Gabi walked into work the Monday after her birthday with the intention of forgetting everything that had happened over the weekend. It turned out to be easier to do than she initially thought. That was because Luke Cole, Ryan’s brother and President of Cole Industries, was an even bigger dick than Ryan had been when she first met him.
He called a meeting first thing in the morning and gathered them all in the conference room. Robert Smith from the accounting department was not even an entire minute late and Luke had fired him on the spot. Gabi gulped from her seat and glanced over at Ryan who had a dark look on his face and his arms folded across his chest.
Luke stood up in front of the group to address them. He was almost as tall as Ryan with slightly broader shoulders and he radiated power and intimidation. “Good morning,” he greeted.
They all mumbled good morning back.
“This branch has had a pretty good start, in part thanks to my baby brother Ryan.” He gestured toward Ryan whose expression darkened even more.
“But even his knowledge came from my mentorship,” Luke continued and Gabi had to fight to keep the look of disgust off of her face. What an arrogant jerk.
“Anyway. As I said, you’ve had a decent start but I’m not sure if you’ll be able to maintain the momentum. So, I’m stepping in to implement some changes, effective immediately.”
Everyone started whispering anxiously before Luke silenced them all with a glare. He began listing off the changes he was making, starting with beginning the workday an hour earlier. He also brought in new department heads who were to monitor the people who were already department heads.
Gabi was already annoyed as these new department heads filed into the conference room but when she saw who was going to now be in charge of her she wished the floor would open up and swallow her whole.
She fought to keep the tears welling up in her eyes from falling down her face as she stared at the smirking face of her ex-boyfriend, Michael Wilkerson. She saw Ryan out of the corner of her eye peering at her with an inquisitive look but ignored him and focused on keeping her breathing steady.
It had been at least three years since she had last seen Michael; Since he had shattered both her heart and her dreams. And now he was going to be in charge of her and her department that she had worked so hard to build from nothing. She wouldn’t stand for it! But what could she do? It didn’t look like Ryan was in any position to do anything about it and she couldn’t go over Luke’s head.
So she would have to grin and bear it. She gathered all of her strength and stood to greet Michael as Luke introduced him to her.
Michael smiled his creepy smile at her and took her hand. “Miss Perez and I are already very well acquainted Mr. Cole,” he said to Luke.
'Yeah you took my virginity, my optimism and my peace of mind you asshole,′ Gabi thought to herself.
“Oh really?” Luke asked.
Gabi gave him a tight smile. “Yes, sir. We went to the same university.”
“That’s wonderful!” Luke said with a grin. “So I’m sure you’ll work wonderfully together.”
He patted them both on the back and left to introduce the other department heads.
“Gabi,” Michael said as he looked her up and down as if appraising her. His gaze made her uncomfortable. “You still look...delicious.”
“You may call me Gabriella, Michael,” she said coldly, ignoring his creepy compliment.
He laughed. “Are really you still bitter? You should learn to let things go,” he said, rubbing her shoulder as she cringed.
“And you should learn to keep your hands to yourself.”
Michael and Gabi turned to see Ryan standing there, glaring at Michael.
“Mr. Cole,” Michael said with a nervous laugh. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he continued, extending his hand for Ryan to shake.
Ryan ignored his hand. “We have a zero tolerance policy regarding sexual harassment Mr. Wilkerson. You can reference your employee guide for further information.” He gave them both a stiff nod and walked away with his hands in his pockets.
Gabi stared after him, only returning her gaze to Michael when he laughed. “Sleeping your way to the top huh Gabs?”
Gabi’s eyes narrowed. “Fuck off Michael,” she hissed. “And I told you, you may call me Gabriella. Actually no. You may call me Miss Perez.”
She turned on her heel and stormed out of the conference room, down the hallway and into her office, slamming the door behind her. She leaned against the closed door and slid down it, finally allowing her tears to fall. She permitted herself five minutes to sob silently before she pulled herself together again and got back to work. There was no way she was going to allow anyone to say she wasn’t doing her job.
Michael came into her office right before lunch and made her work through her break so she could inform him of all the projects they were working on.
“I don’t know why I can’t send this all to you in an email,” Gabi said tiredly, rubbing her temples in a futile effort to curb her irritation.
“Because I want to hear it in person,” he replied, picking up the picture of her, Angela and Lizzie on her desk.
“Please don’t touch my things.”
He ignored her. “How are Lizzie and Angela?”
“Can we get back to the topic at hand?” she asked, trying her best not to scream at him. “The fall campaign was a huge success and I think we should continue the same trajectory for the holiday campaign--”
“Honestly Gabs, you really don’t have to tell me all of this. We both know that you’re going to do all of the work and share the credit with me,” he said with a grin.
“Like hell I will!” she protested angrily.
“You will,” he said darkly. “Or we’ll just have a repeat of what happened back in college. And you don’t want that do you?”
Gabi didn’t reply.
“That’s what I thought.” He stood up. “I expect the completed proposal on my desk by the end of the week.”
He walked out of her office and slammed the door. This time Gabi did not cry but angrily buried herself in her work. Well...she cried a little.
By the time the workday was over, she was starving not to mention mentally and emotionally exhausted.
Gabi was gathering her things to leave when Heidi poked her head into her office to inform her that Ryan wanted to see her. She groaned inwardly but walked across the hallway and knocked on his door.
The door swung open and she was pulled inside so abruptly that she stumbled. “Ryan! What gives--”
She was cut off as she was enveloped in a hug. She felt her knees go weak at the closeness of him and the memories of the weekend came flooding back into her mind. “Ryan? Are you okay?”
“I am now,” he mumbled into her hair. “I’m sorry Gabriella. I know you’re trying to avoid this but I just need something real right now. And you,” he took a deep breath. ”You are real.”
Gabi hesitated for just a moment longer before wrapping her arms around his neck and returning the hug and resting her cheek on his chest. “Ryan why--”
“Gabriella please,” he pleaded.
She sighed. “Harry Potter and pollo guisado at my place?”
His grip on her tightened. “That sounds perfect. Thank you.”
Two hours later they were curled up on opposite ends of her couch watching Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
“I didn’t think you meant we were going to actually cook the pollo guisado,” Ryan commented. “I thought we were going to pick up some from tia Maria’s.”
Gabi smiled. “Tia Maria?”
He shrugged. “That’s what she told me to call her.”
“Of course she did.” She rolled her eyes. “Anyway, you act like it was so difficult to make.”
“It was! For someone who doesn’t cook.”
“I don’t cook either Ryan,” Gabi snickered.
“You cook more than I do,” he replied.
“That much is obvious. The way you cut vegetables is a crime.”
“Hey! I did the best I could. Everyone has a weakness.”
“And yours happens to be tomatoes.” Gabi couldn’t contain her laughter any longer and burst out laughing much to Ryan’s amusement. “And dominoes!” She laughed even harder at the memory of him playing with her uncles.
“You think you’re so funny don’t you?” he said, joining her in laughter.
“Why yes I do. And that smile on your face makes me think you think I’m funny too.”
“Maybe you just make me smile,” he said quietly.
“I know, I know. I’m sorry. You just made my really shitty day, so much better. Thank you.”
Gabi flushed and wrapped her blanket more tightly around herself. “That’s what friends are for.”
Ryan ignored the sinking feeling in his chest and tried to change the subject. “So that Michael guy seemed to know you pretty well.”
Gabi’s eyes darkened and she felt rage coursing through her. “Don’t bring up that no good cábron in my home,” she said shortly.
“Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t know--”
Gabi sighed. “No, I’m sorry. You couldn’t know the toxic history I have with that jackass.”
“I don’t really want to talk about it,” she replied, willing the tears that were falling down her cheeks to stop.
“Hey, hey. Don’t cry,” Ryan said, scooting closer to her on the couch. “I’m sorry. If you don’t want to talk about it, we won’t talk about it, okay?”
She nodded and sniffed but the tears kept falling. Ryan pulled her into his arms and held her while she cried and against her better judgment, she let him.
Gabi woke up alone in her bed and confused the next morning. She stepped out of her bedroom and saw that Ryan’s shoes were still by the entryway so she figured he hadn’t gone home. She followed the smell of waffles into the kitchen and found him trying to figure out her fancy coffee machine that Angela and Nico had given her for Christmas the year before.
“Don’t bother,” she said, causing Ryan to jump. “I’ve had it for almost a year and still can’t turn the damned thing on.”
He smiled at her and stepped away from the coffee machine. “Good morning Gabriella.”
“Good morning,” she replied sheepishly.
“Feeling better this morning?” he asked, setting a plate of waffles on the table in front of her.
“A little. I’d feel better if your tyrant of a brother wasn’t trying to ruin everyone’s lives.”
Ryan sighed and Gabi immediately felt guilty. “I’m sorry. That was out of line--”
“No you’re right. I was thinking it too,” he said with a sad smile.
“Why does he get to come in and make all of these changes?”
“I’d rather not talk about it,” Ryan said quietly.
“Okay. So how about those Texans?” she said changing the subject.
Ryan snorted. “How about what? The fact that they suck?”
“Hey! Don’t diss my team!”
“Sorry sweetheart, but your team is trash.”
“It’s just because we can’t get a quarterback,” she said bitterly.
“Uh huh. Whatever helps you sleep at night. Anyway hurry up and eat; You don’t want to be late.”
She glanced at the clock. “Oh shoot! You’re right. I’ve got to hop in the shower. What about you? You can’t go to work like that.”
He chuckled. “Of course not. I’m about to run home. How about I pick you up and we carpool? It’s our day to grab lunch at Tia Maria’s anyway.”
“If Michael lets me have a lunch break today,” Gabi said with a sigh.
“He will if he knows what’s good for him,” Ryan replied. “Anyway, I’ll pick you up in twenty?”
She nodded and he kissed her on the forehead. “See you in a few Gabriella.”
Her heart was pounding in her chest for a few minutes after he left. She groaned as she realized her feelings for Ryan were growing despite her best efforts to stop them. “Shit.”