I walk through the door into The Outline. I look around, and I don’t see Aiden at his table. I sigh; I’m disappointed. I put extra effort into dressing today for work and lunch with Lexi. Aiden said he had plans to have lunch here with his law partners after a morning meeting. I was hoping to distract him with my tight dress. It’s a dark maroon pencil dress, and it has capped sleeves with a conservative round collar neckline. It’s like a mullet, and the party is in the back. The back exposes all of my shoulders; it doesn’t dip low but wide across my entire upper back. The material from the cap sleeves connects to a bodice that molds to every curve of my body.
Aiden likes my back and bottom, and I was hoping to remove my fitted blazer and give him something to look at while I walked past him today at lunch. I shake my head in regret; I have been daydreaming about doing all sorts of things to tease, tempt, and draw Aiden’s attention.
We’ve spoken on the phone every night since Sunday, and I’ve gotten to know him a lot better. It probably was a blessing in disguise that Oliver showed up, followed shortly by Caroline and Max. They stayed until yesterday morning, Tuesday when I had to go back to work. Aiden and I couldn’t spend time physically together, so we talked for hours on the phone like teenagers.
I sigh again; I wish he were here so I could put my daydream into action. Whatever happens between Aiden and me, I will never regret it. I have never felt an attraction like this before, our chemistry is a living breathing thing, and it’s thrilling.
“The wait is forty minutes, what’s the name, how many?” a waiter asks.
“Nelson and two.” I look around at how crowded it is here today.
He scribbles down the name. “Two people are cashing out at the bar.” He checks out my outfit. “The stools are high, but you can sit at the bar and be done eating by the time you’d wait for a table.”
I look at my watch, “I think the bar will be fine; my friend must be running late.” I follow him over and stand behind two men putting their coats on. I feel my purse vibrate, my phone alerting I have a text. I bet it’s from Lex.
I sidestep the men and sit upon the stool as ladylike as I can in a tight dress. I rest my purse on the empty chair beside me to save for Lex, and I pull out my phone. It’s a text from Lex. She can’t make it today for lunch; something came up at work.
“Hi, what can I start you off with today?” the bartender asks.
I pick up my purse, “Sorry, my lunch date canceled, and I’m going to let someone else have these seats. Thanks.” I hop down from the stool.
I walk to the lobby and see Aiden enter with his law partner John Glassman and also an impeccably dressed middle-aged woman. He says something to the woman, and she throws her head backs and laughs. Aiden chuckles, puts his hand on her elbow and walks her over to his reserved table.
I smile to myself when I watch him look around the seating area. He’s looking for me too. “Willow, it’s nice to see you again.”
I spin, and John Glassman is smiling, holding out his hand. “Hi,” I take his hand, and he pulls me into an embrace. I’ll never get used to this hugging and cheek-kiss greetings people in bigger cities and different cultures and social classes do to one another.
“I was just speaking of you this past weekend. I ran into Laura, and we had dinner.”
I lean back, but he hasn’t released my hand. I hope I don’t flush because when he says he had dinner with Laura, it’s a good bet she slept with him. I might hear the details of it today when we see each other for the first time this week, “That’s wonderful. I remember you mentioning you knew one another.” I smile and do my best not to look over to Aiden’s table. “My lunch date got changed, so I was heading into work now. I’ll tell Laura I ran into you.”
He raises his brows and asks, “Have you eaten yet?”
His eyes scan my body, and I don’t like it; it’s a problem women face every day. I was aware of it, but I never experienced it myself before because my work attire consisted of jeans and a baggy Nelson’s grocery tee shirt. “I plan on grabbing something and taking it to work and get an early start to my day.”
“Nonsense, have lunch with us, you know Aiden receives excellent service. Come have lunch or at least say hello to Aiden.”
I smile, hmm, I think to myself, maybe I can make a bit of my daydream to tease Aiden come true. “I don’t have time today for lunch, but I will stop by to say hello to Aiden. Is Lamar joining you, men, for lunch today?”
“Not today, come.” I smile, wishing I could remove my jacket and let Aiden view my backside and exposed shoulders.
I walk towards the table, and John rests his hand on my lower back, very close to my bottom. Aiden sees us coming, he smiles and stands from his table. My heart and tummy do a flip; he looks so handsome in a navy blue suit and a pale pink tie. “Hi, I like your tie,” I say as a way of greeting him. I hope I don’t sound breathless.
“Thank you, Willow; it’s new.” He surprises me when he takes my hand and stands me beside him. “Would you like to join us? Where’s Lexi?”
“She got stuck at work.” I stare in his eyes, wishing we could be alone, just the two of us for lunch.
“She was leaving; I told her to come over to say hello first. Are you sure you can’t join us, Willow?” John asks.
“No, I’m sorry, not today.” I look at the woman at the table and smile. She stands, and Aiden introduces me. “Willow, this is Sandra Ackerman.”
“Nice to meet you,” I say. Sandra is lovely and tall, she has to be close to six feet tall, and she’s dressed in an outfit that Laura would approve.
“Nice to meet you, Willow.” She gives me a half-smile and sits back down and picks up her phone.
I smile up to Aiden, “I’ll let you guys enjoy your lunch.” I then nod at John, “It was nice to see you, John and nice to meet you, Sandra.”
John again hugs me and kisses my cheek. He leans in and whispers in my ear, “Don’t forget to tell Laura I said hello.” I try not to flinch away from him when he lets his hand slide down my back, and he pats my behind.
“Oh,” slips out of my mouth. I look at Aiden, and I know he saw John’s feely hands on me. His expression turns angry, and he takes ahold of my hand and starts quickly walking us toward the lobby of The Outline.
As soon as their front door closes behind us, he takes ahold of my face and looks over every inch. “Did that asshole’s hand touch your ass?”
I pick up his pale pink tie to feel the soft silk material. “Yes, and please don’t act surprised, I bet he does it to every female.”
“I’ve never seen him do that, Christ, in a public place; the fucker knows I’m interested in you, he’s trying to get a rise out of me.”
“Well, since you rushed me out of there before I finished my goodbyes, I’d say you gave him one.” I smile up to him. We are standing so close to one another, and I wish I could climb him, touch him and hold him; he’s so handsome.
I lay my hand on his face and run my hands down to feel his ever-present whiskers. His hands stop mine from rubbing his face; he holds them and kisses my knuckles. “I’ll let you get going to work, how are things with Oliver and Caroline?”
I sigh, “I don’t know. They are at least not fighting any longer. I’ll see them next Friday when everyone comes to my house for Thanksgiving. The boys are with their father on Thursday.”
“I’ll be over to your house tonight at 8:30.” He kisses me. As soon as my eyes close, he pulls back. My eyes open slowly, and the corners of his lips turn up, softly.
“Okay, I’ll see you tonight,” I breathe.
He chuckles at me for some reason, spins my body, and points me towards my car parked up the street. I giggle and walk away. I look over my shoulder, and he is watching me walk to my car. My stomach growls. I blow him a kiss and yell loudly enough to be heard over the traffic and pedestrians, “Bring me a pizza.”
I wait until she’s in her car before I go back inside The Outline and deal with Glassman. John has been sure to gossip loud enough so I would overhear about his weekend of fucking Laura, Willow’s boss. I was taken off guard when he walked into my office this morning and started sharing about his personal life. He knows I don’t give a shit, and it’s not how our relationship has ever been or will be.
We don’t swap personal stories. I made it clear to him and Sandra when they asked me to become a partner that I’m a private person. They should never expect me to socialize anymore than I had to. I know John goes through the women. He’s been married twice, and both marriages ended because he can’t keep it in his pants. Well, that, and his choice of women, tend only to be chosen on how they look and not much else.
Sandra’s been divorced for a few years, has two grown children, and she is like me, private. Other than knowing the name of her children and general information about them, I know nothing else about Sandra’s life. It’s been a smooth ten years being partners with them.
I walk straight to our table. John chuckles when he sees the pissed off look on my face. I take my seat and ignore Sandra’s smile, and John chuckles. “So, what is everyone’s feelings about the Wendle case?” I ask.
“My vote is still no,” Sandra utters and raises a brow at John, he’s the one who wants our firm to take this case on.
“I’m a yes, there’s a hell of a lot of money in taking the case.” John takes a sip of his cocktail.
Sandra shakes her head in disagreement. “I don’t think we should involve our firm with a case that the public will not like. I’m not saying we can’t win the legalities. I’m questioning, is being associated with a losing brand, one that is going down the tube for EPA violations in this country’s current state of politics, worth our resources and time. I’m not certain it would be a wise decision on our part, Let Schultz, Goldberg, and Oscar go down with the shitty PR this case is sure to bring.”
The waiter sets a plate of food in front of me. “I ordered one of your usuals for you. I hope you don’t mind,” Sandra says.
“I told her to go ahead; we didn’t know how long you’d disappear with Willow. I can’t say that I blame you. She’s attractive, and the women who have been married for a long time and are just back out on the market are my favorite. They’re usually the wildest ones,” John’s smirks.
I stare at the fucker, wishing I could punch the fucking smug look off of his face.
“Settle down Aiden, are you just now realizing that John is a disgusting pig?” Sandra banters. “It’s funny how men never find inappropriate comments upsetting until it involves a woman that they care for.” She shakes her head.
“You’re right Sandra, I chose to ignore his dumb ass remarks about women, and I apologize. It should never be appropriate or accepted.” I glare at Glassman. “Keep your thoughts to yourself.”
He laughs, “You’re getting sensitive, Aiden.” He leans back in his chair, “Laura went on, and on this weekend about how intelligent but naive Willow is. She quite ambitious from the way Laura describes her—”
“We are not here to discuss anything other than business. I respect you, John. We have had one hell of a good ride, taking the firm to the top. But I made it clear when I became a partner that I would work my ass off for all of us, but we are not friends, John. I would appreciate it if you would respect that. Also, I know that I don’t need to educate you, but the year is 2020, and you should keep your hands off a woman’s ass unless it’s wanted. I know you wanted a rise out of me, and now I’ve given it to you. Let’s get back to goddamn business. No, on the Wendle case.”
As soon as I take my coat off and sit my bagel on the office’s desk, Laura comes floating into the office. “Well, well well, I had no idea you and Aiden Markley were close friends, was he your date the other week?” Laura says as a way of greeting me.
“I thought I mentioned it, yeah, Aiden Markley, Lamar Johnson, and John Glassman are friends and acquaintances of Lexi and Al. I just ran into John and Aiden at The Outline. John said to say hello. He said the two of you had dinner.”
Her attire today is black, head to toe. She must have had a good time at dinner because when Laura wears all black, it’s to celebrate something. She’s the opposite of everyone else who wears black when they want to blend in and feel sad.
She fidgets with her black cashmere turtleneck, “I’m still undecided if I will go out with him again. Of course, he’s asked, but he may be a little too old for me.”
I tilt my head at her. “Really? I assumed you two were close in age. How old is John?”
“He’s my age.” I snort, and she shrugs nonchalantly. “Enough about John, what I want to know is why he is under the impression that you are dating Aiden Makley? Are you dating him? Is he the man you had a date with last week?”
I walk to her in the doorway and stand beside her and remove my blazer, “Yes, I had a date with Aiden Markley. Aiden and I are dating, and we are having dinner again tonight.” Laura scans my outfit as she does every day to see what she can pick at and critique. “He’s bringing over pizza and beer.”
I grin when her brows raise in disbelief. I walk through the door holding my blazer and papers to take to the front desk. Joy bubbles inside me. I fucking love this dress. I didn’t get to give a show at lunch, but all has worked out, Laura can’t find anything to critique about it. I also think she’s in disbelief that I could snatch up handsome, successful, powerful Aiden Markley. I hold my head up high and stifle the giggle wanting to escape out of me; I feel absolutely fantastic today.
I go about organizing the new arrivals in the warehouse, and soon I’m lost in a sea of white and ivory silk, ruffles, taffeta, tulle, and lace. I will never get over the giddiness of unpacking and looking at each beautiful wedding dress. Some of them are so heavy, and I couldn’t imagine wearing one. Of course, those are the ones covered in crystals and sequins and bling, as most brides call it. The blinged-out ones are the heaviest. It’s the lighter weight ones with beautiful tulle, full bottoms, and A-line; they are the dresses that draw my eyes the most. I think if I were a young bride, I would choose one with a frilly, light, airy bottom.
I unpack two new dresses from one of our most exclusive designers. Wow, I hold the first one up. You couldn’t have a single lick of extra skin hanging anywhere on your body to pull off this dress. It’s silk ivory, spaghetti straps, a low drape neck in the front, and an even lower one in the back. The gown falls straight to the ground, and the flawless silk feels weightless.
I pull the second dress out, and my breath catches. This is something I would have chosen; it’s beautiful. I hold up the A-line, sparkly tulle floaty bottom dress. The top is a sweetheart neckline with scalloped delicate cap sleeves like my dress today. The weight is coming from the intricate, placed beading throughout the bodice. I love it.
“Are you dreaming of a wedding to Aiden Markley?” Laura scares the crap out of me; she came out of nowhere. I’m sitting in the back corner of the warehouse, and each row is filled with gowns. It’s a little creepy because you can’t see anywhere, but the row you are working or pulling dresses in, “Jesus Laura. Click those high heels louder the next time. I didn’t hear you walking back here. You scared the bejeezus out of me.”
She rolls her eyes, “I walk as I always have. You were lost in the dress, dreaming of marrying, I’m sure, Aiden Markley.”
“Pfft, you’re wrong.” I hang the gown up and straighten my pencil dress.” I was daydreaming about youth. If I had worn a wedding dress, I would have chosen something like this for myself as a young bride.”
“Hmm, whatever you say, Willow. I came back here to let you know you received a delivery.”
“Yes, a pizza was delivered for you along with a note.”
“A pizza?” I say, confused as to why I received a pizza.
“Please, Willow, stop repeating what I say. Really, it gives one the impression that you have a hearing disability, you do if so often,” she scolds me, but I ignore her comments.
I step around her to see why I have a pizza, I assume from Aiden. My heel gets caught in a plastic garment bag, and I trip backward. I reach out and grab ahold of Laura’s cashmere sweater on my way down to my butt. “Ow!” My ass hits the concrete warehouse floor.
“Good God, Willow.” I’m not sure where, but I hear it tear. The fine material of Laura’s sweater rips.
I look up and let go of her sweater, “I’m sorry, I tripped.” She holds her hand out to help me up off the ground.
“No shit, Willow.”
“I’m sorry about your sweater.” I look, and I see it tore underneath her arm and at the neck. My eyes roam over the sweater to see if I see any more tears. I gasp, “Christ, Laura, did I do that to your neck, did that just happen?” She has a red welt and a large bruise across her neck. I’ve stretched the cashmere, and the turtleneck has spread to a cowl neck.
She quickly holds the material up, “No, you did not have anything to do with my bruises, though I’m sure you’ve given me new ones. I’m on a daily aspirin regime, and I bruise like a peach. Come on, let’s get cleaned up and out of the warehouse.”