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The bachelor auction, p.3
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       The Bachelor Auction, p.3

           J. C. Reed
 
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  Inwardly, this worries me because Brenda’s ideas are always something to worry about.

  “You ignored my texts,” she says, absentmindedly, like all’s well between us and we’re back to chatting about the newest restaurant that needs to make it onto our bucket list, or a new bargain place where to get your nails done.

  “You mean all of one?” I raise my brows at her. “It wasn’t even an apology. You actually had the nerve to blame me that the Uber driver made you wait for twenty minutes.”

  “True.” She nods. “And then I asked you how the Tyler Becks conversation went.”

  My heart slams harder at hearing his name. The memory of our strange encounter is still fresh in my mind—an open, raw wound. I’m still mortified as hell, maybe even more so than before. I want to dive back under my covers and force myself into another sleeping marathon, which is how I spent the weekend.

  I can’t believe how crazy attracted I was to him. That sexy voice followed me even in my dreams.

  Brenda raises her head and her gaze fixes on me, her eyes filled with curiosity. “So, how did it go?”

  I suck in my breath, faltering, as my attention returns to her.

  Yes, how was it, Harding?

  Crushing beyond words. Embarrassing on so many levels, so much so that I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

  I shrug and put on my most nonchalant expression. “Okay, I guess.”

  “Okay?” Her curiosity is piqued. “What does that mean?”

  I shrug again, trying to come up with a lie that might persuade her to drop it. “I wanted to schedule an appointment, but he wasn’t interested. Said something about being too busy and that his assistant had already scheduled several meetings with companies that were more suitable. We said our goodbyes and that was it.”

  I’m such a liar, and judging from Brenda’s suspicious stare I’m not even a good one. But while I was fuming mad right after the meeting, I realized Brenda would never understand the fact that I just couldn’t bring myself to waste money we don’t have on a meeting that wouldn’t have turned into a successful venture anyway.

  I mean, he’s Tyler Becks with a billion-dollar empire and we’re, well—

  Red Eagle Publicity.

  Yeah, I know the name sucks, but Brenda has this penchant for eagles. She believes they’re her totem animals or something. And red’s her lucky color. It says so in her Chinese horoscope.

  Basically, Magnolia Publicity, my first choice of brand names, stood no chance against her totem animal and star sign.

  “So, he wasn’t interested?”

  I shake my head a little too vehemently, but it does the trick. “No. There was no interest at all.” I force my gaze to meet hers. “In fact, he offered to return our money.”

  There.

  It wasn’t even that hard.

  Brenda will never know the truth, and I can forget all about Tyler Becks. I breathe out a sigh of relief as her gaze returns to the computer screen.

  “Whatever. It doesn’t matter because, get this—” she takes a long breath and lets it out slowly, mentally preparing to say something with as much fanfare as I’ve come to expect from her.

  I roll my eyes because, frankly, we haven’t got all day. “Just spill.”

  “We got a job.”

  I stare at her for a good few seconds as I try to read her expression. No way, she isn’t joking.

  “Tyler Becks?” I can barely bring myself to speak out his name and not sink into a hole of depression.

  Brenda waves her hand dismissively. “Forget him. I’m talking about a new job. This is a huge company, something about being in the travel business. They’ve requested your immediate presence to help out with some publicity opportunity. You’re flying to Las Vegas. Five-star hotel and all. I’m so jealous.”

  The travel business?

  “You mean, I—” My brain kicks into action, going through all the companies I’ve pitched our portfolio to. I don’t recall any of them dealing with travel arrangements. Maybe it’s an airline or a hotel chain that failed to uphold safety regulations. Or—

  Who cares, Harding?

  We got a fricking job. This might be the break we’ve been hoping for.

  That’s when I realize Brenda threw in the words “Las Vegas” and “immediate presence.”

  “They specifically requested me?”

  “Yes.” She shrugs. “I don’t know how you did it, but all our hard work’s finally paying off. They’ve just sent over all the info you’ll need. The company’s name is Travel Sun. Given that your flight’s tomorrow morning, I suggest you get packing,” Brenda says, reading my thoughts, as she shoots my work attire a dirty look.

  “What?” I mouth.

  “You might want to change.”

  I look down at my gray pencil skirt and the white button-up shirt. Okay, I look more like a personal assistant than a business owner who’s supposed to be a creative mastermind.

  Then again, who cares?

  No one did…until now. Because now we got a job and I need to look the part.

  “Seriously, do me a favor and don’t wear anything that resembles that,” Brenda instructs, in case her looks of disapproval don’t speak volumes. “In fact, you might want to replace most of your wardrobe. Your professional attire might not seem like a big deal to you, but you need to make a great first impression before you’ve even uttered a word—and you only have a few seconds to put your best foot forward.”

  I peer from my boring attire to her sharp business suit with a narrow silhouette and low neckline. Even if I wanted to wear that, I wouldn’t have the legs and the narrow hips to make it work.

  “I’ll find something.” I get up and sling my handbag over my shoulder. “You’ll be okay without me?”

  “Given our busy schedule, I think I’ll manage.” She laughs at her own joke and pushes an envelope across her desk. “This was delivered for you. Please don’t mess this up,” she whispers, her voice shaking with serious magnitude.

  I nod, my throat choking up.

  This is a huge opportunity, I know that. It’s the only opportunity we’ve had in the two years since we graduated from college. Our future depends on it. We’ve stuck it out longer than we initially planned, but we’ve run out of money and ideas. If I fail to land us something long-term, we’ll be screwed.

  We’ll join the list of yet another failed business in New York City.

  “I can do this,” I whisper with more confidence than I feel.

  “This is fate.” Brenda nods enthusiastically, believing every word she says. “It will happen because it’s meant to. You know the saying, where the Lord guides, he provides.”

  Being raised as a church girl and given her keen interest in spiritual development, I’m not surprised to find she has yet another quote that suits the occasion. I wish I had her faith and confidence and faith in this life-path thing, but as things stand I can only believe what I see, and right now all I see is a great, big wall that might be too high to surpass.

  “I’ll text you from the airport.” I shoot Brenda a smile and head out, pondering whether to hit the shops or save the last couple hundred bucks for next month’s rent.

  In the end, rent wins.

  5

  The day drags on forever. Between choosing the best clothes to suit the occasion, refreshing my presentation skills, and making a checklist for what to say and what not, I have been constantly checking my emails for Lucky’s reply to the message I sent him last night.

  I shouldn’t tell a complete stranger all my secrets, but he’s actually a great listener, and somehow in the bleakness that is my world, he always knows how to lighten the mood.

  Brenda’s like my only friend since college—that’s how we met a few years ago—but I can’t tell her everything, and for a good reason. She enjoys dishing out advice, whether you want it or not, and at times, her optimism is more than one can bear.

  Call me an introvert, but I always felt safer hiding behind a screen
, which is something Brenda’s always teased me about. Maybe that’s why I thought our two-people business idea would work: me doing most of the brainstorming and administration of our day-to-day activities, such as cold calling companies, and Brenda playing the communicator, mediator, you know, the pretty face of our brand.

  It’s after five p.m. when Lucky’s reply comes in. Anticipation flows over me as I click to read his message.

  Subject: Re: Guess who’s just landed the chance of a lifetime…

  * * *

  I’ll have to say I’m jealous that some stranger gets to see those Ds straining your business suit, and I don’t. After all, I should get preferential treatment due to the fact that we’ve known each other for so long, while he’s just popped up. But congratulations are due, so…congrats on landing that business trip.

  As to those ten inches I keep mentioning, I can assure you they’re real…I’ve just measured to make sure I take good care of each and every inch. Just as I’m forced to take your word for everything you’ve ever told me, you’ll have to take mine. While I can’t risk sending you photographic proof, I could arrange for a personal meeting, say, tonight?

  I keep seeing your status as online, so I figured it’s either you’re waiting for my reply, or you’re chatting up my competition. Either way, I can’t help but wonder why we don’t just go for it?

  What if your plane crashed and I’ll never get to see you? My dirty fantasies and the knowledge that I’ll never get to act on them would haunt me for the rest of my life.

  I can’t afford that. I need to make you scream my name.

  So, you see, I have a good reason to insist that we meet. Tonight.

  Choose a restaurant from one of those places on your wishlist and I’ll get us a table within the hour. And then we can talk some more about that fantasy of yours, i.e., the one involving me bending you over whatever we can get our hands on and end that dry spell of yours.

  * * *

  — LuckyLuke

  I stare at Lucky’s latest message. I’ve been so consumed by my attempts to get our company name out there that I’ve completely neglected my private life, and in particular, anything related to the opposite sex. I could at least go out to dinner, scratch off one of the restaurants on my wishlist, see what the guy looks like, and then politely part ways if I’m not into him.

  I’ve been wondering about the person behind the strange profile, anyway.

  So, what’s stopping me?

  Why the heck am I hesitating to take him up on his offer?

  Because I want to be able to dine at one of those restaurants paying with money I’ve earned rather than as someone else’s arm candy. Besides, he couldn’t possibly get a table at any of the restaurants on my wishlist, at least not within the hour.

  And if he could…

  No, the probability of that is equal to nil, unless he’s well-connected and/or filthy rich, which, judging from all the expensive restaurants and places he’s rated, isn’t completely farfetched.

  Subject: Re: Re: Guess who’s just landed the chance of a lifetime…

  * * *

  While your offer is incredibly tempting, you know I couldn’t pay half of the bill, which is one of the many reasons why I must decline. Wish me luck in Vegas.

  * * *

  — Bumblebee07

  I’m about to log out of my account when a message notification pings.

  Subject: Re: Re: Re: Guess who’s just landed the chance of a lifetime…

  * * *

  Whether you can afford it is irrelevant to me. When I take a woman out to dinner I’m always the one paying the bill.

  * * *

  — LuckyLuke

  I skim over his message when I notice the digits at the bottom following his usual sign off.

  No way!

  He’s added his phone number.

  I stare at it for a few seconds, wondering whether he made a mistake or whether he wants me to call him.

  Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Guess who’s just landed the chance of a lifetime…

  * * *

  I can’t hear my phone ringing. Is your battery dead or why else haven’t you called my number yet? If you don’t reply within the next five minutes, I’ll be forced to assume you’re busy pleasuring yourself to the image of my ten inches.

  * * *

  — LuckyLuke

  I stare at his phone number for a few seconds, internally debating what to do. I want to talk to him, if only to finally put a voice to the name and prove to myself that he’s probably not even half as sexy as my mind makes him out to be.

  But something’s holding me back.

  Maybe things are getting a little too real.

  Maybe I’m not ready to face the harsh reality—that he might be some desperate guy in dire need of an affair after his marriage turned stale.

  Even if I wanted to kill my curiosity, my life’s already too messed up right now. I need to find my place in the world before I let a guy in to bring more chaos than I already have on my plate.

  I’m not ready to meet him.

  Deciding to ignore his message for the time being, I log out of my account and commence my preparations for my trip to Vegas.

  6

  As soon as I step off the plane, I’m hit by the Las Vegas air—a mixture of heat and exhaust fumes. I’ve been here before, but never riding in a limousine that’s whisking me away to a luxurious hotel with marble staircases and polished chandeliers. I can barely keep myself from gawking as I’m checked into what looks like a suite with floor-to-ceiling windows that offer a panoramic view of the city below. My bedroom’s so huge, my entire Brooklyn apartment could fit in there. It even has a fireplace (who needs that in Las Vegas?), a bathtub set up in the middle of the room, and a huge sofa that seats at least eight.

  Everything looks so expensive it almost feels unreal. But I’m not one to complain.

  I slump onto the plush sofa with a contented sigh, barely touching anything out of fear that I might break something and be billed for the damage. As much as I wish I could spend a few hours soaking in the tub, I only have forty minutes to spare. Leaving my suitcase unpacked, I take a quick shower, and then change into a pencil skirt and top before heading out to meet with my potential employer…my nerves slightly frayed.

  Not surprisingly, the restaurant is packed. I hover near the entrance, peering inside at the commotion of sparkling jewelry and tailored suits. I’ve never seen so many beautiful women and well-dressed men in one place. Then again, this is Las Vegas—the city of the rich and those striving for the high life.

  Dressed in my pencil skirt and shirt, I feel completely out of place, but I’m not here to impress my new boss with my selection of evening gowns—or lack thereof.

  I’m here to impress him with my creativity and solutions tailored to suit his needs.

  I head into the restaurant and hesitate in what looks like a broad corridor. From this vantage point, you can see straight into the dining area, or you can take a left toward the restrooms. The maître d’ is busy with a tourist couple who doesn’t seem to understand the need for making a reservation. Unsure whether to let the maître d’ guide me to my table or find my own way, I walk past a huge flower arrangement, craning my neck to scan the tables for my possible employer.

  Which is kind of ridiculous, if I think about it.

  I have no idea what he looks like. I don’t even know whom I’m supposed to meet. It could just as easily be a woman running the business.

  “Can I help you?” the maître d’ asks from behind.

  Startled, I almost jump out of my skin. “I’m joining someone for a business meeting and I’m not sure if they have arrived,” I mutter, not sure whether that’s even the case.

  The man raises an eyebrow and scans me up and down with disapproval but doesn’t comment on my choice of clothing. “May I have your name?”

  “Emily Harding.”

  He peers at what looks like a tiny tablet and then nods. “Of course, Ms. Ha
rding. Mr. Becks is already expecting you. Let me show you to your table.”

  I freeze to the spot as all the air is knocked out of my lungs.

  “Mr. Becks?” I choke on the words, unsure whether I heard him right.

  The maître d’ nods, his eyes narrowing on me suspiciously. “Mr. Tyler Becks.”

  “But how?” I close my eyes, then open them again. “I’m sorry. But I’m supposed to meet—”

  He looks at the tablet again, his facial expression not changing as he repeats, “Mr. Tyler Becks is expecting you.”

  What are the odds?

  My brain fights to grasp the meaning of this. Maybe it’s all a coincidence and the guy’s expecting someone else, because there’s no way he would have hired us after our last conversation. I made such a poor impression I wouldn’t have hired myself. And then there’s no way he could know about Red Eagle Publicity.

  “Mr. Becks doesn’t like to be kept waiting,” the maître d’ says as though he knows him personally. “Please follow me.”

  I nod, unsure what to do. My brain urges me to run, get the hell way away from here, but my legs won’t budge from the spot. There’s a reason why I don’t want to meet the guy, and it’s not because I think that we’re not good enough for the job.

  It’s because of the way he makes me feel.

  He’s too confident. Too sexy, in an intimidating kind of way. It’s not like I haven’t met hot guys before; it’s just that this one tops the charts. It’s not so much personal as it’s self-preservation.

  There’s something about him that makes me feel like I’ve never felt before, so I do what every woman with her head screwed on would do—

 
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