Chapter 1: Dramatic Entrance
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2020 by Mysery. All rights reserved.
No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse-engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereafter invented, without the express written permission of Mysery.
Cover design and illustration by Mysery.
A New Me
When I awoke, the scarlet sun was slashing through the leaves of the magnolia outside my window. My adorable Abyssinian cat Harl was gone.
I checked the clock. Six thirty-nine.
“No way, ” I mumbled, drawing my knees to my chest and burrowing deeper beneath the duvet.
A weight hit my back. I ignored it.
A tongue like scouring brush scraped my cheek.
“Not now, Harl.”
Seconds later I felt a tug on my hair.
A reprieve, then the tugging continued.
I shot up and pointed a finger at her nose.
“Don’t chew my hair!”
My cat regarded me with round gold eyes.
Sighing dramatically, I threw back the covers and pulled on my summer uniform of shorts and a tee.
I knew giving in was providing it positive reinforcement but I couldn’t take it. It was the one trick that worked and the little bugger knew it. Whenever my alarm failed me, little Harl was there to get me up.
I ate a bowl of Fruit Loops then went through the mail while drinking coffee. Phone bill, rent, utilities. Nothing new. There was never anything new. But I always had the hope that someone would invite me to something. A birthday bash, a wedding, a baby shower. Of course, the few times I was invited to such events I never went. The idea was for the people in my last to remember I still existed.
I searched the fridge and found it lacking. I made a shopping list, fed the cat and went upstairs to take a shower. My work at Lionwell Construction Group was serious business. I wore a pin-striped suit and two-inch heels. Tiny gold earrings. My hair was pulled back into a bun on the top of my head and in my left hand, I carried a shiny black attaché case.
Those who knew me fifteen years ago, would not recognise me now. The first thing was the hair. After getting Dakota out of my life, I grew my hair to my waist and had regular black dye jobs once a month. I traded my ripped jeans and converse boots for suits tailored by Veronica Beard and Christian Louboutins. The black butterfly hoodie was a relic buried somewhere in my attic.
I drove my silver Mitsubishi Outlander to my office building in Surrey. Since completing my studies at Emily Carr, Canada had become my home. I was one of the senior architects at Lionwell Construction group. Our current vice president of the board was retiring and rumour had it that I was next in line for the spot. I had been working at Lionwell for the past twelve years and had risen through the ranks during that period. I first started working at Lionwell as an intern during my college days. By graduation day, I was convinced it was my home. I had always assumed I would go back to my father’s home in France and open up my own gallery but my corporate ambitions were making me wonder if my future had taken a different path. And becoming vice president was a big leap for me. It would make me the first woman to occupy the spot.
The Lionwell Construction Group building had forty floors and consisted of glass and steel offices. Everything was contemporary and minimalist. I had a corner office on the thirtieth floor and should I become the Vice President, I’d have the fortieth floor to share with the president. However the president of our company, Mr Lionwell did not actually have any official duties. He was a retired old goat who couldn’t let go of the company and did not allow any of the executives to own shares of the company. Beyond my job as a senior architect and company board member, I had no part in the stocks of Lionwell.
When I got to the thirtieth floor, I was greeted by my frumpy secretary whose name I could never get right. Her smile was strained and showed red lipstick in all the wrong places. I think her name was Karen or Billie or something else along those lines. I smiled back, with no teeth and thanked her for the coffee on my desk. My office was my second home. I spent seventy per cent of my life in it. The remaining thirty was in my bedroom at my house.
A large writing desk stood before a glass wall and there were bookshelves left and right from my desk. In the centre of my office, were two white armchairs and a matching short sofa across from them. A polished coffee table perched in the middle with fresh flowers next to a newspaper and some other documents in brown folders. The walls were lined in warm dark brown wood matching flooring. I had needed no professional help in decorating the office and I liked to think it was impressive for a woman in her early thirties.
I spread cream cheese over my bagel and drained my third cup of coffee that morning while reading the file on our prospective clients. The Aphelion Group was a chain of various different types of businesses worldwide. They had oil rigs in Cairo, barley farms in Algeria, gold in Peru, computers in China. Now they wanted to bring their business to Vancouver. The CEOs of the Aphelion Group were one of the most powerful billionaire couples in the world. They both came from wealthy Italian families, fell in love and built their company by combining their parents’ businesses. They started with pharmaceuticals in Florence and grew into a chain network of businesses. I had heard of Robert Ricci and Desiree Harmon. But I did not follow the tabloids and did not care much of them Born and bred in wealth, they did not sweat a drop for the money they lavished in. I was going over the file my boss had faxed over the weekend when my door opened without my permission.
“Hiya gumdrop,” a male voice chirped.
There were only two people in the world who could get away with barging in one me during work. One was my niece back home in Louisiana. The other was my best friend and partner in crime, George Galveston. George and I took the same architecture class at Emily Carr. When we first met, we were both trying to get the internship at Lionwell. We became immediate enemies, always trying to outdo the other. I was always a quarter-step ahead of George. One day he came to me asking for help, so I helped. Turned out we had a lot in common, we were one and the same and instantly became best friends.
“I see you got my flowers,” he said and took a single tiger lily from the bouquet and sniffing it. “I wish these were real.”
“Unless you want to turn me into a red-nosed blubbering mess, I suggest you stick to silk.”
“Then how about we replace Harl with a plastic cat,” he shot back.
I placed the file on my desk and crossed my legs. “What do you have against Harl?”
George looked at me incredulously, as though i was the dumbest person he knew. “You mean besides the fact that she’s constantly terrorizing me, she destroyed a one of a kind family heirloom that nearly got me divorced and she’s always getting in the way of our love.”
That’s right, George is a married man. Was, actually. He got divorced two years ago. But that was not because Harl destroyed his wife’s family inheritance. Turns out most women don’t approve of their husbands spending late nights at work with their female best friends. But George didn’t blame me for the divorce. He said his wife was a green-eyed monster and it was probably good they ended things early.
“Slow down, buster. Who said anything about love?” Of course, I was just messing with him. George and I did love each other, but it was not the romantic kind. He was more of a brother than a lover.
He picked a ball from the glass bowl full of them on the coffee table and tossed it in the air. He caught it easily- he played baseball in college. “You know you love me, gumdrop. It’s nothing to be shy about. And anyway I heard the office on the fortieth floor is yours.”
I mentally cheered. of course, I knew it.
“If you can wing in the Aphelion Group.”
I slumped in my swivel chair. “There’s a catch?”
Again with the look. Strike two. “There’s always a catch. If you sign this contract with the Aphelion group, we will be swimming in gold. Mr Lionwell might finally consider retiring and giving you more shares in the company.”
“Then I better start reading more about their CEOs. I have so much to learn,” I heaved a long sigh. I would have to learn a whole lot about the Ricci’s and in such a short time too.
“Do it quick,” George said. “I heard they are coming in today. Not this morning, late noon maybe. You know how famous people get, there’s going to be a fake emergency and everyone will evacuate the building so you guys can talk.”
During our short conversation, my friend had shifted from the armchair to the edge of my desk where he sat cross-legged for a few seconds and finally settled behind my massive chair. He petted my hair affectionately, the way I often did to Harl when we cuddled at night. “I’ll leave you to work.”
“Thanks, George,” I smiled up at him just before he disappeared behind my door. I phoned my secretary to bring me everything she could find on Robert Ricci and Desiree Harmon. They were the big fish, and it was going to take everything to reel them in. If I got them to sign off on the deal, it would be the ground-breaker I had been waiting for in my mostly stagnant career. I was not going to throw that opportunity away. That meant I needed a lot more coffee. I rang the secretary.
The conference room was one of the jazzier and more comfortable ones: lots of blue leather armchairs, a dark wood table and a wine coloured rug. The secretaries had brought in coffee and bottles of water. Tiny sandwiches sat on plates in front of us but no one was eating. As George had predicted, the building had been emptied and only the eleven board members of Lionwell remained in the building. Mr Lionwell himself had stepped out to bring the group we were expecting. My fingers were drumming on the table, and a few people glared at me. Perhaps I could have murmured apologies because I admit I was disturbing them, but I chose to glare back. The lights suddenly dimmed and a female gasped, I remained calm. Strobe lights began flashing all over the room. There was loud bass music bursting through the speakers and people were beginning to freak out. I remained calm, remembering something I had read in one of the files. The Ricci’s loved a dramatic entrance. The lights went flared back on. I closed my eyes. The noise died down and I heard the elevator door ding. When I opened them, I saw the CEOs of the Aphelion Group. They were number twelve on the Forbes list. Their combined network was thirty billion. I couldn’t imagine how rich the eleven people who had more money than them were.
I knew Desiree Harmon from the pictures. The blond woman had a full and arrogant mouth. she understood that no make-up was necessary for her. She was slender and narrow-waisted. She wore a dark red, cold shoulder jumpsuit and black Jimmy Choos that probably cost a hundred bucks a toe. Her blue eyes were calm and deep, untroubled, very sexy in their confidence. A gold-link necklace adorned her jutting collarbones.
So this was the one they called Aphrodite reincarnated. I could see from the way she stood that she was haughty and stuck-up. She thought of this as a waste of her time and would have been happy spending the day at the spa. The papers said she had a daughter. Four years old, named Erika. Desiree did not look like a mother. I took my attention to her husband.
Robert Ricci looked strangely familiar. It was not just his looks though, there was something about him that I recognised. Besides the pictures of him I had seen, there was something else very familiar about him. He wore a soft black cashmere turtleneck, charcoal grey trousers, which were pleated and cuffed, and light brown walking boots. His thick light brown hair was cut short, and he wore tortoise glasses. When he took off his sunglasses, I knew where I knew him from. I would never forget those hazel eyes. But how could that be? Robert Ricci looked exactly like my dead boyfriend from thirteen years ago.