Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Undercover, excerpt two

The phone rang for the umpteenth time that morning and Jenny rolled her eyes as she reached for it. This was turning out to be quite an ordinary, chaotic day, just like all the ones before it. She didn't know what she was waiting for, or even why she kept expecting something exciting to happen, but there had to be more to life than this. Surely, the point of living couldn't be to get up early every morning to fight weather and traffic in order to get to work, and work all day just to go back home to a frugal dinner and fall asleep.

Maybe it was just the frustration of the season with the holidays in the past, New Year's promises already broken, and the new year turning into a copy of the old. Her heart and mind were ready for a change, but she didn't know for what.

It had been almost exactly ten years since her first interview at Specialty Steel Associated. The job didn't grow any more exciting as the passing days turned into weeks, months, and years. It wasn't what she dreamed of doing as a little girl, but as time went by, it was getting difficult to imagine another option.

Their department was understaffed and overworked, and the double work load was starting to show. Jen wasn't usually the cause of customers' problems, but her job was to soothe and solve emergencies, and all the yelling made her edgy. This morning alone one major customer received wrong materials and was furious. Another got his material early, and was upset because his warehouses were full. He refused to unload the trucks. A third customer was livid over the opposite; he hadn't gotten anything for weeks. Emails flowed into her inbox like waves against some distant shore, and she wished for a computer for a brain instead of a human one. Something would go wrong, she would forget something, and it was just a matter of time.

She reached out to disconnect her phone, wondering if "business meeting" or "lunch" would be the best lie to cover the situation and send the caller to voicemail, and sensed someone standing in the doorway. Flashing an automatic smile without really looking, she continued what she was doing, and heard the visitors cross the room to say hello to Nori.

A smile tugged at her lips when she heard Mark's voice. He mentored her when she joined the company, and they shared many jokes the newer additions to the office didn't understand. He used his best sales voice, reserved for important customers, and Jenny smirked when she heard him explain, "In here we have Nori, who works with deliveries, and Jenny, who handles well, we're not sure what it is, really. She comes in every day, so I'm certain she does something."

It was an old and rather demeaning pun, but the visitors were new every day and usually laughed, so why the hell not. Giving her head a slight shake, she mocked, "You're not supposed to know. It's a company secret."

She wasn't paying attention. People streamed in and out of the office all day long every day, and she often thought there were more people passing through than at the airport. They were the heart of the business. Everyone with a problem wanted to talk to them, and everyone trying to sell something wanted to show them off.

Jenny rose to greet the newcomer, still wondering what to do with those trucks. Maybe she could redirect the material somewhere... Her imagination painted out a big red car with a very angry driver. It might have been a Volvo.

Reality returned the moment the visitor shook her hand, and a pair of warm brown eyes erased every thought of work, customers, and other mundane problems. The world around her became dimmer and less important, and she was surprised she managed to say her name. "Jenny." Getting a word over her own lips was a great accomplishment. One that helped her avoid looking like a complete idiot at that.

The stranger flashed a warm smile. "Alexei Roshenko. Please, call me Alex." 

He was handsome; tall and well built with dark hair that seemed to want to go its own way, and his grip on her hand made her think she really would forget how to talk The touch was electric, sending little sparkles up and down her spine, and she hoped she wasn't blushing.

Returning his smile, Jenny spoke as naturally as she could. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Alex. Would you like some coffee or tea or something?"

Alex held her gaze. "I would love some."

He held on to her hand a moment longer, and when he let it go, a sensation of something missing overwhelmed her. She wanted to reach out for him, and was surprised she could walk the few steps to the kitchen without stumbling over her own feet. She heard Mark mumble behind her back, "What just happened?"

Nori whispered, "I have no idea."

Jenny didn't care about them anymore. At that moment, the big red truck from her imagination could have rammed the building, and she might have been irritated over the noise, but apart from that not been too worried about it.

She smiled, distracted, and avoided looking at the man next to her out of fear of being paralyzed. She wondered why her hands weren't shaking when she took clean mugs down from the shelf. "Do you want tea or coffee?"

Alex leaned his head a little to the side and pretended to consider it, but even Jenny could see it was a ploy, and she half expected him to say he didn't like either. Her imagination ran away with her, and she wanted to slap herself to snap out of it. This was work. He was a customer and nothing else. No matter how handsome or intriguing she might find him, he would never be anything but a customer, and she needed to be professional. Yes, professional would be the word of the day.

A smile tugged at his mouth, and she prayed to whatever deity might be listening he couldn't see in her eyes how she already imagined what his touch might feel like. Surely, having those strong arms wrapped around her would... She forced herself to stop. What was she thinking? She wasn't thinking at all, and that was the problem.

She barely noticed when Marc walked through the sunny kitchen, heading for the stairs. "Well, you seem to be well taken care of, Alex. I'll go check my e-mail. I'll be back in a few."

Like it this far? Come back tomorrow for some more! ;-) You can also see the book here.

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