Shattered by the CEO(4)

By: Emilie Rose

By the time Tara had finally found a position, she’d wiped out her savings, given up her apartment and moved in with her mother. The new job had paid less, but Tara had taken it because of the flexible hours and the opportunity for telecommuting gave her the time she’d needed to care for her mother during the grueling courses of chemotherapy.

Tara definitely planned to leave her current job. Her newly promoted boss was an arrogant, condescending jerk who had decided Tara’s “flexible hours” meant she was at his beck and call 24/7. She just hadn’t worked up the energy to start looking for a new position yet.

But working with Rand again…Too risky given that tiny flicker of joy she’d experienced earlier. The man had already broken her heart once. She’d have to be a fool to return for a second helping of that kind of agony. She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I’m not interested.”

“Fifteen grand a month,” he offered without hesitation.

Tara caught her breath at the obscene amount and her knees nearly buckled. Carol Anthony’s job as a hairstylist hadn’t provided health or life insurance, and Tara had inherited her mother’s debts along with her home and possessions. With that kind of money she could pay off the exorbitant medical bills her mother had left behind and stop the increasingly threatening collection notices.

She was more than a little tempted. But why, oh, why did it have to be Rand Kincaid making this offer? “It’s not about the money, Rand.”

He punched his fists to his hips, shoving his suit coat away from the flat plane of his stomach—a stomach she’d once been free to touch and taste. “Look, we both know you don’t give a damn about me. But do it for Nadia and Mitch. They don’t deserve to have the rug ripped out from under them. Name your price, Tara.”

Tara wavered. Common sense said refuse. But a minuscule, insistent part of her reminded her how good she and Rand had been together. When she’d been with him she’d felt special and important, as if happily-ever-after might actually be possible.

She’d never had time to come to terms with his abrupt ending of their relationship. Before she could sort out her chaotic emotions her mother’s persistent cough had been diagnosed as stage-three lung cancer. From that moment through the next few years Tara’s life had careened out of control on a roller coaster of hope and despair. Every waking thought had centered on her mother’s survival. There had been too many difficult decisions to make and so many fears to face. There hadn’t been time to think about her own wants and needs, her broken heart, disappointed dreams or the man who hadn’t wanted her.

And then after battling four long, torturous years, her mother had died. Grief and guilt had consumed Tara. Since the funeral she’d been too numb to do anything but go through the motions of daily living. Work. Home. Paying bills.

She’d clung to the status quo like a sailor hung on to a capsized boat, afraid to let go, afraid another crisis would drag her under. Inertia wasn’t something she enjoyed, but even one more change seemed like one more than she could handle. That was the only reason Tara could think of to explain why she’d stayed at a job she hated and why she couldn’t face boxing up and donating her mother’s things or even moving the bedroom furniture her mother had used out of the dining room. She couldn’t even open the dining room door.

She chewed the inside of her bottom lip and studied the man in front of her. Was Rand’s reappearance in her life a wake-up call? An opportunity to get her life back on track? Hugging herself she stared at the picture of her mother on the mantel.

Live your life without regrets, Tara. Promise me…. Her mother’s final words echoed in her head.

Tara had learned two very important lessons as she watched her mother bravely fight and eventually succumb to the disease that had ravaged her body. One was that life shouldn’t be filled with regrets for the things you hadn’t done. The second was that some things are worth fighting for.

Tara had failed on both accounts.

She hadn’t been courageous or unselfish enough to buy her mother more time and maybe even save her life—a fact that would haunt her for eternity.

Second, she’d let Rand walk away. She hadn’t fought for him—for them. She’d allowed his fear of commitment and his unwillingness to listen to her reasons for turning to his father destroy any chance they might have had for a future together.

Rand watched her silently now with no trace of emotion on his hard-set face, but she was absolutely certain he had felt something for her back then even though he’d denied any emotions deeper than lust. If he hadn’t cared, he wouldn’t have treated her so well, and she didn’t think she’d imagined the quickly masked flash of pain and shock in his eyes that last morning. If his feelings for her hadn’t gone deeper than lust, he wouldn’t have been hurt by what had appeared to be a betrayal on her part.

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