Synopsis: Ten Steps to Surviving a New Job:1. Don’t sleep with the client. It’ll get you fired. (Sounds easy enough.)
2. Don’t blink when new client turns out to be former one-night stand.
3. Don’t call same client a jerk for never texting you back.
4. Don’t believe client when he says he really, really wanted to call.
5. Remember, the client is always right—so you can’t junk punch him when he demands new design after new design.
6. Ignore accelerated heartbeat every time sexy client walks into room.
7. Definitely ignore client’s large hands. They just mean he wears big gloves.
8. Don’t let client’s charm wear you down. Be strong.
9. Whatever you do, don’t fall for the client. You’ll lose more than your job—maybe even your heart.
10. If all else fails, see rule number one again.
MUSIC PLAYLIST – The Rule Maker by Jennifer Blackwood
Bad Blood- Taylor Swift
Neighbors Know My Name by Trey Songz
3:16 AM by Jhené Aiko
Partition by Beyoncé
Wildest Dreams by Taylor Swift
Stay With Me Sam Smith
Want To Want Me by Jason Derulo
Pony by Ginuwine
Tonight (Best You Ever Had) by John Legend
Love Me Like You Do by Ellie Goulding
Rule #1: Never eat while driving.
There was nothing quite like indulging in pity I’m-single-on-Valentine’s-Day chocolate. No man candy? No problem. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups would surely fill the chasm that was my love life.
“Siri, read my emails.” I unwrapped the candy I’d stashed on my dash, plopped it in my mouth, and put my car into drive.
“You have one new email,” Siri replied. I loved my car for the sole reason that it had become my command station, my badass Batmobile that could answer emails, texts, and memos at a voice command. Okay, it was a Prius, but still. “Sender—Jason Covington.”
I jerked back in my seat and sucked in a breath, the chocolate hitting the back of my throat. No. For the love of all that was holy, why was this man emailing me? Anyone but him. I went to clear my throat, and the candy didn’t budge.
“Ms. Reynolds, it was a pleasure doing business with you on the Culver Cove Inn late last year. I have recently purchased a new resort on Mount Rainier and would like to hire your services again,” she said in her monotone voice.
Goose bumps flecked my arms as I attempted to cough, to get some air into my burning lungs. I mean, if I had to choose a way to pass on to an afterlife filled with never-ending reruns of my favorite shows, self-filling coffee cup, and unlimited free wifi, death by chocolate was decidedly the best way to go. Chocolate fountain, satin pie, éclair…hell, I’d even settle for a Snickers. And, as fate would have it, I’d be taking a visit to the white pearly gates with a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup lodged in the back of my throat. But I still had seven episodes until I was caught up on Supernatural, and I hadn’t made it to the highest level in Candy Crush. I didn’t have time for dying yet.
My eyes filled with tears as I fought to extricate the candy from my mouth, attempting to give myself the Heimlich maneuver. And, if my burning lungs were any indication, failing miserably. I looked out at the sidewalk, and of course, at this time of day, there was no one in sight.
“I’ll need you to take measurements today so we can discuss the design on Monday. Keys will be sent to you within the hour. Best, Jason Covington.” There was a pause and then Siri asked, “Do you wish to respond to the email?”
No! I wanted to scream. Instead, salt and pepper particles invaded my vision. This was it, I’d die sitting in the spot outside my apartment, listening to an email from a stupid Covington. Even if this particular one wasn’t the target of my wrath, blood relation was enough to taint my opinion.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. Would you like to respond to the email?” Siri repeated.
All I could do was keep pounding my stomach, cursing him seven ways to Sunday. I somehow managed a garbled noise that could possibly pass as a no.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.”
Screw you, Siri. For what I paid my phone carrier, she should be able to give me a damn Heimlich herself.
My vision continued to fade and the clock was ticking as I choked my way into unconsciousness. This was it. My last meal had been screw-this-Hallmark-holiday candy and a friggin’ ex-fling was going to be seared into my final fleeting thoughts. What a way to go.
In a last ditch effort, I took hold of the steering wheel with shaking hands and rammed my stomach into it. The piece of chocolate shot out of my mouth and hit the windshield with a splat. It slid down the glass and left a brown slug trail behind it. Sweet, delicious air rushed through my now-clear windpipe and the particles swarming my vision dissipated.
I held my head in my hands, taking deep, shuddering breaths, and cursed the day I decided to take my client’s brother, Ryder Covington, to bed.
Three hours—and much-needed gulping of air—later, I parked my car, facing the snow-capped mountaintop that lay as a backdrop to one of the many ski resorts on Mt. Rainier. This one just happened to be closed for renovations. My renovations. And nothing made me happier than having my mind busy with plans for a new project. It even overshadowed the whole choking incident earlier.
I pulled my windblown hair into a messy bun, smoothed my black eyelet lace skirt, and glanced down at my list of specs I needed to acquire. Room layouts, size, supporting structures, the basics. Then, I had the simple task of creating mock-ups that blew the mind of Jason Covington, the most uptight, eccentric billionaire on the West Coast. He earned that title during our last job together. If I hurried, I could make it back to my apartment in time to implement my original plan for tonight: catch up on Supernatural while gorging on microwave popcorn. Maybe if I was feeling really wild, I’d go for the good stuff. The kind where the bag disintegrated into a sopping mess within twenty minutes due to grease concentration. This was obviously the makings of the best Valentine’s Day ever. Or most pathetic. I hadn’t decided yet.
Air gusted through my open window, ruffling my hair and the pages of my planner in the passenger seat. I took another few seconds to revel in the warmth and give myself a mini pep talk.
Time to get my butt into gear and turn on my designer mode.
Deep breaths. No need to panic just because of the little fact I was working on my ex-fling’s brother’s resort. Try saying that ten times fast.
I grabbed my camera bag from the floor of the passenger seat, plus my notebook and measuring tape, and kicked the door shut behind me.
Gravel crunched under my heels as I made my way to the main lodge. Normally I liked to go through the space with the client to get a feel for what they had in mind for the remodel. On my first project with Jason, he’d also asked me to scout the place without him. Weird, yes, but it didn’t surprise me that I was here solo for this project.
Bring it on, Jason Covington. I can take whatever you throw at me.
I’d managed to hold my own at the most prestigious firm in the city. I was totally ready for this project.
That was until I pulled open the door to the main lodge.
My breath caught in my throat. I’d like to say it was because the entryway was just that beautiful, but what lay in front of me was a chaotic array of chairs, paintings, and wood paneling that screamed seventies love children were conceived here. The seventies had a lot going for itself. I mean, there was Clint Eastwood, ABBA, Cher. This did not have any of that charm—it was just plain outdated, ugly-as-sin, burn-this-place-to-the-ground disgusting. I gulped, forcing stagnant, musty air down my throat.
My fingers ran over the burnt orange window casing as I eyed the suit of armor—missing an arm and foot, propped up in the middle of the room—along with the remains of a broken disco ball, shattered into thousands of pieces.
Design situation: nightmare
Designer emotion: tonight’s greasy popcorn would better serve as lighter fluid to torch this disaster to the ground.
Jason’s email failed to mention that I’d be getting asbestos poisoning and possible death by disco ball with one wrong move. No wonder he sent me to do this alone.
I coughed as I inhaled another breath of noxious air, and beelined for the first available window. After unlocking it, I tugged at the pane and tried to pull it open. It gave a protesting whine as I inched it up the track, and slammed shut when I let go.
I decided not to take that as an ominous clue that I’d entered some kind of resort of tortures, and instead scanned the room for something to prop the window open. After passing over a rusted brass candlestick and a fireplace poker, I settled on an old piece of firewood stacked in the corner. I slid it between the sill and the cracked wood and breathed in the fresh air.
Now that air circulated in the room, making it slightly more tolerable, I took my phone out of my pocket to snap pics for reference when I went back to the office to design the mock-ups…and okay, maybe text a few to my best friend Lainey, because she really needed to witness this hellhole. Just as I was about to click into camera mode, a call came through, Jason’s number flashing across the screen.
“Ms. Reynolds. Are you at Divinity?”
“Yes.” I sat down on the windowsill, tucked my phone between my ear and my shoulder, and grabbed my pen and notebook in my purse. “It’s quite…something.” That was the only non-offensive adjective I had readily available at the moment.
“It is.” He paused and I heard the sound of papers shuffling in the background. “I expect you’ll have ample ideas for renovations.”
Burn it all! I ached to say, but I really liked my job and Jason wasn’t the sort to joke around, even in his best mood. “Of course. I’ll have designs ready for you by Monday.” I picked at a thread on my skirt and crossed my legs.
“I wanted to give you advance notice—”
His words were lost on me, because at that moment, something black and furry with eight legs skittered across the top of my skirt. A scream that could be heard from the other side of the mountain range ripped out of me, and at once I was on my feet, swiping at my skirt, hopping, cussing, regretting my choice of incredibly high heels.
I stared at the ground, frantically trying to find the culprit. He could have been anywhere. I shuddered.
My ankles buckled as I jerked in an uncoordinated, spastic version of an Irish jig. If I had a most-hated list, spiders took the number two spot, second only to clowns. And maybe this resort.
My pulse pounded as I twisted my skirt around. And a second time, just to make sure. No sign of my eight-legged nemesis. I looked around the floor. Nothing. He was here somewhere, hiding. I could feel his beady gaze on me, plotting my untimely death.
And then my ringtone began to blast.
I’d totally just had a freak-out while on the phone with Jason. So much for acting like a twenty-four-year-old professional. I made a quick search of the ground and the windowsill for my phone and came up empty. I listened for the ringtone, tracking the sound…which came from a distance. I swallowed hard and peeked my head outside and looked down. Nestled between foliage of a bush four feet below, my phone continued to ring. And then cut to voicemail. Followed by another call.
I swallowed hard. The longer I took to answer Jason’s call, the angrier he’d get, and I wasn’t exactly winning any points at the moment. The phone was well within reach. It would have to be because if I were to go around the building, that would take at least a few minutes, and I already needed to do some major butt-kissing after screaming in Jason’s ear. I scanned the sill for any sign of the creepy crawly, and once I was satisfied that he wasn’t anywhere near me, I leaned out the window.
In a totally unladylike fashion that would have my aunt raising her brow at me, I reached over the sill, legs seesawing to steady myself so I didn’t face-plant into a flower bed. My skirt rode up way past acceptable as my fingers grazed my phone.
I wiggled on the sill, and just as my hand grabbed my cell, I bumped the piece of firewood and the window hit the small of my back with a thud hard enough to leave me fighting for air. I struggled to backtrack into the room, and the sill dug into my stomach, the weight of the window pressing into the top of my butt.
This was it. The resort had a death wish for me.
My phone continued to ring, and I had no choice but to answer it. “Mr. Covington. I am so sorry. I don’t know what came over me.”
“Are you okay?” His tone dripped with more irritation than concern. I’d expect nothing less from him.
I looked behind me at the windowsill. My body was effectively pinned down, the pane too heavy to lift from this angle. He’d be less than sympathetic for my situation. In fact, I’d witnessed him fire vendors for less stupidity than this. “Yes.”
Absolutely no need to panic. None at all. Not with a Chewbacca-level-hairy spider on the loose. I bet it made Wookie noises before sinking its fangs into its victims.
“I was going to tell you that I’m sending someone up there today—”
“Great.” I knew I was being rude, interrupting him, but I needed to figure out how to get out of this situation before I turned into a human popsicle. “Sounds wonderful.” A note of hysteria laced my words.
“Are you sure everything is okay?”
“Of course. I’m just enjoying this breathtaking view.” As the blood rushes to my head.
“It is quite beautiful. Well, I’ll let you get back to it. Have a good day.”
“You, too.” As I hung up, I twisted to assess the damage the best I could. Besides a most definite bruise forming on my lower back and a dirty smudge on my white shirt, nothing was broken or ripped. I sighed. How the hell was I supposed to get out of this?
As I saw it, I had three options:
a) pray that I suddenly developed telekinesis
b) somehow induce an adrenaline rush that would give me Hulk-like abilities
c) beg the Chewbacca spider to bite me so I could die a quick, painless death before one of Jason’s employees found me and reported back to him that I was completely incompetent
The first two options seemed a tad unattainable at the moment. The latter option erred on the side of melodramatic, even if this was a sucktastic situation. A tickle webbed across my calf, but I brushed away my paranoia. This would be totally fine. In the meantime, I’d just enjoy the beautiful scenery. While cursing this whole place.
After fighting a few more seconds and failing, I resigned myself to the fact that not even Crisco would get me out of this jam.
I did the only thing that seemed appropriate. Texted my best friend.
Lainey: What’s up?
Zoey: I have a situation.
Lainey: …are you going for the suspense factor, cause it’s working.
I took a selfie and hit send.
Lainey: OMG. Are you…uh…stuck in a window?
Lainey: What the hell happened?
Zoey: This resort is alive and is actually trying to kill me. Tell my dad that I love him.
Lainey: Only if I get to keep the couch and your Chanel purse once you pass.
Zoey: You are ruthless.
Lainey: I can’t help myself. For real though, do you need me to come get you?
Zoey: No, one of Jason’s guys will be here later today. It’ll be embarrassing AF, but at least it’s not Jason, right?
Lainey: #truth Also, WTF is on your leg, dude?
My leg? I spread my two fingers over my screen, enlarging the picture I’d sent Lainey and froze at the sight of my hairy foe on my left calf.
No, no, no!
I thrashed and screamed in the sill, the window not budging even a millimeter. My scream echoed through the canyon, and if there was enough snow on the mountain, an avalanche would soon follow. Then, at least, I wouldn’t have to worry about the fact that Chewbacca was picking out china patterns for its new home. Sweat beaded on my brow as I continued to struggle.
Just as the initial sting of tears invaded my vision, the distant sound of gravel crunched from the direction of the parking lot. Thank the lord, my savior had arrived.
I could play this off as a total accident, right? Maybe bribe him not to tell Jason?
A tall, broad-chested figure limped down the path on a pair of crutches, and my stomach bottomed out.
It looked just like…no…it couldn’t be.
My pulse pounded triple time in my temples as the crunch tap crunch tap crunch of gravel under his tread drew closer.
“Zoey?” a low, gruff voice asked.
I’d recognize those wide shoulders anywhere. The backs of my legs knew them intimately.
Ryder. Freaking. Covington.
Okay, Chewbacca. Any time now. Sink those fangs into my leg and end this Valentine’s Day from hell already.
Ryder stopped a few feet from the window, looking like he’d seen the Ghost of Christmas Past coming to bite him in the ass.
“Yup. It’s me,” I said.
He quickly recovered, his lips curling into a smile I’d once found charming. “You know, there’s this thing called a door. Some people use it to go in and out of buildings.”
I flipped him off. Immature? Most definitely. I blamed it on the blood rushing to my head. And the fact the one-night stand I had with him was the reason for my current string of sexual encounters of the lackluster kind.
He’d ruined me, in the worst way, for all other men. I hated him.
He chuckled and the deep bass of his voice shook down my spine. “Fair enough. I deserved that. What are you doing hanging out of the window?”
“I’m stuck.” Understatement of the century.
“I figured.” He hesitated, looking unsure. “Want help?”
My first instinct was to blurt out “go to hell!” I didn’t need a goddamn thing from this person who single-handedly ruined my sex life. It was petty and I knew it, but a girl could only go so long on crappy sex before she started to feel a little stabby.
I instinctively reached to pull my skirt lower with one hand, and hit glass. It was up to the clothing malfunction gods at this point whether or not this day could get any worse.
“You want to keep burning a hole through my head or do you want me to help you?”
“Fine. But if you touch anywhere besides clothed areas I’m going to put my stiletto through your skull, capisce?” I managed to keep my voice authoritative and firm, nothing like the shakiness flowing through my body. That was how being around Ryder had made me feel from the first time we met—like I’d just come off an intense adrenaline high.
He put his hands up. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
I sunk back down and rested my arms on the sill, waiting to be sprung from the window. I prided myself on being self-sufficient, never needing help from others, especially dirt-bag hookups. And yet here I was.
He moved closer until the soft fabric of his faded shirt brushed against my arm, and I bit back a gasp. His rich cologne mingled with his detergent, and my eyes rolled back in my head at the heavenly scent. Most men that I’d dated smelled good in that dude-musk sort of way. Ryder took it to a completely different level, one that induced visceral reactions such as drool and the sudden need to find something to do with my hands, anything so I didn’t fist his shirt.
Within seconds, he had the window open, and a firm hand wrapped around my hips. A wave of goose bumps bloomed across my skin as he pulled me down, depositing me on the gravel path, supporting me with his arm. I wobbled unsteadily in my heels and looked up at my ex-hookup, and the breath rushed from my chest like I’d actually taken a physical blow. Ryder stood there, henley pulled tight across his muscled chest. The color matched his ocean-blue eyes. He’d traded his clean-shaven face of a few months ago for a neatly trimmed beard that ran along his chiseled jaw. Which, let’s be honest here, the whole light-eyes dark-hair thing did it for me. A lot. I might dislike the guy, but holy hell, he’d gotten even hotter since I’d last seen him. He looked over me, assessing, and then quickly bent down and swatted my leg.
“Ow! What was that for?” I retreated a step, stumbling as I rubbed at the spot he’d hit. When my fingers hit a squishy mound, it took every ounce of self-control not to dry heave. “You killed Chewbacca.”
His brows creased, and some of the tension eased as he visibly hid a laugh. “You named him after a Star Wars character?”
I shrugged. “It seemed appropriate.”
I stood there for a few moments, unsure of what to do. Grab my keys from the lodge, book it out of here, and apologize profusely to Jason, or snap on the big-girl panties and continue taking measurements? Decisions, decisions.
I took another step back and bumped into the wall. I was just full of smooth moves today. “Well, thanks for that.”
His big, calloused hand brushed a stray lock of hair out of my face, sending heat radiating between my legs. His lips pulled into a smile, one that deposited my undergarments straight into the panty incinerator.
Nope, panties, no time for vaporizing. You hate him, remember?
My body was a traitorous wench.
I crossed my arms, trying to hold my ground. “What are you doing here, anyway, Ryder?” When Jason said someone was coming to Divinity, I didn’t think he’d meant his brother.
It was his turn to fold his arms over his chest. “Jason wanted me to check on a few things. I wasn’t expecting to have company.”
What he really meant to say: I really wasn’t expecting to see you.
“Same.” I stared down at my stiletto heel, digging it into the gravel. Birds chirped, wind rustled through the trees, and we continued to stand there in silence.
So. Freaking. Awkward. This could end any time now.
He cleared his throat and thumbed at the braided leather bracelet on his wrist. “Well, guess it’s time to go our separate ways.” He reached for a set of crutches propped against the building. And just like that, his smile faded, dismissing the incident, like he often ran into ex-hookups and saved them from dangling out of windows. Who knew—maybe he did.
I glanced at his leg, taking in the black boot encasing his leg.
Mr. Pro Snowboarder on crutches?
If I weren’t fighting the intense urge to impale him with my stiletto, I’d maybe consider doing the polite thing and strike up conversation. Ask how he hurt himself. But let’s be real, that wasn’t going to happen without the aid of a lot of alcohol, or a lobotomy. “Well, thanks for that.” I hitched my thumb toward the window. “I think you’ve achieved superhero status for the day.”
He grinned. “Good to know there are two in the vicinity.”
He lifted a brow. “C’mon, I’d have thought the Flash would be better at getting out of tight situations. I’m a little disappointed.”
What the…? Why would he call me that?
I winced and groaned as realization hit. My red-zone laundry situation meant I’d snagged the last pair of underwear in my drawer—the Flash undies that I’d used under my costume junior year of college. It even had a bright yellow lightning bolt across the ass.
Lord hath very little mercy for me today.
“Ass.” I should have come up with a better comeback than that. I should have slapped that smug grin off his face. I should have done something. But all I could do was think about his bare chest hovering above me, his eyes blazing into mine as I lost myself in his touch back in November.
“Is that a reference to me or your underwear?”
Oh! The nerve of this guy.
By the time any semblance of a response surfaced in my mind, he’d already made his way up the path toward the front of the building. “It was a pleasure, Flash,” he called, waving one crutch, not bothering to look back.
The sun had moved and was now hidden by the tree line, forming shadows over Ryder’s retreating figure. A gigantic rain cloud glided across the sky with alarming speed, heading straight for the resort. Nothing on the weather forecast called for rain, but then again, when did I ever fully trust the weather app?
After I’d finished taking pictures and measurements of the main lodge area, Ryder had disappeared somewhere deep in the resort, and a storm had rolled in on the mountain. When I peered out the coke-bottle glass windows, snow came down in sheets, creating white-out conditions. There was no way I was leaving the resort tonight.
And Ryder’s car was still in the parking lot.