Chapter Four:

At the rat-a-tat-tat of knuckles on her office doorframe, Kelsey tore her eyes away from her two computer monitors. Lisa, her best work friend, had one hand on the partially open door while the other hand held a medium-sized cardboard box. Kelsey glanced down at her desk phone. It was after one o'clock in the afternoon. No wonder she was starving.

She'd hoped that the unusually busy morning meant that she'd be alone for lunch. She couldn't send Lisa away, though. That would just earn her a week of the cold shoulder.

"C'mon in," she called, resigned to her fate.

Lisa kicked the door shut behind her. Bright blue eyes danced with merriment. She set the box down on the only clear spot available on Kelsey's desk. "Where are they?"

With a sigh, Kelsey rolled her chair to the left so that Lisa could see the lavish bouquet of pink, speckled Mokara orchids. The flowers were gorgeous and fragrant. Kelsey had been giddy when she'd picked them up at the receptionist's desk. That giddiness had faded, though, when the sixth person "stopped by" her office to see them. Her office wasn't on the path to anywhere but the emergency exit or the engineering department. And their two engineers were out in the field.

Kelsey dodged a determined head of red hair when Lisa dove for the small ivory envelope on the corner of Kelsey's desk. Crap. She'd forgotten to shove that in a drawer. The flowers were fine. She could pass them off as a thank you from someone she helped or as a gift from her parents for some obscure anniversary. If Lisa read the card, though, Kelsey didn't have a shot in hell of maintaining the ruse.

"Thank you for a lovely weekend," Lisa read aloud. A broad grin spread across her pretty face. "Who is Micah? Why haven't I heard of him before? Have you been holding out on me, Kels?"


Lisa arched an eyebrow. "You know that old married women have to live vicariously through single ladies."

Startled laughter spilled from Kelsey's lips. She snagged the card out of Lisa's hands. "Whatever. You're ten days older than me. And just last week you were telling me way more than I needed to know about your date night with Chris." She tucked the card into a desk drawer. "If anything, I should be living vicariously through you."

Lisa settled onto one of the chairs in front of Kelsey's desk. She reached into the cardboard box and pulled out two plates of sandwich halves. "I got you turkey and roast beef. Jake got to the tuna. So glad he's working with Rachel today. There are chips and cookies in there, too. I love lunch and learns that don't require my attendance."

Kelsey did, too. Especially since she'd forgotten to grab a frozen lunch out of the freezer before she'd left the apartment. "Thanks, Lisa." She grabbed two bottles of water from the pack under her desk and handed one to Lisa.

"Spill," Lisa instructed once the food was distributed.

"He's just a guy. A friend of this guy Avery's really into. We had dinner Thursday night."

"A date on a weeknight? You? I don't believe it," Lisa teased.

Kelsey flicked a potato chip at her. "We were talking about wine and tours, and somehow the four of us ended up touring four wineries on Saturday. It was fun."

Lisa sighed dramatically. "That's it? Those are all the details I'm going to get? You are so boring."

"Which Micah will undoubtedly figure out himself sooner rather than later," Kelsey predicted. She ignored Lisa's eye roll. "Besides, he lives on the east coast. As soon as his work here is done, he'll head back up north and that will be that."

"Well, is he at least cute?"

Micah's grinning face – complete with dimples and dancing eyes – flashed in Kelsey's mind. The corners of her lips lifted. They hadn't agreed on many wines, but they'd had a great time debating the merits of each vintage.

"Very," she answered. "Smart, too. Funny. Kinda nerdy. But in a good way."

Lisa laughed. "Only you. When are you going to see him again?"

Kelsey's smile faded. They hadn't made plans to meet again. She'd sent a plate of blackberry chocolate chip pancakes over with Avery when she'd gone to have lunch with David. Micah had texted a short thank you, but that had been the extent of their contact.

"I don't know."

Lisa spent the next half hour trying to convince Kelsey to set up a lunch date with Micah. Kelsey calmly, though a tad irritably, countered each of her friend's arguments. Kelsey liked Micah, more than she'd liked anyone in a long time, but it just wouldn't work. He was leaving, and between graduate school and work she didn't have time for a relationship.

Once she realized she wasn't going to win, Lisa flounced out of Kelsey's office with a huff. Kelsey grinned as she cleaned up their lunch mess. Lisa wouldn't stay irritated for long, and if she did forgiveness could be bought with a bag of peanut M&Ms.

Kelsey got another hour worth of work done before Stewart Quinn, CEO of QuinnTech, appeared in her open doorway. Stewart smiled but didn't enter her office with his usual nonchalance. "Do you have a minute, Kelsey?"

Kelsey quickly saved her project file and rolled her chair back from her desk. She didn't know what to make of her boss's behavior, but she decided to proceed as if nothing was wrong. "You know I have all the time in the world for you, boss man."

Stewart's smile broadened. Kelsey relaxed marginally. Production problems and delays made everyone miserable, so humor was often an integral part of her weekly status meetings. Over the years, that levity had crept into most of her interactions with coworkers and customers. QuinnTech prided itself on professionalism, but there was an inherent informality that blossomed in a small company.

Stewart stepped into her office. A tall, broad-shouldered, fair-headed man followed him. Kelsey's heart leapt to her throat. She rose from her chair, prayed that her knees would support her. He was wearing a suit. She'd never been attracted to the suit-and-tie corporate type before, but was rapidly changing her opinion. There was something about a well-tailored suit… especially when the wearer was Micah Ashbury.

She internally cringed when she remembered what she was wearing. It was what she considered her "Monday" outfit: khaki dress pants, an aquamarine sleeveless tie-neck blouse, and a beige cardigan. It was comfortable, and the cardigan kept her warm when she was stuck in the always-cold conference room for the slew of Monday morning meetings. Why hadn't she worn her favorite black-and-white skirt or that sweet 60s soda fountain dress she'd picked up on Sunday?

"Kelsey, I'd like you to meet Micah Ashbury. He is head of Ashbury Software. While he's in town he wants to meet with customers and discuss ADMS." Stewart swept a hand from Kelsey to Micah. "Micah, this is our production planner Kelsey Monahan."

Kelsey held out her hand. Micah flashed a quick, secretive smile as his palm slid against hers. Kelsey's cheeks heated. Her pulse tripped. God, those dimples.

"It is a pleasure to see you again, Ms. Monahan. As charming as your cousin is, I must admit that I was disappointed you didn't join us for lunch yesterday."

Stewart's eyes darted to the flowers behind Kelsey. He rubbed his hands together. The look in his eyes promised a quick chat before the end of the day.

"I will leave you two to talk," Stewart said. "Micah, Kelsey can see you out."

Stewart closed the door after he retreated into the hallway. It took Kelsey nearly a minute to realize she was still gripping Micah's hand. She uncurled her fingers and let her hand fall to her side. "Sit, please."

Micah's eyes roamed around her office. Apprehension prickled along the back of her neck. What was he seeing? The framed degree with a completion date far more recent than expected for someone in their early thirties? The photos of completed projects? The timelines and notes scrawled across the white board that covered an entire wall? The family photos stuck to her file cabinet?

A hearty chuckle floated across the desk. Kelsey craned her neck to follow his line of sight. When she saw what had caught his attention, her stomach flipped. The dartboard. With the picture she'd printed of Ashbury Software's last company Christmas party. And a dart through Micah Ashbury's face.

"I don't know if I should be relieved or envious that there are more holes in Ernst's face than there are in mine," Micah mused.

Kelsey's eyes narrowed at the mention of Ashbury Software's lead programmer. Ernst Youst irritated her like few people ever had. He was a condescending, arrogant, my-code-is-the-best-thing-ever… "Relieved," she ground out.

"You weren't exaggerating when you said the software frustrated you."

"No." She sighed and removed the photo from the dashboard. Rather than toss it in the trash, she slid it across the desk to Micah. "But this was unfair of me. Childish. I apologize."

Micah covered the hand pushing the photo. His fingers were warm and smooth. "I have often wished to throw something at Ernst's face. Perhaps you could put the picture back and allow me to play a round of darts."

She did. Each of the darts Micah threw went straight between Ernst's eyes. Kelsey applauded his aim and the sentiment behind it.

"Could you show me where you are having the most difficulty with the software?" he asked once the photo had been relegated to the trash can. He wheeled the visitor's chair around her desk so that he could peer over her shoulder. "Walk me through your steps so that I can understand the problem."

It was hard to concentrate on work when she could feel his breath on the back of her neck, but Kelsey managed. Micah jotted down two pages of notes. She focused on explaining what the problems were rather than just complaining about the clunkiness of the software.

"There's a labor module for entering hours per job per employee, but that information just gets dumped into the General Ledger under a single code with just our internal purchase order number for reference. I have to give the accounting department a breakdown that includes which department the labor came from and which project the labor belongs to. All the information is there. It makes no sense that you can't change where the information goes or run a report off of it."

She showed him the spreadsheets she used for her reporting. Some of the information was exported directly from the software, but that process wasn't entirely smooth, either. She pulled up a sales quote.

"See all the information here," she said, tapping the screen with ADMS. "Those last two columns – the ones with the descriptions and manufacturers – don't export to Excel." She tapped the other screen.

"You mentioned an issue with the purchase order receiving process," he said once she'd finished with the order processing module.

Kelsey clicked her way to the inventory control module. "Okay, so you see here how it gives you a drop-down menu so that you can choose to only post transactions for a particular user?"

"That isn't an option for posting warehouse receipts," Micah finished for her. "You are not the first person to mention that issue. It is something I have asked Ernst to include in the next update."

Kelsey squashed the automatic sneer that the word "update" brought out. "When is that going to be?"

"We are going to cover the changes during the summit and will release it a week afterwards. Why?"

"So I can plan my day off."

Micah chuckled. "Rosemary typically schedules her vacation days around update releases."

"Smart woman."

"Stewart mentioned your company wiki. We have created a beta version of one, and I would be interested in seeing yours."

Kelsey chewed on her lower lip. The wiki was primarily used by inside sales for product information, though each of their projects had a dedicated page with pictures and component information. The reference section included specifics on IP ratings and shipping terms. There were plans to expand the knowledge database, but it hadn't been made a priority.

She didn't want to show it to a real programmer. QuinnTech's Q-Wiki wasn't as flashy as some of the examples she'd seen. It was her baby and she poured hours into it, but she wasn't a programmer. Her knowledge of HTML and the three classes she'd taken before decided that computer science put her to sleep had made her the most qualified to take on Stewart's brain-child.

"Okay, but remember – this isn't a software company."

"I won't judge," Micah laughed. "Stewart told me that you have done most of the work on it."

She shifted out of the way so that he could reach the mouse and navigate through the pages. He didn't comment on the two broken links but hummed appreciatively at the hover-over text. The "I AM A PLACEHOLDER" cartoon graphic she'd put on the blank pages elicited a laugh.

Once he'd gone through the majority of the wiki, Micah leaned back in the chair. Sharp blue-gray eyes settled on her face. She fought the urge to squirm like a child. Was he pissed at her for tearing apart his software? Did he think she was ridiculous and demanding? Was the wiki too rudimentary? Her tables were still a little off-center, though she'd tried to correct the problem.

"Have dinner with me," he said, voice pitched to a low rumble. "I truly missed you yesterday."

"I had work. And laundry. And three homework assignments." At his raised eyebrow, Kelsey crossed her arms defensively. "Graduate school. Master's in Operations Management. I should be finished by December."

Micah tapped his chin. "Do you sleep?"

"Rarely," she said, smiling back at him. "I missed you yesterday, too. Did you enjoy the pancakes."

"Yes. I had to lock myself in the bathroom so that David and Avery could not steal them from me. They were delicious."

She laughed at the mental image of the very proper Mr. Ashbury hidden away in a hotel bathroom shoving forkfuls of blackberry chocolate chip pancakes in his mouth while her cousin and David pounded on the door. She should have gone with Avery, though she wasn't sure which side of the bathroom door she would have been on.

"I would have shared with you," Micah said, reaching for her hand. "Dinner? Please?"

Her nights were predictable. Dinner with Avery. Dishes. An hour of television. Work and homework. Laundry. Shower. Bed. She didn't like to go out on weeknights. No happy hour. No movies or concerts. No dates. She liked predictability.


She also liked Micah.