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“A wonderful debut about dating, marriage, and family drama…”
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The Best-Kept Secret
A bright talent in fiction returns with a novel filled with smarts, sass, and sex.

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First Fridays

Excerpt



“He is such an ass!” I yelled in a whisper to my best friend over the phone. “I don’t think it’s even possible for anybody to be any more stupid than he is.” I clicked ALT + TAB on my work computer to quickly change the screen from the company document to the draft of my personal entrepreneurial plan for my own business—an Internet café. I peeped over my shoulder to view the doorway to my office. “I’m just going to put up with his crap for nine more months, then, in September, I’m out of here. I already have my resignation letter cued up and ready to be printed.”

“Don’t you think you should hold it down, Naja? Somebody could be listening. The situation seems tense over there. Anybody could be snooping to get a tidbit of info to bust you.” Vlora’s usually serene voice was frantic. “Or your phone could be tapped or something.”

“Screw them. I’m not worried about any of the idiots that work here, either.” I said that with confidence because Formix was a small company, and I knew they weren’t up to date on employee spy technology like many of the larger companies. If they were, I probably would have been fired a long time ago. “They’re all walking zombies around here. Ass-kissers.”

“Like you said though, you want to work nine more months before you can strike out on your own, so you need to chill. Don’t get so antsy like you usually do.”

I smacked my lips into the phone. “Mr. Benton can kiss my ass. He’s a joke, and so is this job. All he has is a title and a little bit of power, and the only thing he does is try to make the rest of us fear him. He’s obviously suffering from preemie penis syndrome.”
I looked out of my office window at the St. Louis snow that was starting to stick to the sidewalks. Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved fresh fallen snow, and I still get that giddiness that I did back then. Feel like I just want to call it a day and go outside to make snow angels.

I snapped myself out of my two-second trance. “Every day he insists on sending his little assistant around at whatever time of day to summon me to his office, where I’m to give him a rundown of what I’m doing. Fiber optics is not that interesting, and it’s not like this job is challenging anymore. I’ve lost more than half of my subordinates, and I can manage them all in about three hours throughout the day. I spend the rest of the day working on my business plan and searching the Internet. And they’re still praising me and telling me what a wonderful job I’m doing.” I reached for my sandwich, which sat on top of a pile of desk clutter, and took a bite. I ran my hand over the pooch of my stomach.

“I hate micromanagement. That’s why I can’t wait to me my own boss. I’ve been want to do this for years.” I pulled the phone away from my ear and peeped over my shoulder again. The sound of footsteps and rustling papers signaled me and in one swift movement, I changed my computer screen back to a work-related document just as Mr. Benton passed my office door. His toupee lay firm as he looked up from the documents in his hands and pressed on a fake smile as he passed. I nodded my head, but didn’t return the smile. I clicked the keys again to return the computer screen to my plan and put the phone back up to my ear to a still-talking Vlora.

“So are you going it alone, or are you getting partners?”

“I still want to get partners, but I haven’t had time to network.” I searched for my water bottle and finally found it behind a stack of folders.

“You should come on out to First Fridays this week and network with people there. You might find potentials. This month, it’s going to be right downtown where you are. At the Vanguard Lofts.” The should of ice rattling from a coup to her mouth came through over the phone. She chomped.

For months, Vlora has been trying to get me to go with her to these monthly First Fridays events. But the last place I wanted to be was in a room full of stuffy suits with people talking over my head about financial matters, the trade deficit, or the global economy. As it was, I’d been working on my business plan for five months now, and I was using Business Plans for Dummies as my reference guide. Even still, I was feeling befuddled.

“I don’t think I’m ready for that.”

Vlora laughed. “What’s to be ready for? What do you think it is?”

“I don’t think I’ll be able to hang. I’m not up on any financial terms, and I can’t discuss any details about financial matters beyond savings, mutual funds, or a 401(k). I haven’t acquired a taste for caviar or Brie. And I really don’t think I can stand a whole night of MBAs and overachievers. I’d be bored out of my mind, listening to elevator music or Beethoven or something.”

Vlora continued to laugh. “See, that’s the main reason you need to go. You don’t even know what you’re talking about. First Fridays is nothing like that. You’ve been watching too many…well, based on that description, I don’t know what the hell you’ve been watching.”

“Yeah, that’s what you say,” I replied.

“The people who go to First Fridays are just like you. You got your management types, lay workers, business owners, political figures, athletes…it’s a mixture of people, and it’s all about networking and professional presentations. And then you can get your party on afterward.”

“Oh, yeah. Partying with a bunch of overachievers. Sounds like…fun.”

“Don’t let the suits fool you. It can get wild up in there. You should bring Allie. You know how she likes to party.”

“Yeah. My little sister is always down for a party. But she’ll have to find a babysitter.”

“Oh, you know she’ll find a babysitter. Allie’s not missing any parties.” She blew a short breath, and I could feel her smirking through the phone. “And I can help you find a man, too. Now I’ll admit, you really do have to look beyond the glitter to find a gem, because everybody will be blinging. Fake bling. But the gems are there, and you need one. Maybe then you wouldn’t be so uptight. You need to be stretched out a little, if you know what I mean.”

We both laughed. Vlora knew that the last thing I was looking for was a man, yet she kept trying to find one for me—something she’d done ever since we met in college at St. Louis University.

But doing research and planning for a business were taking countless hours of my time, and I had nothing left to devote to a relationship. The last thing I needed was some man getting on my nerves and throwing me off track from my goals.