Authors: Megan Nugen Isbell
The Heart of Tomorrow
Megan Nugen Isbell
For all of the people I’d never have the pleasure of knowing had
you not taken a chance and read my books. You are some of the best
people I know and your constant encouragement
means more than you could ever comprehend.
I missed Taylor and Saben. I missed Court and Anna Beth and our lunches at the deli. I missed the way Court made me laugh and the way Anna Beth rolled her eyes at his stupid jokes. I even missed the grumpy security guard I’d pass every morning as I made my way to the elevators to take me to the fourteenth floor. Most of all though, I missed Drew. There was something about seeing him in his office, sitting behind the cherry oak desk, eyes focused, seeming bigger than life, when in actuality he was just a man I’d fallen in love with despite my best efforts not to. I missed the way he watched me while I worked. His gaze was heavy and I’d turn sometimes to find his eyes on me. My cheeks would burn and if I was being honest, so would other parts of my body. I’d pretended for as long as I could that he hadn’t been watching me and that I didn’t like the fact that he watched me, when the truth was, I’d liked it very much.
Since leaving the firm, I’d sometimes pretend that he was there, checking me out to spice up my days, like I was doing now as I sat at my desk reading through an incredibly boring story set to run on the eleven o’clock broadcast. It amazed me sometimes what constituted news. Tonight the people of New York would be privileged to learn about the winner of Manhattan’s ugliest dog contest. While I loved animals as much as the next person, I doubted the anchors would be able to get through this story with a straight face. At least what they were reading on the teleprompter would be perfect because it was my job to make sure of that. When I left Taylor and Saben, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I considered applying to graduate school, but had yet to make any decisions on that. I’d applied to more publishing houses than I could remember, none of which called me back and when I realized I was desperate for a job, I started scouring Careerbuilder.com, applying for anything I looked remotely qualified for. It paid off because Channel 5 took a chance on me and I was hired as a junior non-linear editor. I hadn’t had a clue what that meant aside from the job description, but my English degree had proven useful. I hadn’t fulfilled my probation period yet, so I could be fired for looking at someone the wrong way, but Ava, my direct supervisor, seemed pleased with my work so I wasn’t that worried about it. It wasn’t as much fun as working for Drew obviously, but it was a job with a steady paycheck and for that, I was grateful.
I’d only been on the job a little over a month, but the days could be long and I wanted a break from staring at the computer screen. I was nearly done and I glanced at the clock. It was almost five. I’d been here since seven. I wanted to get home. It was Friday and I was looking forward to a long weekend. I looked once more over the document and then emailed it to Ava and printed out a hardcopy as well to put on her desk. That’s how she liked it, so that’s what I did.
“This is all set, Ava,” I said, handing the paper to her. She glanced at it as she pushed her blonde hair out of her face and then looked up at me with big blue eyes.
“Good work as usual, Natalie. Enjoy your weekend. I’ll see you on Monday.”
“Thank you. You too,” I said, gathering my things and heading outside onto the busy streets of Manhattan.
It was February, which meant it was cold. I pulled out my gloves and scarf from my bag and then slipped my wool hat on as well before going to the curb and hailing a cab. Drew’s hatred of the New York City subway system had rubbed off on me and while I still took it on occasion, I preferred taxis.
I was surprised how quickly the ride to Drew’s apartment was, considering it was a Friday evening. I paid the driver and got out, thanking him and making my way inside. I smiled at Charlie, the doorman, as I walked in and headed toward the elevators. I was alone on the ride up and as I walked to the apartment, I wondered if Drew would be home. Probably not. When I’d worked for him, he had a tendency to stay at the office late. He didn’t do that as much anymore and part of me wondered if I was the reason for that.
Still, it was only five-thirty and I doubted Drew would leave that early. He didn’t have a lot of big projects going on at the moment that I was aware of, which made for an enjoyable Drew. Happy and attentive and that was exactly how I liked it. I could still recall how tense he’d been during the project he’d been in the middle of when I started working for him. He’d been worried, but that was behind him now and the cultural arts center was under construction. He’d sometimes show me pictures of the progress of the building and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride that I’d helped it come to life when I’d given Drew some suggestions he’d actually used. I was even more proud of him though…that he’d taken my advice and created a building that was beautiful. His talent truly amazed me.
I punched in the key code to the apartment and heard the door unlock. A moment later I was inside, looking around the place. It seemed so empty when he wasn’t there. Stuffing my hat, gloves and scarf back in my bag, I draped it and my jacket on the coat rack and made my way to the kitchen to start dinner.
I still couldn’t get used to the kitchen sometimes. Back in the tiny apartment Ethan and I shared, you could barely turn around in the kitchen. We only had a few cabinets and drawers and a stove with two burners, but here, in Drew’s place, it was very different. I could’ve done a cartwheel followed by a back handspring in his kitchen if I wanted to.
I still referred to it as “his” kitchen and “his” apartment because even though I’d been living in it for nearly three months, right after things imploded with Ethan, I insisted my living at Drew’s was temporary. I only planned to stay until I could save up enough money to get my own place and because I’d been able to save money while living with Drew, the time for me to move out was becoming more viable. I tried giving him money for rent, but he refused it. He’d let me buy groceries on occasion, but only because I insisted upon it. I knew he didn’t mind me living there rent free, but I didn’t want him to think I was taking advantage of him. I wanted to contribute too.
I’d planned on tacos for dinner. The ground beef had thawed in the fridge during the day and I took it out and began cooking it. While it browned on the stove, I began the tedious task of chopping up the lettuce and tomatoes. I heard the door open then and I looked up to see Drew. I stopped what I was doing, a smile forming on my face immediately when I saw him. He pulled off his black coat, hanging it next to mine before setting his briefcase down and my eyes wandered over his body, tall and lean, draped in a navy dress shirt and slacks, his black hair gelled back, a few strands falling on his forehead. When my eyes met his impossibly green ones, a smile spread on his face too. He walked in long strides across the living room to meet me in the kitchen.
“Smells good,” he said as he stood behind me, his hands brushing my hair aside as his lips kissed my neck. I closed my eyes, stopping mid-chop at the feeling of his lips on my skin. Too soon they were gone though and my hair was draping down my back again. He moved next to me, grabbing a piece of tomato from the cutting board and popping it into his mouth. I couldn’t help but stare at his lips as he chewed, wanting them back on my skin.
“How was your day?” I asked, turning my attention back to dinner preparations.
“Not bad. Yourself?” he asked, sliding the cutting board away from me and then he removed the knife from my hand and took over the chopping.
I turned my body so I was leaning against the counter, watching the way his hair fell across his forehead as he concentrated. Then my eyes drifted to his neck and the collar of his shirt, focusing on the skin peeking out. I wanted to unbutton it so he was standing in his undershirt or better yet, nothing. Naked cooking could be a good thing as long as Drew was the chef.
“I asked how your day was, Natalie.”
I didn’t realize my mind had wandered until his voice brought me back. He was looking at me with a smug grin, obviously aware of the daydream I was lost in. He loved the effect he had on me, but it was all right because I had the same effect on him, which is how we’d found ourselves together in the first place.
“Oh,” I said, shaking my head back to reality. “It was fine.”
“Do you like it?” he asked, lifting the cutting board and pouring the cubed tomatoes into a dish before turning his attention to the lettuce. I stirred the ground beef, adding the taco seasoning and then went to the fridge to pull out the shredded cheese.
“I actually really like it,” I told him as I dumped the packet into a bowl.
“Is it better than working for me?” His grin was a cocky one and I could tell by the way he raised his eyebrow he was thinking about me the way I’d been thinking about him only a few moments before.
“Nothing could beat working for you,” I said, weaseling myself between him and the counter as I slid my arms around his waist, reaching up to brush my lips with his. I heard the knife he’d been holding clank against the counter as he let it go and a second later, he’d taken my face between his hands, breathing in deeply as the chaste kiss I’d started quickly turned into something more. The edge of the counter was pressing uncomfortably into my back as the weight of him crushed me while his tongue forced its way in my mouth. I ignored the pain though and kissed him back just as eagerly. I hadn’t changed out of the dress I’d worn to work and I could feel his hands underneath the skirt, inching higher and I wished I hadn’t worn the tights. Damn cold weather.
He pulled his mouth from mine as his hands continued to move on my thigh, eventually finding their way to my neck, leaving a trail of wet kisses on my throat. My back arched as he moved over me, wanting him to touch me, but then a loud bang jostled us both out of the spell we were under as we noticed the bowl of tomatoes all over the floor. We stared down at the mess and I rested my forehead against his chest as we both started cracking up. He wrapped me in his arms, giving me a quick squeeze before he let me go.
“So much for that,” he said with a low chuckle before kissing me on top of the head. “Would you mind chopping some more tomatoes while I clean up this mess?” he said as he walked over to the roll of paper towels.
“Not at all,” I said, going back to the refrigerator and pulling out another tomato.
As I washed it in the sink, I glanced to Drew, bent over on his knees, scooping up the tomatoes. I couldn’t help the little smile that spread on my face. The whole situation was so normal. Cooking dinner together. Cleaning up messes. The life we’d shared since the night of Thanksgiving, when I’d finally left Ethan, was ordinary and I liked it. It was strange though because when I first met Drew, I didn’t think there was anything ordinary about him. Sometimes when I looked at him, I still found it hard to believe he was just a man…a man who loved what he did and worked hard to be a success…a man who, for whatever reason, loved me.
Drew finished cleaning up and I diced the tomatoes and soon dinner was ready. We sat at the breakfast nook overlooking Central Park. Even though the word breakfast came before nook, we used it for most meals we ate together. He had a dining table and even stools at the counter, but I preferred the nook. It was cozy and the view couldn’t be beat.
The sun had almost set as we sat eating dinner, but the park was still busy, despite the cold. People were walking their dogs and there were even people out jogging. I could understand their need to get out and go to the park. I’d loved it from the first moment I set foot in it. I loved the city, but it could be suffocating, especially for a girl from Iowa who’d grown up with fields of corn and open skies. The park was the one place that felt even a little like home, where I could shut out the city and all the noises that accompanied it. Sometimes I missed Iowa and I thought about how different my life would be had I never taken a chance and come to New York. Ethan and I would probably be engaged. We’d both have jobs somewhere living the comfortable life we’d always known. I hadn’t chosen that life though. I was here, without Ethan, and sometimes the whole situation seemed like a dream.
“Do you realize I have used my kitchen more since you’ve been here than in all the time I’ve lived here?” he asked as I continued gazing out the window and my mind was drawn back to Drew. His hand was on my knee under the table and I wished he’d inch it up my skirt again.
“Do you miss all the take-out you used to eat?” I laughed, turning to him.
“Not at all. I think I’ve actually lost weight since you moved in,” he said and I started laughing because there was nothing about his body that needed to be improved. To quote Court during a discussion I’d had with him on my first day at Taylor and Saben, Drew was alarmingly attractive, to the point he didn’t seem real when I’d first met him. Thick black hair that he kept groomed impeccably and eyes almost too green. Perhaps I was biased because I was in love with him, but his strong jaw line and muscled physique did not go unnoticed. They’d definitely not gone unnoticed when he walked into my interview during our first meeting.
I remembered it like it was yesterday, because when he’d look at me, it wasn’t the way anyone had ever looked at me before. I’d tried ignoring it at the time, because of Ethan, but it was there, it had always been there.
“I like having dinner with you, Natalie. Coming home to see you in the kitchen, waiting for me. It’s all very domestic.” I turned to him, not surprised to see him looking over at me with a grin on his face.
“Is that a bad thing?” I asked, standing up and taking his plate for him, walking it into the kitchen and setting it in the sink. I turned around to finish clearing the table, and nearly jumped when I did because he was there, not even a foot separating us.