Some men reek of trouble. Trey Marks is one of those men. His fingers haven’t stopped moving since I sat down. Right now they are turning the dial of his watch, an expensive piece that peeks out of the edge of his custom suit. I can hear the click of the dial as he gently slides it forward, just one notch at a time, spaced out just enough to drive me mad. Is he even listening to me? I’m barely listening to myself, my ears pricked and tuned to the next click of the timepiece. Click.
“If you look at the last page, you can see some of my ideas for your Isabella line…” Click.
“I have contacts that could lower your costs, especially in the…” Click.
“I’m looking for a position that will allow me to have greater decision-making ability and…” Click.
I tighten my hands around the leather portfolio, fighting the urge to reach over and snatch his hands away from the watch. He removes the distraction, the offending hand moving up to rub over his lips. I look away. He doesn’t just reek of trouble. The damn man is dipped in temptation, the center of it all radiating out of those eyes. I stepped in this office, and those eyes undressed me. I sat down before him and he all but rubbed his hands in glee.
“You seem apprehensive, Ms. Martin.” His hand drops from his mouth and I force myself to meet his eyes.
“I’m sorry. Interview nerves.” I smile and he studies me.
“Is that it?” He doesn’t believe me. One point for Marks, though I’m not entirely surprised by his ability to read women. His business is seduction, designing lingerie pieces that lure women to purchase and men to take off. According to industry rumors, he’s never been married, fucks like an animal, and has a mouth like my shower massager. It doesn’t matter. He needs a Creative Director, and I need a new job. Word on the street is that Marks Lingerie is struggling, and I don’t need a psychology degree to read the stress that frames his cocky stare. Deep lines across his forehead, the tight clench of his jaw, that damn reach of his fingers to his watch. I recognize the signs. Stress, at the moment, is my life.
It could be worse. I could have a sick child, or an abusive husband—something more valid than the simple fact that I hate my job. I hate it in a way that makes my chest hurt when I step off the elevator each morning. I spend my lunch break in my car, tinted windows up, the engine off, hiding from my bitch of a Creative Director, Claudia VanGaur. She’s been threatening to retire for the last decade. For that long, I’ve been stupid enough to believe her. Now, I’m stupid to stay, stupid to continue waiting for her to turn over the reins. She’ll be at Lavern & Lilly ’til she’s dead, and torture every employee until that dying breath.
I need a change; I need the promotion I’ve deserved for a decade. I’ll work anywhere in women’s fashion, but undergarments are my passion, and this is the first Creative Director opportunity that has appeared in the last year. I don’t just want it; I need it.
“Tell me about the guy.”
“I’m sorry?” I watch as his eyes drop to my hands, to the diamond, and suddenly understand. “Oh. Craig. He’s…” My mind blanks. He’s very nice. He’s a chemist. He’s never looked at me the way that you, right now, are. “We’ve been engaged four months,” I finish. It’s a safe answer, one that doesn’t mention Craig’s MIT diploma, or his upper-class upbringing. As much as the industry gossips about Trey Mark’s bedroom skills, they bemoan his upbringing even more. Raised in South Central. The son of a stripper, one killed in a nineties drug raid. College dropout. The rumor is that he slept his way into some rich old lady’s fortune, waited for her to die, then used the ill-gotten inheritance to start Marks.
“Have you set a date?”
With just one question, he exposes everything. “No. Not yet.”
I can feel a scowl forming, the movement of my eyebrows tightening, and I force a smile, letting out a soft exhale as I speak. “We just haven’t. We’re both very busy right now.” I swallow, and hope that I buried the truth. Because I’m scared. Because I’m bored. Because right now, if I am so easily affected by you, then I probably shouldn’t be getting married to begin with.
His mouth cracks, a widening of lips, the peek of perfect teeth. It is the beginning of a smile, and I can see him fight to contain it, his tongue playing with the corner of his mouth before he purses his lips closed. His eyes drop once more to my ring before they lift again to my face, his features more composed, a flicker of amusement still in those dark eyes. I want to ask him what is so damn funny. Instead, I knot my fingers and focus on finding an imperfection on his face. I fail.
“I’m asking about your fiancé for purely innocent reasons. Kate, I’m not the easiest person to work for.” He leans forward, his forearms resting on the desk, and runs the fingers of one hand over the knuckles of his other. “I’m temperamental, and terrible with instructions, and I can be a real asshole.” A hint of a smile appears, then he sobers. “But despite what you may have heard about me, there are certain lines I don’t cross, and fucking my employees is one of them.”
“Literally or figuratively?” I don’t know where the words come from, but they are well received, his grin splitting wide open, a chuckle rumbling out.
“Both.” He pushes to his feet and extends a hand. “Thank you for coming in, Ms. Martin. Someone will be in touch to follow up.”
My stomach twists. Maybe it is my portfolio. Maybe I seemed too eager. Maybe, it is the ring on my finger. I force a smile and slide my palm into his, the squeeze of his handshake just strong enough to ground me. “Certainly. It was a pleasure to meet you.”
The lie falls smoothly from my lips, but our handshake lasts a second too long.
I don’t know how I’ll return to Lavern & Lilly, or how I’ll make it through more years under Claudia, but I know one thing: Trey Marks can say all day long he doesn’t fuck his employees, but I’d bet you his watch that he’d have spread me wide open on his desk if I’d asked for it.
I push on the exterior door and step into the Los Angeles heat, inhaling the light honeysuckle scent. In four hours, I have dinner with Craig, a meal where he will dissect every moment of my interview and manage to pile more stress onto my job search. I leave Trey Marks’s inappropriate comments in the parking lot, and get in my car, my mind already cataloguing which details I will share with Craig.