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Mad About You
By Joan Kilby, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Joan Kilby
All rights reserved.
Cassy dragged the jack of spades across the solitaire board with her mouse and set it atop the queen of hearts. This was absolutely, positively, without a doubt, the last game. The phone rang and she reached for the receiver, hitching up her pajama sleeve so she wouldn't knock over her glass of Diet Coke. "Hello?"
"Cassy, I need your help. You have to come to Seattle right away." Only Scott, her best friend since childhood, would begin a conversation without the usual greetings and courtesies.
"What's wrong, Scott? I'm pretty busy." She moved the ten of diamonds on top of the jack. "I've got work piled up all around me."
It was true. File folders containing her clients' income taxes were lined up on her desktop. Frankly, the work was so boring that her only relief was a ten-minute break every two hours to play solitaire. What was she doing with her life, anyway? She'd had dreams and ambitions once upon a time. Where had they gone? The only good thing about being self- employed and working from home was that no one but Rupert, her black goldfish, knew how much time she spent playing the game. And he wasn't telling.
"This is important," Scott stressed, and she imagined him pacing and tapping his fingers against his leg. God, she missed him and his quirky ways. The only time he sat still was when he was solving some complex algorithm, and then a cannon shot couldn't blast him out of his chair. "I'm in trouble."
Cassy took that with a grain of salt. She adored Scott, but really, how much trouble could a genius nanotechnology engineer and entrepreneur get into? Everything he touched turned to gold because he was too brilliant and worked too hard for it not to. He was even a champion mountain biker. His love life was the only area he had problems with, and then he usually came to her for solutions.
"Did you forget a girlfriend's birthday, or just forget to show up for a date?" she asked. "Buy her a new car. Wait, no. First step, get her a posy of handpicked wildflowers. Women love that sort of shit."
She moved the linchpin card and watched the rows of cards fly up to the top. Game over! You win! Was it wrong to get a small thrill out of that, even after seven thousand three hundred and twenty-nine games? Duh, you think? Once upon a time she'd aspired to an MBA from Harvard. Now she tried to trick herself into thinking she was content with her life with stupid computer games. With a click of her mouse, she set up the board again.
"Not that kind of problem," Scott said. "You know this project I've been working on for the past ten years ..."
"Your top secret, world-first, so-amazing-it's-unbelievable project?" They kept in touch on Twitter and Facebook but since Scott had moved to Seattle, to set up his own nanotechnology research and development business, he rarely had time to get together in person anymore. And Scott didn't talk about his work except in broad terms simply because it was so top secret. "How's that going?"
"I've almost finished the prototype. I want to hire you to find me venture capital so I can start manufacturing."
Cassy sent an ace up top. "I'm going to spare you the lecture about how you should have been looking for investors long before you reached this stage ..."
"Great. So you'll do it?"
"I have a business of my own, remember?" She leaned back and propped her bunny slippers on the desk. Running her own business wasn't nothing, she had to remember that. Yes, the work was less than challenging, but she did a good job for her clients. "Have you tried the Small Business Investment Company program? They should be right up your alley."
"Too slow and too many hoops to jump through. I need an angel investor, someone who'll love my idea and plonk a bundle of cash on the table right now. I need you to manage my business while you're finding this investor, too."
"You don't need much, do you? Don't you have a manager?"
"I caught him snooping around in my office last week so I fired him."
Cassy frowned and sat up straight. Industrial espionage was a huge problem in the fledgling nanotech industry. All her protective hackles rose for her friend. "Did he steal your programming?"
"I believe he got some crucial data, not that I can prove anything. But it's a little coincidental that PacTech suddenly applied for a patent on a product very similar to mine. I need you right away."
"That sucks, Scott, it really does. But I can't shut down my business and come to work for you in such a short a time frame."
"I'll pay you twice what you're earning now. Three times."
"Money isn't the issue." She glanced through the window at the nearly new compact car in her driveway. She was doing okay, thank you very much.
"I'll put you up in my apartment until you find a place of your own ..."
"Whoa. Slow down. I have clients. My business is here in Bellingham. This is my home."
"Cassy, you're the only person who I know for certain has never lied to me. You're the only person I trust one hundred percent," Scott said. "I want you. I need you."
How many women would give their grandmother's wedding ring to hear Scott Thornton say that? But Scott didn't mean it in a romantic or sexual way. Not with her. She'd known him since grade school. They'd been each other's confidant and buffer against the world since he'd come to Bellingham to live with his aunt and uncle as a seven-year-old. She valued his friendship too much to risk losing it by allowing herself to read something into his words that he didn't mean, something as ephemeral as love.
"You don't want me," she said with a touch of exasperation that reached way back to when she was thirteen and first had a crush on him while he'd been oblivious to her as anything but a friend. "I'm not a financial consultant or a marketing type. I'm just a tax accountant." She dragged a run of three cards onto another column and freed up another ace. She wished she could be more for Scott.
"Are you playing solitaire? I can hear your mouse clicking."
"No." She covered the mouthpiece with her hand as she moved another card.
"Turn on Skype," he said impatiently. "We need face time."
"There's no point ... Scott?" Cassy sighed. He'd already hung up.
Dutifully, she opened Skype and answered his video call. Scott's shaggy dark head and burning green eyes filled her screen. She'd gotten over her crush on him long ago but even so, she could appreciate his rare combination of science-geek brains with rock-star good looks and a lean, muscled body honed by mountain biking.
He didn't have a clue how attractive or interesting he was. He assumed women were only after him for his money. He would go out with someone for a few months, then get bored and drop her. Or else he would get busy on a project and forget to call and the woman would break it off in a huff. Cassy suspected his issues related to his mother's dying when he was six years old and his father's abandoning him to his aunt and uncle, but that subject was the one taboo between them, so she would never know. She just hung in there and kept being his friend. Because there was no one else like him in the world.
She scooped her messy brown hair back and retied her ponytail — not that he noticed her appearance — and waited for him to speak. With Scott there was no point engaging in small talk. It was big subjects and deep ideas or nothing.
He leaned in close to the screen and lowered his voice. "I want someone I can trust. The Dreamcatcher is going to be big. Bigger than anything you can imagine. Everyone in the world will want one. I can't risk another leak by hiring a stranger."
"Dreamcatcher? What does it do, exactly?"
"I can't talk over the phone. You need to come here to find out."
"E-mail me your financial records. I'll go over your accounts and straighten them up if they need it. Then I'll help you find someone qualified to find, and vet, a venture capitalist for you."
"You're not getting it. If PacTech releases their version on the market before I do, years of research are down the toilet. Besides the fact that I would stroke out from rage and frustration, I'm counting on the revenue to pay my bills and keep the company afloat."
"I thought you were doing really well. I saw that write-up about you in the financial pages last month. Kudos, by the way."
"Yeah, thanks. I look good on paper, and the potential for the Dreamcatcher tablet is multimillion-dollar stuff. But it all hinges on getting my product to market first and preferably without copycats hot on my heels. Come on, Cass." He gave her a crooked smile that never failed to charm her. "What do you say ... do it for a blood brother?"
"Slicing our pinkie fingers open with a bread knife and getting a drop of your icky boy-blood on my frilly cotton shorts doesn't entitle you to turn my world upside down twenty years later."
He just gazed at her, unblinking. And waited. Cassy sighed again. Creative vision and an IQ of a zillion had gotten him to the top of the nanotech world. A will like a stubborn mule was the bonus trait that drove his friends crazy.
"It's not that I don't want to help," she said. "I would do anything for you, you know that. I'm just afraid I won't be what you need and I'll end up doing you more harm than good."
"I'll be the judge of that. I'm not saying good-bye until you say yes."
"I don't know how to protect you against industrial espionage."
"You don't need to worry about that. The techies working for me are loyal. All I want you to do is find the investment capital I need and manage day-to-day operations. The guys are brilliant at what they do but they need a minder. They'll listen to you."
"Why? They don't even know me."
"It's a simple equation. They're a bunch of geeks. You're female and not unattractive, despite the cat pajamas."
"Not unattractive? Wow, thanks. And here I thought you didn't pay attention."
"You're methodical and practical," Scott went on, oblivious to her sarcasm. "You're kind and a good listener. And you have nice breasts."
Her cheeks warmed at this hint that he even noticed she was a woman. She shouldn't mind so much. As a best friend, he was beyond awesome. He put the "super" into superlative. He knew when she wasn't happy, knew what made her laugh, what kind of books she liked to read, what flavor ice cream was her favorite. All the things he never did for his girlfriends, he did for her.
Which was incredibly nice, of course, but she didn't get the things his girlfriends got, like the sex and kisses and the romantic words and the hope of a happy ever after. That was okay because she didn't think about him that way, either. She'd learned her lesson back in ninth grade, when at the height of her crush she'd kissed him on impulse. He'd jerked away and she'd been so humiliated she hadn't been able to face him for weeks. When they'd finally started talking again, Scott acted as if the kiss never happened. She'd never tried it again. And never would.
"The thought of your geeks perving at my breasts isn't exactly winning me over," she said drily. "I don't know anything about finance on the level you're at. What do you turn over? Ten million a year? Twenty?"
"More like fifty. Maybe a hundred. Dunno. I don't worry about that shit."
"Oh, God. You really do need someone to manage your finances."
"So you'll do it?"
She opened her computer's calendar and checked her upcoming commitments. "I guess I could finish off the accounts I'm working on, stall some of my clients, and refer the others to colleagues."
"Thanks, Cass. I knew I could count on you. Come up this weekend and be ready to start on Monday."
She hung up feeling excited and a little sick to her stomach. Despite Scott's faith in her, she wasn't qualified to handle finances on his level. Oh, she read a lot on financial management, but she didn't have an MBA or any actual experience in what he was asking for.
She got up and went into the living room to check on Rupert. He swam out from behind a waving frond of freshwater algae, black and bug-eyed, mouth gaping.
"I won solitaire this morning in only seventy-two moves," she told him, adding a few flakes of fish food to the tank. "Now listen, I have to go to Seattle to save Scott's ass. I'll get you one of those food tablets that last a month. While I'm there, I'll make him pay for that crack about my cat pajamas."
Rupert flicked his tail and disappeared into his grotto. Maybe he didn't like cats, either. She closed the lid on the fish food container. The prospect of a challenge got her blood pumping. Could she do this? She could, of course she could.
She had to, for Scott.
* * *
Scott bumped down the steep flight of steps on his mountain bike and tooled around the corner of his apartment building to find Cassy sitting atop her piled-up suitcases. Her curvy figure was clothed in a sky-blue dress printed with tiny swallows, her legs were bare, and she wore sneakers with no socks. Her elbows were planted on her knees and her brown hair spilled out of a loose knot onto her shoulders.
Thank God she'd come. He'd been half-afraid she might bail at the last minute. He should have known better. Cassy was dependable, loyal, and trustworthy. He didn't have a better friend in the world.
He hopped the curb and dismounted, leaning his mud-splattered bike against a lamppost. "Hey, Cass. Good to see you."
"Scott! Finally." She jumped up and gave him a hug, her arms tightening around his waist as she pressed her head into his chest.
A hug was nothing new for them, but he hadn't seen her in over a year because he'd been so busy getting the Dreamcatcher up and running. This felt different. For some reason he noticed the warmth of her skin through her thin cotton dress. She smelled fresh and fragrant, like the avenue of cherry blossoms he'd just ridden through. He had the strangest urge to hold her a little closer, for a little longer. But that would be weird. This was Cassy. They were just friends. Thank God for that, otherwise they would have parted ways long ago. He didn't claim to be an expert on women, but one thing he did know — girlfriends came and girlfriends went. Friends were forever.
Feeling uncomfortable, he started to ease away. She helped by giving him a little shove. "Hey, quit manhandling me. Where have you been? I've been sitting here for hours."
"I've only been gone forty-five minutes." He pulled off his helmet and pushed a gloved hand through his hair.
"Okay, but it felt like hours with your doorman glaring at me like I was a bag lady. You sounded so urgent on Skype. I thought you'd be waiting for me."
"It is urgent." And he had been waiting. All weekend. Here it was, Sunday afternoon and she'd finally shown up. "I needed some air so I went for a quick spin. Never mind, you're here and I'm glad."
She began gathering up her luggage, tucking a suitcase under each arm and slinging a bag over her shoulder.
"Here, let me." He took the suitcases off her and introduced her to Martin, the doorman who guarded the glass-and-gilt entry. "Cassy will be staying with me for a month."
Or a year. Or two. Oh, maybe not in his apartment. But after he launched the Dreamcatcher he hoped he could convince her to work for him. He'd always thought they would make a good team. Not only did they know, like, and understand each other better than anyone else in the world, they trusted each other implicitly. And Cassy was wasting her talents doing taxes. He'd always thought so.
Martin piled her suitcases onto a luggage trolley behind the concierge desk. "I'll bring these straight up."
"Thanks." Scott slipped him a bill, then took Cassy's arm. "Over here." He steered her away from the main bank of elevators to one set apart from the others.
The doors closed and the elevator began a swift ascent.
"My ears are starting to bleed," Cassy said. "Where do you live, the penthouse?"
"That's right, you haven't been here. As a matter of fact ..." The elevator stopped and the doors opened straight into the spacious, plush-carpeted living space where floor-to-ceiling windows framed a panoramic view of Puget Sound.
"Oh my God! I knew you were doing well but I never imagined you living like this."
"That home medical app I invented went viral." He'd bought the three- bedroom penthouse a few months ago because of the view, but not in the usual sense. West Coast weather came in off the ocean and from this vantage point, he could see exactly what systems were heading toward the mountains where the best bike trails were. "Hungry?"
"I am, actually." She followed him into the kitchen and perched on a barstool, idly flipping through the stack of unopened envelopes piled on the counter. "What are all these?"
Excerpted from Mad About You by Joan Kilby, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2014 Joan Kilby. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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