Jocelyn (Sewing in SoCal #2) - Sarah Monzon Page 0,1

been promoted two months ago. I’d heard tales of their legendary getaways. I’d even applied for a passport in the hope this year’s retreat followed along the same lines as last year’s—a week-long cruise on the Riviera.

Jayden—I mean, Mr. Weidel—cleared his throat and mumbled something under his breath without lifting his gaze.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Weidel, but could you repeat that? I missed what you said from down here.” Bill from investments leaned his pinstripe-covered forearms on the opposite end of the conference table. He didn’t have any trouble remembering to address the boss properly, even though, with fifteen years’ experience and a DBA in finance, he was more qualified for the job. And I couldn’t blame his hearing loss for not having picked up Jayden Weidel’s words. I was sitting three seats down and I hadn’t been able to make out a single syllable.

Surfer-boy-boss lifted his fingers into the neckline of his button up and pulled the cotton away from his throat. “This year’s annual retreat will take place on the Double B Dude Ranch.” He glanced up for a split second, then quickly fell into the upscale office chair with a four-digit price tag and occupied himself with his papers.

A finance conglomerate department head meeting wasn’t exactly on the same decibel level as a bar of rowdy bikers, but the room grew so quiet I began to think we’d all forgotten to breathe. I swept my gaze around my coworkers frozen in their seats. Henry McNamiss from the actuary department appeared to be running statistics in his mind.

Pretty sure I could jump in on the probability of a group of business personnel who worked inside a skyrise for sixty hours a week coming out of a seven-day experience around thousand-pound animals unscathed.

Zero. The probability was zero.

One of us would end up dead. And since I was the only Black person in sight, I’d go first. Hollywood always killed us off before anyone else, didn’t they?

I took in Donald Hartwell’s pale complexion. Sam Yo’s tan skin had turned the yellowish color of paper from an antique book.

I winced. Maybe I shouldn’t have made that comparison. My own skin had been compared to coffee and chocolate, among other food items, and while I enjoyed eating those things, I wasn’t sure how I felt about being compared to products of consumption. Especially ones my ancestors had been forced to cultivate through slavery. But people didn’t really take those things into account and, usually, didn’t mean to be offensive (I know I didn’t with my antique paper comparison), so I ordinarily let it go.

Tonya folded her hands on the table. Jeff covered a cough behind a fist.

Had anyone here ever had any outdoor experience?

I most certainly hadn’t! Camping had been a joke in my neighborhood growing up. Why would anyone want to pay hard-earned money to go and live like a homeless person for a weekend? It had been a struggle to keep a roof over our heads. Spending a night in a tent was something I’d feared, not dreamed of.

“This is where you give us a disarming grin and tell us you were just kidding.” My fake smile was likely as wide as my eyes, but I couldn’t seem to get either one to go back to their regular proportions.

In a swift move, Jayden yanked down his Windsor knot and stripped himself of his tie. His hand knocked his hair, disheveling it like a coastal breeze. This was why I had such a hard time remembering to call him Mr. Weidel. All-American boy-next-door who appeared to be playing dress up in Daddy’s—or in this case, Uncle’s—work clothes didn’t elicit immediate office-space respect.

My smile softened with sincerity. I did like him better this way.

“Look, guys. I tried to talk him out of it. I really did.” His hands splayed in a please believe me sort of way.

Bill started chuckling at the foot of the table. A little one at first that grew into a full-fledged belly laugh. Henry’s fingers inched toward the conference telephone in front of him as he regarded Bill with all the caution a citizen of Gotham would give Jack Napier after he escaped Arkham.

“Joe has been threatening to go Texas on us for years.” He shook his head as his laughter fizzled.

Joe? He didn’t mean…

Of course he did. Bill wasn’t chairman or a relative, but he still played a round of golf at the boys’ club with big boss Joseph Whalen at least once a week. And Mr. Whalen