Gretchen elbows her, shooting me a sidelong glance as I edge toward the door, dragging Gus into the hallway.  He’s staring at Gretchen with a foolish grin, and if she sees it she’s likely to think he’s a moron.

Er…ah…Gus?”  I mimic as we head to my office.  “Was that the best you could do, Cassanova?”

“Oh, how about you?” he counters, his face almost the exact shade of crimson as his shirt.  “I’ll just come back later, Frannie,” he mimics me in return.  “Move over, Don Juan.”

“Asshole,” I say without rancor.

“Shithead,” he replies with humor, closing my door behind him.  “You’d better make sure you have good insurance if you’re going to have a relationship with Frannie Freeman, Sam.  The woman’s a menace to everything graceful and orderly.”

Call me a complete oinker if you please, but I can’t help laughing.  “Yeah, no lie.  However, I blame that whole incident just now on you.  If you hadn’t shoved me in there, it never would have happened.”

“Whatever.  You obviously missed it two weeks ago when she accidentally hit the brew button twice and overflowed the pot.”

“I heard about that.  And remember a few months ago when her purse hit the window of George Stuckey’s Mercedes and broke it?”

“Oh yeah—what was she doing?  Looking for lipstick or something?”

“Something like that.  And what does she carry in that purse, anyway?  A brick?”

He holds up his hands in a warding-off gesture.  “The ways of a woman’s purse are a mystery, and I want to keep it that way.  I just know I’ll never mug her; one whack with that thing and I’d be in a coma for a month.  I’m telling you, Sam, you have your work cut out with that one.  You may not survive it.”

I grin.  “Yeah, but what a way to go.”

Gus checks his watch and scoots off my leather couch.  “Gotta  bounce.  Department of Health Care Services meeting this morning.”

“Sucks to be you,” I remark jovially, only half kidding.  Mooning over a woman he can’t ever have, stuck in stale, higher management meetings all the live-long day…whereas I have a whole vista of possibilities ahead of me, and all of them revolve around a certain dark-haired, accident-prone lady.

“You know it.”  He hesitates at the door and gives me a wicked grin.  “Don’t forget your coffee.”

I fling my pen at him.  It flies end over end, right over his shoulder.  I don’t see Frannie until it’s too late; she’s walking with her coffee in one hand, reading a thick sheaf of papers clutched in the other.  The pen thwacks her right in the middle of the forehead before falling neatly into her cup.  Coffee sloshes over her hand, soaking the report.  She stops in her tracks, closes her eyes, draws a deep breath, then plucks the pen out of her mug and flings it back without looking.  Her aim is off; instead of sailing through my door, it hits the window of my office supervisor, Malia Moreno, who flings open her door, already red-faced with anger at the interruption.

“Sorry, Malia.  My fault entirely,” I call out.

Malia stops, having taken three or four steps in Fran’s direction, and huffs back into her office, slamming the door.  Now Frannie looks up, an expression of intense dislike on her face that’s startling.  If she doesn’t like Malia, I don’t see how anyone else can; Frannie’s generally accepting of everyone.  I make a mental note to keep way clear of Malia Moreno—not that it will be that hard.  Malia generally keeps her distance from everyone.

And I make another mental note to be sure I don’t leave for Vegas tomorrow afternoon without making sure Frannie Freeman thinks of nothing but me the whole time I’m gone.


It takes most of the day to run my quarry to ground.  First she’s  leading a training session, then I’m in a meeting. When I’m done, she’s down in the Customer Support Center, talking a client through a tricky installation.  She comes back up, and I’m in another meeting.  It’s a bad day to make our schedules align; we just sealed a hell of a deal a few weeks ago, hence the Christmas party in Las Vegas.  Suits only (in other words, anyone with Supervisor in his or her title is invited, but no peons).  The company is flying us all out tomorrow afternoon.  I’m looking forward to the martini bar I suggested; George Stuckey was all over that plan and ran with it, and the Senior Execs have talked about nothing else since.

I finally find her where the day’s festivities began: the break room.  She’s pouring herself a cup of coffee, her back to the door.  I don’t bump anything on my way in this time, and she doesn’t know I’m there until she takes a step backward.  At the full-body contact, she freezes, but she doesn’t move away.  I can feel her heart hammering against my chest.  The coffee in her mug sloshes a little, and a moment later I feel her whole body tremble against mine.

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