Mourners stood all around the coffin as the funeral concluded at the cemetery. Why are funerals always on bright, sunny days? Randi asked herself as she stood feeling the numbness flow through her.
Rachel had battled cancer for months. Strong right up until the end. Knowing there was nothing more the doctors could do, she used her final weeks with family. Wanting to give them good memories to hopefully make the ones of seeing her through her illness fade with time.
Randi turned her head and looked to Jessie. Her heart went out to her sister’s daughter. Holding her emotions inside. No matter what anyone said or did, Jessie refused to cry. And, here she stood. A young woman of twenty-two, so full of life up until her mother told them all she had uterine cancer.
Philip stood just behind Randi. Rachel’s illness had taken such a toll on the entire family. Randi doing all she could for her sister’s children. Jessie was as independent as her aunt. Just as stubborn, too. Randi and Jessie had a bond for as long as he could remember. It still amazed him how much Jessie looked like Randi. From her long, vibrant chestnut hair to her infectious smile. The only thing they didn’t share were the dark brown eyes Philip still lost himself in of Randi’s. Though the years had passed by, he felt as though time stood still. She was still the young woman he’d met under the worst of circumstances yet fell in love with her anyway. She truly was his other half. And now, he needed to be there for her as he’d never been before. The last of her family was being buried today. A loss he felt as though it were his own because of their connection.
“Jessie, come back to the house with us,” Randi said as they walked to their cars following the service.
“I need some time alone, Randi,” she answered. “I’ll stop by later.”
Randi gathered Jessie in an embrace. “Don’t try to handle this alone,” Randi whispered for only Jessie to hear. “I know you think you don’t need anyone, but trust me, you do.”
Jessie simply looked at her when their embrace ended before walking to her car and driving away.
* * *
Randi and Philip hosted the funeral gathering at their house following the cemetery. Wayne, Rachel’s husband of thirty-two years, wasn’t holding up well. There was no way he could handle all these well-wishers at the house he shared with Rachel. The house Rachel and Randi had grown up in and was left to Rachel when their parents passed on.
“Wayne, if there’s anything …” Philip started.
“Phil, you and Randi have been great. Really, there isn’t anything.”
“How’s Robin holding up?”
Robin was Rachel and Wayne’s seventeen year old son.
“Let’s just say, the horses are getting their exercise,” Wayne answered.
Just like Randi and Jessie, Robin rode the horses on their farm whenever he needed to think or clear his head. Rachel’s world revolved around her children. Because of the circumstances of their births, Rachel held onto them tightly. Robin adjusted to it well enough. Jessie rebelled as often as possible. Needing her independence. And Randi would always fight that battle with her sister on her behalf. Randi tried telling Rachel that by trying to contain Jessie, it would only push her away.
“Maybe I can take him down to Dad’s ranch. I’m sure his horses could use a workout.”
“Phil, I appreciate the gesture, but …”
“Look, Justin would love to see Pierce again. Who knows, maybe Pierce can help Robin through this.”
Pierce was Randi and Philip’s oldest child. He was sixteen years old, and no one could say for sure where his strong personality came from. Both Randi and Philip contributed to that aspect of their boy. Pierce had his mother’s chestnut hair and dark eyes. His height matched that of his father already.
“Maybe it would be good for him to … you know … get away from all this.”
“I’ll have the jet ready tomorrow.” Philip placed a hand on Wayne’s shoulder and looked at him. “You’d be welcome to join them if you want.”
“Thanks, but no. I have a feeling if both Robin and I go away, Jessie will not take it well.”
“Do what you think is best,” Philip told him. “The offer is open for whenever you need it.”
* * *
“Hey, mini-cupcake!” Todd Michaels greeted once Jessie was escorted into his office at Lonestar Corporation. “What brings you by today?”
“Needed some time away … from family.”
Todd stood and stepped around his desk. Leaning against its front while Jessie took a visitor chair.
“Jess, I know this is a difficult day for you. But, all of your family is dealing with the same thing. Don’t you think being together would be better than sitting here in my office?”
Jessie developed a severe crush on Todd Michaels right around the time of her sweet sixteen. He was completely different from his brother Philip, her aunt’s husband. A true playboy. His cavalier attitude was something she wished she had right now. Not able to care about anything.
And yet, since she was a young child, Jessie also had a crush on her Uncle Philip. She remembered telling him when she was a mere four years old, “You can’t kiss my Randi like that!” Her aunt had been her lifeline. The woman she looked up to. The woman she wanted to emulate.
“Todd, how would you feel if you found out your entire life has been nothing but one big, fat lie?”
Todd was taken aback by that, and it showed on his face. “Well, depends on the big, fat lie I suppose.”
“Never mind,” Jessie sighed.
He squat down before her chair, taking her hands in his and looking in her eyes.
“Jess, you’ve been through a helluva time these past few months. Why don’t you take some time? Go away. Clear your head.”
“Is that an offer Todd?”
Todd smiled. He knew she had a crush on him. Something he thought would diminish as she got older. And, when he looked at her, he saw Randi. Possibly the one woman who could have tamed his playboy ways. If his brother hadn’t been tamed by her first.
“And have Phil all over my ass? I don’t think so Jess.”
He stood and went back to leaning on the front of his desk.
Their attention was diverted to the office door opening.
“Hey Boss, you wanted to see the files on these,” Shane Sullivan walked into his office and realized his boss had company. “Sorry Mr. Michaels, I can come back with these.”
“Well, if it isn’t mini-Todd,” Jessie teased as she stood and saw Shane.
Shane’s mouth always went dry when Jessie Moore was around. She was gorgeous as hell. Had the ability to frustrate the hell out of him. And usually made his blood boil within thirty seconds of seeing her. However, the blood usually traveled south just before it ignited his temper at her constant teasing.
“Jess, do you call all of my interns mini-Todd?”
“C’mon Todd!” she laughed. Shane was seriously trying to rein himself in so he wouldn’t react and blow the best job he’d had. “Look at him. My God, his hair looks like yours.” She stepped closer to him and began circling. “Why Todd, his suit is even the same as yours.”
Before he could stop himself. “So, that must be why you look and dress like your aunt?”
The fire in her eyes at Shane’s statement was unmistakable. Why the hell had he said it? Everyone knew of Randall Pierce-Michaels in the business community. She was hell on wheels and damn good at what she did. She and her husband Philip ran PKM Corporation as smooth as silk. There wasn’t a better team to be had. Shane felt if Jessie would just tone it down, she could actually learn from her aunt. If she could turn that determination into something other than frustrating him, she’d be as good as her aunt.
“Look you kids,” Todd interrupted their bantering. “As amusing as I’m finding all this, Shane and I really do have a business meeting.” He stepped over to Jessie resting his hands on her shoulders. “Think over what I said Jess.”
She just looked at him. Oh how she wanted to just will him to kiss her. Just once. Feel the burn she knew he could ignite in her.
Todd’s hand brushed her hair behind her ear. “Go. Be with your family. You need each other now.”
She stepped back from his touch. “Yeah,” she croaked out before grabbing her purse from the chair and making her exit.
Once the office door was closed and Todd had made his way back behind his desk, Shane asked, “Shall I go clean out my desk Mr. Michaels?”
Todd looked at him full of bewilderment. “Clean out your desk?”
“I know Ms. Moore is family Mr. Michaels. I stepped over a line.”
Todd leaned back in his chair, his face showing his amusement still. “Actually, I should be thanking you Shane.”
“Thanking me, sir?”
“Jess is going through a pretty rough time. Her mother’s funeral was today.”
“I’m sorry sir. I had no idea.” Shane lowered his head in total mortification.
“Don’t be sorry. The girl needed a kick in the ass.”
Shane’s head shot up. “Sir?”
“Her mom just went through a battle with cancer. It was nice seeing her spunk back.”
Todd chuckled. “Yeah. She hasn’t shown that in a couple of months. It was nice to see the old Jess is still in there.”
Yeah, the old Jess. The woman is nothing but a royal pain in the ass. A thought Shane knew best kept to himself.
Todd gestured for Shane to take a seat.
“Why don’t you ask her to dinner?” Todd asked, chuckling at the expression that fell over Shane’s face.
“Dinner,” Shane repeated.
“You know, get her mind off life these days.”
“I’m sorry Mr. Michaels, but Ms. Moore isn’t my type.”
Todd smiled amusedly. “So, you don’t like strong women?”
Shane wasn’t feeling comfortable in this setting at all. Hell yes he found the woman attractive. He fantasized about being with her. Her delicious body beneath him. Her hands caressing him intimately.
Shane had to take in a breath to remove those thoughts. Jessie Moore wasn’t his type. She was not-so-secretly in love with his boss. She was annoying, hot headed, and so many things that drove a man insane. Things he wasn’t going to allow to drive him insane. No matter how much his body called out to hers whenever he saw her.
“I like strong women,” he finally answered. “I actually like quite a few types of women. Ms. Moore is family sir.”
“She’s my brother’s family. I’m just the fun distant uncle. Veeeery distant uncle,” he added on a chuckle.
“She’s still not my type,” Shane responded.
* * *
“Jess?” Randi called as she walked up the steps to the bedroom in the family farmhouse.
Jessie panicked at hearing Randi’s voice. Right now, she seriously wanted to be alone.
Not finding Jessie in her own bedroom, she ventured to Rachel and Wayne’s. Jessie sat in the middle of her parents’ bed, boxes opened on top.
Randi took in the sight. Why was she going through her mother’s things alone? Hell, why was she going through all of this alone?
Randi stepped into the room and sat next to Jessie on the bed. Stroking her niece’s hair, “Jess, you don’t have to do this.”
Jessie wouldn’t allow the emotions to surface. “It’s been a couple of weeks. The longer her stuff stays here, the longer Dad will …” her voice trailed off.
“Jess, what’s wrong with your dad?” Randi asked, sounding concerned.
Jessie stood and paced at the foot of the bed. “He misses … Mom.”
“Honey, we all do.”
“No, not like him.”
“Jessie, talk to me,” Randi said as she stood and walked to her.
“Look, he tries not to show it. But, when he thinks no one can see…”
Randi reached for Jessie’s arms and looked intently at her. “Jess, stop stalling. What’s going on with your dad?”
“He’s drinking,” she answered and pulled away to pace some more. “I know it’s to bury the pain. But, he won’t even sleep in this room. It’s like, if he doesn’t accept that she’s gone, then he…” Jess threw her arms in the air. “I don’t know! He’s just not dealing!”
“Then, maybe you can help him,” Randi suggested.
“Yes, you. Jess, you’re keeping everything bottled up inside. You’re doing the same thing he is.”
“I am not!”
“So tell me, have you cried?” Randi shouted back. “Have you gotten angry? Have you blamed everyone and everything in the world for this happening?” she demanded further, Jessie only looking at her. “Because I have! Dammit, my sister died. Your mother!”
“It’s not the same for me,” Jessie responded calmly.
“Not the same?” Randi’s temper was rising. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Look, I may look like you, but that doesn’t mean I have to be you!”
Shane’s comment in Todd’s office still burned her. That on top of going through all her mother’s things and learning family secrets was getting to be too much.
“Where is this coming from?” Randi shouted.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Philip’s voice came from the door as he entered. “Fighting is not going to accomplish anything here.”
“Uncle Philip, please take your wife home.”
Philip didn’t know what was going on. For the past month, Jessie was pulling further and further away from Randi. Randi wasn’t dealing with it well at all. He knew she loved Jessie. Jessie pulling away was a knife in Randi’s heart.
“Randall,” he softly called. “Why don’t you head on back to the house. Colby and Spencer have been looking for you.”
“Yeah, go back home to your kids Aunt Randi,” Jessie retorted.
Philip reached for Randi’s arm when she started to go to Jessie to continue this fight. He shook his head and guided her to the door. Effectively shooing her home.
“Alright, care to tell me what that was all about?” Philip asked once he heard the front door close and Randi’s car drive away.
“Uncle Philip, I don’t need everyone smothering me. Okay?”
He stepped over to her. It amazed him at how much alike she and Randi were. Same height, same small frame, same everything … except those eyes. Eyes that were her father’s and betrayed her by showing the pain she was fighting.
“Honey,” Philip brushed hair behind her ear just like Todd had that day in his office. How could one woman be attracted to two men for two completely different reasons? “Rachel was special to all of us.”
“And she’s gone,” Jessie stubbornly responded.
“No one’s asking you to grieve like them.”
“No, you’re all just telling me I’m not grieving at all!” She stepped away and turned her back to him.
He stepped up behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders. He leaned down and said softly in her ear, “I know you’re grieving. Simply by lashing out at Randall shows me that.”
“Randi’s just being controlling.”
“No, she’s trying to be there for you. She’s hurting. You’re hurting. And if the two of you weren’t so much alike …”
She sharply pulled free. “Stop! Just stop!”
He looked at her confusedly as she angrily paced. “I am nothing like her!”
He softly laughed and shook his head. “The reason you’re so angry is because you know you are.”
Jessie looked him over as though inspecting him as she stepped closer.
“You love her,” Jessie stated.
“You know I do.”
“And, I’m just like her,” her voice took on a sultry tone as she continued stepping closer until she was up close.
He eyed her suspiciously. “Jessie,” he warned as her arms reached up to loop around his neck.
“Philip,” she sighed as her arms tugged him closer and closer.
He reached for her arms behind his neck and stepped back. “Jess, you know I love you. Just like I love Pierce, Colby and Spencer.”
She pulled free and away. “Your kids,” she stated.
He stepped up behind her and cupped her shoulders again. “You and Robin are just as important to me, and Randall, as our own children.”
“Yeah,” Jessie scoffed.
“You know I’m always here for you,” he told her as she turned to face him. “To talk.” His hand lifted to the side of her face and caress her cheek with his thumb. “We all miss you, Jess. And, we all care for you.”
She pulled away again. “I’m sorry Uncle Philip,” she said as she turned away.
“No harm done. Maybe you need to take some time away. Go to Texas with Robin and Pierce.”
“Horses aren’t my thing. I like working.”
He stepped up behind her again and kissed her crown. “The office won’t fall apart if you take some time off.”
“Because you and Randi are running the show?”
“Honey, we love having you at PKM. I’m just saying we’ll understand if you need some time off.” He turned her to face him. “Believe it or not, Randall does know how you feel.”
She crinkled her nose in confusion, just like Randi.
“She lost Andrew. And she threw herself into work right after.”
“But she met you.”
“That was four years later.” He stepped away and made his way to the door. “All I’m saying is, she loves you and just may be the one person best able to understand. Give it some thought.”
“Thanks Uncle Philip.”
They exchanged smiles before he left and made his way home.
Jessie felt like an idiot for coming onto him. What the hell was she thinking? He’d never stray from Randi. Absolutely, positively perfect Randi.
She plopped down on the bed. Between this attraction to Todd and now what she’d just done with Philip, she needed to get a grasp on these hormones. What she needed was a man. Even though her sexual encounters were far from ideal, any sort of release would be welcome. Hell, it had been two years!
* * *
“Is she alright?” Randi asked as soon as Philip walked into their bedroom when he returned from Rachel and Wayne’s.
He approached her and wrapped his arms around her waist, bringing his lips to hers softly.
“She’ll be fine,” he answered as he gave butterfly kisses at her ear.
“I hate seeing her this way,” Randi answered breathlessly.
His hands reached up to her face. The smile she gave him told him she wanted him. “I think we need some alone time. What do you think Mrs. Michaels?”
Her arms reached up and looped around his neck. “I think that would be a very good idea,” she answered before bringing his lips to hers.
* * *
Todd was working after hours when Jessie entered his office. A nice little black dress. Maybe a nice dinner and some wine. If anyone could relieve her sexual frustration and not get attached, it was Todd Michaels.
Todd looked up when he noticed her, an appreciative smile on his face as he leaned back.
“Jess, isn’t it a little late for you?”
She sauntered over and sat on the corner of his desk facing him.
“Are you saying it’s my bedtime?”
He steepled his hands at his chin. “I’m thinking you’re in the wrong place to be dressed like that.”
She caressed along her plunging neckline. “Oh this old thing?”
He smiled. “Jess, how old are you again?”
She paced on the other side of his desk a moment. She leaned down on the desk, palms flat, giving him a view that would normally bring him to his knees…had it been anyone else.
“I’m twenty-two,” she purred.
“And, I’m forty-six,” he told her.
As amusing as her infatuation was to him, he was even admitting to himself it was getting a little out of control.
“You’re a very distinguished forty-six.”
“Jess,” he had the same warning tone as Philip.
“Are you going to tell me you don’t pick up women my age Todd?”
“I’m saying, as lovely as you are, it’s not gonna happen.”
She stood straight. “Oh come on Todd. You’re exactly what I need.”
“I’m not looking for a relationship. I’m looking for a little fun. No strings. You’re No Strings Michaels.”
He chuckled. “So I’ve been told.”
She looked down at him again. “Look, I get my needs met. You have a little fun in the deal. No one needs to know.”
He stood and made his way to the other side of his desk. Sitting on the corner he looked at her. “So, Miss Jessica. Tell me, how many men have you been with?”
“What has that got to do with this?”
“Answer the question.”
“Two,” he repeated then stood and paced. “And, how was it for you?”
“You want me to give it a score?”
“Jess,” he turned to face her, the chair between them. “I never thought you were still a virgin. That’s not it. But, I’m guessing it was a couple guys in college?”
He could tell by the look on her face he hit the nail on the head.
“And, I’m also guessing it wasn’t what you imagined it to be.”
“Then, you’d be the perfect man,” her voice husky as she rounded the chair and stood before him. “You could show me all I’ve missed.”
“Honey, two men isn’t anything to base this on.” He stepped away. “Yes, I see women your age. They’re also not like you.”
“No buts. You aren’t anything like women I go for. You’re a relationship girl.”
He smiled and she heard how immature she just sounded.
“Jess, what you need to do is get out from behind that desk at PKM, hang out with kids your own age, meet someone.”
“Like Randi?” He heard the frustration in her voice.
“Like Jessie,” he answered. “Honey, don’t do this because you need to get over your mom.”
“This has nothing to do with … her!”
“Okay, say I have sex with you. I’d have no idea what to do with you.”
“That’s a poor excuse and you know it,” she countered.
“No, it’s accurate. Honey, you’ve been with two college guys. Hell, you were probably drunk, as were they, and trust me, college guys don’t have the best experience. You’re all learning.”
“And, you’re beyond that,” she stated.
“I’m all up for teaching if it’s the right woman.”
His phone rang interrupting their strange conversation.
“Are you kidding me?” he yelled into the phone. “Winslow is not going to rip this account out from under me. Not this time!”
He hung up and looked at her. “Duty calls,” he told her.
“Think over my offer, Todd,” she said as she turned and made her way to the door.
“Think over what I said,” he countered.
Shane hustled away from Todd’s office door and out of sight just in time before Jessie exited. He barely lifted his jaw that had dropped to the floor upon hearing their conversation. He knew she had a crush on his boss. This was insane.
He watched as she walked to the elevator. Damn if that dress didn’t just hug all the right places! His libido obviously wasn’t as strong as Todd’s at the sight. Needed to get rid of his excitement before entering his boss’ office.
“Mr. Michaels,” Shane called out when he entered Todd’s office.
“Hey, glad you’re working late. Saves me a message.”
“Is something wrong?” Shane asked.
“No. Just Winslow. I’m not going to lose another account.”
“Anything I can do?”
“No, but I was wondering if you were going to take the penthouse. I moved out.”
“I appreciate the thought boss, but I don’t know that I can afford it.”
Todd stopped adding files to his briefcase and looked up. He liked the kid. Shane was twenty-four and trying to prove himself. Hell, he’d only been a few years older himself when Randi had shown him the ropes of business. He internally chuckled when he remembered Jessie calling him mini-Todd.
“How long have you interned here?”
“Eighteen months, give or take.”
“Really?” Todd was surprised so much time had passed. Shane really was an asset to him. “Well, I think you’ve outgrown your internship.”
Shane swallowed. “You’re firing me sir?”
Todd locked his case and walked over toward Shane. “I can’t use you as an intern anymore. Hell, why didn’t you tell me six months ago?”
“I…I…I” Oh man, what was he going to do about a job now?
Todd reached into his pocket and took out a set of keys. Dangling them in front of Shane, “Here.”
“It’s Friday. Monday morning, you are to take up the office two doors down.”
“The new accounts associate?”
“You’ve been doing the job for months now. I’ll leave a message for Shirley to get you set up as an actual employee.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
He jangled the keys. “Say you’ll take the job and take the penthouse.”
“But, the penthouse…”
“Are you saying you like sharing an apartment with your old college buddies?”
“Good. I need you to stop living with partiers so you can give me a hundred and ten percent here.”
Shane was floored. He’d only been to the penthouse once and the living room alone was as big as his apartment. The one he shared with three other guys who still did the party scene. He agreed and took the keys as Todd left the office for the night wishing him a good weekend.