I’m writing a series with Marlo Lanz, and the first book is called Unexpected Ride. It’s currently sitting with an agent and we’re hoping to get it out to you soon. I’m excited to share Chapter 1 of Unexpected Ride with you today. If you want to stay up to date with release dates, you can join my newsletter crew for access to the latest news, giveaways, and exclusive content. You can also read the book blurb for Unexpected Ride in my private reader Facebook group.
Let me know what you think about Chapter 1 of Unexpected Ride in the comments below!
Some of my favorite things in life are creamy coffee, multiple orgasms and red wine. Since I can only get two of those things on demand, and the other is rare as a unicorn, my weekdays always start in the office with Starbucks in hand and end at the pub with a rich glass of red. In a world where people are always fucking up my plans, these simple, controllable pleasures ground me.
The sleek, modern and open-concept office environments characterized by bright, vibrant colors and innovative workstations haven’t reached the stodgy Tempo Bank of America. Our office is circa 1970 with drab paper bag walls, stained carpeting and hideously upholstered cubicles that do nothing to give the dweller any semblance of privacy.
It will be a long time before we get sit-stand stations and treadmill desks.
Other millennials are playing foosball in their lunchrooms and cracking a cold one to break up the afternoon. Meanwhile, I’m sitting in stuffy boardrooms with projectors that rarely work and harsh fluorescent lighting that not only hums and makes my skin appear corpse-like, but also flickers obnoxiously. I’ve called the building operator 20 times to replace the ballast over my desk, but every time he comes by, the goddamn thing starts working again.
Biting back a groan at the appearance of Creepy Carl who is only marginally better than my boss, Jackass Jerome, I force my socially acceptable smile to appear like a light flicking on.
“Good morning, Carl. I’m usually alone in the office at this time.” And that’s how I like it. My quiet mornings before everyone else arrives and starts demanding my attention are sacred and one of the keys to my sanity.
When Carl smiles, it’s more of a sneer. I’ve always thought it’s because he doesn’t have a lot of practice being anything other than, well, Creepy, and any attempt he makes comes across as painful. However, in addition to those selling features, he’s also my Vice President because if there’s one thing he does know how to do, it’s work numbers in his favor.
“A beautiful woman shouldn’t spend mornings alone.” Carl licks his lips and an involuntary shudder racks through me. “Or her evenings. Especially her evenings.”
In the least covert move ever, I grab the shawl from behind my desk to shield my breasts from his vile eyes. The air conditioning always pumps at full force and many women have been caught with space heaters under their desks, willing to blow fuses and turn the office dark in an attempt to survive.
Why don’t men ever feel the cold? Maybe Creepy Carl will assume that’s why I’m covering up instead of, you know, almost vomiting in my mouth.
My personal life is not an appropriate topic of conversation with anyone other than my office-turned-real-life bestie, who is a vault and would never repeat a word to anyone. Even if my bed has been annoyingly empty for the last six months, my VP, who not-so-secretly wants to bone me, doesn’t need to be made aware.
“Is there something you need, Carl?”
Rising to my feet to try and shift the power dynamic doesn’t have the desired effect. Despite my two inch heels, I only come up to his shoulders and he’s leering over my head even though I’m facing him head-on.
“I’m really digging that outfit, Paige.”
Heat blooms on my chest and spreads like a rash over my face, making my skin painfully tight. Carl reached executive level early and can’t be much older than 40. Of course, he’d never talk this way if anyone else was around, but the worst kept secret in corporate America is that it’s still an old boys’ club.
“If there’s nothing else…?” I hate how my voice breaks and ends in a question instead of certainty. He’s the asshole, not me, so why am I being deferential by default?
My colleagues are starting to trickle into the office and Carl takes three purposeful steps back. When he’s out of my personal space, a long breath whooshes out of my mouth and the tension leaves my chest.
“I wanted to thank you for pulling double duty,” Carl says, as my manager, Jerome Williamson of the Jackass clan, approaches us. “You’ve really stepped up and it hasn’t gone unnoticed at my table.”
I’m the Senior Manager of corporate communications for our high-net-worth division and my peer who ran the digital strategy team has been in a new role for three months without any sign of a replacement.
I’ve been managing both teams, leaving me with 18 direct reports and very little time for anything else. And it’s also the reason my bed has been empty for 6 months and twelve days. Not that I’m counting.
Jerome nods at us and looks reluctantly pleased that Carl is paying attention to something other than my admittedly impressive rack. It’s no secret that I was his second choice candidate and some kind of last ditch affirmative action bell curve is the only reason I got the job.
My last name might be unquestionably German, but my mom is Chinese American and the words exotic, different and mixed are some of the nicer terms that have been thrown my way over the years. Mutt, chink and half-breed are the ever more popular endearments.
Heinz 57 is my personal favorite.
“Paige, I wanted to give you the heads up that we found a replacement for Rhonda,” Jerome announces without meeting my eyes. “I’m going to introduce him at our team meeting.”
I glance at the TBA-branded clock on my desk that I was awarded after five years of service. Hopefully the gifts improve with tenure. “Our team meeting is in 10 minutes.”
Jerome looks at Carl instead of me and says, “I’m aware. My EA booked it.”
My mouth is an O of surprise as though I’m a fish about to be hooked. Why would they replace my peer without engaging me, especially since I’ve been doing her job and obviously have insight into who the best replacement would be?
The flush is back and powerful enough to crack my skin. I inherited my dad’s ruddy complexion that always makes my emotions crystal clear. It’s an unfortunate detriment to a woman trying to climb the ladder and appear as unemotional as the guys she’s competing with. The flush is even more pronounced because my mom’s dark eyes and jet-black hair frame the shockingly red hue my skin turns without permission.
Carl slaps Jerome’s back. “You made a prudent hiring decision and your stock keeps going up in my eyes, Williamson.”
Without another word, they’re walking away, my unanswered questions stuck like golf balls lodged in my throat. It’s still smaller than the indignation and shame threatening to choke me. Imposter syndrome is real and exactly why I work ten times harder than anyone else because, damnit, I’ve earned my place here and it wasn’t done on my back or knees.
My fists clench while I debate whether or not there’s enough time to get another coffee before the meeting. Having scalding hot liquid on hand could be a valuable resource to help me get through the next sixty minutes.
The air shifts and a charge that only people who have been struck by lightning have experienced overcomes me, turning my head a-la-exorcist right as a GQ model walks through the ancient glass doors.
The last three guys I’ve slept with have worked in the trades because men in suits are not my kryptonite. I’ve always considered myself immune from years of being surrounded by them. But this one is different. There’s an undeniable strength under the suit, suggesting that he knows how to work more than a keyboard with those big hands.
It should actually be illegal for a man to look that good in a suit, the perfect cut of the charcoal three-piece emphasizing how much time he spends in the gym. I suddenly feel underdressed and sloppy even though my classic black dress is tailored and paired with my only Jimmy Choos.
His coloring is opposite to mine with hair so blonde it’s blinding. He keeps it surprisingly long for a bank gig with the ends curling around his collar, reminding me of a surfer dude.
I’m so fair that walking by a whitewashed wall risks me being mistaken as part of the paint whereas his skin is bronzed and sun kissed to perfection. Broad shoulders are paired with lean hips and have me imagining his bare chest because something tells me his abs are very cut.
He glances in my direction and the fire in his hazel eyes freezes me in place, making it impossible to move, think or breathe. But it doesn’t matter because I don’t make exceptions to my “no-sex-with-TBA-guys” rule, even if looking at this one makes my knees a little wobbly.
Whoever he is, he doesn’t belong on this floor. I know everyone who works here and this guy is clearly lost. I’m about to walk over and ask him to show me his ID badge when one of the MBA rotation punks comes over to shake his hand.
Oh. That explains it.
Pretty boy is one of the special cases who pay $100,000 for a prestigious degree, only to be given a fancy role at a bank while poor souls like me claw their way up from nothing. My attraction goes from off-the-fucking-charts to frigid in two seconds flat. Without bothering to look at him again, I lose the shawl and grab my laptop before heading towards the meeting room.
“Zachary, I’m so glad you could join us today.”
Jerome is blocking the doorway and talking to someone behind me so I stop walking, resulting in a solid brick wall crashing into my back. I dart to the side so I’m not sandwiched between my boss and whoever Zachary is, praying he’s not the most-likely-incompetent and almost-definitely-rich douche canoe I just saw.
No such luck.
His eyes are on mine with more heat and purpose than I’ve felt in over half a year. There’s only one reason he could possibly be here and blood roars through my ears while I pray to any god listening that my boss didn’t pluck a green new graduate with no experience at life or corporate to be one of our senior leaders and my peer.
But the pride in his eyes while studying his new prodigy confirms that he did.
Zachary has a distinguished and cultured voice because, of course he does. He sounds eloquent even when he’s discussing the Red Sox game with a friendly familiarity I haven’t achieved with Jerome in two years. When it comes to me, he prefers hearing how funny and charming he is over anything resembling small talk.
“This is Paige.” Jerome sounds almost reluctant to introduce me because I’m clearly crashing their date. “She’s one of the other Senior Manager reporting to me, so you’ll be working closely with her.”
I can’t talk without sputtering, so shaking Zachary’s hand is done silently and on autopilot. The annoying crackle of energy is still present between us and has my blood humming like I’m on a live wire.
“It’s a pleasure, Paige.”
Before I can stop myself from saying something career-limiting, my passive aggressive question is already floating in the space between us like a giant matzo ball. “What school?”
Zachary’s eyes switch from warm appraisal to calculating curiosity. “Harvard.”
“Of course. The price of jobs has certainly gone up over the years.”
“Basketball gave me a free ride, so it was quite the steal of a deal.” I’m spending too much time staring at his lips, which are far too sexy and swollen to belong to a man. They’re currently curved into an amused smile as though I’m an outspoken toddler he has to tolerate.
From the Berluti shoes to the platinum Rolex, everything about this guy screams money, wealth and prestige. How is it fair that he’s also a sports god who has undoubtedly spent his life getting a free ride and coasting right through any challenges with enough money to grease the wheels of the system? Outside of work, swearing like a sailor is my norm and words that would make my mother blush echo in my mind while I silently scream.
Jerome chuckles and puts his hand on the small of my back as he guides me into the boardroom. “Come on, Paige. Let’s play nice with the new guy. Don’t worry, Zach. I know my girl will make you feel welcome at TBA and be a great support as you’re ramping up.”
“I can see why you didn’t involve me in the hiring decision if he was your top candidate,” I hiss, but it’s no use because Jerome is busy pretending I don’t exist.
My teams are chattering about their weekends, the friendly cacophony of noise greeting me like a familiar hug. And now I have to give half my people to some guy who isn’t qualified to be here? Why isn’t he playing in the NBA or something? How could making my life miserable possibly be more fruitful than that lucrative gig?
Greeting my colleagues with a genuine smile comes naturally as I try to shake off the feelings I have towards Zachary and everything he represents. That train of thought will need to be processed at home, not with an audience of people who respect me and look up to me as a mentor and coach.
When he chooses to sit right next to me with his thigh far too close to mine, I avert my body and start a conversation with Jennifer, who is seated on my other side.
Zachary is inches away and the heat of his body penetrates my skin and sends shockwaves down my spine just from the proximity. Ignoring the stupidly hot guy, who I definitely do not want to bang, is challenging with my wayward hormones dancing like floozies.
Regardless of how fucking remarkable he’d look naked, it will be my mission to avoid him while making it clear that I belong on this team and he doesn’t. Pushing Jerome’s pet over the edge and helping him fall from grace will be a real treat.
Let the games begin.
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