I don't really have a title for this story. At least not yet. I started it years ago, so I'll finish it up for our Wednesday Romances. :) But when I started this story, I called it Perfectly Imperfect. Don't know why, exactly, but until I have a better name for it, I'll leave it at that!
Life doesn’t always turn out the way we plan.
Someone told her that cliché long ago and as she sat working at her desk that lay covered with material swatches and various sketches or crumpled papers, Monet Carlson understood the truth of it. Life had been wonderful, or so she thought, but that just went to prove that no one ever knows the outcome of anything.
Life had placed her at the age of twenty-five alone and somewhat reclusive from others. She had a good career, a career that would provide for her well being for years to come. However, as with most good things in life, a diligent sacrifice of time and money had been taken to earn her the position she now carried.
Work was the only thing that kept her anchored to the present and so she worked hard. She had little time for socializing. To her, going out, unless for a business adventure, was a waste of time and energy when one could be climbing the ladder of success. Yet, as this thought crossed her mind, a small voice in the back of her head, one she had learned to ignore years before, struggled to be heard. It was the voice that continually told her of the dreams she once wanted; of the life she had always wanted. Pushing the voice aside with skilled practice, she reminded herself that the experienced business woman in her knew better than to let emotions run her life as they once had. They were, after all, what had destroyed her life.
Sighing heavily, she stood, searched through the papers strewn over her desk until she found the sketch she was looking for and set off down the hall. Passing several people as she walked with determination, she didn’t see any of them, neither did they acknowledge her. A few moments later, she finally arrived at the office at the end of the corridor. The door was open and she walked right in, slapped the sketch on the desk in front of the brunette that sat behind it and sat down across from her.
Monet leaned back in her chair. “That, Macall, is what is going to make this company double it year.”
“Really?” Macall Stevens picked up the sketch and studied it with revered awe. Macall and Monet had been lifelong friends. A couple years ago, – after Monet’s life had fallen apart – she’d gone to Oregon and started working for Macall. A year later, they became partners. Though Macall was talented, Monet brought in more revenue than anyone in the office.
“Who bought it?” Macall asked.
Monet laughed. “You’ll never guess, so I’ll give you a clue.” A sly grin on spread over her face and she leaned forward as though divulging a great secret. “He owns over half the market west of the Rockies,” she said in a whisper.
“No,” gasped Macall. She dramatically placed a hand to her bosom. “You can’t possibly mean….”
“Yes, I do. I put this sketch on my web site and who tracked into it? None other than the infamous Bristol Kelly. The Mr. Kelly who owns Virtually You. He wants to market this dress and claims to have several celebrities who want to get their hands on it as soon as possible. And you know what that means.” Monet paused for effect but her friend already knew what that meant.
“It means other chains will want it too, as well as the knock-off chains. And you, my friend, will be one of the wealthiest women I know!”
Monet simply laughed. The fact that Bristol Kelly wanted her design made life almost…exciting. Quickly, she dug up her feelings of hurt and pain that always came as a result of exciting things. This sobered her slightly, yet the feeling of finally succeeding at something was a wondrous feeling.
“When did all this happen?”
“Mr. Kelly’s secretary contacted me the middle part of last week.”
“You’ve known all this time, and you never told me?”
Monet shrugged casually. “If I told you, the entire world would know about it before we even sealed the deal.”
Macall raised her eye brows but then nodded in agreement.
“I’d better get back to work. I need to finish up with a couple things before I leave.” Monet stood and retrieved her sketch back from her friend.
“What are you doing for dinner?” Macall asked. “Do you want to grab a bite to eat at Mike’s down the street?”
“No thanks. I’m supposed to meet Mr. Kelly this evening to discuss his proposition and how much money I will make off this thing.” Monet threw her a charming smile.
“You know,” Macall said, conspiratorially. “I hear the man’s so handsome he makes the Greek Gods look plain.”
“That’s only a rumor, I’m sure. Besides, you know that I have no desire to entertain a relationship. I’m focusing on my career.”
“I know. But if he happens to be the nicest, handsomest, and richest man you’ve ever met, you should at least consider on him.”
“Macall, this is business. Business and love do not mix. You of all people know that.”
Macall waved her hand in dismissive fashion. Monet smiled and left the office.
~ * ~
“I’m here for a meeting with Mr. Kelly,” Monet told the man behind the counter of the restaurant. She had been to fancy restaurants before but this one topped the cake, so to speak. A black tie establishment, Monet felt dowdy in her satin and chiffon evening gown. The decision of what to wear tonight had been grueling, but she had finally settled on the form fitting burgundy one which complimented her complection. She wore her hair down and as she looked around, instantly wished she hadn’t. Not a single woman in the establishment wore her hair down.
“He’s expecting you. This way please, ma’am.”
Monet followed the host among the tables and the other patrons of the restaurant. Everyone seemed to stare at her and she did her best not to let their gazes intimidate her. Though she gave little heed to what others thought of her, the continual stares she received made her feel a little panicked.
Her host stopped at a table where a handsome man sat pouring over some papers that sat before him and sipping some water from a glass beside them. The waiter motioned to the table before leaving her to fend for herself.
“Excuse me. Mr. Kelly.” When the man looked up, she continued. “I’m Monet Carlson.”
“Ah yes. Miss Carlson.” He stood, shook her hand, and motioned for her to take a seat opposite him. “Please sit.”
“Thank you.” She sat down as elegantly as she could, though she felt as though she were nothing more than an awkward doll being forced by some invisible hand to sit at the table.
She could not tear her gaze from the man before her. For some reason, she had expected to be meeting a grandfatherly figure; a man who had dedicated his entire life to his profession. As it was, this man could not be much older than thirty. His manner of dress was impeccable, of course, and she instantly wondered if she were on a blind date with the man or here on a business engagement.
“I hope you don’t mind a little business before dinner. I like to get it over with so that I can get to know you a little before dessert,” Mr. Kelly said, as if answering the question in her thoughts.
“Did you happen to bring samples for me? I have devoured all the information on your web site and I must say, given your talents and designs, I expected you to be much older. They are most exquisite.”
“Thank you, sir.” Monet blushed and reaching into her bag to pull out her portfolio.
They discussed her work and she expressed some modifications she wished to make on some things and some ideas she had for others. Bristol Kelly was ever attentive and gracious in his criticisms and advice. Monet did her best to keep her eyes from traveling more than necessary to the extraordinarily good looking man. His looks did, as Macall had claimed earlier that very day, rival the Greek Gods of old. With eyes of deep brown, slightly almond shaped but large, and hair as black as coal, Monet found herself wondering of his ancestry. The whiteness of his perfectly straight teeth contrasted greatly with his dark skin and her eyes lingered a moment too long upon his full lips. Clearing her throat, she forced her mind to focus once more on the business at hand.
After the plates from their main course had been cleared away, Bristol Kelly dismissed their business and brought up a conversation of a more personal nature. “Where is it that you come to Portland from, Miss Carlson? It is most obvious that you are not a big city girl.”
Shaking her head, she answered quietly. “Wyoming.”
“You sound as though you are embarrassed by that.”
“Oh no,” she defended. “I loved growing up there, although I probably didn’t truly appreciate it until I moved away.”
“So, you grew up in Wyoming. Did your parents own a farm?”
Monet laughed. The thought of her parents owning a farm was humorous to say the least. “No. My father’s an attorney and my mother is a receptionist for an OBGYN.”
“I see. So you lived a comfortable life and then left all that to come hack it out in the big city?”
“I guess you could say that.”
“What are you hiding from?”
She looked up and felt his eyes pierce her soul. She snapped. “What business is it of yours?”
He chuckled. “Are there any misdeeds in your life that you are running from?”
He nodded and leaned back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest. “Tell me why a man like me should hire a girl like you?”
She couldn’t help but notice the slight stress on his suit as his muscles crossed over his massive chest. She swallowed. “I came out here to live a dream and here I am. I love what I do and I am good at it.”
He sat there and pondered her words for a moment. Forcing her hands to hold still, she sat and endured his quizzical gaze and even managed to remain outwardly calm, though her insides screamed in turmoil. After several long and silently tormenting minutes, he lifted his glass to his lips, and sipped his drink slowly. “Miss Carlson, I want you to work for me. What would it take for you to restrict your business to me?”
“Sir, I am a partner of CS Designs. I can’t simply leave to work for you.”
“Of course you can. My mind is made up. I want you and I will not be swayed.”
“I’m sorry, sir. I’m not sure that I can comply.”
“Then I will simply have to bribe you.”
“And what devises do you intend to use?”
He thought momentarily. “What would you say if I called off our business deal entirely unless you came to work for me?”
“I would say you are a worthless, selfish jerk and I don’t want your business.”
“On the contrary. You do want me and you need me. Without me, you will be nothing. I could see to it that you never sell another item of clothing again.”
Monet glared at the man. “You do not intimidate me, Mr. Kelly, with all your millions and all your servants. If you are really a man to possess such low standards and morals, then I say keep your filthy money. I’ve dealt with your kind before and there is nothing I loath more in life than a man who tries to control a woman; especially with money and popularity.”
Bristol Kelly sat staring at her for the longest minute of her entire life. Longer than any she had thus endured under his scrupulous eyes yet this evening. His expression was unreadable. With her words she had insured herself the finality of her career. A man of his position could easily make good on his threats and with her accusing words it would be easy to make those threats reality. Yet she would not allow any man to attempt to control her. So she sat and awaited her fait.
Slowly, a smile stole over his handsome face and he began to clap. She glanced around anxiously, to see that his actions were not disturbing the other patrons. Standing, he lifted his glass and stood. In a loud voice, loud enough to carry throughout the entire restaurant, he said, “Friends, I would like you all to raise your glasses and toast with me to this amazing woman who sits before me. Not only is she true to herself and her beliefs, she is infinitely beautiful, both mind and soul. It is my deepest pleasure to welcome her into my circle of relations.”
With that, cheers went up around the restaurant and Monet looked around as people began tinkling their glasses with their neighbors in her honor. When Bristol sat down, she couldn’t help but ask, “What in the world was that all about?”
“That, my dear Miss Carlson, is how much I appreciate your honesty,” he said smiling at her. “Oh I know, you thought I would turn you out cold for your words against me. But I admire your nerve. It is a very brave thing to speak in such a manner to a man of my wealth and power. I deeply admire your ability to tell me how you feel.”
Hesitating for a moment, Monet struggled to grasp what was happening. “Are you telling me that you will not black list me?”
“Of course not. You have passed your test. Your work is stunning and you are honest and forthright in your dealings. I am proud to do business with you.” His charming smile almost melted a portion of her cold, unfeeling heart. She breathed a sigh of relief only moments before he said, “However, I don’t want you to think I will cease in my efforts to talk you into working solely for me.” He chuckled and she smiled.
~ * ~
“Did you sign the deal?” Macall asked on the other end of the phone after Monet returned home from her business dinner with Bristol Kelly. The hour was late, but Macall had evidently been calling nearly every half hour for the past three hours.
“Yes.” Monet tried to stifle a yawn.
Shaking her head, Monet was not sure she felt up to her friend’s curiosity of her evening. The truth was, once Monet and Bristol Kelly had agreed on the technicalities of their working relationship, they had spent a good share of the evening visiting about various things that had very little to do with them. Monet had such a good time that she almost regretted the fact that it was only a business meeting as opposed to a social engagement. Bristol was a fascinating man. And at the moment, she had no desire to share her experience with Macall Stevens.
“Macall, I am really tired and just want to go to bed. I’ll visit with you about it first thing in the morning. Okay?”
“Oh, no you don’t!” Macall exclaimed. “You just dined with one of the biggest names in the industry and all you want to do is go to sleep? Come on, Monet. I know you better than that. What are you hiding from me?”
“Nothing,” Monet replied honestly.“If you had nothing to hide then you would tell me everything.”
“Seriously, Macall. If you want me to give you his number, I will. But right now, I just want to go to bed. Good night.” With that she hung up the phone and went to bed.
Once in bed, however, she sat pondering her evening. Bristol Kelly was so handsome and such a gentleman. He flattered her but not so much that she felt he was insincere. His fun nature made it easy for her to laugh with him. And if she were completely honest with herself, she really did have a good time and even found the man appealing.
As soon the thought entered her mind, she shoved it brutally out and drugged up the memories that kept her safe and secure. The painful memories from her past. The memories that found her entertaining such a mundane and disappointing existence. With those thoughts on hand, she breathed easier. If she remembered the pain from finding men appealing, she would keep her heart safe.