“They’re pushing me out, Remi.
They’re getting rid of me.”
Diane sits across her expansive desk and stares at me with a frown. I’ve never seen her looking stressed before, not once in the four years we’ve been working together.
Her graying hair is pulled back into a chic bun. I think she’s in her sixties, but she doesn’t look a day older than forty. She wears immaculate outfits, all from designer brands, and I have no clue how she affords any of it. Diane’s been my mentor, and I’ve been idolizing her ever since we met during my job interview.
“They can’t do that,” I say. “You’ve been the heart and soul of Optimum for… forever.”
She laughs softly, her tinkling, easy-going laugh. Nothing ever seems to bother her, except this, except now. I can see the stress, threatening to fracture her calm mask.
It’s breaking my heart.
“They can and they are.” She sighs and leans back in her chair. I watch her glance at her desk drawer, hesitate, and finally open it. She pulls out a pack of cigarettes and slips one between her lips.
She raises a questioning eyebrow at me but I just shake my head. She smiles a little and lights it, taking a long drag.
“Ah, shit,” she says softly. “I know, I know. Smoking is gross and it’s against the rules, but fuck the rules.”
I’ve never heard Diane curse, never seen her smoke. It’s like watching your hero lose her mind. Actually, that’s literally what it is.
She takes another drag and sighs. “Turns out, I’m getting old and I’m not as hip as I once was.” She shakes her head. “If I were a fucking man, this wouldn’t be an issue.”
“I don’t understand. We’ve been doing well, even brought on new clients last year.”
“Doesn’t matter.” She waves it away. “We haven’t grown enough. Haven’t broken into digital enough.”
“According to who?”
She shrugs. “Who cares? All I know is they’re hiring some new young hotshot to lead the department.”
That hits me right between the eyes. I sit there, totally dazed, letting it sink in.
“An outside hire,” I say softly.
“Yep, after everything, they’re passing over you, they’re passing over Martin, passing over the whole fucking agency.”
She leans back and takes another long drag. I glance toward the windows of her office but she doesn’t seem to care.
“Who is it?” I ask.
She smirks. “Guess you should be wondering. I mean, he will be your new boss, after all.”
“Diane, it’s not—”
She waves me away. “I understand. I couldn’t ask you to quit for me. I wouldn’t want that, anyway. Not after everything you’ve put into this place.” She leans toward me, cigarette dangling between her fingers. She looks like a goddess from an old French silent film, ready to kiss me or tell me she’s about to kill me.
“His name is Justin Hayes, some young hotshot asshole kid, and he’s going to ruin this damn place.”
She says something else, probably complaining more about the new Creative Director of the Optimum Agency, but I don’t hear what she says. I’m too busy staring at her lips, trying to process the name she just dropped.
That’s a name I know very, very well.
“Wait,” I say suddenly, interrupting her. She frowns a little at that. “Is he about my age?”
A little shrug. “I think so. Maybe exactly your age.”
“And… tall? Dark hair? Light green eyes?”
“Handsome, actually. Way too handsome.” She muses a bit before cocking her head. “Do you know him?”
“I know him,” I say softly. My eyes go wide as Diane slowly stubs out her cigarette. “We grew up together.”
“Well, put your best face on, sweetie,” Diane says, slowly standing. “Because here he comes.”
I don’t have time to prepare myself. This is all happening so fast. One second, my life is exactly the way I’ve wanted it, working for a big, successful ad agency, working directly below one of the most respected and amazing creative directors in the industry, and the next the only person in the whole world I hate walks into the room, smiling like he owns the place.
Justin Hayes. Memories come flooding back. I have to resist the urge to scream.
I hate Justin Hayes. I hate every single thing about him.
I hate that he’s arrogant. I hate that he’s talented. I hate that he’s handsome. I hate that he’s an asshole and his whole family are a bunch of bastards.
“Diane,” a man about her age, wearing an expensive suit, says. His dark hair is clearly dyed and slicked back. “I thought you might want to meet Justin here, maybe catch him—” The man sniffs, frowning. “Were you smoking?”
Diane smiles at him. “Yes, I was. Going to fire me over it?”
His frown deepens. “Diane, we spoke about this. There’s no reason—”
“Hard feelings, yada yada.” She waves him away, turning her gaze to Justin. “So you’re the young asshole that’s taking my job.”
“Diane!” Holden says.
Justin laughs and steps up to her desk. “Diane Graves, I’m Justin Hayes. It’s a real pleasure to meet you. I’ve been following your work closely for years, and I have to say, nobody understands light and dark quite like you. I mean, your campaign for Dior in 2013 took my breath away with those contrasts.”
I stare between them. Diane’s smile is a bit more sincere, and I want to scream at her. Don’t be fooled! He’s a snake, he’s stealing your job!
“Thank you, Justin.” She shakes his hand. “The flattery is nice, but not necessary.” She releases his palm and steps back from her desk. “Fact is, today’s my last day, Holden. I’m not going to be a part of this agency any longer than I have to be.”
“Diane, really,” Holden says. “You agreed to help smooth over the transition.”
“I agreed to that when I thought it was going to be Remi here,” she says.
Holden glances at me. “Things changed.”
I’m just sitting there, staring open-mouthed at Diane. I feel like one punch in the gut after another keeps landing on me.
“You’re right,” Diane says. “They do.” She turns to me and comes around the desk, putting her hands on my shoulders. “Stay here, work hard, show them how good you are. Good luck.” She kisses my cheek before sweeping past Holden out into the hallway.
Holden goes out after her. “Diane, wait, listen…”
I’m left alone in my former boss’s office with my new boss.
Justin looks at me, his smarmy smile starting to slowly crack.
I turn to him. I meet his gaze. His beautiful green eyes stare into me.
They’re the eyes of a snake.
“Go to hell, Justin,” I say, turn, and leave the office as fast as I can.
I hate Justin Hayes. He ruined my life and my family’s life a long time ago, and I’ll never forgive him for that.
But I’ve worked too hard to let that bastard push me out of this job. I was Diane’s choice to become the next creative director. I would’ve been the youngest CD in the company’s history, but now that pleasure belongs to Justin, the asshole. I don’t know how he got this job or why the board thinks he deserves it, but he doesn’t.
That job is supposed to be mine, and I’m going to take it from him, one way or another.
I just have it figure out how I can stand working in the same building as that bastard first.