Faking Ms. Right (Dirty Martini Running Club #1)
“When I kissed you last night, I wasn’t pretending.”
Everly Dalton is a walking, talking, martini-drinking dating disaster. Forget kissing frogs. She can’t even get past the first date. But at work, she’s a badass—the longest-running assistant billionaire Shepherd Calloway has ever had. Her coworkers wonder how she handles the big bad wolf—and never gets bit.
Shepherd Calloway isn’t interested in being anyone’s sugar daddy. Tired of women who only want him for his money, he swears off dating, determined to focus on running his empire. Until his gold-digging ex hits him where it hurts, putting him in a difficult position.
His solution—to have Everly pose as his live-in girlfriend—is obviously crazy. But the timing is uncanny. It just so happens Everly needs a favor from her boss—a big and awkward one—and this could ensure everyone gets what they want.
Besides, Everly can totally survive a few months of faux romance.
Except there’s a problem. Shepherd is supposed to be a single-minded, unemotional robot boss. Not an actual human with a heart and morning wood. Between the awkward bed-sharing and tingly fake dates, lines are blurring. And as Everly gets to know the real Shepherd, she discovers there’s more to the man behind the bank account.
And faking it gets all too real.
Call me weird, but I didn’t hate Monday mornings.
Every Monday was a fresh start. A chance to shake off the previous week—or in my case, the disastrous events of the weekend—and move forward.
I didn’t want to think about how many Mondays over the last several months I’d felt the need to put a bad first date behind me. But now wasn’t the time to ponder my terrible dating luck—even though it was pretty horrific. I’d dish to my girlfriends about it tonight. Over martinis, of course.
For now, I had work to do. And here, in this office, I wasn’t Everly Dalton, serial dating disaster. I was Everly Dalton, executive assistant. And I was damn good at my job.
“Good morning, Everly.”
I smiled at Nina, the front receptionist. “Good morning. I love your hair today.”
Her smile brightened. “Thank you.”
I walked down the hallway, smiling and greeting my coworkers. They all said hi and smiled in return. Even Leslie—who hated mornings more than anyone I knew—cracked a little grin over her coffee.
“Morning, sunshine,” Steve said. He was dressed in his usual plaid button-down shirt and brown cardigan. He wasn’t that much older than me—maybe five or six years—but his clothes made him look like a grandpa from the fifties. I was pretty sure that after work he changed into another cardigan that had a zipper, and probably brown slippers. But he was super nice.
“Morning, Steve,” I said. He liked to think he’d nicknamed me sunshine, but he was probably the tenth person to do so over the course of my life. Maybe it was because I wore so much yellow—my favorite color—or because I smiled a lot. His desk was near mine, just across the aisle, so we chatted pretty often. “How’s Millie?”
“I think I need to modify her diet again. I might eliminate fish to see if it helps improve her mood.”
Millie was Steve’s cat, and he was forever tweaking her diet, hoping it would make her be less of an asshole. I’d never had the heart to tell him that Millie was just an old cranky cat, and no special diet would ever make her nice. But it would have crushed him to hear that his cat hated him and probably wanted to murder his face.
“Sounds like a good plan. Keep me posted.”
“I sure will,” he said and went back to his desk.
Did I really want to hear all about Millie’s diet? Not particularly. But it made Steve happy to have someone who listened, so I endured a little bit of cat conversation now and then. I figured if more people made an effort to be friendly, the world would be a much better place.
The truth was, I liked making people happy. It was my catnip. Getting someone grouchy to smile? Best high ever. Like Leslie, Miss I-Hate-Mornings. She’d been resistant to my drive-by good mornings for a while. But eventually I’d worn her down. Stopping by with breakfast muffins and strong espresso a few times had done the trick.
Everyone had a chink in their armor—a place I could get in to find their happy side. Even the grumpiest people were no match for Everly Dalton’s sunshine.
Except one man.
Like a cloud passing in front of the sun, casting a dark shadow, a chill spread across the office. I glanced at the time. Eight twenty-seven. Right on time.
His entrance onto the floor created a ripple, like tossing a rock into still water. It radiated out ahead of him, warning everyone of his arrival. The only person I’d ever met who was impervious to my happy-making. My boss, Shepherd Calloway.
Steve looked up at me and winced. I pretended not to notice. I knew he felt sorry for me. Working for Mr. Calloway was not easy. He was cold, harsh, and demanding. He never said thank you, or gave any sort of praise. I’d lived in terror for the first few months I’d worked for him, positive he was going to fire me. He always seemed so angry.
But after a while, I realized that was just the way he was. He wasn’t angry at me. In fact, he barely noticed me. Sometimes I wondered whether he’d recognize me if he had to pick me out of a police lineup. He so rarely looked directly at my face that I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn he didn’t really know what I looked like.
I was pretty sure he knew my name, although he never called me Everly. He never called me anything, really. Just said what he needed to say, without addressing me first. No greetings. No goodbyes. Just, what’s on my calendar today? Or, send me the files before my meeting.
The ripple strengthened and I heard his footsteps over the sudden hushed silence on our floor. I stood, grabbed a stack of paperwork and his coffee—black, just like his heart—and waited.
He didn’t look at anyone as he walked down the hall toward his office. No side glances or nods at his employees. Just his steady gait—a man in a perfectly-tailored suit striding toward his office. His dark hair perfectly styled, his stubble perfectly trimmed.
Without so much as a glance in my direction, he walked past my desk. I fell in step behind him as the clock ticked over to eight twenty-eight.
I followed him into his office and set his coffee on his desk, six inches from the edge and slightly off-center, where he wouldn’t knock it over when he took off his jacket or bump it when he set down his laptop. I picked up a remote and opened the blinds, stopping them before they let in too much light. He took off his suit jacket, and I was there to take it and hang it on the coat tree near the door.
“Good morning, Mr. Calloway,” I said, my voice bright.
He didn’t answer. He never did. Not once had he said good morning in return. But I still did it. Every single day. It was part of our routine, so it would have felt weird not to say it.
He sat and opened his laptop. Grabbed his coffee without looking for it and took a sip.
“Did the lawyer from Duggan and Nolan send over what I asked for?” His voice was smooth and even, without a hint of emotion. Everything he said was delivered in that same tone. People were terrified of Shepherd Calloway, but it wasn’t because he yelled. He didn’t get loud and berate people when they made mistakes. He froze them. His ice-blue eyes and low voice were more chilling than any tirade could have been. He was a man who could make your heart stop with a glare.
“Yep, no issues there.” I placed a thick manila envelope on the side of his desk.
He touched it with two fingers and shifted it up about an inch.
“I also have something for you from Mark in Accounting.” I set a file folder directly on top of the envelope, making sure the edges lined up nicely.
“Why didn’t he give it to me himself?” he asked.
Because everyone is afraid of you, so they come to my desk early and pretend they didn’t realize you wouldn’t be in your office yet. “I suppose because you weren’t in.”
He didn’t respond.
“You have meetings at ten, noon, and three.” I quickly flipped through his calendar—synced with mine—on my phone. “The noon is at McCormick and Schmick’s, and I already ordered for you. I moved your dentist appointment to next week because it was going to be too close to your three o’clock. I didn’t want you to have to rush. But check with me first before you schedule anything for next Tuesday afternoon, because we shouldn’t put that off again. Oral health is important.”
I paused, although I knew he wouldn’t reply. And he didn’t.
“I spoke with Leslie about those reports you needed, and she’ll have them for you this afternoon. The painting you bought at the Hope Gala last weekend is being delivered to your place later today, so I’ll run over there and sign for it. That means I’ll be out of the office for an hour or so.”
“I need dinner reservations for tomorrow,” he said, still not looking up. “For two. Tulio or Assiaggo are acceptable. Not Canlis. And book a room on Maui for ten days, beginning Saturday. One of the usual resorts. Doesn’t matter which one.”
I probably could have indulged in the smug smile I tried to hide. It wasn’t like he was looking at me. But I nibbled my lip to stop myself anyway. Dinner for two at Tulio or Assiaggo, but not Canlis, and a last-minute trip to Maui meant he was breaking up with his latest gold-digger, Svetlana.
“Should I clear your calendar?” I asked, knowing he was going to tell me he wasn’t going. He’d send Svetlana on the trip to appease her for breaking up. But I had to pretend I didn’t know that, and ask anyway.
“No, I’m not going.”
“Okay.” I indulged in the smug smile. I hated Svetlana. She was a ridiculously gorgeous Bulgarian model—tall, slender, big boobs. A woman that heartless should never have been granted such phenomenal beauty. But the fact that she was stunning wasn’t why I hated her. I loathed her because I knew she was only with Mr. Calloway for his money.
She didn’t even try to hide it. Strutted around here like she owned half the company—which you could tell she thought was a forgone conclusion. As if he’d marry her. Ugh. The very thought made my skin crawl.
Granted, she wasn’t the first gold-digger he’d dated. He attracted them like a super-powered electromagnet. Most of the women he dated were similar: insanely beautiful, of varying intelligence, and primarily interested in the extravagant lifestyle they assumed dating—and even marrying—Shepherd Calloway would give them.
They were in for a rude awakening when they found out Mr. Calloway was not the type of billionaire businessman who lavished his girlfriends with luxurious gifts. Nice dinners, perhaps. And they could attend exclusive events among Seattle’s elite perched on his arm. He was certainly a means to being seen.
But from what I could tell, he was just as cold and unemotional with his girlfriends as he was with his employees. And he never spent a lot of money on them. They undoubtedly went into it picturing limo rides to romantic dinners, beautiful jewelry, and fancy vacations. What they got was a man who ignored them almost as much as he ignored me, and who didn’t buy them presents—probably because it never occurred to him to bother.
Svetlana hadn’t lasted long, but that wasn’t a surprise. He’d been seeing her for a couple of months—not that I kept track, really—and it seemed she’d already chafed his nerves more times than he was willing to live with, regardless of what she looked like. And boy, was I glad.
I had no reason to care. Mr. Calloway and I weren’t friends. So it shouldn’t have mattered to me whether some woman was trying to latch onto him for his money. But it did. I did care about him, even though I knew better. I couldn’t help it. I figured I was just built that way and tried to ignore it.
Except for moments like this, when I could privately gloat.
“That’s it,” he said.
“Sounds good, Mr. Calloway. I’ll be at my desk if you need anything.”
I said that to him every day, too. And he never replied. But it had become part of our routine, so I said it anyway.
Back at my desk, Steve gave me a reassuring smile. “You sure are tougher than you look.”
I shrugged and grinned, feeling a little glow of satisfaction. I always felt that way when people commented on my job. I’d lasted longer than any other assistant Shepherd Calloway had ever had. And I wore that distinction with a great deal of pride.
Only two types of people lasted at this company: people who were close enough to being his peers that they weren’t intimidated by him, and people who didn’t have to interact with him.
Anyone else usually lasted six months—maybe a year if they were tougher than average.
I’d worked for him for three years—a company record. Before me, he’d gone through assistants like some women went through purses. In one season, out the next. But me? Miss Everly Dalton? I was the only assistant he’d ever had who could actually handle him.
Really, I kind of got off on it. I liked having access to the man everyone was afraid of. The man with the power in this place. I liked the respect my position earned me. Outside these walls, people took me for a sugary-sweet, plain as vanilla, boring blond girl with a big smile.
But my coworkers saw me as something else entirely. They looked at me in awe, wondering how I could possibly handle the big bad wolf. How I never got bit.
It wasn’t as hard as they all thought. Once I got to know him—as well as I could, considering he didn’t speak to me very much—it was easy to get along with him. Learn his routine. Make sure anything within my control was executed on time. Stay out of his way.
And it worked. I didn’t rock the boat. I didn’t expect anything I knew he wouldn’t give. He wasn’t going to be friendly. No asking about my day or thanking me for a job well done. Which was fine. I knew I did my job well, and my pay reflected that.
The situation worked for me, and whether or not he’d ever acknowledge it, I knew it worked for Mr. Calloway too.
I winked at Steve, and grabbed my phone. I had work to do.