“I’m in love, Trevor,” Jeffery Harrison said to his older brother as the two walked the aisles of the immense Harrison Department Store. The brothers were unreasonably good-looking, the main difference between them was Jeffery knew it and his older brother, Trevor, did not.
It was before opening time and Jeffery warmly greeted each employee he saw. Trevor had a polite smile plastered on his face and nodded to those he recognized.
“Did you hear me, Trevor? I’m in love. Have been for a bit now.”
Jeffery was the sort of person it was easy to envy. With a burning need to be social and natural ability to be gregarious, he was never alone and was always the center of attention. Jeffery maintained his wiry six-foot-tall frame even though he ate and drank everything to excess. He was fair-complected with blond hair and had sapphire blue eyes that mesmerized women and caused men to wonder if he wore contacts.
Trevor turned and looked at his brother, squinted and shook his head.
Taller by two inches and, at forty-five, ten years older, Trevor worked diligently to maintain his athletic build. His deep-set eyes, offset by his dark hair and complexion, were a disconcerting gunmetal gray that seemed to look at and into people.
Unlike Jeffery, Trevor was not blessed with the common touch. His brother was social in the extreme and could, and did, talk to anyone about anything. Trevor preferred his own company to that of others. He easily maintained business relationships and rigorously avoided personal ones.
“Jeffery,” Trevor said, his voice rich and resonant. “A bit is two weeks for you, but let’s put that aside. It is September and you have been in love four times this year. I don’t count Elizabeth. She was on to you too soon and gone within a few days of you proclaiming your love for her in the women’s activewear department. We won’t count last year. That was one for the record books. And the lucky woman this time?” Trevor enquired.
“She’s blond with red highlights and a body like mortal sin. I tell you, Trevor, the woman has lips to die for and a figure that makes mannequins jealous. She and I are soulmates, I tell you. With her by my side, I could conquer worlds,” Jeffery declared.
“I thought you and Elizabeth were going to conquer worlds together,” Trevor countered.
“She didn’t understand me,” Jeffery complained.
“That seems to be a common refrain throughout your relationships. At least from your point of view. To me, you seem easy to understand. You’re a simpleton. Does this angel of yours have a name?” Trevor asked.
“She is the incredibly scrumptious Samantha Ford. You probably know her. She works upstairs somewhere,” Trevor stopped as they passed through the fine jewelry department. He waited for Jeffery to realize he was no longer beside him. Trevor approached his brother, took him by the arm and escorted Jeffery to the men’s fragrance section where they could be alone.
“You do realize Samantha Ford doesn’t just work upstairs somewhere? She is our corporate counsel working on a critical project. She is the best there is and it cost Harrison’s a fortune to get her to come work for us.” Trevor’s whisper was a menacing rasp.
“I can tell you she is worth each and every penny.” Jeffery seemed more delighted than ever and never saw the thundercloud that crossed his brother’s face.
“Let me make this abundantly clear, Jeffery. Ms. Ford’s role here is vital to the company’s survival. If you do anything to jeopardize that, I will remove you as manager of the menswear department and you will be sorting mail in the basement for the rest of your life. And your salary will reflect your new-found position.
“Stay clear of Samantha Ford. I don’t want her distracted for even a moment. Dragging her into yet another of your sordid love affairs is not something we either need or can afford. Do you understand me, Jeffery?” Trevor growled.
Jeffery nodded and, following the advice out-of-sight-out-of-mind, scampered off to menswear to wait for Trevor’s rage to subside.
Trevor stormed into his eighth-floor office and was greeted by his assistant Cynthia Maddox. Cynthia was a modest and perpetually calm woman of sixty years. She wore her hair in a permanent bun and her cornflower blue eyes could extract even the darkest secrets from people.
She’d been with Harrison’s Department Store for decades, first working for the senior Mr. Harrison and now for Trevor. She was able to read her boss with ease and predict his reactions to nearly everything. There was nothing she did not know about the operations of the chain or, good and bad, about the Harrison brothers.
“Did you know? And do not say ‘know what?’ because I’m not buying it. I’ve just been talking with Jeffery.”
“I suppose, Mr. Trevor, you are referring to your brother attempting to romance Samantha Ford?” Cynthia asked with a smile and cocked her head to the side awaiting an answer.
“So, you did know. You didn’t think to let me in on it? Of all people, you know how important this is, how important she is. How could you let this happen!” Trevor bellowed and planted himself in his chair behind an enormous desk. The desk had sat where it did since before the first world war.
“As for letting this happen, I did no such thing. Ms. Ford is nearly as solitary an oyster as you are. Everyone knows of her, but no one knows her and, again, like you, she likes it that way. I admit I was blindsided when I discovered Mr. Jeffery was seeing her though. I was even more surprised she was seeing him.
“Do keep in mind, however, Ms. Ford is not a Ming vase, to be kept in a display case. She is a grown woman and can take care of herself. It is my opinion she is amusing herself with Mr. Jeffery, but will let him down gently at the proper time,” Cynthia concluded knowing she had appeased her boss.
“How long has this been going on?” Trevor fumed. He stood and began to pace the room.
“In reality or in Mr. Jeffery’s mind?” Cynthia asked.
“Reality, please. Don’t tell me what takes place in Jeffery’s alleged mind. It is something I can’t afford to think about too much.
“But it is key to the story,” Cynthia said. “In any case, in the real world, Mr. Jeffery was recovering from his last love affair the first day Ms. Ford arrived, so it took him until her second day before he was on to her. She was smart enough to pour cold water on him straight away and I thought it ended there.
“In Mr. Jeffery’s mind, however, they have been soulmates through the centuries and in many incarnations,” Cynthia related and Trevor rolled his eyes.
“What does that even mean?” he asked with a palms-up gesture and a pained expression.
“Over the space of two months, they have been out a few times.” Cynthia looked pleased with herself.
Trevor took up the thread again. “We cannot afford to allow anything or anyone to distract Ms. Ford. With a little luck and her skill, we might weather this takeover bid. Hell, we wouldn’t have even known there was a takeover in the works if she hadn’t come to us.
“If we had a store in Siberia, Jeffery would be running the mukluk department before the day was out if it would keep him away from her.” Trevor stood and with his hands behind his back overlooked the city from his office window. “Please, keep an eye on this, Cynthia,” he said over his shoulder and then after a sigh, “And Cynthia, I’m sorry I snapped at you.”
She stepped up next to him, smiled and bumped him with her shoulder. He gently bumped her back and smiled. He had a nice smile.