Authors: Elle Casey
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Contemporary Women, #Humorous, #Sagas
I glance over at my computer screen. Fear rushes through me as I realize that I’m not that far away from having to make some very hard choices. Mia would offer to take me in, but I’d feel terrible about taking advantage of her. I have to be able to pay my own way and take care of myself. I’m an adult for shit’s sake. I cannot end up homeless. I just can’t.
I flop back down into my chair in front of my laptop. My fingers fly over the keyboard and without me even thinking about it, they’ve brought up William Stratford’s contact information from his company’s website. I swallow with difficulty as I stare at my phone.
Can I do this? Can I really call the man who I’m never supposed to talk to again and ask him for a job?
TODAY IS A RECORD DAY for me. It is the first Monday I’ve arrived in the office before five in the morning. I’m normally an early-to-work person, but desperation has turned me into a madman. I’ll do anything to avoid bumping into Ingrid the brunch hijacker. I believe she has enough class to leave me to my own devices whilst inside my office. I hope. The only danger zones where I might bump into her are the lobby and the elevator, both of which I have studiously avoided. Being winded by a bit of stair climbing is a small price to pay for my sanity.
The P&Ls from our overseas division reveal nothing. Not because there’s nothing to see there, but because every time I try to focus on the numbers they begin to swim before my eyes. I cannot concentrate on a single thing besides the last conversation I had with Ingrid when I dropped her off at her car following brunch.
Sleep with her this weekend at her place? Preposterous. It will never happen. Not in a million years. Don’t get me wrong … I enjoy the opposite sex with unrivaled enthusiasm when the situation is right, but I am no gigolo. I have exactly five days to figure out how to remove her fangs from my manly parts, and I
succeed. I merely lack a few resources to accomplish this today, but certainly they cannot be that difficult to acquire. Money is no object. I will win at this game she’s playing, there is no doubt about that. And I will do it without a smidge of tarnish ending up on the company’s reputation.
A frizzy red head has appeared in my doorway, causing me to check my desk clock. Tick tock, it’s already eight o’clock. Where has the morning gone?
“Yes, Miss Meechum?” I press my lips together, expressing my irritation with her interruption. Can’t she see I’m busy staring at blurred figures on paper right now?
“Is there anything you need?” she asks in a meek voice.
I frown at her. “Have I sent you a message or an email?”
“Then I believe you have your answer.”
She bites her lip and stares at the carpet.
“Are you ill?” I set my papers down on the desktop. I wasn’t joking about my oriental rug before. If she takes another step inside my office as an ill person and manages to ruin my carpet, I will terminate her without a second thought.
“No. I’m just wondering … if
are. Not feeling well, I mean.” She pushes the door open a bit more and puts a leg inside.
“Tut tut … stop right there.” I hold up a hand. “What are you about, then? I’m busy here and feeling just fine, thank you for your concern, but you can go back to your desk now.”
Oblivious to my stop signal, she continues to work her way into my office. Now her entire head is inside and her outrageously pink suit is as well. Whoever it is who convinced this poor woman that pink is the new black should be taken outdoors and flogged.
“It’s just that … it’s eight o’clock, and usually by now you’ve sent me ten messages and emails and given me five different things to do.” She takes a sprig of hair in her finger and begins winding it round and round. “I’ve made a paperclip chain that’s about five feet long.”
I blink a few times with purpose, hoping the effort will both calm me and assist me with understanding her frivolity. Unfortunately, it does not appear to be working.
“Are you asking for sick leave?”
She frowns. “No. Why would you think that?”
“I assumed you were educating me on the nuances of your treatment plan. Are paperclip chains some sort of therapy for a mental illness you failed to disclose on your CV?”
“No,” she smiles and comes into the room completely, shutting the door behind her. “You’re so silly. I’m just bored, Mr. Stratford. You haven’t given me anything to do today. It’s Monday. We have a whole week ahead of us. There’s got to be something you need help with.”
I roll my eyes heavenward for a moment, hoping someone up there will help me. I’m so distracted by the idea of angels sending me signals that my mouth gets ahead of my brain. “What you can do is practice your computer hacking skills, as I believe I will be needing them shortly.”
Her jaw drops open in a very unladylike fashion and her complexion turns pale. “Are you serious?”
I wave her off, embarrassed that she’s caught me dreaming aloud. It appears as if I’m falling apart. First, I make the decidedly stupid decision to have sexual intercourse in the middle of a public club, and then I nearly suggest to my assistant that she hack into a computer to save my sorry arse … the assistant who tangles her hair in baskets and makes very long paperclip chains. Perhaps I do need a doctor.
“No, of course I’m not serious. I don’t mean to be rude, but would you mind please going away? Far away? I’m very busy right now. Make another paperclip chain if you must, but don’t interrupt me again unless someone is bleeding from an artery.”
She backs up until her heels hit the wall behind her, next to my door. “Sir, I’m going to call your father and ask him what to do.”
I stand abruptly and point my pen at her. “You will do no such thing.” I’ve spoken with quite a bit more force than I meant to. Taking a deep breath, I smooth down the front of my tie and my ruffled emotions.
“Sir?” She shrinks down to two-thirds her normal size. It’s quite impressive, actually, how much air she’s able to hold inside her body.
“This is none of his business,” I clarify in a much calmer tone. “If you have a question, you come to me. You work for me, not him.”
“Of course, sir. I wasn’t saying …”
I have no interest in hearing the rest of her drivel. I sit down and pick up my papers once more. “Run along, then. Get to work. Surely you can keep yourself busy for the morning until I’m ready to speak with you again.”
“Yes, of course. I can do that, no problem at all. Just let me know if you need anything. I’ll be right outside.” She grabs the door and throws it open, catching it before it swings too far. A lump of frizz falls into her face and she attempts to blow it away. She fails. I now have spittle on my door frame.
“Right. Cheerio.” I ignore the rest of her exit in favor of staring at swimming numbers.
She takes the hint and disappears, but she doesn’t leave me alone for long. As the clock on my desk rings gently that it’s half-past the hour, a private message window pops up on my desktop.
“I did leave some details off my CV.”
My hands rise up to rub my face. I’m afraid I’m seeing imaginary things; but no, her message is still there. What are we doing now? Confessions? Have I somehow become an agony aunt for the office? I scrub and scrub at my face, running my fingers through my hair when I’m finished. It’s possible I need a vacation. If I thought I could take one without Ingrid showing up to claim her spot next to me, I’d leave right now. Right this very second. Barbados, anyone?
Instead, I lower my fingers to the keyboard and type out my response.
“I’m certain I don’t need to know.”
Curiosity keeps my eyes glued to the screen. I am not disappointed when she replies swiftly.
“I’m certain you do want to know.”
Edward would sweep his hand across the desk and throw everything to the floor. He’d grab the brass and crystal clock and throw it against the wall making a terrific disaster that everyone would talk about for months. Today, I wish I could be Edward. But I am not. I am me.
“Come speak to me at your earliest convenience.”
Turning my chair to face the door, I sit back and fold my hands in my lap. When I realize this makes me appear too kind, I rest them on the arms of my chair. There. That will strike fear into her heart. I am a lion and I will bite your frizzy head off if you displease me. Roar, indeed.
The pink suit is back. “Can I come in?”
“I don’t know. Can you?” Grammar lessons are lost on her. I know this, and yet I persist.
She frowns in confusion but opens the door anyway. “I think so.”
I look purposefully at the chair in front of me and she takes the hint. I say nothing as she settles herself in and then stares at me.
If this is to be a battle of wills, I shall win. She knows this and I know this. The silence in the room gathers, waiting to see who will bend first.
“I have a confession to make,” she says. She lets out a stream of air like a balloon being deflated. Her helmet of red frizz trembles a bit at the ends.
“So I gathered.”
“I left some skills off my CV.”
My eyebrow goes up. If she offers me sexual favors I shall send her packing. I’m using all my defenses against Ingrid; I cannot be expected to fight them all. I am a man, after all is said and done.
“Do tell,” I say dryly.
“I’m good with computers.”
I sigh heavily. She’s so dull-witted I’m almost convinced she’s sucking the intelligence right out of my brain, just by sitting across from me. Would an aluminum hat protect me from the effects? I’m almost tempted to fashion one from odds and ends in the kitchenette. I shall enlist the help of the coffee pot.
“Do you know what I mean?” she asks.
“I suppose it means you know how to turn one on, click the mouse, enter data, print things …” I shake my head, hoping she’ll give me more to work with. “I really do have things to do today, Miss Meechum. Surely you do as well.”
“I want to
you.” She appears desperate.
“You have helped me. You printed out the reports I asked for, you compiled them.” I realize then that she’s fearing for her job. “You’ve nothing to worry about at the moment. I’m not going to make you redundant.”
She frowns. “What does that mean?”
“It means I won’t be terminating your employment. Not today.”
“Oh. Well, I wasn’t really worried about that.”
My chin moves back towards my neck. She’s surprised me, which isn’t easy to do. “What are you about, then? Why the messages, interrupting my work?” I flick a gaze over to my screen where her private message sits.
She leans over, grabs the arms of her chair and drags it closer to my desk before sitting again. She’s speaking barely above a whisper. “I sent that to you because you said that thing about hacking computers.”
My foolish mouth has gotten me into trouble again. Time to repair the damage. “It was a poorly timed joke. Nothing to worry about. Forget I said it.”
“I could do that. Hack a computer. If you needed me to, I mean. I mean, not like to steal money or be a thief, because I follow the law … for the most part … but if you needed to see inside someone’s computer, I could help you with that.”
My motor nerves have gone numb. I’m frozen, like an Abraham Lincoln statue, in my chair. The only things I can move are my fingers and they are gripping the arm rests enough to turn my knuckles white.
“Whatever are you talking about?” I manage to say a few seconds later.
She twists her mouth all around, her gaze darting from my desk to my computer, to my clock, and to my wall. She is looking everywhere but at me.
“Miss Meechum, I asked you a simple question and I expect an answer that makes sense.”
She stands all of a sudden. “Never mind. I’m just being silly.” She points at me. “Ha, ha, joke’s on you!” She moves around her chair, backing towards the door.
I’m struck speechless. She is a complete ninny, and all I can do is stare at her as she stumbles towards the door. Before I can construct a response, she is gone again.
My only companion is the clock, and it continues to tick-tock, tick-tock, reminding me of how much closer the weekend is now than it was just moments before.
I swivel sideways in my chair and look at my screen. Why on earth would she send me this message as a joke? She wouldn’t, now would she? That would make even less sense than the thing being true.
Could it be true? That the daft woman on the other side of the wall isn’t nearly as daft as she appears? Doubt trickles in. Yes, I suppose it’s possible. She does know her way around a spreadsheet, more so than any previous assistants I’ve been forced to endure. And she did become very nervous when she accidentally mentioned hacking into my email account that one time…
A light of hope sparks to life inside my chest. Ingrid has me by the short hairs but only because she holds a computer file over my head. What if she no longer had that file? What if I could erase it from existence?
This glimpse of freedom is all it takes for me to consider the impossible. Before this weekend, I would have ended the employ of Miss Meechum just for admitting to not being entirely truthful in her interview, for admitting that she engages in questionable practices that involve computers. But today, I view this as an opportunity, a skill to be utilized in the running of my business. The fact that it’s more my personal business than that of the company does give me pause, but it does not stop me from sending my next message over the computer lines directly to her desk:
“Show me what you can do.”
MY FINGERS TREMBLE AS I dial the phone. I can do this. Why am I so freaked out? Probably because I know that this is an act of desperation, that somehow William will figure out that I’ve Googled him fifty times and will come to the conclusion that I’m a freak. I’m just glad Mia left and isn’t here to witness my shame.
I fully expect to have to work my way through several layers of secretaries, so when the voice at the other end of the line is male and has a British accent, I’m taken aback.