Chapter One

New York City

 

Tuesday was usually Olivia Dawson’s favorite day of the week, but not today. No, today was clearly an evil Tuesday masquerading as a regular Tuesday. Everything was going wrong today. Like, if she didn’t have badluck, she’d have no luck at all. This was not the start her usual, friendlier Tuesday greeted her with. This Tuesday hated her. And she hated it right back.

At some point during the night, her apartment must have lost power because her bedside clock was blinking 3:04 a.m. and not doing its job: waking her up at the predetermined time. Thankfully, her sister Christine had texted her a million times and jarred her out of her slumber. Not that it had helped much—she was still late. But today was not a day she could be late. She had a meeting with her boss, Corrine Baylor, followed by a videoconference with the new corporate bigwig who was going to introduce an upcoming project to the team. This was the biggest opportunity of her career, on the most important day to make a good first impression, and she was late.

As she frantically attempted to get ready, she managed to trip over her sneakers and broke her favorite high heel. Her lucky Jimmy Choos. The ones she couldn’t afford in grad school but had forgone anything that wasn’t a noodle dish just so she could buy them for graduation. The same lucky heels that she wore on her first day at Greater Image Design Inc. eight years ago and the ones she wore on the day she was promoted to chief designer and team leader when her mentor Albie retired. These shoes made her feel confident and smart and successful. How could she possibly get through today without her lucky shoes?

She was still mourning the loss of her favorite footwear and sulking as she ate the abandoned, overripe banana in the company’s kitchenette area when her teammate, Farrah Sanders, walked in.

“Good morning, Olivia. You look—” If the expression on Farrah’s face was any indication, Olivia knew what was coming next.

“Like a hot mess. I know.” She sighed and stirred the lukewarm, slightly burnt coffee she found at the bottom of the coffeepot.

“I was going to say that you look nice.” Farrah was being polite, and she appreciated that.

“I doubt that but thank you.”

Farrah pointed to the banana as Olivia tried to swallow the bite in her mouth. “You hate bananas, Liv.”

“This is the kind of day I’m having, Farrah. Drinking sad, stale coffee probably leftover from the cleaning crew at night and suffering through a banana so I don’t faint in our meeting. Just leave me here to die.”

“It’s not even ten yet, Liv. How could your day possibly be that bad?”

Olivia’s shoulders drooped as she recounted the morning’s events. “I overslept. I couldn’t find my keys because they were playing hide-and-seek in the couch cushions. By the time I finally got to my car, I was greeted with a flat tire, and only once I nearly lost an arm trying to get through the closing doors of the bus did I realize my wallet was in my gym bag from last night. All I had in my purse was some loose change and an unused tampon and a business card from that cute girl at the mall kiosk that sells the face cream—”

“I love that stand.” Farrah nodded, her expression sympathetic.

“Right? They have the best stuff.” Olivia sighed. “And to top it all off, I broke my favorite shoes.”

Farrah’s mouth fell open and her eyes dropped to Olivia’s feet. “Not the shiny, candy-apple red ones. Say it ain’t so.”

“It’s the end of an era.” Even as she said the words, she wasn’t ready to accept it. She’d been mulling over repair options when Farrah walked in.

“Jeez. I think you need this more than me.” Farrah opened the fridge and tossed a yogurt to her. She extended her hand and motioned toward the offending fruit. “Give me that, you look pathetic.”

Olivia handed over the remainder of the banana and accepted the spoon Farrah offered her in return. Farrah’s well-practiced, motherly expression gave her momentary calm.

“Maybe this isn’t the best time to tell you, but uh, Hannah already called the office looking for you.” Farrah looked pained. “Twice.”

And there went the calm. Olivia cringed at the name. “Really?” She shot a hopeful glance at Farrah, who only frowned more deeply and nodded. “Crap.” Suddenly she was feeling worse, no longer hungry and especially not inclined to return to her desk.

“I told her you were in a meeting and would call her back, but, she sounded, um…”

“Pissed?” Olivia supplied knowingly.

“Yeah.” Farrah patted her on the shoulder and shrugged.

“Okay. It’s fine. I can handle this.” Olivia finished her yogurt and gave herself a lame pep talk before excusing herself to her desk. She had a few minutes to spare before her meeting with her boss and she had to pull herself together. Fast.

Any confidence she’d mustered during the short jaunt from the lunchroom vanished when she saw the behemoth New Horizons Industry binder on her desk. When she’d first started out at Greater Image Design so many years ago, the company had specialized in redesigning small spaces, like sprucing up outdated home offices or breathing new life into community reading areas. The projects were fun, but relatively small in scale, which was perfect for Olivia when she was learning the ropes of the business. Gradually, as the needs of the community and their clients changed with advancements in technology, the business projects and artistic opportunities flourished, and Olivia flourished right along with them. Long gone were the humdrum basement home office redesign days of the past. The future had brought sexy tech startups with young entrepreneurs at the helm that wanted to bring nature into the creative spaces they hoped would foster the development of the next great app or bioengineered cure-all. Everything was fast-paced and streamlined now. People wanted to feel like they could work and be in nature at the same time. Olivia’s special brand of green space themed design was what had catapulted Greater Image Design into the stratosphere. It’s also what helped them snag the New Horizons gig that was looming in that binder.

Olivia loved the challenge of redesigning an existing space. She loved the complexity of making something new from something old and outdated. Design was in her blood. And constantly on her mind. She had a tendency to be a little manic that way, her mind racing and seeing things from a different perspective than most others. That untethered creativity had served her well in this business, and by associating with the fast-growing New Horizons brand, she was sure to reach new professional heights. The deep pockets New Horizons offered with their far-reaching connections was a dream come true for Olivia. Or a nightmare. That depended on how you looked at it.

These last few weeks had been exhausting. Olivia and her team had been so slammed with work lately that she’d been counting on having the morning to review the background. So much for the best laid plans. She flipped open the cover and nearly knocked over her now ice-cold coffee. Try as she might, she couldn’t shake the feeling that a dark cloud was settling over her shoulders.

“Olivia? Are you ready?” The singsongy voice of her boss sounded from over her shoulder. Corrine was her usual chipper self today. Joy.

“Yup.” That was all she could muster. It would have to do.

She grabbed her drafting binder and followed Corrine to her office. It was a short walk through the design center, on the south side of the building. Olivia envied the bright corner office with the nice view of the park below. Her own desk was in an open floor plan space with drafting tables and design scraps. It was a great environment to foster creativity, as her team was spaced out evenly around her, but she still loved the quiet of Corrine’s office. She could use its solitude when she had a hard deadline and Randal wouldn’t stop humming nervously at the drafting table next to her. She knew if she asked, Corrine would be more than happy to lend it to her from time to time. Corrine was like that. She’d come to them a few years ago and oversaw Olivia’s transition into Albie’s position as chief designer. She’d been both a good boss and a great ally throughout the whole process. So as much as her zest for life sometimes drove Olivia a little crazy, she really did appreciate her. Truly.

“So, as you know, this conference call is super important. We are virtually meeting the corporate liaison of New Horizons Industry and she will be our direct contact for this project, effective immediately. I think it goes without saying that it’s important we make a good first impression.” She nodded to herself as she spoke, her short blond hair bobbing with her head movements. “I feel good about today. It’s going to be a great meeting.”

Olivia gave her a small smile and tried to absorb all the good vibes Corrine was throwing at her. But she was failing miserably. “Sure, you got it, Corrine, I’m on it.”

Corrine beamed and bounced on her heels as she scooped up the files from her desk, ending their meeting and heading toward the conference room. That was shorter than expected, and Olivia was grateful.

She paused in the now quiet office and let her eyes trail over the neat, picture filled desk of her colleague. Corrine and her husband had been married for about ten years with two perfect cherub children and a golden retriever named Biscuit. They looked like such a happy, loving family. Olivia let her mind wander as she looked at a collage one of the kids had made and wondered if she’d ever have something like that one day: a wife, 2.3 kids, and a dog. But not a purebred, no, it would have to be a rescue. Something with baggage. Something like her. She sighed.

 

v

 

Chicago

 

Savannah Quinn leaned back in her chair and stretched her neck and shoulders. She had gotten up earlier than usual today to squeeze in a spin class before her conference call and she still felt a little tight. She wanted to make sure she was alert and ready for this morning. She figured there was no better way to do that than sweat it out with the cute spin teacher who always winked at her.

She shifted in her chair and looked over the open file for the hundredth time. This partnership with Greater Image Design was a big deal for her. In her new role as district head of sales and the appointed corporate liaison, the Greater Image team was now her primary focus and her success was directly correlated with theirs. She’d been doing quite a bit of research on their employees to prepare for today. She pulled up their individual and team project portfolios and reviewed their productivity via evaluations from management and peers. This wasn’t protocol for her parent company, New Horizons IndustryIt was something shehad insisted on doing. She didn’t get to where she was today by following the protocol of those around her. She’d always been a groundbreaker. She was bold and fierce. That’s the only way she’d survived her mess of a childhood and the relationship waste that littered her past. This was a fresh start for her. Savannah believed that hard work started with her and trickled out to those around her. She was always up to something, by nature; multitasking was like breathing for her. But that dedication to work had led to other things falling by the wayside. Just as well, Savannah thought. She’d let herself lose focus in the past. Never again.

Her position at New Horizons kept her busy. Busy meant that she didn’t have time to get too distracted, and that was fine by her.

New Horizons had become a force in the corporate landscape seemingly overnight. The company had branches in all major cities and specialized in constructing office buildings for businesses of every shape and size. But they’d started to get a bad rap for building ugly, gray monstrosities without any high-tech innovations. Businesses were changing, and New Horizons needed to adapt with them. Sure, their previous approach had brought in jobs, but they weren’t attracting the kind of businesses that generated enough money to keep their fast-growing company afloat. They needed glitzy technology firms with deep pockets and seemingly endless investors. They wanted young blood, but they were applying old design standards. At least, that’s what the market research was telling them. The recent numbers showed that they were losing opportunities due to their outdated design approach. Savannah was brought in to fix their image problem by finding a way to update their business. She’d been researching ways to do just that when she’d stumbled on Greater Image Design. Or more specifically, Olivia Dawson’s impressive portfolio.

This partnering opportunity was new ground for New Horizons. And for Savannah. She’d taken this job after a messy breakup left her feeling uninspired and lost. Her little brother Cooper was attending school here, so it had made perfect sense to make Chicago her new home. Well, if you could call ithome. She’d been working in her new position for over a year and she still hadn’t fully unpacked. But having Cooper nearby made her happy. He was her only family. She wanted to be close to him in both relationship and distance. He kept her grounded in a way she hadn’t felt in years.

She made a mental note to call him later today as she reached into her bag and pulled out her laptop. She arranged the desk in preparation for the conference call and thought of her little brother. Cooper was finishing up his senior year in college and would be moving on to bigger and better things soon. That scared Savannah a little. She’d gotten so accustomed to their weekly Sunday dinners with his girlfriend Amber and coming home from another business trip to find the two of them folding laundry on her couch. Her condo’s proximity to his campus was intentionally convenient and even more convenient that her laundry was free when he needed it. Which was often. She never complained, though. She liked knowing that the condo was being used. She traveled more than 70 percent of the time on this job, so at least she knew someone was bringing in the mail. Sooner than she liked, Cooper would graduate and her home life would change, but on the work front, things were moving along nicely. Her new promotion to this position was a professional success that made her feel alive for the first time in a long time. Partnering with the smaller boutique firm in New York City was a big deal for her professionally and, hopefully, personally as well. She needed a new project to help her refocus on what was important in her life. Cooper was growing up and would be moving on. She figured it was time to take her little brother’s lead for once.

She loaded her laptop and sent the image to the large flat screen television mounted in her office. She preferred her work in front of her, on a large scale, to best assess the situation. She moved the mouse, watching the cursor on the television screen as she pulled up the videoconference app and split the screen with employee bios. Savannah put on her headset and sipped her coffee before dialing Corrine. She glanced once more at the clock to make sure the time difference from her office in Chicago was correct and settled into her seat to start the call. She yawned, still sore from this morning’s workout, and glanced longingly out the window. Today was going to be a long day.

 

Chapter Two

By the time Olivia got to the conference room, everyone was already sitting, facing a projection screen on the far wall. Her entire team was present, as well as some people from accounting and legal. Corrine was hovering over the speakerphone with a look of excitement on her face.

That excitement quickly faded when it was apparent that their new liaison with New Horizons, Savannah Quinn, could see them but they couldn’t see her. “Uh, we appear to be having some IT issues on our end, Savannah. Hold on, sorry.” Corrine looked flustered.

“Tuesday strikes again,” Olivia muttered. The gray-faced silhouette in the corner of the screen where Savannah’s face should have been unnerved Olivia a little. It was creepy.

“I thought you liked Tuesdays?” Her best friend and chief engineer, Reagan Fischer, stretched in the seat next to her. Besides her sister Christine and her niece, Reagan was her closest friend in the world. “Scratch that, I know you like Tuesdays. You lovethem. You are in a relationship with Tuesdays that is probably unhealthy, and you should see someone about that.”

“Like you are any sort of relationship expert.” Olivia accepted the half piece of gum Reagan offered with a huff.

“You tried me on for size—I think we did okay.” Reagan stuck out her tongue at her and teased her. “You know, until we didn’t.”

Olivia laughed. That was true. Kind of. They’d briefly dated in college until they both realized they were better off being friends. Reagan was a free-spirited playgirl back then, and not much had changed in the nine years since they’d first met. “My point exactly.”

Reagan looked scandalized. “Are you trying to insinuate that I’m bad at relationships?”

“Not at all. No insinuation necessary.” Olivia smiled. Reagan was a lot of fun. She was tall and lean, with lush dark hair and deep brown eyes with full lashes. She’d stayed true to her college self and developed a pretty well-established reputation for being a lady-killer. Olivia was willing to bet that she had single-handedly converted half of the straight population of Manhattan one woman at a time. But a monogamist? Not quite. “You’re great at relationships, in the plural. You just suck at monogamy.”

“Who wants to be limited to one”—Reagan winked—“when you can have many?”

Olivia felt the stress of the day recede a little. She was glad she’d convinced Reagan to join the design firm when she was promoted. Reagan melded perfectly with the rest of the group and added a great mind to the artistic team in the design space. She was creative and practical at work, hard-working and diligent, but she required a little wrangling at times. Olivia and Reagan were similar enough to get along, but different enough to balance each other out. They worked well together and on days like today, Olivia was grateful to have Reagan by her side.

“So…when did you and Tuesday break up?” Reagan drew Olivia’s attention back to their original conversation.

“Today. Our love affair has ended.” Olivia sighed. “I usedto love Tuesdays, but this Tuesday can suck it.”

“Mature.” Reagan nodded and spun the pen on the conference table in front of them.

“I try.”

Corrine frowned in defeat. “Sorry, Savannah. We can’t seem to get IT here in time and I know you have another meeting scheduled. We’ll just have to be a little blind on our end.”

“No worries. We’ll have plenty of time to get acquainted over the next few months.”

Savannah’s voice had a gentle huskiness to it. Well, that was a pleasant change from the nasal twang of the previous contact from New Horizons, Olivia thought.

As the meeting progressed, Olivia found herself more and more drawn to the voice on the other end of the call. Savannah was direct and concise. She was organized but not patronizing, which Olivia liked. She enunciated her words perfectly and appeared to be watching the group closely on her end, even commenting on Randal’s hideously wrinkled shirt with a gentle jab that got a chuckle from the conference room and Randal himself. A sense of humor, too? This Savannah woman was getting better and better.

“Great. This is all very exciting.” Corrine clapped and buzzed in her chair, her excitement palpable. “You’ll be working with Olivia directly for the upcoming project, Savannah. I’m here to help, of course, but Olivia’s your woman for the job.”

Olivia waved to the gray face on the screen because she felt like she had to. But it was awkward. So awkward.

“So, about the project…” Corrine’s expression turned more serious.

The project in question, the big secret, was not that big at all. In fact, considering some of the projects they had completed in the past, this was on the small side. It was a pilot design trial that had the potential to become a full-blown national contract if New Horizons was pleased with the outcome. The plan was to build an indoor green space that was technologically advanced in every way: climate controlled, living walls, water features, natural lighting, with smooth stones and earth tones. Business professionals who frequented the space could custom design their surroundings by tweaking the cyberinput and displays on some of the walls and ceilings. Although the basic structure would remain fixed, certain aspects of the room could be customized and mobilized. Chairs would rotate out, stones would change color, glass would tint or reflect images of ocean scenes, marketplaces in Dubai, sunsets by the Golden Gate Bridge, or the open night skies of the deep country. The design called for a lot of tech work and engineering, but the key to their success would be to develop a general process that could be applied to spaces of different shapes and sizes.

“Bottom line,” Savannah said, “the hope is to create a space that can integrate whatever environments the user might be motivated by. We want to give every user a custom experience. Once we establish the concept, we’ll need to send out teams to initiate the work. Your office will come up with the blueprint, and then we will ask that your chief of design, that’s you, Olivia, as well as a few team members make the trip to the pilot installation sites to oversee the beginning of the project.” Savannah’s voice paused, then continued, “We’re contracted to work with your team for three installations to ensure that we work well together and that our combined vision for the final product is met. At the end of the trial completion, we’ll reevaluate the results and negotiate further involvement on a grander scale.”

Savannah finished by adding, “We’ll work closely with you on your home turf to make sure that everything is ironed out before the trips, so they can be short and you’ll be separated from your families as little as possible. We appreciate your input on this matter. I know that travel isn’t usually part of your jobs, but we want the primary brains on the project present at the start of all new installations. Continuity breeds success.”

Olivia nodded as she took notes on the topic. She agreed that being present was ideal for the correct application of the design, but she had to admit, the idea of traveling didn’t thrill her. She supposed it really depended on where they were going and for how long. She hoped for a tropical locale, but, considering how her luck had been lately, she doubted that would happen.

Corrine ended the call and assigned each person in the room a task to begin the process. Olivia dispatched her own team to work in pairs, organizing some ideas for the general concept Savannah requested. They were encouraged to take the suggestions and add variations along the way. They’d be installing the rooms in three sites over the next six months. One month to plan the general concept, and then travel to the sites would begin.

As they walked back to the design space, Reagan bumped elbows with her, a mischievous smile on her face. “So, Liv, you’re going to be working with that Quinn lady pretty close the next few months…She had an awesome phone sex voice, so that’s cool.”

Olivia rolled her eyes and shoved Reagan playfully. “You are such a hornball.” She couldn’t help but laugh along, though. She had found herself drifting a bit at the beginning of the conference call thanks to the speaker’s melodious tones. She wondered what Savannah looked like.

“You know, maybe that’s exactly what you need to spice things up around here. If she is as attractive as her voice indicates, you could be in for trouble.” Reagan dodged Olivia’s annoyed swat in her direction.

“Ugh. You’re impossible. I have enough drama in my life now as is. Last thing I need is you fantasizing some faux office romance with the sexy, faceless voice of a client liaison.”

“Ha! So you do like her voice.”

“Reagan, shut up. Go back to work, will you?” Olivia didn’t think she could actually get mad at Reagan even if she tried. The truth was Reagan forced Olivia to live her life to the fullest, and in turn, Olivia tried to help Reagan understand that feelings and emotions were not bad things; they just made relationships more fulfilling. Reagan was a work in progress, though—she still favored a one-night stand to a second date, nine times out of ten. Olivia always assumed she would spend a lifetime helping Reagan figure that out. And that didn’t bother her one bit.

As she settled into her desk, her eyes picked up the bright pink Post-its Farrah had left her. She had to call Hannah back, no use avoiding the inevitable. She might as well get it over with.

“I called you twice, you know.” Hannah huffed into the phone.

“So I’ve heard. I was busy with a conference call. What’s up?” Olivia squeezed her eyes shut and waited for the onslaught that was coming.

“You never stopped by last week, like you promised you would, and you’ve been ignoring my calls ever since,” Hannah grumbled, her voice rising a bit.

“Hannah, look, we’ve been through this.” Olivia sighed and rubbed her forehead. “I didn’t stop by last week because we broke up, and I’m not obligated to attend your book club meetings anymore.”

Hannah let out an annoyed snort. She replied, “Olivia, we both know that you were just being dramatic.”

Olivia let her head fall back against her chair in frustration. Hannah was a stage five clinger, and she should never have gotten involved with her in the first place. Reagan was right, not that she would ever admit it. They had dated for three months and it was insane. Olivia had ended things almost three weeks ago—not that Hannah accepted that little fact, but still. “Hannah, look, I like you. I think you are a great girl and I had a lot of fun, but I’ve moved on. We’re better off as friends. If I made you think anything more than that, I’m sorry. I just don’t feel the same way about you as you feel about me.”

The line was silent for a moment. Hannah let out a tired sigh. “Fine. Take as much time as you need to think things out. I’ll talk to you later.”

“What?” Olivia pulled the phone away to look at it before speaking again. “I don’t need to think about it. I’m done, kaput, no más, finished. We’re not dating. Please feel free to stop calling my work.” She hated having to get bitchy, but this was ridiculous.

Hannah gasped in her typical dramatic fashion before replying icily, “Fine, whatever, Liv, see you around.” Click.

Olivia groaned and hung up the phone.

Reagan hit her with an eraser and snickered before adding, “Stage. Five. Clinger. Told you. Ten bucks says she popped your tire just so you would call her for a ride to work so she could rekindle the flame.” She added air quotes as Olivia hurled the eraser at her head and scowled.

“I hate when you’re right.” Olivia didn’t bother trying to suppress the smile on her face as she opened up her web browser. She loved that her best friend was her coworker. She valued her relationship with Reagan, even if she was right about Hannah all along.

Her smile deepened when she saw a new email from Savannah Quinn. She figured this was the start of what she assumed would be a regular correspondence with her. She couldn’t help but wonder back to what Reagan teased about before. Was she pretty? Was she young? Old? Married? Straight? Her voice was magical. She almost frowned at the email. She much preferred talking to this woman on the phone instead. That was a good sign, right?

 

Chapter Three

Savannah took notes on the people introducing themselves to her on the screen. She was pleased that they couldn’t see her while she was doing it; it gave her the opportunity to closely watch them as she spoke. Corrine Baylor was a peppy little woman with a cute pixie haircut who liked to use a lot of hand motions when she spoke. She was organized and friendly and chipper—damn, that woman was like a hummingbird of excitement.

Savannah breezed over the legal and accounting departments, making short notes next to their bios so she would remember them later. Her real focus was on the design team. They were the people she would be working with closely over the next few months.

She was surprised when some of the team didn’t match up with her physical expectations, not that she had any really, but knowing someone on paper and then seeing them in real life gave a different perspective entirely. It all started with Randal Hogan. In front of her was a schleppy fortysomething architect with a wrinkled appearance, but his dossier showed extraordinary design ideas from his past projects that were a complete contrast to his disheveled appearance. His designs favored clean lines and modern applications of metal and glass. You’d never know he was an architectural genius by the ketchup stain above his shirt pocket.

In contrast, Devon Nguyen was exactly what she expected: a young, up-and-coming interior designer, fresh out of school with a well-trimmed fauxhawk and stylish dark-framed glasses. He didn’t say much, but from the doodles she could see from her vantage point he was a great artist.

Devon was seated next to Farrah Sanders, a fellow interior designer with a specialty of incorporating flora and fauna into arid, dull spaces. She periodically nudged the younger designer to pay attention. She had a nice mothering quality to her, it seemed—her file stated that she had twin teenage girls. Savannah imagined that was an asset in time management and problem solving.

Reagan Fischer was their engineer, and she looked anything but the part of the nerd with the slide rule. She and Randal seemed like the physical opposites of their jobs. Reagan was confident and almost disinterested. Her manner was oddly attractive.

Daniel Jacobs was their master carpenter and contractor, and his expression was intense. His use of discarded machine parts paired with driftwood made for a unique custom furniture design side business that he frequently incorporated into their designs. Another diamond in the rough, it seemed.

The person Savannah was most interested in, however, was their fearless leader, Olivia Dawson. The write-up on this woman was extensive. Everything about her on paper described her as approachable but confident, creative, and assertive. She was a well-loved leader and an excellent mediator, it appeared. She’d been with Greater Image for eight years and had been promoted to chief designer after her mentor, someone named Albie Davis, retired. Something about Olivia appeared to bring out the best in this motley crew. She was rumored to be a master puzzle manipulator, someone that could solve even the most difficult design obstacle. And she was the primary reason Savannah’s company had sought out Greater Image over the other dozen or so firms that had pitched their involvement. Savannah’s bosses wanted to know what made Olivia tick and how she managed her team to such well-oiled perfection. She’d made huge strides in a few short years and was really making a name for herself in the industry. People were noticing. Savannah was intrigued.

When she identified herself for the first time on the video call, Savannah was struck by her natural beauty. She had long dark hair that fell in loose curls from a sloppy but cute bun. She chewed on the end of her glasses while she jotted down notes. It was sort of adorable how her brow scrunched with thought before she answered Savannah’s questions.

She reviewed the timeline and drafted the first of what she assumed would be manyemails to Olivia.

 

From: Quinn, Savannah

To: Dawson, Olivia

Subject: Project Locations and Dates

Hi Ms. Dawson,

It was a pleasure having the opportunity to meet you and your team today. I wanted to follow up with you regarding the site locations and projected deadlines. I will be coming out to your office in about a week to start going over your preliminary concept designs. (See the attachment for specs of the first location.) We will figure out the travel timeline at the conclusion of that week, depending on your group’s progress. Our first location is Denver, CO. We have a second site in Phoenix, AZ, that is slightly larger. Our final site is in Chicago, IL, which is not far from the corporate office, so there will likely be the most scrutiny on this location. Let’s make sure it’s perfect. Sound good? Have a great day. I will be in touch.

Savannah

 

She was careful with her word choice. She wanted to be professional, yet approachable. They would be logging a lot of long hours together and the last thing she wanted was to start off on the wrong foot.

An email notification popped up as her administrative assistant, Annabelle, read through her schedule for the day. That was quick. She scanned the text as Annabelle reminded her of the afternoon meeting with her boss, Kenneth Dodd. She nodded distractedly and reread the email, smiling at Olivia’s mention of the video call.

 

From: Dawson, Olivia

To: Quinn, Savannah

Subject: Re: Project Locations and Dates

Hey Savannah!

Sounds great. I will get the team started working on the project immediately. I’m available for a phone meeting anytime after eleven a.m. on Friday. I look forward to hearing from you! If you want to make it a video call, let me know—I’d rather have IT be prepared so I don’t have to talk to a gray face the whole time. Thanks. :)

Olivia

 

Olivia’s response was the perfect mix of business and playfulness. The smiley face at the end wasn’t lost on her. Savannah typed back a quick response and closed the window to focus on Annabelle’s ramblings. The partnership with Greater Image Design was exactly the type of professional boost Savannah had been waiting for, and it was time to get started.

 

Chapter Four

Olivia and her team had been working hard the last week. Randal, Reagan, and Daniel had been brainstorming over the general room specs Savannah had sent over in her initial email. Devon and Farrah were working on the computer-aided-design program to figure out the best placement in the room for the living wall to foster their green space approach. Olivia’s time had been split between mobilizing the team into action and reviewing the less than thrilling details of the newly formed partnership with New Horizons. She loved the freedom and creativity her position allowed her, but she disliked the administrative responsibilities. Luckily, Corrine and the legal team worked out the nitty-gritty stuff, but Olivia was still on the hook for knowing some of the ins and outs of New Horizons. She’d done a little review. Sort of. Kinda.

“How’s all that paperwork crap?” Reagan set down a coffee in front of Olivia.

Olivia smiled and sipped the cup. “Oh, you know, thrilling.”

“Yeah, I don’t envy you at all.” Reagan nodded and glanced back at Randal and Daniel. “The guys wanted to head out for drinks after work. You in?”

Olivia let out a quiet sigh. She wanted more than anything to be able to join her colleagues. After this long-ass week, a drink sounded like heaven. But Savannah was arriving from Chicago today and was swinging by the office to set up a workstation.

“I don’t think I can. Savannah gets in later tonight. We’re meeting here first and then I think Corrine wanted to do a welcome dinner or something.”

“Oooh, Savannah,” Reagan teased, fluttering her eyelashes.

“Oooh, Savannah, what?” a husky voice asked from behind Reagan.

Reagan froze. Her mouth stuck in the shape of a small oas she turned to face the new voice. Olivia would have laughed if she wasn’t so captivated by the tall auburn-haired woman who stepped into her line of sight. She was gorgeous. Her bright, fashionable heels were a perfect contrast to the dark pencil skirt, expensive-looking blue silk blouse, and dark blazer she wore. The designer bag on her shoulder and matching luggage by her side confirmed Olivia’s initial impression: this woman had style. And if the raised eyebrow over those steely gray-blue eyes was any indication, she had attitude to match.

“Reagan, right?” The redhead extended her hand with a small smile. “I’m Savannah Quinn. I believe you were saying something?”

Reagan paused before she shook Savannah’s hand and, to Olivia’s horror, unabashedly checked her out. Like, full-on scoped her. That familiar, confident smile settled on Reagan’s face and Olivia cringed, knowing full well what was coming next.

Reagan leaned back against the drafting table and assumed her usual arms-crossed position that Olivia had seen her do a million times when she was trying to impress a woman and act disinterested. “Oh, yeah, sorry. I was inviting Liv here out for a drink after work. You’re welcome to join us. I’m buying.”

She lowered her gaze and Olivia thought she might be staring at Savannah’s chest. Which resulted in her looking in that general direction as well. Crap. Reagan was hitting on their client’s liaison and now they were both looking at her chest. Abort. Abort.

Olivia cleared her throat and did everything in her power to ignore Reagan’s entire existence in this world. She smiled at Savannah and leaned forward to shake her hand. “Hey, I’m Olivia. It’s nice to finally meet you.”

Savannah smiled back and returned her greeting as she adjusted the bag on her shoulder. She glanced back at Reagan, who was poorly concealing her leering, and Olivia watched in disbelief as Savannah leaned forward and stage-whispered, “My eyes are up here, Reagan. Let’s try and remember that, okay?”

A blush formed on Reagan’s cheeks as she swallowed quickly and jerked her eyes up to Savannah’s, nodding as she stepped back. “Okay, well, think about it and get back to us. Uh, see ya, Liv.”

Olivia tried and failed to contain a laugh. She’d never seen Reagan blush like that, well, not since that time she accidently walked in on her loudly singing Cyndi Lauper in the shower with a pink shower cap on during college. But they were not ever to speak of such occurrence, so she filed it back in the blackmail file of her brain. No, this was different. Not many women so easily resisted Reagan’s charms when she turned them on. She could tell she was going to like this Savannah woman very much.

“Here, let me introduce you to the team and show you around. Corrine is here somewhere.” She frowned as she looked around the open floor plan for her. She could have sworn she was just here.

“Great. Thanks.”

After the quick tour of the space and some brief introductions to the team, Olivia walked her guest into the right rear conference room. This was her favorite room in the office, even more than Corrine’s quiet sanctuary down the hall. It was located along the far wall of the building and contained a long conference table with a projector and phone system in the middle of the table. It was relatively small compared to the other conference areas in the office. It only had seating for eight people. But one wall of the room was made up entirely of windows overlooking the lush pocket park below. This was why she loved this room.

“This place is great.” Savannah looked around the room, her eyes lingered on the view.

“Yeah, it’s my favorite place to sneak away and think.” Olivia faced the window, her fingers tracing the leather seam on the seat in front of her while she thought out loud. “That’s a little view of Coleman Park. It’s a nice inspiration for the upswing of green applications in design. It helps remind you of the endless possibilities outside these four walls.” She paused, realizing she was babbling. “Sorry, it’s been a long day.”

“No need to apologize, that was beautiful.” Savannah surveyed the room once more. “So, this is home base?”

“Yup, this is your new office. Feel free to make yourself at home. Anything you need, just ask and I will send one of the minions to get it,” she joked and nodded back toward the design center.

Before Savannah could reply a soft rap rang out against the glass. Corrine opened the door with an apologetic frown. She walked in and introduced herself to Savannah with an enthusiastic handshake before turning to Olivia and saying quietly, “Hey, Liv, can I chat with you?”

“Uh, yeah, sure.” Olivia glanced back to Savannah. “Excuse us a minute?”

Savannah nodded before placing her bag on the table and pulling out files.

“What’s up, Corrine? You okay?” Olivia cast a concerned look at her boss, who was tapping her foot anxiously in the hallway outside the conference room.

“Yeah. Aidan broke his ankle at soccer practice and David is picking up Allie at her friend’s house to meet me at the hospital. Can you take Savannah out to dinner? Make sure she gets to her hotel and gets settled? Please?” Corrine pleaded and reached out to grab Olivia’s hands.

“Of course, sure, no problem. Be with your kids. Let me know if you need anything else.”

“Thanks so much, Liv. I owe you.”

“No worries, I got this.” Olivia smiled and added, “Go.”

Corrine reached into her purse and pulled out a packet. “In here is all the introductory background paperwork I did for her—make sure she gets it. She’s staying at that hotel off Fifth Avenue that we usually use. We have reservations for seven at Machiavelli’s. I called to adjust it from three people to two. It’s all set.” She let out a weary sigh. “Okay, I’m off, I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Olivia reentered the conference room to find Savannah standing by the window and lazily scrolling through her phone. She took a moment to appreciate the way Savannah absentmindedly scratched her ankle, and watched with rapt attention as Savannah’s hand traced up her calf, massaging it briefly, before she moved higher and smoothed down the front of her skirt. The light from her phone shone back on her face, illuminating her features. It gave Olivia a chance to observe her more closely, her high cheekbones and perfect jawline complemented by her pale skin and flawlessly applied makeup. She shifted and her auburn hair fell in loose waves around her face, almost veiling her profile from Olivia’s unobserved admiration. Didn’t she just get off a plane and take a more likely than not sticky and cramped New York cab ride to Olivia’s office? Shouldn’t she look a little travel worn or something? Olivia thought about what Reagan had said before and her stomach knotted. Savannah was every bit as hot as her phone sex voice promised. It was clear—Olivia’s only hope for surviving the next few months of living out of hotels and working with this woman hinged entirely on what happened next. Maybe if she was lucky, Savannah would be an absolute bore at this work dinner. That would make her less appealing, right?

She cleared her throat to draw attention to her presence. “Sorry about that, Corrine had a family emergency, so I’m going to be your tour guide for the evening.” Olivia stepped toward the table currently occupied by five neat piles of folders, a laptop, and stainless-steel coffee mug.

“Oh? Is everything all right?” A concerned frown settled on Savannah’s face as she slipped her phone into her blazer pocket.

“Oh, yeah, her son has a soccer injury. She’s got to go be Super Mom.”

Savannah nodded and paused, adding with a raised eyebrow, “Do you have a family also? I don’t want to keep you from them.”

The blush that Olivia felt creep into her neck felt unwarranted. She tried to ignore it and shook her head. “Me? No. I have a cranky landlady and a love affair with fine wine. That and this job keep me pretty busy.”

Savannah laughed. She joined Olivia at the desk and pulled out a chair before gesturing for Olivia to join her. “Well, I love fine wine and I have a healthy work ethic. We should get along swimmingly.”

That was exactly what Olivia was dreading.

 

v

 

They spent a few hours going over the progress of Olivia’s team on the project before calling it a night. After dropping Savannah’s gear at the hotel, they headed to dinner. Olivia checked the time and made a mental note to come up with some excuse to leave in an hour or so if the night was dragging on.

To her dismay, Machiavelli’s was fun. Olivia found herself chatting easily with Savannah. They discussed everything ranging from art to current events to comparing their favorite celebrity gossip rags. Savannah was funny and engaging. This dinner felt more like a meeting with an old friend than a business meeting. Well, that or a really fun first date. Olivia couldn’t decide which one, and that worried her a bit.

“All right, so, lay it on me. Tell me all about this team of yours.” Savannah leaned back in the booth, cradling her wine delicately in long, pale fingers. She casually circled the rim of the glass with her forefinger and Olivia tried not to obsess over how sexual the move looked to her.

“Oh, we’re at that point in the night, eh? Is this a gentle interrogation because you think I’ve let my guard down?” Olivia glanced at her own near-empty glass.

“Of course it is.” Savannah’s smile widened as she leaned forward and topped off Olivia’s glass before placing the bottle back on the table. “Spill.”

“Okay. I accept your challenge. But you have to split dessert with me, because there is no way we are leaving here without tasting the tiramisu. Deal?”

“That’s it? Easy. Done.” She extended her glass toward Olivia to clink in agreement.

“Okay, well, Randal and Daniel get along well. Randal is a super genius, but he has trouble with—”

“Dressing professionally?” Savannah offered.

Olivia liked her playfulness. “I was going to say using an iron, but yeah, basically.” She chuckled before moving on. “Daniel is intense but agreeable, in small doses. He’s a mad genius. Devon and Farrah complement each other by bringing experience and youth to design. They also argue like mother and son occasionally, but they figure it out.” She smiled as she remembered a particularly ugly fight that started between them over the use of social media slang as graphic art on the walls of a bedroom in the home of a wealthy businessman. Devon was pushing for shock value and relevance to express the mogul’s son’s passion for YouTube blogging. Farrah was appalled when she learned what some of the abbreviations stood for, particularly the placement of a really cool graffitied #UNFover his bed. She argued that no mother wanted to know that the Universal Noise of Fuckingmight be associated with her kid’s bed, ever. There might or might not have been a resultant near slap fight and threats of grounding by Farrah to a bemused Devon. Olivia had to separate them for five days on different projects until they agreed to mediation, American Gladiatorsstyle, at a dojo downtown. That had been at Reagan’s suggestion. “And you met Reagan—she’s great. She has a wonderful mind and is a real creative force. She tends to really push the envelope on structural design. Randal and Daniel keep her pretty well grounded, while managing to not stifle her too much.”

“And she’s into women,” Savannah supplied nonchalantly as she forked the recently arrived tiramisu.

Olivia paused remembering the occurrence earlier in the office. She raised her eyebrow curiously. “What makes you think that?” She wanted to know if it bothered Savannah that her colleague was into women. She’d have to brace herself for that knowledge if they would be working closely together these next few months.

Savannah finished her bite before looking intently at Olivia. “I’m observant.” She paused. “And she was talking to my tits, so that kind of gave it away.”

A reflexive laugh tumbled from Olivia’s lips as she shook her head and stabbed a piece of the shared dessert. “Yeah, she’s, umm…subtle.” She added hurriedly, “But she works well with boundaries and I will make sure she makes eye contact when she speaks with you. I’m sorry for that.” She wasn’t sure why she felt the need to apologize. Reagan was a big girl, and she made her own decisions in life, good or bad. “Is that a problem for you? That she likes women?”

An unidentifiable expression crossed Savannah’s face. “No, not at all.” She smiled and brought another piece of tiramisu to her lips, holding it there before asking, “What about you?”

Olivia’s attention was on the fork, hovering closely to Savannah’s lips, so she almost missed the question. Was Savannah asking if she was into women, too? “What?”

“What’s your role in the team? In your own words, I mean.” Savannah slipped the dessert past her lips as she waited for Olivia’s reply. Olivia reminded herself not to stare.

“I’m the ringmaster to the three-ring circus.” Olivia scooped up the last bit of dessert and popped it into her mouth. She wasn’t sure if it was the wine, the fatigue of the week clouding her mind, or the present company, but something about this dinner felt oddly more intimate than a business meeting. “I keep the wheels turning, the gears well lubricated, and the clock ticking along happily. Corrine gives me veto power and free creative rein to tweak all submissions as I see fit. It gives me the chance to foster everyone’s greatest strengths while allowing me to maintain my own creative design ideas. It’s sort of the best of both worlds: management and art.” She shrugged as she sipped her wine and leaned back into the booth.

Savannah appraised her from across the table and nodded. “That sounds lovely. And it sounds like you like your job.”

“I do. It’s fun and rewarding and I’ve got a great team.”

“Well then, I’m looking forward to spending more time with you and them. This should be a good experience for everyone involved.”

The look Savannah gave Olivia made her think that maybe Savannah was talking about more than just work. Or the wine was making her horny. Either way, tonight had turned out better than she had planned.