Authors: Evelyn Aster
Tags: #Contemporary Romance
Hot Java Press
Book One in the Corporate Romance Series
Copyright © 2015 Evelyn Aster
Cover Copyright © 2015 Hang Le
Edited by Julie Schober
Formatted by David Moore
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the address below.
Hot Java LLC
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Many, many thanks to my Hot Java team: Julie Schober, Samantha Stockings and David Moore. I've always been an outsider to the corporate world but have many friends and family in it while being in the artistic world myself. They helped me navigate through all the terms and technical issues I needed.
Thanks also to Hang Le for doing a great job on the cover.
1| Greener Pastures
Grace noticed the chip in the “sassy red” nail polish on her index finger as she removed the bicycle clips from her pants. The compulsion to slam her hand on the elevator's emergency stop button pulsed all the way to her fist, but she clenched it at her side—the bells would draw too much attention. She'd ride to her floor, wait for the door to open and close and go back down. It'd only take what, another half hour to bike back to her apartment? Then she'd be late.
She wished the desire to fix her nail came from her pride in being a fashionable
Java programmer, but the real problem was having a visible imperfection. When something was wrong, she had to correct it—fantastic for her job but detrimental to her life. The elevator continued to go up, and she refocused her mind to a different problem like she'd been practicing. She was coming in early because she'd woken up with an algorithm fully formed in her mind to make a slow process a hundred times faster. The slow process bugged her more than the chipped nail. She took a deep breath and envisioned the solution in her mind.
The elevator doors opened, and she stepped out into the hall in front of Mile High Innovations. Oh, holy ones and zeroes. She hadn't switched to her pumps like she always did in the elevator. After a few deep breaths and furtive glances, she slung her backpack off her shoulder and switched her shoes. There. Everything was just right...except the nail. She slung the backpack on her shoulder again and slid her keycard through the lock. As she opened the door, she was surprised to hear voices from inside.
She stepped in and froze at the sight of a corporate god standing amongst a group of businessmen.
For just one moment, her world became his indigo eyes that looked as startled as she felt. His sable hair was combed back and slightly to one side. He had broad shoulders and stood about half a foot taller than Grace—the perfect height. He raised his eyebrows, staring back at her. Grace placed her hand on her fluttering stomach and wished she'd scraped the frost off her car windows and driven to work so she could have worn a skirt. Her Penney's pantsuit must look like a trash bag compared to his Brooks Brothers suit.
The other men had stopped talking and were staring at her, though she hardly noticed. Damn the nail. She dropped her hand, hoping he hadn't seen it. The first time in her life she'd ever experienced something akin to love at first sight, and she had chipped nail polish.
Finally her balding program director broke away from the group and said, “Grace, why are you here so early?”
She forced herself to avert her eyes from the stranger and saw that the CFO was there as well. Odd. “Uh, I have a fix for that problem I was talking to you about yesterday. I woke up, and the solution was just there. If I'm lucky I'll have it done before lunch.”
“That's great,” he said and turned to glare at the CFO.
Grace didn't understand the look and didn't care. She locked eyes with the god again, wishing someone would introduce them. If there was ever a man she might be able to break her rules of dating for, he was the one. He tilted his head and put his hand in his pocket. His other hand held a briefcase. She imagined defined muscles below his tailored suit to match the firm jawline of his face. She’d bet he was a skier.
Realizing she must be gawking, and since no one was introducing her, she blushed and took a side step around the group.
“I'll let you know if it was just dream thinking,” she called over her shoulder. No one answered. Instead she heard them walk to the offices in the back as she made her way through the maze of cubicles. A quiet hum filled the office from computers that were on 24/7.
If only Jill came in this early, they could gossip a bit about that gorgeous man. Hmmm. Maybe not. She was a short, geeky coder; Jill was a tall, beautiful woman. One look at Jill, and he'd forget about her.
She tried to push her thoughts aside as she sat at her desk. He was probably an out of town customer she was never supposed to meet. As the manager's assistant, Jill was sure to be introduced to him as soon as she arrived at work.
Never mind. Right now she had some programming to do. She put earbuds in and cranked up Green Day. Java code flooded her computer screen as the office filled up with coworkers. Her mind occasionally dipped out of work mode to picture the corporate god, but mostly she stayed focused. Eventually she paused to take a Coke out of the small refrigerator below her desk. She considered checking her buzzing cellphone, but she was so close to being done. Her fingers returned to the keyboard and clicked away until Jill pulled out Grace's earbuds and said, “The people at Greener Pastures are ready to see you now.”
Grace kept coding and said, “Who's that? Can they wait? Because I'm almost done with this algorithm.”
“Grace! Didn't you get my texts?”
“You know I don't stop when I'm near the end.”
“Trust me, you don't want to go the distance this time.”
Grace kept coding until Jill bumped her hip against the desk and spilled Coke all over the keyboard.
“What the hell?” Grace jumped up and finally looked at Jill. Her eyes were red and her mascara smudged. “What's going on? Are you okay?” Grace put her hand on Jill's arm—a rare show of affection from Grace.
Jill put a hand to her chest. “Am I okay? It's you I'm worried about. You're far too good for this.”
“For what?” Grace had never seen her friend so upset, especially over something that apparently concerned Grace. Though Grace saw Jill as her best friend, she knew the feeling wasn't mutual. Still, she must rate with Jill to warrant this reaction.
Jill shook her head and led Grace by the arm to an office that'd been empty for a year. The door to the next office over opened, and Doug, a fellow Java programmer, walked out with a wide-eyed, stunned look on his face. He saw Grace and said, “Even you?”
Before she could answer, another man from her morning greeting party came out of the same office as Doug. He was young, with a boy-next-door appeal. He said, “I'm ready for Gary.”
Jill nodded and squeezed Grace's elbow. “I'm so sorry.” Jill tilted her head to the office with the closed door and walked away.
Doug put his hand on her shoulder, and Grace recoiled out of his grip. She hated anyone but friends touching her. Doug was fine as a coworker, but he found fault with everything; to a perfectionist like Grace, that was hell. “Geez Grace, I was just gonna say I’m sorry. You're always so cold.”
She didn't breathe again until he'd walked past her. Something bad must be going down. Bewildered, Grace stepped in and found the corporate god flipping through a manila file with her name on the tab. She caught her breath again, but this time it was in the “OMG I can't believe I'm in the same room with him” way. Up close he was even more handsome. The thin lines in the corners of his eyes told her he’d already hit his thirties, a little older than Grace. Jill shouldn't be apologizing for leaving her alone with him; she should be talking with the higher pitched voice she got when she was excited.
He looked up with his deep blue eyes, stared a moment, then said, “Grace, please have a seat. I'm Royce Hendrix.”
Grace shook his hand, holding her breath through the duration of the firm grip that made her heart pound. He sort of fit rule number one: any guy she dated had to know someone she knew. It was probably a loose relationship, but obviously he knew someone at this company. If he wasn’t a skier, he’d probably pick it up quickly, judging from his athletic physique. Maybe they could hit the slopes together tomorrow if she got up the nerve to ask. But all nerve fled when she withdrew her hand and saw her chipped nail polish again. She made a fist and hoped he hadn't noticed. The silence lengthened. Oh, it was her turn to speak. “It's good to meet you Mr. Hendrix.”
It seemed like a reasonable thing to say, but he tilted his head and drew his eyebrows together as if no one had ever said that to him before. He shuffled the papers in her file around before he met her gaze again and said, “Uh, yes. I wish we were meeting under much better circumstances. I have the unfortunate task of informing you that Mile High Innovations is letting go of all its Java programmers. Greener Pastures is here to make the transition easier for you. This packet will help you get started in your new life.” He held out a folder with a picture of a field of grass and wildflowers.
The florescent light above buzzed like a fly. Grace blinked, unwilling to comprehend what he'd said.
He cleared his throat and continued, “Your severance pay is for a generous three months, but a hard worker such as yourself will find a new job in much less time. We're offering a free headhunter service to all the Java programmers. I hope you'll take advantage of it.” He leaned over the desk to hold the folder closer to her.
Her brain shut down. She kept staring at the folder and finally asked, “Am I being fired?”
“No, that would imply you'd done something wrong or were the only one. This is a corporate layoff, but we prefer to look at it as moving on to better ventures.”
She shook her head. She was supposed to be flirting with this guy in a strictly professional way. “No, there's been a mistake. I've gotten a raise here every year. My last project helped them with a multi-million dollar deal.”
“Which is why you should take advantage of our headhunter program. Here--” he set the folder down and reached inside his suit coat. He pulled out a card and set it on top of the folder. “Call Terri. She's our top headhunter. She'll help you turn this loss into a win.”