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Home > Executive's Pregnancy Ultimatum (Kings of the Boardroom #2)(5)

Executive's Pregnancy Ultimatum (Kings of the Boardroom #2)(5)
Author: Emilie Rose

“Aren’t you ordering your usual?”

“I want to try the chicken romano. It’s stuffed with shrimp and fresh mozzarella and covered in a lemon cream sauce,” she replied without looking at him.

“That’s a change.”

She peered at him over the menu, her gaze serious. “I’ve changed, Flynn. I’m not the quiet little mouse who’s eager to please and afraid to make waves anymore.”

Was there a warning in her tone? “Everybody changes, Renee, but the fundamentals that make us who we are remain the same.”

The Gianellis’ granddaughter arrived to take their order. After she left, Flynn lifted his water glass. “To us and our future family.”

Renee hesitated, then raised hers. “To the baby we might make.”

He noted the way she stressed “might,” but let it pass, and reached across the table to capture her free hand. She stiffened. “Is this really necessary?”

“We always held hands while we waited for our food in the past.”

Her fingers remained stiff in his. “Why is it so important that everyone believe we’re a happy couple?”

Not the relaxing conversation he’d planned, but she needed to know the facts. He stroked his thumb across her palm. “The tight economy is pinching advertising budgets for even the largest firms. Our closest rival, Golden Gate Promotions, is encroaching on our turf and not above using underhanded methods to steal our accounts.”

“For example?”

“Athos Koteas, the owner, will do anything to make us look unstable, immoral or untrustworthy.”

“How can he do that?”

“Gossip. Innuendo. We don’t know where he’s getting his information, but it’s almost as if he has an inside source. Some of our biggest clients are ultraconservative. They’ll go elsewhere at the first hint of scandal because they can’t afford to have their names attached to anyone who might cause them to lose customers and revenue. That’s why the truth behind our personal project needs to be kept confidential.”

“That’s like living in a glass house, Flynn. You can’t keep it up indefinitely.”

“Koteas is seventy. He won’t live forever. But enough about my work.”

“I like hearing about your work. You never used to discuss it…well, not after you joined Maddox.”

“I had enough of the advertising jungle during the day. I didn’t want to rehash it at night.” But she had a point. When he’d been at Adams Architecture he’d been so excited about his work that he’d often recounted the highlights of his day over dinner. “How is Lorraine?”

Her stern expression told him she’d recognized his change of topic, but then she shrugged. “Mom’s the same. She’s working at a five-star restaurant in Boca Raton now.”

“Does she still change jobs every few years?”

Renee nodded. “She moves on as soon as someone gets on her bad side.”

“That’s the negative side of her alcoholism. You’re very lucky to have had your grandmother to provide a more stable environment.” He scraped his thumbnail across her palm. Her breath hitched. She yanked her hand free and reached for her water—but he didn’t miss the goose bumps on her arms.

“You look good, Renee. Owning your own business must suit you.”

“Thanks. There are advantages to being the boss, and I admit, I prefer having the freedom to be creative, instead of always being stuck with the tried-and-true recipes.”

When they’d met she’d been employed by a well-known L.A. caterer. After they’d married she’d quit her job and moved to San Francisco.

He’d had a lot of time to think about the demise of their marriage, and he’d concluded his first mistake had been in asking Renee to focus full-time on their marriage and home. Much to his mother’s disgust, Renee had come from a working-class family. Her grandmother had owned and run a trendy diner, and then Renee’s mother had become a top chef. Both jobs required long hours, exhausting work and a willingness to get their hands dirty.

Renee was no stranger to hard work. She’d practically been raised in a bustling restaurant kitchen. At fourteen when he’d been building models and acting like a typical teenager, she’d been busing tables at her first job. She’d been accustomed to earning her own money and had never been comfortable coming to him for cash to buy groceries or anything else.

Lunch and shopping expeditions, unless related to home improvement, had never excited her, and she wasn’t the type to laze in the spa. Being a lady of leisure hadn’t come easily to her, and she’d had nothing to distract her when his hours increased.

Nothing except premature ideas about a baby.

He’d asked himself a hundred times if they would still be married if he’d let her take another job or if he’d said yes to the baby. But he’d refused to start a family because he hadn’t wanted to be the absentee father his had been.

Children. How many would they have had by now if he hadn’t said no? He brushed the thought aside. The past couldn’t be undone. The only thing he could do was learn from his mistakes and move on. And this time, he didn’t intend to let her go.

It would be far too easy to forget this reconciliation wasn’t real, Renee decided as Flynn let her into the front door of their—his house.

During dinner he had been attentive, witty and conversational—just as he’d been during the beginning of their relationship. But he’d changed once and he could again, she reminded herself. Besides, he wasn’t the real problem. She was.

“I have a set of keys for you,” he said so close to her ear that his breath stirred her hair.

Awareness shivered over her. Uh-oh. She put a yard of space between them in the foyer. “You said you’d show me your ideas for the basement.”

“They’re in my study, along with the keys. Go on in. I’ll join you in a moment.” He headed toward the kitchen.

Renee wandered down the hall to the room tucked beneath the stairs. Flynn’s office smelled like him. She caught herself inhaling deeply and stopped. His drafting table still took up most of the space beneath the bay window. She was surprised he hadn’t gotten rid of it since it represented the life and the dream he’d abandoned.

It seemed such a waste that he’d thrown away four years of college and four and a half more of his internship. He’d been so close to getting his credentials and ready to fulfill his dream of designing homes. Saddened, she let her eyes skim over the architectural texts and titles still occupying his floor-to-ceiling shelves, then they skidded to a halt on the framed photograph taken on their wedding day.

Melancholy thickened her throat, trapping her breath in her chest. She and Flynn looked so happy standing in front of the little white Vegas wedding chapel with their blinding smiles and love-filled eyes. But that had been before the threads of their marriage had begun unraveling, before his mother’s confidence-eroding attacks had started hitting their mark and before his father had died.

In that blissfully ignorant moment frozen in the photo, Renee hadn’t had a clue how silent and lonely being married to the man she loved could be. Or how weak she could become. Discovering she had feet of clay had not been one of her better moments.

A pop startled her into spinning around. Flynn entered the room carrying a bottle of wine. He had two glasses pressed against his body in the crook of his arm.

She held up a hand. “None for me.”

His brow pleated. He set the bottle and glasses on a side table. His strong hands worked the cork free from the corkscrew. “Dr. Loosen used to be your favorite Riesling.”

“I don’t drink anymore unless I have to sample something for work. Even then, I sip and spit.”

“You used to love wine.”

She shrugged. “That was then.”

“Did you quit because of your mother?”

He didn’t know about the morning Renee had woken up on the sofa after drinking herself into oblivion while waiting for him to come home. And he never would. “Partly. The basement?”

“In a minute.” He recorked the wine and, still frowning, settled behind his desk. He opened a drawer, withdrew a key ring and offered it to her. She remained frozen in place. Taking that set of keys would be another giant step forward, a blind leap over the edge of a cliff. Gathering her will, she took them from him. The cold metal bit into her hand as she closed her fist.

Next he opened a file folder and then slid it across the desk in her direction. “These are the nearby available properties that could be made to suit a catering company.”

She leaned forward and scanned the first page, gasping at the numbers, then she turned to the second. He’d taken the time to list the pros and cons of each property along the margin in his familiar script. Heart sinking, she continued turning and skimming pages. Each one had high monthly rents she didn’t even want to contemplate for a new business and renovation requirements that staggered her. She glanced up at Flynn and found his narrowed eyes focused on her face.

“None of the leases includes the improvements you’d have to make to get the building up to code for California Girl’s Catering. Since you’ve recently done that type of work, you know better than I what kind of expenses you’d incur.”

Mind racing, she ticked through possibilities. Even if she used her emergency money, she didn’t have the kind of cash a project of this size required. She’d have to get a loan.

Did she really want to go into debt for something that might not pan out? The San Francisco market was notoriously tough. Borrowing a large sum would also leave her trapped in San Francisco if this bargain of theirs went sour and she wanted out in a hurry. She wanted to kick herself for not checking into the costs before agreeing to Flynn’s bargain.

“I don’t have that kind of budget,” she admitted.

“There is another less expensive option.” He rose and crossed to his drafting table.

Her pulse quickened as he flipped over a large sheet of blueprint paper revealing a page covered in sketches. “You’ve drawn up plans.”

His gaze met hers, and for the first time in ages the fire of excitement that had initially drawn her to him in that paint store gleamed in the blue depths of his eyes. “Take a look.”

A little leery of her body’s breathless reaction to a glimpse of the old Flynn, she edged closer. He’d sketched out a kitchen very similar to hers back in L.A., only this space was larger and had more work surfaces and bigger windows in one corner. The layout also included an office area where she could work or meet with clients and an outside patio complete with tables and a fountain.

“This is beautiful, Flynn. Where is it?”

“Our basement.”

Alarm sirens screeched in her head. “But—”

He held up one broad palm. “Hear me out. The basement is a rent-free space with a separate entrance. You could work downstairs and have a nanny keep the baby upstairs. You’d be able to slip away to visit our child whenever you wanted.”

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