The perfect storm. Henry Jones hated storms, perfect or not. This one was bad. The one in his office as well as the one thundering outside which he was driving through right now. He ran his hand through his too long hair. He needed a haircut, but there was no time for that today or in the near future. Pulling into the company parking lot, he wondered if he could just shut down the company for a few weeks. Smiling, he knew what would happen if a store manager closed for a day, so no, if they had to work, he needed to be here for them. Him. Just him because of that damn perfect storm.
His dad, who owned Jones’ Equipment Supply Company, had decided to go on a second, or sixth honeymoon to Ireland. Ireland. His folks had just gotten back from an Alaskan cruise not too long ago. They’d been married over forty years and for some reason were acting like teenagers. Henry didn’t really mind, he’d been working for the company since they only had a hundred stores and he was big enough to push a broom in one of them. He was comfortable taking over for his dad, preferred it most days, in fact. He liked being in charge. His brother Sebastian who had worked for the company almost as long as he had, was always there for him to bounce ideas off of, or get help from, but he was off on his honeymoon. Bastien’s new wife Maggie was a sweetheart and he adored her, but dang, did she have to have a June wedding? That was their busy season, but since she was a teacher, it was her off season. Bastien said Maggie won that battle.
Unlocking his office and putting his umbrella in the holder, he looked at the two empty desks in the front office. They had three rooms and a well–equipped washroom, which included a shower. Today, his dad’s office was empty and so was this one. Tony, their excellent PR guy who oversaw all the store openings, and ran interference with any public relations issues, which often happened when they rezoned for a new store, was on a long–planned vacation. With non–refundable tickets, of course, planned long before Sebastian’s wedding, or he’d never have let them go at the same time.
Then his right–hand person, the one who really ran the company, had a heart attack day before yesterday. Celeste was technically his administrative assistant but knew just as much as the Jones men did about the company. She’d started with his dad when he took over from his dad, and Hank had happily inherited her when his dad semi–retired a year ago to go gallivanting around the world.
Henry had just come back from the hospital and after talking to her and her doctor, knew she’d be out at least two months or longer. He would not jeopardize her health and vowed to make sure all her bills were paid in the meantime. Celeste was a single mom of three teenagers and couldn’t be without her benefits and paycheck. He, and this company would be there for her as she always was for them.
Always one step ahead of him, Celeste had given him the number of a temp agency. Celeste said they were sending over their best candidates to interview and hopefully, someone could help him out while the storm raged. Sure, he needed to train someone new while running the place alone. That was what he wanted to do, because why not? A crack of thunder pealed in his ear when he headed into the bathroom.
Soaking wet, he found a towel, and changed into a different shirt. Going into the front office, he barely had time to pull her resume up on Celeste’s computer before he heard a knock on the door, and a very striking woman walked in as if she owned the place. He’d gotten soaked running in here. She shimmered with dampness but wasn’t sopping wet like he had been. She was tall, elegant, poised, with the most gorgeous, huge blue eyes, He never really noticed women’s clothes, but he had to admit, her black raincoat with yellow ducks on it made him smile. When she flipped back the hood to reveal a long, thick braid that wove around her head it made him want to unpin it and see that hair tumble down her back. He had a thing for long hair, except on himself and he ran his hand through his damp hair
Flashing him a huge smile, she said, “Mr. Jones? I’m Riley Miller, it’s wet out there, and we have an interview.”
“It is, and we do. Miller and Jones, we are a couple of common people, aren’t we?” he said, making small talk while she hung up her coat and smiling back. It was hard not to, hers was contagious. “Call me Hank, Riley, it’s a fairly informal office.”
“It’s a very small office,” she said. “I was actually expecting something much bigger.” Riley looked around at the two desks and assumed his office was behind one of the doors that led out of it.
“Yeah, we save the big space for the combines,” he said. “That’s what makes the money.”
“I have to tell you, I know some but not much about farm equipment,” Riley was nervous, but no way would she let him know it. All confident, all the time got you the job. “I grew up on a small farm not far from here.”
He led the way to one of the doors and she assumed it was his office, since he opened the door, motioning her to a chair, and sat down behind the desk. Glancing at the printed resume she handed him, he looked up at her, smiled again and she felt a little relieved.
“I’ve never known anyone who worked on yachts,” he said.
“Well, you do now,” she said. “I loved the yachts, and as you can see have been working steadily on them for over three years now.”
“Why did you leave?” he asked. “It’s rather vague on here.”
Riley’s stomach lurched but she pasted on her best head stew smile and said, “My mom has recently been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, and I came home to care for her. She’s doing okay but is in the process of doing tests and figuring out what now, that’s why I’m working for the temp company. I need the flexibility of short term jobs.”
“You realize I’m looking for someone for at least several months,” he said. “Celeste, my admin, had a heart attack and I need someone who can hit the ground running, learn quickly and adjust easily. I need to know if this job is two months or six, you can stay until she comes back. I don’t want to be hiring and retraining a lot of people.”
“I do and plan to be here through the new year at least, if not longer,” she said. “I know you are looking for an administrative assistant and you can see my office skills also listed. I’ve done two years at a hotel as the CEO’s admin and have kept those skills sharp.” She leaned forward, and stage whispered, “The temp company had me tested. I passed.”
She held her breath and waited. She had savings, of course, but didn’t want to dip into them anymore while she was stuck here in landlocked, southern Indiana. She’d left here as soon as she graduated high school, went to college in Florida within a half hour drive to the ocean and never looked back. She already craved waves and sand under her toes, but she would be heading back there soon enough, her mom was more important right now. First, she had to settle her life here and do it correctly. She’d go crazy just sitting around, so why not work and make some money while she was doing that? Not being able to think of a reason, Riley had gone to the temp agency two days ago and this was her first interview. Her only interview with any luck at all. This was the job that synced with her plans and was the one she had to get. No matter what. Looking him up and down, his tall lean frame, dark shaggy hair with a bit of the scruff men liked to wear nowadays, she decided, if need be, she could flirt her way to getting what she wanted.
Mr. Jones—Hank—smiled at her. “Your first job, if you decide you want it, is to call the temp agency, tell them I want you, and cancel the rest of the interviews.”
Riley fake gasped, putting her hand to her chest. “There are other people coming to apply? What? They didn’t think I would bowl you over with my good looks, charm and skill set?”
“Maybe they were more worried you’d look at me, and decide no way can I work for a guy who can’t make the time to get his hair trimmed?”
“Pretty sure I can get you in somewhere on your lunch break,” she said, standing up and offering her hand to shake. “Look forward to working for you, Hank. I’ll try to be the best fill–in you’ve ever had.”
Handing her Celeste’s flash drive, he said, “I’ll let you go through this while I make some phone calls, and then I’ll come out and we can talk about what else you need to know.”
“This holds all the secrets to life?” she said, taking it and her breath caught as their hands brushed.
“I don’t know,” he confessed. “I’ve never been allowed to look at it.”
“Oh, must be dark secrets,” she said, and he grinned at her. He had a great smile, Riley thought, and he seemed likable. A shame.
“Hope not, don’t need those coming out.” Sitting back down at his desk, he said, “Let me know if you have any questions.”
“I will,” she turned and started walking out his office, assuming she was starting right now and today, and yay for a paycheck.
She could feel him watching her walk away and inserted just a small little wiggle in her walk. Maybe he was an ass man? If you got it, flaunt it, she and her stew crew always said. Whatever got you the tips without going over the line.
Riley sat down at the desk and inserted the flash drive while the computer powered up. She hoped there was a to-do list on there. He’d given her no directions so far, which was fine. She could entertain herself, quite well and very happily. As the computer came to life she saw there was a quite detailed list of things that needed done, when reports needed to be run and those that needed to be printed and filed, or just stored in which folder on the computer. This Celeste that she was replacing temporarily was very organized.
First things first, she picked up her phone and dialed the temp agency to tell them the position had been filled and he was putting her to work right away, and then found a local, upscale barber shop and made her boss an appointment for twelve thirty. If he had a regular barber, he would have told her. Why didn’t he? Most men did. Didn’t matter, she figured, while flicking through the flash drive for need to know numbers. Nope. Not on there.
After that, she began attacking the to-dos on Celeste’s list and put her thoughts aside while she focused on the tasks at hand. There would be plenty of time. She would be here for months. Maybe.
She’d recognized him immediately, of course. She’d seen him a few nights ago at the zoning meeting. He’d been the spokesman for the company, giving the rah-rah speech, and when she saw his company on the temp agency’s list, she’d jumped at the chance to come and interview. She was a good interviewer. Now, that she was here, she wasn’t certain what she would do. Snoop and sabotage? Wine, dine and seduce? All she knew was there was no way this guy and his big company were kicking her sick mom off her little farm where she’d lived all her life to build a huge store that could go anywhere. There was lots of land around here and her mom’s farm should be off limits. She would settle in here a few days, knowing the zoning process would be taking a while and figure her best strategy to stop the nonsense.
Planning to accidently run into him somewhere and flirting madly had been her original plan, but hey, this worked out even better. Riley usually got what she wanted out of life, so hadn’t been a bit surprised by the happy happenstance. She should really buy lottery tickets. Her life was pretty darn good so far.
School had come easily, she’d been popular and had no real problems in either high school or college. She loved both her adult jobs. Working in a resort hotel had been a dream and then she’d run into a yacht captain. Next thing she knew, she was on a yacht working, which was really hard work but paid very well. She’d do it a few more years and then move on to something else, maybe meet a rich millionaire and pop out his dozen kids, or get her doctorate in business, or who knew? Riley wasn’t sure what, but knew she’d know the next opportunity when the time was right.
Just like she knew she’d be able to stop Jones’ Equipment company from buying her mom’s farm. The store they had now was perfectly fine, and she didn’t feel a bit badly about ruining their plans for a new building site. They could find another one. Her mom needed tranquility and stability in her life right now and Riley Miller always got what she wanted, no matter what she had to do to get it. Mostly.
Her new boss came back in the room about an hour later. “Finding everything?” He smiled at her and she ignore the little flip in her stomach. She didn’t care if she found him attractive or not. He was not exactly the enemy, she knew, but he was a force to be reckoned with. It would be much easier to persuade him to not build where he wanted than to go through legal channels.
“I made you an appointment for a haircut at twelve thirty,” she told him, handing him the slip of paper with the address. “It’s just right around the corner, a new place that just opened, but I’ve heard very good things about them.”
“Perfect, thank you,” he said, taking the paper. Did he brush everyone’s hand when they exchanged items? Or just hers? Riley just knew she didn’t feel a rush of excitement when other people’s hands brushed hers, and she had been flirted with a lot on the yachts. It was probably only a little bit of a guilty conscience, she told herself. That’s what it was, the thrill of guilt and a big secret. She wasn’t a good secret keeper. Her best friend, Micky, was out of town until the end of the month, and this wasn’t something you texted about. She was off camping with her husband. What was the thing people had about roughing it? Give her a high–end yacht over a campfire any day. She felt like she had no one to bounce ideas off and hoped Micky would be home sooner than later. She hadn’t seen her for a few years, but they kept in contact and she was excited to see her again, hopefully, they would take up where they left off.
“Once I’m done, I’d like to take you to lunch so we can get better acquainted and can go over a few office procedures, unless you have other plans?”
“No other plans,” Riley said, cheerfully. Whatever the boss wanted. Except her mom’s farm.
“Great, then after that, I’ll let you go home for the day, since you probably didn’t plan to work when you came in here. Tomorrow we’ll do a full eight to five, if that’s a non–issue.”
She knew that wasn’t a question. “That is no problem at all,” she said. “I do need to be off Friday by three to take my mom to her doctor appointment, but I’ll try to find someone else to take her from here on out.”
“Does she have them regularly?” he asked.
Riley nodded. “She has been doing some testing and there’s therapy they hope can help extend her prognosis.”
“I can work around those; your mom comes first. I’m sorry,” he added. “Just leave me a list of her appointments and you can go to all you feel you need to. That should be your last stress. I hope she has a good outlook?”
Riley said nothing but shook her head, then said, “She’s keeping upbeat and positive, but with that disease, well, there just isn’t a lot of hope. Just management, therapy, and attempts to slow it down.”
This was why her mom needed her safe and familiar place as long as she could be there. When she couldn’t be there anymore, there was already a plan in place. A lovely assisted living place. Beth, a woman Riley went to high school with ran the place competently and lovingly. Beth’s own mom was there, and Riley and her mom both knew she’d be safe and content there when the time came. It would be hard for her to leave home, but they both knew it would happen eventually.
Riley knew she could do six or eight weeks on a yacht at a time, fly home, see her mom and go back, knowing there would be plenty of money for her care, and that she’d be well cared for in the meantime.
If the stupid Jones’ Equipment company had just waited five years or so, she’d happily sell to them. But not now and not yet. Her mom’s health and her need of familiar surroundings meant she needed to be safely at home.
Big business didn’t care. Big business wanted a new store. Riley Miller was going to do all she could to figure out how to stop that from happening.
However, right now, she was going to attack the to do list on the flash drive and wait to go to lunch with her very hot boss. She rather hoped they didn’t cut his hair too much. Hank rocked the shaggy look, and she liked both that and the scruffy beard he wore.
“I think the rain is slowing down,” she said, motioning toward the window. They had a lovely view of the parking lot from up here. She didn’t mind it. People watching was one of her favorite pastimes. And really, once you had a view off a yacht’s bow, well, flat Indiana farm fields didn’t really rank up there as eye candy. Now, the guy sitting across from her? Yeah.
They went over a few more things, and he went back to his office. “Buzz me a bit after twelve if I forget the appointment, would you please?” he asked her.
An hour later, she smiled and waved as he walked out the office door to get his hair cut. “I’ll be back in half an hour or so,” he said. “Then we’ll do lunch.”
“See you in a bit,” she said, willing him to leave. She wanted to do a little snooping and who knew when her next chance would be? She knew he would be walking to the barber shop since it was only around the corner, which was too bad. One, she wanted to watch the parking lot and see which car was his because she was nosey like that. Personally, she bet it was one of the big black trucks in the front row. Second, it would make her less nervous about snooping through his office if she knew he was gone and not going to pop back in unexpectedly.
Answering the phone with a cheery, “Jones Equipment, this is Riley, how can I help you today?”
“Hank, please. Where’s Celeste?”
“She’s off today and Hank is out of the office. If I could have your name and number, I’ll have him return your call.” Scribbling on the pad, she said goodbye and hung up. Good. Now she had a reason to be in his office, if he happened to pop back in before she was done. Just leaving a message on the desk! Nothing more!
Why did she feel so guilty? It wasn’t like she was going to ransack the place or anything. Just take a look, get the lay of the land, see if there was anything around to look at. Just on the desk or whatever. First, she decided to see what was behind the other two doors in the same hallway. The first was a very nice bathroom. Sink, toilet, a large cabinet, and a shower, which she thought was odd in an office. But could come in handy at times, she assumed, for people who worked around farm equipment. There was a large cabinet with some folded clothes, and thick white fluffy towels in them. The head stew in her wanted to pull all the towels out and refold them, but she refrained. Small first aid kit, mouthwash and a few other things were in the medicine cabinet. She shut the door behind her on the way out and opened the other one. It was bigger than Hank’s office and seemed posher. Walking around the desk, she picked up the picture on the desk. Recognizing Hank right away, she assumed the dark–haired, older man was his dad, and the tiny blonde beside him, his mom? His stepmom? There were three other people in the picture: one who resembled Hank in age but was several inches taller, and two blond men who looked about ten years younger than the other two. Twins, obviously. He had a very nice–looking family. Riley thought of her mom, who was all she had. Well, her dad had a brother somewhere, but no one really knew for sure. Arizona? Maybe; last time they’d heard from him had been when her dad died. She didn’t even know if she had any cousins or not. It would be nice to come from a large family like this one. Built in playmates and buddies, someone to help you share the load when your parent got sick. Looking around she saw a small kitchenette, with a coffee pot, microwave and a tiny fridge. Put in a bed and she could easily live here, it was bigger and much nicer than the tiny bunk room she shared on a yacht.
She put the picture back down on the desk and shut the door behind her on the way out. Feeling a little guilty, still, she popped back into her office and sat back down in her chair for a few minutes, pulling up a report to work on. Maybe she would just wait to go check out his office. Yeah, that was probably a good idea, she thought as she opened a spreadsheet in a new tab on the computer.
Why was she being so silly about standing up and walking into his office? It was ridiculous, she told herself. What was the worst thing that could happen? He’d come back and fire her, and she would lose any chance of figuring out a way to save her mom’s farm. Riley was practical, she knew what needed done and right now, her big goal was to find out more about Hank and what it was going to take to get him to change his mind about the big new store they wanted to build on the edge of town. She’d use whatever it took, and it did not include getting fired on her first day.
Sighing, she bent to her work. There would be other opportunities to snoop in his office and on his computer to find out what was going on. Right now, she wanted to finish this report before he got back from his haircut.
She was on the last line as he walked back in the door and to her relief, they didn’t cut much, simply gave him a good trim. Excellent. He looked very handsome as he smiled at her with that devastating smile that did something to her. She didn’t want to think what it was. Think of your plans, she reminded herself. Not your libido.
“They did a good job,” she complimented him. “You had a call, here’s your message.” He took it from her and once again their fingers brushed, she had to control herself not to flinch.
Why was she suddenly wondering what he was like in bed? Well, she wasn’t, really. Well, maybe just a little but that was totally normal.
“You ready?” His deep voice resonated in her brain and it took her a few extremely long seconds to decide he meant ready for lunch, not ready to go to bed with him. What was wrong with her brain? It needed to focus.
“I can wait, if you want to return your call,” she said, but he casually stuck the note in his pocket and shook his head.
“It can wait,” he motioned to her raincoat. “It’s stopped raining, but you might want to take it home with you.”
She turned off the computer and stood up, grabbing her purse. “Good idea,” she said. He looked uncomfortable for a second, then as if he’d made a decision, took a deep breath.
“I forgot to tell you where the restroom was this morning, if you need to…”
Riley almost laughed. That was so adorable that he was embarrassed. Good to remember for the future. Shaking her head, she said, “I poked around a bit while you were gone and found it all by myself.”
“Good,” he said. “Just make yourself at home around here. The coffee pot is in Dad’s office if you like some in the mornings. I do, and I’ll usually make it, but if for some reason I’m in later than you, just go ahead.”
Riley noted her new boss liked coffee, and she knew she wouldn’t forget to have it made for him if she got in before he did. Who knew, though, he could be one of those bosses who came in at six just because. If he came in at normal people hours, though, she’d make it.
“How do I get in if you aren’t here when I arrive?” she asked.
“The front door has an electronic code,” he said. “I’ll give it to you after lunch. Just punch it in and you’re in. There’s an electronic key for our suite of offices, I’ll give you mine and swing by the hospital and get Celeste’s since she won’t be using it for a while.”
They reached the parking lot and she smiled, noting she had guessed right as he walked over to one of the biggest black trucks in the front row. Men and their trucks. He opened the door for her and she swing herself up easily inside.
Settling down, she noticed him eyeing her butt. That was just fine with her. She’d been told more than once, it was one of her best assets. If he was a butt man, she’d have to take note of that, too. Riley had no problem working her assets. Whatever it took and would get her mom to be safe and well cared for.
He got in and said, “Fasten your seatbelt.”
She blushed, realizing she’d forgotten to do that. Fastening it, she looked around, admired the interior and said, “Nice truck.”
“Yeah, my mom says, boys and their toys,” he said, laughing. “You ought to see my dad’s toys.”
“Tell me about your mom,” she said, curious if the young–looking woman in the picture was his mom or his dad’s trophy wife.
“Mom is different,” he said. “Dad is hard–driving, hard–working and always focused on what to do next and how to make more money. Mom could care less. All she cares about is being Dad’s wife, and she’d be just as happy living in poverty as she is having some money. They’ve been married over forty years and I’ve never known a couple happier together. Something to aspire to.” He backed up and out of the lot.
“Does she work for the company, too?” Riley couldn’t imagine not doing more with her life than being a man’s wife.
“No, but she did have four boys to raise,” he started, and she interrupted.
“Tell me about your brothers?”
“I was named after Dad, I’m the oldest. He’s Henry, I’m Hank. Then there is Sebastian, he’s less than two years younger than me. He just got married. He was named after Mom’s brother who died when he was three. About eight years after Bastien, came Lucas and Logan. We think Mom named them after some soap opera characters.”
“So, she took good care of you all? Was a great mom?”
“Yeah, but we all knew Dad came first in her life. She took good care of us, of course, and loves us but Dad was always her focus.”
“I guess he returned the favor?” she asked.
“Oh, yeah, you can tell by the way he looks at her that he just adores her,” he pulled into a parking lot. “He’s semi–retired now and has time to do the things she wants to do, and he’s taking her around the world, apparently. They went to Alaska last summer for a month and now they’re in Ireland.”
“That sounds great,” Riley said. “I love to travel but have always done it alone or for work. It would be very different to have someone you love there with you to enjoy it with.”
“Where all have you gone?” he asked her as they walked into the small restaurant.
Riley rattled off a few Caribbean islands while she looked around the place. It wasn’t a diner or a chain restaurant for sure. Higher end and she instantly looked forward to the food, having grown tired of her own cooking and the bland food her mom seemed to prefer now.
It smelled spicy and wonderful. They were quickly escorted to a small booth in the back and picked up the menus. “Do you come here often?” Riley asked as she skimmed the menu.
“First time. Thought it looked interesting and I’ve been waiting for someone to take with me,” he said.
“You don’t look as if you’d have any trouble finding someone to go out with or buy lunch for,” she said and slapped her hand over her mouth. Had that really come out?
Hank rolled his eyes dramatically. “Because I’m tall, dark, handsome and rich?” he deadpanned.
Riley couldn’t help it, she giggled. She never giggled. Instantly, she stopped. “Well, of course, but then there’s your charm, too.”
“I’m charming?” He raised his eyebrows.
“And,” she paused dramatically, “word around the temp pool is that you are the best boss ever.”
He gave her a stern look. “Since you are the first temp I’ve ever hired, I think I might know who started that rumor.”
Riley gasped and put her hand to her mouth, again. “Really? Who could it be?”
“Once I find out for sure, the rumor starter will find herself over my knee, realizing the hard way that good girls don’t gossip.”
Okay, now that was hot, and he was flirting with her. It was exactly what she wanted, and yet she could think of nothing to say in return. Her eyes widened, and she blinked to stop them, and said, “I’ll let you know if I hear.” Oh, that was so lame.
“Thank you,” he said as the waitress walked up.
Suddenly, they were back to talking about food, work and nothing, and less than an hour later he had dropped her off at her car and she was heading home.
Her mind raced. Umm, what had he said to her? She was the alpha in any relationship, short or long. Men were lucky to be with her. Spank her? He was teasing, right? Right? If he would tease over a pretend rumor like that… Well? Did he have a fetish? Why would this turn her on so much? Weird.
Riley knew she had never been the submissive in a relationship. She’d never even role played one. Always her love life had been having fun then moving on. Often, she had been the aggressor. Now? This? With the man she needed something from? Hells to the no. If she did? No, she couldn’t. It wasn’t right and while she didn’t mind some flirting, she wasn’t going against who she was. Was she? Hank was just being silly anyway.
She turned into the local store to grab a latte, get her mom her favorite candy bar, and fill her tank up. She needed to be ready to go into work in the morning and meet her farm stealing, woman spanking, boss with a cheerful smile and a can do, yet sneaky attitude.
She missed the yacht and the high–maintenance clients who demanded superior service nearly twenty–four hours a day. How did her life get so complicated and so emotional so fast? Turning into the lane leading to her mom’s house, she reminded herself what she was here for. Her mom and her mom’s comfort in her last years. Nothing more, nothing less and she needed to remember that.