Their first day at Zenith Corp was pushed back. Orbital Security had heard about Joma hiring Kenric and pitched a royal fit thinking they were about to be replaced. They had even gone so far as to call the main office for Fenton Security. He got to hear all about it when his boss, Old Man Fenton, had called to check on him. “If they were smart they’d be taking this opportunity to try and steal you from me but they obviously aren’t that bright.”
That had made him laugh, Old Man Fenton and the owners of the more successful security companies were always on the lookout for new talent. Not that he’d even think of switching companies but he had been surprised Orbital hadn’t tried to at least scout him. It had taken a trip down to their main office to show them a copy of the contract he’d signed with Zenith Corp before they backed off.
Joma hoped Kenric would help beef up their security crew but with the reaction of Orbital’s management that wasn’t a possibility. After some deliberation they decided he would function as a research assistant while Joma worked on the head of project security. They were both confident that the man would, eventually, see the sense in having someone with Kenric’s experience on the team. In the meantime Joma had other tasks for him.
Kenric’s first day as a research assistant was boring but not bad. He filled out forms, took a tour of the building, and then filled out more forms. He was half amused half annoyed they didn’t show them the vessel. He and Daisy were also assigned their very own escort who was joined later by another guard. Kenric couldn’t help surveying their growing tail. Tempting as it was to tell them that they’d need a couple more guys to restrain him if he did go on a rampage he shoved the urge away. He just needed to keep reminding himself. “Think of D. This is the only way I’ll get to him.”
The second day wasn’t any better. Two guards escorted them to the lab Daisy would be sharing with Violet. Of course no one mentioned this before and even with the polite mask he could tell it didn’t make Daisy happy. He wasn’t either. He was expected to share the space with both of them. Two cousins who maintained a polite front when others were around but quickly descended into the kind of female warfare he hated once those others were out of the room. If only he was still categorized as “other” but unfortunately, he learned his new status in Violet’s eyes the minute the lab door closed on that second day. The purple haired woman’s smile had quickly vanished and a much more calculating look replaced it.
“I don’t like you nosing in on my project, Daisy. You picked Fairgold and it sucks what happened but using that to get in here? That’s low,” The venom in Violet’s voice had surprised Kenric, not that he showed it.
Daisy’s reaction had surprised him more. Instead of responding in a similar vein she’d merely looked at the other woman, her smiling mask dropping. Her eyes had been so tired and full of worry he had to hold himself back from wrapping his arms around her. He really needed to get over those urges.
“I didn’t use the accident to get on the project. Bridget is one of my best friends. I can’t just say ‘oh damn, that sucks’ and move on. She’d be doing everything she could to help me if our situations were reversed. And Dimitri…it should be me on that ship, not him. I owe this to both of them and I don’t care if you think it’s some emotional manipulation to further my career. I’m not going anywhere so suck it up.”
The argument probably would have continued from the look on Violet’s face but one of the senior research assistants had knocked before she could fire off a retort. Their smiles had immediately popped back into place and reaffirmed his belief that women were the ultimate double agents. How the hell did they do that shit so easily? He’d been only too happy to leave the room and focus instead on the project. He hadn’t known what his assignment would be but this wasn’t it. They obviously hadn’t gotten the memo from Joma. “All I have to do is keep the lab clean and run errands for Daisy?”
The short man’s hazel eyes had given him a challenging look as if daring him to complain. “Unless you have any skills that might be useful?”
“Depends on what’s needed to get ready for the trip. Who’s prepping the equipment and inventory for take off? There’s also the lesser gravity we’re going to be dealing with on the ship to think about. Just from looking around the lab here I can name at least five reagents that are going to need to be specially packed or we’re going to have a hell of a mess to clean up. Is someone already in charge of that or is every lab prepping their own supplies?”
That had managed to get Harold, the senior research assistant in charge of all the junior assistants, to take him seriously. He felt like banging his head against the wall when the man told him no one had bothered to show him Kenric’s resume. They thought a good use of his skill set was grunt work? He was reassessing his opinion on Joma’s intelligence if this was how he ran things until Harold mentioned that their project head had been called into the main office again to defend his decision to hire Daisy and Ken. The man was still there arguing with the board.
That put a new spin on things. “Sounds like I better make myself as useful as possible so they get off his ass.”
“That would be much appreciated, Assistant Thorne.”
Going over all the stock took the entire week but, it kept him from having to deal with the cousins again. Harold had shown him the supplies lists for the other labs and he had a lot of work to do getting all their shit ready. On the fourth day of working on the stock inventory he’d asked why there wasn’t someone already assigned to do this. Apparently the specialist the company had hired for the cargo prep had been snagged by a competitor, likely in an attempt to block Zenith Corp from taking off on time. The project deadline had been ramped up to beat the other companies projected schedules despite this and Harold had been going a little crazy trying to find a replacement.
Kenric took to spending his lunch hour with the other assistants, who had finally warmed up to him once they found out he had some useful skills. Through the cafeteria gossip he heard all about the problems other departments were having with specialists being stolen away and being blocked in general, all to delay take off. Well used to the methods larger corporations used in order to stall the competition he kept his head down and came up with ways around the delays. If it was something he could do himself, he did it. If he could call in a favor to get it done, he did that instead.
By the third week he was only sleeping maybe four hours a day but that was what it was taking to get the project back on track. It wasn’t that hard, not like he had anything he had to cancel in order to work the longer hours. He didn’t have that active of a social life to begin with. It was always Dimitri who dragged him out of the house to meet friends or to go to some event he’d heard about. Like the time he insisted on them going to a garlic festival. Who the hell thought up a festival just for garlic? Whoever it had been, D loved it and dragged his brother along each year.
By the third week his sleep deprived brain was going in circles; cycling between proper crate packing, garlic festivals, zero-gravity storage procedures, how blue Daisy’s eyes were, and how many packages of instant ramen he had left in the apartment. Taking that into consideration it was completely understandable that he wasn’t paying attention while walking down the hall and instead had his nose buried in the new take off timetable. Usually his large size was enough to keep his way clear of obstacles so he was surprised when he bumped into something solid. Or rather, someone solid.
“Ack!” He barely caught Violet’s flailing arms before she fell over, the papers she was carrying scattering at their feet. “My reports! Why aren’t you watching where you’re going?!”
Making sure that she was steady on her feet before he bent to pick up the papers spread across the hall he mentally reminded himself, for the billionth time since joining the project, that telling the Project Head’s girlfriend to shove her attitude up her ass would be a bad idea. It wasn’t the first time he’d had to swallow what he really wanted to say while on a job and it wouldn’t be the last. “Apologies, I’m a bit distracted with the newest jump in the schedule. It won’t happen again.” Handing back her papers he tried to walk around her but a delicate hand on his chest stopped him.
“I haven’t seen you in the lab. Just what have you been up to?” The way her ice blue eyes stared holes into his skull made him want to say fuck it, get your own ship out of orbit. He couldn’t do that though. His baby brother was depending on him. Cecil, Ryan, and Katcha were depending on him. Once everyone was home safe and sound he could tell the purple freak to go play in traffic.
Holding up his clipboard he thanked his bodyguard training for the neutral expression on his face. “Harold handed off the equipment and supply prep to me. I’ve got half the labs done with the rest on schedule to finish before the loading and final checks. Was there anything you needed to add on?”
Apparently this was news. “Why are they leaving something as delicate as that to you? Have you done this before?”
What he wouldn’t give for a little professional courtesy but obviously Violet didn’t bother with that. “Yes. I’ve been on fourteen shuttle voyages, nine of which I was lead. If I you have questions regarding my qualifications I’ll be more than happy to forward my resume, degrees, certifications, and letters of recommendation to your office. Are we done? I’ve got us on schedule to be finished in time to fly but that’s only if I’m not held up in the hallway.”
Her eyes narrowed on him and for a moment he thought she was going to be a bigger pain in the ass than usual. Even as tired as he was his brain started listing the possible reactions from reasonable to ultra crazy along with appropriate responses. It was almost a let down when she just stepped out of his way and let him pass. Continuing down the hall he sighed in relief. He had work to do.
He had to swallow his irritation when Violet decided to stop by while he was directing three other assistants on correct crate packaging for temperature sensitive reagents. She smiled and kept to the sides of the warehouse they were in saying Joma wanted her to check on the progress. He barely kept himself from calling her on her bullshit. He’d been sending the man reports with an updated timetable daily. Outside of Kenric, Joma was the one who probably knew their progress best. He managed a civil reply and got back to work. If she had time to waste on useless paranoia more power to her.
As the day went on he realized that ignoring Violet had downsides. At first he enjoyed her obvious irritation at his lack of reaction but she soon switched tactics and decided to make him notice her. She started pulling things out of boxes, asking questions, wanting to look through his paperwork. What ticked him off the most though was she kept invading his personal space. He could play along though. If she insisted on wasting his time he would return the favor. He had enough of a buffer to humor her. With luck he could bore her enough she fell asleep, then he could pack her in a crate and tuck it away high up on a shelf.
“It sounds more like you want a report on how the whole process is going. I can do that. We’ll start with the Botany lab.”
Three hours later when they got to the Marine Biology section of the warehouse Violet faked her phone vibrating to make her retreat. He nodded his understanding, of course she had many claims to her time, blah blah blah. Walking her back through the high industrial shelves towards the entrance, a forklift came around the corner unexpectedly. Pulling her out of the way she slammed into his chest. He could feel her pulse racing in her wrist, still clamped tightly in his hand.
“There you are, Violet. I’ve got the physicals you were asking for.” A familiar female voice made them both turn.
Kenric barely held in a groan as he turned around with the purple freak still plastered to his chest even though he’d let go of her wrist. Daisy was standing behind them wearing her bright smiling mask but her cheerful tone sounded a little forced. He’d discovered after a few days of working together that all he had to do was check her eyes to tell what she was really feeling. They were narrowed and not just on her cousin, she was pissed at him. Exactly what he needed.
“Sorry, cuz. Kenny here was just giving me a tour of the warehouse. I’ll be right there.”
Kenny?! Instant rage had him choking, there were very few things he hated in life more than people calling him that. Violet’s grin faded at the edges seeing how pissed off he was but she kept it up, likely to get back at him for the last three hours. He should have let the forklift flatten her. Before he could open his mouth to warn her that being Joma’s girlfriend wouldn’t save her if she ever called him that again Daisy’s voice effectively dumped a bucket of cold water over him.
“I can see that. I’ll let you two get back to it. These will be on your desk when you’re done.”
Looking up he watched Daisy walk away, spine stiff. She was around the corner and gone before he could say a word. Fucking hell, why did things always go south around her? And why the fuck did it matter to him so much? He had more than enough on his plate trying to get his brother and friends back home. A snicker brought him back to the moment. Violet had backed out of arms reach, likely realizing he was debating homicide.
“So. You’ve got a thing for Daisy, huh?”
His thoughts must have shown on his face because Violet took herself off without another word. Unfortunately she was gone too quickly for him to think up an appropriately acidic response. What the fuck was up with today? It must be lack of sleep. He should just take the rest of the day off and go home. Then again, D and the others weren’t likely to be getting much sleep in their situation so he should keep working.
No. He was being stupid, the whole debacle he’d just gone through proved he needed his brain functioning properly to deal with the female mind games the cousins insisted on dragging him into. He was going to find the warehouse manager, Victor and tell the man he was cutting out early. Stopping somewhere to get a decent meal that wasn’t instant ramen would be good too.