Home > Right Where I Want You(3)

Right Where I Want You(3)
Jessica Hawkins

I took the coffees and headed to work at a quick clip, hoping I could still salvage the last few minutes I had to save my team—and my own ass—from the mistake my boss was about to make.

I tried not to think about the fact that I’d overreacted. I had enough on my plate today, and I didn’t have the time or attention to devote to a woman I’d never see again. Yet, during the short walk, she remained on my mind. It didn’t help that she’d been enticing enough to get me flirting before caffeine.

Or that if Justin hadn’t called, I would’ve kept up the conversation—if not because she was cute, then to find out why she was in the habit of befriending baristas, or why she’d had a back issue of Modern Man magazine sticking out of her bag.

Or that even the aroma of iced coffee couldn’t mask her scent, something fresh and sweet, as if she’d frolicked in daisy fields and fallen asleep atop rainbows.

That was good, the rainbow thing. I’d have to keep that in my back pocket for a future piece.

I’d mistaken her silence for timidity, something the girls I normally dated didn’t possess. I needed that—a clean break from my normal type, but was this woman more like them then I’d initially thought? She’d seemed nervous by our interaction, shivering as my sleeve had brushed her leg—but after our collision, she’d really let it rip. Perhaps my interest in her should’ve fizzled because of what she’d said to me, but then there’d been that slight tremor in her voice. Something about her personality didn’t click into place, which left me wondering why . . .

“Pardon me,” I said, pushing through a group of camera-toting tourists disembarking a huge red bus—because that was what good people did, even New Yorkers. We said excuse me, thank you, and you’re welcome. New Yorkers had a reputation, but the world had it wrong. Were we direct and concise? Yes. Did we have somewhere to be five minutes ago? Yes. Was it likely we’d give directions every single time we were stopped? No. But we weren’t rude about it. Despite being born and bred in Boston, I figured I’d earned the New Yorker title over a ten-year history that had spanned six apartments, three boroughs, twelve roommates, a summer internship, and four different positions at Modern Man. But the city drew all kinds of people, and some people, like the blonde woman who’d gone ape-shit over a stupid drink order, were just fucking rude.

And I had little patience for those who didn’t stand up to rudeness, especially when it was directed at a friend. I’d gone too far if I’d made the mocha latte girl cry, but there was no excuse for staying quiet.

I’d needed that ass-kissing coffee as much as I’d needed the extra few minutes. It was a good thing I hadn’t hung up on Justin as I’d been tempted to since Vance had gone from number one boss to traitor and changed the entire course of my morning—and my career. Now, instead of the charming plea I’d been practicing all weekend to get him to rethink his strategy, I’d be heading into a shit storm without an umbrella.

I gripped the coffee tray in my hands a little too tightly and strode on. People were relying on me to keep the integrity of the magazine intact. Not just my team, but our readership too.

Justin and I hit the lobby of Dixon Media Tower at the same time and made our way toward the turnstiles. “You shouldn’t have,” he said, attempting to pluck the iced coffee from the tray right before I pulled it back.

“That isn’t for you, asshole.”

“Aha. Then it must be a last-ditch attempt to change Vance’s mind.”

I punched the elevator call button. “How do you know I’m not waving the white flag?”

“Because ten minutes ago, you were bitching to me about the ‘hack’ he hired. By the way, who were you talking to that made you forget I was on the phone?”

“A woman, of course.”

We boarded the elevator. “Was she hot?” Justin asked over everyone’s heads.

“She called me an asshole.”

“So you asked her out?”

“Why would I?”

“Hot and scary?” Justin blew out a breath. “It’s a well-documented fact that Sebastian Quinn dates assholes—pardon my French, ladies.”

A woman I recognized from the building rolled her eyes as if even she knew the type of women I went for.

My gut twisted as the elevator’s digital numbers rose. Justin wasn’t wrong—I’d made some questionable choices throughout my life where women were involved. That was in the past, though. One of the reasons I’d been drawn to the stunning redhead was that at first glance, she’d seemed the opposite of that. I’d caught her staring at me by the pick-up counter, but instead of fluttering her lashes, she’d shyly lowered her eyes and resumed studying, looking so damn cute murmuring to herself. Was she a student, newly arrived in the big city? I hadn’t meant to insult her by suggesting she might get run over but warn her. This place wasn’t for everyone.

Then again, it seemed she could handle herself just fine.

Shy? Cute? Polite? Maybe. I wasn’t sure I’d call her scary, but my judgment was clearly off this morning.

“The only asshole on this elevator is the one with verbal diarrhea,” I shot back.

“Oh, if you want to go poop jokes, let’s do this thing,” Justin said. “Conference room, one hour. Bring your shittiest material.”

The woman grimaced, and the elevator eased to a stop, allowing her and most of the riders to exit. I wondered if it was actually their floor, or if they just wanted to get out of Justin’s presence.

“So, did you?” Justin asked.

“Did I what?”

“Ask her out?”

I frowned. It wasn’t that I’d sought out stuck-up women in the past, but they seemed to find me. Either that, or they were the only fish in the sea of Manhattan. Maybe work events and photoshoots weren’t the best places to meet women, but apparently, neither was a coffee shop. Where else did that leave? The Internet? I shuddered. Justin had once written a harrowing first-hand account on the perils of dating apps that had nearly turned me celibate.

“Are you thinking about online dating again?” Justin asked.

I glanced at him. “How’d you know?”

“You always get a certain look when it comes up. I told you, ending up front row at a One Direction concert wasn’t as bad as I made it sound.”

“She had no right to trick you into that.” The blind date had taken a turn for the worst when Justin had admitted to having a man crush on Justin Timberlake. Although we all idolized Timberlake, that didn’t mean we were fans of boy bands, which was what his date had assumed.

“It’s almost as bad as—” I cringed. “I can’t even say it.”

“Merkin?”

A man on the elevator glanced up from his phone.

“A vagina wig,” Justin explained.

“Ah.” The man nodded and returned to browsing Reddit.

Now, I wouldn’t be able to get that image out of my head all day. “I’ve already told you not to talk to me about that.”

“I’ll let you off the hook, only because of today’s date.” He nodded once at me. “How are you holding up?”

This day clocked in as one of my worse ones. I’d made a woman cry within minutes of finding out my job was in jeopardy a year to the day that I’d held my mom’s warm hand for the last time as she’d succumbed to cancer. Somehow, my first fall without a mother was already upon us. Not that I was going to say all that to an elevator of strangers, or even to Justin. If I so much as tried, I’d never make it through the day. “I’m fine,” I said and checked my watch for the umpteenth time since getting Justin’s call. “I just can’t believe Vance hired this guy without my input. You’re sure it’s a done deal?”

“Derek texted me because the guy has some kind of presentation, so he needed the projector set up. Want me to head to IT and grill Derek?”

“There’s no more time.” I switched the tray to my other hand and adjusted my tie in the reflection of the doors. “Meeting starts in fifteen.”

Justin exited on thirty-five, but I rode the elevator up a few more floors. I walked through the executive level of Dixon Media Group to my editor-in-chief’s office, game face on, even though the girl in the coffee shop had threatened my focus with her tears.

Vance’s secretary was on the phone. I set one of the black coffees on her desk, and she smiled as she waved me through. I knocked once and entered. Reclined in a leather chair with a phone to his ear, my boss motioned for me to enter. I sat across the desk from him and set down the tray.

“Let me call you back,” Vance said, eyeing the iced coffee. “I have a meeting downstairs.”

As he hung up, I pulled out the drink and passed it over. “Extra cream and sugar.”

“Sorry to break it to you,” Vance said, accepting the cup, “but I already have an assistant, and she’s not going anywhere. You’re underqualified anyway.”

“What’s so hard about the position? Sucking dick or kissing ass—either way, I’m still on my knees.”

“Jesus Christ, Quinn.” Vance threw a palm in the air, shaking his head. “Don’t even joke about that. HR has ears everywhere.” He glanced around the room and said clearly, “There is no dick sucking happening in this office.” He turned back to me. “And when have you ever kissed my ass—until now?”

“Vance, don’t do this. Call off today’s meeting and tell this guy to return to the bridge he crawled out from under.”

“Can’t.” Vance stood and raised his cup to me. “But thanks for the coffee.”

“I have to say my piece one last time.”

“You’ve said it, I’ve heard it, and I’ve made my decision. Cream and sugar won’t change my mind. I’m sorry.”

“You could’ve given me some notice,” I said. “You went and hired him without my input or approval.”

“Bad PR waits for no man. The media is already having a field day with the exposé. They’re throwing around phrases like sexually charged workplace, chauvinism, and toxic masculinity, whatever the fuck that means.”

The words came at me like poison darts, and I had to stand there and take it. Because I’d done this to myself. I envisioned my mother making the sign of the cross after reading those things about her only son. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t known what people thought of me, but even if she knew those things weren’t true, that didn’t make it hurt any less.

“You promoted me years ago to turn this magazine around,” I said, “and that’s what I did, even though it cost me. You didn’t have a problem with hypermasculinity or objectification of women when it was making the company money.”

“Well, it’s not anymore.”

“But we can’t ignore that it got us here. That’s what has grown our readership. We’re a men’s lifestyle magazine that mainly covers beautiful women, some other stuff, and how not to fuck up with beautiful women. We’ve crafted an image of what goes on behind the scenes, and yes, it’s exaggerated, but it sells our brand.”

“Well, that ‘brand’ has come back to bite us in the ass. What was once an asset is now a liability. Not only has it garnered us national attention, but it’s also the final feather in the cap of a shitty year for Modern Man.”

As if I wasn’t aware. My magazine had already been suffering before the exposé had gone and thrown punches at our content and my character. We had our moments like any group of men expected to report on our favorite topics, but we weren’t bad guys. “If you hire someone to come in and soften our image, we can kiss the magazine goodbye.” Along with my job and all the hard work I’d invested into it.

“I don’t have to tell you subscription rates have not only stalled but have started to decline.” Vance blew out a breath. “Look, I know it’s been a tough year for you, but my hands are tied. You’ve had nearly four quarters to shift tactics, but after last week’s PR debacle, advertisers have lost their patience.”

What he wasn’t saying was that I’d gotten us into this mess, but I knew better than to use my personal life as an excuse. Here, the bottom line ruled, and it’d been falling out from under us for a while. Being named in the exposé had only hurt our stock more. “Then give me an alternative, Vance, but don’t bring in some bullshit consultant who’s going to strip away everything that makes Modern Man what it is.”

“There’s only one alternative, and it’s that I replace you, Sebastian. I don’t want to do that, but something has to give.”

“Replace me?” I sat back in my seat and gaped at him. This job was my life. I’d spent high school working my ass off for a scholarship to a top-tier university, and then my college years hustling to make every connection I could just for the chance at a summer internship in journalism. Modern Man, a struggling publication with small-time circulation, hadn’t been my first choice, but I’d been grateful for a job in research and fact-checking. And the magazine had been on the brink of failure until I’d worked my way to the top and turned it around. This wasn’t just my job—it was my blood, sweat, and tears. “We might not be standing here having this conversation if not for me. What about the past ten years?”

“As our creative director, you made this magazine what it is,” he agreed, “but at the end of the day, it doesn’t belong to you. It belongs to the advertisers and the board, and they’re spooked. Dos Equis has already halved their budget, and Breitling is threatening the same if we don’t turn things around now. Accepting help won’t shrivel your balls, I promise.”

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