Love's Hope Sample Sunday
Subject to change.
Release Date: August 15, 2022
“Hope, this is unacceptable.”
My fingers froze over the keyboard as my office door slammed open. I watched with annoyance as the angry, bulldog-faced man stalked towards me.
With the same arrogance he displayed in each of our meetings, Mr. Stratford tossed a folder on my desk, watching as several papers skated across the wood before fluttering to the floor.
Adopting a nonchalant expression, I reclined in my chair. “Excuse me?”
“This… this invoice is ridiculous. Do you see the amount of billable hours? You and this company are not only trying to fuck me in this contract, you’re trying to rob me while doing it. It’s bullshit.”
My plan to stay professional with Mr. Stratford wavered each time I was forced to communicate with him.
With crossed legs, I tilted my head and scrutinized him through narrowed lids.
Sometimes, sitting in this office and poring over contracts for hours could get boring. So when moments like these appeared, I looked forward to and enjoyed them.
“Mr. Stratford, as I informed you in our meeting two weeks ago, my time is billed at an hourly rate. Which means, each hour I spend working on your account and fulfilling your demands is billable. Whether that’s reviewing contracts, holding meetings with vendors, or fielding questions and explaining what I do for the hundredth time.” My lips curved when his face reddened because he knew that was a direct jab at him. “Now, that rate, like everything else, was explained to you before any contract was signed. And you still agreed to use our services. Now, if you’re dissatisfied with my performance, I’m willing to schedule a meeting where you, David, and myself can discuss any concerns. But barging in and throwing a tantrum is unacceptable. I’m sure you don’t allow that behavior at your company, so please don’t do it here.”
There were a few moments where he weighed his options, debating on how to respond.
The moment he chose violence over diplomacy was obvious because I’d seen it too many times in the gazes of other men. I was well prepared and had already rolled my chair backwards and stood by the time he’d slammed his palm loudly on the surface of my desk.
“Is there a problem?”
I ignored the jolt low in my gut as I flashed a quick look at Maverick, who stood in the open doorway to the bathroom we shared. “No, we’re fine.”
“No, we’re not, Mr. Martin. Hope,” Mr. Stratford stressed, putting emphasis on my name. “Has repeatedly shown me nothing but disrespect and I…”
Rolling my eyes, I tuned out the rant.
I also hadn’t missed the slight where he referred to me as Hope but addressed Maverick as Mr. Martin. Despite us holding the same title, Mr. Stratford treated him like my boss rather than my equal. It was irritating to bust my ass for years, only to be usurped by a man within a month simply because of what was between his legs.
“... if she can’t show me respect—”
“I don’t think she’s the one lacking respect.”
My eyes bucked, tuning back into the conversation after Maverick interrupted him.
Mr. Stratford’s mouth hung open, probably surprised that a man hadn’t automatically sided with him. I’d seen the way he bullied his assistant and it disgusted me. The woman went well above her duties and he constantly gave her shit, treating her as less than. Many times, I’d been tempted to speak up but had held my tongue, not wanting to overstep.
“From what I’ve seen, the only person in this equation that lacks respect is you, Mr. Stratford. Since I’ve gotten here, you’ve challenged her, done nothing but give pushback, made her job difficult, prolonged the completion of the merger you want… yet you’re complaining about the hours billed? Had you worked with her and not against her, this contract likely would’ve been completed weeks ago and you could’ve saved yourself thousands of dollars.” Maverick’s head tilted, lips flattening as he moved further into the room, keeping his gaze on the man whose hands trembled with anger.
“Since I’ve been here, you’ve refused to agree on one thing. One. Any further delays in this process falls solely on your shoulders. Mr. Gavin has conceded on more than I would have to complete this deal and you’re still not satisfied. And each time, Ms. Givens has busted her ass to meet your unreasonable demands. So in return, that respect you’re demanding? It’s owed to her first, tenfold. Am I clear?”
“Mr. Martin, but sh—”
“Am I clear?”
Mr. Stratford’s jaw clenched and he nodded, flicking his gaze towards me. “I apologize for my earlier behavior, Ho-” He cleared his throat. “Ms. Givens.”
I didn’t accept his halfhearted apology, so I merely nodded.
His entire frame was stiff as spoke through clenched teeth. “From now on, all communication will go through my assistant.”
“That’s probably for the best.” Maverick agreed, tone still painfully neutral.
Mr. Stratford strolled out without the papers he’d tossed my way. The second he was gone, my shoulders sagged from the tension he took with him before inhaling when Maverick rounded the desk, stopping only a foot away.
That damn scent that reminded me of our night invaded my senses and I sucked in a slow breath, hoping he couldn’t tell that it affected me.
An entire month working around this man had me ready to risk it all.
That intense sexual tension was clearly still there. If anything, it had grown stronger.
But unlike me, he seemed completely unfazed, which drove me crazy because how the hell was he able to ignore it?
While I seemed to burn alive every time he stepped into the room, he was fine navigating around me without the temptation.
I nodded, keeping my focus on his neck, refusing to meet his eyes, afraid of what I’d find and how I’d react to it.
“I thought we agreed not to make it weird.”
That statement had my gaze jerking upwards, meeting his head on.
Like he’d expected it, his lips were already curved in a half-grin, eyes lit with amusement. “There she is. The Hope Givens I’ve come to know doesn’t avoid eye contact.”
Rolling my eyes, I turned away, squatting to pick up the papers Mr. Stratford left behind. “You don’t know Hope Givens, Maverick.”
That noncommittal sound had me glancing up, tensing when I found him still standing right behind me, bottom lip tucked between his teeth. His lids were hooded as he looked down with a glare that screamed sex.
“Hmm, what?” I asked, pushing to my feet, stacking the papers neatly before holding them protectively against my chest.
Instead of answering, his gaze trailed over me, leaving a heated path wherever his eyes touched.
For the last month, this man has given me absolutely nothing. So to suddenly be on the receiving end of such blatant interest and attraction left me rattled.
“I’m taking an early lunch, sweetheart.” His eyes still burned my flesh as they made their way back up my body.
He knew calling me that would remind me of that night.
“You want me to bring you something?”
A new pair of panties.
Maybe an orgasm or two?
As if he could sense my internal thoughts, his gaze finally met mine and that half grin spread into a full one, exposing the dimple that creased his cheek, making his already attractive face even more flawless.
“No, no. I’m good.”
He watched me a few moments before nodding and turning, striding with that casual confidence through the bathroom door, closing it behind him.