Marianne waited a long time for AJ.
She worshipped him from afar through most of her high school years, then lusted after him through her twenties. At the grand old age of twenty-eight, she resigned herself to two facts—he preferred her sister, and he’d forgotten his promise.
The gossip mag called to Marianne as clearly as if it had a megaphone attached. She’d stuffed it into her tote bag before she boarded the plane, and tried hard to ignore it during the flight, but now, with more than an hour until they landed at Heathrow and all her work documents tidied away, there was no excuse.
She glanced at her new colleague next to her. Rico looked focused on his spreadsheet. Fuck it. She wanted to see what dirt the press was spreading now.
She retrieved the glossy magazine and feasted her eyes on the cover picture first. AJ, also known as Rock God. Her one-time lover. The stock photo was a good one. His eyes were clear, and his lips curved in the start of a smile. He looked fit and confident and beyond sexy—the polar opposite of how he was a year ago, when they last met.
He occupied the center spread, in a multitude of images, and Marianne took her time examining them. She winced at the largest picture—AJ, clinging to a lamppost, the soft amber light glinting off a bottle of Grey Goose vodka in his hand. His hair was longer than she’d seen before, and thick fuzz covered his face. He was a mess.
The paragraph underneath had nothing new to say.
The delicious AJ was seen staggering out of Barney’s club in the early hours. Looks like his latest dry spell has foundered. This is the first time he’s seen in public since his little brother, Event Horizon bass player Sam, died of an overdose last year. Rumour has it AJ’s bought a mansion in darkest Wales, to hide away in. The remaining members of the band have been pressing him to tour again, but he’s not interested.
It was Sam’s anniversary today. Memories of his funeral threatened to overwhelm Marianne, but she pushed past them. Losing Sam was bad enough, but for him to die the way she expected AJ to go was grossly unfair. Watching AJ ride the rollercoaster of addiction was terrifying, and without Sam to curb his excesses, she feared the worst. How long would it be, before she received that news too? Her stomach cramped at the idea.
She’d made a new life. No longer the tagalong groupie from next door, she had a career and responsibilities. She was a different person, on the outside at least. Inside was a different matter. AJ was her first and only true love. Yeah… and it worked out so well.
Most days she didn’t think about him, but today it was impossible not to. She closed the magazine and returned it to her tote, but the images she’d seen continued to taunt her. AJ on stage with the band. AJ on his first album cover, the one that propelled the young rock band to stardom in a matter of months. AJ with an arm wrapped around Sam’s shoulders, carefree grins on both their faces. And then a blurry copy of the headline that announced Sam’s overdose.
Marianne needed a distraction. Burying herself in work seemed like the best option. As soon as they landed, they were heading for the TM-Tech offices in Canary Wharf, where she’d host the kickoff meeting for this super-secret project. It was the biggest piece of work she’d been asked to manage, and that alone should be exciting.
Leaning back in her seat, she gazed at Rico’s spreadsheet. He clicked the mouse in a series of cells, flicked to another page, and then repeated the action.
“Find anything yet?” She spoke softly. Even though they were in Business Class and had space around their seats, she never knew who might be listening.
“Nope.” He blew out a frustrated breath, pushed wire-rimmed spectacles up his nose, and continued clicking between pages.
Rico had been hired a few days earlier, as a forensic accountant, and assigned to her team for this job. His appointment rankled at first; Marianne preferred to select her own team. But Rico came with excellent references and had worked for Thaddeus Merrill, the chairman, before.
She and Rico would be working closely for the next three months. It wouldn’t hurt to be friendly. “So, Rico. I don’t know much about you. Are you married? Girlfriend? Significant Other?”
He gave her a sideways glance and pushed at his spectacles again. “Uh… no.”
Teasing him could be fun. “Is that no to the wife, girlfriend, or significant other?”
“None of them. Too busy, I guess.” He was cute in a geeky way, all floppy dark hair and big brown eyes. The girls at TM-Tech would be falling over themselves to catch him. Not Marianne though. She never mixed business with pleasure.
She was looking forward to this project for a number of reasons. Not only the huge responsibility, but also because being in London again would be good. She hadn’t worked in the U.K. for years, or spent much time recently on British soil, but some things were hard to forget. English fish and chips, and a decent roast beef Sunday lunch were top of her list. Catching up with her family? Not so much.
Then, there was Marcus. If she ever considered breaking her rule about getting involved with a co-worker, Marcus would be her downfall. Especially since he was now her boss.
Two hours later, Marianne gazed up at the gleaming tower block that would be her workplace for the next few months. The sun hung low in the sky, typical for late October, and she tugged her coat a little tighter. After working in Houston for so long, she’d forgotten how cold it could be in London. She bit back a yawn. She’d also forgotten how exhausting transatlantic travel could be.
Rico glanced at her, as he shouldered a leather messenger bag. “We could always reschedule the kickoff for tomorrow morning.”
He looked disgustingly bright-eyed, more as if he slept on the flight, though he’d been working the whole time. “No need.” She was brisk. “We’re here, and with time to spare. Let’s go find Marcus.”