Chapter One

“Cynthia, what the hell is wrong with the Wi-Fi?” Adam bellowed to his assistant.

“I’ve already called down to IT, and they are sending someone up now,” she quickly assured him.

“I don’t have time for this,” Adam growled as he headed down the hallway to the conference room.

“I know, sir,” Cynthia trotted after him.  “Evidently, all the WiFi access points were replaced over the weekend, but the one in your office was overlooked.”

“How in the hell could the one in my office be overlooked?” he barked.  “I’m the god-damned CEO!”

“I know, sir,” Cynthia soothed.  “They are sending Phil up now.  Unfortunately, Bob is on vacation this week.  But Phil is just as competent, if not more so.”

“I don’t care who the hell fixes the damn thing.  Just get it done.  Now!” he shouted as he slammed the conference door in her face.

Cynthia headed back toward her desk just as the elevator doors slid open and Philippa Browning, Phil to her co-workers and Pippa to everyone else, exited carrying a ladder.

“Oh, thank God you’re here,” Cynthia breathed out in relief.  “He’s gone completely berserk over that damn Wi-Fi.”

“No worries, Cynthia.” Pippa smiled assuredly.  “It’s a quick fix.  I should be in and out of there before he even knows it.”

Cynthia let Pippa into Adam’s office and returned to her desk just as he came storming back down the hallway.

“Have you heard anything from Wang or Hu yet?” he demanded.

“Not yet, sir,” she replied.  “Their plane was due to arrive at JFK over two hours ago. They should be here any minute now.”

“Well, they’re not!” Adam huffed. “And where’s the damn interpreter?”

“I’ll call down to the front lobby now,” Cynthia replied nervously.  Somedays, this job just wasn’t worth the hassle, she grimaced to herself.

Adam burst into his office and practically ran into a pair of shapely legs in khaki trousers climbing a ladder in the middle of his office.

“What the hell?” he growled as he raised his head to meet amused dark brown eyes peering down at him from behind huge red-framed glasses.

“Hey,” she smirked as she reached a hand out in greeting.  “I’m Phil. I’m just installing a new access point here in your office.”

Adam ignored her outstretched hand and stormed around the ladder to his desk.  “I don’t care who the hell you are, just get it done and out of here before my next appointment arrives.”

Pippa stared at him in stunned silence. 

“What a jerk,” she muttered under her breath as she turned back up toward the ceiling to continue what she was doing.

“What. Did. You. Say?” Came the slow and deceptively cool response from her boss.  Yep… she must have said that out loud.  Shit.

“The access point,” she quickly recovered.  “What an absolute mess.  Whoever installed this last access point really jerked around the wiring,” she kept her face buried in the ceiling.

“I don’t pay you to talk.  I pay you to get the job done,” he gritted out.

“No problem.  You’re the boss,” she replied lightly.

“Right.  And don’t forget that.”

Pippa returned to her work with a smirk on her face.  Yep.  He was a royal dick just like she had heard from the rest of the guys.  That was the reason only Bob worked the executive floor — no one else wanted to come in contact with him if they didn’t have to.  And Bob was old enough to be everyone’s dad, so apparently, His Royal Highness respected him enough to at least be mildly polite.

“Mr. Monroe,” Cynthia tentatively poked her head in the door. “Mr. Wang and Mr. Hu are here.  Should I send them in?” She glanced up at Pippa on the ladder.

“I’m almost done here, Cynthia,” Pippa mumbled as she pulled a screw out of her mouth.

“Is the interpreter here yet?” Adam snapped.

“Yes, sir. He just checked in downstairs and is on his way up now.”

“Then send them in.”

Cynthia went back out and quickly returned with two young Chinese men.  Adam got up and came around his desk holding his hand out in greeting.

“Welcome to Monroe Enterprises,” he greeted them warmly… a complete one-eighty from the way he spoke to his employees.  Pippa grimaced and turned back to tighten the last screw on the access point. Her blink reaction was confirmed — no matter how ridiculously handsome or filthy rich, he truly was an asshole.

The two Asian men nodded their heads as they shook his proffered hand.

“I have hired an interpreter to facilitate communication during our meetings this next week,” Adam continued.  Both men looked at him confusion clouding their faces before smiling and nodding their heads…  

“He should be here any minute now,” he plowed onward even though they continued to look at him blankly.

“One moment,” Adam held up a finger as he walked quickly to the office door.  “Cynthia, where’s the damn interpreter?” Pippa could hear him whisper shout in the outer office.

The two men stood with their heads close together speaking softly in their language.  Pippa wiped her hands on her pants as she collected her tools and started back down the ladder.  As she folded up the ladder, Adam burst back into the office with a young man that Pippa could only imagine was the interpreter.

“Ni hao,” the translator spoke in Chinese as he held out his hand toward the two men.

“Ni hao,” they responded politely before shaking his hand.

The translator then continued to speak to them, but the longer he talked, the more confused the two men looked.  When they responded to him, his face fell in defeat.

“Um, sir,” the interpreter turned to Adam.  “I apologize, but you said you needed someone that spoke Chinese.  We assumed you meant Mandarin.  These two men speak Cantonese.”

“So.  Speak to them in Cantonese,” Adam spoke quietly through gritted teeth.

“Um… that would be great.  Except…,” the young man gulped.  “I don’t speak Cantonese.”

“What do you mean you don’t speak Cantonese?” Adam’s face started to slowly turn red as rage began to take over.

“I don’t speak Cantonese,” the interpreter squeaked out.  “The interpreter that was scheduled to be here had a family emergency and couldn’t make it.  I’m new to the agency, and because you had stated you needed someone that spoke Mandarin, they sent me.  I’m sure I can call my agency, and they will be happy to find someone who speaks Cantonese.”

“I don’t have time to wait for another interpreter,” Adam tried to control his anger in front of the gentlemen standing patiently by his side.  “We have a major deal going down here this week, and it took us over a year to finally get to this point.  

“Sir,” Pippa piped in.

“What?” He shouted as he turned and glared at her.

“Sir, I just wanted to say…”

“I told you.  I don’t pay you to talk.  Just get your shit together and get out of here.  Now.  Before I fire your ass.”

Suddenly, a fire lit in Pippa’s eyes and her back straightened to her full five feet nine inches.  Slowly, she walked up to him toe to toe, leaned in, and spoke in a voice low enough that only he could hear.

“You know, Mr. Monroe?” She said in a deadly whisper as she stared him down.  “I should do just that.  Get my stuff together and leave.  I should just drop you right here and walk out that door.  But I’m just too nice of a person.  Always been my major flaw.”  

And before Adam could overcome his shock to formulate a response to her insubordination, she turned away from him, held out her hand to the two Chinese men, and began to speak to them in flawless Cantonese.

Adam’s mouth dropped open as he watched the expressions of the two men go from shock to a nervous wariness.   He had no idea what the IT girl was saying to them, but he watched as she directed them with her hand to the door.  

As they walked out, she turned to him and said with a cheeky grin on her face, “They needed to use the facilities.”

Still speechless, he watched as she started to collect her tools and heft the ladder up with a strength that belied her willowy stature. 

“How…what…” he sputtered.

“I lived in China when I was a kid,” she shrugged as if it was no big deal and continued carrying her equipment out of his office.

“Wait,” he followed after her.  “You can’t leave now.”

She looked at him over her shoulder with a smirk. “I’m only doing what you told me to do, Mr. Monroe.  Getting my stuff together and getting out,” she threw an abridged version of his words back at him.

“Well, I need you to interpret,” he stated what he thought was obvious.

“And I need to go back to the IT department and finish a project Bob left before he went on vacation,” she returned evenly as she walked toward the elevators.

“You do work for Monroe Enterprises, I believe.  And I own Monroe Enterprises.  So as long as I’m signing your paycheck, you will do what I tell you to do,” he stared her down noticing the obvious mirth dancing in her eyes.  Was she laughing at him?

“Well,” she said with one eyebrow raised.  “When you make such a convincing argument, then I guess I have no choice.” She lowered the ladder back to the floor.

“Just take your stuff back down to IT and meet me in the lobby.  We have lunch reservations at noon.”  He turned abruptly and walked into his office shutting the door without waiting for her to reply.

Breathe, he said to himself as he pulled in a deep breath through his nose and exhaled through his mouth.  Just breathe…  He felt his pulse slow as he continued to inhale and exhale the way his therapist had taught him.  Anger management.  That was what the board recommended after the last time a deal fell through due to his temper.  How had his father ever managed?  But he knew he didn’t get his anger issues from his dad.  He’d witnessed his mother’s fury on numerous occasions and stood by as the maids cleaned up countless shards of china and glass after each episode.  Why couldn’t he have inherited his father’s more congenial demeanor and diplomatic flair?

Focus.  Breathe.  Calm.  The gentle tone of his therapist’s words washed over him as he slowly brought himself under control.  

A slight knock at the door brought Cynthia and the two Chinese men back into his office.  Thankfully, he felt calmer and could speak to Cynthia in the civil polite manner she deserved.

“Thank you, Cynthia,” he said gruffly as he attempted to gentle his tone.  “I… uh… appreciate your attention to Mr. Wang and Mr. Hu.”

Cynthia looked at him with surprise in her eyes.  

“Thank you, sir,” she replied.  “I’m just grateful a disaster was avoided.  Phil is waiting in the lobby whenever you are ready.”

“Gentlemen,” Adam swept his hand toward the door indicating that they were to leave with him.  “Shall we go to lunch?”

************************************************************************

“Hey, Phil!” Charlie, the security guard on duty, called as she walked into the lobby.

“Hey, Charlie,” she grinned back at him.

“Heading out to lunch?”

“Yep,” she nodded.  “Waiting for Mr. Monroe.”

“No, way,” his eyes widened in surprise.  “How did you get roped into eating lunch with His Royal High Ass?” He lowered his voice so only she could hear.

“We might not like him, Charlie,” she murmured back.  “But he still signs our paychecks like he so aptly reminded me a few minutes ago.”

“Still, why do you have to eat with the man?”

“He’s got a couple of potential partners that only speak Cantonese, and I just so happen to be fluent.”

“Well, little girl,” Charlie snorted.  “You continue to amaze me.  How many years have I known you now?  And I never knew you could speak another language.”

“Well, that’s not something most people ask upfront, Charlie,” Pippa consoled him.  “But maybe I’ll add that one to my list.”

“Have any new ones for me today?” Charlie grinned back at her.

“As a matter of fact, I do,” her eyes twinkled back at him.  “If you had a choice between traveling in a spaceship out into the farthest reaches of the galaxies or shrinking down smaller than a molecule and zooming around inside a human body, which would you choose?  Macroscopic or microscopic?”

“Hmm,” Charlie rubbed his chin. “Now that is something I’ve never thought about.”

“Don’t think about it,” Pippa shook her head.  “What’s your immediate reaction?”

“Space,” Charlie nodded.  “I’d definitely pick space travel.  Like Captain Kirk and Dr. Spock.”

“Why?” Pippa probed.

“I’m a tiny bit claustrophobic,” he admitted.  “For some reason, when you suggested zooming around inside a human body, it just seemed too closed in for me.  Space travel is bigger and limitless.”

“Huh.” Pippa grew thoughtful.  “That’s really interesting, Charlie.  And now I know not to ride in an elevator with you.  You might freak out on me.”

“Speaking of elevators…” Charlie mumbled as the elevator doors slid open and Adam and his Chinese guests exited. 

“Showtime,” Pippa sighed.

“Adam,” a female voice carried across the lobby.  “I got here just in time.”

Pippa looked up to see a gorgeous blond in a lavender sheath dress crossing the lobby.  Her hair was wrapped in an elegant chignon as pearls graced her ears and long shapely neck.  She was the epitome of class and charm, and Pippa grimaced as she looked down at her khakis and polo shirt with the Monroe Enterprises logo stamped above her left breast.

“Char,” Adam leaned down and grazed her cheek lightly with his lips.  “I’m glad you could meet us for lunch.”

Yep — this was going to be one interesting lunch.

Pippa watched as the woman turned to the two young businessmen and dazzled them with her smile.  The eyes of both men lit up as they murmured to each other.

“Whoa, I’d better get over there,” she straightened up quickly.  “They were wondering who she is.  Sometimes in China, a pretty lady is part of the negotiations.”

“No way,” Charlie gaped.

“Yes, way,” Pippa waved as she walked away with a grimace.

************************************************************************

“Uh, yes… This is Ms. …” Adam turned to her with raised eyebrows.  

“Browning,” Pippa cocked an eyebrow at Adam before turning slightly to the two men. He didn’t even know her name, and she was going to lunch with him.  

“My name is Philippa Browning,” she said in Cantonese.  “And I will be your interpreter today.”

“Introduce them to Charlene.  Charlene Allen.  She is a friend that is joining us for lunch.” Adam didn’t bother to introduce Charlene to her which further confirmed her minion status.

With a small sigh, Pippa turned and completed the introduction as their eyes once again lit up with heightened interest.

“Mr. Monroe, could I speak with you for a moment?” she turned her head away from the men and kept her voice low.  “It’s very important.”

“Can’t it wait until after lunch?” he growled back at her.

“Not really,” she stared him down unflinchingly. 

“All right,” he relented with a scowl.  “Char, would you please escort Mr. Wang and Mr. Hu out to the car?  Ms. Browning needs to speak to me for a moment.”

Char lifted an eyebrow as she coolly appraised Pippa.  Without a word of acknowledgement, she turned to smile brilliantly at the two men as she held her hand out toward the entrance.  They happily obliged following her out the door.

“What in the hell is so important that can’t wait until after lunch?” Adam turned on her with a glare. 

“First,” Pippa flinched slightly at his tone before continuing.  “You need to know that those two men are slightly confused as to Ms. Allen’s role.  In China, sometimes negotiations are sweetened by the presence of a pretty woman.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Sometimes Chinese business negotiations include, you know…” she was at a loss for words.

He still looked at her not understanding.

“I heard them wondering how much she would cost a night if they were in China,” Pippa covered her mouth and spoke so low only he could hear her.  Finally, understanding dawned on him and his eyes widened in shock.

“Second,” she pushed on past his initial reaction.  “Be careful what you say around them.  They understand English perfectly.”

“What the fuck?” he roared.

“Right?” Pippa nodded.  “I was listening to them when I was in your office.  They commented on everything you said.  And they were waiting to see what kind of interpreter you brought in.  They speak both Mandarin and Cantonese.  They just flipped on you depending on what your interpreter spoke.”

Adam ran his hand through his hair in frustration as he paced around the lobby.

“What in the hell could be the reason for them to pull this kind of shit?”

“I’m not sure,” Pippa shrugged.  “Maybe they want to stall the negotiations?  Maybe they’re trying to impress their fathers with their shrewd tactics?  You’re dealing with some very wealthy second-generation sons here, Mr. Monroe.  They did not acquire their wealth.  They were born into it.  You would be wise to negotiate with their fathers only.”

“So why would they bother to send these assholes here anyway?”

“My guess is they are trying to train their sons to take over the business one day.  This is part of the training process.  But these young guys aren’t operating with the integrity and honor of their fathers.  Just be careful around them.”

Adam stopped pacing and looked back at her.  She waited for him, eyes wide, no hint of a grin on her face this time.  She was serious.  And for some reason, in that moment, he trusted her.

“Okay,” he heaved a sigh.  “Let’s do this. Um… I owe you, Ms…”

“Browning,” Pippa reminded him while resisting an eye roll.  “Philippa Browning.”

“You need to trust me, Mr. Monroe,” she placed a hand lightly on his arm to halt his forward motion.  “You need to follow my lead during lunch.  And I’ll try to learn as much as I can about the reason for their subterfuge and their relationships with their elders back home.”

At that moment, Char came back into the lobby looking none too happy.

“Adam,” she bit out harshly as her gaze narrowed at Pippa’s hand resting on Adam’s forearm.  “Are you done with her?  I’m not about to sit in that car one more moment alone with those two.  I don’t know what the hell they were saying, but I have a feeling it would qualify as sexual harassment in this country.”

“We’re coming,” turning, he shrugged off Pippa’s hand and walked towards Char.  “But listen to me, Char.  Ms. Browning here…”

“Phil,” Pippa chimed in.

“Phil,” Adam repeated, annoyed at the interruption, “has informed me that both men are fluent in English.  So, don’t say anything in front of them thinking they don’t understand.”

Char’s mouth fell as the color drained from her face.

“Oh my god,” she whispered.

“What.  Did.  You. Say?” Adam ground out.

“I kept a smile on my face the whole time, Adam,” she whimpered.  “But I kind of told them if they didn’t stop giving me the up-down I was going to…”

“Stop.  I don’t want to know,” Adam groaned.  “From here on out, don’t say a single word.  Just smile and nod, you got it?”

“Adam, I am not one of your employees that you can order around and tell what to do,” Char huffed out as she glanced over at Pippa.  “Forget it.  I’m out of here.  Let’s see if your little friend here can be a gracious hostess.  I have better things to do today than be your arm candy.”

With that, she turned on her heels and headed out the door.  Bypassing the limo, she raised her arm and called for a taxi.  By the time Pippa and Adam got out the front door, she was climbing into a cab and heading downtown.

Adam sighed and looked over at Pippa in her khakis and Monroe Enterprises polo shirt.  She cocked a half-grin and shrugged her shoulders as she pushed her huge red glasses up on her face.  He rolled his eyes in frustration before climbing into the limo not even bothering to hold the door for her.  

Yep.  She was definitely nothing more than a minion.

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