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In Your Eyes: Parker and Megan (Man of the Month Book 6), Page 2

J. Kenner

  Still, that didn’t mean she wanted to be celibate. Unlike Griff, she’d had a couple of hook-ups during her months in Austin. But that was more out of loneliness—or, if she were being honest—horniness. But those were just Band-Aids, not relationships. Not even close.

  Heck, she didn’t even do overnights. And the idea of opening her heart and soul to a man…? Well, she figured it would be a long time before she’d be ready to go down that road again.

  Ready to go, they headed out of her unit and to the exterior gate. The Railyard Condos had been constructed from old warehouses in the downtown Austin area. And since the unit she’d sublet was near the west end of the property, they didn’t have far to walk before they reached the intersection. They turned north, then continued the two blocks to Sixth Street.

  “Oh, what the hell,” she said, as much to fill the silence as to lighten her suddenly heavy mood. “Maybe we should just chuck it all and get married.”

  “Fair enough,” he said as they turned left onto Sixth Street. “If we’re both still single by the time AARP starts sending us sign-up notices, we’ll tie the knot.”

  “Deal.” She caught his eye, and they both laughed, the heavy mood now gone. Mission accomplished, she thought as they approached The Fix on Sixth. Just being in the bar that she’d come to think of as a second home would have lifted her mood, but it was nice to go in smiling.

  Considering it was past eight on a Sunday night, the place was surprisingly crowded, a fact that Griffin must have noticed, too, because he leaned toward her and said, “I think all the extra publicity is working. Double-edged sword, though.”

  She knew what he meant. The original owner of The Fix, Tyree Johnson, had been battling some financial issues recently. And he’d made it clear a few months ago that if The Fix was going to stay open past the end of the year, it needed to start showing a regular and solid profit.

  More customers meant more profit, and that was a good thing, especially since the fate of the bar was at stake. But it also meant more people, even on nights when the place used to be mostly dead, and sometimes Megan feared that the bar would expand into something too crowded for comfort. A place where even if she could find a seat at the bar, once she sat down she’d realize that she didn’t know anybody’s name at all.

  For now, at least, that was an idle worry. Not only did she and Griff both find seats at the far end of the long bar that ran parallel to the main wall, but the bartender, Cameron, brought over both of their usual drinks within seconds after they’d sat down. “Anything to eat?” he asked, his blue-gray eyes focusing on both of them in turn. “I know you guys love the Cobb Deviled Eggs.”

  A grad student at the University of Texas when he wasn’t tending bar, Cam had also recently been promoted to Assistant Weekend Manager. Considering he’d never forgotten her drink and always recommended food that made her mouth water, Megan thought the promotion was well-deserved.

  With his dark hair and broad shoulders, Cameron had recently earned the title of Mr. March in the upcoming Man of the Month calendar, and seeing him reminded Megan that she had a meeting soon with Eva Anderson, Tyree’s fiancée and the official photographer for the calendar and the bar.

  “Hey!” Taylor hurried over, flanked by Brooke Hamlin, a reality TV star who had pitched a show that focused on renovating the interior of The Fix. So far, they’d only been filming and editing, but the show was set to launch in August, and Megan anticipated that the crowds would grow once the show actually aired.

  “Thank goodness you’re here.” Taylor slid in between Griff and Megan, but her attention was dead-on Megan. “Something’s up. Something not good.”

  Megan frowned. “What are you talking about?”

  “The flyer,” Brooke said. “I overheard Jenna and Reece talking. But all I know is that there’s some sort of crisis with the flyer.”

  “What? That’s impossible.” She looked down at the flyer she’d been so proud of and wondered what could possibly be wrong.

  “It’s probably nothing,” Griffin said. She was sitting on his right side, as had become their habit, since she blocked his scars from strangers who might otherwise take a seat beside him. Now, he took her left hand in his right and squeezed, the scar tissue hard and tight against her skin.

  “Don’t worry,” he said. “How bad can it be?”

  Pretty bad, she realized less than three minutes later when Jenna hurried over. “I’m so glad you’re here,” Jenna said, relief and worry both lacing her voice. “I was about to call to see if you could come in. Tyree and I really need to talk to you. Like, now.”

  Megan glanced at Griffin who still looked clueless, but supportive. “Um, about what?”

  “Parker Manning,” Jenna said. “He saw the flyer, Megan. And he’s pissed as hell.”

  Chapter Two

  The moment she walked into Tyree’s office, Megan knew what a condemned man facing a firing squad must feel like.

  Tyree sat behind his desk, his hands clasped in front of him on his desktop and the light from the reading lamp making his dark skin gleam.

  Jenna stood next to her fiancé, Reece, her ginger hair framing her face, her eyes focused somewhere over Megan’s shoulder. Reece, the bar’s general manager and co-owner, shot Megan a look of sympathy, which she would have appreciated more if she’d understood what the problem was.

  It was Brent, the fourth owner and the bar’s security guru, who actually spoke, his voice as gentle as if he was talking to his adorable five-year-old. “Thanks for coming in. Have a seat. I promise, we’re not here to bite your head off, but we need to figure this out.”

  She continued to stand, then looked at each of them in turn, a horrible sense of foreboding welling in her gut. That, and disappointment. Because these people had given her a chance. Despite the fact that The Fix was trying to strengthen its financial position, they’d brought her on board without hesitation the moment that Jenna had heard that Megan was having a harder-than-anticipated time rebuilding her LA-based makeover business in Austin. She was ridiculously grateful, and she was terrified that somehow she’d screwed up—and screwed all of them by accident.

  She drew a deep breath and forced herself to be calm. “I really want to make this right,” she assured them. “But I don’t even know what’s going on? Why is Parker pissed?”

  “Because of a mistake, we’re sure,” Tyree said, his gentle baritone filling the room. “But one that needs to be handled with care.”

  “Parker’s got a lot of influence in this town,” Reece added. “And if he decides to talk shit about The Fix, it won’t be good for business.”

  Since that really didn’t help, Megan shifted her attention to Jenna, who drew in a breath, then released it slowly. “I’m sure it wasn’t your fault, Megan. But Parker called Tyree today and demanded that he be removed from the flyer and that The Fix issue a public apology.”

  Megan sat down with a thud. “What? But he can’t do that. He agreed to participate. I gave his assistant all the details and he agreed.”

  Furious, she clutched the arms of her chair, afraid that otherwise she’d launch herself back to her feet and start reading Parker the Riot Act in absentia. Because this was bullshit. Seriously. The arrogant bastard. He thought that just because he had money and power he could pull the plug? He made a commitment, and dammit, he was going to stick to it.

  She drew in a breath, forcing her temper down. This was a work issue, and no matter how absurd it was, she needed to handle it professionally. “If he’s regretting his agreement, then I’m happy to speak with him. Or maybe it would be better coming from Reece and Tyree, since they’ve both been in the contest. He’s made a fortune in the business world. Surely he understands that once he’s given his word, there are repercussions for backing out.”

  “I’m sure he does understand that,” Tyree said. “And I pointed out as much to him when we spoke. But here’s the problem—he assures me that he never signed a contract.”

  “Of cou
rse he did. I talked to his assistant, Lisa. And she called me back and said that he’d be happy to do it, and that she’d get the agreement over to me by the end of…”

  She trailed off, her stomach going suddenly queasy as she realized that she never got the contract back. She put her hand to her mouth to ward off the rising bile.

  “Oh, God,” Megan said. “It is my fault. I totally screwed up big time.”

  Megan dressed in her lucky outfit on Monday morning, a black linen and silk blend tailored dress under a blazer with a timeless, classic cut. It was one of the outfits she’d splurged on in Los Angeles, determined to look like the professional she’d ultimately become.

  It had cost her an entire month’s profits, but it had been worth it, because she’d ended up making friends with Nancy, the Nordstrom tailor who’d done the alterations. Nancy had introduced her to Alice Gaines, the wife of a Los Angeles real estate developer whose friends included most of the rich and famous on both coasts. And within six months Megan had a steady stream of regular clients.

  The dress had given her a career in LA. Maybe in Austin it could save her ass.

  Because she wanted to look pulled together and professional, she accessorized with a string of pearls she’d inherited from her grandmother and the pearl earrings she’d bought for herself one Christmas.

  She needed stockings to really complete the outfit, but pantyhose were out of the question in the July heat. And since thigh-highs invariably slid down her legs, she ended up wearing a garter and delicate nude stockings that she hoped she didn’t run. Just in case, she tucked an extra one into her purse before sliding her feet into a pair of Chanel pumps with three inch heels that she’d scored at an online consignment store.

  By eight-thirty she was out the door, and since the Austin office of PCM Enterprises was housed in One American Plaza, just a few blocks away from her condo, by eight forty-five she was standing in front of the reception desk, her heart pounding so hard it was a miracle the smiling gray-haired receptionist didn’t offer to call the paramedics.

  “I’m so sorry, Ms. Clark,” she said as she ran her finger down a printed list, “but I don’t see you on Mr. Manning’s appointment list. Let me just log in to his calendar and take a look. I’m sure—”

  “No, that’s okay,” Megan said, her nerves finally settled enough so that she could form words. “I don’t have an appointment. But I’m certain Mr. Manning will want to see me. There was an, um, misunderstanding about a project, and he spoke with my boss yesterday, and…”

  She trailed off, realizing that she was rambling and that this woman didn’t need the whole gory story.

  “Anyway,” she ended lamely. “I just need to see him.”

  “I’m very sorry, but Mr. Manning isn’t in yet. I’d be happy to put you on his appointment list.”

  Leave and come back? Honestly, her nerves couldn’t take it.

  “Could I wait? Maybe he’ll have time to squeeze me in before his first appointment.”

  “Well, I—” The woman met Megan’s eyes, the corner of her mouth crinkling as she offered an understanding smile. “Certainly. Make yourself comfortable. Help yourself to coffee,” she added, nodding at a machine on the far side of the reception area.

  Since caffeine would just make her more jittery, Megan chose to sit and read a magazine. Or try to read. She wasn’t really having much luck interpreting the little squiggles on the page as words. Instead, she looked around the room. At the perfectly decorated space. At the abstract art that suggested pills and powders, but was more decorative than informative.

  Still, the art made sense considering PCM’s core business was pharmaceuticals.

  Other than the nature of his business, she knew only the basics about Parker Manning’s background. Like the fact that his Houston-based family had money, that he’d boarded at a private high school in Austin, and that he’d moved to Los Angeles to go to college. According to various gossip sources, he’d dated actresses, dabbled in producing, and been front and center with two successful companies that he’d turned around and sold right after they hit big.

  Rumor had it he’d tripled his net worth within a year, and the starting number had been none-too-shabby.

  After that, he’d fallen a bit off the social media and tabloid radar, though there were still the occasional rumors about whom he was dating and where he was traveling. Then three years ago, he’d formed PCM Enterprises, a small pharmaceutical company that had rocketed to success, shifting Parker’s image in the tabloids from useless, monied playboy to brilliant entrepreneur with a wild past, a shadowy present, and money to burn.

  All of which had made him perfect for the Man of the Month contest, even though at the moment Megan was wishing she’d never heard of the man. And she was getting seriously tired of waiting to see him.

  Antsy, she rose and crossed to the reception desk again. “Actually, maybe I could speak with his assistant first? Lisa.”

  “I’m sorry, Tracy Miles is Mr. Manning’s current assistant, and I’m afraid she’s out today.”

  “Oh.” Well, great. So much for talking through what happened with the former assistant. She was probably fired for being an unorganized idiot.

  Then again, Megan hadn’t kept proper track either. If she had, she would have realized she’d never received the signed agreement back. As much as it sucked, this had been her project, her baby, and her stupid, lame-ass mistake.

  What a mess. All she’d wanted to do was prove to the folks at The Fix that Jenna hadn’t made a mistake in hiring her. That she actually had a brain and could help out with all of the various tasks at the popular bar. Most important, she’d wanted to pitch in with the marketing, because that was Jenna’s area, and Jenna had taken a risk by offering Megan a job, even though The Fix was on a tight budget. And even though Megan knew buckets about makeup but next to nothing about marketing.

  She’d spent two whole nights brainstorming ideas, and had been so proud when Jenna and Tyree had loved the idea of advertising the entrants in the Man of the Month contest on pre-contest flyers instead of simply promoting the winner after the fact. From that idea, it naturally flowed that they’d want to up the game a bit where the entrants were concerned.

  Yes, most of the guys who’d been entering were total hotties, but very few of them were local celebrities. But if they could get some of the local television guys or wealthy business owners … basically anyone who made the news or the tabloids regularly, that would be a total plus. Especially if the guy was a social media draw.

  And Parker Manning was about as social media centric as they came.

  Megan had been foolishly certain that Parker would participate, if for no other reason than that she was the one doing the asking. True, she’d turned him down when he asked her out, but that was only because of timing. The truth was, she’d been tempted. Yes, he’d had a bad boy reputation, but back in LA she’d been wilder and stupider, and there’d been a definite tug in the area of her nether regions.

  She shivered. If she could take it all back, she would have dumped Carlton in a heartbeat and accepted Parker’s invitation. If she had, maybe she’d never have seen Carlton again. Maybe she’d never have bolted.

  She’d left Los Angeles without looking back, and her first sight of Parker in Austin had been an unpleasant twinge, especially since she’d been so careful not to reveal her location on social media or even contact any of her former clients for recommendations or referrals. Maybe she was being overly paranoid, but so be it. She’d left LA to get away from Carlton; she wasn’t about to telegraph where she was.

  She’d almost not approached Parker because of that. But she also recalled that the tabloids had reported on a rift between them, apparently a nasty one. And so she’d decided to take the risk. She’d remained a bit hesitant, though, and that was part of the reason why she hadn’t asked him to participate personally, but had put the request out through his assistant, who’d told her he’d love to be part of it.

sp; But apparently his former assistant was a space cadet—and Megan was an idiot.

  Now Parker was pissed, and Megan had to somehow dig herself out of this hole.

  She had no idea how she was going to manage that. She hoped their past acquaintance would smooth the way. And groveling was definitely on the menu.

  “Ms. Clark?”

  At the sound of her name, Megan jerked, her head snapping up as the magazine in her lap tumbled to the ground. Clumsily, she bent to retrieve it, then clutched it to her chest as she looked up at a tall, elegant woman standing just inside the frosted glass doors that led into the depths of the office. “Yes?” she squeaked.

  “Mr. Manning will see you now. If you’ll just follow me?”

  She drew in a deep breath, then nodded as she fell in step behind the leggy blonde. Parker’s office was down the hall. A corner office, of course, with a stunning view of the Capitol building, the University tower, and a wide spread of the Austin skyline.

  More stunning than the view, though, was the man. Parker stood in front of his desk, leaning casually against it in a light gray suit that looked like it cost more than she made in a year. Possibly two.

  His eyes met hers, an icy blue that somehow radiated heat, and she pushed her glasses more firmly up her nose, as if trying to lock him in focus.

  “Ms. Clark,” he said, his voice as cold as his eyes, but somehow underscored with a sensual tease. “I understand we have a little problem.”

  “I—well, yes.” She tried to pull herself together, but dear God, he was distracting.

  His eyes swept over her in an inspection so slow and intimate it left her with the distinct impression that he’d seen right through her simple black dress. “Fortunately, I have a solution.”

  “Oh,” she said. “Um, what?”