Suzy leaned back, held his biceps. “Still as handsome as ever, I see.” She brushed her hand along his cheek.
“Still can’t keep your hands off me, I see.” He waggled his eyebrows. Suzy O’Flannery never changed, not even in her mid-forties; she was an unconscionable flirt—the opposite of her dead serious brother.
“That’s what you get for being so adorable.”
One thing for sure. No one’s ego was in danger around her. “When are you going to quit the tech world and run off with me so we can make genius babies?”
She dropped her hands and laughed. “If we do, call the Vatican because a medical miracle has occurred.”
Samuel lifted his chin. “Okay, you, too. Run off to the supply closet and make good on these threats or let’s get rolling to the conference room.” He slapped Theo on the shoulder. “We’ve got business to discuss.”
Theodore huffed. “Such a drill sergeant. And here I thought you were coming to drag me off to another sake bar.”
“You’ll never forgive me for that night, will you?”
“Never.” Theodore smiled over at his mate. “It wasn’t even Sake Day. October 1 before you ask.”
Samuel’s low laughter warmed something in him. He’d missed having friends around. Always on the road, and all that.
Suzy, Samuel and Theodore had been friends for over a decade. They were responsible for his entire career, actually. He’d worked for one of their tech start-ups and it was Samuel who suggested he go into management consulting—more like brow beat him. Theodore agreed, one night over an unwise quantity of sake and the next morning, hungover as hell, he was on a plane to another one of their companies to “assess the situation honestly.” A career was born.
Samuel looked around. “Where’s Roger?”
“Haven’t seen him all day though I’m sure he’s here somewhere.” Theodore could care less where Roger was. One thing he’d learned during the five or six interviews that morning he’d done so far, Roger wasn’t popular at Edison Tech and for good reason.
“Oh, he is. We just had a meeting.” Alice had sidled up to them both. She beamed Suzy a huge smile. “Hi, I’m Alice Crawford. Just wanted to introduce myself before you get mobbed by everyone else who wants to say ‘hi.” She held out her hand.
Suzy cocked her head, returned the handshake. “Alice. Nice to meet you. CFO, right?”
Alice blinked. “Um, not yet?”
Suzy’s forehead furrowed. “Hmmm. I see we do have a lot to catch up on here.” She glanced at her brother who was quite frankly studying Alice a little too hard. Theo recognized the look in his eyes. Interest.
Samuel would never act on it. His one personnel rule was never shag anyone at the office, which Theodore had spectacularly broken. His friend was not going to be happy when he learned about him and Alice –yet another reason to finally make good on his and Alice’s deal to avoid one another until his gig here was up.
Samuel finally spoke up. “Well, if you see Roger, ask him to join us?”
Alice nodded once, then peered over at Theodore. Her smile dropped like a stone. Not happy to see him? Or not happy Suzy and Samuel had arrived?
In the conference room, Samuel shed his jacket, threw it over a chair. “So, how’s Edison so far?”
Suzy waved her hand. “He’s been here for one weekend, Sam.”
“And knowing Theo, he’s already done a dozen interviews. Am I right, Theo?”
“Six. Actually seven.” He’d count Alice and his time together as an interview.
Samuel’s brow furrowed. “And?”
“And there’s more to uncover. Something is off.”
Samuel tipped his chin. “No kidding. Marketing costs are through the roof. Barely keep people on payroll despite a sound product. Any idea what’s happening?”
Suzy reached over and smacked his arm, as only a brother and sister can do and still be considered professionals. “Sam. One weekend. Give Theodore a break.”
“There they are.” Roger’s voice boomed into the room, a little too loud, a little too high pitched.
It was strange Samuel didn’t stand. He wasn’t usually rude. Direct, but polite. Theodore glanced between the two men, trying to catch what past scenario caused the obvious riff—other than the fact the wonderkid CEO Roger wasn’t being so wonderful these days.
Suzy shook Roger’s hand, a tight smile on her face. “Roger. I trust you were expecting us.”
“Of course, of course. Just had an emergency to attend to.” Roger quickly raised both hands. “Nothing that couldn’t be handled. We had a break-in last night. Trinkets and the petty cash box taken. Not much lost.”
“Seven thousand, five hundred,” Alice said. Jesus, Both Theodore and Roger nearly jumped out of their skin at her voice. When did she get so stealthy?
“The petty cash box,” Alice continued. “I double checked against my records.” She held out a folder to Roger and gulped a little. “I ran those numbers for you. You may want to take a look first.”
Roger threw her a hard look, grew red in the face. Suzy and Samuel glanced at each other. Ah, the financial reports weren’t good.
Alice began to back away when Suzy strode forward. “Alice, why don’t you join us?” She gestured for her to take a seat. “You’re our number’s person.”
“I’m sure Alice has many things on her plate today…” Roger began but let his words die when Samuel drew out a chair for Alice.
After they were all seated around the conference table, Samuel held out his hand for the folder. Roger pushed it slowly across the table.
Samuel and Suzy slowly went through the P&L statement and balance sheet. A few well-placed hmms by Samuel and a few more pointed questions by Suzy had Roger visibly sweating. There was no explanation for the sudden downturn. Alice gave direct answers when asked, which Suzy had begun to do more and more given Roger’s clear ineptitude at providing basic information. Theodore however? Silence was golden during a legendary O’Flannery deep dive into spreadsheets.
Roger stretched his neck. “New products take time to launch, to grab market share.” That was all Roger could come up with. The problem was Samuel and Suzy launched a dozen products a year—and none had failed as miserably as Edison Tech had.
The not-to-wonderkid-CEO cleared his throat. “You’re risk takers. Surely you understand.” Roger couldn’t seem to stop digging his own grave. Telling the O’Flannery’s who they were was an epic mistake.
“Risk? That’s your answer?” Suzy asked icily.
“Alice,” Roger sniffed. “As the acting CFO, I’d like to have learned of some of this earlier?” He raised his eyebrows.
The man had to be kidding. Blaming Alice?
Alice shrunk a little against her chair, which pissed Theodore off the most. She wasn’t someone who was easily cowed. Plus, what was this acting CFO thing? First Theodore had heard of it. Before he could break in, Suzy did.
“As CEO, I’d expect you to have kept a closer eye on things.” Suzy put both her hands on the table. “Roger, we have much to discuss, don’t we? But, first, we’d like to talk to Alice. Mind giving us the room?”
The man’s nostrils flared but he rose, giving his jacket a dramatic tug. After he left, Suzy smiled over at Alice. “Does he do that often?”
Alice blinked as if she didn’t understand the question.
“Yes,” Theodore stated. “And not just on National Be a Dick Day.” He was over being silent. Blaming Alice for Roger’s incompetence had crossed a serious line.
Suzy raised one eyebrow. “Date?”
“You still got it. I suppose it’s different from National Big Dick Day.”
Theodore scratched his chin. “I’ve not measured the man but—”
“Theodore.” Samuel grimaced and held up his hand. “Maintain some decorum, you two. Alice will believe we’re heathens.”
“Roger could definitely celebrate,” Alice blurted out. All eyes turned to her.
Suzy sat back in her chair, clearly amused. “Which one? Be a dick or big dick?”
Alice chewed on her lip. She sat forward, her eyes clearing of whatever intimidation she’d felt. “Be A Dick Day. Sometimes. I wouldn’t know about the … other. Thank god. I mean, there is no way. Nope.”
Suzy’s eyes sharpened, and, in a rare showing of humor, Samuel laughed scratched his chin. “Alice, could you run some other numbers for us? Help us uncover what is really happening here? Under double overtime, of course.”
She swallowed. “Sure. What do you need?”
“The last five years, year over year marketing costs, a QoE report. Quality of Earnings, you know how?”
Theodore glanced at her. “You’ll find Alice knows quite a bit – and about what happens here. And she’s quite popular.”
Oddly, her smile dropped at his compliment.
“I can see why,” Samuel said. “Not many people are willing to step up and tell the truth even when it’s not positive.”
“Tell The Truth Day. July 7,” Theodore said. “But you’ll find Alice does that every day. So when she said she wouldn’t know about Big Dick Day, you can count on it.”
Alice threw him a shut-up already look. “Of course, I don’t,” she gritted out. “And, yes I can work on a QoE. Happy to.”
Why was she upset? He was only trying to help her. Suzy, in particular, could sniff out a unflattering past like a drug detection dog, and Alice had revealed to him she’d once dated Roger.
Suzy stood. “Alice, while the men continue to mansplain all manners of trivia, how about you and I go over things. Without Roger. I found his answers lacking.”
“That’s not all he’s lacking,” Theodore said under his breath. The thought Alice knew anything about the size of the guy’s dick irritated—something she’d hinted at with him. He himself was far from living like a monk, but he’d never understand how a guy like that could land a woman like Alice—even just for dinner.
In the doorway, Suzy turned to Alice. “Give me twenty minutes? I’ll meet you in your office. I want to take a look around first.”
Suzy didn’t look. She assessed, gathered evidence. She was going to engage in small talk with other employees, which she’d turn in her favor as expertly as a prosecutor. Theodore had seen her work that magic a dozen times. In under five minutes she could ferret out a person’s greatest secret, and they wouldn’t even have known they’d revealed anything. Roger was in so much trouble. Theodore wasn’t sorry for him.
Samuel yawned. “I need coffee. Just point me toward it?”
Alice shook her head. “Sorry, that’s one of the things they took. The Keurig machine. All the K cups. Even the blueberry cobbler blend.”
Samuel ran his hand over his chin. “That’s some desperation for coffee there.”
Alice smiled for the first time he’d seen her today. “Right? Anyway, I should have a new coffee machine and K-cups— not the blueberry—by end of day. Got a favorite? I can be sure to have it delivered before you leave.”
“Consider it done.”
“Thanks, Alice.” The man was eyeing Alice too closely. Admiration for her people pleasing, perhaps? Or something else?
“I’ll take you to Coffee Monkey,” interjected Theodore. “Down the street.”
He sliced his gaze Theodore’s way. “I can get myself there. Wouldn’t want to rip you from your admirers.”
He glanced over his shoulder. Two women hovered nearby. Shit, he was late for an interview with… someone. He couldn’t recall her name. Come to think of it, there were a lot of women at Edison. He’d consider it progressive except he was beginning to see a disturbing pattern around Roger’s hiring habits. Half of the people at Edison were new. Their staff turn-over was abysmally high.
He turned back to Samuel. “No admirers. Work.”
“Which is what I need to go do.” Alice gave a little half wave and scooted away.
Suzy’s gaze followed Alice’s retreat. “You do have an admirer, don’t you?” She smirked up at him. “I haven’t seen someone try to act normal around you that hard since Flanapp Tech.” Ah, her tech baby that went belly up. No fault of her own. It was thanks to one of the programmers who’d launched a ransomware attack on the company. Ransom he took the liberty to pay – to himself. The man was serving back to back sentences in some jail in Illinois, last he’d heard.
“No admirer’s that I’m aware of. Besides, you two probably intimidated Alice.”
“She doesn’t seem easily intimidated. I like her,” Suzy said definitively. “If she isn’t CFO by the end of the day, we’d be a fool.”
“She’s competent.” A sad word to replace the truth of the women’s obvious skills.
“And pretty,” Suzy said.
The interrogation had begun. Time to deflect. “Samuel thinks so.”
His mate chuffed. “Remember. No trysts at the office.” He pointed and headed to the elevator ostensibly to get coffee. The man had a serious addiction.
While Suzy went sleuthing and Samuel got caffeinated, Theodore would find Alice. He strode through the nearly empty cubicle farm. The workers fled like a flock of starlings at lunchtime as if they couldn’t wait to get away.
“No. I mean all that… flirting. In front of them.” She was shout-whispering, which was silly given they were alone. In a locked room.
He strode forward and she backed up. Afraid to get close? “You’re eyes really sparkle when you’re annoyed.”
“I don’t sparkle at work.”
“Oh, yes, you do. Though technically National Sparkle Day is February 27.” One more step toward her. One big step backward from her. He sighed heavily.
“Enough of the days!” Her hands slapped her thighs, and her hazel eyes fired anew.
“It’s harmless fun.”
“Is that all this is to you? Fun?”
He knew where she was headed. Women. They want someone friendly but when you actually exercise that? Suddenly you were about to nail everything with ovaries within 5 miles. “You have nothing to worry about.’ He wasn’t interested in anyone but her. “And about Samuel and Suzy—”
“Could have thought I’m not serious.”
“Relax They’re pros. And besides you’re the one who brought up Roger’s… fit into it. Suzy liked it. She likes you. And she doesn’t like most people.”
That got her attention. She straightened to her full height. “She does? How do you know?” Her eyes narrowed. God, she was a complicated woman.
“We’ve been friends for a while.”
“Which, you never told me by the way.” Her finger jabbed him in the chest.
He grabbed it, and her breath hitched. His cock woke up. Their chemistry thing was damned inconvenient. One touch, one little suck of breath between her lips and he was ready to push her over that monstrosity of a copier, yank down her panties, and…
“Let go. Please.” Her voice held a plea. She knew how dangerous they were together. Like two sticks of dynamite near a bonfire—a fire they started every time they got near one another.
He dropped his hold on her hand. But then she bit her bottom lip, and his rather problematic arousal blew up. His zipper began to strain. “Alice.”
They stood there, staring at one another. Inextricably a laugh burst out of them both, simultaneously.
“Oh, fyck me.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. “You have a meeting with Suzy. I have an interview I’m late for.”
“Yeah, I guess us getting it on against the copier isn’t a good idea.”
He stilled. “You went there in your mind, too?”
She rolled her eyes as if he was the idiot of the century. Of course, she did. They were long past dismissing their attraction to one another. Resisting it, however, was proving to the challenge.
She closed the distance between them. “Besides, you have at least three women waiting for you.”
“Alice.” She needed to stop overthinking things. But what could he say? Defending himself wouldn’t make a difference. It certainly hadn’t with Beatrice who was always accusing him of some romantic travel tryst. But cheating wasn’t part of his make-up.
She waved her hand. “Never mind. Thanks for… defending me.”
He tucked hair behind her ear. “Always. You deserve it.” She pressed her cheek into the palm of his hand.
Staying away from this woman, however, would prove… difficult. No one could ever call Theodore hesitant in shying away from the obvious truth. He was helpless around her. At least that’s what he’d tell himself later as to why he bent his head down and captured her lips with his. It was as if he was a drug addict–addicted to the taste of her. He had to have a hit. Just one.
But then her lips parted and his tongue found his way between them to that sweet, sweet taste of Alice.
One kiss, his ass. He deepened their mouth lock, and a loud thud of their bodies sounded as her back hit the copier. He had her up against the thing and was grinding his stone-hard erection between her legs within seconds because, God love the woman, she’d opened them to him immediately.
A small whimper left her throat. The urge to hoist her up on to the giant copier exploded—just as the machine let out a long hiss and bang.
He jumped backward, as if his brain finally re-engaged. The thing was alive?
Alice panted. “Big Whale is—”
“In love with you. Registering his protest?”
She laughed again but sobered quickly. She ran her hands down the front of her jacket. “Or saving us from doing something foolish.”
“Hey, how long you going to be?” A voice shouted on the other side of the door. “I got a deadline here.”
So did they—only it was three long months from now.