“Trust me, it’s out of my own selfish desires,” he fired back with another one of his knee-weakening grins.
“Yeah. Because if I walk you to your door, I get the chance to kiss you good night.”
They’d made it to the apartment building’s stoop, and she was aware of his warmth, his shape pressed in beside her on the narrow concrete step. He was watching her carefully, and she tilted up her face just a little so she could meet his gaze.
She decided to play the game. “Who says I’m going to let you kiss me good night?”
“You just did,” he answered softly, and met her lips with his own.
When he finally pulled back, Janelle understood what it meant when those romance authors she loved to read described fireworks shooting through the bloodstream. “Wow,” she whispered.
Robert shook his head a little and dropped his hands from her face. She had no idea when he’d reached for her, but she really didn't care.
He hooked a thumb over his shoulder toward the waiting cab. “I—uh—I should go.”
Part of her wanted to ask him to stay. But the rational part of her brain was reminding her that they were both so close to the freedom they craved. It seemed foolish to jump into something right now—whatever that something may be—when she could be getting a new job, and he went on to...whatever it was he was planning.
But the sight of him standing down on the sidewalk, looking up at her like she’d always dreamed a man would look at her, still had her asking, “Do you want to—”
“Yes,” he answered automatically. He took a small step forward, but stopped. “But I really shouldn't.”
He sighed deeply. “If I did, you wouldn't get to your interview on time, I’d lose track of everything, and I know that’s not what you want.”
She gave a tremulous smile. “Not meant to be, huh?”
“Can I call you?”
His voice was husky. “Please.”
They traded numbers, and he looked back one final time before getting back to the waiting cab. Janelle let herself into the apartment, and tried to ignore its emptiness. It would be okay. Right now, not getting involved with Robert was for the best.
I cannot believe that I fucked up so badly, Robert mentally berated himself for the billionth time in the last few hours.
He’d gotten swamped with work, and hadn't been able to call Janelle as soon as he’d wanted. When he finally had, he’d been thrilled to hear that she’d gotten the job. Unfortunately, their celebratory dinner date had to be cancelled due to his father’s unexpected need to review the notes on Robert’s final project. And their reschedule dinner date got put off because her new job whisked her away for a week to a conference or something. It seemed like fate had decreed her off limits.
At least his desperate attempts to meet her had distracted him from the disheartening task of cutting off ties to his father. The old man had tried to play his cards, coax Robert into more indentured servitude, but he’d held firm. And now he was finally where he’d wanted to be for nearly a year: the corner office of Literate Solutions, his baby and the one good thing he had going in his life at the moment.
“Good to see you back, Robert!”
Robert greeted Don Magley with a hug. He’d coaxed his old tutor out of retirement to help him with the business, and he’d always be in the man’s debt.
“How’s it been going?”
“We got a bunch of new hires started,” Don began as they strode through the offices, “and I’d say they’re working out just fine.” He shot Robert a bemused glance. “Ever get a hold of your mystery girl?”
“Not yet. But I will.”
The optimism wasn't feigned. It couldn't be in a place like this. Robert watched the variety of work spaces, the open interchange of ideas between colleagues, and the light atmosphere in amazement.
Don chuckled. “Hard to believe it’s real?”
“Remember when you told me that I’d pass my GED, and I told you you were—”
“Full of shit? Yes, I seem to recall that conversation.”
“But I did pass. And every time I came back to you, you always told me the same thing: don’t give up on a good thing.”
Don slapped Robert’s back and gave a bark of laughter. “I’m not Yoda, young Jedi. You deserve some of the credit for putting this scheme into action.”
Robert shook his head, and tried to refocus. It was hard when he saw his dream as a reality, but it would be necessary if he were to start stepping into the day-to-day running of the company. “What are we working on today?”
“Last week’s conference was enlightening,” Don shared as he led Robert toward the conference room. “Tons of new ideas from it, and we've got a real firestarter who should help keep us on the cutting edge.”
“Can’t wait to meet him.”
“Her, actually. We were damn lucky to get her, too.”
Don opened the doors to the room, and Robert stepped in, excited to meet the new employee. And the sight before him froze him in his tracks.
“Robert?” Janelle asked, clearly stunned. “What are you doing here?” She was holding the clicker in her hand, and already had her presentation up on the board. But he’d always known she was good at her job.
Don was standing by the door, a gently quizzical expression on his face. Robert turned to him. “We’ll do this later, okay, Don? I need to take your advice again.”
Understanding crossed Don’s face and he closed the door softly behind him.
Robert turned back to Janelle. “Hi.”
“Hi.” She still looked confused.
“So you work here?”
“Yes. How did you—”
“Trust me, I couldn't have planned this.” He stepped closer. “Tell you what...let’s have you present this after we go to lunch.”
“Present...” Comprehension dawned. “Oh, my God, I’m that girl. I’m screwing my boss.”
He extracted her clicker and set it down on the table, then took her hand and led her toward the door. “Not yet. Currently you’re just dating your boss. We’ll see what happens about the other later.”
She snorted. “Getting a little ahead of yourself, don’t you think?”
“I hope so.”
“Because it means you've got a plan of how we’re supposed to go. And if I’m in the plan, that’s all that matters.”
They’d made to the elevator and she was still holding his hand. The door opened, but in a split-second of doubt, he turned to her. “I am in the plan, right?”
She squeezed his hand and stepped into the elevator. “Let’s go, Mr. Jones. Maybe after work I’ll let you walk me home.”
And he did.