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Opening scenes of Fairies and Shifters in Manhattan
The day started out like any other. Uneventful. Lucy Hodges sat in her gray office cube in Mid-town Manhattan, and glanced out the window at the pouring rain and dark sky as she ate her lukewarm minestrone soup and tried to not to spill any on the story she was editing. She always liked to do her editing on a hard copy. It was easier to catch errors that way.
“So, is there anything planned for the big day?” Elaine, her neighbor in the next cube, leaned back and asked the question as she opened a bottle of diet coke.
Lucy made a face. “If one more person says “quarter of a century to me, I think I’m going to scream.”
Elaine chuckled. “That annoyed me too, when I turned twenty-five last year. But, it’s not like it’s old.”
“Oh, I know.” Lucy sighed and then admitted, “It’s just that I thought I’d be further along by now, you know? Instead, I’m still doing community news and wedding announcements.”
“It’s not so bad. At least you moved on from the obits.”
“That’s true.” When Lucy had started at the local paper, she’d been assisted to cover obituaries and birth announcements. Fortunately, after nine months, she’d been promoted. But that had made her think further promotions would have come by now.
“It’s tough. I heard rumors of more layoffs coming.” Elaine spoke softly.
“Again?” The paper had gone through a round of cuts in the Spring, but Lucy knew that the media world had been hit especially hard in recent years. People just weren’t buying newspapers like they used to.
“I’m seriously thinking of going over to the dark side.” Elaine admitted.
“Advertising?” It was something they’d discussed over the years as a last resort, in case the market got really bad.
“My cousin Tony works at the Big Apple agency. He said they’re looking for a new copywriter and asked me for my resume.”
“Copywriting, wow. Well, that might be fun.”
“At least I won’t be walking on eggshells like I amhere. And he says the money is better in advertising. A lot better.”
Lucy sighed again. She thought of her tiny studio apartment that used up two full weeks of her salary. Maybe advertising did have a certain appeal to it. An email from her boss flashed across the screen. “Lucy could you please come to my office as soon as you have a free moment?”That was interesting. The last time she’d been summoned to Kate Winthrop’s office was when she’d been promoted. It was also where people went when they were handing out pink slips.
“Kate wants to see me,” she said to Elaine as she stood.
Elaine raised her eyebrows. A look of worry flashed across her face and was instantly replaced with a cheery grin. “I’m sure it’s good news.”
Lucy slowly made her way down the hall to Kate's corner office. The door was slightly ajar and Kate looked like she might be on the phone, so Lucy knocked lightly. Kate glanced her way and waved her in. Lucy settled into one of the two chairs facing Kate's desk and gazed out the window while Kate finished her call. The view from this office was nothing short of spectacular. They were on the 52nd floor and the view spanned from times square down to Central Park and beyond to the river. It was still dark out and driving rain was pounding against the floor to ceiling windows. Out of the corner of her eye, Lucy could see Kate trying to end the call. Whoever she was talking to was not making her happy. Kate was frowning and tapping her pen against the desk. She still managed to look gorgeous though.
Lucy pulled at the front of her own silk blouse that was just a hint too small in the bust and sometimes gapped open if she sat wrong. She adjusted her position and wished not for the first time that she didn't have to worry about her weight. Kate looked like she'd never had to worry about hers. She was sleek and lean, not an ounce of fat anywhere and her sleeveless shell showed off well toned arms. Her pale blonde hair was twisted up in a stylish knot with stick straight pieces falling out and it looked amazing. Lucy knew that she could never pull that look off, it would just look messy on her. She sighed. Lucy had blonde hair too, but hers was long and wavy and no matter how much time she spent blowing it straight, at the slightest hint of humidity it curled into wayward ringlets. Her grandmother said it looked adorable, but at almost twenty-five, adorable wasn't exactly what she was going for.
Kate slammed the phone down and Lucy jumped in her seat.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. I just don't understand why people have to be so stupid! Anyway, that's not your problem. So, Lucy, how are you?" She turned her full attention on Lucy then, smiling directly at her and Lucy felt distinctly uncomfortable like she was in trouble for something, but didn't know what she'd done.
“I'm good, thanks. Everything's fine.”
Kate picked up a piece of paper and looked down at it for a moment, as it she was checking her notes.
“So, Lucy, you've been with us for almost four years now?”
“Yes, that's right.”
"I suppose you've heard that another round of cuts may be coming?" Kate bit her lip and looked annoyed at the thought.
“There has been some talk that might happen, yes.”
Kate put the paper down. "Here's the thing. I'm going to have to make some difficult decisions, Lucy. I may need to cut good people who don't deserve to be cut, if you know what I mean?"
Lucy's heart sank. This was it. She was getting her walking papers."I don't want that to happen to you, Lucy. But, there are three of you, all at the same level and I've been told that I have to cut down to two."
"I see." Lucy didn't know what else to say when one was being let go.
“So, here's the thing.fix There's something I need you to do. A special assignment that could be your big break or at least allow you to keep your job if it goes at all well.”
"Oh?" Now Lucy was confused. She wasn't being let go? Not yet anyway, it seemed.
“Yes. Lucy, this is really a great opportunity for you." Kate leaned forward in her seat and looked excited as she laid out the assignment. “We need you to go undercover at Parker Industries. You'll be going in as a temporary executive assistant to Julian Parker. He's the creative genius being their market leading software company.”
"I'm going to be his assistant? As in secretary?" Kate had never done administrative work before.
Kate frowned. “No one says secretary anymore. It's executive assistant. It's a key position as you'll have almost unlimited access to Julian and his brothers."
“What is it that I'd be looking for?”
“There have been rumors for years that the Parker Brothers are involved in the paranormal world and that it has given their business an unfair advantage. That's what we need you to find out. And then we will break the story.”
Now Lucy really was confused.
“But, how will I be able to uncover this? The legend goes that only those who are part of the paranormal world can see other paranormal creatures. When they shift into their creature forms they are not visible to us? Isn't that right?”
Kate paused and then gave a small smile as if she was amused by a private joke of some kind.
“That's what they say, but I have faith that you'll be able to uncover something that will be useful.”
“Well, I could try, I suppose.”
“That's all we can expect. Just do your best. You're going to spend the rest of the afternoon sitting with Hannah down in the art department. She will walk you through everything that she does, so you'll be able to hit the ground running. The cover story is that you were Bernie's assistant for the past four years.”
"Bernie Fisher?" He was one of the two founders of the newspaper and passed away recently.
"Yes, and you can give my name as a reference. Obviously you can't use Bernie." She chuckled at that and Lucy looked down. Bernie had been a really nice guy.
“So, you're all set then? Go see Hannah and be there tomorrow at 830 sharp?”
“Yes, and don't be late. I hear Julian is always early.”
Lucy stood to go and as she was almost at the door, Kate called out, "Oh, and Lucy? Say hello to your grandmother will you? I ran into her a few weeks ago. She happened to mention that tomorrow is your birthday, so Happy Birthday!” Kate had never struck her as one of those people who got excited about birthdays. But, then again, she really didn’t know her all that well.
“Um, thanks. I’ll be sure to tell her," Lucy said as she opened the door and escaped from Kate's office.It wasn't that unusual that Kate had run into her grandmother. They lived in the same building, a lovely old co-op that was next to impossible to get into. No one ever sold. Most of the units had been in the same families for years. Lucy smiled thinking of Grammy. She had plans to meet her for dinner the following night, and she was just getting back from a cruise this afternoon, so she would have plenty to tell her about.
Lucy and her younger sister Mindy were very close to their grandmother. She was all the family they had left. Their parents had divorced when they were babies and their father had never really been in their lives, so they weren't terribly torn up when word came of his death a few years ago in a car accident. Their mother had been a different story. They were still grieving that loss, though each year it hurt less. It was hard to believe she'd been gone for almost five years. She had always worshipped the sun but the feeling wasn't mutual. She had died of skin cancer.Lucy avoided the sun and always wore sunscreen. With her creamy white skin and family history, she didn't want to take any chances.
She went down one floor to the art department and checked in with Natalie, the older receptionist at the front desk. She was a sweet woman in her late sixties or maybe even early seventies, no one was really sure. But she was always dressed beautifully and enjoyed greeting people as they came into the office.
"Here's Hannah!" she announced as Hannah Morse walked toward the front desk.
“Hi Lucy," Hannah said warmly. "You can head back with me.”
Lucy followed her past rows of cube offices filled with young people, most of them busy designing something brilliant on their computers.Hannah led her into a large, glass, corner office and shut the door behind them.
"Before you get any ideas, this isn't my office." Hannah chuckled as she pointed to a small desk just outside the office. "That's where I sit. This is Andrew's office." Andrew Richmond was the Head of Creative.
“He's out for the rest of the day, so I thought we could sit here and I could go over stuff without people overhearing us.”
"That's probably best," Lucy agreed. She didn't know Hannah well, but had often admired how sharp she always looked and how confident she seemed to be. Hannah had been with the organization before Lucy joined.
“I've been here for eight years now,” Hannah began. “Started out on the reception desk and just moved into this role a little over a year ago. It's a very visible position." She peered at Lucy carefully over her stylish reading glasses and then continued,"The most important thing about being an executive's assistant is to anticipate what they will need before they need it.”
Lucy suddenly feltnervous. "How do you do that?" she asked. She hadn't the first clue about what a secretary, make that an executive assistant, did.
“It's not difficult. It's all about paying attention and understanding what is going on with them on a daily basis and figuring out what are the most important things to them. It's different for everyone.”
Lucy said nothing, just nodded and waited for her to continue.
“Okay, so with Andrew, he's brilliant, but gets off-track easily, lost in whatever project he's working on. So, at the beginning of each day, I print out the days schedule, all the meetings he has, everything he needs to do. I put it on his desk and then as the day goes on, I make sure he gets to where he needs to go. I remind him fifteen minutes ahead of each meeting. I find out who he needs to talk to that day, so if the person calls, I can make sure to put them through. I have access to his schedule, so I can book meetings. I'll show you how to do that in outlook, it's easy enough. Oh, and I screen all calls that come into him and either take a message or pass them through.”
"I think I can do that," Lucy said. It didn't sound too difficult to her.
“Oh and I go with Andrew to many of his high level meetings and take minutes, so he has a record of everything that was said. Then I type it up and email my notes to him. Have you ever made travel arrangements?”
"Like booking a flight?" Lucy asked.
“Flights, hotels, rental cars, all of it.”
“Just for myself.”
Hannah sighed. "Okay, I'll show you that too. You'll need to find out where he prefers to stay and what he likes, window seat, or aisle, morning or evening flights, and then book to get the best rates."
And for the next few hours, Hannah walked her through everything. Lucy's head was spinning by the time they finished. There was a lot to take in and she left with a new respect for administrative staff.
Lucy went back up to her floor and when she reached her desk Elaine was shutting down her computer for the day. She looked up when Lucy approached and nervously asked, "So, how did it go?"
Lucy sat for a moment and turned her computer off and while it was powering down she grabbed her purse off the side of her chair.
“Well, I still have a job, for now. And it's not exactly a promotion, but I did get a new assignment. I'm going undercover, as an executive assistant to Julian Parker.”
"At Parker Industries?" Elaine’s eyes grew wide.
"Yes, he heads up the computer division," Lucy explained.
“Oh, I know who he is. Everyone knows Julian Parker. He was on the cover of New York Magazine's forty under forty issue. Mega hot. And filthy rich to boot. A billionaire I think.”
"What do you know about him? I've only heard the name," Lucy admitted.
“You haven't seen a picture of him? Hold on. I just turned my computer off, but I can pull him up on my phone." She rapidly typed something into her iphone, then handed it to Lucy. "Lucky you, to head in to see that in the morning!”
Lucy glanced at the photo and almost dropped Elaine’s phone. Either he was incredibly photogenic or the man was simply gorgeous. He had hick black hair, on the long side and a sexy shadow across his jaw. But what really stood out were his eyes. They were an intense, icy gray. The photo practically screamed danger.
“He's seldom seen with the same girl twice. Rarely seen out at all though, so I don't think it's that he's a player necessarily. He's passionate about his work. That came through in the article and he was described as creatively brilliant. Oh, and he's thirty five, in case you were wondering.”
"I wasn't," Lucy said automatically.
"Liar. How could you not be?” Elaine said with a chuckle.
"All right, maybe I was a little curious. I'm not so sure I like the idea of being his secretary though. How will I ever be able to focus?" Lucy was joking, but there was an element of truth to it. She would be far more comfortable if the person she was going support and go undercover to do it, was a bit more normal looking. That wouldn't be nearly as intimidating.
“Just have fun with it. Think of the delicious anticipationyou'll feel every morning.”
"I think you've been reading too many romance novels," Lucy said dryly.
“Very funny. I will expect a full report you know. Do you have any idea how long you'll be there?”
“No, none at all. Until I get what Kate is looking for I suppose." Lucy looked around the office to make sure no one else was around. "Kate says there are rumors that the brothers are part of the paranormal world. Have you heard anything about that, ever?”
Elaine thought for a moment. "Not really. There's been some speculation of course, but people wonder about all the celebrities and successful people out there. One never does know, I suppose. How could you possibly find out?"
“I don't know, that's the part I'm unsure of.”
“Well, the longer it takes you to find out, the more timeyou'll have to spend there. That's not such a bad thing.”
“I don't know about that. If it takes too long, I might be out of a job.”
Lucy explained that if this assignment didn't go well, she could be cut from the department. The lookof worry flashed across Elaine’s face again, but then she smiled and said cheerfully, "You can do it. I will keep my fingers crossed for good luck.”
“Thanks, I need every bit of luck I can get.”
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