Which, actually, now that I think about it, sometimes feels like the same thing. No comments, please.
Besides, tonight was the beginning of my new life. It was the first step in a direction I’d wanted to go for a long damn time. So where was I? Ah, yes. I walked into a bar.
It was a nice bar, at least. In fact, it was really a lot nicer than any bar at a mid-range hotel—the only one my supervisors were willing to spring for—in a mid-range part of Charleston had any right to be.
The lighting was soft, but not so much so that I couldn’t read the print on the bottles, glowing yellow and orange lamps bringing out the warmth of the polished walnut bar and booths, as well as the striking red brick of the walls and the paintings that adorned them. Some kind of mournful violin music was piping over the sound system, just loud enough to make itself felt and give the chatting patrons a bit of privacy.
A profile caught my eye, a man silhouetted by the soft golden light, facing away from me. I admired the strong lines of his shoulders and the way that his auburn hair caught slivers of light even in the semi-darkness, throwing out glints of gold like sparks in a low-burning fire. Perhaps feeling my eyes on him, he turned. Before I could look away, our eyes met, and a shock of electricity pierced through the distance between us.
Those eyes…deep and knowing, traveling across my face before wandering down my body and back up again, slow and leisurely as if he could feel every inch of me through his gaze alone. I felt my body heat up under his stare, my blood singing in anticipation at the offer his eyes were making. A smile began to stretch across his face, as if he could read the eager acceptance in mine.
I looked away quickly. Research, Ally! I reminded myself. Not banging hot guys. Research is why you’re here tonight.
I hurried away to the other side of the bar before I could give into temptation.
The bartender—a wizened old guy with kind brown eyes and a face that looked like it had been there to meet Mark Twain—didn’t bat an eye when I told him what I was after, and after a brief chat with the waitress he got me a corner booth, tucked away behind a stuffed cougar that looked like it had time-traveled directly from the print ads for a 1950s Boy’s Adventure magazine.
Camouflage was definitely necessary; I’d overheard the Douchebros—and I promise I’ll go into more later as to why I even have a group of people in my life worthy of that title—bragging about how tanked they were going to get, and my plans for the night did not include fending off drunken advances, trying to tune out comments about the size of my ass respective to my brain, and counting how many times they could fit the word ‘bro’ into a single sentence.
(So far, the record was seven.)
My plans for the night, however, did include the next thing the waitress brought me: six different shots of bourbon, and a glass of water.
And no, I’m not an alcoholic. This was research.
Fun, delicious research, but research.
Maybe I should back up a little bit. My name? It’s Ally. Allison Bartlett. I’m five foot four, have grey eyes, tolerate the straight brown hair that slides out of every ponytail I put it into, and frequently wear an anxious smile that I’m working hard to make not broadcast my ambition, desperation, and general worrywart nature. It’s an uphill battle.
Anyway, I’m twenty-four, and I’ve been working at Geisel & Son Advertising in Washington, D.C. for two years now. I was an intern my senior year, and I lucked into an entry-level position opening up a month after I graduated. It’s full-time, benefits, the whole package. So I should be thanking my lucky stars, right?
I sure would, if anyone at Geisel & Son ever managed to remember that I wasn’t the intern anymore.
Time and again over the last two years, I’d heard my ideas shot down, only to turn around and see them accepted as brilliant when suggested by whichever man did the least possible amount of rephrasing. I’d been talked over in meetings, told to fetch coffee, and confused with the receptionist. And I think I might have been able to handle all that, if it had been coming solely from the old guard within the establishment. But no, more than half of it was coming from people barely older than me, who seemed to have watched too many episodes of Mad Men and taken all the worst bits to heart.