BOOK THREE: the BILLION-DOLLAR BACHELORS series
Assistant Hadley has given her all to billionaire Ronan’s business. Even while he's infuriating and charismatic in equal measure!
Her crush on him was a secret…yet he’ll never let his guard down. Not whilst she’s his employee, in any case. Hadley’s only option? To resign. Only to find Ronan won’t let her go…
Could her brooding boss finally be brave enough to risk his heart and promote this Cinderella to his bride?
The day Hadley Moreau resigned as executive assistant to her billionaire boss, she wore black. And not just any black—the kind of black that made a woman feel as if she were made of pure steel: fitted black tuxedo pants, black toenails peeking out of black peep-toe pumps and a high-necked black silk shirt with an oversized bow at the neck. The press of it against her throat, against the hard pulse of her jugular, was a reminder not to say anything that might give him even the slightest indication that he could change her mind.
“What the hell is this?” The infamous, the inimitable, the impossible Ronan Gerard looked up at Hadley from his seat at the head of the table in the Big Think Founders’ Room, the back of the chair curling behind his shoulders like a not-so-subtle imitation of a throne.
“I think you’ll find it’s a letter of resignation,” said Hadley, her voice crisp as she glanced pointedly at the piece of paper clenched in Ronan’s claw, while every cell in her body remained braced for his response.
Ronan’s gaze hardened; his nostrils flared. She could feel the sweep of his displeasure as it blew about the room like a tornado. And yet his lips remained tightly closed.
Say something, she thought. For, the moment he said something, she could say something back. And snap, crackle, pop: their sharply honed repartee would siphon the electricity from the air.
No Don’t be ridiculous.
No You’re not going anywhere.
No Stay, please, I can’t do this without you and, more than that, I don’t want to.
Fine. There was as much chance of Ronan Gerard saying those words as there was of Big Think Tower growing wings and flying away.
But what about the standard “why?”.
That had to be eating at him. How a person could choose not to work for Big Think Corp would make no sense to Ronan Gerard. His company was his everything. It was his life, his passion, his obsession. Nothing mattered to him more. Nothing.
Hadley gave him a smidge longer to respond, in case he was building up to something. Despite the current statue-like comportment, she knew he was gathering steam from the muscle ticking in his jaw, the shadows in his crisp blue eyes. She’d made a career of understanding the man’s most minute tells, after all, so that she might give him what he needed before he even knew he needed it.
Then again, Ronan’s refusal to give, to soften even a little, was but one of the reasons why this day had finally come.
When it became clear she’d have to be the next to speak, Hadley notched back her shoulders and looked to her tablet—a super-fast prototype developed by Big Think, and one of many things she’d have to leave behind. “I’m sending you a link to Pitch Perfect employment agency to source my replacement. High-end corporate is their niche.”
She glanced up to see if that got a reaction, but the man was the human version of a storm cloud in a snow globe: dark, brooding, threatening thunder but safely encased in an impenetrable barrier.
So, she went on. “As noted in my letter, I’m offering a generous eight weeks’ notice—the first four to finish any outstanding work and to train your new assistant. The next four, you will pay me as a contractor to project manage the Big Think Ball to completion. I’ve provided an amount I believe to be fair compensation for that role.”
At that Ronan stood, slowly. He was pure restrained power in a bespoke suit as he pressed back his chair with a level of calm that had Hadley’s heart thudding against the tight bow at her throat.
If he tried to negotiate, to push for more time or lower compensation for her work, she was ready to fight him. In fact, a good fiery debate would make this so much easier. Their disagreements always did: benign release valves that kept things from spilling over into some comment, or action, they couldn’t take back.
Only, he remained silent, merely making his way round the table. Slowly, his eyes on her—those unfairly perceptive, deceptively warm, midnight-blue eyes––the paper still clenched in his fist.
If he thought this “prowling panther” move might make her waver, cower, he had another think coming. She held her ground. Held his gaze. Held tight to the myriad reasons why she could no longer work for the man––the ones she’d happily admit to, and those she never would.
Until she noticed the uneven knot of his tie.
The man, for all his skills, had never mastered that one. As always, the impulse to go to him, to fix it, to make sure he looked as perfectly put together on the outside as he was on the inside, flooded through her. Instead, Hadley’s thumb began tracing the tattoo that ran around the base of her right ring-finger: a bow of thin black string, a talisman. A reminder to remember always to trust her instinct.
The same instinct that told her it was time to move on.
Only, Ronan noticed the move; his gait paused, his dark gaze dropped to her hand. Just as she’d come to know him over the past several years, and despite her best efforts to preserve a safe level of opacity, he’d found ways and means to come to know her too.
His blue gaze lifted to hers, locking on, a knowing glint therein. A single eyebrow rose in question, making it clear he knew she did not feel nearly as cool as she was making out.
Oh, buddy, she thought, heat rushing through her, a thready pulse now beating at her temples, you have no idea.
In fact, maybe she ought to tell him every last reason why she had to leave. That would wipe that assured smile from his face—the thought of which was nearly enough for her to let it out.
But that was never going to happen.
For, while Ronan Gerard was stubborn—a stubbornness born of extreme privilege—Hadley was more so. Only, she was street-smart stubborn: gritty, wily and survival-level stubborn. Yes, working for a successful company had given her the taste and means for the finer things, but deep down she was still the scrappy kid who’d grown up sleeping in her mother’s car, or on a couch belonging to her mum’s latest boyfriend.
Remembering that, Hadley left her tattoo alone, gripped her tablet in both hands, pressed her toes into the points of her shoes and stared the man down, even as he continued his prowl down the length of the room.
Neither of them said another word until he stopped. The delicious notes of his aftershave, the questions in his hard blue eyes that he was mulishly refusing to voice and the uneven knot of that damn tie vied for attention in her head.
“You’re really doing this?” he finally asked.
His deep voice and velvety tones washed over her like a winter fog. She only just managed to keep a shiver at bay.
“You’re really leaving me.”
A note of sorrow, of disbelief, light but there, had Hadley’s gaze whipping from the knot of his tie to his eyes and their gazes tangled. For a breath, moments, memories and history curled between them like a whisper, like a wish.
But, no. She was done wishing. Done putting herself in a position that would only end in pain as, in her experience, such things always would. It took every fragment of those street smarts to keep her voice even, her expression composed, as she said, deadpan, “I’m not leaving you, Ronan. I’m resigning. From a job.”
A muscle jerked in Ronan’s cheek and she thought perhaps she had him. That she’d cracked the smooth, polished, marble armour he wore like a second skin. But then he breathed out slowly, the tautness in his jaw easing as he slid his hands into his pockets and leant back against the desk, before flicking at some speck of nothing on his jacket.
As if that was that. As if he’d said all he would say on the matter. As if the last seven years stood for nothing.
And the tension swirling between them—the tension that was always there, watching, waiting—only grew, till it felt as if rope was winding about her ankles, her thighs and her chest, threatening to crush her.
“Okay, then,” said Hadley, when the tension became too much. Cynicism dripped from the words, giving her away. “If that’s all, I’ll head to HR to lodge my resignation, to make it official and set in motion next steps.”
Then, because it would stay with her all day if she didn’t, Hadley hooked her tablet under her arm, stepped in, grabbed the knot of his tie and yanked it into place.
The insides of his knees bumped against the outsides of hers. The warmth of his skin pulsed towards her fingers. His aura—dark and delectable—clouded around her. She told herself that she was fixing his tie because it was best to ease back on such tasks, rather than go cold turkey. Not that she was addicted to straightening the man’s tie. Not at all.
She tightened the thing a smidge more than entirely necessary.
“Better?” Ronan asked, lifting a hand to run his fingers over the knot, as if tracing the place her fingers had been.
“Infinitely,” said Hadley.
Then, with one final acute glance at those knowing blue eyes, she stepped back, spun on a high heel, walked out of the room and shut the door behind her with a very slight bang.