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Fall Into You: Chapter 28

Cole

I spend the rest of the day locked in my office strategizing the Shay Avoidance Plan.

It works like this: move to Alaska.

Because no matter how I might try to convince myself that I’ll only communicate with her via email, won’t attend meetings where she’ll be present, and turn the other way if we happen to cross paths in the building, the fact remains that I’ll know she’s nearby every day, and I’ll want to go see her.

I can still smell her perfume.

Kill me.

We’ve established that she’s not going to quit, nor will I fire her. So now, I’ve only got one path forward.

Pretend she doesn’t exist.

Which will prove extremely fucking difficult considering she’s my goddamn assistant.

Frustrated, I pull up her resume on my computer and glare at it until my vision blurs. Then, at a loss, I pick up the phone and call my sister-in-law.

“Lit Happens, how may I help you?”

“What do you know about Shay Sanders?”

Emery laughs. “Oh hi, Cole. It’s nice to hear from you. Yes, I’m fine, thank you for asking. How are you?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t do pleasantries right now.”

“Shocking.”

She laughs again, but it’s affectionate. She’s used to me by now. And if she can tolerate my psychopath brother, Callum, she can certainly handle my quirks. Compared to him, I’m almost sane.

“Shay Sanders. Tell me everything.”

Her tone changes from light to worried. “Oh God. Please don’t tell me there’s a problem already.”

Yes, the problem is that I fucked her before she started working for me, and I very much want to do it again and again and again, but we have an ironclad policy against it.

Also, inconveniently, she thinks I’m a dick.

But I can’t say any of that. I also don’t want to lie, so I sidestep. “She said that you told her I was your customer.”

“When Callum mentioned he’d contacted a recruiter to fill your assistant position, he asked me if I might know anyone. I said I’d keep an eye out, but he stressed that I should be careful. I knew what that meant. Did she seem upset about it?”

No, but she did seem upset that I suggested she’s a scheming, manipulative liar.

I feel the beginnings of a headache forming a band of tightness around my skull. Then I remember I didn’t have lunch because I was too busy obsessing over Shay. Closing my eyes, I grasp my temples and squeeze.

“No. Why didn’t I know you referred her?”

“I don’t know. When she sent me flowers to thank me for recommending her for the position, I mentioned it to Callum. I assumed he would’ve told you.”

He probably would have, but as I avoid him as much as I avoid everyone else, he didn’t have much chance.

It’s not as if we’re close, anyway. I might be the chief financial officer, but he’s the chief executive officer, and that means he thinks I’m beneath him.

Callum’s the oldest, the golden child who can do no wrong in my parents’ eyes. His ego is a steamroller, flattening everything in its path.

Carter’s the baby. He’s most like our mother, popular and outgoing, always the center of attention. He’s a genius with people and charms them with ease, an incredibly annoying characteristic for those of us who don’t share it.

I’m in the middle. Competitive. Risk-taking. Misunderstood.

“How long have you known her?”

A moment of silence follows as Emery thinks. “Three years maybe?”

“And what’s your opinion of her?”

“She’s great.”

When I sigh, Emery says drily, “God, you sound so much like Callum when you do that.”

I resolve to never sigh again. “I meant what can you tell me about her that might help me understand her better?”

There’s another moment of silence, but this one’s different. It’s long and cavernous, as if she’s stunned.

“Understand her better?”

“Don’t bust my balls, please. Just answer the question.”

“I will, but you’ll have to give me a sec to recover.”

Scowling, I demand, “Am I really so bad?”

“You’re not bad at all.”

“And you’re a terrible liar.”

“It’s just that you give the general impression you’d rather go live on Mars than deal with humans, so I’m surprised to hear that you want to understand one of us better.” After a beat, she adds quietly, “Oh.”

“What?”

“You like her, don’t you? You’re attracted to her.”

It’s too bad my brother married someone this smart. I would’ve really enjoyed having a sister-in-law who couldn’t see right through me. “I’m only trying to avoid having to hire my sixth assistant this year.”

“Now who’s the bad liar?”

“Can we please just have this conversation without you reading anything into it?”

She laughs. “Cole, I’m a woman.”

“I don’t even want to know what that means.”

“It means estrogen gives us psychic powers.”

“Then why don’t you go pick the winning lottery numbers?”

“There’s no need to be sarcastic.”

“It’s the only reasonable response when a smart person is being silly. Can we please get back to Shay? You’re making my brain hurt.”

I must sound desperate, because she takes pity on me.

“Okay. You want my opinion about her? Here it is. I think she’s great. And before you get all huffy and puffy and impatient, let me continue. She’s one of those people you feel comfortable with right away because she’s real. There’s no bullshit with her. She’s not trying to impress you. She’s confident, but not obnoxiously so. And she’s obviously bright. But she also seems really kind, which is more important.”

“Kind? She told me I remind her of an owl.”

Emery snickers. “She’s funny too. I forgot to mention that.”

“Pretty sure she wasn’t joking. What else? Does she have family? Siblings? Where’s she from? What does she do on the weekends? What hobbies does she have? Does she have a pet? What about pet peeves? What makes her angry? What makes her happy? What makes her tick?”

After a beat, Emery says, “Cole?”

“What?”

“Take a deep breath.”

I realize I’ve circled my desk half a dozen times, I’ve got the phone in a death grip, and my voice is too loud. So I take her advice and inhale deeply, closing my eyes.

“Now sit down.”

“How do you know I’m standing?”

“Because you’re a McCord. You men shout best on your feet.”

That makes me smile, mainly because she’s right. I sink into my chair and sit back, attempting to relax. “Okay. I’m sitting.”

“Good. Now, all those questions you asked me? You need to ask her.”

“I can’t ask her. They’re too personal.”

“Which is exactly why she’s the one who should answer them. It’s called having a conversation. And don’t tell me you’re not good at that, because you’re doing it right now.”

When I only sit there brooding in silence, she takes pity on me again.

“Here’s something I can tell you, though. And it will give you more insight into her personality than you think.”

Her voice has turned intriguingly sly. I sit up in my chair, my pulse jumping. “What?”

“The name of her favorite book.”

After a moment of consideration, I say, “You’re a genius. What is it?”

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez.”

“I’ll buy a copy. Why do you think she likes it so much?”

“I’ll leave that to you to interpret. But I remember something she said about it that struck me as very insightful.”

“What is it?”

“She said people think it’s some sweeping, epic romance, but really it’s about unrealistic expectations. It doesn’t ask if the hero will get the girl—it asks if he should.”

I say flatly, “I hate it already.”

Her laugh is soft. “Well, well. I never thought I’d see the day.”

“If you’re about to say something about me being human, don’t. Goodbye, Emery.”

“Have a wonderful day, Cole.”

She’s still laughing when I hang up.

I decide I can’t be useful any longer today because Shay has invaded my brain like swarming bacteria. Then I feel bad for making such an unflattering comparison. Then I feel ridiculous for feeling bad, which is when I shut down the computer and leave the office.

My receptionist’s desk is empty. She either left for the day or quit. I check my watch. Six o’clock. So she probably didn’t quit, although I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened soon.

When I hired her, I confused her fear with respect. I thought she was just being deferential. Turns out, I scare the shit out of her.

Like most everyone else, except my new assistant, who has no problem telling me off right to my face. Or threatening to sue me if I continue to disrespect her.

I think about Shay the entire ride down the elevator to the parking garage.

I think about her on the drive home.

I think about her as I stand at my kitchen counter wolfing down beef stew right from the can.

I’m still thinking about her when I change into a fresh suit, grab the briefcase that contains my weapons, and head out into the night, on my way to make another person disappear.


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