Surprise Me Maybe

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Tête-à-Tête

Chloe doesn’t look happy when she sees her father standing on our front porch. She stares at him cautiously while her hands are clutching my wrist tightly. Ashton leans on my porch post, waiting for us to approach the house. His face is unreadable; exactly the kind he wore during appraisal meetings back when I was acting as his executive assistant.

“I called,” Ashton greets. Yes, he has a unique way of greeting people.

“I saw. I thought I would call back when I’m home, but it looks like I don’t have to. How long have you been waiting?”

“Not long. I decided to come over and learned you guys weren’t home. I thought I was going to ring you again but it was then I saw your car coming.”

“I see,” I reply as I rummage through my bag to find the house keys before I give them to Chloe. “You can go inside and watch your series. Mama is going to talk with Ashton. Okay?”

Taking the keys, Chloe reluctantly walks up to the porch and heads straight to the front door before unlocking it. She glares a few times at Ashton in the process, contrasting Ashton’s soft gaze on her as he follows her movement.

“Don’t forget to pee and drink some water!” I remind my daughter before she disappears behind the door.

Once it’s just the two of us, I saunter to the porch and lean on the other post, waiting for Ashton to start the speech. He’s probably going to express his disappointment or point out my discourtesy during lunch. I can’t blame him for doing that, but I’ll also need to say my piece.

To my bewilderment, there is not a single word coming from him. We’re just standing there silently like a pair of decoration porch statues. While his eyes are on me, I look everywhere but his face like a naughty employee being caught red-handed by her boss. I don’t feel ashamed of standing up for myself in front of his mother despite my impulsiveness in handling the situation. But the way his piercing green eyes stare at me, as if he can see right through me, makes it hard for me to look him in the eye at the moment.

“I’m sorry I left without notifying you,” I start. “It was…” I pause, trying to find the correct word for it, “rather spontaneous.”

Ashton raises his eyebrows. “Ah, spontaneous.”

Sighing, I trudge across my front veranda before plopping down on the wooden bench. “Your mother has probably told you what happened. I admit that I was a bit harsh, but in my defense, she accused me of not being sincere, that I have a hidden agenda for you.”

“What hidden agenda?” Ashton slips both his hands into his jeans pockets. When he notices I take time with answering, he props himself up. “Go on. I’m listening.”

“She bluntly asked me how much money I wanted in exchange for leaving you guys alone in peace. When I told her I wasn’t there for the money, she started accusing me of wanting power; your power. You know, something like framing you to marry me so that I can have your last name,” I rattle off faster than I anticipated. “And I lost it.”

The corners of Ashton’s lips twitch. “You’re framing me to marry you,” he mumbles while scratching his non-existent stubble. “That would be quite a show.”

I narrow my eyes on him when I see what he’s doing. “I’m serious, Ashton. She insulted me and talked nonsense about my intention of bringing Chloe into your life. That’s not something to joke about!”

Ashton stops smirking and brings both his hands up. “Okay, sorry. I didn’t mean to make fun of this situation or anything. You have all the reasons to be upset, and what you feel is absolutely valid because I know how my mother can be,” he replies. “But I’ve warned you so many times about what kind of a person she is, especially since you decided to come along with us.”

“Yeah okay, but I had no idea that she was even worse than you.” I bite my inner cheek, regretting the indirect insult I just threw at him.

“Why thank you.” Ashton makes his way to me and settles at the spot next to me. “You shouldn’t take her antics seriously, Charlotte. I told you she’s all bluff and loves to scare people off because that’s all she knows how to control the situations around her.”

Feeling the warmth radiating from his body, I push myself to hang on his every word while his scent keeps invading my defenseless nostrils. Dammit! It’s getting harder to focus every second. Be brave, Char! And get your mind out of the gutter!

“However, she’s still my mother. I find introducing Chloe to her and the rest of my family important before I can announce her as my legal heir publicly.” Ashton sighs as he leans forward, his elbows pressing on his knees. “I was hoping it was going to be a quick and easy lunch. Just a formality. But well, my mother is being my mother and–”

“Me being Charlotte Garnett,” I finish his line.

He smirks. “Good thing you didn’t spice up her drink.”

I drop my head as I groan. “Please, not that again. I will never live that down, will I?”

“Not a chance.”

“Fine. I guess it’s a sin I will never be able to redeem,” I reply in defeat, earning a chuckle from him. Just when I’m secretly admiring his figure from behind, he turns his head to me, prompting me to groan inwardly for being caught in the act.

“My mother said you’re not going to let my family see Chloe again. Is that true?”

I wince at his question. “Yeah, I said that, but I didn’t mean it. I was so mad and it was actually my attempt to counterattack your mother because her words stung,” I explain, feeling dumber every second as I realize how immature I was. “I need to take that back and maybe apologize to her. The thing is–” my fingers fiddle my bag straps “–Chloe kinda saw us.”

“What do you mean?”

I glance at the window behind me to make sure Chloe can’t hear us. The window is shut and Chloe sprawls on the couch with her head up, watching her series. “She was there when Danielle and I were arguing. I’m not sure how much she heard but later in the car, she said she didn’t want to see your family ever again because they hurt me,” I say in a half-whisper.

Ashton frowns as if he’s trying to connect the dots. “Is that why she looked gloomy when she saw me just now? Does she not want to see me, too?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. I will need to talk about this with her again later. I will fix this,” I promise him, scratch that, I promise myself because I know Chloe wouldn’t have witnessed Danielle say nasty things to me if I didn’t play along impulsively. I’m just afraid that Chloe will put Ashton on the wrong team, and despise him as she does the rest of his family.

“Can I talk to her?” Ashton’s deep voice pulls me out of my jumbled mind.

“Of course. But not now, though. Chloe is a tad bit angry. I’m afraid if the talk doesn’t go well, it will make things worse.” I glance at him. “Maybe give her some time?′

“Okay,” he replies before rubbing his face. “I’m tired. Just got back this morning from the trip and then this.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault. You weren’t prepared for my mother’s expertise at poking people’s nerves.” Ashton smiles earnestly.

“You should go home and have some rest then.”

“Yeah,” he mumbles, looking behind his back to check on Chloe who drops her head a few times and pushes it back up, fighting off the sleepiness. “And I’m not the only one who is dead tired, it seems.”

It’s almost four in the afternoon but the sun is still high above our heads, sparkling its bright yellow light against the clear blue sky. Silently, we walk side by side to his car, feeling defeated from the eventful day.

All of a sudden, the earlier conversation at lunch pops up in my head. “Hey, Ashton, I have a question.” My voice stops him from getting inside his car. “It’s a stupid one actually, and probably not my business but–”

“Just ask it, Charlotte. You don’t need to give the opening line when you want to ask me something. I’m not your client.”

“Well, you’re practically my boss.”

Ashton closes his door again and turns around before leaning back in his car, giving me his full attention. “Practically not here.”

“Yeah okay,” I reply, starting to think that it’s probably not a good idea to ask it after all, but my curiosity wins. “It’s about the mother of Dickson’s daughter. Does she face the same problem as I do? I mean, being accused of having ingenuine intentions for your family?”

“Sort of. But I believe it’s not an empty accusation.”

“Oh?”

“She’s not the nicest person I know. She also continuously demands money from Dickson and it’s not small amounts. Just because she gave birth to his child, she thinks she has the right to milk him dry. She’s been giving us headaches for a while.” Ashton shrugs before chuckling lightly. “Dickson is always surrounded by interesting women. Unfortunately, he knocked up one of them.”

“Now I understand where Danielle is coming from,” I mumble.

“Don’t worry too much about it. Our situation is different from Dickson’s.”

“As long as he didn’t knock her up because of a broken condom, yeah, our situation is totally different.” I retort, earning a deep rumbling laugh from Ashton. The laugh that caresses every fiber of my body.

“I’ll see what I can do about this,” he says after his laughter dies down. “I’m thinking of us having dinner with my mother and finding our common ground with cool-headedness. Just the three of us. Do you think you can let Chloe stay with Sophie or your parents for one night?”

“Yeah, sure. Just let me know when.”

“I’ll need to check on my schedule for that.” Ashton props himself up and retracts his keys from his pocket. “I hope we get all this drama behind us before Chloe’s birthday.”

I nod at his remarks, thinking how things are going to change soon. First, Ashton’s announcement about having a daughter out of nowhere, then Chloe spending her birthday with her complete family for the very first time. If things go as planned.

“And,” Ashton adds, “I need to remind you that there might be a little adjustment once I inform the Human Resources about me having a daughter with you.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know that we have a rule that employees under the same company aren’t allowed to marry each other, right?”

Do we even have that rule at work? I had no idea. “Yeah,” I reply anyway. I just don’t want to look stupid in front of him.

“I know we’re not getting married, but we’re connected in a way that might raise unwanted reactions from the rest of the office members. There wouldn’t be any issues if I were an employee like you, but I’m not. I’m your CEO. The bar is set differently for us.”

I gulp. “Are you saying they’re going to force me to resign?”

“No, of course not. I’m not going to let that happen. The highest possibility is you’re going to be transferred to another subsidiary company. You wouldn’t be under me anymore.” Before I can respond he corrects himself, “I mean as my employee.”

It never occurred to me that once the announcement about Chloe being Ashton Knight’s daughter was out, it would affect my employment situation. And of course, between me and Ashton, I’m the one who will be sacrificed because my worth is non-existent compared to my CEO’s.

“What if they transfer me to a position I don’t care to do? What if they make me do the Executive Assistant job again?” I shiver at my own questions.

“I’ll do anything in my power to keep you in your marketing role, where you’re good at.”

“Thank you!” I let out a relieved sigh. At least Ashton is willing to look out for me, otherwise, I will need to find another job again. “What is the problem of staying in my current team anyway? I’m reporting to Max, not to you. There shouldn’t be any issue from others, should it?”

“I’m still involved in crucial decisions for all my employees, Charlotte. I can be biased and it can affect the balance of the office dynamic.”

“Nah, I’m sure you won’t be biased.” He will stay true to himself anyway. He will always be Ashton Knight, the very economical CEO. What to be biased about?

“When it comes to you, I’m not so sure,” he replies nonchalantly but enough to sweep me off the ground, followed by a sudden heat creeping up on my face.

“Oh. Umm, then I deserve to be kicked out from the Knight & Co,” I murmur as I look down at my feet, hiding my burning cheeks. “I should have got shacked on my first day anyway. I can imagine how much you wanted to hunt my ass down when you found out about the coffee accident.”

It takes him a few seconds to reply, “You have no idea.”


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