His by Design

By: Dani Wade

One


This was not how her morning was supposed to play out.

Ziara Divan rushed down the hallway of Eternity Designs, her brain pounding with the knowledge that she was late. Her cheeks burned as a result of her jog from the parking garage in workday pumps, and her suit skirt rode up the panty hose strangling her legs.

She threw her purse under her desk and grabbed her tablet from the drawer, turning it on as she continued down the hall with more speed than decorum. Rounding the corner into Vivian Creighton’s outer office, Ziara ground to a halt. Vivian’s assistant’s desk was empty.

Breathe, Ziara. Pull yourself together.

She straightened her clothes in an attempt to regain her prized professional facade. But the agitated urgency to move, to get into the office quickly, still pounded in her chest. She wasn’t perfect, but she made sure she came pretty dang close as an executive assistant in training, no matter how many minutes she spent stuck on a backed-up Georgia interstate.

As she struggled to regulate her breathing, Ziara heard voices from beyond the door to the inner sanctum. At first, she couldn’t grasp the idea that someone was yelling, because this was Vivian’s office. Vivian didn’t yell. It went totally against the traditional Southern rules of behavior for all ladies. But Vivian’s voice was definitely raised. Ziara inched closer.

The other voice was male, deep. Oh no.

“…will not let you ruin my father’s company…”

Sloan Creighton. Vivian’s stepson. He came into the office rarely, but when he did he brought a tornadic level of energy and caused an unwanted tingle of awareness at the base of Ziara’s spine. Though she studiously avoided him on his rare visits, he always seemed to find her. And flirt with her. And just generally turn her sense of professionalism upside down. The best reason to avoid him.

Vivian’s own voice was muffled, but parts of Sloan’s words came through the solid wood.

“…our biggest buyer rejected all the designs…”

Ziara’s heart sank, threatening to drop out of her chest. Her knees went weak enough to force her to grab the frame of the door.

Ziara had suspected that last week’s meeting with their largest retail account hadn’t gone as planned, but the few who had attended were keeping quiet. Losing that buyer could mean ruin for Eternity Designs, something Ziara didn’t want to see happen. She loved her job; this place, these people had also provided the stability and acceptance that had been lacking her entire life.

“…you have no choice…”

And neither did Ziara. She had to go through that door. Vivian had said to be in her office at eight sharp; it was now 8:17 a.m. But the thought of Sloan and the way his cool, effortless good looks and flirty attitude affected her body and her psyche made her want to return to the crowded freeway.

But backing down wasn’t an option. With a deep breath to fortify herself, she headed through the doorway.

Sloan stood tall over Vivian, his voice ringing clear in the room. “I will have more voice in Eternity Designs, starting now. I’ll need the next three months. If my fall line is a hit with our buyers, you will sign over enough of your shares for me to own fifty-five percent…and relinquish complete creative control. To. Me.”

Ziara paused just inside the door, her mind absorbing those incredible words, while Sloan and Vivian glared at each other across Vivian’s desk. For a moment Ziara’s panic overrode everything, even the tempting sight of Sloan’s strong shoulders and firm backside.

As the tension crept higher and higher, Ziara finally broke. Into the silence, she said, “Would you like me to come back, Vivian?”

Like pushing Play on a paused DVD, Vivian and Sloan both turned and looked in her direction. She met Vivian’s eyes first, checking in with her boss and mentor. The narrowed glare and tight mouth signified a frustration that radiated like a cracked web through Vivian’s normal composure. As if she realized how she must look, Vivian straightened, smoothing her elegant close-cropped curls into place. “Good morning, Ziara. Please sit.”

“Now, Sloan,” she said, turning her attention back to him. “Explain to me why I would ever agree to such ridiculous demands.”

Sloan was too happy to comply. “Let me guess, commissions are down, creditors are closing accounts and you don’t have a clue how to get yourself out of this situation.” He straightened with confidence. “But I do.”

“I’m sure I can find someone else to do the same.”

“In enough time to make a difference? I don’t think so.”

She conceded to her stepson’s ultimatum by leaning back in her chair, her composure shaken enough that she fiddled with the wedding band still gracing her left hand.

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