When Elizabeta arrived back at the largest office, Janet was gone. There was no light shining under the door, so Elizabeta assumed that meant the boss was gone too. She grabbed hold of the door handle and horror sizzled through her as she realised it was locked. Henri Higgins must still be in there, although why he’d not have the lights on, she didn’t know.
Embarrassed, not wanting to be caught interrupting him, Elizabeta grabbed her trolley and started pushing it toward the elevators as fast as she could. A click, and a stream of light blazed onto her back and the floor around her. Caught.
Elizabeta stopped and was about to take a deep breath, turn around slowly and apologise profusely, when the owner and director of Higgins Publishing spoke.
“So, you are the one.”
Elizabeta spun around. He was silhouetted in the doorway, the light coming from behind him so she couldn’t see his face. “I beg your pardon?”
“Come in. We need to talk.” He turned and walked back into his office, leaving no doubt he expected her to obey.
A part of her didn’t want to. Her home life aside, Elizabeta liked to avoid confrontation if at all possible. But she needed this job, for Angie’s sake. Working at Higgins Publishing was teaching her a great deal about the industry Angie was going to work in. So Elizabeta left the cart in the middle of the polished corridor and went in.
She was surprised by the state of his office. Normally it was a whirlwind of creativity and ideas, every available surface and sometimes the floor covered in mock-ups and torn out pieces of paper and material and swatches of colour. Tonight every surface was neat, with not a skerrick of paper to be seen.
Henri Higgins leant against his desk, his arms folded over his chest. He was studying her, so she took the opportunity to do the same to him.
She knew he was in his early forties and had built this media empire from scratch. She knew he was a womaniser – she’d seen him put the moves on models downstairs countless times. She knew he was good-looking, but she hadn’t known his blue eyes could sear and make you feel like a little girl, or that his roughened cheeks looked good enough to touch. Arousal pulled at the back of her senses and she pushed it away. Yes, it had been a long time since she’d had sex and yes, she missed it, but that wasn’t a reason to start fantasising about her boss.
“You will do well.”
His second cryptic comment. When she focussed on his face, he was smiling. A satisfied smile. She didn’t like the tingles that ran over her body.
“You need to explain yourself, Mr Higgins.”
Henri nodded. “I’m sure I do. Take a seat.” He gestured to his lounge.
Elizabeta folded her arms across her chest. “I’d prefer to stand. Why am I the one? What will I do well with?”
“What is your name?” Henri walked around his desk and sat. She could now see from the light on his face that his computer was on.
“I need to Google you.”
“No, not until you explain.” Maybe this job wasn’t worth it.
Henri sighed. “Tell me, if you had to make a person instantly famous, what would you do?”
Ah, so he was caught up in some creative conundrum and wasn’t able to behave properly. She’d seen it often enough with Angie, although her daughter did have an additional reason for her rudeness that Henri Higgins didn’t have. But he had a problem, and he thought she could help him. This was familiar ground.
Elizabeta considered about all the starlets who had risen to fame in the public consciousness, and what had catapulted them there. “A sex tape seems to work.”
“Sex tape. Interesting.” He tapped on the keyboard. “But wouldn’t you say they require a certain level of fame prior in order for people to be interested?”
“I guess so. I know Paris Hilton had some presence. No idea about Kim Kardashian.”
“So it would probably work best in the second half of the week, after some fame has been created.” He scribbled a note on the pad next to his keyboard.
Second half of what week? “Why are you interested in how to make someone famous?” Was he looking to develop the company somehow?
Henri looked at her and again, smiled that satisfied smile. “I need you to help me win a bet.”
She put that, and what they had been talking about together, and recoiled. “I’m not making a sex tape with you.”
“Of course not. At least, not with me. With your husband, perhaps. And only if we think it’s the right way to go.”
Elizabeta didn’t know what hurt most – the vehemency of his repudiation of making a sex tape with her, or the mention of Alejandro. “I’m leaving.” She spun on her heel.
“Wait! You can’t. It has to be you.”
She spun back to find he’d come around the desk. “Or what, you’ll fire me? Well, I’ll save you the trouble. I quit.”
“No, it has to be you that helps me. That’s the deal. I have gone about this all wrong. Please, sit and let me explain everything from the beginning.”
He sounded contrite. Did she trust him? Elizabeta refolded her arms. “I’ll stand, you explain, and then I’ll decide whether to walk or not.”
Henri took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Elizabeta watched a mantle of confidence settle around him and wished she could do the same.
“I have this friend, and from time to time, in order to make life interesting, we place bets with each other. In this latest one, we need to find an ordinary person and see who can make them the most famous in one week. The person we choose has to be the first one we see after 8pm tonight – that’s you. We have a week to prepare. At 8pm next Wednesday, I start trying to make you famous. At the end of a week, our friends will judge whether you, or the one Mac has chosen, will be the most famous. That’s why I need to Google you, to make sure you don’t already have a level of fame. I think you’ll be perfect. The story of cleaner made good will attract a lot of people, and you’re beautiful, so it won’t be hard to convince people they want to pay attention to you. So there, that’s the whole story. Oh, except for one more thing: do this, and I will pay you fifty thousand dollars.”
The whole thing sounded ridiculous to Elizabeta, but she figured the rich had a different idea of fun to most people. The thought of getting 50 thousand dollars was enticing though. That would help a lot in setting up Angie’s business, and she would also be able to have some money put aside to support Nicky in his dream of going to university.
But what exactly would it involve? No way would she do a sex tape, for example. She had her children to think of.
“Tell me the details of how this will work,” she said.
Henri smiled, a big wolfish grin that suggested he believed he’d won. “You’ll need to take leave for a couple of weeks. Paid, of course, and not part of the 50k. We’ll work together. The first week is about planning, preparation. For example, I’ll get some of the model coaches to work with you on posture, presentation, that sort of thing. Over the course of the week, we’ll work out how the second week will run. Then we put the plan into action and by the end of the second week, hopefully you’ll be famous enough that your name will be part of popular consciousness. Your name being…”
“Elizabeta Flores.” Henri sat back at his computer. Googling her. Well, he’d find nothing. Not even the information about Alejandro’s death, because Flores was her maiden name. “I’m to work with you full time? 9 to 5?”
“The first week, yes. The second week I imagine the hours are going to be all over the place. There will probably be night events and maybe early morning things, to reach the US market. I don’t know. We’ll have to work that out. Well, you’re quite a clean-skin aren’t you? Facebook, no blog, no Twitter. Yes to LinkedIn. Oh…” He looked at her again and this time, his expression was appraising. “You’re the office manager of an accountancy firm as well as working as a cleaner here?”
“That’s right,” Elizabeta said.
Henri turned back to the computer. “Won an industry award for your work. Well, aren’t you the dark horse. Why are you working a second job as a cleaner?”
“I have reasons,” Elizabeta said. “None of which are your business.”
“If they are going to affect us working together…”
“All you need to know is that I have two children, and they are the reason I am here. That’s all I will say.” Elizabeta considered his offer. Gaining a modicum of fame could prove useful in establishing Angie’s business. As long as she didn’t do anything that would damage her reputation too much.
She did some quick mental calculations and settled on the amount she would accept. She didn’t present that amount to Henri Higgins however.
He leant back in his chair. “60.”
Okay, so he was prepared to negotiate. “95.”
He smiled. “Tough. 70.”
“90.” She was taking him exactly where she wanted.
Okay, maybe not exactly where she wanted. “89.”
He nodded. “I get it. All right. 80k. Final offer.”
The figure she’d arrived at in her head. “I won’t do a sex tape. Nothing that my kids will be ashamed of.”
“I’ll agree to that, but you have to agree not to fight everything I want you to do, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable.”
“I won’t model for your magazine.”
Henri’s eyes roved over her and Elizabeta fought to remain still. “Unfortunately, you can’t. I can’t use Higgins Publishing, nor any of my contacts in the industry, to make this happen.”
She could see now why it was causing him a problem. “Then it’s a deal.” She held out her hand.
Henri came forward and shook. His handshake was firm, but not overly aggressive. Good business handshake, she decided. “Excellent. Now, you need to get home and rest. I don’t want you working late. You will need to take leave from your other job.”
“I will.” They owed her enough leave, and Shin Yee, the receptionist, could run things in her absence.
“I’ll see you here at nine tomorrow morning and we’ll get started.”
Elizabeta nodded and walked out, hoping she hadn’t just made a terrible mistake.
He thought it was all a game…until he grew accustomed to her face.
Henri Higgins is bored by everything – his life, his work, even the models he regularly sees socially (and privately). So when a close friend suggests a high-stakes, friendly competition, a ‘fame’ game, Ree leaps at the opportunity for a little shake-up in his daily routine. The rules are simple: the competitors are to take the first person that they meet at a certain time and make them as famous as possible within two weeks.
But Ree doesn’t expect Elizabeta.
Elizabeta Flores del Fuego has a plan. An office manager by day, she moonlights at a number of creative Canberra businesses by night to learn all she can about the fashion industry and put her in the best place possible to help launch her beloved daughter, Angelina’s design career. Cleaning the office of Higgins Publishing is just one of those jobs, but when Henri Higgins offers her a week’s worth of work and a paycheque large enough to get Angelina Designs on its feet, it’s an offer she can’t refuse.
But Elizabeta doesn’t expect Ree, and neither expect the lessons in love they’re both about to learn.
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