Corporate Crush ~ Chapter 1
Updated: May 27, 2021
I study myself in the full-length mirror, taking in what has become my standard apocalypse attire. It's what I like to call business up top and party down below. My icy, blonde hair has grown since my last hair appointment and is finally long enough to pull into an artfully styled bun. My full, red lips are painted to perfection, and my generous curves are carefully concealed beneath a structured, black blazer. But that's where the prim and proper Hadley Bowman ends.
Below the waist, I'm a hot mess.
My yellow, lace granny panties are emblazoned with a picture of Blanche Devereaux, my obvious Golden Girl spirit guide, and my unshaven legs are tucked into slippers shaped like oversized high heels, giving me the appearance of a little girl playing dress-up in her mother's clothes.
Truthfully, I always thought my end of the world ensemble would be a little bit more badass. But then, I doubt anyone pictured the apocalypse quite like this.
When the Coronach-20 pandemic hit last year, and my office, Calloway Industries, joined thousands of other companies in transitioning to a work-from-home platform, I thought my job as Jensen Calloway’s personal assistant was about to go from difficult to downright impossible. But for the first time since I started the demanding position, I don’t feel like I’m drowning. I’m thriving in a way that would make even the great Betty White weep with pride.
"And I'm doing it all without pants," I tell my newest snake plant, Humphrey Bogart. Yet another aspect of my apocalypse life that I didn’t see coming. I’ve always been what they call horticulturally challenged, but one of my besties, Nina, introduced me to the world of succulents after a particularly trying day when I first began working from home, claiming I needed nature’s calming influence. That was six months ago, and I am now a full-blown crazy plant lady.
“Don’t look at me like that, Lauren Bacall,” I huff, crossing my arms over my chest and raising a brow at the old lady cactus resting next to Humphrey. I throw my hands in the air, exasperated by her rigidity. I swear Lauren is so judgy. “So I got stuck as a talking bundle of grapes for an entire Vroom meeting with the California acquisitions division last month. Big deal. I bet that has happened to loads of people. I mean, there were bound to be some hiccups as we all adjusted to our new work-from-home lifestyle.”
I reach around them, propping open the window to give them a bit of fresh air, and the string of pearls succulent I’ve named Betty Davis dances in the New York spring breeze.
“Don’t you laugh at me.” I give her my best stink eye before a smile breaks my resolve. “Fine!” I shout. “There was also a slight issue that time I forgot that you could see my Zappa on the crappa poster in the background. But other than that...I have been making this pandemic my bitch.”
I’m saved from making a bigger fool of myself by continuing to argue with my judgmental plants when my computer begins to ring with an incoming video call. My head snaps up, and I curse as my boss’s name flashes on the screen. I rush across my small living room, peeking at the robot clock sitting on my desk. According to Optimus Prime, our meeting isn’t scheduled to start for another thirty minutes. I roll my eyes. Leave it to Jensen Calloway to make me feel like I’m late even when I’m early. I let out a small huff of annoyance and settle into my chair, making sure to push my snacks out of the range of the camera and turn off the episode of Forensic Cases that’s been playing in the background before answering the call.
“Mister Calloway,” I say, slipping my glasses on as my boss’s face lights up the screen. “Is everything okay? Our meeting isn’t due to start for another half hour.”
My breathing turns shallow as steel blue eyes meet my curious gaze, and as usual, I lose all rational thought as I’m assaulted with the absolute perfection that is Jensen Calloway. I take a second to admire him as I pretend to arrange things on my desk. His curly, raven hair should seem at odds with the broad plains of his muscular body and the sharp, angular features of his face, but instead, it softens his features just enough that you forget that some angels are destined to fall.
“Miss Bowman, are you even listening to me?” His rumbly voice snaps me out of my thoughts even as my tits perk up at the sound of his voice. Traitorous sluts. We’re supposed to be professional. And already, I’ve apparently missed something important.
“ I’m sorry, Mr. Calloway. My thoughts are a little scattered. I’ve been on the phone all morning, trying to ensure we have everything in place for our return to the office next week,” I say, taking a sip of my coffee. “You were saying something about the projected financials for the Secret Cellar proposition?”
He arches a brow. “I assumed we were all set on that front. Anything I should be aware of before we head back to in-person?”
I shake my head. “No. The head of the maintenance department assures me that the building will be sanitized one last time this weekend, and HR confirmed that the new regulations have been accepted by all of the employees. It should be back to work as usual Monday morning.”
“It sounds like you have everything under control,” he says, and I nod my agreement. “Well then, let's get to it. I want to hammer out some of the finer details of the Secret Cellar deal before the California team joins the call.”
“Of course. Are we waiting for Mr. Donahue to join us?” I ask, pulling out my iPad so I can multitask like a boss.
“Weren’t you the one who brought this proposition to me?” he asks, his face betraying none of his emotions.
“Um, yeah,” I clear my throat. “I mean, yes, sir. I did.”
“Then why the fuck would we need Carey?” he growls.
I clench my thighs together, ignoring the way hearing that deliciously sinful word falling from his lips makes me feel, and straighten my glasses. “We don’t. Nobody knows this project better than me,” I say with confidence. I may be a hot mess in my personal life, but I’m damn good at my job and not afraid to own that shit. Besides, this Secret Cellar wine acquisition is my baby. No one wants this deal more than I do. In fact, if all goes well, I’ll be getting more than just a gold star for a good job on the sale. If I play my cards right, I’ll get to run the place too.
“Good. Let’s get to work.”
I nod, logging into the secure server, and dive in. The next few hours pass in a blur of meetings. I barely have time to scarf down a bowl of ramen between video conferences, and by the time our final meeting rolls around, I’m more than ready for my last weekend of freedom.
“I’ll need a few days to look over the latest proposal with my attorney,” Jensen says as we wrap the last meeting of the day. There are half a dozen others on the call, and every one of them looks as ready to be done as I am. The only one who looks sharp is Paolo, the grandson of the winery seller. He's watched attentively as the winery's lawyer and Jensen have gone back and forth for the previous hour, asking intuitive questions about all of the flagged items in the contract. Finally, it seems like they’re done.
Jensen sits back in his chair, apparently satisfied with the final item negotiated. “Please inform Mr. Colucci that Miss Bowman will be in touch with our availability next week.”
I scribble furiously, making a note to check his packed calendar before tuning back into the meeting.
“Very well,” Paolo Colucci says. “I look forward to hearing from you soon, Hadley.”
My cheeks heat at the casual way he addresses me by my first name, but I smile as I focus on his face on my computer screen. “We’ll be transitioning back into the office on Monday,” I warn him, “but I should be in touch by the end of the day.”
“Take all the time you need,” he says. “You have my direct line. Don’t be afraid to use it.”
I smile at him, and he waves.
“Ciao,” he calls before disconnecting from the call.
His team follows, saying their goodbyes one by one before leaving the call. I can feel Jensen’s eyes on me, and I automatically tense. I know that look. It’s his lecture-look. Ugh. He’s probably getting ready to reprimand me for the familiarity I showed with Paolo, but I keep my smile plastered on my face and wait until the last person has disconnected. I open my mouth, wanting to say my own farewell as fast as possible, but Jensen stops me, holding up a finger.
“Miss Bowman, Carey, can you hang back? I need a word.”
I cock my head in curiosity, but he remains quiet for a few beats.
“We have a problem,” he says when he’s sure the chat room has cleared.
His tone makes it sound a lot more serious than my casual treatment of Paolo. Especially if he’s asked Carey to stay too. My heart rate picks up, and I frantically swipe at the screen of my iPad. Shit. Maybe I daydreamed right through some snag earlier. What did Paolo change in the documents that has him looking so grim?
“I’m not seeing any major changes to the contract,” I say, looking up from my scrolling with a furrowed brow.
Jensen stands, removing his suit jacket, and it takes all of my self-control not to lean forward and lick my computer screen where the cut of his abs and biceps show through his dress shirt. He falls heavily back into his brown leather chair that probably cost more than my monthly salary and rubs at his temples.
“Nicolette and I have decided to call off our engagement,” he says bluntly.
I open my mouth, unsure what I plan on saying, considering we’re not exactly on the level of sharing details about our personal lives. I’ve heard enough horror stories through our office’s gossip mill. Hell, I’ve witnessed more than a few firsthand, so I’ve come to think of Jensen’s fiancée as little more than a gold-digger with a heart of ice. My instinct is to say something like... Hallelujah? Sorry, not sorry? Can I ride you like a pony? But I’m saved from the multitude of embarrassing things that want to fall from my mouth as he holds up a hand.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he growls. “The only reason I’m even saying anything at all is because of the terms set forth by Mr. Colucci.”
My eyes widen. The terms. Shit.
Georgio Colucci is definitely old-fashioned, having come over from Italy sixty years ago. From the moment Calloway Industries expressed an interest in the purchase, Colucci made it clear he would only sell to someone who shared his family values. Someone married with the desire for a family of their own. Our offer had only been considered at all because of Jensen’s engagement. Not to mention we’d met them at asking price.
“Fuuuck,” Carey groans on his end. “That old bastard is so set in his ways he’s practically a rock. It is imperative that we keep this from him.”
My heart thunders in my chest as I think about what this could mean for the sale. As much as I hate Jensen’s ex-fiancée–and I do, like, so much–I also don’t want to see this deal fall apart.
After three years in this position as Jensen’s executive assistant, the Secret Cellar deal is the first project I’ve felt confident enough to pitch. My business degree makes me overqualified for my current position, but Jensen’s always been cool about letting me know there’s room to climb in his company. Although, I’d rather climb his body, but hey, my ambition can multitask. An empire in itself, Calloway Industries has a wide variety of interests and many different streams of revenue, but since his dad passed, Jensen has spent the last three years, learning the ropes and slowly gathering the knowledge and support of the board in order to branch into new areas of business.
Instead of investing in large, established brands, we’ve been buying up smaller, artisan companies and rebranding their products for exclusive use in the Calloway chain of hotels. Jensen already owns the companies that make our hand-crafted soaps and shampoos, the five-star, farm-to-table restaurant that sits in each lobby, and the chocolate shop that makes the candy for our pillows.
His vision is unique and just modern enough to grow the company even bigger than his father did.
But the wine...that’s all me.
I found Secret Cellar when I decided to be extra bougie for my twenty-first birthday and convinced my girls to come with me to California. We started out at a luxurious spa, and after we had been pampered from head to toe, we rented a convertible to drive down the coast, stopping at every vineyard we could find along the way. It was during that trip when I fell in love with wine and where I first tried Secret Cellar. Their wine stood out, and years later, I still have bottles shipped to me regularly.
So when Jensen had asked what our next venture should be after we closed with the prickly chocolatier, I found myself blurting out we should buy a winery. When I wasn’t laughed out of the board room, I ran with the idea, refusing to hand over the reins for even the smallest details. I am damn proud of this concept and confident I’m going to rock the shit out of being a vintner.
Except, now it’s all about to come crashing down around me because Jensen’s love life is in shambles. Ugh. Of all the reasons to lose my dream...
“You okay, Hadley? You look like you’re about to barf,” Carey says with a slight smirk in his voice.
I wrinkle my nose at him. “I’m perfectly fine. Thank you for your concern, Mr. Donahue,” I say, trying to kill him with my eyes. His smile broadens like he knows what I’m thinking, but I dismiss him, turning my attention back to Jensen. “What are we going to do?”
He leans back in his chair, loosening his tie. “Let’s not worry about it right now,” he sighs. “I just wanted you to be aware since you’re the one who pitched the idea, and I know how invested you are in this project. We can discuss it first thing Monday. Go enjoy your weekend, Miss Bowman.”
I open my mouth to protest, but Carey cuts me off.
“Sounds like we have our own weekend to enjoy, my single friend. Meet me at your brother’s bar in an hour,” he says. With one last salute in my direction, he signs off.
Ugh. I pull my earbuds from my ears and toss them on my desk. What in the hell am I going to do now? My eyes dart to the motivational plaque on my desk. A cartoon sun stares back at me, the words look on the bright side written in his black sunglasses.
Okay, I can take that advice.
I pull my hair from its bun and run my fingers through the wavy mess, trying to find a ray of hope I can grab onto. A delicious smile curls my lips as I pull off my glasses and toss them on the desk. For the first time since I started working at Calloway Industries, my sexy as sin boss is single. And if that’s not reason enough to celebrate, I don’t know what is.
“Alexa, play Work From Home by Fifth Harmony,” I call before standing and shimmying my way out of my jacket.
I’m mid twerk when my phone rings. I let out a groan, telling Alexa to pause, as I rush to grab my cell from my desk.
“H-hello,” I stutter. “Mister Calloway? I’m so sorry. Did I forget something?”
“I’d say so,” he drawls. His voice is hard, but there’s a hint of amusement to it that I’m not used to hearing from him. “Your camera is still on.”
My mouth falls open as I turn to stare at my monitor with wide eyes. Onscreen, Jensen Calloway is reclined casually in his chair, phone pressed to his ear. When my eyes meet his, he smirks and salutes me with the hand not holding his phone, and I let out a strangled sound of embarrassment, nearly tripping over my jacket laying in a pile on the floor in my panic to end the video call. Finally, my fingers find the mousepad, and I click out of the call.
My heart beats frantically as I stand, frozen, with my phone still pressed to my ear in mortified silence.
I just gave the CEO of Calloway Industries an inadvertent strip show.
Fuck my life.
On the other end of the line, I think I hear Jensen chuckle softly before he clears his throat. “My office. First thing Monday, Miss Bowman,” he says, his tone serious, and then the line goes dead.