Monthly Archives: March 2015

By Design – Chapter 11

Jeff insisted on dropping Gracie off at Eli Walker’s luncheon that Saturday. Gracie had told him it was unnecessary, and it probably was. Still, Walker made her uncomfortable, and it was nice to know she had an ally nearby if things got weird.

“I won’t go far,” Jeff assured her. “Just give me a call if you need anything, and I’ll be here to pick you up when things end.”

Gracie thanked him for his concern. She was fairly confident that the only reason he wasn’t coming in the building with her was because he wasn’t allowed. This was an invite only event, and Jeff’s name hadn’t been on the list. If it had been, it seemed safe to say he would have been by Gracie’s side all afternoon.

Gracie got out of the car and closed the door behind her. The restaurant Walker had chosen for this event was one of her favorites. She wondered if that was purely coincidence and decided it had to be. If she allowed herself to believe it was anything else, she might lose her courage to go in. She already felt there was something odd about Walker. The idea he had chosen this place because of her just sent shivers down her spine. So instead of letting herself think about it, she took a deep breath and headed inside.

For a moment, Gracie was surprised to see that it looked like the entire restaurant had been rented out for their interview today. She quickly realized she shouldn’t have been surprised though. This was an exclusive event, after all. Walker couldn’t afford eavesdroppers.

She wasn’t the first to arrive. There were four other reporters present, all of them standing around chitchatting. Gracie could tell they were all only playing at being friendly. When it came right down to it, these people were competitive; none of them would want to give another an edge. Everybody’s pleasantries were just a formality. The media was a cut throat business.

The others turned to look at her as she walked in, and Gracie immediately felt out of place among them. They were all established journalists, people whose work she had read and admired. Knowing that fact made Gracie uneasy. As they stared at her, they were probably all thinking the same thing she was: Why was she even here?

Gracie could feel her nerves fleeing. She was just about ready to hang up this whole thing and bolt when the door opened behind her and Eli Walker strolled in, a smile plastered on his face.

“Glad to see you could all make it,” he said by way of greeting. “Please, take a seat.” He gestured to a table in the middle of the dining room, and his guests shuffled to their places. Only Gracie hesitated. She knew her chance to leave had passed, but she still couldn’t bring herself to move toward the small crowd of people gathering in the middle of the room. She wondered if it was still too late to call Jeff to bail her out of here.

“Ms. Parker?” Gracie looked up as Eli said her name. He was holding out a chair for her. Gracie tentatively moved forward and took the seat. Eli sat in the chair directly to her right. “Now, how about we get started?” he asked.

There was a rustling of recorders and notepads as everyone prepared for whatever information Eli Walker was going to give them. Gracie couldn’t help but wonder if any of them felt as awkward being there as she did. If they did, their faces sure didn’t show it.

And then Eli began to talk. About what, Gracie was unsure. She let herself zone out while her recorder did its work. She might not be able to physically remove herself from this room without being rude, but that didn’t mean she had to be active in this conversation. While the other reporters asked questions and Eli responded with smiles and friendly gestures, Gracie was content to just sit back and let the conversation take place around her. She would be able to listen to it in full once she was in the comfort of her own home.

At least, that was what she hoped to do.

“What about you, Ms. Parker? Anything you would like to know?”

Gracie blinked back to the present to see everybody around the table staring at her. Walker had asked her a question. She would be expected to come up with something. After all, she was a journalist. Asking questions was her job. And surrounded by so many seniors in her field, she needed to make it a good one.

“What are you so determined to accomplish?” The question slipped out before she could stop it. She knew from Walker’s reaction that the question sounded judgmental and that it had thrown him completely off guard. She was attacking him and questioning his motives regarding her in front of so many people. This wasn’t the place for that kind of question, and they both knew it.

But Walker was pretty good at playing on his toes. “Good question,” he said. “To begin with, I started this business to show those who didn’t believe in me that I could succeed. Granted, I didn’t expect to accomplish so much in such a short time. But there were some who thought I would never be able to accomplish anything on my own. I have never been one to take no for an answer, so I wanted to prove them wrong. I am determined to show everyone that with the right motivation anyone can accomplish what they set out to do, whether others believe in them or not.”

Though Gracie didn’t doubt the authenticity of his response in relation to his business venture, she couldn’t help but feel there was some message within the undertones of his statement that was meant specifically for her.

Fortunately, Gracie was able to make it through the rest of the afternoon without bringing herself to the center of attention again. When the interview concluded and everyone was packing up to head back to their offices, Gracie couldn’t get out soon enough.

She pushed through the front door of the restaurant and thought she was free. But she wasn’t so lucky.

“Ms. Parker! Please wait a moment. I would like a word with you.”

Had Eli seriously just left all his other guests behind to run after her? She spun around to face him, a forced smile plastered to her face. “What can I do for you?” she asked.

But Eli was no longer looking at her. He was looking past her, and he didn’t look to happy. Gracie turned to see Jeff only a few steps behind her.

“Are you ready to go?” Jeff asked Gracie. He never took his eyes off of Walker as he spoke. Gracie simply nodded in response. Jeff put his arm around her shoulder and steered her away from Walker and the restaurant and to the safety of his car.

Gracie could feel a chill creeping down her spine. What was it about that guy that got her so riled? It wasn’t like she had never met weird people before. But Eli Walker affected her nerves in a way no one ever had before. She was fairly confident he had been trying to get on her good side today to make up for what she had written about him last time. But instead of making her feel better about him, he had just managed to make things so much worse.

 

 

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By Design – Chapter 10

Gracie walked out of her office building to find Jeff waiting for her just outside the door. Ever since she had told him about her encounter with Eli Walker, Jeff had become a bit overprotective. When she told him about Walker, she had hoped he would be able to calm her fears about the whole situation and assure her that she was just overacting and had nothing to worry about. However, she didn’t get the reaction she had been hoping for. Instead, he had expressed concern over the whole thing, thinking the encounter with Walker was a bit weird and stalker-ish. Since their chat, Jeff had made a point to get off work early so that he could meet Gracie at her office building when she left for the day. He just wanted to make sure she was safe, he informed her.

Though Gracie appreciated the gesture, she had assured him more than once that she was fine. Walker had never shown up again, and she had gotten over her nerves from his sudden appearance that day. Today, however, Gracie was kind of glad to see Jeff there waiting for her. Now she was just going to have to find a way to let him know what had happened to her at work during the day. She wondered how badly he would freak out when she told him.

She decided it wasn’t the best thing to lead the conversation with.

“Want to grab a bite to eat?” she asked instead as she approached Jeff.

“Sure,” he said with a shrug. They started walking. There were lots of places to choose from near Gracie’s workplace, so it wasn’t hard to find something small and convenient where they could sit and chat.

Once they were settled at the small bar they had chosen, Jeff turned to Gracie and brought up the same topic he did every day he came to walk her home. “Any word from Walker?” Though he tried to act nonchalant about it, Gracie could tell that Walker’s presence in her life really bothered him.

“Relax,” Gracie said, trying to shrug off the whole affair. “He hasn’t shown up again. Maybe it was just a chance meeting after all.” Though, they all knew that wasn’t true.

“Fine,” Jeff said, giving up on the topic. Gracie hadn’t bitten that line of conversation all week, and Jeff didn’t push it. He took a drink. “Just be careful, OK. There’s something about that guy that just rubs me the wrong way.”

“You seemed fine with him when you were mooching at his party,” Gracie reminded him.

“That was different,” Jeff said. “He hadn’t taken a personal interest in you at that point.”

Gracie felt her face grow red and she had a hard time meeting Jeff’s gaze. She turned away from him and took a sip of her drink. She had known this was part of the problem. This had always been part of the problem, ever since they had met in college. Gracie had always hoped Jeff would grow past this, but it was starting to look like it would always be something hanging over their friendship.

“So how was work today?” Jeff asked, obviously trying to change the topic.

“It was fine,” Gracie responded. “Pretty standard.”

“Any new assignments?”

“Mhm,” Gracie said as she took another drink. Though she had initially intended on telling Jeff about the assignment, now she wasn’t so sure she wanted to get into it.

“What’s the assignment?” Jeff asked.

“Um… It’s a private interview luncheon,” Gracie said, hoping that would sound boring enough for him to lose interest and prevent her from having to go into any more details.

So much for hope.

“That’s cool. Who’s the interview with?” Jeff asked.

“Eli Walker,” Gracie said into her glass. She braced herself for Jeff’s response.

“Have someone else do it,” he said in a cold, level tone.

“I can’t,” Gracie informed him. “The invitation was sent to me personally. Apparently Walker got it in his head to hold an event with a handful of media representatives, and I was one of the ones he chose.”

Jeff was scouring at her from across the table. “I don’t like this,” he said.

But there wasn’t anything he could do about it. When it came right down to it, this was something for work. It wasn’t like he could request her to give up her job because he didn’t like the people she was reporting on.

“Just be careful when you’re around him,” Jeff warned her for the umpteenth time. “There’s something about that guy I just don’t like.”

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By Design – Chapter 9

Eli sat in his office with his head resting against his desk. How on earth was he planning to pull this off?

He had to admit, his first attempt to win over Gracie Parker had been nothing short of a disaster. He should have known better. When she hadn’t taken to him at the party and had been confident enough to write her true feeling about him, he should have known she wouldn’t be easy to win over. He had been stupid to think that he could convince her so easily. But he wasn’t ready to give up yet. One thing he had learned through business was that with every challenge that stood in the way, there was an opportunity for gain.

He raised his head and grabbed the file sitting next to him. It was the one Ken had prepared for him on Gracie Parker. He opened it to a page he had tabbed. Parker had gotten a job with her magazine almost immediately after graduating college. She had written primarily social pieces since the start of her career, and she seemed to favor stories over young professionals. However, she still hadn’t gotten her big break in the writing world. It was something she was still chasing after.

Perhaps this is the key, Eli thought. A new plan was formulating in his mind. He didn’t have all the pieces together yet, but the seed of the idea was there. The problem was, he couldn’t accomplish anything if he didn’t give himself the opportunity to meet with her again. Not only that, but he needed to be more conscious this time of her likes and dislikes, her goals, her expectations. Only by paying attention to these things would he be able to get through to her.

He looked over the page once more, trying to figure out what he was missing. She was a part of the media, but she was new to the field. She needed something that could help her build her reputation. She needed a personal invitation from someone like him for an exclusive interview and an exclusive story. It was perfect. But perhaps it was also a bit too obvious.

Eli turned on his computer and opened up the word processor. He typed “Plan B” across the top and began to take notes. He would hold another event. Not something as extravagant as the Year One party, something intimate, something tasteful. It would be a way for him to spend some time with Gracie without it looking like that was what he was trying to do.

He pressed the button on the intercom. “Ken, I need you to come in here for a moment.”

As always, Ken was at the door within moments. “What can I help you with?” he asked.

“I want to host a media event,” Eli announced.

Ken raised his eyebrows, suspicion written on his face.

“Not something big,” Eli assured him. He was doing his best to make this seem as natural of a request as possible. He didn’t want Ken to think he was up to something. “I want to do a small, private luncheon with a handful of representatives from the media. I think it’s time I give a few outlets the exclusive interview they’ve been asking for.”

“I see,” said Ken, obviously skeptical. “And were there some representatives you had in mind?”

Eli handed him a list of names he had prepared earlier. They were people he had worked with before, for the most part. He had been careful to pick a group of people he wouldn’t mind spending the afternoon with and who he knew would have positive things to say at the end of the day.

Ken’s eyebrows went up as he scanned over the list. “I see Gracie Parker managed an invitation,” he noted. Eli didn’t really like the tone of his voice when he said it. It was as if he was questioning the decision.

Eli just shrugged, trying to act nonchalant over the matter. “I thought she might appreciate the opportunity to get an ‘in’ in the business,” he said.

Ken seemed unconvinced, but he took the list anyway and walked out of the office to prepare the invitations.

Eli collapsed into his seat after Ken left and released a deep sigh. Plan B was now in action. It was no use turning back. Good. Now that he was committed he could focus on making sure everything was perfect for the event. It would be the first step in fixing the mistake he had made during his initial interaction with Gracie Parker. And hopefully he could eventually make up for acting like an idiot outside her office building as well.

He knew everyone else, Ken included, probably thought he was being ridiculous over all of this. He had seen the expression clearly on Ken’s face when he had seen Gracie’s name on the invitation list. Perhaps everybody else thought he was just being vain and obsessive when it came to getting a bad review, the only one he could remember receiving since he had debuted in the business world. But the truth was it was more than that. The truth was he couldn’t give his father any room to criticize him. Even one bad review—one reporter saying Eli didn’t have what it took to be a charming and charismatic business leader—would be enough for his father to jump all over him. He would take any excuse to tear Eli down.

He had to convince Gracie Parker to change her opinion of him before that happened. Otherwise, everything he had worked so hard to accomplish over the last year could be gone in the blink of an eye.

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By Design – Chapter 8

After stepping into her apartment, Gracie secured the lock and leaned back against the door, allowing herself a moment of reprieve as she released a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. She didn’t know why she was shaking so. It wasn’t like she had never met someone she had critiqued on the street before. She just hoped he hadn’t followed her home. She had been too nervous to look back and see whether or not she had truly left him behind.

But now she was safe behind the deadbolt of her apartment door. Gracie peeled herself away from the door and moved into her small, galley style kitchenette. She reached into the dishwasher full of clean dishes she had never bothered to put away and found herself a wine glass. There was an unfinished bottle of wine on the counter. She pulled out the cork and poured herself a glass much fuller than etiquette dictated. Glass in hand, Gracie moved to her old, worn out sofa and took a completely unlady-like gulp of her drink. She needed to get these nerves under control.

She had barely been able to keep herself together in front of Eli Walker. But she had been determined not to let him see how unnerved she was by his sudden presence outside her workplace. It wasn’t that it was impossible for him to find her. One thing about being a reporter who worked for a public company, it was easy for anybody to find where she worked. The question was why. Could Colleen have been right about his inability to take criticism? Gracie had to admit that when she had first turned around and seen him standing there she had been terrified that he was there to chew her out over what she had written about him. The last thing she was expecting was for him to ask her to sit down with him over a cup of coffee. And she definitely didn’t believe he had been there by accident like he had pretended. She couldn’t help but wonder how long he had stood outside her building waiting for her. The thought made her shudder, and she took another gulp of her wine. What a creeper.

As her buzz set in, Gracie’s nerves started to settle. At least her hands had stopped shaking. She pulled her cell phone from her pocket and scrolled through her contacts until she found Colleen’s name. She knew this encounter was something her friend would want to know about. But she hesitated before placing the call, her thumb hovering over the name on the screen.

Was this really something she wanted Colleen to know about? Colleen’s obsession with Walker was already driving her crazy and had managed to make her paranoid as well. (Though could her unease really be considered just paranoia? He actually did show up at her workplace looking for her.) No. This was definitely not something she needed to share with Colleen. The stream of questions from her coworker would be unending. And she really didn’t have the patience to deal with that right now.

Gracie continued scrolling through her contacts until she found Jeff’s name. She wasn’t entirely sure this was something she needed to get Jeff involved in, but at least he would be someone she could talk to without feeling like she was being interrogated on her relationship with Eli Walker.

Jeff picked up after the first ring. “Hello?”

“Hey, Jeff. Are you busy?”

“Not really,” Jeff said. “I just got in from work. What’s up?”

“You want to meet up for a drink?” Gracie asked. She looked down at the class of wine in her hand. As if more alcohol is what I really need. “We can meet at the bar down the street from my place?”

“Is everything alright?” There was genuine concern in Jeff’s voice. He had always been one to assume the worse. He would be disappointed to find out she was being so bothered by such a trivial encounter.

“It’s nothing,” she insisted. “I just wanted to get out for a bit. And it’s no fun drinking alone.” She looked again at the glass of wine in her hand. It really wasn’t fun drinking alone. It was sad. Perhaps she shouldn’t have drunk so much so quickly. She was beginning to feel a bit bad about it.

“Alright, then. I’ll meet you there in just a few.”

Gracie hung up the phone and grabbed her purse. She would get there before Jeff, but that was alright. The walk down to the bar and the fresh air would do her some good.

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By Design – Chapter 7

Eli looked at his watch. It was already after five-thirty. He mentally rationalized this plan with himself one last time. If nothing else, he was already here; it would be a shame to back out now.

A few people had left the building since he had shown up, but so far there had been no sign of Gracie Parker. Her contributing writer profile photo had been in the stack of information Ken had collected on the reporter for him. Now that he knew what she looked like, it would be much easier to casually bump into her outside of her office building when she left for the day. That was his plan, at least.

Eli looked up at Gracie Parker’s building, briefly wondered which floor she would be coming from, and then turned and walked a few paces away. His plan was to make it look like he was just walking toward the building as Gracie was walking out. He wanted it to look like his running into her was pure coincidence. If he could time things properly, she would never suspect he had been waiting out here for twenty minutes already.

But so far Gracie didn’t appear to be leaving the office. And Eli was starting to get anxious. Perhaps he should have looked up what time writers typically got off work, but that seemed a little much. He didn’t want to go overboard with this whole thing.

Eli waited another ten minutes before he decided it was really time to give up for the day. For all he knew, Gracie Parker didn’t even go in to work that day. He could always try again tomorrow. He glanced once more at the building, and was surprised to see a short, brown-haired girl exiting through the front door. Perfect.

Gracie was smaller than he had imagined she would be, and cuter than her business profile picture made her out to be. But none of that was important. Eli was focused. He had a job to do, and he intended to get it done.

He walked up to Gracie Parker. “Hello!” he said, putting on his friendliest smile.

Gracie tried not to jump at the voice behind her, but she didn’t do a good job of hiding her surprise. She turned and a look of shock spread across her face when she found Eli Walker standing next to her. What the hell was he doing here?

“My name is Eli Walker,” Eli offered as an introduction when Gracie didn’t reply to his initial greeting.

“I know who you are,” Gracie said, perhaps a bit too harshly. She wasn’t interested in an introduction; she was still trying to figure out why he was standing next to her. “What are you doing here?” she asked.

“Oh, um… Well I just happened to be passing by actually?” Somehow it didn’t come out as smoothly as Eli had hoped it would, and it didn’t seem like Gracie really believed him. He decided to change tactics. “Would you like to go to a café and chat for a bit?” Straight to the point. She seemed like someone who would appreciate that.

Gracie looked him over, suspicion written all over her face. “Not really,” she said.

Eli faltered. He hadn’t been expecting her to turn him down. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been turned down by someone from the media. And he especially couldn’t remember the last time he had been turned down by a girl. He tried to come up with something else to say, something that would make her change her mind. But nothing came to mind.

Without getting anything more from him in response, Gracie offered him a short wave good-bye, turned, and left.

Well that didn’t go anything like I meant it to. Eli scratched his head, trying to figure out where exactly he had gone wrong. Gracie Parker wasn’t like the rest of the media he had met. And she definitely wasn’t like the rest of the female media he had met. It was going to be much tougher to convince her to like him than he had anticipated. But he couldn’t give up. He was determined. What had started as a simple task had now become a challenge. And he had never been one to turn away from a challenge.

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