Jolly Hour by Melissa Williams

5

Winter Blunderland

Nadia

“What doyou mean he’s still there?”

“I mean, he’s still here. What’s the big deal?” I listen to my best friend whisper into the phone and shake my head.

“The big deal? The big deal!” My voice gets louder, needing to blast some sense into her and myself at the same time. “What is he? A drifter? Is he using you for a place to stay? He’s already invited himself over for dinner and now he’s just hanging around, refusing to go.”

“Nadia,” Libby sighs into the phone. I know she hears my tone and I’m going overboard on the topic of this new guy staying the night at her place. She’s a grown ass woman and can do whatever she wants, but this morning I’m being overly protective. I don’t want her making the same mistake I did. Thinking this guy is perfect then having her world shattered in a matter of seconds. “It’s not like that at all. He asked to spend the day with me, and I said yes. He only has four days off before he’s back on night shifts.”

I make a rude noise. Sure, that’s what they tell you and then BAM! You find out they’re related to the CEO of the company you work for and hold a majority of company stock. Not to mention is a CEO and founder himself. I had a moment of weakness…I Googled him.

“Are you okay? You’re acting weird.”

Shit. I needed to check my attitude. Maybe put on one of my workout programs to burn off some of my anger and confusion. After I left Ajay’s condo, I should have shaken off my anger. Accepted that I’d made a poor judgment call and move on. While I was disappointed at Ajay, I’m also mad that I still have…all these feelings for him. I can’t deny that last night was amazing, and yes I would’ve liked to spend more time with him, but that’s impossible now. I can’t date someone who I technically work for. Plus, I ran from him. What are the chances that he could hunt me down? He’d need a miracle…or maybe a huge bribe.

There is a small, itty-bitty tiny part of me that hopes he sees past me sneaking out and maybe puts in the effort to pursue me. I’m not sure how long a reasonable person would wait for something like that. It’s not like I can go into the office and casually run into him. Everyone got the day off today and I’m on holiday for the rest of the year now. God, can you imagine how desperate that would look? No, no, I’m going to move on, move forward, and forget about Ajay.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I just…I just did something extremely stupid last night and I might be taking some of my anger out on you.”

“Ohh,” she draws out the word. I can hear the intrigue in her voice. “What’d you do?”

“It’s not what I did,” I start to stay, getting cut off by a loud knock on my front door. Pulling my cell away from my ear, I quickly tap into my door camera to see who’s bothering me. Good Lord.

Ajay is staring at the camera. He’s at my front door. A devilishly determined look on his face, like he knows I’m looking at him. Damn it. How did he get past security without them calling me?

“Libs, I’ve got to go. I know who’s on the other side of my door and the longer I make him wait, the dumber the words that come out of his mouth are gonna be.” I hang up before she can respond. Taking my sweet time, I walk to the front door and look at him again through the peephole.

“Nadia,” his rough voice calls out, “I can see your shadow under the door. Open up.”

Without hesitation, I obey. Leaning against the door frame with my arms crossed in front of me, I try to give him my best scowl. It’s hard to keep this act up when he looks so deliciously gorgeous. Not even his thick charcoal peacoat can hide the width of his strong shoulders.

“How did you get my address?” I ask, trying to sound mad that he found me.

“I have my sources.” The jerk smiles, his lips lifting higher on the left side. I open my mouth, about to tell him he can take a long walk off a short pier, when he lifts an arm. “I brought a peace offering.”

My mouth instantly begins to water when I see the logo of the coffee shop. On the tray he’s balancing, there’s a bag of treats and two large coffee cups. Damn it, he’s found my weak spot along with my address. Running my tongue along my front teeth, I debate on what to do next. I really want that coffee, but I don’t know if I can trust myself around him in my personal space.

“There’s a pumpkin scone and peppermint bark in here,” he says, dipping his head to the bag. Son of a…how does he know my ultimate weakness? Baked treats? There’s no way I’m letting those delights leave me.

I take a step back, gesturing him into my apartment. He purposely brushes against me as he comes inside, the lopsided grin never leaving his face. “I’m only letting you in to get that coffee.”

“If you hadn’t run this morning, you would have had your coffee sooner.”

There’s a tingle of embarrassment in my chest but I ignore it as I stomp away. He follows. Pulling out a kitchen chair, I plop into it and reach for the tray he slides across the table. The coffee is gulped down seconds later.

Ajay sits in the chair closest to me.

“Why did you run this morning?” he asks casually, getting straight to the point.

“You had a meeting.” I shrug. “Thought I’d get out of your hair.”

“Stop lying, beautiful, and tell me the truth.”

My eyes dart away from him, staring out the window as I think about what to tell him. I end up going with the straight truth. He either accepted all of me or nothing at all.

“You lied to me. I don’t mess around with liars.”

There’s a pregnant pause, both of us watching the other as my words hang in the air.

“First, I never lied to you. And what happened between us last night wasn’t us messing around. That was us starting something.”

“We’re practically a gingerbread house! Brought together by sugary goodness and the high of the holidays, but in less than twenty-four hours we’re falling apart.”

“Beautiful,” he begins, but I don’t let him finish.

“You told me at the bar that you didn’t work for Battlements. You’re on the freaking board!”

“But I don’t work for Battlements. I’m an investor. I didn’t lie to you. And I was going to tell you my connection this morning, but you ran out before I could.”

“Beckett Wyshnicki is your brother. My CEO!”

“Blame my mother for that one. But again, I didn’t lie to you.”

Okay, I could give him that. Taking another sip of my coffee, I stare into his beautiful green orbs.

The words are coming out of my mouth before I realize what I’m saying. I’m opening up to him, showing him a vulnerable side to me that only a few have seen. It’s shocking yet freeing at the same time. “I don’t want to lose my job, Ajay. Yes, I’m attracted to you, and sure I’d like to see where this goes between us”—I move a hand back and forth between us—“but I love my job. I’ve worked hard to get to where I am today.”

Grabbing my free hand, he clasps it between both of his, a look of sincerity on his face.

“I would never jeopardize your career. If it bothers you that much I can step down from the board.”

Wait. What? “You don’t mean that.”

Reaching out, he pulls my chair closer to his until our legs are pressed together. Placing one arm on the table, he surrounds me. Wrapping me in his fresh scent. “One thing you’ll come to know about me, Nadia, is that I never say things I don’t mean. From the moment I saw you, I knew you were meant for me. I’m not going to let something as trivial as me being on the board of directors of my younger brother’s company stop us from having a future.”

My coffee must not have activated my brain yet because I swear I’m hearing him talk about us in the long term. And screw me, it doesn’t sound all that bad. I have no idea what to say. So, I just sit in the silence, taking him in. I believe him. I do. I really do see in his face how much he wants me. And if I’m being honest, I want him too.

Could I do this though? Rush into something so quickly? Dive in heart first and hope for the best? Did I even have the choice to pull back at this point? I may have run from Ajay this morning with the excuse that he kept something big from me, but I also took any excuse to run. I’m scared of what I’m feeling. I’ve never had this immediate connection with anyone and diving into the unknown has always bothered me. I don’t want to screw up with Ajay.

“You really mean that?”

“Yes,” he states, his voice strong and confident.

Licking my lips, I take a deep breath. Here goes everything.

“I’m sorry that I ran this morning and didn’t talk to you about…what I discovered. It’s just, I grew up in a house of liars and master manipulators. I’m tired of being lied to and then pushed to the side. I didn’t want that to happen with you.”

A heartbeat later, I’m being lifted onto Ajay’s lap. His arms come down around me, holding me close as he says in my ear, “I’ll never lie to you, beautiful. If something’s wrong, we’ll talk about it. There’s no way in hell I’d ever push you away—I want you as close to me as humanly possible. All the damn time.”

I snort, understanding what he’s describing.

“Okay. Me too.”

“Good,” he continues like we hadn’t just been staring into each other’s souls, “now that I know you won’t be running from me anymore, I have a serious question for you.”

Oh no. His tone sounded very concerned.

“Okay,” I say again, this time drawing out the word.

“Why are there no Christmas decorations up around here? All I saw when I followed you was a wreath.”

Throwing my head back, I chuckle my relief. “Oh my God, you had me worried there for a second,” I sigh. “The huge Christmas tree in the lobby didn’t do it for you?” He squeezes my side. “Ah! Okay, okay. I’m not much of a Christmas person. I honestly thought I’d be working through the holidays again, but I was explicitly told I needed to use my vacation days.” I laugh, momentarily thinking about how much work will be piling up before Ajay claims my attention with a kiss to the side of my neck. “Plus, my best friends are freaks and love Christmas. If I find myself in need of some cheer, I head to one of their places.”

“I can’t comment on you working through the holidays—I used to do that too before I decided to slow down.”

“You’ve slowed down? I don’t think so,” I tell him with a scoff. From what I’ve learned about him online, this man runs five companies while being on the board of three others. Plus, there were also all the other ventures he’s a silent partner on.

He tickles my sides quickly, earning a wiggle from me. “Yes,” he laughs, “I have slowed down over the last year. I’ve stepped down as CEO and CFO of two of my companies and only oversee a couple other businesses. I realized that I was missing out on the life I’ve built, too focused on creating my next big success. What’s the point of working so hard if I couldn’t appreciate what I’d accomplished?”

I roll my lips, taking in his comment. It hits a nerve. While I’m not a CEO or a self-made millionaire, I am a hard worker. I put my all into everything I do. When I was younger, I worked hard to impress my parents—though that rarely worked. They would’ve had to be home to learn what I had been doing. Then, when I started out on my marketing career, I pulled late hours and long days to prove that I belonged. That I could contribute valuable insight.

Yet, hearing Ajay’s reasoning for slowing down, it suddenly dawns on me that I don’t need to impress anyone but myself anymore. And I knew I was a badass! At thirty, I’m the marketing director of a major athletics brand. Why am I still pushing myself so hard?

“You know what? It pains me to say this but you’re right. I do need to slow down a bit.”

“Beautiful, you’ve accomplished a lot. Taking a break, some time off, doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human.” I nod, tucking my head into the curve of his shoulder. Wow. I feel a lot lighter after coming to that realization. “I also know the perfect way to spend the day.” I kiss the edge of his mouth, agreeing silently to whatever he has planned.