THE BOUNCE BACK
BY ADDIE WOOLRIDGE
In this delightfully fiery rom-com from The Checklist author Addie Woolridge, even the worst situations have a silver lining.
Aspiring artist Neale Delacroix should be on top of the world. She’s landed a spot in an exclusive art program that’s sure to be her ticket to success, but then her best shot at stardom goes up in flames – literally. When her relationship follows suit, Neale finds herself a stone’s throw from rock bottom.
Her heart broken and her dream deferred, Neale decides to work a soul-crushing nine-to-five job until the heat dies down. However, that’s not exactly what happens when she meets Anthony, a sizzling coworker with a perfect smile.
Convinced that she breaks everything she touches, Neale’s sworn off art and men. Yet her creative spirit still beckons, and she can’t get Anthony out of her head. She’s caught in that familiar space between daydreams and responsibilities, desperate to find a new way forward. With her future hanging in the balance, Neale must decide if she is down and out…or ready to bounce back.
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Neale stared up at the dingy two-story office building and wondered exactly where in her life she’d gone wrong. She knew there had to have been missteps, since she was in Northgate wearing something so drab only Dylan would find it fun and interviewing for a job at a company that licensed music for the kind of greeting cards that made people wish they’d never gotten a birthday card at all.
Walking toward the building, Neale reached a hand into the pocket of the gray, wide-legged trousers she had borrowed from Dylan and touched the list of interview tactics her sister had attempted to drill into her head over the last few days. After Neale had made the double mistake of not making eye contact with her sister as she’d shaken her hand and accepting a job offer on the spot without asking about the salary or benefits, Dylan had decided Neale needed a proper set of rules if she was to have any hope of landing this job. In classic Dylan fashion, she had even typed up the list and printed it out for Neale, just in case she forgot anything and needed to sneak into the bathroom for a refresher at some point.
“I am a self-directed worker who likes to interact with colleagues.” Neale mumbled Dylan’s catchphrase as she reached for the door, practicing her I’m-likable-but-no-nonsense smile in its grimy reflection. The inside of the building was as gray as the outside, with a hint of fluorescent lighting just to hammer home the cog-in-the-machine experience.
Neale shook her head, then reminded herself that no lobby looked appealing. Just because the building was sad didn’t mean that she wasn’t on a new path to greatness. Looking around to make sure the hallways were empty, she whispered as she walked, “I am detail oriented. I like the job done right.”
Pausing briefly at the building directory to find Happy Hearts’ suite number, 107, Neale continued her recitation: “I like a collaborative work environment.” She had messed that one up in practice.
Apparently, I like crystals on my desk was not what businesses wanted to hear in response to What kind of work environment do you like? Passing suite 105, Neale looked down at the drab green industrial carpet. “I do wish I could bring in crystals, though.”
“Well, Susan keeps plants at her desk, so I don’t see why you couldn’t bring a crystal,” said a voice from behind Neale, almost making her jump out of her borrowed, pointy-toed heels. Clutching her chest, she spun around and found herself face to face with a demigod dressed in a pair of perfectly creased khakis and an equally well-starched pastel-purple button-up. Looking up at the man’s face, Neale experienced several colliding thoughts. The first was that she knew he was a demigod because only a demigod would not have wrinkles in his clothes after 11:00 a.m. The second was that he had absolutely flawless rich-brown skin and the kind of smile that could power New York City at midnight.
Dark eyes sparkled with humor as the man looked at her. Catching sight of the surprise on her face, he frowned. “I’m sorry—it wasn’t my intention to scare you. Are you Neale?”
For a moment Neale remained silent, wondering if the man was a mind reader or if this was part of his demigod power. How else could he know her name? She also wondered if he even had pores.
“I’m Anthony. I work at Happy Hearts. Rich mentioned that he had an interview today,” the man said, interrupting her thoughts and nodding encouragingly at her. Then he paused, placing a hand over his broad chest, and smiled again before adding, “Unless you aren’t Neale. In which case, Calhoun Orthodontia is across the lobby in suite 108.”
“Sorry, you surprised me,” Neale said, finally finding her words. So much for the shoulders-back first impression Dylan had planned for her. “I’m Neale Delacroix.”
“Nice to meet you, Neale. I was just headed back from the mail room when I spotted you,” Anthony said, holding out his hand.
“Nice to meet you, Anthony,” Neale said, trying very hard not to focus on the feel of his hands. Job interviews were not a dating service; it said so on Dylan’s list. She couldn’t fix the thing about the crystals, but she could get the rest of her interview right. Demigod or not, she still needed a job.
ABOUT ADDIE WOOLRIDGE
Born and raised outside Seattle, Washington, Addie Woolridge is a classically trained opera singer with a degree in music from the University of Southern California. She also holds a master’s degree in public administration from Indiana University. Her well-developed characters are a result of her love for diverse people, cultures, and experiences.
Woolridge currently lives in Northern California. When she isn’t writing or singing, she can be found baking, training for her sixth race in the Seven Continents Marathon Challenge, or taking advantage of the region’s signature beverage: wine.
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