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The Sunday Squirrel: puzzle (encore)

Ella sat in the den ignoring the noise from the other rooms of the house. She hated her roommate’s parties.

“How are you ever going to meet anyone holed up in that room?” Karen had asked. As if she had anything in common with a bunch of artists.

The music level doubled as the door popped open and a handsome, sandy-haired man walked in and shut the door behind him. He turned and faced her. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t realize anyone was here.”

“Can I help you find something?” she asked, determined to be polite.

“I was actually looking for someplace quiet to sit for a minute. The noise is giving me a headache.” He walked over to examine the 1000-piece puzzle of Niagara Falls she’d been working on in her free time for the last few days. “Do you mind if I join you?”

Yes, but she’d never say it. She was uncomfortable with men in a social setting, especially good looking ones. “Why don’t you leave if the party is too much?”

“I came with my brother. I’m visiting for the weekend, but I think he has a thing for one of the girls here.” He picked up a blue piece and held it to several different spots on the puzzle before discarding it. “I’m Jeff Nehring, by the way.”

“Ella Sandborn.” She grabbed the piece and put it back in the blue pile. “Karen’s roommate. Couldn’t you take a cab?” she asked.

Jeff chuckled. “Trying to get rid of me, huh?”

Her face heated, and the butterflies in her stomach took flight with a vengeance. “Sorry. I…” …am a hopeless case.

“Wait a minute. Ella Sandborn? Didn’t you write that paper about a new aluminum welding process in one of the science journals last month?”

She stared at him in astonishment. “You read that?”

“Yeah. My team at Tech is working on something similar with an aluminum alloy for aerospace applications. Your process floored us.” He smiled. “Do you want to go get some coffee? I’d love to hear more about your work.”

Ella took mental inventory of her jeans and T-shirt and lack of makeup. She shrugged. It was just coffee, right?

They threaded through the clusters of people drinking beer and exited the brownstone, turning onto the busy, well-lit street. “Is it hard being a beautiful woman working in a male-dominated field?” he asked.

She stopped and narrowed her eyes at him. “Did Karen set you up to this?” Something was wrong. She might not be hard on the eyes, but she’d never been beautiful.

“Up to what?” He frowned at her. “Do you find it so hard to believe that I find you attractive?”

“Yes.”

“Would this help?” He leaned over and kissed her. A soft, tantalizing whisper of a kiss.

Her body flared to life, and her lips tingled long after Jeff pulled back. She looked into his sincere eyes, and all she could think was that Karen had been wrong. Ella had met someone holed up in that room.

Today’s Squirrel was originally posted 4/19/10. I’ll have a new Squirrel next week, after NaNo’s over and I get my Golden Heart entry sent in. I hope you all had a great holiday!

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