Literally shaking with rage, Max raced over to the side of the bed, seized Oscar roughly, and dragged him onto the floor with a violent yank.
"You lousy, God-damn son of a - !"
Oscar protested in vain as Max brutally kicked him down, stamping on his head - too blinded by fury to give his actions any real consideration. Katie, shrieking in horror, pulled frantically at her husband's arm, desperate to stop him.
"Max - please, don't hurt him! I can explain!"
After releasing a deep, anguished roar, Max composed himself, and turned towards her, scowling - Oscar's hand flying to his temple as he groaned in agony.
"I think you'd better," Max muttered to Katie, folding his arms. "When the hell did this all start?"
Katie slowly clambered down from the bed, and started to walk in small circles around the room, not quite sure how to phrase things. Max approached her, watching her quietly for a while, until finally, his patience ran out.
"Well?!" he snapped.
"Max," Katie began, sighing, "Oscar and I have been a couple for years. We were together before you and I even met."
Max's jaw dropped in horror.
"So... he's not the other man?" he asked, breathlessly. "I am?"
"Yes," she admitted. "And what's more - Nathan is his son, not yours. I was fairly certain, what with the dates, but... I had a test done, just to be sure. To be honest, I'm surprised you didn't realise sooner. You've got to admit - he doesn't look very much like you."
Max's knees began to buckle. He felt as if the whole world was about to cave in underneath him. Katie was telling him all this so swiftly, so bluntly... each sentence felt like a sharp, piercing stab of a stiletto knife in his heart. He stared at his wife helplessly, too stunned to make a sound.
"My career was going nowhere fast," Katie continued. "A role in a soap opera nosediving in the ratings, and walk-ons in the odd B-movie. When Oscar took you on, and you began topping the charts and selling out gigs worldwide, he swiftly realised that me having a connection to you would give me a major boost. We talked the whole thing over, and he agreed to play matchmaker. Our whole marriage was planned for the start. Becoming your wife gave me the opportunities I needed - and with you performing, recording, and generally being busy all the time, Oscar and I could continue seeing each other."
"You - you mean..." Max stammered, "f-from the beginning? All - all this time...?!"
He buried his face in his hands, emitting a pained howl of anguish.
"You're lying... Max whispered in disbelief. "You're... you're just making all of this up..."
"It's true, Max," Oscar said from across the room, apologetically. "I'm sorry. You weren't ever supposed to find out."
His breathing now a series of heavy grunts, Max's head snapped back upwards, and he glared at Katie with blazing, fierce eyes.
"You evil little wh**e!" he screamed. "I'll never forgive you for this!!! I'll divorce you! You'll have nothing without me!"
Much to Max's confusion, Katie began to chuckle, turning towards him with a condescending smirk.
"You're not going anywhere," she said matter-of-factly. "You're far too valuable and useful to me. Besides... just as your father wanted, I have been doing a little research into your family tree. Ever since the Miskins' days as nobles, not one of their marriages has ended in divorce. Do you really want to be the first one to have that black mark against their name? To bring that dishonour onto your ancestors? Surely your family would never forgive you... not after you so easily gave them up for me?"
Max stared at her blankly, have been made uneasy by her comments. Harsh, yes... but true.
"What's more," continued Katie confidently, "you've forgotten I'm an actress, and I have the press eating out of the palm of my hand. It would be so simple to turn all this against you... to make you the bad guy."
Shuddering, she suddenly broke down into a shower of convincing crocodile tears.
"I... I tried so hard to be a good wife to him! But all he ever cared about was work, work, work! What about us?! And then he started with the pills and the booze... wanting to live life like a rockstar! It changed him! Even his fans could see it! You don't want to know how much worse he was behind closed doors! The things he did! I simply couldn't tell you - it's all so horrible! And in front of our beautiful little baby, too!"
Wiping her eyes, she finished her grand performance, and grinned at the musician.
"The press would think it was Christmas," she cackled. "As far as Joe Public is concerned, I've been the perfect bride to you, whilst you've been acting out and getting aggressive. Even if you told them about me and Oscar, who'd believe you? And where would your evidence be? I'd refuse another DNA test on Nathan - after all, that would be the final insult, wouldn't it? They'd buy my story hook, line and sinker. My God, the shame that such a scandal would bring on that legacy you hold so dear..."
Max hung his head. There was simply nothing he could say. Katie had him right where she wanted him.
"So," Katie hissed, "if you know what's good for you, I suggest you play along. Be the good little hubby the world wants you to be. Keeping working hard and bringing in all that money. Perhaps you and I will have our own children one day - Hell, I'll even let you call them any stupid name you want - but you'd best believe that I'll keep having Oscar's babies, too. I'm staying with him. I have absolutely no intention of giving him up."
Max turned towards the agent, aghast.
"And you're just going to let her do this?" he cried in alarm.
"Of course," Oscar replied. "I love Katie. I'll do anything to make her happy."
Max simply couldn't stand up anymore - his system had been thrown into complete and utter shock. As he staggered over to Katie's dressing table and took a seat, placing a hand against his dizzy, overwhelmed brain, the sound of Nathan wailing in hunger broke out from down the hallway.
"Oh, great," Katie muttered. "As if I didn't have enough of a headache already. Go and feed him, Max."
Scowling, Max turned towards Oscar with a narrow, fixed gaze.
"It's his baby," he stated gruffly. "He can take care of him."
Rising, Max turned on his heel and stormed out of the bedroom, slamming the doors behind him. He headed straight downstairs and marched towards the front door, unsure when he'd be able to face coming back. Eventually, he'd have to, or face dire consequences. He had no choice... he had become a mere pawn in Katie's villainous game of chess. But right now, he was desperate to get some space.
As he passed the lounge, he made a quick detour to the minibar, grabbing several bottles of alcohol - chiefly whisky, his poison of choice as of late - before heading out. If was going to keep living in this nightmare, he'd need all the help he could get.
Meanwhile, Oscar headed towards Nathan's nursery - with Katie swiftly following - and held his son for the first time, cuddling him close as he shushed him gently.
Laura was tucking in to a sandwich and muffin at the Brown Sugar Café when she heard the familiar "ping" of a text notification. Carefully chewing her mouthful of BLT, she skimmed over the rather odd message. It was from Max.
Plz come tour buss asip its al f***ed up
From the misspellings and rather vulgar language, Laura instantly got the feeling that things hadn't improved since the abandoned recording session this morning. And indeed, when she arrived at the bus, opening the door with the key Oscar had given her when her knocks went unanswered, it became clear the musician had ignored her sound advice from earlier. She found Max asleep at his dressing table, snoring loudly as his head rested uncomfortably on the oak surface - surrounded by pill containers and half-empty bottles of booze.
Christ - what had happened?
As the door slid shut behind Laura, Max awoke with a jolt, popping up like a meerkat.
"Huh? Whats going on?"
Noticing his PA, he exhaled in relief.
"Oh... hi, Laura," he slurred, turning to look at his red eyes in the mirror. "Thanks for coming."
"What the hell's going on?" Laura asked, shocked. "I thought you were going home to rest?"
"Can't go home," Max muttered. "Not right now. Not while those two evil backstabbing b*****rds are there, bouncing on the bed springs."
Laura lowered herself onto the sofa, her face falling. Something was definitely wrong.
"Max?" she called. "Sit with me. Please."
Too distraught to argue, Max obeyed. However, as he settled himself onto the plush loveseat, he found himself unable to look Laura in the face.
"What's happened?" the assistant asked with great concern.
"It's... it's nothing," Max replied.
Surely he couldn't tell her. This was too big a problem for even her to deal with, capable and caring as she was. However, Laura was too smart and determined to be fobbed off with an empty excuse, and she reached for Max's hand, taking hold of it warmly.
"Max... please. You can tell me."
And in a instant, Max knew that he could. He could tell Laura anything. Since he'd forsaken his family, she was the one decent, caring person still left in his life. He had to trust her.
Turning towards her, he spent the next five minutes explaining everything that had happened - Katie's control over him, her and Oscar's betrayal, Nathan's true paternity, and the terrible trap he had found himself in.
Sensing how badly he needed to vent, Laura let him tell the heartbreaking tale without interruption: her only sounds being the occasional verbal signal of listening, and a gasp or two as one shocking fact after another was revealed.
Once Max had finished, he seemed to shrink before Laura's eyes - slumping down into a shattered, crumbled heap. A minute or two passed silently before she found herself able to respond.
"Max... I'm so, so sorry. I... I didn't know anything about Oscar, or Katie. I swear I didn't. I... I would have told you if I did..."
"I know," Max answered. "You wouldn't keep something like that from me. You couldn't. You're too good a person."
As he smiled weakly, Laura found her own mouth mirroring his.
"God, my head..." Max groaned suddenly, clutching his temples with both hands. "I think I need a coffee."
"I'll make you some."
"No, no - I'll make it. Really. You've done enough to help me today."
Max got up and took a few steps towards the cafetiere... but before he could even get halfway across the pink carpet, he broke down - doubling over with a bitter cry.
"Oh, God!!! How could they do this to me?!!! Perhaps... if I'd done more for her... if - if I'd worked harder..."
At once, Laura rushed towards him, embracing him tightly. He felt strangely light, as if she was the only thing holding him up any more.
"No, Max," she said reassuringly. "You've worked as hard as you possibly could. But it makes no difference. None of this is your fault. You've done nothing wrong. You have to believe me."
Max was seriously beginning to cherish Laura's comforting hugs. It was one of the last sweet, lovely things that still remained in his gloomy, torturous existence. As Laura loosened her hold and pulled away, Max gently placed a hand under her chin, tilting her face to meet his.
"I really am sorry, you know," he said. "For... for what I called you earlier, back at the studio. I wasn't thinking. I was just acting out of anger - looking for an easy insult. It... it was uncalled for. Unacceptable. I didn't really mean it."
"It's OK," Laura told him. "Besides... there was some truth in it. I am fat. I accept that. You don't have to sugarcoat it. I could never compare to someone like Katie, or... or any of those supermodels you see in the magazines. I... I know that I'm not beautiful."
"That's not true," Max replied.
"Please don't mock me," Laura muttered.
"I'm not," Max insisted. "You could be anywhere between a size 0 or 100, for all I care. You're such an amazing, beautiful person. In heart and in body."
Laura rolled her eyes.
"Believe me - you are," Max told her, stroking her cheek as he examined her features. "You have such a melodic voice, such bright eyes..."
He paused, his face moving close towards hers.
"Such... such soft, rosy lips..."
Lurching forward, his own lips met hers... and Laura felt herself willingly and thoroughly melt in Max's arms as her breath was taken away. Max may have shared his secrets with her, but she had never dared admit to him - or even to herself, at least not fully - that she had fantasised about this moment often since the day she'd started working for him.
Still, she was bound not to be the only person who had such thoughts. How many fans of a rockstar dreamt of one day being with them - especially one as handsome as Max Velocity? No wonder groupies existed.
"Stay with me," Max whispered to Laura as he broke away for air. "Please. You're the last good thing left in my life. I... I couldn't bear to lose you."
This was a dream, Laura told herself. Things like this didn't happen in real life. Rockstars didn't kiss big fat girls like her. They didn't love them or want them. Still, when she saw the longing in Max's eyes, she nodded, and shuddered in pleasure as their mouths blissfully locked together once more, running her fingers through his long, wild hair.