Authors: Z. L. Arkadie,T. R. Bertrand
opyright © 2015 by Z.L
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
my speed because the roads are icy. I’m late for work. Last night, I attended a going-away party for my boss, Liza Patrick-Sharp. Today is the first day of her new life. Liza is nine months pregnant, and now that she’s off on maternity leave, she’s chosen to relinquish her job for a career as a full-time mom. My new boss is Nolan Patrick, Liza’s brother. She hasn’t shared many details about him, other than that he has a serious demeanor and the two of them are pretty close. Nolan has run the Chicago office for the last five years, and the rumor from that office is that Nolan Patrick is thirty-one years old and has been divorced for about a year. They also say he’s a no-nonsense kind of guy, but other than that, he’s fairly nice.
I make a left turn into the parking lot and pull into the first spot I see. I’m fifteen minutes late.
I grab my coat and purse, curse under my breath, and rush out the car to power walk toward the building. My loosely wrapped scarf isn’t doing a good job of keeping the cold wind from moving down my blouse, and I’m virtually an ice statue when I make it inside. Surprisingly, hardly anyone is here. I tug my scarf loose and debate whether or not it’s warm enough to take off my coat. On days like this, the building doesn’t warm up until noon. I grunt, frustrated. I want to take off my coat, but I also want to stay warm. I flip a coin in my mind. Heads, I keep it on. Tails, I take it off. The imaginary coin goes up and hits the floor. I don’t even have to visualize where it ended up.
I keep my coat on, muster up some courage, and walk to Liza’s old office. My heart is beating so fast, and nervousness makes my skin run hot. When I picture Nolan Patrick, I see an anal-retentive bureaucrat afflicted with premature balding. He’ll probably drive me like a slave, but I’m here to do my job, even if that means working my fingers to the bone.
The door is closed, but I knock gently. After waiting for several seconds, I carefully turn the knob and peek inside. The office is empty. I sigh in relief and rush to the break room to make a fresh pot of coffee before Nolan Patrick arrives. I open the cabinet where the coffee is stored.
I jump, startled, and look behind me. “Morning, Misty.” I didn’t mean to say that in such a deadpan tone. I’m just freaking out because it seems we’re out of coffee.
She looks at me disapprovingly. “Nice coat.”
I roll my eyes at the siren-red dress she’s wearing. “You do know it’s snowing outside?”
Misty leans against the doorjamb and smirks. “Jealous?”
I squat to search for coffee in the bottom cabinet. “No, just worried you’re going to freeze your butt off.”
“And I’m worried that you look like a snowman in that coat. It’s okay to sex it up once every blue moon.”
I sigh out of frustration. “That doesn’t make any sense, Misty, and where’s the damn coffee!”
She flexes her eyebrows. “So Nolan’s going to be here today.”
Hence the red dress. I slam the cabinet door. “What happened to all the coffee that was in here yesterday?”
She pulls her long blond hair across her shoulder and pets the strands. “Calm yourself, Abby. Just walk to Starbucks and pick up a few bags. Isn’t beverage service scheduled to restock this afternoon?”
She knows the schedule because she flirts with the restock guy every time he shows up. I take a deep breath to get a grip. This morning has been such a rollercoaster. I actually woke up on time but I laid in bed staring at the ceiling. Liza wouldn’t be in the office this morning, and that just made me sad. My life has been so focused on juggling her affairs that I’m not sure what my purpose is at work anymore. Now I’m here and only a good cry sparked by frustration would make me feel better at this point. And why did Misty wear a red dress for Nolan? She’s met him. The two times he came to the Minneapolis office I’ve either been out for lunch or home sick. So I asked her a week ago if she could give me any information about him. She just gave me an indifferent shrug and said, “He’s an okay guy.”
I whip past Misty. “Okay. Going to Starbucks to get coffee. Can I get you anything?” I ask before I can take it back.
“Umm,” she says, faking having to think about her answer. “Caramel latte, skim milk, extra hot.” She smiles. I wait to see if Misty will give me money, but she enhances her smile and says, “I’ll be at my desk.”
She walks right past me. She never pays for the coffee I buy for her. I keep buying her coffee because deep down, I want her to shock the hell out of me by giving me money and proving that she doesn’t always think the world revolves around her. The dwindling time is beating down on me, so I grab my purse and head out without asking her for a dime.
Starbucks is just a block away; I can see the entrance from here. It’s so close, but in this weather, it might as well be a mile away. The icy wind cuts through my coat like a blade. Not even power walking and being nervous is enough to warm me.
I’m shivering like a cold bird when I make it inside the coffee shop. Every morning this place is packed but not today. There’s something strange to the emptiness, but my thoughts are too full. I have to rush back to the office and have the coffee brewed and a list of action items ready before my new boss arrives. I stand in front of a shelf of different kinds of coffee, wondering what Nolan Patrick would like. It’s an impossible question to answer since I’ve never even laid eyes on the man. I make an executive decision and grab two bags of the House Blend, caffeinated and decaffeinated. I waltz right up to the register and pay for them and order a caramel latte with skim milk. Every second that I wait for Misty’s specialty coffee feels like an eternity. I take my cell phone out of my pocket and flip it open. My phone is an older model, which gives it limited ability but I am able to check the local news report on it. Nothing much is going on this early in the morning, other than reports on how bad the weather is supposed to get later today. I should probably go home, but I have so much I want to do before Nolan Patrick arrives—if he even shows up.
“Abby,” the barista calls from behind the espresso machine.
I stuff my phone back into my pocket and scurry to the counter. I’m so relieved to have the drink in my hand that I spin on my heels, ready to get the heck out of here as fast as I can, but my hand that’s holding the coffee slams into what feels like a brick wall. Hot liquid pours everywhere: down my hand, down the front of someone’s camel-colored wool jacket, all over my boots, and all over the floor.
I drop the cup and shake away the heat and sting on my hand. “Shoot.”
I look up and make eye contact with the most handsome face I’ve ever seen off a movie screen. The face happens to be framed by a white or cream-colored scarf.
I’m unable to turn away from his beautiful blue eyes and severe frown. “I’m so sorry.”
He uses his hands to wipe at the stains on his jacket. “What the hell just happened?”
I feel as if I’ve become a deer trapped in headlights, except I’m trapped by his grimace.
“I’m so sorry.” I’m waiting to say something else; however, the combination of my own stupidity and this man’s sex appeal has got me tongue-tied.
I’ve ruined the stranger’s coat. He needs to call me irresponsible. Tell me to watch what I’m doing next time, or better yet, ask for my number and address and insist that I pay his cleaning bill.
“Here you go,” the barista says.
My feet are stuck to the floor as if I’m waiting for the handsome stranger to release me. Finally he breaks eye contact to take a handful of napkins from the barista. I want to stand around and make sure he’s okay, but I’m running out of time.
I walk backward toward the door. “I really do apologize.”
He waves me off and mumbles something that sounds as if he accepts my apology as he continues to rub the coffee off of his coat.
“I can get you another one,” the barista says.
I shake my head. “No, that’s okay. I really have to go.”
I run out into the chill, scurry back to the office, and make the coffee. My face is frozen, and so are my hands. There still aren’t very many people here today. After reading the news about the weather while in the coffee shop, now I know why. A storm is supposed to move in later today.
On my way to the break room, I stop by Misty’s desk to give her the bad news about her caramel latte, but either she’s wised up and has gone home before the worst of the storm hits or she’s stepped away from her desk. I’m pretty sure she went home.
I sigh with relief because I can finally slow down. The coffee is made, but I’m pretty sure Nolan Patrick stayed home today. Instead of leaving, I choose to take advantage of the tranquility and catch up on the work I neglected because of yesterday’s good-bye party.
Before I sit at my desk, I realize that I have an extra set of speakers attached to my computer. Yesterday I borrowed them from Liza’s computer to project music throughout the open floor. We gave Liza a last-minute baby shower during the day and a blast of a good-bye party at night. I could keep the speakers, but now they rightfully belong to Nolan Patrick. I unplug the speakers and walk them to his office. However, I stop in front of his closed door. There are two voices inside. A woman giggles. It’s Misty. A man responds. I can’t make out what he’s saying, but the man must be Nolan Patrick. Apparently the impending bad weather didn’t deter him.
I curse under my breath. Why hadn’t I figured out someone was in his office before now?
I put on a huge smile. It feels too forced, so I bring it in a little. The second smile feels faker than the first. I decide to let my face wear whatever expression it likes. But as soon as I push the door open, I opt for fake smile number one.
“Good morning, Mr. Patrick.”
He stares at me with wide eyes.
I nearly choke once I realize who I’m looking at.
Nolan Patrick is standing in front of his desk, holding a sixteen-ounce cup of coffee. I tear my eyes away from his to look at the coat tree. There, hanging on a branch, is the same expensive camel-colored coat that I slammed into at Starbucks not long ago.
her eyes as though she’s agitated that I interrupted them. Nolan Patrick seems just as surprised to see me. No doubt about it, this is a tough spot we’re in.
I summon courage from deep within and walk across the floor to shake his hand. “I’m Abby Banks.”
Nolan Patrick doesn’t budge as he watches me with ruffled brows. My skin runs hot, and I’m lightheaded. I want to run out the door. It’s taking every ounce of determination to keep my hand extended, but I refuse to drop it.
“You’re Abby?” he asks.
I swallow my nervousness. “I am.” There’s a frog in my throat.
He shakes my hand—what a relief! His palms are just as damp as mine.
Misty moves in close to Nolan until their shoulders are practically touching. “Oh, you two met already?”
What a shameless, desperate hag she is. She’s marking her territory, which is fine with me. I’m pretty sure I’m as good as canned. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad. But then I look at him—
maybe it would be
I drop my face bashfully. “We met briefly.” I look up.
He’s still watching me with the same conflicted look. “My coat met her first.”
The right side of his mouth is doing something—perhaps a tiny lift into some sort of smile? I’m not sure. I would chuckle or smile if I knew for sure that what he said was a joke. I can’t say I’m sorry one more time. It would make me sound too desperate.
“I thought you may have stayed home like everyone else,” I say to explain why I walked into his office without knocking.
“No, I wanted to get some work done today.”
“Me too,” I say.
I think he’s staring back at me because we’re still looking right into each other’s eyes.
Misty puts her hand on his shoulder. “We all should get going.”
“So, Abby, do you do all the filing?” he asks.
Misty and I glance at each other.
“Um, yes,” I say.
He nods. “Good. I’d like for you to show me where you keep everything.”
“Current and past files?”
His frown is just as severe as it was when I spilled coffee on him. “I said everything.”
Misty and I raise our eyebrows at each other. It seems as if Nolan Patrick actually does have a bug up his rear end.
“Well, okay.” I try to sound as pleasant as possible. “I’ll get those files for you.”
where they are.”
“Okay.” My voice cracks. I clear my throat. “I mean, okay, but the old files are in the basement.”
Misty touches his manly shoulder. “You know what? I can take you, Nolan.”
I have mixed emotions about her offering to do my job. On one hand, I’m as frightened as a cat facing down a bucket of water. On the other, I screwed up by spilling coffee on his pretty coat. I need to prove to Nolan that he can count on me to be someone other than a clumsy assistant who soils a man’s coat then runs.
Nolan opens his mouth to speak.
“No, I’ll show him,” I say in a rush. To make a point of it, I walk to the door and wait for Nolan to follow me.
“Misty, there’s no use sticking around. You should go,” Nolan says.
I sigh with relief, glad he’s seeing things my way.
Misty looks mystified as Nolan walks in my direction. He’s so tall and handsome. His eyes are ice blue, jaw chiseled, and lips soft pink. Nolan looks more like a sexy leading man than the reigning executive of a family-owned business. No wonder Misty can barely stomach his rejection. Out of all the guys she throws herself at, Nolan is the supreme catch.
She still seems lost for words as we leave the office and walk down the hall. Nolan is on my heels. His energy pushes against my backside. When we reach the door to the basement, I close my eyes and take a deep breath to get control of myself. He’s so quiet that I turn to see if he’s actually still there. Our eyes meet. I quickly turn back around, take my key ring off from around my neck, and open the door.
I flip on the stairwell light. The silence between Nolan and me is so awkward. I try to think of something to fill it.
“So the basement is down these stairs,” I say.
“I got that,” he says.
I want to kick myself for stating the obvious. Appearing stupid on top of clumsy certainly doesn’t help my case. We start down the steps.
“But I’m glad there’s a light. It’s a long way down,” he says.
I feel as if he said that to take the sting out of his last comment.
“Don’t want to tumble and break a neck,” I say.
“Or a leg.”
I chuckle. I’m not sure, but I think he chuckles too. I would have to turn around to see his face to verify it, but I’m too tense to do that. We make it to the bottom of the stairs, and I unlock the door to the basement. The entire room smells of mold, dust, and damp paper.
“This looks like a scene straight out of a horror movie,” Nolan says.
“I think of Freddy Krueger and Jason every time I come down here.” This time I turn to make sure I catch him smiling. One side of his mouth is slightly lifted, and I do think that constitutes a smile. “This way.”
I take him down another long hallway between filing rooms.
“Each room stores different types of documents,” I say. “Which do you want to see exactly?” I can feel his eyes on the back of my head.
“Acquisitions and Deeds.”
I walk two feet and stop in front of the next door. “Those will be in here.” I open it with the master key. We enter the room, and I open the drawer of the filing cabinet to my right. “The As are over here.”
But I flinch, taken aback. The drawer is empty. I open the Bs and Cs and keep pulling open drawers until I get to the Fs.
“What in the world…”
Nolan and I are in panic mode. We go through each of the rooms, and they’re all empty. He looks at me as if I should have answers.
I throw up my hands. “I have no idea what happened to them.”
Nolan pinches his chin as he thinks.
My mind rifles through solutions. It stops on one. “I don’t know if you need hard copies, but last summer I scanned all the acquisitions and deeds files that we kept in storage. I keep them on three flash drives in my desk.”
Nolan shakes his hands victoriously and takes me by the shoulders. “Yes! I could kiss you.”
I gulp nervously.
As if he suddenly comes to his senses, he lets go of my shoulders. “I’ll need those files A.S.A.P.”
“Okay,” I squeak. I could’ve sworn that when he took hold of me, my feet floated off the ground, carrying my head to some heavenly place in the sky.