Home > Mr. Russo

Mr. Russo
Author: Lynn Hagen

Chapter One




“Have you lost your mind?”

“No, I just broke my leg.” Chad tried to scoot up in the bed, but his arms wobbled as he grunted. We were in the emergency room, and my twin was trying to sit up in the bed but failing miserably as he sighed and finally gave up. “Come on, Derek. You have to do me this solid.”

We were waiting for his release papers, and the doctor was taking forever. I hated hospitals. They always gave me the creeps. There were sick people with god-knew-what diseases, and the disinfectant smell made me nauseous.

“What do I know about office management?” I paced in front of Chad’s bed, biting my thumbnail. “I cut hair for a living. The only thing I would know how to do in an office setting is fetch coffee.”

I was gonna cave. I always did when it came to my twin. But I had to try and wiggle my way out of this. Chad’s plan had disaster written all over it.

“Do you know what I went through to land this gig?” Chad looked on the verge of a meltdown. I felt bad for him, but there was no way I could pull this off. “It’s my dream job, Derek. I just need you to cover for me until my leg heals.”

I already knew what Chad had gone through to get this job. He’d fretted over it for weeks, bugging the shit out of me by whining on the phone every few days that no one had called him after his second interview.

“You know I’ll screw it up.”

“We’re exact replicas,” Chad argued. “They’ll never know it wasn’t me in the office.”

“They’ll know,” I argued right back. I couldn’t let Chad talk me into this. I had my own job I had to deal with, and although I knew Becky would give me the time off to cover for Chad, I wasn’t going to ask.

“You know Microsoft Office,” Chad whined. “Besides, they’ll give you a break since you’re new. It won’t be that hard.”

Riiight. Even if I were a newbie, there would be expectations that I wouldn’t be able to meet. I choked when the district manager came into my job. No way would I be able to face powerful men in an office setting. I’d probably pass out the first five minutes I was there.

But I knew how important this was to my twin, and damn it, I couldn’t let him down. “Okay, but if I get fired, don’t blame me. You’re the one who begged me to do this.”

“Thank you!” Chad leaned forward with his arms wide but winced and sucked in a breath as he grabbed his leg.

“How on earth did you break your leg painting?”

“Clumsiness is in our DNA.” Chad gave the needless reminder. “I lost my footing on the ladder.”

My twin was fabulous when it came to interior decorating. He’d truly missed his calling. But if there were a hair on the floor, he’d trip over it. Same with me. I’d broken my arm when I was ten. I’d been on the swing in the park, tried to jump off, and had gotten my arm tangled in the chain, resulting in a hairline fracture.

That was the story of my life—running into doors, tripping over my shoelaces, cutting gum out of my hair, spilling coffee down the front of my shirt. The list was endless. I should have been born in a bubble.

“I’ll text you the details. Make sure you’re on time tomorrow morning.”

I gave Chad a teasing salute then helped him to his car when the nurse finally came in and gave him his discharge papers.

Chad complained the entire ride that my backseat was uncomfortable, how my driving was too fast, and that he hadn’t been laid in a month.

I wasn’t sure what the last thing had to do with anything, but I ignored him. I couldn’t help it if my car was small, but I liked it. It was pink, had fuzzy seats, and was a hybrid. I was the queen of eco-awareness. I recycled everything, joined rallies for earthly causes, and even talked my salon into donating the hair we cut to help absorb oil spills in the ocean.

After I helped Chad into his apartment and made sure my brother had something for dinner, I headed home. If I was going to get Chad fired on my first day, I needed my beauty sleep.

When I arrived at my apartment building, I groaned. All the spots in the parking lot had been taken. I had to park two blocks away before heading to my unit. My neighbor Brick Duggan was a slime ball who always tried to hit on me. I prayed Brick didn’t corner me in the hallway like he did most nights. Brick was hot man candy, but he was also a straight-up jerk who knew he looked good and thought everyone in the universe wanted him.

I would rather have sex with a cactus than let Brick anywhere near me. Unfortunately, for reasons I couldn’t understand, Brick thought I wanted to sleep with him, so he tried relentlessly to get me to come over.

Fat chance in hell that would ever happen.

When the elevator doors slid open, I did a quick head check like I was on a recon mission, making sure Brick wasn’t lingering in the hallway. I spotted Mrs. Hathaway, my elderly neighbor. She was the sweetest woman on the planet, reminded me of my grandmother, and always looked out for me.

When she saw me, she smiled. Once again she’d forgotten her dentures. “He’s not out here,” she said as she headed my way. “Brick just went into his unit.”

I gave her a quick hug. “Thanks for having my back.”

“Anytime, dear.” She patted my cheek and wandered away. Mrs. Hathaway was like ninety. I would swear she’d come with the building. That was how long she’d been here. She knew every resident and all the latest gossip. I had a suspicion she wasn’t as senile as she pretended to be, either.

I dug my keys from my pocket, hoping I could get into my unit before Brick came back outside. No such luck. The guy must’ve been staring out his peephole. His door swung open, and he stepped into the hallway. He wore gym shorts that were way too tight and a T-shirt seven sizes too small. His body was ripped, all muscles and golden tan.

If he weren’t such an asshole, I’d have jumped on that months ago.

“Hey, Derek.” Brick wiggled his brows. “Just wanted to let you know I was home if you wanted to come over for a drink.”

I shoved my key into the keyhole, rolling my eyes. “I don’t think there’s enough room in your unit. Your ego takes up most of the space.”

He laughed as if I was joking. I wasn’t. Brick walked toward me, kissing one of his biceps, but I hurried inside and slammed the door closed. Brick knocked, but I ignored him as I dropped onto the sofa.

“It's been one of those days,” I said to myself as I looked at the clock and groaned. It was already after seven. Chad’s new job was on the opposite side of town. Rush hour was already a bitch even in my shitty neighborhood, so I knew I would need to get out there at least a half-hour early if I was going to make it on time.

After getting into my pajamas, I climbed into bed. The problem was I wasn’t tired. I never went into work before noon, so that allowed me to stay up late, most of the time partying at the hottest nightclubs.

Chad owed me big time for this.


* * * *


I wasn’t sure if the alarm didn’t go off or if I just didn’t hear it, but I woke up a half-hour late. Fuck. I was surprised I’d even woken up so early. I felt like the walking dead as I stumbled into the shower. Not even the lukewarm water had the ability to wake me. I dragged my ass to the kitchen and downed a cup of coffee, hoping the caffeine did the trick.

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