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Amber Surrender

By Miss Monica

Part One: Sub Space

Chapter One

Amber charged into the hotel her stomach churning, her breath coming in quivering gasps. Every step she took was like plowing through neck deep water. As she plodded along, she glanced down at a scrap of paper clutched in her hand. The numerals 328 stood out in dark ink against a white background reminding her of the destination. Room 328. A familiar stranger from Calgary, Alberta waited for her in room 328.

She forced her leaden legs to carry her to the elevator even though her peripheral vision blacked out and at any second she could faint. On the third floor, a maid with her cleaning cart blocked the hallway. The girl flashed a perfunctory smile and returned her attention to a stack of clean towels, uninterested in another guest among thousands. Amber reeled as if she’d been discovered escaping prison. The urge to explain bubbled in her throat, but then she ducked her head and scurried past. She wavered in front of room 328. Her head spun, the walls tilted, and the floor fell away. She was drowning in air. For a split second, she wondered if she should turn and run. What kind of idiot meets a man in a hotel room like this?

An idiot who was hopeless, helpless, curious, intrigued, and beguiled. She gulped. The two thousand miles that usually stood between them had been reduced to the thickness of a door. To see him, all she had to do was knock. Shaking, she raised her closed fist and tapped.

Only a few months ago she’d been oblivious to the blinding need that had taken over her life. Only a few months ago her life was tame and dull. A few months ago…

Amber pulled into the vast and overfilled parking lot of the Cooper Agency. She didn’t have to look at her watch to know she was late. The only spot left for her car was in the row farthest away from the building. She gathered her things and hurried toward the main entrance, her modest heels sticking a little in the asphalt.

She’d only worked at the company’s corporate headquarters for three weeks, and she was still getting used to the routine. Her secretary job paid the bills, but it wasn’t the type of job she wanted. Instead, Jewelry Designer stirred her passion, but there were no job openings for an inexperienced, twenty-six-year-old jewelry designer around here. To make matters worse, around here was Dallas, Texas - not a place she ever thought she’d call home. But now she was stuck.

The word echoed through her mind in time with her urgent steps. Stuck. Stuck. Stuck. She jammed the elevator call button. And all because of Nick. Her already twisted insides lurched, and for the thousandth time she wished for a fast and easy way to just get over it. No such luck so far.

The elevator doors swished open and she hoped to slip to her desk unnoticed. No such luck again. Mr. Harding, her supervisor, stood in the doorway of his office surveying his turf. When his eyes landed on her, his normally bland face pulled into a frown.

“Ms. Lee, you’re late.” He tapped the face of his watch.

Amber’s stomach lurched again. “I’m sorry.” She ducked her head and rushed toward her desk.

Mr. Harding dogged her. “Third time in two weeks.”

“I know. I’m sorry. Slow elevator.” She whispered in an attempt to minimize the level of attention the scolding attracted.

Mr. Harding didn’t bother with such delicate decorum. “That’s not much of an excuse.” His voice boomed out, and a few of the cube workers stole glances their way.

Under his stern gaze, Amber fumbled into her customary spot. The pressure of his stare made her twist and jerk and in this awkward state, she knocked into the candy jar that sat on the corner of her desk. As the new girl here, she’d used the treats as a friendly overture toward the rest of the staff, and now her icebreaker teetered on the edge of disaster. With a gasp she lunged and grabbed the glass canister, preventing a crash, but the move flung chocolate kisses into the air. They rained onto her desk blotter in chaotic staccato rhythm.

Mr. Harding crossed his arms as she chased the silver wrapped cones. “I expect you to be punctual. If this lateness continues, there will be consequences.” Her face grew hot. “It won’t happen again.”

“I hope not.” He disappeared into his office.

Fighting tears, Amber scooped handfuls of candy into the jar and crammed the lid into place. “Great start to a great day,” she muttered.

“Oh honey, don’t mind him.” Elaina Thompson emerged from the cubicle maze and leaned on the edge of the desk. She was even younger than Amber, but she used the term honey like she was everyone’s sweet granny. “He’s just a serious, uptight, old fart.” She glanced toward Mr. Harding’s office and giggled like a junior high girl rather than a working professional.

Amber smiled a tiny little bit. The humor allowed her to pull back from the emotional abyss that threatened to gobble her up at the slightest hint of difficulty. Bless you, Elaina.

The petite and perky junior sales associate had been helpful and friendly from day one. It wasn’t part of her job, but she’d introduced Amber around and provided advice for dealing with the cantankerous copy machine and the touchy computer program. Where to park and even where to go for lunch had all been made easier by Elaina’s instructions. Amber sucked in a breath and ran her fingers through her hair. “That old fart could fire me.”

“He’s all bark.” Elaina picked up a kiss from the floor. She peeled back the silver foil and popped the candy into her mouth. Chocolate for breakfast? Why not. “Give yourself some time. You’ve only been here a few weeks.”

Amber considered the beige on beige office. “I’m not motivated.” Somehow she’d have to get motivated. She couldn’t afford to lose her job. Not now. “You’ve got to cheer up, honey.” Elaina slid to her feet.

Amber sighed. “I don’t know if I can.”

“Sure you can. And you know why? Because I can’t stand to watch you mope around much longer.” She put her hands on her hips. “Let’s go out tonight. It’s Friday.” “No, thank you.”

“We could eat at that new restaurant.”

“No.” Right now Amber craved solitude.

“I know a fun club in the West end.”

“No!” Absolutely the opposite of what she wanted to do.

“Okay...” Elaina paused, then her eyes lit up with the answer. “Come to my place then. We’ll hang out in pajamas.”

Another no! danced on Amber’s tongue, but the sales woman hadn’t made a suggestion or even a request. She’d issued an instruction, and Amber followed instructions well. She shrugged. “Why not.”

Elaina smiled then sauntered to her cube and started making phone calls. In spite of her casual attitude, she still had to make quota this month. Amber settled in and opened her email to start on the tasks for the day.

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