Authors: Jennifer Harlow
Movers, contractors, painters, decorators, and nurses are all hard at work whipping this place into shape as I make my way down to the living room where my assistant extraordinaire Shannon directs traffic while texting. She was Justin's assistant before, and she's the only reason I haven't bankrupt the company yet. She knows all the ins and outs, all the players and their spouse's names too. As always, she's dressed in sensible designer pumps, pencil skirt, with matching vest and white shirt, brown hair in a chignon like mine. I learned to dress like an executive from her, though I try to avoid skirts. My legs are too stout to pull them off.
"Isolde called," Shannon says as I approach. "She needs to move your appointment to four, not three. I told her it was fine."
"Couldn't she just send the clothes?"
"The suits from Paris arrived, and they need to be tailored." She hands me my phone to pull hers out. "Lane also called. The Japanese deal is going through."
"Wonderful. How are things here?" I ask, scrolling through my twenty new e-mails this hour.
"We're having artwork issues. They need your approval on which paintings to buy."
"I could give a shit. Let the decorators decide, that's why they're here. Just nothing depressing or scary." My phone buzzes, and the display pops up. Harry's calling. My stomach used to clench when I saw his name but since Step Nine, make amends, and he forgave me, I'm happy to hear his voice.
Looking back on it we were doomed from the fucking start. Forgetting that he was my boss, I was in love with another man, he was considerably older than me, and the timing sucked, we were just too damn different. We both thought the other would change. He's a hopeless romantic who does all he can to see the good in people. It'd take a memory wipe and personality transplant to make me that way. Just not how I'm built. And besides the job and great sex, we had little in common. He read books, I shot guns. I love to travel, he hasn't left this coast in years. He began mentioning kids, I began mentioning goldfish. But if I'm honest, it really came down to the fact he was too good for me. Way too good. Me cheating and him forgiving me just proves it. For whatever reason some people just have a darkness inside them. It can be tiny and it certainly doesn't make you evil, but those without it can never understand or relate. Harry was all sunshine, and I damn sure didn't want to dim that. He's fine though. About a month after we broke up, he began dating this cute ADA who always had eyes for him. They moved in together last month. I had Shannon send a goldfish.
"Jo, it's Harry."
"Hi. How is my favorite ex doing this fine day?" Shannon smirks before walking away. The consummate professional.
The elevator door opens and a strange man in a lab coat steps off, looking around. Probably a doctor who got off on the wrong floor. He's vaguely familiar, but I can't place him.
"Well, thank you," Harry says. "I just wanted to let you know I received another interesting e-mail last night. Informative too."
He and I have had this conversation dozens of times. He'll tell me to stop, threaten to turn me in, say he's worried about me, and in the end thank me. I'm only half paying attention. For some reason it's really bothering me I can't remember who that doctor is. This is why Shannon has to accompany me to events, otherwise I wouldn't know who the hell I was talking to. "Really? I love those types of e-mails. They're usually so helpful."
"It was," Harry says. "Led us right to two murderers. They confessed and everything."
"Then you should thank whoever sent it, sans lecture this time."
"Jo…" and he's off. I pull the phone away from my ear. Who the hell is that guy? He's so busy studying the painting of wavy lines, he doesn't notice the men carrying the ladder. He backs up, lifting up his horn-rimmed glasses in case that helps with the exam, and smacks into the ladder. With Harry droning on I don't hear the workman's words, but the doctor appears embarrassed, cheeks turning red. They turn almost purple when he glances up and notices me staring. His thin mouth drops open and eyes pop behind the glasses. It's damn cute. It's far less cute when more workmen pass with boxes and the still befuddled doctor steps to the side to let them pass. His elbow brushes the painting. It falls off its hook onto the ground.
"Harry, I have to go. You can yell at me later. Say hey to the guys and Bella for me. Bye." I end the call and rush over to the doctor, who turns the painting over, trying to figure out which way is up. "Excuse me. I--"
"I am so sorry," the doctor says, mortified and still spinning the damn painting. "If it is damaged in any way, I will of course pay. I-I know I'm not supposed to be here. I didn't think you'd be here. Not-Not that that excuses me sneaking in, in-in fact it's worse. I--"
"It's okay," I chuckle. I'm used to making people nervous but this is ridiculous.
He hangs his head so he doesn't have to look at me. "I-I'm sorry. I'm not normally so clumsy." I find that hard to believe. Judging from his bushy dark brown hair in dire need of a cut, glasses falling to the end of his straight nose, pasty complexion, wrinkled blue dress shirt and chinos, and scuffed brown penny loafers with actual pennies in them, it wouldn't surprise me if he didn't actually knock down whole buildings on a daily basis. Even when he tries to re-hang the painting, it takes two tries. "I-I'll just go."
He steps away, but I move to block him. "I'm sorry if this is going to sound rude, but…how do I know you? I can't place it. We have met before, right?"
Head hung, he says, "Yes. Um, I-I believe it was about a-a-a year ago. I-I'm Dr. Jonathan Ambrose. I just started here." He holds out his long hand for me to shake, which I do.
I've recently heard the name. If memory serves, I had to approve his hiring and drug study two months ago as a member of the board, but even then the name sounded familiar. Okay, leading neurologist from Independence. Also into infectious diseases and created some retro-virus that saved a million people or something over a decade ago when he was twenty. Youngest person to be nominated for the Nobel Prize in medicine. Since then he developed multiple drugs for Alzheimers, and Parkinsons, then gave away the patents. He's either crazy or rich in his own right. Of course those aren't mutually exclusive. Danforth almost wet his pants when he read that the profits from his multiple sclerosis drug trial would go to the hospital. Potentially billions of dollars if the treatment works. He came here for the trial but also to begin working with our doctors researching gene therapy. But it's not from the hospital that I recognize him from.
He glances up at me over his glasses, and I meet his eyes for an instant. They're dark blue like sapphires. Only one person I've ever met with eyes like that. "Jem!" I say with a smile. "You're Rebecca's friend. We met at the engagement party the night before she…yeah! You asked me to dance a couple times. You were at the memorial service too."
"That-That's right," he says, running his hand nervously through his curly hair.
"Sorry it took me so long to remember. That was a crazy time, the file got lost."
That night comes back to me, well most of it. Rebecca tried to set us up, saying we were "absolutely perfect" for each other, but at the time I was secretly seeing Harry. When he stood me up, I proceeded to get blotto and spent the night flirting and dancing with the cute but shy doctor in front of me. And he is cute. Not classically handsome by any means, more striking. Medium height, a little on the skinny side with a long face, high cheekbones to die for, and a dimple on his left cheek when he smiles if I recall correctly. I may have touched it that night. Even his ears are adorable, sticking out a little too far. Several times that night I almost kissed him but managed to reign myself in. I wasn't a cheater. Then. I saw him at Rebecca and Justin's funerals, but we didn't speak. "And I'm sorry for my behavior that night, just ditching you like that when you left to get me water. A lot of the night is still fuzzy, so I apologize for anything else inappropriate I did."
"You were fine," he says with a quick smile. "Lo-Lovely even."
I chuckle. "Kind of doubt that. Not really an adjective people use to describe me, especially when I was drinking, but thank you for that lie. It was just a crappy night for me all around." Jem's face falls. "Not because of you! Dancing and talking with you was the highlight of the night."
"I stepped on your feet," he says with a grimace. "A lot."
"That must be one of the things the alcohol erased. Lucky you, huh?" God, I feel like a moron. Change the record, Jo. "So, um, how are you finding our hospital? The board thinks you're the Second Coming, so whatever you want, we'll no doubt give you."
"The facilities, the staff are all wonderful, thank you. I am sure I-I shall be content and productive here."
"Good. Like I said, if you need anything, don't hesitate to ask. Forty virgins, the Crown Jewels, name of a good pizza place, it's all doable. Just give me a call."
"Thank you. I will remember that."
"Joanna!" Shannon shouts down the hall. "We need you!"
Ugh. "I'm sorry, I have to go. It was nice to see you again, Dr. Ambrose."
I'm about to step away when he says, "Jem." When I turn back around, I find him lifting his head, those wonderful eyes meeting mine. "Please, call me Jem."
I smile. "Welcome to Galilee Falls, Jem. See you around." I spin and walk down the hall. Don't know why, but halfway down I glance back and see him stealing glimpses at me too. A lovely tingle wiggles through me from head to toe. Haven't felt that in awhile. It brings a private grin to my face.
"Who was that?" Shannon asks when I reach her.
"An old, new friend."
I attempt to force the cute doctor out of my thoughts, which is easier said than done when the rest of the day is spent in boring as hell meetings about contract appendices and profit sharing points. I don't know how Justin didn't stick a pencil in his ear during these things. So my mind wanders to dimples, dancing and doctors.
He's not my usual type. I like my men tough, confident and put together. But it's been over nine months since I got laid, and that last time was beyond awful. Hell, I barely remember it. I'm just bored, depressed, horny and lonely. Never a good combination. The real problem is I have to stay that way for at least three more months, per my sponsor. No relationships for at least a year. Stupid program. Wonder if that counts for men I met before I became sober. I should get my lawyers on that one.
Not that I'm sure Jem's interested in my grandfather clause. Last year was a fucking lifetime ago. He could be married with a baby on the way by now. And I did ditch him without a second thought. Men don't take kindly to that type of thing. He did seem eager to get away from me today, though that could just be the shyness. I remember it took a lot that night to get him to speak a word to me, and then it was about work, the crappy state of the world, or the happy couple. In my drunken haze, I could have mistaken politeness for flirting. I tend to think I'm a sex bomb when plastered. Just another thing I miss about booze.
Okay, this is moot anyway. I learned my lesson from Harry. I don't belong with good, uncomplicated men. I just end up dragging them into the abyss with me. And I don't really have time to date. I wake at six, dress, get to the office by seven, meetings, meetings, meetings usually until eight unless I have a gala or party, which is once every two weeks on average. I spend most weekends at the office, and the rest of my free time is devoted to my side project. I haven't been sailing in weeks. Hell, I don't even have time for a quickie. No cute doctors for me.
I arrive at the mansion at eight after a grueling two hour marketing meeting to find my bland food waiting in the kitchen. Dobbs must have gone to bed early. I scarf the food down right at the counter before going into the living room. A lot of wasted days spent in here watching movies or playing video games with my best friend. Now I just come in here for access to Doris. Tonight is no different. I open the fireplace and step in. The sound of typing echoes up the ramp. Someone's down there. My stomach clenches with fear, and I stop walking. The smart part of my brain knows who it is but the irrational side runs through all the scenarios. Robbers, a villain, even a ghost are possible. Yeah, I'm being ridiculous. I continue down, and sure enough a familiar purple costumed man furiously types on the computer. His back is to me, and if he notices my presence he doesn't let on. "Hello," I say.
He stops typing but doesn't turn around. "Hello," he says before clacking away again.
"Did Dobbs let you in?"
Nightingale doesn't answer for a few seconds, then says, "No."
"I don't know if I'm really comfortable with you guys popping over whenever you damn well please, especially if I'm not home."
More silence, then, "Sorry."
I roll my eyes. Obviously not a conversationalist. "But you're going to do it anyway, aren't you?" I ask, walking over.
I wheel the spare computer chair to his side. He glances at me, then back to the monitor with what looks like an essay on it. "What are you doing?" I ask as I sit.
He quickly looks again. "Updating."
"I have a guy for that." Lizard, great hacker, lousy hygiene.
I raise an eyebrow. "Finally. A complete sentence. We're making progress." The hero doesn't smile. "So, what have you done to my Doris?"
"I, uh, uploaded the latest facial and speech recognition software, got it access to the Defense Department's mainframe, and currently am adding additional information to the known criminal files from our old system in Independence."
? Can you put that on there too?" I ask with a smile, which is not returned. Okay, I'm trying but he isn't giving me an inch. Fine. "So, how long are you going to be? I need the computer."
"To download porn," I say defensively. "None of your business."
"I have already reviewed the log, recordings, footage, and reports for the day." He glances at me again. "You are very thorough."