“No problem. I’ll just see you tomorrow.” Our gazes locked across the desk, and the electricity in the air was so palpable I could feel my heart rate increase.
“Have a nice meeting,” she said through clenched teeth, leaving and closing the door behind her.
I was relieved when I heard her leave fifteen minutes later. Deciding it was now safe to go, I gathered up my things and headed out. I was stopped by a man carrying a large flower arrangement.
“Can I help you with something?” I asked.
Looking up from his clipboard he glanced around before answering, “I have a delivery for a Miss Chloe Mills?”
What the—? Who the hell would send her flowers? Was she seeing someone while we were . . . ? I couldn’t even finish the thought.
“Miss Mills has gone for lunch. She’ll be back in about an hour,” I lied. I had to get a look at that card. “I’ll sign for those and make sure she gets them.” He set the arrangement on her desk.
Signing the clipboard quickly, I handed him a tip and mumbled a good-bye as he left. For three long minutes I stood and stared at the flowers, willing myself to stop being such a pu**y and to definitely not look at the card.
Roses. She despised roses. I snickered because whoever sent her these knew nothing about her. Even I knew she didn’t like roses. I’d overheard her telling Sara one day about how one of her dates sent her a bouquet. She’d immediately given them away, disliking the pungent scent. Finally, my curiosity got the better of me and I ripped the card away from the arrangement.
That foreign sensation slowly spread through my chest again as I crumpled the card in my fist.
Retrieving the flowers from her desk, I walked out the door, locking up behind me, and made my way down the hall to the elevator.
Just as the doors opened I passed a wide chrome garbage can, and without a second thought I dropped the vase and all of its contents inside.
I didn’t know what the f**k was going on with me. But I did know there was no way in hell she was going out with Joel Cignoli.
I spent the better part of Saturday running at the lake, trying to get some air, some distance, some clarity to my thoughts. Even so, the hour-long drive to my parents’ house gave me plenty of time to return to the tangle of frustrations in my head: Miss Mills, how I hated her, how much I craved her, the flowers Joel sent. Leaning farther back into the seat, I tried to let the soothing sound of the car engine calm me. It wasn’t working.
So here were the facts: I felt possessive of her. Not in a romantic sort of way, but in a “hit her over the head, drag her off by the hair, and f**k her” way. Like she was my toy and I was keeping the other boys in the sandbox from playing with her. How sick was that? If she ever heard me admit to that, she would cut off my balls and feed them to me.
Now the question was how to proceed. Obviously Joel was interested. How could he not be? All he had was secondhand information from my family, who obviously adored her, and I’m sure they’d showed him at least one photograph. If that was all I knew about her I’d be interested too. But there was no way he could have an actual conversation with her and still find her appealing.
Unless he just wanted to f**k her . . .
The sound of the leather steering wheel straining under my grip told me I’d be better off not thinking about that.
He wouldn’t have agreed to meet her at my parents’ home if all he wanted was sex, would he? I considered this. Maybe he really did want to get to know her better. Hell, even I could admit to having been a bit intrigued before we actually spoke. Of course, that hadn’t lasted long, and she’d proven to be one of the most aggravating people I’d ever met. Unfortunately for me, she was also the best sex I’d ever had.
Fuck, he’d better never get that far. I wasn’t sure I knew where to hide a body around here.
I still remembered the first moment I saw her. My parents had come to visit me one Christmas while I was living abroad, and one of my gifts had been a digital photo frame. While going through the photos with my mom, I paused the slideshow at a picture of my parents standing with a beautiful brown-haired girl.
“Who is this with you and Dad?” I asked. Mom told me that her name was Chloe Mills, and that she worked as an assistant for my dad and was all kinds of wonderful. She was probably only twenty in the photograph, but her effortless beauty was arresting.
Over the years her face would pop up in photos that my mom sent to me; company functions, Christmas parties, even parties at the house. Her name was brought up occasionally as my family recounted stories about the general goings-on of work and life.
So when the decision was made that I would come home and take over as COO, my father explained that Chloe was getting her business degree at Northwestern, had a scholarship that required real-world experience, and that mine would be a perfect job for her to shadow for a year. My family loved and trusted her, and the fact that my father and brother had absolutely no reservations about her ability to handle the job spoke volumes. I immediately agreed. I was a bit worried that my appreciation for her appearance would interfere with my ability to be her boss, but I quickly reassured myself that the world was full of beautiful women and it would be easy enough to separate the two.
Oh, how stupid I’d been.
And now I could see all the mistakes I’d made over the last few months, how even from that first day, it was all leading up to this.
To make matters worse, I couldn’t seem to seal the deal with anyone lately without thinking of her. Just the thought of the last time I tried was enough to make me wince.