Return of the Bad Boy

By: Jessica Lemmon

She’d done that in her past life when she worked for the Dawn Lisner Agency. The place was massive and Glo had been so green. She’d learned the ropes under Dawn’s tutelage, which she’d appreciated, but once she had it down, she walked away. It was a hard decision. She wasn’t allowed to take any of her clients with her, so she had to start from scratch. But starting from scratch was what Gloria did best in life, and as she’d proven to herself shortly after, was also completely capable of in business.

He leaned forward in his seat and wrapped one hand around his espresso. “What I want, Gloria, is a partnership. You and me, we work our asses off. Imagine if we joined forces. Became a team. Double the clientele. Double our income. Probably triple it in the first year.”

“Partners?” Gloria’s throat closed off at the word. She wasn’t a great partner. She was at best an “okay” friend. She blamed her upbringing. Dead dad plus druggie mom plus foster homes plus dropping out of high school hadn’t exactly made a foundation for forging solid relationships. “Why would you want a partner?”

He was a lone wolf if she’d ever seen one.

“I’m crazy busy. I don’t even have time to sit here with you.” He grinned again, and she smiled at him and shook her head. “This is about being able to take a vacation. Being able to breathe. Sharing the load. And Chicago, no matter what you say, would look much better on you than this.” He gestured at a group of twentysomethings with plastic cups full of beer at the outdoor bar next door. “Whatever is going on around here.”

“It’s a vacation town.”

“Don’t you miss the hustle?”

“I thought you wanted to relax.”

Brice sat back in his chair, one arm dangling, the other hand on his espresso mug. Then he waited.

Gloria tapped her mug with her fingernail a few times before she said, “I…I just got here. I can’t leave.”

He sat up and leaned his elbows on the table. “It’s not like you’ve dug in yet. You just got here a few months ago. Your apartment, your workplace, all temporary.”

“I’ll miss my friends,” she said, but the argument felt weak. Wasn’t she just thinking about how her friends had paired off? About how she was the one who was on the outside of the Cove’s big hug?

“You travel. You’ll make it happen.” He shrugged with his mouth. “Think about it, Glo. You and me could make beautiful music together.”

“You and I,” she corrected.

“See how badly I need you?” He smiled again.

She sipped her coffee, disturbed that she should be adamantly refusing his offer and instead was considering it. She’d been here only a few months. Gloria Shields did not run. She stuck. No matter what. When her mother gave up everything for the needle, when her grandmother’s mind splintered, when Gloria herself had to go it alone not knowing how or if she’d make it…

When the man you secretly lust after purchased your dream house out from under you.

“I don’t run,” she stated.

“If anything, you ran from Chicago. You’d be going back.”

That silenced her.

Their plates arrived and Brice chatted throughout the meal about clients and the industry in general. About his new office in Chicago, his new apartment. About how he missed going to movies and enjoyed dinner cooked by someone other than himself.

“It’s a lonely business,” he said in a rare display of honesty.

It was.

“But it could be less lonely.” Brice dropped his napkin on his plate like a gauntlet.

The offer and his level gaze clogged the air for a few tense seconds until his phone rang. It was the third time since their food arrived, and he’d ignored the calls until now.

He looked at the screen. “Damn. I have to get this.”

She nodded her understanding.

“Mickey, hang on.” He pressed the phone to his chest and dropped a hundred-dollar bill on the table. “Think about it, Glo. Chicago calls.” He leaned down and kissed the corner of her mouth. “See you around.”

She watched his confident exit from the restaurant as he talked on the phone and made his way to a car parked across the street. As he ducked into the rented sedan and pulled from the curb, Gloria was shocked to find that his offer had taken up a bit of her headspace.

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