It’s hard to concentrate when you’re in the presence of overwhelming pheromones. I know this as fact—I’m a scientist. Okay, maybe not a pheromone scientist but I know enough to know that when Hunter Davis is around, I can’t focus on spreadsheets and statistical data without shooting him a sidelong look which inevitably strains my eyes, taking me away from my work until I catch Queenie’s deadpan stare from across the room.
His mere presence affected me on a primal level, sending waves of headiness through my slender frame and raising the temperature of the lab at Mirror, Mirror to an unsterile level.
Of course, that was all in my head and my workspace was functional and efficient, as documented by the government, no matter what my body was saying.
Our research was state-of-the-art and evolving, even if my heart was caught in my throat every time I caught a whiff of Hunter’s subtle Dolce and Gabbana Light Blue Eau. He wasn’t supposed to be wearing cologne inside the lab but no one ever called him on it and I certainly wasn’t going to be the one to rat him out.
That day, however, I didn’t much care that I’d been covertly staring at my workspace companion. There was a charged excitement as we tied up loose ends in preparation for our upcoming trip to Hof, Iceland. Even Queenie seemed to be in a better mood than usual as we scurried around, collecting our research and closing down the shop for the month of December.
This trip was going to be groundbreaking for so many reasons. Our work on eco-friendly fuel was finally paying off and if all went well, we would come back with the necessary research and hopefully craft a prototype to present to the powers-that-be. We’d been working tirelessly, no one more than me.
I was the one who had come up with the concept of converting Icelandic moss into energy, if only in theory. Naturally, it took a team of us to put that concept and after two years, we’d been granted the funding to go to Iceland and collect the samples we’d need to make it a reality.
In my secret heart, I hoped that Queenie’s bosses would notice my hard work and promote me so I wouldn’t be working under that miserable bitch anymore.
Maybe I’ll take Hunter with me when I go, I thought wryly and while it was an idle thought, my ears turned bright red at the thought.
Cursed fair skin. Every emotion was as plain as day on my face, regardless of how I tried to hide it.
Carefully putting a cache of slides into a case, I was vaguely aware of someone standing behind me.
Casually, I glanced over my shoulder and my pulse quickened instantly as I peered at Hunter, a strand of ebony hair slipping from my chignon to fall into the thick black lashes over one blue eye. Hastily, I brushed it away and beamed up at him.
“Hey,” I said. “What’s up?”
I hoped my voice didn’t depict the nervousness his nearness invoked but it was hard to say. I always felt a little tongue-tied and school girlish around him.
“Just stopping by to see how you’re coming along,” he replied lightly. “About ready to get going?”
I glanced up at the clock and realized with amazement that the day was almost over. We’d been so busy with the last-minute prep, the day had flown by, it seemed.
“I guess I have to be,” I replied, chuckling. “Wow, I can’t believe we’re doing this.”
Hunter gave me a patient smile and I found myself gazing into his green eyes helplessly. It defied logic that a woman like me, a chemical biologist no less, would be reduced to feelings of puppy love when confronted with a handsome man.
But he’s not just any man. He’s Hunter Davis and you’ve been hoping he’ll give you more than a charming grin one day. A whole lot more.
Again, I blushed at the illicit thought and lowered my crystalline eyes back toward the countertop.
“Are you being paid to stand around?” Queenie barked unexpectedly. Her voice jarred me, even though I was used to her grating tones.
“No, ma’am, Mrs. Boss,” Hunter replied, saluting her jokingly but Queenie’s eyes were fixed hatefully on me.
Amanda Queenie had been my superior for two years and in that time, she’d gone out of her way to make my life as difficult as possible.
It made no sense since we were all working toward the same goals, on the same team but Queenie saw me as the enemy somehow. It was silly when she was the one who accepted all the glory for our findings.
Basically, she got the credit for all my hard work. Some of my team members found that knowledge insufferable but I liked to look at the big picture—we were working toward a brighter future, weren’t we? Who cares who got the credit?
I liked working for Mirror, Mirror Inc.
The only thing which would make it better would be getting out from under Queenie’s reign.
“Are you done here?” Queenie snapped, her green eyes flashing. It was remarkable that she and Hunter shared eyes of almost the same shade yet there was nothing remotely similar about them.
She’s a cruel hag underneath that Estee Lauder and Chanel while Hunter is gorgeous and warm.
“Almost,” I replied quickly. “I just need to pack a few more samples.”
“Well hurry up. Our flight is early and I don’t want to hear any excuses as to why you’re late.”
She didn’t give me a chance to respond as she stormed away, her bony shoulders erect and haughty. I wouldn’t have known how to answer that anyway—I’d never been late, not once.
I stepped up my pace and finished collecting what needed to come with us to Hof, reaching for my cell as it began to ring in my lab coat.
“Sasha Snow,” I answered automatically, even though the display clearly showed my mother’s picture.
“Oh, good! You haven’t left yet!” Mom breathed. “I was worried I’d missed you.”
“Mom,” I groaned quietly, shooting a look over my shoulder to ensure I wasn’t being overheard. “I told you I’m leaving tomorrow morning.”
“Honey, I really wish you’d reconsider this trip. You know, it’s called Iceland for a reason. It’s cold and—”
“Mom,” I sighed. “I’m really busy trying to get everything together right now. Can I call you later?”
“You won’t though, will you?” Mom muttered, inspiring an instant guilt in me. Mothers were born knowing how to shame their children and mine was no different. From the minute I’d told her about the impending trip, she’d been nothing but fatalistic.
I reasoned it was her job to be an alarmist but I wished she could have been happy for me.
“I promise I’ll call you later, Mom,” I grumbled. “But I really have to go.”
I could feel Queenie’s scathing look, even without raising my head.
“Fine.” She didn’t bother to hide the hurt note in her voice and I rolled my eyes heavenward.
I disconnected the call and gathered the rest of my belongings. Cautiously, I glanced at my boss who seemed fixated on me, even though there were still others milling about the lab.
“Need anything else, Amanda?” I asked pleasantly and her scowl deepened.
“I need you to not take personal calls when you’re on the clock,” she shot back. I smothered a biting retort and instead nodded.
“Of course. It was just my mom, making sure—”
“Is your mother a personal call?” Queenie interrupted.
There was no reasoning with this wench.
“It won’t happen again,” I muttered, even though I knew no one else had to adhere to the rule. It wasn’t like I was glued to the phone, gossiping with Alex all day or something.
“I’m heading out,” I told her, turning away before she could get on my ass about something else. “I’ll see you at LaGuardia in the morning.”
“Don’t be late!”
I didn’t bother to address the inane comment with a reply. There was no sense in fighting with her. I’d long ago realized that.
As I pushed my way out of the lab and stripped off my gloves and lab coat, I wondered if maybe my mom was right to be worried about the trip. It wasn’t the isolation or the cold, however. No, it was spending a month with that relentless shrew which made me apprehensive.
I shoved aside my reservations as I exited my workspace and weaved through the small inner office before finding myself at the elevator banks.
My phone was ringing again and this time it was Alex.
“We still on for dinner?” my best friend chirped in my ear when I answered. “And you better not say no. If I’m losing you for a month, you’re letting me take you out for dinner.”
“I wouldn’t stand you up,” I promised. I couldn’t imagine leaving for Iceland without seeing Alex.
“I’ll be there in an hour. I just need to go home and change first.”
“Forget about changing,” Alex laughed. “I want to squeeze every minute I can get out of your face.”
* * *
Halloween had thrown up all over Manhattan but I found myself relishing it somehow. When I was a kid, I’d always loved the holidays and New York was nothing if not over the top when it came to celebrations.
First Halloween, then Thanksgiving and finally Christmas and New Year’s.
I’d be back the week after Thanksgiving and I regretted that I wouldn’t be around to spend it with Alex and my mom. I said as much to Alex, stifling a melancholic sigh.
“Will you pop by on my mom over Thanksgiving?” I asked her. “She’s guilting the hell out of me.”
Alex chuckled and tossed her short bob easily.
“That’s what makes Ariel, Ariel,” she reminded me. “Of course I’ll check in on her. I’ll even bring her a plate. I’d invite her over but I know how she feels about Harlem.”
We snickered and Alex leaned across the table to grab my hands. I offered them to her and she squeezed them tightly.
“I’m not going to get all sappy and sentimental with you, Sash, because you know that’s not really my style but I’m going to miss you. I want you to be extra careful, all right?”
“I think you guys have the wrong impression of Iceland,” I chuckled. “It’s really not a block of ice, you know?”
Alex scowled at my flip response.
“I hate to be the one to tell you this, honey, but I’ve traveled more in my job than you have in yours.”
I grinned at her and tightened my grip around her hands.
“I know. You’re the next Barbara Walters,” I teased. “No one is going to know what hit them when you get your first exclusive.”
“Nice deflection, Sash,” Alex muttered, her eyes meeting mine earnestly. “You can’t make me forget my worries by flattering me.”
“It was worth a shot.”
Alex’s lips parted as if she wanted to say something else but she seemed to think better of it.
“Just promise me you’ll be careful, all right?”
I exhaled heavily.
“I’ll do my best,” I grumbled. “I just hope that Queenie lays off me while we’re there.”
Alex’s eyes darkened.
“She’s still on you, huh? What is her problem?”
“Apparently I am,” I chimed.
“Hopefully this will be your ticket out from under her supervision,” Alex offered supportively. “I mean, if you don’t kill her first.”
“You know I wouldn’t kill anyone without you, Allie. You know where to hide all the bodies.”
Alex laughed and raised her glass in toast.
“Truer words have never been spoken, sister.”
At that time, I didn’t know how this trip was going to change my life…forever.