Her Little White LieBy: Maisey Yates
“EXPLAIN this, or pack up your things and get out.”
Paige Harper looked up from her seated position and into her boss’s dark, angry eyes. Having him here, in her office, was enough to leave her speechless. Breathless. He was handsome from far away and, up close, even enraged, he was arresting. It was hard to look away from him, but she managed. Then she looked down at the newspaper he’d thrown onto the surface of her desk and her heart sank into her stomach.
“Oh …” She picked up the paper. “Oh …”
“I said explain, Ms. Harper. ‘Oh’ is not an explanation in any language that I am aware of.” He crossed his arms over his broad chest and Paige suddenly felt two inches tall.
“I …” She looked back down at the paper, open to the lifestyle section, the main headline reading Dante Romani to Tie the Knot with Employee. Underneath the headline were two pictures. One of Dante, looking forbidding and perfectly pressed in a custom-made suit. And one of her, on a ladder, in a window at Colson’s, hanging strips of tinsel from the ceiling in preparation for the holiday season.
“I …” She tried again as she scanned the article.
Dante Romani, notorious bad boy of the Colson Department Store empire, who just last week made headlines for the callous axing of a top exec, and for replacing the family man in favor of a younger, less-attached man, is now engaged to one of his employees. We can’t help but wonder if playing games with his staff is a favored pastime of the much-maligned businessman. Either firing them or marrying them at will.
Her stomach tightened with horror. She couldn’t fathom how this had ended up in the paper. She’d done a fair amount of panicking over how she was going to fix the lie she’d told the social worker, but she’d thought she would have some time. She hadn’t expected this, not even in her wildest dreams.
But there it was, the lie of the century, shouting at her in black and white.
“That’s hardly more eloquent, or more informative.”
“I told a lie,” she said.
He looked around her office, and her eyes followed his, over the stacks of fabric samples, boxes with beads hanging out of them, aerosol cans of flocking and paint sitting in the corner and Christmas knickknacks spread over every surface.
He looked back at her, his lip curled upward. “On second thought, why don’t you skip packing and just walk out. I can have your things express delivered to you.”
“Wait … no …” Losing her job was unthinkable, as was getting caught in her lie. She needed her job. And she really didn’t need child services to find out she’d lied during her adoption interview. Well, what she really needed was a time machine so that she could go back and opt not to lie to Rebecca Addler, but that was probably a bit too complicated as solutions went.
She looked back down at the article.
It’s hard to imagine that a man who so recently fired someone for being, reportedly more devoted to his family than to the almighty dollar, could settle down and become a family man himself. The question is: Can this thoroughly average woman reform the soulless CEO? Or will she become another in the long line of professional and personal casualties Dante Romani leaves in his wake?
Average woman. Yeah, that sounded like her life. Even in her lie, where she was engaged to the hottest billionaire in town, she came out of it as the average woman.
She swallowed and looked back up at her boss’s blazing expression. “This is horrible journalism. Sensationalist nonsense, really. All but an opinion piece, one might say. Fluff, even.”
Dante cut her off, his black eyes hard, flat. “What did you hope to accomplish with this? Was it fun gossip you didn’t think would spread around to this degree? Or was it something you wanted?”
She stood, her knees shaking. “No, I just …”
“You might not be newsworthy, Ms. Harper, but I am.”
“Hey!” The assessment burned, especially on the heels of the descriptor of her as “average.” Of course, she had to admit, looking at their pictures side by side, that average was a pretty kind descriptor.
“Did I offend you?”
“I guarantee it is not half so offensive as coming into work to discover you’re engaged to someone you have barely had four conversations with.”
“Actually, I’m sort of in the same boat you are. I didn’t expect for this to be in the paper. I didn’t … I didn’t expect for anyone to ever find out.”
“Be that as it may, they have. And now I have. It would be best if you were to see yourself out. I do not wish to call security.” He turned and started to walk out of the room and she felt her heart slide the rest of the way down.
“Mr. Romani,” she said, “please, hear me out.” She was nearly pleading. No, who was she kidding? She was pleading. And she wasn’t ashamed. She would get down on her knees and beg if she had to, but she wasn’t going to let him ruin this.
“I tried. You had nothing of interest to say.”
“Because I don’t know where to start.”
“The beginning works for me.”
She took a deep breath. “Rebecca Addler frowns on single mothers. Not every social worker does, but this one … this one doesn’t like them. I mean, not that she doesn’t like them personally, but in general. And she asked me why Ana would be better off with me as opposed to a real, traditional family with a mother and a father and I just sort of told her that there would be a father because I was getting married and then your name slipped out because … well, because I work for you, so I see it a lot and it was the first name I thought of.”
He blinked twice, then shifted, his head tilted to the side. “That was not the beginning.”
Paige took another deep breath, trying to slow down her brain and find a better starting point. “I’m trying to adopt.”
He frowned. “I didn’t know.”
“Well, I have my daughter in the day care here.”
“I don’t go to the day care,” he said, his tone flat.
“Ana’s just a baby. She’s been with me almost from the moment she was born. I …” Thinking of Shyla still made her throat tighten, made her ache everywhere. Her beautiful, vivacious best friend. The only person who’d really enjoyed her eccentricity rather than simply bearing it. “Her mother is gone. And I’m taking care of her. Nothing was made official before Shyla … anyway she’s a ward now.”
“Meaning the state has the final say over her placement. It’s been fine for me to foster her, I’m approved for that. But … but not necessarily for adopting. I’ve been trying and I had a meeting with the worker handling the case two days ago. It was looking like they weren’t going to approve the adoption. And yes, I lied. About us. And about … the engagement, but please believe it had nothing to do with you.”
A slight lie. It had a lot to do with the fact that he was much better looking than any man had a right to be. And she had to go in to work in the same building as he did, and chance walking by him in the halls. Being exposed to all that male beauty was a hazard.
So, yes, there were times she thought of him away from work. In fairness, he was the best-looking man she’d ever encountered in her entire life, and she was in a dating dry spell of epic proportions, which meant, pleasant time with images of Dante was about all she had going on in her love life.
And she saw the man all the time, and that made things worse.
As a result of the exposure, when pressed for the name of her fiancé by Rebecca Addler, the only man she’d been able to picture had been Dante. And so his name had sort of spilled out.
Another gaffe in a long line of them for her. When it came to “oops,” she was well above average.
So there, newspaper reporter.
One of his dark eyebrows shot upward. “I’m flattered.”
She put her hand on her forehead. “There is no way for me to win trying to explain this,” she said. “It’s just awkward. But … but … I don’t really know what to do now. It wasn’t supposed to be in the paper, and now it is, and if it turns out we aren’t engaged they’ll know that I lied and then …”