JESSICA’S IPHONE CHIRPED with the dreaded fifteen-minute warning. She groaned, berating herself for stopping at Starbucks with so little time to spare. But a double shot of something caffeinated was an absolute must for this meeting.
The all-too-perky barista called her name and she grabbed the cup, hoping to find a taxi outside the café. It was an optimistic yet unrealistic expectation since she was in Palo Alto, not Manhattan.
Cars raced up and down El Camino Real and Jessica released an impatient sigh. Not one taxi in sight. Seriously? She headed toward the intersection, just in case one magically materialized out of thin air.
Her heart pounded as she concocted potential excuses for her jackass boss Charlie. If she missed the meeting— No, it just wasn’t an option. This client was too important to their consulting practice and she was a key presenter. This is my big chance. If I land the client, he’ll have to put me up for that promotion. I need to get there in time. Dammit, are there any taxis in this town?
Jessica sprinted to the corner in five-inch Louboutins, wincing at the uncomfortable tingling sensation in her toes. Just ignore the pain, Jess. It became her mantra over the past several months but she was only resisting the inevitable. Sure, they’re manageable now but who knows how much worse these symptoms will get? It was a question that plagued her every day since she received the diagnosis. My career is all I have left and this promotion represents everything I’ve been working toward. I refuse to let this disease derail me.
Walking across town to the client site was out of the question. In fact, surviving another few blocks would be nothing short of a miracle. A taxi rolled up to the red traffic light and she waved her arms to get the cabbie’s attention. The timing was perfect; it would only take about ten minutes to get down to—
“Aahhhh!” Jessica lurched forward as the unexpected impact sent her phone flying into the air. Searing coffee splashed over the side of the cup, soaking her blouse and pants. She recoiled, her hand bright red and throbbing. “What the fu—?”
A strong hand gripped her shoulder and she snapped her head around to get a good look at her assailant.
“Are you okay?”
Jessica regarded him with a cold stare, ignoring his gorgeousness. “Does it look like I’m okay? Actually, let me rephrase that. Do I look presentable for a business meeting with a multimillion-dollar client, which I’m now going to be late for, by the way?”
He grinned. “Ah, no, you don’t.”
Jessica gritted her teeth. His eyes were so blue. If circumstances were different, she could float away in those pools. She clenched her fists. “What the hell are you smiling at? You crash into me and that’s all you can do? My hand is going to balloon up in about ten more seconds, and you’ve got nothing else. Really?”
“Um, I hate to break this to you, but it didn’t exactly happen like that. You crashed into me, so I think your angst is a little misdirected.” He winked.
Jessica regarded the irreparable damage to her beige suit. Taking off the jacket wouldn’t help either. She resembled a spring breaker in a wet t-shirt contest. Too bad, the view might actually help her land the client. No, no, no, she needed another suit and fast.
“I am wearing an entire cup of scalding hot coffee because you were more concerned with your phone than with where you were walking.”
“Actually, I’m kind of surprised you even noticed, considering the fact that you barreled across the sidewalk without so much as a glance.” He raised an eyebrow, challenging her further.
Jessica gasped. Crap. That was unexpected. He didn’t look very handsome anymore. No, she wasn’t attracted to him at all now.
She flashed a sarcastic smile. “Well, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for such a memorable morning.” Flouncing off, she caught sight of a large digital clock across the street. The meeting would begin in just ten minutes and she was a complete disaster. What the hell was she going to do now? Were there any clothing stores around here that were even open? Tears formed behind her eyelids but she refused to let them fall. At the very least, her eye makeup would remain intact.
“Listen, I’m heading to Brooks Brothers. It’s right around the corner, if you’re interested. I’m sure you can find something there to change into, right?”
Jessica stiffened at the sound of his voice behind her, but quite frankly, she was desperate. Letting out a deep sigh, she turned around. “Brooks Brothers? Not my typical style, but I suppose it’ll have to do.” She fired off a text to Charlie with an excuse that her last meeting ran over. Exactly ten seconds later, the phone rang. Jessica grunted and declined the call, not equipped to deal with his blistering commentary.
“Are you going to be okay walking in those shoes?” the young man joked, failing to lighten Jessica’s mood.
Without a word, Jessica sprinted down the street. A spark ignited between them during that collision; it was undeniable. It was clear he felt it as well because he hadn’t let her walk away. But a spark was all it could ever be. There wasn’t time for it to become anything more. And even if there was, it wouldn’t matter. She was emotionally out of commission.
Jessica raced around the corner and flung open the door to Brooks Brothers. A middle-aged saleswoman ran up to her.
“Can you please help me? I’m in such a rush. I need an outfit for an important business meeting that’s starting in exactly five minutes on the other side of town.”
The woman smiled at her stained ensemble. “Yes, of course, dear, I’m happy to help. Size four, right?”
Jessica smiled. “Yes, thank you so much!”
The young man who’d bumped into her headed into the shop. He stood there a minute, then spotted her. Before he could speak, Jessica stalked back to the fitting room. Why can’t I stop acting like such a spoiled brat? If it weren’t for this guy with the amazing eyes, I’d be wandering around Palo Alto in coffee-stained clothes, searching for the unemployment office. Charlie would terminate me faster than I could say severance. She let out a groan. And Derek? He’d be a shoo-in for that promotion if I disappeared. No way am I letting that happen.
Within seconds, she stripped out of her suit and pulled on a dress the saleswoman selected. It looked perfect. It was also the most expensive option in the dressing room. Figures. It was just that kind of day. Her phone rang as she admired her appearance in the mirror.
“Hey, Li. Can’t really talk right now. I’m in a fitting room.”
“Why are you shopping? Don’t you have that huge client meeting now?”
Jessica let out an exasperated sigh. “Yes, I do, but some guy practically steamrolled me in front of Starbucks and knocked a full cup of coffee all over me. Can you believe it? Completely destroyed my suit, and since I needed a super quick change, here I am, in a fitting room.”
Lisa giggled. “I’m sure Charlie will love hearing that story.”
Jessica scowled. “Yeah, it gives him another reason to hammer my ass.”
“Screw it, Jess, don’t drive yourself nuts over this. Shit happens. Hey, so what did the guy do? Was he hot at least?”
“He didn’t even apologize! He said I wasn’t watching where I was going! So yes, he was hot at first, but now? Total asshole. Listen, let me go, I need to zip up and get out of here. I’ll call you later, okay?”
“Good luck! Text me all the juicy details!”
Jessica emerged from the dressing room a couple of minutes later with her hair freshly fluffed, feeling much calmer in a form-fitting tweed dress belted around the middle. She spotted the saleswoman and sailed past Blue Eyes. “Thank you again so much for your help. Do you have the receipt for me to sign?”
“Oh, well, actually this gentleman already paid for it.” She gestured to the handsome stranger who was taking in the scene with amusement. The saleswoman held out a shopping bag that contained Jessica’s original outfit and whispered to her, “You might want to at least tell him your name, dear. He seems like a very thoughtful young man.”
Jessica’s eyes widened and she blushed, again feeling a little embarrassed at her behavior. Shit, did he overhear her conversation with Lisa? No, he couldn’t possibly have heard her call him a total asshole. Oh, please don’t let him have heard that! Whatever, it wasn’t like she’d ever see him again anyway.
Clearing her throat, she held out her hand. “I’m Jessica. Thank you so much for taking care of this, but I insist on paying you back.” She studied her nails to avoid his penetrating stare. “I’m sorry for the way I acted. It wasn’t your fau—”
He shrugged and grasped her hand, his touch sending a little shiver down Jessica’s spine. “Please, don’t worry about it. I know you’re in some kind of rush, I was just trying to help out.” He winked and walked in the direction of the fitting area with three suits and several ties over his arm.
“Wait. You didn’t tell me your name.”
He turned back to Jessica, a lopsided grin lighting up his tanned face. “That’s because you didn’t ask. Good luck with your meeting, Jessica.” To the shock of both Jessica and the saleswoman, he disappeared into one of the rooms.
Oh my God, I feel like such a bitch right now. He bought the dress for me after I treated him like that? She shook her head in wonder. So far from perfect and it didn’t seem to faze him at all. Drew would never have—
Jessica’s phone rang for the third time, startling her out of the thoughts. She couldn’t avoid the confrontation any longer. Torn between wanting to run back to the stranger whose name remained a mystery and rushing out the front door, she made the safer choice to preserve her livelihood.
“Charlie, hi, yes I know I’m late, but—”
“Jessica, do you have any idea how much effort it took to set up this meeting?”
She cringed as Charlie’s abrasive tone assaulted her ear. “I do know, and I’m on my—”
“I don’t want any excuses. This is your job, and you better start remembering that.”
Jessica stood on the sidewalk after Charlie hung up, shuddering to think of what else might be in store for her that day. It’s barely ten o’clock in the morning, for chrissakes.
* * *
THE BLACK ACURA Integra sped along I-280 towards the Palo Alto business district, Bose speakers blaring the Foo Fighters’ greatest hits. James Callahan weaved in and out of lanes to make up time, preoccupied with thoughts of Jessica whatever her last name was, and the way she looked in that dress. He wondered if she made it to the meeting. With her sharp tongue and fiery green eyes, he was sure she’d kick ass in any boardroom. James couldn’t remember the last time he allowed a girl to permeate his thoughts with such persistence.
He slammed his hand on the steering wheel. Dammit! Am I ever going to get out of my head enough to move on with my life? What the hell am I waiting for? But he knew deep down it was the assortment of unresolved feelings that made him keep everyone else at bay.
Moving back to Palo Alto was the right decision for me. LazerShark is exploding and thanks to Chris, investors are coming out of the woodwork for a stake. Things with Mom are…better. Maybe I’ll get past this once and for all.
Traffic was light for some unknown reason and James was anxious to beat Chris back to their office. This little adventure was definitely going to cost him, in more ways than one.
Dave Grohl’s voice faded as his cell phone rang. Shit. Not quick enough, Jay. Stifling a groan, he answered.
“Jay, what the hell is taking you so long? I told you the accountants are coming at one o’clock and we still have to get through a ton of crap before they show up!”
James sighed at the exasperation in his best friend’s voice. “I know Chris, you’ve gotta relax. I’m on my way now.”
“What have you been doing? You were supposed to be here by eleven. Tell me you at least got a suit.”
“Yeah, I did, but I also charged something else on the account.” James reminisced again about how the dress hugged every curve of Jessica’s body and gave him plenty to daydream about in the past hour. The circumstances around their meeting weren’t ideal, but she was a knockout. Volatile temperament and hot as hell—a magic combination. If he was looking.
It’s probably better this way. There’s too much going on right now.
Running a premier online video gaming website commanded all his waking hours. When he wasn’t working, he was strategizing and mapping out the next three to five years. He was a planner by nature; this was a critical time for the company. LazerShark was well positioned to take over the digital gaming world, leaving no room for romantic prospects that carried more potential risk than reward. Just move on, Jay. You’ve got plenty of other things to occupy your time right now, like the pitch meeting with Blue Coat Capital. Concentrate on getting that funding.
Chris laughed. “Let me guess: pocket square?”
James snickered. If only. “Actually, no, I charged a dress. Long story, but don’t worry, it looked great.”
“I’m not even going to ask, dude. I don’t want to know. Just get back here asap so we can go through the presentation again. Grab something for lunch, too, I’m starving.”
Like he’d even have time for a girl with Chris all over his case. James shook his head. Maybe the whirlwind that became his life would calm down after they had the check in hand. At least he could hope.