The champagne bottles hadn't been opened yet and the hors d'oeuvres no doubt were in their final stages of preparation for the gala that would follow the award ceremony. The hundreds of guests invited including some of the most influential and wealthiest residents of L.A. would be arriving many in limousines and all valet parked at the Beverly Ventura Hotel, one of the classiest in Southern California.
The sound system was still being set up and the emcee researching his lines while being made up by a couple of fussy artists lingering around him. There would be 10 award recipients this year representing different fields and industries from art and entertainment, to business and commerce, to sports. It would be one of the hottest attended events of the year.
But it wouldn't get started until the awardees showed up at the front door and one of them, Cord Prescott had been trying to finish up last minute paperwork on the 15th floor of his office after having flown in from a business trip in the Far East. Jet lagged and tired, he had really wanted to drive home to his spread in Hidden Hills instead of attending an award ceremony where they would serve overcooked food, watered down liquor and pulling at his bow tie on his tux the whole time.
Crystal, his latest girlfriend had to cancel out because she had left to catch a plane to New York City to read for a bit part in an action thriller, well actually she had left him. A note written on his desk had informed him that she needed a boyfriend who actually spent enough time in town to escort her to social galas and charity events on a regular basis. You see, as a budding actress she needed to be seen at the right events and photographed just when she had shown up wearing the perfect dress, her hair styled just right and lip gloss freshly applied.
Frankly he had felt he had been dating a Barbie doll that walked and talked and did…a few other things very well. And running through his Rolodex in the eleventh hour before the ceremony didn't yield him much luck…which meant…
She stuck her head cautiously in her office, smiling because she was glad to see him but a bit wary because when he used that tone…that cajoled even as it flattered…she knew to be on her toes, ready to be firm and just tell him no.
"What's up boss?"
"Oh come on Charlie, I'm not your boss…at least not any more since we split the company…we're associates now, equal partners."
She took one step closer and folded her arms.
"Oh is that right…and when do I get to the Far East and charm some businessmen and royalty for a couple of weeks staying in the finest hotels and visiting the sites?"
He paused to think about that…and he had to choose his words carefully because of the favor he had to ask.
"Well there's a trip to Seoul coming up next year…we can talk about it some and see if you'll want to handle that one."
She smiled at him, that killer smile of hers that could melt the polar ice caps and he knew he scored a point. Damn she looked beautiful, with her dark hair pinned up and her emerald eyes looking amused right now. Her lips curling into a smile and wearing a woolen gray dress that hugged her ample curves…they'd met in college a while back while she studied management and law and he studied business and international relations.
Actually, they had bumped into each other at Homecoming before he had gone to a huge party with kegs, plenty of barbecue and the entire cheerleading team. She had been on her way to the library and for some odd reason he still didn't get, he had bailed from the party and she on the studying and they went to a greasy all night diner instead and were still there talking after the soiree had ended and the library had closed.
For some reason, they had just hit it off…and became pretty good friends, promising to set up shop together after they both finished school…and they had even after getting their masters. She had to work her way through by clerking at different law firms and he took construction jobs because he liked working in high places and somehow they had built a life and a company together…without ruining it all by hitting the sheets.
He had his social life and his parade of women and she had her boyfriends who she had lost mostly because she loved her work so much and she loved working with him.
But now he was bugging her because he knew he was asking her a favor and she knew what it would be.
"I'm not doing it…"
He looked up at where she know leaned against the doorway.
"I haven't even asked yet."
"I know what it is…you want me to stay late and work so you can get your award tonight."
She held her hand up.
"Look I'm thrilled you got the award…no one in the industry deserves it more than you do…but I've been so busy since you've been gone and I'm going home, ordering pizza and sitting back in my Jacuzzi and watching it on television."
"It's being televised?"
"Of course it is…the governor's giving the keynote address…I'll be miles away applauding while you go up and get it and make your speech which I'm sure will be great."
"We only get a couple of minutes and what I have to say can be done in 30 seconds."
She rubbed her arms.
"Well then you can smile for the rest of the time…at your date."
That's when he rubbed his hands together and she really something was up.
"That's just it…I don't have a date…"
That shocked her.
"What…you don't…I don't believe it."
"Everyone's too busy to go to the A list event of the season it seems."
"Well the Eagles are appearing at the Hollywood Bowl so maybe that's where everybody's going."
He looked at her earnestly now and god she had to say he looked damn sexy when he did that with those gorgeous brown eyes of his…damn he looked sexy most of the time anyway. But if she told him that, he'd laugh and then she'd feel embarrassed as if she crossed some sacred line in their relationship.
"You're crazy…do you know what kind of poor form it is asking a girl at the last minute?"
He looked at her cajolingly.
"Oh come on Charlie…we've still got a few hours and plenty of time for you to get ready."
She just stared at him, not moved.
"I don't have a dress….and my hair…my shoes…"
"The dress is on its way and I've got a stylist and makeup artist due to arrive…"
He looked at his watch.
"In three hours…"
"Really…what do I look like Cinderella?"
Cord pursed his lips.
"A little bit…come to think of it."
She just shook her head at him.
"Like I said…you're crazy…giving me no notice…I've got work to do."
He watched her fidget because she wanted to leave the room and yet she didn't…she didn't seem to be sure of what to do.
"Okay…but there's a weekend at the hotel included…room service…unlimited spa treatments and use of the most exclusive suite."
She rolled her eyes.
"Crystal wasn't available…I would have thought she'd have jumped at this."
So had Cord but Crystal was 3,000 miles away and out of his life for good. And he had been rethinking his whole strategy of serial relationships because even though it had been perfect while in his twenties, now that he had hit 30, he thought it was time to slow things down a little.
"Oh well…aren't there others who you could take?"
"I want to take you…"
She looked at him, surprised at the tone which had crept into his voice.
"Because it's been a while since we've spent time together…"
"Oh come off it, we work together most of the time unless one of us is traveling."
He considered that.
"True…but not like this where we can actually kick back and have a good time outside of work."
She just shot him a look.
"Cord you hate award ceremonies…you hate the tuxes…the damn ties as you call them…the traffic jams…the lines in the bathroom…oh wait that's me…"
He just watched her recite her list in her efficient style, the same one that he had long depended on but right now…not so much.
Not for what he had planned anyway.
She just looked at him trying to figure him out and thinking that considering all the years she had known him that shouldn't be so difficult. But part of him…still remained a mystery to her. But that was probably true for most people.
"Listen when you come back to your senses about this party deal…maybe you'll sign the paperwork that Regina left you."
"I'm not doing any more work…I just signed a stack of paperwork on the jet back…"
She looked at him almost feeling sorry for him.
"You know you've got five mergers going through next week and they all have to be reviewed and signed by both of us…and I've done my part."
He sighed, looking at her while leaning back in his chair.
"Okay then…I'll sign them on Monday morning…"
"But only if you go with me to the award ceremony and share the suite with me…consider it a couple of vacation days…"
She just walked out of the office, convinced that her business partner had gone crazy. He watched thoroughly amused at her reaction, but he had been serious. After spending a lot of time thinking about it on his latest business trip and on most of the 10 hour flight home.
He looked at his watch…he still had a few hours to get her to agree to it. He then left his office to go pour himself a Scotch.
Charlie paced in her office, wondering if she should just call 911 and have Cord committed for 72 hour observation. Because his casual invite for her to join him at his award ceremony had been strange enough…but when he had tossed in a wardrobe, hair styling and a weekend in some posh suite, that's when she had really begun to worry about his sanity.
Still, a small part of her that hadn't been very active lately had considered what it would be like…to take him up on the offer. The evening out wouldn't be as bad with the two of them together to weather it and the award was truly a well-deserved honor and the hotel, the best in the region. And she thought if she were bold enough, she could go even further by…no she couldn't consider it, not seriously because he didn't see her as anything but a partner in business and a long-time friend….who if she had been heading in the right direction of where she had been going that fateful evening…they might never have met at all.
She couldn't even imagine what that would have been like not knowing him…not working together to build something truly great together and…well if that's where their relationship had stopped; it had been for the business. If they hooked up and it didn't work up or one of them had finished scratching their itch before the other…well she would be just devastated if their company suffered for it…and their friendship had been torpedoed along with it. So even though sometimes she looked…when she shouldn't on business trips…because they had shared suites before…or thought about doing things that…didn't make sense in the morning…she nipped it in the bud real quick.
Before he could have any idea what was in her head some of the times when her mind was supposed to be on business and not how well the suits he favored fit over some of her favorite body parts on a man.
She sat down pushing a stack of papers to the side which were worthless if he weren't going to sign them…unless she went along with this plot of his to spend the weekend with him. Because, this wasn't about business, not if they were actually staying in the same suite without their work product…okay if she brought her laptop would that make it a business write off…she could ask him.
Cord sat in his office after getting off the phone to make sure the clothes, the stylist would be here….and a couple of other surprises…because even as she sat one office away…she had no idea what he had in store…and he smiled to himself because he couldn't wait...