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Authors: Dara Girard

Tags: #Romance

After Hours

BOOK: After Hours
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Table of Contents

After Hours

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Epilogue

Also Available

About the Author

Copyright Information

After Hours

Dara Girard

 

Published by ILORI PRESS BOOKS LLC

www.iloripressbooks.com

 

Smashwords Edition

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Author.

 

***

 

Chapter One

Benjamin Marshall Bishop was a class-A bastard. But that didn’t surprise anyone, considering his father had been an even bigger one. At seventy-three, he’d lived a decade longer than his father, although many had wished for an earlier demise, and now he was close enough to the grave for people to wish that destiny would give him a little--or rather a hard--push. He ruled his empire from inside his mansion, which sat isolated on twenty-two acres of land like a ghoulish gargoyle. He rarely left his sick bed, wheezing through an oxygen mask, fighting the cancer that many hoped would drag him straight down to the underworld.

But Bishop was a determined man and planned to live a lot longer than his doctors predicted; not just through his business but through his only son.

Curtis Bishop was the spitting image of his father, tall and dark, with ruggedly handsome features and a temperament so cold, people whispered that icicles grew on his tongue and birds stopped singing when he passed, as though a chill, ominous wind had blown past. So, when he suddenly appeared that Monday morning, after the Thanksgiving holiday, and stood high above the factory floor casting his gaze over the workers, terror rippled throughout the factory. Located in Pikesville, a small town outside of Philadelphia, the Valdan factory made specialized garments for the fashion industry. Curtis’ presence there was about as welcomed as an oil slick in an ocean. And just as a prey knows when a predator is approaching, the hum of machines grew ever more anxious.

His piercing dark eyes, unsmiling mouth, and unyielding countenance betrayed no emotion away as his gaze swept over the room. He lifted his arm and the room grew totally silent, as though he had the power of a magician able to cast a spell. A worker, standing nearby, handed him a microphone. Curtis ignored him. The worker got the message and put the microphone away. Curtis made it clear he expected complete attention and obedience.

“It is with great regret that I must inform you that this factory will close at the end of the year,” he said, with no trace of regret or apology in his tone. “Thank you for your service. You will all receive a bonus in your final paycheck for this inconvenience.”

The mention of the word ‘inconvenience’ seemed to be an obligatory addition and no one felt it was genuine. The devastating announcement swept over the factory floor, but no one dared make a sound, although the thought of lost wages and security pierced the hearts of everyone present.

“That's all,” he said, then nodded as a signal that time was money and he expected them to make him some.

After several seconds, the hum of the machines began again, but the tension in the air hung as thick as fog.

“Is it absolutely necessary?” Bill Homer, the plant manager said, gathering up a courage he didn't know he had. He was a short, middle-aged man, with thick eyebrows and a balding head, who still had the sharp gaze and quick movements of the physician he used to be. He knew that no one questioned a Bishop after a decision had been made, but he couldn’t help think of the welfare of his workers and how the small Pennsylvania town would survive without the factory. Plus, he had a family of his own and news like this would devastate them, especially during the holidays. “Valdan has always hit its quotas. I’ve been able to recruit some of the finest workers in the region. Isn’t there anything we can do?”

Curtis looked straight ahead and continued walking towards the exit.

Bill shifted his gaze to Curtis’ executive assistant, Amera Thurston, hoping she had some influence. She wasn’t much to look at. He wouldn’t say she was plain, just non-descript, except for her light brown hair and eyes that made a striking contrast to her medium dark brown skin. Whenever he saw her, she reminded him of a wooden ruler--rigid and unyielding, but useful. He knew she would have to be, to stand in the presence of and work closely with the younger Bishop for as long as she had. Most of his executive assistants rarely lasted long. He didn’t know much about her, other than that she was an immigrant who came to America from some small African country and kept mostly to herself.

She met his gaze, and to his surprise gave him a small nod of assurance. It wasn’t much, but it was like a crumb to a starving man and he grasped it. Perhaps she could help make Bishop see reason, and give Valdan a second chance.

“May I have two minutes, sir?” she asked, or rather said, since there was no note of inquiry in her tone. She held back, while he continued walking. As Bishop’s shadow, she rarely spoke, the sound of her voice always coming as a surprise. It was deeper than expected, and melodic. English clearly wasn’t her first language, but she spoke it with an excellent command.

Curtis sent her a cool assessing glance, and Bill could feel the air chill around him. “One,” he said. Bill half expected to see the frost of his breath hang in the air. He sent Bill an inscrutable look then left.

Bill released a long breath once Curtis was out of hearing. “Ms. Thurston, is there any way you can talk to him?”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know. If I had, I would have warned you.”

The pain in her gaze brought tears to his eyes. Her unexpected compassion increased his sadness. She owed them nothing and yet she spoke as if she did. “He’s worse than his father. I thought maybe he’d be different. How can he give people news like this during the holiday season?”

“The holidays don’t exist for him. It’s just about the money and I have a feeling this is what his father wants.” She glanced around the factory and for a moment he thought he saw tears, but they quickly disappeared. “I don’t have much influence, but I’ll see what I can do.” She dug into her handbag. “But that’s not why I wanted to talk to you.” She held out a small jar to him. “Here’s some ointment for your son.”

Bill took the jar from her, oddly touched. He remembered briefly complaining about his son’s skin sensitivities and the expensive visits to the dermatologist that hadn’t helped. He hadn’t thought she’d paid any attention, although she always took time to ask him how his family was doing. He gripped the jar in his hand. At that moment her kind gesture made her look pretty to him, momentarily helping him forget the dire job market and his concern about how he would support his family before his savings ran out. “Thank you,” he said. “Happy holidays.”

She squeezed his arm then left.

***

Amera hurried to the waiting car, briefly inhaling the crisp autumn air, and the fresh scent of evergreens standing tall in the distance, blinking back the tears that stung her eyes. The town, only an hour away from headquarters in downtown Philadelphia, would struggle without the factory’s life blood. The shock of Curtis’ words had hit her like a bullet train. She’d secretly helped Bill get the position of plant manager, determined to repay a kind gesture he’d offered years ago. He’d saved lives and she wanted to save his. He didn’t remember her, but that was no surprise, most people didn’t. She hadn’t been remarkable, but his generosity although brief, had carried her through her life. She’d followed his career when he’d stopped practicing medicine due to burnout and fallen on hard times after a major illness and a divorce. He’d remarried and settled in Pennsylvania and she’d decided to settle there too, always wondering how she could be the hero he’d briefly been to her. When she’d heard about a position opening up at Valdan, she’d anonymously sent information to him, then worked with HR to make sure he got the position. She’d been thrilled to hear how his family thrived, remembering that as a child she’d once wanted to be part of it, and glad that she could help. But now, that life was threatened again. She worried that Bill wouldn’t be able to weather another job loss at his age and in such a tight market. She knew he had a son in graduate school and another with special needs. She had to find a way to help him.

“What took you so long?” Curtis asked as Amera settled in next to him in the back seat of the car, adjusting her bulky winter coat.

“I didn’t go over a minute, sir,” she said, buckling her seatbelt as the driver pulled from the parking space.

“What did he say?”

Amera rested her arm on the door and waited, knowing he’d come to the conclusion on his own.

“The people are upset?”

“Hmm,” she said giving him a noncommittal sound. She’d learned early not to be too chatty and wisely kept her feelings to herself.

Curtis sniffed and wiped his nose then swore.

She turned to him and saw the blood on his hand and quickly got the handy package of tissues she always kept nearby. She dutifully handed it to him. His nosebleeds were the only thing that made him human to her. After working with him for five years, she’d learned that they always came whenever he experienced a moment of tension or great emotional strain. He’d never admit it. He’d tried to pretend that they were just an annoying biological defect, but she knew there was something more psychological. As much as he wanted to be as distant and unfeeling as his father, something inside him rebelled. She knew it was the price he paid for being a bastard. But she knew she couldn’t tell him so
and
keep her job. She clicked the car’s back panel audio device then selected some classical music, knowing it would calm his nerves.

She hadn’t expected her position as his executive assistant to last as long as it had. Seven others had held the position over the past twelve years, all dismissed or quitting within a matter of months. Strangely, she hadn’t found the job that difficult. After growing up in two crowded orphanages and being in a refugee camp in a war torn land, she knew resilience and strife, and could take his mercurial moods and short temper. She was the one who paid attention to details. She kept his life orderly and, when necessary, smoothed his rough edges. But, truth be told, it was his money that made soothing ruffled feathers easiest.

“The factory is one of the best the company has,” she said, trying to sound disinterested, although the thought of Valdan closing made her want to punch something, preferably him.

“We want to go in another direction.”

“You mean your father.”

Curtis sniffed, threw the tissue away in the small garbage bag off to the side, and reached for another, but the bleeding didn’t stop.

Amera looked at him annoyed. If he stained his shirt, she’d have to send it to the cleaners and she wasn’t in the mood. She handed him two more tissues. “Hold your nose and breathe calmly.”

BOOK: After Hours
8.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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