I slicked on a light shade of lipstick, smacked my lips, and checked to make sure my makeup was perfect. Some people dreaded Mondays. Not me. I always dressed a little nicer and felt a little perkier on a Monday. The long four-day weekend helped. Although, I was still feeling stuffed after my mother’s elaborate Thanksgiving dinner. She never failed to disappoint. Hence the need for the bulky sweater and the flowing skirt with an elastic waistband. I should walk to work, but it was cold out, and I wasn’t that motivated.
Today was a big day. The new boss was supposed to be gracing us with his presence. There was something weird going on with the change in ownership. I didn’t dare question the situation, but it was sketchy. For whatever reason, he had yet to put his butt in the big chair in the big office. Our last owner spent the bulk of his time managing the casino from the office. There was a lot to get done, but the new owner seemed to be absent. I heard he’d been on the casino floor, but I also heard he was a mob boss. Rumors were fun.
I wrapped my scarf around my neck and grabbed my purse. The moment I stepped out of my building, I winced at the biting wind. I pulled my scarf up a little higher and headed for the subway. Everyone in the city seemed to be moving a little slower after the weekend. I imagined they were all still feeling stuffed. I got off at my stop and headed up. This part of Manhattan was decked out in its Christmas best. I could hear Christmas music coming from the stores as I walked.
I stopped in the coffee shop I frequented and ordered coffee for myself and the staff I worked directly with. I wasn’t rich, and I couldn’t afford to buy coffee for the whole crew. I walked into the building and hit the button for the third floor where the Amethyst Casino and Hotel headquarters were based.
“Good morning,” I greeted Laura, the front desk receptionist. “For you,” I said and handed her a cup.
“Oh my gosh, you are a lifesaver! I don’t know how you can be so perky on Monday morning.”
“It’s a new week,” I said. “Fresh start and all that.”
I walked into the payroll lady’s office. It was payroll day, which meant she was going to be up to her eyeballs in last-minute calls about new hires and missed clock-ins. “Good morning, Doris,” I said with a knock before I walked in.
“Did you bring me coffee?” she asked as she looked over her glasses.
“I did. I got the peppermint you like.”
“You’re such a sweetheart,” she said. “I swear if these managers don’t figure out how to get their staff to clock in with the damn machine, I’m going to lose my mind.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t envy you. Let me know if you need me to make calls and kick some butt for you.”
“Will do,” she said.
I delivered a couple more coffees before going to my desk. One of the accountants stopped by my little office and handed me the reports from the weekend. “Thank you.”
“Have you met the new owner yet?” she asked.
“Nope,” I said. “I think he doesn’t exist. Old Man Joe is probably passing the business to his granddaughter.”
“Isn’t she like five?”
I flashed her a smile. “Yes.”
She looked confused. “I don’t get it.”
“The man behind the curtain,” I explained. “It’s a shadow. It’s probably Joe and his kids or advisors. I don’t know. Until I see this guy in the office, I’m not going to believe he exists.”
“Someone has to be running the show,” she said.
“Very true,” she said. “I’ll be at my desk if you need anything. I think we’re all buried after the long weekend. The reports I’ve seen show the casino kicked some serious ass over the weekend.”
“Good. If we ever meet this new owner, he might want to give us kudos for keeping his business afloat while he did whatever.”
“We couldn’t have done it without you,” she said. “Maybe you should vote yourself CEO.”
“I just might if I have to do everything,” I muttered.
After she left, I started my usual routine. I checked email, listened to voicemails, and took notes. As I had been doing the last few weeks, I put together the Monday morning reports in neat little folders. I had a system that Joe appreciated. I made a bullet-point list outlining the highlights of the financials. It made it expedient for him, and truth be told, his attention span had been waning over the last few years.
I took each of the daily reports along with the Monday morning report and walked to the large corner office that belonged to the owner. I did miss Joe a little. It was like being on a ship with no captain. We all knew our jobs and could keep going for a while, but eventually, there would be a time when we needed a boss. We needed someone to captain the ship.
The door was closed as usual. I opened it and walked in while looking down at the top page. I was about to stack the reports on the desk with the ones that had gone untouched when I felt a presence. I looked up and saw the large man sitting at the desk and staring at me with a smirk on his lips. He was wearing an open-collared shirt with a jacket that didn’t look like it fit quite right.
“Oh!” I gasped. “I’m—are you—why are you in here?”
“Because it’s my office,” the man answered. He had the phone to his ear and made no effort to cover it to shield the person on the other line from our conversation.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “You’re the new owner?”
He gave me a dry look. “Yes. Jenson Grier.”
“Oh, hi,” I said and was trying to think of a way to apologize for my impertinence.
“I don’t know where the coffee is. Can you bring me some?”
I frowned, but if he really was the new owner, I couldn’t very well start off on the wrong foot. “Of course,” I said and scurried out of the office.
I rushed down the hall to the break room. I should have brought him coffee. I truly didn’t think he’d be in the office. He hadn’t been yet. I grabbed one of the K-Cups and popped it in the machine. He probably thought I was late for work. He was going to fire me for being a slacker. Talk about making a horrible first impression. Why hadn’t anyone told me he was in the office?
I carried the full cup back to his office. I could hear him talking on the phone still. I didn’t want to interrupt. Again. I paused and waited.
“I’m not going,” I heard him say. “I told you I wouldn’t.”
There was a silence. I waited to see if he was off the phone when he started to talk again. “I’ll check on her, but I’m not having dinner there. Oliver was right. We have to make her miss us. It’s the only way she’s ever going to realize Ron is a fucking piece of shit. He’s dead weight and is never going to be welcome.”
I tried not to flinch at his vehemence. He sounded angry. I wasn’t about to go in there.
“Why don’t we just drag Ron out to the bay and throw his ass in,” Jenson Grier, my new boss, said.
Maybe there was something to the mob rumors. I couldn’t work for a man that threw people in the bay. I debated quitting on the spot, but I needed the job. I’d worked too damn hard to get to the top of the food chain. I was the executive assistant to the owner of a very profitable casino. I’d started as the shot girl, walking around in an outfit I hated and handing out free drinks to already drunk gamblers. I climbed the ladder one step at a time, and now I was next to the top.
Mob boss or not, I wasn’t going to quit. I took a deep breath and gathered my strength. I pushed open the door. He looked up at me. “I’ll talk to you later,” he said in a gruff voice. “If there’s a problem with him, I’ll handle it.”
My stomach dropped at the words. He hung up the phone and looked at me. “Your coffee,” I said and handed him the cup.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Selena who? Are you a secretary?”
I had to bite my tongue. The guy was straight out of the stone age. “I’m Selena Levine,” I said and forced a smile. “I’m the executive assistant. I worked for Joe. We were told the new owner wanted all the staff to stay in their jobs.”
“Oh. An assistant. Cool.”
“Yes, I wasn’t aware I had such a pretty young woman working for me.”
Clearly, he’d missed the workplace conduct seminar. If he was trying to get busted for sexual harassment, he was doing a great job. “I’ve left the reports on your desk,” I said. “Do you need anything else?”
“Don’t leave,” he said.
“Do you need something?”
“Have a seat,” he said and gestured for the chair.
I couldn’t say no. I moved forward and sat down. He wasn’t what I expected. He was a lot younger than my last boss. He looked like he played football or moved mountains for fun. He was stocky and looked like he could bench-press a car. There was a scar above his right eye that gave him a look of danger that didn’t quite match up to the soft, pretty green eyes. His sandy-blond hair that was slicked back now would make him look like a surfer when it hung loose around his face. I tried to guess his age.
There was a youthfulness to him, but there was also an edgy thing that was throwing me off. Late thirties. That was my guess. A man that had seen a lot. I realized I was staring when my eyes fell to his mouth and noticed him smirking. My eyes bounced up and saw he was amused.
“My assistant, huh?” he said.
“What exactly do you do for me?” he questioned.
He moved his head, the collar of his shirt slightly shifting and revealing what looked an awful lot like a neck tattoo. That was unexpected. “I handle things here,” I said. “I make sure your schedule is coordinated. I handle the bulk of the calls that come in for you. Sometimes I take care of tasks that you wouldn’t normally have time for. At least that’s what I did for Joe.”
“Tasks? Like what?”
For some reason, I got the impression the guy had never been an executive, CEO, or even a boss. He looked uncomfortable and out of place, like he should be out knocking heads instead of trying to play boss. Even his clothes looked like they belonged to someone else. “I guess we’ll just cross that bridge when it comes up.”
He smirked again. “Who are the rest of the people out there?”
“They work for you,” I said. “They handle payroll, accounting, hiring, and stuff like that. They are the backbone of the casino.”
“Aren’t my floor bosses the backbone?”
“Are you asking me or telling me?” I shot back.
His lips quirked again. “I suppose both,” he said with a shrug. “I think everyone and every job is important. No one is going to get anything done if the other person isn’t there to do their job.”
“True,” I agreed.
“And you’re telling me you’re my backbone, is that correct?”
“I suppose that could also be true,” I said. And then because I had to know and my curiosity got the best of me, I had to ask. “Have you ever done this before?”
“Run a casino,” I said.
He laughed. “Nope.”
I forced a smile. I was beginning to wonder if I was on one of those prank TV shows. No way would Joe turn over his beloved business to this guy. This had to be a joke. Something wasn’t right. Maybe this was a mob thing, and he was just the guy they were putting in the hot seat. He couldn’t really be the new owner. No way.