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The Billionaire’s Toy
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When he looks at me, my heart pounds.
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You know, Mondays suck enough without being fired. I scrub the tears off my face as I step off the elevator onto my floor. Damn my speaking voice. I’ve always had a naturally loud and brassy voice, and people mistake my normal speaking tone as raising my voice or somehow being aggressive. It’s not…it’s just me. But one too many complaints about my customer service because people think I’m yelling at them, and now I’m unemployed.
Okay, fine. Maybe sometimes I yell at them, but I swear that the customer is not always right.
I turn the corner and wish I hadn’t. My Super is walking down the hallway towards me and I’ve been trying to avoid him the way you try to avoid STDs. AT ALL COSTS. I’m a week late on my rent because some months are harder than others, and if I have to choose between rent and food, I’d rather not starve.
I give him a weak smile. “Hey, Joe.”
There’s no smile from him. “I need your check, Delia.”
“I know. My car broke down last week and I had to have it fixed so I could actually get to work. It’s coming; I swear.” I hope he buys the lie. In the years I’ve been living here, I’ve never had a car. I’m hoping that he hasn’t noticed.
He sighs. “I can’t give you much more time. There are plenty of people waiting for apartments in this building, and if you can’t pay then someone else will.”
“I can. I will.” I swallow, brushing past him to my door and hurrying inside so he can’t pressure me anymore and I don’t accidentally give away that I just lost my job. If he knew that, he’d be furious, and I’d be out of time. Hell, once I get some work, maybe I should move. I’m sure I can find somewhere less expensive and without a super as overbearing as Joe.
I drop my purse on the ground and flop down on the couch, sliding down until my neck is leaning on the cushion and my legs are sprawled out on the floor. The absolute picture of grace. My cell phone buzzes and I groan. Can everyone just go away and let me hide under a rock for an hour? Please?
The phone buzzes again and I shimmy it out of my pocket so I can see the screen. Two text messages.
What the fuck happened?
Get your ass to this bar and spill.
There’s a reason people call my best friend Fleece. First, she can be as cuddly as one of those blankets when she likes you, but she can also rip you a new one. Only she could get away with a nickname that has a double meaning. Don’t get caught calling her by her actual name—Veronica—or you’ll be getting the wrong end of that nickname.
While I’m looking at the screen, the phone buzzes again.
I called the store to make dinner plans. I’m giving you 10 minutes before I start calling you every 5.
I roll my eyes. She’s not exaggerating. Even while she’s at work, she’ll make it happen. I text her back.
Fine. I’m on my way.
The response comes lightning fast.
Nine minutes, thirty seconds.
Even though I’m exhausted and I feel like I’m made of stone, I drag myself off the couch. I’m not bothering to change. The bar gets to see me in my utterly sexy khakis and black polo shirt. Luckily, Joe isn’t anywhere to be seen as I leave the building and start the six-block walk to the Blind Scorpion. Fleece and I discovered this bar when we first moved to New York. Close enough to both our apartments to walk home, and prices that didn’t break our college students’ budgets. Five years later, Fleece is one of the best bartenders in town and practically runs the place as her survival job. And I…have no job.
I push open the door to the bar and get a blast of cool air. New York in the summer is hot but you can always rely on the Blind Scorpion to cool you down. Fleece sees me and checks her phone. I know she’s looking to see how much time I’ve got left on her timer. She points down to the seat at the end—a dark corner where I lurk and we steal moments to gossip—and gives me her signature glare.
The hard high bar stool somehow feels comfortable. I’ve sat here so often that my ass is used to being shaped by this seat. It’s almost like a homecoming.
Fleece smacks a glass full of something in front of me. “Drink. What happened?”
“What do you think happened? I clearly won employee of the year.”
“Don’t do that,” she says, more gently. “You can tell me.”
I sigh, downing half of the glass she put in front of me. It’s delicious and sweet, something with a hint of apple and a little bit of a bite. “I had another complaint.”