Stuck with You (The STEMinist Novellas #2) by Ali Hazelwood

Chapter 1


            My world comes to an end at 10:43 on a Friday night, when the elevator lurches to a stop between the eighth and seventh floor of the building that houses the engineering firm where I work. The ceiling lights flicker. Then go off completely. Then, after a stretch that lasts about five seconds but feels like several decades, come back with the slightly yellower tinge of the emergency bulb.


            Fun fact: This is actually the second time my world came to an end tonight. The first was less than a minute ago. When the elevator I’m riding stopped on the thirteenth floor, and Erik Nowak, the last person I ever wanted to see, appeared in all his blond, massive, Viking-like glory. He studied me for what felt like too long, took a step inside, and then studied me some more while I avidly inspected the tips of my shoes.


            It’s a slightly complicated situation. I work in New York City, and my company, GreenFrame, rents a small office on the eighteenth floor of a Manhattan building. Very small. It has to be very small, because we’re a baby firm, still establishing ourselves in a pretty cutthroat market, and we don’t always make a ton of money. I guess that’s what happens when you value things like sustainability, environmental protection, economic viability and efficiency, renewability rather than depletion, minimization of exposure to potential hazards such as toxic materials, and . . . well, I won’t bore you with the Wikipedia entry on green engineering. Suffice it to say, my boss, Gianna (who coincidentally is the only other engineer working full-time at the firm), founded GreenFrame with the aim of creating great structures that actually make sense within their environment, and is delightfully, crunchily hard-core about it. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always pay very well. Or well.

            Or at all.

            So, yeah. Like I said, a slightly complicated situation, especially when compared with more traditional engineering companies that don’t focus as much on conservation and pollution control. Like ProBld. The giant firm where Erik Nowak works. The one that takes up the whole thirteenth floor. And the twelfth. Maybe the eleventh, too? I lost track.

            So when the elevator began to slow down around the fourteenth floor, I felt a surge of apprehension, which I naively discarded as mere paranoia. You have nothing to worry about, Sadie, I told myself. ProBld has tons of offices. They’re always expanding. Orchestrating “mergers” and eating up smaller firms. Like the Blob. They are truly the corrosive alien amoeboidal entity of the business, which translates to hundreds of people working for them, which in turn means that any one out of those hundreds of people could be calling the elevator. Any one. There’s no way it’s Erik Nowak.

            Yeah. No.

            It was Erik Nowak, all right. With his massive, colossal presence. Erik Nowak, who spent the entirety of our five-floor ride staring at me with those ruthless, icy blue eyes of his. Erik Nowak, who’s currently looking up at the emergency light with a slight frown.

            “The power’s out,” he says, an obvious statement, with that stupidly deep voice of his. It hasn’t changed one whit since the last time we talked. Nor since that string of messages he left on my phone before I blocked his number. The ones that I never bothered answering but also couldn’t quite bring myself to delete. The ones I could not stop myself from listening to, over and over.

            And over.

            It’s still a stupid voice. Stupid and insidious, rich and precise and clipped and low, with acoustic properties all its own. “I moved here from Denmark when I was fourteen,” he told me at dinner when I asked him about his accent, slight, hard to detect, but definitely there. “My younger brothers got rid of it, but I never managed.” His face was as stern as usual, but I could see his mouth soften, a slight uptick on the corner that felt like a smile. “As you can imagine, there was lots of teasing growing up.”

            After the night we spent together, after all that happened between us, I felt as if I couldn’t get the way he pronounced words out of my head. For days I constantly squirmed, turning around because I thought I’d heard him somewhere in my proximity. Thought that maybe he was nearby, even though I was jogging at the park, alone in the office, in line at the grocery store. It just stuck to me, coated the shell of my ears and the inside of my—

            “Sadie?” Erik’s infamous voice cuts through my thoughts. It has that tone, the one of someone who’s repeating himself, and maybe not just for the first time. “Does it?”

            “Does . . . what?” I glance up, finding him next to the control panel. In the stark shadows of the emergency light he’s still so . . . God. Looking at his handsome face is a mistake. He is a mistake. “I’m sorry, I . . . What did you say?”