Alexa’s eyes danced lovingly over the harmonious lines of the Arts Center in the digital rendering hanging on Krystof’s office wall. Her heart swelled with pride at its elegance and beauty, and her pulse accelerated in anticipation of Krys’s imminent arrival. The committee simply had to select it, and then she’d be appointed the project architect to see her own design through to realization.
“It’s your best work. You know it’ll win,” Peter said from over her shoulder.
She turned to offer her friend a grateful smile. The buzzhad been encouraging. Today the Coal Harbour Civic Society would award the new Albion and Beatrice Rose Arts Centre contract. She was convinced Vision Architecture would win, and at last she would be assigned as project architect on the development of her deepest desire. Her castle-in-the-air would become a genuine, bricks-and-mortar monument in the city. And she would be a star. Then she’d finally get recognition for her talent and hard work. Alexa craved recognition. When others saw and acknowledged her work, then she’d know she’d achieved success. And the only way she knew how to do that was with her name: Alexa Jenner.
“Don’t fret, honey. Krys has to give you the job. It’s your concept. He’s knows you’re the only one who can execute it properly.”
“Thanks, Pete,” Alexa whispered, and gave him a quick hug. “You’re a contender, too, you know.”
“Hardly. But I’ll be happy to help you with it.”
“You two make me sick.” Nathan’s superior voice cut in as he strode through the office door. “Not only is that patently untrue, but the odds are Krystof will assign me as project architect because of seniority. Krystof knows I’m the only one who’s run a large project before.”
Tension fluttered behind her ribs. Alexa knew that was true, at least technically. It shouldn’t matter.
“A sports complex. It hardly rates. You’ve got a measly year’s more work experience than Alexa, Nathan. It’s peanuts.”
“We’ll see,” Nathan replied with a sneer.
Prick, Pete mouthed to her behind Nathan’s back. His eyes fluttered and rolled to the ceiling in characteristically melodramatic fashion and Alexa suppressed a smile.
“First we have to win the contract, people,” Alexa said.
The three colleagues and rivals all turned toward the door as a ripple of awareness fluttered through the office like a Pacific Northwest gust through the downtown core, telegraphing Krystof’s entrance. Outside in the studio, people tensed, sat up, inhaled. Alexa’s pulse skipped a beat.
She had been an architect long enough to know that the glamourous image of architecture portrayed in books and movies was only partly true. It was true enough for a very small number of lucky individuals. The chosen few. Like Krystof Konstantin. In this business, a lot of talented people toiled away in obscurity their entire careers. That wasn’t enough for her. Architecture was a business in which stardom was determined as much by politics, charisma, connections. And Commitment. People who didn’t know her well thought she was hard, driven, even humourless. That stung. They didn’t understand her at all. She’d sacrificed too much to give up now. She had a plan. This high profile project was an important step. A recognizable name. One day soon, she’d own her own studio with the freedom and autonomy that brought. She could feel adrenalin shudder through her body in anticipation.
“Peter,” Krystof said as he entered in his quiet, rasping tenor with an exotic hint of his native Polish accent. “Alexa. Nate. Sit down, please.”
She looked up as he spoke her name, her heart fluttering, keeping her face impassive. She had to let things unfold naturally.
No one knew Krystof had already promised her this role. No one knew of their understanding. No one, not even Peter, knew of their relationship.
They sat in a row facing his desk. Krystof stood behind it, his back to them, staring out over the city view. His neatly manicured, elegant hands were clasped loosely at his back forming a ‘V’, his sapphire ring gleaming. In Alexa’s mind, she could picture them sketching, inspired fluid lines flowing from the end of his pen. Krys’s perfectly groomed salt-and-pepper hair gleamed under the recessed halogen lighting, and she dropped her eyes. She looked away, at her colleagues, her competitors, instead of staring at Krystof’s trim body in his slim bespoke Gucci suit. It wouldn’t do to get caught ogling the boss’s ass, nice as it was. She sighed, feeling a tingle of heat flood through her, not sure if it was the excitement of his pending announcement that caused her flux, or the remembrance of his expert kisses and embraces.
A part of her mind shied away from the truth of her affair with Krystof, but she knew in her heart that if she got this project, it would be because of hard work, sacrifice and merit, not because she also happened to have slept with the boss. That was another thing altogether. No one worked harder or was more committed than she was. And she had talent too.
Peter shifted his weight from one buttock to the other, uncrossing and crossing his legs like the diva that he was. Nathan leaned forward, sucking on the fringe of his mustache, unable to hide his eagerness. Alexa tried to stay calm, but her nervous energy could not be contained. Her own foot jiggled uncontrollably.
Krystof turned and braced his flared manicured fingers on the polished hardwood desktop, immaculate and clear of clutter as usual, and leaned forward slightly, his graphic Dior tie swinging out gently like a clock’s pendulum. Tic-toc. She glanced at his lean handsome face at the exact moment his lips parted in teasing grin.
Before she looked away, she recognized a predatory gleam of amusement and sexual energy in his pale silvery eyes. He loved this opportunity to perform, to hold an audience in thrall. To say he was vain was an understatement, but he was awfully good to look at.
They had both long ago mastered their emotions and their body language. His family, her career, both their reputations depended upon discretion.
Finally he spoke, his voice as seductive as a whisp of opium smoke, slipping across one’s senses like a shroud until one’s vision and one’s thoughts were obscured. Hypnotic. No wonder he was such a successful architect. That, and being brilliant.
“I want to commend all of you on your very hard work on this proposal.” He stood up straight and clasped his fingers in front of his chest. “Also, I wish to congratulate you on a well done job. You have reason to be proud, especially Jenner for her brilliant concept. We have been awarded the contract for new Rose Center for the Arts.” He flashed his best Hollywood smile as he looked at each of them in turn, Alexa lastly and very briefly.
She followed suit when Peter and Nathan shot their fists into the air with hoots and shouts of triumph. News travelled quickly through the thin office partitions. As their colleagues interpreted the news of their collective success from their own cheer, the walls muffled a thundering reply of shouts and applause.
Krystof smiled indulgently and continued. “This is a big one, even for a firm the size of Vision. At least two of you will continue working on this project to completion.”
Alexa sensed rather than saw Pete and Nathan nod, each holding his breath.
“Unfortunately, I can name only one of you as Project Architect. But, as you know, I value each of you the same, and it will be a difficult…” He waved a expressive hand through the air, “…and somewhat arbitrary decision. You are each worthy.”
Silence. Alexa caught a smug expression on Nathan’s face from the corner of her eye. He was so sure of himself, but he would be sadly disappointed. It would feel good to wipe that cocky look off his face.
“But!” Krystof’s white smile was broad and sunny. “We will not think of that today. I will decide in the next week or so. Today is a day of celebration for all.”
So. No decision today. They let out their held breaths as one, and began to rise. She didn’t mind facing down the envious stares of her peers when she was chosen. At least Pete would congratulate her, and mean it. But from Nathan, she dreaded the suppressed animosity. He could be such an ass.
She turned to Peter, who embraced her. “Congratulations, Alexa. You did it.”
She had. “We did this together,” she said, leaning into him with a satisfied grin.
“Oh please. Are you girls done hugging so we can get back to work?” Nathan opened the door and stepped out murmuring, “Who do you think you are Jenner, a star-chitect?”
Ever loyal, Peter elbowed past him and returned to his desk without acknowledging Nathan’s snark.
“She’s got some serious design chops, Nathan, and you know it,” Krystof said. “You could learn a thing or two from Alexa if you got out of your own way, boy.” At Nathan’s glowering response, Krystof sent him meaningful glance.
“Go to work. Try it to get something done, and later we will all have a drink together.”
Alexa lagged, affecting indifference, but moved towards the door without looking back.
“Jenner. Just a moment. May I have a word with you?”
She stopped and turned, feigning mild surprise. “Sure, Krystof. I was going to ask you about that change order on the Surrey research lab, anyway.”
“Yes, about that… Close the door, please.”
His hands gripped her hips silently from behind, and pull her into the hard ridge of his groin, his face nuzzling her shoulder, his hot breath on her hair. She turned in his arms, and he pulled her close so she could inhale the scent of his warm body and expensive cologne. More hot flashes.
“Oh, Krys. I’m so happy. This is a… such a coup for us.” She kept her voice low, just above a murmur.
Between clenched teeth, on his breath, he whispered, “This is your triumph. Your vision and your energy, Jenner. You’re the reason we won the job.” He squeezed her butt and pulled her more tightly against his erection, the rasp of his face against her neck.
She stifled the urge to make mewling, falsely humble denials. Itwas her and she knew it. That proposal and those presentations contained a piece of her soul. “Why are you stalling with the assignment?”
“I want everyone to be able to celebrate the win before having to let anyone down with mundane project management decisions. The whole team worked on it together. I don’t want any sophomoric jealousy to spoil the day.
Alexa conceded, he had a point. That was one of the reasons he was such a good leader. He really understood people.
“AndI want to have a private celebration withyou, my dear,” he whispered, his voice hoarse with need as his mouth closed in on hers. “Give me that sexy mouth of yours.” He covered her mouth with his own, his tongue probing urgently, possessively, sending a coil of heat spiraling through her core. But this was not the time or place.
“Easy, Krys, you’ll wrinkle my shirt. Not in the office.” What was up with him? He was usually more discrete. She squirmed and pushed gently at his chest as he resisted, then stepped away, whispering, “I want you to get it over with.”
He straightened up, stepped back with a frustrated sigh. Then he flashed her a charming leer. “You’re so sexy when you’re working. Your brain makes me hard as a rock. I love you bossy. It makes me want to distract you.”
She dipped her head and smiled up at him. An apology. “If you do I’ll make you very sorry, in more ways than one.” He could tease, but she wouldn’t be distracted. She'd work harder than ever to convince him to give her this project.
He laughed. “I can’t wait. When can we meet?” His silver eyes darkened under the square shelf of his brow.
She shrugged. “That depends on you. I thought–”
A shadow passed across his eyes and he turned back to his desk. “It’s true. Biljana wants me around right now.”
“Did you move home again?”
“No, no. But Jaroslaw’s fifteenth birthday is this weekend. I have to help out.” His voice was soft, apologetic. “But tonight?”
“I’ll see you later.” She shrugged, opening the door. Not a proper date. They could perhaps slip away from the work crowd for a brief interlude.
Krystof’s voice rose and carried out the door with her. “Don’t be afraid to put down your foot, Jenner.” His smile patronized as he followed her to the door. “You need it be tough with these guys or they’ll push you around.” For appearances sake, he always gave her a gentle rebuke.
Right. She shook her head, smiling a little at the ruse. As if she’d ever had trouble dealing with contractors. They shook in their steel-toed workboots when they saw her coming, all five foot feisty two of her. Krystof liked to play off her petite size, coaching her to be tougher. But he knew exactly how tough she could be, on the job and after hours. Tough was how he liked her.
When she got back to her desk, the message light was blinking. She picked up the receiver and pushed the button.
“Alex! It’s me.”
Kate! And she sounded frantic. What could be wrong?
“Markus and I are on our way downtown. Meet us at the food fair in the mall. I have a big problem. I need your help!”
The morning sun refracted into a startling starburst through the dark branches of the fir and hemlock trees that capped the ridge of Eagle Point to the east. The sun was still too low to shine its weak light on hisBelle-Etoile, docked under the morning shadow of the ridge.
Bruce Koczynski stopped on the tarmac, mopping the water that dripped from his freshly washed hair onto his brow and bare shoulders. The cool sea air lifted moisture from his bare skin, tingling, raising goose bumps. He gazed across the forest of masts swaying gently at their moorings, and his soul sung. He gazed at the glittering jewels of bright white light dancing on the surface of the rippled water, and his heart soared like the seagulls drifting overhead. He gazed at his beloved sailboat, his freedom, his home. At least for now.
He would never tire of this view.
Tien and Juan could keep their fancy corporate offices with corner views of sprawling parking lots in Silicon Valley. Bruce missed his friends and ex-business partners, of course, but he wouldn’t miss the amorphous years of back-breaking, eye-crossing drudgery cooped up in a stuffy, windowless room. He wouldn’t miss breathing the stale off-gases of yesterday’s pizza, Red Bull and beer. He wouldn’t miss the accumulated body odors of a bunch of overgrown adolescents who never went home to bathe.
And he didn’t need any more money, thank you very much. He had his millions and now he was living the life of his choosing. A life free of responsibilities and encumbrances.
No, he would never tire of this view.
“Goddam kids! Why don’t you carry your own shit?”
Bruce turned toward the exasperated exclamation, his neck tensing in reflex at the echo of his bullying father’s strident voice. A man about his own age wrestled with a wheelbarrow filled to the gunnels with gear, half of it tumbling onto the pavement as he struggled to open the security gate leading down to the dock.
Bruce loped forward. “Hey man. Let me give you a hand.” He leaned on the gate, holding it open with his back, the cold steel grid pressing into his bare skin. While the guy wrestled with a heavy, lopsided duffle bag that threatened to topple to the ground, Bruce bent and retrieved a few of the objects that had already fallen. A tiny flannel-covered pillow emblazoned with Spongebob Squarepants, garish yellow squares splotched across a fluorescent blue ground, a travelling Scrabble game, and a grimy threadbare stuffed cat that had seen a lot of serious love.
A family man. Bruce smiled, ignoring the tight clenching in his gut. He may be Bruce’s age, more or less, but he carried himself like an old man, browbeaten. Broken. Kind of the way Bruce had felt at the end, before they’d sold the company. All worn out.
“Thanks,” he said as Bruce straightened up, handing him his stray items. His smile was ready enough, but Bruce saw the lines of exhaustion and stress around his eyes.
Bruce grinned. “No problem. Take it easy, dude.”
The guy trundled his load down the ramp, lurching like the proverbial sailor after a firkin of fine Jamaican rum. Despite the early hour, his blue t-shirt was darkened with patches of sweat.
Bruce followed him down the ramp, watching as he approached a forty-two foot Catalina with the nameSea-Renitypainted on her hull– that was so obviouslynot the case. She was really more of a floating RV than a serious sailing vessel, and the guy wouldn’t be finding any serenity there. The deck was crowded with small bodies, water toys, colorful bags, plastic crates. It was a miracle the tub was still afloat under all that crap.
He shook his head. Bruce preferred his Spartan subsistence aboard his thirty-seven foot racing X-yacht.Belle Etoile. His one true love.
“Dad-deee!” shrieked a tiny voice as a small red-haired girl hurled herself at her father, nearly toppling him off the dock into the chuck.
“Neil? Did you unload the cooler?” demanded a distracted woman, her head popping up through the hatch, pokes of auburn hair straying from its long faded braid, a small infant strapped to her torso like koala to a tree. “I’ve got to get that stuff put away before it gets warm. And Cicely needs her milk.” The wife’s head swiveled toward Bruce as he sauntered past, a wistful longing in her eyes. The harried mother yearning for escape. And he thought the dad looked desperate.
“Gimme a goddam chance, woman,” he muttered under his breath.
His throat threatened to close up, and he forced air through his nostrils, pushing the sensation away. Not exactly a picture of marital bliss.
He tossed her a sexy wink and a charming smile. Let her believe she was still attractive and desirable. Her jaw dropped, she blinked, and then she lit up with a bright, bashful smile. He thought he recognized the girl under all that weight. He was gratified that women were noticing and admiring him again, even if they were overwrought mamas. He’d neglected his health and his appearance too long.
“Neil? Did you hear me?”
A beleaguered sigh issued from the guy as he parked the wheelbarrow and unloaded it onto the deck of the boat. “No-oo. Not yet.”
“Aayeea Mateeeeee!” An older boy leaped from the foredeck into the cockpit and climbed up onto the gunnel again, swinging on the lifeline. “Can I drive, Dad? Can I?”
“Get down off of there.”
“But Daaaad. You promised!”
“Not now.” Neil stepped over the gunnel and, unexpectedly Bruce thought, leaned in to kiss his beleaguered but now smiling wife. With a broad grin, he cast his gaze at the colourful disorder around him. “Ready, gang?”
Poor bugger. No one thinking clearly about their future could possibly want three kids. No privacy. No peace. No solitude. It was exactly the chaotic mix of mayhem and misery he remembered from his own childhood. Minus the mother. Bruce ignored the tightness in his chest and walked on, paying no heed to the cheer that rose up from Neil’s menagerie.
Bruce laughed off the family drama and carried on down the dock. Nothing could disturb his sense of peace and contentment on this most perfect of days.
He thought of his friend Simon, with his third on the way. Simon was an intelligent guy. Bruce’d always looked up to him, envied him even. Ever since college, Simon seemed to have the edge. He was the one who was better at everything, the first to do everything, including getting married and having a family. But that went pretty sour the first time around, and Simon had a rough go of it for a while, raising Maddie on his own. Which proved that having a family was a huge mistake. You couldn’t expect both parents to stick around for the duration. And if you couldn’t be there for your kids when they needed you, you shouldn’t have them at all.
He was glad Simon was now married to Kate, though. What a transformation. Finally he could be happy with someone who loved him and appreciated him. He deserved that more than anyone. Bruce guessed it was to be expected that they would have kids together.
But, as much as he admired his friend, Bruce preferred his peaceful solitude. He had it good. After dodging decisions and shirking responsibilities since they’d sold the company last year, Bruce finally had it all figured out. He’d bought his beautiful sailboat,Belle Etoile. He’d found the perfect little investment property to renovate. And he was going to have the summer of his dreams.
He was living an uncomplicated bachelor’s life aboard the boat, and would turn that tumble-down shack into a sexy bachelor pad and a tidy profit. It would be fun. Excellent fun.
He’d let himself go the past few years, working too hard and playing too hard, and then woke up one day and realized he wasn’t having fun and he didn’t much like himself, either. Selling the company was part one. Deciding to buy the house and work on it gave him something to focus on, a project with tasks and a goal, something to add structure and discipline to his new life as well as make him feel productive. He was counting on it to pull himself out of the hole he’d dug himself into.
It was easy to make money when you had money. And he was looking forward to doing much of the work himself. Despite what his father thought of him, he wasn’t a soft, klutzy computer geek that didn’t know one end of a hammer from the other. After growing up the underdog and perpetual novice in a family of tradesmen and handymen, Bruce was anxious to put his renovation skills to the test. He’d always enjoyed working with his hands, but his craftsman’s approach had never met with anything but criticism and scorn. For once in his life,he’d be in charge of a job and would do it his way, testing and honing his skills as he went. And if that didn’t go well, he had the money to hire the help he needed.
Movement up ahead caught his eye. The old guy was up and about, sitting in his fishing boat three bays over, sorting and untangling his gear. It stupefied Bruce how much time the old guy could spend mucking with his fishing gear. But then, unlike family-dude Neil, he had plenty of time on his hands. Just like Bruce, he was alone. Peaceful and alone.
Bruce raised a hand in salute, and…what was his name? Oh, right, Jorgen. From Norway. Jorgen waved back with a nod of his speckled balding pate. He was a nice guy.
Jorgen’s melodic voice rose up over the sounds of rigging pinging in the breeze. “Do you still want to go out fishing with me, son?”
“Sure do, Jorgen,” Bruce replied. “When?”
Jorgen glanced up at the sky. “Tomorrow.”
“You bet.” Bruce smiled and dropped down into his own cockpit, ducking into the cabin. It was roomy for one. What did a guy need, after all, besides a sleeping bag, a bit of granola and some beer, and a good book for the evenings? He missed having a television, since his was in storage, but there was always somewhere you could go to catch a game and a little company.
It would be great when he finally moved into his new place, though, even if it would be for only a year. Meantime, he would have a little fun with his summer project.
His cell phone rang, and he rummaged for it under last night’s discarded clothing. “Yeah. Bruce here.”
“Bruce. It’s Simon.”
“Sharpy! What’s up?” Speak of the devil.
“I have a favor to ask. Have you got some time today?”
Bruce consulted his watch. “I’m heading up to the house in a while. Meeting a guy up there. Have lunch with me. You want to bring the burgers and I’ll pick up some beer?”
“Okay. See you in about an hour.”
“You remember the address? Seaview Place, you’ll see my truck.”
Bruce closed his phone , wondering what could be important enough to drag Simon out of the office and across the bridge mid-day. He had time to pick up a cold six-pack from the pub and deal with the hauler before Simon showed up. He hadn’t had breakfast, but what the hell. Burgers and beer for breakfast were okay with him. After all, he was used to cold pizza and Red Bull.
The food fair was quickly filling up for the lunch hour rush, the din of voices increasing even as Alexa walked in. She and Kate used to meet in decent restaurants, back when they both worked downtown. She scanned the busy room for their golden heads, found them, and made her way over.
“Hey.” Kate and Markus sat together in a booth in the middle of the food fair.
“Hey. Hiya Marky.” Alexa bent to kiss first Kate, and then nuzzle the tow-headed toddler, who squirmed around on the bench like a perpetual motion machine. “So what’s up?”
“I’ll tell you in a bit. Let’s eat first. I’m starving.”
“Awick,” Markus said, his arms upthrust, smiling at her with his mouth full of adorable baby teeth, half chewed French fry filling his round, rosy cheeks. He looked so much like Kate it made Alexa’s heart squeeze with affection.
She lifted him and gave him a tight hug, pressing her face into his angel hair and inhaling deeply of his baby scents. He felt so good in her arms, the softness and heft of him.
Kate broke into her reverie. “Alex? You okay?”
“Hmm?” Alexa opened her eyes. “Yeah. He reminds me so much of Owen at this age.”
“That’s right. The youngest. He how old is he now?”
“He’ll be twenty-two next month. I was sixteen when he was born.” Alexa had raised them all. But of the seven of them, her baby brother had seemed the most like her own, and her pulse still beat a little harder at the memory of him. “Mom was so overwhelmed with working two jobs, Owen was all mine. He was almost Markus’s age when I left for college. It broke my heart to leave him.”
“It’s a wonder you got through high school with all the extra work. How’s he doing now?”
Alexa’s chest tightened. “Okay, I guess. A bit muddled. He’s at college on the island, doing alright.”
“And the others?”
Alexa mentally reviewed the status reports on all her siblings. “Rhys and Dylan, the eldest, have settled down, the rest are… you know. As well as you can expect kids in their twenties. Finding themselves.” She laughed.
“Get us some food. Markus will eat while we wait for you.”
Alexa went for sushi, lost in thought. The line up was still short enough, but she had a few moments to ponder the woozy feeling she always got after a hit of Markus. No matter how much she denied it, her gut clenched with regret at the realization that she’d never have kids of her own. It had been easier before her best friend started pushing them out. She thrust the feelings away. You’d think, after years of taking care of a houseful of brothers and sisters, she’d have had her fill, yet she loved them. But, she’d made that choice and wouldn’t go back on it. Her career was her life; she wasn’t willing to compromise. She grabbed Cali rolls, tuna sushi, and two large green teas for Kate and herself, and returned to the table, where Markus was managing to get ketchup all over Kate’s jacket sleeves, and small bump, with his flailing hands. She nodded to herself. Focus on the negatives.
“Here. Marky. Come and sit with Auntie Alex so Mommy can eat, okay?”
He wiggled down and she deftly lifted him past her into the end of the booth, where he could squirm and wiggle, but not escape. She laughed and nuzzled his soft, sweet blond head while he continued to macerate chicken fingers and fries. “He still smells good,” she said.
“Not always.” Kate made a face. “He had a bath this morning.”
Alexa intercepted Markus’s grasping hands and lifted her hot tea out of his reach, while Kate gobbled her sushi like a prisoner of war. How quickly one forgot the speed and determination of a three-year-old exploring his world. “Sit still and eat nicely and Auntie Alex will buy you a soft ice cream later, okay?”
“Don’t bribe him, Alex,” Kate complained through a mouthful of sushi. She pulled a small wooden dump truck out of her bag and set it on the table in front of his food. His hand immediately darted out and grabbed it.
“Why not? It works, doesn’t it? The way I figure it, anything goes at this age, as long as you survive.”
Kate snickered, almost choking on her food. “You crack me up.” She snorted. “Shoot, I got rice up my nose.”
Alexa laughed, waiting and sipping her tea while Kate finished eating. Markus, thankfully, was a slow and methodical eater, and would obligingly take a half hour to chew a few mouthfuls of chicken.
“While you’re eating… I have good news. Almost. It’s not official yet, but the firm has been awarded that contract I was telling you about, for the big Arts Centre downtown. My design won it for us, and Krys will be appointing me Project Architect on Monday.”
Kate’s smile was a little thin. “You sound very sure about that. I hope he doesn’t disappoint you.”
“Of course, I’m sure. He’s promised it to me from the beginning.”
“I hope so, for your sake.”
Alexa sighed and glared at her friend over her glasses. “I know you don’t trust him. But this is professional. I earned this, Kate.”
She nodded. “That, I know. And then some. But you’ve also complicated things.”
Kate had never approved of Alexa’s personal relationship with Krystof. Okay. Yes, technically he was married. But, Alexa wasn’t even remotely interested in stealing him away from his wife and family. She didn’t needthat sort of complication.
Alexa leaned in, whispering. “Krys would never give me the job just because of our relationship, Kate. I’m the best man for the job.”
Kate lifted an eyebrow. “Man?”
Alexa shrugged, frowning. “You know what I mean.”
Kate dabbed her mouth with a napkin and pressed her lips into a twisted line. Alexa drew a deep breath, preparing for another lecture. “I will never understand how you can be involved with a married man. You’renot that kind of person, Alex.”
“I’m not going to break up his marriage, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“So you’ve said. But what kind of marriage can they have—“
Do we have to do this again? Alexa leaned in closer and met her friend’s eyes straight on. “They’re separated. I’m not hurting anyone, Kate.”
“I don’t know, Alex. There’s something wrong with a guy who cheats on his wife and sleeps with employees.”
Alexa laughed. “I know. It sounds morally reprehensible. But it’s not quite that bad. He’s effectively estranged from his wife. And I certainly wouldn’t do it if I thought she was getting hurt, or if, God forbid, there were young children involved. And I’m not only an employee. I’m a colleague.”
“What about his wife? Aren’t you hurting her?”
Kate would take the wife’s side. “He wouldn’t be messing around with me if his marriage was okay. But I didn’t cause that mess. That’s between him and Biljana. And she’s no saint.”
“Well, regardless of what you see in him, what about you?” Kate’s earnest, glassy stare communicated the subtext—what about your heart? You’ll get it broken and I’m worried for you.
Alexa leaned back and sighed. “I’m not in love with him, Katie. It’s not like that. What we have is more… about mutual admiration and respect. We have a meeting of minds.”
Kate’s lips twisted into a moue of disapproval. “More than your minds are meeting.”
Alexa shrugged. “It’s stimulating and convenient. You can’t understand. I’m different than you. My needs are different.” Kate, with her perfect, doting, romantic husband, would never understand. For Alexa, having her physical needs met while focusing one hundred per cent on her career was about as perfect a setup as she could imagine.“No one understands the way I feel about architecture like Krys does. Our relationship is an expression of our passion for our art. We’re kindred spirits. Intellectual equals. Krystof supports and values me as an architect, Katie. He will never be a burden to me, or hold me back. And either of us could walk away—” she snapped her fingers “—like that.”