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Rated: 13+ · Chapter · Action/Adventure · #2317500
In which there is a confrontation, a threat, and a revelation.
Rome is the nephew and heir to OmniVentures Ltd. and everything from the way he dresses to the car he drives says as much. Actually, he’d rather work at a non-profit rather than the main corporate branch of the company, but his uncle got dangerously quiet whenever that was brought up, so Rome had learned to keep his head down and his mouth shut. Eventually, all of Chalam’s employees learned to do that, whether they were related to the CEO or not.
Which is why he’d made sure no one saw him eavesdropping on the conversation between his uncle and Nail that morning, or heard the call he made afterward.
The look on Mali’s face when he’d picked her up tonight made him think twice about asking questions. He’d just driven to the address she gave him, and stayed in the car while she went inside. After about five minutes, he was tempted to turn the car back on so he could run the AC. But he also didn’t want to drain the car battery, and he has no idea how long Mali will be in the condo.
Apparently, longer than five minutes.
Rome gets out of the car, checking his watch again. Most of the windows in the condo building are dark, but there’s one light on in a room on the top floor. Is that where Mali is?
Exactly how much trouble is Kai in?
Rome met Mali’s younger brother when he had attended a university open house the year that Rome had graduated. Kai had hung around the lobby of OmniVentures corporate office while Mali was interning there, so Rome had gotten to know him even better. The three of them even had dinner together once a week. When Chalam took Kai on as his own intern, all the employees assumed it was because either Chalam had seen Mali’s work ethic and believed Kai would work just as hard, or he was doing his nephew’s girlfriend a generous favor.
All the employees except Rome, that was.
Because Rome knew that his uncle never did anything without a hidden motive--and that motive is anything but generous.
Rome’s phone buzzes. He doesn’t need to see the name above the message to know who it is. The text is short, and to the point.
CHALAM: My office. Right now.
Well. That could mean a whole lot of things that Rome isn’t in the mood to figure out yet. As he slides his phone back into his pocket, Mali finally comes out of the condo building.
“Who was on the phone?”
“Nobody important. Is Kai ok?” The look on Mali’s face has already answered the question, but Rome asks it anyway.
“He was sleeping,” Mali tries and fails to keep her voice neutral. “So I didn’t get to talk to him.”
“But?” Rome’s push is gentle.
Mali closes her eyes for a second before answering. “I saw what your uncle’s enforcer did to him.”
“Don’t call Nail an enforcer,” Rome gives her a grim smile to soften the warning a little bit. “At least, not to his face.”
Mali says nothing as she gets back in the car. Rome lets her sit in silence, driving down the street for a little bit before asking another question. “Is it bad enough that Kai will need to take time off?”
Rome has seen Nail’s handiwork before, and it’s never pretty. The last time Nail was sent to “talk” to someone--a CEO of a rival company who displeased Chalam in some trivial way--that person spent ten days in the hospital, while Chalam quietly paid all the medical bills and then just as quietly took over that man’s company.
Officially, it has been seen as a compassionate gesture: another flailing enterprise being taken under OmniVenture’s protective wing. In reality, it had been a hostile takeover. While Rome is fully aware that this happened, he has no proof, and neither did the former CEO, so there wasn’t much either of them could do. That man had died in the hospital a few days after he lost his company.
“Time off for an unpaid intern?” Mali’s voice pulls Rome back to the present. “Will your uncle allow that?”
“Kai isn’t technically on his personal payroll, so I don’t see why not.” Rome sounds more confident than he feels. “Your brother can take as much time off as he needs. I don’t suppose you were able to find out what was taken?”
Mali shakes her head. “I can’t exactly question Kai if he’s unconscious; and if Jet knows, he’s not saying anything either.”
“But you think my suspicion is right,” Rome keeps his eyes on the road, rather than risk looking at Mali. “That Kai stole something that could incriminate Chalam and he sent Nail to get it back.”
“Or Kai just took something from a man he hates for no reason other than to irritate him.”
Hearing the worry in Mali’s voice, Rome glances sideways at her. Her posture is rigid and she stares ahead of her without seeing anything.
“Mali, I told you when you started this that I would help you,” He takes one hand off the steering wheel, so that he can take Mali’s.“I meant that. All you have to do is tell me what you need.”
Mali’s fingers are as tense as her voice. “Right now, all I need is to know my brother’s safe.”
“Ok,” Rome strokes his thumb along the back of her hand. “Kai can have all the time off he needs, and I’ll deal with my uncle and Nail.”
Mali doesn’t say anything, but he can feel the muscles in her hand slowly loosen, and she doesn’t let go of Rome’s hand until they reach her condo. Part of him wants to ask if she wants him to stay, but the insistent buzzing of the phone in his pocket tells him that’s a bad idea. As soon as he sees her safely enter the condo lobby, Rome drives in the opposite direction, trying to squash down the knot of dread that’s building up inside him.
He hates that he is the heir to such a twisted business empire. There isn’t much he can legally do about changing it, though. Chalam became the CEO of OmniVentures with the understanding that when Rome came of age, he would hand over the corporation to his nephew.
Rome had come of age four years ago, and while he was in charge of several smaller branches of OmniVentures, Chalam still made all of the final decisions. Rome couldn’t even stage his own hostile takeover because all of the shareholders were deep into Chalam’s pockets.
The CEO and his nephew don’t live in a condo--they live in a house. A massive split-level structure complete with pool, garden, gym and a bathroom attached to each of the five bedrooms. There are also two kitchens--a small one upstairs and a larger one downstairs. The outside doors have a fingerprint lock. Only five people have had their fingerprints permanently programmed in so they can access the house whenever they need to: Chalam, Rome, and the two women and one man that come tend to the upkeep of the house and the garden three times a week. No one else comes into the house unless Chalam gives them a personal invitation--he programs their fingerprint into the door locks.
Chalam had taken Rome in shortly after the deaths of his parents. Since Rome was only ten at the time, he couldn’t do more than make feeble protests as he was loaded into the car. As Rome had grown up, he spent more and more time at the top of the house, while Chalam lived on the lower level. Now, they rarely saw each other unless they were at OmniVentures’ corporate office, or when Rome was summoned to Chalam’s personal office at the house.
And yes, “summoning” was the perfect word for it. Or maybe “private meeting” was better. Usually, it started with a grunted order at the corporate office, or--like tonight--a series of terse texts, and Rome was expected to be in front of his uncle as soon as he had finished working for the day. Today, however:
“You’re late,” Chalam rarely greets his nephew anymore, just scolds him--always with the same two words, and always expecting an apology, which Rome never gives.
“But I’m here,” Rome takes a seat opposite Chalam, and waits for the older man to speak.
The office is at the back of the house, furnished with a desk and two chairs in the center of the room, and an armchair in the opposite corner. The chair in front of the desk has a lower seat, so the occupant has to look up to see the man behind it. Velvet curtains over the windows are always tightly closed. There are no ceiling lights, just lamps, which means the room isn’t brightly lit even in the middle of the day. Rome has never been sure if the lighting in this room is used as an intimidation tactic or not.
On the surface, uncle and nephew look exactly alike--soft dark hair, dark eyes, smooth faces. While Rome’s face and eyes are open, trustworthy, and expressive, Chalam’s are closed, sharp, and deadly as the dangerous fish he gets his name from.
“Were you with your little intern?” Chalam doesn’t even bother to keep the sneer out of his voice. “The two of you have been spending a great deal of time together lately.”
“Mali’s my girlfriend.” Rome keeps his own voice level, knowing full well that his uncle is trying to needle him. “She hasn’t been my intern in over a year, so I’m not violating workplace conduct.”
“Your girlfriend,” Chalam rolls the words over his tongue. His sharp eyes move over Rome’s face, looking for a reaction. Clearly, he wants to draw this conversation out as long as possible, but Rome is not in the mood for whatever lecture Chalam has prepared.
He leans forward, looking his uncle directly in the eye.“Why did Nail attack Kai?”
“Attack?” Was that a flicker of emotion in Chalam’s eyes, or just a trick of the light? “What reason would my assistant have to ‘attack’ my intern?”
“You tell me,” It doesn’t help Rome’s mood that Chalam puts the word attack in quotation marks. “From the day you took him as an intern, Kai has never questioned you, never given you any reason to doubt his loyalty. So, I repeat--why would you send Nail after him tonight?”
There the room becomes quiet except for the rhythmic tapping of his uncle's fingers on the polished wood of the desk.
Chalam taps his fingers when he’s nervous.
When he’s hiding something.
Rome knows the longer the silence is, the more nervous his uncle will get. He feeds that silence, making it grow. He doesn’t move, doesn’t blink, just keeps his gaze locked on Chalam’s face. A muscle starts to tick in Chalam’s temple, pulsating in time to the tap of his fingers. When he finally speaks, it’s not what Rome wants to hear.
“This company is your inheritance, Rome.” Chalam’s voice is soft, but authoritative. “That is why I work so hard to maintain our spotless reputation.”
It takes every ounce of self-control Rome has not to roll his eyes. “That’s not the answer to my question.”
“It is, but I will elaborate,” Chalam leans back in his chair, steepling his fingers in front of his face. “The boy took something that wasn’t his. I simply sent Nail to get it back.”
Since Rome has overheard that conversation, he doesn’t dispute that point. “What did he take?”
“Nail has recovered it, so there’s no need to worry.” The tone of his uncle’s voice warns that Rome shouldn’t ask any more questions. Someone other than Rome would quail under the deadly look that Chalam shoots in his direction.
“Recovered by force, from what I’ve heard.” Rome raises his eyebrows, not bothering to keep the disgust out of his voice.
“Out of necessity, yes.” Chalam doesn’t look the least bit disturbed. “Certain--sensitive information that should not be made public was removed without my authority. Information that could spell ruin for both of us.”
“Something worth killing for,” the words pop out of Rome’s mouth before he can stop them.
Chalam raises his eyebrows. “Perhaps Nail was a little--overenthusiastic in his retrieval methods, but he understood the necessity.”
Overenthusiastic? Rome tamps down on the urge to put his uncle’s head through the wall. It’s getting increasingly difficult to keep his voice steady. “In other words, now that you have the information back, the company’s ‘reputation’ remains intact?”
“For now.” Chalam’s mouth twitches with either amusement or anger. It’s hard to tell, since his is a face that rarely shows any emotion.
Part of Rome knows he shouldn’t push, but the other part doesn’t give a shit. “And what about Kai?”
“If what you say is true and he was injured during his--conversation with Nail, then he will be compensated.”
“Good.” Rome gets to his feet. “Because Kai is going to be taking some time off.”
Now there’s another muscle ticking in Chalam’s face. This one is along his jawline, and seems to be pulsing independently from the one in his temple. “I’ve received no request.”
“I’m making it for him.” Rome remains standing, enjoying looking down on Chalam a little too much.. “I’m making the request, and you’re accepting it.”
Chalam opens his mouth either to protest or reprimand, but Rome is done. He’s out of the room before his uncle can say anything. Chalam’s teeth grind together, and he lets out a low growl of frustration. This conversation did not go according to plan.
“‘Overenthusiastic’ doesn’t sound like the right word to use.” The voice sounds from one of the dark corners.
Chalam’s hand goes automatically to the top drawer of the desk where he keeps his gun, but he lowers it as Nail steps into the pool of lamplight in front of him. “Eavesdropping is inadvisable.”
“So we both made mistakes.” Nail doesn’t sit in the chair opposite Chalam. He stays standing, just out of Chalam’s reach. Usually, he is one of the few people who can speak to Chalam this way, but the look on his superior’s face makes it clear that tonight it’s not a good idea. Nail hesitates, then forces humility into his voice, lowering his eyes in what he hopes will be seen as a gesture of regret and sincerity, but he nearly chokes on the words. “I would like to apologize for mine--both the eavesdropping and my…overenthusiasm.”
“I have no interest in paying the hospital bills of an intern,” Chalam’s voice is carefully neutral, and Nail is half tempted to raise his eyes. “Particularly that one. Did you at least complete the task I sent you to do?”
Again, there is hesitation. The rhythmic drumming of Chalam’s fingers against the polished wood of the desk increases, as does the ticking of both his facial muscles. Someone other than Nail would quail under the sounds of those fingers.
“He didn’t have it.”Nail’s voice is quiet.
The fingers stop drumming. For a moment, there is not a sound in the room. Nail doesn’t move. He can feel the tension thickening the air, but he keeps his eyes fastened on the carpet, knowing just what expression he will see on the face of his superior when he looks up.
“Kai…did not have it,” The words fall like a death knell from Chalam’s mouth. He rises deliberately from his desk, and moves over to Nail, forcing the younger man to look up at him. “You made absolutely sure?”
“He claimed to have nothing,” Nail’s feet are itching to move backward, but he forces himself to stay still. He did not become Chalam’s most trusted subordinate by retreating whenever threatened.
There is movement just out of Nail line of vision, and the next moment he is sent reeling, face stinging with the force of Chalam’s backhand.
“Nothing?” The word is spoken quietly. Before Nail can respond, the same hand that hit him is around the back of his neck, and Nail is propelled forward, head slamming into the top of the desk so hard he sees sparks. “This was a very simple task, Nail. I fail to understand why you were unable to complete it.”
This is the second time tonight that Nail has been grabbed by the neck, but this time he won’t be fighting back. He knows better than to struggle when Chalam uses that tone. The wrong word, the wrong look, would be not just a demotion, but further physical punishment.
Nail’s voice is a little muffled due to his mouth’s proximity to the desktop. “We were…interrupted.”
“The boy attacked you?” Chalam doesn’t bother to keep the disbelief out of his voice. “I find that very difficult to believe.”
“Not Kai,” Nail raises his eyes so that he can meet the shark’s deadly cold ones, which is a little difficult to do considering the angle at which his neck is bent. “Someone else.”
Chalam’s fingertips dig harder into Nail’s neck until black dots dance in front of Nail’s eyes. “And who might that be?”
“Jet Saetangmasawat.”The pressure on Nail’s neck loosens as Chalam’s fingers go slack. Nail straightens, enjoying the expression that is playing across Chalam’s face.
“He’s back.” It’s not clear whether the CEO’s face has actually gone white or if it’s just the lamplight making his skin seem paler than usual. “You’re sure?”
Nail smiles. “Absolutely.”

"6. Familiar

Read from beginning: "1. Ignored
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