Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Tortured Billionaire , Chapter 1

 Robert

 

I felt her presence as she caught up with me. For a moment there I feared she might have changed her mind and wasn’t going to follow me. The sheer relief that consumed me once I realized she WAS coming right behind me, shook me to the core. What was wrong with me? Why was I allowing this girl, a complete stranger to me technically, to exert such tremendous effect on my inner balance? Something I had worked so hard to achieve for years. And when I finally started to believe that I had at last managed to overcome my inner demons, she just happens to cross my path!

 

I needed to figure this out and soon. Otherwise I was risking my mental health, and something I feared losing even more- my complete emotional indifference, along with my protective shell.

 



Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Tortured Billionaire- Update, Chapter 2

    ‘Emma, we need to talk.’ He did not sound as angry as I thought he was! A wave of relief moved across my body as I slowly approached him. Did he know? Could he have guessed? I had no idea how to act or what to say. I didn’t want to offend him or say anything that could possibly endanger the fragile connection we had established. I was finding myself falling for this man and I didn’t even know how to behave around him without triggering some unhealed wound from the past. I desperately wanted him to see me as different from all the others. All those shallow people who judged him prematurely, before they even got the chance to get to know the person who was sitting in the wheelchair. Yes, he couldn’t use his legs but from the moment I saw him for the first time at the lecture hall, it had never occurred to me to think of him as disabled. The discomfort I felt when I was around him wasn’t due to the fact he was paraplegic, but rather to the intensity of the feelings and sensations he invoked in me. Feelings that I couldn’t yet understand myself.

 

  I stepped towards him, stopping right in front of him. I would have given anything to be able to slide back into his lap and kiss him senseless. But I held back and braced myself for whatever was coming next. I was finding it hard to read him so wasn’t sure what he would say to me. I only hoped he wouldn’t send me away as though nothing happened. I would not be able to handle it. Seeing him almost every day at university and pretending there hadn’t been anything between us. So I held my breath as he continued.

 ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you. I know this was unexpected for you and believe me, I never intended to go so far. I hope my behavior just now hasn’t offended you by any way.’, Oh no, he was going to blow me off, pretend that nothing happened and just move on! The pain in my chest area became intolerable. I must have shown some discomfort outwardly for he quickly pushed himself forward and took both my hands into his. ‘Emma, what is it?! Are you OK? I told you I am really sorry about what just happened. I cannot turn back time and change events but I can promise you that I will do everything I can to help you with your studies and make sure you feel comfortable here. I perhaps misread your response to my advances and if you do not wish to see me ever again, I would respect your wish. If you decide to inform the department of what just happened, I will understand. I know I shouldn’t have acted so out of control and I will face all the consequences for my actions, I promise you.’

 

  I was speechless for a few moments and could not find the strength to move away or to remove my hands, he was gripping me tight without realizing, I thought. And I liked it. A lot. I needed time to recover from the shock and the massive relief that followed. So he didn’t want to deny what happened! And he wouldn’t shut me out, at least from what he was saying. I almost lost balance when I realized I had been holding in my breath for the entire duration of his speech. All I could do was stare at him, unable to express the tremendous joy I was feeling. He wanted this! Otherwise he wouldn’t have said all those things.

I guess I delayed my answer for he got this really concerned look on his face, his eyes trying to penetrate me, to read my mind and figure out what was going on in there. I couldn’t stand the thought of causing him discomfort or any suffering, so I smiled quickly. A small, shy, insecure smile. It was still hard for me to believe that this man- this amazing guy- wanted me. He could have women with much more experience than me. Ones who were established and had a career. So why me? Did he want to simply have fun? The last thought caused me tremendous pain and I quickly chased it away by choosing to instead focus on the beautiful amber eyes in front of me, who were right now gazing at me as though I were the only person in the world who mattered. My heart completely melted. Right in this moment I would have agreed to anything he would have requested from me. I would have given myself to him freely, regardless whether he chose to see me as a casual fling, or someone he wanted to share his life with. I would have eagerly taken both.

 

‘Emma, please talk to me. I’m beginning to think something is really wrong. I didn’t misunderstand your reaction to my advances earlier on, did I? Emma, just say something, for God’s sake! You are scaring me. Did I do something to hurt you? Please, if that’s the case, just …’ I interrupted him before he could go on, eager to put an end to this torture that we both seemed to be going through simultaneously. ‘No, no, of course not! I’m sorry I just needed some time to gather my thoughts. Of course I wanted it as much as you did. This was… Well, it was unexpected but I participated voluntarily and in equal measure. I just… err, I just had no idea you felt this way about me, that’s all.’

 

‘Emma, look. I know things got out of control but you have no idea how glad I am this happened. If I had to endure another day of seeing you so close and yet so far away, I would have lost my mind. I wasn’t sure about your feelings, however, although I could tell you were somewhat interested. I just... I just didn’t dare to hope you could respond to my feelings. But God, I am so happy you did!’, as he was saying this a broad smile spread across his face. He was truly beautiful. I could not, for the life of me, take my eyes off this man. Nor could I make myself believe what I was experiencing was indeed happening. I was afraid I might wake up and this would be just a dream. I had to pinch myself! Instead I bent down and kissed him. Deep. I poured all my passion and unspoken desire into that kiss. I think he could feel that as he responded by grabbing me by the waste and pulling me down onto his lap again. This time around we remained with our clothes on, but our lips stayed connected for what felt like hours. I couldn’t get enough of his smell, of his taste. All my senses were filled with him fully and completely, to the point that I no longer knew where I was. Having his arms wrapped around me, pressing me hard against him, as though I was his only life supply, felt exhilarating. His breathing became more labored and quick, his tongue demanding, claiming me. The kiss deepened and became much more possessive than during our first lovemaking. I could feel he was aroused. I was sitting on his lap sideways and could feel his penis pressing against my thigh. He wasn’t as hard as when we made out previously, but the way he was devouring my mouth left no doubt in me that that he was majorly turned on.

 

    The knock on the door came unexpectedly for the both of us. Our stay in heaven came to an abrupt end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            Robert

 

    I didn’t expect a knock on the door. Damn! I didn’t expect anyone today, which is why I found my concern growing with each new sound coming from outside my office. I was still majorly turned on. The delicious scent of her filling my nostrils was intoxicating. The warmth of her warm, soft body pressing hard against mine left me breathless. I didn’t want this to stop. But I very well knew it had to, unless we wanted to both risk being caught making out in my own office! During teaching hours!

 

   I knew I liked her enough already, so I didn’t mind losing my job over it. But she was so young, with her entire future and career prospects ahead of her. I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror if I ruined this for her. So I gently moved her away from me and straightened my shirt. She looked winded and embarrassed. God she was delicious! The firm desire to pull her back onto my lap and devour her pink swollen lips gripped me. It was with superhuman effort that I managed to drag my eyes away from her and push myself towards the door. The knocking sounds had intensified in the meantime and I heard the voice of one of my colleagues shouting my name.

‘Green, are you all right man!? I’ve been looking for you everywhere, Janine told me you must be in your office. Are you OK?’, that was Hugh, one of the first people I made friends with upon arriving at the university. He was a nice guy, always trying to be helpful, which just drove me mad. It took me almost a month to make him understand I was pretty capable of managing on my own. Fortunately, once he got the message, he was quite pleasant to be around. We became friends pretty quickly and he always made sure to watch out for me, only without intruding too much or interfering with my independence. So what did he want now? I better find out and send him away before he could figure out what was really going on. I mean, I didn’t expect him to go straight to the dean or anything, but I wanted to keep this thing between Emma and I private. At least for now, until I could figure out how to proceed with her. It was way too soon for the both of us to go public, considering we hardly knew each other. God, how I wished we could continue the conversation we had started before Hugh managed to ruin everything. I wanted- no I NEEDED- her to trust me. To know how I felt about her, about us. If there could actually be ‘us’. By the way her body responded to me, I could tell she wanted to go into it. But whether she wanted it as much as I did, that was still up in the air… I could really see myself with this girl. She was charming, sweet and considerate. I loved how she looked at me and smiled at me, how she blushed when I complimented her, how her body reacted to my touch. I could lose myself completely in her essence and never want to come back to the outside world.

 

 Unfortunately, the outside world was now making its presence known in the most irritating way. I had to speak to Hugh, otherwise the guy might decide something’s wrong and try to break into my office. That would be a disaster, seeing that Emma was still trying to regain her composure. One quick glance over her told me all I wanted to know- she was not ready to face any third parties right now, but what made my heart jump and skip a beat was what I saw on her face. I could read this expression and I’m pretty sure I was right- she was just as affected by me as I was by her! It made me smile with overwhelming relief, which made her in return shoot a confused look in my direction. Soon. We needed to talk and we would, just after I send Hugh away.

 

  I straightened up, gestured to Emma to move away from the door, so that Hugh wouldn’t be able to see her as I opened it. I wasn’t planning on letting him in at all. No way was I do this to her- cause her this embarrassment. Of course we could always explain the situation by simply saying she came over to ask me about the lecture material. But I just didn’t want to risk it. So as soon as she got securely out of viewing range, I opened the door just enough so I could see Hugh and discover what he was after. ‘Hey, man, no I’m good, why-what’s up?’ I tried to sound as normal as possible, which took me some effort given the circumstances.

‘Hey, I was just passing by and wanted to check up on you, see how you were doing. We are going to have a meeting with the Dean this week and I just wanted to let you know it was re-scheduled for tomorrow.’ He seemed like he wanted to come in so I quickly made up an excuse about being on my computer and using earphones, hoping this would be a good enough excuse to calm him down and hopefully get him to leave. Hugh didn’t seem to buy it at first and almost made an effort to enter and pass me by as he stepped inside. However, I was faster and pushed my chair forward, almost running his feet over in the process. I think he got the message then as he raised his palms up in an obvious gesture of surrender.’ Hey, sorry man, I didn’t mean to pry on you. It’s just that normally you’re pretty quick to answer so I got a bit concerned. Anyway, I think I better be on my way now, seeing all is good.’

‘Yeah, all is good, no need to worry. Thanks for being so thoughtful, next time I will leave my door open while I’m using the headphones. ‘, I hoped this would make him leave finally, which it did, although as I was closing the door behind him I could tell his curiosity hadn’t been sated.

 Now, I could finally return to Emma and our conversation. But just as I was doing that, my heart stopped. All the elation from the joy I felt minutes ago evaporated, as I watched the girl whom I had started to develop feelings for picked up her bag off the floor and got ready to pass me by as she was leaving the room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Emma

 

   I needed to get out of there. Fast. Maybe he was thinking he made a huge mistake and was going to say so. I wasn’t planning on being around when this happened. So I figured, while he was talking to this Hugh guy, that I would try and sneak out as soon as I could. I didn’t want to hear him reject me. It would hurt too much. He said that he wanted to try this but the way he was acting now, when his colleague was here, spoke otherwise. Maybe he found the entire situation too embarrassing. I mean, I was his student for Christ’s sake! He obviously did not want us to be seen together or for anyone of his friends to know about me. And if this didn’t hurt badly enough, the way he shot a look in my direction as Hugh attempted to enter into the room, spoke volumes.

 

  Professor Green had no intention of ever going public with me and the sooner I got this into my head, the better. It was best to end it now anyways, before one of us caught feelings. I mean, not that I expected him to ever profess his undying love for me or anything. OK, there was a tiny morsel of hope deep within me that perhaps gave me the courage to come into his office and let him make love to me. But I wasn’t going to let it destroy my already fragile sense of self. My dignity would have shattered completely if I let this man utter the words I was totally expecting him to. So I figured I’ll take my chances and leave right now, while I still could, with my head kept high. I wasn’t going to allow him to humiliate me or hurt me. I know I was stupid enough already to think he could possibly want something more. I did show interest so I guess he took the offer. I cannot blame him for this. Maybe perhaps he got swept in the moment and gave me reason to hope. Looking at him now- his obvious embarrassment at being caught here with me, in this compromising situation, brought me back to reality. How could I even imagine for a second things could actually work out between us. Our worlds were different. He was established- and I, well I was still figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. Not to mention I was only in this country to study and would have to quite possibly leave here, once I finished my education.

 

  No, the more I thought about this, the more it became obvious we were doomed. Nothing serious could possibly come out of this. And I was better off leaving him now, before he had the chance to enter my heart fully and thus cause way more damage. So I picked my bag, straightened myself and summoned all the strength and courage I could muster. A clean cut now would save us both much pain down the road. At least for me. I wasn’t sure about him and right now I didn’t even want to know. It would cause too much harm. I was resolved to save my heart or at least whatever was left of it. Wait! Did I just think that? Oh no, no, no, no! This cannot happen! I weren’t in love with him already, was I!?

 

   My head hurt from all the mind chatter and I sprang into action. I plastered my most uncaring face I could manage and attempted a quick escape. I almost thought he would let me go, to spare himself further embarrassment. Not that I needed explanations or anything. I was pretty clear on what had just taken place. It wasn’t as though he took my virginity or anything. And he was nice to me all throughout. So I cannot blame him for anything. I was just as eager a participant as he was. Gosh, at one point I practically offered myself to him!

 

  My face red, I hurried around him, hoping I could just go past him quickly. Just as I was passing him by and almost reaching the door, almost feeling the relief of having averted a heartbreaking scenario, I felt his hand grip my forearm: ‘Wait! Hold on, we were going to talk I believe.” Oh no, so he wants to make this even more embarrassing than it already was?! I pressed my lips together and braced myself. I didn’t want to pull my arm out and just run away. He would not only think of me as an easy girl, but also a coward. No way I was going to stoop so low in his eyes! And so I stopped in my tracks and looked down at him. What an irony that this man, even sitting down below me, was still in control of the dynamics between us. To someone looking at us from a distance, it might have seemed as though I could walk away easily and he wouldn’t have any power to stop him. However, the strength with which he was gripping at me suggested something different.

 

  My eyes followed my arm until reaching his fingers which were clamped around my wrist now. He pulled at me slightly and not expecting the tug, I easily lost my balance, landing right back where this all started- in his lap. My bag dropped to the floor with a sound and I had to wrap my arms around his neck in order to keep us both from falling along with it. For a brief moment our gazes locked, our foreheads pressing against one another. He was looking me straight in the eye. And I couldn’t look away even though I wanted to, badly. We stayed like this for what seemed like eternity. Him gripping my waste, pressing me against him, breathing into my slightly open mouth. My arms still wrapped around his shoulders, I could feel his muscles tensing, as he fought to keep us both upright. His ability to balance was impressive. I felt so safe in his arms. Like this was home and I was never supposed to leave ever again.

 

  However, the spell was broken as the pain from earlier resurfaced. I remembered what I had been telling myself just a few moments earlier and shifted my eyes away from his. I couldn’t bare look at him. This man, who was gorgeous. Who had been kind and considerate to me. Who did not reject my clumsy lovemaking but rather embraced my essence. How could I open up to him, how could I allow myself to be vulnerable enough in order to admit how I felt? I wanted to tell him, I NEEDED to tell him! I was just about to mouth all of this out when he spoke; ‘Emma, I know you were probably not expecting this when you came here at this university. I want you to know that I am fully aware of the fact that you are young and beautiful. You could have any guy you wanted! I know that! And god help me, I wish I could just let you go. I wish I could let you walk out of this room right now and just be happy you gifted me the experience to be with you. God, I wish I were that unselfish! But I am not, Emma! I cannot! I would not let you leave me, not like this. ‘

 

  I was speechless at first, too surprised by what he was saying to me to even be able to respond or form a coherent thought. When I finally managed to open my mouth to speak, he cut me off and continued:’ Please, hear me out first. Before you make your mind about us, just hear what I wish to say to you. Then you will be free to go wherever you like, once you’ve heard my offer and declined it. But I beg of you, please listen to it first. Take your time before making final decisions. I need you to hear this and I promise you- if after you still want to leave and never speak to me again, I would let you go. I give you my word. I will not try to stop you or attempt to change your mind. I promise I will accept your decision whatever it may be.”

 

  He looked so determined, so desperate, that I just wanted to relieve us both and gave him a quick nod to continue. I had no idea what he meant by all of this or what the offer he mentioned was about. But I knew by now I cared about him way more than I had realized. And so I held my breath and concentrated on his next words.

 

 ‘I want you to listen to me now and not interrupt until I have finished, OK?’ Another quick nod from me and he continued.’ I know that a guy like me would never have a chance with a girl like you. ‘

He shot me a quick look but before I could read his expression, he started talking again.

 ‘I know that I should just be happy you came into my life and allowed me to be near you. God, I couldn’t believe my lucky star when you came to my office today. I did not dare hope you would take me up on my offer. But when you did, I started hoping – not, craving, more. And you just showed up here looking more beautiful than I ever remembered you during class, and to top it all off- you seemed to reciprocate my advances! So, like the utter write-off of a man that I am, I jumped the opportunity to be able to have you near me. And when you, beyond all expectations, didn’t deny me, I couldn’t stop myself. I was desperate to have you, Emma. I am ashamed of what I did and my lack of self-control. But you have to understand – when you’re around, I lose my ability to think straight. All I can really think of is how I would love to kiss you, to hold you, to enter you and make you mine.’

 

 He was almost trembling now and slight perspiration had begun to form across his forehead. He sounded pained, as though the words hurt him as he was uttering them. The look that he gave me when he stopped for a brief moment to catch his breath was one of pure torture. And hope. He almost had a crazed look to him, so conflicted between the two. I craved to put an end to his suffering and shout ‘yes!’ to whatever he wanted from me- I didn’t know what this would be exactly but I had the feeling he was about to ask me to become…what, his girlfriend? I would have said yes right away, but he looked like he needed to talk more, so I bit my bottom lip to stop myself from blurting it out loud and let him continue. What he said next, however, made my newly sprung happiness shrink back into the desperation I felt before we started this conversation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Robert

 

    I wasn’t sure how to break it to her. I wasn’t even sure if she would let me finish my sentence before she slapped me and walked away and out of my life for good. So I just gripped her waste tighter, took one final deep breath and promised myself that once this was over and she had given me an answer- whatever it may be- I would never again allow myself to stoop so low ever again. There was something about this girl that made my blood race in my veins. She made me feel more alive than I could ever remember.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Like a Boss Update!

Hi all!  Thanks to everyone who commented last week!  This is another update:

Chapter 3

Table of Contents

(I usually schedule for Sunday, but I accidentally hit publish on this, and since nobody else posted today, I figured I'd just let it stay there.)

Friday, July 24, 2020

Update to Not Gay

Sorry for the long wait, again! Thanks to everyone who wrote a comment on Not Gay and to everyone who checked in with me. It's greatly appreciated. I'm fine! We are currently preparing for our journey back home, which proves to be challenging with the recent spike in case numbers, camp sites closing, flights getting cancelled, travel agencies shutting down their phone lines and never answering to mails, strict quarantine awaiting us in Germany etc. I'll be endlessly grateful (and certainly surprised) should we make it as planned.
But enough of that! There will soon be more regular updates, hopefully. For now this is Chapter 18. Have fun, take care!
Lovis

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Boss Update!

Hi!  Thanks to everyone who read and commented on my "new" story, Like a Boss!  Here's another nice, juicy update:

Chapter 2

(and in case you missed it, here's chapter 1)

Sunday, July 12, 2020

New Story from Annabelle: Like a Boss

Hi all!  I was recently looking back at some of my previous novels and realized I was a bit embarrassed by some of them.  One was Harvard Hottie.  I loved the idea, but it wasn't very well executed.  So I recently decided to take it down and totally revamp it.  It's got tons of new scenes including a new ending and epilogue years in the future.  I'm going to post some of it here and the final revision will come out at the beginning of August!



LIKE A BOSS


Sixteen Years Earlier

 

Have you ever met somebody you hated instantly?

For me, that somebody was Lucas Thayer. Excuse me—I mean, Lucas Thayer the Third.

Monday, July 6, 2020

My Ex's Wedding: Now available!

My latest book, My Ex's Wedding, is now available for sale!  For those of you who have been reading all along, this includes the original scene at the beginning where Alex and Nellie meet for the first time.


Buy it now on Amazon or get it FREE if you have Kindle Unlimited!

Blurb:

"You're going to pay me two-thousand dollars to go to a wedding??"

Alex

I was engaged to the girl of my dreams.

Then a tragic accident took away my whole life.

Now she’s going to marry another man. Not just any man--the biggest asshole I ever met. But he can give her the life I can’t. Time to accept it and move on.

Except why did I agree to go to the wedding? And worse, why did I tell her I was bringing a date??

Nellie

I am so freaking broke.

My gigs as a comedian don't pay the bills. Not yet, anyway. So when I get canned from my waitressing job, I'm in big trouble.

But then a stranger in a business suit offers me a wad of cash. The job? Pretend to be his brother's girlfriend for a wedding in Vegas.

Except it turns out my fake boyfriend and I have met before.

He’s a different man now, but he’s still as drop-dead handsome as I remember. He still makes my knees weak. And there’s one other thing that hasn’t changed:

He’s still hung up on his ex.


Buy it now on Amazon or get it FREE if you have Kindle Unlimited!

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Final Update to My Ex's Wedding!

Thank you everyone who commented on My Ex's Wedding!  It means so much to me!  Here is an extra long final excerpt of the story:

Chapter 9

Table of Contents

Also, I apologize for the scene that got posted a second time.  In my original version, I had that scene at the beginning, then I moved it to be later in the final version.  But since I started posting it here before I had the final version done, you got a double dose!  Sorry! 

And finally, I've got something else for you next week, so stay tuned... :)

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Like a Boss, Chapter 2

From Reddit:

Subject: Can I sue?

My company was just bought by Thayer Industries, THE MOST EVIL COMPANY in all of Boston. I was seven months pregnant at the time, and they let me go. Two weeks of severance pay. I was supposed to have a paid maternity leave, but obviously that was off the table. I tried to see the CEO, Lucas Thayer, to plead my case, but he wouldn’t even give me an appointment. As a result of all the stress, I went into early labor. My son has had complications as a result.

Can I sue him? Because believe me, that asshole deserves it.
 

In addition to my Chanel suit, I wear a lot more makeup the next day. A lot more. Even as I was applying the eyeliner and blinking away the little black specks that got into my eye, I didn’t know why I was making such an effort. I guess there’s a part of me that will always sort of want to impress Luke.

Jenna immediately notices the difference when I walk into the office. “Why are you wearing so much makeup?” she asks.

“Um,” I say. “I’m sort of… I’m meeting Luke Thayer for lunch today.”

Her eyes widen. “Oh!”

“It’s not…” I feel my face turning red. “It’s a business lunch. I’m going to explain our project to him and why it’s worthwhile.”

“Oh,” Jenna says, although she doesn’t seem like she believes me. “Well, in that case, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way but…”

“What?”

“I think you need to wipe off some of your eye makeup.”

My hand flies to my face. “Too much?”

She nods soberly. “You kind of look like a hooker.”

Well, great.

Jenna accompanies me to the bathroom to fix my makeup. She’s fantastic at doing makeup… If this computer programming thing doesn’t work out for her, she could easily be a cosmetologist. She gives my eyes a certain smokiness that ups my sexy factor by at least two or three.

“There!” she declares. “You look super sexy!”

I roll my eyes. “I’m not trying to look sexy. This is a business lunch. Purely business.”

“Sure it is.” Jenna grins at the look on my face. “Hey, I don’t blame you. I’m sure the rumors about him being a total asshole are exaggerated. And either way, he’s really hot in the pictures.”

“I hadn’t noticed,” I mumble.

“You would kind of have to if you’re not dead. You’re not dead, are you, Ellie?”

I avert my eyes. I wonder what Jenna would say if I told her Luke was in a wheelchair. I don’t want to be the one to tell her—it doesn’t feel like my place. I’m not sure why though. It’s not like it’s a secret.

Luke told me to come to his office at noon, so I arrive at 11:55, hoping he’ll appreciate how punctual I am. I can’t help but notice his assistant Michelle is freaking gorgeous. She’s got that tall and slim but curvy physique, like all the Barbie dolls I used to see Luke dating in college. She also can’t be any older than twenty-five.

I wonder if Luke is sleeping with her. I watch the way they interact together when she brings me into his office, trying to figure out if there’s anything flirtatious between them. But Luke has that stone-faced mask on at all times. No flirting, that’s for sure.

Yet another thing that’s changed about Luke. He used to flirt like breathing. No one was immune.

Not even me.

“Here I am!” I declare. My voice tremors slightly. “Right on time.”

“Yes.” Luke has his eyes on his computer screen and barely looks at me. Which I suppose is fair. Yes, I was on time. Do I want a medal? “All right. Let’s get going.”

When we head down in the elevator, I assume there will be some sort of limousine or car service picking us up at the entrance. So it’s a surprise when we go all the way down to the basement.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

Luke gives me a strange look. “My car. I parked in the garage.”

“Your car?” I say. “You drive?”

He narrows his eyes at me. “Don’t look so astonished.”

I wince. Luke is my new boss, and right now, I’m batting zero. I’ll be lucky if he hasn’t fired me by the end of this lunch. “I just… I thought you would have, you know, a driver or something.”

“Well,” he says, “I don’t.”

I watch Luke push himself out of the elevator, trying to figure how he’s going to be able to drive a car. I mean, obviously people with disabilities can drive. But how can he do it with limited hand function?

Luke’s car is a sleek black Tesla, parked in one of the handicap spots right near the entrance to the garage. It’s probably the most expensive car in the lot—not that I’m surprised. He hooks his fingers into the handle of the driver’s side door, fumbling to get it open, and I blurt out, “Do you need any help?”

Luke freezes and stares up at me. “Excuse me?”

I’m blushing so hard, even my toes must be red. I need to stop talking completely. “I mean—”

He folds his arms across his chest. “What? You think I need help getting into my own car?”

“No,” I say quickly.

He arches an eyebrow. “You think I would drive myself to work without any way of getting myself back in the car to leave?”

No. Of course not.”

“Well, you just said that.”

He’s got me there. He’s as good at beating me an argument as he was back in college. Thankfully, he shakes his head and doesn’t press the matter further.

He climbs into the car without too much trouble, as it turns out. I watch as he lifts himself from his wheelchair into the front seat—first his body, then he pulls his legs along with him. Then he pops the wheels off his chair and tosses them behind him into the back seat. I get in beside him and do my best not to stare.

As he starts up the car, I notice he’s slouching a bit. In college, Luke used to have a ramrod-straight spine, to the point where I felt like I could put a book on his head in the morning and it would still be there in the evening. But now it’s like he has no muscles at all in his trunk. I can tell he’s aware of it because he frequently pushes his hand against his thigh to straighten himself out. Although to be honest, he may still have better posture than me.

It must kill him to know he’s not perfect anymore. Maybe that’s why he’s so cold now. Heartless.

He places his right hand on what seems to be an accelerator of some sort. There’s no hesitation in his movements—he’s very comfortable driving using his arms. He looks more comfortable than I do when I get behind the wheel in this city.

It takes me a few minutes to realize we’re heading in the direction of the North End. He’s doing a good job maneuvering through the disarray of the streets of Boston. And by “good,” I mean he’s aggressive as hell. Let me tell you something about Boston drivers: They’re insane. I grew up in Jersey and I thought they were insane over there, but Boston is a million times worse. The streets of Boston make absolutely no sense: streets change names, zig-zag, and do all kinds of things, and it makes the people who drive here lose their freaking minds.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“It’s an Italian restaurant,” he says. “Rosita’s.”

“Have you been there before?”

“Yes.”

“Is… is it any good?”

He skids to a halt at a red light. “Do you think I’m taking you to a restaurant I think is bad?”

“No.” Oh God, I can’t believe how badly I’m screwing this up. “Sorry, I just… Sorry.”

We spend the rest of the drive in silence. Anytime I get the urge to say anything, I bite down on my tongue. Hard.

Luke pulls into the small parking lot of an expensive-looking Italian restaurant. I’m about to point out to him that the lot is full, which was always an issue when I went to the North End in the past, but then I realize that, of course, he can park in the handicapped spot.

“Okay,” he says as he kills the engine. “You can pry your fingers off the dashboard now.”

I laugh like he made a joke, but he’s not smiling. Admittedly, I’m a bit shaky as I climb out of the car. You have to be an aggressive driver if you live in Boston, but there were a few times when I saw my life flashing before my eyes.

Without thinking, I start up the steps to the front door. I hear Luke clear his throat loudly, and I turn around. He’s sitting in his chair, at the foot of the stairs. “Eleanor,” he says.

I grip the railing of the steps. “Oh. Uh… do you need…?”

“There’s a ramp around the side,” he says.

“Right.” I swallow hard. “Sorry.”

I can’t believe I was so thoughtless. Obviously, he can’t get up the stairs. Usually, I’m pretty sensitive to other people’s emotions—I can always tell when somebody’s having a bad day. But Luke is throwing me off my game big time. I hate the fact that I want so badly to impress him. And not just because he’s my boss.

He pushes himself up the ramp to the entrance, and we go inside together. This Italian restaurant doesn’t quite look like a place where you would have a business lunch. It’s a little too dark. A little too romantic. And definitely very expensive.

“Kind of dark, isn’t it?” I say with a forced smile.

Luke frowns. “Dark?”

“Like… it’s not…” I squeeze my hands together. “It’s hard to see. You know?”

He stares up at me, like I’ve said something too stupid to respond to. Which I suppose is fair.

He made reservations and the hostess leads us to our table, which has got to be the most secluded table in the whole damn restaurant. It occurs to me that this is the closest thing I’ve had to a date in about six months, and that is so sad, I almost want to cry.

We’ve been seated for less than a minute when a waiter dashes over to our table. “May I offer you a drink?”

“I’ll have a glass of pinot noir,” Luke says.

I know having a glass of wine at lunch isn’t a big deal, but I feel like it’s important to have complete control of my senses now. Plus, I’m a lightweight and even one glass of wine is liable to alter my judgment.

“I’ll have a ginger ale,” I say.

Luke stares at me again. I desperately wish I could take back my order, but the waiter has already dashed off to bring our drinks.

“Ginger ale?” he repeats. “That’s what you want?”

“I’m not a big drinker,” I say defensively.

I pick up my menu and study it intently, avoiding his gaze. But when I lift my eyes, I see he’s watching me.

“You know,” he says, “they don’t have any Happy Meals on there, if that’s what you’re looking for.”

Oh God. This is not going well.

The prices in this restaurant are horrifying. I don’t think I’ve ever seen food this expensive before. I end up ordering a salad, because I just can’t bring myself to order a chicken breast that costs forty bucks. He orders a steak, which costs slightly less than my rent.

“Okay,” Luke says after the waiter takes our orders to the kitchen, “now down to business.”

I force my most charming smile. “Of course. What do you need to know?”

“This app you’re developing.” He gives me a sharp look. “The one that’s supposed to ‘revolutionize’ healthcare. I want to know more.”

My eyes light up like they always do when I’m talking about my project. “Well, the idea is that your phone can be used to monitor your heart at all times. If somebody is having chest pain, they can know instantly if it’s something concerning. And—”

He holds up his hand. “Stop. I know what the app is supposed to do. I want numbers. Our data. Where are you in development? How long before you get this into beta testing? What sort of costs are we looking at?”

We spend the next hour talking about my app. Even though he was asking me for the numbers, he’s already got a lot of the data committed to memory. Even though he inherited his father’s company, he’s not riding on anyone else’s coattails. This guy does not mess around. No wonder he’s been so successful.

And he listens to me. He listens to everything I have to say very intently. His attention is completely focused on me, and it’s flattering. It almost makes me glad he came on board.

“This app is going to turn Mediapp into a household name,” I say.

Luke takes a sip of his wine. “Maybe.”

“I believe it will.”

He’s quiet for a moment. “We know what we are,” he says, “but not what we may be.”

All these years later and that bastard is still quoting Shakespeare. But this time I’m ready for him. “Hamlet.”

“Yeah.” He puts down his wine glass. “I didn’t think you would know that one.”

“Why not?”

He raises an eyebrow. “I don’t know. I thought you never read anything by Shakespeare before. Am I right?”

I suck in a breath. Oh my God. “You know…”

“Know what?” he asks innocently.

“That I’m…” I take a deep breath. “You know what I mean.”

His other eyebrow shoots up. “No. What do you mean?”

“That we…” I squeeze my napkin in my lap, feeling flustered. “That we know each other. Or knew each other.” My cheeks burn. “I mean, I didn’t know you remembered…”

“Ellie Jensen.” A smile plays on his lips. “Never read Shakespeare. Twelve fingers. Went to Canada once. How could I forget?”

“Oh God…” I shake my head. “So all along…?”

“Yes,” he confirms. “I knew the second I saw your name.”

I grit my teeth. “So how come you didn’t say anything?”

“Well, this was more fun, don’t you think?”

I feel a surge of anger in my chest. I had forgotten how much Luke used to infuriate me. I can’t believe he played me like that, just because he thought it was amusing.

“Uh oh.” He takes another sip of wine. He’s nearly drained the glass and it’s his second. “You’re mad at me.”

I quickly compose myself. This isn’t like back in college, when we were equals. I can’t afford to lose my temper around him. Too many people’s jobs are depending on me. “I’m not mad.”

“Yes, you are.” There’s a glint in his brown eyes—it kills me how sexy he still is. “I could always tell when I was getting you angry. I used to lie in bed awake the night before class every day, trying to think of what I could say to rile you up.”

I stare at him. “You… you did?”

“Of course I did,” he says. “Arguing with you was the best part of my week.” He sees the look on my face and smirks. “Don’t look so surprised, Ellie. I already told you how I felt about you.”

I don’t know what to say to that. He did tell me how he felt about me. It’s a night I haven’t thought about in a very long time, but somehow, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

That night. The night I became the only girl at Harvard to say no to Luke Thayer.

I wonder if women say no to him now. After all, he doesn’t look the way he used to. But he’s still so freaking sexy. And he’s loaded.

“So now that everything is on the table…” His smile widens enough to nearly reach his eyes. “We can finally catch up. How are you doing, Ellie? What’s new with you these last sixteen years?”

“Um…” I tug at my dangly earring. “Well, I…” My mouth opens, but I’m at a loss. Usually, when I run into people from my past, I talk about my job. But Luke knows all about my job. And besides that, there’s not much else to say.

“Married?” he asks, even though he can see from my ring finger that I’m not.

I shake my head. “No, but… I have a boyfriend.”

I don’t have a boyfriend. Not even close. I don’t even have a boy that I’m friends with, much less an actual boyfriend. The closest I’ve come in the last year is this guy who accidentally brushed his elbow against my boob on the T. But I hate the fact that I have nothing new about my life to report.

So I made up a boyfriend. Big deal.

Surprise registers on Luke’s face. “Oh?” he says. “Is it serious?”

Why not go for broke? “Yes, it’s pretty serious.”

“Good for you,” Luke says. “What’s his name?”

His name? Um… “His name is Mike.”

“Mike,” Luke repeats. He looks up at my eyes. His are chocolate-colored and possibly his best feature, although it’s a tough call. “Well, I’d love to have you and Mike over for dinner.”

“That would be great,” I lie.

Please don’t let him ever take us up on this dinner invitation.

“How about you?” I ask, desperate to change the subject from my fake boyfriend. “What’s new with you?”

He shifts his weight in his chair. “Oh, not very much. Same old.”

Is he kidding me? The guy can’t walk anymore. He’s not going to tell me anything about why? He’s just going to pretend this huge thing hasn’t happened?

Well, fine. If he’s going to pretend, I’ll play along. “Well, sometimes it’s good when things are uneventful.”

Luke bursts out laughing, and he suddenly looks so much like the kid I knew during freshman year, I get a pang in my chest. “Look at you. You’re dying to know, but you’re too scared to ask. You’re so freaking polite.”

My lips set into a straight line. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He grins and shrugs. “Fine. Then I won’t tell you.”

I’m starting to long for the cold, distant Luke from a few minutes ago. I had forgotten how frustrating he was. “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to. You’re the boss, after all.”

The smile fades slowly from his lips. “I was in a rock-climbing accident when I was twenty-three. Broke my neck.”

Twenty-three. That means he’s been in that chair for eleven years. No wonder he looks so comfortable in it. His disability is new to me, but not to him.

“Twenty-three,” I repeat. “So that means you’ll never… I mean, it’s…”

He decides to put me out of my misery. “Let me help you out, by answering some of the most frequently asked questions. No, I will never walk again. No, there’s no stem cell research right now that I could get involved in. This is it—forever. Yes, I live alone without a nurse helping me. And no, I’m not so depressed I want to kill myself. I enjoy being alive, thank you very much.”

I inhale sharply. “People don’t really ask you that.”

“Oh, they definitely do.”

I watched as he lifts his wine glass to drain what’s left of it. I notice he holds it loosely supporting the weight of the glass with his fingers rather than pinching it between his thumb and forefinger.

“And no,” he adds, “I can’t move my fingers. My hands don’t work. That one was a real punch in the teeth when I was twenty-three.”

“But I saw you moving your fingers,” I protest.

“It’s a trick.” He winks at me as he releases his wine glass. “When I extend my wrist, my hand closes into a fist. But I can’t do it without moving my wrist.”

He demonstrates for me how when he bent his wrist back, his fingers close. It makes me think of that handshake he gave me yesterday. He can move his fingers, but not very well. It makes me wonder how he does anything. How does he dress himself? Bathe? He told me he was independent, but it’s hard to imagine. I wonder if he was lying, the same way I was lying about having a boyfriend. I wouldn’t blame him. Who wants to admit to needing a nurse?

“Any other questions?” he asks me. “This is your shot to ask.”

Of course, I’ve got about a million questions, but none of them are appropriate to ask my new boss. So I shake my head no.

“So,” he says, “aren’t you going to tell me why your project is the best one? And everyone else’s is shit?”

I frown. “No. Why would I do that?”

“That’s what your buddy Nathan did.”

“He didn’t!” I gasp.

“Oh, he did.” Luke glances down at his wine glass like he wishes there were more. I don’t remember if he drank much in college. He had quite a bit of alcohol in him when he confessed his feelings for me—I always attributed it to that. “But don’t worry, he said nice things about you.”

Well, that’s a small consolation. “Oh.”

“In fact, I’d say he’s got quite the infatuation with you.”

I cringe. “I don’t think so.”

“Oh, I would say he definitely does,” Luke says in that confident tone of his. “Tell me, Ellie, does he know about your fake boyfriend?”

My mouth falls open. “My…”

“Yeah.” He grins crookedly. “What did you say his name was? Matt? Mark? It doesn’t matter, does it?

I drop my eyes, looking down at my decimated salad. “Um…”

Strangely, he doesn’t seem upset. “You’re not a very good liar, Ellie.”

“Sorry,” I mumble.

“The question is,” he says, “why did you feel like you had to lie?”

I don’t have a good answer to that one. His brown eyes meet mine, and I wonder what he’s thinking. I can’t help but think that I’m glad he knows I don’t have a boyfriend.

Even though nothing could ever happen between us. I mean, he’s my boss’s boss’s boss.

Thankfully, he doesn’t push me for an answer.


***

On the drive back to the office, Luke pushes me for more details about my project. He wants to know everything there is to know, and even though I thought I knew everything there was to know, he comes up with questions I can’t answer on the spot.

“I can get you a report tomorrow,” I say. “I can have all the details you want.” I add, “I promise, this project is feasible, and the timeline will make you happy.”

Luke cocks his head to the side. “I know.”

I frown at him. “You know?”

He lays his fist into the horn as somebody cuts him off. “I’ll let you in on a little secret, Ellie.”

A secret? “What?”

“Your project is the whole reason I bought Mediapp.”

My head is spinning. Of course, I’ve been excited about our project, but it never occurred to me that it had created any sort of buzz outside the company. It makes me feel happy, but it’s a lot of pressure.

Also, did he buy the company because of the project? Or the fact that I was the one working on it?

“You’re one of the smartest people I ever met,” Luke says. “If anyone can make this happen, it’s you.”

My cheeks flush at the compliment. “Well, if I’m so smart, how come you’re the one with the billion-dollar company?”

He winks at me. “Because I’m smarter.”

I would protest, but he might be right. As irritating as he was in our expository writing class, there was a time when I came to realize he wasn’t quite the dumb legacy kid I believed him to be.

It was the day we got our grades back on our first paper. Dr. Cole handed them out in the last five minutes of class, and I was horrified to find a big red B on the top.

I was sick over it. I never got Bs in high school. Never. Maybe an A-, if I’d been battling the flu or something. But a B? How could I get a B? My paper was brilliant! I could argue any point expertly—didn’t Dr. Cole know I was captain of the debate team in high school?

As I skimmed through her comments, I felt something kick me in the ankle. Hard. I looked up and saw Luke’s brown eyes staring into mine. “Hey, Twelve Fingers,” he said. “What did you get?”

“None of your business,” I snapped at him. I eyed the paper in his hands. “What did you get?”

He turned his paper over to show me the red A at the top. Even though I tried to check my reaction, my jaw dropped. This was patently unfair. There was no way his paper was better than mine. Dr. Cole just favored him because he was rich and handsome.

“You could read it if you’d like.” He grinned as he slid the paper towards me. “Maybe you could learn something for your next assignment.”

I wanted to punch him in his smug face. Instead, I yanked the paper out of his hand and skimmed the first few paragraphs. And just as I thought—it was awful.

Well, not completely awful. He wasn’t entirely illiterate. And he did make some good points about Raymond Carver. But it wasn’t better than mine.

“Too bad they didn’t teach you to write back in Jersey,” Luke said, still grinning at me.

I didn’t punch him, but I threw his essay back in his face. He blinked at me, surprised but still clearly very amused. “Too bad you didn’t keep those extra fingers. I bet you could pack more of a punch.”

I was so distracted by my rage that Luke took this opportunity to yank my own essay paper out from below my left hand. He raised his eyebrows at me when he saw the B. Even though I should have grabbed it back from him, I didn’t. I wanted him to read it and realize how much better it was than his own essay. That I was the one who deserved the A, not him.

“Wow…” Luke’s eyes darted quickly between paragraphs. After a moment, he lifted the first page and glanced at the second. “You’re certainly heavy-handed in your metaphors.”

I stared at him. That was exactly the same criticism Dr. Cole had made in her critique of my initial draft of the paper.

I snapped out of my trance and ripped my papers out of his hands. Luke still looked deeply amused, and I wanted to say something to wipe the smirk off his lips. I stuck my finger in his face, which surprised him, if nothing else.

“At least I got in here fair and square,” I said. “And not just because my father went here and gave the college a bunch of money.”

Luke looked like he had an answer to that, but before he could give it, I jumped out of my seat and marched right out of the classroom. I had the last word that day, but the truth is, I wasn’t sure if I believed what I said. I was beginning to realize Luke deserved to be there just as much as I did.

_____

 

Due to my long lunch, I end up staying late at work to get that report done for work. I’ve always been an overachiever, and now is not the time to be slacking—not just for me, but for the sake of my entire division. Luke probably wouldn’t fire me but I don’t want any of my team to get fired either. They’re counting on me.

I finally turn off my computer and gather my belongings to head out for the day, when I realize I’m not alone. Nathan is standing outside my office. He has sprouted small pit stains over the course of the day, and his comb-over looks damp as well. Nathan is one of those people who sweats excessively during the day.

“Hey, Ellie,” he says.

“Hello, Nathan,” I say, but I avoid his eyes. He’s never been my favorite person, but that remark Luke made about him saying his project was the best and should be saved, to hell with the rest of us… Well, it doesn’t entirely surprise me.

“Heading out?” he asks.

I don’t know why he’s asking me that. I’ve got my purse on my shoulder and I’m leaving my office. I’m obviously heading out. “Yes.”

“Um, Ellie?”

I look at him—he’s rubbing at the back of his sweaty neck. “Yes?”

“I was just thinking,” he says, “maybe we should get a few drinks together and talk about, like, our plan for the company. We need to work together if we don’t want to get fired.”

My stomach turns. I’ve got a bad feeling that his idea to get drinks is less about strategizing to keep our jobs, and more about him jamming his tongue down my throat when we’ve both got a few beers in us. I’m way too old to fall for that trick. “I’ve got plans,” I lie.

“Really?” Nathan raises his eyebrows at me.

Am I just the worst liar on the face of the planet? Or is it obvious I can’t possibly have a life outside of work? “Really.”

“Oh.” Nathan looks disappointed, and for a moment, I feel guilty. Then I remember what a jerk he is, and how he’s the last person in the world I’d want to go out with.

During my T ride home, I entertain myself by coming up with fake plans for the evening. In case anyone asks me about it, I went to a bachelorette party in a bar. My gift to the bride was a red thong.

I stop off for a takeout order of pad thai from the restaurant down the block from my building. I try to slip by my neighbor Sadie’s apartment unnoticed with my piping hot bag of noodles, but as usual, she catches me in the act.  She’s just a little too interested in my personal life, unfortunately.

“Ellie!” she exclaims when she sees me.

I halt guiltily. “Hi, Sadie.”

She stares at the brown paper bag. “Is that Chinese takeout?”

“No…” I say. “It’s Thai.”

Sadie sighs. “Oh, Ellie, how do you expect to find a beau if you don’t cook?”

“I cook,” I say defensively. I do! Mostly stuff in the microwave. That counts though. I mean, I have to press a button that says “cook” so that means it’s cooking.

Sadie squints up at my face. “Are you wearing makeup, dear?”

I touch my face self-consciously. “No… well, just a little.”

A slow smile spreads across Sadie’s wrinkled face. “There’s a man you like, isn’t there?”

“No,” I say quickly. Maybe too quickly.

“Don’t worry,” Sadie says. “I’ll give you a cooking lesson this weekend and you’ll have him wrapped around your little finger in no time.”

Before I can tell her not to bother, Sadie rushes off into her apartment, probably to look up sexy recipes.

She is absolutely wrong about this one. I don’t like Luke. Yes, I did put on make-up, which I don’t usually do, but that was just to look respectable for my boss. It was an innocent gesture.

I swear.

To be continued....