“I just want someone who will fight for me,” she says, her grip tight on the strap of her black handbag.
“Well then, you are most assuredly in the right place.” I knock on Gina’s door, wait for three full Mississippis, and then open it. “Ms. Washington, this is Gina Murphy. Now, can I get you coffee or a sandwich? I know you had to use your lunch hour for this appointment.”
She smiles, her short, natural-styled hair perfectly framing her face. “I couldn’t bother you.”
“It’s really not,” I say. “How about a turkey and Swiss from the deli down the block?”
After she agrees and Gina puts in her own order, I walk back to the break room, where Tessa is dancing along to whatever is playing in her AirPods while compiling the staff’s lunch order. Turns out Gina’s niece isn’t a bad kid, she just got thrown into the deep end with absolutely no training when Viola went out on maternity leave. Now she’s working as the office intern, and I’m showing her the ropes of office management.
“Can you add another turkey and Swiss for Ms. Washington? She’s Gina’s noon. And Gina would like a turkey on wheat, hold the mayo.”
“You got it.” Tessa snaps her gum and gives me a thumbs-up. “Do you mind getting Nick’s?” she asks. “I have to go ask Steve if he wants onions or no onions.”
I nod, trying my best to ignore the buzz of anticipation skimming across my skin. I haven’t seen him all day. In fact, I haven’t seen him since I did the walk of shame this morning.
“Sure, I can do that.” I can. Really. Maybe.
Suck it up, Mallory.
I stop in the bathroom for a quick thong adjustment and lipstick refresh while I’m there—it means nothing—and then walk down to Nick’s office at the end of the hallway and knock. After his muffled “come in,” I let out a nervous breath and walk inside.
His gaze only flicks up to me for a minute before going back to his computer screen. “Hi, Ms. Martin.”
Ouch. That stings. Okay, that’s how we’re doing it. Fair enough. It isn’t like we were planning on a repeat or a relationship or anything.
“Tessa is leaving in a minute to get the lunch order from the deli,” I say. “Do you want her to get anything for you?”
“You’re a godsend. I’ve been fighting for the past thirty minutes with this ridiculous spreadsheet for payroll to send to the accountants and haven’t even gotten to think about lunch.”
Spreadsheet? Payroll? Does he not realize why I was hired?
“Here, let me.” I walk around to his side of the desk. My hands are halfway to the keyboard when I realize what I’m doing. “That is, if you don’t mind a little help.”
He waves toward the screen. “Go ahead.”
I lean down and scan the information. “Ah, I see what’s wrong.”
A few keystrokes later and everything is adding up again—at least in the spreadsheet. For me, not so much. Rational, logical, boring me knows this is the workplace and Nick has made his position clear. Still, being this close to him, inhaling the scent of his aftershave, and trying—and failing—to ignore the way my body responds to him, I am having a really hard time remembering we aren’t having a thing. Then he pivots in his chair, turning so that we’re face-to-face and definitely within kissing distance. My breath catches and the world slows down to molasses-in-February speed.
“So, Nicky.” Tessa barges in mid-sentence. Her wide gaze goes from me to Nick and back again, her eyebrows inching upward with every second.
I start, rearing back. My cheeks burn with embarrassment after almost kissing my temporary boss and nearly getting caught. For his part, Nick seems completely unflustered. It isn’t fair.
“Sorry.” Tessa looks down. “Am I interrupting? I just wanted to get Mallory’s order, too.”
“Not at all,” Nick says, covering for me because I can’t quite form words. “Ms. Martin was helping me with my spreadsheet.”
Wow. What a great way to make a first impression at my brand-new job. Way. To. Go. After Tessa takes down his order of a pastrami on rye with extra mustard and mine of another turkey on wheat, she skedaddles out of his office, giving me a curious look on her way out.
“Thank you, Ms. Martin,” Nick says, picking up a deposition from the stack of paperwork on his desk. “The entire staff has you to thank for making sure they get paid.”
I know all too well what that kind of formal thank-you means. I’m dismissed.
Fine with me. I’m here to work anyway.
The rest of the day is one fire after another, but that’s pretty much life in a small law firm. Clients show up late, some pop in without appointments, and there is the huge amount of paperwork flowing in and out of the office that has to get to the right judge, filed in the right order, or double-checked for errors.
During my downtime, Tessa and I go over her career hopes. It’s actually pretty fun to talk to her. The whole world is still out there waiting for her to conquer it. In a way, I’m a little jealous of her for having that opportunity, but at the same time, whew, I’m not sure I’d want to go through my twenties ever again—with or without Karl.
By the time I’m the last one in the office and thus tasked with turning off the lights, I’ve reorganized the inventory ordering system so the office won’t run out of toilet paper every three weeks, had a chat with the payroll company about how we can update the software on our end to be more efficient, and lined up three private investigators to come in for interviews next week. All in all, it was a pretty damn good day.
“Burning the midnight oil?”
I scream and jump about a mile high only to see Nick when I land. “I didn’t realize you were still here.”
Truth is, he spent the entire day locked up in his office. According to the paralegal pool, that’s not his usual procedure, so obviously he was avoiding me. Fine. I can deal with that. Whatever.
“I hope you had a good day?” he asks as we make our way out of the office and into the elevator. “How about dinner to celebrate?”
That sounds an awful lot like a date. “Is it an employee benefit, like the legal advice?”
He shakes his head. “It’s a neighbor benefit.”
I should say no. Going to dinner with Nick is not what I need in my life. We’ve gotten each other out of our systems—probably just rebound sex. Don’t they say that everyone has a post-divorce wild phase? Maybe this is just the beginning of mine.
What will wild Mallory do? I have no clue. What would Aunt Maggie do? She’d definitely choose dinner.