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When We Found Home

By:Susan Mallery

When We Found Home - Susan Mallery

chapter one

As Delaney Holbrook watched the man in the suit approach, she did her best to remind herself she’d given up on men in suits—in fact all men and most suits, when it came to that. She was a different person, with new and improved goals, although she could still admire excellent tailoring. And nice blue eyes. And a firm jaw. And his walk. He had a very purposeful walk that was incredibly appealing. She sighed. So much for giving up on men in suits.

She waited until he was directly in front of her before giving in to temptation and saying, “It’s been six weeks and this is getting pretty serious. Don’t you think I should know your name?”

She had no idea how he was going to respond. She half expected him to give her an icy stare and turn away, because this particular man in a suit had an impressive icy stare. She’d seen it more than once, albeit directed at others. But he didn’t glare. Instead he smiled. No, that was wrong. He didn’t just smile, he gave her a slow, sexy grin that kicked her in the gut and left her feeling all fluttery and stupid and just a little hopeful.

Talk about opening Pandora’s box.

“I’m Malcolm.”

His voice was low and masculine, with just enough gravel to give her a happy shiver along her spine.

“Good morning, Malcolm.” She pointed at her name tag. “Delaney, although you already knew that.”

“I did.”

“Your usual?”

Malcolm was a double shot, extra hot, large latte. Although he arrived every morning at exactly seven forty, he bypassed the busy coffee stand in the middle of the building’s lobby, instead making his way to the special bank of elevators that required a cardkey or a security escort to reach their lofty levels. But sometime midmorning, he would wander down for a morning latte.

Her shift ended at ten and more than once she’d found herself lingering, oh so foolishly, so she could take his order. A ridiculous truth that should have embarrassed her, but didn’t. Instead of telling herself that at twenty-nine she was too old to be crushing on a handsome stranger, she went with a kinder, gentler message. Time did heal and as she’d suspected, she was more than ready to return to normal life...whatever that turned out to be.

“My usual,” he confirmed as he handed over a reloadable gift card to pay for his coffee, along with a tall white mug. She ran the card through the cash register, then walked over to start his drink.

Luzia, her teammate, untied her apron. “I’m going to go to the storeroom for more supplies,” she said. “You going to be okay by yourself?”

“I will.”

Luzia smiled politely at Malcolm before stepping out from behind the counter and walking across the lobby.

Alone at last, Delaney thought, careful not to laugh. No way she wanted to explain what was so funny.

Malcolm slid the coffee card back into his wallet, then returned his attention to her. “You’re new.”

“Relatively. I’ve been here nearly two months.” She tipped the small metal pitcher of milk so she could insert the steamer. The familiar hissing, gurgling sound began. She poured four shots of espresso into the mug he’d brought.

“You’re with Alberto’s Alfresco.” She nodded at the logo on his mug. “Your company owns the building and our little coffee stand is a renter. Hmm, does that make you my boss?”

He grinned. “Don’t go there.”

“Why not? I suspect you like being a boss.”

“Not all the time.”

“Most of the time,” she teased. “Your suit is too nice for that not to be true.”

“What is your experience with people in suits?”

“I used to be one.”

“Unexpected.” One eyebrow rose. “Not anymore?”

“No. I’ve decided to go in a different direction.” She poured the steamed milk into his mug. “I know what you’re wondering, so to answer the question, it was my choice.”

In a manner of speaking, she thought. The decision to change careers had been hers—the circumstances leading to that decision had not.

“What direction is that?” he asked.

“I’m going to be a naturopath.” She waited for the look of confusion before adding, “It’s a—”

“I know what naturopathic medicine is. It emphasizes using the body’s own systems for healing through a combination of Western medicine and natural cures.” One corner of his mouth turned up. “My grandfather’s housekeeper has a niece who graduated from Bastyr University with a degree in acupuncture or something like that. Are you a student there?”

She ignored the bit about his grandfather having a housekeeper—the suit already implied money, so she shouldn’t be surprised. “That’s my plan. I have to meet certain prerequisites in science and math but my business degree didn’t require them so I’m going back to college to make them up.” She shook her head. “It’s been a while since I’ve had to go to class and study. My brain is still unamused and crabby about the whole thing.”

He sipped his coffee. “What classes did you start with?”

“Biology and algebra.”

He winced. “Good luck with that.”

“Thanks. At first I had to read every chapter three or four times to remember anything. Now I’m down to only having to read it twice. The lab work has been interesting, though. In three weeks, we have to dissect things. I’m dreading that.”

“There shouldn’t be blood. Whatever it is has been dead awhile.”

“Still. Knives, cutting, organs.” She shuddered.

His blue eyes brightened with amusement. “Is this where I remind you that you’re basically studying to be a doctor?”

“Yeah, I get the irony. I try not to think about it, but I get it.”

They looked at each other. She felt...something. Tension maybe, or awareness. Whatever it was, she appreciated the confirmation that she was alive, relatively healthy and moving on with her life. The world kept turning and dragging her along with it.

“I need to get back to work,” Malcolm told her.

She wanted to believe there was a hint of reluctance in his voice, but she couldn’t be sure. Still, it was nice to think about.

“Me, too.” She glanced at her watch. “Or rather, head home and study for a few hours before class. Enjoy the rest of your day, Malcolm.”

“You, too, Delaney.”

He hesitated a second before turning toward the elevators. She watched him walk away and let herself imagine that he would spin back and ask her to lunch. Or dinner. Yes, dinner on his yacht. Or maybe they could helicopter to somewhere nice, although she wasn’t sure where a helicopter ride from Seattle would get them. Portland? Vancouver. Oooh, an international destination!

Regardless, he would ask her to dinner and they would...

She laughed as she rinsed out the milk pitcher and made sure everything was in order for Luzia and the next shift. She and Malcolm would what? Go to dinner? Kiss? Fall in love?

Hardly. They had nothing in common. Years ago, maybe, when she’d been on the fast track in finance. Only then she’d been engaged to Tim. She wouldn’t have noticed Malcolm at all.

“It doesn’t matter,” she told herself as she slipped off her apron. She had plans and dreams and hopes for the future. Not anything she would have imagined, but now, after everything she’d been through, they felt right. She would learn to heal others and if she got through that, she might have the chance to heal herself, as well.

* * *

Alberto’s Alfresco corporate offices occupied the top three stories of the twenty-story building. The company leased out the rest to tenants that ranged from a dentist, three law firms and Amazon. The latter had six floors where people came and went at all hours of the night and didn’t talk to anyone who didn’t work for their company. Malcolm Carlesso hoped they were building drones with artificial intelligence. He enjoyed sci-fi movies. Seeing one lived out in real time would be fun. Or not, he thought as he headed up to the top floor of the building. He didn’t want to go out in a hail of angry drone gunfire.

Malcolm stepped out of the elevator. It was the middle of the workday and people were everywhere—walking in the halls, having meetings, taking calls in their offices. Alberto’s Alfresco was a vibrant, multinational, multibillion-dollar enterprise.

While the company had always been successful, until a few years ago, it had been much smaller. Malcolm had come on board right after he’d graduated from college. He’d been determined to grow the firm and make his grandfather—the Alberto in Alberto’s Alfresco—proud. Two years ago, Malcolm’s mission had taken on an urgency he couldn’t seem to shake.

He passed his own office and went into that of the chief financial officer. Santiago Trejo had joined Alberto’s Alfresco eighteen months ago when Malcolm had stolen him from a successful hedge fund. Together they made a formidable team.

Malcolm nodded a greeting at Santiago’s assistant, sitting guard outside the open door, then entered the large corner office and took a seat. Santiago was on the phone. He smiled when he saw Malcolm and quickly wrapped up his call.

“Quarterly numbers from the East Coast are messed up,” Santiago said cheerfully. “Our friends down in accounting are scrambling. I had to explain our ‘fool me once’ philosophy here at the company. It won’t happen again.” He paused. “What?”