Excerpt: No Going Back

Title 3D NGB

1: Imminent Failure

“I’m really sorry, Mr. Gabriel. I don’t know how I managed to screw this up,” Ben said. The anguish in his voice reminded me he was a nineteen-year-old kid I’d dumped a ton of responsibility onto, and my anger came down a few notches.

I knew exactly how he’d managed to double book my schedule for the evening. I had told him to do whatever it took to get Brandon Frere to sit down with me to negotiate him coming to work for the magazine. And Ben had done it, booking a dinner meeting with him the only time that pain in the ass would agree to. Ben said yes, on the fly, without thinking to make sure I didn’t already have plans. Normally, I’d cancel whatever else I had going on to entertain a client or potential, highly sought after, new hire. Old friend who drove me fucking insane at times, or not. There was no way out of my original dinner plans.

Why the fuck was Brandon only available tonight, of all nights? I shook my head, suspecting he was playing games again and wanting to call his bluff, but unwilling to do so for fear of losing the chance to hire him. I knew he wasn’t completely sold on the idea of commercializing his work.

Trying not to snap at Ben, I ran a hand down my face and stared out my office window to the row of cubicles all but the managers worked in. My gaze zeroed in on Reagan, as it often did. She was leaning against a cubicle, instead of in her office, her long blonde hair pulled up into a haphazard ponytail that was almost too unprofessional for work, but too much to my liking to say anything to her about it.

I encouraged a relaxed work environment, but she almost took it too far with her worn jeans and t-shirts that were aggravatingly two sizes too big. She was a manager, after all, a damn good one. Yet, she dressed like she was another intern running around the office. It drove me insane, but never failed to excite me when I saw her walk by my office, distracted and lost in thought.

The day she’d shown up for her interview in black twill pants, a loose cotton blouse, and a linen jacket that looked more like something you’d wear on a casual lunch date than something a potential manager would wear to interview at a highbrow magazine, I hadn’t been sure she would really measure up to her résumé. Talking to her for five minutes proved she did, more so than I’d imagined. When my boss, Marie, had asked if she was in my top three candidates after her interview, I’d said no, but hadn’t shared the reason.

Marie, who dressed to the nines in every situation, had only nodded, and I knew she’d disapproved of Reagan’s clothing choices as well. That hadn’t been the reason for my initial rejection. The bright smile, energetic answers, and warm personality had played more of a part. The fact that I’d been instantly attracted to her as soon as she walked into my office, even more so for her interesting style, had been the main reason.

I knew that sounded sexist, and had never voiced it aloud. Eventually, I’d forced myself to admit she was the best candidate, and that I would have to work with her every fucking day without once acting on my desires if I were truly going to do what was best for the magazine. It wasn’t that Marie would care if I did act. She’d had office flings over the years, despite official company policies. It was that I cared. I didn’t think office romances were a good idea, but even if I had been amenable to the idea, I certainly wasn’t going to go after and sleep with a twenty-four-year-old girl I’d just hired. That had been a year ago.

“Sir?” Ben asked hesitantly, probably worried I was about to fire him.

Sighing, I knew my best option, but didn’t like the idea of taking it. Hiring Reagan hadn’t put an end to wanting her in my bed, which I was clearly being reminded of by the ache below my belt. It had spawned a plan, however, one that wasn’t in place quite yet. I had no choice.

“Will you please ask Reagan if she’ll meet with me sooner than we’d planned?” I asked Ben. “Now, in fact.”

When I turned to face him, he was eyeing me in confusion but, as usual, shrugged after a moment and scurried off to do my bidding. Although I appreciated his eagerness to please, it occasionally made him act before thinking. Then I was left trying to undo his mistakes. I’d realized when I hired him six months ago that would likely be the price of an enthusiastic young mind eager to work in this area of publishing, but there were days I didn’t enjoy the headaches.

Moving back to my desk, I sank into it. The day was only half over, but I suspected I would need a few drinks by the end of it. I watched from the corner of my eye as Ben attempted to talk to Reagan without either ogling her or grinning stupidly the entire time. A flash of jealousy reared in me before I quickly buried it. He adored Reagan, but she never encouraged him nor responded to his boyish flirting with more than a polite smile. Plus, Ben had no idea of my carefully controlled interest in her. If he did, he’d never even think of attempting to move toward her.

Not many of the handful of interns we employed knew my name outside of the magazine. It had surprised me when Ben had. Although it stroked my ego a little to know I hadn’t been completely forgotten, I sometimes grew tired of his endless need to live up to some warped hero worship he seemed to have for me. He was certainly not the person I hoped would be putting their full focus on me. Reagan, on the other hand, couldn’t have been more oblivious. I felt myself react when she handed Ben a few folders and smiled at him.

When Ben darted away from her, she turned in my direction and started for the office. Bringing my computer back to life, I pushed away thoughts of what pleasure I could bring to her that would elicit so much more than a sweet smile, and brought up the email she’d sent me earlier. We had things to discuss aside from my botched dinner plans, and I needed to get through those before I threw her to the wolves. Or, more accurately, one very talented, yet extremely manipulative wolf.

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