The New York offices of The Pleasure Chest aren’t downtown. Instead, the cab carries us north and east to a neighborhood that’s more residential than business. This is the kind of area everyone thinks of when they think of New York. Beautiful architecture that probably costs more than a fortune, quiet bakeries and coffee shops, and beautiful women walking small dogs in outfits straight off of Project Runway. The building we stop at is clearly older, and though it’s a residential building, there’s a corporate directory in the lobby. The elevator brings Chris and me to the sixth floor, where several doors branch off from a main hallway. We find the one that says ‘The Pleasure Chest’ in its distinct font, and ring the bell.
We’re greeted by a man in a suit who smiles warmly at us. “Flintlock!” he says. “Great to see you. Come on in.”
“Thanks,” Chris says, and ushers me inside.
As soon as we’re inside and the door is closed, the man turns to me. “I’m Jason Childs, marketing director for The Pleasure Chest. And you are?”
“This is my associate, Scarlett Brown,” Chris cuts in. “She flew in to help me with the meetings.”
Jason gives me an amused look. “Scarlett Brown?”
“I’ve heard it all before,” I say, “and believe me, it had nothing to do with colors.”
“Oh?” Jason says, and I feel Chris looking at me as well.
“My mother is a huge Gone with the Wind fan. She had the name picked out long before she met my father, and she wasn’t going to let a little thing like a last name get in the way.”
Jason nods. “So you became color girl.”
“It seems that way,” I say, doing my best not to roll my eyes. This always happens when people meet me.
“Well,” he says, “the others are through here.”
He leads us through the posh apartment that has been converted to a lovely office space, but still somehow retains the charm of the original building with great details and moldings. The room Jason leads us into is bright and warm, with a nice view of the street. It’s started snowing softly outside, and I inwardly groan for my high heels when we have to leave. Thank god we’re taking cabs everywhere.
There’s another man and a woman in the room, though Jason introduced them when I was noticing the snow and even though I’m shaking their hands I have no idea what their names are. This is what Chris doesn’t want. I need to pay better attention, not get sidetracked by snow. “So, how is everyone today?” Chris asks.
There are responses of assent all around. “If it’s all right with you, I thought today’s meeting would be more business oriented, market share and what you guys are looking for in terms of input versus output. Then during tomorrow’s meeting, we’ll go over the preliminary ideas that we have for your campaign. I hope that by tomorrow Ellison Media is the only company whose offer you’ll want to accept.”
Jason gives us a smile. “Well, I for one am hoping that I love what I see. Shall we get started?”
“Absolutely,” Chris says, “I’ve drawn up a budget for a year long campaign, focusing on all the major US cities, aiming for a five to ten percent increase in total revenue by the end of the year.” He opens up his briefcase, and I see the flare of panic in his eyes when he doesn’t see what he’s looking for.
Suddenly remembering I picked an extra folder off the counter thinking it was mine, I pull it open, and see the graphs and charts of a budget. I pull the folder from my stack and hand it to Chris. He glances at me, and I see the barest hint of relief before he gives me a professional smile as he takes a notebook and pen from his briefcase and closes it. He takes the folder from me. “Thank you, Scarlett.”
He opens the folder and gives me the extra copies, which I walk to the other side of the table and give to Jason and the others. Then Chris is off talking about the budget, and I’m along for the ride.
Two hours later, the meeting is wrapping up, and it’s not going well. Everything Chris has said is solid, but The Pleasure Chest team doesn’t seem to be responding to it. They’ve been very stoic, asking the bare minimum of questions, and even Jason—who seemed jovial and outgoing, has seemed almost bored while Chris has outlined his plan of attack for media saturation across the company. I think it a really good plan. Sure, it’s not the most interesting topic, but we’ll get to the fun stuff tomorrow. I’m not sure what’s making them so hesitant and hostile. I hope this reaction doesn’t mean we have no chance to land their business.
I’ve tried to assist Chris as best I can, supplying him with extra numbers from the material Maureen sent with me, taking notes about the questions and concerns, and always giving him a positive face when he hasn’t had any from across the table. Chris draws my attention back to him. “I think that’s all I have for today. Tomorrow we’ll have art samples for you, and you’ll get a better taste of the fun style we’re going for with this campaign.”
I swear I see the three of them relax a little. “Thank you,” Jason says. “That was very informative. We’re scheduled for the same time tomorrow?”
“Yes,” Chris says. “I look forward to it.”
They shake hands, and the mood in the room seems thick and tense. Chris attempts a smile. “You wouldn’t mind pointing me towards the bathroom before we get out of your hair?”
“Down that hall, to the left,” Jason says.
Chris disappears, and I gather up the papers he left on the table, shuffling them into the folder and into his briefcase. There’s whispering at the other end of the table, and they clearly don’t mean for me to hear, but I do. It’s the woman speaking. “It seems like he’d benefit more from using some of our toys instead of selling them. He’s got some sort of stick up his ass.”
I’m careful to remain interested in the papers in front of me as Jason responds. “The conversations I’ve had with him have been way less tense and uptight.”
“Well, they’d better have one hell of a marketing plan to overcome that. If we’re going to work closely with him, he has to understand the vibe of the company. That’s not it.”
Chris comes back into the room, and I hand him his briefcase. “Thanks,” he says, taking it from me. We say one more round of goodbyes, and bundle up into our coats. There’s a small amount of snow falling onto our heads while we call a cab.
“That went well,” Chris mutters, and I can tell from his voice that he’s not expecting me to respond. His face is dark, and he’s retreating inward, probably reliving the last twenty minutes of awkward agony. He addresses our cab driver in a curt voice, ordering him back to the hotel. I decide to at least try to engage him in conversation. “Do you know where dinner is tonight?” I ask.
He shrugs. “The Colson rep decided. It’s in my phone. They’ll send a car at seven.”
There’s finality in his words, and I back off. I already have to be in close quarters with him for the rest of the trip, I don’t want to make it worse. The car ride is painfully silent, and he stalks up to the room like an angry bear, all quiet energy and barely contained rage. He tosses his coat onto his bed and heads straight for the wet bar. This brooding silence suits him. I must be crazy for finding him even more attractive like this, but seeing him vibrating with contained strength, makes me wonder what it would be like for him to choose to unleash it. To take control of whatever is in front of him and bend it to his wi
ll. I shudder, flashes of carnal commands and his hands on me race through my mind.
I head into my room, shedding my coat and my shoes. I hear him sink onto the couch, glass rattling with ice cubes. I turn my TV on low, prepared to wait out his storm. But as an hour passes, and then two, and three, I get tired of waiting. Sighing, I turn off the television from the self-help reality show I was barely absorbing, and I head into the main room. I lean against the doorway. Chris is sunken into the couch, his glass empty, his face dark.
“How many of those have you had?” I ask.
“Just the one,” he says. “I needed to take the edge off.”
I nod. “Then tell me what’s going through your head. Because if you don’t I think you’re going to explode and take the entire hotel with you.”
His glare strays to me for just a moment, and I meet him stare for stare. He maybe intimidating and sexy as hell, but I told him I was going to be helpful, and this is the way I’m going to do it. I’m going to get him out of his head so he can actually focus. He sighs. “I just don’t know what I did wrong. I’ve had half a dozen phone calls with Jason Childs, and they all went well. They went fantastically. But none of that came across in the meeting today. I expected them to be happy, to be impressed. But they seemed like they were barely invested. I’ve spent a lot of time on this proposal, and I don’t want it to fall apart. Especially if I don’t know why it’s falling apart.” He sighs again, reaching out to put his empty glass on the coffee table.
I weigh my options. I can sympathize with him and tell him it’s going to be okay. Or, I can tell him the truth that he doesn’t want to hear—that I wasn’t supposed to hear. I look at him, his hair messed up just enough to make him look like he rolled out of bed, his entire being dissolved enough to look out of control. It makes me think of the ways I would have rather he gotten that way, and I have to shake my head to get the images of us rolling together, sweating and panting out of my head. “I know what went wrong,” I say, even though I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do.