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) (9 page)

BOOK: One Week (HaleStorm)
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His powerful hips kept pumping. One hand pulled a fistful of her hair back. He leaned forward and kissed her like the world might end, down her throat and over her chest before kicking his own head back with a deep bellow.

Elise wasn’t sure she’d seen anything like it. As he yelled his fingers dug into her hips like he absolutely had to keep her close. People in neighboring states must have heard that scream. Wow.

She had pulled that passion out of him.
She had
.

When his cries ceased, chest heaving, his head rested on her shoulder. For a moment or maybe a hundred, neither of them said a word. Her hand smoothed down his back as they breathed together, trying to hold onto the magic of that moment. 

As they came down from their high, Elise tried not to think of the unfinished parts of her spreadsheet and failed miserably. Now that they’d been intimate, it was going to be that much more important Elise come through for him on this project. She’d have to work twice as hard to be sure they stayed professional from here on out. To make sure he took her work on the project seriously.

He grasped her chin and brought her head around until they had managed eye contact. “Uh-uh. Don’t.”

“What?”

“Whatever you’re thinking.”

“You don’t know what I’m thinking.”

“I can hazard a few guesses.” He eased her back onto the bed. “Come on. We said tonight would be a break from the stress. I know you showered, but now I need one, and I’ve gotten you sticky and sweaty. Want to come?”

He was showering here? “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

“A shower. Good, clean fun, Elise. Don’t make me do the walk of shame across the hall like this. We’re being adults about this, aren’t we?”

He held out a hand.

“You go ahead,” she said.

He shook his head. One hand tugged at her disheveled curls. “I want to wash your hair and rub your shoulders.”

She blinked. “What?” Nobody had ever said something like that to her. Ever.

He grinned. “Well I don’t know about you, but I just had amazing sex. You still look like you need to relax.”

Her face heated and she hurried to bury the evidence in her palms. “Fine. I’ll come with you. Better make good on that offer to wash my hair.”

She threw out the ultimatum as a defense and scurried past him to turn on the shower, surprised at his response from behind her on the bed.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Chapter 9

T
he thing that made the morning after weird to Elise was the fact that it wasn’t actually all that uncomfortable. Michael stayed. She wasn’t sure if he wouldn’t or would, but in the end there had been no discussion. They’d showered, and she’d stayed in the bathroom to dry her hair and brush her teeth. Stalling? Maybe. But her hair tangled easily if she didn’t at least towel dry and comb, and dental health carried a great deal of importance.

So she’d been stalling.

He’d done exactly what he’d promised in the shower. He’d honest-to-freaking-Pete washed her hair, massaging her scalp until she’d been tempted to promise him the world. He’d even rubbed her shoulders, her calves... other things.

The entire affair wound up far more intimate than the quick wham-bam she’d anticipated, and with the steam still clearing from their shower, she hadn’t known what to say or do. She’d worked hard to build this layer of confidence around herself and that night she’d been too vulnerable in front of him.

By the time she’d given herself a pep talk about pulling on her big girl stockings and getting in there to talk to the man, Michael had been passed out in the middle of her loaner bed, snoring softly. So she’d crawled in next to him and that had been the end.

They’d driven in together because why not, right? They were coming from the same place and going to the same place. Michael’s idea. She’d suggested separate vehicles might be worthwhile in case he wanted to leave early, or he had plans to go someplace for Thanksgiving. He didn’t.

Elise tried not to think hard about the fact that tomorrow the office would be a shiny chrome and marble mausoleum, save for the two of them and their spreadsheets. God willing they could be adults and focus on work.

Michael had been urgently needed elsewhere again for much of the morning. Too many people with too many software related life or death emergencies right before the holiday.

For the most part, Elise appreciated the peace and quiet, but finally she went searching in the early afternoon. She didn’t find him in his office, but did find his contract guy, Tom, talking to Michael’s ex. Almost ex-wife? Dear Lord.

“Come on in.” Tom motioned Elise forward when she paused by the door to Michael’s office.

He and the petite brunette clasped hands, speaking quietly to each other for a few seconds more. Then Michael’s impeccably-dressed ex headed for the door. As she breezed from the office, she flashed Elise a smile as blinding as the rock on her finger.

Tom strode over with a hand out. His usually neat salt and pepper hair was out of place, like something had him upset enough to run his hands through it. “I’m sorry. What can I do for you? Have a seat.”

“Uh....” She scanned Michael’s large office as she lowered herself into the chair. What was Michael’s ex doing in here with one of his employees when he wasn’t in here himself? None of her proverbial beeswax but it sure seemed odd. “I was looking for Michael. I had some questions about the RFID handling protocols for the project.”

He frowned at the carpet. “Hmm. Telecommuting wasn’t authorized for that project so those procedures shouldn’t matter.”

“Oh.” She jumped up again. Too fast, probably. “Well okay then. Anything that doesn’t apply to the project makes my life easier. Thanks!” Sure, maybe Michael’s contracts guy felt comfortable being in here because he’d known Michael for however long. And probably Michael’s ex did because, well, she probably had rights to lots of things Elise didn’t really have.

Okay that thought
really
spurred Elise to leave.

“Anything else I can do for you, please let me know.” Huh. Tom seemed much more accommodating today. Monday when she’d arrived, she’d gotten kind of a cold vibe that she hadn’t appreciated, and she had gone so far as to wonder if he was one of the shady employees to whom Michael had referred.

“Thank you.” She backed toward the door as briskly as she could without being rude.

“Any time. We all appreciate the hard work you’re doing.” He followed up with a handsome, megawatt smile. Hyde and Jekyll, much?

He walked with her out toward the conference room where she’d been stationed, only to run into Penny from HR, escorting her roommate Jeff. Dressed as a hunky firefighter.

“Elise,” said Penny. “This young man showed up looking for you. “He indicated that it was a matter of some urgency.”

Oh jeez. She cleared her throat. “Thank you, Penny. I’ll take it from here.” She fought not to laugh at Jeffrey, in his fake but realistic gear, and the temporary security badge clipped to his uniform. She realized Tom still hovered next to her, eyeing Jeff with something like consternation.

Great. Fabulous. She’d probably managed to wipe out any goodwill she had achieved with Tom.

“Oh. Uh. Tom, this is my roommate Jeffrey, Jeff this is Tom....” Crap she couldn’t remember his last name. “Who works for Michael.”  She turned to Jeff. “And what are you doing here? You didn’t call ahead or anything?” The last part she muttered under her breath with Tom still hovering weirdly nearby for some unknown reason.

“Oh.” Jeffrey slapped his chest and grinned at Tom. “I’m not a real firefighter. “No worries, your building is secure.” Light danced in Jeff’s blue eyes, and he actually had the nerve to stand there and give Tom the old “Hey, how’s it going?” up and down sweep. Right there in front of her.

“Okay, you know what?” She grabbed Jeffrey’s arm. “We should go grab a cup of coffee.” She turned to Tom. “If Michael comes by, please let him know I’ll be back shortly. And thanks again for your help.”

“S-u-re,” Tom said with a scowl. Slowly, he turned and headed back toward the executive offices, but he glanced back once more as he made his exit. Still frowning.

Elise had the strange inkling she’d just failed a quiz.

“So who’s the salt and pepper fox?”

She turned Jeff. “Seriously? What the hell are you doing here?”

They stepped on the elevator to head down to the lobby.

“I had a bachelorette party right up the road last night. I thought I’d swing by since you haven’t been home in days. What’s going on? Are you coming to Fredericksburg with me for Thanksgiving dinner?”

She sagged against the shiny brushed-metal wall inside the elevator car. “I can’t. There’s a time crunch on this project.”

He picked at something on her sleeve. “There’s always a time crunch. That company you work for takes advantage, you know? They’ll keep overbooking you until you put your foot down.”

She huffed a breath. “This one’s different.”

“And how’s that?”

They stepped off the elevator into the lobby, ambling around the Christmas display. “It’s just different. I made a promise.”

He started to open his mouth again but she held up her hand to stop him. “Don’t, okay? Please.”

“Okay. But what about your birthday? Are we going to be able to do anything to celebrate?”

Of course, that was the moment Michael appeared next to them. “Whose birthday are we discussing?”

Crap. “It’s not a big deal. I don’t like to celebrate,” she said.

“But we’ll have this validation to finish as well. Two things to celebrate.” His finger traced the outer edge of her hand. “We should do something special.” The gesture, subtle but intimate, gave her a shiver.

After a moment of heart palpitations, Elise gave a clearly curious Jeff the single-finger “hang on a second” gesture, and motioned for Michael to step over so they could talk without her roommate butting in.

“Listen, now’s not really the time to get into it, but last night you said what happened between us would be a one-time thing. I agree that’s probably best. So things aren’t confused.”

His eyes darkened. “Right. If that’s what you think is best.”

“I do.”

Did she? Her lips formed the words, and a big part of her brain meant them. She
was
confused. Putting distance between them to protect her heart seemed like the right thing to do. Certainly, it was the professional thing to do.

Still, when he touched her the way he just had and looked at her the way he was looking at her now, all she wanted to do was get closer.

***

“O
hmygod, I love you so much. Marry me.” Elise groaned and reached two grasping, greedy hands toward Jeffrey and the giant whipped cream covered coffee beverage he carried, mimicking the universal symbol for “gimme.”

“You are nuts,” he said. He removed his heavy yellow fireman coat and sat across from her.

“Me?” She waved a hand in his direction. “Look at you. I can’t believe they let you into the HaleStorm building dressed in bunker gear.”

He grinned. “They thought I was an actual fireman. I make a very convincing public servant.”

She gave a dry laugh. “Oh, I’m sure you do. So what are you doing here, anyway? I mean it’s nice of you to stop by and all, but if you danced at a party last night, why aren’t you home sleeping?”

His eyes rolled as he shook his head.


Oh
.” She sipped her mocha. “Wait, but you said the party was all girls.”

Jeff stage whispered. “The bride-to-be had a handsome older brother who stopped in to drop off a case of champagne shortly before I left.”

“Aha.” She grinned and waggled her eyebrows.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t wake up before his wife got in this morning.”

“Ooh.”

“Yeah, she works the midnight shift.”

Elise winced. “He’s sleeping around while she’s working all night?”

“As a patrol cop.”

“Oh, shit.” She shook her head. “Unbelievable.”

“I know how to pick ‘em, right?” He slumped forward. “I guess the only good news is she was angrier at him than at me. Dude was a repeat offender. A hot, hot smokin’ hot repeat offender.”

Elise placed her hand over her friend’s. “I’m so sorry. That must’ve sucked.”

“I should have known better. I don’t know how I get myself into these situations.” He rested his chin lightly on the lid of his cup. “You know, I’m feeling like I need to take a step back from everything. Re-evaluate my life. My career.”

She felt a pang of sympathy on her roommate’s behalf. “But you love dancing.”

“I don’t love being lonely though.” He put his other hand over hers, so their hands now lay in a stack. “And don’t get me wrong, you’re great. But you’re gone a lot, and except for that one time when we got drunk and almost did something we both would have regretted until the end of time—”

“Ick, don’t remind me.” That one “oops” moment had long since passed and she and Jeff were like siblings.

“—You can’t provide what I’m looking for in a relationship.” He sat back and took a sip of his coffee. “Fact is, nobody wants to date a stripper. Some of them say they’re cool with it, but they’re not. Guys wanna get wild and crazy with a stripper. Not get serious. There’s too much weirdness and jealousy and guys lying about being married so then their wives come home and threaten to arrest you for prostitution.”

“Holy shit, you’re kidding.” Elise slapped a hand over her mouth. Gaping at Jeff wouldn’t make him feel any better.

He gave her “the look.”

“You’re not kidding. I’m so sorry.” Elise didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. I think I still have that college fund my parents set aside. I haven’t checked. Maybe I should.”

Jeff had brains for miles. Truly, Elise wasn’t sure she knew anybody smarter. Michael, maybe. The way he seemed to disregard his own intelligence made her crazy.

But in a way, she understood. He’d been bullied a lot in high school, and his parents, though they meant well, did nothing. They’d told him they’d pay for college if he wanted a “real” career, and he hadn’t.

“Let me know if I can do anything to help,” she told Jeff.

BOOK: One Week (HaleStorm)
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