The guys were going to kill him.
Ollie scrubbed a hand over his face.
They wouldn’t be surprised, of course. But they were going to be pissed.
They’d all known that Piper quitting was a risk and that one day she’d probably wise-up and lose her patience and that would be it.
They’d also all known that when it happened there was a 90 percent chance it would be because of Ollie.
The other 10 percent chance was that it would be because of Ollie and Dax together.
And now it had finally happened.
If it came down to choosing between him and Piper, he wasn’t sure he wanted to know how that debate would end up. Or how short the discussion would be before they decided they wanted and needed her more.
That was only one of the reasons he hadn’t told them yet.
The other was because he was still processing the part where she’d said she loved him.
What was he supposed to do with that?
She wasn’t just supposed to say that out loud right to him, was she? He had not been expecting that. The guys and their girlfriends had insinuated for a while now that Piper might have a crush on him but no, he hadn’t expected her to ever say anything herself.
It was a might have. A crush. Okay, they were adults and maybe adults didn’t have crushes exactly, but everything anyone had said suggested that it was just that Piper thought he was interesting at times and that she didn’t hate spending time with him.
But a crush wasn’t love. For fuck’s sake.
And it had to be Piper?
Piper Barry was amazing. She was gorgeous. She was smart. She was capable. She could do anything. She was funny and sweet and sassy and tough.
She was intimidating as hell.
What was he supposed to do with her now?
What was he supposed to do without her now?
Well, the solution seemed pretty obvious. She’d basically given him the answer herself—I can’t be in love with you and work for you. And the only one of those two things I can change is the working for you part.
So he needed to get her to not be in love with him anymore. Then she’d come back to work and all would be fine.
Now he just had to get her to realize she could do a hell of a lot better than him.
Of course, he’d been a pain in her ass for five years now. If that didn’t do it, he wasn’t sure what would.
He could get her an alpaca. She loved those things. He could buy one from Drew Ryan, the alpaca farmer north of town. Even though Ollie couldn’t stand the guy.
But she was living in a hotel at the moment. The hotel manager, Stan, liked Ollie a lot and Piper’s suite was huge, but he wasn’t sure Stan liked him enough to let him put an alpaca in one of the penthouses.
And if Stan did let him get Piper an alpaca, that wouldn’t make her fall out of love with him.
Though she would definitely think he was crazy to even think of it. That was run-of-the-mill Ollie craziness though.
He could… get arrested. That would remind her that he was impulsive and didn’t think through consequences and did stupid shit. Often.
Getting arrested was really not hard to do. He and Dax had done it accidentally twice. Surely doing it on purpose would be even easier.
Of course, Bernie, the Appleby town cop, was a really nice guy and super laid back. If Ollie did something like streaking across the town park or hot-wiring someone’s car, Bernie would probably think it was funny, laugh and slap Ollie on the back, and tell him to not let it happen again.
He could punch someone in the face and get locked up for assault, he supposed.
Drew Ryan came to mind.
That would piss Piper off. She liked Drew, and Ollie hitting him would definitely not make her happy.
Yeah, maybe he’d see what Drew was up to and ask him to meet up for a beer or something.
Ollie started to pull his phone out, but then hesitated.
Piper wouldn’t be the only one mad at him if he punched Drew though. Whitney and Dax and, really, all of his friends liked Drew.
And Drew might hit him back. And Drew might be a better fighter than Ollie.
That wouldn’t take much.
Okay, so no streaking, stealing, or punching.
He could… hire a skywriter. They could write out… son of a bitch, what would he have them write? And how would he even find a skywriter?
See, this was the kind of stuff Piper did for him. She found the skywriters and helped him figure out what they should write.
Metaphorically, anyway. He’d never actually hired a skywriter.
Piper would definitely think a skywriter was over the top though. No matter what he wrote.
Ollie groaned and his head fell back against the headrest of his chair.
The guys were definitely going to kill him.
He dragged a hand through his hair. He needed to talk to her. He needed to fix this. Before the guys found out.
He shoved back from his desk and started for the door.
Fixing this meant convincing Piper that she was wrong to be in love with him.
He just needed to ask her how to do that.
An hour later, he was standing outside her hotel room door.
“Piper! It’s me!” He pounded on the door with his closed fist. Again. He’d already knocked. Then pounded. Now he was pounding again and wondering how much he’d have to pay the hotel manager, Stan, to get a key to Piper’s room.
They had the only two suites on this floor so he wasn’t bothering anyone else with his yelling. He could maybe get the heavy lamp by his window and knock her door down. That would probably bother Ken, but Ollie could deal with that later.
Her door swung open in the middlle of her name.
Piper stood there staring at him with wide eyes. “Somebody better be in the hospital or you’d better be bleeding from a major artery.”
He heard what she said. But he couldn’t process an answer. Because Piper was standing in the doorway in a robe, with her hair wrapped up in a towel on top of her head.
The robe was black. And silky. And short. Very short.
It wrapped around her and tied in the front, as robes did, and created a deep V between her breasts.
Her gorgeous, very generous—and did he mention gorgeous?—breasts.
Ollie was a little clueless—even he would admit that—but he wasn’t dead. Which meant that he’d noticed Piper’s very generous curves long ago.
The way she dressed would have made it impossible not to. Her dresses were bright and unusual and even the ones that didn’t hug her hips and ass, caressed her breasts. She also drew attention to all those curves with big belts and bright scarves and other accessories.
The woman liked to draw attention to herself and he always happily gave it.
This robe was nothing like any of those dresses. It wasn’t brightly colored. There were no earrings, no wedge heels, no bows. Just a lot of silk—both in the robe and the skin that stretched below the short hem.
He’d never seen her dressed like this. Not in any of the five years he’d known her. She was always put together, perfectly coordinated, looking kick ass, and untouchable.
Now she looked… very fucking touchable.
Except for the look on her face. And the way she propped her hand on her hip.
“Oliver,” she said firmly.
His gaze lifted to her face. Away from her legs.
Damn, the girl had some great legs.
That shouldn’t be a new revelation. She wore skirts and heels every day. He’d definitely noticed her legs before.
But there was something about this robe or her hair being up in a towel or the way she smelled or this doorway or… he had no idea, but this was different. Her legs had never looked like this.
“Oliver,” she said again, snapping her fingers in front of his face.
“What?” she repeated. “You’re beating on my door, scaring the hell out of me, making me get out of the shower to come see what was wrong with you, and you’re asking me what?”
He blinked at her.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“You can’t be in love with me.”
She sighed and her hand dropped. “That’s not how it works.”
“Yeah, well, that screws everything up,” he said crossly.
Everything had been fine that morning. Everything in his life had been fine. Normal. Easy.
And now Piper had quit, and she thought she was in love with him, and she was standing in front of him in a skimpy little robe, and he was noticing her legs and… everything was a mess now.
And Piper was the one who fixed the messes in his life, not the one who caused them.
“Sorry,” she said, lifting her shoulder.
She didn’t seem sorry at all. He frowned. “Can you put some clothes on?”
“This is my room. I didn’t invite you. You got me out of the shower. I’m going to go get back in there when you leave. So, no, I’m not going to go put clothes on while you stand here and tell me not to be in love with you.”
“It’s really distracting.”
She looked surprised for a moment. Then, slowly, she smiled. A smile that made his heart thump and, at the same time, sent an uh-oh through his mind.
“Sorry,” she said again.
She was definitely not sorry about that either.
“I just don’t see why you want to be in love with me,” he told her, resolutely keeping his eyes on hers.
He really wanted to look down. But he had a feeling she knew that and if he did he would somehow be admitting something he didn’t want to admit.
“Well, I don’t see why you wouldn’t want me to be in love with you,” she told him in the same tone he’d used.
“Because, apparently, you can’t work for me and be in love with me. And I really need you to work for me.”
She rolled her eyes. “Well, Oliver, maybe you think that’s your choice because you’ve never really experienced me being in love with you.”
“So this is new?”
“So I have experienced you being in love with me,” he said.
She lifted a brow. “I haven’t been acting on those feelings.”
“So keep doing that.”
She seemed to be considering that. Then she took a step closer. “No, I don’t think I will.”
He frowned down at her. Without her heels on, she was really short. The top of her head came to his chin. She usually seemed taller. Sure, it was probably the heels, but it was also just the way she presented herself. The way she walked, the way she stood, the way she talked and met everyone’s eyes directly and took care of everything.
Now she was in a freaking robe with her hair up in a towel. She seemed shorter.
And now, hearing her talk about being in love with him, it seemed a little less difficult to believe.
Dammit. What the hell was that?
“What’s that mean anyway?” he asked, feeling as grumpy as he sounded. “What do you mean you’re going to act on those feelings now? Quitting? Leaving me? That’s acting on being in love with me?”
She shook her head slowly and stepped closer.
He should step back. Part of his brain told him that. But a bigger part of him—like the entire rest of his body and brain—said don’t be a dumbass.
She took the front of his shirt in her fist and pulled him down. And he went. Like a dumbass.
“It means doing things like this,” she said softly.
Then she kissed him.
Ollie was shocked. Actually shocked. The idea of kissing Piper had never occurred to him before. The idea of Piper kissing him had never occurred to him.
But the shock was quickly replaced by thoughts like damn her lips are soft and she smells so fucking good, and, of course, she’s good at this too.
He figured as long as their lips were pressed together, he might as well enjoy it for a few minutes.
So he cupped the back of her head, tipped his head, and kissed her back.
He realized that he’d surprised her when she made a little squeaking sound as her towel fell from her head. But she didn’t pull back or reach to grab it. She grabbed the front of his shirt with her other hand in fact. And moved in closer.
The wet strands of her hair fell over the back of his hand, reminding him she’d just been in the shower, and he suddenly had to touch her robe.
He ran his hand from her shoulder down her arm to her wrist over the black silk. The warm black silk. Warm from her body underneath.
He really liked it. A lot. He moved his hand to her waist and stroked the warm silk there, back and forth over the dip. Then up and down over her hip.
Her hand ran up his chest to the back of his neck, pulling him even closer.
Well, okay. They’d already gone this far. It was going to be complicated when he let her go whether he backed her up against the door or not.
So he stepped forward.
She stepped back.
The door swung shut behind him and he turned her, putting her up against the wood. Both of his hands went to her hips and she rose on tiptoe with a little moan.
Oh, that was nice. He felt heat lick through him. He really wanted to put his nose against her neck. Did she smell the way she did because of her soap or her shampoo or some perfume she put on after her shower? If it was after the shower, then she wouldn’t smell that way now would she? But he swore it was just her. And he wanted to run his nose all over her body to be sure. And while his nose was there, his mouth would be there too…
But he didn’t want to release her mouth. Her lips were everything he’d never known he’d always wanted.
He tipped his head the other way, opening slightly.
She followed his lead. Enthusiastically.
Piper gripped the back of his head and stroked her tongue into his mouth, hungrily.
That little lick of heat in his veins intensified to a full-on punch to the gut and he felt himself press closer. His hand dropped from her waist to her thigh. Sure enough, her skin was as warm and silky as the material of her robe.
Her hands went to his lower back and she brought him against her. He pressed into her soft body and this time he was the one who groaned. His palm slid up her thigh and under the hem of her robe to the curve of her ass.
The naked curve of her ass.
He felt his body harden and tighten and he finally dragged his mouth to her neck, breathing deep as he squeezed the warm flesh.
Her breath rushed out as her head fell back against the door and he kissed down her neck to her collarbone as her robe gaped at the top.
Yep, she just smelled like this. This was just Piper. He was definitely willing to keep going to be sure, but he was convinced that her skin was just created to feel, taste, and smell like heaven.
“Ollie,” she said softly, her fingers curling into his hair.
“We need to stop.”
He did. His nose was still against her throat and his hand still cupped her ass, but he stopped moving. He just breathed for a second. She didn’t push him back but he felt her hands slide down his neck.
Finally, he lifted his head, leaving his hand right where it was under her robe.
She looked… mussed.
He’d never seen her look mussed. Her lips were pink. From his. Her hair was wet and curling around her shoulders. Her robe was falling off one shoulder, hinting at far more than the tease of cleavage he saw in her other dresses. If he tugged on the bottom of the robe that rested on the back of his wrist, he could expose one entire breast.
He wanted to do that so much it was shocking. Almost more shocking than the kissing in the first place.
But he didn’t feel the panic he would have expected.
He felt a desire that he’d never felt before.
This was Piper. Piper. Kissing her should have been really weird.
It hadn’t been.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because you don’t want me to be in love with you.”
Yeah, he really didn’t. That seemed complicated. And like he was sure to mess it all up.
“But you are. Shouldn’t you want this?” he asked.
She nodded. “Oh, I do.” Then she pushed him back.
His hand slipped from under her robe and he sighed. “I don’t get it.”
“Do I want you to explain it?”
“Why I can’t strip this little robe off of you and go for this thing that we both clearly want? I think I do.”
She actually laughed at that.
“What?” he asked. She was laughing?
“You didn’t even know you wanted this until I kissed you. You never would have kissed me first.”
He tucked his hands into his pockets. No. He wouldn’t have. Probably.
“And now you suddenly want this?” she asked.
“It was a really good kiss,” he said with a shrug.
“And you’re sexy and sweet and smart and funny.”
“Yes, I am,” she said with a nod.
He had to admit, one thing he really liked about her was her confidence. He felt one corner of his mouth tip.
“You really should have wanted to do this before now,” she said.
She pushed away from the door and he took an obligatory step back.
Watching her tighten the belt around her waist, he remembered the feel of her ass in his hand and her tongue against his. Yeah, he really should have wanted this before. Why hadn’t he?
“I want it now. And you’re in love with me. Seems like it’s all going your way,” he said.
She laughed and pushed him back far enough that she could open the door. “Um, no.”
He looked at the open door, then back to her. “No?”
“I mean, sure, we could have some really hot sex,” she said. “But if that’s all I wanted, I could have seduced you a couple of years ago.”
He opened his mouth to respond and then shut it, frowning hard.
She tipped her head, waiting for him to say something.
Finally, he brilliantly replied, “What?”
“Oliver, sex is easy. I could have kissed you some night when we were the only ones at the office after hours or one of the nights I dropped something off at your apartment that you’d forgotten. What just happened here could have happened a dozen times over the years.”
“But?” he asked, feeling a rising sense of panic that he didn’t understand.
“But I wanted more than that.”
“You wanted me to be your boyfriend,” he said flatly.
“Yes.” She was clearly unmoved by his attitude.
“You couldn’t have just said that?”
“Well, I’ve been trying to decide if you’d be good at it,” she said.
“For how long?”
“About two years.”
He blinked at her. “It’s taken you two years?”
He stared at her. Piper was a very unique person in his life. She liked him. She admired him. She encouraged him and helped him do all of the amazing things he and the guys did with Fluke. But she was also… unimpressed. She didn’t act like a single other woman he knew. At least not the ones who wanted to sleep with him. He knew women who wanted to date him because he was a good-looking—so he’d been told—millionaire. He knew women who wanted to date him because they were huge fans of Warriors. All of those women flattered him and fawned all over him and genuinely thought he was awesome.
Piper thought he was a pain in the ass.
She wanted him, evidently, and claimed to be in love with him. But it had taken her two years to decide if he’d be a good boyfriend.
And she was right to wonder about that.
Still, that rankled.
“So that’s it?” he asked. “You’re in love with me, but you’re quitting your job, and you don’t want to sleep with me?”
She nodded. “Yep. That’s it.”
“You’re just going to… what? Work on getting over me, then?”
She shrugged. “Yep.”
He scowled. “And you think you’re going to be able to do that?”
“I really hope so.”
Good. That was good. She needed to get over him.
He had no idea why that thought made his chest hurt.
“Will you come back to work for us if you can get over me?”
She looked at him, seemingly thinking. “Yeah. If I can get over you, I’ll come back to work.”
The pain in his chest intensified. He rubbed a hand over the spot. That was stupid. He wanted her to get over him. And to come back to work. For sure. The sooner the better.
He studied her, taking in the face, devoid of make-up, that was achingly familiar, yet seemed brand new tonight.
“Are you going back to Chicago?” he asked, his voice gruff.
She shook her head and he felt some of the tightness around his lungs ease.
“I have something I’m working on here.”
“Just something with Drew.”
“Drew?” Ollie felt his eyebrows slam together. “Drew Ryan?”
Ryan owned a farm outside of Appleby with his brother, Dallas, and friend, Justin. They had alpacas, among other animals, that Piper seemed especially enamored with.
At least, Ollie had been telling himself it was the alpacas. Truth was, it was obvious Drew liked Piper.
Of course, everyone liked Piper.
Drew Ryan had probably thought about kissing her. Already. After only knowing her for a few months. Whereas Oliver had known her for five years and hadn’t thought about it at all until tonight.
His gaze dropped to her mouth, and he rubbed the sore spot in his chest again.
Now he wasn’t so sure he’d be able to stop thinking about it.
“Yes, Drew Ryan,” Piper said.
“You think Drew Ryan will be a good boyfriend?”
She seemed to think about that for a moment. “Yes, he probably would be.” She narrowed her eyes. “But not for me. See, I’m in love with someone else. He would be, at best, a rebound. At worst, a consolation boyfriend. That’s not fair to him.”
That actually made Ollie feel better which, he knew, made him kind of an ass. He’d rather she be alone? Really? A woman as amazing and passionate as Piper?
No. Probably not. Dammit. He didn’t know. He’d never thought about any of this before an hour ago.
“Don’t date Drew Ryan. Like anyone else but him.”
“You need to go,” she said, gesturing toward the still-open doorway.
“You’re kicking me out?”
“But you’re in love with me.”
She let her head fall back and she groaned. “Yes. And I’m tired of talking to you right now.”
“You’re tired of talking to the man you’re in love with?”
She gave him a look that said she was out of patience. He’d seen that look a number of times over the years. “Get out.”
He stepped into the doorway, but paused. “You should have a boyfriend, Piper. If you want one.”
“Yes, I know.”
“You shouldn’t write men off because of me.”
Her brows went up. “I’m not.”
He frowned. “But you said you didn’t want Drew Ryan to be a rebound.”
“Right. Drew’s a friend. I don’t want Drew to be my rebound.”
“But you are going to find a rebound?” he asked, that chest pain back.
“Tired. Of. Talking. Good night, Ollie.”
Then she closed the door in his face.