Authors: Lauren H. Kelley
When the food arrived, they moved back to the table to eat. The
y made small talk throughout dinner.
“This meal reminds me of my college days. Pizza, burgers, fries. All the great tasting stuff that’s off limits to me now” he said, shoving a fry into his mouth. “Hmm. So good.”
“I ate stuff like this in high school. By the time I reached college, my palette had matured.” She frowned and pushed her plate away.
“Oh come on, don’t you eat an occasional French fry?” He teased. Grabbing a
fry from the stack on his plate, he taunted her. “Here, open up. At least try one. Here’s to trying new things with new friends.” His persistence coaxed a bright smile onto her lips.
“Okay. Okay. You win. I’ll try
one. Once.” She bit down, and he fed the fry into her mouth until his fingertips grazed her plump bottom lip. She quickly yanked her head back from his touch. “Umm, that
“Only a taste and I have you hooked.” The smug tone rolled off his tongue.
“Hooked? Probably not. Fries are the arch nemesis to my hips and thighs.”
He pushed against the table, leaned back in his chair and let his eyes roam her body, and then straightened himself to meet her curious expression. “
Mmm.” He groaned. “Nothing wrong with those thighs or hips. Want more?” Grabbing another fry, he paused one in front of her mouth.
A nervous, breathy laugh escaped her lips. “What are you, a fry dealer?”
He chuckled. “Of sorts.”
She closed her eyes and bit into the next one. “Umm, these are great.” She chewed behind a guilty smile. Taking his cloth napkin, he dabbed her mouth and then placed the napkin on the table.
He pursed his lips and rubbed his chin. “I enjoy seeing you relaxed Kerrigan. We’re having fun, like a normal…” He paused, carefully considering his next words. “Like normal people getting to know each other.” Another pause. “I was never any good at statistics in high school and completely avoided the subject in college, but if I were a betting man, I’d say odds are in my favor that you’re getting more comfortable being around me.”
“I hated statistics
too. What was your favorite subject in high school?” She skirted his calculated statement. Nice move.
He narrowed his eyes, and he reached back into the recesses of his memory. “Let’s see. I enjoyed art, English and history best. I had the best English teacher who made words jump off a page into life. What were your favorite subjects?”
Kerrigan stretched her eyes wide; she kept her gaze down, fiddling with a tomato on her plate. “Those were my favorites too.” Her voice staggered.
She enticed him, and he
couldn’t help but to be captivated by her.
“What do you prefer; drama, comedy, action, romance,
sci-fi, horror or suspense?” he asked.
“It depends on if you’re talking about in my personal life or my movie preference,” Kerrigan joked.
He leaned back in his chair again. Pushing both hands through his hair, he gave her a sly grin. “Okay funny lady. Tell me your preference in both.” He liked her wit.
She watched him move, and he could tell s
he liked the way his biceps flexed and bulged. She wasn’t immune to him after all. He would use this to his advantage.
like it all for movies, but comedy is my number one and then suspense. In my personal life, I’ll take romance and action. However, my reality is more like comedy and drama. What about you?” She giggled.
“For movies, I’m a suspense and action
guy. My personal life is more like drama and suspense.” He leaned forward, softening his tone. “Although, I’d prefer romance and action, too. Something else we have in common.”
Their knees touched underneath the table.
She shifted away, but he pursued, leaning in closer until his knee found hers again. This time she didn’t back away. “Are you having a good time?” he asked.
“Yes, this is really great.”
He wanted to touch his salty lips to hers, but the timing wasn’t right for a kiss. He needed her to be clear about his intentions before he would make a move as bold as that.
“Good, I’m glad you’re having fun. I like hanging out with you.
We’ll have to do this often—maybe on different terms.”
She frowned. “What do you mean on different terms?” She shifted back in her
seat away from him.
mean on friendlier terms. You’re fun, we have lots in common, and I’d like to get to know you better. I think we’re becoming friends.”
“Um, I don’t know if that’s a very good idea.”
re my boss. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.”
He wanted to see her squirm again. “Exactly what idea might that be, Kerrigan?”
“Well …. I … I just think we need professional boundaries. That’s all,” she stammered.
“The only boundaries are the ones we
create. Are you worried that people will think we’re more than friends?”
“I don’t know what people will think, but I don’
t need the added drama,” she contested.
Axel leaned forward and reached for her hand on the table. “I see. Are you attracted to me Kerrigan?” He lifted her hand,
stroking her fingers with his.
She gasped loudly and
pulled her hand away quickly. “I think you’re an attractive man,” she replied coolly. “But, that doesn’t mean …”
He interrupted her mid-sentence and then stared into her.
“Thank you, but that’s not what I asked.” He repeated the question in a clipped tone. “Are
attracted to me Kerrigan?”
glossed over, and she slumped into her seat. He decided to ease up. “You don’t have to give me an answer now because you already have, many times. For the record, you should know that I’m a man who doesn’t care what others think.”
Her eyes flashed with anger. “What others think is
important to me, especially since I have to work with them. I’m not interested in being the topic of water-cooler gossip. To answer your extremely direct and unprofessional question, no, there’s no attraction.”
“You’re lying to yourself Kerrigan.”
She pushed away from the table with trembling hands. “Axel, you’re dead wrong.” The angry shrill of her voice egged him on.
Grabbing her hand, he pulled her back, locking her in place to prevent her escape. “What happened in your office yesterday wasn’t very professional, but I felt it, and I know you did too, long before yesterday—there’s an unmistakable attraction between us. That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. Why deny our chemistry? There’s no one here but you and me. Don’t you think it’s time to deal with the elephant in the room?” Goose bumps trailed along his arms and his stomach churned at the simple touch of holding her hand.
Color rushed to her cheeks.
“Axel, I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. I’m not attracted to you or interested in you in any way beyond our work relationship.” Her lips trembling and eyes shifted.
He smirked. “Fine, if that’s how you
want to play. We’re at least becoming friends, and there’s no reason to deny that. When we hang out, we’ll be discreet. I don’t want us to be the center of office gossip humored as having a steamy office romance.”
A sheen of moisture coated her eyes
and she turned away. “I’m sorry Kerrigan. You’re upset, and I’m being an ass. Let’s work on becoming friends.” He hadn’t meant to upset her to the point of tears. He would need a new plan to help her face the truth.
After a few seconds of silence, she recovered. Squirming in her chair, she shook her head and r
olled her eyes. Glaring at him, she gave him a faint grin. He’d take that over daggers and tears.
“Glad you’re seeing things my way. This is
an excellent start to a beautiful friendship. You’ll see,” he teased, trying to lighten the mood.
“I didn’t have much choice, did I? You always find a way of getting what you
want, don’t you?”
He leaned back in his chair
deliberately giving her a view of his torso and arms. “Yes, I do. Good you realize this fact early on in our relationship,” he said, smiling as he watched her eyes study his frame.
had no idea of the extent of truth in her words. He always got what he wanted, and he wanted her.
he ride back to the office, where her car was left, neither spoke. Awkward sideways glances and the occasional sigh was all they exchanged. She wrapped her arms around her body as if shielding herself from the icy vibe that came from him. He didn’t want to engage her in conversation. He was sulking at her words. He liked the chase, but he needed to change his strategy if he were going to catch the girl.
He watched her get into her vehicle, and they went their separate ways. He reflected on the events of the
evening during his drive home. Twenty minutes later, when he stepped into the kitchen, he found Emma, his housekeeper, making tea. He had confided in her about Kerrigan and respected her advice and views on matters of the heart.
Emma lifted the kettle from the stove and poured steaming hot water into her
English teacup. “So…” She paused, turning around from the stove to face him. “How’d your evening go?”
He leaned against the kitchen island, his palms flat on
its cold granite surface. He dropped his head in defeat and shrugged his shoulders. “Not exactly like I had hoped.” He shook his head. “I frightened Kerrigan and didn’t get through to her.”
Emma walked around to the side of the island where
he stood. “Have you thought about telling her how you feel about her—from your heart?”
He turned to the
side to face her. “If I do that, I risk scaring her off for good. I thought spending time together alone would force us to work out our mutual attraction.”
The truth was that he was unsure of his feelings.
Emma patted his shoulder gingerly. “You’re telling her these meetings are about work, yet you’re expecting her to behave unprofessionally. I can understand her hesitation, confusion and even fear.”
“Maybe I’m just not her type.” He lifted his face to meet
a sympathetic smile.
“From everything you’ve told me about her all these months, I don’t think that’s
the issue. I think you need to try a different approach. After all, you’re her boss. Give her time.”
Later that night,
he retreated to his bedroom. He pulled out his laptop and hammered out an email to her. Reading over the message, he deleted most of the words he had typed. Sharing his feelings in an email was juvenile. He would leave his heart’s confession to a time more suitable, where he would have her as his captive audience. Instead, he decided to keep the message short and to the point, and then he hit send.
The next morning
, Kerrigan’s stomach somersaulted at the thought of going to work. The events of the prior evening raced through her head. He was closing in on her, fast, but she was determined not to become another casualty of Axel Christensen. She knew that while he found her attractive, he was probably exploring some fetish or fantasy. Maybe he wanted to know what it would be like with a woman different from his usual type or to have an office affair. Perhaps he wondered what sex would be like with a black woman, but she wasn’t going to be his lab rat.
She walked into her office, sat down at her desk and logged on to her computer. She had
already received several emails in her in-box, but one stood out from all the others. It was from Axel’s personal email address.
on Thursday, August 23
To: Kerrigan Mulls
From: Axel Christensen
Subject: Last Night
I had a
terrific time with you last night. I’m glad we reached an understanding about our friendship. I hope you enjoyed yourself. I’d love you to join me for lunch tomorrow. I’ll stop by your office at noon. I also have tickets to a play that I hear is fabulous. It’s next Saturday evening at 6:00 p.m. It’s not with McBride. It’s just you and me going out for dinner and a play. I can pick you up at your place at 5:00 p.m. I’m eager to spend time with you.