The Contract(7)

By: Melanie Moreland



Fuck my life.





RICHARD

THE NOISE OF THE TREADMILL was a steady hum under my feet as I pounded away. I had hardly slept last night, and my mood was dark. Sweat dripped down my back and face. I picked up my towel and wiped it away roughly, tossing it to the side. My iPod blared with heavy music, and still it wasn’t loud enough, so I turned it up, glad the condo was soundproofed.

I kept going, almost at a frantic pace. I had gone over all my options and plans in the dark of the night, coming up with two ideas.

My first thought had been if Brian and Adrian got me in, I could try to bluff my way through an interview, telling Graham only vague details of the woman who supposedly changed my outlook and therefore, me. If I approached it right, I could manage to keep up a façade until I had proven myself to Graham, then have the unspeakable happen—this perfect woman leaves me. I could play heartbroken, and throw myself into work.

Except from what Brian had explained, my idea probably wouldn’t work.

It meant I needed to produce a physical woman—one who would convince Graham I was a better man than he believed me to be. Someone, as Brian put it, “real, warm, and down-to-earth.”

I didn’t know many women who would fall in those categories, unless they were over sixty. I didn’t think Graham would believe I could fall in love with someone twice my age. None of the women I fraternized with would be able to pass his inspection. I rolled around the idea of hiring someone—an actress perhaps—but that seemed too risky.

Brian’s words kept repeating themselves in my head. “You’re blind, Richard. Your solution is right in front of you.”

Miss Elliott.

He thought I should use Miss Elliott as my girlfriend.

If I took a step back and tried to be objective—he had a point. It was the perfect cover. If Graham thought I was leaving Anderson Inc. because I was in love with my assistant and chose her—and our relationship—over my job there, it would score major points with him. She was unlike any other woman I had ever been with. Brian found her warm, bright, and engaging. Other people seemed to like her. All pluses.

Except, it was Miss Elliott.

With a groan, I shut off the machine, grabbing my discarded towel. In the kitchen, I got a bottle of water, chugged it down, and turned on my laptop. Signing into the company site, I scrolled through the employee files, stopping on Miss Elliott’s page. I studied her photograph, trying to be unbiased.

There was nothing remarkable about her, but her bright blue eyes were wide with long lashes. I imagined her dark hair was long since I had never seen it done in any other way aside from a tight bun. Her skin was very pale; I wondered how she would look under the skillful hands of a makeup artist and dressed in some decent clothes. Squinting at the screen, I stared at her picture. Some sleep wouldn’t hurt to rid her of the dark circles under her eyes and maybe eating something other than peanut butter and jam sandwiches would help. She was rail thin. I liked my women with a few more curves.

I groaned in frustration, rubbing the back of my neck.

I supposed, in this case, it didn’t matter what I preferred. It was what I needed.

In this case, I might have to admit I needed Miss Elliott.

Goddamn my life.

My phone rang, and I glanced at the screen, surprised to see Brian’s name.

“Hey.”

“Sorry if I woke you up.”

I glanced at the clock, seeing it was only six-thirty. I was surprised he was awake, though. I knew he was a late riser.

“I’ve been up a while. What’s going on?”

“Graham will see you today at eleven.”

I stood up, feeling a flow of nerves ripple down my spine. “Are you serious? Why so fast?”

“He’s away for the remainder of the week, and I told Adrian you were considering accepting a job interview in Toronto.”

I chuckled. “I owe you.”

“Big. So big you’ll never be able to repay me.” He chortled. “You know there’s a good chance this will go nowhere unless you can convince him things are different for you, right? I laid it on pretty thick with Adrian—but my word is only going to take you so far.”

“I know.”

“Okay. Good luck. Let me know what happens.”

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