​Tessa Brookfield

Chapter One
 
I pulled my purse out from behind the counter and fished out my phone. Two hours left.

The customers that flowed through the doors at Cal’s had turned into a game for Cora and me. With Cal’s being a high-end men’s suit retailer located on Madison Ave, the men that strolled through our doors had deep pockets or wanted others to believe they did. Along with the deep pockets came, in most cases, arrogance with a whole new level of cockiness. Cora and I had made it a game of sorts. As they perused we would say our responses to four questions, Married? Age? Real deal? Possibility? Real deal meaning, to drop three grand or more on a suit they had the pocket book to back it or dropping three grand on a suit would set them back and was just a front to appear to be something they weren’t. The answer to the possibility question would be solely based on if there was an immediate physical attraction. In other words, hot or not. That question was thrown in for my benefit only. Cora was happily married to Cal Stienburg, who also happened to be the owner of Cal’s. Was our game shallow? Maybe, but not near as shallow as some of the men that walked through the door of Cal’s. They came in all kinds. From cheaters, to extremely intelligent, to those that appeared to be down to earth and hadn’t let their good fortune go to their head. From my observations those ones seemed to be few and far between. It was all purely speculation on our part. Oh, and then there were the ones that were with gold diggers, just like Angie. Young prizes that would walk in on the arms of older men. Seriously, we are talking beautiful women that gave men whiplash. They were with these older men that, in some cases, were old enough to be their dad. Yuk! Masterful opportunists with their hands buried deep in the pockets of wealthy men. No doubt just waiting for them to kick off. It was sad, but true. You’d be surprised how much of that you saw in New York.

The next part of the game was the fun part. As we assisted them with finding suits, ties, shirts, or whatever they were shopping for, we would try to figure out the true answers to our questions without outright asking. It helped pass the hours of the day and it seemed to help with sales. I didn’t like to call it being flirtations, I preferred the term friendly. Even with Cora being happily married, she still played along. It made for fun days at work, and it was good for one hell of a laugh.

Cora joined me behind the counter. It had been a slow afternoon, and with it being a Friday the time felt as if it were at a standstill.

“What are you doing after work tonight, Hollie?” Cora asked as she tucked her dark hair behind her ear to get it out of the way as she began sorting through her sales receipts. Cora didn’t have to work on the floor. She did it because she enjoyed it. Cora and I, her whole family actually, had grown close over the years. I considered the Stienburg’s to be my adopted family. I adopted them due to the fact that my own family was, well, less than desirable and royally fucked up.

Cora seemed to have had a good day judging by the stack of receipts she sorted through. After my sales not having been so good today, I was thankful that I wasn’t paid solely on commissions. Cora having a good day just meant that more of our customers that strolled through the door of Cal’s were older. Cora was forty-three, and she and Cal had two teenage daughters that I absolutely adored, Amber and Avery. As for myself, I just turned twenty-eight, not married and currently single. I’d encountered my fair share of losers, enough to last me a lifetime. How sad was that? Twenty-eight and I’d felt like I’d scraped the bottom of the barrel with my pick ‘ins already. It seemed to be what I attracted.

Throughout the day, Cora would assist our more mature gentleman customers while I assisted our customers that were more in my age range. Okay, there weren’t too many in the late twenties, early thirties range so my range went close to forty. The age question of our game was an important one as it would determine who was up. Like I said, it was all just for fun, so don’t judge.

“I work tomorrow morning so home it will be for me.” I answered Cora.
“Home, on a Friday night at nine o’clock?”
“You bet, I need my beauty sleep.”

She shot me a cockeyed look. “Please, Hollie. You could go days without sleep and look gorgeous. How are you ever going to land yourself a man if all you do is go home to sleep?”

I laughed. “I’m going to land one when the right one walks through that door.” I pointed to the big glass double doors at the entrance of the store. “I’m just waiting for a, no, thirtyish, yes, definitely.” I laughed.

Cora laughed, too. “Go on. Go home. It’s quiet here, I’ll close up.”

I grabbed my purse. “Thanks.”

“Cal said he’ll pop in tomorrow morning for a bit, I’ll see you on Monday. Dave and Julie will be working with you tomorrow. Go on home, get your sleep you never know your no, thirtyish, yes, definitely, might walk through the door tomorrow.”
“I only play that game when I work with you.”
“No you don’t. You play it solo, too, I know you do.” She smiled.
“It’s not the same.” I laughed.
“Good night, hun.”

I pulled open the door, returning a goodnight as I walked out.

I was greeted by Kitty rubbing up against my leg with her tail stretched high. I know. Kitty, how original, right? Kitty kept me company. After I’d moved out of Rick’s place and got this place I saw Kitty in a pet store window one day.  I just had to have her. She reminded me of one of those little white fur balls from the toilet paper commercial. She was an impulse buy and at the time, I was considering my future as a cat lady. Rick was my last big mistake. I’d met him one night after work while out for drinks with Dave and Julie. Long story short, we dated, I moved in, he cheated and end of story. Now it was just Kitty and me in a dinky little one bedroom apartment.

We’d moved to New York when I was fifteen. Dad had landed a big executive job here with a company called Pierce Enterprises, so we uprooted our lives in Baltimore and moved. It wasn’t long after that, not even a year maybe, and my parents split up. Mom wanted to go back to Baltimore, but I didn’t want to go. I had met new friends here, and I liked it. I liked it a lot.  So, Mom left and I stayed with dad. For the longest time I was so angry with her for leaving, that was until I learned the reason why she left. Dad had been having an affair with some young thing from the office. When I thought back, I remembered mom and dad always arguing. Even before we left Baltimore, neither one of them seemed happy, but to cheat? So, mom and dad divorced, and I was blessed with a gold digging step mom that tried way too hard to be my friend. As soon as I was done school I was gone, outta there. Dad made sure I always had a decent enough place to live and always made sure I had money in the bank. I liked to call it his guilt money. Every now and then when I’d check my account balance I’d find his guilt money there. I kept it and spend it. Why wouldn’t I? Dad and Angie were still together and had blessed me with a little brother named Blake, who was now thirteen. I didn’t see any of them all that often. Dad was so wrapped up in his new family that it seemed too much of an effort to make time for me. It was most likely because I made it difficult, he continued to try though. Although, he did keep close tabs on me through Cal, especially since I left Rick and moved out on my own. He knew Cal and Cora well. They had been friends for years, which is why they took such good care of me. It was the one good thing, possibly the only good thing that came out of it all.

When I’d decided to move in with Rick, dad tried to talk me out of it. ‘You’re too young, you don’t need to be moving in with no boy,’ he’d told me. As if I was going to listen to him. Now I kinda wished I hadn’t been so pig headed and that I would have listened. I guess hindsight’s twenty twenty.  Mom remarried, then divorced, again. After successfully conquering another failed marriage she took up drinking as a hobby, at least that’s how it appeared to me. I had tried to go see her once a month or so, but lately it had turned into once every couple of months. It was for no particular reason other than I just didn’t feel like it, and the guys she dated were losers. Not what I wanted to be around.

Based on all of that, I had the perfect foundation for starting a successful life on my own. A foundation laid with a lying, cheating dad who threw guilt money at me every now and then and a mom that after all these years still held so much hate toward him. So much so that I could only take her in small doses, with the doses getting smaller and smaller.

Mix all that together and the end result was Kitty and me in a small, one bedroom apartment, me with a job at a men’s suit retailer, a bullet proof shield I resurrected from within to block out the intrusion of any feelings toward a man and to top it off I’d developed extreme trust issues. My job, I actually liked. A big part of that was because of Cora and Cal. I felt they were more family to me than my own ever was, but you know what? It was okay because I was in New York and I loved it here.


I tossed my keys into the blue dish that sat on the table just inside my door. An expensive, decorative, cobalt blue dish that Angie had given me as a house warming gift. A dish! She gave me a fucking dish. A silent gesture that told me she had free will to spend dad’s money, and dad wondered why I didn’t like her. For a smart man he failed to see the big picture and all the little things that led one person to develop a disliking for another.

I scooped Kitty up into my arms and dropped myself onto the couch. “Well, Kitty, how about a little TV?” She nestled in beside me with her head tucked in tight against my arm. I gazed down at her and thought maybe it was time I try to meet someone before I turned into a cat lady and Kitty turned into two cats, then three cats. Yup, maybe it was time to get out there and get a real life. The only problem with that was, when you believed you were incapable of having a meaning relationship you’d already be starting behind the eight ball. I ran my hand down Kitty’s back. “Yes, I think it’s time.” No harm in trying to see if I could find one that would stick. A boyfriend, that is.

All Hollie wants is to find a meaningful relationship with a man. A man she can connect with emotionally, not just physically. Hollie doesn’t exactly have the best track record where it comes to men, and when her obsession takes over she lands herself in the middle of a scandalous secret held between two men. A secret that has been buried deep within them for years. The deception is real and the lies are unthinkable. 

Kane Pierce holds the biggest secret of all and risks losing everything if the truth comes out, including the woman he loves.

Will the heart of a compassionate woman drive two men to face their hidden secrets? The ultimate question is…

Can they handle the truth?