Today was the day. I knew it as soon as I saw the appointment pop up in my work calendar. My boss—who just so happened to also be my boyfriend—was finally going to propose. This was the fairytale ending I’d dreamed of as a homely little girl back in Iowa, and I’d sacrificed everything to put all those unpleasant memories behind me.
First, I’d swapped my thick glasses for contacts, then I fixed my overbite, and, finally, I made a habit of spending half my monthly income at the best salon in the city to keep my frizzy hair looking sleek and silky. No hint of the former farm maid remained, and that’s exactly how I liked it.
Obviously my hunky hero liked it that way too, considering he was most assuredly on the verge of requesting my hand in marriage. He kept dropping little hints about big changes at work and casually referencing our living arrangement, both of which made me suspect. But when he set our appointment for today, I knew it for sure. And now I glided through the apartment with wings on my heels.
Honestly, I’d never imagined secretly dating my boss. When I took an entry-level job at the company, I was nothing more than a glorified social media influencer—which is code for coffee fetcher. Lucas Aconite, on the other hand, was a media god. His legendary company was the whole reason I’d moved to New York in the first place.
Everyone at the agency worshiped him, and I was no exception. I worked twelve-hour days and took any extra unpaid overtime that was thrown my way. Growing up on a pig farm had taught me two things: 1. The value of hard work; and 2. That I would do anything to escape a future on said farm.
When my posts on the socials started going viral, I at last caught his attention. Let me assure you, once someone caught the attention of Lucas, they’d do anything to keep it. I could still remember the way my heart stopped beating when he asked me to meet him at a posh club in Midtown after clocking out. And I swear, being there with him, it was like time stood still. The gaze from his smoldering hazel eyes could do that.
Initially, we kept our relationship secret, but once the accounts I managed got first national—and then international attention—no one could doubt that I’d earned my position at the top. Once my integrity was no longer in doubt, I wanted people to know that I was so much more than a lowly account manager to Lucas. Indeed, I had risen through the ranks and now stood on the cusp of leading a massively successful social media firm.
At first my guy resisted the sparks between us, but after a few work parties, and some carefully curated rumors—the Lucas-Sydney power couple was born. Everyone referred to us as Luc-ney. We became the #powercouple, and we took Manhattan by storm.
So, back to today’s appointment, and why I know for a fact it will end with a champagne toast to our happily ever after.
You have to understand, Lucas and I just didn’t make appointments with each other. I’d walk into his office anytime I needed to speak to him, and he’d walk into mine. When I saw his formal meeting request, I knew he absolutely had to have something special planned, and I couldn’t keep the smile off my face.
I’d been dreaming of the possibilities all morning.
My favorite version involved him whisking me off to Alfonso’s. It was impossible for mere mortals to get reservations there, but you didn’t run the top internet marketing firm in Manhattan without getting your share of hookups. And Alfonso’s would only be the beginning.
My day was off to a great start. My hair looked fantastic, and I couldn’t get over the way the light made the ebony hues in my perfect blowout shimmer. Pinterest-perfect hair was worth every penny. The only rain cloud in my morning was a burned out lightbulb in the temple sconce in the bathroom. When the lighting was dim, I could
see the ugly duckling, lurking just beneath the surface, leaking through.
I couldn’t afford to have an episode of self-loathing right then. I had to be the “it” girl that had captured his heart, not the misfit from swine-ville. It was all nearing its fairytale end. Of course I’d be quick to take the Aconite name and pretend the old me had never even existed once upon a time.
I poked my head out of our bathroom. “Lukey?” I paused to listen, but he didn’t answer. “Lukey, I need you to change a light bulb for me.”
Usually, he’d respond immediately when I called him. After all, it wasn’t like him to leave for work in the mornings without saying goodbye. We meant more to each other than that. Now where had he gone?
I walked down the wide hallway of our modern, steel-and-glass penthouse apartment and peeked into the open-plan kitchen and living room. I’d come a long way from scrubbing the floors of the farmhouse kitchen and cooking tubs of food for hired hands.
But the perfectly designed and decorated living space was empty.
As I continued toward the spacious home office, I thought I heard him speaking in hushed tones inside. Something made me stop and listen outside the door. I bit my bottom lip to curb my excitement. Maybe he was setting up final details of his proposal day.
He sighed. “Look, babe. I know you’re in a hurry, and I’m moving things along as fast as I can. I told you, I’m firing her today. This whole Sydney mess will be over by the end of the month. Relax. We’ve made it this long, so what’s a couple more weeks?”
Sydney mess? Who was he going to fire? Me? That couldn’t be right.
Wait, who was he talking to, and why was he calling her “babe?” My impulsive, demanding side kicked in before I could stop it. I placed my perfectly manicured, ring-less left hand on the door and shoved. The door slammed into the wall behind it.
“Lucas, honey, who are you talking to?” I asked in a eerie sing-song voice I hardly recognized as my own.
If guilt had a meme, it would be my boyfriend’s face right now. “Uh, I gotta go.” He unceremoniously ended the mysterious call and stared at me while his jaw hung slack.
“What’s going on?” My fists clenched and landed on my hips. I plastered a pleasant smile onto my face. Though, it probably looked more like a snarl. I was desperate to hide the fire of hurt burning in my golden eyes, and the growing ache in my fractured heart. “Who was that?”
Lucas composed himself, dragged a hand through his soft brown hair, and got to his feet. “Hey, Syd. I heard you calling me. Did you need something?”
“Yeah. I need to know what the heck you’re cookin’ up.” The tough girl act would only hold back the tears for so long, but I couldn’t ignore what I’d heard. “And with who.”
“Man, you always get so hick when you’re mad.” He inhaled sharply. “Look, Syd, we both know things have been—”
“Been what? What are you talking about? Things are great. Fantastic, actually.” The tears were pushing hard now. Had he heard the crack in my voice?
His exhale was labored and his shoulders rolled back. “Sydney, it’s over. Your work has been slipping. The partners are complaining about my girlfriend getting preferential treatment, and yesterday, you lost us one of our biggest accounts.”
“What? Which account? No one told me.” My throat tightened, and I couldn’t swallow.
Lucas dropped his gaze, shuffled some papers on his desk, and checked his phone. “Listen, we don’t need to get into it. You’ll get two weeks’ severance pay plus your third-quarter bonus, and you have until the end of the month to get moved out of the apartment. Don’t make this harder than it has to be.”
And . . . cue the waterworks. “Me? I’m not making this anything. Everything was great. Perfect! I thought you were ready to take our relationship to the next level, and now—”
“That’s the problem, Syd. You and I don’t see this relationship through the same filter.” Lucas shoved his phone into his pocket
walked toward the door, and brushed past me without so much as an “excuse me.”
But I continued. “Where in tarnation do you think you’re going, Lucas Aconite? This isn’t over. You can’t fire me without cause, and you can’t kick me out of our apartment.” The faces of every playground bully that had ever called me four-eyes or pig girl swirled before me. How could he treat me like I was nothing?
The chiseled face that turned toward me was almost unrecognizable. There was no love in his cold eyes, and no kindness in his words. “It’s my company, Sydney. I can fire and hire whomever I choose. And this isn’t our apartment. It’s my apartment. You may have wiggled your way in, but you have no legal right to stay. Find somewhere else to live or I put your stuff on the street in two weeks.”
I wished I had a snappy comeback or a defensible position, but I didn’t. My dry mouth silently opened and closed as he turned and walked out of my crumbling life without a backward glance. The slam of the door reverberated through my chest.
Part of me wanted to follow him and talk some sense into his thick skull, but deep down, I knew Lucas had the upper hand and would always get the last word. Within minutes, I’d already reached the end of my short list of options.
Leaning against the door, I let the tears fall. There was no way I’d be walking back into that office to face the judgmental stares of my former coworkers. Hopefully, I could get my assistant—make that former assistant—to grab some stuff from my desk and drop it off at the end of the day.
Unemployed and about to be homeless. Two weeks to find a new place to live, in Manhattan, with no references and no job. Good luck to me.
Hold on. I shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater—an “it” girl like me had tons of friends. I grabbed my phone and started swiping through contacts.
“Hey, Kasey, it’s your girl, Syd. I was thinking about your plush loft in SoHo and wondered if you could use a new roommate to finance that fab design upgrade you’re always talking about?”
She claimed to have no idea who I was. Not the response I’d expected.
“Sydney. Sydney Coleman. We have hot yoga together, remember?”
Either she honestly didn’t remember, or couldn’t be bothered.
Fifteen phone calls later, a familiar theme had emerged. The friends I’d thought were mine had all moved on. When I turned my sights on the elusive Lucas Aconite, I simultaneously turned my back on everyone and everything else.
I’d achieved my couple status at the expense of the rest of my previously important relationships. All my eggs had been in one basket—a basket named Lucas.
I sank to the floor. None of my so-called friends were interested in a charity case. And, yes, one of them even used that exact phrase to deny me.
Charity case. Me. I was mad as a wet hen. There was absolutely no way I could afford an apartment in Manhattan—alone.
Once I’d moved in with Lucas, he took care of everything. My salary basically paid the minimums on the credit cards I used to keep my fantasy life afloat. Of course, that meant I couldn’t put first, last, and an outrageous security deposit on any of those maxed out credit cards either.
Maybe it was time to admit defeat. My stomach turned when I imagined tucking my tail between my legs and running back to Iowa. To the farm. To my parents.
I shuddered. No, I would do anything but that.
If I thought finding out my New York friends had abandoned me was depressing, I couldn’t imagine the horror of moving back in with my parents.
Old Mom and Pop Coleman would be more than happy to welcome me back from the “big dangerous city.” But they weren’t the problem. The problem was everybody else. When I graduated from high school and announced I’d be skipping the college track in favor of a more exciting life in the Big Apple, no one was impressed. I was so determined to make all those people who’d tortured me and called me names jealous; I fabricated several details of the dream job opportunities that awaited me...