Part 4: Needed by the Billionaire
Chapter 1 – Alyssa
A lot has changed in my life since Julian Marcus called me up to his office one fateful Friday night.
Two months. It has been two months, and I barely recognize the life I used to live.
I’m still Alyssa the college student. I’m still Alyssa the office worker. But I’m also Alyssa the girlfriend of the Julian Marcus. Two months ago, I definitely felt like I was in the biggest sugar baby situation to ever slam into rainy-ass Portland. Everything was precarious. At any moment, Julian would realize how boring I was, how not-a-virgin I was since he first fucked me, and move on to another woman who whetted his appetite. I lived with that knowledge, and told myself I wouldn’t get attached.
Then a month passed, and I realized that… not only do I have some feelings for Julian, but he has feelings for me.
No, he hasn’t told me about them yet. He’s not the kind of guy to say I love you even a year later. I don’t need anyone to tell me that, either. I can tell after spending almost every single day with him since we first hooked up.
Other things have changed, however.
While Julian and I grow closer, antagonism springs up in his otherwise peaceful executive office. While I learn my trade better and apprentice beneath Vern, one of the greatest assistants on the west coast, strife rips open between Preston Bradley and the other interns I used to work with.
When I started working here, there were ten of us. Five men and five women. Ten of the most coveted intern spots in Portland, let alone the Pacific Northwest. I got the last spot by the skin of my teeth – I’m super at interviews, and I made sure my grades and references were the best they could possibly be when I applied last semester. When Preston Bradley personally interviewed me during the final round, his natural charisma made me feel comfortable enough to nail that interview.
(Who knew I’d be fucking the other half of Bradley & Marcus a few weeks later, though…)
When I was promoted because Julian wanted me on the same floor as him, I left a hole behind. A hole that everyone was able to cover because it wasn’t like I contributed a whole lot anyway. Now, however?
I walk downstairs on a bright, late spring day and find not one, but two desks empty. The other interns scramble themselves a bit more ragged to cover the holes. When Vern doesn’t have a whole lot for me to do, I sometimes pop down here to help fill in, especially if one of the interns had to call out for one reason or another. Not like I needed any training to do a job I used to do anyway. Hey, I’m actually a boon now, because I know exactly what Mr. Marcus wants! Trust me when I say his personal instructions could be a bit clearer and not as loaded with his personal jargon…
But, yes. Someone else has been fired since I was promoted.
Cher. I had no idea she was so jealous of me that she started spreading lies to Mr. Bradley, who then passed them on to my boyfriend. When I discovered she was the reason Julian had me suddenly take a bunch of STD tests “to be on the safe side?” Even I was pretty pissed at her. I knew Cher had a volatile personality who was good at putting on a front to get positions like the one she had, but damn! That was so not okay. And while we had a budding friendship by the time we went out partying together one fateful night, I couldn’t blame Julian firing her once his personal security chief found out who was behind the rumors.
I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t blame him.
I don’t know what happened to Cher. I mean, one minute she was here, being a bitchy thorn in my side but otherwise harmless, and next she was packing up her desk and calling me a skank-ass-ho on her way out the door. None of the other interns know what happened to her, either. She goes to a different school from me, so I don’t see her around my campus.
On days likes today, though, it’s hard for me to come downstairs and see that empty desk by the window. Even with her tanned skin and dark hair, Cher always wore the most colorful designer clothes, had loud earrings dangling from her ears, and rainbow-colored pumps that slammed against the floor wherever she walked. The other interns are so drab compared to her. A sea of black, navy blue, gray, light brown, and white. They also don’t have the same colorful personality.
Who knew I’d miss her crazy ass? I had actually felt sorry for her. Because for a while I thought she was jealous of me sleeping with Julian. Turned out she crushed on Mr. Bradley!
“I heard something about you guys needing an extra hand?” I say to Lizzie, one of the remaining interns. She drops her smartphone and leans back in her seat when I address her.
“Yeah. We’re editing the new tech manual going out in a few days. All hands on deck. We’ve divided it up in chunks, but our brains are so fried reading through it, that…” She gestures to her chunk sprawled out on her desk. Highlighters and Post-Its litter everything, but that Candy Crush game has obviously been going on for a while on Lizzie’s phone. Can’t blame her. My head already hurts from staring at the tiny, technical print. “Kill me, Lyssa.”
I flinch, because that’s what Julian calls me when we’re alone, and I’m not used to other people adopting it. Not even my parents ever called me that. “Can’t do that. So I’m here to help you. Give me the last section there and I’ll get to work at my old desk.”
“You’ll want these too, then.” She slides two highlighters in my direction. Yellow and pink. Classic. “I’ll also give you a copy of the instructions. I’ve memorized them by now.”
“Yeah, well, I wrote them.” I ain’t lying, either. I did not envy these interns when I wrote up these monotonous instructions and emailed them to everyone. Now I’m feeling the irony like a crowbar to the back of my head.
I take my section and the highlighters over to Cher’s old desk by the window. The expansive cityscape of downtown Portland looks so much different than it did two months ago. Gone are the dreary grey clouds and ominous rain of a long winter. Now it’s nothing but beautiful sunshine. Spring came late, but when it hit us, it was overnight!
It makes me excited thinking about the man I get to enjoy this summer with. I’m such a hopeless romantic, really. I imagine us sitting at outdoor restaurants, enjoying calm breezes, warm air, and the frivolous feelings a good IPA instills into us and the surrounding populace. Now, I’m no fool. I know Julian’s not going to be really into that, but…
I also think about his brother’s wedding happening next month.
Julian’s the best man, and I’m his date. It’s going to be the (gay) wedding of the summer around here, and I still don’t have a dress!
I barely hear the voice calling out my name from the doorway. It takes another, louder Ms. Pendleton! before I recognize Preston Bradley’s tenor summoning my attention.
Huh? What does he want from me? If Julian or Vern need something, they call me directly. This morning Julian sent me a bouquet of fresh cut roses for my desk… which I was kind enough to put on the receptionist’s desk to keep things bright and beautiful on an equally beautiful day.
He doesn’t look happy. Then again, he rarely looks happy around me.
“Oh!” I stand up from my seat. “Yes?”
“Can I see you in the conference room for a few minutes?” He walks away before I can confirm that I’ll follow him in there.
I send Lizzie a shrug before picking up my purse and following Mr. Bradley into the conference room. He’s already sitting by the window, with nothing but a mug of coffee from the breakroom to keep him company until I get there. Oh, no. What the hell is this about? Have I done something? This guy has been unhappy with my arrangement with Julian ever since we blew up two months ago.
Is this going to be an ultimatum?
“Have a seat, Ms. Pendleton.”
I sit two chairs away from him.
“Is everything all right, Mr. Bradley?”
“No.” He leans forward, hands folding on the table. “Everything is not all right.”
I gasp. Has something happened to Julian? “Please tell me. I want to help.”
“Oh, I know you do.” He furrows his light brown brows at me. “You’re very helpful, Ms. Pendleton. I daresay you’re too helpful.”
I brace myself. I can tell he’s going to change the subject before the words are even out of his mouth.
“How much do you actually care about Julian?”
All right. So I knew he was going to change the subject… but to that? Is he kidding?
“I… care for him very much. You must know that, Mr. Bradley.”
“Yes, yes, you care. But about what, exactly?”
Really? I’m used to these sorts of questions by now, but really? “I care about more than his money and being spoiled, I assure you.”
“I don’t doubt it. There are also his physical assets that are far from subpar.”
Did he make a sex joke? I know this guy owns half the strip clubs in Portland, but a sex joke? With me? In private? When he’s never shared that side of his humor with me since I started dating Julian? He’s kidding!
Flustered, I say the first thing to come to mind. “I care about his whole package, thank you. It’s hard for a woman to not care when a man shows her as much attention as Julian has.”
“At least you admit it, Ms. Pendleton.” The hell does that mean? “Forgive me for prying into your motives. You have to understand that I’ve been put into a precarious situation since you and Julian started dating so openly.”
“Does this have to do with HR?”
“Not really. There are other issues at hand.”
I swallow, hard.
“I’m going to be blunt with you, Ms. Pendleton. Julian has not been as, shall we say… productive since becoming infatuated with you.” He crosses his legs and folds his hands across his lap. Behind him, the bright Portland skyline illuminates his bespoke Italian suit. Preston Bradley looks as young as he is, but you would never mistake him for an imposter in good duds like these. “He used to be the most dependable man I could ask to work with. To the point I often begged him to take time off so he wouldn’t wear himself down too quickly. He definitely wasn’t any use to the company if he burnt out. Do you see where I’m going with this?”
I bristle. This man is indirectly attacking me, and if you think that makes me feel anything akin to comfortable? Give me a break. “I have seen some of the numbers for myself, sir. Julian isn’t performing as well in the boardroom as he used to. I would hardly say he’s underperforming, however.”
“You’re right. His production levels are exactly where they need to be for us to carry on as usual.” Mr. Bradley levels the full force of his gaze toward me. “That’s the problem. Both he and I need to overperform. Or we lose money.”
I’m not dumb. I know exactly what he’s getting at. Between my classes and my experience in these situations? I also know exactly what to say. “You think I’m bringing him down. You think I’m bringing the whole company down.”
`“On purpose? No. What I think, Ms. Pendleton, is that you’re a young, naïve woman – and I don’t say that to intentionally offend or upset you – who is having the time of her life.”
He may not be going out of his way to offend me, but damn if he isn’t nailing it! Very few people have to see this side of Preston Bradley. Makes sense, though, that it would be someone like me who has to deal with it. Suppose I deserved it, eh?
“You’re right, Mr. Bradley. I am having the time of my life. Being loved by someone like Julian is very…”
He isn’t scoffing. He’s not even laughing. That is genuine surprise in his voice, like he can’t fathom a world in which Julian Marcus, his best friend and supposedly greatest confidant, loves someone like me. Or anyone, really. I know what Julian was like dating other women in his past. Trust me, I’ve heard all the stories. Including from him.
“That’s what I said, yes.”
“He’s told you that he loves you?”
Again, what is with this tone? “Well, no, but… I can tell?”
“Oh, Alyssa.” He sighs into his seat. Mr. Bradley almost never calls me by my first name. He’s professional to a fault like that when we’re at work. If people tell him to call me Ms. Pendleton, that’s what he’s calling me. “I honestly do not envy you.”
I could explain it to him. I could say that I can feel his growing emotions for me, but that I also understand that Julian is not the kind of guy who easily falls in love with people, if at all. Shit, I’ve met his family a few times now! His mother is a cold, witchlike woman. His father is off doing his own thing, and if it so happens that his sons have the same interests at him, then good! They can have a relationship! (So happens that Julian hates golfing. Guess what Mr. Marcus enjoys the most?) His brother is too much of a rival and living on another plane of existence for Julian to relate to. So, for him, this concept of falling in love with people is not something that comes naturally to him. If Julian ever gets around to pledging his love to me, let alone acknowledging it, it’s going to be a few… years. Probably.
I’m not going to try explaining it to Mr. Bradley. How could he understand? I’m reaching the point where I am the person who understands Julian the most. A title that used to belong to this man sitting across from him.
Perhaps he still understands him on a masculine level. But I’m turning into Julian’s most trusted confidant, whether Mr. Bradley likes it or not.
That’s gotta be weird.
“I see where you’re coming from.” That’s what I say instead of anything else. “You’re worried that Julian is going to lose himself in me instead of focusing on your business like he’s supposed to. I get it. I really do. But I can’t say that I feel bad about all of the attention he’s been paying to me. It makes him happy, if you haven’t noticed.”
“I can assure you that I’ve noticed his change in mood since you came into his life, Ms. Pendleton.”
Is he mocking me? I honestly can’t tell anymore. “But I’m willing to work with you since I understand you so much, Mr. Bradley. If I notice Julian slacking off on his work to be with me, I’ll make sure it’s corrected. I am, after all, one of his assistants and tasked with making sure he, uh, stays on task.” That sounded a lot better in my head.
“I appreciate it.” Yeah, I don’t think he believes me when I say that. But what can he do? It’s not in Mr. Bradley’s nature to chew me out or make me feel like a dumb-dumb. He’s definitely a keep the peace kind of guy. He probably sat on his hands for a long time before finally deciding to talk to me about his concerns.
We shake hands. Strange, isn’t it? I’m conspiring with my boyfriend’s business partner to take care of this shit. It’s like going behind his back to make sure he’s babysat properly. Because clearly Vern isn’t doing a good enough job!
Shit. Vern’s too busy trying to work for three people right now. I think I added to his workload instead of making it easier for him to get his own work done. Do you know how much oversight he has to perform over me?
When I return to the office, it’s to Lizzie rolling her eyes, like Cher used to do. Yeah, I know, I’m a terrible help around here. If I actually got shit done, I’d… well, I’d be worth the paycheck I’m now getting. Trust me when I say I see this from everyone’s perspectives. I only have this job because Mr. Marcus is fucking me. And likes it.
Usually, I don’t feel bad about it. Right now, though? I think Julian and I have to have a little chat tonight when we get back to his place after dinner.
That’s him lighting up my phone. As soon as I’m finished with this task, I am to report to him for a teleconference. Vern is busy doing other things, and he needs me to take notes.
Just another day at Bradley & Marcus.