Home > Right Where I Want You(7)

Right Where I Want You(7)
Jessica Hawkins

Vance stood. “Thanks, George—”

“What’s with the tank top?” Sebastian asked, shrugging Boris off. A smirk touched his face as he added, “Not exactly appropriate office attire.” He settled back and stuck an ankle over one knee.

Even though I’d questioned my outfit earlier, the fact that Sebastian thought he had me made me want to do the opposite of shy away. So I went with it and addressed the room. “Someone spilled coffee on me this morning.”

“No way,” Garth said. “Are you all right?”

“Fortunately, it was iced.” I caught the end of Justin’s glance across the table. “The nearest store with clothing only had souvenirs,” I continued, “so I was forced to improvise. But that’s okay, because instead of telling you this next very important detail about myself, I can just show you.”

A few men shifted in their seats as I slowly unbuttoned my blazer. Sebastian wore an unreadable expression but watched me, twisting his pen cap between his fingertips. I opened my jacket and stuck my hands on my waist to show off the logo printed across the front of the top. “I don’t want there to be any doubt—I’m a Yanks girl through and through. I work fine with Mets fans, but that doesn’t mean I’ve got to like them.”

“Yankees man right here,” Boris said, jumping up from his seat for a high five.

“You talking crap about my team?” Garth grinned and dangled a Mets keychain.

“I just want you all to know where I stand. Transparency is important to me,” I said, returning his smile. “We’ll save the real shit-talking for happy hour.”

“There’s an idea,” Vance said, lighting up and turning to me. “The guys always go for a drink at the end of the week. Why don’t you join them?”

I hesitated. While work-social events such as mixers, dinner meetings, and conferences were George’s arena, happy hour could potentially veer into personal territory. I didn’t think I could successfully make the transition from work to play, so I never tried if I could help it. “Maybe some other time,” I said.

I shifted feet, and Sebastian gave me a once-over. “Got better plans?” he asked.

My plans involved a hunky Great Dane, an appropriate amount of junk food to ease first-week-at-a-new-school stress—a ritual that had carried over into adulthood—and switching the channels between reruns of Flipping Out and House Hunters International.

I wasn’t sure if those plans were better, but they definitely sounded more appealing. My ex had gotten our friends in the breakup—more like he’d stolen them using the tactics that made him such a great salesman. He’d convinced them I was a drama-hungry liar, and he’d had to end things to stop enabling me. So, reality TV it was.

I dipped my head in an elegant, restrained nod I hoped would convey that yes, indeed, I’d already committed to a posh Upper East Side dinner party, a hip Williamsburg gallery opening, or candlelit yoga overlooking the Hudson.

And then Vance once again opened his big mouth, proving that while Sebastian was Modern Man’s greatest liability, Vance might be mine.

“What’s the matter, Sebastian?” Vance asked. “Afraid your new co-manager will see firsthand how little game you have?”

“I have more game than anyone in this room, and you know it,” Sebastian said.

“Actually, we don’t know that.” Justin nodded at me. “Now that we have a new member on the team.”

I almost laughed. George could handle herself fine in a roomful of men. Georgina, on the other hand, not so much. What kind of after-work event required game anyway? But in order to earn their trust, I needed my team to believe that I understood men as well as women. “I do all right,” I said with a half-smile. “But I try not to pick up dates at a work event if I can help it.”

Sebastian laughed and raised his chin. “This isn’t a work event. This is drinks at the local watering hole for those who can handle it. No office talk allowed.”

The group looked on as Sebastian and I held each other’s gaze. He’d posed a thinly veiled challenge meant to put me on the spot, and one I wasn’t sure I could afford to turn down.

Vance plugged his ears. “I think this is the kind of stuff HR has warned me about,” he said before leaning over to add quietly, “but off the record, this could be a great chance to demonstrate your earlier point.”

“Which one?”

“About how using a common interest is a more effective way to meet someone than pretending to be someone else.”

“Oh.” The irony practically hurt. Who was I to teach anyone about dating? I glanced at my feet. “I don’t really work that way. I mean, out in the field.”

“If you don’t test your theories, how do you know they work?” Sebastian asked.

I glanced up. Judging by the silence and all the eyes on us, Vance’s comments hadn’t been private at all. If I didn’t say something, I’d start blushing.

“I’ll bet Georgina can teach you a thing or two,” Vance said.

“She’ll probably be fighting off guys as soon as we walk in the door,” Justin said, winking and nodding as if encouraging me—as if he thought he was being helpful.

Sebastian studied me, seemingly curious about my response. A flush began working its way up my neck. “Just another Thursday night,” I said, but my voice had lost some of its confidence.

He tilted his head as if he’d caught me in a lie. “Yeah? I’d like to see that. Figure out what I’ve been doing wrong all these years.” His eyes sparkled as my confidence drained.

“I’m not here to teach you how to get a date,” I said, which was laughable considering women obviously flocked to him.

“But that’s what the magazine is about, and if you’re going to come in and start changing things, you should know what you’re dealing with,” Sebastian said. “We help men level up. Teach them how to refine their palates, decorate an apartment, build the perfect fire, and assemble IKEA furniture without breaking a sweat. If you think we learn these things to impress our friends . . . well, I’m not sure this magazine is the right fit for you.”

“It’s true.” Justin gave me a short nod. “We do all that to get laid.”

Vance pointed at Justin. “Comments like that are the reason we’re in this mess.”

“You make them all the time, sir,” Justin said.

“Which is why we need Miss Keller,” Vance said. “And not just from nine-to-five. We could all stand to be better men in and out of the office.” He clapped his hands together once. “So, happy hour it is.”

Crap. How had I gotten myself into this? I wasn’t even equipped for a rough-and-tumble night out with these guys, much less proving to them that I could score. Excluding Sebastian, it’d been months since a man had even tried to strike up a conversation with me. If these guys found that out, they might not trust me to helm this ship. Yet happy hour was also prime bonding time.

Before I could answer, Sebastian shot to his feet. “Is this presentation over? It was fun and all, but some of us have real work to do.”

“It can be fun and enlightening,” I said, looking up at him. “I’m looking forward to taking this publication in a better direction with you, Mr. Quinn.”

“If you’re proposing we walk on eggshells to please people outside of our demographic,” he said, gesturing behind me at the slides, “then I assure you, that direction will be down.”

He left the room without another word, and everyone looked at me. I put on a solid smile, even though his dismissal stung after all the effort I’d made to include him. “He must be a Mets fan. They’re famous for getting butt hurt.”

The men laughed. “Actually, it’s worse,” Garth said. “He’s from Boston.”

Boston? Shit. No wonder we’d been butting heads. I should’ve known, but I’d let his dazzling good looks and spotty reputation blunt my normally keen enemy radar. If Sebastian rooted for the Red Sox over the Yankees—and if he was from Boston, then he did—that made us natural rivals. For some reason, going up against Sebastian made my nerves flare more than the usual stumbling blocks I encountered at a new job. Was it just because my confidence had taken a hit after my breakup with Neal—or was it that Sebastian had witnessed me in a vulnerable moment before he’d even learned my name?

The thought that he’d already gotten under my skin on the first day bothered me more than anything. He was as much the boss as I was, and in order for this arrangement to work, I needed his support.

Vance leaned over. “He’ll cool down. You can smooth it out after the meeting.”

As I buttoned up my blazer, one of the men rose to give me his spot. I thanked him as I took the chair. I was on track to earning the respect I’d need for a smooth working environment. Well, mostly smooth.

For now, I just had to focus on making it through the week—or at least to happy hour.

4

Sebastian

I’d stormed out of the morning meeting prematurely.

I returned to my office and sat heavily at my desk. I enjoyed almost everything about my job, even Mondays. Often times, I reigned from the front of the room—Mufasa, King of the Pride Lands. I sat up straighter in my seat. If I were an animal, I’d be a lion, commanding the rest of the jungle, watching from a rocky overhang as my kingdom sang showtunes.

I hummed “The Circle of Life” as I opened my yellow legal pad and wrote Quiz idea: Which alpha male cartoon character are you?

Next, I took my black leather agenda from a drawer and scribbled a reminder for my assistant: “The Lion King Broadway tickets.”

I rubbed my temples. This time last week, I’d had no idea what was to come. Within days, Vance would bring in an outsider to do my job. And not just anyone—a woman. For a men’s magazine. And Vance actually bought into her shtick. I hadn’t been worried about the exposé’s call to fire me, but Vance had never made a comment to me like the earlier one about restructuring. For years, I’d been revered for taking this magazine from near failure to hit success. I’d thought that was enough to overshadow a few bad quarters, but maybe I’d been wrong.

If Vance needed to try this to prove I was as good as it got, then so be it. It was only eight weeks. Eight weeks of dealing with the brash, rude, Yankees-loving Georgina Keller. Clearly my judgment had been cloudy this morning if I’d mistaken her for shy.

Having her around wouldn’t be pleasant, and I’d promised myself I was done with women like her, but this time, it wasn’t really up to me.

At ten-thirty on the dot, a knock at my door was almost definitely Justin with a fresh round of donuts and coffee. He didn’t do well on Monday mornings, when he was still in weekend mode—or Friday afternoons, for that matter. Or basically any weekday after three o’clock.

My stomach grumbled. “Come in.”

The door opened, but chestnut-haired, pint-sized George stepped in. Justin was nowhere to be seen. I automatically dropped my gaze to her blazer, looking for the thin tank top beneath it, for a flash of Yankees blue. She complemented a cheap jersey with Christian Louboutin pumps. I’d noticed those at the coffee shop as I’d snuck a peek at her legs—all my girlfriends had owned a pair of Louboutins or two. Or five. How could I have missed that glaring clue about the type of woman she was?

Ah—this was why. Because at this very moment, Georgina looked the opposite of how she had in the conference room. She wrung her hands in front of herself and worried her bottom lip between her teeth in a way that made me want to be that lip.

Fuck. I needed to get my head on straight. Fantasizing about the enemy wasn’t a good way to kick things off.

“Um, about this morning,” she said. “I wanted to apologize.”

“For calling me an entitled asshole? Or implying that I thought I was better than others when I was the only one to stand up for your ‘friend’? Or for the way you tried to embarrass me just now in the conference room?”

“To be fair, you embarrassed yourself,” she said, the corner of her mouth ticking up. “Storming out like a child—is that how you earn respect around here?”

“I said trying to embarrass me. You’ll have to work a little harder to pull it off.”

“Noted,” she said with a slight jerk of her head.

“Is that it?” I asked. “Did you come in here just to not apologize?”

“Oh—uh, no.” She looked thoughtful a moment. “Since Vance hadn’t planned on my services, and my position is temporary, there’s no office for me.”

“That’s a shame,” I said, leaning back in my seat. She really did have a nice figure. The old me would’ve fixated on that. The old me, I figured, might’ve even found her sharp tongue a turn on. Yes, she possessed characteristics I’d sworn off of, but in some small almost imperceptible ways—the tremor in her voice, the softness in her eyes—she also seemed like what I was looking for: the antithesis of my usual type. But my usual type wore Louboutins, spoke down to the help, and had no problem throwing the word asshole around.

“. . . and I know it isn’t ideal,” she said, “but I think it’ll be good for both of us.”

I raised my eyes. “What will be good?”

Her brows knit. “You and me. Together.”

You and me. Together. This morning, I would’ve liked those sentences strung together a whole lot more. “Huh?”

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