“Mr. Manning, Charli Cooper, New York Herald. I would like to ask you a few questions.” I hold out my hand confidently to shake his, hoping he doesn’t notice my slightly shallow breathing and trembling hands.
“So,” he says, taking my hand and slowly raking his gaze obnoxiously down my body. He seems so much taller and broader than I remember and I suddenly feel small and out of place. “Marla sends the international office junior to ask me a ‘few questions’ after the allotted time for interviews is over. An unusual move by Marla, I must say.” His voice is rich and strong. I’m momentarily paralysed by his statement and have to quickly gather myself. Set times for interviews? I mentally search for something that I’ve missed. I shuffle my papers nervously and watch in horror as they lazily flutter to the ground between us.
“Excuse me?” I say. I bend down quickly to retrieve my papers and take a moment to gather myself.
He pointedly looks at his big, ridiculously expensive watch, then at his phone, and finally lifts his eyes back to mine with a maddening smirk. “I’m sorry, Miss…Cooper, was it?” I give a small nod. “I’m sorry but had you read your brief properly you would have seen that interview times are finished for the evening.” He points to a tiny line at the end of the programme I’m holding. “Why don’t you call during business hours and see if a more appropriate time can be arranged.” And with that, he turns his back on me and saunters over to a tall flaxen-haired beauty. I’m left standing alone with my papers, mouth agape, mortified. I turn when I realise Pete has stepped in behind me.
“Pete, did that just happen?” I feel the familiar tightening around my ribcage. “It would have only taken him a few minutes. What’s his problem?”
“Yeah, sorry, I only caught the end of it.”
I want the floor to open up and swallow me. Embarrassment crawls its ugly red stain up my chest and onto my face. I fumble through my notes again, peeved when I see other guests still giving interviews.
“What’d I tell you, asshole, right? Don’t worry kid, leave it with me, we’ll get something before the night is out.”
I quietly slink back to the press corner to lick my wounds and pull myself together. Tears threaten but I will not cry. Arrogant bastard. I busy myself checking through the notes I’ve already made. I’m grateful to Pete who introduces me to associates from other papers before he moves away to take more shots. Wrapped up in my foggy brain, I excuse myself and drift across the gallery looking for the restroom and a chance to escape when his resonant voice accosts me from behind.
“You gave up very easily, Miss Cooper. I was led to believe you would be more tenacious.”
“Pardon?” I turn and see his ocean-blue eyes staring at me through his dark thick lashes. Why does his mere presence rattle me? My mouth loses all moisture and I swallow nervously. The worst thing is, I sense he knows the effect he has on me and he’s enjoying it.
“Well, Miss International Roving Reporter, you can’t work in this city if you can’t secure a story. If you don’t mind me saying so, you seem a bit out of your depth, sweetheart. Next time, I suggest you get your priorities right.” He puts his hands into his pockets.
Okay, so this guy is a patronising jerk. Did he really just say ‘sweetheart’? Who the hell does he think he is?
“I have to say that in the time you’ve stood there reprimanding me, I could have completed the whole interview and we could’ve moved on. But I’m guessing this is some sort of revenge for the other night, am I right, Mr. Manning? It’s not very professional.”
“Professional? A professional would know what order to run the interviews in, Miss Cooper. A professional would have read all the details about the evening. And the other night?” He raises his eyebrow and arrogantly leans against the wall. “Do tell? Sounds like a good story.”
“The other night when you…when you…ran into me.” I glare up at him and he purses his lips, deep in thought, then lets out a hearty laugh.
“Ah that. I remember it very differently, Miss Cooper. I remember it as a young lady too busy flirting with a barman to notice where she was going,” he says with a wink, enjoying antagonising me. “You are amusing, Charlotte, I will give you that.”
I search my brain for a witty retort, which I’m usually so good at, but come up empty. The silence spills out between us, before I finally find my voice. “Charli, it’s Charli Cooper, Mr. err…” I fidget with my notes on the pretence of searching for his name, scanning the list slowly. “Mr. Grainger-Smythe?” I blame jet-lag or a long day for my momentary lack of judgement.
“Very amusing,” he says, “I am looking forward to seeing what you can salvage from tonight’s debacle.” He looks down at his watch again, making ready to move on.
“Please don’t concern yourself over my story, I have plenty of quotes. Some more interesting than others.” I smile sweetly up at him, while inside my blood is boiling. He walks away in his big shiny shoes with his hands in his pockets, and I can see his shoulders moving. Is he laughing at me? He turns around and looks back at me over his shoulder, then saunters back towards me. I crane my neck to look up at him.
“It’s Manning, as you know full well. And I assume you do know I am the major sponsor tonight, Miss Cooper? So write what you will, I’ll look forward to reading it.” He lifts his eyebrows, daring me to challenge him before walking away again.