Authors: Adele Huxley
Tags: #New Adult Office Romance
Playing with Power
This book is work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
This book contains sexually explicit material and is intended for readers 18 years or older.
© 2014 by Adele Huxley
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except in the case of a reviewer, who may quote brief passages embodied in critical articles or in a review.
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Lauren hugged the ceramic mug with both hands and reverently lifted it to her lips. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, the aroma filling her senses. Her mom made the best coffee in the world, hands down. The secret was adding dried vanilla beans to the coffee before grinding and a dash of cinnamon to the grounds. The resulting coffee was better than anything Lauren had ever found in any coffee shop in New York.
Sitting in the fluffy bathrobe she’d gotten for her fourteenth birthday, Lauren sipped her coffee at the kitchen table while her mother bustled about preparing breakfast. These were the things she forgot. She always missed the concept of home but it was only after returning she remembered the little bits that pieced together to create
Her mother humming, the birds chirping outside in the yard, her dad awake at dawn and tinkering in the garage. The creaking of the floorboards and the squeak of the screen door, these were the elements that coalesced to form home.
“Do you want any help, Mom?”
“No, no, I’m almost finished. I’m happy enough that you’re up and keeping me company.” Wiping her wet hands on a dish towel, she came over and kissed Lauren on the crown of her head. “How are things? How’s life in the big city?”
“Fine,” she said simply, knowing full well what her mother was really wondering about. “Work is good and I can’t complain about where I fly out to California for free, can I?”
“Mmhmm.” Her mother flicked on the front burners, heating the rectangular cast iron griddle.
Lauren took another sip of coffee, deliberately stretching the silence in the hopes her mother would drop the inquisition.
Well Mom, Nick’s been acting like kind of an asshole lately but apparently we’re trying to work through that. I met an amazing guy but it’s complicated. Between business, the boyfriend who apparently didn’t dump me, and the 3,000 miles between us, I just don’t see it working out. My boss constantly harasses me at work and my apartment is smaller than this kitchen. So all in all, things are fine.
“I’m glad you were able to come up this weekend. Did you have a difficult time driving all that way by yourself? I always worry when you drive at night.”
Nice Mom, really subtle.
“You worry no matter what time of the day it is. It went quickly though. I left early enough to avoid most of the traffic. I’m just happy I found the time to do it.”
Her mother sighed as she ladled the pancake batter onto the griddle. That sigh said,
I wish you’d tell me what’s going on with you. I worry about you. I know Nick was back home while you were in California. I know you’re having trouble and I just wish you’d let me help.
To Lauren, that sigh also signaled her mother had given up trying to weasel anything out.
A few minutes later she placed a stack of thick, perfectly brown and round pancakes on the table. “Go wake up your brother and
about it. I remember what you’re like.”
Finishing the last of her coffee, Lauren’s heart tightened as she remembered the phrase, “You can’t go home again.” It came with a bittersweet feeling that she was coming to understand more and more. But as she crept up the stairs, boards creaking and groaning as she ascended, Lauren felt very much at home.
Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies
Be wary of friends - they will betray you more quickly for they are easily aroused to envy. They also become spoiled and tyrannical. But hire a former enemy and he will be more loyal than a friend, because he has more to prove. In fact, you have more to fear from friends than from enemies. If you have no enemies, find a way to make them.
- The 48 Laws of Power
You’re such an idiot. I can’t believe I ever looked up to you, even just a tiny bit. I guess it shows how naive I’ve been. I knew you were an asshole but, you know what? When I get really tired, when I’ve been working for twelve hours and I still have two to go, I think of you. Have you ever even worked a day in your life? Like, truly worked? If you can get this far in life on a trust fund and a horrible attitude, I’ve got nothing to worry about.
Lauren sighed to herself and crossed her legs. As she absentmindedly nibbled on the end of her pen, she continued her silent rant at Parker.
I suppose I do have to thank you. Seeing how you run a business, how you treat people, has given me a really clear vision of how I want to do things. You’re like an abusive parent. I think, “Would Parker do this?” and I do the opposite. I’ll just do everything the opposite of you and I’m certain things will work out just fine.
She looked around the room and wasn’t surprised. Eyes in laps, heads in hands, attention anywhere but right here and now. Regardless of the topic, Parker’s meetings were always a supreme waste of time. She gazed back to their fearless CEO and almost groaned.
Ugh, you’re so freaking oblivious. Can’t you tell no one is listening? You’ve literally been talking for thirty minutes straight, nothing but ‘I, me, I, me. I want, give me.’ I can’t believe you actually refer to yourself as a leader. Landon was right. It’s no wonder even your family can’t stand you.
To any of the other StyleSpur staff sitting at the table, Lauren Kemp’s tight smile might have appeared friendly and professional. Little did they know the grin they saw came from the poison-tinged tirade running through her mind. Over the past month, it had become increasingly difficult for Lauren to hide her true feelings about her boss, so she would’ve been happy to know her inner monologue went unnoticed. Still, there were moments when her guard slipped.
Parker loved to talk with his hands, often claiming it was because of his Italian heritage. She suspected it was one of the only ways he could get people to look at to him. After all, it is pretty difficult to ignore a loud, flailing man. As he sat pounding on the table, pens and laptops rattling with each impact, it was all Lauren could do to keep from shouting at him. Her patience paid off. As he flung a particularly wild gesture toward projector screen, the outside of his hand caught a glass of water, spilling it across the table and into his lap. He jumped to his feet cursing, shaking the water off his soaked Blackberry, his gray trousers now dark at the crotch. He nearly tipped over, still unused to the full leg cast he’d had for weeks. Lauren had to quickly conceal a bark of laughter as a fit of coughing. Faith rushed to his side and started fussing over him while the rest of the team averted their eyes.
“Alright, for fuck’s sake. We’re done. Go. Faith, what are you even doing? Do you have magical absorbing properties all of a sudden? Get something to soak it up with!”
Lauren shook her head as she headed for the door, wondering for the billionth time what Faith ever say in him. A woman like that could have literally any man she wanted yet she wasted her time with him.
She isn’t the kind of girl to care about money so it must be he’s good in bed. Ugh, God, what am I saying? He’s the most selfish person I’ve ever met—
“Lauren, hang back a sec.” She suppressed a groan as she watched the last of the employees escape out the door ahead of her.
Take me with you!
She turned back to the center of the room, Faith now dabbing at Parker with a wad of cocktail napkins.
“Yes?” She’d done her best to avoid any direct, private conversations with him for quite some time.
“Were you satisfied with the way that meeting went?”
No sir, I would’ve preferred to dump the water over your greasy head.
“Yes, I think so.”
What’s he looking for?
“Really? So you’re happy with your contribution, sitting there looking like some fucking lobotomy patient. What the fuck were you smiling about, your boyfriend’s dick? Damnit Faith, just knock it off. Go get my gym bag, I’ll just get changed,” he said, swatting her away. Frowning, she flinched from him like an abused puppy and made to leave. “Try using your brain every now and again, yeah? Jesus! Where was I?”
Lauren’s jaw ached from clenching. It took all her willpower not to jump over the table and thump him right in the nose.
“Anyway, I expect more from you. You’re essentially my number two and with everyone so stressed out, we need them to trust us.” A smarmy grin spread across his face. “Daddy and Mommy have to get along.”
She took a hard swallow and said, “I appreciate what you’re saying and I’ll try to participate more in the next meeting.”
“Great, great!” he said, his hands out in a friendly gesture. “That’s all I’m asking. Have a good night. I hope you enjoy everything Nick’s dick has to offer.”
“Have a good night,” she said through clenched teeth.
Consider that a lesson, Lauren. He’s a lot more aware and tuned in than you give him credit for.
Everyone but Jorge had left for the night and even he was shouldering his bag to go. She wished him a good night, headed to her desk, and quickly packed. She sighed as she glanced around the empty office, trying to shake the feeling that she hadn’t done enough, hadn’t accomplished enough that day. Shaking the thought away, she popped on her headphones and sent Nick a text as she pushed out the door.
Hey, working late again. How was your day?
The air outside was dense and humid, the sky filled with threatening clouds. It felt like the city was holding its breath, waiting for the storm to release it from the gripping heat. She was covered with a thin sheen of sweat by the time she got to the end of the block and down to the subway platform. Fifteen minutes later when she emerged downtown, dark patches of sweat stained her gray tank top. Trying to ignore the discomfort, Lauren stopped at the corner bodega and grabbed a cold energy drink and a microwavable burrito.
She entered through an unremarkable door to a lobby that looked like thousands of others in the city. Nodding to the doorman, she got into the elevator and inserted a key while holding the button for the eighteenth floor. A few moments later the doors slid open and she entered the huge, airy loft space.
“Guys, you really should keep this shut all the time,” she said sliding the accordion gate closed.
“Wasn’t me. Brian just stormed out here muttering to himself like a lunatic. I’m surprised you didn’t see him.”
“Oh, what now?”
Lev shrugged. “Who knows? He was up until three or four last night, barely slept, and started again before nine. We tried asking him but you know how he gets. He’ll figure it out and be back to normal in no time.” Lev sat at his long desk eating a bowl of cereal. When Lauren had first realized that was all he ate, she’d chided him about a balanced diet. He’d waved a cereal box in the air and replied in his thick Israeli accent, “No worries! It’s fortified.”