The universe hates me with a passion. Of that, I am sure this Monday morning.
After my hair straightener bailed on me earlier, I just stubbed my toe on the dresser. With a groan, I sit on my bed to assess the damage.
I massage my aching foot until the pain subsides, and luckily, the toe looks fine. So I can finally change out of the blouse I spilled coffee on. Yes, another clue that the divine being who’s in charge isn’t on my side. I don’t think this morning could have gone any worse.
I grab my second favorite blouse out of my wardrobe and look at my outfit in the floor-length mirror. Great. Ordinary and dull it is. Not even my hair makes it any better since I had to tie it back in a ponytail.
I admit I might be a little hard on myself, but it doesn’t happen often that I start a new job. I want to look perfect for that. The first day at work is always a nerve-racking experience, and the fact that my new workplace is one of New York’s most successful advertising agencies takes that phrase to a whole new level. I will work as PA to one of the two junior managers. So saying I’m nervous is the understatement of the year.
Come to think of it, I can ascribe the coffee-spilling and the toe-stubbing to my anxious state. So I take in a few deep, calming breaths and smile at myself in the mirror. “You can do this,” I tell myself once more before I realize with a look at my watch that I need to leave right this second if I don’t want to be late.
I head out of my apartment without further incidents. The subway ride to Manhattan goes smoothly too, so when I finally stand in front of the large elegant glass doors of Wilson & Partner, some of the tension leaves my body.
With a deep breath, I walk inside and take a look around. The spacious lobby buzzes with activity; men in expensive suits and women in elegant outfits come and go, phones ring, and soft chatter fills the air.
My gaze falls on the reception desk and the two women sitting behind it. They’re busy accepting phone calls and greeting the visitors—or new employees like me. I straighten my clothes and clutch my purse, slowly releasing my breath through my lips.
I mentally repeat my mantra for today—you can do this—and walk up to the blonde receptionist, who looks like she’s in her mid-twenties just like me. I lift my lips in a smile. “Hi! I’m Amy Franklin, and I’m here to see Mr. Smith,” I inform her.
“Ah, yes, hi!” she responds with a smile. “He’s expecting you. Come on. I’ll take you up.” She turns to her colleague. “Val, I’ll be right back.”
The other receptionist nods as we walk toward the elevator. “I’m Lauren, by the way,” my guide says, still smiling. “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to contact me at the reception desk.”
To my great relief, my nervousness subsides a little. It must be a good sign that the first person I meet is this nice. “Thank you,” I say when we step into the elevator and Lauren presses the button for the tenth floor.
We both watch the numbers go up before Lauren turns to me. “So are you excited to start your new job?”
I grimace and rub my stomach. “Nervous is more like it.”
Lauren chuckles. ”Aw, don’t be. Everyone’s friendly and welcoming.”
“Thanks.” I give her a genuinely grateful smile. I’m not sure what it is about her, but I already like her.
The elevator doors open on the tenth floor before either of us can say anything else. Lauren steps forward and points to the right. “Over there is the break room for your department. The offices of the two junior managers are this way.”
She waves me behind her. When we enter a large room, I’m so distracted by the sight that I almost collide with someone. “Oh, I’m, uh, sorry,” I stammer.
A woman about my age stands in front of me and eyes me up and down. I remember seeing her briefly before my interview. Just like then, she looks elegant in her tight dress. Her makeup emphasizes her full lips, and her straight dark hair falls loosely over her shoulders. But what strikes the eye is her ample cleavage. Yes, I am a little jealous. But just a tad.
Lauren turns to her. “Jenna, this is Amy, our new colleague.”
She still doesn’t say anything but keeps staring at me with narrow eyes, slowly making me feel uncomfortable. I want to stretch out my hand just to do something to ease the tension that takes hold of me, but then she speaks. “Ah, yes, Ms. Franklin. You’re Luke’s—Mr. Smith’s new assistant.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I notice how Lauren rolls her eyes. “Jenna, play nice. It’s her first day.”
Jenna raises a single eyebrow at Lauren before she looks back at me. “Okay, Ms. Franklin. Good luck then.” With that, she continues on her way.
I look after her with a fluttering in my stomach and a racing mind. What was that? Okay, no, I will not read it as a bad sign that the second person I meet is, well, not nice.
Lauren places her hand on my arm, tearing me out of my worried thoughts. “You know what I just said about everyone being friendly? Well, Jenna is the exception. Ignore her. She’s Greg’s PA. He’s the other junior manager here,” she explains, and she continues with a reassuring smile, “Everybody knows Jenna wanted your job. She’s your regular office bitch who watches all the new ones narrowly. Especially when they’re pretty,” she adds with a wink.
I gape at Lauren. Pretty? A woman like Jenna would hardly describe me as pretty. Compared to her, I look anything but that in my ordinary outfit. Not even my favorite blouse or a nicer hair-do would have made a difference here. She oozes sex appeal while my appearance screams girl next door.
Not that this is a bad thing. I know there are enough men who prefer real curves and less make up over fake boobs and an even faker smile. So why does Jenna’s condescending behavior affect me at all? No, I won’t let her get to me.
When I rub my forehead to get rid of the deep frown, Lauren chuckles. “Stop thinking about it so hard. Come on. Luke’s probably waiting already.” She nudges me forward before she walks ahead to my new boss’s office.
I take in my surroundings as we pass desk after desk with people engrossed in their work. As I already know, this department is mostly in charge of graphic design—a field I’m not too familiar with since my last job was at a real estate investment firm. But Mr. Smith told me that shouldn’t be a problem.
I look ahead at a big door with a nameplate next to it, stating our destination. My heart beats faster with every step I take, and I have to wipe my sweaty palms on my skirt.
I’m so deep in thought that I almost bump into Lauren when she slows down and calls, “Hey, Ben!”
I follow her gaze over to the desk we’re passing. The person who I assume to be Ben lifts his head and smiles. “Hey, Lauren!” he says.
Then our eyes meet.
I never believed when people said time seemed to stand still for a moment, but this is exactly how I feel right now. My heart rate picks up again—but out of entirely different reasons than before. I’m not aware of anything that’s going on around me anymore. The world could come to an end, for all I care, as long as I can look into those dark brown eyes. The charm they radiate sucks me right in. A hot blush suffuses my cheeks, and a gentle tingling spreads through my whole body. This look—this guy—is doing weird things to my belly.
Before I can make sense of what this is all about, Lauren’s voice brings me back to reality. “There we are.” She knocks on the door and ushers me into the office in front of her. “Luke, Amy Franklin is here.”
Mr. Smith sits behind a large desk and looks up from his work. When he recognizes me, he beams at me and gets up. “Thank you, Lauren. I’ll take it from here.”
She nods and smiles at me before she leaves and closes the door behind her. I still feel a little discombobulated after what just happened, but I snap out of my daydream when Mr. Smith stands in front of me, stretching out his hand.
“Welcome to my department,” he says enthusiastically. “I’m sure you’ll like it here, Amy.” He gives me a charming smile. “Can I call you Amy?”
Still a little lost for words, I stare back at him and nod. No one denies this man anything; I already got that impression during my interview.
“Okay, Amy, please, sit down.” He points to the chairs in front of his desk.
Once we’re seated, my gaze wanders through the large office with the big windows. The soft morning light floods the room, adding to the comfortable atmosphere. I roll back my shoulders to ease more of the tension that still has a hold on me.
“Right.” Mr. Smith clears his throat as he looks through a folder. “Let’s go over some last details,” he says.
While we discuss my tasks and what a typical workday at Wilson & Partner looks like, I study my new boss a little more closely. I have yet to figure him out. I think he’s in his early forties, with slightly graying black hair, high cheekbones, and full lips. His features are attractive and he is a charming man, there’s no doubt about that. I’m not sure how sincere his words are, though.
“I will introduce you to him once he gets back from his business trip,” Mr. Smith explains, referring to the company’s CEO, Patrick Wilson.
“Sure,” I respond, once again wiping my sweaty palms on my skirt. The nervousness lingers, and I don’t expect it to disappear anytime soon.
“Great. So if you don’t have any more questions, I’ll take you to your desk,” he says with another wide smile.
“Uh, no, no questions, Mr. Smith.”
He laughs. “Please, Amy, call me Luke. We’re all on a first-name basis here.”
I nod. “Okay, Luke.” My lips stretch in a slow smile while a lightness rushes through me at his words. A relaxed ambiance is exactly what I need.
When we get up, the small encounter from a moment ago is almost forgotten, and I look forward to starting with my work. Luke opens the office door and places his hand on my shoulder to usher me out, and he removes it quickly enough so it doesn’t feel uncomfortable.
Slowly but surely, my heart beats faster with excitement. Being Luke’s PA also involves coordinating some of the work the graphic designers do, so I hope I’ll get along well with my new colleagues.
Right outside his office, we stop at a large desk. My breath hitches in my throat when I realize that this will be my workspace.
Because sitting at the desk opposite to mine is the guy responsible for my flustered state.