Bonus Chapter 1: The Arrival of The Crazy One
Footsteps echo from the hall before the meeting door bursts open, revealing a man in his thirties wearing a blue blazer. Not expecting anyone to come just yet, Ashton shifts his gaze to the analog clock on the wall and leans back to the chair, displeased.
“Max, the meeting won’t start until three-thirty,” he says, reverting his eyes to his laptop screen.
“I know. I’m here just to drop a file.” Max walks in Ashton’s direction while waving a document in his hand. His eyes scan the desk in front of him. A coffee cup is sitting next to Ashton’s laptop and papers are scattered all over the table. Pursing his lips, Max places the document behind the cup. “Did some background checks, all came back positive. I also know her boss, and he said this woman is like a machine. We would be damned if we didn’t give her a shot. I’m going to hire her if I don’t find any red flags in her final interview.”
“Okay,” Ashton replies as he glances at the paper with a visible ‘Curriculum Vitae’ on its top page. For some reason, he’s compelled to take a double glance at the document, well, at the photo.
When he looks closer, a smiling brunette woman is staring back at him. She’s not actually grinning, but her pointy chin, thin lips, and button nose give her a joyful look as if she always smiles even when she doesn’t. But the thing that draws him to her is that intense pair of brown eyes. Did he meet her somewhere before? Those eyes feel familiar but the more he studies her face, the slivers of memory in his head start to slip away.
“Unless...” Max continues, “you have an objection about her.”
Max’s voice snaps Ashton back to the current moment. He shakes his head. “No. Why would I have any objections? When is the final interview?”
“Friday next week. Can you join us?”
“I’m afraid I will be out of town around that day.” Once again, Ashton glances at the Curriculum Vitae, deciding that he probably has bumped into her in a random place lately. It can’t be that important if he can’t recall where and when. “You guys go ahead without me. You know I trust your judgment, Max.”
“She’s the only candidate?”
“For now, yes. I will have Sebastian mentor her while Gina can go at full speed. Next term, we can bring in a new guy again once this new girl is ready to run solo.”
“Sounds good. I’ll have a quick look at it.”
After Max leaves the meeting room, Ashton picks up the document from the table and starts reading her resume.
Charlotte Garnett. 29. Five years as Marketing Executive. Multiple tasking, high-speed, creative, dependable, and eager to learn.
Today is not his day. A few complaints about the last batch delivery came in, which was enough to give him a headache to track what the source of the problem was. Also, having no one sitting at his executive assistant’s desk didn’t help. He starts to think maybe it wasn’t a good idea to fire his assistant without waiting for a replacement. But again, that boy is useless. He might help sort out the phone calls, but he always creates blunders with other things at the same goddamn time.
On top of that, his mother keeps bugging him about the family company that his sister is leading now. It has been three days and she doesn’t know when to stop.
“Please, Mother, I’ve had enough on my plate right now. Can we talk about this again on the weekend?” Ashton says when Danielle calls again for the fifth time today.
“No. This needs to be done today. Emily is on her way to your office now, bringing the document you need to sign.”
“I said let go of that branch. It’s just like a small tumor now if we keep it, but before we know it, it will be the cause of the fall out of the whole company. I won’t vote for it.”
“Tell Emily don’t bother to come. I won’t sign. Now I need to go.” Ashton ends the phone call, getting irritated every second. Why is it so hard for her to understand that running a business isn’t the same as running a family? It’s not about giving the favored child more chances than the others. It’s about the risk of sinking the rest of the ship with it. He can see what would come next if he agreed to pour extra funds to help the troubled branch.
Emily had better not show up if she knows what’s good for her, he thinks, glancing at the HD TV monitor on the wall at the other side of his office room. He has been letting the CCTV screen on since no one is sitting at the executive assistant’s desk at the moment. Knowing what’s going on at his doorway beforehand would come in handy.
To his surprise, instead of his blonde sister, a brunette girl is approaching his office with a document in her hand. The new Account Executive. Walking slowly to his door, her eyes are glued on whatever it is in front of her, as if it’s the most interesting invention on earth. Is she... studying the texture of his wooden door? Is she alright?
“Come in!” he says. “The door isn’t locked! Just go in!”
Instead of pushing the door open, she walks backward and checks the hall, looking confused.
“What the hell is she doing?” Ashton grumbles and gets up. When he yanks the door open, Charlotte Garnett is already back in front of the door with wide eyes and a gaping mouth.
Scowling, he extends his hand while eyeing the papers in her hand. “Ms. Garnett, try to be more efficient next time. I hate repeating myself.”
After getting over her dumbfoundedness, she finally replies, “I- I am sorry. I thought I heard a voice but I wasn’t sure.”
He raises his eyebrows. “You weren’t sure you heard a voice?”
“I mean I heard a voice but I wasn’t sure if it was you talking to me.”
“Do you have issues with hallucinations, Ms. Garnett?”
“Excuse me?” she asks, her brown eyes flash a disapproving glint.
“Hallucinations. Hearing things in your head.”
She narrows her eyes. “No, I don’t. I was just–” she looks around again “–curious. How did you know I was standing here?”
“Have you checked what is sitting above your head?”
She looks up and winces. “Oh.”
“Nice observation skills. I wonder how you will manage to get through your six months,” he says. “And I need coffee. Black, no sugar. Can you get that? Thank you.” With that, he takes the document from her hand and heads back to his desk.
When he’s on his chair again, a slightly guilty feeling pokes him as he realizes he was being too harsh to the new girl. He shouldn’t have lashed out at her like that. She wasn’t the cause of his shitty day after all.
She knocks on his door this time. Once he tells her to come in, she opens the door and walks in with a bright smile, a little too bright, her hand holding a saucer with a cup of coffee sitting on it.
While Ms. Garnett is busy assessing his office room, Ashton stands up and saunters to the other side of his desk. He slips his hands into his pockets and plops down at the corner of his table, crossing his legs while staring at the brunette in front of him.
“Your coffee, sir,” she says when her eyes land back on her boss’s face. Carefully, she puts the cup on his desk, next to his other empty cup. She looks nervous, making Ashton feel even more guilty. He must have scared her off.
He sighs. “I was being too harsh earlier. That was not very professional of me. I apologize for that.”
“And I didn’t mean to insult your skills. Max and I were through your profile and we agreed that you have the qualities that we’re looking for,” he adds. “I hope what happened today doesn’t give you the wrong idea. You know that things can be stressful and put a lot of strain on us, but most of the time, we are a solid team and we support each other.”
Slowly, she shifts her gaze to him and their eyes meet. Her clear brown eyes give him the twist in the guts.
“That’s fine. I understand that perfectly, Mr. Knight,” she replies, smiling. “And I’m looking forward to contributing to our team.”
Ashton smiles in relief and nods. “Excellent. I’ll see you tomorrow then.” With that, he turns around and heads back to his chair. For some reason, it’s better to keep it short and keep his distance from her.
He realizes that she is still standing at her spot when he sits down. Weirdly, the woman holds the other side of the saucer when he’s about to drag it closer. Frowning, he pulls the saucer harder but she’s still clutching it.
“I think you’re grabbing the wrong cup,” he says. “This is not the empty one.”
“Oh. My bad.” She giggles but refuses to let go.
Feeling annoyed, he glares at her. “What-”
“Am I interrupting something?” A feminine voice from the doorway prompts the two to stop the pulling competition and turn their heads to the source of the distraction.
Emily is here. Damn it, Ashton curses inwardly. “What are you doing here?” he growls.
His sister raises her eyebrows as she saunters in their direction. “Is that how you greet your sister after months of not making time to see her? Where have all your manners gone, my little brother?” She then turns her head to Ms. Garnett. “And she must be your new assistant. I didn’t know you’d changed your mind about having a female assistant.”
“It’s none of your business,” Ashton says curtly before shifting his gaze to Ms. Garnett. “You may leave, Ms. Garnett.”
“Yes, sir,” she answers, her hand grabbing the saucer once again.
“Ms. Garnett! Leave my cup on the table, please.”
She gulps. “Oh, yeah, sorry.” She grabs his empty cup instead and trudges to the door. What’s wrong with that woman?
Once Ms. Garnett leaves the room, Ashton shifts his attention to his sister fully. “I’m gonna make it short and clear for you, Emmy. I’m not signing it, and it’s final.”
“I’m here to make a deal with you, Ashton.”
“You sign this, and you’ll get the highest shared profit from this branch. I would say fifty percent. Mom, Dickson and I will split the rest.”
Ashton shakes his head. “No.”
“My last offer. Sixty.”
“What do you want then?”
“Get rid of it.”
“You can’t? Or you don’t want to?”
Emily takes a deep breath, looking irritated. “What does it matter? Why do you care? You’re not signing it, are you?”
“Damn right I’m not.” Ashton leans back to his chair. “You see, Emmy, handling a business is nothing like raising kids. It’s not about continuing to support your favorite child.”
“It’s because of him, isn’t it? He begged you to give him another chance?” Ashton shoots. “I still don’t get why you still keep seeing that man. You’re now the CEO for god sake. That’s a stupid move.”
Anger flashes in Emily’s eyes. “It’s not because of him. And it’s not your goddamn business!”
“It is when you make me pay for this.”
“You know what? Screw this! Screw you!” Emily says. “You’ll see I’ll find a way.”
Ashton chuckles. “I’d love to see that.”
“And I’ll prove you wrong.”
“I’ll be waiting for the day to arrive.” Ashton grins at his sister mockingly.
“Stop smiling, you stupid face!”
Ashton grins wider just to challenge his sister, but before he can say anything, Emily grabs the cup on his desk and throws the contents at him.
It burns. And it doesn’t stop. It’s not normal.
After his sister threw the hot coffee at his face and left, Ms. Garnett ran back into his office. The next hour went in a blur. Ms. Garnett sprinted to the pantry to grab a carton of milk and a cloth to help soothe the smoldering feeling across his skin. Once she handed him his extra shirt, he went to the restroom to fix the mess his sister made.
It’s been an hour since Ms. Garnett left and the prickling sensation is still there, distracting him from focusing on his work. Something is wrong. It can’t be just a hot coffee that caused this, it must be something else. Did Emily spray pepper water while throwing the cup at his face? No, not that he can recall. Her other hand was holding the document.
The corner of Ashton’s eye twitches when a realization comes down on him like a bucket of ice. Did that new girl do this? Did she put something in his coffee?
After pressing 3-5-4 on his intercom, a voice vibrates from the other side of the line. “Security division, Nathan’s speaking.”
“Mr. Knight. What can I do for you?”
“I need the footage from our pantry’s CCTV. Around three hours ago.”
In the next thirty minutes, Ashton narrows his never-ending twitching eyes on the monitor screen in front of him. Charlotte Garnett is standing by the pantry’s counter, talking to herself like a disturbed person, while pouring the rest of the red liquid from a small bottle in her hand into his cup.
The first thing that comes up in his head is firing her once she steps into this building tomorrow morning. But the other part of him has a better idea. She’s tried to burn his throat with that thing, now he’s going to show her how he burns her ass.