Conflict of Interest

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CHAPTER 12

Grace felt giddy. A man had never made her feel giddy. She’d seen it in the rom-coms Rachel made them pile in the basement to watch on repeat during high school. But she’d never felt this type of excitement – this type of longing.

With her heels in hand, Grace took the stairs up to the office two at a time. She felt light and on top of the world. She swirled through the door onto their floor, floating on air until she rammed into the corner of Maggie’s desk after what she thought would be a graceful spin. The papers flew everywhere.

“Oh, come on,” she muttered to herself while rubbing her thigh. The abrupt stop had Grace suddenly aware of her panting. The two-drink buzz must be wearing off. She knelt, and one after the other, she piled the papers back into their folders, and let her mind drift to Luke.

He was handsome and light-hearted. Completely unexpected. Her side and cheeks hurt from laughing and smiling too much during their date. Could she call it a date? And, she thought, once more feeling the giddiness sparkling inside, he wanted to see her again.

“At noon tomorrow, right here.” She murmured his words dreamily as she sat back, resting on her heels.

Grace looked down and picked up the now-worn and wrinkled piece of paper she’d forgotten she’d put in the folder. A man’s number. The man she’d stood up. She shook her head. She couldn’t believe she stood somebody up. It wasn’t like her to break a plan. But there was something about Luke that made her take that chance.

The silence of the office shattered with the shrill ring of her cell phone. Grace rested one hand on her heart as she answered, hoping to slow its pace.

“Holy crap, hello.”

“Holiest of craps to you, too.” Aimeé’s voice played at her ears. She sounded tired, but the familiar voice was still music to her ears.

“Sorry.” Grace laughed to herself at Aimeé’s effortless and clever way of speaking. “I was dropping paperwork off at the office, and it’s a ghost town up here. The phone scared me half to death. How are you? Did you finally get some sleep? You’ve been going at that Bistro nonstop.” They had their concerns about Aimeé and her working habit. But who was she to speak on it?

“I did, and the sleep felt wonderful. But I don’t care about me at the moment. I want to know why you’re not still on your date?”

Was Aimeé whispering?

“Are you whispering? Where are you?” Grace lowered her voice to mimic Aimeé’s and rolled her eyes.

“Just, one…” Aimeé’s voice trailed off as the sound of shuffling swished through the phone. “There.” Her voice was back.

“You’re with a man. Oh my God, who is he?” Grace exclaimed, still in her whisper.

“You do not know him,” Aimeé said airily.

“Of course I don’t. I never do. It doesn’t stop me from wanting the details.” Grace pressed.

The scattered papers were just about piled. She set the phone down and put Aimeé on speaker to heave the stack onto Maggie’s desk.

“You first. I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours,” Aimeé teased.

Grace smiled at Aimeé’s use of her second language, and the reaction she was about to get.

“I stood him up.” Grace couldn’t help but feel a little proud of herself for being unpredictable for once.

“You what?” Aimeé’s surprised voice filled the quiet office. “It’s not like you to do this. What happened? You looked so sexy today. You were ready.”

Every woman should get to hear a French-accented voice tell them they look sexy every day. It did wonders for the ego, Grace noted.

“I did look sexy today,” Grace agreed. “So sexy that the handsome man I ran into on the sidewalk – and I mean literally ran into – persuaded me to join him for drinks. And I did! Can you believe it?”

“I-no. I cannot.” Aimeé was shocked at this out-of-character sequence of events.

“Believe it. He is the most attractive man I’ve ever seen. I am seeing him again tomorrow as a matter of fact.” Grace’s heart did a little flip as she said it.

Grace grabbed the phone, turned and gave one last look to the office, and headed for the elevator. Realizing she’d drop Aimeé’s call if stepped into the metal box, she looked from the elevator to the stairs once more and sighed. Looks like it’s round two. She ambled back down the stairway and gave Aimeé the details along the way.

“I don’t know what to say,” Aimeé said when Grace finished her story.

“To which part?”

“The entire thing. I’m going to need time to process. Did you call the blind guy?”

Grace laughed, “No, I didn’t call the blind date. I wouldn’t know what to say. ‘I met a charming man on the street, sorry buddy?’” Even for a stranger, that seemed a bit too brutally honest. Like, I’m not meeting you because I found somebody that I find more exciting than your blind date. No way.

“You’ve been hit on by charming men before. Many of them. Why this one?”

“I don’t know. I’m drawn to him. He seems,” Grace looked up as she searched for the words to describe how he made her feel, “familiar. Funny. Did I mention he was handsome?”

“And you didn’t sleep with him?” Aimeé said searching.

“No, not all of us have your stamina. Or tilted moral compass.”

“This is true. Then, you must see him again. The others will be jealous I was the first to learn of – what’s his name?”

“Luke. Isn’t that sweet?” Grace could hear the swoon in her voice as she let the feeling of being swept off her feet fall over her.

“Interesting,” came Aimeé’s response after a pause.

Grace was too distracted to notice Aimeé’s uncharacteristic pause at hearing Luke’s name. She rambled on.

“Aim, I’m walking out.” Grace heaved the door open at the bottom of the staircase with a loud squeak. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning?”

“The whole gang.”

“Have fun with...whoever you’re with. Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

A kiss smooched through the phone, and Grace was left alone for the rest of the walk home. She felt her smile reach her eyes, and as it did, she added a little skip to her step.

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