Authors: Stephanie Morris
Exception to the Rules
By Stephanie Morris
Copyright © October 2011, Stephanie Morris
Cover art by For The Muses Design © October 2011
This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this novel are fictitious or used fictitiously. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
Sugar and Spice Press
North Carolina, USA
To Jennifer. Even though you have your own military hero in real life, this one is for you.
To Heidi, Tamara and Sharon H. I promise you ladies will see me in your area for a book signing soon. Hopefully this will make up for it until then.
Thank you all for your support!
Gaea was a heartbeat away from an uninterrupted escape. At five minutes before eleven on a Wednesday night, she figured everyone else had left Begum and Guinn, Inc., and she could make her way to the elevator and make it to the parking garage without any issues. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be.
Arnold Pratt, her boss, former mentor, and current a major pain in her backside, stepped out of his office one second before she pressed the call button. Not only did he scare the hell of her, but he also made her drop her satchel, which gave him reason to rush over and help her pick up her scattered papers.
“Working late, Gaea?”
“Yes, and I am really tired, so if you’ll just give me the—”
“Of course,” he said, handing her the information on the new fashion line. “Why don’t we stop and grab a bite to eat, follow it up with a nightcap? It might help you get right to sleep.”
She took a deep breath as she placed the papers back into her satchel. “Thanks, Arnold, but I don’t need a nightcap. Just ready to get home.”
“You do look tired. Are you sure you’re okay to drive? I’d be happy to give you a ride home.”
“No, that’s okay. You go on home. I’m sure Cheri’s waiting up for you considering the late hour.”
“She went to bed hours ago,” he responded. “The girls had practice today and they wore her out.”
“I can imagine how she feels.” Gaea pressed the call button again and silently prayed for the elevator to arrive.
“So,” Arnold said, leaning against the wall in a failed attempt to appear casual and relaxed, “you ready for next week’s event?”
“Yes, I am. Just a few more small things to take care of. We’ll be fine. It’s going to be a huge success.”
“You’re right. It will be. Mainly due to your hard work.”
“Actually, everyone involved has worked their butts off on this one.”
“With you at the helm.”
Several months ago, she would have been moved by the commendation, but things had changed.
Somewhere along the way, her boss had gotten the idea that the two of them could be more than co-workers. Despite the fact that he was married with two young daughters. Never had she given Arnold any hint of encouragement. Did he consider her easy to get because he knew she had no time or desire to date anyone?
She’d thought about her current predicament a lot. Her first option was to file a harassment complaint, but for all practical purposes, she’d come out on the losing end. Whatever the result, a suit would put a very large black mark on her career plans. Instead, she’d decided to figure out a way to put off Arnold until this fashion campaign was over, then, with that success under her belt, move on to bigger and better things. Another major marketing firm had expressed interest in her, and he was pretty certain that another was checking her credentials as well. All she had to do was get through the next two weeks without a major hiccup, and she had a first class ticket to freedom.
“Are you sure you aren’t hungry?” Arnold asked as the elevator doors finally hissed open.
“I’m positive. Thanks for the offer. I appreciate it.”
He touched her arm as she walked into the car. “Anytime. You just let me know when you’re ready to take me up on my offer.”
She smiled until the doors closed, then she emitted the groan she’d been holding in. This was a nightmare. And it only seemed to get worse.
In a few days, fashion week would launch with one of the most famous clothing designers in the world. The elaborate campaigns and media focus would compete with that of one in New York City. A full week of in-your-face promos featuring A-list celebrities, politicians, and other prominent guests. Only this event was taking place in Dallas with locations from Uptown to University Park, and she was in charge of making sure that nothing went wrong. Thankfully, her team was the best, especially her assistant, Kallie, which meant she could focus on dealing with any major issues rather than being concerned with the small details. Too bad she already had a big fire to put out, one that existed in Arnold’s pants.
To make matters worse, they were all staying at the
hotel for the duration, and Arnold had booked her suite right next to his own. Undoubtedly with connecting doors.
Something had to be done. A plan that wouldn’t get her fired. Somehow, she had to show Arnold once and for all that she wasn’t available to him.
The elevator stopped in the lobby and she nodded to the security guard as she headed for the entrance to the parking garage. Sadly, her car was the only one left on the ground level. A testament to how early she’d arrived to work.
Once she was outside, she stood still for just a moment, letting the cool air of the early spring night air flow over her. This was her favorite time of the year. The cold air from winter had finally passed, and it gave her time to prepare herself for the humidity and heat of summer.
She continued on toward her car, the sound of her heels clicking on the concrete. After sliding into the driver’s seat, she started the ignition, then pulled out of the parking garage. In another fifteen minutes or so, she could take a nice hot shower, crawl underneath her sheets, and forget about Arnold, fashion shows and ad campaigns until 6:00 a.m., when it would all begin again.
The traffic was mercifully light. There was so much to do before the premiere, and she felt guilty about leaving work at all.
Insane, but nonetheless, it was true. Her job meant everything... No, that wasn’t true. Her
meant everything to here. Nothing, not even Arnold and his raging libido, was going to get in her way. She would become a C-level executive before she turned thirty-five, or die trying.
But that mean thwarting Arnold’s unwanted advances until the campaign was over. The only thing that would deter Arnold from coming on to her was her having a boyfriend. But he knew she didn’t have one, and how in the world was she supposed to come up with one in the next week?
Her gaze flickered over the billboard she passed by on the way home. A few moments later, she spotted one for Premier Escort Service.
Gaea smiled as an idea began to formulate in her mind. It all fell into place. An escort. Of course. She could say it was someone from
, someone she’d dated before. It would be easy enough to hire a man for the role, someone refined enough, attractive enough, to appear in the plethora of photos that would be taken, but most importantly, someone diplomatic enough not to blow the whistle on her.
Cooper. Her best friend. Of course. Geez, why hadn’t she thought of him before now? It was so obvious. The only person in the entire office who’d even heard of Cooper was Kallie, and Kallie was the soul of discretion. Gaea would call Cooper tomorrow. He’d love a week at the
. And Arnold Pratt could take his unwanted, make-your-skin-want-to-crawl advances and take a long hike.
* * * *
“As much as I would love to help you out, I can’t”
Gaea blinked, not sure she’d heard Cooper correctly. “Did you say you can’t?”
“I’m sorry, Gaea.”
“Cooper, no. Please. Maybe you don’t understand the seriousness of the situation. He’s ruthless. Everywhere I turn, he’s there. I need your help.”
“I know, Gaea, but I really can’t. You know I would if I could.”
“Then help me.”
“Impossible. I’ll be in Florida for five of the days.”
“You can’t cancel? Reschedule?”
His deep baritone filled her ear and made her clutch the phone in a desperate fist.
“Damn it to hell! This was the perfect solution.”
“So find someone else. I know I’m not the only guy you know.”
“True, but you are the only guy I know well enough to ask. Besides, you’re perfect. Come on, Cooper.”
“You say the nicest things.”
“Wait. How about a friend? You have friends, right? Tons of them, I’m sure. I’m willing to pay. But he has to be totally discreet. If anyone discovers what I’m doing, it could be a disaster.”
“I think I might know someone.”
“Really?” She reached for the fancy pen and notepad set she’d received from her mother as a graduation present.
“Yes, but I’ll have to do some fast talking to convince him.”
“Do whatever it takes. Please. I’m begging.”
“Don’t get too excited. I’ll do what I can.”
She could picture him sitting in his office, wearing a suit that flattered his green eyes and blonde hair.
“Quick question,” he said, “but have you told your boss you just aren’t interested?”
She laughed, which she hadn’t done in quite some time. It wasn’t a humorous laugh, though, as she thought of all the times she’d told Arnold straight out that she had no intention of crossing over that line with him. “Arnold has very selective hearing. And don’t tell me to file a complaint. I’ve thought about it and I’m going to get out when the timing’s right.”
“I figured as much. I’ve known you long enough to know that you think things all the way through and you’re very thorough.”
“You make it sound like a bad thing.”
“Add paranoid to that.”
She smiled. “When this is all over, I’m going to buy you the most decadent steak in Dallas. You say when and where.”
“You have a deal. Now let me go see what I can do.”
She hung up, then leaned back in her chair, making a conscious effort to relax her shoulders as she sunk into the leather chair. Cooper would come through for her, she had to believe that. If not, she’d just go ahead and hire someone from an escort service. She’d heard of it being done, although she’d never met anyone who’d used an agency. But she hoped she didn’t have to take that option. What she needed to accomplish was too important.
A knock on her office door brought her out of her internal musings. “Come in.”
Kallie walked in, her arms filled with magazines. She came over to the desk, put them down carefully, then rubbed her hands together. “I’ve marked all of the articles and ads. Make sure you check out
. There’s a story going on and on about the extravagant budget and how this fashion show is one that everyone should be at. It’s great.”
The stack was humongous, and this was only the beginning of the media coverage that would be in newspapers, billboards, and radio stations across the city. By the end of the campaign, there wouldn’t be a man, woman or teenager in the country who wouldn’t know about the Marcella Girardi fashion line. Kallie sat down in the chair across from Gaea. “So are you slammed to the gills?”
“Yes, but I can multi-task. So talk.”
“Okay,” she said, flicking a strand of her long brown hair out of her face. “So I went out with Barry last night. The one from Dunkin Donuts? Who grabbed the last blueberry bagel?”
Gaea remembered. Poor Kallie. Painfully shy and so lonely. She was the best assistant Gaea had ever had, completely on top of her game, matter-of-fact, but with a sense of humor and generosity that couldn’t be matched. Still, Kallie had the worst luck when it came to men. “He’s the smart, tall one, right? Texas Tech graduate?”
Kallie nodded. “When it comes to looks, Barry has it. When it comes to dates, he doesn’t.”
“Oh, yes. He took me to a play at a performing arts theatre. It was horrible. So boring that even he fell asleep. The kicker is that he had the audacity to start snoring.
“It wasn’t his fault that it was boring.”
“You have a good point there.”
“Don’t gloat yet. It goes downhill from there. It turns out that one of the performers is actually his ex. By the time we made it backstage to meet the cast and fans, they’re not so ex, if you know what I mean.”
“You heard me correctly. They were all over each other, kissing and groping. I guess I should be grateful that he and the guy attempted to move out of the direct view of everyone.”
“Wait! What? Guy? Barry was kissing another guy?”
“Oh, did I leave that part out?”