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Built to Fall: Chapter 3


“ANY LUCK?” My sister, Annaliese, peered over my shoulder at my computer.

“It’s the same as yesterday. No one waved a magic wand and made the perfect job appear from thin air.” I sighed, leaning my head back against her hip. “Why did I possibly think it was smart to be a stay-at-home wife? I can’t even tell you what I’ve done for the last four years.”

“Young, dumb, and blinded by love.” She stroked my curls and wrapped her arm around my shoulders. “At least you have the internship. If it doesn’t lead you to being hired at the firm, you’ll have something to pad your resume.”

“Unpaid internship.” I breathed a heavy sigh, closing my eyes. “But you’re right. The internship will at least give my future employers hope that I have an inkling of an idea of what I’m doing. It would just be nice if I could get a cash advance on that future job.”

Annaliese circled around me, taking the chair opposite mine at her tiny dining room table. “Obviously you can stay with me, rent-free, for as long as you need…but would it be the worst thing ever to take—”

“Yes, it would be the worst thing ever.”

I knew what she’d been going to say without her finishing her sentence. I’d been staying with her for two months and hadn’t accepted a cent from Derrick. Maybe it was foolish pride, but I didn’t want any type of connection with him, and if he paid me alimony, he’d retain control over me, even if it was court ordered.

That was why I hadn’t pressed charges after he gave me a concussion the night I left him. By the time I’d regained consciousness, he’d already called for an ambulance. He’d been repentant, begging me to believe he’d just been trying to stop me from leaving, not hurt me. The stars in my eyes and lump on my forehead said otherwise. But when a police officer questioned me in the hospital, all I could envision were court dates and seeing Derrick’s face again and again. I told the officer it was an accident and had Annaliese pick me up as soon as I was allowed to leave.

Annaliese turned contrite, covering my hand with hers. “I’m sorry, baby. You’re absolutely right. That douchenozzle would lord his dollah dollah billz over you like he always did.”

I snorted a laugh. “Do any of your gardening buddies know you speak like this?”

“Pfft! Chris blasts Travis Scott and DaBaby all day at work. Gardeners can be hip.”

My sister, who was seven years older than me, owned a small nursery with her friend, Christine. She’d offered me a job there, but I was still holding out hope of using my college degree, which was not in horticulture. Besides, I had the blackest thumb, so I’d probably kill all the plants before anyone could buy them.

I tapped her freckled nose, a feature we shared, although I had about a thousand times more freckles than she did. “Yes, gardeners can be hip, but are you?”

Her brown eyes widened. “Are you?”

“I’ve never made such a bold claim. I accept I’m prematurely middle-aged.”

Annaliese stuck out her bottom lip. “That’s just sad. You’re really young, adorable, and soon-to-be-single. You should be out partying and sleeping with ill-advised dudes.”

I forced out a laugh and shut my laptop down. “I can’t afford to go out partying. And I’ve had enough of ill-advised dudes.”

“I’m talking sex, not another marriage. God, please don’t get married again until you’re at least thirty.”

Before my wedding, Annaliese had held my hands, told me I looked beautiful, then told me we could escape in an Uber in under five minutes. She’d been neutral on Derrick, but vocally against me getting married at twenty-two.

Like she said, I’d been young, dumb, and stupidly in love.

“You have nothing to worry about on that front.” A serious relationship was the last thing on my mind. The very idea gave me hives. “I’m headed to bed now.”

She said goodnight, and I took my computer with me to the tiny, converted closet I now called my home. It was a huge step down from the new-construction, bright, and airy condo Derrick and I had shared, but even with a twin mattress on the floor and my clothes hanging above me, I’d never felt more free.


Marley popped her head over my cubicle wall. Her mouth moved, but I didn’t hear her. I removed my earbuds. “What was that?”

“All hands on deck. Meeting in the conference room.”

My brows drew together. “And that means me?”

“Yes!” She tapped my flimsy wall. “You do not want to be the last one to walk into the meeting, so let’s go.”

Grabbing my iPad, a pad of paper, and two pens, I hurried after Marley, who was the senior intern at the firm. In other words, she actually got paid for her labor. When I’d started here last month, she’d intimidated the hell out of me—especially when I saw the way she treated the other underlings.

Like Marley, the rest of the interns were pretty people. Coiffed and hip, their clothes were perfect, and their hair was always styled and sleek. Actually, that went for everyone who worked here. I sometimes wondered if I was the token plain, chubby girl hired so they wouldn’t get sued one day for discrimination.

I’d long ago figured out Marley was nice to me because she didn’t see me as a threat. I had a sweet face and quiet demeanor that really couldn’t compete with the heat she was bringing.

That was fine by me. I wasn’t interested in competition.

The conference room had already started to get crowded. Marley and I found two empty chairs along the edges of the room. Isabela Ruiz, the owner of the firm, stood at the head of the long conference table in the center, sliding her fingers over her iPad.

“She scares me,” I whispered to Marley.

“She scares everyone. You can’t let it show, though. You can’t let anyone see they intimidate you.”

“That’s a skill I’m still perfecting,” I murmured.

Isabela raised her head, scanning the crowd. Every seat was taken, and a few stragglers had to stand in the back, drawing eye daggers from our boss.

“I’m glad some of you were able to be on time. We have a lot to discuss, and I asked for all of you to be here because I need ideas.” Her deep, fiery eyes passed over me, then Marley, before returning to me and lingering for a beat. “One of our clients is having a PR crisis, and this isn’t the first.”

She went on to tell us about a young, brilliant actress who snorted her success up her nose on a nightly basis—which tended to land her in trouble. She was in hot water for punching a homeless man who had asked her for money. That she was in the park where the homeless man slept, looking to score, only added to the heat.

My coworkers threw out ways to rehab her career, and all I could think was this girl needed actual rehab. Ideas like volunteering at a homeless shelter, serving food at a soup kitchen, teaching acting to underprivileged children were all bounced around.

One of the other interns, Steven, raised his hand. “We all know protests are all over the news. What if she went to a few and really got into the thick of them? She could lead chants, carry clever signs, maybe shed a few tears.”

Everyone around me nodded, but the idea made my stomach turn. People were protesting real injustices. Using them as a publicity stunt was a true slap in the face to all the legitimate activists.

“Maybe if this girl cared about anyone but herself, she wouldn’t need us to tell her what to care about,” I mumbled to Marley.

Isabela cut Steven off. “What did you say?”

My eyes jerked to hers, and they were pointed squarely at me. “I didn’t say anything.”

She crossed her arms, her red lips pursing. “I heard exactly what you said. I only wanted to see if you had the guts to repeat it.” She turned away from me, addressing the rest of the room. “Claire has a point…as convoluted as it may be. Our client doesn’t care about anything we’ve been tossing around. We need to dig deeper.”

The meeting went on, and I tried to disappear into my chair, but it didn’t work like I’d hoped. At the end, as I made my way to the exit, Isabela called my name, asking me to stay. Marley’s sad eyes said it all: my days were done.

Once the room was clear, she tapped the table beside her. “Come sit, Claire.”

How shameful was it to be fired from an unpaid internship? I worked for free, and they still didn’t want me around.

I took a seat diagonal from Isabela, arranging my things as neatly as possible in front of me.

“Do you know why I chose you to fill our open intern spot, Claire?” Isabela asked.

My eyes flicked to hers. She was outrageously beautiful in a way I’d never seen in real life. Not simply beautiful, but glamorous and successful too.

“I don’t know, no,” I replied, surprised Isabela had anything to do with the hiring of interns. But when I thought of it, I shouldn’t have been surprised. There were around forty people working here, and Isabela knew everyone’s names without blinking. She must have had a hand in each facet of the business.

Her red lips split into a smile. “We went to the same college, and your letter of recommendation came from my favorite professor. How could I turn away a fellow Terrapin?”

I blinked twice before I smiled back. “Go Terps, I guess.”

That made her let out a breathy laugh. “Right. Well, my college days are long gone. The point is, I took notice of you when you started working here, and I’ve seen how diligent you are. What you said in today’s meeting really resonated with me, and you voiced one of my frustrations with this business.”

“Um…thank you.” I had no idea what to say to that.

She shook her head. “Don’t say ‘um,’ Claire. Kill that from your vocabulary right now.”

I sat up straighter. “I will.”

“Good.” She spread her hand out on the table, swiping back and forth. “I want to talk to you about something delicate. This might come out inappropriately, but I promise, it needs to be said. I have a job offer for you.”

“I have a job.” I pointed to the table. “Here.”

“Of course. You would still be working for me, but you’d be promoted to PR assistant and working directly under me for one of my personal clients. You’d have to travel in the upcoming months, and this client can be…difficult.”

I waited for the inappropriate shoe to drop. “That sounds okay. I don’t mind traveling.”

She leaned forward, lowering her voice even though we were alone. “You’d be working for Dominic Cantrell. Are you familiar with him?”

“Yes.” I’d been listening to his music just before the meeting. I swallowed hard.

“All right. That’s good. Dominic needs around-the-clock PR, and unfortunately, I cannot provide that for him while he’s on tour. I’d like to send you as sort of my proxy. I know you’re inexperienced, but I think you have a good head on your shoulders, and I’ll be guiding you the whole time.”

I nodded. “What’s the catch?”

She rubbed her lips together, then released a sharp breath. “I need your word you won’t sleep with him. Dominic is my ex-husband, so I know him better than most. He’s very charming and could convince a nun to drop their habit if he tried. I don’t think he’d try with you, but I can’t make that promise.”

Before I could stop myself, I shuddered. Isabela’s hand flew to mine, her gaze intense. “I’m sorry if I misspoke. He would never take anything that’s not willingly given. My point is, women have a tendency to be quite willing around Dom. While that’s none of my business, what my employees do is.”

I relaxed, gently pulling my hand from hers. “That won’t be a concern, I can promise you that.”

She brightened, her smile genuine. “Are you saying you’re in?”

“I don’t see how I can possibly turn this down. I’m in.”

We sat in the conference room for another hour going over my exact job and the details of the tour. I’d be leaving in two weeks, traveling with Dominic’s entourage from city to city, mostly by private jet, for almost two months. While Derrick and I had traveled often as a couple, I’d never done anything like this on my own.

For the first time since my life had shattered into pieces in the middle of my old walk-in closet, optimism shined down. This was a chance for me to advance in my career, and possibly have an adventure too.

I had to set aside the fact that Isabela had said Dominic would seduce a nun, but probably not me. I’d think about that later when I needed to pick at a wound. For now, I marched back to my cubicle where Marley was lingering.

I grinned at her as I approached. “She hired me as a PR assistant.”

Marley’s smile froze. “You bitch. I’m so jelly! What did you do to deserve that?” She giggled, but she wasn’t really joking.

I didn’t even care. Nothing could bring me down from this high.


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