“I’m joining you,” Mindy announced, sitting down at the picnic table across from the big guy. She read between the stern lines of Gus McMann’s always-serious expression and brightened her smile, not allowing his scary look to intimidate her. Or, at the very least, not letting him know that she was quaking in her heels.
“I know you don’t want me here although, I don’t really understand why. Fortunately, that’s never stopped me before and,” she stared up at his craggy features that always made her heart pitter patter and carried on, “we’re going to be friends and I won’t take no for an answer. So just stop glaring at me, Gus. Regardless,” she told him, not daring to look up at him because she would probably stand up and run away. The man was more than slightly intimidating! “I’m joining you and we’re going to figure out what I’ve done to make you hate me. Because this silent treatment you’ve got going on?” She pulled her tuna sandwich out of her bag and smoothed the paper down onto the wood of the picnic table. “Yeah, I don’t like the silent treatment. It bothers me.” She waved her red-tipped fingers in the air dismissively. “Makes me crazy.”
Mindy unwrapped the wax paper from her sandwich but didn’t take a bite. Her hands were trembling too intensely and she was trying to put on a brave front. Tucking stray dark curls behind her ear, she took a deep breath, trying to fortify herself in the face of his continued silence.
“So!” she took a deep breath and looked up at the big lumberjack. “Tell me…did I hurt your feelings somehow when I first took this job?” Mindy was the flight manager for Steele Industries. She was in charge of ensuring that the four private planes that flew Steele Industries employees around the world were mechanically sound, on schedule, flight plans submitted and food on board. She did it all and, she didn’t like to brag, but she was damn good at her job.
Even more, she was nice! She was a very friendly person! She’d made friends with everyone in the building that worked at the private airport. If there was someone who worked there and she wasn’t friends with them, it was only because she hadn’t met them yet.
This guy was the lone holdout. Gus owned the cargo shipping company that also had offices in the building. The man owned fifty planes and delivered cargo all over the world. She knew he was busy but…well, he never spoke to her. Never even said hello. Mindy heard him greeting others and, okay, sometimes all they received was a curt nod, but when she came around, he barely even acknowledged her.
Since their offices were right across the hall from each other, and the man was smokin’ hot – she wanted to at least be friends with him.
Okay, total honesty, she wanted to be more than friends with him. She wanted to walk into his office, plunk herself down on his lap and kiss him. Hmmm….yeah, she wanted more than just a kiss. Her imagination was quite good. This man and a desk…oh, the possibilities were endless!
Clearing her throat, she focused once again on trying to find out why he hated her so much.
“Anyway, you have lunch here every day. I usually eat lunch at my desk. So I thought to myself…” She paused and smiled up at him, “I do that a lot although you won’t need to worry about what I’m thinking. My mother tells everyone that all of my thoughts just come right out my mouth. I have no filter,” she laughed. “So yes, I just thought that I would come down here and enjoy my lunch with you. Today.”
Still silence. And worse, he was looking at her with a strange look in his eyes. Since she didn’t really know the man very well, she couldn’t interpret that look. It seemed heated in a way, but Gus was one of those men who didn’t show many emotions.
Actually, he didn’t show any emotion. The man was blank. He was one of the most attractive men she’d ever met in her life, had that whole tough-guy, lumberjack image going on, complete with a rough flannel shirt and jeans that seemed to be his uniform every, single day – and the scruffy beard, dark eyes and thick eyebrows.
Mindy had to clear her throat as her eyes moved over his features. She would have fanned herself, feeling a bit overheated with her perusal, but she didn’t want to give away anything. And she definitely didn’t want to scare the guy. Boy, if he knew some of the dreams that woke her up at night, starring this man in his…well, wearing nothing at all…he would….um…she didn’t know him well enough to know what he might do.
Focusing on the present, she brightened her smile again.
“So! I am here. We’ll have lunch together and I can tell you about myself. You can tell me about yourself and maybe we might have something in common!” She gave him her brightest, most optimistic smile.
Nothing. No reaction at all.
He just continued to watch her with that strange look in his dark eyes.
Determined, Mindy continued. “So, I’m a Mariner’s fan. Have been all my life. Love the team and the players. They’re doing pretty well this season, so I’m excited for their chances. Olivia and I, she’s one of the flight attendants that works for Steele Industries, have an ongoing bet about baseball. She’s a Washington, D.C. Nationals fan and….well, the Mariners are doing pretty well this season!” She picked up her sandwich, but her fingers were still trembling too much so she put it down. She wanted to sip her water, but couldn’t trust herself. It would be beyond embarrassing if she spilled water down the front of her shirt because of silly, shaking fingers.
“I go running every morning,” she admitted. Then scrunched up her face. “Okay, no, that’s a lie. I try to go running each morning, but there are just some mornings, especially when it rains or when the fog is too thick, that I don’t run. I pull the covers up over my head and pretend like it isn’t morning.” She curled her fingers up into a fist under the table. “And then I beat myself up all day long for not going out to exercise. I mean, I know that exercise is really good for the body but, well, sometimes the weather just isn’t nice enough to encourage a good, long, healthy run.” She bit her lip. Still no reaction. “I love yoga too!” Then shook her head. “Nope. Another lie. I do yoga because it is a healthy endeavor and because it keeps a person from shrinking as they grow older.” She laughed and lifted one shoulder. “Obviously, that’s a pretty big issue for me since I’m only five feet, four inches tall. Losing even one inch would make me a munchkin and…” she sighed and stopped talking, looking down at her food. She was lost. This wasn’t working. He just stared at her, not saying a word.
He crumpled up his trash and stood up, tossing his trash into the garbage. “You’re the perfect height,” he told her, then walked away.
Mindy blinked. He spoke? Twisting around, she cursed the picnic table that wouldn’t allow her to easily turn to watch him walk away. Because watching that man walk away was amazing! Those broad shoulders seemed even larger in the flannel shirt, his hips lean and those legs that gave him such height were strong and confident as he walked away.
She stared at him until he disappeared into the building, then she turned around, sit-dancing on the wooden bench. “He spoke! He actually spoke to me!” she exclaimed, probably more excited than she should be after only four words. But still!
Gus looked out his window, staring at the tiny, bubbly female. She was cute. Too cute. And too damn sexy!
He’d been avoiding her for months, but the determined little lady wasn’t going to allow that.
Sighing, he turned away when she finished her sandwich, tossed her trash into the garbage and danced…literally danced…into the building. Damn, she was cute!
Looking down at his desk, he rubbed the back of his neck, staring at the picture on his desk. Just one picture, but it was an important one. It reminded him of where his focus should be.
Rubbing a hand over his face, he sat back down at his desk and turned to his computer. He had work to do and definitely didn’t have time for an adorable, dancing brunette with too much spunk and a smile that could light up a room.
Or a dark, wounded heart.
What the hell? Where had that melancholy thought come from?
His heart wasn’t wounded. He wasn’t a poet and he wasn’t interested in that woman.
So why the hell have you been avoiding her as if she was some sort of serial killer, he asked himself.
Get back to work, he growled mentally.
For the rest of the afternoon, he plowed through his work, handing out orders, setting up schedules and reviewing plans for the next week. He needed to hire about ten new pilots to handle the orders that were coming in, he had contracts to review and schedules to adjust.
But at five o’clock, he stood up and walked back to his window. He didn’t resume his seat again until the adorable, sexy brunette was in her car and driving away.
It was the same every damn day. He’d watch her drive up and wouldn’t take his eyes off of her until she was safely in the building. And when she worked late, he worked late, not allowing her to remain in the building alone. He wouldn’t leave until she was safely in her car again.
Thankfully, she didn’t work late too often. The adorable woman knew her job and finished off everything with accuracy and efficiency.
Glancing at his watch, he sighed and turned off his computer, stuffing a bunch of papers into a bag, then turned off the lights. He was once again the last to leave. He had acquired a good staff and they knew their jobs. Time to go home, he thought.
Twenty minutes later, he walked into his house and bent down, waiting for it. Waiting….waiting.
“Daddy!” the little-girl voice screamed. A moment later, a female rocket launched out of the kitchen, speeding directly down the hallway and into his arms. Gus caught his six year old daughter in his arms and lifted her up, nuzzling her neck with his scruffy beard until she giggled.
“Were you a good girl today?” he asked.
He laughed. “What were you?”
“A smart girl!” she exclaimed with pride. It was their usual routine and he loved it. His wiggly daughter put a hand on either side of his face. “Were you good today?”
Immediately, Gus thought about lunch with Mindy and berated himself for indulging in her company. “No. I wasn’t good today. I did something bad,” he told his daughter.
She leaned in and gave him a sweet kiss on the cheek. “Then you have to apologize,” she commanded.
“I will,” he promised.
“We’re having meatloaf for dinner tonight!” she said, wrapping her tiny arms around his neck and bouncing excitedly.
“Meatloaf?” he chuckled. He’d taught his daughter well. Meatloaf for dinner meant meatloaf sandwiches for lunch the following day – the only reason to have meatloaf for dinner.
“Yep! Sandwiches!” she giggled, covering her mouth as if the word was naughty.
“You betcha!” he told her and carried her into the kitchen.
“Hi Mona,” he greeted his housekeeper and nanny. Mona was a wonderful woman who cooked and cleaned for him every weekday. Gus dropped Chloe off at kindergarten each morning, but it was Mona who stood at the bus stop in the afternoon and walked Chloe home, got dinner ready and straightened up the house.
She was a miracle worker, keeping his little girl from missing…
Moving on, he focused back on Chloe and the meal that was already set at the table.
“Chloe has math homework and she needs to read tonight,” Mona explained, outlining his daughter’s homework tasks. “She read one story already, but told me that she didn’t remember it because you weren’t here.” Mona chuckled as she lifted her coat up and pulled it on. “You two have a good evening,” she said and, with a wave, walked out the door.
Gus appreciated Mona’s help more than he could say, but he also appreciated that she left each night so that he could have some quality time with Chloe.
Setting her down on her chair, he adjusted her seat, then sat down next to her. For the next two and a half hours, he listened to Chloe describe, in detail, every moment of her day. After dinner, they cleaned up together, took out the trash and went into the family room. Gus lit the logs in the fireplace, lifted Chloe onto his lap and they finished her homework then read until bedtime.
After tucking Chloe into bed, ensuring that all the monsters under her bed and closet were sleeping too, he winked at her before turning off the light.
She was asleep before he was out of the room.
Back downstairs, he pulled out the files he’d brought home, but tonight, he couldn’t focus on anything. All he could think about was Mindy and her efforts to get him to talk. He knew she’d been nervous around him but, at the time, he hadn’t done anything to alleviate her nervousness. Hell, he wanted her to be nervous. He wanted her to go away.
He couldn’t handle Mindy and her exuberance or her bright smiles. Already, his dreams were filled with images of her soft, lush bottom in his hands, her breasts in his mouth and…!
His life was exactly how he wanted it. He had Chloe. When he needed female companionship, he could go out and…come to think of it, he hadn’t called any of his female friends in…months. Looking back, he realized that he hadn’t been with any woman since Mindy had started working at Steele Industries.
How long was that? Thinking back, he realized that she’d been there for about a year. Damn, it had been more than twelve months since he’d had sex?
Shaking his head, he made a mental note to call Linda this weekend. He’d never gone that long without a woman and he wasn’t going to start now simply because…well, because some adorable, sexy dynamo had started working in the building.
Mindy was wrong for him. Wrong for his life, wrong for his daughter and wrong about everything else.
No more lunches with the woman. He’d avoided her so far, no need to break that cycle. Tomorrow, he’d eat in his office.