“How long have you been here?”
Monet looked up to see Macall standing in the doorway looking utterly astonished at seeing her. Arms folded across her chest and leaning against the door jam, Macall had the look on her face of being completely betrayed.
“I didn’t realize you were in yet,” came Monet’s honest reply.
“I’ve been here for half an hour. So?”
Monet sighed heavily. “So, what?”
“So? Did you sign a deal with him? How much are you getting for this thing? Is he the most handsome piece of beef cake you have ever laid eyes on?”
The questions poured from Macall’s mouth and Monet knew there were buckets more, but decided to answer and endure the inevitable. “Yes, I signed a deal with him. But I’m not sure that you want to know the figures.”
“Because,” Monet paused, enjoying the concern on her friend’s face, “I think you may pass out.”
“Is it that bad?”
“Look for yourself.” Monet handed her copy of the contract over for Macall to take a see.
Macall’s eye’s zoomed over the document so quickly it made Monet nauseous to watch them. Macall set the document back on the desk, mouth gaping and eyes bulging. “You have got to be the luckiest woman on the face of the earth right now,” she said in an awed whisper. Monet laughed at her dramatics. “Do you realize that you could buy a summer house with that kind of dough? Actually you could probably buy several. Anywhere you want.”
Monet laughed again. “Don’t be silly. I already have a house I am perfectly content in. Why would I want to waste this on another one?”
“What else would you do with all that money? You can’t possibly spend it all. Although,” she put her finger to her chin, “if you wanted to try, I’d be willing to help.”
“I’m not going to spend it. I’m going to invest it.”
“In what?” Macall asked. “Why invest it? You already have it. Just keep it. Why would you want to risk losing it?”
“Because, I have bigger plans, other than just monetary pleasures.”
“Like what? That silly children’s shelter you talked about wanting to start back when we were in college?”
“Actually, yes. There are so many children in this world without the love and pleasures of a family.”
“Spare me.” Macall turned to leave. “Let me know when Mr. ‘Hunky’ Kelly stops by, as he is sure to do. I want to sink my claws into the likes of him.”
Monet shook her head as her friend left the office. It amazed her how selfish this once kind hearted girl had become. Back in college, the two girls shared similar visions and dreams. That is why they originally opened this business together. Once upon a time, Macall had wanted to help poor neglected children too. But now? Monet rolled her eyes. It was pointless to dwell on others’ behaviors. She had enough of her own problems to be worrying about everyone else. So, filing her contract, she set to work.
~ * ~
“This is Monet.” She held the phone between her shoulder and chin, as she fussed over trying to straightening her desk before she left for the day.
“Miss Carlson?” the female voice on the other end of the phone said. “This is Christine from Mr. Kelly’s office. If you have two minutes, Mr. Kelly would like to speak with you.”
“Oh.” Monet stopped surprise. At the mention of the man, her heart, unwillingly, began to hammer. “I have a couple minutes.”
“Hold for just a minute while I patch you over to him please.”
Monet heard the annoying hold music that all offices had.
Her wait was short lived, however, as a deep masculine voice came on the phone. “Monet? This is Bristol. Do you have plans this evening?”
“Well, I…uh, I….” Not having plans on a Friday night was not the most flattering thing in the entire world. “Not really,” she finished lamely.
“Good. Can I pick you up at eight?”
“Excuse me?” she asked, not sure she heard him correctly.
He chuckled and then explained. “I am supposed to go to a fundraiser thing and I don’t want to go alone. Would you mind accompanying me? I promise you can meet anyone from the business you want. They will all be there,” he said, sounding regretful.
“I….” She paused. Should she accept? The offer was enticing. The publicity would do wonders for her career and the company would not be all bad either. But to accept an offer for a social engagement from a man she barely knew? A man she needed to keep strictly as a business acquaintance?
“What is the dress code?”
“Black tie,” he said. “You’ll come?”
“I guess. This doesn’t claim the status of a date does it?” She wanted to cover all her bases.
“Of course not,” he said a little too quickly. “I’ll pick you up at eight.”
“Great.” She hung up the phone. Now she really needed to leave. If she were to get home in time to get ready for this blessed affair, she needed to pedal in high gear.
Abandoning the organization part of her task, she whisked everything off her desk in three large movements and placed everything in her bag. She would have plenty of time to go through it and put it together over the weekend. After all, what else did she have to do? She lived alone.
Rushing into the hall and racing for the elevator, she was stopped by Macall. “Where are you going in such a rush? I thought we were doing a movie tonight?”
“Oh!” Monet stopped. The movie had completely disappeared from her mind as she had spoken with Bristol only moments before. “Oh, Macall. Can we reschedule? Something has come up.”
“What plans could you possibly have made? All you ever do is work. You have absolutely no social life, outside of me.”
“I know, but Bristol Kelly just called and is taking me to some big-to-do fundraiser thing. I will make so many contacts with this thing. I can’t pass it up.”
Macall smiled and rolled her eyes. “Always working. Even when a handsome man asks you out, you only go on a business pretense.”
“Macall, it’s not a date.”
“You told him it wasn’t a date, didn’t you! I can’t believe you, Monet. The man likes you. He asked you on a date.”
“No. It’s not like that.”
“Look, just have fun tonight and try not to think of it so much as a business affair, okay. We’ll do the movie another night.”
Macall gave her a quick hug and then Monet was once again rushing toward the elevator which would ultimately lead her to another evening in the company of Bristol Kelly.
~ * ~
“You look fabulous,” Bristol said with a smile as he looked at her from the other side of her door.
“Thank you.” She smiled and looked down, a bit of color touching her cheeks. Though the silk gown clung gracefully to her figure and the soft pink color gave a natural glow to her skin, she did not feel fabulous. Nice or maybe even pretty, but certainly not fabulous.
“What’s this? You are shy tonight?”
As she looked up, and really looked at him for the first time that evening, her breath caught in her throat. Some men looked awkward at best in tuxedos but Bristol Kelly might well have invented the form of dress. His body fit perfectly inside the garment, as though they were made for each other. Then she reminded herself that he was the kind of man who undoubtedly did have this suit, not only especially tailored for him but designed for him as well.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t expect you to show up on the other side of my door.”
“Who did you expect?”
“I don’t know.”
“You thought I had people waiting on me hand and foot?” he accused with an amused grin. “Sweetheart, I’m not the kind of man to have a man servant.” He chuckled.
She smiled, thrilled at his use of such an endearing term towards her. No one had ever called her something as innocently sweet as ‘sweetheart.’ She’d been called ‘baby,’ ‘hot stuff,’ ‘sexy,’ and much more embarrassing things. But ‘sweetheart’ made her actually feel innocent and almost beautiful.
Taking hold of his arm, he escorted her to the limo. Never having ridden in a limo before, she felt like a child at Christmas time. Excitement overwhelmed her as she stepped inside the vehicle. The interior was spacious and elegant, she felt as though she truly could be Cinderella on her way to a royal ball with her prince. Bristol – her imaginary prince for the evening – sat next to her and she fancied that he sat a little closer than perhaps he should, considering the duration of their acquaintance.
Shaking her head of curls, for she had piled her nutmeg hair on top of her head tonight, she scolded herself for thinking such things of this man. True, his way of life was undoubtedly exciting and he was far too handsome for his own good, but she could not allow her mind to linger on such romantic notions toward him. The only relationship she could have with this man was a business relationship. Anything else was out of the question. Romantic relationships within business relationships usually went very wrong and destroyed more than a person’s heart.
“Is there anything I should know ahead of time about this event?” Monet asked, trying to get her own mind off the man sitting next to her.
“To be honest, most of these people are a little stuffy. The fundraiser is for a children’s hospital here in town, but most of the people attending are there to donate for the prestige it will win them,” Bristol explained.
“Why would you donate to a cause as a means to look good in front of others?” Monet didn’t understand why someone would be more concerned about their own popularity as opposed to the health and well being of someone less fortunate.
Bristol shrugged. “I do it because I would not want my child to be hopelessly dying because I was too poor to pay for the care. So, I do it for the kids.” A hint of emotion tainted his voice.
“Is there anyone I should be wary of tonight?”
A look of surprise crossed his face as he looked at her. “You aren’t planning to leave me high and dry tonight, are you?”
“Good. You’ll have to walk home if you do.” He chuckled.
She smiled and tried to state her question in a different light. “I was asking in case I get separated from you for some reason. Or so I don’t put my foot in my mouth, like I’m doing right now.” She trailed off, utterly humiliated. In trying to dig herself out of the hole she had dug, she simply dug herself in deeper.
“Don’t worry, sweetheart. I’m not letting you out of my sight.” Bristol patted her hand and winked. “As for whom to avoid, most aren’t too bad. A few are flirts, but you’ll be able to spot them coming a mile away.”
~ * ~
Between the time Bristol had picked her up to the time they arrived at the hotel where the fundraiser was being held, it had started raining. As was a common staple in every vehicle in Oregon, Bristol reached under the seat to retrieve an umbrella and opened it as he got out of the limo. He held it over the door so Monet would not be exposed to the elements and she emerged with as much grace as she could muster.
He smiled at her and she latched onto his arm, attempting to smile back. Walking into the foyer, Bristol took her wrap and checked them in, along with his overcoat and umbrella, before escorting her to an elevator which took them to the top floor of the hotel. As the hotel doors opened, they emerged into an enormous room, almost entirely lined by windows. She gasped. The room, dimly lit by chandeliers and the lights of the evening, along with the soft music coming from the string quartet in the corner created a magical atmosphere. Elegant gowns and starched tuxes rustled around the room and Monet once again felt underdressed for the occasion.
Bristol smiled at her encouragingly and she managed to somehow follow him. Instantly, they were seized upon by a rotund woman in a boisterous green dress.
“Bristol Kelly!” she exclaimed. “I told Ronald you would be here but he was convinced you flew back to L.A. this morning.”
“How could I possibly give up the opportunity to see you, Mrs. Stewart?” Bristol charmed the older woman.
“Oh ho! You beautiful boy!” Mrs. Stewart cried. “And who is this doll?”
“Mrs. Stewart, this is Monet Carlson of CS Designs.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Monet said as she offered the woman a gloved hand.
“Yes, indeed.” The woman eyed Monet skeptically from top to bottom before turning her attention back to Bristol. “Well, Bristol, I need to be off. Lori Allred is said to be donating twice her sum of last year and I simply can’t have anyone out donate me this year. I’ll see you around, love,” she said without a second glance to Monet and a lingering kiss on Bristol’s cheek.
Monet couldn’t help but let out a little laugh as she saw the lip stick marks on his cheek. Reaching into her hand bag, she retrieved a white handkerchief, licked it and wiped the lip stick from his face. He chuckled. “My mother use to wipe my face like that too.”
“Well, I certainly hope you don’t look at me as your motherly figure.”
His eyes sparkled as he grabbed her wrist. “Believe me, sweetheart. The thought couldn’t be further from my mind.” He kissed her gloved hand and time seemed to stop. She felt uncomfortable being in the spotlight of his constant gaze, but at the same time found it impossible to look away. He was so genuine that she found it difficult not to feel flattered and special. Yet in the back of her mind, a voice of experience yelled at her to keep her head. Nothing was ever as innocent as it seemed.
Shaking her head and bringing her thoughts back to reality, she tore her eyes from his. As they walked slowly around the room, Bristol introduced her to many people, some of whom she’d heard of before, others she had not. In the process, they met up with a man who seemed different than all the other men she had previously met this evening. When they came upon him, Bristol shook hands heartily with the man and his eyes lit up with excitement. Thus far this evening, he had shown no such enthusiasm in meeting anyone else.
“Where’s your wife?” Bristol asked the blond haired man.
“She has a migraine and the last place she wanted to be tonight was here,” the man explained.
“Send her my love and I’ll try and give her a call tomorrow.”
The man nodded. Apparently, whatever connection these two men shared was through the man’s wife, though Monet wondered what interest Bristol had in her.
“Who is this angel?” the man asked as he looked past Bristol to see Monet.
Bristol turned to Monet and she had little choice but to step forward. “This is Monet Carlson. She and I have recently signed a contract together. She agreed to accompany me tonight so I wouldn’t fall prey to all the ‘Mrs. Stewarts’ of the crowd.” The other man laughed and nodded in understanding. “Monet, this is Zack Perry.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Monet. Don’t let this old bag of sticks ruin your spirits too much. He’s simply glowing with you by his side.” Zack winked at Bristol and Monet thought Bristol blushed, but he turned his head too quickly to be certain.
“Zack,” Bristol said, “is a policeman here in Portland. He’s been on the force for, what? Six years?”
“Seven,” Zack mumbled, his hand stuffing a strawberry in his mouth.
“But his wife hates it,” Bristol supplied.
Zack swallowed. “True. She wishes I’d go into investigation or something like that. But I enjoy what I do, despite its occasional dangers.”
“Are you in danger frequently?” Monet asked.
Bristol and Zack laughed. “I guess that would depend on what you viewed as danger,” Bristol said.
“My wife thinks any time I’m on patrol, or put on my badge, I’m in danger. But in all honesty, she could be in just as much danger driving to the grocery store. It’s all in how you look at it.”
“I suppose.” Monet thought that Zack’s wife was probably justified in her concerns for her husband’s welfare. “Do you have any hobbies that are not quite so adventurous?”
“Every time Bristol’s in town, we try to hit up a game or two.” Zack nudged Bristol in the arm.
“You’re sports fans?” Monet asked.
“Not really,” Bristol supplied. “But it’s fun to go to a game once in a while.”
“We hit up basketball or baseball or football; whatever strikes our fancy. Besides, it gets us away from life for a few hours,” Zack said.
“Or we go play golf,” Bristol said with a smile.
“Yes. Oh, golf is the sport of the Gods,” Zack sighed.
Monet giggled at his theatrics. “What makes you say that?”
“Golf is quite relaxing,” Zack defended.
“Yes, and invigorating,” added Bristol.
“And very boring and infuriating,” Monet said with a smile.
“It is not!” both men said at the same time.
“Perhaps this is another issue of perspective.” Monet tried to hide her grin but failed miserably.
“I think you’ve got that right,” Zack said with a chuckle. He allowed his eyes to linger on Monet for a moment before looking over to Bristol and then back at Monet. She could see the questions in his eyes; the speculation and the theories forming in his head. Fortunately, he chose not to say anything about them and changed the subject. “What kind of business venture are you two on together?”
With a subject such as this being opened up, Monet felt completely at ease at speaking her mind and did not shy away from expressing her views and ideas. Business was something she knew and she was good at it. As she spoke, with Bristol commenting from time to time, the two men watched her with interest and admiration. Yet this did not deter her, for she was neither ashamed nor bashful about her job and had no qualms about sharing her thoughts with others.
The remainder of the evening was spent primarily in the company of Zack and Bristol. Monet found that the two men made her feel safe and comfortable. She enjoyed her time with them, and though she did meet many other people, no one held her attention like these two men did.
True to his word, Bristol introduced her to nearly everyone there and among them were potential clients. In fact, by the end of the fundraiser, she felt happy for the first time in many years and felt fulfilled. Whether those feelings were due to attending the event or being in Bristol Kelly’s presence for an entire evening, she didn’t know.
“Let us take you home,” Bristol said to Zack, as the trio was preparing to depart the hotel for the evening.
“Are you sure?” Zack asked Bristol, but focused his eyes on Monet.
“Of course,” Monet said with a smile. The thought of saying good night to Zack was almost as unbearable as the thought of saying good night to Bristol, though not quite.