Cherrie Mack Lover of Dominant Males & Snarky Heroines

Crystal Excerpt – Follow That Dress Book 1

The Romance Review

Crystal rode the subway home after seven o’clock and she was starving. Leaving after rush hour had become normal for her because getting squashed like a sardine in a smelly subway car was not her idea of unwinding after a long day. Checking her email and surfing the Internet filled the void between five and seven, but she was disappointed to find not a thing to do over the weekend. It was getting harder for her to socialize because most of her friends were in serious relationships.
She glanced around at the people who shared her train ride home. They all looked as tired as she felt. When the car came to a stop, a woman got up and exited, leaving behind the latest issue of People magazine. Crystal tried to stop her, but it was too late. The woman’s loss was her gain. As she flipped through the pages, an ad caught her eye. It was for a company called Rent the Runway. They rented gowns to women who couldn’t afford the purchase price of a real designer ensemble.
What an interesting concept.
She rolled the magazine up and stashed it into her purse. When Crystal exited the subway and walked up the flight of stairs to the world above, she was chilled to the bone. Flashing neon lights of tiny stores in a neat row assaulted her eyes. Her hometown of Flushing, Queens sure was changing. Climbing onto the number twelve bus, Crystal said hello to Bill, the bus driver. She took her usual seat nearest to the front. Only ten stops and she arrived at home. Her apartment was inside a private residence. She liked it very much because the entrance around the back gave her a view of a neatly manicured backyard, something she’d never had growing up.
Kicking off her shoes, she turned on her electric fireplace and went in search of food. She was not in the mood to cook. Drumming her fingers on the refrigerator door, she searched every nook and cranny and still came up empty handed. Grabbing the plastic wrapped cylinder of cookie dough, Crystal slammed the refrigerator door and went in search of the nearest pair of scissors. After snipping the little silver tab at the end, she quickly peeled off the wrapping. Taking a hunk of the uncooked dough into her mouth gave her immediate pleasure. When a knock at the door startled her, she stilled. Unsure who could be at the door, she opened it a few inches.
“Who is it?”
“Hello. I’m looking for Crystal Manfreid.”
Swinging the door open, she stood face to face with the man she’d creamed with frosting outside the Coffee Bean. Startled, she asked, “Can I help you?”
“Yes, you can. Let me introduce myself. I am Robert Salinger. May I come in?”
Salinger? Fuck! Opening the door all the way, she gestured him inside with the hand that held the tube of unwrapped cookie dough. She watched him glare at it then his gaze moved to her mouth. When she looked at the dough, it had teeth marks resembling tire tracks at the tip. Embarrassed, she nonchalantly walked into the kitchen and dropped the tube of dough into the sink. “Mr. Salinger?”
“Yes. That’s right.”
“How… how did you know I worked for you? We’ve never met before.”
“We have met. Don’t you remember this afternoon?”
Crystal chewed at her top lip. “So, let me get this straight. You somehow got my name, looked up my employee record, found out where I lived, and traveled to Flushing just to fire me?” She watched him smirk and slowly remove his newly cleaned suit jacket.
He pointed to her couch. “May I?”
Obviously, he was waiting to be invited to sit. She ran over to the couch and removed the few items scattered on the cushions. “Sure. I wasn’t expecting company.”
He looked at the couch before he sat down as if checking for dirt and grime. “I can tell.”
Ugh! Was he always like this? What a douchebag. Reminding herself to be polite, she ignored the rude comment. She wanted to wait until he was comfortable before asking him what his intentions were, but he looked as though he would never feel at ease. “Can I get you something?”
“No, Ms. Manfreid. I ate my quota of cookie dough just last night.”
Biting her tongue, she asked, “A drink perhaps?”
“That would be nice. Do you have any bourbon?”
“Uh? Bourbon? Let me see.” As Crystal rifled through her pantry, she eyed her stash of liquor. There were plenty of mixes—Cosmo mix, Mojito mix, even Mudslide mix. But no bourbon. Turning around, she faced him. “Sorry. I’m fresh out of bourbon.” He made a face as if he were expecting her to not have what he wanted. Crystal quickly added, “My grandpa must have finished it last night, probably while you were eating your quota of cookie dough.”
He smirked at her for the second time. It felt as though he was studying every move she made. No longer able to wait, she decided to be direct. “Am I fired? If not, I’d like to know why you are here.”
Leaning forward, Robert narrowed his eyes. “Crystal Manfreid. What kind of name is that?”
She lifted a brow and chewed her upper lip again. “Well, it’s simple really. I was born in the eighties when Swarovski crystal was popular. My mother collected the little figurines. She was saving up for a really expense piece, but she got me instead, hence the name Crystal.”
He cocked his head as if befuddled. “I meant your surname.”
“Oh, Manfreid?”
“Yes. Your last name, dear.”
“It’s American.”
Robert tilted his mouth up on one side. She thought she saw an expression of amusement at her answer.
“And may I ask your political affiliation?”
“This is harassment, you know. What does that have to do with anything?”
“It doesn’t. You are not fired, Ms. Manfreid. But I’d like very much if you answered the question.”
“I’m an independent, liberal, democratic, conservative Republican who likes tea.”
“Good answer, Ms. Manfreid. I have a proposition for you.”
“Oh? I can’t wait to hear this.”
* * * *
After Robert Salinger had made his request, Crystal stared at him in disbelief. He’d come looking for her to ask her to be his date to the Salinger Group Charity Ball. She’d ruined his suit and called him a dick. No wonder she was lonely. All these years, she had been way too polite to her dates. Unable to control her giggle, she questioned his motive. “Mr. Salinger, I don’t know what to make of this. You, of all people, could secure a date. Why me? I don’t even like you.”
“Exactly, and it wouldn’t just be to the charity ball. I have some pre-event dates coming up, and I’d like my shareholders and my brother especially, to see me occupied with something other than business.”
“So I will play the role of your girlfriend?”
He brought his finger to his bottom lip and tapped it a few times. Standing up, he paced around her apartment. He walked into the kitchen and leaned his hands on the counter. “Essentially, Ms. Manfreid, you would. It would only be from now up until the charity ball.”
“Why would I want to do this? Would you fire me if I don’t agree?”
“Of course not, however, I did look over your employee record. You have a sister who just graduated from college, correct?”
Gazing at him suspiciously, she said, “Yes. I do.”
“And I’m sure those student loans will be kicking in soon. I saw the wonderful credentials on her application when she applied for a position at the Salinger Group. She is at the bottom of the wait list you know. But with a little push, since I’m the boss, I can get her name moved all the way up to the top.”
“You would do that?” He gave her a nod that said sure, why not? Still skeptical, she continued to pry into his personal life, “I simply don’t understand. You’re a good-looking, successful guy. Why would you need to make an arrangement like this?”
She watched his expression change to one of impatience as he picked up the raw cookie dough from the sink and examined it. His eyes widened in horror as he read the label. Holding the gnawed tube of chocolate chip dough, he pointed to the warning.
“Ms. Manfreid, it says here that consuming this product in its raw form can be dangerous to your health. Don’t we pay you enough to buy yourself a good meal?”
“I like raw cookie dough. Besides, it’s not like I put a hunk of it on a plate and serve it with a side of brownie mix. Why are you avoiding my question?”
“I’m not avoiding it. It’s quite simple. Will you agree to be my temporary girlfriend?”
After a few moments of silence, Crystal agreed. “I guess I can do it.”
“Great. Go change your clothes. I have a car outside, and I’d like to take you to dinner. We can talk about the details. It has to be realistic or I’m afraid my brother will realize I’m not being honest with him. You are not my type at all.”
“Well, thanks. Was that supposed to be a compliment? Because guess what. You’re not my type either. You have a fresh mouth, Mr. Salinger. Tell me something. When our fake relationship comes to an end and we stage our fake break up, do I get to slap your face?”
He laughed. “We’ll see Ms. Manfreid. We’ll see.”
After rummaging through her closet in a panic, Crystal realized most of her appropriate dinner-date clothing no longer fit. Choosing a white turtleneck sweater with a gray tweed skirt and boots, she reminded herself it was a business dinner. Crystal applied the usual makeup while wondering what it would be like to be the girlfriend of such a rich and powerful man. He was drop-dead sexy, but his attitude needed a definite adjustment. Pulling her hair out of the clip she’d worn all day, she massaged her scalp. Looking at the long, brown hair hanging around her shoulders, she immediately pulled it back up into a clip. She looked too much like the mother she’d lost. Getting through each day was hard enough without a constant reminder. Crystal glanced toward her closed bedroom door. She couldn’t believe Mr. Robert Salinger was on the other side. She couldn’t help but wonder how he was entertaining himself right now.