Authors: Cristina Grenier
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #United States, #African American, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Multicultural, #Multicultural & Interracial
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 Monster Media LLC
The first time she laid eyes on him, she felt it.
That spark. That je ne sais quoi that whispered like smooth molasses against the synapse of her brain.
It brought heat and light and that thing that little girls whispered of at night that started with a Happy and ended with an After, and promised, by definition, to last forever.
As soon as she felt it, she did the only thing she knew how to do. The only thing that made sense.
She dismissed it.
It wasn’t that she was opposed to love. She just wasn’t looking for it. For some women it came easily. They sort of stumbled into it because it was as natural to them as breathing. For Rei love was a distraction. An unnecessary one. She had goals, and falling in love and all the drama in entailed would only interfere with them.
Not to mention the fact that falling for her boss was only the second biggest cliché that Rei could imagine, right behind falling for one’s best friend. It also didn’t help matters that the man in question happened to be white.
Now Rei didn’t have anything against white people. She found men of all ethnicities attractive. Chemistry was chemistry after all and she saw no reason to fight it because of skin color. Rei’s problem was that not everyone was nearly as accepting as she was when it came to that sort of thing.
She’d read a study once that said that black women (and Asian men) were the least desirable partners to have when it
came to relationships, even among their own race. According to statistics she was the bottom of the barrel.
Rei would have liked to say that such talk was nonsense. It was 2013 after all. Surely society was more advanced by now. Surely they had matured somewhat as a people.
But she couldn’t say that. Not with any real conviction. Statistics were statistics for a reason. The majority of the time, they held true and Rei had grown tired of searching for those golden few who went against the norm.
So when Justin Reese held out his hand and smiled at her, she simply smiled back without holding his gaze for too long, and shook his hand lightly in return. Proud of herself for just how professional she could be.
“Ms. Donovan, it’s so good to finally meet you. Stan has been singing your praises ever since he pulled your application.”
This time the smile she gave was more genuine. “Stan has been singing my praises since kindergarten Mr. Reese. It’s part and parcel of being a family friend.”
Reese chuckled and indicated the chair stationed before his desk, his desire for her to sit obvious. She obliged.
“All lies then?” he sounded disappointed, and Rei smiled wryly.
“That depends.” She admitted.
“How generous he was feeling towards me at the time.”
Instead of sitting behind his desk, he came to lean against the front of it. Legs crossing casually at the ankles even as he folded his arms. His eyes, a light blue green, were bright with intelligence and good humor and Rei shifted in her seat, uncomfortable with having him so close. If she wanted, she could reach out and touch the muscled expanse of thigh encased in business gray. She wouldn’t dare of course, but the temptation was there all the same.
“Do you make a habit of annoying family friends Ms. Donovan?”
God. She even liked his voice. Smooth and dark like honey soaked kisses.
“Only when given the opportunity to do so sir.”
He laughed outright at that and shook his head. “Rei, please. Call me Justin. We’re going to be spending a lot of time together, so there’s no real reason to stand on formalities.” He ducked his head in sudden chagrin, auburn hair glinting a deep, rich, red beneath the sunlight streaming in from his office window.
if I call you Rei?” he asked.
It took some doing but she managed to hide genuine surprise that he would care enough to ask. Rei wasn’t an expert on multi-millionaires or anything, but before she’d met Reese she would have sworn that they were all pretty much cast from the same mold.
But Reese was what they called nouveau rich. He hadn’t been born into money like most of the folks who called New England home. From all accounts Reese was a prodigy, the youngest C.E.O to hit Wall Street in years; he lacked the guile that came as second nature to many of his peers. Some said his trusting nature would work against him in the long run, but Rei was more of a romantic.
She liked to imagine that maybe, just maybe, he’d be able to make it work without having to turn into the type of man she despised. Entitled, pompous, and self-serving.
Because he was the opposite of that, because he
to be in any case, she shook her head no.
“I wouldn’t mind a bit Mr.-”she hesitated, “- Justin.” She finished weakly, unaccountably proud of herself when he beamed.
“Good.” Suddenly full of energy, Justin came to his feet and wandered around his desk to take a seat behind it. “I’m glad you thought to get here a little early. There are a few things I’d like to go over before you get started. Just to help you understand what I’ll need from you.”
“Of course.” Now that she was there she was almost eager to get started. Trying to pay her way through school, Rei had worked as a personal assistant to a number of people. From
C.E.Os and board presidents to writers and self-help gurus. After five years she’d like to say that she’d seen all there was to see, but Justin Reese certainly took the cake. Now that she was out of school she’d applied to be a foreign language teacher at an international school in Japan. If all went well Reese would be her last client in America before she went overseas.
Even knowing that she probably wouldn’t be at the job long, she was still happy for the opportunity to work for such a man. Imagine all the things she could pick up for when she wanted to start her own business one day.
Over the course of the next hour, they covered his current work-load, personal engagements, and his preferences concerning everything from the way he answered emails, to how he liked his suits pressed and where he usually had lunch. By the time the knock came on his office door Rei felt as if she was interviewing to be his girlfriend rather than having what amounted to as a job orientation.
“Come in.” he called, looking apologetically towards Rei as the door opened. It was a surprise to both when Stanly Williams stepped into the room. As Rei’s godfather, Stan pretty much knew all there was to know about her. During his years as
Justin’s personal assistant, the older man had made himself into both a trusted ally and friend. So when he came into the room, grim faced and tense with worry, both Rei and Justin came to their feet almost as one.
“Stan?” brow furrowing Justin stepped around his desk and covered the distance that separated them in a few long legged strides.
“What’s going on?”
“There’s-” He shook his head, and his eyes fell on Rei hovering in the background. “We need to talk.” He told Justin. Rei met his eyes and frowned when he indicated that she should leave. “Alone.”
“Ms. Donovan? Would you mind?”
Rei turned her attention to Justin, straightening when he smiled an apology. “We can pick up where we left off after lunch.”
“Of course, Mr. Reese.” So much for informality. Gathering her things she stepped around the two men and out of the room, wincing as it slammed shut behind her. For a moment she was at a loss as to what to do with herself. Stan was supposed to retire in a few weeks. Long enough for him to teach her the ropes, and soon enough that she should have been included in whatever conversation they were currently having.
After all, he wasn’t going to be the one who had to deal with whatever fallout there was. She supposed though, that after so many years of working with just each other it would be hard to suddenly introduce a third party into the fold. While she understood, that didn’t really give her a way to fill the next four to five hours.
Sighing Rei glanced around her inner sanctum. The office she’d just left would be reserved for Justin. The one directly adjacent to it and acting as a secretary’s workspace, would be hers. Or at least it would be as soon as Stan finally retired. With that in mind she should probably start getting used to some of the paperwork. She’d learn whatever Stan had to teach her much quicker if she could look over the company files for herself first.
With that in mind, Rei sat in the chair behind her soon to be desk and dug around in her purse until she came across the USB drive she reserved specifically for work. Then, typing in Stan’s password, which wasn’t nearly as secret as he’d like to believe, Rei began shifting through folders with a vengeance.
Even the word felt foreign in his mouth. Something devastating and strange.
At 35, Justin Reese had already spent the majority of his life building his legacy. Being blessed with a head for business, he’d forgone the idea of a typical education and had instead set out to make his mark on the world. What made him different from all the rest, all the ones who failed, is that he knew a good investment when he saw it and he always trusted his gut.
It hadn’t been luck that had made him unstoppable in the stock market game and it hadn’t been luck that had made him see potential in projects where others merely saw money pits. It had been skill, pure and simple, and he wasn’t ashamed to admit as much.
It was why even the idea of bankruptcy was ludicrous to him.
That would imply that he’d made a wrong turn somewhere. That somehow, in the carefully built life he’d made for himself, he’s made a mistake.
He sat down hard in his chair, eyes unseeing.
“I don’t understand.” He said, and he didn’t.
“It was the stocks you bought from Rinolli. They were going under long before we bought into them, and now they’re dragging us with them. Our investors are looking at our new numbers and getting out while they still can, and those who aren’t involved with us don’t want to be after watching everyone else jump ship.”
“Christ.” This was impossible. He’d done the research; he’d visited the company, run the numbers, and weighed the risks. That investment had been a sound one. It should have added to his revenue, not turned his company into a monetary pariah.
This was a disaster.
He didn’t realize he’d spoken aloud until Stan shook his head in genuine regret.
“It gets worse.”
“I don’t want to know.”
Stan ignored him. “Bethany heard the news a few hours ago and called. She’ll be paying us a visit this afternoon.”
“No.” Justin’s voice was flat, his face a mask of rage. “Whatever she wants the answer is no.”
“Considering where things currently stand,” his friend reminded him gently, “We may be better off hearing what she has to offer. Things can’t really get much worse.”
The man obviously knew nothing about Bethany Marcus.
Justin had met Bethany years ago at a fundraiser for breast cancer. Breast cancer had taken his mother, so it was a well-known fact that he made a point to attend any and all events that concerned it.
He knew making donations and giving speeches wouldn’t bring his mother back, but it eased some of the guilt that lived with him. Made him feel as if he were doing something. Helping someone.
When he met Bethany Marcus that night, she’d come across as not that much different from Justin himself. They’d hit it off easily enough and she seemed to understand him better than anyone he’d ever met. It wasn’t until six months later when he was contemplating marriage that he found out that she’d attended the benefit that night for the sole purpose of reeling him in.
From the moment he’d met her she’d done nothing but lie and manipulate him, all in a bid to get a ring and become Mrs. Bethany Reese, wife of a multi-millionaire and second most influential person in Boston. The betrayal had been devastating, and he hadn’t spoken to her since the night he’d broken things off over two years ago.
Now to have Stan of all people, vouch for her…
It was like another betrayal all over again.
But Stan was right. Justin didn’t really have the luxury of ignoring her, especially when she might be able to help. This wasn’t just about him after all, it was about the hundreds of people who depended on him for a paycheck, and the millions more who would be affected if his corporation went under and their financial support was snatched away from the hospitals, schools, research facilities, and construction companies that called him a patron.
“I don’t want that woman anywhere near this place.” He began finally. “If she wants to talk, I’ll come to her. Set up a reservation for two at Antonio’s and inform her people of the change of plan.”
“Just two?” Stan frowned, his worry obvious. “Are you sure it’s a good idea to meet with her alone?”
Justin’s smile was bitter, “No, but she won’t bother pretending if there’s just the two of us, and maybe I can this over with that much sooner.