Excerpt for Tempered Hearts by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

This page may contain adult content. If you are under age 18, or you arrived by accident, please do not read further.



Tempered Hearts



~~~



David Manoa




Copyright 2018 David Manoa

Amazon Edition

v. 2.0


~~~~



The author asserts the moral right to be identified as

the author of this work.



All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including photocopying, recording, information storage and retrieval systems, or otherwise, without prior permission in writing from the author, with the exception of a book reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.


~~~~~~












Royce Husk


I lived a part of my life never experiencing what love is. True love eluded me in my teens and most of my twenties and early thirties. I was damn sure, I was not going to be forty and miss out meeting the love of my life. I was blessed then eventually cursed with Karen Sand.

She was everything I always dreamed of. Smart, positive and gorgeous to boot. We connected from the get-go. I fell for her hard. I was convinced she was the one, putting a twenty grand engagement ring on her finger three months in our relationship. What idiot does that? What the fuck was I thinking?

Yeah, keep laughing. At the time I had the conviction she was my woman forever. They say love is blind. No, blind and bloody expensive. I put everything I worked hard for aside, for Karen. My goals and ambition dwindled. She took up my time, like some addictive drug. I wanted more and more of her. The sex phenomenal, the kisses and hugs so endearing. The personal things we shared. The secrets. Bound us together by the unwavering trust for each other.

How did my relationship go all to shit you ask? Well, somewhere in the six-month mark. Karen Sand became Karen crazy. I moved on with my life to escape her, but fate with encountering dangerous women followed me into my work life.


***

9 am

Hunter International

After the restructure.


After the restructure and subsequent job losses at Hunter International, we were amalgamated with the sales team, taking the area at the end of the building separated by a ceiling to floor frosted glass partition. I sit at my desk reviewing the latest ad creative when I'm tapped on the shoulder by Emily Haughton, my fellow marketing executive who became more paranoid since making the cut. We took the brunt of the major changes. Our team went from thirty to ten, going the route of using external companies to fulfill our needs.

Kinda felt like an episode of Survivor, wondering who was going to be made redundant at the time. I had complete confidence what I was doing was mission critical but the others... Damn. The situation was every man, I mean woman for themselves.

Emily is wearing black heels, tight black skirt, and a silk white blouse. She pulls in a chair and sits next to me she ties back her brunette hair. Her blue eyes squinted a bit, her cute snippet of behavior when she gets emotional.

“Royce. Take your earphones out.”

“What?” I say, “Damn girl why you breathing down me. Chew a mint before you speak to me.”

“Ha! You’re the one with dragon breath. You eat a mint every ten minutes. That’s a dead giveaway.” She grabs my packet of mints and takes one. “How did the meeting go?”

I frown, “What meeting?”

Emily rolls her eyes, “The one with Rebecca and Tricia.”

“Yeah, I wondered why you didn't receive the invite?”

“Tricia wants me to manage the social media aspect of the marketing.”

I sit back, “Wow. So are you not a Campaign Manager now?”

“No.” she sighs, “My official title is Digital Manager.”

I exhale, “So are congratulations are in order?”

Emily crossed her arms. “Of course not. This is a bloody downgrade!”

“Whoa, hang on. You are still employed, so why you fricking complaining?” I say, “Besides to stay on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all day. That's a dream job for most people.”

“Very funny asshole. I'm grateful I still got a job but I didn't expect this!”

“Nobody expected this. You were exceptional at what you were doing, what was their reason?”

“Ugh, they fed me some crap about digital marketing is the way of the future and they wanted me to add value. Problem is, I loathe the position. I'm going to re-purposing creative they feed me, with no input.”

I lean back then swivel my screen to show her the creative of Hunter International’s new marketing strategy.

Emily winces. “God damn that shit is terrible. Like putting lipstick on a pig, or a dick on a beautiful woman.”

I snickered at the last comment, “I agree, we were going down shit creek when Rebecca approved this no-name marketing company to take a shot at the creative.”

“Urban Eye...”

“Yeah, who told you?”

Emily put her elbows, on the desk and her face went into her palms. “I thought so, that corrupt bitch still wants to press ahead with them.”

“Should I be aware of something?”

“Won't change anything. They are going to run with the creative right?”

“Yep, going across all communications for the re-branding.”

“Why did they ignore my request for other marketing companies an opportunity to pitch for the business?”

“Cade Hunter the CEO wanted something back urgently and he was happy with what he reviewed. To be brutally honest, he kinda glazed over the creative. Why do you have a problem with Urban Eye?”

“Rebecca's Husband owns the company.”

I frowned, “Jeff Stanton?” I pause, “What? Wouldn’t be a conflict of interest?”

“Jeff was separated from Rebecca. At the time.”

“She got back with him?”

“Yeah... The dumb bitch took him back, once the money started flowing, Rebecca took Jeff back with open arms.” Her jaw grinded. Eyes red. “You should take a gander at some of the invoices, I approved before they shifted me out...”

I raise a brow, “Tease me.”

“The last one was three hundred thousand.”

I almost jumped out of my seat. “Jeez, you told Tricia?”

“No Point in light of the current situation. We can't cancel all the work midway and being the one who got Jeff the introduction it makes me appear like an ass.”

I frowned, “Hang on how did -”

Emily shifts in her chair, she flushes red, “He cold called us. He had some concepts to present. He was in the right place at the right time. Hey, keep me in the loop if you come across anything ok?”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! I am not your spy. My name is Royce Husk, not James bloody Bond. What difference is any of this is going to make? Decisions have been made, so stop being such a shit stirrer!”

Emily bit her lip as Rebecca entered in holding a cup of coffee. Rebecca makes eye contact and smiles at us.

Emily pointed, “Ooowee look at that bitch smiling because I can see the dollar signs in her greedy green eyes. Thinking she’s in the money. Ugh. I gotta go. She's headed in your direction. Don't you dare say anything about we talked about.”

I shrugged, “Ok.”


Emily shifted to her desk on the opposite side of me. Rebecca stood by my computer. She wore her open toe red heels and black pants with a red top. She always liked to wear beads around her neck. Emily made me laugh because she said they were her anal beads.

My working relationship with Rebecca was close when we first started but we started to drift a bit over the years. She's become more headstrong like Tricia but with an antagonizing streak.

Rebecca said, “Tricia loved the work Jeff presented. What do you think about the creative? Excellent work don't you think?”

“Did you heed the spiteful rumors and musings from the sales team...”

Her eyes widen, “What did the idiots say?”

“They said the creative looks like a pig with lipstick.”

I turned to Emily freaking out.

Emily balks, “I did not say that!”

Rebecca turns to Emily, shaking her head and I can't stop laughing.

Rebecca asks, “What do you find funny Royce?”

“The pig with the lipstick remark.”

“Yeah, the sales team would say something like that. Ignorant punks.”

Emily's face drained of color, I'm being a cock but Emily needs to learn a lesson.

I said, “Yeah, Kit Nickson, in particular, said the remark.”

Rebecca grinded her jaw, “What do those sales guys know? I'm going to chat with Kit that backstabbing bastard. Those punks should be grateful for the work we do making it easier for them. They would be sucking dick to get new orders if I didn't step up.”

I laughed, “They called it how they saw it, you can't force someone to like the creative.”

Rebecca folded her arms, “But you liked didn't you?”

I coughed. “Yeah, it was ok. It works.”

“No your words in the meeting was the creative was the most inspiring, visually creative piece ever seen.”

I scratched my temple and flick my eyes to Emily mad as hell. Like mad.

I clear my throat, “Yeah, I did.”

Rebecca exhales, “Upon reflection. I should have presented to the sales team first to explain the rationale, instead of them seeing the creative first hand on your computer. Did you show them anything else?”

“No just the ad.”

Rebecca grabs her bag, “Fantastic, I'll head over and talk to sales guys now before their negative thoughts spiral into biased comments.”

Rebecca fossicks into her bag to take out her lipstick and mascara. She pulls her top down to show her breasts. It was well known she had inserts and a pushup bra. She heads off to the Sales office when I'm pinched so hard!

“Ow!” I narrow my eyes at Emily.

“Gosh, you're such a dick!”

I crack up laughing, “Hopefully you learned your lesson not be an instigator.”

“Of what?”

“C'mon be honest. You're jealous Rebecca took your job!” I say, “This is nothing to do with Urban Eye.”

“I am not jealous! I'm calling out dodgy stuff when I see it.”

“Oh, by telling me behind Rebecca's back? Is this your plan, running your mouth spreading gossip.” I say, “If you had concerns why don't tell Tricia directly?” I say, “You achieve nothing by getting a crowd of the wrong people on your side.”

Emily said nothing.

“Relax Emily, I understand why. Because you can't prove jack shit. C'mon let it go.”

She bit her lip and shook her head. “I can't. Not till I secure more information that Rebecca is shady as.”

I sing the Frozen song, “Let it go... Let it go....”

Emily smiles when I give her the fist bump.

I say, “C'mon lets go the Reilly Tavern. My shout.”


***

Emily Haughton


I grabbed my things and as soon as I was out of the door to the main office, drinks and pizzas were already out. The sales team were in front of the whiteboard as Rebecca presented the new creative from a projector.

I can understand why she fed them booze to give the boy's beer goggles on the shitty work her husband did. I walked slowly to the side when all the boys stared at me, with Royce in tow. Rebecca turned to me and smirked.

Rebecca said, “Oh and to present our Social Media Strategy, Emily Haughton will talk about the fantastic work she's doing.”

I shook. The boys got rowdy and clapped. The call-up like I was going to drink a yardie on my 21st birthday. I headed to the front and rambled about what I was doing. God, it was embarrassing! I was all over the place and the nerves had me talking out of my ass.

The meeting ended, with everyone more confused than anything. I pulled Rebecca aside.

I said, “What was that about?”

“What?” she smirks as she switches off her laptop.

“You put me on the spot.”

She blinks repeatedly, holding back a laugh. “You did well.”

“No, I didn't. I didn't get the luxury you did with a PowerPoint presentation. I had analytics and measurements I wanted to show. You may as well throw me under the bus too!”

Rebecca rolls her eyes, “Relax, what was said went over their heads anyway. By the time you showed them your graphs, they would have drunk all the alcohol. They have brains the size of pigeons. “

“Why bother? I looked like an ass!”

Rebecca took a sip from her flute. “It is about perception.” She places her glass on the table. “Perception is reality. I did you a favor, at least now the sales team think we are doing something, regardless of what we do is effective or not.”

“Excuse me? Listen here Pancake tits, I don't need to prove anything to anyone. The work I'm doing with social media is already being recognized out in the market. My engagement stats are an all-time high.”

“And you should let the company be aware of your successes from day one. How hard is it, to send a blanket email out? If you did a fantastic job of marketing yourself, I wouldn't be doing your job.”

Rebecca walked away. I clutched my wine glass to the brink of throwing it at the back of her head. Royce tapped me on the shoulder and in a soft voice in my ear sang, that annoying Disney song.”

“Argh! I can't stand her!”

Royce places his hand on my shoulder, “Relax, grab a drink and let's head outside, you need some air, to clear your head.”


I follow Royce out to the smoker's area, a wooden bench surrounded by paving stones and we sit underneath the umbrella. The scent of cigarettes lingers from the ashtrays. Royce takes them and places them on the other table.

“Fresh air.” He smiles.

I lift my wine glass, “Yes, and wine to dull my brain.”

Our outdoor area had a panoramic view of the Auckland harbor bridge, the sun was setting in, with very few clouds. With my thumb, I wiped the condensation off the glass. I exhaled, wishing the tension and drama of my day can escape.

Royce pauses, blinking twice before focusing on me, quietly judging me. Having worked with him for two years, I never had a close look at him as a person. Not being creepy, I mean. I never took notice that he had attractive features. Dark brown hair, light brown eyes, that you pull you in. A defined jawline and a sexy smile. I flinched seeing him in this new light. I turn my head back at the sunset as the skies become pink. Yes, the light makes him look different for sure.

He says, “Damn warm today.” He removes his suit jacket, his shirt a custom fit, molds to his aesthetic body. He undoes his tie then rolls up his sleeves. His forearms, muscular. Strong. “Ah, much better. Sorry about the strip show.”

I laughed, “Ok Mr. Magic Mike. You going to tell me about your wedding? How was Bora Bora?”

Royce squeezed his eyes, rubbing his ring finger. Minus the ring. “Oh boy, everything changed right after the moment the engagement ring went her finger. Karen's insecurities went on me. I always thought once we were engaged that would show my commitment to her. But she boxed me in, started to be more controlling.”

Royce sits up and stares at the sky holding his palm up as the light breeze blew.

“Stop stalling. Tell me.”

“Damn girl! Collecting my thoughts takes time, you know. The weather was exactly like this when I put that magical ring on her little finger. I cried like a little girl when I asked Karen to marry me.”

I folded my arms, “I can't picture you crying. You don't come across as the emotional type.”

“Yeah, well. It was the happiest moment of my life when she said yes. Her reaction. The whole moment... everything. Ever since I was young, I wanted to fall in love but I never had that conviction with any of the women I had before. Yeah, I was madly in love with Karen.”

“How many? I mean the total women you dated.”

“In my lifetime?”

“Yes.”

“Heaps. Four or five over the years.”

“Liar which means half that.”

We both cracked up.

“Ok. Ok. You got me so I had two… sue me.”

“Thought so. As you were.”

Royce finger combs his hair back. “Where was I, so I give her the ring and all a sudden all these things she wants, start compounding. She wanted me to sell my house within two months so we would move in her dream home that she got a thirty day deal on. Then the talk about babies. She planned my whole life out, without any say from me.”

“I'm sure that's the natural progression right?”

“Not one month after the engagement! She said that she wanted to be pregnant when we walk down the aisle. Too much and too soon.”

I raise a brow, “Gosh, sounds like she baited you with kindness then snap. The hooks go in.”

“Karen is a sweet girl, but when you experience psycho behavior that's a deal breaker. A sign of worse things to come.”

“How did she react when you canned the wedding?”

“She refused to believe it, thought I was joking. Yeah, our whole relationship was joke alright. Then her whole behavior reverted back quickly when she knew I was serious. She was now being kind and sweet, but that kind of two-faced behavior, I'm not gonna stand for. I got a civil court proceeding over the damn ring. I knew I shouldn’t have spent twenty grand on it.”

“What!”

“Yeah, she refuses to give the ring back. Check this, she’s with a new boyfriend now and she thinks she's entitled to keep the ring because it was a gift!”

“Oh, my, God. That is so messed up. In all honesty, if it was me, and you called quits on our relationship. I would keep the ring out of spite that’s what I should have done with assholes I dated. Twenty grand is a nice breakup fee.”

I roll my eyes. “Thanks for your support but point taken. God knows what would have happened if we bought the house she wanted. The equity would be mostly mine but anything can happen these days.”

I pat Royce on the back, “Hey be positive at least you're not in court fighting over a house ... that would be worse.”

“Yeah or pregnant. Sometimes I wonder how my parents had a life so easy, how they just met. Got married and were happy ever after.”

I raise a brow, “I'm sure their marriage had problems, no one is immune from that.”

“I guess you're right. Damn, I've been pouring my heart out to you like some pussy. What about you're your love life?”

I jolt. “What love life?”

“Are you seeing anyone?”

“No, I been single for a while.”

Royce’s eyes narrow. “What about that guy you bought the house with?”

“Complicated.”

“How long you been single?”

“You going to mark on your calendar?

“You want me to?”

“A long time.”

Royce stared and figured out I was uncomfortable talking about my past relationship. He took another sip from his drink then checked his phone. “Shit!”

“What's wrong?”

Royce flicked through the message. “Its Tricia, she wants to meet me in her office. Right now.”

“About what?”

Royce hesitated when Rebecca opened the door to call him in. He nodded and Rebecca headed back inside. He turned to me, “A meeting about you.”

Puzzled, I racked my brain why. I frowned.

“Don't worry I'll call you tonight and fill you in.”


***

Royce Husk


I headed back into the office and the sales boys cleared out to head to the Reilly Tavern. The cleaners were vacuuming and clearing up the massive amount of empty beer bottles and oil stained pizza boxes, left on the tables. I peered ahead to Tricia in the boardroom, arms folded looking unhappy as she chatted with Rebecca.

I entered in and Rebecca closed the door behind me.

“Royce, take a seat,” Tricia said.

Rebecca flicked through her notes when her phone rang. She left the room, flashing five fingers to give her five minutes.

The door shut. My gaze shifted to Tricia whom I've been associated with for many years. Standing five feet eight, brown hair. Mesmerizing hazel green eyes, a smoking hot body. Her big bust distracts me. Feelings start to build from last year’s Christmas party when I consoled her on her divorce with her husband.

I shared with her, my breakup with Karen. The insights I got from Tricia about married life was invaluable, even though the conversation was a bit biased to total disaster. I remember her being so vulnerable at the time. That moment when she cried on my shoulder about her stresses.

Tricia sat down, her fingers tapping the table, she smiled. “How you been?”

“Workwise? Good. How about you?”

“Workwise?” she smiles. “As usual stressed.”

“On the personal. How're the kids?”

Tricia's, eyes lit up. For a woman so determined and ruthless, knowing how much she loves her two daughters shows she's human.

“Lexi and Samantha are fine. Max cares for them during the weekdays and I have them on the weekends. I’m well into the divorced life now.”

I raise a brow, “You ok about that? I mean where it has ended up with the kids?”

“I was against it because Max had so much time already with them. It was my chance to get more time with the girls. But as time went on with everything going on at work, it suited me better. The kids are still warming to me, but they will always be daddy's little girls.”

“I guess from what you talked about there was a sacrifice to taking the General Manager job. I knew when we went head to head for the job, I could foresee the accountability and challenges ahead.”

Tricia pulled her hands back and speared her hair, she exhaled. “I think you would have done well in my job. You do have that charisma and that ability to lead. That's what I'm finding difficult with the team at the moment, with Emily and Rebecca making things tough. Everyone is bickering and backstabbing one another.”

“It was all to serve their own self-interests with the restructure. You enjoying the job though?”

“I am, I think the divorce regardless of how hard that was on me, made me dedicated to this job. No dedicated is something you consciously decide on. Forced would be a better term. With my assets split in favor of the father. I'm going to need this job more than ever. I tell you, times have changed when the male gets more than half.”

I almost fall out of my chair. “How does that happen?”

“A savvy lawyer and a male judge.” Tricia sighs, “The messed up thing about child payments is that they are based off your income and that parasite Max waited with baited breath, till I got the job as general manager and went in with the kill with the divorce.

Dealing with the stress lingered more when I didn't occupy my mind with that crap. Got to keep busy, moving one step at a time.”

“So you ruled out finding someone else to share your life?”

“No, but single life isn't lonely, just an extension of this job.”

Puzzled, I said nothing.

Her voice lowers, so sexy with that raspy tone, which would make a man’s dick hard upon hearing it. She says, “But I'll take whatever comes my way...”

I flicked my eyes back up to Tricia remembering the kiss we shared at our Christmas Party. I smiled, smoothing my lips with my index finger.

She said, “Your kiss still lingers.”

“I liked it....” I exhale, “The way it made me feel, I won’t ever forget.”

“You were very hesitant. You didn't want more.” She paused licking her lips. “At the time.”

“More kisses would have led to other things and perhaps a morning of regret. I enjoyed our moment for what it was, two people with hearts broken that shared a bit of comfort.”

Tricia said nothing and I peered out of the boardroom to Rebecca coming back. She came in, turning on the aircon then sat next to Tricia.

“So what is this meeting about?” I asked.

Tricia adjusts her gold bangle, “You in particular. How do you feel about taking over from Rebecca's job?”

“What!”

I turned to Rebecca who didn't appear to be shocked at all.

“I don't understand.”

Tricia says, “Rebecca advised that she is ten weeks pregnant and will be opting for maternity leave for a year, in the next week or so.”

I raised a brow and nodded at Rebecca. Damn, finally she finally did it... “I would have thought Emily would be the logical choice?”

Rebecca shook her head, “No, we felt that the role needs fresh eyes.”

I had disdain for being offered the job that I'm going to be stepping over a work colleague I have a lot of respect for. But on the other token when the role was first offered to me by default due to missing out on the General Manager role, I wasn't ready for that either.

Now that time passed. I want the opportunity to make the role my own and add value to it. Still, I can see right through Rebecca's agenda... give the job to the perceived lesser person to preserve her position.

I said, “If I may speak freely. I think Rebecca is threatened that Emily would do a better job. Is this why you're offering me the role?”

“Excuse me?” Rebecca's face flushes red. “Oh my god, I can't believe you said that! The nerve of you. You ungrateful bastard.”

Tricia says, “Yes, Emily did an excellent job. But I felt it can't hurt to see what you could do. Test yourself.”

I squeezed my eyes so embarrassed. I just had to open my mouth. Fuck!

I turned to Rebecca, “I'm sorry for my words before.”

Rebecca said nothing, shaking her head. Tricia slid the contract to me.

I said, “I suppose I got no choice?”

Tricia says, “Oh, we all have choices, this one is a no-brainer. I knew how much you wanted the role.”

“I still want the job, but these circumstances...” I say, “Makes things uncomfortable.

Rebecca folds her arms and frowns, “Just sign the damn thing.”

I exhaled and pulled the contract towards me and signed on the dotted line.

I said, “Do you mind if I break the news to Emily?”

Rebecca shrugs, “If you want... has nothing to do with her though.”

“I think out of courtesy and respect she should be informed by me.”

Rebecca folds her arms and raises a brow, “Perhaps you should show that respect first by keeping your mouth shut.”

“I'm sorry,” I said, so embarrassed. Me and my big mouth again.

Tricia took the contract back and her phone rang, she left the room to take the call. I sat across the Rebecca who is shaking her head still pissed off. I stand to open the blinds and I spot Emily hovering by her desk. The heck am I going to tell her?


***

Emily Houghton


Oh my god why are they taking so long! Royce tilts his head, making eye contact with me when he says something to Rebecca before leaving the boardroom. He shuts the door behind him then exhales, he approaches me.

“Well? What was the meeting about?”

Royce turns his head to the boardroom where Tricia and Rebecca are talking again. They both turn to Royce who nods.

Royce asked, “How about a drink at Reilly Tavern?”

“Ok?”


We arrived at a crowd gathered around the band playing. Some rock band called Blackened. We sat at a table right away from everyone else. I could tell whatever was discussed is not good.

“Up to much this weekend?” he says, sipping his beer. Blatantly obvious he is stalling.

I said, “How was the meeting?”

Royce coughs then his eyes shift to me. “Rebecca is pregnant.”

I pause for a moment, thinking about him… So that’s why… As much as I’m pissed off. There is always a silver lining. “What! How many months?”

“Ten weeks. She was threatened by you taking her job. So they -”

I stand. I clench my fist, shaking it, “Yes! Thank God! I'm so relieved, she's leaving. She does my head in so much, I can't wait to be back in my old job again.”

My eyes shifted to Royce, who stared at beer glass. He took a breath then raised his chin to look me in the eye.

He said, “I took the role. I mean, they offered to me first. I... I accepted.

“What! I don't understand their decision. Why?” My mind fills with bitterness. I wipe my eyes.

“I was offered the job before you started. I was actually head to head with Rebecca. I think I can make a -”

Emotions hit me. I stood and left.

“Hey, where you going?”

I said, “I can't believe you took it!”


***

Royce Husk


Well, shit... that went down well. As much as the premeditated move to sit away from the people to lessen the impact. Emily's voice traveled so far that even the ladies at the bar turned. The lead singer finished song just before Emily’s outburst. So I sat my table alone looking like a loser. I understand why Emily's upset. She did a great job but the reality was that we needed a different direction in difficult times. I took another swig of my beer when I overhear the click of heels, I turn to recognize Tricia amongst the haze of smoke and bright lights approaching me.

“Mind if I join you?” the voice raspy, scratchy.

“If you're not going to shout at me, you’re not welcome.”

Tricia smiles placing her mojito cocktail on the table. She smooths her chin, “I was watching you two from across the bar, from Emily's body language, she didn't take the news too well.”

I raise a brow, “Thought you would have heard us across the room above the music.” I exhale, rubbing my eyes. “This situation is fucked up, you recognize that?”

Tricia shrugged. “Sometimes in life, favorable things come in bad situations.”

I peered out to the traffic building up, from everyone knocking off work. Eager to arrive home after a long day. I turned to Tricia, who is flicking through her messages through her phone.

She shows me her phone, “Emily just text to say she quit.”

“Jesus, she's that pissed. I can't believe she reacted that way. What are you going to do?”

“I'm yet to receive an official letter so nothing is confirmed. I suggest you go around and talk to her.”

“I'm wasting my time.”

“Give her space, she needs to learn that working for you will be beneficial for her career. Most importantly her personal development.”

“Ha. Her taking orders from me, I doubt that.”

“Emily is young and very talented. A woman with a lot of ideas, but her execution and making them come to fruition has been her downfall. As much as you think Rebecca might have an agenda for electing you. I want Emily to step back get some perspective and see your work as an operator.”

“She will never settle for second fiddle.”

“I think after a chat with her, with my insight she will understand. I have hinted at this many times before. The reality is she won't find anywhere else that will pay her kind of salary. There were rumors her boyfriend moved out and left her with the mortgage.”

“Shit no wonder she avoided the subject.” I finished my beer, “You had this all figured out didn't you?”

“No, everything is just falling into place like things should be.”

“I gotta go, and talk to Emily.”

I left the Reilly Tavern and started walking to my car. I joined the queue of traffic when I looked across to Rebecca chatting with Tricia. I shook my head at those scheming bitches trying to figure out their agenda's. I hear the tooting of the horn from the car behind me shunting me into reality. I headed to Emily's place.


***

Emily Houghton


God damn! Why did I have to embarrass Royce like that! I paced around my lounge, emotions of guilt, anger and betrayal fog my broken mind. Hands on hips, I looked around at my surroundings. The boxes of Jax's stuff were stacked awaiting collection. I went to the wall to lift the photo of us. The last remnants of him being here. Looking at Jax, the trust I put in him. I never got to process my anger and loss. I never got closure. I remember everything he said. How it all went down in here. Sometimes I wish we should have sold the house so I could start again but I got too much equity in the place.

Jax left me because he wanted to date other women. The fact of the matter was when he met me, he saw me as a down to earth chick. Odd that I trusted him to think he wouldn't cheat on me over the two years we dated. He sure had that roving eye. He would even point out hot babes, who would walk past on the beach. The real root of his behavior was he wasn't satisfied with the way I looked. The snide comments on how I needed to lose weight hurt. Over time it wrecks your self-esteem and makes you insecure.

I packed the photo into the box moved it by the hallway. All his fragile things, I gave it a good kick for good measure hearing glass smash. Asshole.


I hear the sound of someone’s car pulling in. Light streamed in through the glass window door. I open my door to Royce in his Grey Ford Mustang Convertible. I walk out to the driveway when he jumps out. Like he actually jumped out.

I said, “Doesn't your door work?”

He grins, “They do, looks cool jumping out. huh?”

Well, you look like an idiot. What are you doing here?”

“Thought, I would talk to you about what happened back at the bar.”

I buried my face in my hands. “Hey, my fault. I took the situation the wrong way, I was just shocked.”

“I understand.” Royce looks past me when he points behind me. I turn to liquid all over the floor. Shit, I forgot the box had Jax's prized bottle of Hennessey he bought from his trip.

“Come in Royce, I'll clean this up.”

I took a towel from the bathroom to mop up the liquid. I let it soak and went to the kitchen to switch the kettle on. Royce comes with the box letting the rest drain into the sink he takes out the glass shards then spots a soaked photo of me and Jax. Shards of glass fall into the sink. Royce pulls out the photo and examines it.

“Funny how over the two years you were with Jax, I only ever saw him once. Your first Christmas party. I always wondered why he never went to any of our work functions after that.”

“Jax eyes always lit up, after that. Never wanted to go always an excuse to go to the titty bar with his boys.”

“Damn and you were ok with that?”

“Harmless fun and I know his boys very well.”

“I know his boys too.”

I raise a brow, “What?”

Royce took the photo from my hands and chucked that painful photo in the bin. He peers down, “I heard stories...”

“Tell me!”

Royce shakes his head, “Forget about it. No point dredging up the past. So about the meeting, Tricia said -”

“Stuff the meeting, what were his boys saying, Royce?”

“Nothing, why should you care about that douchebag?”

I paused, realizing he's right. “I don't, but you better tell me at some point.”

Royce chuckles, “Yeah it will be a stimulating conversation over drinks. So back to the meeting, Tricia and Rebecca were hovering at the bar watching from afar.

I facepalmed, oh my god. “You sure they were there?”

Royce let out a breath, “Yeah... Tricia came over after, saw everything.”

“Gosh, that is so embarrassing. I'm glad I quit now.”

“No, don't be silly. I understand why you would be pissed off because that job was your passion. I think because of the circumstances they were looking for scapegoats across all departments. It was unfortunate you were singled out because you did a good job.”

“I did a great job.”

Yes, you did. Before you started with us, I was offered the job at the time. I didn't take it because I was going through a few personal things at the time.”

“Why did you turn the job down?”

“Personal reasons.”

I roll my eyes, “C'mon let's stop with this tic for tac trust bullshit. Gosh, you are a tease. We've known each other for years. Before my relationship went south with Jax, you were the second person in my life that I trusted the most.”

Royce went quiet. Blinking twice. Wrestling with what I said.

“You ok?”

“Trust... up there with love I say. Yeah, if I had, to be honest, I trusted you more than I did Karen.”

“Be honest.”

“Not at the beginning but later on, six months in the relationship.”

I pinched him then punched him in the arm. “Tell me what the fricking boys said!”

“Ok. Ok. You might want to grab a drink because it is a long story.”

I smile, “Popcorn then.”

“No a drink, that’s for damn sure.”


I went to the fridge and grabbed two wine glasses and a bottle of Pinot Gris from the fridge. We sat on the sofa and Royce opened the bottle and poured our glasses.

Royce cleared his throat “So one of Jax's boys, Braith who is my mate, I ran into a while ago tells me about his cruise trip in Sydney.”

I frown, “I remember, he told me he was going to a family reunion. I thought it was all legit because his mom was excited about the trip too.”

“The cruise was a stag do for Braith.”

Oh, my gosh, that prick! I can't believe he got his mom to lie for him.”

“Pretty low eh. So Braith tells me that Jax is shouting the boy's hard out for the whole duration of the trip. Everything, Top shelf booze. Food. No expense spared. Braith said he took his credit card and swiped, swiped, swiped.”

I paused thinking about where the hell he got that kind of money from. Let alone a credit card.

“So at this point of the conversation, I'm asking Braith on what you're thinking. Where the money from because he wasn't working right?”

I grinded my jaw, “No. He also had bad credit so he said...”

“I thought he was using your credit card or worse the company credit card, but Braith said he checked, and it had his name.”

“I was always supporting his poor ass.”

“Just out of interest why didn't he have a job?”

“He suffered a back injury and was off work for three years when I met him. He came right when we dated but would his pain would flare up so often. So he was living off a sickness benefit.”

I paused, racking my brain thinking where he got his money from because the bastard was always broke then I remembered. He only started getting his sickness benefit two weeks in our relationship.

“That bastard must have been back-paid, for those years he was denied the benefit. Grr, that riles me up. All this time buying everything for him. The promises we made to save. The moment he comes into money he thinks of friends first!”

I stood pacing around the room. Back and forth. I just wanted to throttle him. I sat down on the sofa and drained my whole glass

I coughed, “Please continue.”

“So Braith and all his boys dock off the cruise ship and head into the Gold Coast of Australia. They hit the nightclubs and at the end of it. Jax starts asking around where the hookers are. They end up at this brothel where Jax forks out cash to pay for girls for the boys. Braith flat out refused and went back to the cruise ship, the boys continued on.” Royce takes a swig from his wine glass. “I'm sorry Emily.”

With all the heartache he put me through. I felt a massive relief that the puzzle was over. “All this time when he broke it off me. He couldn't tell me why said I deserved better.”

“Braith told me that he had a one on one talk with Jax afterward. May explain his behavior.”

I zoned out taking everything in. My trust shattered like the glass photo upon hearing the reason. For a moment the emotions stewed until I felt a sense of closure and truth.

I can move forward with my life. Royce paced his hand on my shoulder. I closed my eyes, for a moment. Amongst all the sadness Royce's reoccurring words stirred in my mind.

I trust you more than Karen

I trust you more than Karen

I trust you more than Karen

“I trust you more than Karen,” I say.

“Excuse me?”

“Sorry thinking aloud.”

Royce chuckles, “Don't get too chuffed with what I said, sweetie. There would be quite a few women I'd trust over Karen, but you're still my number one.”

I could not help blushing, “Tell me what Tricia said.”


Royce takes in a deep breath then holds his hands up. “Now before you react, take what she said and look at it from her side. Be mature.”

“Ok. No outbursts from me I promise.”

“No crying.”

I make a face. “Fuck you.”

Royce laughs, “I won't go word for word but Tricia thinks that you will gain invaluable experience by watching how I operate.”

I sigh, “I don't like what has happened, but I understand. Congratulations Royce.”

“Thank you. Look on the bright side. You must be glad in a sense that we can bounce ideas off each other. Be positive!”

I smile, “I love our level of communication where we can be straight up about it. I hated how there was a feeling of tension and resentment every time I made suggestions, second guessing all my input. Aspects of what sucked working with Rebecca.”

Royce places his hand on my shoulder, “We will have none of that. We will make a great team.”

Royce stared at me with those intense eyes. To be supported. His touch. His energy felt like someone had put a warm blanket over my body on a cold winter's night. I matched his touch with mine when his phone rang.

“Excuse me?” Royce checks his phone, “Its Tricia.”

“Speakerphone.”

Royce frowns, “Don’t be nosy.”

I reach over and put his phone on speaker. Loud old school music blasts and Tricia is slurring Royce’s name.

“Hello?” Royce pauses, “Tricia?” Tricia speaks, the wind noise and crowd noise distorting the conversation.

Tricia asks, “How'd it go with Emily?”

“Nothing to worry about, all sorted.”

“Is she ok?”

Royce flicks his eyes to me and smiles. “After a heart to heart and her crying on my shoulder. She is.”

My eyes narrow at Royce for being a dick.

“Where are you now?” Tricia asked.

“In my car, just at the petrol station.”

“Do you remember the tune? Oh my god Royce it's our song!”

Royce turned his head, he blushed. “I do.” He stares at me.

“Brings back memories from the Christmas party? Mmmm...”

Her moan made me raise a brow. Royce's eyes shifted side to side. “It does.”

“Could you pick me up, please? I lost my purse and I'm terribly intoxicated.”

Royce flicked his eyes to me. I knew straight away something was up.

He said, “Yeah sure. I'll be there soon.”

Royce hangs up and we head outside to the car. He opens the door and starts it up, the low rumbling noise changes and he revs it a couple of times. Gosh, his exhaust is loud!

I fold my arms. “Ew! Did you go there with Tricia?”

“No, no, no. She's talking about the Christmas when we had our dance. Remember?”

I recall them dancing, them chatting, before they disappeared...

Royce opens the passenger door, “Jump in. Team bonding.”

I fold my arms, “I'm fine. You go. Don't be doing anything I wouldn't do....”


***

Royce Husk


I left Emily's house and took the back roads to the Reilly Tavern. I pulled up to the door to spot Tricia next to bouncers leaning on them. Jesus, she can barely stand. I jump out and Tricia walks over almost tripping up. I catch her, she absolutely reeks of alcohol.

I guide her to my car and she lays across my back seat. She pulls out a cigarette and lights up. We take the motorway back to her place the night was warm, no wind, no clouds the stars blinking with the full moon beaming on us.

Tricia points ahead, “Pull over.”

I take the exit off Tamaki Dr. I pull up in the parking lot of the boat marina and the heliport. I looked out to the yachts anchored in the waters. The Eagle Helicopter above searching for criminals. I got out and sat on the boot next to Tricia as she blew smoke up. She handed me the cigarette. I took a deep pull before flicking the cigarette into the water. Embers drifted in wind.

I said, “Not like you to be intoxicated. The last time was the Christmas Party, seems like you must have a lot going on in your life. And what you said in the Boardroom about was a lie.”

Tricia sits up and breathes in the sea air. She squeezes her eyes.

“Ever since that Christmas party, my life after the divorce has been a shambles. Work. My personal life. My relationship with my kids, who hate my guts. I sat in the bar after you left being on a good vibe. That moment of being drunk, I forgot about my shitty life and all its stresses. I was free.”

“C'mon you don't have a shitty life you have two daughters that love you. You hold a successful position in a Fortune 500 company. Not to mention great pay.”

Tricia chuckles, wiping a tear out from her left eye. Her mascara run but her features still beautiful as ever.

“Money... That was the root of my problem.... no, come to think of it. It was more my ambition over family that cost me.” Tricia exhales and sits on the boot with me. We look out to waters the moon reflecting on the water. Everything still and calm. I placed my hand on Tricia. Her head rests on my shoulder.

“How's Emily?”

“She's good. We worked out everything we should be sweet from now on.”

“You two will make a great team. Both of you will learn a lot from each other.”

A group of fisherman walked along the edge, carrying their rods. They attached bait to their hooks then cast their line out into the waters.

I turned to Tricia. “After the divorce. I still love Max. Even though I don't ever want to be with him. Messed up huh?”

“No. We all have a connection, something that whatever the circumstances, can't be undone or taken back. I understand where you're coming from because I'm living this. Only that life is too short to be miserable with someone you love, that has treated you badly.”

She turns to me, “Or in my situation being taken to the cleaners.”

“C’mon let’s stop with the negativity.”

“You're so easy to talk to, I always thought what my life would be like if I was with you. Did you ever give it a thought?”


Staring deep into her eyes, the urges in my body wanted her. To take her home and make love to her all night. But there was this dull feeling that even though we shared the same experiences, hardened by our losses. Hooking up won't solve the grief we are going through.

I said, “I did. Only I think that we try to get over the pain by seeking reassurance in other when we need time to ourselves to resolve it within. Not saying it’s bad to talk but to get together because of circumstances is probably not a good thing.”

Tricia flinched then paused, thinking about the words I said.

“You're such a pussy but I get what you mean.” She leans in to kiss me, feelings from the Christmas party rose to the surface. My mouth opens slightly, she pauses. “I'm not asking you to be my boyfriend Royce. But it doesn't deny us the pleasure we can share to soothe the sadness.”

The hairs on my arm pricked up, her words smooth. The rumble of the engine reverberated as my lips met hers. Two souls soothing each other. I ran my palm over the side of her face, her skin smooth, warm. My fingers held the bottom of her chin.

She said, “I'm single, you're single. No strings attached...”


***


The drive back was wrought with so much temptation. Thinking about Tricia. Fucking the boss was not something I want on my conscience. But Damn… I pull up at my house. I switched off the engine staring at her for a moment before she opened her passenger door and walked to my front door. We went inside. Tricia walked past my bathroom when she sees her reflection. She went inside flicking on the light. The yellow fluorescent bulb that crosses the length of the mirror spilled light on her forehead and cheeks.

Tricia examined her face then checked her hair, and I stepped in.

She says, “Sheesh, I’m still a bit tipsy. Better than before though.”

“You sure you want this?”

Tricia flicks her eyes at me and nods. She turned on the faucet, splashing water on her face. There is a funny sound coming from the tap, the pipe below squawks. I entered the bathroom, seeing the leak below. I flick on the shower. Steam filled up the room, I ran my hand over her shoulder.


I say, “A hot shower before bed will help you recover better in the morning.”

I stripped away the layers of her clothing to reveal her naked body. She took care of herself, with curves in the right places. I watch her walk toward the shower opening the double glass doors. She tested the water with her wrist before she stepped under the showerhead. She squeezed bottle of body wash lathering the soap over her body. The suds and foam covered her briefly leaving her with a glorious sheen. Tricia spears her hair, then stares at me, I remove my clothes and join her.

Tricia's palms press on my chest. “It has been a long time since have been with another man. Especially like this.”

I raise a brow, “Surely you must have had a few relationships over the years after the divorce?”

Tricia squeezes the body wash in her palms working up a foamy lather, she spreads it over my shoulders and upper chest.

“I had a few dates, but once they found out I had two kids. The whole energy of the date changes like if you told them you had AIDS or something. You become attuned to the look the men do. A shame it was always the ones who wanted a long-term relationship that I fall for, that dismiss me because of my kids. I gave up on love. I'd rather channel that energy to my situation.”

Tricia stepped to the side and removed the flexible showerhead rinsing the suds off. I took the showerhead and switched off the tap, pinning her against the wall as I smother her lips with deep kisses. The humidity and warmth of the bathroom, her gentle touches to my body. I wanted her in my bed to make love to her all night.

I stepped out of the shower box and gave her towel.

I said, “I'm sorry you are of that opinion about finding love.”

Tricia blinks repeatedly the water running down her cheeks, I could not decipher if they were tears. “Royce, Could you give me a sec would you? I'll join you in your bedroom.”

“Ok. The room on the right.”


I went into my bedroom and switched on the lamp. The soft light emitted made the bare brick walls appear more orange. I went and opened the sliding doors that overlooked the ocean. Invigorating sea air came in making me breathe in deep. The yachts anchored out at sea, rose and fell with the waves. The moon shining light on it all.

I went out to the deck and felt the cool breeze on my skin. I reflected on Tricia's life, the heartbreak, the difficulties that she's going through. Goosebumps emerged on my skin when Tricia called out from the bedroom. An excitement. A thrill.

She slipped under the covers watching me as I enter the room. I sat next to her as she lay. Her eyes were puffy and red. She noticed me looking and switched off the lamp as darkness surrounded us. She took my hand as the moon drift across beaming light on her face.

“It's a full moon tonight. Royce.”

I slipped into bed her body against me. I said, “You okay?”

Tricia paused a moment before answering. She shifted closer to me draping her arm around me. Moonlight drifted in bring enough light to see she wept a few more tears.

“Ever wish you could restart your life again?”

“Yeah. I get that sometimes. I read this Facebook post about the red pill and blue pill. Did you come across that?”

“No, I hate Facebook. Tell me.”

I snuggle up, her face to face. Pillow talk. “It was more of a decision. Take the red pill and you rewind your life to ten years old with all that you know now or take the blue pill and you are fast forwarded to fifty and you have 50 million dollars cash.”

Tricia laughs, “This story is so absurd.”

“Pick one.”

“The blue pill isn’t Viagra right?”

I laughed, “Don’t be silly. Just go with it.”

“I would choose the blue pill. I lose seven years but at least I don't have to worry about money. You?”

“Red Pill. I could make more money betting on winning teams and avoid a few major mistakes in my life.”

Tricia pauses, then a sweet peck on my lips, “Is this a mistake?”

We laughed when her moonlit face, dissipated into darkness.

“I admire you, Tricia. I have a lot of respect for you. You are a good person.”

Tricia's eyes went glassy. “With the way, I treat people... What I’ve done.” She closed her eyes. Deep down there is something more than just sex she wanted. The pressure and stress of her life too much. I cuddled her, and minutes after she fell asleep in my arms.


***

Emily Houghton


Monday

9 am.

I arrived at the office to see Royce at his desk, punching away on the keyboard. Tricia was nowhere in sight and by the guilt on Royce's face when our eyes met I knew straight away he slept with Tricia. I watched as he put his lunch in the fridge then he started to fill his water bottle. I headed over.

“Good morning Royce.”

“Morning.” His tone of voice sounded flat.

“I called you in the morning and you didn't answer.”

“My hands were full.”

I rolled my eyes, “I’m sure they were! Tell me what happened with Tricia after you picked her up.”

Royce shrugs, “Nothing. She passed out in my car and I dropped her home.”

“So after all one to one talk about trusting each other and being truthful, you still want to lie to my face.”

“I think you added the being truthful part.”

“Ugh, you get the point.”

Royce took his drink bottle and sat at the table. Flicking the nib. I sat next to him and placed my hand on his.

“Just tell the truth. I won't judge. Promise.”

“We went back to my house. I slept with Tricia.”

“I knew it!”

“No, no, no,” his eyes widen. “I slept with her. Literally.”

“Stop lying.”

“Hand on heart.” He places his palm on the right side of his chest.

“What the hell happened?”

“A long story that I don't want to talk about now.”

“Did she pass out on your bed?”

“No.”

“She threw up when you tried to bang her.”

“No.”

“You couldn't get it up?”

Royce raised a brow “No! Hell no! It was romantic. She fell asleep in my arms.”

“So what are you two to each other? Dating? Friends with benefits?”

“Nothing like that I assure you.”

I fold my arms, “But you fancy her, don't you?”

Royce smiled, “She's attractive, as are you.”

I jolt, “Excuse me?”

“Relax sweetheart. I fancy a lot of women, I'm just saying we have a connection because of all the shit we've been through with past partners. Surely you can understand that too?”

Royce's words stung. Because it was true. “Ok, shall we focus on the job now?”

Royce stood and headed for his desk, “Thought you never ask.”


I went back to my desk and saw Rebecca come through even with everything that happened I still hated her guts for what she did. She stood by me and I looked up. Her body language was stiff as if she was expecting me to unload a string of curses on her.

I said, “Good morning Rebecca. How are you today?”

“Stop with the fake shit. Did Royce talk to you?”

I turn to see Royce talking with Tricia, “Yes, he made everything clear. As much as I understand it all, I am disappointed.”

“It was a business decision. Get over it.”

“Yeah, whatever. You must be grateful now with you secondary income from Urban Eye, you can top up on your maternity leave.”


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Download this book for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-33 show above.)