Just Business – Anna Zabo
Justin White may not look like an up and coming corporate superstar, but his new boss knows he has the smarts, grit, and determination to succeed. Now he just has to convince his company’s CFO, Eli Ovadia. Unfortunately, Justin can’t seem to keep his cool around the domineering Eli—and soon he finds himself taking their heat from the boardroom into the bedroom….
Still haunted by a tragic accident that left him with a wounded leg and broken heart, Eli has a need to be in control. But his desire for Justin makes him want to lose that control—and push them both far beyond their limits. But will his need to dominate Justin drive him away—or will Eli find a way to be the man he needs for both of them?
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When the Grounds N’at doorbell jingled, Justin White flipped his textbook closed and sent a silent thank-you to the universe. Watching paint dry would have been more exciting than reading about financial statistics, so any distraction was welcome at this point. That his two favorite customers walked through the door? Even better.
Well, more like favorite customer and his icy sidekick. Where Sam was warm and outgoing, Eli was a wall of indifference. He had no idea how those two worked together. It didn’t matter, really. It was Sam he was focused on, not Mr. Wet Blanket.
Justin slid off his stool and tucked the textbook under the counter next to the folder that contained his cover letter and résumé. Sam grinned at Justin and held up two fingers before settling in at their usual table. Eli didn’t even glance his way—just leaned his cane against the wall and took a seat.
Justin started their regular drinks—a large cappuccino for Sam and a medium Americano for Eli—with room for cream.
Had they hired someone today? He foamed the milk while watching the coffee drip out of the machine. Sam had been looking for an office assistant for at least a week. Justin had planned to hand over his résumé yesterday, but Eli had done the equivalent of cock-blocking, and had dragged Sam away to some meeting just as Justin had taken a breath to speak.
He stole a glance at the two men. Sam sat with his back to Justin. As usual, the face Justin saw was Eli’s. Not an unpleasant view, to be honest. If Eli had any warmth in his body, he’d have had his pick of the coffee shop patrons—male or female. Classic Hollywood beauty—tall, with long, lean features, like something out of an old film. Despite a limp, Eli moved with an elegance that made his halting steps look graceful. And, of course, there was the cane—which varied from Victorian to futuristic steampunk—along with thin black leather gloves he peeled from his hands every time he took a seat.
Justin finished up the drinks and placed them on a tray with a little carafe of half-and-half. Résumé now or later? Later. See which way the wind blew today—if he understood their schedule correctly, this was the postinterview chat. He lifted the tray and headed over.
“. . . honestly, how hard can it be to find someone competent?” Sam leaned back in his chair.
Eli’s smile—if you wanted to call it that—was a thin thing, indeed. “Not hard at all. Problem is, you’re looking for someone beyond competent.”
Justin stepped up. “Excuse me, gentlemen.” He slid the edge of the tray onto the table and set their drinks out. Not normal practice, but these two weren’t commuters who wanted their joe in a cup to go or students who were happy to nurse a mug for seven hours of free Wi-Fi.
“Thanks, Justin.” Another grin from Sam.
Justin answered Sam with a smile of his own, then met Eli’s gaze. A little shiver trickled down his spine. Eli’s gray eyes seemed to bore into Justin through the loose, dark curls that fell over them. Natural black, too—not the dye Justin used in his own.
“Half-and-half.” He set the small glass pitcher next to Eli’s Americano.
“Thank you.” Deep voice. No smile.
Justin nodded and stepped away.
He always had to catch his breath when Eli looked at him like that—as if ticking off all the things wrong with Justin’s appearance. But he’d heard enough to know the opening for the job was still there.
Office assistant pay wasn’t great, but it had to be more than the coffee shop, and there was no one better to learn how to run a business from than the owner and CEO of S. R. Anderson Consulting. Time to put to use some of the dreck he’d been learning down at Carnegie Mellon for the past two years.
The way things were going, he would need the extra income. Given his bills and Mercy calling every couple of weeks to ask for help, what else could he do? Her disability checks weren’t covering her needs, even with the VA’s care, and you didn’t abandon family. It wasn’t like their parents could help. Hell, he should probably send them some cash, too, if he had any to spare. None of them would be in this bind if he hadn’t fucked up so royally.
Justin’s heart thudded. Should he hand over his résumé now?
Later. They still had to pay. He wiped the tray down, cleaned the espresso machine, stole another look over—and met Eli’s gaze again. What the hell? Justin shivered and looked away. Thank God one of the hipster undergrads came up for a refill. Kept him from glancing over into those cold eyes again.
By the time he finished serving the dude and cleaning up the cups left in the dish bin, the familiar scrape of chairs and the regular thump of Eli’s cane sounded against the wooden floor.
Sam in front, of course, but Eli not far behind.
“Great coffee, as always.” Sam handed his credit card over.
Justin rang them up and handed the card back with the receipt. “My pleasure.”
Sam and Eli turned.
Now or never. “Mr. Anderson?”
Sam spun back, curiosity in his face. “Yes?”
A horde of elephants stomped in Justin’s stomach. “Are you still looking for an office assistant?” Somehow he kept his voice steady. Professional.
“I am.” Sam shifted back. Eli’s cane tapped against the floorboards.
He wasn’t sure when he’d grabbed them, but there the résumé and cover letter were, in his hands. He held it out. “I’d like to apply.”
Oh, he’d surprised Sam. And holy fuck, Eli’s brows were up in his hairline, too. Mr. Emotionless . . . wasn’t.
Sam took the papers and read the cover letter right then and there. Flipped the page. “You’re attending the Tepper School?” Sam looked up.
“Part-time. I graduate in the spring.” Nine more months.
“Who’s your advisor?” Eli demanded in that clipped voice of his.
Justin squared his back and met Eli’s dark stare. “Don Miller.”
Eli’s lips parted ever so slightly. Another crack in that façade. Probably because Professor Miller only took on the best. That’s right, you smug bastard. Yes, Justin dressed like a goth artist. Fit in well at the coffee shop and annoyed the fuck out of his classmates. Didn’t mean he wasn’t good. The grin and the shrug were a bit of theater, but Justin couldn’t help throwing that at Eli. “I’m more than a pretty face, you know.”
Sam laughed and Eli . . . blushed. Ever so slightly, but color touched his cheeks. Goose bumps rose on Justin’s every limb. Eli’s stare wasn’t so cold now, nor indifferent. He couldn’t put a name to it at all.
“I guess we’ll find out whether that’s true or not,” Eli said.
“When are you free?” Sam folded the papers.
“I have tomorrow off. My classes aren’t until the evening.”
“Then you have an interview at nine tomorrow morning.”
Relief—pride—ripped through Justin even as his heart threatened to gallop out the door. “Thank you. I’ll be there.”
“Good. See you then.” Sam turned and headed for the door.
Fuck yes! He would nail this! He would—
“Justin.” Eli hadn’t moved, his gloved hands folded over the silver handle of his walking stick. “Don’t be late.”
Fucker. “Don’t you worry. I always come right on time.”
That icy exterior vanished entirely. Eli held Justin’s gaze and smiled before he turned and followed Sam.
Justin sank onto his stool because his legs didn’t want to work. He couldn’t tell if the emotion behind the curl of Eli’s lips had been amusement or malice.
He shook himself. Didn’t matter. Bring it, asshole. He’d ace this interview. For himself, for Mercy, and for his family.