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Pleasing Mr. Parker: Chapter 6

Maria

eyes light up as she pulls me through the entrance of a trendy looking bar with low lighting and a long, sleek, black marble bar. “It’s the best place for cocktails after work on a Friday, believe me. Mid-town has its fair share of bars… and I know most of them.”

She giggles as she pulls me across the polished concrete floor and over to a small booth. The bartender is mixing a cocktail in a shaker as we pass the bar and my mouth waters at the scent of lime mixed with salt. I hope to God Harley suggests making the most of the long cocktail menu she said this bar has. After today’s lunch with Todd and his lingering lips, and then the awkward meeting with Griffin this afternoon, I need a drink.

A strong one.

“You made it!” Harley grins and throws her arms around a pretty woman with short, honey-toned hair.

“Maria.” She turns to me, her face glowing. “This is Suze. Suze, this is Maria who I told you about.”

Harley slings her bag down and then throws herself into the velvet padded seat, pulling me with her.

“Hi, nice to meet you.” I smile at Suze as I sit down next to Harley.

“You too.” She gives me a friendly smile. “Harley said you’ve just finished your first week at The Songbird. You’re working closely with Mr. Parker. How’s that going?” Suze takes one look at my frown before laughing. “Rather you than me. From what Harley tells me, he isn’t the easiest man.”

I laugh back, relaxing into the seat. “I can already tell you and I are going to get on,” I say as Harley giggles from her place in between us.

“Hey, he’s not all that bad. I’ve lasted five years, haven’t I?” Harley grins as she hands us both a cocktail menu from the table.

“Ugh, thank God. I did not want to be the only one drinking tonight.” I exhale heavily as my eyes roam over the menu.

“Um, Maria. You’re with me and Suze, here. There isn’t a cocktail on this menu we haven’t tried, at least four times.”

Harley bumps shoulders with me and I smile, so pleased that I came out tonight and didn’t head back to my apartment alone with just a bottle of wine and Griffin’s late night activities next door to keep me entertained.

“You should go with the ‘Boss Lady’ cocktail,” Harley says. “After your first week running things in the spa like a queen!” She bounces in her seat excitedly.

“Clashing heads with Griffin, you mean?” I roll my eyes. “I swear he’s scrutinizing every move I make.”

Harley looks at me sympathetically. “He does that to everyone in the beginning. Don’t worry. It won’t last. He’s a pretty great guy under the alpha boss-hole exterior. Just keep doing what you’re doing in the spa. You are going to blow his mind, I know it.” She stands and squeezes past me. “First round is on me, ladies.”

She heads off to the bar as I turn to Suze.

“So, how long have you and Harley been friends?”

I don’t want to spend the evening talking about work, and I’m also aware it must be boring for someone outside of The Songbird to listen to. Tonight is about letting go and making new friends. And judging by my first impressions of Suze and her unfiltered opinion of Griffin Parker, I would say we’ve got lots in common already.

Suze leans forward onto the table, resting her chin in her hands.

“Oh, just since Harley tried to sleep with my husband. Two years ago, now.”

My eyes widen and my mouth drops open as I do a double take and stare at her.

“I’m sorry, what?”

I knew things were going to be different in New York from LA. But befriending your husband’s mistress? Surely not.

Suze dips her head, laughing, before meeting my gaze again.

“It’s true. He was totally up for it as well. Jerk,” she mutters, shaking her head.

“You talking about Curt?” Harley asks as she comes back to the table with three cocktails balanced between her hands.

“Ooh, you star. Thank you.” Suze grins as she helps Harley and passes one to me.

“Cheers! To your first week in your new job. And to new friends,” Harley says in a singsong voice as she clinks glasses with me and Suze.

I take a sip of the sweet, fiery liquid. It’s grapefruit with a hint of ginger, and completely delicious.

“Hang on.” I hold up a hand and take a bigger gulp, placing my glass down on the table with a loud sigh as I look at Suze. “I’m sorry, I think I needed that for this conversation.”

I switch my gaze between her and Harley, and they both snort with laughter.

“I don’t even know why I’m laughing,” Suze says, wiping at her eyes. “It’s not even funny.”

“Someone please explain, because after the week I’ve had, I’m starting to think I moved to the twilight zone, not Manhattan.”

Harley takes a sip of her drink.

“Okay… I have a second job as a honey trapper. But hardly anyone knows, especially not Griffin. You cannot tell him.”

I blink, staring at her.

She giggles. “Fine. I know you won’t tell him. You two barely communicate with words as it is. You just do your sexual tension thing whenever you’re in the same room instead.”

What?

There’s no way there is anything remotely resembling sexual tension on my part when I’m near him. And I’m confident in saying the same for him. But before I can correct Harley, she continues.

“I needed the extra money. And I’ve learned a lot about men from doing it.” She rolls her eyes. “But I also made a fab friend.” She grins at Suze.

“I don’t get it. Did you hire her?” I direct my question to Suze as I look from one to the other.

Suze drops her voice. “I did indeed. I suspected Curt had been having extra company, shall we say, after I had to go to the doctor for something that turned out to be a sexually transmitted infection.”

“No! That’s awful.”

I reach across the table without thinking and grab her hand. I know all too well what it’s like to have your trust completely betrayed by someone who is supposed to love you.

“It was.” She squeezes my hand back. “But it meant that I could finally get the balls to do something about it. I’ve known Curt for years. And his reputation means a lot to him. By getting the evidence that he would easily choose to be unfaithful, I could make him a lot more cooperative about our divorce and the plans for the kids.”

“Suze has Emmerson who’s five, and Mason, who’s eight. They’re the most adorable kids,” Harley adds.

“I found a company who came highly recommended by another mom at school and called them. They sent Harley to Curt’s favorite bar after work, and that was that.” Suze knocks back the rest of her cocktail and winks at Harley.

“And you what? Strike up a conversation with them and see if they suggest taking it further?” I look at Harley, images of sleazy guys slipping off their wedding rings swirling in my mind.

“Basically.” She shrugs. “I flatter their egos a bit, flirt, bat my eyelashes. I can tell straight away which ones are going to be the easiest. They don’t even try to hide the fact they’re checking me out when I sit next to them at the bar.”

“Curt was one of the easiest,” Suze says in disgust.

Harley smiles at her sadly. “You’re better off without that jerk.”

“But how did you two meet? Do you have a debrief after with the wives?”

“No, no, no.” Harley shakes her head. “This one“—she jerks her thumb toward Suze— “decides to come and see for herself. Nearly blew my cover.”

“I had to see it with my own eyes, you know. I didn’t want to believe it,” Suze says. “Ten years of marriage—gone. Just like that. He didn’t even take off his wedding ring and try to hide the fact he had a wife at home. Just brazenly sat there and asked Harley if he could take her to a hotel.”

“Asshole,” I mutter, my mouth dropping open.

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s liars.

“I found a seat out of view and watched. I would’ve gotten a report back through the agency, but I knew seeing it with my own eyes would give me the strength I needed to act on it. Once Harley turned him down and he left the bar, I went over and told her who I was. We ended up having a great night… and one too many cocktails.” Suze smiles at Harley. “The entire night he was texting and calling me, asking me when I’d be home. I told him I was out with a girlfriend. The next morning after breakfast, I asked him to leave.”

“And she’s never looked back since.” Harley grins, wrapping an arm around Suze, who hugs her back.

“Exactly. Sisters before misters, as you say.”

The two of them laugh, and a warmth spreads throughout my chest. Even in our darkest times, there is something good just waiting to happen.

A new friend for Suze after she was betrayed.

My old spa taking off in Hope Cove for me, shortly after the betrayal that nearly brought me to my knees.

No one’s negativity is greater than us, more powerful than we are. No one can hurt us beyond repair. Watching Harley and Suze laugh together, their friendship and love for each other radiating from them in waves proves it.

Nothing can keep us down.

Nothing can keep me down.

Not even the thought of having to work with Griffin Parker again on Monday morning.


Todd: Everything is all booked for Friday. Would you like to share a cab to JFK?

I click out of the text without replying and glance at my watch. If I’m quick, I’ll have enough time to grab a coffee from the deli Harley took me to. God knows I need it after being kept up late by Griffin’s ‘entertainment’ again. How the hell he can look so fresh at work all the time when he is up half the night is a mystery. It must be all the orgasms, working like a miracle anti-fatigue treatment.

I step out of my apartment door into the hallway.

As if the universe isn’t punishing me enough with its overdose of Griffin, it decides to go one step further and thrust him in front of me when I’m tired and un-caffeinated.

“Good morning.” He gives me a curt nod as he steps out of his door and into the corridor.

“Is it?”

My eyes narrow as they drop over him. Black suit today, with a pale blue shirt that makes his eyes even more vibrant as he looks at me.

Why does he have to be so insanely good-looking? Prick.

He opens his mouth, but I hold up a hand before he can speak, annoyance at another interrupted night fueling me.

“You know. It’s up to you what you do in your own time. I just wish I didn’t have to hear it through the wall.” My voice rises. “It’s like living next door to a zoo of horny baboons! Some of us like our sleep. Maybe you could visit your friends at their place once in a while? Or practice the art of mime? You know, put someone else first, be considerate?”

The corners of his mouth twitch as one perfect, dark brow rises over the crystal blue of his eye.

“Maria, I am considerate. I let others come first. Every time.”

Heat flares across my chest, my blood boiling at his blatant cocky reply. I’m sure Harley said he has a close childhood friend who runs charity galas at the hotel. It’s got to be Emily. And from the way she looked at him in his office after I saw them at lunch together, and the way she hugged and kissed him goodbye, I’m sure there’s more to that story than just friends. It’s bad enough that he’s got different women in his apartment every night. But it’s a whole new level of being a jerk if he’s dating Emily while doing it.

“I wonder what Emily thinks about you entertaining so many guests in the evenings,” I mutter, turning my back on him to pull my door closed.

“Say that again!”

The scent of air after rain surrounds me, and I spin back around as he grinds to a halt inches from me. He towers over me, the molten heat from his eyes sending electricity all the way from my head to the tips of my toes. I press my back against the door and my lips part as I stare at him. Even in three-inch heels, I have to crane my neck to meet his eyes.

The back of my neck grows increasingly hot, and my mouth goes dry. I dart my tongue out to wet my lips and his eyes darken as they follow its path.

“Say. That. Again.” He glares at me, his eyes penetrating deep into mine, his jaw tense. His chest expands as he draws in a breath and then lets it out in the small space that still exists between us. Mint mixes with the scent of him, and without thinking, I lean closer and inhale.

“I…”

“Hey, Griffin! You forgot your coffee,” a voice behind us calls.

I tear my eyes away from Griffin’s and peer around him. A tall guy who looks about Griffin’s age is standing in the open doorway of the apartment next door. He sees me and flashes a bright white smile as his eyes light up.

“You must be Maria?”

I look back at Griffin, who’s still glaring at me. He hasn’t moved, and I’m aware of how close we are—me backed up against the door, his chest practically pressed up against my breasts.

Toe to toe.

Breath to breath.

The other guy seems kind of familiar as I give him a polite smile. “Yes, I am. Hello.”

“Griffin said I’ve been a little loud.” He runs his hand around the back of his neck as he bites his lip with a smile. “Sorry about that. You’ll be pleased to know I’m heading home soon.”

“Heading home?” I wrinkle my brow in confusion, aware that Griffin’s eyes haven’t moved from my face. He’s still standing over me, his breath fanning over my cheek as his chest rises and falls with each deep inhale.

“Yeah, back to LA. Just been in town a couple of weeks catching up with this ugly fucker.” He tips his head toward Griffin’s back and laughs.

My eyes widen as the penny drops.

“You’re Reed Walker? Running for Mayor of LA? I saw your campaign ads before I moved.”

“The one and only.” He straightens his shoulders as he grins at me. “Why don’t you drop by after work later and we can talk about all things LA?”

“Piss off, Reed,” Griffin says without turning.

Reed laughs and throws a hand up in the air, waving goodbye to me. The hallway light catches the class ring on his finger.

The same one Griffin has.

“Good luck working with this grumpy son of a bitch, Maria. You must have the patience of a saint.”

“I said goodbye, Reed.” Griffin slams one palm against the wall above my head, his eyes staying glued to me.

“Actually, you said, piss off.”

Griffin snaps his head around and glares at Reed, who chuckles as he heads back into the apartment.

“Nice to meet you,” he calls to me before the door closes.

The hallway falls silent.

I allow my eyes to trace up and along Griffin’s freshly shaven jawline before he turns back and pins me in place with an icy gaze.

“Reed is the one staying next door?” I swallow.

He smiles, but there’s no warmth to it. “Yes. It’s Reed.”

“Oh… I thought…” I stand rooted to the spot, waiting for him to say something else.

“I’m well aware of what you thought,” Griffin’s deep voice rumbles, and the vibration hits me straight in my core.

His dark brows pinch closer together as he studies my face with an unapologetic entitlement, like he has every damn right to look inside my soul should he wish.

To claim it as his.

I don’t know what it is about him. I would usually hate someone with such arrogance looking at me like they could own me if they should so choose. But it sends a shiver of unexpected pleasure down my spine as I stare back into his piercing crystal gaze.

“Maria. Let me be clear on something,” he growls, his eyes boring into mine. “If I were dating a woman, there would be no room in my thoughts for anyone else.”

He leans forward, the fabric of his blazer grazing the front of my dress. Tingles spread from my fingertips all the way up my arms and across my chest as he brings his lips to my ear. Warm breath dances against my skin. I’m surrounded my him—his scent, his heat, his energy. I drag in a breath as his voice turns low and gravelly.

“If I were dating someone, Maria, she would be everything to me. All. Mine.”

My heart races in my chest as he draws back, looking at me with his clear blue eyes one last time.

Then he turns and strides off, leaving me washed in a wave of intoxicating air after a storm.


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