Authors: Marisa Cleveland
hy didn’t you silence your phone?” Tish hissed as Kira dug around her oversized bag for the source of the interruption.
“I did.” Or at least she thought she had. It shouldn’t have mattered. The only people she usually hung around on a Sunday night were sitting in the movie theater with her. No one actually called her phone anymore, not even her father. So the obnoxiously repetitive old rotary dial ring had to be a wrong number.
When she finally located the phone, she clicked it silent and then stared in disbelief at the number she’d just ignored.
To say her pulse sped up was an understatement, and that was followed by annoyance at her body betraying her. Once again, just the thought of Blake had her imagining how she’d entice him if they’d met under any other circumstances. But she attended events as a volunteer, and he attended as a table sponsor.
No matter her personal feelings, she wanted him to know he could rely on her—for at least a year. After all, if he was making the serious effort to preserve the downtown area, then she would make the same level of commitment to her secretarial position.
By the time she reached the lobby, her phone chimed again with a voicemail notification.
“Kira, I know it’s Sunday night, but please call my cell if you have time. It’s not really work
related. Otherwise, I’ll see you in the morning.”
Well, that wasn’t too cryptic. Instinct had her dialing his number, since she never could turn away from someone asking for her help, but when it rang, she heard the double beep indicating he was on the other line, and left a message. Finally, a text came through.
Thanks for calling back. Sorry I missed you. All is well. Pic to follow.
The next message showed Blake holding a chocolate Labrador with a cast on its front paw.
Her heart squeezed at the image, and she swallowed the giant lump of feelings in her throat as she texted him back.
Awww, so cute. What happened?
Hit and run by hospital. Didn’t know where to take him. Nurse gave me address to emergency vet.
Do you need me to come get him?
I’m good. We’re still here.
Text me the address. I’ll be there in a bit.
Damn Blake and his hit-and-run rescue. She’d spent the weekend keeping busy, trying to keep her mind from wandering to her boss. One text message, and she understood how those other secretaries—the ones he’d fired for getting too close—had fallen under his spell. And if she didn’t stay on the straight and narrow for a year, he’d fire her. She couldn’t just throw herself at him or she’d never save the building and lose those extra dollars toward funding her favorite charities.
And those were the last things she wanted to lose. Still…
She texted Tish.
I have to go.
What? Why? Blake?
It’s all good. I’ll grab a cab. Text me later.
Kira rushed outside and moved toward Restaurant Row of the Edgewater Town Center. The place was packed for a Sunday night, and she couldn’t help but notice how popular the trendy town center was. Was that what the city council intended when they voted to redo the downtown area by the bay?
How on earth did she plan to save an entire district, when this was child’s play to the Whitman-Madison executives? She studied the town center shaped in a quadrant with restaurants on one side, shops on the other, and the movie theater and pavilion bookending the area—this required board approval and millions of dollars.
For the first time, she questioned Blake’s motives for agreeing to go to bat for her building. Maybe it was just a game to him, like hiring a secretary who’d come without qualifications or recommendations.
The cabs lined the side of the street, and she moved to the front one and instructed the driver to take her to the emergency vet clinic. In the fifteen minutes it took the cabbie to cross town, she reapplied her lip gloss and ran her fingers through her hair. The outfit screamed girls’ night, but she couldn’t do much to change from the fitted miniskirt and threadbare deep
neck tee shirt that had the word LIVE scrawled across her chest.
Blake sat on the wooden bench in the waiting room, with his elbows on his thighs and his head balanced on his clasped hands. She’d never seen him in casual clothes. Slightly rumpled in an untucked navy polo shirt, plaid Bermuda shorts, and boat shoes, he stopped her in her tracks. All she could imagine was a guy she could take to the park and throw a Frisbee with or hop on a boat for an afternoon joyride over the Gulf of Mexico. He looked like…fun.
He glanced up when the door opened, and the raw worry on his face sucker punched Kira in the stomach.
Rushing over to him, she asked, “Any news?”
She saw the surprise in his eyes, but she also saw relief. He’d said she didn’t have to come, but no one should wait alone at the doctor’s, especially for a dog that wasn’t even his. “Thanks for coming.”
They spoke at the same time, and Kira pointed for him to go first. “Hit-and-run driver. No collar. But the dog’s well-groomed, so they doubt he’s a stray. Did you know you can put a chip in your dog?”
“I did.” Her mind reeled. How many times would he do something wonderful and how many times would she be caught off guard because of it?
“Thank you for coming.” He leaned back and crossed an ankle over his knee.
She stared at his calf, at the smattering of dark hair running up his leg, and wondered if his chest had a little or a lot of hair. Blinking away any yummy images and scolding herself for even thinking about Blake shirtless, she said, “If they don’t keep him here, and they can’t find his owner, then I’ll take him home for the night.”
He held up a brochure. “I’ve got it covered.”
She snatched the pamphlet from him. “You do? You’ll care for an injured dog based on this trifold?”
He cocked his head and grinned at her, rubbing a hand over the top of his head and leaving it disheveled. She stifled a sigh. The man had a killer smile and when he blinked at her with those honey-colored eyes, her brain stalled and she forgot she wasn’t supposed to want him.
“You already have a foster, and I’m guessing it’ll be better if this one isn’t stressed by another dog.” His smile dimmed as his gaze flitted over her, like he just noticed what she was wearing. Heat flushed her chest when he seemed to focus on her cleavage. “Were you on a date?”
It shouldn’t matter that he sounded jealous, but something in his tone gave her hope that maybe he wasn’t as immune to her as he let on. “Um, no. Would that have mattered?”
He took a long breath. “If you were on a date?”
She tugged up the tee shirt, but the fabric fell back in place, displaying more cleavage than she normally showed at the office. “Yeah. Would you have still called me?”
He shook his head. “If I’d have known you were on a date, I probably wouldn’t have bothered you.”
She leaned into him and caught the fresh scent of mint. “Probably or wouldn’t have?”
“Probably wouldn’t have.”
She frowned at him. “That’s not an answer.”
He smiled that killer smile that floored her every damn time.
The doors opened and the veterinarian stepped into the waiting room. “Mr. Whitman? We’ve repaired the break and sewn up the gash on his neck but would like to keep him here for observation. If you’d like to stop by in the morning, we can update you on his progress.”
After answering a few more questions, the vet shook their hands and re-entered the medical area.
Kira turned to Blake. “This was really great, what you did.”
He smiled at her with admiration. “You would’ve done the same thing. Thanks for waiting with me. I’m sorry if I interrupted your evening.”
She waved a dismissive hand. “Nothing more important than this. You said you were at the hospital.”
They stood facing each other, and up close, even in her heels, she had to lean back to focus on his face. Seeing this softer side of Blake sent her slightly off balance, and she didn’t dislike the feeling at all.
“Yes. Visiting a friend.”
A male or a female? Curiosity clawed at her, but she clamped down her question
“I was at the movies for girls’ night.” She watched his expression but couldn’t guess his reaction.
“So, not on a date.”
“Not on a date.” For some reason, she kept thinking of ways to drag out the conversation, and when she realized that was what her brain was doing, she pasted a smile on her face. “Well, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She backed out of the clinic and stood on the sidewalk. Really, she needed to go, but she kept saying things, prolonging their interaction. The smart thing to do would be to leave before she said or did something stupid. “I’ll pick up coffee on the way in. Do you think you’ll need a triple espresso, or will a regular pour be sufficient?”
His smile widened as he scanned the parking lot, empty but for one SUV. “How did you get here. Do you need a ride home?”
“I can get a cab.”
She was being ridiculous. A ride was just a ride, not an offer to pleasure her senseless with his curved lips. Her bubble burst with a sharp stab of reality. But damn he looked good, even rumpled.
Kira had to force herself to not invite him inside when his car came to a stop in front of her place. As she closed the gate to her apartment complex and turned to wave, she wondered if she’d made the right choice.
ira had just placed three thick file folders and a large black coffee on Blake’s desk when she heard his luscious baritone outside his office. She spun around and tried to look casual as he entered, his phone in his hand, the Bluetooth in his ear. As soon as he saw her, his face brightened with that captivating smile, and she forgot for a split second—again—that he was her boss.
She mouthed, “Coffee.”
He stepped over to claim it, and even after he lifted the lid and sipped, she could smell him—warm and sexy—over the aroma of freshly poured French roast. He spoke to the caller and motioned for Kira to hand him a pad and pen.
“Yes, that’s not a problem. I’ll have my accountant wire the funds to you this morning.”
He tapped his earpiece and tossed it on the desk. “I needed this more than you could possibly know.” He sipped and smiled, but his grin dimmed as his gaze lingered on her chest. She’d purposely worn a sundress with a V-neck, and based on the way he licked his lips, he noticed.
She cleared her throat. “You’re welcome.”
He picked up a folder and opened to the first sticky note she’d tabbed in the margin. After scanning what she’d written, he flipped to the next one, a faint smile curving his mouth. She wondered if she’d gone too far by giving him a running commentary on her assessment of the contracts, but the phones had been eerily silent since she arrived that morning, and she’d decided to read something.
Contradicting her earlier thought, his office line rang. He punched the button and put the caller on speaker. “Brett?”
“It’s barely eight on a Monday. Have a little respect for those of us with kids.”
Blake’s warm laugh filled the office, and she swallowed. The man was lethal, combining his laugh and smile like that. “Brett is my personal accountant.” He opened his center drawer and passed her a one-page summary of his investments and charitable contribution deductions.
She scanned the page and leaned forward toward the phone.
“Hello, Kira. Don’t let your boss overwork you, too, okay?”
She caught his eye and giggled. “He’s already trying to. I think I clocked fifty hours last week.”
The accountant made tsk-ing noises. “Just fifty?”
Blake shook his head, but the grin caught her in the gut every damn time. “Let’s go ahead and list my current obligations.”
Brett rattled off the ones she already knew about, but as he drilled down to the local organizations she wasn’t familiar with, she sank back into the chair. Blake contributed anonymously to no less than a dozen organizations.
When the accountant ended his summary, she scooted her seat forward. “Sounds like you’ve diversified in all the underprivileged areas.” Her gaze caught Blake’s, and she noticed the dull flush on his neck. The man really was humble. But she couldn’t waste this opportunity to further her own charitable interests. “I’d like to fund my portion of his donations from the interest earned on his vice stocks.”
Her boss’s slack jaw showed she’d caught him off guard.
Through the phone, the accountant chuckled. “Nicely done, and that total would be”—she heard the clicking of keys—”twenty-six percent of his total in gift contributions.”
Blake’s eyebrow rose. “That’s six percent more than we agreed to.” His mouth pursed, then he threw up his hands in defeat and her heart leapt. “Fine.”
The more time she spent with the man, the deeper under his spell she fell, but his company had to make money to support his charities; there was no guarantee—short of her contract—that he wouldn’t buy the Bromwell and the surrounding buildings for development and use the profits to fund his other interests.
After he hung up, she glanced at her notes. “You volunteer at the veteran’s hospital?”
He shrugged. “Once a month.”
“And you’re going to pay for the dog’s medical bills?”
“Brutus. Yes. Until they can find the owner, I’ll take care of him.” He leaned forward. “Which reminds me. I need to pick up some stuff if I’m going to have a larger dog here. Can you help me?”
He stood and walked by her to the far corner of the room. “I’m thinking we need a small gate to block this section for the dogs. We can see how they get along together, but this way they won’t have to be crated.” He bent over and slid the coffee table and two armchairs to the side.
She had no words. Just pure lustful appreciation for the way his slacks tightened across his ass. It wasn’t fair. It simply wasn’t. That the one man to awaken such office fantasies while tugging at her heartstrings was the one man she couldn’t have
She jerked out of her appreciative trance and blinked up at him. “Yes?”