Maggie dropped a yellow business envelope on Rory’s desk. “You and your buddy are going. It’s tonight.”
“He’s not my buddy,” Rory muttered as she pulled the papers out of the envelope and grimaced: a local business school, The Johnston Technical Institute, wanted some local names to join its advisory board. American Faces magazine was asked to send two people from the business end of the publication.
“Mags, we’re writers. JTI wants people who play with money and push papers around.”
“First, he’s the only person here you like. Second, he’s the only one besides me who tolerates your sarcasm. That makes you buddies. Third, you freelanced before coming here, and he was an advertising guy for some construction company. You both qualify. Besides, you two are good advertising for us in general – young, good-looking, and successful.”
“For six months,” Rory muttered, referring to Cade’s short-lived advertising career with his uncle’s company.
“Six months or six years, I don’t care. This is good business for us. Lord knows we need it.”
Giving her editor a dubious look, Rory returned to her work. Obviously she couldn’t sucker anyone else into it. Though irritated, Rory knew that Mags was right about Cade. Most mornings he was the second one in the office, often coming in to find her staring out the window and enjoying the silence, her hands wrapped around a mug of hot mint tea, her mind wrapped around leaving Paul. On those days, she always said she was “just thinking” when he asked.
Most mornings he wouldn’t press, for which she was grateful. They’d talk about superficial topics, articles, cats, lunch. Sometimes he’d amuse her with stories, tell her about growing up and the trouble he’d get into with his older brothers. Other days, he would lean against the wall by the window she was staring at and pick at her, teasing a smile out of her, until she threatened to throw her mug at him. He would laugh then, telling her that her little threats meant nothing to someone who had two older brothers.
She never admitted her thoughts, though. She couldn’t say the words. Not yet. She wasn’t ready to lose him once those words sounded and became real and showed how weak she was. Rory usually told herself that it made sense that they were friends, after all, they shared office space. She told herself that she liked him because he treated her like an intelligent adult and not an ornament. The fact that he was pleasant to look at was simply a nice perk. That’s what she told herself, anyway.
She shoved the JTI papers back into the envelope and dropped it on top of her “In” basket.
“Here,” Rory tossed the envelope to Cade when he came in an hour later. “You’re going.”
“Liar. Mags already told me.”
Rory rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Did you finish that article on Mayor Luke?”
Cade gave her his usual grin and handed it over to her. “Yes, ma’am. Here it is.”
“This is good,” she commented a few minutes later.
“I don’t have to edit it for once. How’s that?”
“Not good enough. I want it to be good enough to take down the Great Wall of Philodendron.”
He pointed to the row of small houseplants that Rory still had lined up between their desks. Though Cade was better organized than John, the closest he came to chaos was a perpetual mug of one-cream-no-sugar-coffee and one perpetual stack of papers, Rory had left the “wall” up, ostensibly out of habit.
She shook her head. “Not after you actually added to it,” she said, referring to the small peace lily he had contributed the day after questioning her about the bruise. Cade smiled back, their eyes locked until she felt herself about to blush. She looked down as if to start writing. Well, pretending to, anyhow. What was he thinking, looking at her like that?
After just staring at the screen for a few minutes, Rory gave herself leave to glance over the rim of her glasses and through the leaves.
He winked at her.
She finally blushed, returned her stare to the laptop’s monitor, and decided that she needed taller plants.