Authors: Opal Carew
The author and publisher have provided this e-book to you for your personal use only. You may not make this e-book publicly available in any way.
Copyright infringement is against the law. If you believe the copy of this e-book you are reading infringes on the author’s copyright, please notify the publisher at:
At the end of Part 3:
A numbness crawled through her as she heard the name Dane called Storm, but she couldn’t quite conceive of what it meant. She glanced from one man to the other.
The embarrassment and concern at having been caught in Storm’s arms was replaced by shock as a shiver raced down her spine.
It couldn’t be.
She’d been mistaken when she’d thought Dane was Storm the first time she’d seen him. But now seeing them side-by-side … She sucked in a breath. Their features were so similar. In fact, everything about Storm looked strikingly like Dane, especially with him dressed as he was in an expensive suit with his dark hair combed back.
Astonishment coiled through her. “Oh, my God,” she murmured.
With eyes wide in astonishment, she turned to Storm.
“You’re Rafe Ranier!”
As Jessica fled the office, the elevator doors opened. She raced toward them, her heart pounding, trying not to look at Melanie as Melanie exited the elevator.
But she just continued into the small space and jabbed the Close button, hoping to escape Melanie and her inevitable questions, but Melanie turned and slipped back onto the elevator before the doors closed.
Jessica swiped an errant tear from her eye, hoping her friend didn’t notice. Was it a tear of anger? Pain? Or just a result of her heightened emotions after getting such a shock?
“Jessica, what’s wrong?”
Her tight throat and clenched jaw ached. She shook her head, wishing Melanie hadn’t decided to follow her.
“Did something happen between you and Mr. Ranier?”
Mr. Ranier. Mr.
“You could say that.”
“Oh, Jessica, I was worried this would happen.”
Jessica’s head jerked toward Melanie. “You did?” But how could Melanie have known about …
“Having an affair with your boss is bound to cause complications,” Melanie continued.
Jessica met her friend’s concerned gaze. Of course she’d naturally think it had something to do with Dane and their sexual relationship.
“This isn’t about Dane and me.”
Confusion washed across Melanie’s face. “But you said—”
She shook her head. “This is about Storm.”
“The guy who broke your heart?”
Jessica nodded. “He’s here.”
“Here in the
. He walked in while I was in Dane’s office organizing the folders he’ll need this afternoon.”
Melanie frowned. “But why would your ex-boyfriend walk into Mr. Ranier’s office? How did he know you were here?”
“That’s the thing. He didn’t. You see—”
She stopped cold. As she’d been gazing into Melanie’s wide green eyes, she suddenly remembered that Melanie had told Jessica that she was in love with her old boss, and …
Oh, God, how could she tell Melanie that Rafe, the man she loved, was in love with Jessica?
Luckily, she was saved by the bell as the elevator came to a stop and the doors opened.
“Melanie, I’m going home. I’ll take a sick day, or a day without pay. I don’t care. I just have to get out of here.”
At that, she fled the elevator, leaving a confused Melanie behind.
* * *
Dane crossed his arms and stared at his brother. He was thrilled to have him back and had all kinds of questions storming through his brain, but that was tempered by one overriding issue.
“How do I justify not slugging you for manhandling my assistant?”
“I wasn’t manhandling her.”
“I come in here and find her in your arms and then she runs out of here, clearly upset.”
It wasn’t like Rafe to treat a woman with disrespect, and definitely not to hit on one of their employees, let alone aggressively try to seduce her. But his brother had been gone for almost a year. Dane had no idea how he might have changed.
“Jess and I know each other. Over the past year, I spent eight months in a town called Bakersfield. I met her there and we dated.”
Understanding smacked Dane in the face.
“You were the guitarist with the leather jacket and the motorcycle?”
Rafe’s eyebrows arched. “She told you about me?”
Dane tipped his head. “Yeah, well, you did break her heart.”
Damn it. His brother was in love with the woman Dane was having a rampant affair with. And she used to be in love with him. And maybe she still was.
But Rafe had walked away, hurting her deeply.
Just like he’d done to Dane.
Rafe dropped into a chair. “I know. It was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”
“That’s saying a lot, given you walked away from this kind of success to be a rock musician.”
“Damn it, Dane. You sound just like Dad.”
Dane sighed. “Right. Sorry.”
What the hell was he doing? Rafe had come back, giving Dane the chance to mend their relationship and move forward. He had to keep a tight rein on his words.
“Mr. Ranier?” Melanie walked into the office and Dane realized Jessica had left the door open when she’d fled. “I wanted to tell you—”
Her eyes widened as her gaze shot to Rafe.
“Mr. Ranier, you’re back.”
Rafe smiled, revealing the straight, white teeth their father had paid thousands in orthodontia to ensure. “Melanie, you used to call me Rafe.”
Although the employees all called Dane Mr. Ranier, since he liked to keep a level of discipline in the office, Rafe had the staff that worked closest with him call him by his first name. It did make things simpler when they were in a meeting with Melanie, so she wasn’t calling them both Mr. Ranier.
She nodded. “Rafe,” she said quietly.
The softness in her eyes when she gazed at Rafe hit Dane in the gut. How could the man look at her and not realize she had feelings for him? Sometimes his brother could be an idiot.
She turned back to Dane. “Mr. Ranier, I just wanted to let you know that Jessica has left for the day, since she’s not feeling well. Your two o’clock appointment will be here in a few minutes. Would you like me to have someone fill in for me at my desk so I can take over Jessica’s duties during the meeting?”
Dane glanced at his watch.
“Take your meeting, Dane,” Rafe said. “You and I can catch up later. I just stopped by to let you know I’m back, and now I’m headed to my apartment. I trust you didn’t sell it on me?”
“It’s still the way you left it. You can thank Melanie for that. I had her arrange to keep it cleaned and maintained while you were gone. She even has someone come in and water your plants.”
While Dane lived in a residence at the Ritz-Carlton, where he didn’t have to worry about any kind of upkeep or meal preparation, Rafe had bought a penthouse apartment.
Rafe turned to Melanie and smiled. “Thanks.”
The poor woman nearly melted into a puddle at his charming smile. His idiot brother really was blind not to see the effect he had on her.
Dane walked to his desk and skimmed through the small pile of folders that Jessica must have brought in.
“It looks like I have everything I need, Melanie. I can get by without Jessica.”
Melanie nodded. “Yes, Mr. Ranier.”
She turned and left the office.
“Are you free this evening?” Rafe asked.
“I’ll make sure I am,” said Dane. “I’ve got a dinner meeting, but meet me at my place at eight. We’ll have drinks.”
Rafe smiled. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Before Rafe turned to walk away, Dane saw the truth of those words in Rafe’s eyes.
Maybe there was hope for them yet.
* * *
The elevator doors opened onto the executive floor and Melanie stepped off.
“Hey, there you are.”
She glanced around to see Rafe sitting in one of the chairs by the large windows. He stood up and walked toward her. Her heart fluttered as he drew closer.
“I thought we might grab a coffee before I head back to my apartment.”
“Um, I’d really like to, but I shouldn’t leave my desk again.”
“Don’t worry. I arranged for someone to come and answer the phone.”
She smiled. “Oh, thank you.” Damn, she sounded like a dope. She drew in a deep breath, willing herself to stay calm and collected.
A few minutes later, they settled at a nice table by the window of a café just a few doors down the street from the office. They ordered two coffees and the waitress brought them in big, colorful mugs.
She couldn’t believe she was sitting across the small table from Rafe. Her heart fluttered as she took in the sexy sight of him in his black linen suit paired with a black T-shirt, probably made of Egyptian cotton. She longed to reach out and stroke the soft, fine woven fabric, imagining the feel of his hard, muscled chest beneath her fingertips.
It wasn’t his usual elegant business style, but he’d only sported that look to stay in line with his father’s wishes. He was really pushing the limits coming to the office in such relatively casual attire, but he hadn’t quite crossed a line Dane would take exception to.
His dark hair was longer than he used to wear it, but combed back, and she noticed small diamond studs in his ears. This whole new bad boy look had her heart palpitating.
“It hasn’t been the same around here without you,” she said.
His sky blue eyes locked on her, and he smiled, stealing her breath away. “I missed you, too, Melanie. Especially those wild nails of yours.” He glanced at her fingers, wrapped around her coffee cup. “But I see you’ve toned them down. Probably Dane’s doing. Did he read you the riot act and tell you to go more conservative in the office?”
She glanced at her fingernails. She was wearing a duochrome polish that flashed from peach to gold in the sunlight streaming in the window, but looked mostly peach in the office lighting. It was as far as she would push it at work, but when Rafe had been here, he’d been fine with her typically daring choices, like a rich teal holographic, sparkly purple, or black with flashy green and royal blue flakes.
When she was younger, her parents had stifled her creative urge, insisting she take more practical courses in college than art. She knew it was because they were concerned about her finding a stable, secure job, but that didn’t change the fact she had to leave her passion for color and design behind. But Rafe had encouraged her to be herself. That was one of the things she had loved about him from the start.
“He never actually said anything,” she said, “but I noticed his disapproving glances at my hands from time to time, so I finally backed off to pale, more neutral colors.”
So her nails, like her life, had simply become more beige after Rafe had left.
He shook his head. “That’s Dane alright. It’s too bad you caved.”
She straightened a little in her chair. “That’s easy for you to say. You’re his brother. You don’t have to worry about your job.”
“True.” He sipped his coffee. “And I wasn’t criticizing. I just hate to see him riding roughshod over everyone. I always loved the way you expressed yourself.” He smiled again, sending tremors through her. “I admired that about you.”
“Well, maybe now that you’re back, I’ll go a bit wild again.”
A frisson of excitement rushed through her as she realized maybe she didn’t mean just wild nail polish. Now that she was near Rafe again … she felt this intense yearning to be folded into his arms and devoured by his lips … maybe she would let him know how she felt about him.
Maybe, like Jessica, she would allow herself to take a chance and experience what she’d only dreamed about.
“Good for you. I highly recommend it.” He smiled. “And don’t worry about Dane’s disapproving glances. We’ll just ignore them.”