Finding True’s Love
~By Teri Riggs
“How are you ever going to catch a man?” Amy threw a sexy wink at True and snapped a selfie of herself kissing a ball of mistletoe. “I swear, girlfriend, you dress like my mother—screw that; you dress like my grandmother. You’re in New York, not Small Town, USA.”
True winced at her best friend’s words. And not for the first time. “I dress to please myself and no one else. I’m certainly not looking for a man.”
“If I had a body like yours, I’d show it off.” Amy climbed onto a chair and tacked the mistletoe above the breakroom door.
“Your body is perfect, Amy.” Amy’s short skirt rode higher up her legs and True smiled at her friend’s idea of work attire.
“Yeah, if you don’t mind a size twelve.”
“A size twelve is normal. You need to stop reading all the silly glamour mags you pick up at the market.”
“Says the woman with the perfect—not to mention curvy—size four,” Amy muttered and hopped off the chair.
“I’m far from perfect.” A shudder raced through True and she wrapped her arms around herself. “Thanks to…” Unable to say his name out loud, she let the words fade.
“Scott Dunlap was a one-time deal. And a real bastard. I still can’t believe he got away with assaulting you.” Amy laid a hand on True’s shoulder. “Don’t let him win by becoming afraid of your own shadow. Besides, he left town months ago.”
True nodded. Her heart rate shot straight into the stratosphere and she glanced around the small break room looking for the exit. Every time she thought about her ex-boss running his hands all over her body and beating her when she’d tried to fight him, she had to fight off panic and force herself not to run. She had to make herself breathe. No matter how many times the urge to hide hit, she refused to give in to it. She was stronger than that and wasn’t about to let him ruin her life any more than he already had.
“True, look at me. Focus on your breathing like they taught you in therapy.” Amy tilted True’s chin up. “Focus.”
A few deep breaths later, her body began to relax. God, how much longer would it take for her life to go back to normal? “I’m okay, Amy. Thanks.” She forced a smile. “I need to get to my morning meeting with Mr. Cantrell.”
“Why do you insist in calling him Mr. Cantrell? Haven’t you known him, like, forever?”
“I met him our last year of college. And yes, we dated, but things didn’t work out.” She’d taken a job with Scott’s company, and Nick had gone on to build his empire. “I’m grateful for this job, but I’m not sure working here was the brightest idea.”
“You have to pay your bills, True. It would’ve been silly to pass on the job because you dated the guy.”
“You’re right. It hasn’t been bad. I’m comfortable around him. I’m not sure if it’s because I knew him before or if it’s because he seems to bark orders at me all day. Sometimes, I’m not sure why he keeps me around.”
“I know exactly why he keeps you around.” Amy wiggled her brows.
“Don’t start that again, my friend.” True filled Nick’s, Fuck ’Em if They Can’t Take a Joke mug with steaming coffee and then a flowery mug for herself. “I assure you, he has no interest in me. Some days, I don’t think he even knows I exist. Which is exactly the way I want it.”
“You and I are obviously talking about two different Nicks. The man all but drools when you enter a room.”
“Definitely two different Nicks.” True looked at the two mugs of coffee. “My boss is rude and lives to yell at people. Particularly me.”
“Jesus, True, you get along fine with Nick. It’s obvious to everyone but you. You panic anytime a man gets near you, but seem almost relaxed when Nick is around. You’re being cautious. I’m not a therapist, but I know that’s a big step in your healing.”
True had never felt much of anything toward Scott. Certainly nothing sexual. But Nick was different. They’d known each other before. The same attraction to him she’d had when they’d dated was still there. One she’d never act on. She’d never lead a man on by choice. If she’d sent the wrong signal to Scott, it’d been purely by accident. “I’m pretty sure Nick has no interest in me. After all, he was the one that dumped me seven years ago.”
Nick seemed to turn cold whenever she was around and that suited her just fine. It certainly made it easier to work with him. She’d learned from her last boss: do the job, make small talk when necessary, but never talk about personal things. “Besides, even if there is an attraction—and there isn’t—I would never acknowledge it. I never want to send the wrong vibes to a man again.” She wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
“Oh, True. You didn’t give the wrong signal to Scott, or make a mistake. It was all on Scott’s end. He was a bastard. I’m sorry he took so much away from you.”
Hearing his name again, True began shaking.
“I didn’t mean to upset you.” Amy reached for a mug. “Here, let me take Nick’s drink to him.”
True waved Amy away. “I’ll take it. I have to go over the daily calendar with him anyway.”
“Why do you fetch Nick’s coffee? It’s not your job.”
“Why not if I’m fetching my own. It’s not like he asked me to. Don’t you ever grab a drink for your boss if you’re getting one for yourself?”
“Hell no. I’m not a waitress.” Amy laughed.
“You’re so full of crap.”
“I know. So we’re still good for lunch? I know you want to review the last details for the company party while we eat.”
“Of course we’re still having lunch. Now, scoot.”
Amy took off and True headed down the hall to Nick’s office. She paused outside his door and transferred her mug to the hand holding his, then she took a deep breath and knocked.
Nick heard the light tap on his door and knew it was True. Everything about the woman was quiet and understated. Even her clothes were plain. Nothing like the True he knew before. And no matter how hard she tried to hide beneath ugly, over-sized clothing, he was familiar with every detail of that perfect body. Over the few months she’d worked for him, he’d grown to think of the baggy clothes as some sort of a cruel joke. What he wouldn’t give to peel them off one piece at a time and run his hands over those hidden curves. Then he’d let down the tight ponytail she wore and he’d run his fingers through the golden strands of her silky hair.
Damn, he grew hard thinking of True and couldn’t help wondering what had changed the vibrant woman he’d once known. The woman he’d given up in order to chase his dream of owning a successful business that would enable him to give her the world. His erotic thoughts of True were spiraling out of control and taking him to what could only end in a crash landing. One he had no chance of surviving. He’d barely survived losing her the last time.
“Yo, Nicky.” Adam, his best friend and company lawyer—who’d parked his ass on the couch across from him—had the nerve to intrude on his daytime fantasies. “You gonna answer that or what?”
Nick cleared his throat and shot his friend a one-fingered salute. “Come in.”
His cock went on triple red-alert when True walked through the door. Damn, she was killing him. Her large blue eyes rarely met his, but when they did, it was damned near heart-stopping. It had always been that way between them. But as much as he wanted her, she was off limits. He’d learned the hard way that being attracted to his assistant was more trouble than it was worth. It made him vulnerable and an easy target.
Besides, he’d had his chance with True and had thrown it all away years ago. From the way she avoided him, she wanted nothing to do with him either. Being around her again after all these years and not touching her was infuriating as hell and it brought out the worst in him.
“You’re running a little behind schedule, True. I’ve got a full day ahead of me and need to get started, if you don’t mind.” He caught himself taking his frustration out on her as usual.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Cantrell. I got a bit side-tracked.” She offered him the coffee.
“Nick. I’ve asked you to call me Nick.” Damn her. They used to be friends. They’d been lovers.
“Fine. Nick it is. I’ll try.” She switched one mug to her other hand.
Sweet Jesus, the way she said his name had him wanting to clear his desk and take her right there. Damn, he had it bad.
Adam smirked and Nick wanted to punch the smug look off his face.
“Although I appreciate the gesture, you don’t have to bring me coffee. Especially if it takes this long when we have so much work to do before the holidays.” Had she been side-tracked with a quick stop at Brad Easley’s office?
Shit. He did not just go there. Whatever True had going on with Easley was none of his concern.
“Sorry, I had to brew a new pot. It took a few minutes.”
“You don’t have to keep apologizing,” he snapped. Great. Now he was more of an ass than usual. Too late to take the words back.
He moved around his desk to stand in front of her. “What I mean is, thank you. I’ll take the coffee.” Yep, he just kept rackin’ up those asshole-of-the-year points. If he’d treated her like this before, it was no wonder things hadn’t worked out with between them.
She held out his mug. “Here.”
He started to take the drink from her, but stopped. Her hand was an angry red color. “You burned yourself?”
“A little bit splashed on me. It’s no big deal.”
Fuck. If she’d hadn’t brought him coffee, True wouldn’t have been burned.
He tried to take her wrist to get a better look, but she jerked away, sending hot liquid spilling over the sides of the cup onto her hand. True sucked in a deep breath and groaned.
“Dammit, True, hold still.” He took the coffee, set it on his desk, then grabbed a tissue. He grasped her hand and a shit-ton of heat shot between them on contact. And it wasn’t the hot liquid that burned. Warning lights flashed in his head, telling him to grab his heart and run.
Her eyes met his and he couldn’t pull away. More like he didn’t want to pull away. Her eyes were a deep ocean blue that took him under with the force of a tsunami wave. It stole his breath and threatened to drown him, but damn, what a way to go.
“It’s okay. I’ll run some cold water over it.”
“Ah, here… I can do that.” He took a paper towel from the wet bar, soaked it, and wrapped it around her hand. “It may blister. We can skip our usual briefing this morning. Just go down to Human Resources. They’ll have a first aid kit with some cream.” As much as he hated to send her anywhere near Easley and his HR offices, True needed to take care of this.
Talk about blisters. His insides were burning with want of her. No matter how annoyed he felt about adding more pain to her burn, he still couldn’t seem to control his desire around her. He dropped her hand and went back to his seat.
Thank God the holiday break was coming up. Maybe he’d look up an old flame and get laid. A night of pounding into another woman should put all carnal thoughts of True out of his mind. Besides, a couple months after True came back into his life, he’d stopped dating and his cock was getting tired of solo-sex with his hand.
“Thank you. I will.” True took a step back, cradling her hand.
“Well, get moving. We have a full day ahead of us.”
True nodded and took off like a cat with its tail on fire.
“Get moving? How about a nice, Sorry, I didn’t mean to burn you?” Shaking his head, Adam scratched his chin. “You’re something else. What the hell, Nick? Can you possibly be any more of an asshole? No wonder it didn’t work out between you two.”
For the second time in less than ten minutes, Nick had forgotten his friend was in his office. Fuck. He really was racking up the worst boss and asshole of the year points.
“I didn’t deserve True back then, and I don’t have time to discuss what kind of an asshole I am with you.” He wasn’t about to deny it, but damned if he’d talk about it. “Besides, she shouldn’t fill the cup so full.”
“Tell me you did not just say that.” Adam’s eyes narrowed.
“Not gonna lie, Adam.” Nick began shuffling papers around on his desk. The woman would be the end of him. He wasn’t sure why he acted like such a dickhead around her, but he did. He wanted her. Hell, he’d never stopped wanting her, but it was obvious True had changed. She didn’t want him, and pushing himself on a woman without her permission wasn’t going to happen.
“I can’t believe—wait a minute.” Adam held up his hands. “I get it. You’ve got the hots for True. She’s the one who got away.”
“I can see why you like her. She’s beautiful even if she does dress like my Aunt Connie. So, if you like her, explain why you’re such a shit around her.”
“I’m not about to have another Katherine situation on my hands. Even if I was interested—which I’m not—I don’t want any kind of relationship that could possibly turn into a harassment suit.” Katherine’s betrayal had been like a knife in the back. Nick had thought she was the perfect assistant… all the way up until she tried to blackmail him.
“Nick, True is nothing like Katherine. That bitch knew exactly what she wanted and didn’t care who she stepped on to get it. Including you.”
“I know True is different, but I’m not taking any chances.”
“You’re talking crap to hide your real feelings. You know True’s the real deal. She’s beautiful. Hell, I’ve even looked twice at her.”
Anger twisted Nick’s insides. Was he jealous that his best friend had checked out True? Of course he was. She was off limits. If he couldn’t have her, Adam sure as shit couldn’t. It was bad enough Nick had to keep his feelings in check. He sure as hell didn’t want her relationships with other men paraded in front his nose.
“Don’t even go there, Adam.”
“Then why did you hire her?”
“I didn’t. I was traveling and told that idiot, Easley, in HR I didn’t have time to interview and let his people handle it. I also told him I preferred a male assistant. What a fucking disaster. No men applied and I got True. I had no idea who Easley hired until she showed up the same day I’d returned from the Japan business trip.”
It had occurred to him several times that Easley had hired True to please himself more than to find Nick the right person. If he ever found proof to back up his suspicions, Easley’s ass was out on the street. Of all the people in the company, an HR person should know better than to hire an employee because he was interested in getting to know her.
“Fire her. Easy, peasy.” Adam crossed his arms.
“If only it were that simple, but I can’t without cause. You’re the one who beat that into my brain. She’s an excellent assistant. She gets everything done quickly and I don’t have to worry she’ll screw things up.” And she still had the kindest disposition of anyone he’d ever known. He’d watched her interact with the other women in the company many times and they all seemed to like her. True wasn’t as outgoing as he remembered, but working for an ex-lover couldn’t be easy. She was still so damn beautiful to look at, ugly clothes and all. The only thing he could hold against True was his own selfish attraction to her.
“So you treat her like a piece of dog shit and hope she’ll quit? Instead of humiliating her and coming off like a bastard, transfer her to another department. Or offer her a promotion to our Chicago offices. It’s really nice there.”
Adam was right; he did come off as a total bastard when it came to True. “Sending her to another city doesn’t seem fair. I drove her away seven years ago when I broke up with her. New York is her home and I don’t want to make her leave. She has an apartment and friends here. Nope, that won’t work either.”
“How about you let her work for me? Problem solved.” Adam scooted forward in his seat.
“Not gonna happen.” Nick didn’t want True working for any other guy in the building. The thought made his gut clench. He’d approached Laura in Marketing once about taking True on, but she was happy with the assistant she had. Nick realized then that he’d just have to learn to be around her and not let her get to him.
Sounded logical. It was wrong to want her near, but he couldn’t control how he felt. Besides, something was wrong. Her personality had changed so much that she was like a different person. He had no idea what’d happened to her, but he was determined to find out and help her if he could. He owed her that. For a moment, he froze. Was this his fault? Did choosing money over her seven years ago cause her to distrust men that much? Surely not; her mistrust was more like fear. No, someone had hurt her, maybe even physically.
“Fuck me, Nick. Trying to act like an ass around her does not cover up the fact you’re still attracted to her. The real way you feel shows in your face.” Adam let out a long whistle as he left, shaking his head until he disappeared through Nick’s door. “You got it bad.”
Adam was right. He had it bad.