Their Protector: An MC Outlaw Halloween Romance, page 97
She’s going to tell me to come straight home, I think, my stomach filling with dread. Why did I ever think they’d allow me any freedom? Why did I ever think that I could tell a convincing lie?
“But I understand, honey,” she finally says, allowing me to exhale deeply. “Higher-ups aren’t very considerate of the entry-level employees. Just get home when you can, okay.”
We talk for a few more minutes, but I let her know I need to get back to work. I don’t like lying to my mom, but I’ve learned it’s sometimes unavoidable. This is one of those times, as I’m not allowed to be around alcohol being served. I’m not twenty-one so this isn’t usually a problem but I’m forbidden to go to parties or establishments where alcohol is served.
By “forbidden,” I mean that my parents always say “their house, their rules,” and if they find out I’m breaking them, I’ll be out on the street. Perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but they’d definitely shame me, shun me and make my life a hell of a lot harder.
On that note, I really need this job. If I want to leave my parents’ house, I’ve got to save up for my own place. My parents would never pitch in to get me one. They say a young, single woman living alone is an invitation for sin. But if I have the money myself, I don’t need their permission. And I’m starting to not want their permission.
I love my parents but I don’t understand why they don’t get that I’m a grown woman now and that I should be free to make up my own mind about things. Sometimes it feels as if they don’t even want to acknowledge that I even have my own mind.
The rest of the day goes by quickly, since there are a ton of phone calls and time flies as I try to get to them all. Claude explains it’s like playing a game of “whack a mole” and we sometimes laugh as I try to hang up one call and get to the next, which can be difficult if a persistent client or opposing counsel feels like staying on the line and rambling to me about nothing in particular.
“You ready, Champ?” Claude finally asks, and I look up at the clock to see that it’s five o’clock. “Good first day, by the way. You deserve a nice cold drink.”
I’m about to say I don’t drink, but that sounds lame, so instead I say, “I’m only nineteen.”
Claude snorts. “You think they card here, kiddo? The owners of this firm have Rich People Privilege. No cop is going to bust them for serving a glass of wine to a minor.”
I laugh, but I don’t know if it’s convincing enough because he blinks his eyes at me, as if wondering if it’s really possible that I don’t know how the world works. Yes. It’s possible. And it’s one reason I’m always suspicious of opening myself up to people— because I’ll make a fool out of myself based on how little I know about the real world.
“Oh, and just a word of warning,” he says, “This place is full of crazy creepers. One of the legal assistants calls it ‘Sugar Daddy Central.’ They get you liquored up, so that you can let your defenses down.”
A shiver runs down my spine. It’s disgusting, but intriguing at the same time. Most guys my age are afraid to hit on me because the one time a guy tried to kiss me, my mom took out a prayer request ad in the church bulletin, asking everyone to pray for the soul of perverted Charles Gingham. Needless to say, Charles never tried to kiss me again, and neither did anyone else.
“ All of them?” I ask Claude.
“Well, some of them have been taken out of the dating pool,” he concedes. “Asher Marks married his associate, Madilyn, while Cameron Sanchez married a legal assistant named Ruby. Then there’s our biggest client, Damien Hudson—the toy manufacturer?—”
I shake my head at him, not knowing any of these people despite having done my best research on the firm before my interview. I was so nervous at the time that none of it stuck with me. I was afraid I was going to get a pop quiz but luckily that never happened. I think they were just grateful to have someone who wanted to start working right away—which I definitely wanted to do.
“Well, anyway, he has an office here and we work closely with him on a lot of cases. He married a different legal assistant, Katie. But there are still a lot of other partners and senior associates who like to flirt and… dabble… I should say, with their underlings.”
He pauses, a cloud coming over his eyes. “But not Jameson Reed, at least as far as I know. Rumor has it that he has clandestine relationships, but, unlike some of the others, he seems to be really good at keeping them his dirty little secrets.”
I can’t help but blush at that phrase. But Claude doesn’t seem to notice, luckily. He’s already moved on.
“And then there’s Garrett, the new guy,” he says. “I hear he’s one of the worst, so much so that these other hypocrites sat him down for a talk about how he can’t misbehave at work.”
“That does seem awfully hypocritical,” I agree, although I’m not surprised.
At church I’ve seen all kinds of people act holier than thou, only to be caught in extramarital affairs, homosexual relationships, and other such things the church frowns on. Human hypocrisy never seems to faze me.
“Yeah, anyway, you coming?” Claude asks again, impatiently looking in the direction of the stairs that takes us to the large cafeteria style conference room where employees have lunch and events.
“I’ll be right there,” I tell him. “You go ahead—since you can’t wait for that drink and all.”
He laughs. “Thanks, Darling.”
“No, thank you,” I tell him, meaning it. “I really appreciate all your help on my first day.”
And I couldn’t be more sincere. I don’t know what I would have done without Claude here to help me out.
I stay behind to clean up the sticky notes off my desk and make sure I’ve given all the messages to all the right people. It’s easy work, but because it’s so fast-paced, I don’t want anything to slip through the cracks. Still, I’m being a little extra hard working, especially for my first day, and I know it’s because I’m trying to avoid going to the party. I’ve never been to a real one and I’m anxious.
When it’s obvious to me that I’ve stalled as much as possible, I shut down my computer. I go to the bathroom to fix myself up. I’m not dressed for this. My hair was in a neater bun this morning, but it’s gotten a little messier over the day. My button-down white shirt and black flare skirt feel a little blah for a party. But I wasn’t planning on having to be too impressive, just work appropriate.
I fix my hair, re-tuck my shirt, and smooth my skirt. There isn’t much else I can do. I head to the fifteenth floor where the festivities are taking place and walk in on a bash in full swing. I can tell a few people are drunk, which is surprising considering this is a work event. But maybe it’s not surprising—since I’ve never been to one, I can’t really say.
I step inside and find a comfortable spot against the wall. I see Claude sitting at the bar, chatting it up with some women—I’m assuming these are probably legal assistants—and I’m happy that he’s having fun. But I’m not about to join him.
This is always where I feel the most comfortable: as a wallflower. Trying to blend in with the pattern on the wallpaper was a favorite pastime of mine at any kind of church events. After my mom became disillusioned with the godless education I was getting at public school, I was homeschooled, so at least I was spared the embarrassment of school dances. I pray no one will notice me if I hug it tight enough. I’m not that lucky.
I turn and see one of my fellow recently hired coworkers. I recognize him from the orientation earlier today, but no one bothered to introduce ourselves to each other so I don’t know his name. He’s definitely a little buzzed. I whisper a “hello” back, hoping he will realize I’m not interested in talking, and be on his way.
“I noticed you don’t have a drink.”
No such luck.
He shoves a beer into my hands. I poli
“I’m Brett, what’s your name?”
“Erin? Interesting name. Very Irish.”
It’s not, really. Interesting—that is, although it is very Irish. My mom’s maiden name is O’Reilly, so her side of the family is as Irish as they come.
I just nod, but I don’t say anything, hoping he’ll leave. However, it seems he wants the conversation to continue. “So, what do you think of the boss?”
Very sudden change of subject.
“Monique? She seems nice enough.” I don’t have much to say since I’ve barely interacted with the office manager and apparent head of HR.
“No, silly. The actual boss.”
First insult of the night. This guy is right on track to having me hate him. Also, I must look confused because he feels the need to elaborate.
“Oh,” I say, not feeling so much like an idiot now, since Claude had mentioned him to me earlier. “Isn’t he one of the named partners?”
“Yeah, but everyone says that despite Asher Mark’s brash bragging and Cameron Sanchez’s dogged diligence, Jameson is really the one who holds this place together. He’s the only one smart enough to not sleep with every girl who comes to work here.”
At this, Brett looks me up and down. I look away. Talk about a “creeper.”
“So in my mind, Jameson actually owns this place. Especially now that the new guy Garrett is here to mess everything up even more.”
I blink at him, not really appreciating the negative way he is talking about our bosses.
“How do you know all of this?” I ask him.
“Oh, come on,” he says, as if I’m a huge idiot. “It’s a small legal community. Word gets around. I was working for Garrett and he couldn’t help but bang every female assistant he had. That’s why he usually only has guys working for him now. I guess you don’t count, since you’re a shared receptionist for the entire firm.”
So that explains why all the new hires or transfers earlier were guys .
“Anyway,” he continues, although I wish he would leave me alone already. “Jameson’s the man around here. He has yet to make an appearance, but I know he will.”
Jameson. That’s an interesting name. Sounds like all the whiskey that is free flowing around here. I look around, hoping Brett will leave, but he’s just standing there staring at me like he’s expecting me to say something, so I improvise.
“Well, I haven’t met Mr. Reed, so I don’t have an opinion of him,” I tell Brett.
Am I not acting disinterested enough? Do I need to be pushier, blunter? I just want to be left alone, so I can put in my “mandatory” attendance and leave. Maybe I’ll say something super underhanded. I’d love to meet Mr. Reed if it would mean being able to end this conversation.
“I hear he’s a real suave type, if you know what I mean,” Brett continues. “Capable of getting girls under his grip and keeping them a secret.”
Just like Claude had said.
“But he’s nowhere near as I suave as I am,” Brett can’t seem to resist adding.
I look at him with my mouth hanging open. I can’t believe he’s hitting on me right in the middle of a work party. I’m about to ask him to leave when a deep, gravelly voice comes out of nowhere.
“I’m sure she doesn’t know what you mean, Brett.”
We both turn towards whoever it is and what I see leaves me stunned. The man to whom the voice belong towers over me and it’s the same one I passed in the hallway earlier. A chill runs down my spine and I find that my panties dampen despite my best intention.
This guy is the proverbial tall, dark and handsome. I’m not particularly short, but he’s at least a head taller than I am. And every inch of him looks chiseled. From his to face to his… other places… I mean, I imagine. His suit is well-tailored enough that I can warrant a guess. But he’s not looking at me, instead staring intensely at Brett with a smirk on his face.
“I-I-I-” Brett looks mortified.
I try hard not to smile. I don’t understand why he is so nervous all of a sudden, but a part of me is glad. It’s his turn to feel uncomfortable for once. Now he’ll see how he was making me feel—if he’s even capable of showing empathy, which, I doubt.
“I also believe the lady no longer wishes to talk to you.” Now he turns his attention to me and I have no idea what to do. “Do you?”
I stare blankly and then, snapping out of it, I shake my head.
“That’s true,” I say, glad I can finally spit it out. “I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”
“It seems you’ve been dismissed,” the man tells Brett.
He makes an “uuh” sound as if he can’t believe I wouldn’t want to talk to him— he’s clearly incapable of picking up on my prior hints— and then he finally walks away, defeated. With him gone, I relax a little, but then remember I have another man to deal with.
“I guess I should thank you.”
It’s not the smoothest line, but is it necessary to be smooth? I find this guy attractive, but I don’t think I should let things go any further. He looks old enough to be my dad. A really sexy dad, with his salt and pepper hair and beautiful smile and piercing eyes.
His gray hairs manage to make him look more dignified than old. I want to run my hands through it, grab onto it as he kisses me, touches my breasts, my—
Wait . I should stop this line of thinking. Bad thoughts lead to questionable actions and I don’t need to go down that path.
“So, are you going to?” The man arches an eyebrow at me seductively.
Who even knew eyebrows could be seductive?
“Am I going to what?”
I’m kind of caught off guard and can feel myself blinking more than usual.
“Oh, yeah. Thank you. Thanks.”
I open the beer Brett gave me and take a sip. His presence is putting me on edge. I have tasted alcohol before, but only when taking communion… Ugh, I’m slipping into depravity and addiction, all in one evening. Impure thoughts and drinking. What has gotten into me?
I need this mystery man to leave, so I can regather myself and stop the dirty thoughts I’m having about me, him, and our bodies. But I also want him to stay. I can feel the heat from his broad, muscular chest and I desperately want him to touch me.
“I’m guessing you’re new here,” he says.
I just nod and take another sip of beer. I should probably stop. I can’t show up at home drunk. There’d be no way to explain that.
“I could tell,” he continues. “You have the same slightly frightened look on your face that sometimes accompanies new employees.”
“Do I really look that scared? That is not the look I was going for.”
I sound really disappointed and maybe a little ridiculous, but I’m being completely serious. A scared newbie is not a good look. He laughs at me. Full on, deep belly laugh. I’m initially offended, but my demeanor is a bit odd, I’ll give him that. I never feel comfortable in my own skin and being at my first job and my first real party just makes it even worse.
I join him and I like the way our laughter mixes. We both have a deep laugh, but mine floats on top of his. Like it’s complimentary.
Compatible laughter ? What a bizarre thought. But this entire day has seemed bizarre, so I just go with it.
“Why don’t I show you around?” the man says. “That way the office will seem less intimidating.”
It couldn’t hurt, right ? And I’d like to take a look around. This is the perfect time to do it.
So, I agree and he leads me away from the party. I throw my beer away. Just to avoid any more temptation. Even though temptation is also what is leading me out of the room.
He takes me on a tour of the top floor. I hope we’re allowed to be up here. I’m not sure who my guide is, but I highly doubt a top-floor executive wo
He leads me into an enormous conference room. It’s nicely decorated with expensive looking chairs and an Arthurian-esque table.
“Wow… is this where all the important meetings take place?”
“I don’t know if all the meetings are important, but there are a great deal of them.”
Hmm . He’s not only incredibly handsome but also funny.
“So, you work on this floor?”
He’s stayed by the door, but I’m walking around the table, running my fingers along the smooth wood. As I ask my question, I look up at him from under my lashes.
I’ve made my way around the entire table and now we’re directly across from one another, with nothing between us except the air. I lean against the table and we’re looking directly at each other. If he’s someone important here, why is he showing me around? Does he have something else in mind? Something a little less innocent than a simple company tour?
“Would you like to know what I do?” he asks me.
I shake my head.
I say it so quietly, I’m not sure if he heard me, but I mean it. I don’t want to know exactly what he does. It’ll just intimidate me more.
From his demeanor, I had a feeling from the beginning that he has major power in this law firm, but knowing how important he actually is would make the night feel a lot more real. As if we’re giving each other solidified roles outside of the two of us.
Not that there is an “us.”
He walks over to me and places his hands on either side of my body.
“That’s an interesting answer.” He pushes in so close that now I’m sitting on the table. We haven’t touched yet, but I have a feeling we’re going to. The warmth I feel from his body makes all of my senses stand on edge. My heart speeds up and my breathing becomes hurried. He smells like fancy cologne mixed with office furniture.
“Is it?” I respond breathlessly.