They met as children. She was a CEO’s daughter and he was the gardener’s son. They were never quite friends, not exactly enemies, and they could never quite stop secretly kissing each other. At 18, she runs off to be an actress, but five years later, she comes back home… An all-new slow-burning romance is out now from author Kayley Loring, and I have an awesome excerpt for you.
I can hear Kate laughing outside my office door. Great. That means Lily has turned on the charm. If Kate actually likes her, I will never hear the end of it.
I quickly get up, deciding to put on my suit jacket. I don’t usually wear it in the office unless I’m meeting with new clients, but I feel the need to add an extra layer. If I’m going to be her boss, I’d better look like one the first time she sees me.
There’s a coy little knock, followed by: “Mr. Carver, I have Lily Barnes here to see you.”
I take a seat at my desk again, crack my knuckles, and prepare myself for an onslaught of sassy assholery.
The door opens, and the first thing through it is a mile-long, toned, bare, golden leg. That girl has always known how to make an entrance. I swear, everything’s moving in slow motion and I can hear “Pour Some Sugar On Me” somewhere in the background.
She’s just as lithe and languid as ever, her straight blonde hair hanging like a curtain over her face until she tosses it back and fixes me with her chestnut brown eyes. The warmth of them always surprises me. Every time.
As soon as she walks in, it’s like no time has passed at all since I last saw her. Not five years, not one day. I don’t even remember what I’ve been doing with myself all this time, other than trying to forget how stunning she is. She deactivated her social media accounts, so aside from that damn car insurance commercial that aired during the Super Bowl last year, nothing has prepared me for how soul-crushingly beautiful she is as an adult woman.
I somehow manage to stand up and cross over to just inside the doorway where she’s standing. She makes no effort to meet me halfway, of course. Maybe she’s afraid she’ll fall over in those four-inch heels.
She’s smirking at me, but I catch the flash in her eyes when they travel down my suited-up body and back up again. As I recall, the last time she saw me in a suit, we were being horny idiots at prom. But I manage to refrain from staring at her barely-buttoned-up, loose-hanging blouse and skirt that hits a few inches above the knee. You think you can knock me on my ass with that red lipstick and those four-inch heels? Think again. Things have changed. This guy is perfectly capable of keeping his lips and hands off you, Lily Barnes.
I shake her hand and give her a nod. “Miss Barnes.”
“Well, hello.” Her honeyed voice oozes a little less sarcasm than the last time I heard it. “Nice to see you again, Mr. Carver.”
“You can call me Wes.”
“Fantastic. I like hearing you call me Miss Barnes, though.” She tilts her head and slow-blinks at me, still a devious little flirt.
“We aren’t usually quite so formal around here, I’m afraid.”
“Well that’s a shame. I’ve always thought you look awfully nice in a suit.”
Kate stands behind her, pointing at Lily and animatedly mouthing the words, Oh. My. God! She’s gorgeous! You need to tap that!
“Thank you, Kate. You can hold my calls, unless Jacobi gets back to us.”
“Total privacy—you got it!” She winks.
“See you in a bit, Kate. Thanks,” Lily says over her shoulder.
“Have fun, doll.”
Doll? Kate doesn’t call people doll. She gives me an exaggerated wink as she exits and shuts the door.
“C’est vraiment bien de te voir. Ça va, monsieur?” she asks, sounding like a French native. I suppose it’s easier for her to tell me it’s good to see me in a foreign language.
When she was fourteen, she would sometimes help me out with my French studies—which was not at all humiliating, given that I was two years ahead of her.
“Ça va bien, merci, et toi?”
“Pas mal. Merci.”
“Ah, bien. Où est la discothèque?” And that’s about the extent of my spoken French at this point.
She laughs. A real laugh. I’ve always loved how her face is transformed when she laughs. It’s like watching a stone skip across the surface of a lake. Sudden flutters of genuine joy rippling across that carefully cultivated mask of indifference. I’ve seen beneath the mask, and it’s a bottomless, beautiful mess.
But I can’t think about that.
I take a deep breath—which is a mistake. She smells like a woman now. The fruity, flowery essence of her youth has been replaced by something mysterious and musky and devastating. I step away from her, retreating to the safety of my desk as she slowly takes inventory of my sizable office.
“Nice place you got here.”
“Thanks. Have a seat.” I gesture toward the chairs that face my desk.
“Don’t mind if I do.” She takes her sweet time strolling over. I brace myself as she leans forward a little more than necessary while lowering her ass to the chair and drops her handbag to the floor. She says nothing more, just looks at me with her sculpted eyebrows raised, waiting for me to speak.
“Well, it’s not ideal, but I am looking forward to this new chapter of my life, to learning new skills and getting to know more about this industry and my family’s business.” She folds her hands in her lap.
“Sure. That doesn’t sound like bullshit at all.”
She rolls her eyes. “Believe it or not, Wes, I am a professional.”
“Believe it or not, Lily, so am I.”
“You’ve certainly managed to convince my father of that,” she mutters under her breath.
I decide to let it slide. I’m sure this is more difficult for her than it is for me. “So, you’re back.”
“And you’re still a genius.” Her voice is more playful than sarcastic now, and she can’t stop smiling, no matter how hard she tries. We’ll see how long that lasts.
I lean back in my chair and clasp my hands behind my head. “It’s funny… I thought I saw you once, on Main Street, around Christmas last year.”
“Oh yeah? Wasn’t me. This is the first time I’ve been back since I left.”
“Well, I can see now that the woman I saw was…rounder. And angrier.”
She rubs her soft ruby red lips together, re-crossing her legs. “Uh-huh. You saw a round, angry woman and assumed it was me?”
“I mean, she was wearing a heavy coat. And she seemed annoyed that she had to do Christmas shopping. And I hadn’t seen you in years.”
She twists her lips to one side, staring at me, refraining from saying something—who knows what.
I decide to fill the silence with a little white lie. “I didn’t expect you to move back. Ever. Did the acting thing not work out?”
She snaps, as I knew she would. “It worked out just fine. I’m a good actor. I’m just bad at being an actress. There’s a difference.”
“You don’t have to tell me you’re a good actor.” After her mother passed, my dad, Vicky the housekeeper, and I used to go see her in her school plays and musicals. Her father never did, and that stung her. But for all the things I’ve never said to her, I would always tell her how good she was on stage. She is talented. She’s infinitely watchable. She was more real when she was acting on stage than she was in her day-to-day life.
She once told me that she loves acting because it’s easier for her to be herself when she’s allowed to be someone else.
“I’ve always told you you’re a genius on stage,” I say.
She nods, acknowledging that small truth.
But I can’t help but smirk and push her on the subject, just a little bit. “You’re not good at taking direction, though, is what you’re saying?”
“I’m great at taking direction,” she says. “I’m just not good at sucking up to assholes simply because they’re in a position to give me a job. I’m not good at schmoozing or keeping in touch with people either, unfortunately.”
“No, you’re not. That is unfortunate,” I say as I stroke my chin. “Sucking up and schmoozing and keeping in touch with people is very necessary in the commercial real estate business. This might not be a good fit for you either.”
“I will make this work.” Her nostrils flare. “If I want this to be a good fit, Mr. Carver, I will stretch my boundaries to accommodate you and do whatever it takes to make it a good fit.” She stares at me hard, her expression and tone caught somewhere between fuck you and fuck me, and—fuck this… She is definitely not a kid anymore, and this is not going to work.