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Contents Mr. Perfect DESCRIPTION Chapter One - Ellie Chapter Two - Ellie Chapter Three - Ellie Chapter Four - Ellie Chapter Five - Mac Chapter Six - Mac Chapter Seven - Ellie Chapter Eight - Mac Chapter Nine - Mac Chapter Ten - Ellie Chapter Eleven - Ellie Chapter Twelve - Ellie Chapter Thirteen - Mac Chapter Fourteen - Ellie Chapter Fifteen - Mac Chapter Sixteen - Ellie Chapter Seventeen - Mac Chapter Eighteen - Ellie Chapter Nineteen - Mac Chapter Twenty - Ellie Chapter Twenty-One - Ellie Chapter Twenty-Two - Mac Chapter Twenty-Three - Ellie Chapter Twenty-Four - Ellie Chapter Twenty-Five - Mac Chapter Twenty-Six - Ellie Chapter Twenty-Seven - Ellie Chapter Twenty-Eight - Ellie Chapter Twenty-Nine - Mac Chapter Thirty - Ellie Chapter Thirty-One - Ellie Chapter Thirty-Two - Mac Chapter Thirty-Three - Ellie Chapter Thirty-Four - Mac Chapter Thirty-Five - Ellie Chapter Thirty-Six - Mac Epilogue - Mac END OF BOOK SHIT About the Author

By J. A. Huss Edited by RJ Locksley Copyright Š 2016 by J. A. Huss All rights reserved. ISBN-978-1-944475-04-8 This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author ’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


Wanting the perfect man doesn’t make me crazy. I just know what I like. A powerful billionaire in a suit wasn’t even my first choice. Mcallister Stonewall was never on my radar, I didn’t even know he existed. But I do now. His hands are all over me at work. The heat of his chest pressing against my bare back as he bends me over the desk is the only thing on my mind. He is my most forbidden desires unleashed. He is my new secret obsession. He is my Mr. Perfect. Until the moment I realize… There’s no such thing as perfect.

Chapter One - Ellie

Ellie: Hi, honey! I hope you’re having a great day! I made this super-cute Pinterest board last night. Wouldn’t the twins’ room look adorable like this? “Stop doing that, Ellie.” Ming is glaring at me like I just strangled a puppy. “What? I made a new Pinterest board last night. I just wanted to share.” “Share,” Ming says, shaking her head. “That’s a good one, Ellie. Anyway, that Brutus guy is here. The pilot just radioed and said he’s not pleasant, so be ready.” That’s it. I’m quitting. I’m not kidding. There is not enough money in the world to persuade me to put up with Brutus one more time. I’ve been talking to this guy for three months trying to get him to agree to an interview with Shawna and Greg on the Humpday Hottie segment of Daily E! and every single time the rock star has been an asshole to the nth degree. He was not at all thrilled about the Humpday thing. But he was only available on Wednesdays and he says he never tapes shows, only sings live. What does he want me to do? Reinvent the days of the week? Everyone knows Wednesdays are hump days. He should be thrilled we’re calling him a ‘hottie’. “I can read your mind, you know,” Ming says from behind me. She’s my best friend in the whole wide world. I’m looking out the window of my fishbowl office that opens up into the airplane hangar where the big shots come in. Any second now the plane will taxi in and he’ll get out and my personal hell will begin. Why did he agree to the interview if he didn’t want to come? We sent our best jet to pick him up in Santa Fe and fly him here. I’ve got the green room all ready for him—all those stupid riders he requires as part of his contract. Who needs an organic cheese tray at nine in the morning? The toothbrush I can see. That’s a good rider. And I’m not worried about the M&M’s with all the brown ones picked out. I have bags and bags of single-colored M&M’s stashed away down here. I can deal with any of the hundreds of silly M&M requests a celebrity can throw at me. But the hand-made Icelandic wool socks? When is he going to take his shoes off during this show? That bastard better take them home, too. If I find those Icelandic socks left behind after I had to personally arrange for a pair to be overnighted here— “Just ignore him, Ellie.” But I can’t ignore him. It’s my job to pay meticulous attention to his every whim. So I ignore Ming instead. I can see a reflection of her face in the glass. She’s scowling at me. I work for Stonewall Entertainment. I’m a celebrity consultant, which sounds fancy when you’re an intern, which I was when I took this job. But seven years later it’s nothing more than a fancy name for babysitter. My job is to handle the celebrities as they come in for appearances on any one of our two dozen online networks we run from the Stonewall Campus in the Denver Tech Center. Today is my lucky day because Brutus is coming. His first interview in five years and it’s with us. I arranged it. I wooed him and soothed him and promised to make his day perfect. Every album he’s released in the past ten years has gone platinum and Stonewall Senior told me to ‘make it happen.’ And because making it happen is my MO, he’s here. But Brutus is a pompous ass.

“Ellie?” Ming asks sharply to make me pay attention to her. “What?” “Don’t let him get to you. He’s just another somebody. Humor him.” I look over my shoulder and roll my eyes. “I do humor him. It’s my job to humor him. I even have the golf cart ready to take us to the main building. The covered one, like he asked for.” Even though it’s eighty-one degrees already and it’s only seven AM and the covered one has no air conditioning. Just imagining how much sweat will collect inside my bra on the drive over is almost enough for me to walk out and give no notice. “I’m definitely quitting today,” I tell Ming. “Nooo, Ell-lllie,” she says, sing-songing my name in that get-down-off-the-ledge voice. “You’re not. Because Adeline is coming tomorrow, remember?” I sigh. I didn’t. Well, I mean, I knew, of course. I have the whole schedule in my head. But Brutus… Most of the celebrities are regulars. Every once in a while we get a new person, but not very often. And Adeline is my favorite singer in the whole wide world. She just put out a new song last week and she’s going to sing it tomorrow on Throwback Thursday. I can’t quit until after that, I guess. I owe her the courtesy of a professional goodbye. “Fine.” I give in. The jet makes its way towards the hangar entrance. I smooth the wrinkles out of my pink A-line skirt and then wish I hadn’t worn something so girly today. My kimono blouse is white and flirty. Very ruffle-y. People never take me seriously when I wear ruffles. And there are no buttons in the front, it’s just a wrap-around. But it’s Wednesday, so that means an interesting blouse with an A-line skirt, mid-heel shoes, and a clutch. Thinking about what to wear each morning isn’t something I have much time for so I came up with a schedule for it. Mondays are pencil skirt with button-down oversized shirt and a thin belt at my waist. Tuesdays are business chic. Fitted trousers, light in the summer, dark in the winter, with a cami shell and a matching blazer. Thursdays are sex-it-up-for-happy-hour dresses. Ming and I both wear the office-safe version of a short cocktail dress, discreetly covered up with a blazer, and stash the stilettos in our desks until after work. Fridays are business casual. But for me that usually means wide-legged trousers with super-high heels to make my legs look long enough to pull that look off. I love the look, I just need a little help making it work. My legs look long in comparison with my small body, but they are not long. Stonewall has a great tailor on campus. They know me well. I’m sure Brutus will give today’s flirty outfit the stink-eye. I do my best with the clothes. I mean, really, I do damn good, if I do say so myself. It’s not easy dressing like a celebrity on a celebrity assistant’s salary. And I have to look this way, it’s part of my contract. “God,” I tell Ming. “I really won’t miss the clothes when I quit. I’m going to wear yoga pants to work every day.” “Where do you think you’ll be working that will let you wear yoga pants?” Ming asks. I shrug, my heart beating fast as they lower the airstairs. “The gym maybe. I might start teaching Zumba classes.” Ming laughs. “Honey, please. The last time you took Zumba with me you sprained your middle finger.” She shakes her head with a chuckle. “Who sprains a finger in Zumba?” “I fell on it wrong.” As I was flipping the instructor off for telling us to shake our money-makers like we mean it. Brutus appears in the doorway. “Shit,” I say. “Here he comes. See you later.” “Later,” Ming says. I take a deep breath, tuck my fancy pink clutch under my arm, and push through the glass doors of

my office heading towards the jet. The airplane hangar is loud, busy, and dirty. I practically tiptoe across the bay, desperate to keep my second-hand hot pink Jimmy Choos from picking up any oil. I huff out a sigh of disgust. Why don’t we have a depot or something? A tiny concourse? This campus has a dry cleaner, a medical building, seventeen restaurants—not including the cafeteria in the main Atrium, which is free for everyone—three gyms, a tailor, an organic grocery store, and a wellness center that has a full-time staff of nail techs, hairdressers, and massage therapists. Why don’t we have a concourse where guests can walk down a jetway into a nice climatecontrolled building? Breathe, Ellie. Focus on your job. Just get through today, put in your two weeks’ notice, and think about the future. I won’t be teaching Zumba, I was kidding and Ming knows it. I’m terrible at Zumba. No. I have big plans. “Mr. Brutus.” I beam as the summer heat washes over me. Yup, I have a pool of sweat in my bra. When I quit I’m not going to wear a push-up bra ever again. “Mr. Brutus,” I say again as I get closer. “I’m thrilled to finally meet you!” He’s almost down the stairs when he sees me. My smile is so big. So big. And it should be. I’ve been practicing this smile for seven years. “You’re late,” he says. “I am?” Wait. He’s baiting you, Ellie. Ignore, ignore, ignore. “I’ve got the golf cart right over there for you. The covered one, so the sun won’t freckle your skin.” I keep a straight face for that remark because that’s the kind of professional I am. He shoots me a disgusted look anyway. Right. I walk over to the waiting cart, pull back the plastic cover that surrounds the little vehicle like a hospital oxygen tent and resign myself to sweaty tits. No one uses the golf carts because we actually have a train that goes to the main building. Like, our own subway system. The campus here at Stonewall is so damn big—one hundred and fifty acres, to be accurate—we need a train to get around. But Brutus refuses to use the train. I roll my eyes just thinking about it. Germs, he said. It’s not New York City, for Pete’s sake. It’s a private train on a private billion-dollar corporate campus. Ming thinks he’s obsessive-compulsive and the germs are part of it. She read that online. Whatever his excuse, it’s not enough to make me happy about being inside a rolling plastic tent in the middle of summer. I sigh loudly. “Well,” Brutus says. “You’re cuter than I expected.” “Excuse me?” Ignore, ignore, ignore, Ellie. “You sounded so wound up on the phone. I thought you’d be some thirty-something matron. It’s a nice surprise,” he says, like that will dull the sting of the insult. All he talks about when we get inside the mobile tent is the heat. Apparently he loves the heat and this plastic-covered golf cart is his idea of bliss. “I’m very excited to hear you sing,” I say, pushing the start button on the cart. It hums to life and I press my designer shoe down on the power pedal, eager to get this over with. “People usually are,” he says. I nod, doing my best to smile and ignore. “I’ve got you all set up in the green room. There are plenty of snacks and drinks for you as you wait. And everything you asked for is waiting.” “It better be,” Brutus huffs. “That’s why I came.” I nod. Sure. That and the paycheck, which is outrageous, and the jet, which is nicer than his own, because I checked. And the fact that Daily E! is the highest-rated nighttime entertainment show for six years running. But sure, we can all pretend he came for the M&M’s and wool socks. He starts coughing and breathing heavy like he’s suffocating. Maybe it’s this plastic sauna we’re rolling around in when it’s the middle of summer? “I hope you’re not getting sick, Mr. Brutus?”

But he’s too busy hacking and gasping to answer. “Brutus? Are you OK? Do you need some water?” I flip the little console box open between our seats and take out the bottled water I stashed there earlier. It’s a little warm, so there’s one more thing for him to bitch about. The rock star waves the water off. “I hope,” he croaks out, “there are no peanuts in the green room today.” “Oh, no, I took note of your peanut allergy. We had it professionally cleaned just for—” I stop short. Oh, fuck. “I don’t think”—he coughs again, clutching his throat—“you’re telling—” Oh, my God. He’s turning red. “Brutus?” I ask, my little two-inch pump pressing down on the power pedal as I try to make it over to the health building. “Brutus?” “—me the truth.” And then his eyes bug out and he makes another mad grasp for his throat with one hand and my arm with the other. Oh, shit. How the hell, Ellie? That’s all I keep asking as I race my way over to the medical building. How the hell could you forget to take your peanut butter sandwich out of your purse? “Hang on!” “You’re trying to—” “No, sir!” I say. “—kill me.” “No, sir! I’m so sorry—” But my words are cut off as his head flops back against the seat and he gasps for breath.

Chapter Two - Ellie

“What the hell happened?” Ming asks. I flop down in my desk chair and pick up the landline phone. “Hello? Miranda? Yeah, can you let Shawna and Greg know Brutus won’t be able to make the song at nine?” I shake my head at Ming while Miranda rips me a new one on the phone. “Well, he went into anaphylactic shock on the ride over to the studio and I took him to health services for—” I hold the phone away from my ear as Miranda screams at me. “What the hell?” Ming asks again. I mouth, Peanut butter, while fishing out my lunch from my clutch and waving my baggie of peanut butter sandwich. “Yes, thanks, Miranda. And sorr—” She hangs up, so I just put the phone back on the cradle. “I really do quit,” I say, looking up into Ming’s smiling face. “What? Why are you smiling? I almost killed a rock star!” Ming makes a big deal of straightening her smile. “Will he live?” “Yes, but he’s mad as hell. He actually accused me of doing it on purpose!” “Oh,” Ming says, rolling her eyes. “That jerk can just get over himself.” I pull out my cell phone and start texting. “Ellie, stop texting that man. You guys never even dated.” I glare at my friend. “He got sent off to China by his father. He didn’t even get to say goodbye. We were about to date. We had lunch plans the next day. And then poof, disappeared off to China. One day he’ll get his phone back and then he’ll call and we’ll pick up where we left off.” Ming gives me a slow blink. “Really?” “Really.” I get up and walk over to the bathroom she and I share. We are the only two girls down here in the hangar, so it’s a single room. I shut the door behind me and lean against it as my fingers fly across the keyboard. Ellie: Man, my day sucks. I hope yours is better. I almost killed a celebrity with my peanut butter sandwich. I know, I know. That is inexcusable. But I’m so distracted. I’m putting my notice in today. When you get home there will be no conflict of interest at all. We’ll have the best time, right? That makes me feel better. I open up Pinterest and click through my boards until I find the one called Dream Home. God, it’s perfect. It’s nothing like my condo here in the Tech Center, which is ultra-modern—everything here is ultra-modern—and stackable. Because while land might’ve been cheap back when Stonewall Senior purchased his hundred and fifty acres twenty years ago, today it runs at a premium. It’s high-rise condos all the way. I’ve been living in mine for almost six years now. Ever since I got out of college and took the job as celebrity babysitter full time. No, the dream house is nothing like the condos in the Tech Center. It’s soft and flirty, like the blouse I’m wearing today. It’s got a white kitchen and stainless-steel appliances, the most gorgeous crown molding you can imagine, and fluttery sheer white curtains that cover floor-to-ceiling windows. The floors are hand-scraped hardwood, dark, to contrast with the light walls and kitchen.

The couches are comfy, and the kids’ rooms are perfect. I paste the link to Dream House Board into my phone and type: Ellie: Look, did you see this house? It’s only fifteen minutes from the Tech Center. And no traffic. We could take side roads all the way into work each day. It’s perfect, right? I don’t get an answer. I never get an answer. Heathcliff Stonewall—yes, youngest male progeny of Stonewall Senior, owner of this campus— was sent to China two months ago to do… something. I have no clue. They never tell me anything. The internal messaging system on the company phones hasn’t worked since. So he never sees my texts. But how long can his father exile him to China? A few more weeks, maybe? Months? Surely he’ll be back as soon as the project is done. And then we can pick up where we left off. It’s stupid to text him since he’s not even seeing them, but I don’t care. It makes me feel better. It gets me through the day. And even though we’d barely started getting more personal when he was relocated, I have waited for a real date for seven years. Seven. Years. I’m not letting a little thing like China get in the way of hitching myself to Mr. Perfect. I find another board, this one titled Our Pets. I’m going to get a sheepdog first, then a whole bunch of kittens, and some fish. Saltwater tank, I think. The house is big and has acres of land that begs for big dogs to roam it. I might even get horses. It has a barn and pretty white post-and-rail fences that surround the whole property. I sigh as I paste a link into the phone. The picture that loads is for a local breeder and it’s their newest litter of puppies. I’d get one now if my condo allowed pets, but they don’t. A knock on the door breaks me out of my perfect daydream. “Ellie! Are you expecting another big shot? A plane just landed.” I open the door. “What? Who? We’re not expecting anyone for an hour.” “I don’t know,” Ming says. “But there’s a great big jet with the Stonewall logo on the side taxiing up to the hangar. It’s so big, Bill says it won’t even fit inside.” “Jesus Christ,” I say, walking over to my desk and pulling my company tablet out of my clutch. I find the schedule on my calendar, scanning for a secret guest. “Nothing,” I say. “No one’s supposed to be here yet.” I walk over to the window that looks out onto the hangar and see a massive jet slowly approaching. The logo means nothing. We send Stonewall jets to pick up all kinds of people. We have a whole fleet of them coming and going most days. The hatch opens and the mechanical staff wheels the metal airstairs over to the opening. “Be right back,” I tell Ming as I push through the office doors and start running across the hangar. I do my best in my Jimmy Choos, anyway. A man in a dark suit appears in the entrance at the top of the stairs. He’s got blond hair, a small bit of scruff on his chin, and flashing eyes. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pair of sunglasses, placing them on his face as he descends. “Excuse me!” I yell. “Excuse me!” No one hears me. The hangar is loud. The man is at the bottom of the stairs now, and he turns his back to me as I run, still screaming, “Excuse me!” No one appears with him, and he doesn’t wait around for anyone, either. Just takes off walking towards the campus. “Excuse me!” I scream it as loud as I can. I’m still running, but the heel of my left shoe gets stuck in a crack on the tarmac, and I keep going while my shoe stays planted in the concrete. “Shit!” And wouldn’t you know it, somehow that gets his attention. Because he stops walking, turns

around, and then lowers his sunglasses down his nose to look at me. I’m still about twenty feet from him, and the roar of the plane is so loud there’s not a chance in hell he will hear me, but I give it my best go. “Excuse—” The jet engines shut down. “—me!” Everyone stops what they are doing to look at me. At least fifteen employees, plus the beautiful stranger in the suit. I close my eyes for a second, then hobble over towards the man, my lost shoe still stuck in the crack of concrete. “Excuse me,” I say again. “I’m Ellie—” “Ellie?” the man says in a deep voice. His eyes have a little twinkle of mischief in them. What the hell is up with that look? “Yes,” I say, smoothing down my pink skirt to avoid feeling self-conscious. “I’m the celebrity concierge for Stonewall Entertainment. I handle all the comings and goings around here and I’m afraid you weren’t on my guest list.” The handsome stranger looks past me and then starts walking in my direction, passing right by me. “Where are you going?” I ask. But he says nothing, just bends down, pries my shoe from the crack in the concrete, and then turns back to me, my shoe in his outstretched hand like he’s offering me a gift. “You lost your slipper.” He chuckles, walking back towards me. I take the shoe and slip it on my foot just as a golf cart pulls up. If you could screech the tires on those things, it would’ve screeched. My boss, Mr. Sowards, jumps out and positions himself between me and the man. Mr. Sowards extends his hand, and I have to sidestep to see the stranger ’s face. His eyes are still on me for some reason, even as he returns my boss’ gesture and shakes his hand. “I’m sorry I was late, Mr. Stonewall.” “Stonewall?” I say. The new Stonewall smiles at me. “That’s right,” Mr. Sowards says. “McAllister Stonewall. We’re so happy you’re here, Mac…” I lose track of the conversation for a few seconds as I put the pieces together. This is Heath’s brother. Wow. I study him. My future brother-in-law. They do kind of look alike, now that I know who he is. “Don’t mind Ellie,” my boss says with a chuckle. “She’s just the concierge for the guests.” Just the concierge? I open my mouth to say something about that remark, but they have turned and are already getting into the golf cart, not even glancing back at me.

Chapter Three - Ellie

“He has a brother?” Ming says. “Why didn’t we know that?” Good question. Ming and I have worked here for seven years. I’ve never even heard of McAllister Stonewall. “Sowards called him Mac but his name is McAllister.” “Sexy,” Ming says. “He’s sorta dreamy, right? I saw that shoe move. Wow.” “Yeah, I guess. I wonder if Heath knows his brother is here?” I pull out my phone and start texting. Ellie: Just met my future brother-in-law. Why didn’t you tell me you had a brother? I can totally picture him with us in the dream house at Christmas. Six bedrooms means we can have a ton of guests for the holidays. I bet his girlfriend is some uptight model, right? :) Ming is still talking when I press send on that message. I wonder how one family can stand to have two beautiful sons? Stonewall Senior is also very handsome, even for an older man. And Mrs. Stonewall is stunning. They come from money. It’s very obvious she’s had the best of everything her whole life. Ellie: Do you have any more brothers? I can’t even imagine how perfect your family photos are. Your brother is almost as hot as you. Actually, I think the new brother is hotter than Heath. Maybe even way hotter. He’s taller for one. And his hair is lighter. I think his eyes were blue, too. Heath has dark eyes. McAllister Stonewall has a chiseled square jaw, while Heath has a more rounded one. And McAllister has perfectly groomed facial hair while Heath’s looks like he just forgot to shave. I think both can be hot, but… yeah. Wow. I might be lusting over my future brother-in-law. “Are you daydreaming about Mr. Perfect again?” Ming asks. Before I can answer I get an inter-office message on my phone from my boss, Mr. Sowards. Boss: Executive conference room. Immediately. “What’s he say?” Ming asks, leaning into my space to see my phone. “Meeting in the executive conference room? That wasn’t on the schedule.” “Neither was Mr. Fancy Jet. Maybe it’s got something to do with him?” “Maybe,” I mutter. “Or maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that I almost killed Brutus the rock star this morning.” I think the second one is far more likely. I make my way over to the train depot, which is through the back of the office and down an escalator about a hundred feet. Over here at the hangar the station is pretty small. There’s two long benches made out of stone, a vending machine filled with water and soda, and the digital company

announcement board. You have to tell the train to stop here if you need a ride, so I push the call button and stand in front of the announcement board to wait. Hmmm. There’s a big write-up about the Asian office on the board. No mention of Heath though. Strange. When he disappeared two months ago I took it a little personally. After all, we’ve known each other for seven years. He was a junior executive back when I first started. We became good friends that year and have been close ever since. We just never dated. Never got around to it. But I know he’s the perfect one for me. It just sucks that he got sent away so suddenly. Which is how the texting started. He doesn’t get the inter-office messages. I knew that right away because every time I sent one, the notification said undeliverable. But I missed him. I was used to texting at least once a day, even if it was just for work-related updates. Now I text him my Pinterest boards. Little things that catch my eye in the news. Pictures I find on social media. Ming thinks I’m obsessed, but I’m not. It’s sorta like a diary. The low hum of the electric train brings me out of my thoughts and when it stops and the door slides open, I step in, smiling at about half a dozen other passengers on their way to the Atrium. The Atrium is the main building where all the executive, managerial, and creative staff work. It looks like the name implies—a giant seven-story building with a glass roof. When Stonewall Senior started this company twenty years ago the building was in another part of the Tech Center. One closer to downtown. But about ten years ago they moved to this building and every year the working environment gets more trendy. You know, one of those companies where everyone wants to work. Stonewall has been voted best place to work in the whole country for eight years running. They have a ton of amenities for employees. Even a day care center for working families. There’s a Montessori school just off campus too, and only Stonewall kids can apply to go there. And they are big on charity here at Stonewall. Every month we have a charity drive of some sort. The Atrium is the first stop after the airport, so the doors open and I get off with two other people. It’s another below-ground station, twenty times as big as the one I just left. And the escalator ride up is not as long. From down here you can see straight up into the main lobby and there’s huge palm trees and a view of the waterfall as soon as you get to the top. The high-level creatives who work in the Atrium don’t have offices. Everyone in this building is assigned a tablet, a laptop, and a phone, just like me. There are tons of brightly-colored workstations scattered throughout the building. Some are picnic tables, some are small living rooms—couches and chairs. Some are even hammocks. I don’t know if working in the Atrium makes people more creative or not, but it’s nice. Cheery and stuff. Obviously, I’m not a creative. I have no input into the day-to-day marketing of the company, I just schedule guests and escort them around the campus. The main attractions in the Atrium are the waterfall and the slide. Yes, we are one of those places. A giant seven-story slide. Actually, we have four slides. One that really does twist all the way down from the top floor, but others on floors three, four, and five. When people come for tours I show them the slide and offer a free ride down from seven. No one has ever taken me up on it. Just once I’d like to see them sit their ass down on that slide and give it a whirl. The waterfall is two-sided. It snakes all the way down from the sixth floor and on either side of it are banks of glass elevators. That’s where my attention is right now, because Mr. Fancy Jet McAllister is laughing in a group of executives. Including my boss, Mr. Sowards. Jennifer Sluts-around is leaning into him like she wants to lick his face. Marty Brown-nose is doing that fake laugh thing he always does when he’s sucking up. And Clarisse Takes-all-the-credit is looking at his crotch as she plays with her hair. Jesus. Can

they be any more stupid? I roll my eyes as I hide behind a large palm tree. They are standing right in front of the elevator, so I slink my way over to the stairs. I take a picture of them as they stand there, my camera shutter set to silent. I’m sort of a stalker around here. I have a special private Pinterest board where I collect gossip about my co-workers. I don’t send that to anyone, not even Perfect Heath. The elevator opens and they all make their way in. I hoof it up the stairs to the second floor, my eyes glued on Mr. Fancy Jet as he gets in the elevator. Instinctively I hold my phone up and snap a picture just as he turns and looks at me. Oh my God, he smiled. I think he saw me. I look away real fast and then start climbing up to the third floor, checking the picture on my phone. Nah, he wasn’t looking at me. Something in my direction, but not me. But holy hell, he is damn hot. I stare at the image all the way up to the seventh floor, by which time I’m sweating more than when I was carting Brutus around in the golf cart. Mr. Sowards is waiting outside the executive conference room and as soon as he sees me leave the stairs, he starts walking in my direction. What can this be about? Please, please, please don’t be about Brutus. “Miss Hatcher, just exactly what were you thinking this morning?” “I’m so sorry. I forgot I had a peanut butter sandwich in my purse.” “What?” “What?” He scowls at me. “I don’t know what that means”—he holds up a hand—“and I don’t care. I’m talking about that whole ‘Excuse me, excuse me’ thing you were doing out on the tarmac!” “Oh, well, I didn’t know who he was. I saw the jet and it wasn’t on my schedule—” “Miss Hatcher, the CEO of Stonewall Entertainment doesn’t have to clear his schedule with you.” “No, of course not. I mistook him for a guest and I didn’t want him—” “Well, don’t do it again.” Sowards stares at me until I nod. “No, sir, I won’t.” I smile and wait. “Is… is that all you needed? Can I go now?” “Go?” he asks. “No, Miss Hatcher. We’re having an executive meeting. Which is why I called you up to the executive conference room.” “Executive meeting? Then why do I have to be there? You guys never invite me to the meetings up here on seven.” “Go sit down, Miss Hatcher.” Sowards walks off and disappears into the conference room. My eyes follow him and then rest on Mr. Fancy Jet as he appears from my left. He stops and smiles at me. “Did you at least get me in focus?” he asks. Oh, my God, he did see me take that picture. “Shall we?” he asks, waving a hand towards the open conference room door. I nod and walk briskly into the room. It’s glass on all four sides and the doors aren’t regular doors because that is way too mundane for a fun company like Stonewall. They are sliders that fold open, the kind you see at beach houses where a wall of windows suddenly slides back and the wall disappears, opening to the outside. Once the folding doors are closed I am a nervous mess. Why am I here? I’m not really an executive. I can count on one hand the number of executive meetings I’ve been to, and those were all major restructuring changes. I’m my own department here. I run the whole thing. I have Ming as my assistant, but when they gave her those duties, they just added to her current IT salary. So really, I have no oversight over anyone but myself and the guests I escort from studio to studio. The conference table seats ten. McAllister Stonewall is at the head, just in front of the digital

whiteboard, and all eight chairs along the long length of the table are also taken up by other department heads. The only chair left is the end. I slink into the soft leather and lean back—too far—and then have to scramble to regain my balance as I try to look like I meant to do that. “Wow,” I say, smiling at all the gawking looks. “Are these new? They’re very comfortable.” “OK,” McAllister says. “Ready?” Everyone nods and affirms with a chorus of yeses just as the shades come down and the room goes dark. A video starts playing on the digital whiteboard and everyone settles in, tablets in hand to take notes. Should I take notes? I get my tablet out and set my phone on the table beside it. The video is about… hell if I know. Ethics? Mission statement? A reorganization? I don’t know. I have nothing to do with any of this. I’m the celebrity concierge. I do my best to pay attention, but the chair is so comfy, and the room is dark. I start to drift off. Jesus, Ellie. Get it together. You are in an executive meeting, for Pete’s sake. The CEO is sitting right in front of you. Hey, the relaxed voice in my head says. His back is to me. He will never know if I just close my eyes— Sowards clears his throat next to me, and everyone glances over at us. I force myself to stay awake. Three minutes later I’m dozing again so I look to my right. Clarisse is taking notes on her tablet. So I flip open the cover on mine and do the same. New page. Heading. Executive Meeting. Wednesday—I glance at the clock—seven forty-five. Video about… employees. New health benefits. Reorganization chart. See, I knew it. That’s the only reason they call me up here. I never get reorganized. Then I notice my name has moved on the flow chart on the screen. “Hey,” I say out loud. “Did I just get reorganized?” Fancy Jet looks over his shoulder and smiles at me. “Later, Miss Hatcher,” Sowards growls to my left. “Sorry,” I whisper. By now the chart is off screen, so I can’t even take a note. I glance over at Clarisse’s tablet, but she shields it from me with her arm like we’re taking a test in fifth grade. Bitch. I open up Pinterest and ease my tablet up slightly so I can take some pictures. Snap. I catch Bob Moran picking his nose and almost laugh out loud. Clarisse is still guarding her tablet like a child. Snap. Jennifer Sluts-around is staring at McAllister like she wants to eat him. And… McAllister is off to the side now so he can get a better view of the video, so I see him in profile. God, that’s perfect. I snap about a dozen of him and then make a new board called My Hot Brother-in-Law. I almost giggle to myself as I add his photos and send Heath a text. Ellie: Having a meeting without you. Bet you wish you were here. :) Send. I’m just about to add captions to all the pictures when someone’s phone vibrates. Oh, hell. I look over at Sowards, who is about to fume about not turning off a phone, when we both realize McAllister is the guilty party. Sowards simmers down and I go back to my tablet so I can continue my delusional life as Heath’s girlfriend and report on what’s happening.

Ellie: Why didn’t you tell me your brother was so hot? Send. I snicker at that, glance up at the boring corporate video, then go back to my Pinterest board. I need some hot gifs to add. I do a search for hot, sexy kissing and have to fan myself. I add about a dozen of them with captions like, Fancy Jet Mac can kiss me like this any time he wants. And, I like the choke move on this one. Take notes, Heath. A laugh actually escapes my lips and Sowards gives me a kick under the table just as McAllister ’s phone vibrates again. I look up and catch him smiling at something. Well, isn’t that special. I’m glad he is allowed to get funny texts during this very important executive meeting while the rest of us are expected to act like we give a crap. I text Heath again. Ellie: Is your brother available? I might need to replace you as my boyfriend since you haven’t answered my texts in months. Send. McAllister ’s phone vibrates again, and now everyone is starting to notice he’s not even trying to pay attention to the movie. Figures. Ellie: Your brother is setting a very bad example in today’s executive meeting. Maybe someone should tell him to turn his phone off and pay attention to this stupid movie like the rest of us. Send. I go back to my Pinterest board and add a few more pics of him. One as he smiles down at the phone and then another as he gets a vibrating reply and looks right at me. Jesus. I hope he doesn’t know what I’m doing. I pretend to watch the movie for a few seconds until McAllister turns his attention back to his phone. It vibrates again. Ellie: His phone would give me an orgasm if I slid it between my legs, that’s how much it’s vibrating right now. Send. Fancy Jet’s phone vibrates one more time, just as an incoming message appears on my phone. Heath: I can make arrangements for the hot brother to get you off with his vibrating phone if you want. I stare at it. Wait, what just happened? My heart starts to race. He didn’t just text me back. Tell me he did not just text me back. Ellie: Heath? Are you getting my messages? Send. And that’s when I notice… the little notification that usually says undelivered says delivered. Ellie: Oh, my God, Heath. I’m so sorry. I didn’t think you were getting my messages. I scroll up and the panic starts to set in. They all say delivered. All of them. McAllister ’s phone vibrates again and I look straight at him this time.

No. No. No. No. This is not possible. Heath: He isn’t. I am. McAllister looks straight at me and he winks. “Message received, Ellie.”

Chapter Four - Ellie

I slap my hands down on the table and stand up so fast, my luxurious leather office chair goes sliding backwards until it crashes into the wall. “Miss Hatcher!” my boss yells as he stands up. I look around at my peers and every bit of my body goes hot as all nine faces stare back at me. “Are you OK, Miss Hatcher?” McAllister asks from the other end of the table. He’s got a smug look on his face. I don’t know what just happened, but I need to get out of here. I take a deep breath and smile. “I just remembered. I have…” I have what? Shit. My heart starts racing and I swallow hard. “I have…” “You have something to tell us, Ellie?” Jennifer Sluts-around asks. And the funny thing is, I think she’s trying to be helpful. “Reorganization, maybe?” Jennifer throws me one of those quirky sideways smiles girlfriends do when things are going terribly awry. “Um, yeah, I mean…” I stammer. “Miss Hatcher,” Mr. Sowards says. “Whatever you have to say can wait. Sit down. Now!” I look around, silently pleading for help, but when my eyes land on McAllister Stonewall, he says, “Yes, Ellie, tell us what’s got you all hot and bothered.” I shake my head. Nope. Nope. Not gonna do this. I’m quitting today and I’m not going out as the girl who was sexting the boss during a meeting. “I… I quit.” Everyone gasps. “You do not quit, Miss Hatcher,” McAllister says. “You’ve been working here for seven years. You just got a promotion and a new office. So no, you’re not quitting. Sit down and we can discuss this issue later.” “What?” Where the hell does he get off? And I’m not discussing shit with him later. “No, I have to go. I’m sorry. I forgot to turn off my oven at home. I was baking cookies this morning…” Baking cookies? Jesus, Ellie, step it the fuck up. Do not let him chase you out of here and make these past seven years a joke. “I mean, not the oven, I have a… a dental appointment. My tooth,” I say, tapping on my front tooth. “Needs a root canal. And my cholesterol is high, so I need pre-treatment. And… and then I have to… I have…” “Ellie,” McAllister says in a stern voice. “Sit down. We’ll discuss it all later. None of that is true and you know it.” I move away from the table very slowly. Like McAllister is a lion and he might pounce and eat me up at any moment. I use the back of my boss’ chair to steady myself as I inch towards the conference room doors. McAllister stands too, and he’s coming at me quick. I panic and make a break for it. I reach for the handle on the doors that will swing them wide open just as McAllister Stonewall grips my arm and thwarts my escape. “Tampon!” I scream as loud as I can. McAllister lets go, his handsome, perfectly-groomed face filled with confusion. “What?” “Tampon!” I yell again. “I need a tampon, OK? I didn’t want to have to say it out loud, but you

forced me, Stonewall. So I will see you people… whenever. Get out of my way because I quit and I need a tampon!” The magic word. It does the trick. Everyone in the room except McAllister erupts in laughter. But whatever, I’m outta there. I dash across the top floor heading towards the elevator. “Ellie Hatcher!” McAllister Stonewall yells. “Stop right where you are!” Oh, my God. The whole fucking place is looking at me. There are at least fifty creatives working on this floor alone. And when I look down at the people on the sixth floor below, there are dozens of faces looking up too. People start whispering loudly as I try not to fall apart. “Ellie!” Stonewall says again. “Wait!” I look at the elevator, then the stairs. But the only way out of here without a confrontation in front of a hundred people is… the slide. I break for it, almost twisting an ankle as I run. Stonewall’s feet thunder on the marble tiled floors behind me and I know he’s close. He’s going to catch me and there is no way in hell I’m talking to that man ever again. I get to the slide just as his fingertips brush against the fluttery silk of my blouse sleeve. But I grab the handle as I swing my feet and legs in, and then I whoosh myself into the sevenstory slide. I scream, then laugh in triumph as I make my escape. It’s fast and exhilarating. Thrilling even. Why have I never done this before? The first twist comes up, and I slow slightly. “Whooo!” I yell in the slide. “Hahahahaha!” When I come out of the second twist, it’s a steep drop and I pick up speed. That’s when my skirt starts to ride up my thighs. My legs are all sweaty from the embarrassment and confrontation. No. No, no, no. You cannot get stuck in this— But I slow down as the friction between my skin and the slide starts to hinder my escape. The incline isn’t as steep now either. So there’s no chance of building momentum. I must be near the ground floor. A few seconds later I come out of another turn and I’m slowing down so fast, I have to start scooting forward. Shit. Why me? Why couldn’t this happen on Pencil Skirt Monday? A pencil skirt would not ride up. Pretty soon there it’s obvious that there is no hope of sliding down the rest of the way, so I take off my shoes and throw them down the slide ahead of me, then contort my body and wiggle around until I’m face first on my hands and knees. And I crawl. I crawl forward, fling my shoes, then crawl some more. I calculate how long I’ve been in the slide and come up with no more than a minute. I’m gonna make it. I crawl faster, throwing my shoes through the last turn. They go tumbling out of sight as I pick up my pace. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Literally. I am seconds away from freedom when a pair of legs come into view. No. Please. I stop crawling so fast and make my way towards the end of the slide where the top cuts away and yes. There he is. Waiting for me. My Jimmy Choos directly in front of him. My pretty pink clutch, tablet, and phone in one hand as he extends the other out towards me. “Are you quite finished now, Miss Hatcher?” he says, a scowl on his face. I take a deep, deep breath as I finish my crawl and accept his hand to help me out, because my other choice will probably land me on my face, ass in the air. And my skirt is still very much bunched up near my hips.

His hand grips mine, sending a shock of fear through my body, and steadies me as I get to my feet. He waits in silence as I adjust my skirt and slip my shoes on my feet so he’s not towering over me. Not as much anyway. “Thank you, Mr. Stonewall,” I say, grabbing my clutch and devices from his hand. “Thank you,” I repeat, because I have no other words. “Now goodbye.” “No,” he says, both of his arms corralling my upper body to prevent my second attempt at escaping. “This is completely ridiculous behavior, Miss Hatcher. My office now.” It’s not a question, it’s a command. And that just pisses me off. “What part of I quit don’t you understand? I’m not going to your office, I’m going home. Now get your hands off me and get out of my way.” I shove him aside, take a deep breath, not looking at any of the hundreds of employees who have now gathered to watch what’s happening, and walk off towards the escalator that leads down to the train station. I look down as I approach the escalator, hoping against hope that it will be empty, but there’s at least a dozen people looking up at me. Shit. I veer off towards the stairs that will take me down to the transport garage. I will just hijack a golf cart and drive myself back to the hangar. I have full access to the keys thanks to Brutus. I grab the handle, swing the door open, and leave that bastard of a boss behind.

Chapter Five - Mac

I stand there dumbfounded as Ellie Hatcher walks off and disappears through the door that leads down to the garage. Everyone is looking at me and even though it should be impossible for an office building that hosts more than seven hundred employees to be silent, it feels very, very silent. “Get back to work,” I say loudly. Everyone turns away and pretends to be busy. I stride towards the door, swing it open, and follow Ellie Hatcher into the dim stairwell. “Oh, shit,” she says down below. “Go away!” She’s crying. I can tell from the hitch in her voice. “Miss Hatcher,” I say as I step down and she comes into view. Her face and eyes are red and she has the biggest frown on her face. Humiliated. She looks humiliated. Well, that inner voice of mine says. She asked for it. She did. This is not my fault. How is this my fault? I’m not the one who’s been texting dirty offers of sex and sending weird Pinterest boards filled with the delusional life she most certainly does not have with Heath. She admitted in that exchange upstairs that she figured Heath wasn’t getting her texts. And he wasn’t. He’s in China where the company phones do not work. I turned the phone off just before Senior sent him off and landed me here, running the whole company. “Miss Hatcher,” I repeat. “Will you please calm down. I’m not the enemy and this is not my fault. No one asked you to quit. And no one cares that you made a fool of yourself—” “Fuck you!” she yells. “Just fuck you! You were reading my private messages to your brother, Mr. Stonewall.” I am taken aback at her outburst. Pissed off about it, actually. “Don’t talk to me that way,” I growl. “Or what?” she challenges. “You’re gonna fire me? Too late. I already told you, I’m out. And don’t think you’re the reason, either, Mr. Fancy Jet. You’re not. I was planning on quitting before you ever showed up today.” “Well, that’s unfortunate,” I say. “Why?” she asks. “No one here respects me. And I’m not sure what that whole promotion thing is about, but it’s about five years too late.” “That’s not why.” It comes out unexpectedly. It’s not why, but normally I don’t just blurt out the truth to women. “Then why?” she demands. She wipes the wetness from under her eyes as she tries to regain her composure. “God,” I say, looking her up and down. Her white ruffly blouse is all askew. I can see her lacy pink bra. She notices where my eyes have landed and looks down. “Oh, dammit, can this day possibly get any worse?” She undoes the silky tie that is supposed to keep her shirt together and tries to straighten up her wardrobe malfunction. I can’t stop watching her tie the swath of lace acting as a belt into a bow, so when she lifts her gaze up from her task she catches me. “Seen enough? Pervert,” she mutters under her breath. “I’m not sure that garment is work-appropriate. If one’s clothing can’t withstand a trip down the slide without coming off, perhaps one should consider a more conservative approach to fashion?”

I’m pretty proud of my professionalism. Also that I kept a straight face. “Well, you don’t have to worry about me, Mr. Fancy Jet. I’m already part of your past.” Goddammit. I take a deep breath. “Look, Miss Hatcher, I’m sorry you had a few embarrassing moments up there—” “A few—” Her mouth hangs open incredulously. “For your information, Mr. Stonewall” —she sneers my name—“I was not embarrassed. I was humiliated. There’s a big difference. And you are the person who humiliated me.” “You were texting me during an executive meeting.” Where the hell does she get off blaming her behavior on me? “And while we’re assigning blame, you were using your phone for completely inappropriate sexual encounters.” “Sexual—” I seem to be able to render her speechless pretty easily. “That was not—” “Really?” I interrupt. “Really?” I laugh the word this time. “I’m pretty sure anyone I ask would say those gifs you send of men pawing women—choking them as they kissed—cross the professional line.” It was pretty hot though. I’d like to press my palm against her throat and kiss the hell out of her myself. Slide my hand up her thigh and slip my fingertips under those pink lacy underwear I got a good look at back in the lobby. Ellie Hatcher is suddenly silent. She chews on a manicured pink fingernail as she thinks this over, and must decide I’m right, because she purses her plump lips and crosses her arms in front of her chest. Her designer shoe begins to tap on the concrete floor. “Did you read everything?” She doesn’t look at me, just stares down at her feet. “Everything.” “Oh, God. Since when?” Miss Hatcher looks up at me, her eyes wide. “I mean, I know all the messages said undelivered. So how the hell did they suddenly become delivered?” “Heath had to mail me the phone back from China. He forgot to leave it and we needed his contacts. So it was powered down for a few weeks, but as soon as I powered it back up, all your messages came through.” “Holy shit,” she whispers, pinching the bridge of her nose like she’s getting a migraine. “You said some very interesting things, Miss Hatcher.” “Don’t,” she starts. “I don’t want to talk about it.” I stare down her shirt. I know it’s a dick move since she’s not even paying attention, but that pink bra is driving me crazy. She fixed the shirt, but it’s falling back open again. Is it my fault she’s flashing me some lace? Should I not look? What kind of dumbass wouldn’t look at a girl like this? And shit, those texts. Jesus. I really didn’t picture her looking so… so… fucking sweet. Some of the texts she was sending Heath would make Christian Grey blush. This woman with the pink panties, conservative skirt, and almost no makeup to speak of might have the dirtiest mind I’ve ever come across. The things she said to Heath. I want to kiss your cock with my pretty lips, then swallow you whole as you spill your come down my throat. Who says that? And then, the really confusing thing was, she’d send Heath pictures of a house for sale over in the ’burbs on the other side of the airport and talk about getting a puppy. An Old English Sheepdog, to be exact. It’s almost like she’s got a split personality. Or she’s one of those closet kinks. Hell, I wonder if Heath used to take her to sex clubs or something? “Are we done talking?” she says. “I need to meet Andrew Manco out on the tarmac in ten minutes.” I stare at Ellie’s mouth as she talks, imagining my cock slipping past her lips. How wet her tongue

would be as it slid up and down my shaft. I can almost feel the relief as I come the way she asked. My hand acts on its own accord. One second it’s perfectly still by my side, the next it’s wrapped around her waist. My palm looks big next to her small body. My thumb’s on her hip bone and my fingers are splayed across the top of one ass cheek. “What are you—” I kiss her. I kiss her like the guy in that gif she sent me a few minutes ago. My other hand palms her throat as I grab her ass and press her hips up against my rock-hard cock. How the hell did I get hard so fast? She puts up a small fight. But in my defense, it’s a very small fight. Her lips press together and her hands fly up to my chest and push, but it just drives me even crazier. I know I should stop, but just as I’m about to back off and apologize, her mouth opens. My tongue slides in as she teases me with hers. I reach for her silk blouse and pull it apart, exposing the pretty pink bra as her flimsy tie holding the kimono shirt together unravels until the entire front is hanging wide open. “I want this,” I hear myself saying into her mouth. And then I grab the sides of her bra and yank the cups down, exposing her nipples to the chilled air. I push the silky shirt down her shoulders, letting it drop to the floor in a puddle of fabric, and then rid her of the bra by ripping the fabric so hard, the hooks give way and it slides down her arms to join her blouse. “Yeah,” I moan, squeezing both her breasts as I continue to kiss her. “You like it rough, don’t you, Miss Hatcher?” “I don’t,” she says. “I don’t usually.” I take that as a yes and get to work hiking her skirt up her thighs. I lift her leg and say, “Take out my cock. I want your mouth around it, Ellie.” Two fingers find their way inside her wet pussy and I pump her a few times. This makes her throw her head back and moan. Her small hands unbuckle my belt and tug on the button and zipper until her palm wraps around the fat girth of my dick. She goes very still as she looks down at the prize in her hand. Why did she stop? Shit, don’t fucking stop. “Squeeze it, Ellie,” I say. Her eyes dart up to meet mine and she nods as her hands obey. “Ah,” I say. “Fuck, yeah. Harder. Squeeze me harder.” My attention goes back to her mouth as my fingers play with her pussy. I rub her in small circles, completely avoiding her clit on purpose. I slide one wet finger back to her asshole and press. She mews into my mouth, but doesn’t ask me to stop. So I push it in a little more as two other fingers enter her pussy. “Do you like to be full?” I ask, still kissing her between words. “When I get you in a proper bedroom I’ll shove my cock down your throat and play with your ass and pussy and then you will be completely full. How does that sound, Miss Hatcher?” She comes. Her ass and pussy squeeze against my fingers. Her muscles clamp down so hard as she bucks her spine and throws her head back, I have to wrap my free hand behind her waist to keep her from falling over. “I want your lips wrapped around my cock, Ellie. Wrapped around so tight it feels better than your pussy.” I push on her shoulders until she gets the hint and drops to her knees. She looks up at me, her eyes wide with surprise. Why is she surprised? This is what she wanted, right? Maybe the message was to Heath, but she can’t be attached to him. She has to know he’s the ultimate player. She must like being bossed during sex from her reaction. But hell, she did her share of telling Heath what she wanted. Even so, I’m happy to boss her around. I grab her blonde hair and grip it tight, pushing her head towards the tip of my cock. She licks her

lips, like she can’t wait to get me in her mouth. Can’t wait to— “Hello?” someone says from above. The heavy door on the floor above smacks closed as heels click on the concrete landing. Ellie stands up, shock on her face. She picks up her blouse and hurriedly wraps it around herself, tying the swath of fabric acting as a belt back together. “Fuck,” I say, shoving my fully hard dick back into my pants and zipping back up. My belt jingles as the tapping of shoes continues down the stairs. I look at Ellie, but she’s not paying any attention to me or the approaching shoes. She’s looking at her destroyed bra on the ground. We both reach for it at the same time and each of us has one broken strap in hand, tugging like two dogs fighting over a bone. “Let go,” she growls through her teeth. “Fuck,” I say again. I wanted that bra. But I let go. I’d be on her level of crazy if I had a fight over who gets to take her ruined bra home when someone is about to catch us. “As I said, Mr. Stonewall, I’m quitting. My resignation will be in your inbox this afternoon announcing my two weeks’ notice.” “What? You can’t quit now, Miss Hatcher.” “Hello?” the strange voice says. I look over and see a tall red-headed woman in a very short skirt, middle-aged, standing on the bottom step of the stairs. She’s flashing me a hand in a wave and her thick eyelashes are batting at me in amusement. A door slams and when I look over, Ellie is gone. “Oh, ho, ho,” the redhead says. “Did I interrupt something?” She covers her mouth in some kind of fake oopsie move from a Doris Day flick, and then winks at me. “Uh, no. Well, if you call that”—I wave my hand at the door—“crazy bitch quitting something, then yes. You did. How can I help you… Sorry, I don’t have your name?” “Ellie,” she squeals. I turn and look over my shoulder at the door, wondering why Ellie came back. But there’s no one there. I turn back to the redhead. “What?” “Ellie, Mr. Stonewall. I’m Ellie Abraham. Your brother Heath and I, we're very good friends.” She gives me a wink and then adds, “If you know what I mean. But I must say, you are far more handsome than he is.” Wait. “Your name is Ellie too?” I point at the door to indicate my Ellie who just walked out. “Oh, I know. She’s nuts, right? Don’t assume all of us Ellies are that way. So… is Heath coming back anytime soon? I really, really miss the fun we used to have.” “I’m sorry, Miss Abraham, I have work to do.” I take the steps three at a time and burst back into the bustling Atrium lobby. I pull out Heath’s phone as I jog up the steps to the seventh floor and open up the messages. Ellie: Look, did you see this house? It’s only fifteen minutes from the Tech Center. And no traffic. We could take side roads all the way into work each day. It’s perfect, right? Ellie: I want to kiss your cock with my pretty lips, then swallow you whole as you spill your come down my throat. They are two different people. Jesus fucking Christ. Dream-House Ellie and Fuck-Me Ellie are

two different people. What have I done?

Chapter Six - Mac

By the time I get back up to the seventh floor, I’ve forgotten all about the meeting. The glares coming from my executive team through the glass walls of the executive conference room remind me quick enough. Shit. I straighten my tie as I walk through the doors and slide them closed behind me. “OK, where were we?” I scan their faces. They’re all looking at me like I’m a pariah. Even Sowards, who didn’t seem to like Ellie much before her meltdown. “Is Ellie OK?” Jennifer, the Communications Director, asks. “Um…” Shit. “I’m sure she is.” I give Jennifer a weak smile. “I’m sure whatever is bothering Ellie will pass and she’ll be fine. Look,” I say, hating the fact that I’m the one who has to do this. Hating that Heath is off in China so I am forced to deal with the company. “Obviously all these changes are happening for a reason. We’re restructuring, but not because we’re having capital issues or unexpected profit reports.” There’s an audible sigh from all eight of my top team. “But because…” God, I’m so bad at this. “Because we’re selling.” Dead silence for a count of three. Then everyone is talking at once. “Parceling it off by division?” Jennifer asks. “Where is the organization chart for that?” Sowards asks. His tone towards me is more like the tone he had with Ellie earlier. Impatient. “Will we still have jobs?” Clarisse asks. “Who is courting this sale?” “Does your father know about this?” That’s my favorite. Yeah, no. I think I’ll sell off a multi-billion-dollar business without approval. “That’s all I have to say today, so if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do. We’ll talk more as information comes in.” I walk out the doors and turn left towards my wing of the seventh floor. Of course, it won’t hide me for long. All eight of the people in that room have offices up here too. But I’ve done what I came to do. “Good morning, Mr. Stonewall,” a cheerful woman with long black hair and a cream-colored dress calls out as I approach the outer office. “I’m Stephanie,” she says with a smile. “And if you need anything while you’re here, just let me know.” “Where is the new office for Ellie Hatcher? I was told my father promoted her and she was to move her office up to the seventh floor immediately.” “Oh, yes,” Stephanie says. “We only had one spare. Well,” she corrects. “We didn’t have any spare offices, but Heath’s office had an annex, which inventory has resupplied with something that should work temporarily. Until Ellie can order something to ‘make her happy’.” Stephanie’s fingers do little air quotes around that last part. I must look puzzled because she adds, “Your father ’s instructions. He wants her pampered for once. Again, his exact words.” “Hmm. My father has a sweet spot for Ellie Hatcher?” Why? She’s clearly crazy. “Oh, he loves her to death. Everyone does.” Stephanie laughs. “She is so sweet. She and Heath

were close too.” “Then why is her office still in the aviation maintenance hangar? In fact, why the hell is she working down there to begin with?” “Um, well,” Stephanie says, perplexed. “Logistics. The guests fly in, she greets them, escorts them to their appropriate studios, and then brings them back to their plane.” “She’s getting paid an executive salary?” I ask. “To match her executive status?” “Well, um, I have no idea,” Stephanie says. “I’m not privy to salaries. But your father was always generous to his employees. And Ellie was brought in while she was still in college. I think your fathers were friends, right?” It’s my turn to be perplexed. “Were they?” Jesus Christ, how did I allow myself to get so removed from the family business? “They were,” Stephanie says with a smile. “And IT is still down in the maintenance hangar too. That was the first building completed after the Atrium eight years ago. People just settle in, you know? I’m sure if Ellie wanted a new office she’d have gotten one. But I don’t think she’s that kind of employee, Mr. Stonewall.” “You don’t think she wants this office?” “Oh, I’m sure she’ll be thrilled when she sees it. But she’s not the type of girl to demand things. Not things like an office with a view, anyway.” I ponder this for a moment. “Does it have a view?” Stephanie smiles. “A very nice view. And it will be ready this afternoon. Would you like me to invite her up and show her around?” “No,” I say, absently looking down through the courtyard to the waterfall as it spills out over the sixth floor. “I’ll handle Ellie Hatcher. Thanks, Stephanie. If you need me I’ll be in my office.” I walk to the door with my name on it, still trying to wrap my head around my new life as the CEO of Stonewall Entertainment. Thank God my office is not made of glass like everything else around here. And my desk is not a picnic table, for fuck’s sake. I open the door, step in, and close it behind me. The window is magnificent. Floor to ceiling. But at least it’s got a view of the hills and not of the city. I can’t even take a city view right now. I get enough of that from the penthouse I will call home while I’m here. The rolling hills are bright green and dotted with cows. That makes me smile. The Tech Center is huge and growing bigger every day. But it was an afterthought. The downtown area was far too crowded to support the sprawling campuses of the many tech companies that now call the city home. Our campus alone is more than a hundred and fifty acres. You can’t get that in a city. You have to create it on the edge of something. My father ’s words spill over into my thoughts. This campus is his dream actualized and now I’m walking away. It’s not the ideal end, is it? My phone buzzes in my pants, but when I reach in to get it, I remember that I have two phones now. Mine and Heath’s. It’s Heath’s phone that is buzzing. It’s always Heath’s phone. I don’t even bother unlocking the home screen to read it. I can’t imagine it’s anything important. Just one of the many, many girls on his daily schedule of inappropriate business. Instead I sit at my large glass desk and bring the oversized computer monitor to life, then do a search for all women at Stonewall named Ellie. I get no hits. Which is weird, since I know damn well we have at least two of them. Maybe Ellie is short for something. I try Eloise, because it was my grandmother ’s name and pops into my head immediately, and my Ellie’s face pops up. Eloise Hatcher is a graduate of some private Catholic college in the Midwest I’ve never heard of.

She has a perfect smile and a short bob haircut in this photo, a lot shorter than it is now. And she’s wearing a pale pink sweater with a pearl button at her throat. Jesus, can that girl be any more sweet? What exactly was her relationship with Heath? Were they dating? It makes me sort of sick to picture her with Heath. We have exactly one Eloise. So who is this other Ellie? The dirty one? The one who practically offered to suck my dick in the stairs just moments after Eloise Hatcher got up off her knees? Ellen. There are seventeen Ellens. But Ellen Abraham is the only one with red hair, fuck-me eyes, and tits pitched up so high on her chest, her cleavage is showing in her employee profile picture. Ellen Abraham is in the employee outreach department and runs the internal communications network, reporting directly to Jennifer Sanders from the meeting I just left. She is not my type at all. Neither is Eloise Hatcher. But while Ellen Abraham likes to wear her personality like a coat, Eloise Hatcher likes to hide hers. She has no hobbies listed. Ellen’s employee page reads like a dating site profile. Eloise has two sentences to describe herself. I enjoy helping people. And dogs. I actually laugh out loud. Because sheepdogs. She has been sending Heath pictures of sheepdogs. Who owns a sheepdog these days? Most women want little designer puppies. Things that fit in purses. Living accessories. Eloise wants a farm dog. I shake my head. She’s captured my attention for sure. And even though I mistook her for Ellen, and even though it was Ellen’s dirty messages to Heath that sparked that interest, the pearl button at her throat is the reason I’m still thinking about her now. That crazy outburst in the conference room was way over the top, but not in the way Ellen’s cleavage showing in her employee photo is. And that trip down the slide, holy shit. I think I will laugh about that for years. Her skirt all bunched up at her hips. Her shoes coming down the slide ahead of her. The hands and knees. Fuck. And then I realize how long it’s been since I got a kick out of something. My phone beeps and I pick it up. “Yes,” I say. “Mr. Stonewall?” Stephanie asks on the phone. “Mr. Lewis is here to see you.” “Thanks, send him in.” I hang up the phone and close out of the employee profile program, then stand, button my suit coat, and walk to the door just as Stephanie opens it and Lewis walks through. Time to get back to the business of dismantling my father ’s company, I guess. Ridiculous girls with pearl-button sweaters and outrageous outbursts will have to wait.

Chapter Seven - Ellie

“Andrew!” I say, hugging him tightly when he embraces me. “How have you been?” Andrew Manco is a twenty-something former child star who now heads a giant multi-million-dollar virtual reality corporation. “Ellie!” Andrew says warmly as we break apart. “Fantastic, chick. Just fantastic. I have to tell you, that advice you gave me last year was the best. I don’t know what I’d do without you, Ells. Seriously. You’ve been there for me since I was sixteen and I don’t have enough words to thank you for sticking by me all these years.” “Oh, Andrew,” I say, blushing slightly. “It’s your potential. I’m just the one who saw it first, that’s all.” Andrew starts gathering his equipment, but I wave him off. “Leave it, Andy, the guys will bring it over for you and help you set up.” We lock arms as we make our way off the tarmac and down to the train station. I push the call button as Andrew talks a mile a minute about his new venture. He was messed up as a teenager. And when he first started coming here when he was sixteen for interviews, I didn’t even like him. Such a jerk. And his career as an actor was already over. I’ve seen a dozen child stars come through here over the past seven years who fell into the same trap. They think everything is permanent. The money, the fame, the shows. But it’s not. You have to adjust to the times. And that’s hard to do when you’re still a child and no one is willing to tell you the truth. No one is willing to disrupt the gravy train when they are riding down the tracks with you. Well, I’ve had my share of fights with Andrew over the years when he came through for interviews and appearances on the children’s side of Stonewall Entertainment. And last year we had it out in a big way. I forced him to see the truth. Why the hell would a kid who graduated from MIT at age twenty with a masters in virtual engineering waste his time trying to revive a failing acting career? It was over, I told him. That part of his life was over and it was time to start a new one. He left mad that day, but six months later his start-up company, Virtual Vacations, went public, making him the world’s newest multi-millionaire. His acting career was never that lucrative. “Let me tell you, Ellie, what a wild ride since you saw me last…” He talks and talks. His mouth never stops moving as we take the train over to the tech studios. It occurs to me he’s never been to this studio. All the other times he’s come for interviews it was for stuff relating to the acting. The children’s network. The entertainment shows. But this studio is for the tech news. It’s like he’s graduating to the world of grown-ups right before my eyes. His expression of awe, and excitement, and wonder never lets up. Even when we exit the train and weave our way through the tech building, he still has more to say. So much to say, in fact, he continues talking to me all the way through makeup and they actually have to tell me to step back off the set as they set up his microphone. I just smile. I feel like a proud older sister as the interview starts and Andrew demonstrates a

virtual reality vacation to a fictional tropical beach. Someone passes me a visor and when I slip it over my head his creation comes to life. I actually squeal, making all three interviewers laugh. The camera even pans to me to catch my reaction for a split second and they have a friendly laugh at my expense. Well, my day might’ve started out with almost killing a rock star and making a fool of myself in front of the entire Atrium staff, but all that is wiped away right now. “I’m glad I could help you, Andrew,” I say, as we walk back to the train. “I’m thrilled you’re doing so well.” “Ellie,” he says as we step onto the train. “You did more than help. You set me up for a life of happiness and fulfillment. No one wanted to tell me that my career as a child actor was over. No one had the guts to tell me to go to college six years ago when my life was falling apart. No one but you. You saved me from years of struggle, depression, and disappointment. I owe you everything.” “You’re too sweet,” I say, pulling him in for a sisterly hug. “They invited me back next month when we launch the new product, and I tell you, Ells, you will die when you see how great it is. What you just saw is nothing. I’m unveiling something even better this weekend in Vegas.” “Oh,” I say, chewing on my fingernail. “Shit, I won’t be here next month, Andrew. I’m leaving Stonewall. I gave my two weeks’ notice just before you arrived. Time for me to take my own advice and move on, you know?” “What?” His face is stricken with disbelief. “You’re leaving? Really? What will you do, Ellie? You’re so good at this job.” “Escorting people to interviews?” I laugh. “Anyone can do that.” “That’s not what you do,” Andrew says. “That’s not what you do at all. You’re like… like a guiding light, Ellie. Did you know I always looked forward to coming here just because I knew I’d get to talk to you?” “What?” “Yeah,” he says. “I know you probably just thought I was a whining, complaining kid with stupid problems, but you never acted that way. You listened to me and always dished out good advice. Even if I didn’t take it right away. And last year, hell, I’d still be wallowing in self-pity if you hadn’t shaken the stupid right out of me with your talk.” “Well…” I blush. “I truly appreciate that, Andrew. I do. But that’s exactly why I need to leave. I’m successful here. I’ve reached my full potential at Stonewall and I need to challenge myself. Move on, take new risks and try to get new wins. I hope you understand and we can still be friends.” “Of course, Ellie.” He smiles at me with genuine affection. “Of course. Always. Anything you need, just let me know.” We’re silent after that, and when we step out at the tarmac depot, I get the feeling that Andrew is sorry about my news. I might’ve taken all the wind out of his sails today. “Look, Andrew,” I say as we walk up to the plane’s airstairs. “You have my number, right? You can call and talk to me whenever you want. Nothing is going to change between us. You’re a huge part of my future success too, you know.” He places his hands on my shoulders and takes me in for a second. “Thanks, Ells. Really. You’re one of only a handful of people I count as friends. You’ve always been there with the truth when I needed it. I’ll miss you a bunch.” We hug and then he climbs back onto the jet, stopping at the top to give me one last wave. I sigh deeply once he disappears inside, wondering why my life is so unfair. I need to quit. I can’t face McAllister Stonewall after this morning. I’ve used Andrew as a distraction since the incident in the stairs. But now that my day is over, I can’t help but feel embarrassed—

hell, mortified—at what I did this morning. Did I really let McAllister Stonewall stick his fingers inside me? Did I really come in a stairwell? Was I really on my knees ready to suck his dick? I can’t even think about it. And Ming is gone by the time I get back to the office because she has some kind of continuing education today, so I can’t even tell her what happened. Good, I think. Good. Just sit down, write that resignation letter, and put this day, this job, and this life behind you, Ellie. Everything comes to an end. And this is the end of my time with Stonewall Entertainment. Time to move on.

Chapter Eight - Mac

“Mr. Stonewall?” Stephanie’s voice through the speaker on my desk phone pulls me away from the view out the window. “Yes,” I call back. “I’m sorry, sir, I know you’re done for the day, but there’s a Mr. Manco on line four.” “Andrew Manco? Wasn’t he here today for something?” “Um,” Stephanie says. “I’m not sure, really. But yes, it’s the Mr. Manco. He sounds upset. Which reminds me, I got word from Brutus’ people—he’s fine.” “Jesus,” I mutter. As if my mind wasn’t wandering enough to my earlier escapades with Miss Hatcher. “I’ll take it, thanks.” “No problem, Mr. Stonewall. See you tomorrow.” I sit down at my desk and press line four and speaker. “This is McAllister Stonewall. How can I help you, Mr. Manco?” “Well, I’m surprised to find you still on the job, to be honest. It’s after six now.” “My work is never done, I guess.” I smile out of habit but then drop the pretense when I realize I don’t have to. It’s just the phone. “What can I do for you?” “Well,” Manco starts, seemingly unsure of whatever it is he’s calling about. “I don’t mean to come off like a prick. Wait,” he corrects. “No, yeah, I do mean it, actually. I do. I’m going to be the prick, Mr. Stonewall. I cannot believe you’re letting Ellie Hatcher go. I’m sick, man. Sick over this. I know business is business and you’re only there to chop the company up and parcel it out—” “Hey, whoa, whoa, whoa. What are you talking about?” “Look, I know people, Stonewall. Lots of people. And I already knew your father was selling. But Ellie is like a goddamned Stonewall treasure. You do realize she’s the reason why you get so many exclusive interviews, right?” “Pearl-button sweater Ellie,” I say, before I can stop myself. What the fuck is wrong with me? “Yes, actually, I can totally see that. She has a way of… of…” “A way of making you want to show up!” Manco finishes for me. “A way of putting your life in perspective. A way of talking you down off the ledge of self-destruction and making things seem…” He trails off, like he said too much. “Anyway, she told me she’s leaving.” “She’s not leaving, Mr. Manco. That was a misunderstanding. She got a promotion today.” “When?” “This morning.” “Well”—Manco laughs—“I talked to her before I left your campus and she told me good luck and goodbye.” “What?” “So I guess she didn’t get the message. I’m supposed to come back in a month, and I tell you what, if she’s working for a competitor, I’ll be taking my interview to them.” He hangs up on me. I just stare at the phone for a few seconds as the dial tone buzzes out from the speaker. I reach over and end the connection. What the hell was that all about?

I wake my computer screen and do a search for Andrew Manco. I know he’s an actor, but that was a while back. Why the hell was he here today? Ah. A Forbes article dated today comes right up. Former Child Actor Turns Virtual Reality Vacations into Millions of Dollars. Just a few short years ago Andrew Manco was on a downward spiral of self-destruction. Now, he’s the tech world’s newest darling. An email alert pops up on the screen as I’m reading. From: Eloise Hatcher. Subject: Two Weeks’ Notice. Dear Mr. Stonewall, I would like to thank you and your company for seven great years of employment. It has been a joy to learn from, and work for, one of the world leaders in the communications industry. However, it is now time for me to strike out on my own. Please consider today’s date the start of my formal resignation and two weeks’ notice. Good luck in all your future— Oh, hell, no. She can’t leave now. Two weeks? Where the hell will I find someone to replace her in two weeks? She’s not even part of a department. She has no real underlings. She has no interns, or shadows, or counterparts. And I just gave her a fucking promotion this morning! Before I even started playing these silly phone games with her. I stand up and pull my jacket on, striding out of my office. Almost everyone is gone as I get in the elevator and take it down to the garage level. Fuck the train. Everyone is on the train right now. I’ll catch a golf cart over to the hangar. No one is there to help me find a key, and they are all locked up tight, so I push through a door and start jogging. The airport is not really ours. Not technically. We rent a hangar just off the south end of the municipal airport where all the private jets fly into for Tech Center business. So it’s quite a distance from the Atrium to the tarmac. Fifteen minutes later I burst into the empty hangar and see that little office lit up by a single lightbulb in the far west corner. Ellie Hatcher is in there packing up her things. I shove the door open, out of breath, sweating like I just came from the gym, and pissed as hell. “What are you doing?” “Excuse me?” Pearl Button says. She’s not wearing a pearl-button sweater. Still the same kimono silk shirt from this morning. In fact, I can, now that I look, see that she has no bra on. Her nipples are pushing against the thin fabric. “I just got off the phone with Andrew Manco. He’s upset that you’re leaving. I thought we had worked this out?” “When would we have done that? Before or after you had me on my knees in front of your cock?” I put a hand up. “I didn’t have you do anything.” “No? You didn’t stick your tongue down my throat, open my blouse, rip my bra off, and then stick your fingers inside my pussy? Was I dreaming it? Because I have to tell you, that’s quite a fantasy I had.” Jesus Christ. The second I hear ‘pussy’ come from those sweet lips I get hard. I clear my throat. “I gave you a promotion this morning, Miss Hatcher.”

“To what? Stairwell dick-sucker?” “Stop that!” I say. “Stop what?” “Talking dirty! I can’t fucking take it.” “Whatever.” She sighs. “I’m leaving.” She packs up one small box of personal items and walks towards me. “Flip that light off when you’re done here, will you?” I take the box from her hands and set it down on a bookshelf next to me. “Eloise—” “Ellie,” she corrects. “Look, I’m sorry I humiliated you this morning. I was just having fun, OK? I didn’t think you’d take it this hard, and I’m sorry.” “It’s not about you,” Ellie says, waving an envelope in my face. I snatch it out of her and read the front. “Mr. Alexander Stonewall, corporate office? What the hell is this?” “My formal resignation to your father. I figure I owe him something in writing after seven years.” She snatches the letter back and crosses her arms across her chest. “You’re not sending that letter. You’re not quitting,” I say, more determined than the last time I said it. “It’s done, Stonewall. Get over it.” I try to snatch the letter back, but she darts aside. “Who do you think you are?” “Your boss,” I snarl. “That’s who. And I’m telling you, you’re not allowed to just quit and leave us hanging like this. Two weeks isn’t enough time to get a grip on what you do here. I need all your contacts, all your schedules, all your—” “How dare you accuse me of trying to steal corporate property!” “Give me the letter.” I reach for it again, but she skirts out of my reach, this time running around to the other side of her industrial-sized metal desk. “You want to play chase, Miss Hatcher?” “No,” she sneers. “I really don’t. I want to walk out of here, send my letter, and say goodbye to you forever.” “Well,” I say, inching around one side of the desk. She does the same, her eyes darting to the door, like she’s going to make a run for it. “That’s not going to happen. You’re going to accept my apology, calm down, and talk this over with me like an adult.” “You’re the adult? Really?” She eyes the door again and then makes her move. I cut her off. She switches direction. I trip over a metal trashcan, making the whole office erupt with commotion, and make a grab for her arm as she whips past me. My fingers only catch the silk sash of her blouse and it comes flying open. She keeps running, but her shirt… her shirt is still in my hands. And then Ellie Hatcher is mortified. Because she is baring her breasts to me in all their splendor. “How dare you,” she snarls. I expect her to cover herself, but she doesn’t. She stands perfectly straight, her nipples hard and peaked, her face flushed crimson with rage, or embarrassment, or hell, maybe she’s turned on? That thought alone is enough to turn me on. I hold the shirt up. “Trade you,” I say, a chuckle escaping before I can stop it. “Is everything a game to you, Mr. Stonewall? Do you think this is funny?” “No,” I say, wiggling her shirt in the air. “Not at all. I just want to put your clothes back on you, Miss Hatcher.” She tilts her chin up and then walks over to me and snatches her blouse from my hand. Her eyes never leave mine. I wish I could say the same. My eyes are already out of control. My hands are next. I have her firm breasts in my palms before I can think twice. She moans, leans into me. The blouse falls to the floor

with a flutter. And then I’m bending her over the desk, my hands on her shoulders, her eyes wide with surprise. I push as she resists. “What are you doing?” she pants, her hands coming up to try to slap mine away. “What I’ve wanted to do since this morning,” I say back. “Since you’re no longer an employee, it’s not as inappropriate as it was.” “So now you want me to quit?” I cock my head to the side as she relents. Gives up her fight and lies back on the metal desk, her back buckling a little. Probably from the cold. I kick her legs open with my foot and ease between them, leaning over her body, grabbing her by both wrists as I hike them above her head and press my cock into her lower stomach. “Tell me to stop.” “Stop,” she moans. “Mean it,” I say back. “Or don’t say it, Ellie. It’s not a fucking game.” She opens her eyes. “Maybe I want you to force me?” “Do you or don’t you?” I ask. My cock is filling with blood, throbbing so bad. I need to fuck this girl right now. Get this weird obsession I have out of my system. I bind her small wrists with one hand when she doesn’t answer, then cup her breast with the other. She bites her lip and says, “Fuck.” “You like that?” “Me.” I laugh as I kiss her. Hard and punishing. “Fuck me, Stonewall. That way I will have a good excuse not to come to work tomorrow. Or ever again for that matter.” “What?” I say, the spell broken. “You heard me,” she says sweetly. “Here’s your chance to keep me around or take what you want. Fuck me. Right now. Hard and fast and any way you want. But if you do, I’ll walk out and never come back.” I stand up straight and back off. “How can you look so sweet and be so ruthless at the same time? I mean, hell, I’d expect it from Ellen Abraham—” “Ellen Abraham? That red-head tramp who interrupted us this morning? What did you do, fuck her in the stairs after I walked away?” She sits up, places both hands on my chest, and gives me a shove. “Get out of my way. You’re disgusting.” “Yeah,” I say. “I fucked her. Because that was my evil plan all along. I reappear after ten years just so I can come to work and fuck two girls in one day.” I take my opportunity to snatch the letter and tuck it into my inside breast pocket. “You’re not quitting. Do you understand? You better be on the seventh floor tomorrow at seven-thirty or else.” “Or else what?” Ellie asks, picking up her shirt and slipping her arms inside. Her breasts move and jiggle with the motion and I cannot—cannot, for the life of me—look away. “Or else,” I say, once she has that sash tied tight and her breasts are covered again. “Or else… I’ll send Heath all those texts. And,” I add, “I’ll tell everyone about your little workplace gossip board on Pinterest. I got that message, you know. You were using your company phone when you posted all that stuff. I have access to all of that information. And I will use it.” “You would not dare,” she seethes. “Try me, Miss Hatcher. Just try me.”

Chapter Nine - Mac

Why the fuck did I just threaten her? What a dick move. She’s probably going to sue me. She’s probably thinking up ten ways to cut my dick off. And I’m not fooled by that sweet pretense she’s putting on, either. I have a feeling Ellie Hatcher is ruthless. I walk straight to the parking lot where my BMW is waiting. I purchased the car online last week and had it delivered today while I was in meetings. I press my fingertips on the handle and the car beeps, then unlocks. I climb in and push the button to start it up, revving the engine enough to make a few people leaving late look over at me. Now home. Home. I say it over and over in my head. Home. Don’t start, Mac. Just don’t start. I put the car in gear and squeal out of the parking lot, make a left on the first street, and follow that road around to the Occulus Building where I now own the penthouse. Home. Hardly. I wouldn’t call that top-floor monstrosity a home. A place to live. Temporarily, anyway. But not a home. Home has people in it, and this place has none. Not even full-time staff. The family was livid when I let them go, but there are plenty of other places for them to work. I need to be alone. If I’m being forced to stay here while Stonewall Entertainment is sold, well, I want to be alone while that happens. I pull into the underground garage a few minutes later and flash my phone at the security gate sensors. I have to get a sticker for the car, then I won’t even need to stop. The gate will open, I’ll slide into the private parking section, and board my private elevator to the penthouse. All without bumping into anyone. When I get upstairs I empty out my pockets and find Ellie’s resignation letter. Why the fuck did I overreact like that? And not just the threat at the end. Why the hell am I throwing myself at this girl? She’s… well, yeah, she’s cute. And that combined with the almost sex— twice—at the office, well, she’s gotten into my head. Get out, get out. I don’t want her there. Tomorrow when I go into the office and she’s in the one right next door, I’m going to be the epitome of professional. No peeks down her blouse, no hands on her tits, no bending her over the desk. I’m hard again. Just what the fuck? I start to open the letter; I even get so far as a small tear in the back cover of the flap. But I stop. I think I invaded Ellie Hatcher ’s private thoughts enough today. So I walk into the office, open the desk drawer, and toss it in there. It’s not like she can’t just print out another one, right? I’m sure she’s already done that. I’m sure my threats were a challenge to her to beat me at my own game. I’m sure she’s probably emailing that letter right now. Along with a long list of complaints about my bad behavior. As usual. I’m the disappointment.

Ten years away and I can feel all the same old misconceptions about me resurfacing. What gives her the right to judge me? I walk over to the bar and pour myself a drink from the crystal decanter and take a sip. I might need the whole bottle to get through this night. No, that inner voice says. No. You will not fall back onto old habits just because you are part of the real world again. My cell rings in the other room, so I take my one drink and walk out to answer it. I smile at the name on the screen. Mr. Romantic. “Hey, asshole. What’s up?” “Mr. Perfect, how the fuck did it go?” Nolan Delaney’s voice is welcome. We’ve been friends since we started boarding school together back in the seventh grade. We’ve been through hell and back since those days. “Well, shit,” I say. “About as fucked up as I imagined, but not in any of the ways I thought.” “Bad, huh?” Nolan asks. I can hear the sympathy in his voice. “It could’ve been worse, I guess. How are things with you? Business good?” “Killing this shit, Perfect. I’m killing this shit.” “You always do.” I sigh. I can almost hear his smile on the other end. And then the corresponding frown. “It’ll get better, man. Just hang in there, you know?” Nolan’s life has been charmed since the day he was born. What does he know about failure? What does he know about anything that doesn’t begin and end with success? That’s not fair and I know it. He was there. I am the only black mark on his perfect record of an existence. Even in the worst of times he was never the target. That was always me. I just brought my friends along for the ride. We make a little more small talk, him wishing me luck and providing me with the appropriate level of support. I thank him and hang up. Alone again. I’ve been this way for ten years, so what’s one more night? That’s my mantra. I’ve lived with it for ten years. I can live with it for one more night. The problem is Ellie. I can’t seem to stop seeing her face. Her breasts. Her flat stomach as I pushed her back on that desk. I was so fucking close. Twice today. So fucking close. I need to be different tomorrow. Need to put a stop to this before it all goes to shit again. Need to be careful about who I trust. Who I let in. Who I get close to. Ellie Hatcher will never be that girl. She’s got me in a place I don’t want to be. And one more wrong move might ruin my life. Again. At four AM I give up trying to sleep and go for a run. There’s a quarter-mile track along the perimeter of the roof, but the hills of the surrounding area call to me. I haven’t been running since I got back to the States and it feels good. It rained all night long and the air is crisp. I love dawn. I love the smell of a fresh start, a new day. I love beginnings. After three miles I turn back and slow my pace to ease my heart back down. The doorman smiles and hands me a newspaper as I head towards the elevator, and when I get upstairs I have just enough time to jump into the steam shower and get dressed before I need to leave for work. I like to get there early. Especially today.

I walk into my seventh-floor office at exactly six forty-five and stand at the window, wishing I had a view of the airport instead of the cows for once. Or the parking lot, so I could watch her coming to work. Ellie kept me up all night. Not just my threat, although that was weighing heavy on my mind. Things about her. Things I don’t know about her. What kind of car does she drive? Where does she live? What does her apartment look like? Why does she work here? I only know the answer to the last question. Although I could look the other three up and find them somewhere in her personnel file. She has to have an address listed. I could find that in five seconds. And she has to have a parking pass for the lot. That would list her car on the application. I don’t want to stalk her though. Why the fuck am I still thinking about her? She’s not even going to show today. And on the off chance that she does show, she won’t show up here on the seventh floor. I’ll have to send someone down to the hangar to get her, I’m sure. The elevator opens and I turn and try to see out my open door. Not Ellie. Several more people come. Not Ellie. Stephanie comes, bringing me coffee, even assuming that I take it black, which is right. And then more and more people. She’s not coming. So many more people bustle through out of the elevators and up the stairs just as the clock hits eight-thirty. She’s not coming. Then things go quiet. She’s not coming. “Excuse me?” I hear the small sweet voice I’ve been waiting for. “I was told to report up here today,” she tells Stephanie. “Apparently, I work on this floor now.” She came. I walk to my office door and my exhale becomes an unexpected sigh of relief. Standing before me, Miss Hatcher looks like she’s ready for an evening out. She’s wearing a little black dress, not hugging her curves, but draping down her body in some kind of very flirty, feminine fabric. A good stiff wind might lift it right off her body. I think I get hard just from the thought.

Chapter Ten - Ellie

“You came.” McAllister Stonewall is leaning against the door of his office looking spectacularly triumphant. His dark gray suit drapes his body like an Italian tailor was paying attention to each and every stitch of thread. His shirt is a classic gray pinstripe and his silk tie is a deep cerulean blue that matches his eyes. He looks very smug. Like he won something. Like my mere presence in his top-floor world is a prize. But he also looks tired. Like he lost sleep last night. Good. Good. I lost sleep last night too. God, I hate his guts. But I’m not about to make another scene up here on the seventh floor. I called Ming last night crying and she vowed to make this bastard pay for what he did. We’ll figure it out, she said. But that’s just not the kind of person I am. Not vengeful. I just want that phone back so I can delete all those messages I sent stupid Heath. How did I ever think either of the two Stonewall brothers were handsome? It makes me want to barf. The only reason I’m here today is so I can scope out McAllister ’s office and figure out a plan to get the phone. Ming is going to meet me up here after work and then we’re going to tear his office apart and get it back. I take a deep breath and let it out. “Do I get an office? Or will I have to claim a picnic table out in the Atrium?” “Oh, we spent all day getting your office ready, Ellie,” Stephanie says. I know her pretty well. I was up here to see Heath at least once a week. “You’ve got Heath’s old annex.” “The connecting room?” Jesus Christ. Can I not catch a break? Now I’ve got a connecting office to Mr. Fancy Jet? “And Jennifer is on the other side of you. That will be nice.” Yeah, Jennifer Sluts-around and I should become fast friends, considering we both like to fuck our way to the top. Stop it, my inner voice says. Stop it. He promoted you before all that stuff happened. You earned this office, Ellie. Too bad I’ll only get to enjoy my sudden ascension up the corporate ladder for one day. As soon as I find that phone, I’m out of here. Well, assuming that’s after Adeline leaves. I allow myself a little smile at that. I practically get to spend the entire day with Adeline. “Are you just going to stand there wasting Stonewall time and money?” McAllister asks, breaking me out of my happy moment. “Or should we get to work dismantling your secrets?” “Ugggh,” I say under my breath. Thank God Adeline is here today, or I might stab him with a pencil. “I’m ready when you are,” I say, tipping my head up and walking past him to the open door of my office. “I won’t be around much today. I have a VIP.” The office is… well, what I expected the second they said Heath’s annex. It’s the same dark paneling, the same massive hardwood desk, the same leather chairs. In other words, ugly. I walk over to the desk as McAllister follows, me taking a seat in the gigantic executive chair, him

perching nonchalantly on the corner of the desk. “They’re all VIPs, Miss Hatcher. Today’s guest is no different than yesterday’s. So you will make time for me and my questions.” “Oh, really?” I challenge. “Really,” he snarls. “Well,” I say, opening the top desk drawer to find a shitload of Heath’s old stuff, including cigars. I make a face as I hold one up between my fingers. “Smells like these things in here still, you know. And it’s dark and ugly.” “Uhhh…” Stonewall falters. “Sorry. Now why is today’s star more VIP than yesterday’s? Who, by the way, personally called me last night.” “What? Brutus called you? Why?” But I know why. He’s going to sue us because he thinks I tried to kill him. “Not Brutus, Andrew Manco. He called to let me know, in no uncertain terms, that he will take his VIPness elsewhere should you leave the company.” I have to turn away a little to hide my smile. “Laugh all you want, Miss Hatcher. But it’s not funny. We’re trying to make the sale of Stonewall go as easy as—” “Sale?” I say. What the hell? “Oh, I forgot,” he says. “You had to dash out of the meeting yesterday to grab a tampon.” I scrunch my eyebrows at him. Asshole. God. He’s such an asshole. “Well,” I say, taking control of the conversation once more—and then I see the open door, get up, close it, and take a seat back in my chair—“what I do here is all very confidential.” “Really?” Stonewall says, one eyebrow hitched up on his forehead. “Really. I appear to be a silly escort. The girl who runs out for M&M’s when the rock stars get belligerent about the condition of the green room. But that is not, in fact, Mr. Stonewall, what I do here. I smooth egos, I give advice, I lend a friendly ear to the world’s rich and famous when they feel like talking about their very unique problems.” He’s got a very confused look on his face. “I’m a life coach,” I tell him in simple terms. “To the stars. I even wrote a book. Seeing Stars.” “What?” he asks. I almost laugh at his confusion. “It’s not published yet though. I’m working on that.” “This is real? What you’re telling me is real?” McAllister asks. “Of course it’s real. I see stars. I’m the BFF to exactly twenty-seven high-level VIPs. That’s why they love me. I listen to them.” “Are you some kind of therapist? I don’t understand what you’re saying.” “No, I’m not a therapist, I’m a friend. They talk, I listen, I give advice, they take it. Success.” I hold my hands up in one of those voilà gestures. “So that’s why Andrew probably called you. I mean, I’ve been here a while. Seven years. I’ve known Andrew since he was sixteen. And Adeline and I met the very first year of my internship. She’s the VIP for today. And we always spend a lot of time together.” “So you wrote a book on company time, is this what I’m supposed to take away from this conversation?” “What? I wrote the book at home, asshole.” “You used company resources for the source material of your book?” “Why are you doing this?” I stand up and smooth down my dress. “Why do you have to be so mean? Why is everything about you and your company? I didn’t use anything from Stonewall. I made friends. Does this company get to keep my friends when we break up?” I whirl around to walk out, but McAllister grabs my arm and pulls me close to him. My back

tingling with the anticipation of connecting with his chest. I can smell the faint scent of cologne on his neck when he leans into mine and whispers, “I wasn’t being mean. I was asking all the questions the company lawyers will ask when your book hits the stands, Miss Hatcher. We need—” “I have releases from everyone, Mac.” I stare into his eyes and he’s taken aback when I use his nickname. I’m not even sure why it comes out. “Sorry, Mr. Stonewall. I have releases. I don’t need your lawyers.” His free hand slides into place just above my hipbone and the one holding my wrist lets go and palms my breast. “What are you doing?” I ask in a whisper. “I don’t think your dress is appropriate, Miss Hatcher.” He slides the hand on my hip down the silky fabric until it comes in contact with my thigh. “It’s far too flirty for a Thursday.” He forces me back into his body. I’m practically in his lap as he continues to sit on the edge of the desk. “Well,” I say. “If you want a completely professional outfit you have to wait for Tuesday.” “What?” He laughs. I laugh too, breaking the sexy moment and the hostile one at the same time. And then I turn to face him. I can look into his blue eyes now, because he’s sitting and I’m standing. “Mondays I wear pencil skirt with button-down oversized shirt and a thin belt at my waist. Tuesdays are business chic. Fitted trousers with a cami shell and a matching blazer. Wednesdays are A-line skirt with an interesting blouse—” “Interesting blouse?” he asks. “Well, that kimono thing was certainly interesting once I got your bra off you. What’s today?” “Today,” I say, “is sex-it-up-for-happy-hour day. Ming from IT and I go for drinks every Thursday night.” “Hmmm,” he says, his hands wandering up my dress and coming to a rest on my ass cheeks. “What are you doing?” I ask, suddenly becoming breathless. “Tell me to stop and I will.” “That wasn’t the question,” I whisper back. “I’m feeling your ass. I’m waiting to be slapped. I’m giving you an out, but getting in a feel at the same time. I’m going to bend you over this desk in exactly ten seconds if you don’t walk out, Miss Hatcher. One. Two—” “I have to go meet Adeline on the tarmac.” “Three. So go. Four.” “We’re going to get in trouble.” “Five. Six. From who?” “I don’t know.” “Seven. Last chance, Miss Hatcher. Take it or leave it. Eight.” I chew on a fingernail and even though every voice in my head is screaming at me to walk out, just when I get the nerve to break away, his fingers slide down my ass and slip between my legs. “Oh, shit,” I moan. “Nine. Ten.” I stare at him for what seems like eternity. Looking him straight in the eyes, wondering what he’ll do next. And then I know, because he’s got me bent over the desk, the heel of his hand pushing down on the small of my back. “Lie still, Miss Hatcher,” he says. “I’ll take it from here.” I can barely breathe, but I’m panting hard at the same time. That makes no sense. Nothing makes any sense at all.

He lifts my dress up, the air bathing my bare skin with a coolness that both excites me and makes me panic. “Wait,” I say. His hands caress me. Over each round ass cheek. Down the front of each thigh. “Don’t waste my time, Miss Hatcher. Get up and pull yourself together, or lie still and take it.” My mouth falls open at the audacity of this man. But he hooks his fingertips into the lace of my panties and slides them down. Not all the way down. Just far enough for him to get access. Just enough so they are positioned right in the crease where my cheeks meet my thighs. “Goddamn,” he whispers, stepping back a pace or two. His touch is gone and I turn my head a little to look over my shoulder. “What are you doing?” “Enjoying the view.” He grabs the thick bulge beneath the fabric of his trousers and squeezes. “I’ve barely touched you, but you look ready to me.” He reaches in his pocket and pulls out a condom. The crinkle of foil and the small rip as he opens up the package make me swallow with a little bit of fear and a whole lot of anticipation. “You keep them on hand, do you?” He places one hand on either side of my face and leans down, the weight of his body pressing against my back, the heat of his breath flowing over the sensitive skin on the back of my neck, his hard dick pressing right at my bare entrance. “I found them in Heath’s desk, Miss Hatcher. Now do you want this or not?” “Yes,” I say, hoping I don’t regret it. “Yes.” He stands back up and I want nothing more than for his body to cover me again. I want to feel him against me. I am crazy. Why am I letting him do this? A moment later his belt jingles and the zipper on his trousers makes a ripping sound. I wonder how big he is. I didn’t get a good look yesterday. I feel the tip pressing against my opening and let out a soft moan. “I hope you’re not a screamer,” he says, easing himself inside me a little bit. “Because Stephanie is only a few feet away on the other side of that door.” His hands grip either side of my hips and he pulls my whole body towards him, making me slide on the sleek wooden desk. Oh, God. I might come right now. Don’t come, don’t come, don’t come. Don’t let him get you so quickly again. But then he leans down over my body again, one hand pressing on the desk next to my face, one hand sneaking under my thigh as he begins to caress my clit in small, slow circles. He thrusts into me, hard. Hard enough to make me gasp. “You are a screamer, aren’t you, Miss Hatcher. I can tell. But if you do it now, I will gag you with my tie and that will take away the few minutes I have left to fuck you good and make you come. So don’t.” Holy shit. I have never been so turned on in my life. And everything he says is so stupid and caveman. I can’t help it though, it’s hot as hell. He starts fucking me hard, and even though I try to control it, I can’t. I can’t. I start moaning loudly as the wave of pleasure quickly turns into a building climax. “Shh,” he says, whispering the words close in my ear. That just sets me off more. He pulls my head up off the desk by my hair and cups his other hand around my mouth, pumping himself into me so fast, so hard, I— “Shit!” I yell into his palm. “Fuck,” he says. And once I stop yelling, he takes his hand away, places both of them back on my hips, and grips me so tight as he fucks me from behind, I fully expect to have bruises. When he comes, he collapses down on top of my back again, his chest heaving with effort. Mine is

doing the same because his full weight is pressing me against the wooden desk. “I’m going to need you to sign a release form for this, Miss Hatcher. You won’t mind, since you’re already familiar with them. Stop by my office after you’re done playing Life Coach to the Stars and we’ll get the legalities of a workplace sexual relationship out of the way.” And then he stands up, puts himself back together, and walks out of my office by way of our connecting doors.

Chapter Eleven - Ellie

Well, call me cheap and stupid. Ellie Hatcher, you brought this on yourself. I huff out a breath and stand up, pulling my dress back down over my hips and searching through my purse to find my compact. Great, just great. I look well-fucked. Did he pull my hair? It’s all messed up. My phone buzzes and I search around for that, groaning as I see the caller ID. I press accept and exclaim, “Adeline! You’re here!” “And you’re not,” she says in her sweet sing-song voice. “Where are you? Ming says you got an office in the Atrium.” “I did, but hold tight. I’ll be there in five minutes.” I end the call, smack a new layer of lipstick on, and exit my office. “Oh, Ellie?” Stephanie calls. “Stonewall said six o’clock is good for him.” “Good for what?” I ask, cursing her for derailing my getaway. “Your meeting tonight. He just left and said he’d be gone all day, but he’d be here at six for your appointment. His office, he said, not yours.” “Fine,” I say, making a dash for the elevators. Once the doors close and I’m alone, I let out a long breath. I just let my boss fuck me on my desk. Heath’s desk, to be accurate. His smoking desk, because that’s what it was. A place where he entertained clients with drinks and cigars. Gross. I’d rather be in the greasy airplane hangar than up there on the seventh floor with the executives. It feels like the train takes forever, but I look at my phone and it’s not forever, just six minutes. When I burst throughout the door to the hangar Adeline and Ming are laughing in my old fishbowl office. “Hey,” the mechanics call to me. “How’s life up on the executive floor, Ellie?” “Great, guys!” I call back, then push the doors open. Adeline and I rush together for hugs and squeals. “You bitch!” she says. “You got a promotion! Finally!” “Ugggh,” I say. “Don’t remind me. It’s not what you think. Let’s go have breakfast and we’ll talk.” Ming gives me a knowing smile as I open the door for Adeline. She knows this won’t be easy. I admit, Andrew’s call to McAllister was a surprise. We’re friends, I know that much, but I never expected him to stick up for me like that. Adeline and I are very close. She will not be happy to hear I am quitting. “So spill, chick,” Adeline says as soon as we enter the stairs to the train station. “What’s going on? Ming kind of filled me in on the new boss. What happened to Heath?” “Honestly,” I say, “I don’t know. I have no clue. We were pretty good friends. I mean, I thought we were dating.” I push the call button for the train. “Ellie—”

“I didn’t say we were dating, but I think we were close. And then one day he doesn’t show up and there’s an announcement that he’s taking over some sister company in China.” “Ming told me what you were doing. Sending him delusional messages, Ellie? What’s that about? You’re not desperate, girl. You’re smart, beautiful, and don’t need to be chasing a douchebag like him.” “He’s not a douchebag.” “No?” Adeline asks. “Then why does Ming think he is? She says he was stringing you along to keep you from quitting.” Hmmm. “Well…” I don’t have an answer for that. Thankfully the train comes and it gives me a moment to get my thoughts together. “I did try to quit last year too. And it’s not that I don’t love my job. I do, actually. I just think I’ve outgrown it, you know?” “I’m all for you quitting.” “You are?” “Of course. You’re meant for bigger things. And they have been taking advantage of all your talent for years. You need to break away and rise up, Ellie. And Heath’s promises were just a ploy to keep you here.” “Well…” I sigh. “Now his brother has taken over and it seems to be playing out the same way. Only he’s much more aggressive about it.” “The office? And promotion?” “Yeah,” I say. And the sex. But I don’t say that part. “Well, don’t let him smooth-talk you into staying. Stick to your guns.” “I turned in my notice last night but he refused to accept it.” “Who is this guy?” Adeline asks, annoyed. “McAllister Stonewall,” I say. I might even sigh his name a little. This doesn’t get past Adeline, because she cocks a knowing eyebrow at me. “What?” “Is he dreamy? Because you just said his name like he is.” “He’s very good-looking,” I admit. “And a little bit… overpowering.” That’s an understatement. “And I just don’t know anymore. He kind of flipped my world upside down yesterday.” We get off the train at Building Eleven—that’s where the executive restaurant is—and I fill her in on how he humiliated me at yesterday’s meeting as we take the escalator up to the dining room. “What a dick,” Adeline says. I hold up two fingers to indicate the number in our party to the host at the front and then we follow him to a private table in the back where I bring the celebrities. Once we are seated I get back to the conversation. “Right? I’m not overreacting? I mean, maybe I overreacted in the meeting and my escape down the slide was ridiculous, but I was just… shocked. It was stupid to put all those personal things in Heath’s message stream.” “And delusional,” she adds. “Maybe a little,” I admit. “But McAllister Stonewall could see they were not meant for him and he not only read them, he responded. A man with class would’ve ignored them. And a boss would’ve sent a polite email about it. Not humiliated me in front of the entire executive staff.” She nods, putting on her pouty face in sympathy. “He handled it wrong.” “I did too. I understand that. But… but how do I look him in the eye for the next two weeks?” I pause for a moment, wondering if I should tell her the rest. Yes. I better just come clean. “And there’s something else on the phone too.” I screw up my mouth a little to indicate this is not good. “Spill it,” Adeline says. “I have this Pinterest board, right?” “Riiiight…”

“And I post my delusional things on there.” “OK.” “Plus, I might’ve made a board with workplace gossip on it. I have these nicknames for everyone, like Jennifer Sluts-around, and Clarisse Takes-all-the-credit, and Marty Brown-nose.” Adeline bursts out laughing. “It’s not funny! And I sent the link to Heath. Which means…” “Oh, my God, why would you do that?” “Because I’m stupid?” “So he saw you being Ellie Office-bitch?” I smile. “Yes.” “The board was public?” “No! That’s what I don’t understand. It’s private, just Ming and I can see it.” “So how did he see it?” “I sent him the link, I guess?” Adeline shakes her head. “He can’t see it, Ellie. If a board is private, then it’s not available to anyone unless they are added to it. Did you add Heath?” “Of course not!” “Then McAllister didn’t see it.” “He said he did. He used it to threaten me last night. Said he’d blast my gossip board all over work if I didn’t take back my resignation.” “He’s lying. What is the name of the board?” “Work Bitches and Other Cunts.” We both burst out laughing now. “I know, I’m terrible, but…” I have no excuse. “Am I in there?” Adeline asks. “Of course not! Don’t be silly. I love my celebrity clients. Even that dumbass Brutus has grown on me a little. OMG, I almost killed him yesterday with a peanut butter sandwich. It was not even on purpose, I cross my heart.” “Jesus, yesterday sucked.” “Right? What do I do?” “Well,” Adeline says, “I’m not the best advice-giver on the planet, which is why I always come to you. But I’d get that phone back and erase the whole message stream. Just press that little delete button and get rid of the evidence. And then you shove that resignation in his face and say goodbye.” I nod as the waiter comes asking for drinks. We order two mimosas and split an order of French toast. “Then that’s my plan. I need to get into his office and find that phone.” “Well,” Adeline says, pressing her index fingers under her chin and giving me a devious smile. “That plan has been dealt with. On to the one we’re really here to talk about.” “Adeline, look—” “No,” she interrupts me. “You look. You were the one who told me to walk away from my last label and strike out on my own. Indie, you said, right? It’s all about being indie. So I took your advice, and do you know what happened?” “Of course I know,” I say, smiling. “Four number one hits in twelve weeks. More than two million songs sold, more than a million new subscribers, and seventeen million dollars. But—” “No buts, Ellie. We made a deal.” “I just don’t think I’m ready.” “You’re ready to quit though?” “Yes.” I nod. “Definitely. Stonewall might not have accepted my resignation, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t really resign. I’m outta here in thirteen days. No exceptions.”

“Then push publish,” Adeline says. “I need a plan first. Some kind of release schedule or something.” “Bitch, you work for the biggest fucking entertainment network on the planet. You know every one of the producers on—how many shows do you guys manage here?” “I don’t know. I lost count.” “Plus bloggers and YouTubers. All you have to do is go ask for help and everyone will be happy to pitch your release. If I thought professional people looking for a coach would listen to me, I’d pitch you to them. But sweetie, I can get you eyeballs but I cannot get you the right eyeballs. These people here, they can and they owe you. Don’t walk away without asking for a favor.” “I don’t want to use my position here to get exposure, Adeline. It makes me feel dirty.” “How many times have you come through for them? When guests canceled? You pulled out your phone, made a call, and that spot was filled.” “But that was my job.” “That doesn’t mean you don’t deserve their help.” I make a face as our French toast is served. “Just think about it,” she says as we dig in and eat. “And even if you don’t ask for help, you have to put it out there. Push it out of the nest and let it fly. Don’t wait for someone else to create your success. Isn’t that what you told me?” “I did,” I say, smiling. “Then take your own advice. Leave the nest, baby bird. And fly.”

Chapter Twelve - Ellie

After breakfast I drop Adeline off at her studio where she will be singing live in two hours, and I promise her I’ll be back in time to see it. Then I go back to the airport hangar just as Paul Sabon’s jet lands and taxis towards us. Ming comes out of the fishbowl and greets me. “How was breakfast?” “Good,” I say, still worrying about my promise to Adeline about the book. Not to mention the sex I had this morning with my boss, my resignation, being kicked out of the office I’ve had for the past seven years, and how I’m going to get that phone back so I can erase those messages. “Did you…” Ming trails off. “Did I what?” I ask, crabby now that I realize I have a lot on my mind. “Did you guys talk about the book?” “We did, Ming. I’m sure you were telling her all kinds of things while she was waiting for me earlier. And I know you guys mean well, but I’m just not ready to put it out there yet. I need more time.” “Time to do what?” I ignore her and walk into the fishbowl. Paul’s plane is waiting for something down at the end of the runway. “I’m going to check my email real fast. I didn’t have time to do it this morning.” “What were you doing up there then?” Ming asks, following me in. “Nothing,” I say too quickly. And then I realize she will catch on way too fast and I need to distract her. “I need to get Heath’s phone back from McAllister.” “McAllister? You’re on first names now?” “It’s his name, Ming.” “What happened to Mr. Stonewall?” “There’s more than one Mr. Stonewall. It’s confusing. Anyway,” I say with a sigh. “Will you help me try to get that phone tonight? I have to meet McAllister at six for a meeting, so maybe I can get him in my office and then you can slip in and look for the phone in his desk.” “What if it’s not in his desk? What if Stephanie Guards-the-door is there? What if we get caught?” “We won’t get caught, Ming. We’ll get Adeline to make a big commotion. Anyone left on the floor at six o’clock will be treated to an impromptu appearance. Maybe she can break out into song or something. She’ll come up with something. Then I’ll have my meeting with McAllister in my office and you slip in his, look around, get the phone, slip out. Voilà. Crisis over, we all go out for happy hour drinks and forget our problems.” I sit down at my old desk and pull up my email as Ming thinks this over. “You know, your boyfriend came in here while you were at breakfast.” “Who?” I ask, sighing at all the unread emails. I have seven scheduling issues to deal with, one guest canceled for the end of the month—not my problem—and an official welcome to the “executive newsletter” courtesy of Jennifer Sluts-around. “McAllister Stonewall,” Ming says. “He came in here and looked around. Sat at your desk and everything.” “What? Why the hell would he do that?”

“I dunno.” Ming shrugs. “Looking for your schedule?” “That asshole. It’s not my fault we didn’t have time to go over it this morning.” “Whose fault was it?” Ming has a little grin on her face. Like she knows something. “What are you hiding from me?” I ask, just as Paul’s jet comes to a stop inside the hangar. “I think the better question is, what are you hiding from me?” I stare at her, wondering if I should lie. “Don’t do it,” Ming warns. “I see everything, Ellie Hatcher. And so does Ellen Abraham, AKA Ellen Interoffice-sexcapades. Because she has been telling everyone that she caught you and McAllister,” she says his name in a fake dreamy sigh, “in the stairwell yesterday morning having a tryst. Now the only thing I want to know is—” “Later,” I say, standing up. “Paul is here. Later, Ming.” I rush out of the office and don’t dare look over my shoulder to see the look on her face. Because now she definitely knows, and if Ellen Abraham really did guess, or God forbid, see us, then it’s all over campus by now. After I escort Paul to Building Three, I have to hurry back to the hangar, timing it just right so I don’t have any chance of having to wait around with Ming and her demanding questions, so I can pick up Allison Salok and escort her over to Building Ten. I barely make it back to Adeline’s set to hear her sing, which is just beautiful. I take her back to a limo that’s waiting in front of the Atrium and tell her the plan about searching McAllister ’s office. She promises to be back at six to make a scene so Ming can sneak in and get the phone. What could go wrong? Plenty, I’m sure, but I don’t have any time to think about it. Thursdays are crazy, which is the real reason we dress up and count the minutes to happy hour after work, so I’m nothing but a whirlwind of activity as I bustle the guests from transportation to studios. So by the time six o’clock rolls around, I haven’t had any time to think about this plan of mine at all. I text Ming as I ride the elevator up to the seventh floor. Ellie: I’m going in. Where are you? Ming: You’re in the elevator. :) I’m watching. Adeline is in her limo, ready and waiting for my signal. Text me when you get him in your office and we’ll do our thing. Ellie: K I prepare a go-now text in my phone so all I have to do is press send and then drop my phone in my blazer pocket just as the elevator door opens. To my dismay, the whole seventh floor is still working. Including Stephanie Guards-the-door. Jesus, doesn’t anyone up here go out for drinks on Thursday nights like normal people? “Go on in,” Stephanie calls to me as I approach the corner offices. “His office, not yours, Ellie. He left specific instructions.” “Left? You mean he’s not even here?” I’m so annoyed. “He’ll be back in just a minute. He had to pop down to the legal department.” Great. Probably going to threaten me with a lawsuit or something. His door is open, so I just go in and take a seat. But then I realize, maybe Ming and Adeline don’t even need to get involved? I’m in here alone. I get up, peek out the door to see what Stephanie is doing, and find her busy chatting with people at her desk, completely ignoring me. I smile. And go over to his desk. It’s a huge desk. In fact, it’s not the same desk as yesterday. Not Heath’s desk, in other words. Hmmm. Now that I think about it, a lot has changed in here in one night. All of Heath’s things are gone from the shelves. They’re empty now. There’s not one thing left of my former boss. But the oddest thing is that there’s nothing of my new boss to replace it.

I peek out the door again, just to make sure Stephanie is still busy, and then inch my way around to the executive chair and take a seat. Jesus, it’s luxurious. It must be nice to plant your ass in this thing all day long. McAllister has a nice view of the hills, not the city. I never noticed that before. Heath had his desk on the opposite wall, and the blinds were almost always partially closed because he hated the constant sun. Do I smell paint? Did McAllister paint the walls in here too? I don’t remember this place being so bright. Heath liked that old-school dark paneling look. Like the god-awful smoking room that is now my office. I look down to my left and spy a stack of drawers. My fingers are just reaching for the handle when McAllister bursts in, slamming the door closed behind him. I pull away just as he lifts his eyes from a file in his hands. “Making yourself comfortable, Miss Hatcher?” “Sorry,” I say, standing up and scooting off around the side of the desk. He shoots me a squinted look as he drops into the chair I just vacated and I stand in front of him, my hands clasped together, feeling very nervous for some reason. “Well,” he says, slapping the open folder down on the desk. “I have good news. You can publish the book.” “What?” “The book you wrote, Miss Hatcher? On company time, using company clients as your main focus?” I can’t even with this guy. “Who the hell—” “You do realize Stonewall employment contracts have a proprietary clause, right?” “Proprietary clause?” Shit. I never even thought about that. “But, as I said, good news. I pulled your contract,” he says, smiling down at the file on his desk. “Quite a lot of information in here. Lots of things I really didn’t want to look up, Miss Hatcher.” “You read my employment file?” I ask, stunned. “That’s private.” “Do you want to publish that book or not?” “Yes, but that doesn’t give you the right—” “To make sure this company doesn’t sue you? Nice repayment for my efforts, Eloise.” “Well, McAllister, I just think it’s a little bit invasive for you to be pawing through my file.” “But pawing my way up your dress is fine?” He cracks a smile at his joke. “That’s inappropriate too. In fact, pretty much everything I’ve learned about you since you came here yesterday has been inappropriate. Did you know that Ellen Interoffice-sexcapades is telling everyone she caught us having a tryst in the stairs yesterday?” McAllister frowns. “No. I’ve been out of the office all day. Just got back about an hour ago, and then I had to go down to human resources for this and talk to the lawyers. What is she saying?” “Just telling people. Ming knew about it. I’m so fucking humiliated. Again. And it’s all because of you.” “Ah, fuck her. She’s just jealous.” “Ha!” I practically scream. “I cannot believe you just said that. She’s jealous of what?” “That I like you instead of her.” “What?” I have to take a deep breath as I roll my eyes. “Is this some kind of contest for you? A conquest? A fucking—” “Hey,” he says, standing up and coming around to my side of the desk. “Just calm down. I’ll deal with her. But right now I want to deal with you.” “Deal with me?” I can’t.

“Don’t be so uptight, Eloise. I have something to show you and you’re sucking all the fun out of it.” “Well, you… you…” I have nothing that doesn’t involve the words ‘bastard,’ ‘asshole,’ and ‘prick.’ “Fun-sucker,” he says, smiling. “I’m not a fun-sucker. For your information, I’m a lot of fun.” “I already know that, Ellie. Preaching to the choir here. Now keep quiet and be appreciative.” I slap him. I swear to God, I have no idea what comes over me, but my hand just flies up, hits his cheek, and makes this epic smack that hangs in the air as everything else goes silent. He palms the red mark I made, and then smiles. “You’re not going to ruin this for me. No matter how hard you try.” “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I—” But he takes my hand and starts pulling me towards the door connecting to my office. Jesus, I might get lucky after all. I don’t even have to find a reason to get him in there. I reach into my pocket, ready to press send and let Ming loose on his ass.

Chapter Thirteen - Mac

“Come on,” I say, leading her over to the door. “Go ahead, open it.” “Why?” Ellie asks suspiciously. “What’s in there? A lawyer? Are we going to have to fight out the details of this book? Because it’s none of your damn—” “Eloise,” I say sharply, cutting her off. “Would you close your mouth and just open the door?” She crosses her arms over her breasts. Fucking breasts. Goddamned things are perfect. And Thursday’s dress might be sexy, but it certainly isn’t as interesting as Wednesday’s blouse. I wonder how many interesting blouses she has in her closet? “I don’t appreciate the way you speak to me, Mr. Stonewall. It’s rude.” “You know what?” I ask her, my patience wearing thin. She taps one of her designer shoes on the floor as she waits me out. “Never mind, I’ll open it myself.” So I do. I twist the knob and throw the door open, revealing her office on the other side. Her brand-fucking-new office. “What the—?” Ellie says, uncrossing her arms and stepping into the room. “What is this?” I smile. The old wood-paneled walls are now painted a bright white. The old metal desk is now a classic white writing desk, the heavy drapes my brother used to keep the sun at bay have been replaced with sheer white curtains, and the dark hardwood floor has a light blue rug that spans almost the entire area. “What happened here?” Ellie asks, her eyes wide with surprise. I shrug. “McAllister Stonewall happened.” She actually laughs. Finally. I finally made this girl laugh. “When did you have time to hire a designer?” “Designer? I got Bob from maintenance to swing by Sherman Williams and pick up some paint on his way in. Then he painted it this morning. It’s not a big room, only took about an hour. So while he was doing that I went shopping. It’s not designer, Eloise. Sorry. American Furniture Warehouse was calling my name. And it’s five minutes away.” “You shopped for this stuff?” she asks, her fingertips tracing the light blue piping on the back of one of two white wingback chairs in front of her desk. “Yeah,” I say, sticking my hands in my pockets and leaning back on my heels. “I did.” “But…” She looks up at me with a weird look on her face. “Why?” “It did smell like smoke, right? Heath’s fuck room wasn’t the right place for you.” “Fuck room? He didn’t fuck girls in here.” “Uh, yeah, he did, Ellie. Why do you think he had condoms in his desk drawer?” “Gross.” “I agree. So there you are. New office for new Ellie. I bet you’re sorry for being so bitchy two minutes ago.” “Jesus, why do you open your mouth? You know, you had me going there for a second, but—” “But what? How the hell can you be mad about a new office?”

“I’m not mad about the office. I love—” She stops talking and takes her phone out of her pocket, then texts whoever it is who just messaged her. “You love what?” I ask. She looks down at her screen for a few more seconds, then walks over to the connecting door and closes it, bending down to inspect the doorknob. “What are you doing?” “Checking for a lock. Did you give me this new office so you could burst in here whenever you wanted and have sex with me?” But before I can answer there’s a huge commotion out in the Atrium. “What the hell?” “Let me look,” Ellie says. She opens the door a crack. “Shit.” “What?” “Are we done here? Because Adeline is here to pick me up for drinks.” “Adeline? You’re having drinks with Adeline tonight?” “Yeah.” She beams a smile at me and then takes off her blazer to show off the dress. She goes from day to night in one second. I sigh, picturing how I pawed my way up her thighs this morning. Jesus. She drapes her jacket over the back of the desk chair, which is a very nice cream-colored leather that feels more like butter than butter. “The whole point of dressing up on Thursday is so we can go out Thursday night.” “Right,” I say, walking over to her and slipping my hand behind her neck so I can pull her up into a kiss. She kisses me back, not even a struggle. I place my other hand on her breasts, squeezing as I slide my fingertips up into her hair and fist it. “But you haven’t seen the best part of the office yet.” “I’m still quitting, McAllister,” she breathes into my mouth. “I appreciate the new office, but it’s not even close to enough. I’m not staying here. I’m sure the next girl will be very happy with it.” “Don’t make up your mind yet, Eloise.” “Don’t call me Eloise, McAllister.” “Mac,” I say. “Ellie,” she says back. “We’re selling. Why not just stay until that’s done?” “That could take years! No. I’ve been here too long and I need to fly the nest.” I take my kisses to her ear, and she gives off a little shudder when my tongue traces the outline of her lobe. “We could have a lot of fun, Ellie.” “I’m not your toy, Mac.” “I’d be here every Thursday night. While you’re teasing me in your happy-hour dress.” I reach down to the hem of her dress and slide the silky fabric up her hips. She has thigh-high stockings on, complete with garter belt. Like she just walked out of a lingerie catalog. “Did you change? I didn’t even notice these this morning.” “You were too busy attacking me, Mr. Stonewall.” “I’d rip Thursday’s dress off you every week. Then sit you down on this desk,” I say, reaching around to her ass and lifting her up, placing her on the new desk. I position my body between her legs, one hand on each of her knees, and push them open. “Mac,” she says, looking up into my eyes. “Why are you doing this to me? Just… Just find someone else to play office romance with.” “I want to play with you. I’m intrigued. That whole message stream—” “Shit,” she says, placing both hands on my chest to push me away. But I grab both wrists and then place her hands on the growing bulge between my legs. “I have to go,” she whines. “Adeline is waiting.”

“She’s not getting away from those fans any time soon. We can have a quickie.” “Look,” Ellie says, trying to squirm her way out of this. “I’m really not into quickies, Mac. Seriously. I’m not the kind of girl who puts out on the first date. Hell, I don’t even put out on the third date. I’m the kind of girl who needs at least five dates before sex.” “Five? Why so many?” She rolls her eyes and groans. “I’m kidding, Jesus. Five, fine, whatever. But we already had sex this morning. So how the hell do we get to five now?” “It’s too late,” she says. “That’s my point. It would’ve been fun if I was in another place in my life, but I’m not. I’m leaving this job and I’m certainly not starting a relationship with my new boss thirteen days before that happens.” “We’ll do five dates then. No sex for five dates.” “What part of this aren’t you hearing? I’m not dating you.” “I have news for you, Miss Hatcher. You are dating me. And this is date number one. I took you here, you got gifts, a little foreplay, and it counts as one.” She tries to hide her smile by looking down at my dick, but then she gets embarrassed and flushes a bright pink. I take this opportunity to slip my hand between her legs and play with her pussy. “Mac,” she whispers, placing her hand over mine. “We’re not having sex.” I withdraw, but then grab her hand and place it where mine just was. “Fine. We won’t. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get off before you go out for a night with the girls.” She opens her mouth to protest, but I place my hand tightly over her lips and lean in. “Don’t worry, I won’t touch you. Only you can touch you. I’ll just touch me.” Her eyes dart down to my hand as it unbuckles my belt, releases the button and zipper, and fists my long, hard cock. She’s still staring at my hand when I wiggle my fingertips against her pussy again. “Get busy, Miss Hatcher, or I’ll have to take care of business for you.” Ellie’s chest rises and falls rapidly, like her heart is beating wildly. God, it fucking turns me on. “I want to rip this whole fucking dress off you, bend you over, and fuck you from behind.” “If you do,” she says softly, “then we start the five dates over again.” “Ahhh.” I laugh. “So we’re on, then? This is date one. But I get something too. Every date I get to tell you what to do and you have to do it.” “Like what?” she exclaims. “Get naked and pour me coffee? Isn’t that what office romances are all about? Maybe tie your hands with my tie? Make you bend over and pick up paperclips.” I chuckle at the stupidity of it. She’s not laughing, but that’s OK. “With no underwear on?” “No one does that,” she says. “That’s some porn-movie fantasy that only men have.” “Really? Only men, huh?” I finger her pussy again and she’s slick. So fucking ready. “I think you’re having that fantasy right now. So date number one, we play with ourselves until we come. Deal?” “That’s not my idea of a date, Mac.” God, I love hearing her say my name. “It is now. And I already explained the reasons why it qualifies. So deal?” “What do I have to lose?” she says. “Except my dignity.” “How am I robbing you of that by doing this? It’s fun, Ellie. And no one has to know.” “People already know.” “They don’t know shit. So tell me it’s a deal and we can get busy. You have no idea how much I looked forward to coming into work today just so I could see you. But we can save that conversation

until tomorrow’s date. Now play with your pussy until I tell you to stop.” She shakes her head no, but she’s chewing on that fingernail again. I’m getting the feeling that the fingernail chew means she likes something, but is afraid to admit she likes it. “Do it,” I command. “Now. Before someone walks in.” She glances over at the door with wide eyes. “You like that, don’t you? You like the idea of getting caught. I can tell.” “Why—” “Do it, Ellie. I’m tired of asking.” She sighs big and I know I’ve won. All I have to do is say it again and she’s going to give in. “Now,” I growl. “Put your hand between your legs and let’s have some fun.” I get started first, squeezing my cock, and then start moving my hand up and down my shaft as I stare at her. She leans back a little, propping herself up with one hand on the desk. She slips her fingers underneath her black mesh panties that match her stockings and garters, and then I almost die as she begins stroking herself in small slow circles. Oh, fuck, yeah. I grip my cock harder and then ease back into her pretty leather chair, scooting my body down a little and stretching out my legs until our knees bump. And then I match my rhythm with hers. My fist goes up to the tip of my head as she strokes herself, then back down, slamming into the base of my shaft as one of her fingers slides in and out of her thoroughly wet pussy. “Push your fingers in deeper,” I say in a raspy voice. She does, and when they come back out they are gleaming and slick. It takes every bit of self-control I have not to stand up, step forward and ease myself inside her. I bet she wouldn’t say no. I bet she’d come all over my dick. I bet she’d probably try to scream with delight before I could cover her mouth with my hand. But I don’t do that. A deal is a deal. Five dates with nothing but foreplay. I can deal. I can handle it. In fact, I think this might be the most fun I ever had not having sex. She’s close, I can tell. The one arm supporting her weight falters, then buckles and she is lying back on the desk, her legs open wide. Her fingers are wet, her teeth clenching as she finds her climax. I pump my dick harder, faster, and then I lean over, lift her dress out of the way, and shoot my come all over her bare stomach as she watches. We both go still for a few moments. Nothing but our matched heavy breathing. And then I break the moment. “I can deal with no sex,” I say, walking over to my office. “Wait!” “Wait what? I’m gonna get you a towel to clean up with. Be right back.” “Mac—” I open my office door and walk over to the bathroom, grab a towel and then go back into Ellie’s office and wipe the semen off her stomach.

Chapter Fourteen - Ellie

“What’s tomorrow’s outfit?” Mac asks as he nonchalantly wipes off his still-hard cock with the towel and puts himself back together. He’s looking down while he does it and it takes me a few seconds to realize he’s staring between my legs. “Why?” I ask, jumping up off the desk and sidestepping around him. His whole body turns with mine, and I back away until I hit the wall behind me. I’m straightening out the black dress over my hips and trying to figure out what happened to my shoes when my eyes dart to movement behind Mac. Ming is standing in the doorway, hands on hips, mouth and eyes wide. “Um,” I say loudly. “Tomorrow’s outfit.” I look up at Mac and he’s still looking down at me, tucking his shirt back into his pants. I do a head-nod towards the door at Ming, telling her to¸ Get the fuck out before he sees you! “Yeah,” Mac says. “What’s tomorrow?” “Um,” I say again, then breathe normally when I hear a slight rise in noise level coming from Mac’s office and I know she’s gone. “Business casual, of course. It’s Friday.” “So you wear, what? Jeans and a t-shirt?” I laugh. “No.” I laugh again. “Tomorrow is wide-legged trousers and a tank top with a floaty silk over-shirt.” “Sounds lovely,” Mac says, leaning down to kiss me on the cheek. “I can’t wait.” And then he walks into his office, closing my door behind him. I have been perplexed by men before. Hell, I’m probably perplexed by most men. But this particular man has my jaw hanging open. How can he be so damn hot and so damn despicable at the same time? Oh, Miss Hatcher, I mentally sing. It’s time for your fuck now. And after we’re done I’ll peck you on the cheek and pat you on the ass and say, ‘Thanks for the fun, baby.’ I didn’t even get a pat on the ass. Or a, ‘Thanks for the fun.’ Bastard. A knock on my office door pulls me back to the present. It opens a crack, and then Ming is peeking through, glaring at me. “I cannot believe you,” she says over Adeline’s “Thank yous” and “Oh, you’re so sweets” to the people out in the Atrium. Then Ming grabs her by the arm and drags her inside my office, slamming the door behind them. “What the fuck did I just see?” Ming yells. “Shhhh,” I say, pointing to the door. “He’s on the other side of that fucking door!” “He’s gone,” Adeline says. “He couldn’t get out of here fast enough. Didn’t even stop for an autograph.” “Did you get the phone?” I ask Ming. “No!” she says. “I looked everywhere. It wasn’t in there. He must keep it on him.” “You’re kidding me. So I just let him—” Ming wags her finger at me. “Don’t pretend with me, girlfriend. You didn’t just let him do anything to cover for me. When did this start? And what is the deal with this office? It looks brand new.”

“Yeah,” Adeline says, dragging her finger over the soft fabric of the chairs in front of the desk before taking a seat and getting comfortable. “I’ve been in this office before. Disgusting place. Smelled like cigars the last time I was here.” “He just… he… just surprised me. Tonight.” “Yeah,” Ming says, taking a seat in the second chair in front of my desk. “With his dick in your pussy.” “We did not have sex!” I insist. “I heard you come,” Ming says. “Oh, my God, you did not.” “I absolutely did. I had my ear to the door the entire time.” She crosses her arms and her legs like this is final, and then nods her head. “Now start from the beginning and don’t stop until we get to this moment right here.” I sigh, then walk around my new desk and take a seat in the leather chair where Mac was just sitting. It’s still warm against my bare thighs and I find myself wishing he didn’t leave so fast. Jesus. What have I gotten myself into? “I’m so happy I came here today,” Adeline says with a smirk. “Don’t leave anything out.” So I rewind the past two days and begin with Mac standing over me at the bottom of the slide. “Well,” Adeline says when I finish. “The office is lovely.” “I don’t get it,” Ming says, chewing on her fingernail—a bad habit we’ve both picked up over the years. “What is he doing? One-upping his brother?” “Wait, you think he’s jealous that I was seeing Heath?” “You weren’t seeing Heath!” they both say together. “You were delusional, Ellie,” Adeline says. “Heath was stringing you along, I already told you this.” “Yeah,” Ming says. “I think so too. I mean, I never thought you and him would ever get together in a million years, but now that Adeline mentions it, I do think that’s why he was pretending like you two had a chance.” “Well, thank you, guys.” I roll my eyes. “What a way to make a girl feel inadequate.” “That’s not what we’re insinuating at all, Ellie,” Adeline says. “You’re way too good for Heath. He just likes slutty girls and you’re not his type.” “So why is Mac doing this?” I ask. “If not because of Heath?” “Mac?” Ming says with a sneer. “You’re really calling him Mac now?” “What? I told you, that’s his name!” “He likes you,” Adeline says. “That’s my bet. What kind of man does these things if the girl is just a casual one-nighter?” “And you’re already past that, anyway,” Ming says. “How many times was that? Three? Four?” “We only had sex once, Ming.” “Once is enough. What happened to, ‘I need ten dates before I sleep with a man?’” “Five,” I say. But I have said ten before. My standards just got a little lower over the years. “I guess my main question is,” Adeline says, “will you stay here in this job because of him? Or will you still leave when your two weeks are up?” “Oh, I’m leaving,” I say, putting a hand up to stop that line of questioning. “I’m definitely leaving in thirteen days. Practically twelve now.” Ming sighs, but then smiles a little. “Well, as long as you’re still leaving, I guess there’s no harm

in a casual office romance before you go. Just don’t let him talk you into staying. This job is a dead end for you, Ellie. You’re going to spend the rest of your life walking celebrities around this campus if you don’t get out now.” She looks over to Adeline and says, “No offense, Addie.” “None taken. I completely agree. Our Ellie has potential. Potential that will never manifest while working for this company.” “OK.” I sigh. “Can we be done talking about me now? And just go get drunk?”

Chapter Fifteen - Mac

I wait the appropriate amount of time before calling. It’s Thursday night. They went out for a happy hour drink. And now it’s eleven PM. She should be home. But she’s not. At least, she’s not answering her phone. I should’ve asked her where they were going. It’s got to be some place semi-discreet. You can’t just show up at Chili’s for Happy Hour Sliders with Adeline. There’d be a mob. It would make the nightly news. I open my phone browser and do a search for Adeline. Nope. No reports of her getting drunk with the locals in the Denver Tech Center. I open the message stream Ellie has been sending Heath instead. Goddamn. Why did I have to stumble onto this? She’s so fucking cute. The sheepdogs. I can’t even deal with how fucking cute that is. And then there’s the dream house pictures. She’s got pictures of furniture she wants. She’s even got pictures of what their future kids would look like. Heath and I don’t look very much alike, so I can’t even imagine that’s what our kids would look like too. What the hell? Where did that thought come from? I call Ellie again. Straight to voicemail. I text her. I bet if it was Heath calling you’d pick up. Heath’s phone rings. I tab the answer button. “How can I help you, Miss Hatcher?” “How can you help me?” She sounds groggy. “What do you want?” “You called me,” I say. She ends the call. I stare at the phone. Then call her back. “What?” she says, severely annoyed. “I’m trying to sleep.” “What time did you get home?” “Hours ago, OK? I was asleep and now you’ve woken me up. I prefer to get my eight hours in before work, Stonewall. Stop calling me.” She ends the call again. Stonewall? What happened to Mac? And what the hell is her problem? We had a great time today at the office. I scroll up the message stream, find what I’m looking for, then download and add the picture of the sheepdogs, texting, You sent this to Heath’s phone at one AM two weeks ago. Eleven o’clock is early by your standards. My phone rings and I smile as I tab answer. “Yes, Miss Hatcher.” “I want that phone.” “Company property, Eloise. I already told you that.” “I want that phone so I can delete that message stream, and then I will give it straight back.” “Now why would I let you do that? These messages are golden. I haven’t been this interested in someone’s life in years.”

“Mr. Stonewall—” “Mac,” I remind her. “Mac.” She sounds a little defeated now, her voice softer. Or maybe she’s just tired. “Please. Stop calling me tonight. Stop texting me tonight. And tomorrow, I need proof that those messages are deleted.” “Date number three. I think not.” “It’s two, Mac. Two. And I’m only playing along because you’re making me.” “Date number two then. We need five dates before I delete the messages.” She groans. “You do realize this is blackmail, right?” “Yeah. So?” I almost can’t stop the laugh. “It’s illegal!” “It’s fun, Ellie. Admit it. It’s fun.” “Just delete those messages, please.” “After the fifth date.” “After we have sex, you mean.” “After we have sex again,” I correct her. “This five-date minimum is silly, Ellie. We’ve already experienced each other ’s bodies—” She ends the call again. I have to chuckle at this. I’ll drop it tonight. But only because of the many, many surprises I have planned for her tomorrow.

Chapter Sixteen - Ellie

Did McAllister Stonewall really call me last night? Jesus, I should not be allowed to answer the phone when I’m asleep. I roll over in bed and grab my phone off the nightstand, then check my calls. Yup. Several times. Twelve days, Ellie. Twelve days and you are out of there. I don’t have to be in to work until nine on Fridays. We have guests every day, but most of them over the weekend come in via satellite feed on the various shows. I only work half a day. Go in at nine, leave at two. I love Fridays. And since it’s only seven right now, I set my alarm and go back to sleep until eight thirty. My phone rings just as I’m drifting back off. Dammit. I roll over again and look at the caller ID. Heath. Which is not Heath, obviously. It’s Mac. I tab answer and say, “What?” “Are you sleeping?” he asks. “Good guess, Einstein. It’s seven o’clock on Friday.” “Exactly. Why aren’t you here? Your personnel file says you work from seven to four.” “Well, my personnel file probably hasn’t been updated since I was twenty-two.” “You’re not twenty-two?” “Mac, what do you want?” “I want you here.” I can’t stop myself from cracking a smile because he says it kind of sweet. “I don’t start until nine. I’ll be in then.” “I’m coming over.” My sleepy eyes fly open. “What?” But it’s too late, I get hang-up beeps. I call back on Heath’s phone. “Ten seconds away.” And more hang-up beeps. I just stare at the phone and then someone is ringing my doorbell. “What the fuck?” I jump out of bed and grab my short summer robe, cinching the belt tightly around my waist as I rush down the hallway. The doorbell is ringing repeatedly when I unlock it and swing it open. Mac is leaning against the door, huge lopsided grin on his face. His eyes start in the right place but they drift down—all the way down—then slowly make their way back up to my face. “I like this look. It says fresh.” “It says, ‘what the fuck are you doing here?’ You can’t just show up at my house. Or call me at night, for that matter.” “Why not? You quit, right? Who cares if we get caught?” “I’m not worried about getting caught.” Especially since Ming and Adeline already know and they are the only ones who count. They grilled me good last night. Which is why I came home so early. I couldn’t answer any more questions. Not that I didn’t want to. I literally know nothing about McAllister Stonewall and couldn’t answer a single thing about him when they started giving me the third degree. Then Ming was stalking him online and Adeline was calling “her people” to try to dig

up dirt. But McAllister Stonewall is suspiciously missing from the online search pages and no one Adeline called knew anything more than he’s the older son of Alexander Stonewall. That just made them even more curious. Adeline even called her private investigator. Personally, I think the fact that she has a private investigator in her contacts is kind of creepy. And so is the fact that Mac is missing from searches. Who has that power? I know when I search my name online I come up all over the place. I’m in a ton of celebrity photos for one. And I’ve been to all the awards shows that Stonewall Entertainment has been nominated for over the years. Ming was immediately suspicious and even though I didn’t agree with them last night, I am too. Something about Mr. Perfect is not-so-perfect. “So what’s the problem?” Mac asks. “The problem is I was sleeping. Both times you’ve overstepped the boundaries between work and personal life. I enjoy my sleep, Mac. Stop ruining it for me.” “You want me to leave?” he asks, showering me with another sideways smirk. “I’m fine with leaving. But I need you at work, Ellie. Now. So get yourself together and be in my office in thirty minutes.” I open my mouth to tell him what I think about that, but he turns away and walks down the hall before I can think of a good comeback. I settle for slamming my door instead. Ninety minutes later—please, what kind of girl would I be if I could “pull myself together” in thirty minutes?—I make it up to the seventh floor of the Atrium. Stephanie’s desk is clean so obviously she has the whole day off. And no one else is here but Jennifer Sluts-around and her sidekick assistant, Ellen Interoffice-sexcapades. I open the door to my office and find Mac sitting in the bubble window seat, one foot up on the cushion, one foot on the floor, back leaning against the right wall, pensive expression on his face as he continues to look out at the view. Three seconds of ‘what the hell is going on?’ from me, and he finally turns in my direction. “What are you doing?” I ask, walking forward and slowly closing the door behind me. “I was thinking…” Mac looks back to the view. I walk over and look too. What’s so interesting about it? This side of the building is actually kind of boring. Just rolling pine-forested hills and cows. Although I might have to look closer, but I think there are baby cows out there too. “That I really hate the city.” “You do?” I ask, sitting down on the opposite side of the window seat. I rest my back against the glass and find it cool, even through my shirt. “I like the view from this window. I like looking down at the cows.” I find that strangely relatable. “It’s very country, right? And peaceful.” “That’s not why.” “Oh. Why then?” I ask. He sighs a little. “Have you ever heard people say they want a view of this or that? The river, the lake, the beach, the mountains, the city. And if you ask them why—why do you want a view of the river?—they say things like… ‘I want to see the boats.’ Or the rowers. I don’t mind people who want to see the boats, or the sunset, or the snow, or any of the other natural things one might like in a view. But the rowers always bothered me.” “I’m not following,” I say. He’s veered off onto some other road and it’s not going anywhere I’m familiar with.

“Because the rowers are people just living their lives. And to that person standing up in the penthouse condo looking down on the river, the rowers are scenery. I never liked the thought that people are scenery. So I prefer the cows to the cars. I don’t want to see the lights of the apartment across from me flicking on and off. I don’t want to know about what that means to the people inside. I don’t want to view them as scenery.” “Where do you live?” I ask him. “You know that Occulus Building over by the resort?” “Oh,” I say. “Wow.” “Yes, it’s just as pretentious as you think. Penthouse, roof garden, indoor pool, private gym, and a twenty-four seven concierge desk.” “Yeah.” I laugh, trying to picture it. “I remember when the Occulus Building was built. Huge party. I was invited, of course. I know the builder. She’s been interviewed over here millions of times. I go to her every time I need to schedule someone for real estate, or building, or architecture.” “Did you see the penthouse?” “Yeah. It’s quite nice.” “Yeah. Rich people problems, right?” “What do you mean?” “Well,” Mac says, tearing his gaze away from the view to look me in the eyes, “I hate it. But there’s probably a billion people who would kill to live there.” “It’s… not to your liking? The decor? Who owns it?” “We own it,” Mac says. “We own not only the whole building, but that whole resort.” “Oh.” I chew on that for a second. “We own most of the land in the Tech Center. My father bought up the land thirty years ago before any of this was here. And we lease it out.” Jesus. What kind of money is that? I can’t even begin to understand it. “Anyway,” Mac says, standing. “I’m waiting in here for a reason.” “Is that right?” I stand up too, but my heart beats a little faster when I take him in. He’s wearing a dark gray suit today, a blue shirt that is so light it’s barely a color, and another brilliant cerulean-blue tie that makes his matching eyes shine as they stare into mine. I don’t know why, but I step backwards. His full attention on me suddenly feels more like a force than a look. He steps forward, hands reaching for me. I bump against the wall, no escape, and then he fists the front of my blouse and rips it open, revealing my silk cami. My mouth opens in surprise. He rips the cami apart too. And then, with one forceful whoosh, both garments are lying in a puddle of fabric on the floor. “What are you doing?” I yell. The intense stare turns to a boyish smile. “I’d like you topless for breakfast. And I get to call the shots for our dates.” “Why do I even bother with you? Just why?” I refuse to cross my arms and cover my tits. Fuck him. Just fuck him. “Every time I start to think you’re not a pig, you go and do something like this.” “It’s fun, right?” His smile never cracks. “No,” I say. “It’s humiliating.” “Your tits are nice, Ellie. You should not be ashamed of them.” “I’m not ashamed of them—” “Good. Because I’d like to stare at them while we have coffee and discuss our date tonight.” A knock comes from Mac’s office and I might have a panic attack that someone will come in and find me bare like this.

“Hold that thought,” Mac says, leaning down to kiss my lips. “Breakfast is here. Sit,” he says, pushing on my shoulders until I slump into the window seat again. “I’ll be right back.” And then he enters his office, pulling our connecting door closed. I listen to the conversation in there as I look down at my clothes. What the hell was he thinking? The cami is dust. Ripped straight down the middle. At least the silk button-up shirt is only missing all the buttons. I can probably tie it around my waist to make it out to the parking lot, but— There’s a jingle of a cart and plates. We have… room service? What kind of company has room service? I guess I’m not all that surprised they have it up here. We have several restaurants on campus. The Atrium has a cafeteria. Maybe this came from the cafeteria? Mac is laughing on the other side of the door, then I hear a polite thank you just before the sound of a closing door. The connecting door swings open again and Mac is there, a wide grin on his face. “I hope you like pancakes.” “This is not happening.” “Oh, this is happening, Miss Hatcher. You are sitting here.” He points to the middle of the window seat as he pushes the cart towards me. “I have no clothes, Mac. You ripped my cami. I’m going to have to tie that over-shirt on and go home to change. In fact,” I say, reaching down to get my blouse and pull myself together, “I’m not coming back. I’m done. Just when I think you’re a human, you act like an ape.” “Would you just relax, Ellie?” He rips the shirt from my hands, balls it up, and then tosses it in the air, where it arcs perfectly and sails into the new trashcan that matches the desk. “Three points,” he says. “It’s like you live in your own world or something. I think it’s funny that you accused me of living in some delusional fantasy, but you, Mr. Stonewall, you’re a raving lunatic who thinks the world is his asylum.” “I’m going to take that as a compliment. Now sit. I’ve got it all under control.” “My clothes!” I yell. “Under control, Ellie.” “How?” “Trust me.” His tone loses the childlike fun and becomes very serious. “I’ve got it handled.” His blue eyes blaze into mine and hold the stare for several seconds. I give up first, sighing and scowling at the same time. But I do as I’m told and take a seat in the center of the window as he pushes an elaborate dining cart up to me. Because no matter how atrocious his behavior, I’m so damn curious about this man. What kind of life must he have to take everything for granted? “Good,” he says, arranging things on the cart. “You’re starting to come to your senses.” I roll my eyes, but save my indignation for later. It’s just no use. He’s a man who gets his way and this morning he wants me to sit in the window seat of my office topless as he serves me food. “It’s fun, right?” Mac asks, winking at me as he unwraps the silverware, shakes out the white linen napkin, and places it on my lap. I don’t answer. It is a little bit fun, but I don’t agree or even smile, because he doesn’t deserve to be rewarded for being a caveman. There are two large silver-domed plates, a carafe of coffee, two smaller silver-domed plates, and a clear crystal bowl of water with pink and white roses floating on top. Well. He certainly knows how to make things pretty. “Why?” I ask. He lifts the silver domes on the plates and hides them on one of the shelves underneath the cart. “I

hope you like pancakes. But if not, I got French toast. We can share.” “Why are you like this?” I ask, my mouth watering as I look at the pile of fresh berries on top of my pancakes. And his French toast is an inch thick and has perfectly crispy edges. “Like what?” he asks, opening up his silverware and flapping his napkin in his lap as he sits. “Fun? Creative? Romantic? Which of those things bothers you, Ellie?” “It’s not that,” I say. “You know why I’m bothered.” I point to my perky tits. “Yeah, they’re beautiful. I’m never going to forget this breakfast. And isn’t that the point? Isn’t every experience we have a memory in the making? Why not make them special?” He pours us each a coffee, then hands me the cream and sugar. I do want what’s on this table. I want these berry-covered pancakes. And the coffee smells delicious. I’m probably going to help myself to that French toast too. “It can be special without being naked,” I say as I cut my pancakes with my fork and shove it in my mouth. “Oh.” Mac laughs. “The special part comes later. When I push you face-first up against this window, squishing your tits against the cold glass as I pull your trousers down and finger your pussy until you come. That’s the part you won’t forget, Ellie. You’ll never remember how this food tasted. Good, or sweet, or whatever will be the only takeaway from that. But the morning your boss fingerfucked you up against your office window? Now that is a memory you’ll be masturbating to for years.” Oh, my God. I’m in way over my head. He’s way too much for me. “And then I’m going to stick my fingers in your mouth while they are still slick with your pleasure, and jerk off as I stare into your face and come on your tits. That’s why I want you topless. So I can eat and imagine all that fun that’s coming our way. All those memories we’ll be making in about ten minutes.” I think I actually cream myself. I’m not even sure where that expression comes from. I’ve never used it before in my life, but there it is in the front of my mind. And it’s happening. And it fits. Because I’m wet. I’m wet from his words. So he wins, doesn’t he? Because while I should be worried about treating my boss to a topless breakfast, all I can think about is his fingers inside me. His hot breath on my shoulder as he plays with my clit until I come. Mac laughs. “Ellie, come on. You’re not that uptight, are you?” I take a deep breath and exhale. He leans over with a forkful of French toast and puts it to my lips. I open my mouth and he slips the food inside, his smile more like a man who is in the middle of lust than one who is thinking about breakfast. His other hand is busy beneath the table cloth. I hear the jingle of a belt, then he closes his eyes and starts pumping. He’s jerking off. I am stunned silent. “Play with yourself, Ellie. While you eat.” His eyes open and he cuts himself a portion of French toast, puts it in his mouth as I stare at his lips, and chews slowly. “Please,” he whispers softly. Please. Hmmm. That catches me off guard. And what the hell. I’m here, already topless. Already participating. Why not just… embrace it. I swallow hard and begin massaging my nipple with my left hand, the right hand busy cutting up pancakes. I never stop looking at him. He smiles and nods. “See.”

I do see. I am definitely in way over my head with McAllister Stonewall. But even if I wanted to, there’s no way I’m not going along for the ride now. I’m in.

Chapter Seventeen - Mac

It takes every ounce of strength I have not to throw this fucking cart aside and bend her over. I want to fuck her like crazy. And I know there is no fucking in my future if I can’t get past her rules and regulations. I need to play this right. Every moment counts with Ellie Hatcher. “See,” I say. “It’s fun. You like fun, don’t you, Ellie? You’re not really a fun-sucker, are you?” I even wink at her. She sighs and my gaze is locked on her lips. Fuck. The things I want to do to her lips. “I do like fun, Mac. But I like fun that doesn’t end up hurting me and you… you’re so… perfect. It’s a bad sign.” “A bad sign?” I ask. “Since when is perfect bad?” “Well, nobody’s perfect. So it’s an illusion.” “I never said I was perfect, Ellie.” “Yeah, but you have it all. You’re rich, you’re very… handsome. And you have a lot of power.” “You’re not hurting for money, Ellie. I know what you make and it’s a very comfortable living. And you’re far prettier than I am handsome.” “Nice save.” She laughs. “Seriously. You have this girl-next-door thing going for you that drives guys like me wild.” “Guys like what?” she asks. “What kind of guy are you, McAllister Stonewall? Because I looked you up online and you barely exist. I think that’s suspicious.” “So, not perfect, right?” Not at all perfect. She just doesn’t know how imperfect I am yet. “No, of course not. I understand there’s no such thing as perfection. I’m just saying you come off as perfect, which means it’s a lie.” “Keep talking,” I say. “And keep touching yourself as you do it.” She rolls her eyes and lowers her hand. “I feel ridiculous.” “Why? You don’t want to turn me on?” She smiles big as she closes her eyes and throws her head back, exposing her throat for me. Damn, I might not be able to make it through breakfast. “Do I turn you on, Mr. Stonewall?” “Miss Hatcher, I cannot stop thinking about you. Ever since I started reading those texts I’ve become obsessed.” I stand up and push the cart aside. Ellie starts, then straightens her back and stares up into my eyes. She looks… fuck. Perfect. She’s the one who’s perfect, not me. I step forward and she leans back against the window. “Let’s skip the food. We can give that another try later. But now, I just want to touch you. Watch your face as I make you feel good.” She can’t take her eyes off me as I fist my cock and start pumping again. “Get on your knees and turn around. Face the window.” She chews on her lip like she’s thinking this over. But we both know she’s going to do it. There’s no way she’d be having breakfast topless if she wasn’t in. “Do it,” I say, just to make her stop thinking about it. She swallows hard and stands up. I palm her breast for a second before she turns, then kneels down on the window seat with her back to me.

“Place your hands on the window.” She does, her palms slightly above her head. And then she leans forward and rests her forehead on the glass, like she needs the support. I trace a fingertip down her spine until her back buckles and I take that moment of distraction to push her head forward, applying enough pressure so that she has to turn her cheek sideways. I don’t ease up even though I can see her eyes searching for mine. I’m probably just outside her field of vision though, so she can’t see much. I reach around to unbutton her trousers, and then I slip my hand down her stomach until I’m cupping her pussy. “Jesus, Mac.” “What?” I ask in a throaty voice. “Tell me.” “I’m just… I just don’t know why I’m doing this.” “Because it feels good, Ellie. You like it. It’s just fun. Why are you so worried about having fun and enjoying yourself?” I trace a little circle around her clit, pushing my fingertip inside her wet opening and then quickly withdrawing. “Tell me what you like.” She exhales loudly and shakes her head. “Why?” “I’m not that kind of girl, Mac. I’m not the kind of girl who fucks her boss, or talks dirty, or any of that.” “That’s what makes it so desirable for me. I like to push you outside your comfort zone. Now tell me what you like and I’ll do it. I’ll do whatever you say. I just want to hear it.” She’s silent for a few moments, but I don’t push because she didn’t say no. So she’s thinking. I can definitely be patient for this. I wiggle my fingertip against her clit and she says, “That.” “What? Say it.” “Your finger sweeping around my clit, but never touching it.” “It makes you want more?” “Yes, it does,” she breathes. “More what? Talk to me like a dirty slut, Ellie, and I’ll make you come so hard, your legs will spasm and your body will collapse.” I wait for the snarky comeback, but she stays silent. Not willing to stop me. Not willing to break the flow of what we’re doing. Not ready to give in, but definitely not giving up. “I like when you… I like it when you flick right there.” Right there is not her clit, but it’s close. “So you like the tease. I like the tease too. If I was the one who was going to come right now I’d be telling you to suck the tip of my dick, but not put my whole cock in your mouth. Just play with it for a little bit. Make me want more.” “I want you to press your fingers inside me. Just a little. Then take them out and tease me some more. I want you to squeeze my breasts and bend me over. I want to imagine you staring at my pussy like that.” I wrap my hand around her throat, pulling her back towards me. I hold her up by placing my arm under hers, then, once she’s on her feet, I turn us both around and walk her over to her desk and bend her over. Her wide-legged pants are down around her ankles so her ass is perfectly positioned for me to stick my cock inside her. I don’t, of course. She’s going to regret this five-date minimum thing. I’m going to make sure of it. “Mac,” she says in a low whisper. “Put your fingers in me.”

“I’ll do you one better,” I say, crouching down and spreading her ass cheeks apart so I can slip my tongue between her legs. Her upper body shoots up, so I smack her once, hard, and say, “Relax, Miss Hatcher. Enjoy. I know I am.” I lick her, and then I hoist her up and push her onto the desk, her palms flat on the tabletop, her knees spread wide, her face red with heat and desire. I lick her pussy. Up and down the entire length of her folds. Then I stand and thrust two fingers inside her as my thumb pushes against the puckered bud of her ass. She wiggles, but I push down on her back. “Stay still,” I say, as I pump her hard. She moans and wriggles more, so I withdraw my fingers and slide them rapidly up and down the entire length of her pussy. “There,” she moans. “There. Right there.” “Here?” I ask through my smile. “Right here?” “Yes,” she pants. “Yes.” But this time it’s a moan. “Are you going to come, Ellie?” “Yes,” she says, but she’s bucking her back and trying to twist away from the friction, like it’s too much to take. Like she needs relief. She needs relief all right. But it’s not from my touch. She needs to come. I withdraw my hand and she gasps. “What are you doing? I’m so close, Mac. I’m so close!” I back away and she looks over her shoulder at me, like she’s going to chase me down and jump on my dick. “Be still,” I say. “I want something out of this too.” “What?” she moans. “I can’t fuck your pussy until we have more dates. But you never said anything about your ass.” “No way,” she says in a loud voice. “Nope. I’ve never done that, Mac. And I never will.” “You will beg for it right now or I’ll leave you hanging.” She throws me a glare. “I’ll go to the bathroom and get myself off. I’m not doing that.” “Why?” I ask, picking up a pad of butter from the breakfast cart. Her eyes get wide as she watches. “What are you doing?” I place the little golden packet between my palms and rub it until it gets warm and soft. “I’m going to use this as lube. Unless you’ve got some stashed in your desk. I know you don’t, because I bought the desk yesterday. I can’t fuck your ass unless we have lube.” “You can’t fuck my ass period.” I smile and nod. “I can always spit on it.” She shoots me a horrified look and I almost laugh. “Lie back down. You won’t get too dirty.” “No!” she yells. “I’m not doing any of that!” “Ellie, be calm. Just relax. You can say no any time you want. But let me show you how good it feels first. Then if you’re still not sure, I’ll back off and lick your clit until you come.” She makes a weird face. Like she’s having some kind of internal battle. “You don’t want to say no, Ellie. You really don’t want to miss this, I promise. When my dick is inside your ass and my hand reaches around to play with your clit, you will come so hard, my dick will ache because you’re clenching it so tight.” She shakes her head no. “Yes,” I say forcefully. “Just let me try and you can stop me if you hate it.” I move forward and push her down, pressing her against the desk. He legs are off the desk now, her feet on the floor again, but that’s OK. That’s just where I need them. “Mac—” “Shhh,” I say. “Just let me play with you for a moment. Then tell me no.” I reach between her legs and she’s so fucking wet. I pump her pussy a few times, collecting her juices on my fingers, then drag

it up to her asshole. I almost don’t need the lube, but I’ve already got her thinking about the butter and I kinda like that. It’s dirty. It’s fun. And she will never look at a pad of butter the same again. “Are you laughing?” she asks. “Quiet,” I say, tucking my smile away as I position my cock right between her legs. It pokes her pussy and she clenches her teeth together. I know she would not tell me no if I wanted to fuck her pussy instead. She’s so damn ready. But hey, rules are rules, right? I open the little foil packet and smear it over her asshole. She lets out a soft sigh of air. So I do it again, pressing a little harder so it leaves a slick trail. Then I press my finger up against her pucker and push, just a teeny, tiny bit. “Oh, fuck.” “Right?” I pass my dick across her ass, then let it slip down between her legs. She throws her head back like I just did something very right. Anyone can make a girl come with a dick in her pussy. But anal, yeah. That takes a little more skill. I push my finger in a little more, my other hand still massaging her with the tip of my dick. I really wouldn’t mind licking her, but shit, I only have two hands and everything I’m doing right now feels perfect. “Do you like it?” I ask. “It’s not in yet.” “Want me to try to put it in, Ellie?” She bites her lip, her eyes closed, her face calm as I play with her. “Ellie?” “OK. But go very slow,” she says in a low voice. “I will,” I say, my balls tightening with anticipation. “I promise.” I fist my cock and press the head up against her, pushing in slightly. She gasps, then her hands ball up into fists as she tries to stay calm. “Try to relax,” I say, reaching around to rub her clit. “Take deep breaths and relax. It will hurt for a moment, but I’ll go slow, and then once we get past the hard part, it will be easy and you will never say no to this again, that’s how good it will feel.” She moans in response, her face tightening up in a grimace as I push forward. “Ow,” she says. I stroke her back, dragging my fingertip lightly up and down her spine. She sighs, relaxing. I push forward once again. Little gasps, short, quick breaths, and so much wiggling, I have to grab her by the shoulder to keep her in place. “Mac,” she whines. But then I get past that point I was telling her about. My cock eases inside her ass and she lets out a long moan. “See,” I say, leaning down over her body, pressing my chest against her back. I lift her golden hair off her neck and kiss her there, right at her nape. She shudders and I ease out a little, taking my time. Going slow. Then I push it back in as I slip a hand under her hip and begin rubbing my fingertips against her clit in tiny circles. “Do you like that?” I ask. “Mmmm,” she responds. I strum her clit faster. “I like it too. Your ass is tight, Ellie. And your pussy is so wet.” I stick two fingers inside her as I bite her on the shoulder and her body goes stiff. This drives me crazy and I can’t hold back. I pump a little harder. A little deeper. “Oh, shit,” she says. I smile. “It feels so good, right?” “Yeah,” she moans. “Yes.”

“You like this too, Ellie?” I whisper into her ear as I strum her clit faster. I press and flick it, then slide my fingers down into her pussy, pushing deeper and deeper until I can feel the pressure against my cock in her ass. “Fuck, yes,” I say. “The next time we do this, you can lie on my stomach and I’ll use a vibrator on your pussy as my cock fucks your ass. I’ll make you scream, Ellie. I’ll make you—” She clenches and I know it’s over. “Oh, fuck,” she says. “Oh, fuck, yes!” Her whole body goes still, her mouth wide open. I picture my cock inside it. Sliding against her lips as I fuck her mouth. So many, many things I want to do with this girl. I ride out her orgasm and when she relaxes, I pull out, lean back, and come between her shoulder blades. She’s panting hard and I have to close my eyes for several seconds until the pleasure ebbs. “I want more of this, Ellie. I want more. Tonight.”

Chapter Eighteen - Ellie

I just want to collapse because holy shit. I have never had sex like that before. But… what the hell am I thinking? What kind of girl lets her boss fuck her in the ass in her office? Me. If I was texting right now, I’d put a little smiley face after that admission. “Here, Ellie,” Mac says, coming out of his office with a garment bag and a towel. “Stay still,” he says, draping the garment bag over my desk chair and placing the towel on my back, and begins gently cleaning me up. It’s hot. And wet. And feels good in the complete opposite way from the sex. It feels… I don’t know. Like he cares. Like he’s not just using me for sex. It feels that way, but it can’t possibly be that way. He’s Mr. Perfect, right? Perfect guys don’t fall for boring girls like me. “So tonight?” Mac asks, tossing the towel through the open connecting door into his office. “Tonight?” I repeat back as he helps me up. I look at the heap of clothing on the floor and realize I have to wear that to work today. “I’m going to need to go home and change.” “No, Ellie, you won’t.” Mac picks up the garment bag and gives it a shake. “I bought you something. It doesn’t exactly say casual Friday, but I liked it.” He shrugs like he’s apologizing. I take the bag he’s offering, drape it over the chair again, then pull the zipper down to reveal a blush-pink dress. It isn’t until I take it out that I realize what I’m holding. “Is this… Yes. Oh, my God. How much did you pay for this?” “Eloise,” Mac says, tucking his shirt back into his pants and running his fingertips through his hair. “It’s not polite to ask.” He leans down and kisses me on the cheek. “Does Saturday have an outfit?” Holy shit. “Um, no. I stay home on Saturdays.” “Not this weekend you won’t,” Mac says. “I’ve got plans and they start tonight.” Wait. Eerrrrrrrrrt. That’s me stomping on the brakes. A weekend with him? Three days ago I didn’t even know he existed. I realize I’ve had sex with him twice and had some almost-sex two other times, so I do, in fact, appear to be a slutty whore. But I’m not a slutty whore. And while all this has been fun, I’m leaving this job in twelve days and all these office shenanigans will stop. He’s probably going to give this office to someone else. And then that girl will have all the perks I am currently beginning to enjoy. “Um, Mac,” I say, blinking up at him with a smile. “Normally I do stay home on Saturday and just hang out in shorts and stuff. But this weekend I’m going away. I’m sorry.” His brows furrow so deep, they might actually meet at the bridge of his nose. “With who?” “Well, not that it’s really your business, and I do realize that we’ve had some fun, so an explanation is necessary, but it’s confidential. You understand, right?” “It’s Andrew Manco, isn’t it? I could tell he liked you when he called me the other day.” Andrew? That’s actually a pretty good idea. “I can’t say one way or another. I’m sorry. I signed agreements, you know? Confidentiality things.” “He’s so young, Ellie,” Mac says. “How old is he? Nineteen?”

I laugh. “He’s not nineteen. He’s like, twenty-two.” Mac’s deep brow furrows are back. “You’re going out with him this weekend?” “I can’t say, Mac. Really, I’m sorry.” “You’re going to his home? You’ll be gone all weekend?” “Mac,” I say, taking the absolutely gorgeous dress out of the garment bag. I know how much this dress costs. Thousands of dollars. And he just purchased it for me so he could get his way this morning and not come out of it looking like a pig. “I’m just not comfortable discussing Andrew with you, OK? I know we’ve had had this whirlwind thing going this week, but three days, OK? Three days is not a relationship. And I’m quitting—” Mac hold up a hand to stop me. “I understand all that, and you’re right, you’re definitely a… a whirlwind.” He straightens his jacket and then nods. “So I’ll leave you to it. Have a nice weekend, Eloise. I hope you have a good time.” He forces a weak smile as he walks back into his office and closes our connecting door. I don’t know what to think about any of that. Or this dress. It’s such a pretty shade of blush pink. And it’s got tags on it. I don’t mind spending a hundred dollars on a dress, but two thousand? Nope. Never happening. I bet even if I found this dress in a thrift store five years from now it would still be marked out of my budget. One problem. I don’t have a bra. I was wearing a cami today. Fridays are casual, which means no poky wire under my tits for one whole workday. I slip the dress on anyway—what choice do I have—and realize I have another problem as well. It’s got a back zip. Fuck. The connecting door opens again and Mac is there mouth open like he’s going to ask me something. But instead all he says is, “Oh, hell.” He closes the door and disappears. I smile. Because that was definitely a good, Oh, hell. I walk over trying to stop grinning like an idiot and open the door back up. “It’s got a zip, Mac. Can you help me?” He’s got his hand in his hair like he was just running his fingers through it. “Uh, sure.” I bite my lip as I turn and pull my hair away from my back. The zip is resting on the small of my back, and as soon as his fingers touch my skin, I get a prickle of excitement. He pulls the zipper closed slowly and then stops right as it reaches the widest part of my back. I have a moment of panic that the dress won’t fit, but he adjusts the fabric and finishes. I look over my shoulder and smile. “It’s a double zip. So the bottom part unzips upward.” Right between my thighs, I don’t add. “Can you do that part too?” He squints his blue eyes at me, then his gaze falls down the length of my backside. It’s a pencil dress, I realize. And it’s hugging my shape like a glove. “No,” Mac says. “Excuse me?” I laugh. He’s shaking his head. “No. This is the wrong dress for work. Is Andrew picking you up from work?” “I told you I can’t talk about it.” “Well, that zipper was not meant to be revealing, Eloise. It’s a decoration only.” “I don’t think so, Mac. I think it’s so I can move my legs.” I shimmy forward and the dress does its best to keep my knees tightly together. “If this was a night out I could see it. It’s sexy, right? The way I have to take these small steps. But at work, Mac? Do you really want me to be squirming around the office today wiggling my hips with every step?” He looks conflicted as he scratches his chin and studies the dilemma. “It’s either unzip me a little or have me wiggle all day. Your choice.”

He unzips just enough to release the tight fabric from my knees. “Thank you,” I say. “And this was fun. So thanks for that too.” I walk back into my office and he follows, leaning against the doorjamb. He frowns at me. “What time will you be home Sunday?” I pause for a moment, wondering how far I should let this ruse go, but before I can answer, he says, “You are coming home Sunday? You’ll be here for pencil skirt and button-down shirt Monday?” “Are you planning on ripping my clothes off me again on Monday?” “I’m not sure, Ellie. Is this thing with Andrew serious?” Wow. I think he might be jealous. Of a kid! Whom I would never, ever date. I think of Andrew as a little brother. “We’re friends,” I say. “And I care about him a lot.” Which is true. He’s one of my case studies in the book, so I’m invested in his success. “OK.” Mac sighs. “Well, I’ll call the caterers and have them come take the breakfast cart away.” “Caterers? I thought this stuff came from the cafeteria?” “No,” Mac says with a smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. I think he’s disappointed that I ruined his weekend plans. “What kind of guy would I be if I didn’t go all out for you?” “Well,” I say. “I don’t know what to think about all this, Mac. I’m going to be honest. So it’s a good thing we’re not going out this weekend. It’s too much, too fast.” “Got it,” Mac says. “If you don’t want to be here when they come clean up, you can go and come back later. Have a great weekend, Ellie. I’ll talk to you next week.” This time when he closes the door I know he’s not coming back. My heart has a little ache in it. Like I should call after him. Fess up and just be honest. But I don’t. Because I need to think about all this before things get too far and I can’t turn back.

Chapter Nineteen - Mac

This is the longest weekend of my life. First of all, Friday sucked. Sucked with a capital S. The dress I gave Ellie looked like it was painted on. Note to self. Next time I buy her a replacement outfit for work, make it the shapeless trousers she came in wearing. Oh, that dress was a fabulous idea if she decided to spend the weekend with me. I was going to fake our way through a few more hours at work and then whisk her off to dinner, a show downtown, and then back to my place for a weekend of dirty sex, room-service breakfasts, and elegant restaurants at night. Clearly, I am as delusional as she is. Which brings me back to Heath’s phone. I cannot stop reading her messages. Look at this nursery. If we have a boy his room will be pale blue like this. It came with seven attached pictures of a nursery filled with everything a baby might want, complete with Baby Boy Ellie and Heath combination Photoshopped in. The girl’s nursery was light pink and yellow, and yes, she had a stand-in Heath-and-Ellie baby for those pictures too. She can’t really have been serious about Heath. He’s such a fuckup. And even when she was messaging him normal stuff, before he got sent to China two months ago and she went off the delusional Mr. Perfect deep end, he did not show even the slightest interest in Ellie. Not like that, anyway. His messages were all business. Can you get so-and-so on such-and-such show? Can they fly in Wednesday instead of Thursday? Can you be in the meeting I have with my father to explain what we’re doing with the airport budget? Not even once did he thank her. And sure, it’s possible he could’ve thanked her in person, but knowing Heath the way I do, he didn’t. And the goddamned puppies. Old English Sheepdogs. It’s like every kid’s dream dog. No one gets a sheepdog. They have all that hair, they’re big, they need… sheep. Or something. Farms. Lots of care requirements for sheepdogs. But Ellie has her heart set on one. I check the clock on my phone again. Eight. Sunday night. Is she home yet? I don’t want to call. I really don’t want to call her. It’s so fucking pathetic. I tab my contacts and slide down to Nolan’s face, then press it. It rings twice and goes to voicemail. Figures. I end the call, but just as quick as I do that, it rings back. “Hey,” I say to Nol. “What’s up, Perfect?” He sounds beat. No doubt trying to recover from some crazy weekend. “Um,” I say. Why did I call? Advice? From Nolan Delaney? Please. He might have had more girls in one week than I’ve had the whole last year, but Mr. Romantic he is not. He got that nickname back in college when the press had to call us something and the gag order prevented anyone from using our real names.

“Girl problems?” “No. Asshole. Why do you ask that?” “Dude, you always call when you’ve got girl problems. And I always tell you the same thing. Just ignore them, man. That’s the ticket to catching that elusive fish. You gotta ignore them and they come running.” “That never works, Nol.” “Works for me every time, Mac. You’re doing it wrong. You gotta be firm. Be pissed off.” “Pissed off over what?” “Whatever it is she’s doing that’s got you calling me, dumbass. What did she do?” “I didn’t call for a girl, Nol. I just wanted to see what you were up to.” “Right,” he mumbles, then sounds like he’s taking a long drink of something. Probably whiskey. “Well, I’m in Vegas.” “Figures. You get lucky?” He laughs. “With girls or with gambling?” “Whichever.” “Well, I didn’t get lucky with either because I’m here on business. You ever hear of Andrew Manco?” “Why?” I growl, instantly pissed off at the mention of that jerk’s name. “Oh, he’s got this fucking fabulous piece of tech, right? He was on one of your shows last week —” Yeah. That’s why he was here. Asshole. “—and he was demonstrating this virtual reality vacation thing. Amazing, dude. Just amazing. So I got the new club slash resort going up out near Borrego Springs and I was thinking of putting in one of his systems.” “Like virtual sex?” I can’t even imagine what he is talking about. “No, but that’s a great fucking idea. I’m gonna ask him about it the next time I see him.” “You know him?” “Oh, I guess. I saw him Friday night. Here in Vegas.” “Vegas. That fucker took her to Vegas?” “Took who?” “Ellie. The girl I’m calling about.” “I knew you were calling about a girl. Dumbass. She’s dating Andrew Manco? How old is she? He’s kinda young, right? Got that whole college start-up thing going these days.” “Right? And she’s twenty-seven.” “Cougar action. Huh.” “Did you see her? She’s medium height, cute as fuck, shoulder-length blonde hair, and she might’ve been wearing a very tight pink pencil dress that I bought her.” “Nah, he was alone on Friday. I didn’t talk to him Saturday or Sunday, too many people around his booth—” “What booth?” “At the tech convention. He was keynote and they had this great demo afterward. Don’t you watch your own shows? That’s why he was on last week. Big tech convo in Vegas. All the latest shit. And I swear, I’m putting in an order for that VR setup on Monday. I got big plans, Mac. Big, big plans. Hey, you know anyone who might be a good candidate to manage a new place in the desert? My main chick just quit. Says I’m, quote, ‘Incorrigible, have ineradicably deviant sexual tendencies, and a personality akin to American Psycho.’ Unquote. Bitch. She should meet Mr. Mysterious. Then she’d really know what all those fancy words mean. Don’t ever have an office fling, Mac. They always fuck you over in

the end.” Jesus. Why did I call him? Who the hell would take girl advice from Nolan Delaney? “Who would I know?” I say, ignoring his weird outburst about sexual tendencies as well as his ‘advice’. “I’ve been out of the loop for ten years. Call Mr. Corporate.” “Yeah, I’m gonna have to, I think. I haven’t talked to him in over a year, but he’s got all the connections I need right now. Mr. Fucking Corporate.” “So no Ellie, huh? Not even hanging around the periphery?” “Nah, no girls in his booth. Just nerdy tech guys. And definitely no hot little blondes hanging near the virtual reality shit.” “Hmmm.” “Was she supposed to be there?” “Yeah.” I sigh. “OK, well, it was great catching up. I’ll talk to you soon. And good luck with the… whatever it is.” “Sure. And remember, ignore the fuck out of her. It gets them every time.” “Right.” “Later, man.” I tab end and then look down at the phone. Should I call and ask her what the hell? Clearly she was not with Andrew this weekend. On the other hand, she never actually said she was going with him. She evaded the questions like a pro. No. I’m not calling her. She blew me off. One hundred percent blew me off. Was I a dick? Did I insult her with the sex? It was fun, right? Maybe that’s all it was. Just a quickie before she quits. Just something safe. Something she can walk away from in a week and never look back. Maybe Nol is right. Maybe she’s not interested. Maybe I need to ignore her. Maybe I need to cut her loose before she cuts me. Maybe I need to cut this whole goddamned company loose before I get lost in some life-sucking corporate existence like the rest of my friends. I open the message stream she’s been sending to Heath and shake my head. She seemed so nice. So damn cute. A perfect change from the women I occasionally date. But I guess it’s fake. I guess she’s nothing but a fake.

Chapter Twenty - Ellie

I have never so looked forward to a Monday morning like I did this one. All weekend I thought about Mac. What’s he doing? Did he take someone else out after I said no? Take them to dinner? Fuck them afterward? Probably. And why not? He offered the good times to me and I said no. I have no excuse to be mad if he did. I won’t be mad. I won’t. I look at myself in the rear-view mirror as I check my lipstick and make a face. I will be mad. There’s no way I won’t be mad. I don’t care how stupid it is, he’s gotten under my skin. I literally know nothing about this guy except he sure can fuck—and his dick feels nice. Hell, his tongue feels nice too. And his touch. Focus, Ellie. I know nothing about him but that. And I’ve worked here for seven years and he never once came to the company. Why? It’s not like I just missed him or he came in secretly. Not like he’s some kind of hands-off, behindthe-scenes kind of executive. No. I’ve been out on that tarmac every day of those seven years and he’s never gotten off a jet. I’ve never even seen that jet. What kind of money do the Stonewalls really have? Scary amounts, that much is sure. I guess he could’ve driven. But Mr. Stonewall Senior never drives. It’s nothing but jets for that family. Heath lived locally, so he only took the jet when he had to do business out of town. And why isn’t Mac on the internet when I search? Stonewall Senior is famous. Hell, there’s a ton of stuff about Heath online as well. They have a sister, Camille, and she’s not as visible as Heath, but there’s lots of society photos of her in ball gowns hanging on the arms of various bachelors at charity events. There’s just something off about a man from a famous family not having an online presence. Something strange. Like he’s hiding. What is he hiding from? That’s my mission this week, I decide as I grab my purse, get out of the car, and close the door. I’m going to figure out what’s up with his past. It feels weird to walk into the Atrium this morning. Last week I parked out by the airport and went into my old office to see Ming in the mornings. But today I parked in the main parking lot. It’s not because of Mac, I tell myself. It’s not. But as soon as I walk through the door and into the seven-story building, I find myself looking up. All the way up to the top floor. I don’t see the multi-colored picnic tables filled with people leaning over laptops and chatting over coffee with co-workers. Or the six-story waterfall surrounded by palm trees. Or the monstrous slides twisting their way down the center of the lobby. Just the tippy top of this world where Mac exists. I get in one of the glass-walled elevators and take in the scenery as we ascend. I’ve never paid much attention to the building while on the elevator

before. Usually when I come up here it’s for a meeting I’d rather not be at. But now… this is my new world. Well, for another week, anyway. I’m still quitting. But it’s nice while it lasts. I really have to hand it to Stonewall Senior. He made Stonewall Entertainment a very nice place to work. And even though I didn’t enjoy many of the perks over the years since I was out at the airport, I appreciate the fact that he went to so much trouble to make work pleasant for his employees. I probably could've walked up faster, that’s how long it takes to stop at every floor, but then I’d be all sweaty and out of breath when I saw Mac. So I stand patiently as people get on and off, and when we finally do reach the seventh floor, it’s just me getting off. I smile at Stephanie as I approach the corner offices and she nods as she talks on the phone. Mac’s door is closed, but mine isn’t. So that’s where I go. My office is bright and cheery. I absolutely love it. It’s so me. How did he know what style furniture I like? The white writing desk has an antique finish that complements the shabby chic feel of the place. I drop my purse on the desk and sink into the leather chair. It’s not as big as Mac’s, but it’s far better suited to a woman and this office. And it feels wonderful on my back. I have to shake my head a little as I picture my old office down at the airport. The metal desk, the creaky chair. I never spent much time down there because it just wasn’t a place you wanted to be. Walking guests around campus was better than being in that depressing space all day. A knock at my door pulls me back to attention and my heart flutters for a moment as I call out a cheery, “Come in!” Mac opens the door connecting our office, walks in, closes it, and then takes a seat in one of the two chairs in front of my desk. He crosses a foot over his knee and leans back, looking a little blasé and cool as he folds his hands in his lap. And even though I’m the one sitting behind the desk and he is the one sitting in front of it, I suddenly feel like I’ve been called to the principal’s office. “Um,” I say. “Is everything OK?” He smiles, but it’s not the charming smile I’ve come to expect from Mac. “How was your weekend?” he asks. “It was nice,” I say, immediately suspicious. “How was yours?” “Oh,” he says, picking a piece of lint off his light gray suit and then smoothing the fabric with a brushing motion. “Slightly boring.” I’m relieved. “So you didn’t take anyone else out in my place?” I ask, hinting around for answers. “No,” he says. “Nope. Sure didn’t. Just sat at home in my apartment. Looking out the window. Talked to an old friend last night though. That was enlightening.” “Oh,” I say, getting another very weird vibe from him. “Did you learn something new?” His silence is making me uncomfortable. It’s making me feel like I did something wrong. “I did. In fact, my friend said he was in Vegas this weekend. Were you in Vegas this weekend, Ellie?” I shake my head with a smile. “Nope. I sure wasn’t.” “Well, that’s interesting. Because my friend said he saw Andrew Manco there demonstrating some tech thing at a conference.” Shit. “Mac, I never said—” “I realize that,” he interrupts. “I absolutely realize that, Ellie. You never said it, you never confirmed it, I was the one who made up the weekend with Andrew. So not that I give a fuck anymore, but who were you with this weekend?” Not that I give a fuck anymore? What the hell is that? His tone has turned hostile and I squirm in my chair a little. “I wasn’t with anyone. I was just at home alone.”

“So you lied to me.” His manner is clipped and quick. “I didn’t—” “You did,” he says, almost growling the words. “And you know what, Ellie? Whatever the reason was that you didn’t want to see me this weekend, I would’ve been OK with it if it had been the truth. But I can’t deal with liars. I’ve had a lot of experience with lies in my life and I don’t put up with it. Not even small ones. So whatever your reason was for lying to me, I don’t care. I’m only in your office to give you this.” He reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out a small gift wrapped in white paper and tied up with a pink satin ribbon. He places it on the desk and pushes it away from him with one finger. Like it’s toxic and he doesn’t want to touch it. “Do whatever you want with it,” Mac says. “I’m done.” He gets up, buttons his suit coat, walks through the connecting door, and then looks over his shoulder at me and says, “I want every business contact you have on that computer before you leave at the end of the day. And before this week is over, you will have brought Jennifer up to speed on your schedule and how you run things so that next week you can introduce her to all our past, present, and future guests as the most competent person to take over your job. I wish you much success, Miss Hatcher. Perhaps we’ll see each other again, but I doubt it.” He pulls the door closed behind him and there’s the tell-tale sound of a deadbolt lock clicking into place. A deadbolt that was not even there last week. I just stare at that door. For whole minutes. Wondering just what the hell happened. He’s mad at me for telling him the equivalent of, “I can’t go out because I have to wash my hair?” Seriously? I’m not the one who made up that story about Andrew. He was. I didn’t confirm or deny. So how is it my fault that he conjured up some non-existent sexy weekend between Andrew and me? I can’t even. And what the hell is this gift he left? I pick it up. The box is small. Only a little larger than a deck of cards. I pull on the pink satin ribbon and it falls apart, then carefully unwrap the thick white paper and remove the lid off the box. Inside is a phone. With a sticky note on it that says, You need professional help. My jaw drops as I flick the screen to life and realize it’s Heath’s phone. My delusional message stream with Heath is open when it comes to life. All the things that never happened between us are on display. The dream house, the fake interior design, the babies I imagined us having, the puppy I envisioned romping around our suburban farm, the Pinterest board links and screenshots. All of it. I click the links to the Pinterest board for my office gossip stuff just to see if he did have access, and nope. It says page not found. So who the hell is he to lecture me about lying when he used that lie to blackmail me last week? I am fuming mad. But there is no way I will even give him the satisfaction of trying to explain my point of view. Fuck him. Just fuck him.

Chapter Twenty-One - Ellie

I have a ton of guests on Mondays, so I am out of my office the entire day flitting back and forth between the airport and the studios with them as I try to do my job to the best of my ability after having McAllister Stonewall literally fuck me in the ass and hand me my walking papers. I’m so humiliated. Again. By the time I get back to my office on the seventh floor of the Atrium, it’s past six and I still have to transfer my contacts into the new office computer before I leave. There is no way I’m going to give McAllister Stonewall the satisfaction of reaming me a new one tomorrow morning as well. No way. The next morning Mr. Stonewall’s office door is open and the lights are still off when I get in. I have one hour to talk with Jennifer about my duties before I have to be back at the tarmac for guests, so I set my things down and go looking for her. “Knock, knock,” I say at her open door. She’s busy shuffling papers and squinting at her laptop screen. “Oh, hi, Ellie!” she says brightly. “What’s up?” “Well, Mr. Stonewall wants me to go over all my job duties with you this week. It’s pretty busy, but I have about an hour right now to get started if you have time?” “Oh, sure. My stuff can wait.” She pushes back from her desk and walks over to me. “Let’s go.” We walk back to my corner of the floor in silence. I am acutely aware of everyone looking at me. Did Mac tell them something? Did he tell them we were… screwing around last week? Or maybe they are still picturing me as I ran out of the conference room last Wednesday screaming the word ‘tampon?’ Jesus Christ. Get me out of here. Jennifer closes my office door behind her once we get there and I take a seat at my desk, pointing to the chair in front. “You can bring that around so you can see what I’m doing if you want.” Jennifer smiles as she drags the pretty chair around to my side, then takes a seat and crosses her legs. “I’m sorry, you know.” “Sorry for what?” I ask, trying to concentrate on bringing up my scheduling program on my laptop. “Whatever he did. I mean, it was pretty obvious that the two of you hit it off last week and now it’s pretty obvious that he’s not speaking to you. So I’m sorry. Office romances, right? It’s difficult. Especially when you’re dating your boss.” “Oh,” I say, trying to sound nonchalant. “We weren’t dating.” “Well,” Jennifer says. “OK. But you were doing something. Ellen told me she caught you two in the stairs right after your completely hilarious exit from the meeting. I have to say, Ellie, that was epic. Best scene ever in all my twenty years in Corporate America.” Jennifer laughs, and I don’t think it’s a making-fun laugh either. I think she really did get a kick out of my meltdown. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

“I hear you wrote a book?” Jennifer says. “Let’s just try to concentrate on work, OK, Jennifer?” I smile at her, but it’s forced. I want to rip her hair out right now. “Sorry,” Jennifer says. “I’m not trying to be mean. I had a few office affairs in my time as well. In fact, Joe and I got married last year.” “Joe? Joe Fuller in accounting?” I’ve seen them together a lot, and I figured it was another one of her flings. But married? “Yeah, he’s not as flashy as Doug over in Studio Eleven production, but he’s perfect for me. And I guess that’s all that matters.” I stare at my screen, quiet for a few seconds. “Everyone knows?” I ask, looking over at her. She nods with a sympathetic smile. “Everyone. It was pretty apparent that you two had chemistry. And for what it’s worth, I think everyone feels bad that it didn’t last.” She huffs out a small laugh. “Well, except Ellen, I think. She’s got some grand delusion that she and McAllister Stonewall are meant to be together.” “Ellen?” I roll my eyes. She’s like ten years older than him. “Just ignore her.” Jennifer places a hand on my shoulder. “And don’t tell her any details. I’ve been working with her for many years and she’s a conniving bitch. She will spread rumors faster than you can blink. She outed me once too. But that was with Joe, and we were already engaged, so no one cared. Besides, Joe and I are in completely different departments.” “Yeah,” I say. “How did I not know any of this?” Jennifer shrugs. “You’ve been down at the airport for what? Seven years? How would you know anything?” “True. I have to admit, I kind of like it up here. It’s nice to be around people. In all the hustle and bustle.” “Sucks that you’re leaving. You could always change your mind, you know. Even if McAllister doesn’t want you here, Stonewall Senior will.” “No,” I say, sighing out the word. “I did write a book and I’m going to publish it one of these days. That’s why I’m leaving. I just need to move on, you know? I’ve been here since college. It’s time.” “Well, I don’t want your job, Ellie. Mr. Stonewall told me to fill in for you, but I honestly don’t know how I can. I have my job too. And maybe it’s not as exciting as what you do, but I like it. I’m used to it. And I’m good at it. I’m going to mess up everything when you leave.” “No, you won’t,” I say, smiling. “I’ll show you everything. And if you have time this week, I’ll even let you come with me.” “That would be great,” Jennifer says. “I’ll make some time.” Jennifer does accompany me, and I do get all the scheduling information to her before the week is over. But even though I’ve accomplished everything Mac told me to this week, I feel let down. It’s Friday morning and this is the first day Mac even came into the office. I can hear him talking on the phone in his office right now. It’s killing me. I want nothing more than to burst in there and tell him off. In fact, I’ve envisioned it all week. I picture myself walking in there, slamming that connecting door, and just laying into him. And then I completely lose touch with reality, because I picture him pushing me up against a wall and kissing me as his hand slips up my dress. Yes. I wore a dress today even though it’s casual Friday. The dress, in fact. The two-thousand-dollar Victoria Beckham pencil dress.

And I didn’t unzip the bottom. On purpose. I want to parade my wiggling ass around in front of him and drive him crazy. Make him wish he’d never talked to me that way. Make him beg me to take him back. Jesus Christ. Why am I so delusional? I look down at my desk and frown at the two phones laid out there. I’ve been dragging Heath’s phone around with me all week, unable to erase the stuff I put in there. Unable to even open up the messages and look at all the stupid, stupid things I wrote. Unable to let go of that dream. Mac thinks I’m crazy. You need professional help. What an asshole. That really hurt. It was a harmless fantasy. And no one was supposed to see those messages. If a message says undelivered, then how the hell was I supposed to figure that they’d all send in a giant batch once the phone was turned back on? It’s not my fault McAllister Stonewall stumbled into my fantasy uninvited. A sharp knock on the connecting door startles me back to reality. I stand up and say, “Come in,” in a commanding voice. Good. I want to have my say and that bastard… opens the door and walks in looking like he just finished a fashion shoot for a men’s magazine cover. “Jennifer says you’ve been—” “Just hold on there, Mr. Not-So-Perfect,” I yell, putting up a hand and walking around the desk. The baby steps I have to take in this tight pencil dress kind of make my flash of anger less effective, but I swallow hard and lift my head, determined to stand up for myself. “You got to say all the things to me on Monday, and now it’s my turn to say…” My words trail off because he’s looking me up and down like he might eat me alive. I wait for his gaze to return to my face. His cerulean-blue eyes have me in their grip and I’m suddenly chilled. My nipples perk to attention in the wake of his stare. He does not miss this. “Your turn to say what, Miss Hatcher?” I clear my throat and take a deep breath. “It’s not fair. Nothing you did or said to me on Monday was fair!” “Why are you yelling?” he asks calmly. “I’m not yelling,” I practically yell. “But I’m angry, so I’m glad you think I am. Because you should.” “I should?” he asks. Jesus. I sound like an idiot. “You accused me of being what? Unstable? Just because I have a healthy fantasy life? A creative imagination? A—” “Grand delusion about my brother?” he adds in, his voice rising now as well. “I’m not sick and I don’t need professional help! You’re the one who’s sick! You have no fantasy life beyond fucking your subordinate at work! You’re boring. Too boring for me, that’s for sure. You can’t even appreciate a dream. In fact, I feel sorry for you. Sucks to be you. So glad I’m not you!” “Well,” he says, walking over towards me. I step back, unsure what he’s doing. But he passes by me and then slips behind my desk and takes a seat. In my chair. My fucking chair! “Then I apologize about the insult. I should’ve been more professional about it.” “Why are you sitting in my chair?” “Why not? Does it bother you?” “Well, yes. Yes it does. This is my office.” “I purchased this entire office for you.”

“For me, right!” I’m still yelling. I bet Stephanie and the whole seventh floor can hear us in here. Well, me, at the very least. Ellie’s in there making another scene, they’re probably saying. “And I wanted to take you out last weekend but you said no.” “You were moving way too fast. Is it my fault I wanted space and you didn’t?” “Then why lie?” He leans back in my chair, one elbow resting on the armrest, the other hand scratching his perfectly chiseled and slightly stubbled jaw. Good God, he’s handsome. “I did not lie.” “You led me to believe something.” “So?” “So I don’t like it.” He doesn’t yell, but it’s loud and it’s commanding. “And I have very good reasons for not liking it. Did you really think, after all this”—he waves to the office and then to the dress—“that I’d be a dick about you wanting to slow down?” “Yeah,” I say. “I did.” “That’s because you don’t know me.” “That’s because you never told me anything about you!” “I’m a private person, Miss Hatcher. I don’t dream up fantasies and then dole out tidbits of my personal life to almost strangers who have no interest like you do.” “I hate you,” I snap. “That was a low blow.” “Really? So you didn’t spill your fantasies to Heath’s phone? I just imagined that?” “He was never supposed to see them!” “Then why send them?” “It was like…” Fuck. “It was just a fun way to… shit, I don’t know. But I shouldn’t have to explain it. All that stuff was my private thoughts and you read them! It’s like… it’s like reading a person’s diary!”

Chapter Twenty-Two - Mac

She’s right. I take a deep breath and say it out loud. “You’re right.” “I’m… right?” she asks, unsure of herself. “Yes, you’re right. And I’m sorry. But I was pissed off when I finally figured out that you’d rather stay home all weekend alone than let me take you out on a nice date.” “I just needed things to slow down, Mac. That’s all.” “Then why lie?” “I didn’t…” But she stops. Because she did. “I’m sorry then. I wanted to go out on the date but I felt bulldozed. You know?” I look her up and down in that dress and shake my head. “You don’t? Why not?” But that’s not what I mean and she figures that out pretty fast. That fingernail she likes to chew comes up to her perfect lips and she shifts her feet, which makes her hips wiggle. “Come here,” I say, sliding her laptop to the side and scooting her chair back to give her room. “Come here and bend over the desk.” “Mac,” she says sharply. “We had a whole week of space, Ellie, and I’ve had enough of it. Come here, right now, and bend over this fucking desk.” She inches forward, her knees practically glued together in that dress, and stands in front of me. I twirl my finger in the air and say, “Turn around and bend over.” Ellie closes her eyes and lets out a long breath of air. She stays still for two seconds, then turns around, places her palms flat on the desk, and bends forward at the waist, resting her cheek on the wooden surface. He ass is fucking spectacular and my hands can’t control themselves. I place both palms on each of her cheeks and rub her until she lets out a small moan. “We’re a thing now, Ellie. OK? Can you deal?” “OK,” she whispers. “We’re together, we’re going away this weekend, and fuck that five-date limit. I’m going to have my way with you right here, right now.” She sucks in a small sip of air as I unzip her dress from the bottom up, slowly revealing the back of her knees, then her thighs, then her ass. She’s wearing white mesh panties and her pink pussy is peeking right through them. This is exactly what I pictured when I bought this dress last week. My fantasy of Eloise Hatcher might not be up to her level of dreaming, but this is it. Exactly. I move her panties aside and slip my finger up to her folds, tracing my way around her entrance as my dick grows and my heart races. “Tell me,” I say. “I like to hear it.” I’d like to watch her say it too, but her hair is covering her face. That’s something going on my fantasy list. I want to watch her mouth talk dirty to me as I finger the fuck out of her pussy. “Put your finger inside me,” she whispers. “Far,” she adds. It’s enough. For now. I twist my hand a little so I can play with her g-spot as I ease in. She buckles her back and I get a tiny glimpse of her pink mouth as she moans, “Oh!”

“Now what?” I ask. I want to keep her talking. I don’t want her to stop. “Stand up,” she says. I smile, but push the chair back and stand. “Push your hips up to my ass.” Oh, yeah. This is nice. I smile wide as I force my hips into her ass, grinding my dick against her curves. My finger slips out of her pussy and she says, “No,” but I reach around her front and slip it back in to quiet her protest. “You like this, Ellie? You like it when I stick my fingers in your pussy?” “Mmmm-hmmm,” she says. “I missed you this week.” Awww. Fuck. I lean down on her back and ease my knee between her legs. “Ellie,” I breathe into her neck, trying my best not to bite her ear. “I was miserable all week. I came to work today hoping we could try again. And I’m sorry I was a dick.” “Fuck me,” she says. “Fuck me and make it all better.” “Yes, ma’am.” I chuckle. I stand back up and reach in to my pocket for the little foil condom packet. She looks over her shoulder at me when I rip it open and I say, “Not my brother ’s this time.” She grins and then closes her eyes. “You came prepared?” “I came hoping, Ellie. That’s all.” I slip the condom on and grab her by the hips, then ease back and hook my fingers around her panties, dragging them down her thighs until they come to a rest around her knees. “Open your legs,” I say, placing a hand on her back and pushing her into the desk. She obeys, her legs opening until her panties are stretched to their maximum and she can’t go any further. I look down and take a mental picture. I’m going to jerk off later thinking about how she looks. My free hand makes a fist around my cock and I press it against her pussy, flicking it back and forth to tease the wetness out and make me slick. And then I push into her. Hard. She gasps, her head coming up off the desk, but I grab her hair and force her down again. I lean into her back, bite her shoulder, then whisper in her ear. “I’m going to fuck the shit out of you, Eloise.” “Please,” she whimpers. “Do it. Hard. I want it hard this time. Make me feel it. Make me remember it.” I stand up straight, then thrust inside her, the full length of my cock disappearing as I look down and watch. Her lips part, and the slick wetness pools against the side of my shaft. “Harder,” she begs. “Harder.” Her wish is granted. I thrust again, then again. And each time, she lets out a moan. And each moan gets louder and more uninhibited. I know they can hear us outside this office, but I don’t care. I push her dress out of the way and grab her hips, forcing her back against me, forcing my dick deeper and deeper inside her, until the impact of our skin-on-skin contact makes a slapping sound that echoes off the walls of her office. We come together. And it’s sweet, and thrilling, and erotic as fuck. She doesn’t scream—not exactly. But it’s close. And I smile. She might be leaving next week, but she’s not getting away. I collapse on top of her back and kiss her neck. “You’re leaving early today, Miss Hatcher. I require your attendance down on the tarmac in twenty minutes.” I step back and rip the condom off as I walk into my office. “Don’t keep me waiting.”

Chapter Twenty-Three - Ellie

Don’t keep me waiting. Is that hot? Or not? I can’t tell. McAllister Stonewall certainly has an air of superiority about him. I’m sure it comes with the territory. Billionaire’s son, trust fund, accountable to no one. But he did apologize and he did admit he was wrong. That counts for something. I’m not sure what yet. But something. All week I’ve been thinking about him. But why? It’s not the money. I’m not rich by any means, but I’m not poor either. I’m a saver. I live in a Tech Center apartment to save gas on a long commute and because it’s kind of a dead area. A place to work, not to live. So the apartments are new, nice, and affordable. And I really do believe in my book. I believe in my new career. I know that my life forward involves intimate one-on-one meetings with people who need guidance. My degree might be in communications, but I minored in psychology, and I’ve had enough people tell me my words make a difference to them to believe in myself. I think leaving is a good idea. I think I’ll be successful. No. Mac’s money is not the source of the nagging desire that’s been floating around inside me all week. It’s certainly got something to do with his good looks. He’s taller than Heath. Not by much, but it’s noticeable. And while his blond hair is technically short, it’s long in all the right places. Enough to give it that messy look that drives women wild. The just-rolled-out-of-bed look. The just-ran-myfingers-through-it look. The just-lie-back-and-enjoy-it look. But no. It’s not the way he looks. That’s not what’s got my attention. I do like his bossiness. Which walks that fine line just between rude and fuck-hot. It’s definitely a contributor. I guess it’s all of that put together that makes him seem so… perfect. Maybe too perfect? The thing that really nags at me though—the thing that has been nagging at me since the day I first looked at him a little closer—is this missing past business. There’s something wrong with that. Like he was erased. How powerful does one have to be to erase themselves from the internet? It can’t be done even if it appears it has been done. The power, I realize. I like his power. I like the way he talks to me. The way he assumes I will just obey his commands. The way he holds me still when I feel like things are spinning out of control. The way he pulls me close. Maybe this is just some stupid end-of-job fling. It probably is. But it’s fun. Like he said. It’s fun. I have to contort myself to get my dress straightened out. The zipper is almost impossible to reach and while I don’t need to pull it all the way down to my knees again—mission accomplished there—I do need it to cover my round ass. I chuckle a little at the thought. How I must have looked to Mac as I was bent over the desk, the dress unzipped to my waist, my white panties not enough to prevent him from getting a good look at the desire spilling out from between my legs.

Yes. It’s the power. He’s self-assured. He’s confident. He’s commanding. I like all of that. I shuffle through my large pink clutch until I come up with a compact and open it. Jesus. I looked well-fucked. My cheeks are rosy, my eye makeup is slightly smudged, my hair is messy, and my lipstick is gone. I suddenly have the desire to walk out of this office just the way I am. Let everyone see how this man affects me. Let them all know what’s been going on. “No, Ellie,” I say with a smile. “That will not do.” So I take a few moments to put myself back together, smooth my dress down with the palms of my hands, grab my clutch, and open my office door. A round of applause echoes throughout the seventh floor and I feel my whole body go hot. “Oh, shut up!” I say. But I’m smiling with satisfaction as I walk over to the elevator and press the call button. I guess I got my wish after all. Mac is waiting for me at the bottom of the airstairs when I make it over to the tarmac. “I texted you, didn’t you get it?” “I was in the train tunnel,” I say. “Sorry. Did I take too long?” “Twenty-seven minutes, Miss Hatcher. You made it just in time.” “Just in time?” I ask, having a hard time keeping my grin hidden from him as we turn towards the jet and walk up the stairs. “Just in time to avoid the punishment if you were late.” “Something tells me that might’ve been fun.” “Test me next time, and find out. The reason I texted was because we have a change of plans. My… father called and says Brutus is expecting us at his house this afternoon.” “Brutus? Why?” This can’t be good. “Senior wants that interview and he says we fucked it up, so we have to fix it. So we’re on our way to Santa Fe to talk Brutus into it.” “Oh, for the love of God. This will not be fun.” “Well, sometimes we all have to do things that aren’t fun. Brutus specifically asked for you, so if he reams you a new one for trying to kill him last week, you need to be good.” “Be good?” I sneer. “You ask like I’m some kind of ridiculous person!” “Ellie,” Mac says with eyebrows up and a crooked smile. “Please. You and I both know the level of crazy you’re capable of. So just be good.” Mac repeats this in his bossy authoritative tone. Which only gets my hackles up more. He’s known me a week and he thinks he understands my level of crazy. “Number one, Mac, I’m not ridiculous. I think we just agreed that you had no business inserting yourself into my fantasy life. Which is completely, one hundred percent healthy. It was harmless fun before you came along and tore my world apart.” “Tore your world—? Ellie, come on. I came to work, you sent me messages. I didn’t do anything other than react. But anyway, we can talk all that out later—” “Talk all what out later?” I’m genuinely confused. We just had makeup sex, right? What’s to talk about? “Because Stonewall Senior has heard rumors about us.” “No!” Aw, shit.

“Yes. He said he’s going to come into town to talk, so we need to be on our best behavior today and get this guy to agree to reschedule the interview.” How could things go so wrong in twenty-seven minutes?

Chapter Twenty-Four - Ellie

Mac is on the phone the entire two-hour ride down to Santa Fe while I sit in the seat across from him bored out of my mind. Typically, when I fly I take something with me. An e-reader and those noise-cancelling headphones. But I have my purse and nothing else, so I keep myself busy eating Life Savers and thumbing through an outdated People magazine that the flight attendant hands to me out of pity. Probably because Mac is so busy. And it isn’t even interesting busy, either. It’s a very boring one-sided conversation that I can’t make heads or tails of. It’s like he’s talking in code, purposefully making sure I can’t glean any information about the topic under discussion. I don’t understand why they have to sell Stonewall Entertainment. It’s so successful. I mean, I guess I don’t know all the inside numbers, but they certainly don’t spare any expense courting big names for interviews and appearances on the shows they care about most. Mac is still on the phone when we land, and only pauses long enough to point me to the door. We exit at a small airport with no jetway, just airstairs. So we walk across the tarmac, enter the terminal, and make our way out towards baggage claim where a man in a dark suit is waiting with a sign that says ‘Stonewall.’ Mac finally hangs up and starts chatting to the driver as I follow along like an afterthought. Why am I even here? Surely Brutus can’t want to see me after I caused him a life-threatening emergency last week. “OK,” Mac says, after we slide into the town car. “Here’s the plan. I don’t want you interacting with him so we’re going to go in there, you apologize profusely, and then I’ll take over and see if we can’t work out something for next month.” I have nothing but a sigh for that. “Ellie? Are you paying attention to me?” “Of course I’m paying attention. It’s not like I’ve been the one on the phone for the past two hours ignoring you.” “Sorry,” he says with a small smile. “I had to deal with some stuff with the sale. We have to plan it right so investors don’t cut and run at the first sign of movement.” “Why do you have to sell anyway?” I say. “I don’t get it.” “It’s complicated.” “Try me,” I sneer. “And stop treating me like this.” “Like what?” “Like I’m incapable of understanding details. I live details, Mac. I’ve been running these celebrity guests for seven years and this is the first time I’ve messed up since my first week on the job.” “I know, Ellie. It’s just this is a big interview. If we can get Brutus to show up after the first sale then it will let investors know we’re still in business.” “But if you’re not ‘still in business’”—I do little air quotes around that—“then why are you lying?” “We’re not lying, just holding our cards close.” I give up and turn to look out the window. “How far is this place?”

“Not far. He’s got some kind of compound inside the city, I guess. So listen,” he says, turning his body to me. “We’ll get back in time for dinner tonight. Where would you like to go?” “Dinner?” I ask, not looking at him. “I’m not sure I feel like dinner. I hate flying. It wears me out. I’ll probably just go home and sleep.” “No, Ellie. You won’t. We’re going out.” We’ll see about that, I think to myself. Why did I spend the entire week pining over him and now everything he says and does annoys me? “Ellie?” Mac asks sharply. “What?” I snap back. “Why are you tuning me out?” “I guess I’m just not capable of understanding the details,” I say with an uninterested sigh. “Listen,” he says, taking my arm and turning me towards him. “Sorry I was busy, but believe me, you’re not interested in the business I was dealing with. Trust me.” “Sure,” I say. “Whatever.” “Why are you so irritated with me?” “OK,” I say. “I’ll tell you. It’s because you drag me along on to this stupid meeting and then practically tell me to wait in the car while you do your business. It’s demeaning.” “Don’t take it so personally, Eloise. It’s just work. And I realize that I’m not the best example for separating work from personal life, but let’s give it a try today.” I’ve heard enough. “Fine.” “Good.” We pull up to some massive adobe wall with an equally intimidating iron gate at the front, and the driver rolls his window down and tells them who we are. The guard looks in, then waves for the other guard to open the gate for us. “Now, let’s just stick to the plan. Don’t engage him too much, OK? Just apologize, then I’ll ask you to go get me a drink or something—” “You’ll what?” “Ellie, are you listening to me?” “Oh, I’m hearing you perfectly. Go get you a drink,” I huff. “I’m not your personal assistant, Mac. In fact, this is actually my job, not yours. He asked for me, right?” “Yeah, but it’s the reason he asked that’s got me mad.” Oh, he did not just go there. “Why do you think he asked for me?” I snarl. “Because I’m cute and young?” “Exactly,” Mac says. “Oh!” But then the car comes to a stop in front of the house and Mac puts up a hand to silence me. “Just do it the way I planned and we’ll talk about it later.” The driver is opening Mac’s door before I can respond, so I take a deep breath, let my anger go, and then get out, more determined than ever that I will absolutely not do it his way. Brutus is my client. If he wants me to apologize for nearly killing him last week, I’m happy to do that. But I’m also happy to take care of all the details. This is my client, not Mac’s. Mac offers me his hand as I scoot over and get out on his side. I accept and let him get me to my feet, then I smooth down my dress and notice Mac giving me the stink eye. “Now what? You have a problem with the dress you bought me?” “It is a little low cut,” he says, rubbing his chin. “Maybe you can just wait in the car.” “I can’t even with you right now,” I say, pushing him out of the way. “Ellie,” he says, catching up with me. “Just listen, I didn’t say anything before, but—” “Miss Hatcher,” a booming voice says from the top of the stairs as we enter the imposing twostory foyer of the compound house. “My, my,” Brutus says. “You look lovely. I’m so happy you could

make it today. Mr. Stonewall insisted that you were too busy for me—” I give Mac another look. And if my eyes could shoot arrows, his eyes would have two of them sticking out of their orbits. “Did he? Well, he was mistaken, Mr. Brutus. I was happy to cancel my day to come here and apologize profusely for what happened last week. I’m so sorry. I knew better, but I had forgotten to leave my sandwich in the fridge in my office. I hope you’ll accept my apology.” Brutus makes his way down an elaborate stairway, practically caressing the wrought-iron railing, as he beams me a welcoming smile. He looks like a rock star. Typical in almost every way. Long brown hair that he has tucked behind his ears. Ripped jeans and a tight t-shirt that hugs his chest. He’s skinny though, so it doesn’t show much. Nothing like Mac’s muscles that push against the pale blue fabric of his dress shirt under his suit coat. Stop thinking about Mac, I chastise myself. I need to be professional because apparently Mac sees me as this ridiculous girl who can’t handle her own in business negotiations. I need to prove him wrong. I extend my hand to Brutus, but instead of shaking it, he grasps it lightly in his as he brings it up and touches his lips gently across my knuckles. “Well.” I smile, looking over at Mac with a smirk. “That was unexpected. I was under the impression that you didn’t want me at this meeting.” “Who told you that?” Brutus asks, not even bothering to look at Mac, who is sighing behind me. I can imagine him rolling his eyes. “Quite the opposite, in fact, Miss Hatcher. I wanted you here. Asked for you specifically. And can I just say, that dress—” His eyes practically eat me up. “Whoever that designer is, she made it with you in mind, I’m sure.” “Oh, thanks!” I say. “Mr. Stonewall said it might be a tad inappropriate, but I—” “What?” Brutus exclaims with a hand on his heart in mock surprise. “Mr. Stonewall should keep his opinions to himself or he might find I have a few of my own that you might be interested in.” Wait. “What?” I ask, confused. “He didn’t tell you about us?” Brutus looks over my shoulder at Mac. I turn and look too and Mac has a very strange look on his face. Not shame. Not surprise. Not even discomfort, like he should be, since it’s clear these two know each other and Mac never said anything. “Well, Mr. Stonewall and I go way back. Way back.” “Is that so?” I ask, looking between the two of them as they have some kind of silent standoff. “Well, color me surprised. He never mentioned it.” “No,” Brutus says, taking me by the arm and leading me farther into the house. “I didn’t imagine he would. It’s ancient history, I guess. A lifetime ago.” I let Brutus lead me, but I shoot a look over my shoulder to Mac and he’s fuming mad. I squint my eyebrows at him and mouth, What? Mac just shakes his head as he clenches his jaw in anger. I turn back to business. Whatever his problem is, it’s obviously not about the business part of this trip. “Would you like something to drink, Miss Hatcher?” Brutus asks, leading me into a room that overlooks the city. It’s set up high on a hill so the high adobe wall isn’t in the way. “Sure,” I say, taking a seat on the long black leather couch. His décor isn’t my taste. It’s certainly screams rock-star, since the walls are red and all the furniture is black. But I’m not here to enjoy his home, I’m just here to secure the interview. “Mr. Stonewall,” Brutus says, just as Mac is about to take a seat next to me. “Do you mind giving us some privacy?” “Look, Allen,” Mac says. “Allen?” I ask. “Yeah, Allen,” Mac stresses. “That’s his real name. And yes, we certainly do go way back. So

when my father asked me—” “Oh, that’s rich, Mac. Rich.” Brutus—Allen—laughs. “I can’t believe you’ve fooled everyone—” “I’ve fooled everyone?” Mac says, his voice rising. “Please. Look, we’re here to do business. So, no, Miss Hatcher would not like a drink. She’d like to apologize—” “She already apologized, Mac. Just relax. Why are you so uptight?” “Do you want to reschedule this interview or not?” Mac snarls. “What the hell is going on?” I ask Mac. “Would you just go get the drinks and let me handle this, please? Jesus, what is wrong with you? You dragged me all the way out here and now you’re sabotaging my efforts!” “Ellie—” “Mac! Seriously, what is your problem?” “Yes,” Brutus/Allen says. “Tell her what the problem is. Let’s talk about the past, shall we?” Why the hell are men so stupid? Clearly this is about me and why do either of them think that this is anything other than some caveman power play? “We’re not here to talk about the past, OK? You guys?” I wait for them to finish their staring contest and then Mac says, “Fifteen minutes.” He says that to me, but he’s looking at Brutus. “Fifteen minutes and we’re out of here. If you don’t want the interview —” “Oh, I want it,” Brutus says. “I told your father that much on the phone. But I’d like to discuss the details with your celebrity concierge.” Mac shakes his head, ready to protest, but then his damn phone buzzes again and he looks down at the message and frowns. “It’s an emergency, Ellie. I’ll be right back.” Mac walks out of the room. A butler or house attendant goes after him and I have to give myself a mental shake to get back on track. He’s had a lot of emergency calls today. “Now,” Brutus says, closing the door and walking back over to me. He takes a seat on the couch, his knees practically touching mine. Aw, fuck. Is this what he was after? He’s making a move on me? Why? Dear God, why? I’m just an ordinary girl trying to make it through a few more days of this job. Why do people I don’t even know have to complicate things for me? I gather myself, then scoot over and turn my body to put a little more space between Brutus and me. “Brutus,” I say. “As I was saying. I’m so very sorry for what happened last week. I deal with a lot of people who have peanut allergies, so I knew better. I was just off my game that day. Things were out of sorts. But Stonewall Entertainment would really love to have you back at your earliest convenience. So do you think next month will work for your schedule?” No need to drag this out any longer than necessary. Let’s just cut to the chase. “Relax, Ellie.” I raise my eyebrows at him. I’m not stuffy. I don’t mind people calling me Ellie. But he was calling me Miss Hatcher a few seconds ago and now it’s Ellie? Brutus takes the opportunity my silence afforded him and slips a hand over my knee. “I’ve heard a lot about you,” he says. “What? What do you mean?” “A friend of mine got wind of a certain book you’ve been shopping,” Brutus says, nodding his head towards the closed door. “Are you looking to be published, Ellie?” “How could someone you know possibly have heard about that?” “I have my ways.” “Well, it’s not relevant. I’m not here to discuss my personal life with you, Brutus. And I’m certainly not going to consider some kind of sordid affair in exchange for a publishing contract.”

“Why not?” Brutus asks, raising his eyebrows. “Everyone does it. Favors, Miss Ellie Hatcher, given and owed to the right people. That’s the only way to get ahead. And I know you want a favor from me today. Why not start our relationship off right? One for you, one for me. I have contacts with your literary agent. She owes me many favors. I could just call her up and tell her to get that book of yours published ASAP and she’d make it happen. Or I could call her up and say there will never be time for that book on anyone’s schedule. Which would you prefer?” “Favors?" Jesus Christ. I really don’t belong in this executive world. “I’m afraid you’ve insulted my ethics, Mr. Brutus. And I realize that I was sent here to nail this interview down, but—” “Your ethics.” He laughs. “Honey, if you want to succeed in this business, you play the game. And right now you owe me. You almost killed me, Miss Hatcher—” “But I didn’t kill you. And I didn’t do any of that on purpose. I just forgot about my sandwich, that’s all. I’m sorry. There’s nothing more I can say about it. I’m just sorry.” “I’m not sorry. It gives me power, Miss Hatcher. You’re about to publish a very high-profile book. Well”—he sneaks me a sideways glance that looks slightly evil—“if you can manage to get a publisher. I’d like to be in that book, Miss Hatcher. Be one of your case-study stars. Perhaps we could tour together.” “Tour together?” I scrunch up my eyes. “What the hell are you talking about?” “Be my personal advisor, Miss Hatcher. I could propel you to success. Get your book published, but then you’d owe me again. Two favors.” “Um,” I have no idea what is going on but I suddenly know how Mac must’ve felt when he stumbled into my delusions. Brutus is creeping me the fuck out. “I don’t need help, Mr. Brutus, but thank you for the offer. Now, would you like to reschedule the interview for next month? Or is there a better time for you?” “No to the book deal?” Brutus says, one eyebrow cocked. “Well, I’m surprised. What else can you trade for the interview? An office fuck? I’ve heard you like to mix business with pleasure. You,” he says, one finger reaching up to tap me on the nose, “are the talk of Stonewall Entertainment these days, Miss Hatcher. I’ve heard all about your tryst with Mr. perfect in the other room. I have insiders. So perhaps you’d like to screw your way to the top with me as well?” I slap him in the face. Then I stare at my hand, then the shock on Brutus’ face, and do it again. “How dare you!” “How dare I?” He laughs. “You’re the one slutting around in the office. Not me. I keep it all very discreet, Ellie. I’m not anything like Mac. No one will ever know.” I stand up. “I’m leaving.” “You’re going to walk out? Even if I agree to a one-on-one interview with you?” “Me? Jesus Christ, what planet are you living on? I’m not a reporter! I’m a scheduler.” “So pencil me in, Ellie. Pencil in time to suck my cock right now and I’ll do the interview you were sent here to get,” he says, standing up and placing his hand on my breast. “And just FYI, I like the slapping.” He grips my breast, squeezing it. I twist away, but Brutus catches my arm, tugging me so hard, squeezing me so tightly, I can feel the bruise forming. “Stop it!” I say, wriggling. He grabs me around the waist, pulling my back into his chest, his disgusting breath heating up the skin on my neck. I have to swallow down the bile that wants to come up. “Let me go!” “You can slap me around all you want,” Brutus says. “I knew that little Miss Innocent act was just that. An act. It’s always the sweet ones who want to be fucked hard.” “That’s enough.” Mac is standing in the open door, eyes blazing, voice low as he growls it out again. “That. Is. Enough.”

Chapter Twenty-Five - Mac

“Ellie,” I say. “Go wait in the car.” For the first time since we started this trip today, she doesn’t argue with me. Just squirms and wriggles until Brutus lets her go and then half walks, half runs towards the door. “He’s lying to you, Ellie. You have no idea who this man is,” Brutus says. Ellie ignores him, clutching the low-cut front of her dress together as she walks past me, eyes downcast, shoulders slumped like she feels responsible for what just happened. I close the door behind her and then take my attention to Brutus. “Was that fun? Does pawing reluctant women make you feel powerful, Allen? Is that it? Your dick is small, your mouth is big, and the only way for you to feel in control is to take something by force?” Brutus smiles in a way that is too familiar to me. “You haven’t changed,” he says. “Neither have you. Still the same low-life asshole I knew in college. Still sick, still mean, and still pathetic.” “You know, I bet there are a lot of people who’d be interested in your past. Those news programs you head? Should I start there?” “You know the risks. Take them if you want, but my lawyers will have you in jail before dawn if you breathe a word to anyone.” “Stonewall Senior isn’t going to like how this turned out. He was very interested in getting me back on the show.” “That’s because he had no idea who you were.” “We have that in common, then,” Brutus says with a sneer. “You’re no different than me, Mac. Don’t pretend you are. And it doesn’t have to be me who outs you to that fine piece of ass waiting in your car. I’m not the only one who knows the truth.” “Go ahead and try it,” I say, taking a step closer to him. He backs away out of instinct, then catches himself and stands his ground. “I’m up for the challenge.” “You’re guilty,” he says. “You were always guilty. More guilty than anyone for what happened to that girl. Guiltier than me, that’s for sure.” “A court of law disagreed.” I smile and shrug my shoulders. “So no, actually, I’m not. And just because I didn’t do anything back then doesn’t mean I won’t do anything now.” “Are you threatening me, McAllister?” He steps forward, his dark eyes flashing in anger. “Because I can play that game too.” “Let’s go,” I say. “I’m ready when you are. But just remember this, Brutus.” I say his new name with disgust. It makes me sick that he’s some famous reclusive rock star. All these years, a whole decade between then and now, and look at him. “I have power in high places. Stay the fuck away from Ellie Hatcher and stay the fuck away from Stonewall Entertainment. Or the whole truth about what happened back in college will come tumbling out faster than you can blink.” “Ha.” He laughs. “Don’t talk to me about truth, Mr. Perfect. You’re the last man on Earth to lecture anyone on truth.” I want to punch him in the face so badly, I’m shaking. “Stay away from my company, my employees, and me. Because if you even think about talking, I’ll make sure everyone knows your part

in it.” I walk out and he’s screaming behind me. Threats, insults. Whatever. He can go fuck himself. Ellie is already in the car when I get there, still holding the front of her dress together and staring down at her lap. “Are you OK?” I ask, sliding into the car next to her. “Airport,” I tell the driver. “Get us the fuck out of here.” “Will your father be mad?” “At what?” I ask. “Not getting the interview.” “No,” I say. “No, Ellie. He didn’t know.” “He didn’t know what, Mac? What the hell just happened in there?” Fuck. “It’s just…” Fuck. “It’s just the past, that’s all. Nothing to worry about.” “What did Brutus mean by all that? That stuff about me not knowing who you are?” “Just… never mind. You don’t have to worry about it. But none of that had anything to do with you, Ellie. That was about me and I should’ve known better. I know what kind of asshole he is. He hasn’t changed a bit.” “So you know each other?” She takes a deep breath, but she’s not looking me in the eyes. “I did,” I say. “I knew him once, ten years ago. Back in college. But I haven’t seen him since.” “What were you talking about on the phone during the flight?” “What? Why?” “Because it sounded important and it sounded like you were trying really hard not to let me know what was going on.” She finally looks me in the eyes. “Something happened, didn’t it?” Shit. “Ellie, look it’s not about this.” “Then what?” She’s angry. And I don’t blame her. “What’s happening today? Why were you on the phone and what was that emergency call about?” I frown. “Just don’t overreact, OK?” “Mac—” “There’s a video of us.” I cringe as I prepare myself to say the next few words. “Of us fucking.” “From where?” Her eyes are darting around wildly. “Where did they get a video?” “Your office.” “No.” She looks like she might cry. “No! Fuck that! How?” “Cameras.” “Obviously, Mac,” she snaps. “I’m not an idiot. Tell me everything you know. Right now.” “It was all from this morning. Everything we did this morning. The fight, the sex, they even have you walking out of your office. But hey,” I say, trying to lighten the mood. “Everyone clapped for you.” “You think that’s funny?” “No,” I say. “Sorry. The good news is, we know who did it. Jennifer saw Ellen—” “Ellen Interoffice-sexcapades?” Ellie exclaims. “That fucking bitch!” “Jennifer saw her taking a video of you leaving your office. I’m so sorry. Ellen’s been fired. She’s already been escorted from the building and her company phone has been confiscated. We found the file on there and we’re definitely bringing charges for felony trespass, invasion of privacy, and maybe some others. She won’t get away with it.” “She already did,” Ellie says. God, she looks so sad right now. And it’s all my fault. It’s one hundred percent my fault for letting this happen at work. “Is this why your father wants to talk to us?” “Yeah,” I say, turning away to look out the window. “Yeah. She emailed it to a bunch of people at Stonewall. Including my father.” “Jesus Christ. This is great. Just fucking great. So your father saw a sex tape of us? I cannot

believe this.” “I’ll take care of it, Ellie. OK? I will. I’m so sorry this is happening. I don’t even know what to say. I’m just so fucking sorry.” We’re quiet the rest of the drive to the airport. Something about this is wrong. Something about this is all very, very wrong. We have private terminal access, so the car takes us right out to the dropoff and we exit the car and make our way across the tarmac towards the waiting plane. The pilot is running out from the terminal behind us and he apologizes as he boards and takes his seat. Wasn’t expecting us back so soon, I bet. We settle into our seats and I wait until the attendant asks for and serves us drinks before trying to engage Ellie again. “I’m sorry,” I say again. What the hell am I supposed to say? “It’s not your fault,” Ellie says as she looks out the window. “I’m just as much at fault as you are.” “Still,” I say. “I know better. You’re just… just so damn cute, Eloise Hatcher.” I finally get a smile as she glances over at me. “I’m leaving the company anyway. It’s not like I need to see these people every day or anything. I’m pretty much out of there. But it’s not good to start my new, very public, career with this, is it?” Shit. “No,” I say. “I’m sorry.” She searches through her purse for a few seconds, and then says, “Oh, no!” “What?” “I think I left my phone in my office. This is Heath’s phone. I must’ve picked up the wrong one. You don’t think she got to it, do you?” “Aw, fuck. Can this day get any worse?” I get my phone out and text Jennifer to go look in Ellie’s office for her phone. Ellie and I wait anxiously for the return text and when it buzzes in, I let out a breath of relief. “No, it’s there. Right on your desk.” “How did I not see it?” Ellie asks. “You were distracted?” I smile and shrug. She lets out a laugh and then seems to relax a little. “It’s not your fault, Mac. So really, don’t feel bad. I’m not blaming you for what happened.” “Well, I’m not sure Senior will see it the same way. But thanks. And I’m still sorry.” “Was he mad? He should be. I’d be mad if my employees pulled this kind of stunt.” “Probably, but like you said, you’re leaving. There’s not much he can do to you.” “He could give me a bad reference.” “He’d never do that, Ellie. Seven years of exceptional work is not wiped away by an office romance. It’s not your fault Ellen Abraham is a cunt.” She laughs at that and I start to relax too. “I don’t get Brutus. Do I do something to lead him on? Why was he acting that way with me?” And get stressed again. That fucker. What the hell is he up to? “I mean,” Ellie continues, “why call us all the way out here? Did he really think I’d trade my body for an interview?” “Probably,” I admit. “That’s the kind of guy he is. We’re never having that guy on our networks. And it’s good that Senior is coming today. We can discuss what a monumental mistake it was to try to reschedule him as well.” “Don’t tell him about me, Mac. Please.” Ellie’s eyes plead with me. “Why not? I bet Brutus does this to everyone. People need to know what a dick he is.” “I’m sure everyone knows what a dick he is. I certainly figured it out early.” She smiles. “Maybe the reason he’s never being interviewed is because people just can’t stand talking to him?” “Yeah, you could be right.” We brace ourselves for takeoff, and when we’re finally in the air and

on our way home, we chat about other things. Regular things. Her book and when she might publish it. She’s not sure. She’s still hoping to sell it to a publisher instead of publishing it herself. She talks about Ming and I even tell her a few things about Nolan. His club, his meeting with Andrew and the virtual reality thing. And by the time we make it back to the Stonewall hangar, we’re feeling a little better. Things might not be so bad. That feeling lasts until we get off the plane and Ellie’s friend Ming is waiting for us just inside the hangar, hands on hips and looking like she wants to kill me.

Chapter Twenty-Six - Ellie

“Oh, shit,” I say. Ming is running up to me waving her arms around. “Don’t go in there! Don’t go—” “I already know,” I say, putting up a hand. “We know.” “Shit! What the hell happened?” “Ellen Abraham,” I say. “That fucking cunt.” Mac laughs, but Ming shoots him a warning look and he stops. “Why would she do that?” “She saw us that day I went down the slide.” “Well,” Ming says, hands on hips as she stares up at Mac, “I hope you’re happy. My girl’s reputation is now tainted because of you! What are you going to do about this?” “Ellen has been fired,” Mac says. “We’re pressing charges.” “You better be, mister. That’s all I have to say. She needs to go to jail for this!” “Ellie,” Mac says, placing a hand on my shoulder. “I don’t want to rush you, but we really have to go.” “Mr. Stonewall is waiting to talk to us over at the Atrium,” I tell Ming. “Shit,” Ming says. “He better not blame you or I will have to have a talk with that man. I’ll sic Adeline on him!” I let out a small laugh but then Ming gets serious as she pulls me into a hug. “I’m sorry, Ells. Really. This sucks.” “Thanks,” I say. “I’ll be OK. I’m quitting anyway. It could be worse, right?” Ming nods, pouting her bottom lip in sympathy. “Right. Call me later and let me know how it goes.” There’s a car waiting for us, so Mac and I get in, silent all the way over to the Atrium building. As soon as we walk through the doors the place goes quiet. I look at my feet as we walk over the elevators and when we get in, all the talking starts up again. “Well, that was fun,” I say. Mac says nothing. Great. We exit the elevator and I can already hear Stonewall Senior yelling inside Mac’s office even with the door closed. Stephanie isn’t here, so there’s no one hanging out by our offices, thank God. But my heart starts thumping wildly as soon as Mac opens the door and waves me forward. I want to hide under Senior ’s stare, but I don’t. He’s sitting behind Mac’s desk, talking on the phone. So I take a seat in front of the desk and Mac follows suit, unwilling to tell his father to get out of his chair. Stonewall Senior hangs up and steeples his fingers under his chin and he stares down at the desk. “Well, you’re fired.” “What?” I say. “Not you, Miss Hatcher. My… son.” “Um,” Mac says. “Yeah. It’s probably for the best. OK.” “OK?” I stare at Mac with an incredulous look. “You’re just going to give up? What the hell? We didn’t do this, Mr. Stonewall. Ellen Abraham did.” “And I fired her too,” Senior says, staring hard at Mac. “But look, McAllister, you and I fought

over this position in the first place. I wanted you here, you promised you’d do the job, and then you go and sabotage it with an office romance with one of my best employees.” He redirects his attention over to me. “I’ve been informed that you gave two weeks’ notice, Miss Hatcher? The day my… son arrived?” “Um—” Shit. That really does look bad for Mac. “It wasn’t because of him. It was really Brutus who pushed me over the edge that day. And the whole… well…” Dammit. What am I supposed to say? I was having a delusional textual relationship with Heath? And then started a sexual one with your other son the same day? What the hell is wrong with me? I really do need professional help, Mac was right. “Which we also need to talk about,” Mac says. “Brutus sexually harassed Ellie during our meeting. We won’t be doing interviews with him. Ever.” Mac stares back at his father. “If you want me to back away from the job I’m happy to do that, but I’m not backing away from that.” Stonewall Senior leans back in his chair, making it creak. I just want to get the hell out of here. But then he looks at Mac with a stern face. “Do you like her?” He motions to me with his head. “Miss Hatcher?” “I do,” Mac says, shrugging his shoulders. “I like her.” “He did buy me this dress,” I offer up as proof. “It’s a Victoria Beckham.” Mac shakes his head, but I catch a smile. “I like her, OK? More than I like this job. So I’m perfectly fine with stepping back. Heath can take over again.” Mr. Stonewall lets out a huff of air. “Hell, Camille is perfect for this position. Give it to Camille if you don’t want Heath. My point is, I’ve never been the guy you need, Alexander.” Alexander. He calls his father Alexander? “You were just…” Mac stops and sighs. “Just trying to get me involved again. And it’s not worth the bullshit, you know? Why bother?” “Why bother?” Senior asks. “Why bother? Do you have no feelings for the twenty-five thousand people who depend on Stonewall Entertainment for a paycheck? Do you really think you can just hide from your past? You can’t, Mac. And you, Miss Hatcher,” Senior says, redirecting to me. “I knew your father as well.” As well as what? I feel like I’m missing half of this conversation. “I liked him. He was a good man. And so when you came looking for an internship I gave it you. Not because of our relationship, but because the minute you sat down with me for the interview I saw him in you. So much. And I was right. You’re one of the best employees this company has. I don’t want you to leave, but if you’ve got bigger plans I certainly understand.” “Thank you, sir,” I say. “I do have plans. But I do like it here as well. I don’t really want to leave. I just don’t want to miss out on an opportunity.” “So you have another offer? Who is it with?” “No, sir,” I say. “Not another offer. I wrote a book. About the celebrities I help here at Stonewall. I’ve kind of started a small life-coaching business on the side. Like… a motivational speaker. I want to do that, I think. At least give it a try, you know? Take a risk and see what happens.” “You wrote a book?” Senior asks. “I checked with legal,” Mac says. “She didn’t violate her contract.” “When is your book being published?” Senior asks, ignoring Mac. “Well, I don’t know yet. I’m still trying to find a publisher to take it. No one seems very interested in some nobody celebrity coordinator. Maybe I’ll self-publish?” I shrug. “I don’t know.” “Hmm,” Senior says. “Well, I like risk-takers, Miss Hatcher.” He looks at Mac for this though, not me. “Life is all about managing risk. Knowing when to take it and when to back away. Some people,” he stresses the word, still looking at Mac, “have an aversion to risk. Some people,” he goes on, “lose

big once and then back off. Isn’t that right, McAllister?” “Look,” Mac says, “we can have that conversation if you like. But not here. Not now. Not in front of Ellie.” “Hmmm,” Senior says again. And then he looks at me. “Miss Hatcher, your resignation is not accepted. Stay here with us. We need you. Go part time if you like. We’ll get you an assistant. Make you the president of celebrity relations. Delegate things if you need to. But stay.” He gets up from the desk, both Mac and I rising with him, and then comes over and extends his hand to me. “It was good talking to you again. I hope you and Mac work out whatever it is the two of you have started and I hope you stay with Stonewall.” He turns to Mac. “We’ll talk about your plans later.” We watch him walk out and close the door behind him. “Holy shit,” I say. “That just stressed me out so bad. Are you really going to leave the company, Mac?” “Are you?” he asks back. “Well, I don’t know.” “He made a good offer.” “He did,” I admit. “Think about it at least.” “I will.” “OK,” Mac says with a sigh. “Well, we got through that minefield. Wanna get the hell out of here?” “Together?” “Of course together,” Mac says. “He’s wrong, you know. He’s wrong about me. I’m not against risk. I risked this job for you. That’s worth something.” “True. And yes. I really want to get the hell out of here. Like bad.” “Let’s go then. It’s Friday. Let’s have a nice weekend and forget about work until next week. We have time to make decisions. Plenty of time.” He takes my hand and leads me out of the office. No one is really around when we come out. Maybe Senior threatened everyone when he left? But Jennifer is, because she’s been holding my phone for safekeeping since Mac texted her. We don’t stay for small talk, just tell her thanks and I make our way down to the parking lot and I get in my car to follow him over to a local restaurant for lunch. But I can’t help wondering about his last statement up in the office. About risk. Did he really risk his job for me? Or did he never want the job to begin with? It kind of nullifies the risk if you don’t really want one of the two things you’re taking a chance on, right? Who am I to question his risk? I mean, look at me and my book. I’m already hedging my bets thinking about Senior ’s new offer. I’d probably get a fat raise too. I’d get everything I thought I wanted. But I don’t really want the job, do I? I want to publish this book and be a life coach. So is staying at Stonewall while I take a half-hearted shot at a new career really risk? I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it anymore, so I drop it and just get out when Mac is there at the restaurant opening my door. And after the morning I’ve had, I just have to agree with his last statement. No more thoughts about work until Monday.

Chapter Twenty-Seven - Ellie

The restaurant is not one I’ve ever been to before. It’s past lunchtime now, so there’s only a few people still hanging around. Mac and I are seated at a large semi-circular booth in the back and it’s nice because we’re sitting next to each other. “I’m sorry,” he says again. “I know. You don’t have to keep saying that.” “No, I mean I’m sorry that all the plans I had for this weekend got messed up. I wanted us to have a nice time. Do things together. I was going to fly you to Aspen where my family has a house. Make it real romantic. But now…” “You’re having second thoughts?” “No,” he says. “Not that. Not about you, if that’s what you were implying. I’m having second thoughts about the weekend I planned though. I just want to know more about you and I thought we needed time away. But this trip today, that meeting, everything. The mood is just all wrong. Maybe we can just stay home?” “You know how I love to stay home.” “No, Ellie. I mean, we can stay home. Me and you. At my place. My home. Just forget about everything for a couple days, take some time to get to know each other. Make no decisions until Monday.” I get a thrill up my arms. “A weekend away, only not away.” Yes, I quite like the sound of that. I’d like to snoop around his stuff. Peek into his fridge. “When do we start?” I laugh. Mac’s blue eyes are smiling at me. They are bright and happy even though we just had the most fucked-up morning ever. “You’re incredible, you know that? Most women would’ve walked out after that whole Brutus fuckup. Most women would not have even given me a chance after I accosted them in the stairs that first day. Most women would’ve hated my guts if I embarrassed them—humiliated them, as you said—in front of all their peers. But you’re so forgiving.” “I just like you, Mac.” I shrug. “That’s all there is to it. When you like people you forgive their faults and look past their mistakes. It’s not as big a deal. And yeah, I was pretty pissed off at you that first day, but not nearly as pissed as I was at Brutus this morning. I don’t like him. Hating him is easy. Not forgiving him is easy. But you, well… I’m just not interested in hating you, Mac.” He leans into me, places both his hands on each side of my face, and gives me a kiss. It starts off small, but once I open my mouth, it’s more demanding. His fingertips slip under my hair and grab a fistful. “Thank you,” he whispers into my mouth. “For liking me.” He pulls back when the waiter comes and clears his throat. “What can I get for you folks?” Mac sighs as he bumps our foreheads together and then reluctantly pulls back and orders us wine and water. Once the waiter is gone, things get less tense. The anxiety of the morning fades and the excitement of spending this whole weekend with Mac at his house takes over. I think he feels it too. Because we spend the rest of lunch laughing and smiling. No one can touch us right now. Not Brutus and his stupidity. Not Ellen and her jealousy. Not Stonewall Senior and his accountability.

This is it, I think. This might be the man I will fall in love with. McAllister Stonewall is a risk worth taking. We go home after lunch and agree to meet tonight at his place at nine. God, I smile so big at that thought. Date. I haven’t been on a date in so long, I’ve lost count. I take a shower because this has been one hell of a day. I don’t usually take day trips to a different state. After that I call Ming. “You bitch,” she says. “I’ve been waiting all day for this call.” “Sorry. But holy hell, I had the worst day ever. And even so, it might turn out… OK.” “Spill, chick. Like, now.” I start with my morning. Of course, she’s heard all about the sex Mac and I had because it was all over the office. What Mac didn’t tell me is that Ellen actually put the video up on the community TV’s. I want to die. “I heard Jennifer Sluts-around went off, Ellie. Like flipped out and yelled at every single person who stood in front a TV in the Atrium. It was only up for like two minutes, and it was only in the Atrium. So I hear. But the whole place was in an uproar. I didn’t see you leave. I had no idea you were out of town so I went over there to find you and came in on Jennifer ’s epic threats. I think I love her now.” “Yeah, me too. But Ellen, just what the fuck? And just wait until you hear about what happened with Brutus this morning.” I spill all the details about the meeting and then slump back onto my couch with a sigh. “What a day, huh?” “Who cares, right? You’re out of there. If I were you I wouldn’t even bother to show up Monday. Why come half a week?” “Um…” “You’re still quitting, right? Please tell me you didn’t let Mac sweet-talk you into staying. The office sex can’t be that good.” “Well…” “Ellie!” “Just listen. Stonewall Senior came in to talk to Mac and me today and he told me he’d give me a fat promotion if I stayed. Let me work part time and delegate, he said. It’s kind of a sweet deal, right? And I could work on the book part time too. It’s a win-win, right?” “Win-win? No, it’s a trap, Ellie. I’m not saying he’s doing it on purpose, but it’s a trap. You’re never going to take the risk necessary to change your career and be successful unless you really want it. And working a part-time well-paying job doesn’t make someone hungry for change. It makes them complacent.” “I don’t know. I haven’t made up my mind yet, but I’m weighing my options.” Ming is silent after that. “Don’t be mad.” “I’m not mad. I just think you’re selling yourself short. I think your book is great and you could really make a go at this. But it’s a full-time job, Ellie. You shouldn’t have time for another one. Both will suffer and since you’re getting paid to do the one for Stonewall, that’s the one you will make first priority.” I know she’s right but the offer was a good one. I’d be stupid not to at least consider it. “Well, I didn’t say I’d take it, Ming. I’m just giving things a second look, that’s all.” She sighs. “I just want what’s best for you, Ells. You know that, right?”

“I do. But it’s not as simple as it sounds. Anyway, I’m going to go. Mac and I have a date and I’m pretty excited about it. All this stuff can wait until Monday. In fact, I’m all about living in my little delusional bubble about everything until Monday.” We say our goodbyes and hang up after that. I can’t help but feel the wind has been taken out of my sails. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. This was the day from hell and all I’m thinking about is seeing Mac. Aside from the lunch today, everything we’ve done so far has been during work. I’m dying to find out what he’s like in real life. Away from the job. When he’s not my boss, just my lover. I pack some clothes and stuff. Not work wear, for once. And I can’t help but wonder if he’s anxious to learn more about me too? We don’t know much. And what he does know is mostly from my delusional textual relationship with his brother. God, that’s so embarrassing. But it’s all real. That’s the thing. It’s the real me. Maybe the real me on steroids, but that’s me. And he’s still interested. I think that counts for something.

Chapter Twenty-Eight - Ellie

I get to his building and pull up to the front doors because the parking garage has a gate and I have no key. A valet comes to my window while the doorman appears with a smile. “I’m here to see Mr. Stonewall in the penthouse,” I tell the valet. “Yes, Miss Hatcher,” the doorman says. “He called down and told us to expect you. If you’d like to follow me, I’ll take you up and let you in.” “Isn’t he home?” I ask, getting out and going for my bag in the backseat. The doorman beats me to it and says, “He stepped out a few minutes ago, Miss Hatcher. But said he’d be right back.” Well, that’s interesting. He trusts me in his home. Alone. Tsk. Men. I hope he is not expecting me to sit demurely and not snoop through his place. That’s probably beyond my capability. I’m consumed with curiosity about this man. I follow the doorman into the lobby, which is ridiculously luxurious. There’s a large modern fireplace as the center point of a sitting area that’s big enough to host a party. The furniture is modern too. All fancy lines and curves that tells me it’s probably hand-made and more expensive than anything I’ve ever owned, and my stuff is not cheap. There’s a piano in the corner in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows, which go up at least three stories. My flat shoes click a little across dark marble floors that are shiny enough for me to see my reflection and I’m suddenly sorry I wore jeans. I knew this place was fancy. It’s a landmark here in the Tech Center. And an architectural original. But I didn’t think about doormen and valets when I put my weekend casual outfit together. At least I didn’t wear shorts. The elevator we take is off to the side. “Penthouse only,” the doorman says, like he’s in charge of impressing me in Mac’s absence. It makes me smile. “I’m Ellie,” I say, sticking out my hand. “George,” the doorman says. “I like Mac. He’s… unusual. Not like the rest of the people who live here.” “Oh, really?” I say, leaning in with interest. “What’s he like? I just met him last week.” “Pleasant. Generous. He’s a great tipper. Whenever he needs help, he rewards me even though it’s not expected here. And he smiles a lot. Especially when he talks about you.” “He talks about me?” George laughs as we get in the elevator and he uses a key to make the penthouse button light up and the doors close. “Yes. He’s come down in the middle of the night a few times talking about you this week.” “Oh, God. I hope none of it was embarrassing.” “Nothing too personal. But he did admit he was slightly obsessed with you, Miss Hatcher. And as a father I’d usually be concerned about a remark like that. But it came off as, you know…” He trails off. “Like what?” I ask. “Like a man who made a mistake and regrets it. Like he thinks you’re something special.” Well, well, well. I smile and sigh at the same time. That’s a wonderful little piece of information. I’m glad to know I wasn’t the only sleepless one this past week.

“I’ve known Stonewall Senior forever. Worked here since the building opened. But I never knew he had two sons. Not until Mac showed up.” “Really?” That’s… weird. How could a doorman, the guy who should know everything about everyone, not know about Mac? It’s like he’s some kind of secret. Maybe he’s the bastard child? I almost snicker at that. No, Mac doesn’t come off like the product of an out-of-wedlock tryst. When we reach the top floor George twists the key again and the doors open straight into Mac’s penthouse apartment. “Wow,” I say. The first thing I see is a view of the city. It’s dark, so the lights are just breathtaking. We are high up and I can see all the landmark buildings downtown. The windows are framed in sheer white curtains that probably cost more than my car. “Yes.” George nods, waving me into the massive room. “It’s really beautiful at night. Where would you like your bag, Miss Hatcher?” “Um…” I look around, decide I have no idea, and just point to the foyer floor. “There is fine, thank you, George.” “As I said, Mr. Stonewall should be here in a moment, so make yourself at home.” George steps back into the elevator and, just before the doors close, gives me a wink that looks a little conspiratorial. “Thank you!” I call. Then I turn back to Mac’s penthouse. There’s a gleaming chrome and glass staircase that leads up to a second floor and just like the Atrium over at Stonewall Entertainment, there’s a wall of water. It’s very subtle though. Just a sheet of water that falls so softly down the white tile, it sounds like a trickling brook. Very soothing. Very Zen. Very relaxing. I walk over to the window to take in the view but then stop short when I see a silver envelope propped up on the white marble coffee table in the sitting area. I step onto a rug that would cover every square inch of my bedroom at home, and it might in fact be made of luxurious sheepskin. My feet sink down several inches. I slip my shoes off as I walk over to the card. It says Miss Eloise Hatcher on the front. Engraved, like a fancy invitation one might get to a wedding. My heart thumps a few times and then I carefully pick it up and take a seat on the couch, pulling my legs up as I flip it over, open the flap, and remove the card. The whole thing is engraved in fancy type, just like the front of the envelope. “Wow,” I say. “What are you up to, Mac?” Dear Eloise, Welcome to me. I want you to know everything, but not all at once. So let’s play a game. Let me take you on a little tour of Mac’s life. Are you up for it? If so, say yes. McAllister I let off a little laugh and then look around. “Are you here?” Silence. Well, I’m up for a game of Get-To-Know-Mac, so I say, “Yes,” so loudly it echoes off the walls. The TV comes to life off to my left and I jump to my feet, startled. “Hi, Ellie,” Mac on the TV says. He’s somewhere outside. It’s night and I wonder if this is live or taped from earlier. How much earlier? Not much. He definitely did all this today. He couldn’t possibly have known I’d agree to spend the weekend with him when he went into work this morning. We weren’t even on speaking terms. What kind of power must it take to get an engraved card and envelope like this in half a day’s

time? I can’t even imagine. “I’ve left you a clue in the kitchen,” TV Mac says. “Look around and find it. When you get to the last clue, you’ll find me.” He pauses, his eyes blazing that cerulean blue I have come to love. “If… you’re still interested.” Jesus Christ. That was a loaded challenge. I shove the card into my back pocket and go looking for the kitchen, because I’m definitely up for it so far. What could he possibly be worried about? He’s practically perfect. I step off the rug, my feet reluctant to leave the softness, and look around. There is a long hallway running past the staircase. The black marble floor has white marble squares inlaid in it. They kind of look like stepping stones in a sea of black. Like something to be followed. I follow, passing by the wall of water that trickles down into a shallow standing pool filled with black and white pebbles. Once I get past that the wall becomes an art gallery. Nothing I recognize, all very modern and not to my taste, but I’m sure they are all originals. Up ahead there’s a glowing rice-paper wall and when I get to the open door, I see it’s a very Japanese-style meditation room. It’s not the kitchen, so I keep walking to the end of the hall and then have to make a choice. Left or right? To my right is a dining room, so I go that way in the hope that the kitchen is not far off. How big is this place? I pass by a white marble table with chrome legs and count the chairs. Sixteen. It looks more like a conference room table. A place for a meeting. I bet they have retreats here. And parties. The next room has a pool table made of blond wood and wheat-colored felt. But I scan past it and see white barstools. Maybe that’s the kitchen? I walk through the pool table room and end up at a bar. Hmmm. I really didn’t think it would be so hard to find a kitchen. But it has to be close, so I search for a clue. There’s a swinging door, the kind you see in industrial kitchens in restaurants. One that goes both ways. That has to be it. I smile and walk over to it, pushing the door open just enough to slip inside. The kitchen is huge. Like bigger than some restaurants. The cabinets are very shiny and luxuriously lacquered in white. I can see myself in them like a mirror. “OK,” I whisper to myself. “Fridge.” It’s huge. Actually, it’s two, side by side, that open up like French doors, but are both bigger than any refrigerator I’ve ever seen. I pull open the first one. Empty. Hmmm. I pull open the second one. Also empty, with one exception. Two bottles of beer that probably have the most interesting label on them I’ve ever seen. The brand is called Zombie Dust and that makes me laugh a little. The silver envelope is propped between them, and it says, Read Me. I pick it up, turn it over, and slide the card out. It looks just like the last card. Dear Eloise, I’m not a big drinker, but I like beer. This is my favorite. Bring them with you on your journey and we’ll share them at the end. Go to the theatre room next and enjoy a smile on me. McAllister

I smile as I pick up the card, shove it in my back pocket with the last one, and then grab the two beers by the neck. I’m not sure why Mac is going to so much trouble, or what I’m learning about him on this scavenger hunt, but it’s clever and it’s certainly got my attention. I leave the kitchen the way I came and end up back in the bar. Surely the theatre room is not far away? Movies and drinks go together. And sure enough there’s another hallway down to the right. The theater room is glowing a bright blue, so I see it right away when I turn the corner into that hallway. I have to stop and take it in when I get to the doorway, because it’s huge. Not as big as a regular theatre, but certainly well-equipped to host two dozen people or more. This place cannot be a home. Who lives like this? This room is carpeted in a soft wheat color, much like the felt on the pool table. I step down, searching for the next invitation, until I get to the front seat. It’s not too close to the giant screen on the far wall. A prime seat, in fact. The reclining chairs are all an ivory-colored leather with drink holders and the silver envelope I’m looking for is propped up on the arm rest. I reach for it, biting my lip as my heart thumps a little. This is fun. I take the card out and read it. Dear Eloise, I never saw this movie as a kid, but in college I had a very good friend who was obsessed with it. We must’ve watched it a hundred times and every time we laughed. Maybe we were drunk, but Ferris Bueller’s philosophy is that of the teenager. The guy with everything in front of him. No regrets yet. No mistakes, just potential. That’s how everyone saw us. A team of Mr. Perfects. Don’t believe everything you see. McAllister “Bueller?” the surround sound says from every possible corner of the room. “Oh, my God, Mac,” I say to the room. “You are too much.” So I take a seat as the highlight reel for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off comes on screen. I laugh at each scene, remembering back to the first time I ever saw it. Ferris is the teenage version of a con man. Everyone wanted to be clever like Ferris after they watched this movie. He was the seventeen-year-old version of Mr. Perfect. When the clips are over there’s a message on screen that says: Go find the music room. Music room. I passed a piano out in the main living area, but I don’t think that’s it. So I stick the card in my pocket, pick up my beers, and exit the theater. I turn right and keep going further down the hallway. There’s a lot of modern art in these walls too—another gallery, I guess. And at the end of the hall is a sliding barn door on a track high above. I open it, unsure what I’ll find, and happily enter the music room. There is one blue chair sitting on yet another expansive sheepskin rug, facing the most elaborate sound system I’ve ever seen. There’s a silver envelope attached to the front of the system, so I walk over, enjoying the feel of the rug beneath my bare feet, and lift it off. Behind it is a small white sticky note with the words Press Here printed in neat blue ink. I press and listen as the song plays. Not music, just a stomp, stomp, clap. Repeating until We Will Rock You comes on so loud, I feel like Queen could be performing this song in front of me. I set my two beers on the small table and take a seat in the chair as I open the card. Dear Eloise,

It sounds like an anthem. Almost a call to arms with the heavy stomping and acapella lyrics. But it’s not. It’s a story about ambition, and life, and reality. A boy starts out with dreams, grows to manhood with expectations, and ends up an old man with regrets. I don’t want to be an old man with regrets. And that’s why I’m cautious. Please go to the library next. McAllister I get up, grab my beers and leave through the barn doors, turning right once again, because that’s the only way that doesn’t have me backtracking. The library is at the end of this hallway, I can see it from here—glowing with soft amber light that reflects off the dark polished wood. I enter to find a single book placed in the center of a large round table. I set the beers down, hoping they don’t leave a ring of water on this beautiful wood, and reach for the book. It’s called The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. I’ve read it. It was required in college business classes. There’s a card tucked into the very back and when the book falls open it lands on Law 46— Never Appear Too Perfect. I open the card and read. Dear Eloise, Greene says people who appear too perfect create silent enemies through jealousy. A man with no faults is not a man. I relate to this law the most, even though all the laws are solid, practical, good advice for anyone, at any stage in life. But I relate to Law 46 the most because it is the first lesson I learned on my own. Please find the closet in the red room. McAllister Well. He’s got something to say, he’s just not sure how to say it, I guess. And this scavenger hunt is helping him. Whatever it is, it must weigh heavily on his mind. I sigh as I stick the card in my pocket, pick up the beers, wipe the water ring away with the bottom of my shirt, and go off to find the red room. This takes me a while. Longer than seems possible. But this place, this penthouse—it’s huge. I pass by many rooms and finally stumble onto the red one. It’s just another pretty room. If you like this style. I’m appropriately impressed with the luxury of it. The minimalist opulence. If I knew the total price of the things this apartment contains it would probably be more than I’d ever make in a lifetime. So I pass right by the furnishings and open one of two doors to find an equally impressive bathroom. I move on to the next door and find the closet. It’s empty. Like the refrigerator. Does he even live here? Well, it’s not quite empty because there’s a pair of men’s shoes placed for maximum effect in the center of a shelf made just to hold shoes. This closet would bring most women to orgasm. Hell, I’d die for a closet like this. Before I started my little hunt, that is. Because there’s something about all this that is making me very, very nervous. The silver envelope is placed between the right and left shoe. I pick it up and slide the card out.

Dear Eloise, Put them on. Yes, I know they’re too big. It’s a lot harder to walk in another man’s shoes than you thought, huh? The next bedroom is two doors down. McAllister I put them on and my feet swim inside the soft, Italian leather. I have to scuff my way out of the red room and down the hallway to the next stop on my tour. I enter the bedroom expecting Mac to be in here. Waiting for me. To have sex, maybe. But it, like everything else, is empty save for a silver envelope placed neatly on top of a fluffy white pillow. I walk over and notice that one side of the bed is made up perfectly, while the other is pulled down. Like someone has been sleeping on this side. The envelope is placed on the pillow presumably being used. I open it up and read the card. Dear Eloise, That bed is sad, right? Lonely. Missing something. I’m missing something too. I think you’re my missing piece. But before you come upstairs to the terrace I just want you to know I never said I was perfect. I never claimed to be perfect. McAllister

Chapter Twenty-Nine - Mac

The moment I hear her soft footsteps coming up the stairs to the terrace I lose my nerve and toss the last silver envelope into the long, skinny line of fire that is burning inside a rectangular concrete pit. The edges catch first and begin to blacken, then shrivel. I will the fire to be hotter, burn faster, so that she won’t know I’m going to keep the last piece of the puzzle to myself. “Well,” Ellie says from behind me. I turn, careful to withhold the view of the burning envelope from her, blocking it with my body. “That was quite a surprise, Mac. I’m not sure what to think about it.” She’s not wearing my shoes. They are far too big for her. She’s holding them, one dangling from each hand, with the bottles of Zombie Dust beer stuffed inside. She walks towards me. “That was quite the hunt you sent me on.” “It was…” I stumble for words. “Just a way for you to get to know me. Something different than the usual tell me about yourself. I’m not a typical man, Ellie. I’m just trying to get that point across.” “Point taken,” she says, slowly wandering over to me. “And you’re not perfect.” “No,” I say, shaking my head. “I’ve probably made a lot of mistakes with you already. But I hope you don’t hold it against me because I can’t take anything back.” She offers me up a small smile that comes with a shrug. “I don’t know. I don’t think you’ve made any mistakes. It’s been fun. I know we’ve had fights. But that’s all part of getting to know each other. And I’m starting to feel a little inadequate about how much of my own life I’ve shared.” She laughs and I take this as a good sign. My hints have not yet scared her off. “I had your Heath messages. I came into this relationship with an unfair advantage, even if they were only delusional dreams.” She wanders past me and my heart beats faster, wondering if the final envelope has burned away my past yet. But either she doesn’t notice, or it has, because she takes a seat on the large white couch and tucks her legs underneath her. I turn and follow her lead, sitting down next to her, reaching for a bottle of beer tucked inside one of the shoes. I pull a bottle opener from my suit coat pocket and pop it off, then hand it to her. She smiles as I repeat this with my own beer. We clink the glass of our bottles together, like we do this all the time, and each take a sip. “They weren’t delusional dreams, though,” Ellie says. “That’s really me.” “Which part?” I laugh. She shrugs. “Most of it. I want that house. Someday. I want the puppy too. And the kids and the nurseries. I want a perfect life, I guess.” “And yet I am not the perfect man.” “Nope,” she says. “It appears not.” I might have a little panic attack at her admission. Is she having second thoughts? “But I don’t think you need two perfect people to have the perfect life.” I let out a long exhale. Relief. “I agree,” I say. “But there’s more to me than those dreams.” “I want to know all about you, Ellie. Every single bit.”

She smiles as the light from the fire dances across her face. “I don’t really have any secrets. I mean, you know them already. I want all that romantic stuff. I guess that’s my secret. And I don’t think it’s silly. I just think I deserve it.” “Did you have a… a bad childhood?” She shakes her head. “No. Not really. Of course, my mother walked out on me and my father when I was about eight. Just got bored, I guess. Maybe she wanted the perfect life too and my father couldn’t provide that. But it’s all very typical these days, right? People never seem to be satisfied. So that was kind of tragic, but I bounced back. I had my father until I was twenty and he died in a boating accident. Every year we went deep-sea fishing in the Bahamas. It was a constant in my life, even before my mom left. And that year I was in college and couldn’t get away. And of course, that’s when it happens, right? Life twists and things change when you’re doing ordinary things and not paying attention. “Your father and my father knew each other from childhood. We weren’t as rich as you guys, but I grew up with money, and a certain level of privilege that came with expectations. That’s how I got my internship with Stonewall Entertainment.” “I’m sure it had a lot to do with your potential as well.” “Oh, yes. I’m sure. I’m not selling myself short just because I was offered an opportunity. And I’m certainly not saying I’m ungrateful, but this—” She throws her hands out, her gesture encompassing everything around us, indicating this place, and this life, and this moment. “This isn’t what I want.” “The puppies,” I say. “And the dream house.” She shrugs. “More than that, but yes. Your father made me an interesting offer today.” “Will you stay?” “Will you?” “He fired me.” I laugh. “So you didn’t talk about it afterward? This afternoon?” “No,” I say. “He’s gone. We’ll do that in his own good time.” “So what will you do?” “Show up for work on Monday and see what happens.” “Well, that’s kind of cocky.” She giggles. “He wants me there. Not showing up would be an insult. I’m not trying to insult him. I want a specific life too, Ellie. I have my own dream. I guess you can call it that.” “What’s your dream?” I want to tell her the truth, but I can’t. I can’t because I burned the secret I’m keeping from her. It’s shriveled up to dust in the fire in front of us. So I choose my words carefully. “I want… predictability. Stability, I guess. That’s probably a better word. And I want to change things at the same time.” “Sounds like a paradox, if you ask me.” “It is.” I take a long drink of my beer and watch her as she does the same. “I like to be rooted in fact. In reality.” “So why do you like me?” Ellie asks. “I don’t think I’m that girl.” “No,” I say, admitting it. “You’re a dreamer. And that scares me because it involves things that are untrue, or at the very least, unknown. I have a thing for truth, Ellie. A long history of being fucked over by the delusional lies of others.” She squints her eyes. They flash with momentary anger, but she gets it under control. “Then why are we here?” “Maybe I’m wrong about you?” “Maybe I’m wrong about you?” she counters. “Maybe we should take a chance on one another and find out?” “What does that look like?” she asks, squinting her eyes in suspicion.

I sigh and shrug. My turn to throw my arms out to encompass the world around us. “This.” I laugh. “This night. This weekend. This date. I don’t really know.” “Then why did you start this with me, Mac? If you knew I wasn’t what you were looking for, then why start something you didn’t want to finish?” I sigh. “I thought you were cute. Before I ever even saw you, it was… kind of… adorable.” “You find my innermost thoughts adorable?” She makes a face, like she has a bad taste in her mouth. “I’m not sure that’s a compliment.” “It is,” I say, pulling her towards me, one arm around her shoulders. “I promise.” I take her beer and set it on the edge of the rectangular fire pit in front of us. “I’m getting used to you.” “Oh, Jesus,” she says, pulling away. “Stop,” I order. “And listen to me. I’m getting used to the idea that maybe a dream is not a lie. And all that stuff you said to Heath was… well, not exactly a dream. But a possibility. I don’t think you really liked Heath, did you?” “I thought we were friends. And maybe some part of me thought he might fit into my delusional dream world. But did I really think I was marrying him? For real? No. It was an escape for me. I’ve been in a dry spell. I just needed to spice things up.” “Well, I think you accomplished that.” We both laugh now, and I feel some of the tension ease out of her. “It certainly got my attention. And I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but you were not the only woman from work who was texting him with delusions. Heath and Ellen—” “No!” she exclaims. “Gross. She’s old enough to be his mother!” “Hey, she’s quite the sexpot on screen. Heath had her in his phone as Ellie. So I was getting the messages from the two of you confused.” “Oh, my God.” She laughs. “You thought—?” She bursts out with a guffaw. “Yeah. I really thought you were the same person when I came on to you in the stairs. And I should apologize for that, but nah. I like the unexpected twist, Ellie. I’m very happy with how things are turning out for me. Even if you are on the other side of the ridiculous line and I’m standing over in the stodgy area of the relationship waiting room.” “Hell, Mac. You’re definitely not stodgy when it comes to me. I’ve never had so much fun in my entire life.” “Me too,” I admit. “This has been a crazy good two weeks for me. I’ve had more fun, more smiles, more laughs with you than I’ve had in years. Probably close to a decade.” I slip my hand up her t-shirt and fondle her breast through her bra. “It doesn’t have to end, you know. We can keep going. Give it a real try.” I don’t wait for an answer, just stand up and pull her to her feet with me. I lead her across the terrace, down the steps, through the myriad of hallways, and nooks, and rooms, until we get to the master bedroom. It’s lit up, and it’s on the second floor, not anywhere close to where I had her poking around earlier. The king-sized bed is on the far wall, framed by a floor-to-ceiling window with a view of the city. I stand her at the foot of the bed and begin to undress her body. I ease her shirt over her head, place my hands on her breasts and give them a squeeze as I crouch down and lick her stomach. My hands wander down the curve of her waist and stop to hold her at the hips while I nip the soft, sensitive skin just above the button on her jeans. Her fingers thread through my hair, gripping slightly as she lets out a long breath of air. “Talk,” I say. “I want to hear you talk.” “What?” Ellie breathes. My hands are suddenly ripping the button of her jeans open. The zipper rakes down, exposing her lower belly. I lean in and cover her skin with my mouth, nipping her again. And then I yank her jeans

down, her white panties rolling down with the force, and toss them aside. “You know what I’m asking. Do it. Do it, Ellie. You like to pretend, don’t you? It gives you a thrill, doesn’t it?” I slip one hand between her legs, careful not to touch in any of the places she’s craving right now. But instead, I reach up and place the whole of my palm against her, my thumb playing with the wetness between her legs. She’s gripping my hair tighter. “Just… don’t stop,” she moans with her eyes closed. “I don’t know what to say except that. I don’t want you to stop.” “I don’t want to stop either. So tell me what you want me to do.” She opens her eyes for a moment, but my thumb presses against her soft folds and her eyes immediately close. “That,” she says. “More of that.” “The words, Ellie. I like to hear the words. It’s fucking hot. The dirtier, the better. So say them. Say them all, Ellie. And I’ll put my fingers anywhere you want. I’ll put my mouth anywhere you want. I’ll fuck you sore. I’ll do whatever it takes to make you come. Make you mine.” She is panting now. Her grip on my hair flexes and contracts, pulsating with the wave of pleasure that is surely building inside her. But she stays silent. Nothing but her heavy breath as a response. I withdraw my fingers and stand up. “Mac,” she finally utters. “Please… just…” “Undress me,” I say. “If you can’t ask for what you want, I’m happy to go first.” That fingernail comes right up to her mouth and for the first time I notice that her polish is chipped. She chews on it for a moment and then she places each of her hands on my shoulders and slips my suit coat off. She carefully lays it on the cushions next to us and then fists the fabric of my dress shirt and pulls it out of my pants. “Oh, yeah,” I say, shaking my head a little. “I like this Ellie.” She loosens my tie, flips up my collar, and slides it over my head, dropping the silk down on top of the coat. Her lips press together and then relax as she begins unbuttoning my shirt from the bottom up. When she gets to the last button she slides it over my bare shoulders, her fingertips brushing gently against my skin. Tracing the curves of my muscles all the way down my arms until the shirt falls to the floor at our feet. I place both my hands on her shoulders and press down. “Kneel,” I say. I have no problem asking her to do what I like. None. “And take my dick out.” She lets out a long exhale and I can almost feel her pulse pounding in her neck as she lowers herself to the floor. She looks up at me, her eyes wide as she swallows hard. “Fuck,” I say. “Just picturing you sucking my dick makes me harder.” Harder, because I’m so fucking hard right now, my cock might be made of stone. She takes her attention to my belt and her fingers stumble through the motions of unbuckling it. She draws in another deep breath, like she’s steeling herself for the next part, but she does not hesitate. The button on my trousers is flipped through the narrow slit and then she is dragging my zipper down. One hand slides in, cupping my thick shaft, the other pulls on my boxer briefs until my cock is free. I fist it, pumping it up and down as she watches, and then I guide it to her mouth. “Open,” I say. She looks up at me, blinking twice, and then obeys. I let a small grin escape as her hot breath puffs out against my tip and then the warmth of her mouth surrounds me, sealing against my skin. She sucks, pushing down, making me enter her throat before drawing back, her tongue flat as it drags along my cock, and then releases me, looking up again to see if I like what she can do. “Keep going,” I say, encouraging her. “I love it.” But she doesn’t. She holds still. “Ellie?” I ask,

cocking my head slightly with the question. “You want to know what I want you to do?” “Tell me,” I say, unable to stop a full smile. “Whatever it is, I’m up for it.” She looks me straight in the eyes as she takes each of my hands and places them on the side of her head. Pressing them against her skull, telling me to grip her tight. I’m happy to oblige her wishes. And I know what she wants, but I want to hear her ask. “Hold me here,” she says. “And…” She loses her nerve and blushes a bright pink. I reach down with one hand, cupping her full breast as best as I can. It spills out between my fingers, heavy and erotic. I twist her nipple, making her moan. “Tell me, Ellie. You have no fucking idea how badly I want to hear what you have to say.” “I want you to…” She shakes her head and smiles, still embarrassed. I take my hand up to her head again, gripping her hair as I bring her mouth towards me, my hips almost reaching for her, my cock throbbing with anticipation. “This?” I ask. She nods, but looks down. “Say it,” I command. “All you have to do is say it. Remember how good it felt when I fucked your ass, Ellie? And you didn’t think you’d like it. But this? You know you want it. You know you’re going to love it. So just tell me. I might come on your face just hearing you say those words.” “Fuck…” she says. “Fuck… my face. Like you would… my pussy.” “Holy hell,” I say with the slightest hint of satisfaction that I can’t tuck away. “I am happy to make you happy.” I grip her harder, if that’s possible, and the moment she opens her mouth, I thrust inside her. Past her lips. She is not wide enough to take my whole girth, so her teeth scrape just enough across my cock to make my head fall backwards with pleasure. I pump my cock into her wet mouth just like I’m going to do her pussy in a few minutes. I’m not going to come in her mouth. My woman will always come first. But I want to give her the full facefuck experience. “Put your hands behind your back, Miss Hatcher,” I say in a low, rough growl. “And don’t move them unless I tell you to.” She looks up at me, her eyes already watering with the strain of obeying, but she does as I ask as she leans forward, practically begging for more. I give it to her. Hard. And fast. She gags and spits, her saliva dripping out of her mouth and over the curve of her chin. And she never takes her eyes off me. “You like that, Ellie? You fucking slut. Play with your pussy,” I say. “One hand only, keep the other behind your back, and do not stop until you come.” Her fingers are between her legs, rubbing her clit in fast, frantic circles, before I’m even done talking. “Put your fingers inside yourself, Ellie. Show me how you like it.” She presses against her pussy, adjusting her legs until they are open wide and I have the perfect view of everything she’s doing. “Come,” I say. She moans with her release, my hips still pumping, fucking her face, dick still in her mouth. The sound thrums, vibrates, tantalizing the tip of my head until I almost forget and shoot my come down her open throat. I pull back just in time. Ellie is gasping for air. Her face is a mess, her makeup smeared down her cheeks, her chin just as wet as her pussy. “I want to lick you so bad right now.” I don’t give her a chance to recover or respond, just reach down, lift her up, twirl her around, and push her forward until she has to bend over the bed and place her hands on the mattress to steady herself. I bend down, my hand pumping my dick in long, fast strokes. And then I release the hold and flatten my hands on her ass cheeks, spreading them as I place my mouth over her pussy and suck.

“Oh, shit, Mac,” she says. Her legs tremble with the effort of holding herself up, but I don’t stop. I flick my tongue against her clit, insert two fingers in her pussy and one in her ass, and then pump her until she comes again. Writhing, and twisting, and falling forward, utterly unable to keep herself upright. “Tell me now, Ellie. It’s not so hard when you want so bad, is it? Tell me what you want me to do.” “Fuck me,” she says. “Put your cock in my pussy and fuck me until you can’t.” I am the one moaning this time. I’m so fucking ready to spill, I don’t even bother with a condom. Just press the head of my dick against her opening, grab her by the hips, and give her exactly what she wants. She comes a third time, almost immediately. And even though I’d like to fuck her like this until morning, I want to come all over her face even more. I pull back, flip her over, her breasts heaving with her heavy breathing. Her legs open. Her eyes closed. And then I grab her by the shoulders, place her in front of me and shoot my come all over her lips.

Chapter Thirty - Ellie

I am spent. Mac picks me up and carries me into the bathroom, setting me down on the counter. “That was fun,” I say, blushing like there’s no tomorrow, because my face is hot as hell. And sticky. He smiles at me, his dick still semi-hard and waving in the air as he moves across the bathroom to find a washcloth. I’m still so fucking horny. “Hold still, Miss Hatcher. Let me clean that up for you.” He turns on the hot water and wets the washcloth, adjusting the temperature and squeezing out the excess water before bringing it up to my face and washing me gently. He does it again, using a new washcloth, but this time he strokes me tenderly with it. Under my eyes, cleaning up my smeared makeup. Down my cheeks, my chin, my neck. He uses his legs to force mine open, then places the warm cloth between them, cupping my pussy before tossing both washcloths onto the floor. “Shower?” he asks. “For sure,” I say back. “Then bed?” he asks. “Then more?” I ask back. I catch a sly grin spreading across his face. “I will never say no to more, Miss Hatcher.” He gets everything ready, then he takes my hand and leads me into the shower, placing me under the wide stream of water pouring out from the ceiling. He squirts some shampoo into his palm and begins to wash my hair, careful to get every strand. I reach for the soap and begin caressing him with it. His perfect chest. His perfect shoulders. His perfect hips, and of course, his cock. That’s all it takes to have him lift me up, press me against the white marble tiles, and fuck me against the wall. I know we’re not using condoms, and he comes inside me, but I’m on the pill and we can talk about that later if he wants. I’m sure he thinks of me as far too organized and efficient to not be. After we’re spent—again—and clean, he wraps me in a white robe and leads me to bed. I let it fall to the floor and then crawl where he’s opened up the covers for me. He might not think he’s perfect. Obviously that was his point by having me hunt for him in his house. But right now, I do. I think McAllister Stonewall is about as perfect as a man can get. That is our weekend. Sex, and food, and showers, and more sex. More talking, but not a lot of the serious stuff. Mostly just the fun stuff. What we like to do. Music. Where we’d take the perfect vacation. Things he didn’t know about me from that message stream with his brother. That makes it all real. Before this weekend I was just a girl on text message who liked to fuck him at work. But now… I feel like we really know each other. Like we’re on our way to something new. A relationship, and not one that is delusional. We’re real.

“Hey,” Mac says, leaning into my ear. “I gotta go into the office early, Ellie. You can sleep in if you want.” “Oh, my God, what time is it?” “Five thirty.” “That’s just wrong. Five thirty on Monday? Why?” “My… father ’s meeting, remember? He scheduled it early.” I open my eyes, instantly awake. “Does he need me there?” Mac laughs and kisses me on the cheek. “No, just me. It’s all about me. You’re coming in today though, right? Don’t let that bitch Ellen fuck up your career, Ellie. Don’t let her win.” We talked about this at length this weekend and there is a certain draw to Stonewall Senior ’s offer. Part time. Delegate, he said. I think that might be the perfect answer for me. So much about this weekend has turned out perfect. And to think, Friday afternoon I felt like I was in a tailspin. The video. Jesus, how embarrassing. But Mac made a lot of good points that talked me down from the ledge about that. One, we’re hot as fuck on that video. And I’m not even naked. I was still wearing my dress. I personally don’t think that makes up for the fact that my ass was unzipped for that fuck, but I do have to agree. It was hot. Two, hardly anyone saw it. We went through all the buildings with TV and Mac even called tech support to see which ones got the stream. And it was only the Atrium. Ming already said it was only up for two minutes. So despite the fact that everyone knows about it, not everyone saw it. Three—and this one was just me, although I’m guessing Mac might be thinking something similar —every girl at that company is probably wishing she was me. Because McAllister Stonewall is a catch. For real. Hell, if I saw someone else getting fucked the way I was, I’d be wishing that was me. So this is my justification for not running away this morning. For sucking it up and going into work. Maybe I can negotiate a work-from-home deal with Stonewall Senior? Weirder things have happened. Just look at my life these past two weeks. “I’ll be in,” I tell Mac. “I don’t have anyone flying in until eight thirty. So I’ll be in at my normal time.” “OK,” he says, giving me another kiss. “I’m late, so I gotta go. See you later.” He pulls back and I roll over and watch him as he walks out of the bedroom. Lazily thinking about everything. This house, for one. How empty it is. Mac says he just moved in and didn’t bring anything with him but a few suits. He’s having stuff delivered this week. Some more personal things that he has at his house in… well, he never actually said. I did ask him a few times but somehow we ended up talking about something else. Hmmm. I’ll have to ask that again later when we have lunch. We talked all about me, but most of it he knows. I’m not a rolling stone. I’ve been gathering moss at Stonewall Entertainment since college. So that wasn’t all that interesting. But he did mention he’s been traveling a lot. I sit up and ponder this. Come to think about it, he never mentioned where he did all that traveling either. I lie back and try to get some more sleep, but Mac’s lack of disclosure is troubling. Did I let him lead me all weekend? Was he doing it on purpose? Or were we just caught up in each other and we found ourselves off on tangents? That’s likely. That’s how it is when you meet someone new. Someone you like. Someone you’re really interested in. When you start thinking this might lead to something more, you want to

hear everything and you get sidetracked. Going down roads you never knew you wanted to travel because it’s all so shiny and new. I sigh and accept that line of thinking. But I can’t seem to get it out of my mind. I toss and turn, and before I know it, it’s almost six, so there’s no hope of sleep if I want to take a shower before work. Mac and I took a lot of showers this weekend. The shower sex called to us multiple times. So I don’t really need one. He fucked me against the wet, tiled wall less than eight hours ago. I’m still snickering at that thought when my phone buzzes on the side table. I reach over and check the caller ID. It’s work, but not anyone who has called me before because it just comes up as Stonewall Entertainment. “Hello?” “Ellie? This is Stephanie, Mac’s assistant. I’m so sorry.” She giggles. “He made me call you because he’s in a meeting with Stonewall Senior. Mac said he left his phone in his home office and could you please bring it to him when you come in?” “Jesus, way to be discreet, Mac.” “I know,” Stephanie says, still amused. “But if it’s any consolation, I think it’s great. You two are very cute together.” “Thanks,” I say, pleased that my rationale for not letting that video get to me is panning out. “Tell him I’ll get ready and be right over.” “Sure thing,” Stephanie says. “See you then.” I end the call and throw the covers off. Where the hell is the home office? I decide to get dressed first, then go searching for that little hidden corner of this rooftop mansion. I have no idea how big this place is, but there are six bedrooms, ten bathrooms, and obviously an office I never did see. I only have jeans with me, so that’s going to have to do for work. I really didn’t expect to stay here last night, but I so didn’t want to leave. I didn’t bring work clothes over on Friday. The thought that this weekend would be so great never entered my mind. I wash up in the bathroom and put on a little bit of makeup. Just enough to make me look freshfaced. And then I pull my jeans on, go into Mac’s closet and find a work shirt I can throw on over my tank top. I choose the only clean one hanging in the closet and tie it in a little knot at my waist as I find my way back out to the main living room where I left my shoes when I came in on Friday. That rug, Jesus. I will have to hint around to Mac that we should really have sex on it. I blush at the thought. What has he done to me? I don’t know, but I like it. I think Ellie Hatcher, one half of Eloise and McAllister, is way more interesting than plain old delusional Ellie Hatcher, celebrity coordinator. “OK,” I say as I stuff my phone in my purse and hike it up on my shoulder. “Now to find the office.” I wander down the hallway where the waterfall wall is and when I get to the end I turn left instead of right. I haven’t been down this hallway so there’s a good chance there’s an office here somewhere. I’m right, after being wrong four times. I find a sitting room, a man cave complete with air hockey table, a bathroom I didn’t know about—so maybe that makes eleven—and a little reading nook. The office is the last room I come to, naturally, and it’s decorated in a light modern style, just like the rest of this place. There’s some paperwork, some pens in a crystal holder, and Mac’s phone on the desk. I grab it and turn back to leave, but it buzzes in my hand. I look down at the screen, thinking it’s Mac, but the caller comes up as Mr. Romantic. Mr. Romantic? What the hell is that about? I ignore it and toss it into my purse, but there’s a voice calling out. “Mac?” it says. “Mac? What the fuck, dude?”

I fish the phone out and realize I must’ve tabbed the call accept button, and place it to my ear. “Hello?” “Uh,” the guy says on the other line. “You’re not Mac.” “No, I’m Ellie. Sorry, I didn’t mean to answer the phone. But I must’ve bumped the call button by mistake. He left his phone at home and I’m bringing it to him.” “Ellie?” he says, half question, half not. “So he found you, huh?” “Found me?” “Yeah, I talked to him last week after I came home from Vegas. I saw Andrew Manco and for some reason Mac thought you were with Andrew that night.” “Oh, yeah.” I laugh. “It was a mix up. Do you want me to take a message?” “Yeah, just tell him to give Mr. Corporate a call when he has a chance.” “Mr. Corporate?” I ask. “Mr. Perfect will know what I’m talking about. Thanks a bunch, sweetheart. Later.” And then the call drops. I just stare at it for a moment. Mr. Romantic? Mr. Corporate? Mr. Perfect? What the hell is up with these names? I stand there for a moment. Completely still. Because I’m having an idea. A very bad idea, but an idea nonetheless. I have his phone. I bet I could find out a bunch of stuff about him if I just took a little peek inside…. No, Ellie. That voice in my head is very strong. But then there’s another voice. One that says, He looked at all those messages you sent Heath. He did do that, didn’t he? I’m almost obligated to take a peek. After all, it was totally unfair that he got to snoop around my private life. Read all those personal thoughts. And even though we spent the whole weekend together, I keep thinking that he really didn’t tell me much about himself. Sure, that scavenger hunt gave me some insight. But a lot of it was very esoteric, wasn’t it? Very philosophical and vague. Like Law Number 46. Never appear too perfect. What the hell is that about? And Mr. Romantic, whoever he is, just called Mac Mr. Perfect. I look over my shoulder, out of habit. Because I am going to look. Just at the contacts. See if there’s any more hints to this Mr. Perfect stuff. It sounds familiar to me for some reason. Maybe Mac mentioned it before? Did he ever say Mr. Romantic to me? No, I don’t think so. My fingers tab the screen to life and I’m pressing the little contacts icon before I can stop. They all pop up and I start scrolling down to the M’s. But Heath’s name catches my eye. Heath. Did they talk about me? I go to the messages and stop breathing. Yes. Yes, they did. My name is right there in the last one Mac sent. Mr. Perfect: If you’re not banging Ellie Hatcher, then I’ll give it a try. She looks totally corruptible. It’s dated the very first day we met. That day when he humiliated me in the executive conference room. I have to walk back over to the desk and take a seat because my legs suddenly feel very weak. My stomach has that hollow feeling I sometimes get. Like a punch to the gut. And my heart. Put it away, Ellie. There are things you don’t need to know. It’s true. I even agree. But then there are things you do need to know. And this is one of them. So I scroll up to the very first message that day.

Mr. Perfect: What the fuck is going on with these messages from Ellie? First she’s asking you to fuck her and then she’s talking this delusional bullshit about puppies and dream houses. Heath: What the hell are you talking about? Dream houses? I fucked Ellie a few times, but that was only because she wanted it. Stay away from her though, she’s crazy. Mr. Perfect: Yeah, no shit. She’s sending you Pinterest boards filled with what your future kids would look like. Heath: What? I don’t know what to say to that. Never saw that shit. Mr. Perfect: Yeah, dude. Crazy with a capital C. I’m not sure if I should call security and have her escorted off the premises or see if she’ll fuck me in the stairs. Is she cute? There’s a break in the conversation. Several hours. Then Mac is back. Mr. Perfect: There’s two Ellies, you asshole! Heath: Ellie Abraham? And who else? Oh, my God. I wasn’t even on his radar, was I? Not that I care. I’m over any delusional feels I might’ve have conjured up for Heath. But Mac. God, what is this? Mr. Perfect: Ellie Hatcher, you dumbass. I just felt her up in the stairs after she pulled this completely ridiculous stunt in a meeting. Holy fuck, man, you missed something supremely epic. Heath: See, aren’t you glad I fucked up and got sent off to China. Told you that place was fun. At least you didn’t fuck with Ellen Abraham. And no one calls her Ellie, she uses that nickname because she’s got this weird obsession with Ellie Hatcher. Like hates her guts or something. Well, that explains why she tried to ruin my life last week. I have no idea what I ever did to her. I’m nice to everyone. It’s practically my job to be nice to everyone. Well, to their face, anyway. I did make up nicknames for all my co-workers, but that was private. They didn’t know about it. Mr. Perfect: If you’re not banging Ellie Hatcher, then I’ll give it a try. She looks totally corruptible. My world goes completely still, the silence pouring in my ears to the beat of my heart. I did not just read that. I shake my head—no. It’s nothing. He was kidding. He didn’t know me back then. It was just guys being guys. And while calm, rational Ellie knows all that, I also know that first impressions are everything. This is his first impression of me. His words come back to me from that first day. This is completely ridiculous behavior, Miss Hatcher. My office now. Ridiculous. That’s why he thinks of me. I’m ridiculous. Completely ridiculous. And he thought I was Ellen Abraham that day in the stairs. In the meeting too, he must’ve. I don’t know what to do with this information. I feel slightly stupid, more than a little bit betrayed, and naive for buying into Mac’s version of dating. Is this dating? Even by his standards? My phone buzzes in my purse and my heart skips a beat thinking this might be Mac and I will have to confront him. But it’s not. It’s Ming. I tab the accept button and say, “Hello?”

“Ellie,” Ming says, very out of breath. “Oh my God, where are you? What she did is so fucked up!” I get a sinking feeling in my gut. “Who?” “Ellen!” I have to close my eyes and place my hand on the desk, like I’m preparing for a blow to the stomach. “What happened now?” “I’m so sorry, Ellie.” “Just tell me, Ming.” “She…” Ming hesitates again. “She sent out a newsletter, Ellie, and—” “How? She was fired last week!” “I don’t know,” Ming says. “Maybe she had it made and scheduled to deliver this morning. But it’s all about you and the Pinterest board for the employees. Screenshots and all the nicknames you have for people.” I press end on the call, but as soon as I do that, Mac is calling. I turn the phone off. Mac probably wants to warn me about the newsletter, but that’s not why I’m thinking about right now. I’m thinking about that last sentence he wrote to Heath. If you’re not banging Ellie Hatcher, then I’ll give it a try. She looks totally corruptible. That is the only thing I care about right now. He’ll give it a try. Sure, why not? Some stupid twenty-something at your father ’s company is willing to let herself be fingered in a stairwell? Sure. Mac is a man used to getting everything he wants. Mr. Perfect. Then the previous call from his friend comes back to me. Mr. Perfect, Mr. Romantic, Mr. Corporate. Why does all that sound familiar? I type in the three names as I stand in front of the computer. Mac’s face comes up immediately. Tons and tons of pictures of him, only his name is not McAllister Stonewall. I click on the first image and an article pops up. The caption under the picture says, Maclean Callister, AKA Mr. Perfect, and Nolan Delaney, AKA Mr. Romantic, celebrate the dropped charges in the Mr. Brown rape case. My legs are so wobbly I need to take a seat in the luxurious leather chair. The Mr. Brown rape case. I’ve heard of it, of course. It was all over the news a while back. Ten years ago, at least. Back when I was getting ready to graduate high school. I study the picture of Mac a little better. He’s smiling. So is his friend, Nolan Delaney, who I conclude was the voice on the other end of the phone call I just took. But neither of them look happy and neither of them look like they are celebrating. I click through more pictures and see them all. Mr. Perfect, Mr. Romantic, Mr. Corporate, Mr. Mysterious, and Mr. Match. They are all well-bred children from well-connected families who are rich beyond belief. I skim the article to refresh my memory. Five college boys, one college girl, and a rape charge. I understand the basics of what happened. The night started with a homecoming party at the house the boys shared and ended with one girl claiming she was gang-raped. The newspapers weren’t allowed to report the names of the boys until they were officially charged, so they gave them monikers until that happened. They called them the Misters of Brown University, or Mr. Browns for short. And then each boy got his own nickname based on how friends on campus described them to the media. Once the boys were officially charged, they were expelled and their real names divulged. The pre-trial media coverage lasted for well over a year and then abruptly stopped when the girl

was found dead in her hometown, some seven hundred miles away. The prosecutors were forced to drop the charges. No one thought the Misters were innocent, not for a second. In fact, there was an outcry to charge them all with murder as well. They were blamed for the girl’s death even though all five of them had rock-solid alibis for that incident. It’s a convoluted story, but I can follow it. What I cannot follow is how Maclean Callister became McAllister Stonewall. And what I’m having a hard time understanding is Mac’s anger at my teeny, tiny lie last week when he’s been holding back this bombshell of an explosion. Somewhere in the house a phone is ringing. Somewhere in myself, my heart is breaking. Is Mac guilty? Did he slip away? Did his real father—because obviously Mr. Stonewall isn’t his father—pay someone off? Did they have anything to do with the girl’s death? I don’t know how long I sit there before a voice calls my name from another part of the house. “Miss Hatcher?” I recognize George the doorman’s voice. “In here,” I call back. A few seconds later George finds me. “Oh, Miss Hatcher, Mr. Stonewall called asking me if you’d left yet. He sent me up here to look for you when I told him no.” George stares at me for a moment. “Is everything OK?” I nod out of habit, but I’m not sure everything is OK. In fact, finding out your boyfriend was accused of rape and might possibly be responsible for murder makes things decidedly not OK. “I was just looking for Mac’s phone. He asked me to bring it into work for him.” I hold up the phone and stand. “I better get going. I think he needs it.” “OK, Miss Hatcher,” George says. “We have your car downstairs waiting for you.” “I’ll be right down,” I tell him. There is no way I’m getting in an elevator so I can be forced to chit-chat my way down to the ground level. I wait until I hear the front door close and then I try to put my thoughts together. Was that scavenger hunt Mac’s way of preparing me for the truth? I feel so manipulated. And that text to Heath. I just feel… used. I’m sure there’s a way to justify it. Perception is everything. And if Mac can prepare me with his sympathetic point of view before I learn the truth, then he can control my reactions. It reeks of power. Of what obscene amounts of money means to those who hold it. Money doesn’t buy things. Money buys people.

Chapter Thirty-One - Ellie

I turn the computer off, toss Mac’s phone in my purse, and head down to the lobby. George is talking to someone at the front desk when I walk briskly past him to the front doors, but I’m secretly glad I didn’t have to have a conversation. I just hand the valet a tip and get in my car, taking a deep sigh to be back on familiar ground. What just happened? I’m not sure. I don’t trust myself to speak. I don’t trust anything right now. It only takes me a few minutes to wind my way around the elaborately landscaped roads of the Tech Center and get through the gates of the Stonewall campus, and a few more minutes to navigate to the Atrium parking lot, get out of my car, and be standing at the front doors of the building. I take a deep breath and step forward, triggering the automatic doors. The waterfall sounds remind me of Mac’s apartment and I have a pang in my stomach for the loss of something familiar and soothing. I force it away because it’s some kind of false memory. A fabrication. That’s not his apartment because his name isn’t McAllister Stonewall. People point and laugh at me as I enter the lobby. Snickering behind hands cupped over smiles. The newsletter. Ellen sent out that newsletter. I should feel embarrassed. Ashamed. But I don’t have time for that stupid silliness right now. My feet only have one stop in mind. I wait at the elevator, alone, and step through the glass doors, seeing the people down below as I ascend, but not registering them. I brace myself for the dirty looks and the contempt for what was said on my behalf in the newsletter. These people were my targets, after all. I’m not sure anyone down below cares too much about what I privately think about the seventh-floor executives. When the doors open I stare straight at Stephanie, willing myself to be invisible as I make my way to the back corner offices. My luck doesn’t hold. Jennifer slides into step beside me. “Ellie,” she says cautiously. I picture all the times I called her Jennifer Sluts-around on that Pinterest board. “Are you OK?” I glance over at her without stopping. “Am I OK?” I have to laugh at that. “I’m so sorry that Ellen got your phone.” “My phone?” I say, my steps slowing. “What do you mean?” “She got into your phone on Friday before I collected it from your office. I’m so sorry. She’s an evil bitch. The video, the phone, the texts—” I almost die hearing that. “The Pinterest board. The newsletter. I’m just sorry.” Well, my life here is over. I’ve been humiliated on every front. “I thought you’d be mad.” “Mad?” Jennifer asks. “Why would I be mad?” “I called you Jennifer Sluts-Around.” Jennifer laughs, shaking her head. “I know, that was hilarious!” “Hilarious?” I’m confused. “Those nicknames were adorable. Oh, my God, we laughed so hard this morning, Mac and Stonewall Senior came out of their meeting to see what the noise was all about. You nailed it, Ellie.

Those rants in that newsletter were the perfect cure for Monday morning. I’m sure Ellen did it to make you look bad, but we all thought it was ridiculously funny.” There’s that word again. Ridiculous. They do not care that I made a fool of myself in that meeting and got stuck in the slide trying to make my escape, that I was fucking my boss in my office all week long and got caught on video, or that I had made-up nicknames for all the higher-ups in this building. They don’t care because they see me as ridiculous. I am the token ditzy blonde. The girl assigned to escorting celebrities around and satisfying their whims. The girl who works out of an airplane hangar and wears second-hand designer clothes. The girl who got hired in college and never moved up. Sure, they gave me raises, they gave me titles… but I’m still doing the very same job I always did. I am still twenty-year-old college intern Eloise Hatcher. A quiet girl who can be trusted with secrets, because she lives a fictional life filled with made-up relationships. Jesus Christ. I even wrote a book about those relationships and tried to sell it to a publisher, for fuck’s sake. All these celebrities I pretend to know just because I’ve walked them around campus a few times over the years. All the worldly wisdom I’ve gathered by staying put in the same spot I’ve been standing in for seven years. And all the life-changing advice I’ve handed out. I bet all those agents and publishers are laughing at me too. I want to cry. Not because of the things that happened with Brutus, or the video, or Ellen’s stupid last stand with the newsletter. Not even because I found out Mac was a liar, at the very least, and possibly a rapist/murderer at most. I want to cry because I’m a joke. I stop walking. “Ellie?” Jennifer asks, placing a hand on my shoulder. “Are you OK?” Mac and Stonewall Senior are visible through the glass walls of the executive conference room. They’re both serious. Hands are waving in the air, mouths making odd shapes that tell me the conversation’s heated. They are standing up at the digital whiteboard at the front of the room going over some chart or another. And it’s not that I think they are talking about me. In fact, I’m sure they are not. Stonewall senior knew my father and gave me a job back when I needed one. I am just this little party favor left over from some by-gone good time. Like a balloon, or piece of candy, or cheap toy that looks pretty inside the brightly-colored bag of treats but has no actual use once the party is over. “Ellie?” Jennifer asks again. “Why aren’t you mad at me, Jennifer?” I turn to face her. “What?” She laughs, and then tsks her tongue. “About the nickname? Shit, Ellie. I did my fair share of slutting around. It’s not like you made it up. You just called it like it is. Once upon a time I was an office slut. So what? I can appreciate the funny in what you wrote.” “Don’t you care that I didn’t know you well enough to see you differently? You’ve been married for a while now. It’s been years since you did anything remotely slutty. Don’t you care that I still thought of you that way?” “You found out quick enough, didn’t you? We got to know each other pretty fast once you were moved up here. How would you know what I was up to? You were stuck down in the hangar for years.” I don’t know what to say to that. “Look,” Jennifer says, her hand still on my shoulder. “We all know those names were made up years ago. It’s just some harmless fun. Letting off steam. I mean, Mr. Sowards wasn’t too crazy about being called Mr. Sour-puss, but come on!” She’s outright laughing now. “It’s funny in a very stupid

way. No one is mad.” I almost accept that. Almost. If Mac hadn’t stood in his office two weeks ago and talked about cows and rowers on the river then I’d probably be OK with what she just told me. But he did. He said those things and I heard them and they cannot be unheard. I am scenery to these people. I am a view. I am a car on the road, or a boat floating under a bridge, or a light flicking on and off on the side of a building. No one cares about the driver in that car, or the man on that boat, or the couple in that apartment. No one cares because they are nothing but a view. “Ellie!” Mac calls me from the conference room door. “He’s not mad either,” Jennifer says, looking over at Mac. I don’t say anything back, just turn and walk towards the conference room. Mac smiles at me as I approach. “You’ve heard, I take it? Ellie, don’t let Ellen get to you, OK? We are going to press charges. She will pay for this.” I slip past him and enter the room. Stonewall Senior stands up and holds his hand out. I extend my hand too, but instead of shaking it, he engulfs it into both of his as they cup around and press. It’s a warm gesture. One that says more than words. And I appreciate it, I really do. But it’s not enough to take away this deep, sinking feeling of hurt bubbling up from within me. “I’m…” I stop, not sure how much I should say, but then press on anyway. “Sad.” “We’re going to make her pay,” Senior says. “Don’t worry about that.” “No,” I say, shaking my head. “I’m not sad about her. I’m sad about me. I thought about your offer all weekend, Mr. Stonewall. And I appreciate it, so much. I really appreciate everything you’ve done to help me, so I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m leaving. Today. Right now, in fact. I’m walking out and I’m not coming back.” “Ellie?” Mac says. “Are you sure?” “Is it the video?” Senior asks. “I’m so sorry—” “No,” I say, cutting him off. “No, that’s not it. I just want to be more than a view.” I look Mac in the eyes for that last part. He squints at me, getting it, maybe. Or not getting it. I’m not sure. I don’t care. “That’s all I have to say.” I fish around in my purse, find Mac’s phone, place it on the glass table, and walk out. “Ellie?” Mac calls after me. I hear him whisper something to Stonewall Senior, but I don’t catch the actual words. A few seconds later he’s walking next to me with his arm around my shoulder. “Are you OK? What’s going on?” I grit my teeth and take a deep breath as I look up at him. He’s so perfect. That square jaw, still slightly unshaven. His broad shoulders. Just imagining them without the precisely-tailored short and suit coat makes me wish this was all real. And those cerulean-blue eyes. They want to claim me. I want them to claim me. “Mr. Romantic called this morning.” Mac takes a step back, his touch gone, the warmth and togetherness it implied gone with it. “And maybe I would’ve been OK with who you really are if you had told me first. I’m not sure. But I’m not OK with how the truth unfolded.” “Ellie,” Mac says, his expression softening. “I didn’t lie to you on purpose. I just didn’t want to come here as that guy. You know?” I do know. I totally know. Not one bit of that is unreasonable. “I also saw your texts to Heath. Yes, I looked. It was wrong and I’m a bitch. But you got to see inside me, Mac. And never once during the past two weeks did I really get to see inside you. So I looked and I didn’t like what I saw.” “That’s not fair,” he says.

“I know. But it wasn’t what I saw inside you that bothered me. It was the way you saw me. It’s the way everyone here sees me. Ridiculous Ellie Hatcher. That’s who I am here and I that’s not who I am inside. I’m a serious person inside, Mac. I’m smart, and driven, and occasionally funny. I am not a joke to myself.” “I never thought you were, Ellie.” “You did. You threw my little fantasy with Heath in my face every time I pulled back. You called it delusional, you called it crazy, and you think it’s silly. But I don’t think it’s silly.” “Heath—” Mac says. “I don’t want your brother, Mac. But I like that fantasy. I don’t think it’s crazy to want the perfect life. But you, Mac. You’re not my Mr. Perfect.” “He doesn’t exist,” Mac says. “Oh, he does,” I say back as I tap my head. “He exists in here. And maybe that’s as close as I’ll ever get, but who are you to tell me to give up on my dream?” “I never said that.” “‘Get help, Ellie,’” I snap. “‘You’re delusional, Ellie.’ Well, OK. Maybe I am. Maybe I do need help. But I’m not going to find it here. All I’m going to get from you are calculated moves, and halftruths, and a guarded heart. And I’d just like to point out that you are the one who has been lying. Not me. You got to see the real Ellie from day one and I never once got to see the real Mac.” “Ellie,” Mac says, looking around. There are dozens of people watching us have this conversation. No one is smiling. “Let’s go in my office and talk, OK?” I shake my head and turn away. “Ellie!” Mac calls after me. But I’ve already checked out and I’m going out in style. And this time, when I grab the handle of the slide and swing my body in, there is no fancy skirt to slow me down. There is no battle cry of victory, either, but I smile the whole way down. And when my body shoots out of the twisted plastic tube seven stories below, I come to a full stop with my feet planted firmly on the floor. I stand up and straighten my shirt. “Ellie!” Mac shouts. “Watch out!” But as soon as I turn, he comes shooting out of the slide and barrels into me.

Chapter Thirty-Two - Mac

I spread my legs, wild grin on my face, as I crash into Ellie. She goes flying backwards, but I wrap my arms around her tightly and we fall together instead, me landing squarely on top of her. “Are you OK?” I ask, checking to see if she hit her head. “What the hell are you doing?” Her eyes are flashing mad and her cheeks flush with heat once she realizes everyone is watching us. “Get off me!” She squirms under my body and I shoot her a cockeyed grin. “Don’t move around too much, Miss Hatcher. I’m warning you. That weekend of sex we just had is still fresh in my mind.” She clenches her jaw and her small fists pound on my back, but I just grab her wrists and hike them over her head, pinning her to the floor. “I get to have my say, Ellie. You’re not walking out of here with half the information. It’s not happening. So we can do this the easy way or the hard way, but we’re doing this.” “The easy way is with you straddling my body, holding my hands over my head?” she yells. “That was just my way of getting your attention, Miss Hatcher.” I get up off her and extend my hand. “I’m happy to do it like this instead.” She looks up, past me. I look around, then up. Hundreds of faces peer over the sides of the Atrium, all the way up to the seventh floor where Alexander Stonewall is one of them. I can’t tell from this distance if he’s raging mad or smiling. I’m going to go with raging mad, but I don’t care. “Take my hand, Ellie. Come on, let’s do this.” She does, and I pull her up to her feet. But she leans in and growls out her words past her gritted teeth. “Do what, Mac? Make a fool of me? Don’t you think Ellen has done enough of that?” “Raise your hand if you give a shit about Ellen Abraham!” I shout. Ellie and I look around for several seconds. We even look all the way up the Atrium, searching the hundreds of people leaning over the balcony railings as they watch us, but not one hand is raised. “OK,” I yell again. “Raise your hand if you care about Ellie Hatcher.” Hands start raising before I even finish the sentence. “Give me a big, ‘Hell, yeah,’ if you think she’s adorable.” They don’t really shout it. It’s kind of unconventional and I’m just getting them warmed up. But Jennifer shouts down from the seventh floor, “Hell, yeah!” “Hell, yeah,” someone else says a few feet away. Then another, and another. “Ellie Hatcher, we don’t think you’re ridiculous, we think you’re adorable.” More people shout out in agreement. “I like the fact that you have days-of-the-week outfits. I like your M&M-sorting skills, and how you keep celebrities on time and on their toes. I especially like the fact that you almost killed a rock star two weeks ago. I like that you nickname people, even if it’s a little insulting, and I’m jealous that I wasn’t on that list. I’m dying to know what you’d call me.” Ellie is starting to look uncomfortable, like she has no interest in hashing this out in front of the entire population of Atrium employees. So I switch back to me. “Look, Ellie, I was going to tell you the truth about who I was.” I look around to everyone now. “All of you. I was going to tell all of you. She just distracted me that first day and took over my life.”

I shrug. “What can I say? I fell in love with her immediately.” I look back and Ellie and take both her hands in mine. “But I had every intention of coming clean. So I’m just going to do that now.” “Mac, look, you don’t owe me an explanation.” “I do, Ellie. You’re right. I saw inside you without your permission when I read those messages. And I never gave you that opportunity.” I take a deep breath and drop her hands, turning to face everyone else. “I’m not Alexander Stonewall’s son.” People gasp in surprise and then all the whispering begins. “My real name is Maclean Callister. People still call me Mac, so that hasn't changed. And you probably know me better by the moniker the media gave me ten years ago. Mr. Perfect.” It takes a few seconds, but the whispers begin. The rumors, the accusations, the final outcome. I hear bits and pieces of all of that as I wait. I turn back to Ellie. “I’m Mr. Perfect but I’m definitely not perfect. I’ve made a lot of mistakes but I didn’t rape that girl and not one of us had anything to do with her death. I’m sorry she died because her lies live on. No matter what, no one will ever hear her admit that she set me up. She set up my friends. She got us kicked out of school, almost put on trial, and made our lives a living hell for two years. No one wants to believe people are capable of such evil, but they are. All we have to do is look at Ellen Abraham here at Stonewall to see this kind of evil play out on a smaller scale.” I hear more whispers. Agreement? Disagreement? I’m not sure. But I started this so now I have to finish it. “I left college ten years ago and never went back. None of us did, you know. Mr. Romantic opened some clubs out in San Diego. Mr. Corporate started a high-level headhunting business. Mr. Mysterious… well, disappeared, to be honest. I haven’t heard from him in years. And Mr. Match opened a dating service with one of his sisters. He was only eighteen. Did you know that? Mr. Match’s life was ruined at eighteen. For two years this kid sat around trying to figure out what he ever did to that girl. We all did. Two years.” I look at Ellie and try to read her face. It’s not very telling. She’s holding her cards close. “I didn’t do it. I didn’t do anything but take that girl on a date, buy her dinner, drop her off at her apartment, and then go home. But I’m the privileged offspring of a one-percenter. My father is so rich, he owned fifty percent of this company and no one knew it. He never set foot on this campus. Just collected dividends every year. And this girl and her partners wanted to take that privilege away. Steal it by any means necessary.” It’s sad. Everything about this story is sad and I hate talking about it, but I owe Ellie more than what I’ve been giving her. I owe her the truth, but beyond that, I owe her some sort of reassurance that I’m not the monster the media turned me into. “They made it all up,” I say. “All of it. And that girl was a victim, but not my victim. She was the victim of the evil men who came up with that plan and decided she was nothing but collateral damage. I don’t even blame her. They plucked her out of obscurity and student loan hell and made promises that were far better than anything she had going for her at the time. Bigger than anything she could ever imagine. So no, I don’t blame her for falling into their trap. They used her like an animal. And when their plan started falling apart, when I made all the Misters come together and form a united front against these bogus charges, when her history started being the front-page news instead of my present—they killed her. “And then it was all about me again, right? Not only was I a rapist, now I was a murderer. I killed her. We all did. Somehow. Some way. No one knew how because the five of us were all accounted for the night she died, so you know, most people would say that excludes us. But we’re rich. We’re privileged. We work magic with money and buy people off. That’s how it’s done, right? We have power.

“Well, that’s true. I do have power. I have the power to do a lot of things, but clear my name wasn’t one of them. I do not have the power to change the public perception of me or my friends. I do not have the power to create genuine respect from people. I do not have the power to make people trust me.” I pause and look around. Meet hundreds of sets of eyes. It feels so good to be able to finally say this. And to these people especially. People who matter to me. “But I do have the power to change the world. To make it less hateful, less angry, less difficult. And maybe if someone had helped that girl’s family out when she was younger she wouldn’t have fallen into the trap her co-conspirators laid. So I took my trust fund and set out to make a difference. I’ve been gone for ten years, but I haven’t been hiding. I’ve been changing the world one family at a time through my charity, Change the World. I can’t change anything big,” I say. “I can’t change governments, or stop wars, or prevent draught or famine. But I can take one family at a time and change their future.” The whispers get louder and the confusion and tension eases out of the faces. “Because I learned a very valuable lesson from the woman who falsely accused me of rape. I learned that something as small as a few words can have a profound impact on the future of five boys. And if words can do so much damage, then surely there are things equally as small that do so much good. A few dollars in Africa can feed a family for a week. Give out a million of those dollars to the right people and I just fed the population of a city.” “Shit, Mac,” Ellie says with a sigh. “I’m sorry.” I shrug. “You didn’t know. No one knew. I didn’t want to do good deeds to be rewarded for them. I just wanted to do them to prove to myself that not everyone is bad. That I’m not the greedy kid they made me out to be. And when I found out that Alexander needed to retire to take care of his health, and he wanted me to come claim my fifty percent interest in the company and head up the North American branch while Heath took over the developing market in Asia and Camille ran Europe, well, I was reluctant. Why should I leave behind what I built for this? For people I don't know and, more importantly, people who might not need me as much as the ones I’m walking away from?” I turn to the Stonewall employees. “I came here to sell it,” I say, raising my arms. “Just sell it off. I didn’t see the value. Not compared to the work I was doing. But I was wrong.” I turn to Ellie. “You, Ellie Hatcher, have value. You’re an exceptional employee. And I know you have big plans in your future, so I’m not going to ask you to stay. But I want you to know that I value you. “I value all of you and if Alexander still wants me, I’m in. I’d be honored to help keep Stonewall Entertainment the number one corporation to work for. Not just America, but the world. I’d love for us to change the future together.”

Chapter Thirty-Three - Ellie

I am at a loss for words. My mouth opens, closes, then opens again. I feel like a fish gasping for air. “Ellie?” Mac is staring at me with a worried look on his face. “Ellie? Are you OK?” I look up. All the faces staring down at me. Stonewall Senior is up there. And Jennifer. And Stephanie and Mr. Sowards. “Ellie? What’s wrong? Talk to me.” I shake my head as I let out a long breath. “I can’t.” I really can’t. So I just turn on my heel and walk out the building. Outside it’s bright, and the morning sun is beating down on the parking lot, making me instantly feel much too warm. I press a finger to my temple as I head for my car. “Ellie!” Mac yells from behind me. “Wait!” I can’t wait. I can’t deal. None of this makes any sense at all. “Ellie,” Mac says. He grabs my arm hard enough to pull me to a stop. “Where are you going? Don’t you have anything to say? No comment? Not even a shrug?” I stop because he makes me, but I don’t turn to look at him. I stare down at my feet. Study the small cracks in the concrete parking lot. Count a few stones. “Goddammit, Ellie. What the hell is going on with you?” “You want to know?” I ask softly. “Yes,” he says loudly. “I’d really like to know.” I turn to him, willing myself to be strong. Not to cry or appear any more ridiculous than I already am. Mac is so handsome. His face, his body, his suit, his shoes, his car, his apartment. Everything. “I thought you were the one floundering and I had it all figured out. But it turns out I’m a joke in every sense of the word.” “What?” Mac asks. “What does that even mean? Ellie, you’re not making sense to me right now. What is the deal? Do I need to convince you I’m not guilty of those crimes they accused me of? Or—” “No,” I say, putting up my hand to stop him. “No. That’s not it, Mac. It’s got nothing at all to do with those ten-year-old accusations, it’s got everything to do with your life since then.” “I don’t get it,” Mac says. “I don’t understand what you hate about what I’ve been doing with my life, Ellie. Just tell me and I’ll fix it. Whatever it is that’s bothering you, I’ll fix it.” “You’ll fix it?” I ask, doing my best to stifle a small snort, but not entirely succeeding. “You can’t fix it, Mac. You can’t fix it because it’s not about you, it’s about me.” “Ellie,” Mac says again, but this time his voice is stern. “I don’t understand.” “I know,” I say. “I know you don’t. How could you? You are Mr. Perfect. You are accused of a heinous crime and instead of bowing under, you take control. You segregate yourself from society and start feeding the world.” “What’s so bad about that?” He yells it. His patience is over. “What the fuck is the problem here? I thought you’d be proud of me. I thought you’d be happy to finally find out I really am a good guy and not this asshole you’ve conjured up in your head.” “I am proud of you, Mac. It’s the perfect turnaround, right? But I’m good at that conjuring. All those delusions and pretend babies.”

“Ellie, just stop, OK? I told you I like that part of you.” “Maybe,” I say. “But I hate it.” “What?” “I hate it. And you know what? You should be proud that you’re Mr. Perfect. You certainly earned the title. Do you know what my biggest contribution to society has been, Mac? Buying designer clothes from a charity shop. Unless you count feeding the egos of celebrities worthwhile. Or pretending that I’m some world-wise woman who can help people sort out their life goals.” I can’t contain my snort this time, it comes barreling out through my nose. “I am so pathetically ridiculous.” “Ellie,” Mac says, his voice softer. He places his hands on my shoulders. “It’s not a competition. You and I are in different places. I’m able to give the way I do because of money I inherited.” I sigh and nod my head as I stare at my shoes. “You’re right. We’re in two totally different places. You have arrived and I haven’t even started my journey yet.” I turn away again and start walking to my car. I don’t look back, but I know Mac isn’t following me. I click my key fob, hoping to slide behind the wheel and get out of here without any more talking. But Mac doesn’t grant me that last wish. “You know what, Ellie Hatcher? I was right about it all along.” I glance back at him standing down the aisle, his hands by his side, his posture straight, head high. “About what?” I yell back, lifting the latch on the door and pulling it open. “Me?” Mac shakes his head and then his shoulders slump a little. “Never appear too perfect. Law 46 was right. People don’t like perfect, they much prefer fake.” “Well,” I say, a sad final laugh passing my lips, “then maybe that law was a warning to stay away from me, Maclean Callister. Because I invented the fake world, remember? I’m just another sign on the highway of life telling you to move along. I’m not where you belong. I’m not even worth stopping for.” I get in my car, start it up, and drive away. He didn’t understand anything I was trying to say back there. Not one thing. And I can’t blame him because I’m not sure that I do either. All I know is that everything feels… wrong. This job, my book, that fake life I dreamed up to numb the emptiness in my heart. I follow the manicured landscaped roads until I get to my apartment building. Just another reminder of how little I’ve been living since college. How little I’ve accomplished. Mac gets accused of rape and murder and he goes off to feed the world and make a difference. I land a cushy job at the number one corporation to work for in America and end up writing delusional text messages to a man who has no interest in me. Way to go, Hatcher. Your parents would be proud. That makes me cry. Hard. Tears begin streaming down my face and instead of slowing down to turn into my parking lot, I keep going until I hit the freeway. I enter and drive east. The landscape changes after about twenty minutes, going from suburban city to sprawling horse property, to ranch and farm land. Two hours later I pull off and follow a lonely two-lane highway south until the roads turn to dirt and the grazing land turns to waist-high cornfields. I stop the car at the top of a hill and get out, the summer wind blowing my hair across my face as I turn my back to the sun and stare down at the farmhouse I grew up in. It’s half a mile away from where I stand, but I don’t need to be close to it to see what I need. The sprawling front porch. The children playing in the yard. The dogs running around. We had sheep as well as corn when I was a kid. But the new owners never did raise animals. Just crops. They even tore the barn down so they could squeeze every bit of yield out of that land. I lived here on my grandparents’ farm with my dad after my mom took off. And after my grandparents died, we sold. I was in college anyway. But it made me so sad to sell. This was the one

place that felt like home. Where I could be me. How long have I been living my delusional life? Longer than those text messages to Heath, that’s for sure. I haven’t been me in a very long time. Why did I stay at Stonewall all these years? It’s not the career I ever imagined for myself. I minored in psychology for a reason. I have always wanted to help people and I always had a dream of being a life coach. Getting to know celebrities was supposed to be a stepping stone but instead it became a dead-end road. I’m glad someone bought the farm. At least it’s not sitting empty. At least it’s got a new family inside those rooms. And they look happy. I’m happy for them. I was happy growing up there, that’s for sure. I wipe the tears from my eyes and get back in my car, my head resting on the steering wheel for a few seconds. I guess this is why I like my delusional world better than my real life. I guess I’m just trying to get back the part of my life I left behind when I left this place. Fill up that hole inside my chest that threatens to come out every time I slow down and have a few minutes to really think about my own life. My own hopes and dreams. I am such a joke. Why did I ever think I could coach other people through the pitfalls of life when I can’t even face the reality of my own situation? My phone rings inside my purse. I take it out and then thumb the accept tab. “Hey,” I say. It’s Ming. “I just heard what happened, Ellie. What’s going on?” I start crying and Ming does her best to get it out, piece by pathetic piece. I sit on the side of that road and face the facts as I tell her everything. About all the things I wanted out of life, and all the things that never happened. Ming listens with the patient ear of a best friend, offering me encouragement and soft words to ease my hurt feelings. “Come back,” Ming says. “You can stay at my house for a while.” “No,” I say, my breath still hitching from my sobs. “I can’t. I need to figure out what the hell I’m doing, Ming. I need to come to terms with this stuff. I can’t keep pretending that things are good. Hell”—I laugh out one last sob—“they’re not even close to OK.” “Publish your book, Ells. Just put it up online like we talked about. It’s good.” “How can it possibly be good?” I say. “How, Ming? My life is a mess. My career. If you could ever even call it that, is over.” “Your career hasn’t even started yet, Eloise Hatcher. That book is your future. You’re a good life coach. Don’t they always say that? The cobbler ’s children go shoeless or some shit like that? Well, you can still find clarity in the lives of others, even if you can’t in your own.” “It’s fake,” I say. “It’s fake to say I can help people when I can’t even help myself. And I can’t deal with this fake life anymore.” “Ellie.” Ming sighs. “I like your funny dreams and delusions. Everyone does. Your fantasies make people happy.” “Well, they don’t make me happy,” I admit. “Not one bit.” “So change it, Ells,” Ming says softly. “Come home and change it. We’ll do it together.”

Chapter Thirty-Four - Mac

A knock on my office door disrupts my pensive mood as I gaze out the window at the cows. It’s snowing today and all they are are little blobs of black and red on a sea of white. “Come in,” I call out. “Mac?” Stephanie says from behind me. “Yes,” I say, sticking my hands in the pockets of my suit trousers. “She’s on in three minutes.” I nod without turning around. “Do you want me to turn your TV on? We’re all going to watch on the big TV out in the Atrium.” “No,” I say. “I’ll be out in a minute.” Stephanie leaves, closing the door quietly behind her. It’s been six long months since I saw Ellie. Six months of wondering how to fix things and six months of coming to the realization that there are some things people need to do on their own. Returning to this office after Ellie walked out was mine, I guess. I was hiding when I came here as McAllister Stonewall, I just didn’t realize it. But Alexander has been a dear friend of mine all growing up. Heath and I really are like brothers. And if anyone messed with Camille I’d be there to set him straight just like any big brother. So I guess I rationalized it. I could still be Mac, I’d just take the Stonewall last name until the company was sold. Alexander never wanted to sell, he wanted me to step up. And I guess he got his way after all. Because the thought of walking away from this place after Ellie left was too much. I wanted the job at that point. No, I correct myself. I needed it. To give me a lifeline to her. To give me some hope that the things I was beginning to realize about myself might not be true. They are true. Were true. I was hiding. For ten years I lost myself in the charity. In philanthropy. In the hopes that it would wipe away the dirty stain left over from college. The guilt. I didn’t rape that girl. And if she hadn’t accused me, and all my friends, of raping her, I’d probably never even remember her name. But the guilt after she was killed. That was something I couldn’t live with. She was dead because of who I am. Maybe I didn’t do it, but if Maclean Callister didn’t exist she would never have been involved in that setup. She’d still be alive if I was never born. So yeah. I ran. I can admit now, but only because I know what it feels like to be left behind. Which is why I stayed, I guess. I pictured what my father probably went through after I took off and started giving my money away like it was growing on trees. I never needed the money. And giving it away isn’t even meaningful. I have so many trusts that are accruing interest, and some mature every year or two. My family set me up this way so I’d never have to work a day in my life. It wasn’t a risk to give it away. Not even in the denominations I was dealing with. Because barring some continuous financial catastrophe, I always knew there’d be more. The philanthropic work was satisfying for a long time. It kind of felt like work. I got up every day

and had phone calls. Meetings. Made decisions. I just never had to report to anyone. Which is why I stayed on here at Stonewall. I report to Alexander now. I sold him two percent of my interest in the company, just to give him peace of mind that the empire he built would never be threatened by the whims of another partner. He agreed to sell the company if I wanted to, even after I sold my controlling interest. But by that time I had figured it out. I want this. I want what he has. A family. A fresh start with someone I trust. Things I had been denying myself ever since I heard that accusation back in college. Giving away my money to self-select myself out of the company of other billionaires was never going to get me that. It feels good. And I will never give up the charity, but they don’t need me to pretend to work as I write checks. I never did anything meaningful anyway. Stonewall does though. Camille is successful over in Europe. And Heath, even though I do consider him a total pig when it comes to women, is making major inroads in China. He’s not coming home anytime soon. So here I am. CEO of Stonewall North America. And here I am. Still alone. “Mac?” Stephanie yells. “Ellie is on!” I’ve had regular updates from Ming about Ellie. We’ve had a standing Friday evening appointment since the week Ellie walked out, but that’s all been about business. Ellie stopped looking for a publisher for her book. She got a new editor. She found a cover designer. She got the book formatted. She found a printer. She pushed publish. That was last week’s report, so there are no more meetings about Ellie Hatcher ’s book release progress. And I haven’t dared to ask even one personal question. I refuse to discuss Ellie like she’s a thing that needs to be planned and plotted. But every minute—every second—of every day, I wish I had. Does she have a boyfriend? Does she ever talk about me? Is she happy? I won’t ask, but I want to. I won’t ask until Ellie agrees to see me. And she hasn’t. I’ve asked her at least two dozen times to meet me somewhere. Drinks? Lunch? Dinner? A weekend at my house? No. No. No. Hell, no. All that was in text messages. She won’t take my calls. And she hasn’t answered a text in over two months. Face it, Mac, she’s moved on. Just like she wanted to. She’s remade her life, her book is on sale, and she’s only here for the interview on the Tuesday Book Review segment of the Living Life show. A low-budget news program with the worst ratings in all of Stonewall Entertainment. Their ratings finally hit the rock-bottom threshold, and even though I hate to cancel shows, I was going to have to do it weeks ago to save more prosperous shows, but Ming said this was the only show she’d agree to. Ellie and her principles. She won’t take promotion from me—her exact words to Ming. She won’t build a career on contacts and favors. She doesn’t care if she never sells a single copy of her book, she will do this her way or not at all. So here we are.

She has sold books. Plenty of them, from the reports I’ve gotten. So I guess it’s true, she didn’t need me. “Mac!” Stephanie yells from the other side of the door. “Hurry! You’re going to miss it!” But today is the day I let her know… I need her.

Chapter Thirty-Five - Ellie

“Are you nervous?” Ming asks, brushing a piece of lint off the shoulder of my dress. “Kind of. Why am I doing this? I feel so stupid.” “Eloise Hatcher,” Ming says in her stern BFF voice. “If you were life-coaching yourself right now…” I stop listening. She’s been doing that to me for months. Eloise Hatcher! If you were life-coaching yourself right now you’d ask why you set yourself up for failure… or why you have such a low opinion of what you do… or why you don’t own the good you do in this world. I know all that. But that psychology doesn’t help much when you use it on yourself. “Maybe I need a life coach?” I ask Ming. She scowls at me. “You have me, bitch. And if I hear one more excuse for why you shouldn’t own your success I’ll…” I’ve heard all those threats too. She’s not right, though. Not about how I’m feeling right now, at least. Right now it’s not doubt. It’s nerves. From being back here at Stonewall Entertainment. Ming and Jennifer have tried to set me up with interviews on all the shows to promote the book, but I said no. I didn’t want to bump into Mac. I can’t go through another round of texts and invitations from him. I feel like I’m almost over that whole relationship. Relationship. Ha. Sexcapade is more like it. But I’m moving on. I straighten out a wrinkle in my dress as Karen and Jose do my intro. I miss him though. I miss him like crazy. And even though I didn’t want him to text or call, I secretly did. Do. I wish he’d never given up on me because I hate the fact that I walked out. “With us today,” Jose says, “is Eloise Hatcher, the debut author of The Happy Place: Finding Your Own Way and Living to Your Full Potential.” Yes, I changed the title. Seeing Stars? I couldn’t do that. Not after I made all my celebrity clients into anonymous composite case studies. No one knows that Chapter Seven is about Adeline or that Chapter Eleven is about Andrew. I didn’t want any celebrity status attached to the book. Ming says I was trying to sabotage my success, but that’s not it. I just don’t want the book to take off because of namedropping. That’s all. “Please give her a warm welcome,” Karen says, as both she and Jose stand to clap. There is a small audience. And by small, I mean, like twenty people. It’s pathetically tiny. But I like it, and when I step out into the studio I give them a little wave. “Eloise,” Jose says as I take a seat. “Welcome!” Both he and Karen have been giddy with excitement all morning. I can’t imagine I will do anything for their ratings, but bless their hearts, they still believe in their show. The Stonewalls must as well, because it’s been running for eleven years and is always dead last when the numbers come in. “Thank you,” I say. “I’m so happy to be here with you today.” “So you launched a book—” Karen starts. And then she turns to look at the audience. “By the way, full disclosure. I’ve known Ellie, as we call her around here, for almost eight years now. She was a part of the Stonewall family until recently when she left to make her own way in the world.”

I smile, but there’s a little pain in my chest. Something akin to loss. Or sadness. Or regret. “I did, Karen, and thank you for that heartfelt introduction. I’m thrilled to be able to share my first book with you today after working on it for several years.” “I hear that the case studies were based on real people, is that true?” Jose asks. I nod, but squint my eyes at him. I told them not to say anything about the celebrity clients. “Yes, Jose, that is technically true. But their identities have been hidden and each study is a composite of several cases.” “Really?” Karen says. “That’s so interesting.” I force a smile. “Is it?” I want to slap her. Remind her that she promised not to bring it up. “I don’t think so. Not particularly. Every self-help book has case studies.” “Yes,” Jose says. “But you know what’s funny, Ellie?” “No…” I say, still forcing that smile. “Not really.” My cheeks might crack if I grin any wider. “What’s funny,” a voice says behind me—I whirl in my chair and Adeline walks out into the studio adjusting her mic—“is that you’d think I’d let you get away with cutting my starring role out of your book.” “Oh, my God, what are you doing here?” I just stare at my friend, bewildered. “I’m Chapter Seven, Miss Hatcher, the Case of the Risk-Averse Creative.” She looks straight at the camera, which has maneuvered to get a close up of us as she settles herself onto the couch next to me with more dignity than the Queen. “And Eloise Hatcher has been my friend and confidante for seven years. She was always there with advice and comfort. An ear for the details whenever I was a sobbing mess over unfair contracts and egomaniacal executives who were constantly trying to take advantage of me. Ellie Hatcher, you changed my life. Did you really think I’d sit this out and let you make me into a nobody?” “What about me?” Andrew Manco says, jogging up to us like he might miss something. “She kicked my butt back when I was a mess, practically enrolled me in college, forced me into rehab, and then wants to pretend she isn’t directly responsible for the success I’m reaping now? Please, Ellie Hatcher. I would never let you sabotage your own career after you stopped me from sabotaging mine.” Jose and Karen are practically clapping with excitement. The whole audience is up on their feet. Never in a million years did these twenty people think they’d meet Andrew and Adeline when they got themselves up and out to the Tech Center for this show. After that there is a line of every celebrity I used to write the book. Every one of them comes out to sing my praises. As a friend. As a confidante. As the reason they are where they are in life at this moment. I cry. Adeline hugs me, then holds my hand as Jose and Karen have fun with the extra guests. Each of them talks a little bit about how I was a pivotal part of their lives. How I came in at just the right time and how I saw past all their faults and found the good. It’s a reunion I needed, even if I didn’t want to admit it to myself. “We’re almost out of time, Ellie. And I know you came on here to make one more announcement. So what is it? What’s the big news?” “Well,” I say, clearing my throat. “I wanted to just tell people that if they are having doubts about their careers and don’t think they are living up to their full potential, they should try my book. It’s got a lot of fantastic moments in here.” I hold up the paperback. “Insight, and laughs, and even tears. And one hundred percent of the profits for this book will go to my new favorite charity, Success is for Everyone, which supplies full-ride scholarships to first-generation college students all around the country.”

I don’t hear anything after that. I just think about the scholarship fund I set up these past few months while the others finish up and tell viewers where to buy the book. We are still raising money, but we already have enough to funds to send ten students through four years of college. My sexcapade with Mac wasn’t a complete waste after all. He taught me a valuable lesson. Giving back is far better than taking away. I felt so stupid for doubting his integrity after our last fight. I looked up Maclean Callister. He does a lot of good in the world. Even after people tried very hard to hurt him. Tried to ruin his life. He turned it around and made something good out of it. So that’s my mission now. If my superpower is career guidance, then what better way to celebrate that than helping young people find their calling and reach their academic goals? After the show ends I stand and chat with all my friends, feeling very, very lucky to have such great people in my life. But still. There is a hollowness inside of me. And ten minutes later I can’t be here anymore. “I’m going to go home now, Ming. I have a ton of work to do.” “Let me take you over to your car,” Ming says. “No,” I say. “I can take the train. I know my way.” I parked at the hangar so I didn’t accidentally bump into Mac. “Thank you so much for this, you guys.” I hug everyone and then make my escape down the stairwell to the train. I don’t recognize anyone riding with me back to the airport, but Stonewall is a giant company, so that’s no surprise. I feel like an interloper though. Like everyone knows I don’t belong here anymore. Strange. I spent almost all of my adult life in charge of people here. I’ve ridden this train with rock stars and professional baseball players. I’ve chatted with business moguls and four-star generals. I’ve guided hundreds, maybe even thousands of people to their spotlight. I have to celebrate that right now. Because if I don’t force myself to find the good, the sad will take over. I made a mistake walking away from Mac. My phone buzzes in my purse and I absently fish around for it as I watch a couple get on the train. They are chatting excitedly, the man’s hand locked in hers. He leans into her ear to say something private, which elicits a blush and a smile from her. I look down at my screen and my heart skips a beat. Mac: I made a Pinterest board. Perhaps you’d like to check it out? What the hell? I click the link in the text and pause. It takes me so long to come to terms with what I’m seeing, when I look up, that couple is already gone. In fact, I might’ve missed my stop. The board is called Mac’s Delusional Love Affair. I actually laugh out loud. Then I catch myself and look around to make sure no one heard me. There are hundreds of pins. Pictures of the house I sent to Heath last summer. A wide farmhouse surrounded by a deep porch. The grass is green, so it’s got to be one of the pictures I pinned last year. I zoom in and see there are two coffee mugs out on the counter with names on them. Mac, one says. Ellie, reads the other. There are dozens of pictures of the rooms inside, but not the pictures I had on my board, which was deleted months ago. New ones. I click the first picture, which is actually a side-by-side of two rooms. A nursery in pink with Ellie and Mac’s Baby Girl stenciled on the wall. A nursery in blue with Mac and Ellie’s Baby Boy stenciled on the wall. Each one is perfectly decorated with stuffed animals, the crib, changing tables, even matching rocking chairs in pink and blue. The caption below reads: We might not have one of each, but it’s never a bad thing to be prepared.

What is this? I click on the next picture and it takes me to a kitchen. A fabulous kitchen. Then I look through all of them. Rooms and rooms filled with things. And in each one there is something special displayed that says Mac and Ellie. Framed pictures. Pillows. And the office has two desks facing each other. There’s a close-up picture of the desk plates. Again, Mac and Ellie. I text him back. Ellie: What are you doing? Mac: Sharing my delusional dreams with you. I can’t help it, I laugh again. Ellie: Why? Mac: Because it’s all I have left, Ellie. Just the dream of all the things that never happened between us, but I desperately wish they had. I feel a little tear run down my cheek. Mac: Did you scroll down to the end? I go back to the board and scroll down. The very last picture is Mac standing in front of a sold sign in the yard of my dream house. Holding a puppy. An Old English Sheepdog puppy. Mac: Did you? I am fully crying now. Ellie: What did you do? My phone buzzes and I tab the accept button. “Hello?” “I want the dream, Ellie. I want it more than anything. And I know you wanted time to get your head straight. Make your own way in the world. And I couldn’t be more proud of you. But I can’t do it anymore. I can’t wait anymore, Ellie. I need you to get off that train at the airport. Because I will never stop texting you my delusional dream life until you’re a part of it.” “Mac—” “Just meet me in the hangar.”

Chapter Thirty-Six - Mac

Eloise Hatcher steps into the hangar wearing a long, red wool coat with a black belt that cinches at her waist. Her knee-high black boots hide her delicious legs, and the only thing on my mind is whether or not they have a zip-up back for easy removal. Get it together, Mac. This is your only chance to win her over. You will not fuck her senseless until she buys into the dream. I’m not sure what to expect, but the blush and hidden smile is a good indicator that I did good. Scout whimpers and her tail swishes on the dirty concrete floor. Ellie is shaking her head as she walks towards me, her hands buried deep in her pockets, the wind from the helicopter out on the tarmac gently tossing her hair around her face. I cannot take my eyes off her. She looks… incredible. Perfect. “Who’s this?” she asks, nodding her head to the puppy, who is huge for eight months old. “Scout,” I say. At the mere mention of her name, Scout jumps up and paws at Ellie, desperately trying to lick her face. “Sorry,” I say. “She’s been to five obedience schools, but—” I laugh and throw up my hands in a shrug. “Girls will be girls. Only obedient when they want to be.” Ellie bends down and lets the dog give her kisses. “I had one just like her when I was a kid.” “I know,” I say softly. Ellie looks up at me, her eyes red, like she’s been crying. God, I hope I didn’t do that. “I bought her last summer after we… Ming told me. You know, it took me a long time of wondering about all those dream things before I finally put the pieces together.” Ellie stands up and hugs her arms tightly around her chest. “Look, I know it was ridiculous and delusional. But it just—” “Was never meant for me,” I finish for her. “I know. But what I need you to know, Eloise Hatcher, is that board I made, filled with all my own delusional dreams… well, that was meant for you.” “Is it real?” she asks. I nod slowly. And then I extend my hand. “Come with me, Miss Hatcher. I have something to show you.” She puts her hand in mine and I lead her and Scout out towards the helicopter. Scout jumps in like a pro and settles in the empty front seat, like she knows she’s the co-pilot here. I hold Ellie’s hand to keep her steady as she climbs in and then get in after her, taking a moment to give the pilot a thumbs up after I whoosh the door closed. I hold her hand tight as we ascend and head east. We don’t talk. It’s too loud, and what I have to say is soft. So I wait until we touch down on the helipad I had built out on the side of the house just after I purchased it last summer. It was a crazy move on my part. But she wanted this house. This piece of land. And this dog. So I got it all with hope in my heart. Hope that she would forgive me for treating her dreams like they are something to be ashamed of. I slide the door open and give the pilot another thumbs up. Scout waits her turn for once, as I get out and help Ellie with the same steady hand that helped her get in. I will be crushed if she rejects me today, but I will give her the house anyway. I will give her the dream, even if I can’t be a part of it. It’s all in her name anyway. Even Scout’s registration papers.

We duck into the wind of the helicopter blades and then it takes off and the world goes suddenly silent. Ellie looks out at the barn and pasture beyond the house. “Is that…?” “Sheep,” I say, laughing at the absurdity of it. “Every good sheepdog needs some sheep. She chases the hell out of them now, but I’m sure she’ll come around.” Ellie lets out a long breath of air and then turns to face me. I’m still holding one hand, but I take the other one too. “Eloise, I love you. And I missed you so bad, it was torture. So I consoled myself by trying to make your dreams come true. I don’t want to do any of this without you, so if you say no to a second chance, I’ll understand and it’s all yours. No hard feelings. No resentment. No debt to be paid back. I just want you to have the dream.” Ellie stares at me, then her beautiful face scrunches up. “No hard feelings? Well… I’m kind of disappointed in that, McAllister.” “What?” I say, caught off guard. “Well,” she says, looking at me sideways with a coy grin on her face. “A man should fight for the woman he loves. Maybe you don’t love me?” “Hell.” I laugh. “I’m a lying fuck, Miss Hatcher. I have a dungeon in the basement where I plan to tie you up and never let you go if you tell me to get lost.” She bursts out laughing, her cheeks bright pink from the wind and the cold. Scout jumps up and down at our change in mood, tugging on the leash until I drop it and take Ellie in my arms. “Is that a yes, Ellie? To our second chance at the delusional dream life? Will you help make all the things that never happened to us happen now? Because I want this.” I drop her hands and spread my arms wide. “I want all of this, but I only want it with you.” “I want it, Mac. I want you, and her,” she says, nodding towards a running Scout. “And this. And the dream. Not just any dream, but our dream.” “Then let me take you inside. Because I have a lot to show you. I’ve been so busy in my delusional world since we last saw each other.” Her hands latch on to my arm and she leans her head into my shoulder as we walk up towards the house. “But we’ll have to order out for dinner. There’s no food here.” “Nothing?” she asks. “You haven’t been living here?” “Without you?” I scoff. “Never.” “Well, I can’t wait to grocery-shop with you, Maclean Callister,” Ellie says with a sigh. “I take that back,” I say. “I do have one edible thing in the house. But we won’t be using it for toast tonight.” Ellie leans into my chest and her laugh comes out as a mist of air from her mouth. I lean down and kiss her lips. So warm. So familiar. So ready. “Butter will never be the same. And neither will the kitchen table. Because I’m going to bend you over it the moment we get inside.” Yeah. This is perfect. Every bit of this is perfect. But only because Ellie is my Mrs. Perfect.

Epilogue - Mac

“Nice party, Perfect.” Ellie and I got engaged last week and I wanted to share the good news with my best friends. I can’t wait for them to find happiness like I have. It’s been a long time since we’ve all been together. Even Mr. Mysterious is here tonight. Though where he is right now, I have no idea. “Thanks, Corporate,” I tell Weston Conrad. “I do my best.” “And you always do it perfectly.” “What can I say?” I shrug and take a sip of my whiskey. “They didn’t call me Mr. Perfect for nothing.” “But hey,” West says, turning more serious. “I’m worried, man.” “About what?” I ask. “Not what. Who,” West says. “Who then?” “Do you see Nolan over there?” “Yeah.” Nolan Delaney, AKA Mr. Romantic, is being his usual player self to the girl he brought with him. I’m not sure she notices, but that’s probably because she’s only using him for his money. “So what? He’s looking and acting the same to me.” “Exactly,” West says. “And look, Mr. Match came alone. Alone, dude. What the fuck is up with that?” “Oliver? Shit, he never has a girl with him, I hear. His sister is always harping to Camille about it. How can a guy who owns the world’s largest dating site not have a girlfriend? It’s bad business, don’t you think?” West grunts. “And look, quick! Before he disappears!” I look in the direction West is pointing to, but there’s no one there. “Fucker,” West says. “Asshole slipped out again.” I can only assume he’s taking about Mr. Mysterious, AKA Paxton Vance. Who has been even more mysterious than usual these past few years. I know he’s here—several people have mentioned that he looks like he just got out of jail with that six-day beard stubble. But Pax has always been the angry type. And he’s never been to jail. Surely, I know that about him. I’d probably be the guy to get his only phone call if he needed a lawyer. “This is all wrong,” West says. “It’s not good for them to keep living in the past, you know?” “What do you suggest?” I take another sip of whiskey. “A good talking-to, I think.” I smile at my old friend. And then we laugh. And laugh and laugh and laugh. Oliver wanders up and asks what’s so funny. West and I just keep laughing. A good talking-to is fraternity-house slang for, Let’s fuck with them. “I’m in, dude.” We fist-bump. We even get unsuspecting Oliver to join in. Let the games begin. ***********

WANT THE NEXT BOOK? Mr. Romantic by JA Huss BUY HERE Description Charm. Charisma, magnetism, sex appeal—that ‘it’ factor that can’t be described. Nolan Delany has it is spades. The infamous Mr. Romantic. And maybe he is out of my league… But I’m going to give it the old college try anyway. Because I didn’t travel two thousand miles for a job interview at his request just to be put out like trash. Don’t underestimate me, Mr. Delaney. I’m really not as innocent as I look.


Welcome to the End of Book Shit – the place at the end of each book where I get to say whatever I want. They are never edited so don’t judge my grammar, typos, or comma usage. It’s always last minute when I write these and everything comes off the top of my head. You might hear fans call it the EOBS in conversation. They really look forward to these little rants of mine and I really enjoy writing them. Especially in a controversial book. Mr. Perfect isn’t very controversial but I still have quite a bit to say about it. If you’ve read a few of my EOBS chapters then you might remember me saying I like to think about a book for a pretty long time before I start writing. Usually about a year. Sometimes a lot longer than that. One of the reasons it takes me so long to go from idea to book is that I plan my year out ahead of time. So when I came up with the idea for this book in the spring of 2015 I already had a full plate of books to write before I could get to it. The main premise was always the same. Delusional girl meets practical man, but before they meet, practical man gets a huge dose of her delusional world via text messages. This book actually started out as an angsty new adult story about a girl who lost her first love and fell for his best friend. But eh, I got bored with that. The original title was All The Things That Never Happened and if you do a search you’ll see I used that phrase a couple times in the book to pay homage to a title I loved. It became Mr. Perfect after I decided to give Mac a little “team” just like the one Ronin, Ford, and Spencer had in the Rook & Ronin books. I had just written the Happily Ever After epilogue novella when I started itching to do another series. I spent almost all of 2015 writing standalones. I did start a new superhero romance series with Anarchy Found, but everything else last year was a standalone. I guess Wasted Lust was more of a final Dirty, Dark, and Deadly book, but it was also a spin-off of 321. So eh. You could read WL alone, but no one really wants to. Sasha was too big of a character in all the other books, going way back to Ford’s Slack book. The really cool thing about a series is that you get to build a world and hang out in it for a while. When I wrote the Happily Ever After book for Christmas last year I felt like I was going home to the Rook & Ronin world. It was so much fun. But it was over. The End. And yes, I will be writing about some of the kids—particularly Five. I know there are a ton of people waiting on Five, but I just don’t feel ready to put that on paper yet, so it’s being held back until spring 2017. We want Five and the Princess to be perfect, right? ;) And there might even be another “team” kid cropping up in a future book quicker than you think. Keep your eyes peeled! But I needed a new series. A new group of people in a brand new world. I set this first book in Denver, but the second book is in California and New England. I try to write places I know and that’s why you usually get Colorado, California, and any of the many southwestern deserts from me. But I’m branching out, bitches! :) New England here I come. I’ve never even been there (Aside from Eastern PA), so it won’t be as big a part as my other locations, still, I should get some cred for trying. And even though Mr. Perfect started out as a standalone drama I like it much better as a book one of a standalone series. So… the team. ;) Hot guys with money and suits. All of them share a secret past and you got a

small dose of that past in this first book, but of course, what kind of JA Huss book would it be if I gave you everything straight? Remember Tragic? Remember how you knew Rook had a little somethin’ somethin’ going on before she met Ronin. And remember how with each book it got a little bigger? A little more twisted? Well, the Mister Series is a little bit like that.

There are five men as you just found out. Each of the titles below will be linked to the book once it goes live or is up for pre-order. So if you’d like the next one, just click the links. If it’s not available yet, you’ll be taken to my website. Mr. Perfect Mr. Romantic Mr. Corporate Mr. Mysterious Mr. Match Each book can be read as a standalone and out of order until you get to Mr. Match. And let me tell you, Mr. Match will have quite the surprise in store for you. And each guy played a part in ‘that night’, but maybe not the part you—or their friends—think they did. Mac got off easy. (Insert evil laugh) But that might not be the end of the story for the rest. But the main story is mostly about love and how each of these damaged men come to terms with their past, find their soul mates, and move forward. I think each of the ladies will be challenging to them in a unique way and each of the men will be pantie-melting hot between the sheets and the pages. I’m going to release these books every two months and each one will have a pre-order if you’d like to get that book as soon as it drops on release day. And then after the last Mister book releases in December I have something BIG for you. Another series. Yup. Three books. Three guys. One girl. Sounds dirty, right? Well, it certainly will be that but that’s not all there is to it. Of course not! This series is one I’ve been dying to write since last summer but didn’t have the time. And I have not been able to stop thinking about these people. So hold on… there is so, SO much more to come. Yes, I will finish, and release, the next two Anarchy books in early 2017 as well. I know a lot of you have been asking for that. And I am still writing the Gideon book. I’m thinking of selling that to a publisher, so we’ll see what happens If it doesn’t sell, I’ll release it myself this winter. ********* If you’d like to hang out with me on Facebook I have a private fan group called Shrike Bikes.

Just ask to join and someone will approve you as soon as they see it. I am in that group chatting with the fans every single day and we have a lot of giveaway sand fun stuff going all the time. Especially around release days. I usually do a takeover and give away all kinds of stuff related to the new release, so come on by and say hi. Thank you for reading, thank you for reviewing, and I’ll see you in the next book. Julie

About the Author

JA Huss is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than twenty romances. She likes stories about family, loyalty, and extraordinary characters who struggle with basic human emotions while dealing with bigger than life problems. JA loves writing heroes who make you swoon, heroines who makes you jealous, and the perfect Happily Ever After ending. You can chat with her on Facebook, Twitter, and her kick-ass romance blog, New Adult Addiction. If you're interested in getting your hands on an advanced release copy of her upcoming books, sneak peek teasers, or information on her upcoming personal appearances, you can join her newsletter list and get those details delivered right to your inbox. JA Huss lives on a dirt road in Colorado thirty minutes from the nearest post office. So if she owes you a package from a giveaway, expect it to take forever. She has a small farm with two donkeys named Paris & Nicole, a ringneck parakeet named Bird, and a pack of dogs. She also has two grown children who have never read any of her books and do not plan on ever doing so. They do, however, plan on using her credit cards forever. JA collects guns and likes to read science fiction and books that make her think. JA Huss used to write homeschool science textbooks under the name Simple Schooling and after publishing more than 200 of those, she ran out of shit to say. She started writing the I Am Just Junco science fiction series in 2012, but has since found the meaning of life writing erotic stories about antihero men that readers love to love. JA has an undergraduate degree in equine science and fully planned on becoming a veterinarian until she heard what kind of hours they keep, so she decided to go to grad school and got a master ’s degree in Forensic Toxicology. Before she was a full-time writer she was smelling hog farms for the state of Colorado. Even though JA is known to be testy and somewhat of a bitch, she loves her #fans dearly and if you want to talk to her, join her Facebook fan group where she posts daily bullshit about bullshit. If you think she’s kidding about this crazy autobiography, you don’t know her very well.

Mr. Perfect (Mister #1) J.A. Huss  

Wanting the perfect man doesn’t make me crazy. I just know what I like. A powerful billionaire in a suit wasn’t even my first choice. McAll...

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