Baxter jerks angrily in his seat, gripping the wheel of the Mercedes and shaking his head in disgust. Disgust at what, Riley isn't sure. The woman in question, Mia? Herself? All of the above?
She doesn't say anything, because she doesn't know what to say. This is the hardest part for Riley: resisting her instincts to speak up. To speak out. To disagree. Because there is no disagreeing with Thorne Baxter. Not yet, anyway. Right now there is only compliance. And lots of nodding, with pursed lips to express sympathy. But in her head--well, that is a different story. In her head there is an endless stream of sarcasm and eye rolling.
Yes, Thorne. I see it. I see how put upon you are. How unfair the world is to you. What a victim you are, with your millions, your endless resources and privilege. It must be so hard for you.
"It's definitely weird," she says carefully. This is tricky ground. Baxter expects agreement, expects her to be one hundred percent in his corner in all his many battles--but he can tell when she's faking it. Conversations with her boss can quickly become minefields in this way. "I thought she had her own money--" she starts.
"Ha!" Baxter's contempt flies like spit at the windshield. "No way. No, no, no. Let me tell you something, okay? Women over forty? They get fucking weird, man. They go crazy." Thorne screws his face tightly at the horror he describes. "The ones that have kids, that are divorced? They're desperate. They have no fucking money. Leeches. They just want a meal ticket. And the ones that don't have kids? Loony birds. They lose their minds." He nods at his own wisdom. Riley sits motionless, strangely fascinated by his hatred. "This chick? Mia? She's no different. Saw me, saw a free ride."
It all started at brunch on Saturday. The blind date Riley was paid to sit in on, for reasons she is still not clear on. The one with lovely, funny Grant Bloodworth, who set it up. Thorne was especially dickish to her that day, despite all plans to assert herself, to make clear her refusal to be ordered around like a dog. Or maybe that was why. Squash the rebellion early. Nip it in the bud. Can't have the help thinking it deserves humane treatment.
Anyway, that was the day he met Mia. He really liked her, at first. Riley did too. She was fearless in the face of Baxter's assault. Sassy, self-assured. She met his pushy come-ons with good humor, more patience than Riley could believe, and a generous helping of wit. Spoke lightly of her connections in entertainment, politics. Casually dropped the right names to set Baxter's interest on fire. But there was something else to Mia, Riley could sense it. An anchor of experience that she recognized. Hurt of some kind. Loss. Determination to get back to the top where she'd been. If Mia was going to be used, she was going to use back.
In the days following brunch, Thorne was whipped into a suitor's frenzy. He texted Mia constantly. Rather, Riley texted her constantly. Handling her boss's phone conversations had quickly become one of her duties. For one thing, Baxter was usually driving, and didn't have the patience to wait until he'd stopped to send a message himself. For another, his grammar and spelling were atrocious. And so it was Riley's job to handle the phone and the texting. Women. Setting up dates. Business discussions. Exchanges of information. Directions for Baxter's various vendors, employees, tenants, and other associates. All in Riley's hands.
But something went wrong somewhere. Mia pushed too hard, too soon. Tipped her hand. Asked for something. A piece of jewelry. Expensive. Testing Baxter. Seeing what she could get from him. And what she got was an explosion of indignation the shrapnel of which was still raining down on Riley.
"This is what I'm talking about. All this shit. People. They just slow you down. You can't have friends. You can't get married. You gotta stay free." He eases into his words. They are a familiar, safe space. His prayer to himself. "You gotta look out for yourself, and only yourself. You know how much money I'd have if I'd let some wife get a hold of me? If I'd had kids?" Riley knows the correct answer, but lets her boss push through his whole monologue uninterrupted. "None. None. Relationships are just a big fucking drain. You can either have money and happiness in this world, or you can have relationships. Isn't that crazy? Isn't that a trip?" They're at a stoplight now, and Baxter takes the opportunity to give Riley a long, searching look. "You get it now, don't you? You see it?"
Riley looks at her boss, sadder for him than she's ever been for anyone. "I see it," she lies, feeling herself land safely on the far side of the minefield. "I get it."
The light turns green, and the Mercedes drives on.