A couple of hours later, she and Stacey were at the employees’ room eating lunch, grilled cheese sandwiches heated in the room’s small microwave, and a box of very festive cupcakes Stacey had bought on her way to work. She wasn’t as into the holidays as Miley, but she knew her friend appreciated these kind of gestures, especially now with what she was going through.
As she watched her friend pick at the green and red frosting on her cupcake with her finger after having finished her sandwich, Stacey noticed Miley looking like she wasn’t there, her mind someplace far.
Stacey cleared her throat and brought back her friend’s attention to the hole her finger had made in the center of her cupcake.
“You’ve been quiet. Is everything okay?”
Miley knew what her friend meant by everything and smiled with as much reassurance as she could muster.
“Yeah, well, the same but not worse.”
“It’ll get better, Miley. I know it.”
It was touching the confidence with which she said it. It made her want to think the same. For one who loved the spirit of possibility the holidays brought, Miley’s own faith was starting to crack at the sides.
Maybe that’s why that strange man had come by today. To give her something nice to think about, though nice wasn’t a word that described him. More like a punch to the stomach gorgeous with those captivating and intimidating eyes, those hard planes of his face, that mouth that now that she thought about it had been pressed into a thin line the entire time. She wondered what did it look like when he wasn’t so stressed out or annoyed?
Annoyed was how he was going to get, more if that was possible, if she didn’t find a way to get him his credit card back. If only she had done more than stare at him or be very aware of him, she’d known how to contact him.
“Hello, earth to Miley.” Stacey was waving a glossy magazine at her friend.
Miley blinked away the image of the man, and she focused her own honey eyes on Stacey.
“Sorry, what were you saying?”
“I was telling you about the magazine I bought on my way to work. It’s Manhattan’s top ten bachelors, well correction, it is Manhattan’s top ten rich men, who happen to be bachelors as well. I figured I might see if Santa would bring me one of them. I’m thinking of him,” she pointed at a face on an open page, “what do you think?”
When Miley’s eyes left the small white bold letters that said he was Richard Hudson, head of Hudson Enterprises, one of the biggest companies not only in the U.S. but around the world as well, she took a sharp intake of breath and pried the magazine away from Stacey’s hot pink finger nails.
“Wow, Miley, take it easy. I doubt it Santa will bring him to me but if you want him….”
“Yes, the man from earlier, the one I was telling you about. The guy who left his credit card.”
“That’s the guy you were talking about?” Stacey’s eyes enlarged in shock, and then when they narrowed, the message was that she couldn’t believe she had missed him at all.
“You’re saying Richard Hudson, the richest man in Manhattan, the biggest eye-candy ever to walk on the face of the earth was here buying a…….what did you say it was?”
“An e-reader! Oh……” Miley stared back down at the striking face staring at her with that same aloofness he had in real person, and knew what she was going to do.
“Can you cover for me? I won’t take long.”
Stacey saw Miley go to her own locker and take out her coat and scarf and put them on hurriedly, and then grab the magazine as she made a bee-line for the door.
“Where are you going?”
“To give him back his credit card. I won’t take long.”
“But Miley I doubt….”
“Please? I won’t take long.”
Stacey let out a breath.
“Sure, okay, I’ll see you later.”
“Thanks, Stace!” Miley exclaimed as the door closed and she ran for the street and continued to run the five blocks toward Park Avenue where Hudson Enterprises was located.
Breathless, Miley made it in record time to the corporate building, and had to stop outside to catch her breath, her pants coming out in white clouds of smoke. Clutching the magazine to her body, Miley walked into the lobby and immediately felt on edge. There was something quite not right about the place.
Not that it was a poor excuse for a lobby. On the contrary, it was expansive with gray tiled marble floors, works of art on the walls, and two sets of leather couches with coffee tables and magazines scattered around. The main desk was as sleek as her surroundings, and Miley made her way trying to attract the least attention to her Skyline employees’ uniform: the white shirt, black vest and skirt, and the pale pantyhose with her flat soled shoes.
She expected anyone to demand what she was doing in here but she finally made it to the front of the main desk, where a woman who looked like a Victoria’s Secret model was busy on the phone. She didn’t even spare Miley a glance when she made a small sound to indicate she was right there.
After what felt like a couple of Christmases had passed, the other woman hung up and gave Miley a once-over before speaking in an overtly bored tone.
“Yes? Can I help you?”
“I am looking for Mr. Hudson. Richard Hudson.”
The name made something in her eyes flash, and Miley wondered if Mr. Hudson had a no dating-employees policy in his office. Then, her eyes turned as cold as the floor she was standing on and she asked.
“And what business do you have with him?”
Him? As in I saw him first, him? Yes, definitely the woman was interested in him and had already showed him that. Without much success, Miley concluded.
“I rather talk to him in person.” Miley’s hand went down to pat the plastic rectangle resting inside her pocket. She could’ve probably said the reason she was here and leave the card down here, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to risk that credit card never seeing its owner again.
“I see.” The receptionist’s eyes looked over Miley’s auburn head, and then they lowered to whatever was in her computer. Without even glancing at Miley, the woman said.
“That’s his personal assistant over there, try with him.”
“Right, thank you.” For nothing, she wanted to add, but turned and walked quickly to the man crossing the lobby toward the elevators at the back.
“Excuse me, sir.” Miley called to him and the man stopped and turned to face her. When Miley reached him, he gave her an “I’m in a hurry look” before he asked.
“Yes? Can I do anything for you?”
“I need to see Mr. Hudson. The woman over there said you are his personal assistant.”
“I am. Do you have an appointment?”
“No, I just need to see him. I have to give him something.”
Miley saw the way his eyes lowered to the magazine in her hands, and then an almost invisible smile twitched his lips. Though she didn’t get the joke, Miley waited until he nodded.
“Fine, come with me.”
And just like that, Miley was being ushered inside the elevator. Its walls were transparent, so Miley could see how the lobby and the woman at the desk became smaller and smaller as they went higher. But as she had felt when she had walked inside this building, she felt uncomfortable, like there was something missing. It made her frown trying to pinpoint it, but as the elevator tinged announcing their arrival, she still hadn’t found what was missing.
The personal assistant stepped out and extended his hand to show her the way. The room, unlike the floor at the lobby, was covered in a soft gray carpet that muffled their steps. Though it looked like it muffled everything else out, since there wasn’t a sound heard as they walked past cubicles.
Even the people who were typing on their computers did so at a very low volume, almost as if typing loudly was frowned upon. Or maybe she was used to the hobble and chatter of customers that walked into Skyline every day of the year. She’d probably go crazy in a place like this.
They continued to walk past rows of work stations but after a few seconds, Miley stopped. The thing that had been nagging at her since coming into this building was finally hitting her between the eyes.
There was no Christmas in this place. There wasn’t a single Christmas decoration anywhere, not even down at the lobby or even here. No workstation had any kind of decorative element, not even on their computer screens, as Miley noticed when she looked around her.
It was as if the entire building had closed itself to the events going on outside and it dared anyone to question its lack of festivity within its walls.
But why? Yes, she knew she took the holiday spirit up a notch, but this time of year was a time when even the most uptight office atmosphere loosened, right?
It made her think of the grandmother who had bought the books for her grandchildren. She recalled another one of her favorite Dr. Seuss’ stories, The Grinch, and how all that was missing from this place was for a little dog with the fake antlers to come out barking and scaring her Christmas spirit away.
“This way, please.” The personal assistant stopped when he noticed Miley was not following him, her big mellow innocent eyes staring around her in disbelief. She tried to shake away her unease and proceeded to join him outside a closed set of doors.
And he disappeared behind the doors that opened briefly but not enough that Miley could peek quickly inside. She stood outside, fidgeting with her clothes, changing the magazine from one hand to the other, when finally the door opened again and Miley was ushered inside by the personal assistant who didn’t linger and closed the doors silently when he left the room.
Miley scanned the room first noticing the same plush carpeting that was on the other side, and the dark wood paneling of the walls. There was a chocolate leather couch that looked so decadent, Miley thought it should be banned from such serious place. It looked like the sort of place you could cuddle in with someone. Maybe this is where the Victoria’s Secret model from reception had shown her boss just how much she liked him.
Her inspection noticed the amazing view at the end of the room with the Manhattan skyline resting against that blueish gray background that was the winter sky.
To her right, there was a huge plasma screen with multiple images all playing at once. One image showed what she assumed were stock numbers, while the others played the news from two different stations in a muted volume.
And then, because she could feel his pull from his place in front of the window, her eyes landed on him. You would think that after meeting him for the first time she’d had a different reaction, a less idiotic one that erased all rational thought from her mind. Because of her job she had to be witty and ready to strike a conversation at any time, regardless of how the potential customer looked. But this man was on a whole different level, like Stacey had said, the biggest eye candy ever to walk the face of the Earth.
He had removed his suit jacket and had his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and he too, she noticed with a start, was giving her a scrutinizing look, almost as if dreading what she had come here to do.
“Jonathan said you wanted to see me. How can I help you miss……?”
Didn’t he remember her? Okay, so maybe he hadn’t had the courtesy to check her name plaque but still, he was talking to her as if he had never seen her in his life. Not that she cared. Men like Richard Hudson probably never had to remember anyone because everyone knew who they were.
“Miley Stuart. I work at Skyline Department store.”
If the name of the store rang any bells, his impassive mask didn’t reveal it. However, when those eyes that felt as hot as summer on her skin landed on the magazine she had somehow placed in front of her as a shield, his blank expression turned first to curious then to tired as he inclined his head toward the magazine in her hands.
“You’re the first one to come to my office. Usually they corner me when they see me on the street or at some function. No one has had the nerve to come all the way here ever since that article was published.” Far from flattered, Richard Hudson sounded bothered by it. Miley noticed his stare focused on the door behind her back.
“Corner you? I don’t want to do that.” She swallowed.
But as she too glanced down at the magazine in her hands, Miley’s brain cleared and his words made sense. A deep twinge of mortification was rushing to her cheeks and she said far too loudly. “No! I’m not here because of the article.”
“You’re not?” One eyebrow rose in incredulity.
“No, I’d never….I mean, not that you’re not…….because Stacey said that you……” she shook her head and took a breath before sounding even more senseless. “What I am trying to say is, no, I’m not here because you’re Manhattan’s most sought out bachelor. I’m here because of this.” Miley finally covered the space between them and placed the card in front of him.
Someone who hadn’t been paying attention would’ve missed it. His eyebrows lifted slightly as if he hadn’t realized he had left his credit card, and then taking the plastic in his hands, he turned that stare and narrowed it at Miley, like she had just announced she’d bought a house with it.
When he continued to stare at the piece of plastic as if it might sprout silver wings and fly, Miley began walking back to where she’d been standing and said. “You left so fast I wasn’t able to give it back to you.”
“So,” he met her eyes and Miley felt she needed to take a couple more steps back, “you came by to give it back?” Again, he acted like Miley was pulling his leg and would let him know any minute now.
“Yes. I know it’s a hassle to call the credit card company and ask for a cancellation and even more so now that it’s the holidays. I figured since you looked like you were in quite a hurry before that maybe you wouldn’t have time to do so.”
His head jerked up and Miley bit her bottom lip. Maybe she shouldn’t have said that, even if it was nothing but the truth.
When Mr. Hudson only took the credit card and placed it inside his wallet, Miley took that as her cue to leave and said.
“Well, I should get going. Have a nice day Mr. Hudson. Happy holidays.”
Unfortunately, when she turned to leave, she slammed straight into another body that had come in behind her. The personal assistant grabbed her before she stumbled back and Miley couldn’t help but exclaim. “Ouch!”
“Sorry, I thought you had heard me come in.”
Was he kidding? The only thing audible in this room was the thrumming of her heart.
“Never mind.” She resisted the urge to rub her shoulder. “Have a nice day.” And Miley held her feet in check before she could give into the need to run away, though she did walk fast to the elevators where she pressed the button for the lobby.