The Rule Book (The Rule Breakers #1) by Jennifer Blackwood

Chapter One

Starr Media Handbook Rule #37

The following words are strictly prohibited when posting on social media:

Damp

Smear

Pustule

Secrete

Fester

Vomit

Slurp

Genitals

Moist

I stopped reading halfway down the list as my “I made it to my second day in my first big girl job” latte turned uneasily in my stomach. Why anyone would create a post using those words in the first place, well, it was beyond me. Definitely got the gist, though, and my client, Craig Willington, the supposed next George Straight (in about five years, give or take), would not be using moist to refer to his grandmother’s cornbread, or anything else for that matter. A shudder rippled under my skin just from seeing the words moist and genitals next to each other on the page.

I slumped back in my ergonomic swivel chair that had most likely cost more than one-month’s rent in the city, and rocked back and forth, fanning the two-inch-thick Starr Media Employee Manual with my thumb. I’d only held a few jobs in college, mostly at minimum wage retail establishments to pay for my one-click and shoe addiction, but never had I encountered such a detailed list of rules. Brogan Starr ran this company on a tighter leash than the Pentagon during a national security threat.

“Newbie. What’s your status on the manual?” Jackson, the first assistant to Mr. Starr and overall grinch of a person, rounded the corner of my desk and leaned a manicured hand on the stack of paperwork towering over my sad-looking outbox bin.

“Almost done, only” —I glanced down at the manual—“forty more pages.” It had taken me all of yesterday afternoon and this morning to get this far. At this rate, I’d be done by the end of the work day. I was itching to get past all the logistical first-week training so that I could start what I was hired to do—work with social media accounts.

Okay, so that would be more of a side job while I fetched coffee orders, made copies, and did everything else that came along with the job of Second Assistant, but there was an upside to my newly attained post-grad-school title. With an MBA and a focus on social media relations, I’d been given the opportunity to prove myself with a one-client caseload and eventually work my way up to marketing director. In a few years. If the stars aligned, and Venus was in retrograde.

“Let’s take a quick tour. Before I go to lunch.” His voice held all the enthusiasm of someone waiting in line at the DMV.

“Great. I can’t wait to meet everyone. I thought maybe we could do lunch at Luigi’s…” I trailed off as I took in Jackson’s expression.

His eyebrows morphed into two cartoon-like squiggles that clearly said, oh honey, not happening. “First off, we will not ‘do lunch’ together. Ever. Second”—he tapped my Starr Media Employee Manual—“you must not have gotten to rule 738.”

Someone check the thermostat, because it just got chilly in here. I decided the safe thing to do was to ignore his jab and instead asked, “You know all the rules by heart?”

“Just that one in particular. The Antichrist really outdid himself with that one.” Jackson sneered. In the past day and a half, he’d referred to our boss as “the Antichrist” more often than his actual surname. Said something about how it was the office nickname.

Things I’d learned about Brogan Starr based off of my two-minute Wiki research (aka stalking) a few days before I started:

1. He was the youngest CEO to start a Fortune 500 company

2. He grew up in Bellevue, Washington

3. He finished top of his class at MIT at the age of 20

4. He had a very nice chin—pretty much the only feature visible in his profile picture with him wearing a Seahawks hat and Ray Bans.

I had yet to meet the Mr. Starr, who had been holed up in his office all of yesterday and today, so I’d form my own opinions on the aptness of the Antichrist moniker whenever he decided to make an appearance in broad daylight.

Confused at Jackson’s mention of the rule, I flipped through the employee manual until I reached the number he’d rattled off.

Rule #738

Employees must not, under any circumstances, store fish or any food items with garlic in the company refrigerator. Employees will refrain from consuming garlic items during work hours.

I set the manual down and stared blankly at Jackson. Then back at the manual. Then back at Jackson, words unable to form in my state of duress.

Dear God. This man was a monster. Shudder-worthy words were one thing, but garlic? Images of delicious breadsticks and savory pasta danced in my mind, taunting me. Guess that meant no afternoon jaunts to Luigi’s. Their garlic pizza was the best in the city, but definitely not worth losing my job over.