For a moment my world levels back out as I think about the viability of that option. He’s a generous guy, so maybe—
But before I can get any further than basic supposition, Tori continues, “But I’m pretty sure we both know that’s a bunch of bull. The other option—and personally, it’s the one I’m leaning toward,” she says while shooting me her version of the evil eye, “is that a lot more happened at work today than you told me about. If that’s the case, then you’re a bitch. And the only way I’ll be persuaded to forgive you is if you sit down right now with me—and these really delectable strawberries—and tell me everything.”
I know I don’t have much of a choice, not with the way she’s looking at me. So I do what she asks, starting with the moment I met Juice Guy and not stopping until I get to the part where he actually makes me my smoothie. I leave out the rest—about how I drank that noxious blueberry thing—because I still don’t know why I did it. Nor do I know how I feel about the fact that I did it.
Tori’s spellbound by my every word—but then she grew up in the most elite circles the West Coast has to offer, and as such is privy to all the inside gossip I don’t have a clue about. My family entered the world of the rich and notorious late, very late, and they did it in Boston, where it’s a whole different game. And since the only family member I bother talking to anymore is my brother, it’s not like I’m up on the gossip about the East Coast elite, either. Which is exactly how I like it.
“You know it was him, right?” Tori says as she pours herself a third glass of champagne. She tops mine off as well, but I’m still nursing my first glass and the look of disapproval she sends me tells me she’s noticed that fact. “It had to be.”
I hope not. God, I really hope not. Because if Juice Guy really is Ethan Frost…If he really is, then I’d spent my first day sparring with my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss. And none too politely. The thought boggles my mind—and yet it makes sense. I’d known there was something familiar about him, but I’d put it down to the fact that he looked like half the surfers in California. It had never occurred to me that it was because I had Googled him months ago when I’d applied for the internship, had seen pictures of him then.
Except Juice Guy looks nothing like the Ethan Frost I remember seeing in those photos. I mean, yes, he has blue eyes and dark hair, but…oh, shit. It really could be him.
“There’s one way to find out for sure.” Tori, who seems determined to make me lose it, picks up her tablet from the coffee table where she abandoned it earlier.
Two minutes later I’m staring at an array of Google images, nearly all of which are paparazzi shots of Ethan Frost. Who is very definitely also Juice Guy. Only he looks nothing like the surf bum I met earlier today. In most of the pictures he’s dressed in expensive suits or tuxedos, his black hair neatly styled and his tattoo completely covered. In others he looks more casual—dress pants and an open-collared shirt, or designer jeans and sweaters with rugged, expensive boots.
It’s obviously him, though. Same intense indigo eyes. Same sculpted cheekbones and chiseled jaw. Same broad shoulders and narrow hips. Even the crazy long eyelashes are the same.
And still I don’t want to believe it. Because if it is him, then I am totally, utterly screwed.
I spend the next hour searching through dozens of pages, thousands of images—some of them show him with beautiful models and Hollywood starlets, while others show him giving speeches or getting awards—before I find what I’m looking for. A picture of him at the beach in board shorts, carrying a surfboard under one arm. He’s bare-chested, his chiseled abs (can anyone say eight-pack?) dripping with seawater, the blue-and-black shoulder tattoo of tribal waves I only saw hints of earlier on glorious display. His hair is messed up, his too-long bangs covering his forehead and part of his face—and he’s smiling. A real smile, not like the one he wears in so many of the pap pictures. It’s the same smile I saw from him today when he was messing with me, wide and happy-looking with his eyes crinkled up at the corners, and it convinces me that my suspicions aren’t wrong.
Juice Guy, this surf bum, and the visionary CEO of Frost Industries are all the same guy. My boss’s boss’s boss’s boss. Awesome. No wonder the other guy working the juice bar had nearly swallowed his tongue. I’d feel bad for bringing him so close to cardiac arrest, except it would have been nice if he’d actually said something. He didn’t have to do a lot. He could have just called him by name and I would have gotten the hint instead of continuing to stand there and humiliate myself.
“What’s wrong?” Tori asks when she finally looks up from the screen and sees my face.
“What’s wrong? Are you kidding me? It’s a miracle he didn’t fire me this afternoon!”
“Fire you? For what?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Insubordination, maybe.” On the brink of hyperventilating—or at least freaking out—I rest my head on the arm of the sofa and try to figure out what I’m supposed to do. Do I make an appointment so I can apologize for being a bitch? Or do I just pretend it never happened? I could send him an apology letter, maybe. Or—
My roommate interrupts my frantic musing with a snort. “Give me a break. It wasn’t insubordination if you didn’t know who he was—which, clearly, you didn’t. Besides, he obviously wasn’t angry with you or you would have gotten a letter canceling your internship instead of that awesome blender. And these strawberries.” She pops another one into her mouth, chews enthusiastically.
Just the thought of my internship being canceled makes me freak out more. I need this internship. I have to have it. It’ll help me get into law school, help me get a scholarship, give me the references I need to put the next phase of my life plan into action.
And, most important, it will keep me from having to ask my parents for anything. They offer—through my brother, through emails that I don’t answer, in phone messages that I don’t return—but I don’t want their guilt money. I don’t want anything from them. And this internship is one of the stepping-stones, one of the keys, that will ensure I never have to take anything from them again.
God, I really am going to hyperventilate. I lean forward and put my forehead on my knees. Concentrate on taking deep breaths as the room around me threatens to go dark.
“Jesus, Chloe.” Tori leans over, smacks the back of my head. “Don’t do that. None of this is your fault.”
It feels like my fault. Why didn’t I spend more time looking at pictures of Ethan Frost instead of just poring over journal articles about his methodologies, his accomplishments, his brain? If I had, I would have recognized him and all this could have been avoided. I still wouldn’t have taken more than a sip of that stupid smoothie, but I could have bowed out a lot more gracefully than I did.
“Seriously, Chloe, you need to chill!” Tori grabs me by the shoulders, shakes me a little. “These aren’t the actions of an angry man. He’s intrigued by you, not annoyed.”
I want to dispute her words, but for a moment—just a moment—I can see the look on his face when he realized I was hungry. The expression in his eyes when he put the Hawaiian Sunrise smoothie in front of me. The way he held himself when I took a sip of his stupid Ethan Special, the name of which suddenly makes a lot more sense to me. And I wonder if Tori isn’t right.
“He gave you his number,” she continues. “He wants to date you, not fire you.” She claps her hands. “This is awesome! You’re being chased by Ethan Frost!”
She’s so wrapped up in her own excitement that she doesn’t notice my lack of enthusiasm. I don’t want to burst her bubble, but if this is true, it’s even worse for me than if he was angry at me. Because I don’t want to date Ethan Frost. I want to work for him.
It’s not that I have anything against him per se. It’s just that I don’t want to date anyone.
Oh, Tori’s been after me for years to go out more. To meet some nice guy and do the fun hanging-out thing. She’s even set me up on numerous blind dates—without my permission—then not told me what she’d done until it was too late for me to get out of them. But she doesn’t get it. She doesn’t know that I don’t want to go out with a guy. I don’t want to casually date. And I sure as hell don’t want a relationship.
Just the thought makes me shudder. My own parents’ relationship is a walking advertisement for what not to do, and my own past—the past Tori knows very little about—makes the very idea unfeasible.
The last thing I want to do is deal with being pursued by a man like Ethan Frost. All that money, all that power, all that privilege…just the thought makes my stomach pitch and roll.
She reaches for the card, which has been resting—discarded—on the table for the past hour. “You should totally call him.”
I look at her like she’s insane. Which I’m becoming more and more convinced she is. “I’m not going to call him.”
“But you have to. You should at least thank him for his very generous gift.”
I should, but I don’t want to. Truth be told, I want nothing from him but the internship provided me by his company. Not the blender. Not the strawberries, which I admit are a charming gift. Not his attention. And definitely, absolutely, not the unsettled feeling I got when I was around him earlier. The butterflies in my tummy that were somehow both more and less than simple nervousness, as they came with an awareness of him—and myself in relation to him—that continues to be beyond nerve-racking.
“I’ll drop him an email.”
“But there’s no email addy on the card.”
“Then I’ll write him a letter. It’s not like I don’t know where he works.”
“A letter?” She looks at me like I’m insane.
“Yes. A letter.” I’m warming to the idea. “I can return the blender at the same time. No fuss, no muss.”
“No fuss, no muss? Are you ninety?” Tori looks thoroughly disgruntled. “No offense, but trying not to make a fuss is not the way you keep the attention of a guy like Ethan Frost. Neither is returning his gifts.”
Exactly. My plan is sounding better by the second. “I don’t want Ethan Frost’s attention. I’m not interested in him.”
My roommate lets out an exaggerated sigh as she throws herself into a supine position on the couch. “You do realize that you are the only woman in the history of the world to utter those words. Ever.”
“Surely not. Think of all the lesbians out there.”
She rolls her eyes. “Fine, then. The only straight woman.”
“And yet, somehow, I’m okay with that.”
“All right, all right.” Grabbing her champagne flute, she waves it under my nose. “If I’m supposed to watch you throw away a golden opportunity like this, then the least you can do is keep me well-liquored. Fill ’er up.”
I laugh, because she expects me to. I even pour her more champagne, though part of me thinks she’s had more than enough. But in my head I’m already composing the letter to Juice Guy. Ethan. Mr. Frost.
Yes. “Mr. Frost” will do quite nicely.
Dear Mr. Frost,
While I am quite touched by the thoughtfulness of your gift, I am unable to accept it. A fine blender such as this—
Dear Mr. Frost,
While I appreciate the thoughtfulness of this lovely welcome gift, I feel it would be inappropriate to accept it. As an intern, I am not to receive any sort of payment—
Dear Mr. Frost,
Thank you for your very thoughtful gift. However, I believe it would be inappropriate for me to accept it. I apologize for any problems this might cause, and appreciate your understanding in this manner.
It was lovely meeting you yesterday. Thank you for going out of your way to make me feel welcome.
Crazy as it sounds, it took me half the night to write the stupid letter to Juice Guy. Ethan. Mr. Frost. Whoever the hell he is. Seeing as how I’m going on about two and a half hours of sleep right now, I don’t particularly care what he wants to be called. Not when I feel like a cast member of The Walking Dead.
Twenty-seven drafts. That’s how many versions of the stupid letter I wrote. Somewhere around number sixteen, I almost gave up. Almost said to hell with the whole thing. That’s when Tori threw in the towel and went to bed and I almost did the same thing. But I couldn’t see myself dropping the blender off at his office this morning without at least a small note attached, so I persevered. Five sentences in six hours. It has to be some kind of world record—of the ridiculously awful variety.
Needless to say, I’m skipping my morning workout today. As tired as I am, I’d probably fall asleep on the stupid treadmill and end up killing myself.