Authors: Lauren H. Kelley
“Then we’ll definitely have to do this again. Maybe we can find a way to get you everything you’re looking for, and you can give me your perspective on what might make a woman afraid to explore her feelings.”
He held the door open for her. The light in her eyes flickered out, and they glossed over, her expression downcast. He wasn’t sure if his directness had upset her, but her mood passed in an instant. As they entered the building, she turned and flashed him with the beaming glow of her gentle smile. Adrenaline pumped through his system and his heart fluttered.
“Thank you for lunch. I’ll practice delivering the
“Kerrigan, I enjoyed your company. We’ll do
lunch again soon. Don’t forget about tomorrow evening. Give me your cell phone number in case I need to reach you. I’ll dial you now, and then you’ll have my number too. We’ll leave here at seven. Wear something comfortable like jeans. We’ll have fun.”
hey had exchanged phone numbers, she pivoted on her heel, heading toward the elevator. Giving him a sideways glance, she tossed words at him over her shoulder. “Thanks again for lunch.”
slink from his view, she was as lovely, going and coming, the sway of her hips rekindling memories of his earlier predicament and he was back where he started.
Kerrigan unlocked her front door and rushed inside.
Her thoughts returned to her conversation at lunch with Axel. Who was this mystery woman? He could have any woman he wanted. She had seen some of them, beautiful models, tall blonds and brunettes—that was the kind of woman who would steal his heart. The conversation made her uncomfortable, and although she knew she had no right to be, she was angry. He had confessed his interest in someone else and wanted her help to get into the psyche of his mystery woman. She knew she needed to abandon any silly romantic notions she had about him.
She had a long
day and still had lots to do. She thought about what she should wear to work the next day, especially for the client meeting with Harris McBride that evening. She would have to bring a change of clothes since Axel had told her to wear jeans. She packed black skinny jeans, a shimmery red blouse and ballerina flats. What would he think of her outfit? She reminded herself that he was a dangerous proposition to be avoided at all costs. What he thought didn’t matter.
After she had eaten dinner, she called her mother for a quick chat.
“How are you sweetie?”
“I’m good. How are you? How’s
“Oh, we’re both
fine. Nothing new on this end. Are you enjoying your new job?”
She wasn’t about to reveal her secret crush on the boss. Other than the strange situation with Axel, she was happy about the move to Atlanta, the city was turning out to be exactly what she hoped Atlanta offered—well, almost.
“I’m preparing for my first major presentation. I’m going out with the client tomorrow evening. I’m nervous about our meeting. I heard the guy is a jerk.”
fine. Are you going alone?”
She couldn’t help grinning like an idiot whenever she thought about him.
“No, I’m going with the CEO of my company. The same man who hired and promoted me, so no pressure, right?” She was glad her mother couldn’t see her face.
fantastic honey! He obviously trusts you. Where are you taking your client? To a dinner?”
“Not exactly. Axel hasn’t told me where we’re going, but he said I should wear jeans.”
She liked saying his name and with her mom, she could say his name in an unassuming way.
“Oh. Sorry. Axel Christensen. That’s my boss’ name.”
“He’s got an
odd name. Well, just be you. I know you’ll do an outstanding job.”
mom. Axel is very encouraging. He’s a great guy.” She hadn’t realized that the words leaped from her lips with such enthusiasm until they were spoken. Her mother didn’t detect anything unusual.
They talked a
short while longer about her dad and brother before hanging up. She climbed into bed and still feeling chatty, she called Ashley, to tell her about the lunch meeting with Axel.
“I told you he’s after you,” Ashley said, after Kerrigan had described how suggestive Axel had been.
Kerrigan rolled her eyes. “He’s just a flirt and nothing more.”
“Uh huh. You have a crush on him. He’s ridiculously
attractive, more than attractive. You could do a lot worse than him.”
She rolled onto her stomach and propped herself up on her elbows.
“You know I think he’s hot, but I know better. He’s dangerous, even you agree. Men like Axel aren’t interested in women like me for the long haul and I’m not interested in being the office fling. Ash, Axel is just a flirt, that’s all.”
“What if he
seriously likes you? What if all his talk about finding the right woman was about you? The man can’t keep his eyes off you. He finds reasons to be around you. Others have noticed too. Hmm … private lunches and one-on-one meetings. Sounds suspect to me.”
Kerrigan was reminded of both
Rich’s and Megan’s remarks. People in the office had been talking.
“Really? Our meetings are about the McBride account
,” Kerrigan replied sarcastically.
“Then why is he using your
meeting time to talk about romance? Word on the street says that he’s trying to get you in bed or that you’re already sleeping together.”
Angered, Kerrigan turned and sat straight up.
“What? That’s outrageous! I’m working with him, and that doesn’t mean we’re sleeping together.” She fumed.
“I know that, and o
f course, I defend you, but that doesn’t stop the gossips. If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about the rumors.” Ashley’s soothing tone eased Kerrigan’s anger. “I’d worry about finding out Axel’s motives. Is he playing a game or is he serious about you?”
She closed her eyes and placed her head into her hands.
“Oh, I’m so confused. Honestly, I do like him, but I know what he’s after and I don’t do the casual sex thing.”
hear you, but if you do decide to put a little cream in your coffee, I won’t be mad at you. Axel is one hell of a specimen.” Ashley let out a garish laugh, melting Kerrigan’s tension.
They both giggled like
silly teenagers, and then ended the conversation. Soon afterward, Kerrigan turned in to bed, thinking about her conversation with Axel that afternoon. Perhaps Ashley was right. Maybe he had been finding or creating reasons to get her alone. She didn’t let the thought linger too long before drifting off to sleep.
Wednesday, August 22
Kerrigan was on
the edge about the meeting with McBride that evening. All day she had been thinking about what she should and shouldn’t say. Although this wasn’t the formal pitch, she knew that developing a positive relationship with McBride was critical. Brenda had sent her an email on Axel’s behalf reminding her that he would meet her at seven o’clock in the lobby. She was glad that they were meeting so late. Everyone would be gone by then. Someone seeing them leave together was the last thing she needed. The rumor mill factory would go into overdrive.
At six thirty,
she went to change into her jeans and blouse, and then headed to the lobby. When she arrived, Axel was already there waiting. The butterflies in her belly fluttered at the sight of him. She had never seen Axel dressed so casually. He sported dark, designer denim, a white button down shirt and stylish sporty loafers.
Damn! He’s fine as hell.
Axel’s suits didn’t do justice to his athletic build. He was built solid like a tank and his ass looked fabulous. His arms were sculpted and strong. She would have to work hard to keep her eyes off him.
He hadn’t seen her enter the lobby. He was on his cell phone with his back to her as she walked up from behind.
He must have sensed her presence because he turned around, and then fumbled his cell phone, nearly dropping the thing. He stammered a few parting words on the phone as he ended his call. His eyes stayed glued to her as he feasted on every inch of her body. His lusty gaze made her stomach quiver and knees weak. Not attempting to hide his appraisal or approval, he liked what he saw, and he wanted her to know.
She opened her mouth to speak, the words trapped in Kerrigan’s throat, and nothing came out
. The rolling waves in her stomach made her queasy like a lovesick teen. She was relieved when he spoke first.
You’re timing is perfect. You look …” he paused, his eyes sweeping her up and down again, “… absolutely incredible! You ready?”
Her cheeks warmed. “Yes, I’m ready. Where are we going?”
“We’re going to a baseball game. I have a
private suite at the stadium. I was just talking to McBride’s assistant. He’s going to be late. He has some emergency to handle.”
“Are you sure he’s coming? Maybe we should rain-check?”
“No. We’re going regardless.” He grabbed her by the hand and pulled her out of the door and toward the parking deck elevator. “Besides, I think you and I could use some fun, with or without McBride. It’s only Wednesday, and it’s already been a long week. Let’s go.”
When they reached
the elevator, he released her tingling hand, the feeling of his firm grip lingering.
Axel walked her to the passenger side of a
black Lexus IS F. His car was luxurious and masculine and sporty. He opened the door and helped her climb inside. The car’s interior smelled like him—musky and male, wrecking her senses, and her head spun. He slid into the driver’s seat, hit the ignition button, and the car roared to life. They had driven in silence for a few awkward minutes before he broke the tension.
“You like baseball?”
“I’m not a big fan, but going to a live game is always exciting.”
a big fan either, but the skybox is an investment for entertaining.”
Sounds like a good investment. Do you entertain clients a lot?”
Yes, mostly. I host office gatherings with the staff and use the space for … recreational outings.”
“Recreational outings?” She
threw a curious glance at him.
She frowned. “That’s interesting. Do you mean for boy-girl dates? How’s that an investment?” She couldn’t wait to hear his reasoning. This would be good.
d. “An investment in my future happiness, of course. I don’t plan to be a bachelor forever. I’m working hard not to be.” She saw him look down at her bare left hand, or perhaps that was in her head. She really had to get a grip.
She was going to set him straight, keep him honest as he had said.
“Oh? Sounds as if you’re making progress with your lady friend. Have you taken her to one of these games yet?” The thought of him hot and heavy and chasing some random woman made her nauseous.
an his left hand through his hair. “I’m making some progress.” He rubbed his chin. “She’ll be going to a game with me real soon.” Cutting his eyes at her, his lips curled up slightly into a faint smirk.
Good luck. I hope that works out for you.” Her stomach knotted.
I don’t need luck. I’m persistent.” He glanced at her, and then turned his eyes back to the road.
“Okay. What’s the game plan for this evening?” She asked.
city lights whizzed pass them as they sped down Interstate 75. Glancing in the rear view mirror, he switched lanes, and then exited the highway. “We’ll wing this. McBride is a sports buff. I’ll engage him on that level. You just be yourself. Charm him with your beauty and brilliant mind. You’ll have him eating out of the palm of your hand in no time.”
He followed the signs to stadium parking and
then parked the car. Insisting that she hold his hand, they weaved through the crowd of fan goers as they made their way up to the skybox. The private suite was much different from what she expected. The room was a good size, but being there alone with Axel made it feel intimate and cramped. Inside was a small dinner table dressed in white linens, a sofa and a minibar.
walked over to the large window that opened to a magnificent view of the field below. Acutely aware of Axel’s masculine scent permeating the room and overpowering her senses just like in the car, she patted her heaving chest and sucked in a deep breath. Harris McBride needed to show up soon.
“Kerrigan, please have a seat.”
He pulled out a chair for her.
She whirled around and made her way to the table,
and then he sat beside her.
ring of his cell phone took his attention away from her. This time he answered cryptically, in short clipped phrases while he kept his eyes fixed on her.
He ended the call and shook his head as his fingers danced across the table to the centerpiece, toying with it. “Looks like McBride can’t make
the game tonight.” She thought she saw a slight smile form at the corner of Axel’s mouth.
“Oh? What happened?”
Her heart raced, and her mind reeled.
“Didn’t get the details. Apparently
, his cancellation has something to do with that emergency he’s handling. It’s a shame. He’ll miss a great game.” He was glad that McBride cancelled. The sarcastic tone of his voice gave him away.
“So we’re staying,
even though neither of us likes baseball?” Her voice cracked.
He moved closer to her. “Why not? We don’t have to watch the game.
We can do other things.” His eyes lit up like an amusement park at night. Waving his hands around, he pointed to the room’s other amenities, and then stroked his chin. “Like I said before, we can both use a little fun. Kerrigan, are you afraid to have fun with me?”
“No.” She paused. “But, what’s your idea of fun?”
He put on a big, innocent grin. “We can just hang out. There’s food, beer, a TV, music.”
clear that Axel had every intention of staying and keeping her there with him. Nervous butterflies fluttered inside Kerrigan again—an entire evening in that room alone with Axel would send her over the edge. She didn’t know what to do.
He’s just a man, and he only wants one thing from you. Just remember that.
“Are you uncomfortable being alone with me?”
She leaned back in her chair.
“You’re the boss. It just feels a little strange
He placed his hand on the table. “You didn’t answer
my question. Do I make you nervous Kerrigan?”
She looked down into her lap, fidgeting with her hands. “Yes. You’re just
so … intense sometimes.”
Oh God! Where is he going with this?
“Hmm. What can we do about that? Any ideas?” He
asked as if he enjoyed watching her squirm.
er eyes narrowed. “You’re the boss. We’re not friends. I’m under the microscope with you, and that’s … well, that’s intimidating to me.”
He nodded his head. “I
see. I don’t want you to think of me as the boss. I don’t want to intimidate you. Without that title, I’m just like any other man. I have needs, wants, desires, likes and dislikes. Let’s just enjoy each other’s company and work on becoming friends.” He leaped up and headed to the mini bar. “I’ll get us some drinks. What would you like?”
Her probing gaze
followed him behind the small counter. “I’ll take a Coke. Thanks.”
e grabbed a beer for himself and a Coke for her and sat them on coasters on the small wooden end table next to the sofa. Taking a seat, he took the remote, turned on the television and began flipping through the channels. “Let’s see what’s on. Come sit over here with me.”
sat at arms length from him, her posture stiff and movements controlled.
I promise not to bite unless you want me to,” he teased. Sliding closer to her, he cut the divide in half and extended his arm across the back of the sofa.
The hairs at the nape of her neck stood. “No biting.” Her strained voice warded off his advance.
Lowering his arm, he cut his eyes at her and slowly nodded his head. “I’ll be on my best behavior. I swear.” He said.
She shifted in her seat, relaxed her shoulders and leaned back. The tight knot in her stomach loosened.
They talked and laughed as they watched an old romantic comedy. Beginning to relax more, she remained cautiously distant. The night was young.