Authors: Samantha Chase
“Don’t you dare!” she cried. Holly walked over and took the phone out of his hands. “I do
want any part of that discussion. And besides, you need to finish the story. None of this explains how it ended up that they left you there at McGavin’s? That seems rather juvenile to me.”
“Really? That’s the only part of this whole scenario that seems juvenile?” His voice dripped with sarcasm as he stared down at her. Had she always been this petite? Looking down, he realized that she was barefoot. Her toes were painted a bright coral color and for a moment he was simply fascinated. His conservative little assistant wore a sassy color on her nails and it had him wondering what other sassy items she might wear under her normally sensible attire.
“Stephen?” she prompted.
“Oh, right,” he looked back up at her face. “Well, there was a lot more yelling and shoving and for a while Will tried to break us apart and then Derek and I both turned at the same time and sort of swung at Will.”
“Oh, no! You didn’t!”
“Oh, this is all just way too much, Stephen. I really don’t want to be the cause of you fighting with these men that you’ve been friends with almost your whole life; especially over something that’s not even true! Was Will okay?”
“No, we knocked him unconscious.”
Holly knew she was beginning to sound like a broken record but could not stop the ‘oh, no’ from coming out. “What did you do?”
“I went to get some water and ice from the bartender, in the meantime, Derek threw Will over his shoulder and left. By the time I got what I needed, they were pulling out of the parking lot.” He shrugged as if it were really no big deal. “And that’s what happened.”
The walk to the kitchen table felt like it was a mile. How did this weekend go so terribly wrong in such a short amount of time? It didn’t seem possible. When she left work last night, Holly had high hopes for a relaxing weekend. It didn’t seem right that in a matter of a few short hours she had come to realize that people thought she was sleeping with her boss and now she had to seriously face the possibility of having to quit her job. Sure, in the heat of it all last night she was threatening it, but after a good night’s sleep she came to realize that it was the last thing that she really wanted to do.
But apparently the choice was made. “You realize, Stephen, that in light of all of this, I just can’t continue to work for you anymore. It would be too awkward. I would feel like from this point on that everyone was watching us and, God forbid, if Will or Derek ever came to the office again, I would die of embarrassment.”
“Holly, you have nothing to be embarrassed of! Quitting is a little extreme, don’t you think?”
“No, I don’t. I said it last night and this whole thing has just snowballed from one bad issue to another and while I would have preferred for it not to come to this, we can’t turn back time.” Her eyes filled with tears as she looked up at him. She hated herself for wanting to cry. “I really have loved working for you, Stephen, but there are too many obstacles now that I can’t overcome.” She would miss seeing him every day; being challenged by him every day, but the only way to keep her pride in tact was to leave Ballingers.
One lone tear fell and Stephen felt it all the way to his soul. “Stop, Holly, please. Don’t say anymore.” Once again he placed his hands on her shoulders but this time he pulled her in close before lowering his arms to wrap her in them. “This will all blow over in a couple of days. I can make sure that Derek and Will stay away for a while. I’m sure I’m not high on their list right now either. Chances of them even wanting to come around are probably slim to none. Just don’t quit!” He said the words with a quiet fierceness that Holly had never heard before. “I can fix this. I swear I can, just give me some time.”
Holly pulled back and looked at him and smiled sadly. “I appreciate that you wanted to fight this battle for me, I really do. No one’s ever done anything like that for me. But the truth of the matter is, it’s not your issue, it’s mine. It may very well be that only Derek and Will have this theory but I’ll never be sure of that and it’s not something that I can live with. I know that I work hard for what I do and the work that I do is legit. I’m not exchanging sexual favors for job perks.”
“So if you know that and I know that, then why let them win? Don’t you see, Holly, by leaving you’re playing their childish game. Don’t do it.”
Oh, how she wanted to believe him. Without conscious thought she let herself be pulled fully back in to his embrace and actually let herself relax in to it. It felt nice. It felt better than nice; it felt bone-meltingly good. That thought worried her for the briefest of seconds but she chased it away and just let herself enjoy the moment. After all, this could be the first and only time that she would ever have the opportunity to feel this closeness to him.
Although she would never admit it to anyone, hell, she could barely admit it to herself; she had always harbored a slight crush on her boss. He seemed like the perfect man; he worked hard and was successful in his field, he was kind to his employees, he was friendly and had a great laugh – not to mention that he wasn’t hard on the eyes! Allowing herself to have this moment with him was sort of a fitting ending to this chapter of her life.
Not working with Stephen, not seeing him or speaking to him every day was going to be really hard. It would probably be one of the hardest things she’d had to do at this point in her twenty-six years of life, but it had to be this way. Holly hugged him back briefly and then went to pull out of his embrace, but Stephen wouldn’t allow it.
“Don’t do this, Holly,” he whispered. One hand was stroking up and down her back while the other kept her anchored to him. “I’ll cut back on your hours, I’ll stop calling on the weekends. You can go home and cook dinner at a reasonable time, just…don’t…quit.”
She smiled sadly in to his chest. Oh, if only it were that easy. She knew what her decision had to be but didn’t want to continue this conversation. “I need some time to think about this, okay? I’m going to get the rest of my things and head home and we’ll talk more about this on Monday, is that alright?” Stephen released Holly and nodded.
He stood back and watched her walk out to the foyer where she had placed her jacket that morning and put on the sneakers that she had taken off when they first got to the house in the wee hours of the morning. He waited quietly, hands in pajama pockets, unsure of what to do. Should he force the issue and not let her leave until she agreed to stay on working for him? Should he be arguing his case and pleading and begging until she agreed to stay? No; Stephen Ballinger did not beg! If Holly chose to leave, Stephen knew things would be rough for a while because he hated having to take time out of his schedule to train someone new.
Holly had been a natural from the beginning. It had always seemed as if she had been made for the job, the perfect assistant for him. She had a quick mind and wasn’t afraid to ask questions. The fact that she made great coffee and had such an infectious personality was just a perk. All of his colleagues and associates loved her. Stephen always knew that he could take Holly with him to any meeting or formal event and she would be an asset to him. She had managed to
some of his more difficult clients and maintained easy-going friendships with the wives of many of his favorite ones.
With deep down resignation, Stephen knew he could not let her quit. He’d give in to any demand that she made if it came down to it. He’d be willing to give up his friendship with his two best friends if that’s what made Holly stay. He shook his head at his own desperation. Was he insane? Sure she was an amazing personal assistant but was she really worth all that?
“I think that’s everything,” Holly said and snapped him out of his inner dialogue. She looked years younger than she did in the office, wearing sweats and very little make up. Stephen decided that he really liked her hair down and found that he wished she’d do that more around the office – if she stayed. “I really do hope that you work things out with Will and Derek. I’m sure that in the light of day, things will be clearer for everyone.”
Stephen merely grunted in response because at that moment, he could care less about what was clear and what wasn’t for his friends.
life was a damn mess and as far as he was concerned, it was
fault. He walked over and opened the front door for her. The wind was howling and the rain was coming down in sheets. “Holly, I really don’t think that this is the best time for you to be on the roads. Maybe you should wait it out for a little while longer.”
Hesitating for a heartbeat, Holly knew that she had to get out of the house now while she still could. “I’ll be fine. I’ve driven in worse. Besides, you said it yourself that the TV5 weatherman said that it’s going to get worse as the day goes on. This is probably the best time for me to go.” Pulling her hood up and taking her keys out, she turned and smiled. “Thank you for breakfast. It really was wonderful.” Clicking the remote to unlock the car door, she stepped out on to the porch. “I’ll talk to you on Monday, okay?”
“No,” he said quickly. “I mean, call me when you get home so that I know you made it okay.” When Holly looked at him with disbelief he added, “I promise to not try and talk business with you or pressure you in to staying. I just want to make sure that nothing happened to you on the drive home.”
“Okay,” she said and made a mad dash for her car. Once inside, she felt as if a great weight had been lifted off of her shoulders. “Thank God!” she sighed as she started the engine. There was no way that she could make the decision she had to make while wrapped in to Stephen’s embrace.
Dammit. Three years she worked for him and it took something like this – something like her being forced to quit to even make the man touch her! Did that make her pathetic or just really, really unlucky? Putting the car in drive, she pulled forward in the circular drive and pulled away with a slight wave at Stephen who was still standing in the doorway watching her. At the end of the driveway, she entered her destination in to the GPS and turned right.
The drive home was going to be long and slow, to be sure. The rain was coming down so hard that she could barely see beyond the nose of her car. The wind was fighting her compact little SUV with all its might. For a moment she thought about going back to Stephen’s and doing as he suggested and waiting it out. Thinking better of it, Holly decided that what was best for her, both mentally and emotionally, was to just take the drive as slow as possible and resign herself to spending a large portion of the day in the car.
Sighing with her decision, she relaxed in to her seat and almost missed what was coming up ahead of her. The road was blocked. In the fierceness of the storm, a tree – or perhaps several – had fallen down and across the road. She could easily turn around on the street but there was no way out on the other end.
be happening,” she heard herself whine. “For crying out loud, I just decided to get the hell out of Dodge and now I have to go back?” She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream, she wanted to wail. “Why is the universe against me?”
With nothing left to do, Holly turned the car around and headed back in the direction she had come. She pulled back in to the long and winding driveway and as close to the front door as humanly possible – this time making sure that the driver’s side was facing the front door from the circular drive.
Pulling her blasted hood back over her head, she was about to climb out when she remembered that she had a gym bag in the back seat. It had sat and mocked her for weeks because she never did actually
to the gym but now she could almost kiss it! She would have clean clothes, at least, if she was going to be forced to stay here.
Grabbing her bag, she hopped out of the car and ran up to the front door and rang the bell. When Stephen opened the door, one hand on the door knob, the other holding his phone, his expression was of pure shock.
“Are you up for a roommate for one more night?”
Stephen stood there rooted to the spot thinking that clearly he had conjured her up in his imagination. She’d only been gone five minutes but it seemed much longer. When he noticed her raised eyebrows, he snapped out of his reverie and stepped aside to let her in. “Sure, no problem. What made you change your mind?”
Holly toed off her wet sneakers once again and placed her gym bag beside them. “There are several trees down across the road. I couldn’t get out of the subdivision even if I tried.”
“Oh, well,” he began as he closed the door, “it must have taken a phone line down, too, because I don’t have a dial tone.” He gestured to the cordless phone in his hands as if he needed to give her a visual aid.
“Have you tried your cell?”
“Not yet. I had just finished finding out about the house phone when you knocked on the door. Come on in.” He waved his arm in a sweeping motion as if to gesture for her to proceed him back in to the house. Holly headed back towards the kitchen.
Without conscious thought, she went about starting up another pot of coffee before sitting down at the table and looking at Stephen like ‘now what?’ He was putting the cordless phone back on its cradle and then went in search of his cell phone. Holly chuckled because during the day at the office, his cell phone was practically strapped to him or he had on his blue tooth.
Taking the time to look around the place, Holly couldn’t believe that she had missed how spectacular the room was. Cherry wood cabinets that went to the high ceiling, glass doors, stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops as far as the eye could see except on the butcher block covered center island – it was a chef’s dream! She smiled at how her family would have loved to have this much space in their kitchen while she was growing up. The view of the property from the bay window was amazing; there was a large, multi-leveled deck right outside with the largest grill she’d ever seen! One whole wall of the kitchen contained a stone fireplace that separated it from the living room. Walking around the wall she found that the fireplace opened on both sides. How lovely!