2| The Third Ship
Charisse pressed the button for the 23rd floor. She stared down at her navy blue Prada pumps—so conservative like the rest of her outfit. She brushed off lint on her blue A-line dress. It had no sleeves which was probably racy in the corporate world, but the dress was as close as she could find.
The worst part of her whole outfit was her straightened hair, slicked back and twisted at the base of her neck. She felt like Portia DeRossi in her corporate roles except with brown hair instead of blonde.
She hated dressing like a suit, or as close to a suit as she could come. But she always thought it was important to dress the part. When she’d signed the contract with Daddy, she’d had on torn jeans, an old t-shirt, and her eyes had been red from crying that morning. Maybe if she’d had her hair twisted away from her face so hard it was pulling her scalp off her skull, she would’ve been thinking clearer and read the contract. Probably not. She’d always trusted Daddy to do the right thing.
Now a crushing sense that her whole childhood had been a sham overwhelmed her.
The door closed and the elevator started to ascend. She forced her thoughts to Conor. He’d turned cold and distant when she’d demanded to read the contract. Maybe cold was the wrong word. But definitely distant.
When he’d left, she went straight to her apartment to confront Marie, but Marie was gone. And she didn’t come home all night.
Charisse had stayed up late, planning her outfit, polishing her nails with a gloss and hoping Marie would return. She had to know exactly what the deal was with Daddy setting up Marie on dates. She wanted to clear the air between them about Conor. It wasn’t unusual for Marie not to come home, but usually that meant she was with a man. Whatever. She’d have to confront Marie later. Probably better this way.
The elevator dinged and opened. Charisse rolled her shoulders back and tightened her grip on her Chanel clutch. She stalked through the hall until she saw windows into an office space and a door labeled Grishin Inc. Through the windows she saw a receptionist’s desk with dark wood and paneling on the wall. Her gaze stopped on the Ansel Adams picture that hung on the wall above the receptionist.
Charisse pushed through the door still staring at the photo. A waterfall tumbled down a cliff that seemed to be a mile high. It had to be in Yosemite. Such a contrast to the office environment and social structure. She never would’ve pegged him for an Ansel Adams connoisseur. Her thoughts drifted to being on vacation with Conor, but this time it wasn’t Paris or a spa. They were driving across America, just the two of them.
“May I help you?”
Charisse jumped and nearly dropped her clutch. She stared at the receptionist for a moment before she answered. “Um, yeah, sorry. I have an appointment to see Conor.”
The receptionist appeared to be mid-forties with blonde hair in an average bob cut at chin length. “Do you have an appointment?”
“Yes, I’m Charisse Larouche.” She’d rearranged all her afternoon appointments to be here, but she wasn’t as upset as she’d been. The photo had startled her mind back to being alone with Conor. Thoughts of intimacy with him brought her peace—always her preferred state of mind.
“Yes, to the right and straight back. Jack will take care of you until Mr. Grishin is ready.”
Charisse saw now that the wall with the photo didn’t run the length of the room. It was only about ten feet wide and opened on either side to a large space with cubicles. In the back of the cubicles were private offices, but there was a break in the center with a couch and chairs and windows that allowed the cubicles to be filled with daylight rather than fluorescent lights. The employees seemed to be either busy on the phone or in discussion with each other. The voices were upbeat. Charisse supposed if she ever had to work in the corporate world, this would be the place to be.
She noticed some people staring at her as she gawked back at them. She straightened her back and walked forward, remembering she had to be a professional. She was here about a contract with the alpha of all the billionaire alphas in New York.
A blue carpeted path led her back towards another wood paneled wall with a smaller reception area. A man with blonde hair and a perfectly tailored suit looked up from the desk as she approached.
“May I help you?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m Charisse Larouche. I have an appointment with Mr. Grishin.”
She decided saying Conor to his employees sounded too informal.
But the man frowned. “You’re not going to bull rush me?”
“Your sister and father think they can go into his office any time they want.” He flung his arms up in the air as he spoke.
Charisse’s cheeks flared. “Sorry about that. I hope you’re not expecting them today.”
“I’m never expecting them. But Mr. Grishin is expecting you. You may go in.”
There were two glass panels on either side of the door, and she could see Conor staring out into the city. She took a deep breath ready to start talking right away about the contract. She turned the knob to the door and opened it.
Conor turned around. He had his hands clasped behind his back and his brow furrowed in worry. But when he saw her, his jaw actually dropped.
Oh, her hair. She ran her palm over her head, feeling the smoothness of her straightened locks pulled back. She was a business woman today.
Charisse opened her mouth to say a brief hello and get right to the point. Instead, she said, “I love the Ansel Adams photo in the reception area. Have you ever been to Yosemite?”