Author's Note: I know, I know. It's been two years since my last update. I'm sorry! I've been busy, what can I say? Enjoy this new chapter!
Traffic from JFK back to the Lawrence Building was terrible. Mia was fairly certain that they had not moved an inch in the past five minutes--the man in the blue car next to them was leering at her from the exact same spot he was five minutes prior. She knitted her eyebrows and returned her gaze to the glowing computer screen, tapping at her macbook in what she hoped was a professional manner. She wanted to make a good first impression on Alexander's lawyer.
Mia's To-Do List, she typed efficiently.
1. Reschedule Alex's psychiatrist for Friday.
2. Alex's wife back in ny--send her catalogue of received Christmas presents for review.
3. Alex's wife is back to town. I kissed supermodel, Paula Lu's millionaire husband in the back of his car.
4. And enjoyed it.
6. I lied to him to get money.
Mia sighed, erased numbers 3 through 7, then started typing again. Her fingers flew across the keyboard. Being a freelance writer through her college years had at least one advantage--she could type pretty fast. If she were watching herself as an outsider, she would conclude that she looked pretty damn professional. Not that Mark Huang would really notice. He sat beside her in the backseat, completely absorbed in his iPhone.
Damn, Mia thought, he must be really busy.
Mark was really kind of contradictory--after describing to Carlos in semi-lewd detail the happenings on his international flight from Hong Kong to New York with the stewardess--he sank into a brief silence contemplating the bumper-to-bumper traffic outside, then took out his iPhone. He had not looked up for about ten minutes. Mia used this time to unabashedly examine him.
Mark, she decided, must be one of those half Asian, half Caucasian types. Like Alexander's wife, her mind prompted unnecessarily. He had eyelashes long enough to make any girl envious, a mop of light brown hair, and dark almond eyes. His tie was loosened, the first shirt button undone, and he had taken off his jacket and thrown it over the front seat at the first chance he got. He didn't seem as tall as Alexander--though she couldn't be sure because he was seated--but, he, too seemed to possess some of the presence Alexander had around people. It was hard to ignore his presence, just like it was difficult to ignore Alexander's. The only difference was that Mark's presence was soothing while Alexander's could set the most tranquil Buddhist on edge.
"Enjoying the view?" Mark asked without looking up from his iPhone's screen.
Mia flushed at being caught looking, meekly returning her gaze to her macbook. "Not much to look at," she quipped quietly. When her dignity was threatened, she automatically fell back on retorts. Though her comment about Mark's unimpressive looks was untrue, her mind conceded. Mark was cute--he had the kind of devil-may-care, reckless look that she knew Becky would go crazy for. Then, cursing her mouth for always being a bit too unforgiving, she added lamely, "Just, you know, looking at lots of traffic and cars and...stuff."
"Ah, yes, cars," Mark replied somberly. Still, he never looked up at her. "You'll see that sometimes on a highway."
So Mark was prone to douchebaggery. Another trait he shares with Alexander, Mia noted. No wonder the two are friends.
Clearing her throat softly, she returned to working on her computer and typed furiously, as if demonstrating to the lawyer next to her the sort of corporate professionalism she was capable of. She didn't want to look lazy next to a workaholic like Alexander.
"Well, shit," Mark cursed softly. "I lost."
Mia looked up. "Lost what?"
"A game," he said, putting his iPhone back in his pocket. "And I was so close to beating my high score."
A game. He had been playing a game on his iPhone. And all this time, she thought he was planning the legal tactics of some hostile corporate take-over.
"You looked so serious--I thought you were working," she admitted.
He laughed. "I guess I should be, but I'm giving myself the day off. Exxonmobil is signing that contract with us--there'll be plenty of work with them in the future. Today is a day for relaxation and quiet contemplation of the riches to come."
No wonder Alexander was so keen on looking good that morning. Mia guessed that, the way Mark was talking about the Exxonmobil contract, Alexander must have worked hard to get it. She was proud of herself for getting him dressed in the men's bathroom on the day of the signing. In the end, the pink tie was the better choice. She hoped he didn't strip off the pink tie and replace it with the blue as soon as she left for the airport to pick up Mark.
"So, do you usually work at the Hong Kong office?" Mia asked him.
He shook his head. "I usually stick pretty close with Alex in New York. My mother's a bit sick so I mostly flew to Hong Kong to visit her. And, of course, there's no such thing as a vacation when you're working for Lawrence Holdings, so I also took care of a few things in the East Asian division."
"Mr. Huang's mother is a famous singer," Carlos piped up from the front.
Mark made a face. "Oh, way back in the seventies," he said defensively. "Now she mainly plays her records for friends while they play ma jong."
Just then, Mark's phone rang. He grinned as he looked at caller ID. "It's Alex," he told Mia. "He's probably freaking out because his obsessive compulsion tells him to sign his name three times, but there's only a line for one."
Mia laughed despite herself and went back to typing just as Mark answered the phone with a mocking, "Yes, Mr. Lawrence?"
8. Call Landon and tell him he's invited to the New Year's gala, Mia typed. 9. Make dinner reservations at
"You've got to be kidding me! They didn't give a reason for walking out?" Mark suddenly yelled, causing both her and Carlos to jump slightly in their seats. "Don't worry. There's always a reason. I'll get it out of them. Yes...yes...No, you're right. We've got too many manhours on this thing to lose it, now. Mhm...yeah...I'll call my contacts at Exxon Mobil right now. Right...yes...I know...It's this godforsaken Manhattan traffic--I'll be there as quickly as I can."
Mia watched him warily. In two minutes flat, Mark's entire demeanor had changed. Gone were the boyish restlessness and easy smiles. There was something a little fearsome in his expression, the way his eyes narrowed and the steely, controlled way he spoke to his Exxon Mobil contact on the phone.
Mia knew better than to talk to Mark. She didn't need to ask what was wrong--the ExxonMobil contract had fallen through. She wasn't sure if this bode well or not for her relations with Alexander Lawrence. On one hand, he would now be too distracted to care about the twenty thousand dollars he lent her. On the other hand, Alexander's bad mood would probably make him go from difficult to handle to impossible.
The fifty-fourth floor was never a very rambunctious place. No one stopped to chat for more than a few minutes, went on frequent coffee breaks, or even used the restroom too often. Alexander's office, with its clear glass windows, was like an all-seeing eye. But, for the past few days, Alexander had been shutting himself in the meeting room with Mark and several other of Lawrence Holding's senior members. The fifty-fourth floor was suddenly lively--kind of.
Word had yet to leak out about ExxonMobil walking out of the contract with no reason--or, as Alexander said, no believable reason. When Mia returned from the airport with Mark, Alexander had warned her very explicitly to not speak to anyone about anything she may or may not have heard regarding ExxonMobil.
That was four days ago--and Alexander had not spoken a word to her since. She had periodically gone to see him in the meeting room to prompt him about certain meetings, lunch or dinner obligations. Alexander had only nodded briefly to her words before returning to some heated discussion with Mark.
"I suppose I should be relieved," Mia confided to Becky back in their apartment. They were sitting on their couch, listening to Ella Fitzgerald and eating Chinese take-out. "I thought I'd have so many relationship complications with Alexander regarding the money, the kiss, the dates, and, you know, the fact that he's married. But he hasn't mentioned anything about it since Mark came back."
"Mark?" Becky asked through a mouthful of chow mein.
"The lawyer guy I told you about," Mia replied.
"Ooh, yeah," Becky smiled, swallowing. "The cute one who went to Harvard Law School." She put the takeout box on the carpet--Mia made a small noise of protest. Working with Alexander daily was making her a bit anal with cleanliness. "So this is good. We have the money. We're not being evicted. You're probably the highest paying personal assistant in history. And your boss politely ignores the fact that you two got drunk and made out in the back of his car like teenagers."
It was good, Mia had to admit. But she couldn't get rid of the nagging feeling that she actually didn't like being ignored by Alexander. She was used to his eyes following her legs in a dress or the weird way he smiled at her sometimes, prompting her to have an insane desire to pay good money to know what he was thinking.
"Yep," Mia sighed. She prodded her fried rice. "Now all I have to do is fix things with Landon and my life would be perfect. Well...that, and finding an actual job."
"An actual job?" Rebecca asked, raising her eyebrows. "Baby, you're making thirty dollars an hour."
"Yeah, by running across town to get coffee, lunch, picking up dry cleaning, and taking shit from a boss who's cold one second and hot the next," Mia pointed out. "That's not really the job I had in mind when I graduated."
"Oh, don't be so idealistic," Becky said, exasperated. "It was forgivable to have career dreams when we just graduated. You wanted to be a Nobel prize winner and I just wanted to be famous. But...come on."
Mia sighed. She gave up on her food and just curled up on the couch. "You know those stories where the heroine always finds her life calling through some sort of personal epiphany? Like when Becky Bloomwood in Shopoholic realized she was destined to be a personal shopper or...even when Hilary Swank in P.S. I Love You realized she had always meant to design shoes."
Becky grinned. "You want a personal epiphany?"
Mia laughed slightly at the ridiculousness of it. "Don't you?"
"Sure," Becky shrugged. "But as for you, I think you should be a professional gold digger."
"Hmm." Mia pretended to think about this. "Yes," she said in a faux-dreamy voice. "I can already see my name in lights--Mia Sherton: Heartless Vixen Who Leeches on Big Bank Accounts, Then Leaves Them Sucked Dry."
"Kind long, don't you think?" Becky said thoughtfully. "Maybe you can just condense it to 'Mia Sherton: Sexy Bitch Who Happens to Have Bills to Pay'."
Mia laughed. "Sounds perfect. I'll have that printed on my business card."
"There. Now your life calling is settled." Becky put her arms around her shoulders. "Now you can stop being moody and depressing. I'm sure you'll have your personal epiphany soon. Make it your Christmas wish."
"Tomorrow is Christmas," Mia pointed out. "You think I can have my personal epiphany some time in the next forty-eight hours?"
Becky patted her cheek. "You better start epiphanizing."
"That's not a real word," Mia laughed.
Christmas was the next day and the Lawrence Building was closed. But nothing as silly as an international holiday could stop Alexander from working. He sat in Mark's apartment, leafing through stacks of papers. His briefcase lay open on the coffee table--some files, his Movado watch kept around a roll of newspaper, Mont Blanc pens, a Cartier leather file that Paula gave him when they were first dating. It was her way of making fun of him for working too much, but it was by far one of the most useful gifts she had given him.
Mark had ordered pizza, but the thing lay untouched next to Alexander's briefcase.
"You better get home, soon," Mark said. He sat comfortably on the couch, wearing a red sweater (it was festive) and slacks. "Paula flew in from Iceland to spend Christmas with you."
Alexander pretended he couldn't hear. "Can you believe this? Almost a week of constant digging and no one can tell us why Exxon Mobil walked out of that deal. Lawrence Holding's reputation is perfect--nothing negative in the media. Why would they change their minds about collaborating with us hours before we're due to sign?"
What was more headache inducing was the fact that ExxonMobil just announced their intentions to work with United Corporations, their new competitor and the very company whose Board of Directors Landon Quinn was a member.
Mark sighed. He himself had gone over the details several times. No outside influence could have changed ExxonMobil's mind. "Perhaps its time to think about internal sabotage."
"You mean someone in our company is to blame?" Alexander frowned.
"I think you should start looking at the new hires the company has made," Mark told him.
"We haven't made any important new hires," Alexander told him. "Maybe a few more janitorial switches. Someone in accounting was recently fired, but, as far as I know, they haven't found a replacement for him."
Mark shrugged. "I suppose you're right. But we just need to look at all the possibilities. A perfectly good business deal does not go to shit for no reason at all." He sighed, then looked at Alexander wearily. "Alex," he said firmly, "go home. It's almost Christmas. We should all lighten up a bit."
Alexander nodded. They had virtually no leads and, since it was Christmas and the world was more or less closed down, they could get nothing done. He gathered all the things into his briefcase, then stood. "By the way," he remarked, pausing before he reached the door. "Do you have a date for the gala?"
"Yeah," Mark nodded. "Why wouldn't I?"
Alexander supposed he should have known better than to expect his friend to go dateless. Mark, as one of New York's most eligible bachelors, was swarmed with options.
"I was hoping you could go with Mia. I was supposed to go with her, but since Paula's back..."
Mark laughed. "I don't think you have to be the one who looks for a date for Mia. She looks more than capable of finding one."
"True," Alexander admitted with a faint quirk of his lips. "I'll see you at the gala, then. Call me if you think of any leads."
Once Alexander left Mark's apartment, his smile disappeared. The thought of going home and watching Paula put up Christmas decorations while fretting over what everyone was wearing at the gala just depressed him.
He stood in the hallway of the apartment building, unsure of where to go. Most places he knew were closed. Mark had just kicked him out of the apartment. Daniel was staying in New York, but he was probably busy with his friends.
Feeling not at all in a merrymaking mood, he watched an old woman in a boxy Chanel suit step out of her apartment with her little furball of a dog. The dog yapped at Alexander, the little Christmas bells around its neck jingling passionately.
Alexander frowned, then stood in the hallway for a moment more before taking out his cellphone and calling the only other person he knew.
"This is my day off, Mr. Lawrence," Mia said as she answered the phone.
"What a coincidence," Alexander answered. He pressed the down button on the elevator and waited for it to come up. "It's my day off, too. I would like to watch Titantic."
"Sorry, say that again? And louder, please," Mia replied, trying to keep back her laughter.
"I'm not repeating it. You told me that night it was a movie I should see. I presume that you have it, so I would like to watch it."
"Well...okay. You can tell Carlos to come by my apartment and I'll give it to him."
"Are you home right now?" he asked, ignoring what she said.
"Yeah," Mia replied tentatively.
"I'll pick it up myself."
There was a pause on the line. "You drive?"
"I've learned how, yes," Alexander replied with a scowl. "Anyway, I gave Carlos Christmas off. I'll be there in a little bit." With that, he hung up the phone.
"God, you do get paid a lot, but your hours are brutal," Rebecca said once Mia got off the phone. "What does he want on Christmas Eve?"
Mia looked at her cellphone for a moment, uncertain. "I'm not sure but I think Alexander Lawrence is about to get in a car, drive over to our shitty apartment, and watch Titanic with me."
Rebecca was silent for a moment. "Do you want me to lock myself in my room and pretend I don't exist?" she finally said.
"No, no, I don't think Titanic needs to be a private viewing, I mean..." Mia said hurriedly.
"Right. Well, then, I'll be in my room, reading Cosmo and existing only minimally," Becky said, heading for her room. "And you should maybe think about wearing something other than old pajamas."
Mia looked down at her cotton pajamas. It was colorfully printed with coffee mugs with enthusiastic words like "latte!" and "mocha!".
Mia answered the door for Alexander Lawrence twenty minutes later. It was strange to see him standing tall against her slanted doorframe, her apartment building so old that the plaster and paint had all but flaked off. His crisp, immaculate look was a jolting juxtaposition against the building's overall dingy rundown condition.
"I can't believe you're wearing a suit on Christmas Eve," Mia said, giving Alexander a once over.
He didn't look fazed. "And I don't believe that you lounge about your little apartment on Christmas Eve wearing that." He paused, then smirked. "But I'm really glad you dressed up for me."
Mia had slipped into her Stella McCartney cashmere blend sweater dress out of desperation. Both she and Becky had been neglecting the laundry and the dress was one of the last remaining item of clothing that didn't involve embarrassing graphics.
"Be nice--it's Christmas," Mia scowled, stepping back to let him in.
"You started it," he pointed out.
"Mature response," she retorted.
He went inside and looked around. The ever-impassive expression on his face made it impossible to gauge what he thought of her apartment. The only think she knew for certain was that he was unimpressed.
He put his suitcase on the dinner table and sat down easily on their couch. "I'm hungry--do you have anything to eat?"
"Make yourself at home," Mia muttered sorely, but wandered into the kitchenette. "We have leftover take out. And...cheese, I think."
"Cheese, you think?" Alexander echoed. "That sounds a bit too adventurous." He went into the kitchenette after her. Opening the cabinets for himself, he found a box of Triscuits. "This is fine," he said, opening it up and munching on one.
Mia looked at him in disbelief. "So you drive, you eat normal, supermarket-purchased foods, and, as I found out a week ago, you're also capable of drinking coffee out of a paper cup like the rest of us."
Alexander munched on another Triscuit. "It seems so," he nodded mildly.
"Then why do you insist on being so high maintenance?" she asked, following him back into the living room.
"Because, Mia, I can afford to be." He sat down on the couch.
Mia stood in front of him, scowling. The man could get under her skin so easily. The way he comfortably draped himself over her furniture and condescendingly addressed her made her regret allowing him to set foot in her apartment.
"Look," she said, "you can at least pretend to be nice if only out of appreciation for the fact that you're a guest in my house."
"It's not a house; it's an apartment," he pointed it out to her. "And if that's what you want, then fine--I'm so appreciative you allow me to rest on your mangy couch and consume your stale Triscuits."
She felt hot blood flush to her face, genuinely wanting to throw something at him. "Do you have no one who likes you enough to spend Christmas Eve with you that you must forcibly barge into my apartment and bother me after not speaking to me for days?"
He was silent. He almost looked hurt for a second, but she couldn't tell for sure. The flicker of emotion passed so quickly that all it left was icy hostility.
Mia suddenly felt bad. Perhaps she had hit a sore spot. Perhaps he really had no one.
"I'll leave," he said stonily, standing. "Thank you for everything. I'm sorry for bothering you."
"No, please stay," Mia sighed. They were standing toe-to-toe now, and she needed to tilt her head up to look at him. "I'm really sorry. I shouldn't have said that, but you shouldn't have called my couch mangy."
"But it is mangy," Alexander replied.
"It isn't a very nice thing to say," Mia told him. "And I happen to really like that couch."
"Okay," he finally replied after a moment. "I'm sorry for insulting your couch."
Mia searched for some hint of sarcasm in his voice, but could find none. "Okay." After a pause, she said, "So...I'll put on Titanic, then."
"I can help," Alexander offered.
Mia smiled despite herself. He was really making an effort to be nice. "I think I can handle putting the DVD in, but thanks."
"Okay," he said, then sat down on the couch, watching as she searched through the piles of stuff on the floor for the DVD. Finally finding it, she popped it into the machine and took a seat next to him.
The opening sequence started and he watched as the music swelled and the lens focused in on the gigantic ship.
"I really like this movie, so be nice about comments," Mia said quietly, her eyes flicked up to look at him.
"Just like I have to be nice about your couch?" he asked. She really had very lovely eyes.
"Just like that," she nodded. She smiled at him, then fixed her eyes back on the screen. "Pass the Triscuits."
Alexander grabbed a handful for himself and handed the box to her, watching as Kate Winslet made her grand entrance.
It was around three in the morning when Mia awoke to the ringing of a cellphone. She was disconcerted for a moment, confused about how someone had replaced her pillow with a warm shoulder and there was someone's arm around her. In the glow of the television, she realized she was sitting in the living room with Alexander. On the coffee table was an empty box of Triscuits.
They had watched Titanic, then Pride and Prejudice, and the last thing she remembered was telling Alexander off for making fun of Pretty Woman.
The phone started ringing again. Mia sleepily stumbled off the couch and dug in her purse for it. It was one of Alexander's phones.
"Don't answer it," he mumbled from the couch.
She squinted at the caller ID. "It's your wife."
"Then, definitely don't answer it," he told her firmly. He yawned and got up. "Jesus, does your heater even work? It's freezing in here."
"Our heater's on--it's just on low. We're trying to save some money," she answered him distractedly. She put the phone back in her purse and turned, surprised that he was right behind her. His hair was a little mussed and she could feel a faint body heat from him that tempted her to step closer. "Are you sure you don't need to call her back?"
"Let's go to sleep," he said, circling her wrist with his hand. He pulled her with him. "Is this the way to your bedroom?"
Mia was pretty sure she's never met anyone as domineering as Alexander. "Yeah, it's right in there," she said, pointing. "I'll sleep on the couch."
He stopped and turned to her. "I'm the guest and also the guy. You know I can't let you sleep on the couch. But I definitely don't want to sleep on the couch either. So it seems like our only solution is sleeping together on the same bed."
She regarded him for a moment. "Even though it's 3 a.m. and I'm only half awake, I know that's a terrible idea."
"Are you going to have trouble restraining yourself from tearing off my clothes?" Alexander asked her, his expression infuriatingly serious.
"No," Mia replied immediately, scowling. "I think I can control myself."
"Good," he said, pulling her into the bedroom. "Because I can control myself, too. So it seems like we'll have no trouble sharing a bed."
She couldn't argue with logic like that. So, cautiously, she climbed into the covers with him. The truth was, she wasn't entirely sure she could restrain herself. He smelled like he always did--like soap and wood and expensive cologne. She could feel his body heat just within her reach and she had to admit that it was driving her a little crazy. The worst part was that she didn't need to imagine what it felt like to have his arms around her, or what it was like to kiss him; she knew.
So she lay next to him, wide awake. It took a conscious effort to not reach out and touch him, or to scoot over a little bit so she could feel his heat against her skin. Her fingertips tingled. Even as she thought about kissing him, she could feel the blood rush to her lips.
Okay, Mind. Stop it. Stop thinking. It's 3 a.m. Go to sleep.
I don't want to think about running my fingers over his chest, or unbuckling his pants and straddling him, or his hair between my fingers, or...
I can't help it, another part of her mind whined. He's gorgeous and it's too cold in my room. Do you want me to die of hypothermia?
It is not that cold. The heater is on.
It's on low! And if I just scoot a liiittle closer to him, I could be so much warmer.
Go to sleep.
Turn away from him and go to sleep.
Fuck you, Voice.
Yeah, yeah. It's for your own good.
Mia sighed and turned to her side, feeling decidedly colder and hypothermic. She closed her eyes and forced herself to think about things that didn't involve a naked Alexander.
She could feel Alexander shifting from his side of the bed. The next second, he was pressed to her back, a warm arm placed around her waist. His hand rested on her thigh.
"So I lied," he murmured, his voice low against her ear. "I can't control myself." She could smell him and feel him and, suddenly, all the carefully cultivated thoughts of a non-naked Alexander disappeared.
She turned in his arms so that she was facing him, her lips a hairbreadth away from his. Every inch of her tingled in anticipation. "Neither can I."
She didn't wait for him to respond, just kissed him, feeling his grip on her tighten. Suddenly, he was kissing her back, harder and fiercer. She was back in the hot and velvet inside of his mouth and his hands reacquainted themselves with the shape and feel of her body. He slipped his hands under her dress, bunching the soft, cashmere material over her hips as she blindly fumbled with his belt. He pushed aside the thin, filmy material of her thong, wet against his fingertips.
"The reason I haven't been talking to you," he murmured between feverish kisses, "is because," he let out a low groan as she slipped her small hands into his boxers, "I didn't want to be distracted with thinking about this."
"Let's not talk," she murmured in reply. She was so concentrated on feeling all the inches of pleasure that her mind was a complete blank. She couldn't focus on a thing he was telling her. Mia figured that all her blood most be rushing to other places so there was none left for her brain.
He laughed. "Okay," he agreed.
She rolled to her side next to him, catching her breath as Alexander leaned over, brushed her hair from her shoulder, and kissed a soft line down her neck.
"We should do that again," she said, closing her eyes at the feel of his lips.
"We've already done it twice in two hours," he chuckled against her neck. "You call me demanding?"
The truth was, she wanted to fit in as much sex with Alexander was possible before her sense of morality caught up with her.
"I wake up at dawn to get your damn coffee every morning," she reminded him. She put her hands on his shoulders, pressing him back against the bed as she straddled him. "And all I'm asking," she said, pressing kisses to his chest, "is a little appreciation."
He smirked, watching her. "So ask nicely."
Mia laughed, then grinned at him. "So make me."