01| Prologue + Warning

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P R O L O G U E

Alastair Montgomery leaned back in his chair and folded his arms—a pose which was probably supposed to appear relaxed but instead just intimidated me, drawing attention to the intense power difference between the two of us. He might be laidback about this interview, but he already had a career and enough money to live comfortably for the rest of his life.

"I can't be arsed with cliché interview questions so let's just cut the bullshit and be honest with one another."

Out of all the questions I'd memorised—and all the interview websites I'd scoured for tips—not one had prepared me for that sentence.

Sensing he'd shocked me, Montgomery continued.

"Anyone can sit in front of me having prepared thirty answers to the bog standard interview. I couldn't care less what your weaknesses are—I can work that out for myself. I don't want to hear an example of a time where you've solved a problem, or managed a conflict or demonstrated lateral thinking. If you're gonna work for my company, I want to hear about you as a person. Not you as a set of statistics."

He then unfolded his arms and rested them on the table in front of him, interlinking his fingers and shifting his weight forwards as his eyes locked confidently onto mine, anticipating my response. Part of me wondered if this was a test but I tried to remind myself that the guy sitting opposite me was only twenty-three. He was my age, just with a ton more life experience.

"I guess if you've never been through an interview yourself then you've no desire to inflict it upon other people," I said, raising an eyebrow at him.

His lips twitched but he just raised a shoulder to shrug. "Like I said, anyone can prepare for an interview. I'd rather hire someone I get on with, and who has at least an ounce of personality, rather than someone with a good memory and the ability to recite rehearsed answers."

Mimicking him, I shrugged in response. Never before had I shrugged in an interview but, then again, never before had an interview taken such an unprofessional—and unexpected—turn.

"Looks like I wasted my time, then," I said.

"Yes, it does," he agreed. "I'm flattered, though. So, tell me about yourself. And not the boring stuff."

"Not the stuff I prepared, then," I said, forcing a smile even though smiling was the last thing I wanted to do at that moment.

He smiled back. "Absolutely not."

Nibbling the inside of my lip, I took a few moments to think of an answer. As relaxed as Montgomery wanted this interview to be, there was something very disconcerting about the surprising turn it had taken. I liked following rules and set patterns; spontaneity was fine in the right situation but, when it came to getting a job, I didn't enjoy being put on the spot and expected to provide the right responses to unforeseen questions.

That's probably why I responded in the way I did.

"Your family are one of the wealthiest in London, your father being an investor in several successful companies—and several not-so-successful companies, too, but I suppose that's why he ended those contracts. You didn't go to university, but instead helped out at one of your dad's businesses before branching off and running your own. On the whole, you've done well, turning over a growing profit each year, but with a surge in competitors, and an increasingly fickle market who would rather turn to the cheaper companies instead of those with the best reputation, you're now struggling. Not to mention, you went through a messy break-up two years ago and found yourself thrust into the spotlight for personal reasons, rather than business ones."

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