House of Sensual Romance ™

This is a place of comfort for everyone. I hope you enjoy my stories, and those of my friends. Let me know what you liked about them and what you didn't. You can also visit my website for more excerpts of my work. And all work on my blog is copyright protected.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Chances Are
by LaVerne Thompson
Copyrighted 2006
Chapter 1(revised)

A tall striking woman with short curly hair walked out of the bank, clutching a large cardboard box that held her personal items with her head held high. God, who would have thought her entire office, her life could be reduced to one box. But she'd be damned, if after fifteen years of faithful service to this bank and the last four as the branch manager, she'd allow some pimple faced kid with a bunch of initials after his name to see her cry. She'd wait until she got to the privacy of her own home to do that. Maybe not even then.
The door slammed shut behind her. She told herself that she’d never set foot in there again or any of that bank's branches. First thing tomorrow morning she was closing and transferring her checking, savings and IRA accounts to another bank and she'd do it all on-line. It may not be enough to even be a blip on the bank’s radar screen but it was her money. She’d worked hard for it. And she could damned well put it anywhere she damned well pleased.
She was in such a rush to get away from the building she had forgotten that she didn’t have a car. She’d gotten a ride into work this morning with her sister. Her car was in the shop, again. She couldn’t even reach her cell phone. It was in the Chanel purse slung over her shoulder, wedged between the box and her side. She’d have to put the box down in the middle of the street.
She didn’t really want to call her sister anyway. She’d have to tell her what had happened. And she didn’t want to think about that yet. Besides, there wasn’t anything her sister could do. Nothing anyone could do to return her nice orderly life to her.
She turned around to scan the mid-day autumn street for a cab. Someone bumped into her shoulder—hard. Her box went tumbling out of her hands and her things scattered all over the sidewalk. The jerk that jostled her didn’t even bother to stop and help, he just muttered sorry and ran on.
“Asshole!” she screamed at his retreating back. Boy it felt good to be able to yell that at someone.
She bent down to pick up her things, when a large pale long fingered hand moved into her line of vision.
“Here you go,” a deep masculine voice said, causing her lower abdominal muscles to clench and contract.
The hand held a Waterford paperweight in the shape of the Capitol dome that used to sit on her desk. It had been a gift from her sister last Christmas.
She reached to take the paperweight away from him, when his fingers brushed against hers. She immediately pulled her hand back dropping the paperweight in the process. Good thing it landed in the box on top of her sweater and not on the sidewalk. Her sister would never forgive her if she broke it.
But who could blame her. Her fingers felt like they had when she was eight years old and plugged in a lamp with a faulty cord. She had gotten an electric charge then similar to the one she felt now. Her eyes followed that masculine hand to a black leather covered arm, up and up to the most incredible sight she’d ever seen in her life. She blinked twice.
He had dark brown hair. She loved dark hair. It was cut kinda short around the sides but longer in the front, long enough to fall across his forehead. His eyes though, his eyes made the full package.
Damn, Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes had nothing on his, she thought. Long dark lashes framed the most beautiful eyes God ever granted to a man or woman. They were violet, and she was close enough to know they were not colored contact lenses. They were set in a face that showcase high cheekbones, a nose that was not too big or too skinny and lips that just begged to be sucked.
“Here let me help you.” The sound of his voice barely broke the spell she was under.
The stranger continued to pick up the rest of her things on the sidewalk, but his eyes kept returning to hers. She on the other hand never took her eyes off of him. She just stayed there crouched on the sidewalk next to her box, too stunned to move and too shocked to speak.
“Are you okay?” he asked. “I’m sorry about that. The guy was a jerk.”
So saying, the man gently took her arm in one hand and wrapped his other around her box. In one fluid movement he easily pulled them both up with him as he rose. His long leather jacket brushed against her stocking covered leg, it felt buttery soft. You had to love a man who could wear leather like this, and still look like a man not at all confused about his sexual orientation.
He wore his look well.
At five eight, she was no munchkin, but this guy toppled over her by a good six or seven inches.
Finally, she found her voice, such as it was. “Tha…Thank you,” she said.
“You’re welcome. Do you need any help carrying this stuff?”
Her stomach muscles clenched again. “Ahh…no, thank you. I…I just need to catch a cab.” What was wrong with her? She sounded as though she had a speech impediment.
“No problem.” He stepped off the sidewalk and barely raised his hand. A cab immediately pulled up in front of him. He held the door open for her to get in, placing the box on the seat next to her.
“Take this lady…,” he looked at her, silently asking her to tell the driver where she wanted to go.
She gave the driver her address. She turned to look at him, still at a loss for words. She had to say something. “Thanks again.” Was the only thing she seemed capable of uttering, but what else could she say? Take me home with you, didn’t seem appropriate.
He stood beside the car door as though he were reluctant to close it. He just kept staring at her, as if he too wanted to say more. But like her he didn’t. He nodded then said in a voice that conjured up satin sheets, bare bodies and entwined limbs, his and hers. “Anytime.” He shut the door.
She twisted around in the seat so she could watch him as he continued to stand on the street, staring at her as she drove away in the cab.
Tal stood there watching the cab until it drove out of sight. Feeling that might have been a mistake, but he was already late for an important meeting, he couldn’t linger with her. Much as he wanted to. He repeated the address she had given the cab driver to himself. He didn’t want to forget it. He wanted to be able to find her again. He’d felt that shock too.
He turned around to walk into the bank behind him. The same bank he’d seen the woman walk out of. When he’d first seen her he’d paused in his stride and his breath caught in his throat. She was stunning. It was those whiskey smothered eyes. They drew him to her.
She wasn’t beautiful, in the runway model sense, her features were not perfect but they captivated, holding you spellbound nonetheless. And while she wasn’t over weight by any stretch of the imagination, she did have something for a man to hold onto in the middle of the night. She also had a dark bronze complexion and she wore her auburn colored hair in a short curly style. The kind of style a man could run his fingers through while she lay on his pillow and not have to worry about getting hair in his mouth or in his face. Well, he knew where all of his thoughts were headed.
Something made him look down on the sidewalk near the door. There was a little flash of gold. He bent down to pick it up. It was an earring in the shape of a butterfly. The moment he touched it, he knew it was hers. Fate might just have provided him with an excuse to see her again.
Tal put the earring in his coat pocket and entered the building. He asked the person at the front desk for the branch manager. He had business to attend to right now, but he also hoped to find out if the manager knew who the woman was who just left. She was carrying a box full of office type things. He wondered if she had been fired or was allowed to resign.
He knew the bank was going through a complete overhaul because of a merger and over the next few weeks most of the staff was being let go. This bank in particular was going to be shut down. There were too many branches within a ten mile radius. The convenience and popularity of on-line banking made so many mortar and stone buildings unnecessary.
This particular bank had the lowest foot traffic so it would be one of three in this part of Northern Virginia to go. Two others would be downsized and relocated to grocery store locations. The merger would only keep those banks open in high foot traffic areas and keep the best managers on board.
A short thin man in his mid-twenties approached Tal. “Yes may I help you?” the man asked.
“That depends,” Tal responded. “Are you the branch manager?”
“I’m Mr. VanTrop, acting branch manager.”
“Ah, Mr. VanTrop, I thought the branch manager for this bank was a woman. A Ms. Michaels.” Tal recognized VanTrop’s name, but he wasn’t sure what this man was doing here.
VanTrop pulled himself up to all of his five feet six inches and attempted to look haughtily up at Tal. Not something he pulled off very well. “Ms. Michaels is no longer with us. Now, how may I help you?”
Tal frowned. “You can start by telling me why Ms. Michaels is no longer with the bank?”
“I beg your pardon, but that is none of your business. Now unless you have some business with the bank I believe I have other things I need to be doing.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. I forgot to introduce myself. Normally the managers usually know who I am. I’ve forgotten this is still a recent merger. I’m Talbert Reynolds, President of Reynolds Banks. This bank in particular and did I mention, your boss.”
Tal watched as the blood drained from the man’s face. VanTrop was clearly surprised to see him.
“Not Mr. Reynolds the third?”
“Since last I checked.”
VanTrop grabbed Tal’s hand and began to pump it enthusiastically. “Oh Mr. Reynolds, please accept my sincere apologies. I wasn’t expecting you for another two or three weeks.” The man’s demeanor took a hundred and eighty degree turn.
“Please follow me back to my office.” VanTrop continued to talk as he ushered Tal into a rear office that still bore Ms. Michaels’ name on the door. “I’m so sorry for the misunderstanding. I had hoped I’d have more time to get the staff in hand and make recommendations as to who should be transferred to other branches and who should be let go.”
“Mr. VanTrop, I’m sorry but why are you here?” Tal asked, taking the seat behind the desk forcing VanTrop to take the guest chair.
Tal knew who he was. He was one of the dead weight managers his company had already identified needed terminating, but he wanted to hear what the man had to say for himself.
“I’m the Director of Employee Relations from the former head office. I’ve been assigned to the banks slotted for closure, to make recommendations on employee placement.” VanTrop beamed as though he were explaining a miracle to a child.
“Uh huh. I see.” And Tal did see. This pompous ass was trying to save his own hide by making himself useful to the new owners. He was creating or re-creating his position in the new company hoping to save himself by firing others.
“And what, may I ask, happened to the previous branch manager, Ms. Michaels?”
“She resigned this morning.”
“Resigned or was persuaded to leave?”
VanTrop smiled. “Does it matter?”
Tal was furious at VanTrop’s presumptions, sitting back he kept his face devoid of expression as he placed his hands on the arms of the chair. “Actually, yes. She was not one of the people I had slotted for release.”
“I’m sorry. I had no idea. But she was one of the higher paid employees and I thought it best to start there.”
“That’s very interesting. I can see some merit in that.” Of course it never occurred to VanTrop that he was one of the highest paid employees, too.
VanTrop sat back in his chair completely relaxed now, thinking that everything was going to be fine. He didn’t have a clue.
“Mr. VanTrop, please clear out of this office immediately, and if you still have an office at the main branch, clear that out also.”
VanTrop sat up in his chair. “I don’t understand.”
“Let me speak more plainly then. You’re fired.”
Like a trout gasping for air, VanTrop’s mouth gaped open. “On what grounds?” he demanded.
“Because I can,” Tal said. “Now get out of my sight but before you go please turn in your security badge to the secretary I saw sitting out front and ask her to come in here.”
“What! But you can’t do this to me. I have an employment contract.”
“Not with Reynolds Banks you don’t.” Tal focused a steely gaze on the man that left him in no doubt that Tal was not a person to cross.
Dropping his eyes VanTrop got up and gathered his coat and briefcase before he left the office. A few minutes passed before the secretary entered the room. Tal got up to shake her hand.
“Hello,” he said. “I’m Talbert Reynolds, President of Reynolds Bank, and you are…?” Tal took off his jacket and hung it on the coat tree beside the door.
“Hello Mr. Reynolds. I’m Barbara Medcalf. I’m secretary to both the branch manager and her assistant. At least I used to be. Both were fired earlier today and I guess I’m now Mr. VanTrop’s secretary?” She phrased it as a question because VanTrop had just dropped his badge on her desk, without an explanation.
Tal sat down. “Please have a seat Ms. Medcalf.”
“Mrs.” She automatically corrected him.
“Mrs. Medcalf, Mr. VanTrop is no longer with this bank. I’ll be acting branch manager until I can get Ms. Michaels back.”
Mrs. Medcalf raised her eyebrows. “Wow. Lots of changes going on around here mighty fast,” she said.
“Yes. And unfortunately, there will be more to come. First can you tell me when Ms. Michaels left the bank?”
“She left shortly before you arrived.”
“Do you have her phone number on file?”
“Yes sir. I’ll get it for you.”
“Thank you. Wait, would you also pull all the personal records for this bank’s employees, please?”
“Mr. VanTrop already requested those. I put them in the file drawer of the credenza behind you.”
“Would Ms. Michaels’ home number be in her file?”
“It should be, if it’s not let me know and I’ll find it for you.”
“Thanks. That will be all for now. I’ll call you if I need anything else.”
Tal sat back in his chair and thought about all the things he still needed to do at this branch and all the other things on his plate right now. Uncharacteristically, none of them tempted him for long. His mind was focused on the woman with the box.
She had to be Ms. Michaels. According to the name plate on the door, Ms. Kayla Michaels. Kayla, it sounded a little exotic, kind of like her. He liked it.
He found the files in the credenza and immediately searched the Ms for Michaels. There was a yellow stickee note on the front of her file. It had one word written in red ink on it. Terminated. Tal took the note off and threw it in the trashcan.
“We’ll just see about that,” he said to the empty room.
He read through Kayla’s file. But it told him nothing that he didn’t already know. She was a stellar employee, just the type of person Reynolds Banks liked to keep around. She would go far in bank management with his company.
Her name had come up before when he reviewed the banks that had to be closed. Based on her record with the bank it had already been decided that a position would be found for her within the management structure of Reynolds Banks. The one thing the file didn’t say and what he hadn’t known before was how attractive she was. How attracted to her he was.
He found her home phone number and address, it was the same address he’d heard her give the cab driver. He wasn’t sure if she had enough time to make it home yet. He’d wait another half an hour before he tried to call her and get her to come back.
The phone rang for the fourth time and the voicemail picked up. The recording said, ‘Hi this is the Michaels’ residence, we’re unavailable right now, please leave a message.’ It was a man’s voice.
Tal hesitated for a second after the beep. He found the sound of a male voice a little disconcerting. He hadn’t seen anything in her file to indicate she was married. Maybe it was just a roommate or a brother, since he announced it was the Michaels’ residence. Tal felt a sharp, unfamiliar pang in his chest at the thought that the man on the recording might be something more to Kayla. Maybe that was why his voice came out gruffer than he intended.
“Ms. Michaels, this is Tal Reynolds, I’m President of Reynolds Banks and there’s been a misunderstanding. Your resignation is not accepted. Please call me as soon as possible at the bank so we can discuss this. I’ll be here tonight until seven.”
Chapter 2
Kayla just missed the phone. She should have been home a half an hour ago, but there was an accident on Route 7 and the cab had to take a detour, but so did everyone else.
She put her box down on the kitchen counter. She didn’t bother to check her messages. She didn’t feel like listening to a solicitation, who else called at one o’ clock in the afternoon.
She prayed it wasn’t her sister. She really didn’t want to answer the phone then. If her sister called the bank she’d know what happened, but there was no reason for her to call. Her sister already knew Kayla wouldn’t need a ride home, because she was supposed to pick up her car from the mechanics today.
Kayla reminded herself to call the mechanic to let him know she’d pick up her car tomorrow. Another expense that she didn’t need right now, but she’d need her car to look for another job. She didn’t want to think about any of that now. She headed for her bedroom to change into something more comfortable.
Kayla had been lying on her back on the bed staring at the tray ceiling for ten minutes. She was proud of herself for not crying. She’d get through this. She found her mind shying away from the scene in the bank to what happened in front of the bank. Specifically, to the man who helped her.
He was by far the best looking man she’d ever seen in real time, black or white and he was white. Although she’d dated a man once who was half-Egyptian and half Arab, she’d never dated a white man. Not that she was adverse to it by any means, especially if it was this guy. He was like having a combination of all your favorite looking men all rolled up into one and presented in the most perfect package. At least his face was perfect; with the bulky jacket on she couldn’t tell what the rest of him looked like. She’d found though, that the body didn’t always match the face. Not much could match this guy’s looks. The man should be labeled tall dark and disruptive to your peace of mind.
She sighed. Thoughts of her extremely good looking Samaritan could only make her feel better for a minute. The truth was she’d never see him again. She just wished she’d had the nerve to give him her phone number or ask for his.
Who was she kidding, the guy probably collected phone numbers like dogs collected fleas and if he wanted hers he would have asked for it. Still, for a moment there she did feel a connection to him and she thought he’d felt it also. Too bad she’d never see the guy again, because now there was no reason for her to set foot in that part of town again. The thought of which took her back to her predicament.
For the first time since she was sixteen, she was without a job. She was thirty-three years old! How could such a thing happen to her? Before she could break down and cry, she picked up the phone and called her mechanic.
She was lucky they didn’t charge her for the two extra days they’d have to keep the car. She was supposed to pick it up yesterday but couldn’t get out of the office early enough. The merger caused a lot of work to be done at the bank. Not her problem anymore. After she disconnected her first call she called her voicemail.
The voice on the other end of the phone gave her goose bumps. It almost sounded like the guy on the sidewalk, she thought, but it couldn’t be. It was the voice of Tal Reynolds. My God! The Midas himself. That’s what Wall Street called him, the man with the Midas touch. Whatever he did put the banks in the black and he was calling her to tell her there had been a misunderstanding. Maybe she wasn’t supposed to be fired after all.
“Hello Mr. Reynolds, this is Kayla Michaels. I got your message.”
Her voice was husky over the phone. He felt it slide across his skin, raising the hair on his body. His groin begun to stir and he had to shift in his seat. “Ms. Michaels, Kayla may I call you Kayla?” He didn’t wait for her to answer. “Please call me Tal.”
“Yes of course, Mr. Rey…I mean Tal. What’s this all about?”
“Would you be able to have dinner with me tonight?”
“Yes. I’m afraid I will be tied up in meetings for the rest of the day and I’d like to resolve this matter between us tonight.” Tal wanted to resolve both the business and the personal side of things. He never shied away from an opportunity. Dinner would give him that opportunity.
“Mr…I mean Tal. I don’t understand. Mr. VanTrop asked for my resignation and explained everything, so I don’t understand what’s going on.”
“Mr. VanTrop is no longer with this organization. He acted precipitously. He had no authority to do what he did. Disregard whatever he told you. Please, have dinner with me. Let me explain. I’ll meet you anywhere you want me to.”
Tal held his breath.
It would be just as easy for her to come into the office tomorrow and he could give her back her job then, along with a proposal to continue to work with his company on an executive level. But this was personal. He wanted to see her tonight. He wanted to get to know her for himself. He had every intention of contacting her after she had driven off in the cab. This just gave him a reason to see her sooner rather than later.
“Okay,” Kayla said. “That should be fine. Why don’t we meet at Ten Pen in D.C.” It was one of her favorite restaurants and since she could choose, she may as well indulge herself.
“Fine. I’ll make reservations there for seven. I’ll meet you then.”
“Okay. I’ll see you there.”
Kayla hung up the phone and stared at it. That was odd. This man had a seductive voice. The hair on her arms was still standing at attention. He sounded a lot younger on the phone than she thought he would be. She’d just assumed he was at least sixty; all the other bank presidents seemed to be sixty and then some.
She’d never had a dinner meeting before. This new company certainly did things a little differently, plus the guy was the president of the bank. Dinner meetings were probably par for the course for guys like this. He operated on a level way beyond her.
Kayla had only met the president of her bank at the annual company picnics and a few times at management required seminars, but she never had lunch or dinner with him, much less been invited to call him by his first name. In retrospect maybe she should have suggested some place that was really pricey. Nah…Ten Pen was a fav, maybe next time. Yeah right, like there’d be a next time.
She wondered what he looked like. It dawned on her he didn’t know what she looked like either. She would just have to get there a little late to make sure he was already seated. That way she could just ask for his table. Better that he’s the one waiting for her.
As the hostess stepped aside, Kayla got her first look at the man seated at the table with his back to her. He turned around at their approach.
“My God!” A surprised Kayla exclaimed. “It’s you!”
Tal stood up towering over her. “Hello Kayla.” He took her hand and squeezed it, like they were friends. “So we meet again. I’m glad you came.”
Kayla felt a zing that traveled from her hand straight to her toes. Still a little shell shocked, Kayla reluctantly released his hand since he didn’t seem to want to let hers go. She grabbed the edge of the table to help support her wobbly legs as she scooted into the booth.
If the man looked fine in a long leather jacket, he was absolutely stunning in a gray suit with no tie and a lavender colored button downed shirt. He looked like no bank president that Kayla had ever seen.
He was muscular without being overly bulky; even in the suit he had great definition. More like a soccer player than a bouncer. Kayla wished he had more than two buttons undone on his shirt.
What would he look like with no shirt? The hostess looked at them both a little strangely and handed Kayla a menu. Probably because of the way they seemed to be devouring each other with their eyes. “Your waiter will be with you in a moment,” the hostess said and left them alone.
Kayla regained her senses first. “It is you,” she said. “You…you’re Talbert Reynolds?”
“Tal, please.”
“Tal. Okay. Now what the hell is going on?”
Kayla felt like she was on an episode of that old show, Candid Camera that she used to watch re-runs of. It was a show where the producers played embarrassing jokes on unsuspecting people and got their reactions on camera to show to the entire world. She kept waiting for somebody to jump out from under the table with a microphone in their hand and yell, surprise.
“Is this some kind of joke?” she asked.
“No,” Tal shook his head. “No joke. I am the President of Reynolds Banks and as you know my company recently merged with yours. My running into you this morning as you were leaving was just a fortuitous accident. Your being asked for your resignation was a mistake that I’m trying to rectify.”
“What do you mean rectify? And was this a mistake before or after you ran into me on the street?”
“It was a mistake from the time Mr. VanTrop showed up at the bank. You should have been scheduled to meet with me earlier today. That’s why I was at the bank. VanTrop just showed up earlier than I did, he didn’t realize I was coming today instead of in a couple of weeks.”
“That’s right. In all the turmoil I had forgotten. VanTrop showed up this morning at nine and told me I had an hour to clear out my desk and turn in my resignation. At least he told me in person. I understand he called my assistant manager and told her not to bother coming in at all, her position was terminated.”
“I’m sorry about that. While the assistant manager’s position was slotted for termination, it was not scheduled for another week. As far as him terminating you, he had no authority to do that. He is not a representative of Reynolds Banks and his position as of the time of the merger was also terminated.”
“But I don’t understand. How could he fire me?”
“He couldn’t. He was trying to ingratiate himself with the company, with me, by trying to show that he could be helpful to the company. He thought to impress us by firing people with the highest salaries to show how we could save money. He was wrong. That’s not the way the company operates. That’s not the way I operate.”
“I thought the guy was a little weasel.”
Tal started to respond, but the waiter walked up to their table.
“Can you give us another minute,” he asked the waiter. “We haven’t had a chance to look at the menu yet.”
After the waiter moved off Tal picked up the conversation. “Yeah, he is, but he’s gone now. I need you to come back to work. Take the rest of the week off. I’m going to spend the most of the week reading the personal files you keep on the employees that I didn’t get to today and talking to them. Next week you and I will sit down and compare notes. We’ll come to a decision as to who may be worth keeping and reassigning to another branch and who we’ll have to let go.”
“Those aren’t easy decisions to make. I’m glad you don’t seem to be taking it lightly.”
“No I’m not. It’s why I go over the personnel files of the employees of any bank that I close down. I don’t take anything lightly. Neither my work nor my play.”
Whoa, where’d that come from? Kayla thought. One minute they’re talking business, the next there’s a definite shift. But in truth there had been a current running between them ever since she sat down across from him, maybe even earlier than that, since he helped her this morning.
Kayla wasn’t sure if she was ready to face that current yet. It was never good to mix business and ‘play’ as he put it. She had to work with this man. At least until the bank closed. Even though her job was safe for now, it still wasn’t clear what was going to happen to her in the upcoming weeks. This thought prompted her to ask the obvious question.
“What about me?” How will I fit in the new organization?”
“How would you like to fit in?”
“Well I know there are no other branch manager positions open in your banks. The manager in one of the other branches that’s closing already took the last branch manager position in your company. So where does that leave me?”
“Well obviously not as a branch manager. I had something else in mind.”
Kayla paused. It wasn’t what he said, but the twinkle in his eyes when he said it. She wasn’t sure if they were still talking about business or something else. “What exactly did you have in mind?”
Tal looked up and saw the waiter hovering. “Why don’t we order and while we’re waiting for the food I’ll tell you.”
After they placed their order Tal leaned forward. “I would like to move you up to work in the main office. You’ll be Vice-president of branch management for all of the Virginia banks.”
“What!” Kayla cried.
Tal looked as if he was holding back a grin. “Yes. That’s right. That’s what I was really coming to talk to you about today. We’ve expanded quickly, but it’s become apparent that we need someone to oversee all the branch managers. Problems arise that are dealt with differently depending on the management style. We’d like things to be more uniformly done.”
“Wow!” Kayla took a sip from the glass of water in front of her. She was worried she would lose her voice again. “Wow!” It was all she seemed capable of saying.
“I’m flattered and I know I deserve this.” She was a realist. She had worked hard to be where she was today. She started out full-time at the bank as a teller during the day, and had gone to Georgetown University at night to get her degree in banking management and worked her way through the ranks. She had earned this.
“Then if you accept, you can officially start next week and your new salary will kick in then. Which will be…” Tal took a Monte Blanc ballpoint pen from his inside jacket pocket and wrote something on his napkin before passing it to her.
“Oh my God!" Kayla exclaimed after looking at the napkin. “I do accept and thank you.”
“When you come in next week the HR people will let you know about all your other benefits. Most of that will change, but for the better. Now, let’s have a glass of wine to celebrate.”
“That sounds nice.”
Tal called the waiter over and ordered a glass of their Napa Valley cab.
“I’d order a bottle of champagne,” he explained, “but I’m driving, so one glass is all I allow myself.”
“That’s okay. That’s very responsible of you. While I’m out if I drink, I usually only have one glass with dinner myself, whether I’m driving or not.”
Tal cocked his head to one side and stared at her unblinkingly. Kayla felt a distinctive shift in the current that hummed between them.
“Now that business is out of the way,” Tal said. “I have a personal question for you.”
A little breathlessly, Kayla replied, “what?”
“Are you married?”
Kayla grinned. “No.” Hmm, she thought, he was getting personal. But how personal was he going to take this conversation?
“Good. Neither am I. Are you in a relationship?”
She frowned. “What does that I have to do with my working for you?”
“Absolutely nothing. At the moment, I’m not in a relationship.”
Kayla raised her eyebrows. “At the moment?”
“You haven’t answered my question.”
“No. I’m not in a relationship.” Well that answered her question, he was getting very personal.
Tal smiled.
Kayla’s heart stopped. She heard a tray drop behind her. She felt sorry for who ever dropped the tray. She knew it was because the man seated in front of her smiled and the poor soul must have seen it. That smile made him down right dangerous. Kayla had to literally shake sense back into her head.
“Look Tal. I don’t know what’s going on here, but if you and I are to work together, we have to get something straight.”
“Yes we are going to work together. Just what is it that you think we have to get straight about?”
Kayla floundered here. The truth was he really hadn’t said anything for her to think he was hitting on her. It was just the vibe that she was picking up from him. Maybe it was just her. He had the kind of looks that drew women to him. Maybe she was just picking up on that and embellishing it with meaning that he didn’t intend. Yeah right. Not likely. She trusted her instincts.
He sighed. “Look let me be honest with you. When I first saw you on the sidewalk, I wanted to get to know you. I still want to get to know you. When you drove off in the cab I memorized your address. I had every intention of finding you again.”
“What? Why didn’t you say something then?”
“Honestly, because I was a little stunned.”
Kayla smiled. “Am I really supposed to believe this?”
“It’s the truth. I’ll promise you one thing right now. I will never lie to you.”
Tal looked her directly in the eyes and something about his demeanor told Kayla she might be able to believe him. “I was drawn to you from the moment I first saw you,” he continued. “This has nothing to do with the bank. As far as I’m concerned ‘us’ working together just means I get to spend more time with you.”
He took her hand that lay on the table and loosely held it in his. Immediately Kayla felt the current surge where their hands touched and run all the way down to her toes. He looked at their joined light and dark hands then back up at her. “See, I know you feel it too.”
He raised her hand slowly towards his mouth. He was giving her plenty of time to withdraw it. She didn’t. He didn’t just kiss her hand. His lips covered the back of her hand but it was the brief swipe of his tongue that she felt which caused an immediate puddle to form between her legs.
The waiter approached the table with their dinner. Tal reluctantly released her hand and Kayla gladly placed it in her lap over her other hand, which she had pressed between her crossed thighs.
After the waiter left Tal picked up his fork and tasted his appetizer of steamed calamari in a red Thai sauce. “This is delicious,” he said. When she still hadn’t moved to pick up her chop sticks he stopped with his halfway to his mouth.
“Here,” he said, “try this.” He placed his chop sticks in front of her month and she opened it for him. She had to lean forward to take his offering. Kayla felt like they were engaging in some sort of primitive ritual. The male, the provider, offering food to his mate. It caused Kayla’s already overheated libido to go into overdrive. She was as liberated and independent as any twenty-first century woman, but what woman wouldn’t melt at the thought of this man offering her food.
“You’re right,” she finally managed to reply. “It is good.” She could only return the favor. With her fingers, she picked up one of her two spring rolls and offered it to him. “Try this, tell me what you think.”
Tal bit the roll in half and swirled his tongue around her finger. “Mmm,” he moaned. “Exquisite.”
Kayla took what was left of the roll and placed it in her mouth, sucking her finger for good measure, the same one he had licked with his tongue. Two could play this game. “Mmm,” she purred. “You’re right. It is exquisite.”
Tal had a look of such intense concentration on his face Kayla almost got up and kissed him. He looked like he was in pain.
In a voice laced with tension he asked, “Do you want to just skip dinner and go straight for dessert?”
Uh oh, too fast. “No,” Kayla stated. “I’m hungry, besides we’re celebrating my promotion.”
“Yes, yes your promotion. But I was thinking more along the lines of us celebrating something else.”
“Something else, like what?”
“Like the fact I’ve found you.”
The look in this man’s eyes spoke volumes. “Oh, you move fast don’t you? Let’s just finish dinner and then take it from there.”
“When I see something I want I do move fast.” Tal took a deep breath.
“Okay, we’ll finish dinner first.” Tal picked up his chop sticks again and started eating. “Tell me about yourself. I know what’s in your file, but I want to know more.”
“As long as I get to ask a few questions of my own.”
“But of course. I have one right now though. Who’s the man on your voicemail?”
Kayla smiled. She knew exactly what he was talking about. Was that the sound of jealousy in his voice? “That’s my cousin. Jared.”
“Does he live with you?”
“No. I live with my sister. She’s a lawyer at Stanley Houston. Why? Were you jealous?”
Tal raised one eyebrow and gave her a rakish stare. “Yes. I didn’t want you to be involved with anyone.”
“My, you are being honest.”
“I told you I would be.”
The waiter interrupted them again with the rest of their food. They talked all through dinner and shared a dessert. Kayla didn’t know what to make of Tal. Sure they were flirting outrageously with one another, but she wasn’t taking it all too seriously. She couldn’t.
Tal was the kind of guy who couldn’t help but flirt with a woman and only a dead woman turned to dust wouldn’t flirt back. All he had to do was crook his little finger at a female and she’d come running. Just look at the way she was reacting to him. Still, she could have fun with him without getting emotionally attached. That’s what Kayla kept telling herself.
While they waited for the waiter to bring the bill, Tal surprised her. He laid a small white felt box on the table.
Kayla stared at the box. “What’s this?” she asked.
“It’s yours.”
Kayla shook her head. “You shouldn’t have. I can’t accept this from you. We’ve just met and for God’s sake you’re my boss.”
“It’s okay.” He pushed the box closer to her. “Go ahead and open it.”
Like most self respecting women, curiosity got the better of her. She opened the box. Nestled in the center was her gold earring. “Oh my God! I thought I’d lost it. Where did you find it?”
“On the sidewalk in front of the bank. It must have fallen out when you where shoved.”
“Thank you. It doesn’t have much monetary value, but it means the world to me. It was my grandmother’s. I didn’t even realize it was missing until I got dressed to meet you. I couldn’t find it anywhere in the house.” It was one of the few pieces of jewelry that she and her sister had left that belonged to their grandmother. Kayla’s mom gave Kayla the butterfly earrings and her sister, Nessa the matching necklace when they turned eighteen.
Kayla looked at him. She was already attracted to this man on a physical level, now he showed her another side of himself. A caring, thoughtful side. How much more could a girl take?
The guy even paid for dinner with a black AmX card. She’d never seen one, she’d just heard of them. Most people didn’t even know it existed. There was no application for one of those things, membership was by invitation only. All you had to do was spend over a hundred thousand dollars a year. This guy was so not in her league.