Princess - *Book One*

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Maybe the universe doesn’t hate me with a passion. Why else would his desk be the one opposite to mine? Yes, maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, and he’s only nice to look at but a total jerk otherwise. I’ll have to wait and see—once I get my hormones in check.

Over all my ogling, I almost forget about Luke, who says, “Ben, may I introduce you to your new colleague?”

My heart picks up its pace when he gets up and hesitantly stretches out his hand. “Uh, yes, hi. I’m Ben,” he mumbles.

When his large, warm hand envelops mine in a firm grip, the soft tingling in my belly gets stronger. I stare into those beautiful brown eyes again, and heat rises within me. Taking a closer look at him now does nothing to calm my stupid hormones. I’m already itching to run my fingers through his messy brown hair. His chiseled face with the high cheekbones and the full lips along with his muscular physique stir feelings inside me that aren’t suitable for the workplace.

Damn, I need to snap out of it! I’ve seen my fair share of good-looking guys, but never have I felt an instant attraction like this.

I close my eyes and shake my head. Finally, I find my voice again. “Yes, hi! I’m Amy.”

Ben’s lips lift in a smile that makes me swoon. “Welcome, Amy.”

I probably look like a total nutcase when all I am capable of doing is giving him a small nod and a shy smile in return. What is this guy doing to me?

Luke clears his throat, grabbing our attention. “Ben will be your go-to guy for everything concerning the graphic design parts of our ad campaigns,” he explains to me. “If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.” He looks back and forth between us, and I wonder if he senses anything. “Okay then, I’ll leave you to it,” he adds as he turns around and walks back into his office.

Once we’re alone, a strange tension lingers in the air. We look everywhere but at each other, and no one says a single word. But then Ben clears his throat and directs his gaze at me. “Okay, Amy, sit down and feel at home.”

I drop my bag on the floor, sit on my chair, and stroke over my desk with my palms. “So much space,” I say with a small sigh. “My last desk was half this size.” I look at Ben’s desk and can’t contain a subtle smile. “When I see yours, that also means more room for chaos.”

Ben looks at his mess and laughs. “Oh, um, yes, right. But I’ve got it all under control. I can find everything I need.”

“So genius controls chaos?” I chuckle.

He grins at me. “Exactly. Now I just hope you’re not a neat freak,” he adds with raised eyebrows.

I shrug my shoulder. “I wouldn’t put it like that, but I do need my desk to be neat in order to do my work properly.”

Ben crinkles his nose. “Wow, I’ve made a great first impression then.”

I have to try hard to stifle a loud laugh. Oh, he did indeed. “That’s fine.” I wave off his comment. “I’m all for second chances.”

Ben stares at me for a moment or two before his features soften and a gentle smile spreads on his face. “That’s good,” he says just above a whisper. “Okay,” he adds after clearing his throat. “As Luke said, if you have any questions, let me know. And later, I’ll show you around.”

“Sounds like a plan.” I nod, and my eyes rest on him for a little while longer while he grabs the tablet he was working with, continuing what he was doing before.

When I finally get a grip on myself, I tear my gaze away from him. I boot up my computer to give my brain something else to think about other than how great that first impression was or how his smile does things to me that I can’t fully grasp yet.

While I look through my boss’s schedule for the day, I think about how fortunate I was that this job opportunity opened up for me. When I fled my hometown on the west coast a few weeks ago to start over new, I didn’t expect to find a decent job this quickly.

After last year’s events, my priority was to leave my old life behind, and with that, my parents and friends and everything that was so familiar to me. Especially my overbearing parents weren’t particularly happy about my decision to move to the other side of the country—and above all, to a big city. Growing up in a small fishing village didn’t prepare me for what awaited me in New York.

But I’m here, and I’m determined to make this work—despite the doubts and a strong sense of uncertainty that have been my constant companions since moving. I need to leave my past behind to finally be happy again; something I will never accomplish if I stay in the place where I fell apart.

Over the next few hours, I get a good overview of things, and Ben engages me in some work-related small talk, telling me the most important facts about what it’s like to work at Wilson & Partner. He shows me around and introduces me to our colleagues.

When we take a little break and have a coffee in the break room, Jenna walks in. She stares at me just as condescendingly as at our first encounter. Of course, I interpret her expression as, “Look at the new girl, chatting and drinking coffee instead of working.”

Her gaze falls on Ben, and I can hardly prevent my mouth from falling open when she gives him a charming smile. “Oh, hey, Ben!” she almost purrs while she grabs two cups and fills them with coffee from the automatic coffee maker.

Okay, it’s settled. She is that kind of woman. I sense we won’t be friends any time soon.

“Hey, Jenna,” Ben responds quickly before he turns back to me to continue our conversation.

I bite my lips so they don’t stretch in an amused smile, and I refuse to acknowledge the glare Jenna shoots my way before she grabs the two cups and saunters out of the room.

The rest of the morning passes quickly. Answering phone calls and emails keeps me busy, helping me ban my earlier thoughts about how good-looking and charming Ben is from my head and act a little more like the adult I supposedly am.

Around noon, Lauren shows up next to our desks. I give her a happy smile. “Hey, Lauren!”

“Hey, you two!” She tilts her head to the side and looks at me with slightly raised eyebrows and a half-smile. “So, Amy, what’s it like to work with this good-for-nothing?” she asks, pointing to Ben.

Scratching my head, I blow out my cheeks and release the breath. “Um, I... it’s... uh, what?” I say in an uncertain tone. Lauren’s question did catch me off guard.

She chuckles, and Ben scowls at her. “Charming as usual,” he grumbles.

“You know me, love.” Lauren grins at him before she turns back to me. “I’m telling you, this guy is trouble. Don’t let his charms blind you. He’s a true heartbreaker; no woman can resist his pretty eyes. They’re slipping him their phone number one after the other—only to be hugely disappointed because he never calls.”

I look back and forth between the two. Ben’s grim expression gives way to a broad smile. ”Aw, Lauren, did I break your ice-cold heart? You’re just bitter because I turned you down.”

Lauren laughs out loud. “Oh, Ben, you’re just too cute. I know you love me.” She dishevels his already wild hair, and he scoots back out of her reach with a laugh.

I keep watching them, trying to figure out what’s going on. The way they bicker and still grin at each other suggests they’re friends, and I wonder if Ben and Lauren are more than just that; they seem very comfortable with each other. I’m not sure I like the sudden heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“Anyhow,” Lauren interrupts my thoughts. “Do you have plans for lunch?”

Ben nods. “I’m going to that new Chinese place with Isaac.”

Lauren grimaces. “Ugh, Chinese. Amy, what about you?”

I shrug my shoulder. “I haven’t thought about that yet.”

“Then you can come with me to my favorite restaurant just around the corner. That’s where I can tell you everything you need to know about your new colleague,” she tells me with a wide grin.

“Um, sure.” I give her a quick smile while I internally roll my eyes at myself. As if getting the low-down on Ben is all the motivation I need to accept Lauren’s invitation. Since when can’t I stop acting like a hormonal teenager?

Well, I guess since now.

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