Chapter 1 - Reed, Lexi Reed
Crap. The fact that she was yelling to me from her office was a sure sign that Kate was fuming. I did a quick mental stocktake of the last few days, wondering which indiscretion I would have to own up to this time. I breathed deeply and slid off my chair, preparing to face the music.
“What have you done now, Lexi?” smirked my desk mate Rachael.
“Me?” I questioned, giving my best innocent what could I have possibly done look. Rachael threw her head back into a full throaty laugh. “Kate’s pissed. I hope it was worth it!” she said, fishing for a scoop on the latest office gossip.
“Mmmmm, it’s always worth it Rach.” I grinned and flicked my hair over my shoulder as I sauntered into Kate’s office.
Kate Cole and I had known each other since Uni. Kate was a year ahead of me and while we were not friends during our tenure at University, we were firm friends now. Kate was a force to be reckoned with, a strong woman with a keen business sense, amazing style and (most importantly) she saw the genius in the way I operated. She had built this events/PR company from the ground up and the fact that Cole now had partnerships with offices on most continents of the world was testament to her genius and a key reason why I loved working with her. The other reason was that she welcomed my “take no prisoner” attitude, which had been too full on for my previous employer. He had claimed that I intimidated clients and thought I was some kind of placard toting feminist or lesbian. Lord knows, I couldn’t just be a strong opinionated woman who knew her job.
I closed the door to Kate’s stylish office behind me. It was a remarkably simple and sleek space, a reflection of her. She was not what you would call a “girlie girl”. Kate loved sports and had very little tolerance for drama – a trait that made her instantly appealing to me as both a boss and a friend.
“So... anything you want to tell me Lexi?” Kate paced the room as she deliberately breathed – a sure sign someone was in trouble. I still had no idea what I could have possibly have done - let’s face it; the list of trouble I get into daily is long, so trying to narrow it down would prove a challenge for anyone.
“You want to give me a hint Kate, or are we going to play mental charades?” I mused.
“Cut it out, Reed.” Kate picked up the only file on her desk and came around to perch on one of the leather conversation chairs she used when she wanted to try and put her clients at ease. “I’m in a difficult situation here. You are forgetting I know you, and your history. Just help me understand if I need to hire a lawyer?” I took a long breath and settled into the seat opposite Kate. Clearly this was not going to be a 5 minute conversation.
“Kate, whatever it is, I am sure we can resolve it. Don’t stress, ok?” She knew that this was not the first time I’d been threatened with legal action.
“Stacy is on stress leave. Effective immediately. She is claiming you called her crazy and have been tormenting her. She had a meltdown in front of our newest client yesterday afternoon during her presentation, calling us all a bunch of lying C U Next Tuesdays.”
I tried to stifle my laughter. “Are you shitting me Cole? That girl has been unhinged since the day she was hired! She is obsessive and overbearing... And when pray tell was I tormenting her? I haven’t spoken to that bitch in 3 months.” While I had done lots of things which had the potential to lead to trouble, I was not going to be blamed for something I had had no part in.
“Lexi, I know the girl is certifiable but I need to be 100% sure. I do not want an HR issue here...” Kate’s pause for breath told me that she was really worried about this situation. “Did you tell someone she was on anxiety meds? She claims that you made some social media comments last week, on Facebook to be exact.”
My head was pounding with fury. “What the fuck Kate?! I didn’t even KNOW she was on meds... and if she IS on meds, then clearly they aren’t strong enough. As for my Facebook, you are on there - did you see any comments??? I wasn’t even in town last month, I was in New York, remember... too busy screwing and shopping to be on Facebook. What a fucking whore, she can’t hold her own and she blames me? Get her on the phone; let me confront her with these fucking accusations.”
“Lexi, calm down and for god’s sake, stop swearing...it’s still an office.” I relaxed a little as Kate clearly believed the truth of my story. “Look, I had my suspicions that the accusations were unfounded but you have to understand my position. For now she is on stress leave. It screws me over as she was supposed to be going on this exchange program. I have a guy coming in from Texas tomorrow; she was supposed to go there on Friday - I’m asking Rachael to go instead. I’ve already been on the phone all morning trying to sort this shit out.”
My ears pricked up with interest – a guy from one of our partners in Texas? Hmmmm I hadn’t had one of those before.
“Now before you start getting all hot and heavy, he’s off limits.”
Off limits? Oh, Kate – don’t you know that’s like waving a red flag to a bull?
“I know you are a sucker for an accent but I don’t want to have to pick up the pieces of your sordid romp. Don’t forget that this is my business, ok? Keep your hands, mouth and other body parts to yourself. We clear?” I was mentally rubbing my hands together in anticipation. “Lexi, I can see the cogs in your head turning... Seriously... I need to trust you on this one!”
I widened my eyes in a show of false innocence. “Kate, you’re making me out like I’m some insatiable fiend!”
“Yeah, Yeah, you are so offended... Remember, I know you. Keep it in your pants, Reed!” she said trying to force back a smile.
“KATE, Justin is on line one, the school has called and Sam is at the principal’s office again” - the intercom with Jane’s sugary sweet voice burst into the office uninvited.
“Thanks Jane” Kate replied, taking a breath and clicking her finger over the flashing light. I waved silently and decided now was a good time to take my leave, “Justin, I swear... This kid isn’t going to make his next birthday.” I shut the door behind me.
I had spent a lot of time with Kate’s four excitable, rambunctious boys. All of them were super competitive and sporty. The youngest, Sam, was the most challenging. He wasn’t a bad kid, just very spirited, and he was the one I most identified with. Sometimes I wondered how Kate managed; I think the fact that her husband was so even-tempered was a calming influence. I really liked Justin. He was an uncomplicated guy, he worked hard but when he came home it was all about his wife and his boys. He doted on Kate, allowing her to be the woman she was and, most importantly, he wasn’t threatened by her competitive ambition. She definitely wore the pants in that relationship and he didn’t really care. His tastes were simple - he loved his football, loved to have a beer and he loved his family. He was the yin to her yang. As sappy as it sounded, they had a perfect marriage and I hoped one day if I was ready to settle down (and that was a BIG if), I would find someone as honest as Justin.
“So! Did Kate tell you? I’m going to Texas!” gushed Rachael as I returned to our cubicle. I could tell she had been holding onto her news, desperately wanting to share but still trying to respect the “chain of command” and not making her announcement. However in true Rachael style she couldn’t help herself. “Stacey flipped out and went all psycho yesterday! Oh my God... it’s so tragic, but her loss is my gain... I feel kinda bad but at the same time I’m really excited. Is that wrong?... Shit, I need to pack... Can you imagine the shopping over there?? Everything is biiiiig in Texas...” her excitement was palpable, bordering on annoying but it was par for the course with Rachael.
“Rach, take a breath” I said, sitting down to my meticulously maintained desk and switching my monitor back on.
“I tell you this couldn’t have come at a better time; Will is doing my head in. I went out for coffee the other night and I had to check in! I told that man, relax... I barely have enough time for you as if I’m going to have time to cheat. He wouldn’t listen. The break will be good for us; it will help me figure out what I want to do… Not that he’s happy about it... oh well, I’m so excited... can you believe this shit?... Oh my God, I swear- I haven’t been this excited since my sister and I hit up Sydney!”
Watching Rachael rush around in a frenzy, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of jealousy. It would have been nice to jet off to a new city for six months but I knew that Kate needed me here and my role as a senior team member meant that I would to be initiating this new guy into the office. New guy - I wonder what he looked like? I hadn’t even asked Kate his name. The whole Stacey losing her shit drama threw me off my usual A game. I needed details. I would need to take a walk down to visit Jane and see if I could pump her for intel. Kate’s loyal PA could usually be persuaded to come up with the information.
“LEX... are you even listening to me???” Rachael’s voice rose an octave.
“Sorry Rach, I was distracted. Umm...what were you saying?”
“I asked if you had any good book suggestions for the plane? I wanted to load up my iPad with some trashy novels for the long journey. But not any that are too sad. You know I’m a crier... Who knows, I might even find myself a new romance while I’m there...”
I wasn’t exceptionally close to Rachael. It’s not that we weren’t friends, we just moved in different circles. She was effervescent and full of life and always spoke like she was running a race. She was a really good person, with a great heart but we just didn’t have a lot in common. I pushed my jealousy aside, realising that she was perfect for this new challenge. Those Texans were going to take one look at her massive personality and accept her as one of their own. I nodded in my silent resolve and gave her a big hug. “You’re going to do great Rach, and if Will knows what’s good for him, he’ll realise what an ass he has been and jump on a plane and hopefully jump you too.”
Rachael blushed. “Ummm... Gee... Thanks... Lexi... ummm... yeah.”
What a freaking crazy morning. I swear - so much to digest. I still needed to find out about our mysterious Mr Cowboy. I giggled. The things I could do with that rope. Mmmmmmm, I wondered if he owned leather chaps and boots? This fantasy was getting hot; I could already feel the dull pleasure ache in my lower stomach and the slight moisture forming in my underwear. I wondered if Jane had a photo? I could totally Google him. Better go get Jane a coffee; I’d learned from previous covert missions that she was a complete coffee addict and freer-flowing with information after she’d had her fix.
“Yummy is that for me?” Jane’s saccharine voice squealed.
“Yep, look I even got you one of the cookies you like” I held out the package and batted my eyelashes slightly. I have danced this dance before and while Jane was good at her job, she wasn’t the worldliest of creatures; she was naive and too trusting. This was going to be too easy; I could see the partially covered personnel file on her desk. “So... Jane, I’m going to be showing the new guy around,” I pretended to look bored “and I figured I’d quickly go through his file and see if there is anything I need to cover in his induction.” Smooth Lexi, very smooth.
“Oh, I don’t know Lexi... these files are kind of private. Kate would have my head, you know.” Jane looked very uncomfortable with not giving me what I wanted but she knew it would be breaking the rules to let me have access to a private HR file.
“Jane, do you think I would be asking if it wasn’t ok with Kate?” I said, looking straight into her trusting brown eyes “You saw me talking to her earlier didn’t you?? Remember when Justin called and I was in her office?” I marveled at how easily the lies rolled off my tongue. I was a master of this game and Jane didn’t even come close to being a worthy adversary.
“Well,” Jane paused and looked from the coffee and biscuit I was holding out to the files on her desk. “I guess if you have cleared it with Kate then it’s Ok.”
Jackpot! I hoped there was some decent information in the file. I passed the delicious bribe over and she hesitantly handed over the pristine manila folder in return, clearly having second thoughts until I gave her my award winning smile. Yep, entirely too easy. I should have been a spy or a con artist. Maybe Mr Cowboy and I can play on that fantasy as well? Mmmmmmm the list was endless.
I walked into one of the private meeting rooms. I wanted to do my recon without being disturbed and let’s face it, I was breaking company policy by accessing his personal details. While I was brazen, I wasn’t stupid. I closed the door behind me and I settled into one of the comfortable chairs. As I opened the file, a sheet of paper slipped out, a small passport photo was paper-clipped to the side. WOW Cowboy, you’re hot. The photo was black and white but I could tell his hair was dark and his eyes were so clear they were probably blue. He had a strong jawline with amazing bone structure; he could have been a model. The photo had obviously been taken later in the day with a light stubble accentuating his masculine features. His brows were furrowed and he had a distant, almost-forlorn look; like he was looking beyond the camera and straight into my soul. It was like he wasn’t even trying to be sexy, yet it oozed out of every pore. Damn Kate and her “no fraternisation” policy. I wondered what the outer edges of her definition would be? After getting a look at this new piece of talent, I was determined that I was going to find a loophole or at least skate to the edge of that line because MATTHEW BURNS, whose name was printed across the top of his file, would be worth it.