Home > Right Where I Want You(14)

Right Where I Want You(14)
Jessica Hawkins

The woman’s mouth went round. “Did you say pick-up artist?”

“I know, I know,” I said, waving my hands. “Forget what you’ve heard. It’s not as skeevy as it sounds. People have coaches for everything else. Why not the most important thing there is? Love,” I said before she could answer. “I work with those who are, well, for lack of a better word . . .” I smiled broadly at Sebastian and patted his shoulder. “Romantically challenged.”

Isabella’s eyes darted between the two of us before she fixed her glare on Sebastian. “You were practicing on me?”

Seeing as his jaw nearly rested on the table, he didn’t respond. I leaned over to Isabella and whispered loudly enough for Sebastian to hear, “Take it as a compliment, sweetheart.”

“A compliment?” she asked.

It was working. She looked almost as horrified as Sebastian. The fact that I’d made his jaw drop did more than boost my confidence—it made me want to giggle. I was having fun. I leaned back in my seat and addressed Isabella. “By the way, if you know of anyone who could use some help getting dates, you can find me at fromchumptohump-dot-com, formerly fromdisstokiss-dot-com, formerly fromwimptopimp-dot—”

“We get it,” Sebastian said through his teeth, then turned to Isabella. “You’re not buying this, are you?”

“How do you spell that first website?” Isabella asked me, fishing around her purse, presumably for her phone.

I gave Sebastian what I hoped was an ultra-casual smile. “Sebastian has been one of my best students to date. He’s a fast learner.” I let my smile fall into a cringe. “You should’ve seen him just last month.”

“All right.” Sebastian’s nostrils flared. “That’s enough.”

Isabella squeaked. “What was he like last month?”

“Oh, you wouldn’t believe it.” I remembered in college reading about an author who’d written a book on how to be a player. I’d never read it, but apparently, I didn’t need to. With a little help from Garth’s “geek” how-to, the ideas flowed like a river of melted butter. “His mother booked me through my website,” I said. “I found him in New Jersey sitting in her basement on a throne of pizza boxes playing Minecraft. Not even Fortnite! At least that takes skill.” I shook my head solemnly and looked at Sebastian. “You’d be surprised what I can do with a man who was recently masturbating to animated women in midriffs.”

“Did you say New Jersey?” Isabella asked.

I leaned in confidentially. “He was wearing those pajama jeans from Costco.”

“Costco?” Isabella stood so fast, her chair nearly toppled over. “You used me, you pig,” she said, snatching her purse from the back of her chair before she stormed out.

I grimaced. “The masturbating comment was too far, wasn’t it?”

Sebastian glared at me. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“Did you think I’d just hand over victory?”

“Justin put you up to this, didn’t he?”

Sebastian was angry. My instinct was to go red in the face and apologize profusely for interrupting his evening. I’d come this far, though, so I battled through it. “Listen, if you can’t come back from that, then you’ve been resting on your looks too long.”

“She ran out! I couldn’t even get a word in edgewise.”

I shook my head slowly. “You’re rusty.”

“Really? I can still catch her.” He got up from the table but hesitated when I flinched. Quickly, I schooled my expression to hide any disappointment.

“If that’s what you’re looking for, go ahead,” I said, but the confidence I’d just earned faltered. He seriously wanted someone superficial enough to walk out on him over jeggings?

“Fine, I will,” he said, but he didn’t move.

I didn’t want him to go, because I knew he’d talk his way out of this. And then Sebastian and Isabella would probably laugh about it at their wedding while I sat in a corner wondering why I’d ever let him go after her. It was possible I was jealous. Which meant it was possible a crush was developing. Noticing the way Sebastian filled out a suit, wanting his approval, hoping he saw me as a bitch simply because, according to self-proclaimed expert Luciano, men loved them . . . those were classic signs. A crush could not happen. Not only was Modern Man, and by extension, Sebastian, my client, but he and I had to co-manage a team without taking each other out in the process.

“Fine,” I agreed. “Go ahead.”

Our team descended on the table just as Sebastian took off for the exit. “What the hell just happened?” Albert bellowed. “Did Georgina scare off your date?”

Sebastian called back, “Not if I can help it.”

“He’s going after her?” Justin asked me.

It appeared he was. If I’d asked him not to, it would’ve looked like forfeiting. This way, at least, I’d lose with a shred of dignity.

As time ticked down, the guys took bets as to whether Sebastian would get her back in—the general consensus being that would make him the winner. My stomach was in knots, but not about losing. I hated the idea of him taking her home. Maybe they were already in a cab. I tried not to stare down the door.

After a few minutes, Sebastian strolled back in. By the swagger in his step, I assumed she was hot on his heels, but he was alone. “No luck,” he said, shrugging. “She wouldn’t give me the time of day.”

“Then I guess we have a winner,” Garth said, handing Sebastian a beer.

“Bullshit.” We all turned to Justin, who had his head cocked as he studied Sebastian. “You’re forfeiting.”

“Do you see her by my side?” Sebastian asked.

“No, but you’re a shit liar with one dead giveaway that never fails. And don’t ask me what it is. I’m not stupid enough to tell you. Give me your phone.” Justin held out his palm to Sebastian while glancing at me. “Sorry, George, but like you said, a bet’s a bet.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

Sebastian passed over his cell. “She’s not in there, dude.”

“What was her name?” Justin asked.

Justin thought Sebastian had gotten Isabella’s number and might still have this. I bit my bottom lip, then released it as soon as Sebastian glanced at my mouth. “Her name was Isabella,” I said.

Justin went through Sebastian’s contacts. “Hmm. Don’t see her.”

“Then that settles it,” Sebastian said. “Georgina wins this round.”

I sent up a quick prayer that this was the final round. I wasn’t sure I could handle another go at this.

“Wait a sec,” Justin said and scrolled the opposite direction.

“Justin,” Sebastian warned, finally looking away from me. “Leave it alone.”

“A-ha.” Justin held up the screen. “Cantina Santino Isabella,” he read off the screen. “It was under ‘C’.”

Sebastian rubbed his brow, his eyes on me. “Ah, yeah. But that was from earlier, not right now—she gave me her number before Georgina blew up my game.”

“Wow,” I said. “You work fast.”

“You’re not so slow yourself.” He tipped his head back for a sip of beer, glancing at me. “I always get the number right away. As you can see, Justin has burned me in the past.”

Justin side-eyed Sebastian before checking the notebook. “Sebastian failed. Judge rules—Georgina wins.”

Garth put his hands on my shoulders from behind and squeezed. “Nice work, boss,” he said. “You bested a pro.”

“Next drink’s on me, Keller,” Albert added.

I’d bested the best. Who would’ve thought? Happy hour was a success. I’d not only survived it but had come out on top. I’d been correct in assuming I’d make more headway with the guys tonight than I had all week at the office.

“No need, Al,” Sebastian said. “I’ll get Georgina’s next drink. After all, we never set any stakes.”

I wasn’t sure that was true. It seemed that the stakes had been set the first time I’d been introduced to Sebastian as my new co-boss. He wasn’t willing to make room for me in his office, much less in his world. It was me or him, and neither of us would go down without a fight.

9

Sebastian

After a quick pick-up game of basketball with my sister’s husband in their driveway, Libby called us in for brunch. Sturdy trees with changing leaves flanked their Colonial-style home in Newton, a suburb of Boston. Aaron tossed the ball onto the lawn as we entered the house through the garage. My nephew sat on a stool at the kitchen island, picking lox off a bagel while Libby buzzed around him, setting out fruit, cream cheese, hummus, Bloody Mary mix, and more.

“How was the drive?” she asked when she saw me.

“Hardly any traffic,” I said, popping a grape as I sniffed the air. “Are you wearing perfume around your own house?”

“We just got back from synagogue. If I don’t dress to the nines, everybody thinks I’m the kids’ nanny.”

At five feet tall, my twin sister looked much younger than her actual thirty-three years. It was the same dark hair and complexion as mine that often got her mistaken for the help. Only our height and eye color set us apart—otherwise, Libby and I looked the same, talked the same, and saw most things the same way.

“It probably doesn’t help that you carry a jar of homemade salsa verde in your purse,” I said.

She checked a skillet on the stove. “When I was a kid,” she told her son, “your abuela made chilaquiles all the time for me and your uncle.”

“She made them for me too, Mom,” José answered. “I wasn’t a baby when she died. I was already four.”

Libby made the sign of the cross the way Mom used to. “Don’t play with your food.”

“I hate lox.”

“Have one bite.” She took a bowl with Saran wrap over the top from the fridge.

I peeked in and made a face. “You’re serving guac and lox?”

“I have culture coming out of my ears,” she said, stopping in the pantry for a clipped bag of chips. “Unlike some people, I’m proud of my Hispanic heritage. My children will be too.”

Libby’s jabs were never subtle. By some people she meant Mom and me. There’d been times we as a family had tried to hide our background to make things easier on ourselves, but Libby had never subscribed to that—especially when it came to names. She’d given her husband no choice but to defend their children’s traditionally Mexican names to his Orthodox parents. She’d convert to Judaism for him, but damn if she wouldn’t put our family’s stamp on things. She’d even been using her full name, Libertad, since Mom’s death.

Aaron balanced Carmen on his hip, dragging her playpen into the kitchen. “Things calmed down at work yet?” he asked me.

I visited Libby whenever I had a free weekend, and every time they asked about work, I answered with some version of “the usual.” Today, my mind went to Georgina. She was a disruption to my routine, a routine I liked and one that had served me well up until recently.

“Why are you hesitating?” Libby asked as she plated the food.

She and I weren’t the kinds of twins who finished each other’s sentences but sometimes, she was a little too in tune with me. “Work has been better.”

“It hasn’t been very long,” Aaron said, one-handedly mixing Bloody Marys as he carried Carmen around the kitchen. “Don’t let all that stuff bring you down.”

“What stuff?” My first thought was Georgina, but there was no way they could’ve known about her.

Aaron lowered his voice. “Your sister set a Google alert for your name.”

The fucking exposé. I hadn’t mentioned anything about it to Libby, hoping I could avoid the exact look she was giving me now. She clucked, shaking her head. “I can’t say it surprised me,” she said, setting a hot dish in front of me. “What Modern Man prints is mostly inoffensive, but sometimes things slip through that have me scratching my head.”

“You’re just saying that because everyone else is,” I said after a bite. “I never heard any complaints from you before.”

“Your sex advice column—”

“Is called Badvice because it’s bad advice,” Aaron explained. “It couldn’t be more obvious. I don’t understand how people don’t get that, or why it wasn’t detailed in the exposé.”

“Thank you,” I said, throwing up my arms. “They misprinted the name to make it look as if my column was titled Bad-Vice, with a capital V, when it’s a portmanteau of bad and advice.”

From the enclave desk in her kitchen, Libby picked up a magazine I’d hoped I’d never have to see again. “I’ve got it right here.”

“Oh. Fantastic.” Feeling a character assassination coming, I took my niece from Aaron’s arms and hugged the nineteen-month-old like a shield.

Libby spread out the offending feature on the island and slipped on her reading glasses. In most ways, my sister had me beat. She and I had spent our formative years around Boston’s upper crust, and while Mom had cleaned, Libby would sneak into piano lessons, ballroom dancing, book clubs, or whatever other extracurriculars were on tap for the school year. She’d used all that to start a business, a boutique nearby. At least I’d one-upped her in one way—my vision had always been twenty-twenty.

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