Bossman by Vi Keeland

Chapter 15

Reese

The office wasn’t the same when Chase wasn’t there. Sure, I was busy and had enough work to do for a month—work that I loved doing—but the anticipation of seeing him throughout the day was missing. He’d only been gone two days on his business trip, but I’d missed him since day one.

I was up to my eyeballs in drafting presentations for an eventual focus group—a cross-section of women who we would try out some branding slogans and product-packaging mockups on—when my phone buzzed late on Thursday. Seeing Chase’s name made me smile.

Chase: Miss me?

I did, but he certainly didn’t need any encouragement.

Reese: Did you go somewhere?

Chase: Cute.

Reese: I thought so.

Chase: I’ve been thinking about our little deal.

Reese: What deal? I don’t recall agreeing to anything.

Chase: Exactly. Which is why we need a sit-down. To negotiate our terms.

The man made caterpillars turn into butterflies that fluttered around in my stomach. I leaned back in my seat and rotated so the back of my chair was facing my open office door. It was late, and there were only a few people still milling around the floor, but I sought privacy as I typed with a smile.

Reese: Terms? Are we discussing a business deal?

I slipped my right shoe off and dangled it from my toe as I watched the three little dots jump around. It was pitiful that I was growing antsy waiting.

Chase: Is spending time in my bed still off limits because I’m your boss?

Reese: It is.

Chase: Then I want time outside of the bedroom.

Reese: I see you at the office all the time.

Chase: I want more.

My heart did a pathetic pitter-patter. I want more, too.

Reese: More how?

Chase: I think this requires a face-to-face, sit-down conversation.

Reese: Like a date?

Chase: Don’t think of it as a date. Think of it as a business meeting where we negotiate terms that lead to full performance of the contract in the future.

Reese: And that full performance would be…

I nearly fell over in my seat, hearing Chase’s voice behind me. “You in my bed, of course.”

I whipped my chair around. “I thought you were away until tomorrow.”

“Came back early. Had some pressing business.”

“How long have you been standing there?”

“Not long.” He pointed to the window. “But I could see your reflection in the glass, and I liked watching your face as you texted.”

“Voyeur.”

“If I can’t have, I’m not above watching. Is that an offer?”

Chase looked like he hadn’t shaved in a day or two. I wondered what that stubble would feel like rubbing against my cheek…and against the inside of my thighs. His tie was loose, his suit jacket draped over one arm, and his shirtsleeves were rolled up, revealing muscular forearms. I definitely had a thing for forearms. When I finally pulled my gaze back up to his eyes, he looked pleased at my being flustered.

“What did you ask?” I managed.

With a knowing grin, he said, “How about dinner? Did you eat yet?”

I picked up the protein bar on my desk that I hadn’t gotten around to. “Not yet.”

He tilted his head toward the hallway. “Come on, let me buy you some dinner. I can’t have my employees working twelve hours a day and starving.”

When I didn’t immediately agree, he sighed. “It’s not a date. We’re sharing a meal. Business associates do it all the time.”

I pulled my purse out of the drawer and pressed the button to put my laptop to sleep. “Okay. But this isn’t a date.”

“Of course not.”

“All right then.”

He winked. “It’s a negotiation.”

Apparently, I’d decided to take this negotiation thing very seriously, because I didn’t even wait until we got to the elevator before I started being difficult.

“Have you ever been to Gotham in Union Square?” Chase asked.

“That’s a date place. Too romantic. How about Legends in Midtown?”

“Do we have to eat at a dive bar for it to not qualify as a date? We’ll go to Elm Café, down the block.”

“Bossy,” I said under my breath.

Because it was after regular building hours, we rode the service elevator down to the back entrance and exited the building on 73rd Street. Elm Café was only two blocks away.

Of course, when we passed by Iron Horse Gym, Bryant happened to be walking toward the door at that very moment. Because that was just my luck.

He looked at me, then at the man standing next to me, and stopped.

“Reese. Hey. Are you coming to Iron Horse?”

I wasn’t sure if it was just me, or if everyone felt awkward. Perhaps it was guilt over running into my recent ex while standing next to my current…something. “Umm…no. We were just heading down the street to grab a bite to eat. You remember Chase?”

Bryant extended his hand. “Cousin, right?”

“Second cousin,” Chase shook. “By marriage. We’re not blood related.”

Of course Bryant didn’t understand the insinuation. But I did.

“Yes,” I gave Chase the evil eye. “Second cousin Chase.”

Bryant looked like he was going to say something, but changed his mind. “Well…I’m going to hit the gym. Guess I’ll see you around?”

“Sure. Take care, Bryant.”

Surprising me, Chase didn’t question the odd exchange or my status with Bryant as we continued on to the restaurant. In fact, he was relatively quiet while we walked the block and a half.

Once we arrived at Elm Café, he asked for a table for two, then added, “Something quiet and romantic, if you have it.”

The host sat us at a table off in the corner, and Chase pulled out my chair.

“Is this table romantic enough for you?” I asked sarcastically.

He sat. “I’ll just have to tell you all the things I’d like to do to you to make up for the lack of romance in the setting.”

I swallowed my sarcastic comeback, knowing better than to challenge him. If I was truly going to keep this a platonic relationship, it was best to limit the visuals. I was pretty good at imagining what I’d like him to do to me on my own. If I heard it from him—well, a girl has only so much willpower.

Luckily the waitress came over to take our drink order.

“I’ll have a Jack and Coke, and she’ll have a Peppermint Schnapps martini.”

I glared at him and spoke to the waitress. “She’ll just take a water. Thank you.”

When the waitress walked away, Chase was grinning. “What? It worked at the office Christmas party. Can’t blame me for trying.”

“I think rule number one is I’ll be staying sober if we’re alone.”

“Can’t trust yourself, huh?”

Totally. “You’re so full of yourself.”

After the waitress brought our drinks, Chase wasted no time telling me what had been on his mind the last few days.

“So sleeping with me is off the table, but what about sharing a meal occasionally?”

“You mean like dating?”

“No. You said dating was off the table, too.”

“So what would be the difference between sharing a meal and dating, then?”

“You wouldn’t come home with me after the meal.”

I laughed. “You say that as if all of your dates end up going home with you.”

He gave me a look that didn’t need to be accompanied by words.

Of course they all do. What am I thinking?

“God, you’re an ass.” I rolled my eyes.

“Is that a yes to twice-weekly meals together?”

“Do you have meals with all of your employees?”

“Does that matter?”

“It does, yes.”

“Well, I have dinner with Sam occasionally.”

I leaned back in my chair and folded my arms over my chest. “But not twice weekly.”

“No. Not that often.”

“Well, then I’m not sure it would be appropriate. We should probably stick to no more than what you do with other employees.”

Chase squinted, then gave me a sly grin and held up one finger. He proceeded to whip out his phone and make a call. I listened to half the conversation.

“Sam, can you have dinner with me twice a week?…Does it matter what it’s for?…Okay, then. I want to run things by you for the new rebranding campaign. I like your perspective….” He sighed. “Yes, fine. But we’ll order in on the night we eat at your place. I almost choked on that dry-as-shit chicken you forced me to eat last time.”

I couldn’t make out everything, but I heard Sam’s voice rise and a string of words yelled through the phone. When she took a breath, Chase forced the end of the conversation.

“Whatever you want. ’Night, Sam.” He looked delighted with himself when he hung up. “Yes, I do have twice-weekly dinners with other employees.”

I was in the mood to screw with him some more. “That’s different. Sam is your friend outside of the office. You two have been friends longer than she’s worked for you.”

“And we’ve known each other since you bled all over me in middle school.”

“I think you’re a little insane.”

“I’m starting to agree with you.” He sipped his Jack and Coke.

Chase’s cell phone buzzed, and a photo of a woman flashed on the screen. I saw it, and Chase knew I did.

“You can take it,” I told him. “I don’t mind.”

He hit reject, and then locked eyes with me. “That brings me to my next negotiation point.”

“There’s more? Maybe I should be having something stronger than water after all.”

Chase extended his Jack and Coke to me. I took it and sipped.

“I take it from the exchange you just had with Becker that you’re no longer a couple.”

“We weren’t really ever a couple. But yes, you’re correct. Bryant and I aren’t dating anymore.”

“He looked wounded. Did you tell him you were hot for your cousin/boss when you broke his heart?”

“Is there a point you’re trying to make buried under all the self-adulation?”

“There is. One of the things I had planned to negotiate in our deal was that you would break it off with Bryant.”

He’d taken the Jack and Coke back from me, and I swiped it from his hands again.

Bringing it to my lips, I said, “And he finally gets the name correct.”

Chase, of course, ignored me. “So we have an understanding, then? Until you quit or get fired—or sooner if you break—you won’t be dating other men.”

“And I won’t be dating you, so basically I’ll be dateless and abstinent?”

“I’m sure you have a vibrator. If not, I’ll pick one up for you.”

“You’ll go to the store and buy me a vibrator?” I asked incredulously.

Chase abruptly grabbed our shared Jack and Coke from my hand and gulped down the remainder.

His voice was a groan. “I’m jealous of a goddamn vibrator now.”

The strain in his voice made me feel empowered. It also gave me confidence to share things I might not normally have shared.

“Nothing to be jealous about.” I leaned in. “My vibrator and I have already enjoyed a vivid three-way with you.”

The look on Chase’s face was priceless. I’d made his jaw go slack. The waitress was a few tables over, and he raised his hand to get her attention.

When she arrived at our table, he said, “Can we get a double Jack and Coke and two Peppermint Schnapps martinis, please?”

We spent the next two hours laughing and sharing drinks. In between, we set some ground rules. We’d have a meal together twice a week, outside of the office, but not in an overtly romantic place. Thanks to me, he’d also be sharing frequent meals with Sam in the upcoming months. Neither of us would be dating anyone else, and there would be no kissing or fooling around of any kind. If and when my tenure at Parker Industries ended, we’d give a real date a try and see where things led. In the office, we’d never refer to any private time we spent together outside of the office, and he would show me zero favoritism.

That last part I was passionate about. The entire reason for denying my attraction to Chase was to keep things professional in the office. There was no way I wanted anyone to even think there was something going on between us.

With the basics established, it had only taken me two hours to break my self-imposed inebriation ban. I was not off to a good start, yet I was feeling good (and tipsy) by the time we got up to leave.

“So how do we do this?” I asked. “How do we end our evenings together?”

“Fuck if I know. We’ve already established the way my evenings generally conclude.” Chase steered me out of the restaurant with his hand on my lower back. As we walked onto the street, his hand dipped lower.

“Ummm…your hand is on my ass.”

His eyes gleamed. “Is it? It must have a mind of its own.”

He didn’t move it, though, even while he hailed a cab. When one pulled to the curb, he informed me we would be sharing it.

“We’ll drop you first, so I can make sure you get in safely.”

“I’m perfectly capable of getting home myself.”

“I’ve bent on everything you asked, but taking you home at night isn’t negotiable.”

I really loved his chivalry; it was myself I didn’t trust. Chase held the cab door open and waited. Before slipping inside, I turned to face him and stepped into his personal space.

“Okay. I’ll give you that. But you need to promise me something in return.”

“And that is?”

“That even if I beg, you won’t come inside.”

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