Liv was different back then. Is different. I know it from just being around her again the other day. She’s the type of girl you bring home to your mother. If your mother wasn’t a f**king crackhead, that is.
I’m just finishing up my workout when I catch the front desk guy, Sal, pointing a woman in my direction. Not just any woman, a hot piece of ass. Now this is what I need to get my mind over little miss big eyes.
I’m done with my workout, but I start one handed pushups as she approaches anyway. Might as well give her the full show. I stand and take off my sweaty shirt, using it to wipe my face. Her eyes go right to my abs. It’s like taking candy from a baby.
“Who wants to know?” I smile at her while I ask.
Her eyes come up to mine, and she flips her hair back a bit before she extends her hand to me.
“My name is Summer Langley. I’m with the Daily Sun Times. I was wondering if I could talk to you for a little while. We’d like to run a story on you and your upcoming title fight.”
“Sure.” I hold the handshake longer than necessary as I speak to make my point. “As long as you don’t mind me getting you all sweaty.” I wait until I get a reaction from her face, and then point my eyes at our sweaty joined hands for her eyes to follow.
“Not at all.” She grins back at me and I know we’re on the same page.
“Come on, we can take this conversation somewhere more private.” I lead her to the small kitchen in the back of the gym and put out my hand, offering her to go first through the doorway. It gives me a good shot of her ass in that tight little skirt of hers. It’s nice, but too skinny. Nothing like Liv’s heart shaped, perfect ass. Fuck, I gotta stop this shit with thinking about Liv. Especially when I have a hot number standing right in front of me, smiling at me like it’s already a done deal.
“So, you’re a writer?” Liv’s a writer too.
“Yep, I’m actually an intern right now. I’m competing for a full writer position. It’s down to two of us, so I’m hoping I get something juicy from you to help put me over the top.” She emphasizes the word juicy and almost purrs at me. Oh, I’ll give you something juicy alright. At least I won’t have to work too hard for this one. I think she’s almost as ready as I am. Maybe more so. But that’s okay, even though I usually like to hunt for my dinner, sometimes it’s nice to just call in for delivery too.
We sit and skinny Summer takes her pad out of some expensive designer bag that probably cost more than my last car. She smiles at me with perfectly straight white teeth that I’m sure cost her old man a fortune.
“So, Mr. Stone. Tell me about yourself. Were you born and raised in Chicago?”
“Yep, been here all my life. Went to South Shore Elementary and High School.”
She jots down some notes on her pad. “Oh, that’s where the other reporter is from. I’m surprised you two didn’t know each other.”
“What other reporter?”
“Olivia Michaels. The reporter who had this story originally.”
Fuck. Me. Liv did say she was at the gym doing research. Guess she failed to mention that her research was me. “What happened to the other reporter?”
“I’m not really sure, but she gave up the assignment.” Summer smiles at me like she’s ready to eat me. “But I’m glad she gave it up. I can’t wait to get to the juicy part.”
I should be thanking the gods for what they delivered to me. Yet instead, I’m f**king pissed. Really pissed.
Sleezeball calls us both into his office. I say good morning to Summer and she doesn’t even look my way. She’s in a worse mood than usual. Daddy must have cut her allowance.
“So ladies.” Sleezeball comes around and sits on the corner of his desk, his arms folded over his chest. “Looks like we have a problem.”
Summer folds her arms across her chest and raises her chin. Looks like the problem must belong to the princess. I try not to smile as I speak. “What’s the problem and how can we help, James?” I’m such a brown noser, but I don’t even care. Six more weeks. I can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel and I’m not above a little ass-kissing to make sure I’m the one that makes it there first.
“Well it seems Mr. Stone has refused an interview with Summer.” I look to Summer for an explanation, but she snubs me. My face turns back to Sleezeball, waiting for more information.
“He’ll only give his story to you, Olivia.” Sleezeball shrugs his shoulders. “So you’re back on the story, Liv.” He sighs loudly. “I’m not even sure why this guy’s story is so important, but my boss wants it. And since Mr. Stone has decided he wants you, that’s what he’ll get. You.”
My mouth is still hanging open when he dismisses us. I almost make it out before Sleezeball speaks again. “Olivia, stay for a minute. Summer, close the door on the way out.” Really, could my day get any worse?
“Listen, I know you asked to be let off this story for personal reasons. However, it seems we don’t have a choice here anymore. So, take this assignment as a learning experience. Whatever you and Mr. Stone have going on, exploit it and get me a good story.”
Summer is still stamping around our shared workstation when I get back to my desk. I’m guessing being rejected is new to the little princess. Although I’m pissed as hell at Vinny for interfering with my work, I have to admit, seeing her knocked off her high horse does have its perks.
“I don’t know what game you’re playing Olivia, but making me look bad in front of James is going to cost you.” Her face distorted in anger, she doesn’t look quite so attractive. “I’m not just going to win this job, I’m going to wipe the floor with that ratty little head of yours.”
I can’t help but laugh at her threat. Who knew the princess had it in her? Game on.
I leave the office and head straight to the gym I know Vinny works out at. I have no idea if he’ll be there this time, but he’s getting a piece of my mind if he is. Instead of a few hours calming my initial anger, it’s made it worse. Worse to the point that I’ve gone from a light simmer to a full-blown boil and the top is about to come flying off the pot…and hit someone in the head.
How dare Vinny screw with my work? Who does he think he is? I’ve worked too damn hard to get where I am to let some old crush interfere with where I need to be. He wants to play games, he’s going to find out I’m not the same little girl he thinks I am. I’ve grown up since he broke my heart in high school. A lot.
I enter the gym and look around. It’s filled with bulky guys with tattoos and I’m surprised when a pretty, albeit very pregnant, woman walks up to me. She looks out of place dressed in a stylish red suit, her hand mindlessly rubbing the basketball she looks to be carrying around in her stomach.
“You look lost.” She smiles at me warmly. “Are you looking for someone?”
“Ummm…yes, I’m looking for Vinny Stonetti.” Hesitantly I respond.
“You must know Vinny for a long time?” The pretty pregnant woman tilts her head assessing me. Oddly, her inquiry and stance feel motherly, almost protective, although she certainly isn’t old enough to have a child as old as Vinny.
“Actually I do. We went to high school together.” I furrow my brow in confusion. “But how did you know that I’d known him for a while?”
The woman smiles warmly, “Because he made the change from Vinny Stonetti to Vince Stone a few years back. No one calls him Vinny around here anymore. Well, except me and my husband, Nico. I’ve known him since he was a teen, so he’s still Vinny to me. My husband still calls him Vinny too, but that’s to piss him off more than anything.”
I smile at the woman, I can tell in the tone of her voice she has a soft spot for Vinny. It doesn’t surprise me. Most women do. Until he screws them over and leaves them devastated. Like he did me. “Is Vinny…eh…Vince around?”
“He’s not here yet. But he usually comes in about now. He trains with my husband.”
“Oh. Okay, I’ll come back later. Or maybe I’ll just call and set up an appointment.”
“You’re welcome to wait. I was just going to have a cup of tea in the back. Why don’t you join me? We can exchange embarrassing stories about Vinny.”
I don’t have to think about it long. I’m already here and maybe I can get some material for my story from her too. “Sure, sounds good. By the way, I’m Olivia.” I extend my hand.
“I’m Elle.” Smiling, she shakes my hand and then it returns to her belly. “And this here is Nicholas Jr. I think he’s already practicing his kicks. He’s just like his daddy, strong and full of energy.”
We walk through the gym and into a small kitchen on the far side of the room. Elle puts on an electric kettle and pulls down two mugs. “I only have decaf. My husband read way too many baby books and threw out anything with caffeine within an hour of us finding out I was pregnant.” She smiles and rubs her belly protectively as she continues. “We waited a long time to have this little guy. My husband finally retired from fighting last year. He’s a little on the protective side when it comes to us.”
Smiling at her frankness, I respond, “Decaf is fine. I’m still wired from the three cups I had at the office.”
Elle and I chat for a while, the conversation comes easily, almost as if she’s an old friend I’m catching up with rather than someone I barely know. Oddly, it feels as though I could sit around for hours in my pajamas watching old movies and eating ice cream straight from the container with her after one of us has had a bad breakup. She just seems like that kind of girlfriend. I don’t know how much time passes but it’s easy to forget I just met this woman. There’s just such an instant friendship that we find ourselves giggling most of the time. As we finish our tea, Elle looks into her now empty cup with remiss. She sighs. “I miss coffee. Tell me what your three cups tasted like today. I’m that desperate. My health nut of a husband doesn’t even drink coffee. Some weeks I go without even the smell of it.”
Smiling, I’m more than happy to play along. Aside from being acutely addicted to coffee, I love to tell a good story. “Well, today I started with straight up Kona coffee. Fresh brewed, with a little bit of Bailey’s flavored Irish Cream in it. It tasted like nutty cream freshly harvested from the mountains of Kuai.”
Elle arches her eyebrows at my description and giggles. “You’re killing me. But go on.” She closes her eyes and smiles and waits.
“Then, in the afternoon, I needed a little pick-me-up, so I went over to Barto’s for an espresso.” I lean in close and lower my voice to a playful whisper. “A double.”
“Mmmmm…Barto’s. What did that one taste like?”
“Dark, thick, confident. Arabica beans.” I pause for effect and Elle licks her lips, a dreamy smile still on her face. “The first sip tempts the tongue and brings the urge to roll the steamy liquid goodness around to make it last. Yet you can’t slow it down, can’t stop yourself…because you know what comes next. The unmistakable taste of dark chocolate. It coats the hint of sour and brings you deep into rich flavor. Flavor that makes you close your eyes and picture the Tuscan hills, grasses off in the distance swaying in the breeze.”
Elle’s eyes are still closed as she speaks, a huge grin on her face. “Mmmm…I think I can actually taste it a little. Tell me more. Tell me about the third one.” She sounds like a little girl waiting anxiously for her mom to continue her bedtime story and I can’t help but giggle.