Coming Sept 23, 2019 from Entangled Indulgence!
Today is the biggest day of my professional career. I’ve got one shot to prove I can play with the big boys and the Lachlan account is my ticket. I’ve never been more prepared for anything in my life. So of course that went up in flames.
In hindsight, stopping to get my chocolate milk fix right before the big meeting might not have been the best decision. Neither was fighting for the last jug with a flirty Thor-lookalike. In my defense, not even a Disney-prince-smolder delivered by a sweaty sex god is a match for an anxiety-fueled chocolate craving.
And had I known before walking into that meeting that my sweaty, sex-god, milk-thief was none other than Christopher Lachlan, the new client on whom my career hung, I’d have definitely skipped my morning stop.
Curse my dumb friggin’ luck. I would be attracted to the one person I can’t have.
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Charley Claybourne turned into the nearest store and hightailed it to the dairy section. She needed some chocolate milk. STAT.
Well, the lactose-free variety. Her stomach had enough issues dealing with her anxiety over her upcoming meeting without trying to process dairy.
Her phone buzzed, but she ignored it. Someone walked by the cooler and grabbed a quart. There was one left. Only one. And that baby was hers.
She picked up the pace and reached for the last jug on the shelf, her fingers wrapping around the handle just as a larger set of fingers wrapped around the bottom of the jug.
She sucked in a breath and pulled lightly, testing the other person’s determination before she looked up to pin the would-be milk thief with a glare. He didn’t let go.
“Excuse me, but I believe I had that first.”
Her phone buzzed again, and she yanked it out of her pocket, silencing it with a groan. “I believe you’re mistaken,” she said, trying to keep it civil. After all, the poor man on the other end of her jug couldn’t possibly know he was about to ruin her already stressful day. “I clearly had it first.”
Her phone buzzed a third time, and Charley shot the tall, vaguely familiar-looking Thor lookalike a mild glare before glancing at her phone to see who was blowing it up. Izzy. Of course. Because Charley was late, an issue not helped by the sweaty beefcake on the other end of her chocolate milk.
“No, I’m pretty sure I had it first,” he said, his deep, slightly gravelly voice drawing her attention from her phone.
She looked up at him, freezing for a second. He looked a lot like…naw, his hair was too long, and he was more muscley than—
Her phone buzzed again, and she swore under her breath and answered. “Izzy, I’m on my way. I just had to grab something from the store.”
As soon as she dealt with the imminent brawl that was about to break out over the last jug of Choco-Lact-Ish. She wasn’t leaving without her crutch of choice.
She nodded her head at her fingers wrapped around the handle. He returned the gesture, nodding at his own hand with a firm grip on most of the rest of the jug.
She interrupted Izzy’s constant stream of chatter in her ear. “I gotta go, Iz. I’ll be there in fifteen. Just need to pay for my milk.”
She hung up and renewed her grip as the guy at the other end of the jug raised an eyebrow.
“I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on the whole your milk thing.”
She gritted her teeth to keep her jaw from dropping open. Was this guy really going to fight her over a jug of chocolate milk?
“Look, not to go all cliché and stereotypic on you, but isn’t chocolate milk a bit too kid-friendly of a drink for…” She looked him over, from the top of his spiked blond hair to his easily size fifteen or more feet. “Someone who’s obviously not a kid?”
“How do you know I’m not buying it for my kid?”
She frowned. She’d never considered herself to be one to take milk from a baby, but dammit, there were special circumstances today.
“Are you buying it for your kid?”
He flashed a brilliantly white grin that had her knees shaking. Or maybe that was the hunger. She hadn’t eaten all day.
“Unfortunately, no,” he said. “However, chocolate milk happens to be an amazing post-workout beverage. Helps keep my muscles from seizing up and replenishes faster than other drinks, according to my trainer. I didn’t really pay attention after the words ‘chocolate milk is good.’ That sold me. All I know is it tastes amazing and does a body good.” He ran a hand down abs that were obviously—even through his well-fitting shirt—toned and rock hard and winked at her. She gave him what probably looked like a spooked owl blink in response.
Was this guy for real? To be fair, he wasn’t wrong. It was so doing him good. He must be bathing in the stuff. But still. Focus!
“So, get the regular chocolate milk. Why do you need the lactose free?” she asked.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. Trainer says to get lactose free, so that’s the kind I get.” He tugged a little, but she didn’t let go. “What about you? Do you have a houseful of milk-deprived children waiting at home?”
His brilliant blue eyes sparkled down at her, but she wasn’t going to give in to their power. Power he was obviously used to wielding. Damn, the Disney Prince smolder was strong with this one. Only the thought of something cool, thick, and chocolatey filling her anxiety-ridden and sadly empty tummy could fight those baby blues.
She renewed her grip on the jug. She really didn’t want to get into this with a stranger, especially not an insanely good-looking one she’d normally be trying to impress, but time was short and so was her patience.
“No. I’m buying it for myself because I haven’t eaten all day, I’m stressed out of my ever-lovin’ mind, and I’ve only got about two minutes to cram some sustenance into my face before I have to jet to a really important business meeting.”
“And chocolate milk is the answer to all your ills?” he asked, that disconcerting smile still in place, which was making it really hard to stay mad at him.
“Yes, it will. It’ll fill my stomach, the chocolate will calm my nerves, and I need the lactose-free brand because—”
She stopped short, horrified she had nearly told him all about the ill effects dairy tended to have on her system. Especially when she was anxious.
His smile broadened, obviously grasping her gassy meaning. She gripped the jug so hard her knuckles turned white, wishing on whatever gods happened to be listening that the floor would open up and swallow her. Or, better yet, swallow him. Then she could get her milk and get the hell out of there.
Her phone dinged with a reminder that her meeting started in an hour.
Ugh. Forget it. He could have the damn milk. She’d chug some water and pretend. She didn’t have time for this.
But before she could push the jug toward him, he let go. And since she still had a tighter-than-average grip on it, the sudden absence of resistance sent the jug flying. It crashed to the floor behind her, the plastic making that unmistakable cracking sound followed by the ice-cold whoosh of her chocolate salvation splashing up the back of her clothes and leaking all over the floor.
“Oh wow, I’m so sorry,” he said with a chuckle. “I thought you had a good grip on it.”
Charley closed her eyes and took a deep breath. There was no way her life was this cursed. She’d always had bad luck. She’d pull the one box off the shelf that was missing parts, her luggage always got lost or damaged when she flew, and her tires would find any nail in a ten-mile radius of her car. She once moved her car in a windstorm so the trees she’d been parked under wouldn’t fall on her car only to have her neighbor’s tree fall into her driveway and crush it anyway.
She was used to the ridiculous things that happened to her and let the running inside joke that was her life slide off her back most days.
But the fact that she was standing in the dairy section on the verge of crying over literal spilled milk on the most important day of her professional life had to be some violation of the universe’s cruel and unusual punishment laws. The fact that she was doing so in front of the most drop-dead gorgeous man she’d ever been within eyeshot of was just the icing on top of the world’s most craptastic cake.
“I really do apologize,” he said, though it would’ve sounded much more sincere if he hadn’t been trying to hold back his laughter until he was red in the face. “I was trying to let you have it.”
Yeah, he’d let her have it all right. Lovely. “It’s all right. Totally my fault.”
An irritated employee had already put up a caution cone and slapped a mop into the mess, splattering more dirty milk all over her. She didn’t even complain. She’d have been pissed to have to clean up that mess, too. She apologized profusely, her cheeks flushing with embarrassment and frustration. She was still freakin’ hungry and stressed and… Her phone dinged with another reminder she needed to get her ass moving.
Crap on a cracker. She needed to go. Maybe Izzy would have something in her fridge that wouldn’t kill her stomach. And something in her closet she could change into because milk splattered clothes were not going to make a great impression.
Her milk thief, meanwhile, looked like he was going to try and keep the conversation going. She gave him a weak smile and backed away.
“If you’ll excuse me,” she muttered. She gave him a weird half nod and hightailed it out of there.
If a simple trip to the store for some milk ended in this kind of spectacular disaster, it definitely didn’t bode well for the rest of the day.
Her cousin Izzy’s new penthouse wasn’t too far away. Closer than her own small apartment. She could go there and get cleaned up and still make it to the Lachlan building before her conference with Christopher Lachlan and his board.
She couldn’t screw up this meeting. If she didn’t get this account, her fledgling business would never get off the ground.
Her stomach growled and twisted, and she picked up the pace. That chocolate milk would have gone a long way to make her whole day a lot better. Stupid to hang so much on one chocolatized beverage, but it was what it was. Some people smoked, some drank. She did chocolate milk.
She made it to her cousin’s in record time and pounded on the door. Izzy took one look at her and stepped to the side while Charley made a beeline for the kitchen. She spilled the whole story while raiding the fridge—no chocolate milk but there was grape juice, which would have to do—and plucking at her milk-splattered clothes to hold them away from her now clammy skin. Izzy was, understandably, beside herself with laughter.
“Thanks for the support there, Iz,” Charley said.
“I’m sorry, but seriously…” Her words cut off as she barked out another laugh. “I mean, only you could go to the store for something simple and somehow get in a drag-out fight with some male supermodel over fake chocolate milk and end up covered in it.”
Charley ignored her and started sucking juice right from the pitcher.
The sound of a picture being taken made her look up even though she kept on drinking. Until she saw her brother, who was now chuckling over the picture on his phone.
“Derrick!” Charley shouted.
“Sorry, sis. Couldn’t pass up that opportunity. You look like you’ve been rolling around in a cow pen.”
“You little…get back here!”
“Sorry, can’t hear you!” he said, laughing and hurrying from the room before she could chase him.
She glared at the door but didn’t go after him. That can’t hear you bit always sent a bolt of shame and guilt through her. He meant it as a joke, but she had a hard time taking it that way. It was her fault they’d gotten into that accident in high school. Her fault he’d lost an ear in the process and had problems with retaining information sometimes. He didn’t blame her, but it didn’t matter. She blamed herself and always would. So, she let him get away with murder.
“All right, I’ve got to get out of these clothes,” she said, pulling at her clothes as she put the pitcher back. “I’m soaked.”
She headed down the hall to Izzy’s room and yanked off her top, swearing when she noticed that the milk had soaked through to her bra.
Izzy crinkled her nose. “Good riddance,” she said, nodding to the sports bra Charley wore. “That thing is hideous.”
“It’s also supportive and comfortable.”
“And now it’s ruined, so take it off and you can put this on,” she said, holding up a padded bra that looked like a really expensive, silky soft torture device. But Charley didn’t have time to argue.
She gripped the bottom of her bra and started shimmying it up over her head. Easier said than done. Sports bras were not known for their ease of removal. Add some moisture and…it really didn’t go as well as Charley hoped.
“Damn, I think I’m stuck,” Charley said, twisting her body as if that would somehow remove the tight elastic from its death-hold on her face.
Izzy was nearly peeing herself at this point, and Charley glared at her with the one eye that could peek through the armhole of the bra. “I could use some help!”
“Breathe, Chuck, breathe!” Izzy said when Charley groaned through the material.
She finally ripped the thing off her head and tossed it. “Thanks. I could’ve smothered.”
Izzy laughed again. “Hey, I’m always there for you, Chuck, you know that. You got a body you need buried, just call. But I draw the line at bra removal.”
Charley rolled her eyes and put on the clean bra that Izzy threw to her. “Got an outfit I can borrow?”
Izzy grinned through another laugh. “Sure. Though I think Cass’s stuff would be more your taste. Let’s raid her closet.”
Izzy led Charley back to her roommate’s closet and threw the double doors open wide. “Take your pick.”
Charley blew out an appreciative breath at the bounty before her and stepped inside.
“What was Derrick doing here?” she asked, gently touching the sleeve of one dress before moving on to another.
“I had some tickets for that hockey game he wanted to go to, so he was picking them up.”
“Good. Because if he posts that picture, I need to know where I can find him.”
“Ha! Right. You’ve been trying to keep that boy under control his whole life. Give it up.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Like she needed to be reminded there was one more thing she couldn’t control.
Charley wandered back and forth in Cass’s massive closet, slowly going through the gorgeous clothes.
“Quite the selection,” she said, glancing over her shoulder at her cousin, who shrugged.
“The first few months after we got the money, we had a little more fun than we should’ve at the boutiques.”
The money in question being the lotto Izzy won with Cass and their friend Kiersten. Charley would be lying if she said she wasn’t jealous, though she was thrilled for her cousin. If anyone deserved it, Izzy did. And she’d been very generous with the family. But Charley didn’t like taking handouts. She was going to make her way herself. And that meant she needed to get this damn job, which meant she needed to look fabulous.
She picked something and quickly slipped it on.
“I’m still not sure I feel totally right about this,” she said, turning so Izzy could zip up the form-fitting black sheath dress.
Izzy sighed. “We’ve gone over this. Chris only went with your firm because I recommended you. Nothing has changed.”
“Except that I’m no longer with my firm. Seems like something I should probably mention.”
Izzy shrugged. “I don’t see why. His office called you directly so he could work with you, and he is still working with you. What’s the problem?”
“The problem is that his board was okay with his choice of a junior associate because of the firm behind me. Without that, I’m pretty sure they’d prefer to go with someone else.”
“Well, they’ve already hired you, so I don’t see how it matters. You’ll still do an amazing job, they’ll be happy, and you’ll have a big-name client to get your business off the ground. It’s not your fault your former company was full of misogynistic assholes who’d rather promote anyone with a penis over a woman, no matter how much more qualified she was. I see no reason to deprive Chris of the best person for the job just because your old boss was a shortsighted idiot who refused to give you the promotion you deserved.”
Charley sighed. “I know, but maybe I should’ve sucked it up a few weeks longer. Until I’d finished with Mr. Lachlan’s company. I’d still have gotten the credit, and then I could have gone out on my own without having to resort to this deception to do it.”
Izzy snorted. “Seriously, Chuck, I’m not sure if your naivety is sweet or aggravating. Do you really think they’d have let you keep this account? If I hadn’t given Chris your direct number and sent him through the firm instead, they’d have passed it off to someone else no matter who Chris requested. Probably that guy you spent a year training who they made your boss. They never appreciated you.”
Charley grimaced, but she couldn’t argue with that. Izzy was right. She shoved her feet into a pair of heels a good two inches higher than she normally wore and took a deep breath. “All right. How do I look?”
Izzy looked her over. “The clothes are perfect. Now let’s do something about that,” she said, waving her finger in Charley’s face.
Right. Any bit of makeup she’d been wearing was now smeared all over her discarded bra. She grinned and shook her head but allowed Izzy to lead her to the vanity table filled with high-end beauty products.
Twenty minutes and thirty pounds of makeup later, Charley was ready for the meeting of her life. She just prayed her stomach didn’t revolt. The last thing she needed was to make a total fool of herself in front of Chris Lachlan.