In Love With My Boss

By: Audrey Tolhouse

Chapter Four

Perfect at Everything

HER FINGERS TINGLED, and her face flushed with heat as she read the letters from her most recent text: [I can’t thank you enough for this. You’ll be great. Talk to you in Denver.]

Not only was James taking no responsibility for the way he penned his benefit speech on her, but now, without saying it, he was requesting that she no longer initiate communication until she—they—landed in Colorado. Jennifer’s jaw clenched so tight, her fingers squeezing the phone so hard, that her knuckles turned white, and she would have sworn she tasted a hint of blood in her mouth.

With a shaking hand, she slid the phone into her clutch and sat up, startled by the sudden eruption of applause from around her. Someone touched her elbow.

“That’s you, Miss,” a directed whisper shot into her ear.

Seconds later, Jennifer felt the heat from several hundred eyes staring at her. She stood, her eyes taking in the length of the hardwood floors of the loft at the Ravenswood Event Center. Another round of applause began once she stood. Without hesitation, she lifted a hand, nodding with the approval.

Jennifer left her clutch on the chair and made her way past the throng of immaculately decorated tables and waiting catering staff to the constructed stage. She took the three steps that rose to the raised platform slowly, feeling her heart beating wildly within her chest. This wasn’t a part of her job description, and she didn’t appreciate one bit.

The announcer, one of the organization’s board members, clapped once Jennifer’s stilettos touched the stage. Over the roar of the audience, his clap alone seemed to assault her ears the most. He pulled her into a strategic hug and kissed her cheek politely before handing her the microphone.

Jennifer turned to watch the man go. Just to his right, below the stage, she searched for a technician’s eye and nodded. He made a movement with his arm, signaling someone, and a large white projector screen began to descend, the electrical hum audible over the crowd.

Facing the crowd, Jennifer smiled. With the lights on her face, she couldn’t single out any specific face. She blinked beneath the light, her gut tightening. Her mind was a racing blur of thoughts she couldn’t quite make sense of. She would have liked to see at least one familiar face, but there was only a strange shroud of blurred faces staring back at her. She took another heaving breath and decided to begin.

“I must offer you my deepest apologies that the creator and founder of Hope’s Foundation, James Melone, is unable to grace you with his presence directly,” Jennifer felt the wobble in her voice. Her palms were sweaty. She blinked and struggled to swallow back dryness caking to her throat. Her eyes began to adjust to the lighting. “While the tech crew prepares my presentation, I want to talk a bit about Mr. Melone, his vision, and the purpose of this benefit.”

Jennifer glanced over her shoulder. The screen was half down. Turning back to the audience, she considered making use of the podium. Instead, she gripped the microphone in her moist hand and began to walk slowly to the right side of the stage. She stopped scanning the audience and focused on the row of tables closest to the stage.

“I first met Mr. Melone about six years ago,” she began. “Back then, he was just another young man with a lot of money and too many women knocking on his door.” The crowd laughed. Jennifer lifted her head; her smile began to poke through. “We bumped into each other at a coffee shop—of all the places, and no,” she chuckled, “it wasn’t Starbucks.” The audience rumbled lightly with another wave of delight.

Feeling the anxiety pass, Jennifer found the strength to her voice. She thought back to the day she first met Melone. He carried strength and confidence in a way that no other man with his assets had, at least of what she’d seen. “Melone wasn’t like other young entrepreneurs with a lot of money. He had plans—dreams.”

Jennifer turned to pace in the opposite direction. She glanced towards the audience and saw them following her movements with their eyes. “I’m going to tell you something not many people know about Mr. Melone. He didn’t hop on the create-a-foundation bandwagon for tax write-offs,” she shook her head and paused, facing the audience directly. She no longer saw faces in the mix of dust and overhead lights. “He created Hope’s Foundation because he saw it was what Chicago needed.”

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