We made it back to the office with fifteen minutes to spare. Donald and I cackled like idiots as we worked together and the day began to go by in an instant. We had fun going over Kale’s schedule and creating spreadsheets for events and meetings. Donald prepared me for the upcoming summer conference happening in a few weeks. He said every summer, marketing companies from all over California gather to network and feel out the competition.
It seemed like a daunting challenge at first, but the more Donald explained he would be attending with me and wouldn’t throw me out to the wolves alone, the more secure I felt. We were in charge of making sure the press knew Kale’s face well enough prior to the conference to amp up the image as Erickson Enterprises. We also had to start coming up with some strategies for Cambridge & Sons as well so they could get their piece in, too.
As far as the press, Donald said they weren’t allowed that much access other than approved journalists from certified and trusted media companies. We came up with premade answers for things people would want to know about Kale as a person and his business skills in case he was asked questions that were far off the record. We used general knowledge about Kale through the company website since he was such a closed book about his life, which made me ponder why he took such a high-profile position. We used the info to help jumpstart press releases for big banquets and charities to shape his image into a welcoming person who genuinely cared about his company.
I was leaving Donald’s office on my way to a colleague’s, to inquire about some social media tactics we could use to boost the Cambridge empire before we wrapped up for the day when Connor stopped me.
“Hey, Max,” he greeted pleasantly. “The boss man called for you and wanted me to give you this.” He handed me a keycard from behind the large desk where he sat. I weighed the small piece of plastic with shaky hands, the bones in my body already aching at the thought of seeing him again. “This gives you access to Mr. Erickson’s office.”
“Thanks.” I doubted anyone of my level saw the CEO as much as I did in one day, let alone got a keycard to his freaking office. “Can you give these to Caroline? I was supposed to give these to her.” I handed Connor the papers in my hand and made my way to Kale’s office after Connor’s directions.
I took the elevator to the very top until it stopped. I made the right as instructed and walked down a long, narrow hallway. Feeling uneasy the entire way, I used the keycard to enter his office with a knock. It was my first day and I was already given access to his private quarters. I closed the door with a light touch. The door quietly clicked closed. “You wanted to see me?”
Kale lifted his head from his Smartphone with an inviting gesture. He sat behind a huge mahogany desk that would have swallowed up any other man, but his presence made everything around him insignificant. I stood in front of him attempting to give back the keycard, but he told me to keep it.
“I don’t want it,” I said politely, trying to get him to see I’d rather not have such privileges.
“Keep it, Maxine,” he said softly in a low raspy voice, the tone still reminding me of chocolates and champagne. “You’ll be using it again.”
He gestured for me to sit and I did hesitantly. I remembered how comfortable he was with invading my personal space and how easily I'd let him. Perhaps, I should have stayed by the door where it’s safer.
Kale leaned back into his chair, his eyes doing that thing again where they didn’t move and his concentration was solely on me. “How was the bistro?”
I raised a brow. “How do you know about that?”
“My eyes never miss a thing, Ms. Lucchesi.” His words unsettled me as if he had cameras all around watching my every move. When I really thought about it, I’m sure he did.
“That’s odd,” I said, trying not to sound so sarcastic.
Kale hadn’t said anything for so long I was getting uncomfortable. Just when I thought I could get away with flame-flicking to ease the stress, he spoke.
“You are a very beautiful woman, Ms. Lucchesi,” he murmured.
I was flattered. I mean, very flattered. But I thought I already made myself clear. “Is this why you brought me in here? If so, I’m just going to go.” I got ready to leave but he stopped me again.
“Don’t leave,” he said gently, leaning forward in his chair. “I wanted to apologize for what I said to you earlier. It was rude and I shouldn’t have said it.”
I had to admit I wasn’t expecting him to apologize. With all that arrogance, he didn’t seem like he was capable of forming such sentences. “Thank you. I’m sorry for snapping at you as well, Mr. Erickson.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, intertwining his fingers together as he dug his elbows into the plush armrests of the chair. “And I told you to call me Kale.” I could tell from the returning darkness in his eyes he wanted more communication between us, communication of a different kind. I could feel it in my own body as I found myself getting annoyed with the desk separating us from gaining that contact. Because of this, I felt an intense need to use fire to release that tension. I hastily reined it in when I told myself it was one thing for Kale to have my emotions, but I’d rather die than let him have control of my abilities too.
Those were things ingrained into my body like my flesh and blood, part of my DNA. They were more part of me than anything else and vital to my survival. I’d worked my entire life to get to a point where I could safely use them without worrying about my exposure or potentially harming myself or others. I had to find a way to get them under control when I was with him because I was not going to sacrifice them for him.
Clamping a handle on the need to ignite, I smirked. “Maybe if you weren’t my boss, but you are all CEO.”
He nodded his head in approval, lips spreading in an impressed grin as he recognized his own words being thrown back at him. “Touché.”
“Can I go now?” Now that we’d squashed our differences, I didn’t see a reason for me to be in here anymore.
“No, not yet. Tell me about the bistro.”
I inhaled sharply. “Why do you want to know about that?”
Kale cocked his head to the side. “Why won’t you tell me about it?”
“I don’t have to tell you.”
“No, you don’t. But I’d like for you to tell me.” A pause. “You should relax. I’m not going to do anything to you, Maxine.”
My honey gold eyes narrowed on this peculiar man. “Is that right?”
“It doesn’t make me trust you.”
I took a moment to think about my answer. “You don’t seem like a very trustworthy person. You’re very mysterious, actually.”
A light in his eyes. “Oh? What makes you say that?”
“Everything about you.”
“Your mannerisms, the way you speak. Even the way you carry yourself is very…different than other people. You don’t notice it?”
Kale shifted in his chair. “Sometimes I am aware of it. Do you also not notice it in yourself?”
I shrugged, not finding myself above average in terms of physically fitting in among the human race. “No, not really. I’d say I’m pretty average, just another face in a crowd. You’re just biased.”
“Yes, maybe you are right.”
“I’m still not telling you about the bistro.”
A clever tug of his lips into a small smile. “Was it about me?”
I felt my eye twitch in vexation. “Everything isn’t about you, Kale.”
“Thank you for calling me by my name.”
Realizing my error, I began to rapidly tap my foot to stop the growl that wanted to rip from my throat. “Can I go now?”
A deep chuckle “You can go, Ms. Lucchesi."
As soon as I got in my apartment, I hopped out of my high heels, feeling the blood return to the aching spots. I plopped on the couch and rubbed my sore feet. I changed into some comfortable clothes and made a nice little dinner of baked chicken breast, green beans, and salad. I called my sister because she wanted to know how my first day went and what my boss looked like. As I pulled up my laptop, bringing it to life, she told me she was painting her toenails.
“How’s summer school?” I asked, taking a bite of food then entering the password for my laptop. “Same shit different day?”
I heard her sigh heavily. “Pretty much. I’m on week four of six.” She paused and I heard some rustling like she was shifting on the couch. “I’m painting my toenails this funky shade of purple. Do you think it’ll look weird with my skin tone?”
I swallowed some food and pulled up Google, taking Donald’s advice to do my very own search on our enigmatic man. “I don’t know is it a really bright purple like neon or can you get away with a darker shade?”
“It’s more of a medium shade.”
“Then you’ll be fine, Peyt.” I put her on speaker so I could eat more comfortably and type when needed. “Is your class every day?”
She groaned loudly, making me smile. “Yep and it’s really boring. At this point, I’d rather graduate with my class than early.”
I typed Kale’s full name into Google images and found several of the same pictures of him with what looked like his friends. Because I couldn’t believe it, I leaned forward squinting my eyes. Kale was walking hand in hand with an out-of-this-world gorgeous woman. She had almond shaped crystal blue eyes, so clear they reminded me of the Tropical Ocean, and beige skin free of any impurities. Her eyes were welcoming and her body language was about as threatening as a child's. Her dark brown locks of hair tumbled around her frame and down her back. She wore a frame-forming blue dress to compliment her eyes and gold pumps.
Besides them, were two men who were shot slightly out of focus so I couldn’t see their faces clearly but they were as polished as Kale. The picture was taken at night, and it looked like they were going to dinner or a club. The whole idea of Kale in a club atmosphere was difficult to settle on until I remembered that’s where I met him. He was no stranger to the night scene and felt just as comfortable there as he did anywhere he chose to go.
“You’re more than halfway done, Peyt,” I replied to my sister. I scrolled to another picture, seeing an article attached to it. The woman from before was absent but there was a close up of the man who walked beside him. It appeared they were chatting it up outside during the day in casual clothing. Looking at Kale in casual clothes was like seeing a foreign animal for the first time. He made a simple tee, jeans and Converse look like the latest thing everyone should be jumping on.
His friend was just as attractive as the woman in the previous photo. He was well over six feet with curly black hair. His body was lithe and graceful like a cheetah on the hunt. Whoever took the photo also admired Kale’s friend because even from the hidden distance where the photographer stood I could tell his friend had deep brown eyes like the warm earth.
“What in the world…?” I muttered to myself.
“I would still rather graduate with my class,” Peyton answered a bit distressed. “But anyway, can I stop by your new job? You know, for lunch or something?”
I was utterly distracted when I spoke to my sister. I’d opened up another internet tab and typed Kale’s full name in again to realize there were more photos of him than articles. And strangely, all the images were the same ones stemming from only a few months back. “Sure. We can have lunch together and everything.”
I read some articles, but quickly gave them up when I could see they were all on the same topic only with different wording. I didn’t think I was incompetent but my sister was younger than me; more up to par with the latest everything in terms of technology. She had to know something about my dead end search. “Have you ever been on Google and searched for something and there is literally nothing?”
I heard her blowing softly on her newly painted nails. “What do you mean like a celebrity? I’ve never had it happen for a celebrity search. The person isn’t a celebrity if you can’t find anything.”
Thinking back on the publishing dates of the articles only going back a few months, I said, “What if it’s an upcoming celebrity?”
“There should still be enough to know a birthday and hometown. Who are you looking for?”
“You wouldn’t know him.”
Thankfully, Peyton didn’t dig too deep into that. “How’s your new boss? Is he cute? Or is he old and ugly?”
It seemed I couldn’t drop the subject of Kale after all. I kept my tone mild to show just enough interest but not overly excited to make Peyton look him up. “He’s attractive. He’s arrogant, too, but that can be expected from him, I guess.”
“True. I mean, he’s responsible for an entire company and its assets so he’s bound to be a little entitled. Is your direct manager cool?”
I smiled thinking of Donald and his very congenial personality. “You’d like him, Peyt. He keeps you laughing and he’s very down to earth.”
She chuckled. “He sounds like my kind of guy. Tell him I say hello.”
I also chuckled, imagining how that conversation would go down when I told Donald about my little sister. “All right. Goodnight, Peyton. Love you.”
“‘Kay love you too.”
I shut down my laptop after ending the call with my sister and put my dirty dishes in the sink to wash for another day. I went straight to my bed and fell face first into the pillows. I was exhausted, but I was thankful for the busyness. As tired as I was, I couldn’t fall asleep right away. I reflected on the articles I’d read and I didn’t gain much information from them only more questions.
In a lot of ways, those articles made sense, though. From interacting with Kale, he wasn’t the type of man to give so much of himself away and seemed to enjoy it that way. Donald told me he was a very private person, so it made sense there was no extra fluff about him. What I didn’t know was before his transition into the then Webster Enterprises, Kale was already swimming in money. He used to be a private investor in many companies around the city and several more from around the world. That information was useless as I could have found that on the company site.
What made me question his motives was his reasoning for coming out of his comfort zone. Webster Enterprises is known all around for being a great company, so why put himself out there in the public eye as the CEO? With this position, he’d no longer have that reserved lifestyle. All these questions and no way to ask them. Now that I’d looked as extensively as I could about him, I couldn’t mention anything I’d seen or I’d embarrass myself to death. If something slipped, I’d beg for the floor to swallow me whole.
Honestly, with Kale’s persistence, he’d probably never let me live it down all while steadily trying to pursue me.
I wondered if I could hold a conversation with him without feeling like I was analyzing beyond what an employee should, but shut the thought down when I found myself questioning if I was borderline obsessed with this man. He was a huge question mark and maybe I should leave him be that question mark. He had every right to stay hidden if he wanted to as I, too, stay hidden within the shadows.
I closed my mind to my neighbors and closed my eyes, letting sleep overcome me in minutes.