Read an Excerpt
Six Month Rule
The Kingston Ale House Series
By A. J. Pine, Karen Grove
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 A. J. Pine
All rights reserved.
Gemini: You are what you wear, so dress the part. Today more than any other day, make sure your clothes tell everyone who you are. Only when you show your true self can you truly be seen.
Holly's smile faltered. What the hell did that mean? No one was truer to herself than she was, and she had the clothes to prove it. Okay, well, she had last year's samples to prove it, but even on her worst day, Holly Chandler's designer wardrobe was a force to be reckoned with. And she kept nothing hidden, yet her app seemed to be accusing her of quite the opposite. Despite what seemed to be a disapproving horoscope — which she insisted to her sister she only read for fun — Holly felt like a million bucks. And there was no question — she looked like a million bucks, too. After pulling off Saturday night's fashion show as head assistant director, Holly knew her meeting with Andrea this morning was the one she'd been working toward for five years. Maybe all-black wasn't Holly Chandler's norm, but her sister said the dress made her look like Audrey Hepburn, and paired with the perfect Jimmy Choo peep-toe booties, the vintage black frock was exactly what she needed to show her boss that she could be taken seriously as a partner rather than an employee. Holly was never one for business wear, but she was sure this look meant business, that it said she was ready to take on whatever Andrea threw at her. All she needed was her hazelnut soy latte, icing on the cake that she knew this day would be.
Yet just as the elevator doors were about to kiss, a polished, tan Cole Haan wingtip forced them back open. That would leave a scuff mark, which was why Holly was smiling when Charlie Tate, Trousseau's finance director, invaded her early-morning daydreams — and her private elevator ride.
"Morning, gorgeous," Charlie said.
Holly sighed. Conversations with him always seemed to circle back to when they'd been a we. But she wouldn't let herself get distracted. Not today. "Morning, Charlie."
She couldn't help but admire everything above the wingtips. The navy suit, one of the three buttons fastened over the periwinkle-and-white pin-striped button-down. Maybe the jacket could be taken in a notch at the shoulders, but who was she to judge? Charlie worked in finance, not in design. On any given day, he blew most suited men out of the water. And damn, she really did love a man who could dress.
"Everyone's talking about your home run Saturday night," he added, his grin spreading across his lightly tanned face.
"Really?" She innocently raised her brows while offering him a fuller response in her head. I know, right? Andrea gave me the reins, so I worked my ass off for that show. And guess what? I nailed it, and now she's going to make me partner. Not bad for twenty-six, eh?
Charlie nudged her shoulder with his.
"Celebrate later after Andrea makes it official?"
Holly's face erupted into the smile she'd been keeping at bay. Aw, screw it. Today was not the day for her poker face. Except her grin and Charlie's grin were probably not about the same things. So she dialed it back a few notches.
"Thanks, Charlie. But I don't think that's a good idea."
Ugh, why did he have to be all blond and designer suit wearing and, if memory served, pretty damned sexy out of the suit as well?
"Still on that six-month kick, huh?" he asked as the elevator made its first stop — Charlie's stop — on the fourth floor.
The doors opened.
"It's not a kick," she insisted, watching him back away. "You liked my rule eighteen months ago," she added, reminding him that he'd jumped at the chance for a six-months-or-less, no-strings-attached relationship.
Charlie was over the threshold now, and a handful of people pushed past him, again invading Holly's solo ride.
A sun-kissed wave flopped down over his forehead, and Charlie, laid-back as he was, let it hang there so Holly's fingers itched to push it out of the way. Jesus, it was like he knew that, rule or not, Holly was having a bit of a drought, which meant something as innocent as unruly hair could set her mind in directions it really shouldn't go on a Monday morning. The Monday morning when Holly would make partner.
There was a sobering thought. Work. Career. The reason for the rule in the first place. It wasn't that she didn't enjoy having someone to come home to at night. She quite liked that part. It was just that after the honeymoon phase — the part where everything was rainbows and puppy dogs and great sex all the time — then it became work. There were expectations that Holly couldn't meet. Can you stop bringing work home with you? Do you have to work on the weekend? What comes first, work or me?
The answer was always the same. Holly's passion for Trousseau always trumped her passion for other people or things.
"And I'd like it again for another three to six," he added with a wink. "Don't I get a do-over after nearly two years?" he asked, but Charlie's face was lost in the sea of people who didn't care about Holly's life enough to wait for her to finish a conversation with a man she used to sleep with and with whom she was considering — maybe — sleeping again.
As the doors made their way toward kissing again, she leaned her head back against the elevator's wall, smiled, and reminded herself that after stopping for her latte on the fifth floor, she was riding up to ten, to where her life would be forever changed.
This time it was a black Ferragamo loafer that parted the doors. Yet it was as if the elevator knew not to mess with this shoe, that it was far too precious to carelessly scuff. Or, she decided as the wearer of said shoe entered the dwindling space, perhaps the elevator knew who was attached to it.
Holly's eyes trailed from the soft, black leather of the loafer to the cuff of the slate-colored pants expertly cut to fit these legs and these legs only. Of this she had no doubt. Then there was the jacket and vest, same color, each buttoned snug over a lean, taut torso. Holly thanked the stars, every last constellation, for perfectly tailored suits. And vests. What was it about a man in a vest?
Holly's head shot up to see the words directed at an older woman whose finger depressed the door-open button. The voice was deep and buttercream smooth. And was that ... an English accent?
Her ovaries might have just gone supernova, but she could hold it together for one more floor. Holly Chandler wasn't a girl to lose it in an elevator, no matter how much those two words, spoken in that voice, with that accent, melted her insides.
This drought was going to kill her. Maybe another go with Charlie wasn't the worst idea.
When the circle of white light lit up the number five, Holly let out a long breath. The doors opened, and she exited with all the other folk who were on their way to a caffeine boost. As she did, she caught Mr. Ferragamo checking out her four-inch peep-toe booties, and a surge of confidence jolted her back to the Holly she knew she was.
"Like what you see?" she asked, stopping to glance down the length of her own legs to where his eyes still rested. This brought his head up with a snap, and a dark wave tumbled onto his forehead before he finger-combed it back into place. He cleared his throat.
"You pull off last season's design well enough, but I'd have gone for the red," he said, and those words, despite the velvet ribbon they were tied up in, pieced her insides right back together.
Holly smoothed out a nonexistent wrinkle from her dress as she brushed past him, ovaries once again intact.
"Ass," she muttered under her breath, and then let the promise of a hazelnut double pump patch up the tiny puncture in her bubble. Of course she could pull off last season's design. She could rock the hell out of last season's freaking design, because all she could afford right now were the free samples. But in less than an hour that would all change. The first thing she would buy with her new salary would be next season's Jimmy Choos. But they sure as hell would not be red.
* * *
Bloody well done, Will Evans thought as he rode the rest of the way to the tenth floor in perfect silence. First full day in the States and he was already letting the jet lag get the best of him. Or maybe it was that he loathed being across the Atlantic altogether.
He scrubbed a hand over the stubble he was sure made him look as travel weary as he felt, and then, because no one else was in the lift anymore, he took a picture of himself to document his transformation and then texted it to Sophie.
As promised, he wrote, I've not shaved and won't until you see me again.
Will checked his watch to make sure he'd calculated the time difference well enough and let out a sigh when he realized it was early afternoon back in London. Surely she'd be awake. He just hoped Tara would respond.
Seconds later the response came through. Sophie says to remind you to send one each day. But I can't promise to respond each time.
Despite his ex's evident irritation, Will relaxed just a bit. And again, because he was the only one in the lift, he let out a soft chuckle. His six-year-old daughter was the only one capable of making him laugh these days.
Tell her I haven't forgotten, he replied. Each day. That's what they'd agreed upon. Then he added, Until your mum gets cross with me.
He'd already hit send when he decided that maybe Tara would take that last bit with offense. It wouldn't matter that he'd meant it in good fun.
"You talk as if I'm some overbearing hag," she'd say, exasperated with him once again. Christ, he knew he asked a lot of her with all the travel, but she complied each time. For Sophie. She was a good mum, and someday soon, he'd be a good dad.
For now, all he could give Sophie was a photo — one a day for the next six months. And he wouldn't shave until he saw her on his visits — as many as he could squeeze in before he was home for good. That's what she'd made him promise, so he'd think of her every time he looked in the mirror.
Sophie, Sophie. Didn't she know he didn't need a reminder to think of her? It wasn't Chicago's fault he could barely stomach stepping off the plane and into a city that would replace his home for half a year. He was sure it was a lovely place — as were New York, L.A., Milan, Paris — all the cities that served as surrogate homes for him in the past. But only the real thing — London — had what all the other cities lacked.
It had Sophie.
Right, then. He'd get through this meeting and head back to the hotel, where his suitcase sat still packed and the bed not yet unmade. It always took a day or two for his body to regulate to another country's time zone. He'd sleep tonight. Right now there was the matter at hand — his new client's account. If he pulled off this event without a hitch, he'd have enough time with the firm to take that yearlong sabbatical he'd promised himself. Time to spend with Sophie and be the father he should have been all along. But he had been too young and stupid when she was born to see past the money and the allure of travel, too afraid to step away from a competitive industry that would only replace him with the next up-and-coming young bloke.
Sophie had been an unexpected surprise, but it hadn't been enough to save their already failing relationship. Tara wanted stability, and Will had wanted the world. So she found Phillip, who loved Sophie as his own, and Will became a third wheel in his own daughter's life as the work kept piling on.
Give us another year, and we'll give you six months' leave.
Come on, Will. You're on fire. Another year and we'll up it to eight months.
Sign this contract, Evans. Five years, and you'll have enough in the bank to retire before you're thirty-five, mate. We'll even hold your position for a full year.
And so, like an arsehole, he'd signed on the bloody line.
Before he knew it, time had gotten away from him. Tara was happy with Phillip. Sophie was happy with them.
The familiar ding of a lift reaching its destination sounded in his ears. Seemed like he knew lifts better than the stairs to his own front door.
The doors opened on the tenth floor, and Will Evans strode into the offices of Trousseau, his office for the next six months.
He hadn't realized until it vibrated that his phone was still clutched in his hand.
Love you, Sophie had written back.
Love you, too, Will replied, then slipped the phone into his suit jacket pocket.
One day started, 179 to go.CHAPTER 2
When Holly got to her office at half past seven — okay, it was a cubicle — Andrea had left her an email saying she'd be a few minutes late and she'd email again when she was ready. Holly spun back and forth in her chair, refreshing her screen again ... and again. Andrea was always punctual, and she had called their meeting for eight.
Still no email, and it was twelve minutes after eight.
Holly gasped as the Arts and Entertainment section of the Tribune dropped onto her keyboard.
"Shit, Charlie! You're going to kill me before I even have a chance!"
"Just thought you might want to see your name in a headline," he said, and Holly's eyes fell to the paper in front of her.
Holly Chandler: A Fresh New Name on the Chicago Fashion Scene.
"You beat out every concert, movie premiere, and even that high-end boutique opening with all those celebrity guests. Holly Chandler can't be beat," he added.
Her heart swelled in her chest. Maybe she'd never played competitive sports, but it still felt good to win. Sure, she was fresh as far as the newspaper was concerned, but Holly had been on the fashion scene since she graduated college. She was already a five-year veteran, but the recognition was something new — and definitely welcome.
She stared at the picture of herself standing center stage, dwarfed by all the models from the show, but there she was nonetheless: Holly was used to the spotlight. She'd been a theater kid all throughout high school and college. But this was different. This was the rest of her life, seeing something she created come to fruition. And even before she entered Andrea's office, someone had already recognized what she had to offer — what she'd worked so hard for.
"Aren't you lonely putting your personal life second?" her sister, Brynn, had asked more than once. But she didn't get it. Personal ... professional ... it was all the same to Holly. Making a name for herself would bring her happiness in all aspects of her life. The proof was in the headline, because, without even reading the article, that tiny puncture in her bubble sealed itself right up. Nothing could burst it now.
And just like that, up popped the email from Andrea she'd been waiting for.
Ready for ya, rock star, was all it said, and it was enough to permanently affix the grin to Holly's face.
"Thank you, Charlie," she said, grabbing the paper to bring with her, in case Andrea hadn't seen it yet. She stood and curtsied, giving him a wink. After all, she had beaten out all the other Chicago entertainment that weekend. Nothing was going to stand in her way now.
"Still around if you want to celebrate tonight," he said. "Kingston Ale House?"
There would definitely be cause for celebration. Besides, no one liked to celebrate alone. Why not?
"Sure, Charlie. I can always go for a pint."
With that she rounded the corner to where the reception desk separated the cubes from the full-sized offices — Andrea's and a space that served as a conference room but was big enough to be split into a meeting room and another office. Her office.
Andrea's door was open, so Holly walked right in, permagrin in place, heart swelling, and the article with her name in bold letters folded in her hand.
And then her impenetrable bubble started to squeal as that small puncture began to leak. Because Holly was now face-to-face with not only her boss but with Mr. British Elevator Ass, too. Or, she supposed, for him it would be arse.
"There's my superstar!" Andrea said, and Holly should have been beaming right along with her. "So glad you're here. Holly, this is William Evans."
Holly's palm began to sweat against the inky paper it held, and she was happy for an excuse not to be able to shake hands, not that he was offering her one. He stood next to Andrea, a cup and saucer in his hand as he sipped her boss's beverage of choice, straight espresso. His blue-eyed gaze betrayed nothing of their meeting in the elevator, so she did the best she could to shutter hers.
"I wanted to wait until Mr. Evans got to town to tell you the good news," Andrea continued, all grace and poise as if she still walked the runways. "We've landed the Tallulah Chan account. Her debut American show will be with Trousseau. Mr. Evans is her publicist and will oversee the planning of the event, which means you and he will be working together from now through the new year."
Excerpted from Six Month Rule by A. J. Pine, Karen Grove. Copyright © 2016 A. J. Pine. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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