Breathe in... one two three. Breathe out... one two three.
Nova Elliot closed her eyes as she counted her slow breaths. She stood on the balcony outside her marketing firm’s building. Thankfully none of the smokers or vapor users were here, which would trigger her asthma.
For now she had the quaint little balcony overlooking a small corner of the park to herself. Tiny yellow birds chirped in the giant tree that stretched over her building’s roof. The late morning sun came through the treetop in spots.
The breeze tickled over her arms and through her long, red hair. It was casual Friday at work but she still wore a black blazer over a floral top paired with skinny jeans and low heeled boots. She had to stay sharp all the time, and that included looking like she was here ready to work.
She wanted to enjoy the picturesque setting, but it was time to get back at it, even though she didn’t feel as relaxed as she normally did after her breathing break. She sighed and swung the door open, walking down the hallway toward the lobby and her corner office at the other end. The office had been a way to placate her instead of a real promotion and raise, and it had an ugly view of an intersection below.
I like my job. I like my job. I like my job.
And, she was next in line for the position opening up above her. She had waited two years for it, proving herself over and over. Finally, it was all but official. Out of everyone at her office, she brought in the most clients and had the highest return on investment for her marketing campaigns.
Halfway to her office, she spotted someone waiting in the empty lobby. A nicely dressed man sat on the sofa, gazing at the oversized abstract artwork on the wall. It was trendy but she didn’t care for abstract. The man, however, was very nice to look at.
Long and well-built, he had a relaxed air about him. He wore a cashmere sweater in baby blue with tan slacks. He looked to be around her age with blond, almost curly hair that was perfectly styled. His put-together style made her think he was from another firm, although she wasn’t sure why.
He glanced at her with gorgeous hazel eyes, set off even more by his baby blue sweater. All in all, a very nice package, like he could the model for sweater ad. Was that why he was here?
Her mind had been preoccupied and it was a surprise to find someone so good looking sitting there. She liked to think that she didn’t put so much weight on a person’s appearance but she couldn’t stop staring. It took her a few seconds to react properly.
“Can I help you?” she asked, smiling in case it was a client. She still didn’t think so. Clients usually had appointments and they tried not to make anyone wait. That was why this felt like an unplanned visit.
He returned her smile, flashing dimples and white teeth. Lord help her.
“Hello, I’m Elliot Arlington. I’m here for the interview.”
“Oh?” She went blank, cringing in her mind for showing her surprise. To cover, she said, “I’ll let them know you’re here. I’m not sure where Isabel is.”
She avoided eye contact as she went behind the receptionist’s desk to call her boss, but Rick came down the hallway before she could. His office overlooked the park, of course.
“Elliot, welcome!” Rick said, waving him back. The two men greeted each other like old friends, but their words said otherwise. Her boss avoided her eyes as Elliot walked back to his door.
She stood there, still in shock. What position could he be interviewing for? And why wasn’t Isabel at her desk at eleven in the morning? Ironically, Isabel appeared then too.
“Hi Nova!” she chirped, bustling in. “Did you need something?”
“Oh, I was helping a man here for an interview. Do you know what that’s about?”
Isabel sat in her chair and gazed up at Nova with big brown eyes—eyes that were overly blank and innocent right now.
“Oh really? No, I don’t know.”
“Oh, well.” Nova gave a laugh like it wasn’t anything important. “Is everything alright with you?”
It probably sounded like a strange question, but she was curious why Isabel had been gone when there was a scheduled interview. Maybe she hadn’t known?
“Oh, Rick asked me to take some files down to illustration.” She turned back to her computer and started typing.
Nova went back to her office, trying not to assume that Rick had sent the receptionist away so he could sneak Elliot in for an interview. It would have been easier to send her on a fool’s errand so she wouldn’t see.
There was only one position that would be open soon... Rick had told her they wouldn’t interview outside the firm, that that job was all but hers.
Or had he actually promised it? Pacing in her small space, she tried to remember his words to see if he’d danced around an actual commitment. She couldn’t recall. They’d spoken numerous times, and she had felt sure the job was hers.
She breathed, counting, pacing, and then finally just watching the traffic below. That had completely ruffled her. That Elliot guy was off the cute scale and also super friendly, although that hadn’t even been a conversation. But to find out he was interviewing for her promotion? She couldn’t believe Rick would do that to her, again!
She turned to her own computer and typed in Elliot Arlington. Was that right? She had to change the spelling before finding the correct Elliot. From what she could find, he seemed to be single.
He was a successful lawyer, or had been. It looked like he moved over to marketing two years ago.
Hmm. She wondered why. She tapped her nails and read a few more links but grew aggravated.
Before giving it up, however, she also searched to see if she could find a job listing for her firm.
And she did.
For the job she’d been promised.
Now she could hardly see straight. Her boss had led her on, whether or not he actually promised her the job. He had used her ambition and hope to push her harder and harder, all the while reaping the benefits for himself.
Was it because she was female? What other reason could there be?
It was almost noon, so she grabbed her bag and jacket and flew out the door, passing Isabel without a word before taking the stairs down a floor. She flung herself out the front door and walked quickly down the street, shoving her arms into her jacket sleeves. Not a minute later, she heard someone behind her, calling her name.
It was none other than Elliot catching up to her. She waited, not happy about it—she didn’t want him to see she was let down, hurt, and near tears.
“Hey! Nova, was it?” He had a pleasant smile on his face that seemed understanding, but how could he know what she was going through?
“Yes,” she answered, sure she hadn’t given him her name. Maybe he had also researched his competition for the job.
“Elliot Arlington.” He held at his hand.
“I know.” She begrudgingly took his hand. His handsome smile faltered at her coolness and he let go.
“Can I walk with you?”
She pursed her lips, wondering what he was up to. Her curiosity got the better of her and she shrugged, turning to walk again.
“Playing hookie?” He sent her a one-sided smile, his head tilted. He was a good six inches taller than her. The sun played with the browns and blonds in his hair, the breeze tousling it.
“Sort of.” She looked away, not wanting to like him. He hadn’t asked where she was headed. Had he waited around simply to talk to her?
Clouds moved in front of the sun, darkening everything around them. With everything happening today, Nova hadn’t noticed a storm coming in. Suddenly the breeze felt colder and raindrops pelted her hair and back.
He nodded toward a cafe door and swung the door open for her.
“We might as well get a coffee and sit it out?”
She liked that he made that a question, and that was why she agreed. They took a table by the front to watch the storm, ordering coffee and pastries.
She sipped her coffee, watching him. Did he really not know her last name? It was posted on the company letterhead in the lobby and her office door, and their website.
“Nova Elliot, actually.”
Elliot Arlington grinned. “It would have been too funny if my last name was Nova.”
His smile and lightheartedness was contagious and she fought the smile from her mouth. He still noticed and grinned.
“I’m glad I caught you outside. I was hanging around, stalling really, thinking about all this.”
So he had been lurking, but to what end? “All what?” she asked.
He poured more creamer into his coffee. “This job. I’m surprised that your firm would look outside when you’re doing such amazing work.”
“Maybe we’re growing and need more people.” That thought had come to her right before she answered. Maybe she was angry without a real reason—it could be that Rick planned to promote her and hire more people.
Elliot’s expression said he disagreed, so maybe Rick had shared more with him.
Confirming that, he said, “Rick shared numbers with me. With your numbers, why would they need me? He should empower you and help you grow, not have you train people hired above you. It’s bad business and discrimination.”
She flushed, but in a good way from his praise and validation. It was hard to believe, but it seemed as if he had waited around to tell her she was doing a great job. Maybe he was implying she should demand that promotion and stick up for herself.
She had made herself a promise that if she didn’t get the promotion this time, she would start looking elsewhere for a job.
She waited for a question that didn’t come, all the way taking in the little details of his dimples, his nice hands, how his eyes were so warm and welcoming.
“Why are you applying?” she asked without planning to. What would that tell her anyway?
“I thought it was a great firm but now I doubt that.” He leaned back to nibble his apple fritter and sip his coffee, without adding anything more. He didn’t look like he planned to explain as he watched the rain fall outside the window.
Emotions churned inside her, making her heart pound, but she couldn’t muster any anger toward him. He was so stinking likable. His fingers drummed the side of his coffee mug and his lips pulled together in thought.
Suddenly he asked, “Want to have dinner tonight?”
She had her mug halfway to her mouth and set it down again. “Dinner?”
Was he asking her on a date? No, that couldn’t be it. She rushed to add, “Are you wanting to pick my brain, asking your competition for pointers?”
“You don’t have to be my competition.”
“I doubt Rick plans to hire and promote me,” she said, deciding to put it out there. “And... We’re, um, having lunch now.”
“Sorta lunch,” he said with a flirty smile. “It’s more like morning snacks.”
She was saved by the waitress refilling their coffees, and that her a moment to consider if he was serious. She wanted to, really wanted to, but what if they ended up working together?
Oh, gawd, she wouldn’t be able to watch him take her promotion, and then work with that charming smile.
“I was thinking... a business planning meeting.” He took a drink of coffee, watching her reaction. She tried not to give one yet, uncertain about what he meant. “I’m not sure I want to work for a firm that brings in new talent and shunts the potential they have. You deserve that promotion.”
Wow, she really, really liked him.
“So what are you suggesting?” Because he clearly was suggesting something.
“Why don’t we get together and talk about the possibilities? You can think it over today, consider if you’d like to be your own boss.”
“You mean, the two of us starting a new firm?”
He grinned that mischievous smile again. “Why not?”
Why not? To start, because he was too cute. He was trouble. And she had a good job. Scratch that. She was overworked and underpaid. It would be a hoot to quit and start her own gig.
He saw her soften to the idea.
“But!” she held up a finger, ready to list all kinds of points before her mind went blank. He watched her, amused, his mug held to his mouth. “But, that’s a lot to think about.”
“Yes, it is. But you have quite a while until dinner. Where would you like to go?”
Now that made it sound like a date. What was she getting herself into? If they went into business together, she would have to push these feelings aside. At least she was being honest and admitting that his smile was doing all kinds of crazy things to her.
Would she be able to ignore her attraction? It felt like more, even this early. She admired him.
Another question, would they be able to work together? At the moment, they were both half smiling and gazing into each other’s eyes, and she knew she was following this thing, whatever it was, and throwing caution to the wind.
She wanted to tell him yes, and she wanted to see where all this electric chemistry would go as well. She was playing with fire but it suddenly seemed like a terrific idea.
“Are you planning to pick me up?” she asked.
“It would be my pleasure.” He raised his coffee mug in a toast. "To Elliot & Elliot."
She laughed. "You're choosing a name already?" But she clinked her mug to his.
And just like that, she jumped off her safety zone and headed off on a new adventure.