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.
Merriam-Webster defined the word as ‘the art of causing some to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid.’
In my mind, the art of deception allowed the ability to have patience while stalking one’s prey, determining the best course of action for eliminating the problem. I was in the final stage, my excitement increasing. However, there was one additional piece I needed in order to perfect my plan of revenge. The creature I had in mind to aid in finalizing the dangerous game I was set to play had no idea how important she’d become in my life.
It was almost time to strike and when I did, an empire would come crumbling to the ground, the blood spilled finally releasing the demons buried deep inside.
Up until now, the concept of finding the perfect person to suit my needs had seemed unreachable. I’d spent days searching, the time spent debilitating to my business. Then she’d appeared like a breath of fresh air.
Click. Click. Click.
I continued to take several photographs from the privacy of my vehicle, my entire body tingling from the sight of her alone. She was so unassuming in her actions, trying to avoid strangers as she walked from destination to destination. The way she carried herself presented nothing special, but for my trained eye, it was easy to see the protective layers she wore, all of which added to her lack of self-confidence.
I took a deep breath, my cock aching, the hunger burning deep inside creating the kind of friction that necessitated relief. But that would only come after she was in my possession. I eased further into the shadows of my car, flicking through the two dozen photographs I’d taken. One drew my full attention. She was smiling, the light surrounding her face glowing like a halo, lighting up the space around her.
Every inch of my body tingled from anticipation of meeting her.
And what I was going to do to her.
I was a predator and she’d become my prey.
After tossing my camera onto the passenger seat, I pulled out my phone, waiting until she’d disappeared out of sight before making the call. The man answered on the second ring.
“Mr. Darke. Frederick Duvall. It’s time we set up a meeting. I have… business to discuss.”
One week later
I’d never been so full of anxiety in my life. The time I’d spent working on the ad campaign had seemed endless, but I’d loved every second of it. The images in my mind remained spectacular. The colors. The atmosphere. Everything had been meticulously chosen with the client in mind. I only hoped my boss could imagine the same vision I had.
Several seconds ticked by.
A full minute.
Now I was starting to perspire.
After taking a deep breath and holding it for at least twenty seconds, he tossed the pages onto his desk, slowly lifting his head, his gaze piercing. “I’m very disappointed in you, Shannon. Lately, your work has been subpar at best. This piece is worthless. Garbage. I gave you the opportunity of a lifetime and you present this bullshit? What the hell were you thinking?”
I found it difficult to keep a glare from my face after hearing Granger Hoffman’s nasty words. I should be used to them by now, the arrogant, self-centered, anal jerk of a boss savoring the way he lorded his position over everyone in the office. His eyes continued to drill into me, making my skin crawl. Everything about him did, although anyone who didn’t know the hidden monster beneath the expensive clothing and gorgeous smile would think he was the perfect catch.
Only if fed to man-eating sharks.
My mouth was dry, my mind spinning. When I didn’t object, he snorted.
Then he fisted the work I’d spent days finishing, finally adding insult to injury by crumbling each thick piece of paper before tossing them into the trash.
My God, I loathed the man. I’d spent far too many hours planning his demise in my fantasy world, which had at least given me the ability to come back day after day, forced to endure his emotional abuse.
I was fed up.
As if you’re going to do anything about it.
Fuck my inner voice.
“No, it’s not, Mr. Hoffman. As a matter of fact, it’s exactly what you asked for. No, it’s better than what you tasked me to do, and you know it. There isn’t a single thing wrong with the design or the colors or even the fonts I used.” I had storyboards ready to show him the progression in the advertising campaign. I’d never been so excited to work on a project. Now this. To think at one time I’d thought the man attractive, even going out to dinner with him twice. I should have known what he was made of on the second date, the one where I’d caught him flirting with the waitress at the restaurant. Jesus. What the hell was wrong with me?
Why I’d continued working for him was beyond me. He’d even acted as if he’d done nothing wrong on that night, giving me the cold shoulder at work as if he’d been the victim.
“You had three weeks to provide me with something spectacular. This is just… crap.”
I inched closer, my feet like lead. “No, I had five days, six hours, and twenty minutes to provide you with the perfect international advertising campaign for a client that you blew off for a solid two weeks. I was only given the opportunity after you fired the poor dumb slug you once called the savior of your company. I gave up sleep, food, and any concept of free time to fulfill the assignment on time. And it’s not crap.”
Shock was the word I’d use for being able to stand up for myself. That was the first time in as long as I could remember I’d done so. For a few seconds, he stood like a damn statue, still glaring at me.
“How dare you, Ms. Walmsley. The last time I checked, you work for me. This is my office, my company, and oh, yes, this is my entire building. In fact, this firm is on top of the leader board. Do you want to know why? Because I am meticulous with details. I know my clients very well, something I take a significant amount of pride in being able to claim. What you provided here today is pure amateurish trash. I had high hopes for you, but I think it’s time I face the fact I was wrong. I don’t like to be wrong.”
Almost everyone who worked for him knew his personality was split, his Jekyll and Hyde personas only kept hidden when he was pimping for business. I’d found that out the hard way.
My God. Now I stood like a statue uncertain of what to say.
He moved around his desk, sitting on the edge, dissecting me from head to toe. I’d never felt so self-conscious in my choice of attire. So I didn’t have a lot of money. I couldn’t afford six-hundred-dollar suits, but I looked well dressed.
“I’m afraid I’m going to need to demote you. From now on, your job is copy assistant. Maybe you’ll be able to handle retyping certain important documents, making photocopies for those who actually perform the work I require.”
The asshole was smirking.
My instinct had always told me he was merciless, his connections easily able to keep me from obtaining another job in the industry. While I’d made a commitment to staying in Atlanta, at this point, I didn’t give a shit. I’d done everything that he’d asked. Staying late. Coming in early. Working weekends. The four years since I’d accepted a position in the company had been grueling, working my way up at a snail’s pace. I was exhausted and tired of being treated so badly. I felt something snap deep inside, unable to process another horrible thing said or action taken. I was at that point in my life. Right here. Right now.
Without thinking, I walked closer, tolerating the stench of his cologne. Then I smiled all big and bright.
“Mr. Hoffman, I’ve worked for you for four very long years, interning two years prior to that. I’ve made your damn coffee, brought you papers to sign, and when I was finally promoted, from that day forward, you did everything in your life to make mine hell.”
“I was nurturing your talent, Ms. Walmsley, and nothing more.” The smile on his face made me angry enough that I was ready to grab a letter opener and stab him with it.
“If that was nurturing then you need a lesson in humanity as well as kindness. You are a selfish, nasty, reprehensible excuse for a human being. You enjoy lording your wealth and position over everyone in this firm, doing your best to make them feel inferior.” I realized my voice had risen quite a bit, which wasn’t like me, but if I was torching this bridge, I might as well add gasoline. “But what that tells me is that you know deep down inside in that black heart of yours that you are the inadequate one. As my mama used to tell me, men who enjoy bullying others have a tiny little dick. My guess is that yours is microscopic. Don’t bother having another one of your slaves email you a demotion slip to sign. I quit.”
As soon as the words rushed out of my mouth, I knew I’d sealed the deal, ending my illustrious career before it started. Now my entire body started to shake. Seconds before I fled his office, I was given the gift of seeing raw shock on his face.
Well, goody. At least I’d accomplished something productive.
I flung open the door with enough force the doorstopper wasn’t able to keep it from hitting the wall. At least I managed to hold my head high as I walked through the halls. When I reached the door, I almost broke into tears, but I didn’t. I kept my resolve.
Just before I walked out the double doors, I heard applause.
Who knows? Maybe my meltdown had given his other employees some courage.
By the time I walked into the restaurant, my adrenaline had stopped flowing, leaving me cold and anxious. It was only a little after four-thirty, but the place was packed, especially the bar. As I weeded through the crowd, my stomach shifted into knots. I’d never quit a job in my life, let alone shouted at a boss. At least with the tall heels I was wearing, I was able to see over most of the people, finding Kena quickly.
She had a perplexed look on her face as I approached. Granted, she was always the one who had to beg me to meet her for a drink. Given I’d asked her to leave work early, I knew she would pepper me with questions. I slunk down on the barstool next to her, immediately hanging my head.
“Uh-oh. What happened?” Kena asked, pushing the drink she’d already ordered for me in my direction.
“Oh, nothing special. I just quit my job today. No, I burned every bridge in Atlanta for the rest of my natural life.” I continued to hang my head, still embarrassed at my behavior. But the asshole had deserved it, goddamn it.
Coughing, she leaned over the bar, forcing me to look at her. “You did what?”
“I quit my job.” I made the statement more definitive and bolder as I shoved hair that had fallen out of the quick bun I’d arranged behind my ear. Then I wrapped my hand around the glass, taking a huge gulp. “I couldn’t take it any longer. I just… couldn’t.” Why did I feel like I needed to apologize?
She whistled as she shook her head. “You mean the one you pined for, slaving away as an intern for two years, being treated like an administrative assistant even after you were promoted yet persevering through every tough moment? That job?”
“Yup! That job.” She’d been my college roommate, her spunk and energy able to keep me going. She had one of those ‘dream’ jobs, the kind where the salary was fantastic, the benefits even better, and the opportunity for advancement already knocking at her door. She’d been born with a silver spoon in her mouth while I’d been forced to scrape for everything. I had to stop feeling sorry for myself.
“I guess the presentation didn’t go so well.”
Sighing, I took my time answering. “Let’s just say it went so badly that I called him an asshole. I don’t think that bothered him as much as when I told him that his dick was likely minuscule. That’s when I walked out.”
Kena said nothing at first. Then she burst into laughter. “O-kay. Well, I will guess there is no chance he’ll take you back.”
“Nope. None. Not that I would want to return under any circumstances. That man is an asshole. A fucking asshole. Bastard.” I knew my bestie remained surprised since I never talked this way. I was the studious girl, considered mousy by most people. I’d always been a straight-A student, never talking back, the kind of person who followed rules religiously.
And I almost never cursed.
“Girl, I am so proud of you. It’s about time you developed your backbone,” Kena purred, her praise boosting my adrenaline.
“Oh, I have a backbone. You wouldn’t like me when I really get angry.”
She bumped my arm, lifting her drink. “I actually think I’d like to see that. A toast to my beautiful, strong, amazing friend.”
I rolled my eyes. “I’m not beautiful and as far as amazing, that is yet to be seen.” While I allowed our glasses to clink together, I continued to seethe. What I’d done wasn’t anything to celebrate. I needed a job. That allowed me to pay my bills as well as continue graduate school, although my parents had laughed at me when I’d told them I wanted to pursue additional education in Gothic Studies. Okay, so I had no clue what I would do with my Master’s degree after I finally graduated, but I adored the glance into history and how it continued to affect everything from housing and art to movies and music. I’d used a gothic theme for the campaign, something I knew the perfume company would adore. With a semester and a half to go, the last thing I needed was to be forced to drop out of the program given lack of funds. Obtaining a student loan would be difficult because of my parents’ income, forcing me to go through hoops that could take months.
Ugh. What the hell had I done?
“You are beautiful, girl. You just don’t have the self-confidence you need.”
“What do you mean?” I demanded. “I have plenty of self-confidence.”
“Uh-huh. Let’s take your choice in clothes. You dress like you never want a man to notice you. Everything is loose, including your jeans, as if you purposely want to hide that voluptuous figure of yours. And your hair. You need a serious makeover.”
I glared at her, lifting my middle finger. Might as well pull out all the stops. “Thank you so much for making me feel useless.”
“Jesus. You know what I mean. Look, I’ve always told you that beauty comes from within, and I do believe that. However, this is Atlanta, a city where high rollers and risk takers grab the brass ring within seconds.”
“Like you did.”
Frowning, she gave me one of her soulful looks. “I’m not telling you that you need to be someone you’re not but pushing yourself out of your comfort zone will provide results. It’s okay to pretend to be something you’re not, as long as you can remove that mask when you’re out of that environment, completely returning to yourself. It’s alright to play a game. Winning isn’t a bad thing. Trust me. Do you think I really enjoy going to all those corporate parties, pretending I give a shit about whatever my boss does?”
Now it was my turn to give her a look. I knew the girl like nobody else. She was all glitz and glamor, the aura surrounding her glowing like gold. A mask. I’d been wearing a mask my entire life, but not for the reason she was talking about. Then again, I was no longer certain. My parents had been purists, insisting on perfect grades. Beauty had meant nothing. Maybe she was right.
“Ugh. Okay, so I adore the parties, but I think you get the point. Take risks. Go on a date. Get laid,” Kena suggested.
“As if a man would ever be interested in me.”
“What am I going to do with you?”
Sighing, Kena took a sip of her drink, looking over my shoulder. “My, oh, my. Would you look at that hottie staring at you?”
“Where?” Excitement surged through me. I’d had one boyfriend in my entire life, and he’d turned out to be a flaming asshole. I started to turn around and my bestie grabbed my arm.
“Slowly. Slowly. Don’t let him know you’re interested.”
Coming from the woman who had men falling all over her all the time, I should heed her advice. I did my best, shifting the barstool as nonchalantly as possible. From what I could see through the crowd, the man was drop dead gorgeous. He was definitely staring in our direction, taking sip after sip of his draft beer. In his charcoal suit and crisp white shirt, with dark hair and eyes, he was the poster boy for the bad and beautiful.
My heart fluttered.
At least I was still wearing what I’d had on at work; a pencil thin black skirt and a somewhat flattering shirt. My only power outfit. Well, actually I had four of them, almost all identical. I never wore dresses or styled my hair. A bun was simple and practical.
And boring as hell.
I returned my gaze to my friend, taking shallow breaths.
“Well, he is coming in our direction,” she half whispered. “Act like you don’t have a care in the world.”
I did exactly as she said, pretending I was enjoying everything around me but the guy. Her eyes lit up as he moved closer. I did what I could to hold my head high.
“Hello, ladies,” he said, his husky voice sending a tremor through me.
“Hi,” Kena said in her I-couldn’t-give-a-shit tone of voice.
I dared steal a glance. Then I grimaced. The dude crowded Kena, his eyes remaining locked on her chiseled face and dazzling breasts. As usual, I was the wallflower.
“Would you like to join me for a drink?” he asked… her.
Kena sighed, darting a glance in my direction. “Get lost. You’re not my type.”
He laughed but when she completely ignored him, he finally got the point, cursing under his breath as he walked away.
“Asshole,” Kena huffed.
“That’s my point. You’re the beauty queen. I’m the…”
“Stop. I think you need to use what happened today to start a new phase of your life. Build on the anger and frustration. Allow that momentum to carry you into another dimension.”
I cocked my head, lifting both eyebrows. “Right. Beam me up, Scotty.”
We both laughed, but I knew she was right. I had to do something to break through the black cloud that had been hanging over my head for years. Maybe fate had something fantastic in store for me.
And maybe we’d have snow in Atlanta in July.
By the time I got back to my little apartment the adrenaline had been sucked out of me. I was exhausted, terrified, and angry. But I was thrilled I’d had the backbone to tell Mr. Hoffman exactly what I thought of him. I dumped the mail on the kitchen table, dropping my purse in the chair then walking into the bathroom. The moment I turned on the light, the mirror drew my attention.
I leaned over the sink, staring at the girl glaring back at me. As I smoothed my hand down my shirt, I realized I’d never highlighted my breasts by wearing any kind of sexy outfit. That had just never been in my nature. But as I cupped both, I was able to smile given they were a good size and very firm.
Laughing, I pulled the single pin holding my hair in a bun, studying my long neck and angular jaw. I had good bones. There was no question about that. Seconds later, I groaned, making faces at that same girl.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the ugliest girl of all?”
I needed a glass of wine and time spent under my comforter. As I walked into the kitchen, grabbing a wineglass and the already opened bottle of wine, I studied the pile of mail. Something black caught my attention. “What the hell?” I poured a glass, taking a sip then placing it on the table. The envelope was nondescript, the gorgeous feel of the linen in my hands unusual. The writing was in gold calligraphy with my name and address carefully placed in the center.
There was no return address.
The black card inside was of the same quality with the exact same handwriting.
“You are cordially invited.” I read the note, immediately lifting my head after doing so. This had to be some kind of joke. I flipped the card over, searching for any additional information. The name of the company was on the back as well as a phone number. Dark Overture. I’d never heard the name before. It sounded like some kind of a kink club.
I shuddered at the thought, although within seconds, I realized my nipples were aching. What the hell? I read the invitation again then chuckled. “Once in a lifetime offer, huh?” My mother had always warned me that when something seemed too good to be true, it usually was.
After taking another sip of wine, I flipped through the rest of the mail, gathering the useless junk and tossing it in the trash. Then I stared at the card again, narrowing my eyes. Nope. I might be a bit mousy, but I wasn’t stupid. I snatched the invitation off the table, shoving it into the trash.
As I walked out of the room, turning off the light, I bid it good riddance.
Antisocial Personality Disorder: manipulating or treating people badly without feeling sorry; tendency to lie, steal, or abuse drugs/alcohol.
There were many who believed that the diagnosis was perfect for my… condition. While I abhorred anyone who abused drugs or alcohol and had never stolen a thing in my life, I’d become extremely good at manipulating people. I relished the art, enjoying the mixture of cat and mouse and chess. I was always the one who claimed checkmate, annihilating my enemies with ease.
I always came out the winner and I enjoyed crushing people who pissed me off.
I remained in my office chair, able to hear the arrival of my guest. He’d made a special exception coming to my home, although it wasn’t without added incentive for breaking his own rules. The man would be paid well for his time as well as the information he would soon provide.
I heard the sound of the doorbell, taking a deep breath when I knew he’d been allowed entrance. I was in no mood to extend his visit, my work requiring my attention several hours a day. However, I was curious as to what he’d found, and what suggestions he’d provide.
His footsteps echoed given the high ceilings and I knew the moment he’d walked into the room.
I didn’t bother looking up from my reports.
Until he chuckled, more amused than annoyed.
“Daniel Darke. It’s good of you to make the trip out of the city,” I said casually, slowly lifting my head.
“At your insistence.” His dark eyes danced as he walked closer, immediately taking a seat on one of the leather chairs. I’d researched the man extensively as well as his company. Dark Overture was an anomaly, the kind of business that was shrouded in mystery.
While the information provided on his website was limited, I’d easily been able to understand what he was offering. The right person for the right price. His fees were hefty, but from what I’d been able to gather, the man was worth every penny. He’d boasted in our original phone call about his connections, the kinds that were on no one’s radar. While I wanted the woman I’d selected, I’d learned a long time ago that looks could be deceiving. I couldn’t afford to fall into that rabbit hole.
“Yes, I prefer to handle business in my home office.”
He had a wry smile on his face as he studied me. “Frederick Duvall, owner of the Duvall Group, a company started by your grandfather, passed down to your father then to you after your parents’ deaths. An only child, you grew up with a silver spoon in your mouth. Highly intelligent with an IQ of two hundred twelve, you graduated college at sixteen with two degrees. Never married with no children, you squirrel the billions of dollars you’ve made into dozens of accounts and investments, barely touching any funds other than for basic needs. You managed to double the profits of your company within two years after taking over the helm. However, you’re rarely seen in public if ever.”
If he wanted to annoy me, he’d succeeded; however, he would never know my true feelings. I was the master of hiding every emotion. Sighing, I rapped my fingers on my desk. “I didn’t ask you here to provide information I already know. As I realize you are just as busy with your work as I am, I recommend that you provide what I asked for.”
Daniel’s smile would be considered evil by anyone who didn’t know him. I found it reassuring. “Very well. I have found the perfect candidate for you, Mr. Duvall. Granted, my selection is the one you suggested, which goes against my usual methods of operation. However, I’ve vetted her carefully and she seems perfect to fit your needs.”
Of course she was. Shannon Walmsley had no idea how important she was at this point. She would learn, but in doing so, she would be required to succumb to my needs.
“But. I will caution you,” he continued.
I lifted a single eyebrow. “Why?”
“She’s a young woman trying to better herself. While intelligent and absolutely capable of suiting your advertising needs, she’s not a game player.”
“Be careful attempting to tell me what to do.”
Mr. Darke exhaled as he leaned forward in his seat. “I have no intention of attempting to provide you with any guidance on your choice or the contract. However, I also have no issue warning you to adhere to that contract.”
My cock aching from my increasing desire, my skin tingled all over again from the thought of stripping away her virtue. I’d seen some of her work, what little Hoffman had allowed her to do. She had an eye that couldn’t be taught, a vision that reminded me of someone else. In addition, she had very intimate knowledge of Hoffman Enterprises, another plus. I glared at him, the man grating my nerves.
“I assure you that my intentions are admirable, Daniel. I wouldn’t have achieved significant success without knowing my boundaries.”
Daniel huffed. “Perhaps, but I also know you well enough, Mr. Duvall, to realize that there is bad blood between you and Granger Hoffman. And not just from a traditional professional issue. If you sign my contract, you will not be allowed to hurt Ms. Walmsley in the process of exacting your revenge.”
Mr. Darke had done his homework. Very few people know about my connection with Granger, fewer still willing to face my wrath in exploiting it. “I have no intentions of doing so.”
He studied me carefully for a few seconds before giving me a nod of approval. While I had immediately disliked the man, he did indeed have the powerful connections that had created opportunities for finding information no one else was capable of providing. That had intrigued me more than anything.
“Is there anything you’ve found out that should concern me?” I asked, not that it would matter to me in the least. I’d learned everything about her that had been possible over the last two months, making my determination that she would suit my needs in ways she wouldn’t understand at first.
I studied Daniel, the man just as cold and calculating in his business acumen as I’d become. I respected him as well as his candor, although I wouldn’t tolerate any bullshit from a man that I was paying a hefty sum of money to.
“There are no skeletons if that’s what you’re referring to, other than the rumors she dated Granger for a short period of time. Her parents remain in Michigan, close to retirement. They have little money, but enough retirement to keep them in the same house that Shannon grew up in. She keeps to herself most of the time with very few friends. Her apartment is in a decent part of town. Her bank account contains limited funds, the girl living from paycheck to paycheck. You should experience no issues.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” The ante was just upped by a thousand percent. I hadn’t heard she’d been romantic with the man, although I knew Granger’s style. He used women like everything else in his life. They were considered disposable. What I also knew was that he didn’t like to lose, no matter the circumstances. Evil thoughts danced in my head, making my cock swell.
“However, allow me to caution you with regard to your plans. I’m well aware of Mr. Hoffman’s influence in not only Atlanta, but throughout several other states. He won’t take kindly to what you’re planning.” Daniel held a smug look on his face, as if anything he told me would influence the decisions I made.
I tried to keep my anger in check, although my blood was boiling. No one dared to counter any of my decisions. Ever. “I will take that under advisement, Mr. Darke; however, you need to keep in mind that I’m paying you for a service, not for your condemnation or your concerns.”
He narrowed his eyes, his breathing never changing. “And let me remind you that my services are highly sought after. I determine who I work with. If you’ve lied to me on any part of your application or during our conversations, I will crucify you.”
I allowed a smile to cross my face, giving him a look that should create the fear of God. The silence was like a line being drawn in the sand, the game not dissimilar from ones I’d played for fifteen years. What the self-titled powerful man didn’t know was that I played to win.
No matter how ruthless I had to become.
In his hand was a file folder, the old-fashioned way of doing business. I could see a glossy photograph clipped to the inside flap. My mouth watered.
“Please allow me to take a look.”
“Of course,” he said as he rose to his feet, handing it to me.
The sight of her face made my cock twitch as much as it had the first time I’d laid eyes on her. The hunger I hadn’t felt in years burst through the surface all over again. Maintaining control could become an issue. I resisted allowing a growl to surface, instead taking a deep breath. “Are there any complications?”
“None, but I will tell you that she quit her job yesterday. I’m not certain that makes a difference in your selection.”
I couldn’t help but allow a smile to cross my face. This could prove to be very interesting. “Actually, that makes this entire situation delicious.”
My words didn’t startle him nor was there a look of surprise.
“Very well, if she accepts the invitation, I will make the offer you determined,” Daniel said with no inflection in his voice.
I slammed my hands against the surface of my desk, my anger roused. “She will accept. There is no other alternative.”
“Mr. Duvall, I can do many things, including influencing people. What I can’t do is force one of the candidates to accept the invitation. This is about free will after all.”
I pushed my anger aside, fingering her photograph. “Let me explain something to you, Daniel. I am one of the most powerful men in this country. I am afforded the luxury of getting exactly what I want. And I want Shannon Walmsley. You will ensure that she accepts the invitation. I couldn’t care less how you make that happen.”
Daniel lifted a single eyebrow as he walked closer, another wry smile crossing his face. “Mr. Duvall. You might think you’re a powerful man, but I assure you that my influence and my connections are far superior to yours. Challenging me on any level isn’t in your best interest.”
I moved around my desk, crowding his space. Although he was only two inches shorter than my six-foot five-inch frame, the fact I was able to stand over him wasn’t lost on either one of us. “And I assure you, Mr. Darke, that my friends could bury your company with the stroke of a pen, or a single email sent. I hired you because you are supposedly the best at finding the perfect solution. If you continue defying me, I will have no choice but to unleash the kind of wrath that will rock your world.”
He chuckled under his breath. “If my instincts are correct, and they always are, Ms. Walmsley will make a call this morning.”
“Excellent. Then make certain she is available for a meeting tonight at the location I already designated.”
He took a deep breath, giving a single nod. “If she calls, I will make that happen. However, meeting in a private location goes against every rule. You will not ask me to bend another.”
“You can keep the file, Mr. Duvall.”
“There’s one more thing,” I said gruffly. “You will require the medical examination. Correct?”
His eyes narrowing, he took a deep breath. “As I do with every candidate who is approved. Are you concerned about her physical health?”
“Not at all. I simply want to make certain she is fertile.”
He seemed disgusted by my anger as well as my request but had the good sense to keep his mouth shut. Yes, one day she would carry my child. The family legacy had to go on.
The way he continued to study me only added to my heightened level of anger. “I’m curious, Mr. Duvall. Now that Ms. Walmsley had left her place of employment, all you would need to do is to provide her with a substantial offer to come work for your firm. I’m certain she would be interested given your… reputation. Why spend the kind of money in order to make the same thing happen?”
His question was a valid one. “Because I want this to be a complete business arrangement with a clear ending date. I can’t afford any complications in my life. I’m certain that is something you can understand.” Yes, the contract would end at the specified date, but that was only the beginning.
A moment of utter darkness shifted into his system. It would seem the man had secrets of his own. I would keep that in mind for the future.
“More than you can ever understand, Mr. Duvall.”
I watched as he walked out of my office, taking a deep breath after he was gone. Then I grabbed the file, studying her picture again. My plan was in motion. I couldn’t wait to entice the lovely girl into my world.
One full of darkness.
One full of pain.
Only then could she begin to understand just how important she truly was.
I was out of my mind.
There was no other reason I’d accepted the meeting with a company I’d found almost nothing about. Maybe Kena’s push had allowed me to face the unknown for once in my life. Take risks. Move out of my comfort zone. I’d found the building in downtown Atlanta without issue, but I’d found it difficult to walk toward the elevator, let alone to take steps into the man’s office.
But I had.
Now I was in Daniel Darke’s private office, the posh surroundings and floor-to-ceiling windows providing an exquisite view of Atlanta. My breathing remained ragged, my mind one huge blur. When I’d made the appointment, I must have been out of my freaking mind. But here I was, trying to keep my nerves in check as I waited for the owner of the company to grace me with his presence.
A full five minutes passed, and my fury was cresting. So was my trepidation. I was obviously way out of my league. When he finally entered the room, I held my breath, angry that I hadn’t worn one of the two suits I owned.
Even after finding pictures of Daniel Darke on the internet, I wasn’t prepared for the larger-than-life man who’d walked into the room. Dressed in a dark suit, his appearance was a combination of sex appeal as well as danger. He moved behind his desk, acting as if I wasn’t standing a few feet away from his desk. After taking a full two minutes to study one of the files positioned neatly, he finally lifted his head.
A slight smile crossed his face. “Yes, you are correct. I’m glad you accepted my invitation. My client is looking forward to meeting with you. You certainly have the abilities my client is looking for.”
Jesus. He already thought I was ready to accept whatever position was on the table. Not so fast. I stood, inching closer to his desk. “Your client? While my life is in a bit of turmoil at the moment, I’m not foolish enough to accept some kind of a job after receiving a mysterious note in the mail. I suggest you provide the details.”
I could tell he was sizing me up, sliding his heated gaze down as far as he was able to see how I was dressed.
And what I was made of.
That only made me stand taller, keeping my gaze locked on his face.
“Please make yourself comfortable, Ms. Walmsley.”
“I prefer to stand.”
“Very well. I appreciate candor as well as getting to the point, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I suspect you’ve already done some research into my company.”
“I have, although there was little to find. You provide a service to wealthy clients, the majority willing to pay for a person you select for their particular needs. While you hide your client list, I can only imagine it’s the upper echelon of society, men who think they deserve to own anything they want. You should know that I’m not inclined to become a play toy for some wealthy asshole who thinks their shit doesn’t stink.”
It was evident the incident from the day before had affected me on several levels. At least I was standing up for myself. The truth was I’d surmised what services Dark Overture provided. The glossy single page website had told me almost nothing. Finally, a look of amusement crossed his face, likely surprised I wasn’t going to take lip service without questioning motives.
“Yes, my clients require privacy, Ms. Walmsley. However, I’m not the kind of man to provide the kinds of services you’re referring to. I satisfy a need, a particular function for powerful men who are either tired of looking or simply unable to find the right person. You are the right person for my current client.”
He took his time answering, studying me intently. While he wasn’t undressing me with his eyes, he was attempting to take a look into my soul. What kind of services did his firm really offer?
“Because my client has special needs that includes someone who can handle his workload.”
“What does he do?” I challenged.
His upper lip curled. “He runs the most exclusive and expensive advertising firm not only in the city of Atlanta, but up and down the East coast, with clients all over the world. His work is legendary, but he is a very private man. You graduated with honors, interning at Hoffman Enterprises before obtaining a position there, moving up over several years. From the work I’ve seen, you have a true vision for creating an eye-catching campaign.”
A moment of excitement rushed into my system. I knew there was another company that challenged the one Granger Hoffman owned, but from what I’d read about the Duvall Group there were almost no possibilities of obtaining a position with the firm. They were privately owned, quietly taking a lion’s share of the advertising world. If I was correct, my future just might be taking a turn for the better. Plus, I could consider my own brand of revenge with regard to the asshole. That would be the delicious ripe cherry on top. “You’re talking about the Duvall Group.”
He seemed surprised. “Unfortunately, I’m not free to discuss the identity of my client. You may ask him questions at your meeting. What answers he provides is entirely up to him. What I am prepared to offer you is a substantial contract with a limited timeframe, but as you might imagine, there will be an initial meeting. If all goes well, you and I will have a further discussion. At that time, all details will be presented to you.”
“Of course.” I noticed he slid papers across his desk as well as a sterling silver pen. Everything was one big secret.
Risks. Take risks.
Kena’s words slithered into the back of my mind.
When I glanced down, he chuckled. “I assure you, Ms. Walmsley, that what you are about to sign is nothing but a nondisclosure agreement. As you might imagine, my clients are private individuals who certainly don’t want either their identities or their needs out in the open. The disclosure is also a requirement of Dark Overture.”
“And what happens if I sign it?”
“Then I will provide the details of your private meeting with my client.”
“Mr. Frederick Duvall, son of Winston Duvall.”
When he lifted a single eyebrow, I detected a hint of anger given I’d figured out who I would be meeting with. “While I applaud you on your research skills, I can neither confirm nor deny your conjecture. Whether you sign the document or not, I will request that you keep this meeting private, not a word to anyone about what we’ve discussed.”
I thought about his request, still uncertain what the hell I was getting myself in the middle of, but I had to admit, I was more than curious. “And my compensation for this initial meeting?” Maybe I could at least make my rent payment, buying me limited time to find another job.
“Ah, yes. Money calms every fear. You will indeed be compensated for the meeting this evening. Five thousand dollars will be deposited into your account before you manage to return home. And yes, I have access to make deposits into your account.”
Five thousand dollars? Wow. I was floored but refused to show it. “And if I agree to the arrangement? What will my compensation be for the term of the contract?”
“That is usually kept private until after the initial meeting.”
“Then you and I have nothing to discuss.” I kept my eyes locked on his. When another look of amusement crossed his face, anger flowed into my system. This was all one big game. Maybe it was time to pull up to the big boy’s table. What did I have to lose?
He pulled another series of papers from his desk. “If you both agree to the arrangement, then you will be compensated with two million dollars upon the completion of your contract, which will be in effect for three months. One million will be deposited into your account forty-five days into your contract, the remaining upon completion. Does that meet your needs?”
His stare was hard and cold, his eyes now piercing my very soul. I was shocked at the amount of money, terrified at what the work would entail, but the butterflies in my stomach couldn’t keep me from venturing into a brand-new world. Why the hell not? I had nothing to lose. “When would this arrangement start?”
“Immediately. If you both accept the terms, you will be required to move to his house to engage in his requirements.”
Requirements. The word terrified me. My throat suddenly clenched. “I’m not… that kind of girl. It seems there has been some mistake made.”
“Don’t worry, Ms. Walmsley. I’m no pimp. This is all about business and your services have been requested. The meeting will be secure and safe, although in a private location of my client’s choosing. I do not allow my clients to take advantage of my prospects on any level. I take security and privacy very seriously. While my client is well aware of the rules of engagement that must be followed, if you have any issues, my card will be provided to you. With a single call, the situation will be taken care of. Before you ask, I also vet the people who hire me completely. I don’t allow anyone considered destructive, harmful, or holding a hidden agenda to work with me. Now, as I’m a very busy man, I will ask that you make your decision on whether you plan on meeting my client this evening.”
I realized I was shaking but I did everything I could to control my nerves as I glanced down at the paperwork. I’d come this far. Might as well push my boundaries some more. At least he made the initial meeting sound safe. After reading over the two pages, I debated my decision. While the girl who’d started work with Hoffman Enterprises had been naïve to some degree, I’d become hard-edged quickly. This was a business opportunity, and one I didn’t want to pass up. I could always say no after the initial meeting.
My hand trembling, I signed the paperwork, sliding it back in his direction. “Agreed, Mr. Darke, but you should know that I’m no pushover, no matter what your research might have discovered.”
He gave me a respectful nod, shifting another closed envelope in my direction. “I would expect nothing less. I will tell you this, Shannon. My client is entirely different than I am used to working with.”
“In what way?”
“I would consider him challenging as well as dangerous. Somehow, I think you can handle him. However, I will repeat that he is required to follow my rules, just like you will be should you accept the contract. I refuse to accept anything less.”
For some reason the three little words troubled me more than the meeting itself.
As I pulled the envelope into my fingers, my stomach churned. I had a feeling this meeting might alter my future.
I only hoped I was prepared for what I was getting myself into.