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My own little investigation pulled up something puzzling: her real job history. There were a string of bizarre jobs that made pinning down her professional career a nightmare. Kiona had managed a small sandwich shop, a fitness gym, worked freelance for a temp agency, and after that, she had been a corporate trainer for a national restaurant chain. From there, she went off the grid entirely. No employment, no identifiable method of paying her bills. She had become a ghost. And now she was working for me, bursting into board meetings she had no business walking into, and making it clear that she had been keeping a keen eye on the most intimate financial and operational details of this company. While the rest of the meeting went on with only my scarcest attention, my mind was constantly drawn back to her. It wasn’t entirely a professional interest, of course. Kiona was remarkably beautiful, and absolutely impossible to pin down. She was just as talented as she claimed, but catching simple mistakes well beyond her scope. Her subtle derailing of my entire boardroom was evidence enough of that, but I knew that she was still going to be trouble for me if I let her… How much longer could I tolerate a viper in my midst? And where does that leave me now? “Cole?” I pulled my eyes from the window. Half the boardroom was staring directly at me, waiting for my answer on some question. I didn’t have the patience for this. I took a moment to glance thoughtfully at the darkened screen on my cell phone. “Ladies, gentlemen, something has come up. Continue this without me.” The executives shared concerned glances as I stood up, buttoning my blazer. “Sir…we need you here to decide on–” “That’s what I have you lot around for, right? You decide. I’ve hired or promoted all of you with the expectation that you don’t need me around to sign off on every single decision. As usual, pass everything requiring my direct attention through Kylie.” I motioned to my executive assistant, seated beside me. She was the only one not openly gawking at me, instead reserving a measure of veiled disappointment. I knew that she hated being left as my proxy, but that came as part of the job after five years of shadowing me…and if she wanted to earn my trust, she was going to have to accept responsibilities like this. “Now, if you’ll excuse me…” I strolled out the door, towards the elevator. Briefly, I was taken with the idea to follow through with the fantasy – to just spend the day at the park, pretending I was anybody else in the world. It would be so easy to do. Sadly, the chains of responsibility bind. I made a quick phone call, and when I stepped out onto the roof, my helicopter was ready. My pilot, Patrick, was reading something on his phone when I approached, having already primed the engine and opened the door for me. “Early departure, sir?” He cheerily asked, pocketing it. “Boring as always. Take me home.” “Right away, sir!” I relaxed in the back as he closed the door, then climbed into the cockpit. After he ran his quick diagnostics, we were lifting up above the building, then coasting over the traffic-congested city. It was probably a bad idea to leave the conference room without proper oversight. Half of the men and women in that meeting had become dear to me, but there were sharks even among my closest friends. I had learned to trust only myself even before my company had fiscally catapulted me into the ranks of the esteemed billionaires. Comparatively young, I was a prime target for sabotage and excessive tabloid scrutiny; all the more reason to keep everyone out. I hadn’t gotten this far by relying on other people in my personal life – all that I needed were the right people in the right roles, and I could let my business life run on autopilot. I could buy myself some time… It wasn’t that easy, unfortunately. As much as I wanted to brush it all aside, I now had hundreds of employees relying on me to keep their families fed. I had every intention to give them proportional cuts of the buyout, but that hinged on there being a buyout at all. The Megami Corporation loved our numbers and tenacity, and they could do great things with the castle I’d built – all I needed was to hand them the keys.
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