Author's Note: Here is my Valentine's Day story, better late than never. This is a sequel to Unexpected Gifts, although it stands on its own. Many thanks to my beta readers. Please vote and send feedback!
"Sir, I'm flattered, but ... I really don't know if I'm right for this position." Val squirmed in his seat and resisted the urge to run a hand through his hair.
"Oh, don't worry, Val." Mr. K gave him a reassuring smile. "I think you'll be great."
"I'd hate to leave you in the lurch, though."
"You won't." The older man shook his head. "The rush is over so we can all take it easy for a while. I admit, this means you don't get much of a vacation, since your busy day is less than two months off, but I think you're up to it. As for next year, we have a lot of time to prepare and you could probably come back if we needed you."
Val was silent for a minute. He had to be honest. "Sir, in all seriousness, I think I'm completely wrong for this. Things with Halley should prove that."
Mr. K chuckled but not without sympathy. "I am sorry about that. On the other hand, you and Vicki handled things all right."
Val flushed with embarrassment. "You knew? About me and Vicki?"
Now his boss gave a deep belly laugh. "Oh, Val, my boy. Remember who you're talking to. Naughty, indeed." He chuckled some more and stroked his white beard.
"Ah." Val cleared his throat. "Yes, I, um..." He tried to get himself together. "But again, sir, I'd think that just shows that anything dealing with relationships is not my strong point."
"We often don't know our strong points until we're tested on the weak ones." Mr. K was still smiling, but his tone was businesslike. "I can't force you, of course, and I admit I hate to break up my team. On the other hand, it might do you and Halley a bit of good to, ah, have a little space."
Like a galaxy's worth, Val thought. "I know. Sorry."
"Plus," his boss—soon to be ex-boss, Val realized—continued, "we really are in a bind. Cathe had to leave suddenly and there's not much time to find a replacement. Look, why don't you just try it this one time? Get us through to the end of February, then we can evaluate everything. If you don't like it, perhaps you can just hold the fort until we find someone else."
Val made one last attempt. "What about Don? He and Jeanette are doing great; they're so much better at the love thing than I am."
"Sorry." Mr. K shook his head. "Don and Jeanette are going on their honeymoon. We need someone to start now. Like I said, I realize it means a shortened vacation for you. I have to say, Val, I'd consider it a personal favor."
Val sighed. How could he say no? "Sure, sir."
"You?" Halley gaped. "They picked you?"
"Yeah. They did. Mr. K asked me himself." Val tried to stay calm as he packed his stuff.
"Amazing." She shook her head, her hair drifting in dark waves around her shoulders. "This is like putting a dog in charge of building a rocket ship. What the hell do you know about love?"
"I know plenty." He flashed her a cocky grin to hide his hurt. "I must or they wouldn't have asked me."
Halley snorted. "You know about lust, not love. Two completely different things."
"But not unrelated," he countered. He threw the last few items in his bag and yanked on the zipper, so anxious to leave that he broke it. Muttering in frustration, he turned to Halley and took a deep breath. "Look, I know what you think happened, but..."
"What I think happened?" Halley's face was a mix of incredulity and hurt. "You couldn't stay with me for three months! I hang out with the girls for a day and come back to find you rolling in the loft with the seasonal help!"
Val flushed. There had been no excuse for that when it happened, but she'd misunderstood and had never let him explain. "Halley..."
"Bye, Val." She turned and took a step toward the door. "Good luck. I'll be curious to see who replaces you."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence." He spoke to the empty space where she'd been standing.
Maybe she's right. Maybe anyone else but me should do this. He sighed and shouldered his bag.
He turned to see Don jogging up to him, Jeanette a few steps behind. She smiled and waved; Val waved back.
"Hey, congratulations!" Don grinned at him. "Off already?"
"Yep." Val nodded. "Figured there was no sense in putting it off, and from what I've heard, the new place is already under the gun."
"I can't believe you're going to be the boss over there." Don shook his head. "Weren't you always the one who said you didn't want to be the boss, so there was someone else to blame when things went wrong?"
"Well, things change." Val shrugged. "I could do with a change of scenery and, hey, it can't hurt to try being in charge for a while. Might be nice to have people call me 'sir' for a change."
"Hi, Val." Jeanette came up and Don's arm snaked around her shoulders. Val wondered if Don even knew he'd done it.
"Hi, cutie." Val winked and Jeanette just shook her head.
"You're an incorrigible flirt," she informed him.
"With ladies as pretty as you, who can blame me?"
Jeanette was pretty, he had to admit, if not his type. Then again, he thought, he'd never locked himself down to any one "type." He'd thought that Halley might have been his final type but it appeared he'd been wrong about that.
"She's mine, Val." Don hugged Jeanette closer. "Flirt all you want, it doesn't bother me."
"Well, then it's no fun." Val shook his head in mock disappointment.
"So, you're really going into the relationship business?" Jeanette cocked her head. "It could get messy."
"No, it's relationships that are messy, not business," Val corrected. "I'm just there to help, you know; keep the mess to a minimum, I guess. Besides, I'm probably just a temp when it gets down to it. Mr. K said they need someone now, so I don't mind helping out, but after the rush they'll get down to hiring someone else."
"Well, good luck, Val." Jeanette pushed her blonde hair back behind her ears and stepped up to give him a hug. "I'm sure you'll do great."
"I'm sure I will, too." Val reached down to give Jeanette's tush a friendly squeeze, but she was wise to him and slapped his hand away. "Can't blame a guy for trying," he said with a sigh.
"Take it easy, Val." Don stuck out a hand and Val took it, amazed at Don's confidence. He wasn't fazed in the least at Val making his moves on Jeanette. After he shook Don's hand and watched them walk away, he made a mental note to keep in touch with them. They were the most stable couple he knew, and might be a good place to start if he had any questions.
What's to question? he asked himself with a scoff. You just get two compatible people in a room, sprinkle a little pixie dust or something, and then it all falls into place. All this stuff about 'romance;' it's overrated.
Val walked into the office and stared. "Whoa."
He wasn't sure what he'd expected. Lots of pink hearts, maybe. Or lace. Or teddy bears. His predecessor had been a woman, after all, so he thought there might be a more feminine touch to things. He couldn't have been more wrong.
There was a large, semi-circular desk, on which sat three computer terminals. The wall to his right was a huge screen made up of smaller screens and reminded Val of the briefing wall in Leverage. Behind the desk the wall was floor-to-ceiling smoked glass. The wall to his left and the wall behind him were a deep, cherry red wood. A plush carpet the color of dark wine covered the floor. The formality of the room made him self-conscious; he was in jeans and a black dress shirt and wondered if he should have worn a tie.
"Oh, my goodness, you're early, sir! I'm so sorry, we're nearly ready for you but not quite."
Val jumped, turned around and found himself face-to-face ... well, chest-to-face with a bright-eyed woman with red-blonde hair and a cheerful, heart-shaped face.
"Oh, it's fine. I, ah ... I didn't..." Way to make a forceful, boss-type impression, Val thought.
"I know it's a bit confusing at first. My name is Tina, sir. I'll be your personal assistant, at least to start. If you find you'd rather work with someone else, well, that's fine, but I thought we should keep things running as close to usual as possible."
"Absolutely." Val was lost already. "I mean, yes. I know this is short notice so it's probably best if we don't introduce too many changes."
Tina beamed. "Excellent, sir. Come, let me show you your desk. The system is simple once you know it but it can seem tricky when you first start."
Val followed as Tina took brisk steps across the carpet. He wondered that she didn't sink into it in her heels, soft as it was. He was feeling better, though; he could handle computers. He wasn't as good as Blix, but if someone could walk him through it, and he wrote a few notes, he was sure he'd pick it up soon enough.
"So," he asked, "how long have you been here?"
She laughed, a cheery sound that Val decided was pleasant enough, and fitting for the operation. "I'm not sure I could count that long." Tina gestured to the chair and Val sat down, feeling like he was in someone else's place. "It seems like I've never done anything else."
"You must know it all, then." Val smiled at her and she blushed. "Now I know where to go when I have questions." He felt more comfortable, with a woman to flirt with. He eased back in the chair. "How does this puppy work?"
.... There is more of this story ...