I laughed nervously. “You’re hilarious.” My tone came out all wrong, because a moment later Sylvie gasped and the line went silent. I held my breath as my mind tried to come up with something—anything—to steer her away from her spot-on guess. Once she grew suspicious, she was like a hound dog that wouldn’t back off from a hot trail. Come to think of it, she was worse.
“Okay, that was about the most laughable thing you’ve ever said.” My tongue tripped over itself to assure Sylvie that nothing was going on. Unfortunately, Sylvie had an uncanny ability to read between the lines.
“What does he look like?”
“Who?” I knew playing dumb wouldn’t be of much help.
Sylvie clicked her tongue. The sound reverberated down the line right into my ear, making me cringe. “Please! Age never stopped anyone. Guys are like ripe wine: the older they grow, the more attention they get.”
I forced a chuckle out of my throat, like I knew what she was talking about. Truth was, I didn’t since I could count all the guys I ever slept with on the fingers of one hand, and they sure hadn’t been the sugar daddy type.
“So,” Sylvie continued. “You’re doing the dirty with the boss, and I don’t like it.”
“Brooke. I know you better than you know the back of your hand.”
She didn’t, or so I liked to believe. I sighed into the line. If I couldn’t convince her, the best way to get her off my back was to cut the call short. “I’m sorry about not calling or texting. I’m just tired.” True. “And this job’s been weird so far.” Also true. “I’ll make it up to you as soon as I get home next week.” I had no doubt Sylvie would bully me into making that part true as well. “Please, can we just leave it at that?”
It was the second time I asked this question in twenty-four hours. Just like Jett, Sylvie had no idea when to back off.
“You told me to have fun.”
“Yeah, but not thousands of miles away where I couldn’t kick the guy’s ass if he tried to hurt you.”
I smiled at the picture Sylvie’s words conjured before my eyes. As a Pilates goddess with muscles of steel, she sure as hell could do some major damage. Too bad she didn’t use all that power on Ryan.
“Look,” Sylvie continued, “I’m worried about you being all alone in a different country with some guy you don’t know.”
“Because—” she blew out her breath, pausing “—you’re not like me. You have feelings and standards and you deserve more than that. Promise you’ll stay safe and tell me everything when you get back?”
I nodded. “Uh-huh.”
“One last word of advice, guys like him and Ryan are trouble. Good looks and successful careers are a dangerous combination.”
Trouble—wasn’t that the word I used upon meeting Jett for the first time? I frowned. “Thanks.”
“Okay.” She didn’t sound too happy to drop the subject, but it was good enough for me. The air was clear. I had managed to dodge a bullet and buy myself a few more days before I’d be Sylvie-interrogated. “Have you found out who sent the Manila envelope still cluttering our expensive coffee table in the hall?” she asked, finally changing the subject. “I’m really scared to sleep with that thing inside the house. It looks like something from Law & Order that’s ready to blow up.”
I rolled my eyes, grateful she couldn’t see it. “It’s only a letter, for crying out loud. Just open it if it bothers you so much.”
“Can’t you send someone over to do it, like your mother? Or—” She paused and I could almost hear the wheels of her brain working away. The sad thing about Sylvie was that she actually meant every word. “I guess I could ask Ryan. Since he’s dating some double DDs, he’s as good as dead to me.”
I didn’t want to mention that guys like him, meaning ridiculously rich and manipulative, always ended up going for plastic, be it bigger br**sts or shiny new credit cards. But why state the obvious? Sylvie needed to heal, and expressing my disdain would only make her more obsessed with a jerk unworthy of her obsession.
“I’ll be back next week,” I said. “Until then, just leave it on my desk and forget about it. I bet it’s not even important.”
“It looks important.”
Then open the darn thing, I felt like yelling. “Leave it in my room, and I’ll take care of it when I get back home.”
“And what about the foreign guy who keeps calling? He doesn’t want to believe you’re not around, and it gives me the creeps.”
“I’ll be back next week,” I repeated slowly, emphasizing the last two words.
A sulky pause, then, “Fine. It really sucks without you. Promise me you’ll never get hitched and have kids. Or if you do, we’ll live next door from each other so I can visit any time.”
“Sounds great.” Living next door to each other was always our dream. However, if we ever ended up married, I doubted my husband would be so keen on the best friend’s constant presence breathing down his neck.
“I’ll think about it.” We chatted for a few more minutes, mostly focusing on Sylvie’s nightly escapades, before I hung up with the promise to call again as soon as I could.
Clutching my cell phone to my chest, it felt surreal to sit in a stranger’s room thousands of miles away from home, keeping secrets from my best friend. Sylvie and I had always told each other the truth, even if said truth hurt the other’s feelings. The contract clearly stated that I wasn’t to tell anyone about the agreement, but Jett had assured me the rules could be changed. So why did I not ask him to change this particular one?
Because you’re scared she’ll tell it like it is, and you know it won’t be pretty.
Had I fallen for my very own Ryan? Was I repeating Sylvie’s mistake? It was just a thought that briefly crossed my mind, and yet I couldn’t quite dismiss it. I long established that Jett wasn’t a liar like Ryan. He never pretended to want more than a physical relationship, to which I had agreed. But somehow my mind didn’t want to acknowledge that major difference between Jett and Ryan.
I sighed and forced my ugly thoughts to the back of my mind. Sylvie would find out about my agreement soon enough, upon which I’d deal with her candid opinion and metaphorical kick in the backside. Right now I enjoyed the present, doing whatever I felt like doing, without my best friend telling me how stupid I was for jumping into bed with my boss. Had she not been the one telling me to have fun in the first place? Would I have had the guts to do it if she didn’t advise me to go wild and lose all inhibitions? Probably not, but for once I was happy to have listened. A week with Jett and I felt more alive than I had in ages. However, I wasn’t so naïve to believe this trip would go on forever. It was just sex and a bit of fun. Sooner or later, one of us would grow bored and move on. No matter what happened, I knew I wouldn’t go back to the old, dreary, safe me. I wouldn’t go back to being conventional. At least not any time soon. And for that I was thankful to both Sylvie and Jett.
“Brooke, are you coming? I’m missing you already.” Jett’s sexy voice pulled me back to reality.
“Give me five minutes.” I smiled at his choice of words. I loved the way he said my name because it made me feel special. Of course his words meant nothing because he couldn’t possibly miss me after only twenty minutes. Shrugging out of my clothes, I jumped into the shower, my mind already filling with hundreds of thoughts of all the things I wanted to do to him before the week was over.
After a light lunch that consisted of grilled chicken fillets with salad, Jett headed for his private office to catch up on his workload, leaving me with the instructions not to bother him with any calls unless they were from his brother or father. His voice bore an urgency that didn’t go unnoticed, and I wondered whether he had troubles I didn’t know about, maybe a sick relative or family drama. In the end I didn’t ask. I figured that even though I had spilled out most of my secrets, he had shown no disposition to want to do the same. Maybe he needed more time to confide in me.
My lips were still tingling from his heated goodbye kiss when I returned to my room to grab my laptop and then sat down at my desk. Even though Jett had cleared his schedule for the week, countless messages cluttered his email inbox and voicemail. I went through each one of them, registering names and queries. The urgent ones received an immediate answer with the assurance Jett would get back to them as soon as he could. Two hours later, the business correspondence had been dealt with, and I was free to accustom myself with the company’s financial reports and major property accounts.
Mayfield Properties was a huge company with hundreds of millions in turnover and as such had a dozen board directors, all pocketing their fair share of profits. At the top of the ladder were Robert and Jonathan Mayfield, father and son respectively, followed by Jett, who at thirty-one was the youngest board member and probably the only one engaging in direct sales and property acquisition. Because of his young age, I had thought he was gifted his place in the company by his father, until I glimpsed the sales and profits Jett had made in the last year alone.
The guy knew how to make money, and a lot of it. I almost choked on my breath as I counted all the zeros on the spreadsheets: one hundred million worth of properties, most of them spread across the United States, with some sprinkled throughout Europe. There was a systematic approach to it. His clients were exclusively business moguls and celebrities who came to him based on recommendations. They either had a particular estate in mind or very specific ideas of what they wanted, and it was Jett’s job to make it happen. He found the right estate, groomed the owner by paying for all-inclusive trips to the most luxurious places I only knew from tabloids and television documentaries about the lives of the rich and famous, and then somehow persuaded them to sell at a price convenient to his clients. Nothing new about that approach, only that Jett seemed extremely good at what he did, and with very little college education. I was impressed, not to mention a bit star-struck, at all the well-known names that seemed to pop up in his files.
The guy was famous in his own right. One day an equally famous or rich woman would adorn his side. Probably someone as tall and beautiful as Sylvie, with sky-high legs to match an exotic and luxurious name, which was okay since I didn’t want to be with Jett.
Or did I?
I couldn’t help the sudden pang of jealousy piercing through my heart. What would it be like to be part of his personal life, introduced as the girlfriend rather than the personal assistant slash secret lover, who had to sign a contract so the world wouldn’t know about her? To travel the world and make plans for the future?
A future with Jett.
Sleeping with a rich man was one thing, wanting to date him was another. I rolled my eyes at the brief onset of fairy tale attitude and pushed the nasty thoughts to the back of my mind, hating myself for letting them cloud my perception of what our agreement was all about: no relationship, just no-strings fun as long as it lasted. I had been okay with it. Heck, I even stressed the importance of being able to get out if I so desired. When did it all change?