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Eliza groaned when the annoying alarm woke her from a sound sleep. Why a clock manufacturer would choose the same alarm used in a nuclear plant emergency was beyond her understanding. Stretching her arm across the pillows she slapped at the small machine until it became silent. Whether she hit the snooze or off button she couldn’t guess, but silence was now her favorite sound.
In her foggy mind she struggled to understand why she felt so tired. A rough start to a new job had left her exhausted. Remembering the series of events, Eliza tried to differentiate between reality and dreams. Long trip, confrontations with the staff, and sleeping in a different bed would all be culprits for physical fatigue. But the strange dreams had drained her energy.
In the solitary darkness of her room Eliza could feel the blush warming her face as she remembered. Seeing him at the door, feeling his hands on her body, and everything that followed was a dream she would not forget any time soon. She considered how he would react if he had a clue. Well of course Michael Westwright would snarl, sneer, growl and then tell her what he really thought of her.
Acknowledging her failure to make a good first impression, Eliza stretched her limbs and froze. In a panic she held her breath and tried to process the reality of her actions. There had been no dream.
She contemplated calling someone for help. Police? Nurse? Mom? That one made her laugh. Maybe her former roommate would be able to walk her through the next phase. Eliza tried to imagine the conversation.
“Hey it’s me. Eliza. Eliza Wallen? Your roommate last year? Slept across the room from you and whoever the hell made you pant and scream through most of the night? Still don’t remember? Oh well, never mind. Anyway just had sex and needed some advice. What? You can’t help? Oh, I see. Too many years and even more guys since your first time. Oh well, thanks anyway.”
Eliza pulled the blanket over her head and groaned. One day in the real world and she had managed to screw up. Just like Michael said, she should have asked some questions before the sex. Now, she was drowning in guilt from her actions. Yeah, she may not have been alone but she would be the sole owner of the consequences. If living with her mother had taught her anything it was that she would be responsible for anything that happened.
Turning on her side, Eliza pulled her knees to her chest and tried to assess the damage. Her body was sore but not injured. Women did this every day but with better planning. She was stuck here for five more days so immediate remedies were out of the question. She had no other choice but to wait until returning home to see a doctor.
It was just one time. Or was it two? Did it count as two for him? What were the odds of anything happening from one night? Too many people were unable to have children. Certainly she wouldn’t get pregnant the first time. She doubted he had any diseases because guys like that didn’t just sleep with anybody, right?
“Damn,” she whispered in the dark room. “He did with you. And that’s all that matters right now.”
The questions continued pounding in her mind, most were focused on her failures, until she finally took a deep breath and tossed the covers aside. Rising from the bed, Eliza took a moment to find her balance before heading to the shower. She avoided glancing in the mirror as she turned on the water and found a clean towel.
“Learn from your mistakes,” she mumbled before stepping under the warm spray of water.
Her shower was thorough and efficient. When she felt as clean as humanly possible, she shut off the water and reached for the towel. Rubbing the thick terrycloth across her skin, Eliza then squeezed the excess water from her hair and reached for her robe.
Flipping the satin material around, she froze when the dark stain caught her eye. Staring at another reminder of her mistake, she slowly turned to look in the mirror. Prepared to find some signs of the event, she was surprised at the sight of her reflection.
Her skin, flushed pink from the warm water, had no signs of trauma. Not even a bruise was left on her pale flesh. She looked at the eyes staring back at her and wondered where she had lost control. Years of keeping her knees together had ended, forgotten, within seconds of being alone with him. And yet she stood here completely naked with nothing to show for it.
There was no physical evidence but all sorts of sensations. Eliza watched in silence as her hands moved to her breasts. The simple contact instantly reminded her of another’s touch that had sent her out of control. Tracing her fingers down, over her flat stomach, she stopped when her conscience reminded her how last night had started. Frustrated, she wrapped a towel around her body and left the bathroom.
Checking the time, Eliza decided to review her files and prepare for the day. Now that she had met most of the people on her list, she needed to interview them and begin a process of elimination. In two hours she yenibosna escort would make an appearance with the staff of Arliss-Randall Technologies and she needed to be ready.
One day was lost and the only thing she could do about it was avoid repeating the same mistake. As she sat on the bed, Eliza opened her folio and watched the offending schedule slide to the floor. Tempted to let it lie, she grumbled as she leaned forward to snatch the sheet of paper. A quick glance under the bed revealed the paperback that she had been reading earlier and a wrapper of some sort.
Snatching the three items, Eliza sat back on the bed and surveyed her findings. The paperback, now blamed as the source of her downfall, was tossed in the trash. The schedule was returned to the leather binder that she would use throughout the day. But the wrapper held her attention. Was it too much to hope that Michael had been the previous owner of this little foil pack?
Kneeling on the floor, she searched under the bed. Clean. Not one single dust bunny was hiding on the carpet. Obviously the room had been thoroughly prepared for her arrival. And yet, she had no idea how to ask him if had been responsible enough to use the former contents of this wrapper.
She paced the floor, trying to regain control of her emotions but struggled against her guilt. Yesterday had been bad. She had failed to use the time wisely and now she needed to work harder on her assignment. Last night, well, last night was an experience that she needed to forget and never repeat.
Glancing at the table, she decided to order some breakfast. Maybe she would function better on a full stomach. She grabbed the phone, placed the order and started clearing away last night’s dinner dishes. When she had placed the tray outside her door, she began separating and organizing her files according to priority.
With her public binder complete with the damn schedule ready to go, Eliza began reading the content of her client’s dossier. Words that she had skimmed across earlier now popped from the page. Apparently, Arliss-Randall had been experiencing a run of bad luck. Her assignment was hardly their first claim, she learned as she read their experience history. In less than a year the company had filed a claim for a house fire, car accident, death of a member and several other losses.
According to KGA’s findings, all claims had received the same verdict: Denied. Copies of the denials were included in Eliza’s file and included a summary of findings that supported the decision. The presence of accelerants had been a key piece of evidence in ruling the house fire as arson. The car accident had been denied because the owner had neglected to provide certified maintenance for the vintage model, bragging to everyone that he had restored and maintained the car himself. And the wrongful death had been “regrettably denied because no evidence could be found refuting the original cause as suicide”.
Eliza read the findings again, engrossed in the history that she had neglected earlier. Flipping through the file in search of police reports, she nearly fell out of her chair when someone knocked on the door.
“Just a sec,” she called as she closed the file and raced to the bathroom for her robe. Walking to the door, she said, “Wow that was fast. I thought it would take at least…”
“Good morning,” she returned. “I, uh, thought you were breakfast. I mean, I thought you were delivering breakfast.”
“I’m escorting you to breakfast,” he explained. “You didn’t read the schedule.”
“I, uh, yeah, I thought, I know I did.” Eliza turned away to retrieve the stupid sheet of paper and have one moment away from his scrutiny. “Here it is. Breakfast, Blue Room, 8:00. There’s nothing here that says I’m supposed to attend.”
“It’s your schedule,” he said moving to stand behind her. “Why would I give you someone else’s schedule?”
“Well it doesn’t say anything about your escort service. Wait. That didn’t sound right. I meant…”
She stopped when he started laughing. Suddenly his dark, angry features were replaced by something very different. When he smiled, he looked younger. She watched as he struggled to control himself and realized that she had never taken the time to really look at him. In her experience, these guys were never interested in her so she had learned to avoid the temptation and heartache.
Last night, she had noticed his jeans and t-shirt and when he was no longer wearing them. But now, Michael appeared as relaxed dressed in his executive attire as he did in casual. Although he was now silently watching her, Eliza continued staring at the man before her.
He was very handsome with dark hair and dark eyes. But he was so big. Much taller than his brothers, he towered over Eliza’s petite form. His chest was where her gaze would return and not just because it was on her eye level. There was something about the broad expanse that she found comforting. yeşilköy escort He looked strong enough to defend or hold the person he loved.
He presented a package that she couldn’t resist. Hadn’t resisted. Would she if given another chance?
“We need to talk,” he said finally breaking the silence.
“No. Oh, no. God, no,” was all she could say dropping her gaze to the floor. “Please don’t.”
Placing his finger against her face, he stroked his thumb over her bottom lip and added, “Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away, Eliza.”
When she looked up, he saw the expression on her face and dropped his hand.
“I’m not ignoring anything,” she said with obvious strain in her voice. “I’ll deal with it as soon as I return home.”
“Deal with it? By yourself? Is that how you choose to live?”
“It’s the life chosen for me,” she snapped, stepping around him. “If you will excuse me, I suppose I should cancel room service.”
“Then I need to get dressed. I’m sure that I can find the Blue Room on my own.”
“Whether you like it or not, you’re stuck with me. For breakfast and anything else that involves me.”
“Fine,” she mumbled standing in front of her closet. “I’ll mail you the bill for the abortion.”
“Eliza.” When he didn’t continue, she turned around and found him standing at the table holding the mysterious wrapper between his fingers. “There should be no need for an abortion. But that doesn’t mean an accident couldn’t happen.”
“It was yours,” she simply stated.
“It was mine.”
“Thank you,” she barely whispered and turned back to her clothes. She wanted to jump for joy, shout from the roof but she stood there trembling as she fought the tears filling her eyes. “I need a few minutes to get dressed. You don’t have to wait. I’ll be there on time.”
She felt, rather than heard, him move behind her. When his arms wrapped around her waist, she held her breath and waited.
“I prefer to walk with you,” he whispered against her ear.
She leaned back into his warmth finding strength that she had never sought in anyone else. Resting her cheek against his chest, she listened to the steady rhythm of his heartbeat, so opposite from her own. She glanced up to see his eyes just before he leaned towards her.
The kiss was soft and slow, unlike the insanity from last night. With a small moan she parted her lips and allowed his tongue to trace the entrance of her mouth. Turning in his arms, she stretched her arms around his neck and pulled him closer. His hands moved along her rib cage never touching her breasts or reaching for the belt of her robe. Just when she felt the hold on her passion slide away, he stopped.
With a quick kiss to her lips he pulled away from her embrace. “We can’t do this,” he said in a lower voice.
“Yeah,” she replied, amazed at how small her voice sounded. “We shouldn’t.”
“I mean we don’t have time right now,” he explained, walking to the bathroom. “Get dressed. And please wear a jacket. That damn librarian-stripper look you had yesterday nearly drove me insane.”
An hour later Eliza was sitting at large round table with every member of the Randall-Arliss executive team. While some wore business suits others wore more casual clothes or uniforms. Apparently, the leadership team included everyone from the vice presidents to the directors of less glamorous departments. Glancing at the employee list Deborah had so ungenerously provided yesterday, Eliza discovered a discrepancy in the numbers.
“Whachya doin there?” the pretty woman next to her asked. “Working? Well don’t let one of the big three see you. They insist that we have this breakfast every Friday with no shop talk. And that includes last minute studying.”
“Uh, no,” Eliza finally said. “I’m trying to place the names to the roster that I have, but there seems to be two people at the table who are not on my list.”
“Oh, that’s probably Kimberly and Olivia. See?” she explained, pointing across the table. “They’re Jonathan and Thomas’ wives but not employees. Just one big happy family,” she added with a dramatic roll of her eyes. “I’m Brooke by the way. Director of ancillary services which is basically everything that is necessary but totally boring or disgusting.”
“I would have guessed that you were more involved with athletics or employee health.”
“Nope. That belongs to your Royal Highness Deborah Piedmont. And she doesn’t let anyone near her turf.”
“So I’ve learned,” Eliza mumbled. “By the way, I’m …”
“Eliza Wallen. We know. Everyone knows. Since the theft, we’ve been waiting for KGA to get off their ass and send an adjuster but I have to admit, you aren’t exactly what we were expecting.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” Brooke started in a much quieter voice, “with all of the delays, we were expecting some tough cop kind of guy to show up and start interrogating us. You seem zeytinburnu escort quite harmless.”
“It’s an assessment. Not an interrogation. But maybe I’m just one part of the investigation.”
“Wouldn’t you know?”
“No. I suppose I wouldn’t,” Eliza confessed, feeling a sense of dread creeping into her thoughts. “But I have an agenda with very practical questions for certain people so maybe I will provide some direction for the firm to follow.”
“Everyone had hoped that you would do whatever you do, leave and send a check next week. This claim is destroying us.”
“Well because …”
“Hey you two,” Jonathan called from across the table, “Looks like you’re talking business. Brooke, you know the rules. Ah, here comes the food.”
When everyone’s attention was turned toward the wait staff and their trays, Eliza leaned towards Brooke and whispered, “Can we talk after the meal? I’d like to clarify some questions.”
With a simple nod Brooke looked away and joined the others in conversations about family, friends, vacations and other topics that Eliza could neither understand nor participate. The group at the table appeared to enjoy the fellowship and food as they teased and joked about politics and in-laws with similar animosity softened by the announcement of an upcoming birthday or expecting couple.
Eliza remained silent and steadily grew more uncomfortable in the midst of this close pack. She had never considered herself depressed, just realistic. As the joking and laughing continued, she silently contemplated her future. She had always considered herself executive material because of her serious devotion to the task at hand. But now, she realized that she may lack the social skills needed to not only climb the corporate ladder but also survive the business world.
Glancing around the table she noticed the faces, animated with excitement, while either telling or listening to a story. The curve of the table hindered her view of Michael but she could hear him laughing at Thomas’ account of one particular year at summer camp. Even she had to smile when the climax of the story revealed a practical joke gone awry.
Eliza continued to watch each member of the group silently until she felt hairs prickle on her neck. Her attempt to be nonchalant failed when she caught the two women whispering with pointed glances in her direction. After yesterday, she had mentally slotted Deborah as a potentially hostile witness but now she could probably add one of the wives to the list.
Resisting the urge to drop her gaze, Eliza continued watching the women. No doubt this Westwright wife could give any beauty contestant a decent challenge but there was something odd about the woman’s expression. She struggled to smile at a photograph passed to her. The practiced turn of her pink lips revealed perfect white teeth in a smile so bright even Eliza felt pleased to see it. But the light of her smile never entered her eyes.
Passing the picture along, the woman said something and laughed before turning her attention back to the newcomer. And then Eliza saw it. The fake smiles and laughs could barely hide the sorrow dominating this woman’s life. Switching her gaze from the woman to Deborah, she wondered why one was so sad when the other was so angry.
The quiet evaluation ended when Jonathan rose from his chair tapping his water glass with his knife. “May I please have your attention?” he asked, continually tapping the glass until the impact shattered the fragile goblet, showering his neighbors with ice water. “Damn! It looks so easy on TV.”
“Now they know why your family refuses to sit near you,” Michael explained as staff quickly brought towels to their aid.
“Shut up, man,” Jonathan mumbled. “Sammy, I’m sorry. Take the rest of the day off,” he offered, receiving a round of laughter. “Ok, I’ll make this quick.”
“Thank you,” Sammy mumbled with a chuckle as he picked ice from his lap.
“Tonight’s banquet will not include the announcements that we had anticipated but it will still be a hell of a celebration. Another successful quarter that exceeded our budget and wildest expectations has given us a chance to share profits not only with you but also with the entire staff.” He paused as the group murmured in agreement. “I am requesting that you remind everyone in your department to be present and in appropriate attire…” he paused, looking across the table at a younger man.
“You said black tie,” the man replied in his defense. “I wore a black tie.”
“And Nikes,” Jonathan added before continuing. “Formal dress code people and if you don’t know what it means, ask. Anyway, please keep the bonuses quiet. We would like for it to be a surprise.”
Everyone applauded when he finished and returned to his seat. As the meeting ended and the group prepared to leave, Eliza was surprised how happy the managers appeared to be for their staff. Turning in her seat, she noticed that Brooke was twisting her napkin and staring at her lap.
“You don’t agree with profit sharing?”
“Oh, no. I mean, yes, yes certainly I do. It’s just the other part. Have you ever tried to convince a garbage man to wear a tux? Half of my staff has already decided to call in sick tonight and the dress code will send the others running for the border.”
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