What is Simon hiding? Why is everyone scared of him? And how will Beth cope when she finally finds out the truth about the man she's fallen head over heels in love with? This a sample chapter from my debut novel, Bird, recently published. It's a fantasy romance set in London.
Beth knew Simon couldn’t possibly be in New York yet, there just hadn’t been enough time. It was only the middle of the afternoon, but she couldn’t resist checking her mobile every few minutes on the off chance that he might have called. Or texted.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of her work phone. She saw across its little screen that it was Trisha calling.
‘Hello,’ Beth answered.
‘Can you come to my office?’ Trisha ordered.
‘Of course,’ Beth said, hanging up the phone. She headed behind her and walked into Trisha’s office, looking for somewhere to sit.
Her office was the usual mess and Beth had to move a stapler off the chair to make herself comfortable.
Beth felt irritated that everyone praised Trisha so highly for all her hard work, but in reality she wondered how on earth anyone could be good at their job in such a disorganised, chaotic environment. The more Beth thought about it the more she realised that she didn’t actually know what Trisha did at all. This was only the second time they’d spoken since Beth’s arrival, and Trisha’s betrayal of her employee had left Beth feeling quite bitter.
‘Our Sales Director, Mr Rock-’ Trisha started.
‘Damien?’ Beth interrupted.
‘That’s very familiar of you, Bethany. Where did you hear his name?’
‘He introduced himself to me when...’ Beth took a second to consider whether she should tell Trisha that she’d been up to the infamous tenth floor or not. Trisha had omitted it from her first day tour and she was nervous about whether she could trust Trisha with anything. However, she was feeling exceptionally empowered today; she was sleeping with the CEO after all. ‘I had to help Mr Bird out with something, and Damien introduced himself to me.’
‘What are you doing helping Mr Bird out with anything?’ Trisha snapped, clearly peeved that her lowly employee was mixing with the big boys.
‘It was nothing,’ Beth suddenly backed down, her confidence dwindling under Trisha’s icy glare. ‘I saw Mr Bird in the tea room and he asked me to make him a cup of tea.’
‘He spoke to you?’
‘Did you not know? He came down to the office and asked me to help him out a second time,’ Beth informed her, trying to hide the smile that was so desperate to burst across her face.
Trisha was fuming. ‘Why would he ask you to make him tea?’
‘I suppose I was just closest to the door,’ Beth lied. And this time she meant it.
Trisha’s vexation at how Beth was making a name for herself in the office was tangible. ‘I want to know why Mr Rock has requested your assistance with a big project he’s working on,’ she demanded.
‘Don’t get too big for your boots, Bethany. Remember we’re a team here; teamwork is all that matters.’
Beth bit her lip, aggravated by Trisha’s hypocrisy. In no position to argue, Beth took a second to let her anger subside before she returned to the issue at hand.
‘What does Mr Rock want me to do?’ she asked.
‘I haven’t got a clue. Seems I’m not privy to such information, unlike yourself,’ Trisha snarled. ‘He just said you’ll need to work late. Is that going to be a problem?’
‘No, Trisha. That’s fine, I can work late.’
‘I’m glad to hear it. He said he’ll ring down for you when you’re needed, but it will be after five o’clock. He’s a busy man, Bethany, don’t mess him around.’
‘I wouldn’t dream of it.’
‘And don’t ask too many questions. I’ve been told you’re very nosey. You’ll get a bad reputation if you don’t start minding your own business.’
‘Who’s said I’m nosey?’ Beth asked defensively, very much hurt by Trisha’s accusation.
‘Brenda reported back to me after your embarrassing string of questions in the induction. You need to toe the line. You’re paid to do your job, if that’s not good enough for you, you’re free to go elsewhere.’
‘Is that a threat?’
‘It’s a suggestion. Now are you willing to do as Mr Rock asks of you and nothing more?’
‘Of course’ Beth nodded, roaring anger building up inside.
‘You’re representing the admin department, remember that. And I’d call him Mr Rock to his face if I were you.’ Beth went to argue with her, but realised it was futile. She forced a smile and walked back to her desk, keeping in mind that she had Trisha’s ultimate boss as an ally.
The reality of what had just happened then hit her as she sat back down in her seat and a new sense of status poured through her.
Damien — as he had introduced himself — had noticed her. A slight doubt played with her thoughts as she considered that it was somehow related to Simon. She wanted to make her own way in the world and get noticed for her own achievements. But what could Simon have done, she reasoned, he wasn’t even in the country, he was half way around the world. This was her moment. As the rage from her encounter with Trisha subsided, she felt very pleased with herself.
Simon was, in fact, now stuck on the M25. He sat in the back of his Lexus, being driven by Jim, but they hadn’t moved for quite a while. The traffic report had informed them that the M25 was actually closed up ahead due to a four car pile-up and there was nothing they could do but sit and wait.
Simon checked his watch and saw it was four thirty. They weren’t that far from their exit at junction sixteen, but there was no way they were going to get back to the office for five o’clock.
Jim glanced in the rear view mirror at Simon biting his nail anxiously. ‘Do you still want me to go to the office, sir?’ he asked.
Simon thought through the options in his head. He knew Beth wasn’t working that night so he could easily phone her up and agree to meet her somewhere, but that would ruin the surprise.
He was going to tell her that he loved her, it needed to be special. He wanted her to miss him and then it would make his declaration mean so much more. He’d also then know how much she felt the same. It was this that worried him the most. Every inch of his body told him that she felt the same; there was no way anyone could fake such intense emotion. It had to be real, but he needed to see it for himself plain and clear. He wanted to hear either the delight or displeasure in her voice first hand as he told her, not only that he was going to be staying put in the UK more permanently, but also that he was in love with her.
He started to bite his nail again at the thought of the task ahead of him. He’d dealt with some of the biggest companies and most powerful people in the world without batting an eyelid, but telling the woman he loved that he wanted to be with her was the scariest thing that he’d ever done. This could break him. But he had to do it.
If only he knew her address. He knew she wasn’t far from the office, but he couldn’t very well roam the streets shouting out her name. Then he remembered flicking through her file in the office. Her address was there.
‘Straight back to the office, please Jim. We’re going to make a short stop and then on to Beth’s.’
‘Excellent, sir,’ Jim nodded, a slight smile evident on his lips. He was clearly happy with the change in his boss.
It was well after five thirty and Beth was still waiting for Damien’s call. The office was now eerily empty and all that could be heard was the whirr of electronic equipment and the tapping of Beth’s fingers on her mouse.
She was using her time to try and find more out about her beau. She was now on page twenty-two of her Google search of “Simon Bird CEO Bird Consultants”, but other than that one mention of him she’d found the other day, there was nothing. It just wasn’t right. He must be somehow manipulating this.
She thought back to that dreadful doorman she’d battled with on Friday night. He’d told her that no one messes with Mr Bird; he’d warned her to keep away, that somehow Simon wasn’t good news, and she could tell he really meant it.
Beth felt a chill as she suddenly started questioning who this man really was. Then she thought to his honest declarations about how people treated him. It was blatant to Beth that she wasn’t the only one who felt the atmosphere change by his presence, but maybe she was the only one who liked it. There was far more to Simon than she knew, and she suddenly felt knotted at the prospect of finding out.
At the same time, though, the thought that she wasn’t going to see him anytime soon devastated her. There were many unanswered questions, but the one thing she knew for sure was that she was in love with him. What on earth could be so bad that she could ever feel differently? To her, he was magnificent. Maybe she was just the only one to be brave enough to see it. He was probably right; whereas the rest of the world had run away in fear of his brilliance, she had taken the time to understand it. That’s what made her stand out.
At last her phone rang and she saw it said “Mr Rock” on the screen. This was it.
‘Hello, Beth speaking,’ she said.
‘I’m ready for you now, Beth. If you could join me upstairs.’
Beth clicked off the internet and made her way to the lifts. She took a deep breath as she waited, her imagination now running wild as she fantasised that he’d have a very important job for her with a client. Then she’d meet the client and massively impress them, and then they’d insist that she was the best administrator that they’d ever come across, and suddenly Trisha was being led out of the front door and Beth was being moved into her office as Administration Manager.
The lift chimed and she stepped in, holding back her motivated smile as she pressed for the tenth floor. She could feel this was going to be a vital step towards achieving her ultimate dream.
The tenth floor soon arrived and Beth stepped out into an equally eerie corridor. The silence was very unsettling.
She walked through the glass doors to see Damien typing away at his computer. He immediately stopped when he saw her, brandishing his greasy smile. ‘Thank you, Beth, I’m really glad you’re here.’
He walked to the desk next to him and rolled his colleague’s chair over so they could sit together.
‘You’re eager to succeed, aren’t you Beth?’
She nodded, sitting forward in her chair, ready for action. ‘Yes. I’m willing to work as hard as I can and do whatever is needed to achieve great success.’
Damien nodded along, enthusiastically. ‘I see a lot of myself in you, Beth. I like it. I wish more people were as eager to succeed as you.’
‘Thank you, Damien. How can I help?’
‘It’s more how I can help you, Beth.’ She looked confused, not really sure what he meant. ‘I have an opening in sales and you were the first person I thought about.’
‘Sales? Wow! That would be incredible.’
‘You’re up for giving it a go, then?’
‘Yes, definitely. Thank you so much.’
‘Hang on a second. It’s not as easy at that. People don’t just get handed jobs like that, do they now. You need to earn your right to it. Otherwise you won’t appreciate it, will you Beth?’
‘No, of course not. I have some sales experience. It’s in the retail world, so it’s a bit different.’
‘No, no, no, I already know you’ll be a perfect fit. You’ve got passion and drive, and that’s what it takes.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘I just need to know how much you want it. It’s a job hundreds would kill for. How far would you go?’
‘I don’t want to kill anyone!’ Beth exclaimed.
Damien laughed. ‘I’m glad to hear it. No, I was thinking more of how you could persuade me,’ he finished. Then he placed his hand on her thigh.
She knocked it off. ‘What are you doing?’
‘You scratch my back, Beth, and I’ll scratch yours.’
‘What are you saying?’ she asked, astonished.
He placed his hand on her thigh again. ‘If you please me, there’s no saying how far you’ll go.’
Beth stood up, knocking the chair back behind her. ‘How dare you! That’s harassment. I’ll have you know I’m very good at my job and would make an excellent sales person, and I don’t need any special favours from you, thank you very much!’ She went to walk off, but suddenly her arm was yanked back behind her.
‘Don’t be so naïve. How do you think any of us make it in this world?’ Damien twisted her round to face him, clutching her arm tightly.
‘Most people do it on merit!’ she shouted back, trying to pull herself free from his brutal grasp.
‘You’re so stupid. Of course they don’t. The whole of Bird Consultants is built on the very fact that people like to cheat the system. Why be good when you can find a way around it?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You don’t know anything about what you’re getting yourself into. Turning up at parties you’re not invited to, making tea for a man you know nothing about. This is a dark world you’re trying to worm your way into, I’m just offering you a friendly leg up. You pitch up in my camp and I’ll make sure you’re taken well care of.’
‘I don’t need anything from you,’ she cried, still trying to break free from him.
‘I’ll look after you, Beth. Keep you away from the darkness, keep you away from the icy terror.’ He grabbed her other arm to hold her still, trying to get her to see sense. ‘You want it Beth, I know you do. I can make all your dreams come true. Don’t fight it, I’ll change your life.’
‘Just you wait till I tell Simon about this,’ she warned, realising it was futile to struggle against his grip.
‘What’s he going to care? When he’s gone I’m in charge. He’s miles away in New York, and he doesn’t give a shit about the likes of you. He’s in a world of his own, you don’t matter to him. You’re so stupid.’
‘No I’m not!’ Beth shouted. ‘I’m not! Simon is ten times the man that you are. You just wish you could be like him!’
Damien slapped her hard across the face and Beth fell to the floor, partly against the force, partly due to the shock.
‘What the hell is going on here!!’ a voice bellowed from the doorway. It was so loud and tempestuous, it shook the room around them. Damien stepped back as he saw Simon’s fierce eyes glare at him.
Beth found her feet and ran to Simon. She wrapped her arms around him, so relieved he was there. Her cheek was raw from the slap and confused tears were now pouring down her face. She hid herself against Simon’s chest, taking comfort in his secure embrace.
‘What’s going on?’ he repeated, more softly this time.
‘Damien offered me a promotion if I slept with him,’ Beth sniffled, shaking. She suddenly felt waves of anger physically surge through Simon and it pushed her back. Bewildered, her eyes were drawn to his hands. They were physically pulsating, as if something was bubbling up beneath his skin, like his anger was tangibly taking control.
‘Wait here,’ he whispered to her, gently moving her aside.
‘Is that true?’ he said to Damien, who was standing stock still in the middle of the office.
‘Of course not,’ Damien shouted back. ‘This stupid little girl was begging me for a promotion, I was trying to set her straight.’
The fury in Simon took charge and he stepped up to Damien. He grabbed him round the neck and threw him backwards, sending him hurtling through the air with impossible force. He crashed into the glass of Simon’s office window and fell sharply to the floor.
Beth stood agape. The force in which Simon had thrown Damien was immense.
Simon strode over and, reaching down in a single, easy movement, he picked up the glass covered man by the neck and raised his legs completely off the floor. It was an incredible strength.
‘Leave her alone,’ Simon commanded. He threw Damien back towards the middle of the office leaving him to crash to the floor awkwardly on his arm. ‘Do I make myself clear?’
Damien just nodded, breathlessly. Beth watched with fear as Damien seemed to take this beating completely in his stride.
Simon was now standing over Damien. He appeared taller and bigger than ever before. ‘I never want to see you again. Pack up your things, you’re fired,’ Simon charged.
He turned to look at Beth and caught the stark astonishment on her face. Her terrified eyes quickly abated his anger and he walked over to her, leaving Damien to fend for himself in a heap. Simon took Beth’s trembling hand and led her to the lift.
‘What the hell was that!’ she gasped, feeling the fury physically pulsate through Simon’s fingers.
‘Go down to reception. Get in the lift and wait for me down there,’ Simon ordered. Beth was desperate to argue, but the ferocity in his eyes told her to listen to him. Utterly confused and scared, she did exactly as he asked and stepped in the lift. She made a short stop at her desk to collect her things and then, not wasting a second more, she headed on to reception as instructed.
She was petrified at the idea of what Simon was going to do. All those rumours about him now circled round her head and she prayed it was going to be all right. As she reached the ground floor she stepped out, shaking, and waited.
Part of her wanted to run away as far as she could. She’d just witnessed something so peculiar, she couldn’t make any sense of it. No matter how scared she was, though, her feet refused to budge. No matter how terrifying it had all started to get, there was, strangely, still nowhere else she wanted to be other than with Simon. It was like she was addicted to him.
The lights of the lift finally sparked and she saw the LED above it count up to the tenth floor. She eagerly awaited its return. It slowly started to count back down and, after what seemed like an age, the doors finally opened to reveal Simon, alone. ‘Let’s get out of here,’ he said.