|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Katherine Reay is the national bestselling and award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy and Jane, The Brontë Plot, A Portrait of Emily Price, The Austen Escape, and The Printed Letter Bookshop. All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. Katherine holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and is a wife, mother, former marketer, and avid chocolate consumer. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine now happily resides outside Chicago, IL. You can meet her at www.katherinereay.com; Facebook: KatherineReayBooks; Twitter: @katherine_reay; or Instagram: @katherinereay.
Read an Excerpt
How can I help?"
The world stilled. It wasn't the first time I wondered how one voice, one presence, could quicken the air and simultaneously stop all motion.
I offered a stiff and awkward smile as he propped himself against my desk. His knees bent and touched mine as he handed me a Starbucks cup.
"Thank you." I sipped and rolled my chair back a few inches to break contact. A clear head requires distance. "You can't. An engineer is only as good as what she designs and ... my project is a failure."
The technology and math worked. The science worked. The breakdown was in the design. In the subjective, not the objective — it was in me.
Nathan nodded — a long, slow motion. I knew that look. He was trying to think up a plan, and if this had been another time or place, or I'd been another girl, I'd have hugged him for the effort. But I was ready to pay the price.
"It has potential," he said, "but Karen has other goals for the company right now. Even so, I'll talk to her."
I shook my head to clear it of his optimism and my lingering illusions. "There's no talking to Karen. There's no working with her either."
"That won't do, Mary." Nathan stared at me. "You've got to try."
"Why don't you plead for it yourself?" Moira said.
We'd spent the last half hour leaning against her cubicle's outer wall and staring across twenty other cubicles to the closed conference room door. I wondered that the sheer force of our concentration didn't burst it open.
"Karen will do what she wants."
"So you expect Nathan to do all the heavy lifting?"
"That's insulting and vaguely sexist. I can take care of myself." My look dared her to laugh.
She kindly banked her smile. "Good to know, as I was thinking more of insanity than anything else. What's that definition again?"
"Very funny," I said, but she didn't smile. "Fine. Doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result."
"And so we wait." She, too, kept her eyes on the door.
"Nathan's suggestions weren't going to work. First, he wanted me to ask Benson and Rodriguez for help, as if I couldn't solve the problems myself. Karen would've jumped all over that. She's itching for a reason to fire me. Besides, she never would have approved their hours. And then Nathan wanted —"
"Stop." Moira held a hand to my face. "It wasn't so much about solving a problem as it was letting them in. We're a team. At least that's what that poster over there says." She pointed across the floor to where Lucas, our head programmer with an affinity for inspirational quotes, had hung
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
"You help them all the time. What were you doing here last weekend?"
"Rodriguez needed a hand. It was no big deal." I waved away her comparison.
"For two full days ... And he'd do the same for you in a heartbeat. You know I'm right."
The door opened.
My heart skipped a beat as Nathan emerged. It always did when he appeared. But this time he was coming from a meeting that determined the fate of my project and possibly my job.
He looked around and paused when his gaze crashed into mine. One steady look, then he turned away to speak to Craig.
"That was not good," I whispered to Moira. I rounded into my cubicle and flopped into the chair. "Karen killed it. Nathan looked like the grim reaper."
Moira's chuckle followed me. "Nathan is just a consultant who will soon be gone. You should have been watching Craig, the CEO who makes the final decisions."
"Wrong. I should have been watching my new boss. Karen will be CEO any day now. But —"
Another voice cut in with a soft "Hey, Moira."
"Nathan." Her brusque acknowledgment silenced and prepared me.
Nathan stepped into my cubicle as Moira exited it. He leaned against my credenza. "We should talk."
I watched Moira drop from view into her own cubicle, but I knew she was still listening. Everyone was. In our open office plan, everyone heard everything.
The overt eavesdropping used to breed gentle teasing and foster camaraderie. Now there was an odd silence. We strained to hear one another. Sometime in the past year, we had shifted from a mind-set of abundance to one of scarcity — any information you gleaned might be that charged tidbit that saved your job.
"Good or bad?" I worked to keep my voice low and unemotional. Any added professionalism was lost as the bun I'd twisted my hair into fell over my eyes. The wire had pulled loose for the third time that day. I was losing my touch.
My hair dropped into a straight curtain of dark brown. I blew it out of my eyes and found Nathan reaching for the red twist of wire. I snatched for it as soon as he straightened.
"It's electrical wire. The plastic coating makes for good hair ties." I bent it back and forth as if to prove my point.
"So I've observed." Nathan smiled. His smile, so unlike mine, was never stiff and always reached his eyes. Now it spread across his face and dug one dimple into his right cheek. For a moment, I forgot We should talk.
He gazed over the divider walls at the expanse of cubicles, then looked back to me. "Walk with me?" He was already moving away before I answered.
I yanked my hair into a ponytail, secured it again with the red wire, and hurried after him. Halfway to the door, one of my ballet flats slipped off, and I skipped along while pulling it back on.
Nathan didn't turn, didn't glance right or left; he just walked across the floor and out the side glass door. He stopped outside as if to let his body adjust to the Texas sun and heat. His blue oxford reflected the light. It matched the sky. It also made him look almost formal in WATT's uber-casual environment. I glanced into Lucas's cubicle as I hopped by — he wore what looked like pajamas.
My progress across the office had drawn all the glances Nathan had avoided. Walking outside always attracted attention, and gossip. I consoled myself with the thought that most folks would think Craig had tasked his consultant to kill his engineer's failing idea. Awful as that was, it was better than the truth: Craig's engineer had a hopeless crush on his consultant and now appeared to be racing after him. No one except Moira knew that one.
Nathan held the door open for me.
"Where are we going?" I straightened and smoothed my skirt.
He took a few steps from the door, closed his eyes, and drew a deep breath. "Don't you love it out here? You can smell that dry, crisp fall smell. You can smell the sun."
I stifled a smile. While running on the treadmill during my lunch breaks, I'd seen him out here doing this countless times. "To be honest, I haven't been out here much lately."
The whole office complex, ten high-rise buildings housing three times as many tech companies, was riddled with paths and ponds — a man-made oasis designed to promote creativity and relaxation. What had looked so clearly planned and artificial when WATT moved into the space four years ago had now grown in and filled out. It looked natural, beautiful even. I almost felt myself relax. Almost.
"Why not?" he asked.
"I've gotten into a bad habit of arriving early, staying late, and running on the treadmill at lunch."
Nathan looked straight at me.
"I'm getting fired, aren't I?"
"Despite your best efforts, no." He winked and resumed walking. "Let's circle the paths. Karen's voice is scraping my ears like those whiteboard markers you love. That high-pitched squeal can drive a person nuts."
"And it does ... every day." I stepped beside him.
Nathan was silent.
"You could at least warn me so I'm prepared to face her ... Do I need to dust off that Boston job offer?"
"Stop it." Nathan spun on me. "Unless you want to leave. I feel like you keep angling for an escape."
"With Karen in charge, I may not have a choice. So?"
"Do you ever feel like running away? Or is it just talk?" He offered me a sideways smile. It, too, felt like a question, but not the ones he'd asked. Can I be real with you?
He acknowledged my nod with his own and continued. "She got to me in there. Craig hired me to manage growth and reposition WATT. We've done that job well."
"You all know this. His goal was to stay independent, maybe go public someday. Karen is pushing for a sale, and soon. That's public too, if you haven't heard it. Finance is running numbers. That's a whole different ball game." He looked back to the building. "For everyone here."
"I see ..."
Craig, a brilliant physicist and engineer, thrived in the chaos of creativity. He had founded WATT, named for his childhood hero and the unit of power, on the principle that a few twenty-somethings with energy, smarts, and grit could make great stuff. Not glamorous or sexy stuff, but bold and innovative devices that people wanted or needed to make the sexy stuff run better. Craig loved innovation. Karen loved strong sales and healthy margins.
For the first time I saw clearly the power struggle pulling at us. I also saw that Karen's vision was gaining ground. And that my project was a tangible symbol of the conflict.
"Golightly" was my pet name for it — a pair of glasses I'd started dreaming of years before the technology caught up with my imagination. One Friday night, when I was about twelve, my mom introduced me to Breakfast at Tiffany's and Audrey Hepburn's iconic character, Holly Golightly. I watched that movie dozens of times, mesmerized. I'd never seen a woman more beautiful. And although I missed much of the story in those early years, I caught the drama, the ukulele, and the sunglasses. I'd made my own ukulele out of cardboard and string, and now I'd moved on to the sunglasses.
They weren't as glamorous as Hepburn's, but mine did more than shield the eyes from UV rays. My Golightly glasses were self-contained augmented virtual reality glasses that embedded interactive 3-D images. They rivaled Microsoft's and Apple's offerings in an even slimmer format — at least that was the goal. Every prototype had failed — one exploded — and each one took something within me with it.
I walked past Nathan — my version of running away. "Back to batteries for me."
Two strides and he caught up. "What's wrong with batteries?"
"Nothing, except I didn't think my world would be dominated by them. I've been dreaming of these glasses for years." I stopped. "You wouldn't understand."
"Then tell me."
"There's no point." I shook my head. "You know what drives me nuts? Out-of-the-box thinking used to be lauded around here. But now ... no more risks? No innovation? I needed this one, Nathan. I can do it."
"I know you can."
I studied his face. "But not anytime soon ... She cut funding, didn't she?"
He didn't reply, but one blink said it all.
"It'll be too late, you know," I said. "We can't circle back. The market will move on."
"I know that too, and I'm sorry."
We walked on in silence. I looked up in surprise when we reached the building again.
Nathan held the door's handle but did not pull it open. "Are you going to be okay?"
I pinched the bridge of my nose. "My allergies are horrible this fall." I lowered my hand and caught Nathan's expression-sympathy encasing pity. "Of course I'll be okay. Easy come, easy go, right?"
He narrowed his eyes. It felt like some offering, some connection, had fallen between us because I hadn't held it.
He accompanied me back to my desk and perched as he had before-as if we'd never taken a walk and he'd never delivered the blow to Golightly, and to me.
"Craig mentioned you had an advancement for the IR battery."
Back to batteries.
"I was playing around with Golightly ... Double insulate it and we can cut the space between components. Everyone wants smaller devices. See, Karen doesn't get that; we need some ideas to generate others. Without-" I pressed my lips together. "Never mind. The lab is testing the battery now."
Nathan picked up a small wire elephant sitting on my desk and handed it to me. "Please don't let this derail you, Mary." He stood. "I've got another meeting with Craig. Will you be around later?"
At my nod, he was gone ... and my afternoon was suddenly free.
Easy come. Easy go." One swipe of my hand and six months' worth of wire animals skidded across my desk and onto the floor.
Moira leaned over the wall. "Easy? There was nothing easy about all that work, and stop killing your animals. They're wonderful."
I bent to pick them up, and one by one repositioned them at the edge of my desk. Duck. Giraffe. Two horses. A tiger complete with contrasting stripes. "It's embarrassing there are so many. Shows you how stymied I've been."
I picked up the last one, an elephant made of black 18-gauge electrical wire, and crushed it in my palm. "I was so close to the answer. I can almost see it. But ..."
Moira snapped her fingers. "Then answer something else for me."
I pushed back from my desk to give her my full attention. "Shoot."
"Why haven't you grabbed that boy and kissed him already?"
I shot up and scanned the room, noting that most cubicles were empty. "You can't yell stuff like that. You can't even think stuff like that. What if someone hears you?"
"Then we'd all get somewhere."
"Now?" I sat back down. "You want to talk about my love life now?"
"Seems a more fruitful topic."
I could still smell the coffee at that morning meeting when Craig first introduced Nathan to the team.
"He's thirty-two, so most of you may feel the need to call him sir, but listen to him anyway. He got his MBA at Harvard and he's brilliant at running a business. So while you keep pushing the limits, he'll keep our lights on and get WATT running smoothly as we grow —'cause that's what we're doing around here. We're taking this whole thing to the next level. And as soon as I hire another CEO to manage this beast, I'll get back to playing with you lot."
Craig rubbed his hands together, then slapped Nathan on the back. Everyone gathered around, a few called him sir, and then most drifted back to work. I stood frozen — overcome by a simple, clear awareness that something about him spoke to something within me. And we hadn't yet exchanged two words.
In the eleven months that followed, that feeling had only grown.
Nathan was smart, patient, clever, quixotic, and kind. He was a completely analytical consultant, ready to tear your business apart, who also quoted romantic movies, remembered everyone's birthday, and crooned ballads to our sixty-five-year-old office manager. He was a mystery and infinitely intriguing.
Moira interrupted my reverie.
"You knew Golightly was dead the minute Karen became your boss. You've had three months to digest it."
"She's going to fire me." It was the first time it felt real.
"Karen won't fire you. I run the numbers; you're too valuable." Moira walked around the divider between our cubicles and I twisted in my chair to face her. "And let's get back to the subject. Everyone can see the way Nathan looks at you. Why do you give him the Heisman every day?" She thrust one arm straight in the famous football pose.
I had to laugh at her attempt to cheer me up. Moira, dressed in four-inch heels and a tight skirt, knew nothing about football.
"He doesn't look at me any differently than he does you. And I don't give him the Heisman."
"If he looked at me that way, I might break my engagement. You're either a liar or a fool."
"I'm pragmatic. Besides, one: he'll be gone soon, and two: he's dating someone."
"He told you that?"
"He's mentioned Jeffrey's and Sophia's. Those are date restaurants."
Arms crossed, Moira drummed the fingers of one hand against her skin. "Nice assumption, Sherlock, but this isn't the sixth grade. Talk to him. Ask him."
"It isn't the sixth grade, but it feels like it ... and I hated the sixth grade."
She pushed herself upright. "Invite him to Crow Bar tonight."
"Right. Look, it's already been a rough day and — wait. Tonight?" I scattered through the chaos on my desk to find my phone. "How'd it get so late? I'm meeting my dad at Guero's for dinner." I gathered my notes, my computer, and my second computer and shoved everything into my bag. "I'll never make it to South Congress on time. MoPac will be jammed."
"Nathan? Crow Bar? Call him and see if he'll meet you there after dinner."
I started to leave, then stopped. "Is it obvious, Moira? No one else knows, do they?"
Moira had every right to laugh. I did sound like a sixth grader. Instead her eyes softened at the corners with sympathy or pity. "You're safe. It's me, Mary. I doubt anyone else would pick up on it."
"Definitely him. All shields are up and in perfect working order." The humor didn't reach her eyes or her voice.
Excerpted from "The Austen Escape"
Copyright © 2017 Katherine Reay.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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