Home > Hard Sell (21 Wall Street #2)(3)

Hard Sell (21 Wall Street #2)(3)
Author: Lauren Layne

“Domesticated, I know,” I snap. “But he didn’t plan for that; it just happened. I don’t have a Lara McKenzie waiting in the wings. I’m single and happy to be.”

“Well, get un-single,” Samantha says, standing as though that’s the end of the conversation. “Preferably in time for the Wolfe Annual Gala next month.”

“Wait, what? What do you mean?”

Sam stands and moves so he’s beside his wife with a grin. “She means that nothing cleans up a man’s reputation like the right woman by his side.”

“But—”

Samantha pins me with a look. “I’ll spell it out for you, Matt. Get a girlfriend.”

“Or?” I ask, sensing an ultimatum at play.

She gives a thin smile. “Or get a new job.”

2

SABRINA

Monday Morning, September 18

Weather-wise, it’s the perfect morning.

Just warm enough to enjoy a cappuccino on my favorite restaurant’s patio, just crisp enough to warrant the new cashmere sweater I bought to usher in the fall weather.

A little less perfect? The expression on Lorna Midler’s face right now as she flips through a dozen photos of her in twelve different sexual positions with her personal trainer.

She looks devastated, and even though I’ve been at this career for years and am a die-hard cynic, it’s difficult not to feel somewhat sorry for her.

To give her a bit of privacy, I lift my mug and study the little heart the barista made in the foam, smiling because the gesture, while sweet, proves he or she doesn’t know me at all.

True love? Not really my thing.

See? Cynic.

Lorna pushes her Chanel glasses atop her head to stare at me, aghast. “You can’t be serious, Sabrina. How did you get these?”

Her voice is sharp and aggressive. She’s moved from devastated to defensive, fast.

I keep my own voice soothing to counter her anger. “I didn’t climb a tree outside your Park Avenue brownstone, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“But you hired someone else to? What, you paid some sleazy PI so you could ruin my marriage?”

I take a sip of the cappuccino, the foam heart dissolving into a blur as I resist the urge to point out that she ruined her marriage.

“I understand this is frustrating,” I say, keeping my voice calm.

Lorna snorts. “How can you possibly understand? Have you ever been married?”

It’s my turn to snort, though I do so in my head, not out loud. Marriage has never been part of my life’s plan, and relationships like Lorna’s are part of the reason why.

“I can sue you,” Lorna hisses at me when I don’t reply.

I don’t even flinch. It’s a common threat, and one that holds no weight. “For your sake, I wouldn’t recommend it. We signed a contract that clearly states—”

“That you work for me!”

I continue over her outburst. “That in order to retain my services, you must be completely forthcoming.” I pull a copy of said contract out of my bag, sliding it in front of her. “If you flip to page two, you’ll note section 3A and your initials, where you agreed to answer my questions honestly. Section 3B, also initialed, is where you agreed to forfeit your deposit if at any time you lie to me during the course of our business.”

“I never—”

I hold up one hand to stop her, then pull out a small recorder from my bag and set it on the table. “This is our session from Bemelmans. The one where you told me point-blank that you’d been faithful to your husband.”

She glares, but I refuse to back down.

“Lorna, I didn’t take the photos. You hired me to investigate your husband, and that’s precisely what I set out to do. But your husband either knew about or anticipated your plan, because the second I entered his office, he handed me the envelope with those very photos. Taken two days before you lied to me about your fidelity.”

She fiddles with her necklace. “You spoke with him?”

“I did. I prefer to deal with people directly. To look them in the eye, gauge their physical response to my questions. In this case, he was one step ahead of me. He not only knew that you had an affair, he had proof.”

She swallows nervously. “So what happens now?”

“I strongly suggest you and your husband sit down and have a conversation. If not with each other, at least with your respective attorneys. This is beyond me now.”

“But I hired you to ensure I didn’t lose everything in the divorce!”

“No, you hired me to determine the nature of your husband’s philandering. You neglected to mention your own, which is a breach of our contract.”

“Fine,” she snaps, folding the contract back up and tossing it across the table at me in disgust. She reaches behind to pull her Gucci purse off the back of her chair and sets it in her lap. “I wish I could say good riddance, but I’ll likely see you again, won’t I?”

I reach out and pick up the recorder, putting it back in my bag. “I do tend to run into my past clients socially, yes.”

She laughs. “You know, I’ve never really thought about it until now, but you must be the most powerful woman in Manhattan. Just how many New York secrets do you have access to?”

I shrug and give her an honest response. “Plenty.”

Her answering smile is tight and unfriendly. “Yes. Well. Just as long as they stay secrets.”

I pat the papers still on the table. “I signed the contract, too. And I always uphold my end.”

She stands and gathers up the stack of photos. “I’ll be keeping these.”

I wave a hand. By all means. She and I both know there are duplicates. Multiple sets, hard copies, and digital files.

Lorna walks away without a word, all skinny shoulders and hip wiggles as she saunters down Spring Street. She’s left me with the bill, but with what I charge, I can surely pay for her mimosa.

I know. You’re thinking I’m someone who thrives on other people’s problems.

Sort of.

But I offer them solutions. For a price, yes, but I don’t deal in extortion. I’m upfront with how I work and what they can expect from me from the very beginning.

There are no “gotchas,” at least from me.

See, I’m a fixer. Which is basically a fancy way of saying I handle the messy shit that people get themselves into. Your worst dirty laundry? I can manage it. Your darkest secrets? I can work with those. But only if you tell me . . . up front.

I don’t give a crap that Lorna Midler was banging her beefcake trainer. Goodness knows her husband was no saint.

But I care that she kept it from me.

I’ve dealt with all sorts of morally bankrupt people in my line of work. Cheaters. Adulterers. Even people who’ve got a toe on the other side of the law. It’s all part of the job, and it’s a job I like.

But I refuse to work with liars.

I mentally add Lorna to my blacklist—not that I’ll snub her when we inevitably run into each other socially. But we won’t be working together in the future.

“Ms. Cross, another cappuccino?” I glance up and smile at Javier, one of the regular servers.

“I’m at my caffeine quota for the day. How about one of your herbal teas? Surprise me on the flavor. Oh, and the paper, please.”

He nods, and I sit back in my chair, inhaling the fresh air with its hint of autumn as I take in the quiet SoHo foot traffic. The neighborhood boasts some of the city’s best shopping, but it’s too early in the day for the shops to be open, so the streets are quiet, the peacefulness interrupted only by New York’s ever-present taxi horns.

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