Dirty Headlines(8)

“What happened?” I propped my elbows on my knees.

“The big bosses lost someone important.”

“What did it have to do with you?”

“That someone was our boss, and every time they look at us, they see her. Which is why they never look at us.”

I reached out and squeezed Gray’s hand, just as my second and only colleague in Couture strutted in.

“Ah, my fellow lepers and partners in being-pretty crime.” She offered me her hand, her fingernails brushed in blue and green. “I’m Ava.”

I shook her hand. She looked to be in her late twenties like Gray, and dripping chic from head to toe. With tan skin, big curls, and cat-like eyes—plus a red leather mini dress and vintage yellow boots—she could give any pop princess a run for her money.

“Is this dress up as a bipolar nurse day?” She scowled at my white dress. I opened my mouth to explain I was about as fashionable as her keyboard, when she broke into a grin and Grayson laughed from his desk, shaking his head.

“A wrap dress and Chucks? For real?” She wiped tears from the corner of her eyes.

“Which part is more disturbing to you, the thrift-shop dress or the Chucks?” I poked at my lower lip.

“Pretty sure the part where you look like a kid high on Jamba Juice who raided Mrs. Clinton’s closet. Do you have a name?” Ava swiped her gaze along my body.

“Judith. But people call me Jude.”

“Hey, Jude.” She winked.

“Sure she hasn’t heard that one before, Av.” Grayson swiveled his chair to his Apple screen, double-clicking the envelope icon.

The kids in my neighborhood had decided I was too much of a tomboy to have such a feminine name when I was about seven, and that’s how Jude was born. Judith died a slow death, coughing signs of vitality every time I needed to fill out an official document.

“Jude can touch the tip of her nose with her tongue and make fart noises with her armpits.”

“Jude can teach us how to skateboard.”

“Jude knows how to make water bombs.”

“Speaking of disturbing things, Mr. Laurent will be making an announcement today at three, so maybe it’s a good thing little Miss Reese Witherspoon is covered up in a dress so ugly it should be illegal.”

I shot Ava a look, and she snapped her gum in my face. “He likes the ladies, but worry not. His son puts him on a leash.”

Hours ticked by, hoovering the minutes and sucking them into an entire sun-deprived day. I spent them researching the many disturbing ways you can freeze, melt, and scrub cellulite to death. When the clock hit three, the elevator dinged chirpily. But that was the only chipper thing about the occasion. Time stopped. So did the clicking of keyboards, and the radio stations blasting over the floor along with the general chitchat. By the way the air hung and dangled like a sword above my neck, I guessed that Mr. Laurent, the owner of Couture and LBC, had arrived.

Grayson pushed off his desk and motioned for Ava and me to get out of our cubicle. I wiped the cold sweat on my palms over my dress.

“Main attraction’s here. Let’s hope Laurent Senior doesn’t grope anyone and Laurent Junior doesn’t fire us all because he’s on his period.” He catwalked to the main lobby of the floor, hips swaying.

I chuckled. So the infamous New York royals, the Laurents, were a pain in the butt. Hardly made any difference to me. I very much doubted they worked on this floor or that I’d see much of them. I knew of Mathias Laurent, the French mogul. He sounded too important to hang with us mortals on the fifth floor, crunching numbers or trying samples of new, gluten-free perfumes.

The minute we stepped into the already-full reception area, my jaw slacked. It fell to the floor, and my tongue rolled out like a red carpet, cartoon-style.

Jesus Christ.

I could practically hear Jesus in my head, waving his fist. “Stop using my name in vain every time you remember a sin you’ve committed.” He had a valid point. At this rate, I needed to say so many Hail Marys, I wasn’t going to be done until my thirtieth birthday.

Standing in front of me was the hot French tourist who’d done unholy things to my body three weeks ago, looking no less god-like than he had that night, with one exception—now he looked a whole lot scarier.

Célian wore pale gray slacks that seemed like they’d been sewn directly onto his body, a white tailored shirt, and a formidable scowl. He looked ready to behead Kyla and feed her limbs to the crowd of people who’d gathered around him. Beside him was a white-haired man an inch shorter than he was.

Mathias Laurent had small, black, vacant eyes—the opposite of his son’s deep indigos. But they had the same disapproving frown that made you feel like the dirt under their Bolvaint shoes.

And probably the same amount of authority to fire yours truly.

“Let’s cut to the chase. Technically, this is an issue for accounting, but we’ve decided to throw Couture into the mix since you guys are a money pit deeper than Kidd Mine,” Célian began, the icicles he called irises still focused on his phone screen.

My eyes rolled inside their sockets as my knees threatened to buckle.

He had an American accent. Not French. American. Smooth. Familiar. Ordinary. He fired out sentences at the speed of light. I heard him, but I couldn’t listen. Shock gripped my body as the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. My dirty one-night stand was my boss. My lying, American boss. And now I had to deal with that—hopefully for a very long time, because I desperately needed this job.

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