Shattered by the CEO(10)

By: Emilie Rose



He spotted her and stalked in her direction. Tara’s appetite fled, but she went through the motions of ordering shrimp scampi, grilled asparagus and rice pilaf even though her antennae were attuned to his approach. She calmly said hello to a few of the familiar line staff as if her heart weren’t beating at twice its normal rate.

“My desk is gone,” Rand said from close behind her—too close for a boss-employee relationship. She could feel his body heat and smell his crisp Lacoste cologne. Her mouth dried.

Conscious of their audience, she neutralized her expression, put a few inches between them then turned and met his gaze. “I had your office emptied while you were conducting interviews. Your new desk, along with everything else you requested, will be delivered at two. IT has your laptop.”

“Good.”

She gaped at him. Years of bottling up her emotions bubbled over. “Good? I worked miracles and all you can say is good?”

One dark eyebrow lifted at her vehemence. Okay, so maybe she’d been soft-spoken and eager to please when they’d dated before, and according to her mother, Tara had always had a tendency to avoid conflict and confrontation. But Tara wasn’t the same starry-eyed girl Rand used to know—the one who’d been overawed at being pulled from the reservations center downstairs and moved to the executive suite on the top floor. Wrangling with her mother’s multitude of doctors had given her a backbone.

“Thank you for being so efficient, Ms. Anthony,” he said in a voice heavily laden with sarcasm.

She turned her back on him, but out of sight didn’t mean out of mind in this case. Rand shadowed her through the line, his presence following her like a heat lamp.

When they reached the cashier he extended his arm past her, offering his company ID, which acted as both identification and debit card. “Put both meals on my account.”

“You don’t have to buy my lunch,” Tara protested.

“I’m buying. Deal with it.”

The cashier swiped his card without arguing.

Rand followed Tara to an empty table and sat beside her—close beside her. A prickle of uneasiness crept up her neck.

“What are you doing?”

“This is what you wanted, isn’t it? For everyone to see us together? Did it wound your pride when I dumped you, Tara?”

She searched his hard face for a remnant of the charmer she’d fallen for but found none. Back then she’d heard him described as gorgeous yet soulless, but she hadn’t believed it for one minute. She’d seen his love for Nadia and Mitch and felt his passion for her in bed.

Had he changed that much? Probably not. The Rand she remembered hadn’t been under as much stress as he was now. He’d recently lost his father, moved clear across the country and taken over KCL. Anyone would be cranky under those circumstances. She’d cut him a little slack.

“No one knew about our affair then, Rand, and no one has to know now.”

“People knew. My father knew. And I’m sure human resources will spread the news that you and I both listed the same home address.”

Another oversight. She hadn’t thought about HR. “Your father had ways of finding out all kinds of information.”

“He had spies.”

“Oh, please. You didn’t used to be so melodramatic. Everett was a nice guy. People talked to him and he listened. Everyone except his competitors loved him.”

“They loved him because he bought their affection,” he said bitterly.

“That’s not true. They loved him because he cared. KCL is a perfect example. Headquarters has trained chefs to prepare four-star-restaurant-quality foods at below cost prices, onsite child care, a medical center and a gym with personal trainers and dieticians on staff. And most of the company’s employees could never afford to take a cruise on any of KCL’s ships if it weren’t for Everett’s policy of deeply discounting employee rates.”

She unrolled her cloth napkin and placed her silverware beside her plate even though the idea of eating repulsed her at the moment. Rand’s proximity kept her nerves and her stomach tied in knots.

“Your father’s ideology of a strong connection between work, family life and vacation time results in tight friendships with co-workers and a supportive community atmosphere. People like working here. They liked working for him.”

With pity in his eyes, Rand shook his head. “He had you completely fooled. My father never did anything out of the goodness of his heart. There was always an ulterior motive and a price tag attached.

“FYI, Tara, it’s cheaper to provide all the goods and services you mentioned, thereby keeping morale high and turnover and absenteeism low, than it is to repeatedly train new employees or waste money hiring temps who don’t know the job.”

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