The Favor:A Marriage of Convenience Romance(8)

By: Suzanne Wright

I gave him a professional, distant smile. “Owen, it’s good to see you.”

“You … you look great. It’s been a long time. Too long. I didn’t realize you worked at o-Verve.”

Well, why would he?

One of the other men cut in, “You two have met?”

“We were childhood friends, but we lost touch.” I shrugged. “It happens.”

Dane quickly introduced me to Owen’s companions and then said, “Shall we sit?” Really, it was an instruction, not a question.

As usual, I sat on Dane’s side of the table and silently took notes on my tablet. During internal meetings, I often contributed. But when Dane met with people from outside the company, like other CEOs, stakeholders, or potential clients, I left the discussion and negotiations to them.

As the meeting went on, I pretended that Owen wasn’t casting me way too many looks, just as I pretended that Dane wasn’t watching both me and Owen very closely. If I focused hard enough on the screen of the tablet, I could even pretend I was alone and that their voices were coming over a speakerphone.

I couldn’t help but note that the visitors seemed a little in awe of Dane. It wasn’t unusual. In matters of business, he was brilliant. He was a master at getting to the heart of an issue. When seeking a solution, he never gave up and moved on. No, he rose to every challenge and pushed his goals forward.

What others would think of as a pipe dream he’d make a reality in a few precise, well-executed moves—overcoming any obstacles or setbacks. He was also hell-on-wheels in the boardroom. His reputation as someone who couldn’t be pushed around by competitors was well-earned.

All things considered, I’d expected for it to feel as though the meeting lasted forever, but the time flew by. Soon, people were shaking hands and saying their goodbyes.

Owen gave me another smile. “It was real good seeing you again, Vee.”

“Same to you,” I lied.

Once we were alone, Dane pinned me with those steely eyes. “How well do you know Owen? There’s more to it than you two being childhood friends. He made you uncomfortable. Why?”

Ugh. “We were engaged for five months when we were teenagers. It was a little awkward to see him again after all this time, that’s all. Not that I’d expect you to understand, Mr. Dauntless. Has anyone ever made you feel uncomfortable?”

“No.” He grabbed the door handle. “You and I need to talk later.”

“Sounds ominous. Are you going to fire me?”

“Is there a reason I should fire you?”

A memory of me earlier flipping off his brother flashed in my mind. “Probably.”

The corner of his mouth almost twitched. “Your job is safe. For now.”

Chapter Two

Later that day, I parked in the lot outside my apartment building and switched off the engine. It wasn’t a very well-lit parking area, so I was glad that dusk hadn’t yet completely fallen. There were many times I’d needed to stay late at the office to help Dane with one thing or another, so I often didn’t make it home until it was super dark.

Slipping out of my car, I locked it with the remote fob and then dug the can of pepper spray out of my bag. It was only a short walk to my building, but a girl could never be too careful.

Crossing the crack-ridden pavement, I glanced around. There was no one hovering about. All I could hear were my heels clacking on the ground and the sounds of street traffic.

Reaching the footpath that led to the main entrance, I neatly sidestepped the cans, wrappers, and crinkled flyers that littered the ground near the overflowing trash can.

I could afford to live in a nicer neighborhood, I just preferred being near my family. Especially my father, Simon.

Inside the building, I took the elevator up to my floor and headed into my apartment. There, I tossed my coat on the back of the armchair and slipped off my shoes. After changing into my sweats, I shuffled into the kitchen and sighed at the sound of raised voices coming from next door. The walls of my apartment were annoyingly thin, so it was unfortunate that I had neighbors who screamed at each other loud enough to wake the dead.

They were actually super nice people. Ashley was a hoot and had become a close friend. Her boyfriend, Tucker, was one big teddy bear who was impossible to dislike. But when they argued, they argued. Ashley would always storm out, and she’d always come knocking on my door to complain about whatever he’d done.