Read an Excerpt
The memo is unexpected, but its brief instructions astound me. Mr Carlton expects to see you in his office at 5.30. Carlton is the big CEO and, like most of the other minions in my office, I have never actually met him. There is little time to muse on this unexpected instruction. I check my watch, and it’s already gone five o’clock.
I file paper into some resemblance of order for tomorrow. By 5.20, I am alone in the office. Resentful that I have been summoned this late on a Monday, I reach the elevator by 5.25. It takes me a moment to find Carlton’s name in gold lettering by the tenth floor. Pressing the button, I catch my reflection in the mirrored interior. I look unreasonably tired, and had been hoping for an early night in front of the television, with a glass of Merlot for company. Nevertheless, I attempt to tidy my hair back into a loose blonde ponytail, and reapply a little lipstick.
The elevator stops, and the opening doors reveal a large, marbled foyer, with an impressive panorama of the cityscape below. The only doors are tall and mahogany panelled, and they remind me of the entrance to a courtroom. I knock quietly, and tentatively step inside the room, which is nearly as large as our entire office on the second floor! I am surprised to find it completely empty.
‘Mr Carlton?’ I call.
Where is he? Why summon me all the way up here if he doesn’t even intend to show?
‘Miss Marshall, I assume?’
The voice is low and steely, and comes from behind me. I spin around quickly to acknowledge its owner. Standing in another doorway to my left, which I hadn’t even noticed, stands a tall, dark-haired man. He is broad, but lean, and I guess is probably in his early 40s. His face is tanned and serious; his eyes intense, like thunder, but I note to myself he is actually strikingly attractive.
His dark blue eyes assess me for a few seconds, and the silence bears down on me like some threatening animal, snarling in the corner of the room. Finally, he steps forward, and holds his right hand out to me.
‘I am Mr Carlton.’ His tone is business-like, and his handshake is hard and controlled. ‘Follow me, please.’
He turns rapidly, and strides back toward the large doorway into his office. I scramble after him, attempting sophistication, but failing miserably. As I approach him, his eyes burn into me. Inexplicably, I feel heat rising from my neck, and know that I am about to blush. I distract myself by absorbing this new room.
If the foyer seemed impressive, then this room is really something else … How can he possibly get any work done in here? The room is vast. It is dominated by the glass exterior of the lobby, but is furnished in a light, modern fashion. Silver and white govern the visage. To the left is an enormous, grey conference-style table, and to the right is a white, oversized corner sofa, which stretches around the entire window. Central to the room and directly in front of me is a substantial desk, in mahogany wood – the only piece to defy the standard colour scheme of the room.
‘You like the view then, Miss Marshall?’
Carlton’s voice snaps me back to reality, and I realise I have been standing there like a star-struck teenager. Rapidly, the heat returns to my neck, and rises north.
‘Erm, yes, it’s stunning,’ I say, apologetically.
‘Thank you,’ he snaps, although I think I see a smirk in the corner of his mouth. ‘Please, take a seat here.’
Carlton gestures to a small, silver chair which is situated in front of his desk. I seat myself there, hearing him close the heavy door behind me. He strides to sit in his executive lounger, the expanse of his desk now separating us. There is a long pause, while he silently appraises me. I sit, as impassively as I can; tired, hungry, and impatient, but not wanting to appear so in front of him. His eyes are brooding and intense, and they start to make me feel anxious. Slowly he runs the fingers of one hand back and forth across his lips. Finally, after a further unquantifiable amount of time, he speaks.
‘How long have you been working for my company, Miss Marshall?’
I hesitate, trying to fathom his tone, which seems loaded with insinuation. Surely he could find this out without dragging me up to his ivory tower?
‘Nearly three years now, Mr Carlton, and please call me Megan.’
‘Yes, Megan, I know what your name is. I find I have learnt a lot about you recently, and most of it, I’m afraid, is not good.’
This revelation hits me like a bombshell. What does he know?
‘I know about your antics at the company party last Christmas,’ he continues, reading my expression. ‘You were seen – how can I put this delicately? – engaged in sexual acts on company premises.’
I actually feel the colour drain out of my face. Oh dear God, no! My thoughts fly back to last Christmas. The company had opened the entire eighth floor to employees; laying on refreshments and entertainment. I consumed large quantities of free alcohol, and had got to know Greg from accounts rather intimately in the cloakroom. But how can he possibly know about that?