Swept Away

By: Dawn Atkins


CANDY CALDER TOOK a deep breath and blurted the news that upset her as much as it would disappoint her friends. “I can’t make the Malibu trip.”

“What? No!” Ellie Rockwell set down Candy’s order of café de Sade-the double-mocha espresso she’d created for Candy-so hard it slopped onto the polished oak bar.

“You’re kidding,” Sara Montgomery added in her soft Southern accent, her latte stalled mid-sip.

“I have to buckle down at work,” Candy said-as much to remind herself as to explain to her friends. “My reputation is at stake.”

“What’s wrong with your reputation?” Ellie asked. “You work hard and you play hard. That’s perfect for a software marketing genius.”

“I’m hardly a genius, Ellie, but thanks.”

Ellie shoved her pitch-black hair behind one ear and leaned forward, ready to fix this. Everyone who entered Dark Gothic Roast, the coffee bar that matched Ellie’s glam-goth style, got a blend of java, advice and whatever help Ellie could manage.

“This was your idea,” Sara said. “You said we needed a girl-getaway.” Her words made Candy grin. It hadn’t been easy to convince Sara she could afford a week away from her uncle’s title company where she served as his right arm, left arm and both legs.

“I know, but it can’t be helped. I got a bad test result.” Candy made a face.

“What kind of test?” Ellie said. “Pap smear? Mammogram? Get a second opinion before you panic, hon. They make mistakes-”

“A personality test, Ellie. SyncUp employees had to beta-test the Personality Quotient 2. I should have come out ‘works hard, plays hard,’ but the PQ2 says I’m ‘all play, all the time.’ When your brother sees that, my goose is cooked in the department.” Ellie’s brother Matt had just been appointed marketing vice president for SyncUp and was suddenly Candy’s boss.

“Matt knows you. And when you hear my news, you’ll change your mind. Listen, I got-”

“I’ll still pay my share,” Candy interrupted. Ellie had scored a screaming deal on a beach house through a customer who was a property manager.

“You have to come,” Ellie pressed, “because I got-”

“You’ll be fine without me, El. You’ll still have Sara and the festival.” The week-long event was in celebration of the second-season launch of Ellie’s favorite TV show, Sin on the Beach, which was the only reason Ellie would agree to leave her precious coffee bar in the hands of her assistant for so long.

“This is my last chance to impress Matt before he appoints the team leaders next week.” The department re-org was supposed to be hush-hush, but Candy had learned about it through Matt’s secretary, who was a friend. Matt would be assigning his staff to one of five product teams and choosing a leader for each. She intended to be one of them.

“That makes the trip perfect. Matt’s going to be-”

Candy grabbed Ellie’s arm. “Speak of the devil. Don’t look now.” Over Ellie’s shoulder, Candy watched Matt Rockwell stroll in, managing to look hot in boring khaki Dockers and a hopelessly wrinkled oxford shirt. His aviator glasses weren’t quite retro and his chestnut hair was too shaggy to be stylish, but the overall effect was just-rolled-out-of-bed sexy and it made her tight between the thighs.

The man’s rumpled kissability was partly the cause of the Thong Incident nine months ago at Matt’s first happy hour at SyncUp. Because of that, the man who now held her career in his hands had an all-wrong opinion of her.

She cringed for the thousandth time.

Matt caught sight of her, reddened, paused as if he wanted to make a break for it, then soldiered on.

When he was close enough, Candy said, “Hey, Matt.” Her own cheeks were idiotically on fire.

“How are you, Candy?” He nodded soberly.

“Fine. Just fine. You?”

“Fine.” He cleared his throat, looked at her, breathed.

She breathed back, feeling her friends’ eyes boring in.

“See you up there.” Matt poked a thumb toward the ceiling, meaning the sixteenth floor, where the SyncUp office was. He looked at Ellie, then motioned down the counter, meaning he’d give his order to her assistant, so she could keep talking.