As a caveat, this excerpt is unedited, so the finished product might be a little different 😉
Chapter One – Noelle
It’s official. This is the absolute worst freaking day of my life.
It all started sometime in the middle of the night when the power went out, but I didn’t know because I was, well, you know, sleeping. This, in and of itself, is not a big deal, the power eventually came back on and I was none the wiser except that when I finally did wake I realised that the damn power outage had screwed up my alarm clock. I know what you’re thinking, who uses an alarm clock these days, right? We all have smart phones with a funky little alarm clock app, but I hate those things. To me, an alarm clock should sit beside your bed with it’s little illuminated digital time telling thingies and it should have a big whopping button on top so that when it goes off, I can slap it into snooze. A smart phone doesn’t quite have the same tangible experience.
So, anyway, when I finally did wake up I was running late. My boyfriend was extremely unhelpful in his suggestion that I just blow work off for the day and stay in bed with him. He might have a trust fund that could finance a small country, but I don’t, so I have to work. It is hard enough working in the building industry as a woman without adding to it with unexplained absences and tardiness. Although, in hindsight, maybe I should have listened to him.
Trying to keep my cool, I showered, dressed and left the apartment in record time. I didn’t have time for my usual sleekly styled, GHD straightened, glossy hairstyle, but I can fashion an elegant french twist like nobodies business and for today that would have to do. I skipped breakfast, I could do without the calories anyway since it is only eight weeks until my birthday, which also meant eight weeks until Christmas and all the over indulging that went along with that. One missed breakfast wasn’t going to do me any harm.
With one eye on the time and the other on the text I was sending to my boss to tell him that I was running a few minutes behind (twenty minutes to be exact, but he didn’t need to know that) I didn’t notice until it was too late that it was raining. Again, not a big issue, except that it meant the stairs were slippery and with my attention elsewhere, I managed to do a great impression of someone slipping on a banana peel. I landed on my ass, hard. And in a puddle.
Scrambling up, I checked to make sure no one had witnessed my fall from grace, my cheeks burning with embarrassment and my ass burning from kissing the concrete. I didn’t have time to go and change, I was now running twenty-five minutes late, so I said a prayer that the inevitable summer heat would dry me out before I got to work. Of course that was an exercise in fruitlessness because this was the tropics and summer meant humidity which was not conducive to drying things out. It was also not summer, technically, not yet anyway. But this was the tropics and we only have two seasons – summer and, well, not summer.
Finally in my car and on my way, I took a few moments to breathe deeply and compose myself. I was going to be thirty soon and that meant I was officially going to be an adult. Things like this didn’t happen to adults. Things like this didn’t happen to successful project managers who were thirty and fabulous. And that was what I had determined I was going to be.
To say that the proximity of my thirties didn’t freak me out was a lie. I was, of course, completely freaked out by the thought of turning the big three-oh. It was only people in their thirties that thought that the ‘thirties were the new twenties’. Not that I wanted to be in my twenties forever, I just wanted them to last a little longer. I would even be happy to stay twenty-nine for a few more years, it wasn’t like I wanted to be twenty-one again or anything. I was having fun and I didn’t want it to end. Thirty meant growing up and I’m just not ready to do that yet.
The traffic light in front of me turned amber and I slowed to a stop. The roads were wet and even though I was in a rush and running late, I wasn’t prepared to risk injury. My parents died in a car accident, on a wet road during a rain storm, so it is one of those things that I’m kind of obsessive about. The guy behind me, not so much. Which I found out when he rear ended me and then got out of his car to abuse me. The nerve of him to blame me for him running up the back of me.
My car was drivable, at least, and after he calmed down enough, we exchanged numbers and insurance details. It wasn’t a big dent, just enough for my credit card to have a minor heart attack. Yeah, I’ve got insurance but there’s that whole excess thing you have to pay and my credit card was already maxed out. I promised myself that I was going to tighten my belt, Christmas was coming after all, and now I would need to get my car fixed. I made sure to take photos of the damage, mine and his, and his license plate to show my insurance company, I didn’t trust that he had given me the correct details. I’m sure it was just because he was so distraught and not because he was going to try and do a runner.
Finally, almost exactly an hour late, I arrive at work. And it is chaos. All the office personnel are out on the footpath and there are big scary men in uniform baring the door and preventing anyone from getting in. I sidle up to one of the office girls in the hope that she will tell me what’s going on.
“The company’s been closed down,” she says to me, her eyes wide, “Bankrupt.”
I gasp. This cannot be happening. I’ve got bills, it’s nearly Christmas, I can’t afford to be out of work right now.
“What do you mean?” I ask her.
She shrugs, “Apparently the company defaulted on some loans and the bank are calling them in. No one knows where Mr Harper is,” she lowers her voice and whispers conspiratorially to me, “The rumour is that he’s skipped town and left Mr Jamison holding the bag.”
This is news to me. Harper Jamison Construction is one of the biggest construction companies in the city. I lucked out getting a job with them because I was placed with them for my internship and then they kept me on because I didn’t suck. I had clawed and crawled my way into the position I hold now, being overlooked time and time again by management for a promotion because I was a girl. They couldn’t fault my work except to say that some of the builders I would have to work with didn’t like getting told what to do by a woman. Now, apparently, they were broke and I was out of a job.
“What’s going to happen to all the holiday pay and overtimed we’re owed?” I ask and Kerry (Kelly, Kristen, I don’t know something starting with a K) just shrugs.
“From what I’ve overheard,” she says, “It’s all gone.”
No. No, this couldn’t be happening. I heard my credit card gasp out a dying breath and I couldn’t believe that the money I had been counting on to get me out the debt heap I was in, was gone.
There was a commotion at the door and it opened to reveal my boss, Mr Jamison, being led away by two uniformed police officers, and he was handcuffed. This did not look good for my future career prospects. I should have stayed in bed.
Now I am sitting here in my favourite coffee shop indulging in the one wicked decadence I allow myself – a large caramel cafe mocha with whipped cream. The four C’s – Caramel, Coffee, Chocolate and Cream, everything a girl needs to help her get over the worst day of her life.
It is still raining and my skirt has not dried out from my earlier incident with the puddle, add to that the fact that the high humidity has turned my hair to frizz and I am now in a chocolate/coffee/sugar coma, and the rest of the afternoon looks like it isn’t going to get much better. I should go home, crawl back into bed and see if, by some miracle, I can wake up and find out that this is all a dream.
Dragging my sorry ass out of the cafe I wave goodbye to the barista and head for my car. It’s not like I loved my job, but it was a means to an end. Working for such a high profile construction company would look good on my resume when it was time to move on, I just hadn’t thought I would be moving on quite this soon.
The building industry had been slow, the economy was still sluggish after all and with the way our government seems to have a revolving door policy when it comes to our Prime Ministers, it didn’t look like it would be turning around all that soon. I thought that working for a company like Harper Jamison would protect me from this very thing. It just goes to show that the big guys are just as likely to fall.
There was no point dwelling on the negative, though. Yes, I have lost my job, but it isn’t the end of the world. I am good at what I do. I had graduated top of my class and my work is leaps and bounds above the other guys I worked with. All of my projects have come in on time and, if not under budget, then definitely breaking even. I would be a good hire for anyone and I have a proven track record. Plus I look fabulous, so that can’t hurt.
Feeling better about my predicament than I had a few moments ago, I drive home with my stereo blasting singing along to Taylor Swift at the top of my lungs. This is not a set back, but an opportunity. It is the kick up the bum I need to get out there and find the job I really want instead of playing it safe. I don’t have any savings, but Charlie owns our flat and never asks me to pay rent, so that is a bonus. And we eat out most of the time, and he always pays, so I won’t have to worry about food. Luxuries will have to be put on hold and Christmas will be lean, but surely I will have a job by then, so it won’t really matter. Yes, this is all going to work out.
I pull into my parking spot and hum as I walk, carefully, up the stairs and into the lobby. I push the button for the elevator and take a moment to fix my hair. Hopefully Charlie will still be home and we can spend the afternoon together. A little afternoon delight is just what I need to pull me the rest of the way out of this slump and put a positive full stop to the end of the day.
The elevator dings and I wait for the couple inside to exit before I enter and press the button for the penthouse. Charlie’s family owns a string of resorts, as well as this apartment block. There is no way I can afford to live in something this fancy on my own. I’d been earning a good wage, but I have student loans and credit card debts to pay off. Not to mention a nasty retail habit. It is my only vice, well apart from the Caramel Cafe Mocha with Cream, and shopping never hurt anyone. I am so strict about everything else in my life that I don’t think a little retail therapy every now and then is such a big deal. I work hard for my money, so I should get to enjoy it a little.
The elevator comes to a stop and the doors slide open silently. I fish my key out of my bag and let myself into the apartment.
“Charlie,” I call, “I’m home. You would never believe the day I’ve had.”
It is at that moment that I realise that something is wrong. The Gucci bag and Manolo Blaniks in the hall are gorgeous, but they aren’t mine. And then there is that thumping noise that seems familiar but out of context I can’t quite place it.
“Charlie?” I call uncertainly walking through the lovely open plan apartment towards the bedroom door. The thumping noise gets louder as I approach and is accompanied by voices…and moans.
At this point you are probably thinking that I am an idiot for not knowing what is going on behind those doors, but I honestly don’t have a clue. If anything I am concerned that something has happened and that Charlie is trapped and injured. What I do not expect to find when I open the doors to the bedroom I have shared with Charlie for the last six months is him screwing another woman.
“Don’t mind me,” I say as I breeze into the room and straight to my closet.
I pull out my suitcase and began filling it with clothing. I grab anything and everything I can see before moving to the dresser and opening drawers.
“Noelle?” Charlie says in a strangled sort of way, but I am not going to look at him, I’ve seen enough.
I shove the lid of my suitcase down hard and snap it shut. There are still more clothes that I will need, but I have to get out of there, now, before I do something I will regret.
“I’m leaving,” I say as I drag the suitcase behind me and out the doors, “Carry on, forget I was even here.”
Charlie chases me to the front door, starkers. He still has a goddamn erection and it waves at me accusingly.
“What the hell, Noelle?” Charlie yells at me.
“I’m sorry,” I say calmly, “Didn’t I make myself clear. I’m. Leaving.”
“Why?” he asks and I snort in disbelief.
I fling my hand out indicating the general direction of the bedroom and wave it around, widening my eyes at him.
“That’s just Pamela,” he says, “She’s an old friend of the family.”
“Just catching up on old times were you?” I ask.
He blushes and Little Charlie droops a bit, “Well, I…ah…it didn’t, doesn’t, mean anything.”
I snort again, “Not to you maybe,” I say, “But it does to me.”
“Come on,” he pleads, “Be reasonable. It was just this once.”
I look towards the bedroom, our bedroom, and she is standing there, naked, thin, tall and with a luscious head of flaming red hair cascading over her shoulders and framing her perky, and obviously quite fake, boobs.
“You could always join us,” he says.
I slap him, hard, across the face before gathering up my things and walking out. I don’t love Charlie, but what we had had worked for us. I had given up my sweet little flat for him. I had suffered through countless brazillian waxes for him and how does he repay me? By sleeping with someone else. The rat bastard.
“I never liked him,” Darcy says as she plonks another piña colada down in front of me, “His eyes are too close together, they always creeped me out.”
I slurp my drink in a disturbingly unladylike fashion, “Liar,” I say to her, “He was the best looking guy I’ve ever had, and you know it.”
She wiggles her hand back and forth in the air in a so-so motion, “He’s hot,” she says, “But he’s not all that. There are ten guys in this bar right now way hotter than him.”
I look around the bar. She’s probably right. Darcy has a boyfriend, but it doesn’t stop her from checking out the action. Me? When I hooked up with Charlie, I didn’t even bother looking anymore. There is always a reacher and a settler in a relationship and I was under no illusion as to which one I was. Charlie was so far out of my league that I still, to this day, don’t know how I managed to be in a relationship with him. He’s rich, he’s hot and everybody loves him. He has that loveable rogue thing going on and he sucked me right in.
I haven’t always been as put together as I am now. I was the nerd in high school, the girl everyone loved to make fun of. Braces, glasses, frizzy hair, chubby, the works. But something amazing happened when I graduated and went to uni. With a little bit of help from my roommates (Darcy, mainly) my ugly duckling became a swan and I got a taste of the popular life. Parties, boys, alcohol and sex, the four glorious rights of passage. I didn’t sleep around, but I lost my virginity and I never looked back.
I met Charlie at a work function and we seemed to click immediately. He wooed me. You haven’t been wooed until you’ve been wooed by a rich playboy. We went to all the best clubs, got into all the VIP sections, went to all the exclusive parties and I met some really cool people. No one I would call a friend, but the type of people that you want your name associated with. My poor little nerd heart practically burst with the wonderfulness of it all.
I didn’t love Charlie, but we were friends and I liked being with him. I liked being part of a popular couple and if that makes me shallow, then I don’t care. I had been bullied and picked on by popular people all my life and all I’d ever wanted was to be accepted by them. Now I am, well, was. My status among the beautiful people, sans Charlie, was yet to be determined, but I didn’t hold out much hope. Losing Charlie would mean giving up that life.
“Don’t look so glum,” Darcy says, nudging me, “You could have any guy in here.”
Darcy has always been my biggest cheerleader. She was the one who first showed me how to straighten my hair, she talked me into getting my bangs cut and getting contact lenses. She dragged me to the gym with her and helped me get the body I now have. Gone are the soft lumps and bumps and in their place are strong toned muscles. Without her I would still be the shy little church mouse that I used to be.
“Thanks Darce,” I say, resting my head on her shoulder, “You’re the best.”
“Hey, what are friends for,” she replies with a big grin, “Now have you had enough wallowing? Can we go home and get on with phase two?”
“What’s phase two?” I ask hesitantly.
“Chunky Monkey,” she says with a suggestive raise of her eyebrows. I swear to God that she uses any excuse to eat ice cream.
“Let’s go,” I say, standing up and weaving slightly.
She grabs my arm and together we flounce out of the bar. Darcy has kindly offered to let me sleep on her couch. She only has a one bedroom apartment, but she gladly offered to let me stay with her when I turned up on her doorstep, homeless.
Oh God. I start to feel the sickening realisation of my predicament, I am jobless, homeless and broke. I am turning thirty in eight weeks, Christmas Eve to be exact, and I have nothing to show for it.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” I say as the truth of it all rumbles around in my guts.
“Just make sure to aim for the gutter,” Darcy says, “And don’t get it on my shoes.”
Chapter Two – Logan
This is officially the worst day of my life.
Well, the worst day of my life, so far. I don’t like making general sweeping statements and even though I am standing in my office ready to tear my hair out, I’m not going to start now.
My office is a mess, but that is not the problem, it is always a mess. The problem is that I usually know where everything is in my mess, but not tonight. And I know where to lay the blame.
As well meaning as Margaret’s attempts to clean my office were, they don’t help me now. And maybe if I had been a little less blunt with her, she would be here now and I wouldn’t be about to blow the biggest meeting of my year. I may be the CEO, but the board doesn’t give a crap about that. They want to see status reports or they are not going to sign off on the funding I need.
My IQ level of two hundred and twenty-one meant that I was a genius, but filing was just not my thing and Margaret, in her infinite wisdom, had come in and messed with my system. A system that had worked. Why did Darlene have to leave me to marry that schmuck? How could she leave me like this?
I know that is unfair, but I have less than an hour to find my report, get dressed and get into town for the meeting. I work in my home, it works best for everyone that way. I’m told I don’t have a very personable demeanour and that my penchant for being honest rubs people the wrong way. The board prefers me to work offsite and to be quite honest, so do I.
I pick up my phone and press number one, my speed dial for Darlene, which I haven’t changed even though she left me. It rings a few times before she answers.
“Logan!” she squeals into the phone, “How is my favourite boss?”
“Are you drunk?” I ask her.
“Abso-freaking-lutely,” she replies with gusto, “It’s my hen’s night.”
I hear whoo-hoos and cheering in the background and I sigh.
“I need your help,” I say trying to cut through the background noise.
“I don’t work for you anymore,” Darlene says, “What happened to Margaret?”
“She left,” I say, “And I can’t find my report and I have that meeting with the board tonight.”
I hear her sigh into the phone, “You scared another one off?” she says, “Does that make four now or five?”
“I don’t have time for this and if you’re not going to help me, then I’ll just let you get back to your night of revelry.”
She sighs again, “There’s a copy of it in the credenza under October Reports.”
I check the credenza and find the report, “Thanks Darlene, you are a life saver.”
“Logan,” she says and I notice the background noise has quietened, “You know I love you. We worked together for a really long time and I’d like to think we made a great team.”
“We did,” I say, distracted by the report in my hand as I glance over the numbers checking again for any inconsistencies.
“So, please take this in the vein that I mean it,” she says, “You can’t keep calling me like this. I don’t work for you anymore.”
I stop and finally hear what she is saying, “I can’t call you?” I ask.
She chuckles, “Sure, you can call me to catch up or shoot the breeze, we are still friends after all.”
I scrub my hand through my hair knowing that I have finally pushed her too far.
“I’m sorry,” I say, not really sure what else there is to say.
“I’ll forgive you,” she says with a laugh and I hear the background noise ramping up again, “But for now I’m off to live it up with my girlfriends, get drunk, well drunker, and dance until I fall down.”
I smile, “Have fun,” I say but it is lost in the female screams that punctuate her statement. Shaking my head I disconnect the call and head to my room to change, texting my driver on the way.
I know Darlene is right, but I just haven’t been able to find the same working relationship with any of her replacements that I had with her. She seemed to get me and wasn’t put off by my quirks and brusque manner. I know I’m not easy to work with, but the work I do is important and all I want is someone who can take it as seriously as I do. I don’t have time to soften my words or think about someone’s feelings. Callous, I know, but that’s the way I am and I don’t feel the need to change to impress anyone, especially not someone I am paying.
I look at the blank stares from the men sitting around the table and know that they don’t have a clue about anything I am telling them. They no nothing of bioactive molecular structures or colloidal nanocrystals, but these are the men who will determine the future of the research I am conducting. They are the money guys and I am a scientist. Together we could make something great, if only they could get their heads out of their asses long enough to pay attention to what I am saying.
“That’s all well and good,” Peter says as I pause in my report, “But how close are we to actually getting a product on the market?”
The guy has absolutely no freaking idea about what he is asking. That is like asking how long is a piece of string. There are far too many variables to give a definitive answer.
“The trials are going well,” I say with a sigh giving up any hope that one of them has done any research on my work since the last time we spoke, “I have more willing candidates enquiring about the trial program and the results so far are promising. All going well we will be moving into phase two of the testing in the new year.”
That seems to satisfy them. There is big money to be made if we can nail this. Nanobots are the next big thing in medicine and my Medibots are going to change the way they are used. Add to that a few hot commodities like the sports stars that are clamouring to be the first to try out the new ‘miracle healer’, and we all stand to walk away rich men, not that I need anymore money. That is not why I do what I do anyway.
With the board satisfied and the next round of funding procured, I start to pack up my things. The men get to their feet and leave the room, chatting amongst themselves, except for one. Daniel.
“Might I have a word?” he asks as he comes towards me, “In my office.”
I nod and follow him dutifully out of the conference room and down the corridor to his corner office. I don’t know what this is about and I’d be the first to admit that I’m not great at picking up on social cues, but I feel nervous. This is not a feeling I am used to. I am confident in who I am and what I can do so I never usually feel anxious about anything. Frustrated, definitely, but never nervous.
“Have a seat,” he says as he goes around his desk and slides into his own chair. It looks a hell of a lot more comfortable than the one I am sitting on. A power play, perhaps. A way of putting the person on this side of the desk off their game.
“What can I do for you, Daniel?” I ask, wanting to take some of the power back.
“Your performance in their,” he says, “Needs some work.”
Really? He wants to talk about how I give my reports to the board? I don’t even see the need to meet with them face to face. They could find out everything they need to know about my work by reading a damn email. What is the point of putting on this three ringed circus and wasting all of our time?
“What would you suggest?” I ask, not disguising my sarcasm.
“Look,” he says with a resigned sigh, “I know how brilliant you are, I know that the work you do is for beyond anyone in that room’s comprehension, but if you want them to keep saying yes to you, then you need to get them on your side. Throwing around technical jargon that you know they won’t understand does not win you any friends.”
Right now I’m kind of wishing that I’d never started Reynholm Industries. I could have just worked in a lab somewhere and not had to put up with all this grief.
“What happened to your assistant?” Daniel asks.
“Which one?” I reply, “The last one walked out on me today in the middle of trying to get the report ready.”
He raises an eyebrow at me and I shake my head, “Don’t say it,” I say to him, “Darlene has already given me an earful. I’m a bastard to work for, I know that, but surely there is someone out their who has a thick enough skin to not burst into tears every time I open my mouth.”
Daniel’s face twitches and I know he is trying not to laugh. With a shake of his head he regains his control and turns serious eyes on me.
“You need to find someone who can work with you and take your crap,” he says, “Soon.”
I nod in acknowledgement. He’s right. I can’t keep working, doing the things I need to do, without someone doing all the crap that I don’t have time for and not break down when I lose my temper. But how on earth am I going to find someone like that?
Cole tops up my glass with a splash of amber liquid. We’re sitting on my back verandah getting drunker by the minute. The thirty year old Talisker was a gift for my thirtieth birthday and right now it is soothing my pride. I’m a freaking genius, but I can’t seem to keep my own appointment diary straight.
“I’ve got an idea,” Cole says as he sips the scotch whiskey and closes his eyes in bliss.
“Tell me,” I say.
Cole is my oldest friend. We have known each other since primary school, well he was in primary school and I was in high school. My mum thought it would be a good idea for the child prodigy to have play time with kids his own age and so I was dumped into as many after school activities that she could get me in to. Cole happened to be the only kid who didn’t think I was some odd intelligent life form from another planet. We bonded over Star Wars and Space Food Sticks.
“You need to run an ad,” he says.
I snort at him. He is in advertising. Of course he thinks I should run an ad.
“Tried it,” I say, “Didn’t work.”
“Ah, but you didn’t get me to write it,” he says.
“True,” I reply, “And you think you can write an ad that will find the perfect person to be Robin to my Batman?”
“You’re not Batman,” he says with a shake of his head, “You’re more evil genius than super hero.”
“I take offence to that,” I say, offended, “Why am I the evil genius?”
“You create tiny little robots and inject them into people,” he says as if that explains everything.
“But they help people,” I explain, “So how does that make me the bad guy?”
“You’re lulling us into a false sense of security,” he says, “You make us think that you are helping and get us to have these nanobots put into us and then you flip a switch and we are all your slaves.”
I nod, “You realise now that you know my evil plan, I am going to have to kill you.”
He raises his glass in salute, “Of course,” he says before draining it.
“Okay,” I say with an amused grin, “Then how do I go about finding a minion to help me pull off this ingenious plan?”
“As I said, an ad.”
He smiles at me, “My two favourite words. Let’s go into your office.”
I follow him into the house and into my office. I slip my shoes off at the door, a quirk of mine. I like to walk barefoot in my office, so sue me.
Cole sits down at my computer and logs on. He does work for me sometimes so he has his own password.
“Watch and weep,” he says to me as he starts typing.
Girl Friday Wanted
Evil scientific genius requires the services of an extremely organised minion.
Must be prepared to work long hours in the pursuit of world domination and have an eye for detail.
Only persons with skin thick enough to withstand his fiery breath need apply.
Renumeration package is substantial, but no credit will be given for the work you actually do
“What do you think?” he asked as I read over his shoulder.
“It’s good,” I say, “But you forgot to mention the apartment that goes with the job.”
“Oh, right,” he says as he bends back over the keyboard.
Live-in position to ensure 24/7 accessibility.
“Don’t put my number,” I say as I slump into one of the two chesterfields gracing the space, “It wouldn’t look right for an evil scientific genius to answer his own phone.”
“Of course not,” Cole says, “I’ll put mine.”
He taps on the keys and with a final flourish leans back in his chair.
“Done,” he says with a smug look on his face and I just shake my head.
“You’re an idiot,” I say with a grin. He always seems to know how to cheer me up.
“Am I, though?” he asks, “Or am I too brilliant for you to comprehend?”
“No,” I reply, “You’re an idiot.”
He laughs and gets up from he desk, “I’m starving. Have you got any food?”
“I’m sure Adele has left us some dinner,” I say as we walk towards the kitchen. My housekeeper/cook has been with me a long time and is probably the only other female on the planet, apart from Darlene, that gets me.
“Ooo, roast beef with all the trimmings,” Cole says as he opens the warming oven door, “She must have known I was coming.”
“Of course she knew,” I say as I slide onto the barstool and prop my elbows on the granite bench top, “You are here every Wednesday night.”
He looks stricken, “Am I that predictable?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say simply.
“I need to get a life,” he says with a shake of his head.
“No,” I say, “You just need to get laid.”