Look the Part Exclusive
Chapter One Reveal
A Special Place in Hell—10 years later ...
Happy people should come with a warning.
“Hello, Attorney Flint Hopkin’s office. Amanda speaking … Yes … Okay … I’ll let him know. Thank you for calling. Have a fantastic day.”
Who says fantastic? The word comes from fantasy which means not real. My secretary, who did not come with a proper warning, tells everyone who calls here to have a “not real” day. She should work at Disney World.
The intercom on my office phone buzzes. I sigh. “Amanda, my door is open and no one else is here. You don’t have to use the intercom. I can hear you just fine.”
“How am I supposed to know if you’re on the phone?”
She rotates in her chair. I glance up from my computer, meeting her gaze.
“I don’t like to spy on you. When I do, the look you give me creeps me out.”
I scratch my chin. “I give you a look?”
She curls her blond hair behind her ears and gives me a sour face. “Yes. You never smile. It’s creepy.”
“Never?” I cock my head to the side.
“Well, except when Harrison shows up after school. The corners of your mouth turn up like…” her lips twist “…an eighth of an inch. And most people would miss it if they weren’t actively watching for it.”
Smiling is overrated. And she’s right; my son gets the best parts of me. What little remains.
“Who was on the phone?”
“Before you informed me of my creepiness, you paged me.”
“Oh, yes, Ellen Rodgers will be fifteen minutes late. She got held up at work.”
“Running late. Not a good sign. Probably means she’ll be late with rent each month.”
“Yes, Flint. You’re probably right. She got held up at work, a place she goes to make money. That’s definitely a sign that she’ll be late with rent.” Amanda swings back around to her desk.
“You’re rolling your eyes at me.” I return my attention to my computer screen.
“I would never do that, Boss.”
Twenty-five minutes later, there’s chatter in the waiting room. My focus stays on my computer. There’s no reason to give Ms. Rodgers the impression I have nothing better to do than wait for her.
My phone vibrates on my desk.
AMANDA: Ellen Rodgers is here. I imagine you know this. She’s not a client, so I wasn’t sure if her arrival warranted an intercom announcement or a verbal announcement since your door is open. How do you want me to proceed with this delicate situation?
ME: You’re fired.
AMANDA: For real!!!! Gosh, I have so much laundry to catch up on at home. Thank you!
Note to self: Never hire a female secretary again.
ME: Not for real. Send her back and get me that research I requested three days ago.
AMANDA: I’ll send her back. And I put that research on the bookshelf behind your desk 2 days ago. : )
“Women,” I mumble.
“Hello.” The woman applying to rent the space above my office charges toward me with her hand held out. “I’m Ellen Rodgers. I apologize for my tardiness.”
I stand and shake her hand. She’s unexpected. Cheerful—in need of a warning label. I let her enthusiasm for life slide this time because she’s easy on the eyes.
“Flint Hopkins. And it’s fine.” I glance over her shoulder to our audience of one. Amanda shoots me a sly grin. I narrow my eyes until she turns back around.
“Please, have a seat,” I point to the chair by my desk.
Ellen drops her handbag on the floor with an ungraceful thump. She must live out of her purse.
I home in on her shaky hands unbuttoning her gray wool coat that’s overkill for the sixty-degree day. “Forgive my appearance. I had lunch with a four-year-old girl who has a few coordination issues.”
Ironic. She appears to have a few of her own.
Long auburn hair stops short of covering the blotchy red stain on her fitted white sweater.
My gaze snaps to hers after it dawns on me that I’m staring at the stain, which happens to be over her breast. “Did you get the contract from Amanda the other day when she showed you the space?”
“Yes. Thank you.” Ellen drapes her coat over the back of the chair and takes a seat.
“Do you have any questions about it?”
“Nope. Looks pretty standard. I love this location, but it’s impossible to find available spaces. So I was really excited when I found your ad the same day you posted it.”
I scan her application even though I’ve read it over a dozen times. “You’re a music therapist?”
“Music is considered therapy?”
Ellen chuckles. It’s childlike. Her face is childlike too. Must be the freckles and light blue eyes.
“Yes. Think of it as an alternative therapy. But it’s a legit job. I have a degree for my speciality like any other healthcare professional.” She points at my hands folded on my desk. “Nice cufflinks, by the way.”
I glance down and adjust each one. “Thank you.”
Her teeth trap her glossed lips as if she wants to grin, but something inside vetoes the idea. “Sorry. That was sort of left field of me. I’m a little nervous.”
“Why is that?” I ask while opening an email from a client.
She’s humming. Why is she humming?
“Because I want the space.”
“Uh, yes. I sent them to your secretary.”
I press the intercom button. “Amanda, I need those references.”
“On the shelf next to the research you requested,” she calls from her desk. Then the intercom buzzes. “You’re welcome, Mr. Hopkins.”
Ellen stifles a laugh as I draw in a slow breath of control.
“Well, then. I’ll check your reference—”
“I checked them,” Amanda says sans intercom.
Amanda stands and slings her purse over her shoulder. “I’ll file for unemployment in the morning.”
“Have a good evening,” I mumble, giving her a look—maybe the look.
“Night, Flint.” She winks.
When the lock clicks, I return my attention to big, blue, unblinking eyes. Even her cheeks, which had been a bit rosy when she arrived, are now void of all color except her freckles.
“I fire her on a daily basis. She has no respect for authority.”
Ellen’s body remains statuesque, eyes shifting in tiny increments searching mine.
I turn and grab the references off the shelf behind me. On the papers in my hands there are a fair amount of good references. There’s really no reason not to rent her the space other than my obsession with crossing more t’s and dotting more i’s than exist on the proverbial paper. Absolute control is my life.
A cautious smile rides up her face. “You’re a hard man to read, Mr. Hopkins.”
A dark read.
“And you’re my newest tenant. Welcome. I’ll need two months’ rent and your signature on these papers.” I slide the rental agreement that Amanda clipped to Ellen’s references across my desk along with a pen.
There’s a certain amount of envy I feel toward her. I can’t remember the last time I smiled like that over anything. And she’s lit up like a night in July over something as insignificant as a second-story space outside of downtown Minneapolis.
“Thank you. You’ve made my day. Heck, you’ve made my week.” She scribbles her name and initials by all the sticky arrows Amanda attached to the agreement, and she writes out a check with music notes on it.
“You’re welcome.” I unlock my side desk drawer and retrieve the keys. “Here are two sets of keys. One is to the building and the other is to your office space. Everything is secured with an alarm system, so I’ll show you how to set your own code for that. From six at night to seven in the morning, the main doors to the building are locked. If you see clients during those hours, you will need to escort them in and out of the building. If you have issues with anything, you first try Amanda and then you call me if she is unavailable.”
“Amanda? The woman you just fired?”
I stand and slip on my suit jacket, buttoning it and adjusting my tie. Ellen holds her smile like she’s waiting for my reaction to her comment. “Yes.” To-the-point. That’s all she will get from me.
It took Amanda five years to worm her way into my existence to the point where I need her—but only professionally. She could piss in my coffee and I still wouldn’t fire her because she’s the woman behind one of the best attorneys in Minneapolis—me. And the only thing that makes me happier than her anticipating my every move twenty-four hours before I make it is her husband and three children. I am her job. Period.
“Follow me.” I walk past Ellen, dodging the waves of happiness that flow from her all-too-giddy smile.
“It seems really cold outside. It wasn’t this cold last year at this time.” Ellen rubs her hands together and blows on them as we ride up the elevator.
I narrow one eye at her. “Sixty degrees is not cold in Minnesota. This time last year it was unusually warm. This is normal.”
“I moved here from California.” She lifts her shoulders to shrug and blows on her hands some more.
“I know.” I nod toward the elevator doors as they open.
“Of course.” She smiles as she steps off the elevator. “My references.”
I steal a second to glance at her from behind. As much as I don’t want to notice her subtle curves and her perky ass, I can’t help it.
“You coming?” She tosses a flirty look over her shoulder at me.
I don’t think she’s trying to be flirty; it’s just a familiar look. It’s the way my wife used to look at me. “Yes.” I mentally shake it off and follow her two doors to the left.
“Four offices total, right?”
I use my key to open the door to her space and shut off the alarm. “Yes. Mine, an optometrist across the lobby from me, and on the other side of you is an accounting firm. Here…” I step aside “…it’s ready for you to type in a six-digit code.”
She types in two numbers and then peers over at me. “You’re watching me type in my personal code?”
“My code is the master code. I can get into any of the offices. You’re not keeping me out.”
“I reuse codes.” Her lips pull into a tight grin.
On a sigh, I turn my back to her.
“Thank you.” The keypad beeps four more times.
I turn back around and push the pound key. “That code will get you in the building as well.”
She nods and roams around the empty room with nothing more than a bathroom in the far corner. A familiar hum fills the room. It’s “You Are My Sunshine.” I know it because Heidi sang it to Harrison a million times. Why is she humming that song?
“I love having a full wall of windows.”
After catching myself watching her too intently again, I clear my throat. “Any more questions before I take off?”
She turns and resumes her humming. I glance out the window over her shoulder because I can’t look at her without staring at her. Something about her has triggered something in me, throwing my control off kilter. I pump my fists a few times then glance at my watch. Maybe I can hit the gym before it’s time to get Harrison from his after-school robotics class.
“I’m good. I’ll move my stuff in this weekend if that’s okay?”
“The space is yours now. You don’t need my permission.”
“Thank you.” She grins and then spins in several circles.
What the fuck?
“I love it!” She stops and hugs her hands to her chest, blue eyes alive with gratitude like I just gave her a new car or something much more exciting than five hundred square feet of space—which she’s paying a lot to rent from me.
“Okay, then.” I slowly back my way toward the door. “You have Amanda’s number, so we’re good?” This is my code for I don’t have to see you again unless there’s a catastrophic emergency.
“One hundred percent good.” She presses her thumb and index finger together in an A-Okay sign.