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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Feature: Mr. Big by Delancey Stewart

He’s tortured and dark, angsty and arrogant. You want the truth? He’s kind of an A-hole.

He’s also the CEO.

Everything in my life goes according to plan, and that’s the way I like it. I got the degree. I got the job. Now I just need to prove that I have what it takes to succeed in the real world.

If there’s one thing that’s not in my plans, it’s falling in love with my boss.

Most relationships don’t start with one person calling the other out in public for being an arrogant jerk. Then again, most CEOs don’t cut their own employees in line at the coffeehouse and bark orders at people like they own the place.

Maybe pissing Oliver Cody off isn’t the right move. And now that he’s part of my world, all my plans go straight to hell.

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I was a girl with a plan. And I mean that literally. I’d had it sketched out in my Powerpuff Girls notebook since I was ten years old. It was focused and specific, because in my mind, that was where my long-lost mother had got it all wrong. She didn’t plan. She failed to plan and therefore she planned to fail. I didn’t intend to repeat her mistakes. I liked to be prepared for anything, and that’s why I had a plan.

Last year my plan involved graduating top of my master’s program and scoring a high-paying gig in applied statistics at a world-stomping sports analytics company here in Los Angeles called Cody Technology. My plan had changed slightly due to the fact that the guys in charge of hiring for those high-paying gigs failed to mention one tiny requirement I couldn’t meet: evidently these jobs all required a penis.

Not to worry, I told myself as I climbed down from my tower of feminist rage when John Adler, a guy who barely scraped out of my program with his degree, got the job I was after. I’d just have to prove myself. That was nothing new to me. I could handle it. So I took the best job they’d give me at Cody . . . in sales. It was like buying the worst house in the best neighborhood. Nowhere to go but up.

“Here,” Pamela said, sliding a tube across my desk and looking around suspiciously to see if anyone was watching.

I smiled up at her. “You found them?”

She nodded. “No one cares much about these, there’s so much insanity going on in the executive tower since the accident and everything. But you better give ’em back before too long, okay? I’m sure at some point someone will notice they’re gone.”

I took the long tube of schematics and shoved it into my shoulder bag, tucking it back beneath my desk and doing the same glance-around that Pamela had done. The floor where I worked at Cody Technology wasn’t exactly known for people minding their own business. “Thanks, Pamela. I’ll get them right back to you, okay?”

“You wanna go get lunch?” she asked, leaning against the low cubicle wall next to my desk.

I shouldn’t go. I’d been distracted lately as it was, but she was right—there was so much gossip and random wandering since Adam Cody’s sudden death that no one would probably miss me. “Sure.” I grabbed my bag, locked my computer and followed her out to the elevators. “Seen your playboy boss lately?” I asked as we headed out into the warm sunshine.

“Yeah, right after everything happened. He was at the funeral.”

“Oh, right. I guess he would be,” I said. “It’s all so sad, isn’t it? He must be a mess.”

She shook her head, and for a moment she looked like she might cry. “Adam Cody was a great man,” she said. “He did a lot for me. His wife was lovely, too.”

“I didn’t know you knew him well. I’m sorry, Pamela.”

We crossed the quad and found our way down the Wilshire corridor and off a side street to our favorite lunch spot, a bright little café with turquoise awnings and wrought iron chairs and bistro tables out front.

Sandwiches in hand, we sat and watched the traffic slide by in the sunlight and continued our conversation.

“So is he coming back?” I asked around a mouthful of turkey and Brie with avocado.

She shrugged. “He barely came to the funeral,” she said. “It was strange. I thought he’d be speaking, but maybe he was just too upset. He stood way in the back, and when I caught his eye, he didn’t look sad, exactly.”

I felt my eyebrows lower in concentration as I waited for her to continue.

“He looked pissed off, actually.”

“Huh.” I thought about that. “Everyone handles grief differently, I guess. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose both your parents at once like that. And they were really close, right?”

She nodded her confirmation.

When I’d said I couldn’t imagine, I meant it literally. I didn’t have parents, exactly. In the biological sense, sure, I’d had them like everyone else. But I’d never met them, wasn’t raised by them. For all I knew, Oliver Cody and I shared the same fate. Maybe my beautiful happy parents had been killed together in a sudden car crash after I was born. I’d never know.

Sunlight and Brie replaced the dark bitter thoughts I’d let creep in and I felt my shoulders relax. It’d been a long time since I’d allowed myself to feel angry or hurt by my past. I’d made the best of it, was still very much in the process of making the best of it.

“What about the company?” I asked. Pamela was Oliver Cody’s secretary. Since he’d been gone, she’d kept her post and worked closely with Adam before he’d died. She had inside information most people never even thought to credit her with, since she sat literally in the heart of the company’s executive offices and had been Adam’s right hand in a lot of ways.

Pamela sat back and looked out over the street. “I don’t know. But I hope Oliver comes back soon. There’ve been some conversations up there about the board getting anxious, about selling shares. I think we’re at a tipping point and someone needs to steer, you know?”

“How about you?” I grinned.

“With Adam gone, I think I’ll be relegated to my proper position as secretary,” she said. “No one else trusts me like he did.”


“I never got to know the guy too well,” she said. “He followed Adam’s lead most of the time.”

“Well, he needs to get back and do some leading now.” I didn’t want to hear that the company was in a precarious situation. I was on the brink of creating an opportunity for myself, but I needed the company to be stable for it to happen.

“Maybe he will,” Pamela said thoughtfully, sadness still visible in the lines around her wide brown eyes.

“How’s your little guy?” I asked, turning the topic and hoping to see her smile.
It worked. “He’s great,” she said. “He’s starting pre-school soon.”

“Seriously? Is he already that big? Wait, doesn’t school normally start in the fall?”

She nodded. “Normally, yes. But they had an opening, so he’s starting in February.” 

“So pre-school this year and then kindergarten next fall?” I asked.

“He’ll actually do a couple years of pre-school, so he’ll be almost six when he starts kindergarten.” 

I nodded my understanding, chewing a fry as I thought about what a huge responsibility that was, being responsible for someone else’s education.

Pamela made a face. “I’m terrified, but he’s so excited. It’ll be weird not having him here at the Cody daycare.” She swallowed a sip of tea and looked at me, her eyes wide. “I fear change.” She said it deadpan, to make it funny, but I knew it was true.

“We all do,” I assured her, laughing. “But change can be a good thing, too.” I was speaking as much to her situation as to my own.

She sat up straighter in her chair. “I hope you’re right.”

Delancey Stewart writes contemporary romance from her home outside Washington D.C. In a house populated by two tiny pirates and one full-sized Marine aviator, inspiration for her heroes is never hard to find—though quiet time to write often is!

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