Home > Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3)(7)

Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3)(7)
Author: Staci Hart

One doesn’t sit in the office of one of the most influential editors in New York and say no, especially not when she was dangling the carrot of your dreams in front of you, and especially not someone like me who couldn’t say no to her cat.

So I tried to smile and offered the only promise I could, “I’ll consider it.”

Less than an hour later, I dragged myself across the threshold of my brownstone in the Village, mentally exhausted and aching to be alone.

I was peopled the fuck out.

Between Thomas Bane’s pheromone overload, Janessa’s proposition, and the several thousand people I’d just shared air with, my energy was completely sapped along with my ability to brain. But a long, hot bath with a book was waiting for me, and I’d been obsessing about it since I burst out of the Times’ building like someone was chasing me.

Which was why I found myself uncharacteristically disappointed to find all my roommates in the kitchen, laughing. Any other day, I would have been overjoyed for us all to be together, as rare as it was these days. Val and Rin were in serious relationships, and most of their time was spent with their boyfriends. Coming back to our place—to my place—was becoming more and more of a chore for them, though I knew they’d never admit it. They did it for Katherine’s and my benefit.

God help us once they were all married. I’d end up alone in this big house. One cat wouldn’t be enough. I’d need at least three more if I was really going to commit.

I sighed, hanging up my coat, scarf, and bag, grateful that there were no men in my kitchen. Thomas Bane had given me enough male presence for a month.

“Hey!” Val called from her spot in front of the stove, brushing her curly hair from her forehead with the back of her hand.

Rin and Katherine turned, smiling. Well, Rin was smiling. Katherine just wasn’t frowning. Even sullen, Katherine was pretty, her dark hair straight and perfect, her face untouched by makeup, her shirtdress tailored to calculated precision. To be honest, she looked like a librarian—strict, smart, and stern. I’d bet she’d dole out a solid spanking, too.

“Hey,” I echoed, trying to sound peppy as I hauled my jellybrained self to the kitchen island and plopped down on a stool.

“That good, huh?” Val asked with a teasing smile, turning for the pan of sizzling paella on the stove.

I groaned. “Too many people. The bookstore was crazy. Midtown was packed. The USA Times’ office alone is enough to make me crawl into bed for a year.”

Val’s heart-shaped face pinched. “So I guess now’s a bad time to tell you that Sam and Court are coming over for dinner?”

Another groan, this one drawn out and accompanied by a magnificent slump of my shoulders.

Rin’s face fell. “We should cancel. The boys won’t mind.”

I sighed, straightening up. “No, no. Don’t cancel it. Just don’t be offended if I dip out early to lock myself in my room.”

“You sure?” Val asked, her face mirroring Rin’s.

“Positive. I’d feel a hundred times worse if they didn’t come on account of me.” I put on a smile, though I knew it was weary.

They relaxed, seeming relieved.

Val pushed the paella around the pan, her curvaceous hip leaning on the counter. “So how did it go meeting Thomas Bane?”

“Well, I didn’t faint.”

They chuckled, and I found myself smiling genuinely, my exhaustion and anxiety seeping out of me now that I was home and with my friends.

“He’s…intense. Very intense, very smirky, and he smells very good.”

Katherine gave me a look. “You got close enough to smell him?”

“We took a picture together.”

Now all three of them were looking at me.

“At his insistence. Janessa said it was already on Instagram.”

Simultaneously, the three of them reached for their phones. Belatedly, I reached for mine. I hadn’t considered really looking. I’d been too focused on navigating all the people.

“Oh my God,” Val breathed. “He is gorgeous.”

“Look at you.” Rin beamed. “What a great picture, Amelia.”

“This already has twelve thousand likes,” Katherine noted.

“Holy shit, it does.” Val gaped at her phone. “How many new followers do you have?”

I swallowed hard and pulled up my account. My eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. “Two thousand. That can’t be right.” I checked my analytics. “Or it can.” With a nervous laugh, I set my phone facedown on the counter, not ready to deal with whatever the hell that meant. “He asked me to help him with his next book.”

Three faces swiveled in my direction.

“But you hate his books.” Val’s brows drew together.

“Why does everyone keep saying that?” My forehead furrowed. “Just because I don’t leave him five-star reviews doesn’t mean I hate his books. I love his books. I hate his heroes.”

“Ugh, like that one you made me read. You know the one. With the guy who slept with that other girl just because his ego was bruised? God, he was the worst. Fuck that guy,” Val said.

“That’s close to what I told him.”

Val laughed. “You didn’t!”

I shrugged. “He asked.”

Her smile fell. “I mean…you actually talked to him?”

“I did,” I said, half in wonder. “He accused me of hating him too, so I explained myself. And then he asked me to be on his team. To tell him no.”

Katherine frowned. “As in to refuse his request?”

“No, as in to help him by telling him to stop writing assholes.”

“And you said no,” Katherine added.

“I said yes.”

They blinked.

“Don’t look at me like that. If you were standing in front of him and he asked you for anything, you’d give it to him. I mean it. Anything.”

“A blow job?” Katherine countered. “With your exceptionally small palate?”

“Your ass?” Val asked with a smirk.

“I was just gonna say a kiss,” Rin said, “but I feel like I should up the ante.”

I laughed. “Anything. I couldn’t have been more surprised if he’d asked me to fly to Vegas to get married.”

“You wouldn’t have said yes to that,” Val said on a laugh.

“I dunno. I don’t think I could have said no to anything. Even the invasion of my tiny mouth or ass.”

We looked at each other for a silent moment before bursting into laughter.

“But really, I’d love to help him. Plus, it’s an opportunity to add another book to my résumé when I’m ready to start applying for internships—and a book by Thomas Bane to boot.”

“I can’t believe Thomas Bane asked you to help him with his book,” Rin said, shaking her head. She still wore a pencil skirt and tailored shirt from her day at The Met, though she’d kicked off her heels, which took her back to a solid six feet from an almost astronomic height. Her hair was dark and shiny, her bee-sting lips full and crimson. Her skin was even fairer than mine, thanks to her Korean-Dutch roots.

Seriously, she should have been a model. But she was almost as shy as I was. Well, before she’d started working at the museum at least.

“Wasn’t he just one of People’s Sexiest Men Alive?” Val asked.

“Yes,” Katherine answered, slipping off her stool. “It’s right here in my knitting basket.” She shuffled around in the living room.

Val snorted a laugh. “Care to explain why you’re trolling sexy men in People?”

“I read it for the ads,” Katherine said flatly.

I was mostly sure she was kidding. A second later, the magazine hit the countertop with a smack, opened to his page.

We leaned over it in unison. The spread was a series of shots of him in Washington Square with a golden retriever, looking happy and carefree while also somehow managing to smolder. I attributed it to that ridiculously luscious mouth of his. The title of his segment was, “Bad Boy Bane: Love to Hate Him.” Although I didn’t know how anyone could hate him when he was scruffing his dog’s face or whipping a tennis ball with that arm of his that looked Photoshopped. If I hadn’t had that python wrapped around me earlier, I wouldn’t have believed it myself.

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