“Oh my God, how many more sessions do we have left?” Brittany Henderson, one of Gabi’s coworkers from the accounting department, whined as they walked to the restroom together.
Gabi looked at the schedule for Friday afternoon. “Just one more and we’re free,” she replied with a sigh. “A motivational speaker named Simon Sinek? I think I saw one of his Ted Talks on Youtube.”
Gabi couldn’t help but agree with her. It had been a long week, filled with long, painfully boring meetings at Cole Industries headquarters. That, coupled with Gabi’s newfound revelation about Ryan, had her exhausted and more than ready to go home.
She had successfully avoided him all week, not that he had sought her out anyway. Her impression from their last conversation was that the ball was in her court. Considering the fact that he was engaged, she figured she’d better deflate the figurative ball and chuck the whole thing up as a learning experience.
Gabi was lost in thought as Brittany chattered on about the gala that was to take place the following night as they walked back to the large conference room for the last session. The next thing Gabi knew, she was on her butt in the fountain in the lobby, soaking wet. She was so shocked that she just sat there as water continued to pour on her head.
“Shit! Gabriella are you okay?” She heard Ryan’s voice as she was hoisted from the fountain.
She blinked up at him and realized in horror that he was holding her in his arms.
“I am so sorry, miss! I didn’t mean to bump into you!”
Gabi turned her head and saw Suzette standing next to Ryan in a tight-fitting grey business suit and her delicate features contorted in worry.
Gabi shivered and Ryan moved into action. “Suzette go find her some clothes and a towel. I’ll take her up to my father’s office. Meet us there. Ms. Henderson, you can return to the meeting.”
He started walking toward the elevator with Gabi still in his arms.
“Put me down,” Gabi spat at him as the doors to the elevator slid shut. “I can walk.”
He tightened his grip and ignored her. When the doors opened again, Ryan strode forward and walked down the large corridor to a door at the end.
“Knock,” he instructed.
“Put me down and you can knock yourself,” she retorted, her voice dripping with venom.
He rolled his eyes and kicked the door lightly three times. The door opened a moment later and Luke glared at them.
“What is it, Ryan?” Luke said venomously. “I thought I told you to keep an eye on everyone downstairs.”
“Gabriella fell into the fountain--”
“And that is my problem how?”
Ryan narrowed his eyes. “Seeing as you gave my office here away, I have nowhere to take her.”
“Luke let your brother in,” Jack Cole spoke from somewhere behind Luke.
Luke reluctantly stepped to the side and Ryan walked in with a mortified Gabi. Ryan set her down on the leather couch by the window.
“Hello, Miss Perez!” Jack greeted her with a smile. “I’ve heard wonderful things about you from my son. And your work on the fall ad campaign was outstanding.”
“Actually father,” Luke cut in. “There’s a young man that I am grooming named Michael Wilkerson who is responsible for the great work from the marketing department at the Houston branch.”
“Gabriella completed the fall campaign before you came and started to ruin things, so don’t try to take credit away from her.” Ryan was seething as he and his brother glared at each other.
“Boys stop arguing; You’re both adults so please behave like it,” Jack said, rubbing his temples. He stood up. “I have a meeting across town so I will see you two at the house for dinner. Miss Perez, would you like to join us?”
“Thank you for the invitation but I couldn’t dare impose,” she replied timidly, sitting very still on the couch so she wouldn’t cause too much damage from the water that was dripping from her body.
“Nonsense!” he said with a smile. “I’ve been told your family has been very hospitable to my sons so it’s only right I return the favor. I’ll see you all tonight.” He gave them one final nod before leaving the room.
Ryan and Luke glared at each other for a long moment before Ryan came back over to Gabi and threw his suit jacket over her shoulders.
“You must be freezing,” he commented as she shivered on the couch.
“Thank you for that brilliant observation, captain obvious,” she replied sarcastically, scooting away from him.
Ryan was about to reply but the door to the office opened and in walked international pop sensation Alicia Cole and Gabi’s jaw dropped. She was even more beautiful in person than in the magazines. She was wearing a pink cropped sweater and a mini-skirt with tights under a long white peacoat paired with mary jane heels. Her dark brown curls framed her small face and made her light brown skin seem brighter.
“I heard my favorite big brother was in town!” she squealed, hugging Ryan tightly. “And you brought the jackass back with you I see,” she said glaring at Luke.
“Hello Alicia,” Luke said without any traceable emotion.
“Lucas.” She nodded at him. “Anyway, Ryan I’ve missed you so much! Tell me everything!”
She perched herself on their father’s desk but her smile faltered when she caught sight of Gabi. “Who is that?”
Gabi stood up and walked over, extending her hand in greeting, trying to remain calm in front of her favorite singer. “I’m Gabriella Perez. I work in the Houston office. I’m a huge fan Miss Cole! I have all of your albums.”
Alicia shook her hand warmly. “Aww, you’re so sweet! It’s a pleasure to meet you! And call me Alicia.” She looked over at Ryan with a smirk. “This one’s gorgeous. Have you slept with her yet?”
“Alicia!” Luke reprimanded as Gabi flushed bright red.
“Oh take a chill pill,” Alicia said dismissively. “I’m just joking. Why are you wet though?” She asked Gabi in concern.
“She fell into the fountain downstairs,” Ryan replied trying not to laugh. “Suzette is bringing her some clothes.”
“Suzette is here? Why?! God, I hate that bitch.”
“Ahem,” Suzette cleared her throat as she entered the room with a towel and a change of clothes for Gabi. “Glad to know how you feel about me, Alicia.”
“You may call me Miss Cole,” Alicia glowered at her. “And I thought I made my opinion about you very clear years ago.”
“Play nice Alicia,” Ryan said quietly, nudging his little sister in her side.
“Why should I? She’s been nothing but a plague on our family!”
“Alicia,” Luke said firmly.
She scowled but turned back to Gabi with a smile a moment later. “Are you coming to my concert tonight? I sold out Madison Square Garden can you believe it?”
“I wish! But I think we have to work tonight.”
“Nonsense! You’ll be my personal guest. Ryan you’ll bring her right?” She gazed up at her brother with wide, pleading eyes and his resolve was instantly gone.
“Of course Alicia. Anything for the princess.” He laughed and kissed the top of her head.
“Oh goody! Well, I must be off. I’ve got to prepare for the show tonight.” She hopped off of the desk and waved goodbye as her bodyguard followed her from the room. “Toodles! And fuck you, Luke. You too Suzette.”
The door slammed behind her and the room was silent again.
“Oh!” Suzette said, making Gabi jump. “Here’s a towel and some clothes for you.” She thrust the clothes into Gabi’s arms a little more forcefully than necessary. “Again, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to knock you over; I didn’t see you.”
“It’s fine,” Gabi said shortly. She had a feeling it wasn’t an accident and Suzette might be upset that Gabi had shown up to her fiance’s hotel room on Sunday night. “Is there a bathroom I can change in?”
“I’ll show you where it is,” Ryan said walking to the door.
“Thank you,” Gabi mumbled as she followed him out of the office and back down the hallway.
“What’s with the attitude?” Ryan asked her before she walked into the restroom.
“Why don’t you ask Suzette?” She pushed past him, ignoring the confused expression on his face.
Gabi stared at herself in the mirror and felt like screaming. She looked like a drowned rat. Her mascara was running and half of her hair was frizzing as it started to dry.
She removed her clothes and dried herself as best she could with the towel, groaning when she saw the dress Suzette had brought her. It was a black bodycon dress with cutouts on the sides. Definitely not work appropriate, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. Once she had slipped into the skintight dress, she tried to pull her hair into a ponytail but it had gotten too big and frizzy so she fluffed it out and exited the restroom.
Ryan wasn’t there so she headed back downstairs hoping to catch the end of Simon Sinek’s speech. She didn’t miss the gasps and stares of her colleagues as she took a seat in the back of the room.
When the speech was over, Brittany found her to give her her things. Gabi immediately threw her coat on over the dress and checked her phone. She had thirteen text messages and four missed calls from Ryan.
Gabriella where the hell did you go?
Why do you care?
What are you talking about? Why wouldn’t I care?
Why don’t you ask Suzette?
What? Why do you keep saying that?
Gabi locked her phone and put it in her purse. “Come on Brittany. Let’s get back to the hotel. I want to take a nice hot shower.”
Gabi and Brittany headed out of the building together and walked toward the subway. They had just reached the street when a black town car pulled up in front of them and Ryan stepped out of the back seat.
“Mr. Cole?!” Brittany exclaimed.
Ryan smiled tightly at her and took Gabriella’s hand. “I’m sorry Ms. Henderson. I need Miss Perez to come with me.
“I’m not going anywhere with you, you asshole!” she replied, yanking her hand out of his grasp.
Ryan glared at her. “Get in the car, Gabriella. I won’t ask again.”
They stared at each other, both refusing to yield. Gabi finally threw her hands up with a groan and climbed into the car. “I’ll see you later Brittany.”
“Have a good evening Ms. Henderson,” Ryan said before climbing back into the car and closing the door. “Take us to the Cole Estate please.”
Gabi slid as far away from Ryan on the seat as she could. He rolled up the partition and stared at her.
“Would you care to explain why you are being so rude to me?”
She snorted. “As if you don’t know!”
“I don’t know! That’s why I’m asking! God Gabriella, you are driving me insane!”
"I’m driving you insane?” she asked in disbelief. She shook her head and turned to look out the window. “Wow. You are absolutely unbelievable.”
They rode the rest of the way in silence until they arrived at the Cole Estate. Ryan was writing furiously in that infernal notebook of his again. Gabi desperately wanted to remain angry but she couldn’t help but be in awe of the beautiful home. Once they entered the gate, the path wound up to an enormous house at least three stories high.
Gabi followed Ryan inside trying to admire the fine decor but Ryan was walking fast and she had to keep up or risk getting lost in the giant house. He led her to an immaculate bedroom with lavender painted walls.
“This is Alicia’s room. She demanded that I allow you to choose an outfit from her closet and bring you to her concert after dinner.” He pointed to a door on the other side of the room. “That’s the bathroom. Feel free to take a bath if you’d like. Dinner is in an hour in the dining room. Should you need anything, press that button on the wall by the bed and Mary, our maid, will come and help you.”
With that, he turned on his heel and left the room slamming the door behind him. Gabi glared after him. Surely he wasn’t mad at her. She wasn’t the one who was engaged.
Gabi set her feelings about Ryan aside so she could fully appreciate the fact that she was in her favorite singer’s bedroom. She FaceTimed Angela as she walked into the large bathroom.
“Hey Gabs! How’s the conference?”
“Boring. But guess who I met today.”
“Alicia freaking Cole!”
Angela’s jaw dropped and she started squealing excitedly. “You’re kidding!”
“No! I’m in her bedroom right now!”
“What?! How? Oh my gosh! Start from the beginning. How did you meet her?”
“Well she’s Ryan’s sister--”
“How did you not know his sister was our favorite singer?!” Angela practically screamed into the phone.
“I knew he had a sister but I never dreamed it would be her!”
“That’s fair I guess. Anyway, if you’re at their house I’m assuming you made up with Ryan?” Angela asked hopefully.
Gabi scoffed. “Hardly. I’m over that asshole. He’s engaged.”
Angela blinked at her with her mouth hanging open. “He’s what?!"
“Engaged! To Suzette Van Herick of all people.”
“The hotel heiress?”
“Wow. There must be a misunderstanding.”
“How could there be a misunderstanding? She was in his hotel room when I went to find him Sunday and even showed me her engagement ring.” Gabi picked a form-fitting red dress out of Alicia’s closet and laid it on the bed before heading into the bathroom to turn on the tub.
“Have you talked to Ryan about it?”
“What’s there to talk about?”
“I don’t want to hear it Angela. I was right. I’m going to be single forever and I’m okay with that. I have to go now though. I have less than an hour before dinner and I have to wash my hair.”
Angela frowned. “I was wondering what was going on with your hair.”
“Suzette accidentally pushed me into a fountain.”
“Accidentally?” Angela said, her expression skeptical.
“Supposedly. But I’ll have to text you about it later. Love you!”
“Love you too! Have fun! And talk to Ryan--”
Gabi hung up the phone before Angela could finish her sentence. She looked at herself in the mirror and shook her head. “What a mess.”