Riley is choosing an outfit for brunch. She holds the double doors of her closet open and scans the clothing inside. But really, this is just going through the motions. She's already made up her mind. A dress. Something altogether unlike the bland, unassuming pants suits she's worn all week. Something bright and daring. Something that hints at the life he doesn't know a thing about. It's high time he was reminded that she has that life. Outside of his demands. Beyond his reach. Free from his tyranny.

She weighs her options, calculating the impact of each. A sheath will accentuate her slimness, the one physical trait of hers he dares to comment on. (And comment he does, with unapologetic approval. You're lucky you're thin. Most women aren't so lucky. Riley has to bite her tongue not to correct him in these moments. Luck has little to do with it. But of course, everyone's else's success is just good fortune; his, however, comes from hard work and perseverance.) A sundress would be pretty, but pretty isn't what she's going for. Striking. That's what she wants to be. Striking enough to cast a slight shadow over his date, who'll undoubtedly be attractive--though older than Riley.

The dress she settles on is almost scandalously short. Tight across the top, cut narrow at the armholes to show off her shoulders. Playful pleats fan out from a snug empire waist. Mid-weight fabric woven in purple and pink hues that complement her auburn hair. It looks expensive. It was expensive. Riley may not have much to spend these days, but she has always known how to shop.


She takes an Uber to the restaurant, a luxury she'd never indulge in herself. But those were his instructions, when he invited her last night. Take an Uber. Black. Take an Uber black. Bribed is really the better word for it. Because this isn't a social event. This is work.

Riley is being paid to go to brunch with her boss this Saturday morning.

With her boss, with some woman he's never met, and with another male friend. She's not really sure who either of these others are, or what their relationship is to the man writing her paychecks. She only knows he needs her there, for various complicated reasons, and is willing to compensate her for the time and effort. So after several weeks of having his casual invitations rejected, he's upped the ante. I'll give you some green. We'll count it as a work day. Just be there at eleven. 

And so here she is, walking briskly down the boulevard in blazing sunshine, to a Hollywood restaurant as famous as the celebrities who've dined in it over the past hundred years, wearing a dress she knows will catch her boss off guard and possibly annoy him. Because she's only supposed to look so good. Good enough to make him look good--not good enough to shine herself. The assistant who should be seen, not heard, and only noticed in passing anyway. The prop to increase his social cache and, when necessary, leverage against the women in his life. Leverage but never threaten, because who is threatened by a nobody?

Well, it's Saturday, and I'm not a nobody on the weekend, thinks Riley. Nope. I'm a real human being, with brains and personality and yes, even sex appeal.  

She arrives before him, panicking slightly when she doesn't see his scowling face anywhere in either of the restaurant's two rooms. If she's fucked this up, if she's at the wrong restaurant... She dials his number on her cell phone, wincing at the clipped tone in which he answers. As if she's already done something wrong. But no, it's the right place; he's just running late. He tells Riley to find Grant Bloodworth, who should be there already, seated at their regular table. Riley has no idea who Grant Bloodworth is or where the regular table is, but as everyone else her boss associates with is either rich or famous or both, she suspects a quick check of Google will show her who to look for.

She's right. Grant Bloodworth is a renowned celebrity stylist. Dark-haired and pale, with the tragic skin of an aging rockstar. Most photos show him wearing a hat of some variety. Riley lifts her eyes from her phone and sees, in a semicircular booth against the wall, a shriveled looking man in a black homburg, hunched over a coffee cup. Bingo.

She approaches with a trepidation that proves immediately unnecessary. Grant greets her before she can say a word, rising to shake her hand and calling her, surprisingly, by name. Either he's got a great memory, great manners, or Thorne has been talking to him about her at length. Riley scoots awkwardly into the booth, knowing her boss will want to square off against his friend from the opposite head of the table. She casts about for small talk; not something she ever has trouble with, but it's early and she's still groggy from a late night out with friends.

Turns out, so is Grant. "You'll have to forgive me, love," he pleads in a charming Cockney accent. "Had a lot on my mind last night, so a friend gave me a Xannie. Didn't know they were so strong!" He chuckles, flashing stubby, yellowed teeth in a genuinely warm smile. Riley likes him instantly. And it becomes clear, as they pass a few minutes chatting, that Grant is an ally. Familiar with Thorne's...challenges. "What's it like to work for him, then?" he asks politely, throwing her a glance that tacitly acknowledges everything he won't say out of loyalty and she can't say out of fear. Riley is relieved, as ever, to meet someone who gets it. Who gets Thorne. Who knows how awful he can be. Who likes him anyway. As she does--in spite of everything.

And then suddenly, as if summoned by their conversation, Thorne himself appears, in the usual getup. Black jeans, black t-shirt, black combat boots. Leather jacket that likely cost more than Riley's sofa. The usual accessories, too. Silky ivy green scarf. Vintage black leather doctor's bag with the luggage tag attached, the one that Riley's eyes go to every time he screams at her. IF FOUND CALL (323) 555-1234 REWARD $10000. And the hat. An olive cashmere gatsby he wears absolutely everywhere, weather notwithstanding. Thorne Baxter cuts an imposing and stylish figure, there is no denying that. Riley now wonders whether it was Grant who helped him get that way.

But her moment's worth of reverie is short-lived, because her boss is already issuing commands, muttering to himself about the day's agenda (Agenda? I thought this was just brunch...), seemingly irritated by things that haven't even happened yet. It's all Riley can do to scarf down a slice of buttered bread before she's scrambling to take notes, make calls, and check Thorne's email for him.

The third guest--whom Riley has now surmised is not only a potential romantic interest but a possible business partner as well--hasn't even arrived yet.