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Chasing Vivi

By:A.M. Hargrove

Chapter 1


Even though it's only October, the frigid New York air razors straight  through my coat, chilling me down to the marrow. No matter how many  layers I add, it never keeps the wind and dampness at bay. I'm already  sick of this weather and winter hasn't even hit yet. Why the hell did I  decide to make a new life here? Why not Texas or South Carolina? Or  anywhere with year-round warmth? I walk the rest of the way to work,  huddled deep into my coat.

And speaking of work, my job sucks. My boss is a deceitful bastard. When  I interviewed for the position, he made it sound as though I'd be in  charge of IT and the business was on the cusp of exploding. I foolishly  believed him. My lack of research into Java Beans & More, which is  nothing more than a glorified coffee house, should've had me tying up my  running shoes and hightailing it out faster than a space shuttle at  launch, but every ounce of energy had evaporated from me after Mom's  death. Cleaning out the house, putting it up for sale, and taking that  huge loss, had zapped me. That and the mountain of debt I was currently  facing, which was why I snapped up this job, thinking it was a great  opportunity.

Breaking away from Virginia, getting a fresh start, and making a new  name for myself initially had me pretty damn excited about moving to the  Big Apple. It hadn't mattered then that I'd be living in a space not  much larger than a closet, cooking on a portable countertop burner and  microwave, and using a space heater to keep warm, because my fucking  landlord would turn out to be a crook. I also hadn't cared much that  there were sketchy people hanging out in the building and on the  stairways at all times of day and night, making drug deals or  prostituting themselves. Okay, maybe I did care a little. Make that a  lot. But I'd hurry past them, telling myself it was fine. Thankfully,  they didn't bother me much after I made it plain I wanted nothing to do  with them. Now, I wanted to beat myself over the head. I should've been  more diligent when the offer came through, instead of leaping at it like  a yapping puppy in search of attention.

The bell rings as I push the door open. Vince's cheerful greeting has me  waving back, even though I'm still shivering and hunkered down in my  jacket.

"You in there, Vivi?" I hear him laughing from behind the counter.

"Y-yeah." My teeth chatter from the cold.

"You need a warmer coat. Like one of those Canada goose coats."

"Ha-ha, aren't y-you th-the f-funny one? Th-they o-only c-cost a w-week's s-salary."

"Not quite, but close. Maybe you need some fat on your bones. That'd warm you up."

If only he knew. I'd spent most of my life trying to get rid of extra  fat. Of expunging those nasty ViviVoom comments in my head from  Crestview Academy. Girls are so fucking mean. No wonder it was always  difficult for me to develop deep friendships. Trust didn't come easy  because of what I'd been through. Being called "ViviVoom" for six years  of my life was the least of it.

"Nah, I just need thicker blood," I call out to Vince.

Rubbing my hands together, I hug myself for a few minutes, trying to  warm up. Then I unwrap the scarf from around my neck and face, but  refuse to take my coat off. "Was the early morning busy?"

Vince, who is tall and lean with sandy brown hair and hazel eyes,  glances at the coffee cup clock on the wall. "Uh-huh. We're in the lull  now. But it'll perk back up in about ten minutes or so."

"Good. I'll get to work then."

I'm upgrading the software in all eight shops and integrating everything  into one system. Whoever originally set them up was an idiot. Each shop  had its own package and nothing synced. It was a nightmare. I designed a  new program for the company and am now in the implementation stage. I  get seated at the other computer stationed at the counter.

This is a far cry from my days in the Silicon Valley when I worked my  dream job. And this was supposed to be its replacement. What a joke.  Then I think about Mom and how I spent her final years taking care of  her. Yeah, I gave up my career, but I wouldn't have traded that time  with her for anything in the world. When her diagnosis of ALS came, it  mowed me down like a tank, exactly like Dad's death in the car accident  did when I was twelve. After she died, I sold everything and decided to  start over. Make a clean slate. That's how I ended up in New York. I'm  still facing a mountain of debt, and this job was supposed to be a  stepping stone to get rid of it, but I can see now it's not working out  that way.

"How do you like working for Joe?" Vince asks out of the blue, breaking the silence.         



I hedge, answering, "Why do you want to know?" I can't tell him the truth. Joe is a fucking lying pervert asshole.

"Just wondering. You seem to have your shit together. I'd think someone of your caliber would be working for a bigger company."

Me too, I want to say. But I never talk about my personal life with  anyone. Even though Vince is a nice guy, he's young, only twenty-three,  and I don't trust him. I remember when I was his age, only a few years  ago, but it seems a lifetime ago. He might get drunk and run his mouth  to his buddies about how I thought our boss was a dickface. And there's  no way I'm going to dump my shitload of issues on his shoulders either.

"Thanks. I do have my shit together. This job presents a challenge,  which is why I'm here." It's a bullshit answer, but I go back to  working, hoping it suffices. I'm busy, my nose buried in the screen,  keyboarding away, when the bell rings at least a dozen times, but I  ignore it.

Vince interrupts me, asking if he can log on. Without breaking  concentration, I tell him to go ahead and keep working. I'm on the back  end of the program, so it won't affect anything he's doing.

Reaching over with my left hand to grab my coffee, I accidentally knock  my cup over, creating an epic mess. I scramble to clean it up. When I  finally glance up in search of more napkins to mop up the spill, I'm  staring into the most gorgeous set of golden eyes, the exact ones I'd  always dreamed about, the ones that made me do things at Crestview I  told myself I didn't agree with.

Standing before me is Prescott Beckham-the boy of my teenaged fantasies.  He sat next to me in a lot of classes. We ended up as lab partners in  chemistry and that was when he proposed the deal. Could I please, oh  please, with hot fudge on top help him out with his homework? At first, I  didn't respond, but then he said he'd pay me. That grabbed my  attention. I was desperate, broke, and didn't have an extra penny to  spend.

"I know you don't have any cash. I've watched you at lunch. You eat  cheap junk. Not even high dollar stuff. You like Oreos, but you eat  those shitty fake kind. I'll pay you. I have a lot of money, Vivi.  Please?"

And those damn eyes. Oh, God, his gold-hued irises nearly buckled my  knees. I caved and said I'd do it. But I made it clear it was only for  the money, not because he'd asked nicely or I agreed with it. The truth  was, the money was great, but I would've done it for free. He was that  kind of guy-so persuasive, so difficult to say no to, so everything. Not  to mention I was secretly in love with him.

I often dreamed about how one day he'd announce to the world that he  didn't mind that I was fat and unpopular, that he'd fallen for me  anyway-me, in my too-tight skirt wrapped around my pudgy thighs, which  certainly rubbed together. Why? Why did I torture myself like that? Why  did I let myself believe a guy like him could fall for a girl like me?

Now, here he is in the flesh, all six plus feet of tall, dark, and  insanely sexy. And it pisses me off that someone can look so damn  edible. Dressed to kill, he's wearing a lovely black coat, which I'm  sure is toasty warm and probably cashmere. Peeking from beneath it is a  crisp white shirt and striped blue tie. He's come a long way from his  Crestview uniform.

"Vivi? Vivienne Renard?" He squints. It's the same face he sees but  definitely not close to the same body. This is a common reaction with  people I run into who only knew me in my school days. I'm sure he still  pictures me in that old pleated skirt where I looked like I swallowed a  gigantic balloon. I hated those awful uniforms.

My face remains impassive, or I hope it does, as I answer. "Um, yes?"

Maybe if I pretend not to remember him, he'll go away.

"It's me, Vivi. Prescott. Prescott Beckham. From Crestview."

Dammit. Well, it was worth a try.

"Oh, right! Hi! How are you?"

"Fine, but wow. You look  …  amazing."

And then I really study him for the first time. He doesn't look so good.  Okay, that's not quite true. He's gorgeous. He just doesn't look as  good as he used to. He looks  …  rough. That's it. Prescott, who was  always perfectly put together, is rough and edgy. The years seem to have  taken a bit of a toll on him.

"Thanks." I jerk my gaze away from him, because suddenly I'm  uncomfortable. I don't want to talk about anything to do with my  personal life and I have a feeling that's what's coming.