258,657
07.03.2019

“And didn’t Sally Jansen switch schools later that year because—”

“Look, the point here, man, is that I liked the girl. Loved her. I thought she was awesome. But I couldn’t deal with those feelings. I didn’t know how to express them the right way.”

Matthew’s not usually this in touch with his feminine side.

“So you picked on her instead?” I ask.

“Sadly, yes.”

“And this has to do with Kate and me because…?”

He pauses a beat and then gives me…the look. The slight shake of his head, the grimace of sad disappointment. That look right there is worse than a mother’s guilt, I swear.

He stands, slaps me on the arms, and says, “You’re a smart guy, Andrew. You’ll figure it out.” And with that, he leaves.

Yeah, yeah, I know what Matthew was trying to say. I get it, all right. And I’m telling you—straight up—he’s crazy.

I don’t spar with Kate because I like her. I do it because her existence is screwing with the trajectory of my career. She’s a nuisance. A fly in my soup. A pain in my ass. As aching as that mother of a bee sting I got on my left cheek at summer camp when I was eleven.

Sure, she’d be a great lay. I’d ride the Kate Brooks Express any time. But it would never be anything more than a good screw. That’s all, folks.

What? Why are you looking at me like that? You don’t believe me?

Then you’re as crazy as Matthew.

Chapter 6

PRESSURE’S A FUNNY THING. It makes some people snap. Like the MIT student who decides to take out half the student body with a long-range rifle because he got a B-plus on a final. It makes some people choke. Two words: Jorge Posada. Enough said. Pressure makes some people fall. Crumble. Freeze.

I am not one of those people. I thrive on pressure. It propels me, drives me to succeed. It is my element. Like a fish in water.

I get to work the next day bright and early. Dressed to kill with my game face on.

It’s go time.

Kate and I arrive at my father’s office door at nine a.m. on the dot. I can’t help but check her out. She looks good. Confident. Excited. Apparently she reacts to stress the same way I do.

My father explains that Saul Anderson called to say he would be coming to town ahead of schedule. As in tomorrow night.

Lots of businessmen do this. Push meetings up at the last minute. It’s a test. To see if you’re prepared. To see if you can handle the unexpected. Lucky for me—I am and I can.

And then we begin. I insist on ladies first.

I watch Kate’s presentation like a kid watches a gift under the tree on Christmas Eve. She doesn’t know that, of course. My face is the very definition of bored indifference. On the inside, though, I can’t wait to see what she’s got.

And I’m not disappointed. Don’t tell anyone I said this—I’ll deny it until death—but Kate Brooks is pretty f**king incredible. Almost as good as me.

Almost.

She’s direct, clear, and persuasive as hell. The investment plans she lays out are unique and imaginative. And destined to make a shitload of money. Her only weakness is that she’s new. She doesn’t have the connections to necessarily make what she’s proposing happen. Like I’ve said before, part of this business—a big part—is having the inside track. The hidden info and dirty secrets that outsiders can’t get to. So although Kate’s ideas are strong, they’re not altogether viable. Not a slam-dunk.

Then it’s my turn.

My proposals, on the other hand, are rock f**king solid. The companies and investments I outline are well known and secure. Granted, my projected profits aren’t as high as Kate’s, but they’re certain. Dependable. Safe.

Once I’m done, I sit beside Kate on the couch. See us there? Kate’s hands are folded neatly in her lap, her back straight, a sure, satisfied smile on her lips. I lean back on the couch, my stance relaxed, my own confident smile a mirror image of hers.

For those of you out there who think I’m a shit heel? Watch carefully. You’re going to love this part.

My father clears his throat, and I can read the excited gleam in his eyes. He rubs his hands together and smiles. “I knew my instincts were right on this one. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with what you’ve come up with. And I think it’s obvious who should move forward with Anderson.”

Simultaneously, Kate and I smirk at each other, gloating triumph written all over our faces.

Wait for it…

“Both of you.”

Irony’s really a bite in the ass, isn’t it?

Our eyes turn to my father, and the grins drop from our faces faster than an Acme safe in a Road Runner cartoon. Our shocked voices speak at the same time.

“What?”

“Excuse me?”

“With your artistic flair for investing, Kate, and your concrete know-how, Drew, you two will be perfect together. An unbeatable team. You can both work on the account. When he signs with us, you can share him—the workload and the bonuses—fifty-fifty.”

Share him?

Share him?

Has the old man lost his freaking mind? Would I ask him to share something he’s worked his ass off for? Would he let someone else drive his 1962 cherry Mustang convertible? Would he open his bedroom door and let some other guy screw his wife?

Okay, that was too far. I take it back—considering his wife is my mother. Forget I ever referred to my mother and screwing in the same sentence. That’s just…wrong. On so many levels.

But for the love of God, tell me you see my point.

My father must have finally looked at our faces, because he asks, “That’s not a problem, is it?”

I open my mouth to tell him what a major goddamn problem it is. But Kate beats me to the punch.

“No, Mr. Evans, of course not. No problem at all.”

“Wonderful!” He claps his hands together and stands. “I’ve got tee off in an hour, so I’ll leave you two to it. You’ve got until tomorrow night to coordinate your proposals. Anderson will be at La Fontana at seven.”

And then he looks me dead in the face. “I know you won’t let me down, Andrew.”

Shit.

I don’t care if you’re sixty, when a parent uses your full name, it pretty much sucks all the argument right out of you.

“No, sir, I won’t.”

And with that, he’s out the door. Leaving Kate and I sitting on the couch, our expressions dazed, like survivors of a nuclear blast.

“‘No, Mr. Evans, of course not,’” I whine. “Could you be any more of a kiss-ass?”

She hisses, “Shut up, Andrew.” Then she sighs. “What the hell are we supposed to do now?”

“Well, you could do the noble thing and bow out.” Yeah—like that’ll happen.

“In your dreams.”

I smirk. “Actually my dreams involve you bending over something…not bowing.”

She makes a disgusted sound. “Could you be any more of a pig?”

“I was kidding. Why do you have to be so f**king serious all the time? You should learn how to take a joke.”

“I can take a joke,” she tells me, sounding insulted.

“Yeah? When?”

“When it’s not being delivered by a childish jackass who thinks he’s God’s gift to women.”

“I am not childish.”

God’s gift on the other hand? My record speaks for itself.

“Oh, bite me.”

I wish.

“Nice comeback, Kate. Very mature.”

“You’re a jerk.”

“You’re a…an Alexandra.”

She pauses a second and looks at me blankly. “What the hell does that even mean?”

Think about it. It will come to you.

I rub my hand down my face. “Okay, look, this is getting us nowhere fast. We’re screwed. We both still want Anderson, and the only way we’re going to get him is if we somehow get our shit together. We’ve got…thirty hours to do that. Are you in or not?”

Her lips come together in flat-out determination.

“You’re right. I’m in.”

“Meet me in my office in twenty minutes, and we’ll get to work.”

I expect her to argue with me. I expect her to ask why we have to meet in my office—why we can’t work in her office—like a nagging housewife. But she doesn’t.

She just says, “Okay.” And leaves the room to get the rest of her things.

I’m surprised.

Maybe this won’t be as bad as I thought.

“That is the stupidest f**king idea I have ever heard!”

Nope, it’s much worse.

“I’ve researched Anderson. He’s the old-fashioned type. He’s not going to want to go blind staring at your laptop all night. He’s going to want something concrete, tangible. Something he can take home. That’s what I’ll give him!”

“This is a multibillion-dollar business meeting—not a fifth grade science fair. I’m not walking in there with frigging poster board!”

It’s after midnight. We’ve been in my office for a little over twelve hours. Except for these few minute details, every aspect of our presentation has been banged out, negotiated, compromised.

I feel like I just bartered a goddamn peace treaty.

By now, Kate has released her hair and lost her shoes. My tie is off, the top two buttons of my shirt open. Our appearance could make things feel friendly—intimate—like an all-night study session in college.

If we weren’t trying to rip each other’s throats open, of course.

“I don’t give a shit if you agree or not. I’m right about this. I’m bringing the poster board.”

I give in. I’m too tired to fight about paper. “Fine. Just—shrink it down.”

We ordered food a few hours ago and worked through dinner. I had pasta with chicken, while Kate preferred a turkey club with fries on the side. Much as I hate to admit it, I’m impressed. Obviously, she doesn’t subscribe to the “I can only eat salads in front of the opposite sex” rule of thumb a lot of chicks swear by. Who gave women that idea? Like a guy’s going to say to his friend, “Dude, she was one fugly chick, but once I saw her chomping that romaine, I just had to nail her.”

No man wants to f**k a skeleton—and nibbling crackers and water like a prisoner of war at dinner isn’t attractive. It just makes us think about what a cranky bitch you’re going to be later on because you’re starving. If a guy’s into you? A cheeseburger deluxe is not going to scare him away. And if he’s not? Ingesting all the greens on Peter Cottontail’s farm isn’t going to change that, trust me.

Now back to the battle royal.

“I’m doing the talking,” I tell her firmly.

“No, no way!”

“Kate—”

“These are my ideas, and I’m presenting them!”

She’s purposely trying to make me nuts. She’s deliberately trying to drive me off the deep end. She’s probably hoping I’ll throw myself out the window, just to get away from the annoyance that is her. Then she’ll have Anderson all to herself.

❮❯