Crave Me - Chapter One
I drop the keys in Mr. Esposito’s hand and smile. He stares at them in his open palm like a precious gift, because to someone like him who’s worked hard all his life, it very much is.
“Thank you, Wren,” he says, meeting my smile. “I never thought I’d own a new car. Let alone be able to give one to my son as a gift.”
“You deserve it, Mr. Esposito,” I tell him, shaking his hand. “And so does your son for getting into Drexel. Tell Antonio, hi for me―Oh, and be sure to have someone take his picture when you hand him the keys.” I motion to my office behind me. “I want to add it to my memory wall.”
“I will.” He presses his lips tight as if considering what to say. “Your father would be proud of you,” he tells me. His soft brown eyes take in the massive dealership, fixing on the sales board displaying my current rank at number one. “Very proud.”
I hold onto my smile as he walks toward the brand new candy apple red F-150 hugging the curb, ignoring the brutal January wind that sweeps in when the doors to the lot zip open. Mr. Esposito pauses when he opens the driver’s side door. I had the boys in the back place a bow on the dash like I do for all my customers. I think it’s a nice touch, and a way to thank them for their business. Mr. Esposito tosses me a grin over his shoulder. Maybe it’s the wind slapping against his face, or maybe it’s because he’s just that touched, but I catch his eyes glistening with tears.
Slowly he slips inside and grips the wheel, his widening smile lifting his deeply worn features.
The moment he pulls away, my smile vanishes. “Your father would be proud of you,” he’d said. He meant it as a compliment. Mr. Esposito has always been nice like that. But instead of giving me the warm fuzzies, that familiar pang tugs at my insides.
My heels click against the bleached white tile as I cross the showroom. The phones ringing off the hook have me turning toward the finance department. It’s been a nasty winter with all the snow we’ve been hit with, but I can’t say it’s been bad for business. One of the secretaries waves to me as she hurries to answer the phone. I wave back, not that she seems to notice. She starts writing as she takes the first call. Yeah, it’s going to be a busy week. But busy means work, and that’s something I’ve always been good at.
My eyes narrow when they fix on Oscar looming over Penny. Penny is smart, and an overall good person. She’s young, and hasn’t been here long, but she’s trying, and I know she has it in her to succeed. Too bad Oscar is stomping on her success, luring customers away from her every chance he gets.
“You snooze, you lose,” he tells her, pegging her with one of his more sleazy grins.
Penny was making headway with the guy who walked in, until Oscar shoved his way between them and baited him away, making Penny look like she didn’t know what she was talking about. If I hadn’t been busy with Mr. Esposito, I would have stepped in. Nothing gets me more than men who target those they think are weak.
“Wren!” Suze calls from behind the counter. “You have a call.”
“Okay. Send it through to my office,” I yell. I rush across the last few feet of the showroom, but not before I make sure Oscar steps far away from Penny.
The phone rings once, twice, before I slam the door behind me with my foot and reach across my desk and put the call on speaker. “Erin O’Brien,” I say.
There’s a brief pause before I hear, “Hi, Wren.”
Shit. My stomach twists the way it always does when I hear his voice. “What do you want, Bryant?” I ask, digging out my cell phone from my desk drawer.
“I miss you,” he says.
“Do you miss hitting me, too?” I fire back.
I’m talking tough. It’s what I do. Too bad I don’t feel so tough right now. Not when it comes to Bryant. A familiar sense of dread sends a chill down my spine, reminding me what happened the last time I pissed him off. I hit the record icon on my cell phone, hoping to catch him saying something I can use against him. But the damn thing beeps, and for all Bryant is an asshole, he’s not stupid.
“Are you recording me, pretty girl?” He laughs when I don’t answer. “Now, why would you do a thing like that?”
“Because I don’t trust you, because you hit me―oh, and because you’re an asshole.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says, keeping his voice easy. “I’m just returning your call. You keep calling me so―”
“That’s a lie,” I say, my face heating with anger. He knows I’m recording him and trying to switch things around. “Don’t call me again. I want nothing to do with you.”
I hang up the phone. It’s been months since I last saw him, months since he last put his hands on me. But just when I think I’m rid of him, he reminds me he’s still there.
I could call the police. The problem is, he is the police . . .
My Jaguar skids, again, again, and again, fighting to keep pace with the other drivers insane enough to travel the Blue Route in this weather. Chunks of wet snow smack against my windshield. My wipers squeak against the glass as they race to keep my line of sight clear when another vehicle cuts me off, pelting my windshield with more ice. My current struggle with life and death does not evidently discourage Ashleigh from barking messages over my Bluetooth.
“Yodel called again, Evan. They want you to reconsider.”
“No,” I reply, cutting my steering wheel toward the left when my car veers right. “We’re representing Mellon, their biggest competitor. It’s a conflict of interest to supply both companies with the same technology.”
I mutter a curse when the minivan in front of me slams on their brakes and I narrowly miss ramming the bumper. And I suppose, because we’re in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly love, the woman rolls down the window, permitting snow into her vehicle just to wave an irate middle finger at me.
“Rich Bitch loser,” she cries out.
I rub my face. Bloody hell, why am I here again? Before I can finish the thought, Ashleigh reminds me.
“Evan, we’re at risk for financial collapse. The company needs the revenue.”
“Not at the expense of our ethics,” I counter.
True, my company is at risk. But it’s due to poor business practices, such as the ones Ashleigh suggests I entertain. I understand she learned these tactics from my predecessor, but he was a conniving snake―which is why he’s currently serving time for embezzlement and I had to leave London to rebuild my father’s dying empire.
“What about your eleven a.m. with the V.P. of County General?”
“Have Anne and Clifton start straight away. I emailed them the presentation last night―”
“Do you really think they’re qualified?” she interrupts.
I open my mouth to insist that they are and to remind her I’m her superior, not the other way around. But I’m not oblivious to what she tells me. Anne and Clifton are fairly new and not at the level I’d prefer them to be. Nevertheless, they’re learning fast under my tutelage and the only ones from the original staff I trust.
“Evan,” she presses.
“Ashleigh, Anne and Clifton will handle it. That’s my final word.” I disconnect, swearing as I take the ramp and practically slide down sideways.
Another proud Pennsylvanian sticks his head out the window. “Get a real car, fucker,” he hollers.
I rub my face again, tired and frustrated. I didn’t arrive home until three this morning. It wouldn’t have taken as long had I been driving a vehicle capable of enduring this ungodly weather.
I glance up, releasing a tense breath when the sign for the Ford dealership I researched comes into view. Saving iCronos will take me time. Time I can’t spare driving a Jaguar on roads better maneuvered via dogsled.
My car slows to a stop in front of the massive dealership. The combination of the vehicle I’m driving, along with the expensive suit and coat I’m wearing, command attention. The moment I step inside, a young woman with dark spiky hair hurries over. “Good morning, sir. I’m Penny,” she says. “Welcome to Ford Nation. Are you interested in acquiring a new vehicle?”
She seems young, but eager, a respectable attribute. Yet no sooner does she finish speaking than a man about my age steps in front of her, adjusting the jacket of his gray suit. “I got this, P,” he tells her. “Get us some coffee, will you?” He holds out his hand. “Hello. I’m Oscar Nelson. Welcome to Ford Nation.”
My frown bounces from his hand to the young woman whose face is now bright red with humiliation and possibly more. “Are you his assistant?” I ask her.
“No,” she answers. “I’m a car sales representative―”
Oscar speaks over her, but it’s the sound of quickly approaching footsteps that causes me to turn. A woman with a pinstripe jacket and matching skirt hurries forward, the quick motions of her long legs causing the edge of her skirt to brush above her knees and swing her hips seductively. Long hair flutters like streams of ebony smoke, revealing a staggeringly beautiful face better suited for my wildest fantasies.
I spent the first five years following the completion of my doctorate in either a lab or boardroom packed with men in alternating stages of balding, and these last nine months trapped in a building working a minimum of eighteen hour days. I haven’t had the opportunity or time to meet women. But if I’d known she was out here, I’d have spared a moment.
Good . . . God.
I don’t realize I’m staring until she stops directly in front of us and juts out her chin. “Problem?” she asks Oscar.
Oscar straightens to his full height. “No. I was just showing Mr. . . .” He motions to me. “My apologies, what’s your name, sir?”
“Jonah,” I say, returning my attention to the stunning young woman. I offer her my hand. “Evan Jonah.”
Full pink lips lift into a dazzling smile that resonates in her deep blue eyes and lights her creamy white skin.
“I’m Erin O’Brien, but I go by Wren,” she says. She shakes my hand with a firm grip, releasing me to guide the smaller woman forward. “How can Penny and I help you today, sir?”
“I’m afraid my vehicle isn’t equipped for this weather and I am seeking a better alternative, possibly a truck or SUV,” I reply, doing all in my power to keep my focus on her face.
“Then you’ve come to the right place. Penny, will you show Mr. Jonah―”
“Evan,” I interrupt, mentally kicking myself for morphing into a fourteen year old boy the moment my eyes locked on this woman.
“Okay, Evan,” she says. “Penny, please show Evan the latest members of the Ford family.”
“Of course, this way, sir,” Penny answers with a grin.
I reluctantly follow behind Penny. But as we reach a black Explorer my gaze trails back to Wren. She and Oscar have moved away from the showroom and closer to the rear offices. Yet it does little to muffle their exchange.
“What the fuck was that?” Oscar snaps.
My spine stiffens. I storm forward, ready to demand he apologize for using such foul language in the presence of a lady.
“You being a raging asshole,” Wren replies.
I’ll admit, her response gives me pause. And she doesn’t stop there. “Look, I know you have to compensate for your less than average-sized dick. But that doesn’t give you the right to mistreat Penny or pounce on every client she approaches. That’s bullshit and you know it.”
“Um, perhaps a truck will be more to your needs,” Penny says, motioning to the opposite side of the dealership and away from the heated conversation.
I don’t typically involve myself in affairs that don’t concern me, or interact with women who speak in such a manner. But it’s not simply Wren’s colorful vocabulary that captivates me, it’s her strength and desire to defend her small friend.
“Where the fuck did you hear that?” Oscar responds. “I don’t have a small dick.”
Of all his possible retorts, this is the one he chooses?
“Suze,” Wren calls over her shoulder in the direction of the finance counter. “What was it you said about that night you went out with Oscar?”
The woman behind the counter scowls and holds up her pinky. Wren smirks. “Looks to me like you should have called her back.” She pats his shoulder. “My condolences to your man parts.”
She starts to walk away, stopping when she realizes I witnessed their encounter. Instead of making a quick escape or pretending I didn’t hear them, she walks toward me with her head raised. “Sorry about that, Mr. Jonah―”
“Evan,” I clarify as she reaches me.
Her smile stirs one of my own. “Evan,” she repeats, lifting a hand toward her friend. “I see Penny is taking good care of you.”
“Um, maybe you can take over,” Penny says. She edges away, aware of how taken I am with Wren.
Wren tilts her head. “I don’t want to step all over your pitch,” she says.
“You’re not,” she responds. “I’ll take the next one. Honest.”
Wren waits for Penny to leave before turning to face me. She considers me a moment, but then motions back to the Explorer. “This is the latest model in Ford luxury,” she begins. “Comfortable, secure, capable of meeting all your commuting needs, and packed with plenty of toys.”
I follow her as she leads me around the vehicle. The ease of her speech and relaxed posture demonstrate a confident woman who knows her job well. I question her about the vehicle’s basics first: mileage, warranty, and safety features, before testing her intelligence further. She doesn’t disappoint, explaining everything in detail down to the engine’s construction, adding to my growing attraction.
“Would you like to take her for a ride?” she asks. She punches my arm affectionately, the motion only briefly luring my attention away from her delicate features. “This way you can see how smoothly she handles the road and ask, ‘Wren, how did I ever survive without a Ford?’”
“I’d like that,” I answer, my deep voice quieting. This woman who appears more elite model than sales representative knows exactly what she’s doing. “Very much.”
“Good,” she says, pointing at me. “You’ll wonder how you ever got along without her.”
As I watch her walk away, I start to wonder that myself.
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