“I have also come to realize that she is a rather intelligent woman, highly ambitious, and very, very clever when she puts her mind to it, able to slip into any role that’s necessary…”

Wait…where is he going with this? I smiled awkwardly to nobody in particular.

“…Which is how she managed to fool all of you,” he added, pausing with a quick cough.

My heart sank in my chest.

“Kiona Walker interviewed with several of my most competent, trusted employees; she effortlessly duped people I trusted, people who have worked with me since almost the very beginning…she also won over my personal assistant, and has fabricated just about every relevant detail of her work history to accept this role. Every talent that she exercises in her position, she learned covertly on the job…but the truth stands. Her entire background was false. She made everything up.”


Why? I asked myself, gazing hopelessly over a sea of disillusioned, confused faces. Why is this happening? What the hell?

“…Which is why, effective immediately, Kiona Walker is terminated from employment at Andrews Enterprises.”

No, I pleaded in my head, clutching at my chest. My gaze immediately turned to a horrified Larry. I couldn’t stand the look in his eyes, and averted my vision…

Big mistake. Coppersmith was grinning triumphantly, his vile face contorted into a wicked, devilish smile. He knows, I thought desperately to myself. He knows just how fucked he was. He knows that he’s safe now.

“But,” Cole filled the silence, “this is not a moment of disappointment for me. I’ve known all of this from the very start. Maybe it was cruel to put my signature on her hiring form, but I was fascinated by her ambition, her blind commitment to pulling herself up by her own bootstraps. I expected her to fail. But she did not.”

My shame must have been plainly written across my face. I realized that a camera was flashing, and that the event photographer was probably snapping all sorts of visual reminders of this moment. I’d never been so humiliated in my entire life, and I was growing ever more furious by the moment.

“We’ve spent time together in the past two months,” he lied to them. “At first, I was quietly angry, expecting to find a self-serving snake who dared to infiltrate my agency and make a fool of me…but that’s not the Kiona I came to understand. She is one of the most compassionate, loving souls I have ever met – someone who’s always looking out for others. By total accident, she showed me that she cares for all of you as much as I do. I can see from the shocked faces in this room that you’d come to appreciate her. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that I’ve grown to admire her as well. I admire this woman, I respect her…and I’ve grown to love her.”

At first I was wondering where any of that was coming from – Compassionate? Loving? – but then it all suddenly dawned on me, in a burning blaze of anger.

Wait…no. You can’t be serious. This is the goddamned moment you’re going to make our little ruse public? You’re going to embarrass me in front of the senior staff, fire me, and now… What are you– God damnit...

“Kiona – Key, my dear,” Cole Andrews turned to me, reaching into his pocket and dropping to one knee in front of me, “Will you do me the honor of being my wife?”

Part Two

Chapter 10

Cole

One Week Later

It wasn’t customary for billionaire business partners to sit alone in the waiting room of a powerful corporation, so I elected to stand instead. At least it’s presentable, I thought to myself, admiring the various customary Japanese portraits and the stellar view of the city.

The flight to Tokyo was always a long one. Fortunately, I didn’t have to make the trip too often – and it was usually under fairly warm circumstances.

I was somewhat lacking in confidence this time.

My cold gaze flicked over to the receptionist, a calm and collected Japanese woman of considerable stoicism. She looked up from her screen, meeting my gaze with an apathetic glance, then returned to her work.

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