The following excerpt is from chapter three of “Deceived,” introducing the main antagonist.
The late-August sun streamed in through the matte-glass windows of Vonessen Inc., brightening the break lounge with hazy rays of speckled light. It was a beautiful day outside, but Victoria Adessi sighed restlessly as she poured herself a cup of coffee in spite of it. The tall, attractive, bottle-blonde woman with a love for lipstick the color of burgundy wine and limit-pushing office wear had been working in the accounting department at Vonessen Inc. for three years now and shouldn’t have been feeling so on edge these days, but she just couldn’t help herself. Despite being a valuable asset to the company and the admired go-to gal amongst her peers, she still wasn’t where she wanted to be.
Victoria wanted more. Not only did she want more, she needed more. Her lust for more was insatiable and no matter how well she improved her standing in the world, she’d always craved it and couldn’t remember a time when she’d ever been truly satisfied. More material things, more power, and more money – that was what made the world go ’round, wasn’t it?
Victoria was convinced that the answer to that question was an overwhelming “yes,” and that anyone who claimed otherwise and insisted that crisp green bills couldn’t buy you happiness was a liar. In her mind, that was just an excuse that poor people came up with to make themselves feel better about their lot in life. Well, those sorry saps could make whatever assertions they wanted to about the value of money, because Victoria knew the truth: more of it in your pocket always made your problems go away, and having unfathomable amounts of it would surely make her bitter, gold-digging heart happy. With more money she could buy the best furniture, live in the best house, own the most expensive cars, eat at the most restrictive restaurants, sip the finest champagnes at two in the afternoon solely because why not, and go on the most exotic vacations. In other words, nobody could own her. Money was freedom. But alas, here she was despite her good looks, charm, and wit without a rich man to call her own and an MTV-Cribs style home to live in. It made her blood boil. She didn’t want to be slaving away in an office all day like everyone else. She wanted to live like a queen, and she didn’t want to have to work so damn hard to do it.
To not work so hard. To be as lazy as she wanted but have whatever she asked for in spite of it? Now that would be some real power. She only knew one person with that kind of clout in these parts, and hell, she was working for him. It was a shame that Bruce von Essen was already married and that she hadn’t found him sooner… but then again, that technicality hadn’t exactly put a stop to the perverse thoughts that had been setting up residence in her head over the past year. Victoria hadn’t been keeping an active tally of just how many times her boss had crossed her mind in ways much less than professional, but if she had to take a guess, a nickel-per-thought would have made her a millionaire by now. And the ironic part was that not a single soul apart from her even had a clue of it, and if anyone who knew her could’ve seen into her head, they would have been shocked at what they’d find.
The thing was, Victoria had never outright looked like a greedy sociopath with a lust for dominating others and a knack for manipulation. With her deeply-tanned skin, golden blonde hair, modelesque face, and envy-inducing body, she might have been above average in the looks department, but otherwise she came off as relatively normal. As it turned out, that perceived normalcy was a weapon more powerful than guns or knives or baseball bats, because despite her magnetizing exterior, the real Miss Adessi was as ugly on the inside as a person could come. The real Victoria was cunning, vindictive, and opportunistic, but it was by no means a mistake that she was so good at hiding it. The accountant boasted some killer credentials, and aside from managing money, one of her other great talents was acting.
She’d never been a star on stage or film, but she’d managed to pull the wool over the eyes of her colleagues from the very beginning, putting on a convincing face and masking her true self from the world. Her life had been a life run by games and manipulations and social posturing. That – not knowledge or luck – was what had led her to graduate at the top of her class and earn herself a dual-master’s degree in business and accounting. And that was what had helped her solicit the recommendations that she’d needed to rise through the ranks so quickly at Vonessen Inc. Scheming and deception were a means of survival and getting ahead. It was a dog-eat-dog world out there, and to come out on top and not be left wallowing in the dirt you needed three things: control, power, and wealth. Victoria was intent on having those things, and she’d do anything to get what she wanted. No bridge was too far, no mountain too high, and no bystanders immune.
Not even the von Essens.
Fortunately maybe, right now wasn’t the time to dwell on it. Right now, the only thing she needed to worry about was the scalding-hot coffee in her hands. She sat down at the break lounge table and took a careful swig, attempting to quell the all-too-familiar storm in her head with limited success.
“Stressed a bit?” a woman’s voice asked, calling Victoria from her thoughts. The blonde glanced over her shoulder to see her friend and co-worker Emmalyn O’Dell standing behind her holding a warm, steaming cup of her own. Emmalyn was a nice young woman with dark-rimmed glasses and auburn-red hair who dressed professionally and worked hard, but for all of her good qualities, Victoria wasn’t drawn to her out of a sense of respect. Victoria saw Emmalyn as an underling. Someone not as smart, not as beautiful, and not as capable as her. In fact, she could actually see Em turning out to be a lonely old cat lady one day. Maybe it was the quirky cartoon cat on her mug that did it.
In comparison, Emmalyn had all the respect in the world for Victoria for those same reasons. Victoria was so smart, so beautiful, and so successful! It was no wonder Victoria kept her around. Emmalyn wasn’t competition, and she was a great source for the selfish ego boosts that Victoria loved with her misplaced words of admiration or simply her comparable pathetic-ness.
“Morning, Em,” she greeted her in a pleasant voice, waving her coffee mug in her direction. “Nothing a little caffeine won’t cure.” She took another sip and got up to face her, switching her weight to one hip and leaning back against the table. Victoria was wearing a black mock-turtleneck dress and tall ebony heels. A bit tight and short for the office, but when you looked as good as she did, who wouldn’t flaunt what they had? “I just have a lot on my mind,” she shrugged. “Been working hard, you know?”
“Don’t we all? Especially you. I don’t know how you do it sometimes. But I guess that’s a good thing, with that managerial spot opening up. God, I would love to snag that position… but I know I won’t. You could though.” There was that well-placed ego boost, right on cue. Naive Emmalyn never failed.
“We’ll see how things fall. But I have to admit, it’s been the only thing I can think about since the announcement last week.”
“I’m sure it is,” Emmalyn mused before adding a little more quietly, “But I know what will take your mind off of it and ease some of that stress. Do I have some gossip for you!”
Victoria shot her a sadistic smile and motioned for her to follow her out of the lounge. She was glad for the distraction. It was one that she and Emmalyn partook in all too often, but Victoria had always reveled in a little good gossip. There was nothing else quite so gratifying… other than cash and screwing of course. After all, what better way to get away from your own perceived “problems” than to concentrate on those of others?
That better way didn’t exist; at least not for Victoria. She and Emmalyn took their mugs with them as they made their way back into the office towards their neighboring desks, pretending to be nonchalant about the stares they received from their male co-workers. Victoria didn’t need their wandering eyes to know that she was drop-dead gorgeous. It was a fact she played up on a daily basis with her tight pencil skirts, low-cut blouses, leg-baring sweater dresses, and pointy stilettos. She was narcissistic and liked the attention, but these silly men in department store suits were good enough for a romp or two in bed if it suited her needs or gave her some sort of edge, and that was where it ended. They were nothing but meat to her. As far as long-term went, she was only willing to settle down with someone if his bank account was overflowing like the banks of the Nile, and as much as everyone here was making, it just wasn’t good enough. They were all well off, but they weren’t the best.
They weren’t Bruce.
Emmalyn and Victoria sat down at their desks and the gossip began almost instantaneously.
“Alright,” Victoria said as she shuffled through a thick file of papers. “Dish immediately. I need full details.”
Emmalyn was happy to oblige her. As she began typing away, the women shared scandalous stories of people in the neighborhood… of one woman’s new bankruptcy filing, of another’s horrible botched nose job, of one of the wealthy bankers in Stirling City getting caught cheating on his middle-aged trophy wife with a slutty college co-ed… everything and anything that came to mind. For as nice and prim as the Stirling area looked on the outside, it was a breeding ground for gossip-worthy topics. Everyone had their vice; the idea was not to get caught.
The women were right in the middle of discussing how one of the ladies in the Human Resources Department had put on a good twenty-five pounds since her unceremonious divorce when Victoria heard an annoyed – and rather annoying – groan come from somewhere behind her.
“Victoria…” a male voice grumbled, as if the groan wasn’t enough to grab her attention. She rolled her eyes and huffed crossly. That voice belonged to her least favorite co-worker out of the whole lot, Ben McClafferty, that aggravating potato-head with a giant stick up his ass. Ben was the only person in the office who ever dared to question her perfection, and needless to say she wasn’t very fond of him because of it.
“What?” she snapped, irritated that her conversation was being so rudely interrupted by someone she disliked so much.
“Sorry to disrupt your oh-so-important chat, Victoria,” he swiveled around in his chair to scowl at the back of her head. “But the dirty laundry you’re airing is really starting to stink. It’s breaking my concentration on these reports.”
Victoria sighed and took a sip of her coffee. “Cut the sarcasm, Ben. Is that all you wanted?”
“I know, God forbid some of us actually want peace and quiet when we work. Anyway, no, that’s not all I wanted. The boss is coming. Maybe you’ll at least give a shit about that.”
Victoria perked up and glanced towards the door. Ben was right. She did give a shit. There was the boss in all his glory, standing in the doorway in an expensive black designer suit with his sexy goatee trimmed to GQ perfection and his dark hair slicked back, suave and stylish. Bruce von Essen. The man only got more attractive every day. Victoria smiled covertly behind her coffee mug. She looked forward to the days when she could share a conversation with her boss and ogle him shamelessly behind his back, even if it didn’t help to quiet the voices in her head. She peered over her computer screen and felt herself grow hot at the sight of him. Yes, it was a shame that he was married. But still, the things that she would do to that man…
Actually, there wasn’t much that she wouldn’t do to him. While her desire for “more everything” was causing her plenty of restlessness these days, her desire for this man that had so much of it was only getting worse. The way Victoria saw it, there were only two ways to get the kind of wealth that she so desperately desired: to earn it on her own – which would either be impossible or take her an entire lifetime – or to marry into it and have it handed to her. The second option sounded much more appealing, and considering how high the bar was set, Bruce was the only affluent man around who could satisfy her needs. He was the top dog, the crème de la crème. She’d never outright acted upon her lust for him, but she’d never claimed to be a moral woman either. Her obsessive desire for Bruce and his cash was gaining ground over maintaining morality, and while Victoria had been eyeing him up for a while now, she just didn’t know what to do about it.
Under normal circumstances, she was good at playing these games and manipulating people to screw things up on their own. But Bruce and Cecilia? There was no snag in their rope, no problem she could exploit. All she’d been able to do so far was work her ass off amidst her gossip fests with Emmalyn and hope that he would take notice of her. She’d been putting in plenty of extra hours for this company lately, going above and beyond the call of duty to knock every assignment that she turned in out of the park, and while she might have had underlying personality faults driving it, it couldn’t be denied that she was damn good at her job. Bruce began to walk in the direction of her cubicle with that confident CEO stride of his and Victoria had to fight the urge to fan herself. She was practically undressing him with her eyes, envisioning what wonders hid beneath those posh designer suits he wore. From the way he filled them out, she could only imagine.
Emmalyn’s voice hissing at Ben from across the gap in their desks was the only snag in her dirty daydream. “Is he coming over here?” she could hear her squeak as she took a nervous sip of her coffee. Emmalyn was the baby amongst the group, just out of business school, and hadn’t been in the office for as long as the others. Visits from the boss still made her jumpy.
“Oh yeah, he is definitely heading this way,” Ben confirmed, staring at his computer screen and typing away without making eye contact, eager to make a good impression. That manager’s position opening up would be a dream come true and Victoria wasn’t the only one who wanted it.
But Bruce didn’t make it to their particular cluster of desks right away. He visited others first, trying to get a feel for how things were going with end-of-month closing in. If there was one thing that could be said about the CEO’s demeanor in the office, it was that he actually seemed to care about keeping everyone satisfied, from the high level executives upstairs all the way down to the ladies answering phones at the front desk. Caring about morale was a philosophy that he’d always believed in, but one that Cecilia had only instilled in him further. Happy employees were productive employees, and productive employees meant a successful business built to last. A win-win for everybody.
When he finally reached Victoria’s desk, she was trying hard to look busy on her computer, but the keystrokes were empty and unfocused. She could sense that he was there before he even spoke a word – she could practically feel him standing behind her. Her lips pursed tensely in response. He smelled like pricey European cologne, something that made the scent receptors in her nostrils prickle. She knew exactly what it was. Uomo ricco. An Italian brand with notes of cinnamon, mint citrus, blood mandarin, and grapefruit, entwining together with Indian patchouli and masculine leather to create an intoxicating mix guaranteed to make a woman weak in the knees. Look, she wasn’t perfect, but she damn well knew her perfumes and colognes. Call her a bloodhound for them and she wouldn’t take offense.
“Ben, Victoria, Emmalyn,” Bruce greeted them, his voice straightforward and all-business. “How are things going over here? Anything I can do for you? Any concerns or issues?”
Ben sure had an issue and thought about asking for a change in desk location so he could get away from these two gossipy little brats, but didn’t let on by complaining. Instead, he answered the boss with a professional, “Good morning, sir. Everything’s great here. Our clients are happy and things are going smoothly for end-of-month. I’m finishing up my reports right now.” He went back to typing feverishly to make a point as the ladies behind him echoed the sentiment. The typical cordialities continued until Bruce turned his attention to Victoria.
“Victoria, I meant to ask you, how is that project I gave you coming along? That last bit of preliminary data you turned in was excellent. I like the pie charts you’ve been adding. They’re very well-organized. Not that I expected any less, mind you.”
Victoria restrained the cockiest grin imaginable. “Done,” she confirmed, picking up a small presentation binder from her desk and handing it over to him. “Just completed in fact.” She leaned back in her chair and watched as Bruce flipped through the binder, perusing her work with an approving nod.
“Excellent,” he repeated, impressed with how quickly – and thoroughly – she’d gotten it done. “I’ll look through this more closely in my office, but good work. This is just what I needed.”
“Anytime,” Victoria replied, trying to sound as professional as possible, though her thoughts were less than safe-for-work. ‘Hopefully if I continue to impress him with my work, I can impress him in other ways,’ she thought secretly to herself. A mental picture of her molesting him on his office desk came to mind.
Unfortunately for her, a tacky hook-up in the board room didn’t look like it was in the stars today. As Bruce bid the group goodbye and walked away to another cluster of cubicles, Victoria’s eyes followed him intently. The wheels were turning in her conniving little head. If only he didn’t have that damn wife… but then again, people did get divorced all the time, didn’t they? What was the divorce rate these days, anyway? Fifty-percent?
‘Mrs. Victoria von Essen,’ she tried the name out in her head, nearly salivating at how good it sounded. ‘God, I like the sound of that…’ It had a ring almost like her current name, Adessi, but even better. It had to be fate, there was no other explanation.
Or maybe it was simply delusion, because to mix her name with his and even consider the possibility that he’d get divorced was entirely unrealistic. Bruce von Essen was the most faithful man on the planet. Everyone knew it. He made it a point to let everyone know it. You could throw a porn star or a supermodel at him and it wouldn’t make a damn difference. His love for his precious wife was unwavering and it made Victoria’s dreams of winning him over only that much more impractical to pursue. This game would be a challenging one to say the least. Perhaps the most challenging she’d ever signed up for. For once the odds were really not in her favor, and it was terribly frustrating for her.
“He’s really nice, isn’t he?” Emmalyn commented once Bruce was safely out of earshot. “I always get so nervous when I know he’s coming down here, but I always feel like an idiot for feeling that way afterwards. I don’t know why I freak like that.”
“He’s a good boss,” Ben noted before adding in a bitter aside, “Of course if he knew that you and Vicky over here were always gabbing on about useless drama I’m not sure he’d be so appreciative or give Vic such weighty assignments. I don’t even know how they get done with you two never shutting up.”
“Ugh, stick a sock in it, Ben. You’re such a buzzkill,” Emmalyn crinkled her nose at him in annoyance.
Normally at this point, Victoria would chime in with a dismissive eye roll and a “screw you” sort of retort of her own to Ben’s obvious jealousy over the fact that he wasn’t getting all of the big projects, but right now she just didn’t care enough. She had much more important things on her mind besides responding to the death glare she could feel him laser-beaming at her. Whiny, insufferable Ben was just another loser in her eyes, nothing but a walking salami. He had no other purpose in life. Other men, however? Other men could be of much more use to her.
Victoria stole one last glance at the back of Bruce’s suit coat before he left the room and felt her insides burn with a dark lust. Damn it, she didn’t care how far-fetched it was. She didn’t care what she had to do. There was nothing the self-proclaimed seductress wanted more than to snag Mr. von Essen away from that perfect little wife of his and make him, his money, and his life of luxury her own. She swore to herself that she would make it happen one day… even if it was the last thing she’d ever do.
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