The Heartless Game – Chapter 2 (romance novel)

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CHAPTER TWO

Three weeks passed. Eleven job interviews.

No responses.

I simply didn’t have enough qualifications, and every other interviewee – well, they were mostly fresh journalist graduates and thus more educated and… vivacious. They had an excitement for life that had left me years ago.

Maybe if the incident hadn’t happened, hadn’t been plastered into each and every gossip magazine – Aryan Parker cuts partying short after being disrespected by an Opulence PA – there would have been a chance of employers seeing something positive about me online. My LinkedIn account emphasised my experience and responsibilities as a means of making up for my lack of a higher education. Instead of focusing on my A Levels and university applications, I’d been busy shopping, visiting salons and bitching among London’s upper class society.

Oh how things had changed… I never would have imagined my future turning out like this. Never before had I desired so much to go back in time and use my youth more wisely.

It was a wonder I’d even been permitted to sit the interviews. Especially since the news surrounding Aryan and me had escalated out of control. The journalists at the party had been too far away to hear our conversation, they’d simply witnessed it, and each speculating article I read seemed crazier than the last: I threw champagne at Aryan Parker, I’d gotten drunk and tried to grope him, I’d attempted to steal his wallet.

The undeniable truth was that I wasn’t going to get a job anywhere. Not for a while, at least until this incident became old news. But I had bills to pay, a simple middle-class life to afford, groceries to buy for god’s sake!

I spent most of my time moping around my flat, feeling more insignificant and worthless each day. I looked at my reflection in my bedroom mirror now.

Jobless. Depressed. Fed up of life.

And you could see each of these things on my face: the tangled mess of my black hair, the dryness of my brown skin, the pinched expression contorting my small round features.

A sudden spike of ferocity shot its way up my spine. Aryan’s rage was completely unjust. My father’s mistakes weren’t mine. He couldn’t punish me for something I hadn’t done, hadn’t even known about.

Without bothering to brush my hair or change my clothes, I grabbed my coat and bag, pulled on some boots and left. Within minutes, I was on the tube that would take me straight into the heart of London, to where Newsdom Head Offices were based, mere minutes’ walk from River Thames.

“Hello ma’am, how can we help?” the beautiful blonde receptionist asked as I entered the stunning building, which was all glass walls, sharp structure and glistening chandeliers.

I was acutely aware of how ragged my appearance was in comparison to her neat, perfectly poised one.

“I need to see Mr Parker,” I said nervously.

This whole thing suddenly felt like an awful idea.

She laughed softly. “I’m sorry ma’am, but you can’t just walk in here and expect to see the boss. You have to go through a process: book an appointment through our website. We get in touch if Mr Parker approves.”

It was so easy to forget how powerful he was now; a part of my mind still remembered him as the hot, shirtless teen who worked as a gardener in my back yard in the summers, who occasionally got me and my friends drinks, causing us to giggle like crazy the moment he left. I still remembered how giddy his presence always made me feel, but even then he was always distant and aloof. As much as I stared at him, he never looked back, staying ever respectful and distant from his employer’s daughter. If Aryan had to approve the meeting requests that came his way, I would never get to see him.

I didn’t quite know how to respond. Eventually, I blurted, “It’s really important. If you could just phone him-”

“I’m sorry ma’am,” she cut in briskly, “but, as I said, you can’t see the boss. And it would be most inappropriate for me to disturb him with this. He’s a very busy man.”

I glanced around. An elevator in the distance was about to go up. Before I knew what I was doing, I ran for it.

Just as the doors closed, I heard the woman shout, “Security.”

My heart thundered. I’d never done anything like this before. My hands became clammy as I imagined being hurled out of this building by a beefy security guard.

There was one other person in the lift but I was too embarrassed to look at him. He knew perfectly well that I was the one that security had been alerted against – with my cargo pants and khaki parker, it was perfectly clear just how out of place I was.

Newsdom was the most formal social media app around; everything that was uploaded onto the platform was scrutinised for authenticity and suitability. Everyone in the building was clad in suits and dresses, their faces perfectly symmetrical, their expressions excuding intelligence and determination.

“Where to?” the man asked, his fingers near the lift buttons and his voice clearly amused. At least he wasn’t afraid of me, hadn’t assumed that I was a criminal of some sort.

“Where’s Aryan Parker’s office?” I asked, completely breathless.

“Eighteenth floor. I’m going there too,” he replied.

That was when I turned to face him, and let out a disbelieving laugh. The man was in his pajamas. When I looked at his bright blue eyes, I instantly recognised him. Nick Stevens had helped Aryan set up his app, providing him money, skill and, most importantly, belief in his dreams. They were close, more brothers than best friends, often photographed at social events together. Of course Nick would wear whatever he wanted in the offices, he owned a large portion of Newsdom.

“Why do you want to see him?”

Because he got me fired, completely unjustly. Because he’s trying to ruin my life and doesn’t even know it. And it should at least be on his conscience if he chooses not to own up to his mistake.

But of course I didn’t say any of these things. Instead, I stuttered like an idiot, because it suddenly seemed that only an idiot would dare to confront a man as powerful and hateful as Aryan Parker.

“You can keep it to yourself if it’s a secret,” Nick grinned, giving me a wink.

His eyes gave me a subtle once over, and a crease of confusion formed between his brows, as though he was used to seeing girls do anything to get closer to Aryan Parker but that none of them looked as unkempt and basic as me because they were usually supermodels. I cringed at the thought of him assuming I was a lovesick woman Aryan had shared a one night stand with, someone who’d become so obsessed with the man she was breaking into his bloody place of work!

Even if Nick Stevens did think of me in this way, I somehow knew he’d still respect me. That he wouldn’t judge or ridicule me. He possessed a kind, warm aura. He was handsome in a pretty-boy way but didn’t seem to know it. He seemed understanding. Non-judgmental. Fun. The complete opposite of Aryan in every way.

Regardless of the fact that Nick was a billionaire, and one of the brightest technological minds in the world, I could imagine being myself around him.

I gave him a soft smile, thankful that he wasn’t being nosy. As close as Aryan was to Nick, there was a possibility he’d never told him about the past he shared with Samia Khan, with the whole Khan family.

When he got off the lift, I followed.

“Ladies first,” he said, gesturing to the blurred glass walls that were Aryan Parker’s office – his name was plastered outside it on a golden plaque, right above the words CEO.

“Are you sure?” I asked tentatively.

He nodded and took a seat in the waiting area, giving a kind smile to Aryan’s personal receptionist.

My blood thrummed in my ears as I walked towards the office. The waiting area was on its right side, and the floor-length glass windows revealed a stunning skyline of midday London.

This was what he saw everyday. The lucky bastard. I felt a surge of hatred for him. Life had been good to him. He had everything now. Why couldn’t he just let the past go?

My hatred for him strengthened my resolve. I was ready to confront him. I knocked twice and then opened the door without waiting for a response.

He was leaning over his desk, ruffling through a stack of papers. The entire desk seemed to be filled with paper. He was a messy man. And, as the receptionist had stated, certainly very busy.

He didn’t bother acknowledging that anyone had entered. Grabbing some papers, he began to read through them, adjusting the glasses atop his nose. I had a feeling that even if I’d spoken, he would’ve simply ignored me as background noise. He was a man who made others wait… he interacted with others if and when he wanted, not the other way around.

This building, his wealth and status and intelligence, it wasn’t luck or coincidence. He was a hardworking person. I couldn’t help but find it inspirational.

Gradually, leisurely, his eyes drifted to me.

His spine shot up and his expression darkened. He whipped his glasses off. His eyes roamed over my messy clothes and hair, eventually settling on my bare face. Then he snarled with an intensity that made me quiver.

“What the hell are you doing in my office?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Heartless Game – Chapter 1 (romance novel)

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CHAPTER ONE 

“I can’t believe this is happening,” I whispered, barely able to keep my hands from shaking.

I watched as people from the party gravitated towards him, as he grinned, shook hands and made courteous small talk, subtly flirting with all the beautiful women.

Aryan Parker.

“No one informed me he’d be coming tonight,” I hissed, grabbing my colleague’s arm.

“Ouch,” Hanna cried, and I abruptly let go. “You were on holiday. I guess we forgot to email you the itinerary for upcoming events. How was Scotland anyway?”

The green valleys, jagged cliffs, sparkling rivers – it was the kind of holiday to be taken with your family or a partner, a romantic partner. But I had neither and so I’d gone alone, and in the end spent most of my time wandering aimlessly, feeling empty and lost. I had been eager to get back to London, to lose myself in my job as Personal Assistant once again. But now, I would do anything to be away from this place, from him.

“Hello?” Hanna said impatiently. “Earth to Samia. How was the holiday?”

The terrible liar that I was, I didn’t want to answer that. I decided to ignore her question altogether.

“Why was he invited?”

Hanna guffawed. “Erm, well, only because he’s the youngest billionaire in England, maybe even the world. You do know that right?”

“Of course I know that,” I snapped, feeling my dinner shift uncomfortably in my stomach. It was important for me to eat before such evening work events, otherwise I usually found myself on my feet for hours, utterly famished. But today I regretted it; I’d be lucky if I didn’t puke everywhere.

Hanna grimaced at my tone. “Why the hell are you acting so strange? It’s an honour to have him with us. This is huge for our magazine.”

Again, I ignored her. Opting instead to look at Aryan Parker, just as every other woman in the hall seemed to be doing, some more coy and subtle than others. It was easy to tell exactly why he attracted such attention. He was tall, maybe an inch or two over six feet. His muscular frame was visible even through the sleek black suit he wore; it was all too easy to imagine him putting in work at the gym… and plenty of other places. His jet-black hair was cropped short, just as his beard. And his hazel eyes danced with charm and the promise of pleasure.

“You know he’s never seen with the same woman twice? I stalk the crap out of him on Daily Mail.”

Of course I knew that too. I would never admit it to anyone, but I stalked the crap out of him too. I knew everything there was to know about the man. And it wasn’t only because he’d launched Newsdom, the giant social media app that allowed people from all over the world to report local news events, giving those a voice who hadn’t previously been heard. It was because of everything that had happened before he’d become impossibly rich and famous, when he was a nobody and I was the daughter of a wealthy man. It was because of our dark, twisted history. For years he’d always been there, lingering in the back of my mind.

“I can’t be here,” I muttered, already backing towards the door. He couldn’t see me. It would ruin the evening if he did. And Hanna was right, this event was important for our magazine: Opulence had become big in recent years, but it still struggled to get interviews and photoshoots with the biggest players in the entertainment industry. But then again, who didn’t? It was difficult to get one’s hands on celebrities. I couldn’t ruin this for us. “I’m leaving. Just tell the boss something came up.”

“Stop being so dramatic, Samia,” Hanna chided, stretching a hand to pull me back towards her. “Mr Parker certainly has a way of making the ladies feel jittery.” She paused to giggle. “But I mean no offense when I say that he won’t be fixating on you tonight, not with all the hot journalists and supermodels around him.”

And then it all happened at once.

I backed straight into a waiter. His tray of champagne glasses crashed to the floor. A hush spread throughout the hall. Everyone’s eyes turned to me. I looked at no one but him. Hoping, praying, he wouldn’t look in my direction too.

No such luck…

Recognition instantly dawned in his eyes. My heart skipped two beats. And I suddenly knew for certain, I’d also been lingering somewhere in his mind, but in an infinitely darker way.

I wanted to rip my eyes away from his but simply couldn’t do it; his dark gaze had gripped me. As I picked myself off the floor, brushed my cocktail dress down, fingers wet with champagne, he stalked – no prowled – towards me. The prowl of a predator. And everyone watched. No one could save me from him. If Aryan Parker had proved one thing from his career, it was that he always got what he wanted and never took no for an answer. Neither poverty nor racism nor lack of opportunities had been able to hold the man back.

My blood thundered in my ears, my throat grew dry. And then there he was, standing before me. His hazel eyes were filled with fire, his lips pinched as though he was barely keeping in all the curses he wanted to hurl at me. And somehow, despite all his rage, I couldn’t help but imagine those lips doing something entirely different to me…

My stomach somersaulted, and I blinked rapidly to shut away those thoughts.

“What are you doing here?”

His voice was deep, husky… masculine.

“I-I erm… I-”

“She works for the magazine,” Hanna chipped in for me, her voice uncharacteristically excited. She clearly had no idea how bad this was, that this was far from a dashing billionaire showing interest in me, it was in fact the complete opposite of that.

“I never would have come here if I knew,” he murmured.

From the corner of my eye, I saw Hanna’s face fall. And knew mine would be looking ten times worse. A tense silence followed, and I wished I could vanish.

“I apologise for the mishap. My workers are usually more apt,” my boss, Keith, laughed. He placed a hand on Aryan’s shoulder but he stepped away and Keith flinched, retracting his hand.

Keith shot me an enraged look before turning to Aryan with an apologetic smile. “I hope you’re not too disappointed by this small incident. It will be rectified straight away. And the rest of the evening with be perfectly smooth.”

“I don’t give a damn about spilled champagne,” he said, letting his own glass fall to the floor as well. “I care about having to breathe the same air as Samia Khan.”

And with that, he stormed for the exit.

“What the hell did you do?” Keith barked, getting up closer to my face than ever before. He didn’t want the partying onlookers to hear our conversation, but oh was he mad. This would’ve been a shout-down if we weren’t at a public event. “Mr Parker is one of the most influential men in the world. What if he badmouths Opulence now? How dare you ruin this event for me? For the magazine?”

“I-I’m so sorry. I-I didn’t mean-”

“You’re fired.”

“What?”

“You heard me. Get out of here. This scene is over.”

I wanted to respond, to plead to keep this job: it was tiring and demanding but I was good at it. And honestly, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life. But a lump had formed in my throat. Everyone still stared at me. The humiliation. The injustice. The unfairness of everything in my life.

I wanted to cry and beg and explain myself. To everyone.

But I had grown up watching my father shout endlessly at my mother, and her being reduced to a broken, sobbing mess each time. I hated that: her patheticness and weakness. I promised I’d never be like that. And so I didn’t cry. I never cried.

I also didn’t plead or explain or curse. I simply left.

And the entire tube journey home, all the way to my studio flat in East London, I thought of Aryan’s dark, hate-filled gaze.

The roles were reserved now.

He was handsome. Well-dressed. Rich. Beyond secure.

And I was a Personal Assistant, stuck in a dead-end job. And I didn’t even have that anymore. In only one moment, nothing in my life was secure.

Now, it wasn’t only that I had no one. I had nothing.

Perception post: Embracing scars

blog post on respect

“We are the curves of the mountaintops: smooth from a distance, but jagged in proximity; serene from afar, yet possessing dusty scars when observed closely.”

Upon starting this blog – on April 5th 2016 – there were some thoughts racing through my mind, holding me back: what if this blog reveals too much about me? What if all the judgmental people from my past find it begin to do what they’re best at – judge? What if people don’t resonate with my creativity? What if I overstep the boundaries of my experimental comfort zone and, instead of remaining private, as I have always been, become an open book?

I have found there is only one way to make peace with my worries: I want to be honest – an exposing, confessing, vulnerable honesty. Not because it’s something that this blog or my life demands of me, but because I know it will liberate me. Once you’ve told your truth, openly accepted it, confronted it, you feel its hold over you ceasing, its strength diminishing. Gradually, it becomes so weak and faint, until one day, it’s no longer much more than a reminiscent smile curling at your content lips.

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