By Melody Johnson
If the intensity of her hangover was equivalent to the level of merriment at last night’s post-conference Halloween party, Harper Reyes had obviously experienced the merriest night of her life. She hadn’t even opened her eyes yet, and her head was already protesting against waking up. Every hair follicle was tender. Her mouth was as fuzzy as her memories, and her stomach—no, better to focus on other pains rather than the current dangers posed by that organ. She inhaled deeply, swallowed, and waited until the churning settled before mustering the strength to open her eyes. Even so, she immediately regretted that decision.
Harper blinked at the blurry world around her—once, twice, and kept blinking—but the too-bright hotel room refused to focus. Which didn’t do any favors for her head or stomach even as she realized that inexplicably, she was wearing glasses in addition to the contacts she’d forgotten to take out last night.
She removed the glasses from her face and stared at the familiar black browline frames, perplexed. Why on Earth was she wearing Dennis’s glasses?
Something warm stirred under the sheets—someone, Harper realized as an arm snaked around her stomach—and she froze.
One night. That’s all she’d needed, just one carefree, dance-filled, drunken night to fling aside her stress and recover from the endless weeks of conference prep with Dennis the Perfectionist, weeks that had culminated in that ten-car pile-up of a presentation. But even flung aside, stress always had a way of boomeranging right back.
She worked up the nerve, then peeked over her shoulder at the warmth spooned behind her. And groaned. Dennis Hunt in the flesh, with half his sugar skull skeleton makeup from last night smeared on his pillow, was a rumpled mess, passed out beside her.
She’d never thought prim and proper “but that’s not company policy” Dennis would ever be caught dead without having ironed, starched, and pleated himself to meticulous precision, so seeing him in such a state of complete dishabille would have been shocking had her body not already been electrified by the sight of him beside her, sharing the bed. Sharing a sheet. One long arm heavy over her hip. A well-defined, muscular arm to match the strong cut to his jawline that she may or may not have admired during the six months they’d been working together. She couldn’t imagine Dennis doing something so unrefined as sweating, but one didn’t achieve such biceps and triceps and all sorts of ’ceps without working for it. And if there was one thing Dennis did unfailingly—besides arriving early, over analyzing, and triple checking—it was working hard for what he achieved.
Harper’s stare lingered a moment over his features: the hard part in his hair and soft gradient of its fade into a medium buzz cut, the smooth glow of his dark skin on his unpainted throat, the plump fullness of his lips surrounded by the precise trim of his beard. One of those fuzzy memories from last night suddenly crystalized into clarity: the peppermint of his tongue licking into her mouth.
And the carnal satisfaction of hearing rigid, rule-following Dennis literally growl at her when she licked him back.
Oh, Dios mío! Her cheeks blazed.
The fact that he was still wearing a shirt was a relief, if only she could determine if he was also still wearing pants.
Because she wasn’t.
She was still in her blousy sequin top and lacy underwear from last night, which was something at least. An untethered lifebuoy in choppy waters, but a lifebuoy nonetheless.
She reached between them on a covert, exploratory mission to discover the status of his legs—within pants or without, that was the question—but the moment her hand touched the warm granite of his bare waist—ah, muscles everywhere!—Dennis’s eyes fluttered open.
A sweet smile curved his lush lips and then stiffened on his face. He squinted. “Harp?”
She snatched her hand from his person, slid his glasses onto his nose, and whipped up a smile. “Buenos días, Dennis.”
He blinked at her. “I almost didn’t recognize you. Your face—”
She winced. “Is probably a makeup-smeared catastrophe, I know.”
“—is different. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but…” He reached between them with his finger extended toward her cheek, as if he was literally going to put his finger on it.
Dennis hesitated mid-air, seemingly struck by discovery. “You washed off your makeup.”
She glanced pointedly at his pillow. “As you should have,” she snapped even as her stomach shriveled. And she’d thought the possibility of having been physically intimate with Dennis the worst of her drunken decisions.
“You’re gorgeous,” he breathed.
It would have been a very sincere, soul-healing compliment had he not sounded completely shocked by such a revelation. Her annoyance must have showed in her expression because he cleared his throat.
“Not that you’re not always gorgeous. It’s just that you do wear a lot of makeup every day, not just for Halloween. With all the foundation caked on your face and the dark lipstick and the thick black stuff around your eyes, I just—”
“It’s called eyeliner, Dennis,” she snapped. “And it makes my eyes pop.” She refused to justify the foundation. He could connect the dots on that one. Literally.
His eyes dropped to study the curves of her body under the sheet, distracted. “We didn’t—”
“Certainly, we wouldn’t.” She bit her lip, not certain in the least.
His eyes darted back up to her blouse. “We couldn’t have. You’re still dressed.”
As if in defiance of his reason, the collar of her blouse slipped to droop off one shoulder.
“And you’re still dressed, too.” Harper hesitated. “Right?”
Dennis produced a coughing garble from the back of his throat. “I wouldn’t necessarily describe my state of dress as, well, dressed, but I’m wearing my boxers if that’s what you’re asking.”
“So we definitely didn’t then.” But she might have sounded more convincing if she wasn’t trying to reassure herself as well as him. “I remember us not doing it.”
One of his eyebrows quirked. “But do you remember what we did do?”
“Mmmm.” Harper huffed in frustration, and a curl fluttered off her nose only to fall into her eye. She wiped her hand down her face. “I remember meeting you in the lobby.”
His lips twitched. “I don’t think we get points for recalling how the night began.”
“Jekyll and Gin was on special,” she said, forging ahead despite his sarcasm. “We had quite a few of those concoctions, I believe, before progressing to tequila shots.”
“Which was your idea,” Dennis accused.
The crease of his frown really was quite adorable. She grinned. “You’re welcome. I don’t think we did body shots before we left the hotel—”
Dennis reared back. “Body shots?”
“But then it’s mostly a blur of dancing, shots, music, more shots, laughing…” She reached between them and wiped a smear of paint from his collarbone. “And more body shots.”
His brows descended into one thunderous line over his eyes. “I do not dance.”
“Oh, you danced, and may I add, you enjoyed every moment of it.” Her grin widened. “As did I.”
Despite his stiff, no-nonsense attitude, Dennis had been surprisingly easy to persuade into participating in last night’s post-conference mission to drown their humiliation. He’d obviously been just as devastated by their plane crash of a presentation as she’d been to agree to anything she proposed let alone something as foreign to him as fun.
Harper inhaled a little courage along with a lungful of oxygen. “Listen, about yesterday’s presentation—”
Dennis grimaced. “Please. Don’t.”
“I forgive you.”
Dennis’s golden brown eyes bugged out of his head. “You forgive me?”
She nodded. “That big brain of yours can’t help correcting me when you know it all, even if you’re undermining your own research.”
“I was not undermining—” He cut himself off with a sharp exhale. “I should be the one forgiving you.”
“Ha! I was on fire. If you’d only let me finish answering the man’s question—”
“You weren’t answering it correctly!”
Harper clutched her pounding head. “Inside voice, if you please.”
Dennis propped himself up on one elbow. “Black Abbot wasn’t a hacker,” he continued, calm and quiet—his inside voice just as she’d asked—but somehow, his tone still spiked her blood pressure. “She was the mastermind behind the logistics of how they spread the Pavi Virus. Jamie Pavi was the coder who created the virus. The virus, in this instance, did the hacking, breaching the necessary firewalls for Pavi to gain access to and steal government intelligence.”
Harper drew a deep breath. She could have this conversation without losing her temper. She could. “Unlike our digital tech conferences, most of the people at this conference are business owners, not coders. They don’t care about the whos and the whats and the wheres. Besides which, we covered all that earlier in our presentation. By the Q and A, they just want assurances that our cyber security software can protect them from such a breach happening to their company. Which we can assure them of that without overly complicating everything.”
“I was being transparent!
“You were losing them!” Harper wriggled up against the headboard to glower down at him. “Had you stuck to the plan, we would’ve been fine: you explain the software, and I sell it. Easy. Instead, you just rambled on and on and—”
“Had you answered the man’s question correctly, I wouldn’t have interrupted,” Dennis ground out.
“Just because I wasn’t saying it the way you would have said it doesn’t make it incorrect. It makes me a savvy salesperson, because the way you were saying it was taking forever, providing details that were unnecessary to answer the question. Your answers only ever open you up to more questions.”
“Which you basically told me on stage. In front of hundreds of people. An argument made permanent by the conference recording!” Dennis slumped onto his back, throwing an elbow over his eyes.
Harper rubbed her temples. “Why does it feel like we’ve had this fight before?”
“The entire department, including James, our supervisor—”
“I know who James is,” she gritted out.
“And Linda, his supervisor—”
Harper rolled her eyes. “I know the company hierarchy. You’re over-explaining, as usual.”
“And Manuel and Barbara and Felicita and Patrick— ”
Harper snorted. “Patrick has trouble working Excel. I doubt he’ll bother with the conference recordings.”
“—will listen to us devolve into children.”
“Nothing they don’t hear every day,” she muttered.
“Not in front of hundreds of our professional colleagues, they don’t!” Dennis rolled onto his stomach and smothered his face into the pillow, glasses and all. “It’s bad enough that we had to experience that train wreck as it was happening,” he droned on, his misery muffled by fabric and feathers. “You think after all the ribbing we endured when James paired us together that anyone will let this go? We’re oil and water, they said. You don’t mix fire and gasoline, they said. We’ll rise to the challenge, or like Icarus, plummet to our deaths trying to reach the sun, James said.”
“Prone to hyperbole, our James.” Harper sighed. “But truly, product development and sales never saw a more volatile paring.
“And we proved them right. We’ll be reliving the humiliation for years!”
“They only keep the conference presentations live on the website for one year.”
Dennis lifted his head slightly to glare at her with one narrowed eye.
“You said years. Plural. But we’ll only have to relive it for one year. Singular.”
Dennis let his head fall limply back into the pillow and moaned.
“The presentation was dynamite before the final five minutes of that Q and A,” Harper mused. “If only we’d been able to keep our shit together long enough to pull it off.”
“If only,” he breathed, a defeated Darth Vader.
Smothered as he was by the pillow, now was as good a time as any to easy out from under the sheets. Harper left the bed and padded across the room to the bathroom, scanning the floor as she went for her jeans, shoes, and bra. No dice. But that didn’t necessarily mean that she’d entered the room in only her shirt and underwear. The suite was huge—a two room, two bath complete with an office area, living area, dining area, and a gorgeous, wrought-iron balcony with vines intertwining the lattice. The remains of her discarded costume could be anywhere.
“It’s not like you to splurge on the company dime, Dennis, but I can’t say I’m not impressed by the room upgrade,” Harper shouted from the bathroom.
“I’d never misuse the company credit card,” Dennis said, sounding offended at even the suggestion.
Finished in the bathroom, Harper leaned a shoulder against the doorframe and let loose a low whistle. “You must make way more than I do, then, to afford this room.”
He sat up and inhaled, about to speak.
“No, no. Don’t say it.” She held up a hand. “It’ll only depress me.”
“Why would I need to afford your room?” Dennis asked.
Harper straightened. “This isn’t my room.”
“Well, it’s certainly not my room!” Dennis’s frantic gaze darted around them, searching for so many answers to this morning’s never ending parade of questions, but she still hadn’t even been able to find her pants. “Who the hell’s room is this?”
“Mierda,” she hissed and ran through the suite, hunting for their belongings. “We need to get out of here!”
“How did we even get in here?”
“Don’t just sit there!” Harper shouted from the living area. She’d already searched the dining area and second bathroom without success. “Help me find our clothes! Oh, my head,” she added on a groan.
“I’m not sitting.” A pause. “There’s some Tylenol here if you need it.”
“I’m not stealing medicine from a stranger’s room!” Nothing in the kitchen area either, damn it!
“Well, I am. How many shots did we actually do last night?”
“That is no longer the most important mystery to solve this morning, Dennis. Keep up!”
The suite was the largest hotel room she’d ever slept in, but it wasn’t Buckingham Palace. There were only so many places two pairs of pants, two pairs of shoes and a bra could be discarded. Unless… she dashed to the balcony and squinted through the unforgiving glare of the sun to examine the street below. And heaved a sigh. If they’d managed to become that rowdy last night, the evidence of their abandon was long gone.
“Er, Harp?” Dennis called. “I may have found something here.”
“Clothes, I hope.” She ran back to the bedroom.
Dennis’s shirt was more wrinkled than before, if that was even possible, and buttoned crookedly, but at least he’d washed his face.
He offered her two pills and a glass of water.
“Tylenol? You already told me about this discovery.”
“Just stop arguing with me for one second and listen.” He took a deep breath. “Please,” he added.
Harper pursed her lips, took the pills and water in hand, and waited.
Dennis hitched a thumb over his shoulder. “I found my wallet on the bedside table, my room key still inside.”
“That’s progress, but the key could be for this room.”
“No, the key is still in its sleeve.”
She blinked. “With the room number written on it?”
“Well, it wouldn’t be written on the plastic keycard.” Dennis snorted, shaking his head.
“Jesús dulce bebé,” Harper muttered. She downed the pills and set the glass aside. The man was a genius, but he had no sense!
“But better than that, I determined whose room we’re in.”
Harper crossed her arms. “How is that better than finding your wallet?”
Dennis gestured to the office area like Houdini, revealing the unseen. “Because we’re in Eugene Diaz’s room.”
“Oh, you need to me explain someone’s position to you?” He crossed his arms, mocking her. “I thought that was considered over-explaining.”
She gritted her teeth. “Is this Eugene person a co-worker of ours?”
“Then why would I know who he is?”
“Because we met him last night: your height, cheerful, wearing a bright orange ‘this is my Halloween costume’ t-shirt.” Dennis circled his hand at her. “Nothing?”
Harper shook her head and shrugged.
Dennis picked up a conference badge from the desk and held it out to her. “He’s the IT specialist for BusiNex, the conference’s main sponsor.”
“I know who BusiNex is,” she groused.
“But not Eugene?” He slapped the badge on his palm. “Harp, he’s in charge of the conference recordings!”
Harper let that fact sink into her pounding skull, and as her brain throbbed, another piece to last night’s puzzle snapped into place. “Por supuesto, that’s why we’re here! We bumped into him at the bar. You were boozing him up, and I must have snatched his keycard.” She glanced around. “If I was a keycard, where would I be?”
Dennis opened the laptop. “Did we delete the last five minutes of our recorded presentation?”
Harper shook her head. “I don’t remember. I think we got distracted.”
He wiggled his finger on the touch pad with ferocity. Considering the dinosaur he was working with, it might never wake up. “What could possibly distract us from saving the remnants of our joint professional reputations?”
Harper bit her lip.
Dennis met her eyes. “You said we wouldn’t.”
“We didn’t.” She lifted her arms to the ceiling, exasperated
Dennis’s eyes dropped to her chest.
She felt her nipples tingle and pucker under his scrutiny. The perils of not wearing a bra, but oh, even just the wiggle of his finger on that touch pad did wonderful things to the flex of his bicep.
Harper let her hands fall down to her sides.
Dennis shook his head and refocused his attention firmly on the screen. “The laptop requires a password. Maybe that was our roadblock.”
“Why would that be a roadblock? Use that big brain of yours and just hack into it.”
Dennis closed his eyes on a pained sigh. “Again. Like Pavi, I can’t just…” But then as she knew it would, that big brain of his caught on and lapped them both. “Considering this make and model laptop, I could write a reset password disk. But I’d need my laptop and a CD and—”
“What are we waiting for?” Harper snapped the laptop lid closed, unplugged it from its charger, and snatched it from the desk. “Let’s go.”
“Go?” He blinked at her dumbly. “We still don’t have pants!”
“Not for lack of trying on my part.” She turned for the door, laptop clutched to her chest. “Grab the robes from the bathroom. That’ll be better than nothing. It’s time we cut our losses before Jeannie returns—”
“—and finds us in his room.” She straightened her blouse. “A little walk of shame never killed anyone.”
“I’m not sure either of us have pride to spare after yesterday’s presentation.”
“All the more reason to erase it from history.” She looked over her shoulder, but Dennis was still rooted at the table, his head buried in his hands. “Come on! Stand up, grab those robes, and move!”
“How will we return the laptop to his room? We haven’t found his room key.”
Harper paused, hand on the doorknob. “Give me your keycard. I’ll get your stuff, and you can stay here to let me back in.”
The chair scraped the carpet as he stood. “No way I’m staying here like a sitting duck, waiting for you to return before Eugene does. I’ll get my own stuff, and you stay here to let me back in.”
“Ah!” She pointed at Eugene’s conference name badge. “You grab his badge. We both escape from this room, and you can impersonate Eugene at the front desk to get an extra room key. You’ll have his name badge as proof that you’re him if they ask. But you know how these places are. They never ask.”
“I’m not approaching the front desk like this.” He swept an arm down the front of his body. “I don’t have pants!”
Harper rolled her eyes. “By then you will. You have spare pants in your room, right?”
“Well, yes,” Dennis conceded, “but—”
“No more excuses. Grab that badge, and let’s go.”
Dennis Hunt tried valiantly to focus on anything besides Harper in that fuzzy, terrycloth robe beside him, but he wasn’t a monk or a saint or a eunuch, and she—he took a deep breath and nudged his glasses higher on his nose to better watch the floor numbers rise along with the elevator—Harper looked like she always looked whether she was rocking a three-piece suit, jeans, a calavera sugar skull costume, or in this case, a robe: achingly unattainable.
Except that if last night proved anything, besides the fact that they both needed to keep better track of their possessions while out on the town, it proved that maybe Harper Reyes wasn’t as out of his league as he’d always assumed.
She was, however, still clinically insane, an unretractable thorn in his side, and a terrible influence. Which only made it that much more difficult to revel in the fact that her plan, in so far as they’d enacted it, was actually working.
They’d borrowed Eugene’s laptop, robes, and badge and hightailed it back to Dennis’s room with minimal witnesses. He’d created the password reset disk and used it to bypass the laptop’s login screen. Harper had found their presentation among the many conference recordings, clipped its catastrophic end in editing mode, and saved the file. He’d replaced his robe with pants and retrieved a copy of Eugene’s room key from the front desk without having to flash the conference badge, as Harper had predicted. And now, a hot twenty minutes later, they were back in the elevator to return the laptop, well on their way to having effectively saved themselves from a year of humiliation, disgrace, and worse of all, I told you so’s.
And Harper was constantly pressing him to put his big brain to use. She was a genius! An evil genius, granted, but a genius nonetheless.
Which only made one recovered memory from last night that much more poignant.
“Hmmm?” She shrugged the briefcase strap containing the laptop a little higher on her shoulder and glanced aside at him.
How could a single look in his direction spike his heart rate, narrow his focus, and make him light-headed? After all these weeks working together, one would think his head and heart would eventually become accustomed to the pierce of her side eye. But those brown eyes, so big and dark and deep, stole his equilibrium every time.
He cleared his throat. “I forgive you.”
“Oh?” She raised an eyebrow. “What, pray tell, did I do to require forgiveness? Pushing through my hangover to develop a plan to save our asses while under great duress and despite your obstinacy?”
“No, for that, I thank you. You’re amazing, but I already knew that from working side by side with you for six months.”
Her mouth gaped a moment before closing with a clack of teeth.
“Even if I also learned that you gloss over the details to the point of inaccuracy and stubbornly refuse to admit to the possibility of being wrong.”
Harper shook her head. “When will you learn to clip the details, Dennis? You should have quit while you were ahead.”
“My point though, is in the details.”
She reverted back to staring at the increasing floor numbers. “Which doesn’t matter if you never get there.”
“But this time we were both wrong. They were all wrong.”
“They?” Harper peeked back at him.
“Manuel and Barbara and Felicita and Patrick. We are a great team.”
“We are, aren’t we?” Her plump lips, edged with all those adorable freckles she normally kept under cover, curved into a reluctant grin. “Hyperboles aside, James was right after all.”
Dennis waved that away and stepped closer to her. “It’s his job to capitalize on talent. The first fifty-five minutes of yesterday’s presentation was solid.”
Harper scoffed. “Better than solid. I maintain we were dynamite.”
“And today, despite obstinacy and duress from both parties—
She compressed her lips, but acquiesced with a nod.
“—we got the job done. Together, we saved our asses.”
“Fine, I’ll admit…” She raised her hand between them and patted his chest. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”
He lifted his hand and pressed hers firmly against his racing heart. The worst she could do was pull away, right? “And I never would have done it without you.”
Her eyes darted up to meet his. “Dennis?”
“I forgive you for forgetting about last night. Because I bet that whatever little we did manage to accomplish before passing out, we were dynamite then, too.” She hadn’t moved, not toward him or away, so he lifted his other hand and stroked the curve of her cheek and all her dozens of beautiful freckles. How was her skin so smooth? “I just hope you can forgive me for not remembering all of it, either.”
She licked her lips. “I remember some of it.”
“Oh?” He leaned down, riveted. “Which part?”
She wrapped her arms around his neck. “This part,” she said, stood on her tiptoes, and pressed her soft mouth to his.
Dennis’s knees nearly buckled at the contact. Harper was intoxicating. Her sass and wit, her passion and snapping impatience. Her spontaneity. She opened her lips. He licked her tongue. She licked him back, tightened her fingers on the back of his neck, and bit his lower lip. She smelled like honey, tasted like peppermint—she’d obviously nabbed the mouthwash in his room; his Harp, always anticipating—and felt like cream and fire under his hands. Her kisses soothed as much as they scorched.
She hooked her leg around the back of his knee, pressing them closer, and her soft, lush breasts flattened against his sternum.
A surge of longing growled from deep in his chest.
Harper leaned back, breaking the kiss on a half-laughing gasp.
Dennis rested his forehead against hers, grinning and panting along with her.
“You’re right,” she breathed. “Then and now. Dynamite.”
“Listen,” he breathed back. “The parts we do remember. Like that. Are amazing.”
“Fabulous,” she agreed.
“Fantastic,” he concurred. “We lost a lot of things this weekend: Eugene’s keycard, our pants, memories. Brain cells, for sure.”
“But we found something, too. We’re a great team, in and outside of work, and I don’t want to lose that.” He inhaled a steadying breath. The worst she could do was say no. “I think we should make more memories together, ones we will actually remember.”
“What did you have in mind?” She stroked a single finger down the back of his neck.
Goose bumps shot down his spine, and he shuddered. Focus. “We’re in New Orleans on Halloween weekend. I’m sure we’ll find something to do.”
“A day to remember to make up for the night we forgot?”
Harper beamed, and the rays of her smile warmed his heart. “Sounds like a da—”
The elevator dinged, the doors opened, and someone in the hallway shouted, “Ah, ha!”
Dennis dropped Harper, lurched back, and turned to face their accuser, his heart nearly vomiting from his throat.
Eugene Diaz stood in the hallway outside the open elevator doors, his ear-to-ear grin nearly as bright as his orange t-shirt.
“Ack!” Dennis barked out. “Eugene! Hello!”
Harper hissed under her breath, in Spanish and too low for him to know precisely what she’d said, but he knew a string of curses when he heard one. He squinted up at the elevator’s numbers. They were two floors short of their destination.
Eugene chopped an arm between the elevator doors to keep them open. “Only treats this morning, am I right or am I right?”
Treats? The entire morning had felt like one hilariously unfunny trick at their expense. “I, ah hem, what?”
Eugene swatted away Dennis’s confusion and clapped him on the shoulder. “I can’t thank you enough for last night.”
“Ahhh.” Harper turned those big brown eyes on Dennis in a way he knew was meant to convey some sort of unspoken meaning. “Last night.”
“Last night,” Dennis said, but enlightenment didn’t come with repetition.
Harper swung her megawatt smile on Eugene, and Eugene suddenly looked how Dennis constantly felt in Harper’s presence: stranded at sea.
“Did you enjoy a memorable night with your lovely lady friend?” she asked.
That’s right! He’d encouraged Eugene to flirt with someone—a woman named Bailey, he recalled—which must have given Harper the opportunity to snatch his keycard. They’d obviously hit it off, considering Eugene hadn’t returned to his room last night, thank God.
“Yes, how is Bailey this morning?” Dennis asked.
“A dream come true. I’m just heading back to my room now to freshen up before going down to breakfast. Would you like to join me?”
Dennis held back a groan. Of all the terrible timing! Although, it could have been worse. They could have already been in his room when he returned.
“We’d love to,” Harper purred.
Dennis stared at her. They would?
“Great! We can all meet in the lobby. Bailey will be there, too.” The elevator doors attempted to close, but Eugene kept them open with another chop. “Breathe it in deep, my friends. Do you smell that?”
Dennis sniffed. “Pine-Sol?”
Harper rolled her eyes.
Eugene looked to the side, gazing passed the elevator chrome into the abyss of his thoughts. “Love is in the air.”
“One can’t smell love, per se, but there is plenty of research to suggest that pheromones actually play a significant role in—”
Harper elbowed the corner of the laptop briefcase into Dennis’s stomach.
“Life is just ripe with possibility this morning, Eugene,” Harper gushed. “Would you mind if we use your bathroom before breakfast? The elevator took us up instead of down, but lucky for us, we ran into you.” She leaned into Eugene as if divulging a secret, and Eugene’s Adam’s apple jumped in his throat. “It’s urgent.”
“Of course! Of course!” Eugene stepped inside and let the elevator doors close.
Dennis blotted the rolls of nervous sweat from his forehead with his sleeve as they rose the final two floors. Eugene enthused about Bailey the entire ride, shamelessly encouraged by Harper while Dennis attempted to casually lift his arms to achieve a modicum of airflow to his pits before they turned into twin lakes.
A minute that felt like an eternity later, the elevator dinged at their floor. They exited, walked down the hall, and Eugene opened the door with a swift swipe of his keycard.
Dennis caught Harper’s eye and raised his brows. Eugene has his keycard.
Harper shook her head on a shrug and followed Eugene inside.
“I’ll be just a minute, gentleman. But oh!” Harper gripped Eugene’s arm with sudden fervor as the room door closed behind Dennis. “Eugene, you must tell Dennis what you told me last night.”
“What did I tell you last night?”
She wriggled her eyebrows. “You know…”
Eugene stared at Harper, blinking blankly for a moment, and Dennis’s heart plummeted. Harper was going too far. They were busted. They’d have to confess. They’d be humiliated all over again, maybe even banned from conferences for life, and when James inevitably discovered that they’d not only blown the presentation but then subsequently infiltrated Eugene’s room, tampered with his recordings, and were caught and convicted, they were toast. Burnt toast. They would lose all credibility with their peers and trust from their supervisors. God, they might be fired! Just when he’d barely caught a whiff of that pheromone-laden air, they—
“Ah!” Eugene lifted a finger a tapped his nose. “My development on modular programing.”
Harper pointed her finger at him. “That’s it. Modular programing.” She nudged Eugene to face Dennis, turning his back on the room, then met Dennis’s panicked gaze and winked.
Dennis stared, spell-bound.
Harper about-faced as Eugene babbled at him, slipped the laptop out of her briefcase, and placed in on the desk as she passed on her way to the bathroom.
And that was it. As quickly as he’d been about to declare them jobless and defeated, Harper just breezed on by and locked their future into place—a bright, wonderful future ripe with possibility, just like she’d said. They could keep both their jobs and their pride, and maybe, something amazing and fantastic and fabulous they’d unexpectedly found along the way.
Dennis nodded and “ah hemmed” his way through his conversation with Eugene until Harper returned a minute later, brimming with self-satisfaction.
Eugene smiled back. “So, were you two able to edit out the end of your conference presentation last night?”
Her smile dropped into limp shock.
Dennis nudged his glasses higher on his nose and leaned in slightly. “What about our presentation?”
“The last five minutes where you guys completely derailed.” Eugene looked back and forth between them, frowning. “You were concerned about your coworkers hearing that last bit when they logged into the conference website to replay the presentations. I gave you my keycard and access to my conference laptop, so you could edit out the last five minutes in return for you introducing me to Bailey.”
Harper burst out laughing and slapped Dennis’s chest. “He gave us his keycard.”
Dennis smacked his face. “Because I introduced him to Bailey.” Whoever she was.
“It was no problem, truly. There’s nothing saved to that computer except this year’s presentations.” Eugene stared between the two of them, then jabbed a thumb over his shoulder at his laptop. “We can take care of it now if you’d like.”
Dennis let his hand drop to his side, grinning like an idiot. “That’s not necessary, but thank you. We took care of it.”
“Good! Good!” Eugene rolled on a layer of deodorant and sprayed himself with cologne—the extent of his “freshening up,” apparently—then held the door open, ushering them out. “Shall we? Breakfast and Bailey await.”
Eugene led the way toward the elevator. Dennis and Harper followed behind him, side by side.
“Otherwise, your presentation was on point,” Eugene said. “I can’t wait to introduce you to my team lead. He’s looking for exactly what you two are offering in cyber security.”
“Glad to hear it,” Harper said, still barely reigning in her chuckles.
Eugene rambled on, and Dennis leaned down into Harper. “You’re still wearing his robe,” he whispered from the corner of his mouth.
She met his gaze with a sharp side eye. “I’ve been caught wearing less.”
A blaze of heat swept over Dennis’ face. He cleared his throat.
“I’ll have my room key remade after breakfast,” she murmured. “For now, I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.”
The warmth in his cheeks eased and settled like glowing embers within his chest. On a leap of uncharacteristic instinct over logic, Dennis grabbed Harper’s hand, linking his fingers through hers as they walked down the hallway.
Harper smiled up at him—that megawatt smile, genuine this time and all for him—curved her fingers over his hand, and held on tight.
If you enjoyed this short story, you might enjoy full-length romance novels by Melody Johnson
Love Beyond Series
Beyond the Next Star
Delaney McCormick is not an animal, but after being abducted by aliens and witnessing the murder of her only friend, she pretends to be one. She endures the humiliation of being washed, the tediousness of being trained to “sit” and “come,” and the intrigue of hearing private conversations. But in her owner’s care, she finds something unexpected on this antarctic planet, something she never had in all her years on Earth while house-hopping between foster families: a home. Must she continue the charade, acting like an animal to hide from the murderer waiting on her misstep? Or can she trust her owner with her secrets… and her heart?
Night Blood Series
The City Beneath
Sweet Last Drop
As a journalist, Cassidy DiRocco thought she had seen every depraved thing New York City’s underbelly had to offer. But while covering what appears to be a vicious animal attack, she finds herself drawn into a world she never knew existed. Her exposé makes her the target of the handsome yet brutal Dominic Lysander, the Master Vampire of New York City, who has no problem silencing her to keep his coven’s secrets safe. But Dominic offers Cassidy another option: ally. As the battle between vampires takes over the city, Cassidy will have to decide where to place her trust… in revealing the truth or in Dominic’s capable talons.
About Melody Johnson
Melody Johnson is the award-winning author of Beyond the Next Star and the gritty, paranormal romance Night Blood series published by Kensington Publishing/ Lyrical Press. The New York Times and USA TODAY Bestselling Author, Lynsay Sands, “laughed out loud” reading Beyond the Next Star (Love Beyond, book 1), and Kirkus Reviews praised is as, “an engaging and unusual otherworldly tale.”
Earning the 2021 Maggie Award of Excellence, Beyond the Next Star is an exciting branch from Melody’s paranormal romance roots, keeping the dark grit from her Night Blood Series and taking it to new worlds. Told from the dual perspectives of both human pet and alien owner, Melody’s story weaves a slow-burn romance that explores the bonds of love in all its forms, navigating the main characters’ relationship in delicate stages from oblivious ownership to woke, romantic love.
When she isn’t working or writing, Melody can be found swimming at the beach, hiking with her husband, and exploring her new home in southeast Georgia. Keep in touch with Melody on social media or sign up for her newsletter to receive emails about new releases and book signings.
Today’s contest / giveaway is for an ebook copy of Melody Johnson’s BEYOND THE NEXT STAR.
To enter to win, simply follow Melody’s Facebook page, HERE! After you follow her page, just post “done” in the comments of this post, so you can be included in the random drawing for the prize. If you already follow Melody’s page, you can post “following” in the comments to be entered!
Contest starts today, and one winner will be chosen from all eligible commenters at the end of our event. Winner will be chosen, then announced in our wrap-up post on November 1st.
Good luck, everyone!!
Check out the Kick-off post HERE to see the full list of authors participating in our 2022 Halloween Flash Fiction Blog Event. Links will be added to the main post each day when that author’s story goes live. Each post will include the inspiration image from a DeviantArt creator, the story, and the contest/giveaway info.