Imagine being twenty-seven and two years into being a licensed attorney but still feeling like you’re failing because it seems like all your old classmates have their lives figured out. Don’t forget to add that you’re the only Black female associate at a successful law firm and spend a larger part of your days dealing with more micro-aggressions than you care to admit. That is my life currently. As much as I love practicing law, working at the firm hasn’t been the easiest thing I’ve done. Something about being bossed around by three old white men just doesn’t sit right with my spirit. Things did somewhat improve when I somehow managed to convince the partners to hire my best friend, Kennedy Wolfe, as a paralegal. Having an ally in the office comes with strings attached. I’m always aware of how long we’re away whenever she and I go out for lunch. Forty minutes or less and no one makes a comment. Anything more than that leads to snide remarks being thrown our way. I don’t miss the side looks we get from staff members if we’re talking in the long corridor. When one of us isn’t in the office, they ask the other where she might be.
The biggest consequence is the assumption that I’m not allowed to politely refuse assignments when they’re given to me, even if I’m overwhelmed, because my bosses did me a favor by hiring another Black woman. That assumption is alive and well when one of the partners, Thomas Tidwall, comes into my office on a random Monday afternoon and announces that I will be spending my weekend at a seminar focused on property development to potentially secure a new client. My only option is to grit my teeth and nod while silently canceling my plans to do laundry on Saturday and have brunch with my friends on Sunday.
When Kennedy tells me that she’s being sent to the seminar as well, I briefly believe the weekend won’t be a total bore. After all, it is a three-day weekend at a luxurious beach resort on a private island with all expenses paid for by the firm. I’m not expecting it to be the most glamorous weekend I’ve ever had, but it’s the closest we’ll come to a vacation since our junior year of college. Looking at it that way makes the non-optional weekend getaway almost desirable.
At 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, we drive from my high-rise apartment building to the airport to catch our flight from Las Vegas to the private island resort just miles away from Hilo, Hawaii, also known as Aloha Island Resort. It’s late morning when we land. It doesn’t take long to find transportation to the resort where the seminar is being hosted. After we’re checked in, we make our way to one of the three restaurants available at the hotel for brunch.
“We have the rest of the day to do what we want,” Kennedy points out in between bites of her eggs Benedict. A grin pulls at her bow-shaped lips and spreads across her square face.
My head nods. “What do you want to do?”
Her sloping shoulders shrug. “You know me, I’m down for whatever.” As she speaks, she flicks a lock of her loosely curled honey blonde hair off her shoulder. She’s been dying it since we were in the ninth grade. I don’t even remember what her natural hair color is anymore.
My round lips press together. “There’s an outdoor market close by. We can go there.”
Kennedy taps her blunt chin in thought before giving a single nod of her head. “Okay, I guess that’ll work. Maybe I’ll meet a nice Jason Momoa type to sweep me off my feet.” She places the back of her cocoa-colored hand on her forehead and pretends to swoon.
I laugh at her antics. “We’re here for business, not for pleasure.”
She wiggles her perfectly arched eyebrows. “Who says we can’t have both?” With her looks, Kennedy doesn’t have trouble getting a man. She’s gorgeous with vibrant cocoa skin, prominent cheeks, honey blonde hair that she keeps straightened and hanging to her mid-back, almond-shaped gray eyes, and a pear body shape complete with bountiful assets. She’s always being asked on a date by some brave unfortunate man who notices her. The problem is that Kennedy doesn’t do long-term romantic relationships. Let her tell it, she was born to be wild and free. Truthfully, I think seeing her parents’ marriage violently implode warped her view towards commitment.
“What are you going to do if you do find someone here? We live in Las Vegas.”
Briefly, her mouth turns up. “I’ll ride him like a surfboard for the next two nights, then go back to reality.”
“You’re shameless.” My head shakes as my mocha hand brushes a lock of my chocolate brown hair away from my angular face.
“I’m just being who I am meant to be. You should, try it sometime.”
My round lips turn up as my head cocks to the right. “What does that mean? I’m being who I’m meant to be.”
“I’m loose!” I blurt drawing attention from other diners. I’m grateful my skin is too dark for people to see the embarrassment on my round cheeks. “You know what I mean.” I hiss at my friend while leaning forward.
“You can be professional and still be yourself. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.”
I learned long ago that there’s a time and place for everything. I’m the queen of code-switching. My naturally silky voice becomes bright in certain settings. It doesn’t mean I’m not being myself. It just means I’ve mastered adapting to my surroundings. Of course, Kennedy doesn’t see it that way. She’s always been unapologetically her no matter where she is or who she’s around. She’s naturally loud, rambunctious, and unpredictable. She’s known as the life of the party. In our friendship, she’s the troublemaker simply because she lives each day like it’s her last. I would love to have her confidence, but that’s something I’ve always struggled with.
Sometimes I feel like a stranger in my own dark skin. I guess I’m pretty with my angular face, slightly round nose, round lips, and hooded chocolate eyes. I’m of average height with an hourglass body shape. My hair is usually straightened with most of it covered by extensions or wigs because my natural hair is too kinky curly for me to handle. I don’t wear a lot of makeup or always dress in designer brands. Truthfully, I try not to call attention to myself. I’ve always been the type to hang back and observe. That’s just who I’ve always believed that I am. Is Kennedy right? Is it not the real me? Maybe it’s time to figure that out.
It’s bright and early on Friday morning when we awaken to the blaring of the digital alarm clock on the nightstand between the queen-sized beds we’re occupying. It almost feels like any given weekday as I dress in a pair of linen slacks with an off-white button-down blouse and sandy brown wedges. It’s an outfit I would wear to the office on a summer’s day. I forego the flat iron and curling wand, much to Kennedy’s surprise, and brush my hair back into a mid-ponytail. Yesterday’s curls are still holding on. I leave a part of the front of my hair free and swoop it to the right, securing it with hairpins.
“I haven’t seen that hairstyle on you since freshman year of college,” Kennedy comments. She’s right. I haven’t worn a ponytail for anything other than exercising in years.
There’s a meet-and-greet breakfast for all the seminar attendees before the first session. I need to look somewhat professional in case our potential new client is present. With that thought in mind, I walk to the wide floor-length mirror hanging in the living room area of the suite Kennedy and I are sharing.
“How do I look?” I ask while doing a semi turn so she can get a good look at me.
Kennedy shrugs her shoulders in the cream sheer button-up blouse she’s wearing. “You look like an eager associate who got suckered into basically attending a timeshare meeting.” Her eyes brighten with humor.
My own eyes narrow. “You’re pessimistic this morning,” I comment as we exit the suite, walking down the outdoor corridor hallway to the golden elevator. The smell of the ocean breeze tickles my nose. My head lulls back. “I really hope we have a moment of free time, so I can go relax on the beach.”
“I reviewed the schedule last night. Today is a waste. It’s filled with session after session. Saturday is better though.”
Silently we ride in the elevator down to the first floor and walk through the picturesque courtyard until we reach the event center. It isn’t hard to find where the breakfast is being held thanks to the carrying voices and pointed signs.
“Where do you want to start?” Kennedy’s eyes widen as she looks at all the food options. She’s never met a meal that she didn’t like. That’s probably why she works so hard in the gym.
“I’m going to the omelet section.” I decide, watching as a cook specially prepares an omelet for the woman standing before him.
Kennedy pulls her iPhone from her cross-body purse to check the time. “We have about thirty minutes until the first session begins. I wonder if Houston North is here.”
My head is on a swivel as I look around me. “He could be. There are a lot of people here. More than I thought there would be.”
Kennedy chuckles. “It’s an all-inclusive seminar hosted at a luxury resort owned by the Houston North. Of course, there’s a lot of people here. I’m surprised the partners didn’t attend themselves instead of sending us.”
My slim shoulders shrug. “I think they’re trying to trust me with more responsibility.”
“Well, I guess that’s good. I’ve got a feeling our sought-after client will be here when the session begins. Let’s quickly eat so we can get good seats.” Kennedy’s excited tone causes me to give her the stink eye. “Come on Teagan, the reason we were sent here is to get a good glimpse of Houston North, so we can convince him to become a client with our firm. We need to put in a good effort so that Margot can’t say anything.”
Margot is a legal assistant that has been working at the firm since it started in 2000. She thinks Kennedy isn’t qualified to be a paralegal despite her degree. Margot also doesn’t care for me. She refers to me as ‘that girl’ when she thinks I can’t hear her.
A sigh escapes from me. “I don’t understand why they’re so pressed about this. It’s not like we don’t have plenty of clients.”
Kennedy rolls her eyes. “None of our current clients are as rich as Houston North. Don’t you want the $10,00 bonus promised to you if he hires us?”
“Obviously, I do.”
The firm has a policy that whenever an associate brings in a new client, he or she gets a $10,000 bonus. That’s the kind of money you don’t pass up if you can help it.
Kennedy knowingly smirks. “That Mediterranean split-level you keep eying isn’t going to pay for itself. Let’s do what we’ve got to do to get you that bonus.” She wiggles her eyebrows playfully.
I roll my eyes and make my way to the omelet station. Once the delicious breakfast entree is in my hands, I join my best friend at one of the many round tables stationed throughout the large space. We enjoy our breakfast while silently dreading the droning of useless information we’re about to endure.
“This could be helpful someday if we ever decide to invest in property.” I muse as we finish our food.
Kennedy scowls, “We would need three $10,000 bonuses a piece for that.”
My shoulders shrug. “I’m just trying to be optimistic.” Giving what is sure to be a long and boring morning a positive spin decreases my desire to run away. I know why the partners sent me instead of coming themselves, they didn’t want to suffer through this seminar. I can’t say I blame them. My threshold for long-winded know-it-all speakers is challenged every year by the CLE lectures I attend to maintain my license to practice.
Three hours later we walk out of the conference room with a little more knowledge about residential property development and how to get around zoning laws. It’s all for nothing seeing as how there was no sign of Houston North. He doesn’t make an appearance at the complimentary lunch either. The partners will be disappointed when I return on Monday without him as a new client, especially once they realize they’d paid for us to come to his event, and he didn’t even have the decency to show up.
There’s one more session after lunch. It ends at three o’clock. There’s also a social event later tonight. Kennedy predicts that the famed man will make an appearance then. I’m doubtful, but I push the information out of my mind for the time being. It isn’t important right now. My feet hurt, my shirt is too tight, and my contacts feel dry. The only thing I want to do is go to our suite, change clothes, and lay on the soft bed.
“I need a nap and a bottle of tequila,” I whine as we walk through the lively courtyard to the building where our suite is located.
Drowsily Kennedy nods her head. “We should order room service just in case there’s no real food at the event tonight.”
My eyes look at the surroundings. The resort is magnificent with its open spaces, beachfront rooms, and plenty of greenery. It invokes the tropical nature of Hawaii with a modern twist. There’s lots of light and sand. Service is impeccable and the food is delectable. I can understand why people are willing to pay no less than $300 per night to stay here. I’m just too brain-dead to enjoy it right now. My eyes feel like they’re on the verge of closing permanently when suddenly they widen as I catch sight of an athletically built olive-toned man disappearing around the corner of a building. Rapidly and repeatedly, I slap my friend’s arm.
“Ow, ow, ow, what the hell Teagan?! I was trying to see if that was Jai Brooks, walking to the beach.” Kennedy hurries away from me. Jai Brooks is a movie star who also happens to be Houston’s best friend. I don’t know what their history is, but it’s not unusual to find one where you find the other.
“Well, I know I just saw Houston North,” I announce almost giddily.
Comically her face snaps towards me. “Where?”
I point to the building. “He walked that way.”
“Let’s go.” She grabs my hand and drags me forward.
Anticipation hums through my body as I try to think of the right words. If I’m able to successfully pitch to Houston that he should bring his business to our firm on the first day, then we won’t have to attend any more of the seminar sessions. I’ll also get the bonus and hopefully gain more respect in the firm. Desperately we round the corner of the building and search for him. We look and look, but whoever I saw is long gone. Defeated expressions show on our faces. We stand on the marble pathway clueless as to what to do next.
“I think you were wrong,” Kennedy grumbles turning back towards our building.
I pout, “Me too.” I was so sure it was him. I’ve seen his handsome face plenty of times in various magazines, on talk shows, and things like that. It’s easy to recognize. He has a diamond-shaped head with dimpled cheeks, a full bottom lip, and a hooked nose. His eyes are hooded and a seafoam green color. He’s at least six feet three inches with a tattoo sleeve on his left arm that’s typically hidden by crisp designer button-down shirts.
“I’m going to our suite. I need a nap before we socialize with that pretentious crowd again.”
I continue to stand where I am, looking at the artfully constructed sand-colored buildings. Somewhere inside one of them is the man who I’ve been sent here to find. I need to stop being lazy and focus on my mission.
Don’t be melodramatic Teagan.
I’m thankful that the partners believe in me enough to send me to do such an important job, especially since there’s been hushed questioning of my ability to be an attorney in the dark corners of the office. I just wish the job wouldn’t take up my entire weekend. I prefer to limit my work hours to Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Of course, it doesn’t usually work out that way. This weekend seminar is a blessing and a curse. It’s like a vacation except it’s not. I have a job to do and so far, I’m not doing it well.
Accepting defeat, I turn to follow the path back to our building. Without warning, I collide with a person moving quickly. Before I can fall to my booty, large hands capture my arms and pull me to my feet.
“My gosh!” I don’t bother to look at the rude assailant as I yank out of his hold. “You must be in a hurry if you felt the need to run over me.”
“I’m sorry,” a baritone voice responds apologetically. “I wasn’t paying attention…” The voice trails off as I lookup. My breath catches as those piercing seafoam green eyes look into my own. They look much better in person than they do on the small picture stapled to the dossier the firm gave me before I departed on this excursion.
Warily I step back to get a better look at who am certain is the man I’ve been dying to see since my plane landed yesterday morning. His midnight hair is gelled away from his sloped forehead. His thick eyebrows are furrowed as if he was in the middle of deep thought before colliding with me. Swirls of black ink peek out of the top of the dark white t-shirt he’s wearing.
My mouth opens to say something, but Kennedy appears before I can form words. “Teagan, I ran into Houston’s assistant, Kristoff, who is actually British by the way! Did you know that? I didn’t. Anyway, I told him why we’re here. We exchanged numbers, and he offered to arrange lunch for you and Houston. I asked for it to be today, but Kristoff was like, ‘Sorry, Mr. North’s schedule for today is completely full.’ Oh my gosh, that was a horrible accent.”
“Kennedy,” I try to interrupt her.
She shakes her head letting me know she has more to say. “I asked him if tomorrow will work and he said, ‘I’ll see what I can do’ which is really professional speak for ‘go fuck yourself.’ He still took my number though, so maybe I’m misjudging him.” She shoves her cell phone in my face with the screen unlocked while continuing her ramble. “I also snuck a picture of him because the man is fine. Look at him Teagan.” Kennedy pushes the device closer to me. “Why aren’t you looking at the picture? Rude.”
I clear my throat and nod towards the man of the hour. “Kennedy, we’re not alone.”
Her eyes widen as they land on the infamous man standing before us. She slaps my arm. “Oh my gosh! Why did you let me ramble on for so long?”
I rub away the sting. “I tried to stop you.”
She scoffs and juts out her hand. “Hello, I’m Kennedy Wolfe.”
He easily chuckles. “I’m Houston North.” He introduces himself with a blinding smile.
“Yes, I know who you are. I totally did not take a picture of your attractive assistant, by the way. That was a joke. I’m funny like that. Just ask this one, I work for her. Well technically I don’t work for her, but I am a paralegal at her firm. Oh gosh, why can’t I shut up?” She slaps a hand over her mouth.
Houston turns to me expectantly. “Are you an attorney?”
“Yes, I’m Teagan Wilson.” I grin brightly, extending my hand to him.
Houston encloses my small hand in his large one. “Are you here for the seminar?”
“I did attend the seminar sessions today, but I’m actually here for you.”
His eyebrow quirks as a sly grin tugs at his mouth. “Is that so?”
The urge to slap myself is strong, but I keep it together. “What I meant to say is that I’ve been sent here in hopes of bringing you on as a client for the firm.”
“A client for a law firm, not for an escort service. Not that either of us works for an escort service. I’m sure a man like you does not have to use one of those. Although I hear they do make good money.” Kennedy needlessly adds while trying to slyly delete the picture of Kristoff on her phone.
“Shut up, Kennedy,” I hiss. I love my best friend dearly, but she is absolutely the wrong person to secure a new client. The woman doesn’t have a filter when she’s under pressure. She’ll say whatever comes to her mind, consequences are dammed.
Houston slowly nods his head. “What firm do you work for?”
“Tidwall & Associates in Las Vegas. We’re a general civil firm, but we represent lots of large corporations, some of which specialize in real estate. Handling matters for you won’t be a problem for us.” I sound like a used car salesman. This is what corporate law has turned me into.
“That’s one hell of a pitch you’re throwing.” His corded arms fold across his wide chest. He hasn’t walked away so that’s a good sign.
Kennedy interjects yet again. “She memorized the notecards our boss gave her during the flight here.”
“Please, shut up,” I beg.
“Sorry,” she mutters. “I had a lot of coffee trying to stay awake at the presentation earlier. I’m jittery and nervous. It’s not a good combination.”
Houston suppresses a humored grin. “How about you give me your card and we can set up a meeting to discuss this more?”
My mouth drops open as I realize my blunder. My business cards are still in our suite. I turn to Kennedy, but she shakes her head and holds out her hands. Of course, she doesn’t have one of my business cards. Why would she? It’s my responsibility.
With an apologetic grin, I turn to Houston. “I don’t have a card with me currently, but if you have paper, I can share my work email with you.”
“Not to interrupt this important conversation, but those women over there are making me uneasy,” Kennedy speaks in a monotone voice, looking ahead where a small group of scantily clad women is watching us intensely. “Is that Morgan Morgan the supermodel?”
“I believe it is,” Houston mutters.
“Didn’t you go to a red carpet event with her a couple months ago, but leave with some actress?” Kennedy focuses on Houston with an accusing look.
My aggressive elbow connects with her ribs. “Let’s focus on the professional matter at hand.” She’s two seconds away from getting sent to her room like a disobedient child.
Houston claps his large hands once. “Come with me please.” He says as he grabs my hand as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. He leads the way to a smaller building tucked into the eastern corner of the property.
Kennedy’s mouth pops open. “Wow. You do not half step with the designs.”
The shock wears off as I look around the perfectly decorated space. It makes my pricey condo in Nevada seem like an overstuffed cardboard box.
“Wait right here,” Houston instructs as he pulls his ringing iPhone from the pocket of his dark skinny jeans and disappears down the hallway behind the kitchen.
“How did we end up not only meeting the Houston North but also in his personal apartment?” Kennedy questions as she takes small steps on the tile floor.
“He ran into me when I was giving up my search to find him,” I respond in a dazed voice. This day has taken an unexpected turn. My confidence is low. I’ve never had to secure a new client before. I’m not sure what to say or how to carry myself.
My friend turns to me and clutches my hands. “Do not freak out Teagan. You’re a grown woman. You’re a great attorney. You can do this.”
Shakily I inhale. “This is different.” I can handle examining a hostile witness whether it be in the courtroom or a conference room without breaking a sweat. I’ve been doing it since my mock trial days in college. It’s second nature. I don’t know anything about securing a client for the firm. I’ve never done this before. I must succeed if only to show everyone at the firm that I’m capable of so much more than they think. “I’m fine. When he returns, I’ll make my final pitch and we’ll go.”
It’s moments later when he reappears. He holds out a long slip of paper to me. “Here is the direct line to this room as well as my email. I have to appear at the social event tonight, but we can meet for lunch tomorrow and discuss your firm’s proposition.”
“Sounds good.” My tone is cool and professional despite the butterflies flying in my belly. I wish I could say my unease is strictly because I don’t want to fail, but it’s not. Of course, I don’t want to fail, but I’m also undeniably attracted to Houston. The man is unbelievably attractive. The energy humming through my body is unreal.
“Great, I’m looking forward to our meeting.” There’s a twinkle in his eyes that I can’t decipher, or maybe it’s my imagination. I don’t seem to have a firm grip on my sanity right now.
My lips press together suppressing a flirty grin. “Me too.”
“It was really nice meeting you, but I have to go,” Houston informs us. Kennedy and I turn to leave, but his voice halts our steps. “Wait. Maybe we can meet up during the social event tonight. You’ll be there, right?”
I nod slowly. “I think everyone who is here for the seminar will be there.”
Houston watches me carefully. “Okay, I will see you there.”
Hooking arms with Kennedy, I walk out of the private apartment with a pep in my steps. If I can secure Houston as a new client, then I’ll get that bonus. Hell, I will deserve that bonus. The courage it takes to approach a man like Houston North about a business transaction is worthy of extra financial compensation. Houston’s net worth is astronomical. He didn’t become who he is by entertaining fools. All I can do is hope that our meeting goes well.