New boss… Same heart-stopping crush!
Every day IT expert Evie rides the commuter train and fantasizes about the handsome guy sitting opposite. But her daydreams clash with reality when she gets a new job—and finds he’s her boss!
Guarded Frenchman Armand Debussey couldn’t be more different to openhearted Evie.
His daredevil past has left him in anguish, and even if it puts her own heart in jeopardy, Evie’s determined to help him change that…...
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“It’s him. It has to be.”
Ignoring her friend’s imploring voice, Evie Croft let her body rock with the soothing motion of the morning train as it rumbled along the Frankston Line. Swiping through the ads in the Room Rent app, she tried really hard to feel enthused about exorbitant rent, alarming-sounding housemates, or both.
“Evie!” Zoe whispered, loudly enough that the schoolboys sitting across from them actually looked up from their phones. “You know who I mean. He’s nose-deep in a book the size of a house brick, so you can look. Look. Look now.”
Evie knew Zoe was talking about her ‘train boyfriend’ and she had no intention of looking. She’d already accidentally made eye contact with Hot Stuff in the Swanky Suit today, and many more times since he’d started taking her train.
It was hard not to. With his overlong hair and rugged stubble, the man was a study in the kind of dark, broody countenance you just couldn’t fake.
“Stop looking at that stupid app,” said Zoe. “You are not moving out of my apartment just because Lance is moving in and that’s final.”
Evie gave her oldest friend a squeezy one-armed hug. “I love you because you truly believe it. You and Lance have been waiting for this moment since you were sixteen years old. He’s home from deployment next week and it’s finally happening.”
Zoe sat back, closed her eyes and sighed. “It really is, isn’t it?”
Either way, Evie gave up on looking for a new place to stay. Only half an hour out from the biggest job interview of her life—with Game Plan, no less, a coder’s Holy Grail—she instead practised answering interview questions in her head.
At least, she tried. Until Zoe leaned over, reaching for her phone. “Click back to that other app. No, the other one. Go back.”
“Gah!” Evie held her phone up high, out in front, then opened the neck of her top and slipped her phone between sternum and bra.
Zoe cocked an eyebrow. “You really think that’s going to stop me?”
Evie did not. With only a super-quick glance in the direction of Hot Stuff in the Swanky Suit to make sure he wasn’t watching, she dug beneath her vintage pea coat and warm winter top to fish out her phone, shivering as her chilly fingers grazed her skin. And rocking into the older man sardined in beside her. She sent him an apologetic smile. The barest flicker of his cheek was a tale of eternal sufferance.
The train commute took all sorts. The bored schoolkids, the frazzled mums with toddlers and prams in tow, women in piercings leaning on men with tattoos, creative office types with their smooth hair and manicured nails. It was a delicious microcosm of the city at large.
Evie had grown up in a small dairy community, just north of Echuca, and her favourite memory of her mother was listening to her wax lyrical about the short time she’d lived in Melbourne—the electric hum of creativity, the eclectic fashion, the epicurean delights. She remembered tracing the delicate ‘Adventure’ tattoo etched into her mother’s fine wrist.
After her mum died Evie had promised herself she’d end up there one day too and have the life her mother had never had.
Though the past couple of weeks the city had been making her work for it.
“Seriously?” Evie cried when Zoe whipped her phone away with a delighted, “Aha! Now, let’s see what Hot Stuff in the Swanky Suit has to say.”
Zoe didn’t mean ‘in person’. For she and Hot Stuff had never had an actual conversation.
Well, unless you counted that first day. She’d made it to the train doors right as they’d pulled up to their city stop when the train had lurched to a halt. Shoved from behind, Evie had tripped and elbowed Hot Stuff in the gut.
Mortified, she’d crouched to pick up the book he’d dropped. The autobiography of Jonathon Montrose, the man behind Game Plan, no less. Cowboy tech investor, IT savant, Evie’s actual hero.
Funny. She’d forgotten that detail. Had that given her the seed of the idea to dare apply for a job with the great man himself? Huh.
Anyway, handing over the book to Hot Stuff, she’d apologised like crazy, while trying not to swoon in his glorious presence, until he’d taken her by both shoulders, strong hands holding her still. He was even bigger up close. And he’d smelled so good. When he’d looked down into her eyes, the stormy blue depths of his own holding her in their thrall, she’d forgotten how to breathe until he’d let her go and disappeared into the station with the bustling morning crowd.
Evie let out a soft sigh and glanced his way just as he ran a hand through his overlong dark hair, leaving finger tracks in its wake. All that indolent grace, the sexy stubble and those deeply intelligent-looking eyes—he really added an extra something to the daily commute.
Other commuters came and went, took different trains, adopted random seats, but Hot Stuff always chose the same spot: across the aisle and down three rows from hers. Evie had always been a fan of patterns. It was comforting to know she wasn’t the only creature of habit in their little train universe.
“How many apps do you have open at one time?” Zoe fussed, and she swiped them into oblivion. “How does your brain not scramble?”
“It’s called multitasking.”
Zoe snorted. Then found the Urban Rambler app. Developed by Game Plan, of course. His apps were seriously the best. Evie would be first in line to sign up to Game On—the revolutionary new mobile communication app everyone in the biz was excited about.
Zoe clicked on the Let’s Get Personal column, flipped the phone so the words were nice and readable and read out loud.
“‘Frankston Line.’ That’s us. ‘Carriage Three.’ Ditto us. ‘To the Bewitching Brunette in the Beauteous Beanies.’”
Zoe paused a moment for drama before lifting her gaze to Evie’s knitted beanie. One of the billion she’d knitted herself. For she really was a fan of patterns.
Today’s was silver, with a rainbow pom-pom on top. It didn’t exactly go with her interview outfit—pea coat over black top and slouchy black pants with fake zips and pockets—all belonging to fashion-plate Zoe, as even computer-nerd Evie wasn’t about to turn up to an interview in a Han Solo ‘I Know’ T-shirt, boyfriend jeans and Converse boots—but it did the job.
Zoe said, “Now, hold on to your hat, my friend, because this is going to blow your mind. It says:
New to your orbit, I find myself struck
By your raven locks, your starlit eyes. What luck
That I find myself able to see you twice a day.
A beacon in a sea of strangers. I must say
Your sunshine smiles are my good morning.
Your evening sighs my goodnight.
If I had the courage I’d say hello.
Till then I remain alone in my delight.
From Your Appreciative Admirer.
“Wow,” Evie mouthed.
“It’s you!” Zoe cried. “You are the Bewitching Brunette!”
The schoolboys looked up again, their eyes unglazing this time, enough to give Evie a second glance.
“Well, isn’t she?” Zoe asked the boys, waving her hands up and down as if Evie were the prize in a game show. “If this poem wasn’t written for you I’ll eat your beanie.”
Evie tugged off her beanie and shoved it under her butt cheek. Only to have to deal with long strands of dark hair now crackling with static as they stuck to her face.
So, she did have a thing for beanies. She ran naturally cold. Her mum had been the same, needing blankets all through summer. Calling Evie 'Froglet' because of her constantly chilly feet. But it was her granddad who’d taught her how to knit. He’d also taught her how to tie her laces, fix a tractor, cook a perfect steak. To follow her curiosity wherever it might lead her.
Zoe went on. “Lance, for all his good points, is not a romantic man. Telling me my backside looks hot in certain dresses is about as schmaltzy as he gets, bless him. Keeping in mind Lance is a pretty good marker for the average guy, can you see any man on this train who does look capable of writing poetry?”
Together they looked. At the scruffy schoolboys now poking wet fingers into one another’s ears. The dour gang of goths hanging morosely near the door. The harried working dads with their crooked ties and tired eyes.
As one they turned to the dashing, Byronesque gentleman in the impeccable suit lounging in his seat, reading a book.
Evie swept a hand self-consciously over her hair. It crackled so loudly she quickly put her beanie back on. “Poetry or not, it doesn’t matter.”
“Why on earth not?”
Evie took her wallet out of her backpack, found a small, crinkled bit of paper and handed it over to Zoe.
“A fortune cookie fortune?” Zoe deadpanned. “From your birthday dinner last week?”
“And what does this have to do with Hot Stuff and his undying love for you?”
Zoe did. ““Bad luck comes in threes. Monkeys, though, they come in trees.”“ After which she burst out laughing. “I…can’t…even…”
Evie plucked the piece of paper out of Zoe’s shaking fingers and shoved it into the coin compartment of her wallet. “Ever since I read that stupid fortune things have been weird.”
“Weird how?” Zoe asked, wiping her eyes.
“And the sudden losing thereof. The very next day.”
“The day after your birthday? You didn’t tell me for a week!”
“Because as I stood in the office watching the police take away the computers, you rang to tell me Lance was coming home. You were happy. And rightly so.”
Evie knew it was nonsensical, but it felt good to finally be talking about it. Hopefully it would relieve the persistent pressure that had been sitting on her chest since the night of her birthday.
““Bad luck comes in threes,”“ Zoe said, scratching her chin. “Losing your job was number one.”
“Having to move out is number two.”
“I told you, you don’t have to—”
Evie flapped a shut up hand at her friend.
Zoe buttoned her lips. Then promptly unbuttoned them. “There are rules to fortunes, you know. You have to have eaten the entire cookie, I think. You can’t tear the paper. And once you tell someone it no longer comes true!”
“Zoe, it can’t 'come true' because it’s a computer-generated missive stuck in a random dry cookie.” Evie slowly shook her head. “And yet, I feel like it would be remiss of me not to keep an eye out for falling pianos.”
Zoe nodded sagely.
Not that Evie was taking it lying down. No, sir. There was the Game Plan interview. One she would never have had the nerve to go for if she hadn’t been desperate for work. She was too young, too inexperienced, her only long-term tech job having been for a company who were under investigation for embezzlement and fraud.
Or more specifically Eric—the son of the managing director and her ex-boyfriend—who had pilfered her every last dollar before attempting to flee the country.
Zoe coughed. Then burst into laughter again.
The schoolboys squirmed and sank deeper into their seats, no doubt embarrassed by the loud twenty-somethings in their midst. One perked up enough to realise they were at their stop, and in a rush and flurry they gathered their huge, dirty, dishevelled bags and snaked their way to the doors right as the train lumbered to a halt.
While the carriage emptied and filled, the crowd a seething mass of elbows and wet shoes, of jostling and repositioning, a microcosm of Darwin’s survival of the fittest, Evie snuck a glance at Hot Stuff.
He’d glanced up, not at her but at the crowd. He did this every time there was a big shift in people, offering up his seat if he had the chance. Because he was beautiful, well-read and a gentleman.
Was it possible—even remotely--he had written her a lonely-hearts poem on an app?
The timing fit—morning and evening. The train line too. And there were other hints, clues she couldn’t ignore.
‘New to your orbit.’ They’d been catching the same train a couple of weeks at most.
‘I find myself struck.’ Was that a nod towards the time she’d winded him?
‘Starlit eyes.’ She did have an impressive collection of Star Wars, Star Trek, even Starman T-shirts.
She usually went for nice-looking men, with easy smiles and busy mid-level jobs. Men who had no hope of spinning her off course as her mother had been spun. She was only just finding her feet in this town after all. Quietly following her curiosity as her granddad had encouraged her to do.
Hot Stuff was fun to moon over because he was out of her league. The thought of him reciprocating—heck, the thought of him even knowing who she was—made her belly turn warm and wobbly.
“Now, hang on a second,” said Zoe. “What does this have to do with Hot Stuff and the poem? Ah, I get it. After home and work going up the spout, you don’t really think a falling piano is in your future. You believe the logical third spate of bad luck involves your love life. But that’s a good thing!”
“In what universe?”
“You can cross messed-up love life off the list. You’ve already had the worst luck there. Eric was a douche. Dumping you. Using you. Framing you—”
“Yep, okay. I hereby concede that point to the prosecution.” Evie shook her head. “It doesn’t count. He doesn’t count. We’ve been kaput for months. “Bad luck comes in threes” means it has to happen after I opened the cookie.”
“You’ve arbitrarily decided a man who looks like Byron’s hotter descendant is off-limits because a fortune cookie says it will turn to crap.”
Evie looked over at Bryon’s hotter descendant. She couldn’t help it. Heck, at that very moment the train rounded a bend and a slash of sunlight lit him up like something out of an old film.
“He’s dreamy, Evie,” said Zoe, though Evie hadn’t said a word. “And he wrote you a lonely heart.”
Evie blinked, only to find she’d been staring too long as a pair of stormy blue eyes caught on hers. Her breath lodged in her throat. Her cheeks burned as her very blood went haywire.
Look away, her subconscious begged. Look. Away. Now!
Instead habit overcame instinct, and she smiled.
Growing up in a country town, she’d been smiling at strangers since she’d learned how. Saying hello to anyone who made eye contact. Waving in thanks to cars that stopped to let her cross the street. It was simple good manners.
Now, on a packed train hurtling towards the big city, she felt like an utter fool, her smile frozen into place as those fiercely blue eyes stuck on hers and didn’t let up.
Then a small miracle happened. The man blinked, as if coming to from a faraway place. The corner of his mouth kicking north into what could only be a return smile. And then he nodded. Nodded! Sending her a private hello from across the way.
She felt the train concertina as everything beyond the tunnel between their gazes turned fuzzy and out of focus. And then those eyes slid north, pausing at the top of her head. Catching on her beanie, the wool suddenly itching like crazy against her scalp, the bob of the pom-pom like a pulse at the top of her head.
He blinked again, then those stormy eyes slid away.
“Oh, my ever-loving gods,” Zoe said. “Did you see that?”
Hell, yeah, she had.
“He couldn’t take his eyes off you. Proof he’s your Appreciative Admirer!”
Heart kicking against her ribs, Evie let herself follow the possibility of Hot Stuff in the Swanky Suit having a secret crush on her to its logical conclusion.
By the look of him he’d eat in fine restaurants, read and understand prize-winning literature, know the actual difference between bottles of wine. From the feel of him when she’d elbowed him then checked him for injury he also wrestled crocodiles, chopped wood for fun and rescued new born puppies from warehouse fires.
While she lived on cheap cold pizza, spending all weekend in the same holey PJs obliterating strangers gaming online, and she currently slept on an ancient lumpy futon in her best friend’s lounge room.
She didn’t need a fortune cookie to tell her it would all end in tears.
She looked down at the phone she was spinning over and over in her cold hands.
Her granddad had always insisted her flair for coding was a result of her mum’s creative mind. But she’d inherited his practicality too.
Working for Game Plan would be a dream job. Even getting an interview was akin to finding a unicorn in your cornflakes. Especially when no one else would even take her call. She might have been cleared by the feds, but her connection to the embarrassment at her last job made her untouchable.
She couldn’t go into that room with thoughts of Hot Stuff filling her head with cotton wool.
Evie glanced up at the electronic readout denoting which stop was next. Real or imagined, the fortune was messing with her head and she had two more stops to put an end to it once and for all.
“You know what I think?” said Evie.
“If there is even the slightest chance the fortune is real, and I am to be hit with a third blast of bad luck, and it is linked to my love life, wouldn’t the smart thing be to get it over and done with?”
Zoe grinned. “Only one way to find out.”
Which was why, before she had even hatched any kind of plan, Evie pressed herself to her feet and excused herself as she squeezed past the others in her row; buoyed by Zoe’s, “Atta girl!” as she made her way down the carriage.