The Billionaire Boss’s Temptation
Copyright © 2016 by Lexi Black. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used, reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form without the prior written consent of the author.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places, incidents and events are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Table of Contents
[+CHAPTER ONE – +]
[+ A Not-So-Good Start to a Bad Morning After+]
[+CHAPTER THREE +]
[+CHAPTER FOUR – +]
[+ Business Trip+]
I gaze around at the blank, dirty-creme walls of my new bedroom, trying to stay optimistic. It’s not a big room by any stretch of the imagination, not even for a single, but I tell myself that’s not a problem – I’m not a big person, and I don’t have much stuff to fill the room with anyway. And then there’s the tiny, grime-encrusted excuse for a window, which is letting in less natural light than a ship’s porthole. But the landlord promised he’d be round to fix the light fitting tomorrow, so that’s not a problem either. And once I’ve unpacked my few boxes; and gotten to know my new housemates (three music school graduates – George, Gina and Harvey); and once I’ve found a job; and gotten used to the city, I’m sure I’ll feel right at home here in Bristol. I’ll just have to keep repeating that to myself that until it’s starts to feel true.
At that moment a spring pops in the single, second-hand mattress on which I’m perched, bouncing up with a dull, resonating twang and jabbing me unexpectedly right in the behind. For a second I’m not sure whether I’m about to cry or burst into hysterical laughter. But then the first tear falls and before I know it I’m in the foetal position, my body shaking with self-pity as I clench my mouth and eyes closed against the oncoming storm of sobs. The last thing I need right now is for my three new peers downstairs to overhear my outburst, but after weeks of holding it all in I guess that, just like Yellowstone, I’ve been overdue for an eruption. All I can do is bury my face in my knees and try to muffle my crying as my tears slowly soak through my jeans.
I’m not supposed to be here. I’d had it all planned out and this – this room, this unfamiliar city, this bleak future – was not a part of it. It’s hard to believe that less than four months ago everything had been so perfect – my life had been right on track and the future had been more than bright, it had been positively gleaming. But I should have known that any light that shines too brightly is bound to burn out sooner or later, and mine was abruptly extinguished on a Wednesday afternoon in late June. It was results day, and for most of my fellow final-year uni students, it was the day that either makes us or breaks us. I just didn’t anticipate that it would break me in such a way.
The truth is I wasn’t even a little bit nervous about getting my results – I knew I’d done well and was more than confident I hadn’t got any less than a first. And besides, me and my boyfriend, Ben, had already managed to secure jobs at the same London-based firm – ‘Graphic Living’ – a very successful graphic design company that just so happened to be conveniently owned by Ben’s uncle. Once we had slogged through the next few months of minimum wage work (just until we’d saved enough to find a little place in London), it would be off to the capital city where Ben would do what he does best as part of his uncle’s animation team, and I would be utilising my skills in Graphic Living’s publicity department. Back then I felt like the world’s luckiest student – I had the perfect man, the perfect plan and the perfect job waiting for me – not many (if any) others could say that.
It was painfully sunny on that fateful Wednesday in Cardiff. I was working at the corner cafe and I remember spending my whole shift gazing longingly at the bright, buzzing world beyond the window while I half-heartedly took old couples predictable lunch orders.
At five o’clock on the dot I flung myself out of the door and into the welcome embrace of the heat and the sunshine. My hands rummaged in my backpack for my phone as my converse clad feet pounded the sizzling pavement in the direction of the student campus. The streets were packed, anyone with any sense coming out to enjoy this heatwave. It was easy to tell to the students celebrating their results from the rest of the crowd – they were the ones already drinking, and I couldn’t wait to join them.
Finally my fingers found my phone amongst all the other crap in my bag, and I was greeted by several excited texts from my best friend Michelle. I met both Ben and Michelle on our first day of university, and I fell in love with them both instantly, though in very different ways, obviously. Michelle had, of course, passed her photography degree with flying colours (as I always knew she would), and informed me that she was already waiting for me at Ben’s, gaming and celebrating, before hastily promising not to get too drunk before I got there. Though knowing Michelle that meant that she would be on at least her sixth beer by the time I got there – her talent at holding liquor was second to none. The warmth that flowed within me as I read her ecstatic messages was more than any heat the summer sun could hope to achieve, and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I increased my impatient pace towards Ben’s flat, stopping only to pick up a cold eight pack on my way.
As I walked through the gates onto campus grounds the level of excitement and joy in the air increased dramatically, combining with the heady summer heat to form a potent and inescapable cocktail of youthful exuberance and promise. I couldn’t help but drink it in greedily as I practically skipped my way towards student accommodation.
I could hear ‘Jenny Was a Friend of Mine’ by The Killers (one of Ben’s favourite bands) playing at full volume before I got anywhere near the door of Ben’s flat. I cracked open a can, unable to wait anymore, and with a huge smile plastered across my face I marched down the hall and through the open front door. But the living room was empty, save for the blaring stereo and the half a dozen empty cans I had previously predicted would be scattered on the coffee table. I don’t know what made me walk towards to the bedroom, and to this day I often wish I hadn’t.
Michelle was laid on the bed – the bed that me and Ben had shared for the past three years – her eyes closed, her face flushed and contorted and her luxurious dark hair spread wildly across Ben’s Batman pillow. All I could see of Ben was his bare, muscular back, covered in a thin sheen of sweat, the tribal tattoo on his left shoulder blade moving in time with his flowing muscles as he thrust himself over and over again into my best friend. It was a small mercy that the music was loud enough to cover the noises they were making, and to mask the sound of the still-full beer can as it slipped through my numb fingers and hit the floor.
I felt like I was going to throw up right then and there, and despite the intense heat a distinct shiver ran all across my body. As the song hit it’s third verse Michelle opened her eyes, and for one horrifying second our gazes met, while the man I loved continued to obliviously work away on her. I turned and fled from the room, from the building, from the campus. The heat had turned from satisfying to smothering, everything was too bright and too real, and my throat and eyes burned as I stumbled aimlessly through the sickeningly happy throng.
So I ended up here – in this town that I don’t know, living with people that I don’t know, without a clue what to do from here and less than £100 in my bank. The only resemblance of any plan that I have is the one, single interview I’ve managed to line up so far – at Norse Industries at 11.30am tomorrow morning. Norse Industries are some big advertising firm in the center of the city, run by your stereotypical, mysterious, eccentric billionaire – Logan Norse. And though that may sound fairly exciting, the position I’ll be going for is nothing but a lowly admin assistant. If I can manage to pull myself together before then that is.
I’m not sure how long I’ve been curled up on my bare mattress when there’s a knock at my door. I snap back to my senses and realise I’ve been sitting in complete darkness, the sun long since set. I’ve cried myself dry, and I take a deep, grating gulp before attempting to speak.
“Hello?” I croak out pitifully. The door opens a few feet and silhouetted in the bright light from the hall is the lanky, scruffy-haired form of Harvey, one of my new house-mates. He spots me on my bed in the dark, and is immediately apologetic.
“Oh, I’m sorry Tess, did I wake you?”
“No, I wasn’t sleeping, it’s just…” I reply, gesturing to the broken light fitting above my head and attempt an amused smile.
“Well if you feel like stepping into the light, you’re more than welcome to join us downstairs for a drink – christen the house and all that jazz.” He offers with a genuine, friendly grin, brightly visible even in the gloom.
Hanging out with drunk, carefree strangers is the last thing I feel like doing right now, but as usual my desire to be polite wins out over my actual desires, and before I can have any say in the matter, my lips are automatically replying for me.
“Yeah, that sounds good, thanks. I’ll be down in a minute.”
“Cool.” Harvey flashes an even wider, boyishly-charming grin at me before turning and practically bouncing back down the stairs, towards the sounds of George and Gina’s laughter. There’s something about his unbridled excitement that is inescapably contagious, and I find myself thinking that perhaps a drink and some friendly banter may be just the distraction I need. Only the one drink though, and then a good nights rest before heading to Norse Industries bright and early in the morning.
I didn’t stick to just one drink, and I wake up slowly and groggily the next morning. The small amount of dim, grey-ish light that’s squeezing it’s way through my window is enough to make me squint my burning, hungover eyes against its onslaught. I roll away from the offending light, and my head and stomach roll jarringly along with me. I try to groan, but all I can muster is a barely-audible gurgle from the back of my dry throat.
I give myself a few minutes, breathing deeply in and out as the waves in my stomach settle and the world slowly ceases its vicious swaying behind my closed eyelids. When I do re-open my eyes I do so cautiously, and the first thing I see is the welcome sight of a pint glass of water next to a packet of ibuprofen on my bedside table. I raise myself up in bed, feeling as shaky as a baby deer taking its first steps, and notice a small, handwritten note next to the glass -
Good luck today Tess -
Knock ‘em dead!
I can’t help but feel myself smile a little at the sweet gesture, before hastily popping two of the capsules in my mouth and washing them down with hearty gulps of water. I consider for a second, and then take another two ibuprofen – I get the feeling this hangover is going to need it.
After a few more minutes of deep-breathing and stomach-settling, I begin to search for my phone. I figure I’ve got plenty of time to get composed and ready for my interview – my alarm hasn’t even gone off yet, so it must still be pretty early. But when I find my phone in the pocket of my crumpled jeans, discarded the night before at the foot of my bed, it’s to discover that it is in fact 10.22am. Shit! In my drunken state I must have just passed out without setting an alarm. Ignoring my dizziness and nausea I stumble out of my room and into the shower.
The water takes what feels like an age to heat up, clanking through the rickety, old pipes all too loudly for my tender head, and I wait impatiently, growing more and more agitated with each passing second. Why today of all days? Why couldn’t I have just stuck to one drink like I’d told myself?
“You can’t say that you didn’t have fun though.” A small voice declares smugly from the back of my mind. And it’s right – though I can only remember snippets of it at the moment, last night I’d laughed more than I have done in months. It had certainly served as the distraction I’d been hoping for, I just wish it didn’t have such painful and inconvenient consequences for me in the here and now.
Half an hour later I step tentatively out of the front door and make my way to the bus stop. Even though there’s a reasonable covering of cloud, the morning is still too bright in my eyes, and I walk along the pavement with my gaze on my feet, the faint breeze drying the last bits of moisture from my loose, brown hair.
Halfway through my twenty-three minute bus journey, a man I can only describe as porcine and potent, wearing a three day old, too-tight suit with visible sweat-stains at the collar and armpits, waddles on to the bus and unceremoniously dumps his ample behind onto the poor, unsuspecting seat next to me. The seat groans audibly and I swear I feel it sink a few inches under his bulk. I glance sideways at my unwanted companion, and can’t help but notice how his red, sweaty neck bulges out of his collar like an overstuffed sausage. My stomach makes a dangerous, sickening flip, and I turn my head quickly away.
That’s when I catch sight of my reflection in the window of the bus. My hair, freshly washed and now completely dry, has fanned out around my face in an uncontrollable, fluffy halo of chestnut frizz. I do what I can with the trusty hairband I always keep around my wrist, managing to contain the worst of my mane in a slightly messy bun at the base of my skull, and hope that the day can only get better from here.
But as I walk into the Norse Industries building, a full seven minutes before my interview, things get so much worse. I step through the revolving glass doors and into what feels like another world – and it’s certainly not a world I belong in. I’m in a grand reception lobby, constructed almost entirely of marble, glass and steel. To my left and right are two huge, curving staircases leading to the second floor balcony, and directly in front stretches a wide corridor, lined with mahogany doors, extending into the shadows of the distance. In the centre of the lobby is a round, solid marble reception desk, with one very well groomed, very well dressed, very pretty peroxide blonde sat behind it, smiling into her headset and tapping competently and confidently away at her keyboard. The rest of the huge lobby is completely empty, seemingly abandoned, so much so that in the silence I swear I can hear the click-clacking of the receptionists false nails echoing to the floors above.
My throat immediately dries up and my palms instantly begin to sweat. After one last, futile attempt to flatten my hair and straighten my £25 skirt-suit, I stride with what I hope is confidence towards the desk.
“Erm…Hi, I’m Tess Sartre.” I announce myself to the top of blondies bowed head. She doesn’t look up, so I take a gulp and continue. “I have an interview at 11.30.”
I am told to sign myself in, which I do with shaking hands, before being led a short way down that seemingly endless corridor and through one of the mahogany doors. I am greeted by a relatively small, clean, minimalistic room, in which sits six clones of the blonde receptionist.
“If you’ll just take a seat here with the other candidates, you’ll be called through shortly.” Clone #1 gestures to the nearest steel and black-leather chair, before returning to her post at her marble throne. I smile nervously around at the room, doing my best not to make eye-contact with anyone, before nervously fiddling with my sale-rail suit once again and taking my seat.
That’s when I really start to sweat. I look around at my competition and I’ve never felt so under-prepared, under-dressed and out of place in my life. I shove my hands, now slick with sweat, under my legs and cast a sidelong glance through my fringe at the woman sat next to me. The first thing I notice are her long, elegant, perfectly manicured fingers rapping slowly across a sleek clutch-purse that simply stinks of Prada. I can’t help but think that my a-line skirt suit cost less than just one of her fake nails. The next thing I notice is the CV clutched in her other hand – very impressive, even at just a glance. I think of my hastily typed, inferior CV in my shoulder bag. Shit. The heat in the room seems to instantly double, and I remove my blazer, thankful that I chose a dark-coloured blouse to wear underneath, or my sweat stains would probably be more visible than Mr. Sausage-neck’s from the bus.
For a second I think about making a run for it. I clearly don’t belong here and there’s obviously no way I’m going to get the job. But then the image of my pitiful bank balance flashes in my mind – this interview is the only option I have at that moment – so I reluctantly stay put. And before I know it my name is being called. Feeling like Bambi for the second time today, I am led out of the door, away from the clones, and into the interview room.
A faint, high-pitched buzzing begins in my ears as I take my seat in front of my interviewer – another Nazi-poster-child clone, but fifteen or maybe twenty years older, with a striking silver streak in her tightly bound blonde bun. I wonder briefly if perhaps this is Mrs. Norse – she certainly seems imposing and poised enough, but then the interview begins and all further thought is drowned out by concentration.
“So, Miss…Sartre.” My interviewer begins, locating the right CV from the small, neat pile in front of her. “You understand that you are being interviewed for the position of Mr. Norse’s P.A of operations here in Bristol?” She asks, glancing up at me skeptically.
What?! Shit, no – I did not know that. The ad I’d replied to was for the admin department, wasn’t it?
“Yes, it’s a very exciting opportunity.” I hear myself reply in a confident voice that surely can’t be my own.
“So let’s start with a brief description of any relevant previous experience you have.” I can practically hear the raised eyebrow in her voice, and who can blame her? Time to re-think every answer I had roughly prepared in advance. My sweat glands go into overdrive but my lips start talking without me, telling of my few years experience at my father’s firm (and I’ll admit elaborating just a little, and carefully leaving out the fact that it was mere summer-holiday work when I was a teenager). My interviewer listens patiently, her sharp features impassive as I babble on. I’m pulling this off better than I expected, but it’s still not enough to shake the deep-set feeling of not belonging. I should’ve run when I had the chance.
I’m just starting to wonder how much more bullshit I can squeeze out of three summers worth of work (and how much longer my interviewer will put up with me for that matter), when there’s a strong, assertive rap of knuckles at the door behind me, making us both jump slightly in our seats. Not a second passes before the door is opened, and I see my interviewer’s eyes and mouth widen slightly in surprise, proving she is in fact capable of expressing emotion.
“Mr. Norse.” She announces in a suddenly much softer, more feminine voice, immediately rising from her seat and unconsciously smoothing down her classy, grey tweed panel-dress. Mr. Norse? She can’t mean the Mr. Norse? Before my brain has a chance to process, a confident, authoritative voice speaks from directly behind me.
“Anne, I need you to schedule an emergency conference call between the board members.” The voice demands, a faint hint of an Irish accent gracing its honeyed tones. Anne seems instantly flustered, a distinctive blush blossoming across her elf-like cheekbones as she gazes at the man stood behind me. I finally gain control over my body once more, and when I turn my head I understand the reason for her sudden change of demeanour.
As my gaze falls upon Mr. Norse I swear I feel the temperature in the room increase even further. My first thought is how can he possibly look so cool in such heat? My second thought is to chastise myself for the cheesiness of my first thought. And my third thought is to remind myself to continue breathing.
He’s an imposing figure, standing at about six foot tall, with a strong, confident stance (looking all the taller and more imposing from my low vantage point). He’s effortlessly clad in a tailored, navy-blue pinstripe suit, complemented by a sleek black and silver striped silk tie. His hair is a thick, pitch black, waved and stylishly scruffy, slightly slicked back with just a few strands falling enticingly around his piercing azure eyes. And he’s young – much younger than I expected – certainly no older than thirty, and certainly no husband of Anne’s. My eyes involuntarily glance towards his ring finger, and find it mercifully lacking a golden band.
“Of course Sir.” Anne speaks in a girlish voice that really doesn’t suit her, jarring me back to reality. “What time should I pencil the call in for?”
“Right away Anne.” Comes Mr. Norse’s snappy, impatient reply. “Or do you not understand the meaning of the word ‘emergency’?”
“Of course Sir.” Anne repeats, getting herself into more and more of a state in front of this mesmerisingly terrifying man. I can’t help but feel for her. “It’s just that, I’ve just started interviewing for your new P.A” She’s now blushing so hard that I’m worried her cheeks might actually burst into flame. But then I feel Norse’s penetrating gaze turn on me for the first time since he entered the room, and suddenly it’s my cheeks that are the fire hazard.
With a bravery I certainly do not feel, I find myself glancing up at the steaming-hot, billionaire tycoon stood next to me. Big mistake – our gazes meet for just a second and a thousand beads of perspiration spring instantly to life across my forehead. I snap my eyes back down instantly, only to come face to face with his crotch. I suddenly find myself on my feet, standing jerkily as my jelly-like knees and stomach protest against the inadvisable movement. But at least now all I’m staring at is the beautifully embroidered stripes on his tie.
A moment passes in awkward silence, before Anne swoops in to my rescue.
“Erm…this is Miss. Sartre.” She introduces me. “The first of the interviewees.”
Without removing his gaze from me, Mr. Norse silently holds out his hand towards Anne, into which she places a copy of my pathetic CV. Oh shit – Logan Norse is actually reading my CV. Nausea fills my stomach, and this time it’s not from the hangover. Even more awkward moments pass as he skims the single A4 page of my entire work experience, while I pray for a sudden and fatal heart attack to save me from this awful day.
“Sartre eh?” He says finally, his silken syllables pronouncing my French surname perfectly. “Any relation to the great Jean-Paul Sartre?” He asks, almost dismissively. My heart skips several beats – no one has ever asked if I’m related to the semi-famous philosopher (and it just so happens that I am). So, Norse is rich, handsome and educated – a deadly combination. Somehow my brain manages to find the words to reply.
“Erm…yes actually. On my mother’s side.” I hear the words escape my mouth as if someone else is speaking them. Out of the corner of my eye I see a small smile grace Logan Norse’s lips at my response, and the schoolgirl inside of me starts performing a victory dance. I smile down at my feet in response.
“Can you start on Monday?”
My head snaps back up, careful this time to avoid Norse’s paralyzing gaze. Instead I look towards Anne, whose expression is reflecting the exact question that’s running through my mind – Did he really just say that? My mind races and I open and close my mouth a few times, to no avail, before Anne once again cuts through the silence.
“But, I haven’t interviewed the others…” She begins, her girlishness gone in lieu of her shock, before Norse cuts her off.
“No need to – Tess here will do just fine.” He declares, returning his slightly-smiling gaze back to me, and I return mine to my feet.
Going into autopilot, I somehow manage to get through the next ten minutes without passing out or throwing up on Norse’s shining black brogues. I thank Mr. Norse calmly and politely, and am handed a copy of my new contract of employment by a confused and rather unimpressed looking Anne. I make the journey home in a state of zombie-like shock, wondering when I’m going to wake from this dream.
When I arrive home my three housemates are all sat in the kitchen drinking coffee. I break my still unbelievable good news to them, and they are all ecstatic for me. Gina squeals and starts bouncing up and down in delight, her blonde corkscrew-curls bouncing along with her, while Harvey strides across the kitchen (his long legs completing the action in just two steps) and lifts my small frame up in an unexpected bear hug, before spinning me round. If I had anything in my stomach, I’m pretty sure it would have evacuated at that moment. George throws me a cool salute from where he remains sat on the corner countertop, tapping out a drum-beat on a coffee tin, his straightened blonde fringe covering the best part of his face.
“We have to celebrate. You’re coming to our gig tonight” Gina declares firmly, her thick Scottish accent totally at odds with her delicate, pixie-like features.
“Definitely.” Harvey grins before I get a chance to object.
“G…gig?” I manage to stutter, my head still reeling from the mornings crazy turn of events, not to mention Harvey’s vigorous hug.
“Our band – The Shrieking Eels – we’ve landed a gig tonight at TJ’s bar in town. It’s going to be sick.” Harvey explains somewhat boastfully. I vaguely remember that they mentioned something of the sort last night, though my memories are still coming in random, disjointed blurs. The thought of doing it all over again tonight is, I have to admit, the least appealing thing I can think of right now. But as I glance between Harvey’s big, brown, excited eyes and Gina’s big, blue, pleading ones, I know that declining their invitation is not an option.
“Sounds awesome – of course I’ll be there.” I acquiesce. Gina starts squealing and clapping her hands again, Harvey tousles my already messy hair affectionately, and even George breaks his stoic expression to throw me a cool grin. And for the second time in as many days, I can’t help but smile and laugh as I enjoy the company of these three wonderful strangers – my new family here in Bristol.
By 8pm, and with a lot of help and ‘styling tips’ from Gina, I’m ready to rock and roll (as George would put it). I gaze at myself in the hallways communal full-length mirror, and a girl I’ve never seen before gazes back at me. Her face is pale; her cheekbones defined by the barest hint of rouge; her wide eyes thickly rimmed with black kohl, silver glitter and generous lashings of mascara (though I flatly refused when Gina came at me with a pair of false lashes). Even my hair has been patiently straightened and then meticulously re-tousled – I think Gina calls it ‘sex-hair’.
“Looking good Welshie.” Harvey comments as he walks past, helping George load their band gear into their clapped-out VW. It’s been some time since anyone has complimented me like that, and while. At first I cringe and blush at his words, I can’t help but agree – Gina has done a damn good job on me.
Soon the van is loaded and everyone’s ready to go. As we all head out the door I ask Gina one last time if she’s sure the jeans she’s loaned me aren’t too tight.
“They’re called skinny jeans for a reason Tess.” She replies, rolling her eyes in exasperation and handing me a can of cheap, 7.5% cider. “Now get that down you and stop being so self-conscious.” She giggles as we clamber ungraciously into the back of the VW and squeeze ourselves in next to the drum kit. And so it begins.
Two hours later I’m stood at the front of the stage, sweating my mascara into my eyes and sloshing my plastic cup of beer everywhere as I dance wildly along with the other hundred-odd bodies that are jammed into TJ’s bar. ‘The Shrieking Eels’ are going down very well with the crowd, and rightly so – they’re bloody great!
George’s moody-coolness is taken to a whole new level as he sits in semi-shadow at the back of the stage, focusing on nothing but the drum-kit in front of him. Gina brightenes up even the simplest of bass-lines with her sassy, sexy style and haunting backing vocals, and Harvey makes an unexpectedly appealing frontman – on stage his awkward scruffiness somehow transforms into something more like mysterious sexiness (though that may well be the alcohol talking).
“And now I’m waking up
To a makeup stained pillowcase-
The only memory I have left of your face.”
The song ends, and as the last strummed notes fade out from Harvey’s beautiful, white Les Paul, the band announce that they’re taking a small break. I take the opportunity to refill my once again empty cup at the bar, before making my way towards the backstage area to congratulate my rock-star friends. But as I near the side-door a large hunk of security guard blocks my way.
“Sorry Miss, authorized personnel only beyond this point.” He grunts down at me.
“Oh, it’s ok – I’m friends with the band.” I reply sweetly, flashing what I hope is a dazzling smile as I teeter tipsily in front of him.
“Yeah, you and every other groupie-wannabe in here.” He chuckles, obviously unconvinced. But my Dutch courage is not deterred.
“No, honestly, I live with them.”
“Sorry Miss, I can’t let you back here.”
“Just go and ask them yourself!”
“Miss, I’m going to have to ask you to step back.”
“I’m not your ‘Miss’!”
Just as I’m sure I’m about to make a total drunken fool of myself, Harvey is somehow miraculously at my side, placing a protective arm around my shoulder and assuring the security-wanker that I am who I say I am. I’m led through the forbidden door and into the magical world of backstage. As I leave the bar area I glance back over my shoulder, and can count at least seven girls glaring jealously at me as I walk away with ‘The Shrieking Eels’ frontman.
It’s just gone 2am when we all stumble out of the bar, now just as wasted as each other. Even George has opened up, zig-zagging and giggling as he carries the petite Gina in a precarious piggy-back. The second half of the gig went even better than the first (especially considering I got to watch it from a VIP seat in the wings of the stage), and Harvey proudly managed to get the phone numbers of three different girls, two of which he insists were sisters.
There’s no way any of us are fit to drive, so we decide to leave the VW in the safety of the club’s car-park and make our way home on foot. It’s a lovely night – warm but not humid, with a soft, temperate breeze to cool our drunken sweats. As we near the center of town, the tall, shimmering form of the Norse Industries building comes into sight, and I take the opportunity to once again boast about my new, high-flying job (as I’ve done to everyone who can be bothered to listen tonight). On cue, the group start whooping and cheering for me once again. We turn the corner into full view of the building, and for the second time that day I’m greeted with the unexpected yet delightfully pleasing sight of Logan Norse.
“Shit!” I cry out before I can stop myself, and I proceed to duck down behind the cover of the nearest parked car. Logan is on the other side of the road and, mercifully, doesn’t seem to spot me or my drunken comrades. He’s just stepping out of the Norse Industries lobby, and the shadows thrown by the dimly-lit streetlamps cast his fit, suit-clad body and high-cheekboned face in an even more appealing light than in the daytime. My breath catches in my throat at the sight of him, and I’m barely aware of my three friends clustered beside me, all gazing at me in silent anticipation.
“What is it chick?” Gina whispers next to me, her tequila-breath wafting warmly across my face. It takes me a few moments for me to find my tongue, and another few to wet my suddenly parched throat, before I can finally reply.
“That guy…” I mumble. “That’s my new boss.”
There’s a brief silence as the three digest this information, then Gina lets out a low, appreciative whistle.
“Damn Tess, he’s hot!” She points out the obvious. ‘Tell me about it’ I think to myself, careful not to speak out loud this time.
As we watch in drunken awe, a woman follows Logan out of the building – a tall, slim, blonde woman. She’s stunningly beautiful, clad in a red silk dress that can be no bigger than a size six (I wonder if she’s one of the blonde clones I met earlier). She struts onto the pavement, and he reaches one of his strong, commanding arms out to her and guides her towards a shining black Mercedes with tinted windows.
A sudden and unexpected claw of jealousy grabs and twists harshly at my gut, and I find myself feeling all too sober as I watch the Mercedes roll silently away into the night. Double shit. Let’s hope this feeling is just some weird side-affect of too many Sambuca’s, and that it’ll be long gone by the time I have to see Logan again on Monday.
But as it turned out, I wouldn’t get to see Logan Norse that Monday. Or on Tuesday, or again for twenty-four days for that matter. After personally hiring me as his P.A, I didn’t see or hear from him again until my fourth week of work.
Not that it was a totally unpleasant start at my new job. While I certainly still felt just as out of place as ever, the boring, low-level filing and organising work that I’d so far been lumped with thankfully kept me out of the way most of the time (I assumed that, until Norse showed up to say otherwise, I was simply everyone else’s lackey. And that was fine by me). And, in spite of everything, I’d even managed to make one work friend – Nina.
Nina is a bubbly, busty red-head, about four or five years older than me, and so far the only other non-blonde I’ve come across in the whole building. . I’m not entirely sure what her specific role at Norse Industries is, and for some reason I get the feeling that it would be rude to ask. All I know, and all I need to know, is that so far I haven’t worked a day here that didn’t start with a warm smile and a friendly, almost motherly natter with Nina, and I’m very grateful to her for that.
But I get no such greeting as I step out of the elevator on the Wednesday of my fourth week. Instead of a smile, Nina grabs me by the elbow and marches me hastily down the aisle and towards Mr. Norse’s (as far as I can tell) totally unused office (outside of which I have my very own little desk and cubicle).
“Good, you’re on time. We don’t have long.” She blusters as we power-walk, rogue strands of hair wafting out from her usually perfectly smooth auburn curls.
“Don’t have long for what?” I reply, wondering what could have got my friend into such a state.
“Logan just called from the airport – he’s on his way and he does not sound in a good mood.” She explains curtly, fiddling with the diamante Victorian hair-pin that’s always present in her hair-do (her grandmother had left it for her).
“Mr. Norse? You mean the boss is actually coming into work for once?” I joke as I’m tugged along.
“Haha! Cheeky.” Nina laughs, a brief smile gracing her otherwise stressed expression. “I can see why he hired you now.”
As we step into the confines of Norse’s office, I can’t help but be momentarily breathtaken by the view. It’s a particularly beautiful day for the end of September, and the far wall of the office is made entirely of glass, looking out over the river Avon that glistens like a glittering snake under the sun, winding through the lush green park, and towards the sprawling city beyond.
“Enough gawping, he’ll be here any minute.” Nina interrupts my reverie, reminding me of the gut-churning reality that is about to come – I’m going to see Logan Norse again. But Nina won’t let my thoughts linger.
“From what I gathered on the phone there’s been some kind of problem with the merger.” She continues to yammer, and I try my best to pay attention over my screaming schoolgirl nerves. I can’t stop picturing him with that leggy blonde at 2am.
“So, when he gets here he’ll need some of this.” She holds out an unopened bottle of 20 year old scotch. “Two fingers over two ice cubes. And there’s a cd already in the player – you’ll want to press play as soon as you see him coming.” She points to the small, sleek player in the nearest corner. “You got that?”
Confused, I nod and accept the bottle, and begin to unscrew the cap.
“No! Wait until he’s in the room to open it.” Nina scolds me. “He’s got some weird phobia about being poisoned or something. I blame it on too many spy films as a kid.” She explains, and I can’t help but laugh, my minds eye conjuring up the image of a suit-clad, eight year old Logan.
“How do you know all this?” I ask Nina.
“I’ve known him longer than anyone.” She smiles ambiguously, and before I can question her further we hear the elevator doors ping from down the hall.
“Good luck chick.” Nina gives me a quick pat on the back before ducking out of the office. I have just enough time to press play on the CD player and quickly smooth down my hair (which has become a lot more manageable since Gina introduced me to the wonders of straighteners), before Logan Norse comes storming in…and walks right past and straight to his desk without even looking at me. And I just continue to stand there like a lemon, proffering the bottle in my hands like a gormless waitress at a restaurant.
If I thought the view out the window was spectacular, it’s nothing compared to Logan. Instead of a suit this time he wore blue Levi’s and a short-sleeved white cotton shirt. Hiding himself beneath a suit had not done enough justice to just how toned and muscular his lightly tanned arms actually are. Not to mention how teasingly tantalising his unbuttoned collar is, or how damn good his arse looks in those jeans. And his hair is wilder today too, and pushed coolly back from his face by a pair of Ray-Bans.
I wait a few moments, hoping that he might notice that there’s another person in the room with him, but he just continues to stare obliviously out the window. I allow myself to gaze at him for just a few more seconds, before politely coughing and announcing myself.
“Mr. Norse, it’s a pleasure to see you again. I hope you had a pleasant journey.”
He turns, cool and unfazed, and gazes silently at me with a slightly raised eyebrow. I clear my throat and try another approach.
“Can I offer you a drink?” I hold the bottle even further out in front of me, and Norse silently waves me onward. It seems to take an age for me to find the cut-crystal glasses and to dispense the two ice cubes. I’m thankful for the light classical music coming from the CD player – God knows how awkward this moment would be without it.
Norse finishes his drink in one gulp, and feeling like a pathetic servant I pour him another two fingers as he silently appraises me. Again, I pray for a heart attack to save me from this moment, and most of all from myself.
“Thank you.” He finally says. “And who are you?”
My heart sinks. Of course – why would a man like him remember a girl like me? The schoolgirl inside me bursts into heartbroken tears, but I simply mumble my dejected, somewhat offended reply.
“I’m Tess Sartre. Your new P.A” I scold myself for being so meek.
“I hired a P.A?” He replies. “Good – you’ll come in handy in Chicago.” He finishes nonchalantly, and for a few minutes I forget how much of an ass-hole he’s being. Did he just say Chicago?
“Chicago, Sir?” I manage to stutter.
“Yes, I’ve got some urgent business to see to there. Apparently Hawkins thinks he can screw me on this merger…but enough of that – I assume you have an up to date passport?” He continues un-fazed, as if he asks women he doesn’t know to accompany him to the U.S.A on a daily basis. Though actually, that’s probably not far from the truth. I realise I’ve been quiet for a little while, and he’s probably expecting a reply.
“Yes, I do.” I reply automatically. Shit – did I just agree to go to America with my billionaire boss?
“Good. Then you’d best take the rest of the day off – we leave at 8pm. Nina will give you the details.” And with that he turns back to looking out of the window, and I take my cue to leave. I make my way to Nina’s desk feeling quite disconnected from reality.
“What happened?” Nina asks when she sees my pale, wide-eyed expression.
“I’m not exactly sure.” I reply. “But I think I’m going to Chicago.”
I gaze around at the blank, dirty-creme walls of my new bedroom, trying to stay optimistic. It’s not a big room by any stretch of the imagination, not even for a single, but I tell myself that’s not a problem - I’m not a big person, and I don’t have much stuff to fill the room with anyway. And then there’s the tiny, grime-encrusted excuse for a window, which is letting in less natural light than a ship’s porthole. But the landlord promised he’d be round to fix the light fitting tomorrow, so that’s not a problem either. And once I’ve unpacked my few boxes; and gotten to know my new housemates (three music school graduates - George, Gina and Harvey); and once I’ve found a job; and gotten used to the city, I’m sure I’ll feel right at home here in Bristol. I’ll just have to keep repeating that to myself that until it’s starts to feel true. At that moment a spring pops in the single, second-hand mattress on which I’m perched, bouncing up with a dull, resonating twang and jabbing me unexpectedly right in the behind. For a second I’m not sure whether I’m about to cry or burst into hysterical laughter. But then the first tear falls and before I know it I’m in the foetal position, my body shaking with self-pity as I clench my mouth and eyes closed against the oncoming storm of sobs. The last thing I need right now is for my three new peers downstairs to overhear my outburst, but after weeks of holding it all in I guess that, just like Yellowstone, I’ve been overdue for an eruption. All I can do is bury my face in my knees and try to muffle my crying as my tears slowly soak through my jeans.