} Chapter CHAPTER 23 | Conflict Of Interest by katiebachandauthor at Inkitt

Conflict of Interest

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CHAPTER 23

The table was set, more wine was poured, and a new hunger took them over.

Luke’s button-down shirt draped loosely from Grace’s slender body. Sweatpants had replaced his jeans, and his blue undershirt was his new top. They’d accomplished what their original attire had set out to achieve; now it was time for comfort and enjoyment.

They ate their starters in silence. They exchanged flirty smiles over bites of salad and sips of wine, playfully eyeing each other, gleaming; languishing in the wake of their passion.

Luke offered more drink with a gesture to the bottle that sat between them, and Grace responded with an eyebrow raise and a slow nod.

He’d miscalculated her again, he mused as he filled her glass. He had anticipated straight-laced and stuffy. Buttoned-up and serious. What he’d gotten was willing and spontaneous. And, as he’d just experienced, unexpected and undeniably sexy.

It wasn’t surprising to him that he was captivated by Grace or that he wanted to know more about her – everything about her. He realized he wanted to understand why she loved her job so much, and why she was so successful at it, but not because of his initial intentions.

He wanted to know more in the same way a couple shared stories of their day over dinner; how it would come up in casual conversation due to two lives that had intermingled and become invested and interested.

Not just the business details, Luke realized. He wanted everything. He wanted to know and see Grace and her cool, casual, and comfortable in a different environment. He wanted to see her leading a boardroom discussion, talking a group of leaders through a round of strategic planning, or meeting with a client. He would bet everything he owned that he’d find it pretty damn sexy. Okay, stop now, he ordered himself. He’d get the chance to see her in action soon enough. And they’d cross that bridge when they got there.

Grace paused as she noticed Luke stop and stare. Her head leaned slightly to the left, questioning, but not willing to break the silence.

Yeah, he was a goner.

“How about the main course?” Luke asked as he lifted the top off the pot and thick, savory steam billowed out. “If we eat, you’ll have a harder time catching me in my next daydream. Guys aren’t supposed to do that because we are macho,” he said, displaying seriousness.

Grace inhaled a laugh and let her eyes feast on the culinary brilliance. “You can be whatever you want if you cook like this.”

“We haven’t tasted it yet.” Luke was still wary of the outcome of his culinary attempt.

“There is no way that doesn’t taste good,” Grace said, pointing at the steaming, fragrant food.

“You’re good at pumping the ego. Is that how you operate things at work?”

“You assume I operate things?” Grace questioned, setting her glass down and smiling.

“Just a hunch.” He shrugged, dished their plates, and reminded himself to be careful. He now had more to lose than just a good business deal. “Tell me about it, the job. You light up when you talk about it. That’s not an accountant’s normal reaction to work.”

“Are you telling me you don’t love your job?” she teased.

“You’re telling me that you do?” His response was quick.

“Oh, my God. Hold on.” Grace reveled in the sensations of her first bite. “I can’t respond. This is so good. Just,” she held up a finger, “whatever you want me to say, imagine that I said it and respond accordingly. This is nirvana.”

“I can’t tell you what I’m imagining, because the food moans you’re making are sending my brain to round two of our kitchen scene.”

“This is worth round two, and probably three,” she said, taking another bite.

He was definitely going to owe Mave. And why the hell was he thinking about Mave with an intoxicating half-dressed woman in his kitchen?

“Okay,” Grace said when she had regrouped. “I think I can manage conversation now. But don’t be surprised if it’s in one to two-word sentences to start.”

“That’s good, I’m in a bit of recovery mode myself.” Luke worked his mind and wandering eyes away from the island that would never be the same. “How about start with where you work?”

Shit. He nearly flinched at his stupid question. Her natural response would be to ask him the same – a topic he was not ready to delve into just yet.

“I work at Thomas and Jane LLC. It’s a private accounting firm in the city.”

His next question came out almost before she had finished. “I’ve heard of it. What do you do there?”

“I’m the CEO and acting president.”

“I knew you’d have to be impressive. Anything less wouldn’t have suited you.” He would have said it for conversation, for charm, before he knew her, he thought. But now he realized he meant it.

“I think I got it from my dad.” Grace continued, the pride gleaming in her eyes.

“Tell me what he’s like.”

“Oh, he,” she started, folding her hands in her lap, “I don’t think I told you last night. He passed away last October.”

Luke saw that the hurt was indeed still fresh. But he noted her dignity in being strong. He found himself respecting the man he wished he knew. He had wondered how she was handling it. The word had gotten around in their small accounting world that Raymond Thomas had passed away. He was known just as admirably by his competitors as he had been by his friends.

“No,” he said. “I’m sorry, I just assumed. I shouldn’t have.”

Her smile was faint but genuine. She circled her glass of wine on its end and watched the red liquid swirl in the curved glass.

“He was,” her shoulders lifted and fell in a sigh, “everything. Not just to me. I mean to everyone. He was a dad, a husband, a friend, one of the guys. He was,” she paused thoughtfully, “all of the roles a person could be, and he was the best at them all.”

She stopped to take a sip, then continued. “He worked so hard during the day, and late nights too, I suppose. When I went to work for him – with him – it was like getting to work with your idol. He was my hero. You always knew where you stood with him.” Her lips curved upward, and her eyes misted. “If he loved you, you knew it. I never once had to question his love. It was always there. It was my comfort and my safety net.”

“He sounds like the best.” Luke felt for her – wanted to reach out to her. He could see how genuine her love and admiration for her father had been.

“He was. And now that you’ve got me crying on a date,” Grace said with a small chuckle, sniffing and quickly blotting the corners of her eyes. “I’d like you to tell me about you so I can recover and attempt to save my mascara. It’s supposed to impress you, not smudge around my face and scare you away.” She cleared her throat, changing the subject back to him. “So why accounting?” she asked, trying to shift the conversation off of herself so she could regain composure.

“Isn’t it obvious? The ladies.”

It made her laugh, and she appreciated him for it.

“Naturally,” she bantered while wiping an eye with the back of her hand.

“I guess a little of the dad thing, like you. But I thought my dad was James Bond, wearing fancy suits every day. There was no way he dressed like that to go to a boring desk job. He would leave in the morning and come home acting like he’d conquered the world. And to him, I guess he was. He lives for his job.”

Luke paused to take a bite of his own dinner and was pleasantly surprised. He had to say, he nailed it. Take that, Julia Child, he thought triumphantly.

“I started saying to my mom, ’I’m gonna ‘countant,’ and she’d laugh, and now I know what she was laughing at – knowing full-well what I was signing up for. Luckily, when I realized I wasn’t going to team up with Halle Barry to save the world, I ended up liking the challenge of balancing, audits, financial reports, and forecasting. You can see a business unfold in the numbers. It became a fun game. I was good at it. And if I hadn’t been, Dad wouldn’t have given me a job there, even the unpaid intern role he made me start in.”

He realized as he spoke that he loved it, too. Even on the terrible days. He raised his glass to Grace. It might have been cheesy, but he couldn’t help it.

“To doing what we love with the ones we love.”

The gesture and the sentiment was sweet. Grace clinked her glass to Luke’s and echoed him. “What we love with whom we love.”

“Speaking of what and whom,” Luke asked as he sipped. “What are your thoughts on dessert and a movie?”

“I have many thoughts on those topics, most of them good.”

“Most? It’s dessert and a movie. Are we going to have our first fight?” he said playfully.

“Only if you don’t have an extra pair of sweatpants I can borrow.”

“I often watch movies in the nude.” He made the suggestion seriously.

“Nice try.”

“It was worth a shot for round two.”

He made his way up the stairs to dig out some sweatpants for her, as she started to clear the dishes. He was thankful she didn’t see him stop in his tracks at her next comment.

“We might have time round two.”

Grace chuckled to herself as she heard him pause and make a slight trip up the next step. He might be able to melt her heart, but she wasn’t above making him a little hot in return.

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