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Thank God for coffee, James Samuel Finn thought as he reached for his triple venti latte.
"I made it extra sweet," said the barista with a smile. "You look like you could use it this morning."
Sam gave her a rueful smile as he dropped a generous tip in the jar. "At least I got the project done."
"Good for you," she quipped as she turned to the next customer.
Yes, Sam thought as he took that first glorious sip. Good for him, but more importantly, good for his company. He'd stayed up all night putting together the prototype, hence the celebratory latte. He just had time to polish up the presentation, change out of his lab coveralls, and make it to the board meeting at ten. And didn't he just feel like the genius inventor that everyone thought he was.
"Get out of the way, you old bat!" bellowed a cabbie. "You're blocking the road!"
Sam started, looking up from his drink and blinking rapidly against the bright sunlight. It wasn't hard to find the source of the problem. An older woman, probably in her seventies, was trying to parallel park an old Crown Victoria. The thing was too big for downtown Chicago parking spaces, and the woman was too short to see well over the dash as she inched her way into the spot. Meanwhile, traffic was backing up behind her, led by one extremely irate cab driver.
"Come on, lady. You shouldn't be driving, and you know it!"
"That's enough!" Sam snapped as he stepped forward. The woman needed help, not insults. He stepped out into traffic, completely blocking the cab who was now trying to squeeze his car around hers. The bastard started cursing up a blue streak, but Sam ignored him. Instead, he gestured for the woman to roll down her window.
She did, and he gently began directing her into the parking spot. It wasn't that hard. Once she had someone else's eyes to rely on, she relaxed and the car slid easily into place.
"Oh, thank you!" she breathed gratefully. "The parking garage was full, and I didn't know what else to do! I never come out into the city, but my grandson fell and broke his teeth, and this was the only time the dentist had available. Usually my daughter
She rambled on, obviously still upset. Meanwhile, the cabbie finally streaked past, throwing more insults as he left.
"Don't worry about it," Sam said as he waved to the eight-year-old in the back seat. "Those guys give Chicago a bad name."
"No, no," the woman said as she finally killed the engine. "He's right. I should get a smaller car, but we can't afford it. And this old monstrosity has been with me for twenty years."
Sam's tired brain kicked into gear as she got her grandson out of the car and headed toward the dentist. She was a perfect candidate for his prototype. He'd designed a strip of sensors that attached to anythingrobot, wheelchair, massively old carand gave a beautiful display that anyone could read. There was even a state-of-the-art verbal interface. Making a sudden decision, Sam popped open his cell phone and called Roger, his best friend and CFO.
An hour later, the grandson's teeth were done, Sam's coveralls were streaked with street grime and engine grease, and the Crown Victoria had his brand-new prototype attached to its body. He'd even rigged a dashboard attachment for the display.
"See," he explained to Mrs. Evans. "You won't have any problems maneuvering out of the parking spot now. You can see right on the display exactly how far you can move."
"Why, it's just like on those fancy new cars!"
Sam nodded. The system was actually a great deal more powerful than what was in new-model vehicles, but that wasn't important to Mrs. Evans. All she cared about was that she'd be able to park with confidence now, even in her huge Crown Vic.
"We'll be in contact in a few weeks to find out how it's working out for you," he said as she started up her car. Then he stepped back and watched her maneuver out of her parking spot like a champ. She was halfway down the street when Roger finally spoke up.
"You realize that equipment is worth far more than her car."
"We need real-world testing," he answered as he took a sip of his latte. Damn, it had gone cold. He'd been so hurried trying to get the prototype installed before Kevin's teeth were done that he hadn't drunk his latte. Now it was ice cold.
"Yes," Roger concurred, "but we need to test it in harsh environments like a NASA test center or a deep ocean oil rig."
"Chicago city streets are a harsh environment," Sam shot back.
"Yeah? And what are you going to show to the board in
" Roger glanced at his watch. "In less than an hour?"
Sam grimaced as he threw away his latte and headed into the office building, Roger trailing behind. "I don't know," he said. "I'll think of something."
"This isn't the time to be taking big risks, you know. Did you look at the last spreadsheets I sent you? Not just opened the email, but actually read it?"
Sam nodded absently as they entered the building. Usually, he'd go to the back service elevator, especially since his coveralls were covered in grime. But a vision in yellow swept past him, and Sam's libido took control. Instead of turning left, he swung right to follow the woman. Or maybe he was just trying to ditch Roger.
Unfortunately, his right-hand man was not so easily distracted. "I've put together a slick package to distract the board," he was saying, "but they certainly have read the spreadsheets, even if you haven't. Please tell me"
"Who's that woman?" Sam asked, tilting his head toward the vision in a flowing yellow sundress. It wasn't just the dress that made her stand out. It was her smile and the way she walkedall confidence and positive outlook. Given that she was surrounded by dark suited office stiffs, she stood out like the sun on a dreary day.
"What?" Roger frowned at his friend. "Aren't you dating Cindy?"
Sam shook his head. "Broke up six
er, seven months ago."
Sam shrugged. The same reason he'd stopped seeing Marty and Josie and Tammy. "She wanted James S. Finn, multimillionaire, not plain old Sam."
Roger snorted. "That's because Sam dresses in coveralls and smells like engine grease."
Sam didn't answer. He was too busy maneuvering so that he could get into the same elevator as the woman in yellow.
Julie Thompson was dressed for battle. Not in armor or anything, but in a bright yellow sundress and sandals that made her feel sexy, beautiful and beyond brilliant. In this outfit, nothing could stop her. Not an ad campaign that refused to come together. Not rent coming due on both her minuscule apartment and her office space on the seventeenth floor. And certainly not poor Harry, a young lawyer on her floor, who was buried under three huge boxes of folders.
"Goodness, Harry, doesn't the law firm have a dolly for stuff like this?"
Harry gave her a sad laugh. "Why have that when you can force the first-years to lug the crap?"
They were standing in the elevator alcove, waiting their turn. She could tell by the bags under his eyes that the guy hadn't gotten much sleep. And if his rumpled suit was anything to judge by, what little rest he'd gotten had been in these clothes.
"Come on. How heavy can it be?" she asked as she reached forward and lifted off the top box. "Umph!"
Heavy didn't even cover it. Apparently, the law firm made the first-years lug files weighted with lead.
"Don't do that" cried Harry, but Julie was already shaking her head.
"I've carried much heavier stuff. Trust me."
He gave her a grateful smile as the elevator dinged. "You're the best." Then they both waited as the people in front of them maneuvered into the cramped lift.
As this was a huge downtown high-rise, that was a ton of people. Amid the suited professionals from one firm or another, she also caught sight of one of the bigwigs from the robotics firm on the top floor. He was standing next to a janitor or something. The guy wore dirty coveralls and had a dead leaf caught in his hair. Whatever he'd just been doing, it hadn't been easy. Still, he looked cute even with the grease stain across his forehead. And with his sleeves rolled up like that, she could see his muscular forearms. It was silly to notice a guy's forearms, but she did. And she liked the way he smiled at her.
"Excuse me, excuse me," murmured Harry as he pushed his way into the elevator.
"Maybe we should wait," Julie suggested. There really wasn't room for everyone plus the boxes.
Harry flashed her a look of apology. "I'm kinda late. Let me just take the box"
"No, no," Julie returned. "You've already got the other two. We'll all fit," she said hopefully.
It was hard maneuvering herself and the huge box of files in. She turned around to face the front, apologizing to an accountant from the fifth floor as she jostled him. Harry had managed to somehow push their floor button, so Julie tried to back up enough to allow the doors to close.
It was a tight fit. It was a really, really tight fit, and she ended up backing into the guy in coveralls. She knew because she could feel the heavy cotton against her backside. Then the accountant elbowed her, shoving her even farther back. She stumbled. Not badly. Hell, both of her legs could be broken and she would be still standing upright in this cramped space. But it did force her bottom to bump hard against.
Oh my! That wasn't a zipper she felt pressed hot and hard against her rear. That was coveralls-guy getting a very human reaction to her pressed against him. She ought to feel mortified. She ought to feel embarrassed for them both. Especially since there was nothing either of them could do, crammed together the way they were. All she could do was stand there pressed against his erection.
What to do? What to do? She didn't know, but for the first time in months, she stopped thinking about her company slowly going belly-up. She stopped worrying about how she would pay her next bill or drum up her next contract. Her entire mind was absorbed with feeling a strange man against her backside. A well-endowed strange man.
And in that moment, a bizarre sense of daring hit her. After all, no one could see what was happening. They were shoved into the back corner, completely anonymous and yet completely intimate. Without her even planning it, biology took over. She allowed herself to drop a little farther back onto Mr. Coverall, and then she squeezed. Yup. Right there. She squeezed him for all she was worth.
She heard his gasp of shock and had to work to cover her smile. Good lord, had she just molested a perfect stranger? Apparently so because as the doors pulled open, she felt an answering pressure from him. Was he thrusting against her? Oh. My. God! She was both excited and appalled by the situation. And turned on like she hadn't been in months.
And then, damn it, the ride was over. They had arrived at the seventeenth floor. Julie stepped forward because she had to. She didn't even dare look behind her to see his face. Was his as red as hers? Was what they'd just done written on the blush that she knew was staining her cheeks?
She followed Harry to the law office, handed off the box to another first-year, and then headed to her own suite. Web Wit and Wonder was her very own advertising firm, started with best friend and brilliant graphic artist, Karen Wilson. Unfortunately, it was going under. That was why she'd worn this dress today. So she could bolster her confidence as she tackled one last bid for a contract. Except now, all she could think about was Elevator Man and how she'd.
"Good morning!" called Karen as Julie entered their office suite. "I brought muffins
" Her voice trailed away as she looked at her friend. "And my, don't you look flushed today."
Hell. There was no fooling Karen's eagle eye. "Um. Yeah. I think I need some coffee." Julie set down her purse and went straight for the cappuccino machine. Everything else in their office was stripped down to the bare essentials. But this lovely thing was an office-warming present from her parents. Sadly, that hadn't been all they'd given her. They'd also loaned her money to start the business. And if Web Wit and Wonder didn't get a new contract soon, that debt was going to go unpaid.
"Come on, Julie. What happened?"
Julie sighed. She knew she'd never get to work if she didn't tell her friend the truth. "It's no big deal," she said. "Just, well, something happened in the elevator."
She told Karen it all. Everything in glorious detail so she could relive the thrill of it. She'd never been someone to go for anonymous sex, much less today's weird elevator fondle, but there was something so thrilling in what she'd done. As if she were suddenly scandalous or incredibly daring. It had just been a butt squeeze in a full elevator, but right then, she felt like she'd walked on the dark side. And Karen, bless her, found it just as exciting.
"You have to do it again!" Karen pressed.
"No!" Julie countered. "Besides, how could I?"
"Don't be ridiculous. I get crammed into elevators all the time. You just have to keep an eye out for your guy and make sure to"
"What I'm going to do is focus on this campaign. Our proposal has to be perfect."
Karen paused a moment, then huffed in disgust. "Fine, fine. All work and no play makes you a dull girl."
Julie bit her lip, wondering just how much of the dollar and cents her artistic partner understood about their company. "Um, you know, I was going over our books last night and the picture"
"I know," Karen interrupted, holding up her hand to silence her friend. "Well, I don't know the exact figures, but I've got a pretty good idea."
Julie nodded. There was nothing more to say to that. Except, perhaps, that they would get through this.
"We're going to put together a kick-ass proposal. We're going to be brilliant."
"And we're going to win this contract," Karen echoed with confidence. "I just know it."