The Wife, The Mom, The Boss
Alice & Candice
The elevator opened to the sterile entrance hallway leading to Alice and Damon Monroe’s penthouse home. Not the first time Candice had been welcomed into the home that was large enough to house four small families instead of one… small family. At least this time she wasn’t escorted by a man from security who looked like he wanted to put her into a chokehold when it was most convenient for him.
I will never, ever get used to her new lifestyle. A year and a half ago, Alice Culver was Candice’s roommate and best friend. She flitted from one hospitality job to the next, until she finally landed the golden crown of all hospitality jobs at The Dark Hour, owned by her now-husband Damon Monroe. The way Alice told it, her future husband seduced her on her first night at work, and the rest was history.
Candice could never keep up with the story, anyway. She needed her best friend (they were still best friends, right?) to get to work on that memoir detailing her hyperspeed rise into one of corporate America’s most troubled – and richest – families.
“Welcome,” a woman in a conservative black dress said at the end of the hall. She extended an embossed guest book to Candice, who had schlepped her way over on her lunch break. Star Studded Studios wouldn’t care if their #1 director’s assistant was a little late back to the porn set, right? Because Candice would take lunch with her best friend’s French chef over watching a professional couple get it on for the fifth time that day. Had to get out of there before the smell killed me…
Alice’s penthouse smelled great. Like pumpkin spiced… Lysol. Yeah, Lysol.
Candice’s friend had always been on the neater side. They often joked that it was the staunch Virgo within her. Neat. Clean. Fastidious to a fault. Yet Alice’s room in the apartment they once shared had its fair share of clutter and always smelled like Bath & Body Works products that Alice occasionally splurged on. Seeing her go from that to a professionally decorated mini-mansion on top of a skyscraper was more than a bit off-putting. On top of shotgun marrying a hardass billionaire who was obsessed with having kids (or so it always sounded to Candice whenever Alice talked about the plans for a few rugrats), Alice had become a major shareholder in Monroe Industries and the head of its Culver Hospitality Holdings subdivision. Within a few months, Alice Monroe had gone from being a waitress fired on her first night to owning The Dark Hour.
It only made her a little imposing now.
“Right this way, please.” The housekeeper opened the double doors leading into the penthouse. Candice covertly wiped her boots on a mat before bounding inside.
Modern opulence smacked Candice in the face before she saw Alice getting up from one of five leather sectionals in the living room. “Hey!” she greeted, coming to meet Candice by a tea table covered in crystals.
“Hi.” It didn’t matter how friendly Alice was in this place. She could even wear those pink shorts and that white T-shirt. But it didn’t negate that Alice looked the part of an expensive matriarch at home in her castle.
“So glad you could make it today! I wasn’t sure if I would get the day off. Some guy in Atlanta wants… oh, never mind. How are you doing? Still working on the porn sets?”
“Yup.” The housekeeper attempted to stealthily take Candice’s backpack. Hell, no! That’s got the script of ‘Hot & Bothered’ in it! “Still taking over half the cafes in the city?”
“Only the ones looking to sell. Opal’s Café is putting up a helluva fight, though. But I’ll get through to them eventually.” Alice gestured to the array of sofas on the other side of the room. “Come have a seat! You’ve gotta see these flowers Damon got me for my birthday.”
“Wow.” Candice sank on the far corner of one of the leather sofas. It was so damn soft and comfortable that she wondered if it was made of massaged cows from Kobe. “I didn’t know you could get green roses.” They were interspersed with the bright pink kind Candice often saw in the supermarkets and corner florist shops. Except those didn’t look half as vibrant and healthy.
Alice bent down to smell one of them. “They’re dyed white roses.”
“Really? Do they dip them in dye? I think I’ve seen that before.”
“Pretty sure this company actually injects them with dye so it can’t wash off.”
“Injections? Wow.” It was one thing when gifts like these came to the apartment. Back then, they were silly luxuries from another world that stopped by theirs for a little while. Something they could admire before going back to their microwaved popcorn and going down to the basement to fetch their laundry. Now? Alice was a part of that world. She was surrounded by it every day. How could Candice ever compete with that as a simple laywoman?
“Uh oh.” Alice turned around the moment a whimper peppered the air. “We woke somebody up, didn’t we?”
Candice forgot her insecurities the moment one of her favorite people was picked up out of her cozy bassinet. Alice hoisted her four-month-old baby over her shoulder and patted her back in a vain effort to get her to stop crying. “Everything okay?” Of course baby Clarise was okay. Why wouldn’t she be? She had the best care in the world! “Where’s the nanny?” Weren’t there two of them? Including one that actually lived in the penthouse with the rest of the Monroes?
“I gave her the day off and told her that if she didn’t get out of this house and leave us be that I would personally drive her to meet her friends by the marina.” Alice cradled her daughter. That head of black hair didn’t look anything like Alice’s, but Candice had seen the father enough times to know where both it and the amber eyes came from. Damon Monroe was one huge dominant gene, and Alice would be lucky if one of their kids turned out blond. “Sometimes I just wanna be alone. With the kid, obviously. But one day she’ll be old enough to leave me alone too!”
Candice accepted the offer to hold the little girl in her arms. I love babies. I especially love babies that aren’t mine! After cooing and giggling at the scrunched up face before her eyes, Candice said, “By that time you’ll have another baby on your hip. Or five.”
“We’ll see. I’m in no hurry to try for number two, yet. Of course, if my husband had his way, we’d be growing our next child in a lab somewhere since I’m not in the mood to be pregnant again for at least another year.”
What a weirdo. Candice didn’t distrust her friend’s husband, but he was weird and obsessive. Then again, that described most of the absurdly rich people she knew through work and Alice.
“Meanwhile, I’m struggling to find a date anywhere.”
“I’m sure it ain’t that bad. You’re a busy girl!”
“Nowhere near as busy as you!”
“I also get little to no sleep. Even with assistants and a nanny to take care of her at night, I still lay awake at night wondering if everything is going to collapse around me.”
Alice shrugged. “You know how it is. When you come from nothing, you know how easy it is to end up there again.”
“Even if Damon divorced you, I’m sure you would be set for life. The company and alimony alone…”
“That’s not what I mean. What I mean is…” Alice sighed. “It doesn’t have to make sense, you know?
Come on.” She took Clarise back and placed her into her bassinet. The fussy baby went back to sleep. “I’ve got lunch ready for us in the other room!”
Candice had been looking forward to another lunch prepared by the Monroes’ professional chef. The man knew how to make French food somewhat appealing to Candice’s blandly American yet curious palate.
It was not French food in the other room. In fact, the chef was given the day off too.
Instead, a small table by the window (and the huge TV screen ready to play the latest Game of Thrones spoilers) was bedecked in the pizza and Chinese food samplers the girls used to indulge in when they lived together in a cramped two-bedroom apartment.
Candice was so excited that she could cry. Sometimes she forgot that her best friend hadn’t really changed at all. Motherhood, married life, and being in charge of a large corporation hadn’t destroyed the silly twenty-year-old still lurking in that lithe body.
It gave Candice hope that they could still be friends many years from now, no matter what happened.