Taming McGruff(4)

By: Laurie LeClair

“On top of being a know-it-all,” he said what she seemed too polite to say.

“There is that.” Her voice held a grin.

“It’s a fine balancing act.” He didn’t expect to admire her sound business opinions. But he did.

“So you understand?”

“Or select the right person to do the right job.” He leaned back. “Charlie, your store has languished for years. I believe there was reluctance to move forward—”

“That’s putting it nicely,” she inserted with a groan.

“Your stepmother, yes?” He even hated to bring up the woman at all, never mind name her. “You’ve done a nice job in the last six months. The store has flourished under your guidance. But you have a long way to go to make it stable. You still own it, don’t you?” He knew she did now, but he’d heard she planned to turn it over to the employees.

She got up and came around the desk. Angling the other chair toward him, she slipped into it. Charlie tucked her legs underneath her, tugging down the hem of her skirt over her knees. He shifted to face her. Unsure of what her next unexpected move would entail, he steeled himself.

“Yes.” She brushed her hand over her middle. “The employees are adamant a King remain as the owner. And I find that since I’ve been confined to bed rest for several weeks recently that I imagine keeping it to pass down to my children. They should know their grandfather, his love for this place, the values he taught, know all the people who loved him…” She trailed off, blinking back the gathering moisture in her eyes.

Why did it choke him up when she discussed her children and what she longed to leave them? “The King legacy?”

“No, the dream that their grandfather, Charles King, gave his children and his employees. A home. A place to belong. A family to belong to.”

Something stirred in him at her reverence for her late father. But more so when she spoke of belonging and family. Longing whispered over his heart. He brushed it away. Quiet settled between them.

“Are you a workaholic?” Her personal question took him by surprise.

“I focus on the job at hand until it gets done. So, yes, I am.”

“Do you have a life outside of work? Parents? Siblings? A significant other?” She held up her hands. “It’s not part of the interview and however you answer, it won’t be used for or against you. I’m curious.”

“No one.” His automatic response didn’t seem to faze her.

“Are you free tomorrow afternoon, Griff?”

He frowned. Why would she care or want to know? “Yes.” Even if he’d had plans, he’d change them.

“You’re invited to our house.” She waved a hand. “Casual family get-together. Can you make it?” She didn’t wait for him to answer before she leaned over and grabbed a pen to scribble something on a nearby piece of paper. She ripped it off the pad and handed it to him. “My address. Two, or earlier if you just want to drop by. We can finish our talk then. And you can meet Marcus Goode, the temporary head of King’s. His tenure finishes at the end of this month. I think you two should meet. Besides, Alex would love to talk shop with you.”

Shock rippled through him. This scenario never played out in his mind before. Would he finally come face to face with his sworn enemy? “Family? Will your stepmother be attending?”

Her smile faded and a sad, wounded look filled her dark eyes. “No, I’m afraid due to her recent outrageous behavior, she’s not welcome in the store or at my home. I don’t know if she ever will be again.”

Her regret stabbed at him. He cleared his throat. “It sounds like mostly family. I wouldn’t want to intrude.”

“Please do.”

“Why?” His blunt question didn’t even make her twitch.

“Why, Griff, because I think you just may need a family.”

Chapter 2

Priscilla tapped her foot as she flipped through another boring business magazine. Every few moments, she glanced down the hall, even leaning to her side to try to get a better view. Her stepsister was certainly taking awhile talking to the man who rattled her senses.

After quickly dropping off the file on Marcus’ desk, along with another file from her tote bag of her design visions for remodeling the other departments in the store, she’d scampered back to her perch on the reception chair to make sure she’d catch them as their meeting wound down.

She wanted to know who he was and why he was there. Waiting until the morning, or when Charlie was free, didn’t play into her options at the moment.

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