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CHAPTER 9

          Quite happy with the idea of bringing Annalise as his +1 at his brother’s wedding, Lance walked into the suite of offices he just bought for his new headquarters in Los Angeles.

          While whistling joyfully, Lance nodded a good morning to the receptionist, but he stopped when she came out of her desk with a concerned expression on her face. Kelly was usually very calm and collected, that is why seeing her so agitated left him a bit perplexed.

“Mr. Hamilton, if I was in your shoes, I wouldn’t enter your office. At least, not today, at least,” Kelly whispered to him.

          Lance raised an eyebrow when he realized that the receptionist was gesturing toward his office. From where he was, Lance couldn’t see who was the person Kelly was referring to.

“Why the hell not?” he demanded.

          She put one hand up to shield her mouth and then she tapped her finger against her palm in the direction of his office.

“Because 'The Queen' is in there.”

The Queen…” Lance repeated but stopped trying to understand what was she saying.

          He took a few steps back, to stare down the hall toward his office, but the door was closed. Damn, he didn’t have time to play such games. Lance looked back at Kelly and tried to stifle his growing impatience.

          The girl was highly efficient even if she was a little eccentric. But Lance liked unconventional people, and since Kelly accepted without flinching, to follow him to Los Angeles, she brought a sort of vibrancy to an otherwise stuffy office.

“Alright, Kelly. Let’s end this game here. First of all, who is in my office, and secondly, where is Claire?”

          His PA was a very reliable person and it wasn’t like Claire not to meet him as he got off the elevator. His longtime PA had been with Lance through thick and thin, taking care of every single thing Lance needed or asked for.

          Claire had an astonishing ability for knowing precisely when he would show up, and as a result, she was always there, ready to remind Lance of his daily schedule.

“Oh, Mr. Hamilton, didn’t you get my text?”

          Kelly frowned, and watch Lance’s stunned face. He took off the phone from his pocket and looked at the received texts.

“Sir, I’m quite thorough and, just to be sure, I left you two texts. Last night, after midnight, Claire’s mother fell in her house and fractured her hip. She was rushed to the hospital. She is in surgery right now. Claire had to take the first flight to New York City. But she asked me to let you know right away which I did and…”

“Alright, Kelly… Yes, you did send them,” he said sighing, “but I didn’t read them right away. I had my mind on something else.”

           A bit embarrassed for almost making her cry, Lance ran his fingers through his hair. He put a hand to her arm just to calm Kelly down.

“Please, keep me updated on this matter. I want to know how the surgery went the minute Claire’s mother will be out of the O.R. Make sure Claire has everything she may need, and send some flowers to her mother’s room. On second thought, send over food for the whole Stone family. I know for a fact that hospital food isn’t always great. And, another thing… Until Claire will be back, you’re going to be my PA.”

          Kelly nodded then hurriedly picked up the tablet and started taking notes. Lance waited a moment then sighed and impatiently, stared at her.

“Kelly?”

          She looked up, blinking as if surprised to still see him standing there.

“You still didn’t tell me who is the person waiting for me in my office…”

“It’s Guinevere Olsen.”

          After saying that name, Kelly’s nose curled in disgust.

“Mr. Hamilton, I swear that I’ve tried to stop her, but I couldn’t. She said to me something I can’t repeat to you, then she entered your office, and slammed the door in my face.”

          On Lance’s lips appeared a half-smile and shook his head. Man, this was faster than he toughed… She had some nerve to come to Los Angeles and act like between them things didn’t change. Their relationship finished the moment she betrayed him and it became inexistent when Arthur announced their engagement.

          He glanced down the hall and briefly considered leaving the building and returning to his hotel suite. He had no patience for Guinevere today and after his mother had extracted his promise to attend this weekend’s ‘happy reunion’, Lance couldn't imagine anything Guinevere could have to say to him.

“Please, Kelly, keep me posted on Claire’s mother,” Lance said as he turned to go down to his office.

          Lance opened the door and swept in, his gaze immediately finding Guinevere. She was sitting on one of the sofas, checking her makeup in a little pocket mirror she always carried in her little purse.  

“Gwen,” Lance exclaimed as he tossed his briefcase onto his desk. “What the hell are you doing in Los Angeles and, more precisely, in my office?”

          Guinevere put the mirror and the lip-gloss in her purse, got calmly up from the sofa, her hands going down to smooth her dress. The motion directed attention to her legs. The dress stopped almost at mid-thigh, which meant quite a lot of those legs were on display.

          At one point, Lance enjoyed it very much those legs. It was one of her best features. Too bad they were attached to the rest of the most vicious person he had ever met. Her expression creased into one of deep concern. Guinevere crossed the room, holding her hands dramatically in front of her to grasp his.

“I came to Los Angeles to meet a dear friend of mine, but I also wanted to thank you personally for agreeing to come to the wedding. It means the world to Arthur and your parents. I know how painful it must be for you to take part in it since I’m the one that got away and always be.”

          Lance just stared at her. Part of him wanted to ask her if she was really believing in what she just said, but he already got the answer to that question. Of course, she was since in her mind, Guinevere was absolutely positive that Earth and everyone on it, was revolving around her. Did she honestly believe he was still yearning for her?

“Cut the crap with this fake worry, Gwen. Why are you really here? You don’t care if I show up or not, so why pretend otherwise? Although, I’m pretty sure you hoped I wouldn’t show up.”

          She blinked, and for a moment, Lance saw bitterness and a bit of anger in her eyes.

“Flora said you were bringing a… date. It was clever of you, it really was. Well, you can fool your mother, but you don’t fool me, Lance. Everyone knows that you haven’t been in a serious relationship with another woman since I left you. So, who is she? How much did you pay her to act as your… girlfriend? Does she know she’s going to… disappear after this event? That you’re not interested in having a serious relationship? That you’re treating women like they are accessories?”

“Oh, please, Gwen... Just spare me all this!”

“Yes, Lance, you did treat me like an accessory. That’s why I left you.”

“Oh, really?! Listen, you must help me out on this because I’m not sure I get it. So, was I serious about you, or were you an accessory?”

          Lance asked that with a touch of sarcasm in his voice. But the truth was that he wasn’t all that interested in really finding the answer. Still, he was curious to hear what would be her next invention.

“Which one is it, Gwendy?” Lance urged her using the nickname he knew she was hating with passion.

“What I wanted to point out was the fact that you haven’t dated a woman more than once since I broke up with you,” she hissed and started to lose her composure flushing angrily.

“You flatter me.”

          Lance made an exaggerated expression of surprise and then smiled sarcastically.  

“I had no idea you were so interested in who I’m dating or how many women I’m having in my bed. I would’ve thought my brother kept you too occupied to monitor my love life. You’re quite amazing! Between making Artie happy, shopping savagely, and preparing the wedding of the century, you still manage to find the time to check out on me and my love life. Thanks for your concern… sis!”

“Whatever!” she exclaimed and went to the door.

          But before leaving the office, she made a dramatic turn, looked at Lance, and addressed him in a patronizing tone.

“Bring your… girlfriend, Lance! I don’t care! But you know and I know she isn’t me. She will never be me. Don’t think you will be in the news on my wedding day. I will still be the best thing you never had.”

          With that she stormed out of his office, leaving Lance smiling while shaking his head in complete disbelief. This delusional woman had been at one point his girlfriend… He really ought to call his brother and thank him profusely for helping him get rid of her.

          Lance sank into his armchair and started looking at his list of appointments. Before leaving for New York, Claire put together his schedule for the next few days. Lance frowned when he saw his calendar was absolutely full.

          Or almost… His one-hour lunch break was still free. Perfect! The right moment to meet again with Annalise, whose office was just ten minutes away from his.

“Well, let’s see how she will react to what I have in mind for both of us…” Lance whispered to himself.

          He had planned to call her, but a proposition such as the one he had in mind was really better delivered in person. Lance wouldn’t have a lot of time, and he doubted Annalise had much free time, either, but he knew without arrogance, that if he asked her to lunch, she wouldn’t refuse.

          Annalise was a professional and he knew for sure, since their last encounter, how badly she wanted the contract. He hit the button to call Kelly.

“Yes, Mr. Hamilton?”

“Kelly, I need Miss Annalise Walsh of ‘S&W Advertising’ on the phone. Thanks!”

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Alasdair Macleod
It’s thought not tough
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