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Right Where I Want You(10)
Jessica Hawkins

That was utter bullshit and proved that Georgina was completely clueless about me and my past. I’d not only battled through overinflated egos but had gritted my teeth as I’d done my best to blend in by faking arrogance and privilege. And I’d managed to keep a level head through all of it. “There you go assuming again about things you know nothing about.”

“I don’t operate off assumptions. I employ facts, and the fact is you’ve been nothing but a complete jerk since you dumped coffee all over me this morning.”

“I’ve been a jerk? Me?” My temper rose. She was the one who’d run into me. She had gone from zero to sixty, cutting as deep as she could and without mercy, accusing me first of entitlement and then of sexism. I surged to my feet, my office chair rolling back into a wall. “You think because you read some click-bait article that you have all the facts about me? You don’t know where I’ve been, where I come from, or what matters to me.” My voice had risen to an unnecessary level, but I couldn’t help it. I pictured my mother walking through the door after work, her hair barely holding in its bun, her spirit broken from a long day of dealing with people who thought they were better than her. I was not and would never be the person who treated others, specifically women, like dirt—no matter what some dumb fucking article said, no matter what Georgina thought she knew. “You called me an asshole this morning, but at least I speak up for the people I care about.”

“Sebastian—”

“Justin, I told you to shut up,” I shot back.

Georgina’s mouth hung open. “I tried to speak up, but you . . . you . . .” She stammered, then seemed to give up on the thought. “I can’t believe I gave you the benefit of the doubt. You really do deserve your name in that article.”

“Get out of my office. Both of you.” Georgina and Justin stared at me. Already, my fury began to recede, but I didn’t care. I wanted to be angry. People like Georgina Keller didn’t deserve to get off the hook just for being pretty and pouty. “Fine.” I picked up my cell and went around the desk. “I’ll go.”

They didn’t try to stop me. I refrained from slamming the door on my way out. I couldn’t really go anywhere—there was work to do, and I wasn’t about to leave it in her hands—but I needed a breather.

I ended up in the men’s bathroom, leaning my hands against the sink as I avoided my reflection by staring into baskets of disposable razors, aftershave, and deodorant.

Georgina had performed the rare feat of ruffling my feathers, and she’d done it twice in one day. I considered myself easy to get along with, but she clearly had something against me. It was also possible she just didn’t like me.

It was uncommon for me, not only to be disliked, but to return the feeling. Men wanted to be me. Women wanted to be with me.

Lots of women.

I finally looked up, caught my eye in the mirror, and cringed.

“You assume because I work here and look the way I do . . .”

George had gone easy on me given that comment. I made a point to take care of myself—went to the gym five times a week, ate right, and as an editor of a men’s lifestyle magazine, I got only the best products, usually free. I lifted my chin and inspected my jawline. I’d shaved meticulously that morning. In New York, you had to stay on your game. It was as if Georgina had seen through all that. I’d been treated a certain way since I’d hit puberty, shot up in height, and lost any baby fat. I’d been told enough times that I was handsome and charming, but Georgina didn’t seem to care about any of that—not even that I also made an effort to be kind. I’d been living in a world opposite to the one in which I’d been raised, and staying grounded was easier said than done. Since accepting a hardship scholarship to Harvard, I’d gone from flipping burgers to feasting on gourmet Thanksgiving fare at my roommate’s parents’ mansion on Nantucket. Even if my peers had been forced into summer jobs in customer service or waiting tables, they’d never know the true struggle of a single mother working for, and sometimes below, minimum wage.

Why didn’t Georgina see that about me?

And why wasn’t I that way around her?

I almost hadn’t helped carry her boxes across the office.

“You really do deserve your name in that article.”

I’d learned early on that to move up, I had to play a part. I’d blown my first few real paychecks on a custom suit, had networked at every university event I could, and had been with women where dates had felt like a status exchange. My confidence had been hard-earned along with things like an enviable apartment, my playboy image, and exotic travel. I let my peer group and the media believe I was the kind of man who took a new woman home each night, hosted decadent parties in the Hamptons, and didn’t mind blowing money on expensive things, but at the core of it, I’d thought I was still clutching to the values with which I was raised. I hadn’t had a one-night stand in over a year, I always managed the events I hosted sober, and though I splurged on expensive things, I did mind. I only spent what I could expense or personally afford.

But was the exposé true? Was Georgina right? With the way I’d treated her, at some point, had I started to become the image I’d cultivated for myself—and was that the reason for what my mom had asked of me in our last conversation?

Justin burst into the bathroom. “Admiring the view, you narcissistic asshole?” he asked when he caught me staring at myself.

“What do you want?” I grumbled.

“You guys make a real cute couple, you know. I was enjoying the show until your accent surfaced. Then I knew she was in trouble.”

I snorted. A classmate at Harvard had once told me he could tell which part of Boston I was from by my accent, and within weeks, I’d neutralized it. It only came out now when I was pissed. “She pushes my buttons, and I’m pretty sure she does it on purpose.”

“What reason could she have?”

I pushed off the counter and leaned back against it, crossing my arms. “She’s the one who called me an asshole at the coffee shop this morning.”

“I figured that out. I think it was because earlier, you said she called you an asshole at the coffee shop this morning . . .”

I shook my head. “It’s only been a few hours. How the hell am I supposed to work with her for eight weeks?”

“You’re telling me you didn’t even get the tiniest bit excited when she unbuttoned her blazer in the meeting?”

“No.”

“Just a little? Like the first time a girl tries to finger your asshole? You’re grossed out and confused, but you’re also a little curious . . .”

“You’re a sick fuck, you know that?”

“But I make a good point.”

“I was too disgusted by her presentation to be turned on,” I lied. Admitting even remote interest in her would be a huge mistake. Justin would run with it.

“All right.” Justin scratched the base of his neck, his expression easing. The bastard rarely even wore a tie to the office. “But did she really deserve the hellfire you just unleashed?”

I hadn’t moved past the childish stage of wanting to be mad at her. She’d given me plenty of reasons. “Yeah.”

“This about your mom?”

I blinked, ready to give Justin a piece of my mind. But I didn’t. Justin knew me too well. “Probably,” I admitted.

“I figured. A year, man. I know it’s been tough.”

Tough wasn’t even the half of it. If I’d had more time to prepare for Mom’s death, would it have been different? Easier? Would I have handled it better instead of dropping the ball these past few quarters, landing myself in this position? I doubted it, because I couldn’t imagine any of this being easier.

Justin sighed when I didn’t respond. “Give Georgina a chance, dude. Once she gets to know you, she’ll see you’re not the guy that exposé painted you out to be.”

“She came in with preconceived notions.”

“And for some reason, you’re playing right into them.” Justin frowned. “You’re not that guy, are you?”

I hesitated. “No.”

“Show her that. Take a minute. Cool off. I think you’ll decide she’s not as bad as you think.”

Justin left the bathroom, which meant I was now alone with his words hanging in the air. This was about my mom. It didn’t take a pro to figure that out. Adina Quintanilla was the best woman I’d ever known. For my sister Libby and I to live full, successful lives, she’d taken a lifetime of shit.

She’d worked the kinds of jobs I couldn’t even wrap my head around. As a child, I hadn’t liked it, but as an adult with money and an understanding of the nasty side of human behavior, envisioning my mom that way sometimes got to be too much.

Even though she would’ve preferred to shelter me from it, I’d often witnessed it firsthand. Her bussing diners’ meals while Libby and I did homework at a nearby table. We’d been too young to stay home alone and too poor for a sitter.

What had I learned at that diner aside from multiplication tables? That some people cared more about their burgers than about being decent human beings. When I’d asked my mom why people spoke to her that way, she’d shrugged it off and tried to hide the fact that it hurt her. Mom had never had much of a poker face, though. Especially not with Libby and me.

Libby. Fuck. I’d been avoiding her calls today so I wouldn’t have to shoulder her pain along with my own. On the one-year anniversary of our mom’s death, it wasn’t any easier to be without her. Maybe even harder. Libby and I had not only survived despite our beginnings, we’d thrived. But while money could make my mom comfortable in her home at the end, it couldn’t stop cancer.

Mom had known it, and she’d still smiled until the end. Smiled, held my hand, and told me in her thick Mexican accent, “Stop dating girls you know you’ll never end up with, Sebastián. Find a nice woman who loves you and treats you well. Treat her well. Love her. Be nice to her. Please, just find someone kind.”

Wendy, who I’d been dating at the time, hadn’t been that different from the ones who’d come before her. To say Libby and Mom hadn’t liked her was putting it mildly. Wendy had been mean to Libby, my mom, Justin, waitresses and valets, and she’d been mean to me. She’d also been smoking hot and adventurous in bed. That’d been enough for me back then. Not anymore. Now, I’d have given anything to go back in time and introduce my mom to a “kind” woman—someone she and Libby would like. And to be able to assure her that I wasn’t alone in this world.

It appeared I wasn’t going to find that with the social life I led now—bars, clubs, events, weekend getaways. In one day, Georgina alone had proven that even coffee shops were dangerous. Nowhere was safe, not even happy hour with the guys. She’d be infiltrating that too.

That was assuming, of course, that Georgina and I even made it to the end of the week.

6

Georgina

I paced the sidewalk in front of Cantina Santino, willing myself to stay calm. As much as Justin had insisted that happy hour wasn’t a work event, I needed to believe it was—or else transform Georgina into a completely different person in the next few minutes.

They were just my coworkers. Nothing more. I’d been working alongside them without incident so far. Of course, it helped that the workplace had clear boundaries, whereas happy hour had none.

And that Sebastian and I had been doing a decent job staying out of each other’s ways.

My phone lit up with a call, and I answered on the first ring. “I’m not sure I can do this.”

“Unless the objective is avoiding death or taxes, it can be done,” my boss replied.

I checked the screen. I’d texted Luciano to call and talk me off the ledge, but instead, I saw Dionne’s name. “Sorry,” I said. “I thought you were Luciano.”

“I just got back from Italy and wanted to check in. How’s the assignment?”

“The men have been resistant,” I said, double-checking that I was alone on the sidewalk, “but I anticipated that. I think some of them are coming around. The rest are waiting for someone to tell them I’m not there to burn the place down.”

“Let me guess—that someone is Sebastian Quinn?” she asked. She and I had been e-mailing the last few days, and I’d briefly filled her in on what I was dealing with.

“Yep. Sebastian and I share an office, which makes it hard for him to ignore me completely,” I said, “but we’ve mostly been working around each other. At some point before the next issue goes to press, he and I will have to collaborate.”

“I have faith in you. That’s why I put you on this assignment. So, what is it you don’t think you can do?”

I glanced at the door to the cantina the men had just walked into. “Happy hour.”

“You’ve been to plenty of those in your life.”

“Not like this. It’s not a work thing. More like hanging with the guys. Or, I’m afraid, initiation.”

“Ah.” After having spent enough time with me around Neal, Dionne was familiar with my insecurities outside working hours.

“I’m afraid if I don’t bond with them, I’ll make this whole assignment harder on myself. I’m not sure I’ll ever get Sebastian on board, but at least his team is receptive.”

“Your team,” she said. “Don’t let Sebastian push you around. Not at the office, and not outside of it. He’ll get on board, because he has no choice.”

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