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For the first time in her thirty-three-year-old life, Shelley Schwartz faked an orgasm. On principle she was opposed to this idea and had, in debates with her friends, been very smug about always hanging in there even if the payoff was more like a blip on the Richter scale than a full-scale movement of the earth.
A woman should never be cruel or unsympathetic in bed, she'd argued, but pretending that something she didn't like might actually lead to an orgasm had potentially dangerous ramifications; how could a woman go into paroxysms of ecstasy over something one day and then fail to get off on it the next? It was Pavlovian training at its most dysfunctionaland most men didn't need any help or encouragement in failing to satisfy.
But today she'd gotten stuck between a rock and a hard place. Well, actually it had been a mattress and Trey Davenport's superbly sculpted chest.
Faking it had turned out to be her only viable option.
Because although her body had been pinned beneath Trey's very studly one, her mind had been trained on her two-thirty meetingthe one at which she intended to show her father and everyone else at the advertising agency that she was not the cream puff they believed her to be. The meeting she'd spent months preparing for, and which she was now racing to at the speed of sound.
Shelley coasted through a four-way stop then mashed down the accelerator, still trying to figure out how an innocent lunch had turned into such a sexual Waterloo.
She'd invited Trey to the Ritz for his birthday, certain they'd have plenty of time for a celebratory lunch before her meeting. Things had been going swimmingly until he dangled the room key in front of her.
She'd felt the smile freeze on her lips, but Trey was a truly sweet and very hunky guy and it was his birthday; she simply couldn't tell him she'd rather go back to the office and pitch a feminine hygiene account. "This is my chance to be taken seriously at work" wasn't going to cut it with a man who'd just turned thirty-five, consumed most of a bottle of Cristal, and was looking at her like she was the icing on his cake.
Unsure what to do, she'd acted pleased and figured if they got right to it, she'd be showered and dressed in plenty of time.
This might have worked except that Trey, ever the gentleman, kept waiting for her to go first. Only Shelley wasn't going anywhere anytime soon and Trey, who ran marathons and climbed mountains, could go for hours if properly motivated. This had never seemed like a bad thing. Until today.
But even as she'd stared at the ceiling and admitted defeat she'd realized it wasn't fair to penalize Trey just because she was throwing in the sexual towel. Surely all God's children deserved an orgasm on their birthday.
So she'd kicked up their rhythm, whispered things in his ear that actually made her blush, and urged him on, giving an Oscar-worthy performance of turned-on womanhood.
And then when she could tell he was hanging on by the very slimmest of threads she'd done it, the thing she'd argued so vehemently against. She'd impersonated herself at her free-falling,
head-banging best and forced Trey Davenport to follow suit.
Despite the compromising of her sexual principles, the meeting was already under way by the time Shelley arrived. The Easy To Be Me people sat with their backs to the conference room door; the Schwartz and Associates team aligned across from them. Her father sat at the head of the table with the indispensable Ross Morgan at his left.
Both men turned as she skidded to a halt in the doorway. Her father sighed. Ross Morgan looked at her as if she were a car wreck he couldn't bear to watch. The conversation sputtered to a stop and everyone else turned to see what they were looking at.
"This is my daughter Shelley," her father announced to the now-silent room.
She swallowed and nodded then forced a smile to her lips. It was only as she moved toward the empty seat at the foot of the table that she noticed the huge run in her stocking. Her heart stopped as she realized that the jacket of her lilac Donna Karan suit, the one she'd bought specifically for this presentation, was misbuttoned, and that the contrasting aqua shell was inside out, the label clearly visible.
She might as well be wearing a sign that read "Delayed due to sex, doesn't know how to dress herself."
Shit, shit, shit. She'd showered in under two minutes, thrown on her clothes, then touched up her makeup in the rearview mirror as she raced to the office. Obviously she should have taken that extra ten seconds in the hotel room for a full-length glimpse.
"I'm sorry I'm late," she said, not even bothering to try to explain. What was there to say? "It's inside-out day at Schwartz and Associates, didn't you get the memo?"
Pulling her notes out of her Louis Vuitton carryall, she decided she'd be a very old woman before she allowed herself to go anywhere near the Ritz at lunchtime again. In fact, she'd give up the Ritz, and possibly sex, for life if Trey's birthday orgasm didn't cost her the opportunity she'd been waiting for.
Ross Morgan speared her with his blue eyes and a familiar tic appeared in his cheek, but it was her father's gaze, filled with disappointment and resignation, that sent the chill up her spine.
Shelley wanted to point out that she'd only been ten minutes late. It wasn't as if she'd blown off the whole thing, or not bothered to do her homework; she knew this client's products like she knew the clearance rack at Neiman's.
Her father gave her a "Don't say a word or you're grounded" look, and Shelley bit her lip and lowered her gaze while Ross Morgan directed everyone's attention back to the storyboards in front of them.
As the meeting progressed, her research was quoted freely, and her ideas were presented and approved, but she wasn't invited to speak. She felt like a child who'd accidentally used a bad word in front of the adults and been banished from polite society.
If Ross Morgan had been ten minutes late, he could have waltzed right in and still taken command of the group. But of course he would have been ten minutes early, not late. And he wouldn't have jeopardized his career in order to give someone an orgasm. Not that he didn't know how to give a woman the "Big O," as she unfortunately knew after ending up in that supply closet with him during last year's holiday party. But he never would have risked business for one. He was always in control of his considerable faculties; always focused, always so sure. How dare he turn out to be the son her father never had!
Shelley kept her gaze fixed on the exposed brick wall of the conference room and worried at her bottom lip until she tasted blood. Forty minutes later there were handshakes all around and Rossnot herwas promising to get things under way, to be in touch, expressing enthusiasm over the opportunity to work together. He promised that they'd be glad they'd put their advertising dollars with Schwartz and Associates.
As usual, she was the Schwartz in disgrace; he was the man in charge.
The Easy To Be Me people filed out of the conference room and the rest of the staff followed.
"Shelley," her father said, "you and Ross come with me." They followed in silence and sank into chairs across from his desk in the big corner office. Still silent, Harvey Schwartz studied them both.
"Daddy, I'm sorry, I . . ."
Her father ran a hand through his graying hair and sighed again. "Never mind, sweetheart. Perhaps we expected too much of you this time."
"No." When had her father ever expected anything of her? "I can handle this. I did the research, a lot of the ideas were mine."
"Yes, Ross told me that."
Well at least he hadn't tried to snatch the credit. "This account is perfect for me."
"Yes." He smiled sadly. "But are you perfect for the account?" He let the question hang in the air. "
Your prep work was first-rate, but you weren't here when the time came to close the deal. You can't pick and choose which parts of the job you're going to do."
Ross stared out the window, his expression making it clear he wasn't going to weigh in on the subject. So why was he there? she wondered miserably. Why was he always there being so damned competent? And why did she keep screwing up?
"It won't happen again, Daddy. Just let me have this account. Let me show you what I can do."
Her father sighed again. He was forever chucking her under the chin like a child, or sighing over her.
"I'm sorry, Shelley, but I just can't take the chance. We're talking billings of more than a million dollars. You can work on the account, but you'll work under Ross's guidance. He'll decide what your role will be and how much responsibility to give you."
His intercom buzzed, and his secretary's voice squawked in the too-quiet room. "I've got to take this call. Why don't you two sit down over a cup of coffee and hash it out? There's plenty of work for everyone."
But not plenty of room to earn credit for the success of this campaign.
Shelley followed her nemesis out of the office and down the long hallway. It would be easier to hate him if he'd just go ahead and be a jerk, rub it in, lord it over her. But he was always polite and completely professional. Well, except for that time in the supply closet.
Why couldn't he be short and balding with a squeaky nerd voice, instead of tall and blond with that deep rumbly baritone? Life was so unfair.
Ross paused at the door to his own corner office. "So do you want to discuss this now, or would you like to go finish dressing?"
She was tempted to pull off the blouse and redress in front of him just to see the expression on his face. She hated that he was everything her father wanted and that she apparently was not. What was the point of trying to be professional? When no one expected anything of you, how long could you keep trying to prove them wrong?
"I'm as dressed as I plan to be," Shelley replied quietly. "But my nails are a bit ragged." She looked down at them as if they mattered then raised her chin a notch. "I don't think we need to have this same old motivational chat, do you? You don't really want me mucking around in this account, and we both know my father doesn't really care whether I help or not."
She cocked her head to the side and looked at him from beneath her lashes. "I think I'll just run out and get my nails done, maybe do a little shopping."
He didn't try to stop her, didn't argue, didn't do anything but look at her out of those serious blue eyes. As if she were some alien species that he'd never run across before.
Her pride was about all she had propping her up, so she kept her tone light and her chin up as she turned to leave. "I'm pretty sure that's what daddy's girls are supposed to do."
Shelley shopped until the stores closed. Like an alcoholic hanging in until the last call, she prowled the aisles of her favorite stores until the doors locked behind her at ten p.m. The hurt had begun to numb in the lingerie department of Saks. By the time she picked up a new Kate Spade bag at Bloomingdale's, she was close to philosophic. No one really expected her to work a full-time job, and her salary was clearly not dependent on her performance.
So she'd made a mistake. So she'd shown up late and embarrassingly disheveled for the most important business meeting of her life. Beating herself up about it was getting her exactly nowhere.
Letting herself into her Buckhead condo, Shelley dropped her shopping bags in the foyer, moved into the black-and-white kitchen, and dialed her voice mailbox number. Cradling the phone against her shoulder, she flipped the kitchen shutters closed on the view of midtown Atlanta and sank onto a kitchen chair to listen to her messages.
"Shelley, it's Nina. I'm taking a personal day tomorrow. I'm thinking the nine a.m. Pilates and lunch at Panera's. Then I was thinking facial. A best friend is supposed to tell a girl when her pores look like moon craters."
The next voice belonged to her mother. As usual, Miriam Schwartz wasted no time on a greeting. "Daddy told me you left early today." There was a pause. "I hope you're not too upset; there'll be other accounts. Don't forget dinner tomorrow night. We're going to do the whole Friday night thing. Marilyn Friedlander's grandson is in town and I invited him to join us."
Shelley rolled her eyes.
"Don't roll your eyes at me." Even through the receiver and cyberspace, or wherever this message had been stored, her mother's irritation was clear. "He's a very nice boy. An accountant. A girl could do worse."
Yes, a girl could, Shelley reflected as she listened to the remaining messages, and often had. Her mother's steady stream of Jewish men had covered every legitimate profession and a few that told her just how desperate her mother had grown. She'd known she was in deep shit when Malcolm the Maccabee, a rising star on the professional wrestling circuit, had shown up for a family meal.
Of course, she hadn't done that well on her own, either. Her choices were almost always blond-haired, blue-eyed, and athletic like Trey. It was no fun to be out with someone you thought you could hurt or outwrestlebut their one common attribute had been their non-Jewishness and their inability to commitat least to her.
Trey's message reminded her that some good had come out of what she now thought of as the Ritz fiasco.
"Thanks for the, uh, birthday send-off." The smile in his voice was clear.
She smiled in response as she remembered his shout of pleasure and the warmth with which he'd shown his gratitude.
"I'm leaving for that white-water trip in the morning, but I'll call you when we get back to civilization."
Good old Trey, so Waspy, so rugged. As long as he didn't expect her to rough it with him, they'd get along just fine.
Her older sister's voice came nextrushed and out of breath as usual. Most of Judy Schwartz Blumfeld's calls were placed via cell phone from car pool lines or Little League fields. And they were almost always instructional in nature. "Shel, will you bring those fabric swatches I left at your house to Mom and Dad's tomorrow night? The bar mitzvah coordinator wants to see them. I'm thinking about using them for the central color theme."
Her nephew Sammy's bar mitzvah, whose theme was apparently "Bigger Than Ben-Hur," was a mere five months away.
"I understand Mom found you an accountant this time," her sister concluded. "Maybe you should bring your tax forms so it isn't a total loss."
Ha, ha. Shelley moved to the refrigerator and pulled out a Diet Coke. Easy for Judy to joke. She'd married a lawyer and produced two sons, thereby fulfilling their parents' fondest hopes. She had done everything Shelley was now supposed to do, but didn't want to. And tomorrow night Judy would have her whole perfect family with her. If you added the accountant to the equation, you had the perfect end to the perfect week.