“You only have one life. Dive it.” The words rang out loudly in the silence of my office as I read them from the top of my screen.
They were written in big, bold letters printed in neon orange, and what they said sounded pretty damn good to me. I’d never gone scuba diving before, but I believed in trying everything at least twice. Besides, the pictures I’d been scrolling through made any reef look like an underwater wonderland.
Fuck yes. I sat back in my chair, grinning as I thought about going to some exotic location to go exploring under the deep blue sea. Adventure, boats, adrenaline, and babes in bikinis on the beach waiting for me to get back? Sounds like my kind of vacation.
Just as I was about to investigate the different holiday packages on offer, the door burst open and reality walked in. In this case, reality had a name—Alec.
He was my right-hand man and my best friend, but he had zero sense of adventure during working hours. Wearing a pristine suit and a scowl that told me someone—possibly me—was in trouble, he welcomed himself into my office without asking and sat down on the chair across from my desk with a heavy sigh.
“We have a problem,” he said, confirming my suspicions about why he was bursting into my office wearing such a grim, pissed-off expression. “It’s serious, and it’s going to need your attention right away. Whatever put that smile on your face, forget about it. We’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
The words he’d chosen had the opposite effect to what he’d been hoping for. My grin broadened as I turned my computer screen slightly so he’d be able to see it.
“Speaking of having fish to fry, have you ever been scuba diving?” I asked. “It’s more looking at the fish than cooking them, but it sounds like fun. Fishing’s gotten boring. All the sitting around waiting for something to happen. The best part about it is the drinking, and I’m pretty sure divers drink when they’re done for the day too.”
Alec arched a brow at me, glancing from me, to the screen, and back again. “Is this really the best use of your time right now? I mean, it’s not like you’ve got a multi-billion-dollar company to run or anything.”
“Come on,” I cajoled him a little. “It’s Friday afternoon. Lighten up. Take a load off. Your blood pressure will thank you for it.”
He scoffed. “My blood pressure will thank you for listening to me and taking our problem seriously. We need to talk, and it’s not about scuba diving. Why would you want to do it anyway? Swimming around underwater for hours on end looking at fish doesn’t sound appealing to me at all. I also don’t know if you know this, but it’s dangerous, Ellison.”
Uh oh. If he’s breaking out my name, it has to be serious. “What’s so dangerous about it? I know I could get eaten by a shark or some shit like that, but look at this orange fish I could see in person.” I pointed at the screen. “He looks friendly enough, doesn’t he? There’s talk about starfish on this website, too. What are they going to do? Kill me with how cool they are?”
Alec just sat there with a blank stare on his face until I sighed and minimized the tab, giving him my full attention as I folded my hands on my desk. “Fine. What is it?”
“Kevin Carter from the Research and Development department was caught doing drugs in the bathroom earlier,” he said. “He brought cocaine into our building. A building which, if you need to be reminded, is the headquarters of the company that manufactures the leading baby products on the market. If this gets out, we’re in for a fucking nightmare.”
Jokingly, I shrugged and winked at him. “Maybe he was doing research to develop something.”
“Want me to bring him in here?” Alec completely ignored my hilarious comment, raking a hand through his perfectly styled blond hair as he kept his gaze firmly on mine. “It’ll be good if we can show that we took immediate and decisive action.”
“You know what?” I said. “It’s Friday. Maybe we should just let him do the drugs. He could have a revelation over the weekend and stop doing it.”
He gave me another one of his blank stares. Finally, I blew out a breath and nodded. “Sure, bring him in. Immediate and decisive action it shall be. You’re the marketing guy. If you think this can turn into a nightmare, we’d better get out ahead of it.”
“Thank God,” he said as he straightened his already straight tie and got up. “I knew you’d come to your senses. Cocaine and baby products don’t exactly go well together.”
I cocked my head at him, lifting my hand to snap my fingers. “Why not? I’m pretty sure there are a lot of parents out there who need a line on a daily basis. They’ve already got ‘Wine Time’ and all that jazz. We could take it to the next level.”
“You’re not funny,” he said as he strode to the door. “Sometimes I wonder how you got so far in this business with ideas like that. Fuck, you don’t even like kids.”
“You know exactly how I got so far in this business,” I replied as he opened the door again. “You were there when it all started, remember? Also, you know as well as I do that I don’t need to like kids to know that people will always spend money on theirs.”
He shook his head at me and slid one hand into his pocket, already half turned to leave when he glanced at me over his shoulder. With his other hand on the door, he gave me a pointed look.
“Some days, I really don’t know why I’ve stuck by you this long,” he said, but I saw the grin begging to break free on his lips.
The corners were twitching in that telltale way, and I smirked at him when I realized my friend was starting to make an appearance behind his painfully professional alter ego. “Bring in the druggie. If you’re good, I’ll take you for a beer when we’re done and you can tell me all the reasons you think scuba diving is such a terrible idea.”
He rolled his eyes at me but not before I saw that grin finally breaking free just before the door closed behind him. While I waited for him to come back with the awful cocaine addict who would sink our entire company if word got out about his habit, I turned back to my computer.
Sarcastic thoughts aside, I really did have to deal with this. I really hadn’t wanted to end off the week with drama. Scuba diving, man. That’s all I want to be thinking about right now.
But Alec was right. We couldn’t let drug usage on the premises slide even for a weekend.
As I slipped back into my CEO persona from just being a guy who had already switched off for the weekend, I shut down my computer and buttoned up my jacket. When I heard voices in the outer office, I stood up from my chair and went to stand in front of my desk, leaning with my ass on the edge of it as I crossed my arms over my chest.
With my chin high and my eyes already narrowing, I watched Alec march a frightened-looking guy into the office. Security must’ve caught him before he’d actually taken anything because he didn’t show any signs of being high.
His eyes were clear and not watery, and his pupils looked normal. Those were about the only signs I’d have known to look for, though. Besides, this was happening whether he was high or not.
“Mr. Carter,” I said as Alec shut the door behind him. “Don’t have a seat. You won’t be in here long enough for that to be necessary.”
“Sir—Mr. Crowne,” he stammered, shifting on his feet as he shied away from me like a scared fucking animal. “That wasn’t what it looked like. I—”
“You’re going to try to tell me it was baby powder?” I cut him off. “I highly doubt it.”
“No, sir. It just…” He trailed off, glancing behind him as if he was expecting help from Alec.
Releasing my hands from the crooks of my elbows, I braced them on either side of me on the desk. “It just what? It just happened? The coke jumped into the bathroom stall with you, huh? I’m sorry, Mr. Carter, but I’m not interested in excuses.”
“Please, sir. If you could just give me a chance. It was a mistake. I shouldn’t have brought it into work. We’ve just been going really long hours and—”
I raised my eyebrows, shutting him up without having to say a single word. “Do you know how many hours I’ve worked this week? Almost eighty. Give or take a few.”
“Yes, sir, but—”
“But what?” I stood up from the desk, walking around it to go stand at the window. “You see that city down there? It never sleeps. The babies in it never sleep. If we want to stay at the top of our game, we can’t go around crying about working long hours. Did I compensate you for all those hours?”
He blinked at me in surprise. “Yes, sir.”
“Did I pay you well for them?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer. “Last time I checked, Crowne was one of the best paying companies in the industry.”
“Yes, sir,” he said.
I nodded, looking out at the jammed-up streets of rush hour in Los Angeles. “Did someone force you to work those hours?”
“Then why are you complaining to me about it?” I asked, not turning to look at him as I inhaled deeply. “Everybody here knows our policy about narcotics or any intoxicating substances on the property. Our hours are flexible, the pay is great, and since you’re the only person who’s been in here today trying to blame the company for putting poison in your veins, I’m going to go ahead and call bullshit on that excuse.”
The man didn’t even bother to say anything else in his defense. Alec wore a satisfied grin where he stood behind Kevin. I arched a brow at him in question when I turned around to face them again.
Is that enough, or do you really want us to stay here for another hour reading him the riot act?
We’d been working together for so long that I didn’t need to ask the question for him to know what it was. He gave me a tiny shrug, and I nodded.
Sorry, Kevin Carter. Your weekend is about to take a turn for the worse.
“You’re fired,” I said in no uncertain terms, looking the guy right in the eyes. “It might’ve been a mistake, but that doesn’t really matter. You were in clear violation of not only company policy but the law as well. If you and all your belongings aren’t off company property within an hour, you’ll be arrested. Goodbye, Mr. Carter.”
The guy seemed to process what I was saying, but as soon as the stammered pleas started, Alec showed him out. He was back in my office a few seconds later, giving me an exaggerated slow clap after making sure the door was firmly shut behind him.
“You always manage to surprise me,” he said. “Whenever that alpha-hole boss of yours comes out, I’m somehow astonished by the idiot you are when it’s just us.”
I made a kiss face at him as I rolled my shoulders to ease the tension out of them and went back to my desk. “But you still love me anyway.”
“You fucking wish,” he retorted, tracking my movements as I opened my top drawer and pulled out my wallet, phone, and keys. “You done for the day?”
“I was done for the day at least an hour ago,” I said. “Call me a pussy if you want, but taking over the biggest diaper company local to the Middle East before lunch time kind of wore me out. Unlike Kevin, I’m not going to break any laws today. I’m going home, having a beer, and then getting in bed like a normal person.”
Alec laughed. “And by normal person, you mean you’re going to sleep the rust off for an hour or two, and then hit the clubs.”
I shrugged. “It’s what the people want, man. Although I could be convinced to buy you that beer I promised if you feel like joining me in planning my scuba-diving trip.”
“No, thank you,” he said firmly and immediately. “If you want to get your ass chewed up by a shark, that’s your business. My ass, however, is staying on dry land. I’ll see you at Earth later? You owe me that beer, even if I won’t be helping you plan your trip and impending death.”
“I might be there,” I said.
He closed the door after he nodded and then left. I checked to make sure I hadn’t left anything behind in my desk, but I was good to go.
Earth was a club downtown that was usually good from about eleven, which meant I could catch some sleep, have a look at those vacation packages I couldn’t shake out of my head, and still be there with plenty of time to spare.
Stopping in the outer office in front of Eleanor, my snarky, very beloved seventy-year-old assistant, I grinned. “What do you think about scuba diving? I really want to give it a try.”
She sniffed in an attempt to hold back her laughter. “You’ll get eaten by a shark for sure, Ellison. Best look for a different thrill if that’s what you’re after today.”
Without saying anything, I nodded my agreement. Maybe she was right. Maybe it would be best to look for a different thrill after all. Earth was usually a good place to find thrills of the female variety. Yeah, maybe it’s best if I just stick to what I know.