I lifted my mug, took a deep swallow of coffee and instantly grimaced. Slamming it down on my desk and ignoring the mess it made as the liquid splashed onto the dark wood, I hit the button on my phone.
"Jessica! Get in here!"
My door opened and she peeked around the corner.
"Yes, Mr. Cullen?"
I drew in a deep breath, fighting to keep my voice neutral and even. "How long have you worked here?"
"Um, about two weeks."
I nodded. "How often have you brought me coffee?"
She stepped closer, no doubt encouraged by my mild tone.
"Every day, sir."
I narrowed my eyes at her. "Do you have a mental problem I'm unaware of?"
Her smile faltered. "Um, no sir."
"Then why"— my voice began escalating—"Is there fucking sugar in my coffee? I like cream only! Is that such a difficult thing to remember?"
Her eyes widened. "I'm sorry! I must have mixed up the mugs!" She lunged forward, grabbing the mug and spilling more coffee over my desk. "I'm sorry!" she repeated. "I'll clean that up!" She turned, practically running out of my office. "I'll get you a fresh mug!" she called over her shoulder, passing Mrs. Cope as she ran, babbling about different colored mugs. I rolled my eyes and huffed at Shelly as she stood in front of my desk.
"I can't fucking believe you're going to actually retire and leave me with the likes of her. She can't even fucking get a cup of coffee right."
Her eyes danced with mirth as she grinned at me. "I can't fucking believe she's lasted two weeks. That has to be a record. I don't think either of the other two lasted a week. She's got some backbone."
I started to laugh. Nothing I ever said to Mrs. C fazed her. I leaned back in my chair. "Seriously, you're going to hate retirement. Rambling around in that big house of yours, playing bridge and talking to your cats. You'll be a drunk in a month. Two, tops."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Mr. Cullen. You have a better plan?"
"Stay here with me."
"And listen to your demands and bitching all the time? No thanks. I'll take my chances with the alcohol."
I smirked at her. "Frank is going to drive you nuts."
She shrugged. "Him or you. At least at home I can wear my fuzzy slippers."
"I'll add that to your contract. Fuzzy slippers acceptable."
She shook her head. "You'll be fine, Edward. Just try and find a little patience. Stop yelling at everyone."
"I don't yell at everyone."
"Yes, you do."
"Okay, so I do. It's my thing. Keeps the staff on their toes."
"Your thing is going to lose you perfectly good staff."
I snorted. "I don't think you can consider Jessica 'perfectly good staff.'"
"You'll never know unless you stop being such a hard-nosed ass. A little sugar isn't going to kill you—in fact it might help sweeten you up a bit."
I waved my hand dismissively. "All right. Enough bad mouthing the boss—I've changed my mind. You're fired."
We both grinned at each other, completely comfortable with our banter.
Shelly had been with me since I started my company, Cullen Corp, and had watched it grow from a small, struggling business to the huge, multi-million dollar land development conglomerate it was today. When my father had turned his back on me, telling me I would fail, she stood right by my side and supported me, all the way. It was with her I celebrated my victories, and her I turned to for counsel. She was my right hand, but the bottom line, this was still only a job to her—part of her life, unlike me, who made this my entire life.
When her husband Frank retired earlier this year, I knew it was only a matter of time before she wanted to spend her days with him instead of me.
I was going to miss her like crazy.
And she knew it.
The door opened and Jessica walked in, a steaming cup in her shaking hand. I accepted it silently and watched as she quickly mopped up the spill and stood back waiting for approval. I sipped at the brew and nodded at the lack of sugar. It was perfect. Mrs. C was glaring at me and I set down the mug, knowing what they were both waiting for.
"Excellent. Thank you, Jessica."
A wide smile broke out on her face. "You're welcome, Mr. Cullen!"
"Try and remember how I take it next time, all right? No sugar in my coffee or my food."
She nodded enthusiastically. "I put an X on the bottom of your cup. I won't mix them up again."
I stifled a groan, not wanting to hear if she planned on checking she had the right mug before it was full. I was pretty sure I didn't want to hear the answer. Even Mrs. C was smirking. Instead, I decided to check on the details of the next project I was working on.
"Do you have the travel arrangements I asked you to make?"
She nodded quickly and thrust a file folder at me. "All done, sir. I'll be at my desk." Then she scampered off, shutting the door behind her. I arched an eyebrow at Mrs. C, who was watching me with an amused expression on her face. I flipped open the file and scanned the contents.
First class flight to Halifax. A car would be waiting. A suite at the…
I blinked. Read that line again.
An all-inclusive room at the… Sleepy Time Inn?
What the fuck?
I slammed the file on my desk, roaring out in my anger.
Mrs. C stood up, shaking her head. "She's not at her desk."
"Why the fuck not? She needs to fix this and then she's fired!"
"No, she's not. She only did what I instructed her to do. The same way I told her to give you the file and go to lunch." She sighed. "I knew there'd be more yelling. You're always yelling, Edward."
Ignoring her rebuke, I shook the file. "The Sleepy Time Inn? What the fuck is that?"
"That"—she smirked—"is where you're staying."
"No, it's not. Are you telling me there isn't a Ritz within driving distance? Or a fucking Hilton? I'll stay in Halifax if I have to!"
Mrs. Cope's voice became stern. "Edward."
"What?" I muttered.
"You're flying to the East Coast to meet with Mr. Black."
"I know that."
She held up her hand. "He's only agreeing to listen to your proposal on the condition you meet personally with him and spend some time there, at the hotel."
I snorted. "He's not in any position to make demands. He's going to lose it all."
"Not quite yet, Edward. He wants to meet you face-to-face, and you agreed to it."
"I did on your behalf."
I shot her a look that would have had Jessica on the floor. She barely blinked.
"Why, exactly?" I asked between gritted teeth.
"I have a feeling."
"You have to go to the East Coast and meet with Mr. Black. Tell him your plans. He wants to know the person he's selling his property to. Those are his demands. Otherwise, he'll sell to someone else." She drew in a deep breath. "I think you have to do this."
I looked out the window at the gray, overcast sky. Winter was thick in the air, Christmas only a few weeks away. The East Coast would be cold and snowy—far more than here. But I wouldn't be outside much. I had no reason not to go, other than not being comfortable with his demands. I was private and didn't understand his desire to know me before he sold the land. It was just land.
As much as I didn't want to go, I had no family to keep me here, no commitments, no big plans to prepare for—it wasn't like Christmas was a big deal to me. I usually spent it wandering my condo, wishing the day was done so I could get back to work. Thanks to Mrs. Cope's scheduling, I had the time, so I really had no excuse.
My head fell back against the rich leather of my chair. "I want that land. The plans I have for developing it will make me a very rich man."
"You're already a 'very rich man,' Edward."
"Richer, then. I want this deal. I need this deal."
"Then I guess you're staying at the Sleepy Time Inn and spending some of that time with Mr. Black."
"Make sure there's a bottle or two of Courvoisier in my room. The good stuff. I think I might need it."
She was laughing as she walked to the door. "Yeah, I'll get Jessica on that right away." She paused, her hand wrapped around the handle. "Edward…" she called softly.
I looked up, curious.
"There are many ways to be rich in this world. Not all of them involve money. Remember that."
Then she left, me staring after her retreating figure, wondering what crazy thoughts she was going on about.
Thanks for reading. This story will update daily, and finish before Christmas.