The following is the first chapter from the second Trillionaire Boys’ Club book, The Clothing Mogul, available now. Enjoy!
“You have to fall in love.” Then, because she’s my publicist, Alyssa adds the key word: “Publicly.”
I laugh, but she hasn’t stopped looking my way. “You’re serious.”
“Of course I’m serious. A public romance is better than ads, better than commercials. It’s real. More or less.”
“Absolutely not. No fucking way.”
For me, no fucking way is enough. Alyssa made a joke and I chuckled. But I’ve half-forgotten it already. I have my phone out, and I’m playing with this new app that R&D developed to help with custom-fitting of our athletic apparel.
But Alyssa’s still looking at me. And I know that look. She has that little notepad she uses when she’s brainstorming, crossed arms pressing it to her chest.
I meet her soft brown eyes. She has long brown hair that frames her face in waves. Her lips are a little open and always look kissable. I very much want to push Alyssa up onto my desk, spread her legs, and have myself a pussy buffet.
Unfortunately, she knows me too well, and would never allow that to happen. She’s entered this office more than once to find me and some girl doing exactly that.
“Next,” I say.
She continues giving me the laser stare. “Are you even listening to me?”
“Of course I’m listening.”
“What’s Hurricane Apparel valued at right now?”
I shrug. We make clothing that would easily kick Under Armour’s ass, even if it was only athletic wear. But Hurricane is all souped up with sensors, and monitored by a family of apps. We don’t make clothes; we design valuable tools for athletic performance. Half the pro athletes in the country right now wear Hurricane, and we signed a huge collegiate deal a few months ago — both thanks to and in spite of my “good buddy” Nathan Turner and his dealmaking.
I should know my company’s valuation, because big numbers make girls want to suck my dick, but then I’ve got to figure out profit and loss, carrying costs and inventory, employee expenses and downtime ratios, account for factory changes and unions (except in China, har-har) and so on. I’d love to memorize one number and always offer it as unyielding, but a touch of OCD won’t let me.
“You really don’t have any idea, do you?” Alyssa asks.
“The accountants know.”
“Maybe the accountants are stealing from you.”
I give Alyssa a look.
“Fine. What are you personally worth right now.” Because that, she knows I know. I’d write it on a name tag and wear it at cocktail parties if I could.
“And if you had to guess … after all the collegiate expansion plans are fully rolled out and—”
“Double that.” I’ve run the figures. Of course I know my bottom line. It’s like knowing my shoe size, not that I’d ever wear shoes that weren’t custom.
“So generously, you’re closing in on a $5 billion personal net worth.”
“If you listen to me, though, and take this seriously—”
“I am taking it seriously.” I’m still holding my phone, now checking LiveLyfe and barely paying attention. Alyssa leans forward and takes it. I look up, annoyed.
“You’re an asshole,” Alyssa tells me.
“I’m glad I pay you so much.”
“It’s okay. It’s your brand to be an asshole. It’s your brand to be a narcissist. Everyone knows the names of your designers, and why your underwear is better than all the other labels, but I’m suggesting something that adds a dimension to your arrogant, obnoxious personal brand and promises enormous potential without taking anything away from what you already are.”
“Nobody would believe it.”
“That you could fall in love?”
I don’t even like hearing the words. It’s not that I’m immune or grossed out, like a kid considering cooties. It strikes me as naive and simplistic, given where I am and where the company is. Alyssa might as well be suggesting we have a tea party and invite our suppliers, or reward our best salesmen with soft pink pillows with rainbow needlepoint on the front. My office has slate gray walls with original art in bold colors — the full-room equivalent of a sober suit paired with a power tie. But the way Alyssa is pitching this idea, I figure her next suggestion will be to get motivated by hanging a poster showing a kitten hanging from a branch, bearing the caption, Hang in there, baby.
“Yes,” I say. “That.”
“Don’t you see? It’s perfect. Of course it’s not realistic. Only your mother could love you.”
“And you? You’re so emotionally retarded, only a woman with serious issues would believe that your cocky, aggressive come-ons could ever pass for real affection.”
“Girls with issues are always the hottest.”
“But Ashton, none of that matters. We’re not trying to sell the media on reality. We’re trying to sell them on what they want to believe. That’s always easier. Why do you think I launched Mateo Saint’s all-meat menu by publicizing his hundred-thousand-dollar donation to PETA?”
“Mateo donated a hundred thousand bucks to animal rights?”
“No, of course not. I tried, and PETA rejected the donation. Very loudly and very publicly. The publicity PETA gave us by bitching at Mateo for his gall in even attempting the donation was worth way more than a measly hundred grand. Their anger and indignation launched the all-meat menu through the roof. But the reason I knew to try that tactic was because PETA is a loud group that desperately wants to believe Mateo’s restaurants are evil. But that’s their belief, not reality. The meat he uses is ethically raised, but PETA isn’t interested in the truth. So we play with desire, not reality. Understand?”
“Not really. Mateo was crucified over that.”
“For a while. But then it passed, and now he’s as much a contender for Nathan Turner’s little billionaire group as you are. Ask Papa John or whoever’s behind Little Caesar’s if they can say the same. Negative publicity is underrated.” She gives me a sly smile. “Just wait until I find a way to get you sued by Disney.”
“You’re trying to talk me into something different.”
“It’s pretending to fall in love, Ashton. You can do that, can’t you? Isn’t that what you do with the women you fuck?”
“I prefer women who know it’s their job to go down on me. High maintenance girls — the ones you have to pretend to actually like before sticking your dick in them — become stalkers.”
“You’ll be worth $5 billion soon, optimistically. But you have a niche fan base. It only matters so far, seeing as the clothing is what truly sells Hurricane, but it does matter. Our publicity options are limited to garden variety commercials and ads so long as you, yourself, aren’t good on camera.”
“I’m on camera all the time. I have two interviews lined up tomorrow.”
“For a small audience who’s decided to like you despite your many failings. But what if we could get people to actually like you?”
“People love me.”
“Men love you. Women, not so much. I think it has something to do with the way you see our gender as a long series of holes on an endless golf course. But women do love your clothes, Ashton. Right now, only those who don’t find you personally repugnant will buy from you, but rest assured: your misogynistic, rakish ways are costing you sales. Hurricane Apparel could be LuluLemon, but you’re so fucking notorious that those women shoppers all know who’s behind your brand. And a lot of them say, ‘Screw that guy. He hates women, so I’m not buying his clothes.’ They buy LuluLemon and you lose a sale because you’re a big public fuckface.”
“I like how you use all the best industry buzzwords.”
“Think about what happens if we stage a real relationship. We get a girl and you ‘fall in love’ with her. We start with contacting bloggers through a dozen or so different accounts at once, all of whom claim to have ‘caught’ you with a ‘secret girlfriend’ that you’re trying to hide from the press. A Fiverr gig will get that started. Start it up with the right bloggers and they’ll contact my office to ask about you and this mystery girl. Of course I’ll deny it all. But I’ll protest a little too much, then eventually I’ll get ‘sick of all the harassment’ and send out a press release that ‘backfires’ and suddenly oops, everyone knows that billionaire bad boy Ashton Moran is sneaking around with some girl on the sly — but unlike someone having an affair, the philandering Moran is hiding his fidelity. It’s always the same girl, and the paparazzi keep catching them kissing sweetly. And then people start to realize, ‘Oh wow, we haven’t seen Ashton fucking his way through any modeling agencies lately!’ And then bang-zoom, just like that … everyone in the world knows you’re smitten. You’re in love with one and only one woman.”
“Cute,” I say. “But I’m not interested.”
“Because it sounds boring. How would you like to fuck one guy forever?”
Alyssa gives me a look that says I’m not getting off the hook that easy. For one, she’s a woman and therefore wired differently. And second, I’m not sure how much Alyssa gets laid. I’ve wanted to fuck her since we met, but I’d be afraid she’d bite my dick off the entire time.
There’s a stereotype that men are intimidated by strong women. It’s totally true.
“Love is bullshit, Alyssa. You’ve been in publicity long enough to know that.” It’s half true. I’m not sure exactly how old Alyssa is, but there’s no way she’s older than 25, making her younger than me. Only her ruthlessness and results have gotten her to where she is.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s bullshit. This isn’t about reality, remember? It’s about what people want to believe. And here are two things that most people very much want to believe: One, that there’s such a thing as true love, and that every story has a happily-ever-after waiting to happen.”
I actually snort laughing at this.
“And Two, that every hardass like you secretly has a heart of gold. Nothing’s hotter than a guy who’s strong on the outside, yet soft in the middle.”
I try to laugh at that too, but Alyssa’s now giving me her most dick-biting stare.
“You’re always looking for the next big move, Ashton,” she says, dead serious. “I’m telling you, this is it. Hurricane has serious penetration among professionals, and the expected trickle-down into the consumer market that cares about such things. Everyone wants to be like Mike. Now you’ll have the same in collegiate sports. Hurricane has high production but inventory to spare. We’ve done all we can with what we have. You hired me to make you more money, and I’m telling you: The bottleneck to your company’s growth, as of right now, is you.”
I look away, annoyed by it all — mainly because Alyssa is the best and most media-manipulative publicist I’ve ever seen, and I’m sure that she’s right.
She pulls something glossy from her bag and slaps it on the table.
“Family Circle has a circulation of sixteen million,” she says, poking the brightly colored magazine. “Do what I tell you and they’ll consider an interview. It’s my job to make sure that happens. Then Good Housekeeping and a dozen other rags who’d never touch you now will follow. We get you into these magazines as a guy who’s sweet and full of family values deep down, and you become LuluLemon, but oh-so-much bigger. Hurricane will take their lunch money. Do you get me, Ashton?”
I look at the magazine again. There’s a teaser for an article on six ways to build your own bird feeder. Imagining myself inside its pages makes me want to retch.
But yes, I get her. And I agree.
“We find you a girl and you publicly fall in love over the course of maybe six months. And take my word for it: your business will blow through the roof.”
“If I can only fuck one girl — at least in public — for six months, then she has to be hot.”
Alyssa nods, trying and failing to hide a tiny smile, now that I seem to have granted her idiocy permission. “I already have someone in mind.”
I expect she’ll show me photos of some model or actress.
Instead, her smile widens. “You’ll never guess.”
WANT TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS BETWEEN ASHTON AND HIS FOR-HIRE GIRLFRIEND?