Passion on park avenue t.., p.2
Passion on Park Avenue (The Central Park Pact), page 2
But Claire Hayes surprised her. Her shoulders were shaking, not with tears but with silent amusement. Then she tossed her head back and looked at the sky, letting out an audible laugh.
“I hate to be the one to tell you this,” Audrey told Claire, “but I don’t think he’s up there.”
Now it was Naomi’s turn to let out a surprised laugh as she realized she’d underestimated the brunette. She may look like a lanky Hepburn, but this Audrey had an edge beneath the sweet, doe-eyed appearance.
“Shouldn’t we be at the funeral?” Claire asked. Probably more to herself, but Naomi answered anyway.
“Nah. I mostly showed up to tell God not to allow that one through the pearly gates, and as Audrey pointed out, I think He probably already figured that one out.”
“I never thought I’d be here,” Claire said tiredly, lifting her fingers to her temples and rubbing absently.
“You mean sitting on a park bench with your husband’s mistresses while his funeral goes down just a couple blocks over?” Naomi asked.
Claire laughed. “Yes. That. I just keep thinking I know I should be sad, but instead all I can think about is how stupid I was, and that’s before I knew there were two of you. How did I not see it?”
“We were just as stupid,” Audrey said, setting a hand on Claire’s arm. “He was my boyfriend for a year. I just thought he traveled a lot.”
“Three months,” Naomi said, pointing at herself. “He told me most of his business dealings were in Hong Kong and that he had to work most nights. I totally bought it.”
They all fell silent, lost in their own memories of the man, and Naomi was struck that despite the fact that this was perhaps one of the weirdest meetings in the history of female encounters, it didn’t feel as odd as it should. Far from resenting the other women, she felt almost comforted by their presence. Claire’s and Audrey’s very existence was proof that Naomi wasn’t the only clueless one. That she wasn’t alone in being a victim of a heartless man’s games.
Who would have thought that strength in numbers applied to a dead man’s philandering?
Naomi straightened slightly and turned toward the others. “I have a confession.”
Claire lifted her eyebrows. “Worse than the fact that you were having adult sleepovers with my husband?”
“Who I didn’t know was your husband,” Naomi clarified, waving her finger at Claire. “But no, my confession is that while I’m really mad at Brayden, I’m even angrier at myself. For letting him fool me.”
Audrey nodded. “Same. I mean, it’s a little more self-loathing than anger, I guess, but . . . I just can’t stop thinking about how I didn’t see it. And if I didn’t see him being a snake, how will I ever spot another man being a snake?”
Claire looked down at her hands, running the pad of her finger along the small cuts caused by her own manicured fingers. “I’m not worried about it. After all this, I’m pretty dead set on turning into the old lonely lady with cats.”
“Nope,” Naomi said firmly. “We are not going to let him do that to us. I’m not really a long-term relationship girl, but I do like a male companion, and I have no intention of letting Brayden sour me on . . .”
“Pickles?” Audrey suggested.
“I was going to say sex, but yeah. That, too.”
Audrey’s smile was fleeting. “But I am the long-term relationship girl. I want the ring and the babies, and the—”
“Please don’t say white picket fence.”
“Oh God no.” Audrey shuddered, then pointed to her shoes. “These red soles are meant for Fifth Ave, not the burbs. But I still want the fairy tale, and I just . . .” She swallowed. “It’s harder to believe these days.”
“So let me get this straight.” Naomi turned to Claire. “You’re going to turn into a cat lady, and you’re giving up your Disney princess dreams,” she said, turning toward Audrey. “All because of a guy.”
Claire and Audrey exchanged a look, and Naomi pressed.
“Ladies, I know we just met, but let’s face it, we have the same shoes and we were screwed over by the same guy, so as far as I’m concerned, we leapfrogged a few steps in the female-bonding process.”
“Perfect, I’ll invite you over for a slumber party,” Claire said, starting to stand.
“Hold up.” Naomi put a hand on her arm. “I’m not suggesting we get matching tattoos, just that we can help each other.”
Claire stared at her but sat back down. “You want me to help my husband’s mistresses—do what, exactly?”
“We watch each other’s blind spots as it relates to men. Left to our own devices, obviously we’re no good at seeing a guy for who—and what—he really is. But what if we combined forces? Help each other spot another Brayden.”
Naomi knew it was spontaneous, a little bossy, a lot nuts, but it felt right. And Naomi had made a name for herself trusting her gut.
“Respectfully, I don’t even know you,” Audrey said, running a hand over her dark ponytail. “I get your point, but why would I have two strangers do a gut check on a guy I like instead of my friends?”
“Because who knows better how to spot another woman getting scammed than three women who just experienced it?” Naomi pointed out.
Audrey bit her lip and looked at Claire. “You know, I don’t hate this plan?”
Claire fiddled with her watch, and Naomi’s gaze tracked the motion. “Cartier.”
Claire looked up. “Yes. How’d you know?”
“I know designers. I also know that I have the exact same watch at home.”
Claire’s eyes went wide. “Brayden . . . ?”
“Me, too,” Audrey said, almost inaudibly.
Claire stared down at the watch on her left wrist, and Naomi knew they had her.
Naomi extended her right hand. “Hands in, girls, we’re making a pact, high school–style. May neither of you ever fall victim to a cheating bastard again. Not on my watch.”
“And to helping each other find the right man. That’s on my watch,” Audrey said, placing her palm on top of Naomi’s hand.
After a moment of hesitation, Claire set her hand atop Audrey’s. “Oh, what the hell. I’m in. To no more assholes.”
Naomi had never been a girl’s girl, and she certainly wasn’t the type to get all fluttery about fate. And though she’d been half-joking with the whole pact thing, something odd happened in the moment the three of their hands met. As though they were bound together now not by Brayden, but by something bigger. Something important.
And Naomi was suddenly certain that this moment with Claire Hayes and Audrey Tate was somehow going to change everything.
As they all let their hands fall away, Audrey let out a long sigh and looked eastward in the direction of the church. “I guess we should make an appearance, huh?”
Naomi stood and flicked her sunglasses back onto her face with one finger. “Screw it. Let’s go shopping.”
TWO MONTHS LATER—MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 24
The moment Naomi Powell’s Manolo Blahniks stepped off the elevator at Maxcessory headquarters, a pair of discount Nordstrom Rack pumps fell into step beside her. The synchronous click of their matched pace was as familiar—and dear—to Naomi as the woman wearing the other shoes.
“That better not be what I think it is,” Deena Ferrari said, narrowing her eyes at the pink bakery box in Naomi’s hands.
“Double chocolate birthday cake for my favorite assistant,” Naomi said, making a smooching noise in Deena’s direction.
“Reject,” Deena said.
“You can’t reject your birthday,” Naomi argued as Deena opened the glass door to Naomi’s corner office and followed her inside.
“Well, seeing as I’ve rejected it five years in a row now,” Deena said, crossing her arms beneath her bosom and sending an impressive amount of cleavage heaving upward in her leopard-print wrap dress, “I’ve gotten real good at it.”
“But wait, you haven’t seen the best pa
Deena’s feet stayed firmly in place, her arms stubbornly crossed, and she craned her neck to see what it said.
Deena, who Naomi knew full well was not a day under forty-seven, grinned. “Birthday accepted.”
“Thought so,” Naomi said, flipping the lid closed so it could be taken to the break room for the employees to share.
“But no singing,” Deena said, lifting a red-manicured fingernail tipped with gold glitter. “And no candles.”
“Gifts?” Naomi asked.
“Gifts I will accept. But first, I have gifts for you . . .”
Naomi groaned as Deena held up a stack of sticky notes and gave them a little waggle.
“You’ve been dodging,” Deena said as Naomi moved her purse from her chair and dropped into it.
“Not on purpose,” Naomi said, putting her fingers to her temples. “Next time I decide to have my apartment lease and office lease end in the same month, slap me. Just right on the face. Housewives-style.”
“Happy to,” her assistant said, shuffling through her notes.
Deena probably meant it. The woman had always claimed that in a different life she’d have been a Jersey Shore cast member. And while it was true that Deena loved her drama, she was crazy efficient, though one wouldn’t know it from looking at her. Four years ago, after Naomi’s first assistant had left the corporate world to raise her two kids in Brooklyn, Deena had come into Maxcessory headquarters with no appointment, no resume, and way too much perfume.
Deena had never worked in an office and definitely hadn’t known the first thing about typing—even if she had, her mile-long nails would have made it difficult. But the born-and-bred Jersey girl had something Naomi respected more than experience. She’d had style.
Deena Ferrari had strutted into the office, chin high, lip gloss glittery. Her black dress had been fitted and fabulous, the heels of her ankle boots sky-high. And though the woman was extra in just about every way, Naomi’s eagle eye, always primed to assess someone’s accessory game, had caught that Deena’s wrist had the perfect amount of bangles. Noticed that she’d skipped the necklace in order to let her chandelier earrings have the attention they’d deserved.
And after a stream of recent college grads in their interview suits, stud earrings, mid-height pumps, and canned answers, Deena had been the breath of heavily perfumed air Naomi had needed. She’d hired Deena on the spot and never looked back.
“How’s the team feeling about the move?” Naomi asked, spinning slowly in her chair.
Deena shrugged. “Excited. Much as they adore you and believe in Maxcessory, the desk sharing and fighting for the two conference rooms was wearing on everyone.”
“I just feel bad we’ve got this weird monthlong hiatus in between leases,” Naomi said.
Deena gave her an incredulous look. “Seriously? You think that your boss telling you you’ll have to work from home isn’t everyone’s dream?”
“Really?” Naomi asked, startled.
“Absolutely. Conference calls in jammies, and no dealing with the F train at six on a Monday night? They’re thrilled.”
“Yeah, well, trust me, the luster wears off,” Naomi muttered. “Two years of working out of my tiny studio apartment trying to get this business off the ground nearly killed me.”
“Sure, but you have to admit sometimes you wish you could work in yoga pants and no bra.”
Naomi gave Deena a look. “When was the last time you forwent the bra?”
Deena shimmied her pushed-up 46DDs in Naomi’s direction, but she knew one of Naomi’s stalling tactics when she saw it.
“Be quiet and listen to your messages.” Deena dove right in. “Movers are trying to push the relocation up by three days, wouldn’t give me a good reason. I’m assuming I can tell them to stick to the contracted date or go straight to hell?”
“Rephrase, but yeah.”
“Dry cleaner called. They couldn’t get the wasabi off your white blouse with the bow.”
“Damn,” Naomi muttered. “I love that shirt.”
“You’ve got your annual lady doctor appointment next Friday, massage on Tuesday, your hair girl needed to move your appointment from Wednesday to Friday . . . all that’s on your calendar . . .”
Deena placed the sticky notes in front of Naomi as she read them, having learned by now that Naomi was more likely to absorb things when they were literally right in front of her face.
“Claire called,” Deena continued. “Said to remind you that you’re meeting at Audrey’s at six tonight before the movie . . . ?”
There was a slight question in Deena’s tone, and Naomi knew her assistant was wildly curious about the two women who had come into Naomi’s life over the summer, seemingly out of nowhere, and become her fast friends in just a couple of months.
Naomi didn’t answer the unasked question. She trusted Deena implicitly, considered her assistant a loyal friend. But there were some things you just couldn’t explain to other people. The fact that you’d become friends with the wife and girlfriend of your late lover was one of them.
Naomi, Claire, and Audrey might not have known of one another’s existence until the day of Brayden’s funeral, but they’d made up for lost time with frequent brunches and wine nights. Naomi liked to imagine that knowing the three women he’d betrayed had bonded was torturing Brayden Hayes from his frontrow seat in hell.
Deena moved on to her next note. “Dylan Day called again, stupid name but—”
Naomi bumped her head against the back of her chair repeatedly in agitation. “That dude will not let up!”
“For what it’s worth, I think you should go for it,” Deena said.
“You’d think differently if it was your life they wanted to make into a TV series,” Naomi muttered.
“Au contraire,” Deena said, waggling her eyebrows. “I’m counting on them wanting to include your Italian diva of an assistant as an integral part of your success.”
“You know that they won’t let you play yourself, right? They’re angling for one of those ‘inspired by a true story’ directions, not a documentary.”
“Just wait until he meets me,” Deena said confidently. Then she frowned. “Wait, he’s not gay, is he? That’ll hurt my chances.”
“Well, what does your gaydar tell you? It’s not as good as mine, but if he’s one of the obvious ones . . .”
“I don’t know because I haven’t met him.”
Deena’s mouth dropped open. “But the network’s been after you for weeks for this.”
Naomi shrugged. “I’ve been dodging.”
“But why? This is how legends are made, babe. You could be an actual Netflix binge-watch.”
Maybe. But the Naomi Powell story was hardly the fairy tale they were hoping for. Or maybe it was. It was just that the early stages had been a hell of a lot grittier than Cinderella. And the later stages had no Prince Charming in sight.
“I’ll call him back,” Naomi said firmly, reaching for the sticky note and letting Deena know the conversation was closed. For now.
“Last message,” Deena said, reading the final pink Post-it Note in her hand. “And it’s a weird one. Some lady called saying you’d been approved for an interview with the co-op board. I thought you already found your new place?”
Naomi frowned. “I did. I signed the lease for that condo in Tribeca last week. Did Ann indicate that there’d been some sort of issue?”
“Wasn’t Ann. This woman was Victoria, and the apartment she was talking about was Upper East Side, not Tribeca.”
Naomi wrinkled her nose. “Upper East Side?”
After her experience with Brayden, she wanted nothing to do with the haughty, old-money part of Manhattan.
Deena’s brown eyes scanned the note. “Yup. Building name is 517 Park Avenue?”
Naomi heard the sharp note in her tone, and Deena apparently did, too, because she gave Naomi a startled look. “You know it?”
Yeah, she knew it, all right.
And it was exactly that lurid part of her past that Dylan Day would just love to get his hands on.
And exactly the part that Naomi had spent a decade trying to forget.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 26
Naomi could have handled it over the phone, but in the end her curiosity got the best of her.
Which was stupid. She should have been packing up her office and her apartment, preparing for a double move. To say nothing of the fact that eventually she’d have to deal with the production company that wanted to turn her life into a prime-time special. And that wasn’t counting all the other stuff that came along with running your own billion-dollar company.
Instead, Naomi quietly slipped out of the office at noon on Wednesday, and rather than grabbing her usual sushi lunch or favorite Niçoise salad at her favorite Lower East Side bistro, she found herself heading uptown.
To an apartment building she hadn’t thought about in years.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. She had tried not to think about it for years. She’d been mostly successful—except for the times when her mom’s relentless bitterness had gotten under Naomi’s skin, forcing her to remember.
Naomi paused outside the building and studied the facade of 517 Park Avenue. It looked . . . the same. Which was probably the point. Here on the Upper East Side, prewar architecture wasn’t considered old; it was dignified. The highest praise in this part of town.
And just like that, as though a cloud had passed over her, Naomi felt herself change. It was as though the Stella McCartney dress, the shoes and purse that independently cost more than the rent on her first apartment, disappeared.
As though she were no longer Naomi Powell, the hotshot “girl boss” who had taken corporate America by storm.
by Lauren Layne / Romance have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes