This is a sneak peek and not the final version. There will likely be small changes made in the final chapters. Enjoy!
Shoes—they’re supposed to match.
No one is going to notice, I silently assure myself as I peer down at my feet.
I mean, I didn’t notice, so why would anyone else? Except the navy left heel and the black right heel look shockingly different in the sunlight streaming in from the coffee shop’s east-facing window.
The slice of light shines on my feet, almost like a carefully placed spotlight highlighting my wardrobe failure.
Really, no one is going to notice, I tell myself once more.
But they might if I keep staring at my feet.
I jerk my head up, forcing myself to ignore my mismatched footwear. The line moves, bringing me one step closer to the counter.
The city coffee shop is busy at seven. When I planned my morning, I didn’t expect to stand here for fifteen minutes, and now I’m seriously running the risk of being late.
Speaking of things not going as planned, I also didn’t expect the smoke detector in my bedroom to start chirping at four AM, announcing its battery was dying.
And did I have a ladder to reach it? I did not. To shut up the stupid thing, I had to pull a barstool from the kitchen and do a balancing act that definitely wasn’t OSHA approved.
And if that wasn’t enough, my hairdryer quit working, too. It gurgled to a stop and then sent out a distress signal in smoke. (Not a good thing to happen when the smoke detector is dangling from its wires, waiting for a replacement battery.)
All in all, my Monday is off to a rough start. I usually shrug off these kinds of days with a laugh. But since I’m starting a new job today, it feels ominous. Like a big, black storm cloud building on the horizon.
The whole job situation is a bit odd, to be honest. I’ve never met my new boss, and he’s never met me. It’s like a blind date with a career, but instead of being able to dart away after dessert, I’m stuck for a year.
“Hi there,” the barista says when I reach the counter. Her hair is up in a carefree messy bun, much like what I attempted. The difference is hers looks cute, and mine looks like I bobby-pinned a wet squirrel to the back of my head.
While suffering from a serious bout of hair envy, I order a caramel latte with an extra shot. Hopefully, the additional caffeine will turn this Monday around. It’s not like it can make it worse.
“That will be four fifty-two,” the girl says.
I reach into my purse, producing my wallet, but I freeze when I open it and find my debit card missing. My driver’s license is gone as well, along with the twenty-dollar bill that I keep for little emergencies such as this.
Panic hits me hard, and then I remember—they’re in the small messenger bag I carry with me when I go for a walk…which I did last night.
I have two credit cards, one for emergencies and the other for online shopping. They’re both at home, safely tucked away where I can’t use them for impulse purchases.
“Ma’am?” the girl says even though I’m only twenty-five.
“Just a second,” I mumble, feeling the long morning line groaning as I go through every single one of my store loyalty cards, hoping to find a forgotten five-dollar bill hidden amongst them.
The guy behind me steps closer, practically breathing down my neck. I guess he wants to make sure I know he’s waiting.
Growing desperate, I begin stacking receipts and cards on the counter. When I add an expired store cash voucher to the pile, the man clears his throat.
Rude much? Can’t he see I’m having a panic attack here?
And then the clouds part, and the sun shines down, revealing a generic gift card I got from my mom last year on my birthday. I used it to buy a tea kettle, but I think there’s still a little left on it.
“Sorry about that.” I hand the barista the card, so relieved I could cry.
She swipes it and then hands it back. “That brings your total down to three dollars and twenty-two cents.”
A hysterical laugh bubbles past my lips. Growing seriously desperate, I say, “I probably have that in change.”
I begin stacking quarters on the counter, doing elementary math in my head. If Lucy has three quarters, five dimes, two nickels, and one hundred fifty-seven pennies, how bad is her day?
“Use this,” the impatient man says from behind me.
Rather abruptly, my personal space is invaded by a businessman wearing a gray jacket. He leans around me, handing his card to the barista. His arm presses against mine, putting him close enough I can make out the crisp, masculine scent of his aftershave.
I blink at him, startled both by the fact that he’s paying for my coffee and that he’s crazy handsome.
Embarrassed, I grasp hold of the counter and whisper a humiliated, “Thank you.”
But a knight in shining armor this man is not. His stormy blue eyes meet mine, and they glitter with irritation.
They silently say, “How dare you rob me of two minutes of my life?” and “I’m too important to deal with people like you.”
“Sorry,” I murmur, stepping aside as my cheeks flame hot.
Before I can run away to wait for my drink in silent shame, he points to the pile of crumpled receipts and coins. “Are you going to leave this?”
His voice is a rich, even timbre. Smooth and delicious. Why is all that yumminess wasted on a man so awful?
I mumble another apology as I quickly collect my things.
Then my mismatched shoes and I hightail it to the corner, and I pretend everyone in the coffee shop didn’t witness the embarrassing spectacle.
You know how they say you shouldn’t be self-conscious because people are too wrapped up in their own lives to actually notice your embarrassing moments?
Well, today, they aren’t. Two women giggle quietly, and when I glance over, they quickly avert their gazes. An older gentleman shoots me a sympathetic smile, but everyone else is careful to avoid eye contact.
My eyes begin to sting with shame, and I work hard not to let the embarrassment get the best of me. But it’s already been such a bad morning.
So bad, in fact, I’m questioning my decision to move halfway across the country to Phoenix. A month ago, my aunt called, telling me she had a job I couldn’t turn down. Like a fool, I jumped. Now I’m not sure it was the wisest decision. Sure, working as a bank teller in a small town in south Texas wasn’t exactly my dream job, but at least the men were gentlemen. Okay, not all of them. But I’ve certainly never met anyone who acted like him.
I shoot a scathing look at the man who saved me. Instead of making small talk with the barista, he scowls at his phone as she finishes processing his payment. She looks disappointed that she and her perfect hair don’t have his undivided attention. And who wouldn’t be? Despite his personality, he’s the type of man who has you picturing wedding photos.
I bet he’d look good in a tux.
Shaking my head, irritated with myself, I turn back to the counter and refuse to give the man so much as another glance.
As soon as my drink is up, I grab it and make for the exit. Unfortunately, Mr. Important ordered a plain black coffee, and he reaches the door first.
Frowning, he holds it for me, but he doesn’t look pleased about it. Whether I like it or not, I get a good, long look at him while he stands there. He couldn’t appear more impatient even if he were tapping his foot and pointing at his watch.
He’s younger than I first assumed, probably in his late twenties. His light brown hair is cut in a stylish way that’s short on the sides and slightly longer on the top. It lays perfectly, not even one strand out of place. I doubt he uses product in it—it wouldn’t dare misbehave. His shirt is crisp, ironed within an inch of its life, and his tie is tied in a precise knot.
And those gray eyes…if they weren’t narrowed on me like I’m a newly discovered species of rainforest insect, I would melt right on the coffee shop floor. But it’s clear he’s not thinking warm, fuzzy thoughts about me, so the moment is dead before it can even begin.
Feeling I must be polite even though I’d rather stick my nose in the air and walk away, I try to smile.
“Thank you again,” I say as I slip out the door. “I’ve had a rough morning.”
The man raises a brow and then looks pointedly at my feet. “I gathered that. Do you realize you’re wearing two different shoes?”
Before I can stutter out an answer, he’s already walking down the street, likely heading for his expensive car and fancy office.
As I watch him go, I realize I’ll have to find a different coffee shop to visit in the mornings. The last thing I want is to run into him again.
Suddenly, I’m jolted from behind as the door swings into me. I stumble forward, trying to catch my balance.
“Sorry about that,” mutters a woman. She barely puts down her phone to acknowledge me. And you know what—I don’t think she’s actually sorry.
Shaking my head, wondering what is up with these grouchy city people, I glance down at my blouse…and then I gasp.
My new boss might not realize I’m wearing two different shoes, but he’ll likely notice the massive beige latte stain on my ivory blouse.
I’ve never understood the term “hot mess” until I stood behind the woman in line at the coffee shop. She was a mess.
And she was sort of hot.
I’m not entirely sure that’s what the phrase means, but it lodged itself in my head as I stared at her while she frantically rifled through her purse. Even now, as I’m walking into work, I’m still thinking about her.
Her hair was wet and wrapped in a twist that she haphazardly forced to the back of her head. One pin stuck out as if it had climbed its way to the top and was calling for help.
Her blouse was wrinkled, and her pencil skirt’s top closure was hanging on by a thread.
And those shoes.
How can a woman her age function in such a disorderly fashion?
A rough morning, she said—as if I simply happened to catch her on a bad day. Something tells me that girl is a walking tornado every moment of her life.
“Why are you smiling?” Carina asks as I walk by her desk on the way into my office.
She continues typing, appearing engrossed in her task.
I pause beside her desk. “How could you possibly tell I was smiling? Your eyes are glued to the screen.”
Finally, Carina pulls her gaze from her computer to look at me. “I could sense it. Frankly, it terrified me.”
I roll my eyes, and then I frown when I remember what day it is. “Do you have to go on maternity leave?”
Eight months pregnant, Carina rubs her stomach. “Do you want me to deliver your nephew in the office?”
I cringe at the thought.
But I’m not happy about her leaving. My sister-in-law is an excellent secretary—efficient, organized, precise. We work well together.
My brother stole the perfect employee from me. He gave her a ring, bought her a house, and now they’re expecting their first child.
“Lucy will do a great job,” Carina assures me, as she has the last several weeks. “You’ll love her.”
Of course she’s going to say that—Lucy is her niece.
I make a noncommittal noise and turn to my office.
“I’ll introduce you as soon as she gets here.”
I glance at my watch. “She’s late.”
“She’s new to the city, and it’s her first day. Cut her some slack.”
Grumbling under my breath, I walk up the three steps and open the glass door that separates my office from the rest of the floor. I don’t like this arrangement—I’ve never even met the woman. And though I trust Carina, I don’t know that I can blindly accept her choice of replacement.
But what can I do? My hands are tied. Tyler already approved it, and since my brother is my senior in both birth order and here at work, there’s little I could say.
Dismissing the irritating thoughts, I sit at my computer and lose myself in answering the morning emails Carina forwarded to me. Fifteen minutes pass, then another five. I find myself glancing up constantly and peering through the glass office wall, wondering where the new girl is.
After another twenty minutes, I push away from my desk, stalk to the door, and stick my head out.
“Is she here yet?” I ask Carina.
“Mmmhmm,” Carina murmurs, tapping her planner as she studies my weekly schedule. Then she looks up. “Well, she was. Tyler met her downstairs. Apparently, she spilled coffee on her blouse. She was running to the bathroom to clean it, but he told her she could go home and change.”
I stare at her blankly. “Excuse me?”
“Take it up with him if you have a problem with it.” Carina looks back at her planner. “Don’t forget you have a meeting with Ulterra in the conference room in five minutes. Oh, Mr. Brelane’s secretary mentioned they want to see if we can alter the design to give them room to add the windows from your original plan.”
“They did?” I say, pleased.
She nods. “But as it is now, it would put them over budget.”
“I’ll make it work.”
I turn back to my office, this time determined to ignore the impending arrival of my new secretary.
More than an hour later, my father knocks on the open glass door. I look up, lowering my reading glasses and waving him inside.
“Your new assistant is a delight,” he says.
I throw my hands in the air. “You’ve seen her?”
He frowns, looking slightly bemused. “I bumped into her five minutes ago in the break room.”
“What’s she doing in there?” I demand. “She hasn’t even come to work. What could she possibly need a break from?”
“Carina was showing her how to make coffee.”
“We hired a secretary who doesn’t know how to make coffee?” I deadpan.
“Administrative assistant,” he corrects.
I roll my eyes, looking back at the notes in front of me. “Whatever she is, I still haven’t met her.”
“Be patient, Ryland. I’m proud that we’ve stayed a family business all these years, and Lucy is family.”
“She’s not my family,” I feel the need to point out.
“That’s her now,” Dad says.
Sharply, I look up. And there she is, my new secretary, walking with Carina and smiling like she doesn’t realize she’s already the worst employee the company has ever seen.
The world outside my office goes muffled, and every click of the wall clock’s second hand becomes deafening. My mouth falls open as a protest forms on my tongue.
Dad glances at me, frowning. “You’ll catch flies like that. Close your mouth, son. She’s pretty, but she’s not that pretty.”
But it’s not the fact that Lucy is good-looking that has me gaping like a dying fish.
Carina leads the hot mess from the coffee shop up the stairs to my office. My father holds the door for them, offering his favorite daughter-in-law and her disaster niece a warm smile.
“Mr. Devlin,” Carina says, dropping my name in the company of the new hire. “This is my niece, Lucy Lennox. Lucy, this is Mr. Ryland Devlin.”
Lucy’s nervous smile freezes when our eyes meet. She stares at me; I stare at her.
She shifts one foot back, nervously edging for the door as if she’s worried she’s going to need to make a hasty getaway.
But it’s too late for that now.
Little Lost Love Letter will be available in the Love in the City box set, available February 16th!