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The Wrong Girl - Chapter 3, Part 2


Jake

*

Despite my best efforts at a ‘happier’ morning, it unfortunately went about the same as Friday had gone—without the comic book incident. The kids were polite and followed instruction, but they betrayed very little emotion to me. I got them to school and checked in, confirming they’d ride the bus beginning tomorrow, then headed in to work.

Even though I was nervous about meeting JJ’s daughter Isabelle, I was confident I’d be able to help her grow into the leader her dad wanted. It’s what I’ve been doing for years, in a slightly different context.

So I knew the nervous energy zipping through me wasn’t about work at all—it was about my plan to text Ellie today.

For two excruciating days I’d thought over dozens of messages, ranging from flirty to playful, sarcastic to downright dirty. Even though I knew I wouldn’t have the guts to send her a sext in a million years, it was still fun to imagine.

I left my briefcase in my office Friday, so I had nothing to carry up to the offices aside from a ziplock bag with two cookies in it. I’d included a cookie in the kids’ lunches, which earned me a proud smile from Olivia, and a suggestion that I take cookies in my lunch, too.

How could I say no?

I had on a navy blue suit today, which felt familiar to the uniform I had worn for so many years. Friday had clearly been a casual day, but surely everyone would dress more formally, more like they worked in a billion-dollar company, for Monday.

When I got off the elevator, I knew immediately that I was wrong; Larissa was wearing a polo again, which meant Friday was probably an ordinary day, not a 'casual' one. 

If she was surprised, Larissa didn’t betray it. “JJ said to send you back to his office when you arrived, Mr. Wright. Just at the end of the hall,” she pointed to the same hallway where my office was.

“Great, thanks Larissa,” I smiled and marched in that direction.

I was only halfway down the hall when I heard the raised voices, and my steps slowed. The door at the end, with ‘JJ Tremont - CEO’ on the shiny gold plaque, was closed.

A feminine voice, obviously upset, carried through the door, although the words were muffled. A deeper male voice, clearly JJ, replied, his tone terse.

I hesitated in the hallway, then glanced at my watch. If I didn’t knock on his door in the next minute, I was late. In my world, I’d already cut it close by only arriving five minutes early, but it took extra time to get the kids settled at school. Being on time was incredibly important to me, but there was clearly a heated discussion going on in the office.

Taking a few tentative steps closer, I positioned myself outside the door and glanced again at my watch. Unfortunately, this put me close enough to hear what they were saying.

I raised my hand to knock, then froze, unable to help overhearing.

“… Don’t know what you’re so upset about, Isabelle. This isn’t a punishment! I just thought it would help you to bring someone on with leadership experience.”

Oh shit, they were fighting about me. Now I definitely didn’t want to knock on that door.

“You brought someone in to teach me how to do my job?” Her reply was shrill—this woman sounded like a real banshee. “How am I not supposed to be insulted by that? I’ve practically worked here since I could walk, and I’ve been doing this job since I got my MBA. I work with these people every day. How can you imply I don’t know how to lead them?”

“Izzy, first off, I brought him in to help you take over my job, not to learn yours. I know you’re very good at what you do, but I feel—and Robert agrees with me—that you need to start looking at things from a higher view. Right now you still like getting down in the weeds, and to be CEO you need to be at a thousand feet.”

“I’ve told you a thousand times, don’t call me Izzy,” she snapped, irritated. “And just because I don’t mind getting my hands dirty, it doesn’t mean I can’t have a broader perspective. I just think our employees respect me more when they see me working alongside them.”

“And I know, from my time doing both, that they respect me more with the distance I’ve put between us.”

“Dad, they don’t even know you. How do you think that creates respect?”

“Honey, you can’t be the CEO and have every hourly employee coming to you with their problems. There are too many important things that need your attention.”

“Well, agree to disagree,” she sniffed. “I had better go prepare myself to meet the stuffed shirt you brought in to ruin my life. When is he supposed to get here?”

The door clicked open and I jumped, hand still raised, when I came face to face with my worst nightmare turned into reality.

The funny, cool, irresistibly sexy woman I met on Friday, the one whose lips had been on my mind all weekend, stood before me with unmistakable fury in her blue eyes. Her gaze traveled up to my face, and anger melted from her features as they took on the appearance of complete shock.

JJ’s voice was loud, clearly trying to gloss over their fight and knowing I’d heard at least part of it. “Ah, here he is now. Isabelle, this is Jake Wright. Jake, this is my daughter, Izzy—I’m sorry. Bad habit, she prefers to be called Ellie.”

Ellie and I continued to stare at each other for seconds that seemed to drag on a lifetime. I remembered every detail of her face, every curved lash and striation in her eyes. Her hair was still a little wild, with the top hastily pinned back. She wore another dress, this one electric blue, with a boxy black blazer, as if she were trying to mask her curves. When the silence stretched on too long, JJ chuckled. “Is everyone okay, or did the Matrix just glitch?”

I cleared my throat and dropped my raised arm, reaching it forward for a handshake instead. “My apologies, nice to meet you,” I stuttered out, heart racing.

As if reclaiming her anger from before, Ellie accepted the shake but narrowed her eyes. “Likewise. If you’ll excuse me, I have somewhere to be.”

“Oh, right, sorry,” I stepped aside and allowed her to pass. 

She marched into the office next door without a second glance in my direction.

“Ellie, let’s plan for you to work with Jake after lunch,” JJ called after her, just finishing his sentence before her door shut loudly.

I stared after her, barely able to believe my terrible luck. The epic high of meeting a woman who made me feel flickers of the old me before life got in the way, followed by the incredible low of realizing that not only was she the boss’s daughter, but she already hated me with every fiber of her being, thanks to my very reason for being here.

JJ chuckled again, this time with an affectionate but frustrated edge. “Kids, am I right?”
“Yeah,” I replied vaguely, still staring at the door.

“Why don’t you come have a seat, and we’ll get down to some brass tacks.”

I followed him and took my seat in a daze, still trying to make sense of everything that had just happened.

“So, she didn’t know I was coming?” I asked carefully.

JJ had the grace to flush slightly. “No, she didn’t. I suppose I convinced myself that she’d take it better this way, but perhaps I was putting off the inevitable. I should have known she wouldn’t be pleased.”

“It is definitely a complication,” I agreed. “I’m used to working with people who volunteer for the training. While some may be hesitant, the chain of command is very clear, and they know they agreed to follow the plan.”

“Oh, she’ll go along with it, I promise you that. She knows getting the position as CEO depends on my say-so. She’s not promised the job. We could always hire someone, or I could bring her brother over from the mountain ops side if necessary. So once she cools down, I’m sure she’ll be on board to do whatever is necessary to convince me she’s ready for it.”

Unease swirled in my stomach, and I shifted in my seat. “So, how exactly do you imagine our training going?”

“Well, I sort of figured you’d know what needed to be done. You should shadow her for a while, give her time to show you how she operates, so you can see where the gaps lay in what I need and what she’s doing. Then you’ll set out an action plan to get her on board.”

“I see. And what time frame are we operating with?

“Ideally, I’d like her ready to take over by the end of the year. Then she and I can work together for a few months while I hand off more of my responsibilities to her, and get in one last season before I retire.”

I nodded, mulling it over. “I’d say five months is reasonable. And after that, you’ll be out completely?”

To my surprise, JJ laughed boisterously. “Not a chance. I’ll no longer be CEO, but I’ll stay on the board with Robert and our investors. So I’ll still be around. Just not running the day-to-day.”

“I see. And will you want me to stay on in this position after the new year, or do you have an idea where I would transition when you’ve determined she’s ready?” I kept my voice neutral, but this was the vitally important question. 

My job in the military always had a certain amount of guarantee attached, first my enlisted contract, then my commission, followed by the tour at OTS. As long as you didn’t fuck up royally, they couldn’t kick you out. Civilian jobs came with no such guarantee. He was essentially offering me a five-month contract, perhaps eight, with a promise to extend if he was pleased with the result.

Five months was terrifying—I had no back-up plan, and no chance of getting another job that paid enough to cover the expenses of my household in this town.

“We can make that determination at the end of the year. I have a few ideas in mind but I’m not ready to settle on them yet. But don’t worry, we’ll take care of you,” he added with a wink. “If you can get my Isabelle ready to take over as CEO, that’s all the proof I need that you’ll be an excellent addition to our Aspen Ridge family.”

I swallowed down the panic. “Excellent, I look forward to it, JJ.”




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