Chapter 1

Help Needed

I sighed in relief as I pressed send on that last email of the day. I was running late. I should have been home a half hour ago, I shut down my computer, shoved my planner into my brief case, grabbed it and my purse and flew out of my office door.

"Emily, why are you still here?" I addressed my assistant. "You should have gone home an hour ago!"

"I know, but there's still tons of work that needs to be done before tomorrow," Emily said matter-of-factly.

"We need to hire someone to take over some of your duties. I'll ask HR to post an opening. Meanwhile, whatever it is you think is so important can wait till tomorrow morning. Go home. Relax. Eat some ice cream."

She gave me a faint smile and started to shut down her computer. "You are a rare breed in bosses, Abigail. The corporate world would be utopia if all CEOs were as considerate as you are."

I could feel my cheeks getting warm. "Never mind that. Just enjoy your evening. I'll see you tomorrow." I headed out the door and to the elevator. I usually took the stairs, but I was anxious to get home to my kids. I imagined they were driving Jamie nuts. I hurried to my car and started the drive home.

Fifteen minutes later I was walking through my front door and was greeted by a stampede of beautiful children. Kalli and Kevin are my reason for living and the only good thing that came out of a very short marriage. They both grabbed me around the waist from either side and demanded to know why I was late.

"Mom, why are you so late?" Kevin asked.

"We're gonna miss our show! Come on, Come on!" Kalli urged me toward the family room. Jamie met us on the way, her back pack already slung over her shoulder.

"Jamie, I'm really sorry I'm late. I hope I haven't made you late for anything," I apologized.

"I've got a study group in ten minutes, but I shouldn't be too late."

"Thanks again for all you do Jamie. I'll be home an hour early tomorrow so you can get a head start on your weekend."

"Thanks Ms. Alan. I'll see you tomorrow." Jamie left.

"Mom! Hurry up, let's go!" Kalli pushed me towards the family room.

I liked to be there when my kids watched TV. I liked to be on hand to point out any unacceptable behavior or in case they had questions. Mostly we like to watch documentaries on the nature channel. The kids love to learn about the world around them. I enjoy it too although I still preferred to read, even if my schedule only allowed me to read for fifteen minutes before going to sleep.

I cuddled with my kids on the couch as we watched a documentary on butterflies. The kids were amazed at how many times the caterpillar shed its skin and were even more wowed when the butterfly emerged from its chrysalis. In a way, I was like that butterfly. I was a caterpillar in my youth eating up as much knowledge as I could get, especially after the accident. My rest period in a protective chrysalis was after I was adopted. The Alan's were the most loving parents any kid could ask for.

I emerged into a butterfly after college. My roommate had talked me into a makeover as a graduation gift to myself. I learned how to style my hair in fun and sophisticated ways. I learned how to put on makeup. I learned that make-up changed with where you were. Natural for a day at home, sophisticated for a night on the town, and something in between for the office, adjusting for whether you were indoors or out.

My roommate took me shopping and taught me something about clothes. She wanted to expand my wardrobe. I only had jeans, t-shirts and sweaters. She showed me slacks, blouses, and business suits. She showed me dresses. Dresses for every day, dresses for parties and dresses for going on dates. She also showed me shoes and other accessories. When I saw myself, made-up and dressed up, it was the first time in my life I felt beautiful.

I met Nathanial soon after that and following a literal whirl wind romance we were married only three months after we met. Two months after that I was pregnant and he wanted a divorce. It wasn't in his life plan to be a father. A couple days after he left I found out he had tried to access my trust account, which was curious since I had never mentioned it to him. I told David, my adopted father, about it and he hired a private investigator. The investigation exposed Nathanial for what he was: a con man and I was his mark. Knowing he had tried to steal from me helped me let go. As part of the divorce I made sure he would have no rights when it came to the children to which he happily agreed.

At that time, I was working part-time for an electrical engineering company and taking some classes, just for fun, at a community college. Since I needed the money, I asked my boss to hire me full time and I dropped my classes. I was also working on improving a formula for battery performance, at home on the weekends. About a month before the twins were born, I was able to perfect the formula, which would make a battery perform thirty percent more efficiently, than those currently on the market.

After filing for a patent, cell phone, PDA, and computer companies couldn't wait for licenses. The money I received from licensing fees helped me start my own company. I started out with ten employees, but with demand being so high I quickly expanded. I also created a Research and Development department. Personal portable electronics were taken care of, now I wanted to expand into powering machines, like cars, satellites, and maybe even military devices.

My new parents were wonderful through the whole ordeal. Cheryl was with me when my babies were born and stayed a whole month to help. She even interviewed nannies with me. David helped me file my patent, start my company and incorporate it. They even baby-sit when I have to be out of town on business. Cheryl and David are true blessings in my life.

The kids started to yawn as the credits appeared on the screen. When the show was officially over I turned off the TV and announced bed time. Amid groans and protests we made our way to the kid's bathroom to brush their teeth. I took turns with who I tucked in first, tonight being Kevin's night, I waited in his room.

Kevin came into his room and I gave him a big long hug. He's my sweet boy, so loving and kind. He relishes hugs and cuddles while still managing to be the typical 6-year-old boy.

"I love you Kevin," I whispered in his ear.

"I love you too, Mom. Can you read me a story? … Please?"

"Yes, my boy, I will. What would you like me to read?"

"Lightning McQueen!"

I read him the book, tucked him in and kissed him goodnight. I went to Kalli's room. She was already in bed flipping through her Disney story book trying to decide which one she wanted me to read.

"Hey sweetie, have you picked a story?"

"Beauty and the Beast."

I sat on her bed and read her the story. My little princess is the more assertive of the twins, the leader. She's also fiercely protective of her brother who is only two minutes' younger. While I don't have to worry about anyone bullying my son, I am concerned about Kalli getting in trouble for fighting a bully. So far there haven't been any incidents for which I was grateful.

I finished her story and hugged her tight. "I love you Kalli."

"I love you too, Mom."

I turned out her light and headed to the kitchen for something to eat. Some left-over salad and a piece of bread and butter left me satisfied. I drank a glass of water, swallowed my vitamins and headed for my bedroom.

It was only eight forty-five, so I decided to relax in a hot bubble bath and read my latest classic. This was my first time reading The Count of Monte Cristo and I was enjoying every word. Alexander Dumas was a very gifted story teller. I was still catching up on my pleasure reading. I was so focused on school that I put what I wanted to read on the back burner. That's what happens when you have a double major. I started pleasure reading again after the kids were born. All that quiet time helped me compose a list and get started on it. Of course, that list kept expanding with all the new books that were coming out.

A half hour later I was in bed finishing up a chapter and settling down for the night. I turned off my light and waited for sleep to overtake me. My mind started to wander. I thought about my life and the decisions I made that led me to this point. I was pleased with my life. I ran a successful company; I had two amazing kids and two loving parents.

While the Alan's are wonderful and loved me like their own, I wished I could remember my real parents better. I still had that small picture that was ripped from my locket so long ago, but I rarely looked at it. It hurt too much to remember what was stolen from me.

Those thoughts made it impossible to fall asleep so I got up and looked for my sleep aid. One of my dorm mates in college introduced me to a non-habit forming, homeopathic sleep aid. I only took it when my brain wouldn't shut off at night. This was one of those nights. After taking the pills, I settled down in bed again and tried to steer my thoughts in another direction. The new assistant was a good place to start. How do I divide the duties between Emily and whoever would be hired? I would get Emily's input on that. She really was one amazing girl, but with our company growing like it was, there was too much work for one person. With these thoughts and plans I drifted off to sleep.

The weekend with my family was the perfect respite from corporate life. Saturday morning the kids and I went to our Taekwondo class. The kids were excited to be moving up a belt class after our test next weekend. We all decided to practice extra hard this week. They were even willing to wake up a half hour early to do it.

After class and getting cleaned up we went to Grandma and Granddad's house. There the twins were spoiled rotten with pizza for lunch and banana splits for desert. After lunch David took them out to the backyard and played basketball with them while Cheryl and I relaxed in lounge chairs and laughed at their antics. After a proper dinner of chicken stir fry and rice we settled down in their movie room and watched How to Train Your Dragon and ate popcorn. We spent the night since we were planning on going sailing on the lake the next day.

Sunday was another fun filled and relaxing day. Waking up Monday morning wasn't so bad after that wonderful weekend. My alarm woke me at five and I started my morning routine of exercise and a shower. I started breakfast, boiling some water for oatmeal and went to wake up the kids.

They groaned a little but stopped when I reminded them of their desire to practice for the Taekwondo test on Saturday. I quickly dumped the oatmeal in the boiling water, stirred it, covered it and turned off the heat. The kids and I practiced for twenty minutes and then I told them to go get cleaned up while I dished out the oatmeal. Kalli liked butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. Kevin liked brown sugar, raisins, and cinnamon. I preferred all those things on my oatmeal. We washed it and our vitamins down with some fresh raw milk and we were on our way.

The kids attend a nice private school only fifteen minutes from both my office and home. I had taken great care when choosing a school for my kids. This one fit all the requirements; it took into account that different kids learned at different paces. They didn't grade on a curve, which to my mind encouraged academic progress. And they emphasized independent thought and critical thinking, although those weren't taught until the children were nine years old. When we arrived at school I wished them a good day with blown kisses and then took myself to work.

As I entered the building I greeted the receptionist and headed for the stairs. Emily was already at her desk, no surprise there, and we exchanged "good mornings" and I went into my office, leaving the door open. Not two minutes later Emily came in so we could plan our day.

"HR sent over fifteen resumes for the new position. Do you want me to look them over first?"

"Let's do it together. How does Chinese sound for lunch? We can stuff our faces and decide which ones get to go through our rigorous interview process."

"I don't understand how that rumor got started," Emily commented. "I mean, my interview with you wasn't nearly as frightening as others I've been through."

"Oh, I started that one myself," I chuckled. At Emily's raised brows I explained. "I didn't want to get a bunch of sissies applying for my company. I wanted real go-getters. So, I made some anonymous postings on a couple of those job web sites about how interviewing here was like the Inquisition, and if you didn't answer a question satisfactorily, especially if it was a personal question, you would be booted at once and I wouldn't bother with the rest of the interview."

"You are one sneaky woman, Abigail. You are also one of the best judges of character I have ever met. You have built an amazing company. Everyone loves working here, even those guys down in R&D don't mind when you go look over their shoulders once a week."

"I had a lot of practice reading people when I was younger. I can tell when people are faking it, just to get on your good side. I don't want any of those in my company. That's why I make it a point of meeting every prospective employee before the offer is made, even if it's the mailroom person."

"I know and I appreciate that. One bad apple can affect them all, right?"

"Don't I know it," I murmured. Emily opened her mouth, but I spoke before she could. "So, the rest of my day looks pretty set. Let's open up some time tomorrow and Wednesday for interviews. We need your helper pronto. Speaking of which, have you decided what duties the new person will be taking on?" Once we finished that discussion Emily left to do her work and I started on mine.

Our Chinese food was delivered at twelve on the dot and Emily came in with a file folder filled with resumes. We loaded our plates, split up the resumes and started our perusals, making comments here or there about each applicant.

"Well, this one sounds perfect," Emily said while looking one over. I put down the one I was looking at, knowing already that person wasn't qualified. Emily handed me the resume. At the top was a name I never thought to see again in my whole life. I think I even stopped breathing as I read it again: Dillon Latrell. I couldn't get past that name to look at the qualifications and experience. I was immediately back in high school before the Alan's adopted me. I was alone and persecuted.

"Abigail?" Emily's voice brought me back and I started to breathe again, though I still felt the anguish of those months running through me.

"Sorry. I sort of zoned out for a second." I was trying to cover it up, but I knew Emily saw through me. I took another slow deep breath and looked at the rest of the resume. Emily was right. "This guy does sound perfect. There is even potential for promotion here." Emily nodded.

"Okay, let's invite Mr. Latrell, Miss Singer, and Mr. Robinson for interviews. Do you have any others in your stack to recommend?"

"Yes, I think this Miss Turner may also fit the bill."

"Perfect. What a pleasant way to read resumes, don't you think? Sweet and sour chicken makes everything more bearable," I teased.

"Yeah, and mushu pork helps the pain of reading awful resumes go away," Emily joked back.

We put the rejects in a red reject file to be sent back to HR and the potentials back in the file folder. Emily would set up their interviews. When we finished eating, I put the leftovers in my office refrigerator and we both got back to work. A few hours later Emily sent me the schedule for the interviews. Miss Turner and Mr. Robinson would come on Tuesday and Miss Singer and Mr. Latrell on Wednesday. I emailed her back, asking why Mr. Latrell was the last appointment. Her reply said that was the only time he was available. Too bad, his resume had been perfect. If he was first and what we were looking for we wouldn't have to go through the rest. I was fervently hoping it wasn't the same Dillon Latrell I knew back in high school.