Authors: Elle Casey
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Contemporary Women, #Humorous, #Sagas
Color me shocked. I didn’t even know Edward was aware there was a problem. Thank you, Scotland!
“But it’s Sunday brunch,” Ingrid says, trying to laugh us all off. “Please say you men aren’t the type to work when you should be relaxing...”
My father holds out an elbow for her to take. “Better get used to it, Ingrid. This family is all work and no play. Business is business, as they say.”
She slides her arm reluctantly through his and looks back over her shoulder at me. “Don’t disappear on me, Will.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” I say, meaning the exact opposite.
IT’S MONDAY MORNING AND MY broker is suddenly standing over me as I click away at the computer. I’m glad he wasn’t here ten minutes sooner or he would have caught me Googling William Stratford again. Not that it would matter to my job position or anything, since I’m pretty much self-employed, but still. Having anyone catch me mooning over a guy is embarrassing.
Obviously not embarrassing enough that I’ve stopped doing it, though. I now have a list of all the properties associated with William’s company. He wasn’t kidding when he said the Stratfords are investors. It looks like his family owns half the city. That’s an exaggeration, but seriously … why does anyone need to own this many buildings? It makes me feel even more inconsequential than I already did. William must have women falling all over him every day. Didn’t that woman at the charity ball call him the most eligible bachelor in the city?
“Can you join us?” Bob asks, pulling me out of my depressing thoughts. “We’re in the conference room.”
“Do we have a meeting scheduled?” I click to view my online schedule. It’s blank, and besides … it’s Monday. We never have meetings on Monday. I’m not usually in the office either, preferring to work from home, but I do try to drop in for things that are put on my calendar by Bob’s assistant, Shelley.
I don’t see Bob that often, but when he schedules things I do my best to be there, mostly because he’s a really nice guy and was kind enough to take me in when I was desperate. I definitely don’t go to them because they have any point or are helpful. Talk about a time suck. Usually Bob drones on for so long that half the room falls asleep before he’s done, and the only reason we’re awake for the first part is because he provides donuts; it’s the sugar-high alone that keeps our eyes open.
I haven’t been here long enough to share my trade secrets in these so-called ‘team meetings’. I learned the hard way that to stay competitive in this business, you have to be careful about who you share techniques with. My ex has a booming business thanks in no small part to my contributions on strategy and business planning … not that he ever gave me credit for my ideas, the jerk.
I just need another year or two of gathering up listings and clients, and my business life will go off like a rocket. My personal life will probably still be fizzling into the dirt, but hey, no one has it all, right? I can settle for being a successful business woman. All it takes is a few lucky breaks and a ton of hard work. I’ve got the hard work part down pat. Now all I need is a little luck.
So far, my best listing is a run-down office building in a part of town I’m hoping will see a renaissance soon. The area has all the signs: younger couples moving in, lots of permits for renovations, and new businesses springing up nearby. Maybe that’s what the meeting is about. Maybe Bob will ask me to talk about the ideas I shared with him during our interview. Mia’s always telling me to stop being such a sucker and giving everyone the keys to the kingdom. What will I do if he asks me to share my best tip? Tell people not to look directly into the sun?
“It’s kind of an impromptu thing,” he says by way of explanation.
I look closer at his face when I notice his eyes darting down the hall and then over at the front door.
He’s sweating. I haven’t known him that long, but I am well aware of the fact that when Bob sweats, it’s never a good sign. The last time I saw droplets, he was working up the nerve to fire the janitorial service, and the time before that he was leaving for the divorce lawyer’s office. Not good.
I pick up my pen and tap it on my desk. “Impromptu, huh?” Tap, tap, tap, tap…
“Yes, um … there are some changes coming down the road, and uhh … we’re going to discuss them.”
“Changes? What kind of changes?” Now I’m sweating too. The last big change in my work life ended up with me switching brokers and conducting very stressful emergency apartment hunting. I still don’t have a desk at home. To say I resist change is kind of an understatement.
“Well, as you know, I’m retiring soon.”
“I know. And we’re all going to miss you.”
He smiles, but the emotion doesn’t reach his eyes. “That’s very kind. And I’ve been on the hunt for someone to take over when I’m gone.”
My eyes open wider. “I had no idea. Have you made a decision yet?” Wow, maybe he’s going to crown the next king … or queen. It could be me! I could get my broker’s license.
“Well, that will be discussed at the meeting.” He moves away from my desk at a rapid clip. “See you in there. Starts in two minutes.”
I stare after him chewing my lip. Queen my butt. This whole situation is giving me a very bad feeling. If he had any good plans for me, certainly he would have discussed them privately before he addressed the group. He better not drop a bomb on us today. My love life is in a shambles, but I’ve always had my work to fall back on, and things were really looking up. As of this afternoon, I have several hot leads and appointments for showings booked solid through Friday. If Bob invites some controlling dipshit in here to mess me up, I’m going to be pissed.
I stand, no longer able to resist the pull of the conference room. Might as well get it over with. How bad can it be, anyway? I know most of the brokers in town. Any one of them would be fine, except for Hank of course, that goes without saying. But Bob knows how I feel about him. I wasn’t able to hide that, although I did spare him the dirty details. He wouldn’t just spring something that awful on me. He’s a nice old man. Sweaty, but nice.
I make my way down the hallway. Other realtors are filtering in from outside, arriving just for the meeting. How did all of them know about it and I didn’t? I make a mental note to check my calendar more closely. I should probably have a conversation with Shelley too. She’s getting ready for retirement too. Maybe her mind is slipping.
I walk in the door, grab a cup of coffee, and take a seat next to another new girl. We exchange smiles and then stare at the front of the room. Bob is up there and he’s holding out his hand to a man who’s just come in the door behind the stragglers.
When the stranger’s face finally registers, I suck in a huge gulp of air, feeling as though I’ve just been kicked right in the guts.
The girl next to me turns to stare at me. “Are you okay?” she whispers.
I slowly shake my head from side to side. No, I am most definitely
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to my heir apparent, your new broker, Hank Handler. Hank, this is your new team.”
My lying, cheating, son of a bitch ex-boyfriend turns around and flashes his sleazy, cheesy grin at the room as he gestures to the girl standing next to him. “Hello, everyone. Nice to meet you. This is my assistant, Heather. Heather will be taking over for Shelley as soon as we’re all moved in.”
My jaw drops open and my tongue cramps. I am literally staring at my worst nightmare. Hank’s right arm settles over Bob’s shoulders and his left over Heather’s … Heather being the twat monster ho-bag that stole Hank from me, screwing him in my own bed when I was at work. None of them are looking at me, which is good, because if they do I’m going to vomit. I’m going to vomit and then scream and then vomit some more, right here in front of all these people.
“Are you okay?” asks the girl next to me again. She’s whispering, but several people turn around to stare at me.
Then Heather looks over too and grins. She actually has the lady balls to
Oh. My. God.
All I can say is that she is soooo very lucky I am not a ninja, because my pen would now be a Chinese star and it would be embedded in her eyeball.
I stand, weighing my options. Physical violence or retreat? What to do, what to do, what to do…
“Are we going somewhere?” Hank says, trying to be cute.
The realization that I still need to work in this town, and a reputation for punching out my broker could get in the way of that, comes to mind.
Retreat it is.
I carefully walk around the chairs that are in my way as I head for the door, desperate not to trip, but I’m not going down quietly. No, sir. I am going to give it to those bastards with both barrels.
Any politeness filter that might have been over my mouth disappears. I’m a little dizzy too. “I’m going home,
, to the tiny apartment I had to find at a moment’s notice because Heather the asshole moved into my bed, as you might recall.” My eyes scan the room as I pause near the door, and I give my former colleagues a tight smile. “Good luck, everyone. Trust me when I say you’re going to need it.” I save my last shot for Bob. “Oh, and by the way … thanks, Bob. I guess now I know why I didn’t get the memo about the meeting.”
Beyond humiliated, I go straight to my desk without stopping. I want to take all my stuff with me including all my office supplies, but all I have are my two arms and a not-big-enough purse. In this moment I hate that I am not Mia with a dufflebag-sized purse to put all my crap in. I manage to gather a framed picture of Mia and me, a few pens, and a box of paperclips before I’m tapped out. My laptop goes under my arm and my coffee mug in my opposite hand. I’m almost to the front door when I feel a firm grip on my arm.
Spinning around to give whoever it is a piece of my mind, I stop before I get a single syllable out because my heart is in my throat. I’m choking on the pain just the vision of his face causes me.
“Where are you going?”
Thankfully, my ability to speak returns immediately. My lips curl with distain. “As far away from you and your whore as I can get.”
“Don’t call her that. She’s not a bad person.” Hank gives me his puppy dog look.
I laugh bitterly. “Not a bad person? Excuse me, but she’s the
kind of person. A woman who steals another woman’s man. Please. She’s a total slut and I hope she burns in hell.”
“Keep your voice down. Jesus.” The puppy dog is gone. Hank is nervous.
“Why?!” I’m screeching at this point. “Because you don’t want the whole team to know that you cheated on me after eight years with that whore in there who’s young enough to be your daughter?!”
“She’s not that young. She’s twenty-two.”
The office is dead silent except for the echoes of my voice. “You’re forty, Hank!” I lower my voice just a tad because I can feel myself losing it completely. “Whatever. I want nothing to do with you assholes. I’m out of here. Send me my last commission check by mail.”
He grabs my arm again and pulls it hard, growling his next words. “If you’re not on my book when it comes due, you don’t get your last commission. I keep it.”
I yank my arm away and kick at him, but he jumps out of the way before I can make contact. He smoothes down his tie once he’s righted himself.
“Try and keep my money,” I hiss. “See what happens.” He’d better not even dare. That’s supposed to pay my rent for the next several months.
“Are you threatening me?” He laughs incredulously, like I’m not even capable of such a thing. Jesus, he doesn’t even know me at all. After eight years, he still underestimates me. Why oh why oh why did I waste so much of my life on this man?
I open the door and say what I imagine to be my famous last words before I disappear from that place forever. “You bet your lying, cheating ass I’m threatening you. Do not cross me, Hank. You’ll wish you were never born.”
The door doesn’t slam behind me like I want it to, but I abandon a better huffy exit in favor of disappearing before he can see me cry. Struggling down the street with my purse banging on my thigh, I focus on putting one foot in front of the other. I can do this. I can get home without killing someone with my car. Unless Hank happens to cross the street … all bets are off if I catch so much as a flash of his face in front of my windshield. Can you say speed bump?
EDWARD PULLS HIS NAPKIN OFF his lap and wipes his mouth, all the while staring at me.
“What?” I say, knowing full well that we are about to have the conversation I don’t want to have.
“You’ve brought that slag into our father’s home. Surely you have a reason other than your wanker has gone wonkers.”
“Eloquent and to the point, as usual.” I drop the pretense of eating and lean back in my chair.
“Did I miss something last night? Because I seem to recall you being repulsed or some similar reaction after spending mere minutes in her presence.”
I could lie. I could spin a yarn so complicated and believable that he’d back down and never say another word. But I don’t. Being a dust mote in a tornado does not suit me, at least not today. “She’s blackmailing me, Edward, and I’m stuck. Well and truly stuck. Hang me from the gallows, it’s my only hope of escape.”
He smiles. “What’ve you done?”
“You don’t have to look so happy about it.”
“Of course I do. It’ll be nice to be the golden boy for a change.”
“Seriously, though, what did you do? She’ll be back soon, so out with it.” He casts a glance towards the hedges.
My heart races with the idea that she’ll come back and catch me in mid-confession. I’m disgusted with myself that I feel so thoroughly bent to her will, but until I come up with a plan of action, so I shall remain. I’ll do anything to secure the future of my family’s company. Almost anything.
“Right. Well, she apparently took a video of me and … a friend … in a dark corner. And she’s threatening to use it to discredit me to our investors.”