Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Romance excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded this one already, you’re in for a treat!
Zara Hamilton has it all – a glamorous New York lifestyle, a gorgeous (and seriously rich) boyfriend and a job as a lawyer in a prestigious city law firm. But when Zara’s boyfriend is accused of insider trading her perfect world implodes. Thrown out of work by security and stalked by the press, Zara’s life can’t get any worse. Or can it? A snap decision (and a few wines too many) sees Zara fleeing to Africa to work as a temporary wildlife volunteer. But just when things start to cool down at home Zara realises her troubles have only just begun. Will Zara’s designer wardrobe survive? Will a supermodel ruin her only chance at happiness? Can a Birkin bag really solve her problems? And will Zara want her old life back at the end of it all….
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
An excerpt from
Copyright © 2012 by Kate Metz published here with his permission
Today was the worst day of my life. Of course, it didn’t start out that way, but by 11:30 a.m. my almost perfect world had ended. How do you know when your world is going to come crashing down? Well, in my case, there were no signs. For once, I managed to make it into the office before Clare, the office bitch (big achievement), and grab breakfast (minor miracle), but best of all, I was sporting a brand new snakeskin Bulgari handbag.
By 9:00 a.m. I was happily sitting in my office, sipping a caramel latte while the office secretaries cooed admiringly at my bag. Clare still hadn’t made it in, and the partner in charge had asked me to attend a very important meeting.
So there I was, perched in a boardroom full of lawyers and bankers talking about what could possibly be the biggest mergers and acquisitions deal of the year, when my Blackberry started ringing. Embarrassing! Junior lawyers are not meant to interrupt meetings, especially not important ones. Fumbling in my bag for a few seconds, I switched my Blackberry to silent. Disaster averted. The banker sitting opposite me gave me a sympathetic smile. Actually, he was pretty cute—definitely potential for one of my single girlfriends. Conspiratorially I smiled back and flicked my hair ever so slightly. No harm in a bit of innocent flirtation, even if I am officially off the market!
I went back to taking notes. I’m so good at taking notes now that I can think about other things at the same time, a useful form of multi-tasking. It’s funny how life works out. Five years ago, I would have confidently told you I’d be at a plaintiff law firm taking on big corporates for a dizzying array of wrongdoings. Yet here I am, working for big corporates instead. My lofty ideals vanished the moment I interviewed with some of the plaintiff firms and saw firsthand their dumpy offices and tired-looking staff.
Instead I wound up at Harvey & Rose, one of New York’s premier law firms. I was won over by the lure of a much higher salary, the opportunity to wear a killer wardrobe, and the promise of some interesting pro bono work—life is a balance, after all. But best of all, Sal, one of my very closest friends, was also offered a job and had the office a few doors up from mine.
The big problem with law, I mused, looking around the plush boardroom, is that the long hours really play havoc with your looks and lifestyle. I mean, half the partners look like they’re suffering from some life-threatening illness—puffy eyes, sallow skin, thinning hair—and most are on their third marriage.
Clearly, it made sense to find an alternate career in the next few years. But in the meantime, monthly facials and manicures would just have to suffice. I looked approvingly down at my freshly manicured hands. A little bit of maintenance goes a long way.
“Zara. Is Zara Hamilton in this meeting?”
My reverie was broken and I looked up to see Janice, the managing partner’s PA, standing in the doorway. Why was she calling my name in the middle of a meeting? For the second time that morning, all eyes were on me. Rather than looking outright annoyed this time, the chair of the meeting suddenly looked interested. He probably surmised the photocopier needed fixing! Most partners don’t think junior lawyers are good for much else.
Blushing, I excused myself. Janice, a stick-thin woman in her late forties, had already started back up the corridor. Tottering on my heels, I tried to catch up to find out what the hell was going on.
“Janice,” I finally managed to hiss as I caught up with her. “What’s going on? Why did you get me out of that meeting?”
Pausing for a second, Janice whispered, “Honestly, Zara, I don’t know the reason, but Ed has canceled all his morning meetings and is in his office with George. They’re both in foul moods.”
Shit, this must be bad, I thought. What could I have possibly done to warrant being dragged in front of the managing partner and the head of litigation? I’d barely ever exchanged words with either of them. In fact, I seriously doubted whether either of them even knew my name. My mind was furiously working. The only thing I could think of was lying on my timesheets. But who doesn’t do that? I mean, everyone knows that “client liaison” is “coffee” and “research” is “online shopping.”
“Come in,” Ed’s deep voice boomed from his office. Ed was a large, heavyset man in his early sixties. He always looked hassled, and this morning was no exception.
George was in the office too. I’d never liked George. Short, fat, and bald, he reminded me of the sleazebag lawyer in Pretty Woman.
“Take a seat, Zara.” Ed motioned to a trendily faded brown leather armchair. Seconds later I was sinking into the chesterfield in front of the two men.
“Zara, do you have anything you want to tell us?” George, the head of litigation, asked. His nasal voice had a nasty ring to it. He was known around the office as a real asshole.
“No,” I tried to answer in an even tone. “I’m not really sure why I’m here.”
“Are you sure?” George practically growled this time.
Tears started to well out of nowhere. I shook my head. “No, I really don’t know what this is all about. Have I done something wrong?”
“Calm down, Zara; you haven’t necessarily done anything wrong.” It was Ed this time. “We just want to talk to you about Nick.”
“Nick?” I said, suddenly alert. “What has Nick got to do with anything?”
Nick and I had been dating for nearly two years. He was every woman’s dream—tall, dark, handsome, funny, and yes, rich—but that’s not why I loved him. He was genuinely sweet, charming, interesting, and confidentially, good in bed.
“Nick has been arrested.”
I almost burst out laughing. “I’m really sorry, but I think you’ve got the wrong Nick.”
“No, Zara, we haven’t,” Ed went on, “Nick was arrested this morning along with several others for alleged insider trading.”
I could feel the color drain from my face. “But why would Nick insider trade? I mean, he’s highly successful, so he doesn’t need the money. Plus, his family is so well known and does so much to help others…” My faltering voice trailed off.
“We don’t know, Zara, but the allegations are very serious. Apparently his associates traded in a number of takeover targets days before bids were announced. We know, for example, that his associates bought DRB Finance shares the day before the East Circuit takeover bid was made.”
“But we acted for DRB,” I stammered.
“Yes, and that’s where our problem lies,” hissed George. “You see, the authorities want to know where Nick got that piece of information and so do we.”
“But how would I know?” And then the meaning of George’s words sunk in. “Are you implying that I told Nick about the bid and that I’m somehow involved? You have to know I would never do that. I mean, it’s completely unethical, not to mention illegal.”
Ed stepped in and said smoothly, “We’re not implying anything at this stage, Zara, but we need to take this seriously. Since we were contacted this morning, we have been fully cooperating with the authorities. We have given them access to your office, to your files, and to your laptop. Now if you would please hand me your Blackberry.”
In the last three and a half years, I’d never been without my Blackberry, not even for a second, and that was before Barack Obama made Blackberry addiction cool. I noticed as I passed it over that I had four missed calls.
“So what happens now?” I whispered. My head had started to throb and my mouth felt dry; I could barely get the words out.
“Well, we obviously can’t have you working here while this matter is being investigated. We need to conduct our own investigation, and of course the SEC is going to want to talk to you. Consider yourself on leave until further notice. Once our investigation is complete, we’ll let you know whether you have a future at Harvey & Rose.”
“Before you’re escorted out, we’ll need you to sign this.” George thrust a document at me.
Nervously I picked it up and started to read. A confidentiality agreement! I was being gagged from speaking to anyone except the authorities. If I said anything, I’d be automatically fired.
I looked at the two men and saw the steely determination on their faces. I reached across and took the Mont Blanc pen Ed was offering. I really had no choice but to sign.
“You have to understand, Zara, we need to protect the reputation of this firm,” Ed said soothingly. “We’ve done better than most in riding out the recent tough economic conditions, but no firm can afford to be rocked by a scandal. George is in charge of damage control and is doing his best to mop this mess up. In the meantime, if you want to keep getting paid, don’t speak to anyone. We will be strictly enforcing the terms of the agreement you just signed.”
Ed moved over to his desk, picked up his phone, and barked, “Janice, Zara is ready to leave.”
From out of nowhere a security guard materialized, and I got shakily to my feet. I was half expecting the bull-necked man to grab me and hurl me out of the office, but he seemed content to hover by my side.
My head was swimming. The deep-pile plum plush carpet that I used to love so much because it screamed luxury now threatened to trip me up. I could barely lift my feet. “Oh god,” I moaned. “This can’t be happening.”
Walking the thirty-meter corridor to reception was the most humiliating thing ever. Even though my eyes were fixed on the floor, I could imagine heads bobbing up from cubicles to stare—just like meerkats on the bloody Discovery Channel!
As we neared Sal’s office, I looked up. I desperately needed to see a friendly face. But Sal wasn’t there. Instead, Clare barged out of the next-door office and almost bowled me over.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said with mock sincerity, “I nearly walked straight into you and your, um, friend.”
She looked like the cat who’d eaten the cream—and the family dog too, for that matter. Trying to summon up all the dignity I could muster, I put on my fakest, sweetest smile and said, “No worries.” And then in my most concerned tone, “Oh dear, you’ve smudged foundation all over your shirt collar.”
Looking temporarily confused, Clare opened her mouth as if to say something and then changed her mind and headed for the ladies’ toilet. I kept walking. It was a cheap shot, but it made me feel better, if only for a millisecond.
At last we reached reception. Fortunately the area, which usually hummed with waiting clients and staff, was quiet. My heels clattered on the highly polished marble floor as I made my way to the lift well. As I reached the lift, I allowed myself a parting look. I didn’t know when, or even if, I’d ever be allowed back. Suddenly, I felt nostalgic. Harvey & Rose was like home to me.
Tears once again started to well in my eyes. As the lift doors closed, I let them roll down my cheeks.
The building’s automatic doors spewed me onto the sidewalk. Blinking in the bright sunlight, I stood dazed as people milled around me. The honking of busy traffic made my already throbbing head ache, and I had the sudden urge to throw up. Staggering, I managed to make it to the edge of the sidewalk before my stomach heaved convulsively. Bile splattered my Jimmy Choo pumps.
“Have you no shame, behaving like that in the street.”
I looked around in total confusion. A stout old woman was yelling at me.
“It’s an utter disgrace being drunk at this time of day,” she continued.
“N-n-o, you’ve got it wrong,” I stammered. “It’s not what you think. I’m not drunk…”
“That’s what all alcoholics say,” she shouted triumphantly. By now half the street was staring at us. “You need to get yourself some professional help young lady.” She shook a disapproving finger at me before continuing up the sidewalk.
“I’m just having a bad day, you miserable old cow,” I screamed after her. The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them. What was I saying? Why was I hurling abuse at someone’s grandmother? I wasn’t usually a rude person.
Horrified, I noticed that all the bankers from the M&A meeting were watching me. The meeting had obviously finished and they were waiting for cabs. The cute banker gave a sad shake of his head before turning his back on me. No one wanted to know me.
From out of a deep fog I could hear a phone. Groggily, I looked around me, but the ringing had stopped. For a second I had no idea where I was. Disoriented, I sat up before realizing that I was in my bedroom and it was twilight outside. My throat felt parched and sore, and my head pounded. I’d just had the worst dream.
Gingerly, I hopped off my bed and went in search of painkillers and water. The face that confronted me in the bathroom mirror was ghastly—completely ashen aside from makeup-smudged tear tracks. And I was dressed in my D&G suit. Suddenly, the morning’s events came flooding back. I wasn’t dreaming. I was living a nightmare.
Discarding my clothes, I stumbled into the shower and let the warm water cascade over me for a very long time. Slowly, I started to pull myself together and formulate a plan for how I was going to get myself out of this mess. I was a lawyer after all, I could figure this out.
First, I urgently needed to speak to Nick. Obviously, this was all a giant mix-up. Second, I needed to get my job back. Of course, this would be easy once the mistake came to light. Given the appalling way I had been treated, Harvey & Rose would probably even have to offer me a promotion or something.
Feeling a tiny bit better, I hopped out of the shower and wrapped myself in an oversized fluffy white terry-cloth robe. Disgustedly, I picked my dirty clothes off the floor with one finger and deposited them in the dry-cleaning basket. Being a complete germaphobe, I was shocked that only hours earlier I’d felt low enough to climb in between my crisp sheets in my clothes.
As I padded out to my minute living room, I became aware of the beeping of my phone. I pressed the message button and my phone imperiously announced, “You have five new messages.” I hit the play button.
Message 1: “Zara, it’s Nick. I really need to speak to you. I’ve left a message on your cell; call me back.” Nick’s voice sounded strained and edgy. I instinctively went to grab my Blackberry before remembering it had been confiscated.
Message 2: “Zara, Zara, are you there?” This time the voice belonged to Sal, one of my best friends, “Shit, Zara, where are you? I’m worried sick. I heard something bad happened. Call me back.”
Message 3: “Zara, it’s me, Sal—pick up pleeease. I keep hearing all these crazy rumors about you. Call me back as soon as you get this message.”
Message 4: “Zara, you’re starting to freak me out. Where are you and why haven’t you called me back? As soon as I can get out of here I’m coming over.” This time Sal’s voice sounded slightly hysterical.
Message 5: “Hey babe, it’s Emi. You have to come to yoga with me on Saturday. The new instructor is totally cute. You’ve got to come with me, okay? Promise.”
In contrast to Nick and Sal, Emi, my other best friend, sounded bright and breezy.
Picking up the phone, I tried Nick’s number and got his message bank again. This time I left a garbled message: “Nick, it’s Zara. Are you all right? You need to call me right away. I need to know what’s going on. I’m really worried about you. Also, I think I might have been fired. Call me back.” My voice sounded croaky and heavy with emotion. Next I hit speed-dial 2 and called Nick’s apartment. Again, no answer.
A moment later the phone started ringing. “Nick!” I practically yelled down the phone. Sal’s voice came through breathlessly on the other end.
“No, no, it’s me. I’m so relieved you finally answered—I’ve been calling you for ages and was getting really worried. I was about to call your parents. I’m nearly at your place; I’ll see you in five.”
“Okay,” I said flatly. Sal’s phone dropped out. While it was good to hear Sal’s voice, it was really Nick I wanted to speak to. Where was he?
Exactly five minutes later my buzzer sounded, and seconds after that, Sal stood on the doorstep completely out of breath, clutching her side. “The lift was too slow, so I ran up the stairs,” she panted in explanation.
Flopping down on my couch, she took some deep breaths while I fetched two glasses of water from the kitchen. After gulping down her glass, she looked up at me, her face full of concern. “Geez, Zara, you had me so worried. Are you okay? What’s going on? The rumors are crazy.”
I shook my head, “No, no I’m not okay,” I sobbed, “but I can’t talk about it.” I collapsed onto the couch next to Sal and curled up into a tight little ball.
Sal threw her arms protectively around me, “There, there, honey, it’s okay. Take some deep breaths and tell me what’s going on. Nothing can be that bad.”
“Oh, but it is that bad,” I wailed. “And I can’t tell you about it; they made me sign a confidentiality agreement. I can’t talk to anyone.” My whole body shook convulsively.
Sal stroked my hair and after a few moments said reflectively, “Well, I am a lawyer, so if you were my client I’d be bound by legal professional privilege; then you could tell me anything you wanted and you wouldn’t be in breach of a silly confidentiality agreement.”
I thought it over. Sal had a point. Not that Harvey & Rose would ever let her represent me given that she worked there, but the principle worked in theory.
“Okay, but you have to promise not to tell anyone, Sal.”
“Zara, you have my word,” Sal solemnly declared.
“Honestly, I don’t even know what happened. One minute I was sitting in the boardroom taking notes, and the next minute I was being interrogated by Ed and George about Nick. They think he insider traded and that I gave him information about the DRB deal. It’s all so horrible. They basically threw me out of the building, and I have no idea where Nick is. He’s not picking up and hasn’t returned any of my calls. I don’t know what to do.”
Sal sat silently digesting what I’d just said before switching into action mode. “Pen, paper; we need to think this through.”
Prompted into action, I retrieved the requested items.
Propping herself up on the cushions, Sal looked at me seriously. “Zara, I have to ask: did you tell Nick about the DRB deal?”
“Noooo! Sal, you should know me better than that,” I said reproachfully. I was stung that Sal could even think such a thing.
“Sshh, sweetie, I didn’t think you would have said anything, but I had to ask.” She patted the couch next to her consolingly, and begrudgingly I sat down. I still couldn’t believe she’d asked me that question.
“So we know Nick didn’t get the information directly from you, but could he have somehow got it from you without you knowing? For instance, did you take any calls in front of him or bring any work home with you?” As if reading my mind, Sal quickly added, “I’m not saying Nick did it, Zara, I’m just thinking through the possibilities.”
I shook my head. “I don’t remember taking any calls in front of him and I never bring work home. Honestly, Nick never seemed particularly interested in my work.”
Sal absent-mindedly tapped the pen on the notepad. “So let’s switch tack for a minute. Has anyone from the SEC contacted you?”
Again, I shook my head. “They’ve taken my laptop and my Blackberry, though,” I moaned.
“Mmm,” Sal considered these new facts. “Well, the good news is that they would have definitely questioned you straight away if they thought you were directly involved. The bad news is that they obviously haven’t ruled you out completely yet. Once they’ve looked through your stuff, they’ll probably want to talk to you. Whatever you do, just make sure you fully answer their questions, even if they don’t seem that relevant or important. Cooperation is key.”
I nodded my agreement.
“Has Nick been acting any differently of late?” Sal continued. “I mean, if he were up to no good, there’d be signs, right?”
We both pondered this thought. Musing aloud, I said, “Well, he has seemed pretty preoccupied with work lately. But you know what he’s like; he’s a workaholic. I mean, he makes us Street lawyers look slack! Plus, hello, everyone with a job has been putting in the hours trying to prove they’re indispensable. Secretly, I think he’s also trying to prove to his father that he can make it by himself.”
“What about outside of work; anything weird there?” Sal questioned.
Again, I pondered. “Not really. I guess he has been hanging out quite a bit with Teddy and Josh lately. And you know how much I hate Josh.”
“Oh, yes I do! Josh is a spoiled little coke-snorting, party-going, womanizing creep.” The color had risen in Sal’s cheeks as she venomously spat this out.
A bit over a year ago, Sal and Josh had been an item until she busted him having sex with some random girl. It was so humiliating for her.
“Yeah, well, apparently Josh has been having some personal problems that he’s trying to work through.” Sal rolled her eyes dramatically at the mention of Josh’s personal problems. “Given how far back he and Nick go, Nick feels obliged to help him. He seems really convinced Josh is trying to clean up his act. Josh even has a job, if you can believe that.”
“Doing what?” Sal snorted.
“He’s heading up some division of his parents’ printing firm.”
Sal looked nauseated. “Freeloading off your parents doesn’t equate to having a job!”
“I know, Sal. He’s a good-for-nothing, but I don’t see how dwelling on Josh is going to help me. I’m in a real mess right now and you’re meant to be coming up with the miracle solution, not whining about Josh.”
“Right; point noted,” Sal agreed, chewing contemplatively on the end of the pen.
“Have you checked the voice messages on your Blackberry?” Sal asked.
“But how can I? They’ve taken it!” I wailed.
“Dial in remotely,” Sal helpfully suggested.
“Sal, you’re a genius! I totally forgot I could do that.” I hastily dialed my number and entered the code. A second later, however, I got an “access denied” message. Someone must have changed my code!
We both fell into a heavy silence. My situation was bad and we both knew it.
“Zara, I’m going to let you get some sleep. You’ve had a stressful day and I don’t think we’re thinking straight. Tomorrow I’ll snoop around at work and see what I can find out. We can fix this, I just know it.”
At the mention of work I groaned.
Sal patted my leg reassuringly. “Don’t worry, Zara, this will all blow over before you know it and in no time at all you’ll be back at your desk bitching about how awful it is to be a lawyer.”
“If I can ever show my face again,” I muttered. “I’m only guessing here, but I suspect being escorted off the premises by security doesn’t really make you partner material!”
Sal kissed me on the cheek as she left. “Be a good girl now and get some rest. We’ll talk first thing in the morning.”
Before going to bed I tried Nick again. Still no answer. Where the hell was he? It was 1:00 a.m. I had images of him holed up in some filthy cell with tattooed junkies as cellmates. With my whole being, I hoped he was okay and that this was all some gigantic mistake.
Deep down, though, I’d started to think that maybe he was caught up in something serious.
By 5:00 a.m. I was up and pacing my tiny apartment nervously. I’d hardly slept. Nick hadn’t phoned during the night, and to top things off, this was the very first working day in three and a half years that I’d missed. I had no idea what to do with myself.
At 7:30 a.m. I called my secretary, Heather. Harvey & Rose might have kicked me out, but I still wanted to look professional and somehow deal responsibly with my workload. I needn’t have bothered calling. Heather informed me that she’d already cancelled all of my meetings for the next few weeks and that my work had been reallocated to other lawyers. Clare got the prize mergers and acquisitions deal—typical.
My heart sank when I heard that Harvey & Rose had moved so efficiently to remove me from the planet. This wasn’t damage control—it was more like damage eradication! Curious to know the official line concerning my whereabouts, I pressed Heather for some information. Apparently, I was dealing with an urgent family matter and it was unclear when I’d be back at work. Not a very creative excuse, but one that wasn’t going to generate a lot of questions.
Just as I was about to hang up, Heather mentioned that my mother had called yesterday afternoon. Shit, how was I going to explain all of this to my parents? They were ridiculously proud of me and thought the sun shone out of Nick’s proverbial. They were going to die when they discovered that their model only child had been sacked (or as good as) and that their dream son-in-law was probably a soon-to-be-convicted felon.
Scared of the answer, I asked Heather whether she’d told my mum I was attending to an “urgent family matter.” Given my “only child” status, my parents were obviously not going to buy that one. Fortunately, Heather had fudged it and had simply told my mum I was out of the office, so I was safe for now.
Shortly after 11:00 a.m., Sal called. She’d snuck out of the office and was at our favorite coffee shop. In a low voice she updated me on the progress of her snooping. She’d called in some favors and had spoken to an old friend who now worked in the enforcement division at the SEC. He was able to confirm that Nick and Nick’s school friends, Teddy Bennett and Josh Jones, had all been arrested on suspicion of insider trading. The details were sketchy, but Sal’s contact said that between them they’d made a three-million-dollar profit by preempting takeover bids in the last eight months.
“So do you know where Nick is? Is he still in custody?” I asked, my heart pounding at the thought.
“Haven’t you heard from him yet?” Sal inhaled sharply. “Nick got out on bail yesterday afternoon. His father stumped up $500,000.”
Fortunately, I was already sitting down. I couldn’t believe it. Nick was out of jail and hadn’t called me.
“Ah…thanks for telling me, Sal,” I mumbled. “I, um, better go now.”
“Hey Zara, before you go…I’m sure there’s some explanation for why Nick hasn’t called. Let me know when you speak to him. I’ll give you a call in a little while.”
I sat dumbly staring at the phone. I couldn’t believe Nick hadn’t bothered to call. Did I matter so little to him?
I needed to speak to him. I wanted to hear what he had to say for himself. I dialed his number for about the thousandth time. Again, no answer.
In desperation I resolved to call his father. If he’d paid Nick’s bail, he obviously knew where Nick was. This was going to be awkward. Since Nick and his father weren’t exactly on speaking terms (due to Nick turning his back on the family business and in his father’s eyes, the family), I’d never been introduced.
I Googled Hansen Enterprises and clicked through to the “Contact Us” page, which contained the general reception number. An officious female voice answered on the third ring. Putting on my most professional voice, I asked to speak to Bill Hansen. Sounding suspicious, the receptionist refused to put me through and instead offered to take a message.
Thinking quickly, I said, “Sure. I’m calling from The Sexual Health Clinic about Mr. Hansen’s test results.” I paused for effect and proceeded, “Actually, this is a bit delicate so maybe I should…if you could just have Mr. Hansen call me back, that’s probably better. It is quite urgent that I speak to him today, though.”
My message had the desired effect: the receptionist suddenly discovered that Bill Hansen was available to take phone calls.
“Bill Hansen.” The voice on the other end of the phone sounded gruff.
My voice quivered. “Mr. Hansen, I’m Nick’s girlfriend, Zara. I’ve been trying his cell and apartment phone, but he’s not answering and I’m really worried about him. I understand you posted his bail…”
There was a heavy sigh on the other end of the phone. “Nick is staying with me at the moment, Zara. He’s under instructions from his lawyer not to speak to anyone. Look, I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss this over the phone. Come over to the apartment at seven tonight.” He then rattled off the address before hanging up in my ear.
I looked at my watch. It was only lunchtime. I had hours to kill before seeing Nick. Trying to take my mind off things, I mindlessly flicked on the flat-screen monster that dominated my tiny living room. It was one of the many presents I’d received from Nick. Despite my protests, he’d insisted on getting me a television with full surround sound so he could watch the business news and the sports channels (as opposed to romantic comedies) on the odd occasion he stayed at my place rather than me staying at his.
Listlessly, I channel-surfed before settling on one of the business channels. Snuggling deep into the couch cushions, I had just started to wearily close my eyes when I heard: “In breaking news, the son of wealthy New York businessman and philanthropist Bill Hansen has been arrested on suspicion of insider trading.”
My eyes snapped open. The attractive blonde news anchor had already moved on to the next story, but there in teletext for all the world to see scrolled the words “Nick Hansen, son of Bill Hansen, arrested on suspicion of insider trading.”
“Shit, shit, shit, the whole world knows about Nick!” I screeched hysterically down the phone to Sal.
I could hear the bang of Sal’s office door in the background. “Shhh, calm down, Zara,” whispered Sal urgently. “Look, I really can’t talk right now, but this was always going to come out sooner or later. Nick’s from a well-known family, so it’s no surprise his arrest has been reported. You need to just calm down. And whatever you do, keep a low profile. Now, have you spoken to Nick yet?”
I filled Sal in on my impending visit.
“Good; call me as soon as you get home. Also, Zara, I heard from my friend at the SEC. He couldn’t say much, but I don’t think you’ve got anything to worry about. It sounds like the information was coming from somewhere else.”
I unconsciously let out a sigh of relief. If it was true that I wasn’t under suspicion, at least one part of my life could return to “normal.” Well, semi-normal, I ruefully thought. No doubt I’d be the butt of scandalous office gossip for some time to come.
Guiltily, I thought about calling my parents. It was only a matter of time before they found out about Nick, but I couldn’t bring myself to make the call. Fortunately, they lived in Melbourne, Australia; so Nick’s arrest was unlikely to make the local news.
I pondered my impending visit. In the course of two days I’d gone from being happily in love to utterly confused about my feelings. It was becoming obvious that Nick and I probably didn’t have a future together.
For starters, he was probably a felon. Strike one. Strike two: the whole world had found out he was a felon at about the same time as me. There goes intimacy. Strike three: he still hadn’t called me back despite my million calls and my very obvious concern for his welfare.
So the question I was pondering was: what would breaking up with Nick now do for my future relationship karma? Would I always be the girl who took while the taking was good, but skipped town the minute things got ugly?