Right Under His NosebyBrettJ©
Elliot Baxter walked into his office early Monday morning. He was still a bit bleary-eyed and before he could even call for his assistant, she was there with a cup of steaming, hot coffee. How great was that? Most assistants wouldn't even go for coffee these days and Colleen made him a fresh pot every day. She truly was one in a million and he reminded himself that he was damned lucky to have her.
"Morning boss," Colleen smiled at him as he sat behind his large oak desk in his large, new chair. Both were recent acquisitions presented to him on his 10th anniversary with the company. He enjoyed both gifts because he knew darned well he had earned them. He looked up at Colleen and smiled back at her. "Morning yourself," he said to the young, attractive blonde as he put his feet up on the desk.
"So, how was your weekend?" Colleen asked him as she sat down across from him and sipped her own coffee. No matter how hectic their day was going to be, they always shared coffee at the start of it. It was a ritual that had been going on for almost the entire 10 years Elliot had been working for his brother-in-law's company. "Didn't you have that big date with the lingerie model?" She questioned him. "How did that go?"
"Jennifer, right," he sighed. "It was okay, I guess. She was pleasant enough company and she was interesting. Yeah, she was pretty ..."
"Here comes the but ..." Colleen said, knowing something was about to follow.
"... BUT she had a big ugly tattoo above her backbone," Elliot told Colleen. "Why do all these gorgeous women do things like that? I thought she might be the perfect girl and then we get into bed and she has this ... this ugly tramp stamp on her body!" Elliot complained.
"You have to stop looking for perfection, Elliot," Colleen cautioned him with real concern. Elliot knew she meant every word; she had always looked out for his well being ever since he started with Josh's firm after college. "You know you're never going to find it."
"Why can't I? My parents did, my sister did. What's wrong with wanting to find that perfect someone to spend the rest of your life with?" Elliot asked Colleen. It was true. His parents had been married for 40 years and his younger sister had been with Josh for 16 years, ever since they had all been in high school together. Elliot had looked for years to find that someone he clicked with and not succeeded. A few near misses and yet, they might have been as far away as Mars. Colleen put away their coffee mugs and shook her head.
"I think you're seeking an ideal and maybe you've built her up too much in your mind," Colleen said, almost lecturing him as if she were the older one in their lengthy relationship. "You're 35 and you've been with several beautiful women and I know you haven't been a monk. You slept with Jennifer, didn't you?" Elliot nodded. "See? Why can't you look past the imperfections and just find someone to share your life with?"
"I don't know," Elliot admitted honestly. "Girls like her are fun to date, but for the long term, I just want something more. Not someone who has had their nose done or their boobs made bigger. Not someone who has a lot of piercings or a tattoo here, there, everywhere. Someone real and sexy and sweet and with substance. Someone who doesn't care about how many cars we have or how big a house we have. I want someone who is supportive of me and I can support. I admit it, there's nothing wrong with a good sex life, but at the old fossil age of 35 ..." Colleen rolled her eyes as her boss went on with his rant "... I want more than sex. I want romance, is that too much to ask?"
"Aww, that's so sweet," Colleen smiled and gave him a quick little hug. "No, I guess when you put it that way; it isn't too much to ask. I just hate to see you so frustrated; you've been looking ever since I came to work here."
"She's out there, I know she is," Elliot told her. "Maybe she's in the Witness Protection Program, but she's out there. Okay, how was your weekend? What did you do?"
"Went out with some girlfriends, had a few drinks, danced a bit, rented some videos, nothing special," Colleen shrugged.
Elliot looked at her and shook his head. "I will never understand why you aren't with someone special either," he told her. "You're bright, funny, pretty, you're sassy and you make a nice living," Elliot said. "I hear you can even cook," he teased her. Colleen loved to cook and had taken several cooking classes. She often brought him lunch and not once had it been anything less than excellent. She always seemed so pleased when he praised her efforts. She had been almost as responsible for Elliot's success as he was himself and he knew it.
Straight out of university, Elliot had come to work for his brother-in-law's company and he had known he was a fish out of water. He had intended to teach journalism, but Lisa wanted more for her big brother and persuaded Josh that a little nepotism wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. Elliot was at the top of his class and he knew good literature. So Josh had offered him a job as an associate editor with his publishing firm. He knew Elliot would work hard and hoped he would find his way. Elliot had done his very best.
Elliot fumbled his way through his first month and then, Colleen applied for an internship. She was assigned to the "new guy" and that's when magic happened.
They were both fumbling their way through. Elliot had an eye for talent. Colleen had an eye for details. She caught the things he missed. She shored him up and when he would pour over manuscripts for new talents, she would then meticulously go over them for grammar and syntax errors and all the minute details Elliot would never have had time for. From their initial pairing, they were a perfect team. Colleen was a perfectionist and highly supportive of her boss and friend. Elliot made sure to compliment his assistant as much as he could and take an interest in her life. He encouraged her to be more outgoing and he believed it was working. In their nearly ten years working together, Elliot and Colleen had discovered over 30 successful authors for Josh's firm. From the little fish in the big pond, Elliot was now a shark. Only Josh himself was more successful than his friend and protégé.
"You didn't wear that tie to dinner with Jennifer, did you?" Colleen said as her boss took his feet off his desk and prepared to start his work day. "I keep telling you it's an ugly tie; you should have worn the paisley."
"My mother gave me this necktie," Elliot looked up at her with a grin.
"Marie's a wonderful lady and a great mom, but she has lousy taste in ties," Colleen grinned back. "Next time, wear the paisley." She left the office just as Josh was entering and smiled at him.
"Great girl, that Colleen," Josh said to his brother-in-law. "Giving her the job as your assistant was the best move this company ever made."
"I'll second that, she's a peach," Elliot smiled at Josh. "I'm surprised other companies haven't tried to poach her."
"Who says they haven't?" Josh answered. "I don't that know for sure, but I do know one thing -- that girl would never leave you, not ever. She's loyal to a fault. She's almost as responsible for your success as Lisa is for mine." Lisa had encouraged her husband to buy the failing publishing house some 15 years earlier. By focusing on avant-garde authors, new romantic writers and erotic fiction written for women bywomen, the company had been making a profit by its second year. Many of their more recent acquisitions had come at the suggestion of Elliot and Colleen.
"I should probably give her a raise," Elliot grinned at Josh.
"Better watch that or she'll be making more than you do," Josh laughed. "I think you're being a bit too free with MY money."
"Don't worry about it, if we spend too much, we'll just find you another author and make more," Elliot retorted. "So, what did you want to see me about?"
"Lisa wanted me to invite you to dinner on Sunday," Josh told him. "She told me to tell you that your niece and nephew are starting to forget what you look like. She also added that it would be nice if you brought a date some time -- her words, not mine," Josh chuckled. He might have been big in the publishing world, but it was Josh's 33-year old wife who ran their home and kept it running like a Swiss watch.
"Lisa has been looking out for me since she was ten years old," Elliot said. "Would you please remind my sister that I'm the older brother?"
"Oh no, I'm not getting in the middle of you two again!" Josh laughed. "Last time you and my wife got into one of your little spats, it was at the Christmas party and she didn't like your date -- a Playboy model, wasn't she?"
Elliot shook his head. "Former adult film actress."
"Whatever. As I recall, Lisa was going at you and Colleen saved your butt."
"Yeah, she did, that's another one I owe Colleen," Elliot said. His sister was not at all shy about vocalizing her opinion. Colleen seemed to be the one person on earth who was not afraid to challenge her or calm her down. His sister and Colleen got along extremely well and lunched at least once a week.
"My ears are burning, you two must be talking about me," Colleen smiled as she entered the office. "Boss, I just wanted to remind you that you have a 12:30 PM lunch date with Darenzia LaSalle."
Josh spun around and looked at Elliot. "Darenzia LaSalle? My God El, she's the hottest thing going. How the hell did you manage to get a lunch meeting with her?"
"She's not happy with her publishing house, she told me that she didn't think they promoted her last book enough and were chintzy when she went on her last book tour," Elliot said.
"Plus, they dated for a few months," Colleen added, taking a small jab at her boss' track record.
Josh looked at his brother-in-law and his tongue was almost hanging out. Darenzia LaSalle was a stunning woman, a leggy black beauty who had modeled before becoming a successful erotic author. "Promise her whatever you need, sleep with her if you want," Josh said, not quite meaning that. "A woman like Darenzia LaSalle can make or break a company like ours."
When Josh left, Colleen gave Elliot some materials he would need for the meeting. She smiled as she looked into his brown eyes. "You did sleep with her, didn't you?"
"Several times," Elliot said honestly. "She's pretty good, as I recall."
"Should I clear your schedule for the afternoon?" Colleen asked drily.
"No mother, I promise to be a good boy," Elliot told her as he looked over the notes and things he needed for his lunch. "You never liked her, did you?"
"It wasn't that, she wasn't good for you," Colleen said as she started back towards her desk.
"So who IS good for me?" Elliot asked.
"I hope you figure that out someday," Colleen retorted.
Just before he was to leave for his lunch, Colleen came back into the office and handed him a paisley tie. "You are not wearing that ugly thing to lunch," she told him as she helped him off with the other tie. "You want to make this deal, not have her running for the hills."
Elliot was halfway to lunch when he realized his paisley tie was at home. She had gone and bought him a new one, likely with her own money. That was Colleen, always making sure he was at his best. He really believed she was deserving of a raise and he'd see that she got one.
He made it to lunch and met Darenzia. She was as beautiful as ever in a form-fitting, leopard print dress with a high slit on one side. He let the lunch go casually as he tried to woo her over to their company. From her nods and chuckles, he believed that he was succeeding. She always had been highly susceptible to flattery when they were dating.
"I think I'm ready for a change," she told him as she flashed him her winning smile. She was quite possibly one of the most beautiful women he had ever known and he couldn't remember at that moment why things had not worked out between the two of them. "Send me the contracts and I'll sign them."
He reached into his briefcase. "I just so happened to bring them with me," he smiled back and put them in front of her.
Darenzia read them over and then signed in the places indicated. "You were that certain that I'd sign them?"
"I know you pretty well," Elliot grinned confidently. "Part of you had already made up your mind when we talked last week."
"You're right, I had," she said as she finished signing the contracts. "Perhaps we can go somewhere and have a more ... intimate celebration?" She asked.
He wanted to let Darenzia down easy and Elliot shook his head. "I don't really DO that anymore, although I'm flattered."
She pressed her point. "Why not? There need be no strings attached and as you recall, I'm very, very good in bed."
Elliot was beginning to remember why they had broken up. Yes, she was stunning and yes, the sex was remarkable. However, Darenzia was the kind of woman who didn't like to hear "no" and got a bit snippy when she did hear it. He had to handle her with kid gloves and let her go away with her ego intact. "I'm looking for strings, actually," he said. "I am on a quest, if you want to call it that, for someone I can marry. I want someone to share a life with and not just a bed. I hope you can understand that."
To his great surprise, Darenzia placed her hand on top of his and nodded. "I can and I think it's admirable. I'm only sorry that I can't be that woman, but I don't want marriage at this point. You know what my last two were like. I wish you luck finding her and whoever she is, she's a very lucky woman." She gave him a kiss on the cheek and signed the last few documents.
Dinner with Lisa and Josh a few days later was a win-lose. Josh was thrilled at Elliot's success in signing Darenzia LaSalle to a three-year contract. Lisa was not at all thrilled that her brother had come to dinner alone.
"When are you going to find someone you can bring to dinner?" Lisa must have said that to him about five times in the course of the evening.
"When I find someone I think is special enough that you'll approve of her," Elliot countered.
"Colleen thinks you're too picky," Lisa shot back.
"Colleen hasn't liked any of the women I've gone out with either," Elliot said. "Look, don't you think I want someone amazing? I've been looking for years, but our parents and you; you've set the bar too high. I deserve someone as much as you do and when I find her, I'll bring her in along with the Hallelujah Chorus in behind us. Until then, there is nothing you or Colleen can do about it."
"You should ask Colleen to find someone for you, she knows you better than anyone," Lisa insisted. "When we got to lunch, sometimes I have to get her to stop talking about you. You're my older brother and I think that she knows more about you than I do. I hope you value what a great assistant you have in her."
"I'm always telling her I couldn't do it without her, I asked your husband to allow me to give her a raise," Elliot laughed.
"Josh? Josh, let Elliot give Colleen a raise," Lisa called out.
"Okay, no problem." Josh shouted back from the kid's room where he was putting them down for the night.
"There. Wasn't that simple?"
Elliot laughed. As strong a boss as Josh was, Lisa was the woman behind the man and he knew it. It made things so much easier for the both of them.
"Valentine's Day is coming up next week, are you getting anything nice for Colleen?" Lisa asked.
"We usually go to lunch together," Elliot answered. "She brings muffins for breakfast and we have a late lunch at a diner we both like and then, we knock off for the rest of the day."
Lisa shook her head and brushed some of her auburn curls from her forehead. Curly hair ran in the family, although Elliot's was more of an ash-blonde. "She's worked for you 10 years at the end of February, you should make some kind of grand gesture. Lunch isn't enough Elliot, go whole hog."
"What do you suggest?"
Lisa rolled her eyes. "I shouldn't have to do all of your thinking for you. You have a week, think of something on your own," she said as she made the after-dinner coffee.
Elliot spent the entire week looking at Colleen and wondering what to do for her on the 14th. He didn't want to simply offer her a cash bonus and a stupid card along with their usual lunch. Lisa was absolutely right, Colleen was special. She always had his back and he had to do something really unexpected. He called one of the ritziest restaurants in town and made reservations for 1 PM on Valentine's Day. He made sure to send his best suit to the cleaners and called a florist and made other arrangements. He knew Colleen would be bowled over.
Colleen came in early on Valentine's morning and saw her desk and the card. She looked at everything and came in to Elliot's office. Her reaction was NOT anything at all like he had expected it would be.
"What's this?" She asked as she held up the card. "What's with the roses and this sentimental card? `Love, Elliot'? We don't have that kind of relationship," she chewed him out before angrily returning to her desk.
Elliot felt like he was in some surreal movie. He had no idea why she was acting like this, it was entirely unlike Colleen. She had been really upset. "COLLEEN!" he shouted to get her back in the office. "What was that all about?" He asked her. "You didn't like the flowers or the champagne?"
"You've never once sent me flowers, not even on my birthday," Colleen said to him. "Why on Valentine's Day? Why now?"
"Because I thought you're special and it might be nice if someone sent you roses on Valentine's Day," Elliot told her. "You always spoil me. It always makes me feel special."
"Then there's the card ..." She started to leave again so Elliot moved in front of her and blocked her exit. He closed the door behind them and looked at her.
"What about the card? It's a nice card."
"It's a lovely card and they're nice roses and ..."
"So what is it that has you all ..." Elliot stopped speaking and heard her. She had told him minutes ago and he just hadn't heard her -- until now. "Is it that I said love? Of course I love you. You're the most ..." He stopped speaking again. Something told him it would be the prudent course of action. He looked at Colleen. She looked up at him. He looked back at her and then, he finally GOT it.
"Colleen, how long have you been in love with me?"
Colleen looked up at him and started to speak. At first, it looked like she was going to deny it and then, she finally said "Since about 15 minutes after I came to work for you, you big dummy." She tried to leave again and Elliot stopped her. He looked at this lovely, magical, special, funny girl who had always been his ally and wondered how he could have been so incredibly stupid. Wrong or right, even if it blew their friendship, he had to know and he had to now right now!
He pulled her close and before she could stop him, he slid his arms down to her waist and pulled her close and kissed her. She was startled at first and didn't kiss him right back, but that didn't last. She put her arms around his neck and started kissing him back. The kiss felt like it went on for an hour, although it was only a few minutes.
"I've been an ass."
"I'm not going to argue with you," Colleen grinned, wiping some stray tears from her eyes.
"Why didn't you ever tell me?" Elliot wanted to know.
"With all the gorgeous women you dated? I wouldn't have stood a chance," Colleen said, lightly thumping on his chest, but allowing a small smile for the first time.
"Yeah, you would have," Elliot said, pulling her back and hugging her again. "I never got serious with any of them, did I? I always said I was looking for ..."
"... the perfect girl. In case you haven't noticed buster, I'm not perfect."