Greta Meier dashed down the carpeted hallway of Swift Financial, ignoring the agony of power walking in three-inch heels. That pain was minuscule compared to the dread pooling in her stomach. She’d lost track of time. Again.
Sure, she’d managed to fix the in-house software issue but, meanwhile, had forgotten about the new client meeting. Glancing at her tiny gold Rolex, she groaned. Less than five minutes to make it to the other end of the building.
She could picture her boss’s disappointed face, made all the more stressful because it was her father. The image had Greta quickening her pace to a near sprint.
Rounding the final corner, she sighed. The large glass doors were still propped open. Relief calmed some of her anxiety. She wasn’t late.
Inside the conference room, Rae motioned to the empty seat next to her. Greta nodded and skated alongside the outermost edges of the table, wishing she were smaller, invisible. Hoping no one would notice her near tardy arrival. The last thing she wanted was to come a crossed as the empty-headed daughter of the boss, who’d only gotten the internship through nepotism. Therefore, any misstep, even something minor as tardiness, ate at her confidence like termites to wood.
She took her seat next to Rae and tried to squash her rampant doubts. Running a shaky hand over her chignon, she made sure every hair was in place.
“Where’s Allen?” Greta glanced around the table while needlessly straightening the collar of her pale pink blouse. Realizing she was fidgeting, putting her anxiety on full display, she stilled and met Rae’s gaze.
She handed the client folder Greta hadn’t had time to look at and sighed. “Another virus was detected on Blake’s computer. He demanded we fix it, like yesterday. Allen’s working on it.”
Greta accepted the portfolio, her worry shifting to annoyance. She didn’t want to talk about her ex-fiancé, much less be reminded he was in-house counsel. Before their breakup, they hardly ran into each other at work. Now Blake kept inventing problems with his PC and contacting the IT department. Rae and Allen found it hilarious, but Greta despised the drama. It made her and Blake appear unprofessional.
Refusing to meet Rae’s playful smile, Greta looked down the table at her father. His back was to a large window with its blinds pulled. The leaves from the giant elm and oak trees swayed in a lazy breeze, helping to block Michigan’s hot summer sun from the room. She’d love to be out there, relaxing in the shade, enjoying her summer and free from stress.
Her gaze zeroed back in on her father, and, as usual, a mixture of pride and discontent filled her. She understood he only wanted the best for her, but sometimes his rigidness was stifling. Carrying her father’s expectations, and his disappointment of her, was a heavy burden to shoulder.
Thankfully, he hadn’t noticed her near-late arrival time. There’d be no displeased glances, no lectures about punctuality in the afternoon. He appeared distracted, deep in conversation with a man she assumed was a new client.
She gave an inward sigh of relief, allowing some of her distress to dissolve. Father’s career talks turned back the clock, and suddenly she was closer to seven than twenty-seven. Enjoying the reprieve, she relaxed into her seat and studied the client. He sat sideways, elbow propped on the table, large hand covering most of his face, as he spoke with her father. There was something familiar about the set of the client’s broad shoulders and his inky black hair.
Inexplicably, her heart began to race. Watching him filled her with trepidation and an unexpected yearning.
Her father faced the room, pulling her gaze from the stranger to the wall clock. Yup, ten on the dot. Since interning, a meeting never started late.
She glanced back at the client and choked on an exhale, her heart plummeting. He’d dropped his hand and was facing forward.
It can’t be him.
Her heart skipped with joy. Then promptly flooded with dread.
“You okay?” Rae whispered. Her voice sounded far away, wrapped in fog.
Greta couldn’t answer because the client’s familiar icy-blue gaze had locked on hers. His eyes widened in recognition.
He was clean-shaven, and today his hair was neat and combed back, but there was no mistaking him. Jacob. He had one of those striking faces, impossible to forget. The memories of the way those bedroom eyes had heated as he’d taken in her naked body, or how those full lips had ravished her, made him unforgettable.
However, she wished he’d slip from her memory and the conference room. Whatever his reason for being here wouldn’t be good for her.
“Good morning. Let me introduce Mr. Jacob Grimm.”
Hearing his name, he looked away and toward her father, allowing her to breathe.
Rae nudged Greta, probably waiting for an answer. Too bad. She was admitting nothing.
“He runs Rework, a business repairing, and refurbishing antiques. We’re taking it to the next level,” continued her father. “He plans on opening a brick-and-mortar shop in Detroit and developing a better online presence.”
Business owner? No, no, no.
There had been some mistake. That man wasn’t supposed to be sitting at her father’s conference table. Jacob was a deliveryman. He worked for his uncle. That’s what he told her at her mother and stepfather’s home. So, why wasn’t he out lifting heavy things and breaking promises?
Greta flipped through the file Rae had given her. Successful was an understatement. His client base was impressive, as were the big names in the dossier. Stapled to the back of the folder was a copy of Jacob’s license.
Foolish woman. Hadn’t her father always told her to come to a meeting prepared? Had she even glanced at the file and she’d have recognized Jacob in an instant. Remembered that foolish, impulsive afternoon.
As her father addressed the room, Greta focused on Jacob’s picture. It was safer than looking into the face of the actual man.
They’d only spent a couple of hours together, but his wicked full mouth and penetrating gaze had been impossible to forget. Along with his magical ability to push past all her restraints. Greta still couldn’t quite believe how easily her inhibitions had fled in the company of a perfect stranger.
She closed the folder and rubbed her sweaty palms on her pleated linen skirt. She stared at her father and tried to concentrate on his words, though he could’ve been speaking another language and she wouldn’t have noticed.
There was no way she could swallow her embarrassment and work with Jacob. Not even for a day, let alone a week or more.
Her pulse thudded in her ears. What if he bragged about his one-night-stand with the boss’s daughter? Father would kill her. Not literally, but professionally. He wouldn’t want the family name smeared with tawdry office gossip.
He’d promised, after she graduated with her Master’s in Web Development, she’d take over Swift’s websites and handle all the clients needing web development help. Would the offer still stand if he learned of her history with Jacob?
So much for proving herself with a summer internship. Greta wanted to weep at the disappearance of her imagined stellar portfolio. Swift Financial would have been wonderful on her resume.
Focus. I need to focus and get control of the situation.
Leaning in, she whispered to Rae, “I need to go. Would you and Allen mind handling this account? I’ll owe you one.”
“What’s wrong?” Rae’s forehead furrowed in concern.
That question was too big to answer now. Later. “Will you do this for me?”
Rae bit her lip. “I’ll try, but you know your father wants you in charge of web designing.”
Yes, I know. Hopefully I’ll come up with a stellar excuse to wiggle out of the Rework contract.
Avoiding that huge glitch in her escape plan, Greta mouthed a thank you and gathered her papers. When there was a pause in the main conversation, she addressed the room. “I’m sorry. There’s been a mistake. Allen Carnaby will handle this account with Mrs. Caitlin.” She started to rise. “I’ll find him.”
Greta wasn’t even out of her seat before her father’s stern voice stopped her. “No, Ms. Meier, the account is yours and Mrs. Caitlin’s. I have another project in mind for Mr. Carnaby.” His tone brooked no argument.
Darn it. So much for a quick and painless getaway.
She nodded. To argue was pointless and would only anger her father. Returning to her seat, she glanced covertly at Jacob. He’d lost most of his color and looked like he’d been poked with a cattle prod.
Replaying the exchange and realized she’d been addressed by her last name. Jacob must have caught it, grasped its significance. It seemed to have rattled him.
Maybe he didn’t want to share their secret any more than she did. Thank goodness. It would save her from her father’s wrath.
Next challenge—squashing her lingering thrill at seeing Jacob again.