His to Keep (Beauty and the Brit)

By: Terri Austin

 To Tracey Gee. Thanks for translating corporate speak, answering all my questions, and helping me nail those little details that made Brynn’s story come alive. But thank you most of all for your friendship. I heart you!

P.S. I am not the evil twin!

Chapter 1

Which is worse—a status report meeting or bra shopping? Brynn Campbell’s gaze remained fixed on her boss as she feigned interest and nibbled at her pen, considering the question.

These meetings always took forever. Brynn and office manager Paige Adams played the Which Would You Rather? game every Monday morning, A) to entertain themselves and B) as a way to remain conscious.

Brynn glanced at the question again. Tough call. By the end of every status meeting, she walked out of the room a little dumber than when she’d entered. But since her boobs were the size of two clementines, bra shopping was its own particular form of hell.

Cassandra Delaney held court at the front of the room, and in the last thirty minutes, she’d wandered off topic no less than five times—mostly with stories about her Persian cat’s wicked bladder infection.

Brynn wrote: Definitely bra shopping. Members of the Itty Bitty Titty Committee unite! Fight the big boob power! She covertly scanned the room to make sure no one was watching her—not likely, since she’d parked in the back row. Given a choice, Brynn would always cling to the fringes of a group rather than take center stage. She preferred the comfort of flying under the radar.

Brynn refolded the note and lobbed it to Paige, who began to shake with laughter as soon as she read the answer. Covering up the giggle with a pseudo cough, her hacking drew attention from everyone—even Cass stopped talking. With one hand over her mouth, Paige stood, brushed off looks of concern, and left the conference room.

That brilliant bitch. She was going to skip out on the rest of the meeting, leaving Brynn to fend for herself.

For the next forty-five minutes, Brynn half listened as members of the sales team gave their reports for the week, plus any new leads they’d picked up. But the boss didn’t ask Brynn for an update on her current projects, and that could only mean one thing—Cassandra had another assignment for her.

Brynn often referred to the head of the Delaney Training Center (TDTC) as “scattered.” In reality, Cassandra was a neurotic mess. Prone to bouts of high drama, wherever she went, chaos followed. She was perpetually in the middle of multiple crises, both personal and professional—usually of her own making. However, those same traits also meant Cass was easily distracted. If Brynn laid low for a few hours, stayed out of the boss’s crosshairs, she could concentrate on the tasks already filling her inbox. By noon, Cass might forget all about this latest job.

Though normally Brynn had the stealth of a ninja and was a master at hiding in plain sight—strategies she’d honed over the years—Cass still had a knack for finding Brynn, no matter where she was. She’d even cornered Brynn in a bathroom stall once and trapped her there for twenty minutes. While Cass rambled on about her latest boyfriend and his inability to come in under an hour—“retarded ejaculation,” she called it—Brynn had wished that Cass would read just one of the many manuals she’d written on a hostile work environment. Despite owning a corporate training company, Cass was a walking, talking lawsuit in the making. Drown myself in the toilet or listen to Cass complain about a sore vadge? Her boss’s sex complaints won by a nose, but it was neck and neck for a while. In the end, Brynn had swallowed her discomfort, given Cass a big hug, and suggested numbing lube. That was Brynn to a T—ever the helper.

After another thirty minutes of rambling, Cass wrapped up the meeting, and immediately, her dark brown eyes scanned the room, searching. Brynn knew that look too well. It meant there was a target on her forehead. Hunching a little lower in her chair, she purposely dropped her pen. Bending over to retrieve it, she ducked behind Ted Benson, the burliest salesman on the team. When he stood, Brynn did too, with her nose practically glued to his back. At twice her size, Ted made great camouflage.

Did Brynn feel like a coward for going to such lengths? Yes. Would that stop her? Not even. At TDTC, Brynn wore many hats: artistic director (animator of rudimentary cartoon films), curriculum developer (writer of corporate educational materials), and all-around troubleshooter (taking on the shit no one else would). She couldn’t add one more thing to her agenda. There were only twenty-four hours in a day.

When Ted walked toward the door, Brynn stayed right behind him. When he slowed to speak to Lori, office receptionist and his unrequited crush, Brynn slowed too. Then he was on the move again. Finally, her exit was only five feet away. So close to freedom. But Ted halted abruptly, causing Brynn to plow her forehead into his shoulder blade.