That she was given a chance to leave early on her first day of work as Gareth Evans’ secretary was too interesting by half, and in minutes, rumors about a possible affair between Pippi and her new boss were already spreading like wildfire.
At the lobby, Pippi had just swiped her ID to push past the metal arms of the turnstile when she noticed what seemed like an altercation between a pair of security officers and a gauntly thin woman with too-pale skin and dark circles under her eyes. Even so, the brunette had a fragile loveliness about her, and the overly loose dress she wore only added to her air of vulnerability.
Pippi hesitated, knowing that none of it was truly her concern.
“Who the fuck do you think you are?” the woman was screaming. “You don’t know who you’re messing with. You’ll regret this, I’m telling you!”
More threats and expletives followed, and Pippi couldn’t help wincing. Public relations might be her worst skill, but even she knew that swearing would never get anyone anywhere.
“We won’t warn you again, ma’am. If you do not cease causing a disturbance—”
“I am not a disturbance!”
Pippi gnawed on her lip. This…might be too much for her to handle. And she might have left completely if not for taking one last worried look at the woman. The brunette wore a defiant expression on her face, but the way her lips trembled told a different story, and at the sight, the overly responsible side of Pippi simply took over.
In moments, she had crossed the length of the company’s vast marbled lobby and introduced herself to the fierce-looking security personnel as Gareth Evans’ secretary. It was name-dropping at its most shameless, but needs must, and Pippi’s discomfort was slightly alleviated when the ploy worked. The two men reluctantly stepped back and Pippi finally had a private moment to address the woman.
“Are you okay?”
“I’ve had worse.” The brunette was gingerly rubbing her wrists, and Pippi was aghast to see red circles marking the woman’s skin.
“I’m so sorry for this, Miss—”
No last name, Pippi couldn’t help thinking even as she gave the woman a reassuring smile. “Amelia then.” She chose her words with care afterwards, asking, “Would you mind telling me what you and security were arguing about?”
“That wasn’t arguing,” the woman retorted. “That was plain fucking bullying, and they’ll see, once they find out who I am—”
“Which is Amelia?” Pippi was starting to wonder if the woman might just be a wee bit unhinged.
“Yes, I’m that—” The woman’s tone was impatient. “But that’s not it.”
Pippi was having a hard time catching up. “You’re not Amelia?”
“I’m saying I’m Acheron Simonides’ girlfriend, and they don’t fucking believe me! They say he’s not receiving visitors, but I know—” Amelia lifted her chin, saying aggressively, “He’ll talk to me, okay? He just has to know it’s me.”
“Then can you get me in?”
“I…might.” Without letting herself think, Pippi pulled her phone out of her bag, all the while despising the way her fingers shook. Wickham had given her his number earlier, when everything was still…fine.
Wickham’s phone only rang once before his familiar gruff voice came down the line. “Good afternoon, Ms. Jones.”
“I’m here at the lobby with a woman named Amelia—”
“And she says she’s Mr. Simonides’ girlfriend.”
The fluster in Wickham’s voice was all she needed to hear, and it felt like having the ground under her disappear. “She’s very distraught, Mr. Wickham, and she would like to see Mr. Simonides as soon as possible.”
“We’ll be right down, Ms. Jones. And—”
“Thank you, Mr. Wickham.” She ended the call, not wanting to hear any of the factotum’s no doubt well-meaning but pointless excuses.
“Was that Wick?” Amelia asked eagerly as soon as Pippi looked at her.
“It is.” And even as her world continued to crash around her, Pippi managed to say kindly, “Mr. Wickham says they’ll be right down with you.” And she needed to leave before that happened. “Is it alright if I leave you now?”
“I…guess. What’s your name again?”
Pippi pretended not to hear this, saying, “I’m just glad to be of help.” She turned to leave, but she had only managed several steps when she heard people gasping, and Pippi knew right away what it meant.
Her mind begged her to just keep walking, but she couldn’t help it. She turned, her heart beating faster and faster, and when her gaze finally found them, it was exactly what she expected, and pain once again started ripping her heart into pieces.
Amelia in his arms, sobbing against his chest, and not once did Acheron even realize that Pippi was watching them the entire time.
Acheron was nursing a half-empty glass of room-temperature brandy in his hand when Wickham came out of the guest bedroom, followed by Dr. Alistair Mortensen, whose looks and build often had people asking him if he had Vikings in his family tree.