Keira Swanson pushed open the glass doors of Viatorum magazine and walked purposefully inside. It was Labor Day, but she, along with the rest of the writing staff, had been summoned to work at short notice.
Keira knew full well there was no real emergency, nothing big enough to trigger a summoning on a public holiday. But the travel magazine was a hugely competitive environment and her boss, Joshua, liked to “create opportunities to weed out the weak.” Anyone who kicked up too much of a fuss about working on a holiday or looked too miserable during their meetings would find themselves swiftly unemployed. Keira had fought so hard for a writing job, she wasn’t about to fail at this hurdle, even if it did mean leaving her boyfriend, Zachary, at home to host a family brunch without her.
Her black stilettos click-clacked across the pristine, white tiles as she hurried to her desk. The Viatorum HQ was located in the hippest part of New York City, in a huge, old warehouse that had been stylishly repurposed for office use. The windows were enormous, stretching all the way from the floor to the steepled ceiling, where steel beams with large bolts were still in place from the days when it had been used as a warehouse. The open-plan environment meant that every conversation was heard. Even whispers echoed. It also meant that no one dared bring in anything too pungent for lunch. Keira could still recall the moment a new writer, a ditzy young woman named Abby, had brought in a tuna salad on her first day. The second Joshua had caught a whiff of it he’d quickly ensured it was Abby’s first, last, and only day at Viatorum.
Peering across the vast room, Keira noticed that she wasn’t the first to arrive. Nina, her friend and one of the assistant editors at Viatorum, was already hunched over her desk, tapping away at her keyboard. She flashed Keira a quick grin before reimmersing herself in her work.
Keira slung her purse down on her desk and slumped into her chair, careful to make her sigh inaudible. She hadn’t realized working at the prestigious Viatorum magazine would involve so much acting, so much faking interest in conversation, so much pretending to be oh-so-accomplished.
Through the glass partition that separated Joshua from his employees, Keira realized that he was watching her. She wondered what he was thinking, whether he was surprised to see that she was the second person who had responded to his urgent summoning, or whether he was on the hunt to fire someone and she’d just become the prey that had wandered into his territory.
Joshua emerged around the glass partition. He was wearing an electric blue suit and his hair was styled into a quiff. He stalked up to Keira’s desk.
“Have you finished the Ireland research yet?” he asked, not even bothering to say hello.
Ah yes, the Festival of Love article that Joshua had been assigned to write by Elliot, the CEO of Viatorum. It was supposed to be a huge, important project—at least that’s what Joshua had insinuated—though Keira herself couldn’t fathom how a silly fluff piece on matchmaking during an outdated ceremony in a quaint Irish village could be construed as important. Even so, Joshua had been in an even fouler mood than usual and, as his most junior writer, Keira had been tasked with doing all the research he was “far too busy” to do himself.
More like far too self-important, Keira thought silently to herself, as she looked up and smiled. “I emailed it to you before I left on Friday.”
“Email it to me again,” Joshua demanded without missing a beat. “I don’t have time to trawl through my inbox looking for it.”
“No problem,” Keira said, remaining as cordial as ever.
Joshua stormed back to his office and Keira pinged the email containing the vast amount of information she’d gathered on the Irish Festival of Love over to him, smirking to herself as she recalled how silly it all was, how sickeningly romantic.
No sooner had the email left her inbox than the doors swung open and a handful of Viatorum’s writing staff bustled in, each pretending they weren’t peeved to be in the office on what was supposed to be a national vacation. Keira could hear their chatter as they tried to outdo one another with their sacrifices.
“My niece was competing in a baseball tournament,” Lisa said. “But this is much more important. She cried her eyes out when I said I was leaving but I know she’ll understand when she’s old enough and has her own career.”
Duncan was not to be outdone. “I had to leave Stacy at the airport. I mean, we can visit Madrid another time, it’s not like it’s going anywhere.”
“I just left my mother’s hospital bed,” Victoria added. “It’s not like she’s critical or anything. She understands my career comes first.”
Keira kept her smirk to herself. The corporate environment at Viatorum seemed completely unnecessary to her. She wished her career could develop through dedication, skill, and hard work, rather than through her adeptness at schmoozing by the water cooler. That wasn’t to say Keira wasn’t focused on her career—it was the most important thing to her in her life at the moment, though she wouldn’t admit that to Zachary—she just didn’t want to change herself to fit into the culture at the magazine. She often felt like she was biding her time, waiting for her moment to shine.
A second later Keira’s phone buzzed. Nina had sent her one of her covert messages.
I’m guessing Joshua hasn’t prepared you for the fact that Elliot’s coming in for this meeting.
Keira held in her gasp of surprise. Though the CEO at Viatorum was a million times more pleasant than Joshua, she felt more anxious when in his presence. He held the key to the future of her career. He was the one with the power to hire and fire on the spot, the one whose opinion really mattered. Joshua would never tell Keira if she’d done good work, or that her writing had improved, no matter how hard she’d worked. Elliot, on the other hand, gave compliments when they were deserved, which was rarely, but that made it even better to get one.
Keira was about to text Nina back when she heard the sound of Joshua’s fast footsteps approaching.
“What the hell is this crap, Keira?” he shouted before he’d even reached her desk.
His words echoed around the office. All heads turned to watch the most recent verbal bashing, simultaneously glad they weren’t on the receiving end of it and excited by the prospect that some other sacrificial lamb would satisfy Joshua’s urge to fire.
“I’m sorry?” Keira asked pleasantly, although her heart was racing.
“That crap about Ireland! All of it’s useless!”
Keira wasn’t sure how to respond. She knew she’d done good research; she’d kept to specification, she’d presented her findings in a user-friendly document, she’d gone above and beyond. Joshua was just in a foul mood and taking it out on her. If anything, this was a test to see how she would respond to a public verbal bashing.
“I can do some further research if you’d like,” Keira said.
“There’s not enough time!” Joshua yelled. “Elliot will be here in fifteen minutes!”
“Actually,” Nina interrupted, “his car just pulled up.” She leaned over in her office chair, taking in the sight from the large window.
Joshua turned bright red. “I’m not taking the rap for this, Swanson,” he said, pointing at Keira. “If Elliot’s disappointed I’ll let him know where the blame lies.”
He went to stomp back to his partitioned desk. But as he went, one of his patent-leather brogues landed right on top of a puddle of coffee one of his harried, rushed writers had spilled on the tiled floors in their haste to get to work.
There was a moment of suspended animation, where Keira could sense that a terrible event was about to unfold. Then it started, Joshua’s cartoon-like sliding and stumbling motions. He twisted his torso as though in a strange dance as he tried to keep his balance. But the combination of granite tiles and macchiato was too great to overcome.
Joshua lost his footing completely, one leg shooting forward while the other twisted oddly beneath him. Everyone gasped as he landed heavily and loudly on the hard floor. A crunch noise rang out through the huge office, echoing sickeningly.
“My leg!” Joshua screamed, clutching his shin through his electric blue pants. “I’ve broken my leg!”
Everyone seemed stunned into paralysis. Keira ran up to him, not sure what to do to help, but certain that breaking one’s leg in such a manner had to be impossible.
“It won’t be broken,” she stammered, trying to be reassuring. But that was before her gaze fell to the awkward angle of Joshua’s leg, to the tear in his pants through which she saw protruding bone. Nausea gripped her. “Actually…”
“Don’t just stand there!” Joshua screamed at her, rolling around in agony. Through a squinting eye he stole a glance at his injury. “Oh God!” he screamed. “I’ve ripped my pants! These cost me more than you earn in a month!”
Just then, the main glass doors swung open and in strode Elliot.
Even if Elliot hadn’t been six foot three he’d have been imposing. There was something about him, about the way he held himself. He could strike terror and obedience into people with just one glance.
Like deer caught in headlights, everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at him in fear. Even Joshua was scared into silence.
Elliot took in the sight before him; of Joshua lying on the ground, clutching his leg, screaming in pain; of Keira standing helplessly over him; of the crowd of writers standing at their desks with horrified expressions on their faces.
But Elliot’s expression didn’t change at all. “Has someone called an ambulance for Joshua?” was all he said.
There was a sudden flurry of movement.
“I’ll do it!” everyone began saying over the top of one another as they clambered for their desk phones, desperate to be seen as the savior in front of Elliot.
A sheen of cold sweat glistened on Joshua’s forehead. He looked up at Elliot.
“I’ll be fine,” he said through his clenched teeth, trying to sound nonchalant but failing miserably. “It’s just a broken bone. Good thing it’s my leg and not my arm. I don’t need my leg to write the Ireland piece.” He sounded somewhat delirious.
“But you do need it to get on a plane and trek around the hillsides,” Elliot said calmly.
“Crutches,” Joshua said, grimacing. “Wheelchair. We’ll just need to adapt a bit.”
“Joshua,” Elliot replied, sternly, “the only place I’m sending you is the hospital.”
“No!” Joshua cried, trying to sit up. “I can do the assignment! I just need a cast and then I’ll be good as new!”
With no emotion at all, Elliot ignored Joshua’s pleas and glanced at his watch. “I’m beginning the meeting at eleven sharp,” he announced to the writing staff. Then he waltzed off to the conference room without so much as looking back.
Everyone stood there, silent, shocked, unsure what to do. Then Joshua’s screaming snapped them back to attention.
“Let me get you some water,” Lisa said.
“I don’t want frickin’ water!” Joshua yelled.
“Here,” Duncan said, rushing forward. “You need to elevate the wound.”
He reached for Joshua’s damaged leg but Joshua smacked his arms away. “Don’t touch me! I swear to God if you touch me I will fire you!”
Duncan drew back, hands in truce position.
“The ambulance is here,” Nina called from the window, blue lights flashing from the other side.
Thank God, Keira thought. She’d had about as much of Joshua as she could stand for one day. For a lifetime, if she was being honest with herself.
Just then, she looked up and realized Elliot was standing in the doorway of the conference room, watching them all bustle around Joshua, acting like headless chickens. He looked less than impressed. Keira noticed the clock. The meeting was starting in less than one minute.
Keira realized there was an opportunity here. There was no way Joshua would be completing the Ireland assignment, Elliot had made that quite clear. Which meant everyone else would fight for it in order to get noticed. It wasn’t the most glamorous of jobs but it was more than Keira had ever had. She needed to prove herself to Elliot. She needed that assignment.