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Author's Chapter Notes:
Don't have a heart attack, but yes I am actually updating. Writin has been REALLY hard for me lately and this chapter especially was like murder to write. Maybe because its more business and less about Alyssa and Nick's relationship? Anyway I hope that you enjoy and I hope that I can start churning these out sooner!

Chapter 3- Money Talks


            Arriving back at the marina actually was not as big of an event as Alyssa had feared it to be in her mind. They weren't greeted by hordes of photographers eagerly poised to snap their picture the moment they stepped off the boat together. To her surprise everything appeared to be relatively normal for the moment. Still, as a precaution Nick had decided it would be best if they exited the boat separately and that Alyssa should have the car waiting for him, so that they could make a hasty getaway if needed.


            The ride back to the condo had been uneventful and again Alyssa was thankful to see that they didn't have any reporters already waiting on their doorstep. They had the slight advantage in that as of now the paparazzi had no idea where Nick was currently staying. Their destination wouldn't be able to remain much of a secret much longer. Their community was not a gated one and although Alyssa and Nick had kept mainly to themselves and never really acknowledged their neighbors, living in such close proximity someone had to at least have their suspicions about the couple by now. Maybe it would be a better idea if for the time being if they didn't appear to be living together. Maybe Nick was better off crashing someplace else until the truth came out.


            The remainder of their evening was tense. Both of them were on edge, too afraid to turn on the television to hear if rumors of Shayla's blog post had reached the world of entertainment news. They'd picked at their dinner and tried to pretend to be interested in a movie, but not being able to fake it any longer, they'd both given up and resigned to bed fairy early. Both of their phones and the house phone had been ringing so much that they'd had no choice, but to turn the ringers off so that they wouldn't be bothered. Neither one of them could say that they slept very well that night.


            The next morning was no better, but they both knew that today they were going to have to come up with some kind of game plan and seriously consider just how they were going to handle their response to Shayla's blog. The first step would be to get in touch with Nick's publicist Diane Hopkins and get her opinion on the situation. Although she could be stubborn, she'd gotten Nick through some particularly unflattering points in his career without too much permanent damage. Hopefully this would be no different.


            "That's funny," Nick remarked that morning as he scrolled through all the missed calls he had acquired within the past sixteen hours on his phone. "I've heard from just about everyone under the sun, but Diane hasn't called me once. Usually she's the first one to call me the moment I do anything that could even be remotely hurtful to my image. This isn't like her."


            Alyssa just shrugged in response. "I'm sure that there's a logical explanation. It's the weekend. Maybe she went away or she's busy doing something with her family. Or maybe she's sick. You should just try giving her a call."


            "I pay her to be aware of what the media is saying about me though. Even if she is away, the woman couldn't go far without her Blackberry. It's just weird." Realizing that he was getting nowhere with this ranting Nick sighed. "I guess you're right though. I should give her a call and see what's going on." Quickly he located her number in his phonebook and waited while the phone rang on the other end.


            Alyssa only half-listened to Nick's side of the conversation as she poked her head into the refrigerator to search for something to whip up for breakfast. "Hey Diane?" his voice floated from across the room. "It's Nick... Carter... I guess by now you've heard about the blog that Shayla posted yesterday... Yes, that would be the one... I know that it's Sunday, but I was hoping that maybe we could meet with you to come up with some kind of attack plan here before the paparazzi starts to hunt me down... Eleven is good...? At your office...? All right... Thanks again Diane... I'll see you then... Bye."


            As Nick hung up the phone, Alyssa's head perked back up. "What'd she say?" she curiously asked.


            "She wants us to meet her at her office in about an hour to discuss the Shayla situation," he reported.


"Us?" Alyssa stared at him in surprise. She had thought that the initial damage control was something that would be between Nick and his publicist. She hadn't anticipated that she would have to be a part of it all.


            "Yes us..." Nick clarified. "Whether you realize it or not, you're a part of this situation now. I think it's for the best that you are there with me. We need to work as a team if we want to get though this intact."


            "You're right," Alyssa finally reluctantly agreed. She knew that Nick knew what he was talking about and he definitely made a good point. They were in this together. Still, she felt more than a little apprehensive in meeting Nick's publicist. She wasn't exactly sure why, but something about the situation sent a sinking sensation through her stomach that she knew couldn't be a very good sign at all.




            Alyssa's nerves subsided little within the next hour and before she knew it she was sitting next to Nick in the office of Diane Hopkins nervously playing with her fingers. Diane was almost exactly how she'd pictured her to be. A sharp looking, no nonsense woman, she was dressed in a crisp black suit even though it was Sunday and these weren't official office hours. Her short red hair was coiffed into a fashionable bob and her face was expressionless underneath her impeccable makeup job. Underneath the cool exterior Alyssa was certain that she could see something else in the older woman's eyes. The way that they seemed to shift back and forth did little to ease her distrust of the stranger.


            "Diane, this is Alyssa. Alyssa, Diane," Nick quickly introduced the two.


            "It's nice to meet you," Alyssa politely took the woman's hand more out of etiquette than actual friendliness.


            "Pleasure is mine," Diane replied with a tight lipped smile.


            There was a bit of an awkward silence and Nick quickly realized that Diane was waiting for him to begin the conversation. Odd, he thought. Diane usually isn't the type to beat around the bush. Usually she's right down to business. Ignoring her strange behavior he began to speak. "So, what are we going to do about this blog of Shayla's? I admit that parts of it are true. We are getting a divorce and I admit that I did cheat on her, but there is a lot more to the story too that she conveniently left out-"


            Diane held out her hand to cut her off. "Before you go any further with that thought Nick, there is something that I need to tell you. I agreed to meet you down here today for other reasons than to hear your side of the story." Was it Alyssa's imagination or was Diane actually shifting her position uncomfortably from behind the desk?


            Nick exchanged a worried glance with Alyssa before returning his attention back to Diane. "To bitch at me again about how I always find myself in the middle of these kinds of things?" he nervously joked, feeling the tension in the room.


            Diane just shook her bed regrettably. "Look Nick, I've known you for a number of years now and we've been through a lot together. I was there for you when you were arrested, when everything with your family went down, when things went sour with you and Paris..."


            "Why does this sound like you're breaking up with me?" he interrupted, that same nervous humor surfacing again.


            His publicist sighed deeply. "I guess the only way to do this is to come right out and say it. I can no longer represent you."


            "What?!" Nick did little to hold back his surprise and anger at the situation. "What do you mean you can't represent me any longer? We have a contract! I know you don't agree with me and Shayla getting a divorce, but if you just listened to the whole story I'm sure that you'll be able to see my side of things."


            "I can't hear your side of things and I can't represent you. I can't do either of those things because it would be a conflict of interest on my part."


            It took almost a full minute for her words to sink in with Nick, but once they did his hands angrily clenched the arms of the chairs and he could feel his cheeks reddening in anger. "Are you trying to tell me that you're ditching me for Shayla?" His voice was strangely calm, considering his tense appearance.


            "I'm sorry Nick," she apologized. "You know that I've been representing both you and Shayla, so I have to choose one of you over the other, and in the end Shayla offered me a better deal."


            "So, this is all about money then? Never mind the fact that you've been representing me long before I ever met Shayla." His voice began to rise in indignation. "That's bullshit! When were you planning on letting me know about this? Don't you have any code of ethics?  I trusted you! I thought that after years of working together that you had my back, but I guess I was wrong. Nice to know that money really does talk, huh?"


            Diane just sighed as she listened to Nick's rant completely stone faced. If she felt any sort of guilt in her betrayal, she did little to show it, but then again Diane had never been one to show much of any emotion, making her good at what she did for a living. Once she sensed that Nick had finished she responded in a cold, flat voice. "I know that you are upset at me Nick and you have every right to be. I wish you the best of luck in your future and I hope that you are making the best decision for yourself. I did what I had to do and that's the bottom line. Yes, I know that I've ‘sold out' on you, but the decision has already been made. I've chosen my side and I can't go back on my word to Shayla now."


            "If this is just a threat to get me to pay you more money, we can work something out," he continued to stubbornly bargain. "How much is she paying you? I'm sure that we can strike up a new contract. We can toss some numbers around-"


            "I'm not at liberty to discuss the terms of our contract Nick," she interrupted. "As I've mentioned before, it's a done deal."


            Before Nick could make a bigger fool out of himself by trying to further negotiate with his former publicist, Alyssa stepped in, grabbing him by the arm just as Nick appeared to open his mouth to protest. "Nick, it's not worth trying to bargain with her here. Obviously she's made her choice and now it's on her conscience. You know that Shayla only made that offer just to screw us over. She really doesn't care who represents her. We'll just take our business elsewhere." Without another word she stood up to leave ignoring the hateful glare coming from Diane's eyes.


            Nick followed her lead, amazed at the way that Alyssa had just taken control of the situation like that. Without another word he followed her towards the door, but not being able to resist one last stab he turned around once he reached the door determined to get the last word in. "If it wasn't for the fact that I don't want to already add more fuel to the fire I'd sue your ass for breach of contract. I hope that you know what you are getting yourself into. There are things about Shayla that will make every mess that I've been in look like a walk in the park."


            Alyssa gave him a warning look and jabbed her elbow subtly into his side to let him know that he was beginning to say too much. She knew exactly what he was referring to, but it was way too early for that tidbit of information to come out. Shayla's role in her accident back in January was their one secret weapon in this whole situation. Somehow she had the feeling that it would be in their best interest to keep her involvement hush hush for the moment.


            Nick seemed to understand her signal and tightened his lips. He did not look back for a reaction from Diane as he followed Alyssa outside the office doors and into the elevator down the hall. Once the doors had closed and they began their descent back down to the ground floor, he angrily punched the wall of the elevator in frustration. "Well, isn't this just fucking perfect? Now what? Not only did she completely call me out in her cute little blog, but she has to fucking steal my publicist now too? I know she said that she was going to play dirty, but this is ridiculous! How could Diane do this to me?"


            "You know what they say... Everybody has a price," Alyssa dryly replied.


            "Where the hell am I going to find another publicist at this point in the game?" Nick pressed his fingers to his forehead, rubbing his temples. "After the blog incident most people aren't going to want to touch me with a ten foot pole. Then when they actually hear the whole story... No publicist wants to voluntarily take on a huge media scandal like this us turning out to be."


            "There's got to be someone," she tried to reassure him. "I mean you've been in the business since you were a teenager. There has to be someone who could do you a favor. What about the other guys? Diane doesn't represent all of you. Who do they use? Maybe they could refer you to someone?"


            "Refer me? This isn't like going to see a doctor." Nick sighed. "God, whenever I see Shayla again she is going to really hear it from me because this shit just isn't funny anymore. We need at least someone with some knowledge of media representation in our corner."


            Halfway through Nick's tirade, Alyssa felt her mind drift off as she wracked her brain for some kind of solution for their predicament. She tuned back in long enough to catch his last sentence and then something automatically clicked in her head. It was a long shot and completely crazy, but then again it weren't as if they had many other options at the moment. "I think I've got it..."


            Nick just turned and looked at her, a puzzled expression on his face. "Got what? The answer to our problems?"


            Alyssa eagerly nodded her head. "It's so simple; I'm surprised that we hadn't thought of it earlier. You need someone to represent you. Someone who has experience in the PR field and someone that you know that you can trust, right? What about Izzy? You know that she's been working at that PR firm since Grace was born. It's always been her dream to start her own firm. This could be the breakthrough that she needs to really get her career rolling. She's already been doing little things for Tristan and Kevin, and she's had experience working with your PR team while you guys were on tour."


            "Wait... Hold up a minute." Nick held up his hand to stop her. "I appreciate the suggestion, but let's face it. I love Izzy and all like a sister. We've been friends since we were pre-teens and I'd trust her with my life, but this is a big deal. There is a huge difference between doing PR for meet and greets and handling a major tabloid scandal. This is my career on the line here. Izzy's lack of experience just makes me a little wary of the situation."


            "I would think that her being so close to you would be an advantage. I think that in this kind of situation it would help having someone behind you who you know that you could fully trust," she pointed out. "We're both comfortable with Izzy. Yea, she does lack experience in this kind of specific situation, but she's smart and aggressive and I know that she's not going to take any crap. If I had to have anyone fight any battle for me I'd want Izzy in my corner. All of that aside, do we really have any other options at this point? Why waste time scrambling to find someone who is probably only going to put a band-aid on the situation when I know that if we just give Izzy some time to think, she'll come up with some sort of plan."


            Nick sighed. He had to admit that his girlfriend definitely did make some good points, but still he felt apprehensive about handing things over to Izzy. He just wasn't sure if he was fully convinced that she could really handle fighting with the big boys so to speak.


            Noticing his quiet reflection, Alyssa continued on with her persuasion. "Truthfully speaking Nick, what other plan do we have? It can't hurt if we just sit down and talk to her and see what she says. We can stop over there right now. I'm sure that she won't mind. We don't even have to decide anything for sure until we've talked to her about it."


            "Fine," he reluctantly gave in more out of desperation than anything else. "We'll talk to her. But I'm not making any promises."


            His agreement was all that she needed for her face to break out into a proud smile. She was quite pleased with herself for coming up with the solution to a seemingly unsolvable problem. She knew that it was a long shot, but something in her gut told her that Izzy was the right person to help them out along the long road that lay ahead of them.




            About half an hour later, Alyssa and Nick found themselves standing on the porch of Izzy and Tristan's home unannounced. They probably should've called before they decided to stop by, but they both had too much riding on this encounter to even bother. Glancing at each other one last time for reassurance, Nick only hesitated a beat or two before reaching forward to press the doorbell. Alyssa could hear it echoing behind the closed door and a few moments later the door opened to reveal Tristan, Izzy's longtime boyfriend.


            "Hey Alyssa, Nick..." he greeted looking surprised, but not entirely disappointed to find the two of them on his doorstep. The two couples had been close throughout their twenties and considered one another practically family. "What are you two doing out this way?"


            "We were actually hoping that we could talk to Izzy about something," Alyssa spoke up, getting directly to the point. "She's here right?"


            Tristan nodded and stepped away from the door allowing them room to step aside. "Yea, she's here. Come inside and I'll grab her for you."


            The two of them stepped inside into the living room and waited impatiently as Tristan disappeared down the hallway searching to find Izzy. They'd only been standing there for a few minutes when they were interrupted by a small figure hurling itself at both of their legs as it bombarded them. "Aunt Alyssa! Uncle Nick! Did you come over to play with me?" a tiny voice asked.


            Alyssa looked down and laughed as she reached down to untangle Grace, Izzy and Tristan's four year old daughter from her legs as she lifted her up to greet her with a hug and a kiss. "Not today cupcake," she apologized. "We actually came over because we have something really important we need to talk to your Mommy about."


            "But you never come over and play with me anymore." The youngster's lips twisted into a sad pout and Alyssa had to admit that she actually did feel guilty for neglecting her Goddaughter over the past few months. With all the craziness going on within her own personal life, she hadn't had much time to devote to others.


            "I promise that we'll definitely come over and play with you really soon," Nick jumped in and promised. "We might be spending a lot more time with your Mommy in the next few weeks, so I'm sure that there will be plenty of time for some long overdue playtime, okay?"


            Grace's face seemed to light up with excitement. "Do you really mean that?" Both Alyssa and Nick just smiled and Grace's pout disappeared into a wide smile. "Mommy, did you hear that?" she asked, racing towards Izzy as she entered the living room with Tristan behind her. "Aunt Alyssa and Uncle Nick promised that they're going to come back and play with me because they are going to be spending a lot of time here soon!"


            "Oh, they are, are they?" Izzy asked with a laugh as she suspiciously glanced in the couple's direction. "Well, Daddy just told me that they have something really important and grown up that they need to talk to me about, so why don't you go play with Daddy for a little bit and then maybe when they're done, Aunt Alyssa and Uncle Nick can stay and play with you for a bit?"


            The compromise seemed agreeable to Grace. An excited smile came over her face as she willingly let Tristan lead her out of the room into the direction of the backyard. Alyssa watched the scene enviously for a moment or two. It seemed like her best friend had it all. Granted, Izzy had shared with her that she and Tristan had been having problems about a year ago and even though the two had been dating for almost as long as Alyssa had known Nick, they still were not married. It wasn't their relationship that made Alyssa jealous though. It was the fact that they had Grace. She couldn't admit it in front of her, but one of the reasons why Alyssa had distanced herself from her Goddaughter was simply because being around Grace was an all too painful reminder of what had been taken away from her. Her own daughter would never get to be Grace's age, and Alyssa would never get to experience the mother/daughter interactions that Izzy shared with Grace. Sure, if she wanted to she'd be able to take another stab at getting pregnant and she did want to someday... Now just definitely was not a good time for her and Nick. Maybe once everything got settled down with Shayla, but somehow Alyssa got the feeling that was not going to be anytime soon.


            Her thoughts were interrupted by Izzy offering them both something to drink as if she had just remembered that she was the hostess. They politely accepted and a few minutes later all three of them were holding fresh cups of coffee and making themselves comfortable on Izzy's living room furniture, Nick and Alyssa on the loveseat and Izzy across from them sitting Indian style on the recliner.


            "So, what was so important you had to talk to me about that you couldn't even call first to tell me that you guys were stopping over?" Izzy began as she sipped her coffee. "Not that I mind because you two know that you are always welcome here. Just it seems really serious."


            "It is," Alyssa promised. "Remember that you said if we ever needed any advice on any of this stupid media garbage that we could come to you?"


            "Uhmm yea... It was only yesterday." Izzy laughed. "Don't tell me that you already have paparazzi harassing you? I swear they're like vultures. It's barely been twenty-four hours since Shayla posted that blog."


            "It's not exactly the paparazzi that is concerning us, at least not yet," Nick interrupted. "So far the coast is clear on that front although I don't anticipate that lasting much longer. Right now our bigger problem is that apparently I no longer have a publicist."


            "What do you mean you don't have a publicist? What happened to Diane?  I thought she's been representing you for years?"


            Alyssa rolled her eyes. "Yea, we did too. Apparently she got a better offer from someone else."


            Izzy's eyebrows rose in surprise and she shot them a quizzical glance obviously awaiting some kind of further explanation. "Diane has decided that she's going to represent Shayla," Nick quickly filled her in. "She was representing the both of us and up until now I assumed that in this situation she'd remain loyal to me given our history, but evidently Shayla made her some kind of deal and here we are. She really was two steps ahead of us on this one."


            "What? Diane sold out on you?" Izzy seemed just as shocked as he and Alyssa had been earlier when they had heard the news. "That's completely fucked up! So, now you don't have anyone representing you?"


            "Nope. We don't have anybody in our corner and we're on the edge of a huge media scandal threatening to explode," he summed up. "You see how this could be a problem, right?"


            "Problem? It's a disaster!" Izzy leapt to her feet, fully understanding the severity of the situation. "I know it's not much, but I can at least try to help you in finding someone else. I have a few connections that I can tap into. Let me just go get my Rolodex and we can try giving some people some calls... I just hope someone will be able to take you guys on so suddenly."


            Alyssa and Nick exchanged a glance. They both seemed touched by Izzy's eagerness to help them out whatever way that she could and Nick had to admit that this did cement their decision to offer Izzy the job at representing them. Alyssa had been right. They did need someone who they knew well and knew that they could trust throughout this ordeal.


            "Iz, wait. Before you go crazy there is one thing that you can do to help us out big time," Alyssa began.


            "Sure," her friend immediately agreed, sitting back down again. "Anything for you guys."


            Alyssa looked back over to Nick to take over where she had left off. "We kind of already had someone else in mind to represent us. Someone who knows us inside and out and that we can both trust," he continued.


            "Oh?" Izzy looked confused. "Well, who is it and what can I do to help?"


            "Her name is Isabelle Richardson and she's been one of my best friends for over ten years now," Nick announced, not being able to hold back a smirk, especially once he saw the shocked reaction on his friend's face. "That is if you're willing to accept the job."


            Izzy continued to look shocked as she sank back against the couch. "Me? You want me to be your new publicist Nick?" her voice practically squeaked. "Wow... I don't know what to say..."


            "Yes, would be appropriate," Alyssa prompted with a laugh.


            "Are you sure about this? I mean yes this is what I have a degree in and I've dabbled in the world of PR leading up to this, but handling your divorce scandal is going to be a whole new level for me," she nervously pointed out. "You might be better off with someone who has a little more experience."


            "Experience only goes so far. We could get the best in the business, but how do we know that they really have our best interests at heart? I mean look at Diane. I thought that I could trust her and she in the end screwed me over for money. I know that I can trust you to do whatever it is in your power to make us look good," Nick argued.


            "And we know you Iz... You're one of the most stubborn people I know. I trust that you're not going to let anyone get away with making us look bad," Alyssa chimed in. "Not without a fight at least."


            Izzy bit her lip looking thoughtful. "It's a lot to consider... This has been one of my dreams to start my own PR firm..."


            "And of course I'll be paying you," Nick added, seeing that she was beginning to be swayed. "By doing this for us, I can definitely help get you started. It would be a great opportunity for you to get your name out there."


            "All right, I'm in!" Izzy enthusiastically agreed. "I'll represent the both of you, but I'm going to need sometime of course to think this all over before I decide what our first move should be. In the meantime, I think Nick should definitely release a statement acknowledging and confirming the divorce, but refusing to comment on any of the affair rumors for the time being. We're on the defensive here, so I think we need to wait and see the full extent of damage that Shayla's blog has really had in the media."


            "Makes sense," Nick agreed. "Take your time. I know that you'll figure out something great. So, should we start talking contract negotiations here?"


            Alyssa sat back and observed the excited glimmer in her best friend's eyes and instantly knew that they had made the right decision in choosing Izzy to represent them. She wasn't sure exactly what tricks Izzy had up her sleeve just yet, but she trusted that she'd come up with something good. As she reached across the loveseat to squeeze Nick's hand she realized that for the first time in twenty-four hours she felt optimistic that maybe they'd get through this without too much damage being done to their reputations.