Once upon a time, I had everything: money, power, a multimillion-dollar company, a loving family. Well, at least I thought I had everything. Then my parents died, and I found out my whole life was based on a lie. That’s pretty much the moment when I went numb. Told the world to f*** off and went on a bender of epic proportion, just to see how far I could fall before I hit rock-bottom.
Now I’m back and all I want in this world is my morning—okay, afternoon—coffee. Then one of my employees has the nerve to call me out for cutting the line at the coffeehouse at the company I own. Sure, I’m a little scruffier than usual, but come on, bitching out the CEO? Not a smart career move. Just who does this smart-mouthed ball-buster think she is? And more important, what do I have to do to get her number?
Holland O’Dell may be uptight, but I wouldn’t mind taking her back to my place and ripping off that business-casual blouse/skirt combo and burying myself in her curves. She pushes my buttons, but at least I’m feeling something. And whatever it is, I won’t stop until I get more.
“Mr. Big is the kind of smart, sexy delight that every woman deserves to read! [Delancey] Stewart will make you believe in true love in this steamy, heart-wrenching tale.” ~ USA Today bestselling author Sierra Simone
“With a smart, feisty heroine and hot, tortured hero, Mr. Big has everything I look for in a contemporary romance. Witty, sexy, and full of heart!”~ Melanie Harlow, USA Today bestselling author
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I wandered into the coffeehouse at six the next day. I’d vowed not to go down there, but I was starving again and tired of the same four cubicle walls upstairs. I ordered my sandwich and my flat white, and then settled in to work at my usual table. I glanced around, expecting to find Hale brooding at a table near the back, but the place was empty of scruffy T-shirt-clad mystery men. I tried to push down a swirl of disappointment. It was for the best.
When the bell above the door chimed an hour later, I was too absorbed look up. But when the bench next to me depressed and the distinct scent of alcohol hit me, my eyes rose from my screen to find Hale sitting beside me.
“You’re working late again,” he said, his voice scraping something inside me that I wished wouldn’t respond to him at all.
“You smell like the inside of a distillery.” I dropped my eyes back to my screen, willing my heartbeat to slow down, my nerves to stop jumping around. I hated that I responded to him, when it was clear that was exactly what he was used to.
“Had to make a stop to visit a friend.”
“Is your friend named Jack Daniel’s?” Why was I encouraging this conversation?
He laughed, but there was no mirth in the sound. I scooted away from him, feigned extreme focus.
“I’ve been thinking more about your project, about StrokeStat,” he said. I couldn’t help the way my eyes jumped to his face, my interest undoubtedly clear. “I think you’re onto something.”
I blinked hard at him. I still hadn’t decided how to categorize him, or whether I could trust him. I was having trouble accepting that I was going to look for help from a guy who looked like he’d been finding most of his answers in a bottle, but I didn’t have a lot of options. “I already know that,” I told him, pulling my best bitchy tone from somewhere deep inside.
He smiled and for a second I caught a glimpse of pure handsome boyishness, but then the façade dropped back into place. Ambivalence, nonchalance, and arrogance beamed from the dark moody eyes.
I stared at my computer, focused all my energy on the screen before me. The screen where I was still stuck on one niggling aspect of my solution.
He leaned over, close enough that the whiskers of his too-long scruff tickled my cheek before I jumped away. He was peering at my screen, and for a split second, I let him before I slammed it shut. “Seriously?” I said.
“I think I know what you need,” he offered, a tone in his gravelly voice that made me think of things far removed from coffee and computers.
I stole a quick glance up. He’d sure as hell better be talking about my solution—shit, why did my blood rush at the thought he might be talking about something else? Traitorous body. His eyes danced when I met them, clear for a moment of the darkness they’d held the few times I’d looked into them. “What’s that?”
He shrugged and gave me a cocky half-smile. “You’re not a developer. You’re a statistician. You need to team up if you’re going to sell this, Holland.”
A shock of unbidden pleasure ran through me as he said my name. How did he know I was a statistician? I ran back through our conversations. Had I told him that? “Are we really having this conversation?” I asked, myself as much as him.
“I told you, I can help you.”
I closed the screen and sighed, turning to face him, finally giving him my full attention. “Okay, Hale. What’s your angle?” I’d purposely avoided teaming with anyone in development because most of those guys were linked directly to the guys in my department. I needed to find out if I could really trust this guy.
Hale dropped the cocky smile, and for a split second before he began speaking, he looked sad. “Honestly? I don’t know.”
“I can see why you don’t work in sales.” I wanted to turn back to my screen, keep beating my head against this problem until it was solved, but I couldn’t. I was held by the sadness on Hale’s face, as much as by the sheer magnetism radiating from his broad body as he sat just inches from me.
He chuckled, his eyes holding mine. “I guess I just don’t like to see people struggle.”
I put my elbows on the table in front of me and dropped my head into my hands. Showing this stranger the details of what I was working on could be risky. I still didn’t know exactly how he was connected to the company, but if he was a former developer, he probably could help. Lord knew I needed it. “Okay,” I whispered, the rational voice inside me screaming arguments at the exhausted part that thought maybe it’d be nice to let someone else in for a change.
“Holland,” he said, pulling my gaze back to his. His dark eyes shimmered beneath the lights of the coffeehouse, and I caught flecks of green and gold in the deep rich brown. They were eyes a girl could get lost in. I squeezed my own eyes shut. I didn’t have time to get lost. I just needed help. “Holland,” he said again, and I opened one eye. A smile—a genuine one—spread across the full lips, exposing straight white teeth. I noticed that the front right tooth was chipped in the corner, lending just the right amount of character to an otherwise perfect smile. “You can trust me.”
Under normal circumstances, having a stranger in a coffee shop—one who smelled like he’d touched his pulse points with whiskey—tell me I could trust him wouldn’t carry much weight with me. But I was tired, drained, and feeling a little weepy after Carl and Delia had highlighted how far I was from ever getting to plan item two or three. And part of me wanted to trust this man. It was the pain in his eyes that compelled me.
He smiled, that sadness gleaming in the dark eyes again. “Ask Sam.” He nodded toward the barista.
“Okay,” I said, scooting away and carrying my laptop to the counter where Sam was staring intently down at his phone. “Hey,” I whispered, nodding toward the far end of the counter where Hale wouldn’t be able to overhear us.
Sam smiled at me, a question in his eyes as he followed along, waiting for me to explain.
“That guy over there,” I started. “Clearly you know him.”
“Hale?” Sam nodded. “Yeah, I know him.” The words were clear enough. Why did I feel like there were other things he wasn’t saying?
I forged on. “And would you say he’s trustworthy?”
Sam actually laughed, exhaling a single noisy breath before nodding. “Yeah, I’d say so. You don’t need to worry about Hale. He’s definitely been through some shit lately, but he’s a good guy. Heart of gold type.” As he said this he nodded at me, as if I’d somehow understand what he was getting at, which I didn’t exactly, but I found myself nodding along.
There was something there Sam wasn’t telling me, but I was too tired to play detective. He sounded absolutely sure. And Sam had been here as long as I had. I trusted him. And if he trusted Hale? I guessed I did, too.
“Fine,” I said, sitting back down. I met Hale’s dark eyes. “You can help.”
He cocked his head to the side with a grin. “I would have expected something more like a thanks.”
“If this were a perfect world, you’d certainly get one,” I said, parroting his arrogant words from the first time we’d met.
A wry smile crossed his full lips.
“I’ll save the gratitude for afterward,” I added. I turned the screen to face us both and watched his eyes as he scanned the amateur schematic I’d been working on.
About Delancey Stewart
Delancey Stewart has lived on both coasts, in big cities and small towns. She's been a pharmaceutical rep, a personal trainer and a wine seller. Despite lots of other interests, she has always been a writer.
A military spouse and the mother of two small boys, her current job titles include pirate captain, monster hunter, Lego assembler, story reader, and tech writer. She tackles all these efforts from her current home outside Washington DC.