Authors: Colleen Charles
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I was running late.
So far, I’d put a run in my pantyhose, spilled coffee on my white cotton blouse and tripped over the cat, leaving a lump on my knee. Who the hell wore pantyhose anymore anyway? I felt like I’d been stuffed into some synthetic prison featuring a sagging crotch and creased ankles. But according to my new manager, every woman at Banks Realty was required to wear a suit as well as hose or tights stuffed into close-toed shoes with a suitable heel.
Aforementioned three-inch pumps were now carrying me toward the elevator as fast as my slippery nylon clad feet would allow them to go. I punched the button to the top floor with a finger that trembled a little more than I liked.
After the metal doors slid open, I stepped off into the penthouse suite offices for Banks Realty. One deep, calming breath and I was ready for a great first day on the job. I was actually excited to be using my law degree for good versus evil. It’s my dream job, really. Banks Realty was one of the largest real estate brokerages in the northeast United States. Mr. Nolan Banks owned most of the New York City skyline. According to Managing Attorney Jasmine Thomas, who hired me, I’d be working as a real estate closing attorney. That part was a snoozefest. The part that swung my pendulum was the possibility to do pro bono work to help build low-income housing for single parents. The company wanted to focus on giving back to the community and they wanted me to head the project.
“You must be Charlene de Monaco.” The girl at the reception desk greeted me, flipping her shoulder-length bobbed hair. “I’m Tiffani Carter. Jasmine asked me to get you settled this morning. Here’s your security badge. I’ll escort you to your office and you can meet with HR later to fill out the rest of your paperwork. Follow me.”
I struggled to keep up with her. She walked like the building was on fire and we only had minutes to get out. As we passed cubicle after cubicle, I got the impression the majority of people had been here for hours already, and it was only eight. They looked like a bunch of actors in a documentary for communist propaganda. Only things missing were their grey jumpsuits complete with employee ID number embroidered on the chest. Tiffani led me to the end of the corridor and stopped in front of an office.
“This is you,” she said with a tight smile.
Not too bad. Small room with a desk, credenza, and a view of the parking lot. It even had a window. A step up from the job I’d worked in a five by five cubicle staring at a fake Picasso so badly replicated it resembled my cat’s vomit. The fluorescent lights had blinked all day to the point where I’d end up with a massive migraine if I forgot my sunglasses. As Tiffani put my things on the desk, I scouted for an area where I could put my photo frames and which wall would work best for displaying diplomas and awards.
“Where have you been?” A shrill voice interrupted my decorating thoughts. I looked up to see Jasmine standing in the doorway with her arms crossed. Her raven hair was in a severe bun. If her individual hairs could talk, they would demand not a strand among them dare fly out of place. She wore a black suit with a red silk shirt that matched her red lipstick. Austere as hell. Probably hadn’t been laid since the eighties.
“I, um, we were just …”
Tiffani plopped the rest of the stuff on my desk and was gone before I could blink. I think I heard her whisper “Good Luck” before she seemed to disappear into thin air.
“There’s a meeting in the main conference center. Everyone is waiting for you,” she said, her dark eyes focused on me like a laser beam shot up from the bowels of hell. I wasn’t going to catch a newbie break around here. That was obvious from the deep freeze treatment.
“Did I miss the memo?” She glared at me and I let my box of personal effects drop with a thud on my glass and chrome desk before following her stomping feet down a maze of hallways.
The conference room was massive and seated twenty people around its dark mahogany table. Every eye turned on me as we walked into the room. The new girl was a straggler and dirty looks seemed to be the order of the day. I was starting to have serious doubts about taking this job, pro bono opportunity or not. The vibe at Banks Realty was straight out of
Jasmine took the head of the table and I grabbed the only empty seat in the room. Without even looking, I could tell my face was flushed, and I probably had red blotches on my chest and arms. I hated being stared at, especially since I wasn’t a raving beauty. I’d always relied on my brain and sharp wit. What a way to make a good first impression amongst the beautiful people.
“Please continue, Markus,” Jasmine instructed a young man sitting to the right of me.
I noticed with horror that everyone at the table had a pen and paper in front of them. I had nothing.
Suddenly, a slip of yellow legal pad paper and pencil slid onto my lap. I smiled thankfully at the young suit to the left of me. He winked.
Hot. As hell.
“…the project would begin as early as this summer if Nolan is able to secure the land with Mr. Robert Raminsky. In addition, we would break land on the low-income housing project around the same time frame.”
My ears perked up at the mention of the housing project. I made a notation on the paper.
“When will we find out if Nolan has secured Raminsky’s land?” Hot as Hell asked, his elegant fingers scratching notes on his yellow pad.
“Nolan’s on his way back from Tuscany as we speak, and we’ll have a better timeline of the project when he returns,” Jasmine replied. “Okay, anything else before we get back to work?”
A woman sitting across from me raised a hand that palmed an iPhone. “What are we going to do about this?” she asked, holding the phone toward Jasmine.
“About what? I can’t read from that far away, Mindy.” Jasmine sighed, her thin lips pressed into a thin line of annoyance.
“The paternity thing,” Mindy answered in a small voice.
“I’m not a psychic either. What paternity thing?”
I felt like all the air was sucked from the room. Some kind of bad-boy vacuum. No one even dared to breathe. What the hell had I gotten myself into?
“A girl from Mississippi is claiming to be pregnant with Nolan’s baby. She met him in Vegas and said …”
Jasmine stood abruptly, stormed over to Mindy’s chair and snatched the phone from her hand, flicking at the screen to make the text larger. Reading the article on the phone, Jasmine’s eyes enlarged to round orbs of fury.
“Meeting over.” She pocketed Mindy’s phone and stared at me. A tapered finger pointed to the middle of my forehead. “You, my office, now. The rest of you get back to work.”
As they quickly filed out of the room, Hot as Hell leaned over and whispered, “We’ll talk later. Good luck, new girl.”
It was the second person to tell me that in a span of fifteen minutes. Suddenly cat vomit and shades seemed like the lesser of two evils.
“Fix this,” Jasmine said, handing Mindy’s phone to me.
“How am I supposed to fix this?” I asked, not even glancing down at the screen. “I thought I was supposed to start working on the low-income housing project?”
“You’re a lawyer. It’s your job to keep Nolan out of trouble.
” she pointed to the iPhone, “is trouble. We can’t let some redneck, inbred slut from Nowhere, Mississippi make invalid claims against Nolan. You know how many women try to sink their claws into his bank account by riding his cock? You get on the next flight and get it to go away. Other duties as assigned.”
She said the last sentence with a telling smirk that led me to believe it wasn’t the first time Nolan Banks had found himself in this kind of trouble. Probably why there had been this vacancy in the legal department. Any self-respecting attorney didn’t deal well with this shit. National Enquirer type scandals were for agents and public relations people.
I stood there for seconds with my mouth hanging ajar, hoping she’d laugh and tell me it was all a cruel joke. Deep in my heart, I knew that was a pipe dream. Jasmine didn’t laugh. At least not on the job and I did
sign on to be a glorified babysitter for some billionaire playboy. What if this woman really was pregnant? What exactly did Jasmine expect me to do? Stop at the local drugstore and buy pregnancy tests so I could watch her pee on a stick? Accompany her to the doctor for a paternity test? Offer to give the baby a good home?
I had to get out of dealing with Nolan’s sexual mess without quitting. Walking out right now before lunch. The shortest amount of time on the job for an Ivy League-educated lawyer since the Nixon era.
Sliding the phone across the desk to her, I said, “I think there’s been a terrible mistake. I was hired to work on the low-income housing project. I should be filing paperwork for the permits today …”
Jasmine slid the phone right back. “If you have a problem with the task that is required of you, there’s the door. I have a hundred other people who would love to take your highly paid position. And a few who have already tried … and failed. Don’t make Mr. Banks sorry he hired you.”
I snatched up the phone, wanting to chuck it at her smug face. Instead, I gave her my best passive-aggressive smile and walked out of the office. I stood in the hallway for a brief moment, trying to get my bearings. Where in the hell was my office? Hot as Hell just happened to be returning from the copier at the same time — who was I kidding, I know they were all gathered in the adjacent office with a glass cup in their hand listening — and grabbed my elbow.
“This way, champ.”
I let him lead me down the maze of hallways and to my office. He sat down in the chair opposite mine while I got acquainted with my desk. “So … how’s your first day at work?”
Then he laughed. A deep, sparkling baritone that sounded better than Beethoven’s Fifth to my scalded ears. Funny how something so simple can change the course of a day. Or a life. Before Hot as Hell joined me, I’d felt tears starting to brew behind my eyeballs. Charlene de Monaco did not cry. Now, I was crying, but with humor and not horror.
“Great … thanks … for … asking.” I popped the words out in between belly laughs. I struggled to draw breath between each one.
“We haven’t been formally introduced, I’m Callum Markham,” he said as he held out one of those beautiful male hands for an official shake. “I’m a lawyer too. Basically, draw up leases, sales contracts, and the like. All the boring stuff. But I’m not.”
My eyes twinkled, and I enjoyed the touch of our hands. It was the first sign of solidarity and support I’d received. “You’re not … what?”
I chuckled again. “I see. I’ll keep that in mind when I need some entertainment.”
What I wouldn’t give for all that boring stuff right now. Hunting down a potential psycho ex-girlfriend wasn’t my thing. They didn’t have a class in law school for that.
“Sounds like fun, compared with what I’m supposed to be doing.”
“Yeah, you were hired to work the community project.” Callum lowered his voice, like the walls had ears. Did Banks go so far as to spy on their employees? “They used that carrot stick on the last two lawyers who sat in your office. What they don’t understand is that the type of attorneys who are drawn to pro-bono aren’t usually the type who are drawn to deal with the hot mess that’s Nolan Banks.”
“What? Are you serious?” A wave of nausea crawled up the back of my throat. I did not want to cater to some rich playboy and wander behind him cleaning up messes, like the horseshit brigade at the end of a parade. There wasn’t enough money in the world.
He made a sign on his chest. “Cross my heart.”
“Really, look at it this way …” He wagged his eyebrows. “You’ll never have a boring day. Nolan stays pretty busy with his shenanigans. As long as Daddy Warbucks keeps his pot of gold overflowing, his son gets the reign of the office.” Callum grew more serious. “However, one more major fuck-up and Nolan gets all his toys taken away and this company goes bye-bye. Everyone loses their jobs and Nolan Banks Realty ceases to exist.”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “That doesn’t sound like such a bad thing.”
Callum’s jaw unhinged for a moment. “You want us all to lose our jobs? You know how hard it is to find a decent paying job in this city? Almost impossible.”
“His dad would really fire everyone? For Nolan’s bad behavior?” I couldn’t keep the surprise out of my tone.
“This company is just a drop in the bucket to Mr. Banks. He owns several moneymaking corporations. The real estate office is just to appease his son. Mr. Banks would take a hit financially, but he would just find something else to take its place. Everything he touches turns to gold.”
Unfortunately, I understood. I was being held hostage as Nolan’s lawyer to make sure he stayed on the straight and narrow, earn money for his family, and keep everyone here at Banks employed. Great, the fate of the real estate business’ employees, wives and babies rested on my shoulders.
“I didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but you looked so confused in there,” he said with a look of empathy. And appreciation. “And I knew Jasmine wouldn’t spit the truth. The only thing that drips from that woman’s lips is venom.”
“Thanks, I think.” I shook my head, looking at the iPhone again. What else would I have to deal with?