Hardpressed

Author: P Hana

Page 1

   

CHAPTER ONE

“I can’t believe I’m doing this again,” I said.

Blake slid his arm around my shoulders. He pulled me close and I relaxed into his familiar warmth. We stepped out of his office building and headed a few blocks down the street. He leaned down and gave me a reassuring kiss on the cheek.

“No funny business this time, I promise.”

I laughed and rolled my eyes. “Very reassuring.”

I almost believed him. The past few weeks had been intense, but something had changed between us. I could joke, but he had my trust now. After all my fervent protests and desperate attempts to fight the way I felt about him, I’d finally let him in. At least more than I’d ever let anyone else in, and nothing had ever felt more right.

He flashed me a mischievous smile. “Don’t worry. There was no way I could get Fiona to pull a stunt like that again.”

Dressed in white capris and a navy chiffon shell, Blake’s sister, Fiona, waited ahead of us near the entryway of a quaint café. We stopped directly in front of the entrance. The engraved sign above read Mocha. A young patron swung the door open and the deep aroma of freshly ground coffee and chocolate wafted out, setting off happy signals all over my body. I’d nearly forgotten about our original mission when Fiona motioned us toward an unmarked door next to the café.

“We’re upstairs.” She ushered us up a narrow staircase to the second floor.

“Who owns the building, Fiona?” I tried to make it sound like small talk, but who was I kidding? The fact that we were a few short strides from a steady caffeine source was already a major selling point, but Fiona knew my position on renting from Blake or any of his subsidiaries. I trusted Blake, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t still committed to becoming intricately involved in my business dealings at every possible opportunity.

Blake had plenty of his own contradictions. He could be sweet and heart-wrenchingly tender one moment and be driving me into a fiery rage with his compulsive controlling tendencies the next. He could micro-manage the hell out of my growing business during the day and fuck me straight out of my mind the second we walked through the door every night. Granted, sometimes I needed both, but I still wasn’t sure how I felt about all this dominance in my life. Letting him in scared me, but I was learning to be more open to it, to trust him as much as I could.

Today, a part of me, the part of me that needed separation and independence from Blake, wanted to make absolutely sure he wasn't pulling a fast one on me again.

“I can assure you that Blake has no ownership stake in the property,” Fiona reassured me.

That was all well and good, but not so long ago she’d sold me on a beautifully updated apartment within the same Comm Ave brownstone that Blake not only owned, but also lived in. The tenuous line between our personal lives and businesses was already too blurred. I was holding firm on this one.

“I'm glad to hear it.”

Fiona dug into her purse. Despite my misgivings, my anticipation grew. She unlocked the door and we filed into the space. The long room was small, at least compared to Blake’s. Though musty and in dire need of a cleaning crew, the space held promise. Behind me Blake sighed.

“Fiona, seriously. This is the best you could do?”

She shot him an annoyed look.

“We—Erica and I—discussed her budget, and for the location and size, this is a fair option. Obviously the space could use some TLC, but you have to admit it has potential.”

I took a long look around, envisioning the many possibilities. I had been so busy keeping things running out of my apartment, all while hiring, that I hadn’t had a chance to get excited about this move. But this would be fun.

“I love the wood floors.”

“They’re filthy.” Blake scuffed the sole of his shoe on the floor, drawing a faint line through the dust.

“Have a little vision, Blake. We just need to clean it up, and with a few enhancements, this could definitely have a cool design studio feel.”

“Exactly. Exposed brick never goes out,” Fiona added.

“Pretty old.” Blake wrinkled his nose.

I laughed and slapped him on the shoulder. “Show me a building in Boston that isn't old.”

The space was a far cry from the Landon Group’s renovated modern offices, but I had modest and realistic expectations. The current state of the space left much to be desired, but with some elbow grease and a few additions, we could make this work.

We stopped in front of the large windows facing the street. A flutter of excitement coursed through me. Giving the business its own address would be a major milestone and make everything we’d accomplished so far seem much more real.

I turned to gauge Fiona’s reaction. “I think I like it. What do you think?”

Fiona pursed her lips and looked around. “The price is fair and the lease term gives you options for growth. All things considered, I would say this is a safe bet. Can you see yourself here?”

“I can.” I smiled, having renewed faith in Fiona’s brokering skills. At the end of the day, we needed a comfortable, affordable working space for the new team members of Clozpin, the fashion social network I’d spent the past year growing.

“Let me make some calls and see if I can get the price down for you. Because Blake’s right, this place is kind of dirty. Plus, if you plan on fixing it up, that gives us a bargaining chip.” Fiona pulled out her phone and exited toward the hallway, leaving us alone again.

“You didn’t ask me what I think.” Blake gave me a crooked grin.

“That’s because I already know what you think.”

“I could give you twice the square footage and you wouldn’t even need to leave the building to come visit me. Plus you’d get the girlfriend rate, which I think you’ll find is unmatched in this part of town.”

Blake’s uninvited assistance in all matters was a lost cause. Sure, he was controlling, compulsive, and persistent as all hell, but he was ultimately a fixer. When the people he cared about ran into problems or wanted for anything, he came to the rescue, sparing no expense in the process.

“I appreciate the offer. I really do. But you can’t put a price on independence, Blake.” We’d had this conversation before, and I was standing my ground. He needed to trust me to make things work on my own. This trust thing went both ways.

“You can be independent. We’ll put it all in writing.”

“In my experience, putting it in writing only commits me to being dependent on your ample resources for a minimum length of time.” Blake already had me bound to a year-long lease with my apartment, though he'd yet to cash any of my rent checks.

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