I also needed to calm down about the way he’d brought up Portia, and then slinked off into the other room to take her call. To be honest, my brain actually stuttered more on that last one and I searched wildly in my thoughts to explain it away. He’d only been with one person, and married to her for over a decade. Of course it would be weird, right?
Pippa met me in the hall with wide eyes that scanned me from head to toe before saying, “Here,” and handing me her cup of coffee.
“Well, that answers that,” I said, continuing on to our shared desk and setting down the coffee. “Thanks for this.”
Pippa nodded and took the chair opposite me. “Everything going okay?”
I nodded as I slipped out of my coat. “Yeah everything’s fine.” I looked up to see the message indicator light blinking on my phone. Picking it up, I punched in my pin and then covered the speaker, telling her, “It’s not even nine and today has done a lot. I just had a mental meltdown so epic it was like something out of a bad sitcom . . .” I paused, listening to the message and then swearing as I hung up the phone. “Anthony wants to see me as soon as I get in. Shit. Why is he here so early?”
“It can’t be that bad. I saw the email congratulating the New York team. And that bridge redesign you worked up went off without a hitch. He probably just realized it’s still raining and hasn’t seen you in that top before.” She grinned and rolled her eyes. “Hoping for a little wet T-shirt action, if you know what I mean.”
“Gross,” I said, dropping down into my chair. I reached into my bottom drawer for my cosmetics bag and emergency cardigan. “Okay, I’m going to clean up a little and then get this over with.”
“Go get ’em,” she said.
“You wanted to see me?” I asked, peering in through Anthony’s door.
He’d been arranging something near the bookcase, and turned to look at me. “Miss Miller, yes. Come in.”
I stepped inside the office and he added, “Close the door, please.”
I did as he said and crossed the room to stand in front of his desk, stopping just on the other side of the extra chair. “Yes, sir?” I asked, the sentiment setting off a shudder down my spine.
“I need to talk to you about something very serious, I’m afraid.” He pushed a heavy, leather-bound volume back onto the shelf and crossed to the desk. “You have a bit of a choice to make here.”
I’d seen Anthony like this before: serious in an oddly coy way, trying to get me to draw the answer out of him.
I stood across from him, smiling. “What is it, Anthony?”
He looked up at me, eyes narrowed. “ ‘Mr. Smith’ is probably best.”
I choked on the words I wanted to say, On my first day here you stared at my tits and told me to call you Anthony, but instead said, “Sorry. Um, Mr. Smith.”
Anthony unfastened the buttons of his suit jacket and took his seat, pulling a stack of papers toward him, contracts that had been flagged with red and yellow tabs where he should sign. “Given your rather unprofessional behavior in New York and since . . .” he began and my stomach evaporated. “Rather, given your long-term fascination with a vice president of the firm and your recent pursuit of him—”
He flipped through some files, not even bothering to look up at me as he spoke. “I am required to ask you to either keep your relationship with Mr. Stella purely professional, or leave your internship with Richardson-Corbett.”
“What?” I gasped, lowering my shaking body into the chair across from him. “Why?”
“It is clear to several of us in management that you’ve behaved unprofessionally,” he said, reaching for a pen. “You’ve been distracted, and your efforts have been mediocre at best. Beyond that, I needn’t elaborate.”
Fair, I almost said it, but snapped my mouth shut tight. I wouldn’t add behaving like an adolescent to my growing list of transgressions.
Trying again, I said, “Would you please explain why on earth this has been a topic of discussion beyond just between myself and Mr. Stella? We haven’t broken any rules!”
“Miss Miller, please do not presume you have the right to question any decision I make regarding this firm, and whom I choose to employ.” He scribbled a signature across a page and the sound was enough to put my nerves on edge. “As an intern, you qualify as a temporary worker in the UK, and therefore I am not obligated to explain anything to you. But seeing as you’re young”—and there was that thing he did, where he packed a gut punch worth of insult into a single word—“I hope this might be an opportunity for growth. Your conduct of late, though not necessarily qualifying as gross misconduct, has been lacking. Having had this latest . . . distraction with a vice president of the firm brought to my attention—”
“I haven’t done anything wrong,” I repeated. “Not smart, I’ll admit. But not outright against the rules. I do not report to Niall.”
“Niall,” he repeated, smiling down at his papers. “Yes. Well, regardless, this is the type of situation that has a tendency to run away from all of us, and we in management think it best if you end your relationship, or forfeit your internship.”