Things were not markedly changed between us the next morning. If anything we were both a little shy, then we got to work. It seemed to be easiest to avoid last night’s kiss altogether. I so wanted to kiss him again. It was hard for me not to sit at my table and stare dreamily in his direction, but we did have a lot of work to do. We had three new meetings with the business teams on top of the two standing ones. We would be spending the majority of our day hopping conference rooms in the other office park.
Our 9:00 was a standing meeting and we took that in Kellan’s office. He had scheduled the additional meetings so that we had an 11:00, 1:00, and 2:00 at the downtown offices. We would take our 3:00 there. Back to the River Canyon park after that meeting marathon to tie up what we had learned. I had the feeling it would be a late night.
Lunch was hurried and we didn’t talk much about anything but the afternoon’s succession of meetings. He was quieter than usual and I knew something was bothering him. He resisted any attempts I made to distract him from the project. I didn’t dare bring up watching him ride or the goodbye kiss, not directly and not at work. But I couldn’t even get him to respond to any general questions. I gave up quickly, my heart sinking. I ate the rest of my salad in silence.
The meetings went beautifully. The business teams were pleased with the focus we had gained and were looking very forward to our revised requirements that would incorporate their additional input. I was feeling a sense of accomplishment and wanted to share it with Kellan. But he just looked serious and none too pleased as we drove back to his office. He had not favored me with too many of his gorgeous smiles. Had I been way out of line to kiss him? Had I wrecked a great working relationship?
“Want to tell me what is bothering you?” I finally asked when I could stand his silence no longer. It came out more harshly than I had intended and I cringed.
“Yes, but not right now.” Calm, as always. He didn’t take his eyes off the road. “I want to get our work done for the day, which means I want to make sense of all the information we gathered and get it worked into the documentation before we go home. Where do you want to go for dinner?”
That confused me. Scolding me and asking me what I wanted for dinner? “I don’t care.”
“There is a great pizza place nearby. We can go there after we finish up. You do like pizza?”
“Who doesn’t?” I said without enthusiasm. What in the world was he doing? I felt like he was pushing me away, but he was asking me to have dinner with him again?
He nodded and didn’t say anything else. We got back to the office and divided up the work. Our conversation was limited to questions and clarifications and by 7:30, we had completed our task.
He looked as exhausted as I felt. Sometimes I think there is nothing more draining than putting in a 10-12 hour day with your brain cranking on overdrive. I think I could run a marathon more easily, and I don’t run.
“I am starving.” I said, stretching.
“Let’s go eat.” He started shutting down, packing away his things.
We both got our stuff packed up and made our way to the nearly empty parking lot.
“Kellan, is it out of your way to drop me off here to pick up my car before you go home?” I thought to ask this time.
“No. My apartment is close by. I will pass by here anyway on my way home.”
I nodded and got into his car.
He got in and started the car, but didn’t put it in gear for a second.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Will it bother you if I switch to my chair at the restaurant?”
“No. Why would you even ask me?” I was shocked. “If you want to switch, switch. I have absolutely no say in the matter.”
He gave me that same serious look I had grown accustomed to seeing today. The one I couldn’t figure out. He put the car in gear and backed out.
The music of Tool filled the car and I closed my eyes, listening.
“You can change the CD if you want.”
“Are you kidding?” I looked over at him. “Tool is probably my favorite band.”
Again that serious sidelong glance and no comment.
We listened to the music and said little as we drove to the Bottom. Nervousness had begun gnawing at the edges of my stomach now, making me forget that I was hungry. There was something in his silence that let me know he had something to say and I probably wasn’t going to like it.
The experience with the restaurant crowd was the same, perhaps exaggerated by the wheelchair. I still liked the feeling of being looked at like we were a couple. I disliked the pity looks and the looks of disgust or confusion. I probably would end up punching someone in the nose someday if it were to work out between Kellan and me. But the gnawing in my stomach told me we were here for him to tell me that the kiss had been a mistake and that we needed to complete this project and try not to work closely together in the future.
We placed our orders and fidgeted with our drinks until our salads arrived.
“You must have rabbit DNA.” He teased me as I pushed lettuce around on my plate. It was the first time today he seemed the least bit relaxed.
“I just don’t like most vegetables.” I answered honestly. “Salad is a compromise. And since when did you buy into clichés?” I was the vapid, cliché-spouting airhead.
He pushed his own salad plate away. “I have been thinking a lot about clichés today. One in particular.”
I put down my fork. “Do tell.”
He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “If it is too good to be true, it probably is.”
“Kellan, this project is going great because we are working hard and we understand it.” I responded quickly. Too quickly.
“That isn’t what I was talking about, Heather.” He sounded a little sad. “But you are right.”
I blushed. “So what were you talking about?”
He looked me straight in the eyes. “You.”
I didn’t see any humor in that deep blue gaze. “Me?” I squeaked.
He nodded. “You. You come in here and seem to fit without trying. We work well together. I like spending time with you. You seem to enjoy spending time with me. I am waiting for the punch line.”
My eyes were wide with bewilderment. “There is no punch line, Kellan. I like you. A lot.”
Vapid cliché spouting airhead with a junior high school vocabulary. This man had a very odd effect on me.
“Maybe that is the punch line.” He continued to stare at me. “You are everything I had hoped you would be. But I am not sure it matters. You live in Charlotte, I live here and we are coworkers.”
“Are you creating obstacles, Kellan?” I asked; taking the hand he had resting on the tabletop. He didn’t pull away. “So that we don’t spend the time to get to know each other?”
His jaw tightened. “No. I am not creating obstacles. I don’t need to create obstacle, do I?.” He put his free hand on the wheel of his chair.
“That won’t wash with me, Kellan Tierney.” I scolded. “What is your middle name, anyway? I really needed it there for emphasis.”
“Harper,” he said, looking like he wasn’t sure if he wanted to laugh or lose his temper.
“Kellan Harper Tierney.” I put it all together. “Pretty. Family names?”
He watched me warily. “Yes. Kellan is my maternal grandmother’s maiden name and my father’s middle name. Harper is my mother’s maiden name.”
“Okay. Thanks for explaining.” I squeezed his hand and let go, putting on my annoyed face again. “Now back to my rant. Kellan Harper Tierney, I know you are disabled and it changes absolutely none of the reasons I fell for you in the first place. I fell for you about a month ago, in a call with Doug Shepherd and Bryce Lewis, when you very calmly explained to them the way their business worked. You are so damned smart and you aren’t afraid to call them on their bullshit. Then you called me afterward and had me in tears laughing as you told me what you were really thinking as you did that. You had me hooked from that moment. Then I meet you in person and I find out you are gorgeous, too. What else could I ask for?”
He looked stunned. “A man with legs that work.”
I shook my head. “Don’t, please. Don’t let that be the reason you won’t try.” I continued, softening my tone. “My one request is that you give it a chance. Don’t shut me out before I get to really know you. Give us the rest of this week to work on this project and learn about each other. Will you, please?”
He nodded. “Since you asked so nicely.” A hint of his usual bright smile played around his lips.
This was going to be harder than I thought. I had never been in the position to try to convince a man who was interested in me to let me be with him. Men who weren’t interested, yes, as pathetic as that sounds, and it always ended the same way, with me convinced I was in love and the guy convinced he had a new toy. It wasn’t good. I wanted this to be good for Kellan and for me. I knew we both needed it.
It was almost 10:00 when Kellan dropped me off at my car. We had spent the remainder of the dinner exchanging small facts and stories. When he leaned over to kiss me goodnight, I wrapped my arms around him, not wanting to let go. He stroked my cheek with one hand and cupped my head with the other and I felt that same heat again. Jesus, this man was going to drive me crazy.
“It is almost my bedtime,” he said as he finally pulled away.
“Not a night person?” I asked, my eyes still closed, finger to my lips, wanting to hold in the warmth of his kiss.
“No. Morning person. My day starts early.”
I opened my eyes. “I usually can’t make it past 11:00 and I am usually up by 6:30. How insanely early do you wake up if 10:00 is your bedtime?”
“I am usually up by 5:30. I get in my workout and all the other stuff I need to get done before I come to the office.”
“Wow. That is early. I should let you go home and get to sleep, then. I will see you tomorrow.”
He smiled. “Yes. I have an idea for tomorrow night.”
“Dinner at my place.”
He gave me a wounded look. “Yes. My mother didn’t want her sons to be as helpless as my father was in the kitchen, so she trained Kyle and me well.”
“I am impressed. I accept the invitation.” I beamed.
“I have to ride first, so dinner will be around 7:00 or so.”
“That will be fine. What can I bring?”
“Okay. I am looking forward to it.” I opened my car door. “Sleep well, sweet prince.”
He waited until I was safely in my car with the engine going before he left. I drove across the street to the hotel, my head swimming. I had no idea what had just happened. Were we dating now? Still waiting? I only knew I wanted him to kiss me again, and again, and do something about the heat he created in me.
To be continued...