Chapter 1 : First Day Jitters
“So, without further ado, let me introduce Miss Simone Carter," Jake Owens finished his long speech about welcoming me to the team. I could feel a blush creeping up my neck and shot my friend Mandy a tense look. I was hoping that my first day at Owens Group would be a low-key affair, but that wasn't to be.
The office erupted into loud applause, but I could sense that not everyone was thrilled I was there. One woman, in particular, was sneering at me. I wondered what the hell her problem was. Still, I wouldn't let her get me down. This job was my big break. I would just go about my business and kick ass at selling homes.
“You know Mandy, of course," Jake was saying as he walked me around the room and started introducing me to my new co-workers. The names and faces all blurred together, and I knew immediately that I would be asking people their names for at least a few weeks. Until I got to the sneering b***h from earlier, that is.
“This is Crystal Cope. She's one of our shining stars at the firm, and I'm sure she'll be happy to take you under your wing and offer you support."
Jake apparently didn't hear the way Crystal snickered at his words, nor did he see her huge eye roll. That wouldn't deter me, though. I'd been dealing with bitches like her my whole life. I grabbed her hand in a tight grip.
“It's such a pleasure to meet you," I said with a cheerful smile, not breaking her gaze once. She treated me to another eye roll, but I didn't miss the satisfied smirk that Mandy shot me. I could tell from her expression that this was Crystal's usual attitude. Whatever.
Jake walked me around the office, then we met for over an hour as he told me about the culture of the office. Then we spent some time going over my new hire paperwork. There were so many forms to sign. It was exhilarating. Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine working at a real estate office that catered to LA's elite. I would be selling multi-million-dollar homes to billionaires, actors, singers–the Hollywood Elite. It was more than my childhood self could've ever dreamed of. Nothing was going to stop me.
When I'd finished with Jake, I worked my way to Mandy's desk. When she saw me approaching, she squealed and got up to hug me.
“I'm so happy you're here!" she said loudly in my ear as she wrapped me in a tight embrace.
“None of this would've happened if it weren't for you!" I reminded her.
It was true. Mandy was the reason I had this job in the first place. When I bought my first house a few years back, Mandy was my real estate agent. We had so much fun together that our working relationship quickly transformed into a genuine friendship. When I was ready to level up my career, she quickly stepped in and offered to get me this job. It didn't hurt that she had an in with the owner.
“Well, it helps to have the boss's balls in my hands," Mandy winked ridiculously before laughing out loud. I shuddered at the image. They weren't sleeping together anymore, but the last thing I needed today was to think about my new boss's balls. I told her so.
“Oh, don't be such a prude," she chuckled. “Jake is a nice guy with a good sense of humor. I think you'll really like him."
“I'm more concerned about whether or not he'll like me!" I said with a slight feeling of queasiness. I'd only had my real estate license for a couple of years. It felt crazy that someone would trust me to sell such extravagant houses. I felt like an imposter among all of these gorgeous, shiny people.
“He'll love you! Everyone here will!" she assured me.
I thought back to Crystal and her nasty expression. “Maybe not everyone," I sighed.
. . .
I sat with Mandy in the spacious dining room. My last firm had nothing like this. I either had to eat at my desk or go out. The best we had was a tiny little fridge and an 800-watt microwave. Owens Group had its own café with a full-time chef. If I didn't like the many refrigerated offerings, like salads and deli sandwiches, I could custom order anything I liked.
“Tuesdays we have tacos, naturally," Mandy was bragging as she took a bite of her huge salad. “Every other week we have some sort of international cuisine. They like to switch it up so we can get a taste of everything. Last week was Moroccan, I think we're having Ethiopian next."
“Great," someone said sarcastically, “I'm sure the office will smell amazing after that."
I turned around to see Crystal rolling her eyes again. I'd only been here half a day, and she was already the bane of my existence.
It didn't help that when I finally made it to my desk, I found that she'd taken up my space to make hers bigger.
“Crystal, what the hell is this?" Mandy asked on my behalf.
Crystal appraised me with a wicked look and shrugged nonchalantly. “New company policy. If you want a desk, you have to earn it. There's a nice little spot for you in the corner," she said petulantly, pointing to where there was a small table and broken chair.
“Don't be such a b***h," Mandy said icily. “If someone had done that to you, it would've taken six months for you to earn a desk."
I heard a few snickers from the brokers sitting around, but they were wise enough to keep their heads down. Crystal had a tight, pinched look on her face, though I wondered if maybe that was just the way her face looked. It was like she'd gotten too much plastic surgery done, and all of her features were forced together. I had to keep myself from snickering at the thought.
“She can have her desk back when she makes her first sale," Crystal finally responded in a bitchy tone. Again, I wondered if maybe that was just her usual tone.
Mandy rolled her eyes. “You know what, Crystal with a capital C?" she started.
Again, I heard snickers from the peanut gallery.
“You go ahead and enforce that rule. Simone will have her first sale by the end of the week, so don't get comfortable."
Crystal just crossed her arms and glared. Mandy grabbed my company-issued laptop and cell phone, both of which were still in their boxes on what should've been my desk. She walked me back to her corner of the office and set me up at her spacious worktable.
“Don't bother with her," she said huffily. “This is better anyway. Now I can help you with your first sale!" She clapped her hands in delight.
“Mandy, you've already done so much," I whined. It wasn't that I didn't want her help, but I really felt like I needed to prove myself in this role. I wouldn't have her hold my hand forever.
“No, listen," she said, completely dismissing me. “I've got this great property available. She turned to her computer and started typing furiously. She pulled up a stunning villa on the water. I couldn't imagine it would be hard to find a buyer for a place with such a gorgeous view. She opened a new program and started looking something up. Once she'd found what she was looking for, she called out, “Kelly, can you come here please?"
A moment later, Kelly walked over. She was a pleasant woman with a kind smile. She looked like she was probably a beauty queen in a bygone era. Her blonde hair was a tad bigger than was strictly appropriate for LA, but her makeup was impeccable.
“Weren't you telling me that you had a buyer for the Oceana property?"
“Oh, my goodness, yes," she emphasized. “And I want so badly to sell to him, but he wants to see it right away, and I'm leaving tonight on a red eye."
“I could show him," I heard myself saying. What was I doing? I looked to see a smug look on Mandy's face. This was her plan all along.
“Oh, could you sweetheart?" Kelly asked sweetly. “That would be so great. My husband lives in New York, and we've been planning this third honeymoon for months! No sale is worth missing it!"
“Third honeymoon?" I clarified.
She winked at me. “Something about living on different coasts keeps our marriage fresh. We can't keep our hands off each other whenever we're together."
That was more than I wanted to know about my new co-worker, but I smiled genuinely at her. Her loss was my gain.
Mandy clapped her hands again. “Perfect!" she said with enthusiasm. “Kelly, why don't you give Simone the file, and she can get something set up right away."
Kelly led me to her desk where she picked through the mess of papers and files. “Don't mind this, dear," she said when she caught me staring. “Your desk will be like this in no time! I tell you, I have more clients than I know what to do with!"
I smiled weakly, thinking about the sad little desk in the corner of the open workspace. I really hoped Kelly was right. Honestly, I felt like if I could sell one home, I would be happy.
She pulled out a chair and patted the seat for me to sit next to her. She opened a file and showed me a picture of a gorgeous man.
“I tell you, if I weren't happily married," she joked. I could feel a flush creeping up my neck again. She shot me a wink. “His name is Michael Hightower," she said.
I immediately felt a lightbulb go off. “The basketball player?" I asked in amazement.
“That's the one! They're calling him the next Michael Jordan," she hummed. “Not that I care a lick about basketball, but he has such fun taste. Mandy's been sitting on this house for six months, and he's the first person to bite."
I felt a surge of panic run through me. Six months?
“Don't worry, sweetie. We all have our dud properties, but that's why we work as a team. My clients might hate every house I show them, but they might love the house you've found and vice versa. And sometimes it's just a matter of timing. Mr. Hightower is making his first big purchase, and this house is perfect for him. It won't take too much for you to seal the deal."
At this, she waggled her eyebrows at me. My blush crept up my face even further.
“And who knows, after you sell the house, you might make a love connection. It happens all the time," she said with a smirk. Then she sighed wistfully and looked off in the distance.
I wondered if that's how she met Mr. Third Honeymoon.
I looked over Michael's file thoroughly, trying to still the rapid beat of my heart. I would not date my client. That wasn't on the table. Still, he was beyond attractive. The idea of meeting him was intimidating, to say the least.