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My father’s brown-skinned CFO thinks she’s my boss.
I’ll have her bent over her desk begging for more before she knows what hit her.
If anyone finds out about my intentions with her, I’ll be out on street and shipped off back to London.
But I can keep a secret…
I bet she can too with these come-hither brown eyes that she can’t keep off me.
Nobody says no to Chuck Banks.
It’s only a matter of time before she’s MINE.
My boss thinks I have nothing better to do than look after his son.
Chuck Banks is the type of guy that put me off dating forever…
And one of the only men on the East Coat who can close a $50 million dollar deal at a 100% success rate.
We need him here.
I’m keeping my distance, but I have a feeling he’s trying his hardest to get closer.
Too close, and the career I’ve worked so hard for will come crumbling around me.
I can’t let this happen.
“No can do.”
I folded my arms as I listened to Monty’s three-word response to my thirty minute proposal. That was it? I’d spent weeks crafting the perfect list of reasons I needed a raise, and demonstrating how much I added to the Banks & Wiltshire Group.
“That’s it?” I responded, aghast.
Monty puffed his cigar and coughed, releasing a cloud of tobacco across his desk.
I’d been with the company for over ten years after the merger. I knew Monty as more than just my boss, the CEO, but as a friend.
“Monty… Are you serious right now? I know what the numbers are saying, where’s all that money going?”
He shrugged, “Expenses.”
Seeing that I wouldn’t budge, he leaned back and offered me a drink.
Not only were we at work but it was hours before noon. Monty Banks helped himself, taking his cool time to unscrew the bottle while he poured it into his glass — no ice, no chasers, straight whiskey.
“Sit down, Ida.”
I sat. He drank.
“Listen, I don’t mean to give the impression that we don’t appreciate you here.”
“Monty, you know that I’m loyal to you. I’ve always been that way. I just want to move up. I have goals… aspirations…”
Monty nodded and waved as he drank more.
“Yes, yes, yes,” he replied, “I understand completely.”
“If you understand, why won’t you budge?”
Monty cleared his throat and drank more.
“Hm… Ida, why don’t we make a deal here?”
“What kind of deal?” I raised my eyebrows.
“One where you get some money.”
“I’m listening,” I replied.
Money was what I wanted. Why was I the only one at the company who seemed to be struggling? New York was killing me.
I folded my arms.
Monty sighed, “I’ll increase by $6,000.”
Now we were getting somewhere. The figure was nowhere near as close as I’d asked for. But it was $16,000 that I needed… bad.
“I’ll think about it.”
“Think about it?”
Monty finished his drink.
“Yes,” I held my voice steady, “I’ll think about it.”
Satisfied, Monty poured himself a second round.
“I have something else to discuss with you.”
He spoke the way white people did when they were about to ask you to do something. He avoided eye contact. Then I knew he was going to ask me to do something I didn’t want to do.
“What is it Monty,” I huffed.
“Don’t get short with me Ida,” he glared, winking to let me know he wasn’t serious.
“Spill. And don’t add more to my plate.”
“Heh,” Monty coughed.
I waited. He drank some more and then stalled.
“Mind if I get another cigar?”
I could wait. Playing to Monty’s good side couldn’t hurt my case for a raise. He took his time, clipping the tip of his cigar and then rolling it between his palms before lighting.
“Want a puff?”
Monty knew I didn’t smoke. So I didn’t respond. He sat across from me and then started talking.
“We value your work in the marketing department here at Banks & Wiltshire. The billboard in Times Square project, the Jamaica, Queens community outreach, it’s all been fantastic. I’ve come to trust you Ida… The day you throw in the towel will be the worst day of my life.”
He was buttering me up now, and I knew then whatever he planned to ask me was something big.
He smoked, drank a little more and I waited, settling into the chair and staring at him. Monty was getting older. At 60, he was still a silver-foxed scamp. His cigar and whiskey before lunch were only the beginnings of his problems.
Monty was cursed with being both too smart and too good-looking for his own well-being. I’d like to pretend his charm didn’t work on me, but he was a difficult man to resist.
“I want to entrust you with a matter that’s more… personal.”
While Monty and I were friends, there were some boundaries that had never been crossed between us. Most “personal” situations fell firmly within that territory. Monty hadn’t told me about the time his wife lived in their beach house for a year because he’d knocked up their maid. I hadn’t told him about my sister’s third DUI.
We kept our dirty laundry out of each other’s view. In the corporate world, the personal is always just out of reach. No matter how personal you pretend to get with your coworkers, when you head home for the night, they usually just become your coworkers.
70-hour work weeks were the only thing that stood between me and more distance between my coworkers.
“This is a delicate issue Miss Bell, so I’d appreciate your discretion.”
Now my interest piqued. I clasped my hands over my knees, hiding the impatient tapping of my legs and fidgeting with my class ring from Columbia.
“You know I can keep a secret, Montgomery.”
Monty nodded, “Excellent. You might want to have a drink.”
“No thanks,” I urged again.
“Hm,” he responded.
Before he could go on, his phone rang. I could hear Pippa’s voice on the other end, loudly asking Monty if he was free to meet a woman who wanted an afternoon appointment. Monty declined, they had another conversation about Monty’s flights to the Maldives, then he hung up.
“Where was I?”
“Yes, yes…” he mumbled, coughing gently and filling my face with tobacco smoke again.
“This is a special assignment for you Ida. If you can manage this,” Monty paused to chuckle, “I’ll definitely consider a raise.”
“What is it?”
I was starting to get impatient and what’s worse, bad at hiding it. Monty tapped his cigar, the ash falling gently into his engraved Harvard ash tray.
“My son is flying back from London today. He should be arriving at Grand Central before the stock exchange closes.”
“Great,” I replied, unsure how this news applied to me.
“He’s coming to work here, for Banks & Wiltshire.”
I folded my arms, ignoring Monty’s smirk.
“I need someone responsible to keep an eye on him.”
“You are his parent,” I grumbled.
Monty chuckled, “Darling, I’m half drunk before twelve o’clock, I can’t have anymore on my plate.”
I hated when Monty called me darling, reminding me that no matter how many decades I’d busted my butt to get here, he’d always believe the company was an old boys club.
“Which son are you talking about?” I narrowed my eyes.
Monty smirked, “Not Santi.”
I averted my gaze this time. Monty rarely acknowledged his illegitimate child and I had no interest in pursuing the subject further.
“I’m not equipped for this Monty.”
“I believe you are, Ida. No one here knows me better than you.”
I frowned, and didn’t respond.
“Back when you were new ‘round here, maybe we got in each other’s way a few times, but you know how I respect you.”
I said nothing, staring him dead in the face, hoping he’d give me a reason not to walk out of his office.
He stood up and walked around to me, touching my face.
“Ida, darling, I’m asking you a favor.”
It had been years since Monty touched my face like that. We’d shared one kiss — one — at my first office party here. Then I found out he was married. With kids. And for weeks, I hadn’t spoken to him. After putting our differences aside, we’d become friends. Close, true friends.
But his hand on my face brought me back to all those years ago when I’d been young and foolish. He’d been a charming, older, executive and for a moment, a brief moment, I’d entertained the notion of what life could be like with a man like him. Even as his mistress, you’d be taken care of. A more careless woman would have plunged into an affair.
But I believed in love back then, and I still did, and I knew I wouldn’t find it in the bed of a married man. His touch reminded me of what I gave up for a Prince Charming who’d never arrived.
I turned my cheek away from him, considering for a moment that no matter how angry I was with him, bitterness wouldn’t serve me.
“Monty,” I replied, “Tell me what you need me to do.”
He dropped his hand and smiled, the gentle flirtatiousness he’d used to get his way was exposed as a ploy, but neither of us minded.
He beamed from ear to ear, towering over my seat looking proud of himself before he walked over to his window and cast his gaze over Manhattan.
“It’s Charles,” he muttered.
Now that was a name I hadn’t heard in a while. I knew all about Monty’s sons. The eldest, Townsend Banks, worked as a freelance party animal and only left East Hampton once a month to come into the city and collect his check from his father.
He was tall, roguish, with long brown hair and brilliant green eyes like his red-headed Scottish mother. Townsend, the lazy son, wouldn’t have been horrible to look after. He was too lazy to get into trouble and no job he’d had ever lasted anyways. I wondered what good his Cornell education had been.
Monty’s youngest son, Santiago, had been born from his dalliance with a Guatemalan maid, a beautiful woman who had been lambasted in the media for her affair with the big-name CEO. Monty took the boy in, easily using his multi-million dollar net worth to sway the courts into garnering full-custody.
Santiago, ever aware of his humble roots, wouldn’t have been a problem either. He was the only one of Monty’s sons who hadn’t been kicked out of Andover, and would have been a delight. Of course, Buffy would have never allowed him to work here.
When you’re the one who’s been cheated on, you tend to have the final word in those matters.
When I realized Montgomery was talking about Charles, I froze. Was he trying to send me to an early grave?
He saw my silent worry and met it with a smile.
“He’s mellowed since Yale.”
“Oh that’s a relief,” I shot back, rolling my eyes.
“His time in London has done him good,” Monty continued.
Was he trying to convince me that his son was a good person, or was he trying to convince himself?
“I want you to keep an eye on him, Ida.”
I joined Monty at the window, my arms folded. The city buzzed beneath us as we stood tall and powerful over New York. At that moment, I didn’t feel powerful. Denied a raise, and then given an impossible task. Monty held all the cards and he knew it. There was no way I was going to quit, risk starting over the career I’d spent decades building.
He knew me too well and he knew how to play the corporate game instinctively, like any big success did.
“What do you mean keep an eye on him?”
“I want you to keep him out of trouble.”
“What do you think I can do that you can’t?”
Monty looked over at me and smirked.
“Get through to him.”
“You’re tough Ida. You’ve got balls. Charles will respect you.”
“Wishful thinking,” I muttered.
“What did you say?”
He nodded, “Good. So it’s settled.”
He thrust his hands into his pockets after running them through his silvery gray hair. His eyes reddened from the liquor and the tobacco smoke. He let out another cough and then patted his own chest.
“Make sure he keeps his nose clean. No public affairs. No drugs. No fights.”
“Sounds like a job for a nanny.”
“I’m serious, Ida.”
“With all due respect Monty, if he’s so much trouble, why is he working here? We’ve both got a lot on our plate and with the Shanghai deal coming up —”
“That’s exactly why we need him,” Monty interrupted, “The Shanghai deal.”
“Is something wrong?”
Monty shook his head, “No. There isn’t. But Charles managed to do something amazing in London. Working with Vanderbilt & Scott he closed every single $50 million deal with a 100% success rate.”
“He’s damn good at mergers.”
Damn good? He sounded better than good. We’d been struggling to close our international markets for upwards of two years. We’d used every top negotiator in the world, including those trained by the FBI and military negotiators who’d served in Iraq.
“Why hasn’t he come here earlier then?”
Monty cleared his throat and scowled.
From his scowl, I knew he meant that we wouldn’t be discussing these personal problems and they were likely to do with Charles Banks frequent unfavorable media appearances and his run-ins with the law.
“This is a lot to ask, Monty.”
He patted me on the back.
“If we pull through, we’ll all be rich.”
I folded my arms and raised an eyebrow. Monty was already rich. He’d been born rich, just like his granddaddy and daddy before him. Not every thought needs to be said out loud so I just smiled and stared out over New York with him.
I left his office, returning to mine with a sense of confusion. I’d walked into Monty’s office intending to get a raise. I’d received no raise, the possibility of an extra bonus and even more work than I already had. I was swamped.
As I sat at my desk, Pippa knocked on my door. It should be easy for you to guess why Philippa Wiltshire worked at Banks & Wiltshire. After failing to find a job and spending half a fortune of her four Masters of Fine Arts, I’d been gifted an assistant.
Pippa helped, and she was a sweet girl, although not the brightest tool in the shed for one who had attended Barnard, NYU and Columbia.
“Sorry to disturb Miss Bell.”
“You aren’t disturbing anything, I just got back from my meeting with Monty.”
Pippa turned a bright red to match her shock of red hair when I mentioned Monty’s name. Her tortoise shell glasses fogged up and she took them off to clean them on her button down, pulling it out of the corduroy skirt to use the ends.
“What did he say?” She asked, squinting at me as she cleaned her glasses.
“Work, work and more work. Now hurry on up with those glasses, ‘cause I’ve got work for you too.”
“Yes ma’am,” Pippa replied, hastily replacing her glasses, tangling some of her red hair in the process.
“Oh… Before you start,” she muttered, searching for her notebook in her pockets.
“It’s on the desk.”
She lunged forward and grabbed the notebook, flipping a few pages before she spoke.
“Ah yes. Uh… You have a date tonight with Chad Corbett and he called making sure you were still on.”
“Cancel it?” Pippa asked.
Was my dating life that desolate that a cancelled date sent my assistant into a near panic?
“Yes Pippa, I meant what I said.”
She tucked her shirt back into the corduroy.
“Are you sure? He sounded nice on the phone.”
I glanced up from my computer at Pippa. Her naive twenty-eight year old mind couldn’t fathom why an unmarried woman over forty would cancel a date. A few more years on the New York dating scene and I was sure she’d start to understand…
“Working late tonight, Monty’s orders,” I replied, passing the blame onto work as I usually did.
“Great. Now I need you to head down to HR and pull up everything you can on that new junior copywriter.”
“Then I want you to call the New Jersey branch and ask them to send over last month’s financial statements.”
“I want some hazelnut coffee in here by 11 — almond milk, no sugar.”
She stood staring blankly for a while. I toyed with remaining silent myself, just to see how long she’d stand there before getting started. I sighed and instead said patiently, “You can move along now Pippa, thank you.”
Pippa the broken record stepped out of my office. I sighed. No more date with Chad, but at least I’d get my raise early. I opened the top drawer to my desk and reached for my emergency bar of chocolate. At my office, that was a necessity and far better for me than Monty’s emergency whiskey, or emergency cigar.
I unwrapped the chocolate when I heard a familiar voice calling outside my office.
“Is that chocolate?!”
Letty. You couldn’t crack open a soda, a chocolate bar, a sandwich, or anything without her ambling over and asking for a piece. The girl was hopeless. Sweet girl, but hopeless. She entered my office and we shared the chocolate together.
Letty was the only other black woman in my office and the only listening ear who could appreciate how much I struggled.
“How’d it go?”
“No can do,” I snorted.
“Are you serious?”
Letty shook her head.
“These white folks… Something’s gotta give.”
“I need to stand up for myself,” I replied, “And get out of here.”
“Amen to that.”
I wondered why I was the only executive in the office who seemed to be struggling to hold it all together. Despite outranking Letty in the corporate structure, she was the only one I could relate to about wanting more for my money.
New York ain’t cheap, and it ain’t getting any cheaper. I had to find a way out of this mess and a way to show Monty that I deserved more pay. I just had to.
My phone buzzed.
“Chad,” I grumbled, glancing at my phone and ignoring it.
I glared, “Just Chad.”
“What’s up with him?”
“Cancelled our date,” I grumbled.
Letty raised her eyebrows and cast a shady side-eye in my direction.
“Okay girl, you do you.”
Her message was clear: She thought I was just as crazy as Pippa did.
Could a woman catch a break around here?
TO BE CONTINUED…
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