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Under The Mistletoe by Cross, Cassie (1)

Chapter One

“I’ve never seen so many people lining up for coffee in my life,” Stella Reyes said to her friend Liz as they took their place in the queue spilling out the door of the Starbucks on Broad.

She shifted to the left a little—crowding Liz’s personal space—in a desperate attempt to catch some of the warmth wafting out of the store. New York City weather had been fairly mild for December, but of course there was a huge dip in the temps on the one morning the coffee line was obscene.

“And look at you, standing in said line,” Liz remarked unhelpfully, practically yelling over a busker on the corner who was playing an absolutely horrid rendition of Jingle Bell Rock on his electric guitar.

Stella leveled her with a look. “That’s because I have a boss who’s committed to making my life a living hell. And not in the normal way, like being a tyrant and wreaking havoc on my entire life. Logan is subtle. An evil genius committed to breaking me one complicated coffee order at a time, by miring me in little inconveniences until I can’t take it anymore.”

Liz laughed the carefree laugh of someone who had never been a rich man’s personal assistant. She was in accounting, a worker bee whose boss was more interested in keeping up with Twitter trends than micromanaging his employees. Stella was a driven woman—normally she welcomed someone constantly lighting a fire under her—but that kind of life seemed really appealing to her at the moment.

“I should come work with you,” Stella said. “Your stress seems to be at manageable levels.”

Stella moved out of the way of a few patrons exiting the building, which left enough room for her and Liz to step inside into the wonderful, amazing heat. Stella took a deep—warm—breath and sighed.

“I’ll tell you what. I think I’d endure any manner of humiliation to go to work for someone like Logan Anderson. Gorgeous,” she said, counting off on one of her fingers. “Rich.” A second. “And single.” A third.

Stella rolled her eyes. “He’s gorgeous, but a pain in the ass. He’s rich, but that doesn’t make up for being a pain in the ass. And I don’t know if he’s single or not; he has that weird on and off thing going with Astrid Allen.”

On the occasions when Stella allowed herself to be completely honest, she could admit that she was a little jealous of that third thing. Astrid Allen was smart, talented, and she clearly had something going on with Logan.

On those honest occasions, she could also admit that she would’ve preferred if she was the one who had something going on with Logan.

“That weird on and off thing with Astrid Allen is something his mother is pushing, and you know that. It’s old money trying to get with old money to make the old money multiply. It’s the money’s way of procreating.”

Stella laughed.

“Besides,” Liz teased as she gave Stella a gentle hip check. “He’s into you, and this whole weird complicated coffee routine and the associated small tortures are like tugging your pigtails on the playground. He’s teasing you; it’s weird foreplay.”

No. No way.

“He’s not into me, he just thinks I have the hots for him because he’s a conceited jerk, and—”

“Because you do have the hots for him.”

Stella ignored her. “And he’s charming, so it seems like he’s flirting, but he just wants to keep me hanging on because he doesn’t want to have to find another assistant.”

“If that’s the way you’d rather look at it, then sure.”

“It’s the realistic way,” Stella argued.

“Or the delusional way. You’re gorgeous. He flirts with you. The logical conclusion is that he’s interested.”

The thought of it was nice, but too much for Stella to wrap her mind around. “Even if by some miracle you were right, he’s my boss. I can’t go there.”

“That’s why you should accept Alejandro’s job offer. It puts you in a position where you can do work you’re interested in, work you earned a degree for, and it frees you up from all those pesky HR rules that would keep you from banging your boss.”

Stella closed her eyes and let out a long breath, trying to gather her patience. Her friend Alejandro had asked her to join his tech startup as a software developer, where she could put her interests and education to work. While that was a good thing, the position also came along with a pretty severe cut in pay, and the very real possibility that the whole thing could fold in a year or two, and she’d be out a job.

Should she go for excitement or stability? On her best days, she thought excitement. On her worst, stability. She was running out of time debating herself. Alejandro needed an answer, and soon.

“I don’t know,” she replied honestly. “I kind of fell into the assistant job, and meant for it to be temporary. Here I am…four years later. It seems stupid to turn it down, but reckless to accept it.”

“And you don’t want to leave the gorgeous billionaire.”

“That’s not an issue.”

It was totally an issue. Maybe Stella was in love with him.

Probably she was in love with him.

The whole thing was futile, and she wasn’t proud of finding it difficult to walk away.

Liz looked at her like she wasn’t buying a word she was saying.

“I’m going to think about it while I’m on vacation,” Stella said.

“That’s not what you should be thinking about while you’re on vacation. Work should be a distant memory; you should pretend it doesn’t exist if you can.”

Since their parents died, Stella and her sisters had an annual tradition of doing something fun the last two weeks of the year. They’d spent Christmas in Hawaii, the Caribbean, Japan.

This year? Christmas markets in Europe, and Paris for New Year’s. It was going to be amazing, but she had hours-long train rides in front of her where thoughts of her future and what she wanted to commit to in the new year were bound to creep in.

“It’s not really thinking about work, it’s thinking about life.”

Liz looked skeptical. “While you’re off in Germany drinking mulled wine and buying stuff, I’ll be at home sprawled out on the couch while my mother complains about my bangs and asks me repeatedly when I plan on settling down and getting married.”

“You can tag along with us,” Stella offered.

“Tempting offer, but it’s not worth the grief I’d get from my family for not showing up.”

Liz and Stella were called to the next available register, where Stella handed over a Post-It note with Logan’s order written on it.

The barista shot her a quick look of irritation, but punched it into the register anyway.

“It’s for her boss,” Liz added helpfully.

“It always is,” the barista sighed.

Stella paid, then slid a twenty into the tip jar, on account of her boss always being such a pain in the ass.

“A twenty, huh?” Liz said under her breath as they moved over to wait for the coffee.

“I expense it. Every time his little game inconveniences someone, they deserve to be compensated.”

“Does he know?”

“Oh, he suggested it. I had been leaving tens, and he told me to up it to twenty.”

Liz laughed. “I really like him.”

Stella smiled. “That’s why he’s dangerous. He can be a demanding asshole, but it’s kind of impossible not to like him.”

“Or love him,” Liz replied with a teasing wink.

Yeah.

She was in trouble.

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