Home > Stuck with You (The STEMinist Novellas #2)

Stuck with You (The STEMinist Novellas #2)
Author: 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?”

   “Does your phone work?” he asks again, patient. Kind.

   Why is he so kind? He was never supposed to be kind. After what happened between us, I decided to torture myself by asking around about him, and the word kind never came up. Not once. One of New York’s top engineers, people would often say. Known for being as good at his job as he is surly. No-nonsense, aloof, standoffish. Though he was never any of these things with me. Until he was, of course.

   “Um.” I fish my phone out of the back pocket of my black tailored pants and press the home button. “No service. But this is a Faraday cage,” I think out loud, “and the elevator shaft is steel. No RF signal is going to be able to make a loop and . . .” I notice the way Erik is staring at me and abruptly shut up. Right. He’s an engineer, too. He already knows all of this. I clear my throat. “No signal, no.”

   Erik nods. “Wi-Fi should work, but it doesn’t. So maybe this is—”

   “—a building-wide power outage?”

   “Maybe even the whole block.”


   Shit, shit, shit. Shit.

   Erik seems to be reading my mind, because he studies me for a moment and says reassuringly, “It might be for the best. Someone is bound to check the elevators if they know that the power’s gone.” He pauses before adding, “Although it might take a while.” Painfully honest. As usual.

   “How long?”

   He shrugs. “A few hours?”

   A few what? A few hours? In an elevator that is smaller than my already-minuscule bathroom? With Erik Nowak, the broodiest of Scandinavian mountains? Erik Nowak, the man who I . . .

   No. No way.

   “There must be something we can do,” I say, trying to sound collected. I swear I’m not panicking. No more than a lot.

   “Nothing that I can think of.”

   “But . . . what do we do now, then?” I ask, hating how whiny my voice is.

   Erik lets his messenger bag drop to the floor with a thump. He leans against the wall opposite mine, which should theoretically give me some room to breathe, even though for some physics-defying reason he still feels too close. I watch him slide his phone in the front pocket of his jeans and cross his arms on his chest. His eyes are cold, unreadable, but there is a faint gleam in them that has a shiver running down my spine.

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