She'd once read somewhere that accidents increased during a full moon. Could blowing up your apartment really be considered an accident?
After all, it wasn't like she had meant to do it. She wasn't some lunatic who had suddenly decided to destroy her home. Although to be fair it was probably the tiniest bit of an exaggeration to say that the apartment had blown up because it hadn't exactly blown up. Not really. But in her defence the loud crack of the blue sparks had certainly sounded like some sort of terrifying explosion and small flames had flickered out from the power socket as she had choked and spluttered on the dark strange smelling smoke that billowed out around her. She could hardly breathe to the point she was physically choking and it was in that one short moment, Stephanie had been sure she was about to die.
Her life had flashed before her as she quickly squeezed her eyes shut and clasped her fingers together tightly, muttering a silent prayer to the man upstairs. And thankfully he had actually been listening to her desperate pleas because when her lids had fluttered back open, she realised she hadn't crossed over to the other side. Instead the darkness that had engulfed her was more of the electrical variety as in she didn't have any. Her power was out and her lights had stopped working. Somehow, someway, the whole apartment had completely blacked out and she had been left there standing in the darkness trying to figure out what on earth had happened.
Well at least until her neighbour had called round with his torch asking if her power had shorted. That was when she had told him all about the blue sparks and the explosion. Curious, he had asked to see the damage and she had happily led him to the bathroom. And boy had that been a huge mistake. The stupid moron honestly thought the hairdryer floating in her tub was floating there on purpose, like she'd deliberately tossed it in there just for the hell of it. Did the guy not realise she had been scared out of her mind? She had been terrified for her life when those sparks had angrily cracked at her and her immediate reaction had been to throw the smoking appliance from her hands. Did he honestly think she wanted to do that? Did he honestly think she wanted to spend the rest of the day looking like some distressed poodle? Because that what was going to happen. She was going to spend the next eight hours sitting at her desk with the hair-do from hell. God, even now she could already feel the ends starting to kink.
Stephanie grimaced as she raked her fingers through her wavy brown strands in an effort to straighten them and quickly crossed the street as a cab driver honked his horn in her direction. She gave him an absent apologetic wave as she checked her watch and muttered a curse as she saw what time it was. Shit! She was seriously late. Again! And this time she might even break her own tardiness record all thanks to her stupid hairdryer and her stupid neighbour who thought he had God given right to stand there and lecture her this morning. He hadn't even cared when she had explained she had a job to get to and a boss that no doubt was going to read her the riot act. No. Instead he had stood there until a building inspector had arrived and now she was over two hours late. So much for the new and improved and completely responsible Stephanie McMahon! Although to be fair, this wasn't entirely all her fault either. It was that stupid full moon last night. Everyone knew bad things always happened on a full moon. It had cursed her and as if her life wasn't cursed enough already!
Stephanie raced up the steps to the office building, her heels clacking on the concrete. She burst open the heavy glass doors grateful to see the foyer practically deserted. Thankfully it was Monday and Monday meant lots of people tied up in lots of meetings. What were the chances Nick would be one of them or that he would just be tied up period? The bastard was going to take immense pleasure ripping her a new one after this but not before she looked at least half respectable. She had to get to the bathrooms and do something with her hair which she swore was already creeping half way up her neck.
Slipping the strap of her leather holdall from her shoulder, Stephanie began raking through her belongings desperately trying to find the hairclip she knew was in there somewhere. Her head dropped as she scurried around the corner towards the ground floor restrooms.
"For God sakes!"
Fuck! Stephanie winced as she realised she had collided with someone and tentatively lifted her head. A vaguely familiar pair of frosty blue eyes glared back at her with a pair of arms outstretched. And at the end of one of those arms she noticed a now empty Styrofoam cup. It belonged to her, the horrible girl who was Paul's new personal assistant. Double fuck!
"You again! I don't believe this!" she hissed.
Stephanie could only smile apologetically as she inwardly she cursed her luck. After all, what were the chances of this happening a second time and to the exact same person? Her eyes couldn't help but focus on the dark brown coffee stain that was now seeping into the crisp white cotton blouse, a blouse that she recalled admiring only the other day in the store. It had cost a lot of money too, more money than her meagre budget could afford at the time.
"Don't you ever look where you're going?"
Samia's sleek bob swished around her neck as she shook her head in dismay and if looks could kill, Stephanie swore she would be dead right about now. But instead of being put off by her hostility, she offered the girl another smile and decided she would be nice about this. After all, this was her fault and she would be the better person here not to mention the fact she would be completely pissed too if someone had spilled coffee all over her hundred dollar blouse.
"Look it was an accident." she explained as she began to rummage in her bag once more and her blue eyes sparkled almost triumphantly as she found the McDonalds paper napkins that she had thrown in there just the other day after her lunch with Claire. She held them out as she gestured in the direction of the rest room.
"How about we take these into the bathroom and I help you get cleaned up?"
Samia's nose instantly wrinkled in disgust as she quickly observed the napkins, stepping back abruptly almost as if their mere presence offended her.
"Just….just don't bother." she snipped back haughtily before turning round and heading to the rest rooms, her heels clacking against the marble floor angrily. The door banged loudly behind her in the silent corridor.
"Well that was plain fucking rude!" Stephanie muttered as she stared after her, amazed by the girl's blatant hostility towards her. What the hell was her problem anyway? Well besides the fact she had coffee spilled all over her. Twice.
Stephanie sighed as she spun on her heel and made her way back through the lobby and to the office. There was no chance in hell she was going into that bathroom now, bad hair or no bad hair. Who knows what would happen once she walked in there? Samia might launch a bar of soap at her or better still grab her and flush her head down the toilet. No. She'd rather put up with the kinks and look a mess for the rest of the day than face her wrath.
Lightly gripping the shiny brass banister, Stephanie began to ascend the staircase tossing the napkins back in her brown leather bag and retrieving her Fendi sunglasses. She snapped the legs open and slid them behind her ears before pushing them into her hair. As she approached the top, she peered around the wall cautiously. Thankfully no one was loitering in the corridor and Stephanie scurried into the office keeping her head low as she made her way to her cubicle. What were the chances that being inconspicuous would make her invisible? She didn't even glance in Mandy the Mouth's direction knowing her little piggy eyes would be glinting with glee at the fact she was late again. In fact she was probably scribbling it down in her notebook right this very second. Stephanie late again and no doubt she'd mark down the date and time, underlined of course. Anything to suck up to Nick and keep in his good books.
"Stephanie! How nice of you to finally join us this morning."
His voice startled her and she felt her heart jump in her chest as she looked up to see Nick leaning on her cubicle wall, watching her. Fuck! It looked like the bastard had even been laying in wait for her and what in God's name was he wearing? It was a sweater with bright coloured blue and yellow squares and looked suspiciously homemade. Or at least she hoped it was homemade because anyone that had paid any amount of money for that was seriously lacking something somewhere.
"Unfortunately you've missed the departmental meeting." he announced to her as his eyes peered at her over the top of his glasses.
"Sorry. Something came up. An emergency." she grimaced apologetically as she dumped her bag on the floor and tried to mentally calculate how many times she'd said the word sorry to people today already. Twenty? A hundred? She was quickly losing count.
"That's the second time this month, you know." he reminded her.
"Ah ah ah." interrupted Nick as he waved his finger in front of her and pushing his glasses up his nose, he began to back away from her desk. "Everyone else made the effort to be there. This office is a team Stephanie and as I'm sure you're aware, there's no "I" in team."
He smirked at her proudly and Stephanie resisted the urge to groan out load as he left. How many times had she heard one that over the years? It seemed to be the guy's personal motto along with "thy shalt wear ridiculous clothing and look completely lame." She dryly rolled her eyes as she shrugged off her coat.
"Funnily enough though there is an "I" in pri…."
Her blue eyes instantly widened in alarm as she looked up and saw Nick peering over in her direction once more. Shit! Did she say that out loud? She hadn't meant to.
"Nothing." she said, smiling sweetly and she sat down at her desk switching on her computer and pretending to busy herself with the stack of paper currently sitting in her tray. With any luck Nick would take the hint that she had work to do and just leave her alone. Or better yet just go away permanently.
But she realised she just wasn't going to be that lucky as he wandered back in her direction, looking at her somewhat curiously.
"Hmmm. So what happened to your hair? It looks a little strange. Different." he surmised.
Bastard! Stephanie sniffed at him indignantly.
"I, uh, I just didn't have time to dry it that's all." she hastily explained knowing there was no way she could give Nick the full explanation. The guy thought she was moron as it was. She wasn't giving him any ammunition to further his belief.
"Yeah well Paul's looking for you. He's in his office."
Paul. Stephanie absently swivelled in her chair, feeling her spirits instantly lift at the mention of his name. In the chaos of her morning, she had forgotten he was here today. His plans had changed over the weekend after some conference in Washington got cancelled. Somehow just thinking of him and knowing he was in the same building made her horrible day feel so much better. He was like her good mood pill or something.
She glanced up from her desk and glowered in Nick's direction. He really was an asshole. There was no need to bark instructions at her. She was going for Christ sakes.
As she pushed back her chair and smoothed down her black pencil skirt, Stephanie glanced over at him again, this time through sheer curiosity. No sarcastic comment had followed the mention of Paul's name to her which surprised her. She had been absolutely sure Nick knew about them especially after seeing them together at the hotel at New Years. Either he was being discreet or he genuinely hadn't guessed. Either way, it was all definitely a little weird. In fact not one person so far had asked her about Paul or even looked at her in a way that suggested they knew about them. Honestly, it would have been starting to bug her if she hadn't wanted to avoid being the latest office gossip. After all, gossip was one of the big three no-no's of a successful office relationship. Still, she would have thought someone would have known something by this time.
Chewing her bottom lip absently, Stephanie wandered along the corridor. She could feel the reflective heat from the bright rays of sun as it shone through the glass paned windows. It was a welcome change from the recent snow and the wind. But as she turned the corner, she felt the drop in temperature and it wasn't only due to the lack of windows in this part of the building. Samia was sitting at her desk outside Paul's office and her inquisitive glance was distinctly frosty as she approached her.
"I'm here to see Paul." Stephanie announced as she walked to the door.
"Do you have an appointment?"
"No but Nick said he was looking for me."
"Then you'd better go in." Samia said, sniffing dismissively.
She turned her attention to her computer screen and Stephanie glared at her angrily as she rapped her knuckles against the wood and entered Paul's office. Who the hell did that bitch think she was sitting there guarding the door like some damn Rottweiler!
But Samia was completely forgotten as she closed the door behind her and looked at the man across the room. Sweet Jesus he was gorgeous standing there by the window and she could detect the faint trace of his cologne. It was her most favourite one and it smelled absolutely heavenly. Although maybe a little too heavenly with Miss Bitch-ho sitting just outside the door. Maybe she should persuade Paul to open a window or something. The last thing she needed was some prissy bitch being seduced by his scent.
"Hey." he smiled as he looked up and tucked his hair behind his ear. God she loved it when he did that. His brown eyes were mesmerising as they sparkled across the room in her direction.
"I would have introduced you to Samia but I believe you're both already acquainted."
The corners of Paul's mouth twitched with his amusement and Stephanie immediately guessed he knew about the coffee incident. The bitch had obviously snitched on her. Typical!
"Look, I'm sorry." she told him, sighing as she adjusted the shoulder of her black cardigan. "I never meant to spill coffee on Sammy or Samia or whatever her name is. Again! Although the way she just looked at me you think I'd did it completely on purpose. I swear to God she hates me."
"Come on. I'm sure she doesn't hate you."
Stephanie snorted in disbelief as she shifted her feet on the carpet and Paul walked round the desk to stand in front of her.
"She just doesn't know you yet or know you live a cursed little existence." he grinned.
"Paul, this isn't funny. She hates me and now she's getting me in trouble."
Her lips pressed together in a pout as she bowed her head and crossed her arms in front of her. Trust Samia to try and score points against her with the boss. It was bad enough that she'd waltzed in here in the first place and taken her job. Although technically it hadn't been her job but still, that wasn't the point here. No one liked a tattle tale. God, she'd no doubt get on great with the Mouth. She could just picture it now. The pair of them would be salivating together over every little mistake she made in the place!
"Look nobody is getting anyone into trouble because I don't want to talk to you about Samia."
Stephanie quickly glanced up at Paul in surprise. "You don't?"
"Then is it Nick because I swear I wasn't calling him a prick when I said….."
"No! Will you calm down?" said Paul, placing his hands on her shoulders and squeezing them gently. "I don't want to talk to you about Nick. I want to talk about you. I just got out of a meeting and found your messages on my cell."
His brown eyes flickered with his worry and Stephanie shot him a somewhat embarrassed smile as she recalled her panicked cry for help. She had called Paul screaming something about full moons and the building exploding on her which in hindsight may have been the tiniest bit of an exaggeration. But in her defence, she had been in a lot of distress at the time and she had genuinely thought her apartment had blown up. It wasn't until her asshole neighbour had arrived that she had realised the truth and she had eventually called Paul back telling his voice mail the building and her were alright and still standing.
"Is everything okay? You sounded pretty upset."
Paul was watching her carefully and she nodded to reassure him, touched by his genuine concern for her.
"Yeah, it's okay. Well as okay as it can be with no power in your apartment."
"You've no power?"
Stephanie shook her head and sighed as she thought about her ordeal. How was she going to cope? Living by candlelight was far from romantic when it meant sitting in the freezing cold and worse than that, she had no television. She couldn't even occupy herself with her latest stash of magazines either and Cosmo had a great article too on charity shop designer fashion. After seeing her latest credit card bill, it was definitely something she needed to look into.
"Want me to come over and have a look at it for you? Maybe a fuse has blown or something. I'm pretty handy with fuse boxes, you know." Paul grinned.
"I'm sure you are but see, it's not just a fuse exactly." Stephanie admitted, slightly wincing.
"Then what is it?"
"Well it's more like a whole bunch of fuses."
Paul's brow furrowed cutely with his confusion and she sighed heavily, deciding to tell him the truth. Hopefully he wouldn't think she was a total moron, not like her fucking neighbour.
"God, you're going to think I'm so stupid." she began looking deeply into his eyes as his hand rubbed her shoulder affectionately. "But I want you to know it's not entirely my fault. It's that damn full moon. It and fucking Babyliss! I swear on my life they've got a conspiracy against me because their damn appliances keep blowing up on me."
"Something blew up?"
Stephanie nodded. "My hairdryer. Smoke came billowing out and these blue sparks were crackling at me."
"So the dryer blew your fuses."
Her nose crinkled with her frown. "Well no, maybe not exactly. See, I think I may have made the situation a little bit worse."
"How much worse?"
"Uh, maybe a lot worse." she said giving a little nervous giggle. "I sort of …..well I sort of threw it in the bathtub."
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she realised how ridiculous she had been and she wasn't surprised when Paul stared back at her, his brown eyes wide with his alarm.
"What! You threw the dryer in the tub?" he repeated in disbelief as he shook his head. "And let me guess, the tub was still full of water, right?"
Her expression was timid and apologetic as she nodded her confirmation.
"I know. I know!" she replied, stepping back and throwing her hands in the air. "I'm an idiot, okay but I just didn't think. I just saw this smoke and I was scared so I threw it out of my hands. But then it hit the water and it was sparking everywhere then my lights went off….."
She stopped, pausing for breath and ducked her head as she turned towards the window. She could feel her cheeks flush with the absolute mortification she felt at her actions. God, she couldn't look at him. Paul was going to think she was such an idiot. Maybe he would even dump her after this latest escapade. He was such a sweet and sensible guy and he was probably sick and tired of her constant melodramas. Fuck knows it was always something. Why couldn't she lead a normal life like everyone else? She could bet Miss Prissy Knickers outside never had appliances blowing up in her face!
"You do know you could have been hurt? Like really hurt, Steph."
Stephanie could hear the care and concern in Paul's gentle tone and if anything it only made her feel worse. She didn't deserve it. She didn't deserve him.
"I know. I know and I'm sorry." she said feeling the back of her eyes burn with her frustrated tears and she blinked them away furiously. "God, I'm such a loser." she sighed as she hung her head dejectedly and wrapped her arms around herself.
"You're not a loser."
She felt Paul's presence as he stood in front of her and sniffing back her sorrow, she felt his arm slide around her waist.
"Hey, come here."
His warm embrace encompassed her, soothing her and Stephanie leant into him feeling her earlier dismay start to slip away. Just being in his arms like this made her feel so much better. Please Lord, Paul didn't dump her because she didn't know how on earth she would function without him. She would be in danger of completely falling apart.
"I'm sorry." she sighed into his chest as her fingers reached to toy with the white cotton. "I don't blame you for being angry with me. My neighbour, he's angry too the son of a bitch."
"Your neighbour? Why?"
"Never mind." Stephanie said quickly dismissing that part of the conversation. Every time she thought of that horrible man, she felt her blood boil. He had been so condescending and obnoxious and had practically humiliated her in front of the building inspector. Her fingers had been itching to slap him on more than one occasion. Maybe she could leave those honours to Paul. Let's see how condescending the almighty Mr Walker would be with a six foot four guy towering menacingly over him.
"You do know I'm not angry with you, right?"
Paul's words were soft and as Stephanie lifted her head to look up at him, she saw it matched the tender expression in his eyes.
"I was just worried about you, that's all. I care about you and I don't want anything happening to you."
As his fingers absently brushed through the ends of her hair, Stephanie couldn't help but smile knowing what he said was the truth. Paul did care about her and he had more than proved that every time she screwed up around him. She didn't know what she'd done to deserve it but what ever it was, she was extremely thankful.
"I know and I'm sorry. I really am." she told him.
"Will you stop apologising?"
He smiled, playfully tapping her nose but his expression became serious once more as he looked at her, closely observing her.
"And you're sure you're okay?" he asked.
Stephanie pressed her lips together and smiling, she nodded her head.
"Did they say how long you'd be without power?"
"They weren't sure. The guy said it would be at least a couple of days until they could assess the damage. After that, it's anyone's guess."
"And did they sort out somewhere for you to stay?"
"Not yet but I was going to talk to Claire at lunch." she informed him absently scratching at her cheek. "She's got one of those pull out sofa things in her bedroom I could sleep on and I'm sure she wouldn't mind putting me up."
"Or, you know, you could always come and stay with me." suggested Paul. "It's just an option, you know, until you get sorted."
Stephanie's blue eyes went wide as they stared back at him in total disbelief. Was he saying what she actually thought he was saying? That she could move in with him? Oh my God!
Inside her chest, Stephanie's heart was racing as her mind worked overtime trying to figure out how quickly she could pack her stuff. She honestly hadn't even considered this an option. She'd never dreamed in a million years that Paul would want her living at his place especially after she almost set his kitchen on fire. And he had been so nice about that, never once bringing it up. And it was so sweet of him to offer and really, she shouldn't be surprised. Paul had such a big heart and was such a nice guy. Although wait. Maybe that was the reason he had suggested this. Maybe he didn't want her to stay but was only offering her to stay because it was the "nice" thing to do. He was being the perfect gentleman he always was.
Stephanie bit down on her lip thoughtfully as she pondered over what to do. Inside she was dying to say yes. She had roomed with Claire before and it had been a total disaster. Plus she had her wedding coming up and she was already stressed after the botched invitations that had arrived back from the printers. The last thing she needed was the added aggravation of an unexpected lodger but still, she had to be cautious here. She couldn't do anything to screw up her relationship with Paul and that included invading a guy's space when he really didn't want it to be invaded. Not when he was probably only being polite and considerate in offering, like he felt it was expected of him.
"Thank you but I couldn't." she told him, lifting her shoulder in a shrug. "I couldn't impose on you like that."
"Steph, you're not imposing and besides, I want you to stay." he told her.
His gentle facial expression told her Paul's offer was completely genuine and Stephanie fought the urge to scream out loud by firmly pressing her lips together. The guy really was too good to be true.
"You're so sweet. I really don't deserve you." she told him as she grabbed him and hugged him gratefully. Her eyes briefly fluttered shut as his lips brushed tenderly over her forehead.
"So we'll head over to your place after work and you can get a few of your things together, okay?"
Stephanie slowly nodded her head as she looked up to smile at him.
"But can I make one tiny request?"
"Anything!" she beamed back at him knowing that even if he asked for the world, she would do everything in her power to give it to him.
"Try and pack light, huh?" Paul smirked. "I've only got so much room in the apartment, you know."
His massive shoulders shook with his own amused chuckle and Stephanie playfully swatted at him.
"Ha ha. You're very funny."
She dropped a kiss on his lips before reluctantly pulling away and making her way to the door. Although she wanted to stay here all day, unfortunately she had an advertising slogan to work on and a four o'clock deadline to meet. It was all part of this whole responsibility thing she had going on. Besides, she would plenty of time to kiss Paul after work was over and demonstrate her appreciation for his generous offer.
"I'll see you later." he said.
Yes he would see her later Stephanie thought as she walked back to her office ignoring Samia once more as she smiled to herself dreamily. He would see her later and take her home to his place, Paul's apartment where she was going to be sleeping with him every night and waking up with him every morning. And okay, it wasn't a permanent arrangement but right now she really didn't care. All she cared about that she was going to be living with him. Oh my God! She was going to be living with Paul!
And while it sounded a really scary and grown-up thing to do, it also sounded like the most wonderful thing that could happen in the world. She was going to be sharing an apartment and her life with the man she loved with all her heart. It all seemed far too good to be true but for once in her life it really wasn't. For once a bit good fortune had come her way. Maybe, just maybe that full moon wasn't such a curse after all.