DAN PARKER was never late. But his first day on the new job, and he had missed his appointment with HR by fifty minutes. His button-down stuck to his back, and his slightly too long, I-don’t-have-time-for-a-haircut hair felt clammy on his nape as he followed the administrative assistant to the conference room.
He should have taken his parents up on their offer to spend a few days in Raleigh while he and Lacey got settled in, but he hadn’t wanted to impose. Bad enough they’d had to drive to Wilmington and watch Lacey so he could compete in the triathlon. They were getting on in years and he worried about them chasing after a four-year-old.
“I’m so sorry,” Carly, the babysitter, told him when she’d called him at five that morning, sounding like death warmed over. “My sister-in-law in Durham can watch Lacey for the day, if you’d like.”
He’d driven a half-asleep Lacey to Durham at seven, but the traffic heading back into Raleigh had crawled along through a gauntlet of construction. He’d tried to focus on the song playing on the radio, but as each minute ticked by, he’d wondered if he’d made a mistake jumping so quickly at the job Terri had offered him. Maybe he should have taken more time to get settled in before starting work. As it was, he’d had less than a week to move into the new place and get Lacey settled into childcare. He didn’t even want to think of the piles of boxes all over the house.
“Don’t worry about it, Mr. Parker,” Carol from HR told him when he called from his car. “We can take care of your paperwork after the meeting with the partners.”
The administrative assistant held the conference door open for him, glancing nervously at a good-looking man in an impeccably tailored suit. He was leaning against a credenza, surrounded by a gaggle of young people in suits. With his dark curly hair, the perfect angle of his jaw, and piercing green eyes, he looked like he’d just stepped out of an advertisement for a high-end Italian designer. His expression reminded Dan of a marble statue: beautiful and inscrutable. And familiar.
Holy hell. It was Graham, the guy he’d nearly hooked up with two days before! This is not at all going well. He’d felt like a total ass leaving Graham high and dry. But Lacey started throwing up, and hearing her sob over the phone like that…. He’d been too nice to suggest that maybe the huge wad of cotton candy his parents bought her, not to mention the fried chicken fingers and milk shake she’d had for lunch, might have been the culprit.
The assistant mumbled something that Dan didn’t quite follow, waited until he was inside, and closed the door behind him. Graham made no move to approach him, although Dan thought he saw a flicker of recognition in those stunning green eyes.
Better get this show on the road. It’s not going to get any easier…. Dan was just about to introduce himself and make his apologies for being late when someone next to him said, “Dan, so good to have you with us.”
“Terri.” Dan took her hand, relieved to see Terri James’s familiar face. “It’s good to see you again. I’m sorry I’m late.”
“Don’t apologize,” Terri said. “Happens to the best of us. I’m just glad you took us up on the offer to join the firm.” Her smile was as warm and bright as he remembered from law school. He began to relax. “Let me introduce you to my partner and my best friend.” She gestured him over to Graham.
“Graham, this is Dan Parker. Dan, meet my partner, Graham Swann.”
“Good to meet you, Graham,” Dan said and held out his hand. In situations like these, discretion was always the better approach. If Graham wanted to acknowledge their near miss, he’d have ample opportunity. Still, what were the odds that sexy Graham with the perfect glutes would be Graham Swann? The man had quite the reputation in North Carolina: graduated top of his class at Vanderbilt University Law School, won a $4.3 million verdict in his first employment discrimination case, and founded one of the most successful employment-law practices in the southeast with his cut. All that, and he was only thirty-two, the same age as Dan. Except his bio didn’t mention he was a triathlete.
Graham’s face remained impassive as they shook hands, but Dan sensed Swann was more than just irritated. He was pissed. Not that Dan could blame the man, but—
“I have a meeting,” Graham told Terri. “I’ll leave you to handle the rest of the introductions.”
“Good meeting you…,” Dan began, but Graham had already turned and was headed for the door. “I’m afraid I haven’t made much of a first impression,” he added with a sigh. Dan had little hope of overcoming that first impression with the usual niceties.
“Don’t mind him,” Terri said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “He’s naturally prickly, but it’s been even worse lately. We’re drowning in work, and he’s taken the brunt of it. He’s been here until midnight nearly every night for the past two weeks. I’m sure he’ll be back to his usual self once you and the newbies over there are up and running.”
“I’m sure,” Dan lied.
“Settling in okay?” Terri asked.
“Normally I’d hit the ground running,” he replied. “But moving with a four-year-old is a bit more of a challenge.”
“I was so sorry to hear about Benn,” she said. “How are you and Lacey doing?”
“When Benn and I adopted her, I never figured I’d end up a widower and a single parent before she turned two,” Dan said. “But we’re doing fine. The last few years have been stressful, but they’ve also been pretty wonderful.” Still, he and Lacey needed a life, not the long hours spent working and commuting that gave them no time together. He’d jumped at this job even though it meant giving up his share as partner in the Wall Street firm he’d worked for since graduating from law school.
“I’m glad. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help, okay?”
He smiled. “Thanks. The realtor and the moving company you recommended made it a lot easier.”
“Your parents live in the mountains, don’t they?”
“Near Asheville,” he confirmed.
“Graham’s from up that way. He’s got an amazing place near the Blue Ridge Parkway gathering dust—but that’s where you come in to lighten the load.”
“You said you had a few big cases gearing up for trial,” Dan said. “Anything interesting?”
“Could be. Graham’ll tell you more about it since it’s his baby,” she explained. “He handles the employment cases. I handle the labor ones, arbitration, and most of the proactive work with clients. There’s a little crossover, and some of the associates handle both, but mostly we tend to stick to one or the other. If you decide at some point you want to come over to the dark side, let me know. I’m happy to show you the ropes.”
“I may take you up on that once I’ve had a chance to settle in. For now, I’m looking forward to spending less time reviewing documents and more time in court.”
“You’ll get your wish. That gaggle of kids over there”—she nodded to the group of fresh-faced new lawyers who were helping themselves to coffee and Krispy Kreme doughnuts and gazing out over the city below—“will be taking on most of the discovery responses for Graham’s crew. We’ve also got a new paralegal starting next week.”
“Sounds like heaven.”
Her phone beeped. “Crap. I’ve got a telephone conference with a union rep in five minutes. Do you think you can find your way back to HR? They’ve got some papers you’ll need to fill out.”
“No problem. I’ll figure it out.”
“Drinks after work?” she asked.
“I wish I could. I need to pick Lacey up from the babysitter.” He smiled. “Once I get the childcare squared away, I’d love to take you up on it.”
“Deal. And there’s always lunch,” she added.
“Lunch would be perfect.”
“I’ll text you.” She headed for the door. “And don’t hesitate to find me if you need anything.”
“I will. Thanks.”
An hour later, after filling out a pile of forms for HR, Dan closed the door to his new office and took a deep breath. Three years of watching Lacey fall asleep at 7 p.m. on the drive home from the childcare center when he should have been tucking her into bed, and Dan knew he’d made the right choice. Now if he could only convince Mr. Tall, Dark, Incredibly Sexy, and Massively Pissed Off that hiring him was the right choice….