The next morning, I woke up with a sense of impending doom. I gathered the team in the hotel conference room to discuss the new plan. My trademark tight bun and skirt suit had returned and I ensured that there was no traceable kindness or warmth in my expression as I called the meeting to order. I saw Brett trying to smile at me but did my best to ignore him and maintain my stern gaze.
“Thank you all for your hard work over the last weeks. It is my great pleasure to report that Mr. Marino has finally approved the latest proposal and we will begin implementing the new plans immediately following this meeting.”
I waited for the applause of Brett’s employees to die down before continuing. “We have two weeks to get the project up and running before we head back to New York--” I ignored the gasps of shock and kept speaking. “--so hire whatever contractors you need and figure out who is staying here as project manager while the rest of us keep the momentum going back at the New York hotel. From here on out, we are all work and no play. This is a business trip and work must be our first and only priority. Is that clear?”
They all stared at me in shock. I glared back. “If there are no questions, you are all dismissed. Now, get to work immediately. Mr. Jacobson, stay back a moment.”
Brett gave his team a few directions before walking over to me with a frown. “You didn’t want to run this by me before making the announcement?” he asked after his last employee left the room.
I scoffed. “Yeah, just like you ran the proposal by me before you sent it to my father?”
“I was going to show you today at lunch but I wanted to see if he even liked it beforehand because I knew you wouldn’t approve!”
“So you went over my head instead?! Do you know how that makes me look to my father?” I could feel my cheeks heating up in anger. “My job is on the line here, Brett!”
“As is mine!”
“Oh, please! You own your company!”
“And you own yours!”
“What are you talking about?”
“You have got to be kidding me. With all the education you have and access to your company’s record, you’re telling me that you are unaware of the fact that you have majority ownership of the Lucia Marino hotels?”
“Even if that is true, it doesn’t change the fact that my career is in jeopardy. My father does not currently believe that I’m capable of running the company and this is my only chance to prove to him that I can. I’ve worked far to hard to let anyone or anything stand in my way of success,” I replied angrily, narrowing my eyes.
Brett’s face fell. “Wow. Just when I think I’m getting through to you Lupita, you fall right back into your selfish, bitchy habits. Well, don’t worry, Miss Marino, I’ll make sure to get any and every action I take approved by you.”
He stormed out of the room leaving me alone with my thoughts. My cell phone rang and I picked up angrily. “What?”
“Hello? May I speak with Penelope Marino?”
“This is she. Who are you and what do you want?”
“My name is Zachary Brown. You hired me to search for your birth mother?”
“Oh!” I gulped, immediately adjusting my tone. “I’m so sorry Mr. Brown! How are you?”
“I’m fine thanks,” he said dryly. “I’m calling because I have some information for you. I’ve found your grandparents and made contact. They want to meet you.”
I gasped and almost dropped my phone.
“Yes! Yes, I’m here!”
“How would you like me to proceed?”
“Arrange a meeting with them in New York. I’ll be back in town in two weeks. You have my assistant’s phone number and email, he will set up travel and lodging accommodations for them.”
“Affirmative. I will contact you when everything is arranged.”
I hung up the phone and slid down into the chair nearest me with a tearful smile on my face. I may have fought with Brett but I was one step closer to finding my mother.
The next two weeks went as well as I could have expected, considering the fact that I had put my guard back up. Brett was only speaking to me to get things approved as he got everything in order. He went up to his room each evening without saying goodnight and I didn’t get to see Malachi. I was both confused and irritated that his attitude toward me hurt my feelings.
I was mulling everything over with a glass of wine on our last Saturday night in Rome when there was a knock at my door. I groaned and padded to the door pulling my robe more tightly around myself.
“What?” I asked irritatedly, yanking the door open.
Brett was standing there in the same dark denim jeans and grey button-down shirt he was wearing the night that we first met, and looking just as sexy.
He frowned at me and didn’t respond. That’s when I noticed the tall man standing next to him. “Who are you?”
The man grinned and stuck his hand out. “Hi, I’m Mason, Brett’s best friend. I believe we met briefly a few months ago.”
“Did we?” I asked, shaking his hand and giving him a quick look over. He was slightly taller than Brett and had short dark hair and striking green eyes. At first glance, he looked kind of like a young version of my father.
Brett cleared his throat. “Mason was with me at the club when I first met you, Lupita.”
“Oh! That’s right,” I said, feeling my cheeks warm up in embarrassment remembering how brazen I was that night. “It’s nice to see you again. Would you two like to come in?”
“No, thank you,” Brett said quickly. “Mason flew in this morning on his way home back from a trip to Asia. He’s never been to Rome before so we figured we should hit up the night scene before heading back to the States.”
“That sounds like fun,” I replied, tucking my hair behind my ear. “Did you want me to watch Malachi or something?”
Mason laughed. “Malachi’s with the nanny. We wanted you to come out with us!”
I shook my head. “That’s probably not appropriate.”
“Nonsense!” Mason said. “We’re just going out for some clean, wholesome fun. Right, Brett?”
“Right,” he said with a grunt.
“Well,” I hesitated. “If Brett’s okay with it—”
“He’s more than okay with it,” Mason interjected, earning himself a glare from Brett. “We’ll give you some time to get dressed and come back around 10 pm.”
I nodded as they turned and walked back down the hallway. I hurried back into my room and dug through my suitcase to find the one outfit I had for going out. Alicia had insisted that I bring at least one. I’d have to thank her when I got home.
Twenty minutes later I was ready. I had squeezed into my skin tight, red mini dress and threw on some black stilettos. My hair fell down my back to my waist, a stark contrast to the tight bun I had been wearing it in all week. I polished off the look with dark red lipstick and bold eyeliner and was ready to go.
Brett and Mason came back a short while later and we were off. Brett kept staring at me but made it a point to speak to me as little as possible, so I spent the taxi ride getting to know Mason a bit. He and Brett had gone to prep school together and were roommates in college. He owned his own real estate firm and had been the first investor in Brett’s company.
“So, what’s your story Lupita?” Mason inquired.
I shrugged. “There’s really not much to know about me. I work for my father and I like watching Netflix.”
Mason laughed. “I like you. You’re pretty and funny.”
“Thank you,” I replied with a smile. I noticed that Brett wasn’t laughing with us.
We arrived at a nightclub and weaved through the large crowd, heading straight for the bar. Mason bought three tequila shots for each of us before we took to the dance floor. I was uncomfortable at first, but as the tequila flooded my bloodstream, so did confidence. Mason walked by, handing me another shot before joining Brett on the other side of the dance floor. Never one to need a dance partner, I moved my body seductively to the beat of the music. I noticed Brett was glaring at me as they took more shots and I made sure to give him a show. He stomped over to me and grabbed me by the wrist, dragging me off of the dance floor and into a corner.
“Let go of me, you asshole!”
He released his hold on me and glared at me. “What is your deal?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You know exactly what I’m talking about Lupita! You draw me in and push me away again and again. You’ve been such a monster over the past week and here you are seducing me in a club!”
“Who says I’m trying to seduce you?” I asked defiantly, folding my arms across my chest.
“Are you not?” he said taking a step back.
“I am.” I moved closer to him. “I mean, I’m trying to...I think.”
He pushed me gently against the wall and I gasped. “What do you want from me Lupita?”
“Kiss me,” I breathed.
Brett was all too ready to oblige. He slid his hands around my waist pulling me into his body as he kissed me. I moaned in pleasure as I felt my body humming with excitement. I tangled my hands in his hair and parted my lips slightly to invite him closer.
“Let’s go back to the hotel,” I whispered between kisses.
He grinned at me and helped me adjust my dress as we headed outside to hail a cab.
“What about Mason?”
“I’ll text him,” Brett said, opening the door for me. “He’ll understand.”
We made out all the way back to the hotel and rushed into the elevator in an effort to get to my room faster. By the time the doors slid open on our floor, I had his shirt unbuttoned and my dress was mostly unzipped.
Brett paused at the door. “Are you sure about this Lupita?”
“I’m never sure about anything with regards to my personal life. But I am one hundred percent certain that I want you more than anything and I need to have you right now.”
That statement was all it took for him to pull me into his arms and carry me into my suite, starting the long, incredible night of mutual satisfaction and pleasure.
I woke up the next morning with a slight headache. Sitting up slowly, I stretched my sore muscles and felt myself blushing at the memory of the previous night’s activities. I rolled over and saw that the other side of the bed was empty. As if on cue, my bedroom door opened and Brett came in, carrying a tray of food while wearing only his boxers. I licked my lips.
“Good morning,” I replied quietly, pulling the blankets more tightly around myself.
“No need to be shy now,” Brett said with a grin, handing me a plate. “Now eat up. We’ve got a lot to do before we fly out tonight.”
I opened my mouth to speak but was interrupted by a knock at the door.
“I’ll get it,” Brett said, pulling on a robe. “It must be the rest of the food.”
Popping a piece of bacon in my mouth, I sat back against the headboard with a soft sigh. I couldn’t believe that I had let myself lose control. I didn’t even have the excuse that I was drunk; I had been sober enough to know exactly what I was doing. I was even more frustrated because I was happy about it. I wanted Brett and didn’t really care about the consequences.
There was a bit of commotion happening outside the bedroom and I heard Malachi’s little voice calling my name before Brett’s head poked into the room.
“Sorry. I forgot to relieve the nanny and she has to leave,” he said with a sad smile.
“Oh! Let me just put on some clothes before you bring Malachi in.”
I slipped out of bed and pulled on some leggings and a t-shirt before glancing back at Brett who was wearing an expression of incredulity.
“What?” I asked.
“You want me to bring Malachi in?”
My cheeks immediately warmed in embarrassment. “You were going to leave. Sorry for assuming you wanted to stay--”
“No! I do want to stay. I just thought it might be weird for you if...” he trailed off as Malachi pushed open the door and ran toward me.
“Pita!” Malachi ran over and hugged my legs.
I picked him up with a smile. “Why don’t we finish breakfast?”
We took all of the food into the living room and turned on a cartoon for Malachi to watch while we ate.
I really wanted to talk to Brett about everything but didn’t really know how to start. Eventually, I gave up on forming a coherent thought and blurted out the first thing that came into my head. “I would really like to date you.” It sounded so cheezy out loud and I found myself wishing that the floor would open up and swallow me whole.
Brett turned his attention over to me. “What did you just say?”
I swallowed and tucked my hair behind my ear, turning my body to face him. “I said that I would like to date you.”
I scoffed. “I wouldn’t have said it if I wasn’t serious. If you don’t want to, just say no. You don’t have to be mean about it.” I could feel myself getting flustered and embarrassed.
“No! I mean, I would like that too. I’m just surprised, considering the fact that you’ve been fighting the idea since we met. That and...”
He trailed off and looked down at his hands.
“What is it?” I asked quietly.
My forehead scrunched into a frown. “Malachi? What about him?”
“Most women don’t want to date single fathers.”
Realization dawned on me and I put my hand on his knee. “Definitely not a deterrent for me. That little boy is a piece of heaven.”
Brett smiled and leaned forward to give me a kiss. “You are so unpredictable, Lupita.”
I smiled. “I hope that’s a good thing.”
He laughed. “Only sometimes.”
We spent the rest of the day packing and making sure the project leader that was staying behind was up to speed on everything. By the time we got to our seats on the plane later that evening, we were exhausted. Malachi fell asleep in my arms soon after we took off.
“So,” I started, cradling Malachi closer to me. “Rules.”
Brett frowned. “Rules? For what?”
I rolled my eyes. “We have to have rules if we’re going to be dating. Grab a pen and a notepad.”
Brett snorted and reached into his backpack. “What? Are we drawing up a contract?”
“Precisely,” I said with a firm nod. “Now, first things first. We need to keep it quiet.”
“Like a secret?” he asked, giving me a hard stare.
“No...not a secret. We can tell people if they ask. Let’s just not...advertise that we’re seeing each other. So no PDA.”
“Ah, that makes sense,” he replied, scribbling it down on the notepad.
“Except when it comes to my father,” I added quickly. “He doesn’t need to know.”
“Is there a rule at the company that prohibits you from dating me?”
“No. I just don’t care to have him involved in my personal life.”
“On that note,” Brett said, putting an arm around me. “I want to add a rule.”
“You have to open up to me. I’m not demanding to know all your dirty little secrets, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious about your relationship with your father.”
My expression darkened. “Not today.”
“That’s fine.” He pulled me closer. “I’ll be satisfied with an ‘eventually’ for now.”
I nodded reluctantly and he kissed my forehead. “What’s next?”
“Are we going to be exclusive?” I asked after a moment.
“Yes! I mean--if that’s what you want. It’s definitely my preference.”
I smiled. “That’s what I want.”
We sat in silence for a few moments. “I just have one more rule,” I said after a while.
“We take Malachi out, together, at least once a month.”
Brett’s face lit up and he kissed me again. “That sounds like a great rule.”