“Because you’re the Property! You don’t need a stipend. You have Justin’s wealth at your disposal!”

Mandy wasn’t sure if she liked the idea of having access to Justin’s money. It seemed too big of a responsibility.

“But, I wasn’t the property when I first started! I was just a regular worker and I didn’t have a stipend,” she argued.

“Justin doesn’t usually give stipends until employees have been with the company for four weeks. He likes to make sure they are a good fit before he offers the stipend.”

Somewhat appeased, Mandy followed Ally into the mall. Ally was clearly in her element as they moved from store to store, their arms becoming more and more laden with bags. They purchased pair after pair of shoes, skirts of all shapes and lengths, various dresses, multiples pairs of pants with an array of blouses and shirts. Mandy stopped looking at the price tags because it was too unbearable to see the costs. She constantly reminded herself that this was what Justin wanted.

The women needed to make three trips back to the car to drop off bags, and Mandy realized it would have been impossible for anyone else to join them. The trunk had been easily filled, and the bags were now spilling into the backseat and piling precariously high. They were just finishing up with jewelry and accessorizes when Ally smacked her head with recall.

“I almost forgot! We have to find you a gown for the party!” she exclaimed. Mandy was tired and it was already past four o’clock. She trudged behind Ally as Ally led her to a fancy store with racks of long gowns. Ally rifled skillfully through the racks before extracting two gowns. One was a deep plum shade, while the other was a jeweled-indigo shade. The plum dress was stunning, but the indigo dress was beyond words. Even Mandy gasped at her own reflection. The dress was strapless with a sweetheart neckline that was adorned with twinkling crystals. The dress was rouched and fitted through the waist, but once it reached her hips, it fanned out, cascading down her frame in gentle ripples. The material seemed to float above the ground, and Mandy looked ethereal.

“It’s perfect,” Ally breathed. Mandy could not believe her own reflection.

“I’ll find you the perfect mask. Don’t worry!” Ally exclaimed. The women made their purchase, along with matching shoes and were back in the car heading towards the office by five o’clock.

Mandy shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

“Can I ask you something?” she asked Ally. Before Ally could respond, she barreled on. “What happened to the last Property?” She noticed Ally slightly flinch.

“It was bad,” Ally said quietly. “I knew you would ask at some point. There are rumors.”

Mandy waited while Ally gathered her thoughts.

“She was really pretty. Josephina. Almost too pretty. She attracted a lot of attention, and Justin didn’t like that. She also flirted way too much for her own good. Justin thought he could tame her but Josie was even too much for him. She began an affair with another pack member and Justin found out. It became really ugly, or at least that’s what the few people who witnessed their fight say. The next day Josie’s desk was cleared out and she was gone.”

Ally paused and took a deep breath. “We all just figured she quit or she was fired. The pack member stopped coming around, too. Justin banished him from the pack. Apparently, he has the authority to do that, and it’s a huge dishonor and embarrassment. But a few weeks after that all happened, I went by Josie’s house to drop off a bracelet I had borrowed. The house was empty, but everything was still there. I had a key, so I let myself in. It was as if Josie had never returned to her house. There were dirty clothes on the floor and dishes in the sink. The house was lived in, but there was a layering of dust over everything.”

Ally’s voice dropped an octave. “I don’t think she returned to her house after their fight.”

Mandy swallowed fearfully. “Do you think Justin did something to her?”

Ally shook her head slowly. “I just don’t see Justin capable of that, but it doesn’t make sense. Maybe she feared him and she fled. Maybe she ran away with the pack member. I truly don’t believe Justin was involved, but regardless, the situation is unpleasant.”

Unpleasant? Mandy found it downright frightening.

“I think I would run too if I crossed Justin. Wouldn’t you?” Ally asked gravely. Mandy nodded, but her stomach turned in knots as she thought of her meeting with Brad the night before. She was playing with fire, and this was a flashing red light for her to stop.

“Anyway,” Ally said cheerfully, “I’m sure you’ll never have to worry about that! You are so much smarter than Josie!”

Mandy smiled back weakly, and she resolved to be anything but cordial to Brad in the future. The remainder of the ride was spent in silence as Mandy mulled over what she head learned today.

Wednesday was a day of tension and awkwardness within the office. Ally was pleasant as usual, but Jen skittered around Mandy, while Meghan gave her the silent treatment. Mandy felt strange showing up to work in her new, expensive clothing. Today she was wearing a lightweight cream-colored dress that draped around her body tastefully. It had a simple neckline and the hem came just before her knees. Mandy had accented the outfit with gold sandals and a long, chain-linked gold necklace.

Mandy chuckled to herself as she thought back to Chrissy’s reaction when she had come home with a carload of clothes. At first, Mandy had considered hiding the clothes from Chrissy, but once she realized how much she and Ally were purchasing, she had known that would have been impossible. With a ridiculously small apartment, and less than ample closet space, Chrissy would have immediately noticed Mandy’s new wardrobe.

Mandy had stuck to the truth somewhat by explaining that her company had an impressive wardrobe stipend. Chrissy had eyed her warily, but Mandy shrugged it off. Mandy explained that her wardrobe had been in such dire straights, that she was advanced a year’s worth of her stipend. When Chrissy asked what would happen if Mandy left before a year, Mandy said she would have to pay the remainder back. Chrissy eyed the boxes and then laughed saying that Mandy had better stick around for at least a year then.

As Mandy settled herself into her desk, she glanced at Justin’s doors wondering when he would return from his morning off-site meeting. The morning ticked by slowly and Mandy yearned for the early days of her new job where she Meghan and Jen got along so well.

By lunchtime Mandy had had just about enough. Even Ally’s perky personality couldn’t carry the uncomfortable lunch conversation. Jen laughed way too loudly at anything she said and Meghan seemed to want to eat her lunch as fast as possible so that she could disappear.

“I’ve had it!” Mandy exclaimed, pushing her salad aside. The women eyed her nervously. “This is ridiculous! Why are you treating me so differently? I thought we worked this all out on Monday morning? What happened?”

Jen, looking even more embarrassed than she had on Monday morning, spoke. “It’s just — we’re not sure what we can and can’t say around you.”

Mandy rolled her eyes. “You can say anything you want! Just because I’m the stupid Property doesn’t mean you need to censor your thoughts! I’m not going to run to Justin and blab everything you tell me!”

“Well, that’s what the last assistant did and she was really close to becoming the Property,” Meghan spoke up. Mandy stopped, realization dawning on her. She looked at Ally for assistance.

“Oops. Forgot to mention that yesterday. We all kind of spoke in confidence and then she told Justin. Plus she couldn’t handle the whole orgy thing,” Ally looked sheepish at the lapse in her memory.

“Great,” Mandy said, frustrated. “Now none of you are going to trust me. I’m not one of those girls who runs and tells my boyfriend everything.” She looked embarrassed. “Not that Justin’s my boyfriend — I just meant — you know — I’m not like that!” she stuttered. Certainly, she and Justin were nothing like boyfriend and girlfriend. She knew next to nothing about him.

Finally, Jen seemed to be at ease for good, and even Meghan seemed to lighten up a bit. The rest of the lunch passed in easy conversation and Mandy felt relieved when she returned to her desk. Not five minutes later, Justin came striding down the hall. He went behind closed doors and didn’t emerge until five o’clock. He barely even looked at Mandy and she felt hurt. Here they were, supposedly starting some type of relationship, and Justin could hardly look at her, especially after a hard fuck the day before.

Annoyed, Mandy stormed out of the office once her work was finished. She fumed all the way home, and was in a foul mood all evening. Chrissy took care to avoid her, and Mandy turned into bed early. Not even the glamorous evening gown hanging from her closet could lift her spirits. At the moment, she had no desire to attend the

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