Author: Emma Swan


“Please tell me that this is not what you’re going to wear on your head…”

          Phoebe Stone raised her hand to the white scarf with little red hearts she was wearing on her head to cover the long, curly, red hair. Then she gave her co-worker a hurt look and pressed the button of the service elevator.  

“Roxie, I’m here to clean the offices. Not to be part of a fashion show. I’m not particularly fond of this scarf, but the other one that I usually use is still in my dirty laundry basket. I needed something to cover my head and I found this. End of the story.” 

          The older woman looked at her with a squint. An ‘Mhm’ came out from Roxie’s lips and, after sighing deeply, Phoebe decided to come clean.

“Okay… The reason is… Well, there is this guy that’s working as a high-rise window cleaner… We bumped into each other a few times while working in the other building… He’s a bit…”


          What Phoebe was trying to say wasn’t news for Roxie. Phoebe could’ve worn baggy clothes and she still would’ve been chosen as the belle of the ball. She was a petite but well-shaped woman, with crazy curly red hair and green eyes.  

“I see. Can you tell me his name?” 

“Roxie, please… I don’t want to stir the pot. I can’t lose this job.”

“Is this guy old or young?”

“Goodness gracious, Rox…” Phoebe exhaled, but Roxie’s inquiring gaze didn’t leave her any choice but to answer. “He’s young… and pretty stupid.”

          Once the elevator’s doors opened, Phoebe took a few steps back to let Roxie enter first.

“He's always trying to provoke me. Lately, I've been thinking about mentioning him to our supervisor. Maybe after that, he’ll leave me alone.”

“No, baby, whatever you do, don't make it official,” Roxie added and pushed the button to the last floor. “If this prick works late, he’s got protection from the supervisors. And usually, women that are doing our work are more expendable than douchebags like this one.”

“Tell me about it,” Phoebe sighed. “This is still a man's, man’s world. I saw the list with the workers assigned for this building. He’s here...”

          Roxie grimaced, thinking of how gutsy the young woman in front of her could be. She wasn’t very tall, and that was enough to get people confused about her feistiness.

“Just leave it be… for now. Look, just for tonight, let’s switch floors. You do the 10th and I'll do the 9th. This way you’ll be able to work and breathe easily for a while. Then maybe talk to our supervisor and ask if one of the other cleaners might get inclined to do a permanent switch with you.”

“The 10th floor? Don’t I need a security clearance to clean the top floor?” Phoebe reminded the older woman reluctantly.

“Please, it’s just a bunch of nonsense!” Roxie dismissed impatiently. “Since you go there to polish the floors and empty the trash cans, you don’t need to ask for clearance. Is not like you go there to steal secret info. But if the guard does a round while you’re there doing your job, just… duck!”

“This seems so… wrong. Never mind, Roxie, I’ll stay on my floor.”

“Don’t be a woos, Phoebs. Everything is going to be just fine. And one more thing… There is this huge wooden door at the front. That’s Lorenzo De Angelis’s office suite. It’s forbidden territory… even for me. So, stay away from that part of the floor, ok?”

          As the older woman pushed her trolley out of the elevator and onto the floor mat, Phoebe gave her a grateful smile.

“Right now, you are a life savior, Rox! Thank you!” she said while the elevator’s doors were closing.

          Phoebe had never been on the floor of the ‘De Angelis International’ building before. When she emerged from the service lift, she realized that this was a different world compared to the floors below.

          Rounding a corner, she saw a large, luxurious reception area to her right. Beyond it, all the lights had been turned off, but she could dimly see an impressive wooden door in the gloom. But when she looked to her left, Phoebe saw another wooden door, similar to the other, at the far end of the corridor.

          She raised an eyebrow… Roxie said the wooden door at the front. So, she assumed the unlit passage closer to Reception housed the office suite that was off-limits.

          Deciding to start at the opposite end and work her way back along the corridor, Phoebe relaxed. She was delighted by the prospect of an evening shift uninterrupted by Dick Wolf and his colorful remarks.

          Without making any sound, Phoebe opened the heavy door and had crossed the room to reach for the overflowing bin before she registered that the interconnecting office beyond was still occupied.

          Through the door stood slightly ajar, she heard the unmistakable sound of male voices. Usually, she would’ve announced her presence, but, having taken Roxie's advice very seriously, Phoebe decided it would be wiser just to get out of there as quickly and as silently possible. The very last thing she wanted to do was get Roxie into trouble.

          Just as she was about to step back out again, Phoebe heard male footsteps coming down the corridor. That made her pulse beating so fast that she almost lost her balance. Without thinking too much, she hid behind the door and stopped breathing altogether.

          The steps got closer and closer, and then stopped right on the other side of the open door. At that point, Phoebe just thought she was going to die. Suddenly, having Dick Wolf around wasn’t such a good idea.  

          In the rushing silence, Phoebe could now hear every word of the dialogue carrying through from the office next door.

‘Molto bene’, … (Italian for ‘Very well’) As long as I continue to appear genuinely interested in acquiring ‘Digital Lyfe’, the snakes from ‘Cloudtec’ will stay put and wait patiently,” a powerful male voice with a sexy accent was murmuring with satisfaction. “I’ll make my move the minute the market opens on Wednesday. And after that… ‘I giochi sono fatti’ (Ita. for ‘Game over’).”

          Phoebe heard whoever else was on the other side of the door catch their breath audibly. She felt like a total idiot. What the heck had she been thinking of? The maintenance trolley parked outside supplied visible proof of her presence somewhere nearby.

          However, the man in the doorway advanced no deeper into the room. To her surprise and relief, she heard him start back down the corridor much more quietly than he had walked up it.

          Phoebe slowly sucked in much-needed air. She was creeping out of the room, tiptoeing like a cartoon character when the door of the interconnecting office suddenly shot wide to frame an intimidating male, who seemed at that moment to be as tall as a skyscraper.

          She froze, piercing blue eyes huge in her flushed and discomfited face. Eyes as cold as ice raked over her in a challenging evaluation as aggressive as a loaded gun.

“What the hell are you doing hidden here?” he shot at her in angry disbelief.

“Nothing… I was just leaving…”

“You were hiding behind the door listening to my every word!” he contradicted in pure outrage. “Who sent you here?”

“No one… And I wasn't listening.”

          Phoebe was genuinely shocked by his accusation. But when she saw his face by the dim light of the office, she felt share terror wrapping every inch of her body. She never met this man before, but she knew exactly who he was. He was in all the tabloids in the States. Every single New York high-society member knew him well. And Phoebe also knew that she was in trouble. 

          Lorenzo, the ‘Shark’, De Angelis was breathtakingly gorgeous. He was also a ruthless man, an asset-stripping Italian billionaire who ran ‘De Angelis International’ with an iron fist. Educated in the States, at Harvard, he was a business genius and he was fluent in 10 languages, Chinese and Japanese included. ‘Goodness gracious, what did I do?’, she thought and closed her eyes, ‘I just opened the wrong door.’

          Now both her job and Roxie's were on the line! An older man appeared from behind De Angelis. Frowning at her in dismay, he dug out a mobile phone.

“Lorenzo, she's not the regular cleaner,” he said showing Lorenzo the image of Roxie. “I'll get onto security straight away. We need to find out who this woman is and for whom is she working.”

“Perkins, send our head security up,” Lorenzo said with a sly smile on his lips, giving her half a look.

“There's no need for that…” Phoebe protested trying not to show them how afraid she was. “I'm just covering for the usual cleaner tonight... that's all. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt you... And I promise I’m not anyone’s spy. I was just about to step back outside when I heard your voices.”

“I couldn’t care less about your promises of… good faith, girl! You had no business being here in the first place,” Perkins condemned her.

          Lorenzo De Angelis studied her attentively. His eyes were so cold that they started to send shivers up and down her spine. That bothered Phoebe who took another step back, trying to hide in the darkest corner of the office.

“All cleaners know not to enter this office suite. And you were hiding behind the door.”

“Look, things aren’t like they seem,” Phoebe argued, and, in her tone, one could sense desperation. “Why would I be hiding? This doesn’t make any sense at all. I'm just a cleaner. I can see I made a mistake coming in here, and I'm really sorry. It will never happen again. I'll leave your office suite right now…”

          Without warning, a large, powerful hand stretched out to grab her narrow wrist and halt her backward drift towards the door.

“Maybe I didn’t make myself clear… You're not leaving this office. What's your name, girl?”


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