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Right Where I Want You
Jessica Hawkins



A dragon disguised as a businesswoman breathed down my neck.

I’d been in that position more times than I could count—a desperate grab at coffee before work, applying mascara in line, praying sidewalk congestion wouldn’t make me late. But on this particular day, it was the woman behind me breathing fire as she muttered, “It’s not like I have the most important meeting of my life in five minutes.”

I was actually early in hopes of making a good impression on my first day at a new assignment. Behind the café’s register, my best friend, Luciano, scribbled on a paper cup while arching a manicured eyebrow at me. He shook his head—a warning to stay put—and tapped on the name he’d written.


Message received, loud and clear. But Luciano hadn’t been the one standing there for three minutes, withering under the wrath behind me.

Although it was a big day for me, I really wasn’t in a hurry, because I’d planned ahead. The night before, I’d lain out a respectable white blouse and navy skirt suit to lead a meeting dominated by men before mapping out all possible routes from Brooklyn Heights to Midtown. I didn’t typically choose my outfits the night before like a grade schooler. The norm for me was hitting snooze too many times and leaving my fate in the hands of the public transportation gods.

But this assignment was different. I’d be working with men, and not just men, but so-called “bad boys.” And I’d been given less than a week to prepare—not only my notes, but my mindset too. Modern Man, a men’s interest monthly magazine, had already been losing market share before its creative director had been called out in a scathing exposé about sexism in the workplace. That was the environment I was walking into.

The woman exhaled another furious sigh against my hair. I turned and smiled at the brunette in a patterned blouse who tapped out something on her phone.

“You can go ahead of me,” I said.

She took a moment to finish what she was typing before looking up. “What?”

“It sounds like you have somewhere to be. I’m early, so go ahead.”

“Great.” She stepped in front of me.

The man behind her moved up in line, passing me. “I’m late for work too,” he said, turning away and effectively moving me to the back of the line.

My cheeks warmed. So he’d just assumed I’d let him go ahead too? That I wouldn’t speak up? Giving up my spot in line was a good deed—I didn’t have to do that. Well, maybe karma would handle this.

“Karma? That bitch was squashed by the M-fourteen bus while trying to catch up with my ex,” Luciano had told me once.

I didn’t agree. Karma may not have been swift, but it always got you.

I raised my hand to tap the man’s shoulder, then hesitated. Hadn’t he said he was also late to work? And I was early for once. The commute to my new job was thirty minutes, so I’d factored in possible A-train delays, traffic if I had to take a cab, or even the possibility of jumping on the ferry. I’d left myself enough time that, should disaster strike, I’d still be able to get my daily mocha latte—because not having one was on par with said disaster.

Of course, the subway had been smooth sailing and the commute a breeze.

So, I wasn’t just early to work. I had another forty minutes before I needed to walk off the elevator and into Modern Man magazine’s offices on the thirty-fifth floor of Dixon Media Tower.

I lowered my hand but stared daggers at the man’s bald spot. Do your worst, Karma.

I could practically hear Luciano’s thoughts as he stared at me and pumped dark roast into a cup. This was the sort of thing—getting pushed to the back of the line—that I was supposed to be working on. I wasn’t doing such a great job of morphing from Georgina into George, the side of me that could stride into a new workplace and take over without batting an eyelash. As Georgina, though? I did things like pay full price at the Brooklyn Flea so I wouldn’t have to haggle and apologize for slipping in an unidentified puddle and knocking over a candy display at Duane Reade.

I now had a half hour to get it together so I could confidently walk into the lion’s den. And I would—just after I’d gotten my latte.

Luciano and I air-kissed when I reached the counter, but he said, “It’s not even nine in the morning, and you’ve already let at least two people wipe their feet on you.”

“I’m early for work,” I said, handing him exact change. “It was the nice thing to do.”

“Too nice.” He tapped the screen of an iPad to enter my order. “You’re too nice.”

“So, what’s wrong with that?”

Luciano responded the way he always did. “Nothing, if you want to remain a spinster. Men love bitches, and bitches get what they want—like swift coffee or dates.”


“Yeah, you know, when two people decide they want to get to know each other better over dinner or drinks . . .”

I rolled my eyes as I zipped up my wallet. “Men might think they love bitches, but eventually that wears off. It did for Neal.”

“You’re wrong, and I would know—I am one, and I date them exclusively.”

“A man or a bitch?”

“Both,” he said. “And Neal might’ve left you for one, but seeing as he came crawling back to you soon after, he obviously couldn’t keep up with her.”

That was all I needed right now, to be reminded of my final conversation with my ex. I kept the memory at bay as I said, “I think you just proved my point.”

He sighed. “I’m just saying, before Neal, you made your presence known. Now, it’s like you feel guilty taking up space. I don’t get how you can be so fierce at work and the opposite in your personal life.”

Was it that bad? I was a gainfully employed dog mom, a Celtophile easily regaled with tales of Ireland over card games with my grandad, and a thirty-year-old spinster in training who’d been on exactly zero dates in six months . . .

I could almost get away with telling Luciano I was happy to grow old with just my work and my dog, but he knew me inside out. We’d bonded over juice boxes and a mutual hate for our given names—school was that much more laborious writing Georgina or Luciano in cursive on every single paper or correcting the pronunciation of classmates and teachers alike.

“Now get out of the way,” Luciano said, brushing a lock of black hair from his forehead. “I have customers to serve.”

“Oh, sorry,” I said, hurrying over to the pick-up counter.

I took out some index cards and reviewed my upcoming presentation, quizzing myself on statistics as people filtered in and out of the café. My boss had taught me to practice public speaking surrounded by distractions. That way, nothing could take me out of the zone come game time. I’d pulled together this morning’s presentation in only five days, yet I had the numbers down to an art. In a way, it was an art, compiling data in a digestible way that wouldn’t make enemies out of the team I was about to join—or invade, depending on how they looked at it.

“Mocha latte,” Luciano’s coworker called out and set my drink on the bar.

I tucked the notecards under my arm and went to take the drink just as the woman next to me picked it up.

“Oh, I think that’s mine,” I said as she started to turn away.

“Mocha latte?” She looked over her shoulder at the barista, who nodded. “That’s what I ordered.”

“Me too,” I said.

She checked the cup. “This says George.”

“Yes, that’s me,” I said.

“George is a man’s name. There are no men on this side of the counter.”

“I know, but . . .” I sighed with frustration. “You were actually behind me in line.”

“Impossible,” she said, finally turning to me. “I didn’t even wait in line. I walked right up to the counter.”

I looked to Luciano, five feet away, for help. With one word, he could fix this for me, but instead he hummed Britney Spears’ “Stronger” to himself and pretended not to hear us. “I mean that you came in after me,” I clarified. “I saw you.”

“You saw me come in?”

“Yes.” At least, I was fairly certain I had. I’d looked up from my notes, silently quizzing myself when she’d walked in. Unless it’d been another blonde woman tall enough to wear flats with a power suit. “I think—”

“I don’t have time for this. My name’s Joan, that’s close to George, so it must be mine,” she said in one long breath and walked away with my drink.

But my name was closer. Make my presence known. I knew what Luciano was thinking. Now, three people had cut me in line before nine in the morning, and that was especially bad today of all days when I needed to be on point.

As she exited the café, Luciano placed a new drink on the counter. “Skinny mocha latte.”

“Skinny? Are you kidding?” I made a face. “Does it at least have two-percent milk?”


I groaned. “Whipped cream?”

“Nope. And the mocha sauce is sugar-free.”

“Lu,” I whined. “I can’t drink this garbage.”

Luciano took a cup from the register and started the next order. “Well, I made a regular one and even added extra whipped cream for your big day, but you let someone else take it.” He shrugged. “Should’ve spoken up.”

He was punishing me, but it wasn’t as if I hadn’t tried to convince her it was mine. “She didn’t give me a chance. Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Because she was right. There was no George around.” He stopped and looked at me. “If a colleague of yours waltzed in right now and demanded she give your presentation today, would you roll over and let her?” With a sigh to let me know I’d disappointed him, he leaned over the counter and took the skinny drink back. “I’ll remake this,” he said, disappearing behind an espresso machine.

“I just don’t want to start my day with confrontation,” I called after him. “Especially today.”

“Nobody does,” he yelled back. “But if Georgina doesn’t respect herself, why should anyone else?”

Respect wasn’t an issue—at work. I was a fixer, and a damn good one. When I walked into a failing media company, I joined the team and guided them toward solutions. Yet when my ex had been struggling to finish school with a full-time job, Georgina had been persuaded to shoulder the burden. How could I argue that saving to take my family pub-hopping in Dublin for the holidays was more important than Neal’s education? And could I really expect him to help with the crippling vet bills for a dog he hadn’t even wanted? He’d told me he was quitting his job in insurance sales, and I’d accepted it without a fight. I’d do Ireland another time, I’d reasoned, so I could cover rent, bills, and healthcare while Neal earned his Master’s. And he had. Right before he’d left me for a classmate.

The door jingled behind me, and a man’s voice filled the space. “No, I’m at a coffee shop downstairs,” he said. “Can’t believe I’m starting my morning without Dunkin’, but this sludge will have to do. It’s for a good cause.”

For anyone to suggest that Dunkin’ Donuts was better than this place, which carried specialty, single-origin organic coffee, was absurd. I turned. The man on his cell was at least a head taller than anyone else. With boyishly brown hair, a square, tailored suit, and an even sharper jawline, he looked as if he’d walked right out of a magazine. Considering all the media companies on this block, it was entirely possible that he had come from a photoshoot.

“Hang on,” he said into his cell as he approached the counter. He lowered the phone to his side and read Luciano’s nametag. “Morning, Luciano. Can I get three coffees, two black and one iced with extra cream and sugar?”


He hesitated. “Can you write ‘number one boss’ on the iced coffee?”

Luciano nodded. “Coming right up.”

“Thanks, man. Appreciate it.” The man passed over his credit card before stuffing a five-dollar bill in the tip jar.

A generous tip and a sincere thank you? What planet had he come from? Not only was it out of character for a New Yorker, but it was even less so for such a beautiful specimen. Good god, he was something to look at with thick hair the color of my beloved morning mocha and broad shoulders that tapered to a lean waist. Tall and imposing, he seemed vaguely familiar, like an actor who’d suddenly started popping up in every hit movie, or the treadmill hunk who kept all the girls—and some guys—motivated at the gym. Except I had no doubt I would’ve remembered seeing him at my gym.

If I’d belonged to a gym.

He definitely did, if the bulges under his sleeves were any indication. Luciano loved men’s pecs. My boss worshipped at the altar of ass and thigh. But I was all about the face. I loved jaws and noses as strong and distinguished as British royalty, features passed through generations. He had parentheses for laugh lines, and when he half-smiled, a semi-colon formed in one cheek—one perfunctory, deep dimple just slightly above a curved one at the edge of his mouth. I read him like a book that made you forget how—right to left, top to bottom, backward and forward.

He cleared his throat.

To cover up the fact that I’d been staring, I glanced away and continued rehearsing. Was there any greater distraction than a gorgeous man who smelled as if he’d spent the morning foraging for wood—or at least in the men’s product aisle at Target? Fresh Blast, Classic Old Spice, Cool Rush—he was one of those, probably whichever smelled best. If I could remember my presentation in his presence, then I’d nail it later on.

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