Let me make one thing clear right off the bat. This is not a story about two people who met and fell in love, and of course had hurdles to overcome, but they loved each other enough that nothing was insurmountable. You know the ones—the kind where in the end true love always conquers all. This is a story about real life, and real love, and it may not be a fairytale, but it is ours.
Some people will tell you that, looking back, they can pinpoint the precise moment when their entire world changed, when their lives were suddenly and abruptly shifted down a different path. I’d heard stories like this before of course, lots of times, but I hadn’t really understood just what having a moment like that meant. Most of these same people will also tell you that you don’t know it when it happens, you only realize the incredible impact that moment had when you look back later.
I knew the instant it happened to me.
It was just after eleven on my first day of work at Baker, Wright and Kavanaugh. My new boss, Diana Sharpe, was finishing up giving me an office tour and, though it was still morning, I’d already reached information overload. Fatigue had settled over my mind.
I glanced up over her shoulder and saw a man walking down the hallway toward us. He was about medium height, with broad shoulders and unkempt dark brown hair. He wore a black button-up dress shirt with the top couple of buttons undone, and black dress pants that clung to his slim hips like they were custom tailored.
He saw me and held my gaze with the most intense pale blue eyes, and something happened deep inside me, something that almost physically hurt as I looked at him. I forgot everything Diana had just told me. I forgot who I was. I forgot how to breathe. And I know it sounds ridiculous, but I swear we both froze for what felt like an eternity, although it was probably only a second or two.
Then Ryan Kavanaugh, to whom I’d just been introduced, popped his head out of his office and said something to the dark-haired guy. He startled, breaking our strange connection and disappearing inside.
You know the phrase ‘my heart dropped’? I’d never experienced that feeling before. But at that moment? When he vanished from my sight? I swear it felt like my heart actually fell a few inches.
Closing my eyes for a second, I took a much-needed breath, desperately hoping neither Diana nor anyone else had noticed my strange reaction. What the heck was that about? I wasn’t a schoolgirl anymore. So a good-looking guy caught my eye? So what?
Well for starters, good-looking didn’t even begin to cover it. He’d caused me to react in a way I didn’t think was even possible in real life. I’d turned into some embarrassing romance novel cliché for a moment there. And, second, I firmly didn’t believe in the silly myth of love at first sight that popular culture and some of my more naïve friends spouted. I was married. And this was my new workplace. So it didn’t matter. Couldn’t matter.
Except deep down in the pit of my stomach, I knew it did.
I started off the day—the day that would change everything, though I didn’t know it yet—by showing up early.
It was silly of me, in hindsight. Just as my husband, Scott, had predicted as I’d rushed around our house that morning, all being early accomplished was gaining me more time sitting and waiting.
So I sat, and I waited. The red second hand of the retro-style clock on the wall behind the reception desk seemed to be defective. I was sure it was moving far too slowly. Pushing a stray lock of hair behind one ear, I glanced up at it again.
I took a deep breath, smoothed down the fabric of my skirt and tried to relax. I was bound and determined to make a good first impression. Just like I always did.
I was a Good Girl. It was the category I’d been slotted into from an early age, bestowed upon me by my parents, teachers, and nearly every other adult who’d ever met me. Because of this, I had always seen myself through their filters: The Good Girl, The Smart Girl, The Girl Who Did the Right Thing.
When I walked into the office to start my first day at Baker, Wright and Kavanaugh, I was nervous, but confident. They had approached me with the job offer, after all, so I knew they had high expectations. I’d worked at Bellmore & Sons Advertising since graduating from college with my accounting diploma proudly in hand. After seven years and my chances of advancement looking slimmer and slimmer at the large firm, I started exploring other opportunities. When BWK began wooing me, I knew it was the right time to spread my proverbial wings and leave the bosom of Known and Comfortable.
In her most recent e-mail, my new boss had requested I arrive at nine o’clock instead of the earlier eight I would have preferred. Of course, I showed up at 8:45 and not a minute later. So there I sat on a very sleek, modern, and therefore predictably hard chair in the reception area checking messages on my phone and glancing frequently toward the large glass doors which swung inward into the office proper.
At 9:04, I began to fidget and tap my toe against the gleaming hardwood.
At 9:08, I couldn’t sit on that uncomfortable chair a moment longer, and got up to peruse the company’s framed awards bragging audaciously from an otherwise stark white wall. The receptionist cast a disinterested glance my way before returning her attention to her monitor.
At 9:12, one of the glass doors opened, and the most stunning woman I’d ever seen stepped into the lobby.
“Amelia York?” she asked politely. Her voice was kind of raspy—it brought to mind images of long nights spent drinking whiskey in smoky dive bars. Tall and shapely, she had shoulder-length black hair, a flawless complexion and full plum-stained lips. Thick lashes framed almond-shaped dark eyes. She imparted an immediate sense of charisma that I couldn’t help admiring.
I smiled, sticking out my hand. “I’m Amelia.”
She gave me a quick once-over. Her face was carefully composed, betraying no hint of what her initial impression of me was.
It seemed like she looked down at the neatly trimmed nails of my outstretched hand for just a beat too long before taking it and shaking it firmly, once. I got a fleeting sense she hadn’t really wanted to touch me, but forced herself to anyway.
“Diana Sharpe. Right this way.” She turned and went back through the door without waiting to see if I would follow, her pointy-toed stilettos clicking along the floor.
I walked a few steps behind Diana along a hall lined with opaque glass-doored offices, then turned left and found myself staring at rows of beige cubicles. A small black sign stating we’d reached the Accounting department was affixed to the side of one padded half-wall. This cubicle-farm in front of me housed my new workspace. My new co-workers. My new life.
A few people looked up from their monitors as I followed Diana down the center aisle, no doubt anxious for their first glimpse of the New Girl. Conscious of their curious stares, I returned the smile of a pretty dark-haired young woman as we passed.
Diana stopped abruptly at an empty cubicle about halfway down the row and waved a hand toward the desk. “This one’s yours. You can leave your personal belongings here, and we’ll go into my office to discuss your role.”
I draped my jacket over the back of the chair and resumed following her. Once inside Diana’s office, I took a seat across from a large and messy desk. A print of one of Degas’ ballerinas adorned the wall behind her chair, but no personal photos were displayed. Wasting no time, she launched into a description of what the company did, the corporate structure, and what would be expected of me.
The three partners, Robert Baker, Lucas Wright and Patrick Kavanaugh, founded this advertising agency thirty-two years ago. The department I’d be working most closely with was Sales, as it would be my job to price out advertising for new business, suggestions for add-ons, and any changes the clients decided to make down the line. I would have regular contact with the Account Managers and their administrative assistants. Diana began listing names and roles of some of the people I’d be working with, both here and in their satellite offices across the country, while I jotted notes in the back of my day planner.
I was surprised to find myself feeling a little intimidated by my new boss. Women didn’t usually intimidate me. Actually, I’d found that other women were often intimidated by me. Diana Sharpe, however, was not intimidated by me in the slightest. In fact, I was willing to hedge a guess that Diana Sharpe was never intimidated. By anyone.
I was running late. Again. I’d had an early morning client meeting in Richmond, and ended up stuck in rush-hour traffic trying to escape the city to get back to the office. Christ, I’d be lucky if I got into work by eleven. Too much to do and too little fucking time to do it in. As usual.
I sped down the highway toward Lynchburg, hoping like hell I wouldn’t pass any cops along the way. Impatiently, I punched buttons on the radio until loud rock music filled my Mustang, but the throbbing beat only incited me to hit the pedal harder. The aforementioned client, The Happy Tomato restaurant, was proving to be a pain in my ass. They wanted to advertise, sure; they just didn’t really want to pay for it. Everybody wanted everything for damn-near free these days. Which meant more meetings, more wooing, more cajoling, more of my precious time spent holding their hands and coddling them, when what I really should’ve be spending my valuable time on was seducing bigger, richer, higher-profile clients. I had my own bills to pay, after all.
Running a hand through my hair, I sighed in frustration. I’d always been able to sweet talk my clients, turn on the charm and make the sale. It’s what I excelled at. But to be honest, lately I’d been feeling a little off my game. My mind just wasn’t as focused as it used to be. Other things insisted on vying for my attention. Work things. Home things. My brother’s crap. My ability to compartmentalize all these aspects of my life and just focus on the task at hand had been wavering lately, and all these different worries had begun bleeding through. Sometimes at the most inopportune times.
Which pissed me off, because I was always focused, always in control, always got shit done.
Fucking Ryan. Keeping my brother’s secrets while trying to rein him in and clean up his messes was what had been throwing me off the most lately. And the little shit didn’t even appreciate it. Hell, he wouldn’t even admit he had a problem. And it wasn’t like I could go to Daddy Dearest for any help in the matter. First of all, Ryan would deny it, and then probably kill me for ratting him out. Second, Patrick Kavanaugh would never believe his youngest son could have an addiction problem. Even if I did manage to convince him, he’d somehow find a way to make it all my fault, like he’d been doing for the past twenty-nine years. In his eyes, Ryan could do no wrong. I was the one who always fucked everything up. So, no, telling our father was not an option. I had to deal with Ryan myself.
The simple truth was no matter how much it bit me in the ass some days, I loved my baby brother, and wanted more for him than the hell he was currently creating for himself. It might be a thankless task, helping family, but you just do it anyway. Cause they’re family. Enough said.
When I pulled into the BWK parking lot at 11:04, I sighed again. My day had started out shitty, and I couldn’t help but imagine the ways in which it might invariably get worse. What further torments awaited me inside? Another argument with Ryan? A dressing down from my father? A confrontation with the Bitch From Hell, Diana? All of the above?
Most days I loved being out on the road, meeting my clients, addressing their concerns, and making them happy. I enjoyed it, and I was damn good at it. Being in the office, however, was a different story. A lot of my co-workers didn’t like me very much. They still judged me for my past, and refused to consider the possibility that I might have changed. Eventually I just stopped caring or bothering even attempting to be anything beyond civil to most of them.
There were a few notable exceptions. My admin assistant, Colleen, was a godsend. Somehow, she managed to put up with all my demands and fluctuating moods. I didn’t know what I’d do if she ever decided to leave BWK.
And then there was Josh in Accounting. While hiding out at the bar during the fresh hell known as our Corporate Christmas Party a few years back, I’d discovered that Joshua Marshall not only preferred the same brand of whiskey I did, but that he was also sort of a kindred spirit. And those were few and far between in my life. Josh was more than just a co-worker—I respected the hell out of him and considered him my closest friend.
But most of the people in the office thought I was an ass, only still employed not because I was skilled at my job, but because my father was a partner. So the chances of the remainder of my day passing without further annoyance were pretty damned unlikely. It was just a matter of how much shit I’d have to endure before it was over.
Then the cherubic face of my sweet little girl, Alexis, popped into my head. I imagined how happy she’d be when I walked in the door later and swung her up into my arms. How her huge blue eyes would light up, and how she would smile her gap-toothed grin just for me. With that thought, most of my tension drained away.
Taking a deep breath, I squared my shoulders and walked into the office.
If I’d known then what I know now, would I have done anything different? Would I have turned around, gotten back into my car and left? I’ve wondered that hundreds of times, and ultimately I still don’t think I’d have changed a thing. Everything happens for a reason, and you just never know when change is going to grab you by the balls and squeeze.
Plus, how the hell was I to know that in a few minutes my life was about to be forever altered?
A low headache had started to creep its tendrils up from the base of my skull to wrap around my brain. I’d tossed and turned much of the previous night in anticipation of starting my new job in the morning, and so far had been running mostly on adrenaline. But now my mind was overloaded with so much information that the inevitable exhaustion had begun to set in. How would I ever remember my way around this maze of a building? How could I possibly recall which name belonged with each of these new faces?
Diana’s voice interrupted my thoughts. The undertone of boredom that had subtly infiltrated all her comments and introductions during the office tour was suddenly gone. “This is the Sales department. As I mentioned earlier, you’ll be working closely with everyone here, as they rely on Accounting to get them the figures they need to present to our clients.”
We stopped beside a cubicle where a pretty blonde woman was chattering into a headset as she frantically typed away. She looked up and saw Diana, widened her hazel eyes, and began to end her phone call. Tugging off the headset, she swung her chair around to face us.
“You must be Amelia, the new accountant,” she chirped with a wide grin as she stuck out a hand. “I’m Sam Upshaw, administrative assistant to Ryan Kavanaugh.”
Kavanaugh? As in one of the partners, Kavanaugh? I made a mental note to ask later. Taking Sam’s outstretched hand, I returning her smile. The other woman’s bubbly personality was contagious, and I felt my spirits perk up a bit. “Yes, I am. Great to meet you.”
“Sam will be your main liaison with Ryan’s block of business,” Diana explained. “Most of his requests for pricing will come directly from her. She’s worked here for five years and should be able to help you with any questions you have about either Ryan’s clients or this department in general.” Sam nodded in agreement.
“Great!” I said, trying my best to appear enthusiastic. “I’m sure I’m going to need to take you up on that.”
“I remember how overwhelming it can be at the start. Don’t worry—you’ll be up to speed in no time. Hey, if you don’t already have lunch plans, would you like to join Kaitlyn and me?”
Kaitlyn? I recalled Diana introducing me to someone named Kaitlyn earlier. Lunch with a couple of co-workers around my own age sounded like a perfect opportunity to begin making friends here. I smiled at Sam gratefully. “Kaitlyn from my department? That’d be great. Thank you.”
Diana wore an impatient look. Brusquely, she asked Sam, “Is Ryan in his office?”
“You’re in luck,” she replied. “He got in about twenty minutes ago.”
I frowned in confusion. Only twenty minutes ago? He got to work at 10:30 in the morning? Diana must have noticed my expression because she clarified, “Ryan is an Account Manager, so he has to meet with clients a lot outside the office. Come on, I want you to meet him.” She started walking toward an office with the door slightly ajar. The nameplate on the wall beside it read, Ryan Kavanaugh.
“Talk to you later, Sam. Thanks again,” I said as I followed after my boss.
“See you at lunch!”
Diana knocked once on the door, then pushed it open and stepped inside. I heard a sigh and an irritated male voice say, “What do you w-” It cut off sharply when I came into the office behind her.
A man of around thirty sat behind another large cluttered desk. He was handsome in an athletic kind of way, with a thick jawline and short brown hair that curled above a broad forehead. When he stood to greet us, I realized he had to be over to six feet tall. “Oh,” he said, flushing. “I didn’t realize you had someone with you.”
“I’ve brought Amelia York, my new accountant. I told you she was starting today, remember?” Diana turned back to me. “Amelia, this is Ryan Kavanaugh.”
Ryan gave me an appraising scan and seemed impressed by what he saw. Sticking out a hand, he said, “Pleased to meet you, Amelia. Welcome to Baker, Wright and Kavanaugh.” He smiled brightly, and his eyes smiled along with him.
“Thank you, Mr. Kavanaugh. If you don’t mind me asking, would you happen to be related to the Kavanaugh whose name is on the side of the building?” His face seemed open enough, so I figured I might as well get the question out of the way.
“My father, Patrick. Nepotism has not gone out of style around here, as you’ll see,” he said with a wry grin. “You’ll likely meet him soon enough, although he’s semi-retired now and spends as much time as he can on the golf course. And please call me Ryan. Did you meet my assistant, Sam, on your way in?”
“She did,” Diana replied for me, and he glanced over at her almost as if he’d forgotten she was standing there. “They’re having lunch together today. I’m sure she’ll fill Amelia in on all the goings-on around here,” she added pointedly.
Ryan frowned for a split second, but looked back at me and quickly replaced it with a smile. “Good. She’s pretty much my right arm. I’d be lost without her.” I noticed Diana’s eyes narrow a little at that. “Well, if you need anything, Amelia, don’t hesitate to ask Sam or myself. We’ll be happy to help you out.”
“Thank you. Everyone seems so nice so far. I can’t wait to get settled in.”
“We won’t take up any more of your valuable time this morning, Ryan,” Diana interjected. “I would like to speak with you about the Tuscan Airlines campaign later though if you can spare a few minutes.” She seemed just a little strained, although she was clearly trying hard to hide it. I heard the miniscule quaver in her voice on the last few words, and it surprised me. I wondered if the two had some sort of history. Sam would likely know. I guessed if there was a back-story, before long I’d hear about it. Not that I was really one for office gossip, but I’d found in the past that understanding the personal relationships between people in my direct working circle could sometimes be helpful in knowing how to react to situations.
“Come on, Amelia, there are more people to meet in this department,” Diana said as she guided me out of Ryan’s office.
“There are two other Account Managers who work out of this office. I know Marilyn Silver isn’t in this week—she’s in New York—but Declan might be around.” We walked down the hallway to another office. The nameplate outside the open door read, Declan Kavanaugh.
Diana saw me eyeing it. “Ryan’s brother,” she explained. “I see he’s not in. Well, maybe that’s for the best today. You’ll meet him soon enough.” She turned up a row of cubicles.
I couldn’t help but steal a glance inside the other Kavanaugh’s office as I passed. It was impeccably neat: chair pushed into the desk, file folders and mail stacked in a tray in one corner, even the man’s pens were lined up neatly beside his keyboard. Beside the computer monitor sat a hinged photo frame displaying a wedding photo on the left, and a portrait of a smiling child on the right.
Diana’s voice interrupted my perusal. “His wife is Laura Logan, from the evening news in Swann’s Landing,” she said. “Small town minor celebrity. You probably know of her?”
My eyes widened as I clicked in. I knew exactly who Laura Logan was. Scott watched the local news almost every night over dinner, and he’d admitted a few times that he thought she was hot. Laura had gone to Swann’s Landing High with us years ago.
“Oh yes, we actually went to the same high school.” Though we’d never run in the same social circles, I seemed to recall that we’d had a few classes together at one point. How weird that now I would soon be working with Laura’s husband.
A woman with curly dark hair stood to greet us, and Diana led me over to her. “This is Colleen Talbot, Declan’s admin assistant,” she explained. I smiled graciously, faking alertness, and shook her hand.
So many faces. So many names. They all seemed very nice, and I was sure after a few days I’d remember most of them. But right now, all this information and all these people were beginning to blur together. We’d gone through five departments before this one. All I could think about was that this tour was nearly over, and I couldn’t wait to get back to my desk and take a few moments to regroup.
Seconds later, although the extent wasn’t fully grasped at the time, the universe threw me a gigantic curveball. It wasn’t until late that night as I tossed and turned in my bed, unable to sleep, unable to get the face of the blue-eyed man out of my head, that I got some idea how much potential this had to become a problem if I wasn’t careful.