Read One Week (HaleStorm) Online

Authors: Elisabeth Staab

Tags: #enemies to lovers, #boardroom romance, #contemporary, #romance, #contemporary romance, #office romance, #series romance, #workplace

One Week (HaleStorm) (15 page)

BOOK: One Week (HaleStorm)
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Michael held back a sneer. “Marriage of convenience. Our fathers were good friends, wanted to see us happy together. It was over before it goddamn started.”

“Good deal. Well then you better set about telling her why your sun rises and fucking sets in her gorgeous gray eyes, and she needs to believe that shit all the way down to her toes.” The young man checked his watch. “Right about now, her mother is either making her want to slit her own wrists, or making her want to commit murder. Dysfunctional families are like high-powered magnets so you gotta give her something stronger to pull her away.”

Michael ran his hands over his overheated face. “Fuck me, I’m getting love lessons from a go-go dancer. Anything else I need to know?”

Jeff jabbed his finger again. “Ex. Go-go dancer, thank you. I quit last night and I am not going back. Getting too old for that shit. And listen, be good to her. She doesn’t think she deserves it, but she does.”

Michael nodded, letting out a slow breath. “Well thank you for your help. And congratulations on your career move.”

Jeff snorted a laugh. “Hell yeah. Meet Jeff Summers, Real Estate Agent.” He flashed a dimpled grin.

Michael glanced down at the glittery array of man-thongs, still waiting to be packed in boxes. “I can’t picture you selling real-estate. I mean no offense.”

“Well, I need something serious while I work out what I actually want to do with my life and Aunt Karen has more business than she can handle around the Northern Virginia area. She handles ritzy corporate space and those ridiculous McMansion dealies. There are some mega-bank houses on the market. ‘S a good opportunity.”

Michael nodded. He and Becca bought the house they’d had together when the market dropped, but ‘cheap’ was a relative term in the area. “Well. Thanks again. And good luck.”

Jeff gave a mock salute. “Back atcha.”

Michael left, wondering what grand gesture it would take to get past Elise’s “high powered magnet.”

***

T
hat night Elise set about finishing the work she’d pounded out on the turbulent plane ride. Trying to read and type while flying always made her queasy, but she’d done it to ensure she got Michael what he needed in record time. Then once her mother had fallen asleep in front of the television—because she never slept in her own bed—Elise had gone to work combing through all the documentation she’d managed to download from HaleStorm Engineering’s servers in order to finish firming up the necessary files.

She’d turned off her phone after arguing with Michael, not wanting anything to distract her. This would get done, dammit, and she would also be finished with Michael Hale.

At seven fourteen the following morning she’d typed up the last of what she could complete without returning to HaleStorm Engineering and sent everything to Michael along with a note of explanation. If he wanted her to return on Monday morning to fill in the final few items before sending the docs to the customer, she would. Doing so was in her contract. However, he could easily finish and submit the documentation without her. Everything would be fine.

She was packing up her laptop for her trip home when a scream jolted Elise from the room.

“Mom?” She ran from her old bedroom with her heart flailing. “What’s wrong?”

Her mother stood in the kitchen waving a spatula, still wearing her bathrobe. “Oh, you’re up. Thought you were sleeping late.”

“I’ve been up, I was working. I heard a scream.”

“A spider. I get jumpy sometimes. Oh.” Her mother pointed to the counter with the spatula. “I turned on your phone, you have a gazillion missed calls.” She pulled down a mug. “Ya want coffee?”

The muscles between her shoulders stiffened. Dammit, she hadn’t worked out all week, and she needed an outlet for her stress.
Did sex with Michael count?
The thought made her face burn. “Why did you turn on my phone?”

“Yours looks like mine. I wasn’t wearing my glasses.”

Right. Elise slipped the phone in the pocket of her pajamas without looking. “Yes, please. Coffee.”  She ran a hand through her hair, examining the ends. She scowled at the frizz before slipping a hair tie from around her wrist and pulling it all back.

“You need to get the ends trimmed,” her mother said. “I can take you to the lady who does mine while you’re here.”

Elise examined her mother’s short, straw-colored perm. “I like the guy who cuts mine back home.”

Her mother looked wounded. “I’m only trying to offer a helpful suggestion.”

Elise closed her eyes. “Thank you. Really. But I can’t stay long anyway.”

Her mother pulled back. “Right. You just came to be sure I wasn’t falling apart.”

“Mom, you sounded terrible on the phone. I was scared half to death.”

Her mother tapped her coffee mug. “Didn’t mean to scare you. Just felt lonely. Victor, he’s going back to his ex-wife.” Her face fell.

Elise’s body got heavy. It was so hard to know how to feel. She loved her mother, and she hated to see this happen. Still, she said, “Maybe it’s for the best.”

“I thought he loved me. I’m always wrong. Your father, then Len, Randolph, and now Victor. They never stay.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” Elise’s head felt light. She never knew what to say. “You know, I’m kind of hungry. Would you be willing to make some of those cinnamon rolls I love?” If nothing else, distraction usually worked.

Her mother swiped her hand across her face, wiping away tears. “I guess we may as well eat. You missed calls from that Michael fellow. Is this for work?”

Elise clunked her head against her mother’s daisy-covered wallpaper. “Don’t, mom.”

“I hate to see you get hurt the way I have, is all.”

Elise sighed. “He’s the CEO of the company and I’m working on a critical project. I came down here to check on you when I should be there. I imagine he’s concerned about the status of his documents. He has a right to call.” She poured more coffee and went searching in the fridge for extra milk, before she said something she’d regret.

She pulled her phone out and checked the time on the call. Only a half hour ago. “Mom, I’m going to use your office to make a call.”

“To call this Michael?”

No way on earth was she going to answer that one. Elise turned to leave the room.

“Okay, honey. I’m only trying to help. I’d hate to see you end up like me,” her mother called after her.

Elise walked away, reminding herself that her mother meant well and didn’t realize the impact of her words. But as she dialed the phone, and the call rolled to his voicemail, the weight of them sank beneath Elise’s skin.

I’d hate to see you end up like me.

Chapter 16

M
ichael passed the hospital on the way to drop some suits at the cleaners, and remembered he needed to take his Santa suit out of storage. Trouble was, his Santa suit remained at one of the last places he wanted to go: his old house. He could get another, but this one was tailored to fit him perfectly.

“Might as well rip off the Band-aid,” he muttered. He’d had no luck getting hold of Elise again all morning anyway.

His hope that Becca might be visiting her family for the holiday weekend was dashed when he pulled up to find her Mercedes SUV parked in the driveway. He clamped down on the tension already spreading through his body and got out of the car, surprised to find her standing on the porch to greet him.

“Well this is a nice surprise,” she said as he walked up. She wore a thick, knee-length sweater and bundled it tightly around herself.

Michael’s stride almost broke when he hit the stairs. She sure was acting happy to see him, when only a week ago he’d handed her divorce papers. Was it too much to hope someone new in her life caused the extra bounce in her step? “I don’t want to trouble you, but I need my Santa costume. If I can grab it quickly, I’ll be on my way.”

She threw him a warm smile, holding the door open wide. “Come in. If I’d known you were coming I would have cooked, but I have coffee and croissants. I know how you love those.”

He hesitated. “Becca. I’m only here for—”

“The suit, I know.” She held the door open. “I think it’s so great you do that Santa thing at the hospital every year.” She motioned with her hand. “Its freezing out here, Mike, come inside.”

Four years of marriage and she hadn’t once praised his desire to give back to the community. He also hadn’t been able to convince her he didn’t much care for going by Mike. “Is it still in the hall closet? I can get it myself.”

Her normally styled hair swung as her head wobbled side to side. “Yeah, no. I don’t think so. I’ve been clearing things out. I might have put it in one of the spare bedrooms. Hang on.”

He sat at a stool in the sunny kitchen breakfast nook he loved when they bought the house, unable to get comfortable. The stool made his ass hurt. He’d never liked the table. He wobbled side to side, lulled by the white noise of the bar stool’s
ca-thunk, ca-thunk, ca-thunk
. And the stools weren’t level.

He looked around the kitchen with its bay windows, charming etched tile, and custom countertops. All chosen by Becca. This place had never been home.

Michael remembered making love to Elise in the conference room, the frenzied things that had spilled out of his mouth.

He’d told Elise
she
was home. Fuck, he’d really said it aloud, hadn’t he? The memory made his temperature rise enough he was tempted to remove his coat. He resisted only because he didn’t want Becca to think he was staying awhile.

He stood to pace, digging for his phone. He realized with no small amount of irritation that he must have left it in the car, which meant he couldn’t even do something to look busy while he waited. So he walked in circles, skin warm and prickly, too stubborn to eat or pour coffee. For fuck’s sake, he wasn’t staying.

Something caught his attention when he’d made his eighth or ninth lap around the kitchen. An envelope lay in her bill-paying tray with his attorney’s return address. The same one he’d given Becca the week before. When he picked it up, it didn’t appear to have been opened.

“Here we go.” Becca breezed into the kitchen with a garment bag draped over her shoulder.

He spotted a business card beneath the envelope for a Realtor named Karen Summers. He wasn’t sure why the name rang a bell but he palmed the card anyway. Instinct’s alarm bells should never be ignored. 

He held up the envelope and showed it to Becca. “Do you have some question about the divorce paperwork?”

She paused mid-stride. “Umm. No. Why?”

“You haven’t signed them. You haven’t even opened them.”

“I....” She sighed and laid the bag with the suit down over one of the bar stools. She pressed her lips together. “I guess I’d hoped there was still a chance we could work things out. Then you showed up here today....” She lifted her hand and then dropped it to the side.

Michael sighed. This had all turned out to be such a mess. “I said no when you asked me last week, and I said no the day I moved out. Frankly, you haven’t expressed anything toward me other than displeasure for some time so I can’t fathom why you would want me to stay.”

“But problems can be fixed,” Becca said. “We’ve never really tried hard enough, have we?”

“This is ridiculous. You know it is.” He strode forward, gathering the suit bag from where she’d placed it on the uneven bar stool. “I’ll have my attorney get in touch next week, so I suggest you find a lawyer to communicate with unless you intend to represent yourself.” He leaned toward her then, and treated her to the same grin he’d given Anya before telling her she’d failed to steal his client. “Another thing, Becca. I’d be careful about dragging this out. What’s in that envelope is a quick, simple, no-fault divorce. Heaven forbid I amend things to show you violated our pre-nup.”

Her mouth dropped open. “I did no such thing.”

“No?” Michael’s grin widened. “Try me and find out.” He grabbed a croissant and headed for the door.

***

“I
t’s about fucking time.”

Elise gripped her phone as she made her way off the plane. She smiled at Michael’s low growl, because despite the rudeness of his words he didn’t sound angry the way he had when she’d left for Ohio. More than anything, she was relieved to be home.
Really
home. Ohio wasn’t that anymore.

“If that’s your standard phone personality, Mr. Hale, then no wonder you’re losing clients.”

“You’re hilarious.”

“Did you get my email?” The sunset created a blinding glare as she crossed the tarmac. “Everything is done except a few bullet points I left for you to fill in yourselves. I didn’t want you to have to give me any proprietary information.”
In case you didn’t trust me.
“Even without it you should have more than a high enough percentage complete to pass the validation.”

“I did receive the email, thank you. I’d appreciate it, however, if you still came in Monday and Tuesday.”

She stumbled mid-stride in her walk down the terminal. “Why?”

“They knew we were bringing an outside contractor in to handle this, and I would like you to be a part of delivery and presentation. It only makes sense.”

“You don’t need me, you only need to show the customer they’re important. Having the CEO personally attend the meeting will accomplish that.” Elise shivered. Coming off of an overnight visit to make sure her mom wasn’t suicidal, seeing Michael might be more than she could handle.

“If I go in there to do my own talking it makes us look small time. If I go in there with you it makes me look like I have a solid team, but I’m still man enough to show up to defend my own company.”

“So you’re saying you’re good at games?”

“Strategy, Elise.” He’d lowered his voice. “I’ve never played games. Not with you. Not once. Don’t put words in my mouth.” His tone carried a warning. She wished to hell it didn’t sound so sexy. She wasn’t supposed to want him as much as she did. Not after everything.

After all those years, she’d allowed all the things she felt about him to come out into the light, and he had to go and accuse her of betraying him. “I see.”

“Besides, I want you at that meeting. And we have things to discuss. About you and I.”

BOOK: One Week (HaleStorm)
7.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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