Home > Right Where I Want You(4)

Right Where I Want You(4)
Jessica Hawkins

“It’s not a matter of pride,” I said. Did I believe that? Not really. But I’d always been good at making my case. “It’s that I know our reader inside out. You’re bringing a man onto my team that you didn’t even know we needed a week ago.”

Vance leaned on the desk with steepled fingers. “Let me be clear, Quinn. I’m not bringing anyone onto your team. You’ll be running things together. That’s how co-management works. And you better make it work, because if it doesn’t, you won’t survive the next restructure. Consider this an unofficial warning.”

My heart pounded. Restructure? Co-management? It made no sense. So the last year had been a bit stagnant. That was the economy. Subscription rates had to slow at some point—anyone in the industry knew that. And maybe it was true that since Mom’s death, I’d been struggling to find meaning in what we did, but I shouldn’t have to lose my job over it.

I took an absentminded sip of my coffee and cringed. I’d only strayed from my beloved Dunkin’ Donuts for Vance. It was just another hit to my day, paying twice as much for a shittier cup of coffee before meeting my new babysitter. “If this goes south, it’s on your shoulders,” I said.

“I’m the editor-in-chief,” Vance said, “there’s so much shit on my shoulders, I might as well live in a toilet.”

“Hey, that’s good,” I said wryly, standing. “You should submit it to the jokes department.”

I took my crappy coffee back to my office. There was no getting out of this. My team and I had been strategizing ways to reach more potential subscribers since numbers had begun to fall off last year, but so far nothing had stuck. As creative director, it’d taken years, but I’d perfected my team. I knew all of their strengths and weaknesses—knew that Garth worked best with a deadline, and Albert without one, and that Boris’s excitement waned unless I showed equal enthusiasm for his work. When they needed fresh ideas, I employed my dogs-and-dicks strategy. We ordered hotdogs and left our brains at the door as we sealed ourselves in my office to dickstorm. No idea was too crude, macho, or gross. Poop jokes, double entendres, food fights, pranks. Once, a soul-baring discussion about how our moms had packed our lunch boxes had devolved into ranking hockey goalies by the sexiness of their wives. Maybe it wasn’t politically correct, but by the end, we generally had three or four useable topics for that month’s issue.

Story impregnation by idea ejaculation.

But would my co-manager see the brilliance of it? Was he too refined for dogs and dicks? Would he run crying to HR at the first sign of a crass joke? Break bro code and risk the safety we’d cultivated after years in a vault?

After I’d trashed the coffee and sent an intern on an emergency run to reliable old Dunkin’ Donuts, my hometown staple, I went to my office to find Justin horizontal on my couch. “Don’t you have your own kingdom to lord over?” I asked him.

“Yeah, but I already took my morning shit,” Justin said.

“I’m talking about your cubicle, not the bathroom. Why are you always in here?”

“Booze. Couch. Privacy.” He sighed. “I never understood why you get a corner office to yourself, and I have to share a box with Girly Garth.”

“Exhibit A—we’ve only been at work fifteen minutes and you’re already napping. You’re a shitty employee.”

Justin sat up on his elbow with a pout. “You don’t mean that.”

“You’re lucky you’re good at what you do, or you’d have been out on your ass a long time ago.”

“Aw. I choose to see that as a compliment, so, thanks, honey.”

Vance leaned into the office and nodded at me. “It’s time. Better take your PMS medicine, or it could get ugly.”

“Fuck off, both of you,” I said as they laughed.

“Oh, stop sulking, Quinn,” Vance said. “Do what she says, and things’ll be back to normal in no time.”

She? I started to ask who he meant, but a voice from the hallway spoke first. “That’s great advice in most situations,” a woman said. “You must be married.”

Vance turned around. “Miss Keller. I’m sorry—you snuck up on me.”

I raised my eyebrows. Keller? I’d heard the name before but hadn’t been aware of any recent hires. I tried to see through the doorway.

“I’m sorry we didn’t get to debrief upstairs,” she said. “I meant to arrive a few minutes earlier but ran into an issue on the way here.”

“No problem at all,” Vance said. “Come and meet some of your team before the meeting starts.”

I blinked. Team? Vance turned sideways for a pretty, petite, freckle-nosed woman with a mocha latte in one hand and a back issue of Modern Man sticking out of her bag. When our gazes met, her perfect posture faltered as she stopped short, and a wave of silky auburn hair fell over one eye. We each inhaled a sharp breath.

I stood face to face with the coffee shop sniper.

I’d been a bit harsh on her, yes—but not enough to warrant her taking it this far. “Did you follow me here?” I asked.

She pushed her hair out of her face. “Did you follow me here?”

“You two know each other?” Vance cut in.

Locked in a staredown with her, I didn’t dare flinch. Or notice that her eyes were distractingly pale green. Or that her plump lips glistened with a fresh coat of gloss. Or that her coffee-stained, stuffy button-down had somehow morphed into a low-cut top that displayed cleavage she was trying—and failing—to cover with her blazer.

Fuck. There was a reason I’d chatted her up at the pick-up counter—she was hot, sizzling even, her hair a rich burgundy in the sunlight coming through my office windows.

I really needed my dick to stay out of this, at least until I’d gotten my bearings.

“We met downstairs,” she said, not looking away from me. She tilted her head. “In fact, we practically shared a coffee.”

“Great,” Vance said. “Sebastian, meet George Keller. She’ll be working alongside you the next eight weeks.”

George Keller. It’d sounded familiar because it was a name Vance had thrown out last week along with the possibility of hiring a consultant. I slowly shifted my gaze from George to Vance, who had this thumbnail between his teeth. “You left out an important piece of information about George Keller,” I said.

“Well—”

George looked at Vance as well. “You didn’t tell him I was a woman?”

I snorted. “With a name like George, he’s hardly to blame.”

“It’s Georgina,” she snapped, then smoothed her hands over her skirt and shook her head. “I mean, in my personal life,” she added coolly. “At the office, George is fine. Or Miss Keller will do.”

“I’m not calling you Miss Keller like you’re my grade-school teacher.” I turned to Vance. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“There, uh, hasn’t been a good time.”

“Bullshit.”

“Just the idea of bringing someone in made you cranky. I knew you wouldn’t understand why I chose her until you saw Georgina’s track record.”

I took a lungful of air and looked back at George. Georgina. Miss Keller. Whatever-the-fuck. “I can’t do this with her.”

She frowned. God help me if she broke into tears again. But instead, she raised her chin and leveled me with a cool, “You can’t do it without me.”

Justin rubbed his hands together, excitement radiating off him. “Well, this is a very interesting turn of events indeed.”

3

Georgina

I hated being caught off guard in professional situations. Work was the one area I had it together thanks to a take-no-shit boss who’d gotten where she was by shattering glass ceilings for fun. But she was also a nurturing and supportive mentor to those she considered worth her time. She’d taught me how to girl-boss. How to take care of myself. And that I should never feel guilty about wanting more out of my career. She was why I could become someone else, someone like her, in order to walk into a crisis with my head on straight.

And she was why I stood here now, in front of my new co-manager. My new, disarmingly handsome co-manager—and the glue that held together the team I was about to join. A commanding, charming man who’d needed to believe I was also a man just to accept the idea of me. And a man who’d seen me cry.

Sebastian Quinn.

I hoped he didn’t notice the slight tremble of my hands. He’d already witnessed perhaps the one thing a businesswoman couldn’t come back from—showing emotion. How the hell did I expect him to take me seriously if he thought I might burst into tears at any moment?

From my hurried research on Modern Man, I’d red-flagged the magazine’s creative director as one of the staff’s biggest liabilities. I hadn’t realized that man was Sebastian. And now it occurred to me why he’d looked so familiar at the café—I’d seen his image on the Modern Man website, had glanced over it in the exposé while in deep research mode, and had spotted him in social sections of magazines that’d covered Modern Man’s events but had assumed he was an editorial model.

I quickly filtered through what I’d learned in the short amount of time I’d had to look into him: owner of a high-end Fifth Avenue apartment, involved in an accident that ended with a totaled foreign sports car, considered a “bad boy” of publishing for the unapologetically masculine magazine he’d built, and a notorious playboy who couldn’t be tied down and had left heartbroken actresses, socialites, and models in his wake.

Unfortunately, as I’d already proven, I belonged to the part of the female population that went wobbly-legged and tongue-tied around men like him. George didn’t, though. As long as I could stay in character and see Sebastian for what he was—a colleague—I could do this. I had to, because I was a professional, and work came first.

“Let’s introduce you to the rest of the staff,” Vance said, interrupting the uncomfortable silence that had permeated Sebastian’s corner office. “Come with me, Miss Keller.”

Vance led us down a long hallway, past some conference rooms. From behind, Sebastian lowered his voice and said, “Is that a tank top?”

“At least it’s dry.” I tugged up the neckline. At a souvenir shop between the café and office, I’d swapped my crisp button-down for a ribbed Yankees jersey that’d only been available in extra-small.

“I’m not saying I don’t like it,” he continued. “But it’s a good thing you weren’t wearing it when I met you. I might’ve forgotten all about my morning meeting.”

The back of my neck warmed. If there’d been any question that he’d been flirting earlier, here was my proof. He walked close behind me to keep our conversation private, and it reminded me of how he’d kneeled at my feet before we’d ever even made eye contact. Neal would’ve said my tank was too revealing for the office. Toward the end of our relationship, only an arched eyebrow over his coffee mug would’ve been enough to send me back into our bedroom to change.

My ex was the last person I needed to be thinking about in that moment, yet less than an hour in Sebastian’s presence and I was second-guessing my outfit. And myself. I had to be careful. Dionne had sent me here for a reason. Modern Man needed a female touch. My past assignments had mainly consisted of publications for women by women, and Sebastian’s staff had gone unchecked too long.

I had to play the game their way. If I came off as too assertive, I’d become the enemy and find myself ostracized from the group. In order for this to work, I had to truly be in the circle of trust, not at the fringes, and definitely not outside of it.

I couldn’t let Sebastian undermine me. I dug into my purse, unzipped a side pouch, and pulled out an emergency mini bottle of Aleve. Turning my head over my shoulder, I tossed it back, and Sebastian caught it with a look of surprise. “For the PMS,” I said with a wink to make absolute sure he knew I’d heard their earlier conversation.

I took the next moment for myself, though I could’ve used a whole weekend with Halo Top and The New Yorker to agonize over my morning—oh, who was I kidding? I wallowed by eating Häagen Dazs Mocha Chocolate Cookie straight from the carton while binge-watching every available episode of HGTV set in Dublin or any movie featuring Saoirse Ronan.

Vance had promised me full rein over Modern Man, but I could see now that there’d be no such opportunity while Sebastian was there. Even if the way we’d met couldn’t have gone worse, I had to get it together. I hadn’t come this far in my career by backing down when intimidated.

I double-checked that my blazer was buttoned, fixed my neckline again, and entered the conference room. Barely legible chicken scratch covered the whiteboard at the head of the room. Miniature football goal posts sat at opposite ends of the conference table, and in the middle, a battalion of G.I. Joe action figures held up a Dunkin’ Donuts box. I followed a trail of rainbow sprinkles leading to the other man I’d seen but hadn’t met in Sebastian’s office. With unruly blond hair that perfectly offset his blue eyes, he smiled a mouthful of donut. Ah, the class clown. And a potential in if I played my cards right.

I set up my laptop at the head of the table and fiddled with the projector.

“Derek from IT should be here any minute,” Vance said as more people filed in.

“I’ve got it.” Imagine that—I’d done this probably thirty times before, and all without the help of a boy.

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