Location: Streetside Coffee (Interior) (Morning)
The next morning on the way into work, I ran into Wilma Turner, my old boss, in the coffee shop off the main lobby.
Wilma “[USER_FIRST_NAME]! How’s the air up on the third floor?”
Heroine “So far, it’s breathable, Wilma. Nice to see you!”
Wilma “We already miss you. Bernice and Taylah were just talking about how it wasn’t the same without you around to brighten things up.”
Heroine “That’s sweet. Tell them I said hello. And I’ll get down for a visit soon.”
Wilma “I know the new department’s all hush-hush, so I won’t ask what you’re working on.”
Heroine “Yes. Top secret. I hear Mr. Housler has vowed death to all who break the code of silence.”
She laughed at that.
Wilma “Martin acts all smooth and sophisticated, but I always thought he had a touch of the buccaneer in his blood . . . “
Wilma “. . . and I hear you’re working with his grandson, the infamous Noah.”
(Is there infamy attached to Noah’s name? Hmmm.)
Heroine “You obviously have good sources, so you probably know more than I do. Spill.”
Wilma “Order your coffee first.”
I ordered the Yirgacheffe again. Wilma and I grabbed a booth in the back corner for a few minutes of gossip.
Wilma “Lots of rumors about young Mr. Housler since he came to work for the company.
Heroine “I guess that kind of thing comes with the territory when you’re the boss’s grandson.”
Wilma “It does, but he doesn’t do much to dispel them. For awhile, he hit on everything that moved and started a few fires that Alistair had to put out . . . “
Wilma “. . . that behavior seems to have tapered off . . . “
(Not in MY book it hasn’t!)
Wilma “. . . but he apparently goes clubbing three nights a week, plus weekends, and rarely goes home alone. “
Heroine “That doesn’t surprise me. He’s gorgeous. And very charming in a ‘doesn’t know when to quit’ kind of way.”
Wilma “There’s also a rumor that he’s . . . that he’s . . .”
Heroine “Gay? I kind of think so.”
Wilma “That’s the scuttlebutt.”
Heroine “Then he’s just hitting on me for cover or for fun, which is fine by me as long as he let’s me work.”
Wilma “The other thing is, the people I know in Sales whose opinions I actually trust say he posted great numbers. . . “
Wilma “. . . though he never seemed to work very hard at his job.”
Heroine “Pretty and smooth goes a long way in that world, I guess.”
(Hope it’s true. We’ll see this morning.)
Heroine “One more thing and I have to go: we’re . . . going to talk to the Legendary Daniel this morning and explain to him why we aren’t using him on this new project.”
Wilma seemed surprised and mildly amused.
Wilma “Prepare for fireworks. He’s a little dramatic and he’s got Friends in High Places.”
She pointed up, toward the top floor of the building.
(He’s tight with Martin Housler. Wonderful, politics!)
I rolled my eyes, mentally.
(What is it with all these larger-than-life men with their oversized egos?)
Wilma and I took the elevator together, returning to more mundane topics. I let her off on her floor and continued to three.
Location: Team Office (Interior) (Morning)
Noah arrived about fifteen minutes later, a little bleary-eyed, and we were fashionably late for our meeting with Daniel.
Heroine “You want me to break the news, or would you rather do it?”
Noah “Let’s see your stuff, [USER_FIRST_NAME]. You’ve had the benefit of coffee this morning.”
(And some sleep last night, which is more than it seems like Noah had.)
Location: Daniel’s office (Interior) (Day)
As Wilma predicted, Daniel did not take the news well.
Daniel “You’re not using me!? On the biggest new project M. Housler has done in YEARS, you’re going with an OUTSIDE designer!?”
A) “We feel we need a fresh perspective.”
B) “It’s nothing personal, we LOVE your work.”
C) “It was a difficult decision.”
Heroine “We feel we need a fresh perspective.”
Daniel “Oh, so now my work is BORING! Is that why they pay me more than any other designer for this company has EVER made?”
(Okay, maybe not the best tactic to employ here.)
Heroine “We just felt this new line needed . . . we didn’t want it to look like . . .”
Daniel “Like the same tired, old stuff? Is that what you think, sweetie?”
(If sarcasm was fatal, I’d be lying in a pool of blood right now.)
Noah gave me a little smile that Daniel didn’t see, since he was too busy throwing a fit. He then turned to Daniel and, in his most intimate radio voice, said . . .
Noah “Daniel, really, it’s not that at all.”
Heroine “It’s nothing personal. We LOVE your work.”
Daniel straightened in his chair like someone who’s just been slapped.
Daniel “Sincerity just drips out of your pores, doesn’t it?! You ‘love’ my work, but when the biggest project the company has done in YEARS comes along . . .”
Heroine “I know that’s how it looks, but surely a designer of your reputation knows his true value?”
Daniel “I do. And I’ll take this decision straight up to Martin’s office if I have to to make sure your foolishness doesn’t harm that reputation.”
Noah looked at me with an expression that seemed to say ‘had enough now?’ I gave him a look that, I hoped, said ‘your ball.’
Noah “Daniel, Daniel, Daniel . . . no need to invoke my grandfather’s name. We know about your close relationship with him. But you’re looking at this the wrong way . . . “
Heroine “It was a difficult decision.”
Daniel “And a BAD one. Change it. I’m better than Cordelia Over-hyped Taylor any day and you both know it. I’m SURE Martin knows it.”
(Already he’s playing the Martin Housler card. Great.)
Heroine “The whole team agreed that this new line needed a different look, something that would set it apart from the company’s familiar . . . “
Daniel “Listen, Missy, when I was brought in a few years ago . . . back when you were wearing crop tops and skinny jeans to keggers, no doubt . . . this company HAD no distinctive style . . .”
And he was off on a ten-minute tirade that confirmed why people called him Daniel, The Hot Designer in quotes. He thought well of himself.
I looked at Noah, who seemed to be listening with attentive concern. Finally, when the Great One took a breath . . .
Noah “Daniel, you’ve got completely the wrong idea about this. You know how much I respect you . . .the whole Sales Department worships what you do year after year . . .”
Noah “What I’d very much like is for you to allow me to take you out for a drink tonight. We’ll talk this over and I think you’ll see that this is really GOOD for you.”
A few more minutes of Noah talking him off the ledge and Daniel grudgingly agreed to some wining and dining.
He gave me a withering look as we got up to go, but shook Noah’s hand with some warmth, though his back was still up.
Location: Hallway (Interior) (Day)
Once we’d gotten far enough from his office and I knew no one was around to overhear, I looked at Noah with some relief.
Heroine “You handled him very well. I really didn’t mean to get him going . . . “
Noah “Don’t worry about it. He doesn’t have a relationship with you, so he was bound to react badly. Besides, he doesn’t like women much.”
I looked at him in shock.
Heroine “You . . . you might have mentioned that when you let me take the lead with him!”
Noah “All part of my grand plan. He was going to blow off steam about it no matter what. This way, he’s mad at you, who he’s disposed to dislike anyway . . . “
Noah “. . . I swoop in, play his Knight in Shining Armor . . . he has a little crush . . . and smooth the ruffled feathers. He’ll be fine.”
I was skeptical.
Heroine “If you say so . . .”
Noah “I will put money on it. Want to take that action?”
Feeling a little reckless and, based on what I’d just seen of Daniel, I thought my odds of winning were pretty good.
Heroine “Ok, but not money. If I win . . . you buy and bring me coffee every morning. For a month.”
Noah “Done. And if I win, you go clubbing with me. No excuses, no evasions.”
I had to think about that.
(He’s angling for a date and I don’t want him getting the wrong idea.)
Heroine “All right. But it’s a one-time thing, and I can promise you that under no circumstances are you getting lucky.”
We shook on it, but as he held my hand, he pulled a step closer to me and whispered in my ear.
Noah “We’ll see how your resolve holds out.”
There was actually a tingle that fluttered down my body, though whether from his words, his proximity, or the strong coffee I drank that morning, I couldn’t tell.
(Whoa . . . dealing with this guy is like playing with dynamite. I wonder . . . good kind of dynamite or bad kind? Wait . . . is there a good kind?)
We went back to our desks and dug into the Cordelia Taylor business. We wanted to be well-researched and prepped when we contacted her.
Noah surprised me by not being intrusive or even very flirtatious for the rest of the day.
(Does he think he’s just planted a seed and he’s waiting for it to germinate?)
After wondering about it most of the day, I had another thought.
(Damn . . . it’s working! By doing that one little thing today and then leaving me alone, he’s had me pondering him and what he meant ALL DAY!)
Location: Streetside Coffee (Interior) (Morning)
The next morning, I happened to see Daniel heading out of the coffee shop as I was heading in. He actually stopped to talk with me.
(He actually looks . . . pleased to see me? And he’s coming my direction!)
Heroine “Daniel! Good morning.”
Daniel “And good morning to you, too, [USER_FIRST_NAME]. So glad I ran into you. Wanted to touch base about yesterday.”
Heroine “Ummm . . . sure . . . let’s step over there.”
He actually took me by the elbow and walked me over to a little alcove near the shop entrance.
(What is going ON? Yesterday I was “Missy” this and “sweetie” that, all dipped in bitter sarcasm, and now he’s . . . friendly? Sympathetic?)
Daniel “I just wanted to apologize if I was rude yesterday. I thought it over last night and decided that, if you want Cordelia Taylor for the new line, I’m good.”
Daniel “In fact, if there’s ANYTHING I can do to help you with once she’s on board, you just let me know. Got to pull together for the company, right?”
Heroine “Uh . . .right. Well, thank you, and . . . “
Daniel “I really need to get to a meeting. Always something on my plate, you know. But I’m sure everything will be all right. Ta-tah!”
He spun like a ballerina and was off with a little wave over his shoulder.
(What just happened? More to the point, what did Noah do to him last night?)
Location: Team office (Interior) (Day)
When Noah finally waltzed in an hour or so later, he looked somewhat the worse for wear.
Heroine “Gracing us with your presence?”
Noah “Always and in all ways.”
Heroine “So . . . ran into Daniel this morning.”
His interest piqued, he sat on the edge of my desk, sipping his coffee gratefully.
Noah “We had quite a night. How was he?”
Heroine “He looked better than you do, that’s for sure. A whole new man. He was apologetic for his attitude yesterday and all ‘tell me how I can help’.”
Noah snapped his fingers.
Noah “I’ve still got it.”
Looking at him with my best suggestive eyebrow arch, I said . . .
Heroine “The question is, what did HE get?”
Noah looked at me in surprise, which quickly shifted to a look of hurt and anger. He stood up, his casual air evaporating.
Noah “He got a good time and some pleasant, non-threatening persuasion. And that’s ALL!”
Noah “Whatever you may think of me, I am not . . . I don’t have to . . . I draw a LINE!”
(This is news to me . . . is he putting on an act? If I apologize, will he say ‘Gotcha!’?)
A) “Based on what I’ve seen of you so far . . . “
B) “I was really just teasing, Noah.”
C) “I’m sorry if I offended you.”
Heroine “Based on what I’ve seen of you so far . . .”
Noah “You’ve known me for forty-eight hours and you have a diagnosis?”
Heroine “Combine my experience of you with your reputation around here, and it was a reasonable conclusion.”
(I don’t really know that . . . why did I say that?)
Noah “So you’re the kind of person who jumps to conclusions based on brief acquaintance and gossip. Good to know who I’m working with.”
Heroine “I was really just teasing, Noah.”
His anger shifted to confusion.
Noah “Oh . . . I . . . sorry. Guess I’m a little touchy on the subject.”
(He wasn’t touchy about me accusing him of having no boundaries yesterday.)
Heroine “Is everything all right with you?”
Noah “What? Sure. Just a long night.”
Heroine “I’m sorry if I offended you.”
(Better safe than sorry.)
Noah “Well . . . okay then. Don’t want you to get the wrong idea is all.”
(He seems genuinely upset. Not a joke, I guess.)
He grinned then, but it looked a little forced.
Noah “Daniel’s not really my type. His ego’s bigger than mine . . . bad match.”
He dived into something on the computer and we didn’t really exchange more than two dozen word for the rest of the morning.
(So quiet . . . but it’s different than yesterday. It’s like he’s trying to avoid talking with me.)
Location: Kevin’s Café (Interior) (Afternoon)
I ran into Hunter and Francis in the lobby and we walked down to Kevin’s for lunch.
Francis “How do you like working with Noah so far?”
Heroine “Not ‘how’s the project going’ or even ‘how are you liking the third floor’ but the Noah question. The world DOES revolve around him.”
Francis “No, no. That’s HUNTER.”
Hunter punched Francis lightly on the arm. Francis ignored him.
Francis “Noah’s just . . . Noah. People always have . . . extreme reactions to him.”
Heroine “I’m not in love nor do I hate, but I’ll give you ‘interesting.” God, does the man know how to flirt! If he swung my way at all, he’d be hard to resist.”
Hunter gave me an odd look as we took a table.
Heroine “He could work a little harder. He kind of comes and goes as he pleases.”
Hunter “He’s used to making his own schedule, going out on sales calls, taking clients out.”
Heroine “If it works, I don’t really care. Charm goes a long way in sales, I suppose. Seems to go a long way for him EVERYWHERE . . . “
Heroine “. . . he took Daniel, the Hot Designer out last night after our meeting . . . turned him completely around.”
Francis “Really? I was a little concerned that Daniel wouldn’t take it lying down.”
Heroine “Noah claims lying down had nothing to do with it, but he made him happy SOMEHOW… “
Hunter’s gaze suddenly shifted over my shoulder and his expression lit up in mock delight.
Hunter “Hi, Daniel!”
Daniel “Well, if it isn’t three of the Secret Six! They let you off the floor now and then, I gather?”
(Hunter just saved me from screwing up whatever Noah accomplished. That was close.)
Francis “They let us out of our cages now and then. [USER_FIRST_NAME] was just telling us you’re on board with the . . . with our Project That Shall Not Be Named.”
Daniel “I am! I am! After Noah explained it all to me last night, it all makes sense.”
Hunter “We all thought you’d love it, so we were kind of surprised to hear you weren’t thrilled at first.”
(He is so full of it. They ALL knew he’d hate it. Except me.)
Daniel “Naturally, at first I was just thinking of it in terms of how it might reflect badly on M Housler if we were to spend that kind of money on an outsider designer . . . “
(Funny, the idea that it would be bad for the COMPANY never came up yesterday.)
Daniel “. . . when they’re already paying me a good salary to do that kind of work. Plus, I was thinking of the excitement of working with all of you, so I was . . . “
Hunter “. . . infuriated?”
(He’s just baiting Daniel now. Don’t screw this up, Hunter!)
Daniel just laughed. Apparently he was taking NOTHING about this personally today.
Daniel “No, disappointed. Until Noah explained that this was a high risk proposition and none of you wanted to expose my reputation to that risk . . . “
Daniel “. . .I mean, really, it would look bad for the company if my designs weren’t rolled out properly or if the marketing strategy fell through.”
(Freaking brilliant. Noah got him to picture what it would be like if WE fail . . . not due to HIS mediocrity, of course . . .)
Daniel “Anyway, must dash. Good luck all!”
An insincere round of goodbyes all around concluded with the three of us just looking at each other. As if on cue, we all burst out laughing.
As the laughter subsided, Hunter looked at me with deep seriousness. He reached across the table and took my hand in both of his.
Hunter “Just before Daniel came over you said a couple of things that made me think you’ve got the wrong idea about Noah . . . “
Hunter “We’re pretty close. Known him since we were kids. . . I don’t usually get into his business . . .
Hunter “. . . but I can testify that he absolutely, positively likes girls. Very much. If you get my drift.”
That brought me up short. I guess my surprise showed.
Hunter “Oh, he likes boys too, don’t get me wrong. He never gets serious. Not anymore, but if you think he’s flirting with you, it means he has you in his sights.”
(Well . . . that puts a new perspective on things!)