A/N: This is purely literary trash, and I will not ever make money off of this. But it's too damn funny to not try out. I personally have a love/hate relationship with the 50 Shades series as a practicing person in the Kink and Leather communities because it conveys the worst possible example of what SSC/RACK BDSM can be.
Mother told me it wouldn't hurt. Mother said we would live forever. Mother said just one more time, one more girl, and we'd be done.
Ever since Ell, I quit hunting humans like I used to. I refused to play Mother's games. And she buried me un-dead as punishment.
I went to sleep for a long time in the cold, still earth. When I awoke to the booming vibrations, I awoke thirsty. I awoke hungry. And I awoke in the dark. And the only thing scarier than the Dark was the Light.
"I think we found something!" I heard, and I was thankful that the languages had not changed that much.
"What the hell happened here?"
"Who the fuck wraps a coffin in crosses?"
"I bet someone buried treasure in it; did this to scare off the gypsy grave-robbers."
"Get back to your trenches, everyone!" I chorus of "yes, sir's" alerted me that it was a military operation of some sort. The cannons only got louder over the decades. Or had centuries passed?
The sound of shovels hit the coffin as I was unearthed, and I plead for forgiveness to whatever Gods hadn't competely abandoned me because I wouldn't be able to restrain my thirst.
Betty is my roommate, and she has chosen today of all days to be a complete flake. I don't know what's going on with her, but seeing as I'm a journalism major, I decide to take up her appointment with some mega-bigshot, industrialist tycoon I've never heard of for the Silas University newspaper. I still have my exams to cram for, an essay to revise, and I was supposed to be working this afternoon, but no - instead I have to bike twenty-five miles to the largest town nearby in order to meet the enigmatic CEO of Karnstein Industries Inc. Apparently he's some exceptional entrepreneur and major benefactor to our University, and his time is extraordinarily precious - emphasis on much more precious than mine - but since he granted Betty an interview, it behooves me to go and at least meet the guy. I hope I get credit at least in her by-line.
Betty sent me all this by text message to boot. I swear, I bet she is hungover or something at some skeevy guy's place.
I read the message on my phone twice because I had to decipher it.
'Laura, I'm sorry. It took me months 2 get this interview. By the time we can reschedule, the semester will b over. Please go 4 me. Thanx.'
I winced at her butchering of the English language and typed a quick 'Okay' in reply.
"I know nothing about him," I murmur, trying and failing to suppress my rising panic as I make my way out. She promised me a list of questions to ask that she would send shortly along with the address. Gathering my satchel, I head out the door to my bike. I cannot believe I am being this nice for Betty. But maybe I can get a paid internship with the paper next year?
Probably not. Betty would probably get it. She's beautiful, well-connected, persuasive, argumentative, and friendly with the Alchemy club - all things I don't have.
My destination is the headquarters of Mr. C. Karnstein's global enterprise. It's a huge twenty-story office building, all curved glass and steel, an architect's utilitarian fantasy, with Karnstein written discreetly in steel over the glass front doors. It's a quarter to two when I arrive, greatly relieved that I'm not late as I walk into the enormous - and frankly intimidating - glass, steel, and white marble lobby.
Behind the solid black marble desk, a very attractive, impeccably groomed, young blonde woman smiles pleasantly at me. I feel like I've entered Stepford. She looks immaculate.
"I'm here to see Mr. Karnstein. Laura Hollis for Katherine Spielsdorf."
"Excuse me one moment, Miss Hollis." She arches her eyebrowslightly as I stand self-consciously before her. I feel terribly under-dressed; wishing I'd borrowed one of Betty's blazers rather than wear my brown jacket over my blue button-up blouse. I made some effort with dark slacks and my sensible brown knee-length boots. For me, this is smart. Judging from the building I'm in, I may as well be slumming. Maybe he'll think I'm wearing this ironically? I pull my hair behind my shoulders as I pretend she doesn't intimidate me.
"Miss Spielsdorf is expected. Please sign-in here, Miss Hollis. You'll want the last elevator on the right, press for the twentieth floor." She smiles at me, amused no doubt, as I sign in. "Enjoy your interview."
She hands me a security pass that has VISITOR boldly stamped on the front. I can't help but smirk. Itt's obvious that I don't fit in here at all. Thanking her, I walk over to the bank of elevators past the two security men who are both far more smartly dressed than I am in their well-cut black suits.
The elevator whisks me with gut-wrenching velocity to the twentieth floor. I feel like my breakfast arrived twenty seconds later. The doors slide open, and I'm in yet another lobby - again all glass, steel, and black marble. I'm confronted by another desk and another young blonde woman dressed impeccably in black and white who rises to greet me.
"Miss Hollis, could you wait here, please?" She points to a seated area of white leather chairs. Did the decorator here just decide to be colorblind and go fully monochromatic?
Behind the leather chairs is a spacious glass-walled meeting room with an equally spacious ebony wood table and at least twenty matching chairs around it. Beyond that, there is a floor-to-ceiling window with a view of the city skyline that triggers my acrophobia. I immediately take a few steps back from the edge and fall into a chair and flip through my phone, finally receiving the questions that Betty promised me half an hour ago. Not even a brief biography? I know nothing about this man I'm about to interview. He could be ninety or he could be thirty. He could be a serial killer like in American Psycho. Or he could just be gay. He could be a gay serial killer. I shake off the idle wondering as my nerves resurface, making me fidget. I've never been comfortable with one-on-one interviews, preferring the anonymity of a group discussion where I can sit inconspicuously at the back of the room. To be honest, I prefer my own company, reading British literature, curled up in a chair in the campus library. Until it gets dark. Silas University had some strange warnings about the library at night.
I roll my eyes at myself. Girl the hell up, Hollis. Judging from the building, which is too clinical and modern, I guess Karnstein is in his forties: fit, tanned, and fair-haired to match the rest of the personnel. Probably enjoys soy vegan lattes and big rare steaks. Hypocrite.
Another elegant, flawlessly dressed blonde comes out of a large door to the right. What is it with all the immaculate blondes? It hits me that Betty would have fit right in here. Taking a deep breath, I stand up. "Miss Hollis?" the latest blonde asks.
"Yes," I croak, and clear my throat. "Yes." There, that sounded more confident.
"Ms. Karnstein just woke up, and will see you in a moment. May I take your jacket?" Just woke up? Jeez, I guess zillionaires do get to sleep in.
"Uh, sure." I struggle out of the poorly-fitting jacket. Wait, did she say Miss Karnstein?!
"Have you been offered any refreshment?"
"Um - no." Was Stepford Wife #1 in trouble?
Blonde Number Two frowns and eyes the young woman at the desk. I wonder if they have Tribunals here as well.
"Would you like tea, coffee, water?" she asks, turning her attention back to me.
"Uh, just water. Thank you," I murmur. I didn't mean to get anyone into trouble.
"Olivia, please fetch Miss Hollis a glass of water." Her voice is stern. Olivia scoots up immediately and scurries to a door on the other side of the foyer.
"My apologies, Miss Hollis, Olivia is our new intern. Please be seated. It may be another five minutes." I guess Olivia is going to get flogged or reprogrammed until she's an obedient minion.
Olivia returns with a glass of iced water and a nervous smile.
"Here you go, Miss Hollis." Perhaps Ms. Karnstein insists on all the employees being blonde. I wonder idly if that's even legal.
"Thank you." I reply, seeing the large office door open slightly. I can't see anyone there, and it's slightly unnerving.
"Ms. Karnstein will see you now, Miss Hollis. Do go through," Blonde Number Two says.
I stand rather shakily trying to suppress my nerves. Tugging my jacket down, I abandon my glass of water and make my way to the partially open door.
"You don't need to knock - just go in." She smiles kindly.
I push open the door and realize I left my cell phone on the table, turning on my heel and tripping over the door ledge leading into the office.
Blonde Number Two gets my phone for me and hands it over to my interviewee as I am on my hands and knees trying to get up. A pair of gentle hands easily lift me to my feet. It's not every day I'm lifted up like a sack of flour. Holy cow - she's so young.
"Miss Hollis." She extends a pale hand, holding my phone out to me once I'm upright. "I'm Carmilla Karnstein. Are you all right? Would you like to sit?"
So young - and attractive, very attractive. She's tall, dressed in a fine gray skirt suit that hugs a pert butt, white blouse, and silver necklace with unruly curly black hair and intense, dark brown eyes that regard me shrewdly. It takes a moment for me to find my voice.
"Um. Actually - " I mutter. If she is over thirty then I'm a monkey's uncle. In a daze, I place my hand in hers and we shake. As our fingers touch, I feel an odd exhilarating shiver run through me. There was a strength in her hands, and the confidence was rolling off her in waves. I withdrew my hand hastily, embarrassed. Must be static. I blink rapidly, my eyelids matching my heart rate. It's as if her eyes linger for a second too long on me and realize my pulse went up.
"Miss Spielsdorf is indisposed, so she sent me. I hope you don't mind, Ms. Karnstein."
"And you are?" Her voice is rich and warm, possibly amused, but it's difficult to tell from her impassive expression. She looks mildly interested, but above all, polite.
"Laura Hollis. I'm studying English Literature with Betty, um... Miss...um... Miss Spielsdorf at Silas University."
"I see," she says simply. I think I see the ghost of a smile in her expression, but I'm not sure. "I'm Carmilla Karnstein. Would you like to sit?" She waves me toward a white leather buttoned chase lounge. I know it was only a polite request, but I felt like it was more than that.
Her office is way too big for just one person. Unless she's the kind of CEO to sometimes sleep in here. In front of the floor-to-ceiling heavy-tinted windows, there's a huge dark-wood desk that six people could comfortably eat around. It matches the coffee table by the couch. Everything else is white and black - ceiling, floors, and walls except, on the wall by the door, where a mosaic of small paintings hang, a splash of red in the utter absence of color. They are exquisite - a series of mundane, simple objects painted in such clarity and sharp precision they look like photographs.
"A local artist. Do you enjoy art?" says Ms. Karnstein when she catches my gaze.
"They're lovely. Bringing life into the bleak," I murmur, distracted both by her and the paintings. She cocks her head to one side and regards me intently.
"I couldn't agree more, Miss Hollis," she replies, her voice soft and for some inexplicable reason I find myself blushing.
Apart from the paintings, the rest of the office is cold, clean, and clinical. I wonder if it reflects the personality of the woman who slinks gracefully into one of the white leather chairs opposite me. The skirt rides up and my eyes lock onto the modest slit, revealing the most perfect pale legs I have ever seen. I shake my head, disturbed at the direction of my thoughts, and retrieve Betty's questions from my cell phone. Next, I set up the recorder app and nearly drop my cell twice before I get everything settled. Ms. Karnstein says nothing, waiting patiently - I hope - as I become increasingly embarrassed and flustered. When I pluck up the courage to look at her, she's watching me, one hand relaxed in her lap and the other cupping her chin and trailing a short black fingernail across her lips. I think she's trying to suppress a smile.
"Sorry," I stutter. "I'm not used to this."
"Take all the time you need, Miss Hollis," she says, and it feels like my name was said playfully, as if she would rather be calling me 'cupcake' or something. If a guy did that, it would feel completely sexist. But with Miss Karnstein... whoa.
"Um, do you mind if I record your answers?"
"After you've taken so much trouble with your cell - you ask me now?"
I flush. She's teasing me... I hope. I blink at her, unsure what to say, and I think she takes pity on me because she relents. "No, I don't mind."
"Did Betty, I mean, Miss Spielsdorf, explain what the interview was for?" She rolled her eyes at that.
"Yes. To appear in the graduation issue of your little student newspaper as I shall be conferring the degrees at this year's graduation ceremony."
Oh! This is news to me, but I'm temporarily preoccupied by the thought that someone not much older than me - okay, maybe a few years or so, still - is going to be presenting diplomas. I frown, dragging my wayward attention back to the task at hand.
"Good," I swallow nervously. "I have some questions, Ms. Karnstein." I smooth a stray lock of hair behind my ear. Even my hair is getting flustered!
"I thought you might," she says, deadpan. She's smirking at me. My cheeks heat at the realization, and I sit up and square my shoulders in an attempt to look taller, perhaps professional and more intimidating. Pressing the start button on the recorder, I try to look unfazed.
"You're very young to have amassed such an empire. To what do you owe your success?" I glance up at her. Her smile is rueful, but she looks vaguely disappointed. This was a pretty bad question.
"Business is all about people, Miss Hollis, and I'm very good at reading people. I know how they tick, what makes them flourish, what makes them fail, what inspires them, and how to... incentivize them. I employ an exceptional team, and I reward them well." she pauses and fixes me with her dark stare. "My belief is to achieve success in any scheme, one has to make oneself master of that scheme, know it inside and out; know every detail. I work hard, very hard to do that. I make decisions based on observation, logic, and facts. I have a natural gut instinct that can spot and nurture a good solid idea and good people. The bottom line is, it's always down to good people." Her eyes didn't seem to blink as she took me in, and I could have sworn she was doing Legilimancy.
"Maybe you're just lucky." This wasn't on Betty's list - but she's so arrogant. Her eyes flare momentarily in surprise.
"I don't believe in luck or chance, Miss Hollis. Today's generation doesn't seem to grasp that the Fates ignore the day-to-day hubbub. The harder I work the more luck I seem to have. It really is all about having the right people beneath you and directing their energies accordingly. I think it was Harvey Firestone who said 'the growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.'"
"You sound like a control freak." The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them.
"Oh, I exercise control in all things, Miss Hollis," she says without a trace of humor in her smile. I look at her, and she holds my gaze steadily, impassive. My heartbeat quickens, and my face flushes again. Her eyes widen for a fraction of a second before she regains control.
Why does she have such an unnerving effect on me? Her overwhelming good looks maybe? The way her eyes blaze at me? The way she strokes her index finger against her lower lip? I wish she'd stop doing that.
"Besides, immense power is acquired by assuring yourself in your secret reveries that you were born to control things," she continues, her voice soft.
"Do you feel that you have immense power?" Ugh. Control Freak.
"I employ over forty thousand people, Miss Hollis. That gives me a certain sense of responsibility - power, if you will. If I were to decide I was no longer interested in the telecommunications business and sell up, twenty thousand people would struggle to make their mortgage payments after a month or so."
My mouth drops open. I am staggered by her lack of humanity.
"Don't you have a board to answer to?" I ask, disgusted. She obviously wouldn't care about the people getting laid off.
"I own my company. I don't have to answer to a board." She raises an eyebrow at me.
I flush. Of course, I would know this if I had done some research. But holy crap, she's so arrogant. I change tack.
"And do you have any interests outside your work?"
"I have... varied interests, Miss Hollis." A ghost of a smile touches her lips. "Very varied." And for some reason, I'm confounded and heated by her steady gaze. Her eyes are alight with some wicked thought.
"But if you work so hard, what do you do to chill out?"
"Chill out?" she smiles, revealing perfect white teeth. She asked that as if the expression were foreign to her. I can't remember to talk.
"Well, to 'chill out' as you put it - I read, I volunteer at a big cat rescue, I indulge in various... physical pursuits." How can she make that last part do suggestive?
I glance quickly at Betty's questions, wanting to get off this subject.
"You invest in manufacturing. Why, specifically?" I ask. Why does she make me so uncomfortable?
"I like to build things. I like to know how things work: what makes things tick, how to construct and deconstruct. And I have a love of ships. What can I say?"
"That sounds like your heart talking rather than logic and facts."
Her mouth quirks up, and she stares appraisingly at me.
"Possibly. Though there are people who'd say I don't have a heart."
"Why would they say that?"
"Because they know me well, cutie." Her lip curls in a wry smile.
"Would your friends say you're easy to get to know?" And I regret the question as soon as I say it. It's not on Betty's list.
"I'm a very private person, Miss Hollis. I go a long way to protect my privacy. I don't often give interviews," she trails off.
"Why did you agree to do this one?" My roommate fits in as a perfect blonde here?
"Because I'm a benefactor of the University, and for all intents and purposes, I couldn't get Miss Spielsdorf off my back. She badgered and badgered my PR people, and I admire that kind of tenacity."
I know how tenacious Betty can be. That's why I'm sitting here squirming uncomfortably under her penetrating gaze, when I should be studying for my exams. I hope it was a really bad hangover.
"You also invest in farming technologies. Why are you interested in this area?"
"We can't eat money, Miss Hollis, and there are too many people on this planet who don't have enough to eat." She's worried about world hunger?
"That sounds very philanthropic. Is it something you feel passionately about? Feeding the world's poor?"
She shrugs, very non-committal. "It's shrewd business," she murmurs, though I think she's being disingenuous. It doesn't make sense - feeding the world's poor? I can't see the financial benefits of this, only the virtue of the ideal. I glance at the next question, confused by her attitude.
"Do you have a philosophy? If so, what is it?"
"I'm very singular; one might say driven. I like control - of myself and those around me."
"So you want to possess things?" You are a control freak.
"I want to deserve to possess them, but yes, bottom line, I do."
"You sound like the ultimate consumer."
"I am." She smiles, but the smile doesn't touch her eyes. Again this is at odds with someone who wants to feed the world, so I can't help thinking that we're talking about something else, but I'm absolutely mystified as to what it is. I swallow hard. The temperature in the room is rising or maybe it's just me. I just want this interview to be over. Surely Betty has enough material now. I glance at the next question.
"You were adopted. How far do you think that's shaped the way you are?" Oh, this is personal. I stare at her, hoping she's not offended. Her brow furrows.
"I have no way of knowing."
My interest is piqued.
"How old were you when you were adopted?"
"That seems awfully personal, Miss Hollis." Her tone is stern. I flush, again. Crap.
I move on quickly.
"You've had to sacrifice a family life for your work."
"That's not a question." She's terse.
"Sorry." I squirm, and she's made me feel like an errant child. I try again. "Have you had to sacrifice a family life for your work?"
"I have a family. I have a brother, a sister, and a mother. I'm not interested in extending my family beyond that."
"Are you gay, Ms. Karnstein?"
She inhales sharply, and I cringe, mortified. Crap. Why didn't I employ some kind of filter before I read this straight out? How can I tell her I'm just reading the questions Betty gave me?
"No, Laura, I'm not." She raises her eyebrows, a cold gleam in her eyes. She does not look pleased. She doesn't look pleased at all.
"I apologize. It's um... written here." It's the first time she's said my name. I found myself not enjoying it. My heartbeat has accelerated, and my cheeks are heating up again. Nervously, I tuck my loosened hair behind my ear.
She cocks her head to one side. "These aren't your own questions?"
The blood drains from my head. Oh no.
"Err... no. Betty - Miss Spielsdorf - she compiled the questions."
"Are you even colleagues on the student paper?" Oh crap. I have nothing to do with the student paper yet.
"No. She's my roommate."
She licks her lips in thought, her dark eyes appraising me.
"Did you volunteer to do this interview?" She asks, her low voice evoking a reaction deep within me.
Her eyes burned into me, and I'm compelled to answer with the truth.
"I was drafted. She's not well." My voice is weak and apologetic.
"That explains a great deal."
There's a knock at the door, and Blonde Number Two enters.
"Ms. Karnstein, forgive me for interrupting, but your next meeting is in two minutes."
"We're not finished here. Please cancel my next meeting."
The blonde hesitates, gaping at her. She appears lost. Carmilla Karnstein turns her head slowly to face the blonde and raises her eyebrows. The blonde balks and nods in acquiescence.
"Very well, Ms. Karnstein," she mutters, then exits. She frowns, and turns her attention back to me.
"Where were we, Miss Hollis?"
Oh, we're back to 'Miss Hollis' now.
"Please don't let me keep you from anything." I just want to leave now.
"I want to know about you, cupcake. I think that's only fair." Her dark eyes were an abyss pulling me in. Double crap. Where's she going with this? She places her elbows on the arms of the chair and steeples her fingers in front of her mouth. It was quite the powerful and evocative pose. Her mouth is very... distracting. I swallow.
"There's not much to know," I say, flushing again.
"I doubt that. What are your plans after you graduate?"
I shrug, thrown by her interest. Go back home and live with dad as I find a place, get a job. I haven't really thought beyond my finals.
"I haven't made any plans, Ms. Karnstein. I just need to get through my final exams."
Which I should be studying for now rather than sitting in your palatial, swanky, sterile office, feeling uncomfortable under your seduction eyes.
"I have an excellent internship program here," she says quietly. I raise my eyebrows in surprise. Is she offering me a job?
"Oh. I'll bear that in mind," I murmur, completely confounded. "Though I'm not sure I'd fit in here." Betty would, though.
"Why do you say that?" She cocks her head to one side, intrigued, a hint of a smile playing on her lips.
"It's obvious, isn't it?" I'm uncoordinated, scruffy, and I'm not blonde.
"Not to me," she murmurs. her gaze is intense, all humor gone, and strange muscles deep within me clench suddenly. I tear my eyes away from her scrutiny and stare blindly down at my knotted fingers. What's going on here? I have to go - now. I lean forward to retrieve the recorder.
"Would you like me to show you around?" She asks.
"I'm sure you're far too busy, Ms. Karnstein, and I do have a long bike ride."
"You're biking back to Silas?" She sounds surprised, anxious even. She glances out of the window. It's about to rain. "Well, you'd better be careful." her tone is stern, authoritative. Why should she care? "Did you get everything you need?" she adds.
"Yes ma'am," I reply, packing the recorder into my satchel. her eyes narrow, speculatively.
"At least you now know I'm not a man." She replied playfully.
"And not into women." I said apologetically.
"I never said that, Laura. I'm not one for labels."
"Oh, sorry. I guess you find them restricting." There is something in the way she looks at me, like she's trying to appraise something quite valuable.
"You would be surprised at what I find restricting." I know I'm blushing now.
"Thank you for the interview, Ms. Karnstein."
"The pleasure's been all mine," she says, polite yet holding a subtle meaning beneath it. Was she flirting with me?
As I rise, she stands and holds out her hand.
"Until we meet again, Miss Hollis." And it sounds like a challenge, or a threat, I'm not sure which. I frown. When will we ever meet again? I shake her hand once more, astounded that that odd current between us is still there. I pull my hand back and rub it as I put on a polite smile.
"Ms. Karnstein." I nod at her. Moving with a lithe, feline grace she beats me and my short stubby legs the door, opening it wide.
"Just making certain you get past the door safely, buttercup." she gives me a small smile.
Obviously, she's referring to my earlier less-than-elegant entry into her office. I flush.
"That's very considerate, Ms. Karnstein," I snap, and her smile widens. I'm glad you find me entertaining, I glower inwardly, walking into the foyer. I'm surprised when she follows me out. The blondes both look up, equally surprised.
"Did you have a coat?" Ms. Karnstein asks.
"Yes." A blonde leaps up and retrieves my jacket, which Ms. Karnstein takes from her before she can hand it to me. She holds it up and, feeling ridiculously self-conscious, like I'm being dressed for the first day of school, I shrug it on.
Carmilla Karnstein, CEO, places her hands for a moment on my shoulders. I gasp at the contact. If she notices my reaction, she gives nothing away. Her long index finger presses the button summoning the elevator, and we stand waiting - awkwardly on my part, coolly self-possessed on her.
The doors open, and I hurry in desperate to escape. I really need to get out of here. When I turn to look at her, she's leaning against the doorway beside the elevator with one hand on the wall. She really is very gorgeous and she knows it. It's distracting, her dark eyes burning a gaze at me.
"Until next time, Laura," She says as a farewell. She didn't wield my name like a wrapping this time. I finally summon enough courage and try out her given name.
"Carmilla," I reply. A flash of something went over her features and mercifully, the doors start to close before I can understand it.
The elevator dings as the doors begin to open again. "Cancel the rest of my day." She calls out, "I'll drive her home." She steps into the tiny elevator and I can't help but realize how close she is to me.
"Oh, you don't have to do that." I said, though it could be raining cats and dogs out there for all I knew.
Her eyes and lips were way too close and I felt the need to back up from her as I felt the cold metal of the elevator on my back. How come everyone was taller than me?
"Buckle up, creampuff, I'm giving you a second chance to actually interview me. I want to know what Laura Hollis wants to know about me."