13 Authors = 1 Story
The pen hit the ground in front of her. It was the oldest, stupidest trick in the book. Anytime she wore a skirt, Mr. Lay would manage to “drop” an office supply. Two months into this job as the receptionist for SalesExportt.com, Verity Michaels was on to him.
“I’ll be needing that.” He pointed to the pen.
“Then you’d better pick it up.” She twirled on her heel and walked toward the door.
Verity was still wrapping her head around her boss’s unique combination of hotness and complete social ineptitude. When she’d first arrived at good ol’ SalesExportt.com—a small fashion/clothing import-export business—she’d noticed that Larold S. Lay, CEO and president, was pretty attractive. But then he spoke. Or moved. Or interacted in any way with the people around him. His personality was off-putting. And this helpless act seemed to be his version of flirting.
Thank God it’s Friday. Just a few hours more.
She’d almost reached the door to leave his office when he thought of something else to say.
“How’s the report about the certified pre-owned jeans coming?” Suddenly he was all business. “I trust you’re getting it together?”
“You’ll have it next Thursday. Like you asked,” she reminded him. But she’d lost the battle.
“I like to be timely. Of course you know that.” He waltzed up to his pen and grabbed it with as much defiance as he could muster. He also managed to take a peek at himself in the reflection of the office’s tinted window.
Verity stared at him for a moment. He was a manufactured and manicured kind of handsome. His five o’clock shadow never took a break, his pants were never wrinkled, and his white smile was chemically blinding. His attention had been flattering and a little exciting until Verity realized just how weird he was—and that she was one in a line of plenty anyway. For some of the women around the office, his good looks and impressive title were enough to get past the rest, it seemed. But Verity was determined to succeed because she worked hard and earned it, taking a pass on sleeping with her creepy boss so she could make her father proud.
“It’s like his last name’s a prophecy.” Angie Bobshell, head of sales, had rolled her eyes while dishing with Verity at the end of her first week of work. Apparently receptionists at SalesExportt.com usually did better if they were young, tight, and willing.
Verity shook her head, hoping her disgust wasn’t evident on her face. “You know what, Mr. Lay? I think I’ll get started now.”
“Are you sure? I’d love to take you for a drink. You can tell a lot about a woman by what she orders.” Lay seemed to be trying to bulk up his pecs as he spoke, making his voice sound strained.
Verity left Lay’s office and stomped down the hallway to the elevator, which would take her back to her desk one floor below. Though the company was small, Lay had arranged the offices over two floors in the Bunts highrise, which was near the Chrysler Building in Midtown Manhattan. Made things more impressive, he’d explained during her interview.
The worst part was, he had a secretary. But Marge was way past retirement age and left when she wanted. She was more like an office cat than a worker. So all these reports that were supposed to be her responsibility had somehow become part of Verity’s job. She realized she stayed late to work on them a lot so she could avoid Lay’s drink offers on his way out of the office. She slapped the down button like it owed her money.
It was all about money. Her paycheck here was the best one of her life. Her father had arranged the job interview for her after discovering Mr. Lay belonged to the same college fraternity. Totally different generations, but just uttering the three Greek letters inspired an involuntary, elaborate handshake and an immediate desire to do favors. And who was she to refuse? She’d been in the dog house with her father after her attempt at a photography business was a complete flop in her small Florida town. He had given her the seed money that evaporated in the process.
After she’d spent a few months wallowing in yoga pants, he’d dared her to try for a job in NYC—a “real job” in the business world, he’d specified. He’d paid for the trip, as well as arranging the interview, but now she was on her own. It was a little bit thrilling, but most of the buzz of getting the job and moving to the big city had worn off when she’d had to sell her beautiful camera to afford the security deposit on her tiny apartment.
With startup expenses out of the way, Verity hoped to kick ass at work, keep earning that fabulous salary, and eventually save enough to buy her camera back. Even if photography couldn’t be her job, she wanted it in her life.
Settling back at her desk downstairs, Verity pulled up the report Lay had drafted. It would take at least two hours to translate the talk-to-text nonsense he insisted was coherent.
He came down the elevator not even ten minutes later, talking loudly into his phone, set on speaker, as usual. He didn’t acknowledge her on his way out, which was shitty but kind of a blessing.
“Son of a bitch.” Verity typed as fast as she could, but beefing up Lay’s weak sentences took her way past the time she felt comfortable on the train. So she’d be paying for a cab to boot.
It was almost ten when she finished, but now it was done—and done well. Verity dropped the report on Lay’s desk, and the security guard walked her out the building’s front doors and locked them tightly behind her. The cab he’d called for her pulled up as she stepped onto the sidewalk. As she approached, a sketchy-looking guy wearing a hoodie trotted up and held the car door open for her.
“Share the ride? Where you headed?”
The last thing Verity wanted to do was sit beside a tattooed druggie. But she smiled, deciding to be polite.
“Forty-third between Ninth and Tenth.” Please be going the other way.
“Perfect. Get in.” He motioned for her to enter.
Verity worked at not giving him knowledge of her panty color as she climbed in and slid over. She told the cab driver her address in Hell’s Kitchen, and he nodded as she pulled out her phone to tweet. It made her feel less alone in this huge city. It also gave her a way to look busy. Surely that, combined with the taxi’s annoyingly loud music, would keep Tattoo quiet.
“Boss keep you late?” he asked.
“More or less. He’s a real prince.” Don’t dis the boss, you ninny. This guy’s probably his brother.
“Tough. You headed home to the husband?”
She slid her gaze to his face. The first thing she noticed were his blue eyes. Second, he wasn’t checking out her cleavage, just waiting for her answer. And the question seemed flirty, but his face was earnest.
“We getting personal here? I’m sharing a cab with you, not filing joint taxes.” She crossed her legs and was knocked off kilter by the cabby’s erratic driving. She steadied herself on the door handle. She hated touching anything in a cab.
The tattooed guy shook his head and smiled, not pressing her further. He started drumming his hands on his thighs. Probably cracked out on something. He had his hood up and a beanie pulled low on his forehead.
The cabby cursed as he pulled into a traffic jam. He tried to merge into a faster lane and cut off a Mustang to do it, though it got him nowhere. The Mustang’s driver was huge and filled to the top with road rage. He hopped out of his car like the cabby had slapped his mother with a dead chicken.
“Oh, shit,” the tattooed passenger observed.
The cabby, God bless his crazy ass, was just as insanely angry as Mustang. He leaped out the door and the two men went toe to toe, letting the insults fly.
Verity was trapped between the fight and Tattoo. “What are we going to do?” she wondered aloud.
A green light loosened the traffic enough that the cab and the Mustang were now obstacles in the flow. Mustang Rage Monster tossed the cabby against Verity’s door. She reached over and hit the lock.
Her fellow passenger opened his door, hopped out, and re-entered in the front seat. He scooted over behind the wheel and threw the cab into drive.
“Buckle up, baby!” Tattoo calmly drove the cab through the green light, leaving the two men fighting in the center of the street.
Verity turned to see them quit their fisticuffs to watch the cab pull away.
“Are you stealing this cab? Right now? With me in it?”
Despite the fact that he was now technically a felon, Tattoo drove very carefully.
“No, I’m removing us from a dangerous situation. That cab driver entered a verbal contract to get us from point A to point B. I’m just helping him fulfill his duties.” Tattoo winked at her in the rearview mirror.
Verity covered her mouth for a minute while she tried to register what was actually happening to her. Am I being kidnapped? Murdered?
Tattoo changed the radio station, and one of her favorite songs came over the speakers.
“Great tune!” He tapped on the steering wheel.
According to the meter, they now owed the non-existent cabby twenty dollars.
“I’ll have you know that I’m carrying a taser and have a throbbing, super-contagious rash. Right now. In my pants.” She pointed at the reflection of his gorgeous eyes in the mirror.
“Sounds like you have an exciting evening planned.”
“Don’t be a wise ass, Tattoo.” She tried to estimate how slow the cab would have to be going before she could roll out of it and survive.
“That’s your name in my head right now. I’m calling the police.” She looked up from her cell and she realized he’d pulled onto 43rd between 9th and 10th.
“Which building do you need?” He turned his head a bit.
“That one. The one with the brown brick.”
He double-parked and got out of the cab. He opened her door before she could figure out how to unlock it.
She got out slowly, watching his hands, anticipating a trick.
“You’re really high strung, Country Girl.”
Verity frowned at his nickname. “Really?”
He pulled out his wallet, tossed the fare in the front seat, and closed the door behind her before following her to the sidewalk.
“What? You’re Country Girl in my head right now.” He clicked his tongue and smiled, revealing two goddamn dimples.
“How can you be so sure I’m from the country?” She made sure she was more than an arm’s length away.
“Hmm. The taser-powered rash was a dead giveaway.” Tattoo put his hands in the pockets of his hoodie. “And that southern accent is charming.” He winked at her.
“I’m from Florida. I have no accent. So you’re just going to leave it there? The cab?” She pointed at the distinctive yellow car.
“If that angry cabby was paying attention when we gave him our addresses, he’ll know where to find it. This your place?” He pointed at her building.
“Well, yes, but—hey, wait. What if the cabby remembers where I worked?” Verity knew she was going to jail tonight. Jail would break her. “I’m getting arrested! They’ll do body cavity checks.”
“That head of yours went from working to jail in the span of a few seconds?” He smiled at her. Again.
“Screw you, Tattoo. I bet you’ve been to jail a hundred times. I never want to pee in front of a group. Ever.” She walked up the stairs toward the building.
“Because I have tattoos? You’re judging me on my ink?” He unzipped his jacket, letting her see the tattoo creeping up his neck.
“I’m judging you on your felony—the one I was a party to tonight.” She pulled her keys out of her purse.
“Okay, that’s fair. But maybe I was saving you.” He bowed at the waist. “Sometimes white knights have tattoos, princess.”
Before she could respond, he was off.
Her heart pounded. What a ride home. The arousal she felt was due to adrenaline, she told herself. It had nothing to do with picturing where exactly on his body his tattoos might end.
Verity Michaels @VerityPics03
If my boss tries to see my cooch one more damn time, I’m putting hot sauce in his coffee. #EyesUpHere
Verity Michaels @VerityPics03
Oh, how did you get home tonight? “The usual. Felony combined with crazy.” #NeverAgain (TwitterPic)
Verity Michaels @VerityPics03
Okay, a guy with a neck tat can be sexy, right? That’s allowed? #ReplacingBatteriesInTheRabbit
On Monday morning, Verity was late.
She hated being late.
She hated anything to do with tardiness—hated it even more than she hated taxicab-thieving tattooed dudes.
Ugh, okay, so she maybe didn’t hate taxicab-thieving tattooed dudes. Well, not all of them anyway. Just the one that had gotten up in her head all weekend long. That one was the reason she was running almost thirty minutes late for work. Never in her life had she slept through her alarm, but in the midst of a particularly hot and heavy dream, she‘d ignored its noise. The obnoxious beep-beep-beeping got lost somewhere with the phantom bang-bang-banging of a headboard in her subconscious and her neighbor angrily beating on their shared apartment wall, trying to get her to turn the damn alarm off.
There was no time for the subway. No, she’d had to rush and take another cab to the office. Thankfully, this one wasn’t stolen.
At least, not while she was in it.
Those words slapped her in the face as she skidded to a stop in front of her desk, almost colliding with an immaculately dressed Mr. Lay. Ugh. He stood there, staring at his expensive watch, almost as if he’d been waiting for her.
Verity nervously smoothed her dark hair and fixed her black pencil skirt, trying to pull herself together. “Yes, I, uh…well, you know…”
She stammered for an excuse, but it was pointless. The man wasn’t listening to her anyway. His eyes drifted from his watch straight to her chest. In a rush, she’d thrown on a white blouse, tighter than she liked for work, and given no thought—until now—to the black bra she wore beneath. He was practically eye-fucking her tits through the material.
“It’s unfortunate,” she muttered, crossing her arms over her chest. “But I’m late.”
His eyes raised to meet hers, a glazed look on his face—as if he could see her standing there, all right…just with less clothing on. Pig.
Verity stepped past him to her desk, willing the phone to ring for an easy escape from his bullshit. But he cleared his throat, and the phone remained stubbornly silent.
“I’m expecting a package,” he said. “It should’ve been here already.”
She looked up to find him checking his watch again. “An important one?”
“Yes. A personal one. And an important one.” Lay looked suddenly nervous and adjusted his necktie awkwardly. He swallowed before checking out his reflection in the tinted glass behind her.
Verity tamped down the desire to roll her eyes. “I’ll be on the lookout for it.”
“I know you will,” he said, striding toward the elevator. “After all, we all want to be good at our jobs.” He smiled as if this were a great secret they’d shared before adding, “Though we certainly could pay you to be a decoration. You look great today.”
Verity scowled, mentally flipping him off for that comment, but he scurried into the elevator and was gone.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa—back up here. The guy stole a cab? Like, a real cab? Are you kidding me? I’m out of town for one lousy weekend and shit gets crazy!”
Angie’s eyes were wide as she stared from her perch on the corner of Verity’s reception desk. Verity nodded slowly, slouching down in her chair. Angie had strolled in a moment earlier—clearly not one to be distressed about being late—clutching a coffee and looking like she’d stepped off a Paris runway before strutting straight here. She’d made it no farther than reception, which was often the case. A love of shoes and the deviant little sparkle in Angie’s eyes had drawn them together as close friends in just a few weeks.
Angie was beautiful, like the Barbie to Mr. Lay’s Ken, except they got along about as well as Tom and Jerry. When she’d first come to the company, Angie said Lay had pursued her. But she’d put him in his place, and after a while, he’d stopped chasing. He seemed to know it was a game he wasn’t going to win. This gave Verity hope that as soon as the shine wore off her apples, he’d move on from her as well. Too bad she didn’t have the luxury of putting it to him bluntly like Angie had. Sometimes she worried he took her efforts to do good work as efforts to please him.
Angie was always full of gossip, but today Verity was the one with a story to share. She’d been more than happy to spill the details about the gorgeous tattooed idiot who’d jumped in her cab on Friday when she left work. She felt like a real New Yorker… sort of.
“Well, I mean, he didn’t steal it so much as borrow it. Without permission. So whatever. I guess he stole it.”
Angie shook her head. “Who does that?”
Damn taxicab-thieving tattooed dudes.
“So what did you do?” Angie continued. “Jump out? Scream? I would’ve screamed.”
“I should’ve,” Verity replied. “He was clearly crazy. I threatened to call the police before he got any bright ideas, like trying to murder me. Or, you know… pillage me.”
He hadn’t, of course. Hadn’t even given any indication it was something he’d be interested in doing. But that hadn’t stopped her mind from suggesting it all damn weekend long. She could still practically feel the adrenaline pumping through her bloodstream, pulsing through her body, settling right in that sweet spot between her thighs.
The sweet spot she’d told him was diseased and taser-guarded when her panic set in. What the hell is wrong with me?
“And what did he do?” Angie pressed, sipping her coffee. “Kick you out before you could report him to the police?”
“He drove me home,” she said. “Then he left.”
“Then he left?” Angie’s voice was incredulous. “That’s it?”
“Yup. Left the taxi in front of my building.”
“Seriously, who does that?”
Angie was still shaking her head when the phone rang. Verity picked it up, bringing the receiver to her ear. “SalesExportt.com. Verity Michaels speaking. How may I help you?”
Over and over, again and again. Verity was constantly saying those words. She fielded three calls back to back, taking messages and directing them upstairs. Angie still lingered, steadily sipping her coffee and trying to slip in more conversation between calls, but the phone wasn’t being very cooperative.
The fourth time it rang, Verity snatched it up, sighing. “SalesExportt.com. Hold, please.” She pressed a button before lowering the phone to her chest, glancing at her friend. She started to speak when the elevator dinged and Mr. Lay appeared in the office lobby again.
Twice in one hour. Had to be some sort of record.
He looked their direction, lips twitching with a grimace for Angie before his eyes settled on Verity. “That package show up?”
She held her hands up, still clutching the phone. “Nothing yet.”
“It was supposed to be here almost an hour ago,” he said, shaking his head. “That’s what I get for taking a risk on a new courier.”
“New courier?” Verity’s brow furrowed. In the time she’d been there, they’d had the same bike messenger every day. The woman was not only punctual, she was young, and blonde, and gorgeous. Right up Lay’s alley. “What happened to the other one?”
He cleared his throat. “We parted ways.”
Ah. The unspoken message was clear, but Angie muttered the words anyway. “Lay strikes again.”
He didn’t stick around to respond to that, instead hitting the elevator button to head right back upstairs.
“Must be an important package,” Angie mused.
“He said it was. He said it was personal.”
“Probably sex toys,” she said. “He’s anxious for his collection of tentacle porn to get here. Taken by the Sea Monster, Volume 69.”
Verity grimaced. “Gross.”
Angie laughed, pushing away from the desk and strolling over to the elevator, still in no hurry to start her day. “Catch you later, V. I should probably go do some work before Lay finally gets the balls to fire me.”
As soon as she was gone, Verity brought the phone back to her ear and hit the button, taking the call off of hold. “Thank you for holding. Verity Michaels speaking. How may I help you?”
Nothing. Line was dead. Great.
But more calls flooded in. People stopped by with things they needed done. Verity was drowning in unwanted interaction. She slipped away from her desk about an hour later, practically running to the bathroom to get a moment alone. It was only a moment, though, before she could hear the phone ringing again in the distance, and she heard a voice calling from her desk.
“Yo! Knock, knock! Anybody home?”
Cursing to herself, Verity slipped back out of the bathroom, nearly colliding with someone standing right there. Gasping, she took a step back, starting to apologize when she glanced up and saw the face.
A face that had hovered just above her all weekend long, there every time she closed her eyes. Those gorgeous blue eyes, the dimples, the ink that covered his skin and disappeared somewhere her subconscious was damn anxious to follow. She blinked a few times, shocked. It had to be another dream, right?
Oh, crap. Did I fall asleep at my desk?
Squeezing her eyes shut, she opened them again after a moment, and through the haze she still saw him standing there. No way. Reaching up, she pinched herself on the arm. “Ow!”
His smile faded to confusion. “You okay there, Country Girl?”
He was talking. Why was he talking? The Tattoo of her dreams kept his trap closed. In a snap decision, she reached over and poked him in the arm, too. He flinched with surprise, taking a step back. “What the hell?”
Oh God. He was real. He was really there. The phone was still ringing, but Verity barely heard it. Adrenaline surged in her again at the mere sight of the guy. Her skin tingled with something that felt damn close to excitement.
“What are you doing here?” she hissed. “Are you following me? Are you stalking me? I still have my taser, you know. I’ll spray you. I will. I’ll take your eyes right out.”
Instead of seeming alarmed, he laughed. “I don’t doubt it.”
“What do you want from me?” she continued, her panic escalating. “Oh God, we’re busted, aren’t we? You got caught and turned me in. Are you wearing a wire?” She grasped at his chest, but it was hard to get a feel of anything because he had a messenger bag strapped around him. “I swear, I can’t go to jail.”
“Relax,” he said, still laughing as he grabbed her hands to stop her pawing. “I’m not here about that.”
“Then why are you here?”
Pulling his bag off, he unzipped it and whipped out a small box. It was plain brown and no bigger than a book, but it was packaged together with colorful duct tape. Wasn’t like most of the packages they got.
“Is that for me?” Verity reached out to grab it, but he snatched his hand back, holding the box out of her reach.
He examined the top of the package before looking at her again. His gaze was intense.
“Depends,” he said. “Do you want it?”
She hesitated. “It?”
“What I’ve got,” he clarified. “Do you want it?”
Verity swallowed thickly, nodding. Did she want what he had? Abso-flippin’-lutely.
His smile returned, dimples showing. “Well, I hate to break it to you, but unless your name is Mr. Larold Lay, you’re not getting it.”
It took a second for that to sink in as Verity stared at him, completely thrown off by his presence. “Wait…the package is for Lay? You? You’re the new messenger he’s been waiting for?”
Before he even had a chance to respond, she wrenched the package from his hand. It was light, so light she nearly crushed the cardboard the moment she clutched it. She shook the box, bringing it to her ear, but heard absolutely nothing.
It was like the thing was full of feathers.
What kind of kinky shit…?
The box was snapped back out of her hand.
“Hey!” she protested. “My boss has been waiting for that!”
“You can’t just take it,” he said. “You have to sign for it first.”
Verity rolled her eyes, watching as Tattoo tucked the package beneath his arm and fished through his bag for some paperwork. The phone continued to ring over on her desk, but she ignored it, taking his moment of distraction to check him out. He was almost exactly as she remembered; except somehow standing here he seemed even more gorgeous—in an unconventional, felon-y kind of way. Definitely wasn’t her type.
Did she even have a type? She wasn’t sure anymore, but if she did, it wouldn’t be him. Yet there was something about him.
“Are you checking me out?” he asked, smirking as he held out a crinkled piece of paper and a chewed-up old ink pen. “You’re not very subtle, you know.”
Sneering, she grabbed the pen and paper and scribbled her name on the first line she spotted. She thrust it back at him before reclaiming the package, shaking it some more. Nothing.
“This thing is empty,” she said. “You didn’t steal whatever it was, did you?”
His expression hardened a bit. “Do I look like a thief to you?”
Verity wanted to say yes, because well, he kind of did. But she shrugged instead. What the hell did a thief look like, anyway? Bernie Madoff stole billions of dollars. Tattoo certainly didn’t look like him. “Well, you did steal a cab on Friday.”
“Again, I rescued you from a crappy situation. Total white knight, remember?”
“Yeah, sure,” she muttered, eyeing him again. He had on a pair of jeans that looked like they’d been through a war and barely survived. His beanie covered his hair. She wondered what it looked like… what it would feel like—you know, if she ran her fingers through it. “You don’t look like a bike messenger, though. Aren’t you supposed to have those little biker shorts on? And one of those plastic helmets with the chin strap?”
He looked more like he flipped around on a BMX bike for kicks than rode around the city delivering crap for a living.
“I’m afraid I’m fresh out of spandex,” he said, glancing at where she’d scribbled her name on the paper, his brow furrowing. “What does that say?”
“Verity,” she said. “Verity Michaels.”
He repeated her name quietly, like he was trying it out to make sure it fit. After a moment, he folded up the paper and shoved it back in his bag.
“Verity Michaels,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t like it.”
Verity scowled. “Yeah, well, what’s your name?”
“It makes a hell of a lot more sense than Tattoo.” Winking, he turned away. “Tell your boss I’m sorry I was late with the delivery. My bike got stolen Friday, and the one I’m riding right now is a piece of shit.”
“It was stolen?”
“Yeah, it’s why I had to take that cab in the first place. I filed a report, but it’s pretty much a lost cause in this city, so I’m trying to make do until I can get a new one.” He flashed a smile at her. “I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around, Country Girl.”
He walked out the door before she could find her voice. She stared at the wall where he’d been standing a moment ago.
Shaking her head, Verity continued to ignore the ringing phone as she walked over to catch the next elevator upstairs. She went straight to Mr. Lay’s office, tapping on the door and waltzing in when he told her to enter. His secretary was nowhere to be found. “Your package is here.”
“About time,” he said, standing up and holding out his hand impatiently. She held her breath as he took the box, waiting for him to freak out about it being empty, but he said not a word. He showed no sign of distress, as if whatever was or wasn’t in the box was exactly what he’d been expecting. “Did you sign for it?”
“Did you give them a tip?”
Shit. Verity froze. She’d been so flustered she’d forgotten.
Lay laughed. “They don’t deserve it anyway. Maybe that’ll teach them not to be late.”
She watched as he set the package in front of him on the desk and gazed at it almost lovingly. What is it? she silently screamed.
“That will be all, Ms. Michaels,” he said. He was too absorbed to even look at her boobs before she left.
Verity Michaels @VerityPics03
Do multiple orgasms count if you’re asleep when they happen? #NeedToKnow #ForScience #HolyCrap
Verity Michaels @VerityPics03
*Brad Pitt voice* What’s in the boooxxxxxx?!!! #Se7en
Verity Michaels @VerityPics03
Really, what’s in the damn box? It’s starting to piss me off.
Hudson’s tattooed hand held a fistful of her long, wavy hair as he hovered over her. He clutched it so tightly, his knuckles had started to turn white. He trailed his tongue from her collarbone up to her ear, then bit down on her lobe. Hard. The sound of his voice matched the desperation in his grip. “I’m going to bury—”
“Verity?” Mr. Lay snapped his fingers in front of her face. “Did you hear me?”
“Ummm… sorry. I was concentrating on this spreadsheet.” She pointed her finger to the computer screen, and immediately realized she’d been so lost in her daydream the screensaver had activated. Mr. Lay looked at the screen and back to her.
“Coffee.” He dropped a fifty-dollar bill on her desk. “Black with one sugar.” Taking a few steps toward to the elevator, he turned back. “And grab yourself some too. My treat.” He smiled broadly, a little too pleased with his generosity.
Great. Just great.
The line at Starbucks down the block was long, and Verity found herself staring blankly out the window as she waited. Last night had been another restless, dream-filled lustathon that left her dragging when the alarm went off at six this morning. If she didn’t chase Tattoo out of her head soon, she’d find herself in the unemployment line, instead of the Starbucks line. She felt her cheeks heat as she thought of her blunder in front of Mr. Lay this morning. So not professional.
But in the next instant, she was daydreaming again. If only Tattoo was the postman instead. Then she could count on seeing him every day. Bike messengers only came when a client utilized them. Or maybe it wouldn’t even be him the next time. She felt a stab of what might have been panic. And it had only been two days.
She guzzled half of her double shot caramel macchiato before even leaving the packed coffee shop, determined to get her head back in the game, and walked back toward the office with two tall cups. The straight line of fuchsia bellflowers planted in the plaza outside of the building had just started to open. She’d been watching them grow every day, patiently waiting for the bells to blossom. When a honey bee slipped inside one of the barely open flowers, she couldn’t help herself. Verity wished she had her professional-grade digital Nikon on hand, but it belonged to someone else entirely now. Her iPhone would have to do.
Crouching down, she hovered as close as she could without scaring the bee away and snapped a dozen pictures. She swiped through the shots, smiling to herself at the vivid colors and the angle of the little bee.
“Hope you’re not slacking at your job…”
For a second, Verity wasn’t sure if the raspy voice was real or she’d slipped back into her daydream until she felt his warm breath on her neck. Then everything became like a bad sitcom.
Verity startled, teetering back and forth before she lost her footing and tipped forward. Her phone slipped from her hand and collided with the purple bellflower. The bee that had been peacefully sipping the nectar was not happy about being disturbed and became angry. Very angry. It flew into Verity’s mass of dark waves, which she proceeded to swat at like a madwoman. She stood, jumping around like, well, a girl with a bee about to sting her—and dropped her coffee just before she smacked the bee against her skin. Unfortunately, she hit him a millisecond too late, since he’d already stung her neck.
“Ouch! Oh my God! It bit me!”
“Stung, not bit.”
“Who cares! Whatever it did, it hurt.”
“You’re not allergic are you?”
Verity became nervous. She very well could be allergic. She was allergic to so many other silly things. Tree nuts, grass, pollen, cockroaches. Why did they even test for cockroach allergies? Does anyone really need to know they are allergic to that? I mean, it’s not like anyone actually thinks, Hmmm… I’m not allergic; I’ll keep this one as a pet.
“I don’t know. I’ve never been stung before.”
Hudson pulled her hand away from her neck and leaned in. “Doesn’t look any different than a regular sting.”
“What are you, a bee sting expert?” Verity scowled.
“I’m just trying to help.”
“Yeah, well…” She bent and picked up her phone and her now empty coffee cup from the cement. At least she hadn’t kicked over Lay’s coffee when she flailed all over the place thanks to the bee, just her own. “You’ve helped enough today.”
“What were you doing down there anyway?”
She smoothed her skirt and wiped away imaginary dirt. “I was taking a picture of a bellflower with the bee on it.”
“Well, did you get it?”
She remembered the beauty of the shot she’d captured, and it softened her mood. “Yeah, actually I did.”
Hudson held out his hand. “Let me see.”
She hesitated, but eventually offered him her phone. He swiped through slowly. “These are great. This one would make a kick-ass tat.”
He was right. The picture he’d stopped at was the best one and would look incredible on the right person’s skin. Maybe someone with smooth, tanned skin… and some tattoos that ran up his neck.
“Listen. About the other day—” Verity began. “I’m sorry. We keep a fund for tipping messengers, and I forgot to give you yours. I didn’t realize until after you left.”
He shrugged. “That’s okay. Maybe I’ll take this as a tip—with photo credit, of course.” He punched a bunch of numbers into her phone and hit send before handing it back to her.
“You sent yourself the picture?”
“I like it.”
She smiled and shook her head. “I better get back. Mr. Lay is going to have my ass if I hand him cold coffee.”
“Mr. Lay is going to have your ass? Sounds like you offer a wide array of reception services.”
Verity actually chuckled. “Are those for me?” She pointed to the brown boxes in his bag.
“You want my package, don’t you?” He wiggled his eyebrows.
Verity walked toward the building and entered the revolving glass door. Hudson jumped into the small compartment with her, following close behind. Simple door etiquette dictated waiting for your own compartment to swing around. Apparently no one gave Hudson the memo. Even in the elevator, he stood a little too close. She wasn’t sure if he was actually invading her personal space or she was imagining things—the way she’d imagined him invading her last night. She shook her head and walked around her desk, forcing some space between them.
She signed for the two packages, and this time she remembered to tip him. The phone rang as she handed him the clipboard and cash. “SalesExportt.com. Verity Michaels speaking. How may I help you?”
The caller rattled on about something or the other, but Verity was too engrossed in watching Angie approach and size up Hudson to understand. Her friend licked her painted red lips as she arrived at the desk.
“Can I help you with something?” Angie asked.
“Nah. All good.” Unlike every other man on the planet, Hudson’s eyes didn’t bulge as he got a look at Angie. He scribbled something on the delivery confirmation sheet and ripped it from the pad. “Have a good one,” he said as he set it on the desk. He left before Verity could get the caller off the phone.
“Who the hell was that?” The receiver wasn’t even away from Verity’s ear yet when Angie started to pepper her with questions. “Did you see his ass in those jeans?”
“That’s the guy I told you about the other day.”
“The one who stole the cab while I was in it.”
“That was the guy? You failed to mention the most important part: He’s seriously hot.”
Verity shrugged, trying not to let her interest in Hudson show. Although she wasn’t sure why she wouldn’t admit she thought he was good looking. Just then, Mr. Lay saved her from having to discuss it much more.
“Thank heavens.” He almost ran from the elevator and reached for his tall coffee. He peeked at Angie over the brim as he drank from it, dribbling a bit on his tie. Now that was the usual reaction men had around her. Not the non-reaction Tattoo had.
When Mr. Lay didn’t seem interested in returning to his office, Angie decided it was time for her to go. “Drinks after work tomorrow tonight?” she asked as she backed away.
Lay leaned over on the reception desk like he was part of their knitting circle, wiping at his tie and nodding.
Angie waited for an awkward minute until Lay backed away from their conversation and reluctantly hit the elevator button. When the doors closed behind him, she shook her head. “How does that man even manage to get his pants on in the morning? I’ve never seen someone so oblivious to social clues in my life.”
“I’m in for drinks tomorrow,” Verity said. “Hopefully I can get out of here on time.”
Angie looked at the elevator Mr. Lay had disappeared into and then back to Verity. “Doesn’t matter. Just buzz me when you’re on the way. I told a friend I’d meet him at the Library Bar near Columbus Circle.”
The phone rang, and Verity nodded to Angie as she ducked into the elevator. When things quieted down after a string of calls, she finally noticed three things piled at the corner of her desk: The delivery confirmation, a bright purple bellflower, and the five-dollar tip she had given Hudson. He’d written two words in the corner of the invoice and signed it with an H. Lucky bee.
The next afternoon as Verity walked back from lunch, she looked over at where she’d fallen yesterday. “What the—?” She actually said the words out loud. The uniform line of bellflowers on the left side of the plaza was completely gone. The right side appeared intact.
She shook her head and continued inside, but her steps slowed as she got closer to her workstation. On top of the reception desk—her desk—was a vase full of vividly colored bellflowers. The same flowers she’d photographed outside yesterday. “What the—?”
As she moved around to sit at her desk, she noticed a package. It must have been delivered while she was at lunch. It was bigger than the last one, but the colorful duct tape was exactly the same. And when she lifted it, the thing was again light as air. She shook it, and just as she brought it to her ear, the elevator doors slid open to reveal Mr. Lay. He glowered at finding her investigating the box. He said nothing as he hastily stepped toward Verity, snatched it from her hands, and returned to the still-waiting elevator car.
After all that, she hadn’t thought the day could get any stranger. But damn, was she wrong.
Verity Michaels @VerityPics03
He programmed his number in my phone & I’m out drinking tomorrow #Bootycall #Don’tDoIt #DoIt
Verity Michaels @VerityPics03
The Library Bar is located in the Hudson Hotel. Coincidence? I think not. #PoundingAtTheHudson #PoundHudson #Shit
Verity Michaels @VerityPics03
The box is back. What’s in the damn boxes?