How He Really Feels
© 2013 Lisa Suzanne

Chapter 1

I knew sulking in the corner wasn’t going to solve my problems, but I couldn’t help it. Nicholas Matthews, in all his gorgeous glory, was dancing with someone else when he should have been dancing with me.

It was the office Christmas party, and McMillan Marketing of Tempe, Arizona, didn’t go cheap on any aspect of it. From party favors featuring our products of the year to bonus checks, an open bar, and Karaoke, my company knew how to throw an amazing party. I just wished I was there as Nick’s date rather than as Travis’s “date.”

I loved Travis Miller to death, but he was my best friend. I was safe in the knowledge that I wasn’t going to go home that night to a romantic rendezvous, but that Travis would drop me off at my apartment before heading home to his own. 

But I wanted a romantic rendezvous. 

With Nick. 

Since I had a designated driver, and since it was my Christmas party and I had already driven a drunk Travis home after his own office Christmas party, I decided that it wasn’t out of the question to get hammered that night, especially if I had to watch the guy I had been pining after for nearly a year dance with someone who wasn’t me.

As I sat sulking, my eyes followed Nick on the dance floor. He was definitely The One; he just didn’t know it yet. I thought so from the moment that I laid eyes on him, and I had been obsessing over him ever since. 

I was lucky enough to score a job just after graduation at the company that I interned for in college. I was an account consultant at a marketing agency, and I loved it. Nick was a marketing executive, and he joined the crew about three years after I had started there. He had started working for the company the day we had returned from our Christmas vacation, and I will never forget that day. 

I had come in hung over after a week of Christmas celebrations, and I was greeted with an email from my immediate boss, Josie, detailing a team meeting at 9:00 sharp. I glanced at the clock. “Shit,” I muttered when I saw that it was 9:01, so I grabbed my coffee and my iPad and ran to the conference room. 

When I entered the conference room, everyone on my team was already seated and they appeared to be waiting for me. Our team was tight-knit and small; there were six account consultants per team, and one marketing executive over us. “I’m so sorry,” I said, walking over to the only empty seat and setting down my stuff. My face flushed a deep red as I sat, and I kept my head down as I turned my iPad on and opened my Notes app, taking a quick sip of my coffee in the process. 

I felt like an even bigger loser when I remembered Josie’s warning to our team when I had first met her three years earlier: “If you’re going to show up late to a meeting, at least leave your Starbucks at your desk. It’s poor form to show up late when you had time to stop for coffee.”

“Now that we’re all here,” Josie said pointedly, my blush deepening, “I have several announcements to make.” I looked up toward her voice and was mesmerized by the man standing next to her. My mouth fell open as something deep down inside of me clenched just at the sight of him. He was gorgeous, maybe the most attractive man I had ever seen. Suddenly my hangover felt cured as my eyes feasted on the beauty of this man. I felt an awakening down low, and my body buzzed with energy.

He wore a sexy charcoal gray suit with a crisp white shirt and a black tie. From where I was sitting, I couldn’t make out the exact shade of his eyes. They looked somewhere between brown and green; maybe hazel. And I could see myself running my fingers through his sexy, messy black hair styled in the kind of way that made it look like he didn’t care when he probably really spent twenty minutes perfecting his look. His appeal was jarring. I automatically glanced down at his left hand and was pleased to find that his ring finger was devoid of any jewelry. And that’s also when I noticed how sexy his hands were, his long fingers punctuating his strong hands.

I wanted those hands on my body.

I realized that not only was I staring at this god, but I wasn’t paying attention to a word that Josie was saying, so I forced my eyes away from him, wondering who the hell he was and how the hell I was going to get him alone, because I was going to get him alone. I had to know what it would be like to kiss those full, sculpted lips. I wondered what muscles he had hidden underneath his serious business suit. I wondered what made him laugh, what kind of music he liked, which movies he preferred. And then I wondered if love at first sight was a real thing. A picture flashed through my mind of what his naked body might look like, and I realized that I was fantasizing about a man whose name I still didn’t know as I sat in a team meeting at work. 

I forced myself to focus on Josie, but he was still distracting me in my peripheral vision; I did everything I could to understand the words coming out of her mouth. 

“As you all know, McMillan evaluates the staff at each year end in order to maximize potential on every team. It’s a bittersweet day for me as I have loved working with each of you, but I have been promoted and I’ll be moving up a floor.”

I snapped out of it as I realized what she said. I was momentarily saddened to be losing my boss. I loved Josie; she was sharp, tolerant, and an all-around great boss. I knew I could go to her with my ideas, and she would help me tweak them and we would end up with an amazing product. But who knew what I would end up with now?

A round of congratulations was called out from various members of my team seated around the table. Josie smiled and then continued. “With that, I’d like to introduce you to your new boss. This is Nicholas Matthews, and he comes from one of our competitors. He’s highly recommended and he’s going to do a great job with our team. Nick, would you like to say a few words?” she prompted him.

He smiled, and I melted. Holy fuck, this gorgeous man was my new boss? How the hell was I ever going to be able to concentrate on work again? 

And, again, how the hell was I going to get him alone?

“Thanks for the great intro, Josie.” His voice was rich and deep and melodic and warm. I could get lost in that voice, listening to him talk forever. “Josie has told me so much about all of you. She has shown me what’s in the works, and I’m ready to help you all kick our team up to the next level. I’ll be working with each of you individually over the next several weeks both to get a good handle on your projects and just to get to know all of you.” My heart leapt at this announcement. One-on-one time with this guy? Yes, please! He glanced around the room, and his eyes settled on me. I felt a flutter deep in my belly. “My door is always open if you need anything.” I felt like he was talking directly to me. Oh, there was something I needed from this man for sure. But I got the feeling he was talking specifically about work.

Josie interjected, “Can each of you do a quick intro? Maybe just names and how long you’ve been here?” 

She looked at Greg to my left, and he spoke first. “Greg Foster. I’ve been here five years,” he said. 

Everyone looked at me next, and as I spoke, I realized my voice was shaky with nerves. “Julianne Becker. Three years.” Was it just my imagination? Or did Nick wink at me?

I barely listened to the rest of my team – Lucy and Holly, who were two of my best friends, Jake, and Malcolm – as they introduced themselves. 

“That’s it for today,” Josie said. “I’ll be moved up by the end of the day, so if any of you have free time, I’d love some help packing.”

We were dismissed, and I hugged Josie on my way out of the conference room. “Don’t forget to visit us little people,” I said, smiling. 

I returned to my desk feeling rejuvenated and excited about Nick. He was my new immediate boss, and he was the most gorgeous man I had ever seen. It was a great start to the New Year already, and I couldn’t wait to see what the rest of the year held in store for me.

He came by my cubicle about an hour after Josie’s meeting for a personal introduction. I was leafing through some paperwork, having just accomplished the enormous task of responding to emails after a week away from the office, when I felt an electric presence behind me. It was like I sensed him, and then I smelled him, this wonderful, masculine scent. He was wearing woodsy cologne that seriously did things to my libido. 

I pretended like I didn’t know he was there, and then after a moment, he treated me to his beautiful, deep voice.

“Julianne Becker,” he said, like he was reading a name off of a checklist.

I turned slowly. “Nicholas Matthews,” I responded, mirroring his tone. 

“Please, call me Nick,” he said, pulling up a chair to share my desk, which was basically a long counter that could fit four chairs across so I had design space. Nick looked good at my desk. 

“Okay, Nick. How’s your first day going?” I asked, flashing him a winning smile.

He smiled back, as if it was contagious. His teeth were damn perfect, straight and white, and I had the sudden naughty thought of his teeth grazing unseen parts of my body.

“So far, so good,” he said. “I have this feeling it’s about to get better, though.”

Was he flirting with me? On the first day? “Oh?” I asked. “Why’s that?”

He shrugged and then leaned back in his chair and crossed his leg at the knee of his other leg, and then he folded his arms behind his head. He looked so sexy that I wanted to crawl into his lap and kiss him. But I didn’t. We were in an office, after all.

“Josie tells me that you are number one on this team. Is that true?”

Modesty suddenly overtook me. “That’s very kind,” I said. “I don’t know if it’s true. Why don’t you take a look at my portfolio and tell me what you think?”

“I’ve seen some of your work already. Josie showed me the entire team’s most recently completed projects, and I have to say, I was quite impressed with your creative vision.”

“Thank you, Nick. Josie is a great boss who inspires us to work hard. I expect that you’ll do the same?”

“That’s my goal. I hope to be someone you feel comfortable bringing ideas to. You mostly focus on print and social media, right?”

He had done his homework. “Yes. Traditionally we all share responsibilities for branding, graphic design, and PR depending on who is assigned what, but Greg, Lucy, and Holly specialize in digital media, Jake and Malcolm team up on radio, television, and cold-calls, and I am the print and social media expert.”

“Sounds like a well-oiled machine.”

“It is. We each have our own projects, but we truly work as a team. Josie runs team meetings twice a week where we all share our current projects and throw out ideas for tweaks and improvements. I love those meetings because it’s just a mass of creative minds, and I always leave them inspired with innovative ideas.”

“She told me about those, and I think it’s a great idea. I’m considering expanding to more than twice a week, especially since you’re telling me that your teamwork is so vital.”

His eyes focused on mine when he spoke, and it was unnerving. It felt like he was looking into my heart, and if he could see what was written there, I wasn’t sure where this would go. I was developing a serious crush on my boss after knowing him for a little over an hour.

“So tell me about yourself,” Nick said. 

“Well, as you know, I’ve been here at McMillan for three years. I interned here before I was hired on full time, and I love it.”

“It’s not a job interview, Julianne. Tell me about you.”

Shit. I didn’t know where to start. Would it be inappropriate to start by telling him that I thought he was the sexiest man I’d ever laid eyes on?

“Okay. I live by myself in an apartment and I want a dog, but I’m not home enough to care for one. I love to shop, especially for handbags and shoes, and I like to read and see movies and travel. My best friends are Lucy and Holly and a guy named Travis who doesn’t work here, and I’m close to my parents. I have one older sister, Jamie, and she’s married and has a baby boy. They have a dog who I’ve sort of adopted as my own.”

He smiled at that. “I love dogs, too. What does Jamie have?”

“A Golden Retriever named Charlie.”

“I had a Golden growing up.”

“He’s a great dog.”

There was a short, awkward pause. His eyes met mine and I was momentarily polarized. Damn, but those eyes. They were a bright hazel shade, brownish-greenish and clear and gorgeous.

“Tell me more about you,” I said.

“Well, I work hard, but I play hard, too. I love adventure, and I love the outdoors.” When he said this, for some reason, an image of him wearing just running shorts popped into my head, with no shirt; I imagined a hard body underneath that suit, with cut, toned muscles, and not an ounce of fat anywhere. It was a beautiful sight in my mind, and it was the second time that I had pictured him in various stages of undress since I had met him. 

“What sorts of adventures do you like?”

“Pretty much anything outside, but I regularly mountain climb, hike, ski, boat.”

“Have you been skydiving?”

He nodded. “Twice.”

My jaw dropped. “And?”

“Fuc… Um, freaking unbelievable. I’d love to go again.” 

Did he just censor himself with me? I supposed he was my boss, and it was just his first day. He had to be the professional for now, and I was sure he would loosen up the more we got to know each other.

After Nick’s first day, I started a new daily routine. Every morning, I pulled into the parking lot at work, and the first thing I did was look for his car. When I saw his sexy silver BMW, I felt my heart race just knowing that he was inside the building. Then I would double check my make-up (which I had started wearing a bit more of, and taken more care with my clothes, too, since Nick had started at McMillan) and head to the elevator. 

Our work day started at 9:00, and I was used to pulling into the parking lot at about 8:58; but since Nick had started working there, I tried to arrive before 8:45. Nick was extremely punctual, early most days, and on an average day, he arrived before 8:30. But there were those few lucky days when he got to work a little later than usual, and this presented the rare opportunity for me to ride the elevator up to the seventeenth floor of our office building with him. I knew it was going to be a good day when it started with just Nick and me on the elevator together. And these elevator rides were never awkward; in fact, Nick usually filled the silence by asking me about my current projects or about what I did the night before. I loved these quiet moments with him, and suddenly I loved the incredibly slow elevator that I used to curse when it made me late for work.  

The next part of my daily routine was walking past his office to get my coffee from the office kitchen. In the past, I would just stop at Starbucks every morning, but since I had to pass his office on my way to the kitchen (but not on the way to my cubicle), I decided it was smart to start saving my money and drinking the coffee provided to us free of charge. On a typical morning, I peeked my head into his office and wished him a good morning, especially if I didn’t get my elevator ride with him, but on my really lucky days, he would meet me in the kitchen and we would fill up our mugs together. I would go on with my day until I drank all of my coffee and needed more, usually around 10:30. My caffeine intake had doubled since Nick had started working at McMillan, but he didn’t need to know that. He was usually busy with a client or in a meeting, but on the days he was free, I would pop my head into his office and see how things were going, or I would invent some work question to ask him. I really just wanted to look at him again. I needed my daily fix of Nick, and seeing him sitting behind his desk, all authoritative and professional, turned me on every single day.

Some days, we went to lunch together, usually with other people from my team, but I didn’t care as long as he was there. And then I wrapped up my Nick routine on my way out at 5:00. I always stopped by his office and told him to have a great day, and every day, he said the same thing: “You have a great day, too, Julianne.” And then he smiled his heart-stopping smile at me and I went on home to pine away for what wasn’t mine, trying to come up with some way to overcome the barrier of friendship we were forming so that there could be so much more between us.

Time moved on, but my attraction to him didn’t. My attraction seemed to grow stronger by the day. The more I got to know him, the more I liked him, and the more I could see us together. He always wore these sexy suits and ties, pressed neatly and crisply, and on casual Fridays he occasionally opted for khaki pants and a polo shirt, either a green one that set off his eyes and just made my palms sweat, or a blue one that stretched across his chest, or a black one that made his eyes absolutely light up, or any other color of the rainbow that looked perfect on him.

Every woman that saw him was practically falling over herself to find any reason talk to him, and whenever I had to work with him, my hands shook involuntarily and I got all nervous inside. He was simply gorgeous, and I wanted him in the most carnal way. The more we worked together, the more my feelings for him intensified. I wanted him, but I didn’t know how to get him. I found out that he didn’t have a girlfriend, but I didn’t know if he wanted one. Or if he had any interest at all in me. 

As time went on, Nick and I were assigned to collaborate on different projects. He was my boss, but even so, our relationship slowly morphed into one of those coworker-friend relationships where we would more than occasionally have lunch together and hit up happy hour after our long workdays. And slowly, as I got to know him, I was able to calm down around him, enough even that my hands stopped shaking every time I was showing him a piece of paper or a project at work. We engaged in fun, flirty banter, and I lived for the times when he would flirtatiously tease me and I would do the same back to him. And he even stopped censoring his language in front of me after awhile.

We went out to lunch together quite a bit, but we had never seen each other outside of the work environment with the exception of happy hour, which was always with other work people. As time wore on, I felt our connection growing stronger; he became a close work friend, but the friend factor did not change my lust for him, instead only intensifying it. We talked a lot, never about our love lives, but a lot of our personal lives. I knew a lot about his brother, Josh, and he knew everything about my family. I wished that I could be his girlfriend, that we could move beyond our budding friendship, but at the pace we were moving, I was certain that it would never happen. I realized that I had made a mistake by being his friend. I feared that he would only ever see me as a friend. I was officially stuck in the friend-zone, and I didn’t know how to get out of it. Especially with the man who was my boss.

I still had the hope in my heart that someday our flirty banter would cross the professional line. I couldn’t help but picture him in my bed next to me, over me, under me. Naked. Panting. Wanting.

But I digress. 

There were two major highlights of our flirty banter, which, given that we had known each other for almost a year, were pretty minimal, but they gave me hope.

The first happened at a Friday happy hour. Our entire team went out for drinks after work, and we were having a great time drinking beer and sharing appetizers the Friday before Thanksgiving. I was two drinks into my evening with plans to hang out with Travis and some of his friends later that night, thinking, as always, that if Nick wanted to stay at happy hour longer, I could cancel with Travis. He would understand; he knew how obsessed I was with Nick. 

Holly was seeing a new guy, so she left first to go home to get ready for a date. Greg and Malcolm were both married with kids, so they both went home to their wives. So that left Jake and Lucy, Nick and me, and it was sort of like that. Jake and Lucy had been flirting a lot recently, and they separated themselves from Nick and me, their heads close together in quiet conversation. I wondered at the time if she and Jake had virtually ignored Nick and me in part because Lucy was well aware of my enormous crush on Nick. She was just the kind of girl who would quietly nudge us together without either of us knowing. 

I remember like it was yesterday, even though it had happened a month before the Christmas party. Jake grabbed Lucy’s hand and pulled it to his lips, and she stared up at him, a combination of lust and adoration shining in her eyes. Nick looked at me, eyebrows raised, knowing full well that Lucy was one of my best friends, correctly assuming that I would be in the know regarding their flirtation. I grinned at him, and he glanced over at the two of them and smiled at me. I was in heaven, having a private moment with Nick despite the crowd at the bar and the two people remaining at our table.

He pulled out his phone and texted me: Are they together?

I texted back: Getting there. They are very much in “like.”

He laughed aloud and texted me again: Good for them. What about you?

I glanced up at him. “What about me?” I asked aloud. Jake and Lucy were clearly too enthralled with each other to be aware that we were having a conversation literally right next to them.

“Are you seeing anyone?” he asked. It was the first time he had asked me anything about my love life, and my heart raced as those eyes pinned me to my chair. His hair was perfectly mussed in all sorts of crazy directions, and I wanted to run my fingers through it for about the millionth time since I had first met him.

I shook my head, and he smiled. “Good,” he said simply. He reached for my hand and squeezed it. 

What did that mean? Was I reading into it? Or did he want me the same way I wanted him?

I never did figure it out, but I saved every text conversation we had, and I often looked back at that one in wonder. But how did I make a move?

The second “big event,” as I liked to call it, happened about two weeks before the Christmas party. 

Nick invited me to lunch, which wasn’t necessarily a rare event or out of the ordinary. It was just the two of us, and we walked down to a local deli and ordered sandwiches. Nick treated, which was a little more unusual, and he picked out a quiet table in the corner for us to talk. It was almost romantic as the lunch crowd rushed by us, and we were lost in our own little world for two. Our lunch conversation mostly consisted of work talk, but then Nick brought up the Christmas party.

“So, do you have a date?” he asked, and my heart leapt as I thought that this was it! He was going to ask me out, finally, and it was to the office Christmas party!

“Not yet,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant even though inside I was quaking with excitement.

“Are you planning to go?”

I nodded.

“I heard the deejay is epic.”

“He is. The parties are always a blast.”

He gazed into my eyes, looking like he was wrestling with a thought, and then he said softly, “Save me a dance.”

I gazed back, and it was suddenly like we were the only two people on earth. The sounds of the deli faded into the background as I was lost in his eyes, and I had the distinct inclination that he was about to lean forward and kiss me. 

And then, suddenly, he broke his gaze from me as he looked at someone who had just entered the deli, and the moment was gone. I turned to see his boss, Tom Davidson, Tom’s secretary, Josie, and a few other people. He brought the conversation back to work, but my mind was still lost in the conversation we had just been having with our eyes, and I wished that Davidson hadn’t walked in so that I could see where Nick had planned on going with that.

And that was it. Those were the two biggest events in our non-romantic history that led me to believe that someday something could happen. Ever the eternal optimist, I felt certain that someday we would be together. 

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