I kicked my suitcase while I waited on the train platform at Victoria, wondering yet again why the hell I’d agreed to this. Nothing in my contract stated I had to be available to work on weekends. I could have said I had plans I couldn’t possibly get out of, that it was too short notice, that I had a sick relative whose bedside I had to sit next to. There were numerous lies and excuses I could have used to avoid this. So it was beyond even my own comprehension why the hell I’d agreed.
“What did it do to you?”
I swung round to find Tristan Maxwell, standing far too close, holding out a Costa cup.
Taking a step back, I took the container and sniffed its contents. The pungent scent of cinnamon assailed my nostrils, almost but not completely blocking out the familiar and distracting scent of cologne emanating from my boss. He tended to favor the same one. Not that I noticed, of course. “Hmmm?”
He grinned, suddenly looking far too young to be the CEO of a major engineering company. “The suitcase? I wondered what it had done to deserve the poor treatment.”
“Oh, nothing. I was just—”
Thankfully, I was saved from having to explain any further by the timely arrival of the train. Following my boss to our seats, I rolled my eyes at every admiring glance thrown his way. Given the sheer number of them, I was lucky my eyeballs managed to remain in my head. Within two minutes of sitting down, he closed his eyes and gave every indication of going straight to sleep.
“You’re going to sleep?”
One blue eye slowly opened, closely followed by the other. “I was going to. Did you want me to talk to you?”
“Well, let me sleep then.” His eyes closed again. I tried not to stare at the dark eyelashes fanned across his cheek. They were far too long and pretty for a man.
“I suppose you’re expecting me to wake you up when we get there.”
This time he didn’t even bother to open his eyes. “No. I’ll wake up.”
I discovered a lot of things on the hour journey. I discovered I should have brought a book to read to make the time go faster. I’d expected to be given work to do. I also discovered that no matter how much you stare at someone, they don’t wake up or even stir. Lastly, I discovered sitting opposite someone whose sleeping form was constantly ogled and discussed wasn’t particularly good for my own ego. I was a good-looking guy. Normally, with my combination of platinum-blond hair and blue eyes, I was the one getting admiring looks. But I might as well have been invisible in comparison to Mr. Fucking Perfect.
Even now, two girls stood in the aisle of the train, taking covert glances and giggling. The blonde-haired girl turned to her friend and whispered, “He’s so hot.”
I reached the end of my tether. I was hot, irritated beyond belief, and bored. “He’s just got out of prison.”
The girls both turned to me, wearing twin looks of shock. “Oh, my God! Why? What did he do?”
I paused for dramatic effect. My audience leaned in closer. “Double homicide.”
The girls ran away so fast, I was surprised they didn’t leave scorch marks on the floor.
Less than five minutes later, the train pulled into Brighton station. I was just contemplating whether I could come up with a realistic excuse to leave Mr. Fucking Perfect on the train when the man in question’s eyes slowly opened.
“Who did I kill?”
“The double homicide. I just wondered who it was.”
Short of spluttering about people pretending to sleep, I had no answer. I settled for ignoring the question altogether and busied myself with reaching for my suitcase and making sure I hadn’t left anything behind.
* * * *
The hotel room door closed with a click
, and I allowed myself the luxury of removing my jacket and tie before sprawling across the bed while I reflected on the day. I’d presumed I’d be expected to merge into the background, only leaping in when needed. But my boss had gone out of his way to include me in everything, seating me on his right-hand side, pouring me coffee, even calling a short break when he realized there was a problem with the tape recorder and I was struggling to record everything quickly enough by hand. I’d never been required to attend a conference with Mr. Stone, but I knew it would have been a very different affair. I was confused. Everything I’d seen today was at complete odds with the attitude he’d revealed in that interview.
I remembered my shock at reading it. Here was a company where I’d only been employed for a month, with the boss happy to detail how he just sat back and did nothing. He’d said he had a building full of obedient minions at his beck and call. He’d also made some sort of comment that, if he lost employees, they were easily replaced. I’d studiously avoided reading any other interviews he’d done after that, my blood already at boiling point. I didn’t need any more evidence of the type of man I was working for.
But today Tristan Maxwell had done the opposite of sitting back. Where he could have left things to me as one of his minions, he’d often done it himself. He’d worked hard, been the consumate professional. I’d obtained a grudging respect for just how good Tristan Maxwell was at his job. Not that I’d ever admit that to the man himself, even under duress.
My mobile rang, the caller display showing an unknown number. Fatigued, I was almost tempted to ignore it. It was probably going to be a wrong number or some sort of sales call. I answered it with the intention of getting rid of them quickly. Then I could have a long shower, maybe watch a bit of TV before getting some much-needed sleep.
I frowned at the familiar voice on the line. “Mr. Maxwell. How did you get this number?” I’d only left the man fifteen minutes ago. Had I forgotten to do something crucial? There was a strange edge to his voice I wasn’t used to hearing. Was the minion about to get a dressing down? Was he finally going to reveal his true personality?
“It’s on your employee file. Anyway, never mind that. I need you to come to my room. Now! It’s room thirty-four.”
The line went dead. The short walk, down one flight of stairs and along the corridor below mine, left just enough time to worry about what I’d done wrong to warrant the unusually curt command.
Before I got a chance to knock, the door was wrenched open. Tristan Maxwell was jacket-less, tie-less, shoe-less, and wearing a panicked expression. He grabbed my arm, hustling me into the room. “You need to get rid of it!”
Ignoring the feel of my boss’s fingers burning their way through my shirt, I didn’t even attempt to hide my confusion.
“Get rid of what?”
“In the bathroom?”
“What’s in the bathroom?”
Tristan Maxwell started to pace. He gestured wildly with his arms. “A monster.”
I glanced around the room, searching for any tell-tale signs of non-prescription drugs to explain this rather strange behavior. There were none I could see. It didn’t mean they weren’t there. They could be in his suitcase, or in the bathroom. I spoke slowly. “There’s a monster in the bathroom?”
“Yes. And I need you to get rid of it.”
…you’ve seen it?”
Tristan Maxwell shuddered. “Yes. I was going to take a shower, but I couldn’t because it was just sitting there looking at me. With its eyes
and its legs
Something about his emphasis on the word “legs” made an idea click into place. “How many legs does this monster have?”
I suppressed a smirk when Tristan Maxwell shot an exasperated look my way. “The usual, I think. Eight. I didn’t stop to count them. It was looking at me.”
…is a spider?”
He gave another shudder at my use of the word. “Yes. I said so, didn’t I? Are you going to get rid of it or just stand there?”
I was really tempted to just stand there. Watching Mr. Fucking Perfect completely unravel because there was a spider in the bathroom was too delicious for words.
“I don’t think it’s in my job description.”
“You’re a personal assistant. I need some fucking
My eyes widened as the curse slipped out of his mouth.
Tristan Maxwell stopped dead. “Sorry. God! I’m sorry. I didn’t meant to swear at you. Please help. I can’t go in there till it’s gone. Please!”
Worried he was going to drop to his knees and beg, I let myself into the hotel bathroom.
“CLOSE THE DOOR! In case it tries to get in here.”
Laughing silently, I did as he asked. In the center of the shower floor sat a spider. It was a fairly average-sized spider as spiders go.
“HAVE YOU GOT RID OF IT?”
“I SAID, NOT YET!”
I pressed the button to switch the shower on. The spider quickly lost its footing and washed straight down the plug hole. I let the water run for longer to make sure it couldn’t crawl back up. I didn’t fancy another phone call at midnight, should “the monster” reappear.
Walking back into the bedroom, I found my boss cross-legged on the floor drinking whisky.
“Thank God! Thank you.”
“I’ll leave you to it.”
Tristan Maxwell cocked his head to one side, a small smile playing at the corner of his lips. “You’re going to make me drink alone.”
“I’m not making
you do anything.”
He smiled, holding the bottle up so I could see the label. “This is seriously good whisky. You should try some.”
“I should go to bed. It’s been a long day.”
I eyed the door to the corridor speculatively. For some reason, the idea of a drink with Tristan Maxwell wasn’t as abhorrent as it should have been. For that reason alone, I should head straight back to my room. Instead, I found myself joining him on the floor.
He poured a drink and held it out.
“Thanks, Mr. Maxwell.”
He refused to relinquish the glass to my grasp. “No way you’re going to drink with me and call me Mr. Maxwell
“Come on. It’s two syllables. Tris-tan. Give it a try.”
I repeated it slowly, like a child learning to read, and Tristan handed the glass over.
* * * *
Three hours and half a bottle of whisky later, I laughed as Tristan compared the workings of the company to the hierarchy of the Death Star. I allowed my glass to be filled again.
“You do realize that makes you Darth Vader.”
Tristan covered his mouth with his hands and did a perfect impression of the sound of Darth Vader’s breathing.
“What am I, a stormtrooper?”
He shook his head. “No way! They’re not snarky enough.” He waved a drunken finger. “Don’t argue it. I know! You’re Han Solo. Yep. That’s it. Han Solo.”
“You’re a secret geek.”
Tristan took a large swallow of whisky. I dragged my eyes away from the sight of his tanned throat contracting as he swallowed. “Maybe.”
Unfortunately, that brought my eyes back to the other thing they kept being drawn to. At some point during the night, half of Tristan’s shirt buttons had either been unfastened or had come undone. Now every time he moved, I caught a tantalizing glimpse of nipple. No matter how hard I tried not to look, my gaze was irrevocably drawn back to it.
“Tristan, did you do this with Kevin?”
“Kevin doesn’t drink.” Tristan smiled, and I returned it. “I’ve finally got a PA that drinks. You’re far more fun.” He put his finger toward his face, almost missing his lips. “But shhhhh, don’t tell him. Come here.” He gestured clumsily for me to come closer. “I’ve got something to tell you.”
Obligingly, I shuffled closer, eager to hear what Tristan had to say.
His breath tickled my ear. “I like it when you smile. I like it a lot. It makes you look different.”
Heat engulfed me like a tidal wave. Was I missing something here? Was Tristan getting me drunk so he could make a move? Had he deliberately undone his shirt?
I turned, pressing my lips over Tristan’s. They’d barely touched before Tristan pushed me off. “Whoa! What are you doing?”
I stared at him, suddenly feeling completely sober. “Kissing you. I thought…”
Tristan was shaking his head. “I’m not gay.”
Mortification hit like a sledgehammer. Shit! I’d just tried to kiss my straight boss. I stumbled to my feet. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what… I’m sorry.”
I turned tail and ran, ignoring the sound of Tristan calling my name. Thankfully, I was still sober enough to find my room.