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Earth: A Reverse Harem Romance (The Elements Book 1) by Ava Hardy (1)

Chapter 1

With a sigh, I leaned back in my office chair and stared at the picture of two palm trees crossing over one another on a beautiful, picturesque beach. The water beyond the sand looked so warm and inviting. For a moment, I closed my eyes and pictured myself there—pina colada in one hand, maybe a good book in the other, my toes buried near where the waves slowly came ashore, and I didn’t have a care in the world.

 

“Kiera...what are you doing?”

 

My eyes slowly opened and I turned my head, only to come face to...well, the oversized belly of my supervisor. I guess I had leaned back a little too far as I pictured myself somewhere far away from here.

 

But who could blame me? I worked as a data entry clerk at a large insurance company. It wasn’t the most glamorous job, but it did pay the bills ’til I found something that would put my art degree to good use. And I know I should be thankful I have a job as so many people don’t have one right now. It’s just that the tasks are trivial and the people I work with...it feels like I’m back in high school. I’m not cool enough for the popular group and not weird enough for the outsiders. It can get a bit lonely at office functions when you just feel like you’re floating in between with nobody to really talk to. Anyone would start thinking of tropic islands with fruity drinks and maybe a cabana boy. Yes, I would like that very much. He’s got to be tall but not too tall. Maybe he speaks with an accent.

 

“Sorry, sir.” I apologized immediately as I sat up in my seat and looked at my computer monitor. There was no explanation I could give him that would not result in more questions. His typical judgmental stare was already in full force and I could feel it burning into the side of my head.

A stack of files were dropped on my desk and I jumped from the noise. My brief glance at them didn’t tell me what they were so I turned my attention towards the older man. His greying hair seemed to be getting more white as the lights from above hit it and almost seemed blinding. I squinted my eyes to protect them but his facial expression only worsened. Oh crap, did he think I was glaring at him? I immediately threw on my happiest of smiles and hoped that he believed that I was truly welcoming of every file he brought to my desk.

 

“Get these done as soon as possible.” Those were the only words Roger, my roly-poly boss, said before he turned on his heels and walked away from me. I watched him for a moment, wondering if he realized he was wearing a shirt that was a size too small and a pair of pants that were at least a size too big. His cheap knockoff cologne lingered in the air. With a shrug of my shoulders, I turned back to face the interior of my cubicle and see what was in store for me.

 

I grabbed the first one off the stack as I scooted my chair in and opened it a bit cautiously. Nothing was going to fly out and grab me but I knew that whatever kind of report was inside would determine the type of day I was going to have.

 

My eyes immediately saw lines and lines of data that had been printed from a spreadsheet. It was typical stuff within the industry: Money paid out to customers and non-customers, vendors’ payments, and other related information. I let out another sigh. Why have they not hired a company to design a program that would bring this data from a spreadsheet into our computer? And furthermore, why are all these agents and adjustors still using spreadsheets? I had a few opinions on the matter; the first being I should look at it like job security, no matter how much it sucked. Second, I knew a lot of the adjustors worked from home and traveled around to different locations to inspect vehicles. The software that we used wasn’t cheap, or so I’d heard. To add more licenses to cover all the old-school agents sitting in their cushy offices around the country PLUS all the adjustors, both employees and contractors, would be well over the salary they give me to input all these figures.

 

I continued to read over some of the information, being curious more than anything. My hand reached out for my can of cola, my boost juice I liked to refer to it as. Okay, so I only called it that to myself, but it made me smile every time I thought about it. My eyes moved off the first paper and up at the clock. It was just after 1 pm and this stack had to be done when? I know that Roger said as soon as possible but that was code for ‘before I went home’. This was going to take me all night. Maybe I should get a Snickers bar first. No, I’m just avoiding my tasks. You need to focus, I told myself before taking a deep breath and diving in.

 

The minutes were slowly ticking by and I really wished we were allowed to wear headphones while we worked. One thing about having a cubicle basically in the center of the room meant that I had to deal with everyone walking past on the way towards the break room or heading to the bathroom. My coworkers liked to travel in pairs, which meant talking and laughing as they made their way to and from their destination. It was distracting. I had mentioned it to Roger but was told that it couldn’t be helped. Every time I brought up headphones, I was reminded that we need to be able to hear the phone when it rings. I got maybe one phone call a day and there was a little red light that flashed whenever someone was in fact calling.

 

Just as I was starting my tenth—or was it eleventh—report, a couple of girls started walking down the aisle towards the break room. I wouldn’t exactly call them mean girls but I would bet money they fell into the stereotypical cheerleader role back in high school. Their hair always had to be perfect, their clothes had designer labels, and all they talked about was some party they went to over the weekend or the ski trip some guy took them on. Even though I’d been here for going on five years, I had yet to speak more than a dozen words to them. They worked together in the same area and one wasn’t seen without the other. The majority of phone calls went to their department, where they assisted agents with setting up new accounts, dealt with customer emails, and something else but I don’t remember. Someone once said they were customer service, but the girls were quick to remind everyone that they were “agent assistants” first and foremost. Whatever that means.

 

They were talking in semi-hushed whispers, giggling now and then. It was obvious they were attempting to gain the attention of the males sitting in nearby cubicles, and it seemed to be working. It was borderline disgusting to me how both the men and these two girls were. Women weren’t a piece of meat, yet here they were, making sure all eyes were on them. I did my best to ignore them as I focused back on my screen. The rows of numbers made my vision blurry for a moment. Maybe I needed a break. I shook my head at that thought and told myself to get it together. This project needed to be finished before I went home and I WAS going to make it happen.

 

After my mini pep talk, I realized the girls were already past me and on their way into the break room. It looked like Bert, the guy two desks down from me, was eagerly following them. The bait had been set. Hook, line, and sinker. It was almost amusing how easily some of these guys fell for traps like that. Another reason why I didn’t date, and it wasn’t just because the men in my office were far from what I would call a suitable match.

 

Focus, Kiera, I scolded myself, and began typing. This stack of data wasn’t going to enter itself.

It felt like an eternity had passed but it was only about twenty minutes when the two women came walking out of the break room. Each had a cup of coffee in their hand. Once again, their giggles filled the air around them and the men all stopped what they were doing. The combined smell of their perfume had just left and I was not looking forward to having that scent returning. Maybe I needed to bring in a candle or air freshener. What was that stuff cops put under their noses before going to look at a body that had been dead for some time? Whatever it was, I needed to buy some.

 

Tonya, I think that was her name, was the tallest of the two, and a bit more flirty. She made sure she had just enough cleavage showing as she tossed her head back to get her hair to cascade down her back. I stared for a moment, wondering if I was actually watching a shampoo commercial instead of being stuck at work. Not wanting to waste any more time on either of them, I once again turned back to my reports. I WAS going to finish these.

 

Just as I was getting in the zone, my fingers flying over the keyboard, Tonya walked behind me. I was picking up phrases like “so excited” and “it’s going to be so much fun” so I assumed they were making plans for the upcoming weekend. Tuning them out, I found my spot in the report I was typing when a burning sensation hit me out of nowhere. It felt like my head was on fire for a moment and I immediately reached up to touch my hair.

Tonya’s laughter filled the office as I turned in my swivel chair to look at her. Her coffee cup was still tipped and I couldn’t stop myself from glaring at her.

 

“I’m sorry,” she laughed, but everyone knew she wasn’t. Dumping hot coffee on someone’s head wasn’t something that she did often, right? This was an accident, but by the way everyone was laughing around me, I was starting to think it was anything but.

 

“It’s alright,” I said meekly. I reached over to one of the two drawers in my desk and pulled out a couple of napkins. In an attempt to soak up some of the coffee, I patted over the wet spot on my head and then stood. All the voices around me were laughing and joking, but I managed to block most of it out. I had to get this coffee out of my hair.

 

I made it to the ladies’ restroom and looked at myself in the mirror. My reflection showed exactly how I felt. The bags under my eyes gave away any indication that I was getting enough sleep. Was it this job wearing me down? Or was it something else? I wasn’t sure but I definitely knew this wasn’t the place for me. Then again, I had no idea where I was supposed to be or what I was supposed to do. Everyone talks about having a drive and a passion. But then there was me, standing there shrugging my shoulders since I felt like I should be doing something. Anything.

 

With one last look at myself, I took a deep breath and tried to use some water in a cupped hand to rinse the coffee from my shoulder-length brown hair. A wave of frustration came over me as I poured another handful of water over my hair and my eyes began to sting. I immediately bit down on my lower lip. I wasn’t going to cry over this. Right as I was getting ready to give myself another pep talk, the door opened up to the restroom and my eyes looked in the mirror to see a flash of red hair. I let out a relieved sigh.

 

“Are you okay?” Stacy asked with a concerned voice. She was the only work friend I had in the entire company. We were in the same department but she worked a few rows over. The only time I really got to see her was when we took lunch at the same time and even that was rare. Both of us had a workload that never seemed to end.

 

Nodding my head, I went back to rinsing my hair. “I’m just glad the coffee wasn’t fresh from the pot. It was still really warm though. I’d say it was on the border of being too hot. I was startled and annoyed more than anything.”

 

Stacy nodded as she walked over towards the sink and took a closer look. “It doesn’t look like your shirt got too wet, but if you need an extra one, I have one in my car.”

 

I gave her a lifted eyebrow.

 

“I keep a change of clothes in my car in case I sleep over at Craig’s,” she explained with a laugh. Craig was her on-again, off-again boyfriend. Their relationship seemed more complicated than it actually was. I attempted to give advice but I’m not really the best person to talk to when it comes to relationships or love. She’s crazy about him, so that’s a plus in the pro column.

 

When I felt that I had gotten most of the coffee out of my hair, I used some paper towels to try and dry it. It would be damp for a bit but I was hopeful that it wouldn’t be an issue.

 

“Thanks for coming in to check on me. I don’t understand why it was so funny but then again...” I shrugged my shoulders and Stacy knew exactly what I was talking about. The work dynamic on our floor was screwed up and didn’t make sense to anyone that wasn’t part of the “group”.

“I should be getting back to my desk. Roger brought me a stack of about a hundred reports and I want to finish them up.” I used one last paper towel in an attempt to squeeze out some more water.

 

Stacy groaned with a roll of her eyes. “He keeps thinking that you’re a workhorse and can do all this stuff by yourself.”

 

It was a never-ending debate between the two of us. We both hated our jobs but were stuck in them because we needed the money. Neither of us had parents that could afford to support us while we looked for something else, nor did we have a sugar daddy to give us everything we could possibly want. Originally hating the idea of a sugar anything, it was starting to sound better and better as the days passed by.

 

“I know...” I sighed as I looked at Stacy. It was comforting to know that we both felt the same way.

 

Before we could say any more, the door opened back up and another woman walked in. I had no idea who she was or where she worked but I gave her a polite smile as I threw away my paper towel. Catching the door before it closed, I held it open so Stacy could walk out and then I followed with a deep breath. I was prepared to give myself pep talk number two hundred fifty-six of the day.

 

I sat back down at my desk and surprisingly, nobody said a thing about the coffee incident. It was both refreshing and a little disturbing. Usually, gossip and jabs never ended at this place, but now it seemed like everyone was talking about something else or had their noses buried in whatever they were working on. I did one last scan of those around me before I turned back to my desk.

 

Hours went by, people started to leave to begin their weekend. Lights started to get turned off here and there, but I stayed. My cola had been replaced a few times but my latest one was nearing that stage where the fizz was about to disappear completely so I took one last sip. My hands moved back to the keyboard and I typed furiously at the keys.

 

Before she left, Stacy asked if I wanted her to pick me up something for dinner. I appreciated the thought but knew if I stopped to eat then I would say “screw it” to the reports. I wouldn’t finish them ‘til Monday, but go home to curl up on the couch. Netflix would be my Friday night date and I would have no shame eating a whole bowl of popcorn by myself. That idea didn’t sound half bad. Maybe that is what I’ll do when I finally get out of here.

 

There was an annoying part of me that knew I shouldn’t put so much pressure on myself. If these had to be finished today, I could have asked for help. Charlie, the older guy that sat next to me, was always willing to help out if I was in a jam. I’d had to ask for his help a few times, but I never felt good about doing it. Plus he had mentioned something about going to his kid’s football game that night and I would’ve hated to be the reason he missed it. No, I’d just suck it up and get it done.

 

I wasn’t even sure what time it was that I typed the last bit of data into the computer and then logged off. It was dark outside and I didn’t think there was anyone but the cleaning staff in the building. Maybe somewhere a paralegal was working on reports, but it wouldn’t be many.

 

With a groan, I stood up from my desk and stretched my arms out. I should have moved a lot sooner. The tingly sensation as blood rushed to my extremities almost caused me to sit back down. It took a few minutes before I reached for my purse and decided it was time to finally head home. I was looking forward to that bowl of popcorn.

 

I made it out to the front of the building and saw the rain from earlier was still coming down hard. Tightening my jacket around me, I hugged my body as I headed in the direction of my apartment. Each breath I exhaled left white clouds that floated by as I walked. The cold pushed me to move faster. I couldn’t wait to get home and spend my weekend doing nothing.

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