stay still while she reinforced her handiwork.
“Everything will be fine,” Isla said, soothingly. She looked over at Manny, but he was tapping away at his phone, brows furrowed.
“Can someone pour me a drink?” Amanda said, pressing a hand to her chest. “I need to calm down.”
Isla glanced around the room, her eyes darting to the open champagne bottle nestled in a bucket of ice. It didn’t feel right giving alcohol to a minor. Even though alcohol seemed the least of anyone’s concerns when it came to young stars in Hollywood. If they weren’t snorting coke off a bathroom vanity, then everything would be okay, apparently.
“Am, baby, look at me.” Isla touched her client’s arm, ignoring the request. “You have a whole bunch of people here who think you’re amazing. We wouldn’t lead you astray. You know that, right?”
Amanda looked at her, blue eyes wide and tear-filled. But she nodded. Isla had a chance to take everything down a notch. So many people thought her job was only about finding the perfect hashtags and securing brand partnerships and understanding Facebook’s ever-changing algorithms. But with a young star like Amanda, it was also about providing support and guidance in a terrifyingly critical and public world.
“Let’s take a moment,” Isla suggested, shooting Manny a nasty look when he glanced at his watch. The gala could wait a few minutes. Besides, the red carpet lasted forever at those damn things. “To appreciate what an amazing year you have ahead of you.”
Amanda reached for a glass and the bottle of Dom. “Great idea. Let’s toast.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t…” Isla looked at Manny for support, but now he was talking on the phone, moving away from the group. Nobody else seemed to be concerned about Amanda drinking. Was she being a prude? Probably. “Just a little bit, okay? You don’t want to be woozy on the red carpet.”
The fizzing liquid tipped into the glass and rushed up in a wave of bubbles, almost spilling over the edge.
“To me,” Amanda said, raising her glass.
“To you, a woman on the verge of an incredible career. We’re all here for you,” Isla said. Finally, Amanda seemed to be calming down. “Slay that red carpet, girl!”
Amanda took a sip. Wait, no…a gulp. Shit. The girl downed the entire thing in one swoop like it was a glass of water on a hundred-degree day.
“Pace yourself,” Isla said with a nervous laugh, coaxing the glass out of her client’s hand. Teenagers. They thought they were invincible.
Wait until you’re twenty-six and the hangovers feel like there’s a competitive bongo-drum squad in your head.
“You’ve got this, okay?” Isla said, picking up Amanda’s gem-encrusted clutch and handing it to her. “Do your thing. Look beautiful, smile for the cameras, and then go and enjoy the rest of the night.”
Amanda took a deep breath and nodded, and for the briefest moment Isla thought that everything would turn out okay. That was, until Amanda clamped a hand over her mouth and promptly vomited all down the front of her couture gown. The chunky fluid splattered across the floor and there was a collective gasp in the room as everyone jumped out of the splash zone. The acrid stench turned Isla’s stomach.
“Oh my God.” She could only stare at her client, openmouthed and frozen with shock, while her mind spun over and over like that beachball that appeared when her MacBook crashed.
What the hell were they going to do now?
Amanda started to cry and everyone in the room panicked. The flurry of voices wasn’t going to fix anything, nor was Manny’s bellowing growl of frustration. It only made Amanda cry harder.
“We can fix this,” Isla said, flipping through options in her head. A ruined dress could be replaced, and they could touch up her makeup. If they acted fast, it could all be saved. “Mel, you’ve got a backup dress right? That pink one with the ruffle hem. I’ll call downstairs for extra towels and…”
Isla’s words died on her lips as she reached for her phone, still nestled in the black tripod, the screen suddenly alive and well. There were no hearts this time. Only a steady stream of crying-laughing emojis and exclamation marks, as Isla accidentally broadcast this colossal failure to over one million people.
On Sale: 01/06/2022