Chase wasn’t exactly good at following the script.
The next day we traveled to the office together early, as had become our habit lately. Only this time, after picking up our coffee, we rode the elevator together up to Parker Industries. I was acutely aware of his hand on my back as we exited. Even though it felt comfortable and natural to have him touching me, doing it in the office felt strange. And it wasn’t a monumental gesture, by any means. In fact, this morning we’d discussed that we were going to avoid any public displays of affection until after I spoke to Josh. So I was pretty sure Chase wasn’t doing it intentionally.
I owed my boss a certain amount of respect and wanted to let him know what was going on before Chase and I completely came out of the closet, so to speak. The plan was that I would talk to Josh this morning, and then Chase and I would go out to lunch together alone. We could be touchy-friendly, in a way more than a typical boss-employee relationship, but there would be no statement PDA. Or so I thought.
After I’d settled into my office, Travis found me in the break room making my oatmeal for breakfast.
“Morning, sexy,” he flirted.
I opened the microwave, removed my bowl, and stirred the oats. “Hi, Travis.”
“When are you going to let me make you breakfast?”
I extended the bowl in his direction. “You want to stir my Quaker Oats?”
“At my place. The morning after. I make a mean eggs over easy.”
“I think your pickup lines need some work.”
Travis leaned his hip against the counter next to me. “Oh yeah? Tell me what you like. I’ll work on my game.”
“Well, for starters, we don’t like you to assume we want to have sex with you. So opening with a line regarding the morning after is definitely a no-no.”
“So what’s a good opening line?”
“How about something real? Complimenting something you actually like about the person.”
Travis’s eyes dropped to my breasts, and he grinned. “I can do that.”
I rolled my eyes. “No. Not like that. A compliment of a non-sexual nature.”
“That doesn’t leave me with many body parts.” He looked me up and down, then pushed off the counter and stood tall. “Your toes always match your outfit. I like that.”
“Very good. Shows you’re paying attention to details and doesn’t make you sound like a pervert right off the bat.”
“Got it. So I’ll leave off that I really want to suck on them.”
Of course, Chase walked in right at that moment. From the look on his face, I gathered he’d caught at least the last part of Travis’s sentence. “I really want to suck on them.”
“Travis…” Chase warned.
Travis raised his hands in surrender. “I know, I know…no fraternization.”
Chase grabbed two bottles of water from the refrigerator. “Actually, we’re rewriting that policy.”
“Really? Have I mentioned how much I love working here?” Travis mused.
Chase’s eyes narrowed on Travis as he walked to me, offering a bottle of cold water. I took it, but Chase didn’t let go as he spoke to Travis while looking at me.
“If you love working here so much, perhaps you should spend more time working and less time harassing women who are taken.”
“Taken? Who’s taken?” Travis muttered.
Rather than answer his question, Chase leaned in and kissed me on the lips. With a cheeky grin, he added, “Twelve for lunch good, Buttercup?”
So much for subtlety and avoiding PDAs.
I had thought Sam would be the person who wouldn’t take the news well. I wasn’t expecting it to be Josh.
“This puts me in a very uncomfortable position, you realize.” He looked at me sternly.
“I’m…I’m sorry. I didn’t intend for anything to happen between us. In fact, it was the last thing I wanted to happen at my new job. I really like working here. I like working for you.”
Josh sighed. “I’ve been with Parker Industries for five years. I started where you are and worked my way up. Chase is a very intelligent man. I’m sure you know that. He questions everything and has a strong hand in managing this business at every facet. It took me a long time to build a relationship of trust with him—one where he’ll rely on my expertise, even if he doesn’t necessarily agree with my direction. I won’t have you undermine that.”
I was completely shocked. “I won’t. I wouldn’t.”
He frowned. “I hope not.”
We stared at each other awkwardly. “Does Sam know?”
I nodded. “She does.”
After a few seconds, Josh nodded hesitantly. “I appreciate you coming to me at least.”
He put his reading glasses back on, signaling that our conversation was over. “Why don’t you finish compiling the focus group results, and we’ll discuss them over lunch. My assistant will order us something in.”
There was no way in the world I was going to mention that I already had lunch plans. Plans with his boss. I’d be canceling with a certain someone else.
My text letting Chase know things didn’t go as well as I expected with Josh went unanswered, as did the follow-up one I sent letting him know I needed to cancel lunch. I could see it had been read, but not even a quick K came back in response. I chalked it up to him being busy and dove into compiling the last of the data Josh and I were going to review over lunch.
It was clear that I’d damaged my relationship with my immediate boss, and it was going to take some time to repair. Although we worked together right through lunch and for hours into the afternoon, things between Josh and me felt strained. It was as if he’d put up a wall of professionalism that wasn’t there before. I hoped time would chip away at that wall once he realized I had no intention of undermining him in any way.
As we cleaned up the paperwork we’d spread all over the table in his office, Josh said, “Why don’t you update the PowerPoint with our final slogans and packaging picks and email it to me.” He caught my eye. “I’ll forward it on to Chase to take a look at.”
Just before I walked out of his office, he added, “I’d like to keep communications through the proper chain of command in the future. I spoke to Chase about it as well this morning.”
I nodded again.
Although I thought it unnecessary, I couldn’t blame him for feeling the way he did. And I was curious at how his conversation with Chase had gone this morning. Normally, I heard or saw Chase around the office a few times during the day. But his blinds and door had been closed whenever I passed by today. His absence was noticeable, and by the time the end of the day rolled around, it had started to make me feel anxious.
I waited until after the office began to empty out—after Josh, specifically, had left for the day—before making another trip down the boss’s hall. Just as I rounded the corner, Chase’s door opened, and he walked out with a woman. I’d never seen her in the office before. She was attractive, with blonde hair pulled back in a neat ponytail that worked with her business-casual look. They shook hands, and I assumed it had been some sort of a business meeting…until she put her other hand on top of their joined hands. It was a small, yet intimate gesture. She said something I couldn’t hear, and I suddenly felt like I was intruding as I walked up to them, but I couldn’t very well back up.
They both looked over at me, realizing in unison that someone else was in the hallway. My heart started to beat a little faster.
“Hi…umm…I thought I’d stop by before I left since I haven’t seen you all day.”
The woman looked back and forth between the two of us. “I better run anyway. It was good to see you, again.”
Oddly, I felt even more uncomfortable after the woman left. Yet in my internal battle between uncomfortable and curious, curiosity won out.
“Who was that?” I asked, trying to sound casual.
Instead of answering my question, Chase spoke curtly. “I have a lot of work to get back to.”
My uneasiness grew. “Okay. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, then? I guess?”
He didn’t look at me as he nodded, and I jumped at the sound of his office door slamming behind him. What the hell is going on?
I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that whatever it was, I was about to get hurt.