Authors: Elle Casey
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Contemporary Women, #Humorous, #Sagas
I choke to get my heart going again. “Pardon me, but, uhh …” Words are failing me. I used to be so eloquent.
Miss Meechum looks up at me over her shoulder. “I don’t like her. She came in here this morning as I was unlocking the front door, demanding to see you. She has a lot of nerve.”
I’m taken aback. “She did?” And here I thought I was safe inside my office. I’ve underestimated my nemesis once again.
“Yes. But I told her in no uncertain terms that you do not see people without an appointment and that she could call later after I’ve had my coffee and I’d see what you have available.”
I’m filled with a sense of gratitude like I’ve never known before. “If I weren’t so afraid of your hair, Miss Meechum, I would embrace you right now.”
She frowns. “Why would you be afraid of my hair?”
I grin as best I can. Surely it’s more of a grimace, but hopefully she won’t notice. “Because it’s ever so lovely, of course. Wouldn’t want to cock it up.”
She bursts out laughing. “You have no idea what you just said.” Turning back to the computer monitor, she sighs happily. “You British … you’re so funny and you don’t even know it.”
I look back at the screen, happy to change the subject. “So, you chose this particular email inbox because …”
“I told you. Because she’s a big jerk and she deserves to be hacked.”
The room goes silent. I fancy I can hear her rapid heartbeat. Or perhaps it’s my own.
She looks up at me. “Is there any way you could forget I just said that?”
“Absolutely.” I sit down in my chair and turn hers around so she’s facing front. I am looking at the side of her, afraid to make it any more intimate than it already is by turning her completely round, but desperately needing to see her expression when I speak to her. “I have a confession to make.”
Miss Meechum’s expression goes from worried to excited. She tries to turn her chair to face mine, but I hold it fast, so instead she twists her head sideways.
“You do?” she asks. “To me?” Her smile drops. “I hope you’re not about to ask me out.”
“Ask you out? As in on a date?”
“No, good god, no.”
“Oh. Okay.” She frowns at me.
“I need to confess something I’ve done, which necessitates me asking you to do something that is not exactly in your job description.”
She twists her mouth this way and that for a moment as she considers what I’ve said and then says, “As long as it’s not a sexual favor, I’m probably going to be fine with it.”
I shake my head to both assure her and to remove any images of a naked Miss Meechum from my mind that might have just tried to crop up. Nightmares do not suit me at any time of the day.
“This Ingrid person,” I gesture at the computer screen, “has caused me a great deal of inconvenience.”
“I can imagine. She’s relentless.” She rolls her eyes in commiseration.
“You don’t know the half of it.”
“Really?” She’s immediately intensely curious. “Tell me. What’d she do?”
I take hold of my tie, smoothing it out, dropping my eyes to examine the pattern in the silk. I find it’s impossible to look my assistant in the eye as I tell her my secrets. I wish there were some other way out of this, but I cannot think of one that is more expedient or less risky.
“I must have your assurances that this conversation will never leave this office. Your complete discretion is absolutely necessary.” I lift my eyes to watch her reaction.
“Of course. I promise. You can count on me.” She appears to be telling the truth. I wish I knew for certain if this was the case.
“I’m completely serious, Miss Meechum. If this information were to be shared, it would be very damaging to both my reputation and that of this company. We could both lose our positions here.”
“You can count on me, Mr. Stratford. Seriously. I have all kinds of secrets in my head right now that I’ll never tell.” She puts an X on her chest. “Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.”
A needle? In her eye? “Whyever would you do that?”
“It’s just an expression, silly.” She smiles like she hasn’t a care in the world.
I stare at her, trying to give her a spontaneous eyeball-to-eyeball lie detector test, but I cannot tell whether it’s working. She seems so innocent and daft on the surface, but it’s obvious there’s a lot more going on beneath that frizzy red hair helmet than meets the eye. I shall have to move forward with the knowledge that I could sell her down the river for illegal hacking activities just as easily as she could share my indiscretions. It’s not a perfect security system, but it’s better than nothing. The expression
as thick as thieves
comes to mind.
“I was at a nightclub a couple nights ago, and I was with a lady friend.”
“Is it the one I found for you?” She’s much too excited about the idea, but I cannot afford to alienate her by mentioning it.
“Yes. Quite. And while in this club, I engaged in some rather … private activity that it turns out was caught on tape.”
“Oooooh, sex tape.” She waggles a finger at me. “Baaad boooy, Mr. Stratford.”
“Exactly. You have not yet heard the worst of it, though, I’m afraid.”
“Well? Don’t keep me waiting.” She lowers her voice to a whisper. “Is it really bad?”
“The owner of the club is that horrid woman Ingrid. She is holding the tape and has threatened to ruin me over it.”
Miss Meechum begins to laugh. A pig-like snort is added a few moments into her hysteria, and I have to push my chair back to ensure I remain safe from whatever is about to fly from her mouth next.
“I fail to see what is so amusing about my ruination.”
She takes a breath and waves her hand in the air. “I’m sorry … it’s just … -
- … you’re worried about your reputation because you had sex in a club? It’s not like you work for the church or anything.” She wipes tears out of her eyes. “What’s the big deal, anyway?”
I lean back in my chair, trying not to feel ignorant. The fact that it’s my assistant who’s caused this feeling to well up inside me is beyond acceptable. “I’ll have you know that the investors in this company, some of them, come from very old and established families from very conservative parts of the globe. And they do not appreciate a public display of what should remain in the bedroom. It smacks of irresponsibility and recklessness, two characteristics one does not want to see in his or her investment manager. I’ve seen good men ruined over silly things like this. I cannot allow that to happen to me or this company. I’ve worked my entire life to be here, and I have very high hopes for my future.”
She calms down and blinks a few times. “Okay. I guess I can see that.”
“Thank you. Please try to remember that I am not Edward. I am not permitted the latitude that he is when it comes to indiscretions.”
“No, I guess you’re not.” She turns back to the computer, sighing with what sounds like sadness. “But why would she do that? What’s her damage, anyway?”
“Ingrid wishes to sleep with me. That’s what she’s said, in any case.”
Miss Meechum turns around, her eyes big and round. “She’s blackmailing you for
“Now you’ve got it. Bravo.”
“Wow. She’s got balls. And she must think you’re like … Magic Mike or something.”
“I’m almost afraid she has got balls.” I have no idea who Magic Mike is, but it’s no matter. I have much more important concerns on my mind right now. I look out towards my door, the desire to run very strong. I’ve never run from a fight, but I’ve been tempted. This is one of those times. “Do you think you can help me?”
Miss Meechum starts typing away. “I can definitely try. That stupid … wench. She’s going to be really sorry she went after you like this.”
A part of me is proud that my assistant is so loyal while at the same time bent on vengeance. The other is concerned with how far she’ll take it. “I just want that tape erased or the file deleted. Nothing more. Whatever else she’s up to is none of our business.”
“Okay, if that’s how you want to play it.”
“It is. It most definitely is. I’m a big believer in karma.”
“What’s the name of her club?”
I frown as I try to recall the name. “I cannot remember exactly. It’s in an industrial area. A large building. Something about a monster, perhaps.”
“Oh, I know that place. Hot bouncer works there. Let me see if she has anything like that mentioned in her emails. I’ll need the IP address from the computer she’s using if it’s not this one or connected to it.”
“I’ll leave that to you.”
The phone rings and my able assistant reaches over to answer it without stopping the typing with her left hand. “Stratford Investments, Rachel speaking, how can I help you?”
She props the phone on her shoulder and continues typing with two hands. I feel completely useless and too full of nervous energy, so I stand and wander over to the other side of the desk.
“Jennifer Moorehouse? Are you a client?”
I reach over the desk without thinking and snatch the phone from her ear. A few pieces of her hair are caught under my fingers, but I don’t realize it until I’ve removed them from her head.
“My apologies,” I whisper, my hand over the mouthpiece. I shake the loose red frizz from my fingertips, as I turn and walk as far from the desk as the phone will allow. “William Stratford here. How may I help you, Miss. Jennifer Moorehouse?” It’s as though I’ve won a coup, finally getting her last name. It was silly of me to flirt during our last call and pretend I didn’t want it. I assume this is the woman who’s tied me in knots since the moment I met her on the phone. I’m nearly giddy with excitement.
“Hi. I got your message.” Her voice is hesitant. Wary.
It’s her! I shall have to be assertive, break down those barriers I sense in her tone. “Brilliant. Shall I set up a meeting?”
“A meeting? Oh, right. For the proposal.”
“Exactly. Does this evening suit? Six o’clock?”
“Isn’t that a little late?”
My diabolical plan to persuade her to dine with me after will only work if I can convince her this is my only free moment. “I’m quite busy during the afternoon, and mornings will not do. My assistant is a slave driver. She has me reading reports for hours before lunch.”
I look over my shoulder to find Miss. Meechum staring at me. I pray her eyeballs are well attached, otherwise we could have problems with separation the way she’s ogling me so aggressively.
“Okay. I guess six will be okay. I made a Powerpoint.”
“Excellent. I shall have the projector ready.”
There’s a silence long enough that I wonder if we’ve lost our connection.
“I guess I’ll see you then.”
“Yes, you most certainly will. I’m looking forward to it.”
I cannot understand why she finds this so unlikely, but her tone is unmistakable. “Of course.”
“Okay. Well … goodbye … Mr. Stratford.”
That can’t be a good sign, can it? Using family names? I’m tempted to remind her that I’ve had my tongue between her thighs so there’s no need for the formality, but instead, I say, “Please … call me William.”
“Goodbye, William. See you later today.”
The phone disconnects and I sigh with frustrated anticipation. I have no idea how I will get a single thing accomplished today until she arrives.
“Wow, you really like her, don’t you?”
I turn around to face the woman whose nose is way too big for her own good. “It’s a business meeting. Nothing more.”
Miss Meechum snorts in a very unladylike fashion. “Yeah, right.”
As I advance across the room to my chair, it crosses my mind that my relationship with Miss Meechum has shifted into something I would have liked to avoid, a special sort of familiarity that I’ve found usually breeds contempt among those forced to work together. But there’s nothing to do about it now. I’m in for a penny, in for a pound. I just hope I won’t live to regret it.
Somehow, though, in this moment, knowing that I might get a third chance to have a single night with Miss Jennifer Moorehouse, I’m finding it hard to regret anything.
I RIDE THE ELEVATOR UP to the tenth floor, as nervous as I can possibly be, almost to the point of sweating.
Please, God, don’t let me sweat!
The energy pulsing through my body isn’t entirely professional, either. I can’t help but picture William touching me, the look of the top of his head as he’s burying his face between my legs, the way he makes me feel when he’s inside me…
The elevator stops on the ninth floor and the doors open with a muted
I start to smile at the fellow passenger getting on until I realize who it is.
“Well, hello,” she says, as if she knows me. It’s the woman from the charity ball. The blonde.
“Hi.” My face goes hot. “I’m sorry, I forgot your name.”
She holds out her hand to shake mine after pressing the button to close the elevator doors. I notice she doesn’t select another floor for herself. “Ingrid. And you are …?”
“Jennifer. I’m just going up to see Mr. Stratford.”
Her smile is tight and her nostrils flare just the slightest bit. “Isn’t that nice.” I’m pretty sure she doesn’t mean it.
We both face the front of the elevator and the sound of canned music floats around us.
“I thought you two were … dating.” She says, breaking the awkward silence.
My mouth opens, but my brain hasn’t yet figured out what words to use in my response, so I close it. The doors part and I speak quickly so it won’t seem like I’m ignoring her question on purpose. “Oh, no, we’re just … friends.”
Did I just say we’re friends? I want to laugh at how stupid that sounds. If she only knew. Friends do not throw friends up against the wall and screw them senseless. I’m not sure what that makes us, but it’s definitely not friends.
She’s smiling much bigger. “How nice.” It’s possible she means it this time. For some reason that really bugs me.
She walks out in front of me, cutting me off as I try to exit. I blink a few times to brush off the slight insult, figuring she’s one of those ultra bossy types who doesn’t realize when she’s being rude. William mentioned something about her being interested in him. She sure seems to act like she owns the place. Maybe she means more to him than he let on. It makes me feel a little sick to my stomach. I hope I don’t make a fool out of myself today at this meeting. Is she going to be there too? I drop my gaze to my chest. I have to figure out a way to do up a couple buttons without anyone seeing. I suddenly feel like I look too obvious, like I’m trying to seduce William into working with me.