Beautiful Bastard ~ Chapter 1

One


My father always said the way to learn the job you want is to spend every second watching someone do it.

“To get the job at the top, you’ve got to start at the bottom,” he told me. “Become the person the CEO can’t live without. Be their right-hand man. Learn their world, and they’ll snatch you up the second you finish your degree.”

I had become irreplaceable. And I’d definitely become the Right Hand. It just so happened that in this case, I was the right hand that most days wanted to slap the damn face.

My boss, Mr. Bennett Ryan. Beautiful Bastard.

My stomach clenched tightly at the thought of him: tall, gorgeous, and entirely evil. He was the most self-righteous, pompous prick I’d ever met. I’d hear all of the other women in the office gossip about his escapades and wonder if a nice face was all it took. But my father also said, “You realize early in life that beauty is only skin-deep, and ugly goes straight to the bone.” I’d had my fair share of unpleasant men in the past few years, dated a few in high school and college. But this one took the cake.

“Well, hello Miss Mills!” Mr. Ryan stood in the doorway to my office that served as an anteroom to his. His voice was laced with honey, but it was all wrong . . . like honey left to freeze and crack on ice.

After spilling water on my phone, dropping my earrings into the garbage disposal, being rear-ended on the interstate, and having to wait for the cops to come and tell us what we both already knew—that it was the other guy’s fault—the last thing I needed this morning was a grumpy Mr. Ryan.

Too bad for me he didn’t come in any other flavor.

I gave him my usual. “Good morning, Mr. Ryan,” hoping he would give me his usual curt nod in return.

But when I tried to slip past him, he murmured, “Indeed? ‘Morning,’ Miss Mills? What time is it in your little world?”

I stopped and met his cold stare. He was a good eight inches taller than me, and before working for him I’d never felt so small. I’d worked for Ryan Media Group for six years. But since his return to the family business nine months ago, I’d taken to wearing heels I used to consider circus height just so I could approach him near eye level. Even so, I still had to tilt my head to look up at him, and he clearly relished it, hazel eyes flashing.

“I had a bit of a disaster morning. It won’t happen again,” I said, relieved that my voice came out steady. I had never been late, not once, but leave it to him to make a thing of it the first time it happened. I managed to slip past him, put my purse and coat in my closet, and power up my computer. I tried to act like he wasn’t standing in the doorway, watching every move I made.

“‘Disaster morning’ is quite an apt description for what I’ve had to deal with in your absence. I spoke to Alex Schaffer personally to smooth over the fact that he didn’t get the signed contracts when promised: nine a.m., East Coast time. I had to call Madeline Beaumont personally to let her know we were, in fact, going to proceed with the proposal as written. In other words, I’ve done your job and mine this morning. Surely, even with a ‘disaster morning’ you can manage eight a.m.? Some of us get up and

start working before the brunch hour.”

I glanced up at him, antagonizing me, glaring, arms crossed over his broad chest—and all because I was an hour late. I blinked away, very deliberately not staring at the way his dark tailored suit stretched across his shoulders. I had made the mistake of visiting the hotel gym during a convention the first month we worked together and walked in to find him sweaty and shirtless next to the treadmill. He had a face that any male model would kill for and the most incredible hair I’ve ever seen on a man. Freshly fucked hair. That’s what the girls downstairs called it, and according to them, it earned its title. The image of him wiping his chest with his shirt was forever burned into my brain.

Of course, he’d had to ruin it by opening his mouth: “It’s nice to see you finally taking an interest in your physical fitness, Miss Mills.”

Asshole.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Ryan,” I said with just a hint of bite. “I understand the burden I placed on you by making you manage a fax machine and pick up a telephone. As I mentioned, it won’t happen again.”

“You’re right, it won’t,” he replied, cocky smile firmly in place.

If only he would keep his mouth shut, he’d be perfect. A piece of duct tape would do the trick. I had some in my desk that I’d occasionally pull out and fondle, hoping someday I could put it to good use.

“And just so you don’t allow this incident to slip your memory, I’d like to see the full status tables for the Schaffer, Colton, and Beaumont projects on my desk by five. And then you’re going to make up the hour lost this morning by doing a mock board presentation of the Papadakis account for me in the conference room at six. If you’re going to manage this account, you’re going to prove to me that you know what the hell you’re doing.”

My eyes widened as I watched him turn away, slamming his office door behind him. He knew damn well that I was ahead of schedule with this project, which also served as my MBA thesis. I still had months to finish my slides once the contracts were signed . . . which they weren’t—they hadn’t even been fully drafted. Now, with everything else on my plate, he wanted me to put together a mock board presentation in . . . I looked at my watch. Great, seven and a half hours, if I skipped lunch. I opened the Papadakis file and got down to it.

As everyone began filtering out for lunch, I remained glued to my desk with my coffee and a bag of trail mix I’d bought from the vending machine. Normally I’d bring leftovers or leave with the other interns to grab something, but time was not on my side today. I heard the outer office door open and looked up, smiling as Sara Dillon walked in. Sara was in the same MBA internship program at Ryan Media Group that I was, though she worked in accounting.

“Ready for lunch?” she asked.

“I’m going to have to skip it. This is the day from hell.” I looked at her apologetically, and her smile turned into a smirk.

“Day from hell, or boss from hell?” She took a seat on the edge of my desk. “I heard he was on a bit of a rampage this morning.”

I gave her a knowing look. Sara didn’t work for him, but she knew all about Bennett Ryan. As the

youngest son of company founder Elliott Ryan, and with a notoriously short fuse, he was a living legend in the building. “Even if there were two of me, I wouldn’t be able to get this finished in time.”

“You sure you don’t want me to bring you back something?” Her eyes moved in the direction of his office. “A hit man? Some holy water?”

I laughed. “I’m good.”

Sara smiled and left the office. I’d just finished off the last of my coffee when I bent down, noting a run in my stockings. “And on top of everything else,” I began, hearing Sara return, “I’ve already snagged these. Actually, if you’re going somewhere there’s chocolate, bring me back fifty pounds, so I can eat my feelings later.”

I glanced up and saw that it wasn’t Sara standing there. My cheeks flushed red and I pulled my skirt back down.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Ryan, I—”

“Miss Mills, since you and the other office girls have plenty of time to discuss problematic lingerie, in addition to putting together the Papadakis presentation, I need you to also run down to the Willis office and retrieve the market analysis and segmentation for Beaumont.” He straightened his tie, looking at his reflection in my window. “Do you think you can manage that?”

Did he just call me an “office girl”? Sure, as part of my internship I often did some basic assistant work for him, but he knew damn well I had worked for this company for years before receiving a JT Miller scholarship to Northwestern. I was four months away from getting my business degree.

Getting my degree and getting the hell out from under you, I thought. I looked up to meet his blazing eyes. “I’ll be happy to ask Sam if she—”

“It wasn’t a suggestion,” he cut me off. “I’d like you to pick them up.” He gazed at me for a moment with a clenched jaw before turning on his heel and storming back to his office, pulling the door closed roughly behind him.

What the fuck was his problem? Was slamming doors like a teenager really necessary? I grabbed my blazer from the back of the chair and began making my way to our satellite office a few buildings down.

When I returned, I knocked on his door but there was no response. I tried the knob. Locked. He was probably having a late-afternoon quickie with some trust fund princess while I ran around Chicago like an insane person. I shoved the manila folder through the mail slot, hoping the papers scattered everywhere and he’d have to get down and sort them himself. Would serve him right. I rather liked the image of him on his knees on the floor, gathering scattered documents. Then again, knowing him, he would call me into that sterile hellhole to clean it up while he watched.

Four hours later I had the status updates complete, my slides mostly in order, and I was almost hysterically laughing with how awful this day was. I found myself plotting a very bloody and drawn-out murder of the kid at The Copy Stop. A simple job, that’s all I had asked. Make some copies, bind some things. Should have been a piece of cake. In and out. But no. It had taken two hours.

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