My first few days at Genesis West were interesting. The first thing Pam did was issue me a company cell phone. She explained all of the corporate accounts I would have, or be in charge of, as Eric’s assistant. I was also issued several keys; lots of them. I had keys for the office, Eric’s house (what was I going to need those for?), even Eric’s car. Pam’s desk was extremely organized and she proudly explained how she’d found an article in Martha Steward Living that had shown her what to do. She even had little sachets of lavender tucked away in her drawers to keep the area smelling nice.
Pam was an interesting woman, to put it nicely. One minute she was on the phone, ripping into someone for a screw up or bruskly arranging a photo shoot and the next she was flapping her gums about scrapbooking and how to get the perfect crease in a pair of khakis. It seemed almost like I was talking to clones of the same woman. Pam was extremely organized and had everything down to a science. She knew Eric’s schedule like the back of her hand, but then she was the one who put it together.
“Eric doesn’t do meetings on Mondays, and never before ten in the morning. Anyone who insists on something earlier can fuck off. If Eric gets here before noon on Monday and stays beyond it on a Friday, it’s a fucking miracle. He prefers dinner meetings to boardroom meetings. He gets at least a dozen invitations every week to openings, galas, premiers, events and the like. A lot of those invitations are useless to him. He goes for the publicity, most times, and it means rubbing elbows with a lot of people he doesn’t give a shit about but pretends to because it’s good for business. Eric should have been an actor, not a model.” Pam pulled a huge stack of invitations and envelopes from a shelf in the cabinet in her cubicle.
She proceeded to show me everything they had received in the year so far. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of invitations to various events. She gave me a list of the charities Eric supported and would always attend functions for. I laughed when I realized there really was a charity called “Save the Models.” Pam shot me a glare and folded her thin arms over her chest.
“This charity is set up to help put a stop to human trafficking. Every day girls are tricked into signing their lives away to people because they naively believe they’re signing a modeling contract that will take them out of their sad, pathetic lives and into the glamorous life of the rich and famous. These girls are sold to the highest bidder, beaten, raped and forced into acts of prostitution. The ones who don’t overdose on meth or kill themselves are, more often than not, murdered when their owner has no use for them and they’re so damaged from years of abuse that they can’t be sold. It’s not a laughing matter, Sookie.” Pam stared at me like I was heartless and I felt awful.
“I’m sorry, Pam, I had no idea,” I looked down and tried not to cry.
“Oh for fuck’s sake, you better thicken that skin of yours or the sharks are going to eat you alive,” Pam lifted my chin. “Listen to me, Sookie. There are all sorts of wild animals in this business who will lie, cheat, stab you in the back or do any number of things to take you out of the game. You have to be smart, prepared and faster than them to be them at their own game. Study up on fashion. Learn designers, photographers, trends and models. Know what’s on the market because what we’re looking for is the next big thing.
“We don’t want to do what has already been done. Genesis is on the cutting edge of this industry. Eric has an almost psychic ability to pick the next big thing. He can be a pain in the ass sometimes and you’re going to either want to quit or have him killed. I’ve seriously considered both on more than one occasion. In fact, I almost thought about torching this whole place once,” Pam looked around with a faint smile on her face. “The bottom line is, if you bust your ass for Eric, he will bend over backwards to make sure you are accordingly rewarded. He can be a bit of a pig, but he’s a man; it’s to be expected. Especially in a business like this. The most powerful weapon you have isn’t here,” Pam lightly tapped the side of my head.”It’s here,” she moved her hand down to point at my breasts.
I scowled at her and said, “That’s ridiculous.”
“It’s the way of the world, Sugar tits.”
“Please don’t call me that.”
Pam shrugged and said, “I’m merely pointing out that there’s a way for you to easily get Eric’s attention. It might not be dignified, but I guarantee a response.”
“I’m not going to flash him my breasts to get his attention.” I insisted and just barely stopped myself from stomping my foot.
“Suit yourself, just remember I told you so.” Pam wheeled in a chair from the boardroom and parked it next to hers. “Now, let me show you how we keep the schedule synced up.”
I was going to have Pam to learn from for only a month before she started flying back and forth from Los Angeles to New York to get the new office up and running. Getting the hang of things wasn’t easy considering the company was in a state of chaos with the second office opening. Keeping everything straight was only easier because I was used to dealing with people who changed their minds all the time.
Eric told me it was my choice when I wanted to come into the office. He didn’t have a whole lot of rules but he expected me to show up and do my job. Whether I wanted to get in at 7:00 or 9:30 was up to me. I would be running errands on his behalf and attending out of office meetings with him to take notes and be beautiful arm candy, as Pam told me.
The fact that someone like Eric considered me beautiful was pretty unbelievable. I hated to admit it, but we did look damn good together. On my second day, Pam insisted we use our lunch hour to do some shopping. She told Eric we were going to look at furniture for her new office. What we really ended up shopping for was new clothes for me, since Pam told me what I was wearing wasn’t entirely appropriate.
“No one’s going to take you seriously if you’re dressed for a garden party, Sugartits.” I really hated that nickname and I really, really hated Mel Gibson for making it popular.
“And what time are you picking Tommy and Susie up from soccer practice, Mrs. Brady?” I snarked right back at Pam, who was dressed in a knee length skirt and a twin set, and yet managed to give me attitude about my wardrobe.
Why did I like Pam again?
I stood nervously in the lobby of the office while I waited for Eric. I had thought the dress I wore to work was casual enough for the event we were going to, but Pam insisted it was still too formal. Fashion was confusing to me. I never missed the tiny black shorts and embroidered t-shirt that made up my uniform when I was waitressing more than I did just then. My feet were killing me since I still wasn’t used to wearing heels for close to twelve hours a day.
I’d been in the office since 7:00 that morning. I wanted a little time with a silent office to get myself oriented. To make matters worse, I had been up late the night before reading up on fashion and studying various designers. I didn’t expect to absorb all the information overnight but I really needed to keep working at it. Eventually it would all be on the tip of my tongue but it was hard to be patient about it and keep my expectations realistic.
I had called the car service myself earlier in the day to confirm the reservations Pam had made two weeks prior, back when she thought she would be attending the event with Eric. She made sure to rub it in that she had made other plans as she pranced out of the office three hours before. The only good thing she’d done before leaving was give me a thumbs up on the spare outfit I’d brought along.
I heard Eric’s footsteps before I saw him. He’d come into the office earlier in what would be considered a basic black suit on anyone else. Under his jacket was a crisp white shirt, no tie. His aviator sunglasses hung from the breast pocket and his hair was ruffled with the perfect amount of bedhead. If it weren’t for the pictures I’d seen on his website, I might have thought he dressed like that on purpose, in hopes of me losing my mind and jumping him.
Every time my brain went that way I reminded myself that he was involved with a married woman. True, it wasn’t my place to judge, but who does that? Just because Eric could have anyone he wanted didn’t mean he should have anyone he wanted. Didn’t he have respect for the sanctity of marriage, even if he never wanted to get married himself? Of course, I was making an assumption he never wanted to get married but if he did, how would he feel if some jerk was fooling around with his wife?
All those questions-I refused to think of them as judgments- left my brain when I saw Eric come around the corner. He’d ditched the suit in favor of jeans I knew to be True Religion (yay me!). He’d replaced the crisp white shirt with a fitted black v-neck t-shirt that was a little on the sheer side. I could see a silver necklace underneath the fabric and was instantly curious as to how I hadn’t noticed it was there before. I’d certainly spent enough time staring at Eric’s neck, among other parts. He’d also traded in the expensive shoes he was wearing for a pair of black chucks. He looked like a high maintenance frat boy and I wanted to climb him like the tree in my Gran’s front yard. Damn him.
My only recompense was the way Eric stopped dead in his tracks when he saw me standing there waiting for him. I’d changed out of the white linen dress with embroidered yellow flowers and instead I was wearing a champagne silk corset with a pair of tight jeans and strappy heels. Pam had loaned me a Mother of Pearl necklace and my hair was pulled back in a chignon held in place with fancy enamel chopsticks. For a second I panicked, worried I’d gone too far or I’d missed the mark.
Then Eric smiled at me and I knew I’d done just fine. “So, this is okay?” I asked while turning around slowly.
“If this were a cartoon, my tongue would have unrolled and my eyes would be bulging about a foot away from my face,” Eric leaned against a bank of file cabinets.
My hand flew up to cover some of my cleavage, which made Eric cluck his tongue at me. He stood with his long legs crossed and his arms folded over his chest so I could more easily see just how defined they were from hours spent in the gym. The gym! Ugh, I really needed to get myself a membership somewhere since my plan to run on the beach wasn’t going to be happening regularly. Pam had mentioned they had a group rate at a local place. I made a mental note to check it out. I liked my curves and had no intention of losing them but I wanted to stay healthy.
“The car is waiting for us downstairs,” I grabbed my little beaded clutch from the receptionist’s abandoned-for-the-night desk.
“Good. Let’s get this farce over with,” Eric’s long legs had him standing in front of me, holding the door open before I even realized he’d been moving.
Once we were settled in the car, Eric poured himself a scotch and offered me one as well. “Uh, no, thanks. I don’t drink often so my tolerance isn’t very high. I don’t want to slip off my shoe and embarrass myself in front of all those cameras.”
Eric chuckled and said, “You’ve never wanted to be on TMZ?”
“Not really,” I smirked and crossed my legs.
“I hate to tell you this, Sookie, but if that’s true, you’re in the wrong city and you’re definitely working for the wrong guy,” Eric winked at me.
“Are you regular tabloid fodder?”
“I have a reputation,” he nodded and sipped his scotch.
“That doesn’t bother you?” I tilted my head and tried to keep my tone neutral.
“I earned it,” he shrugged casually. “I’m relatively young, even if the business I’m in thinks I’m old. I’m not married, nor do I have plans to be. I work hard and I usually play harder. Sometimes that means too much of this,” Eric raised his glass and gave it a little shake. “And sometimes it means going home with a warm body. Regardless, I don’t really give a flying fuck what anyone thinks. I have nothing to hide.”
I was silent after that while I tried to process what he’d just told me. He’s a man whore, was what my brain heard but for some reason, my heart wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Deep inside me somewhere was a romantic southern girl who had never completely gotten over the notion that fairytales could come true if you found the right guy. Now, I wasn’t crazy enough to sit there and think Eric was the right guy for me, but he was for someone. A day would come when he’d meet a girl worth settling down for and changing his ways.
All his bluster about not wanting to get married would disappear and he would do anything to keep that woman in his life. He already proposed to you once, my brain was really doing its part to fuck with me that evening. While it was true Eric had been impressed by how quickly I was picking things up (especially how to make his coffee), it was hardly a sign we were meant to be anything more than co-workers, and we weren’t even that since he was my boss. I refused to put any stock in the attraction I felt to him since it was an involuntary response.
But feelings… feelings were a horse of a different color. Feelings I could control, and letting them grow and morph into anything that wasn’t professional would be a huge mistake. Forget for a minute that Eric was my boss. Why would I want to get involved with a guy who has intimacy and commitment issues?
“Are you dating anyone?” Eric’s curiosity pulled me from my musings.
“No, I’m not and it’s going to take a really understanding, really secure guy to get my attention.”
“Oh?” Eric arched his eyebrow at me.
“Well yeah, I mean, I’m working for you and I’m sure there will be people who get the wrong idea about our relationship. Not to mention, you’re a good looking man-”
“Yes, you said something to that effect during your interview,” Eric teased with a smug look.
“Can I finish please?” I glared at him, wondering if he was ever going to let that go. The grin on his face told me probably not. Jerk. “Not only were you a very successful model, but you now own an extremely successful business and you’re constantly seen around Hollywood with some of the world’s most beautiful women. I would imagine you’re either very intimidating to most men or a God among your kind, and either way that could be an obstacle in the dating department for me. Besides, I need to focus on my job right now so getting involved with someone is the last thing I need to worry about.”
We made small talk for the rest of the drive. I told Eric a little about the town I’d grown up in and how my only living family was my older brother, whom I had yet to talk to since starting my job. I told him that I really only had one friend in town, which he seemed both amused and horrified by. I imagined Eric didn’t get to spend much time alone, although whether or not that was by choice, I didn’t know yet.
In turn, he told me a bit about his childhood. I’d been curious about the Swedish he muttered from time to time and learned that he’d been taught by his grandparents when he was younger. He came from Scandinavian stock and he had spent his summers in Sweden as a kid. He’d been discovered in a nightclub in Stockholm at the age of fifteen. He’d gotten in with a fake I.D. but his height and build was enough to keep him from being carded too often.
He told a few interesting stories about his time in the land of the Midnight Sun by the time we arrived at the Griffith Observatory. There was a red carpet set up with press and paparazzi set up along the way. There were several celebrities already in attendance, having their picture snapped and their names called frantically as we exited the car. From what Pam told me, it was my job to hang back and fade into the background while Eric did the celebrity thing, which was just fine with me.
I wasn’t interested in being famous. Eric and I parted company and I started toward the event with our invitations to check us in while Eric did whatever it was he did to make the paparazzi clamor for his attention. I had just handed over the invite to some tree hugger with a nasty attitude when a familiar voice got my attention. I turned to see Mark Stonebrook dressed just as casually as he had been at the beach and wearing the same mega watt smile.
“Hey, Mark, how are you?” I smiled as he approached. I wasn’t expecting it when he hugged me and I was completely blown away when he kissed my cheek.
“I’m great. I didn’t know you were going to be here,” he continued to smile at me.
“Oh, well, I’m here with Eric Northman,” I craned my neck toward the red carpet where Eric was standing casually with one of his large hands crammed into a pocket in his jeans.
“Eric Northman? Wow,” Mark was clearly one of the guys who saw Eric as a God.
“He’s my boss,” I volunteered, not wanting Mark to get the wrong idea.
“You interviewed for a job with Eric Northman?”
I shrugged and said, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
“Having second thoughts?” Mark laughed.
“I don’t know yet. I only started on Monday.”
“How’s it going so far?”
I crinkled my nose and said, “I feel like a total fish out of water. I’m in way over my head.”
“Well, my Granny always used to say I should bite off more than I can chew, then chew it.” Mark advised with a kind smile.
“That’s good advice,” I nodded and glanced in Eric’s direction.
A freakishly thin blonde woman with the build of a twelve-year-old boy had attached herself to Eric. She was wearing a pair of shorts that would have been snug on an average woman, but she was drowning in them. Her shirt was probably three sizes too big for her 5T size frame and dream-catcher earrings that didn’t match the rest of her poorly designed ensemble were hanging from her ears. Her hair was stringy and the boots she had on looked like they were so well used they could walk themselves around without any help from her feet. The biggest thing about the girl was her head and I was pretty sure, based on Eric’s expression, her head was full of air.
I was suddenly thankful we weren’t in Bon Temps, or my brother would probably marry her. That really would be just my luck. As it was, they were joined by a dark haired woman who was dressed to kill in a dress whose designer I couldn’t yet readily identify. She was very well put together and clearly grated on Eric’s nerves just as much as the blonde woman did. I untwisted my big girl panties and excused myself from Mark to go rescue my boss like the good assistant I was trying to be.
“I’m sorry, ladies, but Eric is needed over there,” I nodded to where the bitchy tree hugger was with her stupid clipboard and headset.
“Thank you,” Eric whispered as I pulled him away from the pair of panting hyenas who were probably trying to kill me with murderous glares.
“It’s what you pay me for, right?” I smiled up at him. When we got to where Mark was standing, I introduced them to make it look like that was the reason I’d dragged Eric off the red carpet like I did. “Eric, this is Mark Stonebrook. Mark, this is Eric Northman.”
“Nice to meet you,” Mark said cordially and extended a hand.
Ever the suave businessman, Eric extended a hand as well. I could see they had a firm grip on one another but neither was willing to grimace or complain as a result. There was an unmistakable intensity in their eyes that made me wonder who was going to throw the first punch and I started to wonder if I’d had Mark pegged all wrong. Maybe he was one of the guys who was intimidated by Eric. Or, maybe I was reading too much into the situation.
“I’m sorry, who are you?” Eric asked in a completely dumbstruck tone that had me wishing there was a wall nearby so I could bash my head into it. Was he serious?
“Mark Stonebrook. I’m an actor,” Mark had dropped Eric’s hand like he’d learned it was covered in the Black Plague. After being sandwiched by Posh Spice and Stinky Boots, I was willing to wager that was entirely possible.
“Right,” Eric looked to me and I’m sure I looked horrified. “We have to be heading inside. It was nice to meet you, Mike.”
Eric pulled me along but I looked over my shoulder and mouthed an apology to Mark who looked more angrily amused than he did wounded. A fist fight at a Greenpeace event. Wouldn’t that be classic? I didn’t know how much of my job entailed public relations or being a press liaison just yet, but I could play the manners police. My Gran would have boxed my ear if I was so rude and disrespectful to someone else.
“You could be nicer, you know,” I glared up at Eric who was still pulling me along.
“Of course I could, but then he would think we’re friends and I have enough ‘friends’ in this business, Sookie. You’ll find that out when you have to program my address book into your phone.”
“It’s already done. Pam took me to the nearest kiosk and had my phone synced up with hers,” I wanted to stick my tongue out at him for being such a smug prick and at the same time, I wanted to jump him for the way his hand had settled on the small of my back. I stepped away just a little and asked, “So what’s the deal here, Eric? Are we supposed to look like a couple?”
He laughed quietly and said, “That wasn’t really the intention but it would be nice if we looked like we’ve known each other for longer than ten minutes.”
“I thought you didn’t give a fuck what anyone in this business thought about you?” I turned toward him and popped my hip out, my hands settling at my hips as well.
“Eric!” A woman’s voice called out and both of our heads turned to see who it was.
A platinum blonde with a very round belly waddled toward us. She was wearing low slung pants in spite of her condition and flip-flops I would have killed for smacked against her swollen feet. A fitted flannel shirt was left unbuttoned just enough to give her cleavage that would rival my own, which was considerable. I caught a glimpse of a bar code tattoo on the back of her neck and watched as Eric leaned down to kiss her cheek.
“How’s your punching hand?” he asked her playfully.
“Pretty good. I brought spares this year,” she patted her belly.
“I see that. When does this new creation drop?”
“Not soon enough,” she sighed. “My ankles have their own fucking weather system. If she doesn’t come out soon, Greenpeace can add me to their list of endangered ecosystems.”
I stood back quietly, just watching Eric and Pink (yeah, I had a small fangirl moment at the realization, so what?) banter with each other until she was pulled away by her people for a photo op with Bono. I found the check Eric had written for the charity and handed it to him so he could give it to the big wig that was present and taking donations. They shook hands and more pictures were taken as Eric’s donation was recorded.
“So can I ask you something?” I asked Eric as we made our way to the bank of telescopes that were set up so people could actually look at the stars in the sky and not just at each other.
“Of course,” Eric said and stooped down to look through the view finder of a huge telescope.
“Do you really believe in this charity or is this all just for the tax write off?”
Eric remained quiet while he looked at the stars but then straightened up and gestured for me to take a look. The sun was just sinking below the horizon and the stars were barely visible, but they were beautiful all the same. The sky in Los Angeles was so different than it was back home. Smog made it harder to see what was plain as day in Louisiana and I realized, as I was standing there, it wasn’t just the starts that were obstructed. Los Angeles had a way of changing people. I’d only been there for a little over a month and already, I felt like a different person.
“This is a good charity that does some good things. I don’t agree with all of their methods but I think the over all message is important. But the tax write off definitely sweetens the deal,” Eric smiled, then started toward the open bar.
I was torn between following him and staying exactly where I was. Maybe the key to everything was balance. Was it really possible to be a country girl in the big city? It seemed to work for Larry the Cable Guy but how many of us did it really work for? Was there room for small town values in a city that idealized beauty and fame? Did I want to sacrifice who I was for what I might become?
All that was pushed aside when I saw Stinky Boots latch herself onto Eric again. The way she was touching him made my skin crawl, and he didn’t look any more comfortable than I imagined I would if I were in his shoes. So, for the second time that night, I unknotted my big girl panties and went to rescue my boss.
This is the beginning, I thought as I marched over to him.