“Won’t you please come out with me tonight?”
“I’ve already told you that I don’t date employees.”
Brett scoffed. “First of all, I’m not your employee. Last I checked, we were in my office. And secondly, I’m not asking you on a date.”
“Oh?” I raised an eyebrow and sat down in the chair across from his desk. “Then what exactly are you asking me to do?”
“It’s my friend Mason’s birthday next week and we’re having a party for him tonight at this club downtown.”
“What does that have to do with me?”
“All you ever do is work. Why don’t you come out for some fun? Call up Marcus and bring him along.”
“I’ll pass. Did you finish the lobby designs?”
Brett scowled but didn’t push the issue anymore. “Yes, I did. I just sent them over to your father’s office.”
“Good. Hopefully, the bastard will approve them and we can get started,” I said bitterly.
“Whoa! That’s a little harsh don’t you think?”
“Nope,” I said without skipping a beat.
“What’s the deal with you two anyway?”
“I’m afraid that’s not on the list of approved friend topics,” I replied with a wry smile. “I should get going though. Let me know if anything changes!”
Thirty minutes later I was recounting the conversation I had with Brett about my social life to Gabi when Ryan interrupted with his unsolicited opinion.
“Was he really wrong though, Lupe?”
“Ryan!” Gabi admonished from her seat on the couch. “Don’t be rude.”
“I’m not being rude!” Ryan insisted. “I’m merely pointing out the obvious fact that the man had a very valid point. When’s the last time you did something that didn’t involve work?”
I raised my glass of wine to my lips and took a long sip. “A few weekends ago, Marcus and I went--”
“You only went to the club with Marcus to irritate Serena and Uncle Francesco,” Ryan said, cutting me off. “Try again.”
“What are you getting at Ry?” I asked in exasperation. “That I’m boring and have no life? Thank you captain obvious!”
“Coño, Ryan you’re an ass,” Gabi said, glaring at her boyfriend.
It was Friday night and I was over at Gabi and Ryan’s for the third time in two weeks. I had been working with Brett for about a month at this point and he had pointed out, yet again, that my lack of a personal life was depressing. What he didn’t know, nor did Ryan for that matter, was that every ounce of free time that I had was being poured into the search for my mother.
Gabi had been extremely helpful and supportive and by now, I couldn’t remember why I had ever disliked her. We had hired a private investigator who had found out that my mother’s parents had moved to California with a small boy that they had adopted around the time that I was about five years old. He was working with a colleague on the west coast to find out more, but in the meantime, all we could do was wait.
My phone rang just as Gabi was about to start the fifth Harry Potter movie. It was Brett. “I have to take this,” I said excusing myself and stepping out onto the balcony, enjoying the cool October breeze on my skin.
“Hey, Brett. What’s up?”
“I debated whether or not to bother you with this on a Friday night, but then I remembered that you spend your Friday night’s reading the Wall Street Journal so I called anyway.
I rolled my eyes. “Are we still on this?”
“Yes. But let’s put a pin in it for a moment because I actually do have something serious to discuss with you.”
“Is everything okay?” I asked, my brow furrowing in concern.
“Yes and no. You want the good news or the bad news first?”
“Your dear father rejected the plans for the remodel.”
“What?!” I screeched. “We worked on that for like two weeks!”
“I know,” Brett replied bitterly. “And I had been working on it for a few weeks before we even finalized our contract. Mr. Marino said, and I quote, ‘It lacks the sophisticated Italian design elements that the Lucia Marino Hotels are known for. And the portraits of my daughter and I are non-negotiable.’”
“How does it lack Italian design? What the hell does he know?!”
“Obviously something, considering the multibillion-dollar operation he runs,” he said dryly.
“That’s fair I guess,” I conceded begrudgingly. “Well, what’s the good news?”
“He’s sending us to Italy for inspiration. We’re going to remodel the Lucia Marino hotel in Rome first and if he likes what we do, we’ll move on to the New York location.”
“How is that good news?!”
“You don’t like Italy?” Brett asked in disbelief.
“I love Italy but it’s just a little inconvenient right now. Gabi’s about to have her baby soon--”
“Since when are you friends with Gabi?”
“You know Gabi?” I asked in shock.
“Of course I know Gabi! I met her and Ryan at the summer summit last month. You know the one that you refused to attend because you didn’t want to leave your apartment? Ryan, Luke and I have had drinks together every weekend since then.”
“What makes you think I’m not friends with Gabi?”
“I just told you. I have drinks with Luke and Ryan every weekend,” he said, laughing.
“We got off on the wrong foot but we’re great friends now!” I defended myself. “In fact, I’m watching movies with her and Ryan right now.”
“Isn’t that cute?”
“Don’t mock me.”
“Whatever. We’ll hash out the travel details on my end and I’ll email you the itinerary. Your father wants us to leave as soon as possible.”
“Ugh fine! I’ll see you Monday.”
As soon as I hung up with Brett, I dialed Marcus.
“This better be important. There’s a very sexy blonde in my bed right now.”
“Gross. My jackass of a father is sending me to Italy with Brett and didn’t even tell me. Brett just called.”
“Uncle Francesco is really taking this demotion thing serious. Did I tell you he assigned me to the marketing department while you’re on probation? Apparently, I have to market whatever redesign you all come up with.”
“I truly hate him.”
“You don’t. Anyway, it’ll be fine Lupe. You’ve already slept with Brett; What else could go wrong?”
“Thanks so much Marcus; I feel so much better,” I said sarcastically.
“Glad I could be of assistance! Good night!”
Monday afternoon, I walked through the terminal of the airport feeling incredibly irritated. I was supposed to meet Brett at the entrance but everything had gone wrong since the moment I stepped out of my car an hour prior. It took forever to get through security despite my precheck status and while I was waiting, some grubby little toddler spilled his juice on my shoes. I wouldn’t have cared if I hadn’t been wearing strappy stilettos but my exposed toes were now sticky and I was sliding around in my shoes as I walked.
I eventually made my way to the gate and flopped into a chair next to a woman and her three children. I groaned internally. A 10-hour flight was going to be bad enough, but 10 hours on a flight with a bunch of children was something straight out of my nightmares.
Taking off my shoes and grabbing a wet nap from my bag, I tried to wipe off my feet with minimal success. The woman next to me chuckled and handed me a few baby wipes. I smiled at her in gratitude and continued my task.
By the time I finished cleaning my feet, they were boarding first class passengers. I said goodbye to the woman and stepped up to the gate attendant. I looked around but I didn’t see Brett anywhere. The gate attendant handed me my ticket and I made my way onto the plane.
The flight attendant escorted me to my seat and said she’d return momentarily with the cocktail I had requested. I was surprised to see a little boy standing in my adjoining seat, his face pressed to the window.
“Excuse me, little boy? Where is your mommy? Are you lost?”
I heard someone chuckle behind me and turned around, surprised to see Brett standing there with a grin on his face.
“What’s funny?” I asked sincerely. “Someone is missing their child!”
Brett’s eyes twinkled with amusement. “You really don’t remember my son Malachi?”
I looked back at the little boy in shock. Upon hearing his name, Malachi diverted his attention from the window and smiled up at me.
“Of course I remember Malachi,” I said with the sweetest voice I could muster. “I just couldn’t see his face nor was I aware that he was coming to Italy with us so naturally I feared the worst.”
Brett fought back laughter. “You really thought I’d leave my son to go on what could be an extended business trip?”
“I guess I didn’t think about it,” I replied honestly as the flight attendant returned with my drink and asked us to take our seats so they could continue to board the aircraft.
“Would you like the window?” Brett asked.
I shook my head quickly. “No. I hate flying so I prefer the aisle seat.”
Brett shrugged and lifted Malachi from the seat so he could sit down. I sat down next to him, slid the door of the compartment shut placed my bag under the seat.
“This is the nicest airplane I’ve ever been on,” Brett commented as he and Malachi explored all of the features of the seats. “Does the seat really lay all the way down into a bed?”
“Try it and see,” I replied, getting a kick out of the childlike wonder in Brett’s eyes.
I giggled as both he and Malachi’s gasped in shock as the seat laid all the way down. Brett set Malachi on the floor in front of me while he restored the seat to its upright position. The door to our compartment slid open revealing the flight attendant who smiled at Malachi as he playfully hid between my legs.
“Your little boy is just too precious,” she said. “You’ll need to hold him on your lap for takeoff, though ma’am.”
“Oh, he’s not my little boy,” I said, trying to correct her but she had already walked away.
I looked down at Malachi who smiled up at me. “Up, please! Want up!” he said, reaching for me.
“Brett? What does he want?” I said, looking over at him, unsurprised to see him yet again stifling a laugh.
“He wants you to pick him up and hold him,” Brett said, reaching for his son. “But don’t worry; I’ve got him.”
The moment Brett picked him up, Malachi let out a piercing shriek and began to cry. “Want her, want her!!”
Brett tried to comfort him to no avail. I looked around and saw people staring at us in disapproval.
“What?” I said, glaring at the lady across the aisle from us. “You’ve never heard a baby cry before?” I plucked Malachi from Brett’s arms and slid the compartment door shut again. Malachi cuddled into my side and his cries became whimpers before subsiding completely.
I shifted the little boy on my lap in order to fasten the seat belt and felt him wrap his little hand around my thumb. I leaned back in the seat and smiled down at him before glancing over at Brett who had the most comical expression on his face.
“Nothing, I guess,” Brett replied rubbing the back of his neck. “I guess I just assumed you didn’t like kids.”
“Well, you know what they say about people who assume,” I said teasingly. “Put your seatbelt on, loser.”