OLIVIA WAS LESS THAN thrilled to be walking into her boss’ office. There were two reasons for this unhappiness, both of them relatively simple. The first was one she was pretty sure she shared with most people across the globe. Being called into the boss’ office was the grown-up version of being made to pay a visit to the principal. There was never any way of knowing the purpose of the visit. There was no way to tell in advance if you were in trouble or about to receive unsolicited praise. The second reason was, perhaps, more unique to her. Olivia enjoyed her work. It was important to her and she cared very little for interruptions. Technically, her boss was in charge of not only her but her work as well, but that didn’t mean Olivia didn’t see his asking for her as an intrusion on her productivity. There was the mild concern of being in trouble for something, but it was eclipsed by good old annoyance, and this radiated through her as she made her way to Mr. Wellington’s office, the clack of her heels on tile the soundtrack to her frustration. When she arrived at his large, wooden double doors, she glanced at his secretary. Mrs. Frank, who had a widely circulated reputation for hating just about everybody, peered back at her through the thickest glasses Olivia had ever seen. She rolled her eyes and began angrily sharpening a pencil, as if Olivia just being there was the worst interruption she had ever experienced.
“Is he in?” Olivia asked the question briskly, as a formality. Mr. Wellington was the one who had called for her, after all, and only moments earlier. Of course he would be in.
“I don’t know,” Mrs. Frank responded sullenly, practically radiating ill will, “who’s asking?”
“I’m asking. He sent word that he wants to see me.”
“Did he now?”
“Yes,” Olivia answered pointedly, feeling her patience leach out of her quickly, “he did.”
“Fine, fine. Hold on a minute.”
The cranky older woman stood, sighing as she did so, and clopped towards the doors of the Wellington office solidly. Olivia wasn’t one-hundred-percent sure, but she would have sworn that the woman was muttering under her breath as she did so. Mrs. Frank stuck her head in the door without knocking, exchanged a brief number of words, and then turned back to face her unwanted visitor. Olivia briefly considered asking the woman if Mr. Wellington knew how rude his secretary acted towards anyone that wasn’t him but decided to keep her mouth shut. Going to war with Mrs. Frank didn’t strike her as the best idea. She was rough to take, but she was also the keeper of the gate, so to speak.
“He’s in and he’ll see you. Just make it quick. He has a very full schedule today. He has a very busy schedule every day.”
“Sure. That’s fine. I’ll take as long as Mr. Wellington wants and that’s all. Have a nice day, okay?”
Olivia breezed past Mrs. Frank, holding her head up high and pretending not to notice the death glare she was now the subject of. It was unpleasant, to be sure, but it did have one unexpected benefit. By the time she was safely behind Mr. Wellington’s safely shut doors she was so relieved to be away from cranky Mrs. Frank that she was hardly nervous about meeting with her boss anymore. When she turned to face him, saw the expression on his face, her nerves retreated even further. He was smiling broadly and motioning for her to take a seat.
“Ms. Young! Perfect. I have some news I think you will be very pleased to hear.”
“CAROLINE! CAROLINE, please, tell me your home!”
The meeting with Mr. Wellington had turned out to be much, much better than Olivia had imagined. Sometimes he wasn’t actually as pleased with you as you thought he was when you paid him a visit, something she had tried to keep in mind when she had first seen his smile. It was something of a business tactic with him, making a person feel right at home and then tearing said person down to size. Thankfully with her, his pleasure had been all real. He had asked her to take a seat and then gone on and on about all of her virtues, all of the things she had been doing well in her job. She had been putting in more hours than she could count, working far past the time when everyone else was out of the office for longer than she could remember without being able to tell whether or not anyone was really noticing. As it turned out, somebody had, and it had been just the somebody she most needed the recognition from. It was always a good thing to have the man whose name was in the law firm’s title telling you that you had done a good job. It was even better having him tell you that, after careful consideration with the firm’s board, you were officially being made a junior partner. Not just any junior partner, either. Olivia was now the youngest junior partner the firm of Wellington and Briggs had ever seen. Mr. Wellington had assured her that if she continued to work with as much fervor and tenacity as she had shown the company thus far, she would have a bright and lengthy future with them. He had then told her to take the rest of the day off, something that had made her blanch. She couldn’t remember the last time she had taken a day off of work in the middle of the week. She hardly ever even took the weekends off. Saturday was basically just another part of the work week, as far as Olivia was concerned.
Mr. Wellington had seen it on her face, her disregard for weekends, and he had made it clear that it wasn’t a suggestion. It was an insistence, or order. He had told her that he needed her refreshed and ready for a whole new level of work and for that to happen she needed to give herself a little bit of a break. It had felt decidedly weird leaving the office in the middle of a Friday, but part of her had been relieved. She wasn’t sure that she was ever going to be able to give herself a break without somebody forcing her to do so, and truth be told, she needed one. Once she had been given permission, she had practically flown from the building, stopping at a fancy corner store and picking up a bottle of wine that cost more than she could really afford and several fancy cheeses with accompaniments. Caroline would probably have rather gone to a dive bar to do their celebrating but Olivia was past that, or at least wanted to be past that. She was a junior partner now. It was time for her to start acting like the adult she was supposed to be.
“Caroline! Come on, lady! I’ve got a bottle of wine with me and I promise you it’s one of the best ones you’ll ever taste. Unless you don’t open the door, in which case I might just have to open it up and drink it all myself.”
She heard the latch being undone and grinned to herself. She should have lead with that last comment. Caroline might have been a lover of dive bars but she was sort of in love with the idea of being fancy at heart. The mention of a super-nice bottle of wine was like a siren call for her. With this in mind, Olivia held the bottle out in front of her like a gift, presenting it the way a waiter in a fancy restaurant would do. She was practically laughing before the door was even open enough for her to see her best friend since forever, anticipating exactly what her reaction would be. It was laughter that died quickly in her throat, before it ever had the chance to truly be born to the world. She might have been in the mood to party, but apparently she wasn’t alone in wanting this visit. She had some unwanted company coming up next to her on the landing in front of Caroline’s door.
“Um, hi. You’re not Caroline. What are you doing here?”
“No, I should say I’m not. Not unless there’s been a major change while I wasn’t looking.”
“Right. What are you doing here?”
The man who had opened the door, the man who was decidedly not her best friend, clutched at his heart as if he had been mortally wounded. It was theatrical enough to be funny and she probably would have laughed if it had been a different man. But it wasn’t a different man. It was Nick Oswald and as ever, she wasn’t quite sure what to make of him. Nick was the best friend of Caroline’s boyfriend, Abel, and as such she had spent a decent amount of time around him. Abel and Caroline had been dating for six months and according to the way she told it, things were possibly starting to get serious. At first, Olivia had just assumed that Nick would disappear into the woodwork. Either Caroline would get bored of Abel, something she did rapidly with almost every guy she encountered, or it would come to light that Nick wasn’t that good of a friend of Abel’s, after all. As time had ticked by, however, she had realized that he wasn’t going anywhere. He was as devoted to his work as she was to hers, she would give him that, which meant he wasn’t around all or even most of the times when Olivia and Caroline were hanging out. He was there enough, though, for her to have come to the decision that she was nowhere near being his biggest fan. There was a cockiness to him, an arrogance that ruffled her feathers, and a level of flirtation that always made her want to squirm. Still, she did her best to be polite. No matter what kind of a feeling she got about him, he obviously wasn’t going anywhere. It didn’t help that he was so damned good looking, either. He was easily six inches taller than her five-foot-six with thick, black hair that always reminded her of Clark Kent. He had those same bright blue eyes, too, and every time he looked at her she got the impression that there was something mischievous going on inside his mind. It was exactly the impression she was getting at the moment.
“Jesus, Olivia, you don’t really do the whole polite conversation thing, do you?”
“No. I mean, sorry, that’s not what I meant. I don’t mean I don’t do polite conversation.”
“Okay,” he asked with a little smirk, clearly amused by the bizarre way she was stumbling over her words, “then what did you mean?”
“I just meant that I wasn’t really paying attention to what you were saying. I’ve got some exciting news and I just want to see Caroline.”
“Don’t feel like sharing with me, too? I can be surprisingly good at sharking, you know.”
There was something in the way he said it, in the way he raised his eyebrow at her, that made her skin break out in goosebumps. It was silly, that reaction, and she knew it. There had to have been a draft or something to cause that kind of reaction. It certainly couldn’t have been Nick who was responsible for it. She narrowed her eyes at him slightly, prepared to say something she hadn’t yet decided, but she didn’t get the chance. Before she could so much as open her mouth, he gave her an arrogant little salute, tipped her a wink, and then brushed past her on the stairs. Just like that, he had his hand on the door knob of Caroline’s place and was poised to go inside without so much as a knock. She was very close to being denied the last word she seemed to crave when it came to any interaction with the elusive Nick Oswald.