Welcome to the world of Dark Overture.
You’ve been selected to participate in a special interview.
Candidates must be open minded, prepared to make significant changes in their lives.
If chosen, you will be well compensated, but you must agree to the terms of the deal made.
This once-in-a-lifetime offer will expire in twenty-four hours.
Those were the two words to describe my new boss’s attitude as I walked into his posh office, the beautiful texture of his Blood Heart wooden desk drawing my attention.
“Mr. Harrington. I’ve excited to become part of the firm.”
I’d worked my ass off over the last few years, graduating top of my class from the University of Georgia. That hadn’t come without sacrifices, my personal life taking a backseat to my studies. I’d finally landed a job with the most prestigious firm in Atlanta after several months of searching. The waitressing job at a greasy spoon had barely paid the bills. Obtaining a job at Harrington, Moorefield and Sutton seemed like a dream come true.
He adjusted the jacket of his high-dollar suit, taking a few seconds before giving me a hard, cold stare. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go.”
The words were immediately shoved into a vacuum, a slight echo pounding in my ears. There wasn’t a chance in hell that I’d heard him correctly. “I beg your pardon?”
His single curt nod of affirmation created a wave of shivers. “Certain… discrepancies have come to our attention.”
Our. The word meaning the three partners who ran the firm with an iron fist. I’d heard all about their reputation before applying, but I’d been prepared to start at the bottom, slaving my way to an associate position. “I’m… sorry? I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Mr. Harrington took a full minute to walk to his floor-to-ceiling window, staring out at the beautiful Atlanta skyline before answering. “You really should be more careful who you spend your personal time with. Sadly, Senator Langford is married, his wife a very good friend of mine.”
Oh. My. God.
My entire world was crumbling before my eyes because of a three-week affair with a man who’d explicitly told me he wasn’t married. Granted, I’d been the fool not to recognize him but as soon as I’d realized he had a family, I’d been the one to break it off. Besides, that had been three years earlier.
“That was a long time ago, a mistake I fixed as soon as I learned who and what he was.” My words were stated with utter defiance. I couldn’t believe that in this day and age I would lose a job over something that occurred on a normal basis with male colleagues.
“Unfortunately, discretion and high moral values are required within this company. You failed to meet those requirements. While I’ll consider providing a recommendation, I suggest you take a significant amount of time to consider your wayward behavior.” He turned to face me, a smug expression on his face.
“Wayward behavior? Are you seriously trying to insinuate that even a fine upstanding gentleman like yourself hasn’t made mistakes? Oh, I’m sorry. You’re not a gentleman.” I’d unleashed my fury and while I’d been taught never to burn bridges, I refused to accept condemnation from a man I knew had two mistresses.
As he leaned over his desk, he smiled. “Ms. Winters. I suggest strongly that you learn that good behavior is a requirement within this industry. I’m certain you can find your way to the exit.”
And there it was. I’d been ceremoniously dismissed.
Fuck the man.
Fuck the firm.
I’d not only burned a bridge. I’d torched it.
Now what the hell was I supposed to do?
“Rent overdue. Car insurance overdue. Electric ready to be cut off.” I said the words out loud like they’d change anything. Furious as well as humiliated, I tossed the mail onto the kitchen table, kicking off and tossing my shoes against one of the cabinets with vehemence. I’d hoped it would make me feel better.
Nothing could at this point.
Not even the bottle of wine I’d purchased on the way home. I studied the clock, realizing it was a little before eleven in the morning. As I placed the small box on the counter, the one holding my beloved pictures and a couple of trinkets I’d intended on putting on my desk, my new desk in my brand new office, I cringed. What in the hell had happened? How had my boss found out about an affair that had been kept in the shadows the entire time?
Huffing, I leaned against the counter, uncertain of what or if there was anything I could do. Had the great senator talked, confessing to his wife? Nothing was certain except for one thing.
I was finished in Atlanta. There wouldn’t be a single firm that would hire me. Gossip traveled faster than water through pipes. As a bitter laugh erupted from my throat, I noticed an odd envelope buried in the stack of overdue bills.
Black in color.
Interesting. I walked closer, tentative for no other reason than to find out who sent a greeting card or anything else in a black envelope. When I picked it up, I realized the material was actual parchment, my address written in gold calligraphy with no return. Now my curiosity got the better of me. When I pulled the simple black note card into my hand, the writing the exact same, I shuddered.
But not just any invitation. An offer for a job interview. What? I was stunned, laughing nervously as I turned it over. The location of the interview was on the back, including the time. And the appointment was for the next morning. Jesus. Dark Overture. I’d never heard of the company, although Atlanta was a huge city.
After ripping off my coat, I walked into the living room to my small desk, the invitation in hand as I opened my laptop. My hands were shaking as I popped up the internet, typing in the company’s name. There was nothing but a landing page.
“For those with exemplary tastes, we carefully select the right match able to provide solutions to your needs. And your darkest desires.”
While there was a phone number, there was no address, no indication of what the single quote was referencing. I sat back, turning the card over several times. There was no name of the company owner and no additional information I could glean. A laugh finally bubbled to the surface. There was no way I was going to a blind interview. None. This was obviously some kind of scheme.
I tossed the black card on my desk, shoving it out of my mind. So what if it was only eleven in the morning? A glass of wine sounded perfect after the shitty morning I’d had. After all, it wasn’t every day that someone began their descent into full bankruptcy.
“You are out of your freaking mind,” I whispered as I peered up at the skyscraper in front of me, the all glass building ominous in the shadows of the cloudy day. I hadn’t given the invitation another thought for about an hour.
Then all I’d done was pace the floor, debating the odds that the invitation was real. After that, I’d tried to think about whether to move back home or throw my resume out to every other law firm in the city. Nothing seemed practical or realistic.
So here I was, standing in my best suit, red in color just because it made me feel powerful, wearing my tallest heels and an attitude. I almost snickered at the thought as I checked the four resumes that I’d brought with me, the papers carefully placed in my leather folder. I looked bold and professional, ready to take on the world. Maybe this would be my lucky day.
Taking careful yet calculated steps with my head held high, I walked into the building. Dark Overture was on the top floor. In fact, the company took up the entire top floor of a massive building. Okay, so they had to be legit. Right?
The elevator was empty, something I was grateful for. The silence allowed me to catch my breath, as well as release several audible whimpers. By the time the doors opened, I’d calmed my nerves.
At least my little voice was wide awake.
The small marble foyer gave way to a set of etched glass doors, the entrance as grandiose as the invitation.
When I walked inside, I was impressed by the clean, modern interior, the beautiful artwork adorning the walls. The man behind the receptionist desk appeared well dressed, his smile genuine.
“You must be Bristol Winters. We’ve been expecting you. Allow me to see if Mr. Darke is ready to see you.” Without waiting for any kind of response, he disappeared through a set of double doors, leaving me all alone in the oversized, posh reception area. While the most beautiful classical music filtered into the room through unseen speakers, I’d never felt so uncomfortable in my life. Mr. Darke had anticipated that I’d agree to the interview. Who was this man?
Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long, the handsome and very efficient receptionist returning. “Mr. Darke will see you now. Let me take you back.”
Through a labyrinth of corridors, I was finally led to another set of double doors. He opened one, ushering me inside and immediately closing it behind me. I was stunned at both the opulence of the office as well as the incredible view outside the floor-to-ceiling windows. Standing in front of one of them was a tall, muscular man dressed in a charcoal gray suit.
He didn’t flinch or move at all after the door was closed. I stood like a lost waif, scanning the contents of the office. The furnishings were beautiful, masculine, and very expensive. I was way out of my league.
“Bristol Winters. Recent graduate of the University of Georgia with a four point six average, receiving the highest honors as well as recommendations from several professors. You also received a glowing commendation from the law firm where you interned. You were selected to work at Harrington, Moorefield and Sutton over several more qualified applicants given their previous work experiences.”
I shifted back and forth from foot to foot, his portrayal of my life leaving my mouth dry.
“Unfortunately, I just heard that you lost your illustrious position yesterday. Isn’t that correct?”
“How did you find that out?” Now I was edgy.
“I do have my sources including very powerful and influential friends, Ms. Winters. Until recently, you were a waitress at Mac’s Diner where you received on average two hundred and fifty dollars a week. You have no record, not even a parking ticket. You have several friends, although you are fastidious in maintaining an admirable work ethic. That includes eliminating dating to any degree other than a few social events you attended during the last few months. You have one hundred and nine dollars in your bank account. You have no savings. Your electric is about to be turned off and your rent is past due. Given you were recently fired, I would say your choices are bleak.”
I was both in awe as well as incensed, bristling. The lengths that had been gone to were unimaginable. How the hell did he find out so many details? “I don’t know who you are given your website provides zero information, but how dare you delve into my private life. Mine. I think I made a mistake in coming here.” When I turned to go, I heard the man chuckle. My God. Whoever he was, he sure had balls.
When he turned around very slowly, I was taken aback instantly by his stunning good looks, the bluest eyes I’d ever seen, the kind that pierced right through to your soul. His tie brought out the shimmer in those eyes, his crisp white shirt starched and perfect.
Just like the man.
With his dark hair and commanding ways, I could tell he was a man of power.
“I will add feisty and highly intelligent to the list, which I suspected was the case. You are perfect.”
“Perfect? For what?” I dared to walk closer, trying to keep my head held high. Meanwhile, I was shaking all over.
“As the invitation notated, this is an interview, Ms. Winters, or would you allow me to call you Bristol?”
“Who are you and what is this company?”
“Excellent. A woman who desires to get to the point. Another plus. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Daniel Darke, owner of Dark Overture. The company was founded almost nine years ago to provide a coveted service to men and women who require not only privacy but special skills for life experiences or goals that they are trying to accomplish. As you might imagine, they are willing to pay handsomely for my due diligence, including mandated fees for the services of my employees.”
As I tried to take in what he was telling me, I found myself moving closer. “What kind of services are you talking about?”
“I assure you they are discretionary in nature and entirely different for each client. While I am made aware of certain aspects, my clients are well aware that there are rules that must be followed at all times or the contract becomes null and void, their payments forfeited in their entirety.”
“I’m not a prostitute, Mr. Darke.”
He laughed, giving me a hard onceover. “That’s not what this company is about, Ms. Winters, although what occurs between my employees and my clients is entirely private and yes, sometimes extremely personal. Again, rules must be followed. There are always consequences if they aren’t. Are you interested in learning more?”
Wasn’t that nothing more than a part of life in general? I should know.
While I wanted to have the courage to race out of his office, never looking back, I honestly had no other choice, at least nothing appealing. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to find out more. Then I could walk out and never look back if necessary. “I’m listening.”
“Very well. Take a seat, Ms. Winters. This will take about two hours of your time. May I say that very few people ever make it this far. I search through thousands of possible invitees before making a selection. I’m very particular. You should consider yourself lucky. Your beauty, your talents, and your skills are impressive and exactly what my client is looking for.”
I’d never felt more like a piece of meat in my life.
“How did you find me?” I asked.
“I use various methods that I would not want to get into my competitors’ hands.”
His look was stern, just as dark as his name implied.
Still curious, I did as he commanded, easing into the luxurious leather chair opposite his desk. I remained nervous as a kitty cat.
“Before we get started, I will need you to sign a confidentiality agreement. The clients I serve prefer to remain anonymous. In addition, I will not allow anything that we discuss to be mentioned to the public. Those are my rules. I’m certain you can understand.” As he shoved papers across the desk along with an expensive pen, I glared at him.
Understand? What I understood was this was making me even more uncomfortable. I pulled the two pages into my hand, taking my time to read them over. There was nothing odd in the requirements, just a standard promise to keep every communication and experience private. After a full five minutes, during which Daniel Darke said nothing, I finally scribbled my name on the bottom. I had to be out of my mind, but my curiosity continued to increase.
“Perfect. Now, we get into a few of the specifics.” He finally sat down behind his desk, although he continued to remain formidable.
“Who is this client?”
“I assure you that he is a reputable man, one of wealth and respect. I can tell you that he’s from a very good family, his education top notch.”
“What’s the catch?”
“I assure you there is no catch.” He picked up another set of papers, leaving them in front of him. “While my client has the autonomy to make the final selection, it is my belief that after your initial meeting, he will request continuing. You suit every one of his needs to perfection.”
My God, the man was pouring it on thick. I wasn’t certain whether to be giddy or insulted.
“And exactly what does that mean?”
Daniel smiled, the gesture far too provocative. “A good number of the details are between you and my client; however, I can tell you that you should be prepared for significant changes to your life.”
“Changes that will require my flexibility.”
His smile indicated I was still winning points. “Absolutely. As I mentioned, if selected, you will be well compensated.”
“Meaning what, Mr. Darke? While I don’t mind jumping through certain hoops, I do value truth in the reason behind my sudden change in behavior.”
He hesitated for a few seconds as if debating whether or not to answer me. “My client is prepared to offer you one million dollars initially. Once your required task has been completed, you will be given another one million dollars. Does that suit your expectations?”
I was floored, my mouth suddenly dry. I found it difficult to breathe, my throat almost entirely closed off. “Are you kidding me?” This had to be a joke. No one offered that kind of money for a few dates.
That meant there was a hell of a lot more that would be asked of me. I wasn’t certain I could stomach going through with it. But what if I could? The money would go a long way to providing a new life. I was shaken, trying to pull myself together. There had to be something wrong with his client.
“No, Ms. Winters. I am not in the habit of joking about money.”
“What’s wrong with him? There has to be something horribly amiss in order for him to go to such expensive lengths in securing a date.”
Exhaling, he studied me for several seconds before answering. “Not only are my clients powerful as well as wealthy, they prefer no attachments. This isn’t a date, Ms. Winters. This will entail several weeks of your life. As far as my client, he is… particular.”
“Which is why I am convinced you are exactly what he requires. Is this something you are interested in?”
The man obviously was getting off on our conversation. I took my time before answering, weighing all the pros and cons that I could think of. A single meeting. “Why not, Mr. Darke? As you said, I have nothing to lose; however, this initial meeting will be a public location.”
“Absolutely. That is one of the rules, Ms. Winters.” He shoved another black envelope across his desk. “Inside you will find the details of your meeting with my client occurring this evening, including a recent photograph. Given my requirements for initial privacy, you will only know each other by first names. While my client was provided with a basic fact sheet regarding you, I suggest you refrain from providing too many additional details until the contract is signed. Do you understand?”
“Yes, that’s crystal clear.” The wealthy client had the advantage of knowing about some of my background while I’d been told nothing. The perks of the affluent.
“In addition, money will be wired to your account later this evening. Hopefully, that will cover any expenses you may incur as well as compensate you for your time. My personal and very private email is enclosed, which you will use only once, detailing your experience with the evening’s event. Then you will have until noon tomorrow in order to finalize your decision. At that time, you will call me at the number provided inside this envelope with your decision. If you choose in the affirmative, then you will be provided with further instructions and requirements as well as the final contract. At no time will this offer be discussed with anyone. Do you understand me?”
While I’d already signed the confidentiality agreement, I had a feeling his words weren’t a simple request.
They were a threat.
Whatever I’d gotten myself involved in, I had a terrible feeling that I wouldn’t be able to get out of it.
“Yes, sir. I understand completely. And I’m certain you understand that as a practicing attorney, I will go over the contract with a fine-tooth comb?”
His expression didn’t change to any degree, yet his eyes shifted in color, the light creating a dark shadow. “Very well, Ms. Winters. While both my client and I enjoy finding a woman of such vigor as well as power, you should realize early on that you will be required to follow the terms of the contract without question. If you break those terms, there will be consequences.”
A cold shiver trickled down my spine, but I refused to allow Daniel Darke to realize he’d gotten under my skin. “I look forward to the challenge.”