(Contemporary Romance, category)
Wild hair, a gappy resume, and unbridled attitude couldn’t fail to make an impression. Albeit a very bad one.
Stella Sullivan sat in the seat closest to the building’s front door, trying to arrange her flaming fuzz of red hair to look less ragamuffin and more Boston Legal. Her insides wrestled pre-interview nausea. It could have been nerves, or it could have been the fumes from the fake tan Eve had slapped onto her face last night. No, it was the fumes from too much make up Eve had slapped onto her face this morning. Either way, Stella had had it with her sister’s solutions to a problem that was very much her own.
She caught a glimpse of herself in the chrome armrest. She jerked at her distorted face, a sort of oompa loompa gone tranny. Why had she let her younger sister talk her into going for a job she didn’t qualify for? Why had she agreed to squeeze into a power skirt suit that threatened to constrict her blood flow? Why couldn’t she just finish her law degree and live a nice quiet life?
She knew why, but it would all be over soon. She would be home from the interview by eleven, could shed Eve’s borrowed suit for her own default outfit of tee-shirt and jeans, and get to her cleaning job by noon. Eve, her recruitment agent sister, had given her a shot at secretarial temping work. Without experience, it was a big gesture, so the least she could do was interview. It was just like an audition, right? She would act a part, come back tomorrow or next week or whenever, make coffee, type a few letters, collect the check…
The check! Wasn’t that the only reason she was here? Playing a role, accepting whatever was asked of her, denying that office work wasn’t as boring as, well, office work. Only one thing could make her do all that.
She needed it. Period.
It didn’t make her like the job. It didn’t stop the whirl of cranky butterflies or her yearning to go straight to Boston International airport and catch the first flight to anywhere. But she did want to see the end of her debt, get back on her feet, stop Eve’s worries, and try to be a regular person. She gave a smile out to the guard behind the building’s reception desk. Maybe her made-up exterior was enough to hide this urge to bolt.
She pushed at the instinct, the fierce lick of rebellion that bared its teeth at the worst times. At no point in her life did Stella Sullivan believe that she would subscribe to the corporate way of life, but she had to swallow that today. Her half-completed law degree counted for something it seemed, and if temping paid three times what cleaning would, she would do it. Still, all the realism in the world couldn’t deny this absolute truth—the need to follow her heart. A heart that needed to live on a theatre stage, gaze upon a captive audience, speak the words of great playwrights, live the lives of countless characters. But it didn’t pay the rent. Or the bills. Or the repairs on that dirty white Datsun that was in the shop again. So she was left with no choice.
She could be regular, right?
The fresh bolt of nausea said she couldn’t, pounding her head with a dose of doubt that threatened to topple her. Why waste everyone’s time like this? She didn’t want this job, she couldn’t do this job, so why bother? She stood up, checked her watch. There was still time to catch the bus home. She could spin a story for Eve, and hoped that Mr Quinlan, CEO, would find a candidate who actually wanted the job.
She stumbled over to the desk of the kindly security guard. “Do you think you could call Mr. Quinlan and tell him—“
“Tell him what?” The voice came from behind her, a thick Irish tone that stamped authority on the cold February air.
She swirled almost losing her balance. The man was in his late twenties, his sharp charcoal gray suit mercilessly hiding what looked like a firm build. Dark brown hair, blue eyes that narrowed, fixing a gaze on her.
“I got a phone call—just now in fact—it’s my—“ she rummaged for an excuse. “—dog.”
“Sullivan, right? This way.” He moved quickly to the elevator, his firm stride telling her she had to be quick or walk away now.
“But I can’t, my—“
“I know, your dog. Call him after work. Right now you’re needed.” He pressed the call button, the flex of shoulder muscles straining his white shirt. She bit her lip, as if it could push away this feeling of desire. Along with it came a hit of impatience. “If you welcome everyone like this, no wonder you need a temp.”
He said nothing, and the elevator doors opened, swallowed him silently. Nausea gave way to bile, a fistful of anger thrusting out of her. She raced to the elevator, stuck an arm out to stop the closing doors.
“Hey, Paddy! How dare you speak to me like that?” The handsome face smirked, sending her blood pressure sky high. “Who do you think you are?”
He folded his arms, leaned against the handrail. “Pearse Quinlan. CEO of Quinlan Technologies. A proud paddy and your new boss.” The call button pinged. “Are you coming or not?”