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By´╝ÜLauren Landish

Chapter 1


My fingers were beating a staccato rhythm on my desktop as I waited for the call I’d been expecting all afternoon. I’d expected the news around one or two, and it was now nearly four o'clock. Three times in the past hour I had to be reminded of phone calls or other things on my schedule by my secretary. "Miss Williams, your appointment is here."

"Eh? Appointment?" I said, looking up. Vanessa, who I had just hired two months prior when I was appointed head of MJT Consolidated Holdings, kept her best professional demeanor. I appreciated it. "Who with?"

I had hired Vanessa Montenegro because, at thirty four, she already had fifteen years of experience as an executive assistant. She'd worked with all sorts of companies, from health care to manufacturing, and in each instance she'd gotten rave reviews from her former employers. In fact, three of them had told me they would hire her back in an instant with a hefty pay raise if she'd take the job. When I asked her why she kept changing jobs instead of taking the pay raises, she impressed me, not only for her insight, but for her bluntly put honesty.

"I'm an INTJ Architect personality type, which normally isn't good for the type of job I do. According to the online profiles I should be working as a freelance project type person like in software engineering, or maybe as a lawyer. But for me, I see this sort of work as my calling. I come into a company, and while I don't like the spotlight, I really focus on doing what I can to help the company set up the structures it needs in order to be successful. Once that framework is in place, I tend to get a bit itchy footed and move on. No offense Miss Williams, but I doubt I'll be around for more than four or five years. I'd say less, but you're so new at this, you'll be providing me with plenty of challenges and ways to help out for a lot longer than some of my other jobs."

Now, two months later, I understood what she meant. Vanessa was a real help around the office, the sort of person who helped a twenty five year old like me get a handle on a company that, on the books at least, was worth well over a hundred million dollars, on a staff of (again, on paper) two people, three if you counted the cleaning guy I hired to come in three times a week. I never have understood the idea of making your secretary clean up after you, and while I kept my office pretty neat, I wasn't going to make someone like Vanessa do dusting.

Of course, all of that was on the books. Off the books, well, MJT was a lot more. Funded by well-scrubbed blood money, MJT was in reality three people, and had access to nearly three hundred million dollars if it wanted to. I wasn't even the head of it, that honor being taken by Matt Bylur, nee Marcus Smiley, nee Mark Snow (The M in MJT). Once the best hitman in the city, and perhaps in the country, Mark has killed a lot of people. Just how many I don't really know, but I could go the rest of my life without knowing the actual number. It's a weight I could live without on my soul.

I've actually seen Mark in action once, when he saved me from a group of gangsters in a nightclub after they'd kidnapped me. He dropped four men so fast that I barely had time to scream before the last man hit the ground. I'm getting ahead of myself though. Calm, confident, wickedly smart, handsome, in a lot of ways he is a dream guy for any woman. I did make a pass at him once, which he promptly rebuffed kindly, but with finality.

I don't think of Mark in that way any longer though because of the second person in MJT (the J). Joanna Bylur, nee Sophie Warbird, nee Sophie White, was my best friend all through college, and the woman that had become the sister I never had. Beautiful inside and out, being with Mark had really brought her out of her insecure shell and let her understand just how fucking awesome she is. She accepted me for who I am, a weird but out-going firebird. Then, as if that wasn't impressive enough, she turned the baddest hitman in the city into a vigilante crusader. Oh, and she has about a thousand other little skills that she has which makes her the perfect woman.

Which is kind of how MJT (I'm the T, duh) was born. The rest is history, including how Mark and Sophie took down the two largest criminal networks in town. After doing so, Mark needed to disappear. On the other hand, in order to keep our city from falling into chaos, his money and the influence he wanted to use, couldn't. Taking on the identity of Matt Bylur, he and Sophie (now Joanna) got married in Las Vegas and moved back into town as my housekeeper and groundskeeper. I was jealous that they didn't have me at their wedding, but I understood, and they had videotaped it for me. So I had my boss, best friend, and whatever you wanted to call them as my house staff. At least, that was their so-called day job. I still have to shake my head about it, and I lived through it all.