…but the stuffed partridge glued to her shoulder blocked his view.
Pierce Grayson, Engineering Genius, a man who repairs disaster zones as easily as most make a cup of coffee, just destroyed his best shot at True Love.
A string of hopeful Mrs. Graysons (who take the term “chained to my desk” a bit TOO literally), make the billionaire appreciate the rare intelligence and selflessness of gifted muralist Allison Stanford all the more. (Allison’s a woman so loyal, she’s willing to humble herself in the World’s Most Ridiculous Maid Of Honor Outfit at the wedding of the season for an impish little sis with an axe to grind. It’s a fashion disaster but worldly wise Pierce is smitten by her golden heart!
Pierce messes up big time with Allison and rushes to apologize …right in the middle of her date with another guy on the biggest night of her career!
Allison’s not one to drop people (or business commitments) just because some hunky rich guy wants to horn in and puts him off. Undaunted, Pierce arrives at her home, flowers in hand but neither of them expects him to end up facing off with an angry grandmother guarding Allison’s threshold (and her heart).
Mema takes a fancy to the lovelorn exec but decides he needs special education on women in general (and Allison in particular) before he can earn a second chance with her granddaughter. She puts Pierce through his paces and suddenly the man who helps OTHERS for a living is in need of aid! (The feisty granny parlays her brief tutoring session into a free, extended, 5-star French vacation with ALL the perks …without explaining her sudden disappearance to anyone, including her panicked granddaughter!) Certain Mema wouldn’t vanish unless something bad was afoot, cash-strapped Allison chases after them to rescue her from whatever scheme the business magnate is plotting …all as covertly as possible so as not to embarrass her ‘helpless’ grandma.
From Georgia’s laid back vacation coast, to the French countryside, the glitter of Dubai to the exotic streets of Nepal, Mema puppet masters the two headstrong young hotshots into Happily Ever After before they know what hit them.
(With only minor damage).
If Pierce and Allison were half as smart as everyone thinks they are, they’d just surrender to Mema’s will from the start. When they don’t, it’s a laugh out loud, ride on the romance train; or, as Mema would say,
“trickier’n carvin’ a turkey with three dogs underfoot”.
Snuggle up and escape the craziness of modern life as you join Pierce and Allison while they navigate the insanity of theirs in this smart, clean, read suitable for all audiences from tweens to twilight years who can tolerate a smooch or two and understand Mema Knows Best!
“Mr. Grayson will see you now.”
An undercurrent of energized tension, not common to the staid blue-grey halls of corporate America, buzzed through a significant subpopulation of the crowded reception area.
(Most notably, the estrogenic types). Kekoa Kama sat up straighter and studied the excited women. He ignored the only other man, a suit hoarding the sole copy of Sports Illustrated in his hands as he trailed off in the wake of Pierce Grayson’s superhero executive assistant, Maxima “Max” Metaxas. Utterly oblivious to the charged anticipation around him, Grayson’s next appointment did think to straighten his tie.
The jerk took the magazine with him.
Kama’s nose twitched in disgust.
To Grayson International’s credit, they gave their waiting room a decent shot at competing with their CEO’s energizing appeal; a floor-to-ceiling gallery of handshake pics between their resident brainiac and an assortment of world dignitaries adorned the walls. Kekoa noted new additions and wondered what life was truly like for his friend, the myriad business and social connections, the cross-continental power plays, the acclaim, the increasing media spotlight, the unending pressure of millions of people influenced by one man’s mind and muscle. Pierce always kept it real with his longtime friend, but the world surrounding him grew more and more imposing every time they managed to meet.
More handshake shots intermingled with rustic folk art, (no store-bought corporate ‘motivational themes’ about ‘Destiny’ or ‘Courage’ needed here). The unique pieces (from grateful clients and dignitaries around the globe) splashed vibrant color, rich texture, and vivid humanity on the final two soft, grey walls. A glass wall showcased the live-action Atlanta skyline and her streets to the south. Architects’ models of Pierce’s prize projects sat like trophies, encased in Lexan. The cases perched on matching custom legs; providing parking spots for worn magazines, cups of coffee, and meeting presentation materials. (Normally, the miniature structures inside would fascinate Kekoa, but not these, since his group built them.)
The human factors intrigued him far more. Throughout the morning, Kekoa determined he had seconds to choose between two entertaining diversions. A striking catwalk-ready redhead always provided an intriguing display; pursing her lips, fingering the silky band of cloth wrapped around the column of her neck, and perking her small chest out without fail the moment Max reopened Pierce’s door. Alternately, Kekoa could ‘change magazines’, and switch seats to secure a more satisfying view of the short, tar-black-haired younger female who, (while less blessed by the Graces than the haughty ginger), demonstrated exquisite skill at overcoming miniscule appearance deficits with overt physical signs and signals.
No one celebrated a modern woman’s freedom of expression as much as Kekoa Kama.
An admirer of unabashed ambition, he casually ambled to the center coffee table, dropped a pristine copy of Association of Computer Machinery and traded it for a more bedraggled read. He settled into a prime viewing spot adjacent to Pierce’s office door and opened the pages with secret-agent worthy subtlety. The journal rose before his eyes seconds before Max reappeared.
As usual, she paused, door ajar, giving the supplicants in the outer waiting room an elusive peak into their morning goal; the Holy Grail otherwise known as the depths of Pierce’s inner sanctum. The corporate maven spoke over her shoulder to her employer, but her husky voice carried to the waiting room. “Is there anything else you desire, Sir?”
Pierce muttered disapproval in a low, fierce, (and unintelligible to the group outside) remark.
On the Menacing Vitriol scale of office relations, her boss may as well have tossed rose petals at the woman’s feet. With a graceful inclination of her head, Max turned away, face tucked behind the apparently unused but ubiquitous clipboard she deployed like a shield (and a pointer) all morning. She returned to her desk, a multi-tiered command center where she directed a staff of no less than three admins whose sole function was to assist Max in scheduling, communications, directives, research, and execution of the logistics necessary to maximize every second of Pierce’s $5k per hour life. Max failed to lift the clipboard fast enough to hide a mischievous smirk out of keeping with her age, or her well-established and esteemed place within the ever-expanding hierarchy at Grayson International. She paused, framed by the now closed teak expanse of door behind her. Elegance added a regal air to her years. Lowering her prop, she spoke as always; straight-faced and cool as a proper British nanny announcing study hour. “Mr. Grayson apologizes. He’s been …tied up all morning.”
Even Kekoa suppressed a smirk at that one.
As if on cue, Catwalk’s enhanced lips puckered into a breathy flattened “O” as her eyes softened to slits of unspoken passion. A slender finger unconsciously traced and then tugged on the silky band of cloth laced about her arching neck as her chin pointed skyward in not-so-mute ecstasy.
Kekoa swore he heard a soft, aching moan this time, somewhat reminiscent of the purr of a far distant, and ravenous, tigress. He had to admit his own imagination reveled in this bizarre corporate fantasy, and he could be mistaken. Scarves and ties must be “in” these days.
Over the course of the morning, no less than four other women wore them dangling loose over the rise of their chests or snugged tight against their throats, and one, who sported the confident air of preparation for any eventuality, simply let a trio of colored sashes trail out of her skirt pocket. It’d been years since Kekoa even noticed a skirt with a pocket. Women prefer cleaner, straighter lines, don’t they?
As he admired the tri-color salutation flitting back and forth with each sway of the lady’s hips, he guessed not. For all her flare, tri-color took second place to the voluptuous undercover security guard missing several buttons from her tight blouse.
She is a security specialist, isn’t she? Why else tuck handcuffs in the back of her skirt?
Tar Black didn’t need Max’s curious emphasis on the words “tied up” for inspiration. She chose a low cut neckline with a short skirt layered with some dance-of-the-seven-veils overdress. Technically, the longer garment covered her in fabric from collarbone to foot, but the sheer material hid nothing. One bend to grab a Smithsonian from the magazine pile, and she’d moon half the room (while giving the other half a good education on female upper anatomy). The faux modesty of the garment intrigued Kekoa, who wasted a nanosecond trying to calculate if the feeling of being covered helped her display so much flesh, (or if the mind games she played were with her audience). All morning, as the doorknob clicked just before Max opened it, Tar’s inner skirt, (the non-see-through one), hitched up a solid two inches as her thighs parted in tandem with the door hinges, providing Pierce’s doorway, (and the resourceful Kekoa) a clear view of the luscious fruits of youth, utterly unadorned.
Despite planning for just such a moment, Kekoa’s head reared back in surprise, utterly enthralled. His skull knocked loose a signed photograph of Pierce and some international dignitary. It dangled ajar and teetered, lop-sided and at the brink of helplessness, (much like Kekoa, who mouth-breathed his way through this experience). Tedious discussions of the nuances of quantum mechanics, ethics of technological advancements, rigorous comparative analysis of now defunct computer languages sure, but never in a thousand lectures at the Georgia Institute of Technology had any professor seen fit to enlighten his or her students to the daily social and professional repercussions of successful worldwide patents, industry leadership …and boatloads of money.
I shouldn’t have skipped so many organic chem classes.
If you don’t have the patents, being best friends with the guy who does definitely has perks. Tar Black narrowed her gaze on some point inside Pierce’s office and tilted her pelvis, admitting more light to her not-so-private private parts.
Kekoa tugged his shirt collar open and scanned the room for the defibrillator he knew Max would have on hand.
So worth the move. So very unadorned. All the way up, un …adorned.
Wait. There’s a tiny silver charm dangling right where her–.
“Mr. Kama, good for you!” Max’s inexplicable encouragement activated Kekoa’s near salivating jaw to snap closed. With cool aplomb, she righted the wall photo behind him and offered a fresh cup of coffee, a task she’d previously delegated to one of the assistants. “I know it’s new for you, but you keep at it, and you’ll find success!”
Kekoa followed her pointed gaze and squinted at the article he’d been “reading”.
“Twelve Surefire Temptations To Get Your Man and Keep Him.”
Kekoa folded the women’s fashion and lifestyle magazine under his arm. Famous for headlines utilizing variations of the word ‘sex’, he wondered if the editors moonlighted at other publications, producing zingers like “Top Ten Sexiest Swedish Cold Sore Remedies” or “San Tropez Goes Hot, Hot, HOT for Toe Nail Clipping”. Their cover images stuck to long-haired females painted into bone-tight clothing revealing as much enhanced cleavage as most Sports Illustrated beach issues. Analysis confirmed a statistically consistent cloth-to-bare-skin ratio of under thirty-five percent.
Women’s magazines, indeed.
Kekoa grimaced at Max. (Kindly note: the article title, not the publication, incited his chagrin. After a few awkward years of ‘enlightenment’ from irate girlfriends who discovered his private cache of the male-targeted Babes and Boobs, he learned if he bought a woman her own subscription to an oversexed female breast fest, he got almost the same entertainment, (and a gold star for embracing his feminine side …whatever that was). The articles were entertaining enough, if only for the twisted irony of ‘sexually liberated’ women in a constant lather trying to please men …not that any ‘enlightened’ girlfriend of Kekoa’s utilized these tips.)
“My apologies, Mr. Kama.” Max’s voice lowered in a tone of confidentiality. The stress of keeping Pierce’s organization, one responsible for the paychecks of almost a quarter million people, never showed on Max’s face, but she obviously found ways to relieve it. The clipboard elevated to cover her mouth but she managed the proper Brit tone perfectly well enough. “I figured you to be into it for the pictures.”
Kekoa muttered nonsense in a tone remarkably similar to Pierce’s. His friend insisted on working with sharp people, unashamed to voice their own observations. In Max’s case, he might want to dumb things down a touch.
A tall woman in simple slacks and a hand silk-screened top of orchids and Asian characters checked her watch for the twelfth time since she entered an hour and half ago. Ignoring the odd behaviors of a few of her sister appointees, Slacks and Silk represented the Business Only types in the room. She kept her attention on her tablet, not on any potential Pierce sighting, apparently sketching designs of some sort instead of practicing her business pitch. Like Kekoa, she’d spent a long boring morning in a reception area with a good attitude, but now she tucked the tablet into her bag and crossed over to Max with a few elegant strides. “Again, my appointment was at ten.”
“Yes, Mr. Grayson’s inundated this morning and running behind.”
“I understand. The good news for him is he’s got one less person to address. I really do have another appointment and need to leave now. Good day.”
Max waved at one of her minions. “Permit us to reschedule you, Ms.–.”
Slacks shook her head. “Now you want to reschedule? There isn’t time. I have another meeting to honor.”
“Oh! You really do.” Max’s tilted her head as this information sank in. “Oh, I am sorry! Mr. Grayson will be disappointed to have missed you.”
Slacks smiled as she stepped for the door. “I imagine he’ll bear up.”
“It’s the earthquake, you know.”
Slacks pivoted back toward Max as she opened the door. “Earthquake?”
“In Nepal. This morning. You haven’t heard?” Max relaxed as if this explained everything. Once Slacks knew about the tragedy, everything would be forgiven. “All the destruction, the displaced people….”
Slacks squinted. “As tragic as it is, I fail to connect how an earthquake on the other side of the world has anything to do with graining and murals on an old house in Buckhead.”
“Mr. Grayson’s the connection.” Max started to continue, but paused. “You aren’t familiar with the Grayson Ceramic Construction Division.”
Slacks hitched her briefcase strap up on her shoulder. “I’m sure it’s fascinating, but I’m past out of time. As I said before, I have another obligation.”
Max frowned. “Please do call to reschedule when you have the opportunity.”
Instead of immediately agreeing like anyone else, Slacks’ jaw slid right in thought.
She doesn’t look the corporate or engineer type, and she mentioned an old house, so she must be here for the historical architecture division somehow. An artsy type, probably working one of Pierce’s pet condemnation saves.
She certainly knew little or nothing of GCC, or Max’s mention of the innovative construction technology would’ve more than intrigued her, it would’ve zapped any annoyance she felt at having been stood up. Devastated by not one, but two major quakes in the wee hours of the morning, Nepal’s sudden crisis needed a heavy dose of GCC magic ASAP. Pierce started waking execs to launch their teams and coordinate the government red tape the moment he and Kekoa got the news and parted company at one A.M. In a non-technical nutshell, the GCC division of Grayson harvested debris and used Pierce’s proprietary patented adhesives to fabricate them into ceramic building materials on site. GCC could clear a disaster and create anything from the shingles for your roof, the driveway to your door, the market to buy your dinner, and the candlesticks, plates and goblets to celebrate.
Kekoa nodded at his assessment of Slacks. …Not a corporate type. Not a fan of pancake-flat carpet and windows that don’t open. Not a Grayson groupie with a company in, either. She didn’t especially want to come here in the first place.
He watched the cogs in Max’s brain hum as she zeroed in on Slack’s ringless left hand. “You wouldn’t pass up a meeting with Pierce Grayson, would you?” Having launched the biggest bomb in her arsenal, Maxima Metaxas smiled bright and confident over her steepled fingers.
“I didn’t.” Slacks gave her a polite nod and pulled open the hall door. “He passed on a meeting with me. I have other people counting on me, Ms. …Max. Good day.”
“Wait! Which card is yours?” Max frantically looked to her aides who rifled through the morning’s paper trail. Pierce had been unusually swamped, and the cards were sorted after he completed a meeting, with people who would be working on a project added to a database. Unfortunately, this morning had netted several people, including several women, who weren’t added, and whose cards still sat in the pile.
One aide grimaced and shrugged as another fielded a phone call. “Mr. Grayson needs you, ma’am.”
Max pressed her lips together and headed for Pierce’s office. “Do call and reschedule, Ms.–.”
In answer, the elevator down the hall pinged its arrival, seconds before the automatic door closer sealed the room.
Slacks is classy and clearly clueless to who she’s walking out on, a rare species in this world. Kekoa’s jaw slid right in thought. No wonder Max is so intrigued by her.
She wasn’t the only one. Kekoa may have just crossed paths with the only female who could get to know Pierce Grayson as a man, instead of as a conglomerate, something his friend needed more than he knew. Pierce never groused, but despite blatant and aggressive interest, (most likely because of how blatant and aggressive), Kekoa watched a man who gave hope to thousands live a solitary and empty personal life. While others dated and connected, Pierce drove himself non-stop, developing his patents, securing them, and when no one in Big Chem would commit to nonprofit use for disaster recovery, getting the financing to launch Grayson himself. Their friends partied, married, and fathered children while Pierce built the world’s premiere ceramics fabricator.
Meanwhile, the farther he went with his work, the more famous he became. Too many interviews highlighting Pierce’s net worth over Grayson’s driving humanitarian mission made him a target for threats and predators of all kinds. By necessity he traveled less, lived in secured secrecy, and experienced the same controlled social populations he’d known for years, (i.e., fund-raisers with well-manicured hands extended). He finally had people and systems in place to complete most missions without his constant consultation, but the women available to share his life were far too young, or more often, too obvious about their true interest.
Pierce’s last shot at befriending a real woman probably just walked out the door.
Slacks wasn’t huffy about having to leave; just firm about keeping her word. Pierce needs firm, not huffy, and definitely needs someone with integrity who’ll stand up for what’s right, even if it means losing money, like the serious cash a plum contract with Grayson Historical would net. Kekoa angled his head in thought. Slacks can even wrangle a force of nature like Max….
Pity she didn’t give me her number.
But Tar Black did after her meeting, so the day wasn’t a total loss.
Slacks’ experience of Pierce wasn’t personal. During emergencies, Max triaged his appointments; disaster relief consults first, board members next, and finally the screened contractors who’d met Grayson standards for hire for non-emergency projects. (When possible, Pierce preferred a one-on-one with a representative of a new firm before signing the dotted line.) Personal meetings came last, so Kekoa’s breakfast with Pierce turned out to be a fast lunch over Pierce’s desk. Kekoa ordered their meal through Max and carried in the tray unannounced.
Max held the door for him. “Your breakfast appointment–. Sorry, sir.” Max backed out of the office and closed the door.
Kekoa strode to the desk and deposited the tray. That’s when he noticed Pierce’s suit jacket, pants, and socks draped across his desk chair.
At least your shirt’s still on. Kekoa angled his head in study. …Sort of.
It hung off his shoulders. What would your high profile contacts think of you now? Apparently the tales Pierce told were sanitized, not exaggerations. He couldn’t decide whether to envy or pity his naked friend. Pierce looked so fierce and simultaneously so helpless, Kekoa laughed. “The key?”
Pierce nodded toward a wall of shelving across the room. “In the Bible.”
“The Bible, eh?” Kekoa smiled, found the book and opened it to reveal the padded enveloped holding spare handcuff keys and a lock picking kit. “Good choice; the last place they’d look for your escape kit. …Do you have any idea how many men would love to live your life?”
“They can have it. I’ve been stuck in that chair all morning and sometimes …more stuck than others.”
“…Like you’re such a victim. What’d you say to scare her off?”
“I believe it was no deal on the project, and no deal on me.”
“Idiot.” Just who the idiot was, the interviewee, or Pierce, remained unspoken. Kekoa grinned up at his friend as he worked on the lock at Pierce’s right wrist. “I want to know how a tiny little thing like that managed to get not one, but two cuffs on your innocent personage.”
“She came around the desk to show me her tablet.”
“That the modern equivalent of ‘etchings’?”
Pierce took the key and freed his other hand. “It’s her portfolio. We’re looking for a sculptor. After the morning I’ve had, something creative and fun was definitely needed.”
“She’s certainly creative and fun.”
Pierce exhaled some frustration.
“C’mon. She welded the cuffs on you?”
Pierce stripped off his shirt and snared some old running shorts in his drawer. He mounted a stair climber in the corner of the office and set an aggressive pace to work off his irritation. “She handed me the tablet. While I’m looking at her work, she murmurs stuff I won’t repeat and claps a cuff on my right hand, which is holding the device. She clipped the other end of the cuff to my chair arm before I even knew what was happening.”
Kekoa laughed. “What about your left hand? Did she tear gas you or something?”
“I ordered her to let me go, a mistake, because she apparently likes being dominated. She smiled and tossed the key on the desk …just out of reach. When I went for it, she cuffed the left side too.”
“You claim she took you by surprise for the first restraint. Just how did she muscle the handcuff on your left wrist to the chair as well?”
“She poked me in the gut.”
“Most people call it ‘tickling’.”
“Poked! …Hard!” Despite their conversation, the machine started working its magic, elevating Pierce’s pulse and siphoning off his tension.
“I’m sure she had poking in mind. So after the poking, you became amenable to her plans?”
“After she jammed her finger in my gut, I acted on reflex, and she cuffed the left to the chair before I could recover.”
“The little ones are mighty fast.” Kekoa pulled out the food containers. “Who needs muscle when you have the element of surprise?”
Pierce sighed and shook his head. The machine increased resistance, giving him a nice incline to sprint. “Sorry about your wait.”
“Max brought out the Krispy Kremes about the time she delivered your third cup of coffee.”
Pierce moaned. “Hot ones.”
“It’s Max, what do you think? I saved one for you …until nine thirty.”
“Thanks …I think.” Pierce breathed hard but matched the increased speed of the machine. “Heck of a way to spend your day off, Kama.”
“Grayson’s executive suite on contractor appointments day provides a man ways to find entertainment.” Kekoa plunked down napkin-wrapped silverware for both of them.
“There are bars for that. Stop harassing my potential business partners. They don’t need to be given any ideas.”
Kekoa gestured with a show of ‘clean hands’. “All I do is mention why I’m waiting. I make far more intriguing friends that way than sharing a bottle of tequila at The Next Dimension.”
Pierce wiped sweat from his face. “Why do I feel used?”
“Because you’re not as dumb as you look, at least when police restraints aren’t involved.” Kekoa poured drinks and picked up Pierce’s phone. He scanned his calendar. “On second thought, maybe you are. First, you really ought to change your password every now and then, and second, I don’t even see a personal calendar here. It’s all business. Contract negotiations, final contractor approvals, that wretched pile of termite ridden junk in Buckhead you’re out to save. Hmm. You missed a good one there this morning. You’d better up your game, Pierce. You’re more buff than in college, but you aren’t getting any younger.”
“Maybe my personal calendar’s not so easy to find.”
Kekoa snorted in derision. “Yeah, that’s it.”
Pierce slowed the machine’s pace. “You know so much about women. You get married.”
Kekoa scratched his chin and pondered the heavens beyond the suspended ceiling. “Just can’t decide between all the options.”
“Must be nice,” Pierce muttered.
“–Must be lice. …That itch on your chin.” The machine stopped. Pierce pulled a moistened hand towel from a humidor to freshen his sweat-drenched skin. He sat next to his friend. “Get any shut-eye since the quake?”
Pierce shrugged. “It’s a long flight. I’ll make it up.”
“Disconnecting the phone at twenty thousand feet are we?”
“You nag as much as Max.”
“Pierce, people depend on you. You have to take care of yourself.”
“I just missed the world’s best doughnut and finished an extra mile on a Stairmaster amidst the scent of Kobe beef perfection. What more do you want from me?”
“It always slows.” Pierce unrolled his silverware and gulped down a glass of water. “This is just the crisis point. You know the drill.”
Pierce sliced into his steak. “I’ll sleep.”
Knife poised mid-air, Pierce squinted at his friend.
“You need to play, Pierce.” Kekoa kept scanning Pierce’s schedule. “You’re all work. You always were back at Tech, but it’s worse now. There’s more to life.”
“My work is my life. It’s other people’s lives, Ke. I’ve pushed hard to build Grayson. I’m proud of it, and what we do.”
“Yeah, your epitaph’s going to read like the next saint’s, including the celibate part, which given your opportunities, is a major crime.”
“If I’m going to invest in a woman, I want more.”
“You don’t even have that much. At this point, I’d settle for you just hooking up.”
“Well, I won’t, and I can’t manufacture a family, Ke.”
“You could at least put in a little effort.”
“When?” Pierce tore a roll in two. “Shall I put the moves on a refugee while we’re walking through wreckage doing damage assessments? Do my best Sean Connery, open with ‘Hey beautiful, wanna come over and check out my pallets of water bottles?’”
“That’d get Grayson all over the media.”
“Maybe I should hit on a Red Cross nurse while she’s resetting someone’s bone and can’t escape.”
“Not the best start, but more than you’ve been doing. …You don’t need to worry about moving targets, Pierce. You had a string of willing women all morning. If you’d get your head out of the business stats long enough, you might notice. Hire one, and take her up on the …fringe benefits.”
Pierce shook his head. “I had to turn down a talented sculptor just this morning for ‘over willingness’. Like Grayson needs the media hype.”
“Young, fake jet black hair … very short skirt under this filmy transparent tent thing.”
Kekoa sighed. It would’ve been nice to have Tar Black around for a while. …Although, she might need some consoling over the job loss. “Guess that explains the new plaque on the door. I thought it was for evidence in a financial dispute, not harassment protection.”
(The satin finish brass sign read: “All meetings videoed and recorded.”)
“It’s that stupid movie. I swear; if left alone in here, half the women would destroy the place looking for a secret room full of weird toys.”
“There you go. You need to play more.”
“I’m not into those games. My grandparents respected each other.”
“Your grandparents predate the telegraph.”
“Kindness and respect are also old-fashioned. Do we toss those aside too?”
“No.” Kekoa dug into his steak and kept scanning Pierce’s calendar. “What’s with all the serious stuff, Pierce?”
Pierce sighed and leaned back in the chair. “Maybe it’s just one too many disasters in a row. You see enough people hurting and dying all around you, and weird sex games just seem like such a waste of energy, time, and a life.”
“Well, you need to play somehow. You’ve gone all AARP on me.” Kekoa finally hit pay dirt on Pierce’s schedule. “There ya go!”
Pierce paused mid-chew. “I don’t like the sound of that.”
“You’re standing in at a wedding.”
“It’s just a corporate thing.” Pierce shrugged and stabbed a healthy wad of spinach on his fork. “They needed someone taller than the groom’s sister to walk her down the aisle.”
“Barring another flood in southeast Asia, yeah.”
Kekoa grinned. “You’re doing the bet, then.”
“The bet?” Pierce swigged some iced tea. “Aw c’mon, Ke. That was stupid college stuff. We’ve outgrown it.”
“We have not.” Kekoa dropped the phone and tucked into his meal with gusto. He waved his knife at Pierce. “A wager’s exactly what you need too.”
Pierce swiped up juice with his roll. “It’s stupid, Ke.”
“It’s fun, and you’re doing it. Let’s see, at the last one six years ago, you won just over 20K, so that makes this one–.”
“Ridiculous. Give it up. Don’t worry. I don’t expect to get paid my share, just the charity, which you paid.”
“I have the right to double or nothing. That was the deal.”
“Which is why a ten dollar bet’s grown into thousands. Come on, they sent you a nice thank you letter last time. …Even let you run the grill at the shelter for a while. Ke, grow up.”
Pierce’s knife and fork clattered to the plate. “You’re serious.”
“As a heart attack. If I’m doing my math right, this is lucky wedding number thirteen.” Kekoa tore into his steak. “At this wedding, you’ll secure a date with the maid of honor, or I win.”
Pierce shook his head and sighed. “This is juvenile.”
“Of course it is. That’s why you’re doing it.” Kekoa tossed a hunk of roll in the air and caught it in his teeth. “This stuff you do is just too gruesome, Pierce. You’re half mortician as it is and not the polite, calm, happy-with-a-steady-job kind, either. You need to play.”
“I suppose poker or racketball is off the table.”
“You know I’m right.” Kekoa sampled Pierce’s dessert.
“Oh yeah. Chatting up a woman who’s been fake smiling for hours in uncomfortable shoes and a dress she can’t wait to ditch is the thrill of a lifetime.”
“Whiner. At least you don’t have to wear the shoes …or the ugly dress.”
Pierce swigged half his tea. “Ke, why don’t I just pay you the 40K?”
“No deal. I have rights to double or nothing, and I’m calling ‘em. And remember, you tell anyone about the bet, and there’s a fifty percent penalty, plus the money’s all mine, and nothing goes to my charity.”
“Your charity?” Pierce snorted. “I’m out of practice but not that stale. You’re going to need a second job to fund this one, Kama.”
Kekoa smiled. “That’s my boy!”
A short beep of his desk intercom interrupted them. Pierce toggled the speaker on. “Yes?”
“There are four more contractors waiting for you and your flight to meet the U.N. ambassador is set for two.”
Pierce nodded and picked up the pieces of his suit. “Give me two minutes before you come and clear.” He shouted this over his shoulder toward the desk speaker. “I’m going to need a fresh shirt.”
Max’s bored voice answered. “On the plane, as always, with a suitable tie.” The word “sheesh!” went unsaid, but completely understood.
While Pierce dressed, Kekoa stuffed a hunk of steak in his roll, did the same for his friend, and ambled for the door. “I’m going to this wedding, Pierce. There’s no backing out, no bluffing your way out.”
Already in his trousers, Pierce grinned and slid his wrinkled shirt over his shoulders. One foot jammed into a loafer as he tugged fabric across his abs and started buttoning. “Just try not to hog the groom’s cake this time, and for Pete’s sake don’t rinse the frosting off your fingers in the champagne fountain.”
“One deal at a time, Grayson.” Pierce might have missed a shot at Slacks, but between Max and him, he’d meet someone, if it killed them all.
A simple wedding bet couldn’t go wrong, could it?