I’m not bragging, but I’m pretty damn brilliant when it comes to numbers. Not much in my twenty-five years has been easy, but school always was. It’s difficult for me to wrap my head around why someone can’t understand math. Numbers are simple, numbers make sense, numbers are to me what a piano is to an accomplished pianist. They are my home. My love. My passion.
“You have a gift,” my teachers said. And let’s face it; it’s a statistical fact that men clearly dominate the mathematics field of study. It’s a hard road for a woman to pave and be successful in, but I was very bound and determined. I still am; no white flags are being thrown down yet.
I graduated with an accounting degree from the University of Michigan at the top of my class and a year and a half earlier than others my age. I had my master’s under my belt shortly before my twenty-second birthday. Last year, I opened ARK Consulting, my own small auditing firm, where I employ two other auditors and an office manager slash receptionist slash marketing director slash assistant slash…well, you get the picture.
But for all my brilliance, the one thing I didn’t fully consider was how my young age and worldly inexperience would impact my business model.
Turns out companies are loath to hire a young, newly opened firm with not a lot of references. Not to say that our clients aren’t reference worthy. The ones that have given us a chance are more than happy with our work, but as a company, we are young.
Six months ago when I hired Al, a seasoned forensic accountant of forty-four, I found that we became slightly more successful at pulling in clients than when I walked into a meeting by myself. That stung. My pride takes a small hit every time they look to him as the more senior person, simply because he has a pot belly, an Adam’s apple, and a dick.
“Alyse, call on line one. It’s the bank.” Heather’s soft voice carries through the speakerphone, echoing off the walls of my small, windowless office. Heather, my all-around keeps-the-office-running assistant is not dumb. She knows we’re in some financial trouble, but she’s also told me she’d stick it out until the end, because she believes in me. I’m glad someone does. I doubt myself daily, especially lately. Not my ability, not my intelligence, but my decision to jump into a small business with both feet, eyes wide shut. It’s not the first time my naiveté has gotten me into trouble.
“Tell them I’m in a meeting, Heather.” This is the third call this week. And the third call I’ll be avoiding.
“Yes, of course.”
I take inventory of our projects, current and potential. Al is working on a breach of contract audit that will be done by mid-next week. Tabitha just started an audit for a bar, where the new manager is suspected of skimming funds, and I’m putting the finishing touches on a large burglary claim that was submitted to an insurance company and is believed to be fraudulent. Turns out it’s valid, just not for as much as the business claimed. I have two meetings with potential clients early next week, but even if we’re awarded both jobs, it won’t keep all three of us busy.
Damn it all to hell.
Needing to take my mind off my financial and business demise, I sit back in my secondhand rolling desk chair. My stare floats to the yellow-stained ceiling, watching the slow drip in the corner. My office is small, a bit rundown, and isn’t in the nicest part of Detroit, but it’s cheap and close to home. A small, eleven hundred-square-foot home that I’m the proud owner of.
I let my mind wander back to two months ago when the sexiest man ever created by God’s hand cornered me in his mom’s kitchen during a family dinner I was attending, because my sister is now engaged to his brother, Gray.
“What the fuck happened to your arm?” His insinuation pisses me off, even if it is somewhat true. Finn and I were arguing yesterday and he grabbed me a little too hard, leaving several dark bruises on my bicep that were clearly finger marks. It’s the first time it’s happened and it will be the last. I meant to throw on a long-sleeved shirt to avoid questions and speculation, but we were already running late and I forgot.
“None of your goddamn business.”
He steps closer, clearly not understanding the rules of one’s personal space and I have nowhere to escape. I crane my neck at his six-foot-plus height, glaring into his stormy and mesmerizing blue eyes. They remind me of dark pools of warm water. With every inhalation, my lungs fill with his manly scent and citrusy cologne and my mouth waters remembering what his skin tasted like, how his lips felt on mine.
“I don’t like him, Alyse,” he growls.
I would laugh at his bold and unsolicited declaration, but I’m too shocked. “Then lucky for me I don’t really care what you think,” I retort smartly. I had not laid eyes on the enigmatic Asher Colloway in years, so how dare he judge my boyfriend. Only I get to call him a douchebag loser.