Bossman by Vi Keeland

Chapter 12

Reese

Saturday morning, I woke up feeling anxious. Not anxious in a nervous sort of way, it was more like the type of anxious I’d get for a date I was looking forward to. Only it wasn’t a date, I was working. On a Saturday.

After going for a run to try to shake off my anticipation, I took a cool shower to clear my head. I let the water sluice over my shoulders and closed my eyes as I hummed. While humming had always been something I did to soothe myself, to soothe Owen, when I realized I was humming Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head, my eyes sprang open.

Of course they landed on one of the half-dozen Parker products that now filled my shower and bathroom. I truly could not get the man out of my mind, as he was all around me—in my thoughts, at work, in my shower. The small purple canister of Divine Scrub peeked out from behind my shampoo, catching my eye. I thought it was possible there was some deeper meaning—Divine Scrub, scrub away dead skin, scrub away thoughts of the man.

I scrubbed my body for nearly fifteen minutes, trying to rid my mind of Chase. The new body scrub supposedly not only scraped away dead skin but also included some chemical compound that regenerated new skin. When I was done and drying off, I was pissed that my skin felt incredibly soft instead of raw and cleansed of what I was trying to get rid of.

I threw a short, silky robe over my naked body, left it untied, and went to my bedroom for some lotion to rub into my new baby-soft skin. My vibrator was tucked away in the back of my nightstand where I also kept my favorite skin oil. Putting my hand on it, I considered getting myself off. Could I do that? Would it work to get Chase out of my system? Maybe that was exactly what I needed. It had been a long time since I’d been with a man. Probably close to eight months now.

I was getting myself all worked up over a good-looking man because of my pent-up sexual frustrations. Yeah, that was probably it.

But why wasn’t I desperate to chase my orgasm with thoughts of Bryant in my head? Bryant was good looking. And sweet. And nice. And wanted me. And isn’t my damn boss. Letting my robe fall open, I slipped my battery-operated man from my drawer and laid back on my bed, shutting my eyes.

Bryant. Bryant. Think of Bryant.

A vision of Chase the day I ran into him at the gym popped into my head. God, he is gorgeous.

No. What are you doing? Bryant. Think of Bryant. Bryant. Bryant. Bryant. Bryant, who bought me flowers last week for no reason other than to make me smile. Bryant, who texts me sweet little messages. Thinking of you. Hope to see you soon. How is your pussy doing? Wait. No. That last one was Chase. Who texts that sentence to a woman, even if he was talking about a cat? And why the hell do I like it when he does?

Bryant.

Chase.

Bryant.

Chase.

The soft hum of my vibrator relaxed me as I closed my eyes.

Bryant.

Bryant. Think of Bryant.

Water dripping from Chase’s hard pec.

That V. That deep, carved V.

Pierced nipple.

Stop it. Bryant.

Chase.

Bryant.

Chase.

Chase.

Chase.

Argh. I groaned, frustrated with my mind, as I lowered my hand down my body.

I needed to stop thinking about the man, rid my system of dirty thoughts of my boss. I’d tried everything else—why not try to coax him from my system? After all, at least this method was more fun.

Chase’s building was a three-story brownstone. I had assumed he’d live in a sleek highrise with a doorman, maybe even a penthouse. But when I walked down his beautiful tree-lined street, the neighborhood somehow fit him better. Nothing with that man was what I’d expect.

Steep stairs climbed from the street level up to an almost second-story entry. The front door was massive. It had to be at least fifteen feet high with thick, leaded glass and dark mahogany wood. Three buzzers lined up next to each other inside the archway of the door, but only one was labeled—Parker. I took a deep breath, buzzed, and waited.

After a few minutes, I buzzed a second time. When no one came to the door, I looked at my watch. Three minutes to eleven. I was early, but only by a hair. More time went by, and it became clear no one was home. Retreating a few steps down the stairs, I checked the house number, which was set into the back of the third-from-the-top stair. Three twenty-nine—I was definitely at the right house.

Maybe I’m hitting the wrong buzzer. I pressed the one to the right of the one marked Parker and waited some more. Still nothing. Pulling my phone from my purse, I scrolled through my emails to find the one Josh’s secretary had sent so I could double-check the address, even though I was positive it was right. I remember thinking it was a pretty big coincidence that Chase’s house number was the same as my apartment number—three twenty-nine.

Opening the email, I verified I was definitely at the right address…but then I saw the problem. The email read, Dress comfortably, come hungry, and bring only your creativity. See you at 1! Shit. I had looked at it too fast the first time and mistakenly read the one with an exclamation point as an eleven. I was two hours early. No wonder no one was here yet.

I’d made it halfway back down the stairs when I heard the clank of a lock behind me. Glancing back as the door opened, I froze mid-step at the sight of Chase wearing only a towel wrapped around his waist.

“No, really, I can go. I have errands I’ve been avoiding forever, and it was my screw up. I’m two hours early, and I’m sure you have things to do.”

Chase had insisted I come inside.

He put his hands on my shoulders. “You’re staying. I’m going to go upstairs and get dressed, and then I’ll make us something to eat.” He motioned to a huge living room off to the left. “Make yourself comfortable. I’ll be down in a few.”

I nodded and did my best not to check him out. But he was only in a towel, for God’s sake, and a girl only has so much discipline. Against my better judgment, I did a quick scan of his chest. When I caught sight of a noticeable bulge in that area of his towel, my eyes lingered, and Chase noticed.

He arched an eyebrow. “Unless you’d like me to stay this way.”

Embarrassed, I shook my head and walked into the living room to hide my blush. I thought I heard him chuckle as he went up the stairs.

While he was gone, I took the opportunity to check out the living room. There was a huge fireplace with a mantel above it. A few framed pictures were displayed, and I lifted each one to take a closer look. Chase and what must have been his parents at his college graduation—they beamed proudly, and he wore his signature messy hair and a crooked grin. There were a few other family photos and a photo of him with the mayor. But the picture on the end of the shelf stole my heart. It was a sonogram dated two weeks earlier, bearing the patient’s name Anna Parker-Flynn. He’d complained about his sister to me at happy hour, yet framed her baby-to-be photo.

Behind the couch was an alcove with the tallest windows I’d ever seen—at least nine feet in height, and they started two or three feet off the ground. The glass had colorful leaded panels, and light streamed in, beaming a kaleidoscope prism of colors across the room. Beneath the windows were built-in bookshelves. I checked out the titles—you can tell a lot about a person by what they read. Steve Jobs: American Genius, Stephen King, David Baldacci, a few classics, and…Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis by Jimmy Carter.

Huh?

Now dressed, Chase came into the room and groaned when his cell phone immediately rang. He apologized, saying he needed to take an overseas call. I really didn’t mind. I’d intruded two hours early, and snooping at glimpses of his private life was fascinating to me. He was barking at someone on the phone from the other room when I picked up an old, beat-up Gibson acoustic guitar that was leaning against the corner of the alcove.

I strummed lightly, and the sound brought back old memories. Owen and I used to have the same guitar when we were kids. Instinctively, my fingers began to press down on the chords to “Blackbird” as I strummed. It had been years since I played, yet it still flowed from my memory with ease.

When I was done, I found Chase standing in the archway, watching me. His face, which was usually easy to read, was impassive, stern almost. He just stood there, staring at me. Maybe I’d overstepped my bounds by picking it up.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have touched it.” I gently placed the guitar back where I’d found it, leaning in the corner.

“It’s fine.” He turned abruptly and walked out of the room.

I opened my mouth to call after him, but could find nothing to say.

When he came back a few minutes later, he smiled, but still wasn’t his usual flirty self. “Come on. I’ll make us a bite to eat.”

I followed him into the kitchen. The historic architecture of the brownstone had been carefully maintained, yet the entire kitchen was stocked with high-end, modern appliances and granite. Somehow the old and new blended together beautifully.

“Wow. This is amazing.” I looked up at the soaring ceilings and all the tile-work on the walls. There was an island with copper pots and pans hanging from a rack above it. Chase grabbed a pan and started taking things out of the refrigerator.

Without looking at me, he spoke. “Paul McCartney or Dave Grohl?”

He wanted to know what version I’d had in my head as I played “Blackbird.”

“Paul McCartney. Always.”

“Big Beatles fan?”

“No, actually. But my brother is. He knows every word to every song.”

Chase finally turned around. His face had softened. “Your brother who’s deaf.”

“Only one I have.”

“Do you play often?”

“It’s been years since I played. I’m kind of shocked I remembered the chords. My fingers just started playing it—probably because I played it about ten thousand times when we were kids. I only know four songs. ‘Blackbird’ was Owen’s favorite before he lost his hearing. I learned to play it for him after he’d completely lost all audio reception. He would hold the guitar and feel the vibrations and sing along.”

“That’s cool.”

“Yeah. Oddly enough, music was a big bond between us growing up. We used to play this game where I would hum songs, and he would touch my face and try to guess the song from the vibration. He was really good at it. I mean really good at it. I only had to hum a few bars, and he would know the song. Over the years, it became our secret little language—a way of communicating what I was thinking to him without anyone knowing. Like, sometimes we would go to our Aunt Sophie’s house, and she would sneak and pour gin into a coffee mug. She thought none of us knew. But after her third cup of ‘caffeine’, she would start to slur a bit. So when she called our house, I’d answer, give our mom the phone, and then hum Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’. Owen would hold my face for two seconds and then guess who was on the phone.”

Chase laughed. “That’s great.”

“Except I often still do it, and I don’t even realize. I’ll be in the middle of something and notice I’m humming a song that expresses my thoughts.”

“Well, hopefully you won’t be humming Johnny Paycheck anytime soon.”

“Johnny Paycheck?”

“Sings ‘Take this Job and Shove It’. I’d rather hear some Marvin Gaye flowing from those lips.”

“Let me guess, ‘Let’s Get it On’?”

“You know you’ll be humming it, too, huh?”

“You have a one-track mind.”

He looked at me funny, seeming almost perplexed at his own answer. “Lately, I think you’re right. Got this spitfire on my mind all the time. Her attitude is as fiery as her hair.”

I laughed it off like it was a joke, but something told me he was being honest, that he really was thinking about me all the time. Or maybe it was just wishful thinking from my own one-track mind.

“So how did your brother lose his hearing anyway? You mentioned it was an accident. Was it a sports injury or something?”

While I never liked telling the story, I figured Chase of all people would understand, considering what I’d learned about his girlfriend. I’d pretty much obsessed over what Lindsey had told me the other day. It made me wonder if the past experiences Chase and I shared were some sort of unspoken connection between us.

“When I was nine, and Owen was ten, there was a string of home break-ins in our neighborhood—mostly just burglaries while the homeowners were out. Owen and I were latchkey kids. Our parents went to work before we left for school and came home after us. They also didn’t get along, and my dad would frequently take off for a few days at a time, so the house was pretty much empty most days. One Tuesday, we had a half-day of school because the teachers were having some sort of a development conference. When we came home early, we walked into our house being robbed by two men.”

“Shit. I had no idea, Reese. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed.”

“It’s okay. I don’t talk about it much. But it’s part of who I am, part of who Owen is, for better or worse. Even though Owen was only ten, he pushed me back out the door and started screaming for help. One of the guys was holding our Xbox and used it like a bat to Owen’s head—fractured the temporal bone and severed a nerve that sent Owen to the hospital with a concussion for a few days and left permanent sensorineural hearing loss.”

“Jesus Christ. You were just kids.”

“It could have been worse—at least that’s what Owen’s always said. He was still a pretty happy kid even after he lost his hearing.”

“And you? Were you hurt at all?”

“I fell waiting for the ambulance while I was trying to take care of Owen, cut my hand on a piece of jagged metal on the broken Xbox.” I held up my right hand and showed him the faint star-shaped scar between my thumb and pointer. “Didn’t even need a stitch, healed itself.” I laughed. “It’s funny. Owen bore all the physical injuries, and he walks around pretty much carefree. I, on the other hand, walked away unscathed, yet I’m the one with a half dozen locks on her door and a compulsion for checking the backseat of my car and behind the shower curtain multiple times a day. I’m sort of afraid of my own shadow.”

“But you look in the backseat instead of not driving?”

I wasn’t sure what he was getting at. “I guess so. Yes.”

“That’s not being afraid. Being afraid is when you let fear control your life, let it stop you from doing what you want. When you’re afraid, but you look your fear in the eye and live, that’s courageous.”

And there it was again. That invisible connection I’d felt to him since the first night we met. I didn’t understand it, couldn’t explain it or see it, yet I was certain it was there. I just knew he understood me, and it made me want to understand him, too. He couldn’t have chosen anything more perfect to say.

“Thank you for saying that. I don’t know why, but it always feels like you know what I need to hear.” I scoffed. “Even when you told me I was being a bitch in that restaurant hallway, I suppose.”

Chase stared at me. “Did they catch the guys who did it?”

“Took a few months, but eventually they did. I think I slept for twenty-four hours the day after they were arrested. I had taken to sleeping on the floor in Owen’s room, and any little sound would wake me.”

“I’m sorry that happened to you.”

“Thank you.” Talking about that day always made me feel sad, but somehow, today, it felt oddly cathartic, and I was ready to move on to lighter topics. “So, you cook, huh?”

“I have a few tricks up my sleeve.”

“Let’s see what you can do, Bossman.”

Chase turned on the griddle of his big stove and tossed a few slices of whole wheat bread on to grill. He then took out the strangest combination of things…including pineapple, cream cheese, and a bag of nuts.

As he began slicing the pineapple, he smiled and extended a piece to me across the island. “Are you a picky eater?”

“Not usually. I like to experiment.”

“So you’ll let me feed you whatever I want?”

My eyebrows jumped.

“I was talking about pineapple-cream cheese-cashew surprise. But I like the way you’re thinking better.”

The flirty banter was back, and the awkwardness from the living room seemed to be behind us, though I still felt the need to address it.

I looked up at him and spoke softly. “I’m sorry about before—for picking up the guitar and helping myself to it. I shouldn’t have done that. It looked like it upset you.”

He looked away briefly. “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. It’s been collecting dust for years anyway. Someone should play it.”

“You don’t play?”

“No, I don’t.”

He offered nothing else, so I left it be.

The bizarre sandwiches he made us turned out to be delicious, and we sat in the kitchen, talking as we ate.

“This house is beautiful,” I told him. “I’ll admit, I would have guessed you more of a penthouse/highrise type than a brownstone guy before today. But seeing this, it fits you.”

“Oh yeah? I’m not really sure what that means. Is it good?”

I smiled. “It is.”

“Tell me, does Brice live in a penthouse or a brownstone?”

“Bryant. And he lives in a regular apartment building, I guess. Like me.”

“And is that the type of guy you normally go for?”

“My type seems to be more the liars, losers, and leeches. I haven’t had the best luck in my love life the last…I don’t know…dozen or so years.”

“Is that all, just a dozen years? It’s a dry spell. I’m sure it will clear up any day.”

I chuckled. “Yeah, I’m sure.”

“Tell me about Barclay. Which one is he? Liar, loser, or leech?”

I shook my head. “Bryant isn’t any of them.” Popping the last piece of the snack Chase had made into my mouth, I figured it was his turn to talk. But he didn’t. Instead he watched me chew and waited for me to continue. “I’m pretty sure he’s a genuinely nice guy.”

“So why haven’t you slept with him yet?”

“I think you have an unhealthy obsession with my sex life. This is, like, the third time you’ve asked me about my relationship with Bryant.”

Chase shrugged. “I’m curious.”

“About my sex life?”

“Or lack thereof. Yes.”

“Why?”

“I honestly have no fucking clue.”

“Well…when was the last time you had sex?”

Chase sat back in his seat and folded his arms over his chest. “Before I met you.”

I had no idea where the conversation was going or what it meant, but every nerve in my body was excited we were having it.

“Dry spell?” I asked.

“You could say that,” he responded.

“I could say that? What kind of an answer is that? Is there anything else I could say?”

Chase leaned in. “You could say I’m waiting for the woman I really want to sleep with to become available so I can make my move.”

I swallowed. We sat in silence for a few minutes, just looking at each other. A part of me wanted to pick up the phone and break things off with Bryant, right then and there. But the other, more sane, part of me remembered that the beautiful creature sitting across the table was my boss.

“Have you ever had an office fling?” I asked, tilting my head.

I could see a million questions run through Chase’s mind. He wasn’t sure how to answer. Smartly, he settled on the truth. “I have.”

“So have I. It didn’t work out too well.”

He held my eyes, not backing down. “Shame. You know the old saying, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.” When his eyes moved from mine down to my mouth, and he licked his lips before they finally returned, I knew it was time to change the subject.

Abruptly, I stood. “How about a tour of the house?”

“Absolutely. There’s one room in particular I’d like to show you.”

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