Empire of Hate (Empire #3) by Rina Kent

So I blink once, twice, but he’s still crystal clear in front of me. Like a hurricane that’s growing in intensity with the mere purpose of hitting me.

Breaking me to pieces.

Tearing me apart.

His presence is no different than being crushed over and left to perish. Not only is it imposing, but it also tugs on strings I thought I cut off a long time ago.

Strings that are currently vibrating inside me for the mere fact that I’m right in front of him again.

The last time I saw him, we were only eighteen, but he’s older now, more masculine. All man.

His jaw has squared and his hair that used to fall haphazardly all over his forehead is styled with subtle elegance. It’s become darker, too, as if he made it his mission to kill any light strands that streaked it.

The way he sits behind his desk is laced with nonchalance, but it’s not lazy—more like commanding. It’s like he’s a powerful king who expects everyone in the court to bend to his royal decree.

He leans over, places his elbows on the table, and interlinks his fingers at his chin. It’s a habit he used to do whenever he was deep in thought or angry. I’m not sure which feeling is more prominent right now, because his face is a blank slate.

His eyes, that I used to predict his mood through, are expressionless, muted, almost as if someone stole the stars from within them and blocked the sun. The only thing that remains is a bottomless blue, like a starless, moonless night.

And they’re zeroed in on me with a cool that chills me to my bones. Maybe cool isn’t the right word. There’s a coldness in there, an icy quality that’s meant to freeze me to death.

He used to have the type of beauty that brought me peace and calm. Now, it’s savage, unrestrained, and with every intention to hurt.

I’m not fooled by the way he looks. By how he wears his tailored gray suit like a supermodel or how he sits majestically like some lord. I’m not fooled by his unperturbed expression or seemingly calm façade. Because it’s just that.

A façade.

A way to pull me forward like prey, then pounce on me, devour my flesh, and crunch my bones.

“Are you going to stand there all day?”

I flinch, partly because my illusion that this is a dream is long gone. He’s right there, in person, and waiting. And partly because of his voice. It’s so deep but laced with a velvet-like quality. Which makes him sound approachable when he’s anything but. He also sounded disapproving just now, as if I’m a worthless rock in his shoe.

“Either come inside and close the door or get out. Leave your access card at HR while you’re at it.”

I force myself out of my haze and close the door with clammy, trembling fingers.

This job is important, not only for me but also for Jayden.

So what if I feel like dissociating from my own skin or digging my own grave? What if I feel like turning back, running, and never seeing those blue eyes again?

It doesn’t matter.

Jay’s survival and health do.

If I have to work for Daniel in order to provide for him, then so be it. Besides, there’s no flash of recognition on his features, so maybe he forgot about me.

Maybe he erased everything that happened between us and he’s now a new man who couldn’t give a damn about the past.

The thought tugs on those stupid heartstrings and I inhale deeply to put a halt to my reaction. But it’s all involuntary, pulled out from deep inside me by an invisible force I can’t control.

“Good morning, I’m the new assistant. My name is Nicole Adler.” I’m thankful my voice doesn’t waver and remains calm, almost as neutral as his indifference.

“I don’t care about your name. I’ll forget it once you fail the trial period.” He stares at his luxurious Swiss watch before he slides his icy stare back at me. “And it’s half past eight, which means you’re late, so there’s nothing specifically good about this morning.”

My stomach contracts and it has to do with his harsh words as much as his voice. I need to get used to it right away if I want to stay professional and keep this job.

“I’m sorry about that, but I had to finish up some paperwork with HR and—”

“All I hear are meaningless excuses,” he cuts me off. “Don’t repeat such behavior or your trial period will end before it even starts. Are we clear?”

“Yes,” I say, even though I want to scream, and not about this situation, but about all the chaotic thoughts and lines broken up inside me like distorted music playing underwater.

I want to scream and ask him if he’ll really pretend he doesn’t know me. He must’ve seen my résumé. He knows it’s me. I doubt he’s known many Nicole Adlers in his life.

But why does it matter?

In fact, I should be happy that it’s impersonal. That way, I can pretend this is only work that I’m using to keep a roof over my and Jay’s heads.

“Good.” He stands up and I suck in a harsh breath, hoping to hell he doesn’t hear it.

He was magnetic while sitting, but when he’s at his full height, it’s almost too blinding and unbearable to look at.

Not only is he tall, but he also has a mystic, attractive way of carrying himself. His shoulders are straight, his wide chest in perfect proportion with his jacket, and his trousers outline his long legs and thighs. I wonder if they’re still muscular from when he played football back in junior and secondary school.