Home > True North (The North Brothers #3)

True North (The North Brothers #3)
Author: JB Salsbury

 

ONE

 

 

Lillian


I had no intention of coming to the North Industries Christmas party. I was happy to stay home and curl up with Netflix and a frozen pizza. It was Aaron, my brother, who forced me to come. He threw a dress at me and called an Uber before ushering me out the door. Not because he cares about me missing out on the event or because he thinks I’d regret not going. Nope. He wanted the apartment to himself for a few hours so he could woo a woman to his tiny twin bed in the corner of our studio apartment. I suppose the company business party is as good a place as any to hide out for a few hours until it’s safe to go home.

I pluck the fresh strawberry from the rim of my daiquiri and study its bright color and shape. Blemish free. The picture of perfection. Not unlike the hosting North family. The blinding beauty of their outward appearance makes it easy to miss the evil lurking within.

“Lillian, hey!” Melinda from the legal department yells as she drags over a co-worker whose name I can’t actually remember. They recently started dating, and although she’s told me about him a million times, I only know him as the guy who eats tuna for lunch.

I’m horrible with names. Someone once told me that in order to remember a person’s name, it’s best to connect a new name and face to a visual image. Melinda had her thick curly hair tied up and secured with a pencil the first time I met her. Reminded me of a cavewoman with a bone tied in her hair. I imagined her grunting, “Me, Linda.” I can’t say the strategy totally worked. I called her Linda for the first couple of months.

I’ve been diagnosed with everything from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to disruptive behavior disorder, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and lack of impulse control. I had a teacher who thought I was schizophrenic. No one has ever fully understood me.

My parents threw every medication at me that they could afford—uppers and downers and all the in-between-ers. I’ve been accused of being lazy, mentally disabled, and, most commonly, stupid. My whole life, I’ve felt like a salmon in spawning season, swimming upstream just trying to keep up.

Melinda comes up beside me, her dark eyes sparkling just as brightly as her smile. “I thought you weren’t going to come?” She’s the closest thing I have to a friend at North Industries, and I’ve never actually seen her outside of the Manhattan high rise.

I twirl the perfect strawberry. “Plans fell through.” I’ve learned that most people would prefer an expected lie over the unexpected truth.

I drop the strawberry into my empty glass. Only the Norths could find a perfectly ripe strawberry in the middle of fucking winter. And for a goddamn garnish, no less.

“You need another drink.” Melinda waves to the bartender. “Another daiquiri, please.” She leans an elbow on the bar, getting into my space more than I like. “Did you see Amy from accounting is here with the UPS guy?”

I turn back to see the woman she’s referring to. She’s new. Started at North only a few weeks ago, maybe more. I’m horrible with time. Amy wears A-line skirts.

“Lillian?” Melinda frowns. “You’re such a space cadet. Were you even listening to me?”

“I…” No, I wasn’t. “Sorry.”

“Oh, God.” Tuna-eater leans over Melinda. “Don’t look now,” he says in a way that reminds me of the little blond girl from Poltergeist. But he’s not staring at a fuzzy television screen. I don’t have to turn around to know he’s referring to a different kind of evil.

“He looks like he’s out for blood,” Melinda says, hiding behind a fresh glass of champagne.

I keep my back to the room and shrink around my fresh daiquiri. “When is he not?”

“We all need to stay out of his way tonight. Especially you.” Melinda motions to me with her glass and a raised brow.

“Why does he hate you so much?” Tuna guy says. “There has to be a story there.”

If his insults are any indication, he hates me because I’m slow. Inattentive. Disorganized. Forgetful. Tell me something I don’t know, asshole.

“No story.” I slurp back enough frozen booze to make my head pound.

“Didn’t you call him a bad name? To his face?” Melinda smiles, like the idea of me belittling our boss brings her legitimate joy.

“Oh, I heard about that,” Tuna man chuckles. “I thought it was just a rumor.”

I shift in my seat and tug at the hem of my dress, which always seems too short when I’m sitting. “He was a prick to me way before that.”

“So it did happen! Oh, my God.” He laughs with admiration in his eyes.

It was after my interview with Hayes. I remembered his name by associating Hayes and Hades, King of the Underworld. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that their reputations are nearly identical. I may have slipped and called him Hades a time or two. He now insists I refer to him as Mr. North or Sir.

“If only he were ugly,” Melinda smirks. “It would make hating him a lot easier.”

“Hey, I’m standing right here.” Tuna playfully nips at her neck.

She giggles and shoves him away. “I wouldn’t touch him, but you have to admit he’s not hard on the eyes.”

He puffs out his chest and sniffs with a shrug. “Eh, he’s all right, ya know, if you’re into that whole chiseled jawline and masculine physique thing.”

They’re right. Whenever I’m around Hayes, I end up tongue-tied because looking at him feels like looking into the sun—warm, sweaty, and painful. Turns out, his personality is equally fiery.

“Incoming,” Melinda says with a curled lip. “Creeper alert.”

“What’s up, my legal crew?” Sexual-assault-Simon, a paralegal from our department, strolls toward us smiling. “I’ll take a whiskey rocks,” he says to the bartender. “I got stuck talking to some people in engineering. Talk about a bunch of nerds.”

“Says the guy who collects National Geographic magazines,” I mutter into my drink.

He slides his hand over my shoulder, making me cringe. “The invitation is still open to come check out my collection,” he says so near to my ear that I can feel the heat of his breath. “They’re going to be worth a lot of money someday.” He pushes his chest against my back as he reaches forward to grab his drink. I press my chest against the bar in an attempt to get away.

Simon hooks a lock of my hair between his fingers. “I like your hair down. Why don’t you ever wear it like this at the office?”

Too close. Too much.

I push my barstool back hard enough to send it into Simon. “I’m going to go check the seating chart.” I stand too quickly, and the effect after three very strong daiquiris makes me sway into Melinda.

Simon grips my upper arm. “Easy there. The night’s just getting started.”

I shake off Simon’s grabby hands.

“I’ll come with you,” he says, looking like he’s ready to follow me.

“No, I uh… I’m going to the bathroom.” I grab my drink.

“I’d be happy to walk you—”

“No thanks. I’m not a child.” God, he’s gross.

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