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Beautiful distraction, p.27
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       Beautiful Distraction, p.27

           J. C. Reed
 

  “Is she still with—” Sylvie snapped her fingers in thought. “What’s his name? You know, the guy from last week.”

  “It was last month, and his name’s Gregg,” I said.

  “Uh-huh. Not worth my brain cells remembering his name when he’ll be old news by next week.” She waved her hand as though she couldn’t care less.

  I hated to admit Sylvie was right. “He’s old news already.”

  “No. Already?” She laughed. “What was wrong with him? Too nice? Too cute? Had a snoring problem?”

  I shook my head signaling that I had no idea.

  “There’ll be a new one soon,” Sylvie said. I raised my brows meaningfully. She laughed, getting my hint. “Already?”

  I nodded. “Apparently I’m meeting him tonight.”

  “Can I come? Pretty please. You know how much I love to meet Tina’s boyfriends. They’re like squeezing your hand into a Halloween candy bag. You never know what you’ll get.” Her lips curled into a smile, and she cocked her head to the side the way she always did when she was about to start a major persuasion campaign.

  “Hell, no.” I blinked and took a step back. “You’re not coming.” She opened her mouth to protest so I cut her off. “Don’t even pretend to like her, when you’re at each other’s throat all the time.”

  “That’s not true…okay, maybe a little, but you know what I like even less? Being forgotten by my best friend on a Tuesday night. Come on, Brooke.” She leaned in conspiratorially. “Do you have any idea what might happen if I spent a night all alone?” She paused for dramatic effect. “Someone could break in. Or I could get so bored that I might end up finishing all the booze and make out with our neighbor from number 4.”

  Gross. The guy from number 4 was a major creep who walked around in a bathrobe. Every time we stepped out of the building, he was in the hallway, as though he knew we’d be leaving.

  “Oh, come on, Brooke. Pretty please, I don’t want to be all alone on Tuesday the 13th.”

  I rolled my eyes. Sylvie loved melodrama and, in particular, if it helped her get what she wanted. Soon bargaining would follow, and if that didn’t do the trick she’d revert to good old blackmail. She had followed the same patterns for the last twenty years, or ever since I refused to give her my lunch box in kindergarten. I wasn’t going to stick around for that.

  “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine,” she whispered. “You want to know what Jett said?”

  “Who’s Jett?” And that’s when it dawned on me. Mystery Guy. He had introduced himself the evening we met, but the name was so unusual I didn’t really catch it. I thought it was something like Jack, or Jake, or Jeremiah, and the strange pronunciation was the result of his Southern accent.

  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.

  CHAPTER THREE

  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 gay guy, he sure knew how to yell, which was what I was about to hear in three…

  Two.

  One.

  “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.

  Oh, God.

  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 fuck 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.

  CHAPTER FOUR

  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.

  I sat down and ignored the glossy magazines stacked neatly on the polished coffee table. Keeping my poker face on, I looked around Mayfield’s reception area as I waited for my new boss to greet me. Holy cow, I had never seen anything like it. Spacious was an understatement. The place was huge and classy in a minimalist kind of way. Mirrored glass reached from floor to ceiling and offered a bird’s-eye view of the busy street below. Black and white art adorned the wall behind the reception area. Huge Bonsai trees in Chinese flower pots were arranged down the large corridor, which I assumed led to the big guys’s offices. If I wanted to fit in I had to take Sylvie up on her offer and let her take me shopping. She had been nagging about my outdated wardrobe for ages, but until now I never felt a need to splurge money I didn’t have on clothes.

  I didn’t realize the brunette was standing before me until she touched my shoulder with perfectly manicured fingers.

  “Miss Stewart?” She handed me a thick manila envelope. “This is your work contract highlighting your pay package and benefits. Furthermore, you’ll also find a plane ticket to Italy, where you’ll be assisting Mr. Mayfield in the Lucazzone acquisition, and information on what will be expected of you as Mr. Mayfield’s senior assistant. The plane will board tomorrow night. You can take the rest of today off to pack your bags, and find a pet minder for the next two weeks in case you have a pet.” She trailed off and smiled again. “If your passport’s expired, please report to us immediately and we’ll take care of it.” She paused, waiting for my answer.

  “My passport’s great. It’s never been so valid.” I cringed inwardly at my odd choice of words, which did make me sound a bit dumb.

  “Great.” Miss Brunette Receptionist beamed. “Congratulations on your new job and have a nice trip.”

  My jaw dropped as my brain finally registered the meaning of her words. “Wait, did you say I’m going to Italy?” She nodded. “Tomorrow?” She nodded again.

  “Don’t miss your flight. Mr. Mayfield is expecting your arrival.”

  I nodded, dumbfounded, my thoughts still twirling around the words senior assist
ant. But I was a realtor. I had assisted James with the odd project, but he had never taken me to Italy, and he sure as hell didn’t expect me to deal with an acquisition. I swallowed hard and stood. I couldn’t speak Italian. Maybe I should have clarified with James what this job entailed, to see if I could keep up with the big guys, instead of assuming I’d get a few weeks of training.

  “If you have any questions or would like to discuss your contract, Rita Young from Human Resources will be happy to assist you,” the brunette said. “Once you’re happy with the terms, please make sure to sign the contract and post it back to us before you leave. I’m sorry, but work’s calling. It was lovely meeting you.” She turned to walk away when I grabbed her upper arm to stop her.

  “Wait. I’m a little confused. You said I’d be assisting Mr. Mayfield, but I haven’t even met him. So, who hired me?” I don’t know where the question came from when there were at least a dozen more important ones I could have asked. Such as, for example, did I get medical insurance or did I get a company phone? Or, most importantly, how much I would get paid?

  “That I don’t know. Since Ms. Young has been keen that the contract’s to your liking, I can only assume you’ve been headhunted. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” She batted her lashes impatiently. Slowly it dawned on me: the woman was busy and I had taken up enough of her time.

 
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