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The bachelor auction, p.5
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       The Bachelor Auction, p.5

           J. C. Reed
 
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  “If you don’t mind, I’d like to make it an early night. I’d like to give your business idea the attention it deserves,” I say. “Since you’ve so kindly offered to send me the details after dinner, based on the info you provide, I’ll be able to build a business model for tomorrow’s meeting.”

  Tyler tilts his head, regarding me for a long moment, before his smile widens. “That could work. You like meringue?”

  “Yes, why?”

  “You’ll probably be staying up late, so I’ll arrange that dessert be brought up to you.”

  10

  Subject: Are you mad at me?

  * * *

  Did I do something wrong? I meant it when I said that I wouldn’t mind if he warmed you up for me. A man has to be able to share to get what he wants. Do you agree with me?

  * * *

  — LuckyLuke

  Subject: Re: Are you mad at me?

  * * *

  Okay. I get it. You’re pissed. But in my defense, I’m on your side. You’ve been complaining that your business isn’t doing well. I know how much it means to you and I’ve only been trying to lighten the pressure by being funny.

  Obviously, I’m not into sharing at all. My ego’s still bruised that you haven’t agreed to meet me yet. We both know you’re just delaying the inevitable.

  I’ll also admit it crossed my mind that you only complain about him because you’re, in fact, attracted to him.

  * * *

  — LuckyLuke

  Subject: Re: Re: Are you mad at me?

  * * *

  Forget my last email. I didn’t mean to put you on the spot. Friends? Can we start over?

  * * *

  — LuckyLuke

  Brenda keeps on calling and Lucky’s messages pop in one after another, but I’m too tired to talk to any of them. My meeting with Tyler Becks has opened my eyes. I was so wrapped up in my worries that I had completely forgotten how to be professional and unbiased. I had completely forgotten that fresh-out-of-college feeling, the excitement, the motivation to take whatever challenge might be thrown my way.

  I didn’t realize that all the rejections flooding in from companies over the past two years had killed every morsel of creativity I had possessed. Somehow, all the disappointment molded me into a person I barely recognized. Tyler has made me realize that I might not have given up yet, but that I haven’t been trying hard enough lately. I didn’t get the chance to prove myself before. Now I get that chance again, and I’m ready to go for it.

  I’m going to prove that I have what it takes to take Red Eagle to the next level.

  11

  Almost ten hours later, at 8 a.m. sharp, I’m making my way down to the restaurant with a thick folder of notes tucked under my arm. Under different circumstances, I would have prepared a PowerPoint presentation with bullet points, maybe even made some drawings, but I sensed that Tyler Becks doesn’t quite work like that. Or maybe not in this particular instance.

  My self-doubts that I might not have enough time to prepare for the task evaporated as soon as I opened the folder and read the name of Tyler’s new business venture.

  Travelbuddy.com

  Who would have guessed he came up with the idea?

  Excitement flows through me. I know everything about it because I’ve been a member for months. I’ve logged onto the website countless times. I’ve probably read almost every review and comments, marveled over the website design, stared at each stunning photo.

  The website is huge and already positioned as Google’s number one spot for travel planning. I can’t imagine why Tyler would need more publicity when he’s getting millions of hits a month.

  Whoever set it up has done a great job.

  So, what does he need me for when the website’s already getting so much traffic?

  I can’t wait to find out as I hasten through the busy reception area and enter the restaurant. Tyler’s already seated at a table near the back, overlooking what looks like a Japanese Zen courtyard garden in the middle of the restaurant. He’s focused on his cell phone, frowning at whatever he’s reading. For a moment, time seems to stand still as I take him in. He’s wearing a casual shirt and slacks that emphasize his strong, muscular body. His arms are tanned, but not overly so, as though he likes to spend time outside of the confinement of his office. I wonder what he does in his spare time, whether there’s someone he spends time with.

  There has to be. Guys like him are either players or off the market. Or very discreet about whatever they’re doing. Tyler Becks doesn’t have a playboy reputation. In fact, he seems to guard his private life so well that he doesn’t have a reputation at all.

  I know that for a fact because last night, when work was the last thing on my mind, I found myself Googling him and reading every single article I could find about him.

  Which isn’t just shameful. It’s downright bad. I can’t show any interest in his private life now that he’s my employer—my sexy, rich employer who’d make any woman curious, and I’m not even talking about the bulge in his pants that just won’t escape my attention.

  “You made it without bailing,” Tyler says as soon as I’ve reached his table. He places his phone on the table and stands to help me into my chair. The faint scent of his aftershave and soap waft over me, and the image of him popping out of the shower emerges in my mind. I have to stop myself from closing my eyes and inhaling deeply.

  “Thanks,” I mutter, settling into my chair and mentally preparing for a comeback when he pushes a cup of coffee toward me.

  “Please help yourself. I took the liberty to order your coffee.”

  “Thank you,” I repeat and wrap my hands around the cup.

  I acknowledge the basket with bagels and fresh fruit set up in the middle of the table, but instead of digging in, I just take a sip of my coffee as I wait for Tyler to take the lead.

  “Sleep well?” he asks and reaches for the folder on the table. “Do you mind?” Without waiting for my reply to either of his inquiries, he opens the folder. Sifting through my notes is such a personal thing to do. I should be angry, but the interest on his face keeps me from putting him in his place.

  “I did. Thank you.” Which is a big, fat lie. I couldn’t stop fretting as my thoughts kept circling around work…but mostly around him. You could say that he kept me up all night, though not in the way I would have wanted him to. I could barely focus on my work because my thoughts kept circling around him…even after I Googled everything about his life.

  “Good.” He looks like he hardly got any sleep. There are faint shadows under his eyes, and judging from the way he keeps glancing at his phone, I won’t be having his undivided attention.

  “Hmm.” Tyler’s face is drawn in concentration. He nods several times as he goes back and forth through my notes. I hold my breath, suddenly nervous. I was so confident of my ideas as I scribbled them down. Now I’m not so sure anymore.

  Working on college assignments with countless books to draw inspiration from is one thing; coming up with an entire plan based on new ideas at three a.m. is another. There’s a real chance that whatever I scribbled down is a bunch of horse manure.

  Oh gosh, what if that’s really the case?

  “So…what do you think?” I prompt, not so patiently.

  He takes his sweet time answering. Eventually, he closes the folder and looks up. I stare into his blue eyes, trying to read his expression. “It seems like there’s a lot of work ahead of you.” His gaze narrows on me, assessing me as though he’s not quite sure that I’m up for the task.

  “Okay.” I nod even though I have no idea what he wants me to say. “So? Do you need me to do more research? Focus on something in particular?”

  He smiles at my questions. “If you don’t mind, yes. You’ll be working directly with me so I’d appreciate a daily report.”

  My heart starts to beat faster.

  “You’re giving me the job?” My voice is faint, my tone unbelieving.

  I’m so wrapp
ed up in incredulity that it feels like the world has just slipped away from me and there is only us.

  He nods again. “It was yours to begin with. That is, if you’re interested and agree to refrain from hiding in bathrooms in the future?”

  I laugh until tears start to gather in the corner of my eyes.

  I just can’t help it.

  All those fears and worries that plagued us for two years finally lift like a big, gray cloud that’s been hovering above our heads.

  I did it. Didn’t I?

  Relief can’t even begin to cover what I’m feeling. Brenda was right. All our hard work has just paid off.

  “I won’t disappoint you.” I take a deep breath and let the warm, glowing feeling inside me expand, and then it expands some more as I peer up into his beautiful eyes. “I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity.” I can’t wait to text Brenda to tell her the good news. She’ll be over the moon, just like I am right now.

  I can almost hear her voice inside my head, “I told you so. The Lord has great plans for us.”

  For once, she might just be onto something.

  She’s always been blessed for having faith. Maybe it was time that I started paying attention to whatever she’s usually droning on about.

  “You do understand that I’ll have to monitor you closely, right?”

  His voice draws me back, cutting off my trail of thoughts. I nod even though I’ve no idea what he’s talking about. Publicity campaigns aren’t usually “monitored” by a client. You pitch them, you see them through, and then you present your results.

  “I expect you to stay in Vegas for the duration of this assignment,” Tyler continues. “I’ve arranged with my assistant that you get your own office. I expect to see a daily report to discuss your progress.”

  I stare at him dumbfounded as realization slowly sets in. “But—”

  I can’t stay in Vegas. Where would I be living? And most importantly, I can’t afford it. Besides, promoting Tyler’s site is a huge undertaking. I’ll need Brenda’s help.

  “Look, I appreciate your job offer, but there’s one tiny problem.” I suck my lower lip between my teeth, wondering how to communicate the dilemma I’m in without him withdrawing his offer.

  Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut rather than risk it. I might be able to make this work after all. Brenda could take out another loan while I could rent a cheap room somewhere.

  Tyler cocks a brow, watching me as I silently fight my internal battles. “What’s the problem?”

  Money.

  I can’t afford to live in Vegas.

  I take a deep breath and release it slowly. “I would be more productive from back home. I could email you a daily report and—”

  “No,” Tyler cuts me off. “I need you here. Your accommodations will be provided for, if that’s what you’re worried about. You can stay in your suite for the rest of the month. All I ask is that you meet with me daily. That part’s not negotiable.”

  Relief streams through me.

  “You’ll take care of my accommodations?”

  “Yes.” He nods. “I need you to stay. We’ll need to meet daily.”

  Daily.

  I blink as the meaning of the word sinks in.

  I’ll have to see him every day.

  It seems like nothing’s negotiable with him.

  “Your salary package has already been mailed to your business associate, and she’s already accepted the deal.” A satisfied smile grazes his lips, as though he expected that part.

  That’s when it hits me.

  “You already hired me yesterday, didn’t you?” I narrow my eyes at him.

  “Yes. I thought that part was clear. Like I said, I believe in new business.”

  “So, the staying up late, working on new ideas, a presentation—” I clamp my mouth shut before he notices my rising anger.

  “Well done on that.” He looks down at his phone, his attention a million miles away.

  “Thanks,” I mutter, realizing he’s barely lingered on any of the ideas I came up with.

  Why did I even bother?

  “I assume the project budget’s acceptable?” He seems rushed now, as though something about that phone’s bothering him.

  I nod.

  “Good.” His smile widens. “And, Emily, this isn’t just a job offer. You’re a freelancer working on a temporary assignment. You’re welcome to work with me closely, and please feel free to contact me any time if you have questions. The usual employer-employee rules don’t apply to us.”

  He pauses and his eyes sparkle with something. I’ve no idea what the hell he’s talking about, and I really don’t care.

  “Now let’s eat before we officially get started,” Tyler says. “I expect you have lots of questions, because I sure do.”

  12

  “The guy’s crazy,” I mutter under my breath as I peek inside through the crack in the door, staring at Tyler’s assistant as she carries a pile of what looks like hundreds of loose sheets of paper.

  “More notes?” I ask Scarlet and hurry to help her before she scatters half the pile across the floor and I’ll be forced to find some order to Tyler’s mess.

  I’ve been in Vegas for over a week, during which I’ve quickly come to realize that Tyler doesn’t work like normal people.

  Let me correct that.

  He is unlike anyone I’ve ever met.

  In fact, I can’t help but wonder how the hell he got so rich by being the most complex person I’ve ever met? He’s scattered, impossible to impress, and parsimonious with praise. He always mocks me at the wrong times, and sends out mixed signals that make my head spin. And then there’s the fact that nothing’s ever straightforward with him.

  Basically, I don’t know what he wants from me.

  In fact, I keep wondering whether he’s actually satisfied with my work. Or whether I’m here because he likes to test my patience and forbearance.

  In the last couple of days, I’ve already compiled a focus group and analyzed the findings, which I presented to him. He didn’t like the feedback that his website’s name isn’t attracting the target audience he’s aiming to reach.

  Every idea I suggested, he rejected. And every time I challenged his choice, he wanted me to discard everything else and focus on it.

  I don’t think I’ve ever worked this hard before.

  In spite of the findings, I came up with several marketing and advertising plans, which—no surprise there—didn’t appeal to him. It’s my fifth attempt at working out something he’ll agree with, and I’m running out of steam.

  And patience.

  It’s not that I don’t have plenty of ideas to help him make it work. He just doesn’t like any of them. He’s changed his mind so many times, I don’t know what he wants. And slowly, I get the feeling he doesn’t know what he really wants, either.

  “He wants you to go through his notes and revisions,” Scarlet says with a look of pity on her face. I think she sympathizes with me because we’re in the same boat.

  “No problem. Just drop them over there.” I point to a free spot on my desk.

  It’s nine p.m. on a Friday night, and we’re the only two still stuck at the office. We barely had a few minutes to eat—Tyler likes to call that precious time a “lunch break”—but I’m still hyper from the tons of coffee, which is easily accessible and provided at all hours of the day.

  But caffeine is a lousy substitute for sleep or some actual downtime to give my brain a chance to recharge.

  “I’ll take those home. Time to call it a day—or night.” Standing from my chair, I realize the room’s spinning a little. I need to eat. There’s no way my brain will function if I don’t get at least some sugar to cancel out all the caffeine coursing through my veins. Maybe a decent meal and a few hours of sleep, and then I’ll be good to go again.

  “Actually, he wants to see you in his office. Like five minutes ago,” Scarlet says and the pity in her expression intensifies.

&n
bsp; “He’s still here?”

  She nods her head.

  “And whatever he wants is so important it can’t wait until tomorrow?” Which is a Saturday. Apparently, working for Tyler Becks means weekends off are just as scarce as free evenings.

  I know the answer before I’ve even asked the question.

  Scarlet nods again.

  I fight the urge to smirk because that would be unprofessional, and as much as I think of Scarlet as my confidante and ally, she’s loyal to my boss. Everyone working for him seems to be.

  “I’ll just grab my stuff,” I mutter.

  “I’m leaving. See you tomorrow,” Scarlet says and heads out.

  Lucky her.

  With a sigh, I stuff as much of my work as I can into my bag and ride up the elevator to Tyler’s office, which occupies an entire floor and is divided into three areas: his actual office, a conference room, and Scarlet’s workspace.

  I’ve been up here a couple of times, but my visits were always restricted to the vast conference room with plenty of space between us. And even though being in his presence has always had me on edge, I could pretend that the tightness of his pants was just the result of my sex-starved, dirty mind. Or maybe he likes to buy his pants a few sizes too small.

  Standing in front of the frosted glass door to his office, I’m suddenly frozen to the spot, hesitating.

  Yep, I’ve definitely had too much caffeine and my mind’s going places again.

  Most of the lights were switched off hours ago and the floor’s bathed in semi-darkness, which is strange for Vegas, where it’s never really night. Or dark. Or quiet. But that’s how Tyler likes it, and what the boss wants, the boss gets. Which is why I’m here on a Friday night, trying to please Tyler Becks, just like everybody else around him.

 
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