Secretly Scandalous – Chapter 1
By Jacqueline Winters
Five years later . . .
“That’s it!” Kim slapped her desk with both hands and caused poor Doris to jump half a foot behind her. She should explain her outburst, especially since the frail woman already trembled in her squeaky rolling chair. But Kim was preoccupied with the ludicrous email on her computer. Dry cleaning? I’m supposed to pick up his damned laundry for his executive trip to Alaska?
She shoved away from her desk and glanced at the one reminder that this was all temporary—the purple and turquoise logo for her future floral shop, The Twisted Tulip. Her dream was so close to becoming a reality that she could nearly put up with anything to see it through.
“Stupid Alaska,” she muttered. Rocketing from her chair, Kim took a deep breath. She had planned to wait two more months before quitting. It was the only full-time job she’d held, and her paychecks were funding her startup costs for her future store.
She locked eyes with a framed picture of her and her best friend, Allie. It and the logo of her future were the only personal items at her desk. She’d never planned to stay at Reddington Shipping & Storage longer than necessary. Certainly not long enough to decorate her sad little cubicle with homemade calendars, family photos, or trinkets.
Originally, she sought this position to gain valuable business experience. Kim liked that it was a smaller branch—four employees, five if you counted Jed, the janitor—of a larger company, one specializing in accounts receivable for customers all over the country. Including a new one in Anchorage. When thoughts of Evan fighting fires in the Alaskan wilderness tried to trickle in, she forced them away. Time for action.
Kim felt Doris peeking over the top of her cubicle as she stood, prepared to beat down Todd Crawley’s door with her fists. For months she’d put up with his arrogant attitude and demeaning behavior. The urge to let Crawley have a piece of her mind grew larger every day that she tolerated the worst manager in the history of the corporate world. Her vision blurred to a hazy red. She’d bitten her tongue, mostly, and now she felt nanoseconds from erupting.
Two inches from his door, Kim had an epiphany.
“Doris, hold down the fort. I have some errands to run. For Todd.”
She swiped her keys off her desk and whisked out the front door to her dependable Little Green Car.
Todd would be out in front of her desk demanding the end-of-the-month income report the second she pulled onto the main road to fetch his stupid suit, despite his delusional ideas—like Kim doubling as his personal assistant. She had been naïve enough to offer him help once with those reports when she was new and he seemed overworked. Dry cleaning. She seethed.
Racing through Norfolk, Nebraska’s afternoon traffic, Kim shook her head. At one time, she believed the harder you worked, the further you’d climb. Even if the corporate ladder of Reddington’s little branch equated to no more than a stepstool.
When she picked up Todd’s suit, it was already zipped in its black garment bag. She didn’t have long to pull this off, but if she was quitting, she was quitting with a bang, damn it. She owed it to those other employees crushed beneath Todd’s bony finger. Even Jed, the janitor. If someone didn’t take a stand now, those poor cubicle workers would never have the courage after she left.
Bursting into her tiny apartment, Kim nearly tripped over a box of old watering cans. She kicked it aside and rushed to the washer. Unzipping the garment bag, she dropped in Todd’s precious black suit. Shoving aside a dusty basket she stored on the stackable washer and dryer, she found the bleach hiding behind it—and emptied the bottle into the washer.
Then she uncapped a red permanent marker and tossed it in for good measure.
“Where have you been?” Todd demanded the moment Kim walked past. His face and neck were red, his thin hair sticking up in the back from having run his hands through it so much. “I’ve been trying to reach you for over two hours!”
The end-of-the-month report was Todd’s responsibility, but he seemed to have forgotten how to run them since Kim stepped up. What he hadn’t forgotten how to do, however, was take the credit when he passed on those reports to the big boss in Houston. “Calm down, Stick Boy. Here’s your precious suit.” Kim hung the bag from one of his coat hooks, biting back an outburst that begged release.
“Excuse me?” Fire raged in Todd’s eyes. Or maybe it was just red lines of stress. His report was due in ten minutes.
She forced a sweet smile. “You all packed for Alaska? I hear there are these giant grizzlies that eat scrawny men for snacks.” Todd was tall, at least 6’3”, maybe an inch more, and skinnier than a pencil. Kim was certain she had more muscle in her pinky finger than that man had on his entire skeletal frame.
Todd’s face dropped. “There aren’t any bears in Anchorage. It’s a city.”
Kim shrugged. “Guess sometimes bears get bored and wander into town. Take a picture if you see one, will you?” She patted him on the shoulder. “I better get your report done so the big boss doesn’t revoke your vacation.”
“It’s a corporate trip.”
“Sure it is.” Kim spun around, flying back to her desk. She caught Doris’ eye again. The timid woman caught her sliding glasses with her index finger and watched from behind the safety of her cubicle wall.
Todd slammed his office door. He couldn’t stand not appearing the bigger, tougher man in all situations. Jed the janitor poked his head in from the hallway, halting his mopping and adjusting his worn ball cap.
“Ass hat,” Kim mumbled.
“Did it really take you two and a half hours to pick up his dry cleaning?” Meek Doris asked with a voice so quiet from behind Kim it was barely audible.
Kim turned in time to watch Doris’ oversized glasses fall from her nose again. “No, Doris.” She suspected she had limited time before Todd unzipped his garment bag. He wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to gaze longingly at his precious suit slotted for his fancy-schmancy trip. She needed to be miles away when that happened. “For future reference, Doris, never pick up your manager’s dry cleaning unless your job title includes personal assistant.”
Signing back on to her computer, Kim found six unread emails that she’d received from Todd during her dry-cleaning run. “And even then,” she added over her shoulder, “he’d better be a millionaire.”
The deadline for the end-of-the month report was now only seven minutes away.
Ordinarily, she sent the reports directly to Crawley. The CEO didn’t know that anyone else ever saw those reports, much less generated them. Those reports were the reason Todd was chosen to join the select few on their trip to Alaska.
Earlier that morning, Kim had finished up the monthly report. She’d sat on it simply to let Todd sweat. Now, she mentally patted herself on the back.
In a separate window, she opened a new email screen, addressed it to the big boss in Houston, and copied Todd. Kim began to type:
Attached you will find your end-of-the-month income report for the Accounts Receivable branch in Norfolk. I apologize that you’re receiving this report so last minute. Normally, I have them finished first thing in the morning, but today I had to make sure Mr. Crawley was all ready for his trip up north. Please note that beginning next month, he will be generating these reports himself. It’s been over a year, but I think he will be okay. Our Todd is a man of many talents.
I regret to inform you that this will be my last day. Mr. Reddington, I appreciate the opportunities this company has granted me, but I can no longer work under the management of Mr. Crawley. I’m not his personal assistant, but he hasn’t come to realize that.
Kim sat back, rereading the email once to check for typos. When satisfied, she hit the send button and powered down her computer.
Shoving her minimal belongings in her purse, she looked over her shoulder. “Doris, remember what I said.”
At the receptionist’s desk, she paused.
“Leaving, Ms. Wilkerson?” Alice asked with a tilted head, ignoring a ringing phone. It dawned on Kim she might not see this woman again outside of a grocery store or post office after today.
“For the last time—and I do mean last—it’s Kim, Alice. And yes, I’m leaving. Not coming back.”
The receptionist looked down the hall toward Todd’s office as the phone continued to ring. “What are you waiting for?” A worried expression washed over her freckled face.
Not to disappoint, Kim heard the ear-piercing scream, one that could rival a little girl’s in a horror movie. She smiled, victorious, as she flew out the front door and raced to her car.
A box of chocolate cupcakes from Kim’s favorite bakery sat open on her passenger seat as she zipped through town, headed home. It’d been a long time since she had an entire afternoon free and she wasn’t about to waste it. She planned to binge watch The Next Great Baker and conduct an inventory. Her tiny apartment had become overrun with possible floral arrangement containers, ribbons, pins, and odds and ends she’d picked up from garage sales, thrift stores, and even a few found while Dumpster diving. Not that anyone needs to know that.
Taking a big bite of cupcake at a stoplight, she jumped at the shrill ring of her cell phone. I really need to change that ring tone. Her realtor’s number flashed on the screen. Inhaling the cupcake with free her hand, then swallowing, she answered her phone on speaker and set it on her leg. “Talk to me, Debbie.” In her mirror, she spotted a smudge of chocolate frosting smeared along her cheek.
“Who’s the best realtor in the world?”
“Shut up!” Kim squealed. She swiped the icing from her cheek. “Shut up!”
“That space you’ve been eyeing on Norfolk Avenue is finally coming on the market in two months. Okay, I’m not just the greatest realtor in the world. I’m the best damn one in the universe. They’re willing to let you make the first offer two months from now, before they even announce it’s coming up. You and me, we’re the only ones who know anything.”
Kim felt like fainting from her delirious excitement. Could this day get any better? “You. Are. Amazing!” At the next stoplight, she banged excitedly on her steering wheel, scaring a child in the next car over.
“They won’t consider any other offers until late October. They promised you a two-week exclusive window to negotiate terms.”
She wondered vaguely what had become of the blue-haired woman who ran the gift shop in the space. “Did you have to murder someone to make this happen?” Kim asked. She jokingly hoped Debbie hadn’t done anything illegal.
“Let’s just say I have connections.”
She heard a beep on the other end and glanced down at her phone to spy her sister’s name on the screen. Macy would surely want to ramble on and on about her precious Alaska, trying to convince Kim to come visit yet again. Stupid Alaska. Takes everyone away from me. She ignored the call. “Debbie, I can’t thank you enough.”
“Can you meet me at the space in ten?”
Kim squealed so loudly, she startled a dog this time. The Doberman barked as if Kim was coddling a cat he wanted. “Really? I get to see it?” Kim rolled up her window in delight and stuck her tongue out at the dog as the light turned green. “I’m on my way.”