I register buzzing in the distance, diffused, like it’s blended into the background. I hear it again, more perceptible this time. And again after that, louder still. I rustle in my bed, my face scrunching up at the increasingly audible sequence of vibrations disrupting the silence.

 

My eyes crack open involuntarily, and a disgruntled groan tumbles out of me when the light singes them. I squint impulsively, shielding my face with one hand as my head whips around, in search of the source of the sound. I soon realize it’s coming from my pillow. I reach under it, feeling completely incoherent as my temples throb with a dull but prominent ache.

 

I fish it out with a sigh, holding it up to my face. I eyeball the screen through droopy lids, frowning when I note that it’s barely after seven.

 

Reluctantly, I tap the green circle and bring the phone to my ear, groggy and completely hung over.

 

“Hello?” I mumble against the atrocious huskiness clogging my throat. I silently kick myself for drinking so much when I know I have as much tolerance for alcohol as a newborn prawn.

 

“Miss Myers?” A deep, resonant voice emerges on the other end, instantly waking me all the way up, demanding my full attention.

 

“Y-yes, this is her,” I stutter, sitting upright impulsively and clutching the phone harder.

 

“Good morning. This is Richard Zane of Zanergy.”

 

Silence.

Ra. Dio. Si. Lence.

It descends on me without warning, wrapping its clawed hands around my neck.

And squeezing.

Hard.

 

I go motionless.

As does my heart.

The image of distinct, golden eyes instantly flashes before me; the photo on Peyton’s phone and my live encounter merging seamlessly.

 

Richard Zane.

 

Richard.

 

Zane.

 

Suddenly, the static muscle in my chest flips to overdrive, speeding for no reason, like a fired bullet. My own eyes bulge as the brows above them furrow. There’s a heavily extended pause—entirely on my part. My lips part, but nothing leaves them as the crease between my brows deepens. My mind scrambles, going completely and utterly blank for unaccountable seconds.

 

Now I remember why I drank so much.

 

“Miss Myers?” Mr. Zane inquires when my muteness stretches on.

 

“Y-yes, I’m here…Good…morning, Mr. Zane,” I finally manage, unsure of what else to say. The words stumble out of me awkwardly. And I don’t think it’s because of the hangover.

 

Oh God, this is not a good first impression.

 

Scratch that.

 

Second impression.

 

A cringe-worthy sequel to that catastrophic run-in two days ago. And he’s not even here in person!

 

This would have actually been my chance to make up for it, and I can’t even do that over the damn phone.

But who can blame me? Even after yesterday’s turn of events, he’s the last person I ever expected to hear from—let alone first thing in the morning.

 

“I apologize for waking you,” he says, seeming to sense the lingering roughness in my voice. “I believe Mr. Covington has informed you of your transfer to our headquarters?”

 

“Yes…yes, he did,” I concur breathlessly, clearing my throat again.

 

“I apologize for the short notice,” he continues, his voice incredibly deep and clear, laced with this crisp, enigmatic quality that I can’t really describe. “I know you couldn’t have had much time to prepare. I hope the sudden request hasn’t inconvenienced you too much.”

 

“No, not at all,” I blurt impulsively, instantly hating myself for not being honest. ‘Inconvenience’ is a bloody understatement. There was nothing remotely request-ful about it. And, yet, instead of voicing my grievances, I can’t help but picture him; remembering his striking face. His hard, piercing features and strong jawline. His stunning bone structure, perfectly balanced. Hard alternating with smooth in all the right places. In all the right ways.

 

I recall his lips, envisioning them moving as he speaks. Salient. Exceptionally defined. Tilted in an alluring, involuntary frown that only enhances their gorgeous shape.

 

“That’s a relief,” he says, a husky edge accompanying the simple words.

 

Involuntarily, I bring my legs closer together against the sudden pulsing between them.

 

“To that end, I’ve made arrangements to have our transportation service oversee your relocation. They’ll contact you within the hour to organize a moving schedule at your convenience. If there’s anything I can do to further assist your transition, please don’t hesitate to let me know. You can reach me directly at this number.”

 

“Th-Thank you…I appreciate that,” is all I can think to say, trying my damnedest to keep my voice steady as the throbbing in my lower belly rises.

 

“My pleasure,” he replies, and I wish I could ignore the seductive quirk in his enunciation when he says it. “I look forward to working with you and the rest of the Earth Capital team.”

 

With that, he hangs up, and I sit there for several seconds, dumbfounded with my heart still racing.

 

Holy crap

 

I just talked to Richard Zane.

 

The conversation lasted for all of thirty seconds but, good God…I think I’m one hundred percent mesmerized by his voice. I could barely pay attention to what he was saying, unexpectedly taken by its depth and sonorous quality.

 

He sounds…sexy as all fuck.

 

I know I sound ridiculous for thinking that. And I have to wonder if it’s one of the side-effects of champagne-induced hangovers.

 

Without thinking, I lightly stroke the screen with my thumb, staring at the call log. Those magical, golden eyes flash before me again and I’m hauled right back to that elevator corridor, vividly recalling the feel of his hands on my arms even though the contact was so brief. And, while it may have only lasted a hiccup, the unforgettable sensation of his large fingers was far from fleeting. It’s as if they left an invisible imprint; a shadow meant to remind me of their existence every single day since they landed on me.

 

Impulsively, my own fingers graze my arm, touching exactly where his had been, and my heart accelerates anew.

 

I don’t know why I’m so nervous; why I feel this tense and jittery every time I so much as think about him. And now that I know what he both looks and sounds like, I find myself exponentially more restless.

 

I continue to ogle my phone in something of a daze, like I’m trying to decide if I just imagined my conversation with Richard Zane in my post-drunken state or if it actually happened. My eyes continue to latch on to the log, practically stalking the digits, and I can’t help but wonder whether this is his personal or work number.

 

I figure it’s the latter. This is a business-related call, after all. However…a small part of me can’t shake off the sense that this felt somewhat casual. Just a little. Especially given the timing. And it’s hard not to find it a tad peculiar that a man of his supposed status would be calling a lower-level, temporary, third-party employee for the very first time at seven in the morning on a Saturday.

 

Surely, he has subordinates or, at the very least, an assistant who could make these types of calls on his company’s behalf. From everything Peyton told me yesterday, he’s obviously a very busy ma—

 

Suddenly, my phone buzzes again, jolting me out of my thoughts as it vibrates in my hand.

 

My heart sprints up my throat in tandem with it.

 

Oh, God…

 

He’s calling again.

 

***

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