It was still dark outside when I arrived at Parker Industries the following Monday morning. Considering the building lights were off, and the doors were locked, I realized I might have been a tad overeager for my first day. After loitering a few minutes in front of the building, waiting for someone to show up, I decided to head over to Starbucks for some coffee. It was next door to the restaurant where I’d first met Chase.
While it seemed no one was ready to go to work yet, there was a hell of a long line for coffee. I joined the brigade at the back of the line like a good little soldier and proceeded to catch up with reading emails on my phone. A hand at my back startled me, but it was the voice whispering over my shoulder that sent a shiver down my spine. “Am I the background on your iPhone, too?”
I jumped. “You scared the shit out of me.”
“Sorry. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sneak a peek. Figured since I’m your laptop background and all, the obsession might run pretty deep.”
I turned and held out my phone. “I can see the similarities, but the photo is definitely not you.”
Chase took the phone from my hand. “What the hell is that?”
“Is that thing real?”
“Of course it’s real. Really ugly, isn’t it?”
“Is it a cat?”
“Yep. It’s a Sphynx. A hairless cat.”
It was seriously the ugliest pet I’d ever seen. Her head was too small for her body, and her face looked like a devil’s. Wrinkly, pale, fleshy-colored skin made her resemble a turkey before you stuck it in the oven.
“My stepfather bought it for my mother for her birthday because she has bad allergies, and she really wanted a pet. Turns out, it isn’t the hair she’s allergic to, it’s the protein in animals’ saliva and skin. So she dumped the thing on me this weekend while she tries to find it a new owner. He paid two thousand dollars for that ugly kitty.”
“You do see the irony here, right?” Chase asked.
“You have a hairless pussy, and today you’re starting a job where the flagship product is—”
I covered my mouth. “Oh my God! You would find irony in that.”
“What can I say? Bald is beautiful has made me a lot of money. That cat should be our company mascot.”
I chuckled. “I’ll keep that in mind for my first marketing project.”
“What are you doing here so early, anyway?” He looked at his watch. It was then I realized he was dressed in running gear, not a shirt and tie like he had been at the office last week.
“I wanted to get an early start.”
“Building doesn’t open until six-thirty. I was just about to go for a run. But I’ll show you how to get in when it’s closed after we get our coffee.”
“It’s okay. I can wait until it opens. I don’t want to interrupt your exercise.”
“Fucking hate running. I’ll take any excuse I can get to put it off. Showing a beautiful woman the way to my office is at the top of that list of excuses.” He winked. “Especially one who’s going to sleep with me eventually.”
God, he is cocky. And apparently, cocky really works for me.
The line had moved up a few places, but I hadn’t noticed since I was turned around talking to Chase. He lifted his chin to point to the gap between me and the person in front of me, and then put his hand on the small of my back to guide me forward. His touch felt so natural.
When it was our turn at the register, he told me to order first.
“I’ll have a venti dark roast, black.”
Chase smiled and added, “Make that two.” Then he insisted on paying for both.
Caffeine in hand, we walked a block north and around to the back of the building, where he knocked on an unmarked set of steel doors. A guy opened one and greeted us as we entered.
“Mr. P., how’s it going, man?”
“Not too shabby, Carlo. You?”
“Can’t complain, can’t complain. Wife’s a bitch, but I can’t blame her for that. She’s married to a fat, lazy guy.” The uniformed maintenance man patted his beer belly and smiled.
“Carlo, this is Reese Annesley. Today is her first day with Parker Industries.”
“Nice to meet you, Ms. A.” He wiped his hand off on his shirt and extended it to me while speaking to Chase. “You shooting a new catalog? You know those are my favorite times of the year.”
“Not this week. Reese isn’t a model, although she’s pretty enough to be.” Chase winked at me again, and I felt a flutter in my belly.
He’s your boss, you pathetic thing. Maybe I should have sex with Bryant already, might help to take the edge off.
Chase punched a code into the keypad above the elevator call button, and the doors to the service elevator slid open. “The code is 6969.”
“How will I ever remember that?” I teased.
As I went to step in, Chase wrapped his arm around my waist. “Wouldn’t want you to trip again.”
“I’m your boss now. You can’t call me that.”
I looked at my watch and smiled. “Not on the clock yet, wiseass.”
“Is that how this is going to be?”
“Works both ways then. Before and after office hours, I can say whatever is on my mind as well. That’s a game you might want to rethink playing with me.” He pushed thirty-three and leaned closer. “Wanna know what’s on my mind right now? I can shut my eyes and describe the visual in detail, if you’d like.”
The elevator was suddenly very small. And hot. Very damn hot.
Just as the doors were about to close, a man in a suit stopped them and joined us. He grumbled something unintelligible and hit twenty-two.
Chase backed up a little and cleared his throat. “You’ll need to use that service door before six-thirty and after eight.”
In the tiny confines of the padded service elevator, Chase stood far enough away that it seemed normal, yet close enough that I could smell him. And he smelled incredible, woodsy and clean, which had me thinking… He probably doesn’t get up and bathe just to go for a run. So that smell is how he wakes up in the morning? Damn. For some strange reason, I got a visual of Chase in the middle of the woods chopping down a tall oak. He was wearing jeans (with the top button left open, of course) and work boots, sans shirt.
Being this close to him had me losing my mind. I turned my head. “Do you have a cabin in the woods, by chance?”
He looked amused. “I don’t. Do I need one?”
Once we arrived on the floor, Chase gave me a quick tour. As we walked, I could feel the passion he had for his company while he gave me a brief overview of each department we passed. I’d lost flirty Chase and met CEO Chase Parker, and I liked him just as much.
He was so smart and fervent that I hadn’t even noticed we’d spent more than an hour in the product development lab until people started coming in to start their workday. Chase showed me each product and gave me its history. When he came to the last product, Divine Wax, he left out some of the details Sam had filled me in about—namely, how The Pampered Pussy kept him busy getting laid through most of college.
“You should take home one of every product and try them out,” he said.
“Already bought them all over the weekend and pampered myself a little. I want to use each one before attempting to do anything marketing-related with them.”
“I think it’s interesting that such lovely products are developed by a man.”
“What can I tell you? I’m in touch with my feminine side.”
“Hmmm…I heard you utilized your products to get in touch with the feminine side in college.”
Chase raised an eyebrow. “I see I have to keep you away from Sam.”
“But she’s such a wealth of knowledge.”
His hand returned to the small of my back and guided me out of the product development lab. “That’s the problem.”
We walked to the marketing department side by side. “How long have you two known each other?”
“Wow. As far back as we go, huh?”
“Yeah, but it wasn’t her I was sucking face with in that hallway outside the gym.”
A young guy walked out of the first office in the marketing department just as we passed. He was handsome, in an I-just-left-the-frat-house-and-scored-my-first-real-job type of adorable way.
Chase stopped and introduced me. “Reese, this is Travis. He’s IT for marketing—does all of our SEO and web optimization.”
He shook my hand with a goofy smile. “Please tell me she works here.”
“Damn, I love my job.”
“You do, huh? Well, pop your eyes back in the sockets, and go read page fourteen of the employee handbook.”
“The no harassing fellow employees policy.”
Travis held up his hands and laughed. “All good. No harassment. Maybe just a few compliments on how beautiful she is.”
This was definitely the type of office where everyone joked around, even with the boss.
Chase leaned over to me as we continued walking down the hall and whispered, “Stop worrying. Harassment policy only applies to employees, not to the owner. Checked this morning.”
The big office at the far end of the hallway was Josh’s. He was sitting with an obviously pregnant woman when we arrived. She slouched in her chair and rubbed her round stomach.
“I found your new employee trying to get in before the sun rose this morning,” Chase announced. “Better put all that energy to good use.” He looked at the woman I assumed was the one going out on maternity leave soon. “Looks like Dimitria is about to pop any second.”
She looked seriously uncomfortable, gripping and ungripping one of those gel-filled stress balls as she spoke. “Why haven’t you invented a product that stops pregnant women from peeing a little every time they sneeze or laugh? Or a product that makes the swelling go down in our ankles?” She pointed to her feet. “These are my mother’s shoes. Nothing of mine fits me anymore. Not even my own damn shoes.”
Chase shook his head. “Do you have any fears, Reese?”
“Fears? You mean like spiders and stuff?” How much time you got?
“Yeah. Something that makes you run out of the room irrationally when you come in contact with it because it scares the living shit out of you?”
“I’m not much of a pigeon person. I’ll cross the street to avoid them.”
Chase nodded. “My fear is pregnant women. So I’m gonna go hit the concrete for that run before it gets too hot outside.”
Dimitria whipped the stress ball at Chase, hitting him in the shoulder. “Now I finally understand the use for those damn things.”
Divine Wax. At the end of the day, I sat in my new office and spun the jar around on my desk a few times. Tomorrow I would sit in on the first official think tank strategy meeting as the marketing department kicked off a major rebranding project for Parker Industries’ flagship product. I needed to get my brain into the mindset of a consumer doing home waxing. The only problem was, I didn’t do my own waxing. So I’d made an appointment for eight tonight with my regular esthetician. She’d be doing my Brazilian using both her usual and Divine, so I could compare.
Most of the marketing department had gone, and I was nibbling on a protein bar and sipping a soda I’d gotten from the vending machine in the break room when Chase appeared in my doorway. Unlike this morning, he was dressed in business attire. He loosened his tie as he spoke. “Dr. Pepper, huh?”
I hadn’t had one in years, but when I saw it in the machine today, it reminded me of when I’d run into Chase at the gym, and he’d told me how much he liked it. The memory had spurred me to push the button before I gave it any real thought.
“My cousin really likes them,” I told him. “Thought I’d give it a try.”
He smiled in that I’m-insanely-hot-and-I’m-not-even-trying-at-all kind of way he had. God, stop doing that.
“You like to work late?”
“I do my best work at night,” I said.
Chase’s eyebrows jumped. “It’s after hours now, so I’m not the boss anymore. Isn’t that how you told me it worked this morning?”
I leaned back in my chair. “It’s after six. So say what’s on your mind.”
He moved to sit across from me and gave me his best dirty grin. “I was just going to say I do my best work at night, also.”
“I’m sure you do. Although I was referring to brainstorming advertising ideas. I find I’m more creative in the evening. Sometimes after I’ve climbed into bed and shut off the lights, an idea will come to me for something I was trying all day to focus on.”
“I’m very creative when I shut off the lights and slip into bed, too. Maybe we should try that together sometime? Probably produce some amazing results—twice as creative and all.”
I shook my head but smiled, amused. “You’re an HR nightmare, aren’t you? I bet you make Samantha work hard for her salary.”
“Actually, I’m usually not. You just keep hitting on me, and I can’t help but react. It’s kind of inappropriate, considering I’m your boss and all.”
My eyes bulged. “I’m not hitting on you! You’re the one—”
“Relax. I’m joking. I don’t find it inappropriate at all. Keep doing it.”
“Have you been sniffing wax chemicals all day?”
Chase’s grin was contagious. “So how late you staying?” he asked.
“I have an appointment at eight. I figured I’d stick around until then since it’s on my way home.”
“Dinner with Braxton?”
“Bryant. And no. I have a wax appointment.” I held up the small jar of Divine. “Figured I’d do a little product research.”
“I should come.”
“To get waxed?”
“To watch you get waxed.” His eyes gleamed. “Research.”
When Samantha suddenly appeared at my door, she gave us an odd smile. “I’ve been waiting in your office for ten minutes. Are we still grabbing a bite?”
Chase looked at me. “We’re going over to Azuri’s for falafel. Want to join us?”
“Thanks, I’d love to. But I have that appointment.”
Later that night, after hanging up with Bryant, I was lying in the dark, replaying my day, when my phone buzzed. It wasn’t a number I recognized, and the message seemed cryptic. It read, Are you and Tallulah twins?
It took me a minute to figure it out. For a moment I’d forgotten I gave Chase my number to pass to Samantha that day when we met at the gym. I closed my eyes and smiled to myself, suddenly not feeling sleepy at all.