King of hearts, p.1
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       King of Hearts, p.1

           L.H. Cosway
 
King of Hearts


  King of Hearts

  By

  L.H. Cosway

  Copyright © 2015 Lorraine McInerney.

  All rights reserved.

  Cover pictures taken from Shutterstock.com.

  Cover design by RBA Designs.

  Editing by Indie Author Services.

  This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.

  Contents

  Playlist

  Part One

  One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Five

  Six

  Seven

  Eight

  Nine

  Ten

  Eleven

  Twelve

  Thirteen

  Fourteen

  Fifteen

  Part Two

  Sixteen

  Seventeen

  Eighteen

  Nineteen

  Twenty

  Twenty-One

  Twenty-Two

  Twenty-Three

  Twenty-Four

  Epilogue

  Playlist

  Discover the author’s playlist for King of Hearts!

  Part One

  Part Two

  Marie you're the wild blue sky

  And men do foolish things

  You turn kings into beggars

  And beggars into kings

  - “All the World is Green” by Tom Waits.

  Part One

  Before

  One

  Johnson-Pearse Bank, Canary Wharf, London, 2009.

  I was nervous.

  I was also procrastinating as I sat on a bench and watched men and women scurry by, an endless parade of people with “stuff to do.” I had ten more minutes before heading inside for my interview, and I was draining every last one of those bad boys the same way I was draining every last dreg of my coffee.

  Despite having lived in London my entire life, I’d never actually been to Canary Wharf. There’d never really been a reason – until now. It was a strange place, so professional, the smell of money in the air, and yet, just a couple of feet away from me, the guy running the newsstand was very obviously dealing. Growing up where I grew up, it was the kind of thing I noticed. A suit would walk up to him, buy a paper, and he’d slip a little something extra inside. Then the suit would mosey on into his office building to start his day, casual as you please.

  It was sort of depressing to know that even in a place like this, drugs were still prevalent. The only difference was that the people here could actually afford them.

  Okay, time to face the music. Getting up from the bench, I smoothed my hands down my dress, inhaled a deep breath, and put on my game face. I was determined to bravado my way through the interview, and faking confidence was one of my true talents. Today I was competing for a job as an executive assistant at one of the top investment banks in the country, with only a diploma in administration and too many years’ experience as a barmaid.

  I was still a little flabbergasted as to how I’d even managed to score the interview. Address profiling was alive and kicking, and I had a feeling that Johnson-Pearse Bank employed a grand total of zero peeps from my neck of the woods.

  I arrived at the reception area and smiled at the lady manning the desk. “Hi, I’m here to interview for the executive assistant position with Mr King.”

  She raised a speculative eyebrow, her gaze giving me a quick sweep up and down. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what she was thinking. She heard my East End accent and immediately wondered what the hell I was doing there. She wasn’t the only one, because despite my calm exterior, I was suffering from a distinct case of impostor syndrome.

  Pursing her lips, she finally nodded and directed me to a large office down the hall, telling me to sit and wait outside until I was called. Several other people sat waiting quietly. Some of them looked just as nervous as I felt, while others seemed cool, calm, and collected. Maybe they were faking it, too.

  Minutes ticked by. A couple of the other candidates were called into the office, some leaving with smug smiles, and others looking like they wanted to go home and have a cry. I could see myself in the same boat in the not too distant future.

  The door opened, and an older man emerged.

  “Alexis Clark?” he called, scanning those of us left waiting.

  I stood immediately, again wiping my sweaty hands on my dress and stepping forward. I felt like everything outside my body was in slow motion, while inside my heart hammered a mile a minute. Having recently split with my boyfriend, Stu, and subsequently quitting my job at the pub he frequented on a daily basis, I needed employment.

  Stepping inside the room, I found I was being interviewed not only by the elderly gent who’d called me in, but by a panel including two others, one male, one female. My eyes briefly scanned the woman, who appeared to be in her sixties and who was appraising me shrewdly. My attention then wandered to the blond guy sitting at the end of the desk nearest the window. He held his phone to his ear and wore a lazy smile as he stared out at the view beyond. He was fit with a capital “F,” too handsome for a banker, if I was being honest. He didn’t have the sleaze-ball look of the young City Boys, nor did he have the cold, money-hungry eyes of the older bankers. No, he had the carefree beauty of a male model, or a Hollywood heartthrob.

  His eyes came to me for a brief second, looked away, then came back again in what seemed to be a double take. As he made a slow perusal of my body, a mix of amusement and intrigue passed over his features before his attention returned to his phone call. Okay, so that didn’t make me a tad weak at the knees, no siree, Bob.

  “Yeah, okay, Greg, I’ll believe your trash and cash bullshit as soon as I start taking up belly dancing classes and piercing both my ears.” He chuckled cynically, and I got a few goose bumps at the sound of his deep laughter. “I distinctly remember you pulling a stunt like this in ’06. All of a sudden everybody’s steering clear of The Phillips Group, and a week later you’re swanning around in a brand-new BMW.”

  The other two sat and waited quietly as he wrapped up his phone call, which led me to believe that despite being younger, Blondie was the one in charge. Huh. After just a minute he ended his call, sliding his mobile onto the desk and clasping his hands together. Then he shot the older guy a glance that said he could begin the interview.

  “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Alexis. My name is Daniel James, senior managing director here at Johnson-Pearse,” he began, and I shook his hand. “This is Eleanor Price, Mr King’s current assistant, who’ll be retiring soon and whose position we’re looking to fill.”

  I shook Eleanor’s hand next. She seemed strict but nice, in a head-mistress sort of way. I could now surmise that Blondie was Mr King, and I guessed he needed someone like Eleanor to keep him in check. If I got this job, I imagined keeping up with Mr Sexy Smile would have me well on my toes.

  When Mr James was finally introducing me to Oliver King, head managing director, I felt my trusty bravado kicking in. I wasn’t going to wilt and blush at his attention. No, I was going to hold my head high and be like Eleanor, tough as nails, no nonsense.

  “Mr King,” I said as his warm fingers slid against mine and we quickly shook hands. Yep, tingles galore, but I refused to acknowledge them.

  “Alexis,” he replied, eyeing me closely before sitting back down. “Thanks for coming.”

  I took a seat in front of the three of them and rested my hands in my lap.

  “So, to begin, please tell us a little about yourself,” said Mr James.

  Okay, good. They were starting off with the standard stuff. I could do this. C
learing my throat, I began my spiel. I told them about my high A Level results, especially in computing and maths, then moved on to my bartending experience, during which I decided to return to education and get my diploma. I told them my main reason for not going to university straight out of school was due to a lack of funds, and how I was eager to gain experience now that I had my qualification.

  “You understand that most entry-level staff here hold university degrees, even in our admin departments,” said Mr James. “What do you think you can bring to the role, given that you haven’t had the same level of education?”

  “I think I can bring people skills,” I answered promptly. “Working in a bar might seem like it doesn’t take much, but believe me, you get good experience dealing with all kinds of conflicts. I think that education is important, yeah, but I also feel that I can bring a lot more to the role in comparison to someone who’s coming in with a degree but zero experience.”

  “And what if you come up against a problem that requires technical rather than interpersonal skills, something that a university graduate would be better equipped to deal with?” James went on. I glanced quickly at Mr King to find him studying me closely, and all of a sudden felt a little warmer under my dress.

  “Then I’ll ask for guidance. If there’s a problem I can’t deal with on my own, I always ask someone to teach me. I’m all about expanding my learning, and I hold the belief we should be continually gaining new skills.”

  King leaned forward on the desk to shoot James a grin. It said “I like her,” and I felt a triumphant little rush in my belly. James was far more difficult to read, and Eleanor seemed to only be sitting in on the interview as a silent observer. I imagined she’d be giving her two cents after I left, informing the other two whether or not she thought I was fit to replace her.

  “Okay, very good.” said Mr James. “So, why is it that you’d like to work here at Johnson-Pearse?”

  Relief flooded me and I was glad he’d asked this question. I’d spent hours researching the bank, so I knew my stuff. By the time I was done regurgitating all the reasons why I thought it was the ideal place for me to work, all three interviewers seemed impressed.

  Then Mr King clasped his hands together, finally deciding to speak. “You seem to know a great deal about this bank, Miss Clark, but tell me, if you were to implement one change to improve how we run things, what would it be?”

  His question took me by surprise, and I drew a complete and total blank. My mind scurried for an answer, any answer, and before I could take a second to properly think things through, I blurted, “Well, for a start, I’d call the cops on the dealer working the newsstand outside. I’m guessing high employees don’t make for very productive ones.”

  James’ eyebrows shot right up into his forehead. Eleanor pursed her lips, appraising me more closely, and King didn’t show any outward signs of a reaction other than the slightest curve to the edge of his lips. He glanced out the window, where there was a direct view of the newsstand, scribbled something down, then shot James a look to continue with the interview. I saw him glancing at me again, differently now, like he was seeing something interesting he hadn’t noticed before. The fact that none of them had commented on my answer made me feel sweaty and embarrassed, and my need to flee the room was palpable. Me and my big dumb mouth.

  James threw a few more questions at me, asking how I’d cope with a number of scenarios. Unfortunately, though, after my comment about the dealer, his distaste for me started to shine through, and he quickly wrapped things up.

  “Thank you so much, Miss Clark. As I said, these jobs do normally go to university graduates, but well done for coming along. Do you have any questions for us?”

  I eyed him, feeling like what he’d said was a little patronising. I’d spent days preparing for this interview, and the fact that he was so quick to write me off got my blood up. This was why, despite having a whole host of questions prepared to ask, I said sharply, “If I’m not the usual candidate, then why did you call me for an interview?”

  James’ face flashed in surprise at my question, and I inwardly groaned. Technically though, I’d already screwed things up, so I might as well speak my mind.

  He glanced at Oliver King. “Each of us put forward a number of resumes. I believe it was Mr King who thought yours had…potential.”

  Eleanor frowned, and King shot him a look that said he was in for it later, before turning to face me. I was under the impression that James was my biggest enemy in this situation, but then King spoke and flipped everything on its ear.

  Levelling his eyes on me, he said simply, “You included a picture, Miss Clark, and I liked the look of you.”

  I swear, my jaw practically dropped to the floor. I’d sat through many interviews in my time, but this one was by far the strangest. Was he even allowed to say something like that? Since it appeared he was the one who ruled the roost around here, I guessed he was. Bristling, I rose from my seat. I knew I should have waited until I was dismissed, but I was so pissed off that I just had to get out of there. Still, I didn’t let my temper get the better of me. I settled my gaze on his and calmly gave him my best parting line.

  “Well, then, Mr King, if I do get chosen for the position, I’ll have to prove to you that my looks pale in comparison to what my brain can achieve.”

  King smiled.

  I turned and left the office.

  The very next day I received a call from Eleanor telling me that I’d gotten the job.

  ***

  Gulping back the last of my coffee, I slipped my headphones over my ears, hit “play” on my favourite M.I.A. album, and set off for the tube. I lived on the tenth floor of a big grey tower block in Bethnal Green with my BFF, Karla. The stairs were a hassle, but I had to admit that hauling my arse up and down them every day did wonders for my glutes. Too bad my penchant for cake undid all the good work.

  It was my first day working at Johnson-Pearse Bank. After the bizarre nature of my interview, and the even more bizarre fact that they’d actually chosen me for the role, I was putting my best foot forward. M.I.A.’s tracks always made me feel ready to take on a challenge; it was like my fight music.

  I wore my most office-friendly pencil dress under my duffel coat. I also wore gloves and a scarf, which I buried my nose under in order to stave off the chill. It was January in London, which meant it was cold enough to freeze your nipples off.

  Once I reached the tube, I savoured the heat of the carriage and head-bobbed my way through the journey, standing because it was rush hour, and I wasn’t going to get a seat to save my life. Finally arriving in Canary Wharf, I made my way out of the gigantic tube station and completed the walk to the glass and steel tower where Johnson-Pearse was located.

  This area was referred to as The City, a single square mile that housed the most powerful financial institutions in the U.K. Some of the buildings had funny nicknames. For instance, you had the Gherkin, which I personally thought looked like a giant Fabergé egg.

  You could divide the district into three sections. Canary Wharf was modern, towering, soulless, and where you could find the all-powerful investment banks. The Old City was historical, quirky, and mostly home to the insurers and brokers. And lastly, you had the stylish and cosmopolitan Mayfair, where you could find the hedge funds and private equity companies. I’d only become so well-informed about all this since I started my job hunt. Before that it was just another part of London to me. But now that I’d discovered this city within the city, I’d become fascinated. With just one glance, you knew that this was a place where there was only one God, and its name was Money.

  I disappeared among the throngs of professional types as I entered the building. I had to sign in at the security desk, since I hadn’t yet been given my staff I.D. Once I was done, I stepped inside the elevator. I was still rocking out to my music, standing in the corner of the crowded lift, when I felt somebody’s eyes on me.

  Quickly glancing up, I spotted Oliver King a fe
w feet away, wearing a suit and a smile, a newspaper tucked under his arm. Pulling my headphones off and letting them rest around my neck, I gave him a polite nod. My first instinct was to be embarrassed that he’d caught me bobbing my head, away in my own little world, but I tamped that bitch down. If I’d learned anything from growing up in a tiny council house with three overbearing brothers and limited resources, it was that you had to hold your head high in this life. Take what was your due and never let anyone make you feel uncomfortable or inferior.

  When the lift stopped at our floor, both Oliver and I stepped off, leaving the crowded carriage behind us.

  “Good morning, Alexis,” he said in that refined accent of his that screamed of Cambridge and Eton, and all those other fancy places where the upper classes received their educations. He placed his hand on my lower back for a second as though leading me out.

  “Mr King,” I replied, making sure to step away and put an end to the touching. I wasn’t sure if that was business as usual or what. I began removing my gloves and unwrapping my scarf from around my neck.

  “Cold out there today,” he went on, eyes scanning me, and I nodded. We soon reached his office, which had a large atrium area with two desks, one for Eleanor and one for the other assistant, Gillian. Eleanor had told me about her on the phone, but we hadn’t met yet. The older assistant was already at her desk, tapping away at her computer, as was Gillian, who had short blonde hair and a slim build. She looked to be about my age. When she spotted King, she immediately jumped up from her seat, gathered a bunch of folders, and walked alongside him. She barely gave me a second glance.

  “These are the briefs for this morning’s meetings, your coffee is inside, and Kenneth Green called to schedule a lunch meeting on Wednesday.” Her voice trailed off as they went into King’s office, and I looked to Eleanor, who gave me a warm smile.

  “Morning, love, come sit. You’ll be shadowing me for the week, then next week we’ll see how you do going it alone. I’ll be here on and off for another month to make sure the transition runs smoothly.”

 
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