My cell had rung bright and early this morning, and suddenly I had an unexpected lunch date I was rather looking forward to. Chase had mentioned he had a friend who was a recruiter, but he’d failed to include the part that the woman, Samantha, recruited for Parker Industries—a company he owned. I was instantly intrigued, and I’ll admit I was a tad bit disappointed when she suggested we meet at a restaurant. Even though it was easy to get to—only a few stops on the subway from my soon-to-be-vacated office at Fresh Look—there wouldn’t be any chance of running into Chase since we weren’t meeting at his office.
But lunch had turned out to be pretty enlightening. We’d spent two hours at a restaurant, now followed by a long walk through the park. After we’d talked about my background and what I was looking for in an employer, the conversation turned to Parker Industries.
“So Chase actually invents the products himself?” I asked. Perhaps I should have spent time Googling the man instead of ogling him on Facebook.
“He used to, although these days he has an entire research and development team. But most of the ideas they work on are his. Believe it or not, that pretty boy is the smartest person I’ve ever met.”
“What was the first product he ever invented?”
“The Pampered Pussy.”
I stopped in place. “The what?”
Samantha laughed. “It’s packaged as Divine Wax now that it’s licensed in fifty countries. But back in college, it was The Pampered Pussy.”
“He invented Divine Wax? I’ve heard that stuff is awesome.”
“Sure did. During college, he lived in a frat with a bunch of muscleheads. Some of them were hardcore into working out. His sophomore year, a few had begun to compete in local bodybuilding contests. They had to wax their bodies, and these brawny tough guys used to bitch that the waxing hurt. Chase worked in the university’s chem lab part-time and figured out how to incorporate a numbing agent into the wax. So after the hot wax was painted on the guys’ chests and backs, they didn’t feel anything as it was ripped off a few seconds later.”
“And it turned into a household brand for women?”
“It took a while. Word spread at Brown that a hot guy could do waxing without the pain, and that evolved into The Pampered Pussy. He’d go to sororities and make a grand in an afternoon—and get laid by the prettiest girl in the house while he was there. It was unbelievable.” Samantha laughed. “He was always easy on the eyes and a little arrogant because of his brains. Women love that combination.”
We sure do. “That’s pretty amazing. How did it get to the next level?”
“Junior year he was providing wax and doing whatever else to Dakota Canning, heir to Canning & Canning.”
“The Fortune 100 pharmaceutical company?”
“That’s the one. I guess Dakota told her father about the wax, and things just progressed from there. It was packaged and sold under a license agreement within six months. When Chase graduated Brown, he’d already made his first million.”
“That’s seriously unbelievable.”
“Yep. He’s like the Zuckerberg of vaginas now—has a dozen other products he’s chemically improved. Most are in the health and beauty segment, but he also invented a burn cream that regenerates skin and decreases pain, and it only needs to be applied once a day. Most burn creams need multiple applications, and touching the skin after a severe burn is both excruciatingly painful and increases the chances of infection.”
“It is. Just don’t tell him I said that.” She smiled softly. “So how did you two meet again? He mentioned a double date but didn’t get into details. Pulling anything personal from that man is like breaking into Fort Knox. And we’ve known each other since middle school.”
“It’s actually a bizarre story. I was on a bad date and hiding outside the restaurant bathroom leaving a message for my friend to call me back and pretend there was an emergency. Chase overheard me and basically called me out for being rude. After I went back to my date, he wound up coming over with his date and joining us.”
“He knew your date?”
“Nope. He pretended we were old friends and joined us—told these elaborate stories about our fake childhood. Some of them were so detailed and real, I started to feel like they were actually true.”
“The story part sounds like Chase. In high school, he wrote a creative writing paper for my friend Peyton once. He handed it to her right before she had English class, so she didn’t have time to read it beforehand. The guidance counselor called her down the next morning because her English teacher had become concerned about her well-being. He’d written some crazy story about being attacked by a wild boar during a camping trip with her parents, who were too drunk to help fight the thing off. The way he’d detailed the trip to the emergency room and all the stitches, it seemed too explicit not to be real.”
“Yes! That’s exactly what he did to me. He told some crazy story about our first kiss in eighth grade and how I’d gotten a bloody nose in the middle of it. It was so far-fetched that it was believable.”
She shook her head and laughed. “There’s a fine line between genius and unhinged.”
When we arrived back at the street exit from the park, Samantha extended her hand. “It was really nice to get to meet you, Reese. I have to say, I was curious when Chase called me at home last night to ask me to look into helping you find something. He doesn’t usually mix his personal life and business. But I get why he’s so taken with you now. You’re down-to-earth, smart, funny in a quick-witted type of way—a lot like Chase, actually.”
“Oh…we’re not…there isn’t really a personal relationship to speak of. Just that one strange double date, and then we ran into each other again at the gym yesterday.”
She looked at me skeptically. “Well, you must have made a good impression on him, then. He doesn’t usually farm me out.”
My brows drew together. “Farm you out?”
“I left industry recruiting three years ago. I usually just recruit for Parker Industries now.”
“Oh! I just assumed…Chase said he knew a bulldog recruiter…I assumed you were also a corporate recruiter, not one exclusively for his corporation.”
“That’s what I used to do. But I’m glad he put us together. I have a lot of contacts in the women’s product industry from Parker Industries. I’ll put out some feelers to see who might be hiring. I actually know someone who might be in the market for a product brand manager. It’s a lower-level position than what you’re leaving, but it’s soup-to-nuts advertising and marketing for a few products, so you’d get to do a full rebranding campaign. Although, they’re looking for someone to start as soon as possible. Is that something you’d be interested in?”
“My last day at Fresh Look is next Friday, and I don’t have anything lined up yet. I’m not the type of person who likes to sit around, so I’d definitely consider something like that.”
“Great. Give me a day or two, and I’ll see what I can do.”
Tonight was my third date with Bryant—fourth if you counted the afternoon at the gym. He’d invited me over to his place for a home-cooked meal and a movie, and I knew that given the privacy, things were likely to progress physically between us. We’d shared some heated kisses, but that had pretty much been it so far.
In the shower, I thought about whether I was ready to have sex with him. By no means was I a prude, nor was there a certain number of hoops a guy had to jump through in order to get me into his bed. I’d had first dates that ended in sex, and I’d had four-month relationships that never progressed there. For me, it was what felt right. As I shaved my legs, I tried to wrap my arms around exactly how I felt about Bryant. He was a nice guy—thirty-one with no kids or ex baggage—handsome, held a solid job as a mutual fund manager, and wasn’t afraid to show affection. Yet, as I ran the razor up my thigh, I found myself thinking of someone else entirely. Chase Parker.
I tried to tell myself it was because of the stories Samantha had shared today at lunch. His wax invention—I was shaving my legs. That’s why I was thinking about him in the shower instead of my date. When I washed my torso, I thought of the small ring in his nipple. I might have let my hand linger a little too long as I sudsed up my breasts. They need to be washed, after all. And I was only thinking of Chase as I closed my eyes because I was curious about what his handsome face might look like if I took that ring between my teeth and tugged. I stopped my hand from lingering anywhere else, but it wasn’t an easy feat. I had Chase on the brain when I should have had someone else.
On the way over to Bryant’s, I stopped and picked up a bottle of wine I knew he liked. When he opened the door, he was sweet. “You look amazing,” he said, then gave me a nice, welcome kiss.
A buzzer was going off in the kitchen, so he told me to follow him. I checked the apartment out as I walked through. It was clean and modern—even had some artwork on the walls. Most of my previous boyfriends thought decorating meant hanging a sixty-inch TV. Progress.
Bryant lifted the top off a pot and put it aside. Opening a box of rigatoni pasta, he smiled. “I make two dishes: rigatoni alla vodka and chicken parmigiana. You had pasta primavera the first time we went out, so I thought rigatoni was the safest bet.”
It was thoughtful that he remembered what I ate. “Can I do anything to help?”
“You can grab two glasses from there.” His chin pointed to a cabinet on his left as he poured the pasta into the boiling water. “There’s a bottle of wine in the fridge I already opened. I’ll get the pasta going. You can pour.”
He watched me while I filled each glass. “What?”
“I want to say something, but it might come off as creepy.”
“Well, now you have to say it.” I sipped my wine and extended his glass.
“All right. I couldn’t stop thinking about you when I was in the shower today—how gorgeous you are.”
That should have made me feel good, but instead, it made me feel like complete shit. While the great guy I was dating had been thinking about me…I’d been feeling myself up to thoughts of another man.
I forced a weak smile. “That’s sweet. Thank you.”
He stepped closer and brushed a lock of hair behind my ear. “I mean it. I like you. You’re smart, beautiful, and driven. I know it’s early, but I feel like what’s going on between us is a really good thing. It has legs.”
I swallowed. I really did like him, too. But something was keeping me from jumping in with both feet. His words were what every single, twenty-eight-year-old woman wanted to hear from a great guy. Yet…I wasn’t there yet.
He read it on my face.
Pulling back, he said, “I’m freaking you out, aren’t I?”
I hated to make him feel bad, because I really did like him. “No…not at all. I like you, too. I just…I just think we should take it slow at the beginning. I haven’t had much luck in the relationship department, and I tend to be gun-shy, I guess.”
He nodded. And although he smiled, I could tell he was disappointed with my response. Hell, I was disappointed with my response. I’d been trying to talk myself into being crazy about him for a while now.
But that’s what was missing—that crazy feeling I should have had. This early on, butterflies should have been flapping their colorful wings when he said those things or looked at me like he did when he opened the door. I was determined to keep trying. He seemed worth it.
Even though Bryant said he agreed we should take things slow, a damper was cast on the rest of the night. Still, I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to make the choice about sleeping with him if things went in that direction. Because I’d realized I wasn’t ready yet. As the night came to an early end, I wondered if I would ever be.