“Yes, of course,” I nodded, hiding the growing pit in my stomach. “Which day does he prefer?”
“Do you have plans for today?”
“Today?” Oof, that was fast. “Sure. When should I leave, and where should I go?”
“You won’t be leaving the premises, actually. In an hour, please report to Mr. Andrews’ office. Everything will be clear at that time.”
She smiled softly and scampered away, leaving me in a confused, apprehensive daze. The next hour, I realized, was going to be one of the most excruciatingly long hours I’ve ever endured. I returned to my desk, taking a moment to stop by Larry’s office and remove the tiny USB key-logger from the back of his computer. There wasn’t enough time to sift through what it had captured. I could only hope it had the information I was hired to retrieve.
* * *
An hour later on the dot, I was standing in front of the open door to Cole Andrews’ private office. The aesthetic from the corporate conference room was in full swing here – delightful mocha on the walls, exquisite bookshelves, trophies and awards atop the uppermost shelves (how many awards does this guy even have?), and a powerful, luxurious executive desk, crafted from a bold, striking wood sheen. The glass wall behind the desk gave an impressive view, and I found myself drawn towards it.
“Such a lovely sight…isn’t it?”
Although I’d only heard a few syllables from that voice, it was instantly recognizable. In a brief moment of flummox, I turned my attention towards Cole Andrews, stepping out of a recessed doorway I had missed between bookcases. For a brief moment, I entertained the preposterous notion that he was admiring me and not the window.
“Yes, it really is…” I agreed, glancing out to the opposing architecture. Although I should have been jealous of the man – only a few years older than me, rewarded so handsomely for his accomplishments – I couldn’t bring myself to envy him.
There had been something in his distant stare. He was always on guard. But why?
“Come, Kiona. Eat with me.”
I brushed off his casual use of my first name, following him through the doorway and onto a large balcony area. I couldn’t resist casting my gaze about under the open air, feeling on top of the world. The railed balcony was tastefully sized, with ample room for entertaining a gathering guests and complete with an exquisite pavilion. Beneath the structure was a single table draped in white with room for just two. Gathering my bearings, I sat down opposite of him to a piping hot meal of seared salmon, sautéed asparagus, and a tasteful dollop of hollandaise sauce.
“What is this, exactly?” I asked suspiciously.
Cole snatched up his napkin, dropping it onto his lap. “Why, this is baked salmon, with asparagus and–”
“You know that’s not what I meant,” I remarked coolly, grasping a fork and taking a bite of asparagus. It tasted so good that I almost hated jumping straight into things…but in order to adapt well, one needs a grasp of the playing field. “Why did you call me up for this meal?”
“Business already, hmm?” Cole lifted a crisp eyebrow, his eyes calmly watching me. “Fine, we’ll have it your way. Why don’t you tell me?”
He began to eat, but I could tell that he would be intently listening to whatever I said next.
I sighed, quickly analyzing the situation between bites. “You’re a young, self-made billionaire, which means that you don’t waste your time. Including now…” I paused, tasting a bite of the seared salmon. It was mouth-wateringly good. “…So, not only am I here for a specific reason, but it’s something important enough to require your direct attention…”
“Go on.” He took a bite of asparagus.
I studied his eyes for a moment. “Everyone knows you’re a fan of giving employees a last meal when you’re about to fire them…” Another delicious bite of salmon, this time dipped in the hollandaise sauce, “…But I can see from the smirk on your face that you’re not going to fire me. That means that I’m not being punished for my insubordination in the meeting…”