Surprise look at Valentina and Paige….

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Capitolo Primo


Atop a bed of chocolate silk, I lie completely naked and spread, waiting … just waiting.

The French doors to the balcony overlooking the ocean are open, a breeze blowing the sheer, champagne colored curtains hanging from them. My nipples peak when the cool, midnight ocean breeze sweeps across my heated and wanton body.

I cup my breasts and tug gently on the diamonds adorning the ends of the piercings, sending a wave of pleasure down my body until it reaches my core. My pussy clenches as I stroke my fingertips down my body and cup myself, applying just enough pressure to intensify my need. I gently rub around my clit, causing more pressure and pleasure to build, to burn, to ready myself.

Sliding a finger into my center, I moan as I curve it up, hitting my sweet spot, while using the other hand to pinch my nipple harder.

Closing my eyes, I continue to build the desire as I wait for him. And when he appears, his milk chocolate eyes rake down my body as he removes his crisp, white, button down shirt, slowly revealing his exquisite body inch by inch to me. The black ink covering his hard, ripped body causes more fire to burn deep inside me.

When his shirt falls to the ground, he runs his hand over his thick black hair that has specks of silver near his temple. He ages like the finest of wines made from the grapes grown in the vineyards we once played in as children.

“You couldn’t wait for me, Valentina?” His voice is husky and oozes with desire, desire for me.

“I’ve yet to come,” I purr, allowing my legs to fall to the sides, giving him a better look at what I know causes his mouth to water, showing him what he yearns to taste, to touch. Displaying what once was his and still is.

He unhurriedly unbuckles the black Italian leather belt around his trim waist, letting it hang open as he slowly works his button and zipper with his thick, long fingers. He then pulls his belt out inch by glorious inch, one loop at a time, as he watches me rub my soaked slit.

“My pussy is more beautiful now than I remember when I …” he sighs, not saying it. He never says it.

He pushes his thumbs slowly under the waistband of his undone slacks, providing me a glimpse of the deep-cut muscles that form a V.

I lick my lips, wetting them, preparing them for him.

My love.

He pushes his slacks down slightly, just enough to tease and torment me, exposing the thick root of his cock.

My insides clench. I want so badly to ease the burn.

“Wait for me, Valentina,” he whispers as I watch him push his pants farther down.

He is beautiful.

His cock is growing thicker before my eyes.

He pushes his slacks farther down.

I know his cock like it is a part of me. I know how much is still covered.

“You want my cock.” It’s not a question. It’s a statement. He knows it.

Yet, I still tell him, “Yes.”

He pushes his pants down fully now and stands up.

He is the only man I have been with whose cock doesn’t stand erect. It can’t. His thick, heavy cock hangs between his legs perfectly, resting against tight, large, magnificent balls.

I inhale the salty scent of the sea air, willing him closer so I can smell his manly scent over it.

He grips his cock, swiping his thumb across the broad head. Then he lifts it up and rubs his forefinger against his thumb, spreading the pre-cum between them as he walks closer to me.

“Would you like to taste my cum, Valentina?”

I nod.

Walking closer to my naked body, flames burn behind his eyes. Flames that haven’t lost their heat, their luster, their desire for me.

“Move closer to the end of the bed. I want your beautiful hair falling off its edge while you look up at me as I feed you.”

I turn my body, letting my head hang over the edge of the bed as I look up at him. “Feed me …”

I hear the whispers. Whispers then the giggles.

My loves.

I roll to my side, wishing for just ten more minutes of sleep as the bed dips behind then in front of me.

“Feed us! Feed us­­­­!”

The giggling begins, and then the jumping.

I open my eyes to my reality and try to sit up while my girls, my wild ones, jump on my bed, demanding to be fed.

I grab them both, one in each arm, and pull them down onto the mattress before tickling them.

“What would you like this morning?”


“Go brush your teeth and give me ten minutes.”

I get a kiss on each cheek before they scramble off the bed and run for the door.


Standing under the water in the two-person shower, I let myself remember what I was … before them.

Trouble is said to come in threes, but not in my life. It has always come in twos. Like when my parents died in a double-engine aircraft, on the secondof February, leaving behind twochildren—me and my brother Dominic. And in my life, I thought I had loved twomen. One was no such thing. He was a liar, a manipulative snake who groomed me from the time I was my daughters’ ages to believe he was my savior. The other was in fact my savior. He was my love in the purest and truest form. Until he betrayed me.

Now I am without a lover, except in my dreams, every night, the same one as last night.

My true love used to fuck women, twowomen at a time. In his belief, those women wanted each other more than they wanted him. Therefore, he was free from the responsibility and burdens that caring for a heart held. He did not want to cause anyone’s heart to break.

Twoweeks after he betrayed me, I found out I was pregnant. Twoweeks after that, I found out I was pregnant with twins.


My beautiful girls, Francesca and Antoinette, were born on April fourth. Doubletrouble. And they certainly are.

My identical twins are mischievous, little beauties. Some days, they try tricking me into believing they are the other. Last night, it was during teeth brushing. Antoinette, or Toinette as we call her, brushed her teeth twice. As exhausted as I was, it almost went unnoticed. But having grown up with an overprotective brother and a bodyguard turned lover as my biggest role models, coupled with what I have been through in my life, I notice things. And this, I noticed immediately.

Toinette is the quieter of the two. She likes softer colors. The pale pink paint on her toes as opposed to Francesca, or Cesca’s, plum was a dead giveaway that landed them both in trouble.

After breakfast, I braid their long, black hair and make sure their uniforms are properly pressed before I take them to school and drop them off. My daughters attend a private Catholic school where they learn about religion, as I believe it’s important to have that foundation because, without it, what is there to hope for aside from material things?

I want my girls to be strong like me. I want them to hold their values and beliefs so tightly it becomes an extension of who they are, like their father. I want them to know right from wrong, regardless of what life shows them. I want them to be a perfect part of two people—me and him—only different.

After dropping the girls off, I hit my morning yoga class before heading home to work.

In my office, I smile as I look up at the sign my aunt Joe gave me when I took my old lifestyle and fused it into my current one. I was once a half-assed student who lost my dream of working with animals when the animal Benito ruined me. What I became great at is partying and posting on social media. People loved it. Then I went from a socialite to a single mom, and they apparently liked that just as much.

I began getting products mailed to me from baby companies to review and promote after posting monthly pictures of my fast-growing belly. I stuck my nose up at most of the products, and Aunt Joe found them in the garbage. She talked me into giving away what I didn’t like. Overnight, my social media likes blew up. Then I began getting two of each product sent to me; one to keep and one to giveaway. I also started getting checks and direct payments into my account for doing so. My popularity grew, and so did an income I didn’t really need but appreciate.

So now, while my girls are at school, I do video tutorials and post random things about my day and my girls.

Still blows my mind that I get paid for this.


Sighing, I lean against the doorframe of their shared room. One side is painted pink, the other plum. Even if color didn’t separate it, you would be able to tell which side belonged to which girl. I thought they would have grown out of wanting to share a room, but they haven’t.

I watch them sleep, like the beautiful angels they are. Beautiful, protected angels who I will make sure no one ever ruinsever.

I glance at the windows and see they are locked, but I already know they are. We checked them together, all three of us. No one will sneak in here and put thoughts in their heads they shouldn’t have.

The nightlight is glowing a soft yellow, so when they wake in the night, they will see no one is standing at the end of their bed, watching them. Plus, the security system that was installed by my cousin Cyrus is said to be unbreakable. I have tested that theory … several times.

Every night, every single night for all these years, I have slept like shit because the man who was there, even when he wasn’t visible, who always protected me, is now gone. He’s gone when he should be protecting what our love created.

I hate him for it.

Pushing myself off the doorjamb, I sigh as I pull my hair up into a messy ponytail and slide the elastic band from my wrist to tie it. Then I walk into their room one last time to kiss their foreheads and glance around before walking out the door, locking it behind me, knowing they are safe, sleeping, and protected by me, their mother.

Walking down the stairs, I see the picture of him proudly displayed on the same walls that pictures of our girls hang. He may have betrayed me, them, us, but I would never let them know I felt that way. I want them to know that the man who was their father was good and strong, and would have loved them had he not been killed the night he slayed the dragon.

Walking into my room, I move past the bed, open the doors to the balcony, and look up at the stars. Using my finger, I outline the constellation of Orion as he shines down over us, reminding me of Franco.


Nine Years Ago…

Waking to the empty bed, I stretch and take in the scent of him, of me, of us, of passion and sex and lust and want and need.

My body is sore, deliciously so. My insides ache, not only from the all-night love making session we shared, but the need for him to fill me again.

Hearing the water in the bathroom running, I force myself out of the bed and make my way into the bathroom. The glass shower door is fogged over, as is the mirror. I open the door to find it empty.

“Franco.” I laugh as I yell out his name, knowing he has done this to toy with me, because I tricked him in the same way.

I grab the white terrycloth hotel robe and wrap it over my body as I walk out of the bedroom and into the suite.

Seeing Aunt Joe at the table, with her husband Thomas standing beside her with his hand on her shoulder, I look around.

“Valentina, sit please.” She pushes out the chair that is beside her.

I shake my head because, in her eyes, in her voice, in her unmistakable likeness to her mother, my grandmother, a memory is triggered. The memory of the day my parents’ plane crashed.

Unlike Grandmother, she doesn’t insist, she stands as her eyes fill with tears.

I step back when she reaches toward me.

“Dominic?” I ask while retreating.

“He’s on his way home from Italy to be with you,” she says, taking another step toward me.

“Then who?” I ask, knowing by the emptiness in the room and the one that is quickly filling my heart that the answer is Franco.

“He was shot,” she whispers, no longer allowing me to walk away as she grabs me and hugs me.

I sob, and so does she.

“He killed Benito,” she whispers repeatedly, as if to soothe me, but it doesn’t.


Today and nearly every day for the past nine years, I wish I had possessed the strength to kill him myself; kill Benito DeLuca, the man who made a desolate and worried little girl trust him by telling her that, when the rest of her family was gone, he would make sure she was all right, because Segrettis die, but DeLucas live forever. When no one else was there to ensure I was taken care of, he told me that he would, and that I would be his. Hearing that from a man after being sent away with the blessing from my everything, my brother Dominic, gave me hope … until I found myself pregnant and he denied my calls.

When my private school contacted Grandmother, she made me promise to never mention it to Dominic, to protect him by keeping the secret that would ruin him, the family, the business, and what was left of my reputation. It wasn’t until then that I found out that was why Dominic wanted me gone, because he thought I would be safe from the danger he saw, the one I took refuge in because, at that time, I was too innocent to know men like Benito existed.

I hate him. I hate him for everything he did to me, to Franco’s sister, and to my girls; my beautiful girls who don’t know the man who slayed dragons for us all—their father, my one true and beautiful love.

Walking down the hallway, I kick off my shoes. My cousins’ wives always comment on them. It starts with how beautiful they are, and then gradually becomes something along the lines of: how the hell do you wear them all day, every day? I wonder how the hell they don’t, but to each their own.

As I walk down the hall, I can’t help admiring our home. I was pregnant when I purchased the beach house. It wasn’t done without consideration of space, security, location, and privacy. In all honestly, I can thank Dominic, Aunt Joe, my cousins, and Vincent for making me truly consider all those things.

Without them, I have no idea what kind of mother I would have become.



Chapter One

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger



I am standing in front of the mirror of the twentieth-floor bathroom at Fast Forward Inc., one of the top ten marketing companies in the New York City area. I chose this female-owned company from the list of possible internships based on how badass NYC was. Not to mention the fact a woman-owned company would surely be easier to advance in than one of the good old boy firms.

Nine years later, I have yet to lead an account, but I have been involved in several large projects and have been praised for my work. I haven’t made senior executive …

I scratch my head, thinking. In fact, only one female has, and rumor has it, she and the owner, Cheryl, are said to “like” each other, even though they’re both married.

I shake off the annoyance caused by the fact that equality in the workplace is still a damn joke. It is in fact who you know and very possibly who you blow.

I flatten out my favorite Vera blazer then look myself over, reflecting on a conversation I had with Mom and Babička a few years back before Babička’s dementia became obvious, and before the accident that left my mom with a brain injury, which causes her to speak much slower and move just as slow.

They both told me how proud they were of me. How impressed they were with how hard I work and still remain happy.

At the time, I wasn’t all that happy. I had just broken up with Richard, a man who I thought was a lot like my father. He wasn’t. I didn’t tell them that, either.

I make a good amount of money, and I earn every cent. I have great benefits and a retirement. I had a huge apartment in a trendy New York neighborhood, and yes, I still have three out of four of my best friends from the time I was in elementary school. My blessings. Still, I am annoyed as hell that I keep getting looked over for promotions.

I’m sure today will be a game changer. I’m sure I will finally be paid back for my loyalty, dedication, and the insane number of hours I put in, proving I will always work hard … unlike all the others who have made senior executive and have proven far less.

I take a deep breath as I once again smooth out my black Vera blazer and force myself to smile at myself as I look down at my red Anouk pointy-toed Choos. I click my heels together for good luck then decide luck isn’t necessary when you have the power of Wang and Choo, partnered with my proven past record.

Walking down the marbled hall, my heels click against it. A cadence to a march I am sure will lead to a meeting where a file will be pushed across the elegant cherry wood conference table in front of me, with my very own campaign to head. The first step to Paige Arnesen: senior executive.

Sitting in the black leather chair, I look around, waiting for my co-workers and Cheryl Firsts, President and CEO, to start trickling in. Then I look down at my phone and see I am ten minutes early, per my norm. It’s yet another way to ensure I impress upon everyone that I am highly dedicated to my job.

They all begin to trickle in. Johnson, Richards, Peters, Dickson, all appropriately named and all started after me. Dickson and Peters are easy to work with. They give appropriate acknowledgment to the members of their teams. Richards and Johnson are world class assholes. Both took full credit for a highly successful scotch campaign I worked extremely hard on.

When Cheryl walks in, I eye her arms to see how many files she has. Three, she has three. My odds are good, very good.

She sets them down on the table before sitting down herself.

“We’ve received four RFPs this week alone. Three weeks to proposal, and I want them all.” She pushes a file toward Richards and Johnson. “The two of you killed the Willow’s campaign. This account, Tarson vodka, is for the two of you. I expect you to nail it.”

They nod and open the file. I expect them to look at me since I’m the one who did all the damn work on Willow, but they don’t.

“Next is a fashion subscription box, Vavoom,” she says, looking at us.

I hold my breath, knowing there is no doubt I’ll get it. It seems I am the only other woman here, besides Sandy, who has absolutely no fashion sense. None.

When she passes the file to Sandy, I feel the all-knowing burn in the throat. Instead of allowing it to creep up in the form of tears, though, I push it down. With it, hope descends like the fucking elevator I leave the twentieth floor in five, sometimes six days a week.

There has been no other campaign in the past nine years that I was better suited to run. I’m a subscription box junky and a fashion-forward girl.

I keep my eyes trained on the table before me as I try to calm the humming in my ears that is no doubt my blood boiling.


I look up at the sound of my name to Sandy. “I’m sorry. Can you repeat that?”

When Cheryl speaks I realize it was her and not Sandy.

“This one is yours.” She slides the file in front of me as they all get up and quickly exit the room.

“Thank you so much for the opportunity,” I call after her, jumping to my feet. “I promise you won’t regret it.”

A quick nod of her head and she is out the door.

Richards snickers. “No better man for the job.”

I refuse to let him ruin this moment for me.

In all my newfound confidence, I finally smart back at his latest sexist remark. “Sometimes the better man is a woman.”

“In this case, you’re one hundred percent correct.” Johnson chuckles as they walk out of the conference room.

Fuck them, I think as I grab my file and hold it against my chest, enjoying the very moment that my life has changed. All the long hours, hard work, going the extra mile every time has finally paid off. The funny thing is, I don’t care if it has paid off. I don’t even care if all those men are making more than I am because of work I did for them with sometimes not even a thank you. The days they left early to pick up their kids, to meet divorce lawyers, to meet mistresses, or take long vacations. The hours I stayed behind when they left as soon as they knew Cheryl’s car had picked her up and she wouldn’t see them skate out instead of staying late to finish their work. I don’t care one bit.

I walk across the floor and stand in front of the window, looking down at the beautiful pandemonium that makes New York City, New York City. I dream about my next step-up in the climb up the corporate ladder, getting closer to my ultimate goal—to someday own my own marketing firm.

Today is the greatest day of my life. I want to send out invitations announcing my success like my friends do wedding and baby shower announcements. I want to throw a party like they did for their engagements. I want to buy a brand-new dress and brand-new Choos and go out wearing a sash that a bachelorette would wear at her party. But instead of it reading “Bachelorette” in pink, I want it to say “Women Executive/Warrior Princess”, in lavender.

I’m again flooded with emotions, yet I don’t push them down. I want to let them erupt with the full force of what I feel right this very moment.

Erupt …

I look at my phone and decide that, although none of those things can actually happen without looking like a crazy woman and not the next woman of power, one thing can.

I hurry out of the conference room, smiling—no, beaming—as I hurry to my desk where I set my file on it then quickly walk around to Rachel, one of my cubicle neighbors.

She smiles wearily at me. I’m not sure if it’s because she thinks I will change with this new responsibility, or better yet, new possibility.

I try to hide my excitement, but I feel the eruption boiling, so I hurriedly tell her, “I need to run home for half an hour. I have plenty of time on the books; it shouldn’t be a problem,” I kick off my Choos then bend to pick them up. “If anyone asks—”

“No need to explain.” She looks past me and whispers, “Take all the time you need.”

“You’re a doll.” I wink as I turn to rush back and grab my walking shoes. I may just run home to burn off some of this energy, or I may just kill my poor Ralph.

Stepping outside of my office building, I listen to the horns blow and the city streets bustling with movement and noise. Such a contrast to my southern hometown where everything moved slower. Even the breeze seemed to take its time there.

Having moved in with Ralph a month ago, I realize that the weariness of using the subway may never be something I have to overcome. Being so much closer to the office has its perks.

Celebratory morning orgasms will soon be added to the list of positives of dating a man ten years older, one who is definitely more mature than the fools I dated before. I admit I was apprehensive about walking away from my place, but his … his is so much nicer. Still, it made me feel less independent at first, so Ralph suggested that, if I felt that way, I should purchase some new furniture pieces, drapes, art work, and make it mine. So, I did. I even surprised him with a new four poster bed, hoping that maybe he would venture outside the proverbial box and get a little kinky.

As I walk into the lobby of our building, the doorman nods but doesn’t get up. Someday soon, I hope to afford a place where the doorman wears a uniform, smiles, and doesn’t just nod but greets you like in the movies.

I ride the elevator to the thirteenth floor and step out, fishing for my keys as I hurry to the apartment. When I get to it, I check my phone, hoping Ralph hasn’t left for work yet. He normally doesn’t head to the firm until ten in the morning—perks of having your family name on the building, I suppose.

When I open the door to walk in and reach down to pull off my tennis shoes, I startle when I hear a woman gasp.

I look up into the eyes of a half-naked stranger, and then I see Ralph, who is just as bare, except …

“Oh, hell no, not my Choos!” I yell at him, yes him—Ralph.

Ralph is wearing my Jimmy Choos! The ones with the sparkles. The ones I haven’t yet had an occasion to wear myself.

As I lunge toward him, he jumps backward … in six-inch stilettos and doesn’t even lose his balance, which renders me speechless and, honestly, a little impressed. I would’ve been on my ass.

Holding out his hand to stop my advance, he uses the other to pull off his—my …

“My fucking shoes!”

Still unwavering while balancing on one foot, he quickly removes the first then the second.

“Paige, I can explain,” he says as the woman who is still half dressed, the one I would have torn after had it not been for my fucking shoes, with arms full of clothing, runs out the door.

“Call me,” she says right before the door slams shut.

It is only when my Choos are in my hand that I notice he is also wearing my lacey black panties.

I glare at him, and he takes another step back.

“Let me explain,” he starts.

The look on his face is pitiful. That, along with the fact that he is wearing my underwear, somehow makes me laugh. I throw my head back and laugh even harder. I laugh like my dad.

God, I miss my dad.

When I’m laughing so hard that I’m in tears, my belly aching, he looks like he may cry … still in my underwear.

I wipe my eyes, telling him, “You’re not the right man for me.” I’m so tempted to use words to reduce him into a blithering pile of nothing, or nail him in his forehead with a heel, or two, but I don’t.

“You know I love you, Paige,” he begins. “I support you in your dreams and ambitions, as farfetched as they are, so I would expect you to give me a few moments to explain and see that—”

“Farfetched dreams?” My voice squeaks.

“Yes, the dream of becoming more than you are capable—”

“Says the man with his dick tucked God only knows where, wearing women’s underwear and my shoes!” I snap.

He sighs and shakes his head. “I knew you weren’t as progressive as—”

“You listen here, Ralph,” I say his name, allowing all the bitterness inside me to surround it as I walk around him toward the bedroom. “My dreams have come true. I was given my own campaign today.”

I stop when I see our bed—myfucking bed—and all kinds of things on it  that shock me. Dildos, handcuffs, clamps, rope …

“Restraints on my fucking bed?” I yell as I turn toward him.

“Darling, I know what you’re thinking. I want you to calm down and—”

“Shut up, Ralph!”

He gasps at the harsh words.

I walk into the closet and pull out two large suitcases, both I bought last year when I was supposed to go to Italy to visit Laney with Valentina but was asked to stay in New York to help with a campaign. I toss it on the floor and open it, throwing all my shoes inside. I don’t want that bastard to put his feet in them. Hell, I should leave them here, because he probably already has, and I would if they weren’t Jimmy Choos and Christian Louboutins, all eight pairs, one for each year I have been employed at FF.

Next, I toss in my hand bags—eight as well—and then I grab as many clothes off the closet rack as I possibly can and shove them inside one of the suitcases.

“Paige,” Ralph says quietly. “Where are you going to take all that?”

“My shoes? My bags?” I snap. “Anywhere you can’t play dress up with them.”

“I would’ve never cheated on you if I thought you could handle this side of me.”

“I would never had moved in with you had I known this side of you,” I tell him.

“Well then, you, too, have deceived me.”

Oh, my God, this man is insane. At least the other three—yes, three—this year didn’t try to fuck with my head. They just crushed my heart and self-esteem.

“Says the man—and I use that term very loosely—who thinks he’s a lesbian.”

“This coming from a woman who wants power so much, yet she lets others walk all over her.”

“Save it, Ralph,” I snarl as I pull up the handle and stand the first bag up.

“Where are you going?”

“Work, Ralph.” I turn and finally face him. Now he has on a pair of pajama pants, though I’m sure my lacy panties are under them. I look up at him and puff out my chest. “Even you can’t ruin today for me.”

“We’ll talk when you get home, darling.” Ralph sighs. “We can work this out.”

“You can fuck right off,” I snap.

One minute, I’m laughing; the next, angry; the next, disgusted; and now, right this very moment, I’m starting to feel numb. I suppose that’s what happens when you are on the highest of highs then the lowest of lows—you become numb.

No, no, no, no. I am happy! Today is a good day, dammit. Even Ralph and his affair can’t ruin it for me.

I need to get back to work, dive into my campaign.

“I am a strong woman. And you, you’re a manipulative, slimy … pig.”

I look at him, feeling like I may throw up. Again, I refuse to allow it. I need to get the hell out of here.

“I’ll get the rest later,” I say as I wheel one of my cases past him.

“We can work this out,” he calls after me.

“The hell we can,” I hiss as I walk out the door.

Wheeling the damn bag down Seventh Avenue toward 53rdstreet, my cream Goyard spinning suitcase becomes more difficult to navigate. Several times, it gets stuck going over the sewer grates and nearly pulls my arm out of its socket. I sputter obscenities at it while people seem to be staring. And you know what? I don’t give a damn.

I pass the HOPE sign, one which I look at as some look toward the cross, as a symbol of hope, and I force myself to smile.

Take the good with the bad, Babička would say. Because the good is my job, which I have technically been in a nine-year relationship with. My cross-dressing, kink-freak boyfriend of four months, he’s the bad. I will no longer be taking him.

God, I miss them.

Trpělivost růže přináší… Patience does in fact bring roses.

All those times I begged to pick the roses and got annoyed when he told me to be patient, I never understood. Now I long to tell Dědečekhe was right. That sticking it out with FF has paid off. The flower has bloomed. I try to imagine what he would say about Ralph when it hits me …

I rushed into yet another relationship. I didn’t give it time to bloom. Hell, I didn’t even know what kind of flower he was … clearly.

Trpělivost růže přináší, I think as I look to the sliver of sky visible through the skyscrapers and whisper a thank you to Dědečekin heaven.

Getting off the elevator minutes later, I look around and smile at my co-workers as I drag my suitcase behind me. I get plenty of peculiar looks—deserving, I suppose—but I decide to ignore them. What else can you do?

I spot the file on my desk as I try to push the suitcase under it, which doesn’t fit so I have to shove it into the corner, and realize I never even looked inside the file to see exactly what it is I’m supposed to be marketing.

I stare at it like I used to look at gifts under the Christmas tree, wanting so badly to tear it open and see what await me, yet I also want to savor this time, this memory. Plus, the more I focus on it, the less I focus on the picture of Ralph that is so clear in my mind of him sporting my undies and Choos.

I also note that I am uncharacteristically calm after just finding out I was cheated on … in the weirdest way possible. Knowing it’s because of the file, I allow myself to savor it.

I hear the whispers and chuckles of those around me, but I ignore them. Then, when I feel that enough time has passed, I open the file and see the logo for my project. It’s a very pale pink, not all too catchy, and then I read beneath it: Spring Fresh… douche.

I look out of the corner of my eye when I see someone looming over the cubicle wall. They all look the same—the men here at FF … like Ralph, nix the Choos. They are all under six-foot-tall, heads topped with salt and pepper hair with a receding hairline. Their insignificant features make them all blend together, unlike my friend’s husbands, and all the men surrounding them.

I look up and see Johnson. His beady brown eyes mock me as he says, “Best man for the job.”

“What exactly is that supposed to mean?” I ask calmly.

He leans in farther and whispers, “It was a gift.”

“Excuse me?”

“This account was a gift,” he repeats.

“I’ve earned it,” I tell him.

“You may be smart, you may know what you’re doing, but you lack the confidence to be in charge of anything more than  douche.”

I abruptly stand. “I don’t know who you think you are, but just like the Willow campaign, I’ll help you out.”

“Paige,” Rachel whispers, clearly trying to stop me from continuing, but I have had enough.

“Look around, Johnson. Look at all the people who helped you become a senior marketing executive. Now close your tiny, little rat-like brown eyes and envision where you’d be if you didn’t have them all to make yourself look good.”

“Paige.” Rachel doesn’t whisper this time. She’s clearly attempting to shut me up, but I won’t. I deserve to tell him about himself, and not just for me, for all of us.

“The truth is, you’d be sorting mail on the fourth floor because you lack any insight as to what any person in the world is looking for because you can’t see beyond your ginormous fucking ego.”

His jaw drops.

My spirits rise, and then …

“Paige, I’d like to see you in my office. The rest of you, get to work.”

I don’t even have to look back to see who it is. I know it’s Cheryl.

I glance at Rachel, who gives me a look of concern, and force a small smile, letting her know I appreciate her trying to get me to shut my mouth. Then I take a deep breath and turn to walk toward Cheryl’s office at the end of the hall, making sure to keep my head held high, exuding the confidence that Ralph—I mean Johnson—thinks I lack.

As I slow at her receptionist’s desk, the woman shakes her head as a few strands of hair pulled into a bun sways, giving me a silent tsk-tsk before nodding toward the open door. “She’s expecting you.”

“Thank you, Janice.” I regard her politely, even though she didn’t give me the same courtesy.

Once inside Cheryl’s office, I turn to shut the door.

“That won’t be necessary.” Cheryl stands up from her desk. “What just happened out there is unacceptable.”

“What’s unacceptable is what that man said to me, and the way he treats myself and every other female in this firm, Cheryl.”

“It’s Mrs. Firsts, Paige.”

Every muscle in my body tenses as heat from embarrassment spreads through my body. I feel all five-foot-ten-inches of my height begin to lessen. Every ounce of strength, every bit of confidence gained from that one moment, from that file being passed to me, slowly begins to drain from my body.

I push it down again.

“Mrs. Firsts, I apologize.”

“He’s right, Paige. You lack confidence.”

“But my work—”

Cheryl’s cool demeanor melts a bit. “I didn’t ask you here to discuss your work. This is because of what just went on in front of my employees.”

I ask the obvious question, “Why isn’t he in here, too? He’s the one who made snide remarks to me.”

“Paige, I think—”

“He’s the workplace bully. Harassment, is an understatement.”

She freezes at the use of the word. God knows it’s because harassment has become a trend.

I can’t take it anymore. I feel like I am going to completely lose my shit any second now.

“Cheryl”—I step toward the door—“I have years of unused vacation time that I’m going to ask to use.”

She gasps. “How much time?”

I look back. “All of it.”

“Your campaign?”

“Give it to Johnson,” I say as I walk out the door.

Walking past Janice, I give her my sticky-sweet smile and make sure the southern twang in my voice is heard when I say, “Bless your hearts. Every one of you.”

Today is the day I quit dating, love, and yes, when my vacation time is up, she can take the job and shove it up her ass.

I quit!


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