“Hey, Nick!” The receptionist throws his office door open with abandon. “Your eleven o’clock is here.”
Nick whips his head up from the document he was studying on his desk. A man in a crumpled suit across from him—obviously a client—shrinks back into his chair, his eyes wide and looking from one possible exit to the other.
“I’m so sorry.” I grab the doorknob and start to pull it closed.
The last thing I hear before I shut the door is the client complaining about a deadline being missed and the need for a restraining order. He looked completely worried and pissed off. The last thing Nick needs is for the two of us barging in on the obviously already tense meeting.
I turn to AirPod Girl with raised brows, but she is already bebopping her way down the hall.
“Is there a place to put together a cup of coffee here?” I ask her retreating form.
She shrugs and says over her shoulder without breaking her stride, “There’s an employee break room down the other hall.”
Something in the iron tenor of my voice must get through, because she backpedals and walks me to the break room. In less than five minutes, I have a tray put together with a pot of coffee, some cream and sugar, and a small plate of what looks to be homemade peanut butter cookies. I do all this completely on my own, as AirPod Girl grows bored the second I reach for a coffee mug.
There are ten minutes left before my appointment when I knock on Nick’s door again.
“Come in,” comes his slightly aggrieved response.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” I say as I carry the tray in and place it on the top of Nick’s neat credenza. “I just wanted to offer you a cup of coffee. Light and sweet?” I ask the client.
“Just sweet,” he says, sounding a lot happier than a few minutes ago.
I fix him his coffee, set a couple of the cookies on a plate, and hand them both to him. “I’m so sorry for the interruption earlier. Usually the office runs like a well-oiled machine, but it’s been a busy morning.”
“We’re having a few hiccups,” Nick jumps in. “Our office manager went into labor last Friday—a few weeks early—and since Viola is indispensable around here, we’re all trying to play catch-up. But I can assure you, everything is under control, and we’ll have the final forms for you to sign next week.”
“We’ll courier them to your home or office, so you don’t need to come back,” I add as I walk toward the door. “Just let us know where you’d like them sent.”
Twenty minutes later, Nick walks his much happier client to the reception area. The man even grins at me on his way out the door.
Nick, on the other hand, looks positively frazzled now that his client is gone. “I’m sorry that took so long,” he says as he ushers me back to his office.
“Don’t worry about it. I was early,” I say, while most definitely not noticing how good he looks in his suit.
It’s charcoal gray, and he’s wearing it with a black shirt that really sets off his dark eyes. Plus, he smells fantastic—not that I’m sniffing him or anything, but still. He smells really, really good—like bergamot and everything crisp and sexy and male.
I ignore the thought, and his scent, and push both to the back of my head—which is easier said than done. “I’m sorry we interrupted when we did.”
“Not a problem.” He waves my concerns away with a grin. “Vic is just an old curmudgeon who likes to be pampered a little bit. Viola always got him coffee, too, and he seemed a little disconcerted that no one was around to do that for him today. I should have offered, but I didn’t think about it until you brought in the tray. Thank you for stepping up like that.”
“Of course. Anything I can do to help.” I wait until we’re back in his office with the door closed before I continue. “Speaking of which, no offense to your super-helpful receptionist, but you look like you could use some temporary help around here. Lucky for you, I know a very competent office manager looking for work.”
“Well, about that,” Nick starts as he pulls his desk chair out and sits down, motioning for me to take the seat across from him.
I don’t give him time to say no. “I am overqualified for the position, considering I’ve been doing it for pretty much my entire life,” I say, keeping my tone breezy even as my heart starts to beat faster with excitement and fear.
This could be the answer to my prayers, at least for a little while.
“Besides, I owe you one, don’t I?” I lean forward, giving him the full weight of my detail-oriented attention. “Considering you offered to represent me for a dollar and a mowed lawn?”
His face gets that pinched look that takes it from worried to truly concerned. “So you’re volunteering to work here for free?”
Part of me thinks I should—legal representation adds up to the thousands or even tens of thousands very quickly—but I don’t have that luxury right now. I have a massive property tax bill along with a scary renovation looming over my head. Plus, the sad fact that a person can’t live on wine alone.
“I was thinking more along the lines of we meet in the middle.”
“The middle?” he repeats, brows raised.
“How much do you normally pay Viola for this position?” I brace myself for a number even less than what Karl paid me. Even though I knew I wasn’t paid my full wage, his law firm was a lot bigger than Nick’s, with larger clients than a simple family law firm would have.
“Eighty-four thousand dollars.”
I nearly choke on my own tongue.
“Eighty-four thousand? I can’t work for that!”
I collapse back against the chair, all my airy coolness gone. I couldn’t have heard him right. Karl paid me thirty thousand a year. In Manhattan!
Nick grimaces, toying with one of the royal-blue fountain pens on his desk. “Fine. You drive a hard bargain. I can’t pay you more than Viola; that just wouldn’t be right. But I can pay you the same salary. I can even throw in helping sort through Maggie’s belongings a few hours a week to sweeten the deal.”
My eyes widen. “I wasn’t asking for more money, Nick.” This is going to be embarrassing to admit, but he’ll find out anyway when we start discussing the details of my case. I take a deep breath and woman up, laying it all out there. “Look, Karl never paid me more than fifteen dollars an hour. Granted, I managed the office of his successful law firm with fifteen associates for ten years, so I know I’m a valuable asset, but jumping up to forty dollars an hour just doesn’t seem fair to you. I’m obviously willing to work for less, and we both know it.”