At no point during the interview process did I meet the actual Andrew Lima or any of the members of his family, who apparently all worked for him at the academy. I’d only interviewed with Marcus Browser, whom I’d be assisting.
I took the elevator from the second floor hall, which fed into the parking garage, up to the sixth floor. My stomach was full of knots, and anticipation bubbled through me as I stepped out, coming face-to-face with frosted-glass doors that read: THE OFFICES OF LIMA ACADEMY.
Mr. Browser’s office was in the back, past the field of cubicles and closed door offices. Fixing a small smile on my face, I headed down the center aisle, eased by the hum of conversation radiating around me.
Before I reached Browser’s office, his door opened and he stepped out. Middle-aged and fit, Mr. Browser looked at home here, with his pressed pants and company marked polo. He wasn’t alone. Another man was beside him, dressed in nylon sweats and a T-shirt also with the company logo.
“Ah, perfect timing.” The dark skin around Mr. Browser’s eyes crinkled as he smiled. “This is Stephanie Keith, our new assistant. Ms. Keith, this is Daniel Lima. He oversees the training facilities here.”
Switching my bag to my left hand, I extended my right. His grasp was firm and warm. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Lima.”
“Just call me Dan. There’s too many of us Limas running around to go with formality.” He dropped my hand, smiling. “And Marcus is exaggerating.”
Mr. Browser scoffed but his smile didn’t fade as Dan continued, “I only oversee the kick-boxing and boxing training.”
“And Dan is way too modest,” Mr. Browser explained as he folded his arms. “He helps out in all the areas. Without him, Andre and Julio would be rocking in a damn corner somewhere.”
I had no idea who they were talking about, so I nodded and smiled. If I had to guess, Andre and Julio were also a part of the massive Lima family.
“I have to get going,” Dan said. “It was nice meeting you, Stephanie. Good luck.” He ran a hand over his bald head. “Working for this guy, you’re going to need it.”
Mr. Browser rolled his eyes as Dan made his exit. “He’s actually the easiest of the Lima horde to deal with. Keep that in mind.”
“How many are there?” I asked.
“That work here? Five, including Andrew. There are numerous cousins and nephews and God knows who else—because I swear, they are related to half of Philadelphia—but most of them you will never see. The brothers, though, are the only ones who have more say than I do,” he explained. “Now that you’re an official member of the academy, I’m going to cut the bullshit.”
Um . . .
I blinked slowly. “Okay. I’m good with bullshit cutting.”
His dark eyes glimmered with amusement. “What the Lima brothers say is what goes around here. Besides me, they are the only ones you answer to and who have authority to give you tasks.”
Out of the corner of my eyes I could see that some of the heads in the cubicles were turned in our direction.
“The marketing guys are going to be climbing up your ass, I’m sure,” Mr. Browser went on, “asking you to do stupid shit, like making copies and doing office supply runs. That’s not your job. They have a person for that.” He glanced to our left. “Yeah, Will, I’m talking about you and your lazy ass.”
A deep chuckle rumbled out from somewhere behind the cubicle walls, and I guessed that was Will.
“Now, Deanna Cardinali, who you met when you filled out your paperwork, runs HR. You will be assisting her, and she’ll be coming around soon to chat with you. This.” He gestured at the wide U-shaped cubicle behind me. “This is your new home. You’ll be within easy reach when I need you.”
Turning to the desk, I got a little giddy inside. I was a total goober, but the desk, the computer and phone, the printer and the file holders, were mine. Okay. Well, they belonged to the company, but they were mine.
From here I would field calls and take notes, throw together manuals and set up calls and business trips, organize files, and according to Mr. Browser, ignore the sales and marketing team. From here I would begin my career at the bottom and climb my way up to the position Mr. Browser held. Maybe not actually here, at Lima Academy, but somewhere. This was all experience that would someday pay off.
I smiled widely as I placed my purse on my desk. “Got it.”
“Good.” Mr. Browser stepped back and reached into his pocket, pulling out a slip of yellow paper. “Now, I need you to pick up my dry cleaning.”
It took approximately two days and three hours for the guys in sales to give credence to Mr. Browser’s warning. There were two of them, and I honestly had a hard time telling them apart at first.
Identical hair styled in that messy on-purpose way, employing a week’s worth of hair gel in one day. Both wore white polo shirts that were at least two sizes too small, as if they were shopping at Baby Gap. Both worked out . . . excessively. Their muscles were hard core. Shoulders thick, necks wide, biceps like bowling balls, and their hands were meaty fists.
And both spent more time staring at my breasts than actually speaking to me.
I had no idea what they thought they saw when they stared at my chest. Unless they had X-ray vision, none of my dress shirts revealed a damn thing. And if they weren’t staring at my chest, it was my legs or my ass. They didn’t even try to be stealthy. Whenever I caught them, their grins took on a leering quality.
They also tried to get me to pick up their dry cleaning, their coffee, print their reports, call to set up sales meetings, and just about everything under the sun. Normally I’d have no problem picking up coffee for them or anyone if I was already out doing it, but they always waited until I got back to the office.
Thursday morning, when I returned from getting Mr. Browser his double shot of espresso and, randomly, fresh peonies for his office, one of the Steroid Twins was hovering near my desk. I was pretty sure it was the one named Rick.
I pretended to not see him as I closed Mr. Browser’s door behind me and walked to my desk. I set my cappuccino down, sending a hopeful glance toward the phone. There were no blinking lights signaling a message. Dammit.
Placing my purse under the desk, I powered up the computer and clicked on the Word document. The new employee packet was being revamped, and Deanna had me working on the welcome letter and the company policy sheets. Both needed to be updated with the information she had given me the day before. I scanned my notes, my gaze tripping on a few words that were so hastily scribbled I had no idea what I’d meant to write.
Heavy footsteps drew closer.
I focused harder on my notes as I picked up my cappuccino. The tiny hairs along the nape of my neck rose. I could practically feel his gaze boring into the back of my skull. How long would I have to ignore him before he went away? My eyes widened as the seconds ticked by. Would it be too obvious if I picked up the phone and pretended to be on a call?
Rick eased up on the other side of the cubicle, directly across from me. “Hey, Stephanie.”
Obviously, ignoring him wasn’t going to work. I sipped my steaming, caramel goodness and forced out, “Hi.” I didn’t want to be a bitch, but he and his Steroid Twin tripped my creep meter big-time.
He plopped heavy arms on the wall. “What you doin’?”