Pepper slipped into Prince's office quietly and stood in front of his desk as he looked up from his screen.
"Sit down, Pep, you're gonna give me a crick in my neck," he smiled, "And relax, you look tense. That's not like you."
She sat down gingerly and when he looked at her with one eyebrow quirked she realized she was perched on the edge of the chair as though ready to take flight. Taking a deep breath she made herself sit all the way back.
"Good girl. Okay, here are some of the things I've been thinking about."
She had brought in her tablet and as she readied it he said,
"Oh, don't worry about making notes just yet. I simply want to explain a few things first," he said and she laid it down on the chair beside her.
"You have noticed, I'm sure, that the two offices next to ours have been vacant and up for sale for months with no takers," he went on and she nodded, "Well I've decided I want to buy those. So, I will need you to get in touch with Lassiter-Caswell Realty so we can make them an offer."
"Yes, sir. Right away."
"Don't you want to know why I'm buying them?"
"Why you wish to purchase them is none of my business, sir. Making sure it happens the way you want it to is my business."
"I wouldn't ask you if I didn't want your opinion," he said, his face not giving away a thing.
"Well, then, I'm a bit confused as to why you want to buy them--are you planning on renting them out?"
"No, they're for Everhart Financial Consulting. I want to get rid of the wall between them and make them into a large boardroom," he was back to smiling now as though well content.
"But...," Pepper floundered, "But, the company doesn't have a board of directors, sir."
"Well, I plan to remedy that. I'd like my brothers and my father to be on the board. We don't have to meet all the time, a board of director can even meet just annually, although I expect it will be more like bi-monthly or every three months."
"Yes, sir," she was fighting to keep the surprise off her face.
"It makes sense; my father is a trust fund baby and banker, but he also was successful at starting a a string of electronic stores before he retired a couple years ago; Perry quit his job as D.D.A. and went into private practice doing corporate law. As it turns out Prescott did not really leave the police force to become a grease-monkey like he told us, but was undercover and is now a police detective. Even my baby brother, Parker, is finally shaping up nicely, he just started working as an architect, although he is just at entry level. I think they could all have valuable input since I want the business to expand."
Pepper was amazed to hear him talk about his family; she knew his brother Perry was a lawyer, but what he said regarding Pres and Parker was news to her. And he never talked about his parents; she only wished he'd tell her more about them. But she hid all this, letting only the normal interest of an assistant show on her face.
"Now, I want this transaction to go through as quickly as possible," he told her, "And to expedite it, tell Lassiter & Caswell we can pay in cash. They're losing money with each month that goes by and they should jump on it. Besides I don't want them to decide to try renting the offices instead."
"I'll get right on it," she promised.
"As soon as we own it I want you to see about the wall doing down and making one room and then redecorating the room."
"You know my taste by now so I'm confident you will do well," he'd been scanning some notes of his own. He wanted to make sure he didn't forget anything. Unfortunately, as usual, he'd pulled out a couple of crumpled paper balls and then attempted to un-crumple them. Pepper watched him try to make sense of them for a few seconds and then she leaned forward,
"May I, sir?" she asked and, looking sheepish, he let her scoop up the crunched notes,
"I did it again," he muttered, rolling his eyes and giving her that wicked grin of his.
Pepper permitted a small smile, then said,
"Okay, this one is in regard to a female friend, evidently. There is an address and a phone number...the name Bambi...and I believe these must be her...oh, no they can't be; that would mean...well, okay...yes they are a woman's measurements. I see it is not your handwriting, though. But if you will you be seeing her again I need to put her in the system. Do you want me to do that?"
Prince leaned over the desk and snatched it out of her fingers, his face grim,
"Um, no, that was just the other night and I...no."
Pepper had stumbled through that one but had not revealed anything by her expression. Someone had obviously written down what all they thought Prince wanted to know about some woman probably the curvaceous "Bambi". Bambi, indeed. Well by her measurements it should be "Barbie".
He noticed her still watching him and he crumpled up the note again and threw it in the wastebasket.
She perused the other wrinkled note,
"Okay, this one is your handwriting, but you wrote it so hurriedly I can't read all of it. You've got "caterer" and "bar" underlined, though, does that help?"
"Oh, yes, I just needed a reminder. As soon as all the decorating is done I want to throw a sort of "after hours" cocktail party for our clients. I want an open bar and catered appetizers. Don't buy a table and chairs for the boardroom until after the party, but furnish it with seating around the perimeter of the room."
Pepper's head was buzzing, but she was determined to do a good job and live up to his expectations. She'd never designed a room before; the two offices they had now had already been seen to by an interior decorator before she was hired. She'd never organized a party before either, but surely it would be no problem.
"I'll have it all set up for you," she assured him confidently.
"I know you will," Prince nodded and then looked askance at her carefully neutral, brutally dull pantsuit and sensibly ugly shoes, "You'll need to get an appropriate cocktail dress, I think. I know you like to dress low-key, but your your usual suits won't be quite right for the party. Now, my sister-in-law, Lalique, could go with you if you're unsure about what to get, she's a real fashion plate and she loves to shop according to my brother."
"Me?" Pepper gasped, her eyes almost popping, "But why do I have to be there? I'm just your secretary. I can get it all ready and just stick around in my office where they always see me, just to make sure everything goes smoothly regarding the refreshments. But I don't think it's right for me to be at the party with you."
He looked at her, a frown puckering his forehead,
"Of course you have to be there with me. I--I need you," he insisted, "You know all the people on the guest list as well as I do. And you're more than a secretary and you know it; you're an executive assistant. I told you that I consider you a vital part of this company; I want the clients to know that and feel when they talk to you they are talking with someone in authority who represents Everhart Financial Consulting."
Pepper didn't know whether to cry happy tears over his opinion of her work, or cut her own throat at the thought of being center stage at this party. Whenever she'd attended any party in her entire life it had been an awkward and humiliating failure. When it came to business, conversation was easy and she was always in control of every aspect, but she was absolutely no good at small talk in her personal life.
Then it occurred to her; she'd been wishing she could spruce up a bit, hoping somehow that Prince might think of her as not just his employee. Yet she didn't feel she could contradict the impression she'd made initially when she'd been hired. She hadn't wanted Prince to notice her as a woman then. This could be her big chance to make a change. He actually had requested that she not dress as she usually did for this particular social event. It was a big step and taking a big chance--did she dare? Yes, she did.
"All right; I'll find an appropriate garment, sir," she told him, "No need to bother your sister-in-law."
He looked dubious but nodded,
She retreated to her office but after an hour or two Prince came out to get coffee and hung around for a bit, gazing out the window, not revealing his thoughts. He was almost introspective and Pepper had never seen him when he didn't seem to be be simply living in the moment. This day seemed so topsy-turvy to her. Some wonderful things had occurred; like Prince getting a clean bill of health at last, and his complimentary comments about her work. But this party would be hanging over her head like the sword of Damocles for weeks.
Six weeks later Prince strolled through Pepper's office for the after-hours party expecting to see her there already. She'd done an amazing job on the new boardroom, supervising everything while still taking care of the day to day office concerns.
Prince had gone home to shower and change at 3:30 p.m. and had told Pepper to close the office for the day as he left, only unlocking the door at 5. She lived in Bluewater Village, though, so she'd told him she would shower and change in the small washroom off the new boardroom. She'd made sure to install a shower so that when Prince came back from jogging at lunch he could use it. Walking through his own office, he heard her in the boardroom talking to someone. Were the guests arriving already?
He'd almost forgotten about the caterers who would set up two bars along with attending bartenders and a buffet of appetizers. He wondered who the very attractive guest was talking to one of the bartenders and he started over there to greet the woman, still not sure where Pepper was, but figuring she was still changing. Quiet jazz was playing over the speaker.
And then he realized the "attractive guest" was Pepper and she was giving the bartenders a few instructions.
She looked like another person entirely and he was totally blown away. She was wearing a black and white polka dot dress--but what a dress. Short and clingy, it bared her shoulders; he'd never imagined she had such lovely shoulders. Her usual owlish glasses were nowhere in sight and clearly he'd also not been aware that her eyes were so large and bottle-green in color. They slanted up a little on the outside corners and were surrounded by lashes a mile long.
Her hair was swept up, but it wasn't the severe style she usually wore, it was casual and almost playful. Made a man want to remove a few pins and let it fall down loose.
Then he noticed she was even wearing lipstick and if he'd thought her lips were fascinating before; they were a sensual invitation now. He knew some men didn't care for girls wearing lipstick, but Prince loved the look of a woman with glossy red lips.
His thoughts drifted to several interesting but explicit scenarios and when he realized it he immediately and regretfully shoved them out of his mind.
Guests would soon begin to arrive but it suddenly seemed unimportant to Prince as she turned and spotted him. For each of them it was as though everything had frozen in motion, the sounds of music and the voices of the bartenders drifted away and only Prince and Pepper were real. And conscious only of each other.
The moment passed and everything went back to normal, at least as normal as it could be under the circumstances. Pepper thought giddily, my goodness, I think he does like my dress, at least, I hope so.
Prince thought, she is magnificent, how the hell did I not know how magnificent she is? His next thought was that he was in big trouble; Pepper was a well brought up, convent schooled girl, moreover; she was his right hand man, er, woman. He needed to take a step back, but right now that seemed impossible.
When he got close he could see that, in spite of how beautiful and confident she appeared; inwardly she was terrified. He knew her well enough to recognize it.
"The place looks awesome, Pep. Now tell me what's scaring you?"
Her teeth were actually chattering,
"I--I'm not good at parties, I don't know what to say, I can't relax," she whispered, more afraid of the night ahead than showing weakness to Prince, "I think maybe I should just greet people from desk in my office."
"You're never afraid to talk to clients, and--"
"That's different," she cut him off which ordinarily she would never do.
He leaned near to her ear so she could hear and whispered back,
"That's the thing, Pep, it's not different. This isn't the senior prom; it's a business function. Just remember that and rely on it. You're here, in fact we're both here, to make clients comfortable and enjoy themselves."
He was so close that she could feel his warm breath against her ear. He smelled wonderful, as always, it wasn't just his cologne; he always smelled delicious. If she could bottle his scent she could make millions. Eau de Prince. And what he had just said made all her butterflies go away.
"Thanks, I guess I needed to be reminded. I'll be fine now."
"Good," his eyes unconsciously ran over her from top to bottom, "You look...wonderful, but I see you're not wearing your glasses. Remember when you broke them that time and couldn't even see across the room and I had to get your coffee and even guide you over to the ladies restroom? I drove you home, too. Will you be okay tonight?"
Pepper laughed, blushing a little,
"Oh, yes, I remember; that was so humiliating! No, I'm wearing contacts. I used to wear them all the time."
"Oh? Well, why don't you--"
She sighed and had to come up with a valid excuse,
"They bother my eyes sometimes, especially when I'm reading or using the computer and I thought glasses would look more professional anyway."
Prince nodded. Her figure was amazing; the dress hugged her waist and emphasized the breasts he, frankly, hadn't even been sure she possessed until this moment. Her usual suits bagged so badly in the derriere that he was amazed to see that she she actually had a cute little tush. Pepper had clearly been hiding a tiger under her hood. Reminding himself again that she was a "good girl" and his Girl Friday (okay his Person Friday) he mentally gave himself a kick.
"Pepper, you'd be professional no matter what you wear or do," Guests had just being to drift in and he added, "Guess we'd better start schmoozing."
It wasn't as large a gathering as Pepper had hoped for but those who came were enthusiastic and Prince seemed pleased and that was what mattered the most to her. And now that he'd pointed out that it was not a party but a business function she was fine.
Spending a little time talking to each guest, out of the corner of his eye Prince kept seeing Pepper, laughing and talking to various clients and she was more than holding her own. It was hard not to want to hover over her, inhaling her fragrance and fending off male clients who were obviously standing too close.
After the last guest had left and Prince helped her gather up the refuse from the party he turned to her,
"I can't thank you enough, Pep. You handled everything and you're the reason it was a success."
"It did seem to go well," she admitted, "But it's my job, you don't have to thank me. I'm glad you're pleased, though."
"I certainly am. And I'm thinking this might be a good idea to have an after-hours once a year, a little touch base with clients and they can network at the party as well as we can. Maybe we should invite not just clients but invite a few business people in town who could turn out to be prospective clients."
"Sounds like a plan," she smiled.
He surprised her by squeezing her with a quick hug, saying,
"I don't know if I've told you before but you have turned out to be a jewel of an assistant, Pep. I just don't know what I would do without you."
She was ecstatic; Prince had put his arms around her; even if it was only for a nano-second. He nodded at the bartenders who were on their way out finally.
"Well, I'll walk you to your car, it's late," he told her.
Miracles, Pepper thought, would never cease...
Next update to blog: Harvey and Lori Ferguson Ch. 23 Saturday Morning News
Next chapter on the Brothers Everhart: Ch. 23 Perry and Lalique