More Than Crave You(3)

By: Shayla Black

Maybe that will matter eventually. Right now, I can only see my current slew of problems and the fact I’m not dealing well with them. Of course, she’s phrased the question so I’ll sound like an idiot if I say no. And maybe I am. Becca often had to explain her brand of logic to me since my emotional IQ is apparently something close to my shoe size. But Nia and I have similar problems, though in reverse. She doesn’t understand men because she grew up without a father, and I barely remember my own mother, who died when I was five. None of my foster families filled in the gaps. So females confuse me. I’m not saying I’ve never made a decision based on feelings…but I’ve done it fewer than five times in my life. Daily? I couldn’t handle that.

“I don’t expect you to take care of me outside the office, Nia.”

“If it will keep you from making the biggest mistake of your life, I will.” Then she sends me a coaxing smile. “Let me cook tonight. I’ll make some of my great-aunt’s famous New Orleans gumbo…”

Nia brought the spicy, soupy heaven to an office potluck once, and my taste buds instantly fell in love. Besides, I haven’t had a home-cooked meal in months. “Your bargaining tactics are cutthroat.”

She shrugs as if she can’t help herself. “I learned from the best.”

That’s true. Nia has paid attention through every step of the negotiations my college buddy and current CFO, Sebastian Shaw, and I have taken with cash-rich Colossus Investment Corporation. I’ve declined their three offers. The first two simply failed to offer me market value for my cutting-edge data storage technology. The most recent buyout approached fair…but still wasn’t lucrative enough.

With a sigh, I give in to my assistant. I’ve never been good at saying no to Nia, especially when she presses on my weak spots. My stomach is definitely one. “All right. I appreciate the help and the meal.”

“While the gumbo is simmering, we’ll tackle some of the projects around your place and hopefully start getting your life back in order.”

“Thanks. I’m lucky to have you in my corner. Who knew that hiring a girl with moxie straight out of college would be one of the best things I ever did?”

Nia’s smile seems to brighten everything around her. “Who knew that taking a chance on a newish but growing company with a ridiculously intelligent founder would end up so great?”

For the first time in what feels like forever, I relax. “I’m assuming gumbo takes a while to cook. So what time should I leave here?”

“If I get all the ingredients prepped and on your stove by five-thirty, we’ll be eating about eight. That all right?”

Actually, it will be perfect. I can barely remember the last time I didn’t spend an evening alone. “Sure.”

“See you at your place then.”


If anything, her smile widens. “It’s my pleasure.”

When I arrive at home, it’s almost six. Nia is waiting in front of my door with bags of food and a big cooking pot at her feet. She’s dressed in a gray sweatshirt that clings to her shape, along with a matching pair of leggings that hug her from thigh to ankle. I stop. I’ve rarely seen her in casual clothes, and never in anything this formfitting. The effect is nothing like her usual suit with skirts and silky blouses. She looks relaxed. Female. Lush. I gulp. No wonder she’s never lacking for dates.

I shove the thought aside.

“Sorry I’m late.” I rush from the elevator, opening my door with one hand and scooping up bags of groceries with the other. “I’ll get those.”

I feel more than vaguely guilty that she carried everything up by herself. Becca always did the same, and I hated that I was never around to help. But Nia is volunteering to organize my life. I can’t repay her by being a slacker or seeming like an ungrateful asshole.

“No problem,” she insists as she follows me inside, then gasps.

I’m not surprised. The place looks like a hurricane hit it. She’s only ever been here to drop off work when I was sick. Becca insisted on personally keeping this place spotless back then; she couldn’t tolerate chaos of any kind and wanted control of her surroundings. After my OCD wife was gone, I didn’t have any clue or inclination how to keep the house the way she had.

I lead Nia to the kitchen. She sets the pot on the stove, then turns in a circle, hands on her hips. “You weren’t kidding. This is a wreck.”

I wince, aware that just about every dish I own is piled in the sink. The overflow clutters the counters. I probably shouldn’t spring my bedroom and bathroom on her, too. “Unfortunately, no.”