The man you’ve been waiting for—WADE MASON—comes to life on December 10th on the pages of RESOLUTION.
“Eliza? Please remind me at twelve thirty that I’m needed elsewhere.”
I sit back in my chair. Massaging my temple with one hand, I await my assistant’s reply through the speakerphone.
“And where might that be, Mr. Mason?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
I should feel guilty that I’m confusing this poor woman on her third day of work or, at the very least, regretful enough to backtrack.
I do neither. I also don’t feel bad about this decision.
“Actually, make it twelve fifteen,” I say, further complicating Eliza’s confusion.
“Yes, sir. While I have you on the line, I believe your twelve o’clock is walking in right now.”
I squash back a shot of frustration and stifle an annoyed growl. Do this and get it over with.
That’s the plan. Meet with Curt Bowery and find him and his proposal unreasonable. Then I can tell Oliver I did my due diligence, and now I’m out.
“Send him back,” I say before the guilt that I should’ve felt earlier starts to wiggle its way into my conscience. “Thank you, Eliza.”
“Yes. Of course. You’re welcome, Mr. Mason.”
Her voice is full of … happiness. Despite the fact that it’s wholly unrepresentative of Mason Architecture, Holt insists that prospective clients prefer a cheerful person at the front desk. Such an oddity, if you ask me.
The line disconnects and I get busy tidying up my workspace. The office is the only place where controlled chaos reigns in my life. Immersing myself in designs, blueprints, clay models—it makes me feel alive.
It’s what gets me up in the morning. It’s why I work through lunch, and it’s the reason I work late most nights. That and insomnia is a bitch.
A knock raps on the door. I run my hand down my tie and click out of the program on my computer. When I look back up, and—what the hell?
The human being standing in the doorway is not Curt Bowery.
“It is you,” she says, a wide smile stretching across her full pink lips.
I do a quick once-over of the woman stepping into my office—the woman who’s most definitely not my twelve o’clock.
She’s about my age with thick, shiny mahogany-colored hair. Her cheekbones accentuate her eyes. They’re golden brown, the color of a glass of whiskey when the afternoon sun shines through it, and are framed by long, dark lashes.
She exudes a friendliness, a warm and bubbly vibe that drives home the fact I’ve never met this woman in my life. I’m sure of it. I don’t associate with this kind of person. They’re too … people-y.
The door shuts with a click! just before she turns around.
“I know that Wade Mason isn’t a name you come across daily,” she says, moving far too easily through my office. “But I figured that I would get here, and it wouldn’t be you after all. I mean, what are the odds?”
Before I can break down those odds for her—about one in one hundred thousand, give or take—she reaches me.
And reaches for me.
The scent of coconuts hits me before she does. By the time I get ahold of all of these moving parts—Curt’s impending arrival, this random woman in my office, and the encroachment on my personal behind-the-desk space—she wraps her arms around me and pulls me in for a hug.
She leans back quickly. Her eyes are sparkling.
“You’re a friendly one, aren’t you?” I ask, taking a step back in case she has a knife. Because what kind of person hugs another unprompted? Psychopaths. That’s who.
Her laughter is light and breezy. “You don’t remember me.”
I hate when women—when people—do this. They think they’re special enough to warrant being memorable against the hundred other faces you see through the course of a week. Somehow, regardless of the number of interactions you’ve had within a certain timeframe, you are the asshole who can’t remember them.
It’s total bullshit.
The woman flips her hair off her narrow shoulder and allows me an even clearer view of her pretty, freckly face. She doesn’t look like a psychopath.
Then again, they never do.
“Should I tell you who I am, or should we make a game out of it?” she says, moving to the other side of my desk.
I exhale, confused about so many things—who she is, why Eliza let her in my office, and where the hell is Curt Bowery when you need him?
“I’m not much for games,” I deadpan, hoping she’ll read between the lines and gather that I’m not a fan of … this.
“Really?” She falls back into the brown leather chair facing my desk and laughs. Her gaze settles on me. “Games can be fun, you know.”
“I suppose they have a time and place,” I say, sitting back down in my chair. I grab a fresh notepad and try to avoid her eyes. “I have an appointment that should be arriving any time, so I’d appreciate it if we could get to the bottom of … who are you? Why are you here?”
I lift my eyes to meet hers. They snap together like the last two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. She runs a finger over her bottom lip as if she—and I—have all the time in the world.
“I thought for sure you’d remember me,” she says.
“Isn’t that a bit pretentious?”
She narrows her eyes but continues to grin. “No more than your portentous assumption that I’m not your twelve o’clock.”
Confidence oozes out of her as she effectively tosses the banter-ball back over the net. Coupled with her poise at my cool demeanor—a tactic that usually softens whoever is sitting across from me—it’s quite a show.
It’s also respectable.
“Okay,” I say. “Fair enough. But I’m still going to need your name.”
She seems satisfied with my capitulation.
“I’m Dara Alden,” she says finally. “We had a class together at Georgia Tech. We did a presentation together about intimacy in relationships in a communications class my freshman year.”
She pauses, waiting for me to connect all the dots. And I do. Quickly.
Dara Alden was my partner for the worst class and worst project I’ve ever been forced to participate in. I was certain the professor matched us together just to see me suffer. He had it in for me—no thanks to a speech I presented on why communications classes weren’t beneficial to all students and should be eliminated from prerequisites.
I start to respond when my speakerphone buzzes.
“Mr. Mason? You’re needed on an urgent call regarding the Greyshell project,” Eliza says. “It can’t wait, sir.”
Internally, I groan and make a mental note to remind her not to call me sir. “I’ll call them back.”
“But, sir …”
My jaw clenches in both frustration and embarrassment. “I’ll call them back, Eliza. Thank you for letting me know.”
“Okay. Thank you. I’ll … tell them,” she says before ending the call.
I run a hand through my hair and try to stay calm and focused. But when I glance back up, Dara is watching me with unbridled amusement.
“I’m curious,” Dara says, her voice as sweet as honey. “Did your opinions on intimacy change?”
Pulling at the collar of my shirt, I grab a pen. Have Eliza turn down the thermostat.
“I don’t recall what my opinions were a decade ago,” I say, jotting down the thermostat thought in my notepad. “But it’s safe to say I’ve always considered intimacy in relationships …”
Why are we talking about this?
I set down my pen and level my gaze with hers. “Are you really my twelve o’clock? Or was that something you picked up on because I mentioned it, and you just ran with it?” I pause. “Did Boone put you up to this?”
She snickers. “Relax, Wade. I don’t even know who Boone is.”
“You’re the only female in this part of Georgia who can say that with a straight face.”
“Heck, maybe I should know him.” Dara laughs. “Can you introduce us?”
I flip her a look. I don’t know what I mean by it, exactly. It just radiates from me without my trying. She seems amused by it and, thankfully, also lets it go.
“All joking aside,” she says, running a hand through the air. “Yes. I’m your twelve o’clock. My grandfather is Curt Bowery, and I need an architect.”
It feels like I’ve been hit on the side of the head a little bit. I’m not sure what to say in response to this news. I knew exactly how I was going to deal with Curt, but this isn’t Curt. I don’t know why it matters, but it does. Sort of.
“I suppose my follow-up question would be …” I search for the right words. “You do understand what an architect does, right? I design things—buildings, houses, hotels. I’m not a therapist specializing in relational intimacy. As a matter of fact, I’ve said all that I have to say about that topic.”
She laughs. It’s smooth and loud and sounds foreign in my office.
“That’s disappointing,” she says, crossing one leg over the other and settling in. “I was hoping we could spend our afternoons discussing intimacy types and debate over whether true intimacy is even reachable in modern-day relationships again.”
I can’t help it. I smirk. “It sounds as though you’ve lived the past ten years reading a lot of self-help books.”
Dara shrugs, teasing me. “And it sounds as though you’ve lived the past ten years alone and are just as cantankerous as you were back then.”
I look down so she can’t see my ghost of a smile. It’s that gesture—the tiniest splitting of my cheeks—that kicks me out of whatever bullshit distraction was happening between us and back to reality.
There’s work to be done. Commitments have been made. Those things aren’t happening if I’m sitting here in a verbal tug-of-war with a millionaire’s granddaughter.
“I do have another meeting in ten minutes,” I say, turning toward my computer. My voice is as detached as I can get it. “Unfortunately, we don’t have time to get into your project today.”
Out of the corner of my eye, she flinches.
“We don’t have time today?” Dara asks, surprised.
“We’ve used up too much of it discussing …” Whatever we were discussing. I adjust my glasses. “Anyway, seeing if we are a good fit is a part of the process. I don’t design many homes because it requires too much …”
My voice trails off as I turn back to her. The way she’s looking at me catches me off guard. Her brows are raised, and her head is tilted to the side. She’s silently calling me out, letting me know she doesn’t believe a word I’m saying.
We watch each other for a long couple of seconds. It’s a standoff of sorts. Neither of us wants to be the first to look away.
It’s a case of two strong personalities wanting the other to bend, each of us wanting to control the narrative. What she doesn’t know is that I always win that scenario. Always.
I stand, adjusting my tie and attempting to clear my head.
“So, what does a person have to do to see if we’re a good fit?” she asks.
The cheekiness in her question is not lost on me. But I ignore it.
What I don’t ignore is the tension between the two of us, nor do I overlook her apparent propensity to try to push my buttons. It’s a replay from ten years ago. I almost came unglued over our speech, and it was for twenty class points. This time, there will be a lot more on the line.
Too much to risk, most definitely.
“It has a lot to do with trust.” My gaze burns into hers. “You have to relinquish control and trust that I understand your needs and will deliver everything you ask of me.” Where possible.
Instead of making her blush as I intended, she grins. It’s not the playful one from before or the happy smile that she tossed my way when she walked in. No, this one is darker. Seductive. Not at all what I was expecting.
I smooth my tie with my hand again, running it down my chest. Her eyes flicker to the movement for just a moment before her gaze rises back to mine.
“I think we could get there, Mr. Mason.”
My chuckle is soft as I plant both hands on my desk. I lean forward and wait to see if she squirms in her chair. I’m surprised that she doesn’t. She sits tall, unwavering—poised despite my efforts to break her resolve.
What the hell?
I’m starting to wonder if Curt Bowery, the hotel magnate worth millions of dollars, would’ve been easier to navigate than Dara Alden.
“It’s not if we can get there,” I tell her, looking her dead in her eyes. “I’m one-thousand-percent confident in my abilities to get there.”
Dara forces a swallow but doesn’t blink.
“It’s about all the things that lead to that final moment,” I say, my voice low and steady. “The journey, if you will.”
“That’s what they all say.” She tucks a small purse under her arm and stands. “But you might be right. I’m not sure you’re the man who should be handling … my project.”
Of course, she’s right. It’s the point I was just trying to make. But hearing her say it pisses me off.
I head to the door. “Think about it. Talk it over with your grandfather,” I say, swinging the door wide open. “You can let Eliza know if you’d like to reschedule, and we’ll see when I’m available.”
She hums as she moseys toward me. “You seem like a very busy man.”
I’m not sure if she’s being facetious, so I don’t respond. I think her statement was rhetorical anyway.
“Busy men always go through the motions and never have time to be creative,” she says, fighting a smile. “I’m not sure that fits my needs.”
I narrow my gaze.
Much to my surprise and annoyance, she laughs as she walks by me. Her elbow grazes my stomach in a move that I think is intentional. Before I can react, she’s down the hall and standing in front of Eliza.
“That dress is stunning on you,” she tells Eliza as if we weren’t in a strained conversation five seconds ago. “Where did you get it?”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I grumble as I slam my door. The framed copy of the first building I ever designed shakes against the wall.
I lean against my desk and suck in a deep lungful of air. The scent of coconuts only intensifies my frustration.
I open a window and then sit down.
“Busy men always go through the motions and never have time to be creative. I’m not sure that fits my needs.”
What the hell?
Loads of rubbish, just as it was ten years ago.
Instead of listening to spoiled, silver spoon-fed women who want their ridiculous projects handled, I have real work to do.
My heart pumps from the interaction with Dara, and I find myself replaying much of our conversation. It’s not until I get to relational intimacy do I realize how much time I’ve wasted—and am still wasting.
I put my phone on Do Not Disturb and get back to the only thing I ever want to know intimately—my work.