Taking a sip of my lukewarm coffee, I almost choked on it as I flicked the next page, finally realizing why my boss would be so interested in a remote estate in Italy where the price of acquisition and upkeep made no sense in terms of profit. My fingers slowly traced the jagged contours on the map. The west side was situated around a private lake about the size of Lake Geneva, with mountain views surrounded by untouched nature. Combine that with the sunny Mediterranean weather, a clean beach, and lots of privacy—and you had prime real estate ready to cater to the rich and famous.
I pulled out the architectural plan and shook my head in disbelief. Mayfield Properties was planning to build ten homes: each a five-room, three-bath, mansion-like holiday home, with ground to ceiling glass windows overlooking the shoreline and mountains in the distance. Each property would boast a large tiled hallway, a lounge, dining room, study, several bedrooms with walk-in closets, and bright open-plan kitchen and living areas. They would have a private garage, a swimming pool, a security system worthy of the White House, and a level of privacy ensured by high gates to protect the owners from prying eyes. Basically, they were about to rebuild the Hollywood Hills amidst the Italian countryside. Another oasis for the rich and famous. Given that the Italian government wasn’t known for their cooperation, it was an ambitious project. However, a multi-million dollar corporation like Mayfield Properties always finds a way. No doubt about that.
I tossed the sheet aside, disgusted with the company’s plans to destroy parts of the Italian countryside. Disgusted I had to help them make it happen. This was the reason why I had been more or less happy working for James. He wasn’t hell-bent on finding and annihilating the last spots of untouched nature on Earth to build a few houses for people who already owned more than they needed. I wasn’t your usual environmentalist, but I prided myself on recycling my garbage and not supporting the chopping down of trees and the asphalting of mountain paths by greedy corporations. And Mayfield Properties was one of them.
It was a matter of integrity vs. going against my boss’s wishes and possibly losing my job in the process. If I consented and helped Mayfield acquire the Lucazonne estate, I was no better than all those money-hungry, designer suit-wearing corporations I always despised because of their work ethics. If I refused to do my job, Mayfield had no reason to keep me employed, meaning I might face unemployment within the week. What could I possibly say to prospective interviewers as to why I lost the job within a few days of commencing it?
The decision was out of my hands, but even though I knew I didn’t really have much choice, I wasn’t less disgusted with myself. Mayfield Properties was just a stepping stone, I reminded myself, and soon I could boast enough experience to get a job with Delaware & Ray. Taking a deep breath, I stood and smoothed over my skirt, vowing to stay true to my convictions as much as possible given the circumstances, while still doing my job.
Having lived in New York for the last five years, I was no longer used to silence. Even when you were alone on a weekday afternoon, living on the sixth floor with the windows shut, some sort of sound inevitably found its way to you—like boots thumping up the stairs, a car horn beeping in the distance, or the fridge-freezer combo buzzing in the kitchen slash living room slash office. But that was the danger of living in an overcrowded, overpriced metropolis. While I loved New York with its stunning skyline and busy nightlife, I was more than happy to get away from it for a while and enjoy the solitude of the Italian countryside. So, naturally, the sudden blaring sound of my cell made my heart jerk in my chest.
I peered from the caller ID to the closed door, making sure Jett wasn’t around, and pressed the respond button.
“Hey, you’re harder to reach than the president. How’s my favorite chief secretary?” Sylvie shouted with a slight slur. Earsplitting music, voices, and laughter echoed in the background. Judging from the noise, she was in a club, and it wasn’t the kind you frequent to play bingo. I swear I could almost smell the booze on her breath and the cigarette smoke clinging to her expensive clothes—clothes she’d end up taking to the dry cleaner’s and forget about them.
“Personal assistant,” I mumbled, harboring no doubt that in her current state, she’d forget it the moment she hung up. I peered at the time symbol on my MacBook. It was a few minutes past ten here, minus a seven hour time difference. “Sylvie, why the hell are you calling me from a bar at three a.m.? You’re obviously drunk, and I’m at the office, working, during which I’m sure you know you’re not supposed to have private conversations.”
“You never called.”
It was true. With the stunning scenery outside and Jett around, I forgot to call her. Or my mother. Even Sean was history, which was great. I was moving on.
“I’m so sorry, Sylvie. I meant to, but there was lots to do. But you could have waited until tomorrow.”
A pause, then, “I was lonely.” Her voice raised a notch, making her statement sound like a question.
The throb in my head intensified, but Sylvie was my best friend and she obviously needed me. My fingers began to massage my temples as I mentally prepared for a long talk. “What happened?”
“Sylvie, I know your bizarre mood swings and behaviors better than the back of my hand, and right now you’re lying. So, spill before I take the next flight up there, bind you to a chair, and torture you into confessing.” I didn’t mean it literally. It was our inside joke since college when Sylvie ended up drunk on my couch, bawling her eyes out, and wouldn’t tell me what was wrong with her.
“Shit. You know me so well, I hate you renting space in my head.” She let out a long sigh that turned into a whine. “I’m such a f**k up.” Not really, but I didn’t interrupt her lest she got sidetracked. She hardly ever talked about her problems, and when she did she barely elaborated on the real issues bothering her.
“Ryan offered me my job back,” Sylvie said.
“Ryan—as in the a-hole boss who shagged you, and then broke up with you the moment he feared his wife had found out?”
“Uh-huh. That one.” Sylvie didn’t fall into a tirade of expletives, which could only mean one thing.
I shook my head, forgetting she couldn’t see me. “No, Sylvie, you didn’t listen to that idiot, did you? You might be my best friend and I love you to bits, but you’re a moron.”
She let out another long sigh. “I know.”
“What were you thinking?”
“He sent over flowers and I thought he was serious about it, so I caved in and listened to his crap. You know I lose my head around guys and make the worst decisions ever. None of this would have happened if only you were here.” Now it was all my fault. I rolled my eyes. “You’re so lucky your boss plays for the other team,” Sylvie continued.
My former boss, I mentally corrected her. The current one was far from it. This was my cue to assure her I was the even bigger f**k up but a.) the contract clearly stated I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about my arrangement with Mayfield, and b.) I seriously doubted Sylvie would be shocked. In fact, she’d probably cheer me on and expect a sex tape after I was done with Mayfield.
“So, what exactly happened?” I asked. “Because if you believed one word that lying, cheating bastard told you, I swear I’m cancelling our friendship this instant.”
“I told him to stick it where the sun don’t shine.” She hesitated, adding something that sounded suspiciously like, “After.”
“After I told him that I’d rather be celibate than sleep with him ever again. I think you’re rubbing off on me.” Her voice trembled slightly. Had she been crying?
So why the tears? Unless they were tears of joy, in which case I made a mental note to drag Sylvie to the nearest bar for a round of celebratory drinks the moment I arrived back home.
“That’s about when he said he was only looking for a quick shag and didn’t mean a word he said. And then he dumped me, for good,” Sylvie said.
Ouch. “The bastard.” For once he seemed to have told the truth. Probably the only truth any woman would ever get from him. Okay, Sylvie was an easy lay, but did he have to be so hurtfully candid about it? You don’t screw with a woman, her mind or otherwise, and then admit you were only using her just when she was about to develop a morsel of self-respect by backing out of your one-way, self-beneficial deal.
“It’s okay. I’m over him,” Sylvie said, sniffing. She wasn’t. “He’s already off my mind.” He wasn’t.
“You’re beautiful, clever, young, everything he’ll never be.” I talked slowly and paused for effect so she’d understand just how much I meant each and every word. “Sylvie, you’re amazing and deserve someone as amazing as you. Don’t settle for less.”
“You think so?”
I nodded. “Yeah, I do, from the bottom of my heart.” Her huge smile almost shined down the phone line. “Now go to bed. I bet you’re three sheets to the wind.”
“I’m what?” She laughed, ignoring my jab at her drunken state. “How’s that job working out for you?”
“Good.” I had completely forgotten that I was at work and not supposed to have personal conversations. I rolled in my swivel chair to peer at the door, almost expecting Jett to be standing there, eyeing me with a frown and demanding that I peel off my suit so he could spank my backside for taking the liberty to go against my work contract. The naughty thought sent an instant smile to my face. I had never been into spanking, but it sort of sounded hot—imagining him doing the deed. I opened my mouth to tell Sylvie all about the Italian countryside, but she’d already lost interest.
“Did you find out who sent the letter?” she asked.
Frowning, I tried to remember what the hell she was talking about. And then it dawned on me. The letter on the coffee table.
Freaking hell, it completely slipped my mind.
“Just open it.”
“Don’t think so,” Sylvie said slowly. “It looks suspicious. It could be a bomb or something, and I still need my hands.”
Sweetie, if it was a bomb, your hands would be the last thing to worry about.
“Okay…I’ll check it out when I get back home, then.”
We talked for another minute or two, mostly about her being bored to death without me. She emphasized how much she missed her best drinking buddy, by which she couldn’t possibly mean me. I hardly ever managed to have more than a margarita before I was ready to hit the bed…facedown, while Sylvie partied the night away.
And then we said our goodbyes and I hung up, feeling strangely out of place in this huge-yet-beautiful house with this strange-yet-gorgeous guy. While Sylvie’s stories didn’t usually get to me, the Ryan episode somehow touched me because I knew Sylvie had fallen for him hard. I could never allow myself to feel the same way for Jett.
I finished my water, and then got another cup of coffee before heading for Jett’s private office.