Our Options Have Changed

By: Julia Kent & Elisa Reed

On Hold Series Book #1



Acknowledgments





To Elisa, who came to me with this idea and all it took was pixie dust and cat herding to make it happen. Note: I am the cat. Meow.

To my husband, who reads all my books first and declared this one "the best book ever." But he says that about all of them, so I am suspicious, though grateful. I think he has an agenda.

To unnamed people who helped with the adoption issues that arise in this book. This is a sensitive topic, and I hope we've addressed it with grace.

To all the people who decide to be an adult, even when it's not fun. You deserve to be acknowledged.



-- JK



To Julia, for making my dream come true. Most. Fun. Job. Ever.

To every reader with a dream, never give up.

To my 'booster rocket,' never fall away.



-- ER





Chapter 1





Chloe



My desk at work is one smooth sheet of inch-thick glass. It’s called a waterfall. It’s utterly simple and uncomplicated, and every night when I leave my office, I leave that surface perfectly clear. Free of stress.

Gleaming.

So when I walk in this morning and see what appears to be a bound report lying open on my otherwise beautifully empty desktop, I am not happy.

There goes my chi. And it’s only seven a.m.

I can tell from across the room that the page has been highlighted in a shade of day-glo pink so bright it hurts my eyes.

It still hurts my eyes.

Whatever this document is, someone has helpfully previewed the contents for me.

I stow my tote bag in the closet, pulling out my laptop, cell phone, and my heels.

I push my empty cardboard container of coffee far down in the small rattan wastebasket. At O, the women’s spa (and so much more) where I am director of design, visual clutter is not in keeping with corporate standards. My next coffee this morning will be sipped from company china: a white mug outlined with a pale grey rim. O.

Just…O.

Sitting in my chair, I squint at the alarmingly pink page. It’s the color of Pepto-Bismol. I doubt that’s a coincidence.

Access: The Consolidated Evalu-shop team conducted its initial assessment of O’s flagship location in downtown Boston at 11:30 am on a weekday. As our vehicle approached the retail shop, it became apparent that neither street parking spaces nor garage facilities were available within an easy walk of the entrance. Investigators were forced to park two blocks away in a metered space requiring $2 in quarters for two hours, with no refill option after time expired. Grade: C.

Recommendation: Complimentary valet parking service should be instituted at the door immediately.

Sigh.

Okay, the good news: Operations at O are not my area of responsibility. The not-so-good news: Presentation is. Once you enter our door, if you can see it, I am responsible for it. And now it seems that my spa—my career baby—has been deemed average.

Average. Grade C. Middle of the bell curve.

I flip quickly to Section 3 and skim down the page. Thankfully, no highlighter. I can open my eyes. A random paragraph reads:

Staff Attire: Servers (Male) Our team unanimously awarded very high marks in this area. The male thongs were clearly custom-made, and without exception, well-fitting. They were constructed in such a way as to reveal the positive attributes of each server, at the same time leaving the most intimate details to the club member’s imagination until intentionally revealed. The servers’ short kimono jackets were chic and serviceable; the motion of the fabric and open style of the jacket captured and held the viewer’s interest. Very high-quality materials. Grade: A

Great. Let’s translate this, shall we? The nearly-naked men get an A, the facilities get a C. Sex sells. Parking doesn’t.

And there’s more. Over one hundred pages more.

We’ve been mystery-shopped.

Being the subject of a mystery shop evaluation is like standing naked in front of your future in-laws with your credit report taped all over your body and lie-detector tests from all your exes being read over an intercom. In the middle of church.

While standing in a pool of sharks.

Or maybe it just seems that bad. I’m not sure. But I do know there’s no way I can read this much pink without more coffee.

And some Xanax-flavored creamer.

A C? I’m that kid who never earned a C in her life. Failure starts with C!

Okay, so, technically it starts with F, and right now, another word that starts with F is coming out of my mouth as I read this secret shopper evaluation that is longer than my college senior honors thesis.

I live for O.

Don’t misunderstand. You’ve heard of O, right?

We’ve been written up in every lifestyle publication from A to Z. Boston trendsetter Jessica Coffin Instagrams about us regularly—although I’m never quite sure whether she’s being sincere or snarky, and sometimes I suspect she’s on retainer. This is from yesterday’s feed from Jessica: Standing O.

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