More Than Crave You(6)

By: Shayla Black

My penthouse is beginning to feel something approaching normal again. But it’s not home anymore.

I swallow a bite of gumbo and peer across the table at Nia. I realize that I know her…but I don’t. She’s told me an assorted collection of her facts and memories, but I don’t know the kinds of things that belong in her dating profile. I don’t know what makes her tick.

“Uh-oh,” she mutters and washes down a bite with her wine. “You’re staring at me like I’m a problem you have to solve. That scares me.”

I laugh. “I’m not going to add you to my project list when I get back in the office tomorrow.”

“Thank god.”

Again, I stare at her. I’m used to seeing Nia five days a week. But have I ever really looked at her?

“You know, I was thinking earlier…” she begins. “It’s going to be weird come January, when you’ve relocated to Maui. You won’t be in the office beside my desk anymore. If I have a question, you’ll be far more than a few steps away.”

I didn’t think about it like that. Working remotely has never been a problem for us; we’ve done it when I’ve traveled. But suddenly I’m wondering whether having Nia twenty-six hundred miles away makes sense. I rely on her for so much. “You have a point.”

“Maybe…you don’t have to move that far away.”

I’ve considered this thoroughly. It might be one of the five emotional decisions I’ve made in life. “I can’t stay in Seattle.”

Too much history. Too many memories. No real connections…except maybe to Nia. Suddenly, I’m loath to leave her behind.

Her face softens. “Maybe if you sold this place and found another—”

“The only family I have left lives in Maui.”

“I know, but do you have to move near them? They’re all recently married and getting ready to have babies. Will being around a bunch of expectant newlyweds really make you feel less alone?” When I frown, she holds up her hands. “Sorry. I said too much. Of course, they’re your family, and it’s your call.”

“I understand the move seems sudden to you. But my mind is set.”

She nods, not exactly thrilled but accepting. “What I should say is, if you decide you’d work better with me in Hawaii, then when you move, I’ll go, too. I know you said I don’t have to relocate, but…”

I didn’t ask because she has a life here. Because she was always involved with someone. Because it didn’t seem necessary. And maybe because Becca always insisted I’d benefit from a more experienced assistant. Whatever the reason, I’m now rethinking my decision to leave Nia behind.

“Just putting it out there,” she says, staring into her wineglass. “I mean, since you’re taking Sebastian—”

“I couldn’t have stopped him from coming if I tried. He hates the gray and the rain here.” And I suspect I’ll miss them. They suit me, especially these last six months.

“Yeah, he’s been vocal about that.”

“Thanks for volunteering to come along. I’ll give that some serious thought.”

“Whatever works for you.” She shrugs. “I don’t have any family or specific reason to stay, so…why not?”

We finish dinner, sharing the rest of the bottle and some comfortable business conversation. By the time we push away from the table, it’s shortly after nine. The moon hangs like a big silver orb over my insane view of the Space Needle and Elliott Bay. I’ll miss this scenery, but I’m confident that Maxon and Griff, my two half brothers who are successful Realtors in Maui, will find me something equally stunning.

Nia begins to clear the table, and I follow suit, helping her stack everything in the sink. She puts the lid on the pot of gumbo and shoves it in the refrigerator. “There’s enough leftovers for you to eat another meal or two. I’m going to let you do the dishes so you can practice your new skills.”

I know it’s good for me, but… “Am I supposed to appreciate that?”

She laughs, and I’m struck by the glow of the moonlight on her dark, gleaming skin. By the flash of white teeth against her rosy lips, by the fall of her fat, loose curls cascading over her shoulders and toward the plump breasts I never really realized she had before this moment.

Shit. I have to stop thinking about those. About her. I’m her boss; our interaction can’t be personal.

“I know you won’t, but think of this as tough love,” she joked. “Now…do I even want to know the last time you changed your sheets?”