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Table

of Contents
Epilogue
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
A Note from Sophie and Cassie
RUTHLESS BOSS

A BILLIONAIRE BOSS OFFICE ROMANCE


CASSIE MARKS
SOPHIE BROOKS
Ruthless Boss: A Billionaire Boss Office Romance

Copyright 2017 by Cassie Marks

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 for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

This book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, events, locations, and incidents
are the product of the authors imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarities to
real people, places or events are entirely coincidental.
CONTENTS

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Epilogue
A Note from Sophie and Cassie
1
NICOLE

W atch where youre going, girl!


The loud voice hit me at the same time as the
businessman did. He crashed into my shoulder and kept walking,
disappearing into the crowd in an instant.
Suddenly, a strong gust of wind ripped the umbrella from my
hand. My grip had been loosened by the jostle of the
businessman, and the wind finished the job.
It had been the only thing saving my long blonde hair from the
heavy rain, and now my umbrella moved as though on a mission
to get away from me.
I tried pushing through the crowd, but the bustling group of
people were far too intent on walking quickly past me. The only
option I had was to stand and watch the umbrella bob higher and
lower until it found itself smashed under a passing city bus in
the rush-hour traffic.
I kind of knew how it felt at that moment.
But I wouldnt give up. I never had before, and I certainly
wouldnt on such an important day. Continuing walking, I tried
to get around a couple old ladies who were moving slowly along,
oblivious to the weather as they chatted joyfully.
The joy that came from maintaining their grips on their
umbrellas, I assumed.
Finally rounding them, I realized I was close to my destination. I
could tell by the large awning covering the sidewalk and the
expensive Mercedes cars lined up out front. My online research
had come in handy, even if the timetable for the subway had
been completely useless.
I wanted to stop and admire the view, especially the words barely
visible at the distant top of the building: Pristine Group. The red
and blue letters were on packaging, aircraft, websites and
anything else you could imagine throughout the world, and here
I was staring at them from in front of the building they
called home.
Shit, I thought to myself, glancing at the cheap watch on my
wrist. 7:41 a.m. I was late as hell.
The first impression I was about to make wasnt going to be a
good one. Late on the first day, looking like I had been dragged
through a swimming pool on my way in.
It wasnt at all how I had imagined this moment. Not even close.
Forcing my chin up, I walked toward the huge glass doors with as
much confidence as I could fake. I kept looking straight ahead,
ignoring the cackling homeless woman insulting my looks from
where she was huddled under the edge of the awning.
Entering the lobby was like entering a new world.
It was even more stunning and opulent than I had imagined. The
pictures of it on the internet did it so little justice that I had to
wonder if I had been researching the right place.
But I didnt have time to enjoy it. My new goal was to get to the
HR office where I was supposed to spend the morning filling out
forms, and that meant getting through the high levels of
security.
The polished floors presented a great threat to my stability as I
balanced on my heels, but I eventually made it to the security
desk. Hi, I said, trying for a happy, excited voice but somehow
landing on that of a little girl.
Without looking up, the security guard grunted something at me.
I leaned over the counter to hear him better. Im sorry, what did
you say?
Youre getting water on my computer!
He rose quickly from his chair, covering the monitor with his
arms as though it might explode. I leaned back as fast as I could,
almost over-balancing so that I ended up on my ass.
Youre doing well, a mocking voice told me from the back of
my mind.
Im sorry, I didnt mean to. Its just that its been raining and

His glare stopped me in the middle of my speech.


Whats your name?
Oh, Im Nicole Blythe. Middle name Elizabeth.
Dont need your middle name, he said, aiming a frown at me
as he sat down again.
After a few taps on his keyboard, he looked up again. Says here
you were expected between 7:15 and 7:30. Its 7:42, so youve
been removed from the list.
The list? I could feel the panic rising even before he finished
talking. What list?
If I was kicked off this once-in-a-lifetime internship, I wasnt
sure what I would do. Surely, being late to something once in my
life wouldnt have such dramatic consequences for my career.
Would it?
The list for a temporary pass. Without it, you cant go upstairs.
Without being on the list, you cant get the pass.
He was obviously getting some kind of enjoyment out of this, but
I was too scared to care. My father had worked tirelessly to help
me get this internship despite the fact that I hadnt gone to
Harvard, and I was about to ruin it for him before it all started.
How would I ever tell him?
There has to be something I can do. Can I talk to the person in
HR? I cant remember their name but I have it here.
I reached into my bag and dug around, searching desperately for
my phone. Theres no point, the guard was saying, but I
ignored him.
I couldnt imagine this being the end, but it seemed like there
was no other outcome.
Finding the phone at the bottom of my bag, I clutched it in my
wet fingertips and mentally kicked myself for turning it off
earlier that morning. I should have switched it to silent. Now I
had to stand there and wait for it to boot up.
The security guard was obviously about to tell me to leave, but I
wasnt going to go easily. I might not have gone to the right
college, but I had worked my ass off at the college I graduated
from with a 4.0 GPA. That work wasnt going to go to waste. Not
if I could help it.
Miss Blythe.
I froze. That voice was one I knew well. Deep and booming, it
seemed to carry throughout the giant lobby without any effort on
the part of the speaker.
My mind was racing at the sound, and I closed my eyes. If only a
hole would suddenly appear and swallow me up quickly, before
I had time to think about it. Or, even better, maybe I could wake
up to the sound of my alarm.
Maybe this was all a nightmare, and I was still fast asleep. I
wasnt late, I was just dreaming of the worst possible situation.
But when I allowed my head to turn, I could see Devon Carell
walking towards me.
The Devon Carell. The man who spent as much time on the
financial TV shows as he did running one of the biggest
businesses in the world, Pristine Group. I knew his opinions on
just about everything from years of watching every show he was
on, and now he was saying my name.
Mr. Carell, I gushed, nearly slipping as I turned quickly to
face him.
Youre late, Miss Blythe.
His tone was nothing like I had heard before. There was a
definite note of anger, and no beaming smile to be seen.
He still looked good, though. God, did he look good. His
shoulders seemed even wider in person, spreading as though he
was a football player or a boxer. They blended perfectly into arms
that threatened to break open the sleeves of his perfectly fitting
suit, and I knew he was hiding impressive abs underneath his
dark blue shirt.
That charity calendar he had starred in was still one of my
favorite possessions.
I know, Mr. Carell, sir. Im so sorry. I missed the first train on
the subway and the second one was running late. And then it was
raining and my umbrella, well, it got smashed by a bus, and
Devon held his hand up, obviously not interested in my ranting
like a crazy person. The internship youre supposed to be
starting has the most applicants of any in the country, and we
only hire one person per year. Are you telling me weve hired
someone who doesnt think to leave home early enough to get
here on time?
I felt my cheeks redden, and this time it wasnt from looking at
his deep blue eyes. Suddenly, I could see why he had a reputation
for not taking any crap from anyone. I know, sir, I said,
struggling to hold eye contact in my embarrassment. I did leave
early, but not early enough.
He looked me up and down, probably trying to decide how to get
me out of his building with the least water damage. Suddenly,
the idea of losing this internship before I had even started hit me
hard. I wanted to crumble into a heap on the floor, but instead I
tried to rally.
Look, Mr. Carell, I promise if you give me a chance, Ill prove
Im good enough. You obviously saw a reason to hire me, so Ill
show you why. Just one chance, please?
The expression on his face suggested he didnt like begging, but I
didnt have a choice. My father had been so excited when I told
him I had won the single place on this internship for 2017, and I
wasnt going to let him down.
Fine, Devon finally said. But youre going to have to earn it.
He paused, his face creasing in serious thought. He looked so
intense in that moment with one big hand sliding through his
thick, black hair, the other calmly resting in the pocket of his
slacks. No wonder he was on TV so often he had the looks for
it. No question about that.
Finally, he spoke. Just in time, too I was ready to beg again.
Weve got a big meeting today at 12:30, and the caterers pulled
out. Youll need to organize food and celebratory drinks for it,
and youve got until 11:00. If you do it, I might give you another
chance.
Thank you so much, I said, smiling as widely as I could.
Where should I work from?
It sounded like a stupid question even as I said it, but I realized
that far too late.
Devon had already started walking back toward the elevators
when I asked, and he called back without breaking stride. The
benches around here are pretty comfortable.
I looked around, noticing the white, cushioned benches dotted
around the lobby for the first time. You can do this, I told myself.
2
DEVON

Y ou were a little harsh, werent you?


I glanced at Daniel Flax as he left the security desk
he had been leaning against while pretending not to eavesdrop
on my conversation with Nicole. Joining me mid-stride, he hit
the button for floor 32 as we entered the elevator. I watched
Nicole as the doors closed for us.
How would you have me handle it? Perhaps give her a shoulder
massage and tell her everythings going to be just fine? Maybe
let her know that its really not a big deal to keep the CEO
waiting in the lobby?
Of course not. Im just saying, sometimes these things happen.
They dont deserve to be punished by the threat of being fired.
I didnt fire her, though, did I?
No, but you set her an impossible task. We usually organize the
catering months in advance. What makes you think she can
come up with something in that short of a time?
You wouldve managed, when you were an intern. I scoff.
And you would have thought to ask a couple of questions, such
as where is it being held and how many people will be there.
Daniel turned to me sharply as the elevator doors opened with a
quiet ding to announce our arrival. Is that really the best use of
her time? Setting up catering for a meeting that doesnt exist?
I laughed, striding down the hallway. Keeps her out of
my hair.
I would have felt bad if she was a normal intern, but she wasnt.
Nicole Blythe had the unfortunate luck to be the daughter of
Jerry Blythe, a liar and thief.
He was the reason she was our newest intern in our best
program, and that meant she was going to suffer for it. It would
be tough for her, but she had her dad to thank for her place on
the internship in the first place.
Whatever happened from here on out would be on him.
No messages, Maureen said when I walked past her desk and
into my office. Any other receptionist would happily email any
messages to me, but not Maureen. She was eighty-years-old and
still considered email to be the work of the devil.
Truthfully, she didnt do much other than answer the phones
these days. Everything else was done by one of the other
receptionists who wasnt terrified of computers. But I didnt
mind keeping her around since she had been with me from the
day I started this company.
And no thanks to Jerry Blythe, it had become a massive success.
My cell phone rang as I sat at my desk, causing me to grunt in
annoyance as I stood up again to remove it from my pocket. I had
a desk phone, email on my computer, a cell phone that stayed on
my desk and a team of receptionists, but someone always rang
the cell in my pocket just as I sat down.
I glanced at the name on the screen as I sat back down. Senator
Evans, the honorable gentleman from Virginia who was
anything but.
His only goal in life was to get as rich as he possibly could from
whoever was handing out money, and until I had certain issues
dealt with, that was me.
Mike, I said, purposely refusing to use his title. I knew it
angered him to no end.
Mr. Carell, Ive been informed that were supposed to come and
see you for a meeting.
Yes, Friday afternoon, I think. I knew exactly when it was. We
were working hard to come up with the material we would be
distributing to him and his colleagues.
Im just wondering if you can tell me why Im supposed to drop
everything and come to see you.
Youll find out when you get here, I said, starting to wonder
where this was going. Calling to ask for the agenda of a meeting
was far beneath a man of the stature he thought he was.
Look, Mr. Carell, theres a bit of a problem. My colleague,
Senator Mackay, isnt quite as, well, open as Senator Wilson and
I. Hes concerned as to what we will discuss.
I knew what he was hinting at, and the urge to call him out was
strong. But I needed the help of Evans and his friends, and
politicians didnt take kindly to straightforward conversations.
They much preferred to pretend they were talking in some kind
of unbreakable code.
As annoying as it was, I had to be a little gentle with people with
such fragile egos. So, tell him not to come, I dont care. Hes
not exactly great company from what Ive heard.
Probably a little more gentle than that.
No, you misunderstand me, Devon. It must have been serious
if he was using my first name. I mean that he wants to know if
the things we talk about are confidential. Hes worried theyll
get out and his voters will be less than thrilled with him.
For fucks sake, I thought, pushing myself back from the desk
and turning to stare out the window. It all look so tiny from so
many floors up. Somehow, the view always made me feel
powerful and successful.
Dangerously powerful especially when I was trying not to tell a
senator to shove it up his ass. Ill put it simply, I said, avoiding
the words I really wanted to use. The meeting will be in my
building, and its free of secret recording devices. If he thinks
Im going to go and tell the media what we discuss, then hes an
idiot. Why would I tell the public something I want hidden as
much as he does?
I know, I know, he said, finally realizing that I was losing my
patience. Ive tried telling him that, but hes new to the game.
Hes cautious.
Make it simple for him, Mike. Tell him that he can come if he
wants, but if he doesnt youll be replacing him with a more
grateful senator. I told you, I need three senators for this.
Okay, thats fine. Ill do that.
I hung up the phone before I could say something I would regret,
and threw it onto my desk. Phone calls from senators were never
free of pain, but now that we were dealing with one who had only
just been elected, it was becoming agony.
Most of them learned quickly that if they wanted to be elected
again, they needed financing. The new senator from Tennessee
didnt need as much as his colleagues, but he needed enough to
make his party feel like he was pulling his weight.
Which was why he was meeting with me. Well, it was why he had
agreed to; whether he actually would remained to be seen.
If he played ball, I would help him build his re-election fund. If
he played really well, I might even pay him enough to avoid
having to raise any more money for the rest of the year. Of
course, he would still raise more none of the politicians I had
ever met could help themselves.
But if he didnt, we might have to switch to plan B. That was a
much more expensive plan that required a lot more effort, and I
wanted to avoid it. I didnt get to where I was by spending more
money than I had to.
Whatever he decided, I wouldnt be put off my goal. We were
going to put a new competitor out of business or fold them into
my company no matter what.
As I put the cell phone back in my pocket and continued
watching the city below, I thought of another goal: Pushing
Nicole until she quit. It was mean, and I felt a tinge of guilt about
it, but it couldnt be helped.
She wasnt going to hang around my company any longer than
was absolutely necessary. I didnt need the memories every time
I saw her last name, and I certainly didnt want to take the risk
that she was spying for her old man. Jerry had proven himself to
be dishonest, and I couldnt be sure his insistence that I hire his
precious little girl wasnt a trick.
It would be a good one if it was, though. Sending your hot, curvy
daughter to work for your enemy and steal his secrets was smart.
Just like his original sin from a few years ago that had driven me
to hate him.
Still, I had to admit that his daughter looked nothing like my old
enemy. Her green eyes were clear in my memory, stark and wet
from tears as she tried to fight them off. If she was a spy, she
was also an extraordinary actor.
But no matter how attractive she was or how good she looked in
her heels, I wasnt going to be fooled. Not by the Blythe family
again, anyway.
I suddenly remembered setting her the catering task, and the
corner of my mouth twitched upward. No way shed come
through. Not on this short noticenot in this town. But hell, if
she was as successful as she promised she would be, I would at
least be having a great lunch in my board room today. Maybe Id
even invite her.
3
NICOLE

T he bench I sat on was surprisingly comfortable, but then


again, the padding on it was deeper than the couch in the
apartment I shared with my BFF, Sam Wilkins. Although
that shouldnt have been surprising the lobby itself was one of
the most luxurious I had ever seen.
It looked like it belonged in a five-star hotel, like the one I
stayed in with my dad when I was twelve after I won a business
essay competition. Hed been excited by the people we would get
to meet over the weekend, but I was taken by the opulence.
But this time was different. Instead of taking in the beauty, I was
scrolling through a Google search to find caterers who would
work on short notice. Or no notice, really. A few hours probably
wasnt enough time to get a crew together, pre-cook the food
and bring it all into the middle of the city.
I was going to find one, though. Even if it killed me.
When Id found ten likely candidates, I started making the calls.
I had always enjoyed talking on the phone so I was hoping to
sweet talk my way into speaking directly to the managers of each
company. The ones who cared about making money much more
than an employee who simply wanted to finish a simple shift.
By the third call, my hopes were almost completely dashed. One
of the people I spoke to laughed loudly when I told him what
time he needed to be here, and another asked if it was a practical
joke. None of them were going to put me through to their bosses
The only bright side was that they were hanging up on me
quickly, which left time to call more of them. Except that it
seemed to mean only more rejections.
Im sorry, one woman said, a sympathetic tone to her voice. I
wish we could help, hon, but were booked out. Have you
considered calling a pizza shop? They usually work faster.
I nearly laughed at that one. Somehow, I didnt think Devon
Carell and those he would meet with were going to accept pizza.
Especially not pizza that wasnt made by a Michelin star chef.
No, I was going to have to find the kind of food I imagined he was
used to.
And I was going to have to do it quickly, or I would find myself
having a horrible conversation with my dad. Just thinking about
that made the tears prick at my eyes.
Dad wasnt the kind of man to show much emotion, but he had
almost cried when I told him the internship was mine. He made
some kind of cryptic comment about his career finally being
worth something, but he wouldnt explain what that meant.
That was hardly surprising, though. Dad didnt like talking about
his career much, even though I asked him all the time. He was
the reason I loved business, and I was dying to know more about
his time as CEO of a number of small companies through the
years.
Hello?
The sound of a womans voice dragged me out of my thoughts
and into the present. Hi, I beamed, plastering on a big smile
and trying to talk like I was madly in love with this woman I
didnt know. I was trying a different tactic. Ive been tasked
with catering a very important business meeting, and I was
hoping to speak to the owner of your company.
The new tactic involved not giving any details to the frontline
staff so they wouldnt be able to laugh at me before I spoke to
the owner. It was a Hail Mary pass at best.
Yes, thats me, the woman said.
I sat bolt upright, suddenly realizing I didnt know what to say
once I got to the owner. I had to think quickly. Oh, great, good
to meet you. I paused, and she didnt fill the silence. I was
losing her.
Okay, so Im wondering if you would be able to help me out of a
serious predicament. The catering company we booked has
pulled out, and we need to find catering for some very important
people.
Thats fine, we do that all the time. Has the date of the meeting
been set yet?
Shit, I thought. The only reason she was still talking to me was
because I hadnt given her the important piece of information
yet. Shit.
Umm, well, thats the problem. They cancelled on us without
much notice.
Okay, when is it?
I paused again, trying to figure how best to break the news. She
laughed suddenly. Oh, dont worry dear, weve catered for fifty
people at a few days notice before. You wont shock me.
Its today. Lunch time.
Silence. Painful silence that told me I was very close to failing
the man of my dreams. This was number ten on my list, and my
next step was to admit defeat.
I didnt like to admit defeat.
Today? Seriously?
Yes, seriously. Im sorry, I know its really short notice, but
Thats an understatement.
I know it will probably be extremely difficult for you, but I
promise we can make it worth your while. Its for Pristine Group,
and they well, we have a lot of catered meetings. If you come
through, maybe we could have you as our main caterer.
I felt horrible for lying, but I had no choice. This internship
wasnt slipping through my fingers.
Besides, it wasnt the worst lie in the world. Maybe I could
convince Devon that this particular company was worth getting
the main catering position. And that it was worth creating a
main caterer position.
Thats great and all, but I dont know if its actually possible.
Most of my staff dont even start until midday, and wed have to
do a lot of preparation.
The food doesnt have to be great. I pressed the palm of my
hand against my forehead. I couldnt believe Id said that.
Our food is always great, she said, obviously offended. Which
is why it takes time. It definitely needs to be today, though? Ive
known lots of companies to push back meetings with fake
excuses.
I could pull a fire alarm, I thought, looking around for the
nearest one. Dont be so stupid, Nicole.
Pristine Group is a very big company. Im sure that if you
impress Devon Carell hell repay you by telling his friends.
Did CEOs even have friends? And if so, did they often talk about a
caterer coming to their rescue at short notice?
The woman sighed, and I felt a faint glimmer of hope. How
many people are going to be there?
I closed my eyes and threw my head back silently. Instead of
asking Devon where I was working from, perhaps I should have
asked that particular question. Or, you know, any of the others
this woman was likely to ask me. Twenty.
Wow, thats a big meeting.
It really is, isnt it? I was never a good liar.
Silence descended again, but now that I was this close, I wasnt
giving up. I felt like I was capable of marching to her office and
dragging her to this building, catering van and all. You know, a
friend of mine is currently working as an intern for a food
magazine. She mentioned that shes been asked to research the
latest lunch crazes, and maybe I could have her call you for
information. If she used anything you said, shed have to
mention your business.
It was only a little white lie. My former classmate, Simone, was
interning at a food magazine, and she would have to mention the
name of anyone she got a comment from, but she hadnt said
anything about researching lunch crazes. Still, maybe it would be
a good story for her to write.
Alright, Ill see what I can do. Itll cost you, though. Ill be
paying a crazy amount of overtime.
Thats fine, I said, trying not to giggle. I only hoped the bill
would be acceptable, but then Devon hadnt mentioned anything
about cost.
And as a business man, he would surely know that desperate
customers paid more.
We spent another few minutes exchanging details, and I had to
come up with a lot of answers on the spot. There were more
important questions I hadnt asked, but I was kind of confident
my made up answers would be enough.
If they werent, well I had succeeded, at least.
I glanced at my watch as I gathered my things and walked toward
the security desk, but what I saw made my smile disappear
quickly. 10:58.
I had two minutes to get to wherever I had to go.
The security guard didnt even look up as he tossed a pass onto
the desk in front of him. Thirty-second floor, he said.
I snatched it off the desk and ran toward the elevators as fast as
my heels would allow. Hitting the elevator button, I really hoped
I hadnt ruined my chances at this internship by being late.
Again.
That would be a little ironic. I was set a task because I was late,
and then I was late completing the task.
But even the somewhat slow movements of the elevator werent
going to dampen my spirits. I had turned an impossible task into
a win, and that gave me a confidence boost I didnt expect. If I
could convince a caterer to cater a large meeting in less than two
hours, I could do anything.
Well, anything Devon could throw at me.
The elevator doors opened, and I walked briskly to the reception
desk directly in front of them. Behind it sat an older, serious-
looking woman, who glanced up at me with a soft smile. Well,
kind of. It could have been some kind of grimace.
Hi, I said, my voice a little more bubbly than it probably
should have been in a business environment. Im Nicole Blythe,
and Im
Did you get the caterers?
Yes, I did.
Tearing a page out of my notebook, I handed it to her. She
dropped it on her desk without so much as a quick look, and then
glanced up at me again. The way she stared into my eyes was
unnerving, like she was trying to read my mind.
Youre smiling like you think Devons going to give you a
medal. Hes not.
Of course not, I spluttered. I know that. I dont want one.
Good. Because you wont get a lot of praise around here, believe
me. Ive seen a lot of interns come and go, especially now that
theyre doing this once-a-year executive internship. The only
one who made it to the end was Daniel. The others were all
chewed up and spat out.
That wont be me, I said, my voice failing me. I mean, I hope
it wont be. I dont even know if Im allowed to stay yet. Devon
just told me to get the catering.
Oh, thats right, he said to tell you that if you arranged for the
lunch, you could have one more chance. If you still want it, Ill
show you to your office. Her cold voice implied that I may as
well quit now instead of delaying the inevitable.
Of course, I want it, I said, almost screaming the answer.
What was it with people telling me I either shouldnt or couldnt
do this internship? My friends in business school said that, as
did a professor. Sometimes, it felt like I was the only one who
believed in me.
Then come with me, she said, standing from her chair and
walking away from me down the hall. She was rather fast for a
lady of her age.
I followed, clutching my bag tightly in this new environment.
The lobbys opulence had been out of this world, but this floor
seemed to be so normal. The carpet looked new and clean, and
the paint on the walls didnt have a mark on it, but it wasnt like
the lobby.
When the receptionist stopped and reached a key out toward a
door, I almost stopped and asked if she had the right door. A sign
on the brown wood told me it was a cleaning closet, and I wasnt
here to be a cleaner. Unless this was some kind of Karate Kid
moment. Wax on, wax off.
Dont be fooled by the sign, she said, reading my thoughts as
she pushed the door open. Its the only vacant room on this
floor, so its your office. Enjoy.
She reached in and flicked a switch, bathing the room in light.
Well, maybe not bathing it in light more like, giving it a tiny
amount of non-darkness. The bare bulb hanging from the ceiling
certainly looked like it had been around for a long time.
And Im Maureen, she said, turning and heading back toward
her desk. Youll find me in the contacts list on the phone on
your desk.
Thanks, I said, not taking my eyes off my new office.
But dont call me. I dont have time.
Friendly.
Stepping into the office, I became aware of a musky smell. The
room was filled by a small filing cabinet, a desk and a computer,
leaving little room for anything else.
It was cramped, dark and smelly, and I shouldve hated it, but
instead, I couldnt help but smile. It was my office. My office at
Pristine Group.
Nicole Blythes office at Pristine Group. Call me at my office, I
thought to myself, holding back a giggle.
I walked around the desk, running my finger along the cheap
wood and picking up more dust than was probably safe. But it
didnt matter it was my dust. Kind of.
Sitting in my chair, I turned toward the computer and noticed a
post-it note on the bottom of the monitor. It had a username
and password written on it, along with a note that read: Check
your email.
I hit the power button, listening as the ancient computer whirred
into life. Warm air flew out of it and onto my cold, bare legs, and
I figured that was a bonus for winter. Perhaps not in summer,
but that was a while away.
With a little luck, I would still be here then. Maybe even in an
office hadnt started life as a home for mops and brooms.
When the computer finished booting up, I opened the email
client and waited a few seconds for it to open. As it did, I watched
the emails come in, each labelled: To: Nicole Blythe.
I could have giggled again.
Before I could click on one, a name jumped out at me on the
most recently displayed one: From: Devon Carell
(d.carell@pristine.com).
As soon as I clicked it, my heart began to race. I remembered
Maureen telling me about the lack of praise at Pristine Group,
but part of me hoped there would be some. Surely, after landing
a caterer at such short notice, I would get something.
It seemed to take forever to open, but when it finally did I leaned
forward to read it intently. It was short.
Nicole,
If youre reading this, congratulations. You have one more
chance.
Your next task is to go to the junior marketers meeting on the
14th floor. It starts at 11:15, and I want you to take notes.
Devon.
I glanced at the clock on the bottom right of the screen: 11:10.
Shit, I thought, grabbing my bag and rifling through it for the
notepad I had used when I was looking for caterers.
When I found it, I jumped out of my chair and left my office in a
hurry. As I closed the door behind me, a slight smile spread
across my face.
I was under pressure, but that was fine because I was in. I was
the newest intern at Pristine Group, and I was about to do
something important. Useful, even.
Sure, attending a marketing meeting wasnt what I expected to
be doing, but I figured there would be a reason for it. After all,
Devon was known for producing some of the best brains in
business, and he wouldnt own that reputation if he didnt know
what he was doing.
And if this was another test, I was going to pass it.
Devon Carell was going to be impressed with me whether he
liked it or not.
4
NICOLE

I managed to reach the meeting room in the marketing


department at exactly 11:15. That meant entering the small
space cramped with eight staff members while they all
turned to see who the intruder was.
It was clear from first glance that this was their own meeting
room, and I wondered why they couldnt use the much bigger,
brighter one I had passed on the way in. But then it occurred to
me that maybe they were being tested as I was. After all, they
were interns too.
Hi, I mumbled, trying to take in my new surroundings as I
searched for a vacant seat. There was one, but it was over in the
far corner.
No one spoke as I tried climb over people as nicely as I could. For
such a large group, it would have made sense to give them a
bigger meeting room. Or use a smaller table. But I got the
impression that we interns were supposed to be put in difficult
positions.
Can we help you?
I looked up at the woman who spoke just as I was sitting down,
and I had a very nerve-wracking thought: Was I in the
right room?
Umm, yeah. Hi, Im Nicole Blythe, and Mr. Carell asked me to
take notes of the meeting.
The same woman spoke again, and I wondered if she was some
kind of manager. I doubted it, though she was only in her early
20s like me. Why? We have this.
She reached over and lifted a microphone off the table,
ceremoniously showing it to me before setting it back down.
Quickly, I recalled the email Devon Carell had sent me, hoping I
hadnt missed something. Why would he need me to take notes
if the meeting was being recorded?
Well, the email said I should go to the meeting of the junior
marketers. Is that this one?
Were not junior marketers, she said, her eyes narrowing
angrily at me. I could hear negative noises around me, and I
knew I had said something I shouldnt have.
Okay, well, Im in the wrong room. Where do the junior
marketers meet?
This time, the entire room erupted into quiet but angry, sounds.
After a few seconds, the muttering tapered off as one of the guys
spoke for the rest of them: Nicole, junior marketers is what
some of the other staff call us. Its not nice its meant to
suggest were kids pretending to be marketers.
Oh shit, I thought. My face turned red, and I was instantly
tongue-tied. I hadnt thought that we were only supposed to use
that title behind their backs, and the email from Devon hadnt
suggested an alternative title. Im sorry, I managed, barely. I
didnt know that.
Thats okay, he said, smiling rather genuinely. And for the
record, this is the meeting of the marketing interns so youre in
the right room.
I settled lower into my chair and lifted my notepad high enough
to almost cover my face. They all turned away from me after a
few seconds of staring, and I wished there was a hole I could
crawl into.
What I wouldnt have given to be out in the world at that very
moment. In the middle of a hike somewhere, without people to
take offense at everything I said, and without the stuffy inside
air to make my brain slower.
Being late to my first day of my dream internship was bad
enough, but now I was killing my chances at my second goal:
Friends. I didnt allow myself to make many of them in college
because I was too busy studying my ass off. Every time I refused
to go on a date or rejected an invitation to a party, I told myself:
Ill make friends after I graduate.
The woman who had been less than friendly opened the meeting
by reciting the agenda, and I started scribbling furiously. If only
my mind would stop racing, I might have been able to
concentrate on what she was saying.

I T WAS ONLY WHEN I FELT SOMEONE KNOCK HARD AGAINST MY KNEE THAT I
looked up and noticed they were all filing out of the meeting
room. The woman who had scolded me earlier looked back, her
smirk making it clear that the knock wasnt accidental.
I went back to my notes, trying to remember the last sentences I
hadnt yet written down. The entire group were apparently well-
trained speed-talkers, and I had spent most of the meeting
desperately trying to keep up.
Focusing so hard on recording what Id heard meant that none of
it had stuck in my memory, and I was left with a rather abrupt
ending to the meeting. According to my notes, it ended with a
long line across the page that looked suspiciously as though the
writer had been jostled by an angry junior marketer.
There wasnt much I could do, though. With a little luck, I might
be able to retrieve some memory of how it actually ended when I
was typing the notes on the computer.
Rubbing my knee, I stood from the uncomfortable chair and
stretched my back. As I did, I looked through the wide glass
window on one wall of the room, watching the interns all go back
to their desks in one corner of the marketing room.
I was still annoyed at the woman whose name I hadnt known,
but I could now see a little of her anger. She and the others
werent exactly included in the marketing department, and she
probably wanted to be.
As I switched off the lights in the meeting room and headed
toward the elevator, I hoped I wasnt in for the same experience.
I didnt expect to run the company, but I definitely didnt want
to spend my time taking notes. Partly because I had just learned
how bad I was at it, but also because I was here against the advice
of almost everyone I spoke to.
Former Pristine interns from different internships told me of
rumors about the executive-level internship I applied for.
Everything from the massive hours to the terrifying experience
of being screamed at by Devon Carell.
Friends of friends told stories that were even worse, and I even
had a professor tell me that he wouldnt wish that particular
internship on his worst enemy.
But I didnt believe much of it. The long hours, sure; but Devon
didnt seem like a man who screamed. When I was standing in
front of him, dripping water onto his lobby floor, he had very
calmly suggested that I might be fired without coming close to a
raised voice.
Since I had gone against the advice of everyone who offered it, I
at least hoped this internship would teach me something. Maybe
it could even set me up with a career at Pristine, working
alongside some of the smartest people in the country.
The elevator opened suddenly while I was in deep thought, and
Maureen stared up at me. She lifted her hand and bent her
finger, motioning for me to follow her to her desk.
I did as I was told, trying not to feel like a well-behaved puppy.
Mr. Carell said for you to meet him in the conference room.
Oh, ok. Thanks.
I turned toward my office, intent on leaving my notes on my
desk to be typed up as soon as I got back.
Other way, Maureen called out, clearly having lost patience.
Or, more likely, never having had it to begin with. The
conference room is down there.
Looking back at her, I stopped walking as soon as I saw the
expression on her face. She seemed so angry. Im just going to

No, he said immediately. Go now.


That time, I didnt feel like a properly trained puppy. No, I felt
like a schoolgirl being told by a teacher to go and sit in the
corner. And I hadnt even done anything wrong as far as I was
aware.
Walking in the direction she pointed, I tried not to think about
the fact that I was doing as I was told. It was what I normally did
since it avoided conflict, but it created situations like this where
I wanted to tell Maureen that I was simply going to drop my
notes off and return. Instead, I chose to walk past her without so
much as a hint of an argument.
Mad at myself, I followed the signs leading me through a series
of wide, art-filled hallways. The conference room was visible
long before I got there, and I could see Devon sitting at the head
of the large table through the very wide window.
Thats strange, I thought. It was supposed to be a big meeting
but hes all alone. At least, it was supposed to be some kind of
meeting that was why I had organized catering.
Panic descended as I increased my speed. I had been completely
clear as to the time and day with the caterer, and it wouldnt
have been hard for them to find out where the conference
room was.
The woman on the phone even said she was used to being
escorted by security, so it didnt matter that I didnt know which
floor.
But if she hadnt showed up, then I had failed. Had she simply
told me yes to get me off the phone? Was it some kind of cruel
prank?
When I got closer, I breathed a sigh of relief. The food was laid
out on countertops to his left, hidden from my view by the wall
separating the conference room from the office beside it. The
catering had arrived, but apparently the meeting hadnt lasted
very long.
Five minutes, in fact, I realized as I took a quick look at my
watch. That was weird.
Devon looked up at me, and I suddenly realized I was staring at
him. Worse, I was staring at him from the hallway, my feet
rooted to the spot.
Even worse, I was too far from the door to pretend I was simply
about to knock.
He raised an eyebrow at me, obviously wondering what I was
doing. So was I.
Pushing forward, I opened the door and poked my head in,
looking around to make sure I wasnt interrupting anything
even though it was very clear I wasnt. What on earth was going
on? Maureen said you wanted me, sir.
Devon, he said, looking me straight in the eye with the
greatest of ease. Something as simple as eye contact was much
harder for me, but then I guessed he didnt have quite the view
I did.
I couldnt tell if he knew it, but it was distracting just being in
the same room as him. Especially when his eyes were so firmly
focused on me, making me imagine all kinds of things.
Sorry?
Call me Devon, Nikki. And come in.
He motioned for me to sit at a chair close by him. I was caught
between excitement from being told to call him Devon, and a
desire to ask him not to call me Nikki. The only person to call me
that since I was a little girl was an ex-boyfriend who discovered
how much it annoyed me. We werent together long after that.
I chose to take the easy option, which was to simply smile and sit
in the seat he pushed out with his foot.
Grab something to eat if you get hungry, he said, nodding
toward the plates on top of the cupboards. Theres a lot there.
I might have, but the thought of eating in front of him ruined my
appetite. As though he would be judging my ability to eat food,
and docking me points if I didnt do it exactly right.
It did smell good, though. Even with the serving bowls and
plates covered, the scent wafted through the room so that I
imagined it was hard for anyone in a meeting to actually
concentrate. Maybe that was the plan.
No thanks, Im not hungry. And isnt the food for the
meeting?
He laughed. There is no meeting, Nikki.
I could have been knocked from my chair with a feather. No
meeting?
But you said there was a meeting at 12:30 today. Thats why I
had to organize catering. Did I get the time wrong?
No, he said, a twinkle in his eye and a smirk on his face.
There just wasnt a meeting. I made it up to put you under
pressure.
But why the hell would you do that? I was suddenly so angry that
the words very nearly slipped out. I swallowed them down,
though.
You look really pissed off, he chuckled, leaning back in his
chair and folding his arms behind his head.
Well, I mean, no, of course not, I lied. Its up to you what you
do with me, but if youd told me to just find a caterer for no
reason I could have done that.
Youre right, it is up to me what I do with you. He paused, and
I wondered if he meant more by that than I had. No, he
couldnt have.
And the pretend meeting was part of the point, he continued.
Which was to pile on the pressure until you either succeeded or
cracked and ran out of the lobby.
Why would you do that?
Because this is a high-pressure environment, Nikki. He stood
and walked to where the platters were all lined up. As he lifted
the coverings off each of them, apparently unable to decide
which he wanted, my stomach rumbled.
You cant just come in here and expect everything to be easy for
you. Im sure it was at college, but it wont be here. If it was,
anyone could do this internship.
I dont expect it to be easy, I said, trying to keep my voice
calm. And I know its high-pressure, I promise.
I felt like I was fighting for my internship. Again. Twice in one
day; my first day, to be exact.
Good. Make sure you keep that knowledge at the front of your
mind, because this is nothing. Finding caterers is a job we
usually give to temps, and Ive seen them find higher quality
food than this in less than an hour.
I couldnt imagine that was true, but I wasnt game to argue.
He sat down again, placing a huge plate of food in front of each
of us. The food looked better than I was used to, but he didnt
look very excited by it.
Im sorry, I whispered, looking down at my plate. Anywhere
but at him.
No, dont apologize. He stood again and turned away, this
time exasperated. Im not looking for an apology, Nikki. Im
looking for you to understand that pressure is your new way of
life. Its going to fill your entire day and some of your nights.
Youll forget what its like to be relaxed. You need to
understand that.
I do, I said, still staring at the food. I did understand it, but I
didnt know how to convince him of that.
He sighed, sitting in his chair again. In that case, lets get to
your notes. Tell me what youve got.
Now? I havent had a chance to type them up or add to them.
Now.
He stared at me, as though challenging me to defy him. Of
course, I wasnt going to. Okay, I said, lifting my notepad from
my lap and placing it on the table in front of me.
I skimmed the first few sentences, trying to decide whether to
start at the beginning. It was mostly the agenda being read, and I
couldnt imagine he cared.
I cant hear you when you read silently to yourself, Nikki.
I felt myself a flush at the name again, but I cleared my throat
and started to read. Well, it starts with, umm, the woman who
was angry
What?
Im sorry, I didnt get her name.
Devon looked above my head, his head cocked to one side and a
distractingly sexy expression on his face. One eyebrow lifted a
little as his lips twisted softly, moving to one side.
It was somehow adorable and sexy, all at once.
Oh, I know who youre talking about. Belinda. Daniel calls her
the intern who doesnt realize shes an intern.
Sounds right, I thought. Okay, well, Belinda started by reading
the agenda. After that -
Stop. Not, after that; tell me why she was angry.
Oh god. Well, I mean, she wasnt really angry. Just a little
upset. It was nothing.
You pissed her off, didnt you?
The subtle smirk caused a less subtle shiver to descend through
my body. I could have sworn his expression was one of
amusement, rather than insulting as his words seemed to be.
No! Well, yes, but I didnt mean to.
Suddenly, Devon burst into laughter. He clapped his hands
together once and threw his head back, raising his arms in some
kind of victory pose. You did it, he said, amusement in his
voice. You called them junior marketers. Daniel was sure you
wouldnt, but I thought you might.
My face flushed all over again, but this time it was with anger He
had obviously set me up.
I didnt like being setup. And I certainly didnt appreciate it at
work, even if it was his company. Thats not fair. You called
them that and I assumed that was the name of their team.
His laughter faded, but when looked back at me, his smirk was
still there. Nothings fair, Nikki. But some things are very
funny. Anyway, go on.
My initial reaction was to continue the discussion about clear
wording of emails, but I took a deep breath. This wasnt another
college student I could argue with when I was pushed too far
this was Devon Carell.
Anyway, after she read the agenda, they discussed the newest
campaign theyve been working on for your grocery website
rollout in Australia. Theyre not happy with the budget, and
theyre trying to decide which of them will ask you for more.
I paused as I became aware of him staring at me. Nikki, if I
wanted to know what they said, Id refer to the recording. Didnt
you notice the microphone on the table?
The memory of the woman Belinda holding it up flooded
back, and I blushed all over again. Of course, he didnt want what
he could get from the recording, but what had he wanted?
II dont understand, Mr. Carell.
Devon. Honestly, if I have to tell you to call me Devon again,
Im going to start calling you Nicholas.
Devon, sorry. What do you want if you dont want notes?
I want the important stuff, Nikki. I want to know about the
people in the meeting, not what they said.
I tried to figure out what he was meant, but I couldnt. Other
than what had been said, what else was important?
He looked frustrated. When you think of business, what do you
think of?
Money?
He laughed. Of course, but something much more fundamental
than that.
He paused, waiting for me to understand. I didnt, and I felt like
a complete failure as I searched for the answer. It was probably
obvious, but I didnt know it.
When he started again, his eyes were fixed so firmly on mine
that I could see the passion in them. At least, I could when I was
able to stare back at him for a more than a second at a time.
Business is about people. Everything in business is people. The
customers are people, the regulatory agencies are filled with
people, the suppliers are run by people. You, me, my staff
were all people, Nikki. The more you know about people, the
better youll do in business.
It felt like he was annoyed with me still, but I felt a wave of awe.
This was the Devon Carell I had seen on TV the man who could
take a complex issue and dumb it down until it was easily
understandable. The man who could point out the exact reason
why a companys share price rose or fell, and who could predict
nearly anything.
If you can figure people out, Nikki, you can succeed in business.
If you know what your supplier wants really wants you can
figure out how to get a good price. Does he want to sell lots of his
product? If so, you can get a discount for volume. Maybe he
wants to be able to tell potential customers that he supplies to a
big company like yours. If so, hell give it to you nearly for free
just to get you on board.
And its the same with that meeting. I wanted you to see what
made the junior marketers tick. Things like, which one hates all
the others, but pretends she really likes them? Which three of
them are in a relationship together and trying desperately to
keep everyone else from finding out?
I sat silently staring, my mind racing. It all made complete
sense, but it was so simple that it felt like there was a catch. Of
course, business is people but why had I never thought of it
like that before?
Why had no one in college told me that?
Okay, an easy one for you, Nikki. Who was the spy in
that room?
Spy?
Yeah. This one should be easy.
I dont know, I admitted.
Not even going to try? Think it through. Think about which of
them didnt quite belong there. Who seemed to be an outsider,
even if they were trying to fit in from the beginning?
There was one guy I dont know his name who seemed to
mainly repeat what everyone else said. Like he wanted to be
involved but didnt know enough.
Not him.
I thought hard, turning my head to stare out the window.
Looking at Devon, especially as he taught me a mind-numbing
lesson, made it impossible to think straight.
Not that it helped. I still couldnt figure out the answer.
He stood from his chair, raising his arms in exasperation. He
began to pace but stopped and turned back to me, leaning
forward so his hands were resting on the back of the chair he had
just been sitting on and his eyes drilled into mine.
You, Nikki. You were the spy.
I lowered my face and lifted my hands to cover it, trying to
shrink into the chair I sat in.
The answer had been completely obvious. Of course, it was me.
He had basically told me to go and spy on them, yet I hadnt
figured it out.
It was a simple question with a simple answer, the kind I usually
nailed.
I felt like an idiot.
Nikki, relax, Devon said from somewhere close by. His voice
was softer now, as though he felt bad. I couldnt figure out why
he would, though it was my failure.
I didnt mean to belittle you, Nikki. I get carried away talking
about this stuff.
His presence was close, but I didnt know how close until I felt
his large hand on my shoulder. Breathing was suddenly
impossible, and I nearly jumped out of my chair.
Are you okay? His voice was low and rumbly as he bent his
head down to mine.
I nodded, unable to speak. The feeling of failure still coursed
through me, urging me to run and never look back. It had been
one hell of a day after a nervous, sleepless night and it was
all catching up to me at once.
His hand on my shoulder was comforting, though. And
something else.
Honestly, its not as bad as you think it is. Now you know how I
look at things, so you know what I expect. Youve learned a
lesson.
At the price of looking like an idiot, I thought.
I felt a hand on my wrist, tugging gently at it. When I tried to
fight it, he only tugged harder.
Dont make me get security to come and taze you, he said, a
subtle humor in his voice.
Reluctantly, I let him take one hand away from my face, and then
the other. Without looking up, I could see him standing beside
me, still holding my hands. I refused to turn my head, but I could
just make out an expression that looked like worry or pity.
I didnt like either of those.
Placing a finger under my chin, he tried to turn my face to make
me look at him. I knew there was no point fighting, so I let him.
The gentle smile he wore somehow made me feel worse; as
though he was trying to teach a stubborn child.
If youre going to go to pieces over this, youre not quite cut out
for this line of work.
The realization of where this was going forced me to take a deep,
slow breath to stop myself from begging. He was testing me to
see if I had the mental strength required to make it through this
internship, and I had to show him I did. Somehow.
Im fine, I lied, turning around to look up into his eyes with
my bravest face on.
He was so close that I could smell his aftershave, and I had to
resist the urge to ask what it was called. If I had to name it
myself, I would have called it dark wood and money.
Im annoyed with myself, but Ill get over it.
He smiled, apparently happy with my answer. Good, because as
pressure goes, this is nothing.
Reaching down to take his untouched plate of food, he turned to
leave the conference room. I forced a smile when he lightly
squeezed my shoulder, but I was immediately aware of the
shivers it sent directly down my back. I even had to fight to
ignore the very normal touch. By the way, Mr. C-Devon?
He stopped and turned back, raising an eyebrow in my direction.
Just so you know, I prefer Nicole. Please dont call me Nikki.
Yeah, but I like Nikki better.
I felt a flush of annoyance at his complete refusal to even
acknowledge my request, but then he winked at me.
Any arguments I might have even considered making died before
they reached my mouth.
Suddenly, I knew I felt something more than professional
admiration for him.
5
NICOLE

B y the time I arrived in my office the next morning, my


excitement was beginning to build. It had been a
sleepless night as I went over all the details of my first
day, but I knew in my heart that this internship was right for me.
A small part of me was even hopeful that I could somehow do
something to impress Devon. A very small part.
As I sipped from my takeaway coffee cup and waited for my
computer to finish booting up, I wondered what Devon was
doing. Our meeting in the conference room had ended much
better than it began, and I was more than a little excited to see
him again.
Scared, of course. But excited.
If only I could prepare for the next time I would see him, but I
didnt think I would get much warning.
You should have been more sociable in college, I thought to
myself. The girls I hung out with all would have known how to
use their feminine charms to make sure Devon was on their side,
but I had no clue. I didnt even know if I had any feminine
charms.
As soon as the computer finished booting, a message popped up
saying I had an email. My heart skipped a beat when I clicked the
icon to see Devons name in the From line.
It was short and to the point. Just like I was learning to expect
from him.
Nikki,
I need you to read the attached report and have a summary for
me by 1 p.m.
Devon.
Opening the attached file, the first thing I noticed was the
number of pages: 120. My internal freak out began immediately.
How the hell was I supposed to read all of that and understand it
enough to summarize it?
I closed my eyes and counted to five. It was a strategy I had
learned when I was a little girl, and it was usually enough to clear
my head a little. Just a little.
This time, it was barely enough. When I opened my eyes again,
the file was still there, its page count mocking me. Reading the
title, I felt even more out of my depth: History of Land ID
10289001.
I dont even know what that means, I thought, scrolling through
the first chapter. By the end of it, I was none the wiser.
Sighing, I wiggled around until I was comfortable in my chair. It
was going to be a very intense few hours.

R EADY TO GO ?

I almost jumped out of my chair at the sound of the voice.


Looking up at my now open door, I saw Devons laughing face.
What the hell were you looking at? Porn?
My blush mustve made me look guilty, and that realization
made me blush harder. I just couldnt win. No! Im writing that
summary you wanted.
Is it done yet? Were ready to go.
I glanced at the clock on the computer screen, and got the
second shock in less than a minute. It was nearly 1:00, but it felt
like I had only started writing a few minutes ago.
Time flies when youre completely out of your depth and
unprepared for a task.
I guess so. Im nearly there, at least.
Thatll have to do, Nikki. Print three copies and meet us in the
car out front.
The urge to argue with him about my name or printing an
unfinished report was strong, but it didnt matter. He was gone
almost before he had finished his sentence.
Without even a quick proofread, I navigated to the print menu
and set it to print three copies at the printer near Maureens
desk. With a little luck, there would be few spelling and grammar
errors. With a little luck, it would be almost readable.
Maybe.
I rushed from my office, snatching my bag from the hook near
the door as I went.
The printer finished working just as I arrived, and I gathered up
the warm pages from the tray.
Papers in hand and heart racing, I headed for the elevator. It
took only a second to arrive, and long before I was ready, I was
descending to the ground floor.
Daniel greeted me when the doors opened, and I felt a little more
confident. His smile was big and genuine, and I found myself
wishing I could work with him more. He seemed like the right
kind of mentor to help me get through the nervousness that
threatened to overcome me at times.
Not to mention that he knew exactly what I was going through.
After all, he had finished the same internship I was beginning.
He had performed well enough that he was now Devons close
associate, so his brain must be packed full of tips.
It was just a pity that none of us had the time to stop and chat.
Are those the reports?
I nodded and placed them all in his outstretched hand, causing
him to laugh. Youll probably want to keep one for yourself, he
said, turning and walking toward the front door as he handed
one back to me.
Devon was on the other side of the wide sliding doors, talking
quickly into his cell phone as we approached. I couldnt make out
what he was saying, but he didnt seem very happy.
When he glanced up and saw us, he nodded and then climbed
into the backseat of a Mercedes SUV. Daniel and I followed, and I
found myself taking the less comfortable seat facing the back
window.
Suddenly, motion sickness was a very real possibility.
Devon ended his call, and I found myself sitting quietly,
watching as he and Daniel read my report.
As city moved past the windows of the car, I waited impatiently
for them to finish. There were lots of questions burning in my
mind after reading the report Id just summarized. The first one
was simple: What the hell is this all this about?
The land was formerly the site of a car factory, and it had been
the subject of an Environmental Protection Agency order that
limited what could be done with it. Whoever owned it could build
heavy industrial only, and they would have to spend a small
fortune to do even that. The level of toxins left in the soil meant
that it was far too dangerous for anything else.
Knowing that Pristine didnt do much heavy manufacturing, I
couldnt begin to imagine what Devon wanted with it.
Unless, of course, he really liked lakes. There was a small one
right in the middle of the land, and it looked calm and peaceful.
As a nature lover, I thought it looked perfect for a picnic while
looking out over the water on a nice day.
Well, as long as I was able to ignore the deadly chemicals just
below my picnic blanket.
Not bad, Devon finally said, looking up at me. And youre
sure youve got all the important parts in there?
I think so, I said, suddenly asking myself the same question.
Ive got the chemical reports, the EPAs order and the history of
it. Except the current ownership the report you sent me didnt
mention that.
Ah yes, the current owners, Daniel interjected with a laugh.
Ill let Devon tell you all about them.
Devons face was visibly darker at the mention, and I was dying
to know what the deal was.
We havent got much time, he said, to my disappointment.
But heres the important part: Its owned by Carey Gully Coffee,
and that company is owned by Iris Investments. Weve agreed to
buy it off Iris since Carey Gully cant use it, and were going now
to sign the documents.
Wait, why did you have me summarize that report if youve
already bought the land?
There had to be a big lesson to be learned here. Perhaps the
importance of double-checking a purchase right up until the last
second?
You needed the practice, Devon smirked in a maddening way,
making my blood start to boil.
I glanced at Daniel who looked as annoyed as I suddenly was.
Good to know that I wasnt the only one who upset. I turned back
to Devon. You had me write a summary for no reason at all?
Dont be like that. Devon laughed. Theres no such thing as
bad practice, especially when it comes to taking in new
information while youre under time pressure.
I turned again to look out the window, fuming inside. I kind of
understood his point, but I had stressed like crazy to get it done.
I wanted to make every second of this internship count. Busy-
work wasnt going to get me anywhere.
Daniel spoke up. Dont worry, its not personal. He just likes to
have his fun. His expression suggested he was almost as
annoyed as I was.
Will I get to do some important work at some point?
The question left my mouth before I could arrange the words
more politely. It sounded rude, even to me.
Devons smile faded. Like what? What would you do if you had
the choice?
I dont know. Maybe get involved in deals like this. If there are
other deals in the works, I could do the due diligence for you.
He shook his head. Youre talking about deals worth hundreds
of millions of dollars, Nikki. Interns dont touch those.
But surely theres something I could do. I sighed, working to
keep my voice calm and professional. I told myself I had every
right to have this discussion, even if I felt like I really didnt.
You could lead this meeting.
I sat bolt upright with an immediate smile, and it took me only a
second to realize he was joking. Youre not leading the
meeting, Devon said, with a sexy, maddening chuckle.
Suddenly, I wondered what the hell had caused me to fall under
Devons spell.
Were here, Daniel said, opening his door and climbing out of
the now tense interior.
I had to wait until Devon moved before I could, and I ignored his
final remark: Your summary was good, though.
We were parked directly in front of the doors to Iris Investments,
so it didnt take us long to arrive at the large reception area. The
receptionist seemed to expect us, and she gave us all temporary
passes before telling us to follow her.
I tried not to think about how much easier it was to get into Iris
building than it had been to get into Pristines. That felt like a
lifetime ago.
The atmosphere was quiet and calm like at Pristine, but with
something different. It took me a little while to work out what it
was, but I realized it when I saw uniformed elevator operator
smiling at us.
Iris showed off its money.
The guy was there to do a job that people had been doing
themselves for decades, and he was presumably on a full-time,
albeit likely small, wage. Iris was about showing that they were
rich, whereas the Pristine building seemed to be quietly
confident.
I liked the Pristine building much more.
We followed the receptionist into a conference room twice the
size of the one near Devons office, and I watched as the
executives all male shook hands with Devon and Daniel.
The glass ceiling, I thought, wondering if I would one day
break it.
This is Nicole Blythe, Daniel said, putting a hand on my back
and gently pushing me to the front of our little group. Shes
only just been briefed on this deal so shell be observing.
I shook hands with several of the men, smiling and forcing
myself to look confident. Secretly, I was glad that Daniel had
given me an excuse for not taking an active part in this meeting.
By the time the introductions were finished, Devon was already
seated at the long table, taking the chair in the middle of the side
closest to the door. I couldnt help but feel a little pride when I
noticed my summary sitting directly on front of him.
Before the others had even found their seats, Devon spoke up.
Are we ready to do this?
Sitting to Devons left, I tried to fake the confidence he exuded.
To me, his attempt to start the meeting before the hosts were
ready was rude, but to him it was normal. It looked very much
like a power move I had read about in some of my textbooks.
When the seats were almost all filled, I noticed one directly
opposite Devon remained empty. Thats strange, I thought,
staring at it. Why would no one want to sit in the prime position?
As soon as I finished the thought, the door to the conference
room opened behind us. I turned my head expecting to see
someone bringing coffee to supplement the water on the table,
but the new entrant didnt look anything like a waiter or
receptionist.
His suit was even nicer than Devons, and he wore it with the
same kind of arrogant cockiness. He seemed to stride around the
table, moving toward the empty chair I had noticed a few
seconds earlier.
When I felt Devon stiffen beside me, I instinctively knew that
something had just gone wrong. I just couldnt figure out what.
Devon spoke before the guy had even sat down. What are you
doing here? Coming to see me buy your baby?
The man laughed. Nice to see you, too, Devon and you too,
Daniel. The latter got a nod and a smile that seemed almost
genuine. Then the newcomer turned his attention to me, and I
fought to look calm. I had no idea what was going on, but this
certainly wasnt good. Youre new, he said. Im William
Markos, CEO of Carey Gully.
Shes Nicole Blythe, Devon said before I could answer. He
turned his attention to one of the other men in the room. I
couldnt remember his name from when I shook his hand
earlier.
Whats going on, David?
The man apparently called David looked as uncomfortable as the
silence that had fallen over the room. No one seemed willing to
breathe, let alone talk.
Ill take this, David, William said. I still didnt know this guy,
but his condescending smile made me hate him already. Things
have changed, Devon. I know you had your heart set on this land,
but weve decided not to sell it.
I risked a quick glance at Devons face. He looked ready to
commit murder.
Weve spent a year putting this deal together, Devon said,
calmly and slowly. Ive paid far more than anyone else would
ever offer you for it, so dont start with some kind of bullshit
about getting a better offer.
No need, William said, with a bark of mocking laughter.
Were keeping it. Here, look at this.
He reached for a small remote in the middle of the table as he
turned his attention to the wall to our right. A quick press of a
button turned the lights out, and another caused a picture to be
displayed on the screen attached to the wall.
After spending an entire morning reading and writing about it, I
instantly noticed the picture was of the land in question. Except
in this one, it had buildings and roads professionally drawn
across it.
This is what were doing with it, William said, a smug tone
filling his voice. It looks amazing, doesnt it?
He fell silent, choosing to let the pictures do the talking as he
clicked through them. The detail on each one suggested that
theyd spent a lot of time on them, and it was clear that this had
been in the works for a while.
I could only imagine what Devon was thinking as every slide
cemented the fact that his deal was falling through.
Finally, we arrived at the last picture. In that one, there were
dollar signs and numbers superimposed over the land, instead of
buildings. They were big enough that my eyebrows nearly raised
through the roof.
And this, William said, triumph in his voice, Is why Iris wont
be selling it to you. This is only the first years profits, and it
doesnt even include the buildings at full capacity. Just imagine
how much well make when the hotel and office buildings are
completely tenanted.
William looked directly at Devon, who was still staring at the last
slide. From my position beside him, I could see the veins
working overtime in his neck.
His mind must have been racing, and I wanted desperately to
help him out. Devon Carell wasnt a man used to losing, and he
clearly wasnt taking it well. Neither was Daniel, whose fists
were tightly balled on the table in front of him.
Without thinking, I opened my mouth. But the EPA wont let
you do that, I said, immediately regretting it when I felt Devon
tense even more.
William laughed, looking me in the eye as I forced myself to look
confident. I was a part of the meeting, and I had every right to
mention that his plan wasnt going to work. Didnt I?
Oh, dont worry about the EPA, little lady. Theyve changed
their minds about the toxin issue.
I immediately joined Devon in his clear hatred for this man.
How much did that cost you? It was the first thing Devon had
said in minutes, and his rage was palpable.
Williams only response was to maintain his smug smile.
I had nothing to do with this deal, but his attitude had even me
wanting to climb over the table and punch him in the nose. It
was like watching a schoolyard bully, except that we were
dealing with millions of dollars instead of lunch money.
Devon shoved his chair back and stood up without a word. Daniel
and I did the same, following him as he left the room.
6
NICOLE

I stumbled into my office the next morning, fighting through


a haze of tiredness. Sleep hadnt come easily when I finally
got home after that meeting, and I was feeling the effects
of it.
Devons reaction had surprised me a little, but I couldnt blame
him. His anger was so thick I could almost taste it in the air as we
drove back to Pristines headquarters in silence. Even Daniel
refused to speak.
As I sat at my desk and waited for my computer to load, I took
hold of my phone and scrolled through the contacts list. I had a
plan in mind, and for it to work I needed to talk to a guy I hadnt
spoken to since finishing college.
A guy who probably didnt want to speak to me after I ran from
his dorm just when he thought I was about to have sex with him.
I thought I was too, until I was overcome by the fear that we were
moving way too fast.
We had spoken since, but very rarely.
When I saw his name, I felt the embarrassment returning again.
James Hansen the student loved by professors and other
students alike. He could finish a beer in seconds before turning
in a paper that was almost always given an A.
A real catch, if you were able to handle something like that. I
hadnt been. Id been too inexperienced to know how to act
around a guy like that, but now I needed his help.
My finger hovered over the green call button as I worked up
the courage to press it. Surely, he would hardly remember it by
now. He had no shortage of girls parading through his dorm
room, and I was always going to be another number. If that were
true, then it stood to reason that he wouldnt even remember
me, let alone my escape.
I couldnt make myself believe it.
But I didnt have much choice. I wanted to help Devon, and I
thought I knew how, but I had to be able to talk to James to
achieve it. Not only that, but I had to ask him for a favor while
trying to tell a story I had invented while I lay awake a few hours
earlier.
Ive always been a horrible liar, but I would attempt it this time.
For Pristine, for myself, and for Devon.
Just fucking do it, I told myself, pressing the call button. I almost
dropped the phone in my hurry to lift it to my ear as it rang, and
then I prayed he wouldnt answer.
Maybe he had died or something.
What the hell is wrong with you, Nicole?
There was a click and then a voice from the past. Nicole! Long
time, no speak!
He remembered. Well, he remembered me. The enthusiasm in
his tone gave me hope that he might have forgotten how our one
date had ended.
Hi, James. How are you?
Im good, but what about you? I heard you didnt get that
internship with the prick from TV. Thats too bad, but I bet
youre secretly relieved.
What? James, I I started, wondering how to complete the
sentence.
You dont have to lie to me, he said with a laugh. I know you
only applied because your dad told you to. You said as much that
time you got drunk and ended up back in my dorm. I wont tell
anyone, but between you and me, that was never the internship
for you. Youre way too nice to deal with an asshole like that.
I cleared my throat. Actually, I did get the internship. Im
calling from my office at Pristine right now.
There was silence on the other end of the line, and I had a
sinking feeling that my plan was over before it began. It wasnt
even my fault he was the one jumping to conclusions and
requiring me to correct him.
Im surprised, to be honest. I didnt think you really wanted it. I
thought you were just doing it because your dad wanted you to.
Congratulations, though.
He didnt sound sincere, but I couldnt blame him. None of my
friends or professors had believed I had what it took to get this
internship, let alone succeed, and I didnt have much more
confidence.
My dad was the only one with confidence, and it was true that he
had convinced me to apply.
Thanks, James. I appreciate that, but youre kind of right. It is
pretty difficult.
I can imagine. Is he as bad as the rumors say?
Was he? I hadnt let myself listen to many of them, but the few I
heard were far from flattering. One involved eating human flesh,
and so far I hadnt witnessed that. I hadnt even seen him eat, so
perhaps the vampire one was closer to the mark.
No, not really. I mean, well, hes busy all the time so hes a
little abrupt. But its not too bad.
Oh well, thats good to hear.
He obviously had no idea what else to say, so I took the
opportunity to lead the conversation. I had received my first
and last C grade in college for that portion of my Business
communications class.
Anyway, James, thats not what Im calling about. I heard
youre at the EPA now, is that right?
Yeah, it is. Im in their graduate development program, so Im
all over the department at the moment. Why, are you looking to
come over?
No, no. Thats not it. Although, I wouldnt have minded.
Saving the environment was something I was passionate about,
but it business was always my first love. I need some help with
some land a client is looking at. They want to buy it quickly, and
Ive asked them to hold back for a few days while I get the EPAs
history of it. They dont want to, so I need to work quickly.
My made-up story sounded plausible, but I was screwed if he
asked too many questions.
Wow, look at you go, Nicole. I didnt think youd have the guts
to tell a client to sit down and shut up.
I laughed. It didnt quite go like that, but Ive managed to buy a
little time. Do you think you would be able to get hold of the
details? Or do you know someone who would?
Maybe. Whats the address?
I gave him the details and then tried to keep up with my story as
he asked more questions. When the intercom on my desk phone
buzzed, I was very glad to have an excuse to end the call with
James. Much longer, and he would probably hear me screaming,
Im a liar into the phone.
As soon as I hung up, I hit the intercom button and looked over
to see Devons name on the screen. I hardly had time to wonder
what he could want when he delivered a short message. I need
you in my office, Nikki. Now.
The line went dead, and I raced out of my office as quickly as I
could.
I made it past Maureen before she could stop me and ask me
whether I had an appointment, and I moved quickly enough that
I forgot to knock.
By the time I realized, it was too late. I was already standing in
the doorway, the door open in front of me, and both Devon and
Daniel looked up in surprise.
That was quick, Daniel said with a smile. Did you fly here or
something?
I knew he was teasing me, but I couldnt think of anything to
say. Did I look like an idiot for running when Devon called?
Daniel laughed, but I glanced over at Devon to see that he didnt
even crack a smile. He obviously hadnt moved on from the
meeting yesterday afternoon.
Nikki, he said, motioning for me to come in. I need you to sit
in on a meeting for me. Its been planned for a week, but I dont
have time.
And you really dont want to deal with other people and their
shit, Daniel interrupted.
Devon ignored him. Do you think you can do that?
I was shocked by the offer, and terrified by the possibility.
Taking a meeting in his place felt both wrong and powerful, even
though I knew it was neither of those things.
Of course, I said, my voice not hiding my lack of confidence.
What do you want me to do? Just take notes?
Kind of. He hesitated and turned to look at Daniel, so I knew
there was more to it. Its a meeting with the junior marketers.
You know, the ones you upset earlier.
Oh.
Dealing with them again hadnt been at the top of my list of
exciting things to do today.
I mean, I can do it. If you want. I sounded about as nervous as
I felt.
I do, Nikki. It wont be hard, dont worry. Just go in, listen to
what they have to say, and then tell them no.
No? I echoed. I didnt know what the question was, but I
suspected that Devon wanted me to do his dirty work for him.
Thats right. Say, no, you cant fucking have your budget
increase because none of you actually care about the product.
You only care about padding your CVs which would look better if
you could list a national TV ad.
You can use your own words, though. Daniel said, smirking
from the couch in the corner of the room. Or dont. Id actually
like to see you tell them that.
When Devon cocked his head and looked at me, one eyebrow
raised, I suddenly realized I was blushing. Why it had started I
didnt know but it was that slightly adorable, slightly in control
cocking of his head that had the blush deepening.
There was a subtle glint in his eye, too. Did he know the effect he
had on me?
I guess I can do it, I said, forcing my voice to remain above a
whisper. Ill still take notes, though. Just in case you
need them.
We still have recording devices, he said, a large smile on his
face. I couldnt tell if he was mocking me.
Oh, yeah. Right.
Look, it wont be easy. He stood from his chair and walked
around his desk, heading straight for me. Like a deer in
headlights, I couldnt move. I wanted to flee, though.
But Im sure you can do it, Nikki. Honestly, its about the
easiest task you could ever imagine as an executive, and thats
why youre in this internship. You remember that, right?
Of course.
Good. Because Id hate for you to be here without knowing what
you hope to get at the end. That would just be bad research on
your part.
I didnt know what to say, especially when he reached out and
placed both hands firmly on my shoulders. His eyes burned into
mine, and I was completely lost for words. Mostly lost for
thoughts, too.
The meeting has already started. Same place as before.
It took me a few seconds to understand the meaning of his
words. He was telling me to go, but I was still standing there like
a fish stunned by TNT in a lake.
Oops.
Okay, I can do it, I finally said, more to myself than to him.
I really hoped I could.
7
DEVON

I know you like to toy with the interns, Devon, but why
the hell are you so harsh on her? Every time you talk to
her, youre either horrible, or setting her up for failure.
I watched her leave while Daniels words rang in my mind. He
was right, but I wasnt admitting that. If I did, Id have to explain
the whole sordid back-story.
She needs to be tougher, I said. That was partly true.
Otherwise, shes just going to be eaten alive. Do you want to see
one of our interns eaten alive?
No, but surely you dont need to be a complete prick. Just a
partial one.
If only he knew that my anger, rage and need for revenge
werent aimed at her. If only he knew the history, he would hate
Nikkis father as much as I did.
Almost as much, anyway.
But I wasnt going to explain it to him. I didnt want to talk about
it with anyone especially not a former intern, now close
associate. He respected me for the successes he had seen me pull
off, and I didnt want to lose his respect because of the failure I
had allowed her dad to put on me.
All because I was too trusting of a man who called himself my
friend. His words were hollow now, but back then they meant so
much to me. Unlike everyone else I spoke to, he listened to my
plans for world domination and then eventually helped me.
Everybody else made me feel like a lunatic whose ideas were
pathetic and barely even worth discussing. Jerry Blythe, on the
other hand, listened intently and even offered suggestions.
When I told him about my idea to build a military vehicle that
would be faster than its competitors while keeping its
passengers safer, he didnt laugh. He didnt remind me that I
was only twenty-one and therefore unable to see why it wouldnt
work. He didnt even offer a hint that he thought I was an idiot.
Instead, he dropped everything to come to my little shed in the
middle of nowhere and help me build it. After we finished a long
day at work together, he would bring a six pack and spend half
the night welding, hammering and fitting.
And on weekends, he would be there even before I was.
So, when we got close to having a working prototype and we were
ready to start looking for investors, I was surprised by his
nonchalant announcement. Ive already got a patent on it,
Devon, he said.
I could still remember almost dropping a tool in surprise as he
spoke from beneath the hood. To get a patent, he needed both of
our signatures on the paperwork, but I hadnt signed anything.
When I asked that question in confusion, he became shifty. It
was something I hadnt seen from him, but he was much less
willing to make eye contact with me. Our normal good humor
was quickly gone.
I, well, you know. Patents are easy enough to get.
No, theyre not, I said, feeling the anger build quickly. I
didnt sign any paperwork for one.
There was a sinking feeling, and even before he responded, I
knew he had stabbed me in the back.
I didnt need your signature, he repeated, barely louder after I
had to tell him three times that I hadnt heard him. Its in
my name.
Your fucking name? How does that work? It was my idea!
Yes, I know, he sputtered, finally turning to face me. But I
wanted to patent it quickly, and I didnt have time to get you to
sign anything. Besides, I paid all the fees, including the
lawyers.
Rarely a man to be stuck for words, I couldnt find a single one as
he kept talking. He told me how he would give me credit since it
was partly my idea, and that he hadnt meant to take it from
me. He even suggested I could help him come up with a name
for it.
That was when I kicked him out of the shed, fighting the urge to
kick his ass as well. It wasnt enough that he had stolen my idea
and claimed it for himself, but offering to let me name my own
product was a kick in the teeth.
He spent the next three months trying to find investors, and I
spent that time trying to maintain some kind of self-control.
Every fibre of my being wanted to sabotage the deals I knew he
was working on, but some part of me wanted to be the bigger
man. Besides, back then, I couldnt afford the legal fees to
sue him.
I tried to move on. Even when I sold the small shed for a big loss,
I couldnt forget what had happened there. The money I poured
into the project and the blood, sweat and tears in it were all gone
just like my friendship with Jerry.
As I suspected, he was eventually forced to come back to me,
groveling and apologizing. He had the patent, but he didnt have
any of the skills or contacts I had been cultivating since I first
came up with my idea. None of the investors he approached
would give him a cent.
But I was still holding a hell of a grudge. The kind that needs
revenge to be anywhere near satisfied.
So, I made him a simple offer. I would get the investors for his
idea, but he would have nothing to do with the company that
came from it. He would be a silent partner, and I would pay him
ten per cent of the profits for a period of ten years, or until I sold
the company. He had no say in any of it.
When he suggested a slight change, I figured nothing would be
lost by agreeing to it. If you make it big, he had said, refusing
to look me in the eye as we sat at my kitchen table. I want you
to promise youll help me out. Aside from the profit sharing, I
want you to agree that youll do me some favors if I ask
for them.
What am I, some kind of fucking genie? What do you mean,
favors?
I dont know yet. Im just thinking of the future, Devon. Since
you wont let me be involved in the project, I have to. I have a
daughter to think of, you know.
His snide little remark about me not letting him be involved
almost caused me to walk away, but I knew I could get the
funding. With the funding, I knew I had a good chance of making
a lot of money.
In the end, I agreed to two favors. I didnt know what they
would be, but we agreed they wouldnt be cash. Maybe you
could put in a good word for me somewhere, someday, he said,
obviously coming to terms with his failure to turn his theft into
anything. Maybe youll help me redeem myself.
He was right about one thing: I did make it big. The investors
fell over themselves to get involved because I knew how to sell
the prototype to them. I knew the numbers they were looking
for, and I had the balls to threaten to go to their competitors if
they refused to invest immediately.
And when the company made a profit, I sold the fucking thing at
the first opportunity. I wanted it gone from my life like Jerry
was, and that was when he returned.
Youre all over the TV these days, he said, seemingly in awe. I
was just thinking that one of my favors could be for you to plug
my new companys product on a couple of your TV spots. You
know, tell people its a good product and that they should
buy it.
I agreed, and I did what he asked. I plugged it three times on the
three biggest shows I regularly appeared on, even though the
anchors were furious with me. You have to pay for advertising
like everyone else, one of them told me, fuming that she didnt
get to include my plug in the advertising dollars gained
portion of her bonus.
When his product began to sell in higher numbers, I quietly
bought out his closest competitor and poured so much money
into it that they were able to run right over him. Only six months
after those TV plugs, Jerry had to close up shop.
A large part of me wanted to know whether he suspected my
involvement in his second failure, but I didnt ask. He still had
one more favor to call in, and I didnt want to tip him off. I
wanted him to remain easy to sabotage.
Then, a couple months ago, he contacted me. I want you to hire
my daughter for your executive-level internship.
Those words were going to be stuck in my brain for a long time.
It was one thing to screw him over it was a fun thing, even
but it was another to screw over an innocent young woman. She
had nothing to do with the original theft, but there she was, in
my crosshairs.
And you cant fire her, he had told me, obviously confident he
had figured out how to stop me from taking my hatred out
on her.
He said nothing about making her quit.
8
NICOLE

T he meeting started well, even though I got there a few


minutes late. At the very least, I managed to avoid calling
them junior marketers, and they didnt bring it up.
I considered that a win.
When they asked where Devon was, I told them he had been
called to an emergency meeting. There were some curious looks,
but they didnt ask many other questions.
A second win of the day. I was doing well.
For the next fifteen minutes, I listened as they put their proposal
to me. For the first fourteen of those minutes, I struggled to
concentrate on their words because all I could think was, Im
here in Devons place.
Devon, the CEO and founder of Pristine Group, who spent his
days making multi-million dollar deals, working with some of
the most powerful people in the country.
Of course, I knew that just being there was only a small part of
the battle. The biggest was yet to come: Saying no. None of the
junior marketers seemed like shrinking violets who would
quietly accept that answer, especially if Devon wasnt standing
in front of them.
But the fact that he trusted me enough to be here gave me a little
confidence that I could do this. Somehow.
Its all here in the numbers, one of the guys droned on, aiming
his pointer at a graph that looked a little, well, wrong. The left
bar shows the percentage of people whove heard of the product,
and the right shows those who watch these timeslots. Its really
a no-brainer we have to get our ad into those timeslots to
reach these potential customers.
Theres something weird about your graph, I said before my
brain could engage. Why was I discussing this with them when I
had specific instructions?
What?
I looked to my left at the girl who spoke, immediately
remembering her as the ringleader who hated me the most from
the first meeting. Judging by her tone, she wasnt any happier
with me now.
The graph. The left bar is only five per cent different from the
right, but its not even half the size. Its an easy mistake to
make, but that kind of graphing could get you into serious
trouble if you used it in something like an advertisement because
its considered fraudulent.
The room erupted, and I wondered why I couldnt keep my
mouth shut. I also wondered when this problem of talking too
much had suddenly arisen, because it wasnt one I used to have.
Its not fraudulent, the ringleader spat. Its a bar chart.
Thats how they work.
Its okay, I just thought it was strange. Go on, Im listening.
Now that I had started a major argument, I just wanted to slink
away. The feeling of being calm and in control disappeared as
soon as they all started arguing with me. Especially as the noise
in the room increased unbearably.
The guy at the front whose name I couldnt remember
managed to calm everyone down, but I could tell he was as angry
as they were. His eyes were firmly fixed to mine even as he
pointed at the rest of the numbers, as though he wanted to say
something less than professional.
When the presentation was over, I had to quickly figure out what
to do. It had lasted nearly forty minutes, but I had spent most of
the time thinking about anything other than what they told me,
so I hadnt come up with a plan.
I figured there was really only one option: Honesty. That
required a deep breath, and for me to start talking before I lost
my nerve. Okay, well, thanks everyone. I mean, it was a really
good presentation. Unfortunately, I have to tell you that you
cant have your budget increase. Im sorry.
The ringleader was, of course, the first to react. What do you
mean we cant have it? You dont get to make that choice. Youre
just here to listen and take it to Devon.
Im sorry if you got the wrong idea, guys, but I was told to come
and tell you that you couldnt have it. Thats straight from
Devon.
This eruption was no less powerful than the last, but this time, it
made me angry rather than nervous. They seemed to ignore that
I had no say in this.
Calm down, everyone. Please. I dont have a choice here. I was
told to come in, listen and then tell you that theres no room for
a bigger budget.
One of the girls stood up, placing both hands on the conference
room table as though ready to leap at me. Youre saying that we
just went through that presentation but you were always going to
say no. What the hell?
Oh, shit. Id just said that, hadnt I?
I sat back as they yelled at each other and occasionally at me.
One or two of them tried to calm things down, but the rest of
them were determined to rant as though it might somehow
change the answer I had been instructed to deliver. Their anger
was understandable, but I was getting tired of it.
I was also constantly reminding myself that according to Devon,
I was here in his place.
That meant I should act a little like him. At least, as much as I
could.
With that decision made, I stood up from my chair and spoke as
loudly as I could: Enough!
The room quietened, but not completely. Look, the bottom line
is that Devon Carell said youre not getting a bigger budget. He
told me to deliver that message.
All eyes were glaring at me, but I continued. I wish I could say I
did so confidently. And quite frankly, I did plan to ask him if he
would change his mind, but only if you guys convinced me. But
you didnt even come close to it. For one thing, that bar chart
was a rookie mistake. And if I saw through it, do you really think
Devon Carell would miss it?
There were murmurs, but only the guy who finished the
presentation spoke up. It wasnt done on purpose, Nicole. It
was a mistake.
Well, Ill believe you, but I dont think Devon would. Youre
pretty lucky, to be honest. And besides that, you didnt actually
convince me of anything. Sure, I know that theres a market
waiting to hear about the product youre advertising, but I knew
that already. Why didnt you come up with something exciting?
Like what? The snotty tone of the ringleader made me feel a
little less guilty about being so mean.
Im not in marketing, so thats not for me to decide. But
something a little out of the box would probably grab his
attention.
My work was done there, and I was very ready to make my
escape. There were a few whispered conversations as I gathered
the papers they had given me, intent on going through them
again. Who knows, maybe I had missed something and I could
find a reason to suggest to Devon that they had a good idea.
Probably not, though. It seemed clear that Devon was right, and
they really only cared about making a big TV ad for their CVs.
Nicole, the ringleader calling out as I left the room. Wait up.
I stopped in the doorway, and my heart raced as she walked over
to me. It was silly, but I wondered if I could take her if she
decided to fight me.
Sorry, she said, taking my arm and pulling me further from
the room. I didnt mean to go off in there, or last time. Im
Jennifer, by the way.
I nodded, not quite sure where she was going with this.
But you have to understand, this is our internship. If we dont
succeed, were screwed for the rest of our careers. I know you get
it because youre in the same situation.
Her words hit me hard, even though I suspected she was trying
to manipulate me. I know that, but it doesnt mean I can just
agree to take it to Devon. Hed be pretty upset with me if I took
that idea to him because even I know its not good enough, and
Im not in marketing.
Look, just between us, most of them in that room only care
about their CVs and references. But Id love to be one of the few
people who gets offered a job here after the internship. If I can
work out something better, would you take that to him?
I thought about it, trying to decide if that would be overstepping.
I was also a little concerned by the news that few people were
offered jobs after their internships.
I didnt need another reminder that these were tough programs.
But it was hard to say no to her, especially since she seemed
genuine. If its good.
Okay, well make something good. Can you meet again
next week?
Of course, I said, wondering whether I should be running this
past Devon.
When she left me, I suddenly felt like I knew what I was doing. I
hadnt actually done anything, and I certainly hadnt achieved
anything other than delivering a message, but people had
listened to me.
Whats more, they were making changes because of something
I said.
I was flushing with pride all the way back to my office, and when
I found Daniel sitting on the rickety old chair in the corner, I
wanted to tell him everything.
If only I was confident I could do it without gushing like a
schoolgirl.
Afternoon, he smiled, putting his phone down as I entered the
office.
Hi, Daniel. What brings you here?
I dropped the papers on my desk, watching as Daniel tried to
read them from where he was sitting. Theyre from that
presentation.
Oh yeah, thats right. How did it go?
Well, I guess it wasnt great. For them, I mean.
You said no to the budget increase?
Yeah.
He laughed. You remember you were supposed to do that,
right?
I know, I know. But its hard. I felt like a complete bitch.
Welcome to management, he said, a hint of regret in his voice.
Did he know what it felt like to be unprofessionally yelled at by
an entire team of people? Anyway, dont worry about it. Theyll
get over it pretty quickly. They have to.
I guess. Its not like I had a choice. I couldnt defy Devon,
could I?
Well, not really. I mean, if they had presented something
mind-blowing then you might have been right to at least take it
to him, but I doubt they did. Did they?
No, I sighed. Nothing good. I felt bad for them, even though
I knew I shouldnt.
Daniel sat further back on the chair, lifting one leg over the
other and eyeing me closely. So, how are you doing, anyway?
With what?
With everything. Devon, the internship. Everything.
Oh. Good, I think. I guess. I mean, how do I know? Its hard
to tell.
Im asking how youre dealing with it personally. Not about
your performance, but about whether you want to leap off the
top of the building.
No, I said with a laugh. Nothing like that. But its not easy,
is it?
Its not supposed to be. The tougher it is, the more you learn,
believe me. I did it the same way, and Im glad I did.
You know, Ive been wanting to ask something. How do you
make time for a life with this job? Im only an intern and I swear,
Im here all the time.
Daniels laugh was gentle, and I felt like I was sharing a
connection I wouldnt have expected. Was it possible to be
friends with a boss? Was he even my boss?
Its hard, but you have to do it. Sometimes it means taking a
few days off on the rare occasions when things are quiet. Other
times it means finishing early in the afternoon, even if you know
youll have to make the time up by starting at three the next
morning.
Three? Do you do that?
Yeah, sometimes. But its okay if you love what you do. If not,
this isnt a good place to be, and honestly you should leave
today.
No, this is definitely what I want to do. I mean, kind of. Id like
to be better at it than I am now.
He smiled. Then stick it out, and dont let Devon get to you.
Find something to occupy your time that isnt work, especially if
youre offered a job after the internship. If I didnt have my
wood-working, Id be in a padded cell by now.
That took me by surprise. Really? You seem so calm and happy
all the time. Youre usually laughing, and Im usually losing
my mind.
Of course, Daniel laughed at that. You learn to deal with stress,
rather than letting it break you. I deal with it by not taking
things too seriously, unless were in the middle of a massive
emergency. Otherwise, I remind myself that were only human,
and we can only do so much.
I wonder if Devon understands that, I mused, mostly to
myself.
He does, but he does a good job of hiding it. He hides a lot,
really.
I could imagine that. He was the dark and brooding type the
kind of man mothers were supposed to warn their daughters
about. Somehow, I could imagine exactly why such a warning
was required.
There was something about the way he kept it all to himself that
had me dying to know more. Whatever it was, it made me
desperate to find out.
Even if I didnt like admitting that to myself.
He stood to leave, and I blurted out a question before I could stop
myself: Does Devon have a hobby to keep him sane?
Turning back to me in the doorway, Daniel laughed. Oh yeah.
You should ask him about the parrots he rescues.
What?
I was more than a little surprised by the information. My jaw
mustve dropped to the ground because Daniel seemed to realize
he had said more than he should. But dont you dare tell him I
told you that. Ill deny it until my dying day.
A smile crossed my face as Daniel left the room. I couldnt
imagine Devon with pets, let alone rescued parrots. To think of
him gaining their trust, medicating them and showing them that
humans arent all bad, was a new picture that didnt seem like it
could be real.
The mental images of parrots large and small dancing across
his outstretched arms as he wore an expression of something
akin to happiness almost made me giddy.
9
DEVON

C ome on, lets go, I said, knowing my words were


falling on deaf ears. When numbers were involved,
rushing Daniel was always an exercise in futility.
Especially when he thought the numbers were going to be
scrutinized by powerful people.
Im nearly there, he mumbled, tapping away at the keyboard
while his eyes stared unblinking at the computer screen.
You know, youre wasting your time being a perfectionist on
this. Theyre not going to check.
Of course, they will. Theyre senators.
I laughed. For a man who had quickly become a critical part of
my day-to-day work, Daniel still had a touch of naivet.
Senators only care about being able to point to the numbers and
say theyve been lied to if something blows up in their faces. If
the numbers arent accurate, theyll just say they had no choice
to rely on them, and its all somebody elses fault.
I grabbed a vacant seat near his desk and fell into it, waiting
impatiently. It only took a few seconds for my mind to wander
away from where we were, and as was becoming common, it
wandered straight to Jerry.
And, of course, Jerrys daughter.
I knew from asking around that she had done a surprisingly good
job in the meeting with the junior marketers, and I was quietly
impressed. Actually, quietly wasnt the right word more like,
silently. I dared not tell her in case she gained enough
confidence to be useful, and then it might actually suck if
she quit.
Which I was still going to convince her to do.
Probably.
It wasnt that I didnt like her. In the short time we had spent
together, it was becoming obvious that she was knowledgeable
and a fast learner, even if she was so shy that it was nearly
impossible to tell. She was also kind of a delight to have around
the office since she seemed to genuinely enjoy what we did.
And the sight of a young, curvy blonde certainly didnt hurt the
office morale. It didnt hurt my morale, at least. I enjoyed the
way she dressed professionally yet with a hint of what was
beneath, and the way her blue eyes seemed to be always alert,
always sparkling.
She was attractive as all hell, really.
But none of that changed what she had to be: Collateral damage.
She could blame her dad if she ever learned that her quitting
wasnt something I caused accidentally.
Done.
Fucking finally. I sighed, glad to go to the meeting and get out
of my mind. It wasnt a fun place to be at the moment.
How many copies?
Just make two for each senator so their staff gets one. And
move quickly.
He clicked a few times on his mouse and then nearly ran to the
printer. Why is this thing always so slow? He tapped
impatiently on the plastic device.
I could tell he was nervous, and I fought the urge to give him shit
for it. The first thing I learned about Daniel during his internship
was that the only thing he hated more than being nervous was
me joking about it, and his reaction was to become a shell of his
former self for at least a day.
That wasnt something I or the company needed. Not now.
Nervousness wasnt something I had to deal with, though. For
me, a meeting like this with three powerful, supposedly
intimidating senators was fun. Exciting.
It was a chance for me to pit myself against three men who
thought themselves smarter and more powerful than me.
Demonstrating that they were wrong was a challenge, but one I
would happily take.
Even if William Markos had screwed up my plan. Temporarily.
Lets go, I called out, leaving the large, open-plan office and
heading for the conference room.
Daniel jogged to catch up, and we walked quickly toward where
the senators had been waiting for nearly ten minutes. That was
something else I knew Daniel hated keeping important people
waiting.
I loved it.
When we finally reached the room, I could feel the tension even
as I opened the door. One second they were talking to each other,
and the next, they were silent. Sorry to keep you waiting, I
said, not bothering to pretend I was genuine. Anyone need
coffee?
No.
As I sat at my seat, I looked across the table to the source of the
lone voice. Not surprisingly, it was Senator Eric Mackay the
new honorable gentleman, as the official title went. The little
research I had done suggested that he was all about being
respected, and our showing up late had to be making him fume.
Good. The bastard had sold me out, and I would have my
revenge. If not now, then soon.
Welcome to the meeting, ladies and gentlemen. Glad to see you
all made it. Im sure the tax payer is happy you seem to have
brought all your staff with you.
Of course we made it, Mackay said, the only voice again. But I
dont know why the hell you think you can just summon us to
meet with you on short notice.
Actually, I believe you were invited. And I gave you nearly four
weeks notice, so that should be enough. None of you have the
busiest schedules right now.
He glared at me, I returned the look. I was referring to the fact
that these three senators had recently found themselves
removed from assorted committees after being busted joking
about topics they shouldnt.
The information Daniels giving you all is all youll need for this
meeting. I dont think youll even need this much, but in the
interest of transparency, its all there.
Whats there, Devon? I still dont know what this was about.
I looked over at Senator Mike Evans. He was a man I could reason
with, and that was why I had been working through him to get
the meeting scheduled. It made him the leader of their little
group by default, which was important because he had the most
level head of them all.
He was also very firmly attached to the gravy train that was the
U.S. Senate, and I knew he would be desperate for campaign
funding. His seat was on a knife edge.
Good point, Mike. Lets get down to it.
I spent the next few minutes boring them with the details of the
land in question, watching as their eyes glazed over. The only
people paying attention were their staffers, who would soon be
required to educate their bosses. I had often said that meetings
would be more productive if we only invited the staff, but that
was against the unspoken rules.
You couldnt upset a senator, and excluding them was upsetting.
They had to feel like they had the power, even when they didnt.
Children, really.
Finally, I got to the good part. So, the plan was to have you guys
convince the EPA to drop their opposition to rezoning the land,
and I could get it rezoned to commercial. But since your little
friend over there, I pointed at Mackay, is BFFs with William
Markos, that plan is fucked. The new plan is equally simple:
Make sure the EPA is even more vocal in its opposition.
Why?
Mike, come on. We both know the answer to that.
Maybe, but Id like to hear you say it. Just so I know were on
the same page.
I watched him, and Mike watched me. We both knew how the
game was played, and I knew I had to go along at least a little. I
didnt like it, though, because it was a massive waste of my time.
Mike wanted me to spell out exactly what I was asking for,
because he was scared to make a suggestion. If he did and he was
right, he would lose the upper hand in the negotiations. If he did
and he was wrong, he wouldve made it clear that he was open to
the idea, and that also gave me the upper hand.
It was a stupid game but a necessary one.
Simple, Mike. You guys remind the EPA of the levels of toxins
in the ground, and make sure they tell that to the state
government. Often and loudly. After a while, Markos will have
no choice but to let the land go, and Ill buy it as originally
planned.
Kind of screws you, doesnt it? I mean, if they renew their
opposition and you buy the land, you cant do anything with it.
That was Senator Jim Wilson a smart man, but one who was a
little out of his depth. Not that it mattered, because my staff
would guide him through every step of the way. We were like a
little paid-for government, except that we worked only for our
own purposes.
Perhaps thats not so different from the real thing.
It does, but only temporarily. Besides, I have the capacity to fix
the land completely, Markos doesnt. His only way through is to
convince someone to have the EPA back off so he can spend a lot
less on fixing it.
I could tell Mackay was ready to explode, but he was surprisingly
calm when he finally spoke. I hadnt predicted that he would
have such a good poker face. You realize William Markos is a
good friend of my familys, right?
He mentioned something about that. I wonder how that would
look in the newspapers.
You son of a
Evans spun toward Mackay, placing a firm hand on his shoulder
and looking into his eyes. It was like watching father calm
his son.
Sorry, Devon. Senator Mackays still new to this he doesnt
know when youre joking.
Dont worry, if Im ever joking around, Ill let him know. But
Im not kidding now.
Thats blackmail. Mackays teeth were clenched, opening only
barely when they absolutely had to in order to get a syllable out.
He seemed to be a man who wore his heart on his sleeve.
I had no respect for that.
William Markos has owned that land for a long time, and he
deserves a chance to build on it. If he fails, hell probably sell it
to you then.
Mackays voice still had a tinge of rage to it, and I wanted to push
that boundary. A little, at least. Even if it might mean disaster.
Or you guys will do what Im asking and hell sell it to me in a
month. That makes more sense to me.
And why the fuck would we do that? Mackays anger was
moving from barely contained to very visible.
Because I think you value your new career more than you value
Markos friendship. You want to get re-elected in a few short
years, dont you?
That has nothing to do with you.
Thats where youre wrong it really does. Im the man who
can fill your campaign war-chest with enough money to nearly
guarantee you re-election without raising a finger. And Im also
the man who can do the same thing to your future opponent.
The bright lights of the conference room showed Mackays face
beginning to develop a sheen of sweat. I was getting under his
skin, and there was little he could do about it.
Again, thats blackmail, Devon. Whats stopping me from going
straight to the media with it?
I laughed. Senator, do you really think that works? If you go to
the media, Ill leak footage of you entering my building. How do
you think that will play out in public?
No response. Clearly, I was finally getting through to him.
I continued. And if thats not enough, its not difficult to
convince one of your staffers to agree that you were here looking
for campaign donations. After all, staff love new, better
paying jobs.
I resisted the urge to ask them directly and watch them squirm,
but it was tough. It would have resulted in a hilarious explosion
from Mackay, I could tell.
Thats fucking bullshit, he said, his anger returning full-force.
You and I both know it didnt go down like that. Ill just tell the
truth.
Good idea. You tell the truth, Ill tell my truth, and well see if a
businessman is more believable than a politician. Especially a
politician who has a mistress.
Mackay jumped from his seat, slamming the palms of both
hands onto the table and leaning forward like a raging gorilla.
The only thing missing from the picture was steam coming from
his ears.
His staff and colleagues sprang into action, offering calming,
quiet words as they talked him into sitting down.
I was reminded again of how childish people were capable of
being once they found themselves with what they considered to
be unfettered power.
The bottom line is this, I said, watching as Mackay sat down
uneasily. You guys play ball, and you get yourselves re-elected.
Or, you can refuse to play, and you dont. Plus, youll get
yourselves in the paper for the wrong reasons.
This is fucking bullshit, Mackay said, apparently unable to
come up with a different description. You cant blackmail U.S.
senators and get away with it, Carell.
Youre not leaving me with much choice, I said. Ill say this
once more: Play along, or you get voted out when youre up for
re-election. And dont expect any cushy jobs from me or anyone
I know, either.
That caused some eyebrows to move. For a politician, the only
thing scarier than being voted out was being voted out without a
new and lucrative job to fall back on.
By threatening both of those things, I knew Id put a target on
my back.
It wasnt long before the senators decided to leave, and I noticed
Mikes hand never left Mackays shoulder. The idea of a sitting
senator throwing a punch at me was amusing, but Mike was
going to make sure that didnt happen. He was far smarter than
his colleagues.
Ill talk to him, Mike told me quietly once Mackay was finally
out of the room, his staff right behind him. But I cant promise
miracles. You really pissed him off.
I laughed. Some things in life really do come free.
10
NICOLE

O kay, tell us everything.


I had barely arrived at the bar to meet with the girls
from college before they started assaulting me with questions.
There were so many of them that I thought they must have
rehearsed their group attack.
I couldnt help but laugh at Abbys level of excitement. She had
held it in for a few minutes while we waited at the bar, but the
second we sat at a booth, it was out for all to see.
I dont know what to tell you, I lied. Theres not a lot to say,
really.
All four girls exploded in yells and laughs, none of them
believing a word I had said. I couldnt blame them, though. His
reputation was well known.
Bullshit, Nicole, Abby said, immediately becoming the leader
of the group. She had done exactly the same in college.
Weve all heard about Devon Carell, and now youre working for
his company. Have you met him?
Of course. I work on the same floor, go to the same meetings. I
see him all the time.
No way!
I laughed and took a sip of the cheap beer I was holding while
they all descended into angry noises. They werent pleased to
have any information withheld from them, just like the time I
went on a date in college.
That story had gone badly, but I hoped this one would end better.
Maybe Id even be employed by the end.
Tell us everything or Ill cut you, Abby said, holding up a
toothpick and putting on her best menacing voice. Ive been to
prison, bitch.
That one got me laughing, and the girls decided, no doubt aided
by alcohol, that if I wasnt giving them any details, they should
just make up their own.
Maybe hes secretly a drug dealer and Nicole cant tell us or
shell die, Mallory said. Thats probably where all his money
comes from.
No, no, its got to be better than that. He has to be some kind of
secretive leader of an underground network that controls the
world. Have you guys seen The Blacklist? Hes probably like
that guy.
Okay, shut up, I laughed. Hes none of those things. Hes a
normal man who just happens to run a massive company.
Normal, Abby scoffed. Ive heard some shit, Nicole. Are the
stories about his temper true? Does he lose it all the time?
Never in front of me. I mean, hes abrupt sometimes, and Ive
seen him really angry, but hes not scary or anything. Not unless
youre the person who just stabbed him in the back.
I thought back to the way he looked at Markos. That had been a
little scary, even if I knew he wasnt angry at me. His eyes had
narrowed and shone darker, as though something was at work
behind them that I didnt want to know about.
But he seemed to be okay once he got over it. He had stopped
talking about it, at least.
Okay, you need to blink twice if youre being recorded and
youre afraid for your life, Sam said. I didnt know why she was
getting involved since our sharing an apartment meant that she
had all the gossip already.
The others laughed, but Abbys face was firm as she stared at
me. Just be honest with us, Nicole. This is a safe space. Have
you ever seen him kill and eat an intern for sustenance?
The booth erupted with loud enough laughter that half the bar
turned to us, and I tried to sink under the little table.
When they finally calmed down, I felt a strong need to defend his
honor in front of these women who hadnt met him, and
probably never would.
Look, hes just a normal guy. Hes passionate about his
business, hes smart as hell, and he doesnt take any bullshit.
But that doesnt mean theres anything wrong with him. And
theres definitely nothing to fear about him.
I paused for a second, thinking back to the last few days with
him. Actually, its really good to just be around him. He can be
funny, he seems to care about the people around him, and he
oozes this confidence that I cant describe. Its like, he knows
hes going to succeed, even if no one else in the world can
see how.
You sound like youre in love, Sam said.
I sat a little straighter in my seat and fidgeted silently, a blush
spreading across my cheeks as I immediately realized I had done
the dumbest thing I could have. I should have laughed or said
something straight away, but I hadnt. They honed in on my
reaction like embarrassment-seeking missiles.
Youre fucking kidding me, Abby gasped. Youre in love with
your boss? What the hell is wrong with you?
Im not in love! Its nothing like that. Its just that, you know,
hes good to be around. Hes teaching me a lot.
Like, how to make love? My roommate elbowed me good-
naturedly.
No, Sam, you idiot. Nothing like that. Just about business and
about being more assertive. He told me from the beginning that I
need to be stronger, and hes helping me do it. Its kind of
amazing, really.
Honestly, Nicole, Abby said, pointing her beer at me. You
sound like youre in love.
They were wrong, and I was ready to argue, but I was glad when a
couple guys wandered up and took the attention off me.
I didnt need that conversation, especially now that I was
thinking about Devon after having to defend his honor. That
wasnt something I had expected to be doing, and now I couldnt
stop myself from thinking about him, and a few of those
thoughts were unprofessional.

A S USUAL , THE ALCOHOL WENT STRAIGHT TO MY HEAD . I SHOULD HAVE


stopped after my third beer, but I was in the mood to let my hair
down. It had been a long time, and there had been a lot of stress
since I last had the chance.
But when I fell onto the couch in the apartment I shared with
Sam at four in the morning, I knew I was going to be in for a hell
of a hangover. That wasnt something I was very familiar with,
but I had experienced just enough to know I didnt want it.
With my trusty bottle of water on the coffee table beside me and
a blanket over the top of me, I settled in and closed my eyes.
Having decided I didnt have the energy to clean papers and files
off my bed, I wasnt going to waste time before going to sleep on
the couch.
In an instant, Devons face flashed in front of me. Vividly, as
though he was there. I could see all the sharpness of his jaw and
the perfect teeth, along with that smile he occasionally cracked.
God, that smile. It was the kind that could have you melting,
even if you knew you shouldnt. There was just something about
it that hinted, Hes dangerous. Dont get too close.
I could only imagine how many hearts he had broken. One or two
Hollywood stars were on that list if you believed what you read in
the tabloids, too.
You cant compete with that, a voice said from somewhere deep
in my mind, causing my eyes to jolt open. What the hell did that
mean? I didnt want to compete with that. I didnt have any
interest in him like that.
Of course, Devon Carell was an attractive man. I wasnt blind. He
had the arms of a god, even if he hid them under tailored suits.
His chest and abs were once featured in a calendar, and they
were to die for.
Then there was his face. That perfect, chiseled smile, combined
with a smoldering stare that could have you forgetting your own
name in an instant. He seemed to use both sparingly, but that
only made it hotter.
It would be something else to get close to him. To have that
manly, spicy scent surrounding you as his body pressed against
you. His cock would be a thing of perfect beauty the kind that a
sculptor would envy.
It would feel so good plunging into me, joining us together. I
could only imagine how big and thick it would be as his arousal
grew, and how powerful it would feel inside me. In my mind,
Devon took me hard, using long, firm strokes, as though he was
taking what he wanted from me, and I was just there for the ride.
And what a ride it was I could almost feel him pushing in and
out of me. It felt so damn good.
I gasped when I felt him touching my clit, teasing it. His finger
seemed to know exactly which direction to move in order to
create the most pleasure, and it wasnt long before I was
teetering on the edge of a Devon-induced orgasm.
Fuck me, Devon, I whispered, lifting my hips off the couch to
feel more of him.
And that was the moment my eyes flung open. I had completely
forgotten I was on the couch in the living room with Sam in the
other room. It wasnt Devons fingers, but mine.
No wonder he knew just how to touch me so well.
I quickly turned onto my side, crushing my thighs together to
prevent any further risk of embarrassment. I held my breath and
waited, hoping like hell that Sam hadnt heard me whispering.
Or moaning.
When it became clear that I hadnt been busted, I closed my eyes
again and tried to force myself to sleep. But it wouldnt happen
not after the thoughts I had just allowed free roam over my
brain.
It was little wonder that I was attracted to a man like Devon, but
I needed to keep it under control. Not just because he was my
boss, but because there was no way he would be interested in
me. I didnt look like a Hollywood celebrity, and I wasnt famous.
I was hopeful that I could be a good businesswoman with a long
career, but that was hardly Devons kind of woman.
No, it would be enough to learn from him. Be near him.
That is, if I could ever figure out how to look him in the eye again
after what just happened.
11
NICOLE

I was in my office bright and early Monday morning. After a


weekend spent researching and learning more than I ever
thought I would know about toxic chemicals, I only had a few
finishing touches left to put on my report.
It was a report I had decided to write myself without Devons
instruction, but I hoped he would be happy with it. Especially
when he saw that the result of my research suggested there was
some serious corruption occurring.
He probably had some kind of an idea that it was, but proof was
always good. Well, kind of proof. Very circumstantial proof that
he couldnt do a lot with.
I forced myself to keep working on it, even when I realized that
he probably knew most of it.
My meeting with Devon was scheduled at 1:00, and I barely
finished the report before then. I hadnt even eaten lunch when I
found myself knocking on the door to his office.
Come in.
I paused for a second to get my breath back, and my mind
remembered the worst possible thing: early Saturday morning
lying on my couch, touching myself and moaning his name.
Pretending my fingers were his.
By the time I pushed the door, I was blushing hard enough to
heat the room.
Nikki, Devon said, looking up with a smile. I heard you
wanted to see me.
Yes, thats why I scheduled a meeting with Maureen.
My sentence sounded far ruder than I wanted it to, but Devon
ignored it. Have a seat.
I sat at the small table near his desk, spreading my papers in
front of me while he finished up something on his computer.
When he joined me, I was busy rehearsing what I would say, and
his scent suddenly hit me. It was masculine, woodsy, with an
underlying spice it was overwhelming.
The whole point of rehearsing was to avoid running out of things
to say, but I was immediately struggling.
Whats all this?
He reached out to take one of the documents, but I pulled it back.
No, wait, theres an order, I stammered.
His chuckle made me feel like an idiot.
Okay, I finally said, Im ready.
I looked up at him, he looked back at me with raised eyebrows.
Talk, you idiot, I told myself.
I cleared my throat. So, I was thinking about the land you were
going to buy, and I wanted to know more about the EPA rules
surrounding it. So, I got in contact with a guy at the EPA who
gave me the number for an activist. He sent me these.
Devon looked almost bored when I glanced up at him as I slid a
piece of paper across the small table. When he read it, he didnt
seem to be shocked at all.
Wow, I was off to a great start.
I appreciate you doing this, Nikki, he said, But we know the
previous factory left toxic chemicals behind. Thats not news
to us.
No, I know, but Ive got more. Theres also this one.
I slid another piece of paper across, and he paid a little more
attention. This one shows some of the chemicals that were
there as recently as a year ago, even after the local government
hired a clean-up crew.
That cant be right, Devon mused, picking the paper up and
reading it closely. I worked to keep myself from getting too
excited. There was a report afterwards saying that most of the
chemicals were easily removed, and the rest could be cleared by
whoever owned the land.
Yes, this report. Have a look at who wrote it.
Devons eyes widened as he read the name of the author.
Markos is a familiar surname. Any relation to William?
Well, I dont know. Not yet, anyway. But what I do know, is that
this report doesnt actually say a lot, even though its long.
Basically, it says that the land could be freed of chemicals, and
that itll be easy to do. Theres not much evidence for that.
Okay, okay, Devon said, leaning back and looking above my
head. His lips pursed together, and I knew he was thinking
deeply. I also knew I had to look away so that I could concentrate
rather than getting distracted by the sexy stubble lining his jaw,
or the way his crisp white shirt stretched across the muscles of
his chest.
Let me get this straight: The EPA is relying on this report to
decide what to do with the land. The report just happens to say
what Iris and Markos want it to say, and it just happens to have
been written by someone with the same surname.
I nodded as he stopped to think before his train of thought
continued. The contents of the report arent exactly Earth-
shattering, and theyre not enough to overturn the EPAs
original decision, but the decision was still overturned. The
bottom line is that the land should still be zoned heavy
industrial.
Exactly. And I can prove that, because these soil samples were
taken by that activist I told you about.
Devon leaned forward again as I passed a small stack of papers,
each one containing a before and after graph.
I watched as he stared at each one for a few seconds before
turning to the next page, taking in all the information I had
found. It had taken more time and effort than almost anything
else I had done, but a feeling of pride welled within me.
The man I had been trying to impress since the beginning was
finally taking my efforts seriously. Even better, they were my
efforts alone I hadnt even been asked to do it.
At long last, he spoke again. These graphs can we
trust them?
I heard the word we, and had to stop the rush of blood to my
head. I needed to concentrate.
I think so. They activist gave them to me, and he said hes got
certificates from the lab for all of them if we need.
Maybe. Theyre certainly interesting. If theyre correct, it
means the toxins in the soil hardly changed after the clean-up,
so the report were suspicious of seems like an outright lie. If
theyre accurate, we can use this information to show that
Markos shouldnt be using this land for the residential buildings
he wants. If theyre accurate.
The activist has been used in the media before, so hes not
some crazy guy yelling at clouds.
Devon didnt say anything, but he kept going through the
graphs. I knew each one like the back of my hand after spending
so much time staring at them all, and I was glad they were as
useful to him as they were to me.
Basically, they showed that the toxins in the soils were about the
same after the clean-up as before. When the report suggested
that the clean-up had made a big improvement, it was clearly
lying.
If we could prove that the report was a lie, we could go a long way
toward showing corruption at the EPA division that handled this
land zoning.
So, I said quietly while Devon continued reading, Ive come
up with a strategy to use this new information. The goal is to
have it zoned heavy industrial again like it should always have
been, right?
Well, theres lots of goals here, Devon said, not looking up.
But something like that, yeah.
Okay, well, in order to do that, we need to show the public that
the zone never should have changed. And to do that, I think we
could use your own marketing department. Well, one of the
people in it, at least.
He finally looked up at me, confusion written on his face. What
do you mean?
I mean, Jennifer in the junior marketing team told me she
wants to make a difference, and I believe her. She definitely
seems to be a little different from the rest who just want to pad
their CVs. So, we could use her marketing knowledge to start a
public awareness campaign that will force the EPA to act.
Devon smiled. I melted.
Thats a good plan, Nikki, but its a little early for that. We need
to be sure were accurate here, otherwise we run the risk of
looking like idiots. Believe me, thats not something Im going to
endure after that meeting with Markos.
Was Devon opening up to me? Telling me he had looked like an
idiot after that meeting? I wanted to press that particular line of
conversation, but I didnt dare.
What else have you got there? His voice was gruff again
He nodded at the papers sitting in front of me, and I felt myself
blush. Oh, nothing.
Thinking about all the work Id put into the papers I was trying
to hide from him, I felt like a fool. Of course, we were going to
have to prove the accuracy of our accusations before we went
public with them. Why had I thought we would jump straight
into action this very Monday afternoon?
Devon clearly wasnt going to heed my brush off. I waited in
silent embarrassment as he stood and walked around the little
table. When he was behind me, he leaned down by my left side
with his arm lightly around my shoulder, and I felt myself
stiffen.
His touch brought my fantasy from the other night flooding
back. He was so near. I could feel the warmth of his body against
me. Suddenly, my mind was not on the papers in front of me
at all.
But when he began spreading the pages out, I knew he was going
to laugh at me. After all, I had completely jumped the gun in
formulating a marketing plan.
I wasnt even a marketer.
This is good, he said, his voice low with surprise as he read
over my shoulder.
He was probably just being polite, but his arm around me was
making it tough to think straight. If I was able to use my brain, I
might have gathered up the papers and his office in a hurry.
But I sat there, frozen by his touch, and waited to see if he would
admonish me.
You know, Im impressed, Nikki. We cant use this marketing
plan, but it would be a good one if we could.
I spun my head to look at him as he stood back a little, his arm
still warmly around me. Really? Youd use it?
I dont see why not. Youve covered all the bases.
I stared up at him, he stared down at him. All I could focus on
were his eyes, looking directly into mine as though he were
reading my thoughts. The only thing that mattered was how
close his lips were to mine, closing in ever so slightly, as if he
were about to kiss me.
What the f-.
His lips pressed against mine as they had been threatening to,
but it still caught me completely by surprise. He slowly, gently
kissed me, his lips moving lightly over mine, and I struggled to
breathe as though I had been dunked in ice cold water.
The feel of his hand sliding lower over my shoulder, moving
toward the swelling of my breast beside my arm, dragged me out
of my trance. My first thought was to run, to stop doing
whatever we were doing, but my second was much happier: Im
making out with Devon Carell.
Well, kind of. He was making out with me. I was sitting still,
thinking about what we were doing like an idiot.
I rectified that situation quickly. When my lips moved in time
with his, it seemed to be the sign he was looking for because he
suddenly turned to face me completely as his tongue slipped into
my mouth.
Oh god, I thought, suddenly worried about hyperventilating. If I
did that, would he stop? I hoped not, but the chances were high.
To keep my mind off my unusual breathing pattern, I turned in
my seat and reached out until I had two handfuls of his shirt. My
movements were far more needful than I intended, but it seemed
to do the trick I hadnt even thought of. It seemed to tell him I
was as into this as he was, and he instantly took the hint.
I found myself floating for a few seconds, and it wasnt until my
feet touched the ground again that I realized he had lifted me
clean out of the chair. He placed me against his desk, my feet
finally safely on the carpet and my ass almost painfully against
the wooden furniture.
His eyes focused firmly on me, so much so that I was only
vaguely aware of his hands finding their way underneath my
shirt. My eyes locked on his, taking in the sight of hunger and
need that I was sure he would be able to see in me.
It sent a thrill through me to think that I was having anywhere
near the same effect on him as he was having on me.
His hands moved immediately to my breasts, cupping and
squeezing them firmly. I could feel small jolts of pleasure
coursing through my body, starting at the nipples each time he
put pressure on them underneath my clothing.
Suddenly, his touch and the strong, eager expression on his face
made me want nothing more than to be out of my clothes. To be
completely nude and open to the touch of his fingers, tongue or
anything else he wanted to use.
I wanted to be his. I, Nikki wait, Nicole Blythe, wanted to be
Devon Carells whatever. Mistress? No, thats only when
theyre married. Girlfriend? No, thats what they say in high
school.
Sex toy? Sure. Whatever.
My mind was so busy naming whatever this was that I was
surprised by the feeling of his hand firmly moving into my
panties. The new pressure around my waist took a second to
figure out, and that was when I realized he had hiked my skirt
right up to get access to what he wanted. I had completely
missed him doing that while my mind tried to decide on my title.
This was the same thing I wanted, only I wasnt focused enough
to give it to him.
Thankfully, Devon Carell was proving himself to be the kind of
man who would take it anyway. I was both grateful and
completely unsurprised.
I moaned loudly against his mouth when his fingertips grazed
my clit. This time it was real, not just me pretending. It was real
and it was so much better.
I was forced to stop kissing him so that my mouth could hang
open. It was all it was capable of as his fingers worked expertly
over my pussy, giving me pleasure that rivalled anything I could
give myself.
Fuck, I whispered, trembling already. If I was on the verge of
losing control now, how was I going to be if we went any further?
Through hazy vision, I saw him pull his face back to look at me.
His eyes were smiling now, but his mouth was nearly smirking. A
very tiny, instantly ignored part of me wanted to tell it was rude
to look like that at a girl who was desperate to give herself
to him.
Hes going to fuck me, I thought, my body shaking. My legs were
fast becoming like jelly, and I had to reach down to take the
tightest grip on the desk that I could possibly manage. It wasnt
going to be enough, but I forced myself to hold on.
I needed to hold on for only a few more seconds, and then I knew
I was going to have the orgasm of a lifetime. As he stared, and I
stared back with my mouth wide open, I could feel it building
within me. My toes began to move on their own, stretching and
clenching as though it was too much for them.
They needed to shut up, because I wasnt going to let this stop
for anything.
Fuck, I groaned, making Devons smug smile wider.
I couldnt breathe properly. I couldnt see properly. I definitely
couldnt keep my balance on jelly legs for much longer.
But it didnt matter. Devons eyes narrowed and his look grew
more intense. It felt like this had suddenly become serious for
him. He was a little late to the party, but I didnt care. All I cared
about was that I was about to orgasm, and I was going to do it on
his fast and perfectly rhythmic fingers.
Come for me, Nikki, he said, staring at me as his warm, husky
words washed over every inch of my body.
It was the only sound I could hear as I involuntarily threw my
head back, the violence of it almost painful. My hips shoved
themselves forward, as though trying to get more of him inside
me as I came for him. Just like he told me to.
My body shuddered and convulsed, and I was vaguely aware that
it was trying to throw itself off the desk. Devons long, strong
arm snaked around my waist, holding me up to prevent me from
falling to the ground mid-orgasm.
Stars seemed to dance in front of my eyes as I fought for breath,
but the fact that I could hardly breathe didnt matter. All that
mattered was the violent pleasure threatening to destroy my
mind as I knew it.
Good girl, Nikki, he whispered, his lips touching my ear and
building my orgasm ever higher.
Every muscle in my body threatened to snap, and all I could
think of was the sound of him. Even the feel of him was
forgotten for a moment, but only a moment.
I probably screamed, but I wasnt aware of it. The orgasm tearing
through me lasted for so long that I wondered if I was going to
lose consciousness, and then the second one appeared before the
first had finished.
When the waves finally finished crashing over me, I felt like a
new woman. I wasnt the shy, retiring Nicole Blythe anymore. I
wasnt the girl who desperately wanted to impress her boss, and
who would quietly sit in the background hoping it would happen.
I was Nikki Blythe, the intern who needed to be fucked by the
boss. When my eyes opened and my head returned to a more
normal position, I looked him dead in the eyes and said
something I never would have expected. Please fuck me,
Devon.
12
NICOLE

H e looked almost shocked as I uttered the words. Not quite


as shocked as me, but still a little less calm and in control
than he had been only a second earlier.
But it didnt take long for the real Devon to return, and he
stepped back and began to quickly disrobe Tell me again,
Nikki, he said, his voice hinting that he didnt have complete
control of himself as he lowered his trousers.
I repeated the words, and the mere act of saying it again made
me desire it even more. It seemed like I was trying to convince
myself as much as him, and it was working.
I forced my shaking fingers to work as quickly as they could,
shedding my disheveled clothes as he did the same. It was only
then that I realized my shirt was unbuttoned with my bra pushed
down below my breasts.
I couldnt remember when that had happened.
But I didnt have time to think about it, because when Devon
finally dropped his pants, I gasped.
Quietly, but enough to bring that smirk back to his face. That
sexy, infuriating smirk.
I can see how badly you want this, he teased. I knew I was
supposed to argue, perhaps make him think that I wasnt that
excited by it, but there was no point lying. Besides, I didnt have
the strength to talk at that moment.
Neither of us said a word as he stepped forward, reaching out to
take a firm hold of my hips. His lips returned to mine, and he
lifted me effortlessly until I was sitting on the desk. I had to
wriggle around for a second to swat away something that poked
into my ass, but our lips didnt break their seal once.
When he released one of my hips, I knew where his hand was
going. I couldnt feel it or see it, but I somehow knew it was
taking hold of that perfectly sized cock to give me what I
suddenly needed more than oxygen.
I looked down, intent on watching him enter me. In his fingers
appeared a small package, and I wondered where he had
managed to pull a condom from while I watched his every move.
My eyes hadnt closed for that long.
But I wasnt going to stop him to find out. I only hoped he would
put it on quickly before my need outgrew my patience.
Thankfully, it only took him a few seconds to complete the task,
and his well-wrapped cock looked magnificent as he stopped to
inspect it.
Satisfied, he roughly pushed one of my legs, hinting that I
should spread them for him. I took that hint faster than the
speed of light, resulting in a look from him that sent shivers
down my spine. I cant wait to finally be inside you, Nikki, he
whispered, pressing the tip of his cock against my opening.
I wasnt letting his mouth get away, and he was barely finished
the sentence before I kissed him again, harder this time. My
teeth began to find a mind of their own, and I had to stop myself
from biting him hard enough to end this before it began.
He pushed forward, I pushed forward, and we both groaned as he
entered me. His cock felt enormous, the pleasure instant, and I
was barely under control. My legs wrapped themselves around
him without my instruction, and I pulled him to me while
pushing myself forward to get him all the way inside me as soon
as possible.
I didnt have to wait long to feel his pelvis grinding against my
clit, proving that I was taking all of him. All of the cock I had
wanted from the beginning even if I didnt admit it was
finally where it belonged.
Devon didnt waste any time. Almost as soon as he was inside
me, he pulled back, quickly fucking me without mercy. I cried
out, over and over, even while I knew I was supposed to be quiet.
My hands too were out of control, grabbing him anywhere they
could.
His grabbed my breasts, squeezing them hard enough to hurt,
and still, I wanted more. I needed more than it was physically
possible to receive.
Seeing the contorted look of pleasure on his face drove me wild.
As did the way he thrust at the perfect angle, sending me toward
another orgasm long before I would have expected it.
He was soon grunting loudly, suggesting that he was getting to
his end rather quickly.
But I didnt care. If he finished first, I wouldnt hold it against
him. Not this first time, anyway.
I was already thinking of the next time.
It felt like we were in a race to our orgasms. His movements were
hard and fast, as though he was no longer in control of his hard-
thrusting hips. Mine were no less violent, making the desk rock
as we pushed together harder each time.
The sound of skin slapping skin quickly filled the office,
combined with our grunts and groans. You feel so fucking
tight, Devon grunted, kissing me for a few seconds before
releasing the grip of his lips.
As my moans and cries threatened to be far too loud, I bit my
bottom lip. The way he moaned at the sight told me he liked it,
and I could have sworn I felt his thrusts lose their timing for just
a second.
But it wasnt enough to put me off. Not even close. If anything, it
only increased the speed at which I approached the orgasm that
threatened to be massive. As though the knowledge that I was
turning him on was as good as the way he filled me.
Before I could think any more about how much he obviously
wanted, my orgasm came from nowhere.
Im coming, I groaned, throwing my head back again and
wrapping my body around his.
His stride wasnt broken he kept thrusting as hard and as fast
as he had from the beginning. It served only to push me further
into the massive orgasm that overwhelmed my brain and body,
and soon I was barely aware of anything other than his cock.
And, after what felt like an eternity, his voice. Im going to
come in you, Nikki, he said, his voice shuddering with each
violent thrust. Do you want it?
I had never wanted anything more in my life. The idea of him
having an orgasm because of me, because of my pussy, was now
all I cared about.
Well, that and the orgasms he kept causing, even though the
pleasure was almost too much.
That pleasure was what stopped me from talking. Try as I might,
I couldnt even beg him to finish, to come for me for the way I
was for him. My voice was as out of control as everything else,
and all it was capable of was moaning.
I forced my head forward, looking into his eyes as his thrusts
became slightly less regular. He was clearly on the edge, perhaps
waiting for me to agree that he could go over it, but I couldnt
help him.
All I could do was stare, moan, cry and orgasm.
Thankfully, he was smart enough to take those as a hint.
Im coming, he suddenly grunted, pressing his forehead
firmly against mine, his eyes burning into mine.
I could feel the aggressive swelling within me, the pulses that
told me of his orgasm deep inside me. Each one seemed to be
bigger than the last, and the out of control, barely conscious
feeling that looked to overtake him was one I knew well.
His legs must have been working overtime, because he began to
collapse in the same second as he finally finished. It looked like
his orgasm had been all that kept him upright, because he
quickly moved to lie on the floor, his legs almost buckling
under him.
I rolled to one side and gingerly got off the desk, trying not to fall
on top of him while my body refused to cooperate.
Come here, he said, reaching up to help me lay down. I was
surprised by the strength of his arms as he managed to help me
slowly sink to the floor from his own position on the ground, and
soon I was safely in his arms.
He held me tightly from behind, his still solid cock pressing into
my back. It was clearly a sign that he had enjoyed me, and I
hoped he was as satisfied as I was.
So fucking sexy, he whispered, his fingertips tracing my hair
back behind my ear.
I smiled, unable to say anything as we both fought to get our
breath back.
I never wanted to move again. Not even for food. I wanted to stay
where I was, and hopefully survive long enough to go again.
If I didnt, it wouldnt matter. I would die the happiest girl on the
planet.
Im sure neither of us could say how much time passed, but even
our breathing returned to normal. The sweat that had built up in
a short time disappeared, leaving us clinging together.
And hoped it wasnt making a mess of his probably expensive
carpet. Not that it mattered it was his fault.
That was so good, Devon finally sighed, laughing a little.
Why are you laughing? I giggled.
I dont fucking know. The laugh didnt go away.
I rolled to face him, reaching up to touch his face. He was
definitely real, and definitely there, and I closed my eyes.
Are you okay?
I opened my eyes in surprise at the question. It wasnt one I ever
would have expected from a man like Devon, and it made me
wonder if I had done or said something to suggest I wasnt.
Of course, I whispered. Are you?
Yeah, he laughed. Im just making sure. You know, now that
its over is when regrets can sink in.
What is there to regret?
Nothing. Not that I can think of, anyway. Its just that this isnt
exactly what I expected when you started here.
I giggled. No, neither did I. To be honest, I didnt even expect to
start here, so I couldnt have expected this.
He lowered his head, lethargy obviously overcoming him as he
closed his eyes. How could you not expect to be here when your
dad told me to hire you?
My heart skipped a beat as the words washed over me. What?
He pulled back slightly as he seemed to wake up again, his face
showing concern. What?
What the hell are you talking about?
Nothing, he said, his words rushed. Dont worry about it.
Of course, that wasnt going to help. My dad told you to hire
me? For this internship?
Well, I mean, kind of. It was like His voice trailed off, and I
immediately knew there was no good answer for my question.
Somehow, my dad had convinced Devon Carell to give me the
internship I thought I had earned. My grades didnt matter, nor
did the interview I spent a month practicing for.
Did my performance here matter? Was I just here as a favor to
my dad?
And how the hell did he know Devon Carell?
The questions flew through my racing mind, but the only thing I
was sure of was that I had to get out of here. I didnt want to be
near Devon. I didnt want to be in the Pristine building anymore.
I didnt want to be near anyone who had anything to do with
either Devon or Pristine. I needed some kind of safe space where
no one could see or hear me. I just needed to be away from
whatever the hell had just happened.
I needed to be anywhere but here.
Nikki, wait, Devon said, quietly but with a hint of emotion in
his voice. I didnt know what it was, but I wasnt hanging around
to listen.
Its not whatever you seem to think it is, Nikki.
My legs were still shaky, but it didnt matter. I quickly gathered
my clothes from the ugly pile they had found themselves in, and
threw on my shirt and pants as fast as I could. Holding the rest
of them to my body, I raced out of the office as fast as I could.
It wasnt until I saw Maureens empty desk that I realized I was
running nearly naked from the CEOs office, but it didnt matter.
Even being seen by the entire staff of the company couldnt
make this moment much worse.
No one was around to see me dash to my office, and I quickly
dressed with my back against the door in case anyone tried to
come in. I had heard Devon yell Nikki as I ran, and I
immediately remembered my hatred for that name.
When I was finally dressed in a somewhat respectable manner, I
rushed for the elevator. I forced my head to keep looking straight
ahead as I walked past Devons office, but if he was still there, he
didnt say anything.
Good, I thought, stepping into the elevator and hurriedly
pressing the button to take me to the lobby. Theres nothing he
could say.
The tears finally started as the elevator doors closed. I was
surprised they took so long.
13
DEVON

I let my phone ring, even though it was the third time. Nicole
had rushed out an hour ago, and I was still only wearing my
briefs.
Leaning back against the couch and staring out the window was
about all I could manage, although my hand ran through my
thick hair as some kind of stress relief. I was on the verge of
losing my temper, and I didnt want to risk saying or doing
something I would regret.
At least, something I would regret more than what I had
already said.
I couldnt believe I had been so stupid. Even in my post-orgasm
bliss, Im usually smart enough to shut my mouth if theres
anything bad I could potentially say. When Nicole fell into my
arms and leaned against me, I should have let myself drift off to
sleep with her in my arms. Instead of opening my big mouth.
I only hired you because your dad told me to, is what I had
basically said. It was definitely what she had heard.
I couldnt blame her, either. There were few other ways to take
that comment, and none of them were compliments. I would
have been angry in her situation.
But the sad fact was that it was true. I had only hired her because
of her dad. Worse, I had hired her with the strict intention of
making her quit as soon as possible. No matter how well she did,
my goal had been to push her out.
I was lucky I didnt tell her that much. Although, she didnt give
me much of a chance to fuck up further.
There was a loud knock on the door, and I contemplated staying
quiet and pretending I wasnt there. Except it was probably
Maureen, and she always knew when I was there and when I
wasnt.
What?
Its Daniel. Your doors locked.
I know.
Can I come in?
Ill find you later.
Okay, he said, sounding far from convinced. Everything
alright?
Yeah.
If only that were true. If only the door was still locked because
Nicoles naked form was still in my arms, instead of still being
locked because I had quickly flicked the knob when Nicole
raced out.
When the hell did I start to feel this way about her, anyway? She
was an intern, and one I didnt even want to hire. Her grades
were fine and her essays more than acceptable, but she hadnt
gone to Harvard.
She never should have been in the program, and yet she had
excelled at it. Of course, as part of my plan to drive her away, I
made sure never to let her know that, but it was true. She had
learned faster than most almost as fast as Daniel and the way
she handled that second meeting with the junior markets was,
apparently, great.
She wouldnt take our shit like the first time. That marketing
intern, Jennifer, had laughed when I asked her about the
meeting. There was a point where I thought she was going to
try to fire us all if we didnt stop arguing.
That showed a speed of growth that suggested an already
impressive woman could become something else. She showed
more than a few signs that she could be as good as, or even
better than, Daniel.
But I neglected to tell her because of her dad. The man who I
swore would never fuck with my life again, had done exactly
that. All because I let him.
Again.
I pushed myself away from the couch and headed for the small
table, gathering up Nicoles papers into a neat pile.
Now, I was going to make a stand. I had succeeded almost
everywhere else except for Jerry and his bullshit, and that was a
win I needed. He, his betrayal and his refusal to get out of my
head were finally gone.
Especially now that Nicole had quit. At least, I figured thats
what she was doing when she ran nearly naked from my office.
I headed for the door to my office with her papers in my hand,
determined to put this behind me. It would be a pity that I
couldnt see or be with Nicole again, but I would live. Whatever I
felt for her probably wasnt love or anything close, even if it felt
like that. It could be lust or something a little more, but I
couldnt have strong feelings for an intern. Especially not her.
I would be fine. Surely.
When I made it to Daniels office, he was absent-mindedly
toying with a little wood carving of a bird on his desk. He always
appeared with some new wooden toy as a result of his wood
carving hobby. A hobby I couldnt understand, but one he
seemed to spend a lot of time on.
Good use of company time, I said, dropping the papers on
his desk.
He jumped. Sorry, thinking about something.
Stop thinking and start reading, I told him, sitting in the chair
opposite his desk. And read fast.
He did so, and I began to wonder how Nicole compared to him.
They were both smart, fast learners and willing to put in the
hours, but they werent quite the same kind of employee.
There was something different, and I couldnt figure out what. It
wasnt in their effort, because both worked their asses off. They
had different levels of knowledge, but that didnt mean anything
since they were at different stages of their careers.
It suddenly hit me. Nicole had been willing to argue her point.
When I said we wouldnt go public, Nicole had continued
discussing it anyway. When I looked over her shoulder, she had
even brought her arguments with her in the form of a
marketing plan.
They were good, too. Not perfect, but certainly better than I
would have expected of an intern.
But it wasnt just a willingness to argue their point that made
Daniel and Nicole different.
It was that Nicole was passionate and enthusiastic. That was
something Daniel just wasnt, and it hadnt bothered me at all.
But now, remembering Nicoles excitement when she did
something as simple as take a meeting, I couldnt imagine being
without that passion in my life.
Of course, none of that mattered. She wasnt going to speak to
me again.

I T HAD BEEN NEARLY A WEEK SINCE N ICOLE HAD RUN FROM MY OFFICE , AND
I wasnt going to wait any longer.
This address, please, I said, handing the driver a note as I
climbed into the back of my Mercedes SUV.
He closed the door behind me and moved to the front of the car,
and I willed him to hurry. This wasnt a matter of life and death,
but it wasnt far from it.
I sat back and tried to be patient, but the drive was longer than I
anticipated. Even reading emails on my phone didnt make a
difference, and I was soon fidgeting in my seat.
Eventually, I saw what I had come for. It was a small building in
the suburbs, and above the door was written, Aisle Consulting.
Hardly believing my eyes, I told the driver to pull over so that we
could wait near the entrance.
When I found out through a network of contacts that Nikki was
interviewing here, I expected it to be a big company. Sure, it
wasnt one I had heard of, but I didnt know all the consulting
firms in the city.
What the hell is a woman like Nikki doing interviewing at a tiny
company like that? I couldnt imagine she would be happy
counting billable hours for even smaller companies that were
probably going bankrupt even with her help.
Besides, she was fresh out of college, so this was probably
another internship. What the hell would she learn from it? How
to make coffee for three people in a cramped office?
As I stared at the front door, I saw the face Id seen every night
since we were last together. I was close enough to see her smile,
but not close enough to hear what she said to the woman who
escorted her out. They both smiled widely as they shook hands,
and I could only assume Nikki had been offered the position.
At least I knew the woman offering it to her was smart enough to
recognize a gem like Nikki.
A little smarter than me, in that regard.
I waited as they spoke for a few more seconds, and then Nikki
turned and walked toward where we were parked. I thought for a
second that she had caught me, but then I noticed she was
heading for the bus stop just in front of us.
We had reached the end of my simple plan: Find out where shes
working or interviewing, and go see her. I hadnt thought of
what to do once I found her.
Acting on impulse, I leaped from the car onto the sidewalk,
closing the door behind me as I rushed toward her. She looked up
in fear, probably because I looked exactly like some kind of
kidnapper, but then a brief flash of something on her face
showed me she recognized me.
It also showed me that all hope was not lost. I just need to figure
out what to say.
Hi, I said, very unimpressively.
She nodded and looked away. This was going to be harder than I
thought, especially when images of her legs around me were
refusing to leave my mind.
So, youre interviewing there, huh? Do they seem any good?
They seem like business consultants.
I bet they billed you for the interview, didnt they?
She turned away as a smile threatened to appear.
A second later, she turned those gorgeous eyes back onto me.
What do you want, Devon?
I think you know, Nikki.
No, I dont. You cant want me back as intern because you
didnt want me in the first place. I doubt you want me back for
sex because I cant imagine that was more than a one afternoon
stand. What do you want?
That was a hell of a question. I dont know, I admitted, moving
to sit on a bench near her.
Well, thats helpful.
Im still your boss, Nikki. You cant show me attitude.
She turned angrily toward me, finally giving me her undivided
attention. No, youre not! I stopped working for you when I left
the building.
Oh, did you now? I dont recall reading a letter of resignation. I
certainly dont recall firing you, although with your new attitude
maybe I should.
I smiled awkwardly, but she wasnt smiling back. If I had one,
now would be a time for plan B.
Not that I even had a plan A.
After a few moments of silence, Nikki sighed and sat down
beside me. Doesnt look like there will be a bus for a while.
Probably not. This bus stops been disused for about six
months, according to Google, I said, turning the screen of my
phone toward her.
For gods sake.
She crossed her arms, looked straight ahead and stuck out her
chin. Watching her like that made me realize how much I had
missed her in the previous week.
Look, I started, turning toward her, I know that was a shitty
thing to say to you. It was a shitty thing to do. If I could go back
in time I would do a lot of things differently, but theyre done
now and I cant take them back. The only thing I can ask for is a
fresh start. You were making impressive progress, and Id like to
see how far you can go.
She glanced at me, but looked away just as quickly. How can I
come back from that? You didnt hire me because of my grades or
my writing, you hired me because of my dad.
Thats how it started, sure, but it continued because of your
potential. Like I said, you were making really good progress and
showing a lot of growth.
She relaxed her arms and placed her hands in her lap, and I knew
I was making some progress of my own. Now, if only I knew
where to go from here.
When she broke the silence with a whisper, I had to ask her to
repeat it. I just want to know why you hired me after my dad
told you to. Do you know him?
Shit, I thought, stretching out my legs and turning away from
her. This was the part of the conversation I knew had to occur,
but I didnt want it to. If only there was something I could say
that wouldnt upset her.
I knew nothing of her relationship with her dad, but finding out
he was a cheating, thieving scumbag would be difficult for any
daughter. Especially if I used those words.
We used to know each other, I said, hoping it would be enough
and knowing it wouldnt.
How?
Its a very long story.
Well, apparently the bus wont be here for a while so Ive got
time to listen.
I couldnt help but chuckle, even though she was obviously
angry. She waited impatiently, and I tried to figure out the best
way to put it.
It took me a few moments to decide that the truth was going to
hurt no matter how I put it, so I may as well put it fairly simply.
Afterwards, she would hopefully still be talking to me.
We worked together a few years ago. Before I had Pristine.
Actually, thats how Pristine started I invited him to work on a
project with me.
What was the project?
Military vehicles. I had some ideas that I knew would be good,
but I didnt have a lot of hands-on experience. Your dad did, and
wed become friends at work, so I asked him if he wanted to get
involved.
And he did?
Oh yeah, in a big way. Hell, he probably spent as much time on
it as I did once we got going. Youd probably remember because
he would have been gone a lot.
She screwed her face up as she thought, and then it lit up as she
snapped her fingers together. I do remember! He used to leave
me with my aunt almost every night and most weekends. I
hated it.
Sorry about that, I said with a laugh.
Her silent response told me we werent ready for jokes yet.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, he filed for a patent on it. He
tried to take it to market, but he couldnt get anyone to invest, so
he brought it back to me. I found investors, we sold a lot of them,
and the rest is history.
What do you mean, he filed for a patent? Do you mean he
applied for one in both of your names?
No, I sighed, annoyed that she was far too smart to overlook
that. He did it behind my back. He told me he got excited and
couldnt help himself.
When Nikki turned to me with her eyes watering, I could tell she
was struggling with that information. You mean, he stole it
from you.
It was complicated, Nikki.
We both sat in silence, staring ahead at nothing. I was trying to
come up with a way to make her feel better without lying and
pretending I was over it.
Clearly, Nikki was trying to process this new information about
her father.
You know, she finally said, I knew there was something
weird going on when he said I should be careful here. He
wouldnt tell me what he meant, and he said he was happy for
me, but he warned me.
About what? I found that offensive, considering I wasnt the
one who had ripped off a business partner. I didnt do anything
to him.
I dont know, but to be fair, he wasnt the only one to warn me.
A lot of people did.
It was my turn to face her. What the hell did she mean that
people had tried to warn her about me?
What about? And who?
Just about everyone I spoke to, actually. They said youre
difficult to work with, and that the only thing you care about is
money. More than one person said you were ruthless in
everything you do.
Thats bullshit. Who are these people?
I think its just the rumor on the street, Devon. Maybe its true,
maybe its not, but you have a reputation.
The anger was boiling within me, but I couldnt quite figure out
why. Sure, there was a little truth to the suggestion that I cared
about money, but that wasnt my highest priority.
I didnt really have a highest priority.
I dont know what to say, I finally told her. All I know is that I
am who I am. If you dont like it, then theres nothing I can do
about it, and maybe we should end our business relationship.
Nikki laughed, and it only made me angrier. We were in the
middle of a serious conversation one where I let her see more
of myself than I think anyone ever has and she laughed.
Whats so funny?
Nothing.
Tell me.
Alright, alright, she said, with the hint of a grin. I wasnt
being mean. I just found it funny that you said we should end our
business relationship. I think that ended when I stormed out of
your office.
Naked. I shouldnt have added that, but I couldnt help it.
I also couldnt help but smile when she blushed.
Shut up, she said, looking away. Not quite naked. Anyway,
the point is that I think our business relationship is
already done.
It doesnt have to be, you know. Youre welcome to come back.
She scoffed. Oh, yeah? Has my dad called and asked you to take
me back?
Despite what you think after this discussion, I actually liked
having you around. Not to mention that you showed a lot of
potential, like I said before. If you come back, I think youre in
with a good chance to make something of the internship.
I watched the back of her head, hoping for the right answer. That
she wasnt looking at me was a bad sign, but I couldnt imagine
her saying no. After all, she was the kind of woman who
wanted to succeed.
She reminded me a lot of myself.
One condition, she eventually said. I want to help you win
the fight with the EPA. I dont want to see that land rezoned
because thats bad for the community, and bad for the
environment.
Nikki, you were obviously going to be tasked with helping me
on that project. You sealed that as soon as you wrote that
report.
I knew I was right about her wanting to succeed at all costs.
Besides, that land had somehow become important to her, and I
was the only one who could help her save it from Iris.
Fine. Ill come back.
We both smiled, and I placed my hand on the small of her back
as I guided her over to my car. As the car started and she stared
at me, I had a nearly overwhelming urge to kiss her.
That would have been stupid, and too soon. Much too soon.
But Id never wanted anything more in my life.
14
NICOLE

I was in two minds about accepting Devons offer to return. A


small part of me was excited to return to the internship that
would improve my career prospects out of sight.
A very tiny part of me wondered whether there could be a repeat
of the sex that had caused it all to blow up. It was completely
stupid to even contemplate, but god, it was good. The way he
took control of the situation, demonstrating exactly why he had
such a reputation for strength. The feelings he gave me
physical and emotional were better than any I had
experienced, and every part of me had been left satisfied.
At least, until he uttered those words.
But a larger part of me wanted to run and hide from him forever.
Maybe Id send him a card, saying thanks for the offer but it
wasnt the right thing for me. But then what would my dad
think?
The same dad who, apparently, had ripped Devon off.
I couldnt get my head around that, no matter how hard I tried.
Why would Devon help the man who had tried to steal so much
from him? I knew from my research that Devons company had
been built on the sale of its military vehicle business, and my
own dad had tried to steal it.
At first, I couldnt believe Devon was being honest. Especially
when it came to the part about my dad stealing from him, since
dad had always lectured me on being loyal, honest and
trustworthy. Three things that he hadnt demonstrated to
Devon, if the story was true.
But more and more, I was starting to believe him. Dad had talked
once or twice about his biggest regret being hurting a successful
friend, and when he was drunk once he let slip that it had
involved theft. I assumed it was a small, overblown theft but
Devon set me straight on that one.
Now, I had to go back to the office occupied by the man who saw
my dad as an enemy. An enemy he helped, but an enemy
nonetheless.
You should have asked him why, I scolded myself as I rode the
subway to work the next morning. He was telling you everything
he would have told you that.
Except that I didnt really want to know. I told myself I did, but
deep down, I had more than enough information to deal with.
Like the fact that I was hired only because of my dads history
with Devon. The grades I busted my ass for meant nothing.
Ignoring everything remotely fun in college parties, boys,
alcohol had made no difference to my application. From what
Devon said, I could have been a D student and still have been
hired to intern at Pristine.
That hurt more than the truth of what my dad had once been.
But, selfish as it was, I was heading back to the office. My
principles suddenly became less important when I considered
the alternative, which was working in a crappy little consulting
firm with no future.
No, I wanted more than that. Dad often lamented that he had
never risen through the business ranks to be a CEO somewhere,
and I was going to make up for his lack of success. Perhaps even
his attempted crime.
I also wanted Devon. There was no sense pretending otherwise.
My self-awareness could be a problem at times like when it
came to talking in front of a group of people but here, it was
pointless to deny my feelings. I wanted Devon even though I
couldnt wouldnt have him, and I had to be aware that it
could influence my thinking.
When I finally stepped off the subway and began the short walk
to the office, I was miserable. There was no nervousness or fear
of doing a bad job just the sadness that comes from knowing
youre living a lie.
But there was nothing I could do about it. Not even the great
Devon Carell could reverse time and stop my dad from doing
something stupid.
As I walked through the entrance, my pass clutched in my hand,
the security guard looked up at me briefly. I suddenly felt a flush
of red as I wondered how much of the story he knew.
Did he know I was the daughter of a man who stole from Devon?
Who else knew?
I lowered my head and kept walking, scanning my pass to get
into the elevator section without stopping. The elevators felt like
a kind of salvation, and I was relieved to find one sitting on the
ground floor, waiting patiently for me.
If only the rest of the day would go that easily, I might make it
through.
No one shared the elevator with me, and with Maureen away
from her desk, I was able to make it to my office without
speaking to anyone. Even the janitor who usually finished my
office at the end of his early morning shift was nowhere to
be seen.
Just the way I wanted it on that cold, lonely morning.
I booted up my computer and dropped my bag under my desk,
surprised that it felt like I hadnt been away. Well, kind of.
Before I left, I was a much happier, less guilty woman.
When it finally finished loading, my heart skipped as I clicked
through to the email software. I suddenly remembered how
many times I had found an email from Devon first thing in the
morning, and I didnt want it that day. Space and loneliness were
temporarily the two things I hoped for.
Thankfully, there were only a few group emails from people who
didnt seem to know I had left. To be fair to them, it was a short-
lived escape. A week really wasnt long in the world of Devon
Carell and Pristine Group, where a project could take years to
complete.
When I finished, I deleted them, and I was hit by another
thought: I had nothing to do. Devon had told me he wanted me
to help close the deal on that land he was buying, but he hadnt
left me any instructions.
I sat back and thought of my options, which were few. I could call
Daniel, but there was a good chance he wouldnt know I was
back, let alone what I was supposed to do. Even if he did know,
what if Devon had told him everything? I didnt want to face him
after that.
Assuming he would even speak to me if he knew what my dad
had done to Devon Carell, the man Daniel obviously idolized.
Maureen would be no help. She would tell me to call Devon, or
even put me straight through to him.
There was no one else I could ask, except Devon.
That was a tougher thought than I expected it to be.
I took a deep breath and told myself I could do it. Why couldnt I?
After all, I was back, which meant Devon was just my boss again.
Just a human being who I took instructions from in the
workplace.
A male human who I had taken something else from at his desk,
hard and fast. I could feel my face grow hot at the memory.
Grow up, I told myself, reaching for the desk phone. After all, I
had survived to adulthood which meant that I had a long sex-life
ahead of me. Not every experience would be perfect, and
sometimes I would have to deal with awkward situations. This
internship could teach me that, as well as the world of business.
If only my hands would stop shaking.
Delicately, and after having to hang up when I hit the wrong
button, I dialed Devons extension. I hoped it would go through
to his office rather than be diverted to Maureens desk, because I
wanted to speak to her less than I wanted to speak to him. What
if she knew?
By the time it rang a second time, I was dying to hang up. But I
took a deep breath and held the phones receiver to my ear,
refusing to give into that cowardly urge. I was a grown woman,
not a shy little girl.
Nikki. Good to have you back.
God, his voice was so deep and strong. I suddenly had flashbacks
to how much strength he really possessed. His arms had bulged
as he lifted me to the desk, and his chest seemed to ripple every
time he thrust into me hard enough to make me want to cry out.
I had to work hard to talk. Hi, Devon. Its good. I mean, its
great well, kind of. I want to be here, but, its hard. You know
what I mean.
He laughed. No, but it doesnt matter. As long as youre here,
well make sure you dont regret coming back. Come to my office
in ten, will you? Ive got a conference call I want you to sit in on.
Before I could find an excuse not to go like a sudden dentists
appointment or my office being on fire he hung up. That
was that.
I would have to go and see him. To be around him near enough
to smell that masculine, spicy scent that drove me wild.
Part of me was excited, and I hated that part with a passion. It
shouldnt have been so hard to go back to thinking of him as just
a boss, rather than as a man and potential man of my dreams.
But it was.

C OME IN .

Taking a deep breath, I reached down and opened the door to his
office. He sat behind his desk, his arms folded behind his head,
and I nearly choked.
He looked so good. Worse, he had that cocky smirk.
Great to see you, Nikki. Grab a seat.
He nodded toward that small table where I had shown him all my
research, and I immediately thought back to what happened
there. His large physical presence leaning over me. His sexy
scent. And our first kiss.
I hoped he would stay at his desk as I sat down gingerly.
A new voice came from my left. So, how was your week off?
I looked toward the couch. I hadnt even noticed Daniel when I
walked in, and now he was grinning at me like an idiot. What did
he know?
It was okay, I guess. I didnt do much, really.
As long as it helped you recover from having to deal with Devon
all day long, he laughed. Dont worry, youre not the first to
have a nervous breakdown in this office. You definitely wont be
the last.
I shot a look at Devon, who dropped his relaxed pose and gave
Daniel a look of annoyance. I told you, Daniel, it wasnt a
breakdown. She had to deal with some things.
Yeah, he laughed, Like how to handle spending more than
three minutes of an entire lifetime with you.
He winked at me, and I couldnt help but smile. If he knew any of
the details, he was at least being nice enough not to talk about
them. Yet.
Anyway, I said, hoping to change the subject. Whats this call
about?
Oh, yes. The call. Devon sprung from his seat and headed
directly for the small, silver cart in the corner of the room.
Both Daniel and I watched as he retrieved three small glasses
from a drawer at the bottom of it, and lined them up on the tray
attached to the top. When he took a large bottle from one of the
other drawers, I was thoroughly confused.
Its not even 8 a.m., Daniel said, amusement and resignation
in his voice. I should sue you for making me an alcoholic.
I dont pay you enough to be an alcoholic, Daniel.
When he had poured a healthy amount of the golden liquid into
each glass, he offered one to Daniel and walked toward me with
two in his hands. I took the one he held out to me, and then
sniffed it as subtly as I could.
Whatever it was, it was strong. Stronger than the stuff my
friends and I drank in the bar that Friday night two weeks
earlier.
This, he said, holding his glass up, Is a celebration. The call
will be coming through any second now, and itll be William
Markos telling us weve won.
He turned to me, holding his glass out in my direction. And its
to you, Nikki. Without your research, we wouldnt have figured
out what was going on. At least, probably not in enough time to
stop them from winning.
Wait, you stopped them? How?
Daniel spoke up, his glass paused halfway to his mouth. That
was easy. We sent your report to a couple senators we know, and
they leaned on Iris to get rid of the land. Then we sent it to some
people at the EPA who would be embarrassed by the media
coverage, and they backed off. For now, at least.
Why wouldnt you have gone public with my report? Shouldnt
we be telling people that the EPA can be bought?
Both men laughed, and I couldnt stop myself from feeling
offended. I didnt see what was so funny about corruption at a
federal level.
Sorry, Nikki. Its just that youve got a bit to learn if youre
surprised. Thats the lowest level corruption I can recall hearing
about this year. Devons voice was chiding, but the look he was
giving me was so direct. For about the millionth time, I
wondered what he thought of the encounter wed shared in this
office.
Yeah, and most of the corruption he knows about directly
involved him, Daniel said with a laugh.
Thats enough for you, Devon announced, swiping the empty
glass from Daniels hand.
I could tell they were having fun, but I wasnt. That land had
almost been rezoned for building on, and it was because of
corruption, rather than because the land was clean.
Part of the EPAs job is to prevent companies from building on
land that would be dangerous to people, and they had purposely
failed. Whether it was for money or friendship didnt matter
they were the last line of defence against this kind of thing, and
they had let the plans through.
And Daniel and Devon were laughing about it.
This isnt funny, I said, putting my glass down on the table
and standing up from my chair. The anger beginning to arise
made sitting still impossible.
People could have become very sick if houses were built on
that land.
Devon walked over to me and placed a handle gently on my
shoulder from behind. I stared out the window, refusing to
acknowledge the feelings of anticipation that began to move
through my body. There was nothing to anticipate, but my body
refused to accept that.
Of course, but you stopped it from happening, Nikki. Thats
worthy of celebration, even if no one is going to jail. Believe me,
if we went public, it wouldnt solve anything.
Except that now they were going to get away with their attempts
to break the law.
I was about to say it, but then I had a horrifying thought: My dad
got away with something. It wasnt as big as this, sure, but it was
something that he probably could have gone to prison for.
He had got away with it, and now I was about to argue that
someone else shouldnt have the same opportunity. Was that
really fair?
And did this mean I could never get angry at criminal or immoral
behavior without being a hypocrite?
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the phone ringing
on the little table I had just been sitting at, and we all gathered
around it.
Devon looked at us and nodded before reaching down to hit the
button labelled speaker.
This is Devon Carell.
There was a long pause, and then a loud sigh. This is William
Markos.
William, good to hear from you. Im told youve got some good
news for me.
There was more silence, and I started to wonder if William had
found another way to screw us. Devons smile, though,
suggested he was confident.
Look, we both know this is bullshit, Devon. I dont know what
you think youre doing, but youve made some enemies in the
senate.
Ive made one enemy, William. And hes not a man I need to be
friends with. Especially since Ill be funding his opponent at the
next election, whoever he or she may be.
I shot him a look, but he ignored it. If we had won, why the hell
would he be making threats? To rub it in?
Yeah, good luck with that, Devon. Hell get funding from
everyone youve ever crossed, believe me.
Was there something you needed to tell me, or are we just going
to play games? I hear daddy Iris told you to apologize to me.
He didnt fucking tell Iris isnt my daddy. Fuck, Devon, you
can be a complete prick, you know that? Fuck off.
Devons laughter was contagious, and I found myself holding
back a laugh despite my nervousness.
Come on, Willy. You can say it.
I couldnt say I approved of his name-calling and belittling, but I
understood it. If business was a game of egos, then this was the
result. Besides, it was funny, even if I tried to pretend otherwise.
Right, listen up because Im saying this once, you prick. The
land is yours, and you can have it for the price we negotiated.
Send the contract to me, Ill sign it, but I want it fucking finished
by close of business today.
Sorry, William, but theres been a change. Didnt Papa Iris tell
you? Im buying it at a nice little discount. Seventy percent off,
to be precise.
You fucking
The line went silent, and we all leaned over to see if the call had
ended. The timer was still counting, so we were still connected.
Mute, Daniel mouthed to us both.
We all nodded, and then we all tried not to laugh. Well, Daniel
and I Devon had no issue laughing loudly.
Suddenly, William was back. Fine. Sixty million, not a cent less.
And I want it all in cash, not in stocks and options.
Done. Ill send you the contract and have the money wired
across as soon as you messenger back the signed documents.
Look, William, its been great doing this deal with you, man.
Youre a pleasure to work with.
Youre a
Devon reached down and hung up the phone before the insult
was broadcast, and then turned to high-five Daniel. I watched as
they embraced like two football player whod just won the super
bowl, and then Devon turned quickly to me.
I found myself in the air being swung around as we cheered,
hugging and high-fiving like maniacs.
When I felt like the dizziness was going to make me sick, I forced
Devon to put me back on my feet. That seemed to calm things,
and we took a few moments to catch our breath. It didnt slip my
notice that Devons arms remained tightly around me, just like
they had in this very same office. I kind of wished our clothes
were off in that moment, too.
As Daniel walked over to the alcohol cupboard, Devon spoke up.
Dont drink too much, Daniel. Youll need to get onto the
architects today so we can get the plans drawn up. They said they
only need another week to finish them.
I was confused. What plans?
For the land, Devon smiled at me. We hired the architects
months ago, but we had to stop them when the deal fell
through.
Okay, but what are you doing with the land? Its still zoned
heavy industrial.
Oh yeah, of course. Thats why we wont be building residential
on it.
Wait, so what are you doing with it?
Devons smile suddenly disappeared, and his eyes looked
anywhere but at me. I turned to Daniel, who was facing us with
the bottle opened and upright in his hand, a glass hanging from
the other. Apparently, the question had caught them off guard.
Neither of them spoke for what felt like an eternity, and I knew
the eventual answer was going to be one I didnt like. Suddenly, I
wondered if it was my fault for trusting Devon after he had
withheld the details of my hiring, or whether it was his fault for
screwing me twice. Figuratively, at least.
The literal screwing had been great, but it wasnt worth the
feeling I was struggling with now. The one that left me
wondering whether I was completely innocent and nave, or
whether I was just dealing with a man every bit as ruthless as his
reputation suggested.
A man who seemingly didnt think twice about the effect his
actions might have on another person especially a person he
claimed to like.
I watched as Devon moved to his desk, leaning against it with his
eyes finally resting on me. I wondered for a second whether this
was some kind of attempt to put me off guard by reminding me
of what had happened on that desk, but I doubted it.
It wouldnt work, anyway.
My eyes were still locked on Devons when Daniel spoke from my
right. Itll be commercial, he said, uneasiness filling his voice.
Some industrial, but mostly commercial. A few big stores, a
small restaurant, that kind of thing.
I felt like the floor had been removed from under my feet. We
had just put in all that effort I had put in all that effort to
prevent William Markos doing what Devon was now going to do.
Its not going to be residential, Nikki, Devon said, pushing off
his desk and walking toward me.
I held my hands out to keep him away, shaking my head. But
even commercial means youll need to get it rezoned. I know
how youre going to do that, which makes you as bad as Iris and
Markos.
No, it doesnt, he said, attempting a smile. They were doing
it for big profits, were not. Im not going to put peoples lives at
risk by building houses on it, either. Im only building
commercial.
By getting the EPA to break their own rules! I was losing
control of my voice, but I didnt care. This is just as bad as what
they were going to do, except that I helped you.
I turned to Daniel, looking for help. He shook his head slowly,
and I could tell he wasnt as comfortable with this as Devon
seemed to be. When I looked back to Devon, I had a glimpse of
something that told me maybe even Devon wasnt very
comfortable with this.
It sucks, Daniel said quietly, earning himself a look from
Devon. But its business.
I suddenly felt like the biggest idiot on the planet. Why hadnt I
asked about this earlier? More importantly, how had I trusted
Devon?
The same Devon Carell everyone warned me about. The man who
cared about money above all else, not about doing what was
right. His green credentials, a professor argued, were only to
get more money from certain government contracts while
impressing the public.
He doesnt give a shit about anything that doesnt make him
more money, he had told me.
In that instant, I knew he was right. I had been fooled, even
though so many people had tried to warn me. Now, I could
imagine them screaming, I told you so.
Part of what drew me to Pristine Group and Devon Carell was
their strategies involving renewable energy, clean
manufacturing and green investments. I was usually the only
one among my peers who considered the environment to be as
important as profits, but I had let myself believe that maybe
Devon and Pristine were a good match for my priorities.
By being involved with them, I could be true to myself while still
building one hell of a career.
Clearly, I had been wrong.
For the second time in my life, I turned and ran from that office.
I ignored both Daniel and Devon calling me back, and headed
straight for my office. Maureen said something as I ran past, but
I ignored her, too.
At least I was fully clothed this time.
15
NICOLE

I ts not the same thing, Daniel said, sipping his coffee.


I sat staring at him, incredulous. How could he say that?
Did he think that taking me to a coffeehouse would convince me
of what they had tried to argue in the office?
Of course, its the same thing. Iris and Markos made the EPA
change their minds through corruption. You guys are going to do
the same thing.
Corruptions a heavy word, Nicole.
He looked out the window at the people walking by, and I saw a
flicker of something in his eyes.
You know, I started slowly, not exactly sure of where I was
going with this. When I first started here, Devon sat me down
and gave me a speech about how business is people.
Oh yeah, he laughed. We all get that one. Its true, though.
I know. And thats why I think youre the weak link in Devons
chain.
What? No, Im not. Believe me, Im behind him completely.
I dont think so. I think youre only here to convince me that
everything is okay because Devon told you to. You wouldnt be
here otherwise, because deep down, you know its not.
Geez, who made you the new Devon Carell? Believe me, Im fine
with how things worked out.
He wouldnt make eye contact with me, so I knew I had him. I
just had to be careful with how I worded the next part. Look,
Im not trying to offend you. Im just saying that I think youre
uncomfortable with what Devons doing, even though you would
never admit it.
I held my hand up as he began to splutter. Dont bother, I know
youre only going to deny it. But heres the thing: I think Devon
agrees with you. Neither of you know it, but I dont think either
of you want it to go this way.
So, what, you think Devon doesnt want the land? This was all
just a game?
No, of course not. But I think that at some point, getting the
land became more important than what would happen with it.
Now that he has it, hes going to do what was originally planned,
even though he knows the plans have to change.
And how are you so sure of that, Nicole? Do you have a crystal
ball? He was getting annoyed, and I could tell I was getting
through to him.
Because in my research, I said firmly, I discovered that the
EPAs own records on that land were only released after Devon
began trying to buy the land. When he first made an offer, he
didnt know it was so screwed up from all the chemicals.
Daniel didnt say anything, but he didnt need to. The way he
looked back out the window told me all I needed to know.
But when Devon found out how bad it was, he was too involved
already. It had become a contest between him and Markos, and
he wasnt going to lose that no matter what. Now hes won, so
hes continuing on with the plan despite this new information.
I sat quietly, watching Daniel process my theory. I knew I was
right, and I could tell he did, as well. It was the only thing that
made sense, because of the bombshell I was about to drop on
Daniel. It felt strange to be revealing the news that had rocked
me only days earlier.
You know about Devon and my dad, dont you? He shook his
head. My dad ripped him off. He tried to steal an idea, and the
only reason he didnt get away with it was because he couldnt
get investments. But when Devon had the chance to destroy
him, he didnt. Not only did he agree to pay royalties on the idea
that was originally his, but he hired me because my dad asked
him too. He didnt refuse to ever speak to him again he allowed
him a favor even after dad had tried to screw him over.
I didnt know that, Daniel said quietly, the information
obviously sinking in. I knew there was something, but
not that.
Well, thats what it is. And what it proves to me is that Devon
likes the game, and he likes to win, but he also likes to do the
right thing. The problem is, theres no one there right now to tell
him that hes about to do the wrong thing.
Hes too busy winning the fight any way he knows how, Daniel
added. You might be onto something, I guess.
I watched him staring at his coffee, slowly rolling the cup to
make the liquid swirl in circles. It couldnt be easy for him to
admit that he wasnt completely on board with Devons plan, but
at least he was listening.
When he invited me for coffee a few hours after I stormed out of
Devons office, I thought Devon had sent him to fire me. Devon
had forgiven me storming out after sleeping with him, but I
didnt think he was going to forgive me for storming out after
learning of his plans for the land.
I was pleasantly surprised when Daniel told me he only wanted
to see if I was okay, and that Devon hadnt said anything about
firing me.
We can come up with a plan that works for everyone, I told
Daniel, who was still sitting silently. One that uses the land for
something good without forcing Devon to do the wrong thing.
And you.
Maybe you can, he sighed, But Im probably too involved.
Personally, even though it would be wrong to buy or blackmail
the EPA or whatever Devon plans to do I cant say I hate it. I
dont like it, but I get it. Its what every business does. If Pristine
starts holding back for high-minded principles, were going to
lose ground fast.
Well, give me some time to come up with the right plan. Get
Devon to wait, and Ill think of something.
Alright, fine, he said without stopping to think. But you
wont have long. Devons got a meeting scheduled with some
senators the day after tomorrow, and its about the EPA. After
that, itll be too late.
Ill have a plan by the end of tomorrow, then.
I wished I felt anywhere near as confident as I sounded.

Y OU CAN GO IN NOW .

I stood up from my seat in front of Maureens desk and walked


past her, ignoring her icy stare. Ever since I had left for a week,
she had made a habit of being even more unwelcoming I
hadnt even known that was possible.
But I didnt have the energy to care about her. Not after spending
the entire night working on this plan, researching things I knew
nothing about. The idea came to me not long after I had met with
Daniel, but actually figuring out how to make it work had taken
all night.
If I had learned one thing, it was that I would never be an
architect.
Opening the door to the conference room, I walked as
confidently as I could to the front of it. I didnt look at either
Daniel or Devon, because I didnt want to shake my resolve. I had
worked hard to find the courage to do this, and I wasnt going to
allow a glance at Devon to kill it.
Besides, if I looked at Devon, there was a good chance I would
have the same thoughts I had been dealing with all night.
Thoughts about whether I had been stupid in thinking that
perhaps something might happen with Devon, right up until he
announced his plans for the land.
The USB trembled slightly as I inserted it into the laptop on the
table, and I subtly took a deep breath as I navigated to the files I
needed.
Both Devon and Daniel watched me, and I couldnt shake the
feeling that they were less than enthusiastic.
But they were there, and I was going to impress them. Devon
especially.
Maybe impress him enough to restart your non-business
relationship, a tiny voice in my head whispered. I dismissed the
thought.
Okay, I eventually said, standing as tall as I could and facing
them both. This is an image of the land as it sits right now. Its
from Google satellite, and you can see that its far from an easy
building site.
I switched to the view from the street, taking it all in as though
seeing it for the first time. There was a kind of beauty in the
wild, unkempt land like it was transported directly from
another time and place. I just hoped they saw it, too.
And this, I said, clicking the enter key on the laptop to move
to the next picture, Is the Thick-Billed Parrot.
As soon as the image of the large green and red bird appeared on
the screen, I saw Devons eyes light up. Until that moment, I was
worried that Daniel had been joking when he talked about Devon
rescuing birds, but now I was sure he wasnt.
And that was good, because my entire plan rested on that.
Perhaps it had been silly to rely on something Daniel had
basically told me in passing, but I didnt have much else.
Its endangered here with only a thousand pairs in the wild, and
that number is shrinking quickly. The pet trade has hurt it
somewhat, but clearing of its native land is the biggest threat.
I paused to let the information sink in, watching Devons poker
face reappear. He was good, but I was slightly confident I had
him. Slightly.
This next one is the Laysan duck. It was once thought to be
extinct, but now we know it exists only on one small island near
South Carolina. Again, its biggest threat has been the
destruction of its habitat, but some groups are trying to restore
areas for it to thrive again. Unfortunately, theyre struggling to
find anyone with the finances and land to help them get any
traction.
My next image drew an audible, albeit quiet, gasp from Daniel,
and I was sure I saw Devon twitch briefly into a smile. Only
briefly, but enough to make my heart race.
The picture had been drawn by the same architect Devon was
already using, and he had done an amazing job even while he
complained about the impossible deadline.
On the half of the land closest to an interstate were buildings, in
all shapes and sizes, with labels above them explaining what
they were. One was called the bird hospital, another the
observatory, and my favorite an incubating building.
The drawing showed the other half of the land covered by a
giant, wire cage, designed to keep birds from getting in or out.
Only the birds under our care would be inside, the others along
with predators would be kept safely away. The lake took center
stage inside the wire, and the architect had been good enough to
shade the water a nicer blue.
I knew it looked stunning, and I could see Daniel agreed. I was
dying to know what Devon thought, but I didnt want to risk
looking at him. It was hard enough to concentrate with so many
other thoughts fighting for space in my brain, and seeing his
bare hint of a smile earlier had thrown me. I wasnt sure I could
get my concentration back if I saw it again.
I couldnt even imagine how I would feel if he wasnt smiling. It
was safer not to look.
My plan is very simple. This land is perfectly placed to allow for
easy transport of birds along the nearby interstate. It already has
a natural water supply. The soil, although toxic, can be
rehabilitated rather quickly if it only needs to be safe for birds,
rather than humans.
Daniel interrupted. So, youre saying, what? We build a
bird cage?
Dont fucking ruin this, I thought, glaring at Daniel as he
smirked ever so slightly.
No, Im saying we could easily turn it into a place where
endangered birds can be bred, their eggs incubated, and the
babies grown into adults within a cage thats close to their
natural environment. When theyre ready, they can be moved
into the wild to rebuild the population.
Sounds like a money sink, Devon said, his face showing no
emotion.
Thats why Ive planned for the observatory and pathways
through the cages. Most bird rescues struggle to get money
because they only really focus on rescuing injured birds, but this
will be different because itll be a bird sanctuary. People can
learn about them, watch them in their almost wild environment,
buy souvenirs, and donate directly to individual birds for their
care. Just like other zoos which, youll note, make enough money
to donate back to different groups.
Daniel nodded, but Devon still showed me nothing. I was
beginning to get annoyed, but I knew there was no point. In that
moment, I wasnt an intern but a salesperson, and it was my job
to make sure I earned his yes.
I just hoped I could.
Any questions?
Neither of them said anything, and I couldnt think of anything
to add, so I removed my USB from the laptop and began to leave
the conference. Leave that, Devon said, gesturing toward
the USB.
A glance at Devon still showed no emotion, but I noticed him
looking at the USB as I placed it on the table.
That he wanted the USB made me think I had won him over, but I
forced myself not to get too excited. If I knew one thing about
Devon, it was that he was unpredictable.
16
NICOLE

I t had been two weeks since I gave my presentation, and I


thought about it every day.
After that presentation, Devon assigned me to work on a
different project with Daniel, and we werent due to report back
to him for nearly a month. The project involved a lot of research
which Daniel left in my hands, and I spent most of my time
becoming best friends with Google.
Unfortunately, it gave me lots of time for thinking, and Devon
was never far from the top of my mind. Mostly, I thought about
whether I had impressed him, and why he couldnt just tell me if
he was happy with the presentation. Even if he didnt accept it,
it would have been nice to know I did well.
I could have chased him for an answer, but I didnt want to be a
needy girl. And that was what made me realize that I still
thought of him as more than a boss, even when I tried to tell
myself it was stupid.
And that wasnt a lie it was stupid to think of Devon like that.
To think of the way he held me tightly as he had me in his office,
making me his for those few minutes. To remember his length
deep inside me, scratching an itch I didnt know I had.
An itch that seemed to grow until I was sure it was preventing
me from thinking clearly. It took all I had not to run into his
office unannounced, pin him to his chair and force him to tell me
what I wanted so desperately to hear. I love you, Nikki.
Yeah, I was screwed.
When Devon announced that he would be holding a press
conference regarding the land, and that I was invited, my
excitement became fear.
What if Devon had decided to go with his original plan? What if
he had spent the previous two weeks working the EPA over until
they gave into his demands?
I couldnt stand the idea that I had helped save the land, only to
give it to a man who would destroy it almost as badly. Especially
when I had given Devon an option that was suitable so long as
his reputation for caring only about money was wrong.
Far less profitable, sure, but much better for his companys
reputation as a forward-thinking, environmentally-concerned
business.
When I filed into the large conference room behind the
journalists, my heart was pounding. I knew Devon didnt hold
many press conferences here because he mostly did one-on-one
announcements on TV, so I couldnt decide if this was a good or a
bad thing.
On one hand, it could be the good news that he wanted to show
off the plans for his new bird sanctuary. On the other, it could
just be that he wants to announce to the local area that hes
about to have a lot of commercial real estate for them to buy.
I waited impatiently at the back of the room, forcing myself not
to bite my nails. There was a low murmur as journalists laughed
among themselves, apparently not caring very much about the
announcement they were going to hear.
They were here only because Devon was, well, Devon, and
whatever he said was usually worth listening to. But they
werent anywhere near as invested in this as I was.
They werent putting their entire career on the line for a piece
of land.
Ladies and gentlemen, a young blonde woman on stage called
out. I recognized her as being from the junior marketers, but I
couldnt remember her name. At least shes still employed here,
I thought.
A few of them werent so lucky after they had tried to book
advertising without a budget approval.
Mr. Carell will be on in just a second, so if we could please have
phones on silent.
The noise in the room lowered as journalists wrestled with their
phones, and then the lights slowly faded.
I suddenly felt very nervous, like this was my own
announcement. I just wanted to know whether he was going to
go with my idea, or whether I had to quit and find somewhere
else. If Devon reverted back to his original plan, there was no
way I could stay here.
Good morning, everyone.
Devon walked calmly onto the stage, holding a small
microphone in one hand and a remote in the other. He looked
out to the crowd as though greeting everyone individually, and I
thought he winked in my direction.
Probably not, though. There was a very attractive journalist
sitting right in front of where I was leaning against the wall.
I wont waste anyones time since Im sure you all have better
things to do. Like, making up rumors.
His cheeky grin caused some laughter, and I felt my heart skip.
As usual, he was able to make me forget who I was, where I was,
and that I had promised myself that I would have only a
professional relationship with him.
This, he paused and pressed a button on the remote, causing a
picture of trees and tall grasses to appear on the screen behind
him, Is a piece of land I have recently purchased. Some of you
might know it as the subject of legal action a while ago after the
previous owners refused to clean it up.
He pressed the button again, and my heart sank into my
stomach. There, for the gathered journalists to see, was the
picture I had hated from the beginning. The one showing
commercial buildings and roads dotted across the land, with the
grass around the lake so manicured that the whole thing
looked fake.
Tears immediately burned at my eyes, and I was thankful to be at
the back of the room.
And this, is one of the plans weve had for the land. As you can
see, it brings some much needed commercial real estate to the
community, and it will drive down rental prices. It would be
serviced by fiber internet and its own roads, so it would very
quickly become the place for a business to be.
There were low murmurs again, this time of appreciation. I
watched as journalists craned their necks to get better views,
scribbling on their pads while photographers worked in the
front row.
I wanted to leave, but a sudden hand landed on my shoulder. I
looked up to see Daniel, and he looked down with a smirk.
Was he enjoying this? That was the last thing I would have
expected.
Devon continued flashing up pictures of the redesigned land,
showing inside views of the buildings as well as projected rental
prices. He had, it seemed, been very busy over the previous two
weeks.
Devon knows whats best, Daniel whispered, leaning down to
my ear.
But I couldnt relax. I had trusted Devon again, and been let
down for a third time. First when he had hired me because of my
dad, second when he wanted the land only to build on it as Iris
and Markos had planned.
This third time was the worst, though. My gut had told me to
trust him, that he really was a good man under the tough
exterior, and my gut was wrong.
So very wrong.
But unfortunately, thanks to Iris Investments, this land is no
longer usable for such a purpose.
There was a collective gasp, and I think mine was the loudest.
What did that mean?
While Iris and the EPA have some questions to answer, the
upshot is that this land is zoned only for heavy industrial or
special purposes.
The next slides showed chemical names, test results and
comparisons to clean land, and I couldnt figure out where this
was going. Was he about to tell them how much money it would
cost to clean the land for his plan? Was he using this to get
government funding for the project?
All I knew for sure was that the journalists in the room were far
more relaxed than I was. My mind was racing, telling me that I
had to leave not just the announcement but the company. Devon
was showing his true colors for the third time, and I would be
stupid to ignore that.
He clicked through to another slide, and my eyebrows lifted all
on their own. This slide showed the Thick-Billed Parrot, and I
knew immediately that it was the same picture I had used in my
presentation to him.
Was he doing the right thing? I dared not believe not when I
instinctively knew how much it would hurt if I was wrong.
When he went to the next slide listing the problems facing that
bird, my heart began to race. I tried hard to stop myself from
getting excited, but it was impossible.
Journalists scribbled furiously as Devon kept talking, flicking
through more slides. Someone in my office did a lot of work on
the idea Im announcing today, and I think you can all agree that
these birds are in great need of a helping hand.
I couldnt stop myself from believing. Tears were still
threatening, but this time they were not of sadness and betrayal.
Now, they were caused by rising excitement, and a feeling that
the future just got a lot brighter.
And not only professionally.
When he clicked the button again, I almost screamed in delight.
My hands immediately rose to cover my mouth, and the tears
flowed freely.
And this is the plan were going with.
I looked from the screen to Devon as he stared back at me,
smiling. The picture was the first one I had showed him,
providing an overview of the cage and associated buildings for
the bird sanctuary. Even with only the light from the screen
behind him, I could see him wink.
Never had I been so relieved. So happy. So proud of Devon and
of myself.
This will be called the Blythe Bird Sanctuary, thanks to a
young woman named Nicole Blythe. And, I guess, thanks to her
father for bringing us together.
I knew the tears were flowing like small rivers, but I couldnt
stop myself. Even as people began to turn at the sobbing I
struggled to keep quiet, I couldnt stop.
Daniels arm around my shoulder only made it worse.
Thats her, Devon said, chuckling. Crying like Ive just done
something horrible. Yes, thats it, take lots of pictures. Close ups
are great.
I had to turn and shove my face into Daniels shoulder as the
photographers snapped away. I could still hear Devon enjoying
my embarrassment at the front of the room, but I was too
overjoyed to try to stop him.
Dont worry, youll have lots of time to get to her know her. The
Blythe Bird Sanctuary will be handed off to an independent
board, and Nicole will be the first member of it. If she can ever
stop crying long enough to accept it, that is.
I nodded as everyone laughed, and then Daniel led me from the
room and into the corridor.
When we were finally out of the unexpected limelight, I looked
up at Daniel who almost looked like he had tears in his eyes, as
well. I didnt see that coming, I said, wiping at my eyes with
the back of my hand and managing a small laugh.
I can see that.
When Devon finally arrived in the corridor, I had mostly calmed
down. Still, I was torn between wanting to hug him and punch
him for putting me through that emotional rollercoaster.
You presented a fantastic idea, he said, smiling widely and
holding me by the shoulders. I told you from the beginning,
business is about people. Figure out what they want, and youll
know how to get what youre looking for. You figured out that I
wanted to use the land for something better than commercial,
and you hit me between the eyes with the idea of a bird
sanctuary. Ill even pretend Daniel didnt break my confidence
and tell you about it.
Dont blame him, I said, wiping the remaining tears away. I
probably would have figured it out.
Maybe. Anyway, it doesnt matter. The only thing that matters
is that we can use the land for something good, and Ive got it on
record that Iris and the EPA have questions to answer. Win-win,
really.
Daniel walked away with a last squeeze of my shoulder, and I
Devon moved us into a room to the side of the corridor. He
closed the door behind us, and I felt those familiar feelings deep
in the pit of my stomach.
I hadnt been alone with him for a long time.
But whats important is that you achieved something massive
today. You came up with a great idea, you presented it well, and
you made it nearly impossible to say no.
When he stepped towards me, I knew I was supposed to move
away. It was the professional, career-minded thing to do
whenever your boss was clearly about to cross a boundary.
But I wasnt going to. The sensible option was closed off to me,
made impossible by the feelings tearing through me.
I tilted my head up to meet his, unable to hear what he was
whispering. My eyes refused to leave his, even as my body began
to shake. When his hands pressed lightly against my hips, the
pressure nearly made me gasp.
His lips approached slowly, and I wished they would move faster.
I wanted this as much as he did, but I wanted it now.
My eyes closed on their own, and there was a second of nothing
before I felt the warmth of his lips on mine. Each of us moved
slowly enough that we were barely moving at all, and I couldnt
breathe.
I couldnt think. I couldnt do anything except move my lips
against his.
Suddenly, as though someone had fired a starters pistol, we
moved rapidly against each other. Hands and lips were a blur,
and I felt like he was touching me everywhere at once. His hands
were so big and strong, and I needed them.
Almost as much as I needed another part of him.
The barest of noises from him told me I was going to get it.
Finally.
EPILOGUE
NICOLE

I f I fall over in this dress, youre buying me a new one, I


said, walking with the largest steps I could manage.
Being led through the woods blindfolded was more terrifying
than anything else I could think of in that moment, even though
Devon had me firmly by the hand.
I think I bought you this one, didnt I?
That isnt the point.
He laughed and held my shoulders firmly, walking behind me
and guiding me while I panicked. Every step felt like it would end
in disaster, and I could only imagine what was going to
happen next.
Can you figure out where we are?
Your gravesite if you let me fall.
He laughed. No, come on. Surely you can guess.
We stopped walking, and I paused to listen. The quiet sound of a
door or a gate opening ahead of me made me think we were in a
park, and then I heard a distinct call. Kind of shrill, but sweet at
the end.
Oh my god. Devon, are we
He ripped my blindfold off, and I blinked in the bright sunlight.
As my vision returned, he was already leading me by the hand,
half-dragging me toward a giant cage ahead of us.
A man in a blue uniform stood holding a gate open, smiling as he
watched us approach. Devon slapped him on the back as we
walked through, and I stopped him from pulling me any further
along so I could take in the view.
Its only been a year, I said, breathlessly turning in circles to
take in the view. You said it would take at least a year just to
clean up the soil. I cant believe its finished.
Well, the cage where theyll spend the first year of their lives is
finished. The buildings are still a few months away, but I figure
the cage is the important part. Well populate it quickly, and the
rest of the land will be ready to release them into when theyre
old enough. That parts easy its just some shelters for them to
hide from predators so they can start breeding.
Birds fluttered around us, filling the area with color. Their calls
were louder now that we were invading their space, and I was
almost overcome with emotion.
This land that was destined to be houses or stores was now home
to endangered birds, and by the sounds of it, they were happy to
claim it.
I finally stopped turning and looked toward the middle of the
land, gasping when I saw the lake. Small benches dotted the
edge of it, and a large gazebo sat right beside the water. Wait a
second that hadnt been in the plans.
We put those benches in so people on the walking trail can stop
and rest. And the gazebo will make a nice place to get pictures.
Devon began walking toward the gazebo, and I followed behind.
The path we walked on wasnt finished yet, but it was smooth
enough that there was no threat of me falling over. Well, not
much of a threat.
We stopped at the edge of the gazebo, and Devon tapped a spot
high on one of the posts holding up the roof. I had to stand on
my tip toes to see what he was pointing at, and I felt my myself
melting when I saw the letters DC, a heart, and then NB.
Youre such a softy, I laughed. Devon Carell loves Nicole
Blythe.
Daniel made me write it, he joked.
I playfully pushed him away. No, he didnt. You wrote it
because youre a softy, and because you love me.
He held my gaze as he stepped a little closer. Im not a softy,
but I do love you.
I love you, too, I whispered, closing my eyes and waiting for
those lips I was so deeply in love with.
I would never get tired of the way he kissed me.
When Devon pulled back, I tried to prevent him, but he wasnt
having it. He was determined to show me the gazebo.
It looks pretty good, I said, touching the wood.
Thats what I think. But Daniel thinks itll fall down.
Why would it fall down?
It wont, hes just an idiot. I built it myself, and he thinks I
cant build at all. Its really not hard.
I couldnt stop myself from laughing, even though I could tell it
offended him a little. You built it? You? Mr. I-pay-people-to-
hang-shelves? God, I wish I could have seen you. Did you wear a
toolbelt? I bet you did. And I bet you were topless, too. Except, of
course, you would have kept your tie on, because you can never
take that off.
I was almost falling over with laughter, and Devon was trying to
remain straight-faced. He would have succeeded, except that I
knew his expression-filled eyes by now, and I could see he was
on the verge of laughter.
Thats enough, Nikki, he finally said, his face nearly breaking
up. Keep it up, and Ill put you on the banned visitors list.
When I was finally able to stop laughing, Devon stepped into the
gazebo, motioning for me to follow.
I hope its sturdy, I said, reaching out to touch one of the
edges.
Youre supposed to be impressed by my manly building skills,
he said with a laugh. Daniel makes things all the time, so its
not like it was hard. Just hammering a few nails into wood.
I hope you used more than a few nails.
I used enough. Thats not really important.
Its lovely and everything, but why build a gazebo? I doubt the
birds care, and most people are going to walk straight past it.
His eyes suddenly lost their laughter, and I watched as he took
on a more serious look than I usually saw on him. Its not for
the birds, Nikki. Its for me. He took my hand and squeezed. I
squeezed back, looking up into the eyes of the man I loved.
For you? Why?
Because I didnt want to kneel in the mud when I did this.
My eyes were wide as saucers, as he knelt down in front of me.
Tears flooded my lower lashes as something appeared in his
hand as if from nowhere. He opened the little box to reveal a
large, gleaming diamond inside and smiled up at me.
We met under strange circumstances, my beautiful Nikki, but
Im so glad we did. You make me feel like no woman ever has,
and I dont want that to ever end. You challenge me, and you
push me to be better. A better man and a better businessman. A
better person. Youre funny, youre beautiful, youre smarter
than anyone Ive ever met, and you have the kind of spirit that
anyone would fall in love with.
The tears flowed as freely as during that press conference a year
ago, but this time I didnt care. Staring into his eyes, watching
them blink away moisture, too, I knew this was a moment I
would always treasure.
Devon took a deep breath but his gaze never wavered from mine.
I never thought Id ask anyone this, but now I cant imagine not
asking you. Will you marry me, Nikki?
There was no chance I could even try to talk through the lump in
my throat, and it took forever to force my head to nod. He smiled
as I succeeded, and he stood up, drawing me to him. Just as our
lips were about to meet, there was a loud creaking sound coming
from underneath us
I looked around at the gazebo, wondering what the noise had
been, and another, louder sound cracked through the air.
Fuck! Devon grabbed my hand, and dragged me out of the
small structure, holding me steady as I almost fell to my knees.
When we were a few feet away, we turned in time to see the
small gazebo collapsing, dust flying everywhere.
Birds flew in all directions, screaming and squawking as their
home seemed to be exploding.
When the dust and noise finally settled, I looked up at Devon
who was staring at the pile of wood. Enough nails, huh?
Dont.
Its okay, baby, I said, rubbing up and down his arm firmly. I
remember what you said once when I first started, about
learning to walk before you can run. You should build a bird bath
first, work your way up.
He turned and laughed, playfully pushing me away as he did.
Anyway, werent you asking me something?
I did ask you something. And you said yes.
I nodded, but I didnt get as far as saying yes. And you didnt get
to a certain part, either, I said, wiggling the bare fingers on my
left hand.
Youre going to make me get on one knee again, arent you?
I believe its customary.
If you want a real yes, youll get down on one knee again.
Otherwise, I may just think about it for two weeks, call a press
conference, say no, and then say its all a joke.
Youre never going to give that one up. He sighed, lowering
himself to one knee.
He held the ring out again, raising his eyebrows expectantly. I
stared at it, studying the way it gleamed in the sunlight, forcing
myself to remain silent. A girl can have a little fun, especially
with a man who teased her mercilessly.
Both in and out of the bedroom.
The offer isnt forever, Ms. Blythe, he said. Its strictly
contingent on an answer within five seconds. Five. Four.
Yes!
He leapt up and wrapped his arms forcefully around me, lifting
me off the ground. His face nuzzled into my neck as I sobbed and
held onto him for dear life.
That was something I couldnt imagine ever stopping.
Lucky you said yes, he whispered into my ear. My next offer
was for you to marry Daniel.
I choked as I tried to breathe through my crying, eventually
regaining my breath as he put me down and looked down into
my eyes.
I love you, Nikki, he whispered, his eyes shining.
I love you, too, Devon.
Looking back at him, I couldnt help but remember the first time
I had seen him in his lobby. He still looked imposing, powerful
and a little scary, but now I knew the truth about Devon Carell.
The dirty, disgusting truth that all those who warned me away
from the internship would never know.
Devon Carell was nowhere near as tough and as unforgiving as
he looked. He wasnt the ruthless boss Id feared on my first day
of work.
He was a carrying, loving man who was learning that the bottom
line wasnt everything in business. He was handsome, smart,
and he made me happy every single day.
I couldnt imagine marrying anyone else.
A NOTE FROM SOPHIE AND CASSIE

Thank you so much for reading Ruthless Boss! We hope you


enjoyed reading Devon and Nicoles story as much as we enjoyed
writing it.
Please join Cassies mailing list to be notified of future releases
and special prices!
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Below are some of our other collaborations.
Coming soon!

Shameless Boss: A Fake Fiance Office Romance


Out now!

Playboy Boss: A Billionaire Boss Office Romance

Other books by Sophie Brooks

Charming: A Cinderella Billionaire Story


Tempting: A Cinderella Billionaire Story
Bad Boys By Night

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