Happy January! Hope everyone’s 2017 is off to a good start. Mine is all about writing. I have a feeling I’ll end up spending most of my January in pajamas tied to my computer. LOL. So much to do! In case you missed it, I updated my Coming Soon page. There’s a lot happening, including info on book 4 of A Kind of Stories, A Kind of Home. In the meantime, as promised, it’s time for another installment of BTE. Look for part 5 next weekend! ❤
Happy Reading! Lane xo
Better Than Engagement- Chapter 4
The second I finished one major contract, another three were dumped on my desk and marked urgent. On one hand, it was great. I was making a ridiculous amount of money but working eighty plus hours a week wore on me. The research alone was too much for one person, which meant I had to rely heavily on my assistants and interns. Some were easier to work with than others. Their schedules were erratic because of law school or research they’d started for other lawyers. Of course, the one who always seemed available was the one I hoped to avoid.
Jana was diligent and she was definitely a hard worker, but the subtle touches and sexy glances were becoming a problem. She swung her hair over her shoulder and batted her eyelashes before asking mundane questions. And she couldn’t hand over a piece of paper without touching my arm . It was bad enough when we were alone but she was getting more daring. When my secretary shot an annoyed glance between us as Jana walked out of my office twittering like a teenager, I knew I was going to have to say something. Again.
“Aaron would not approve,” Colleen said sharply, gazing at me over the rim of her tortoise shell glasses.
I made a face and let out a deep breath. “Everyone here knows I’m not single. I’m not sure how to make it any clearer, but yeah…I’ll talk to her.”
She nodded curtly in a deceptive way that might give the impression she didn’t care, but I knew better. Colleen Vegas was a somewhat intimidating for a five foot three middle-aged woman. She had short, dark brown hair, brown eyes and zero tolerance for BS. She’d been my secretary for two years and though it had taken a few months for us to find a rhythm, we were a good team. She kept my schedule in line and watched over my office like a feral sentry. And she loved my boyfriend.
“Good. In other news, Lang is out sick. He’s working from home and said he’d forward his research notes by this afternoon. You’ll need someone to pull the highlighted records at the Department of External Affairs. He suggested Jana, the President of your fan club, because she’s familiar with the project. She helped him with some photocopying, but apparently that makes her an expert now. If I was reading between the lines, I’d say Lang wants what Jana would love to give you. Proceed at your own risk, Sullivan. Also, your mortgage lender called. And…your mother is on hold.”
I massaged the back of my neck and winced. “Thanks. I think.”
I headed back to my office and dropped into my leather chair before picking up the phone on my desk. I’d told her a million times to call my cell if she wanted to talk to me, but she never listened. I had a feeling going through my secretary was her way of making herself known to the people who worked for me. For a relatively young sixty year old, my mother was getting weirdly possessive as I got older. At least she was with me. I doubted my brother or sisters had to deal with this much interference.
“Sweetheart, how are you?” she gushed.
“I’m fine, but I’m busy. Can I call you back lat—?”
“This will only take a second. Your father and I are coming for a short visit in a couple weeks. Don’t worry. I know you don’t have much room. We’ll stay at a hotel, but save a night for us to take you out to dinner.”
“O-kay. You know you’re welcome to stay with us.”
“That’s sweet of you, but your place is far too small. And you have a roommate. We wouldn’t want to put Aaron out.”
I gritted my teeth together. “I don’t have a roommate, Mom. I—”
“Oh. Did he move out? I talked to him last week and he didn’t sound like he was going anywhere. It’s for the better, honey. If you’re alone though, Dad and I will certainly stay with you.”
“So we should stay at the hotel?” she asked, managing to sound hurt even though it was her suggestion in the first place.
“That’s not what I— look, I’m not sure how many times I have to tell you this, Mom but…I don’t have a roommate. I have a boyfriend.” I paused for a moment to let the word sink in and then continued. “Aaron and I live together in a very spacious condo we bought together. It isn’t my place, it’s ours. Mine and Aaron’s. You and Dad are more than welcome to stay with us. As you know from your previous visits, the guestroom is always ready and you have your own bathroom. If you prefer a hotel, that’s up to you. But Aaron, my boyfriend, isn’t going anywhere. So please…be nice. Okay?”
“I’m always nice.”
The rest of the conversation was relatively brief. I typed the dates she gave me in a text to Aaron who responded immediately with a bug-eyed emoji and then a second one with the eyes crossed out. My phone vibrated in my hand before I could press Send on my next message to him.
“Why now? I’m so stressed out at work, I can’t see straight… not that ever could really, but I’m not sure I can deal with your mother face to face right now. Not when she’s in one of her “it’s time for Matthew to settle down, buy a house in the suburbs and start a family” moods. How many times did she call me your roommate when you talked with her?”
I swiveled my chair to look out the window. The rain was coming in thick sheets, making it difficult to see much beyond the streaks of water sliding down the windowpane. Fuck, I hated dealing with shit. It was an unfair double standard that didn’t seem to register with my mother no matter how many times I’d addressed it over the years.
“Once,” I admitted with a sigh.
“That’s better than usual. I wish we were on a tropical island right now. We need a vacation, Matty.”
“Yeah. I agree.” I didn’t have to remind him neither of us was in a position at work to take one, but damn, I felt the same way.
He must have heard the longing or weariness in my tone. When he spoke again, his voice felt like a caress. I could almost feel his hand on my brow or his lips on my forehead. These were the moments I knew what we had was worth fighting for and that I was a lucky man.
“We’ll get there. Until then…back to reality. What do you want for dinner?”
I smiled at his sudden cheerfulness. “Let me take you out. I’m supposed to meet Curt for a drink at Mark after work. Find us in the bar and then we’ll ditch him and have dinner there or wherever you want. What do you say?”
“Perfecto. Te amo, mi amor.”
He ended the call before I could reply. It was just as well. I had a ton to do. I pocketed my cell as I swiveled back to my desk. Nothing had changed. I still had more balls in the air than a sane person could juggle. But I had Aaron too. That was all that mattered.
Mark was a new uber-hip restaurant downtown with a warehouse meets farmhouse ambience that shouldn’t work but did. Lanterns hung from high ceilings with exposed air ducts while traditional landscapes in ornate frames lined the rough-hewn wood planked walls. Giant galvanized bins filled with spring branches with tiny yellow and pink blossoms dotted the space lending a homey feel to the very crowded restaurant.
I congratulated myself on my perfect timing. I’d purposely arrived five minutes late knowing Curt would get there at least five to ten minutes early to secure a table. I spotted him near the window talking to a cute waiter with a mop of curly blond hair and a flirty grin.
“I recommend the jalapeno margarita. It’s just the right amount of spicy!”
“Um, I think I’ll stick with a beer. Thank you,” Curt said, sounding a bit flustered.
“I’ll have the same.” I smiled at the young man as I took the chair opposite Curt. “Hi honey. How was your day?”
Curt kicked me under the table but waited until we were alone to blast me. “You’re a fucking moron.”
“I love ya, Curtster. And I’d hate for the poor guy to get on Jack’s bad side if he thought someone was after his man.”
Curt rolled his eyes. “He wasn’t flirting with me.”
“He was. Hey, a fancy looking lawyer type sitting by himself at a high-end bar…who can blame the boy for trying?”
“You’re hysterical. No one flirts with me. And that’s fine by me. I honestly wouldn’t know how to respond. Guy and girls flirt with Jack all the time. Me? Not so much.”
“Poor baby. Feeling sad and lonely?” I teased.
“Not at all. In fact…I just wrapped up a huge project. I’m feeling just fine!”
We thanked the waiter for our drinks then talked shop for a few minutes. It was nice to have a close friend and fellow lawyer who was roughly in the same place in his career as me. We commiserated over our workloads and changes in protocol in an in depth way we couldn’t with other friends. I glanced at my phone when Curt ordered another round.
“What’s going on? Got a hot date?”
“Yep. Aar is meeting me here for dinner. The reservation is in fifteen minutes. He left me a text saying he’s on his way, which is code for “I’m leaving in ten minutes”. He’ll be late for sure,” I griped good-naturedly.
“I’d keep you company but Jack should be home soon. You can stay in the bar and flirt with the cute waiter ’til he gets here,” he joked.
“He’s not into me. He’s only got eyes for you, Curtster. Fine by me. Between my work stalker and my mother, I’ve got enough on my plate. I’m hoping for a drama free dinner. Thank you very much.” I raised my glass in a mock toast and then took a sip.
“What’s up with your mom? Don’t tell me she’s trying to introduce you to nice young women from her church group again?”
I snorted. “I don’t think she belongs to a church group but she’s pulling another one of her famous passive-aggressive crusades where she conveniently forgets I’m in a relationship. And that I’m happy. It’s weird because she likes Aaron. Everyone in my family does.”
“She just doesn’t like him for you. Or she would if he didn’t have a dick.”
“Yeah. Feel free to say that a little louder, asshole,” I snarked, turning toward the reception desk just as a large party entered.
“She’s gonna have a heart attack when you finally ask him to marry you.”
“What makes you think I’m ready for that?”
“Dude. Are you kidding me? After your performance the other night at dinner, Jack and I placed bets you’d be engaged within the month. You’re so fucking obvious. But it’s a good thing. Be happy. And remind your mom that’s what she’s always telling you she wants for you anyway. Happiness.” He waited for my nod of agreement before adding, “By the way, if you ask him before the twenty-fifth, I win fifty bucks, so chop chop.”
Curt clapped for emphasis and gave me a mischievous grin.
“Ha. Ha,” I quipped weakly.
I felt suddenly overwhelmed by the weight of grown-up responsibility. I hated being pulled in opposing directions and having my sense of loyalty tested. The man I was five years ago would have sworn family came first. But things had changed.
“Don’t worry. You’ll figure it out. Sooner rather than later is my only advice and not because I desperately want to win a bet. You need to take control. Be decisive and make shit happen. That’s the attitude that’ll make Aaron say yes, your mom shut up and maybe catch the eye of a cute waiter or two who’ll make sure your drinks are delivered in a timely manner.”
I chuckled at his self-satisfied expression and gestured for him to put his wallet away when he stood. “I got this. Thanks for the advice, Mr. Townsend.”
“Any time. If it’s not raining, let’s play basketball this weekend. I think Chelsea is dragging Jason to some spa weekend in the mountains, but Peter said he’d take his place if we need a fourth. Jay is—” Curt cocked his head curiously as he stared at someone or something behind me.
“What is it?”
“What does your work stalker look like? Is she a pretty brunette with long legs and big boobs?” My stomach turned ominously. Oh fuck. Not now. I nodded mutely and then tipped back the last of my beer. “Ah. Lucky you. She’s coming this way now.”