My motto as a woman has always been simple: own every room you enter. This morning, when I walk into the offices of Cupid’s Arrow, coffee in one hand and portfolio in the other, the click of my scarlet heels on the linoleum floor is sure to turn more than a few sleepy heads. My employees look up from their desks with nervous smiles. They know that on days like this I’m raring to go, and heads will roll if I don’t get exactly what I want.
“Gather around the conference table, everyone. The morning brief begins in two minutes,” I call out.
Ben, the head of the tech department who only attends important meetings of my design team, is the first to lurch toward me. He’s got a coffee half extended, and he looks suddenly sheepish when he realizes I’ve already bought my own. His cheeks are flushed, clashing with his straw-colored hair.
“I didn’t know if you’d have time to grab a coffee...but now you have two.”
I smile at him as I put my things down on the conference table to accept his gift.
“Your favorite.” He shoots me a smile.
I take a sip and smile back. “Well, a person can never get too much coffee. Thank you.”
I take a long gulp from my foam cup, relishing the hot liquid. I can practically feel the caffeine entering my system and I’m so grateful. This will definitely be a long day, and I need all the boost I can get.
Today, I need things to go perfectly.
With everyone slowly filtering into their seats around the conference table, I take my position at the head and turn on the wall screen. The whole group looks up at me with wide eyes. Watch and learn, I think to myself, this is how the professionals get things done, people.
“All right, now that everyone’s here, let’s begin,” I start. “As you all know, we’ve been focusing on revamping the brand. Can anybody tell me what I’m looking for in the new design?”
No one replies.
God. Sometimes I feel like I’m some sort of babysitter.
“Talk to me, Ellie, seeing as no one else will.” I glance at my best friend since middle school, Ellie Mason. She followed me to Cupid’s Arrow when I landed my dream job and needed to fill some vacancies on my team, and I’ve never regretted having both a best friend and a talented designer on board.
“The app’s color scheme is fundamental to grasping the audience we want,” she begins, her speech polished and thought out. “Cupid’s Arrow is first and foremost a dating app for young people. It’s possible they could be put off by the dark colors used on the home page and the messenger. What we need is a burst of color to attract the eye.”
“Yes, Ellie. Thank God somebody’s listening to me,” I say, causing my other team members to laugh. “So, with that in mind, what has everyone come up with? Let me see.”
My entire team scrabbles in their briefcases for the folders that should’ve been on the table five minutes ago.
“Seriously, guys?” I laugh in disbelief, then shoot them all a look that says they should know better.
Tim, the youngest member of my team, finally pulls out a design consisting of color blocking in primary colors. I bite the inside of my cheek as I review the idea.
“Tim, this is good...except the primary colors only appeal to children. This is a dating app. We don’t really want seven-year-olds to start dating yet, do we?”
Tim laughs and looks a little embarrassed, and I smile kindly and give him a brief nod, trying to hide my exasperation. I glance at the rest of my team, hoping we’ve got something better, already feeling my nerves start to rattle. Alastair wants the color scheme decided on today, and to be honest, so do I. I take a quick look at everybody’s work, pulling out the best ideas.
Not a lot is fabulous, unfortunately. Ellie has given me something good, though. She smiles as she passes me her portfolio with a look that tells me she prays we’ll use hers. I don’t smile back because I try never to play favorites—at least, not in the office.
After everyone has presented their ideas, I lay my own out for the others to inspect.
“It needs to be more like this,” I tell them, clicking on the wall screen remote. I show them the hues of red and gray I’ve picked out. “Gender neutral. Striking. Denoting passion. Bold with lasting impact. It’s timeless, something that everyone can be drawn to.”
The team gazes with interest at the plans on the screen. It pains me to keep from telling them this is how they should’ve been doing it all along. Ellie can see the frustration on my face and she smirks, leaning back in her chair to enjoy my moment of annoyance.
I fix her with my best glare.
A whole morning has been wasted on something so easy.
“Let’s take Ellie’s and my designs as a starting point and fine-tune the color scheme. Each of you will choose three by the end of the day so that we can whittle it down to a final idea. Is that clear?”
Everyone nods enthusiastically, reenergized by my presentation. As they all drift back to their desks to begin work, I pull a face at Ellie. It’s a dark look to match my frustrated mood; my team always manages to wind me up on the most important days. Ellie points to my coffee.
“Feed the grump monster,” she says with a grin.
Of course, my best friend knows caffeine is good for my soul.
I give her one last dirty look and finish off my second cup of the day. It’s 10:00 a.m. and I’m already wiped out. At least I know the team will probably choose my design. Though it sounds bigheaded, I know my ideas are always the best. There’s a reason Cupid’s Arrow swept me up at age twenty. There’s a reason I’m the head of the department after only four years—four years of unfailing enthusiasm, dedication and hard work. I carry the design team entirely on my own back, and I deserve recognition for it.
Ben walks over while I’m organizing my things.
“Thanks for coming, Ben. I suppose we don’t really have anything decided yet, but I’ll let you know as soon as we find our winning design so you can start working on your end.”
“Of course,” he says. “What are you doing after work tonight?”
I feel a little sad telling him that I plan to go home and reheat last night’s Chinese takeout. It’s a shame that I’ve always been a lousy cook because food is one of the highlights of my day. “I think I’ll have a quiet night tonight,” I tell him, as though I usually go out partying rather than slipping into pajamas and catching up on Grey’s Anatomy.
“Forget that. We should—”
The office doors swing open to reveal Alastair Walker—the CEO of Cupid’s Arrow, and the one person I answer to around here.
“How’s the morning slug going, my dear Alexandra?” he asks in that British accent he hasn’t quite been able to shake off, even after living in Chicago for a decade. He’s adjusting his sharp suit as he saunters into the room. For his age, he’s a particularly handsome man, his gray hair and the soft creases of his face doing little to steal the limelight from his tanned skin and toned body.
At the sight of him, Ben quickly eases back.
“The slug is moving sluggishly, you might say,” I admit, smiling in greeting.
When Alastair walks in, everyone in the room stands up straighter. I’m glad my team knows how to behave themselves when the boss of the boss is around. But my own smile falters when I notice the tall dark-haired man falling into step beside Alastair.
A young man.
A very hot man.
One in a crisp charcoal suit, haphazardly knotted red tie and gorgeous designer shoes, with recklessly disheveled hair and scruff along his jaw.
Our gazes meet. My mouth dries up. I’m completely dazed all of a sudden. I’ve never seen a guy look so handsome or so cool without even trying.
He’s got a head of dark brown curls.
Light brown, almost amber eyes.
The shadow of a beard across a square jaw.
A body to die for.
Tall. With shoulders a mile wide, perfectly hugged by his unbuttoned jacket.
I don’t know what he’s doing with Alastair, but I know he’s the best-looking man I’ve ever seen in my life.
It’s like the whole room shifted on its axis when he entered. And not only that, but it feels like somebody just tilted my axis a little bit to the left, a little bit to the right, and now, I can’t seem to set it back to center.
“Everyone. I’d like to present my youngest son, the black sheep of the family.” Alastair slaps the younger man on his back. The man’s lips curve in amusement, but I notice that his eyes gleam in something like challenge over Alastair’s black sheep comment.
A prick of empathy stabs me in the chest as I watch him step forward and finish for his father. “Kit Walker,” he says, his voice deep and rich. His gaze pauses on me, and my chest constricts again as we stare.
“And this,” Alastair tells him as he motions Kit forward, “is Cupid Arrow’s secret weapon, Alexandra Croft.”
Amber eyes hold mine and won’t seem to let me go.
Kit stretches out his hand. “A black sheep and a secret weapon. Sounds like a dangerous combination,” he says in a low, teasing tone.
“Both easily underestimated,” I add with a smile. I’m pleased that my voice is level as I extend my hand to shake his. His grip is warm, his eyes gleaming with curiosity and amusement—and something else. Something like respect.
He seems intrigued by my comment, aimed to let him know that I understand his frustration with his father. I don’t think my parents expected me ever to get where I am.
“A pleasure to meet you, Kit,” I say.
“The pleasure’s mine.” He speaks in a toe-curling British accent that should be outlawed in the States.
I realize we’re both staring and pull my hand free, embarrassed my team saw me ogle him. I’ve heard stories about Alastair’s youngest son. None of them good. Of course now that I see he has playboy looks to match his playboy reputation, I can believe that every single one of them is true.
“Well, why don’t you all introduce yourselves to my son while I speak to Miss Croft?” Alastair tells the team. “Ben, we’ll see you down in Tech later.”
“Yes, sir,” Ben instantly says.
Ben nods at Kit and Kit nods back, then my friend squeezes my arm in a gesture of comfort before he goes back to his floor.
Kit watches him disappear with a mild frown of curiosity on his face, then his gaze returns to me. It’s inquisitive. Intense. I shake it off and briskly follow Alastair into his office.
Don’t glance back, Alexandra. You’ve never allowed a guy to distract you and you aren’t about to start now.
But I can’t shake off the tingle in my hand, lingering from where Kit Walker touched me.