The waves of commuters swept me along with them into the Bowling Green Station. I supposed ignoring strangers was a coping mechanism when you lived in a city of eight million. You couldn’t learn the names of everyone even if you wanted to.
Twenty minutes later, I stepped out of the elevator on the forty-eighth floor of the gleaming steel and glass structure that was home to Waterbridge-Howser. A marble accented mahogany reception desk greeted me. Aluminum letters spelling out the company’s name hung tastefully on the wall behind the desk. The conference room to the right was empty, the view of the park filtering through it. Every detail was designed to demonstrate wealth and power. Appearances were important in this business.
I navigated through the cubicle maze to my desk. We weren’t packed together as tightly as possible, but it wasn’t the open office plan of a design studio either. Tall dividers gave analysts their privacy as they investigated investment opportunities. Some analysts, like myself, were experienced enough to talk to clients directly, answering their questions and handling minor issues so the higher-ups would be free to work on bringing in more business. The managers’ offices formed the perimeter of every floor, each one with a window view. The partners of the firm had their own section of the floor, and they only ever emerged to speak to the managers.
I dropped my satchel onto my desk and pulled out Vincent’s file before heading through the outer rim of the cubicle corral to Richard’s office. His door was half open and he was typing something on his computer.
“Richard, you wanted to meet about Mr. Sorenson?”
“Yes. Come in. Did you look over his file?” he said, not looking away from his screen.
“I checked everything and even reviewed our proposal. Our suggestions were very reasonable based on what we know about his finances.”
Richard looked directly at me. “Any idea why he hasn’t called us yet?”
In a second of irrationality, I thought about blurting out the details of meeting Vincent at the bar but decided it better if Richard didn’t know anything about that. Besides, it was irrelevant. If anything, Vincent would have been more interested in working with us after that meeting.
I shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe another firm got to him before us?” I remembered Richard’s condescending comments about the “Wave Whisperer” and his assumptions about Vincent’s lifestyle that no doubt influenced his approach to the meeting. That might have something to do with the fact that we hadn’t heard from Vincent, but I kept my mouth shut.
Richard frowned. “Screw it. Nothing to do now but wait. Let me know if you hear anything.”
I took the cue that the meeting was over when Richard turned back to his computer. When I got back to my own desk, I pulled up my email. The first thing that popped up was a message from my cell phone provider informing me I had reached my data limit for the month. Again? These cell phone services really knew how to fleece you. I deleted the email and moved on, reviewing work memos and deleting spam.
The rest of the morning bled into the afternoon. After eating lunch and helping another analyst resolve a reporting issue, I came back to my desk to find a note thrown haphazardly over my keyboard.
Kaufman called, have to meet him. Keep me updated if Sorenson calls the office.
Jon Kaufman was one of the larger clients Richard handled. He had a large plastics refinery west of the Hudson and was one of the clients who didn’t come to our office. Rather, we went to him. I never met the guy but from the way Richard spoke about him, he was difficult.
I put the note aside and settled into my routine. I had barely gotten into the zone when my phone rang.
“Hey Kristen, I have Mr. Sorenson on the line for you.” Our receptionist sounded like she was going to pass out just from the mention of his name.
So we hadn’t blown our chances completely. For a moment I considered the possibility Richard had been right. These guys are fairly predictable. But there was no way Richard gave Vincent a positive first impression, and if anything saved us, it was probably my stunt with the spider at the bar.
“Thanks, transfer him over.” I kept my voice level despite being aware that Vincent had asked for me specifically. I’d told him to call Richard as part of my brush-off. I just hoped his intentions were business.
A beep later and Vincent’s silky voice vibrated through my handset.
Even over the phone, his velvety rasp made it difficult to maintain my composure. I switched the phone to my left hand and wiped my sweaty palm on my skirt.
“Hello Vincent, it’s good to hear from you,” I said, feeling like I’d just swallowed a cotton ball.
“I’ve been thinking about our meeting.”
Which meeting? The one where I played with his nipple ring or the one where he asked me to mix business with pleasure?
“I’d like to discuss business,” he continued.
I exhaled, relieved he wasn’t interested in revisiting our personal discussion. Maybe he took the hint. “I’m happy to hear that. When would you like to schedule a meeting?”
I laughed nervously. “We might need a little more time to make it out to South Africa.”
“I’m at my office in Manhattan. Sixty-five West Fifty-ninth Street. Eighty-second floor.” That was just a few blocks away. Of course. He had a media office in Manhattan that produced a popular extreme sports series that were broadcast on multiple cable networks.
“Could we do tomorrow? Richard is meeting with another client until late this afternoon.”
“He’s not needed. I’ll be on a flight to Lucerne tomorrow. It has to be today.” His voice betrayed no sense of urgency or need, just a statement of facts.
My mind swirled. Could I take the meeting with Vincent? I had all the paperwork ready; it was in the same folder as the proposal. Richard had let me close some smaller clients before so I knew what had to be done. But what would he say if I went to the meeting without him? I had a pretty good guess of what he’d say if I was the reason we lost Vincent’s business. I had to take this meeting, if only to avoid the four letter words Richard would have in store for me if I didn’t.
“Yes, of course. How is three p.m. for you?” I asked.
“Perfect. I’m looking forward to it, Kristen.”
After he hung up, I let out a long breath, blowing my bangs out of my face. I was going to see Vincent Sorenson again. Although I certainly hadn’t forgotten about both our meetings in South Africa, I wasn’t sure if he’d been thinking about them at all.
At two thirty, I quickly packed my bag and told the receptionist to tell Richard or anyone else who stopped by my desk that I was going to be at a client meeting.
It was only when I was on the elevator down, the paperwork neatly filed in my briefcase, that I realized what I’d gotten myself into. Vincent Sorenson and I were going to be in the same room together. Alone.
Well this is different.
I stood in front of the sleek black reception desk at Red Fusion, SandWork’s media arm, trying not to eye the curved adult-sized plastic slide that came from the ceiling and ended just right of where the receptionist was sitting. I smiled at the blonde woman behind the desk. She beamed back at me. Her rows of perfectly white teeth and her sultry figure made her more appropriate for a movie set than an office.
“Can I help you?” she said.
“Hi, my name is Kristen Daley. I’m here to see Mr. Sorenson.”
“Of course, he’s expecting you. Right this way.” I followed her, watching the way her hips swayed in her curve-hugging dress. Though I tried to resist, I couldn’t help inspecting my reflection in the glass door to make a quick comparison. Was she one of the pleasures Vincent mixed with his business? But so what if she was? I had no right to be upset.
The Red Fusion offices were abuzz with activity. An employee sat cross-legged on the carpet, tossing a stress ball at the wall, stopping only to peck furiously at the laptop in front of him. Others were seated around large tables, having animated discussions. It was nothing like the reverential near silence at Waterbridge-Howser.
“Here we are, you can go inside. Vincent’s ready for you.” The receptionist stopped in front of a frosted glass door. The same glass formed a wall that stretched to either side of the entry.
I nodded thanks to her before pushing open the door and walking inside. Silence greeted me. Whatever the glass was made of, it completely blocked the noise from outside. In the corner was a black leather couch with a small coffee table in front of it. A large desk was set squarely in the center of the room, a metal and glass tribute to modernity. It was a stark contrast to his desk in Cape Town.
Vincent stood by the window, one arm behind his back, looking out. He was wearing a navy suit matched with a grey tie and white shirt. His long locks were slicked neatly back. Unwillingly preoccupied with wild fantasies, I nearly tripped on the rug in front of his desk as I walked closer. My pulse danced in my veins and a flush coursed through my cheeks. If I had fallen on him twice, I would’ve died from embarrassment.
Blue skies and skyscrapers along Central Park silhouetted his figure. He looked equally comfortable in a suit as he had in shorts and flip-flops.
He turned around, his dark eyes shimmering. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”
I looked at his chin, chiseled with perfect angles, as if carved from a slab of marble. My eyes moved up to his mouth, his lips full and soft.
I cleared my throat. “Yes, it is. I’ve never quite gotten used to the view. Good to see you again, Mr. Sorenson.”
“Please Kristen, have a seat.” I stumbled to the guest chair in front of his desk while Vincent remained by the window.
I took it as my cue to continue. I set my bag down and reached inside for the glossy documents Richard and I prepared for a follow-up meeting.
Vincent studied me for a moment, his head tilted slightly to one side, as if examining a piece of art. Or his prey. Not knowing what else to do, I unleashed my rehearsed speech. “Thank you for meeting with me again. Waterbridge-Howser will be an excellent choice for your wealth management needs. We offer personal attention as well as products that larger—”
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