Over the following days, I spend most of my time in the office preparing for the meeting with Carmen. I tell myself it's because I don't want to make mistakes, but deep down, I know it's because I want to be around Gabriel. I'm drawn to him like a magnet, but frustratingly...he's hardly been in the office.
"Good morning, Mr. Howard."
"Good morning, Jade. You look lovely today."
"Thanks, Mr. Howard." I can feel him undressing me with his eyes, but he doesn't say a thing. "I wasn't sure if you'd be at the office today."
"I've been busy."
"Right. Well, now that you're here, I need you to sign off on a couple of outstanding contracts. They need to be done as soon as possible, so we can move forward with our cases."
"Brooke has my schedule. I'll see if I have time today."
All it takes is Gabriel to issue an order over the phone for Brooke to come running to his beck and call. "Good morning, Mr. Howard. How can I help you today?"
"What's my schedule for today, Brooke? Do I have a spare hour?"
"You have back to back meetings all day."
"What about this evening?"
"You have a personal commitment."
"You know... your blind date."
I swallow hard, hiding the shock on mt face.
"Oh, yes, I forgot about that. Thanks, Brooke, that's all."
She scurries back to her desk just as quickly as she came.
"I'm sorry. As you can see, those contracts will have to wait until tomorrow."
"Are we not going to talk about that then?"
"Talk about what?" He gives me a calm, innocent look but I see a hidden fire in his eyes.
"Are you going to make me spell it out for you? Your blind date!"
"I didn't want you to find out because I didn't want to upset you."
"Really? You're considering my feelings now?"
"We both know people have their suspicions around here about us. I'm just trying to save face and diffuse the rumors. I don't know who is watching us, and when. This date is fake. Trust me. I'll be sleeping alone tonight."
"It's not the worst of your ideas. But I can't help but feel like a pawn in one of your games. Everything you do is calculated and tactical."
"Jade, it's not like that."
"No. I don't want to hear anymore. If you need me, I'll be working from home today." I turn on my heel and march out of the office with my head held high.
When I reach the elevator, my heart is still pounding. I slam the call button multiple times, wanting to get away before my tears have a chance to escape. What an asshole! Everything he says is a damn lie! "Jade, wait."
"What are you doing?"
"Stopping you from leaving."
I scowled and said with a quite harsh tone, "Why?"
"I wasn't done speaking."
"I was and still am, so leave me alone."
"I wasn't completely honest with you. There's another reason why I'm going on a date with someone else."
"I don't want to hear it."
"For God's sake, can you stop being so damn stubborn for once?" He steps closer, and I find myself back to the wall of the elevator, with him towering over me.
I shake my head.
"Good, because it's time for you to listen. I can't be around you without going insane. I can't sit in my office all day, knowing you're on the other side of the wall. Hell, I can't even be in the same building as you without wanting to hunt you down and rip your clothes off. I don't know what you do to me, but I don't trust myself around you. And now that you're 1000% off-limits..." He reaches down and brushes a strand of hair from my face then closes his eyes as if he's holding himself back.
"I had to do something. Anything to take my mind off you. I was terrified that whoever reported their suspicions to Bakewell will see right through me. I have a perfect poker face in the courtroom but around you, I'm helpless. Dating someone else seemed like a good idea to shift my focus for a day. To regain my composure. But I still find myself standing here wanting to kiss you." He slams his hand at the emergency stop button in place. The air between us goes still.
"Is that all you want?"
It doesn't take more than a second for his lips to crash into mine. Realizing how bad of an idea it is, I move away from him and hit the main floor button. As soon as I get off I hear him say, "Hi Jasmine, I'm sorry, but I'll have to cancel our date tonight."
"Hey, sis! Long time no see. Why did you want to meet up so last minute? Is everything okay?"
"Hey, Chloe. I just had a long week and I need a drink."
"Tell me about it. Are you still working on that trust fund case?"
"Yes, but we're approaching our court date soon. We have our final meeting with the ex-wife tomorrow."
"Are you ready for it?"
"As ready as I'll ever be."
"You don't sound so confident. Are you sure everything is okay at work?"
"No? I thought this was your dream job!"
"So I keep reminding myself."
"Don't get me wrong, I love my job. I just didn't realize I would have to make the sacrifices I've made."
"What kind of sacrifices?
"I don't know how to say this, but...I've been having a fling with my boss."
"What?! You mean the hot guy, Mr. Howard?"
"Oh my God! You call that a sacrifice? That must be the best perk so far!"
"I thought so too, but it put my career at risk, and now we have to stop seeing each other which is extremely difficult."
"Oh. I'm sorry, Jade. I didn't realize he was off-limits. That sucks."
"I didn't realize the weight of our actions either."
"I don't like seeing you this down. You know I'm always here if you need me."
"I know. You're the best." My phone buzzed with a message from Byron. Hey, stranger. I was just thinking of you. I thought I'd drop you a text
Jade: hey, Byron. you know what would be even better than a message?
Jade: an invitation to dinner :) if you'd be up for that
Byron: I've been dying to ask you out, but i figured you had a lot on your plate. I know you're meeting with Carmen tomorrow.
Jade: yeah, we're fully prepared for the meeting. We think we can negotiate a deal.
B: that sounds promising :) your the best. J: We'll keep you posted.
"Yes. I should probably get an early night tonight. I don't want to mess up this meeting."
"It was lovely seeing you."
"You too. We should do this again soon."
*The next morning... "I hope you're ready for this morning."
"Well, I've only spent every walking hour for the past week preparing for it."
"That's intense, even by my standards."
"I was occupying myself so that I don't think about all the naughty things we've don in your office."
"That's a shame. I'd have been more than happy to give you a refresher instead." He doesn't bat an eyelid as he speaks and stares straight ahead. Just as I'm about to protest, Carmen enters the room.
"I hope I'm not late. My lawyer couldn't make it, but I didn't want to disappoint."
"Please, come in."
"So, what did you call me in to bore me with today?"
"Just to let you know that this is your final chance to back out. It's not too late."
"Ha! Why would I want to do that?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe to save your time and money. Maybe to save you from breaking your own daughter's heart when she finds out all you're interested in is her trust fund. To give you a chance to be a half-decent mother."
"I have no idea what you're talking about. I love my Melany, and I can't wait for us to spend more time together once I get her away from her awful father."
"Byron is a wonderful dad to Melany!"
"How would you know?"
Gabriel shoots me a warning look.
"Because she tells us he is."
"Just so you know, when we're done here, whether you gain custody or not...We're going to tie that trust fund up in so many loopholes, you won't see a penny of it for as long as you live."
"You can't do that. My lawyer told me that once Melany turns 18, she will have control over that money."
"That's correct. And luckily for us, she's agreed to cooperate, giving us the ability to secure the trust fun on her behalf."
"You're bluffing! She would never do that."
"We can show you all the legal documents which we've kindly prepared in advance for you."
Carmen snatches the papers from Gabriel's hand, and her face turns scarlet with rage as she sees Melany's signature at the bottom.
"So, are you sure you still want to go ahead with this?"
"The only thing these papers prove is that you've managed to manipulate a naive teenage girl. This is the reason Byron can't be trusted to take care of her. You're all mental in the head! I won't stop until that girl is in my full control."
Her cruel words give me chills, but I keep my composure. "Control and custody are two very different things."
"I wouldn't be so satisfied quite yet if I were you. You're not the only ones with a hidden weapon up your sleeve. I'll see you in court." Carmen storms back out of the room, slamming the door behind her.
"Hmm, that didn't go well."
"No, this is good. We've gotten under her skin. She has time to think about things and change her mind. And even if she doesn't, she'll lose confidence in her case."
"But what about her own "hidden weapon" that she mentioned?"
"I wouldn't worry about it."
By the end of the day, Gabriel was proven wrong.
"I can't believe we stayed here so late going over files." "I know. Two hours ago, I was fantasizing about taking you right here on my sofa but now I'm just hungry."
I laugh and shake my head, handing him the files. "Dinner?"
"Sure. We're done for the day. Let me just check my e-mail." He gives me a quick kiss and goes to his computer and stays there, silent and motionless.
"Gabriel, are you okay?"
"Damn. No, I'm not. I got an e-mail." He looks completely shocked and furious.
"Gabriel?" I lean toward the screen, ignoring the intoxicating smell of his aftershave. "Why are you so upset over an e-mail? You could've just...Oh." The e-mail is short and perfectly explains his scowl.
"Gabriel Howard, if you do not lose the Jones case, you will suffer the consequences. To get a taste of what we mean, please review the clip in the attachment. A clip that could become very public."
"This is insane. What could they have on you?" I move the mouse to clink on the clip, and I gasp when I see it. It's a sex tape. It's a video of my boss having sex...with me...
They are blackmailing us! If this goes public, I'm ruined!