“Okay, then someone else. The blond chap in the mailroom. Always has his eye on you.”
“Ethan in contracts, then. He’s short, all right, but he’s fit. And have you seen him do that tongue trick at the pub?”
“God, no.” I sat down, slumping under the weight of her inspection. “Are we really having this conversation now? Can’t we just pretend my enormous crush is not a thing?”
“Afraid not. You’re not interested in any of the other lads, but won’t make a play for Mr. Uptight, either.” She sighed. “Don’t get me wrong. Stella’s fit as fuck, but he’s a bit on the prim side, wouldn’t you say?”
I ran a nail along the edge of my desk. “I sort of like that about him,” I said. “He’s steady.”
“Restrained,” I insisted. “It’s like he’s stepped right out of an Austen novel. He’s Mr. Darcy.” I hoped that would help her understand.
“I don’t get that. Mr. Darcy is short with Elizabeth to the point of rudeness. Why would you want someone who’s so much work?”
“How is that more work?” I asked. “Darcy doesn’t lavish her with false praise or compliments that mean nothing. When he says he loves her it’s because he does.”
Pippa plopped down into a chair and turned on her computer. “Maybe I like a flirt.”
“But a flirt is that way with everyone,” I argued. “Darcy is awkward and hard to read, but when you have his heart, it’s yours.”
I knew I’d always been a touch on the romantic side, but the idea of seeing the restrained hero unleashed in a way no one else did—uninhibited, hungry, seductive—made it hard for me to think about anything else when Niall Stella was within a four-foot radius.
The problem was I became genuinely stupid when he was around.
“How can I ever hope to have an actual conversation?” I asked her. I knew I would never actually act on it, but it felt good to finally talk about this with someone who knew him, someone other than London and Lola, who were half the world away. “You know, one where we both know we’re having the conversation? During last week’s meeting, Anthony asked me if I could present some data he’d had me organize from the Diamond Square project, and I was kicking ass until I looked up, and saw him standing behind Anthony. Do you know how hard I worked on that? Weeks. Then one look from Niall Stella and my concentration was shot.”
For some reason I was unable to call him by only his given name. Niall Stella was a two-name honor, like Prince Harry or Jesus Christ.
“I stopped speaking midsentence,” I continued. “When he’s near me, either I blurt out ridiculous things, or I turn into a mute.”
Pippa laughed before her eyes narrowed and she looked me up and down. She picked up the calendar and pretended to scrutinize it. “Funny thing, I just realized it’s Thursday,” she sang. “That explains why your hair looks particularly sexy, and you’re wearing that minxy little skirt.”
I ran my hand through my chin-length, choppy hair. “It looks like it does every day.”
Pippa snorted. In truth, I’d spent way too long getting ready this morning, but I needed the confidence today.
Because just like she said, today was Thursday, my favorite day of the week.
On Thursdays I got to see him.
In most respects, Thursdays shouldn’t have been anything to get excited about. That particular Thursday’s to-do list included such mundane chores as watering the sad little ficus Lola insisted I smuggle the 5,400 miles separating San Diego from London, typing up a bid proposal and sending it out in the mail, and putting the recycling out on the curb. A life of glamour. But pinned to the top of my Outlook every Thursday was also Anthony Smith’s engineering group meeting, where, for one hour every week, I had an unobstructed view of Niall Stella, Vice President, Director of Planning, and, Holy Hell, The Hottest Man Alive.
If only I could add him to my to-do list, too.
An hour of prime Niall Stella time was both a blessing and a curse, because I was interested in what was happening in our firm, and found most of the discussions that took place between the senior partners to be absolutely fascinating. I was twenty-three, not twelve. I had a degree in engineering and would be their boss one day if I had anything to say about it. That a single individual had the power to hijack my attention was beyond mortifying. I wasn’t usually flighty or awkward and I did date. In fact, I’d dated more since moving to London than I had back home because, well, English Boys. Enough said.
But this particular English Boy was, unfortunately, beyond my reach. Almost literally: Niall Stella was over six and a half feet tall and effortlessly refined, with perfectly styled brown hair, soulful brown eyes, broad muscled shoulders, and a smile so gorgeous, on the rare occasion it made an appearance at work, it brought my train of thought to a screeching halt.
According to the office gossip, he had finished school practically as an infant and was some sort of legendary urban planning mastermind. I hadn’t realized that was an Actual Thing until I started working in the engineering group at Richardson-Corbett and saw him advise on everything from Building Control guidelines to the chemical composition of concrete additives. He was the unofficial final word in London on all bridge, commercial, and transport structure blueprints. To my utter heartbreak, he even once left in the middle of a Thursday meeting to direct a construction team when a panicked city worker called because another firm had botched a foundation design and concrete had already been poured. Virtually nothing got built in London without Niall Stella’s hand in it somewhere.