My first novel, AWAKENED, is available now on Amazon. In the sequel to Sleepwalking, Leah McAllister is starting a new job in a bland maze of tan cubicles where she hopes to blend in with her surroundings – she’s had enough attention for one lifetime. What she never expects is to find herself working under Morgan, a mesmerizing woman who turned her world upside down when they met one year before.
Read the first chapter below.
The uninspiring, tan-walled offices of Harper Billings were the absolute last place that Leah McAllister expected to find romance.
It was a hot, late-summer morning and the pencil skirt she’d purchased specially for her first day at her new job was already clinging to her thighs by the time she arrived at the office. She tucked a few loose tendrils of her honey-brown hair behind her ear, then with a deep breath, she went inside.
Leah graduated from Westbrook University just two months earlier, and she’d spent most of the summer learning just how creative one must be in order to find a good job with nothing but a bachelor’s degree in English to qualify her. This was especially true now that everyone in journalism had come to terms with the fact that ‘print is dead,’ as they say. It was only after four years of working on her college newspaper that Leah realized everyone who worked for a real newspaper subscribed to the ‘you can pry this job from my cold, dead hands’ philosophy, and no reporting jobs were likely to open up any time soon.
So after a protracted search for a runner-up dream job, she’d landed on technical writing. It was something she discovered after interviewing a technical writer last year – one of the strangest interviews she’d ever done – for a series in The Western Review about career opportunities for English majors.
While the most ringing endorsement the woman could give her was, “As careers go, you could do a lot worse,” she had been right about two things – technical writing jobs were plentiful, and they paid better than almost everything else Leah could find.
So she applied at Harper Billings, one of a few companies in town that employed technical writers, and she got a job documenting the company’s medical billing software. Leah had to temper her disappointment that a journalism job was out of her reach, at least for now, and in the meantime, Harper Billings seemed like a good place to get lost in the crowd. The hiring manager – a stern-looking woman named Pam with streaks of silver in her dark brown hair – was currently showing Leah around the office.
It was just one big room with tan cubicles throughout, and despite the large space it was quiet except for the occasional ringing phone and low, business-oriented conversation. Pam walked her through the maze of cubes, and Leah had never before imagined that the term ‘cubicle farm’ could be so literal. But every department in the office was nothing more than a cluster of cubes – quality control, software development, technical support, and so on – and Leah glanced into each of them as she walked by.
Every cubicle was composed of three low walls that came up to Leah’s chest, and she was struck by how they were all devoid of personal effects.
“Doesn’t anyone bring in pictures of their families, or decorations?” Leah asked.
“We don’t permit push-pins to be used on the cubicle walls,” Pam said, as if this was a sufficient explanation for the starkness of the office.
As far as Leah could tell, her new coworkers matched their surroundings perfectly. She wondered if they conformed to fit their surroundings, or if this work environment reflected their own demure natures.
Each cubicle Leah peeked into contained another blank-faced worker, their eyes darting up to look at the intruder and then immediately back to their computer screens. Even their clothes seemed to follow some sort of unspoken dress code, muted and plain.
She supposed it could have been terrifying, looking at all those lifeless cubicles spread out across the large office, but instead Leah found it oddly comforting. It was pretty obvious that no one here was working at their dream job. They were just punching their time cards, doing their work, and blending in – this just so happened to be exactly what Leah wanted out of her first office job.
Pam led Leah to the other end of the building, past a long row of conference rooms along the wall and down a short hall to a large lunch room that Leah could see was filled with big, round tables.
“If you brought a lunch, you can put it in the refrigerator there,” Pam said, going into the lunch room and pointing to an industrial-sized fridge on one wall next to a bank of microwaves.
Leah was trailing a few feet behind her, about to say she’d only brought a peanut butter and banana sandwich, when her attention was diverted to a man and woman ducking out of a conference room at the end of the row.
They were flushed and smiling, and it was obvious that they didn’t know they had an audience. He was tall, with ebony skin and a commanding presence even from a distance, and his emerald green tie seemed to clash with their surroundings. The girl looked younger than Leah, a little nervous and eager to walk away as she self-consciously brushed the wrinkles from her flowing floral skirt. Leah knew she shouldn’t be watching this intimate moment – he caught the girl’s hand and pulled her in for a brief but passionate kiss, then let her go – but they were so different from all the other slack-jawed workers Leah had encountered that she couldn’t look away.
It only lasted a moment, then they were gone – filtering through the cubicle maze in different directions – and Pam was back at the mouth of the lunch room, looking a little irritated that Leah hadn’t kept up.
“Are you ready to meet your trainer?” She asked, a slight annoyance edging into her voice.
“Sure,” Leah said, then when this casual response didn’t do much to wipe the irritation from Pam’s face, she amended, “I mean yes, thanks.”
They weaved back into the cubicle maze in the same direction that the man had gone, and Pam brought Leah to the middle cubicle in a cluster of three. Pam knocked on the top of the cubicle wall and said,
“Morgan, your trainee is here.”
“Okay,” a voice called from within the cube, and Leah thought it sounded vaguely familiar. She hung back a little bit, listening to her trainer tapping out a few last words on her keyboard before stepping out of the cubicle.
“Oh-” Leah said as soon as she saw the owner of that familiar voice. Her mouth gaped slightly open and her pulse quickened.
“This is Leah McAllister,” Pam said, stepping aside to make the introductions. She seemed oblivious to the sudden charge in the atmosphere, or maybe it was just Leah who was feeling it so acutely. “Leah, this is Morgan Park. She’s going to show you the ropes this week, and then next week you’ll start working on your own.”
Morgan Park needed no introduction. Standing in front of Leah was the woman from her most memorable Western Review interview, someone Leah had hoped fervently that she’d never run into again.
Her heart skipped a beat as Morgan came face to face with her. She was dressed in a pair of khakis with a white button-down shirt, and Leah had to force her eyes up to keep from lingering on the buttons that gaped around her breasts. Morgan wore her thick hair in the same undercut that Leah remembered from the coffee shop, only this time it was neatly combed back rather than hanging messy and tousled around her face. Her icy blue eyes weren’t as tired as they’d been that day, either – Morgan looked even better than Leah remembered her.
Leah tucked the loose strands of her hair behind her ear again, subconsciously reaching down to tug her skirt away from her sweat-drenched thighs. The air conditioning pumped strongly through the building, but her roommate was right – even though her apartment was just a few blocks away, she never should have walked to work on her very first day.
Leah felt self-conscious – she must look a mess – but she couldn’t tell from Morgan’s expression whether she recognized Leah. She felt her cheeks getting hot and knew that her freckles must be horribly visible against her fair skin, doing nothing for her appearance. What was worse than finding out that Morgan was her new trainer was the possibility that she didn’t remember Leah, because their interview had made a lasting impression on at least one of them.