Have you read chapter 1 yet? READ IT HERE
Okay, now that you’re back, here’s another teaser… because we know you love a good tease!
“Unbelievable.” Storming into my office, I throw the armful of folders and swatches I’m carrying onto my desk. That promotion was supposed to be mine.
Five years I’ve worked for Tom “Jackass” Pascal, designing and decorating for his more prestigious clients. For magazine photo shoots and movie sets. Giving them exactly what they want no matter how many hoops I have to jump through. Hell, if our clients tell me they want the head of Carey Grant in a jar on their mantelpiece to authenticate an old-world Hollywood glamour theme, I’m the woman to make it happen. Half of Tom’s clients are only with him because of me. I’m the reason we have so much repeat business. I make the impossible possible.
And he’s promoting Carl Blue? Over me?
The bastard doesn’t even do the work. He leaves it up to his assistant and takes the credit. Carl’s biggest accomplishment is pinching the office girls’ butts like he was born with the privilege. And Tom gave him my promotion.
I drop into my leather chair and start ripping files out of the drawers while I use my cell to order an Uber. I may have quit. Or he might have fired me when I started cussing about how pathetic his men’s club rules are. Either way, I’m done. But Carl isn’t getting his grubby hands on my work. I flip the switch on the shredder and start ripping the papers out of the files, forcing them into the machine. It groans and grinds. That’s it baby, take it all.
My phone rings and I put it on speaker. “Hello?”
“Hey, sexy, you got a minute?” Danny asks.
“Not really. I’m in the middle of something.” I have all the time in the world. Or I will when I finish trashing the last five years of my life. I have no idea what I’m going to do after I finish shredding my files. I might ring every last one of my clients and tell them Pascal Design and Décor is no longer in business. Give them the name of a few of my favorite competitors.
“I only need two minutes. It’s about that favor I did for you.”
He’d been a real champ coming to Yvonne’s rescue. She’d gushed about him last night after the event. Her only complaint was that she’d asked him back to her apartment for a nightcap and he’d politely declined.
For a full three seconds I’d gaped at my phone. Maybe it was the shrimp, I’d told her. Sometimes he has a problem with it. He must have been feeling off. Couldn’t imagine anything else that would keep him from his favorite hobby.
I open my laptop and start deleting everything, including backups. “Can we make this quick?”
“Music to my ears,” he says. “I love a good quickie.”
“Danny.” How does he manage to always make everything into a joke? And almost always about sex? “I don’t have time for this. I’m hanging up.”
“Okay. The point. I want to go into business.”
“What?” My hand jerks, knocking my phone off the desk. It clatters to the floor before I can get a hold of it. “Sorry. What did you say?”
“I want to go into business.”
“Doing what?” The last file flutters away to the trash bin, and I click to empty it.
“Dating,” he says. “Well, escorting, actually. Like I did for Yvonne. I’d be good at it, don’t you think?”
Picking up the remains of this morning’s coffee, I pour it over my laptop keyboard. Let Tom deal with that in whatever way he sees fit. “You do have a way with the ladies. From what I’ve seen.”
“Exactly. So why not use it to my advantage and get paid for my services? Rent-A-Danny. Women who never knew they needed a Danny will get the pleasure of my company. For a price, of course.”
“I guess.” I pick up an empty cardboard box that recently held files and start shoving my personal effects into it. My synthetic potted fern because I can’t manage to keep a real one alive. The stapler, hole punch, a bunch of pens, a few stress balls with the company logo. They’ll come in handy when I want to pretend it’s Tom’s head I’m crushing.
“I’ll be doing what I love and making money off of it.”
Everything is a joke to this guy. It comes through in his tone, in the things he says, which is why it catches my attention now when that vanishes from our conversation.
“Aren’t you always telling me I need to consider my future?” he asks.
“Well, yes, but—”
“I want you to be my manager, Ronnie. Hook me up like you did with Yvonne. Help me find clients and book dates and run the business side of things.”
“No. I don’t think…” I glance around my office. At the ruined laptop with coffee seeping out of it, a brown puddle staining the desk, and the stalks of paper that forced the lid up on the shredder and spewed down the side onto the floor.
“Come on, Ronnie. I kind of need you for this idea to work.”
I don’t have a job. I have no reason to stay in New York. My family is all in Chicago. I’m not even sure I still want to chase design as a career right now. A break from designing and a chance to regroup could be what I need. It’ll give me time to figure out my next step. And Rent-A-Danny isn’t a bad idea. Danny’s right that he would be good at it. He’s hot, too, in a laid-back, couldn’t-care-less kind of way girls seem to like. “You know what? I’m in.”
“You’re in? This could really happen.” He sounds staggered.
“Sure. Why not?”
“It’s just that convincing you was a helluva lot easier than I expected it to be.”
“It’s a good idea,” I tell him.
“You really think so?”
“I do. I can think of a dozen women off the top of my head who would pay for your services. And you already have Yvonne’s glowing recommendation. We’ll need to work out a marketing campaign and—”
“We should have dinner to go over the details,” he says. “You, me, and your hot little Amex. Fly back for the weekend?”
“My hot little Amex?” And he’s back to regular, never-not-joking Danny.
“Yeah. Afterward we can go back to my place to sign the contract. Or bang. Or both.”
“Pick me up from the airport on Friday.”
“Seriously?” He purrs. “You know I always picture you wearing a red thong. How about you wear the one you’ve got on now so when we bang, all my fantasies will come true.”
“Oh my God. There’s not a single person in this universe that line will work on.”
“Danny,” I shriek. I force my voice back to its lower, steadier tone as I pull the waist of my stretchy skirt enough to catch a glimpse of my underwear. How could he possibly have known? “I have never worn a red thong in my life, so you can banish that ridiculous fantasy right now. There will be no hanky-panky.”
“I like it when you’re bossy,” he says. “You’ve got a very sexy voice.”
“Jesus, Danny.” I jump up and put the desk phone in the box too. “We are not having a repeat of the other morning. Just pick me up.”
“Oh, and don’t tell Erin. I’m not ready for my family to know.”
“Gotcha,” he says. “It’ll be our own little covert operation.”
“Thanks.” I sigh. I’m not ready to tell them that I was fired. Quit. Whatever. This would never happen to Garrett, James, or Paynt. They’ll probably want to fix it or offer me a job to tide me over. No, thank you.
“See you on Friday. Text me when you know the details. And if you need a place to crash for the weekend, you’re always welcome in my bed.”
“That’s not going to happen. You and I are never going to happen.”
He chuckles. “A man can dream.”
“And he can keep dreaming.”
“All right. I’ll see you then.” He hangs up, and I yank the cords out of the socket and bundle them into the box too.
Picking up the box, I make my way to the door before giving the space that was my office one last glance. I used to believe that if I tried hard enough to carve myself a nook in a field I was good at, it would be enough. But it isn’t. Not when there are people like Carl Blue involved. Still, I’ll miss this place, even though part of me wants to set it all on fire.
I take a cleansing breath. I just agreed to go into business with a man who can’t be serious to save himself. And why? Why did I do that? Because if nothing else it will be fun. A challenge, too. I’m moving right into a male-dominated industry, and I’m going to succeed, damn it. I can just imagine the reactions from my brothers if they found out. Their only sister practically giving a middle finger to the male hierarchy and doing something as off-kilter as being a pimp. My mother would probably need to be treated for shock. Her perfect expectations for me would be dashed.
My assistant, a talented woman in her own right, walks into the room. Her eyes widen as she glances at the mess and gives me a sympathetic smile. “We’ll miss you, Ronnie. If you need an assistant when you get settled elsewhere…”
“I’ll give you a call.” I march past her and out of Pascal Design and Décor.
The office girls cheer me as I pass them.
Carl stands on the pavement out front. My very own leaving party. Smoke from the Camel Light in his hand wafts with the breeze. Not going to miss that smell at all. He drops the butt on the concrete and crushes it with the heel of his wingtip as he leers at me. “Going to miss you, sweet cheeks.”
Moving the box under one arm, I flip him the bird as I walk to the waiting Uber.
Getting off the plane, I haul my suitcase behind me. It’s not much, but it will do for now. I sold off my furniture, and the rest of my stuff is in storage until I find somewhere to live. Everything else of my New York life is wrapped up and finalized. Even said goodbye to the hot, tatted up photographer I’d been seeing. Such a shame. We’d had some fun times these past few weeks. I’ll miss his motorcycle more, though.
The guy I was seated next to on the plane catches up with me. He’s carrying a heavy leather motorcycle jacket and a duffel bag. I might have flirted with him on the trip. He did offer to take me around town on the back of his bike. Tempting.
“You forgot to give me your number,” he says.
“Did I?” I ask coyly. He has a wicked swagger and full sleeve tats under that tight shirt. The kind of guy who won’t want me to meet his mother or have me barefoot and pregnant before our first date is over. Usually that’d make him a solid ten for me, but after this week, I’m not feeling it. I hold out my hand for his phone. “Here, let me.”
He hands it over, and I type in the number to the Planned Parenthood clinic near the high school I went to. Man looks like he could use as much contraception as he can get. Handing it back to him, I spot Danny and leave my new friend behind.
“Hold on, let me call you so you have mine.”
I turn around long enough to hold my hand to my ear as though it’s a phone and mouth “call me” before sprinting off. Maybe he’ll get a kick out of it when he rings the number. He should definitely take it as a compliment.
“Hey, sexy.” Danny grins. He slings an arm around my shoulder and steals my suitcase the second I’m within reach. “Saw you getting friendly with Butch back there. You know you don’t have to try to make me jealous. This game between us is fun, but all you have to do is ask and I’m all yours.”
“You’re not my type.” I shrug off his arm.
“Sure I am. I’m everybody’s type.”
“Get hit on by a lot of men?” We leave the terminal. His car is parked in the no parking lane, of course. It’s hard to tell if he was trying to get it towed or he seriously doesn’t think about things like that.
“Actually, I do. It’s almost unfortunate I don’t swing both ways.”
“And here I thought all it took was a heartbeat.”
He laughs as he slings my suitcase into the trunk. Full of heart and not at all cynical. Boy, it must be nice to not have to think past a night. Or worry about what some other person’s expectations of you will be. There’s always someone who thinks they know better than I do when it comes to what to do with my life. Even my own mother, but then she’s so hung up on babies… Christ, she is going to have so much fun when I tell her I’m home for good. No more long-distance matchmaking. All straight up local boys now. God help me.
He opens the door and waits for me to climb in before jogging around to his own side. “So where are you staying?”
“I booked a hotel room.” I pull the directions up on my phone and show them to him. Far enough away from my family that they won’t immediately realize I’m home for good. At least not until I find somewhere more permanent to live.
“Don’t you usually stay with Paynt and Chloe? Need some space so you can bang Butch?”
“Hank, and it’s none of your business if I want to bang him, as you so enjoy putting it.” I stare out the window as he pulls into traffic.
“So you like them rascally. But you don’t like me?”
“It’s not that I don’t like you, Danny.” I exhale. “I have bad taste when it comes to men. Like incredibly bad.”
“Wow. You’re slipping.”
“You just admitted you like me. You find me cute, don’t you? I knew I could wear you down.”
“Yeah, like a puppy.” I chuckle. It’s hard not to find him cute, though I will never admit that I’ve developed a soft spot for his humor. Or that once or twice I’ve actually considered taking him up on his offer to sleep with him just to quash the slight buzz of attraction between us. Like now as he shifts gear and his arm brushes against mine.
“It’s because I don’t have any tattoos, right? Or a motorcycle?” He glances at me as he changes lanes and smirks. “Because I promise I’ve got something far better.”
“We’re friends,” I say, ignoring the idea he’s trying to put in my head. I’ve been around long enough to know men like to exaggerate about everything. “Or family, considering my niece calls you uncle. We’re something. I don’t know.”
“Business partners,” he offers.
“That too. Which is another good reason why when I say no, I mean it. We have to work together. We need to make some ground rules right now or this isn’t going to work. Like this idea that you have of us hooking up can’t happen. It’d complicate things.”
“Hey. Hold on,” he says. “The only way sleeping together gets complicated is if you have expectations. I’m just suggesting we share one fantastic night with your V wrapped around my P. A once-in-a-lifetime, rootin’-tootin’ good time. There’s nothing complicated about jumping in the sack for a little fun before we get down to business. Might even help you sell the service if you sample the wares first.”
“That’s a good point,” I tell him.
“It is?” His eyebrows shoot up into his scruffy, dirty-blond hair.
“No. Not jumping into the sack with you.” I pull up a fresh document on my phone. “But what are you willing to do for your clients? And not willing? Where’s the line for Rent-A-Danny? What can our clients expect?”
“Can’t we leave the business until dinner?” He flutters his fingers against the steering wheel as though waving the idea away. “I really want to know what you think is so complicated.”
“Fine.” I exhale, putting my phone down. Like a puppy with a bone, he just can’t drop the subject no matter how hard I try. “I don’t like guys who want things from me.”
“Like anything.” I shrug. “I have this ability to attract guys who think I should be little Miss Suzie Homemaker, or they want me to meet their mother. They decide I’m a keeper, but all I want is to have fun. I have other goals.”
“Isn’t that what I’m offering?” He frowns at me as he pulls into the circle drive in front of my hotel. “Fun. I don’t want you to meet my mother.”
“No.” I smile. He doesn’t. And he’s almost still a kid himself, at least mentally. The last thing I need is a boy man developing a crush on me. “But you know my mother, and that’s worse.”
“You’re not interested because I know your mother?”
“It’s part of it.” We climb out of the car, and he takes my suitcase out of the trunk. “Have you not noticed of late that she has certain expectations for her children?”
“Babies. Lots of grandbabies.” He nods. “Erin and Garrett are happily obliging her.”
“So are Paynt and Chloe. And James and Myra. But it’s easier for them. There was no pressure on them to find the right girl to settle down with. Only on the grandbabies part. For me, well, once she knows I’m home, she’ll be calling nonstop to organize dates with her plumber’s son or her doctor’s grandson. She thinks I need something different from what I want in my life, and I don’t want to disappoint her. If I made the mistake of… you know, she’d find out and we’d never hear the end of it. And that would make any fun we might have complicated.”
“I get it,” he says, and I think he actually does.
“So we can agree?” I take my suitcase from him. “Let’s concentrate on building Rent-A-Danny.”
“Pick me up at seven?” I ask as he walks around the car to go.
“I’ll be here.” He taps his fingers on the roof. “And I’ll think about what you were saying about what our customers can expect from our service.”
He climbs into the car and pulls out of the driveway as I drag my suitcase through the hotel doors.
to be continued… on September 18, 2018