Bossman by Vi Keeland

Chapter 33

Reese

I stared at my screen. It was the first time in more than two weeks that I’d seen or heard a word from Chase, and he’d picked my last day at work to reappear.

Can you come by my office around noon, please?

I read that one stupid line over and over. Each time, I became more and more irate. I’d started my ridiculous mourning over the loss of Chase as soon as he dumped me. Lucky for him, I was stuck at stage two: angry.

Today was my last day. I had nothing left to lose. So I typed back.

Screw you.

It made me feel a lot better. It also made me want to eat. Grabbing my bag from the desk drawer, I slammed it shut and headed to Travis’s office. “Still want to take me out to lunch for my last day?”

“Fuck, yeah.”

“We’re taking Lindsey, too. It’s not a date.”

He stood. “It’s a pre-date. As soon as you see how charming I am outside of the office, you’ll give in.”

I pretended to want to invite Abbey, Chase’s secretary, just so I had an excuse to strut past the boss’s office, even though I already knew she wasn’t in today. The blinds were wide open as we passed. I was dying to look inside, but I wouldn’t give Chase the satisfaction. I wasn’t even sure he was in there until Travis and I were almost at Abbey’s empty desk, and the bossman’s deep voice stopped me in my tracks.

“Reese.”

I closed my eyes, dreading turning around. But there was no way I was making a scene. I wouldn’t stoop to that level. I’d made my mistake of getting involved with someone from my job again, but I’d at least go out with my head held high in front of my peers.

Mustering up all the professionalism I could, I turned. “Yes?”

What I found broke down the wall I’d built around my heart. Chase looked absolutely terrible. His normally tanned skin was sallow, and his face was sunken. He had dark circles under his eyes, and he looked…sad. I had to stop myself from walking back to him—my immediate reaction was to want to offer him comfort. Then I remembered. Where had he been to offer me comfort the last few weeks when I was hurting? Still, it went against my nature to kick someone when he was down.

“Can we speak a moment?” He tilted his head toward his office door.

I looked at Travis standing next to me and then back at Chase. “We have plans for lunch. Can it wait until I get back?”

He nodded, looking forlorn. “Sure.”

Our eyes locked for a few seconds, and I forced myself to look away. “Ready, Trav?”

Over lunch, the boss’s return was the topic of conversation.

Lindsey started with the gossip. “Did you see Chase is back? He looks like he got run over by a freight train.”

Travis responded. “He looks like he’s sick or something.”

I’d told Travis that Chase was just kidding around when he’d kissed me that day in the break room, and we were actually just old friends. He seemed to believe it.

Two weeks ago, an office memo had come out saying Chase would be traveling on unexpected business for an unknown amount of time. He could have just been exhausted from travel, but it looked like more than that to me. Maybe he was sick. Oh God. The thought made me feel ill.

Throughout the rest of lunch, Travis and Lindsey chatted away, but I couldn’t get the picture of Chase out of my head enough to enjoy myself. What if he was sick? Maybe he’d broken things off to spare my feelings. What was it exactly he’d said to me?

“I’m not the right man for you.”

It was so vague and detached. Thinking back, it was the ambiguous blow-off that really made our breakup hurt. While I’d fallen hard for him, he hadn’t even given me enough consideration to fully explain what had changed. Because we work together had seemed like a cop-out right from the start. He’d certainly never accepted it from me.

It had been more than two weeks, but the pain in my chest was back with a vengeance. I tried to shake it off on the way back to the office after lunch, but it was no use. Knowing how I was, how obsessive I could be, I decided I needed to see Chase one last time before I left today. Maybe he’d have the answers I’d been searching for.

The blinds were drawn on his office as I approached. Remembering what had happened the last time I was inside with the blinds concealing us, I considered turning around rather than facing him again. Unfortunately, Chase walked out and caught me in the hall before I could change my path.

Again, I froze.

He stared at me and seemed to know I was struggling. “Please. Just give me a few minutes.”

Giving in, I walked past him and into his office. He shut the door behind me and locked it.

“I don’t think it’s necessary to lock it. Anymore.”

Chase’s voice was quiet. “That’s not what I was doing. I just wanted some privacy so we could talk. Sam tends to barge in.”

I stood in the middle of his office awkwardly. The thought of settling in and making myself comfortable was terribly distressing. Chase walked to the seating area, rather than to his desk.

When he turned around and realized I was just standing in the middle of his large office, he called to me. “Reese.”

“Don’t say my name.” I have no idea why, but it bugged me. Probably because I liked the way it sounded coming from his mouth, and I didn’t want to like anything about him.

He stared at me. “Okay. Would you please come sit for a few minutes? I won’t say your name.”

Begrudgingly, I sat. It was childish, but I wouldn’t look at him. Even when he cleared his throat, I stared at my nails, pretending I was interested in them.

“I don’t want you to leave. You’re good at your job, and you were happy here.”

“Were being the key word in that statement. Notice the tense there. It makes all the difference.”

“I can’t take back what happened between us. I wish I could so I wouldn’t have hurt you.”

It felt like he’d slapped me. He wished we’d never happened?

“Screw you.”

“What did I say? I was just trying to apologize.”

“I don’t want your apology. Nor do I want to hear about your regret over me.”

“I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Whatever.” I waved my hand. “Are we done?”

“I meant I regret hurting you. Not that I regret us being together.”

“Are you done?”

He sighed. “Can you look at me? Just for a minute.”

I pulled together every ounce of my anger and stared daggers at him. But seeing him look the way he did, I broke within five seconds.

My eyes softened, along with my voice. “Are you sick?”

He shook his head and whispered, “No.”

“Then what is it?” I hated the desperation in my voice. Hated that all it took was one pitiful look from him, and I turned soft.

He stared into my eyes for the longest time. There was so much emotion swirling around in his, so much heartbreak and pain. Yet I could have sworn there was something more…the same something I felt for him deep down inside. The man still had my heart, even though it now lay in his hands, broken.

The more he stared, the more I saw inside of him, and the more it grew inside me again.

Hope.

I’d given it up. Yet somehow it found its way back.

Talk to me, Chase. Tell me what’s going on.

Hope. It’s an amazing thing. It grows inside of you like a vine and wraps around your heart, making it warm.

Until someone stomps on it. Then that vine tightens its hold until the blood can no longer pump through, and your heart quickly dies.

Chase looked away when he finally spoke. “I’m not the man for you.” Abruptly, he stood. His voice changed to cold and distant. “But you should stay. I know your job means a lot to you.”

Tears were starting to build, and I felt the burn of salt down my nasal passages as I swallowed them back down. I needed to get out of there.

“Go screw yourself.” His office door slammed back against the wall in my wake.

Packing up an office I’d settled in to less than two months ago wasn’t hard. All of my personal belongings fit in my purse. I made my rounds, saying goodbye to the people I’d become friends with. I’d told everyone another opportunity had come along that I couldn’t pass up. Josh had asked questions, and I’d told him I was going to start my own business with someone I used to work with. It was easier to explain than why I was leaving with no job lined up.

I’d almost made it to the lobby door when Sam caught me. “Reese? You have a minute?”

“Ummm…sure.”

She motioned for me to step into a conference room and shut the door behind us. “I have a lot of connections. If there’s anything I can do to help you find something new…”

I hadn’t told her anything different than I’d told everyone else. Yet she seemed to know I wasn’t leaving to start my own business. I assumed Chase had said something to her.

“Thank you.”

She hesitated, then looked me in the eye. “He cares about you. I know he does.”

“He has a funny way of showing it.”

“I know. He’s just hurting right now.”

“Why?”

Sam looked sad. “It’s not my place to share. But I thought it was important to let you know. Being with you was the first time I’ve seen him happy in years. I had hope.”

So did I.

“You’re a good friend to him,” I said. “I know that. And I’m glad he has you if he’s hurting. But if he can’t even share why he’s hurting with me, I can’t stick around.”

Sam nodded, understanding. She pulled me in for a hug. “I mean it. If you need anything at all, you have my number.”

“Thanks, Sam.” I swallowed. “Take good care of Chase.”

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