Beyond the Pines (Part 2)

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“Dammit,” Nola hissed as I let her look through her schedule. “I can’t have you cancel or postpone any of these meetings.”

“What do I tell Orlando, then?” I asked.

She sighed. “If Milena was here, I would’ve sent her with him, but she’s on her maternity leave. Look,” she turned to look at me, “Primal is a seriously good catch for this event. We can’t mess it up. You go instead.”

Ah, shit. “But what about - “

“I’ll get Gabby to cover for you just for today,” she said, groaning. “Crap, this isn’t good, cause I need you here, but getting Primal is just as important...”

She looked more stressed than usual, but I knew why; Workeen had called the moment I entered the office, and their secretary said that both founders were finally in town, and were ready to meet and sign that damned contract, along with the CEO. Since I knew this was more important than even Larsen Walker’s birthday party, I booked them for eleven, postponing another important meeting that was supposed to happen at that time for two, and so concluded Nola’s schedule for the day.

“Look, I’ll go,” I said, because I didn’t want her to be all stressed when she met with the Workeen people. “Just make sure Gabby is up to speed with everything.”

Nola hugged me. “I’ll trust you take care of this, then,” she said, giving me a giant kiss on the cheek, smearing her lipstick all over my skin, and ran back to her office.

As I wiped the lipstick off, I dialed Orlando from the office phone. He answered with, “Yes?”

“It’s Paige, from Nola’s office,” I said quickly, “Nola can’t come today, but I’ll be able to accompany you to the meeting with Primal. It won’t be my first time helping Nola out with booking a DJ.”

“What can be more important than this?” he asked, irritated. “Fine. Meet me in Prudential at eleven.”

So much for being grateful. Annoyed again by his commandeering voice, I just couldn’t help myself; I sweetly said, “I’ll see you there. And you’re welcome,” before hanging up.

This was why I’d had trouble finding a steady job once I was out of college. I had a problem with authority, something I knew very well from my teenage years. Surprisingly enough, school authorities I didn’t have trouble to handle; I respected the teachers enough to be able to bury that rebellious streak inside me. But anyone else who tried to dictate my life felt the full burn of it. This was why Nola was such a relief; she might order me to do things, but the way she did it, the way she respected me back as much as I did her, the way she treated me like an equal, helped me do my work better and not feel like I had to clash with her.

But people like Orlando who waltzed in and started shooting orders left and right… I wasn’t able to handle it well, and most of the time, I didn’t have to; most of our clients were nice enough when talking to me, and usually, the only interaction I had with them was either through email or when I made them coffee for a meeting with Nola.

I just hoped that the meeting would go well, and that Orlando wouldn’t piss me off on site.

After a hectic morning in which I helped Gabby get on top of things for the day, I left the office. It was ten thirty, and since the office was downtown, I had to take the tram to Back Bay if I wanted to arrive at Prudential on time.

I arrived exactly at eleven, and found Orlando talking to another man at the entrance of the coffee shop in Prudential where we were set up to meet. “Hey,” I said, a little out of breath since I fast-walked from the T station to arrive on time.

Orlando turned to me, annoyance in his eyes but a polite smile on his face. “Carter, meet Paige,” he said, and I shook Primal, or Carter’s hand. “She’s Nola Way’s PA.”

“Nice to meet you,” Carter said.

“You, too,” I said with as polite a smile as Orlando’s. “Let’s head in, then, shall we?”

We got into the coffee shop and settled at a table. Once we got our coffee orders taken, Carter turned to Orlando. “Let me get something straight,” was the first thing he said, and there was something in his tone that immediately put me on guard. “I don’t like performing in all those fancy parties you elitists throw. I’m willing to do this favor for you because Ravi asked, but I need to know that I won’t be wasting my time.”

Wow. I had to sit through this two-hour meeting with not just one, but two assholes. I was going to talk to Nola about that raise she mentioned a couple of weeks ago. “Why don’t you hear us out first, and then decide for yourself?” I suggested, fighting to keep my voice as even and polite as possible, despite my rising temper.

Carter gave me a brief look that was nothing short of condescending. “I don’t need to hear you out, doll,” he said, “I can tell from one look at you that you know nothing about landing your talent to people who don’t deserve it.”

Oh, really. I gave him a wide smile. “Try me.”

I saw Orlando giving me a warning look, but I ignored him. This Carter was due to some rude awakening, if his attitude was anything to go by.

Carter arched an eyebrow. “You ever performed in front of a bunch of rich people who wanted you to put on some stupid background music with no flavor just because they didn’t think music defined an event’s success?”

It wasn’t something I liked thinking about, certainly not talking about, but Nola was counting on me, and, even if I didn’t like him, Orlando was counting on me, too. I couldn’t blow this for Nola. It would elevate Wayla’s reputation, knowing Nola could land such an A-list DJ, and I wasn’t going to risk it. “I once had to perform an event with only Madonna songs. No one listened when I told them it would get boring. The event added two hours before it was designed to end.” I remembered that day clearly; I was standing on that small, suffocating stage, the monitors playing the playback of the Madonna playlist on repeat, and I sang only those songs one after the other, without a pause, without even taking a break to drink water. It was a fundraiser, and it failed to raise even half the funds it was supposed to raise.

Carter seemed mollified, but he still wasn’t convinced. “You’re not a DJ, doll,” he said, and even though I wasn’t, the matter-of-fact way he said that, as if women in general weren’t DJs, pissed me off. “It’s different for us.”

“How so?” I said prompting, even though I just wanted to smack him over the head.

The coffee arrived, and Carter took a sip before replying. “When a DJ is performing, everyone thinks they don’t work hard,” he scowled. “I worked my ass off to get where I am now. I’m self-made. I’m performing in the biggest music festivals in the world. Everyone knows my name.” He looked at me with displeasure. “In these events, I fade into the background, and I don’t like to be in the background.”

“I got it,” I said, and before I could stop myself, I added, “you’re an egomaniac.”

Orlando snapped his eyes to me, glaring, while Carter’s eyes flashed. “What did you call me?”

But since it was already out there, I decided to go with it. “You’re an egomaniac,” I said, crossing my hands. “You think you’re oh-so-important. And maybe you are,” I added when he was about to speak, “but this isn’t about you. It’s about Orlando’s father’s birthday party. If you already chose not to take this gig, why agree to meet Orlando and me? Why show up at all?”

He gritted his teeth.

“Let me answer that for you,” I said, making my face seem deadly serious so the point would get across. “You wanted to feel important again. You wanted us to beg you to take this gig. You get off on this, which is why you gave me that little ‘test’, in which you obviously expected me to swallow my tongue, because what would a PA know about the music performance industry, right? So here’s an ultimatum for you.” I paused, let that sink in, and put my foot down. “Either you do this gig, or you don’t. Neither Orlando nor I, and I can bet my ass of that Nola, too, if she was here, would beg you to do this, because you might be a big deal in the DJ world, but this world is not your area of expertise, and the only power you have is your name, which,” I added pointedly, “is the bare minimum.”

Some of it was true, and some of it was a blatant lie. His name was big enough in Orlando’s world of the rich and mighty, and especially in Nola’s line of business, but, as I told him, it was the bare minimum, and he couldn’t expect everyone to fall at his feet just because Primal was an A-lister.

Carter stared at me, and then, to my pleasant surprise, he smiled. “Damn,” he said, and suddenly his eyes raked down my body slowly, before rising back to my eyes. “You’re hot when you bring a poor man down.”

I gave him a fixed smile. “Are you going to sign or not?”

His eyes never left mine as he said, “Bring on the contract, beautiful.”

“I believe I owe you a thank-you.”

It was only a few minutes after Primal, or Carter, left. Once he signed the contract, things went on very smoothly, and, along with Orlando, we finalized the playlist for the birthday party. Then Carter was off, and we left the coffee shop.

“I do believe so, yes,” I told him, smiling smugly. I did pretty great in there, if I said so myself. Sure, it was pure luck that Carter thought my talking-back was hot, but still, whatever worked, right?

Orlando stopped. We were walking in the same direction, him for the parking lot and me toward the T station. “Look,” he said, making me stop, too. “If it weren’t for you, I don’t think I could’ve made him sign it. I don’t think even Nola could. You were pretty badass back there. So, thank you.”

My smile grew. “I just did my job, Orlando. But you’re welcome anyway.”

He chuckled and gave me a grin. “Come on, I’ll drop you off at the office.”

I took him up on his offer, and found myself in the passenger seat of a luxurious sports car that reeked of money spent heavily. And it drove just as smoothly as it looked.

“So,” Orlando said once we were on the road. “You were a performer?”

I really didn’t want to talk about it, so I shrugged and lied. “It was a bluff.”

He frowned. “It didn’t sound like a bluff.”

“That means it worked just like how a bluff should work,” I said easily.

He chuckled and shook his head. “You’re a strange woman, Paige.”

I glanced at him. He was smiling, his eyes on the road, and damn, but the profile of his face was just as aesthetically pleasing as the front. But it was too clean shaven, too sleek, and much like as if it was carved-in-stone. It was an icy kind of hotness, and I always preferred the earthy kind.

“Fire, on the other hand, will call earth out on their bullshit and give them a slap to wake them up.”

I shook my head slightly. “Do you need Nola for anything next week?” I asked, needing the distraction of work to help the renegade memory go back where it came from. “If so, I can make sure to clear her schedule.”

“I don’t think so, since we basically covered everything,” Orlando replied, and stopped at the red light before turning to look at me, and there was something in his eyes that made me tense. “But I do wonder about your schedule.”

Shit. “What about it?” I asked, staring at him with a carefully blank look.

His eyes dropped to my mouth momentarily before rising back up to my eyes. “Let’s just say,” he said slowly, his smile curling flirtingly, “that Carter wasn’t the only who found your… attitude hot.”

Double shit. “The light’s green,” I said, trying to find what to say to that, and failing.

Orlando looked away and drove. “So,” he continued, “what do you say? Have you got any evening ready to be booked?”

I didn’t like this. Not at all. But Orlando was still a client, and I was still technically working for him through Nola, so I had to be truthful. “Nola isn’t just my boss,” I said slowly, “she’s my friend.”

He glanced at me briefly. “So?”

Men. They could be so dimwitted sometimes, and I would know; I got two brothers. “So,” I said emphatically, “there’s this thing where it’s against the girl code to date a friend’s ex.”

He finally stopped near the office, and then turned to me. “Who said anything about dating?” he said, and his eyes remained on my eyes this time. “I just think you’re hot. I know you think I’m hot. There’s some tension here that can easily be worked out of our system. Why not act on it?”

Wow. Just… wow. “I would slap you,” I informed him, “but since you’re a client, I’d rather not to.”

He frowned, confused. “I’m not following.”

Of course he wasn’t, because he was a pompous freaking ass. “I’m not into you,” I said bluntly. “Sure, you’re hot, but I don’t know you, and I don’t sleep with men I don’t know.” Never had, and never would.

He cocked his head. “You’re not into me?”

“No,” I said pointedly, trying to remain calm even though it was getting harder as the conversation continued, “and even if I was, the girl-code thing still stands.”

He seemed to hear only the last part because he smiled flirtily again. “But it’s just a one time thing I’m offering here,” he said, and the way he said ‘offering’ grated on my nerves. “I doubt Nola would care if you slept with me.”

Such a thick head he had. “I am not interested,” I repeated, irritated, and released the seatbelt. “Thank you for the ride. I hope you have a great rest of the day.”

I got out of the car and walked into the building, not looking back.

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