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By My Side Michele Zurlo 2022/8/3 13:56:57

Call and see if my dry cleaning is ready. Set up meeting with Fuller for next Monday re: investors. Cancel the benefit. Refund donations.

Marcella struggled to breathe. She felt as if someone had punched her in the stomach or knocked her off a really high wall, and she’d landed flat on her back.

She blinked back useless tears and reminded herself how she had failed the night before. Of course he couldn’t use her for the benefit. While maybe she was the right kind of submissive for him, she still wasn’t right for the kind of show the audience would demand.

Swallowing her pride, she opened the file with his lists of contacts. Fuller picked up on the third ring.

“Please tell me Sean didn’t do anything stupid.”

Marcella didn’t have it in her to laugh at his greeting. “He wants me to cancel the benefit.”

Fuller’s deep chuckle came through. “Looks like your plan worked.”

She gasped. Not much in her plan had come out as she’d intended. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Come now. You wouldn’t go through all the hassle of using Oasis just to play for a day or two.” He didn’t sound angry or upset about the benefit, and she knew he understood full well what this meant to Sean.

“I never planned for him to cancel the benefit.” And she wouldn’t cancel it. She would call Gretchen and make amends. The show had to go on.

“He’s a possessive bastard, and you mean too much to him. He did not enjoy having me there last night. No way he’s going to let a hundred people share what’s between you.” Fuller would defend Sean until the end. While she wanted to believe what he said, Sean’s behavior hadn’t led her to believe he thought there was more between them. Neither had it indicated the opposite—he’d actually been quite difficult to read.

This was going nowhere fast. She changed the subject. “Fuller, how do you know what Oasis is?”

The crackle of static hissing through the phone emphasized the silence. Then his sigh came through loud and clear. “I got a call yesterday morning on my private line. Very few people have this number. They offered me a fantasy. I set the terms, fill out a mountain of paperwork. They find a woman whose fantasy fits mine. I thought they were an escort service. Then I saw you with Sean, and I realized they were who they said they were.”

Marcella had prohibited Oasis from contacting Sean directly. A refusal would have been too humiliating. They had managed to engineer events so that she could offer herself in such a way that a refusal wouldn’t shatter her fragile ego or her working relationship with Sean. “They won’t tell you who requested you?”

He chuckled again. “Maybe I’ll steal a strategy from you and request her by name.”

Marcella worked her teeth against her lower lip as a seed of hope grew in her heart. She hoped her guess proved correct. “Fuller? I’m not canceling the benefit. I’m going to call Gretchen and beg her to reconsider.”

She could feel the tension radiating through the phone in Fuller’s silence. At last he cleared his throat. “Sean won’t do it.”

“Well, I don’t know that until I tell him she’s back on board. You know what this benefit means to him.”

“It doesn’t matter. You mean more.” His assurance came out as a growl, confirming Marcella’s suspicion.

“So maybe you’d be okay with stepping in and taking his place if he refuses?” This time she held her breath and waited.

At last Fuller exhaled, and she heard the relief in his voice. “I’m always willing to help my best friend.”

By the time Sean sauntered into her office with a cloth shopping bag and a tall cup of coffee an hour later, she had finished making calls.

He dropped the bag on one of the comfortable chairs facing her desk and sank into the other. He set his steaming cup next to her keyboard and leaned forward.

“Good morning, Marcella. Did you get my text?”

She nodded, her stiff response broadcasting her displeasure.

He locked gazes with her, holding her in his spell. “Did you do what I asked you to do?”

“I called Fuller. Your dry cleaning is ready, so I sent Gabriella to pick it up.” She set her mouth in a stubborn line. “But I didn’t cancel the benefit. I called Gretchen instead. She’s agreed to come by today so you two can negotiate exactly what will happen.”

His fingers curled into fists, his eyes narrowed, and his lips compressed until they turned white. Marcella had seen him this angry before, but his ire had always been directed elsewhere. Other people quaked at the air of danger he affected, but she wasn’t impressed. Okay, maybe she was a little afraid.