Brisk October air swept through the New York City subway
station. People hurried on and off the subway trains to get to
their destinations. The cool morning temperature forced many
of the travelers to hold their coats closer to their bodies or tighten up
their scarves, but nothing slowed them down. New York and its
inhabitants didn’t slow down for much of anything, a lesson that
Charlie Moreau learned very quickly when she’d moved to the city
more than five years ago.
Charlie came from Belmont, North Carolina, a small town where
everyone knew everyone and secrets didn’t stay secrets for long.
Mostly everyone who lived in Belmont never left, whereas Charlie
couldn’t wait to get out and had no plans of going back, unless it was
for a visit.
As Charlie made her way up the stairs of the subway station and
out onto the sidewalk, she quickly shoved her hands into her jacket
pockets before the cold could do any damage. It wasn’t even eight in
the morning and the streets were already bustling. Charlie loved how
alive New York was no matter the time of the day; nothing could
compare to it.
She hurried into The Grind, a small coffee shop she visited
almost every morning before going to work.
“Good morning, Louise,” Charlie said as she approached the
counter. The petite, elderly woman greeted her with a warm smile.
“Good morning, Charlie. Chilly out there today, isn’t it?”
“Yeah it is, but it’s supposed to warm up later.”
“Let’s hope so. Here’s your usual—large, non-fat latte with an
extra shot. I threw in a pumpkin muffin for you to taste,” Louise
said, handing her a small bag.
“You’re the best. How much do I owe you?”
“Three fifty. The muffin is on the house.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course, enjoy.”
Charlie slid a five-dollar bill across the counter and smiled as she
walked over to her usual table. She slipped off her leather jacket and
sat down. Taking her first sip of her coffee, she smiled. She loved
starting her morning with a cup of Louise’s coffee.
Louise and her husband, Marty, opened The Grind in 1972. It
had started out as just a coffee shop, but over the last several years
they had upgraded the menu to serving simple food items such as
soups, salads, sandwiches, and baked goods like muffins. From the
first moment Charlie walked through the door five years ago, she felt
She took another sip of coffee before pulling the muffin out of
the bag. She broke it in half and shoved a piece in her mouth. It was
perfect: moist, not overly spiced, and packed just the right amount of
When Charlie looked up, her best friend, Teddy, was walking
through the door.
“Woo! That cold air could chap even the most moisturized
skin!” he announced as he headed to the counter. “Good morning,
“You’re too sweet to me, Teddy.” Louise smiled as she handed
him his coffee in exchange for a few dollar bills.
Teddy joined Charlie at their table and quickly unknotted his
scarf before sitting down. “Nice jacket you’ve got there.”
“Thanks. It helps when your best friend works in fashion and
basically commands your wardrobe.”
“This is true.” Teddy grinned.
Teddy Owens worked at Bloomingdales as a personal shopper
and as an assistant stylist on the fashion catalog for the store, but he
longed to have his own fashion line like his idol, Michael Kors. With
his talent, Charlie had no doubt that Teddy would one day be a
household name. All he needed was someone to give him the
opportunity to show his designs and the rest would fall into place.
Like so many people in New York, talent wasn’t really the issue: it
was being at the right place at the right time and finding the right
Not only did Teddy design beautiful clothes, but he was also beautiful to look at. His light brown hair was perfectly styled, his skin
was flawless, and his baby blue eyes sparkled. Teddy kept in great
shape and at almost six foot three, he could’ve easily been a fashion
model for any magazine. Today he wore gray trousers, a crisp white
button-down shirt, and a gray blazer with white and gray piping
around the collar and cuffs.
They met right after she moved to New York. Charlie was on
the bus when Teddy got on and took the seat right next to her. She
immediately noticed his snakeskin loafers and thought he had a cool
sense of style. He took one look at her faded denim shorts, T-shirt,
and flip-flops and said, “What country town did you roll in from?”
Charlie was stunned, but there was something in his eyes that made
her feel comfortable talking to him. As soon as she told him where
she was from, he happily welcomed her to Paradise, as he referred to
New York. He offered to act as her personal tour guide, and at first
Charlie was a little hesitant to accept help from a stranger, but she
trusted her gut and her gut told her that Teddy was a good guy.
Over the past five years, they’d become like two peas in a pod.
She couldn’t imagine life in New York without him. Teddy was
Charlie’s family away from home and she was his.
Charlie slid the other half of her muffin across the table.
“That had better be non-fat,” Teddy said.
“It’s not, but it’s from Louise, so eat it and we’ll do extra cardio
at the gym tonight.”
Teddy sighed and took a bite. “Wow, that’s an addiction waiting
She chuckled as she took another bite of her half.
“We can’t go to the gym tonight. We’re going to the opening for
Clove,” Teddy reminded her.
“Oh, that’s right.” Clove was a new bar that was opening in
Murray Hill near where Charlie lived. Their main attraction was their
“It’s going to be a perfect night for a rooftop party,” he
“Yeah, a toasty fifty degrees,” Charlie laughed.
“That Southern blood of yours still can’t handle the cold.”
She stuck her tongue out at Teddy before taking a sip of her
coffee. “Forget the weather. Do you know anyone who can get us
“His name is Kevin, and he’s a bartender trying to pay his way
through law school. He’s gorgeous, charming, the usual bartender
type. We met a few weeks ago when he was trying to pick out an
outfit for a job interview.”
“Naturally you helped him?”
“Well, if he’s smart, he’ll snatch you right up.” Charlie smiled at
“I guess we’ll find out.”
Teddy was the type who never committed to anyone. Rather
than get sucked into a relationship, he claimed he was only looking to
have fun, but Charlie knew he was just trying to protect his heart.
“How’s everything at wedding central?”
She rolled her eyes. Her oldest brother, Jason, was getting
married in the spring and her mother wouldn’t stop harping on the
fact that Charlie didn’t have a plus-one. Teddy was getting his own
invitation, so he wasn’t an option. “Last night my mother told me she
could fix me up with her friend’s nephew. I told her to forget it.”
“Maybe he’s a nice guy?”
“The last time she set me up, the guy spent the whole dinner
talking about himself and then flirted with the waitress right in front
“Okay, so he was a jerk, but it wouldn’t kill you to put yourself
out there more.”
Teddy held up his hand to cut her off. “Your problem is you fail
to recognize how gorgeous you are. You’re five foot ten—which is
model height by the way—you’ve got a great rack, you’re naturally
thin, your skin has the ‘I’m from the south so I always look tan’ glow,
that wavy, jet-black hair of yours makes you look like you’re from a
tropical island, and combined with those blue eyes—you’re a knock
out. Instead of working it, you try to pretend like you’re ordinary.
Honey, I hate to burst your bubble, but you are most certainly not
Charlie had never thought of herself as pretty, let alone
gorgeous. She’d always been the tall, awkward girl with glasses and
her nose stuck in a book. Maintaining a low profile while she was in
school, she’d mainly hung around with her best friend since
kindergarten, Tess Carmichael, but unless someone had associated her with her brothers she’d been relatively unnoticed.
Jason, the oldest, was a star athlete. He excelled at just about any
sport he played, but football had always been his passion. He had
received dozens of scholarship offers for college and had ended up
choosing the University of Tennessee. After college, he went right
into the NFL draft and with a little bit of luck, was selected by their
hometown team, the Carolina Panthers. Six years later, he was still
playing for the Panthers and was having one of the best seasons of
Danny was also good at sports, but he wasn’t as dedicated to it
as Jason was. He preferred building things. He’d attended Georgia
Tech, where he’d studied architectural design. He now owned his
own company that he operated out of Charlotte.
Charlie had always focused heavily on her schoolwork in high
school, and soon received her own scholarship offers. Once she was
at Duke, she had focused on her dream to become a writer or editor
for a big-time magazine. She had been content to stick to her
bookworm, shy girl ways, but her roommate had been able to get her
to break out of her shell somewhat, convincing her to ditch her
glasses for contacts and wear a little bit of makeup.
However, it was Teddy who had revamped Charlie’s look. He’d
taught her how to do her hair and makeup, he’d shown her the types
of clothes that would accentuate her figure rather than hide it, and
he’d given her a crash course on grooming habits such as manicures,
pedicures, waxing, and even working out. Despite the new clothes
and better overall appearance, most days Charlie still felt like the
awkward, nerdy girl she’d always been.
Guys had always overlooked her, which had left her feeling like
that was the way it was supposed to be. She had made the terrible
mistake of believing that one of the most popular guys in high
school, Will Russo, actually liked her after they were paired together
for a school project, but that had turned out to be a cruel joke. After
that, she swore she would never open herself up to that kind of hurt
ever again, so she kept herself relatively closed off when it came to
Her most serious relationship had been during her junior year of
college. She’d gone on a bunch of dates with a guy in her
communications class, and one night after returning from a movie,
Charlie invited him back to her dorm knowing her roommate was out. She’d decided he was a nice enough guy, which was why she
figured he was the perfect candidate to take her virginity. It had been
nice, but when things fizzled out between them, she wasn’t
heartbroken. Hoping that someone would want to stick around for
the long run, that kind of thinking was what got you hurt, especially
in Charlie’s experience.
Since she’d moved to New York, Charlie had dated here and
there, but mostly focused her energy on her career and her friends.
Dating usually meant drama, and Charlie refused to waste time on
drama. She figured when the right person came along, then she could
worry about it, but until then she had other things to keep her
She stuffed her last bit of muffin into her mouth and washed it
down with coffee. “I appreciate the compliments, but I’m okay with
not having a date for Jason’s wedding. I’d rather just have fun and
not worry about having to babysit someone.”
“Well, maybe there will be a hot groomsman.”
“Yeah and if there is you’ll try to fight me for him.” They both
laughed. “So, what’s going on in the fashion world today?”
“I have a holiday photo shoot in Central Park. All white outfits
with green accents. It’s going to be very chic.”
“I have no doubt. “
“Speaking of clothes, what are you wearing tonight?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“Okay, well take pictures and send them to me for approval.”
Charlie nodded. “I’ll meet you there around eight?”
“Yeah, that’s perfect.”
“Well, I’ve got a staff meeting at nine thirty so I should get
They tossed their trash, kissed each other on the cheek, waved
goodbye to Louise, and headed to their respective offices.
Across town, another New Yorker had already started his work day.
Will Russo sat at the conference table at Bender/Infeld, one of the
largest corporate law firms in the city. His boss, Derek Martin, was
one of the most successful lawyers at the firm, and Will was lucky
enough to be his associate. Will was originally from Belmont, North Carolina, a small town just outside of Charlotte. Despite his Southern roots, he loved the
fast-paced lifestyle of New York City. He grew up in a big, Italian
family with an older brother and two sisters, both older and younger,
and as much as he loved them, Will had wanted a life of his own
away from his family. He’d moved to the city after high school to
attend Fordham and then went on to Fordham Law. After
graduation, he had an internship lined up at GQ’s corporate office,
and in less than two years, thanks to a lot of hard work and excellent
letters of recommendation, Will got a job at Bender/Infeld. When he
had his recruiting interview with Derek, they instantly clicked. Derek
had been with the firm for about ten years. He was smart,
resourceful, a little cocky, and demanding, but Will respected him. He
hoped to build a successful reputation like Derek’s one day.
Will looked across the table at their opposing council and their
client. They were whispering amongst themselves and appeared like
they were trying to make some kind of decision.
“Gentlemen, let’s cut to the chase. Your client wrongfully
terminated our client because he didn’t want to put a female in a
managerial position. He unfairly passed her over for a job that she
was more than qualified for and when she voiced her concerns, your
client fired her for insubordination. We have signed affidavits from
ten other women in the company who were also passed over for
promotions so unless you want to drag this out and have your client
be forever known as a sexist pig, I suggest that you have him sign the
papers, pay her the damages of $1.5 million and we can move on with
our lives,” Derek told them.
The attorneys whispered to their client once more, he nodded
and then picked up the pen to sign the settlement papers. The client
scowled but the grin never left Derek’s face. They pushed away from
the conference table and started to leave.
“Always a pleasure to see you,” Derek said as they filed out of
the room. Will looked over and saw their client, Rebecca Parker,
“Thank you both so much,” she said. “This money will more
than help me start over, but more importantly you saved my
reputation. Now I don’t have to worry about not getting hired
because Howard gave me a bad recommendation.”
Will looked at Rebecca and felt a swell of pride. He had been the one that convinced Derek to take her case. She had worked as a sales
associate at Bradley Foods for over twenty years and was more than
qualified to go into a management position. Her supervisor told her
that she wasn’t management material and when she started asking
around, she found out that her manager was told not to promote
females. Once she had gathered enough information, she went to
Bender/Infeld looking for help. Will had to show Derek that they
had enough of a case against Bradley Foods before Derek would
even listen to him, but he’d managed to convince the other women
to come forward to prove that Bradley was discriminating against
their female employees. Will knew he was lucky that Derek allowed
him to be so hands-on. Many other associates weren’t trusted to find
worthwhile cases and instead got stuck with the grunt work.
They walked Rebecca out to the reception area and said their
“That was a good win,” Will said.
“They knew they were backed into a corner, and they weren’t
going to run the risk of this going public. You did well in convincing
the other women to come forward.”
“Thank you.” Will grinned.
“As a reward, I’ve decided to give you your first solo client.”
They entered Derek’s office, a spacious corner suite with a
gorgeous view of Manhattan.
“Yes, seriously.” Derek unbuttoned his very expensive suit jacket
and sat down at his desk. Will took a seat across from him. “NYC
Lights magazine just hired us as their legal counsel. Tomorrow
morning you’re going to go meet with their editor-in-chief. Someone
has been supposedly leaking their stories to their competitor, Empire
Magazine. They want all of their employees to sign confidentiality
agreements so they’ll think twice about leaking information. They
think some legal muscle will keep everyone in line.”
Derek handed Will a folder. “Okay, I can do that,” Will said.
“I’ll have more details for you later.” Will sat there looking
through the folder. He’d have it memorized by tomorrow.
“Do you plan at staring at that all day, or do you plan on going
to do some work?”
Will jumped up. “Yes, sorry. I’m going.” He turned back and
faced Derek. “Thanks a lot for this. I won’t let you down.” Derek nodded and Will left his office feeling like this was the start of good
things to come.
As he headed back to his cubicle, he couldn’t help but think of
his father and what he would say about this turn of events. Sal Russo
had also been a lawyer, but rather than doing battle in the corporate
world, he’d had a small practice in their hometown. He loved the law
and also loved helping people. Will remembered how proud his
father was when he’d told him he’d been accepted to law school.
Even though Will never expressed any interest in returning home to
join his father’s law firm, his father had been proud that he was
following in his footsteps.
It had been a little over a year since his father had died, although
it felt like it had just happened. He could still remember getting the
call from his older sister, Laura, telling him he needed to get on the
first flight home. Their father had suffered a massive heart attack and
was gone. Everything after that was a blur. Will didn’t remember
booking his plane ticket or even being on the plane, all he
remembered was his sisters picking him up at the airport and the
empty feeling when he walked into his parents’ house knowing that
his father wasn’t coming back. He shook his head at the memory.
There was no time for dwelling. Will went back to work to focus on
Charlie stepped off of the elevator on the twenty-sixth floor and
walked through the door for NYC Lights. She said good morning to
her coworkers as she made her way to her desk. As an assistant editor
she didn’t have her own office, but rather her desk was in the area
right outside her boss’ office.
She dropped her bag on her desk and noticed her phone was
flashing with voicemail messages. There was also a large stack of
papers on her desk that she knew she needed to get through today.
Their holiday issue was due before Halloween so Charlie had to make
sure they stayed on schedule and reviewed everything they wanted to
get in the issue.
“I am swearing off dating!” a voice announced. Charlie looked
up and saw her coworker and friend, Morgan, standing in her doorway. “Good morning to you too. What happened?”
“I went on a second date with that guy I met on Match.com, you
know, the financial adviser? We were having dinner, everything was
going fine and then one of his ex-girlfriends walks into the restaurant,
and he started talking to her like I wasn’t even there! Can you
imagine? After ten minutes of that, I got up and left. He didn’t even
seem bothered by my leaving! Ugh!” Morgan tossed her long, reddish
hair over her shoulders and sighed.
Morgan was petite compared to Charlie at five foot four with a
few extra curves on her. Her bright green eyes were her best feature,
which went perfectly with her peaches and cream complexion.
Morgan was a native New Yorker and loved the fast paced, high
stress, competitive nature of magazine publishing. At twenty-four,
she was one of the youngest assistant editors and Charlie had no
doubt that she would make her way up the ranks quickly.
“Well, clearly he was an idiot and that has nothing to do with
you. You’re a catch! Any guy would be lucky to have you.”
“Right now I’d like to curse the entire male sex on principle
Charlie chuckled. “I can understand your sentiment on that.”
“Anyway, do you want to go to spin class with me tonight and
then go eat really inappropriate food that we can justify by the fact
that we went to spin class?”
“Normally, I’d love to eat really inappropriate food with you, but
I’ve got that opening at Clove with Teddy tonight.”
“Oh that’s right! Leave it to Teddy to have a way in,” Morgan
laughed. “Okay, well then I guess I’ll agonize alone and get it over
with. I’ll see you at the staff meeting.”
Morgan turned to walk out, but Charlie called after her, “Hey
Morgan, don’t let this get you down, seriously.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you later.” Charlie smiled as her friend walked
She sat down at her desk and began listening to the voicemails.
Her boss walked in just moments after Charlie hung up the phone.
“Good morning, Jamie.”
“Morning. I would’ve been here sooner but Olivia couldn’t find
her pink headband and was refusing to go to school without it.
Luckily, it just fell behind her dresser so crisis averted.”
Charlie followed Jamie into her office as she tossed her bag on her chair and hung her coat on a rack in the corner. “I know we have
a lot to get through for the holiday issue so I wanted to get here well
before the staff meeting, but the headband took precedence.” Jamie
shook her head and sighed.
“It’s okay, I’ve got a list of our potential topics for the issue and
I’ve already got calls in for tickets for various events.”
“Thank you for always being on the ball. I know you understand
the importance of the holiday issue.”
Charlie nodded. “We’ve got a lot of great stuff to showcase this
year; it’s going to be amazing.”
Jamie took a seat and began looking through the paperwork on
her desk. Charlie handed her a few of her messages and then gave her
a minute to get situated.
She knew she was very lucky that she’d been assigned to Jamie.
Jamie Dunn was the editor of the attractions section of NYC Lights
and she allowed Charlie to be very hands on. In the year and a half
Charlie had worked under Jamie she had learned so much. Jamie
made a point of asking Charlie’s opinion as well as taking her to
events and venues they were reviewing so she knew questions to ask
or things to look for when doing a review.
Even though she was less than ten years older than Charlie,
Jamie managed a high-stress, heavy workload and never missed her
kids’ dance recitals or soccer games.
Jamie’s daughter, Olivia, was ten with the personality of a
twenty-five-year-old and her eight-year-old son, Henry, was a ball of
energy. She and her husband, Michael, had a well-balanced marriage
from what Charlie could see. If Jamie had to work late, Michael was
always there to pick up the kids or cook dinner, and if Jamie needed
to stay home, she brought work with her and had Charlie keep her
informed on the important things happening at the office.
Charlie looked to Jamie as a role model, personally and
professionally, and hoped that one day she could balance being
successful and having a family, too.
“After the staff meeting, you’ve got a meeting with the art
department to discuss the space and layout for the holiday issue,
that’s at ten thirty.”
“Okay. Did you call Roger over at Radio City Music Hall?”
“Yes, he’s got our names on the list for the previews of the
Christmas Spectacular. The tickets should be in by the end of the week.”
“Perfect. That’s going to be one of the big ones.”
“Well, it is the Rockettes’ eighty-fifth birthday, so it’s kind of a
big deal,” Charlie chuckled.
“I’d say so.”
“Do you want your usual coffee before the meeting?”
Jamie’s eyes lit up. “Yes, that would be fantastic.”
Charlie smiled and walked out of Jamie’s office. She knew that
her boss functioned better when she was fully caffeinated. Charlie
never passed up caffeine and knew with a long day ahead she could
do with an extra cup herself.
Nothing could have prepared the staff of NYC Lights for what was
waiting for them in the conference room. Phil Mulder, their editor-inchief,
who was known for his calm demeanor, looked rattled, which
was understandable considering he had all six members of the board
standing behind him. He informed them that the magazine had hired
new legal counsel because there was fear that someone was leaking
information to Empire, their competition. The leaks had resulted in
poor sales numbers over the past several months.
When Charlie tried to consider who would do something like
that her mind immediately went to Hannah Masterson, the assistant
to the fashion editor, Miranda Adams. Miranda was a former model
who had started writing fashion columns for Vogue in the early
nineties and then decided she wanted to have a more serious career in
publishing and came to NYC Lights. Her opinion was greatly
respected, and she had more contacts than all the other editors
combined, even if she wasn’t known for being warm and fuzzy.
Hannah idolized her and in turn acted like she had the same clout as
Miranda. They didn’t call her the “Ice Queen” around the office for
Hannah had fought and clawed her way to be Miranda’s
assistant, and despite Charlie’s dislike for her, she had always done a
good job for Miranda. Still, she couldn’t shake the feeling that
Hannah would be willing to sell out NYC Lights if there was a big
reward waiting in the wings. Charlie would have to keep her eyes and
ears open from now on.