My Not So Wicked Boss (My Not So Wicked Series Book 3), page 1
My Not So Wicked Boss
My Not So Wicked Series
Copyright © 2019 by Jennifer Peel
All rights reserved.
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To Lisa Jo, the newest love in my life. Thank you for making me a grandma.
About the Author
Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. It wasn’t the end of the world. I stared at the email from the vice president of the bank, who didn’t have the decency to tell me in person that he wasn’t going to promote me to the position of client services manager. Even though I’d jumped through all the hoops and had been an employee longer than Stephen. Stephen, who I trained to be a personal banker like myself. Stephen, who barely knew the difference between a credit card and a debit card. Stephen, who was walking toward my desk in his new suit wearing a gloating smile and a ridiculous comb-over to hide his bald spot. Stephen, who had a huge piece of spinach wedged between his two front teeth.
“Aspen, I just wanted to say that going against you was stiff competition, so this win means even more to me.”
Wow. For that, I wasn’t going to mention the spinach. Or the coffee dribbled on his white shirt.
“In the end, the best man won. I hope there will be no hard feelings. Especially since I’m your new boss.” He guffawed to himself.
I pressed my lips together, not knowing what to say. He wasn’t the best man for the job. All he had was a degree from a highly touted university and a mother who was on the bank’s board of directors.
He waited for my reply, but I had nothing. All I could think of was my daughter, Chloe. I wanted to be able to finally move us out of our tiny apartment and say yes to more of the things she wanted, even needed, like braces. I almost had to take a loan out just to pay for her junior high school fees.
When I said nothing, he blankly stared at me for a moment longer. “Well,” he clapped his small, oddly shiny hands together, “now that we’ve cleared all that up and moved on, I need you to help out today in private banking.” He smirked. “Now.”
I wasn’t surprised by his behavior. I knew he would be the worst sort of boss—authoritative without any skills. He would make himself look good on the backs of others. My back. I stood without a word, only taking the time to log out of my computer and grab my satchel before I marched across the marble floor to take the elevator to the second floor. It was rubbing salt in my wounds to have to help the wealthier part of our customer base today. At least the solo ride on the elevator gave me time to compose myself. Tears pricked my eyes, but I stifled them with shallow breaths.
Evelyn, the sweet receptionist—who was old enough to be my grandmother and planned to work at the bank until her dying day—greeted me with a smile on her cute, chubby, aged face as soon as I stepped off the elevator. “I was hoping they would send you up here today when Valerie called in sick.”
“Thanks, Evelyn. Should I take the floater’s office?”
“I have it ready for you.”
When I walked past her desk, she stood and took ahold of me. “I heard the news,” she whispered in my ear. “I can’t believe they promoted that little brownnoser over you.”
“Me either.” I had to stave off the tears again. I was afraid I was never going to catch a break.
She tipped my chin with her crinkled finger. “You keep your chin up. Better doors for you are waiting to open. I just know it.”
I sighed, not sure. I was told if I finished my degree that the job would be mine. Now all I had to show for my degree was student loan debt and the long hours I spent late into the night doing homework and taking online classes so that I didn’t take even more time away from my baby.
I settled into the desk chair, at least thankful I had an office today. Downstairs, we were in cubicles. Apparently, if you didn’t make a lot of money it was okay if you discussed your financial needs and private information for the world to hear. I reached into the desk drawer, grabbed my extra nameplate, set it on the mahogany desk, and logged in to the computer. While the computer started up, I stared at the framed picture on the wall in front of me of a beautiful mountain scene with our bank logo and slogan obscuring it, “A Better Bank for a Better Life.” Lie, was all I could think.
I didn’t have time to wallow. Before I knew it, Evelyn was bringing back my first customer of the day. I sat up tall and plastered on a fake smile when I saw her coming. Evelyn was fanning herself as she walked toward me with a Cheshire grin. I wondered why until I saw a man trailing behind her. Not only a man, but the man. At least, I thought it was him. If not, I was going to start believing in doppelgangers.
I stood and, for the first time in forever, my heart raced, and not because I opened the electric bill. This was a different kind of pulse; one I had forgotten existed. I didn’t like men as a general rule, unless I was related to them or I had been friends with them circa high school. I made a few exceptions if my friends happened to be married to them and were bearing their children, which was happening more and more lately. Beyond that, I didn’t have much use for men.
But this man I had kept by my bedside for over a year now.
Evelyn made it in before him. The man in question happened to have a little someone with him. That little someone was giving him fits, as little people often do. But what a cutie the whining boy was. He had dark, curly hair like the man who was now kneeling in front of him. Did he have a son? For all my admiring of his picture and reading the books he wrote more times than I was willing to admit, I had forced myself not to learn more about him, except that he was single and loved to play polo. I only knew those tidbits because of my friends.
“Listen, mate, if you’re good here, I promise we will go get ice cream afterwards. Does that sound good? Can you do that?” The man in question’s sexy British accent wafted my way, making my pulse tick up even more.
The handsome boy, dressed like a tiny royal in shorts, a sweater with a collared shirt underneath, and dress socks up t
Eyes I’d stared into too many times.
Never did I think I would get the opportunity in real life. Not that I wanted it. Okay, maybe I thought of having dinner with him a time or two, but it was only to discuss how brilliant his latest book was. That wasn’t exactly true either, but now was not a time to fall into one of my daydreams about him. Honestly, though, I would have loved to ask him how he dreamt up the complex character of Isabella Jones. I felt connected to her, almost as if I knew her in real life. We shared similar backstories—both middle children, once upon a time uninhibited, but life had gotten to us, making us reserved in nature and a tad snarky. I also wanted to know when the sequel to Silent Stones was coming out. It had been two years. How long could it take to write a book?
Evelyn, still fanning herself and red like she was having a hot flash, cleared her throat. “Aspen, this is Miles Wickham—”
Miles Wickham? I expected her to say Taron Taylor. I guess I was wrong. He wasn’t the man on the cover of the book that held a place of honor on my nightstand. I told my heart it could stop racing, but Mr. Wickham’s piercing eyes caught hold of mine. They widened as if he were surprised to see me, as if we were already acquainted. Then he tilted his head and began studying me from every angle. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but I reminded myself I was at work and to focus back on Evelyn.
“—he’s here to open a checking account. I thought you would be perfect to help him.” Evelyn gave me a covert wink. She was always trying to set me up with someone, including most of her grandsons.
I walked around the desk a bit shaky and held my hand out. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Wickham.” I had to stop myself from smiling. All I could think of was wicked Mr. Wickham from Pride and Prejudice.
Mr. Wickham held out his own masculine hand, still studying me. He swallowed hard. “The pleasure is mine, Ms.—?”
“Parker,” I stuttered like an idiot. Men weren’t supposed to have an effect on me. It was the British accent, I told myself.
“Ms. Parker.” He spoke my name with reverence while keeping my hand in his. “I feel as if we’ve met before.”
I looked at Evelyn, not sure how to respond. Not sure if I could. There was suddenly less oxygen in the room, or so it felt. Evelyn’s excited eyes said to say something flirty. I didn’t remember how to do that. More importantly, I shouldn’t be doing that. I was a professional and I didn’t like men.
I found some air and pulled my hand away from his. Oddly, it made him smile as if that’s what he expected.
“I think I would have remembered if we had,” I finally managed to say, which, unfortunately, did sound flirty even though it was true. I would have remembered him if we’d met before. To cover up my blunder, I knelt carefully in my pencil skirt in front of the little guy who had to be all of three. “And who are you?” I asked.
“I’m Henry,” he replied. Forget the sexy British accent, his adorable one was ten times better. He held up his bear. “This is my teddy, George.” His teddy bear looked well-loved with matted-down fur and his bowtie askew.
I shook George’s paw. “It’s nice to meet you, George.”
Henry giggled, making me wish Chloe was a toddler again, or for another little one running around. I would have had another baby in a second if I could afford to and, you know, if it didn’t involve the opposite sex.
“We are going to get ice cream,” he said so grown-up like.
“That sounds yummy. What kind of ice cream do you like?”
“Butterscotch.” He smiled.
“I’ll have to try that flavor.”
Henry nodded and I stood to find Mr. Wickham gazing thoughtfully at me. He wasn’t helping with the pulse racing thing.
“I’ll leave you to it.” Evelyn wagged her brows before exiting.
“Please have a seat.” I waved to the chairs in front of my desk, trying to maintain my composure.
Mr. Wickham took a seat, but Henry had other ideas; he followed me to mine.
“Henry, come sit next to me,” Mr. Wickham kindly directed.
Henry grinned mischievously while shaking his head no. He held his arms out to me. One look at his big brown eyes with lashes to die for, and I could hardly refuse. “Do you mind?” I asked Mr. Wickham.
“Not at all. My nephew is . . .” he swallowed. “Is a precocious tyke.”
I didn’t think that’s what he was going to say, but no matter. I picked the little guy up along with his bear and set him on my lap and wondered why he had his nephew with him. Bringing a toddler to a bank wasn’t usually a wise choice.
“He gets that from me.” Mr. Wickham deadpanned.
I started to respond with my normal sarcasm toward the opposite sex, but I stopped myself. “What can I help you with today?”
Mr. Wickham leaned forward as if he were trying to get a better look at me. “I’m going to be in the States for a while and my financial advisor recommended I open an account here to make things easier.”
“We have a few options. Let me get you a brochure and we can go over those and see what best fits your needs.”
Henry didn’t want to be forgotten. “I’m three.” He held up three fingers.
I wanted to kiss those cute fingers but thought that was even more unprofessional than holding him on my lap. “You are a very big boy for three.”
He puffed out his chest.
I reached into the desk drawer for the brochure. “What brings you to the States?” I tried not to stare at the handsome man. I couldn’t get over how much he looked like Taron Taylor. He was even British, which was strange. I had to say, though, that I was relieved he wasn’t my favorite author. I had promised my girlfriends if I ever met him, I’d try to get to know him. I’d known the odds were in my favor of that never happening, so I’d agreed to appease them. They worried I was going to die an old maid. The odds were highly in favor of that, considering I hadn’t been on a date since my ex-husband left me and our daughter twelve years ago.
“I have some personal and business matters to attend to.” He kept it vague on purpose, given his stiff body language.
It didn’t offend me that he didn’t divulge anything personal. I could relate. I slid a brochure of our different account types across the desk. “Here are—”
“My mummy and daddy are gone,” Henry wailed unexpectedly.
My head shot up and caught Mr. Wickham’s defeated eyes. He sighed and hung his head. Meanwhile, I tried to comfort poor Henry, who began to cry into my bosom. I wrapped my arms around him, hoping his parents were on vacation or something, but Mr. Wickham’s demeanor said otherwise, and it broke my heart.
“My sister and her husband were in a car accident,” Mr. Wickham spoke low, refusing to finish the rest. I could guess. “Come here, Henry.” Mr. Wickham stood to retrieve his grieving nephew.
“No!” Henry refused, snuggling further into me.
Mr. Wickham looked at a loss of what to do. “I’m new at this.”
“It’s fine. I don’t mind keeping him, if it’s all right with you.”
He sat back down, relieved. “I was only supposed to be the fun uncle.”
“I’m very sorry for your and Henry’s loss.” I stroked Henry’s dark curls.
“Thank you, love.” He suddenly seemed uncomfortable. “Do you mind if we move along? I have several appointments to attend to.”
“Not at all.” I kept one arm around Henry, who was shuddering against me. Poor baby. I used my free hand to point at the brochure. “If you could tell me a bit about your goals and profession, I can make a solid suggestion on the right account for you.”
He rested his hands on his legs and leaned forward. “Would you believe I’m an international bestselling author?”
“Are you all right, love?”
His left brow raised debonairly. “As a matter of fact, I do. Taron Taylor.”
The bated breath I had been holding came out in a rush. “Oh.”
His lips curled up. “Have you heard of me?”
I nodded and, unfortunately, I could feel my cheeks burn.
“A fan,” he said, ever so pleased. “I love fans.”
“I never said I was a fan,” came rushing out of my mouth before I could stop it. I didn’t want to be rude to him. It was a conditioned response to men. A defense mechanism, if you will.
He didn’t believe a word or seem to take offense. “Which book is your favorite?” He flashed me a disarming smile.
It was enough to almost make me blurt out how much I loved Silent Stones, but I stopped myself. “I think our platinum premium account would suit you,” I suggested instead of answering.
He laughed this deep, rich laugh. “Aspen, was it? I like you.”
I tucked my long, brown hair behind my ear. “Um, the account has a competitive APY, no fees, online and mobile banking—” I started to ramble, amusing him more.
“I’ll need your passport, individual tax identification number, and—”
His phone rang, interrupting me. He held up his finger. “One moment please. I must take this.” He answered and walked out but kept me and his nephew in his line of sight. He kept smiling at me and shaking his head like he couldn’t believe this was happening. I had the exact same thoughts, but wondered why he felt that way. And why did he think we had met?
Henry had cried himself to sleep against me. I stroked his baby-soft brow. “I’m so sorry,” I whispered. I had to keep myself from tearing up. When I looked back up, Mr. Wickham or Taylor or whoever he was, was now pacing, running his hands through his gorgeous hair. I mean, his hair. It was just hair.
“What the bloody hell am I going to do now? I don’t have time for this.” His voice, while raised, was discreet given he wasn’t in private. I still couldn’t believe he was here, and that I was holding his sweet nephew. I shifted him on my lap, trying to get more comfortable. It was amazing how much heavier they felt as they slept. I missed these days, though Chloe and I did snuggle on the couch when we watched our favorite shows and stuffed our faces with popcorn.
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