Page 4 of Pretend Ring Girl

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“Fantastic.” AJ stands and sticks out his hand to give Vincente a shake, so I rise too, clutching my tablet to my chest. “It sounds like this will be a great project for the three of them to cut their teeth on and develop a rapport. Some day I’ll have to retire, the same as your father. I imagine you all will take over sooner rather than later.” While his snowy hair certainly lends strength to the argument that he’s nearing retirement age, AJ is far too spry and fit to trade in his Gucci suits for gardening gloves.

Definitely my definition of a silver fox.

“Wonderful. Just have your secretary set up a meeting when you have some sketches to go over. We look forward to getting started.”

The guys say their adieus to AJ, and to my surprise, all three of them approach me directly after, shaking my hand and telling me they’re looking forward to working together.

At least, that’s what I think happens. I’m sort of having an out-of-body experience and just mumble my way through, trying to slow my racing heart.

Once they pass through reception and I’m able to slink back to my desk, I finally start cooling down again.

“Well, that was a delightful surprise!” AJ plunks his folders down on my desk, blue eyes twinkling. “It’s always good when you can take advantage of a pre-existing relationship on a project. They all seem to like you, so that’s a good start.”

“Yeah, that was a surprise,” I agree. “I don’t really know any of them well. Elian the most, I suppose, because we worked together. But that was just a few hours a week. It’s not like we hung out otherwise.”

“Even so, they all seemed pleased to have you involved, so here’s what we’ll do: I’d like you to look at the specs they sent over and work on some sketches. It’s nothing sexy, but big shiny sky scrapers are few and far between. The work horses of our business are warehouses and industrial buildings, offices… you get it. They will want a few office spaces in the warehouse and they’ll have an owner’s suite that’s a little more on the glam side for Vincente Senior, or one of his boys, if he decides to park them there. So if you come up with a basic layout that they like, I’ll let you work on the more exciting stuff afterwards. Sound good?”

My heart is racing again, but not out of embarrassment. “Sure thing, Mr.- I mean, AJ. That sounds great, thank you!”

“Not a problem, Sloane. You’ve earned the opportunity, so it’s time to show me how well you use it.” He raps his knuckles on the desk twice, then picks up the folders and saunters back to his office, whistling.

The excitement is painted all over my face in a goofy grin. I can feel it in my cheeks. However, I can’t help it—my first project, and working with Kellerman himself!—I pull out a fresh pencil and a pad of graph paper. The drafting tablet is nice, but when I’m just starting with a concept, I like to experiment with the real thing.

A sarcastic tone from my neighbor immediately sours my good mood. “Wow, day one already sucking up to the boss. I gotta hand it to you, Susan. You’re smarter than you look.”

I keep my smile in place and turn stiffly toward him. “Once again, it’sSloane, and I don’t consider it sucking up to do what my boss asks me to do.”

“No, but you’re sure eager enough.”

“Well, this is the career I chose and the one I got my education for, so yes, I’d agree that I’m excited to do my job. If I weren’t, I wouldn’t be here.”

He’s got nothing else to throw at me, so Frank just harrumphs and turns back to his monitors.

Happy to have a project, I turn my focus to the pad in front of me and pull up the email AJ had just forwarded with the specs from Vargas Enterprises.

* * *

The grin on Rebecca’s face should have clued me in immediately, but I honestly don’t expect the flowers to be for me. It’s an enormous vase full of white roses, at least two dozen, and far more expensive of an arrangement than I’ve ever received when I had a boyfriend Let alone like now, when I’ve been single for a hot minute.

Incredibly, Rebecca beelines straight for my desk and sets the massive bouquet next to my keyboard. “These were just delivered for you,” she adds with a wink, then saunters back toward the reception area.

I slouch behind my monitors, aware that every eye in the room had tracked the progress of the flowers and now stares at them beadily, wondering who had sent the new girl such an outrageous gift. Honestly, it takes up a third of my desk, and the fragrance is already cutting through the sharp coffee scent from the break area.

Frank harrumphs and noisily slams his desk drawers to convey his disapproval, and I shift the flowers over so they block him from my view.Huh, well, looks like they’re useful for something.

I take a full five minutes to work up the nerve to snatch the tiny card from the plastic pick and I open it furtively, glad that most people have stopped staring so I can read it in peace.

As soon as I get the envelope open, I’m even more grateful I waited, because if anyone had been looking they’d be watching my eyes bug out from my head.

Congratulations on your new position! We are all looking forward to working with you more closely. -Elian Vargas

Holy shit! It was crazy enough that all three of the hottest men I’d ever drooled over in college were here yesterday and actually knew who I was. Now they’re sending me flowers? Did I suffer a mental break during finals and fall into some kind of wish-fulfilling coma?

If so, I could definitely use more of this drug, whatever it is.

Trying not to be too obvious about it, I lean toward the arrangement and draw in a deep breath of the sweet fragrance. They’re perfect blossoms, all snowy white, expertly cultivated and hand-picked with delicate stems and glossy leaves. These are not Costco roses, or a bunch grabbed from a grocery store bucket. A quick check of the card confirms they’re from a fancy florist in Bal Harbour. It must have cost a fair amount just to get them to deliver in downtown Miami.

I mean, of course they probably use the same fancy florist for everything. Funerals, birthdays, etcetera. I can’t read too much into the fact that it’s an expensive arrangement—these guys live in a freaking mansion. A couple hundred dollars on a vase of flowers is probably nothing to them.