Even his name sounded sexy and forbidden. I couldn’t help but picture me moaning it while he kissed me all over my body. My face grew hot and hotter. Dammit. This was all Sylvie’s fault. She knew more than I did. If she wasn’t so openly ready to trade in her information, I wouldn’t be literally panting at the sound of a guy’s name.
“Jett…I mean, Sylvie, I don’t have time for this.”
Crap. I was under his spell. I needed to get him out of my system. And quick before I ended up making a complete fool out of myself. I clutched my handbag to my chest and walked out the door, ignoring Sylvie’s incredulous gawking.
“Wait, Brooke! Don’t leave me hanging,” she shouted after me.
Throwing glances over my shoulder to make sure she wasn’t following, I dashed for the parking spot around the block and jumped into my car, ready to head out for a day of hard work, or what was left of it now that it was almost lunchtime.
New York traffic was a nightmare. By the time I fought my way downtown I was already three hours late. Dammit. Not only was Jett—aka Mystery Guy— messing with my life, he was also ruining my career. My boss, James, wouldn’t be pleased. In fact, as I reached the office and dropped into my swivel chair, my fingertips starting to type furiously on the keyboard to check emails and appointments for the day I could almost feel the hot waves of anger coming from James’s office. Maybe he hadn’t noticed my absence. Oh, who was I kidding? The guy knew everything. And, for a g*y guy, he sure knew how to yell, which was what I was about to hear in three…
“Brooke! Move your sweet ass over here this instant!”
The office dragon had spied me. Now I was in big trouble. With a deep sigh I sat up, smoothed over my pencil skirt, and headed for the inevitable with slow, measured steps. In my mind I could hear the scary pounds of a drum warning of imminent doom. Wendy, the receptionist, shot me a pitiful look. I smiled back and fought back the urge to pretend I had to leave again for a business meeting. I was a grown up and by no means scared of James.
“Close the door,” James said as I entered his office. I did as he bid and settled into the chair opposite from his huge mahogany desk. My hands folded in my lap, I looked up to meet his angry gaze.
Even though he had to be at least ten years my senior, he didn’t look a day older than thirty. His highlighted blond hair was brushed back from his smooth forehead. His skin had a golden glow which everyone attributed to weekly tanning sessions, and it stood in strong contrast to his crisp, white shirt and black suit. His piercing blue eyes focused on me, measuring me up and down. I wrapped my suit jacket tighter around me as though to protect myself from his inquisitive gaze. Why was he staring at me like that? Why wouldn’t he just start his usual tirade, include a warning or two, and get it over and done with?
I was about to apologize for my lateness when a knock rapped at the door.
“Come in,” James said, looking up from me to our new intern, a twenty-something guy called Tim.
“Here are your papers, boss.” Tim smiled shyly, which in turn had James’s face lighting up like a Christmas candle. Tim had a great body with well-defined muscles and taut skin the color of melted chocolate, which made me believe he spent a lot of time at the fitness center.
“Thank you, darling. Better now than never.” James’s lips curved upwards as his eyes devoured Tim’s perky ass.
“Those are the ones you requested last week. Sorry I’m behind schedule, but I was late today. Traffic.” Tim shot me a conspiratorial look, as though I knew exactly what he was talking about, which I didn’t. Tim had made it a habit of being late; I was always on time.
Apart from today.
“Don’t worry about it.” James waved his hand playfully. I wondered if he would be so kind to me? “Isn’t there a saying ‘save the best for last’? Catch you at lunch.”
Tim flashed his white, even teeth before closing the door behind him.
“So.” James sighed and turned to face me. I swallowed past the sudden lump in my throat as his easygoing expression turned a few shades darker.
No preferential treatment for you, Stewart.
“I’m sorry I was late,” I said to break the uncomfortable silence. “There was some paperwork I needed to go through, and I thought I might as well do it from home.” Which wasn’t a lie. I had been planning to go through paperwork last night when Sylvie persuaded me to join her at our usual joint and Mystery Guy came in between.
“Don’t bullshit me. I know you’re lying. But that’s not why I called you in.” He moistened his lips and his gaze scanned the door behind me, and then settled back on me. “What went down with Mayfield?”
“He didn’t turn up.” James’s eyebrows shot up and he looked displeased. A sense of foreboding washed through me. Maybe Mystery Guy reported back to his boss, who complained to James, and now I was in bigger trouble than I thought. “Why are you asking?”
“Because I had a phone call this morning.” James’s frown intensified. Uh-huh. That wasn’t good. I swallowed hard and imagined myself cleaning out my desk.
“Mayfield’s offering you a job in his department,” James said, eyeing me. “He wants you to start straight away.”
My mouth dropped and I almost toppled off my chair. Holy cow. Being rude was all it took to land a job with a big firm? And that’s when I remembered that I had been doing more than talking. All heat drained from my cheeks. I had banged Mystery Guy, who in turn persuaded his boss to hire me. I could only imagine his arguments.
She is very, very good. We need more people like her, people who are cooperative and forthcoming, and who take business to a whole new level.
I had just slept my way up the corporate ladder.
Talk about cheap.
“Obviously, I said that you’d rather stay with us because you’re very happy with your benefits package,” James continued.
I bobbed my head to signal I was following. Actually, my benefits package wasn’t that great. I wanted to point out I was still waiting for a promised pay rise six months ago, but I kept my mouth shut.
James grimaced, and my heart sank in my chest before he even opened his mouth to relay the bad news. “I’m sorry, Brooke, but I’ll have to fire you. Mayfield said he’d cut off all our contracts if I didn’t let you go.” He brushed his hand through his hair, as though relieved it was over, adding, “It was great working with you though.”
Holy mother of pearls!
That wasn’t a good enough reason to fire me, was it? Somewhere at the back of my mind I realized I could sue his ass for…oh I don’t know…but a lawyer sure as f**k could come up with something. James said Mayfield would cut off all our contracts. What kind of psycho would do that to hire one person? It’s not like I got famous showing off my skills on The Apprentice. Nor I was like Sylvie, graduating in the top of my class. What the hell did Jett—no, I wouldn’t even give him the courtesy of calling his name—Mr. Arrogant Guy, say about me?
My mind was spinning, and I could hear the blood rushing in my ears. I was not sure if I should be angry or happy or both?
It took me a moment to grasp the meaning of James’s words. My heart began to drum in my ears and my cheeks burned. I had finally landed a job with a big firm. Granted, it wasn’t Delaware & Ray, but a beginning. The big break I had been waiting for. So why was I hesitating? Why didn’t it feel like sweet success?
Because you didn’t earn it.
My subconscious reared her nasty head. I had slept with someone in a higher position than mine, but I didn’t do it on purpose. I wasn’t a ho, because that’s a woman who deliberately sleeps with a guy for the sole purpose of gaining a personal advantage, financially or otherwise.
“I’ll have to think about it,” I said.
“No, Brooke, you won’t. They’re huge. They have connections. They deal with the big jobs. Without them we’d be long lost in the pond of small-time realtors.” James hesitated. I sensed there was something he didn’t tell me, but I didn’t press the issue. Whatever he had going with Mayfield was none of my business. An array of emotions washed over James’s face, and then his features relaxed and his face became an impassive mask. “Come on, you knew you wouldn’t be working here forever. It’s a great chance for you. Don’t mess it up.”
I took a deep breath and willed my trembling hands to stop shaking. Mayfield Realties was a huge firm with offices all around the States and Europe. While I didn’t quite agree with their business practices, I couldn’t argue James’s case.
“You might want to hurry. They need you in their head office before the end of the day,” James said, jolting me out of my guilty conscience. He turned away from me and grabbed his phone to signal the conversation was over.
“So that’s it?” I stood and regarded him incredulously. Granted, this hadn’t been my dream job, and I never expected to be getting all mushy about leaving, but I couldn’t help the sudden melancholy. James had given me a job during the recession, when no one was willing to take a chance on an inexperienced college graduate. He had taught me a lot about the business, so I sort of expected more than a head nod and showing me the door.
“Don’t forget us when you’re making it big in the business, Chica,” James whispered not looking up from his phone.
I smiled and walked around his desk to give him a hug, whispering in his ear, “Thank you for everything.” Without looking back, I left James’s office and said a tearful goodbye to Wendy, who was surprised to see I was fired, and even more surprised to see how happy I was. After lots of promises to keep in touch, I packed up the few belongings that cluttered my old desk: a few pictures of Mom with the two men that came closest to being a dad, and a cactus Sylvie got me the morning I landed the job. It was my lucky cactus.
“No man’s left behind,” I whispered as I placed the cactus on the front seat and secured it with the seatbelt, then programmed the GPS to take me to the Mayfield Realties main office opposite from Delaware & Ray.
Mayfield Realties was located on the sixtieth floor of Trump Tower. The elevator chimed, and I was spit out into a friendly and luminous space I instantly fell in love with. Thick burgundy rugs swallowed up the noise of my heels as I made my way toward the tall brunette typing on her computer at the glass reception area. She was immaculately dressed in a chocolate brown tight overall and seven-inch stilettos that made her already long legs look sky high. Her glossy lips diverted attention from her strict ponytail and gave her an ethereal flair. Peering up, she smiled and pointed to her right at the white leather chairs that blended in with the wall behind.
“Miss Stewart, please take a seat. Someone will be with you shortly. Would you like some refreshments? We have latte macchiato, espresso, Chai latte, or maybe bottled water? “ Her voice was professional but had a sharp edge to it, as though she was used to giving commands. I mouthed a ‘no thank you’, wondering how she even knew my name. Then I remembered the receptionist downstairs who must have called up to announce my visit. Basically, I was playing in a whole new league here, so I had to up my game.