Chapter 1: We need to talk.
My brother Jake always says I should stop doing what I need to do, and start doing what I want to. I usually just nod my head at that, although I know that it’s easier said than done.
Life doesn’t work that way, unfortunately.
But today, today is the day I decide to listen to his words. Because I’ve had it with my coworkers bothering me all day long, with ignoring the sexist comments from my boss, and I definitely had it with the inappropriate touches from the men in this goddamn place…
“I quit,” I say with as much conviction as I can find, throwing my apron on the desk.
“What? Come on, Alice, you know we don’t mean…”
“I don’t care what you mean. I’m out of here. Go find another cook that will put up with your bullshit. I’m done.”
My boss - well, former boss - looks like I just slapped him in the face. And honestly? I wish I did.
But instead, I flip him the bird before spinning around and heading toward the door. I rush out of that shithole, leaving my career, but most of all this mountain of pent up rage in the kitchen I called my workplace for three years now, behind.
For the first time in years, I feel liberated, confident, and so content with my decision that I enjoy every breath I take, the fresh oxygen triggering a sense of revival in my very being.
“Okay, so let me get this right… You got fired and now you want to follow your dreams and passions and be a photographer? What did you go to culinary school for?”
My best friend Felix speaks as he takes a sip of his wine and studies me with wide eyes, obviously being as surprised as I am about my actions last week.
“First of all, I didn’t get fired. I quit. And you know I only took that job because I had to bring money to the bank. Now that Jake is able to take care of himself I don’t need that anymore. My passion has always been photography, but it’s a very unreliable and insecure business, so I did what I had to do to get Jake his scholarship,” I answer while refilling our glasses with the top-shelf Chardonnay he brought today.
“And now that he got that you decided to get your ass fired?!” he asks again, but I just roll my eyes before I answer, “Again, I didn’t get fired. And it certainly isn’t my fault that those people don’t know that it’s inappropriate to grope the twenty-seven-year-old cook when she doesn’t want it.”
Felix sighs and gives me a quick side hug before I turn around to take care of the dinner I prepare for us. “I know. I’m sorry for questioning you, it’s just… That’s not you, you know?”
I turn back around to look at him as the veggies sizzle in the pan, the scent of curry lingering in the air when I sigh. Felix has been my best friend since kindergarten, he basically raised Jake with me after my parents left us with nothing when I turned eighteen.
“Yeah, and that’s exactly why I don’t want to keep doing this. I’ve been doing everything by plan since I was twelve. I’m sick of accepting my fate.”
“I know, it’s just… I don’t want you to rush into something and be disappointed if it doesn’t work out.”
“Felix,” I raise my eyebrows, “Has anything in my life ever worked out the way I planned it?”
His only response is a quiet chuckle and I just shrug before I continue, “Yeah, exactly. I need to start living my life the way it lets me. I don’t want to be stuck in this apartment now that Jake is gone. I need to get out there, live a little.”
He gives me another side hug, rubbing my back before he speaks again, “Yeah, I know. You’re right, sorry. You know I’m a worrier.”
It’s true. He always worried for the both of us, while I neither had the time nor the energy to do so. “Yes. And I’m the warrior, so stop worrying.” I wink and he laughs in response, moving to the cupboards to grab the plates I sneaked out of the restaurant. I guess that place had something good, after all…
“Alright, now tell me about that interview you got tomorrow,” he insists as I serve the food and hand him both plates, now graced by roasted veggies, potatoes, and a steak.
“Okay, so.” We clink our wine glasses when we settle on the table before I continue, “It’s this guy that developed a website that’s something like Tumblr or maybe Instagram, but it’s basically photographers writing blogs about their pictures. Every photographer’s dream, basically.”
“That does sound amazing,” he swallows some veggies, “Loving the food, by the way.”
“Thank you. You know, I happen to be a chef.” I wink as he takes another bite. “Okay, well. That guy looks for another blogger apparently. He did say there were some conditions that would need personal discussion, but I’m sure I’ll be able to handle that. I’m surprised I even got the interview, considering I’m like zero experienced professionally.”
“Well, maybe your application just stood out. You are pretty good with words.”
“Yeah, that’s true. We will see what they tell me tomorrow, I guess.”
“I’ll light a candle for you,” he says with a smile, and I just laugh while rolling my eyes internally. Felix has a hang to spirituality and thinks candles can help with anything.
I don’t personally believe in that stuff, but if it makes him feel better, why not?
I wake up the next morning to my blaring alarm, my arm immediately stretching out beneath the covers to shut it up. “Ughh…” I groan when I finally find it before I hide under the covers.
No, I’m not a morning person.
“Oh fuck. The interview!” I suddenly remember what day it is.
“Shit…” After I basically crawl into the shower and wash away the smell of white wine from yesterday’s dinner, I already feel just a little better. To give my body a boost I turn the water ice-cold for just a second, but long enough for me to yelp and jump out of the shower.
Yeah, I’m definitely awake now.
I mentally thank my past-self for laying out the clothes I wanted to wear today, a white blouse and blue blazer, combined with some black pants and my favorite leather boots. Deciding I’ll go with the natural look today I let my blonde hair fall over my shoulders, it will air dry on the way to the place anyway.
Right on time I grab my coffee-to-go mug and jump into my truck, my phone ringing the second I sit down.
“My candle is lit and ready to do its magic. Now go and do yours. I believe in you!” Felix’s message pops up on my screen and I can’t help but laugh before I send a quick reply. “Houdini is on his way to the sorcerer’s office! Thanks for the vote of confidence, hun xx”
The drive to the office goes by in no-time, but I still rush into the building, considering I have no idea where to go and still have to ask for Mr. Howell’s office. After doing just that and being sent to the twenty-second floor I rush into the elevator whose doors are about to close behind me, but I still slip inside, making it just in time, only to slam into something very hard as soon as the doors close behind me.
“Ouch!” The impact makes me stumble and in order to steady myself, I reach for the wall, dropping my mug in the process. The lid breaks, splashing coffee all through the elevator and on my clothes. “Fuck!”
I look at my boots, which now are definitely ruined.
It’s that kind of a day, huh…
The dark blue of my outfit luckily covers up most of the coffee stains, and so I just button up my blazer before picking up the mug from the floor.
“Are you fucking serious right now?!” A deep and raspy voice echoes through the confined space, and I instantly stop rubbing the stains on my pants.
Oh shit. There’s someone in here?
I look up and see Adonis himself standing there, dark hair, chiseled jaw, and blue eyes filled with rage directed at me. If he looked a bit angrier I wouldn’t be surprised if steam came out of his ears, honestly.
“Oh, shit. I’m sorry, did I ruin your shirt?” I immediately fiddle with my purse, trying to find a tissue to help the poor god out.
“Jesus Christ, woman! This is not about my clothes. You’re cutting off my blood flow!” He points to his feet and just now do I realize I have been digging my heel into his right foot.
“Oh, fuck. Sorry!” Quickly releasing his foot from my weight I take a step back, hoping I won’t provoke him much more that way. I don’t need this energy now.
Energy? God, I sound like Felix…
The guy in front of me scoffs and steps forward as well, creating as much space between us as possible.
What a rude jerk…
I’m glad he doesn’t say anything for the rest of the ride, this way I can focus on cleaning me up as good as I can, although I do feel the jerk’s eyes on me when I bend over to try and salvage my boots. His eyes literally burn into me for several minutes, and I guess it’s not only my newfound confidence but also the experiences of the past years that make me snap my head up, glaring at him the second our eyes meet. “Take a picture, it’ll last longer.”
It’s obvious he didn’t expect this kind of reaction from me, his eyes widen and he’s about to say something when the elevator doors open, but then he suddenly looks away and steps out.
Just then do I notice the display, announcing we’ve arrived on the twenty-second floor, and so I rush out after him, barely making it out the doors as I almost bump into the stranger again. I manage to stop myself, but he seems to have noticed because he suddenly turns around, raising an eyebrow while his eyes still shoot daggers at me.
“You following me or something?”
I can’t help but scoff at his words. “Pfft. Don’t flatter yourself.”
He shoots me another glare before rushing away, and as he stalks down the corridor I notice he’s not as quick as I thought he would be, his left leg dragging behind just slightly.
I shake off the thought and look for the receptionist, the rude man luckily is nowhere to be seen when I find her. “Good morning. I need to find Mr. Howell.”
She doesn’t even regard me for a second, just points for the door at the end of the hall before going back to typing something on her keyboard. “Well… Thank you.” I mumble before I follow her directions.
There is some commotion coming from behind the door when I reach the office, so I decide to wait until it simmers down a bit before I do anything.
A couple of minutes later the noises are gone and I get up to knock on the door when suddenly it flies open, the hunk of a man from the elevator crashing right into me with such a force that I immediately fall on my ass.
“Shit! Can’t you look where you’re going?!” I almost yell at him now.
“Oh, now you want to tell me to be cautious?! Should’ve thought of that when you ran into me in that elevator, huh?!”
He doesn’t even help me. Instead, he just steps over me like I’m some kind of obstacle for him, a piece of trash on the ground.
“Way to be fucking rude, asshole.” I can’t help my mood anymore. This guy is blatantly treating me like shit. I won’t let that happen anymore.
But then he turns around again, his eyes full of rage as he takes a small but threatening step toward me.
Is he going to punch me?!
He just looks at me until something behind me catches his attention, and I follow his glance to see the very man I’m supposed to have my interview with right now standing in the doorframe, studying the situation with curiosity.
Why is no one helping me up? Fucking hell…
The angry man suddenly walks away and I take that as my cue to get up and straighten out my clothes before I reach my hand out to Mr. Howell.
“Hello, Mr. Howell. Sorry about this little encounter, I just…”
“Ah, don’t worry about it, Miss Epione. He can be a little… Cruel, at times.”
“Yeah,” I watch how the stranger walks around the corner before I look back at my potentially future boss in front of me, “I noticed that.”
He gives me a smile and waves me inside his office, telling me to come in. I follow him inside the fancy but dark looking room and take a seat opposite to him.
“So, Miss Epione. Nice name, by the way,” he remarks as sits down.
“Thank you. My teachers always said I should become a doctor - God of healing and all.”
Mr. Howell only responds with a nod before he pours me a glass of water, his eyes still glimmering with curiosity as they take me in.
“Tell me a bit about yourself.”
Okay, I guess this is it.
And so I tell him about the small jobs I did, obviously trying to make them sound as big as possible. I also tell him about my brother and my cooking experience, and I have to admit he does look very content with what I’m telling him.
After asking me a few more questions, which I luckily prepared for and can answer in a heartbeat, he suddenly leans back on his chair, once again eyeing me before he speaks, “Okay, Miss Epione. I have a suggestion for you.”
I nod, taking a deep breath while I come to the realization that this is it. This is what I’ve been waiting for.
“I like you,” he admits, “I like your photography style and the way you write is very funny and charming. I would love to offer you the position of a blogger in our firm.”
“What?!” I almost jump out of my seat, “Really?!”
This is real. I can’t believe it.
Mr. Howell just laughs before he speaks again, “Yes, well. There is one condition though.”
“Anything. Just tell me what it is, I’m in.”
As soon as the words leave my mouth I regret them, the mischievous smirk on his face tells me this might be something I won’t particularly like.
“There’s a reason I picked your application, despite your talent. You have skills that you will need if you agree.”
“To move in with my son,” he says as if that wasn’t a big deal.
“Excuse me, what?”
“Yes. You said your brother moved out so now you can move somewhere else. I need someone to cook for my son and to… Well… Put him in his place every now and then. It would be like a roommate, no strings attached, really. Except for the cooking because I’m sure he’d starve if he tried to cook on his own.”
He smirks, and now I even have to chuckle a bit as well.
I mean, this can’t be too bad, right? It sounds like he’s just some boy who needs to grow up. I can do that.
“Why doesn’t he live with you?” The question suddenly pops into my mind.
“We want him to, but he doesn’t feel comfortable anymore. He wants to be on his own.”
Ah… I guess I get that. Jake wanted to be all grown up in a flash, too.
“When would I move in? And for how long?”
“The beginning of next month - meaning in a week. And it would only be six months, so until he’s back on his feet. You won’t have to pay rent, of course.”
I nod and take a deep breath… Can I do this? Just moving in with a stranger?
And what does he mean with ‘until he’s back on his feet’?
I told Felix I wanted to live life on my own terms. And even though moving in with a stranger wasn’t really my plan, getting this job was. And I really want to have this job so I can live my dream.
“Well,” I finally sigh, “I guess I can try, right?”
That makes him laugh and he gets up to shake my hand. “My wife will be very pleased to know you said yes. I know it’s a lot to ask for.”
“I will do my best,” I reassure him after I shake his hands and grab my purse.
“I’m sure you will. My assistant will contact you with all the details. The day after you moved in will be your first day of work, and you can switch between home office and being here, that’s your choice. Just let me know so I know how to reach you.”
“That’s perfect. Thank you.”
We say our goodbyes and I rush to the elevator with a skip in my steps. Shooting a quick text to Felix I walk out of the building, a huge grin on my face. “I got the job!!! I’ll tell you about the details later. xx”
But as I stand in the parking lot, spotting my truck right where I left it, I notice the rude man leaning against my hood.
What the hell?!
I walk over there with purpose, absolutely not needing this man to ruin my mood. “Can I help you?!” I ask when I almost reach him, but the man just takes a step forward and grabs my wrist before he pushes me against the passenger door, planting his hands next to my head.
“What the hell?!”
But he doesn’t regard my question, he just stands in front of me, his body only inches away from mine. I can smell cigarettes and coffee on his breath, a pair of dog tags hanging loosely around his neck. I wonder if he served or if he’s one of the douchebags that wear them for fashion.
Then he leans in, and I don’t know why, but I suddenly feel myself shiver, his body heat smashes into me with how close he stands to me.
Fuck, Alice. Get it together!
His mouth finds my ear and he whispers into it, his dark and raspy voice sending another shiver down my spine, “Miss Epione…” My heart starts thundering in my chest and I hear he’s breathing heavily when his warm breath meets my neck. I basically have to press my legs together in order to contain my arousal right now, this Adonis definitely has a dangerous effect on me.
“We need to talk.”