. . . Nope.
I’m not introducing myself.
This is an absolute mistake, and something I will take up with Pierce. If I have to file a complaint with HR, I will.
I have too much to deal with without this prank that was likely set up by the accounting department.
Picture a bunch of nerds getting off by doing things that only geeks do, like forging fake FGI letters and delivering them to the staff, barely able to hold in their childish merit.
I’m confused about why they’re not letting me leave this confessional.
So I’m just going to sit here.
I mean, it’s not like I’m needed every waking second! When I find out who locked me in here, there will be hell to pay.
I will unleash an unholy amount of pain and suffering upon the dork that thought this was funny. I’m not above grabbing one of them by the throat and shoving their head into a toilet.
It’s not enough that I get my underwear stolen daily?! I don’t think anyone paid attention to the sexual harassment conference we all had to attend for a whole damn week.
Another thing: Everyone knows I have severe anger issues, and I don’t see why it’s funny to always antagonize me like this!
The door is still locked.
Okay, this is hilarious.
Now they are telling me that Pierce will be coming for my briefing.
That’s my job. I set up the presentations and make sure FGI shape-shifter agents are certified and ready to go into the field.
I have a screening I have to be at!
The next mission is happening. I can’t be in here, I’m needed. Someone is getting fired—and it’s not me.
Apparently they won’t let me out until I say my name to the camera. I will say my name, but that does not mean Nerdville on the 5th floor won’t go up in flames.
Hi, my name is Zoya Romanovna, and I’m pissed.
Now get me the hell out of here.
“I want answers,” I hiss, feeling my body surging with such potent anger I could light the glowing letter in my hand on fire.
I could go to a graveyard and literally raise the dead with my stare alone.
The film crew scatters—the cowards. I feel so many stares on me as I stand here with this fake, idiotic letter in my clenched fist, ready to face the moron who thought this would be funny.
I have anger issues and these pranks are fueling my need to punch somebody’s face.
I know I seem harsh.
That’s because I am.
My therapist has repeatedly told me to count in my head to at least twenty before uttering a single word when I get riled up.
So I’m standing here, in the middle of the FGI hallway, counting like a moron.
1, mother f-ing 2, mother f-ing 3, mother f-ing 4—
“Zoya,” April says, suddenly beside me in her beige suit and red heels. “Oh. Are you counting?”
“YUP,” I say, looking down at the letter with a frown.
“Okay. I’ll just wait then,” she says with a cheesy smile.
I glare at her. “What?”
“I think it’s real,” she gets out, and does a little dance, her short black hair bouncing.
She has got to be joking. Seriously?
“Oh, stop. You know this is stupid, you look like a fool doing that,” I grit out, and roll my eyes, wanting this day to be over already.
“Pierce is coming, from what the film crew said!”
“He. Is. Not.”
Pierce is not coming because he is too busy with the new agents . . . that . . . just . . . arrived.
I look at my watch. My face pales slightly, and I glance up at everyone around me, excited looks on their faces, hands covering their mouths.
You have got to be shitting me.
This has to be one massive joke.
“Zoya, can you introduce me to Pierce, pleeeease?!” she asks, her pale gaze luminous. “Like, just super casually, and I will say that I’m applying to work in his department as an intern,” She waves her hand.
“Or whatever comes naturally to you. I don’t want it to be awkward.” She makes a face. “Like, ‘Heeeey, Pierce. Can I call you Pierce?’
“And then we would laugh, and I would put my hand on his very broad shoulder like, ‘Awesommmme.’” She pauses to catch her breath.
“Then I’d say something smart like, ‘Sooo, I like clothes, you know, any style of clothes that you make . . . ’” She frowns as she looks at me in panic. “Don’tlet me say that. That’s stupid.”
April is obsessed with Pierce. Always has been.
“Just keep your mouth shut and you’ll be fine,” I say, and fight a grin.
“How’s my face look?” she blurts. “Pierce is never seen in sector five!” She is fluffing her dark hair, looking pale.
April is stunning. But Pierce is a player and would shatter poor, sweet April. Lots of women here have obsessions with the man, but me personally, I find him irritating.
That’s probably why I’m on his team, actually. He can’t have some lovestruck female ogling him all day.
“Here, throw this in the trash.” I toss the glowing letter at her. “Pierce needs me to screen the shifter agents. He’s probably pissed I’m not there.”
I start to walk, my four-inch heels clicking rapidly on the marble floor, ignoring the whispers and stares. I look up and see Pierce himself walking through the elevator doors with a big smile on his face.
I freeze, the color draining from my face, my heart pounding.
The tunnel vision sets in.
Pierce points to April beside me. “Becky, get that letter out of the trash.”
“ . . . It’s A-April, sir,” she stammers, cheeks red, then goes to retrieve the letter.
I watch as April hands the crumpled sheet to Pierce, eyes wide as she stares at him. Pierce winks at her then turns to me with a shit-eating grin on his face.
“Well, well. What do we have here?”
“It’s not real,” I whisper.
“Not,” he smiles wider, “real? You really think that?”
I glare at him, my pulse hammering.
Pierce is almost laughing as he turns toward the office viewers.
“Who all here thinks this letter is a genuine FGI invite TOOO the mission of a lifetime?!”
Hoots and hollers.
I can feel my face redden.
Pierce winks at me. “Zoya, my dear, maybe I should escort you to your briefing room now?”
“It’s real then,” I whisper.
Pierce walks up close to me. “Very real. I’ve known for a while, actually.”
My eyes widen. “And you didn’t tell me?!”
“And have you run out on me? You know how seriously we take our Fate’s picks. I would have had to come and find you, and I’m so swamped that I didn’t have time for that possibility,” he adds with a pointed look.
“That’s why you kept information from me on this mission.”
He shrugs. “Don’t be mad—er, madder than usual, that is.”
“I thought I was being demoted,” I say quietly to myself.
He levels me a stare. “Never. You are one of our biggest assets here. Which is why I’m intrigued by why you were chosen for this particular mission.”
“Shit,” I mutter, and take a moment. “I don’t have to sign the contract, Pierce. I have the choice to turn this down. I love my job here.”
I don’t want to compete with other women for a damn man.
And these missions are HARD.
“Come with me.” He grins and gives me that mysterious look that is all Pierce. I grit my teeth as I follow. Pierce just has that charm that is so irritating, but also irresistible.
“Pierce! N-nice to meet you!” I hear April call from behind us, then I hear her curse.
Pierce turns slightly in her direction and smiles. “Pam, great work.” Then he keeps walking, and somehow I think Pierce calls people the wrong names on purpose.
There is a method to his madness.
“It’s April!” we barely hear.
We walk into a large room, and I cross my arms. “You’re going to try to convince me then?”
“I don’t have to.”
I raise a brow. I’m talking to the mind ninja himself, so I need to be cautious. “Because you will fire me,” I take a breath, “if I don’t?”
His pure blue gaze widens. “Zoya, I’m not a monster.”
I give him a hard look.
“Actually, I planned on you not accepting.” He shrugs and turns to sit on a white sofa, hands clasped behind his head. Pierce sighs.
“I mean, who would want to have a three-month vacation away from the fifth-floor accounting firm that has your picture plastered in every cubicle.”
Oh, he is playing hardball.
“And who says you have to fall in love? Think of it like you are a double agent going out into the field for a little adventure,” Pierce says lightly, an odd twinkle in his gaze.
I bite my lip. “I don’t trust you.”
“Ouch.” Pierce smiles like he is loving this too much.
I make a sound. “You will make me look hot. I know the drill, Pierce.”
He raises a brow. “Zoya, you arrre hot. Nice try.”
I shake my finger at him. “No, you put your magic crap on women and make men stupid.”
“Zoya, I’m flattered.” He laughs lightly. “But it’s not the clothes that make a man weak in the knees, Zoya. Trust me on this. I’m good at my job for a reason, and I’m also a guy.”
“Then what is it?” I deadpan. “My winning freaking personality? I will likely scare everyone I meet.”
“If you’re trying to land the target, but we have plenty of girls for that.” Pierce’s mouth twists. “But you are quirky, and sometimes that’s just what the doctor ordered.”
“Fan-fucking-tasic,” I mutter.
He leans up, elbows resting on his knees. “I need you on this mission, but you already know that.” Pierce tilts his head at me like he’s trying to read my mind.
“Seeing how I was in the dark on this, where is it? Fucktard World? Where I get to be a little green troll?”
Pierce’s eyes are sparkling. “This world is one of my favorites for fashion and nightlife. Euphoria Heights. Ring a bell?”
My eyes widen and I search my brain. “Shit, wasn’t that the same world we almost did last year but switched?”
“That’s the one.” He winks.
“The swing dancing, perfect utopia, 40s hellhole?!”
Pierce makes a sound. “You were intrigued last year—and it’s not a hellhole, quite stunning, in fact.”
“Who’s the man? I want to see him.”
“Then I won’t sign it.” I cross my arms.
Pierce raises a brow. “Thought you didn’t care about the target.”
I’m not going in blind. Hell no.
“That’s my stipulation.”
“Hardball. I like it.”
“I want his full story now.” I narrow my eyes on him, and I know what impact it has. I could freeze water with this glare. “You want me? You give me inside info.”
Pierce stands and puts on his black computer glasses. “Deal. But you sign first.”
We both stare each other down.
My will against his.
Zora enters, and Pierce holds up his hand as if to silence her before she could speak and ruin the tight rope he has around my neck.
“Zoya. Sign, and I will give you what I have.”
I raise my chin. “I pick my agent.”
Pierce’s jaw flexes. “Done.”
I can’t believe this is happening.
I could use time out of the office, right?
“I’ve never had a girl regret this, Zoya,” he whispers, like he is trying to calm a wild animal into submission. Pierce holds a silver pen out to me and lays down the crumpled contract.
I close my eyes before I change my mind, and take the pen out of his hand, heart pounding.
“Pierce, you owe me.”
“I have a feeling you might owe ~me~.” He winks at me. I roll my eyes as I sign, and I can hear the relief in his voice. “Perfect! Zora, can I get Dion Le’ Rose’s file?”
Zora gives Pierce a smirk like she already knew what he wanted.
I frown at him. “You already knew I wanted his file.”
“Of course.” Pierce takes the virtual pad. “Just had to make you think it was your idea, not mine.”
My mouth drops open.
I’m not sure if I should be impressed or angry.
“Here we are . . . ”
My eyes widen as I look at this man.
I bite my lip.
I look away and realize I’m in a predicament.
“Dion Le’ Rose, an absolute genius. Parents died young and he was adopted by billionaire parents, Saffo Le’ Rose and Eva.” He looks up at me.
“They own Le’ Rose Enterprises and make androids for daily life, as well as other machines.”
“Huh. So this Dion guy is the mastermind?”
“Yes, but he is very well hidden. The FBI has nothing on him—yet. We have to keep it that way until we can—”
“Change his heart to change his naughty ways,” the Fairy Godmother chimes in with a head nod.
“Right,” Pierce says. “I think Dion is secretly chipping people to control them, in a sense. We don’t have a whole lot of information on that.”
I pinch the bridge of my nose. “So, this place is full of perfect androids annnd real people?”
“The real people are also getting chipped, not realizing Dion can control them,” Pierce adds. “The chips are to make people act more . . . perfect. Get it?”
“That’s messed up.”
“Right. Which is where FGI steps in.” He smiles at me.
I’m slightly intrigued.
My eyes fix on Dion’s form, and I’d be lying if I said the man was not making my brain not . . . think right. He is very, very suave looking, like he knows the appeal he has.
Muttering to myself, I take a breath. I ignore the feeling in the pit of my stomach. “What’s with the red eye?”
“We think he is part machine or has a robotic eye. Very unsure about him, which is why we get more information as the mission goes on.” Pierce looks at Dion.
“Dancing and music is life in this world, so I’d be smart about your three traits to change.”
“Pierce,” I get out, “why do I have a feeling this is going to hurt?”
Pierce laughs and grabs my hand. “Come on, let’s meet the other girls.” He opens the door and glances back at me. “Whoever said a little pain with pleasure was not good—lied.”
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