Home > Come As You Are(2)

Come As You Are(2)
Author: Lauren Blakely

Thank fuck.

I laugh, shaking my head. “No, but I get that all the time. Great guess.”

I make my getaway on the next floor, escaping safely into the confines of my office for the morning, and I don’t emerge until afternoon rolls around and it’s time to hightail it to a hotel in midtown for a technology conference. When I get there, I head to the backstage of the ballroom for my keynote address on leadership.

A cute redhead dressed in black rushes over to me. “Hi, Flynn. Let me make sure your handy-dandy mic is on,” she says, fiddling with the small clip-on device that’ll send my voice slinging across the room. Up close, I can see she has a spray of freckles across her nose and a sparrow tattoo on her neck. “Once I give the signal, don’t say anything inappropriate.”

I mime zipping my lips.

“Also, we’re tight on time so there won’t be any Q and A,” she says, and I could kiss her. No Q and A means no one can ask me about ShopForAnything and how the great white shark appeared in my calm tropical business waters a few weeks ago, jaws wide open, determined to eat my company for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a midnight snack. It’s the press’s question du jour, fascinating to every member of the business media.

“Too bad,” I say, like I’m bummed. Hey, maybe I can pass for an actor.

She raises her index finger and nods. “Now, your mic is hot,” she whispers.

And I don’t whisper back, So are you, even though she is, because, hello, that’s rude. Hitting on a cute chick at a conference is, one, uncool, two, douchey, and three, not my style. Besides, striking up conversations with women who know who I am is about as satisfying as watching a parade on a cold day.

Come to think of it, I don’t care for parades in warm weather either.

But the backstage woman is great, so I flash her a smile, and mouth thanks as the emcee introduces me.

“And now, it is with great pleasure and pride that I welcome Flynn Parker for our closing keynote address. His business reputation is unparalleled, having founded one of the most successful tech start-ups of all time and sold it for multimillions, earning him a reputation as a true internet superstar and visionary. He’s now become a key player in an exciting new technology sector. Please join me in welcoming him to the stage.”

Because I’ve given more keynotes than I can count, I stride onto the stage without breaking a sweat, and thirty minutes later, the audience claps and cheers.

“How’d I do?” I ask the girl with the sparrow tattoo once I’m offstage.

She shushes me and reaches for the mic. “You were still mic’d.”

I shrug. “Could have been worse. I could have said, ‘Free pizza tomorrow at the lobby of my office.’”

She wags a finger at me, whispering, “There’s no more appealing combination of words in the English language than ‘free’ and ‘pizza.’” She peers around the front of the stage. “Good luck making it through the crowd. Looks like they’re already lined up waiting for you to exit. Want an escort?”

I wave off the offer. “Nah, I’m good.”

If I stopped listening to ideas, I’d lose my edge. Edge is everything in business. It separates the visionaries from the has-beens. It’ll separate me from ShopForAnything if I play my cards right. That’s why I listen to every one of the pitches volleyed my way.

Once the crowd thins, I head out of the ballroom, making my way through the hotel’s lower floor.

“Hi, Flynn.” The bold, outgoing voice sounds like it belongs to a TV anchor, or maybe a politician.

I turn to see a brunette in a navy pantsuit walking by my side. Her dark hair is slicked back in a clip, and I’m going to bet my money on local TV reporter.

“I’m Nova Wilkins. I’m in market research,” she says, and I lose the bet with myself. “I have to say your speech was very inspiring, especially your top five keys to a successful partnership. I’ve been a huge fan of yours for such a long time.”

Fan?

Even though I’ve started a successful company and sold it for bank, I do know that I’m not shortstop for the New York Yankees or headlining a movie. I would never say I have fans, but I’m impressed Nova homed in on one of my “Top Five” lists. “Pleased to meet you, Nova. Glad to hear you liked that part of the speech. Have a favorite from among those?”

Her lashes flutter, and she brings a hand to her breasts as if she’s trying to use a time-honored trick to render me helpless, akin to Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth. Maybe she’s in superhero market research.

“I do,” Nova continues in her perfectly modulated tone. “I loved what you said about how both partners need to come to the table with clarity on what they each bring to a deal. With that in mind, I was hoping you had a second to listen to a pitch of mine?”

I stop walking and give her my full attention. “What have you got?”

“I’d like to propose I become your wife.”

I snap my head back. Must have heard her wrong. “Excuse me?”

She nods, her expression business-like. “I have my top five reasons why I’m not an ordinary trophy wife. First, I have a master’s degree; second, I’m studying Japanese, which was your minor in college. Third, I’m a judo master. And the fourth reason why I should become your wife—we have similar taste. I also like watching The Mindy Project and Silicon Valley, and I know those are your favorite shows,” she says, and damn, she does her research. “And the fifth reason—I’m a fine cook, especially when it comes to Italian, and that’s your favorite cuisine.”

“It is.” She’s really researched me, as if I’d posted a request for a proposal online.

“I do hope you’ll consider my application to become your wife, Flynn.” She says it all with a straight face as if a clear and concise proposal is what it takes to get down the aisle.

The floor is mine, though, and I give her an equally clear and concise response. “While I’m immensely impressed with your research and attention to detail, especially the very clever way of presenting it as a top five list, I’m not in the market for a wife.”

She knits her brow, a flash of worry in her eyes as I pick up the pace again, walking toward the lobby. “I understand. Though, I hope you’ll reconsider because I have many other skills you might find useful. Shall I share my top five things I’m willing to do to please you in the bedroom?”

And that is one hell of a 180-degree turn in tactics.

Before I can answer with an even firmer no, a boxy security guard stalks over, drops a hand to Nova’s shoulder, and barks at her, “I told you, you’re not welcome here. I don’t know how you slipped in, but I’m going to escort you out once more. You must actually pay to attend the conference.”

She wails, changing her approach yet again. “Flynn, don’t let them take me away. I want to marry you. I’ll let you spank me. I’ll let you bite me. Pull my hair. Call me names. You can dress me up like a doll. See? That’s five things. Just marry me. I’ll give you all the free pizza you want.”

Oops. Guess that mic was still hot.

I give her a goodbye wave as I deadpan, “That’s okay. I can afford pizza.”

“I’ll be in the lobby at your office to propose to you again. I love you madly. I have ever since you were on the cover of Business Insight’s ‘Hottest Tech Nerds Under Thirty’ edition.”

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