Three steps into the white marble and glass lobby of the Bouvier building and I knew I was so out of my league. The skyscraper housed the largest fashion house in Manhattan and there I was, a tiny little country mouse, dressed in last year’s fashions.
Appointment or not, I didn’t belong here. The suited man behind the counter must have thought so too. I only had a few seconds inside the bright elegance of the lobby before he addressed me coolly, “All visitors must sign in. Name?”
The few people milling about a large square of white leather couches in the cavernous lobby looked up at the sound of my voice. Had I really spoken that loud?
Two bored models sipped sparkling water while a man in a close-fitting, tailored suit strode over to the windows, looking outside, then glared at his watch. The fourth person, a young man with a bright purple shirt glowing from underneath his conservative suit studied me from under his lashes, the look on his face caught between boredom and hostility.
He was wearing the same silver visitor’s pin the security guard handed to me. Was he here interviewing for the same job? Bouvier, the internationally known high-end fashion house, was looking for a new talent acquisitions assistant. I guess they could have been interviewing for several positions. I tried a polite smile as I moved to sit down in the sitting area.
The man in the bright purple shirt all but growled at me.
I’m in way over my head…
“Thanks, Kendra.” I muttered.
My roommate, native New Yorker and six feet of jaw-dropping natural beauty, was a model and while she hadn’t quite hit the big times—yet—she had a few connections. She’d set up this interview as if I was a shoe-in.
Speaking of shoes, I looked down at my patent leather heels. The sexy peekaboos had plenty of shine, but they weren’t designer shoes, and I was sure the people in the lobby had already noticed. Even the guy who’d opened the door for me had worn hand-cobbled loafers.
I took a deep breath and put on a fake pair of tortoise shell glasses. The stage fright trick I’d picked up studying improvisational theater in college was now a habit, though I liked to think of it more as a quirk.
It reminded me that what I really wanted out of life was to sit in a small room surrounded by other writers, arguing out the beats, hooks, and jokes of a new television show. Not trying to sell myself as being some sort of expert in acquiring new talent.
Wearing the glasses, I could make myself look at everything as possible fodder for my writing. This would be a typical fish-out-of-water scene. Maybe I could make it different—the heroine would bolt before it was too late. Take off running down the sidewalk in a fit of hysterical panic. Crash into Prince Charming.
I could use a Prince Charming, as well as a job.
Resisting the urge to huff out a dramatic sigh, I swept the room with another nervous glance. I should bolt, though, Prince Charming or not. But I needed the job. My current job was all about connections and experience, but the pay sucked and I needed the money.
Too late to run now. I made myself smile as I stood.
It was time to teeter across a slick white marble minefield of possible embarrassments to interview for a job I knew nothing about. You’re paying your dues, I told myself. We all had to pay them. Kendra had paid hers and she was almost there. I had to pay mine.
“That’s, ah, me.” I stumbled and tried to play it off as a quick dance shuffle in the doorway of what looked like a break room. The fake glasses slid down my nose and I hurriedly took them off. They might work to calm me, but I didn’t want to explain to people why I didn’t wear them all the time. That would really convince people I had a few screws loose.
He stepped aside, allowing me to enter. I edged in through the doorway, looking around nervously.
It was indeed a break room.
“I’m Simon Hughes.” He spoke in a brisk, borderline rude voice as he came around the table and sat down. He held a file in his hand and he flipped it open, gesturing for me to sit.
I did, watching as he skimmed the information in the file.
“It says here you’re from Tennessee.”
“Yes.” I smiled.
“I don’t hear much of an accent.”
I was used to this by now. It had seemed obnoxious when I’d first moved here, but one thing I’d learned early on was that the slow twang of the south wasn’t going to open any doors in New York—and it might in fact slam them in my face.
“I’ve been gone from home a while. The accent only comes out when I’m riled.” I winked, trying to lighten the tension.
The young man with the thinning blond hair just studied me with the same cool expression for a long moment. Absently, he smoothed down a skinny tie, brushed invisible lint off his tan suit and adjusted his cufflinks. Something about those gestures seemed familiar, like the way I wore my glasses. A ritual. Possible personality quirk, I told myself. I had an entire mental file of them.
“I’m sorry for the location,” he said, glancing back down at the file. “Bouvier is having a big launch meeting upstairs and the other conference room is covered in catalog work, but at least there’s coffee.”
He gestured toward the counter along the wall in what I assumed was an offer. “No, thank you.”
I was jittery enough.
He flipped through my application, the silence straining on my nerves until I found myself measuring the steps between me and the door, then that door and the main doors. Could I make a break for it in these heels?
“So, Ms. Baine.” He reshuffled the papers in front of them, neatly stacked them, aligning the edges in a way that struck me as borderline obsessive. Then he did the tie, lint, cufflink check again.
The dude had enough quirks going on for a whole cast of characters all by himself.
Abruptly, he jerked his head up and pinned me with a hard look.
“Exactly what do you bring to the world of talent acquisition?”
“A need for talent?” I flashed him a smile.
“I’ll rephrase.” He tapped a finger on the thin file. “What is your experience in the talent industry, Ms. Baine?”
The horrible interview continued to go downhill from there. When the door flew open nearly fifteen minutes in—had it only been fifteen minutes—I could have cried in relief.
Then I caught a look of the intruder.
A jaw-dropping gorgeous intruder. He swept aside a pile of files so neatly organized, I knew they had to have been Simon Hughes’ handy work and I watched as the man across from me went red in the face.
Then I slid the sexy storm another covert look. He was flinging open cabinets and grumbling. Then finally, he grunted, grabbing something from one of them, slamming the door with a resounding bang. He had a fistful of sugar packets.
He turned, studying us as he ripped them all open at once. Sugar spilled across the counter, only half of it going into the cup.
Simon Hughes clenched his jaw and focused on me. “I’m sorry. Please continue.”
I guess we were going to pretend we were still alone.
“Aren’t you Lee’s assistant?” The man who wasn’t supposed to be there grabbed a stirring stick as he spoke. “What are you doing on the main floor? Isn’t there some kind of attic all you assistants hang in like bats?”
I laughed out loud and then had to pretend it was my ring tone. I made a good show of turning the phone off and apologizing to Simon. If he hadn’t been glaring at the coffee-swilling, sugar-slinging intruder, I don’t think it would have worked. As it was, neither one even glanced at me.
“I’m conducting an interview, Mr. McCreary,” Simon said stiffly.
“And you haven’t even introduced us. I’m Flynn.” The man turned cadet blue eyes on me. All the nerves jittering inside me seemed to coalesce and then explode, turning into something else entirely. Lust.
Plain and simple.
Those blue eyes drifted down, lingered on my mouth, then back up.
Heat suffused me and I managed, barely, not to lick my lips.
He was bossy and overconfident. I knew his type. He’d be flippant and arrogant through and through. He loomed over that snotty Simon Hughes just because he could and I almost felt bad for the poor guy conducting my lousy interview. But I still had a feeling if he decided to turn his ire my way, I’d be a molten mess.
Simon shifted nervously in his chair, clearing his throat as he started his tie, lint, cufflink check. “Mr. McCreary—”
“I’m here for a job interview,” I said, hoping to salvage the situation. “We’ve only got a set amount of time, Mr. McCreary.”
He cocked an eyebrow at me before he leaned over Simon to read the top file. “Gabriella Baine, from Tennessee.” He cocked an eyebrow. “Too bad you lost the accent. Accents are sexy.”
I pressed my palms down on the table and spread my fingers to stop from balling my hands into fists. I didn’t find that eyebrow thing sexy. Nope. And I hated that he was flirting during an interview. Definitely.
Flynn’s blue eyes lingered on me, a faint smile curling his mouth. It was a beautiful mouth, just full enough without being too much. One hundred percent kissable lips.
Simon looked like he wanted to disappear into the chair, or maybe turn into the invisible lint he was now fussing with.
This was getting out of control. Aggravated, I looked back at Simon. “I’m sorry, what was your question?”
Simon went to respond, but Flynn cut him off. “Lee’s assistant, a word please. In private.”
Flynn yanked Simon from his chair and hauled him out the glass door. I watched as Flynn gave clear instructions with a lot of cutting hand gestures and some head shaking. Somehow I’d lost the job in a matter of syllables and I didn’t know why.
As he marched away, I could see one other thing. Flynn McCreary had a great ass. Which I supposed was fitting since he was an ass.
The interviewer’s face was flushed as he came back into the room. “Ms. Baine? Our time is up. I’ll call if we have any further questions.”
Why am I not surprised? “Thank you.”
This entire thing had been a disaster from moment one. Without bothering to say anything else, I pushed through the door. Standing in the lobby with its sparkling glass and elegant marble, I tipped my head back and stared up.
I didn’t belong here and I wasn’t going to pretend like I did.
Kicking off the borrowed heels, I picked them up and walked barefoot across the lobby. Just before I reached the door, the skin on the back of my neck prickled. Swinging my head around, I caught sight of the bastard who’d cut my interview short.
Flynn McCreary stood at the visitor’s desk and he had a camera aimed my way. That infuriating smirk was still on his face.
What the hell?
I lifted my right hand and flipped him off. It wasn’t like I’d ever be back here anyway.
“Perfect!” he called as he snapped my picture.