Saturday, April 20, 2013
Saturday's Excerpt from Trove by K. J. Montgomery
Excerpt - Trove
She walked across the lobby, her heels clicking on the tile floor as she headed to the door on the opposite side. Is it too early for vodka? She grabbed the handle, took a deep breath, pushed the door open, and stepped in. She squinted, expecting to be blinded by intense lights as was the décor in her previous work area, but the lighting here was subdued, pleasing actually. There was an open work area on the left with four plasma monitors, each glowing in standby-mode blue. Each, she estimated, was about fifty inches in size with new rectangular glass-topped conference tables placed beneath them. She looked closer. They weren’t conference tables. They were the equivalent of touch-screen tablets, only gargantuan. At the far end of the room were two open space work areas.
Along the right side were two rooms that appeared to be offices. As she walked along, she saw nameplates outside each door. The one on the left was labeled “Alec MacGowan, Ph.D.” and the one on the right “Katie Walsh, Ph.D.” Neither one held any more information
She dropped her laptop in her office, took a quick look around, and went in search of the coffee machine. Some days she wished there was a way she could hook up an IV filled with the liquid gold, ensuring her she’d have a steady supply all day. She walked past Alec’s office, then back-stepped and stuck her head in. His desk lamp was on, but the office was empty. She took a deep breath and stepped in. There was a high-backed black leather chair behind the cherry desk. Off to the right there was a small conference table surrounded by three upholstered armchairs. The desk and conference table area sat on a large oriental area rug in colors of grey, black, red, and white, with an exposed floor of some stone she couldn’t identify. On the opposite wall was a room-length, waist-high credenza that matched the desk. While the office seemed to be the same size as hers, and furnished the same, it was clearly personalized. Placed sporadically along the top of the credenza were a combination of framed pictures and what appeared to be archaeological artifacts or more likely replicas. She hoped he hadn’t smuggled them from one of his digs or worse, bought them off the black market in antiquities. So much potential to unlock the past was lost when stolen artifacts ended up in the hands of private collectors.
“Looks like he intends to stay for a while.” Katie was puzzled. Why would he want this job? Surely it lacked the excitement a digger would thrive on. Why was he here?
She walked over to the credenza and picked up one of the pictures. In the picture she saw much younger versions of Alec and Robert and a blond man standing between them clearly enjoying themselves aboard a fishing boat. The blond man was holding a striper. She estimated the fish to be a bit over two feet in length. Alec was signaling thumbs-up. She smiled as she noted a genuine camaraderie reflected in their expressions.
“That was Josh’s first ocean catch. He’d only fished fresh water before that day.”
She jumped at the sound and dropped the frame. She watched in horror as it teetered on the edge of the credenza before crashing to the stone floor, shattering the glass.
She was mortified. Not only had she been caught snooping in his office, she’d just trashed his personal property. “I’m so terribly sorry,” she said, as she felt the stains of scarlet spread on her cheeks. “Obviously I will replace it,” she said as she knelt down and picked up the larger pieces, avoiding his intense gaze.
She ignored him, concentrating on the mess in front of her. She just couldn’t leave the glass scattered all over the floor.
“I said ‘leave it.’”
She glanced up at him.
He winked when he caught her eye. “Last thing I need is for you to cut your hand. I can’t have an industrial accident on your first day at work with me. It wouldn’t look good.” He laughed softly as he approached her. “Besides, just think of the paperwork I’d have to deal with.” He reached down, grabbed her elbow and applied enough pressure to force her to stand up.
She pulled her elbow back to her body and slowly turned to face him. “I really am sorry. What size is the frame? Is it a four by six or five by seven? I have a hard time telling the difference. Just let me—”
He interrupted her. “Relax. The picture is fine, no harm done,” he said as he carefully took the glass pieces from her hand and tossed them into the trash receptacle.
She jerked her hand back and rubbed it down her thigh, wiping it clean of any glass shards and trying to ignore the tingling caused by his touch. “I was just checking out the new space and I saw your desk lamp on.” She looked around the office and continued, “So I stuck my head in and when I noticed you weren’t here I took a quick look around. I’m interested in other people’s photographs.” Particularly yours, she thought. “It gives me a sense of the ‘real’ person,” she said, casting her hazel green eyes over his face, trying to gauge his mood.
The teasing laughter she remembered from that night echoed back at her. “I get it, Katie. You’re curious about me, admit it.” When she didn’t answer, he added, “We actually have a lot to learn about each other.”
Damn, she could feel her face flame hotter. “Actually,” she said, refusing to look at him, “I was really looking for the coffee maker. I presume we have one here. I can’t function without it.”
“Around the corner, just past my office you’ll find a small kitchen. I was just brewing a pot when I heard you. It should be just about done. Join me?”
She followed him to the kitchen. There was a full-size refrigerator, microwave, toaster oven, and a coffee maker. Her mouth twitched with amusement. “Looks like I’ll never need to leave the office.”
“We don’t have a stove. Wouldn’t you miss a home-cooked meal every once in a while?” he asked, a gleam lighting his grey eyes.
“I’m a baker,” she said, shaking her head, not sure if he was mocking her, “not a cook.”
He crossed his arms and leaned back against the counter. His mouth curved into a smile. “Are you telling me that there is something that Dr. Katie Walsh doesn’t do well?”
She couldn’t help but notice how his grey slacks pulled taut across his thighs when he stood like that. “I never said that I could do everything,” she replied as her eyes lifted to meet his. “That comment was uncalled for.”
“Excuse me,” he said gently, dropping his arms to his side. “I didn’t mean to offend you. I was teasing you.”
She leaned her back against the opposite counter, her hands in her dress pockets. “Dr. MacGowan, I think I should be honest with you. I’m actively looking for another position within the Institute.” She pushed a wayward curl off her forehead. “As I said in London, I don’t think I can work for you under… under all the circumstances.”
He retrieved two coffee mugs from the cabinet next to the sink and set them on the counter next to the coffee pot. He turned and faced her, looking at her intently. “Why are you trying to run away from me, Katie?”
The words spilled out before she could stop them. “It’s what I do best.” She gasped when she heard them. Oh, just let me find a rock and crawl under it, she thought as the heat burned her cheeks.
“I know that, KitKat. But why? I don’t bite.” He chuckled. “At least not that hard.”
“Please. Just please stop. I need you to act like we’ve just met. Don’t bring any of our past into this…” she flipped her hand in front of her, waving it in the air, “this relationship.” Lord help her, but she wanted to run. But where, into his arms, or out of the building? She shook her head. How was she going to survive this until another position opened up?
“Relationship?” Laura Benson asked as she stepped into the kitchen. She glanced at Katie and then at Alec, waiting for an answer.
Katie offered a half shrug. “My ‘working for the man who stole my promotion’ relationship.”
“Oh,” Laura replied, her tone was of the “we’ll talk about this later” variety. She grabbed a mug, filled it with the coffee, and headed back to the larger work area.
Katie followed her out the door then headed for her office and powered up her laptop. She could do this, keep it all professional. Surely something would open up. There were always open positions. Or maybe, she thought as she tapped her upper lip with her forefinger, just maybe she’d be able to create a new position. Yes, that’s exactly what she’d do and then she’d be out of there in just a few days.