Read Caress Online

Authors: Grayson Cole

Caress (7 page)

The door opened and she stood back allowing him in. “Come on in.”

Her sweetly feminine voice seemed inviting. Harmless enough, he thought.

Then she extended a delicate hand. “Nya Seymour,” she said.

Then their eyes met. In a flash, a spark of recognition—and something more—leapt between them. They held each other’s gaze a moment too long. The air seemed to leave the room and he felt as if they were either standing too close or not close enough. Michael’s throat constricted and his heart seemed to stop beating. Involuntarily, his grip on his electronic notebook tightened until its edge bit into the skin of his palm. He wanted to say something, but was paralyzed. He recognized her now. The woman from the airport!

He recovered and took her smooth, soft hand in his. “Hello, Ms. Seymour. I’m Michael Harrison. I believe I might have helped you with your bags the other night at the airport.”

She paused for a moment. “Yes, I believe so. I apologize for walking off the way I did, but I had a
very, very
severe public relations issue to deal with.”

Michael chewed the inside of his cheek before taking a breath. “I understand. Still, I’m very pleased to meet you, though I wish it were under more favorable circumstances.” He didn’t let go of her hand or break eye contact. He couldn’t end this strange and intoxicating shared moment. “Please accept my deepest apologies for what was prematurely printed in our paper.”

She pulled her hand out of his and he realized that the smile affixed to her face was not real.

“Prematurely printed?” she repeated, only her words were a stinging question.

She walked back to her desk and lifted a newspaper. Michael followed.

“That’s a bit mild, don’t you think?”

She sat at her desk, unfolded the newspaper. She turned it sideways so they both could see it.

Michael just stood there, wondering what she was after.

“Sit down,” she said. His skin prickled. She’d just issued a command peppered with venom. His rebellious nature demanded that he remain standing, but he overcame it. After all, he was in the wrong and this woman had had to suffer the consequences of his actions.

She went on. “I have heard that you are an excellent journalist. Though I haven’t read you, I have many friends and acquaintances that have, and they seem to think you are thorough and honorable. I find it difficult to take that as gospel.”

Michael took a deep breath and held it.

She pointed at the article. “I have to say this was a very unprofessional move on your part. It was, Mr. Harrison, yellow journalism at its worst. However, I am hoping we can remedy the situation, as I told your editor.”

Michael sat frozen, this time not with embarrassment but with anger and, amazingly—he didn’t even know it was possible—raging attraction. Nya Seymour continued to speak, but he could only stare at her mobile lips. Lips that he’d been obsessed with kissing all the way home from St. Thomas. He tried to take in every detail of her to make sure that this was really happening. She was in a charcoal grey suit—tailored, he was sure—with flat, opalescent buttons. Her twists were wrapped into a tight roll at the base of her neck. Attired very professionally, she looked nothing like he would’ve expected. He tried to reconcile the image of the sexy, gentle woman in the airport with this formidable, cold businesswoman sitting before him. There she sat, glowering at him as she recounted all the errors in his botched article. This was the first time he’d ever, in all his years as a journalist, been rendered speechless.

“Mr. Harrison, are you with us?” Sarcasm dripped from her lips.

He finally exhaled and spoke. “I’m sorry. You were saying about the article?”

“When do you intend to print your retraction? As Claudia and I discussed, I want it done yesterday. I know you’ve put it out on your website, but I happen to know your traffic there is less than--”

“It’s not a retraction, Ms. Seymour. If I had printed any fact in error, I would have to print a retraction. As it stands, we are following up with a clarification of Hatsheput’s role in the Art Sentries Foundation investigation. It’s going to print as we speak. ”

“Call it what you want, Mr. Harrison.” She looked down at her desk and picked up a folder. “I’ve compiled everything on Hatsheput I think you’ll need for your next article, the feature. This is a profile of the company and the entire investigation of the Art Sentries Foundation and of what happened with Marshall Ellis. You should be able to work from this when you do your feature. Of course if you want pictures, you can send a photographer around and we’ll make sure he gets everything he needs.” And then as if dismissing him she said, “So, if there isn’t anything further…”

She was treating him like some tabloid reporter who didn’t know his own job. Michael, now seething with anger, felt his face grow warm. “You’ve got it all figured out?”

“Yes, I believe I do. It’s all very simple, Mr. Harrison.”

“Well, I’m sorry. That’s not how I do my articles. I do my own research, conduct my own interviews, and I choose the angle.” Michael was astounded by his own outburst. His intent coming into this interview was to apologize and attempt to appease Hatsheput in whatever way necessary, but nothing was going as planned, and he was having great difficulty controlling his own tongue. And he knew the cause. His eyes traced her face. She was nothing like he imagined.

“In truth, I don’t care to know how you do your articles. If your sister didn’t make it clear to you, your angle, so to speak, is going to be a shining report on how Hatsheput is a black-owned company doing everything it can to give back to the community. Your article should be apologetic and
epic
in its description of us as heroes. You will also show that we do not,” she emphasized, tapping a fingertip on the article, “we do not ‘pilfer and usurp the hopes of the Caribbean youth!’ ”

Michael’s face ran hot with embarrassment. At the time he had thought it an extremely good line. “I’m so sorry,” he apologized sincerely.

At that point he wanted nothing more than for the unpleasantness to be over and for them to call a truce, but she said, “I’m sure you are. I’m sure you’re very sorry having sold as many papers as you did over the whole thing.”

That did it. “Listen, no one has ever questioned my professional integrity. I graduated top of my class at Stanford. I have a master’s in journalism. I’ve won more than enough awards from the industry to let me know what others think about my journalistic talents. And believe me, I think I can sell a paper or two without the sensationalism you’re implying. I was doing it long before Hatsheput ever entered the picture.”

“That’s all very impressive, Mr. Harrison,” she said, sounding utterly unimpressed. “I, personally, would assume that someone with all those credentials wouldn’t have made such a colossal error in judgment.”

Fuming, Michael didn’t respond. He couldn’t say a thing because he knew she was right, which only made his ire grow.

She waved her hand in the air and said, “No matter. Do your article any way you want—as long as it meets all the conditions I mapped out with Claudia.”

“I’ll also need to speak with the lead investigator. Do you happen to have his name?”

“Though
you
obviously aren’t bound by a federal gag order, I am. We won’t be discussing the investigation at all.” The woman actually smirked.

Michael’s jaw clenched in fury. She turned to the computer beside her desk and began working, as if to dismiss him. Never would he have imagined her to be a cold, power-tripping, egotistical shrew. Never would he have thought she would be so condescending and irritating and bothersome and…so beautiful up close.

“I’ll need to interview you, also.” Where did that come from? He didn’t want to interview this woman. She was a walking, talking razor blade.

She turned around, and her gaze ventured along his face until she found his eyes. “I suppose you would…you can make an appointment with Lysette. She’s the woman helping up front today due to our receptionist going out early on maternity leave.”

h

 

Michael marched quickly down the hall, not caring about the curious onlookers that brushed past. He burst through the double doors, heading for the receptionist’s desk. Lysette Hendricks was sitting there, the phone attached to her ear. “Gotta go, bye!” she whispered and hung up. “Yes?” she asked, trying to suppress the smile forcing her lips upward.

“I need to make an appointment with Ms. Seymour. I’m also hoping to have someone give me a tour of your art gallery here in Birmingham. I understand there’s a lot of work by the scholarship recipients on exhibit there. It would be good to see the works when I can put some faces with the pieces.”

“Uh-huh,” she said. Michael stood straight bearing her scrutiny. Lysette questioned, “She didn’t give you the folder?”

Michael’s eyes narrowed. “Yes, she gave me the folder.”

“Oh, excuse me,” she said with a smile as she thumbed through the black leather appointment book lying open on her desk.

“She’s booked up ’til Thursday. There’s a one o’clock slot open then. There are public tours given every Tuesday and Thursday at one and three at Hatsheput Galleries. If you come over here around one, you guys can go over together and she can give you the tour as well. No one knows that facility better than she does.”

“Fine,” he declared and walked out of the lobby.

h

 

“So what happened? Did you tell him off? Did he get mad? He got mad, didn’t he? He looked a little mad when he came out. What happened?” It hadn’t taken five minutes after Michael Harrison left Nya’s office for Lysette to come bursting in.

“Nothing happened. We discussed the situation.”

“Something
had
to have happened. I know there were sparks as furious as you were when I walked out of here. Don’t forget how well I know you. When you’re furious, like your mama and your daddy and your sister, all anyone can do is get out of your way.”

Nya couldn’t argue that she was driven. She also couldn’t argue that if there was an issue to be resolved, she could not rest until it was under control. Usually her determination allowed her to come away from hostile encounters feeling triumphant. She had tried to stay calm, but this interaction with Harrison had shaken her. And when she was shaken, sometimes she could be… well… a little mean. It was something she was trying to work on… but sometimes it happened anyway. It was why she preferred to be alone when she was upset.

“What’s wrong with you? What happened?”

“Calm down, Lysette,” Nya said, lifting her head. “I’ll tell you everything. But let me ask you: did you make him an appointment with me?”

“I sure did. I’m beginning to get the hang of this ‘working’ thing.”

Nya rolled her eyes. “It won’t last.”

“Probably not.” Lysette gave her a lopsided grin. “I put him down for Thursday at one. He wants to meet here so you can go over to the gallery together, which I figured would be fine for you.”

“Why would that be fine for me? Why can’t I just meet him there?”

“Nya, you have to work with the man, he’s not going to bit you.”

Nya ignored the comment. “I guess I’ll live. Although I can tell he won’t wait ’til then to start. I’ll let everyone know what he’s here for—as if they don’t already—and make sure he gets full cooperation.”

“Okay, but I want to know what’s going on. The folder had everything you wanted in the piece in there. I worked very hard preparing it, if I do say so myself.”

Nya smiled, remembering how Harrison became indignant at the idea of not doing his own research. Maybe he wasn’t as unprofessional as she thought. “Yeah, that was the plan, but it seems he has a different agenda. And can you believe he gave me this big sermon about his credentials and awards. I mean a full résumé.”

“Nooo,” Lysette breathed. Then she asked conspiratorially, “Did you return the favor?”

“I didn’t want to stoop.” Nya leaned back in her seat and began to chew her thumbnail.

“Then what did you say to him? Did you tell him off?”

“Lysette, this is not a soap opera. But yeah, I let him have it about his little investigative article.”

“Oooohhhh, I bet you did. I bet you tore into him. But while you were reading him his rights, did you get a chance to notice just how gorgeous he is?”

“What’s that got to do with anything? The guy has done irreparable damage to my livelihood.”

“Not irreparable. It’s one paper, and the retraction went out quick enough so that larger venues had the truth before they went with it. I keep telling you—”

“I know. I know. You think I’m being overly dramatic.”

“I do. I also know that this misstep was uncharacteristic. The guy is sorry. His sister is sorry. The paper issued an apology,
several
apologies. They are giving us all this great press now free of charge. They are trying to make it right. I know the situation is bad, but they are
not
bad people.”

“So?”

“So… you should maybe think a little about how fine that man is.”

Nya groaned and rolled her eyes. She knew Lysette better than she knew her own sister, and, at that moment, she knew exactly what her friend was getting at. Ever since Lysette became Mrs. Jamie Hendricks, she had wanted to help her friend find the same “marital bliss.” She had refused to give up the pursuit even after Nya stated firmly that marital bliss was a myth orchestrated to dupe women into voluntarily giving up a freedom they would never, never experience again. In any case, she didn’t know a man who could accept her devotion to her work.

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