Nathan Pine sorted the files on his desk, pulling out the one labeled “Casey Account.” He’d been out of the country for a month closing a merger that should’ve taken a week. Although second in command and heir-apparent to the Pine and Associates empire, work piled up when he was gone like it did for any other employee.

       He glanced at his watch. He’d need to hurry if he was going to make it to the afternoon briefing. Grabbing his suit coat off the back of his chair, he headed toward the door.

The door pushed open before he reached it, and despite his best efforts, he wasn’t fast enough to avoid a collision with the woman barreling into the room. The files she held scattered across the floor.

       “I’m so sorry!” She looked around the spacious – but empty – office in despair. “This isn’t the meeting on the Barrett Account?” 

       Nathan scooped up the files. “Nope, just my office.” He chuckled to let her know he wasn’t upset as he settled them in her arms. How could he be upset? She was so earnest. He watched in amazement as she morphed from flustered to poised before his eyes.

       “Stella Wright.” She shifted the files and stuck out her hand.

       “Nathan Pine,” he replied, wrapping his hand around hers.

       Her eyes widened just enough to let him know she’d made the connection. “Oh.” She licked her lips. “Nathan Pine.” Her cheeks flushed slightly, but her eyes snapped with intelligence. “It’s nice to meet you.”

       He suddenly felt like she could see right into him. A feeling he wasn’t used to. A feeling that left him intrigued. “Stella Wright,” he tried to place the name, “the new psychologist?”

       “That’s me.”

       She’d been hired while he was out of the country; a last-ditch effort to rehabilitate the firm’s image after a deal they brokered had turned into an environmental disaster. Coordinator of Ethical Business Practices was a fancy title, but he knew his father had been blocking her proposals at every turn. His father wasn’t interested in ethics. He was interested in money. But the board had overruled him, and Stella had started one week later.

       Nathan found himself wanting to help her; wanting to undo the effects of the icy welcome she’d received at the hands of his father. “Who’s running your meeting?” 

       “Uh . . .” She glanced down at a piece of paper clutched in her hand. “Baxter Thompson.”

       “You want the 15th floor. Tell him you were meeting with me. He won’t be able to argue with that.”

       “This is a meeting?” Her playful smile disarmed him as much as her probing gaze had.

       “It’ll be our little secret.” He held the door open for her, and she headed toward the elevator.

       “Mr. Pine?”

        He turned to see her watching him.

       “Thanks.”

       “Anytime. And it’s Nathan.” Before he registered what he was doing, he headed toward her. “Why don’t I help you find that meeting?”

        She rewarded his thoughtfulness with a grateful smile that sent a rush of heat through his body. “Are you sure?”

       “Of course. Thompson can’t give you a hard time if I deliver you myself.”

       The elevator arrived, and they stepped in together. Nathan’s gaze traced the line of Stella’s silhouette as the doors closed. What conclusion had she reached as she studied him with those deep blue eyes? It had lasted just a moment, but he’d never felt so exposed. 

       “Thank you for helping me.” She tucked her hair behind her ear. “I’m still trying to get my bearings around here.”

       “It can be a difficult place.”

       Stella chuckled. “That’s an understatement. A month ago, I was running group therapy for veterans. Designer clothes, corporate memos, and board meetings feels like another world.”

       “Do you regret the move?” Nathan found himself disappointed at the thought of her quitting. He’d known her for just a few minutes, but he was already planning to remedy that.

       She grinned mischievously. “Is that something I should be admitting to my boss?” She held up a hand before he could answer. “Correction. My boss’s boss?”

       “As your boss, I have a vested interest in ensuring you’re happy here.” He pressed ahead before he could talk himself out of it. “In fact, let’s have lunch today. I’d be happy to talk you through the finer points of surviving employment at Pine and Associates.”

       “Lunch?” Her eyes sparkled, and her cheeks flushed. “I’d love to.”

       “It’s a date.”

       Nathan walked her to her meeting where he excused her tardiness. He was late for his own meeting but no longer cared. In the month he’d been gone, a lot had changed. He had a feeling his run-in with Stella was going to be the biggest one. He couldn’t wait to find out.

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