Sydney sat in the conference room at Brass Cat Advertising, sipping her coffee and wishing the caramel latte could take her to an alternate reality. One where Derrick Porter wasn’t sitting in front of her. His presence had caught her off guard. She took another sip of her coffee and tried not to stare stupidly, but holy chocolate-covered cherries, the man was hot.
Dark hair and eyebrows made a striking contrast against his strong bone structure and fair skin. His lips, good grief. They looked so soft. His long, lean body fit nicely in a suit. The material stretched over his broad shoulders and came in at the waist. He probably had amazing six-pack abs.
When they’d met Saturday in running group, it hadn’t merely been the fog coupled with Sydney’s exhaustion and two-year streak of celibacy that made Derrick appear so handsome. Even under the bright lights of the conference room, he was gorgeous. What rotten luck that she couldn’t seem to get away from him.
What is it about Grant? Looking at the man beside her was no hardship; that was for damn sure. He had the tall, broad body of a heavyweight UFC fighter, but he never used his size to intimidate the people around him. Shayla wanted to sweep his wavy, slightly shaggy dark hair out of his gorgeous brown eyes. His dark hair and eyes complemented his bronze skin. He was hot, in a serious, dangerous kind of way. But in the two and a half years he had worked for her, she had hardly learned anything about him.
The waitress at the popular nature-themed restaurant, the Greenhouse Effect, showed them to their table. The plants growing around all the walls and columns made the place look like a wild garden. The smell of lavender and jasmine mixed with the delicious scents drifting from the kitchen. She tried not to drool, but breakfast seemed like eons ago. Shayla sat next to Sydney and across from Grant. A too-tall centerpiece of yellow-and-purple flowers blocked most of her view. Being short occasionally sucked. Grant moved the centerpiece to the side and gave her a shy smile. His smile made her want answers, among other things.
She knew he was from New Jersey and had gone to school in Wisconsin before moving to Richmond, Virginia, to work with Brook’s Comprehensive, a huge company that did everything from urban development projects to financial management for celebrities and politicians.
“Why do you want to make such a big change from a large corporation to a simple start-up company?” she’d asked him in the interview.
“Honestly?” He had paused then, the question hanging.
“Yes,” she’d assured him. She’d take honesty over smooth-faced, calculated interview answers any day.
“I want to live somewhere I can have a house and some land. Maybe spend more time outside. Also, I want a job where I can do more than just run numbers for projects where I never see the outcome.”
The last part had seemed to come as a surprise to him. Maybe he hadn’t really known he wanted something more than a change of scenery until he had said it out loud.
His answer had been simple and honest instead of a long, drawn-out elaboration about the projected success of new companies in the area or an extensive list of projects he had helped to fruition. She could look at his résumé for those kinds of details. He had wanted to be there, so she’d hired him. Simple as that—after a clean background check and drug screening, of course.
Grant the mystery man—a delicious mystery Shayla would like to unravel, piece by piece, layer by layer. Ah, but I can’t. I’m his boss. In a different lifetime, if we didn’t have the whole boss-employee obstacle going on…. No harm in looking, though, just a little, since he sat so close. She promised herself to keep her thoughts G-rated—okay, maybe PG-13. Grant had a talent with numbers and paid attention to detail. Also, he was a little shy and standoffish to a lot of people when it came to anything other than work. Shayla wondered where he sometimes went in his head, because, every now and then, his smile slipped from his face, just for a second, before being replaced with one a little harder. None of my business, she reminded herself.
She had really wanted to hug him this morning after seeing him so frustrated but decided it might be wiser and more appropriate to show him there were a few people on his side. Seeing him break things and try to be all strong and humorous about it made Shayla want to unravel the Grant mystery even more. It kind of hurt to watch him pretending to be fine, but all she could offer him was lunch and good conversation. Hopefully, Mr. Strong and Silent—Sydney called him that sometimes, although never to his face—knew Shayla and Sydney cared. And Shayla did care. Because he’s a friend. Just a friend.
Grant raised his soda in a toast. “To things not being worse,” he announced with a rueful half smile. “And, uh”—he cleared his throat—“to good company.” He nodded at Sydney, and when he met Shayla’s gaze, he held it. In his dark eyes, she saw hunger, wide-open desire, and about a million other things she couldn’t puzzle out. Grant looked at her that way sometimes, and she did her best to ignore it. He might have a small crush on her, or he could have a thing for petite, small-breasted girls possessing a great fashion sense.
Sydney broke the silence. “To good food and even better friends.” She clinked Grant’s glass, and Shayla came back to reality and smiled, pretending she wasn’t experiencing several different kinds of inappropriate thoughts and feelings for a sexy, complicated man who was her employee and also her friend. She needed to behave and remember things could never go any further than a panty-melting gaze.
For the briefest moment, Nikki felt the depth to which Sean might be capable of pushing her. His kiss was crushing and brutal. His tongue pushed past her lips and his grip in her hair tightened. If desire were a vine, it would have wrapped itself around her veins and encased her heart. The heat between them flooded her. There was a sweetness, too, in his kiss, and the sweetness made her burn hotter.
A polite cough from inside the waiting car put a quick end to things. Sean pulled away and met her gaze. No words, but she got the message. She wasn’t alone. Comfort and friendship; he’d probably meant the kiss to comfort her and had gotten carried away in the heat of the moment. He’d carried her away with him, and she wanted to take him so much further into the unknown.
With each second, each step towards the waiting car, she tried to find reasons and more reasons to ignore her growing attraction to Sean. The number one reason to forget about the kiss they’d shared—relationships were trouble. She had plenty of other amazing things in her life, including her career, her volunteer work, and her band, even though the band rarely played anywhere because the members had trouble aligning their schedules. She didn’t need a man. Besides, he was probably still messed up over Sydney. Also, he was a regular. Or mostly regular. Not to mention he lived over a thousand miles away in Texas. She should tell him the kiss was a mistake. One look at him and she couldn’t bring herself to say the words. The kiss they shared had been anything but a mistake.