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The Interview: Chapter 4

WHIT

I am so screwed.

What the hell happened to Connor’s little sister? She used to be the kind of awkward that was endearing. All legs and nervous hands, the tip of her lips, and the color in her cheeks, was quick to rise but fleeting. Where did that girl go? Who put the saucy siren in her place?

She looks like a modern-day Brigitte Bardot. Is it not enough that I’ve been torturing myself with images of her riding my fingers that she has to turn up looking like the office pervert’s wet dream come to life. Was she poured into that skirt? And that blouse. It was the kind of garment that looked demure at first glance and pure temptation the second, molding to her curves with every movement. I was oddly glad to see years of braces hadn’t fixed the gap between her front teeth. It’s like the pearl between the oyster of those full lips. Something I think she prefers not to show.

How old is she again?

It’s me. I’m the office pervert.

I am so, so screwed.

“What you are is fucked.”

I turn from staring at the closed door, wondering if I need to murder my brother for reading my thoughts before realizing I must’ve said that out loud. “Jesus Christ,” I mutter as I pivot, rubbing my hand across my chin. “Can that woman not keep her nose out of my business?”

“Who, Jody?”

“No, Mum,” I grate out. “And that was a rhetorical question.” Mimi is just a kid. A kid with the body of a goddess and the kind of behavior that reminds me of an eager-to-please puppy. That is some fucked-up combination and far too tempting to have daily in my office. I’ll bloody wank myself to an early grave!

“So it looks like you’ve got yourself a new secretary.” El clears his throat as I swing around to glare at him. “If you don’t want her…”

“Fuck off.”

“Don’t let Jody catch you diminishing her title.” Brin settles lower in his chair, crossing his long legs at the ankles. “She’s not a secretary. She’s keeper of big knob over there. He wouldn’t know his arse from his elbow if she wasn’t about.”

“Do you two have no work to do? I mean, do you actually work here? Or do you just swan in each day in a sharp suit and a winning smile because that’s all you’re good for?”

“Cheers, bruv.” Brin slides a loving hand down his lapel. “This one’s from your tailor. He did a good job, right?”

I don’t answer. Just glower.

“I thought we were meant to be having a meeting? A meeting before the meeting, as it were,” El says in an even tone.

“It’s a wonder we get any work done because of meetings,” Brin mutters.

Ignoring them both, I make my way around the desk, swipe up my phone, and drop into my leather chair. The call connects as I swing around to face the window and my view over the Thames and London beyond.

“Mum, how are you?” This travesty needs to be undone. “Yeah, busy. You know how it goes. You’re right, idle hands are the devil’s playground.” And don’t I know it. “What did I want? I just wondered if you were free for lunch today?”

Steel fist in a velvet glove, my arse. The woman is as subtle as a brick through a plate glass fucking window.


I stand as my mother glides into the courtyard restaurant and watch as she waves away the maître d’s outpourings of assistance as though the pair are old friends. As she weaves between the tables in a cloud of gardenia perfume, flowing skirts, and tinkling bracelets, it’s hard to ignore the attention she attracts, particularly from the opposite sex. She might be in her sixtieth year, but she’s still a very striking woman.

“Sweetheart.” I try not to wince as she carelessly drops the Birkin purse I’d bought her last birthday to the floor.

Note to self: ten grand’s worth of handbag gets the same treatment as a grocery sack.

Hands freed, she presses them to my cheeks and a smacking kiss to my forehead. There’s no point complaining. This has been her standard greeting for me forever.

“Thank you, Stefano.” The server pulls out her chair, and she takes her seat before sending him a radiant smile over her shoulder. Smoothing her shiny coffee-colored hair, she doesn’t notice the man turn pink with pleasure. She never does. It’s just her way. She makes everyone feel seen. Appreciated. This earthy loving is written into her DNA and part of the reason she always gets what she wants.

Not this time.

“Just the usual for me,” she says, waving away the offer of a menu.

“Salmon again?” I give a tiny shake of my head. “You’ll turn pink and get gills.”

“If it’s not broke.” She smiles back. “Oh, leave those,” she says as he begins to clear away a third setting. “It’s a table for three today.”

Oh, do fuck off, I want to yell. Instead, I wave the server on. “No, just two today. I should know. I booked the table.”

“Yes,” she says, ignoring my heavy tone, “but I rang and changed the booking.”

Change the booking to a private members club… she’s not a member of. This is the magic of my mother.

“Who?” I put my menu down because… “It better not be who I think it is.”

“Calm down.” Reaching out, she pats my hand. “You’ll have an aneurysm.”

“That’s not funny.” Especially not if our third is who I think it is. “Don’t make those jokes in front of her.”

“Do you think I’m so careless?”

“No, of course not. But what the hell, Mum? I don’t even know how you’ve gotten involved with the Valentes. It’s not like they live down the street.”

“They took you under their wing, Leif. Of course I made it my business to get to know them. After Connor died, I wanted to offer my condolences, and we were quite close back then. Well, telephone close. I’m sure things were very changed. It’s been very hard on Mimi.”

“I know that.” I press my elbow to the table and drag my hand down my face. “I mean, I can imagine it.”

“Can you, really? Imagine losing Sorrel or Brin or Orion.” Orion, who prefers to go by his middle name of Daniel. Not that Mum pays any attention to that. And poor old Sorrel… “Or one of the girls.”

Sometimes I do imagine losing my siblings, but not in the way she means. Maybe more like losing a toddler in a grocery store for ten minutes and being blissfully unaware of it. I love my family. I’d die for any one of them. I’m also dying for a little peace from them.

“I don’t know why you’re making such a song and dance about this.” Avoiding my eyes, Polly lightly rearranges the silverware.

I am neither singing nor dancing about Mimi Valente working for me, and it has nothing to do with her coming so beautifully for me. My reluctance began way before that moment—the moment Polly suggested it, actually. But that’s not to say I can explain the reason behind it. I kept in contact with the family when Connor passed, too. I’ve even sent Mimi a gift card every year on her birthday, or at least Jody has done on my behalf. I just hadn’t realized she was as old as she is. I thought for some reason she was still a kid. Is it not enough that I have practically half of my family on the payroll?

“I know you’re a little grumpy about Mimi working for you,” my mother begins again, “but if you were really set against it, you should’ve sat in on the interviews or mentioned specifically to Jody who you didn’t want.”

I doubt Jody interviewed her quite so thoroughly as I did. Fuck it all to hell. Come on, brain—get with the program. “I might well have done if I’d realized you were up to no good,” I grumble.

Maybe I should offer her a second interview. But a second interview would only mean she’d come twice.

“It wasn’t like that,” Poll says with a tinkling laugh. “You’re so suspicious!”

No, Mother dearest. What I am is so fucked.

“Jody knows her job inside out. She was the right person to choose her temporary replacement.”

“Exactly.” She nods. “It might not be temporary, either.”

“Don’t put a hex on this for me.”

“Jody might not come back. Have you considered that? New babies, such bundles of joy. She might find it hard to leave them.”

“And she might be desperate to get away from them.”

Mum laughs again. “There speaks a man without an idea of what makes the world keep turning.”

“That would be sex, obviously.”

“Yes, in a way. That’s how your father and I ended up with seven children.”

I groan like I’m in pain. Because I am. It’s called childhood trauma. “Remember the line we spoke about?” I mutter. “You just samba’d your way over it.”

“However did I raise such a prude!”

“We’re not having this conversation. Ever again. Remember?”

“Fine. So Jody gets to choose.”

“Yes.”

“And choose she did.”

“Jody wouldn’t have given the job to a kid out of college.” Not without outside interference.

“You’re being ridiculous.” She turns in her seat, attracting the attention of the server. Two blinks later, he’s hovering at her elbow. “Could you bring us some water? Sparkling, not still.”

He nods and scurries off as she turns her attention to me again.

“You made your feelings clear. You said no, and I heard you perfectly.” I open my mouth to dispute this when she raises a finger. I close it with a snap. And a scowl. “I also heard Jody complaining about the caliber of candidates. I simply passed over Mimi’s résumé without offering an opinion.”

“Jody has fifteen years of experience. Nearly ten as an executive PA. She wouldn’t give the job to just anyone.”

“Darling, you keep making my point for me.”

“But she’s just a kid!”

“She’s a young woman of twenty-four”—the exact number gives me a start while also somehow making me feel ancient—“who is more than capable of fulfilling the role. Quite honestly, I don’t understand where this reluctance is coming from. I’d think it would be the least you’d want to do.”

The least I want to do with Amelia Valente is put her on her knees and her head in my lap. The worst I could do would be to dwell on what happened in my apartment. The best I could do for her would be to send her far away and not just because of what happened, or how seeing her makes me feel like I haven’t done right by Connor. It makes me feel like I’ve failed. Knowing she’s sitting on the opposite side of my office door day in and day out, dressed in that skintight pencil skirt might just make me really fail.

Fail to keep my hands off her.

Fail to do what’s right by her.

After all, I promised Connor.

“Oh my goodness!” My internal flagellation is cut short as the chair to my right is subjected to a brief battle of ownership as whirlwind Mimi arrives at the same time as the water-bearing server. “Oh okay.” Her lips tip with amusement as she allows him to do his job, lowering demurely onto the seat. “Oh my goodness,” she repeats, this time at a volume that makes me think of secrets. “The ladies’ room is out of this world! It’s pink,” she adds, her nose scrunching adorably. “The basins are pink marble and scalloped like flowers—they look like something you might wear, not wash your hands in!”

“They were carved from onyx,” my mother says.

At the same time, I repeat, “Wear a basin?”

“They’re just pretty,” she replies without an ounce of embarrassment.

Her smile is infectious, and that gap between her front teeth feels like it could be the beginning of a fetish. I find myself biting back a grin. Then I clock Mum’s twinkling eyes as they dart between us. Don’t even think about it, Polly. I send her a narrow-eyed glance. She better not think of making a pet project out of this.

Especially if it’s Project Grandkids.

“I didn’t realize you would be joining us,” I could bite my tongue the minute the words are out, but I needn’t have been worried about upsetting her as she throws back her head and laughs.

“I was just thinking in your office, how you haven’t changed. I guess I was wrong because that smooth tongue seems to have become a little worn.” Her expression twinkles mischievously, and I don’t miss how her gaze dips to my lips. I almost want to tell her my tongue is just as smooth as my fingertips, but that would be wrong. It doesn’t matter if she’s thinking about my tongue because I can’t think about her thinking about my tongue under any circumstances.

“I misspoke.” I move the linen napkin a little to the left. “I meant to say I was surprised to find you in the country.” Then because it’s going to be one of those days, I order a stiff drink. My companions decide to stick to water.

“Weird.” Mimi glances at my mother as though in confirmation. “Polly said she’d told you I was here.”

“Yes, I did,” she agrees happily. “I said Mimi was looking for a position, remember?”

The positions I’d like to give Mimi are wide and varied.

Fuck, I don’t appreciate being tag teamed. Not in this manner, anyway. It’s so heartening to hear they’ve been bonding.

“Today wasn’t even my first trip into the office,” Mimi adds. “You were in Brussels when I came for the interview.” She stumbles a little over her words. Nervousness or remembering?

“Was it a thorough interview?” Come on, what’s with the tone? No wonder she’s looking at you like a bunny in headlights. But then she smiles like she thinks she knows where I’m going with this—like she’s hit her stride or something.

“Honestly, I’ve had better interviews.”

“Oh?” I lean back in my chair, spreading my legs to accommodate what’s coming next.

“I once had an interview with a typing test.”

“And you preferred that?”

She tilts her head as though considering the question. “Maybe there was something about the levels of manual dexterity.”

“Typing tests? How old-school.” Poll scoffs. “You know, years ago, I had an interview for an office job where the boss tried to squeeze my bum and see up my skirt.”

Thanks to a sudden, spluttering cough, I cup my hand to my mouth.

“Are you all right, darling?” Poll’s tone turns concerned.

“Fine.” With my free hand, I make a motion that Mimi should go on. Just ignore me, I’ll just die quietly over here. Then I won’t need to worry about what comes out of Mimi’s mouth next..

“You were telling us about your interview.” So much for a mother’s concern as her attention turns back.

“Oh, yes. Whit was in Paris, I think, when I spent the day with Jody. She showed me the ropes.”

Read: we haven’t been keeping this from you. It’s just one big cosmic coincidence.

Utter bullshit.

Also ropes: they really aren’t my style. They’re a little too prescribed for my tastes.

“I’ll admit, Jody is a little scary.”

I perk up. “Maybe that means you’re not suited for the role.”

“Really?” Mimi tilts her head to the side in a questioning manner. “What makes you say that?”

“If you can’t handle Jody,” I reply kindly.

“Oh, I think you’ll find I can handle a lot of things.”

Like my balls? my brain unhelpfully inquires.

“No offense, Mimi”—and only for the sake of my mother’s involvement—“but Jody’s been in the role a long time. I’m not sure you’re ready to step into her shoes.”

“Thank God! The poor woman has been reduced to wearing Crocs.” She glances my mother’s way with another adorable nose scrunch.

“Swollen feet are the least of her worries,” Mum replies.

I hold up my hand. “Cutting that conversation off before it starts.” No pregnancy war stories today, thank you very much. “I just don’t think it’s going to work.”

Hands out, Mimi gives an expansive shrug. “Too bad. I guess no one told you I already signed the contract.”

“You know, I think I’ve changed my mind.” Polly interjects. “I will have something to drink.” It doesn’t smooth over the fact that I’ve been well and truly played. “We’re celebrating,” she tells Stefano, “not hardened day drinkers.”

“Was Jody in on this?” I ask, pitching my voice low. Polly, I can understand, but what’s Jody’s game? She knows I’ll do whatever I can to get her back into the office as soon as possible—I’ve even offered to open a creche in the building!

“You mean, was Jody in on hiring the right person for the job?” Mimi blinks innocently. It must be for my mother’s benefit because I’ve already seen the other side of her. The sultry side, languid lips, and come-fuck-me eyes. “I heard I was, like, the eighth person to be interviewed and fourth to spend the day in the office with her.”

“She’s very thorough,” Polly says with an enthusiastic nod.

“Or she’s angling for a colossal raise when she gets back,” I mutter unhappily.

“This isn’t my first rodeo, Whit. I’ve been out of college a couple of years now—” I snort dismissively though she ignores me. “I majored in business in college and was an executive assistant to the CEO of Blankman and Reid.”

“Oh, Blankman and Reid?” I almost throw up my hands in fake amazement.

“I didn’t know you were into amateur dramatics.” She does that thing again where she tilts her head to the side like a curious terrier. “I bet you just love being cast as the villain.”

“I’m sorry. I must’ve just forgotten who those titans of industry are.”

“I know you haven’t heard of them. Why would you? They’re a midsized architectural company based in Tampa.”

“There are companies and then there are powerhouses,” I say, leaning closer.

She folds her arms on the table and mirrors my movements. “There is also being patronizing, and then there is just being an asshole. Guess which one you’re being right now?”

“Both,” Polly answers. “He gets that from his father. Don’t worry, sweetheart. His bark is worse than his bite. Oh look, here’s the champagne I ordered!”

“I can handle both.” She smiles a little provocatively before bestowing Stefano, the server, with a dazzling smile. The kind that inexplicably makes me want to punch him in the face.

“Do you even know what we do?” My mouth works on autopilot as I try not to stare at those pink-painted lips, try not to imagine working my hand into her hair to hold her in place while I taste and tease them. While I bite. Because, oh yes, I would bite. Delicately at first, then less so, pressing my teeth into her neck, her breasts, and her—

“What kind of idiots have applied for this job?” she demands, snapping me out of my dirty musings. “Who goes for a new job without doing their research? Of course I know what your company does. In fact, I’ve been watching the company since start-up. I was super impressed when you decided not to go down the IPO route. Raising capital couldn’t have been easy.”

I’m not sure if I’m disturbed or taken aback. Of course she knows I wasn’t some rich boy with money to burn or else I wouldn’t have been staying with her family all those years ago. My start in this venture was pure bootstrapping. There was luck involved, of course, when Miranda, my cousin, suddenly married into money. It opened up a new world to me. I got to know the Becketts, a husband-and-wife angel investor team who, I’m pretty sure, consider corporate meetings as foreplay. They spar endlessly, then I think they go home to fuck because that energy has to go somewhere. Anyway, with their investment and acumen, I was able to raise the necessary capital.

“It wasn’t easy.” Polly brings the rim of her glass to her lips. “But Leif has always had incredible drive. He always gets what he wants.”

“Not always,” I grind out, refusing to look at my most recent failure.

“Well, it shows. VirTu is the banking of the future,” Mimi says enthusiastically. “I can see how you’ve been able to attract so much business, the way you operate. The e-money license was genius. Modern banking isn’t about depositing your money in brick-and-mortar institutions where it almost costs you to store it.” She’s been watching me when it should’ve been the other way around. I try not to be flattered even though she’s talking about my company. “Your money should work for you, no matter how little you have in your checking account. I love how with VirTu you can access cryptocurrency, stock trading, and other crossover services.”

“I can see you’ve done your homework.” It’s hard not to be impressed, not to be enchanted by her eagerness.

“But you’re still not convinced.” She sighs, and I try not to notice how her chest rises and falls with the action. Try and fail. I’m a pervert. Too old for her. And then there’s the promise I made to her dead brother.

Oh, so that’s the antidote to my stiffening cock. Good to know.

“Honestly, Mimi, I’m impressed. But you’re young. Jody has had years in the role and—”

“And is about to have twins.” My mother interjects. “Tell Leif how you were promoted in Tampa.”

“Well, I started as an assistant, basically admin for a bunch of accountants, but the exec PA for the FEO and CFO had a hiking accident, and I was asked to step in. I did, and by the time her leg was healed, they’d created a new position for me. She got the CEO, and I got the other guy,” she says happily, surely unaware of how sexual that sounded. Or maybe she is. She was certainly up for teasing me in the office.

“I can manage a diary like it’s nobody’s business,” she adds, “and while I don’t have any contacts in the travel industry, you can bet your butt I’ll have some soon. I’m fully conversant in Microsoft, and I have excellent verbal and written communications skills.”

I bring my drink to my lips as I consider she does vocalize her climax beautifully.

“Verbal you can attest to, dear.”

My head does a double take. How would Polly know…

Ah.

“I’m resourceful and innovative and an independent thinker. I’m proactive, and I work well under pressure,” she continues, leaning closer, her gaze solemn and her tone passionate. “I’m a hard worker, creative and detail-orientated. I can work on my own initiative, but I take instructions well, too.”

Dead brother, dead brother, I begin to silently chant as my cock perks up, beginning to pay attention.

“Given time, I think you’ll come to appreciate having me around.”

And that’s what I’m worried about.

“I’m very thorough. I never leave a job half done.”

Fuck, I’m half done. The dead brother trick didn’t last long.

“I promise you, Leif, I won’t let you down.”

“Of course she won’t,” Polly says, lifting her glass. “And I think that’s something we can all drink to.”

Fuck.


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