Kylo Ren sat at his desk glaring at the numbers on his P&L. They didn’t match his projections from the first quarter and he knew exactly who to blame.
“Hux,” he growled into his phone. “Get in here. Now!”
His CSO strolled into his office, his usual charming smile fixed upon his face. “What is it now, Ren?” the red-haired man asked with a dramatic sigh.
“Your numbers aren’t on target.” Kylo pointed at his screen.
“It’s only May,” Hux replied, unbothered. “Things will pick up. They always do.”
“And what assurances do you have that things will, quote, pick up?” Kylo questioned lowly.
“Ren, you know my team delivers results,” Hux responded, matching Kylo’s disapproving tone. “We have surpassed our quota every year since I was promoted to the Chief Sales Officer role.”
“Until now,” Kylo said coolly.
“We haven’t even closed the books on the second quarter yet,” Hux hissed, slamming his hands down on Kylo’s desk.
“Unlike you, Armitage ,” the CEO of the First Order pronounced his direct report’s name slowly. “I would prefer not to gamble with our organization’s financial state. Bring the numbers up.”
Hux glowered at his boss, seething beneath the surface of his carefully constructed exterior. He gave Kylo a curt nod and dismissed himself from the CEO’s office.
Kylo returned to his financial review, searching for areas where cuts could be made and efficiencies implemented. The next area of the organization which caught his eye was Information Technology, Gwendolyn Phasma’s department.
He took a deep breath and dialed her extension.
“I would like to speak with you in my office, please,” he requested.
“Of course,” came Phasma’s clipped reply.
Moments later the statuesque blonde entered his office with a passive expression on her face. “How can I be of assistance, Mr. Ren?”
“Why did our expenses increase by 12% since last month?” Kylo queried.
“As you know, sir, our scrum system is outdated. My team conducted research on viable alternatives and we purchased a replacement software solution this month,” she explained.
“And who approved this transaction?” Kylo inquired, raising a brow.
“And who gave you permission to spend $8,000 on a new solution?” he demanded, his temper flaring with each question he had to pose to his staff.
Phasma’s icy blue eyes narrowed. “Sir, with all due respect, as the CTO—.”
“With all due respect, Phasma, you still report to me and your department has to follow the same protocols as every other department,” Kylo reminded her. “If it affects our bottom line, it warrants a discussion at the leadership council and must be brought to a vote.”
“Sir, the previous tool was inefficient and effecting my employees’ billable utilization,” she argued.
“While I appreciate this key piece of information, it doesn’t negate the need for you to follow the process,” Kylo mentioned. “I assume the contract is for a full-year term?”
“Correct, sir,” Phasma confirmed, her eyes fierce but her body language remorseful.
“At the end of the term, we will discuss renewing the contract or fall back to the previous solution. You will need to prepare your argument and present it to the leadership council. Do I make myself clear?” he asked.
“Fine,” he said before giving her a wave. “That will be all.”
He didn’t hear Phasma curse him under her breath or take notice of the way she slammed his office door behind her. Kylo was already focused on his spreadsheet.
There was one final area which could benefit from some clean-up efforts. To put the First Order back on track, Kylo called in his COO, Dopheld Mitaka.
The skittish man entered Kylo’s office with his eyes frantically looking everywhere but the CEO and his hands flailing between wiping his sweaty palms on his trousers or jamming them into his pockets.
Kylo would never understand why the former CEO had appointed Mitaka as COO. The man was a prodigy when it came to numbers but he had no killer instincts. He was a hopelessly nervous wreck every time Kylo held an audience with him.
“Y-You requested me, s-sir,” the fumbling man managed to squeak out.
“Have you reviewed the numbers for month-end yet?” Kylo questioned, folding his hands in front of himself as he leaned back in his chair to stare at the man.
“N-No, sir,” Mitaka admitted. “I’ve been working with Finance on the new compensation plans, as you order— erm, instructed.”
“They aren’t good, Mitaka, and you know why?”
“No.” The COO seemed to shrink under his gaze.
“Because our Operations cost is too high,” Kylo revealed. “I thought one of our strategic goals for the year was to cut costs by 5%.”
“It is, sir,” he answered. “We continue to make improvements. Just last week, Canady’s staff completed their cross-training. Their productivity has increased by nearly 25% now that the team is aware of their growth opportunities.”
“It’s not enough,” the CEO barked. “Canady is only one of our directors. I need all the teams streamlined. Can I trust your leadership on this matter, Mitaka?”
“Of course, sir. I am—.”
“Then make it happen,” Kylo demanded. Before Mitaka could respond, he dismissed him.
Left alone in his office, Kylo Ren returned to the next task on his list, completely unaware of his subordinates meeting in the conference room one level below him.
“He’s out of line!” Hux hollered, standing at the head of the table. “We need to make a stand.”
“And say what exactly?” Phasma questioned as she filed her perfect nails, a bored expression on her face.
“He’s only trying to maintain our success,” Mitaka offered.
“He’s a tyrant is what he is!” Hux disputed vehemently.
“Calm down, Armitage,” Phasma ordered with a sigh. “You’ll give yourself a heart attack.”
“How can you just sit there and act as if all is fine?” he inquired, nostrils flaring in irritation.
“You’re letting your pride affect your judgment,” she replied smoothly. “We all knew Ren would be a difficult man to work for but Snoke left him in charge.”
Hux scoffed and rolled his eyes. “I’ll never understand what the old man saw in him. He’s as temperamental as a two-year-old.”
Phasma laughed. “As if you would know what a two-year-old acts like.”
The redhead glared at her. “Not the point.”
“Then what is the point?” she asked, resuming filing her nails.
“The point is he should have never been appointed CEO,” Hux declared. “We need to speak to the board, get him voted out.”
“Are you sure that’s wise?” Mitaka asked. “After all, he has ties that go beyond this company.”
“If you’re referring to Skywalker Industries, I have it on good authority that Ren hasn’t spoken to his family in quite some time,” Hux divulged. “I don’t believe they will lend him any aid.”
“His mother is a senator, Armitage,” Phasma reminded him. “Besides, not everyone has a relationship with their parents like you and Brendol. It’s too much of a risk.”
“Then what do you propose, Gwen?”
Her frost blue eyes snapped up to his. “Ren needs a distraction, something that will take him out of the office and away from complicating our lives because he doesn’t have one.”
“Such as?” Hux quipped.
“What about a mentorship program?” Mitaka suggested with a giddy smile. “I’m sure the local college would be pleased to send us resumes of their top performers to shadow the best in the business.”
“Are you serious?” Hux asked flatly. “Do I need to remind you what occurred on Bring Your Child to Work day last year?”
“Oh, right,” Mitaka responded.
Silence fell over the group as they remembered the yelling and tears from the event. It had since been discontinued.
“I could get him into the Empire Club,” Hux put forth his own idea.
“A cigar club?” Phasma remained skeptical. “Ren doesn’t smoke.”
“He doesn’t take time off either but things change,” Hux pointed out.
“No,” Phasma disagrees. “The last thing we need is Ren gaining more supporters in places of high power. We need something that will keep his mind off of the business.”
“I assume you have an idea of what that could be?” Hux prompted.
“Indeed I do,” Phasma grinned and stood up. “We get him a girlfriend.”
“What?” Hux roared.
“A-A g-girlfriend?” Mitaka tittered anxiously.
“Yes,” Phasma confirmed. “Think about it. If we find Ren a partner, he won’t be here twelve hours a day scouring over our P&L or scaring the staff. He’ll clock out at the end of the day like the rest of us, go home, get laid, and return in the morning a much happier boss.”
“You’re serious?” Hux questioned in disbelief. “You’re actually serious about this.”
“A girlfriend would be nice,” Mitaka agreed with Phasma. “He seems lonely.”
Hux rolled his eyes a second time. “I could give a rat’s ass if he’s lonely. I just want him to stop fucking up my plans.”
“Then we need to get him a girlfriend,” the CTO insisted.
“Why not hire a hooker to get him laid? That way we know we have a contract and it ensures he gets laid even if his stupid mouth gets in the way,” Hux countered.
Phasma pinched the bridge of her nose and groaned. “Have you ever seen Ren with a woman?”
“He talks to you all the time,” Hux argued.
“I’m a professional,” she snapped, losing patience. “I’m talking about at a networking event or even the holiday party. Have you ever seen him interact with a woman?”
“No,” Mitaka replied.
“No,” Hux responded at the same time.
“Exactly,” Phasma returned. “Because he doesn’t know how to speak to women. A hooker would only be sex and that won’t help us. She’s not going to talk to him or hold his attention. We need the real deal.”
“That’s all fine and dandy, Gwen,” Hux retorted. “There’s only one problem. Who the hell is crazy enough to date Kylo Ren?”
Across town, a girl in her early twenties was summoned from the back room by her best friend and partner.
“What, Finn? I’m busy,” she shouted back.
“Drop whatever you’re doing and get in here now! I have news,” he cried.
Rey Niima exhaled in one long angry huff. She hated stepping away from her system in the middle of a test run but Finn wouldn’t ask unless it was important, so she strolled out of the back into the main office.
Their information security business, Rebel Scum, was only in its first year. It had taken all of their savings and a substantial business loan to get the dream underway, but after proving their success with a few clients, their name got out to larger organizations until the local paper ran an article on them and since then the business had been steadily growing.
With Finn running the day to day business and administrative end of things, it left Rey to do what she loved — breaking systems apart only to build them again with stronger more efficient architecture.
Their office was a small shop on Jakku Street, furnished with hand-me-downs and items they’d picked up at garage sales. It wasn’t fancy but it worked. The fact that the apartment above the shop was theirs helped them maintain quick response times. Besides, Rey liked to keep busy and if eating that week meant putting in a few extra hours, she was glad to do it.
“What’s up?” she asked, dropping into a chair across the desk from Finn.
“We scored a new contract,” he announced excitedly.
“I knew Cloud City Computing would open doors for us,” Rey remarked.
“This is bigger than Cloud City,” Finn grinned.
“How big?” she questioned skeptically.
Rey quirked a brow in disbelief. “What’s better than Resistance Tech?”
“The First Order,” Finn answered.
“What?” Rey shot up out of her seat, her eyes narrowing. “Your former employer hired us? Why? I thought you hated it there.”
“I did but this time I’m the one calling the shots and the shots include our full package of services,” Finn explained with a smug smile.
“No shit.” Rey fell back into her seat.
Not a single one of their clients had ever signed that large of a contract with them before. She’d be able to pay off the rest of her student loans. Maybe even get a car, instead of having to bike to work every day.
“Told you it was big,” Finn beamed.
“When do they want us to start?” she asked.
“Not us. You,” Finn corrected. “And you start tomorrow.” He slid the work order across the table to her. “Good luck.”
66 Supremacy Drive was as intimidating as Rey had expected. She tilted her head back until her neck hurt to take in the towering structure.
The last company she had visited, Cloud City Computing, was also large but nowhere near as intimidating as the monstrosity of a skyscraper before her. Above the entrance was the crimson red logo, daunting in its simplicity. It reminded Rey of a target, like the one she’d have on her back if she messed up this contract.
With a deep breath to steady herself, she pulled the door open and walked inside.
The lobby was larger than the entire shop and her apartment laid out side by side. Rey resisted the urge to whistle as she took it in. The marble floors were polished to the point where she could see her reflection in them and the massive chandelier hanging at the elevator bank was definitely a custom-made piece. As much as she didn’t want to be, Rey found herself impressed.
“Can I help you, Ms.?” A security guard asked.
“Yes, I’m Rey Niima. I have a nine o’clock with Mr. Ren, please.”
The man seemed surprised when she announced who she was meeting but after a quick check on his iPad, he confirmed her information was correct. “Here.” He handed her a visitor’s badge and directed her to the top floor. “Mr. Ren’s office is straight through the glass doors on the right.”
Rey rode the elevator up, taking in the skyline as she rose. She’d rarely had the chance to see the city from this perspective. She imagined it was even more spectacular in the evening.
The elevator chimed, announcing she’d reached the appropriate floor and she followed the guard’s directions to the First Order CEO’s office.
She was met first by a harsh-looking woman with sharp features. Unlike the security guard, the assistant didn’t appear friendly or helpful.
“And you are?” she addressed Rey in a nasal voice.
“Rey Niima. I’m Mr. Ren’s nine o’clock appointment.”
“You’re Ray Niima,” the woman questioned, arching one of her thin black brows in suspicion.
“It’s Rey with an ‘e’,” she explained. “It confuses a lot of people.”
“I’m sure,” the woman responded, narrowing her eyes. “Mr. Ren doesn’t like surprises,” she remarked, her long nails typing away on her keyboard.
“He should be expecting me,” Rey replied, plastering a fake smile on her face.
“Whatever,” the assistant sighed. “Through there,” she directed Rey to the door behind her.
Rey moved past her, offering her thanks but the woman was already ignoring her in favor of her work.
Knocking to announce herself, Rey waited until she heard a deep voice tell her to enter.
She swung the door open and stepped inside an office that looked like it could have been photographed for a magazine. It probably had.
Along with the man inside of it.
Kylo Ren sat behind a mahogany desk, seated in a high back leather chair, frowning at her.
“May I help you?”
He was, without a doubt, the most gorgeous man she had ever seen. His black hair was swept perfectly away from his face, framing his pale skin which was dotted with a series of equally dark moles. His hands were massive, dwarfing the mouse he held and making the Breitling watch he wore on his left hand appear small.
Rey had never met a man as daunting or striking as him. For a moment, she forgot what she was doing in his office.
When her brain finally caught up with her, she rushed to introduce herself. “Good morning, Mr. Ren. I’m Rey Niima. I’m here to conduct the penetration testing you requested.”
“Excuse me?” His voice was low and rumbled like thunder across the desert.
Rey bit the inside of her cheek, nervous that Phasma hadn’t notified her supervisor of the security audit. What if he wasn’t prepared to answer her questions? What if she hadn’t been granted clearance to inspect his data center? What if—
No. She stopped her worried thoughts from spiraling out of control. She was a professional and Finn was depending on her. She wasn’t about to let some C-level pompous ass throw her off her game.
She pulled out her clipboard reviewing the details of her work order. “We will begin with a preliminary assessment of your system, conduct the initial penetration test, after which I will provide a gap analysis to highlight the areas requiring improvement. I’ll make sure to list them out in priority order so you improve your performance.”
“My...performance?” he stumbled over the word as if she was critiquing him personally.
“Yes,” Rey confirmed with a nod. “From there, I’ll work with you to implement the necessary changes and once you deem your system ready, we’ll conduct another penetration test to measure your improvement since the initial one.”
Mr. Ren stared at her wordlessly. He was as massive and intimidating as his building but Rey refused to flinch under his intense gaze.
“Do you have any questions before we begin?” she inquired, tucking the clipboard back in her satchel.
“Just one,” Mr. Ren returned. “Who hired you?”
Gwendolyn Phasma glanced up from her cup of tea at the First Order CEO who had bombarded her office without warning. Her lips twisted into a smirk as he slammed the door shut behind him, his chest heaving with each distressed breath he took.
“Good morning, sir,” she greeted him calmly. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“There’s a...,” He paused, contemplating his choice of words, “...a woman in my office.”
Phasma schooled her features so as not to give herself away. “And?”
“And I want to know what she’s doing here!”
“I apologize, sir, but you’ll have to be more specific. We employ a number of women at the First Order. I can’t possibly be expected to know each and everyone’s schedule or what—.”
“She’s not an employee,” he hissed.
“The cleaning crew usually completes their work in the evening. Perhaps there was a mix-up. I can call—.”
“Stop playing coy,” Ren snapped. “Rey Niima. I know you hired her.”
“I fail to see the problem,” Phasma responded, before taking another sip of her tea.
“I’m not interested in entertaining a...a...,” he trailed off as he gestured with his hands, helplessly.
“A what, sir?”
“A prostitute,” Ren growled.
Inwardly, Phasma was beside herself with amusement, wishing she could have been a fly on the wall to witness her boss’s response to the attractive technician she and hired. However, she had a facade to maintain. She cleared her throat, “Sir, Ms. Niima is not a prostitute.”
His eyes widened and he took an unsteady step backward. “What?”
“I hired her to conduct the Security Audit, as part of our strategic plan,” Phasma explained. “Her company, Rebel Scum came in under budget and their customer satisfaction rating was quite impressive. I thought, given our recent conversation about keeping costs low, you’d be pleased.”
For the first time since she’d worked at the First Order, Gwen Phasma saw the human side of Kylo Ren. The man’s face flushed until it matched the crimson on their company’s insignia and sweat beaded across his brow.
“So, I just....” He didn’t finish his sentence, clearly embarrassed by however he’d handled the situation in his office.
“Would you prefer I cancel the contract and find another vendor, sir?” Phasma queried.
“No. No, that won’t be necessary,” Ren quickly answered. “I’ll take it from here. Thank you, Phasma.”
“Very well, sir.”
And just as abruptly as he appeared, Ren departed her office.
Phasma smiled around the lip of her teacup.
Everything was right on schedule.
Kylo rushed through the lobby, internally berating himself for acting so rash as he recalled the conversation which had lead him here.
“I am not in need of your services, Ms. Niima,” he excused the young woman. He wasn’t sure what kind of game Phasma was playing but he was not interested in some call girl.
He watched as her smile faltered. It was only for a split second and then she was collected and professional as she spoke. “With all due respect, Mr. Ren, the contract has already been executed. I assure you, I am perfectly capable of—.”
“And I can assure you, Ms. Niima, that your skills are not something I require,” he cut her off.
Her smile fell away and her eyes blazed with indignation. “I see,” she replied agitatedly. “Well then, I apologize for wasting your time.”
“You may see yourself out,” he responded in an equally annoyed tone.
Her nostrils flared and for a moment he wondered if she would move to strike him. She certainly didn’t seem to take rejection well. He imagined she didn’t have much practice with the concept. After all, she was breathtakingly beautiful.
Her choice of profession aside, Kylo considered her perfect. By his standards, she was everything he could hope for in a partner — physically appealing, fearless, and well-spoken. He was especially drawn to her eyes which were a mixture of honey gold and emerald green.
In the end, she didn’t hit him. She did slam his door while she stormed out, red-faced and glaring.
Kylo shook his head, waiting until she was in the elevator to speak with Phasma. The last thing he needed was another unjustifiable issue to deal with.
Of course, the girl had a legitimate reason for being in his office. Of course, he had assumed the worst. Of course, it was that assumption which had made him out to be the biggest asshole in the city.
Kylo knew that wherever Han Solo was, he was probably having a laugh at him. He could almost hear the old rogue as he raced out onto the street.
“You really know how to charm ‘em, kid. Didn’t get that from me,” Han would have said.
Ignoring his father’s probable response to the situation, Kylo scanned up and down the sidewalk for a sight of the girl. It was hard to see her in the crowd but he spotted the unique three buns by the intersection.
With a series of ‘Excuse me’s’ and a few elbow nudges, he maneuvered through the sea of people to where she was waiting for the light to change.
The look she gave him could have turned him to stone. Her glare was intense, causing the color of her eyes to shift from hazel to molten bronze. She hadn’t struck him in his office but there wasn’t a reason for her to hold back now.
“What do you want?” she snarled through clenched teeth. The way her lips pulled back reminded him of a feral cat. She certainly looked like a predator.
“What I said inside was...regrettable and—.”
“Listen, I know exactly what you’re going to say,” the girl snapped. “I’ve dealt with your type before.”
“My...my type?” He furrowed his brow in confusion.
“Yeah, the boy’s club type. Men who think they are superior to women for one reason or another and don’t respect a fellow professional based on gender,” she explained.
“I’ve dealt with it all my life. Men who think I can’t hack it because I’m a woman. Well, let me tell you something,” the girl poked a finger into his chest. “I may not run a Fortune 500 company but I do alright for myself and you know what else? My success if completely self-made. I didn’t have a rich mommy and daddy to back me. Everything I’ve done has been on my terms and as a result of my drive. So you can shove your chauvinistic attitude and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine. Have a nice life, Mr. Ren.”
With that, she strolled across the street leaving him staring wordlessly after her. It was the first time in his career he’d met someone who dared to go toe-to-toe with him.
And he liked it.
Kylo could already tell she wasn’t going to make this easy for him. No, if he wanted her to come back to the First Order he needed to do something he’d never done before.
Rey could hear her heart pounding in her ears. She had never spoken to a client the way she had just spoken to Kylo Ren. In fact, she’d never spoken to anyone that way, not even Finn when he hogged the shower or stole her oatmeal. No, Rey didn’t get mad.
At least not to someone’s face.
There had been times when she wanted to scream at her guardian, Unkar Plutt, or those days when putting herself through school seemed impossible and she almost got into a row with one of her professors. But Rey had never crossed that line.
And of course, it had to be with the biggest client Rebel Scum has had to date. Hell, it was probably the biggest client they’d ever have and she had just told the CEO off.
Idiot, she berated herself.
The man was insufferable and that was putting it nicely. Still, it didn’t give her the right to insult him the way he’d insulted her. Even if he had refused her because she was a woman, Rey knew she could have persuaded him. She’d done it before. Once clients saw her success rate, saw what she could bring to the table, they were loyal to her.
For whatever reason, Mr. Ren had gotten under her skin. It had nothing to do with his full lips or his chocolate orbs or his ears, which poked out of his perfectly coiffed hair. No. It had nothing to do with any of that. It was merely because—
Son of a bitch.
“Ms. Niima, wait!”
Rey kept walking, pointedly ignoring his cries from further back in the crowd. Apparently, the smartest businessman in the country couldn’t take a hint.
“Ms. Niima.” A hand closed around her wrist and it took everything in Rey’s power not spin around and thrust her palm into his nose. “A word, please.”
Begrudgingly, she stepped to the side of the sidewalk, so her back was to the nearest building and she was facing the man who had tracked her down.
“The terms of our contract cancellation policy are clear, Mr. Ren,” she told him flatly.
The skin between his eyebrows pinched together in confusion. “What?”
“After a contract is executed, if you cancel at any time, per the signed agreement, Rebel Scum is owed at least 50% of the total contract fees. No amount of apologizing will get you out of that,” Rey stated clearly.
“I’m not looking for a refund,” the CEO immediately corrected. “I wanted to apologize for the misunderstanding. The way I spoke to you was out of line. I would have never treated you that way had I known it wasn’t a prank from my coworkers.”
Rey blinked, stunned by his reasoning. At first she thought he was lying, telling her a story to gain pity so she’d let him off the hook for his behavior. The man was flushed red, sweaty, and looked uncomfortable. To the FBI, those would have been key indicators that he was lying but Rey saw the fear in his eyes. Fear and a hint of hope.
His apology was genuine.
“I appreciate your honesty, Mr. Ren,” she replied.
“Could I buy you a cup of coffee?” he asked. “I’d be interested in learning more about your company and your process.”
“Sure.” Rey knew a thinly veiled excuse when she saw one but she humored him. After all, it wasn’t every day the city’s most eligible bachelor offered to take her out.
His face relaxed and she heard him inhale deeply before he extended his hand to her. “Can we start over? I’m Kylo Ren, the CEO of the First Order.”
Rey hesitated, staring at his hand for a moment. He waited patiently, his eyes on her face until she raised her hand to meet his. “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Ren. I’m Rey.”
“Rey.” He smiled when he said her name and she couldn’t help but notice how attractive he was when he smiled. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. Please call me Kylo.”
“Kylo,” she repeated, feeling her anger melt away under his attention.
The pleasure is all mine.
The coffee shop’s morning rush was ending by the time they arrived. Kylo held the door open, ushering her in ahead of him. He’d exhibited more manners in the last few minutes than she’d initially expected he had in his entire arsenal. It was a pleasant surprise, almost as pleasant as the fact she was here with him.
It was an unlikely turn of events.
As she stepped inside, Rey was greeted with the scent of freshly roasted beans, which immediately put a smile on her face. A good cup of coffee made anything seem possible.
“Order anything you like,” Kylo told her. “My treat.”
“Oh, you don’t have to—.”
“Please,” he insisted, cutting her off. “It’s the least I can do.” His eyes were still shining with remorse.
Rey smiled up at him. “What do you mean? We just met.”
A smirk tugged at the corners of his lips. “Right. Well, as a way to solidify our newfound partnership, I suggest a toast. It’s too early for champagne so we’ll have to make do with coffee.”
“Fine by me,” Rey agreed. “I’m not much for champagne anyway.”
“Noted,” he replied with a chuckle.
Rey ordered an Americano while Kylo ordered a cup of their dark roast. Black. She barely managed to suppress a giggle at his request. Of course, the CEO of the First Order would take his coffee black.
“Something humorous?” he asked as they waited for their drinks.
“Nothing,” she lied, shaking her head.
“Rey,” she corrected him.
She didn’t like being referred to by her surname. It wasn’t even her real name, just one the orphanage had slapped on her record.
“Rey,” Kylo tried again. “I’m looking forward to a successful relationship with you and as such, I’d like to begin by building a foundation of mutual trust. I’m trusting you with my company’s infrastructure. The least you could trust me with is what you find so funny about my coffee order.”
He sounded as though he was presenting in front of a room full of stakeholders, yet his eyes held a spark of mischief.
Rey grinned. She liked this side of him, the side she suspected was the real Kylo Ren, the man beneath the First Order mask.
“Your company has earned a lot of press over the years,” she explained. “One particular review in the New York Times dubbed you as the ‘Dark Side,’ so I find it funny that your particular flavor of choice is the dark roast.”
He didn’t respond, staring at her for a long moment before he erupted in a deep, full-belly laugh that Rey could feel all the way down to her toes. His eyes crinkled and his cheeks dimpled. The man had no right! Who pulled off dimples after age thirty? Seriously, how dare he?
Rey was so focused on cataloging the tiniest details of his expression that she missed the barista waiting impatiently for them to retrieve their beverages.
“Excuse me, miss?”
“Thank you.” Kylo picked up their orders.
He led her to a table at the rear of the coffee house. They sat across from each other, both taking a moment to savor their drink choices.
“So tell me a bit about yourself, Ms. N— erm, Rey. How did you get started in the tech industry?”
She shrugged, her fingers toying with the coffee collar on her cup. “I was always better with machines than people,” Rey admitted.
“I find that hard to believe,” Kylo returned. “You handled yourself exceptionally well in my office, especially given my reception.”
“You’re a client,” she stated. “Business is how I survive. It’s different than making a personal connection and maintaining that connection.”
Kylo nodded. “I understand.” Rey’s eyes widened, more due to his compassionate tone than his answer. “I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but I’m not much a people person myself.”
“No?” Rey laughed. “You ooze charisma and charm.”
“I have three direct reports who would disagree with you,” he retorted with a chuckle. “Along with a lifetime of family issues.”
“Everyone has family drama,” Rey responded.
“I’m afraid mine is a bit more complicated than most,” Kylo confessed.
“Because you changed your name from Ben Solo to Kylo Ren?”
His eyes widened and he leaned back in his seat. “You read up on me?”
“I tend to research the companies and people I’m going to be working for,” she explained.
“That’s very thorough.”
“Like I said, machines are easier to understand than people,” Rey reminded him.
“I have to admit, I’ve never tried that hard to understand people,” Kylo said, rubbing his thumb up and down his cup. It looked ridiculously small in his massive hand.
“I’ve only tried with my best friend, Finn,” Rey shared. “He’s my business partner and roommate but there are still days when I look at him and don’t get it. Maybe I need to try harder.”
“Maybe. Or maybe you just need more practice,” Kylo suggested with a wiggle of his eyebrows.
“Oh no.” Rey laughed. “I’ve already got you all figured out.”
“Really?” He smirked. “You seem rather confident.”
“I am,” she confirmed.
“Care to make things interesting?” Kylo asked with a devilish grin.
“You tell me all about me and if you’re correct, I’ll add a 10% bonus to your contract for extraordinary customer service,” he proposed. Rey’s eyes widened and she unconsciously leaned toward him. “But,” he cautioned, “if you’re incorrect, you let me take you to dinner and we both get to practice our people skills over some fine wine and excellent cuisine.”
Rey felt her heart flutter in her chest. Had he just—?
“What do you say?” Kylo extended his hand across the table. “Do we have a deal, Rey?”
She stared at his palm which was large enough to encompass hers completely. Nervously, she swallowed, trying not to think what else that hand could cover...or uncover. Her cheeks burned and she quickly took a sip of her coffee to steady herself.
Kylo’s cheeks were sore. It was the first time in recent memory that the muscles of his face had been used but he couldn’t stop grinning. Not where Rey Niima was concerned.
After her failed attempt to explain him to himself, they’d teased one another back and forth over her answers until they were both laughing so loudly the barista asked them to quiet down. Rey wiped tears from her eyes while Kylo apologized for their volume.
They decided it was best if they left the coffeehouse. Since it was nearing lunchtime, Kylo had suggested a bistro a few blocks up.
At first, Rey hesitated, until he reminded her that she was on the clock for him and he deemed it necessary to have lunch. Under the premise of discussing the upcoming security audit, she agreed.
The topic of Rebel Scum’s services didn’t come up once. As soon as they were seated, they fell into an easy conversation discussing everything from their favorite books to what kind of music they listened to and finally what was in their Netflix queue.
Kylo learned that Rey enjoyed modern fantasy, from authors such as Neil Gaiman and George R. R. Martin. He preferred classic literature, from Dickens and Hemingway, which prompted Rey to call him an ‘old man’ and him to call her a ‘typical millennial.”
Rey enjoyed a wide variety of music but usually listened to alternative rock. Once again, Kylo preferred the classics — the Beatles, Queen, The Rolling Stones.
She prioritized Netflix originals such as Stranger Things and Umbrella Academy over romantic comedies. Kylo was interested in finishing up BBC’s Sherlock, which had been sitting at the top of his list for months.
Their tastes couldn’t be more different but it proved inconsequential because they were similar where it mattered most.
As the lunch turned into coffee and dessert, Kylo learned how Rey had grown up alone in an orphanage, abandoned by parents who didn’t want her. Suddenly her outburst on the street corner seemed even more meaningful.
She spoke about her experience growing up in foster care. He went through a rollercoaster of emotions hearing her story; stuck between rage and disappointment. How could the system be so broken?
Seeing her open herself up to him — a complete stranger — made him want to share in her vulnerability.
For the first time in years, Kylo told someone about his parents. He spoke about his lonely childhood left in the care of nannies and butlers while they traveled the globe. Telling Rey about that time in his life was a challenge but once he was done, it was as if a great burden had been lifted off his shoulders.
They continued talking, moving on to happier times — how Rey had found a scholarship and gone to college, how Kylo was hired for a job based on his merit and not his family’s name, how Rey met Finn, how Kylo had been promoted to CEO.
Time slipped away. He didn’t worry about the hundreds of emails piling up in his inbox or the fact he hadn’t turned his cell off of ‘silent mode’ since walking out this morning. None of it mattered. All that existed was the here and now.
Kylo was here with Rey.
Now he understood what he’d been waiting his whole life for.
The purpose he had sought by breaking away from his family, by working long hours on nights and weekends, by setting aggressive goals — all of it had been a placeholder for his true purpose.
This girl who had unexpectedly come into his life and turned it all upside down was what he’d been looking for.
“Mr. Ren?” The manager of the bistro appeared at their table, interrupting their conversation.
Kylo glared at the man. “Yes?”
“Uh, sir, um, I apologize for the interjection but you have a call on the house phone,” the manager informed him.
“It’s an urgent call from your office, sir,” the manager answered.
“I’m in the middle of something,” he replied tersely.
“Kylo,” Rey’s voice was soft as she said his name. “It’s fine. I should probably get back to the shop anyway. I didn’t realize how late it was.”
He glanced down at his watch, holding back from cursing in front of her when he noticed he’d spent the entire day away from his desk. It was nearly five o’clock.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized, straightening up to button his suit. “Apparently my staff is too incompetent to handle things for a few hours without me.”
Rey giggled, her cheeks decorated with a beautiful blush as she stood too. “I’m sure Finn is going to say the same thing about me when he finds out our newest client fed me all day and I did absolutely no work.”
“Not true,” Kylo argued. “You were performing client relations.”
“Right,” she said sarcastically.
“Can I call you a car?” he offered.
“Thanks, but the walk will help me burn off that creme brûlée,” Rey replied.
They exited the bistro, Kylo turning towards downtown and Rey turning in the opposite direction.
She paused, looking unsure how to say goodbye. Kylo didn’t know how to say it either so he decided he wouldn’t.
“I’ll see you tomorrow?” he inquired hopefully.
“9am sharp,” Rey confirmed.
She gave him a small wave and turned to leave. Something inside of him snapped. It happened so fast, Kylo wasn’t even aware he was doing it but suddenly he was grabbing her wrist and pulling her back to him.
Rey let out a surprised huff, her hands coming up to land on his chest while his encircled her waist. Her eyes were wide and her blush had darkened considerably.
“Can I pick you up at eight?” he asked. “I owe you dinner.”
“You’re not sick of me yet?” she teased.
“Not even close.”
“Eight,” Rey agreed. She stared at his lips for a moment before surging up on her tiptoes to plant a chaste kiss there. “I’ll text you my address,” she promised, pulling away.
“Wait,” he called after her as she began to walk away. “I’ll give you my number.”
“I already have it,” she reminded him, patting her work satchel. “See you tonight, Mr. Ren.”
A shiver ran down his spine at the way she said his name. He could get used to that.
3 months later….
“I think your plan backfired, Gwen,” Hux grumbled from where he sat at the head of the conference room table.
“How so?” his blonde co-worker questioned.
“Ren’s on vacation and we’re stuck here working late to close out the books for month-end,” he muttered.
“At least he let us expense our dinner this time,” Mitaka spoke up between bites of sushi.
“And he let us order drinks,” Phasma added, raising her glass of merlot to cheers with the COO. “Besides, Armitage, don’t you mean Solo?”
“He’s still Kylo Ren,” the redhead insisted.
“Not legally,” Mitaka pointed out. “He had his name changed back last week.”
“No doubt because of that girl,” Hux mumbled agitatedly. “He’s changing everything for her.”
“What is your problem?” Phasma laughed and shook her head. “You wanted Solo to stay out of your affairs and he has. Rey’s the reason for that. She’s given him a purpose beyond the confines of this office. I thought you’d be happy. So what’s got your knickers in a twist?”
“We met our annual quota,” he revealed.
“That’s great!” Mitaka cheered. “We haven’t closed the third quarter out yet. Ben’s going to be thrilled.”
“That’s the problem,” Hux groaned. “He’s going to up it again next year.”