Kissing the Boss by Linda Kage
KISSING THE BOSS
A Cinderella Story
Kissing the Boss
Copyright © 2018 by Linda Kage
This is a work of fiction. Aside from references to different versions of the fairy tale, names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses or establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book—except in the case of brief quotations in reviews—may be used, reproduced, or TRANSLATED without written permission of the author.
Contact Information: [email protected]
Linda Kage, March 2018
Cover Artist: Kage Covers
Editor: Summer at Red Pen Revolution
Proofreader: Shelley at 2 Book Lovers Reviews
Proofreader: Judy at Judy’s Proofreading
The unexpected shriek that blasted through the intercom caused me to jump so hard I spilled the armful of papers I’d been carrying from the copy machine to my desk.
Groaning over my clumsiness, I bent to pick them up, only for the cantankerous voice to return. “I need you up here. Now, Kaitlynn.”
After scooping the mess of pages into my arms, I slapped them into a disorganized heap on my desk, figuring I’d deal with them later, and called, “I’m coming!” Then I hustled to the teapot sitting on a nearby table and fished out the tea ball bobbing in hot water.
Lana preferred full-bodied oolong tea every morning, so I usually left the oxidized leaves in for at least six minutes before removing the ball. But today, it sounded as if she wanted her tea sooner, so hopefully she didn’t notice a weaker flavor.
I placed the ceramic lid on the pot, then carefully poured a portion of the tea into a waiting cup on the tray. After dripping some, I wiped away the splatter and settled the pot next to the full cup. I rearranged it twice before it looked aesthetically pleasing enough to suit me and then I tossed two sugar cubes into the steaming brew.
There. I stepped back and checked for any final flaws before lifting the tray in satisfaction. Perfect.
I hummed contentedly as I held the tray with one hand and opened the door to the musty stairwell with the other. The steps were a narrow, rickety old metal monstrosity that, I swear, swayed when you walked up them. There was one turn halfway through that was tricky to navigate when carrying anything cumbersome, then a low-hanging pipe from above to duck under, and after that, a clunky red fire extinguisher bolted to the wall a person could smack their shoulder against if they weren’t paying attention. And yet I’d failed to drop the tea once. Go me!
At the top, I had one more door to finagle open, and voilà, I made it to Shyla’s desk located in Lana’s outer office in one piece.
“Morning!” I breathlessly greeted Lana’s personal assistant with a smile, dropping off a bottle of water for her that I’d had sitting on the tea tray.
The pinch in Shyla’s brow smoothed as she glanced up from the computer screen she’d been scowling at. “Oh! Morning, Kaitlynn. Thank God you’re early today.” She shuddered and sent a fearful cringe toward Lana’s door as she picked up her water and unscrewed the cap. “It’s been one of those mornings.”
I laughed. “Yeah, I had a suspicion.”
Sweeping past her, I came to the door of the dragon’s den and quietly knocked with my toe before entering.
“It’s about time,” Lana grumbled. “How long does it take to make a simple cup of tea around here?”
Lana Judge was a callous, ungrateful, condescending, selfish, and coldly beautiful woman in her early fifties. She was also the co-CEO of Judge Fashions Industry where I worked and thus, my boss. Oh, and add in the small fact she’d married my dad when I was eight, which I guess technically made her my stepmother, and there you had our relationship in a nutshell. We pretty much loathed each other.
Ignoring her jab at my timeliness, I set the tray on the corner of her desk where I always put it.
“Hello,” I greeted with much more reservation than I’d used with Shyla. After stirring in the dissolved sugar, I set the cup on the desk close to her. “Is there anything else you need?”
She ignored the tea and frowned at a memo she was browsing. “Have you copied the market reports for the meeting yet?”
“Yes,” I was happy—aka, smugly thrilled—to report. “And I’ll have them organized and stapled in just a few minutes.”
Lana made an irritated sound. “Don’t bother. Throw those away, because the idiots in accounting just emailed me last-second numbers, meaning the file I sent you is wrong.” She thrust the memo she’d been scanning my way. “Plug in these new figures and make sure the revised version is ready with copies for everyone by the time the meeting starts.”
“Uh…” What? No. I didn’t have time to start all over again. Was she crazy? The meeting began in fifteen minutes. But when Lana arched a meaningful glance my way, I found myself bobbing my head enthusiastically. “Sure. No problem.”
One thing I could never do was let her think I was incapable of completing any challenge she set before me. She would only ever find me agreeable, prompt, and efficient. So, yeah, suck on that, stepmommy dearest.
Lana and I both would’ve been happy to never cross paths again after my dad died. But dear old Dad, God rest his deceiving soul, broke my heart when he left his company to her, and not me. I mean, I’d been conditioned for the position, raised to believe I’d inherit JFI one day. I’d lost count how many times over the years Dad had brought me to work with him and said, “Someday, sweetheart, all this will be yours.”
Except it hadn’t. Losing JFI, and worse, losing it to Lana, had been a hard, bitter pill for me to swallow. But I’d sucked up my pride, gone to her as soon as I’d graduated from college, and I had humbly asked for an entry-level position, hoping to eventually toil my way to the top.
JFI was my father’s legacy, it was like home and family to me. I’d never pictured myself working anywhere else. So, yes, of course I’d gone begging for a job. It didn’t matter who Dad had left the company to; I decided I’d just earn my way back to where I’d always been destined to be. And I realized I liked the idea of working for it instead of just being given a spot.
Except the wicked witch had turned me down flat. No entry-level position, no family courtesy, no nothing!
Not one to give up easily, I had persisted and negotiated until she’d only agreed to bring me on board when I said in a desperate last-ditch effort that I’d work for free as an unpaid intern until I proved myself worthy.
Of course, six months later, and here I was, still an unpaid intern. Lana claimed I hadn’t proven myself at all. But I wasn’t finished trying. Not even close. Soon, not even a bitter, manipulative, hard woman like my father’s widow could deny I was good enough to deserve full-time employment. And once I got that, watch out, world.
“Well?” She waved the backs of her fingers at me, shooing me along. “Get to it.”
Zapped from my daydream, I cleared my throat. “Yes, ma’am.” And away I went, determined to wow her with my superb stapling capabilities. I mean, who wouldn’t want to advance an intern who stapled like a total badass, am I right?
When Shyla sent me a sympathetic glance, letting me know she’d heard everything, I simply lifted my chin and hurried back down to my workroom, where I had a date with the copy machine.
Since I was the only person in the building who actually worked in the basement aside from the janitor who didn’t come in until after noon, I didn’t expect to find another soul around when I returned, meaning the man tryin
“Oh my God! What’re you doing?”
He jumped and accidentally tripped the hammer, making it snap down over his finger. “Mother fu—”
Jerking his digit free, he stuck it into his mouth and spun to level me with a scowl.
I winced at my stepbrother. “Sorry! Are you okay? Let me see.”
“Mi’m fime,” Brick muffled out moodily from around his finger before pulling it free to add, “Why did you yell at me?”
“I’m so sorry,” I gushed, grasping his wrist so I could examine the injury. The red mark just below his fingernail made me suck in another wince of sympathy. “It’s just, I… I read somewhere that mice could smell a human on traps, and it scares them away. So I wear gloves when I set it.”
“Really?” he asked, intrigued by the notion.
“Mmm-hmm.” I tugged open the small refrigerator I’d brought in from home and set up by my desk so I could fish out a piece of ice for him.
While I actually had heard that advice about mousetrap setting, the truth of the matter was I just didn’t have the heart to actually set it anymore.
I had once, of course, after my initial glimpse of Jacqueline. Yes, I named her. Don’t judge.
Upon first impression, her little gray mouse-i-ness had scared the holy bejesus out of me. So the next day, I showed up to work, armed with a dozen traps, ready to call all-out war, until she actually appeared again, stealthily sneaking toward one of the traps, her whiskers twitching and tail swishing as she scented the cheese I’d left as bait.
She—though, I guess she could technically be a he—had been so trusting and unsuspecting, I’d suddenly lost the killing nerve. I’d rushed at her, chasing her off, and spared her life. Then I’d sprung the trap myself so she couldn’t.
Since that day, the other traps had disappeared, but this single one remained with a steady supply of cheese for Jacqueline to pilfer from whenever she grew hungry. I guess you could say her little metaphorical electric chair had in essence become her feeding bowl.
As I placed the ice against Brick’s wound, he hissed from the cold and jerked his hand free. “I’m fine, Kaity. Seriously. No broken bones.”
Nodding, I cleared my throat and tossed the ice before sitting at my desk to bring up the file Lana had sent me yesterday. “So, what do I owe the honor of this visit?” I asked distractedly as I added the new numbers accounting had sent over, only to frown when I realized they actually hadn’t sent the memo to Lana this morning. It was dated two days ago.
“Just checking in on my favorite little sister.” Brick perched himself on the edge of my desk to watch my fingers fly over the keyboard. “What all-important task does the ogre called my mother have you in such a hurry to work on now?”
“Hmm? Oh.” I saved the revisions and pushed print. “Quarterly market reports for the meeting.” When Brick only blinked, oblivious, I helpfully added, “The one in twelve minutes.”
“Damn, is that today?”
When I stood to retrieve the printed pages, Brick slumped off my desk and into my chair so he could drape himself over the backrest and feign a faint as he arched his neck, hung out his tongue, and let his arms flop limply to his sides.
“I suddenly don’t feel so well.”
After Lana had taken over JFI, she’d put Brick in charge of the Purses department and his older brother, Hayden, in charge of Shoes. Both stepbrothers earned a nice fat salary that made me more envious than I cared to admit. So it always itched at my craw when Brick made a fuss about attending the monthly meetings, because at least he was getting paid and was allowed to go to them.
Shrugging as I scanned the printed pages to check for accuracy, I said, “Maybe a fight won’t break out this time.”
“Bite your tongue. Those fights are the only things that make the meetings worth attending. One better break out.”
With an amused smile, I fed the reports into the copy machine and instructed it to make seventy-six copies. I’d never actually attended a JFI meeting myself—since I wasn’t of the paid-employee persuasion—but I had definitely heard about the notorious arguments that took place during them, usually between Lana and Nash. “Well, I’m sure you’ll get your way.” I turned to Brick with my full attention. “Now, seriously, what did you need from me?”
He set an ankle over one knee and eyed me with amusement. “What makes you think I need anything? Maybe I just missed you. It’s been weeks since we last talked.”
Tapping my chin, I squinted his way. “Hmm. No, that’s not it. It must be something I won’t want to do. You’re being especially sweet and even went out of your way to set my mousetrap for me.”
An irritated crease formed between his eyebrows and he opened his mouth as if to argue, only for his shoulders to collapse. “Okay, fine. You got me. I need someone to take to the company Halloween party this weekend.”
I blinked, confused. “And you want me to set you up with someone I know?”
One thing was certain about Broderick Call-Me-Brick-Or-Anytime Carmichael; he’d never had problems securing his own date. And besides, I basically had no female friends to set him up with, except maybe Mabel, my neighbor across the hall. But I’m guessing he wouldn’t go for the seventy-five-year-old, retired lunch lady type, even though she routinely tried to convince me she’d been a dancer in Vegas during her younger years. So why the heck would he ask me for help?
“No,” he said, scowling. “God, no. That’s the thing. I actually want to avoid that nonsense. I just ended things with Sabella in Belts, and she’s turned clingy and possessive. So I’m taking a break from women for a bit.”
“Then…?” I frowned, still uncertain what he wanted.
He sighed, defeatist-like. “I want you to go with me.”
“Me?” What? I shook my head, beyond confused. “Why?”
“I can’t show up stag. I have a reputation to uphold, and I’m guessing you don’t have a date for the party anyway, right?”
“Actually,” I started, because I hadn’t even planned on attending the party, but he kept talking over me.
“So, why don’t we just go together? We’ll find you a costume to cover your face so no one will think I’m lame for bringing my sister, and Sabella will keep her distance, assuming you’re a real date. Win-win for both of us.”
“Uh, how is that a win for me?” Being forced to appear at a social event I hadn’t even wanted to attend so one of my stepbrother’s castoffs could glare jealously at me the entire evening wasn’t quite my idea of a win.
“Because,” Brick drawled, lingering on the word as if he were about to pull an ace from his sleeve. Then he winked. “I heard Christopher Elton’s going. As Prince Charming.”
“Christopher…?” My face heated with ten tones of embarrassment, even though I desperately tried to maintain my dignity. But, oh Lord. “How… What… I mean, why would you even mention that name?”
Wiggling his eyebrows, Brick only laughed. “What? I have it on very good authority he’s the one you’re currently infatuated with.”
“What? No!” Clutching my scorching cheeks, I cried, “Who told you that?”
“Oh, no one. But maybe this had something to do with it.” He yanked open the top drawer of my desk, revealing my doodle pad with my first name along with Christopher’s last name scratched all over the top sheet.
What? It got lonely down here all by myself every day, and I didn’t always have tea to make or papers to copy. So, apparently, I turned into a middle school girl who pretended I was married to her crush and wrote our names—and sometimes our future children’s names—on scratch paper. It wasn’t that big of a deal, even though I currently felt like sinking through the floor and dying of mortification.
“You went through my drawers!?” I accused, setting my hands on my hips.
“Hey.” Brick shrugged unrepentantly. “You weren’t here. I got bored. I was looking for a piece of gum.”
Yeah, right. “I was gone one minute!”
No wonder why he’d been messing with my mousetrap; he’d been trying to hide the fact he’d been snooping through my things. Unbelievable.
Actually, for Brick, it was absolutely believable and sounded just like something he’d do.
But still… Rude!
“So, what do you say?” he asked, rubbing his hands together, all charm and grins again. “Go with me to the party, and I promise to get you an in with Elton.”
“I don’t want—”
“And don’t say you don’t want to meet him,” he charged, lifting my pad to wave it mockingly. “I know you do.”
I sighed, my shoulders collapsing. “I was going to say I don’t even want to go to the party. There’s a new episode of a show I wanted to watch that night, and besides, I don’t have a costume or—”
“No problem,” Brick broke in, slugging me on the back as he pushed to his feet. “I’ll take care of your costume. And you can just record the program,” he added when I opened my mouth to protest.
Pressing my lips together, I shook my head. There was no arguing with him when he had his mind set on something. “You’re not going to take no for an answer, are you?”
He fist-pumped the air. “Yes. I knew you’d do it.”
“I didn’t say—”
But of course he wasn’t listening any longer. After a grateful pat on my arm, he swept toward the door, calling over his shoulder, “I’ll pick you up at a quarter’til eight, and I’ll have your costume with me. See you then. Thanks, sis. Bye.”
And the door shut behind him only for me to mumble to myself, “But the party starts at seven.”
Oh, well. Fashionably late was probably his life motto. I slumped into my chair, where my gaze caught on the scribble pad I had lying inside my still-open top desk drawer. The name Kaity Elton beamed up at me from about five different colors of ink and ten different fonts.