“What did you…?”
But he was already waddling off, elbows bent, as if someone else’s life needed to be miserable and he was just the guy to make it so. I stood there with my mouth open, seventy percent mad at him for being a complete molester and thirty percent mad at myself for being too shocked to punch him in the face.
I had pride. I had so much pride that heeling at Jonathan Drazen’s beck and call for a “chunka change” was the most humiliating thing I could think of doing. But there I was, in front of his ajar door on the thirtieth floor, knocking, not because I needed the money (which I did), and not because I wanted him to look at me like that again (which I also did), but because I couldn’t have been the first waitress ass-slapped, or worse, by Freddie. If Drazen wasn’t aware of Freddie’s douchebaggery, he needed to be.
The office looked onto the Hollywood Hills, which must have been stunning in daylight. At night, the neighborhood was just a splash of twinkling lights on a black canvas. He stood behind his desk, back to the window, the room’s soft lighting a flattering glaze on the perfect skin of his forearms. He wore a fresh pair of jeans and a white shirt. The dark wood and frosted glass accentuated the fact his office was meant to be a comforting space, and even though I knew the setting was manipulating me, I relaxed.
“Come on in,” he said.
I stepped onto the carpet, its softness easing the pain caused by my high heels.
“I’m sorry I spilled on you. I’ll pay for dry cleaning, if you want.”
“I don’t want. Sit down.” His green eyes flickered in the lamplight. I had to admit he was stunning. His copper hair curled at the edges, and his smile could light a thousand cities. He couldn’t have been older than his early thirties.
“I’ll stand,” I said. I was wearing a short skirt, and judging from the way he’d looked at me on the roof, if I sat down, I’d receive another stare that would make me want to jump him.
“I want to apologize for Freddie,” he said. “He’s a little more aggressive than he should be.”
“We need to talk about that,” I said.
He raised an eyebrow and came around to the front of the desk. He wore some cologne that stole the scent of sage leaves on a foggy day: dry, dusty, and clean. He leaned on his desk, putting his hands behind him, and I could see the whole length of his body: broad shoulders, tight waist, and straight hips. He looked at me again, then down to the floor. I felt as if he’d moved his hands off of me, and at once I was thrilled and ashamed. I wasn’t going to be intimidated or scared. I wasn’t going to let him look away from me. If he wanted to stare, he should stare. I placed my hands on my hips and let my body language challenge him to put his eyes where they wanted to go, not the floor.
Because, f**k him.
“Freddie’s a douchebag.” I could tell from his expression that was the wrong way to start. I needed to keep opinions and juicy expressions to myself and state facts. “He said you’re going to try and sleep with me, for one.” He smiled as if he really was going to try to sleep with me and got caught.
“Then,” I continued, because I wanted to wipe that smile off his gorgeous face, “he grabbed my ass.”
The smile melted as though it was an ice cube in a hot frying pan. He took his hungry eyes off mine, a relief on one hand and a disappointment on the other. “I was going to offer you severance.”
“I don’t want your money.”
“Let me finish.”
I nodded, a sting of prickly heat spreading across my cheeks.
“The severance was in case you didn’t want to continue working here,” he said. “Even though I can’t stand the smell of the gin you got on me, I don’t think you should lose your job over it. But now that you told me that, what should I do? If I give you severance, it looks like I’m paying you off. And if I unfire you, it looks like I’m letting you stay because I’m afraid of getting sued.”
“I get it,” I said. “If he said you’d try to sleep with me, then you’ve got your own shit to hide, and nothing would bring it out better than a lawsuit.” I waited a second to see if I could glean anything from his eyes, but he had his business face on, so I put on my sarcasm face. “Quite a terrible position you’re in.”
His nod told me he understood me. His position was privileged. He got to make choices about my life based on his convenience. “What do you do, Monica?”
“I’m a waitress.”
He smirked, looking at me full on, and I wanted to drop right there. “That’s your circumstance. It’s not who you are. Law school, maybe?”
“Teacher, woodworker, volleyball player?” He ran the words together quickly, and I guessed he could come up with another hundred potential professions before he got it right.
“I’m a musician,” I said.
“I’d like to see you play sometime.”
“I’m not going to sleep with you.”
“Indeed.” He walked behind his desk. “I assume no one witnessed this alleged ass-grab?”
He opened a drawer and flipped through some files. “I hired Freddie, and he’s my responsibility to manage. Your responsibility is to report it to someone besides me.” He handed me a slip of paper. It was a standard U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission flyer. “The numbers are on there. File a report. Send me a copy, please. It would protect both of us.”
I stared at the paper. Drazen could get into a lot of trouble if enough reports were filed. I intended to tell the authorities what happened because I couldn’t stand Freddie, but I felt a little sheepish about getting Drazen cited or investigated.
“You’re not an ass**le,” I said.
He bowed his head, and though I couldn’t see his face, I imagined he was smiling. He took a card from his pocket and came back around the desk. “My friend Sam owns the Stock downtown. I think it’s a better fit for you. I’ll tell him you might call.”
When I took the card, I had an urge I couldn’t resist. I reached my hand a little farther than I should have and brushed my finger against his. A shot of pleasure drove through me, and his finger flicked to extend the touch.
I had to get away from that guy as fast as possible.
Los Angeles weather in late September was mid-July weather everywhere else—dog’s-mouth hot, sweat-through-your-antiperspirant hot, car-exhaust hot. Gabby seemed better than the previous night, but Darren and I were on our toes.