BUY LINK: mybook.to/Later
‘LATER’ is now available on Amazon Kindle for 99p / 99c, or free on Kindle Unlimited. It is also available in print.
Claudia Martins and her boss, Elliot Shepherd have worked together for five years, and have become close friends. After her boyfriend cheats on her, Claudia turns to Elliot for support. But, she’s been offered a job with a rival company – one that comes with the opportunity to climb the corporate ladder and make something of herself, and one that means leaving Elliot behind.
Would you pick a man over your dream job?
Claudia sipped at her water and stared at the man sat opposite her. Damien Crowley, CEO of Crowley’s International, stared back with intense brown eyes. He was in his late fifties, and although he was old enough to be her father, she thought he was still a handsome man. But, it wasn’t his looks that stopped her from speaking.
She glanced down at the contract he’d slid across the table. It was everything she could ever have dreamed; personal assistant to Mr. Crowley meant travelling the world, a pay-rise, a company car, a wardrobe allowance, and more importantly, it meant that at twenty-five years old, she finally had the chance of being someone. Yet, her conscience tugged at her heart. Working for Crowley’s also meant leaving Aries Limited, and leaving Elliot Shepherd.
Her employment at Aries Limited had started off as a temporary position, covering for a receptionist while she finished her degree, but Elliot had taken her under his wing. He’d mentored her, and eventually, she had been made his PA. But, she also knew that it was the highest rung on the corporate ladder as far as his company was concerned, and the bonuses were limited.
“I would say take all the time you need, Miss Martins, but I need an answer by Friday.” Mr. Crowley checked his watch, the sunlight that streamed through the restaurant windows caught the diamonds and shattered into a rainbow across the cream linen. “If you would like to take some legal advice, I can recommend a lawyer.”
“I doubt I could afford them,” Claudia said, trying to smile and find some humour in the situation. She’d always relied on comedy to mask her nerves, something that Elliot understood, smirking at her little self-deprecating jokes. Mr. Crowley, however, frowned. Claudia cleared her throat. “Thank you,” she said. “I appreciate the offer, and I will certainly give it my full attention.”
“Good.” He clicked his fingers, beckoning a waiter over, and handed him a few notes to pay for the light lunch they’d eaten – a light lunch that had cost more than Claudia spent on a whole week’s worth of groceries. Mr. Crowley stood up and straightened his suit jacket. “Please understand Miss Martins, you were head-hunted for a good reason. If there is anything…” He tapped a long finger on the contract. “That you don’t understand, or you want changing, you only need to call me.” He pulled a business card from an inside pocket and placed it on top of the papers. “The ball is in your court.” He winked, and one corner of his lips curved into a smile.
She looked over her shoulder and watched him leave the restaurant, waiting until he was sat in the back seat of his Jaguar, and exhaled a thick breath. She was grateful when her phone trilled, breaking the tension that had settled in her shoulders and reminding her that she had to go and pick up the tickets to Charlie’s gig before heading back to the office. Standing up, she hooked her handbag over her shoulder and clutched the contract to her chest as though it were worth its weight in gold – to her, it was. She wondered what she was going to do with it; it was too big to hide in her bag, and she still had to work four more hours until she could go home.
Her stomach churned. Claudia walked down the busy streets of London, the smell of a dying autumn mixed with the steady heat and fumes being spat out by the stand-still traffic. She went to the bar first. Posters had been slapped across the outside walls and windows, advertising her boyfriend’s band, due to play live that Friday night. She’d never been to one of his gigs, and he’d been raving all month about how they were about to hit the big time, so to surprise him had bought an Access All Areas pass. She tucked it inside her wallet and made her way back to the tall, looming offices of Aries Limited.
It was almost two o’clock before she was back behind her desk. Her makeup had begun to melt, and her hair had started to come loose from its top knot, with sticky curls clinging to her neck and forehead. She hid the contract in the bottom drawer of her desk, and retrieved her emergency makeup clutch from her handbag, then went over to the door that connected her office to Elliot’s. With any luck, he’d be stuck in another board meeting and she’d be able to use his private bathroom to freshen up before he realised that she was running late.
Claudia pressed her ear against the wood and listened carefully. There was no shouting, no swearing, and no exhausted sighing coming from the other side, which meant that she was in with a good chance of it being empty. She wrapped her hand around the brass knob and twisted slowly, peering around the door. She jogged across the office floor towards his bathroom.
Slipping out of her high-heeled court shoes, she peeled off the tan-coloured tights, swearing when her nail went straight through the nylon fabric. She pulled the bobble from her hair and stripped out of the white blouse, draping it over the closed toilet. Running the taps, she filled the sink with cool water, and splashed it around her neck, under her arms, and over her face, rinsing away the residue of smog and sweat that clung to her like a second skin. There was a white towel hanging on the rail by the door – she was careful to pat herself dry and hang it back as it was.
Chewing on her bottom lip, she opened the mirrored door of the medicine cabinet and borrowed the spray deodorant that she knew Elliot kept in there. It wasn’t unusual for him to work all night, so he’d asked her to stock his office and bathroom like it was a mini apartment. The powdery scent floated around her, and she inhaled the pure masculinity of it. She was reapplying her mascara when he opened the door.
“Shit!” She jumped, stabbing herself in the eye with the wand. Tears streamed down her cheeks, leaving inky stains.
“Crap, Claudia, I’m sorry…” Elliot grabbed a cotton face cloth and soaked it in the sink before pressing it to her face. “I didn’t…” He stopped. “Why are you in here?”
Claudia looked up at him with one eye as she wiped away the remnants of her smudged and smeared makeup. He glanced over her. “And why are you half naked?”
“Sorry,” she mumbled, crossing an arm over her chest to cover what was left of her dignity.
Elliot shook his head and left her to it. Quickly, Claudia washed her face and re-dressed, tossing the torn tights into a small metal bin by the sink. She rinsed the face cloth, wringing it out and folding it back into a square.
“Sorry,” she said again, stepping back into the office. She raked her fingers through her curly brown hair, pulling it into a high bun. “I was running late from lunch, and got all hot and sweaty…”
Elliot chuckled. “It’s fine.” He sat behind his desk, his eyes fixed on his screen. “Next time I want to use my bathroom, I’ll knock to make sure there aren’t any stalkers hiding in there.”
Claudia rolled her eyes and sat in the chair opposite him. She took him in. He was dressed in a navy suit, with a crisp white shirt, and had an expensive watch fastened around his wrist. His blue-grey eyes were hidden by the thin-rimmed glasses he wore, and his dark brown hair had recently been trimmed, “How was the meeting?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Same shit, different day. More red tape and bureaucratic bullshit. How was lunch?”
She bit her lips together and ignored the heat rising in her cheeks. “Good. Thanks.”
“And, you managed to get those tickets?”
She nodded. “Yes. Thank you. Charlie will be thrilled.”
He looked up. “You don’t sound so sure.”
“It’s been tough, you know… Since he…” She trailed off and looked around the room, resting her sights on the Yucca plant in the back corner – anywhere but on Elliot.
“Since he cheated on you, broke your heart, and destroyed any trust you had left,” he said for her.
She shot a look at him. “Yes, since that.”
“You know I’m here for you.” His tone was subtle, gentle, and he looked at her with a soft gaze. Elliot sighed and removed his glasses to pinch at the bridge of his nose.
“You look tired,” she said.
“I am. It’s been a long week.”
“It’s only Tuesday,” Claudia pointed out.
Elliot shook his head, waking himself up. “There are more meetings lined up for next week. I’ll email them over, so you can add them to the diary. Dad might be joining us at some point. I need to set up a meeting with Yvette and Marcel as well,” he said, referring to the two lawyers he preferred to use. “Nothing to worry about, just—”
“Red tape and bureaucratic bullshit,” she said with a nod.
Elliot snorted a laugh. “Yes. That.”
“Okay.” Claudia stood up and brushed her hands down her skirt. “Thank you for…” She pointed at the bathroom.
“Any time.” He gave a dismissive wave, and she took the cue to leave.
Sinking back into her own chair, she pulled the contract that Mr. Crowley had given her and started to flick through it, scanning over each page. She wondered if Marcel would be willing to look over it for her, or whether that would be bad business. Her phone trilled out, and she swiped at the screen to see a text from Charlie announcing that he would be late home that evening due to another band practice. She fired one back saying she was working late too. At least a couple of extra hours alone would give her time to consider all of her options.
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