Movin' Up With J.J. Excerpt

Caught! Jacob lowered the eraser to his side and fought to remember his cover story. Difficult, considering adrenaline rushed through his veins, seemingly fueling every part of his body sans his brain. He took a deep breath and prepared to speak as slowly and quietly as his jitters would allow, hoping to calm Alex.

“Just beginning the clean-up in here, since the attorney doesn’t appear to have done so.” The excuse sounded weak even to his own ears, probably because he was so unaccustomed to lying. He didn’t think Alex bought it, since the look on her face was a mixture of shock, fury, and fear. Red circles marred the smooth, pale skin of her cheeks.

“I told you not to touch anything unless Walt or I said so. That lawyer could sue Movin’ Up for every dollar it has because you erased that board.”

Jacob winced internally at her clipped tone, but smiled his most charming smile. “Surely it can’t be that perilous. Perhaps if you explain it was a knuckleheaded temp’s mistake--”

“You’re not my temp anymore.” She put out her hand. “Give me your timesheet and I’ll pay you for the hours you’ve worked, but you’re through here. You’re a liability I can’t afford.”

He jerked as though he’d been slapped. Yikes! Fired from a blue-collar job after only a few hours. He’d never been fired from a job in his life. Jacob thought he’d actually been doing a pretty good job, considering he was more accustomed to using his brain than his muscle. Was it time to break down and assure her the lawyer wouldn’t sue and her company was safe? Should he go ahead and admit what he was doing here to stop her from worrying?

For crying out loud, how could he admit anything when he hadn’t even told her his real name? Jacob Edward Chamberlain, Jr., grandson of the wealthy founder of Chamberlain, New Jersey and son of the Republican candidate for governor, hadn’t gone by J.J. since he was ten. And choosing the last name Chambers was certainly a half-cocked way to cover his tracks. He’d met her only a few hours earlier, but already he’d learned Alex was even smarter than she was beautiful. He couldn’t discount the possibility she would figure him out on her own.

He couldn’t allow that. She was worried about liability, but so was he, and he was willing to bet the scale of his potential losses was much greater than hers. Thank God, he had at least printed out the imaged contents of the dry erase board using the little attached printer and shoved the piece of paper into his pocket before Alex discovered him. The chemical formulas on the board were very important and very confidential. He needed a copy, but he also needed them to stay safe. He simply couldn’t have let that white board leave the building with the confidential formulas intact. Risking a glance, he decided what was left shouldn’t be enough to cause any problems, though any chemical engineer worth his salt would have recognized at least the class of the compound if they’d seen the entire formula.

Alex snapped her fingers twice. “Hello? Are you in there? Did you hear me?”

Jacob cleared his throat. What had she just told him to do? Get his timesheet? Uh oh.

“Um, I don’t have my timesheet with me,” he finally managed. “I had planned to attend to it tomorrow.”

Jacob hadn’t thought Alex’s frown could get any deeper, but it did. “Will you be home tomorrow around five or so? I’ll take your address and have Jerry come and pick it up when we’re done with the move.”

“No!” he blurted. Not his address. The name of the gated community would surely tip her off that he wasn’t who he said he was, even if nothing else did. “No, I have a date scheduled for tomorrow evening.”

Alex squinted up at him. “Find a way to get your timecard to me in the next week or forget being paid.” She scooped up her little plastic box and turned toward the door. “You stand right there.” She jerked a thumb over her shoulder. “Don’t move. I’ll have Walt escort you out.”

Jacob didn’t dare speak again. He didn’t know what to say that would make things right, anyway. Even the truth would likely just make her angrier. She had made that comment earlier about honesty being very important, and he sure hadn’t been honest. His parents, who had raised him preaching integrity, would be ashamed.

He sighed, regretting he hadn’t met Alex under different circumstances. He guessed they would have gotten along well.

Perhaps very well.

Within moments, Walt arrived, glanced at the offending white board, and pointed down the hall toward the suite’s exit. Jacob could feel the man’s gaze on him as he secured the eraser on its ledge beneath the white board and brushed his hands together to rid them of the red marker dust. As they walked out together, he asked, “Is there anything I can do to improve this situation?”

“Nope. Unless you can honestly tell Alex that you are the patent attorney and owner of this firm yourself, and you promise not to sue her, that is.” The older man chuckled.

Jacob gulped. Exactly what he could tell her, and probably should tell her. He still might, but he needed to think things through first, decide logically what would be best for both his firm and Movin’ Up. “Um, sorry. I’ll just remove myself from the situation.”

“That’s the best thing,” Walt agreed. They’d reached the lobby, where the carpet yielded to slate tiles beneath Jacob’s tired feet. “Please drop the coverall next to the truck. Bye.”

Jacob noted that Walt watched him strip off the coverall--honestly, he was glad to be rid of the scratchy, hot fabric--and walk to his Jag. The older man stood at the window until Jacob pulled it out of its parking space, wincing as the black leather covering the steering wheel scorched his palms.

Once he was out of view of the office building, Jacob blasted the air conditioning, but its rushing din could not drown out the whirling thoughts in his brain. He pounded the steering wheel with his fist. He’d always considered himself an intelligent man, so why had he acted so foolishly for the last twenty-four hours?

First he cancelled a long-scheduled, much anticipated date to stay at work and ponder the new fuel additive 12X wanted to patent and market. Then he forgot--even though his secretary reminded him at least five times--that the movers were coming first thing in the morning and he needed to lock up anything confidential. He’d been exhausted by the time he left the office at midnight, but that was no excuse for leaving the chemical formulas out for the movers to see and potentially steal. A huge error he’d hoped no one would discover.

He rubbed his forehead. He should have just told Alex the truth when he’d practically bumped into her truck. Displaying his driver’s license would have proved his identity. But he’d been startled the movers were there so bright and early, and then they had assumed he was their temp. Going along was the easiest option, knowing the ruse would get him into the building anyway.

He hadn’t meant for Alex to feel he was a risk to her company. He liked her, and she ran a tight ship, just like he did. His back and arms burned from the morning’s work--no need to hit the gym today--but he’d enjoyed the chit-chat, too. Alex had earned both the friendship and the respect of her employees, which was probably no small feat in a type of business generally run by men. She’d proven she could carry her share of the weight, too. Literally. He could only imagine--and fantasize about--the wiry muscles that must be hidden under her coverall.

He maneuvered the Jag into the driveway of his stone Colonial and turned off the ignition, then pulled out and unfolded his cell phone. Perhaps he could get Stacey to agree to go out with him tonight since he had canceled their date last night. What he needed was to relax and have some fun. Then, tomorrow, he could decide what, if anything, to do about Alex and Movin’ Up.

The first order of business after his call, though, was a cool shower.

©2008 Kim Sheard