Living the Charade(2)

By: Michelle Conder

Ruby took a breath and Miller thanked God that she needed air. She was one of the best discrimination lawyers in the country and when she ranted Miller took note. She had a point.

Miller had put in six hard years at the Oracle Consulting Group, which had become like a second home to her. Or maybe it was her home, given how much time she spent there! If she won TJ’s multi-million-dollar account she’d be sure to be made partner in the next sweep—the realisation of a long-held dream and one her mother had encouraged for a long time.

‘TJ hasn’t actually harassed me, Rubes,’ she reminded her friend.

‘At your last meeting he said he’d hire Oracle in a flash if you “played nice”.’

Miller blew out a breath. ‘Okay, okay. I have a plan.’

Ruby raised her eyebrows. ‘Let’s hear it.’

‘I’ll hire an escort. Look at this.’ The idea had come to her while Ruby had been ranting and she turned her smartphone so Ruby could see the screen. ‘Madame Chloe. She says she offers discreet, professional, sensitive gentlemen to meet the needs of the modern-day heterosexual woman.’

‘Let me see that.’ Ruby took the phone. ‘Oh, my God. That guy would seriously have sex with you.’

Miller looked over Ruby’s shoulder at the incredibly buffed male on the screen.

‘And they cater to fantasies!’ Ruby continued.

‘I don’t want him to have sex with me,’ Miller yelped, slightly exasperated. The last thing she needed was sex, or her hormones, to derail her from her goal at the eleventh hour. Her mother had let that happen and look where it had got her—broke and unhappy.

‘You can have a policeman, a pilot, an accountant—urgh, seen enough of them. Oh, and this one.’ Ruby giggled and lowered her voice. ‘Rough but clean tradesman. Or, wait—a sports jock.’

Miller shuddered. What intelligent woman would ever fantasise over a sports jock?

‘Ruby!’ Miller laughed as she took the phone back. ‘Be serious. This is my future we’re talking about. I need a decent guy who is polite and can follow my lead. Someone who blends in.’

‘Hmmm...’ Ruby grinned at one of the profile photos. ‘He looks like he would blend in at an all-night gay bar.’

Miller scowled. ‘Not helping.’ She clicked on a few more. ‘They all look the same,’ she said despairingly.

‘Tanned, buff and hot-to-trot,’ Ruby agreed. ‘Where do they get these guys?’

Miller shook her head at Ruby’s obvious enjoyment. Then she saw the price tag associated with one of the men. ‘Good God, I hope that’s for a month.’

‘Forget the escort,’ Ruby instructed. ‘Most of these guys probably can’t string a sentence together beyond “Is that it?” and “How hard do you want it?”’ Not exactly convincing boyfriend material for an up-and-coming partner in the fastest growing management consultancy firm in Australia.’

‘Then I’m cooked.’

Ruby’s eyes scanned the meagre post-work crowd, and Miller thought about the sales report she still had to get through before bed that night; she was still unable to completely fathom the predicament she was in.

‘Bird flu?’ she suggested, smoothing her eyebrows into place as she racked her brain for a solution.

‘No one will believe he has bird flu.’

‘I meant me.’ She sighed.

‘Wait. What about him?’

‘Who?’ Miller glanced at her phone and saw only a blank screen.

‘Cute guy at the bar. Three o’clock.’

Miller rolled her eyes. ‘Five years of university, six years in a professional career and we’re still using hushed military terms when stalking guys.’

Ruby laughed. ‘It’s been ages since we stalked a guy.’

‘And, please God, let it be ages again,’ Miller pleaded, glancing ever so casually in the direction Ruby indicated.

She got an impression of a tall man leaning against the edge of the curved wooden bar, one foot raised on the polished foot pole, his knee protruding from the hole in his torn jeans. Her eyes travelled upwards over long, lean legs and an even leaner waist to a broad chest covered by a worn T-shirt with a provocative slogan plastered on the front in red block letters. Her lips curled in distaste at its message and she moved on to wide shoulders, a jaw that looked as if it could have used a shave three days ago, a strong blade of a nose, mussed over long chocolate-brown hair and—oh, Lord—deep-set light-coloured eyes that were staring right back at her.

His gaze was sleepy, almost indolent, and Miller’s heart took off. Her breath stalled in her lungs and her face felt bitingly hot. Flustered by her physical reaction, she instantly dropped her eyes as if she was a small child who had just been caught stealing a cookie. Her senses felt muddled and off-centre—and she’d only been looking at the man for five seconds. Maybe ten.