Hayes ch 1

I would like to claim that the reason I first sought her out was because I’d heard so much about her. Or that I wound up outside her place of employment by accident that day. I’d settle for anything that doesn’t make me sound like the kind of creep who tracks down his assistant’s best friend after he sees her photo. 

Except I am, apparently, exactly that kind of creep.

To be clear, though, I was not stalking her. I just happened to look for her whenever I passed her bar on the way home, always with that slight tightening of the stomach which felt as much like irritation as it did anticipation. Irritation would have made more sense, actually—this was, after all, a woman inclined to believe every negative thing the press said about me. The one who referred to me as Satan, a fact my assistant Jonathan shared with slightly too much glee. 

It took weeks of not-stalking before she appeared, reading a book as she walked down the street. She moved slowly, engrossed, heedless of the rare drizzle overhead, the traffic going by, the heads that turned as she passed. In a town where most women focus on who’s looking at them, she neither noticed nor cared.
 
And I found it...irritating. So fucking irritating. Like an itch beneath the surface of my skin, one I was desperate to reach. Because in that moment she went from being an object of mild interest to one of fascination, and I knew I was going to have to follow her inside. 

It was still light out, but the place was already full, the clientele rough and heavy drinking. She was already pouring beer when I arrived. It took her a while to notice me, but when she did, I saw a question in her eyes, a curious tilt to her lovely, bare mouth. Perhaps because I didn’t belong, perhaps because I was staring—and if she’d asked me why, I wouldn’t have known what to say. She wasn’t the sort of woman I normally pursued. She looked...unsullied. Thoughtful.
 
And I was not a thoughtful man. 

I texted my assistant, Jonathan. I'm at your friend's bar. You failed to mention some things about her. That photo on your phone barely scratched the surface.
 
Don’t, said Jonathan, who’d never demanded anything of me in the two years I’d known him. And I knew what he was asking: don’t pursue her, don’t add her to your list of conquests. 

She’s had a very hard year, he then added. A REALLY hard year.

I glanced at her again and finally noticed the hint of sadness in her eyes. Something fragile there, even as she effortlessly lifted crates and fended off the advances of men twice her size. 

I long ago abandoned worrying too much about anyone but myself. But for some reason, in that moment, I wanted to be a better man than I am. 

So I did the right thing. 

I left.

HAYES CH 2

I drive to the gym after work, stifling my irritation as I walk in. I tend to get treated like a conquering hero in places like this—you get papped with a few young actresses and suddenly you’re celebrated for all the wrong things. 

Or perhaps they’re the right ones. I want to make sure no female expects anything of me, and my reputation nearly guarantees they will not. 

“How’s the new hire?” asks Ben, friend and occasional attorney.

Ah, yes, the bartender. I still don’t understand what Jonathan was thinking, hiring her after he told me to stay away. He claims he “forgot”. 

“Let’s just say it’s going to be a very long six weeks,” I reply, scrubbing a hand over my face, hoping he’ll let the topic go. Because Ben can sense a lie of omission before you even realize you’ve told one, and it’s possible I’m leaving a lot out.

What would have happened if Jonathan hadn’t texted after I walked into the bar last winter? If I hadn’t noticed the fragile thing resting just behind her eyes, and known deep in my gut that I was wrong for her?

 

I’ll never know. But my curiosity about her has been like an itch sitting just under the surface of my skin ever since, and now it’s worse than ever, a sharp edge I need to dull as soon as possible. I have a feeling it will take more than a hard workout to get it out of my system, just like it did last night. 

“So what’s the deal?” asks Ben, stacking weight on the bar. “Is she incompetent?”

“Probably. And she has a smart little mouth, which is never a desirable quality in an assistant.” 

Ben sets his weights down. “Fire her,” he says. “I can look over the contract, but it shouldn’t be an issue. Personal assistants are a dime a dozen.” 

He’s absolutely right. There’s no reason to torture myself until Jonathan gets back. Except there’s a part of me—a terrible, self-destructive part—that doesn’t want to send her away just yet. That wants to see what might unfold, wants to understand what Jonathan means by all this. 

I think of her this afternoon—all luminous skin and lush lips, clasping her hands in front of her, saying I disposed of her, just like you asked. If she’s already messing with me on her second day of work, God knows I’ll be entertained, if nothing else. 

“She’s...amusing,” I tell him, with a calculated shrug. “I think I’ll see how it goes.”

He looks at me for a long second and then he grins. “You like her, don’t you?”

Yes. “No.” 

I’m the last thing she needs, yet every bone in my body wants to pursue her. 

So I’ll just keep making myself so repugnant she’d never say yes. 

HAYES CH 3

It’s the downside to any profession: once you are trained to look for a problem, you can’t stop spotting it. Writers are irked by the misuse of words. Speech therapists are triggered by tiny lisps no one else even notices. 

And plastic surgeons? They hate unsubtle surgery. 

The woman across from me is beautiful, but she is ninety percent manmade and it shows. She has breasts too big and bulbous for her frame, the same nose Richard Peters gives every single patient. 

I close my eyes and picture Tali. Her face, for me, is pure fucking relief—lovely and absolutely untouched. I find myself wondering how to replicate it, except what makes it so appealing, so refreshing, is that it can’t be made again.  

There are times when I wonder what might have happened, had I met her first, before what Ella did made me this way. Except the problem, according to Ella, is that I was flawed from the start: the only person you’re capable of loving enough is yourself, she said. And I wanted to argue—years later, I still want to argue—but I only seem to find more proof she was right.

Nicole, my date, is still talking about some property she’s selling in Hollywood Hills, though it’s more about her than the house—her Bottega-Veneta handbag snagged on a bush outside, she was in five-inch Louboutins and this house had so many stairs. 

It’s par for the course. I see women who don’t expect anything from me, and that’s mostly women who want to talk about Louboutins and Bottega-Veneta handbags, who want to namedrop every single person in Hollywood they’ve even had passing contact with, the same way they’ll drop my name later on. It is, I hope, an even exchange. I just don’t know why, tonight, I am thinking about how bored I am, analyzing it. 

I’m not drinking enough, clearly. 

I catch the waitress’s eye and lift my glass. I’m already on my fourth scotch, which means it’s going to be one of those nights—something will be broken and clothes will line my floor and the new bloody assistant will undoubtedly have an acerbic comment about all of it. Honestly, for as much as I’m paying her, you’d think she’d manage to keep her opinions to herself, though some small part of me likes that she doesn’t.

And here I am, thinking about her again.

The goal tonight, just like last night, is to try to get her out of my system. And if I can do it in a way that reminds her what a louse I am, all the better. 

“You seem tired,” Nicole says. “I know how to liven you up.”

She shows me a picture of her friend Nina, and I feel that small charge at the base of my spine. The same one I’d get as a first year when my history teacher would lean over and expose her cleavage to the entire class. Sex and the prospect of it is a delicious anesthetic, making you forget every worry, every other line of thought. 

In no time at all, Nina arrives, and she and Nicole begin talking about some invitation-only club off the strip. I’m tempted to text Tali and ask her to get us an invite. It would be abominably rude of me, texting this late, and yet I sort of relish her irritation. Just thinking of it gives me a bit of that same charge I got from Nina’s photo. 

Except I don’t want to go to the club. I just want to annoy my assistant.

Me: Tired of Macallan. You’re a bartender. What’s the most irritating drink we can order?

Tali: It’s called The Hayes. At least that’s what irritates me personally. 

Me: Always so sharp-tongued.

Tali: Yes. Like a snake. And you’re Satan, so it’s perfect for you.

Me: Your tongue is perfect for me? Say more.

Nicole and Nina seem to realize they’ve lost me. They begin talking about the many times they’ve hooked up with each other, and a third friend they can invite. Which is when I realize I’ve got two beautiful women with me, and I’m sitting here flirting with my very off-limits assistant. 

And it’s possible she was flirting back. 

We are going down a very bad path, and it’s imperative I remind her exactly what I am—a dead end, capable only of the sickeningly shallow. How inconvenient, I think, looking at Nicole and Nina, that I no longer have the stomach for it. 

Hayes ch 4

Waking to find Tali crouched beside me with her soft mouth and her concerned eyes...it left me unsettled, uncertain, in a way I haven’t felt in a decade. It was like hearing a song from adolescence, and realizing you once felt things you no longer do, things you’d forgotten exist.

I’ve grown accustomed to a certain image of myself: confident, arrogant, comfortably numb. I took Ella’s parting shot and made it my motto, accepted I was capable of offering very little and embracing the fact. 

But for just a moment today I felt something I hadn’t felt in years, something I’d forgotten I could feel in the first place. I want to shake the feeling off, but it continues to cast a pall over me even hours later. 

“You seem a little out of it tonight,” says Ben, casting a wary glance at my scotch. “You’ve been hitting it kind of hard the past week or two.”

I shake my head. “Shouldn’t have napped this afternoon. I feel like I’m still not entirely awake.”

Although...it’s not really that. It’s more feeling like I’ve been safely keeping my head above treacherous water and have this sudden, dangerous urge to dive back in. 

“Since when do you nap?” he asks.

I shrug. “It was Tali. The assistant. She suggested it. She’s full of idiotic ideas.”

His mouth tips into a half smile. “Such as?” 

I sigh, knowing already Ben would agree with every word out of her mouth. “I suspect she thinks I drink too much and sleep around too much. I know for a fact she thinks I care too much about money.” 

He grins. “I think I like this girl. Cute?”

Cute is hardly the word I’d use for Tali, but I’m not going to sit here playing matchmaker. “I suppose. You are not welcome to date my assistant, however, if that’s where your mind is headed.” 

He shrugs. “Well, she’s not your assistant for long, right?” 

Right. Thank God. I try to keep the areas of my life separate: friends, employees, women I’m with. She’s the first person who defies categorization, who sometimes seems to be all three at once.

I really just want this uncomfortable feeling gone as soon as possible. And I wish there was a solution other than drinking it away.

#

I find Tali the next morning in that same fitted gray dress she wore when she came with me for house calls. Revealing every curve, smoothing over that perfect ass. It’s the kind of dress you can only picture pushed around her waist while she’s bent over the counter. I’d like to request that she stop wearing it, and also request that she wear it daily.

She’s pouring some disgusting concoction—green with flecks of purple—into a glass, which she then sets in front of me. 

“It’s a bit early in the day for frozen drinks, is it not? And this looks like the worst daquiri I’ve ever seen.” 

“They’re called vegetables,” she says, fighting a smile. “I’m surprised you didn’t hear about them in medical school, but I guess that would have taken valuable time away from learning about breast implants.” 

I take a sip and flinch. I was hoping it would taste a bit less like my lawn. “I was actually aware of vegetables before medical school,” I reply. “I was precocious in that way. I’m just wondering why you’re giving them to me.”

“Because you eat like shit, you drink like a fish and you get almost no sunlight. You’re like a vampire, only one who’s ambivalent about his survival. And speaking of bad habits, someone named Angela texted and asked if you’re still on for dinner.”

“Angela?” I stare at her blankly, trying to remember. The name does not ring a bell.  “Go through the texts. Is there a photo of her? I need to know what I’m getting into.”

Her mouth purses in distaste. “Do you actually want me to scroll through your exchange with Angela to find out? Because I’m worried there will be dick pics.” 

“I seriously doubt Angela sent me a dick pic. But if she did you can go ahead and cancel.”

“I meant your dick, Hayes.” 

“Mine? You should be so lucky.” But I reach out and take the phone from her. Because truly, God knows what I sent this woman if I can’t remember conversing with her in the first place.

Tali’s got a hand on her hip, which never bodes well. “You know,” she says, “a great deal of what you need me for could be solved by just not drinking yourself into a stupor.”

 “Please, by all means, keep telling me ways to make your job easier.” I find the photo. Angela is reminiscent of a young Charlize Theron.  Most importantly, she’s not the spitting image of my assistant, like the last few have been.  

I don’t know why the prospect of it feels so tedious, why it’s an effort to follow through. “Get us a reservation at Perch at seven and let her know for me?”

Tali takes the phone and starts to type. “Top o’ the morning, Angela!” she says aloud. Honestly, the hangover is bad, but her British accent is now the most painful thing about my morning. “Bloody good show, getting a free meal out of our exchange of bodily fluids. I normally just buy ladies a drink and wait for the roofies to kick in. Toodles, for now.” 

 “That sounds just like me. It’s truly astonishing, your talent for mimicry.”

“Right?” she asks with a broad grin, and despite my headache, I smile too.

And then I rub at my chest, left of my sternum, wishing the sudden, strange pang Tali has placed there could just be pushed away. 

This would all be so much easier if she didn’t seem to care, if she loathed me the way she should.

Hayes Ch 5

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I missed Tali this weekend. But I’m downstairs waiting for her when she walks in on Monday like a breath of fresh air, all perfect skin and bright eyes. 

And curves. 

She’s slim but in that white dress she’s wearing, all I can see is the graceful curve of her spine, her hips, her chest. Before I can stop myself, I’m imagining lowering the dress’s side zipper, the feel of her bare back beneath my palm. I can picture it as if it’s already happened—soft skin, her sigh, the way her nipples would pinch tight. I’m imagining things like this more and more, probably because I haven’t wanted to do it with anyone else. Every time I come close, I picture my smart-mouthed little assistant and lose steam.

Clearly, I think as I adjust myself, this situation needs to be corrected. Soon.

She’s set a small clear pill next to my coffee today. I hold it to the light, frowning. “You realize if you successfully poison me, you no longer get paid, yes?”

“There are things in this world more satisfying than money,” she replies, pouring my morning smoothie.

“It’s Vitamin D. I’m beginning to wonder if you’re truly a doctor.”

“Yes, a significant part of medical school is being able to identify random vitamins by looking at them on a kitchen counter.”  I eye it with suspicion a bit longer, then swallow it. “What did you do this weekend?”

She blinks. “This feels like a trick. Was I supposed to have done something for you and forgot?”

“Is it that astonishing when I ask a friendly question?”

Her lips turn up. It feels like the sun has broken through the clouds. “Yeah, kind of.”

“That you still haven’t told me what you were doing this weekend leads me to believe it was something illegal or controversial. If you have a sex webcam, I’d like to be made aware of it posthaste.”

She laughs. She has a bloody perfect laugh, sexy and raspy and assured. I have to fucking adjust myself again. “No, I do not have a webcam. I was, uh, working on something.”

“Your evasiveness only piques my curiosity,” I tell her. “It’s getting filthier in my mind by the second.” 

She huffs in exasperation. “It’s embarrassing.”  

“So it’s worse than a webcam?” I ask. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone winds up getting fisted on Pornhub eventually.”

“It’s a book,” she says, flushing. “I’m writing a book.”

It feels like a gift, these few words from her. She’s so willing to smart off to me, to swap clothes with my houseguest and make fun of my life—yet she somehow manages to keep everything real about herself locked down. I like peeling this first layer back. I want to keep going.

“If it’s a tell-all about a devastatingly handsome doctor, let me remind you of the NDA you signed.  Although if he’s bringing all your sexual urges to the surface, I’d still like to read it.”

She grins. “Any tell-all about you would focus on why I decided to quit men altogether.”

I flash my filthiest smile. “My Life as a Lesbian by Natalia Bell. I’d definitely read that one. So anyway, what’s so embarrassing about writing a book?” 

She hesitates. For a moment I think she won’t answer at all. “Because I signed a contract and spent the advance,” she says, looking away, “and now I can’t seem to finish it. And I’m not good at anything else, so I don’t know what I’ll do if I can’t pull this off.”

“I’m sure you’re good at plenty of other things. Consider the webcam, for instance. You’d be your own boss, at least.”

Her full lips curve into a smile. “I’ll take it under advisement.” 

She clearly wants to drop the subject, but I want to keep her talking. Maybe if I can peel back enough of her layers, I’ll stop thinking about her quite as much. “So tell me about your book.” 

She cuts me a wary glance. “No, because you’ll laugh, and then I’ll be forced to poison you. Which I’m more than happy to do, but as I have both unlimited opportunity and motive, I’ll be the first person the cops look at.”

“I won’t,” I promise. 

She frowns, still uncertain. “It’s a fantasy,” she finally says. “This young couple enters a fae kingdom and the queen decides Ewan, the boy, is the answer to this prophecy and traps him in the castle. So the girl, Aisling, has to save him.”

“Through the power of her blossoming sexuality?” 

“Not that kind of book,” she replies. “There’s this dashing fae lord, Julian, who will come into play somehow. But anyway, she learns some magic to take on the queen.” 

“Which she pays for on her back?” 

 “Again,” she says with an exasperated laugh, “not that kind of book.” 

“No offense, but that sounds extremely dull,” I reply. “A good blowjob scene is essential to any meaningful work of fiction.”

“Ah yes,” she says, “I remember the blowjob scene in Pride and Prejudice. Very tastefully done.”  

I never pictured hearing the word blowjob fall off Tali’s pretty little tongue. She takes the blender to the sink and starts to wash it by hand and I watch, wondering how I can gracefully walk out of here without her noticing I’m hard as a rock. And wondering, more importantly, how the fuck to get her out of my system. 

Nothing has worked so far.  I worry the only solution is giving into it...and I like her too much to subject her to that. And the idea I might convince her it means something terrifies me, but what terrifies me more is that I might think it means something too...only to discover, ultimately, that Ella was right all along.