Authors: Elle Casey
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Contemporary Women, #Humorous, #Sagas
“Stratford Investments, how may I help you?”
“Uhh … ummm … hello. May I speak with … William? Mr. Stratford, I mean?”
“That would depend,” says the voice.
My face heats up and my belly warms. I’m almost sure this is William himself, but just in case it’s his brother or a cousin or a completely unrelated British man, I keep my cool. Or at least, I try to keep my cool, even though my heart is doing flips in my chest.
“Okay, well, my name is Jennifer, and I’m a realtor currently looking to hang my license with a broker who is interested in making some commercial property investments. I have several clients who will come with me.”
There’s a pause and then finally a response. I’m sweating as I wait for it.
“Jennifer No-Last-Name, is that it? Is that who I shall say is calling?”
I’m almost positive this is William. The hint of a smile behind his voice is undeniable.
“Yes, you can tell him that if you want. Or you could just give him my real last name if you prefer.”
“Hmmm, I’m not sure that I do prefer it. A bit of mystery is always fun, wouldn’t you agree?”
Is this a hint? Is he telling me to get lost? That he prefers not knowing who I am? Or is he flirting? My heart is ready to explode, it’s beating so fast. What should I say? What would Mia say?
I decide that playing it cool, casual, and possibly stupid is my best bet. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. “If you say so. Listen, ummm, if this isn’t William could you tell him to call me back?”
“And if it is William?” he asks.
My ears are on fire. “Well, I’d first want to know why he’s answering his own phone, and second, I would hang up so I could go die from embarrassment.”
Oh god! Honesty? Seriously?! That was my grand plan?
. Why did I just say that?
“Embarrassed?” he asks. “Whyever would you be embarrassed?”
I’m in full-on panic mode now. I can’t tell if he’s mocking me or if he’s even William at this point. Maybe British people like to pull pranks. Or maybe this isn’t him. Maybe it just sounds like him. It could be his son. Oh, God! What if he’s married with kids?!
“I have to go,” I blurt out. “Nice talking to you.” And then I hang up the phone.
Dropping my head to my kitchen table, I moan. This is so not how I saw this phone call going. Yes, I thought it would be awkward, but a total disaster? No. That was not on my radar. Since when am I twelve years old on a telephone? Maybe I should skip therapy and check myself into a residential treatment place or something.
A minute or two later, my phone rings on the table, the vibration making it buzz and bump along the surface. I tilt my head up and open one eye. My heart flips again imagining it could be William, but the caller ID shows
not Stratford Investments. I push the red button to send it to voicemail. I’m not in the mood to fend off any sales pitches right now, and if it’s Hank, he can kiss my big white butt. I’m never speaking to him again unless it’s to discuss the details of him paying me my commission.
I’m pouring myself a glass of OJ when the phone beeps to tell me I have a message. Maybe it wasn’t a sales call. Those people usually don’t leave traces of their harassment behind. I press the button to listen to it over my speaker phone. My glass freezes halfway to my mouth as the voice comes out and fills the kitchen. The voice with the British accent.
“Jennifer No-Last-Name, I presume? I hope you don’t mind that I’ve taken your number from the caller identification. This is William Stratford. You rang to speak with me today, but then you disconnected the call, I believe on purpose. I must admit to being extremely disappointed at that turn of events, and I apologize if I said anything that caused you strife. I hope you have not abandoned all thoughts of making me a proposal? Because I can assure you, I’d be interested in hearing it. I remain at your disposal. Please ring me back. I believe you have the number.”
It’s a good thing my glass is thick, otherwise I’d have crushed it by now, I’m squeezing it so hard. He wants me to call him back. He’s interested in my proposal!
I chew my lip until it’s tender. There’s a battle going on inside me that’s whipping my emotions and my hormones up into one hell of a tornado. We’re talking business, here, not personal stuff. But his tone was so sexy! I could practically feel him touching me. Maybe it’s on purpose, but maybe that’s just how he always is. How would I know? I’ve always been around him with the understanding that we were going to have sex. Of course he’d be all sexy then, but maybe it’s just his persona.
I don’t want to pick up the wrong vibe and make a fool of myself. Maybe I should just go at it one hundred percent professional and pretend like we never met before. Would that be weird? But wouldn’t it also be weird to act like our one-night stand means something more than it did? It sure doesn’t mean he owes me a business relationship. But then to act like I don’t even know him … that’s just strange. I know him probably better than most people.
, this is awful. Why did I listen to Mia? She says her plans are great, but they aren’t. Her plans suck. I tap my fingernails on the table over and over. When that does nothing to help ease my racing mind, I spin the phone around and around, but that’s not helping either. I keep thinking about my future, my rent coming due, my business life falling apart. William has asked me for a proposal, a business proposal, but it’s probably a terrible idea to even go down that road.
But what other options do I have right now? Sure I could hang my license with another broker. But then with Hank’s world domination scheme going, chances are I’d run into him again, maybe even find myself stuck with him again in a conference room. A girl can only do so many grand exits before they start looking pitiful.
And there’s Heather. Errrgh,
. I couldn’t ever work with that woman. I don’t even trust myself to see her again and not go all Kill Bill on her. I wish I were a more physically violent person. Slapping her would give me so much satisfaction, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t regret it one bit. But then again, she’s living with Hank now, and working with him too. Isn’t she already suffering?
I smile at that concept and my entire mood changes. That’s right. Heather did me a favor. I should probably send her flowers or a gift. She and Hank totally deserve each other.
Before I can stop myself, I go on my computer and do exactly what I just fantasized about. Giggling like a maniac, I use my limited funds to put in an order with an online florist for an ugly mixed bouquet stuck into a giant coffee cup. It’s almost like I’m on drugs, I’m so dizzy with happiness. The card will read:
To Hank and Heather, As you sow, so shall you reap. You two deserve each other.
I guess I’m feeling a little dramatic with a touch of some
action thrown in for good measure, but what the hell. Might as well go balls-out with my petty revenge, right?
It’s almost cleansing, to fight back in that little way. I feel powerful and alive, not nearly as pitiful as I did earlier. William called me and said he wants a proposal, and that’s exactly what I’m going to give him.
I scramble to pull together the documents I will need and make the phone calls to my clients to be sure they’ll follow me over. One Powerpoint, eight client confirmations, and several scanned items later, and I’m ready. I just hope he hasn’t decided in the last two hours to change his mind.
IT FIGURES THAT THE ONE time my assistant is too tied up to take a call, Jennifer rings. It’s not that I mind having her catch me playing at receptionist, it’s just that I felt totally unprepared to manage the situation. Too many things are happening at once. I’ve just agreed to watch Miss Meechum show me her hacking talents, and I’m still worried about the fact that Ingrid has my goolies in her pocketbook. Now the mystery woman who was supposed to stay in my past forever, but who I cannot get off my mind, is calling me at work? Surprise! Welcome to the looney bin!
I used to fancy myself a multi-tasker of the highest degree. I now know that to be a complete falsehood and more than a dramful of wishful thinking. Sadly, I am like most men I know, one-track minded. And right now my mind is on the track of getting rid of Ingrid and the little problem she presents. That’s my excuse for mucking up the call with Jennifer and making a complete toad of myself. I didn’t even get her last name when I had the opportunity. I should know better than to try to be cute.
“Okay, I’m back.” Miss Meechum is standing in my doorway, all smiles and pink. “Do you want me to show you now?”
It is possible that the mere mention of showing me her skills caused Miss Meechum to need to run to the loo, but I don’t ask for explanations. She had to leave and now she’s back. To show me her hacking skills. Good God, what was I thinking?
She wants to know if I’m ready for potential disaster. “I’m not sure, to be honest.”
Laughing, she comes fully into the room. “You’re so funny. You need to move, though, so I can sit in your spot.” She picks up the chair across from my desk and carries it over, dropping it on my foot in the process as I attempt to move out of her path.
I try to manage the pain with a sharp intake of breath, but it’s not enough. “Bloody hell!” I growl out, limping in a small circle.
“Oh my god! I’m so sorry!” Her hands flutter around like injured birds. “I totally nailed your foot!”
“Not to worry,” I grunt, holding out an arm to keep her from getting too close. “I have another.” I stand upright and limp over to the chair she’s provided, waiting for her to sit in mine before I’m able to relax. Just being near her is risky. I’d never stand next to her in a kitchen. Too many knives about to be safe.
She glances over her shoulder at me for a moment, still worried, but then she quickly gives all her attention to the computer. “Do you want me to explain what I’m doing as I go?”
“Do you want me to listen to what you have to say when it’s important?”
“Uhhh … yes?”
“Then, no. Just do what you do and give me a summary of the highlights.”
Her fingers fly across the keyboard so rapidly, I cannot keep track of the words she’s typing. Screens open and close, and yet I never see her actually touch the mouse. It is impressive, I must admit.
“What is that you’re doing there?” I ask, no longer able to remain a mere spectator.
She sighs. “I thought you didn’t want to know.”
I frown. “I don’t. Forget I asked.”
I’m not sure how much time passes. My eyes go blurry at all the activity on my computer monitor and my mind begins to wander.
Jennifer called me. Jennifer Still-No-Last-Name. And she wants to work with me? It’s so out of the blue, I’m having a hard time assimilating the idea into my work life. She has some investments I might be interested in, or so she says. She’s looking for a broker? Does this mean she quit her current broker specifically to be with me? No, that would be absurd. It would be frightening as well. It rings of commitment, one I’m not prepared to make. I’m already in enough trouble; I don’t need any stalkers added to my pile. Jennifer could never be a stalker, though. I don’t know her that well outside of our little arrangement, but I know that much.
Perhaps she’s merely focused on her business and this has nothing to do with our tryst or feelings she might have for me. Her ad did say she was a successful businesswoman. Stratford Investments is cream of the crop, my father and I have seen to that. Who wouldn’t want to shelve their hat in our wardrobe? Perhaps she was already at loose ends when I met her, and after spending more time in my company she’s decided I’m worth seeing on a more professional level.
Could I be happy with that? Satisfied with being colleagues? Could I work in the same space as Jennifer and not stare at her beautiful breasts, not long to be nestled between her thighs, not re-play over and over the two best sexual events of my life?
The question is, would this be what she’d expect? Or would she be open to something more … interesting? There’s absolutely no way for me to know unless I ask her. My dratted blood pressure spikes up just considering the idea. Our meeting was only to be for a single night. I wrangled another from her by wile alone. I’m not sure I’m up to doing it again in such a suave manner. I’ll surely come off as a cad.
But she might say yes. She could say that she wants to see me again and it would be here in my office and we’d talk business, but then perhaps our conversation would take a turn for the past and we’d talk about how lovely it was to see one another again and then if I say everything right after that, she might take off her blouse.
“I’ll be right back.” I stand, only a shadow of pain left in my damaged foot. “I need to make a quick phone call.”
“I’m almost done.” Miss Meechum pauses in her typing to look at me.
“Won’t take but a moment.” Now that the idea has planted itself in my mind, it will not be denied. I retrieve the last incoming phone number off the screen of my telephone and use it to ring Jennifer back on my cell as I step out of my office and close the door. My palms become clammy with sweat as I stand out in the corridor. The employees working busily in their cubicles look up at me with curiosity, so I turn my back and face my closed door.
She isn’t answering. Bloody hell, that cannot be a good sign. But I shall carry on and leave a message because I cannot succeed without even giving it a go, now can I?
I end the call after speaking to her mailbox and step back into my office. Miss Meechum is grinning at me. It’s very disconcerting with all that hair involved.
“Come see what I did.”
I make my way around the desk and look at the monitor. There’s an email inbox showing, but it’s not mine.
“What is that?” I lean in closer. The name Ingrid leaps out at me like a neon banner, and my heart literally stops beating. I rub my chest as it kick-starts again and rushes to catch up to its normal rhythm.
“It’s that woman’s email.” She giggles. “She thinks she’s all that and a bag of doughnuts, but she’s not.”