Main Violets are not Blue

Violets are not Blue

Roses are red.


Violets are blue.


Forget everything good you've been told about love, because none of it's true.


You don't agree?


Spend a day in my shoes and you'd curse love too.


My name's Blue.


Yes, you read that right. Blue Daniels.


And I hate love.


I despise every single thing about it.


In my thirty-two years on this earth it has brought me nothing but heartbreak and disappointment.


Love is a void. Something we're taught we need if we want to live a happy and fulfilled life.


Well I disagree.


Some say I'm a cynic. Other's call me the smartest woman they've ever met.


But no matter what anyone says, I know what I need. And love is not it.


Enter Harris Avery.


A man who thinks he can have anyone he wants, including me.


A man who reminds me daily why I swore off love in the first place.


He walks around the office like he owns the place, throwing that sexy smirk of his at every female he passes. He thinks no one is immune to his charm.


But poor Mr. Avery has never met a girl like me before.


I'm more likely to throw myself off a bridge than at his feet.


There's just one problem…


He's decided to make it his mission to prove me wrong.


To that I say, let the games begin…



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Copyright © 2019 by Melissa Toppen

All rights reserved. Except as permitted by U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior permission of the author.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, establishments, or organizations, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously to give a sense of authenticity. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. This book is intended for 18+ older, and for mature audiences only.

Editing by Amy Gamache @ Rose David Editing

Cover Design by Cassy Roop @ Pink Ink Designs





Table of Contents


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Epilogue





Chapter One




Blue



––––––––

“What a motherfucker.” The sound of Hannah’s voice causes me to jump right as her backside plops down on the corner of my desk. “I swear to god he’s such an arrogant prick,” she seethes, running a hand through her auburn hair.

“Uh oh. Patrick again?” I guess, knowing that when it comes to Hannah and Patrick, they’re like oil and water. Last month, when the company we work for went through a re-org, he’s the only person she didn’t want to have end up on her team. Unfortunately for her, that’s exactly what happened.

“Who else.” She rolls her eyes. “I swear that man doesn’t know his mouth from his asshole, because every time he opens it he spews shit.”

“Hannah,” I scold in a hushed voice, lifting up to peer over the short wall of my cubicle.

Hannah and I started here over ten years ago as interns during our senior year of college and have pretty much been inseparable ever since. And as her closest friend, it’s usually my job to reel her back in when she forgets that she’s at work, which happens quite a lot with her. She’s as hot headed as they come. She claims it’s the red hair. While most can hide their inner demon, she wears hers for the world to see.

“What?” She crosses her arms in front of her chest. “I don’t care if he hears me. He’s lucky I’m not saying worse.”

“What did he do this time?” I relax back in my chair, crossing one leg over the other.

“What he always does. Talks to me like I’m some incompetent twit. Never mind the fact that I have a four-year degree or that I’ve been doing this two years longer than he has. I swear, if I didn’t need this job, I’d be packing up my shit and walking out right this second.”

“Why don’t you talk to John? I’m sure if you tell him the problems you’re having he’ll do what he can to help.”

“And give him the satisfaction of knowing he’s gotten to me? Not a chance. Besides, you already know there’s nothing John will do. He’ll probably just tell me to ignore him.”

“Well, maybe you should try that tactic,” I offer.

“Yeah, because that’s possible.” She sighs in defeat. “How’s your day going, anyway? It has to be better than mine.”

“Okay, I guess. I mean, I’m here.” I shrug indifferently.

It’s not that I dislike my job, because I don’t. But there is a certain monotony to it that tends to make the days drag on. Eight hours often feels like fifty and I find myself staring at the clock a hell of a lot more than I should.

When I decided to major in Business, I imagined my future job would be something a lot more glamorous. Being a Business Analyst for a well-known medical technology firm has its benefits; great pay, good hours, and I’m able to manage my schedule and workload without much interference from management. But a lot of times those benefits are outweighed by the constant back and forth between our clients and our IT team, neither of which seem to ever be on the same page. It’s frustrating on a good day. On a bad day? Well, let’s just say I’ve had my fair share of melt downs over the years.

“I’m so glad it’s Friday. Please tell me you’re coming to the team building thing tonight. I don’t think I can stomach hanging out with these people outside of work without you.” She gestures around the large open room lined with cubicles identical to mine.

“Crap, is that tonight?” I ask, having forgotten all about it. Every third Friday of the month, everyone in our department goes out for dinner and drinks. It’s meant to be a team building function, but usually equates to everyone getting drunk and bitching about work.

“Yes, it’s tonight. And your ass better be there.” Hannah crinkles her nose and hits me with a pointed stare.

“I don’t know. I’m supposed to meet up with Bruce tonight.”

“Bruce?” She cocks a brow at me.

“I met him at the gym last week, remember?”

“Oh yes, big muscles, no brains, how could I forget?”

“I never said he didn’t have any brains.”

“You didn’t have to. I know your type.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” I try not to be offended by her comment.

“Oh come on. It’s no secret that you gravitate toward guys who have a lot going on here.” She gestures to her body. “And not a lot going on up here.” She places a finger to her temple.

“I do not,” I argue, even though I know she’s right. “Okay, maybe I do,” I concede. “But what’s wrong with that? What I want from men is only the physical. He doesn’t have to be the brightest crayon in the box to give me what I need.”

“Right. And if you’re constantly hooking up with people you have no chance of falling for then there’s no risk of getting hurt.”

“And that’s a bad thing?”

“If you want to live the rest of your life having meaningless sex then I guess it’s not.”

“There’s nothing wrong with meaningless sex. Besides, when’s the last time you dated anyone with any real potential.”

“Don’t compare my pickiness to your obvious avoidance of actually connecting with another person.”

“I connect with Bruce. In fact, we connected quite a few times Tuesday night.”

“Not what I meant and you know it.”

“Hannah, we’ve been through this. I’m not interested in a relationship.”

“I know. I know. Love is the enemy.”

“I didn’t say it was the enemy, it’s just not for me. I’m happy on my own. I have no one to answer to. No one to clean up after or have to cook for. No one to stay up late fighting over stupid things with.”

“And you don’t have to worry about anyone cheating on you,” she interjects.

“Well that’s a definite perk, too.”

“Not all men are like James.”

I cringe at the mention of my ex-fiancé’s name.

“All men are like James. At least in my experience.”

“Just because your high school boyfriend broke your heart and your slime ball ex cheated on you does not mean that all men are bad.”

“Your opinion.”

“You’re impossible.” She sighs.

“Glad we’re in agreement.” I give her a toothy smile.

“You’re lucky I love you.”

“Am I?” I tease.

“Shut up.” She giggles, shoving my shoulder playfully as she stands. “Call Bruce. Tell him he’ll have to wait until tomorrow to flex naked for you. Tonight you’re coming to Putter’s with the rest of us.”

“So bossy.” I try to suppress my smile.

“I’ll come get you at four and we can walk over together,” she advises, not really giving me much of an option.

“Fine.” I roll my eyes as she smiles and quickly saunters away.

——

It’s four o’clock on the dot when Hannah appears at my desk, her prized Louis Vuitton draped over her shoulder. I enjoy the finer things in life, I won’t deny that, but Hannah’s expensive taste exceeds the budget I set aside for things like clothing and accessories.

And the thing is, she really doesn’t need such expensive things. She’s beautiful, funny, and is as quick witted as they come. She could dress in rags and she’d still be one of the most sought-after women in the room.

Me, on the other hand, not so much. I wouldn’t say I’m ugly per se. I’m average height. Average build. You could say I’m just average. Yet, I’ve always been comfortable in my own skin. Although, where Hannah is naturally thin and beautiful, I have to work a hell of a lot harder to be presentable. Which means a minimum of five days a week in the gym to maintain my curvy one-forty frame, and I spend at least an hour every morning fixing my unruly blonde hair and covering my pale skin with makeup so I don’t look like someone who just stepped off the set of a vampire movie.

“You about ready?” She leans against the side of my cubicle and peers down at my computer screen.

“Almost.” I type out a quick conclusion to the email I’ve been working on and hit send. “There.” I push away from my desk and let out a loud sigh of relief, glad to have two days to recuperate before having to do this all over again.

As I stand to gather my things, Hannah says, “You’ll never guess who I caught getting up close and personal with Gwen in the copy room a few minutes ago.”

“Pretty sure I don’t have to guess,” I tell her, knowing full well who she’s referring to. “I swear, that man has no shame.”

“He may have no shame, but damn is he fine.”

“I don’t care what he looks like. He’s a pig. Plain and simple.”

“Who’s a pig?” Hannah and I both turn in unison to see none other than the pig, Harris Avery, standing a couple feet from my cubicle, a manila folder in his hand.

Speak of the devil...

“This guy Blue’s seeing,” Hannah responds, nudging my arm as if to tell me to play along.

A small smile forms on his full lips, and even though I despise everything about him, my stomach twists slightly. I can’t help it. I don’t have to like him to appreciate the fact that he really is probably the most handsome man I’ve ever seen up close. Sandy blonde hair, that’s longer on top and shaved underneath. A short, well-kept beard. And the most incredible gray eyes. And that’s only from the neck up. Don’t even get me started on the rest of him.

I shake off the thought and focus back on the current.

“If he’s such a pig why are you dating him?”

“I’m not dating him,” I blurt.

“Blue doesn’t date, she...” Hannah trails off, a wicked smile on her face.

“Anyway, we were just leaving.” I quickly turn, nudging Hannah toward the elevator.

I hear Harris chuckle behind us as we scurry away. It takes every ounce of will power I have not to turn around and throw him the middle finger.

I don’t know why I dislike the guy so much. Maybe it’s because he’s arrogant and cocky. Maybe it’s because he’s hooked up with half of the women in our department in the six months that he’s been here and has no qualms about it. Maybe it’s because he walks around the office like he owns the place and talks to everyone like he’s the smartest person in the room. Or maybe it’s that he bothers me for other reasons that I simply will not let myself entertain.

Whatever the reason, Harris Avery is not someone I associate with unless absolutely necessary. Luckily for me, he oversees a different team and our interactions are usually limited to emails and the occasional meeting we’re forced into together.

“My god that man is yummy.” Hannah waits until we reach the elevators to voice. Thankfully.

“That man is an arrogant asshole,” I correct, punching the down arrow.

“Oh come on. There’s no way you don’t think he’s hot. Look at him.” She gestures across the room and my eyes shift back to where we just came from, immediately locking on Harris who’s now talking to Patti, a middle-aged woman who sits in the cubicle to the left of mine.

“Hot in appearance, yes. But his personality leaves a lot to be desired.”

“I thought that’s the kind of guy you like.”

“I’m done talking to you.” I swing my gaze back to Hannah right as the elevator doors slide open.





Chapter Two




Blue



––––––––

Putter’s is busier than usual. No doubt due to the baseball game taking place downtown tonight. People don’t play around when it comes to their sports in Boston, especially when the season starts to dwindle down. If I’m not mistaken, they only have a couple weeks of games left before the season is over. Thank goodness. I’ve never been a fan of the sport outside of ogling the hot baseball players on television in their tight uniform pants.

Hannah and I join the handful of others that have already made their way across the street to the small bar and grill in the heart of the city. It’s our normal spot, given its close proximity to the office.

“So.” Hannah leans against the bar as we wait for our glasses of wine.

“So,” I add after a long moment of silence passes between us. It’s one of those times when I know Hannah has something she wants to say but she’s unsure if she should say it.

“Was Bruce disappointed that you canceled tonight?”

I know immediately that this wasn’t what she was originally going to say, but deciding not to push my luck, I go with it.

“I didn’t cancel. He’s picking me up here in an hour.” I grin, nodding to the bartender as he sets two glasses of wine on the bar in front of us.

“Tricky, tricky.” She shakes her head at me.

“What? You said I had to come. You didn’t say how long I had to stay.”

“But you’re going to miss all the fun,” she says sarcastically, gesturing around to where several members of our team are scattered, taking up multiple tables in the bar area.

“How will I ever live without all this.” I flatten my palm against my chest and sigh dramatically.

“Hey. The last time you left early you missed Diane and Robert breaking it down on the dance floor.”

“Pretty sure I’m not sorry that I missed that.” I laugh, taking my first sip of wine.

“You should be. It was incredible.” She laughs. “Oh and look.” She gazes past me toward the door. “There’s Robert now. Perhaps we should ask him for a repeat.”

I turn to see the older man with stark white hair enter the room. Robert is the grandpa of the office. He’s one of those people that walks around, making sure everyone is taken care of, and he always brings sweet treats from the bakery down the road, leaving them in the break room for everyone. He says as the honorary grandpa he has to take care of us youngins. I hate to break it to him, but I haven’t been a youngin’ for some time now. And while thirty-two isn’t old by any means, I definitely don’t feel as spry as I did in my twenties.

“Oh and look, he brought a friend.” Hannah nudges me when Harris steps into the bar directly behind Robert. Even though outwardly I cringe, because let’s be real—that man is infuriating on a good day, I also can’t ignore the way the tiny hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I may not like him, but I can’t overlook how good looking he is. And man, is he ever.

“Oh joy.” I sigh loudly, rolling my eyes to show my visible distaste as I turn back toward my friend. “What’s he doing here? I thought he was too good to be seen with the likes of us outside of work.”

In the six months since Harris started working with us, I can only remember him coming to one of these outings and he’d only stayed for thirty minutes before he left.

“Guess he decided to mingle with the common folk today. You know, sometimes even Kings have to come down from their castle and grace the people with their presence.”

“King?” I snort. “God, don’t let him hear you say that. All he needs is a bigger head.”

“But then his crown won’t fit.” She crinkles her nose playfully. “Don’t look, but I think he’s coming this way,” she adds before taking a long gulp of wine.

“Wait, what?” I whisper hiss, falling silent when I feel someone slide up to the bar directly next to me.

I don’t have to turn around to know who it is. Even if Hannah’s reaction hadn’t given it away, the smell of his cologne certainly would have. He has his own unique smell, and as much as it pisses me off, it’s an incredible smell. I force myself to breathe through my mouth and continue on like I don’t feel him standing entirely too close to me.

“Are you meeting me at the gym tomorrow morning?” I ask Hannah, not wanting to focus another moment on the man next to me.

“I think so.”

“Which means no.” I snort.

“No it doesn’t,” she protests, her hand going to her hip in true Hannah fashion.

“Every time you say you think, you never actually do.”

“Saying every time is a bit of an overstatement.”

“Or maybe you just have selective memory.” Harris chuckles behind me, my body going rigid. Whipping around, I find him angled toward us, an amused smile on his face. “Can I help you with something?” I bite, not hiding my displeasure with him eavesdropping on our conversation, regardless of what we’re discussing.

“Sorry.” His smile doesn’t falter.

“Something funny?” I arch a brow, irritated by the pearly whites glistening at me.

“My mom used to always say that to me when I was younger.”

“Say what exactly?” I question, my attitude all kinds of major right now. I don’t know why I’m always so curt to him. I guess I want to make it known that I’m not like every other girl in our company. I don’t think he hung the moon and I sure as hell don’t want to sleep with him.

Even if that last part is only partially true.

But I would never do it simply because I wouldn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing that he got me.

While he may think he’s god’s gift, I do not.

“That I had selective memory.”

“And do you?” Hannah chimes in behind me, a smile in her voice.

“Only when it comes to certain things.” He winks at me and for some reason it leaves me with a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach, like I’m missing something.

“So Harris,” Hannah steps around me so she’s standing next to me rather than behind me, “what brings you to our little Friday gathering. We don’t usually see you at these things.”

“Robert.” He hitches his thumb backward in the vicinity of where Robert is standing, talking to a couple of the ladies that work in software testing. “He insisted that I come. Actually, he didn’t really give me much choice.” He chuckles to himself, turning his attention to the bartender as he sets a beer on the bar in front of him. “Thank you.” He nods, picking up the frosted glass.

“Well, don’t let us keep you. I’m sure there are plenty of other people that you would like to talk to.” I give him an over exaggerated smile, not missing the hint of amusement that passes over his face.

“That I do.” He fights against his own smile. “Hannah.” He nods to my friend next to me. “Blue.” His gray eyes come back to mine. “Always a pleasure.”

“For you, maybe,” I mutter under my breath after he’s already turned and walked away.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Hannah slaps my arm, pulling my full attention back to her.

“Ow.” I rub the spot she hit. “Why are you hitting me?”

“Why are you so mean to him?”

“Because he’s an arrogant, pompous asshole,” I say like it should be that obvious.

“Okay, yes. There’s something about him that screams arrogance, but have you ever sat down and had an actual conversation with that man? I happen to think he’s pretty nice.”

“Nice.” I cough at the absurdity. “Please tell me you’re joking.” I shake my head at her.

“I’m serious. Maybe if you stopped being so mean to him and avoiding him at every turn, you’d realize he’s not that bad.”

“Maybe I wouldn’t avoid him if he wasn’t such a sleaze bag.”

“I think the proper term for it is player.”

“I think the proper term for it is douche canoe.”

“I think you’ve secretly got a thing for him,” she fires back, giving me that ‘I know you look’ over the rim of her wine glass.

“I think maybe you do,” I spit back.

“Maybe I do.” She shrugs indifferently. “After all, he is gorgeous. And god, look at those arms.” Her gaze slides past me, and even though I’m tempted to follow it, I keep my eyes locked on her. “But alas, I don’t think I’m his type.” She lets out a heavy sigh.

“Pretty sure everyone is his type,” I disagree.

“Or maybe that’s just what he wants people to think.”

“Now you’re giving him too much credit.” I shove her shoulder playfully.

She takes one last look at him before her eyes come back to mine. “You’re probably right,” she concedes. “Wishful thinking.” She takes a sip of wine. “I’d probably still bang him though.”

“Oh my god.” I cover my mouth to quiet my laugh. “You are something else, Hannah Baker.”

“And you wouldn’t have me any other way.”

“No, I certainly would not.” Finishing off the remainder of my wine, I set my empty glass on top of the bar. “I need to run to the ladies.”

“Okay.” She finishes off her wine and sets her glass next to mine. “Want me to order you another glass?”

“No, I might grab another in a few.”

“Okay. Well, I’m gonna go over there and say hi to Cassie and the girls.” She points to a table close to the door. “Meet me over there when you’re done?”

“Sounds good.” I adjust my purse strap on my shoulder before taking off in the direction of the bathroom.





Chapter Three




Harris



––––––––

“You don’t like me very much, do you?” I ask, sliding up next to Blue at the bar.

She turns to look in my direction, her wavy blonde hair brushing the tops of her shoulders as she does. She studies me for a long moment, her blue eyes locked on mine. Then she smiles at me. The kind of smile that says she knows something I don’t.

“Now what would ever give you that idea?” she asks, looking past me to where Hannah and a few other women from the office are huddled around a high-top table.

“Call it a gut feeling.”

“Well, you know what they say about gut feelings.” She shrugs indifferently, turning her attention back to the bartender as he sets a glass of wine in front of her.

“And what’s that?” I ask, watching her take a long drink of the red liquid.

“That you should listen to them.” She sets her glass down, her slender fingers wrapped lightly around the stem.

“You know what I can’t figure out though.” I turn, angling myself closer to her. “What exactly I did to make you dislike me so much?”

“Well if you have to ask, you clearly aren’t very self-aware.” She keeps her gaze forward, lifting her glass to her lips for another sip of wine.

“Why don’t you enlighten me?”

“You really want to know?” She turns toward me, leaving her glass on the bar top.

“Yes, I really do.”

“Normally I wouldn’t say this to someone I work with, but given your persistence I think I’ll make an exception.” She licks her bottom lip and my groin tightens.

Whether she likes me or not, it doesn’t change how attractive she is. In fact, I might even go as far as to say that it makes her more so. You know what they say about a chase. And I have no doubt this woman would give me a run for my money.

“I think you’re an arrogant, know it all, who spends more time groping his co-workers than actually working with them.”

“So that’s what you don’t like about me?” I bark out a laugh. “Because I’m flirtatious.”

“What you do goes far past flirting and we both know it.”

“Are you calling me a womanizer, Ms. Daniels?”

“No, I’m calling you a whore.” She crosses her arms in front of her chest and hits me with a pointed stare.

“If you didn’t look so damn sexy saying that, I might be offended.” I smirk.

“And there is my case in point.” She shakes her head, turning back toward the bar.

I settle in next to her, resting my elbows on top of the bar.

“So is your problem that I’m a whore, as you so eloquently put it, or that you’re jealous because I’ve never made a pass at you?”

“Why on earth would that make me jealous?” she spits, nearly choking on the words.

“Because maybe deep down you want me to.”

“I hate to break it to you, Mr. Avery, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

She says my name with so much disdain it’s hard for me to contain my smile. I can’t help it. The more irritated she becomes the more I think maybe I made a mistake in keeping my distance from her.

It wasn’t by choice, of course. I felt an instant attraction to her the first time she walked by my desk in that tight little pencil skirt. But it was made very clear to me in the very beginning that she was off limits. In fact, Robert threatened me within an inch of my life if I so much as went near her. Apparently, she’s like a daughter to him and he didn’t hold back his anger when he caught me staring at her from across the room.

Normally, I’m not one to take orders from anyone, but Robert was so adamant and given that I really need this job to stick, I didn’t push the issue. There are plenty of fish in the office sea. But that still hasn’t stopped me from finding reasons to put myself in the vicinity of her desk nearly every day so I could get a glimpse of her. You always want what you can’t have, or so the saying goes. I’m starting to think that maybe feigning disinterest and keeping my distance from her has made this game a lot more interesting. Too bad she still has no clue that we’re playing.

What she doesn’t know yet, is that Robert is announcing his retirement next week. Which means, that once he’s gone, Blue will be fair game.

“Now why do I find that so hard to believe?” I ask, leaning in close.

“Maybe because you think no woman in this world is immune to your charm.” She inches further away, but for every inch she pulls away, I move in closer, our shoulders now touching.

“And you are?” I whisper, not missing the way a shiver runs through her as my breath dances across her neck.

“Most definitely.” She straightens her shoulders and turns her head toward me, her gaze hard and unreadable. “You may have everyone else fooled but I see you, Harris Avery.”

“And what do you see, exactly?”

“Blue?” An unfamiliar voice washes over us and we both turn in unison.

“Bruce.” Blue smiles, making quick work of wrapping her arms around the man’s neck and pulling him in for a hug.

“Sorry I’m late. I got caught up at the gym.”

“No worries.” Blue adjusts her purse on her shoulder.

“You about ready?”

“You have no idea.” She throws me a sideways glance.

“Hi, I’m Harris. A friend of Blue’s.” I step up, extending my hand to the man that I tower over by a good four or five inches. He’s muscular, I’ll give him that, but I can’t see the attraction. Blue is so far out of his league it’s laughable.

“Co-worker,” Blue interjects a little too forcefully. “We work in the same department,” she explains, more composed now.

“Bruce.” He gives my hand a shake before quickly releasing it.

“Are you saying we aren’t friends?” I take a step back, my gaze sliding to the sexy little blonde next to me.

“We should probably get going, Bruce.” She ignores my question, looping her arm through his as she attempts to cart him away.

“It was nice meeting you, Bruce.” I nod before turning my attention to Blue. “I’ll see you Monday.” My words hold a hint of a promise.

Without commenting, Blue turns, pulling Bruce alongside her toward the door.





Chapter Four




Blue



––––––––

“So I was thinking.” I look up from my computer screen to see Harris leaning against my cubicle wall, his hair disheveled and the top two buttons of his shirt undone. I internally roll my eyes and quiver a little all at the same time. “I think you and I got off on the wrong foot.”

“I have work to do, Harris, so unless you need something...” I let the statement trail off.

“You really are a tough egg, aren’t you?” He seems amused by this fact.

“Do you need something or did you just come over here to torture me?” I feign disinterest, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little curious about what he wants.

“You heard about Robert?”

“I did.”

“I just got out of a meeting with Tom. Apparently they’ve decided not to replace him which means they will be splitting up his workload to other members of the team.”

“Okay,” I draw out, waiting for him to make a point.

“Some of that workload has been passed onto me.”

“Good for you?”

“Well actually, it is good for me. You see, they’ve given me his client accounts which means you and I are going to be working together more frequently.”

I try to ignore the whoosh that runs through my gut. Please God, no.

“Tom wanted me to touch base with you today so you can catch me up on where we stand with everything. I was thinking maybe we could do a working lunch. What do you say? We can hit up the little Thai place on the corner.”

“Actually, I’m really busy. I’ll probably just eat lunch at my desk.” It’s the first excuse I can think of. “If you want to sit down for a meeting, you can schedule one like everyone else does.”

“You’re not going to make this easy on me, are you?” He smirks, amused by my unwillingness.

“Nope.”

“Okay then.” He nods, mulling something over in his head. I can physically see the wheels turning. “For the record, I’m not so easy to get rid of.”

“For the record, I’m not that easy to get into bed.” My jaw goes slack as I realize what I just said. Shit. Shit. Shit. Totally unprofessional.

“So you have thought about it then?” He smirks.

“Thought about what exactly?” I play stupid.

“Having me in your bed.”

“What?” I blurt out, my voice a little louder than I intended for it to be.

“It’s okay, Blue. I’d be more than happy to give you what you want.”

“Oh my god.” I feel the heat creep up my cheeks. I’m not sure if I’m more embarrassed, angry, or frankly, turned on. I refuse to believe the latter. “Was that all?” I look back at my computer screen, pretending to read something, trying to put an end to this conversation before it goes any further.

“For now.” I look up moments later to catch his backside as he walks away.

Not five minutes pass before a notification pops up on my desktop, informing me that an overview meeting has been scheduled for this afternoon at one p.m. When I open my calendar, I’m not at all surprised to see who the organizer is... Harris Avery.

Fuck my life.

——

“You made it.” Harris looks up from the head of the meeting table where he’s sitting, files spread out in front of him, his laptop open to his left.

“Not like I had a choice,” I grumble under my breath, closing the door behind me.

“I’ve been looking over the processes you have in place for testing and development and I gotta say, you’re spinning your wheels a little.” He jumps right into business before I have a chance to sit down.

“How so?” I ask, sliding into the seat to his right before popping open my laptop.

“Well, for example, the Developers are pushing things into production without them going through the proper IT channels. Which would explain why you’ve had so many client complaints recently.”

“How do you know we’ve had a lot of client complaints?” I arch a brow, surprised by this professional side of him. I expected this entire meeting to be full of sexual innuendoes, him insinuating that I want to sleep with him. I’m relieved to see he’s actually taking this seriously and wants to work.

“Because a lot of those complaints come through Robert, and now, me. I’ve been reviewing all his files and I’ve come to one very important conclusion. We need to come up with a more efficient way to push things through production using the proper channels.”

“Okay, so what do you suggest?”

“I’ve already talked to Mike.”

I’m shocked. Mike is the VP over IT, though he’s rarely ever in the office. He splits his time between this office and the office in Atlanta, and he’s extremely difficult to pin down, which is why I’m a little surprised that he’s already spoken to him.

Harris continues, “He agrees that some changes need to take place to create a more streamline process. One that must be followed. We can’t have our developers doing whatever they want. The testing team is there for a reason.”

“I agree.” I nod my head. “I’ve brought this concern up several times but as a BA, no one listens to me.”

“Well they’re going to start listening. As of today, we are going to rework the testing processes. From the moment you receive the client’s specifications to the final product being pushed to the client, there will be a step-by-step guide. Every step must be completed before we can move on and everyone must sign off on each step. That way if someone starts skipping steps, they can be held accountable. What are your thoughts on this?”

“I think this all sounds amazing,” I say, impressed by his eagerness to jump in and take the reins. Robert is an amazingly sweet man, but with that comes his downfalls. He’s the least assertive person I know, and because of this most people take complete advantage of him. It’s difficult to make change when there’s no one willing to enforce said change.

But Harris doesn’t strike me as the type of person to let things slide. Maybe working with him won’t be so bad after all.

“I’m going to schedule a meeting with Peter and Robin this week. Once we have the developing manager and IT manager in the know, we can move forward. We will need their help in coming up with this new strategy. I’ll want you in that meeting as well.”

“Why?” I question, having never really been included in this aspect of the business.

“Because you’re smart and you know what’s going on around here. You also see the changes that need to be made. Not to mention, you’re where the process begins and ends. It only makes sense that you be a part of this. At the end of the day, you’re responsible for the client. You can’t do your job if the developers and testers aren’t doing theirs. So instead of working against each other, we are going to pull together and work as a unit.” He shuffles some of the papers in front of him before sliding one in my direction.

We spend the next forty-five minutes making a list of suggestions we both have on how the functionality of our department could improve. By the end of the meeting, I find myself questioning if maybe I misjudged Harris. But just as the thought takes hold, it immediately goes right out the window.

“Now that that’s out of the way,” he says, standing from the table at the same time I do, “what do you say you and I go out for a drink tonight? You know, to celebrate our new working relationship.”

“I think it’s better if we keep this professional.”

“And being professional means you can’t be friends with someone?” He cocks a brow.

“I think you and I both know that you’re incapable of having a purely platonic friendship with a member of the opposite sex.” I turn, heading toward the door. He intercepts me, blocking my way out.

“That’s not true. I’m friends with plenty of women around the office.”

“You mean the ones that are technically old enough to be your mom? Yeah, that doesn’t count.”

“Why are you so against getting to know me?”

“Why waste my time when I feel like I already know more than I need to?” I fire back.

“Haven’t you ever heard the old saying, don’t judge a book by its cover?”

“Haven’t you heard the old saying, actions speak louder than words? Your actions are quite telling, Mr. Avery. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have another meeting to attend.”

He steps in closer, and even though my instinct is to step backward, I find myself frozen in place. He leans in, his lips inches from my ear.

“I’ll wear you down eventually, Blue.” The feeling of his breath hot on the side of my neck causes a slew of goosebumps to break out across my skin.

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that, Harris.” I try to keep my voice even, but I don’t miss the slight shake in my words. Something tells me he doesn’t either. Seconds later, his long fingers latch onto my right hip and he squeezes.

“Guess we’ll see.” He runs his nose along my jawline. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have me feeling things in certain areas where I definitely should not be feeling them.

Damn him. Even I have to admit, Harris Avery has game. Too bad for him, I’m done playing.

“Guess we will.” I step back and quickly step around him. I have to get out of this room, the temperature inside suddenly feeling ten degrees warmer.

“I’ll see you at the department meeting at four,” he calls after me, but I’m already out of the room, my laptop tucked under my arm as I quickly make my way back to my desk.

——

“There you are.” I’m startled out of the document I’m working on by the sound of Hannah’s voice. “You know the department meeting started ten minutes ago, right?” She hitches her thumb behind her in the direction of the large boardroom where our department meetings are always held.

“What?” I glance at the time on my computer and then spring out of my chair like someone lit a fire under it. “Shit. I’ve been working on this process document. I guess I lost track of time.” I pause. “Wait, why aren’t you in the meeting?”

“I was. When I noticed you weren’t, I decided to come look for you. I told Robert I had to run to the ladies’.”

“Thank you so much. Seriously.” I grab a notebook and pen, just in case I need to write anything down, and quickly follow Hannah to the meeting room.

When we slip inside, the lights have been dimmed and John is going over a PowerPoint presentation. About forty people line the room in rows of chairs. He doesn’t pay us any attention as we quickly take two seats toward the back of the room.

We’re getting settled in when the door opens again and Harris steps through, looking calm and collected, rather than rushed and frazzled the way I’m sure I did. I watch him scan the room in one quick motion before his eyes land on me. A small smile tugs at the corner of his mouth.

I immediately look away and focus my attention on John at the front of the room. Unfortunately, that doesn’t last long, because not moments later, Harris shuffles his way past me and takes the seat to my left.

You have got to be kidding me...

He leans in close enough that our shoulders touch. “So, what did I miss?” he whispers, his minty breath dancing across my face.

Without looking at him, I hold a silent finger to my lips, telling him to be quiet.

“She doesn’t know because she just got here.” Hannah leans forward and answers for me, her voice hushed.

“So we both arrived late?” He gives me a smirk when I finally look his way. “What will people think?” he teases.

“Would you be quiet?” I gesture to the front of the room.

Seeming pleased that he got a little rise out of me, he turns his attention to John. But that doesn’t stop him from bumping his knee into mine several times over the course of the hour-long meeting.

The first time I gave him the benefit of the doubt and assumed it was an accident. But by the fifth time it became clear what he was doing. I did my best to ignore him, but the longer it went on the harder it was to ignore.

It started with his knee brushing mine, then his foot, then his elbow. Eventually, he shifted in his seat so that his leg was pressed against mine for the last ten minutes. It took everything I had not to shove him out of his chair. The asshole. His little games might work on other women, but sooner or later he’s going to have to realize that I am not other women.

The instant the meeting is called to an end, I stand and dart out of the room, not wanting to risk getting stuck behind and be forced to watch Harris act all innocent like he wasn’t touching me on purpose for the last hour.

I make it back to my desk in record time and already have my purse on my shoulder, headed toward the elevator when Harris finally steps out of the room. His eyes meet mine as the doors slide open in front of me and the asshole smiles. It’s not a friendly smile between co-workers either. No, this smile is most definitely something else.

Without giving him any reaction, I quickly step into the elevator, not letting out my breath until the doors are securely closed behind me.





Chapter Five




Blue



––––––––

The sound of NF’s Turn the Music Up pulses in my ears as my feet pound against the treadmill. This week has been challenging, to say the least, and I find the only way to relieve some of the tension building up inside of me is to sweat it out.

I thought after a couple of days Harris would lose interest. That he would see I wasn’t falling for his little games and he’d go find someone else to harass. Unfortunately, my constant blow offs only seem to have fueled his fire.

He’s relentless. Always finding excuses to come to my desk or finding reasons to touch me when we’re near. It’s infuriating, and yet surprisingly, a little exciting at the same time. There’s something to be said about being the sole focus of someone’s attention. Especially when that someone looks like Harris Avery.

That doesn’t mean he’s wearing me down. Because he isn’t. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. But truth be told, I’ve always felt a certain chemistry with Harris. Maybe that’s why I try to make myself dislike him so much. Because disliking him is easier than liking him.

The weirdest thing of it all is how easily he can turn it on and off. When we’re having a meeting, just the two of us, which is when you’d think he’d be the worst, he’s all business. He’s professional and courteous and listens to my ideas. But then when the work is done and I think that maybe he’s going to let me get away unscathed, he turns on that infuriating charm of his and his demeanor instantly shifts.

I kick up the speed on the treadmill, determined to get Harris out of my head. It’s only been five days since we’ve been working alongside each other and already he’s got me so wound up I can barely sleep at night.

I manage to get another two miles in before my lungs are screaming for mercy and my body feels like it might keel over at any moment. Slowing the treadmill down to a stop, I grab my towel and blot some of the sweat from my forehead and chest. I’m right about to head to the showers when something, or rather someone, catches my eye in the mirror. Sure I’m seeing things, I turn around and nearly hit the floor when I see Harris on the treadmill three down from where I was...and he’s shirtless.

My eyes sweep across his muscular frame. Sweat drips down his defined muscles, giving him an almost sparkling effect under the bright fluorescent lights. I nearly have to bite back the moan that almost escapes my throat.

I knew Harris was in good shape, but I had no idea that this is what he’s packing under his casual button downs. Holy hell.

Staring at Harris, I lose all focus on my surroundings. All I know is that when I finally snap out of my fog, I’ve been caught red handed.

Harris gives me a smile and switches his treadmill off. It slows to a stop and within moments he’s standing in front of me.

Pulling my earbuds from my ears, I give him the most annoyed look I can muster.

“Are you stalking me now?” I accuse.

“You only wish I was stalking you.” His eyes sweep over me, and even though I’m wearing a sports bra and athletic shorts, I suddenly feel completely naked under his gaze.

“Actually, I don’t,” I snip. “What are you doing here, Harris?” I cross my arms over my chest which seems to prompt his eyes back up to my face.

“Working out.” He gestures around the gym.

“Since when? I’ve never seen you work out here before.”

“Well, if you must know, the gym in my building is under construction, and since this one is so close to work, I thought I’d try it out for a few weeks until mine is operational again.”

“So it has nothing to do with the fact that this has been my gym for nearly five years.”

“I didn’t know this was your gym.” He plays coy, but I can tell it’s an act. He knew damn well this is the gym I come to. “Besides, it’s less than a block from the office so it makes working out after work more convenient.”

“You’re a shit liar,” I tell him, spinning on my heel before heading off in the direction of the showers.

“Hey.” Fingers close around my bicep right as Harris steps in front of me. Shaking off his grasp, I hit him with another annoyed stare.

“What?” I grind out, eager to get away from him and his mouthwatering, glistening muscles. I can’t stop my eyes from going in for another quick glance. My god, his body really is something to be admired.

“What are you doing after you leave here?” he asks, throwing a towel over his shoulder.

“Wouldn’t you like to know.”

“I would, actually.” He looks around. “I noticed Brucey boy isn’t here tonight.”

“And?”

“And, are you two still seeing each other?”

“We weren’t ever seeing each other, we were just...” I trail off before I overshare, but it’s too late. I can tell by the slow smile that spreads across his face.

“I never pictured you as a casual sex kind of girl.”

“I never pictured you at all,” I fire back.

“Now who’s the shit liar?” He laughs, stepping further into my bubble. “Have dinner with me.”

“Absolutely not.” I laugh like it’s the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard.

“Why not?”

“Because I know what kind of guy you are.”

“Pot meet Kettle.” He narrows his eyes at me.

“I’m not a whore.” I draw back like he’s physically assaulted me.

“I never said you were.” His smile remains firmly intact.

“Uh, yeah, you kind of just did.”

“No, I didn’t. But the reasons you seem to dislike me so much don’t really make sense, considering in a lot of ways you’re just like me.”

“How do you figure?”

“You prefer unattached hookups over complicated relationships,” he states. I blame Hannah. She doesn’t know when to shut her mouth.

“That does not make us alike,” I tell him flatly.

“Doesn’t it?” He tilts his head to the side and studies me for a long moment. “Have dinner with me.”

“No.”

“Oh, come on. One dinner. I promise to be on my best behavior.”

“You don’t know when to quit, do you?” I ask, having a hard time believing that I’m actually considering saying yes.

“Nope.” His smile widens.

Maybe if I agree it will give me the chance to convince him that I’m truly not interested in him. Swearing to myself that’s all it is, I blow out a puff of air and nod once.

“Fine. But just dinner. Don’t even think that I’m going to go home with you because I most certainly will not.”

“If you say so.” He pulls his bottom lip between his teeth and my gaze is instantly drawn to the action.

You hate this guy. You hate this guy. You hate this guy. I repeat the mantra in my head.

“I’m gonna head to the showers now. Perhaps you should do the same.” I gesture to his body without letting my eyes leave his face. “I’ll meet you out front in thirty minutes.”

“It’s a date.” He grins.

“It’s dinner.”

“Date,” he mouths as he backs away.

“Harris.” I grit my teeth, trying not to laugh when he ducks inside the men’s shower room and disappears from view.

And then the reality of what I just agreed to comes back to slap me in the face, a tight ball of nerves spreading like wildfire through my belly.

It’s fine, I tell myself. What harm could one dinner do? Now, if only I could believe it.

——

When I exit the gym exactly thirty minutes later, Harris is already outside waiting. Dressed casually in faded jeans and a navy blue V-neck shirt. He almost looks as good with clothes on as he does without...almost.

Shaking off the thought, I plaster on a brave smile and join him on the curb.

“I was starting to think you’d snuck out the back,” he tells me, a twinkle in his deep gray eyes.

“Honestly, I considered it.”

“Well, for the record, I’m glad you didn’t.”

“Just don’t make me regret this.”

“I promise to do my best.” His eyes give me one solid look over. “You look really nice, by the way.”

“Nice?” I snort. “My hair is still wet from the shower and I’m wearing a t-shirt, torn jeans, and flip flops,” I point out, knowing it’s not something I would normally wear on a date.

Wait, did I just say date? I meant dinner. This is just dinner. Definitely not a date.

“I like it.” He seems sincere, but a part of me feels like he’s secretly teasing me.

If I had known I was going anywhere but home after the gym I would have brought something nicer to change into. Of course, I’m not going to tell him that.

“So, where are we going?” I ask, rocking back on my heels.

“How do you feel about wings and beer?” he asks, extending his hand to me.

I look down at his palm and then back up to his face. “Sounds perfect, actually.”

He takes the hint and drops his hand but I don’t miss the amusement that dances across his handsome face. I’m starting to think he actually enjoys me turning him down. I’m sure it’s a change from having women throwing themselves at him every day of the week. I’ve seen the way women look at him. Who could blame them? He looks like he just stepped out of a magazine, airbrushed and all.

“Come on. There’s a little place not far from here.” He turns, waiting for me to step up next to him before taking off down the sidewalk in the opposite direction of the office.

We walk less than a block before Harris slows in front of Harrison’s, a small little bar and grill that I’ve been to a few times over the years.

“We’re here.” He grins, holding the door open for me.

“Be honest, you only like this place because it has your name in it,” I tease as we wait for the hostess to seat us.

“I know a good thing when I see it.” He gives me a sideways glance, causing my skin to flush.

What the hell is wrong with me tonight?

It isn’t long before we’re seated in a corner booth with a perfect view of the TVs that sit in a straight line above the bar. I keep my eyes glued on the baseball game playing as we wait for our waitress.

“You a fan?” Harris interrupts my faked interest in the game.

“Truthfully, no.” I laugh.

“Ever been to a game?”

“I haven’t,” I admit.

“That’s why you don’t like it. You can’t appreciate baseball until you’re sitting in the stands, watching it in person. The music, the fans, the energy...the hotdogs.” He grins. “It’s what makes baseball so special.”

“I guess I’ll have to take your word for it.”

“Or you could come to a game with me,” he suggests.

“I think I’ll pass.” I try to sound completely uninterested, when in truth, the way he described it didn’t sound half bad.

You hate him. You hate him. You hate him.

He opens his mouth, clearly prepared to say something else, when the waitress appears, cutting him off.

We decide on ordering two different flavors of boneless wings and a pitcher of beer for the table. As weird as it feels being here with Harris, I can’t deny that it’s kind of exciting, too. I don’t know what it is about this man. As weird as it sounds, I’ve never disliked someone so much, yet liked them at the same time. He’s grown on me a little over the past few days and it’s as infuriating as it is confusing.

“So, do you come here often?” I ask, a lame attempt at making casual conversation.

“At least once every couple of weeks. This is one of my favorite spots. I like the laid-back atmosphere.”

“Yeah.” I shift in my seat, the booth creaking under the movement.

God, why am I suddenly so nervous? I wipe my sweaty palms on my jeans, trying to act as normal as possible. Not that I know what normal is around this guy.

Where the hell is the waitress with the beer?

As if my thoughts manifest themselves, the waitress appears, setting a pitcher of beer and two frosted mugs on the table in front of us.

Harris pours us each a glass before relaxing back in his seat, running a hand through his hair as he lifts the glass to his lips.

He looks so good that when I pick up my glass, I empty half the contents in one long drink, trying to cool the sudden heat that seems to be crawling up my neck.

Harris chuckles, his eyes going from me to my glass and then back to me.

“Thirsty?” he asks, trying to suppress a smile.

“Very.” I lift the glass to my lips and take another long drink.

“Are you one of those women that gets drunk off one beer?”

“Is that your way of asking me if I’m a cheap date, Mr. Avery?” I challenge, resting my glass on the table in front of me, the beer already warming me from the inside out.

“Are you?” He lifts a brow.

“Stick around and find out,” I tell him, finishing off my beer in one more long pull before quickly refilling it.

I may not be a huge drinker, but I can usually hold my liquor pretty well. I can count how many times I’ve been sick from drinking on one finger, because it’s only happened once. And that was nearly three years ago. The night I caught James making out with a woman that wasn’t me. Let’s just say tequila was my friend that night, or my enemy depending on how you look at it.

“Oh, I’m not going anywhere.” Harris pulls me from my thoughts before the memory gets a hold of me. He leans forward, placing his elbows on the table. “In fact, I feel a little wager coming on.” The way he’s looking at me causes me to shift in my seat again.

“If you’re going to bet me that you can drink me under the table, don’t waste your breath. I already know you’d win.” That and I have absolutely no desire to get drunk with Harris. A buzz to relieve some tension and nerves is fine. But drunk, hell no. I wish I could say it’s because I don’t trust him, but if I’m being honest, I think it’s me I don’t trust.

“Oh no, I’ve got something much more interesting in mind.” His smile turns wicked, causing a flurry of butterflies to erupt in my stomach.

Uh oh...





Chapter Six




Harris



––––––––

God this woman is beautiful. Her looks. Her laugh. Her sassy attitude. There isn’t a thing about her that I don’t like. I’m determined to win her over if it’s the last thing I do.

But I have yet to figure out why the hell I care so much. The effort I’ve put in with her far surpasses that of any other woman I’ve pursued before. Then again, I don’t normally have to pursue women as they tend to pursue me. Maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m so drawn to her because she’s the first person to ever flat out tell me no. Her disinterest only makes me more interested in her.

The chase. It’s thrilling and exhilarating and I’m loving every second of this back and forth dance we seem to be doing. I have no doubt that I will wear her down and tonight I will set my plan in motion.

We make small talk as we eat our wings. I’m pretty impressed that unlike most women I go to dinner with, she clears her plate unapologetically before she leans back in the booth, her hands resting on her slender stomach.

“So, how am I doing so far? I’m knocking this date out of the park, aren’t I?” I wait until the food has been cleared away and we’re halfway through our third pitcher of beer before asking.

“It’s not a date,” she reminds me.

“I hate to break it to you, but this most certainly is a date.”

“Nope. It isn’t.” She smiles, clearly feeling the effects of the beer.

“What do you have against dates?” I can’t help but ask, desperate to learn as much about Blue Daniels as I can.

“Not dates, more dating,” she clarifies.

“Okay, so what do you have against dating?”

“Too complicated. Too messy. You spend months or even years of your life compromising who you are for someone else, and for what? So they can betray you and hurt you every chance they get. No thank you.”

“Why do I get the feeling you’ve experienced this firsthand?”

“Because I have.” She shrugs. “I was engaged once upon a time.”

“What happened?”

“Long story short, I caught him cheating with a woman he worked with.”

“Damn, I’m sorry.” I refrain from telling her that any guy stupid enough to cheat on her never deserved her to begin with, but I doubt she wants to hear that from me.

“It’s been a long time and I learned a lot about myself. The main thing being that I like being single more than I like being in a relationship. Besides, love is just a chemical reaction in our brains. It’s not real.”

“Wait. Are you telling me you don’t think love is real?”

“Do you?”

“Yeah.”

She gives me a disbelieving look. “Have you ever been in love?”

“No.”

“Then how do you know it’s real?”

“I don’t know. I just do.”

“Have you ever even been in a serious relationship?”

“Define serious.” I chuckle at her put off expression.



“Have you ever dated someone exclusively?”

“Once or twice in high school.”

“High school?” She chokes on her beer.

“I guess I just haven’t found the right woman.”

“How is that possible when you’ve slept with half the city?”

“There you go, assuming things again.”

“So you’re saying that you haven’t slept your way through half of Boston.”

“I didn’t say that either.” We both crack a smile at my honesty.

Half of Boston might be a serious over exaggeration, but I’ve definitely been with my fair share of women over the years.

“You really are a whore. I bet you can’t go one month without sleeping with someone.”

“You wanna make a bet on that?”

“That’s the way you want to play this?” she challenges. “Because I promise you I’ll win.”

“Name your terms.”

“I bet that you can’t go one month without having sex. And that includes oral. If you actually pull it off and prove me wrong, I’ll never call you a whore again.”

“And what do you get if you win?”

“The satisfaction of knowing that I was right.”

“Fine, but I get to throw in a bet of my own.”

Her face goes stern and she narrows her pretty blue eyes at me.

“Whatever you’re thinking, the answer is no,” she tells me point blank.

“Now how can you shoot something down without first hearing the proposal?”

“I don’t need to hear the proposal when I know the person it’s coming from and what it probably entails.”

“Just hear me out, yeah?” I wait until she gives me a tentative nod before continuing. “You think love isn’t real. Well, I think you’re hiding behind the fear of being hurt again.”

“You’re wrong, but I’ll bite.” She leans back in her seat, lifting her beer to her lips as she watches me.

“You think I’m a womanizer player. I think you’re whole ‘don’t believe in love’ bit is bullshit. So, here’s our chance to prove each other wrong.”

“I’m listening.”

“I bet that in four weeks’ time I can make you fall in love with me.”

She stares at me for a long moment before a wide smile splits across her face and she bursts into a fit of laughter. Not sure that was the reaction I was going for, but at least she’s not running away.

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Glad I amuse you.”

“Even if I was looking for love, in what universe would you ever think I would actually fall for someone like you?”

“You don’t know me yet. But trust me, you will. And once you do, you’ll be as sure as I am that I’ll win.”

“You are so sure of yourself; I’m tempted to agree just to see the look on your face when you lose.”

“Don’t believe me? Call me on it and find out.”

“And when you don’t succeed.”

“Then I’ll never bother you again.” I grin, leaning forward. “But if I win, I get you.”

It seems to take her a moment to process what I’m saying, but once she does her eyes go wide.

“You want to have sex with me?” she hisses across the table.

“Don’t tell me you’ve never thought about it.” From how I’ve caught her staring at me on occasion I know that she’s at least considered the possibility.

“Never.” She draws back like I’ve truly insulted her.

“Liar.”

“I’m not lying. I know women not wanting to sleep with you is a new concept to you, but newsflash, I do not want to sleep with you.” She’d annunciated each word, making sure I heard her clearly.

“Scared you’ll like it too much?”

“You really are the most arrogant person I’ve ever met.” She shakes her head, going in for another drink of beer.

“Don’t mistake arrogance for my ability to read people. You want me, Blue Daniels. It’s just that simple.”

“Oh my god. Do you hear yourself?” She laughs, unable to hold a straight face any longer. “And even if I was willing to consider your bet, which I’m not, how do I know you won’t be screwing with me for a month to wear down my defenses and it’ll all turn out to be one big fat lie once you get in my pants?”

“Sounds like you already know I’ll win. Maybe someone isn’t so sure that love isn’t real after all.”

“I never said that.”

“If you’re so sure I have no way of winning then you have nothing to be afraid of.”

She thinks on this for a minute.

“You know what, fine. I’ll take your bet. And Harris.” She leans forward, “I hope you like the taste of defeat.”

“I like the taste of victory even more.”





Chapter Seven




Blue



––––––––

“You did what?” Hannah screams into the phone so loudly I have to pull the device away from my face out of fear of her damaging my ear drum.

“It was stupid. I was buzzed and I let the alcohol do the talking.” The only explanation for my complete and utter brain fart from last night.

It was too easy to say yes. The warmth of the beer running through my veins. The smooth-talking god sitting across from me. I was like putty in his hands. I never stood a chance. And what’s worse, I really enjoyed my time with him, as much as I hate to admit it.

But now, the little wager I made with Harris seems a lot less harmless in the light of day. I’ve already thought of a billion ways to get out of it. And while I know all I have to do is tell him no, for some reason the thought of doing that seems impossible.

Is it because deep down I really want him to prove me wrong?

“Holy shit. Holy shit,” Hannah repeats into the phone, clearly trying to process what I’ve told her.

“And after all that he didn’t make any moves on you?” she asks.

“Not one. We drank too much so we shared an Uber. My apartment was closer so the driver dropped me off first. And that was it.”

“Oh he’s good.”

“What do you mean he’s good?”

“He’s trying to show you he’s not the player you think he is. Making a move on a drunk girl doesn’t get him off on the right foot, does it?”

“I suppose not.”

“Exactly.”

“So what do I do? I can’t possibly go through with this. We work together.”

“Are you scared you might actually fall for the guy?”

“No,” I answer too quickly.

If she doesn’t buy my answer, she doesn’t comment on it.

“Look, it’s innocent, really. He can’t sleep with anyone for four weeks so you don’t have that to stress over. What’s the harm? He’ll probably flirt with you, maybe wine and dine you. I say go for it. Who knows, maybe it’ll turn out to be a good thing.”

“I seriously doubt that.”

“Well, you don’t really lose anything either way, right? He gets blue balls for a month and you get to spend that time making it even more difficult for him.”

“I never looked at it that way.” I giggle, thinking maybe I was approaching this all wrong.

“See, that’s why you have me. Because I’m a genius.” I can hear the smile in her voice.

“Now let’s not go too far,” I tease.

“Oh hush.” I hear her hand slide over the receiver and her muffled voice talking to someone in the background. “Hey, sorry. I gotta go. I promised Mom we’d hit that new brunch place across town, but they close at one so we have to head that way if we want any hopes of getting a table.”

“Okay, are you still good to take me to pick up my car in the morning?” Since Harris and I took an Uber home, we’d both left our cars in the office lot.

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll text you in the morning.”

“Thanks, Hannah! You two have fun. Tell your mom I said hello.”

“Will do. And you’ll call me with any updates.”

“I think I’m safe until Monday.”

“Talk later. Love you.”

“Love you, too.” When the call disconnects, I drop my cell onto my dresser and flop back on my bed, staring at the ceiling.

When I woke up this morning I had the worst pit in my stomach, thinking what did I do? But after talking to Hannah I feel mildly better about it. She’s right. What’s the harm in letting Harris try to win me over? It’s not like he’ll actually succeed...

Right?

I don’t have long to worry over it before my cell phone starts ringing, pulling me from my thoughts. Shooting up in bed, I scramble to my feet and snag the device off my dresser. I damn near fall over when I see Harris’ name flashing across the screen. We’d exchanged numbers last night before the Uber dropped me off.

I debate whether or not to answer it for so long that the call ends up going to voicemail. Unsure if I should call him back or not, I decide to head into the kitchen to make something to eat and mull it over. I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about all of this. I mean, I hate the guy...don’t I?

My apartment is small, and given that the bedroom is right off the kitchen/living room combo, it doesn’t take me long to reach my destination.

I moved in here after James and I split. I picked this place because of how close it is to my job, plus I love being in the city. I love the hustle and bustle of the people coming and going, along with all the things there are to do here. It’s not much but it’s nice and it’s easy to manage, which is a bonus for someone who has some serious clean freak tendencies. Sometimes I wish I had a bigger place but what do I need it for? It’s just me and it’s not like I have a ton of stuff. I’m a pretty minimalistic person.

I’ve just popped some frozen pancakes into the microwave when a hard knock sounds on my front door. Startled by the unexpected noise, I jump slightly.

Crossing to the front door, I stand up on tip toes to peer out of the peep hole. The first and only thing I see is a huge bouquet of flowers blocking my view of anything else. Sure they must have the wrong address; I open the door to inform them only to find out that they are, in fact, for me.

“Are you sure?” I ask the delivery guy for a second time as he shoves the bouquet into my arms.

“I’m sure. Have a good day.” He turns and heads back down the hallway without another word.

Closing the door, I make my way back into the kitchen, setting the flowers, a beautiful array of blues and reds, on the countertop before searching for a card. Plucking it out of the middle, I peel it open with shaky fingers.

Roses may be red,

but violets are not BLUE.

Something else surprising is,

I can’t stop thinking about you.

Am I winning yet?

Harris

I laugh. What the hell else am I supposed to do? He sent me flowers.

Wait, how did he know where I live? Yes, he knows the building because he was with me when the Uber dropped me off last night, but I never mentioned which apartment I live in. If I wasn’t so distracted trying to figure out why he sent me flowers, I might be more concerned.

If he thinks he can get me to fall in love with him by sending me something that will be dead in days, he really doesn’t have as much game as I thought.

Then again, the gesture is oddly sweet. And the card. I didn’t miss the way he intentionally used my name in his little attempt at a poem. And he wasn’t wrong, violets are actually purple, or well, violet.

But it’s the other words that have my mind wondering... I can’t stop thinking about you.

“Relax, Blue. It’s just a bet,” I reassure myself, grabbing my cell phone to snap a picture before quickly shooting it over to Hannah.

Me: He actually sent me flowers! Can you believe it?

After sending the message, I notice I have a new voicemail. Clicking on the icon, I press the phone to my ear, a full-blown shiver running through my body at the sound of Harris’ voice on the line.

“Hey Blue, it’s Harris.”

Has his voice always been this sexy?

Lord, what is wrong with me today?

“I wanted to see if you needed a ride to pick up your car. Also, two tickets to tonight’s Sox game just fell into my lap and after our conversation last night, I thought maybe you’d like to go with me? If nothing else for the hotdogs.” He chuckles and the sound is deep and rich. “Anyway, call me back when you get this. Game is at 7:10.” A pause, and then, “And please say yes,” he adds before the message ends.

What are the odds that the day after I told him I’d never been to a baseball game, two tickets would happen to fall into his lap for tonight’s game? That can’t be just a coincidence, can it?

I have to resist the urge to call him back. The fact that I actually want to is a little worrisome, but I chalk it up to pure animalistic attraction. The guy is gorgeous, after all. And I am a woman with a very healthy sexual appetite. What can I say? Maybe he’s getting to me a little. Not that I see myself falling for him, but I wouldn’t be completely against causing him to lose his bet.

And the wheels are turning again. Maybe that’s it. Maybe I need to sleep with the asshole and get it out of my system. He loses and I get, well, you know. Win, win. Right? But am I seriously considering sleeping with a man I couldn’t bear to look at without wanting to punch in the throat just days ago?

Funny how quickly someone’s perspective can change. Before, I never even considered the idea because, well, I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing he had gotten to me, like all the other women who had come before. Now, I don’t know. It might be fun to beat him at his own game. Besides, if I win he promised to never talk to me again. There’s a silver lining after all.

But if that’s how I truly feel then why does the thought of him never speaking to me again make me feel like my hypothetical dog just died?

“Get it together,” I scold myself. This is Harris Avery. Harris-freaking-Avery. The playboy of all playboys. I’d either have to be really desperate or really stupid to sleep with a man like him, and right now I don’t feel like I’m either.

Still, there is a game to be played. And I wouldn’t mind trying these hot dogs I’ve heard so much about. Before I have time to talk myself out of it, I pull up Harris’ number and shoot him a text.

Me: I’ve got my car covered. Quick question though...how did you know which apartment I live in?

Harris: You got the flowers?

Me: I did.

Harris: I may have had someone in HR pull your file.

Me: You didn’t?

Harris: All’s fair in love.

Me: Is there nothing you won’t do?

Harris: When it comes to you? Very little.

I don’t have time to respond before another message comes through.

Harris: So, tonight’s game?

My fingers hesitate over the screen for a long moment before finally typing out a response. I hit send before I can talk myself out of it.

Me: I’m in.

——-

When Harris pulls up outside of my apartment building I’m an absolute ball of nervous energy. Even if this is some stupid game we’re playing, it’s still nerve racking to be around Harris. He puts me on edge. I guess in a way he always has.

As I start to make my way toward the sleek, black sports car parked on the curb, Harris steps out and hits me with a smile that damn near knocks me on my ass.

He’s decked out in a Red Sox hat and shirt, and when he crosses around to the passenger side to open the door for me, I take a moment to check out how incredible his backside looks in his ‘fit just right’ jeans.

“Hey.” He smiles when I reach him.

“Hey.”

“Before you get in.” He stops me just shy of the open door and quickly leans inside, pulling out a bag. “I got this for you.” He holds it out to me.

I open the bag and pull out the contents, holding it up to get a better look.

“You got me a Red Sox shirt?” I bite my bottom lip in an effort to contain my smile.

“You can’t really go to a Red Sox game without one.”

“First flowers and now this. A girl could get used to this treatment. Here, hold this.” I hand him the empty bag and my purse before sliding my current top off. I have a tank on underneath, so I’m not worried about giving anyone a look at the goods. Taking the empty bag back, I drop my other shirt inside and hold my arms out to the side. “Well, how do I look?”

“A Sox shirt has never been sexier.” He gives my body one good, long sweep with his eyes.

“Is this how it’s going to be for an entire month?” I ask him, humor in my voice.

“What do you mean?”

“You. Acting like this.”

“What’s wrong with how I’m acting?”

“I don’t know. It’s just...weird.”

“Weird good or weird bad?”

“I’ll let you know once I figure it out.” I take my purse from his hand and climb into the car without another word.

“I’m really glad you decided to come with me tonight,” he says, his eyes on the road as he drives away from my apartment building.

“You talked the hot dogs up so much, how could I say no?”

“Just wait. You’re going to love this.” He smiles, ear to ear like an excited child on Christmas morning.

Who is this guy?

“And if I don’t?”

“Then I guess I’ll owe you one.”

“Yeah you will,” I tell him matter of fact, causing his laughter to filter through the car, followed by my own.

“I like you,” he says seemingly out of nowhere after a few moments of silence have stretched between us.

“You do, do you? Are you sure it’s me you like and not just the idea of winning a certain bet?”

“No, I mean it. I genuinely like you. You’re like a female version of me.”

“I’m not sure I would classify that as a compliment.”

“I would. It’s fucking refreshing. A girl who can hold her liquor, clear a plate of boneless wings, and still want dessert after. Not to mention, you call me on everything. You don’t let a single thing slide by. I like that about you. I like that you aren’t afraid of me.”

“Why would I be afraid of you?” I watch him while he watches the road.

“I’ve been told I’m intimidating.”

“You?” I gasp dramatically in shock, like it’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.

“Yeah. Yeah.” He chuckles. “I’m just saying, I’ve never met someone like you before.”

“And you never will again.” I wag my finger at him. “But alas, our time will be over in one month and we can go back to hating each other.”

“I never hated you.” He glances at me out of the corner of his eye.

“Then why did you basically avoid me like the plague until this past week?”

“Robert,” he says without explanation.

“What does Robert have to do with any of this?” I don’t try to hide my confusion.

“Robert told me to stay away from you.”

I’m shocked to learn this little bit of information.

“Why would he do that?”

“I guess he thought I was bad news.”

“Well, he wasn’t wrong there now, was he?” I laugh, even though I’m still trying to process what he’s just told me. “So you’ve been avoiding me for the last six months because a guy we work with told you to?”

“Pretty much. You know Robert. He’s super protective of you. I was new and wasn’t looking to ruffle any feathers.”

“Interesting. And here I thought I was the only woman in the office who wasn’t good enough to garner your attention.”

“Quite the opposite, actually. You were the only woman I wanted to give my attention to.” He reaches across the center console and takes my hand in his. My gut instinct is to pull away but for some reason I don’t.

“So if you stayed away from me because of Robert, why the sudden change of heart?” I’ve barely finished the question when the realization dawns. He sees me piece it together. “Because he’s leaving.”

“Ding. Ding.” He impersonates a bell.

“Hmmm.”

“Hmmm what?” His lips turn upward.

“Maybe you’re not as bad as I thought.”

“Does that mean you’re falling in love with me?” His face shifts into a full smile.

“Not even close,” I deadpan, knocking the wind out of his sails.

“Ouch. That’s harsh, Ms. Daniels.”

“Just being honest, Mr. Avery.”

“Well lucky for us both, I still have plenty of time.”

“Do you really believe you have a chance in hell of winning your bet? Mine, maybe. I think anyone can go four weeks. But yours? I don’t know, I think you might have bitten off more than you can chew.”

“Can’t you see, I’m already winning you over.”

“And how do you figure that?”

“Because you let me touch you and you didn’t even flinch.” He squeezes my hand. “A week ago you would have punched me before you’d let me hold your hand.”

“I might still punch you,” I warn playfully.

“You may not be willing to admit it yet, but you will. You just wait.”

“Oh, I’ll wait alright. I’ll wait until four weeks from now when you lose not one, but two bets. I wish I could tell you that I’ll be a good sport about it, but that’d be a lie. I’m going to gloat so hard you’ll have to change departments to escape all the gloating I’ll be doing. I might even have balloons that say LOSER delivered to your desk.”

“You have such little faith in me.”

“Or maybe I just have a lot of faith in myself.”

“Well, no matter the outcome one thing is for sure.”

“And what’s that?”

“These next four weeks are going to be fun.” He winks, his expression a mix between determination and amusement. It makes me wonder what else he has up his sleeve.

Not that I’m worried. I may be attracted to the guy but I’m at zero risk of falling in love.

Love is just a chemical reaction in the brain, I remind myself of the stupid scientific explanation of love I read on the internet one day.

Nope, there’s no way he’s going to win.

He can send me flowers, take me to baseball games, and buy me as many things as he wants, it won’t change my outlook on love.

You’re going down, Harris Avery. It’s time to put my game face on...





Chapter Eight




Blue



––––––––

“Why do you usually not go to the Friday night team builders?” I ask Harris before taking a big bite of my hot dog. Harris was right, these really are the best hot dogs I’ve ever had. So much so that I’m not ashamed to admit that this is my second one.

“I don’t know. I spend forty plus hours a week with these people, I don’t want to have to spend my Friday night with them, too.” He turns his attention from the game and meets my gaze.

“So you skip them because you want to?” I ask, shoving another bite of hot dog into my mouth.

“Pretty much.” He chuckles.

“You’re rotten.” I giggle.

“Rotten?” He quirks an eyebrow.

“Just something my mom always says.” I pop the remainder of the hot dog into my mouth and then wash it down with a long drink of beer.

We’re already in the seventh inning, and while I originally didn’t think I would enjoy myself, I’m not ashamed to admit when I’m wrong. I’m having a blast.

Harris was so right about this. The lights. The crowd. The energy. The hotdogs. It’s everything he described and so much more. I’m honestly kicking myself for not trying this out sooner. Then again, I wonder if I would be enjoying it as much as I currently am if it weren’t for the man sitting next to me. I know I’m supposed to hate him, but is it bad that I don’t really hate him anymore? I’m honestly not sure if I ever did or if hating him was just some kind of attempt at self-preservation.

“Tell me about your parents.” He angles toward me so that our knees touch. “Do they live close by?”

“Not anymore. They moved to Florida last year after my dad retired.”

“So, you grew up here?”

“About a half an hour outside of the city.”

“Any other family around?”

“Not really. A couple distant cousins that I’ve never been close to. My grandparents are gone and my mom’s sister lives in Texas. My dad was an only child. Our family is pretty small.”

“No siblings?”

“Only child.”

“So it’s just you?”

“It’s just me.” I nod. “I have friends from college I still talk to and of course, my friends at work. But as far as family goes, it’s just me.”

“Do you miss them being around? Your parents.”

“Every single day. But it also gives me an excuse to visit the sunshine state a few times a year and I don’t have to pay for a hotel, so there’s that.”

“I’d love to meet them one day.”

“My parents?” I look at him like he has five heads.

“Why not?” He chuckles at my reaction.

“I think you’re getting a little ahead of yourself. Or are you forgetting about our ticking clock?”

“The ticking clock only applies if I don’t succeed.”

“I think we both already know that you won’t.” I tap his nose with the tip of my finger playfully.

“I think maybe you’re underestimating me.”

“I think maybe you’re underestimating me. And besides, it’s not like we’re going to actually be a couple after this anyway. Love or no love, in four weeks this ends.”

“No, in four weeks I get you.” His eyes narrow. “I don’t think you entirely understood the bet.”

“What do you mean?”

“When I said if I win I get you, I didn’t mean only in my bed. I meant, I get you.”

I don’t try to hide the laughter that bubbles out of my chest. “Man, you’re really playing hard.”

“Why are you so sure I’m playing?” He cocks his head to the side.

“Because I know your type.”

“My type?”

“You’re a player. It’s cool. But don’t try to pretend you’re something you’re not.”

“How do you know what I am? You don’t even know me. I think you’re making unfair assumptions,” he challenges and if I’m not mistaken, I swear I see a little hurt in his eyes.

“You know what, you’re right. It’s unfair of me to judge what I don’t know.”

“Thank you.” His smile falls back into place.

“But you’re still not going to win,” I quickly tack on.

“Guess we shall see.”

“Guess we shall.” I nod in agreement, a long moment of silence stretching between us.

“So, do you have any siblings?” I ask, directing us back to our original conversation.

“I have a younger brother. Everett.”

“Younger as in?”

“Thirty-two.”

“So he’s the same age as me. And you’re how old?” I ask, realizing I don’t actually know.

“Thirty-five.”

“Old man. Where does Everett live? Is he local?”

“He’s in the military and is currently stationed in Hawaii.”

“Seriously? God, I wish someone would send me to Hawaii to live.”

“No joke.”

“Especially when we’re sitting under ten feet of snow this winter,” I add.

“I went down and spent a week this past spring. It’s incredible there. The bluest water, the brightest sun, the friendliest people.” He pauses, a small smile playing on his lips. “We should honeymoon there.”

I nearly choke on my drink of beer.

“First you want to meet my parents, now you’re planning where we’re going to have our honeymoon?”

“What?” He tries to play innocent. “I like to think about the future.”

“Maybe you should point your thoughts in another direction,” I tell him.

On one hand, it irritates me that he’s so sure he’ll win. On the other, I’m kind of hoping he does. Did I just think that? Maybe I should stop drinking...

“What about your parents?” I question, eager to get the conversation back on track.

“My dad died when I was ten and my mom passed a year ago in December.”

My chest instantly tightens.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”

“Of course you didn’t.” He gives me an easy smile, reaching over to rest his hand just above my knee. I try to ignore how that one touch radiates through my entire body.

“What happened? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“My dad was killed at work. A machine malfunction. Complete freak accident. My mom passed of Huntington’s Disease. She had been fighting the battle so long. As sad as it was to let her go, it was almost a relief at the same time. She struggled for years and it gave me comfort knowing she was finally at peace.”

“Did she live with you?”

“I lived with her through college and a couple years after, but then it got to the point where I couldn’t do it alone. With Everett gone, I had no choice but to put her in a long-term facility.”

“Was she somewhere here in Boston?”

“Maine.”

“Maine?”

“That’s where I’m from. I moved here after my mom passed.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“There’s a lot of things you don’t know about me.”

I’m starting to think maybe he’s right...

“So why Boston?”

“My dad brought me here one year. I couldn’t have been more than six or seven. He brought me to a Sox game.” His eyes sweep the field of players before coming back to me. “Among other things. I remember being so enamored by everything. When I decided it was time for a change, Boston was where I wanted to be.”

“I get that. If I were ever going to move I’d probably want to move somewhere that I had some kind of connection to.”

“Exactly. It felt like home the day I arrived.”

I let the silence drift between us as we both turn our attention back to the game, but a thought hits me and without really meaning to, I ask it.

“Huntington’s Disease, isn’t that hereditary?”

“It is.” He nods, his gaze coming back to me. “Don’t worry, I don’t have it. Neither does Everett. My mom had us both tested. I didn’t really want to know, but I guess it’s better now that I do.”

“Yeah, I don’t think I could live with the not knowing.”

“You already do.”

“What do you mean?”

“You don’t know what’s going to happen in the next week, or year. Hell, you don’t know what’s going to happen in the next five minutes. Life is all about not knowing what’s next.” He pauses, leaning in so close that our foreheads almost touch. “For example, I bet you had no idea that this was going to happen.” He runs his nose along mine. I breathe in deep, relishing his intoxicating scent as it dances around me, overwhelming my senses.

“Harris.” He shakes his head, his nose once again sliding against mine.

“I want to kiss you so badly that I can already taste you on my tongue.” His breath slides across my face and I swear every inch of my skin heats.

I close my eyes and let the feeling sink in, my earlier thoughts starting to creep back in.

This is a game. A game he’s playing very well. Perhaps it’s my turn to play back.

“Then do it,” I dare him, my eyes opening to lock with his surprised expression. He didn’t expect that. Put a check mark in my column.

There’s no way he’s winning his bet. But, if he plays his cards right, I might help him lose my bet.

The thought has my lower belly tightening as sweat forms at the nape of my neck.

He hesitates for only a moment before his lips softly brush against mine. My breath hitches and a nervous shiver runs through my body, but I don’t pull away. Instead, I angle my face to give him better access and he wastes no time taking complete advantage.

He kisses me harder, testing, tasting. It’s slow and sensual and honestly, makes me feel a way I shouldn’t feel in a stadium full of thousands of other people. My pulse quickens. My body aches. And every single thought I had about hating Harris Avery flies right out the window.

“Get a room.” The voice yelling at us from behind snaps me out of my fog and I quickly pull away, heat rushing to my cheeks.

“You’re a goner,” Harris tells me, reading my expression.

“Am I?” I quip, pulling my mask back into place, determined not to let him see just how much that kiss affected me. “Because from where I’m sitting, I think you’re the one in trouble.”

“I guess it’s all about perspective.” He grins the same boyish grin as before and my hard exterior melts a little at the sight.

God, I’m so back and forth with this man. I have spent a total of a few hours with him, and yet I’m already questioning everything I thought I knew. Maybe he isn’t such a bad guy after all.

Or maybe he’s baiting you because he’s trying to win a bet.

Yeah, that’s definitely not going to happen...





Chapter Nine




Blue



––––––––

“So, are you going to invite me up?” Harris glances at my apartment building as he pulls up to the curb and slides the car into park.

“You wish,” I mutter under my breath but loudly enough that he can hear.

“Actually, I do wish. But alas, even if you invited me up I’m afraid I’d have to decline.”

“Is that so?” Amusement dances through my words.

“Yep. Some girl I know bet me I couldn’t keep it in my pants for four weeks.” He shrugs.

“What an evil person.” I crinkle my nose.

“She’s the worst.” He smiles, leaning toward me.

“Oh no you don’t.” I hold my hand up, pressing my fingers to his lips to stop his pursuit. “If you plan on kissing me again, you’re going to have to earn it.”

He lays a soft kiss to the tip of each finger before pulling my hand away.

“You let me kiss you earlier,” he reminds me, not releasing my hand.

“A lapse in judgement. I blame the beer.”

“Bullshit.” He laughs. “But okay, I’ll play along.” He lifts my hand and kisses the back of it before letting go. “Thank you for an incredible evening, Blue.”

“I had a lot of fun. Thank you for taking me to my first baseball game.”

“It was my absolute pleasure.”

I hesitate, not sure what to do. On one hand, I’m trying really hard to play the same game he his. On the other, my resolve is starting to slip and I don’t want to put myself in a position to regret what happens between us.

It’s easy to throw caution to the wind and let my body lead the charge, but the repercussions of doing so will most definitely not be worth it. I have to work with this guy every single day. As much as I want to beat him at his own game, I’m not sure the risk outweighs the reward.

This is only a bet. A stupid little bet made between two co-workers after too much to drink. And as fun as yesterday and today have been, I need to remember that this is not real life. Harris is trying to win a bet, and so am I. It’s nothing more than that.

It can’t be.

“Well, I guess I’ll see you Monday,” I say, popping the handle before pushing the door open.

“Hey Blue.” Harris waits until I climb out of the car before speaking.

“Yeah?” I turn around and lean into the open doorway so I can see him.

“Try not to dream about me tonight,” he teases, the smile on his face hot enough to melt a polar ice cap.

“Why would I try not to dream about you when I’m at no risk of dreaming about you in the first place?” I shoot back, trying to knock some of the wind out of his sails.

By the look in his eyes I can tell that it has the opposite effect. If nothing else he looks even more determined.

“Keep telling yourself that.” He smirks.

“Goodnight Harris.” I straighten upright.

“Goodnight Blue.” He chuckles as I close the door.

——

“So wait, you went to a baseball game with him?” Hannah asks, not trying to mask her excitement.

We’re on our way to pick up my car and I’ve been trying to catch her up on everything that has happened since I spoke to her yesterday morning, but she keeps interrupting me before I can really get into it.

“Yes. He took me to a Red Sox game. He even bought a t-shirt for me to wear.”

“Shut up! Harris Avery, a closet sweetheart. Who knew?” She giggles.

“He actually is pretty sweet.” I can’t help but admit, even though it nearly kills me to do so.

“I told you there was more to him but you were never willing to listen.”

“Please. He’s exactly the person I’ve always thought he was. He’s only trying to win a bet.”

“Keep telling yourself that, B.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” I give her the side eye.

“Have you ever entertained the idea that maybe Harris actually likes you?”

“Yeah right.” I snort.

“I’m serious.” She swats at my arm. “Think about it. Why else would he be doing all this?”

“Because he can.”

“Yeah, but he can have pretty much any woman he wants. You’ve said so yourself. So why go through the trouble?”

“Maybe he’s bored. Maybe because I’m a challenge? Maybe because he likes to play games.”

“If you truly believed that, you wouldn’t have agreed.”

“That’s exactly why I agreed. What better way to stick it to someone you don’t like than to beat them at their own game?”

“You’re so blind sometimes. I swear I just want to slap you upside that pretty head of yours.” She shakes her head as she turns into the office lot. “He’s into you, Blue. He’s been into you for a while. Honestly I’m surprised it took him this long to make a move.”

“He is not into me,” I disagree, trying to fight the smile the thought brings to my lips.

“There.” She catches me out of the corner of her eye. “See! You do like him.”

“I don’t,” I argue, going with complete denial rather than admitting to myself that she might be right.

I can’t like Harris Avery. Can I?

“He kissed me,” I whisper as she pulls the car to a stop next to my small black Prius.

“What?” She nearly jumps right out of her seat. “Why didn’t you lead with that?”

“Because it wasn’t a big deal.”

“Shut up! Tell me everything!” She slides the car into park and gives me her full attention.

“It was at the game. I don’t even really remember how it happened. I had a handful of beers and was feeling really good. He said he wanted to kiss me and I told him to do it.” I smile sheepishly.

“And you’re sitting there trying to tell me you don’t like him. You’re so full of shit.” She laughs.

“It was a mistake. I got the idea in my head that it would be fun to beat him at his own game. It was stupid.”

“Wait, what do you mean beat him at his own game?”

“Nothing.” I shake my head.

“Oh no you don’t! Don’t you clam up on me now. Tell me what you mean.”

“It’s just...well, I had considered seducing him so that he would lose my bet. I figured if I won, he kind of would too, and we could call this thing off and move on with our lives.”

“That’s actually not a bad idea,” Hannah admits, her smile twisting the way it always does when she’s got her plotting hat on. “The prize for his bet was you, but if he’s already had you...”

“Exactly.” I nod.

“But what if you go through with it and he still wants to see his bet through?”

“Why would he?” I ask, leaving out the part of the bet he clarified last night.

I don’t just get you in my bed. I get you...

That one statement has swirled through my head on repeat since he said it. But then again, I’m not going to fall in love with him, so why does it matter?

“Because maybe he actually does really like you. Have you not been listening to a thing I’ve said?”

“Oh I’m listening. I just don’t agree.”

“So then do it. Sleep with him. Call him on his bluff. You get a night of great sex with a gorgeous man, he gets what he wants. Then you both can put this whole bet business behind you.”

“But we work together.”

“So?”

“So, don’t you think it will be weird afterward?” I ask, having never done anything remotely close to this with anyone I’ve worked with. I usually maintain a strict, no mixing work and personal rule, at least where men are concerned.

“No. I hooked up with Steve last year and there is zero weirdness at work.”

“I seem to remember a few weeks of weirdness following the event.”

“Fine. It was weird for a few days, but look at us.” She holds her arms out. “We got through it just fine.”

Am I really considering this?

“I don’t know, Hannah. I feel like I’m playing with fire here.”

“It’s about time,” she snips.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“I’m just saying, ever since James you’ve been a different person. This whole no love thing and only sleeping with a guy for a couple weeks before ending things. It’s not you.”

“But it is.”

“No, it’s a byproduct of having your heart broken. But people have their hearts broken every single day and guess what? They pick themselves back up and they try again.”

“The risk is greater than the reward. Love is...”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Love is just a chemical reaction in the brain.” She rolls her eyes. “No one actually believes that bullshit. Besides, what is life without a little risk? Boring and predictable. That’s what.”

“Are you trying to say I’m boring?”

“No, I’m saying your life is boring. Think about it. You do the same thing every day. You go to work, you go to the gym, you get takeout, and you go home alone. Every few months you’ll meet a guy, sleep with him a couple of times, and then you’re back to the same boring routine. Even the guys you pick are boring. There’s zero excitement in your life.”

“I like my life.”

“I think that’s the reason why you pretend to dislike Harris so much.” She keeps going like I didn’t even speak. “I don’t think it has anything to do with him and everything to do with you. He’s a wildcard—unpredictable—you never really know where you stand with him. So, what do you do? You make him public enemy number one and blame it on the fact that he gets a lot of attention from women. I mean, hello. Look at the guy. Of course he does. I’m not saying to marry him. I’m saying, let go of the control you cling so tightly to and see what happens. Who knows, maybe it’ll be the best thing that’s ever happened to you.”

“Not likely.”

“And that’s okay, too. But at least you’ll have some fun while it lasts. You say you’re at no risk of falling in love, well then what’s stopping you?”

“You’re a shit friend.” Humor laces my voice.

“Or I’m a really good one.” She winks, a bright smile pulling up her pretty face.

“Whatever, I’m getting out of the car now,” I say, pushing open the passenger side door.

“Just think about what I said,” she calls after me.

“Yeah, yeah.” I wave her off. “Thanks for the ride.”

“Anytime.”

“I’ll see you at the office tomorrow.”

“See you then.” She blows me a kiss as the door closes between us. And even though my first instinct is to flip her off, because now my head is spinning even worse than before, I blow one back before unlocking my car and climbing inside.





Chapter Ten




Harris



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“So I was thinking.” I prop my shoulder against the door frame of the break room where Blue has her back to me, making herself a cup of coffee.

The sound of my voice causes her to jump. She spins around, her hand pressed flatly against her chest.

“Shit, Harris. You scared the crap out of me.”

“Sorry.” I grin, crossing the room toward her. “As I was saying, I was thinking maybe we could hang out tonight.”

“Hang out.” She plays the words on her lips like she’s speaking a different language.

“Yeah you know, spend some time together, maybe grab a bite to eat. Hang out.”

“Tonight doesn’t work for me,” she says, tearing open a packet of sweetener before emptying the white powdery substance into her coffee.

“Got a hot date or something?” I tease.

“Well,” she starts and my expression immediately falls. “Oh my god, I’m just messing with you.” She shoves my shoulder. “No, I don’t have a hot date. Unless you count the treadmill at the gym. In which case, yes, I have a very hot and sweaty date.”

“You’re blowing me off to work out?” I give her a questioning look.

“I’m not blowing you off. I work out every day after work. Well, as much as I can. Sometimes I have to skip, but I don’t do that unless I hav