Your Fierce Love (The Bennett Family)(4)

By: Layla Hagen


“There, all done,” I exclaim, finally. “I think it’ll hold, but I’ll keep an eye on it anyway.”

“You’re my hero. Now let’s get out there and have a blast.”

We do have a blast. I dance my feet off, but my mind keeps circling back to one thought—especially whenever I’m dancing with a certain Bennett brother. If Blake’s proximity affects me this much, how on earth will I pull off living next to him?





CHAPTER TWO

Clara



“I am going to frame this and look at it every day.” I’m hugging a magazine to my chest while doing a bad impression of a cha-cha. This is one of the best things about having my own small office at the studio. Inside here, I can be as ridiculous as I want. No one can see my antics, which often leads people to not take me seriously. As if having a sense of humor and a tendency to overexpress my joy means I can’t be serious when the situation requires it.

But whatever, I’m not going to change anyone’s minds, so I’ve learned to only let my crazy out around people I trust. Once I’ve danced the energy away, I lay the magazine on the desk, smoothing it out. I’ve crumpled it a bit in my display of affection. It’s a stellar review on one of the last segments I’ve worked on with Nate as his assistant producer. It only came out last week. I like my job, but I’m not crazy about it, and sometimes a good review is exactly what I need to keep pushing.

I know that I’ll never make it to executive producer, but that’s fine with me. I have no such aspirations. I want to transition out of TV at some point, because work-life balance isn’t a thing in the industry. I hope to have a family of my own one day—kids to love, a husband to dote on. I also want a job that will allow me to contribute financially while not taking over my life. Maybe I should wish for calorie-free ice cream while I’m imagining impossible things.

For now though, I’m doing my best to be the most kick-ass assistant producer. I work on a local TV show, and they pay me a salary that is just enough to buy my own tiny apartment just outside the city.

Today I’m being sneaky instead of kick-ass, tiptoeing out of the studio at four o’clock so I can meet Blake before happy hour begins at the bar. Thank heavens my boss is on a set on the outskirts of San Francisco today, so he’s not privy to my shenanigans.

After parking my car a block away from the bar, I walk at a brisk pace, soaking in the energy of the Pacific Heights district surrounding me. It’s a bright, if chilly, evening, perfect for the second week of May. I’ve been here before, but now I’m seeing things through a different lens.

The bar itself is in a three-story building, on the ground floor. The apartments are on the top floor. He uses the floor in between for storage, which means no noise from the bar reaches the apartments. I clap my hands in excitement as I survey the building once more: fresh, energetic, promising a good time if you step inside.

The bar is already buzzing with customers, despite it not even being five o’clock. Then again, most tourist guidebooks or websites list it as a recommendation, so chances are many of the customers are tourists who aren’t bound to their work schedule. Two bartenders are behind the counter, but Blake sits at one of the high, round tables right next to the bar. He’s with two other men and a woman who are wearing suits, and from what I can see, they are pointing to some papers on the table. He’s in serious business mode, and it’s a damn good look on him. Even though he’s talking to a group, he dominates the space and, as far as I can tell, the conversation.

I wave discreetly at Blake, then hop on one of the stools in front of the bar in a move I hope conveys that I’ll wait for him to finish the conversation. But Blake nods at the three strangers and heads toward me. The crowd parts for him as he stalks through the room. Blake emanates power and confidence in a subtle way. Everything about him makes you stand taller and pay attention.

“Hello, future neighbor. I’m wrapping up things with the group there, and we’ll go up in a few minutes, okay?”

“Sure, take your time. I’ll wait and have a glass of whatever in the meantime.”

“Great.” Blake motions to the closest bartender. “Whatever the lady here drinks is on the house.”

“Blake,” I admonish. “No way—”

“When you drink in my bar, you don’t pay.”

He smiles, but his tone leaves no room for argument.

Before I even have time to open my mouth and argue, Blake leaves, returning to his group. I order a glass of ginger lemonade and, while sipping from it, inspect the bar closer.

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