IGNORING MY hammering heart was hard enough, but what was harder was facing the man who never left my mind these past days. He left me standing outside my apartment two days ago with a billion-dollar question that might remain unanswered.
Right now, I was facing a deja vu as my body hummed to his closeness while he was talking to our head chemist, Dr. Duke Mackenzie. The disappointment plastered on our faces when Skip didn’t like any of our samples. He said it was too sweet for women and too strong for men.
But instead of taking it as an insult, it encouraged and drove me to work harder for this project.
I wanted to prove to him that we could compete with the top leading fragrance laboratories all over the world. I able to come up with some ideas now I knew what he liked.
He faced me. “Ms. Rogue—”
“It’s James,” I corrected him, smiling sweetly. I was still Arella James in our lab—my ex-husband surname. Though legally, I already changed it after our divorce.
His jaw instantly clenched, shoving his hands on his dark grey tailored-suit pants. If his eyes were warmed when he arrived earlier with his assistant, Eli, now they shot me with cold and flinty stares.
“Okay, Ms. James. I want the scent is simple, sweet, yet seductive, and that lasts longer. I think you should conduct a survey on what men want in women, and so as for women—”
“I don’t think we have much time to conduct a survey, Mr. Linton. We already wasted eight months—”
“Make time, Ms. James,” he cut me off. “We made a deal, and I will ask all over again for as long as I’m not satisfied with the samples your team had come up with. You and your time have until six weeks to come up with new samples. Otherwise, I will cut the deal myself.”
Dr. Mackenzie looked alarmed before he cleared his throat. “We will make sure the samples are ready by the end of next month. We always ended up satisfying our partners, Mr. Linton. I can guarantee you that. We have the best team, and our products had been tested by our previous clients.”
“Good. See you after three weeks then, Dr. Mackenzie.” Skip shook his hand, then turned to me. “With the survey.” He then walked away, leaving us all stunned.
Dr. Mac followed him after throwing me a glare.
“Are, what was that all about? You are rude to hot British owner of the Everly brand.” Maj, my co-chemist nudged me.
“I wasn’t rude, Maj. You knew we worked hard for those samples. My olfactory nerves were literally damaged, but he didn’t like every single one of them. Then he wanted a survey? We don’t have time for his bull!”
“Hush. Lower your voice down. We’ll be in deep trouble if Mac hears you say that. What’s got your knickers in a twist anyway?”
“Nothing. I’m just tired, and the pressure was all on me. Why did Mac have to tell him that I lead this project were in fact, it’s him, Maj?” I stomped out of the testing room, still annoyed.
It all started when I succeeded in creating a signature fragrance for a famous baseball player. Now, it was stuck to Mac’s head that I could possibly do other scents for this project. Besides, I would do anything he asked for because I was just a trainee.
Maj’s high heels echoed in the entire hallway as she followed me. “Are, wait!”
I stopped to a halt and turned. I was so annoyed for some unknown reason. Or I was annoyed at Skip for bailing out on me two days ago. He had the right, I knew, but did he have to be cold then warm, then cold again like he had some kind of switch? Couldn’t he just tell me what was wrong? Because I was not a freaking fortune teller to guess his twisted brain. Didn’t he really remember me? Or that night wasn’t worth remembering at all?
“Are you listening, Are? Quit frowning!” She pressed her forefinger between my eyebrows. “I’m asking you. How did he know you’re a Rogue? Did you two happen to have a wild night together?” Her caramel face lit up in a mischievous way.
A long wild night, yeah.
“Hell no!” I pointed to my ID, and she looked down.
“Thank, God! You got a new one! Good for you, Rogue. Let’s go out tonight, then and have a few drinks? Stop overthinking everything, Are. We are a team, remember? We can do it. We always did!” She kissed my cheek and left.
How did I become such a liar after that night? Not a big big lie, but it was still a lie.
“Mac, if you’re going to fire me, just do it! I don’t want another pep talk,” I started before he could. “I’m so exhausted to even think about new ideas. My brain is fried.”
He was a good boss, nosy, but tolerable. He propped his hands on his hips, then blew an exasperating breath. He pressed his lips into a thin line as he continued looking at me with brows drew together as if deciding to fire me or if I still had used to him. “I don’t wanna lost my best shot, but if you’re gonna be rude again, I’ll spank your ass, woman.”
I huffed. “You don’t like my ass, I know, but Linton was also an ass. Did you see his reaction every time he smelled our samples? Does he even know about perfumery? I bet his daddy dear only promoted him because he’s an heir to the throne of the Everly Cosmetics and Fragrances, and he knows nothing!”
“Quite a judgmental of you, Arella James.” The voice at my back made me freeze. A coldness wrapped around my body like a plague that seeped through my bone—it almost made my blood stop with shame.
Mac’s eyes were wide as saucers. Colors drained from his already pale face.
I closed my eyes as my heart sped up upon hearing his footsteps getting closer. I took a deep breath and turned around when I was definite that his body standing close behind me. “Shouldn’t you be back to your castle, Mr. Linton?”
Mac gasped at my back.
Instead of getting insulted by my sarcasm, he smiled—a smile that made my heart thunder with a fluttery feeling spread on my belly—a smile that made me feel imprisoned and a smile that popped out hearts from my eyes.
“Sassy, aren’t we? I come here to talk to you before I leave.” For the second time, he shoved his hands on his pockets like a mighty god he was.
“What do you wanna talk about?” My curiosity struck.
“Your work, of course.”
I was so lost in thought that I forgot Mac until he cleared his throat. “I was about to tell her before you came, Mr. Linton. I’ll give you two time to talk then. Have a good day ahead. Are, I’ll see you later.”
I smiled and nodded.
“Talk,” I started when Mac was finally gone.
“I might not be an expert about perfumery like you, but I study business management with your brother. I’m exposed to my dad’s business which is perfumes and cosmetics all my life. I agree, I’m not as good as you, but I know if the scent will fascinate the consumers or not. I must say, you’re good at it. I’m actually impressed, but I’m not going to boost your ego. Clients have different tastes, that’s why I want to conduct surveys. It’s not a part of the deal, and I want to team up with you instead of your team.”
“There is something missing. A tiny one, but could be essential to your concoction. Try to figure it out,” he added.
“I already did my best. I think I’m not the right person you wanna team up with. I’m just a trainee. Let me suggest Maj—she’s one of the best.”
“No. I chose you myself, Arella. Don’t worry, I’ll double your salary, and you don’t have to work during your shift. I already talked to my assistant to arrange my schedule, and you can’t say no to me because your boss already agreed.”
“Without consulting me first? How dare he?” I shot him a glare. “Well, then I don’t have a say, do I, boss?” My breathing went heavy, but Skip remained magnificent as he was.
His gorgeous eyes surveyed my face, making a little self-conscious. Then he smirked. “Do you have a problem working with me, Ms. James?”
You have no idea, have you? I internally rolled my eyes. You’re a complete distraction! I didn’t think I could focus on my work when I had him in my lab, or he could be my inspiration for a man’s perfume, right?
“I don’t have for as long as we stay professional all the time.”
“Of course, that’s why I chose you because you were damn good pretending we didn’t know each other at the testing area, and nobody suspected you knew me, right?”
“Then why do I feel it’s an insult, Skipper?”
He chuckled. “It’s a compliment. Don’t you receive a lot? They must’ve been so bloody dumbed to not notice you.”
I rolled my eyes. “What’s up on your sleeves?”
“Nothing really, love.”
“Well then. Since I don’t have much of a choice, fine by me. But whatever happened before we should set it aside and not mention it at all. I love what I am doing, and I still have eight months to get a good recommendation from my boss. I don’t want to taint it with whatever mess we had from the past.”
“What past?” His cold stare seeped through my soul, making me shiver and small in front of him.
I broke the contact and looked away. “Don’t pretend you don’t remember me, Skipper Braddock Linton.” My heart thundered, and I could even hear the loud pounding that grew in my ears. My skin tingled, but I couldn’t take it anymore. And I needed an answer from him.
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said defensively.
“Really?” My brow arched. “Well then, I must be fucking the wrong guy back then. Or he was probably your twin.”