Just an Interview"C'mon, Jas, it's just an interview. Don't stress it."
Emmett looked at me over his raised beer bottle.
"It's an important interview, Emmett. This job would get me out of the herd and into my own office. This job would make me financially secure." I supped from my bottle moodily. He just didn't get it. While he was chasing every hot piece of ass in the place, I was chasing professional success.
I almost hadn't applied for it.
When I saw the job on the internet, I knew in my gut that it was time.
Time for me to escape my cubicle, time to become more than the overworked assistant of my idiot manager and move on up to become one of the big boys. I couldn't lie, the idea of rising to the executive level was damn scary, but I told myself that I was ready. I just had to make myself believe it so that I stood a chance of convincing the interview panel. I had put this off for far too long; fear had held me back and made me miss good opportunities.
But no more. After that humiliating breakup over a year ago, I had decided to concentrate on my career, and making something of myself.
I sighed. I had practiced my responses as best I could. I had prepared intelligent, sensible questions to ask at the end if there was time. I had dry cleaned my suit and hung it up ready for the first round of interviews tomorrow.
I just needed to get some sleep. Like that was going to happen.
Grumbling to myself at Emmett's laid back attitude to my future, I left the bar early, too worked up about the next day to relax. The walk home was short and helped clear my head somewhat. I'd only had one beer, and not even finished that. I tried to concentrate on the future as I walked; after tomorrow my life could change for the better. I could sell my ancient truck and buy something more reliable, more economical, just ... more. I just had to get through tomorrow, and after all, it was just one day. Same old 24 hours as any other.
It was just one day.
Just an interview.
No matter what Emm said, there was no way I would be able to breathe easy until this was all over, pass or fail.
~oOo~I woke at 3am, hearing rain thundering against my window in the darkness. In the distance the wail of a car alarm perfectly completed the ambiance. Yep – no way was I getting any more sleep tonight.
Sighing, I swung my legs out of bed and staggered to the kitchen. If I wasn't going to sleep I might as well get some interview prep done. I switched on the coffee pot and added enough coffee to keep the average person's eyes rolling for 72 hours straight. It should be enough to get me through today.
At 5am I admitted to myself that if I didn't have it by now then there was no hope for me. I prayed that my caffeine buoyed confidence held out. Heading for a shower, I found myself mouthing answers to imaginary interview questions. I managed to stop that before I got a mouthful of shampoo suds.
At 5.30am I checked my suit and shirt for any offending marks, no matter how microscopic. I added my best silk tie to complete the look, and then re-polished my shoes.
At 6am I was circling the room like a caged tiger.
Forcing myself to sit down, I reached for my book; the ragged cover and spine a testament to the number of times I had escaped into its pages. Sitting back in the chair, I allowed the words to draw me in, providing a welcome distraction from my worries.
At 8am I resurfaced, downed another cup of rocket fuel, and set about getting ready for my 9am appointment with destiny.
I sat stiffly in the modern, but damned uncomfortable, chairs in the foyer, willing my knee not to bounce. As I looked up, the receptionist cocked her head to one side waiting for my response. She reminded me of a cockatiel, especially with the bleached, spiky hair and wrinkled eyes where her makeup sat in the dry lines. She had to be fifty if she was a day, trying to come across, unsuccessfully, as a thirty something. I nodded dumbly, trying not to stare.
She handed me a visitor's badge to pin to my jacket.
"All the shortlisted candidates are to meet on the 3rd floor, in the conference room at the end of the corridor. Mr Berty will be taking the first part of the interview before you are then assigned interviewers for the second part. All clear? Good! Elevators are to your left when you're ready."
She pointed in the general direction of the bank of elevators and then walked back to her colleague. As I stepped into an empty car, I heard her muffled comment, "He's hot!"
At least someone thinks I have potential, even if she is old enough to be my mom.
I checked my hair and my tie, before checking my teeth in the mirrored interior of the plush elevator. I looked good, although slightly wide-eyed with muffled panic. I took a couple of deep breaths to calm down before the elevator glided to a halt. The carpet here was not as plush as downstairs, looking more like the regulation office style they had in my current workplace; for some reason this calmed my nerves a touch. Heading down the corridor, I easily found my destination.
Waiting uneasily in the line of chairs outside the conference room, I eyed the seven other candidates for my job. I knew that I had to pass this group interview to have any chance at the main one. I looked up when a small, grey haired man with glasses opened the door, inviting us all come in and take a seat. We filed in like children into morning assembly, nobody speaking, everyone keeping their eyes front. It was only when I was unbuttoning my jacket and sitting down that I first noticed the other man sitting silently in the room. He wasn't introduced, and I wondered as to his function in the day's events. Quite possibly he was someone from HR, checking that everything was carried out to the letter.
I only glanced at him momentarily, but it was enough to catch his eye. He held my gaze a fraction longer than I expected, and I had to remind myself to breathe, feeling a childish blush threaten.
What the hell?
The man was blond, wearing a sharp black suit, white shirt and cuff-links. I had no doubt that, beneath the table, his shoes were buffed to a mirror shine. My practiced eye took all this in from my peripheral vision, not trusting myself to look back at him. I was sure I was imagining the way he looked at me, but just the same, I kept my eyes on the drab little man fussing with his handouts. Feeling the stranger's gaze in my mind, I felt my collar tighten, and I resisted the urge to run a finger round it, my clothes feeling altogether too restrictive. I felt clumsy and inarticulate in his immaculate, polished presence.
Flicking my eyes to the right, my breath caught and my skin prickled.
He was watching me.
~oOo~Mr Berty had finished his paper shuffling and was now getting down to the business of the interview.
First up, he informed us that we would be tested psychometrically. We would have ten minutes to answer the questions; we were to answer quickly and without thinking about it. In his dull monotone, he went on to explain that after that we would undergo numeracy and literacy tests, aiming to complete as many questions as possible in the 30 minutes allotted.
We all nodded in understanding, and the first sets of papers were passed around the table. Just like at school, on a given signal we were to turn over the front page of our booklets and start on the questions. The self important little man checked his watch and gave the signal; with a rustle of recycled paper, we began.
I tried not to think too deeply, to try and find the 'right' answers to the questions. Breathing deeply, I answered truthfully and hoped the real me was adequate. When the ten minutes was up we were told to put our pencils down and close the booklet. Mr Berty collected them and handed out the next tests, face down. He droned on about the importance of basic numeracy and literacy and I tried to pay attention to him. I hoped he enjoyed the sound of his own self-important voice as I certainly didn't.
Then, the beautiful blond stranger stood silently and walked to the door, admitting another man into the room. This one was incredibly tall, dark haired and built like Emmett. He too was not introduced to the group. I took what could be my only opportunity to peruse him whilst he was unaware. He took in his height, at least 6 feet 2 I should say, all long, lean legs and what looked to be a tight body under that designer jacket. For the briefest moment my eyes feasted on the swell of his ass before our attention was once again drawn to the clock.
We had thirty minutes. And I had the ultimate blond distraction sitting across the room, directly in my eye line. Vowing not to look up, I turned over my paper on the signal and began.
The test was simple. Ridiculously so. In thirty seconds I had identified the fifteen errors in the literacy test and started on the numeracy. I heard muffled noises from my companions, and saw the liberal use of the erasers provided around the table. Inwardly, I smiled.
I breezed through the second part in less than fifteen minutes and then realised my problem.
He was sat across from me. And I had nothing else to distract me now.
Let's face it, even if they had provided plain paper, it wasn't professional to doodle at a job interview.
Oh god help me, I want to look up.
I told myself that looking anywhere but at my own paper could be misconstrued as trying to cheat, so I kept my eyes on the fake wood of the desk in front of me. I stretched my fingers, imagining my plectrum in my hands, drawing soothing sounds from my guitar. To stop me from drumming my fingers, and to stop my eyes from looking anywhere else, I skimmed my pencil across my knuckles the way I did with my pick, keeping my fingers agile.
I had to be imagining the gaze that I felt focused on my fingers. I carried on floating the pencil until eventually I lifted my gaze just a fraction, peering at him under my lashes; he was smiling, his head slightly cocked to the side. I flushed and hoped he thought I was just embarrassed at being caught. The truth was that I had been struck by the incredible chameleonic colour of his eyes. They changed from blue to green in the light from the windows, and I wondered what it would be like to sink into them, to lean in to kiss him and watch the storm clouds gather there...
I felt beads of sweat threaten, and casually brushed my hands through my hair to try and calm myself. Thoughts like that were dangerous and totally inappropriate. While I was chastising myself, I dropped the pencil mid glide onto the table with a loud clatter, breaking the lead and attracting attention. Utterly mortified, I busied myself with checking the answers that I knew all too well were correct.
The clock on the wall marked each minute that passed, each tick loud as gunfire in the quiet room.
I had the feeling that no one else noticed.
When time was called, I sank back into my chair with enormous relief. I watched the other candidates lay down their pencils, looking unsure but trying to perpetrate an air of confident nonchalance. As for me, I was anything but nonchalant. My skin was hot, my tie too tight, and all I wanted was some water and fresh air.
As the papers were collected, we were told by Mr Berty that they would be marked immediately and the results announced in the next half hour. While he was gone, we would be given a short comfort break before the one to one interviews began. Not knowing anyone else in the room, I took the opportunity to visit the restroom, followed by the water cooler in the hallway. I wished I could go outside for a smoke before I remembered that I had quit.
Nerves: they really fuck you up.
Those few brief moments on my own were used to mentally calm down, to brace myself for the interview to come. I had no doubts I had passed the two tests although who could tell with psychometric testing? I needed to regain control, to be the organised, rehearsed Jasper I had been before I clapped eyes on Mr Beautiful in there with his designer suit, hair that begged to be fisted, and perfect lips that needed mine on them immediately.
Feeling my body instinctively react, I downed another cup of cold water to douse that particular fire before I completely ruined my chances. When I saw the others returning, I headed back inside the room for the results.
~oOo~Mr self-important Berty held the envelopes in his no doubt sticky hand. Before he handed them out, he took a moment to tell us the rules of engagement for the next part of the interview.
Each envelope held either a pass or fail notification. Those who had failed were to leave the offices, their time over. Those who had passed were to go to the room stated at the allotted time. He gave us all the directions for the staff restaurant where we could fetch a snack if we had a wait ahead before our slot.
As I waited, somewhat impatiently as the room grew ever stuffier despite the air conditioning, he then proceeded to introduce the two silent men in the room.
Mr Felix Volturi and Mr Carlisle Cullen were to interview us for the post.
The final bombshell was that Mr Cullen would be the manager of the successful applicant up on floor ten.
Heated blue/green eyes found mine when his name was announced. I felt a shudder of longing and in that moment, for the sake of my career, I prayed for the Volturi guy as my interviewer.
The envelopes slid along the table, I slit mine open and read the typed message:
'Mr J Whitlock, your interview will be at 11.00 with Mr Carlisle Cullen & Mr Felix Volturi in room 7 on Floor 3. Please be prompt.'
I groaned inwardly.
Why hadn't I listened to Emmett? I had worked myself up for this interview, believing it to be the door to my new life. If I had come in feeling casual and relaxed, I might not be in this predicament now: hungry, horny and damn near terrified.
For now, one of those three I could fix; I headed off to the restaurant in search of something to settle my stomach.
As I walked away, I could have sworn I felt eyes watching me go.
~oOo~Trapped in a small room with him... heart thudding, breathing quickening, chemistry bubbling...
I shook my head and tried to concentrate on my innocuous chicken salad. Thinking of those eyes, that penetrating gaze that stripped me naked where I sat had me swallowing hard. Keeping my cool in that interview was going to be tough. I realised I wasn't even nervous about that anymore – I was focusing solely on keeping my cool around the man conducting it.
I wondered if any of the other guys were having the same problem. Hell, I wondered if any were even gay. This got me to thinking: was Mr Cullen gay, or just trying some kind of elaborate psych out tactic to weed out the men from the boys? My sexuality had never been a problem, but in a new company, who knew? Perhaps they had had problems in the past with male management, (make that gorgeous male management), being a figure of adoration. But then, women would be just as attracted to them as men. I forced down another bite of chicken; this afternoon just got a whole lot more complicated.
The food sat heavily in my stomach and I gave up trying to eat any more. Sipping my coffee, I tried to focus on the afternoon ahead. Delaying tactics, diversions... I needed to find something to stop me from coming across as an unstable individual. I needed this job; it was unfortunate that the hurdle I had to climb in order to get it was a beautiful, powerful man. Let's face it, I'd just as soon climb up onto that particular hurdle and ride him to the winning post...
Staring at my cup of java, I willed control back into my groin as it perked up at the thought of Mr Cullen.
I screwed my eyes shut. Why couldn't it have been that pompous ass, Berty, doing the interview? I could have aced an interview with that chump.
It's a test.
It was the ultimate test.
A gay tour de force.
And nobody knows but me.
~oOo~I sat in the empty waiting area, thinking of unrelated topics, harmless things that I could focus on, trying to compose my thoughts in a Sound of Music kind of way.
Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens...
Humph. Where I lived, it was more like raindrops on road kill and odours of landfill.
I shook my head.
Think of something else – my favourite show, NCIS, was on TV later. This cheered me for a brief moment. DiNozzo was hot...
I gritted my teeth.
And just at that moment, the door opened.
"Come in, Mr Whitlock."
It was the Volturi guy, looking taller than ever this close up. I felt short in comparison and unconsciously pulled myself up to my full height as I entered the room. It was all I could do not to deflate like a pricked balloon when I saw him sitting there, the air punched out of me by one glance of those blue/green eyes with their ever changing hue. I was waved to the empty chair across from him and my body obeyed without thought, feeling compelled to do whatever he commanded.
This is bad.
I understood then how susceptible I would be to mind control.
I am screwed. And not by my favourite, chosen method.
Tall, dark and handsome sat in the chair next to blond bombshell, and I surreptitiously tried to jump start my brain, reminding it that its participation in this event was rather crucial. At the same time, I reminded brain number two to stay the hell out of it; I had this covered.
Just please don't let him smile.
My cheeks prickled with heat when I met his gaze, a wave of warmth flowing over me followed immediately after by a light sheen of sweat breaking out down my spine, mercifully hidden by my shirt and jacket.
I cleared my throat and waited, resisting the impulse to drum my fingers on my knee.
It was Mr Volturi that spoke first, his deep voice rumbling through the small space.
"So, Mr Whitlock. Congratulations on passing the tests to an adequate standard."
Adequate? I aced them and you know it!
"Tell us why we should employ you for this position and not the other candidate."
Candidate? There's just one other? I can DO this!
I looked him in the eye confidently, aware that Mr Cullen was listening intently and noting down my answers. It felt like the time I got wrongly arrested for driving without insurance and the cop in charge had written down every damn word. The cop hadn't been hot as fuck though. I tried to pretend he wasn't there and carry on. I cleared my throat, keeping my eyes on the other guy. My skin burned, feeling Cullen watching me.
"As my résumé shows, I have been working closely with management in my current role for five years now. I have the skills to move my professional career forward and take the next step. I believe that I can bring something fresh to this company; I have vision and a proven track record in advertising. I won a prestigious award last year as you can see. Your company needs me, Mr Volturi."
I sat back a fraction, indicating the ball was in his court. However, there was a somewhat illegal pass, as the next question came from his counterpart, and I tried not to squirm in my seat, knowing I would have to make and maintain eye contact.
His voice was low and calm, almost melodic to my ears. When I forced myself to look at him directly, I could swear his eyes darkened. I felt my palms start to sweat.
"You say that, but there are many talented advertising executives that might disagree. Why should we take you on? What campaign could you win for Wolf & Swan?"
I was ready for this. My heart was pounding out a bass rhythm so loud that I fully expected it to reverberate around the walls.
I pulled out my portfolio, containing sample campaigns for companies I wanted to pitch to. Which should I use? Which was strongest? Pulling out an innovative design of mine for a jewellery chain, I laid out the boards I had illustrated and watched, with no small amount of pleasure, as their eyebrows raised almost simultaneously.
Breathing deeply, I answered their questions, my confidence growing with each response, most of which were directed at Volturi guy. Things were looking good until there was a knock at the door. A harassed looking young man called Volturi over and in a brief, hushed conversation, he apologised and said he had to leave immediately, but that Mr Cullen would continue and complete the interview.
I looked then into hooded eyes, now the colour of rolling waves at dusk, and knew I was done for. Everything I had achieved, everything I had wanted from this interview... gone.
My mouth was dry, and I sipped the cup of water provided for me, trying hard not to gulp it down, but my dry throat clicked when I swallowed. My tongue felt like it had swollen and I wondered momentarily if I was having an allergic reaction.
To what? Pull yourself together; you've a job to win here.
Tearing my eyes away from his, I looked down at the boards, struggling to find the words that had flowed so easily just a few moments prior. His hands reached for the nearest board and my eyes rested on his beautiful, graceful fingers.
Those hands on my body, touching, stroking...
And now brain number two was interested, despite my fervent efforts to will it back to sleep. I could feel the twitch in my pants and forced my body to remain still; fidgeting would make me look unprofessional and nervous. At least he couldn't know about my burgeoning problem hidden beneath the table, and I intended it to stay that way. Laying the board back down, he reached for the one closest to me and in doing so, his fingertips brushed mine accidentally.
I bit back a sharp inhalation, sipping more water to steady myself. The glass rattled on my teeth.
Calm down! It was an accident. You know he didn't mean to do that.
My problem was growing, and I adjusted my jacket unnecessarily, using the opportunity to shuffle a little in my seat to ease my discomfort.
I realised he hadn't spoken for a couple of minutes as he perused my work. Not able to ignore him totally, I allowed myself to study him as he in turn studied my campaign.
He was gorgeous. No other word summed it up better. Blond hair lay across the soft furrows of his forehead as he concentrated. A small smile curled the corners of his mouth and I hoped it was because of my design skills. Deep down I knew it was more likely he was enjoying my discomfort and was dragging it out for effect.
"These are very interesting, Mr Whitlock." I jumped when he spoke, glad I wasn't holding the glass.
"Where would you place these to provide maximum revenue for Wolf and Swan?"
Lifting my chin, I looked at him directly, trying to form coherent words. I had the overwhelming urge to wipe my mouth and I clenched my hand to prevent it moving.
"These types of ads are primarily aimed at men, to draw their attention to major celebrations and occasions. Women know what they like, what they want, whereas men can use a little more... guidance, shall we say. It's a gentle hand on the small of the back to show them the way. These ads would run during male oriented TV shows to guarantee maximum... exposure..." My voice was breathy and I hoped he thought I was catching a cold.
Hell, I want maximum exposure of that tight body right now.
I was losing it - badly. I coughed, quite convincingly I thought, and sipped more water.
He tilted his head a fraction, and for a moment I thought I saw his tongue dart out to moisten his lower lip. Clearly I was hallucinating now. When I blinked, he was gazing at me.
"These are rather intuitive, Mr Whitlock. Would they work on you? Would they make you want to buy a present for a special lady?"
"I'm sure my mom would love a piece of beautiful jewellery, Mr Cullen. As a son, it's my duty to make the only woman in my life feel loved. Wouldn't you agree?"
Stop flirting! What the hell are you doing?
I reached across the table to point to one particular board, and even I could see that my hand was shaking. I pointed to the wording.
"As you can see, I am making the advertisement ambiguous so that it can be for anyone, not just a wife or girlfriend. This particular chain also makes some beautiful men's jewellery. We don't want to be sexist in this day and age, wouldn't you agree?"
He didn't answer me, but his eyes held mine for far too long and I know I blushed hotly under his scrutiny. My practised eye glanced at his left hand and saw no ring, nor any marks from one.
When I saw his eyes do the same, I knew it was game, set and match Cullen.
~oOo~Reading the letter quickly, I scrunched it in my hand as I headed for the elevator.
Stepping out into the impressive foyer, I was heading for the door when I heard my name.
"Mr Whitlock? Could you please wait for a moment?" It was the cockatiel. "I have a request from Mr Cullen. Could you please go on up to floor ten? You'll find his office easily once you arrive."
Turning back to the elevator, I pressed the button. This time, the reflection showed someone rather less polished, and I tried in vain to make myself look cool and calm.
Stepping out onto the tenth floor, I checked the name plates on the doors. It wasn't hard to find as his office was the main one at the far end of the corridor.
Closed door, no windows, brass nameplate:
'Carlisle Cullen, Managing Director'
Knocking purposefully, I had only a second before the door opened. Seeing me, he opened it wider, allowing me into the rather luxurious private space.
Turning to him, I waved the scrunched piece of paper, my voice level and modulated.
"I didn't get the job?"
There was a beat and I saw his throat work.
"No. I'm sorry, Mr Whitlock, but we went with the other candidate. You simply weren't suitable."
The piece of paper slid uselessly from my grasp.
"Then forgive me, but why did you ask to see me?"
"Your interview was excellent. You are a talented man who would be an asset to this firm. But I simply can't have you working for me, Jasper."
My name was spoken in a whisper. He took a step towards me and I felt my body start to shake. His voice was low and seductive.
"In a couple of month's time there will be another vacancy for a different department. I think you should interview for that position. I will put in a recommendation for you. Just understand that I have my reasons for not employing you for this post. This decision was not taken lightly I assure you."
"So I was the best candidate, but you didn't want to employ me. How does that work exactly?" Disappointment was making me brave.
"It wouldn't be professional."
"In what way?" I swallowed audibly.
"It wouldn't be professional for me to have these thoughts about an employee. Especially when we'd be working together so closely for such long hours... I think you know what I'm saying."
"But it's okay to work closely for long hours with the other guy?"
"Oh yes, absolutely. I have no issue with he and I working late together."
My breathing was laboured.
"You see, Jasper," again the soft hiss of my name as he were tasting it, "he's really not my type."
I heard the gasp tear from my lungs, the words tumbling out.
I lunged forward and pressed my lips to his, inhaling his scent. I had nothing to lose now except the excruciating sexual tension that had percolated for the last three hours. Before I could think of pulling away, hands gripped my head, forcing his mouth to mine, his tongue exploring my warmth, the intoxicating proximity of him driving me wild.
When we broke apart, his eyes were dark and devilish, his long lashes holding me prisoner.
I may have groaned, I don't remember.
But I know that I did later that evening, when that very same man, more perfect than even my most fevered fantasies could conjure, took my body on a voyage of discovery from which there was no return.
And I swam in the warm depths of eyes the colour of the blue lagoon.