Copyright © Grace Harper 2021
The right of Grace Harper to be identified as the author of this book has been asserted by the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Copying of this manuscript, in whole or in part, without the author and her publisher’s written permission, is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved
Leaning against the wall, opposite the boardroom, I scrunched my hands into fists. Grumbling in the silence of the corridor, I watched Tara Adkins slap down booklets at each chair setting. This would be the first executive meeting we’d had without our best friends, Erin and Alex Devlin.
The four of us owned Red & Black record label.
In the beginning, when Red & Black came to life, it was just Alex and me. Then the girls joined. We had already named the label after Erin and Tara long before they came on board as joint owners. Alex chose red for his wife’s hair colour, and I wanted black because that’s the colour Tara always wore.
Tara was not my wife.
Erin and Alex left for their honeymoon three days ago after a lavish wedding. I didn’t know how long they would be away, so in the meantime, Tara and I were in charge. This may or may not be best for Red & Black. Erin was the business genius and ran Red & Black with an iron fist. Alex was the calm peacemaker until someone pissed him off and then he was Mr Mean. Tara organised us to the point of clockwork and I, well, I wasn’t sure how I fitted in at the label.
I looked for new musicians.
I used to be Sebastian Wild, the lead singer of the biggest selling rock band in music history books. Along with my bandmates Alex, Eddie and Jacob. These days I was Seb, a boss with no title, at the helm of a record label.
The black folders continued to slap against the glass boardroom table with a little more force than was necessary. When I left her last night, she was in a great mood, today something was vexing Tara. I loved the ire in her demeanour when she was angry. It was satisfying to wind her up to where she hissed her words at me. There was a point where it was a complete turn on to see the fire and passion spark from her entire body.
“How long do I have to watch you mooning over Tara?” Tom Boone asked me.
As usual, I didn’t hear Tom arrive. He was stealthy in his approach. For a large man, he was light-footed. As an ex-military man, it didn’t surprise me that Tom arrived by magic, it always made me jump out of my fucking skin. What irritated me the most was that he chuckled every time I showed my fright.
“Jesus, Tom, stomp along the corridor to announce your arrival. I wouldn’t have a heart attack every time you show up if you did.”
I clutched my heart, placing the flat of my palm on my shirt.
“If you weren’t so love-struck, you would have heard me coming,” Tom said.
He was full on laughing, trying to catch his breath.
“So what’s the plan to seduce Tara? Do you have one?” Tom asked.
Then Tom switched to a serious version. I felt like he was my dad asking about my intentions. I guessed that we were of similar age, but he still could be a disapproving father with one question. Not that I knew his age. Tom and Erin had been like family to each other for as long as I’d known her. Erin trusted Tom with her life and had to in the past on several occasions. Tom took his duty to take care of anyone Erin loved without exception. Tara was Erin’s best friend, which trumped my friendship, regardless that we’d known each other for the same time.
“No. I’ve no clue how to get Tara to be my girlfriend. That woman is a goddess, and I’m in love with her. It hurts just to look at her. Terror grips me when I speak to her so much I get palpitations. I’d rather have Tara as a lifelong friend than risk losing her altogether.”
“It’s a shame that the intelligent woman on the other side of the glass sees you like as a slutty rock star,” Tom deadpanned.
I had the pleasure of meeting Tara ten years ago at one of my concerts. In those days we weren’t top billing and didn’t have a dressing room. The first time Tara saw me, I was balls deep inside a stunning blonde model. I didn’t think I was being watched in between the gantry on the side of the stage. To be fair, I wasn’t expecting one of the stage lights to swing down and knock Erin unconscious. Tara gave me a dirty glare and a few choice words for being a slut, and I fell in lust straight away. The exposed delicate wrist from her blouse had me panting.
Tara reminded me now and then about our first meeting. I winced every time. Like an icy wind whipping my face.
Four years after that event I met Tara again. My band, Fragile, had risen to dizzy heights. Far more successful than any of us had imagined. We had the music world eating out of our hands, and Tara still wouldn’t say more than four words to me. What enabled me to get to know her better was my best friend and guitarist in Fragile was in full on romance mode with Tara’s best friend, Erin. That meant I had legitimate reasons for hanging around to spend time with Tara without behaving like a pestering teenager. We played a private gig at Green’s, the venue that Erin owned at the time in the heart of Brighton. It was that night I vowed I wouldn’t touch another woman unless it was Tara Adkins.
She was the one for me.
Trouble was, Tara wanted to get married before she had sex. And she only knew me as a slut who fucked women at the side of a stage. I had my work cut out and still did.
“You could tell her how you feel. Show her your arm, maybe?” Tom suggested with a chuckle.
I loved her.
We were at the height of summer, and temperatures were sky high. Like an idiot, I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt. The night before Erin and Alex got married, Roger, our resident tattooist came to ink both the bride and groom. While the happy couple were deciding what they wanted, Roger inked Tara’s name on the underside of my left forearm. It hurt like a motherfucker, but I had to suck it up so that Roger could get the tattoo done while Tara chatted with her friends on the other side of the terrace roof. I’d got the tattoo under wraps before Tara spotted the ink and had worn long sleeves ever since.
That was four days ago, and the tattoo now itched like hell, but I couldn’t do anything about it in Tara’s presence. She would work out I’d had a new tattoo, and would want to see it. She denied it, but she took sneaky glances at my artwork whenever I flashed her my ink. My chest had a dragon tattoo that went below the belt of my jeans. When I stretched in her office, I took a quick peek to see her watching the skin between my t-shirt and waistband. As soon as I relaxed again, she snapped her head away. I stretched more than the average human in her presence. Any scrap of appreciation and I was there like a lap dog.
What a sad fuck I was.
I spent most of my time in Tara’s office. After the wedding, the label closed for a few days for post celebrations, even though the newlyweds were already in France. Alex had left instructions for a three-day party. I was still suffering because Tara fed me too many sambucas.
“I’m not showing her the tattoo, wouldn’t want to freak her out until I know how she feels. Valentino is still in town, I’d hoped he had gone back to Italy. Can you believe he called her yesterday? And she took his call. I need to know for sure before I make my move,” I said with a sigh.
I was stalling, the right words escaped me. Tara deserved the world on a plate, and I wanted to give it to her.
“Tara is not interested in Valentino,” Tom said with a side glance. “You’ll never know for sure, man, you need to take a risk. For all our sakes,” Tom said, banging the back of his head against the wall.
No one was entering the room until we were strong in numbers. Approaching Tara in a foul mood could be a bad move without back up. And Tom was an ex-secret agent. I didn’t know for sure, but we all thought he was because he revealed nothing about himself, was like a ninja and looked like a military machine.
“One day Tom, you will stagger and fall for a woman. Then I’ll be pointing and laughing, goading you into making a fool of yourself,” I said to him. I hoped that it would happen soon because it was right what they said, misery needed company.
“Been there, done that,” Tom commented. He was watching Tara walk around the conference table while knocking his head in perfect rhythm to my heartbeat.
“Seriously? Did you reveal a piece of information about yourself? I’ve known you six years, and all I know is your name.”
Tom remained passive. A tiny shrug lifted his left shoulder.
“Well, to be fair you know my current name,” Tom said.
He knew how to wind me up. My hands were in the air, exasperated by his nonchalance, and I reacted every time.
“Great, so tell me your real name?” I asked.
“Sorry, classified,” Tom answered.
That was Tom’s standard answer to any personal question. It was his usual answer to how he liked his coffee, where he got his tight-fitting t-shirts from, and why didn’t he have any perceivable accent.
“You and your James Bond routine, it’s a wonder Her Majesty’s government hasn’t called you back.”
I know I was snarky but unrequited love and a hangover did that to a man.
“How do you know they haven’t?” He replied wearing a smug grin.
“Oh fuck off Tom, I give up. Let’s rescue the coffee cups before Tara smashes the saucers with the force she is slamming the cups down on the glass,” I said to change the subject.
Tom’s laughter irritated my ears, but it still made me grin. With all of Tom’s bravado, if I needed help, Tom would be the first to protect me. I could hear the other members of the executive team shuffling down the long corridor to the boardroom. In a second or two, they would turn the corner, and head into a war zone if I didn’t sooth Tara’s crazy mood.
I walked into the conference room first, heading towards the coffee machine, which was suffering from Tara abuse. She was stabbing her finger on the button that said black coffee. Her tight pencil skirt drew my eye to her arse. Stifling a groan was hard, but I wasn’t alone, so I sucked it up. She was wearing my favourite black silk blouse that had buttons to the neck at the back, and a bow, tied to the side. I imagined opening those buttons, kissing each inch of her spine. Unwrapping Tara would be a gift I would treasure forever.
Just as soon as I told her how I felt.
Tara today was a walking, talking, 1970s sexy secretary. Her matching black high heels had me aching to rub her feet. Only when I massaged the arch of her dainty feet did I hear her sexy moan.
I needed that moan on a recording.
“Still wearing black?” Tom asked as he sidled up to her and pulled her wrist away from the offending coffee machine.
Tom switched the plug socket on and held onto her hand until she understood why she couldn’t get the machine to work. I wanted to be holding her hand. The jealousy spiked as I glared at Tom. He pretended not to notice and dropped her hand.
“I could say the same about you, Tom. You only ever wear black. Perfect Ninja clothing,” Tara replied with a wink.
She sagged against Tom’s body hoping for a cuddle, but Tom stood still until the moment passed. Tara gave up trying to get him to show any emotion for now and pressed the button on the machine with less force than a hammer.
“My reasons for wearing black are practical, and habit, yours is a conscious choice,” Tom said.
“This is true, a decision I regret each day,” she mumbled, side-eyeing Tom and me.
Tilting my head to hear her next words, I was rooted to the spot at the edge of the glass conference table, standing helpless while Tom straightened Tara’s mood out.
“I’ve made such a big deal of my virtue. I thought I’d have a husband, with babies by the time I was twenty-five. Look at me now, the oldest virgin on the planet stuck wearing black,” she said.
All I wanted to do was yell at her to pick me. I’d give her babies, and a good marriage, but I remained mute.
Tom walked away, knowing her speech was a rhetorical conversation, having heard it two dozen times.
“I can help you out, with your problem, you know,” I said.
Way to go me, Mr Smooth. I cringed at my own words, but she was used to this retort.
The silence ricocheted around the room.
Tara huffed as she prepared the coffee pot for the rest of the team. She drank peppermint tea, so I made myself useful and made it for her while she stomped around the room. Even angry, Tara was beautiful. Three days of hard partying, and she was showing no signs of fatigue.
“I’m not the woman for you Seb, not in the vicinity of the woman you need. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t refer to my life choice as a problem you can fix with a quick fuck,” she replied.
Ever since her confession a few years ago I’d respected her choice. There were five of us in that van, discussing Tara like she wasn’t there. Tom’s boss, Mickey, was teasing her about which sex positions she liked, and then she blurted out, she wouldn’t know. When Mickey screeched out she was a fucking virgin, I knew, right then, that I would cherish Tara. Her virginity wasn’t a problem, not for me anyway. I resigned myself that she didn’t think I wasn’t an ideal husband. Glancing at Tom, who rolled his eyes, shaking his head trying not to laugh, I glared back. Taking the coffee flask that Tara had made, I put it on the tray in the middle of the conference table. The meeting was due to start in the next few minutes. If Erin were here, all the team would have been in the room for the last half an hour. It seemed standards had already slipped.
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