Authors: Willa Thorne
Queen In Play
Book 2 in the Manhattan Tales Series
© 2015 by Willa Thorne
All rights reserved. This book is intended for audiences age 18 and older.
This is a work of fiction. Names of characters and events are the product of the author’s imagination and do not represent any persons, living or dead. Any resemblance to actual locations and persons is entirely coincidental.
Cover: Louisa at LM Creations
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How I wish, how I wish you were here
We're just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
What have we found?
The same old fears
Wish you were here”
J.A. Woodward & Company
427 Chambers Street
New York, NY 10282
December 16, 2008
Office of Undergraduate Admissions
NYU Stern School of Business
70 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012
To whom it may concern:
I have personally known Ms. Jillian Pryor for four years. During her high school career, Ms. Pryor has participated in various extra-curricular activities which involve volunteering at animal shelters, and the local community center. She also participates in her High School’s science club, and the community’s 4-H program for youth. I have witnessed first-hand that she is a model student with an excellent academic record and upstanding reputation.
As an alumni of New York University’s MBA program, and CFO of J.A. Woodward & Company, I have the credibility to testify for Ms. Pryor’s merits. Ms. Pryor will be an asset to New York University’s Stern School of Business, where she will move on to her MBA. I already look forward to hiring her as a valuable employee once she has attained her Undergraduate Degree from New York University. Please do not hesitate to contact me for further information in regards to Ms. Pryor’s character.
Mason A. Woodward
CFO, J.A. Woodward & Company
Generous Benefactor and Graduate Alumni of Stern NYU
1. Jillian Pryor
I inhaled deeply as I read over the old recommendation letter Mason had written for me years ago. It felt like I’d found an old artifact from another lifetime. I was just a starry-eyed teenager back then. So naive. I was seventeen and so ecstatic when he handed the envelope to me. I had read and re-read that letter a dozen times before I finally mailed the official to NYU, and I kept a copy for my scrap book.
God, I was such a dork back then.
I still remember how nervous I had been that I wouldn’t get into the University. Mason had been so confident that I
get into NYU’s Business program. It’s no wonder. As I read the letter with a new perspective on life, I can see how even his recommendation letter for me was laced with arrogance.
Ms. Pryor will attend your University, because I say so.
Of course, I ended up changing my major to Social Work after thirty credits into my program. I still can’t get Mason’s reaction to my field change out of my head. I still remember how he nearly spit his coffee out, repulsed by my choice to help others.
I asked mom to mail my old scrapbooks and photo albums to me before my fall down the stairs, before I told Mason to fuck off and leave me alone. Two months later, I’m only just now going through the box, and I have half a mind to burn this recommendation letter. I guess you can say I’m still hurt and angry about what he had planned for me. Everything was a lie, including his feelings for me. My hand tightened around the letter, ready to crumple it.
Don’t do it.
The thought intruded my sense of reasoning.
He wrote that with the best of intentions.
Try as I might, I can’t stop thinking about him. It sickens me. And as I read this letter again, I recall the day I told him that I’d been accepted into NYU. He was a different man years ago, and I think back then, he was much more deserving of the pedestal I’d placed him on.
Six years ago...
I stood by the old, beat up plaid sofa in my Uncle’s shed as Travis played some classic notes from Pink Floyd, my favorite band. He played my dad’s old, beat up Fender and my cousin, Danny, beat out the drums. The weather wasn’t cold, but it wasn't warm either. We still needed jackets or sweaters this early in April, but we were all desperate to have a picnic outside after the harsh winter we’d had.
I was naturally shy and withdrawn, but I had no reason to feel shy at this small get-together on my uncle’s property in White Plains. I swayed my hips in my plaid skirt and off-the-shoulder gray sweatshirt. I sported chunky black frames and my black army boots. What phase was this? Punk rock? Heaven knows. It was the eve of my eighteenth birthday and some of my friends from the 4-H club, and my family had gathered for a birthday dinner at my uncle’s house. He and my Aunt Mel had a nice piece of land in White Plains and we were here at least one weekend a month before they moved to Ohio.
I watched my cousin, Allie, play badminton in the yard with some of my friends. This day was amazing because it was my scene. I usually stuck with the shadows. I liked to keep myself invisible, but today was different. Not only was this get-together for me, but I had fantastic news and I couldn’t wait to share it.
From the doorway of the shed, I watched
walk up the gravel driveway toward the shed. He wore a deep brown leather jacket, and dark wash jeans. Most of my friends from the 4-H club stopped to gawk and drool as he walked up the drive. He was about 6’2 of taut muscle under a thin leather jacket. His olive complexion and black wavy hair complimented those Raybans on his perfect face. Yes, my friends were definitely drooling.
“Mason!” I greeted as I ran toward him and jumped on him. He spun me around quickly and then set me down. As he set me down with a big grin, I saw the blonde bitch standing behind him. She wore a black and white striped sweater dress and her light hair was cut into a short bob just below her jaw line. Already, she looked bored, and they’d only just arrived. Mason was either oblivious, or he ignored it. I didn’t even notice her walking up the drive with him. I didn’t like her, and it’s not because she was his girlfriend. I would have graciously accepted her if she was nice. Instead, the most I could do was exchange stiff but polite smiles with her.
“I wanted to get you a puppy, but your landlord wouldn’t allow it.” Mason gave me a grin and lifted his Raybans above his head.
“Don’t you fucking dare, Woodward,” I heard my brother bellow from the shed and hadn’t realized the music stopped until this moment.
Mason only snickered and fished into the inside pocket of his leather jacket. He looked so delicious, and smelled so good. My teenage hormones were raging.
“You’ll just have to settle for this instead,” Mason grinned as he handed me a silver box, wrapped with dark burgundy ribbon.
Is this silk ribbon?
I very slowly, very carefully untied the ribbon. I didn’t want to ruin it. I wanted to savor the novelty of this special surprise.
Lifting the lid of the box, I found three braided leather bracelets, two in black and one in red. These were exactly my style and I’d been wanting these for a long time, but they were completely out of my budget. I was a thrift store girl after all.
“Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!” I shrieked, jumping up and down. One of the black bracelets had little platinum charms attached to it: a dog, a cat, and a rabbit.
“Since you help out at the animal shelter, I had those charms added,” Mason gave another grin. He seemed quite pleased with himself.
“Thank you!” I slipped the bracelets onto my wrist and jumped onto him again, wrapping my arms around his neck in such excitement. I jumped back to my feet and caught a glimpse of Ella. She was looking down at her Rolex.
“We found those while we were in Milan,” Ella explained once she was able to tear her eyes away from the expensive watch.
A tug of jealousy ate at me as I thought of Mason taking
to Italy, but he was twenty-eight. I was still a senior in high school. I had to be real. Besides, Mason would never go for a girl like me.
Not like that
. I brushed the jealousy away and bounced in my boots giddily.
“Thank you so, so much. These are so great!” I admired the bracelets and studied the little charms attached. It was such a thoughtful gift. I was more awestruck by the level of thought he had put into the gift, than I was with the actual gift itself.
Travis smiled and slapped Mason on the back. “So glad you could make it, man. I have beer in the cooler.” I could tell my brother already had a few beers by the time Mason had shown up.
I watched the two walk toward the cooler which kept bottled water, canned sodas and beer, and I was left standing alone with Ella. The blonde looked pointedly at me.
“Happy Birthday,” she feigned a smile.
“Thanks!” I beamed and pranced toward the cooler to help myself to a Sprite. She still looked bored, but nobody cared.
I grabbed a canned soda from the cooler and watched as Travis and Mason chatted with my mom and my Aunt Mel while my Uncle Joe grilled ribs and chicken on the patio. Annoyed, Ella made her way over to where Mason was standing and snaked her arm around his waist.
What does he see in her?
“Hey Ella,” Travis said casually and then continued talking about baseball teams. He and Mason were having an argument over some team. I was barely paying attention to their topic. That was part of the Mason/Travis package: The constant banter, the arguments over which music band or sports team was better.
“Can I get you something to drink?” Travis finally broke from the banter and offered Ella a drink. When we first met Ella, we bent over backwards trying to help her feel welcome and part of our group. After a while, my family realized that we’d never make her happy.
“I’ll just have bottled water,” she answered Travis.
I watched my brother get a dripping, chilled bottle of water from the cooler and hand it to her. She looked at the bottle for a moment and then gingerly took it from him. She smiled stiffly and held the bottle as though she did not know what to do with it.
“I got it, love.” Mason said this as he took the bottle of water from her dainty hands and twisted the cap. He handed it back to her.
You have got to be kidding me.
“You still owe me a rematch at beer pong,” I heard my brother tell Mason as he wiped his hands on his jeans nonchalantly.
“Not that shit,” Mason laughed as though there had been some inside joke between them.
I left the yard and went to the upstairs hall, where I’d left my shabby denim bag. I was so excited as I fished out the envelope; I could feel my heart hammering in my chest. I’d waited all weekend to tell Mason my good news. Giddily, I ran down the stairs and exited through the back door.
My brother and Mason were
having yet another animated argument over who was going to win some game.
Boring, boring, boring
. The only sport I liked watching was hockey, so I waited until they were finished with their discussion to tell Mason my news. Eventually, Travis walked back toward the shed and fired up the amp. I don’t know where Ella had gone off to, but I didn’t care either.
“Mason,” I beamed.
“Hey Jilly Bean,” he grinned, and took a swig from his beer.
“I have the best news ever and I’ve been waiting to tell you all weekend,” I said. I knew I sounded like I was seven but I didn’t care at the moment.
“Oh yeah? What’s that?” He asked, as the amps in the shed blasted the notes to a Led Zeppelin medley. I waved the acceptance letter from New York University in the air for Mason to see.
Mason grabbed the letter from me and read it. He wasn’t even pretending to be happy for me. This was genuine. I bounced in my boots.
“Shit, Jill. Congratulations! And you got into Brown as well. Which will you choose?” His smile could charm the pants (or skirt) off any woman. I could have fallen over swooning at that moment.
“I don’t know but I have to choose soon. I was hoping you could give me some advice?” I asked as he handed me the letter. “I need some real advice. Of course, Mom and Travis want me to stay closer to home.” I shrugged and adjusted the ugly black frames on my face.
“What does your guidance counselor think?” He asked as he smoothed a lock of thick black hair from his face.
Damn, he’s so hot.
“My guidance counselor is no help at all,” I scrunched my nose.
“Well,” Mason ran a hand through his hair. “Are you sure you want
advice? I’m a real prick, as they say.”
I pushed his chest and laughed, “Shut up, I’m serious.”
He chuckled. “Alright, alright… advice… sound advice.” He thought aloud with a smirk and I enjoyed hearing the ring of his British accent. I watched him as he thought about what he should say to me. There was a playful smirk on his face the whole time.
Having a crush on Mason was so easy back then. I was comfortable with him before I even knew I liked him that way, so being around Mason just felt natural. People were so drawn to him all of the time, and it didn’t look strange or weird if I talked to him too much or played around with him. He wasn’t an asshole at all- at least, not with me and my family. There was no extreme sexual energy radiating off that man. His eyes were not dark with black lust when he looked at me. He was just… Mason. Tall, dark, unbelievably sexy, and
“You have always wanted to attend Brown. It’s a very good school, but you seem much more excited about NYU. Why is that?” Mason asked, all playfulness aside. He asked me this question to challenge my thinking.
Hmm. He’s right. Why am I more excited about NYU?
He looked down at me with serious eyes. “You need to choose the school that will be the best setting for
, where you will be happiest. If you’re miserable where you are, you won’t learn as much. I’m not just talking about textbook shit. Whatever you choose, you know I support you… but if you choose NYU, I will always be there for you should you need it. Even if Travis is away on business.” He gave me a grin and then ruffled my hair.
My heart swelled as he said this. My decision was made. Brown University had been my dream at one time, but I felt a change of heart in the past year. I felt more drawn to NYU. It was close to my family, Mason- the people I love.
“Thank you,” I hugged him tightly and he wrapped his arms around me as though it was second nature to him.
Hating Mason wouldn’t be so difficult if he had always been an ass. It’s been two months since I’ve seen him. My heart aches whenever I see his picture pop up in the Finance section of the New York Times, or when I overhear Piper’s casual phone chats with him. He tried to convince me that he was sorry for what he planned to do. He tried to tell me he was never going to mail those pictures to my brother. This is what I know: He made an effort to go over the surveillance. He didn’t
print those pictures out and stuff them into an envelop. His deliberate actions were planned carefully. I still could not get over the idea of him doing such a shady, deceitful thing to me.