Oui (The French Connection Book 1)By: Brooklyn Knight
The French Connection Series, Volume 1
My designer pumps pierced the glossy floors of the reception area at Hamilton Associates as I forged my way toward the secretary to sign in for the work shadow. Eyes rose, and I flicked my long, black hair over my shoulder, offering the onlookers a sweet, yet competitive smile. Today was a big day, and I had no intention of making anything less than a stellar impression. I had a point to prove, one which graduating second in my class at Johnson and Wales University wouldn’t satisfy. Neither were accolades from professors. I was prepared to go above and beyond and to soar high above anyone who thought they might outshine me.
The floor to ceiling windows of Hamilton Associates lined the building like a transparent shield, while imported Indian Peonies in custom ceramic vases finished the décor, providing a therapeutic aesthetic to the otherwise severe, no-nonsense interior. A modern color scheme using a palette of soft hues of grey, blue, and orange, enveloped the senses. The place was breeding ground for competition. No doubt, it was a place that had left many contestants writhing in the dust of defeat.
It was just my type of place.
My professors had referenced Hamilton Associates during lectures and in seminars on many occasions. It was common knowledge that if a student could somehow be selected as the sole summer intern, their resume would magically transform. And if that student was so fortunate as to be offered a position at the firm, delivering mail, making coffee – whatever – their success in the business world was written in stone.
The signs of rivalry were all around, yet the worst of it was stepping off the elevator and sauntering toward me in a designer suit and well-polished shoes. It smelled like sweet and spicy cologne, enough to make the unsuspecting female competitor’s eyes roll back with wanton imaginings. Its blue eyes bore through opponents like laser beams and surveyed the terrain. Its blonde hair was stylishly gelled, not one strand out of place.
Its name was Ryder Hanson and I loathed him with every fiber of my being.
Recognizing his despicable presence, my footsteps hastened. All too soon, the race had begun: who would be first to the finish line, otherwise known as the reception desk? Who would be the one to open their mouth first and grace the unsuspecting listener with insight and innovation? Whoever it was, that person would be the one to make the all-important first impression – the one that mattered most.
His heels were striking the ground, and his long elegant strides were gaining on me. To my dismay, in a matter of seconds, our paces had synchronized, and Ryder was next to me. His Louis Vuitton messenger bag hung casually across his broad chest, his hands were placed confidently in his pockets, and his breathing controlled.
I focused my eyes ahead, trying to ignore his compelling gait or the titillating scent of the cologne he was wearing, yet my senses were becoming overwhelmed. I needed to create some distance, so I hastened my footsteps.
Ryder matched his pace to mine and bent his lips toward my ear. “Good morning, Miss Renaud.” The coolness of breath swept against my skin.
I cleared my throat and continued to walk.
He frowned. “Aren’t you going to say good morning to me?”
“I haven’t said good morning or anything else to you in six months or more,” I spat. “I’m not sure why you’d think today should be any different.”
He chuckled, but it sounded more like a grunt. “So, we’re still playing hardball?”
“We’ve been playing hardball since day one of Johnson and Wales,” I reminded him. “Remember? I provided an answer in class and you instantly criticized it. You said my ideas about company culture and the glass ceiling theory were absurd.”
“I said they were ludicrous,” he corrected me.
“You might still say good morning, Lai.”
I straightened my shoulders and quickened my pace. At this point, I was almost running, and it was becoming awkward.
Ryder reached out and grabbed my elbow. I froze as he searched my face. His eyes were soft, but his mouth was tight. He moistened his goatee-framed lips.
“You’re right,” he acknowledged. “It has been six months and we haven’t said as much as a good morning to one another, but I was thinking that maybe because...” he paused, and his gaze dropped to his shoes. He pulled his eyes back up to look at me.