This Christmas, I’ll be getting a visit from a man in a suit, only it won’t be Santa.
Let me first say: Reed York was never my boyfriend. He was the pen. I was the company ink. Though if you want to get technical, we were more like colleagues-who-hated-each-other … with benefits.
Everything was fine until the charming jerk went behind my back, stole my promotion, and became my boss—literally overnight.
Refusing to work beneath him (professionally speaking and otherwise), I transferred 2,014 miles away to our Chicago division, and I’ve spent the past year trying to remember how much I hated his panty-melting smirk so I can forget how much I secretly loved the way his ocean eyes lit every time I walked into the room.
But he’s just announced a last-minute site visit the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and on top of that, he’s audaciously designated me as his ‘right hand gal’ during his visit. If he thinks he has a snowball’s chance in this hell at getting back in my good graces, he’s got another thing coming.
Reed York might be a man used to getting everything he’s ever wanted, but Joa Jolivet is a woman that never forgets.
He can put me on his Christmas list all he wants, but everyone knows naughty boys only get coal.
Last Christmas was a nightmare of epic proportions, but fortunately, the sole asshole responsible for that hot mess is light years away.
Two thousand and fourteen miles away, to be exact.
He couldn’t ruin my holidays if he tried.
“You wanted to see me?” I stand in the doorway of my boss’ office Friday afternoon and check my watch. I was supposed to leave after lunch today, but he sent an email asking me to meet him at one o’clock for a quick chat. He ended his email with his signature smiley-face, so I’m not worried, but it doesn’t make me any less annoyed at the fact that I should be at home right now, peeling out of this pantsuit and kicking off these toe-pinching heels as I fix myself a Hot Toddy and watch The Family Stone for the fifth time this month.
“Shut the door, please, Joa, will you?” Smiley-face Harold folds his hands across his desk, waiting.
“Is everything okay?” I take a seat in the chair across from him. “You’re making me nervous. Is this about the Gilliam account? Because I heard from Julie, and they’re signing first thing after the New Year.”
“No, no.” Harold flashes a tender smile that dissipates a moment later. “Corporate is coming next week.”
I wrinkle my nose. “Corporate? Why?”
Harold shrugs. “Your guess is as good as mine. But they’re sending the CFO.”
My stomach turns. “What? Why?”
“I don’t know, Joa. This is news to me too.” Harold’s liver-spotted forehead creases and he reaches for a pen, tapping it on his desk and twirling it between his fingers. In the year that I’ve worked under this man, I’ve yet to see him break a sweat over anything, but he can’t sit still to save his life right now.
“Are you familiar with Mr. York? From your time at the LA branch?” he asks, referring to the current CFO of Genesis Financial Securities. Turns out the position he stole from me a year ago was nothing more than a stepping stone for him, a mere rung on a ladder. He wasn’t Vice President of Acquisitions more than four months before he was tapped for the CFO spot.
Must be hard getting everything you’ve ever wanted with the flash of your brilliant white smile …
No one ever said life was fair, but news of his promotion was a kick in the teeth that I remedied with an entire bottle of Pinot Noir and a two-hour rant session to my Chi-Town work bestie, Lucy Clarke.
“I … know of him. Why do you ask?” I answer his question with one of my own.
Harold places the pen flat on his desk and folds his hands before leaning forward. “He’s asked for your assistance during his tenure here.”
I snort. “I’d be happy to recommend a concierge service. Chicago is full of them. And tenure? What do you mean tenure? How long is he planning to stay?”
Harold blows a breath through pursed lips and shakes his head. “I don’t know. His email said it would be the week leading up to Christmas and possibly through New Year’s, with an extension if necessary.”
“This is a really busy time for me …” I say, hoping he doesn’t call my bluff and pull up my calendar. Last I looked I had all of three standing appointments between now and January fourth.
Harold offers an apologetic half wince. “Joa… he asked for you personally. He wants you to be his right-hand gal, so to speak. He’s my boss. He’s your boss, too, if we want to get technical. We’re not in any kind of position to tell him no.”
I choke on my spit when I try to respond, and then the words get lost.
“Firstly,” I manage to say, “I’m an acquisitions coordinator for the Chicago territory. I’m not a coffee runner or reservation maker or dry cleaner picker-upper.”
Harold places his hand out, maybe to stop me, maybe to imply that he understands, but I go on.
“I’m sorry, Harold. I’ve always done what you’ve asked me to do, but I can’t do this.”
He frowns, an unusual expression for Smiley Face Harold. “I’m sorry. My hands are tied on this.”
“Then I’ll tell him ‘no’ myself.” I rise from my chair, my feet aching, my dress nearly strangling the air from my lungs.
Harold examines me, probably wondering what this is about. And I don’t blame him. I never told him why I transferred from LA to Chicago, and he never asked. He’s always been hands-off like that, a trait I’ve grown to appreciate. And he’s always gone to bat for his staff. But he’s powerless as far as Reed’s absurd request goes, so I’ll have to deal with him myself.
A year of trying to forget his cedar and vetiver cologne and the way that gaze of his lit like a struck match every time I walked into the room, a year of deleting his bullshit company-wide emails and purposely scheduling client meetings and lunches during branch-wide conference calls so I didn’t have to hear the velvet tenor of his voice … only to be forced to endure his presence in the very refuge I sought to escape him – is the very definition of unfair.
“Joa …” Harold stands, tugging on the hem of his suit jacket. “I would heavily advise against that.”
“All right. I’m off.” I walk to the door, ignoring his unsolicited advice. “See you Monday.”
Slinging my bag over my shoulder, I make it all the way to the elevator before the reality of the situation turns my legs to gelatin and sucks the Christmas-scented air from my lungs.
I don’t know why he’s coming or what he wants, but if it’s me – he’s wasting his very expensive, CFO-salaried time.
A blink later, I’m adjusting my knit hat and dashing through the slushy Chicago sidewalks to catch the L to quaint, suburban Mills Haven, where I reside in a charming brick brownstone half a mile from my childhood home, four blocks from my sister and her family, a half hour from my brother in Wicker Park, and a world away from my life back in LA—which is equal parts bittersweet and promising.
Giant snowflakes melt on my face as I pass carolers and bell ringers. Digging into the bottom of my bag, I grab a handful of change and deposit it into a red kettle before locating my Ventra pass.
The past year has been an adjustment but in the best of ways. I’ve found my footing back home—which is crazy because all I ever wanted to do growing up was live anywhere but here.
The Chicago team is smaller than the LA team. More family-like. More personable. Much less drama. There are eleven of us—and I know everyone’s spouses’ names, whether or not they have pets, and how they take their coffee or if they prefer tea, if they’re on some kind of Intermittent Fasting Keto diet this week or if they recently discovered the evils of gluten.
My place in Mills Haven is a little cheaper and a little bigger than my apartment in LA was. And I’ve spent every major holiday plus every Sunday dinner at my parents’ house, which I’ll admit is a lot more enjoyable when I’m not on the other side of a computer screen partaking via Skype. I’ve caught up with old friends from high school. Dated a couple of nice-as-pie average Joes who were a tall drink of the most refreshing water compared to Reed, and next year, I’ve decided to get a dog.
Life is good.
And once I get through these next couple of weeks, it’ll be even better.
This is just a minor hiccup, an annoyance. That’s all. Like a rash you have to ignore until it clears up.
I refuse to let him ruin another Christmas.
Past – Joa
“Everyone, I’d like you to meet Joa Jolivet.” Genesis Financial Securities president and founder Elliot Grosvenor introduces me in front of no less than twenty-five staffers, but in a sea of unfamiliar faces, a striking set of diamond-blue eyes catch my attention.
With hair the color of Pacific coast sand, a stone gray suit that strains against his shoulders, and a panty-melting smirk on his full lips, I make a mental note to steer clear of that one.
There’s heartbreak written all over him.
“Joa brings with her a masters’ degree in business administration from Purdue University with a focus on finance,” Elliot continues. A girl in a white blouse yawns and checks her manicure. A guy next to her checks his Apple watch. “Her thesis was on the effect of cryptocurrency on the private financial sector. Quite an impressive read. Highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t yet. Anyway, Joa, we’re thrilled to have you here, and I have no doubt you’ll fit right in.”
“Thank you, Elliot,” I say from my seat. “Excited to be here.”
God, I sound like a dweeb, but honestly, I couldn’t care less. I’ve just landed my dream job working in the budding cryptocurrency industry. Nothing else really matters.
Diamond Eyes is still staring at me, his thumb sliding up and down his silver pen.
My attention diverts to Grosvenor as he mentions a couple of bullet point items and dismisses us a moment later.
The team files out and a couple of people stop and introduce themselves, but Diamond Eyes takes his sweet time.
I imagine he’s the kind of guy who always gets what he wants with the flash of his perfect smile. Unfortunately for him, I won’t be had that easily.
I didn’t come here to date.
And I don’t do the whole pen-and-company-ink thing.
The SoCal Adonis in the gray suit makes his way over, laser-focused, and I swallow the lump in my throat and straighten my shoulders.
“Reed York,” he says with guarded authority. “You’re on my team.”
“There are four of us, right?” I ask.
“And we all do the same thing?”
His sparkling gaze squints. “Right.”
“So it’s not technically … your … team,” I say.
“Semantics.” He studies me for a minute before shaking his head and wiping the smirk off his distractingly kissable mouth. “You’re going to keep me on my toes. I can already tell.”
“Meaning is everything,” I say. “I minored in communications.”
“Yeah, well, I’m more of a numbers guy,” he says. “Anyway, Phillips tasked me with training you, so … lucky you.”
He flashes a smile that sends an electric zing to my core.
As long as he keeps his pen from my ink, we should have nothing to worry about.