Whoever thought achieving career goals could be boring? Not Duncan Witten, but here he is at forty-one, in his dream job… and hating it. Throw it all away for a challenge? Yes, please!
If only Dunc had known his challenging new job came with Paul Hanks, a man who redefines “stubborn.” They need to work together to meet targets, but thanks to Dunc’s idiot predecessor, Paul won’t take his calls or reply to emails.
There’s only one solution: travel across the country and confront Paul face-to-face. It’s time to take things out of the office.
I deliberately loiter in a coffee shop across the street from the Perth office. I don’t want to arrive early and give Paul time to come up with an escape plan, but there was no way I was risking being late. I take the time to go over my plan again, checking it for any flaw that might have sneaked past my and Krista’s eagle eyes.
There aren’t any. But it’s a great opportunity to implant every detail in my brain while sucking back a coffee.
The shop is only moderately busy—we’re well past the I-just-arrived-at-work-and-desperately-need-a-coffee rush, and not quite at the midmorning coffee break rush. There are a few small groups efficiently combining coffee with a meeting at the tables, and a couple of other loners like me sitting in armchairs, hunched over laptops, but voices are low and there’s not a lot of ambient noise.
So the strident ring of the shop phone gets my attention, and I’m still only half-focused a minute later when one of the staff calls to another, “Paul’s on his way—make his usual, will you?”
There are a lot of Pauls in the world. In fact, there are probably a lot of Pauls currently within a one-block radius. But a guy who phones in his coffee order when he’s on his way is either superefficient or an asshole, and Paul Hanks has been described as both. Plus, this place is the closest to our Perth office, so it makes sense that he’d use it. And the timing is about right for a break before his meeting with me.
I slouch down a little in my seat. There’s no reason to think he knows what I look like, but it feels like the done thing. I mean, if you’re potentially spying on someone, you’re supposed to be all sneaky, right?
I’m just wondering if maybe I’ve been watching too many police procedural TV shows when the door to the street opens and a man walks in.
Remember, I’ve never actually met Paul Hanks before. I’ve seen a picture of him, though—it was from a company party a couple of years ago, in profile, and not terribly clear. But it’s enough for me to recognise him and to marvel at what the picture didn’t show.
He’s fucking huge.
Tall, yes—about six-three, although it’s hard to judge with me sitting down. But it’s more thathe’s built like a brick shithouse. Broad across the shoulders, with a tank for a torso. He’s just solid. I can’t tell with how he’s dressed—chinos and a long-sleeved shirt—if that solid is muscle or fat, but whatever it is, it’s imposing. His face is average—attractive enough, although he’d never win any awards for his looks—and he has a ruddy complexion. His hair is dark blond, in an all-over messy style that makes me think he usually has it quite short and it’s just overgrown.
But the most important detail is his presence. Seriously. He walks in, and it’s like the room is full to bursting. I can’t stop staring. He has serious charisma, but not of the charming variety. It’s more like a force of nature, blasting through all that stands in its way.
In just a few strides, he’s at the counter and accepting the paper cup offered to him.
“Hey, Paul,” the young man behind the register says as he rings up the sale. “How’s the morning?”
“Not as bad as it could be,” he replies, handing over some cash. His voice is deep enough to stir something carnal in me—I’ve always been a sucker for a deep voice. I shift slightly, reminding myself that I’m not here for that, that I cannot jeopardisemy one chance to get him on sideby letting my sexual urges get in the way.
He’s not even that good-looking. It’s a stupid, petty attempt to convince myself, even if it is true. I’ve met better-looking guys—hell, one of my exes was so fucking hot that people on the street would turn to watch him walk past. Just because Paul is built, has an amazing voice, and can’t stand me (we’ve talked about how I love a challenge, right?) doesn’t mean I should think of him that way.
And yes, he’s gay. I’m not engaging in pointless fantasy here. Well, I am, but not for that reason. Paul being gayis one of the worst-kept secrets in our incestuous, gossipy industry. He managed to keep it under wraps when he was a site engineer, but once he transitioned to mostly working in the office, it came out—no pun intended. He doesn’t advertise, but enough people know that it’s not a secret. He’s been in the industry long enough, and earned the respect of enough people, that it’s not an issue. From what I’ve heard, there’s occasionally some fuckwit on a site who tries to make something of it, but they get shouted down pretty quick.
Paul finishes his transaction and leaves, and I take my first real breath since he walked in.
Okay. It’s go time.
About the author:
Louisa Masters started reading romance much earlier than her mother thought she should. While other teenagers were sneaking out of the house, Louisa was sneaking romance novels in and working out how to read them without being discovered. She’s spent most of her life feeling sorry for people who don’t read, convinced that books are the solution to every problem. As an adult, she feeds her addiction in every spare second, only occasionally tearing herself away to do things like answer the phone and pay bills. She spent years trying to build a “sensible” career, working in bookstores, recruitment, resource management, administration, and as a travel agent, before finally conceding defeat and devoting herself to the world of romance novels.
Louisa has a long list of places first discovered in books that she wants to visit, and every so often she overcomes her loathing of jet lag and takes a trip that charges her imagination. She lives in Melbourne, Australia, where she whines about the weather for most of the year while secretly admitting she’ll probably never move.
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