6. Double Trouble!
Marcus chuckled, dodging my playful swing at him as he helped me sort my stuff before I left for my final interview at Sterling Headquarters. My insides were again assaulted by another wave of nerves at that thought, but this time the excitement of it all overwhelmed it quite easily.
“Seriously though, you keep your bitch in check! That shit is not going to fly.”
I rolled my eyes, “This isn’t my first rodeo, Marc. Besides, it has taken a lot to get where I am today. Not ditching that for anyone or anything.”
“You do you, girl! I’m so damn proud of you.” He smiled, handing me a brown paper bag and my travel mug. “Here, I packed you a bagel and coffee to go. Oh, and Ryan called me. Your car will be ready by this afternoon so you can pick it up later today or I can do it for you.”
“Are you sure? I really don’t know how long I’ll be, plus you got a meeting.”
“Don’t worry about all that. We are good. You just focus on smashing that interview today and leave the rest to me.”
Isn’t he the sweetest?
“Oh, Marc, what would I do without you?” I hugged him, planting a kiss on his cheek.
“Probably would live in the subway among the homeless.”
“Well, ain’t that the truth?” I snorted, chucking his fob at him.
“As I’ll ever be!”
Sterling & Hewlett. Here I come...
AT S&H HEADQUARTERS
My pulse quickened as I walked into the tall, sleek skyscraper at quarter to nine, sharp. Though I had already been here twice, the grandiosity around never ceased to amaze me. State-of-the-art architecture, polished and elegant interiors but most importantly their investment in Green Innovation for the betterment of the environment always impressed me. But the name which graced the newspapers and media outlets regularly for its achievements was now in news for a rather shaky start this fiscal year instead.
It had been speculated that ever since Edmund Stanley took the reins as the CEO about a year ago, things hadn’t quite been the same. The company had been doing well in the stock exchange, expectedly so, but then stock prices didn’t always show the accurate picture of a company. Foul play was suspected, which, in a company like S&H Inc., was difficult, if not impossible, and hence my arrival. Now that I was here, getting to the root of things shouldn’t take long. I specialized in it, after all.
Walking to the receptionist’s desk, I checked in my reference ID, who later sent me in with a visitor’s key card to access the elevator to reach the top floor. So, when the door slid open, I stood straight with intent, knowing that this office was everything I’d hoped it would be, and more.
It opened to an immense room with floor-to-ceiling glass windows occupying the corner of the building, giving views to the east of Fifth Avenue and Central Park just two blocks to the north.
Upon arriving, I was greeted by a lady with jet black hair and green cat eyes, who introduced herself as Hannah, assistant to the CEO. She escorted me into his office through a wide double door.
“Sir, Ms. Bradford is here,” Hannah informed a man in his mid-forties, who I knew was Edmund Stanley, the newly named CEO and the son of the Chairman, Franklin Stanley.
Looking up from the files he had been studying, Mr. Stanley took off his glasses and wore a soft smile while addressing me, “Ms. Bradford, Edmund Stanley.” Our hands met for a firm shake, “A pleasure to meet you. Please have a seat.”
“The pleasure is all mine, thank you.”
“Ms. Bradford, I believe you already know the purpose of your employment,” he stated as a matter-of-factly, diving straight into business without wasting a breath.
“Yes, I am aware.”
Giving a curt nod, he continued, “I have seen your résumé and your track record is impeccable. I must admit, I’m almost impressed.”
Leaning back, he regarded me for a moment before speaking again, “Ms. Bradford, I’ll be frank with you here.” He glanced down at the paperwork in his grasp, “As much as you have quite a decorated resume, I still have my reservations considering your success is limited to companies of much smaller scale and this is S&H. I mean, can you even handle it?”
My brows cocked slightly at his implied judgement and I realised modesty wasn’t Edmund Stanley’s strong suit, unlike his father. Pulling that trained smile on my face, I replied calmly, “With all due respect, Mr. Stanley, I let my actions speak for itself. I won’t sit here and claim things I might or might not deliver. You have my file in your hands and my skill bank at your disposal.”
He looked at me with an expectation of adding something more to my brief reply, but I was done speaking and that little power shift led to forming a small crease of annoyance across his temple.
“You’re being a tad confident here, Ms. Bradford.” He paused momentarily before huffing out a shaky breath, that shift in his demeanor being much in contrast to the words spoken a moment earlier. “Our reputation is on the line here, this has to be carried out discreetly. My father might swear by your agency, but I’m still in two minds if you are cut out to work in a company of such a grand scale. Think you have got what it takes to tackle this?”
My intrigue about this whole situation only grew with every passing moment and every word spoken. The mixture of condescension and an undertone of apprehension was making me wonder whether Edmund and his father were in agreement about this little arrangement, piquing my curiosity further.
“Mr. Stanley, I never claimed to be the only one who was able to do the job. I’m sure you have alternatives at your disposal. I can, however, assure you that I’m the one who can perform the task with minimal use of your resources, and that is where my confidence in my skills lies.” And because a not so gentle reminder was in order, I added with a smile, “Besides, my assistance was specifically requested by your company after all, unless you are in two minds about the competence of your own people, too.”
His mouth dropped slightly in surprise which quickly morphed into annoyance. Edmund Stanley looked less than impressed at my blunt answers, but then, this was not a regular interview either. I wasn’t a usual candidate who was chasing the job; rather, the company was chasing me. I didn’t need him; he needed me, and this skeptical attitude from him was not sitting well with me. Sure, for the very same reasons he had described, I was slightly nervous, but that didn’t make me any less capable.
“Very well, then. I hope you’ll be able to live up to your reputation.” He stood up prompting me to do the same and we shook our hands once again, this time to seal the deal, “Welcome to S&H Inc. We are glad to have you here with us.”
His words failed to match his tight smile though.
Signing a few papers, he pushed them towards me, “my PA, Hannah, is going to escort you to the HR floor to complete the remaining formalities. We have discussed remuneration and work duties with you already. This just puts it all on paper. A copy of it would be sent to your agency, too.”
I nodded, taking the paper off his desk.
“If you have any question regarding the company policies, our HR will be more than happy to walk you through it. Have you got any other questions about your job?”
“Thank you. Just the one. Who else knows about this?”
“I was just coming to it.”
He picked up his phone and called his PA to ask her to have someone in his office by the name of Maynard. I wondered who it was.
“The team you’d be joining is led by one of my most trusted men within the company. We operate in cross-functional teams, meaning that the team consists of individuals from various departments with different functional expertise to allow effective and more productive use of our resources.”
“I see. I have worked in one such team before.” I said.
“Great, so you must be well aware of the dynamics within one. Now, the person whose position you’d be seemingly filling used to work closely with the team head, which means you’d do the same.”
“Does that mean he is aware of everything?” I asked, curious if he was going to be my insider partner for the case.
“Not yet, but he will be, once we introduce you to him. You both would handle this together.”
Just then, I heard the doors open and someone asking if he should come in later, presumably because I was already here.
“Come in, Maynard. Good Morning. I was waiting for you.” Edmund greeted him.
“Morning, Edmund. Is everything alright?”
First name basis...
His voice sounded familiar though but I couldn’t seem to place it.
“Oh yes, of course. Treyton, I wanted to introduce you to someone, meet Ms. Bradford. She’ll be replacing Stana, which means she’s going to be working with you on the same team. Ms. Bradford, meet Treyton Maynard, the head of your team.”
Taking a deep breath, I turned around, plastering the brightest smile I could manage only for it to disappear as soon as I caught the glimpse of the man who stood before me.
Oh, sweet baby Jesus!
This can’t be fucking happening! I was not supposed to see him again!
Why God? Why?
Am I a joke to you?
Get a grip, Aloyna!
Those earthy brown eyes were still just as intense as they were the other night and when he saw me, they flashed with surprise for a moment before he schooled his expression, quick enough to prevent Edmund Stanley to take notice.
“Treyton Maynard.” He greeted smoothly.
“Aloyna Bradford. A pleasure to meet you.” I plastered that trained smile on again, trying for the sake of professionalism.
A beat of silence passed between us, the awkward tension thick in the air and it was Edmund who finally broke it and for the first time since my arrival, I was grateful for him speaking, “Miss Bradford, as discussed, please speak to HR about your date of joining and the rest of the details. I apologize but I’ve got a meeting to attend, so a detailed discussion wouldn’t be possible today. But, the three of us should soon set a date for the meeting, preferably on the day you officially join and we’ll see where it goes. In the meantime, why don’t you acquaint yourself with Treyton here and he can give you a rundown on how things work overall.” He shifted his attention towards Treyton, ” Maynard, hope that’s okay?”
Please say no, please say no.
Our gazes met, and a glimpse of mischief sparkled in his eyes before returning to his stoic self, and I knew that I was screwed. This guy will be on a mission to make my job a hell lot more difficult than it needed to be.
“Alright, then. You both may head out and Maynard, let’s have a lunch meeting. There are important issues to be addressed.” The look both men shared at that moment made me curious. I wished I could be a fly on the wall for that specific conversation...
As we both walked towards the door, I noticed Treyton quickly moving ahead to hold it open for me and I debated if I should thank him for this little act of chivalry or rip him a new one for that sexist move. So I settled for something in between, a thank you with a small scowl.
He looked at me with amusement and as he was about to speak up Hannah’s voice rang out, drawing both of our attention.
“Miss Bradford?” She shifted her gaze to Treyton, as she subtly swept her tongue across her bottom lip, batting her lashes for good measure before greeting him, “Mr. Maynard.”
Looked like Edmund’s assistant had a thing for Treyton - that suggestive look she sent his way made me wonder if these two had something more going on behind the office doors. I wouldn’t put it past him though. Blergh!
But when I caught a glimpse of him, he looked rather annoyed and uncomfortable at the exchange, putting a good distance between them. I wondered if it was because of my presence. He returned the greeting rather gravely, “Hannah.”
“Mister Stanley asked me to discuss a few things with you about the agenda of the team meeting today so if you could come with me for a few minutes?” Hannah asked with that same provocative smile.
He heaved out a sigh before nodding and Hannah turned towards me, “Miss Bradford if you don’t mind waiting for a couple of minutes. I’ll be right back with you.” Her eyes shifted to address Treyton, “Shall we?”
He responded with a tight smile, “After you,” and I felt a twinge of anger seeing him extend the same form of chivalrous courtesy to her as well.
Wait. What the heck was wrong with me? I reckoned my brain was short-circuiting then.
And, even though I had done my hardest not to take a look in their direction, my eyes ended up fixating on the pair anyway. While they were busy in their chatter, I had allowed myself to actually take him in. Wearing a perfectly pressed white shirt under a three-piece tailored to perfection, everything about his appearance was immaculate, contrasting his ensemble the other night. Even then, his disheveled state only added to his rugged good looks but this crisp, confident visage that exuded authority and power made him almost irresistible. The way he stood, tall and so damn proud like he owned the place. I couldn’t seem to pry my eyes away, because as much as I despised him, fuck, he was infuriatingly handsome.
But then, his looks probably opened all the doors to numerous willing ladies around here looking for an office fuck, too. That’s how it works, right?
Why? Damn it! This situation was delicate enough. An overbearing, flirtatious asshole of a partner was the last thing I needed. This man was a walking and breathing form of trouble, and now I had to face this trouble every day.
Every. Single. Day!
And to add to my misery, he was the guy who was going to be my insider partner, the person with whom I had to closely work with. Team head meant he’d be my boss, too.
The same guy I’d almost decided to take home. Oh my God!
That’s double the trouble! I was so fucking screwed.
A throat clearing pulled me out of my frantic thoughts to realize the pair had returned, “Are you okay, Miss Bradford? You look kind of pale,” he asked in a concerned voice but the slight tilt of the corner of his mouth did not escape me.
“I’m fine, thank you.” I shifted my attention to Hannah, “Mr. Stanley said you’d escort me to the HR floor. If you’re ready...”
“Oh yes, of cour--”
“Actually...” Treyton cut her off, “You can stay back, Hannah. I can take Miss Bradford to the HR floor. We could acquaint with each other better and I was going there anyway.”
What the fuck?
“Mr. Maynard... ” Hannah protested but Treyton cut her off again.
“It’s alright. Besides, you’ve got two files to prepare by lunch, figured it would buy you some time too.” He smiled at a very conflicted looking Hannah who now looked between the two of us with a small scowl on her face.
Great! I hadn’t even joined yet and had already made an enemy. Just what I needed.
The sound of heels clicking against the tiled floor echoed as Hannah walked over, pressed a few buttons on a panel and the elevator door slid open.
And as we both got into it for a long elevator ride, my mind raced with the different possibilities of how the entire trip could go and none looked too well.
Treyton had been professional so far, and part of me wondered if he was smart or stupid enough to pretend Friday night never happened but then he hadn’t gotten me alone. But I knew, there was a good chance that he was going to be back to his persistent ways once the doors slid shut.
And it so turned out, my thoughts hadn’t strayed too far off, after all, his tall frame shifting to look at me in the eyes the very next moment, speaking in that same deep and slightly rough voice.
“Ms. Aloyna Bradford. So, we meet again...”