Home > Scandalous 1 (Scandalous #1)(3)

Scandalous 1 (Scandalous #1)(3)
Author: H.M. Ward

The receptionist smiled wanly at me and handed me a clipboard. “You’re late,” she scolded. “I shouldn’t even let you in, but since they haven’t started the first round yet, I’ll make an exception. Fill out your paperwork quickly. Mr. Gray doesn’t have all day.”

I nodded, smiling, and sat down next to a breathing Barbie doll. She arched a perfectly plucked brow at me, no doubt questioning my black frock and clunky shoes. Ignoring her, I filled out my paperwork. My heart raced a little bit. I didn’t realize how much I wanted this, but I did. I missed doing creative things; I missed the challenge of it. And the job description plastered across the top of the papers made me giddy. I would be a gallery assistant. The salary was stated with an additional commission on each sale. I’d easily be able to pay my loans on time, and not mooch off of Kate. Hope swelled in my chest.

It took two hours for them to call my name. I was the last candidate. I followed the receptionist into a large room. There were several floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked the ocean. My eyes went straight to the windows, staring at the sea. I didn’t realize how much I missed it.

“Miss Tyndale,” a man’s voice called me back to reality. He held out a chair for me before moving around the long empty table to the other side. “I’m Gus Peck. I’ll be conducting your interview. As you know we are a prestigious art studio. Jonathan Gray’s works sell for a premium to affluent clientele. Are you comfortable working with the wealthy?”

Smiling, I leaned forward, “Yes. I’ve worked with many different people in the past. Some were difficult, but that was only because they demanded the best. Other personalities may have seemed easier to deal with at first, but they proved harder to assist.” Was that a good answer? Interviewing for church jobs was very different. There was a fine line between telling them what they wanted to hear and what I really thought. Everyone was on best behavior, asking questions that usually didn’t matter, but Gus’ question seemed rather practical. It threw my footing off a little bit, as did his reply.

“How’s that?” Gus asked, jotting down things on a yellow notepad as I spoke, his eyes not lifting to meet mine.

How is that, Abby? I was totally making stuff up, pulling answers out of the air on the fly. Explaining my rationale, I replied, “Well, the difficult people came across that way because they were demanding, but demanding people know what they want. They have clear expectations and expect them to be met.” Gus stopped scribbling and looked up at me as I continued, “It can be intimidating if you haven’t dealt with them before. But the easy-going people are actually harder to help, because they usually don’t know what they need. It takes more patience and time to assist them.” My back was straight and I noticed that I was sitting on the edge of my seat. I tried to relax a little, to appear more confident. I wanted this job so much. It would fix everything. I smiled softly, noticing my accent seemed fuddled. I didn’t sound like a New Yorker anymore, but I didn’t sound Texan either.

Gus nodded, “Hmm. Interesting observation.” I looked at him, slightly intimidated. The man was in his early thirties, blonde hair and blue eyes. He looked like a cover model for GQ, holding my application in his hands. His eyes scanned it again. When he was done, he looked over the top of my papers and pointed his pen at me, “You get points for not giving cookie-cutter answers, Miss Tyndale, but you have no previous sales experience. It says here that you were a minister... in Texas?” The man looked at me like I was insane. As soon as I answered that question, this job interview was over.

Before I could speak a voice came from the shadows at the end of the room. “So, that’s where you went? Texas.” That voice. It made my stomach flip. My body was instantly covered in goose bumps, every hair standing on end. Something inside my chest ached when he spoke. Although I hadn’t heard it in years, I recognized his warm playful tone instantly. I’d know him anywhere.

My pulse quickened and I suddenly felt much more nervous than I had a moment ago. Jaw hanging open, I turned and stared at him like he was a ghost. “Jack?”


Leaning against the doorjamb stood Jack Gray, and he was every bit as beautiful as he was the last time I saw him. Dark jeans clung to his trim waist and a black V-neck tee shirt showcased sculpted muscles beneath. His arms were folded over his chest, his head tilted to the side, dark hair spilling into his blue eyes. My pulse ratcheted up a few more notches. I was nervous before, but Jack made me a million times worse. A swarm of butterflies erupted in my stomach, rendering me speechless and stealing my brains. Butterfly bastards.

Jack’s soft blue eyes slid over my face, surprised. “Long time, Abby.” His lips were set into a thin line, his jaw tight. The tension in his shoulders said he wasn’t happy to see me. Pushing himself off the door, he strolled across the room. A pair of Chuck’s, covered in paint, adorned on his feet. My heart jumped into my throat. Jack didn’t look the way I remembered him, he looked better. It was like my mind had downplayed his looks to trick me into thinking I made him up. Voice still stolen by winged creatures wisping through my insides, I remained silent, with my eyes way too big for my body.

Dark hair hung in his eyes as he looked down at my information. He pointed to something that Gus had written. “This is interesting.”

Gus responded, “Would you like to take over, boss?” The way he addressed Jack surprised me. By comparison, it looked like Jack should be Gus’ assistant or office boy. He was dressed so casually while Gus was dressed like a businessman, suit and all.

My eyebrows shot up on my face, my hands clutched tightly in my lap, “Boss?” Oh, there’s my voice. Think, Abby, think! Jack’s the boss. What does that mean for me? The fat walrus in my brain said it meant I was screwed. Damn it!

Gus nodded, glancing up at Jack, then back at me. “Miss Tyndale, this is Jonathan Gray. He’s the artist and the owner.”

My face felt hot. “Oh, I didn’t realize...” Of course not. Why would I realize Jack was the owner? I couldn’t fathom why or how that was possible until Gus added, “Jonathan Gray is his penname, a pseudonym. Few people still know him as Jack Gray. As he became more successful his name became problematic—Jack Gray sounds like vodka, not an ambitious painter.” Gus crinkled his nose and I was guessing he preferred a bottle of wine to a bottle of Jack. I stared, shocked, as he spoke. If the sign had said Jack Gray, I would have never opened the door. Oh, holy hell. Now what? I wanted the job, but I wanted to get out of there too. My face felt hot. Think Abby, think!

Jack sat down across from me, his perfect body settling into the leather chair, his eyes locking with mine. “What brings you back to New York, Abby?” We’d been friends, once. But I left, and hadn’t spoken to him since. Actually, he was part of the reason I ran and didn’t look back. Nerves caught up with me and I realized that I was gripping my hands so hard they’d gone numb. Releasing them, I decided to be frank. The job would still fix things, and I still wanted it, even if it meant dealing with Jack.

“I need a job, Jack. Someone told me to try here, so I’m here.” It took every ounce of control I had to maintain the lock on his eyes. I wanted to look away. There was something about him—there always was—it was like he could see straight through me.

Jack leaned back in his chair, running his fingers through his dark hair. He let out a breath and sat up straight, pulling my papers in front of him on the table. As he read, he touched his fingers to his lips, “You may have a knack for dealing with people, Abby, but this job requires sales skills that you don’t have.” Still watching me, he said, “I’ll give you the job right now, if you can tell me how to sell a patron a 2.3 million dollar painting. It’s the least expensive in my collection.”

Someone must have sucked all the air out of the room, because I couldn’t breathe, “Million?” I knew I shouldn’t have asked, but I had to. This was Jack, for godsakes! The boy that dabbled in paint. But he was more now. A famous artist I didn’t know. And the reason that I didn’t know was because I didn’t talk to anyone we went to school with. I didn’t go to our high school reunions. I didn’t do Facebook or Twitter. I’d fallen off the grid, partly to get away from this boy who was now a successful man.

Jack nodded, and steepled his fingers. Head tilted, he said, “I’m serious. How would you sell it, Ab?”

Gus watched the exchange, smart enough not to interfere. The room was charged with emotion from the moment Jack entered. I had no idea what Jack was thinking. His posture said he didn’t care, not anymore, but his eyes said something entirely different. That blue gaze was dark, the tiny specs of light extinguished by God-knew-what. Gus leaned back in his chair, his pointer fingers resting against his chin. He tapped it periodically as his eyes shifted between us.

I stared at Jack for a moment, waiting for an answer to come to me, but it didn’t. I didn’t know how to do sales. Thoughts spilled into my head, things I could have tried to make into a reasonable attempt to sound like I knew what I was talking about, but I didn’t know. My stomach sank. Whatever was between us at one point was now one-sided because Jack sat there cooly gazing at me. Once upon a time, he would have realized how much I was squirming inside and put me out of my misery. But not now. Twisting my hands, I confessed, “I’m not sure.” My voice was quiet as I looked past Jack to the sea. The steady sound of waves crashing on the beach was nostalgic.

Jack saw my eyes look past him at the water on the other side of the window. He knew how much I loved the beach. “When was the last time you were home?” he asked.

My gaze drifted back to his face, avoiding his eyes. Pushing a stray hair out of my face, I said, “Haven’t been. I left and didn’t plan on coming back. But things changed, and, well, I got here last night. Today I’m sitting in front of you asking for a job that I need, and want, but can’t possibly get.” What was I saying? I cringed inside. There was this bravado in my voice mixed with something else I couldn’t identify. I had blurted out what I honestly thought with no expectations from Jack.

His voice was deep, surprised, “A job you want? You really want to do sales?” Risking another glance at his deep blue eyes I noticed the trail of dark stubble on his cheeks. He was beautiful. My stomach twisted as he looked at me. I nodded. I wanted this job. It would fix everything. The expression on Jack’s face led me to believe he might give it to me, but I was wrong. Looking away, he said, “The right answer is that you sell an expensive painting the same way you would sell any other work...” His hands rubbed his face, “How can I give you this position when there are others that are way more qualified? I’m sorry Abby, but this won’t work out.”

My teeth had taken hold of my bottom lip. I should have known as much. Begging Jack for a job was bad enough. He had a way of making me melt and do stupid things that I wouldn’t have normally done. That was the way he was back then—and it only seemed to have intensified with age.

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