Prepared to Fight
© E.J. Shortall 2015
Release date: July 10th, 2015
Live each day as if it were your last. Worry only about yourself. Work hard and never, ever fall in love. That’s Olivia Buchanan’s motto and she stands by it every day.
Feisty, headstrong and confident, recent graduate Liv is fighting to succeed in the male dominated field she has chosen as her career. As an architect for her best friend's father's respected London based company, her chance to shine and become recognised comes when she lands the prestigious account for GO Sports and Leisure.
Armed with her plans and determination, Liv is ready to deliver the presentation of her life. That is, until he walks in. The mysterious personal trainer from the gym. The only man to have ever made her heart flutter. But he isn't all he seems.
When MMA fighter, Nathan Oakes offers Liv a business proposition to join him in Southern France, she’s left questioning his motives and wonders if she should refuse. She’s also equally intrigued by the prospect of what the trip could do for her career.
Liv has no time for a relationship. Nate doesn’t want one. When forced to live side by side, feelings are stretched and emotions are battled. Can they keep their professional and personal lives separate, preventing them from falling into something they both need to avoid?
***This book contains adult content, scenes of explicit sexual nature and language some may consider crude or offensive, it is intended for readers aged 18+***
“Work, goddamn you. Please don’t do this to me, not today.”
Staring at the screen on the desk in front of me, my hand desperately tugged on my ponytail nervously while I waited… and waited some more. The stillness of the usually blinking cursor, along with the persistent turn of the hourglass over my document told me that today my computer was standing up for itself and taking back control. It was mocking me, making me its bitch, and it knew it.
With an accelerated heart rate and my breath rushing out of my lungs in short, sharp, frustrated pants, I battered my finger against the mouse, hammering out a frenzied tune.
Please work you piece of shit.
Nothing. Grabbing it by its plastic neck, I strangled the life out the mouse, shaking and torturing it. Still nothing.
I cursed and slumped back into my leather office chair, scowling at the useless piece of machinery sitting in front of me. For over eight hours straight I’d been working on the plans for the new corporate headquarters of GO Leisure, an up and coming competitor in the British sports and leisure industry. Their account was my first big opportunity to make a name for myself and to prove my worthiness in the male-dominated field I’d chosen to pursue. With this project I was ready to go above and beyond to prove to everyone I could, and would, become the best. But to do that, I needed my computer. Trapped behind the dizzying spin of the hourglass were my flamboyant designs I was quickly becoming known for and the pitch perfect presentation that would get me noticed.
“Do not do this to me now,” I growled through clenched teeth, once again wiggling my mouse furiously, hoping the movement would remind the PC who was boss. It didn’t.
“If I lose everything, I swear to fucking God....” I continued staring at the screen and hitting keys on my keyboard with more force than was necessary. Nothing worked; it simply stared back at me in all its non-responding smugness.
“Problem, Liv?” Adam asked with an amused voice, as he sauntered into my office and dropped into the chair in front of my desk.
Without looking up, I continued glaring at my screen, hoping it would give in to my menacing look and relent, allowing me to put the final touches to the plans. I needed to print them off and prepare for tomorrow’s meeting with the GO associates I’d met countless times before. “No,” I snapped, making Adam chuckle. “No problem.”
“Well, just for your information, beating the crap out of your machine won’t do you, or it, any good. We have network issues and everyone’s machines are locked. Gary is working on it as we speak. So, hopefully we should be back up and running soon.”
I muttered a curse under my breath and finally gave up hitting my keyboard and looked up into the laughing eyes of my best friend. Having lived just two streets apart for most of our lives, Adam and I had attended the same schools, hung out at the same places and then, eventually, I’d followed him to Oxford to start my degree. Although he was a year older than me, from the moment he’d tripped me in the school playground and I’d punched him in the nose to say thanks, we had been inseparable. He must have liked my feisty, five-year-old attitude and in me saw a kindred spirit. I’d seen nothing but an annoying boy. Weren’t they all at that age? After he’d begged and pleaded for my friendship, I eventually tagged along for the ride, giving him and his mates a run for their money in football matches and other ‘boy’ related games. Before long, my ‘girl’ status was being overlooked and I was one of the gang.
As we grew older, we spent more and more time with each other—playing football, studying together, watching movies. In fact, if we weren’t being dragged along to our respective family gatherings, you could bet your life on us being together somewhere. Once we reached dating ages, people often commented on what a cute couple we were, always assuming we were together. Even the thought of that made me cringe. Adam and I were best friends, like brother and sister. He was my rock, the only person I could truly rely on. I would never risk our relationship by crossing that line - not that I’d ever considered it. I just didn’t see Adam in that way. I didn’t see anyone in that way. I was career focused through and through. Getting all emotional and mixed up over some guy was simply not on my radar.
Crossing my arms over my chest, I leaned back in my chair. “How long?” I asked, referring to the badly timed IT problems that were going to turn me grey at the tender age of just twenty-six.
“How long is a piece of string? Could be minutes, could be hours.” He shrugged.
“For fuck’s sake, I need to get this finished, Ad.” I was all for living on the edge and thriving on pressure but not when both my job and reputation were at stake.
Adam chuckled in his deep baritone that was as familiar to me as my own voice and leaned in, crossing his forearms on the edge of the desk. “Someone’s in a good mood today. Is it that time of the month or something? Do I need to duck for cover? Or should I go and raid the vending machine for whatever jelly bean packets you haven’t already taken?”
“Ha, fucking ha. You’re hilarious.”
Adam’s chuckle became a full on laugh as he took in my narrowed eyes and pouting lips.
“I just want to make sure everything is perfect for tomorrow. Is that too much to ask?”
Adam’s smile faded into a look of concern. “Look, you’ve worked your arse off to get these plans ready. My dad’s out for the afternoon. Go take a break, chill out, and hopefully when you get back, everything will be up and running again and you can do whatever you were trying to do. You’ve got this Liv. You’re going to blow them away.”
I glanced back at my screen just as my stomach growled, reminding me I’d skipped lunch in favour of getting the GO presentation finished. A quick trip to the coffee shop for a caramel latte and a fully-loaded bacon and brie sandwich sounded divine. I might even totally indulge and go for a piece of their decadent Victoria sponge cake decorated with jelly beans. I wasn’t going to be able to get anything more done until the computers were back up and running, so I grabbed my bag from my desk drawer. “You talked me into it. I’m going to walk down to Benito’s on the high street; do you want anything?” I asked Adam as I walked past him.
Joining me at the door of my office, he said, “No, I’m fine. Don’t be too long. You know Dad has his little snitches around the place.” He gave me a wink, and then he was off, striding along the corridor with his usual confident gait.
I closed my office door and followed the path Adam had taken through the open plan area of the offices. He was standing off to the side with Ross and Carl, talking to them quietly. As I approached, he tilted his head to look at me, keeping his gaze locked on me until I’d passed by out into the main reception. He hadn’t smiled or said anything and I couldn’t help but worry that he didn’t believe I could pull this off. The thought stung. Adam had always been my number one fan, my loudest advocate. I’d always been able to rely on his confidence in my abilities, even when others hadn’t.
I forced a smile to my lips as I passed Tina in the main reception area of the small building that housed our company. Her grin at least showed me that she had belief in me. In fact, she was always gushing about how I needed to show these arrogant male egos that women deserved to be as successful in business as they were. Then she would go back to checking and filing her nails.
I pushed through the heavy glass front doors, stepping out into the heat of the late June afternoon. The humidity hit me with the force of a speeding articulated lorry and I soon began wishing I’d worn something lighter than the charcoal grey, wool mix trouser suit I had on. I carried around a few too many extra pounds and the hot summer days were proving to me that I really should do something about them. None of my lighter summer clothes fit properly, and in the heat, I often sweated like a pig, leaving me red and bloated.
The coolness of the air conditioned coffee shop was a welcome reprieve when I stepped inside. Normally, I would have grown irritated by the length of the queue in front of me. But today, I appreciated the chance to stand with the cool air blowing on my neck and back and that I was able to get out of the office for a short while. I loved my job. The fact that people trusted me with their ideas and visions and I turned them into reality was a buzz like no other. There was nothing more satisfying than seeing something begin as a rough sketch, or a vague idea jotted down on a piece of paper, and then see its completed form standing in front of you. Whether it was a small, single story extension to a two bedroom semi or an imposing skyscraper full of offices and restaurants, seeing the plans I’d been involved with come to life had my chest swelling with pride every time.
With every positive there was always a negative though, and in my case, the negative was Adam’s father. Robert Ashworth was my boss’s, boss’s, boss and major shareholder of the company. He was as mean as they came and downright scary if you got on the wrong side of him. He was also a fantastic businessman, and his drawing skills and eye for detail constantly left me gaping in awe. But he had no people skills. I tried, wherever possible, to stay out of his way, not wanting to ever be on the receiving end of his wrath. That meant keeping my head down, working like a dog and never doing anything that might put me on his radar. I might be his son’s best friend, but, as far as he was concerned, I was an employee like everyone else.
My stomach rumbled again as I studied the menu, trying to decide if maybe I should deviate from my normal food and beverage choice. As I perused the various coffee and smoothie options available, I heard sniggering from behind me. Not usually the type to get all paranoid at hearing the unmistakable cackle of girls giggling, I turned my head to see what was so funny. Sat around a table near the front window were three girls as skinny and fake looking as any Barbie doll, and they were looking directly at me. I swallowed down my natural urge to throw them a snarky comment and simply stared back with a raised brow. Whatever their problem was, they would either have the guts to tell me to my face or let it drop. Either way, I would not rise to their pettiness. I’d learned how to deal with bitchy girls like that during my teenage years when they would comment about my tom-boy ways and how I always hung around the guys. Of course I did; the guys were always so much more entertaining than dealing with the cattiness of some girls.
I was about to turn back to the barista and order my coffee when the tallest of the three—she also happened to be the skinniest, with the fakest boobs I’d ever seen—looked me up and down derisively and clucked her tongue. “You do know obesity is a growing epidemic and puts too much strain on our health service, don’t you?”
Confused, I twisted around to see who she could possibly be talking to. Nobody stood near me, well apart from a long line of perfectly healthy and average looking people. Surely she wasn’t referring to any of them? Realising her comments had been aimed at me, I turned back to look at the evil, Barbie-bitch. Her dull, lank hair had obviously been bleached far too many times and hung around her shoulders like a cheap, overly styled, synthetic wig. Excessive amounts of make-up were caked onto her scowling face. Yet beneath it all, I could still see the bags and dark circles under her eerily unnatural, lifeless blue eyes. And she’d been looking at me as though I’d offended her? Yes, I would be the first to admit that I carried around a few too many pounds that tended to accumulate on my backside and stomach. But at least I still looked healthy. This woman looked pale and gaunt.
“I’m sorry, are you talking to me?” I asked in an overly sweet voice, as a burning rage coursed through me. What right did she have to publically humiliate me? I needed to rein in the anger and fire back with a suitably biting comment. What people failed to see when they looked at me was that I was no pushover.
“Hell yes, I’m talking to you. Do you see any other ugly, fat people in here?” She smirked and the two clones on either side of her giggled.
Sucking in a deep lungful of air, I tried to swallow the tirade I wanted to hurl at her. If I let myself explode here there would be many witnesses, and I didn’t want the evil cow to have that satisfaction. As my abdomen expanded with the breath, the waistband of my trousers pulled tight, and then… oh God no, please no, not that, not now… I felt the thread holding the button in place snap. The little black disc popped off, clattering to the ground. To add insult to injury, it twirled at my feet a few times before skimming across the polished wood to land at the bimbo’s feet. I closed my eyes for a moment, cursing every button and waistband god that ever existed and wondering what I had done to deserve the day from hell.
Barbie reached down and picked up the button, holding it between the tips of her thumb and forefinger as though it were vile and diseased. “Hmmm, looks like the garden salad—no dressing—and a bottle of water might be what you’re looking for.” She laughed and nodded towards the black chalkboards behind me.
Taking a few steps in her direction, with a glare, I snatched the button from her grasp. Leaning forward so I was almost nose to nose with her, I said, “The thing is, I may be ever so slightly overweight but I can do something about that if I choose to. A bitch is a bitch and always will be. Next time you want to comment on how someone looks, or think it’s okay to bully someone because they aren’t a flake like you, take a long hard look in the mirror first and redirect those comments.”
Her startled expression left me with an element of triumph despite my blood boiling with pure fury at her comments.I turned on my heel and strode out of the shop keeping my head held high, my left hand discreetly checking that my zipper wasn’t slowly creeping downwards.
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