Hardpressed

Author: P Hana

Page 3

   

“Of course not. Don’t worry about it.”

I waved away her apology and all the emotions it threatened to conjure. One of the reasons we’d grown distant to begin with was the constant reminder of the difficult time in my life that we had shared. I did want to give our friendship another chance, but I seriously hoped that didn’t mean reliving the past every time we met up.

“We’re talking ancient history, Liz. I’ve moved on and I’m not interested in dwelling on it. I have a million other things to think about right now.”

“Right.” She nodded. “I don’t know how you do it. I couldn’t imagine running a business. I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

“There’s definitely a learning curve, but you could say that about anything, I guess. How’s your job going?” She must have already started her position at one of the large investment firms in the city.

“Great, actually, except I’m in spreadsheet hell right now. But I’m learning a lot and trying to figure it all out. I think I like it. Plus, there are tons of hot guys who work at the firm. Major bonus.”

I laughed, remembering how boy crazy she had been when we’d shared a dorm room our freshmen year. In fact, her love of boys and parties might have been what had landed us off campus at a frat house one night. I shook my head, pushing thoughts of that terrible night with Mark out of my mind.

Now that I knew the identity of the man who’d raped me, I was even more determined not to let the experience rule me. I was stronger than the pain he had left me with, and I had come too far to lament the innocence he’d stolen.

“I’d love to come see the new office sometime,” she said.

“Sure, as soon as we get everything set up you should come by. On that note, I really better run. The furniture is being delivered tomorrow, and I’ve got a long night of cleaning ahead of me.”

“No worries. It was great seeing you.”

“You too.” I smiled and offered her a quick hug.

I hurried up to the second floor. I hadn’t seen the place since I’d made the decision to rent it. I was giddy to start making it our own, even if that meant getting a little dirty.

I stopped in front of the door. It was completely unrecognizable from the old door a few days ago. The wood had been painted a satin gray and the window was frosted, leaving a transparent silhouette of our company logo in the center. I turned the key in the shiny chrome handle and opened the door.

The original floors were now shiny and renewed from being refinished and lacquered. Ornate white trim lined the windows and the walls where they met the ceiling. A new ceiling fan and track lighting brought the space into the twenty-first century.

I grabbed my phone and called Fiona.

“Hey, Erica.”

“Do you have something you want to tell me?”

“What? Oh.”

“I thought we were past this.” I tried to keep my tone even, but when was she going to learn to keep Blake out of my business?

“Erica, he’s my big brother. What do you want me to do? He wanted to do something to help. You know how he is.”

Yes, I knew how he was and how impossible he made it to say no, especially when he had his sights set on something. I walked around the room admiring how the space had completely transformed since I’d last seen it. I couldn’t imagine anything better. All I could think to do was mentally map out furniture placement. Blake had done the rest. Damn it all.

“Well it looks amazing. It’s perfect.”

“I know. I sneaked a peek before giving you the keys. He did a great job. Just what I envisioned.” Her wariness at my reaction had clearly waned, her excitement shining through.

I sighed and tapped my foot. Damn it, I was excited too.

“All right, I’m still mad at you though,” I said, thoroughly unconvincing.

“I’ll buy you a drink sometime and you’ll forget all about it.”

“I usually need a few drinks to forget.”

She laughed. “Not going to argue with that. Well, enjoy the space. Congrats.”

“Thanks, I’ll talk to you later.”

I dropped my bag—heavy with cleaning supplies that were now unnecessary—to the floor. I sat cross-legged in the middle of the room, taking it all in. Every baby step we’d taken with the business these past few weeks had seemed overwhelming, and Blake never failed to take everything up a notch.

Just then the door opened, and Blake’s frame filled the doorway. His hands were full with a bottle of champagne, a blanket, and a brown paper bag. A knowing grin curved his lips.

“How's my favorite boss?”

“Can't complain,” I said flatly, looking up at his impressive frame towering over me.

He unfolded the blanket, sat down, and patted the spot next to him for me to join him there.

“What’s all this?”

“I was thinking we could have an office picnic to celebrate the new digs.”

He smirked and twisted the cork off the champagne, then poured the bubbly into two glasses he retrieved from the bag.

Our gazes locked. He was gauging my mood.

“You mad?”

“Maybe,” I lied. Luckily he’d done such an amazing job that I’d already forgiven him and his accomplice.

His eyebrows shot up as if he were waiting for me to react. I got a little lost in his eyes. His beautiful hazel irises under thick, long lashes were the centerpiece on a face that took my breath away with alarming regularity. The sharp lines of his jaw. His lightly tanned skin and full delicious lips that reminded me of the terrible, wonderful things they could do to me. I could stare at him for hours and never tire of the way he made me feel. Possessed and obsessed. I’d never felt so wanted or so enraptured by another human being. Blake was the whole gorgeous, maddening package, and I loved every inch of him.

I sighed, hoping I didn’t look as hopelessly in love as I felt. “I’m accepting your insanity.”

“Good girl.” He visibly relaxed and flashed me a smile.

Eager to be closer, I accepted his earlier invitation and shifted to join him on the blanket. I took the glass of champagne he handed to me and took a sip.

“Do you like it?”

“I love it.” Despite his misgivings about the location, he seemed to have had some vision for the place after all.

“I hoped you would.”

“Why the change of heart?”

He frowned. “What do you mean?”

“You made no bones about hating this place when we looked at it.”

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