Chapter no 7 – Evie

Assistant to the Villain

Evie was going to scream.

She’d spent the entire day discreetly walking back and forth among different sectors of the office space. Idly overhearing conversations, trying to catch a whiff of something. But the only focus among the staff was what tavern they’d meet at for drinks at the day’s end or who was sleeping with whom in the coatroom.

The latter, Evie would admit, she was mildly curious about.

She desperately wanted to confide in Tatianna about their office rat, but to her devastation, there was no way she could rule her out as a suspect. Not yet anyway. In fact, looking over the surroundings that had become as familiar as a worn pair of gloves, Evie realized there was not a single person in this room she could trust. Well, save for The Villain himself, and oh the irony in that.

It was alarming. The helpless, sinking feeling of betrayal that spread through her. It all felt so personal. It wasn’t her agenda being uprooted, but it felt like it. She’d spent so much of her precious time making sure every ounce of effort and focus went to the success of the company.

It was more than the work itself, though; it was the people she was surrounded by. There was no pretense of being “better” here. They were all flawed enough to compromise any fantasy of moralistic value in favor of survival.

It was beautifully comforting, in a world that had done its best to make Evie feel tragically alone.

Sighing and standing up from her seat, her small journal in hand, she did a loop around the room, then headed to the office’s surprisingly spacious kitchen area. She gave a greeting to Edwin as she walked in, feeling a brush of warmth at the oven’s heat.

“Miss Evie!” Edwin called with a jaunty bow before taking a tray of flaky bread from the oven. “Have a pastry; I insist!”

Like all other ogres, Edwin was nearly as tall as the ceiling with glowing turquoise skin. His smile was wide and friendly, and those things were only complemented by his spectacles that were just a few sizes too small. He was also smart as a whip and always said things that made Evie think for a long while after he said them, and they both loved books.

Evie nodded at the open novel propped on the table. “In a moment, perhaps. What are we reading today?”

“Oh, you’d like this one, Miss Evie.” The ogre winked at her, and the metal of his eyewear moved with the motion. “It’s a romance.”

“Is it now?” Evie beamed at him.

“Go visit your window—I’ll fill you a chalice.” He nodded toward the other end of the kitchen, where soft light was peeking through. Evie smiled knowingly and headed in that direction.

There were many beautifully designed windows throughout the manor, but this private area tucked into the corner was her favorite. The tiles were haphazardly placed in a design that altogether formed the shape of a vibrant sun shining its light down on an old book. An accurate depiction in Evie’s eyes, since a good book often felt like the same comfort as the heat of sunlight brushing your cheeks.

She’d spent much of her time in this kitchen, venting her frustrations to Edwin, but more so to this shining piece of art. Sometimes in the whisper of quiet, it almost felt like it answered her back. Becky would occasionally wander into the kitchen and make a snide comment that Evie would be forced to answer with one of her own. It had become part of the routine she’d grown oddly accustomed to.

Eventually, Evie stood up and headed back to the office. She’d just walked up to her desk again when she thought she heard a slight clicking coming from somewhere in the room.

Her gaze wandered to the large clock on the wall, the second hand gliding as an uneasy feeling twisted in her gut.

Evie looked around to see if perhaps someone else had noticed the sound, but the low hum of voices and heads bent toward their desks told her she was the only one to note it.

It was probably nothing.

But that swirl of unease seemed to bloom into a flood of anxiety that made it difficult for her to focus on anything else.

She was tempted to retrieve her boss. Wherever the deadlands he had wandered off to. After their briefing that morning, he’d stormed out in a hurry, not bothering to tell anyone where he was going.

Which on any other day wouldn’t have bothered her. He’d always had his secrets, that air of mystery that aided his dark reputation. But lately, it nagged at her that he’d trusted her with so much and yet so little. She dared to want more of him, and that thought alone was far too dangerous to explore further.

Click. Click. Click.

Letting loose a little growl of frustration, Evie tried to tune out the rest of the room to better hear the rhythmic sound. Was it getting louder? She tested it, wandering farther to one part of the room, then the other. Waiting for the noise to go from faint to blaring where it was the loudest. If her building suspicions were correct—and they were—the noise would lead her right to her desk.

Well, not exactly, but close.

A small croaking sound permeated the air over the clicking, and Evie looked down to find Kingsley sitting beside the tip of her shoe. Wide eyes searched hers, trying to convey something he couldn’t express.

“Well, hello, my lovely friend.” Evie slowly knelt to the ground and held out her hand, and the frog did the smallest hop into her palm. “You must be more careful when hopping the office floors, Kingsley. If you found yourself squished under a wayward boot, how would we all go on?” She smiled at him, forgetting the clicking only for a moment before it struck once more.

Kingsley seemed to hear it, too, because the frog leaped from her palm and toward the one place Evie had hoped she wouldn’t have to look. Through the doors beyond her desk, into the boss’s office.

Sighing, Evie walked toward the door, now slightly ajar, and pushed it all the way open.

Her instincts were screaming at her to not move a step farther. But it was as if a string had been tied between her and the mysterious noise, one that would not be broken until she found it.

The large space seemed smaller without The Villain inside. The desk didn’t give her the same heart-palpitating feeling she normally had when she saw it, most likely because a certain someone wasn’t occupying the chair behind it. She should leave. She was going to leave.

Until Kingsley leaped onto the desk with another one of his signs. And this one showed a singular word that chilled her. DANGER.

A small voice in her head told her that she should heed the frog’s warning. She shouldn’t have been in this office without permission, anyway, and she certainly shouldn’t be rustling through his desk for what probably was just a broken clock or…perhaps a particularly noisy weapon?

But it was too late to listen to small voices when her own was screaming at her, LOOK INSIDE THE DESK. IT’S NOT LIKE THE FROG WILL TATTLE.

“Ugh,” she muttered, the word echoing in the quiet as she rubbed her head. When she walked closer, her nerves steeled themselves, despite the odd sense of satisfaction at finally finding the source.

She bent low, the skirts of her dress brushing the floor. Reaching a hesitant hand up, Evie grasped a small, cool object, carefully bringing it out and holding it up for inspection. The clicking was now screeching at her, though the object itself looked very unassuming.

Turning it over, Evie’s moment of victory was fast replaced with overwhelming fear.

“Of course,” she said, her voice surprisingly steady. Sighing a ragged breath tinged in annoyance, she said to only herself: “Of course it’s a bomb.”

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