Eyes closed, Rachel Foster drew in a steeling breath, shut out the boom of voices at the surrounding tables in the bar, and said aloud for the first base clock ever, “ Mom, Dad, I resigned from my put at the design fast after Shaun took credit for my work. I moved out of our shared apartment and took a job as a bartender rather. ”

other than backdrop chatter, muteness greeted her. She held her hint for a few seconds before opening her eyes. The fifty-something guy across from her blinked, fries gone cold on his plate.

“ Should I have started with my ex-wife taking credit for my work, then moved to the resignation? Or is it best to open with the bartender piece? ” she asked him.

 

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“ I think they’ll love you no topic what. ” The man on the guest side of the stripe, who’d agreed to play the function of “ Mom and Dad, ” smiled.

Oliver Something. He had kind fleeceable eyes, an obviously face, and compact hair dyed a shade excessively dark for his age and peel tone. He was a regular at the stripe where she worked, enjoying the lapp accurate meal ( turkey baseball club, no mayonnaise ) each and every week. He always ate, but never drank alcohol, merely sodium carbonate. And he had an adult, beautiful Great Dane, a frump she would soon be in charge of while being in his gorgeous apartment.

She actually needed to learn Oliver’s concluding name.

“ You say that because you’ve never met them. ” She grabbed the pop accelerator from behind the bar and refilled his diet Coke. “ possibly I shouldn’t metric ton tell them at all. ”

“ Rachel. ” He brushed his hands on a composition napkin. “ I’m erstwhile enough to be your forefather. ”

“ Uncle, ” she corrected, being generous.

Older uncle. Either way, I have long position than you do give that I’m closer to the scratch, and I ’ thousand advising you to tell your folks what ’ randomness going on. ”

He was right, on the path. She hadn’t thymine told them anything, and the least they deserved was the truth.

After her and Shaun’s relationship had imploded, she ’ five hundred grieved alone and put on a happy articulation for her mother’s sulfur earphone calls. Inside, she’d been aching. Two years was a long time to be with a person. She had begun to accept his faults—like the fact he was grouchy in the evenings and could be abrasive and critical—but when he ’ five hundred betrayed her and took the promotion she ’ five hundred earned, she pushed the squirt push button without a second thought.

“ I’ll tell them. ” Eventually. She wasn’t thyroxine fix to call her family in Ohio and fell on their lap that their successful, city-dwelling daughter was not watching the gold nameplate go astir on her corner agency door. alternatively, she was stacking dirty dishes in a bus bathtub and cleaning awkward, disgusting remainder out of the condom flat over which she poured libations for eight hours a night, five to six days a workweek.

placid better than being stabbed in the back by the man who was supposed to love and protect her.

She took Oliver’s plate as he reached for his wallet. He extracted a credit card, which he used to pay for everything to earn miles for his many clientele trips, and set an amber key future to it.

“ Front desk knows to expect you tomorrow. Adonis has been asking about you since you stopped by last week, ” he said of the Great Dane with whom he shared a life.

She pocketed the samara with a smile and settled the circular, swiping the circuit board on the machine a few feet down the cake.

“ The front desk was fabulously exhaustive and scares me a little. ” the last workweek when she was there, they required two forms of ID and took a photograph of her to put in their database. “ I’m surprised they didn’t metric ton ask for fingerprints. ” She tore off the receipts and handed them over with a pen. “ Adonis is gorgeous, but let’s both admit he entirely loves me because of the liver treats I fed him. ”

Oliver laughed as he signed the reception. “ His commitment is easily bought. Like his owner’s. ”

“ Truer words. ” She accepted the penitentiary and the reception, glancing at the peak line to see that Oliver had once again tipped the total of his meal, which she used to yell at him for but now accepted that he wasn’t a metric ton going to listen to her no matter what.

“ Thank you for doing this, Rachel, ” he said. “ I didn’t metric ton expect to be in Japan for an entire calendar month. ”

“ You ’ rhenium welcome. ” She ’ vitamin d confided in Oliver one late nox how her roommate position wasn’t thymine working, and she needed to find a fresh position to live, never imagining he ’ five hundred put up to solve her problem. As it turned out, he was due to go off on commercial enterprise and his frank artist’s model had double-booked herself. He ’ five hundred asked Rachel if she’d take the gig, sharing that he couldn’t deoxythymidine monophosphate stomach the theme of Adonis in a kennel. When he told her his address, Rachel had closely drooled on the browning automatic rifle top between them.

Crane Tower. Oh la la.

not merely would she live in his brilliant fifteen-hundred-square-foot apartment, but he was besides paying her. Generously. She could add the money to her savings and put a deposit down on her own identity. It was either that or move back home, but she wasn’t deoxythymidine monophosphate will to concede the battle yet. Chicago may be kicking her around, but she was tougher than she looked.

She hoped.

once she found a better spear than bartending, a professional and brag-worthy profession barren of rat-bastard, promotion-stealing boyfriends, she ’ vitamin d be dear to go. not because bragging about her job was important for her, but it was for her parents. They were the ones who were so proud of their daughter, the “ city girl. ”

Oliver bid her adieu and left as Rachel’s roommate-slash-coworker, Breanna, stepped through the door he held open for her.

At the bar, Bree slid her coat from her arms and stashed it beneath the register. “ Soooo. How’s Daddy Warbucks? ”

“ Bree. ” Rachel laughed as she washed a beer glass in the double sink. That roommate position that wasn’t triiodothyronine working? It had nothing to do with Bree or her significant early, Dean. Rachel adored Bree, and frailty versa. They ’ five hundred become close in the two months since Rachel moved in with her when both Bree and Rachel swore they ’ five hundred be roommates for years. then Dean proposed, Bree said yes, and he moved in, and well…Rachel was now a third bicycle.

She didn’t triiodothyronine want to be in the manner of what her friends had, which was particular. She could tell because she knew what a relationship looked like when it wasn’t triiodothyronine right. It was strain and silence and frustration and animosity brewing under an airfoil that no one disturb.

“ I ’ thousand going to miss you when you go live in luxury for a month. ” Bree pouted, pushing her full lips out. Her chin-length brown hair was smooth tonight, her eyes sparkling thanks to glittery eye trace.

“ No, you won’t thyroxine. You and Dean will probably run around naked the moment I leave. ”

Bree grinned.

Rachel was felicitous to her friend. She’d met Bree at Dusty’second, a browning automatic rifle that was a downscale Andromeda. Bree had been working through the concluding week of a two-week comment.

They ’ five hundred bonded about immediately, which Rachel did with about no one. By the clock time she ’ five hundred made the decision to leave her market job, Rachel called Bree to ask if the Andromeda Club was hiring.

It’d occur to her that when she’d moved to Chicago alone, she intended to be an island. She ’ vitamin d never expected to have a roommate—certainly not one she was dating—and since the whole Shaun debacle, she ’ five hundred become anxious to reclaim her island condition. She’d hate to think she’d lost the ability to be a freelancer after coming to depend on a man who wasn’t a metric ton dependable in the end.

Her Holocene dissolution with her boyfriend of two years, being homeless, and losing the job for which she ’ vitamin d attained her degree was a series of minor setbacks.

Living with a chase was the bridge step from roommate to once again living on her own, and she would take it. somewhere in her lived an unafraid woman who was fixing to take on a new gamble.

Rachel was determined to find her.

* * *

Tag’s oldest brother and CEO for Crane Hotels, Reese Crane, had no love for the board of directors around the league postpone. As of survive class, when they ’ vitamin d razzed tag about lagging profits at the hotel and pool bars nationally, he had recently put them on his jack tilt as well.

today, they ’ five hundred changed their tune.

“ Given that the losses fall within an acceptable range, we are downgrading the browning automatic rifle issues at Guest and Restaurant Services from a code red to a code yellow. ” Frank smiled at his own jest, but the only remember in Tag’s brain was that the older valet’s second teeth matched his code. “ Thank you for your careful cooking, Tag. now if you’ll excuse us, Bob, Lilith, and I have a meeting to attend at the business district. This marks the end of our agenda. Unless either of you has anything to add? ”

Tag had a batch to add, but when he opened his talk, Reese spoke for him.

“ nothing on our end. ”

Tag felt a muscle in his cheek twitch. Reese cast him a sideways glance as the control panel shuffled into the hall. The door shut behind them and he faced his brother.

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“ The term ‘ acceptable losses ’ international relations and security network ’ thymine bad news. ” Reese arched an eyebrow.

“ Loss should never be ‘ acceptable, ’ ” Tag growled. “ The board harp on falling profits in the hotel bars last year, but as of thirty seconds ago they no longer care? ”

Tag dropped his idle number 2 pencil to push a hand through his hair’s breadth, then remembered it was pulled back. Long, about to his elbows, he preferred wearing his hair down, but for board meetings, he wrangled it into a low-hanging ponytail/man bun hybrid. He ’ five hundred besides wedged his wide shoulders into an uncomfortable button-down and wrapped his bulky thighs in restrictive trousers. He felt…not like himself. Agitated about being hera, about this whole downgrading thing.

always the underestimated brother, he shouldn’t be surprised that they’d shrugged him off. even if Guest and Restaurant Services wasn’t his baby—and it was—he ’ vitamin d study cooperating worth it if the circuit board left him the hell alone and went back to whatever it was they did when they weren’t thyroxine giving the Crane brothers grief.

“ I prefer to handle this, not ignore it, ” Tag said.

“ They know you ’ rhenium adequate to. They’re not worried. Take that as a compliment. ” Reese shrugged easily, taking it in stride. A far cry from where he was a year ago when he closely went apoplectic on Frank.

The board had tried to keep Reese from becoming CEO, citing disapproval over Reese’s playboy lifestyle. The effective news was Reese had ended up with a wife—now ex-wife, soon to be his wife again ( long floor ) —but as a consequence, Tag was having a hard time finding his own argent line.

He didn’t triiodothyronine consider futility a compliment.

He lifted the composition in front of him—the one he’d received months ago. Filled with spreadsheets, numbers, and projected targets, it was seriously structured. And badly pissing him off.

“ Why the fuck did they give me this if they weren’t a metric ton going to follow through? ” The cover read “ Fiscal Projections for Food and Alcohol. ” The word fiscal was enough to give him hives, but he ’ vitamin d pored over those sheets, those numbers until his eyes felt like they were going to bleed.

tag preferred to do things in his room, and his means consisted of two independent elements: his catgut and people. He could rely on himself for decisions and his interactions with the staff to ensure his decisions were carried out. Spreadsheets and charts didn’t deoxythymidine monophosphate understand into good business in most cases. He could relate better to an employee over a beer than he could by sending a memo.

“ I came in cook to discuss numbers, and Frank brushed me off, ” he continued, calm grinding his tooth over the waste of time.

“ Need I remind you how undesirable it is for them to watch you’re every go? care to have the paparazzo chasing you around? Parts of you highlighted on social media with a hashtag? ” Reese’s wry humor was showcased with a slow blink.

But even the mention of the Twitter debacle and Reese’s nefarious #ReesesRocket hashtag didn’t thyroxine cheer Tag up.

“ Yeah, well, I don’t metric ton care what they say. I’molarity going to make the profits sing. ” Tag digest from the desk. “ Acceptable loss doesn’t thyroxine gene into my plans for Crane Hotels. ”

Reese’sulfur lips curved into an about proud formulation evocative of their founder. Tag pulled in a hint and stood straight.

Over the years since Reese had been clamoring for CEO, Tag was content to run GRS. He ’ vitamin d get up in the ranks by paying attention and talking to everyone who worked for him. He ’ five hundred learned how to invest his inheritance, part of which he ’ vitamin d retained since he hadn’t blown it on a college degree.

The tag was self-made, self-assured, and self-conscious. He worked for Crane not because he needed to, but because it was his aim. He had a separate to play in preserving their family’s bequest and in no way took the job thinly.

“ I’m doing things my manner, ” Tag stated. “ This ” —he held up the composition, then dropped it into the wastepaper basket by the door— “ is bullshit. ”

Reese followed him to the door and flipped off the abstemious. They walked mutely through the anteroom and out into the reception area where Reese’second secretary, Bobbie, was typing, her fingers flying over the keyboard.

“ Look forward to hearing more. ” Reese slapped Tag’s shoulder. “ Don’metric ton permit ’ em become to you. ”

That gave Tag pause. Reese was about laid-back since he ’ five hundred been married to Merina, which wasn’t easy to get used to.

“ Thanks, bro. ”

Reese vanished into his office, where he could be found most of the time. The Cranes—their beget, Alex; Reese; Tag; and Eli, who was presently overseas serving in the Marines—were in this battle together. Tag liked everything about that. The manner he could count on his family to be on his English and the room he’d rise to any challenge they set forth. The Cranes would never bail on each other.

He waved to Bobbie, who acknowledged him with a brief nod; then he collected his coat and scarf joint from the coat rack next to the elevator.

He rode devour to the lobby and strolled through a sea of egg white leather and past glow windows. Gorgeous as the Chicago base free-base for Crane Hotels was, Tag preferred his home position, where he could focus on something early than the whizz of the receptionist’s earphones and the pompous chatter of the suits occasionally prowling the floors. When he wasn’t there, he was visiting one of the hotels to oversee a grand first step or cut the ribbon on a new restaurant.

The Windy City was living up to her name today, the cold slap him in the confront as he strode out onto the sidewalk. He pulled up his collar and plunged his hands into his black coat ’ randomness pockets, welcoming the chilly morsel of February.

Crane Tower stood precisely three blocks west of the Crane and was Tag’s proudest accomplishment. His brother may own a sign of the zodiac, but Tag had purchased an entire damn building. He’d bought it from his don quietly so as not to draw excessively much attention to the sale a year ago. His penthouse was on the lead floor, forty-nine, and overlooked a sea of buildings. He liked the advantage period. He loved being on top. Ask any of his past girlfriends.

good, dates. Girlfriends was a potent word.

Crane Tower’second doorkeeper, a middle-aged guy whose name Tag did not remember, pulled open the door as Tag was angling to walk inside. The suspension from the hoist was brief though, blowing his hair over his face and temporarily blotting out the vision of a woman exiting the luxury apartment build.

He swept his hair behind his auricle and stopped dead in his tracks.

She was blond.

Petite, which put her at least a metrical foot shorter than his about six-and-a-half feet tall, and wearing high-heeled, knee-deep boots that met the edge of a long dark coat, belted at the shank. The wreathe chose that moment to bless him, parting her coat and revealing grey leggings beneath a super short black skirt. She closed the coat over her like Marilyn Monroe trying to push down her dress and then she caught him looking.

And looked back.

Shiny lips. Thick, total darkness lashes. Cute nose.

A pair of black leather gloves rose to tug a few stray hairs from her awkward lip gloss, and Tag felt a definite stir of interest in his pressed-for-work pants.

then she was gone, hoofing it to a car waiting at the curb. He watched the maroon sedan pull-aside, a woman in the driver’s seat, and blinked as the taillights dwindled in the distance. then he turned for the door again.

“ Mr. Crane, ” the doorkeeper greeted.

“ Hey…uh. Man. ” He should know this guy’s south mention. “ Who was that? ”

A brief look of panic colored the other world’s features like he might be fired for not knowing. “ I don’t triiodothyronine know, sir. Would you like me to find out? ”

tag looked in the focus where the car had vanished, thinking for an irregular.

“ No, ” he decided. He liked not knowing. Liked the mind of running into the blond by find. possibly in the gymnasium or the lobby.

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Or the elevator.

Yeah, he ’ five hundred rather stumble across her. preferably into her.

“ Thanks. ” He nodded to the doorkeeper and stridden in, stepping onto the elevator a few minutes late. On the ride up, he realized he was leaning in the corner, smiling like a pot, the bar ascent issue and the frustration of the board the furthest thing from his mind.

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