Jared Hunter watched from his office as the new employee and the accountant flirted. It was practically a ritual for the accountant. Tracey Turner would flirt with the new secretaries, delivery guys, any guy in a position at or below hers. It was never about a promotion, just a cheap thrill.

Normally, he couldn't care less about what Tracey did in the office as long as she did her assignments. This time, however, he was keenly interested. Why, he couldn't figure out. It had to be more than simply the fact the flirting was being reciprocated.

The new employee in question worked as a secretary to human resources manager Harrison Edwards. The grouch, who was a year away from retirement, had had the same assistant for the past eighteen years before that guy finally bought the home in Florida. The new guy was young enough that he'd probably retreat here to keep in touch with modern civilization. As a result, Tracey had probably found the ideal person to flirt with.

Not that he was all that bad of a guy for Tracey to toy with. In fact, Jared had to admit there were few decent looking guys in Cartwright Corp. The highlights in his blonde hair, the current style in suit, sparkling blue eyes able to draw anyone in… The single females here would flock to this one. Heck, the unsatisfied married women probably would as well.

Jared remembered that he needed the financial situation on a particular client, who'd be calling in fifteen minutes to discuss next year's budget. As good of an excuse as any to interrupt their chat.

Tracey saw the office door open and frowned immediately. She could read her boss by now, this his attempt at ruining her fun. "Hunter," she grumbled as he approached.

"Turner," Jared greeted back, just as unenthusiastic. "Have you finished with the LeClair report?"

She let out a bored sigh, then picked the folder off of her desk and handed it to him. "Is that all?" she said icily.

Jared nodded in response, then headed over to the next desk.

* * * * *

The new guy asked, "Was that your boss?"

Tracey replied tiredly, "Yeah but don't let him intimidate you, Stephen. He won't chase you back to HR." As long as the work was completed, Jared would stay the hell out of her affairs. That worked out well, as Stephen Levine's boss was less a curmudgeon than a weary old soul.

"Is he always uptight?"

Tracey let out an exasperated breath. "It's like he was born with a stick up his butt. Sometimes, I think what he needs is a good shag."

"He's single?" Stephen glanced over at the desk, small talk as the boss waited for the secretary to finish her excuse. His tall, lanky frame serving well in this instance as he could come off as cold and rigid just from a stance and a narrow stare. Everything was in place, from the slicked back hair, to the pressed suit to the creases of the pants. "He strikes me as the unhappily married type."

"Oh no! I've lived in the same apartment complex as Jared Hunter for three years." She clapped her hands to accentuate the conclusion, startling Stephen. "Nothing."

Several other people turned their way to see where the sound came from, then resumed their regular activities upon finding nothing. When that happened, Stephen said in a hushed tone, "This isn't just a workplace façade?"

"No, but it's funny you should say that." Tracey briefly considered not schooling the newcomer to the strangeness of her boss, but it wasn't like she was degrading his supervisor. Besides, Stephen would eventually hear the gossip. Now was as good a time as any. "The story goes that there was this one lady he'd bring as a companion for business dinners. She turned out to be a hired gun."

A hired gun. Normally, he associated that term with a ringer, but there was no reason for that type of person. Plus, it didn't sound like a business-related matter. "You mean an escort?"

"Yup. See what I mean about no skills?"

"See, that surprises me. He's a well-dressed, good-looking guy with money."

"Personality counts for more than you give women credit for."

Stephen snuck another look, in time to catch Jared take off his wire frames and pinch the bridge of his nose as he pretended to care about the explanation still taking place from the secretary. No, his earlier assessment seemed accurate as the glasses were top name as well hiding hazel eyes that didn't seem quite as imposing as when behind the lenses. Just as quickly, the glasses were back on and it was as if nothing had been revealed. Resorting back to the original conversation, Stephen replied, "So I guess that means I have no chance with you. I've been told my personality is deadly."

Tracey flashed a toothy smile, appreciating the change in subject. "Well, I haven't decided about you yet. I'll need more evidence before I make such a judgment. At least three visits to this department should do the trick."

Stephen nodded, offering a smirk. "I may hold you to that."

* * * * *

Jared drove down Sunrise Avenue until he reached the last apartment complex. Some days, home didn't seem to arrive soon enough. There were so many blinding colors along the way that it was a welcome relief whenever the simple white brick appeared. The parking lot was almost full, as most of the residents dealt with jobs that ended at five o'clock, that didn't involve business calls from executives taking vacations in Hawaii and forgetful of the time difference.

He was fortunate to spot a few parking spots in a cluster along the wooden fence separating this building from the garish Rainbow Estate. The Rainbow Estate had a real name and impressive inhabitants but all anybody could remember was that someone painted the building pink, yellow and blue. The designer deserved to be sued for wrecking an otherwise lovely structure with those colors.

The roar of a motorcycle parking itself right next to his Mustang interrupted the chastising. When the helmet came off, Jared vaguely recognized it as the newest resident. Otherwise known as the guy crashing on Peter and Hillary Farley's couch. Someone mentioned the guy had some weird moniker…sounded like Nick…Rick, Slick…

"Cool ride," the guy remarked as he circled the car, placing his sunglasses on his head, holding back his dark brown hair.

"Thanks." Jared stuffed his hands in the pockets of his trench coat, following the guy's pacing, wondering where he was heading with this.

"I've been in town long enough to be put off by all those sparkling BMWs and Cadillacs. It's nice to see a classic car in excellent restored condition."

Oh yeah, now remembered the guy was a mechanic. This was the start of an in-depth auto discussion, one that he couldn't even begin to understand. "I didn't work on this car. The previous owner did all the labor. Still does actually because he can't bear to be away from his child."

He nodded, not pushing the matter further. Instead, he turned around to admire the building. "I can't figure this out. Peter Farley in a place like this? Man, he married well."

Peter's wife Hillary was an up-and-coming lawyer at a firm Cartwright Corp occasionally dealt with. A rather high-class woman with generations of wealth. It must have been an act of rebellion when she first met Peter Farley, a guy who drove an hour several days a week to get to the beach before opening up a floral shop. So while the guy was hardly a bum, he did come off as a hippie. Two years later, they were now married and happier than ever.

This guy was just as blue-collar as Peter, explaining their friendship dating back to high school. He flipped his sunglasses back down before he could say more, then headed for the building. Jared followed, more concerned about collapsing on the couch than in prolonging this conversation.

Tracey was sitting on a float in the pool as the guys passed through the arch signifying the entrance to the building. Never one to pass up a moment, she jumped out of the water, wrapped herself in a towel, threw on her flip-flops and approached them. Making a show of shutting Jared out of the conversation, she sweet-talked, "I heard you just moved in and I just wanted to roll out the welcome mat." Flash a smile as she did a quick scan of the newcomer, taking in the beaten-in brown leather jacket, dirt-ridden jeans, and the helmet in his hand. Yeah, definitely a type she was intrigued by. "Tracey Turner. I live in 3A, if you need anything." She shook her head, showing off her red curls, in an attempt to be seductive.

"Randall Wickman but everyone calls me Wick." He seemed almost bored to be talking to her, a definite obstacle if she wanted to add this to her collection of conquests. "I probably won't be here long."

Even she noticed the weary tone. "Okay then. I'll just head back to my evening swim," spinning away and returning to the pool. Maybe at a later time she'd try again, one in which Hunter couldn't ruin the moment with his negative energy.

Wick muttered, "Is she the vamp or the gossip of the building?"

"Gossip," Jared confirmed, as she wasn't particularly manipulative when it came to the men she wanted. "There's one like her everywhere." He took one last look over his shoulder as Tracey resumed her position on the float. "Unfortunately, in my case, it is her everywhere."

"That sucks, um…" Wick tried to fish for the right name but was drawing a blank as well. "James?"

Corrected, "Jared. Jared Hunter."

"Right. The accounting firm guy. " It should have sounded like an insult coming from him, but there was a hint of respect in the tone. He headed down the path, then turned back to say, "See ya around."