Authors: Nicki Night
unter rushed off the elevator at his office with a bagel stuffed in his mouth while balancing a cup of coffee, a newspaper and his briefcase in his hands. Greeting his staff with a raised elbow, Hunter nodded a few hellos, as well. Blake was on the phone as Hunter walked past his office. Inclining his head, he summoned his receptionist, Rona, who despite her tender years, acted more like the firm's den mother. She scurried from her seat and met him at his office door.
“Goodness, Hunter,” Rona chided, grabbing the coffee cup and newspaper dangling from his hand. “Let me get that.”
Hunter took the bagel out of his mouth, “Thanks.” He unsteadily set his briefcase down on the desk. Rona disappeared and returned immediately with a coaster for his coffee, a notepad and a pen.
“Do you need a moment before we start?” She caught the briefcase before it tumbled to the floor, dropping her pen and pad in the process. “Settle down and eat your breakfast. I'll be back in ten minutes. Let me know if you need anything.”
Hunter plopped in his chair and acknowledged her with a nod. Allowing the chair to absorb the weight of his morning, Hunter rested his head back and breathed, taking in his first unrushed moment in the past twenty-four hours.
Hunter thought back to the cautious trip through the icy mountain roads that had almost made him miss his flight. All through his security check-in, he could hear his name being summoned for last call. He'd run through the maze of travelers at the crowded airport, leaping over people lying on the floor using their luggage as pillows, and made it to the gate just seconds before it closed. He'd snaked his way through the airplane, reminded of the fact that he'd booked too late to get a first-class ticket. He'd folded himself into the narrow seat, his long legs strained against the chair in front of him. He was forced to endure that uncomfortable position for two whole hours as the plane sat on the tarmac getting its wings deiced. Sheer fatigue and three servings of scotch had helped him sleep through the rest of his turbulent five-hour flight.
This morning his quandary had continued when he slept through his alarm, waking when he should have been walking into the office. Now as he sat in his chair, he let his mind flow back to yesterday morning when he said goodbye to Chey in the most intimate way. Those thoughts generated a slight response in his pants but were interrupted by a knock on his door. Hunter looked up to Blake walking into his office with a familiar grinâone that often had an interesting story behind it.
“What?” Hunter's shoulders slumped.
“Ha!” Blake sat in one of the chairs in front of Hunter's desk and rested his fingers under his chin in the shape of a steeple. Hunter raised his brows. “I got a few calls from Tricia,” Blake said.
Hunter's hands instinctively flew to his temples. “Tricia. Yeah. I need to speak with her.”
“She was freaking out because she hadn't heard from you.”
“Yeah.” Hunter had to handle that situation. It annoyed him that she'd called Blake. “I'm sorry, man. How did she even get your number?”
“She called the office. Then she kept calling to âcheck on' you. She was concerned about your safety because she couldn't get in contact with you directly.”
Hunter had all but forgotten about Tricia. Consumed with Chey even now, he hadn't thought to call one time now that he was home.
Blake rose and walked around to Hunter. “I haven't even welcomed you back, brother.” Their embrace ended with a pat on the back from Blake. “Glad you finally made it out of the tundra!” Blake's laugh thundered throughout the office, giving Hunter his first hearty one for the day.
Blake returned to the chair in front of Hunter's desk and filled him in on their current cases. Rona joined them and reviewed his schedule for the rest of the week. Despite his fatigue, Hunter remained rather productive. He called and spoke to his parents for a while. Then it was time to tackle the one task that he'd been avoiding for most of the morningâemails. Hunter pulled up both his work and personal email accounts and when his eyes landed on Chey's name, next to a message with no subject, he smiled as he reminisced.
In spite of the brevity of the email, he paid close attention to every detail, noting the time she'd sent it the night before. He was still in the air when she'd hit the send button. After the best of the most selfless lovemaking he could remember and teetering on the edge of an emotional connection, this was all she had to say? Hunter didn't know if he was annoyed or disappointed.
What's wrong with me?
His conscience shook him back to reality. He'd just met the woman. It was...what it wasâan amazing one-night-and-the-next-morning stand!
However, Hunter was back at home and it was time to focus on real life. He plunked out an equally cool and distant response thanking her, letting her know that it was great meeting her, as well, and that he'd finally gotten home safely. He tapped Send and sat back. The tone of the email wasn't unlike that of one he'd send to a colleague. Moreover, that stony â
' that she'd sealed the email with felt like a dismissalâthe final note on a sad song.
Hunter shook his head, wondering what had come over him. He had a stream of women to choose fromâmany of whom were just as beautiful...maybe. At the very least they were certainly more accessible.
Hunter looked at his watch and decided to take an early lunch and shake off the feeling that he couldn't quite label. He was still somewhere between annoyed and disappointed but now also added rejected to the mix.
After putting his laptop to sleep, he straightened out the brief he'd been reviewing and placed the documents in a neat pile. As he stood, Rona appeared in his doorway.
“Mr. Barrington.” He looked at her curiously. She always called him Hunter unless there were clients present. “There's someone here to see you.”
She stepped aside and Tricia stepped into view. Her lips were twisted in a playfully chiding smile. “Well, hello, Mr. Barrington.”
Hunter narrowed his eyes ever so slightly. Rona's back straightened. She'd gotten the message. “Hello, Tricia.” He remained professional.
“She insisted on surprising you, Mr. Barrington. I advised her that I was required to announce all guests.” Rona briefly cut her eyes at Tricia and directed her attention back to Hunter. “But she followed me anyway.”
Hunter sniffed out a small chuckle. “Thanks, Rona. It's fine.”
“See, I told you!” Tricia victoriously stepped around Rona with her nose practically scraping the ceiling and sauntered toward Hunter. Walking around the desk to his side, Tricia placed her hand on the lapel of his suit jacket. “I was so worried about you.” She looked back at Rona, sporting a cunning smile. Rona rolled her eyes and walked off.
Hunter hadn't missed her feline-like territorial claim. Moving her hand from his lapel, he responded, “Sorry to worry you. The past few days have been...trying.” He patted his pocket to make sure he had his wallet. “I'm glad you're here. Do you have time for lunch?” She grinned and he could have sworn he heard purring. From the way she stood, he knew that she was expecting a kiss. “We need to talk.”
Tricia stiffened, her body settling into a more rigid stance, a vast contrast from the flirty position she held seconds before. Hunter headed for the door and, like the gentleman that he was, stepped aside, gesturing for her to go through first. Tricia appeared to be fastened to the spot where she stood. It took a moment for her to start toward the door. Clearly, she understood the message in his cool tone, which didn't match her sultry one. Lifting her head, she stepped out with Hunter following closely behind.
Lunch was as unpleasant as he'd expected but necessary. Tricia couldn't understand why Hunter wasn't interested in seeing her anymore and no explanation seemed to suffice. Hunter tried to express himself in the most honest and cordial manner possible. Still, she left in a huff, demanding that he lose her number.
An hour later she called him, apologizing for her behavior and requesting they get together at her house for dinner and to “just talk.” When Hunter told her that he didn't think that was a good idea, she tossed him a few choice words and sealed her irritation by hanging up before he could respond.
Now with Chey in the distance and Tricia out of his life, he turned to focus on the big case in front of him and the email with the details of an opportunity that he'd been pining after. Thanks to his frat brother Eric and his connections, Hunter was being offered a chance to work as a visiting professor of business law at Dunford University.
Hunter had been born into a family whose DNA was laced with an innate desire to give back, and teaching was his preferred way of serving his community. The ability to instruct students at his alma mater made this opportunity all the more incredible.
In the email, Kenya Davis, a professor on the tenure track and Eric's childhood friend, advised him that the opportunity had just become available, the university was impressed with his credentials, and if all went well this semester, there was a good chance that they would offer him a position starting in the fall, replacing a professor who had just made an abrupt departure. For Hunter, pressure was exhilarating since he was confident that he was up for the task.
Maybe the excitement of this big break would keep the random thoughts of Chey that taunted him and brought warmth to several parts of his body at bay.
fter taking more lessons with Casper and finally getting all the right gear, Chey found herself falling in love with winter activities. By the time she left Utah, she had snowboarded and even ventured off the bunny slopes. Without the distraction of Hunter's sensual presence, she'd written a few more chapters in her book and made a few acquaintances at the lodge and in town.
Now she was back home and had given Deanna her complete account of the entire trip. Chey was ready to shift her focus to starting school and finding an additional part-time job to help with her expenses. She couldn't help but sing the encouraging lyrics of “Fly”
along with Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. Just like them, she'd come to New York to win. Chey danced and mouthed the words as she got dressed. She was heading to a building in Midtown that housed one of New York's largest cosmetic giants to apply for the position of customer service representative. This position offered flexible hours and weekend work and would fit perfectly into her schedule with school and her current part-time job as a receptionist.
When she had tweaked the last few strands of her short mane into place and was satisfied with her look, she grabbed the handbag her mother had given her as a gift before she left. It was large enough to fit a laptop and sleek enough to pull off the polished professional look she wanted to achieve.
Stepping out of her tiny abode and onto the snow-covered city streets, Chey still pinched herself at the notion of living in New York. She was glad to finish things she'd started so long ago and applauded herself for being brave enough to go for what she wanted without looking back. She was proud of the hard work that she'd put in to help her parents get their store back on track and save enough money to make the move and go back to school.
It was her time, she thought as she strutted to the subway, effortlessly dodging the throngs of people on the street and feeling like a real New Yorker. When she'd first arrived, Chey couldn't believe how many people were out at all times of the day and night. In all her years, she hadn't seen that many people in one place at one time unless there was a fair in town. She'd awkwardly navigated the crowded sidewalks like an amateur, clumsily bumping people and apologizing. A time or two, she'd been turned completely around by folks whizzing by in rush-hour haste.
Now she strolled as though she'd been living there all her life, blending in like a native. Chey made it downtown to her interview with a half hour to spare. Settling in at the coffee shop across the street, she ordered a chai, sat and read her book for a while. When it was time, she boldly crossed the wide street along with a multitude of other unfazed pedestrians as the noses of turning cars drew perilously close. She'd grown accustomed to the precarious dance between vehicles and pedestrians as the swift rhythm of the city pulsed in her gait.
As she walked inside the building, a male frame in a gray suit caught her attention in her peripheral vision. Chey turned her head and saw a man with an uncanny resemblance to Hunter walk into a building a few doors down. She stopped walking and someone bumped into the back of her.
“Oh! I'm sorry,” she said. The person, undeterred, circled around her and kept walking without missing a beat.
Chey looked back at the door she thought she'd seen Hunter walk through, dismissed the notion and continued into the building. She found her way to the reception desk and announced her purpose. Moments later a young woman with a smart bun, black dress and ballet flats escorted her to a conference room, where she awaited the arrival of the hiring manager.
The interview went swiftly, leaving Chey with a sinking feeling that she might not have aced it as she'd planned. The aloof woman stood and cracked a hint of a smile as she shook Chey's hand and let her know that she'd be in touch. The bubble she'd sailed in on had been burst, and that left her questioning how well she'd come across to the hiring manager.
Still reeling from her interview, Chey fell into step with the barrage of city folk and turned into a small sushi restaurant a few doors away. By the time her food arrived, Deanna was calling. Chey told her about her interview but not about the possibility of seeing Hunter. Deanna bid her good luck and ended the call. Chey sat for a while eating and reading until she looked up and saw that same masculine frame covered in a well-fitting gray suit standing near the hostess. She craned her neck to get a better look but could see only the back of him. Just like Hunter, he was tall, brown and handsome even from behind.
Chey's heart rate quickened from the possibility of being in such close proximity to Hunter once again. She couldn't move from her seat. Would he remember her? Would he acknowledge her? Why hadn't she considered the possibility that he could be from New York? He certainly had a Northern accent, absent of the lilt of Southern tongues.
Chey watched intently from behind her menu as the hostess approached him again. He began to turn and stopped. Chey's heart paused. Now she could almost see the side of his face. What would she do? He turned a little more, but not enough for her to see his full profile. Her heart started back up to a full thumping that she could feel on the outside of her chest. Should she get up? Should she stay? If she left now, she'd have to walk right past him.
Why was she so wound up? The hostess gestured for him to follow her and he did, turning around. Chey set her eyes on the menu, refusing to look up. She couldn't stand the anticipation, so she looked up in time to stare right into his face. He smiled at her, a handsome, inviting smile. It wasn't Hunter. Chey tried to stop her heart from pounding. She looked down at her barely touched food and summoned the waitress.
“I'd like to take this to go.” She pointed to her plate. The waitress nodded and went away. Chey gathered her things.
When the waitress returned with her check and container, Chey quickly dumped the rest of her food inside, dropped her money on the table and headed for the door. When she looked back, Hunter's slightly less gorgeous doppelgÃ¤nger looked up. Chey turned and left.
Chey hiked a full block before stopping to take a breath. Her heart was still racing. What had just happened? Then she truthfully answered her own question as she continued down the street at a more reasonable pace. She couldn't face Hunter. What would he really think of her? As much as she'd enjoyed throwing caution to the curb and indulging in several blissful romps with him, she found security in the fact that she would probably never see him again. What decent girl had sex with a stranger after knowing him for just two days? Despite her honestly telling him that it was the first time in her life that she'd ever done something like that, what were the chances that he believed her? A man like him must have heard that crap as often as
Chey headed home and prepared herself for the start of classes the next day. As much as she wanted to forget about her encounter, she couldn't get Hunter out of her mind. Despite the amazing things he'd done to her body, she thought about how they could never make it in a relationship.
Relationship! What's wrong with me?
Chey reached for the teakettle. A cup of chamomile would help settle her thoughts. The afternoon was young. She plopped onto her secondhand couch, folded her legs under her bottom and sparked up her laptop. Her plan was to spend the afternoon writing. Once classes started, she assumed she wouldn't have much time to write.
Chey had reached the part of the book where sexual tension sizzled between the hero and heroine like lightning. The kettle shrieked, jolting her from her fictional world. She fixed a cup and returned to the couch. Images of her and Hunter bathed in darkness, dimly lit by the fire's embers, played across her mind and she typed out every stimulating detail she could recall from their searing encounter. By the time she finished writing, the sun had retreated for the night and she had missed her prime-time shows. Warmth radiated from her insides. Her pearl had awakened and longed for Hunter's touch. She shut down her computer, took a cool shower and went to bed with memories of him stroking her thoughts.