Summary: Katie has a plan...maybe several plans (AU)
Disclaimer: No, I don't own them, to my profound disappointment
Original story: Starving Artists
and Starving Artists 2: Not Exactly a First Date by Rachael Sabotini aka wickedwords
Notes: Thanks to idiasm and moonshadow for beta-reading.
The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Tea Developers (Starving Artists, the What Are Friends For? Remix)
“David, look, wouldn’t this be perfect…” Katie realized she was talking to herself, and finished, “over my desk,” quietly, looking round the tent for David amongst the half dozen people browsing tables piled with paintings. She’d thought he’d followed her when he’d agreed to check out the sale, grumbling, but apparently he’d found something better to look at.
Or someone, she mentally corrected herself as she spotted him smiling at the guy in charge of the art sale, his hands resting lightly on a pile of paintings. She knew that smile, the one that meant he was amused in spite of himself, amused and charmed, like anyone wouldn’t be. She’d bet the guy sold plenty of paintings with that smile, and David was always susceptible to a guy with a nice smile.
This was interesting. Katie picked up her painting of a grey cat in a rocking chair next to a roaring fire – it would look perfect above her desk, even though David was bound to hate it just because of the subject – and attempted to drift casually towards him and his new friend. It wasn’t easy to look like a buyer while at the same time not actually catching the eye of the seller, but Katie found it was made a lot easier by the fact that he clearly only had eyes for David. She didn’t hear what David said as he held up a picture, but the guy grinned, proud and pleased. She assumed he was the artist, and wondered if David had picked out that painting on purpose.
Probably not; she loved the guy a lot, but he couldn’t flirt to save his life, and it generally took a whack to the head with a solid object for him to believe someone was interested in him.
She drifted a little closer, leaning on the empty end of a table to write out a check for her painting.
“Ten bucks,” the guy was saying, giving David a seriously ‘come hither’ look, “but only because you’re cute.”
Cute was the word, Katie thought, watching David blush as he fumbled for his wallet in the pocket of his jeans.
“Take that for you, ma’am?” asked a voice at her elbow suddenly, and she turned to another young man, armed with a roll of bubble wrap and a receipt book.
“Oh, yes, thank you.” She glanced back at David, but he was still engrossed in his artist, watching the man write out a receipt carefully. “Who do I make the check to?”
He finished wrapping her painting and handed over her receipt just in time for Katie to hear David say, “…not a serial killer stalking starving artists?” Whatever had come at the beginning of that sentence, it couldn’t be good.
“Thanks very much,” she said again, grabbing her things and making her way quickly across the tent, just in time to cut into the conversation before it descended any further than serial killers and soccer moms. What was it about men that they could be perfectly coherent until they found someone they liked, at which point they started sounding like complete fools?
“Come on, don’t we have to get those plants to your sister’s place? You can chat this guy up some other time,” she told David firmly. She’d insisted they stop when she’d seen the Starving Artists Sale! sign, over David’s protests, which meant David’s sister would be annoyed with her if they were any later to his niece’s Girl Scout plant sale. Katie didn’t enjoy being on Annie’s bad side.
Making her way back to the car, even though David still had the keys and it was starting to rain again, she heard him say, “Maybe later today,” followed by splashing as he caught up with her.
By the time the plant sale was over, the children had been packed off with their respective parents and the site had been packed up, it was getting dark. The rain had finally stopped, but Katie’s jeans were still damp round the ankles when she stowed the remaining box of plants in the back of the car and climbed into the passenger seat next to David.
Who had, at some point during the day, lost the dreamy look he’d had leaving the Starving Artists sale.
“So,” she prompted as they pulled out of the lot. “Are you going to call him?”
“Rebecca’s dad?” David asked.
“Who?” Katie blinked at him, then decided it didn’t matter. “No… The guy from this morning. The starving artist.”
“Yes! Him. The one you were all starry eyed over, Mr. If-They-Were-Any-Good-They’d-Be-In-A-Gal
“You have hearing like a bat,” he informed her, keeping his eyes on the road.
“I was three feet away from you,” Katie corrected him. “What happened to ‘maybe we can continue this later today’?”
The side of David’s face didn’t look very happy, for someone who’d gotten the number of a very attractive man who was actually interested in him.
“I wish you hadn’t said that,” David said quietly. “He only gave me his card to be polite, I bet he gave them to loads of people.”
“He thought your comment about being a serial killer stalking starving artists was funny,” Katie said patiently. “You know I love you, but even I think that was bad.”
David took his eyes off the road to glare at her. Katie glared back, well aware that she was a lot scarier than David when she wanted to be, even leaving aside the fact that she was technically his boss as well as his friend. After a moment, David clearly accepted the same facts and turned back to the road. “He was just being charming, to sell his paintings. And it worked.” He nodded at the two wrapped paintings on the back seat, his voice defeated.
“Oh David,” Katie said, patting his arm comfortingly. She had no idea how someone as genuinely nice and well-liked as David could be so lacking in self-confidence, but there it was. “I was watching him with you. That wasn’t professional charm. You should at least call him.” She resisted the urge to ask what the worst that he thought could happen was, since she knew from past experience that she’d get an actual list.
“I couldn’t call him, even if I wanted to,” David said firmly. “I lost his card at the plant sale.”
Katie strongly suspected he was lying, but there was no point pushing. “That’s a shame,” she said sympathetically. “You could have just said that at the beginning.”
David didn’t say anything, but Katie could practically see him thinking that he would have if he’d thought of it then. “But hey, the plant sale was a success, right?” she asked, watching David’s face brighten at the change of subject.
‘There’s more than one way to skin a cat,’ she thought cheerfully, then remembered the kitten in her painting and hastily changed it to, ‘there’s more than one way to packet a tea blend.’
As it turned out, there actually weren’t as many ways as Katie would have thought there’d be. David obviously knew the artist’s name, but Katie could hardly ask him straight out without him getting suspicious.
What she could do, it occurred to her a couple of days later, standing in line for a cup of honey vanilla chai in Atlantis Celestial Teas’ small café, was come up with a reason why she needed to contact him and get David to hand over his card. She knew he still had it somewhere, whatever he said about having lost it at the plant sale.
She stopped by the rooftop greenhouses with coffee on her way back to her office, and found David up to his elbows in potting compost, his tie off and his shirt sleeves rolled up. Sometimes, she really wondered what had made him take the managerial post, when he was obviously much happier in the soil.
“So,” she said, sipping her tea and watching him pot up what she thought might be raspberry canes. “Maria stopped by yesterday, she loved my new painting.” David rolled his eyes – he regularly accused Katie’s step-sister of having the same fluffy nature as he thought Katie did – and patted down the soil round his plants. She made a mental note to ask, later, how the hybridization project was going.
“Her birthday’s next month,” she went on. “I was thinking about getting her a painting for her new apartment, it’s still looking kind of bare.” Mostly because Maria was too lazy to bother painting the all-white rooms, waiting for her boyfriend to offer to do it for her instead.
“Sounds like a great idea,” David agreed. “You could try that gallery on the corner.”
Katie was pretty sure David had never even set foot in the place, especially since it was mostly abstracts and statues. “I don’t think that’s really Maria’s thing,” she said tactfully. “Actually, I wondered if I could get the number of the guy running the sale at the weekend. There was a portrait of a cellist I saw that I think she’d like.”
“Doesn’t she play the violin?” David asked. He wiped his hands off and started writing carefully on a label.
“Yeah, but she played cello for a while in college. She wasn’t bad, actually.” Much better at it than the violin, in Katie’s opinion, but she wasn’t going to say that to anyone, unless Maria came to the same conclusion. “So, could I get his card, I could give him a ring and see if it’s still for sale.”
“Hmm?” David finished his label and looked at her, his eyes wide and innocent. “Oh, no, sorry. I lost it at the plant sale. I thought I said already.”
Katie frowned at him. David never looked that innocent unless he was really guilty. “Are you sure?”
“Very. I dropped it in a puddle and Rachel’s dog got hold of it. Totally ruined.”
David also tended to over-compensate when he was lying, giving way more details than necessary. “Well, maybe you could check your wallet when you get back in the office,” Katie suggested, preparing for a retreat and regroup.
“Sure,” David said agreeably, and stuck the label firmly in his plant pot.
By the time she was getting ready to leave the office on Friday evening, Katie had moved onto Plan B, wondering why she hadn’t thought of this before. It was a lot more subtle than Plan A, which David had probably figured out had an ulterior motive, since he wasn’t completely stupid.
‘Well, not unless it came to men,’ Katie amended in her head.
This time, David came to her, knocking and stepping over the threshold of her office. His gaze flickered to the painting behind her desk before settling again on Katie as she switched off her computer and pulled her purse out of her desk drawer. “I bought wine,” he offered, holding up a bag from the tiny wine store across the street.
Katie reached for her coat and tried to look awkward without blushing, which she almost always did when she was lying outside of a professional context. Maybe being in the office would help.
“You didn’t get my message?” she asked, not surprised when David shook his head. He had a reputation for not checking his answering machine, and she could probably rely on him having forgotten about it by Monday morning. Either that, or she’d blame the phone system. “Oh. Sorry, then. I wanted to know if we could go to your place instead?”
“Sure,” David said agreeably. “We might have to order in, though, I haven’t been shopping this week.”
“No problem.” Katie shrugged her jacket on and picked up the cooler she’d brought from home that morning. “I’ve got ingredients with me – I’ve seen your fridge, remember?”
David smiled, holding the door for her to precede him out of the office. “Is everything OK with your place?”
“Oh, no, it’s fine,” Katie assured him quickly. This had been the hard part of Plan B, coming up with a problem serious enough that they couldn’t have their twice monthly dinner and movie night at her apartment, but not serious *enough* that David would offer to come over and fix it. “My heating was off this morning, my landlord promised to go in and fix it while I was at work, but he rang earlier to say it was taking longer than he thought. It’s just easier not to try and cook round him.”
David pressed the button to call the elevator and looked at her cooler. “Why did you bring dinner with you, then?”
He really did pick the worst moments to bring out his perceptiveness, Katie thought darkly, and shrugged. “You know what he can be like,” she said. “He says two hours, it always means more like four. I thought I should be on the safe side.”
“I suppose,” David said doubtfully.
She waited until they’d both had a couple of glasses of wine and moved onto the chocolate mousse she’d bought for dessert, before asking casually, “So where did you decide you hang your painting in the end?”
She’d scoped out most of the apartment while David was changing out of his suit and, having seen no sign of it, was hoping fervently that he hadn’t decided to give it away.
“Hmm?” David asked absently, stirring cream into his mousse until it looking more like milk chocolate custard. “Oh, I haven’t yet.”
“No?” Katie asked, and groaned in her head. They didn’t have enough wine for her to get David drunk enough that he’d fall asleep and not notice her unwrapping the painting to check out the signature. “Why not?”
David shrugged. “Haven’t decided where to put it yet.”
‘More like didn’t mean to buy it in the first place,‘ Katie thought, except it was a nice painting, from the brief glimpse she’d got of it, and it deserved to be put up somewhere. “We could do it tonight,” she offered. “An extra pair of eyes to make sure it’s stra- level.”
“No, thanks.” David took a big bite of chocolate flavored goo, and said, the words muffled, “I thought I might bring it into the office.”
“Good idea,” Katie said brightly, and took a large gulp of wine so she wouldn’t be tempted to say, ‘yeah, right.’
She actually went into the office even earlier than she usually did on Monday morning, to check out the signature on her own painting, but she wrote it down, and promptly forgot about it when she was called into a meeting about a potential delay in the launch of their newest blend.
It wasn’t until she found the name scribbled on a Post-it note on Tuesday morning that she remembered what she’d intended to do, switched on her answering machine and made her way to Legal on the seventh floor.
Laura, the anti-fraud lawyer they’d hired just after David, looked up when Katie knocked at her door, and grinned. “Please tell me you’ve come to invite me for coffee.”
“I’ve come to invite you for tea,” Katie corrected, smiling back, even though she hadn’t actually. It seemed like the least she could do when she was coming to beg a favor, and she never minded an excuse to spend time flirting mildly with the attractive lawyer, especially when she usually flirted back.
“Thank God,” Laura said fervently, grabbing her purse and following Katie out into the corridor. “Don’t get me wrong, your corporate spies are endlessly fascinating, but trawling through email logs from the post-room is a bit less so.”
Katie had definitely helped choose the right person for the job when she’d subbed for John Sheppard, the head of Legal, on the interviews for Laura’s post. “Why are you doing that?” she asked. “Isn’t that what you have an assistant for?”
“Vacation,” Laura said, “Her brother’s getting married in Italy, she’s flown over for a couple of weeks.”
“It can’t wait?” Katie asked.
“Trust me, if it could, it would be,” Laura said, but she grinned as she said it, so Katie assumed it wasn’t quite as boring as she was making it out to be.
She waited until they were settled with their cups of tea and a small plate of lemon cookies before handing Laura the slip of paper. “I wondered if you could try and trace her for me.”
“Edna Williams,” Laura read, breaking a cookie in half and dipping it in her tea. Katie forced her eyes away from Laura’s mouth as she licked a drop of tea from her fingers. “Sure. Do you have any other details?”
“She’s probably enrolled in an art class at the senior center on Fairfax,” Katie offered, well aware that she wasn’t giving Laura a lot to go on, especially considering it might not even be true.
“And you suspect her of industrial espionage? Corporate fraud?” Laura raised her eyebrows and Katie flushed. It wasn’t like she hadn’t expected to have to explain.
“Not exactly.” She looked round the café, then leaned in to be on the safe side, Laura mirroring the movement. “David met this guy at an art sale a couple of weeks ago, and he’s refusing to call him, even though he has his number. I thought if I could get them together again, the other guy would probably make a move, and David wouldn’t be able to say no.”
Laura’s face lit up with a delighted grin. “You want me to use corporate time and equipment to track down a woman so you can trace a guy she hopefully knows in order to play *match-maker*?”
It sounded really stupid when Laura put it like that, but it was also basically true. “Pretty much, yeah.”
“You’ve no idea how much I’d love to,” Laura said gleefully, and Katie felt a moment of shining hope for Plan C.
Unfortunately, even Laura’s ability to track anyone anywhere didn’t always pan out.
“No record of anyone of that name in the state, not that I can find,” Laura said dismally at lunch on Wednesday. “I even rang the senior center and asked about their classes, said she’d recommended their art class for my grandmother, but they’d never heard of her.”
“Oh well, it was worth a shot,” Katie said, wishing she’d thought of doing that, and grateful that Laura hadn’t felt inclined to tap any of her more official sources, like her ex on the police force, who’d undoubtedly have been able to track her through the DMV. That was a little too close to stalking. “Thanks anyway.”
“No problem.” Laura sighed, then brightened up and asked, “So what’s the next plan?”
“You know,” Katie said, twirling her fork in her pasta, “Right now, I have no idea.”
She was still trying to come up with something the next day when she heard her phone start ringing as she stepped out of the elevator in her apartment block. She made her way quickly over to her front door, fumbling for her keys – it would probably turn out to be someone trying to sell her cheaper phone calls or car insurance, but there was something about a ringing phone that she couldn’t ignore.
She finally got the door open as the answering machine cut in, and stopped, waiting for the caller to leave a message. At least if it *was* a telemarketer she could just delete it.
“Hi, my name’s Evan, um, Lorne, you don’t know me…” Not a telemarketer, then, but the voice sounded familiar, even through the poor quality of the machine’s speakers. “I worked at the sale, the Starving Artists, at the start of the month…” Katie dropped her keys and squeaked in surprise; she’d never believed in fate, but honestly, this was enough to make her start, after nearly two weeks of trying to get in touch with him, here he was on her answering machine -.
“- got your address from your check,” Evan was saying, and Plan D arrived fully formed in Katie’s head as she snatched up the receiver, putting on her best harried voice.
“Shit. Did the check bounce? I am so, so sorry about that.”
“No, really, it’s okay-“ Evan sounded as flustered as she was attempting to, which was hardly a surprise, since her bank statement had arrived the other day and she’d seen the cleared check on it. Not for the first time, she thought she ought to write the receiver’s name on her check stubs, since the statement had only held an account number, not a name.
“I never have these sorts of problems,” Katie said, biting her lip to contain her urge to giggle. “I am so embarrassed.”
He was actually pretty persistent about not needing another check, and quite the gentleman, right up until she offered to bring him a new check, at which point he caved and agreed to stop by the office.
“I’m so sorry,” she said again, listening to him mumble her information as he hopefully wrote it down. “Honestly, I don’t know why I’m still with that bank, their system… Anyway, I’ll see you tomorrow at ten.”
“See you then,” Evan said, dismally, and hung up.
Replacing her own phone, it only then occurred to Katie that she didn’t actually know what he *had* been calling for.
She was staring at the report on her computer screen, in between glancing at the clock, when someone knocked on her door and she looked up to see Laura standing there with her arms full of folders and a smile on her face.
“Just thought I’d stop by and see if you’d got any further tracking down David’s suitor,” she said, shifting the folders as the top one started sliding.
“Funny you should ask.” Katie waved her into the chair in front of her desk and turned gratefully away from the report she really wasn’t taking in. “Guess who rang me yesterday?”
“The guy – the artist?” Laura’s eyes widened with surprise and glee. “Why? How did he get your number?”
“Looked me up from my name and address on the check for my painting.” Katie nodded her head at the picture above her desk, and didn’t miss Laura’s doubtful eyebrow raise. Apparently, she wasn’t a cat picture lover either. Oh well, even attractive lawyers couldn’t be perfect. “Hey, I could have tried that with Edna.”
Laura glared at her. “How much do you people pay me? That’s the first thing I did – not listed. So, what did he want?”
“I’m not sure,” Katie admitted. She’d listened to the message again when she’d hung up, but she’d cut the machine off by picking up the phone before he’d gotten that far. She kind of hoped he hadn’t been ringing because of a problem with her check; that would just be embarrassing for both of them. On the other hand, she couldn’t think of another reason for him to be ringing her.
“You didn’t ask?” Laura asked.
Katie explained her plan, glancing at the clock again – twenty-five past nine, God, she hoped he’d be on time, she couldn’t stand the suspense.
Laura shook her head. “And here I was thinking I was the devious one in this place,” she said, admiringly, making Katie’s cheeks tingle as she hoped she wasn’t flushing with pleasure at the compliment. “David is in today, right?”
“I checked,“ Katie assured her. “He’s been banned from the greenhouses for the day, so he’ll even look tidy when Evan shows up.”
Laura glanced at her watch and started gathering up her files again. “I wish I could be there to watch this,” she said, standing and smoothing her jacket with one hand. “But probably not an excuse to miss my meeting with the accountants.”
“Probably not,” Katie agreed. Atlantis’ accountants were not a force to be messed with, at least if you had as many dubious sounding petty cash claims as Laura did. “Want to meet for lunch and I can tell you how it goes?”
“Definitely.” They agreed on twelve thirty and Laura left for her meeting. Katie went back to the title page of her report, since she couldn’t even remember what it was about any more.
She jumped when her internal line rang at five past ten, more engrossed in the report on her second try. “Katie Brown.”
“Ms Brown, this is Chuck on the front desk. I have Mr. Lorne here for you.”
“Thanks, Chuck, I’ll be right there.” She liked Chuck, Katie thought, contemplating her jacket for a minute before deciding to go with the slightly more casual look her pale-green sweater gave her. He hadn’t even raised his eyebrows when she’d stopped by to add a job interview to her schedule at half past eight that morning.
She stopped just inside the security door, peering out into their calm green and blue lobby. Evan was leaning slightly on Chuck’s desk, saying something to him with a look of confusion on his face; not unreasonably, if Chuck had mentioned that he was listed as a job applicant. It had seemed a lot easier than explaining that she was getting him to the office under false pretenses so she could set him up with David, though.
‘Bounced check,’ she reminded herself firmly, and pushed her way through the door, making both men jump when she announced, “It didn’t bounce,” across the lobby.
She didn’t hear what Chuck said, but from the look on Evan’s face, it wasn’t anything supportive. He held his hand out to her anyway. “Ms Brown. I’m Evan Lorne.”
“Thanks for coming,” Katie said, shaking it, and tactfully not pointing out that Chuck had just rung to tell her who he was. “I checked my bank balance, and the check cleared just fine.” Speaking of Chuck: maybe this wasn’t a conversation she wanted to have with an audience, even if the audience was demonstrating an unusually high level of interest in his computer screen. She led Evan to one of the highly elegant, highly comfortable sofas in the corner of the lobby. “I don’t know what this is about, but I’m not giving the painting back. It really brightens up my office.” It was the only other possibility she’d managed to come up with overnight, and even then, it didn’t seem like an especially good one.
“I wasn’t planning on asking you to give it up,” Evan said, to Katie’s relief. “It’s just – I had your address on the check, and –“ He flushed deep red, and Katie was suddenly struck with an awful, awful thought.
“Are you asking me on a date?” Her gaydar was rarely wrong, certainly never this wrong. “Are you… stalking me?” Except he seemed so nice, dressed up in a black shirt and khakis, and he’d been so polite on the phone… not that stalkers couldn’t be polite, she supposed.
“I am *not* a stalker,” Evan said, obviously trying to sound reassuring but coming off more like panicked. His blush hadn’t faded, Katie noted. “Look, this is going to sound weird, but I want to get hold of the guy you were with, and I thought asking you face to face would be better. That, and you wouldn’t let me get a word in edgewise when I called.”
Katie stared at him, no idea what expression was on her face, and wondered if that meant what she thought it meant. That would teach her to cut people off on her answering machine, she thought ruefully.
“The hot guy, taller than me? Gangly, with all the plants?”
Yeah, there was no way that could mean anyone other than David. Which meant she’d spent two weeks trying to get hold of this guy when she could have just sat back and waited for him to come to her. On the other hand, it meant she’d get to tell David, ‘I told you so.”
“You wanted David?” she asked, just in case she’d misunderstood him. “Yeah. That’s more in line with what I thought. It’s just weird –“
“It’s not weird!” Evan exclaimed, presumably thinking she meant the way he was going about it, rather than the coincidence of them both trying to track the other down. “I just want to ask him out!”
He really was sweet. “Stalking me seems a rather peculiar was of going about it,” she teased.
“I’m not stalking you!” Evan exclaimed, then noticed she was smiling and flushed again. “I just…you know. He was kinda cute and he seemed interested…and I didn’t have *his* number –“ because David had some kind of moral objection to checks and credit cards, Katie added silently – “or his name, but I had your check and-“ He rubbed his hand across his face, looking despondent. “I’m making a total mess of this, aren’t I?”
“Yes,” Katie agreed solemnly, biting the inside of her cheek so she wouldn’t laugh. “Particularly the part where he went from ‘hot’ to just ‘kinda cute’.” Not that it wasn’t a more accurate description, in her opinion, than hot, but that probably wasn’t something she ought to be sharing.
“Now you’re just messing with me, aren’t you?” Evan asked, proving he did have a sense of humor after all.
“Yes. Yes, I am messing with you.”
“Thought so.” To Katie’s inward alarm, Evan stood up and wiped his hands on his pants, apparently getting ready to leave, showing an alarming lack of tenacity for someone who’d tracked a guy down through his friend’s name on a check then driven across town and humiliated himself to her. “Okay, anyway, it was lovely to meet you.”
Katie kind of doubted that, and smiled, trying to reassure him. “Well, now that I know you aren’t stalking me, it’s probably okay. Besides, if anything were hinky, Chuck would have already called security on you.”
Evan blinked, which happened a lot when people realized Chuck was a bit more than just a receptionist. “What?”
“Standard procedure,” Katie explained, with a wave to Chuck, who ignored her, still focused on his computer. “Security is a big concern around here since the bombings last year, so we need to make sure everyone is who they say they are. You would not believe the people-“ She cut herself off, pretty sure that Evan didn’t want to hear about their latest problems with the Genii Coffee Company, who appeared to have decided the best way to break into the tea market was to steal Atlantis’ ideas, keeping their legal and security staff hopping twice as fast as usual.
Back to the point, since he was still looking ready to leave. “I’m sure David will think it all quite charming. He’s an odd sort.” Not least for refusing to call a cute guy who was obviously gone on him after fifteen minutes chatting in a parking lot. “Why don’t you come with me to the café? I’ll ring David’s office and get him to join us.” Plan D, back in action.
“Well, see, I’d been going to ask him out for coffee.” He was blushing again, Katie noticed, and shuffling his feet like he was meeting his prom date’s parents. He was a good looking, youngish art student – surely he couldn’t be as new to asking men out as he seemed to be.
She took pity on him, leaning in so she could whisper in his ear. “We don’t advertise it, but our coffee is pretty good too.”
He smiled then. “Okay. That’s great then. Thanks.”
She had her cell phone in her pocket, but decided maybe Evan didn’t need to hear this bit and stepped out into the corridor, leaving him with a mug of their newest latte blend.
“Parrish.” David’s voice was distracted on the other end of the line, and Katie pictured him poring over hybridization reports. At least he was in the office.
“Hey, it’s me.” She weighed up the likelihood of getting him down there if he knew who was there, and decided discretion was the better part of valor. Or something. “I’ve been staring at reports all morning and I’m going cross-eyed. Come and get a coffee with me.”
“Now?” David asked.
“Yes, now.” Katie put a bit of little-girl whine in her voice: it sometimes worked with David, and it was usually a better first try than I’m-your-boss-do-as-I-ask. “You can tell me about your latest project.”
“Or I could stay here and work on it.”
“David! Please, twenty minutes. They’re plants, nothing exciting’s going to happen to them in twenty minutes and I really need a break. Really, really. They’ve got that carrot cake again, the one you were raving about last week.” At least, Katie thought she’d seen it on the espresso cart. Hopefully, David would be too distracted to notice if she was wrong.
“Fine,” David said, sighing. “Be down in a few minutes.”
Katie waited until she’d hung up before doing a little dance and squeaking, “yay!” to the evident surprise of a couple of administrators walking past her.
She positioned herself between the elevators and the staircase, just in case David was on another of his fitness kicks, and glanced back into the café. Evan was still there, starting to look a bit uncomfortable. “No pain, no gain,” Katie muttered under her breath, nervously folding the hem of her sweater again and wondering where all the clichés in her head were coming from this morning.
As he came through the staircase door, David’s gaze fell on her fingers, his eyes narrowing suspiciously, and Katie hastily put herself between him and the door, so he couldn’t make a run for it.
“Katie?” David asked. “What’s up?”
“I thought you might want to interview the graphic artist I’m hiring for the Rainy Day blend,” she lied smoothly, abandoning her original cover story. David hated sitting on interview panels, and she usually avoided asking him, so he’d easily buy the idea of that lie covering for this one.
“Oh. Do you have a resume?”
“No, not this time,” Katie said cheerfully. She didn’t really believe in resumes: she’d hired both David and Laura without them and they’d both turned out fine. “I figured we could just chat over coffee.”
David rolled his eyes, because if ever there was anyone who believed in the value of following procedures, it was him – until the procedures stopped him doing what he wanted with the greenhouses, at which point the two of them promptly switched sides in the argument. “Tell me there’s a portfolio, at least.”
Katie fought down the smile that threatened to break over her face. “I think you might be familiar with his work already,” she said, linking her arm firmly through David’s as she led him into the café. This was definitely the moment where he was most likely to bolt. “May I present Evan Lorne?”
David stared across the café at Evan, looking dumbstruck. It wasn’t exactly the expression Katie had been hoping for, and she wondered if he hadn’t yet realized that Evan wasn’t actually there for an interview. At that moment, though, Evan looked up and saw them. “Good luck,” she whispered, hoping David would get it, and gave him a shove towards the espresso cart.
Tempting as it was to loiter and spy on them, Katie didn’t want to risk either of them looking up and spotting her, particularly if things didn’t go well. Not that she thought that was likely – Evan was obviously into David, and she was pretty sure David felt the same. He just needed a little push. Or to be stalked through her check book, she amended silently, and went to lean on Chuck’s desk.
“Ms Brown,” he said politely, looking up from his computer. “Anything I can help you with?”
“I’m fine, thanks.” She picked up one of the flower-topped pens she’d stocked the desk with, after all their plain ‘Atlantis Celestial Teas’ pens had disappeared. At least these were a bit too obvious for most people to slip into their jacket pockets. “Just stretching my legs before I go back to the office.”
“Okay.” Chuck’s computer beeped and he typed something into it, then turned back to her. “You’ve finished your interview already?”
“Hmm? Oh, no, Dr Parrish has taken over from me.” Actually, they really were looking for a graphic artist for the new blend, since their last one had left the country without giving a forwarding address. Maybe she’d ask David to mention it to Evan, if this worked out.
“Ah,” Chuck said politely, appearing a little confused. “Well, hope it works out.”
“Me too.” Katie said. She replaced the pen in the pot as a woman in a suit came up to the desk and asked for Dr Weir, the general manager of the company.
“Your name?” Chuck asked, tapping at his computer and pulling up Elizabeth’s day planner, Katie assumed.
“Teyla Emmagan,” the woman said. She placed her briefcase at her feet and smiled warmly at both of them. “From Athos Natural Teas. We have a meeting arranged for eleven o’clock, but I’m a little early.”
“May I see your ID?” He took her driver’s license in exchange for a non-disclosure form. “If you’d fill this out.”
Katie watched Teyla complete the form in neat capitals, a little surprised to see her there. She’d known, like everyone in their business, that Athos was being bullied into a takeover from Wraith Beverages, but she hadn’t heard that they were thinking about joining Atlantis. She smiled brightly at Teyla when the woman glanced her way, hoping Elizabeth would persuade her into partnership with them; she’d been trying to get her hands on the recipe for Athos’ Tropic of Strawberry blend since she first tasted it. Plus, Athos had recently gone into partnership with Satedan Coffees Ltd, and the three of them together would be a force to be reckoned with.
Chuck printed out a visitor’s pass that Teyla clipped to her jacket with a smile of thanks, and called security to take her up to Elizabeth’s office.
Once the elevator doors had closed behind the two of them, Katie turned back to Chuck. “Could you ring Laura Cadman’s office and see if she’s in please?”
She didn’t really expect Laura to be out of her meeting, but Chuck handed her the receiver after a moment. “Laura?”
“Hey, Katie, what’s up? Did he turn up?” She heard the sound of papers being dropped on a hard surface, and figured Laura had just got back to her office.
“He did,” she said. “They’re having coffee as we speak.”
“Fantastic,” Laura said gleefully. “Don’t suppose you feel like a tea break?”
“You read my mind,” Katie told her. “See you at Chuck’s desk in a few minutes?”
“On my way,” Laura assured her, and hung up.
Katie handed the receiver back to Chuck, whose face was carefully blank. She smiled brightly at him. “Thanks, Chuck.”
“No problem, Ms Brown.” He replaced the receiver.
“You know, we’ve been working together for nearly five years now. I *really* think it’s time you started calling me Katie.” It wasn’t the first time she’d said that, and Katie strongly suspected it wouldn’t be the last.
“Yes, Ms Brown,” Chuck said with a smile, just as Laura burst out of the security door.
“Shall we?” she asked, gesturing towards the café.
“We shall,” Katie agreed, and followed her in.
David and Evan were exactly where she’d left them, sitting at a small table on the far side of the espresso cart. Evan had obviously explained the situation to him, though, because both of them were leaning forward, smiling, their cups of coffee forgotten between them.
“Looks like it’s going well,” Laura muttered, leaning close enough for Katie to feel her breath on the back of her neck. She turned to smile at her friend, Laura’s laughing eyes so near they blurred.
“It does, doesn’t it?” she asked, satisfied. The guy tending the cart, whose name she hadn’t managed to catch since he’d started a week ago, tilted his head, waiting for her to order. “Oh, sorry. Um… Sweet Coconut, please. Laura?”
“Iced Tuscany Orange, thanks,” Laura said. “And two slices of double chocolate cake.”
“Chocolate cake?” Katie asked. She loved the cake their café produced, but tried not to eat it too often.
“Definitely.” Laura gestured across to David and Evan, who were laughing over something. As she watched, the laughter trailed off and they just looked at each other, goofy and happy, for a moment. “You deserve cake for setting that up, and I can hardly let you eat cake alone.”
“Heaven forbid,” Katie agreed, watching Laura grin, and wondered if she could set up something similar for herself if she tried.