Excerpt: Kiss of Fashion
The coronary started in Megan Bell's chest while an ulcer wrenched at her stomach. Or it might have been a brain tumor. Considering she'd been called a hypochondriac in the past, it could be anything.
Her boss took his last walk to the elevator. Her heart tightened even more. Mr. Torrey had been her friend and mentor, letting her shine behind the scenes while he took the bows in the limelight. She preferred it that way, but now had to fend for herself with some new guy.
"Do you know you have the most adorable face I've ever seen?" she heard.
She eased her gaze toward the client while sitting in her cubicle near Mr. Torry's old office. This client was so slimy, but she knew to bite her lip and not say a word out of the ordinary. Even though she was a professional, she was a New Yorker, and this man was begging her to slam her fist into his mouth from some of his earlier comments. If only he wasn't a client…
She tossed back her long hair and took a deep breath. "I can tell the new boss you're in. And your name again?" She'd tried to erase it from her mind, even though his name was on Mr. Torrey's schedule, sitting in front of her. She also wanted this guy to know she wasn't impressed with him one bit.
"Ethan Washington." His gaze and smile moved toward her chest. "I work at a modeling agency, where we represent the big top models such as Anastasia, Calliope, and many others."
"Top models? And you called me adorable?" What was he smoking?
Ethan lifted his gaze to her face as his fingers touched her arm, his brown eyes framed by his curly brown hair. "You're absolutely beautiful. How about you come to work for me instead of staying in this dungeon?"
He seemed like the type to film porn. He wasn't trustworthy and she wasn't about to pose nude for this guy or anyone. She backed away from his hand. "I'm no top model."
"Neither were Ana or Calliope when they came to see me." He reached out and stroked her cheek, his fingers feeling like snakeskin. "You have more natural beauty than they ever did. I love brunettes, and with your ice blue eyes, you're quite beautiful, in a girl-next-door type of way."
Nope. He probably just wanted a one-night stand and she certainly wasn't that type. Ethan Washington was slimy, making her skin crawl.
She moved away from his fingers and checked the monitor. "Will you look at that? We've just gotten an email. Our new boss' name is Brendan Johnson and he should be here--"
"Welcome, Mr. Johnson!" the personnel director yelled in his typical dramatic fashion. The man exited Mr. Torrey's empty office as another man headed toward him. The personnel director shook the new man's hand, smiling as if he'd just won the lottery. "Everything's in order just like you wanted. No request is too big for you. Would you like coffee or tea, or something stronger to drink?"
The tall medium blond-haired man with striking blue eyes appeared dumbfounded. "No, I just want to get to work."
"I knew you'd be a team player." The personnel director chuckled as he nodded toward Ethan. "This man had a meeting…I mean has a meeting with you right away. He's representing Anastasia, I mean Ana, the top model, to run with the newest ad for our company."
"What's she promoting?" Brendan asked.
The personnel director leaned closer. "Lingerie. Thongs, especially. But only in markets that can handle such things without viewers rebelling." His whisper wasn't even close to quiet. Meg wanted to roll her eyes from the way the man's eyebrows danced.
Brendan nodded. "Oh, I see." He motioned for Ethan. "I'll see you right now."
"Yes sir." Ethan grabbed Meg's hand, lifting it to his lips. "I'd like a secretary taking notes, and this one's my favorite." He winked, making Meg want to hurl. Or was that a stomach ulcer she was sure was forming, just from Ethan's aftershave?
It almost sounded like she really was a hypochondriac, like she'd once been called in high school. That couldn't be true, could it?
Meg extracted her fingers from Ethan's grip, making a mental note to wash her hand. Germs from scaly snakes weren't her friend.
Brendan studied Meg's face with a grin before turning toward Ethan. "Sure, but I thought she was with you. She looks like a model."
"No, she works for you, for now," Ethan said. "I'd like her to join us."
"I see." Brendan's left eyebrow rose. "Miss…"
"Bell," Meg answered, getting to her feet. "Megan Bell."
"Well, Megan, it looks like you have a job to do." She headed toward the room, but Brendan stopped her when she got closer, his mouth moving toward her ear. "Don't accept his job."
"We'll talk later. Just take notes and we'll talk after this meeting."
Meg nodded, glancing back at the client. As Ethan smiled, he winked suddenly. Her imaginary ulcer spewed out daggers, piercing the lining of her stomach, or so she imagined. He was only after wanted one thing, which wasn't just to hire her. If she knew some sort of martial arts move, just to prove she wasn't a plaything, she could put him in his place.
Meg followed her new boss into his office, accompanied by Ethan. She kept glancing at him, to make sure his hands stayed away from her.
Brendan stopped short, staring at the overflowing desk. "I don't like this one bit."
"Like what?" she asked.
"The desk." He picked up the waste can, and with one swoosh of his arm, emptied all the papers from the desk into it. "Much better." He turned toward Ethan, motioning toward the huge conference table on the left side of the room. "Won't you have a seat?"
Meg's mouth fell open in surprise, studying the empty desk. "But sir, all billing and appointments were in that pile. Mr. Torrey had a system."
"Not my system and not my bills or appointments. Nope, clean slate. Now come over here and have a seat."
She blew out a sigh and headed toward the table. After pulling out a chair beside where Ethan was seated, she began to sit down. At least she'd get to see out the windows when the meeting got boring.
"Beside me!" Brendan yelled, making Meg jump out of the seat in terror. "Don't they teach you people anything in the secretarial pool?"
She swallowed hard. "Sir?"
"Sit beside me." He pulled out a chair. "Over here." He addressed Ethan, his face exhibiting frustration. "I'm sorry for the delay, but give me a minute here."
Meg got up from her seat, took her pad of paper and pen, and headed to the other side of the table so she could see the office doors. She didn't like this new boss one bit. He might be eye candy, but good-looking men were usually the worst kind of boss. As soon as she had a break, she was calling the temp agency to see if another job had come available.
She sat down beside Brendan, shook back her hair, and faced him. "Is this better, or would you like me moving an inch to the right, or maybe a tad to the left?"
Brendan raised his eyebrows. "Insubordination gets you nowhere."
She narrowed her eyes, opened her pad of paper, and clicked her pen more than once, checking the tip.
"Problem?" Brendan asked.
"No, but this company pen's been giving me problems…" She shot him a dirty look and raked her eyes over him, timed perfectly so he'd get the message. "…and doesn't measure up."
He looked like he was going to laugh, but bit his lips instead. "I see." His attention turned toward Ethan. "Now, what did you want to meet with me about? I've just been given this job and have no idea what's going on yet."
Ethan continued to stare at Meg. "I want her to tell you."
Meg's eyebrows shot up as she watched the two men, feeling her face heat up. "Me? I'm just taking notes."
"You know what's going on here, right?" Brendan sat back in his chair with a smirk, turned and stared at her. "Tell us, Megan, what is this meeting about?"
"Well, sir, you can call me Meg."
"Fine, Miss Bell, what's this meeting about?"
Miss Bell. Right. He was just a rotten person.
She blew out a breath, making her hair blow upward, and faced the two men in front of her. "Mr. Torrey was supposed to design a television ad for women's lingerie using the famous top model, Anastasia. The ad would be tested on premium channels, because of the sensitivity of the product. They wanted to use a remote location for the shoot."
"Remote?" Brendan turned toward Ethan. "Not in our studios? Why is that?"
"Ana wants rustic. She thinks it shows off her blonde hair more."
"Is she calling the shots?" Brendan asked, leaning closer.
Ethan still stared at Meg, but talked to Brendan. "Oh, yes, Ana is in charge, per her contract. She's beautiful and demands a seven-digit salary, so yes, she's calling the shots." He reached over and touched Meg's hair. "Who's your beauty salon?"
She backed off slightly, making him move his hand. "Cheap 'do's, why?"
"They do a fabulous job." He rested his head on his palm, his elbow on the table, getting very close to her. "Can you take me there on our next date?"
"Next date?" she asked, her eyes getting rounder. "I don't think so. I don't date clients."
"Ah, but would you date your boss?"
She glanced at Brendan then looked back at Ethan. "No, sir. Strict rule."
Ethan's gaze inched toward Brendan. "I want her to work for me."
Meg crossed her arms. "Then I definitely don't date my bosses."
Brendan ignored her comment and watched Ethan. "Who, Meg? You want her to work for you?"
"Yes. She's perfect. I'd put her on my arm and attract millions of dollars just from having a trophy girlfriend."
Brendan seemed speechless for a moment. "I think that's her decision. I certainly can't pawn her off on a client like that. She's not a slave to our company."
"You've got that right," Meg murmured.
"Miss Bell?" Brendan asked, turning completely toward her. "Did you have something to say?"
"No sir. What else would you like to know about the meeting?"
"Well, probably everything, but you can fill me in later. Over lunch."
"Lunch, sir?" What was wrong with these men? Were they insane?
His sudden stare bored a hole through her. "Yes, it seems we need to go over the employee handbook so you know your place in meetings."
She felt her shoulders sag as she lowered her head. "Yes sir." She was so out of there, as soon as she could get another job--unless she died of a heart attack or toe fungus before that.
"I think this meeting's over," Brendan said to Ethan, extending his arm. "I'm sure it'll be fine to find a rustic place for Ana. When is she coming to see us?"
"Tomorrow," Ethan said, shaking Brendan's hand. "Or this afternoon. It depends on her current assignment, walking the runway for one of your competitors."
Brendan nodded slowly as he let go of Ethan's hand and straightened up. "I see. Send her to me, and we'll talk."
Meg wanted to jump in, but bit her lips. She just hoped Ana did her 'talking' outside the office so she wouldn't have to hear them moaning. She'd read all the gossip in the tabloids about Ana's way with men.
Both men stood and Brendan ushered Ethan toward the door, with Meg following close behind.
"It's good doing business with you," Brendan said. "Bring Ana back any time, and we'll have a meeting with her."
"Sure will," Ethan said. "But only if Meg's in the meeting." He winked at her, took her hand, and lifted it to his lips in a wet kiss. "Until we meet again."
She was ready to deck him. No upstanding New Yorker would put up with this, and since she lived in Queens, she certainly wasn't anyone's puppet. However, she also knew her place, so she pulled her hand from his, clenched her teeth and squared her shoulders, but kept quiet. This pipsqueak of a man was worthless in her eyes, and she was about to make him realize it.
"Give me a call." Brendan opened the door and Ethan walked out.
After she wiped her hand on her dress, Meg started to follow, ready to take Ethan down. Spit on her hand was abuse.
Brendan grabbed her arm, stopping her. "Not so fast."
"But it's not lunchtime yet." She pushed up her sleeves, ready for a fight. "Plus, I have a job to do with that man."
He pulled her back into the room. "No, you don't. He's a client and you let him go. Besides, I want you to type a letter for me."
"Yes. You're my secretary for the day, and have to answer to my beck and call."
Meg rolled her eyes and sighed. "But I have work on my desk." Plus, she wanted to catch up to Ethan to set a few things straight.
"I'm giving you more." With his hand still on her arm, Brendan closed the door and led her to his desk. "You do know how to type, right?"
How nasty was he? She cleared her throat and donned her best professional demeanor. "Yes, sir. I went to secretarial school and have a bachelor's degree in business."
He dropped his hand from her arm. "And you're a secretary?"
"Yes, because it pays the bills." She crossed her arms. "Do you want me to type it on your computer or write it now and type later?"
Brendan grinned, looking devious. "I think typing it right now is a good idea. I want it to go to the boss so he'll know right away what I'm thinking."
Meg headed to the desk, sat down in front of the computer, and turned it on. Within minutes, the monitor came to life and she brought up a common word processor.
Brendan sat down on the other side of the desk and watched her, that same stupid grin covering his face. "You ready?"
He put his feet up on the desk, looking up at the ceiling as he thought. "Dear Mr. Adams."
"The big boss?" she asked, spinning toward him.
He lowered his eyes to hers. "Yes, I think it needs to go to him instead of the personnel director. This is company business, and the big guy needs to hear this."
She typed as he dictated.
He continued, his eyes directed at the ceiling again. "I've just come from a very important meeting with the agent of Anastasia, and it seems that he's made one of our secretaries an offer of employment."
Meg stopped typing and stared at Brendan. "He wasn't serious, so this really isn't necessary."
Brendan lowered his feet then leaned up toward Meg. "It most certainly is necessary. If I'm going to have to work with you, I expect you to toe the line. Keep typing and add, 'However, this certain secretary has an attitude problem and would be a valuable asset if she'd learn to keep that attitude in check.'"
Uh-oh. Meg lowered her head and kept typing. She'd done it again. Her big mouth got in the way of her job, and she knew her days were numbered--unless she died of a parasite attack before that. She hadn't traveled to South America or gotten into any pond, so the chance of that was practically nil.
Brendan continued. "I'd like to keep an eye on Megan Bell, the secretary in question, and give you my findings in one week as to how she's progressing. If I feel it necessary, I'll let you know if we can negotiate a deal with Mr. Washington as to his offer of employment for Megan, if she pushes too far and becomes unemployed with Adams' Ultimate Fashions."
It was only getting worse. She kept typing, feeling the tears in her eyes. She didn't want to give him the satisfaction of winning, yet was ready to turn in her resignation before she even had another job.
"Sincerely, Brendan Johnson, director of advertising services."
She sucked up her tears and faced him with narrowed eyes. She couldn't wait to call that temp agency again. She was willing to take any job. Even working in the sewers smelled sweeter than working with this guy. "Is that all?" she asked.
"Yes, I think so. Print it out and put a copy on my desk, then get ready for lunch." He stood up and towered over the desk while she clicked on the print button. She inched to the printer near the desk, took the paper as it spit out, and handed it to him. He grinned while she grabbed her things and walked away.
"Ten minutes," he yelled.
Ten minutes. Just about enough time to have a heart attack.
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