Kay Harvey pulled out her company-issue tablet and turned it on. While it was booting up, she stowed the case under her chair and settled herself in her seat. She shuffled through the few hard copies of the report she had brought. This meeting wasn’t necessarily the most important one she would attend that month, but it was critical she be prepared. Her workgroup supervisor, Lenore McCaid, was personable but exacting, and Kay wanted to continue to leave the good impression she always had.
The other members of the workgroup began filing in. Kay greeted most of them pleasantly, but she could feel her smile tighten into a replica of the real thing when Devon Armstrong walked in. Of all the people she worked with, Devon was the one she found most challenging.
Until she was hired two years prior, Kay had always considered herself relatively easy to work with. She was dedicated and hard-working, certainly, and she held her ground when she believed in what she was doing, but she got along well with most people. She generally kept a positive attitude; she had found that most people appreciated it. She felt that one received back what one put in, for the most part, when it came to interpersonal relations. For that reason, she had set out to communicate effectively with all her workgroup peers. Nearly everyone had responded well to her outgoing personality.
There was one exception.
Devon Armstrong was the sort of man her mother described as a “man’s man.” One did not need to have a conversation with Devon to know that he had a certain opinion of himself and wanted everyone to know it. Like Kay, he was dedicated to his work and gave the impression that he was wholeheartedly behind the company’s mission. His methods of proving it, however, were not what Kay would have chosen.
She honestly didn’t know why she reacted to Devon this way. Perhaps it was the fact that he didn’t respond to her optimism in kind. It might have been the fact that he was objectively attractive—and was fully aware of that fact. Maybe it was the way he always seemed to be in Kay’s business, instructing her on ways to improve her efficiency, while leaving every other member of the team alone. It could even have been his habit of rolling his eyes whenever Kay looked like she might open her mouth during a meeting.
Whatever it was, Kay found nearly everything about Devon maddening. She disliked his booming laugh, his boastful reenactments of his weekend activities, and his assertions that the team would fall apart without him. She even disliked his obnoxious printed ties—even if she did have to admit they suited him. Kay’s least favorite thing about Devon was the fact that he always looked good, no matter how horrid his ties.
That was a fact Kay’s friend and coworker Nicole was constantly going on about. She hadn’t made it a secret that she thought Devon was phenomenally good-looking. She was also forever teasing Kay that her problem was all the “unresolved sexual tension” whenever she and Devon were in a room together. It was Nicole’s theory that Kay and Devon spent most board meetings arguing because they were deeply in lust with each other. Kay decided she wasn’t going to bother considering that option, no matter how attractive Devon was.
Despite all that, Kay still tried to remain, if not friendly, at least courteous. In the board room that afternoon, she willed her smile to remain in place long enough for Devon to find his seat. When she was certain he was no longer looking in her direction, she relaxed.
The meeting was long. While it wasn’t dull overall, there were moments when Kay found her mind wandering. She resolved not to stare at Devon, even accidentally, and thus provide Nicole with more fodder for her ridiculous theory. After most of the hour had gone by, Lenore pulled out a final chart.
“In order to increase our efficiency on this project, we’re going to split into teams of two. I have paired you with people who have similar work patterns and habits in order to make things more convenient.” She passed around copies of the assignment chart.
As the papers went around the room, people began whispering. Nearly everyone sounded pleased with their partnerships, but Kay could hear some chuckling. She wondered what could possibly be amusing about the situation.
When the chart finally reached her, Kay understood what had been so funny, though she certainly disagreed. She groaned, not even bothering to cover it up. The laughter nearby increased in volume.
Kay had, naturally, been paired with Devon.
My life is a cliché, she thought bitterly. This is the sort of thing that happens in those horribly cheesy romantic comedies Nicole makes me watch with her.
As they left the board room, Nicole patted Kay on the shoulder. “It will all work out,” she said with a wink.
Kay wasn’t so sure. She just hoped the two of them didn’t end up eschewing the task in favor of shouting themselves hoarse.
The next several days were uneventful. After a time, everyone fell into a busy and productive routine. Kay could tell that the project was going well, because despite the urgency of the deadline, Lenore was in a good mood. She trusted her staff, and the feeling was mutual. Even Kay had to admit that the pleasant work environment lessened the burden of working with the last person on earth she wanted to spend time with.
Kay had exchanged a number of terse emails with Devon in which they divvied the individual parts of the work load. They would have to meet face-to-face once they completed the bulk of the job, however. They still needed to organize the results into something they could take to Lenore. Kay tried not to think to hard about that.
Meanwhile, Kay had to endure much teasing from her coworkers. It seemed that Nicole wasn’t the only member of the workgroup who thought their mutual dislike was born out of rampant sexual tension. Apparently, the animosity between herself and Devon was the stuff of legends, or possibly a raunchy intra-office version of fan fiction, depending on who one asked. Kay was not at all pleased to find that a number of people had been contemplating setting them up on a blind date long before the project assignments.
At last the moment had come. Kay could put it off no further, so she sent Devon a message asking to set up a time to meet in person. They agreed to stay late on Friday in case they had adjustments to make over the weekend. They would regroup on Monday with any changes. Kay was surprised that their exchange had gone so well. She began to dread their meeting a very little bit less.
When Friday rolled around, Kay and Devon settled in at his work station. Within minutes, Kay could feel her blood pressure rising. She and Devon simply could not agree on the best course of action, and neither of them was budging an inch. As they went over the figures and possible management scenarios, tempers ignited. As Kay had predicted, they were already on the verge of shouting at each other.
During the course of their argument, they had continued to move toward each other until they were almost nose-to-nose, breathing each other’s air. The tension between them was so thick Kay could almost feel it pulsing around them. She stood there, arms at her sides with her hands balled into fists, her nostrils flaring. Suddenly, she and Devon leaned in simultaneously and their lips met. Kay let her eyes flutter shut. The kiss wasn’t timid or gentle; it was rough and angry and—
They pulled back at exactly the same moment. Kay was having a difficult time keeping her features smooth.
Devon didn’t bother. He wrinkled his nose and said, “That was—”
“—awful,” Kay agreed. “Good lord. How in the world did anyone think our problem was sexual tension?”
Devon jumped. His mouth dropped open and he stared at Kay for a moment; then he laughed. “So you’ve been getting an earful as well.”
“Oh, yes. Including two fake emails, three bets, and several threats of a blind date if we didn’t end up humping in the conference room by next Monday.”
“Don’t forget the jerk who said, ‘Kiss her, that’ll shut her up.’ I wouldn’t have, though, if you hadn’t leaned in too.”
“I figured. I’ve never seen you get grabby with anyone else.” She was quiet for a moment before she said, “This doesn’t change anything, you know. I still think you’re a pompous ass.”
He snorted. “And I think you’re a stuck-up bitch.”
“Well, yes, I can be sometimes,” Kay admitted. “Mostly when I’m around you.”
“I can understand that, given what you’ve said you think of me,” he admitted. He huffed a little. “I do think I understand why Lenore put us together, though.
“I suspect she knows we’re both pretty tenacious. She wants to see what will happen if we work out our differences.”
Kay nodded. “That sounds like Lenore. She’s probably right.” Kay sat down at the desk and withdrew a blank paper. “I think we’ve been trying to hard to persuade each other to either compromise or forgo our ideas. What we really need is something we can both get behind.”
He nodded. “Consensus. We both get something we want, rather than both having to give something up.”
Kay looked up at Devon. She was fairly certain they would not end up becoming friends, but perhaps they could learn to work together. It was obvious that he was every bit as passionate about his job as she was about hers; that had to work in their favor. She offered a tentative smile. “Maybe we can start over,” Kay suggested. “I’m not saying I’m going to be your best friend. I still don’t like you. But we both want to put everything we’ve got into this project, and I think that’s worth something.” She held out her hand.
Devon accepted the handshake with dignity. “Let’s do this,” he said.
“Good. I have an idea that just may work. Hand me your worksheet.”
With a genuine smile, Devon reached over and grabbed the page from the other desk and turned it over to Kay. She laid it in front of them and began writing on the scrap paper in front of her. Perhaps working with Devon wouldn’t turn out half bad after all.