Weddings are one of those events that can mean anything to anybody. For me, they symbolize the union of two people who can commit, are ridiculously in love with each other, and want to spend the rest of their lives together. For my boss – a man and a self-proclaimed bachelor for life – weddings symbolize death, which is why, when Harold Morris, who happens to be a close friend of Mr. Swift’s as well as a prominent member on the board at Swift Enterprises, got married to Melinda Wilson this past Saturday, Mr. Swift skipped the wedding ceremony and only showed up to the reception. And the only reason he showed up to the reception was because I happened to mention there’d be an open bar, something Mr. Swift has a talent for taking advantage of.
Robert Swift may have two degrees from MIT and run one of the most successful business corporations on the planet but he’s also a tad dramatic. Not that he would ever admit this, of course. But even now, he’s standing in a studio owned by GQ, preparing for a photo shoot of the year’s Best Dressed Men, ranging from actors to musicians to businessmen. This is the third year that Robert’s made the list and the first where he’ll be on the cover.
“Maddy,” he says, beckoning me over with a tilt of his head. “My tie isn’t cooperating.”
This is his way of asking me to help with his tie. For all his intelligence, he hasn’t mastered the art of tying ties, but he’s too stubborn to admit it and too prideful to wear a clip-on.
I walk over to him and fall into a natural process of doing what he has asked me to do without, of course, actually asking. “For the millionth time,” I say. “It’s Madeline. Madeline. Not Maddy. You know I hate it when you call me Maddy.”
“That’s why I call you it,” he tells me in that quick, charm-laced voice that has so many women clamoring to be the first and only Mrs. Swift. Or at least the five hundred and seventh woman he’s bedded this past year. Not that I’m counting or anything. He tilts his head down so the tip of his chin brushes my knuckles. “Nobody else does.”
“So you don’t care that I don’t like it?” I ask as I take a step back. Instead of looking at him, I’m admiring my handiwork. “And besides, we’re in public. You should address me as Ms. Perkins.”
“You may not like it, but you let me get away with it,” he points out and then turns around to face the full-length mirror that’s just behind him, “and that’s good enough for me.” He’s silent for a moment, his brown eyes critiquing every aspect of the Armani suit he’s wearing and how he happens to look in said suit. “Well?” He turns to face me once again. “What do you think?”
I roll my eyes. “You ask me this every shoot,” I tell him.
“I know,” he replies with a wolfish grin. “I just like hearing you tell me how good I look.”
It’s true; Robert is a man who somehow always manages to look good no matter what he is or isn’t wearing. I’ve been with Robert for three years and at thirty, I’ve never seen him look better. Okay, he’s kind of short and has a little-man complex – which explains his astronomically large ego – but ladies of all shapes, sizes, and colors don’t seem to mind his five foot eight frame. Oh, excuse me, five foot eight and a half frame. Like he’d ever let me forget that extra half inch.
His body makes up for his lack of height though. He has broad shoulders, defined arms, and a well-built torso. Robert has no apparent shame about his body, and I happen to have seen him naked more times than I would have preferred in various sorts of scenarios, many of which I couldn’t even comprehend before meeting him. This is how I know he has a small scar on his right hipbone that he got when he was five while riding a bike for the first time without training wheels, and that he also has an outie bellybutton, something I never thought could be attractive but on Robert, it just fits. He likes to keep in shape with boxing, mixed martial arts, and other certain activities that cause sweating, ragged breathing, and may or may not require a partner. His face is heart-shaped and sharp with a well-defined jaw that contrasts nicely with his slender, upturned nose. As usual, the lower half of his face is shaved and his hair, normally messy and unruly, is actually combed and pushed back from his face. I can even see bits of graying hair on his sideburns that he continues to be in denial about, which is why he hasn’t dyed his hair. Plus, I’ve told him that if he even tried such an act, I would flat-out quit, something he knows I’m serious about. His grey hair makes me smile because – I would never tell him this – I’ve always felt that grey hair is particularly sexy on a guy.
“Well?” he asks, giving me an expectant look. “Or are you too busy picturing me naked to formulate a response?”
“I’ve seen you naked plenty of times,” I remind him and hope that he doesn’t notice my blush. “And none of them were on purpose. You really should get a lock on your door or at least hang some kind of article of clothing on your doorknob so I know not to disturb you when you’re… indisposed. And how about throwing some clothes on when you know I’m coming over for that matter?”
“Maddy, you’re twenty-four years old and you’re blushing about the topic of sex,” he tells me in a flat voice, but those brown eyes currently house an amused sparkle. “You can’t tell me that you’re unfamiliar with the subject.”
“That has sexual harassment lawsuit written all over it,” I murmur, not that he’s going to listen to me or anything.
“If I said that the only reason I mentioned it in the first place was because of your ravishing good looks, the thought that you might be unfamiliar with such a thing never crossed my mind, would that make a difference?” he asks in a hopeful voice. He must see the look on my face because his eyebrows slowly descend. “No? Well, what if I told you that you get this attractive shade of red whenever I mention things you’re uncomfortable with? Will that smooth things over?”
“I swear,” I say as I shake my head. “Anyone else would have either slapped you or quit. Probably both.”
“Or slept with me,” Robert adds. “But you have been elusive on all three fronts, although I think I might be wearing one down.”
“You’re right. I am this close to slapping you.” I press my index finger and thumb together so there’s only a slit of space between them to emphasize my point.
“Seriously though,” he says, turning back to the mirror as he folds his shirt collar down. “How do I look?”
I make sure my sigh sounds exasperated. “You look fine, Mr. Swift,” I tell him, positioning myself behind him so I can look over his shoulder. “Much better than at the wedding on Saturday.”
He gives me a dry stare through the mirror. “You can’t blame me for indulging at that travesty,” he says. “So maybe I got a little carried away. That’s why I had you there with me.”
“Personal assistant does not equal babysitter. And I’m glad you took into consideration my desire to dance and enjoy myself, considering I was the one who introduced Harold and Melinda in the first place, without having to worry about you before you decided to get plastered, steal the microphone from the wedding singer in order to sing an AC/DC song. For the record, AC/DC isn’t romantic.”
“I felt that ‘Highway to Hell’ was the only song that represented the moment.” Robert cranes his neck so he’s looking me in the eyes. “I hope you know that setting those two up was the beginning of the end.”
“I am so sick of you talking like you’re some stereotypical down-with-romance yuppie businessman in every other romance novel or chick flick. You’re like every single guy who think they’ll be single and happy for the rest of their life until, of course, you meet That Girl who walks in with her luxurious hair blowing in the wind and changes everything with her quick wit and easy smile, causing you to fall in love with her in a matter of days, propose marriage by the end of the month, and pop out a couple of kids in order to fulfill the necessary happily ever after ending men like you seem so set out against.”
“Don’t start writing my love story, kid,” Robert says, frowning. “I’m not another one of those pawns you set up like Harold and Linda. I don’t know why you like setting up people anyways. It’s the most depressing thing I’ve ever witnessed.”
“Ten minutes, Mr. Swift,” an assistant informs us, and just as quickly as he shows up, he disappears.
“First of all, I would never attempt to set you up,” I say in a decidedly softer voice in case other people are attempting to listen in on our conversation. “I know you too well to even entertain such an idea. And secondly, I set people up who I know will work out together – like Harold and Melinda – because I like to help people. You know how you have your charities you donate to? Well, setting people up is like my charity but instead of trying to aide them financially, I get to watch them fall in love.” I shrug my shoulders. “And on a more selfish note, I get to live vicariously through the lucky people I set up who actually do fall in love since my job as your PA turned out to be a twenty-four hour kind of thing rather than a nine-to-five deal. I will probably never have a semblance of a normal, healthy relationship because of how much time and effort I have put into this job.”
“I’m flattered,” he says with what I can only describe as a snarky smile, “that you devote so much time to me.” He fiddles with his cufflinks. “And you’re welcome, by the way, for saving you from a lifetime of misery. I mean, can you really imagine having sex with the same person for the rest of your life? And don’t give me that love crap because love is just chemicals in our brains that eventually wear off. Biologically, humans aren’t supposed to be with the same person anyways.”
“You’ve told me that three times now,” I mutter.
“Obviously you’re a bad listener.” He turns around fully and places his hands on my shoulders so I look up into his eyes once again. I think one of the reasons he likes me around so much is because I’m three and a half inches shorter than he is. “Now please, no more of this cupid business, okay? We have a lot of events that need planning and attending and all that jazz, and I want to have your full attention, okay? Please?”
Before I can give him a definitive response, the same assistant comes in and informs us that world renowned photographer Miguel Hernandez is ready for Mr. Swift. Robert gives me his trademark wink and disappears, following the assistant out of his dressing room and into the studio.
I stay in the backstage area, deciding to watch the shoot from my position behind the scenes. No one pays any attention to me, probably because I’m not a model or a celebrity or anybody like that. Though, for whatever reason, people do seem to know me as Robert’s personal assistant, and celebrity bloggers are always speculating that Robert and I are sleeping together or have some sort of secret relationship. Which is impossible, because I’m not the type of girl who sleeps around and Robert doesn’t believe in love at all, let alone for himself. He thinks the rumors are funny; I think they hurt my chances at being taken seriously at my profession.
I wasn’t expecting that sort of reaction when I took the job as Robert’s PA three years ago. In fact, I honestly never expected any sort of focus on my private life or any beliefs that my private life was somehow entwined with Robert’s. At twenty-one, I was naïve. I had been a part-time accountant at Swift Enterprises while I finished my college education. Because I didn’t have my degree at the time of employment, I only occasionally worked with actual numbers. Instead, I took phone calls, got coffee, that sort of thing. But that all changed six months into the job.
In order to teach me the skills I would need as an accountant, my manager Dick Ferguson had me double, triple, and quadruple check his numbers. I never did the work, I just checked his. Normally, everything would add up and that was that. Until one day they didn’t. At this time, Robert was a recluse due to the unexpected death of his parents in an overseas car crash. But I did what I thought was right; I bypassed Dick and interrupted Robert’s solitary confinement in his Malibu mansion. Apparently, I didn’t get the memo that he wanted nothing to do with the general public, including his employees – employees he didn’t know about since, even though he was technically CEO since his father’s death, he never really ran the company and let the Board take over in his chosen absence. I went to his house, ignored his flu-induced come-ons, took care of him, and when he was better, showed him my findings. I hadn’t expected him to be sick when I first met him, and it wasn’t like I could just let him get sicker, especially since he was too stubborn to see a freaking doctor for some antibiotics. But I think the fact that I did stay caused Robert to start to trust me. Well, to cut an already long story short, he got out of his funk, took back control of his company, offered me a promotion in the form of being his personal assistant, and fired Dick. We’ve been together ever since.
But three years with Robert is like forty-eight dog years. Nobody was expecting him to keep me around very long because everybody figured he’d tire of me after sleeping with me and wouldn’t want any unnecessary drama afterwards when he continued to sleep with supermodels and starlets, or that I wouldn’t stay with him because my heart would be broken and I wouldn’t be able to continue to do my job; I’d be in the bathroom the whole time crying, washing my face, and reapplying my mascara. Now, people seem to have accepted the fact that Robert and I aren’t going to part ways any time soon, but I think that they still believe we have some sort of friends-with-benefits thing going on rather than the truth of the matter which is that we have mutual respect for each other.
And plus, I would never sleep with Robert Swift. Even setting aside the whole fact that he’s my boss, Robert and I… Well, let’s just say that being his assistant shows me who he really is. He’s always reminding me that he’s incapable of falling in love and he’s with a different woman as often as the sun rises. Yes, he’s attractive and said good looks are highlighted by his devastating charm, but I’m not the type to sleep around. Trust me, if I could, I would – I would love to be able to have sex without feeling anything – but I know myself and I know I can’t. Especially with Robert. There’s no way I’m letting a man incapable of loving anywhere near my heart, thank you very much. It’ll only end up broken and I’ve been down that road before and don’t have any plans on going back.
I do still believe in the concept of love though. And I believe that somewhere, that special somebody made just for me is searching for me, and one day in the future, we will meet and all the pain we each went through on the journey will be totally worth it. Because we’ll have each other.
Until then, however, I am perfectly satisfied watching the people around me fall in love. And I know I probably shouldn’t involve myself in setting people up anymore – I don’t want to mess with Fate or anything – but sometimes, people are just begging to be helped along the way to their destiny. Like Ethan McCoy.
Ethan McCoy is young, handsome, and rich. As the only son of Don McCoy, he’s definitely used to getting what he wants. Rumors have been swirling though, and as Robert’s PA, they’re easy to come by. Apparently, Daddy McCoy is cutting the apron strings unless Ethan starts getting his act together in terms of taking life seriously. But that’s all I know. Ethan’s in the market for a girl who, I think, will not only win over his father but will understand him as more than Don McCoy’s son and a baby-faced mega-millionaire.
Everyone wants to fall in love. Even Robert Swift.
I’m shaken out of my thoughts by the devil himself, calling out to me in the middle of his very important photo shoot, something completely unprofessional, and by a nickname he knows I detest. I push myself off the wall I’m resting against, feeling a red mask slowly start to slither across my face. The shoot is literally placed on hold as I make my walk of shame across the room – mindful of the multiple cords and the placement of my feet – and wonder what in the hell he needs me for.
“What is it, Mr. Swift?” I ask in a low voice once I’ve reached him. I hope that the fact that I’m asking through gritted teeth and the extra emphasis on his formal name hints that Maddy is not what he should be calling me in a public setting while I’m on the clock.
“See? I told you she absolutely hates when I call her Maddy, but I like the name.” Robert, I can tell, is having difficulty looking at only one of the three scantily-clad models that surround him – a tri-fecta, actually, consisting of a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead – so he plasters on his charm smile reserved for this particular audience, and rests his eyes on me. “Hey Maddy. Whoa, you look upset.”
“I’m not upset,” I say in the same tight voice. “What do you want?”
“Of course you’re upset,” Robert says and then points a long finger at my nose. “You get that cute wrinkle over the bridge of your nose whenever you’re mad. Do you see it?” The question is directed to the redhead, but it’s open to them all. “See the wrinkle?”
I clear my throat before they can answer, catching Robert’s attention once again. It’s more difficult now that he has beautiful women around him he hopes to impress. Not that that will take much, by the looks of things…
“Right,” Robert says. “I was just talking with my new friends – Bella, Lindsay, and Kay, so you know – and they haven’t seen the sights that LA has to offer. Can you believe that? What a waste, to come all the way out here from New York and not see the –“
“Mr. Swift,” I interrupt him, my impatience getting the better of me. “You’re in the middle of a very important photo shoot. How can I help you?”
“What’s the rest of today look like?” he asks me, finally cutting to the chase. “Actually, doesn’t matter. Cancel everything. I’m going – well.” He winks at me. “You know.”
I do know, and I can’t stop the look of disgust touching my face as I turn and head to my place backstage. Apparently, Robert can amuse himself with his own version of love just like I can.