Xander Zhurov had worked intensively since he managed to set up a consulting interior design enterprise. He started up his business at 28, after working hard to save and avoiding falling into debt with the banks. His parents had bequeathed to him a small inheritance which served him well,to begin with.
Now, a decade later, Zhurov & Company was his biggest pride.
His client portfolio was large, and he lived quite a comfortable life, though he needed a push-up to enter the social elite of Nashville and forge connections that provided higher profitability contracts. He did not consider failure, so he thought about pushing and pushing the boat until he got to his dreamed port: acknowledgement and more money to widen his spectrum of action.
The contract he had with C.J. Bostworth seemed promising from any point of view. The only item Xander thought absurd was the confidentiality clause. Whoever C. J. Bostworth was, he must be rather paranoid to believe that an architect might be interested in talking about a client to third parties or even to his own team beyond what is strictly necessary.
“A golden opportunity,” said Erick Danes, the architect team chief, while examining some drawings to restore a small church which used to congregate immigrants of different nationalities. “Why are you thinking so much?”
“Something doesn’t feel right,” he replied. And it was true. He didn’t like that confidentiality clause at all. If anyone should need a legally ironclad clause with something so simple, quite a lugubrious secret must be hidden.
Erick burst into laughter.
“What’s so funny?” he asked. He had been living in America since he was 2 years old,but had doubtlessly inherited that slightly harsh tone of voice from his Russian father.
“I can’t believe you don’t know who C.J. Bostworth is.”
“In a nutshell,” he said sharply.
“He is not a man but The Ice Queen. That’s what she has become known as. The woman has a reputation for being ruthless and without feelings, heads will roll when things don’t come up the way she wants to…” he shrugged with a cunning smile,while folding the drawings and putting them into a plastic cylinder to preserve them. “I’ve heard her ex-husband dumped her for being a frigid…”
For some unknown reason, Xander felt awkward by the way the architect spoke. In fact, it pissed him off.
“It’s not right to talk the way you do about a woman; especially if she is going to be one of my company’s client and the mainstay to expand ourselves. You should have that clear.”
Erick nodded and replaced the smile with a more serious expression. He had been working with Xander Zhurov long enough to know that he shouldn’t provoke him. He was quite kind, but when he was pissed off, you had better hide yourself.
“I want you to supervise everything, Erick. No mistakes. Tell Frank and Reeva I don’t care whether they have to redesign the place where socks are stored or if they are asked to stay checking up on the construction workers longer than usual.” Xander spun the ballpoint pen around his fingers. The company’s lawyers had checked the contract that morning and everything was set in legal terms. The payment was astronomical for his company, and Erick’s commission, for having obtained that client, very good. This C.J. Bostworth woman would open the gates to high society and to new contacts with that job. “Is it clear?”
“Do you want your commission or not?” he cut him sharply with his impenetrable greenish-blue eyes.
Xander nodded and signed off on the contract.
«There is the stuck-up from the third floor.» «I’m sure her husband dumped her because he got tired of sleeping with an ice cube.»
Chuckles were heard.
C.J. clenched her teeth and kept her back straight. She squeezed tightly with her hands the Hermèspurse she held against her hips. The elevator was full and, most likely, those people were not aware that all the whispering got to her… or maybe they were.
She was not at all surprised by the malicious comments behind her back, though they hurt. It had been two years since her marriage failed. Noah Caldwell had left emotional scars and had also messed up her romantic hopes forever. That bastard had lied in the most coward and cruel way…
When the elevator doors opened, the pressure she felt in her chest diminished a little.
With her head held high, she walked along the hallway of the third floor of the building where Bostworth Incorporated head office was located, the most prestigious local company in luxury department stores: Bostworth Luxury. Her two older brothers, Charles and Linux, travelled constantly to supervise the stores all around the state; therefore, she had to manage operations from the head office as a general manager.
Her father, Cyrus, was the president, but he was on a trip to the Mediterranean with her mother celebrating their golden wedding anniversary. So, C.J. had to burden herself with the company during the following month not only as a general manager but also as a president in charge.
“Good morning, C.J.,” said her forty-eight-year-oldassistant when she saw her. She gave her the mail and smiled. Fanny Lunbergwas efficient and discreet. “Would you like me to order lunch in the usual restaurant or are you going home today?”
“I’ll eat here in the office.” She looked at the watch with her deep green eyes. “What time is the meeting with the architects?”
“Half past twelve.”
“Fine. Let me know when they arrive, and don’t forget to bring coffee and pastries to offer them.” She went to her office, locked the door behind herself so as not to be disturbed. C.J. slowed down her breathing to hold the knot in her throat and the burning of the unshed tears.
She remained with her back against the door for a while. The elevator comments did not help her in that day with her intention to be strong.
She had been riding out not just the envy, but also the competitive professional world in which she lived. Despite everything, she always managed to keep her indifference mask on, but this was not one of her best mornings.
She stared at her office. The morning sunlight richly broke into the large window and created a relaxing atmosphere in the middle of the chaos that was the day-to-dayin Bostworth Corporation. The company had been founded eighty years ago by her grandfather, Marcus, and afterwards transformed by her father, Cyrus, into one of the most profitable companies all around the state of Tennessee.
Her father was a great mentor, and she loved him. Cyrus had suggested she started going out again, that she was a smart girl and that she should stop declining dates just because one of them had failed. She just smiled; her father ignored the painful reason behind her break-up.
With a serene sigh, she moved away from the door and took off her shoes.
She placed her Louboutinsunder the desk. She gently rubbed the soles of her delicate feet. She hated it when she had to show herself so polite, efficient and organized; without a single blonde hair out of place and always with the right answer to every question. But that girl had been weak and naïve… She thought that the actual C.J. was a safer bet.
She turned on the laptop and focused. She answered several phone calls, but Fanny did not bring her any news about the Zhurov & Company representatives. Time passed by quite quickly.
“Fanny?” she asked calling by the intercom.
“C.J., lunch will be here in a moment.”
“Thanks, but I want to know what happened with the architect´s company that I hired. The legal team has just sent me a signed copy of the contract, so the architects should have been here three hours ago,” her voice expressed upset.
“Sorry, I’ve tried to contact Mr.Danes, the representative in charge of our account, but the answering machine picks up. I’ve called the company’s offices, but the receptionist told me the president is out ona construction. She wouldn’t give me his cell phone when I asked for…”
“Excuses are useless for us,” she interrupted. “If they don’t show up by three o’clock in the afternoon, call the legal team chief and tell him on Monday, first thing in the morning, we meet to talk about the penalties for breaching the contract.”
“Maybe they had a setback…” her assistant said quickly, “Sometimes technology fails, are you sure that you want to call the lawyers?” She asked cautiously. Fanny had known C.J. for many years and knew that behind those cold smiles and authoritarian tone of voice still lay the old C.J., the nice and warm woman that few had the pleasure to meet. “It took us a while until we found the best company for your purposes and…”
“Well, apparently they are not that good if they cannot attend a simple meeting or have the courtesy to give explanations.” She sighed. The week had been tiresome. “If I haven’t heard a word about them by five o’clock in the afternoon, you call the legal department. Is that clear, Fanny?”
“Thank you.” She hung up.
“Repeat what you’ve just said,” Xander said, worried. He could barely understand Erick’s words,since he whispered.
“I…I had a car accident. I’ve dislocated my shoulder, and I have a broken rib. I’m still in the hospital. With the hustle and bustle and the paperwork, the other car’s insurance…”
“Are you ok?”
“Yes, in a manner of speaking, but anyway I was thinking about taking some holidays,” he said trying to make a joke, “I guess now is the best time. I am not going to be very useful either in the office or on the construction site…And, by the way, Xander, I couldn’t make it to the meeting with Bostworth…”
“I guess you’ve rescheduled the meeting for another day. When?”
Erick hesitated and then talked cautiously.
“I didn’t have time to call because the accident happened on my way to the meeting, and then, with the medical process… I’m sorry…”
“Your health comes first,” he said honestly. However, that didn’t diminish his worry for the client. “Of course the last thing you should think of is your job. Get better, Erick.”
“What’ll happen with that contract?” he asked guiltily.
“I’ll take care of everything. All business people should understand that things don’t always come up perfectly. I’m sure Miss Bostworth feels the same,” he assured with his normal self-sufficient tone of voice. “Coach Reeva and Frank to take over your accounts until you return.”
“I’m sorry, Xander… it’s five o’clock… I should’ve called earlier…”
“The human being is more important,” he affirmed. “Report to human resources so that they process the corporate health insurance. See you in a few weeks.”
“Thank you, boss. I’ll do my best to get better soon.”
Xander had learned that depending on others to achieve goals was absurd. He had to take the reins of it.
He took his jacket from the coat stand and left. It was rush hour, so he went down to the company’s garage, passed by the blue Porsche and got on his black Ducati motorcycle. He put on the helmet and started the engine.
©Kristel Ralston 2017.
The price of the past.
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Book’s cover design: Karolina García Rojo©Shutterstock.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a system or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the owner of the copyright.
This is a literary fiction work. Places, names, circumstances, and characters are product of the author’s imagination and their usage is fictitious; any resemblance to reality, any business (stores) or any situation or facts is purely coincidence.
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Merci pour la lecture!
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