Authors: Christi Barth
The Reverse of Perfection
Dylan Royce, ex-teen pop star, needs a sexy image makeover. His first adult solo album came out under his perfect, white-washed persona and tanked. Joining a band equally famous for their music and their between-the-sheets escapades is only the start. He needs to get raunchy. Sleep with a different girl every night. But there’s only one woman he wants, and she still sees him as a goody two-shoes boy-bander.
Ariel Watson is the publicist in charge of turning Dylan into the sex-god every woman dreams of doing. Frankly, she doesn’t see the appeal. Until one hot kiss changes her mind. Now she wants to keep him for herself--without losing her job. Or losing Dylan the legions of drooling fans she’s supposed to be building for him.
Turning bad got Dylan the woman of his dreams. But how will he choose between her...or his career catapulting him back to superstar status?
THE REVERSE OF PERFECTION
For Tom, who is wholly perfect for me.
Teen idol. Pop star. Teen icon. Rock star. Heartthrob. Dylan Royce was used to all those titles in front of his name. He wore them as comfortably as his old pair of beach flip-flops.
Has-been. Washed up. Irrelevant. These new titles his manager lobbed at him today didn’t compare at all. Didn’t fucking fit, either.
“I don’t understand.” Dylan leaned forward, palms flat on the glass conference table. “Our albums all went platinum. The paparazzi follow me everywhere. How the hell can you say that I’m a flop?”
Leo Ziegler pushed his iPad across the table, the display filled with color-coded charts and graphs that he’d been going over for the last half hour. “I don’t say it, Dylan. The numbers do. The albums of 4X4 went platinum. Not your solo album.”
“But I still have all those fans.”
Beneath a ridiculously bad hairpiece—because with what Dylan paid him, the guy should be able to afford a decent toupee—Leo squinched his eyes into slits. “Some.”
“Lots.” Dylan saw them on Twitter. On Facebook. Everywhere he freaking went. “Screaming girls pop out at me everywhere I go.”
“‛Girls’ is the key word. You aren’t getting new fans. Grown-ups. The people who spend the most money.”
Dylan felt like he’d memorized all the answers for the wrong test. He’d done exactly what Leo and the label told him to do. And now they were acting like it was his fault? “You said it’d take a while to transition from teen star to full-grown rocker. You said I had to be patient. You said it was inevitable that I’d lose a percentage of younger fans because I’m an adult now. If I’m too old for them, I’m the right age for your precious ‘target demographic.’”
“All true. Remember, you were fifteen when the first album came out. Still baby-faced. Still the boy next door that moms trusted with their precious daughters. Tweens loved the old you. You were the undisputed star of 4X4. When the group disbanded, I warned you it wouldn’t be easy.”
Nothing about the last year had been
. Dylan didn’t mind hard work. He just didn’t want it to be ignored. “Don’t hand me that. I haven’t slacked off. We worked on the solo album before 4X4 even stopped touring. I pulled all-nighters, working on publicity, signing photos till my hand cramped up. I did everything you asked.” He hadn’t even been with a woman in God knows how long. While his career was his number one priority, it sure wouldn’t suck to spend a night with a gorgeous woman.
“I know. You’ve been a trouper.” Leo tapped the screen with a blunt finger. “But the stats don’t lie, kid. 1X1 isn’t even making a dent in the charts.”
And Dylan knew exactly where to point the finger. His middle finger. “I told you to let me play my own music. That crap the studio forced down my throat’s the problem.”
Dylan hated it. Hated all eleven practically identical songs on the album. It was the same cotton-candy-coated pop he’d sung with 4X4. Except that he was now trying to get fans to accept that coming from a man, instead of a boy. Dylan had trouble believing it himself. So maybe he didn’t blame people for shutting their ears to it. God knew he didn’t want to sing it anymore.
“Maybe.” Leo waved that possibility away with his hand as though it was smaller than a fly. “The bigger problem is your image. Clean-cut, all-American nice boys don’t appeal to our target demographic.”
“Women who want to fuck you. Men who want to either fuck you or
you.” Leo stood. Walked over to the conference room’s wall covered in framed posters of 4X4
and jabbed a stubby finger at each apparently offending image. “The bright-colored pants. Hair that looks like a stylist has to follow you at five paces just to maintain it. Three layers of everything—shirts, vests, blazers, more shirts.”
“Boxy blazers,” Dylan murmured under his breath. He remembered all those years ago when the stylist had declared he could already see 4X4 as dolls in a collectors box. Which, weirdly enough, came true about four months later. In time for Christmas, there they’d been, on the shelves next to Barbie and Ken.
Dylan sure as hell never wanted to be a doll. He didn’t even want to be an action figure. All he wanted was to play and sing good music. How had that simple wish gotten so off-course? Turned into a freaking plastic doll—with no genitals below the bright pants and boxy blazers, which pissed all four of them off—and sent on round-the-world tours.
And as each tour finished, Dylan liked the music less and less. He saw less and less of a chance of being allowed to try his own sound. Dylan had celebrated the day 4X4
broke up as his own personal Independence Day. Talk about jumping the gun. Because the studio kept him hostage even as he broke out on his own. They still dressed him. Still handed him music he’d never seen and made him do take after take in a recording studio.
Leo stopped at the last poster, the album cover for 1X1. Pointed at Dylan’s black bowler hat, then down to his loose black pants. “Nobody can see your body. They can’t lust after you if they don’t know if you’ve got the goods.”
“I have the goods.” Was he really sitting here, defending how hot he was naked? To his manager? Talk about surreal. But on the plus side, it proved the label wasn’t thinking about him like a teenager anymore. “I work out every day. Even on tour. But, I gotta say, it feels weird talking about women wanting to fuck me as a publicity angle.”
“Well, we’ve gotta use your assets. It’s all part of the business, kid. The age you are now, it matters. It’s the main driver. We’re selling a fantasy. We’re selling the idea that you’re singing directly to them. That, if they drop half a week’s paycheck on a concert ticket and shirt and CD and every other piece of merchandise imaginable, they might have a shot at getting into your dressing room. Then into your pants.”
Dylan stared through the wall of glass at the iconic shape of the Capitol Records Building, looking just like a stack of records on a turntable. He wondered how soon it’d be before people didn’t make that connection anymore. Frank Sinatra recorded in that building. Of course, rumor had it he slept with every actress and singer in both Hollywood and New York, so Old Blue Eyes probably never had to sit through this particular humiliating conversation with
“What am I supposed to do?” Dylan pushed out of his chair to pace the length of the room. It didn’t make sense. How was he supposed to jump-start his career by tanking it further with stupid behavior? By channeling Keith Richards and trashing a hotel room? Tossing flat-screens down eleven stories into a swimming pool?
“Well…” Leo drawled slowly.
“You want me to grow my hair long? Go on a fake three-week bender and get dragged to pretend rehab?”
“That’d be one way to go.” The older man didn’t look worried anymore. Or pissed. He was doing everything but rubbing his hands together in glee.
“Does this smirk mean that you have a plan? To change my image?”
“Of course I do! We change your image, get people talking about you, and then we change the music to separate you from the old sound. What you need is some transition time. That’s what got missed the first time around.”
“Missed by who?” Because it sure as hell wasn’t Dylan’s job. He’d gotten his hand smacked every time he tried to weigh in on anything. Told it was for PR to handle, or the label, or his agent, or his manager, people with experience.
“Immaterial.” Leo hustled over, his tan Sansabelt pants making swishing noises between his short, fat legs. Then he clapped an unwelcome arm around Dylan’s shoulders. “Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. In this business, it’s always the
thing.” He pointed out the window, where, if you squinted and all the smog magically cleared away, it’d be possible to glimpse the Pacific. “That’s what we need to focus on. I think you’re going to love this idea.”
“That’d be different.” Dylan hadn’t loved an idea from anyone on his team in a long time. Which was probably why he was in this mess now. Did that make the next step firing them all and starting fresh?
Leo drew him back to sit at the conference table again. “Have you heard the buzz about Riptide?”
Only his favorite band in the world? Dylan knew
the buzz. “Oh, yeah. They have a whole new sound. They’re touring without any backing from their old label.” Gutsy bastards. “If the tour drums up enough interest, then they’ll try to sign with someone else to make it explode.”
“Not that. Have you heard about their keyboardist?”
“Jake McQuinn? No.”
“He’s taking a break.”
“No. Jake wouldn’t quit the group.” Okay, Dylan sounded like a groupie. But he freaking loved everything about Riptide. Read everything, watched everything and felt like he already knew the guys. Cam, Jake and Jones were a tight crew. Jake wouldn’t walk out right in the middle of their comeback.
“He’s not quitting. Just has to go home for a few weeks for some big family emergency. Riptide can’t risk losing the momentum of this tour. So they need someone to step in and sub for him. Someone they can cut loose when he comes back in, hopefully, a month. That’s you.”
“Wait—you want me to perform with Riptide?” It was the absolute best thing Leo had ever done for him. Definitely better than the creepy Dylan Royce statue in that wax museum down the street.
“Playing their music, with a band known for pushing the limits when it comes to partying and women, is exactly the transition you need. They’ve got a harder edge to their sound. You can generate buzz with them while we come up with the next sound for you.”
Yeah. He should’ve known there’d be a catch. “No. No way. The label had its shot.
writing my next album.”
“It doesn’t work that way, kid. We’ve got experienced musicians working on it already.”
Seriously? Since when didn’t touring the world for seven years and recording eight albums give him street cred? “
an experienced musician. I’ve been writing for years. If the last album truly tanked, where’s the harm in finally letting me try my own stuff?”
Leo’s hand tightened on his water glass. “Because this is your
second chance. If you bomb again, there won’t be any resurrecting your career. And that’s no good for either of us.”
Nice how his own manager—the guy who was supposed to defend him to the death—apparently didn’t believe in him, either. But Dylan wasn’t going down without a fight. “What if we audition my new sound? Bring in a test audience. A focus group. I’ll do one set of the label’s music and then a set of my own. The audience decides. Let the people who’ll actually buy my music have a say in the matter.”