Copyright © 2019 by Jessica Calla
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Emma, with Richie the nice doorman’s permission, let the Mooney’s ride the private elevator to her penthouse suite twice—once so Devon could turn the key and press the button, and then again so that Bella could. She was dead on her feet, and it felt like after their holiday extravaganza day, that the extra elevator ride took hours.
The girls were on hyperdrive, though. Andrew glanced at her, over their heads. “You’re sure we haven’t overstayed our welcome?”
She shook her head. “Chinese is already on its way.”
The girls stopped moving and looked up at her. Bella scrunched her nose. “Chinese?”
Emma shrugged. “Is that okay?”
Andrew rubbed Bella’s head. “I forgot to tell the girls that when you come to New York City, it’s a rule that you have to try new things.”
Emma widened her eyes at Andrew, mentally running through her cabinets wondering if she had any kid food. “Sorry,” she mouthed.
He shook her off. “No worries. They’ll love it.”
“I practically live on it. What do you guys do for dinner every night.”
Andrew smirked. “Uh, there’s something called ‘cooking’ that people in the suburbs do. You go to a grocery store and buy food and then use that thing with the fire in the kitchen to heat it to an appropriate temperature.”
“He means a stove,” Devon added. “Do you have one?”
“Oh, yes.” She scrunched her face like she was thinking. “I think I have one of those.”
The elevator finally dinged after ride number two, and the doors opened to the foyer of Emma’s home. The girls stepped off.
“Is this the hallway?” Bella asked.
Emma caught Andrew looking around. Suddenly, she felt embarrassed by her wealth. But the fact of the matter was, she had money. It wasn’t a secret, so they’d have to deal with it. She looked down at Emma’s tangled blond hair. “This is my foyer. We are in my house.”
The girls gasped and chattered as she led them into the living room.
“This is a fine place you have here, Boss Lady,” Andrew said. He stopped at the large window in her living room, overlooking the city. The window took almost the whole length of the room, with a bench and a cushion to enjoy the view. “God, I hope the girls don’t wreck it.”
“There’s nothing in here that’s irreplaceable,” she said. “My dad left it to me, and since I’ve been working at BI, it’s convenient.”
The girls squealed from the kitchen. “Daddy?”
Andrew cupped his lips. “Yep?”
“Everything’s black and white in here. And there’s a stove in the kitchen!” one of them yelled. “I don’t think it’s used. It doesn’t look dirty like ours.”
“Ouch.” Andrew looked at Emma and laughed, then cupped his hand again. “Don’t touch it. Get out here where I can see you.” When the girls reappeared, he waved them over. “You like cooking? If you had more time?”
“Nope. Hate it.” Emma leaned closer. “But I like to bake. I’m good at following recipes. I may have made cupcakes.”
“Cupcakes!” Bella shouted. “Where are they?”
“First,” Emma said, “you have to try some Chinese food. Deal?”
“But Ginger needs a cupcake,” Devon said.
“Stella too,” Emma added.
Andrew stood taller, crossing his arms. “You heard Miss Emma.”
The intercom buzzed and the girls’ faces lit up. “What’s that?” Bella asked.
“That’s my doorbell. Richie wants to talk to me.” She waved for them to follow her. Out in the foyer, she pointed to the intercom. Although the bell also worked through her phone, she knew the twins would get a kick out of the speaker on the wall. “Hi Richie,” she said into it.
“We have that at school,” Devon said.
“Ms. Ballard, your food delivery arrived. Shall I bring it up?”
“That would be perfect, yes—”
“Hi, Mr. Richie!” Bella screamed, her lips against the apparatus. She lowered her voice. “Send up the food so we can have cupcakes.”
“Sugar,” Richie said. “Just what you girls need.”
Emma chuckled. “Thanks, Richie.”
“Your house is so cool,” Devon said.
“I haven’t even showed you the best part yet,” Emma teased. “After you eat, have a cupcake, and wash your hands, I’ll give you the tour. Deal?”
“Another deal?” Bella whined. Emma didn’t have much experience with kids, but it sounded like she was getting tired.
“That’s what I do, I make deals. So what do you say?” Emma jutted a hip and tapped her foot, waiting, egging on the girls.
“Dealie wheelie,” Bella answered.
The elevator dinged, and Richie’s assistant handed Emma the bags of food. The girls stared at him like he was from outer space. “They said they put it on your account.”
“Thanks, Ron.” She watched him leave and walked back into the house, the girls in tow. “Hungry?” she asked Andrew, holding up the bags.
He was back at the window. “I could sit here for days and just watch the people. How high are we?”
“Twenty stories. Just like at the office.” She led the girls to the kitchen and spread the food on the marble-covered island. Andrew joined them.
Devon loved the Chinese food, trying a little bit from each of the ten or so cartons. Bella loved the little cartons, but not so much the food. Andrew still had her try a taste of everything, but didn’t force her to eat what she didn’t like.
After they ate, Emma pulled the cupcakes out of the fridge. The yellow cakes were decorated with white icing and red and green sprinkles. The girls’ eyes lit up.
“You even made holiday-themed cupcakes?” Andrew asked.
“Of course, Star Nerd.” Emma scowled. “What else would I make? Easter cupcakes?”
The girls giggled. She loved that she could make them laugh, even at the expense of their father.
Andrew caught her eye while the girls cackled. “You really went all out for us.”
She shrugged, her cheeks warming under his gaze. “Too much?”
“No. Well…yes, but we appreciate it. It’s nice to be taken care of.” When he smiled, his eyes brightened and the corners crinkled. She couldn’t help but notice that his teeth were as white as the snow outside, and there was one crooked one on the bottom. Emma’s cheeks went from warm to hot. She must have stared too long, because he cleared his throat and looked away, turning to the girls. “What do you say to Miss Emma?”
They were already grabbing for the sweets, mumbling thank yous. Emma barely knew these girls, but they were so happy, and she knew she had something to do with that. “Thank you for coming to visit me, and my city. I haven’t had this much fun during the holidays for years.”
She hated that her eyes watered, but loved the reason why. For once, her penthouse felt full.
“Girls,” he said, “eat nicely and don’t touch anything. Then wash your hands so we can get home.”
“We can’t,” Devon said. “Miss Emma’s giving us a tour after we eat.”
“Oh really?” he asked.
“Just a quick one. If it’s okay.”
“You are going to sleep well tonight. We’ve been in your hair all day. Please, don’t feel like—”
“Stop.” She reached to nudge his arm. “I told you, this is fun for me. Let me spoil them a little.”
Andrew bobbed his head back and forth. “You’ve done too much already.”
“Look how cute they look?” Emma pointed at the kitchen island where the girls sat, cupcake icing smeared all over their hands and faces.
Andrew let out a chuckle. “They can be cute when they want to, I guess.”
“I can tell you’re a great dad. They’re so happy and bright. You’ve done a wonderful job with them.” Emma smiled at him.
He scrunched his nose. “You think?”
“Well, thank you, Boss Lady.”
“You’re welcome. Now how about that tour?”
Andrew was hesitant about letting the girls run wild in Emma’s walk-in closet. It was about the size of his townhome’s entire first floor. But she’d insisted there was nothing breakable and pointed them to her more playful, less expensive clothes like dresses and girly-looking things, and away from her more business-like CEO suits. They chattered in the closet, as Andrew shifted his gaze around the bedroom suite. He glanced at her bed, covered in a purple comforter, which looked larger than a king-size, and quickly looked away. Thankfully, there was a sitting area outside of the closet to give him something to focus on besides her bedroom set.
After she’d introduced the girls to her things, she waved Andrew past the sitting area, to a set of glass-paneled French doors. She twisted a lock and the doors opened outward, onto a balcony that seemed to wrap around the building.
He’d never been in the presence of such wealth. He’d also never have guessed that the woman who’d played at the Country Girl complex with them, or who ate cotton candy from a street vendor by twirling it around her fingers, was the same woman who lived in that penthouse.
“This is my favorite part. It’s too cold outside to sit out here on a winter night, but when the sun hits this side of the building, it warms up fast. During the day, you can see Central Park.”
“It’s lovely, Emma.” He grasped the rails, squinting through the dark to try and see the park. “I can’t believe you spent a night in my dumb little townhouse when this is how you live.”
She scoffed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess I feel a little embarrassed that I exposed you to my small world, when your world is so big.”
She laughed, shaking her head.
“What?” he asked, annoyed at the thought that she was making fun of him, but at the same time, hoping she’d give him a reason to not like her and make it easier for him to leave.
“It’s just that I was thinking the opposite. That your world is so big, with the girls, your dad. Your townhome is so warm and perfect, Andrew. This is a great view, but it’s all it is. You have an actual home. You’re very lucky.”
He huffed, his chest warm from her words. “Grass is always greener, I guess.”
“So they say.” She lifted her chin to the sky. “It’s snowing again.”
Sure enough, the pure white flakes peppered her dark hair. “Looks different in the city.”
When she looked at him again, the wind blew her hair over her forehead. He reached up and gently pushed the long locks off of her face, behind her ear. Her lips curled up into a grin.
More than anything, he wanted to kiss her. Not only because she was a beautiful woman against a beautiful backdrop, but also because there hadn’t been one minute of his time with her that he hadn’t enjoyed. Even though neither one of them was relationship material, she washis boss after all, the generosity she’d shown his children just added to the feeling. Never had he ever felt so…wanted. He and the twins had been completely welcomed into this very different world.
He must have been staring like some kind of creeper because Emma cleared her throat and broke the stare. “Everything okay?”
“Oh,” he shook his head. “I was just thinking.”
Without a thought, he blurted, “You.”
Raising her eyebrows, she bit her bottom lip, and he almost reached out to touch it. “Me?”
Yes, you, and your warm eyes, your peppermint scent. “You’re my boss.”
“Oh. Right… yep.” She took a step away from him.
“Technically, my boss’s, boss’s, boss. I mean, if you replace Russell.”
She stood a little taller and crossed her arms over her chest. “I figured Stu would be his natural replacement. I’m going to call him tomorrow and offer it to him.”
Andrew nodded. “Makes sense.” He tried not to think that might also mean that he’d have the opportunity to move into Stu’s position. He could use the boost to his income, even if it meant more hours at the job.
“Now what are you thinking about?” she asked, side-eyeing him. “If you have any insider info, I’m happy to hear it. Confidentially, of course.”
He shook his head. “Nothing like that. I’m going to miss Russell, that’s all. He always advocated for us.” Andrew’s eyes popped. “Not that you haven’t. I guess it’s just been that Russell was never able to move anything. Or maybe HR wasn’t interested in what he had to say.”
Emma rubbed her arms. “What did he have to say?”
Andrew bobbed his head, debating whether he should be having this conversation. Since he had her ear, he may as well go for it. “Confidentially?” She nodded. “Well, compared to other big companies, BI is far behind on employee holidays, vacation, sick, personal time, that kind of thing.”
“Really? I hadn’t thought to discuss this with HR. Russell never said anything to me.”
“Maybe he was trying to go around you. A lot of people don’t know how to approach you, Emma. Middle-management, I mean. Are you a serious CEO, or a figurehead…no offense.”
Emma took a deep breath. “Can I be honest with you, confidentially?”
“I don’t know the answer to that.”
He raised his eyebrows.
“Of course I want to be a serious CEO, and I do the best job I can, but it’s not exactly my life’s calling. I sort of got stuck into it when Dad was sick, but I only want to make him proud. The company is his dream.”
“What’s yours, Emma Ballard?”
She pursed her lips, taking a pause. “I really don’t know, and I’m not going to figure it out tonight. Also,” she added, “as pretty as this snow is, I’m freezing.”
Andrew laughed. “Me too.”
Emma took his hand and led him back through the French doors, into her bedroom, to the sitting area near the closet. Her hand was cold, but fit nicely in his. They stood before the modern-looking, upholstered love seat. She nudged her chin to the closed closet door. “What do you think they’re doing in there?”
Looking toward the closet, he cringed. “Hopefully not too much damage.”
He didn’t complain that she was holding his hand. They sat next to each other, their fingers still entwined. He resisted the urge to drop his head onto her shoulder and close his eyes. Instead, he decided to tease her a little. “Your hand is still attached to your wrist.”
“Glad about that.”
He nodded, watching her fold her legs underneath her, twisting to face him. Lifting their joined hands, he inspected hers. “It’s a pretty hand.”
“Why thank you. Yours is too.”
He furrowed his brow. “I don’t want pretty hands. I want calloused, cracked man hands.”
She opened her grip and examined his fingers. “Nope. You must not be doing enough man chores or something.” Her fingers moving over his palms, soothing him.
“Or something,” he murmured, closing his palm over her hand again. He didn’t want to lose the contact, but didn’t want to be drawn in either.
As if he could stop it.
“Andrew?” she asked, leaning the side of her head on the back of the couch as she faced him. Her hair fell over her shoulder, as her dark eyes looked into his. She released his hand and ran her fingers through her hair. “Can I be honest about something?”
“Of course,” he answered, although the simple question scared him, especially combined with the serious look on her face, the way her gaze pierced his. The potential behind the word “honesty” had the power to open a floodgate.
“I really like…”
He gulped when she stopped talking.
She reached for his hand again, this time, his left hand. She looked down at his wedding ring, then back up at him, and continued. “…your girls. I really like them.”
He pressed his lips together, wondering if that’s what she’d intended to say, or if the ring on his finger influenced her. It should, he reminded himself. That’s why he wore it. He was in love with someone else. His wife. The ring was meant to influence him, Emma, and everyone who saw it.
“I like them too,” he answered, standing up. “I better go check on them though.” He needed a break from Emma and her deep, dark eyes, her peppermint scent, her soft fingers.
Cautiously, and with a prayer that he wouldn’t find a disaster, he opened the glass door and stepped into the room Emma called a closet. The girls were fast asleep on a pile of clothes on the floor.
With a chuckle, he looked back at Emma, waving her over.
“Aw,” she whispered, her hand to her heart. “They finally ran out of batteries. Look how sweet they are.”
He smiled at his little ones. “They’re angels when they’re asleep. I better get them up and moving.”
She waved him out of the closet, shushing him. “If you want to stay over, you’re welcome. I have a guest room for you, and they can stay right there.”
He considered her offer, but knew that him staying another night, snowed in with his CEO, probably wasn’t a smart decision for him or his family. “They have school tomorrow.”
“Oh, right. And work. We have work.” She shrugged. “Back to real life, I guess. Will you be at the Jersey holiday party?”
The party was in less than two weeks. He hadn’t planned on going this year. Spending eight hours a day at work was long enough for him, but if Emma was going to be there… “Will you?”
“Yep. With Russell leaving, I want to make sure the staff feels confident and secure with Stu, or with whomever takes that position. And I have a new friend there. He’s the IT Supervisor.”
“Oh, that guy,” Andrew teased. “Heard he’s a jerk.”
She laughed. “Not at all. He has math socks and sweater vests. They say he’s pretty hip.”
“Har har.” Andrew rolled his eyes. “You said you liked the sweater vest.”
“I do. I’m just kidding. Yes, I’ll be at the New Jersey party. Me and Rhonda. It will be nice to see you again.”
“And you also.”
She scrunched her face, her perfect nose crinkling. “Can I admit something?”
“I enjoyed today. Not just because of the girls, but because of you.” She took a step toward him and touched his cheek.
Then she leaned in and kissed it.
Dizziness overcame him. Not only because her lips were touching his skin, but because she was so close to him that the heat of her warmed him. She didn’t move away after the peck, but lingered, her mouth near his, their cheeks close enough that he could feel her breath on his skin.
With the twist of his head, his lips would meet hers. The thought excited him, but then the panic set in. He took a deep, steadying breath and a step back. “I can’t thank you enough for today. You’ve created a memory for my girls that I’d never be able to provide them. I’m sure they’ll remember this day forever.”
She smiled, her cheeks turning pink.
“In fact, the entire weekend has been a dream come true. Heatherby, now today.” His gaze dropped to the floor, and then back up to her eyes. He had to see what she was thinking, what she wanted from him. He was scared to death when he saw something he’d never expect to see in her eyes.
Love. Sweet, uncomplicated love.
His heart raced and his palms sweat. He had to rein this in before it took control over him. “But tomorrow, it’s back to work. You’re back to being my boss.”
She sighed. “Yep. I guess so.”
Neither one of them seemed particularly thrilled about it.
- For the sake of moving forward with these posts, I didn’t proofread this one too much. I apologize for typos or glaring grammar errors or POV slips, if you spot any.
- With Chapter 8, I do like the second part in Andrew’s POV, because it moves the romance forward an inch (Hello, Cheek Kiss on the balcony!) as well as the (light) plot concerning the office issues. I wonder if the entire first section of the chapter, in Emma’s POV could be lifted out. It doesn’t do much to move the story forward. We already know the girls are cute and active and all that, and maybe I’m just in a mood but I’d be fine deleting the whole section.
- Obviously, I have no clue how penthouses work. Like are there still doormen that call up when your food delivery arrives? Intercoms? Who knows. I figured it didn’t matter enough to really research, especially if I ended up lifting that whole section and tossing it anyway.
- Did you notice the snow? Sticking with the idea that when it snows, magical things happen. Or when magical things happen, it snows.
- I’m bundling Chapters 9 and 10 together to play catch up for the time I’ve missed. It’s November already, yikes! Emma and Andrew go to the office Christmas party in the next few chapters.
- Thanks for reading 🙂 I hope you’re enjoying the story!