“What the hell is this?”
The newspaper landed right on top of Darcy Clarke’s lunch sandwich, almost knocking her coffee mug over. She managed to save it before the catastrophe was a fact and turned around, only to find her boss staring back at her.
“What’s up, Rick?”
“What’s up? What’s up?” He blew air through his nose, then pointed wildly at the newspaper. “That’s what’s up! What the hell, Darcy . . .”
Slowly, she turned around again, looked down at the obviously offending object. Since it was folded, she only saw the top of a photograph, a black-and-white image of a forehead with tousled, thick hair that seemed unnervingly familiar.
“Open it,” Rick said, and drew a hand over his bald head. “Really, Darcy, I’d never have thought this of you.”
Swallowing, she did as she was told. The forehead folded out to a whole head, a face. Two faces, of which one was her own.
“Oh my God,” she whispered and put a hand over her mouth.
“That’s putting it lightly. There’s a lot more I could add—like, what the hell were you thinking?” He struck out his hands. “Your own damned client, Darcy. The very person whose marriage you’re supposed to save. Save, not ruin!”
Spittle rained through the air, a fine mist that sprayed the newspaper in front of her. She had a good mind to turn it over and hide the picture on the first page, knowing at the same time such a reaction would say more about her impulse control—or lack of it—than it would do any good.
“And not just anyone either. Him. Of course, it had to be him.” Rick extended a finger and drummed it against the picture. “What in bleeding hell were you thinking? Or, perhaps, I shouldn’t even ask? Because most obviously, you weren’t thinking. For fuck’s sake, Darcy.”
She flinched. During the three years she’d worked for him, she’d never heard him swear, and definitely not toward her. She lowered her head, mouth dry, heart pounding. I’m going to be sick, she thought, but the mere thought of having to move from her office through the corridors, past her colleagues to the bathroom, made the urge subside. She stared at the picture, her vision obstructed by the small black dots that whirled before her eyes. This is not happening, she told herself, but it was a feeble attempt to calm herself. This was definitely happening.
“Darcy,” Rick said. His voice was softer now, pleading, begging her for an explanation, for comfort.
There was none to give.
Greg Cantrell. Hollywood’s hottest up-and-coming actor, one of the brightest shining soap opera stars in Hollywood. No one could deny it was him in the picture. Only Greg had those sensual lips and the straight Roman nose, those perfect cheekbones. The photographer had captured him perfectly and had made a good job of capturing her as well. She was oh-so-easily identified, engaged in a hot kiss with Greg, her eyes half-closed with pleasure. “Caught in the Act” screamed the headline, in an apparent, and failed, attempt to be witty.
“How long has this been going on?” she heard Rick say.
She detected a sliver of anger underneath the words and knew he wouldn’t accept a lie. Then again, why would she lie? There was no need for that anymore.
“A while,” she whispered without looking at him.
“Oh, for God’s sake, Darcy. What—” He broke off, obviously realizing there was no point in asking her what she’d been thinking. “You know what this means, right?”
“Yeah. I think so.” Like a prisoner, awaiting the stroke of the axe, she inclined her head. Say it, she thought. Get it over with.
But he wasn’t going to let her off that easily. “You’ve ruined our credibility, our reputation. You’ve destroyed everything I’ve built. Everything.” As he spoke, his voice grew more agitated, more intense. “How the hell am I going to explain this to our clients? We do marriage counseling here, Darcy, in case you’ve failed to notice. That means we don’t fuck our clients.”
“I know that!” She shouted the words, hoping it would make him stop. It did, but the look of pain on his face was just as unbearable.
Yes, it was wrong. She’d known it since their first kiss, which had happened in her office, in their second session. Greg’s wife, glamorous Hollywood actress Selene Blake, had walked out of the room to answer the phone, leaving them alone for five minutes, during which Greg had seized the opportunity to walk up to Darcy, grab her head, and kiss her, before saying he was crazy about her.
She had resisted. At first, she’d wrestled her conscience, wrestled her feelings, told herself—and him—how wrong it was. It hadn’t helped.
Greg had showered her with attention, gifts, phone calls, and emails, and after two weeks, she’d folded and had agreed to a date, in all secrecy. It wasn’t as though they were doing anything wrong; the counseling wasn’t helping, and both Greg and his wife had already agreed to end the marriage. They were just doing the counseling to please her father, who was a mighty man in the movie business and had asked them to try to patch things up, for the sake of their fans. The divorce would just be a matter of formality, and the outing of Greg’s new relationship something that wouldn’t be shocking to Selene, but that had to be dealt with in a delicate matter. When the time is right, we’ll tell the world, baby.
Was this the right time? Darcy had a hard time believing so. She knew when the paparazzi had caught them kissing: yesterday afternoon. They’d gone to Mo’s Corner on South El Camino Drive to grab a chai latte. He’d leaned over to kiss her while they’d been waiting in the drive-thru line. By the time she’d told him to be careful, as they could be recognized, it had probably already been too late.
She put a hand to her eyes, sobbed into it. Vaguely, she heard a dampened shhh and knew what it was. Always the professional, Rick had pushed the Kleenex box closer. She reached for a tissue, pressed it against her face.
“It ends here, Darcy,” Rick said. “I have to fire you. You understand that, right?”
She nodded. The phone buzzed in her Proenza Schouler purse. The display showed that she had a new message—or rather, a few. Automatically, she opened the first. Seeing the words, she felt herself go pale.
“So it’s started already?” Rick shook his head, dismayed. “I expected as much. His fans must be furious. They were rooting for him to patch it up with his wife, as you may have guessed already. Or at the very least,” he added acridly, “they didn’t expect him to go and have an affair with his marriage counselor.”
She clenched her teeth. “I’m sorry.”
“Are you really?”
“Of course I am. I never meant for this to happen.”
“So why did you do it? I’ve always thought you were smart. Why . . .” He shook his head again, underlining his loss for words.
She averted her eyes, stood up, and with trembling hands, smoothed out her dress over her legs. She needed to pack, of course, which would be an easy thing to do; she didn’t have many personal belongings here anyway.
Some of her colleagues, especially those who’d plastered their walls with pictures of their families and dogs and cats and whatnots, had asked her why her walls were bare, to which she’d just replied that she hadn’t really grown accustomed to her office yet. For three years, this had been her standard answer. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to pack the few things she did have. The diploma of her psychology degree seemed more like a mockery at this point. Someone who’d studied psychology didn’t do stupid things like this.
“Think about your next step,” Rick said. “Consider a move. Get out of Beverly Hills, or . . . or why not leave California altogether? That’s the best advice I can give you. There’s no future for you here. I’d even say people’ll be out to get you after this, so you might want to disappear for a while. Personally, I won’t sue you because I value the work you have done up to now and I like you as a person, but if I ever find you doing counseling work again, I will take you to court. Okay?”
“Okay,” Darcy said.
Come to think of it, there was nothing she wanted from this office. Every damned thing here would only remind her of her own failure.“Goodbye, Rick,” she murmured, and with that line, which was far from satisfactory in terms of expressing how she felt, she walked out.
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