The Contingency Plan (The Lonely Heart Series) (4 page)

BOOK: The Contingency Plan (The Lonely Heart Series)
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Turning his attention back to his brother, he co
n
tinued.  “Look, these kinds of great opportunities don’t come by very often.  I don’t have to tell you that…”

“Yeah, yeah. I know,” Sully said, standing up.  “Okay. I’ll take it.”

Cracking his million dollar smile, Will hit Sully on the shoulder.  “Good, because I already told him that you would take it.”  He walked behind his desk and pulled a piece of paper off a notepad.  Passing it to Sully, he raised his brow. “He’s expecting a call from you early this afternoon.”

Sully took the paper and stuffed it down in his pants pocket.
Why did he suddenly feel like he had been rooked?
  “Thanks,
I guess
,” he said, eye twitc
h
ing. 

“Don’t mention it.”  Seeing his brother’s mela
n
choly, Will felt bad for him.  There were some dow
n
sides to this situation for him, but he hoped that they were only temporary.  The good thing is that Sully would be able to do what he loved on the level that he loved and he’d have better connections for the next race in four years.   “Hey, why don’t you get out of here?  Amber and I can get this place broken down.  And we’ve got help from a few of the interns. You just go and get your shit together, okay.”

Sully nodded and went to the door.  Before he walked out, he looked back at his brother.  “She really is special, you know.  Charlie.”

Will let go of a sigh and nodded back. “They all are, Sully. You were just too busy getting into their pants to see it before.”

***

By the time that Sully got back to his place, Charlie was out of the bed.  She had taken a shower, cleaned up their mess from last night and was in the living room on the couch watching MTV and reading a book. 

Visibly sulking, Sully walked in the door with Ch
i
nese take-out and a bottle of wine.  He threw his keys on the counter – the first indication that he was having a shitty day.  Sitting the food on the table, he looked across the open kitchen to the living room where
Charlie
was and tried to smile. 

She looked perfect over there on his sofa curled up with her long shapely brown legs bare and tempting him, her braids braided into one big ponytail over her left shoulder and her glowing mahogany skin peeking out of the half-buttoned shirt, revealing perky, volu
p
tuous breasts and uninterrupted flawless skin.  She was a freaking goddess and he was throwing her away over a job.   Instead, he should have been taking her clothes off at that moment and making love to her on the sofa instead of getting ready to break her heart…and his.  Suddenly, he hated his life, and he wasn’t sure but he may have hated his brother too. 

“Hey, baby,” he said, feeling his stomach turn over again. 

“Hey,” she said, smiling.  Getting up off the couch, she bounced over to him and rose up on her tip toes to kiss his lips.  “What took you so long?” she asked, patting his firm backside. 

Sully looked down into her darker-than-night eyes and felt his strength leaving him. “Went to the hea
d
quarters, and then took a walk on the beach to clear my head before I got us something to eat.”

Rifling through the bags, she clapped her hands. “Goodie. I love Chinese food.”

“Yeah, I know.”

Charlie picked up on Sully’s mood. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked, putting her hand on her hip.

He moved the long, thick ponytail off her shoulder and grabbed her gently.  Hugging her tight, he groaned. “We’ve gotta talk, Charlie.”

“Okay,” Charlie said, moving away so that she could see his face.  “About what?”

“Can we fix something to eat first?” he asked, tr
y
ing to avoid the conversation.

“No,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. “Don’t do that?”

“Do what?”

“Bullshit me,” she growled. 

Pulling out a wine glass, Sully opened up the bottle of Pinot Grigio and poured himself a glass.  “Reme
m
ber what we talked about last night?”

She blinked. “What part?”

“The need for a contingency plan.”  He could bar
e
ly look at her now. 

“Yeah, what about it?” Standing in place, she watched him pull out a bar stool and sit down. 

He was slow to answer.  “Well, I accepted a job today with the DLC and turned down the mayor’s office.”

“The DLC?  Are you serious?  That’s wonderful,” Charlie said, frowning in both disbelief and happiness.  “I don’t get it though, why are you sad?”

“The position is in D.C.  And it’s starts immediat
e
ly.”  Downing the wine in one gulp, he looked up at her under solemn eyes. 

Charlie’s smiled faded. “Oh.”  She blinked. 

“Wanna take a seat now?” he asked, pulling out the chair beside him.

“No,” Charlie said, getting why he was so sad. “I’ll stand.”  She looked him up and down and then sucked her teeth.  “So why are you so sad?”  She knew the answer, but she just wanted to hear him say it with his own mouth. 

“You know why, Charlie,” Sully said, pouring a
n
other glass.

“Long distance relationships have worked,” she said in their defense.

“Yeah for people who don’t have intimacy issues or trust issues.”

“I don’t have either,” Charlie snapped.

“Well, I have both.” Slamming the bottle on the table, he shook his head.  “This wasn’t supposed to happen like this.”

“No shit.”  Her eyes bore into him.  Folding her arms across her chest, she shook her head.  “When did you find out about this?”

“My brother told me today,
this morning
.”

“And you’d never heard a word about it before?” she asked. 

“Of course not.  I would have told you.  Give me some credit.” He wanted to as her who had trust issues now, but it would have only added fuel to the growing fire. 

Charlie was quiet for a moment.  She could see that he was clearly hurt about the situation, but no more than she was.  Plus, she was afraid if they said anything more than this they would just hurt each other, and it wasn’t worth it.  “Well, there is nothing left to do but say goodbye.  I’ll get my stuff and head back to the dorms,” she finally whispered. 

“Wait,” he said, feeling his heart tear apart.  He reached his hand out to her.

“What is there to wait on?” Charlie asked with tears in her eyes. 

“Charlie, I love you.  I just…”

She sniffled.  “Save it, Sully.”

Sully looked up from the counter with a tear in his eyes.  “I’m sorry, Charlie.”

“Yeah, me too, Sully,” she said, turning around.  “But like you said, in life, you damned well better have a contingency plan, right?”

Sully stood up.  “My brother promised me that he’d take care of you. He’d find you a job.”

“I don’t want anything from Will, and I don’t want anything from you.”  Walking out of the room, Charlie left him there alone with his take out and wine to think about his decision alone while she quickly packed up her belongings.  Five minutes later, dressed and carrying a small bag on her shoulder, she barged out of the front door and slammed it behind her.

 

 

 

 

41

The Contingency Plan

Chapter 2

Exactly-seven years later

Manhattan, NYC

Ritz-Carlton Hotel

 

Droves of well-poised men in black tuxedos and sophisticated women in formal gowns flooded into a banquet hall of the Ritz Carlton for the tenth annual Sophie’s Choice fundraiser/gala–a non-profit organ
i
zation devoted to raising awareness about women’s rights, especially the pro-choice agenda. 

Under white blown-glass chandeliers and exotic table settings designed by one of the city’s hottest decorators, high profile celebrities, politicians, lawyers and executives laughed and drank as they listened to the NYU orchestra play on the stage. 

On cue as the program began, the master of cer
e
monies came to the stage and welcomed everyone before going into her introductory spiel.  The buzz tonight was not about the event, however, it was about the president of Sophie’s Choice, who was absent to the event because of her ever-complicated battle with breast cancer.  In her absence, the VP of development and
possibly the new president
, Charlene Meadows was speaking tonight in her first ever appearance as the figurehead of the organization.

Charlene came across the stage like she was floa
t
ing on clouds and stood behind the clear acrylic podium that boasted the logo of their organization in front of it.  Breathtaking in a black, Yves Saint Laurent couture gown, hair pulled up in soft braided tendrils, she grabbed the microphone carefully in her hands and looked out at the crowd with a determined and confident smile.  She knew that this was her moment to shine and had been preparing for it all day with her tailored speech.  The board of directors of Sophie’s choice had all but appointed her to the position and she had her boss’s blessing.  It was now just about formalities, but with the $15 million that she had raised in the last three quarters alone, there was no doubt that Charlene was destined for success.

Her speech was a deliberately moving call-to-action speech with clever banter and startling facts.  As rehearsed, she made eye contact with many of her major contributors and spoke about the many acco
m
plishments the organization was able to make because of their support.  However, it wasn’t until the end of her speech that she realized that at the table nearly right below her feet at the edge of the stage, where the president of the DLC was supposed to be seated, Sullivan Orrin was there in his absence. 

He looked up at her with dreams in his eyes.  A half-crooked smile full of pride and curiosity was painted on his etched features as he shifted in his seat, like the discomfort of watching her pained him somewhere deep inside. 

On an inconveniently shaky note, she ended her valiant speech and stood back from the podium as the audience ignited in approval through a thunderous applause.  She gave a hesitant smile, darting eyes across the crowd, and then moved quickly off stage before she was forced to look below her one more time. 

Her assistant, Frank, was behind the curtains as she sprinted past him.

“Great start but a wobbly finish,” he said, passing her a glass of water. “What happened?  We practiced your speech like…all night.”  Walking behind her with a glass of water, he noticed something different about his boss.  “What’s wrong?” he asked again a little more serious. 

Charlene stopped at the back of the stage by the staircase leading down the back of the stage and grabbed the glass from Frank’s hand.  “I just saw a ghost.”  Putting her hand on her head, she looked around with a
gotta-be-fucking-kidding-me glare
.  Sully was here.  Of all the times to show up.  He chose now.  She drank the entire glass of water and passed it back to him, pushing it up against his rock-hard chest.

Frank was confused.  “What kind of ghost?  Are we talking literally or figuratively here?”  The young, blonde raised a perfectly arched brow at her.

“Literally.  My ex-boyfriend is out there at the DLC table.  Sullivan Orrin.”

Frank’s eyes grew wide. “You dated Sully Orrin?  GQ’s Sully Orrin?”

“Great job on the speech,” one of the backstage assistants said, walking past the two as they huddled in the corner.

“Thanks,” Charlene said, looking up with a pain
t
ed-on smile.  Turning back to Frank, she stepped in closer.  “Just find out what the hell he is doing here.”

“Isn’t it obvious?  The DLC is a major supporter of Sophie’s Choice. They have been for years.”

“I know
that
,” Charlene said, voice pitched high.  “I didn’t ask why the DLC is here; I said find out why
he
is here.”  Taking a deep breath, she smoothed her dress down to repress her nervousness.  She hated herself for the school-girl butterflies currently erup
t
ing in her nearly empty stomach. 

“Okay, okay,” Frank said, mildly interested.  He’d never seen her so emotional about anything.  Norma
l
ly, she was a wall of stone.  “Don’t get your panties in a bunch.   I’ll find out,” he said with a smirk.

“Good.  And wipe that grin off your face while you’re at it,” she said, trying to calm her nerves.  “I better get back to my table and Alex.  Just…let me know as soon as you find out.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Frank answered with the click of his heels and a condescending salute.

“Frank…” Charlene warned. 

With a grin, Frank turned in his tailor-made tux and walked away with a new mission – find out what one of D.C.’s most eligible bachelors wanted with his uptight and very impersonal boss.

***

After a trip to powder her nose in the lady’s room, Charlene headed back to her table - two aisles away from the DLC table - to continue to entertain the organization’s guests and her board of directors.  As she approached her table, a tall Puerto Rican man in a flawless suit stood up as she approached and pulled out her chair.  “Great job, baby,” he said, kissing her cheek.

“Thanks,” Charlene said, sitting down before he pushed her seat up to the table. 

The entire table congratulated her on her speech and continued to talk as her fiancé took her hand and bent to her ear.

“You look flushed.  Are you alright?” he asked with minty breath against her skin.

Charlene looked over at him and thought about telling him the truth.
I just saw my old boyfriend and suddenly I can’t think
, she almost said.
Almost.
I
n
stead, she swallowed down the truth and smiled.  “I guess that the nervousness from the speech is still lingering,” she lied.

Picking up her glass of wine, he passed it to her.  “Here.  This should help take the edge off,” he said with a wink of his bright brown eyes. 

She gazed at Alex Mendoza for a minute and felt grateful.  She was lucky to be with such a good man.  Alex was a home-grown New Yorker from the Bronx with family here.  His backstory was very simple.  A NYU graduate, a fire fighter and a survivor of 9/11.  His mother and father owned a corner grocery store in his old neighborhood, and he was the third of three boys.  Still, he’d never been a baby, never immature or selfish.  Since the moment that he’d laid eyes on her, he had treated her like a queen.  And on their third anniversary after a Yankee’s game, he proposed on the subway, where they had first met and all that followed it had been bliss.  It was like a romance straight out of Hollywood. 

So why now, after one glimpse of Sully Orrin, did she suddenly feel a great shift of the earth’s axis?  Small, unnoticeable explosions were taking place in her body sending her into a minor hysteria –butterflies, goose bumps, fleeting breath, a hint of perspiration (under the arms and lips).  She was two seconds from being flagellant,
which only happened when she was really nervous.
  And if she broke wind now after eating beluga caviar and smoked salmon for an hour during the reception, she would not only be thoroughly embarrassed, but she would also more than likely clear the whole damn room. 

Dr. Hanna Campbell, one of the board members of Sophie’s choice, a graying middle-aged blonde woman who had been a national crusader for the cause put down her champagne flute and locked her eyes on Charlene with a wide grin.  “Very impressive, Cha
r
lene,” she said, placing her hand on the black linen tablecloth to display the estate diamond that sparkled across the room.

“Thank you, Dr. Campbell,” Charlene said, happy to focus her attention on something other than her shaky disposition.

“I’m sure that Gladys would be very pleased with your speech. You were a spitting image of her up there,” Dr. Campbell said as her husband turned from his conversation with a fellow lawyer who had bent to whisper by the table.

“You’re the new blood of Sophie’s Choice, Cha
r
lene,” Mr. Campbell chimed in.  “I can see you doing this on a regular and
permanent
basis.”

“Well, I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” Cha
r
lene said humbly.

“No.  Believe me. We wouldn’t dare broach the conversation prematurely,” Dr. Campbell assured.  “But the time has come.”  There was a bitter sweet twinkle in her narrowed gaze.  “You know, Gladys and I started this organization together after meeting Gloria Steinem.  It was clear to us that every woman had a part to do in the advancement of women’s issues and this was our way of contributing.  We have been good friends for over three decades.  Our children’s children are best friends.  Plainly put, I know best how she feels about Sophie’s Choice, and I know how she feels about you.  She wants you in the position that you’ve been placed in because she knows that you have the passion that we have had for all these years.  You’ll continue on our legacy, Charlene.” 

The vote of confidence left Charlene speechless.  Unexpectedly and most unlike herself, she reached out her hand and put it on Dr. Campbell’s.  “Thank you,” she said sincerely.  “That means a lot to me.”

Mr. Campbell was also moved.  He’d seen his wife and her best friend struggle to make this organization what it had grown to be, and he shared his wife’s sentiments about their protégé. “Well, you mean a lot to this organization.  Nearly all of the new donors that we’ve acquired over the last two years have been your contacts, and the DLC brought a few very generous friends tonight simply because of you.”

Charlene’s bubble was suddenly popped.  With a shrug, she sat back in her chair and pasted her lips together to prevent a scream. Sully Orrin.  Dammit!  She had nearly forgotten about him. 

“What do you mean?” Charlene asked, truly co
n
fused.

“Sullivan Orrin brought the software mogul, Dane Withersby, with him tonight.  When he’d asked to bring a guest, I thought he meant a woman.  But he shows up with Withersby,” Dr. Campbell explained with greedy eyes.  “From what I’ve heard, he’s a staunch democrat from a single-parent household who truly believes in elevating women in society.”

“There’s nothing better than a momma’s boy. I happen to be one myself,” Mr. Campbell joked, lifting his brow at his wife.

“Speaking of the devil, here he comes now,” Dr. Campbell said, turning in her seat and lifting her hand to wave over Sullivan.  “Darling, over here,” she called out to Sully.

Charlene’s heart constricted tight, nearly knocking her out of her own chair.  She turned quickly to her fiancé to draw his attention but his gaze had locked on to Sullivan as he gracefully moved through the chairs and people to greet the good doctor.

Alex had heard the stories about this Sullivan guy, but never had he laid eyes on him.  His curiosity prevented him from now missing the opportunity to see what had captivated his fiancé and nearly d
e
stroyed her once upon a time.  During their dating process, it had taken forever but he had gotten her to purge.  She did so with the understanding that it would “never be brought up again.”

But Alex insisted to gain her utmost trust.  His plan had worked. She dumped all of her baggage from past relationships at the door and stepped across the threshold of their relationship a new woman…so he thought.  But the buildup about this man from the upper crust had him nervous, and he was an alpha male for goodness sake, incapable of feeling one-upped by a snobby little shit in a James Bond tuxedo. 

Sullivan brought with him the previously discussed Dane.  The two of them in their perfect tuxedos under the strategic lighting and votive candles looked like a pair of Kennedy brothers.  Smiling ear-to-ear and capturing the attention of all the available women in the room, they both approached with blue blood grace and regal airs.

“Dr. Campbell, it’s so good to see you again,” Su
l
livan said in a throaty, crystal-clear baritone.  With a chivalrous bow, he took her hand and kissed it.  “You remember my dear friend, Dane.”  He stepped to the side to introduce the taller gentleman standing beside him with slim shoulders and a sinewy frame. Dane’s red, fiery curls brought even more attention to his startling emerald green eyes and high cheek bones.  He may have started out poor, but he looked like he was born from money. 

“Dr. Campbell,” Dane said with a booming bar
i
tone.  “It’s nice to finally make your acquaintance.  I’ve heard so much about you.”

BOOK: The Contingency Plan (The Lonely Heart Series)
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