A brand new enemies-to-lovers holiday romance is available now from Winter Renshaw, and I have a sneak peek for you.
There’s something cliché about a suited executive carrying two dozen glazed Krispy Kremes into an office on a Monday morning, but it is what it is. I’ve never met ten out of eleven of the employees here, and I’m sure they’re all on edge. I figured I’d start the day with a quick meeting and a sugar high and go from there.
“Reed?” A man with thinning hair and smiling eyes appears from an office doorway.
“Harold Coffey. Nice to finally meet you in person.” He extends his right hand, and I move the boxes to my left arm, meeting his handshake with the kind of firmness that lets him know I’m in charge here … just in case he’s one of those asses with the big heads who think they run the show just because they’ve got the words “branch manager” in their title.
“Good to meet you as well. Point me to the conference room?” I ask.
It’s early, about a half hour before most of the staff gets here, but I wanted to get a head start on setting up for the meeting.
And I wanted to be here before Joa got in.
“Right this way.” Harold takes the donuts and leads me down a hall, flicking on lights in the process. When we get to the end, he retrieves a set of keys from his pocket and impressively jams one into the lock with a single hand. “Here we are.”
The room is small. A ten-foot table with maybe twelve chairs centers the space, and a wall of windows provides a gray cityscape view clouded with fog and an even grayer sky.
I can’t believe she traded palm trees for this shit.
Sliding my leather messenger bag down my arm, I place it on the table and take a seat at the head.
“I’ll just work from here, if you don’t mind,” I tell Harold.
“Of course. We’ve got a spare office if you’d like that too, but wherever you’re comfortable is fine.” He smiles. In fact, I don’t think he’s stopped smiling since I got here. It’s not natural to smile that much. I don’t care who you are, no one is that happy all of the time.
I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to nerves.
Everyone gets nervous when one of the big dogs comes to town. The New York branch is the worst. They walk around all stiff-shouldered and shifty-eyed, their demeanors instantly on the defense like I’m the jerk who dared show up at one of the branches whose finances I oversee.
“I’ll let you do your thing,” Harold says, his fingertips tapping together as he lingers in the doorway of the conference room. “Everyone should be in around eight. I’ll send them down here shortly after that and we can get started.”
He messes with his tie for a second before flashing another smile and leaving.
And he should be nervous.
I’m not here for a friendly hello. I’m here because shit’s about to hit the fan. But until I get the green light, I’m not at liberty to discuss that with anyone here. And in the meantime, I’ll get this quick meet-and-greet over with, do my thing, and go from there.
I glance up and find an older woman with salt-and-pepper hair and a magenta sweater standing in the doorway.
“I’m Pam. You must be Mr. York?” she asks as she shuffles in, a yellow pad and gel pen in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other.
I check my watch.
“I always get here early,” she says with a chuckle. “I like to put a pot of coffee on so it’s fresh when everyone else gets in.”
She’s got the Midwestern, nice-for-no-reason thing going on, and I can appreciate that—as long as she doesn’t dawdle and waste my time with unnecessary small talk.
“Very thoughtful of you,” I say, turning my attention to my email.
“Would you like me to make you a cup?” she asks.
I want to like you.
Please let me like you …
I glance up and make myself offer a tight smile. Small talk has never been my thing, but I know she’s simply trying to be hospitable. “No thank you.”
She settles into her chair, flipping her notebook to a clean page when two more ladies walk in, followed by a fresh-faced kid in a too-big suit. Two more suits walk in. Harold returns. Another woman. I count them all. Seven. We’re missing three more plus Joa.
My throat constricts just enough for me to notice. I swear it’s grown a little warmer in here in the last few minutes.
Two more women enter the room, napkins and paper plates in hand. One of them carries a carton of orange juice and a stack of cups. Do they just have that stuff lying around?
Another man walks in, dressed in gray slacks and a purple sweater.
That leaves Joa.
Of course she’s taking her sweet time. She’s probably doing it on purpose just to torture me, that little minx.
I smirk to myself, chin tucked, then I glance up.
And just like that … she’s ten feet in front of me, lingering in the doorway of the now-filled conference room. A notebook is clutched against her chest, a pen in her fist. Her baby blues scan the room in search of an empty seat, and when she realizes the only one left is the one to my right, she releases a little sigh no one seems to notice but me.
I rise, extending my hand toward the chair. “Joa, good to see you again. It’s been a while.”
All eyes are on the two of us.
Her stone-cold stare holds mine and in that short span of a few endless seconds, it feels like there’s so much that needs to be said, but she clears her throat, slides her hands under her skirt, and takes a seat next to me.
The sweet scent of her perfume fills the air around us and my cock throbs, like a fucking Pavlovian dog that’s been classically conditioned.
Taking my seat again, I rest my elbows on the table, the cuff of my suit coat pulling back just enough to expose the charcoal leather band and shiny platinum face of my Burberry watch.
From the corner of my eye, I feel the drift of her gaze and watch the way her thumb presses against the ballpoint pen in her right hand.
I knew she’d notice. She always did have a penchant for detail.
Pretending I’m oblivious, I smooth my hand along my tie—the one from our first time. The one I used to tie her wrists more times than I can count.
“Now that Ms. Jolivet has made her arrival, we can begin.” I don’t look at her this time, but I can almost feel her shooting daggers my way. “Forgive me for being all kinds of cliché today, but if you could just go around the table and introduce yourselves, that’d be great. And please help yourself to a donut if you haven’t yet.”
Joa leans back in her chair, long legs crossed, and a scrutinizing glare pointed at me.
I deserve that.
“Why don’t we start with you?” I ask the blonde with the thick glasses seated across from Joa.
“Lucy Clarke, Accounts Receivable,” she says before the next one takes her turn.
And back to Joa.
“All right. Thanks everyone,” I say. “I know you’re all wondering what I’m doing here and why I came on such short notice.”
The room is so quiet I can hear the woman beside me swallow the lump in her throat before reaching for a glass of orange juice.
“I’ve been tasked with performing an end-of-year audit on a few of our accounts, and in doing so, I’m going to be pulling a few of you aside for some questions.” I try to keep it as brief and to the point as I can. Panic isn’t going to help anything, nor will it change the outcome of the investigation. “I’d very much appreciate it if you would all carry on as per usual in the meantime.”
Harold wipes his pudgy fingers on a napkin before messing with his tie. He’s the only one who can’t seem to sit still out of this entire group. I can’t be certain, but from this end of the table it almost looks like he’s beginning to sweat, then again, it is rather warm and we’re in a bit of a confined space.
“I’ll be working from the conference room this week,” I say, “if anyone needs me. Otherwise, you’re all free to go.”
“That’s it?” Someone—Kennedy maybe—blurts out from down the line.
“Excuse me?” I ask.
“You came out here last minute during the week of Christmas just to audit some accounts?” The woman gathers her things, shaking her head. “I’m sorry, Mr. York. You seriously can’t expect us to carry on as per usual when something is clearly going on behind the scenes. If our jobs are on the line, you owe it to us to tell us right now.”
My jaw tightens. She has a point, but I’m not in a position to speak on this just yet or to veer too far from my script. Foolishly, I’d hoped that these people would be so caught up in their pre-holiday busy-ness that they’d hope for the best and leave the questions to a minimum.
“Are we closing down?” someone else asks.
“We had record numbers last quarter. There’s no way,” one of the suits adds.
“Is this because we lost the Hyperion account?” another woman asks.
I place my palm up. “Everyone, if you could please return to your offices and get to work, I can begin my audit. The sooner I’m finished, the sooner we’ll know—”
“—the sooner we’ll know if we’re all being canned,” someone else finishes my sentence.
Scanning the room, I run a quick head count. We’re down to nine. A quick glance to my left and I realize Joa’s missing. She must have snuck out the moment I dismissed everyone. But who’s the other one?
“Everyone, if you don’t mind, I’d like to get started.” I walk to the door, hoping the herd will follow. It takes a few seconds, and I get a handful of curious looks, but eventually they shuffle out into the hall and scatter to their offices.
Returning to the table, I lift the lid of my laptop and take care of a handful of emails, a Monday morning report for the senior leadership team, and hop on a Zoom call with New York. By the time I’m finished, it’s nearly noon—the past three hours gone, just like that.
Getting up, I stretch my legs and go for a walk around the office. I’ve never seen such a diligent and hardworking crew. No one’s socializing. No one’s hanging out by the coffee maker. Everyone’s got their eyes glued to their computer screens and their fingers pecking away at their keyboards.
They must take me for a moron if they think I’m going to believe this is how it always is, but honestly, I couldn’t care less. It’s not why I’m here and I’m certainly not an executive babysitter, so they can stop with the act. It isn’t fooling anyone.
“Excuse me,” I say when I get to the lady with the purple sweater. She’s seated at the front desk, sorting mail and paperclipping bundles together. “Pam? Is it?”
“Yes! How can I help you?”
“Could you direct me to Ms. Jolivet’s office, please?”
Her gray eyes graze my shoulder and she points. “Right behind you.”
The door is closed and the lights are off.
“But you just missed her,” Pam says.
“Do you know when you expect her back?”
Her mouth twists at the side. “It’s hard to say. It’s a client lunch, so it could be an hour or it could be a little longer. I’d be happy to come and get you the second she walks in.”
Exhaling, I knock on her desktop with my knuckles. “That’d be great. Thank you.”
All I wanted to do was offer an appropriate hello, feel her out, and ensure her that the rest of the week needn’t be tense and awkward. It might be a long shot but if I could just get her to talk to me, maybe … just maybe she’ll loosen her grip on that grudge she’s been holding onto for the past year and we can make an inkling of progress.
But I guess it’ll have to wait.
Heading back to the conference room, I peer out the window to the sidewalk three stories below, where a black Escalade is parked just outside the main entrance.
A moment later, a woman in a pencil skirt and wool coat brushes her long black hair over her shoulder and waves at someone in the car. A uniformed driver appears from the other side of the SUV, getting the rear door so a silver-fox-type in a gray trench coat over black slacks appears, wearing a smile so wide I’m sure you could see it from the International Space Station.
The woman turns for a second, pointing to the building, her lips moving.
The man laughs at whatever it was she said before narrowing the divide between them and leaning in to kiss her cheek.
Normally in our line of work, we’re the ones doing the wooing—not the other way around.
I watch the two of them climb in the backseat together, my blood beginning to simmer, and then I watch them drive away.
All this time, I’d expected her to move on.
I just didn’t think I’d ever have to see it firsthand.
“Mr. York?” Pam knocks on the conference room door.
“I was going to tell you … our office holiday party is tonight after work. It’s pretty informal. We’re just grabbing drinks at a bar down the street and exchanging gifts—though you wouldn’t need to bring anything for that—would you like to join us?” she asks.
Suffering through an office party with a bunch of strangers sounds like my idea of fresh hell, but it might be my only opportunity to corner Joa, especially if she’s had a couple of drinks and lets her guard down.
“I’d love to, Pam,” I say. “Count me in.”
Past – Reed
“Make it quick,” she whispers as we stumble into the ladies’ room at some French place in downtown LA after work.
The whole team is here. Grosvenor insisted on taking us all out for a celebratory dinner since GenCoin surpassed ten grand this week.
It’s been five days since our last hookup.
Five days too long.
Ordinarily I’m a patient man, but I couldn’t tonight, not with this off-the-shoulder number she’s wearing and that sun-kissed collarbone and the way she kept eye fucking me from the end of the table.
But it wasn’t until some asshole in a three-piece suit sent her a drink from the bar that I almost lost my cool.
Despite the fact that she’s very much not my girlfriend, the thought of anyone else so much as thinking about touching her makes me rage a little on the inside.
I managed to rein it back enough because I’m nothing if not in control of myself, and as soon as I composed myself, I sent her a quick text telling her to meet me by the bathrooms.
“Did you lock the door?” she asks.
“I’m horny, not a moron.”
“They’re going to notice we’re gone,” she says as I lift her onto the table.
“So?” I shove her dress up her thighs and slip her panties off. “Let them.”
I press my mouth against hers and her fingers lace through my hair as she kisses me back.
We finish in under five minutes—obviously a record for myself—and when we’ve made ourselves presentable, we dash out of the restroom with matching flushes on our faces, returning to the table just as they’re serving the main course.
One of the women from another department, whose name is irrelevant to me, stares with judgy eyes at Joa then to me and back. I give her a wink and she quickly looks away, clearing her throat and reaching for her water.
The details of our arrangement are none of her business, and neither are the things we do when we’re alone together.
From my end of the table, I feel a fresh set of eyes directed toward me, and I glance up just long enough to catch Joa staring, looking lost in thought almost.
A second later, she reaches for her martini glass and turns to the woman sitting next to her, attempting to pretend I didn’t just catch her in the act.
While part of me would love to know what she was thinking just then, most of me knows I’m better off letting it go.
We’ve got a good thing going.
And I intend to keep it that way for as long as humanly possible—or at least until I get sick of her or she decides she wants a relationship and shows herself the door like they always do.
What can I say? I’m a man of my word.
Besides, I suck at the whole love bullshit, and Joa deserves someone who can love her right—at least when the time comes.
For now? She’s mine.