I took a deep breath and downed the rest of my drink in a single large gulp, hoping to jar my mind into action. As attractive as he was, pursuing him was not an option. All my reservations aside, I'd barely escaped our conversation without being exposed, and somehow I doubted he'd be so friendly if he knew the truth.
Besides, there was something almost terrifying about the way my body responded to him. Even now, I couldn't shake the image of those piercing eyes from my mind.
Glancing around, I suddenly became aware of how exposed I was. Nobody else in the room was standing alone. None of the guests had taken notice yet, but some of the staff were giving me strange looks. I knew I should take the opportunity to get the hell out of dodge, but I wasn't quite ready to face the girls just yet. The alcohol, the adrenaline, the lingering arousal; it was a potent cocktail. My mind was reeling. I needed somewhere to regroup.
"Excuse me," I said, to a pretty brunette behind the bar who was busy shaking up a lurid cocktail the colour of toxic waste, "where are the bathrooms?"
She gestured vaguely to the back of the room. "Just over there."
I walked briskly, doing my best not to make eye contact with anyone. The girl's directions hadn't been very clear, but eventually I found an open doorway stashed in the far corner of the room. On the other side lay a corridor that ran for thirty feet and then hooked off to the right. There were no signs of any bathrooms.
I debated doubling back, but I hadn't seen any other likely openings. I figured they were just deeper in. So I began to explore.
For a moment after rounding the corner, I thought I'd found what I was looking for. The next hallway was lined with doors. But as I drew closer, I saw that rather than 'Gents' or 'Ladies', they were all marked with heavy brass name tags bearing identical logos. Not bathrooms. Personal offices.
My eyes darted back down the passage as I suddenly became aware of where I was. Sneaking into a party was one thing, but prowling through corporate property was quite another. It was a strange location to put offices, but I didn't have time to puzzle it out. If caught, I'd be in serious trouble.
I turned to go, but it was too late. Voices began to echo up the corridor from the direction I'd come. My heart leapt up into my throat. I was cut off.
Even as panic set in, my mind began hunting for an escape. Running was out of the question with all that security, and the deeper I went into the building, the more trouble I'd likely be in if found. I could try talking my way out, but I'd already had my share of close calls tonight and my lies wouldn't hold up under any real scrutiny. That left only one choice that I could see.
I dove for the nearest door. The voices were getting louder. They sounded like they were just around the bend. By some miracle, the door wasn't locked. I yanked it open, threw myself inside and pulled it shut as softly as my shaking hands would allow. It closed with a quiet but audible click.
I held my breath and pressed my ear against it. The conversation was muted through the thick timber, but it sounded as though the speakers had stopped moving. I could hear them talking — arguing it sounded like — somewhere to my left.
I exhaled slowly, taking the moment's respite to study my hiding place. Having seen the bar outside, the office was no surprise. Opulent, masculine, and sophisticated. The floor was polished wood, the furniture sparse but beautiful, and all of it looked almost too old for anyone to actually risk using. Everything the owner could want was within reach, from a well-stocked bar to an en-suite to a small built-in wardrobe filled with pressed suits. I could probably have lived there and been relatively comfortable.
After a minute had passed, the voices still hadn't moved. Maybe they'd gone into one of the other offices. With any luck that would be as close as they came. All I had to do was wait them out.
Seemingly in no immediate danger, I slipped off my shoes and moved to explore the room a little. It was unlikely they'd hear my footsteps, but I wasn't taking any chances.
There was a laptop open on the desk with a password prompt on the screen. The user name read 'S.Lock'. Well Mr Lock, your office is a hell of a lot neater than mine.
Next to the computer was a single stack of papers. Unable to stop myself, I thumbed through the top couple of sheets. At first, I thought it might have been some kind of joke, because the front page was stamped 'Top Secret' in bright red ink, but as I skimmed through it, I began to get the sense that there might be more to it. If it was a hoax, it was an incredibly detailed one. It seemed to be some kind of internal US government document. The content was largely alien to me — most of it had to do with oil in the Middle East — but as I ran my eyes over it, I got the distinct sense that it was a dangerous thing to be reading.
I was so focused on those pages that I nearly missed the sound of voices echoing up the hallway once more. By the time I noticed, they were right outside the door.
Reacting purely on instinct, I scooped up my shoes and bolted for the nearest hiding spot; the cupboard. It was close, but I narrowly made it. The latch clicked shut behind me moments before I heard the rattle of a handle being turned. My pulse was hammering in my ears.
"—don't care what you do, I just need you to take care of it. Losing those panels will put us months behind schedule."
My stomach sank even lower. I knew that elegant voice. S.Lock. I hadn't just stumbled through any door. This was Sebastian's office.
Shit shit shit.
How unlucky could I get?
I crouched down, putting my eyes level with a row of slats towards the bottom of the door, and the room sprung into view. Sebastian was pacing behind the desk, talking to another man who was leaning against the door frame.
"I'll do what I can, but it's not like they left a nice polite note or anything," said the visitor. "It's going to take a little time."
"Well, not getting them back is not an option."
The other man raised his hands defensively. "Okay, okay. I'll get some people on it."
"Good. And send Hannah in on your way out would you?"
He closed the door, leaving Sebastian staring contemplatively into the air. After about thirty seconds, there was a knock, and the girl from before peeked her head in. "You wanted to see me, sir."
"Hannah. Yes, come in."
She walked slowly into the room, a penitent look on her face.
"Well, do you have anything to say for yourself?" he asked.
"I'm sorry, sir."
"Sorry for what?" His voice was hard and unforgiving.