Chapter Three: Just Business
Startled by a banging noise, I sat upright and rubbed my eyes. When lucid, I realized someone was knocking on my door. I stroked through my hair, trying to neaten it, and wiped over my mouth. I must have drooled in my sleep. I dragged myself to my door, still disoriented and exhausted.
“Good morning!” Cassidy chirped. Her hair was pinned into a messy bun on top of her head and she was clad in casual sweatpants and a warm coat. She held out a few silver bags and a large make-up case. “You obviously weren’t prepared for my arrival,” she giggled as she walked in and greeted Pudding.
The clock on my wall told me that it was already after lunch. I stared at my silver watch, shocked that it could possibly be so late. “I didn’t realize it was this time already.” I panicked as I looked at my desk in horror. I had not yet done any research on how to create a webpage. I hadn’t even checked my e-mails.
“You obviously needed the sleep. What time did you get home last night?” Cassidy asked, placing the dresses over the sofa and pulling things out of her make-up bag.
“No, I don’t have time to sleep,” I mumbled, turning on my laptop. I only had time for three hours of research until I had to leave for the campaign.
“Leave that for now, you are a smart cookie. You will be able to do that tonight. Let me do this for you first. I have a date soon so I can’t be here all afternoon,” she beamed.
I was conflicted. I wanted her help but I needed to do research. This was exactly what Debra wanted. But then again, if I didn’t look the part, I was equally a failure in her eyes. I relented. I could do the work after Cassidy left. “Just a few ‘copy and pastes’ here and there. Easy,” I deluded myself.
“I wasn’t too sure, so I brought a red dress and a green dress. I think the green will look nicer on you, and fit your curves better as well. But first I am going to let you shower before you put on my dress,” Cassidy giggled. I remembered that I had not yet showered since arriving home the night before.
“A shower sounds good,” I agreed.
Enjoying the brief shower, I washed my hair and vigorously scrubbed over my curves. The water dripped over my lips. I breathed in the steamy air, trying to wake myself. I still couldn’t believe I had slept for so long. I stepped out, quickly wiping over myself before walking out in my towel. Immediately I went for the coffee machine.
Cassidy was playing with Pudding. There was a small feather attached to her necklace that captured his attention, much to Cassidy’s delight. Sensing her enthusiasm for the game, he began to ignore it, and only flicked it out of his way a few more times out of annoyance. “I love your Pudding. He is always so much fun,” Cassidy said, smitten. “Now, try the green one. I think it is a better shade for your hair.” She gestured to the dress.
“I really don’t mind which one,” I politely said. “As long as I look presentable, I won’t have to deal with yet another awkward conversation with Debra about my ‘lazy attire.’ Despite how glamorous I may look I am sure she will still point out my many faults.”
After a mouthful of my hazelnut coffee I attempted to squeeze into the green dress, sucking in as I tried to fit it around my curves. “Cassidy, I really don’t think this will fit me,” I admitted. I was not a large woman, but my average frame with curves was not prepared for so little material.
“Anyone can fit into this one,” she dismissed, coming to help me stretch it out. She stretched the silky material over my hips. I sucked in and to my surprise she was able to zip it halfway up my back. She firmly pinched her fingers around the zip so she could fully enclose my frame into the tightly fitting dress. I exasperatedly exhaled as the material finally entrapped me. I took a few unsure steps.
“There is no way I could move in this,” I said, trying to adjust my stance and straighten my back so walking was less awkward.
“It looks amazing on you. Some simple black heels will go perfectly with it.”
Cassidy played with her hair in my full-length mirror in my room whilst I tried to get used to the feel of the tight material over my body. The dress felt oh-so-tight, but it clung to my figure beautifully. My stomach was slim and my curves were perfectly in proportion. I forced my gaze away from the mirror to my silver wristwatch. Time was already slipping through my grasp.
“Okay, now don’t even think of taking that off, because, well, I don’t know if we can get you back in it,” she laughed to herself. “Let me do your hair and make-up now.”
We moved into the bathroom to continue the makeover. I could’ve done it myself but she seemed to be enjoying it far too much for me to deny her the pleasure. Quickly she proved she was rather talented at it. She applied smoky shades to my eyes and a deep red to my lips. She curled my hair and loosely pinned it into a bun, almost knocking me unconscious with the amount of hairspray she added. I was almost crawling out of the bathroom to escape it. But she assured me the more the better, even after I told her my hair held curls because of its natural wave. But trying to convince the determined Cassidy was a mission on its own.
I shuffled around my house afterwards, holding my hands to my stomach as I embraced the tightness of my dress. I guess I could wave goodbye to the chance of eating anything that evening. Cassidy received a call and quickly approved my appearance before fluttering away to her date. She left her belongings at mine, claiming she would pick them up later.
I felt like I was on a mission as soon as she shut the door behind her. I logged onto my laptop, allowing my mind to wallow in the research about webpages whilst scanning over numerous forums. I flicked between the advice they gave and our own website, trying to figure out exactly what kind of website it even was. “Is it this WordPress program or...”I stuttered out loud. I almost cried in frustration, annoyed that I had no idea how to create a page. I thought I would start with the basics, entering the passcodes to Candice’s website, and accessing the files about Issobelle with her short biography and portfolio. When I clicked on the article file to upload, which was to be placed on her webpage, I found that the file was empty. Frustrated, I assumed it was either my bad luck or that Debra had deliberately deleted it. I looked over all the folders and even my USB stick, but there were no backups. I recalled reading over it a few times for secondary approval. I thought I had a copy of the brief on it, but I couldn’t find it. I panicked. There were only thirty minutes left until my escort was to arrive.
I shut my eyes, trying to recall the wording the journalist had used. I had to insert an article here. Surely it could be updated with the correct one tomorrow. I let my fingers busily type over the keyboard. My pinkie had never hit the “enter” button so often.
Twenty minutes later, I sighed in relief, proud of my accomplishment. I had created a two-page spread on Issobelle Sheraine in very little time. “Now, just to quickly read over it, and then I can attempt to create this page...”
There was a knock on my door, which promptly scattered my thoughts. I jumped out of the chair. I looked up now, noticing it was already six. The escort was here. I had forgotten the time. Again.
“In a minute,” I called shakily, surprised by my nerves. I hurriedly slipped on my black heels and checked myself over once again in the smaller mirror I had beside my large-screen television. I thought I looked good, not that I was trying to impress him. This was, of course, business, pure and simple, yet my heart still raced in excitement. I threw my red lipstick and apartment keys into my black sparkly clutch. I saved my work on my laptop and then patted Pudding’s head before racing for the door. I opened it in a hurry, catching my clutch on the door. Immediately I picked it up before taking in the man in front of me.
I kept my lips tight, so my mouth would not open. I suppressed the urge to say anything at all in case I mumbled some incomprehensible nonsense. I stood there for a moment, dumfounded by his attractiveness. It wasn’t just his looks. He had an undeniable presence. Confidence emanated from him.
“Clover, I assume?”
The man was nicely dressed in a black dinner suit with a crisp white shirt underneath. One hand was in his pocket, which just pulled his jacket from his body enough for me to get a glimpse of the body behind the smart shirt. My eyes lingered on the belt at his waist.
He handed me a red rose and I looked up into dark brown eyes. He had a slight tan, but not conspicuously so. Trimmed facial hair framed a striking face. He looked only a few years older than me, but younger than what his deep voice would suggest. His brown hair was nicely slicked back, just touching his collar. Even his jaw was perfectly chiseled and strong. And, he smelled good.
“Ah, yes, that is me,” I said stupidly, wanting to slap myself.
I straightened myself as if I were giving a presentation in front of an intimidating client. “Get a hold of yourself, anyone would assume you haven’t seen a man your whole life,” I bickered internally with myself. I collected myself with a confidence I did not feel. “This is just business!” I reminded myself.
I accepted the red rose with a small smile. “And you are Damon?”
“I certainly am,” he confirmed. “So, shall I escort you?”
He offered his elbow out to me, gentleman-like. I hesitated to take it, feeling that this was all slightly over the top. No one ever offered their elbow to a woman these days.
I hauled myself back to reality. I was paying for this, so I might as well enjoy it. I accepted it as he looked ahead. We began to walk together toward the elevator.
“Where are we heading then?” he asked amiably.
I glanced up at him. His side profile was just as stunning. “The Candice magazine campaign. It’s the opening for Issobelle Sherain. You know, in celebration of her recruitment. We will greet the sponsors, hear some speeches, that kind of thing,” I tried to say without sounding completely tongue-tied. I found though that the effect of talking about work was that my senses were automatically dulled, and I began to relax a little. My heart no longer raced as speedily as it did before.
“You work for the Candice magazine?” Damon asked curiously, looking past his shoulder because of our height difference.
“Yes, I am the personal assistant there. I’m sorry to have asked you to escort me at such late notice. I wasn’t expecting to go until the last minute. I had no time to organize a partner,” I said, trying to play it casual. It was partly true, at least. But I would have to tell him, because in the likely event Debra would interrogate him about our relationship, I would need him to lie for me. “Actually...” I stopped in front of the elevator, drawing us both to a halt. “I know this is going to sound pathetic, but my boss has been giving me a really hard time, and usually I wouldn’t play these games, but I somehow got ensnared. She... may have mocked me for not having a partner, and somehow manipulated me into thinking I needed to prove her wrong, and so I ended up calling you, and I really don’t know what I am doing now,” I ranted, realizing how utterly embarrassing the situation was and just how juvenile I must seem to him.
“So, you want me to pretend to be your boyfriend for the night, so that it somehow feels like a win against your boss?” he smiled.
“Basically,” I confirmed.
He clicked on the button for the elevator twice before looking at me with a calm smile. “Okay, I can do that. Although I must admit, it’s the first job I’ve had under these kind of circumstances. I don’t know if I should be flattered or wary of you,” he said jokingly, before stepping into the elevator when the doors finally opened. “Are you coming?”
I squeezed beside him in the small elevator. His cologne was powerful and masculine. Expensive tastes, I noted approvingly. I couldn’t help but shoot him a glance as we stood together, unsure how to take him or the situation. He was so charming at my door, and yet he had a laugh at my situation, putting me instantly at ease. He could’ve pronounced me weird, or outright told me “no.” But instead he took the situation in good humor. There was a sense of playfulness behind his suave smile. It was a winning combination for which I was sure he was highly paid. He could be a gentleman or he could be a friend.
“So, do we do pet names?” he asked casually, placing his hands into the pockets of his expensive-looking pants.
“Definitely not,” I snapped, surprised at my own quick opposition. He gave an even smile at my reaction without saying anything in response.
He ushered me out of the building and stepped onto the road to flag a taxi. Suddenly I was aware of the other people on the busy sidewalk. Women stumbled at they passed him and men shot him looks of surprised envy. Some teenage girls giggled obviously as they passed him. I blushed on his behalf. I wondered if they would think I wasn’t good enough for him. I looked down at my black clutch self-consciously.
“Well, he isn’t my man. I am paying for him to escort me,” I reminded myself. “Tonight, I am good enough.”
I looked at him in a new light. He was indeed my trump card.