Copyright © 2012 Juniper Bell
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Margo Lang didn’t take long to appear in my life. The next morning she walked into the office, though I had no idea who she was at first. She looked like a model in a designer-eyewear ad, or like a CEO being interviewed about a new hostile takeover. She wore a black suit cut perfectly to her perfect figure. If we had both been standing, she would have towered over me. A string of pearls glowed tastefully from her neck, contrasting with the sneer on her face. Her eyes were green, sharp and curious.
“Who are you?” Her glance felt like a scalpel, carving me up and down. Obviously she wanted to make me uncomfortable, but I stared back, refusing to give in to her rudeness.
“I’m Dana Arthur, the receptionist. Can I help you?”
“Receptionist of the month?” She said with a kind of lofty disdain. “Or of the week, perhaps? The boys always did have shocking turnover in their staff.”
Somehow she made both “turnover” and “staff” sound dirty. She made me feel dirty.
She tilted her glasses down her thin nose and gave the foyer a scornful look. “He hasn’t even redecorated. So like a man.”
“May I help you?” I asked again, through clenched teeth.
“That depends. Are you decent?”
“Excuse me?” I glanced down at my outfit. Knee-length gray plaid kilt, demure little sunshine-yellow twinset straight from the fifties. Literally—I’d acquired it at a thrift store.
“I mean, underneath.” She aimed her evil X-ray vision at me, or at least that’s how it felt. As it happened, I was dressed with uncharacteristic modesty. Stockings and old-fashioned garters to match my vintage theme, and a full-coverage teddy. No panties under the garters, but you can’t have everything.
“How is that any of your business?” If she thought she could intimidate me, she was in for a shock. I grew up getting yelled at by an alcoholic lunatic and Frankenstein’s bride. An eyewear model didn’t scare me.
“Didn’t you know? I own twenty percent of this business’s profits. And since the business is made up of the three of you, I prefer to think I own twenty percent of you.”
My jaw dropped. Literally. Just fell open.
“I wonder which twenty percent Ethan will assign to me?” She prowled toward the desk. I scowled at her, refusing to play into her tactics. “Your lovely face?” She chucked me under the chin as if I were a child. “Perhaps a nipple?”
Before I realized what she was doing, she reached to the front of my sweater and scraped her curved fingernail across my nipple. Her nails were long and red, like enameled claws. A shuddering sensation ricocheted from my nipple to my groin. Damn her. Damn my frisky nipples. I slapped her hand away in outrage.
She laughed. “Liked that, did you?”
“Keep your repulsive hands off me.”
“Or maybe Ethan wants to keep your tits to himself. He always was a breast man. Has he pierced your nipples yet? Led you around on a leash? Ethan and his pets, he’s so adorable with them. Well, so be it. He can keep your precious breasts. Maybe he’ll offer me your pussy, or better yet, your ass. I’d like to spank some sense into you. I’d like to see you spread bare-assed across this desk, awaiting the slash of my whip.”
“That’s never going to happen, you freak.” I stood up. “Ethan’s busy right now. Maybe you should come back some other time. Like when you’ve undergone a complete brain transplant. Personality too, while you’re at it.”
“Cute. Spunky. I like.” Again she reached forward and cupped my breast. But this time, before I had a chance to smack her hand away, she withdrew it as quickly as though my nipple had magic bitch-repelling powers.
“I’ll have you arrested,” came Ethan’s deadly voice. “Restraining order, sex offender list, the works.”
Ethan stalked toward us, blue eyes blazing with unholy fury. Margo took three steps backward.
“You can’t do that,” she said. “Have you forgotten my stake in the business?”
“Have you forgotten all common standards of decency? Not to mention federal and state laws against sexual harassment?”
Only a foot or so from the door, she took her stand with a snort. “You’re kidding me, right? You’re accusing me of sexual harassment?”
“Dana,” Ethan barked without looking at me. “Have you ever been sexually harassed on these premises?”
“Not until she walked in the door,” I said promptly. Only the truth. Everything Simon, Ethan and I had ever done together had been entirely, blissfully consensual.
“I know what goes on here,” Margo spat as Ethan kept advancing on her, one relentless step after the other. “I’ll put you out of business. I swear I will.”
“If you still want me, Margo, why don’t you just say so?”
She spun around in a black-suited whirl of outrage, but not before I saw the heat that flared in her eyes. So Ethan had screwed her. He’d had his cock in that intimidating, confident woman. Or maybe he’d just spanked her.
Her eyes, hard and green like a cat’s, sparked with outrage. Of course, I knew it was true. First of all, how could anyone be around Ethan and not want him? Secondly, a woman like her cried out for a firm hand. If you asked me, she was throwing a tantrum just so she could get Ethan’s attention.
He stopped when he was about two inches from her. She narrowed her eyes at him and raised her chin, daring him to touch her, challenging him to cross the same line she’d crossed. But Ethan was too smart for that.
“Out,” he said, simply. “When I bought you out I rid myself of any obligation to look at you again.” Ethan gave a dismissive motion with his hand.
She went even stiffer than before, from executive shark to offended empress. “Don’t treat me like that. I’m warning you.”
“Warning received and ignored. If you come back, keep your lawyer on speed-dial. Which, as I recall, he always was.”
“So you remember the old days after all?”
“I remember what I need to. And I don’t hesitate to use it.”
They stood chin to chin, willpower to willpower, but Ethan didn’t back down to anyone. Before long her gaze faltered and slid away.
“Just don’t…don’t be surprised when something bad happens. Something very, very bad.”
I shivered. Was she cursing us? Maybe she practiced black magic. It would explain her witchy attitude.
She backed off and hurried down the hallway out of sight. Ethan stood watching, hands in his pockets, every line of his body radiating tension.
“Okay, Ethan,” I said as he turned in my direction. “You owe me. I got groped by someone who told me they own twenty percent of me. I think I’ve earned an explanation. Or at least a stiff drink.”
“Probably both.” A grim smile ghosted across his rugged face. No one would call Ethan a pretty boy, but he had the kind of face you couldn’t look away from. “That was Margo Lang. She’s a snake and a rat all in one, like some sort of genetic mutation. She’s the former owner and chief executive officer of Lang and Associates, the name by which Cowell & Dirk was formerly known.”
It took me a moment to puzzle out the “formers”.
“She used to own Cowell & Dirk?”
“Precisely. It was her baby. She owned it. Simon was Vice President. Then she got into some trouble with the law.” Fascinated, I watched him stroll across the lobby, a prowling wild creature in a business suit. “Financial law, to be precise. She tried to blame it on Simon. She set him up to take the fall. He was arrested and almost jailed.”
“Simon went to jail?”
“I said almost.”
“You rescued him, didn’t you? How’d you do it? Did you beat someone up the way you did the Woodfield guys?”
Ethan smiled at my flurry of questions. He sat on the edge of my desk and smoothed his hand across my hair. “So fiery. So curious. I adore you, you know.”
“I know.” I fought back the distracting urge to melt into a puddle at his feet. “But I still want to know everything.”
“Part of this story is Simon’s. I can tell you that I knew Simon. I’d known him for quite some time. Thanks to him, I’d had my eye on this firm. I thought it had potential, in the right hands. I’d been in talks with Margo about joining the firm, but we couldn’t agree on who would be in charge. Margo and I explored a sexual relationship but I quickly realized it would be a disaster. If there’s one type of woman I can’t abide, it’s the backstabbing sort. When I saw what she did to Simon, I moved fast. I maneuvered things so she had no choice but to let me buy her out. And yes, she did retain a meaningless twenty percent of the profits, but she has no vote in any of our decisions. Simon will have to tell you the rest.”
“The rest of what?” Simon leaned against the doorway to the inner offices. He’d loosened his tie. The knot was now hanging to the side, like a noose. His hair stood in black, mussed-up waves. If I hadn’t known better, I’d have said he’d been getting busy in his office. The naughty busy, that is. Not the work kind.
“You all right, chap?”
“I’m not sure. I just got a call from the IRS. It looks like we’re being audited.”