If Fiona stood on the top-floor balcony of a New York skyscraper, would the city below look the same as it did from her Salt Lake City apartment—lights reaching out in neat rows for miles. Cars and people at quarter size?
Buildings would interrupt. The people would look like ants, and the cars like Hot Wheels.
Parker could tell her for certain. She glanced at the party behind her. With the patio door blocking her off, the only sound came from the couple of other people out here with her. It was an odd soundtrack, overlapping with the noiseless heads inside.
Parker stood more or less in the middle of it all, wearing a happy look that made Fiona grin even from out here. She wanted her best friend to herself for at least a few hours, but the two of them could catch up when his welcome back party was over. She didn’t blame their friends for tying up his time. He’d been gone for months, seeing the world and sharing his video diary with the internet. Everyone wanted to say hello but also get the details Parker didn’t share on YouTube.
Fiona turned her gaze back to the city below. The same one she’d seen every day, her entire life. The angle had changed as she moved from place to place, but the details were the same.
Behind her, the door slid open and shut with a soft woosh, but she didn’t turn. A second later, someone rested a hand on the small of her back.
“Why are you hiding out here?” Parker asked.
She couldn’t fight her smile. “It’s not my party. I figured I’d let your adoring fans have you for a few hours, and I’d steal your time tomorrow, when you’d be too hungover to hold your tongue.”
“It’s an evil plan. I like it.”
She spun to face him, and he wrapped her in a hug. More than six inches taller than her five-four, he lifted her feet off the ground when he gave her a tight squeeze. She couldn’t help but notice the months on the road had been kind to him. His body was chiseled and hard beneath her, and if he weren’t her best friend, she’d be tempted to drool. Would it be appropriate to trace her finger along those lines shadowed under his T-shirt, down his chest, to feel that yummy V he didn’t have a problem showing off in his videos?
She shook the thoughts aside and stepped back so she could see his face without having to tilt her head too much.
He studied his shoes and the open air behind her but didn’t meet her gaze.
“What’s up?” she asked. They’d known each other since they were kids, and she was decent at reading him, but a nearsighted kitten with a fresh plate of food would see he had something to say and was hesitating.
“I have a question for you, but I already know you’re going to say no. I’m trying to figure out how to build up the hype around it.”
“The odds of me telling you no to anything are pretty slim.” Which she didn’t mind. He would do—and had done—the same for her.
He finally looked up, green eyes pale in the night. “This is different.”
“Melodramatic much?” She tugged him toward a pair of lawn chairs in the corner and sat across from him. “Dragging it out like this isn’t hype; it’s false expectation.”
He chuckled. “I don’t want that. Here’s the back story. I’ve been invited to participate in competition sponsored by Rinslet Multimedia. Think reality TV, but actually real. They’ve extended invitations to some of the top-watched streaming channels. Basically, we do what we’ve always done, but with some of their rules. Basic stuff. Livestream at least eight hours a week, in segments of an hour or more. Post a minimum of an additional eight hours of footage a week.”
“So… what’s the hook? What’s the contest?” It didn’t sound very unique to her.
“Every month, viewers vote one channel off, and Rinslet removes another that has the lowest views. In month twelve, there will be six remaining channels, and one of those gets a sponsorship contract. Salary plus expenses for another year, as an official Rinslet channel.”
“That’s fantastic. You’re perfect for it.”
He ducked his head, but it didn’t hide his smugness. “Yeah. I am. There’s only one thing I haven’t figured out yet. I need a hook. Something more than what I’m already doing, to keep things interesting. Between you and me, we’ll come up with something amazing.”
“You want me to help you brainstorm?” That sounded like fun. “Why would I say no to that?”
He raised his brows. “I want you to go with me. You’re not happy here. You’re wasting your talent. I know you want to do more. Make it this.”
“I’m fine here.” The words slipped out without thought. She meant them too. Didn’t she? She wasn’t miserable with what she was doing. It was good work, decent money, and a place she knew. But the urge to take back her not-quite-no hovered at the tip of her tongue.
“Is that a no?” he asked.
Of course he’d call her on it. “Nick is working on a new project, and I’m helping. He needs me here.”
“What’s he doing?”
“Think GrubHub, but for home-baked goodies.” Her brother’s pitch flew to mind without effort. She’d heard it so many times, it repeated in her head whenever her thoughts were blank. “We have contracts with a series of couriers around the world, and, we match people who sell sweets with people who want to buy them, have them delivered as gifts, etcetera.”
“It’s okay.” It was brilliant. Nick had a solid idea, and she loved it. But her part in things wasn’t that challenging. Damn Parker for making her think about that. It didn’t matter. Work was work, and it didn’t have to be Disneyland fun as long as it was something that paid the bills and that she could get behind.
“Wow. Sell me some more.” Teasing sarcasm lined Parker’s words.
The patio door slid open. “You two going to come back inside? Join the fun?”
“On our way,” Parker said. He stood and tugged Fiona to her feet. “Think about it. When I leave to do this, I want to take you with me.”
“You were right the first time—the answer is no. I’m sorry.”
He shook his head. “I’ll give you a few days, but I won’t mention it again. Probably.”
“Thanks.” She stuck her tongue out. They headed back inside.
As the party wore on, then wound down, Parker’s offer never left the front of her thoughts. She wanted it to go away, but it clung to her. She had a life here. Bills to pay. A lease. Nick’s business. It wasn’t as though she could just pick up and go.
A pit inside grew larger each time she thought of another reason she had to be here. But of course she’d want to go with Parker. That was carefree and whimsical. Staying was the adult, responsible thing to do. That was life, plain and simple.
The pounding beat of Something in Your Mouth throbbed against Wyatt’s eardrums. His issue with that, besides the fact that the song wore out its welcome in strip clubs years ago, was it wasn’t the kind of music he thought should have teeth-rattling bass.
He shouldn’t complain about the environment. He was surrounded by gorgeous women taking off their clothes, and the drinks went on his expense account.
And Chuck Edwards looked like a boy at Christmas, with his face all-but buried in Ginny’s tits.
If the client was happy, Wyatt was happy. What would the clientele of Grammie’s Pastries say if they saw how the company’s Vice President of International Distribution defined Goodie Basket?
Wyatt slipped a twenty into Ginny’s garter, for another table dance. She glanced at him, lips drawn in a thin line. She was less-than-impressed with Chuck and his tendency to accidentally grope her whenever he got the chance.
Wyatt mouthed thank you.
She turned back to Chuck, who was too focused on what was below her neck to notice the exchange of looks. Wyatt owed Ginny a bigger thank you later, though the tips would help make it better. The two became instant friends the first time he brought a perspective sale here, and she knew how to work the table.
Chuck reached for her, and she shimmied away with a giggle.
That was at least the fifth time tonight. Wyatt was losing count. He was trying to be patient, but they’d been here four hours. The blend of sweat, perfume, cologne, and alcohol that lingered in the air had become one with his suit jacket. There were blasts of cool, if someone was lucky to get a seat under a vent, but he hadn’t been lucky.
“Did you have any other questions about the contract?” Wyatt asked. This signature meant great things for the courier service he worked for. Having the smiling Grammie next to their beige-colored logo, would do amazing things for marketing. It also meant a Senior Vice President of Sales position for Wyatt.
Chuck waved a hand, not sparing Wyatt a glance. “No, no. I’ve got the information I need.”
Then why the fuck are we still here? Wyatt didn’t have a problem with the dancers or anything about the club itself, but too many of the clientele reeked of desperation and shame. Chuck included. It was a pity. People should own their pleasures, not tuck them away in a room where they could barely see past their table.
Forty-five minutes later, they stumbled out to Wyatt’s car, Chuck’s arm slung around Wyatt’s shoulder. Chuck more fell than sat in the passenger seat.
Wyatt breathed deep, searing the humid night air into his lungs, then exhaled and got in the BMW sedan. He pointed the car toward Chuck’s hotel. “Can I tell my boss we’ve got a done deal?” he asked. He had to get at least a handshake and a yes before the client flew out tomorrow.
“I don’t know.” Chuck managed to slur the hard syllables.
Fuck-fuckity-fuck-fuck-fuck. “What can I do to make that a yes?”
“Listen… We’re looking for something with a more personal touch. You’re an international conglomerate. We don’t want guys in navy shirts and shorts manhandling our sweets on delivery. We’re Grammie’s Fucking Pastries.”
Which was a bullshit answer, because the way the delivery drivers dressed wasn’t new information. “We can do personal.” As Wyatt spoke, he searched for how he’d spin a proposal like that to the people at the office. It didn’t matter; this contract had to happen. “A change in appearance, specifically for you, if that’s what’s required. And no manhandling. We have years of experience and a solid insurance policy to back up our reputation.”
“And you can do that all at a lower cost? Because we’re considering a company that already offers the personalized touch and is more cost effective.”
All of which Chuck knew five hours ago, before Wyatt spent hundreds of dollars on boobs and booze.
“Tell you what.” Wyatt never let his friendly tone waver. “Now that I have a better idea of what you’re looking for, give me time to come back to you with a customized proposal. I’ll work the numbers, I’ll speak with Global, and I’ll come back to you with a new quote.”
“I’ll get you new numbers within a week. You’ll be back in town in a month, for the Grammie’s Pastries Bake-Off. Fly in a few days early, and we’ll do another night on the town. You can give me your final answer then.”
Still no answer.
Wyatt swallowed a growl. “Ginny would love to see you again. I’ve never seen her warm to someone like she did with you.” He was going to owe her big time.
“All right.” Chuck sounded like the answer took all his effort. “One month. But I’m signing paperwork that weekend, whether it’s with them or with you.”
“I wouldn’t expect any less.” Wyatt felt as though his smile was plastered in place. There was no way he could pull this off for less than the existing quote, especially with the personalization requirement. It would cost the company a fortune.
But it would do amazing things for their marketing, and he was going to get that fucking Senior Vice President promotion. He didn’t care who he had to go through.
USA Today Bestselling Author Allyson Lindt is a full-time geek and a fuller-time contemporary romance author. She likes her stories with sweet geekiness and heavy spice, and loves a sexy happily-ever-after. Because cubicle dwellers need love too.