No one admitted to leaving it and no one should’ve been able to get into her apartment—and yet someone had—without leaving any sign at all that they’d broken in or she would simply have dismissed the gift from ‘a secret admirer’ as some sort of sick joke.
Word Count: 98,419
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Available formats: PDF, RTF, Epub, HTML, Mobipocket (.prc)
© Cover art by Alex DeShanks, June 2010
New Concepts Publishing
Lake Park, GA 31636
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author's imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.
"Have a seat."
Erin looked around. The only other chair in the office was piled high with files. Apparently Kurt realized it at the same moment. Irritation crossed his features and he surged forward, grabbed up the files and plunked them on the floor beside his desk.
She preferred to stand. She almost took the chair anyway, because it seemed he expected her to sit. In the end, she shook her head. "Thanks. I'd rather stand."
He studied her a moment, but finally seemed to dismiss it. "This might take a while."
Erin gazed at him measuringly. "Even so."
He leaned back in his chair, folding his hands behind his head. "Would you care to explain to me just what the hell happened up there today?"
Erin's lips tightened. He'd put her on the defensive. She wondered if it was deliberate. As she cast her mind back to the earlier episode, however, trying to decide how and where to start, she realized her side of the story, seen in retrospect, seemed just a tad flimsy. Particularly since she had no desire whatsoever to tell him just what Lancaster had said that had made her totally loose her cool.
She wondered if Lancaster had told him when they'd talked earlier. On reflection, she very much doubted it. Lancaster was no great brain, but he wasn't stupid enough to face the boss down and tell Kurt he'd accused her of sleeping with him.
Mentally, she shrugged. However flimsy it must sound now, there was little she could do but tell it. "The foreman paired me off with him this morning. We don't get along."
Kurt's eyes narrowed. "There was a little more to it than that, I hope," he said dryly.
Erin felt a surge of anger. "He's an arrogant, autocratic ass!" she snapped. "He seemed to be under the impression the foreman had put me there to be his gofer, or maybe he just figured, because I was a woman, that was supposed to be my job. Every time it occurred to him that he needed something, he'd walk over and punch my shoulder, even when I was in the middle of a weld, and tell me to go fetch. I got tired of it."
Kurt was silent for some moments when she stopped speaking, as if he was so engrossed in the toe of his shoe he hadn't heard a word she'd said. She recognized the play. It was supposed to make her feel unimportant and insignificant. Again she wondered if it was deliberate or if Kurt had fallen into the habit of handling his employees that way and had begun to do it unconsciously to assert his authority.
"Lancaster's story is a bit different. The way he tells it, all he did was ask you to get him a roll of wire when you went for your own and you blew up and started cursing him and calling him foul names."
Erin's lips tightened. "He would. Maybe he's even dimwitted enough to believe it, but I doubt it."
Kurt sat up abruptly and leaned forward, dropping his arms on the desk, his expression angry where before it had been only mildly irritated. "From what you've told me yourself, I don't see anything in the episode to excuse that kind of blow up, Dietrich."
Erin was a little startled to hear him use her surname when they'd been on a first name basis for weeks now. It brought to her attention more than anything else that this was strictly business and that personal feelings didn't enter in to it. It also made her feel far more defensive than she had in the beginning. "I'm his equal, not his flunky!" Erin said angrily. "And regardless of what he said, that's just how he was treating me. Moreover, he called me a bitch every time he told me to go fetch for him! I don't have to take that from anybody!"
Kurt's lips twitched. Fortunately for future relations, he suppressed the urge to smile. "And you called him?"
Erin flushed. Put that way, it did rather sound as if the thing had blown up from a childish bout of name calling, stupid, petty and unnecessarily dangerous considering they'd been on the building when they had their falling out. If it had descended into a tussle, as well, either one of them, or both, could have fell in the hole. Disgusted, as much with herself as Lancaster, Erin plunked her back against the wall and folded her arms over her chest defensively. "I don't recall," she said tightly.
"From what I hear, everything you could lay tongue to. Is that all it was? A stupid, childish name-calling contest? That damn near shut down the whole frigging job for thirty minutes? And that could very easily have become a full fledged fight, resulting in injuries if nothing else?
"Because if that's all the hell it was, Dietrich, I'm not so sure I want you or Lancaster on this job any more. We're behind now. I can't afford to lose my ass on this job! Everything I've got left is riding on it."
Stung, Erin came away from the wall and strode forward to plunk her hands down on the desk across from him. "If you must know, he asked me if I thought I was too good to work like everybody else now that I was screwing the boss," she said furiously.
Immediately embarrassed, both by her outburst and what she'd said, Erin straightened abruptly and moved back to the doorway, propping her shoulder against it and refusing to look at the stunned expression on Kurt's face. "I knew it would come to that. I've worked damn hard to earn a little respect from the men I have to work with every day. I knew the minute he said it that that loud mouthed butt hole had been slandering me to anybody that would listen."
She heard Kurt rise from his chair, knew he'd moved to stand beside her, but she didn't look up until he spoke. "You're not, so why let it bother you?"
She felt tears in her eyes suddenly, tears of anger, frustration and hurt. It embarrassed her further. Nonetheless, she looked him directly in the eye. "Because I work hard for every cent I make! I've worked my butt off on every job, just to prove that I'm as good as, or better than, any other ironworker on the job. All it takes is one whiff of that kind of thing and right straight a woman's nothing at all but a whore that uses her body to get by!"
Kurt moved a little closer. "You've never let me get close enough to kiss you, much less ... anything else. I could tell them that, if you like."
Irritation surfaced. "That would be helpful," Erin said dryly, turning her face away with the realization that he was far closer than he had been moments before, filling her senses in a way that distracted her. "I'll just bet everyone would believe it if they heard it from you."
She would've liked to consider it entirely his fault that she was in this situation now. If he had not pursued her so determinedly .... On the other hand, she hadn't had to stop and she hadn't exactly been an unwilling participant in the chase. She had, quite simply, not been able to resist forbidden fruit when it was waved teasingly under her nose. She could scarcely blame Kurt for interpreting the mixed messages she'd been sending him as an invitation.