When I was a kid, my dad was the gardener for the richest man in town. His daughter, Lily Barnes, told me she could never like a guy like me. Then she kissed me and told me it would never happen again. When it happened again, she told me she could never love me because she was going to leave this place, and I would never leave my dad.
We were never quite friends, not exactly enemies, and we could never quite stop secretly kissing each other.
She never said goodbye before running off to try to make it as an actress. That was her dream, and I wanted her to chase it. Okay, maybe I hated her for it, just a little.
Now she’s back, with no money and even more sass.
A lot has changed around here … except for my hidden feelings about Lily Barnes.
So, it turns out I’m a terrible actress and now I’m back!
When my father offers me a job at his company, I actually think he’s finally decided I’m worthy of one day taking over the family business. Imagine my surprise when I find out that the gardener’s son is the one who’s being groomed to take over, and I’ve been assigned to work for him.
Wes Carver has always been rich in confidence and abs, but now he’s rich in everything, including disdain for yours truly.
If he thinks I’m not built to work, he’s wrong.
If he thinks he can boss me around just because he’s my boss, he’s delusional.
If he thinks I’m still the girl who could never love him … I may be a better actress than anyone thought.
Okay, I’ll admit it. This is the level of intimacy I’ve been most comfortable with when it comes to guys for most of my life—being admired by strangers that I have absolutely no chemistry with. It’s safe and it’s easy and it passes the time. Who needs fireworks when I can have regular conversations with regular guys who don’t stimulate me in any way, on any level?
I’m just starting to convince myself that I can live like this for the foreseeable future when I think I catch sight of the one person I was trying not to secretly hope that I’d see tonight. He’s an oasis of tight black T-shirt and blazer in a desert of flannel and polo shirts. He’s a giant, freshly made chocolate croissant in a bakery filled with day-old plain donuts. He’s walking toward us, eyes pinning me with a possessive stare that sends shivers up and down my spine and gives me a rush like no amount of sugar can do for my brain and my body. Lord, I just want him to lie down on top of me for like an hour. It doesn’t have to be a sex thing! I just want the weight of him pressing down on me so that it’s all I can feel.
“Oh my God, shut up no way!” Alecia squeals and starts jumping up and down. “Bay-baaaayyyyyy!!!”
I finally notice that Neal is walking alongside Wes.
“So what are you doing here, though, seriously?” the guy I had completely forgotten about asks, trying to step back into my sightline. “Can I get you another drink?”
“I think she’s good,” Wes says as he puts an arm around me. “You’re good, right?” he asks me.
I stare up at him, unable to do anything other than enjoy the weight of his big man arm on me, unable to speak for maybe the first time ever.
“Yeah, she’s good. Thanks, man.” Wes removes his arm from my shoulder for a few seconds to shake hands with the guy. “Have a good night.”
I am able to breathe again for a moment. “Yes! No, I don’t need a drink, but thank you. Thanks.” I feel a big warm hand on my lower back, and now it is all that I’m aware of. I can vaguely sense that Neal and Alecia are hugging nearby, and Leesh is asking her husband who’s looking after their fucking kids, but it’s like I’m hearing them from underwater. I can no longer recall just how much alcohol I’ve consumed this evening, but because of my sudden lightheaded wooziness, I’m trying to remember if Alecia made me drink one of her special shit mix slushies earlier.
It is not okay for me to feel this way.
I step away from the big warm hand and look up at Wes, swaying a little.
“You okay?” He reaches for my arm to steady me.
“Yes?” I move my arm away to run my hand through my hair—a signature move that was devised to keep guys who aren’t Wes Carver from touching me. So why am I doing it with Wes Carver? And why is he looking at me like that?
“Toby’s with the kids,” Neal says. “Hey, Lily.”
I realize that I’ve backed up into Neal and Alecia.
“Wait—your dad is babysitting their kids?” I ask Wes.
“He’s looked after them a couple of times before, when I wasn’t available.”
Why weren’t you available? I’m dying to ask him. Were you out on dates with women who aren’t me? Because good—you should totally do that—but also no, don’t do that, not ever, because you’re mine, you’re all mine!
“But why are you here?” is what I say out loud.
“I wanted to see you,” I think I hear him say.
Wes leans in closer and says, “Neal wanted to surprise Leesh.”
God help me, he smells like a leather jacket that got soaked in a rain shower in a cedar forest and got left to dry in a spice factory.
“Crashing Girls’ Night,” I tease. “Classy.”
I inhale so deeply, instinctively reaching up to touch his beautiful unshaven face…forgetting that I was holding my drink with that hand. My glass falls to the floor. What is happening to me? I don’t drop things…except for that book I dropped this morning when a certain someone took his shirt off and I got my first look at his awe-inspiring grown-up bare back. So this is literally the second time I’ve accidentally dropped something in my entire life.
I don’t even move. The glass didn’t break on the carpet, and my leg is only slightly drenched, my foot only a little bit soaked through my stacked-heel Mary Janes. Maybe nobody noticed.
Wes reaches around behind me to grab a napkin from the counter, holds my gaze as he slowly lowers himself down, down the front of me, to pick up the glass with one hand and drag the napkin up the front of my foot with the other. He sweeps the napkin up my bare shin and up over my knee. He continues to look up at me as his fingers glide ever so lightly across the skin of my thigh, just below the hem of my skirt.
I would give all of the money in my trust fund to this night club if there were a rope dangling in front of me right now, attached to one of those Flashdance buckets so I could just pull on it and douse my entire trembling body with water.
“What are you doing?”
“I should have asked you if you wanted to stay wet,” he smirks as he places the wet napkin and empty glass back on the counter top. “Where are my manners?” He wipes his hands on the front of his jeans.
I stare down at his big strong hands and the front of his jeans, where that big strong bulge was only a few nights ago.
Snap out of it, LB! Get your head out of your boss’s jeans and back in the game and keep your eye on the balls.
On the ball.
On the prize.
Whatever. Just stop staring at his crotch.
“Where is the Wes Carver who doesn’t give a shit about manners—when it comes to me, at least?”
“Left him at work,” he says with a wink. A wink!
“Did you just wink at me?” I laugh. “That’s what happens when you’ve been hanging out with your dad all day, huh?”
“Please. My dad learned everything he knows about flirting from me.”
“First of all—Hah! Secondly, are you openly admitting to flirting with me, and third…are you actually flirting with your assistant right now, Mr. Carver?”
His grin almost disappears for a second, but he lowers his chin and pins me with a stare that I feel directly between my legs. “Are you actually telling me not to flirt with you right now, Miss Barnes?”
I feel hypnotized by those dark, penetrating eyes, but thankfully Alecia squeezes my shoulder as she and Neal head for the dance floor.
“Girlfriend!” she yells. “We’re going to another bar after we dance—like two songs! Come on! Both of you!” She doesn’t wait for us to join her, which is smart because she’d be waiting forever.
Two words I never thought I’d hear Wes Carver say to anyone.
I furrow my brow at him, incredulous. He’s looking at me so seriously, like he’s really asking me if I want to dance with him, and I just have to giggle. Giggle! For the first time in like, seven years. My cheeks feel warm and my hands feel clammy, and I’m trying so hard to find my inner snarky goddess, but I think she’s already out there on the dance floor.
“With you?” Lame. That is literally the lamest thing I could have said.
“I’m afraid I’ll have to insist that if you do any dancing tonight, it will be with me.” He grins again, thank God, and it puts me slightly more at ease.
I rest one hand on a hip. “Are you as relentlessly expressive a dancer as you were at that prom?” I’m being hilarious, of course. At prom, he just shifted his weight from one foot to the other while casually scanning the room and nodding his head occasionally. It still looked hot, though.
“I’ve definitely added a few moves to my repertoire since high school,” he says, scratching at his chin with his thumb.
Kayley Loring has, until recently, been a borderline workaholic living in Los Angeles. In the summer of 2017 she moved to a beautiful suburb of Portland, Oregon. She can now breathe clean air while enjoying the great outdoors, and drive around without swearing at strangers. It’s pretty great.
When not writing funny sexy sweet romantic comedy novels, she can happily channel her obsessive energies into plant hoarding, book hoarding, and staring at male models on Instagram (for research!). The rest of the time, she’s painting, feeding animals, eating her way through Portland with friends, cursing the many hours it takes to work off those delicious Portland meals, and trying to make her gosh darned wavy hair behave itself.