Authors: Bernadette Marie
“Some first day, huh?” he added.
“Some first day.” She took a long sip of the cold beer and tossed her head back.
“Sorry I couldn’t get here this morning to take you.”
“It’s okay. I may blame you later, but it turned out to be a very interesting ride.” She raised her eyebrows and finally smiled, thinking about it.
“Do tell.” He sipped his own beer.
“I rode to work on the lap of a very handsome man.”
“On his lap?”
“Yep, fell right into his lap and couldn’t move. I rode to work that way. He even took me to lunch.”
“Well then, I’m glad I didn’t make it. Sounds like a Regan Keller recovery plan of sorts.” Carlos smiled, tipping his beer toward her in a salute. “So do you have dinner plans now?”
“No, I’m pretty sure he assumes I’m dating Curtis, and now his mind is spinning because you met me at the door.”
“He was the one in the car?”
“Uh-huh.” She sipped. “Come to find out he’s my boss.”
“Oh.” His voice dropped and he grew still.
“Yeah. Oh.” She drank down her beer, hoping it would remove the face from her memory, but it had frozen there.
Zach drove back to the office and sat in his parking space for a moment, collecting his thoughts. It had been quite a day. Who would have known that when a beautiful woman was dropped in your lap, it would consume you?
He laughed it off as he rode the elevator up to his office. It seemed quiet, compared to the rush they had left it in. In their race out the door, he hadn’t even noticed they’d knocked papers off the table, and the small plant Mary Ellen had brought him. He knelt to pick up the plant and place it on the windowsill. He fed it a few drops of water he found in a forgotten cup.
As his gaze shifted out the window over Nashville, he again thought of Regan Keller. Her image remained in his mind. There were two sides to her, he’d realized. There was the professional that had fallen onto his lap. Her suit pristine, even in a rainstorm, and her hair pulled back and out of the way. But when she’d gathered Mary Ellen up and started for the hospital without another thought, he saw the compassionate side to her. Her eyes had softened, and when she’d let her hair free there was peace in her.
Of course, there were the embraces with the other men. He felt his stomach knot again as he thought of the doctor. He wondered if the doctor knew about the dark man who waited for her at her home.
Zack pulled his tie from his neck and tossed it on the desk. He loosened the buttons on his shirt and sat back in his desk chair. In time, he was sure Regan Keller would be a loyal and perfect employee. God, how he wished that was how he’d first seen her. Instead, the thought of her seated on his lap, her long neck exposed with that beautiful brown hair pulled back and her eyelashes dripping raindrops, wouldn’t go away.
Regan, pleased that Carlos had gotten her car running, parked it in the garage of the Benson, Benson, and Hart building. The old lady on the bus would have been more than she could handle at seven in the morning.
Zachary Benson hadn’t been exact on what time he considered early, but she figured showing up an hour before the official beginning of the workday was a good start.
The lobby was almost deserted, but the coffee kiosk was open. She bought herself and Zach each a coffee and headed toward the bank of elevators.
The ride up was quiet. There weren’t multiple conversations and office gossip going on. She went to her desk first, laying the tray of two gourmet coffees atop it while she shoved her bag in the bottom drawer.
Feeling a little easier this morning, she’d worn a suit with a straight skirt and her favorite Italian pumps. Her white blouse was plain, but she’d dressed it up with a silver chain necklace. It had been a personal splurge in Hawaii. One of the items she had saved for herself and not gotten rid of in her attempt to eradicate the hurtful memories of her last relationship.
She let out a breath and tapped lightly on the door to Zach’s office with the coffees in hand, but there was no answer. She stood for a moment longer and tapped again. When he didn’t answer, she let herself in. A simple laugh escaped her throat when she noticed the pristine office of the CEO of Benson, Benson, and Hart looked like a college dorm room. A flat-screen television protruded from a cabinet in the corner, which she’d never have noticed, just like the elevator. The Murphy bed was down, and the sheets were rumpled. There was a pizza box on the table and three cans of soda. His desk was a mass of paper, and an acrid smell made her look around for the coffee that was burning in the pot. With a shake of her head, she set the coffees on the table and found the burning coffeepot. The door to the bathroom was open, but Zach wasn’t there. He didn’t seem to have stuck around.
Well, executive assistant didn’t mean glorified secretary. Sometimes it meant caretaker, handler, and maid. She started picking up the remnants of his dinner and throwing them away. She pulled the sheets off the bed up and tucked them in tightly to the mattress. His scent lingered on them. She tried not to let it wash over her, but it had been so long since the cologne of a man tantalized her. Quickly she shook off any crazy notion that her boss smelled good or that she cared if he did.
Regan pushed the bed back up into the wall. The remote to the television was on the table, and she picked it up and aimed it at the TV, studying the mass of buttons.
“Second button on the right lowers it.” Zachary’s voice boomed from behind her, and she jumped, placing her hand on her heart.
“Oh, so you are here?” Her voice was cool and steady, but her heart rate wasn’t.
He was in shorts and a T-shirt. His tall frame was muscular and toned, and his sandy hair was damp with sweat. He kept a straight face, but his eyes shimmered with laughter.
Regan forced herself to look away from him. “Took a run?”
“Had to ward off the pizza I ordered.”
“You left your coffeepot on,” she said as she emptied the last of the soda cans into the bar sink, and then tossed them away.
“Yeah, can’t remember to turn it off.”
She was aware of his eyes on her as she tidied his office.
“I brought you coffee. I didn’t know how you like it.” She walked to the table and took his cup from the tray, offering it to him.
He accepted the cup and sipped. “This is perfect. Did you get your car fixed?” He tore the band holding his iPod from his arm and laid it in a drawer.
“Well, I guess I’ll grab a shower. That stack on my desk needs to be organized, and the three bids on the top need to be typed up.”
“Not a problem, Mr. Benson,” she said, moving quickly to gather the papers.
“Yes?” She looked up at him as he walked toward the bathroom. His legs were toned and tan, and she quickly averted her eyes to keep from examining his body. But she looked back up and caught his smile. Her breath hitched. He’d obviously noticed her reaction to him.
His smile broadened to a grin. “Just call me Zach.”
Forty-five minutes later, Zach, clad in a suit and ready for business, opened his office door and watched her work. She had on the headset, and she murmured, “Mm-hmm,” as she jotted notes on the pad before her. He noticed that the bids he’d needed written up were printed and on the edge of her desk. His agenda was on her computer screen. He noted she’d added a meeting at one and blocked out time to meet with her to go over “items,” it said.
When she pushed the button to disconnect her call, she turned as though she’d sensed him.
“Emerson Amelia Rothchild, born at three twenty-three yesterday. She weighed seven pounds, six ounces and has a full head of dark hair and her mother’s nose.” She smiled as she read the note to Zach. Her eyes had gone soft, and he longed to hold her. “You sent flowers with a little stuffed bear attached to them and will visit when they get home tomorrow.”
“How thoughtful of me.” He raised his eyebrows.
Regan stood and handed him the bids she’d typed up for him. Their fingers brushed, and she pulled away.
“Here are your messages. You’re a very popular man at eight in the morning.”
“How many times did my mother call?”
“Four in the last forty minutes.”
“You’ll become close friends,” he warned as he looked through the papers she’d handed him.
“Well, Curtis likes her. I guess I’ll find out.”
Zach found his jaw clenching when she mentioned the doctor’s name.
His eyes shifted to the office. It had started to come to life. Most of the staff would trickle in within the next half hour. He looked back at Regan, who had taken her seat behind the computer. She looked right at home.
“When you find Peterson, tell him I’m looking for him. I need an update on that conference call from yesterday.” He watched her grab her note pad and make notes. “Call John Forrester and make arrangements for us to visit the site sometime this week.”
She nodded as she kept writing as he continued the list. “And I need a suggestion on where to get tiramisu before Saturday to take to my mother’s.” That caused her to smile. “I don’t know where to begin.”
“I’ll take care of that.” She kept her eyes on her pad.
“Thank you. Chinese for lunch?”
Finally, she looked up at him. “Do you have a place you order from, or should I just take care of that?”
“No, just be ready at twelve thirty. We go out for Chinese food. We’ll take your office meeting when we get back.” He closed the door to the office and delighted in the shock that had lit her face. But there was something troubling in her expression. Though it was enjoyable to throw Regan Keller off her game, it worried him that someone had made her so distrusting of men.
Regan didn’t find Peterson. He found her.
Kirk Peterson sat down on the edge of her desk as if it were a bar stool and introduced himself with a handshake that included an unabashed attempt to peek down her blouse. He was a stocky man in his early forties. He’d been married long enough that the wedding band on his finger looked to have grown into place, but by his casual way, it didn’t seem to matter to him that there was a ring on his finger. While she told him what Zach wanted, he touched everything on her desk. It annoyed her but she smiled professionally.
She managed the phone and let Zach know Peterson was there if he was available.
“Can you come in here first?” he asked.
“I’ll be right in.” She picked up the note pad and her pen. “I’ll be right back. He’ll be ready in a moment.”
She hurried from her desk and skimmed through Zach’s door, keeping an eye on Kirk Peterson. Though she was glad to be away from him, it distressed her to think he’d touch everything she owned while she was away. He was probably the kind of man to go through drawers and files.
Zach watched her from behind his desk, leaning back in his chair, with his arms crossed over his chest. When she rolled her eyes the moment the door closed, he laughed.
“Okay, that’s all.”
“What?” She snapped her head up. “Why are you laughing?”
“I really just wanted to see what your impression of him was. Mary Ellen turned green when he came around. You don’t look much different.”
She shook her head and flung open the door. “He’s ready for you,” she said as Peterson winked at her, which made her stomach churn.
Zach understood the reaction Kirk Peterson received from the women in the office. There were times even Zach was uncomfortable with the man. He was a smooth talker and had a tendency to let you know he knew everything. But he was a hell of a project manager.
Peterson’s meeting and the two that followed were quick. Before he left his office to collect Regan for lunch, he gathered his notes to have her type them up and file. She nodded when he handed them to her and told her what he needed her to do. “Perhaps I should get these done now.”
“No, they can wait. My stomach can’t.”
He wasn’t sure if she was even aware that she cringed. He shook it off, waited for her to tuck everything away, and collect her purse. “We’ll take my car,” he said as he turned back to the office and she followed.
He ushered her to the elevator and down to the parking garage, where his car waited a few feet from the door.
Regan let out a chuckle as they neared his car. “You know, it takes me fifteen minutes to get from the parking garage to the office. This took three.”
“Well I’ll have to look into giving you an executive parking space and a key for the private elevator.”
“I’ll be fine,” she said as he opened the car door for her. “Thank you.”
“Fifteen minutes? Really?” he asked, revisiting the subject as he climbed in beside her.
“Today I’m on level four. I paid two dollars, as an employee of the building without a monthly parking pass,” she informed him. “Then I had to walk down four ramps to the front of the building because there was maintenance going on in the elevator shaft. And this was on the day I showed up at seven. I’m thinking it will not be as quick a process tomorrow when I come in later.”
“I’ll make sure you get that key.”
“No, but thank you.” As she buckled her seatbelt, she shook her head. “You said you ride the bus to keep one more car off the roads.”
“Yes, and I only drive if I’m rushing to the hospital, going to my mother’s, or am very, very hungry.” He backed out of the space.
“I could have had your lunch called in.”
“Yes, but then you wouldn’t go with me and wouldn’t be a captive audience.”
She rubbed her temples, and he knew she was only going to lunch with him because he was her boss. And, he knew, she wouldn’t do it often—because he was her boss.
When she dropped her hands back to her lap, she gripped her purse, and he could see the white of her knuckles. What would it take for her to relax around him? Who made it impossible for her to be calm around men?