CONFLICTED: CHAPTER ONE

CONFLICTED
© 2016 Lisa Suzanne


CHAPTER ONE

“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the brand new CEO of Benson Industries, my son and one hell of a man, Mr. Cole Benson.”

The man who was about to become my new boss stepped up to the podium. “Thank you, Dad, and congratulations on your retirement.” He smiled at his father, and then he turned toward the crowd of employees who had gathered in the lecture room. “I’m thrilled to take over the role of CEO from my father, who built Benson Industries on a dime and a dream, as he always says. Together, we will continue to drive products from design to market.”

He started outlining some four-point plan, but my mind drifted. I couldn’t help it.

I’d never met Cole in person. He’d been running the New York office, but he was relocating to Los Angeles to take on his new role.

I was sad to see Jack retire. He’d been a fair and kind boss, really like a second father to me. But as sad as I was to see him go, looking at his son was certainly much better than dear old dad.

I was sitting near the back of the lecture room, so my view was partially obstructed. I couldn’t wait to get a good, clean look at him. I knew he was attractive—I’d been in the office as his father Skyped him, and I’d spoken to him on the phone several times.

I thought back to just about a month earlier when Jack had shown me some photos from a family trip to Hawaii. Cole Benson wearing just swim trunks had taken my breath away. The man was chiseled everywhere, and I just wished I’d had the chance to forward a picture to myself so I could really give it a good inspection. I Facebook stalked him—justifying my actions in my mind with the fact that he was my boss’s son—but all his public photos were from business events.

I didn’t know what to expect other than the daily temptation I’d face working for a man whose face rivaled a model and whose body rivaled a Greek god.

After Cole’s speech ended and I realized that I hadn’t heard a word aside from his first three sentences, I returned to my desk with the hope I’d meet the man I’d be assistant to. Unfortunately, though, Jack ushered him out to lunch to introduce him to some clients, and they didn’t return by the time the clock struck five.

I glanced at my husband as the alarm clock sounded the next morning. He was snoring away. I couldn’t help the feeling of resentment that came with the fact that he’d gotten home after I’d already gone to bed the night before. Sometimes I felt like he loved his job more than me.

I shook it off. Non-communication with John was nothing new, but what awaited me at work that morning was. I wanted to make the very best impression I could on Cole, so I woke up early and put a little extra effort into my morning routine.

I chose a professional fitted navy shift dress and matching heels. I dried and straightened my hair and polished off the look with a chunky necklace and matching earrings. I felt pretty and ready to meet my new boss.

Until I stepped outside.

Cole’s first official day was a rare rainy Tuesday morning in LA.

I cursed the rain that turned my sleek hair into a frizzy mess. I ran across the apartment parking lot to our assigned space that was nowhere near where we lived as I wished for the umbrella that was stored in—you guessed it—my car.

I barely sidestepped a muddy puddle and patted down my hair. Normally, the apartment I shared with John was only a ten minute drive from work, fifteen if there was traffic. Unfortunately, though, with rain came accidents. So my fifteen minute drive turned into thirty.

It was five after nine when I finally arrived at my desk.

The man I’d drooled over in photos towered imposingly over my desk. Irritation glazed his handsome face as he turned toward me, and I froze for one brief moment as our eyes met.

The photos hadn’t done him justice.

This man flew right past handsome on the hunk meter with his black hair and dark eyes that were fixated on me. A perfectly manicured scruff outlined his strong jaw, and my eyes stopped for the briefest of moments on his full, ripe lips.

He was pulled together, professional, and effortless, and I couldn’t remember another time when just looking at a man had actually taken my breath away.

The attraction was instant and insane. My heart started racing as I thought about that picture Jack had shown me.

I reached up to wipe my mouth to make sure I wasn’t drooling. The only thought in my mind was what he had hidden under that suit.

“You’re late, Ms. Cleary. I expect you to be on time.”

Those were the first words ever directed at me in person from the mouth of the god.

I rushed toward my desk, and I caught a hint of his scent. Fresh, clean, and masculine. “My apologies, sir. Traffic was—”

He cut me off. “Account for traffic in your commute. You’ll stay late to make up your tardiness.”

“Yes, sir.”

I would not cry thirty seconds after meeting my new boss.

But he was right. I’d been late. I’d gotten up early to make a good impression, yet I still managed to make a bad one.

I got my computer up and running as I considered my options. I didn’t want to bother him on his first day, but I wanted to let him know that I was available for whatever he needed.

I stood and knocked on his door.

“Yes?”

I peeked my head in. He was staring at his computer. “Cole, is there anything I can do for you this morning?”

He didn’t look up from his screen. “Come back in twenty minutes and we will discuss your tasks.”

“Okay,” I said, turning to leave.

“And Ms. Cleary?”

I turned back toward him, loving the view of him behind his desk as he finally ripped his eyes from his computer to look at me. “Yes?”

“It’s Mr. Benson.”

I was about to object that his father had always insisted I refer to him as “Jack,” but I didn’t want to make things worse. Besides, he wasn’t his father.

And it was clear that he was going to prove it.

I glanced through the calendar appointments for the next two weeks as I waited for our meeting. As the transitioning CEO, Cole had a ton of engagements with clients in the area. He needed to meet with the heavy hitters to assure them their accounts were safe and nothing would change unless it was for the better. That was where I came in—at least, that’s what Jack had told me.

Since I’d been with the company for six years, I had quite the handle on clients, accounts, and data. Jack trusted me with everything after I’d worked my way up from an intern to his executive assistant. He had depended on me to keep him on schedule and informed about each client. I wondered how Cole’s expectations would differ from his father’s.

I printed the schedule and brought it with me nineteen minutes later to Cole’s office. I knocked on the door. “What?” he snapped.

“Mr. Benson? I think it’s time for our meeting.”

He looked up from his computer at me and raised an eyebrow. My heart leapt in my chest.

God, I couldn’t seem to get past how handsome he was.

“You think?”

“It’s been twenty minutes.”

He sighed. “Sit.”

I sat. “Here’s a list of your appointments for the next two weeks,” I said, handing over the papers I’d printed.

He took them and tossed them in the trash can beside his desk. “Send me digital appointments for each. Set up two reminders—one twenty-four hours in advance and one two hours in advance.”

I hadn’t thought that I might need to take notes during our meeting. I’d never had to do that with Jack. I glanced around for a pen and paper.

He sighed in annoyance. “What now?”

“Can I have paper and a pen?” I felt like a child asking.

“Never come to a meeting unprepared,” he said, tossing a pad of paper and a pen across the desk toward me.

“I’m sorry.” I scribbled down his request for the meeting reminders.

“My father left me a list of what you did for him. It’s extensive. He trusted you with a lot of confidential information, but you’ll need to earn my trust. Thus far, you’re not off to a strong start.”

“My apologies.”

“It seems like you’ve done an awful lot of apologizing this morning. Instead, just get it right.”

“Yes, sir.” I took a shuddering breath, refusing to get upset. I needed to grow a thicker skin if I planned to get past the first day with my new boss.

“For now, you’ll retain schedule and office management, some data analysis, and most client communication. You’ll continue to prepare information and research as needed. You’ll create client presentations, draft contracts, and manage some records. Once you’ve proven yourself, I’ll give you additional duties with more confidential client information.”

“Won’t the contracts have confidential information?”

He gave me a look like I was stupid. “You’ll leave those sections blank and I’ll fill them in.”

I nodded. “I promise to do all I can to earn your trust.”

“This isn’t a presidential election, Ms. Cleary. You’ll earn my trust by arriving on time and prepared.”

“Anything else, sir?” I asked.

“Did you take notes on my four-point plan yesterday?”

I shook my head as I felt the heat creep up into my cheeks. I hadn’t even been paying attention since I’d been caught up in daydreams of Cole Benson wearing swim trunks.

He sighed and looked up toward the ceiling. I pretended he wasn’t rolling his eyes.

“The document with the plan is in the shared folder. Draft an email to the staff that outlines the major points. Send it to me for approval.”

“Will do.” I tried my hardest to sound enthusiastic and cheerful.

“And get me a reservation for two tonight at Chamonix.”

“How do you spell that?”

“If only there was some sort of device that you could use to find the answer.”

I stared at him in shock as his eyes returned to whatever he was working on.

“Don’t ever ask me something you could google.”

I glared at him since he wasn’t looking at me anyway.

“That’s all for now,” he said, effectively dismissing me. I headed back to my desk to start on the tasks he’d given me, feeling like I was the one starting a new job instead of him.


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