Imperfect Intentions (Beauty in Imperfection, Book 1)
Read Chapter One!
Nobody looks up from their computer screens as the young woman wheels a trolley with cleaning products through the swing doors into the basement. To them, she may as well be invisible, but to me, the clack of the doors that announces her arrival is like a blaring alarm.
She comes on at six every weekday and leaves after midnight. The nightshift allows her to clean when the employees clock out for the day. After six, the desks are supposed to be vacant, and she can make noise with the vacuum cleaner without disturbing the programmers and break their concentration. The only people left at this hour are the workaholics, which is just about the entire floor.
She strains under the weight of the trolley, leaning her slender frame into it and weaving with a slight limp around the desks in the open plan space. Today, she wears ripped jeans and a pink T-shirt. The denim hugs her shapely ass, and the cotton of the T-shirt molds snugly over her breasts. The curves of her feminine shape are neither big, nor small. Her body is perfectly proportioned, except for her right leg that’s a few centimeters shorter than her left. If not for that unique characteristic, she would’ve been a doll, and dolls are plastic. Reality has flaws, but that’s what makes it real. Real in all its raw, authentic beauty is much more attractive.
With every movement, her muscles shift under her clothes. Each pose is flawless from every angle. She’s not skinny, but there’s not an ounce of fat on her body. Like the rest of her, her smooth, honey-colored skin begs to be touched. Her oval-shaped face gives her a soft, delicate look while the determined set of her full lips hints at self-assurance. Her eyes are the most unusual color of blue, a deep violet that reminds me of lavender. Long brown hair is piled on top of her head in a messy bun. A few tendrils that escaped stick to her temples and nape despite the AC that works on full blast down here. Perspiration shines on her forehead. That means she’s already been cleaning upstairs. Her father—my boss—sometimes makes her come in early to clean the kitchen and meeting room on the ground floor.
The trolley creaks under the burden of a bucket filled with water. Drops slosh over the sides as she pulls on the handlebar to stop the momentum of the wheels. She leaves the trolley in the corner and walks with an uneven gait through the doors. A moment later, she returns with a vacuum cleaner. She pops in ear pods, takes her phone from her back pocket, and swipes a finger over the screen. Not sparing any of the twelve men in the room a glance, she switches on the vacuum cleaner and steers the power nozzle over the varnished concrete floor.
My coworkers continue with their work. We’re all on a deadline. More accurately, we’re all chasing a promotion, and even in a clandestine software company like Gus Starley’s, a pay raise and private office must be earned.
Taking my empty mug, I push to my feet and head toward the coffee maker. I go the long way around, passing by her so closely I can smell the faint scent of caramel and clean, female sweat on her skin. She hums to herself, her husky voice making my scalp tingle in a pleasurable way like when my hairdresser cuts my hair. It’s not a tune I know. I memorize it as I fill my mug with burnt coffee from the glass flask on the hot plate. After adding creamer, which doesn’t change the color of the coffee much, I stall by taking a sip while watching her through my lashes.
Done with the vacuuming, she kills the noise and carries the vacuum cleaner away. By the time I’m back at my desk, she reappears through the doors and makes her way with some difficulty but no less determination to the trolley. Her actions are as fluid and natural as those of someone who doesn’t realize she’s being observed.
She needs to be more careful.
When she lifts the bucket to the floor, the effort sketches her arm muscles in a stunning portrait of human perfection. After dunking the mop in the bucket, she squeezes out the excess water and starts to wash the floor. The dance of her body is rhythmic as she paints the concrete with wet brushstrokes of soapy water. It’s hypnotic.
I must be staring for too long, the usual clacking of my keyboard silent, because I’m attracting attention. My nape pricks with awareness of being watched. I feel my neighbor’s eyes on me before I turn my head and catch him looking.
Elliot Starley’s lips curve into a smile as he slides his gaze from me to Violet. The boss’s son or not, I feel like punching that smirk off his face.
“Do you have a problem?” I ask.
“No.” He smiles wider and resumes his typing. “No problem.”
I don’t care that he caught me ogling his sister. What I do care about is that I can no longer watch her unobserved. Once she knows, she’ll no longer be unguarded.
Clenching my jaw, I focus on the long string of coding in front of me. From my peripheral vision, I notice Elliot get up. He stretches and, following my example, takes the mug that sits on the Johannesburg Country Club coaster next to his keyboard. His steps are lazy as he walks to the back. Just before he gets to the table with the coffee maker, he rounds one of the geek’s desks, putting himself in Violet’s path. The bucket makes a thump as he collides with it, kicking it over. The water rushes out and runs in every direction.
Violet gives a start.
A soap bubble floats on the water and pops where the puddle pools under the geek’s desk.
She fixes her eyes on her brother, slicing him up with her gaze while her knuckles turn white on the handle of the mop.
“Sorry,” he says with a grin. “I didn’t watch where I was going.”
The lie is mocking.
The office has gone quiet. Everyone is watching.
A muscle ticks in her delicate jaw.
Turning his back on her, Elliot continues casually on his way, walking water all over the clean floor.
I’m on my feet in a blink. I swear I’ll slam his face so hard on the floor I’ll flatten his nose and drown him in one millimeter of water and his own blood. I’m already halfway around my desk when the office door on the right opens and the boss steps out.
Not slowing my stride, I head straight for my target who’s filling his mug with coffee. Instinctively, I assess the room. Experience has taught me to take stock of a situation and evaluate the danger with a single glance. Gus isn’t moving. He’s not going for the gun in his desk drawer or calling his guard. He’s leaning in his doorframe with his hands shoved into his pockets, his expression amused.
My footsteps fall hard on the floor. Elliot catches on. He turns and freezes with his mug halfway to his mouth. I’m five steps away from crushing his windpipe when a soft hand falls on my arm.
The shock of it stops me. Watching is one thing. Touching is another. Her hand is dry and warm. The touch is innocent and light, yet the impact is momentous. Up until a minute ago, I was content to watch her, to quietly enjoy my private obsession. Now? We crossed a line. There’s no going back. She’s taken notice of me. I can no longer enjoy her from the sidelines like she’s my favorite show. The game has fast-forwarded.
I fix my gaze on where her slender fingers are wrapped around my bicep. I like the way it looks—her golden skin against my darker tan and her smallness against my bulk. I like the way it feels, the heat of her palm on my naked skin.
Tearing my gaze from her touch, I look at her face. Her lavender eyes are big for her small face. Long, dark lashes create a pretty frame for their unusual expressiveness. Does she know she carries her heart on her sleeve?
She needs to pay more attention.
She’s an easy prey for a man like me.
Her fingers tighten on my arm as she gives a slight shake of her head. When I lean toward her, she lets go.
Putting us cheek to cheek, I say softly enough for only her to hear, “He deserves to have his face bashed in. Then he can go down on his knees, say sorry like he means it, and clean up this mess.”
She turns her face to catch my gaze. “I can fight my own battles.”
“This is about principle.”
“You’re making it worse.”
I shut my mouth at that and study her, paying closer attention. Standing this near, the fine stress lines around her eyes are visible. Beneath the defiance, anxiety glistens like twinkling stars in those violet-blue depths. I know panic when I see it.
She schools her features and clears her throat. “We have an audience. Please.”
It takes me a moment to back down. I step toward my desk, not because I want to but because she wants me to.
“Back to work, everyone,” Gus says.
Shooting me a look, he straightens and reenters his office. The door slams behind him.
Elliot walks straight past me when he goes back to his desk. I have to ball my hands not to grab him by his collar and throw him facedown on the floor. While I take my place at my station, Violet mops up the water.
The show is over. Everyone returns to their programming.
I clench and unclench my fingers, still fighting the urge to break Elliot’s nose. Gus won’t hold it against me. He approves of a fair fight. In his business, no one gets preferential treatment, not even family, which is why Elliot had to work his way up from filing papers in the vault. I’m guessing it’s for the same reason that Violet has been cleaning the office for the past three months. Gus is starting her at the bottom. Me, I was a runner, carrying messages between Gus and his clients none of them would risk putting in writing.
Violet takes away the bucket and returns with clean water. She mops the whole floor again before tackling the dusting. She doesn’t glance in my direction, but she’s no longer humming or moving with her usual grace. As I predicted, she’s stiff and guarded.
Giving her the illusion of disinterest, I type the last row of coding and sit back to enjoy my masterpiece.
Fuck, it’s beautiful.
The program is graceful, like Violet.
Interlacing my fingers, I crack my knuckles and put my hands behind my neck to support the weight of my head. In front of me sits three years’ worth of work. I started it when Ian, Rudy, and I were still a gang. The program will put me on the map. It’ll win me the recognition I crave and prove that I’m worthy of being made a partner. The moment is sweet. I should call Ian and tell him the good news, but I’m selfish. I want to savor the moment alone for a while.
A hint of caramel reaches my nostrils. I don’t budge when Violet stops next to my desk. I don’t move from my reclined position as she leans over and shuffles papers to dust my desk. The sight of her is ten times prettier than the eloquent program on my screen. The shape of her breast is a thousand times more perfect. If I reach out, I could cup the curve. It would fit in my palm like it was made for my hand. I imagine testing the weight, how soft yet firm her flesh would be if I close my fingers.
She does a half-assed job, skimming over the paperweight and filing tray. I make her nervous. She barely touches my screen with the duster before moving to Elliot’s station.
In contrast, she’s thorough with her brother’s desk. She lifts the mouse pad to clean underneath. Elliot doesn’t pay her attention. Like a jerk, he continues to work, treating her like everyone else, as if she’s invisible. I’m about to lose my cool again when she neatly knocks over his mug, spilling the coffee over his built-in keyboard.
The keyboard backlight dies.
Elliot jumps up, shaking coffee from his hands. “Bloody, fucking hell.”
For a second time today, the room goes quiet.
“For fuck’s sake,” Elliot cries out, stabbing his fingers into his hair.
When his desktop screen turns black, his eyes grow round. “No.” Pulling on his hair, he repeats, “No.”
Water damage is serious. Liquid that seeps onto the ribbon cable can cause a short circuit in the system board. If the hard drive was damaged, he may not be able to retrieve any work he didn’t back up.
A hint of a smile plays on Violet’s lips. “Oops.” Mimicking his tone of earlier, she says, “Sorry. I guess I didn’t watch what I was doing.”
“Give me a fucking cloth,” he yells, waving an arm at her and groping air.
Violet cocks her hip. “Say please.”
“What?” He tears his gaze from the damage to stare at her. “Are you fucking serious right now?”
She narrows her pretty eyes. “I’ve never been more serious.”
His mouth drops open. He looks around. No one moves. Everyone is frozen in shock, their faces transformed with horror. There’s no greater tragedy to a programmer than a spilled drink.
“Fucking please,” Elliot grits out.
Violet walks to the trolley. Her limp makes her slower than most people, but she’s taking her time. Elliot rips out the power cable. He’s unplugging an external hard drive when she returns with a dishcloth.
“Here you go,” she says, waving the cloth in front of his face.
He rips it from her hand.
She crosses her arms, not offering to help as he wipes up the spillage.
Before turning to leave, she says with a smile, “You missed a spot.”
Elliot looks like a stick of dynamite with a fuse fast burning out. The helpless fury on his face is priceless.
One for Violet. Zero for Elliot.
Popping in her ear pods, she hums as she picks up her duster and moves to the next desk. The guy who occupies it grabs his external keyboard and hugs it to his chest.
That’s when I know with crystal clarity.
Whether she’ll want me or not, Violet Starley is mine.
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