Irresistible Billionaires by Summer Brooks
Istopped halfway down the block and slipped off my heels, feeling the reprieve in the pads of my feet. Anger was still pulsing through me, but it wasn't just because of the company, no matter how much I wanted desperately to blame it on them.
How do I leave that company a one-star review?
Hopping and skipping across the asphalt, I hurried into the stairwell of the parking garage. As usual, I remembered the floor number, but from there, it was a game of hide and seek. I searched for my car in the crowded parking garage, trying not to let my anxiety get the best of me. It was hard though, the company had basically told me I wasn't even good enough to interview. I didn't even have a chance to completely screw it up.
I inched over toward the wall and stopped for a minute, pulling out my phone. I pulled up the site, Jobstabber.com, figuring why not? They didn't have the professionalism to call and cancel, why should I hold back? I spent at least ten minutes standing in the parking garage, no shoes, typing out the most intellectual but scathing review I could possibly think of. It was a masterpiece of snide, passive-aggressive jabs and sarcastic one-liners. After all, I was a marketing manager. I was used to writing eye-catching copy.
As I stared down at it though, my finger hovering over the post button, I let out a long, deep sigh. I knew leaving that review would be bad. It would not only be seen and easily tracked back to me, but it could hurt my chances of getting a job anywhere else. The companies out there talked. They all had connections somehow.
I leaned my head against the filthy wall of the parking garage, still holding my heels in one hand. Dirt and oil seeped into my skin as I stood there, but I didn't care.
I thought back to my call with Sarah and laughed. Leave it to Sarah to already know I had tucked tail and run.
A car drove past, and I groaned, pulling myself from the wall. My calves were sore from walking in those heels, and I wouldn't even begin to talk about the amount of boob sweat that had collected throughout the day. It was incredibly muggy out, which was no shocker for San Francisco. I just usually didn't spend my time walking around the city in heels and a power suit.
I pressed the button on my key fob repeatedly, cursing myself for not remembering where I'd parked. "Note to self: Get GPS tracking for the car."
One of those days, I was going to end up getting lost in the maze of ups and downs, forever searching for my car. I would haunt the building, targeting successful businesspeople. A little rattle of chains, a little beeping of a ghost key fob, and I would have my torment.
At least my own running commentary was keeping my mind busy as I searched.
After what felt like an eternity, I finally heard a beep and saw the lights go off on my car. My shoulder's relaxed.
Finally, I cannot wait for alcohol, chick flicks, and self-pity.
On the way back to my apartment, my thoughts drifted back to Zach. That very familiar embarrassment surged through me, thinking about how sure I was I even had to avoid him at all. He wouldn't have even noticed me if I hadn't done a triple-axel face dive.
Am I really so forgettable? Maybe I just have an unmemorable face? I must've sat behind him over fifty times. We had a bunch of the same classes together for crying out loud.
I pulled down my driver's side mirror and stared at my reflection. What's wrong with me?
I glanced at my lips. The vibrant-red lipstick made them pop. It complemented my warm-brown eyes and the red frames of my glasses. I snapped the mirror back up.
No,I'm not the problem.
I had to stop beating myself up.
A car horn honked, and I realized the light had turned green. I waved sorry in the guy's direction, but he zoomed past me and flipped me off.
I couldn't believe I'd been daydreaming while driving.
Ugh, stop being a pathetic loser with a crush on some guy from high school.
I already knew what was going to happen. I was going to resort to my usual hobbies, the ones that forced me to stop daydreaming about a life I wasn't destined to live. In order to do that, it took a little internet stalking and a lot of daydreaming. On the way home, I picked up supplies for my other favorite hobbies—tequila, and ice cream. I’d text Bella and Sarah when I got there.
As soon as I swung the door to my apartment shut, I stripped down in the hallway and picked my filthy clothes up off the floor to throw into the hamper. I opened up my phone and formed a group text with Sarah and Bella.
"Hey. I have to tell you about what happened today. The interview went horribly. I'll tell you more about it when you get here. Bring booze and popcorn. I already got the tequila. And be ready for some serious gossip."I hit send.
Since it was just going to be Sarah and Bella, I threw on my plush llama pajamas on and plopped down in front of the TV. I spoke into the remote. "Search for romantic comedies."
Mindlessly, I flipped through the rom-coms, trying to find something not too sappy, but still cheesy and romantic. I stopped on one about two dog lovers. I loved dogs. People not so much, but dogs? They were awesome.
My phone vibrated, and Sarah's name scrolled across the screen. "I'll finish up at work and then come right over. I should be there in about forty-five minutes."
Annoyance pricked at me when Sarah mentioned her job. At least you have a job.
Almost immediately, my mouth dropped open. I couldn’t believe myself. My girls were my best friends, and I wanted them to be happy and successful. That nasty jealousy monster was trying desperately to rear its ugly head.
While I waited for them to come over, I searched for Zach online. The first thing that came up was his social media. I scrolled through his feed passing by several shared business links, a couple scenic snapshots, and landed on a Throwback Thursday pic of him someone had tagged him in. It was from high school.
He's even hotter now than he was back then. How is that possible?
I was admiring one of his older pictures when my finger slipped, and I accidentally double-clicked his photo, marking it with a like. I went to unlike it, but before I could, the feed reloaded, and it was lost in the sea of posts.
Panic was first, then denial, then panic again as I feverishly scanned back through the thread looking for it. For some reason, though, I couldn't find it. I let out an exasperated sigh.
Thank God I named myself Ruby Red Lips on my social media account.
I closed the app before I made even more of a fool of myself.
My phone vibrated again, this time Bella's name scrolling over. "I'll be over after I finish work."
Annoyance pricked at my stomach again. Don't do it. Don't have a pity party, Clara.
I replied with a simple "K."
It was bad enough that I'd gotten laid off, but the fact that my only promising interview had ended in disaster was just rubbing salt in the wound. I was going to have to start my job search from scratch. I feared being forced into a position where my uniform included "swag," and there was at least one song I had to learn for birthdays.I shuddered at the thought.
I'd been a manager for so long. I was good at what I did. I may have been a hot mess when it came to interviews but getting to the meat and potatoes of marketing was where I excelled. I was a leader.
I'd almost passed on inviting Bella and Sarah over because I was jealous of them. They were doing well at work. I felt like a failure in comparison, but I knew I needed them. They were my best friends and were here to help me, even if I were reluctant to take it. If anyone could get me out of this funk, it was them.
My thoughts drifted back to Zach, and I went back to Stalker 101 while I waited for the girls to arrive. The next page I found was a more professional profile. I knew it was probably very pathetic, but I couldn't help myself. My self-pity had to go somewhere. I wanted to see what he was doing with his life and maybe even live vicariously through him for a little while. I knew I should apply for more jobs, but procrastination had locked on like a leach. I needed to decompress from the day's disaster first…at least that's how I justified it.
I leaned my elbow on the arm of the couch as I moved down the line of posts. About halfway down, my jaw dropped. I stopped scrolling when just below Zach's social media, I saw a job posting at a company called, OBEL.
Didn't Sarah mention something about Zach's dad owning a company?
I looked up the company owner's name, and sure enough, it listed a Robert Stone. The resemblance was striking. They even had the same ice-blue eyes.
I went back to the job posting and clicked the link. I nearly dropped the phone when I saw the one open position—a marketing manager.
Maybe this is fate bringing me closer together with Zach? I shook my head. No, no. That kind of stuff only happens in rom-com movies. Pull it together, Clara.
I pinched myself, trying to make sure it was real. I opened one of my clenched eyes and looked back down at the screen. The job listing was still there. I was definitely not imagining it.
I could apply right through the phone, but my finger wouldn't push the damn button. It would have been so easy.
How was I supposed to work side by side with Zach if I couldn't even stand next to him in a coffee shop without tucking tail and running? I was deflated. I couldn't work with him if I couldn't even have a decent conversation with the man. How would I even approach him about the job? What would I say?
I acted out the scenario with myself. "Hey, I know you don't remember me from high school, but I had a huge crush on you. Maybe you can hook me up with a job at your dad's company?"
I scoffed at the thought and did my best Zach impression. "No, thanks. Wait, aren't you the weird woman who liked one of my posts from five years ago? And didn't you say something rude and run off like a psycho?"
"Well yes, but—"
I wrinkled my nose at the thought of being yanked out of OBEL by security.I got up and grabbed one of the frozen pizzas in the deep recesses of my freezer, needing to drown my apprehension in copious amounts of carbs. I preheated the oven and waited, leaning against it as I read the back of the pizza box.
Just as I was pulling the cooked pizza out of the oven, the doorbell rang.
Sarah's voice screeched over the crackling intercom. "It's Sarah. Hurry. I need some help."
I put down the pizza and raced to the door with my oven mitt still on one hand. I fumbled with the door, opening it to find Sarah peeking over the top of several large and heavy looking paper grocery bags.
I raised an eyebrow at her. "I said to bring some snacks and drinks, not the entire store."
She tossed the plastic bag in her left hand at me, and I fumbled it around before finally pulling it to my chest. I breathed heavily, unsure what I had saved from total destruction.
"Be careful, you know I'm not exactly coordinated."
"Hey, it was heavy, and I've been standing out here forever because I couldn't figure out how to ring the doorbell with all the bags."
I cocked my head to one side. "Here's a thought. Put the grocery bags on the floor so you can ring the doorbell."
She made a disgusted face. "And let all those germs get onto the bags. Ew gross. No."
I blinked at her. "You know I live in an apartment, not the back room of an ER."
"You can never be too careful."
I moved to the side to let Sarah in and kicked the door shut behind me. We headed to the kitchen to sort out the bags.
She took a long whiff as we walked into the room. "Oh, you know me well. You made pizza."
I smiled. "I figured you'd want some."
"You're correct." She reached out to grab a slice, but I smacked her hand away.
"How about we do the polite thing and wait for Bella to get here."
She pouted at me. "Fine, Mom. You're no fun."
I leaned against the kitchen countertop. "I'm loads of fun…after a few drinks."
"Ah, you mean drunk Clara? Sure she's fun, but she's a pain to clean up after. I think I prefer mom-friend Clara."
We finished putting away the groceries. Turned out most of what Sarah had brought was alcohol, chips, and dip with a random pizza thrown in and the five-millionth box of microwavable popcorn in the house.
"So, your idea of tonight was to get wasted and eat junk food?"
"And yours wasn't?" Sarah asked with a laugh as she poured herself a drink. "So, did you decide on a movie?"
I nodded. "I picked out a rom-com. It’s about two people who bond over their love of dogs."
Her eyes brightened. "Oh, I love that one. Solid choice. Even if you're in a man-hating mode, you can love the dogs."
I eyed her glass, which she’d already filled halfway with alcohol. "Leave some room for your mixer, or you won't be able to drive home tonight."
She paused, lifting an eyebrow. "Control freak much?"
I shrugged indignantly. "You see it as an insult. I see it as a strength. That's why I should become a manager so quickly. Businesses need more women out there who know how to take charge."
Sarah snagged her glass and walked over to the living room, all while waving me off. "Whatever you say. Good luck locking down a man like that, though. I have a feeling Zach wouldn't take kindly to that attitude of yours." She winked and plopped down onto the couch.
She slipped off her shoes and left them on the floor. Her gaze met mine, and it took all of my self-control not to scoop up her shoes and put them by the door.
Have I always been like this?
On the coffee table, my phone buzzed.
Sarah glanced over at it. "Bella texted you. She's parking now."
"Okay. Thanks," I said and walked back into the kitchen to pour myself a drink. I needed something strong before we talked about the day. I grabbed one of my highball glasses from the cabinet and dove into bartender mode. I wet the rim of the glass and then grabbed some coarse salt and painstakingly coated the edge so that none of the salt came out sloppy or out of place.
I put the glass upright and filled it with three shots of tequila and threw in some of the orange liquor Sarah had brought with her. I topped it off with a splash of lime juice and OJ.
Just as I finished, I heard a knock on the door. "Sarah, can you get that, please?"
"Sure," she called back, clomping across the floor and opening the door. "Hey, slut face."
"Hey, hooker wannabe," Bella replied back. "I come bearing gifts of ice cream."
I laughed and called out from the kitchen, "I beat you to it. There's ice cream in the fridge, but hey, that just means you can have your own tub."
I picked up my glass and brought it back into the living room.
Sarah glanced over at my drink. "It must've been a bad day. Your drink looks more like straight tequila than a margarita."
Bella eyed my drink as well. "I think you missed your calling as a bartender. That salted rim looks really good too."
I bit my lip. "I may have put a little extra alcohol in it this time. And Bella, you know I can’t handle sloppy drinks."
Bella laughed. “Fair point.”
Sarah shook her head and gestured to the couch. "Why don't you sit down and stay for a while?"
Bella bounced off to the kitchen to put away the ice cream, and I took a seat on the couch next to Sarah. When Bella reemerged, she grinned, pumping her brows, holding her own drink. She sat on the other side of me. I could feel the two exchanging glances.
They both leaned in and asked in unison, "So how was your day?"
I sighed and lifted my drink to my mouth, taking several large gulps before I spoke again. "Honestly, it was horrible. I went on five interviews and got rejected for every job. The one I was really hoping for—the management job—they didn't even interview me."
I left out the part about being escorted from the building and tossed out like a commoner. They didn’t need to know how my mortification extended beyond ducking for cover at the first sign of love.
Bella reached out and rubbed my back. "I'm sorry to hear that. Sarah told me you ran into Zach too. How did that go?"
I sighed. "He didn't even remember me. Can you believe it? I'd had such a crush on him in high school."
Sarah chimed in with. "You and half the school, but he was kind of a jerk."
Bella nodded in agreement. "Remember how he had all those exclusive parties? He would only invite the super-skinny girls. The ones who looked like they could pass as models, so we never got invited."
Sarah cocked her head to one side. "Or did you just conveniently forget how much of a bully he was because he's mind-blowingly handsome?"
"Eh, heh. I guess I forgot about some of those things. When I saw him, all I could think was that I didn't want him to see me at thirty-three and looking for work. I was embarrassed about it. The irony of ironies, my eagerness to get away resulted in my running into him. I'm starting to think I'm cursed or something."
Sarah laughed. "That sounds like something that'd happen to you. Maybe you are cursed."
Bella shoved her and then turned to me. "Ignore Sarah. She's just toying with you because it's fun for her. Isn't that right, Sarah?"
Sarah looked up at the ceiling as if to absolve herself of blame. "Maybe"
I thought back to my old interactions with Zach. They had a point. Toward the beginning of high school, I'd been a little heavier set and his friends had made oinking noises at me when I had walked by. He hadn't joined in, but he hadn't exactly stopped them either.
My face flushed as I thought back to the job opportunity at OBEL. Maybe they were right. It might be better to forget about him.
“Hearing you talk about high school, I think you're both right. I probably shouldn't apply for the position at OBEL.”
They both stopped talking and stared at me, mouths agape. Bella nudged me hard. "Wait, what position? Don't turn down a job offer just because of him."
Sarah turned toward me, plopping down again. "Spill. What's the position?"
Bella and Sarah looked at each other and then back at me. Bella was the one who spoke up first. "I want you to forget everything we just said about Zach. We're hypocrites anyway. We were shallow when it came to guys. Right, Sarah?"
Bella shoved Sarah's shoulder, urging her to speak. "You’re so right. I would only date guys over six feet tall, and they had to have green eyes. I went for athletes too. This is a good opportunity for you. You shouldn't pass it up. We were just joking around,"
Bella nodded. "Agreed. Where’s your phone? I'll go get it so you can reach out to Zach now."
I held up my hand to stop her. "Thanks, but I'd rather get it on my own. No offense. Besides, it's not like he remembers me, so reaching out to him for a job is probably just a lost cause."
Bella shrugged, grabbing my phone and tossing it to me. "Doesn't hurt to at least understand your options…"
I twisted my lips and narrowed my eyes at her. "Right, but you do realize the number I have for him is like a decade old from when we were kids. The only reason I had it was because we did a project together. I doubt he still has his old number."
Sarah shrugged. "You never know. Besides, it's only for backup. Like if you can't get ahold of anyone at OBEL."
I raised a brow. "A huge multi-billion dollar company, and I wouldn't be able to get ahold of them?"
"You never know," Sarah replied. "Could be like Facecloud. You call and you get a bot…and, not even a bot attempting to sound like a human. Just a bot."
I scanned my contact list in my phone, landing on Zach's number. Of course, I still had it in there. It wasn't because of who he was, really. I still had phone numbers in my phone from people I met once when I was thirteen at camp. I was a hoarder of phone numbers.
Bella nodded. “Good. Let us know how it goes.”
I put a hand on her shoulder. “When I call you with a bitter, I-hate-the-world attitude, you’ll know what happened.”
We put on the movie and went to town on those snacks like we'd been kept in quarantine for nine years. I had no shame, and neither did the girls. When the movie was over and we had come down off of our rom-com high, Bella headed home for the night. Sarah ended up being too drunk to leave, so she slept on the couch. Our talk about Zach filtered in and out of my mind all night, but I tried desperately to push it aside until morning.
Like clockwork, when the alarm blared annoyingly in my ear, he and my disaster came flooding back. I spent the first ten minutes of waking up, hiding beneath the sheets, contemplating a coup on my own life. Maybe if I just hid away, no one would notice.
I thought back to our time in high school and the few brief conversations we had during class projects. I was pretty sure, back then, Zach had mentioned his father owning a company but had been very adamant about becoming a rock star or something instead. Obviously, that didn't pan out, but it made me wonder if he worked for the company at all.
I let out a sigh as I dragged myself from the bed. Whether it was OBEL or not, I needed to try to at least to get more interviews.
Staring at my phone, I slowly drank a cup of coffee left in the carafe. Sarah must have made it before she left this morning. I thought about the position at OBEL with each sip I swallowed. I couldn’t pass up the chance.
Maybe he won't be around much.
I opened my phone and typed in the number for OBEL. I closed my eyes as I hit “call.” From there on out, I put it in the hands of fate, an entity that had skipped by me on multiple occasions. I could only hope that time was different.