To Be Loved Sample Sunday
Subject to change. Release Date: March 15, 2022. Enjoy!
“Underwriting, as well?”
My newly promoted VP, Jaxon, nodded from beside me, thankfully answering yet another of the interviewer’s questions so I wouldn’t have to.
I wished I would’ve popped an aspirin before this interview because the ongoing ache in my chest seemed to worsen. Hot lights and cameras surrounded us, causing my skin to crawl with irritation.
The interviewer, Laura, asked another question and Jaxon, once again, answered easily.
I respected Jaxon a lot. He was knowledgeable and a huge asset to my data analytics company, RemEx Analytics.
I’d already solidified my company’s reputation and status before hiring him but he’d worked tirelessly beside me since then, fostering new ideas and taking an initiative that helped catapult REA to heights I’d never thought possible.
Though I appreciated his contribution, I treated him like I did everyone else.
I kept him at arm’s length because I’d learned long ago that people will disappoint you once you reveal how much trust you have in them.
I’d wanted to conduct the interview in the conference room on the second floor but my secretary, Miranda, had insisted it would come off more personable if we did it in my office. If she wasn’t so efficient in her job, I’d think she was a complete idiot for that idea.
The woman knew there was nothing personable about me.
Jaxon’s easy laugh brought me from my introspection and I smiled on cue, not knowing what he’d said.
Though Jaxon had confessed his public anxiety years ago, it wasn’t apparent in today’s interview.
Or maybe he was like me. A hot, uncomfortable mess trapped in the shell of a robot. My outward appearance revealed none of the unease coursing through me.
The urge to wring my hands together was strong but I resisted. I needed to maintain my composure and not draw attention to myself as Jaxon breezed through the interview.
At this rate, I wouldn’t have to say a word.
But I’d spoken too soon because not even a second later, a cool, blue gaze swung in my direction.
“You’re so quiet, Ms. Sinclair. Let me direct this question to you.”
I froze, caught off guard, before nodding stiffly.
“With the advancement of today’s technology and the exponential growth in need for data analytics companies like yours, how do you put a price tag on data?”
Thank God it was an easy question.
“Well… first, we don’t actually sell data.” I conjured the control I loved, allowing it to take over and give my words the crisp, certain tone I normally held. “We put together datasets and analyze them using software that compartmentalizes the information received and packages it in a way that’s consumable for our clients. We look for patterns in the data to find solutions to the problems brought to us. So, the price isn’t placed on the data itself, but on the solution that data provides for a particular issue.”
I’d thought the answer was sufficient, and it probably was, but the way the woman paused after, as if taken aback, let me know my tone had likely come across as cold rather than professional like I’d been aiming for.
Beneath my cool veneer, my skin heated under the sudden scrutiny of so many eyes. But I kept it together, not revealing the mess of emotions swirling in my chest.
I hadn’t meant to come off as a bitch that time but more often than not, it was the default setting for me.
Thankfully, the woman directed the rest of the questions to Jaxon until the interview concluded.
When it was over, I smiled on cue, reaching out to shake her hand and thank her for her time before standing behind my desk, watching silently as they packed up the equipment.
I didn’t miss the way the interviewer purposely avoided speaking afterwards but I didn’t care. I preferred silence over forced, awkward conversations.
Jaxon offered to walk them out and I finally released the breath I’d been holding once they were gone.
I might be uncomfortable in a lot of places but this normally wasn’t one. Here, behind this large matte white executive desk, I was comfortable, at home, and at ease.
This was my safe space, sitting behind a door labeled CEO.
Business made sense to me and running mine became as instinctual as taking my next breath.
I knew who I was here and that comforted me.
“Well, that was uh…” Miranda’s words trailed as she looked down at her shoes.
I knew she wanted to say it was a disaster but was afraid to. “I told you I didn’t want to do it.” I defended myself.
“It was good exposure for the company, if nothing else.”
I respected Miranda, too, even though I also kept her at arm’s length. She was always pleasant and had a mind like a steel trap that helped make my job a hell of a lot easier.
A small creaking noise had my eyes shooting over to look at Lathan, my massive asshole of a bodyguard, who had his big arms crossed over his chest as he shifted on the small, uncomfortable chair.
When he was first hired, he always remained in the waiting area on the executive floor. But once he learned how much his presence annoyed me… he’d taken up residence in the corner of my office in what was once Miranda’s desk. Within a few hours of his arrival, I had the spacious desk and chair replaced with one more suitable for a child, but Lathan had strolled in unaffected and continued sitting in that uncomfortable ass chair every day without complaint.
When our eyes met, he lifted both brows before dropping them and winking. My cheeks heated, but I narrowed my lids before looking away.
Lathan was unmoved when I ramped up the bitch to the maximum level. His half smirks and lack of response had grated over my nerves for the last two years since my childhood friend, Verse, assigned him to me.
His big, tattooed frame reared the tiny chair back onto two legs, easily rocking his bulk back and forth, producing the same squeaking noise each time he moved.
We both knew he was doing it to get under my skin but I refused to admit that he was affecting me. I’d never reveal that his petty antics did indeed ruffle my feathers.
Most times, he was impartial towards my attitude, overlooking me like I was a petulant child more than anything.
I hated him.
Well, not really.
I hated that I hadn’t been able to run him off like I’d done to the other bodyguards Verse hired prior to him.
I’d received harmless threats nearly two years ago and despite my resistance, Verse had set me up with a bodyguard. The first four had come and gone before I’d even memorized their names and I’d expected the same from Lathan.
But he’d remained resilient.
Though the threat was eliminated and the guy arrested, Verse kept Lathan around and eventually I’d given up on running him off.
I’d been so lost in my thoughts that I missed what Lathan said to Miranda after I glanced away but I caught her blush and tittering laugh in response.
She had a crush on him.
I didn’t like it, nor did I understand it, but I guess I could see the appeal.
He was tall, probably close to six and a half feet, tattooed, and… thick. Solid and sturdy, like a tree trunk. But despite his bulk, he didn’t stomp around like a bull in a china shop. It was quite the opposite, actually. Lathan had a quiet grace that allowed him to sneak up on me more times than I cared to admit.
Again, his eyes flashed in my direction, boldly looking me over before swinging his gaze back to Miranda and smiling at her. While they talked, I took a moment to inspect him.
He had a smooth, caramel skin tone that was littered with tattoos. Two letters were inked under his left eye and I’d been dying to know more about them but refused to ask.
I’d never seen him wear glasses over his light brown eyes, minus the dark shades tucked in the neckline of his shirt.
Lathan had a low, tapered cut and full, thick beard that was trimmed neatly on his jaw but extended a few inches off his chiseled chin.
Physically, I guess, he was attractive, but I didn’t look at any man with interest. Ever. So, to me, he was just my annoying and unnecessarily large bodyguard.
When Miranda exploded with laughter again at something he said, I cut my eyes in his direction.
“Your job is to be seen and ignored.”
My scathing tone had wilted even the toughest men who opposed me in the boardroom but Lathan merely chuckled, flashing another wink my way before mockingly twisting his fingers over his lips and tossing away the imaginary key.
I stood from my seat and rounded my desk, which prompted Miranda to do the same. “Don’t forget, you have the opening tonight.”
I paused in the middle of the floor, face contorting in a frown before I sighed. “Can I just send a gift?”
Miranda hesitated, flashing her gaze over to Lathan as if asking for help. After so many years of working closely, she was still nervous around me. I didn’t purposely intimidate her, nor could I just turn off the cold, unapproachable disposition I carried.
But Lathan took the bait, always eager to get under my skin. “One of your childhood friends is having an event to celebrate him achieving his lifelong dream. You don’t think sending a gift would be impersonal?” At my prolonged silence, he scoffed. “Damn, Rem. I knew you were cold, but not that cold.”
To him and everyone else, it appeared cold.
But to me, it was survival.
People can’t hurt you if you don’t let them in.
That was one of the hardest things I had to learn, and I had zero intentions of repeating the lessons that had molded that viewpoint.
But Truth was a friend from childhood. Another one of the Uptown kids who’d made something out of nothing, despite the odds being stacked against us. Though I knew I wasn’t well-liked by anyone, it wouldn’t be right to just not show up.
Truth and his ex-wife Capri had been at every major event concerning REA since its conception and it was only fair that I did the same.
“Have a dress sent to the house,” I said to Miranda before moving towards the door. When I opened it and didn’t hear the chair squeaking in relief after Lathan lifted his bulk, I cut my eyes back to him. He remained in the seat, arms folds, lips curved up in a smile.
He chuckled, getting even more comfortable, tossing one leg over his knee. “Say please.”
“Go to hell.” I spat instead, pulling the door open and striding through it.
God, he made my blood boil.
Why couldn’t I remain as unaffected with him as I did with everyone else? He got more of a reaction than people I had known for thirty years.
My heel tapped impatiently against the white floor as I waited for the elevator.
“You should try to be nicer since I’m kind of in charge of protecting you.” I heard from behind me.
Don’t turn around. Don’t turn around. Don’t turn aro-
I whirled to face him, venom dripping from my tone with each word I spoke. “I didn’t ask for you to protect me. I’ve tried to fire you. Multiple times. Go find another client. Maybe they’ll be nicer to you than I am.”
His big hand reached out and I stilled, not missing the way his lids narrowed. I had a weird aversion to being touched, especially without my permission.
Hands that large, scarred, and calloused were only good for one thing in my experience… hurting others.
So I watched him nervously just as he continued watching my frozen frame through thin slits before twirling one of my loose, burgundy curls around his index finger and releasing it.
“Hmm,” he hummed before gesturing behind me towards the elevator that I hadn’t noticed arrived. “After you.”