Authors: Fallon O'Donahue
For my friends, you know who you are.
One day maybe we’ll get our Maddox back.
,” Lo whispered as she whipped the door closed to Cass’ office. Cass was careful just to smile enough, though her insides were leaping for joy.
“You knew! Bitch! How could you not tell me?” Lo punched her shoulder.
Cass laughed. “He swore me to secrecy, idiot,” she pulled back from her computer and faced her best friend.
“Since when do you keep these kinds of secrets?” Lo scowled. “Are you excited?”
Cass thought for a second. Of course she was excited. Two years. It had been two years since Maddox had left for San Francisco, bent on getting the promotion he’d been working toward the past 15 years. He wasn’t satisfied being Vice-President of their small division, and San Francisco was where the big guns were. It’s where he could prove he was ready to be the COO.
And he did it, just like Cass had said he would. It had broken her heart that day when he sat down in her office and told her he was leaving, moving a thousand miles away where she wouldn’t see him every day and leaving her in the hands of a new vice-president who would be the bane of her existence. He’d hugged her as she sobbed, smearing mascara on his white dress shirt, choking back her sobs as she apologized and offered to buy him a new one.
“I’m the one raking in the new cash. I got this one,” he laughed, the deep resonating sound soothing her hiccups, and she smiled. She’d ruined more than one of his shirts over time, but he always laughed it off.
“When do you move?”
“Two weeks,” he’d told her, stroking the hair away from her face.
Two weeks! That wasn’t enough.
“I’m a short flight away, and I’ll be out here all the time. This is my home,” he pulled her tight, trying to wipe away the fear.
She wasn’t sure what was more torture, the two weeks that led up to his move, or the months that came afterward as Phil took over, changing everything—restructuring and tearing down the warm environment Maddox had spent a decade building.
“You better not hang out here too long, Lo. You know Phil will freak the fuck out,” she sighed, shooing her best friend out the door.
“Cass!” her whispered reprimand sharp, but the way her eyes darted down the hall, she wasn’t in disagreement. “You and me, we’re not done. Drinks. McCallan’s. 6pm, sharp!”
Lo walked out the door, and glanced back. Cass smiled a broad grin and gave her a thumbs up. Lo laughed before nodding and making her way to her cubicle.
Cass’ hands shook as she took to finishing the email she’d been working on. She’d spent the past eight years working for Maddox, enjoying every last second of it. He was a good boss, when he wasn’t being a bastard. He had this tendency to be a little too blunt, but he always knew how to smooth over the bruises he left behind. He treated people with respect, and when he needed to apologize, he did. He didn’t mince words, and when he said he’d act, he did. He was charming and enigmatic. And only slightly, okay seriously, gorgeous.
When they’d first met, Cass hadn’t even noticed how beautiful he was. People thought she was crazy when she said she hadn’t, but it was the truth. She just remembered a kind smile and sharp, funny banter. So while other women were admiring his chiseled jaw, muscled arms and an ever-so-shapely ass, she was mesmerized by his baritone voice and unfiltered words.
Cass wasn’t stupid, though. She’d done the whole dating at work thing, and she wasn’t going to do that again. It never bode well, and even though she’d known some very successful work couples, it hadn’t been a good thing for her. Plus, when she finally did notice Mad’s luxurious black hair and deep blue eyes, it was too late. She was just Cass. His work buddy. The one he rained random hugs down on. The one who teased him when he put his foot in his mouth. The one who shared his love of all things geek, but helped him keep that a dirty secret so he stayed the cool, suave VP that everyone thought he was.
Besides, she’d seen the women he brought around, including his ex-wife, and Cass definitely wasn’t his type. Not by a long shot. Cass was short, had a few extra pounds on her, and was pretty much invisible. Most of the time she didn’t mind, but when he paraded around those tall, thin goddesses, it made her feel a little less wanted—not just by him, but by any man. She heard the way the guys around the office talked about the women in his dating life. They put the man on a pedestal. They strove to be him, to get those types of women, and they put down any woman who wasn’t like that. When she’d call them out, it was always, “Well, not you, Cass. You’re awesome,” but it didn’t matter. She knew what men wanted, and she wasn’t it.
That was the crux of it, wasn’t it? She tried over and over to get Mad out of her head. She compartmentalized her attraction to him, filing it right before opera singing under “Never Going to Happen.” So instead she settled for a warm friendship, an odd employee-boss relationship. Sure, it drove her crazy when he touched her, something he loved to do. She reveled in his musky scent when they snuggled next to one another on the couch in his office. She’d missed his reassuring kisses on the top of her head, or the times when he’d pull her into a waltz in the middle of the conference room.
And she’d missed how he never let her wallow or bullshit him, either. He’d be in here right now, telling her to get over it and just be happy he was back. He’d tell her she was beautiful, and one day a man was going to sweep her off her feet. With a few choice words, he’d have her flying high.
And therein lied the problem. The one man who could make her feel like she mattered was the one man who didn’t want her, but who she craved. She needed him, even if she couldn’t have him sexually, she needed his encouragement and strength. She’d felt sapped these two years, like her job was sucking the life out of her—the only bright light being his infrequent visits. She felt isolated and alone, and she knew it was the void he’d left sucking her in.
And now he was back. Not in his old job, but it didn’t matter. He got his dream promotion and came back the hero. She smiled. Like she’d ever doubted. If anyone had faith that he’d succeed, it was her—his biggest cheerleader. The only place in her life where Maddox disappointed was in the area he knew nothing about. An area she would never, ever let anyone know about.
* * *
, girl,” Lo grinned, flipping her relaxed curls over her shoulder before sipping her very pink drink. She’d removed her suit jacket, revealing a skin-tight, blue bandage dress that hugged every curve, and damn if every eye in McCallan’s wasn’t on her. Cass lips curled up at her friend’s very evil inner voice. Lo craved attention and being able to keep men at her beck and call. While Cass was all brain, Lo was pure sex, and her best friend loved how those roving eyes made her feel.
“Lo, keep that she-devil down. You’re going to give that table by the window early heart attacks,” Cass laughed.
“Pity them. Now stop avoiding, DISH!”
Cass sighed. “He got his promotion, and he’s coming back.”
Lo punched her arm again, “Dumbass. We all know that. Who the fuck cares. Tell me how you feeeeel about it.”
“I’m happy. You know I am. I missed him,” Cass admitted, sipping her beer.
“Didn’t we all,” Lo mumbled, her happiness veiled in the misery they’d all been living under since Mad left. Tight-ass Phil had been making everyone’s existence unbearable with his incessant micromanaging and constant questioning. The man was a paranoid dick. “But that’s not what I’m asking, Cass. I’m asking about you. You were finally…”
Cass cocked her head. “Finally what?”
Lo sighed and the mischievous glimmer left her dark chocolate eyes. “Look. Don’t kill me, okay? But c’mon. You two were…special. It was magic. I don’t know what kind of magic it was, and I’ve always been honest about the rumors, but I know you. I know what he meant to you, and I saw your heart break when he left. You just started getting better, Cass. You just started opening back up.”
Cass shook her head. Opening back up? To what?
Lo must have read her confusion. “You love him.”
“As a brother, Lo. No more than that,” she protested. She’d made this argument more times than she could count, and not just to people as close to her as Lo. More than one drunk asshole had suggested more was going on between her and Maddox over the past eight years. Sometimes the idiots who couldn’t keep their mouths shut weren’t even drunk enough to dismiss, thinking they were being funny or in on the joke.
Lo’s face turned serious. “Don’t fuck with me, girl. It’s always been more than that, and you know it. I don’t want to see you shut yourself off again because of him. I’m so close to having you ready, and I’m not letting him ruin it.”
Cass’ laugh caused more than a few heads to turn. “Lo! Maddox is not the reason I don’t date. If that was the case, I wouldn’t be the frigid bitch queen you all think I am.”
Cass’ arm stung from yet another of Lo’s punches.
“Bitch, that hurt!” Cass cried. She had to stop doing that!
“Girl, I just want you to be happy with something real, and he can’t make you happy.”
“Dear, Lord, Lo. You have no idea how many things are wrong with that statement!” Cass exclaimed. “First, I’m not in love with him, and he is not keeping me from dating. You’ve known me long enough to know that, even if I did have a crush on him, I’d never, ever let that stop me from moving forward. I know crushes aren’t real. Second, you want me to find something real? Do you not remember the Happy Bunny vibrator you bought me for my last birthday? Not exactly encouraging the real.”
“The one collecting dust in the back of your closet? Still more real than the fantasy you have of this mystery man coming in to sweep you off your feet. There aren’t white knights, Cass. Look around this room. Any of these men would love to take you home and fuck you senseless.”
“No. They’d love to take
home and fuck
senseless. They’d love to continue ignoring me.” Cass looked around, and even though Lo had made it clear she was ignoring them, more eyes than were comfortable still hovered on Lo.
“First, no, they wouldn’t ignore you if you’d just stop making everyone think that Frigid Bitch Queen was your real name. Second, there might be a few I’d let fuck me senseless,” she laughed, her gaze stopping on a fairly attractive, dark-haired businessman doing his best not to spill his whiskey as the full weight of her stare stopped him mid-sip.
“Good grief, Lo. Now he’s coming over here,” she sighed as anxiety from discussing her old boss shifted to nervousness about the man and his friends approaching the table.
“Hey,” the man grinned, his perfect teeth gleaming as he leaned into Lo.
“Hey,” she replied, her eyes traveling from his face down to his crotch. Damn, that woman was really a vixen. The other men stood around, watching the interaction, not even bothering to nod at Cass. Yeah, Frigid Bitch Queen at work.
Lo licked her lips, and Cass’ lips quirked up. Not a soft crotch in the house.
“I’m Mitch,” the man ran a finger down Lo’s arm and she leaned into the touch.
“Mitch, I’m Lo. This is my friend, Cass,” she motioned across the table.
“Hey,” he glanced at Cass, turning all his heat back toward Lo.
“Who are your friends?” she asked, and Cass could see the cold creeping in. Lo’s hoes over bros policy was first, and the fact that he’d barely acknowledged Cass, not even bothering to introduce her to his friends, didn’t bode well for the fool.
“Max and Pete,” he waved at them, his eyes still roving up and down Lo’s body, not realizing that she was turning into her own Frigid Bitch Queen.
“Max and Pete,” Lo gave them a wicked smile. They both nodded, leaning in closer to her. “I suggest you take your friend—Mitch, was it?—home so he can spend some time in a cold shower.”
Mitch blinked and backed up. “Baby, I-“
“Don’t ‘Baby’ me, Mitch,” she spat. “You’re hot and all, but I’m not interested in someone who ignores everyone around him for a fuck. Tells me you’d be all pumping and pushing until you came, leaving me hanging. And Mitch, I’m never, ever left hanging.”
She turned back to Cass. “Let’s go, girl. Nothing of interest for us here,” she grabbed her jacket and left a $20 on the table.
Cass rolled her eyes at the men who stood there not quite sure what just happened.