Terms of Enchantment Ch. 03bybrightlyiburn©
Chapter Three: Corey Lets Her Hair Down
Femme HQ was even livelier than it had been on Friday. That was due largely to the dozen or so other guys who were there as well as Jace. He felt kind of out of place among them. They had real careers—lawyers, doctors, accountants, pro athletes—while he waited tables. And yeah, he worked a lot of hours, but that didn't change the fact that he was the only one who was still working in the same kind of job he'd had since high school. Jace didn't much care for that feeling.
He also wasn't too happy with the way Chrisie and K.D. were studying him. They were talking about what to do about his hair and his wardrobe. Jace supposed he could understand the hair—it was still kind of a wreck from Jenna's disastrous first attempts at being a hairdresser—but he didn't think there was anything wrong with his clothes. A t-shirt, some good old jeans, and a pair of motorcycle boots...what more did a guy really need? An actual motorcycle would probably be good, Jace thought, staring down at his toes. Although at the rate I'm going, boots are the closest I'll ever get.
Even worse was that Corey was late. She was never late. Okay, so maybe it wasn't the fact that she was late that was the problem. Jace just couldn't seem to stop thinking about her. Especially since she'd called him Friday night. He actually had been asleep—mostly, at least—but her voice had woken him up damn quick. He'd spent the weekend reliving a memory that he thought he'd managed to bury too deep to ever dredge up again. It had been a freak thing, after all. An isolated incident. It hadn't meant anything.
It had been Jenna's twenty-first birthday. Jace had just broken up with his girlfriend Lena, who he'd actually been pretty serious about. And Corey had just been dumped by some pompous ass that Jace could only remember as 'Whatshisface'. He'd known better at that point to avoid alcohol after a bad break-up—it was just never, never pretty—but Corey had never learned that lesson. Jace had been the one to help her stagger to the bathroom where, aside from there being a toilet close at hand, they were able to get away from the noise of the party. He'd done it because she was his little sister's best friend and he'd known her forever, that was all. Maybe he shouldn't have.
They'd talked. Well, she'd babbled drunkenly and he'd listened.
Very little of it had been interesting; even drunk Corey was a control freak, so she hadn't let anything juicy slip. And out of the blue she'd kissed him. Just like that. When he let himself Jace could remember quite vividly the way she'd grabbed him and pulled him close. If he'd been a scumbag like Brandon he probably would have taken advantage of the situation. Instead he'd gently pushed her away and took her home. And prayed that she didn't remember any of it in the morning.
Jace hadn't been so lucky. He'd crawled into bed that night a little weirded out, since she was his little sister's best friend and therefore kind of like a sister. You don't kiss your sister. Or even a girl who's like a sister. And you most certainly don't have sex dreams about them. But Corey had been in his dreams that night. She'd been stretched out on his bed with only her hair to cover her. And yeah, she had a lot of hair, but it couldn't cover that much. That had been bad enough, but what they'd done in the dream...it was just better for Jace if he didn't think about it.
"Hey, earth to Jace. Where'd you go?"
Jace blinked down at Chrisie. "Sorry," he said, smiling sheepishly. "Just distracted, I guess. Um...look...this whole thing about my hair..."
"We need to at least tidy it up some," Chrisie insisted. "Come on, Jace...please?"
They all turned to see what that was about. Jace had learned very quickly that the green-haired girl, Vel—destined to be a rebel thanks to a mother who had named her after National Velvet—swore at least once per sentence. This time he could see why. The door of Femme HQ had opened and in walked Corey, her honey blonde hair floating freely around her shoulders. She was chatting on a sleek little pink cell phone. The button down shirt—cream this time—and simple black slacks were still there, but like that even mattered. Jace couldn't keep his eyes off her.
"I know other magazines have done it before, Marie," Corey was saying. She was doing that confident, professional but sexy thing again. "So what? This is Femme! Give this next issue less than a day on the newsstands and I promise you every woman who reads magazines will forget that we didn't do this first."
"Her cell phone is pink," Chrisie whispered, sounding a little awed. "And her hair!"
"What do you think she'll do when she realizes that there are more than a dozen men in here and they're all staring at her?" K.D. asked. "And drooling."
"I'm practically drooling," Chrisie said. "Where does she get that confidence from? When she's talking about us and Femme, she's like..."
"Marie, how many times do I have to tell you to trust me?" Corey was making her way across the lobby, dodging staring males without noticing them in the slightest. "Look, I can't talk right now, I've got a magazine to run. Call me later in the week, we'll do lunch. Ta."
She snapped the phone shut and looked up. Finally it dawned at her that everyone in the room was looking at her. Jace was trying very hard not to remember that dream, but that was difficult. And then she had to do that thing with her hair. She lowered her head slightly, her eyes on the floor, and swept a lock of that glorious hair back to tuck it behind her ear. It was one of those demure yet sexy things that women never realized they did. It was worse than the things they did to tease men on purpose.
When Corey looked up again she saw him. Jace suddenly felt like he was sixteen. He watched her tuck her cell phone into her purse and wondered when she'd gotten it. She certainly hadn't had it Friday.
"How's it going?" Corey asked, her voice quiet and unsure.
"He won't let us cut his hair," K.D. complained.
"Where did you get that cell phone?" Chrisie wanted to know. She bounced around on her toes like an excited puppy. "And your hair! I've never seen it down! Ohmigod, it's so long!"
"Chrisie, we have a magazine to run," K.D. reminded her. "And an uncooperative cutie to deal with."
Corey looked back and forth between Chrisie and K.D., then sighed. She turned her gray eyes on him and Jace found himself frozen to the spot like a deer in headlights. With her hair falling free to her hips she looked—cliché though it might be—like an angel. Especially when she turned just enough to catch the sunlight spilling in through a nearby window. At that moment if she had asked him to shave his head, he probably would have. Jace knew he had a serious weak spot when it came to women, but he didn't have one for Corey. Scratch that—hadn't had one for Corey. Even his dream that time hadn't left him really attracted to her.
Fortunately for him, Corey wasn't about to ask him to shave his head. She leaned back a little, studying him thoughtfully for a moment.
"Jenna is thrilled that you're doing this, so I don't think she'll mind you letting someone else cut your hair," Corey said, managing to hit the nail rather firmly on the head. "I think, though, not too much. Tell Vel to keep most of the length and just even it out a little. She'll know by looking what it was Jenna was attempting to do, anyway."
"Wait...Vel is cutting my hair?" Jace asked, suddenly alarmed.
"Vel does make-up, too," Corey replied. The faintest hint of a wicked smile flashed in her eyes. "Don't worry, Jace. My girls know what they're doing. Trust me."
He did trust her, which was why a few moments later he found himself in a line with the rest of the men. Corey walked the length of the line, studying each of the guys, with Vel on one side and the little Asian-looking girl on the other. She made suggestions about hairstyles—though none of them had a disaster like him—and about clothing. One thing was for sure; Corey knew exactly what she wanted. And Jace was impressed with what he heard. Especially when she told some lawyer guy that his preppy pink shirt was going to have to go. He could appreciate an old-fashioned sort of girl who realized that pink was a girly color, period.
When she was finished she headed upstairs to her office. Jace watched her go and kind of wished he was going with her, instead of following the other girls through a door that apparently led down to a basement. He would have liked to see Corey's office; was it as wildly unlike her as the rest of the place? As he followed along with the rest of the guys—rather reluctantly—he noticed a couple of the girls speaking back and forth. At least, he thought it was speaking...
"We're your weather girls."
"And have we got news for you."
"You better listen."
Jace looked back and forth along the line making its way down the stairs, trying to figure out which girls it was. He didn't know all the girls by name, though he thought he recognized one of the voices as belonging to Chrisie. And then he knew it was Chrisie, as she broke into a very familiar chorus—with a very good singing voice, he noted.
"It's raining men! Hallelujah, it's raining men!"
"Amen!" chorused ten other female voices.
Jace grinned. Some of the other guys were laughing. This could be a lot of fun, he thought, as all the girls began singing the song together. Even if I am going to have to deal with hair and make-up. Not too much make-up, he hoped. Maybe Preppy-Pink-Shirt Guy wouldn't mind, but Jace personally found it a little weird. And speaking of weird, he thought, glancing back up the stairs, what was with that pink cell phone Corey had? I thought hers was gray.
As much as Corey adored her staff, sometimes she absolutely hated them. Like now, after having spent a whole day with "It's Raining Men" running relentlessly through her brain. She'd even found herself humming it, which had been particularly embarrassing when Chrisie came in with lunch—turkey on white again, but hey, Rome wasn't built in a day. Choruses such as that one were common at Femme HQ, usually headed up by Chrisie or Shae. Occasionally Corey joined in...from the safety of her office, where no one else could hear her. Singing was generally something that drew more attention than she liked.
It was getting late—late enough that it had grown dark outside—when the door to her office flew open. Corey was used to that by now, though she was surprised when she looked up to find not only Chrisie, but K.D. and Jill as well, spilling into her office. Chrisie was carrying a folder and hopping up and down like a crazed grasshopper on crack. This was common for Chrisie, but K.D. and Jill looked pretty excited too. Corey pushed back her chair, figuring she was about to be dragged off somewhere, but Chrisie tossed the folder down on her desk before she got a chance to get up.
Corey knew that Mira was taking photos today, as she would be doing all week. Pictures of Jace, I guess, she thought, opening the folder. Though why...oh. Her heart did some weird, uncomfortable thing that reminded her of the way it felt to roll down a hill on your side. Mira had done all kinds of shots with Jace, and in every single one of them he was breathtaking to look at. Even the shots where he had his eyes closed—more than likely laughing at something one of the girls had said—were amazing. Corey had a hunch that his lashes were just naturally that long and dark, and they were even more beautiful with those unbelievable blue eyes of his peeking out from underneath them.
"That boy is seriously photogenic," Jill commented. "The camera loves him."
"Understatement. The camera wants to make mad, passionate love to him," K.D. said, in a wicked tone of voice. "I'm with the camera on this one."
"Me too," Chrisie piped up. "We hardly used any make-up on him at all...both Vel and Mira felt it wasn't necessary. And digital touch-ups? There was no need."
Corey let the three of them go on, listening with only half an ear. Not only did Jace's face photographic beautifully, but his body did too. He was the long, lithe type, with a bit more muscle than was at first apparent; very much like a wild cat, in fact. You just didn't notice until he moved a certain way and then suddenly you could see the muscles in his shoulders bunch. It's warm up here, Corey thought, brushing her hair away from her neck. Oh, god, no...I'm blushing, aren't I? She could feel the redness as it slowly crept up towards her ears. Wonderful.
It had gotten quiet. She looked up to see the others watching her. Maybe coming to work with her hair down wasn't such a good idea...people had been staring at her all day. Although she really did like the little pink cell phone. It was cute and a bit impractical. Corey had a feeling she was long overdue for a healthy dose of impractical.
"So um...they've all gone home for the day by now, right?" Corey asked.
K.D. smiled knowingly. "They've been trickling out for about the past hour...along with some of our staff."
"Jace has stuck around under the pretense of questioning Vel about her hairstyling background, but I think he's hoping to see you again," Jill added. "I just hope the two of you don't spend too long in denial. You'll make a cute couple."
"Now wait just a minute!" Corey protested. "Jace is like a big brother to me! I mean, I've known him practically my whole life and..." She trailed off when she realized that the other women weren't buying it. Her voice sounded very small as she spoke. "Should I go down and see him?"
"Hell yeah!" Chrisie exclaimed. "You'd have to be crazy not to!"
Corey shut the folder and stood up. Should she really go down and see him? What would she even say? "Oh, yeah, sorry about that one time when I got really drunk and hit on you"? Nope, not gonna happen, she thought, ignoring the other three as she made her way to the door. But I could at least...say thank you or something. For him being in the magazine... Not that he wasn't getting paid for it, but still. Jace was her best friend's older brother, not just some guy she didn't know. And really, he was kind of better than those other guys. Pink cell phones might be cute for girls, but pink shirts on guys? Call me old-fashioned or sexist or whatever you want, Corey thought, but pink is simply not manly, no matter how big your biceps are.
She headed downstairs, hoping that Chrisie, K.D., and Jill would give her some space. She couldn't possibly talk to Jace with the three of them breathing down her neck like some old biddies in dire need of fresh gossip. Corey found that Jace was indeed talking to Vel. He was perched on the front desk and she sat behind it, lounging in a chair in what the rest of the girls had come to call the 'Frat Boy Sprawl'. Legs—fortunately clad in way too big, way too baggy men's camouflage cargo pants—stretched wide, shoulders slouched, a can of beer—or in Vel's case diet Coke—held loosely in one hand. Corey supposed that if she was interested in Jace—which she wasn't, not like that—she'd be glad he was talking to Vel rather than, say, K.D.
Wearing simply jeans and a t-shirt, Jace had looked out of place amid the lawyers and doctors and whatever the hell else they were. It was a good out of place. Corey knew that Jace could and did dress much less casually when the situation called for it—she and Jenna had been bridesmaids at the wedding of a cousin of theirs and Jace had been an usher—but she liked that he was uptight about it. Maybe because I am uptight about it, Corey thought, nervously smoothing down her shirt. I'm not sure I even own a pair of jeans...
"Oh, hey chief," Vel said, lifting her free hand in a lazy wave. "I'm gonna head out soon. Love that hair, though. Why haven't you worn it down before?"
"I was worried about what you might try to do to it," Corey replied, smiling.
Vel laughed. "It's some awesome hair for like, the colors of the rainbow or something, but I don't think that would work on you." She stood up and made her way towards another room, where the staff kept their belongings—such as Vel's ratty old backpack and Shae's lunch.
Corey realized that she and Jace were now alone. She wasn't sure exactly where Chrisie, Jill, and K.D. had disappeared to, but they had made themselves scarce.
At first she had no clue what to say. The silence was awkward. Jace fiddled with a Rubik's cube that had been left on the desk—probably by Chiyo—his fingers shifting the little color tiles into a bigger mess than they'd started as. Corey finally took up a perch on the desk, far enough away that she wouldn't feel uncomfortable, but not so far that Jace might get insulted. He looked a little tired, but then it had probably been a long day for him. Most people didn't realize that photo shoots were hard work.
"Quite a bunch you've got here," Jace said, flashing a lopsided smile. "I like them. I wasn't too sure about this whole thing, but they made it fun."
"Yeah, they're good for that," Corey agreed, returning the smile with one of her own. "Listen...I really appreciate you doing this. I mean...this is the biggest thing we've ever done with Femme. It's important and...well, I think you add a certain something that we really needed."
"Hey, a list of hot guys is never complete without the struggling waiter with no real goals in life," Jace joked. He didn't sound bitter, though he did sound just a little resigned.
"Stop that," Corey said, frowning at him. "If you keep talking like that I'll tell Jenna."
His eyes widened. "Beast! And here I thought you were such a nice girl!"
He was laughing, though, and Corey found herself laughing with him. It helped her to relax and she realized that, when she was nervous or uncertain, she really enjoyed his company. Jace was a nice guy and she was really beginning to regret ever thinking poorly of him. I guess for the last couple of years some of that was embarrassment, Corey thought, remembering Jenna's 21st birthday party. I made such an idiot of myself... Thinking back on it, though, made her feel even more guilty; Jace could have taken advantage of her but instead he'd taken care of her.
"Well, I should get going, I guess," Jace said. He slid down off the desk. "Early shift tomorrow. Um..."
"I'll let you know...you know, when the issue hits the newsstands," Corey told him. She stared down at her hands, feeling sad. She would have liked to have...well, spent more time with her.
"Yeah." Jace shrugged. "It's not like I won't see you, though. I mean, you'll be hanging with Jenna. So..."
And there was the awkwardness again. Hooray. Though it did occur to Corey that perhaps Jace was implying that he wanted to see her. It wasn't as though they actually had spent time together, what with him really only being there for the interview and the photos. But... I could ask him out, she thought. Not like a date, but like...lunch. Between friends. Yeah, okay, who was she trying to kid? Corey did not have the guts to ask Jace out, even to a friendly lunch.
Jace stood there, his hands in his pockets, and stared at the floor. Maybe he was planning on asking her out? Don't be stupid, Corey told herself. He isn't interested in you. He's practically your brother. No doubt he thought of her as a second little sister. Yeah, that about summed up her social life in general right there.
"Anyway," Jace said, "I'll be keeping my fingers crossed. For luck, I mean. I know how much this magazine means to you...I hope this will be a big success."
Corey smiled. "Thanks."
"See you around," Jace said.
He turned to leave. Corey bit her lip, wondering if she should stop him. Maybe...maybe if they just talked for a little while longer... But she didn't have the courage. She sat there and watched him leave, because she didn't have the courage to open her mouth. It's Jace, she thought, once again. I've known him for so long. He's like a...a... But Jace wasn't like a brother to her. Corey wasn't sure she wanted him to be. It's only because of...of... she thought, but she couldn't even come up with a proper excuse. Why was this happening now?