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Beguiling the Boss

By:Joan Hohl

Beguiling the Boss
Joan Hohl

       One

Jennifer Dunning had always been indulged and she knew it. How could  she not? From the day of her birth she had been pampered and cooed over,  not only by her parents but by anyone and everyone who saw her. And  yet, as far as she could recall, she had never acted out or thrown  temper tantrums when she didn't get her way. She accepted a "no" as  final and quietly moved on.

But now she sat on her bed in her room, where she had been hiding for  the better part of the past two weeks, searching desperately on her  electric-blue laptop for her new life. It was time to leave her parents'  home in the exclusive gated community on the outskirts of Dallas. It  was time to leave her parents, period.

Jennifer was stunningly beautiful-she had been as a baby, and was even  more so at the age of twenty-eight. Tall and willowy with curves in all  the right places, she was blessed with long honey-blond hair, dark brown  eyes and classic features.

Jennifer was also restless, frustrated and edgy. She had quit her  high-paying job as a personal assistant to the CEO of a large company  two weeks ago. She was simply sick and tired of listening to the endless  daily pep rallies given by her boss-the son of the company owner-who  Jennifer considered unfit for the position he held. She was also tired  of him eyeing her up and down every time they happened to be in the same  room. He was a creep. So, deciding she had had enough, she had  resigned.

Jennifer didn't actually need to work. Her parents were wealthy and she  was their only child. She also had a large trust fund from her departed  fraternal grandmother, and a smaller one from her maternal grandfather,  who was still alive. But she liked working. She was intelligent, had a  bachelor's degree in science and an MBA, and she enjoyed keeping busy,  doing something useful. As a personal assistant, she'd been on her way  up the career ladder.

Besides, working was much more interesting than the Dallas social  scene. She found the scene boring, as well as pointless. As a youngster  she had enjoyed the dancing lessons her mother insisted upon, and she  also loved riding, after getting over the initial fear of her horse,  which was huge compared to her six-year-old frame. No small ponies for  her daughter, her mother had declared. Jennifer would attain her seat  while on the back of a full-size Thoroughbred. And she had. Her seat was  as elegant by the time she was eleven as that of any expert equestrian.

It was later, as she grew into her late teens, that Jennifer had become  tired of the social scene. Lunch with the girls every Wednesday,  listening to gossip she couldn't care less about-it had all started to  feel so frivolous, and Jennifer had big plans for herself. She'd been  preparing to go east, to the University of Pennsylvania and the Wharton  School of Business. Her friends all had plans to attend the same college  right there in Texas. In short, they were parting ways. But Jennifer  decided she'd bear the lunches and the silly talk, as she thought of it,  until the end of summer. Then she'd be on her own.

In contrast, her parents had been immersed in the social whirl all her  life, unfortunately. It wasn't that they were uncaring-Jennifer knew her  parents loved her. It was simply that they weren't there all that much.  As a kid, she spent most of her free time with the housekeeper, Ida,  who taught her how to clean, or with the cook, Tony, who practically  made her a professional chef. As it turned out, Jennifer loved doing  hard, honest work with her hands. It filled her with a purpose she  hadn't known she'd needed.

After Jennifer finished school, she came back to Dallas and lived in  her own apartment with a private entrance in her parents' house. She  could have invited anyone she wanted to her place, but she had never had  a man stay over. Not that her parents would have minded or objected.  She was an adult, after all. It was just that none of the men she knew  affected her that way.

Maybe because of what had happened during her junior year of high school.

She had never told her parents-or anyone else-about being caught alone  on campus by a boy. She'd been leaving school later than most of the  students following a meeting with her math teacher. It was January and  almost dark, and she was distracted by thoughts of her conversation with  the teacher. She wasn't fully alert while weaving through the rows of  vehicles in the parking lot as she headed for her car.

The boy was a senior-a clean-cut, all-American star football player.  Most of Jennifer's friends had crushes on him. Jennifer didn't, thinking  him too cocky and into himself. Perhaps that was the reason he had  accosted her that afternoon.

Trapping her between two parked cars, he fumbled with his pants zipper,  exposing himself to her. At first, she was too shocked to think. But  she came to her senses when he shoved his other hand up her skirt,  attempting to yank her panties off.                       
       
           



       

Frantic, Jennifer had let out an earsplitting scream. Although the  parking lot had appeared deserted, a male voice responded with a  shouted, "Hey, what the hell?"

Mr. All-American let loose a savage curse, snarling, "You better keep  your mouth shut about this, bitch." He sprinted away in the opposite  direction.

Without thinking, Jennifer ran to her car, even as she could hear the  man who had shouted running toward her. Her parents weren't home when  she arrived there, shaken and teary-eyed. Hearing the boy's snarled  threat echo in her mind, she had never told anyone of the incident.

Though Jennifer had been physically uninjured, the experience had left  her wary of the opposite sex. Over time her anxiety had faded as she  realized all males were not like Mr. All-American. She had even indulged  her curiosity one time while in college. Although she liked the young  man, the act was disappointing, leaving her feeling empty. And so, she  had never invited a man to spend the night.

Not that her parents would have noticed even if their daughter was  having a mad, passionate affair. They were busy socializing in Dallas  and in the exclusive gated community where they resided, changing  partners with their closest friends.

Yes, changing partners.

Jennifer had only recently found out about her parents' game. She  hadn't a clue how many friends there had been or how many years they had  been experimenting. In truth, she didn't want to know. She could barely  look at her parents' faces or be in their company for more than a few  minutes. Even though she knew her parents' lifestyle was their business,  she felt betrayed, as if they had been lying to her for years about who  they really were underneath the façade of "social appropriateness" and  their picture-perfect marriage. It made her want to do something to  shock them right back.

So she had resigned from her job the day after coming home from work  and catching a glimpse of her father and his best friend's wife, Annette  Terrell, in a compromising position in one room, and her mother and the  woman's husband, William, in a similar position in another.

Now, two weeks later, Jennifer knew she had to leave home, to take a  break until the hurt subsided. She could barely look at her parents  without feeling ill, and wanting to cry. She loved them, but what she  had witnessed had deeply shocked her. Perhaps someday, she would be able  to be in the company of her parents without that awful image tormenting  her. But that day had not yet arrived.

Alone in her bedroom, Jennifer sat cross-legged on her bed, her laptop  balanced on her knees. She was searching for escape, and employment, to  keep her mind occupied. In effect, she was intent on running away from  home...and her memories. It was time to stop living in a house of lies.

One week later, Jen left her parents a note. It read: I'm off to see  the Wizard-Marsh Grainger, that is, the famously elusive business wizard  of Dallas. It's about a new job. I'll be in touch.

* * *

She also emailed her best friends, whom she had met her first year in  college. They had remained close ever since, staying in touch mostly by  email, phone and texts. Although they all lived within driving distance,  they led busy lives-three of the women were married with children, and  the other two were busy chasing careers. Even so, "the gang" managed to  get together every couple of months.

Hi, all, she wrote them. I'm taking off for a while, will be in touch soon.

Jennifer knew the next time she checked her email, there would be long  messages from her friends, demanding to know exactly where she was and  what she was up to, but she just wasn't ready to talk about what had  happened. And she wasn't ready to tell them that she was interviewing  with Marshall Grainger, whom they knew had a reputation as a womanizer.

Her mother probably knew, too. She fully expected her mother to start  calling her cell phone as soon as she discovered that Jennifer was gone.  That was okay-her parents could call all they wanted. It didn't mean  she had to answer. After all, even she couldn't entirely explain why  Marsh Grainger's ad for an office assistant had appealed to her. But she  needed space and distance-and she was pretty sure the wizard, who was  rumored to prefer his hill country ranch to the craziness of high  society in Dallas, could help her with that.

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