“Ollie! Get in here.” A tinge of irritation crept into my voice. Fuck.
I shoved my hands into my hair, pulling on the strands as I tried to get control of the irritation licking away at my insides like hot flames. It wasn’t my assistant’s fault that my chief financial officer had resigned, but he had been busy finding me options for a replacement and I needed those damn files on my desk in double time.
“Oliv-” I was cut off when he stuck his dreadlocked head into my office, shooting me an apologetic look as he carried a stack of folders over to me.
“These are the possibilities for new hires,” he said, knowing that I appreciated it when he got right to the point. “I have twelve candidates for you.”
“Excellent.” I pulled the stack closer and opened the file at the top. “Let’s get started.”
Oliver Stone had been my assistant for long enough that he knew exactly what I wanted and was good enough at his job that he delivered it every time. None of the folders contained so much as one wasted sheet of paper or one unnecessary paragraph on our prospects, yet every pertinent question I had about each one could be answered by the information he had compiled.
There were a few people that I passed up without having to look further than the first page, but Ollie couldn’t be blamed for including those candidates. I hadn’t told him exactly what I wanted in a new CFO yet.
“No.” I slapped the first file down on my desk and pushed it off the edge, watching as it landed in the trash in a flurry of loose sheets of paper. “I don’t want anyone with that much experience. I’ve learned my fucking lesson. I want someone that I can groom from the ground up.”
“You mean you don’t want someone older with a large extended family in Greece that they have to go take care of?” Ollie asked, a ghost of a grin pulling at his full lips. When he saw me noticing, it dropped away and he cleared his throat. “What I meant was that you don’t want complications like the ones we had with Titus.”
“Complications?” I scoffed and arched an eyebrow, folding my arms across my chest. “He resigned from a billion-dollar company because he has some family emergency he has to take care of.”
“He did ask for the time off to deal with it,” Ollie pointed out unnecessarily. My eyebrows climbed higher on my forehead and he cleared his throat again, his eyes lowering as he started shuffling the files on my desk. “Of course, asking for an indeterminate amount of time off to deal with family issues that are going to keep you out of the country for God only knows how long is not really an option if you’re a CFO for said billion-dollar company. Say no more.”
Sliding the top few folders off his stack, he pulled one out and handed it over. “Here. Have a look at this guy. He’s young, but if you’re not looking for experience, he might be perfect.”
Pitch black eyes blazing into mine, Ollie took a deep breath and then recited the applicant’s credentials like he’d studied them for an exam. “Twenty-three. Fresh out of the Ivy League with references from his professors coming out of his ass.”
The faintest red flush colored his mocha skin tone and he visibly swallowed. “Sorry, I got a bit overexcited there. What I meant to say was that he had glowing credentials from all his professors.”
I stared at him stone-faced for a beat, fucking with him for a second before I started laughing. It felt good to do after the rough week we’d had. “It’s okay, Ollie. How long have you known me for? Have you ever seen me flinch when someone curses?”
He shook his head, but his skin still had that flush to it. I rested my hand on the stack of files but kept my eyes on his. “Just give it to me straight about these people, okay? We don’t have any time to waste beating around the bush. We need to replace Titus and we need to do it fast. I’d have done it yesterday if that had been a fucking option.”
Ollie didn’t flinch when I cursed, either. We had that in common. Although, to be fair, he’d probably heard it from me a hell of lot more often than I had from him. Old habits and all.
After my first few years home from active duty in the Air Force, I’d tried to kick the cursing habit. I’d even spoken to some guys I knew with the VA. Eventually, I gave up and decided to just roll with it. It was too ingrained in me now to change it; the world was just going to have to deal.
Rolling my head from shoulder to shoulder, I gave Ollie a meaningful look. “So, which one of these candidates are we getting in for an interview?”
He leaned over and flipped through the stack of files again, checking the names on top of some of them before tossing them in the trash with the first one. “We have six strong candidates left. Want me to talk you through them?”
I nodded, opening the next folder he motioned to and listening carefully as he gave me the rundown on each candidate. We ended up getting rid of two more before we picked the top four potential CFOs to set up interviews with.
When we were done, I waved my hand in the direction of my door. “Thanks, Ollie. Contact those people to come in tomorrow. If they can’t make it, take them off the list. I need a minute.”
He nodded, standing up and leaving the office without saying another word. I knew I could count on him to get the meetings set up and I was confident that we had chosen the correct candidates to invite.
Exhaling a quiet sigh, I turned in my chair to face the sun shining brightly over Chicago’s official downtown area: the Loop. My hand fell absently to my thigh, rubbing just above the socket where my prosthetic leg now sat-just above where my knee used to be.
Thanks to the beauty of my somatic sense and an advanced prosthetic, I hadn’t had too much pain in years. I still got phantom pains, though, and standing still too much and for too long could hurt.
It was one of those days where the phantom pains were plaguing me and I’d been standing still, in one place, all morning during a talk I had given at one of the entrepreneurship programs offered by the VA. Apparently, it was good for me to give these talks, and good for others to listen to me.
My head rolled back, my eyes rising to the ceiling as my hand continued massaging away pains that were coming from a body part that was no longer there. The limb was gone, but the pain was real.
Focusing on the knowledge that I wasn’t crazy, that the pain really was there and it wasn’t all in my head, that the sensation of pain really was coming from my brain, didn’t help to take it away. Ten years after my amputation, I knew every way to manage the phantom pain. This was going to be one of those days where I was going to have to employ every last one of them and just deal with it.
On its way up to the roof, my gaze snagged on the Air Force flag that hung above my desk. Despite how and why I’d had to leave, I was still proud of being an airman. The amputation hadn’t changed that.
Bad days like this didn’t happen that often anymore. Thank fuck.
Just over ten years ago, right after the amputation, it had been like this far more regularly.
As my brain and body learned to live without the limb, learned to rewire the impulses, it had gotten better.
On days like today, though, there was nothing to be done but to grin and bear it. I didn’t have to like doing it, but I also wasn’t the type to sit in a corner and mope or to crumble in a heap of despair. Fuck that for a joke. Not happening.
Obviously, sitting in my office, snapping at my assistant and stroking my leg wasn’t going to cut it either. I needed to get out of here.
Standing abruptly, I grabbed my jacket hanging from the back of my chair and pulled it on. Without looking back at my desk and all the urgent shit I needed to get done, I headed out.
Ollie’s head snapped up when my office door opened, a frown crossing his features before he jumped to his feet.
I waved him back into his seat. “I’m taking off early today. Hold my messages and cancel my meetings. I don’t want to be bothered.”
With his frown deepening, Ollie nodded as he sat back down. “Sure thing, boss. Anything I can do for you?”
“No, I’m fine.” I was about to breeze past his desk when I forced myself to stop, turn to face him and smile. “Thank you, Ollie. I know I can always count on you to get the job done. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I gave myself a mental pat on the back for remembering to show my appreciation. It didn’t come naturally to me, but I knew better than most that good help was hard to find and if you wanted it, you had to do more than just pay well.
I did that—paid well. But I was also smart enough to know that I couldn’t be a total dick, not all the time anyway. Sometimes, I had learned, people also needed to be treated well.
Ollie smiled, shrugging a thick shoulder. “I’ll have those interviews lined up for you. Go get some rest. I’ll make sure you’re not bothered.”
Thank fuck for small mercies, and Ollie. My condo was my sanctuary. I didn’t need the outside world barging in on it.
True to his word, Ollie made sure I wasn’t disturbed for the rest of the day. I heaved a sigh of relief when I finally sank down on my couch and removed my prosthetic, placing it on the lacquered coffee table in front of me.
When I’d first returned home from the hospital to the tiny apartment I’d been renting at the time of the amputation, I hadn’t known how I was going to adapt to living with a prosthetic. The place had been riddled with slight bumps on the surface of the floor that I hadn’t noticed before. There were steps into some areas and notches in the floor in others. It was a less than perfect set up.
I’d resolved then and there that one day, I’d be able to afford a place that wouldn’t have any of those inadequacies. My condo was that place, which was why it was my sanctuary.
It wasn’t ostentatious, but it was spacious. The laminated flooring was all completely level and the view was unparalleled. Water stretched out on one side, the city on the other. Navy Pier was just a couple of blocks away, still within eyesight. It was definitely an upgrade from the dirty alley I used to look out on.
With the leg off and wearing softer clothes, I was doing much better already than I had been at the office.
A call to Grant was probably still in order, though. My old buddy had served with me but was with the VA now.
Ten years out, I was mostly okay. Some things, such as big changes out of my control, still got to me, though. The situation with Titus was a fucking big change. The man had been with my company almost since its inception, and his resignation had been entirely out of my control.
An indefinite vacation was something I couldn’t allow and his family emergency had him out of the country and completely out of touch. I’d given him a choice, and he’d made his decision.
No harm, no foul. But a call to Grant was necessary.
“It was about time I heard from you,” he said when he answered his phone.
“Yeah, I know. Shit’s been busy, but I’m calling now, aren’t I?”
He chuckled and closed a door at his end of the line. “If you were looking for someone to congratulate you on calling, you’re shit out of luck. Now, why don’t you tell me why it is that you’ve finally picked up the phone?”
I explained my situation to Grant, then talked to him for another hour before my stomach grumbled. I blinked, noticing that the sun was sinking low and realizing it was time to order dinner.
“Well, would you look at that.” I grinned. The pain from earlier had gone away with the day. “It’s time for me to get a little more work done, but that was a good talk, G. I’ll see you soon, okay?”