So away we go with Chapter One!
Love Affair To Remember
After Office Hours, Book 2
© 2016 Jennifer Skully
“All right, out with it, you’re bursting.” In Gloria’s opinion, Jordana Davis was almost manic.
She often had lunch with Jordana, but this was the first time they’d invited Ivy Elliott. Until recently, Jordana had been the Human Resources admin, but a couple of weeks ago, she was promoted to manager. While still working as Grady Masterson’s assistant, Ivy had stepped in to cover some of Jordana’s administrative duties.
It had also been close to the same length of time since Gloria’s interview with Parker.
He’d gotten the job. And he was starting on Monday. How on earth had the second week of September come around so fast? She would have only the weekend to prepare herself.
She wasn’t sure she could deal with him as well as she’d told herself she would.
Jordana lowered her voice, which wasn’t necessary since the noise in the Chinese restaurant they’d chosen was amplified by concrete floors and a warehouse ceiling of bare pipes and vents. It was a Thursday workday, the tables were full, the scent of cooking food set off choruses of stomach growls, and the din around them was like a bubble protecting their voices. “This is top secret.” Jordana held out her hand. “Pinkie swear you won’t tell anyone. An-y-one,” she stressed.
“Pinkie swear?” Gloria laughed, looking at Jordana’s crooked pinkie. “I haven’t done that since I was ten years old.” She wasn’t even sure modern children knew about pinkie swearing. She was old enough to be Jordana’s mother, though she felt more like a big sister, despite the eighteen-year age difference. And despite their coloring. Where Gloria was blond, Jordana had silky brunette hair to be envied.
“My daughter has started pinkie swearing on everything.” Ivy groaned. “Like not giving her peas for dinner. Or letting her play with my iPad before she goes to bed.”
That answered the question. Pinkie swearing was universal. Gloria didn’t know Ivy’s exact age. She hadn’t spent as much time with her as she had with Jordana. But with Ivy’s bobbed dark hair, Gloria figured the woman for midthirties, and of course, she’d seen all the pictures of an adorable, dark-haired little girl decorating Ivy’s cubicle. She assumed there wasn’t a husband since there was no ring on Ivy’s finger and no photos of a man.
Ivy crooked her pinkie through Jordana’s. “I’ll swear. Now dish.”
Gloria laughed and swore, too. “Top secret.” She zipped her lips.
It felt good to be with the two of them. Accepted. She hadn’t felt that way in ages. She was glad Jordana had added Ivy to their twosome.
Jordana breathed dramatically. “Grady and I are dating.”
Gloria almost dropped her Chinese tea cup. Ivy punched the air, exclaiming, “I knew it.”
“You did not.” Jordana eyed her.
Ivy pointed her finger. “He looked at you. A lot.”
“That doesn’t mean anything.”
“It was the way he looked at you. Like he was having thoughts that weren’t even remotely work-related.”
Jordana leaned in to whisper, “Do you think Rhonda noticed?”
Ivy flapped her hand. “No. But I saw you both a lot more than she did.”
Rhonda was Jordana’s boss, and she hadn’t been happy at all when Jordana was promoted to manager a few weeks ago. That had been Brett’s doing. Although Gloria liked to think she had a hand in backing the whole thing. Which was why she was on Rhonda’s hit list, too.
“We’re planning to tell both Rhonda and Brett tomorrow.”
“Friday. Right. Good idea,” Ivy said. “It’ll give Rhonda the weekend to cool down.”
The weekend. That would change everything. Starting Monday, Gloria would have to see Parker just about every day. In meetings. The Monday staff meeting.
She had to stop thinking about how gorgeous Parker had been in that interview, that if he’d changed, it was only for the better.
Ivy rolled her eyes, heavy on the drama. “I do not want to see what Rhonda’s like right after you tell her.”
“Well, I wanted you guys to know first.” Jordana made a face that mirrored Ivy’s drama. “Especially because you’re going to have to work with her, Ivy.”
“I’m very happy for you,” Gloria said. She meant every word.
“Thank you.” Jordana squeezed her hand. “That means a lot.”
Jordana had been good to her from the first week they’d both started at their new jobs over nine months ago. They were the new girls. Jordana had never looked down on Gloria for being older. They were friends, with no qualifications whatsoever.
Their food arrived, thrown on the table by two of the wait staff carrying plates for at least three other orders.
“I’m worried about Rhonda’s backlash.” Jordana started them off by spooning out broccoli chicken for herself, and they all passed the different dishes. The mixed aroma of the spices was like perfume.
“I’m not going to lie and say Rhonda will handle it well.” Ivy didn’t pull any of her punches. “She’ll make your life miserable.”
Gloria had so many questions. How long had this been going on? And what about Grady’s wife? A sharp pain reached under her ribcage. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I wasn’t sure what was happening myself. And you know how you just can’t talk about something that you haven’t figured out for yourself.”
She knew exactly what Jordana meant. Gloria didn’t have a lot of friends. She was too career-oriented. And then there was the divorce. She hadn’t wanted to hang with women who trashed their exes, and many of the friends she’d had before the divorce were couples, belonging to the two of them. The few friends of her own had drifted away because she couldn’t talk about what happened. She couldn’t explain. There was just too much guilt.
God, she was getting maudlin. Or maybe it was seeing Parker again after all these years. She’d been thinking too much about him since that interview a couple of weeks ago. Now he was starting on Monday. God. How would she handle it?
She couldn’t talk to Jordana. She couldn’t admit what had happened between her and Parker. So yes, she knew exactly what Jordana meant. There were some things you had to sort out for yourself before you could talk to anyone else.
“Besides, Grady was married,” Ivy added, as if that explained everything.
“His wife left him before anything happened between us.” Jordana’s tone was defensive. “I would never give a married man the time of day.”
Gloria felt that same stab under her ribcage. No, she couldn’t tell Jordana what she’d done to ruin her marriage. It didn’t matter that it had been only one night, one huge mistake.
“That’s my point.” Ivy’s plate was almost empty, as if she wanted leftovers to take home. “You had to keep it a secret because no one knew his wife had walked out. Even I hadn’t figured that out, not until she showed up the other day.” She put her hand over her mouth. “God, your face, Jordana. I thought you were going to faint when you saw her.”
Jordana pointed at Ivy, her smile wide. “See, that’s why I invited Ivy. I don’t have to explain anything. She says it all for me.”
Not really. Gloria was still confused. “Tell all, girlfriend.” It felt good to use that word, to be with friends. She needed friends, even if she couldn’t tell them anything about herself, about her past, about her mistakes. “I’m not getting the clear picture.”
So Jordana gave them the blow by blow of what had happened, though Gloria had a feeling there were quite a few explicit details left out.
“It was like a bat to the head. I didn’t see it coming.” Jordana blushed, smiled, at first a small one, until it stretched across her face. “But I totally fell in love with him.” She snapped her fingers. “Just like that.”
Ivy high-fived her. “He’s a good guy.” Then she widened her eyes and pursed her lips. “And let me tell you I know about the bad ones. You’re really lucky.”
Everyone had a story, and Ivy’s didn’t sound like it had a happy ending.
“I agree. Grady’s one of the good guys.” Gloria remembered how falling for someone could be exactly like a bat to the head. All those emotions tumbling around inside, the ones you pretended weren’t there, until suddenly you were completely overwhelmed.
She’d done everything she could to make up for the terrible mistake. It hadn’t worked.
Honestly, she didn’t dwell on the past or think incessantly about that night. She didn’t go over and over her regrets and her mistakes. But seeing Parker Hunt’s name on that interview list had pried the lid off all her guilt, all her emotions, turning them raw again.
Jordana’s happiness over having found Grady made her feel every single minute of the five lonely years since her divorce. And before that, too. From the moment she’d made that monumental mistake with Parker. She’d had a comfortable happiness once upon a time, no strife, no emotional upheavals. Then she ruined it with one night of passion. She didn’t deserve a second chance. In fact, since the divorce, she’d buried any hints of passion deep inside herself.
“You okay, Gloria?” Jordana pushed a plate of steamed vegetables at her.
“I’m great.” She wouldn’t dampen the atmosphere. They were here to celebrate. “I’m happy for you. This is wonderful.”
“Yeah, well, we’ll see after my meeting with Rhonda,” Jordana said with just the right amount of snark.
“You want to get a drink after work in case you need to talk?” Gloria included Ivy in the invitation as well.
“I would,” Jordana said. “But I’m having dinner with Grady. We need to compare notes and see if we both still have jobs.”
“Don’t let Rhonda bulldoze you,” Gloria warned. “You’re not doing anything wrong.” Rhonda was like a piece of heavy machinery chewing up everything in its path. “You’re being above board by telling them. You don’t report to Grady. You’re not in his chain of command in any way.”
“Rhonda will find something. Like I’ll give him a raise or a bonus when she’s not looking.”
“You can remind her that I send all the updates to payroll now.” Ivy’s dark eyes were bright, as if she were sitting ringside for an electrifying fight.
“Brett knows how many checks and balances we have for payroll.” Not to mention the fact that Gloria herself reviewed expenses for any huge anomalies.
Jordana punched out her fists at both of them. “I knew there was a reason I had to tell you two. You make me feel better already.”
“You’re seriously worried about Rhonda?”
Maybe Jordana was. Just a few weeks ago, Gloria had encouraged Jordana to ask for an office instead of a cubicle, which she needed with all the confidential data she handled. Jordana had gotten the office and the promotion. Which pissed Rhonda off. So yes, there was a possibility of backlash.
But Jordana totally surprised her. “I don’t want anyone to think Grady and I were having an affair.”
Gloria’s heart gave a big whomp and flopped down to her stomach. “No one’s going to think that.” But of course they would.
She’d worried about the same thing after her one night with Parker. It kept her awake at nights. It was why she’d left Sunderland. Everything Jordana said made her more acutely aware of her guilt.
Ivy, even if she was probably over ten years younger than Gloria, said the wise thing. “As long as Brett doesn’t think you’re violating any company policies, why do you care what everyone else says?” She smiled softly at Jordana, as if she had wishes no one ever granted. “Are you happy?”
“Hell, yes.” Jordana’s face was all shining light and joy.
Gloria didn’t have a clue why she hadn’t seen it before. She and Jordana had lunch right after that interview with Parker, and she hadn’t noticed a thing. She’d been too preoccupied with her own stuff. Wallowing.
Dammit, she was going to share in the joy. What happened with Parker was five years and nine months behind her. Her divorce was five years in the past, too. This was now. She might not deserve the happiness that Jordana had found, but she wasn’t going to drag herself down. She especially wouldn’t drag her friends with her.
Holding up her water glass, she said, “A toast. To you and Grady.”
“And to Rhonda not becoming a raving monster.” Ivy clinked her glass.
“To everyone being as happy for you guys as we are. Raise your glass,” Gloria ordered.
Jordana did. “Yeah. To us.” She leaned in. “God, I’m so crazy about him.”
Gloria couldn’t remember how that felt. She only remembered being crazy.
Hope you enjoyed catching up with the gang from Desire Actually! Here’s where you can get Love Affair to Remember, available now!
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