Reports of trouble at this branch of my bank were worrying. They weren’t much more than whispers on the wind and a few emails of complaint to our consumer-services address, but that was enough to warrant an investigation.
Most of my work was done at our central location. It wasn’t often that I dealt with personnel issues myself anymore, and I hadn’t set foot in this particular branch since its opening, but the accusations being leveled against this guy were serious enough that I’d wanted to come down to check him out myself.
If what I’d heard was true, the life this man had known until this morning was over.
Not only were criminal charges a possibility, but I would ruin him in this town. If I had any say in it, and I did, he would never work in the financial services industry again. Not here in New York City. Not anywhere.
I wasn’t one of those assholes who got off on making threats or even thinking about things like ruining people. There were far better things to do and think about than that, but in this instance, I’d make an exception. The thought hadn’t been an idle one, and the threat was very much real.
There were times when one simply had to do what needed to be done, and if the rumors were true, then Mr. Bernard Hilton needed to be made an example of. Swiftly and decisively. Every other employee of mine—or hell, anyone else in the industry—needed to know that they couldn’t fuck around with my company or its reputation.
If people thought I didn’t know what was going on under each of my own roofs just because they didn’t see me every day, they had another thing coming. I wasn’t the most visible CEO in history, but that didn’t mean I didn’t keep a very careful eye on what was happening within my own business.
When word first got out that I was starting to make money—real, serious money—a bunch of reporters had come sniffing around. They’d wanted to take pictures, do interviews, and a whole bunch of shit I didn’t have time for.
I hadn’t started a company in the banking sector for notoriety, and I honestly didn’t give a fuck about getting my name or face out there to become some sort of quasi-celebrity just because I’d had some success. One hardly got into banking with the aim of becoming a figure the public was interested in, and it really didn’t concern anyone else how many zeroes were reflected behind the numbers in any of my accounts.
As a result, I’d been labeled as somewhat reclusive and was left, for the most part, alone. I sent out weekly newsletters to my staff, but even that didn’t have my picture on it. There was no reason why any of them would want to see my face instead of something relevant to the content of the letter.
On days like today, I was happy that I’d managed to keep a low profile. It allowed me to move through one of my own branches with no one being any the wiser that the boss was in their midst.
The polished tile gleamed beneath my feet. Natural light from the stained-glass windows above supplemented the artificial lighting provided by old world chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Customers bustled around me, hurrying in and out while others sat patiently waiting for their numbers to be announced when it was their turn to be served.
As I made my trek across the floor, I took note of the little things. The cups next to the single-serving coffee machines were well stocked, there were no apparent delays in moving from one number to the next, and the cashiers seemed to be working efficiently.
On the face of it, the branch appeared to be operating well. Their problem, however, wasn’t something one could see with the naked eye by just walking into the building. It was a person. One who sat in a cushy office behind the scenes and who probably thought he had the run of the place.
Well, that shit ends today.
When I’d made the decision to come into the branch myself, I’d also decided that I wouldn’t let anyone in on who I was, not immediately. If I gave them my name, they’d recognize it, but if I didn’t, there was a fair chance I could get into Hilton’s office and catch him right in the act.
If nothing untoward happened when I saw him, so be it. He’d get to keep his job and live to exist within my world for another day, but we’d keep monitoring the situation closely from headquarters. If, however, he tried to take advantage of me in the way several customers had alleged he’d done with them, then that was it.
The second-in-command at the branch was a woman named Marie. I’d done my research before coming down here and learned that she was well respected among her colleagues and customers alike. In fact, her employee rating on our centralized system that fed data through from feedback on the ground was outstanding.
Armed with those facts and keeping them front and center in my mind, I approached her first. As luck would have it, she was standing at the loans counter peering over the shoulder of a colleague busily typing away on his computer.
“Good morning,” I said when I reached them.
Marie glanced up from the screen, her eyes widening as she took me in, but there was no flash of recognition in them. A faint flush spread across her cheeks, but she cleared her throat and straightened up, taking a step back from her colleague to face me fully.
“Good morning, sir. What can we help you with today?” Her voice was a little pitchy at the beginning of her sentence, but she quickly gained control of herself.
I might’ve been worried about her reaction and that it meant she knew who I was after all, but she gave no indication that it was that. She didn’t rush to my side or offer me a seat as had happened in the past when personnel had recognized me. In fact, her reaction spoke more to attraction, and it wasn’t one I could say I wasn’t used to.
More than once in the past, I’d been told that I was good looking. Long days working on my farm every chance I got made sure that, unlike most of the other office drones in this city, my skin was tanned and there were calluses on my hands. Apparently, I had a “rugged” thing going on that some women found themselves drawn to.
Marie might’ve been one of those women, but after her initial double-take, she was all business. She exuded professionalism in a crisp navy pantsuit, her hair twisted into a neat bun behind her head, and her shoulders pulled back.
She’s a definite contender if this goes south.
“I’m looking for a loan,” I lied. “I’m hoping to see a Mr. Hilton. I’ve heard he’s the man to talk to about these things.”
“Yes, sir.” She smiled politely. “Would you like one of our loan officers to assist you with the paperwork? Mr. Hilton oversees the final approval, but there are a few other steps in the process before we get to that point.”
I held up the leather briefcase in my hand. “I’ve already filled it all out. All the necessary and required forms are the ones that are available online, correct?”
She dipped her head. “Absolutely, sir. Here at the Hynes Group, we make every effort to ensure that all our services are available to our valued clients in the most effortless, streamlined, painless way possible.”
While I knew she was parroting our client services manual back to me, she did it in a way that made it sound natural. Professional, helpful, and knowledgeable.
She was living up to her employee ratings, which was encouraging considering the circumstances under which I was here. “Is Mr. Hilton available? I don’t mind waiting for a meeting with him.”
“Let me just go check, but I believe his last appointment ended a few minutes ago.” She motioned toward the seating area nearest to the loans counter. “Please help yourself to some coffee and have a seat if you’d like. I’ll be back in a few.”
Ten minutes later, I sat down with the manager I’d come to see. He was a weaselly looking man with dark, beady eyes and his nose stuck in the air. I could see the disapproval lining his features when he looked over the bogus paperwork I’d just handed him, and he exhaled deeply as he shook his head.
“I’m afraid this is a tough call,” he said with a hint of a sneer. “With an income like yours, I’m just not convinced that you’ll be able to make the repayments on the amount you’re asking for.”
“It’s well within usual margins,” I said. My team and I had specifically chosen the numbers we had to make it seem like I was a borderline case, but not one asking for an amount that was unreasonable.
He lifted his chin to look—literally—down the length of his nose at me. There was a slight flare to his nostrils, like he was annoyed by my statement. “It might be in the usual margins, but granting any loan remains within my discretion.”
Although it took everything in me not to argue or set him straight, I kept my expression impassive as I let out a sigh and tried my best to appear humble. It seemed he was one of those people who enjoyed dangling the authority he had over a client’s head, which didn’t bode well for him.
“Are you saying you’re going to deny the loan?” I asked finally.
He shook his head, a condescending smile appearing on his lips. “No, but if I’m going to take a chance on you, you’re going to have to make it worth my while.”
“What do you mean?” I inched forward on my chair. This was almost too fucking easy.
“I’m going to need to be compensated for my act of faith,” he said. “If you won’t agree to pay the additional fee, I’m afraid I can’t provide the loan.”
“You want to be compensated personally?” My fingers curled into fists on the armrests. “That doesn’t sound right. Is this kind of behavior tolerated by the owner of the Hynes Group?”
“Harrison Hynes is some rich fuck who won’t ever know, now will he?” Hilton sneered at me. “Not if you want your loan anyway. Always remember that even once they’ve been granted, loans can be recalled at any time.”
My heartbeat kicked up its pace a notch, and I pushed back my chair. Fighting to remain calm, I did up the one button on my jacket and narrowed my eyes on my soon-to-be former employee.
“Update your resume, Mr. Hilton. You’re done here.” I reached into my inside pocket and set my business card down on his desk with a faint snap of the rich, embossed paper it was printed on. “I might be a rich fuck, but I’m not one who doesn’t know anything. I’m also not one who’s going to allow anyone to treat my customers like this.”
The man paled when he glanced down at the card and then back up at me, swallowing audibly as he tried to backtrack. “There’s been a misunderstanding, Mr. Hynes. Please, sit down. Let’s just talk about this.”
My brows swept up, my gaze steadfast on his. “There’s nothing to talk about. You and I both know there’s been no misunderstanding. A word of advice for the future, Mr. Hilton. If you must insist on making a power-play like that, make sure you are, in fact, the most powerful player in the room.”
Leaving him pale and gaping at me, I turned and left his office. Marie was still standing at the counter speaking to the same colleague as before about whatever he was doing on that computer of his, but as soon as she saw me, she came over with a bright smile on her face.
“All done already, sir? I do hope your application went well.”
I extended my hand toward her. “I don’t believe I introduced myself before. Harrison Hynes. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Mr. Hynes, uh, wait. I’m—I’m so sorry I didn’t know…” She trailed off from her stammering apology, putting her hand in mine before pumping it enthusiastically. “Marie Waller, sir. It’s so nice to meet you as well, sir. You should’ve told me who you were. I’d never have made you wait—”
“No need to apologize.” I cut her off with a wave of the hand I’d just withdrawn from hers. “You were great. I wish I had a hundred more people like you.”
Her polite smile was replaced with a genuine one. “Thank you, sir.”
“I’ve relieved Mr. Hilton of his duties, Ms. Waller. You’re in charge of this branch until I can make some adjustments. Keep up the good work.”
Her jaw dropped, and I walked away before she could say anything. A grin stole across my face as I hit the busy sidewalk outside. Within hours, news of Bernard Hilton’s dismissal would spread across the industry. I’d make sure that it also reached the ears of those customers who had complained about him.
We’d have to review every loan he’d ever granted or refused, and there was a lot of work that would need to be done in order to right his wrongs, but I’d never been afraid of a little hard work.
In fact, I thrived on it. It was why I had not one, but two jobs, and since it was nearly the weekend, it was about time I shed my suit and got to the second one.