Today's Reading

"Isn't it better that you have a tenant here who's willing to work with you, Mr. McManor?" June perched on the edge of the desk. "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't, that's what my mama always says."

"Firstly, your back rent is only part of the problem. Catching up with rent has nothing to do with your business loan, on which you also owe quite a substantial sum of money. And secondly, we've had plenty of interest in the space, as it turns out. From people who would be able to afford the rent rather easily."

June narrowed her blue eyes. "Like who?"

"Gwyneth Paltrow's first cousin."

Annika blinked. "What?"

"We've been approached by a representative for Gwyneth Paltrow. Her first cousin wants to rent out this space for an interior design business she's launching. She's willing to prepay the first six months." Mr. McManor stood, brushed his suit off, and walked to the Make Up sign on the wall. The one Annika had been so proud to order. The one that had her feeling like she'd made it, that she'd achieved the dream, that she was unstoppable.

He turned to her, his eyes flat and distant behind those little round glasses. On anyone else, Annika might have admired them for their chic Harry Potter vibe. A beam of sunlight from the window lay in a stripe on his balding head, but he didn't seem to notice. "Unless you completely resolve your delinquency, including late fees and penalty interest, Ms. Dev, the news isn't going to be good."

"Before you go," June said. "Who's moving in next door? Are you managing their loan, too? Because maybe we'll tell them how you treated us."

Mr. McManor looked at her like she was an idiot. "Why, that is privileged client information, Ms. Stewart, and as such, is undivulgeable to you."

"That is so not a word," June muttered.

Annika drummed her fingers on her desk. "Interesting. But you did divulge that Gwyneth's cousin wants this space. Doesn't that violate some kind of confidentiality?"

Mr. McManor turned bright pink. "That was rather gauche," he said after a long pause. "I was simply...excited. I've been an admirer of Ms. Paltrow since her masterful performance in Emma."

"Excited?" Annika stared at him. "You're excited right now?"

Mr. McManor cleared his throat and stood up straighter, a flash of annoyance dancing across his features. It was the most animated she'd seen him in the twenty minutes he'd been there. "Ms. Dev, I suggest you do some serious thinking about your next steps. Good day." He walked away primly, his shiny black shoes whispering on the industrial carpet as he headed to the elevators.

"Why does he try to talk all British when he's not British?" June said in disgust.

"He wants us out of here." Annika sat back heavily as the full impact of his words crashed into her. She smiled bleakly at June. "Do you know how much we have in the business account right now? Less than five thousand dollars. Do you know how much we owe?" She shook her head and thought, I am the boss. I will not cry. I will also not say how much I hate Mr. McManor. "It's over, June."

"Sweet pea—" June squatted so they were eye to eye. "Let me give you the money. I know you're probably going to argue, but please just think about it. I'd really feel good about being able to help you out. Maybe I could be, like, an investor."

A fact not well-known (because June did her best to hide it) was that Violetta "June" Stewart was the only daughter of extremely wealthy movie producers. Needless to say, she didn't really need this job. June had a trust fund and lots of high-powered connections. The only reason she'd come on board was because she wanted to help Annika. Annika couldn't afford to pay her what she was really worth, but June never complained, either out of loyalty or pity. Annika was in no position to turn down, either. Annika shook her head and squeezed her longtime friend's hand. "That's really, really sweet of you, Junebug. But...no. Thank you, but no. I can't take your money."

June sighed. They'd had this conversation many times before, and she knew not to expect a different outcome. Still, she was June. And that, Annika supposed, meant she had to try.

Giving up, June flopped down to sit cross-legged on the floor. Even while wearing a tight dress and skyscraper heels, she somehow managed to look more graceful than Annika, who was sitting in a chair. "What about your dad, then?"

Annika's dad was one of the leading anesthesiologists in the country. He was regularly paid to travel to various conferences and give talks because apparently, he knew more about putting people to sleep than anyone else did. Annika didn't get the specifics—she just knew she never wanted to do what he did.

That fact had almost broken his heart.
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