She needed to get him out of there. If he was going to have another moment like he’d had yesterday—a moment when his self-control slipped, a moment where he would allow himself to be lost—by no means should he have that moment in a hotel lobby.
She touched his arm. “I’ll call for the car.”
“Yes,” he said, in a weirdly blank voice. “Please do.” Then his head swung down and his eyes focused on her. Sadness washed over his expression so strongly that it brought tears to her eyes. “I tried, Serena. For you.”
What? She’d thought he was trying to save his company—the family business. The family name. What did he mean, he’d tried for her?
“I know,” she said, afraid to say anything else. “I’ll go get the car. Stay here.” The driver stayed with the car. The valet just had to go find him.
It took several minutes. During that time, board members trickled out of the ballroom. Some were heading to dinner at the restaurant up the street, no doubt to celebrate their brilliant move to make themselves richer. A few shook Chadwick’s hand. No one else seemed to realize what a state of shock he was in. No one but her.
Finally, after what felt like a small eternity, the company car pulled up. It wasn’t really a car in the true sense of the word. Oh, it was a Cadillac, but it was the limo version. It was impressive without being ostentatious. Much like Chadwick.
The doorman opened the door for them. Absent-mindedly, Chadwick fished a bill out of his wallet and shoved it at the man. Then they climbed into the car.
When the door shut behind them, a cold silence seemed to grip the car. It wasn’t just her security on the line.
How did one comfort a multi-millionaire on the verge of becoming an unwilling billionaire? Once again, she was out of her league. She kept her mouth shut and her eyes focused on the passing Denver cityscape. The journey to the brewery on the south side of the city would take thirty minutes if traffic was smooth.
When she got back to the office, she’d have to open up her resume—that was all. If Chadwick lost the company, she didn’t think she could wait around until she got personally fired by the new management. She needed uninterrupted health benefits—prenatal care trumped any thought of retirement. Chadwick would understand that, wouldn’t he?
When Chadwick spoke, it made her jump. “What do you want?”
“Out of life.” He was staring out his own window. “Is this what you thought you’d be doing with your life? Is this what you wanted?”
“Yes.” Mostly. She’d thought that she and Neil would be married by now, maybe with a few cute kids. Being single and pregnant wasn’t exactly how she’d dreamed she’d start a family.
But the job? That was exactly what she’d wanted.
So she wasn’t breaking through the glass ceiling. She didn’t care. She was able to provide for herself. Or had been, anyway. That was the most important thing.
“Working for you has been very...stable. That’s not something I had growing up.”
“Parents got divorced too, huh?”
She swallowed. “No, actually. Still wildly in love. But love doesn’t pay the rent or put food on the table. Love doesn’t pay the doctor’s bills.”
His head snapped away from the window so fast she thought she’d heard his neck pop. “I...I had no idea.”
“I don’t talk about it.” Neil knew, of course. He’d met her when she was still living on ramen noodles and working two part-time jobs to pay for college. Moving in with him had been a blessing—he’d covered the rent for the first year while she’d interned at Beaumont. But once she’d been able to contribute, she had. She’d put all her emphasis on making ends meet, then making a nest egg.
Perhaps too much emphasis. Maybe she’d been so focused on making sure that she was an equal contributor to the relationship—that money would never drive them apart—that she’d forgotten a relationship was more than a bank account. After all, her parents had nothing but each other. They were horrid with money, but they loved each other fiercely.
Once, she’d loved Neil like that—passionately. But somewhere along the way that had mellowed into a balanced checkbook. As if love could be measured in dollars and cents.
Chadwick was staring at her as if he’d never seen her before. She didn’t like it—even though he no longer seemed focused on the sale of the company, she didn’t want to see pity creep into his eyes. She hated pity.
So she redirected. “What about you?”
“Me?” He seemed confused by the question.
“Did you always want to run the brewery?”
Her question worked; it distracted Chadwick from her dirt-poor life. But it failed in that it created another weary wave that washed over his expression. “I was never given a choice.”
The way he said it sounded so...cold. Detached, even. “Never?”
“No.” He cut the word off, turning his attention back to the window. Ah. Her childhood wasn’t the only thing they didn’t talk about.
“So, what would you want—if you had the choice?” Which he very well might have after the next round of negotiations.
He looked at her then, his eyes blazing with a new, almost feverish, kind of light. She’d only seen him look like that once before—on Monday, when he’d put his finger under her chin. But even then, he hadn’t looked quite this...heated. The back of her neck began to sweat under his gaze.
Would he lean forward and put his hand on her again? Would he keep leaning until he was close enough to kiss? Would he do more than just that?
Would she let him?
“I want...” He let the word trail off, the raw need in his voice scratching against her ears like his five-o’clock shadow would scratch against her cheek. “I want to do something for me. Not for the family, not for the company—just for me.”
Serena swallowed. The way he said that made it pretty clear what that ‘something’ might be.
He was her boss, she was his secretary, and he was still married. But none of that seemed to be an issue right now. They were alone in the back of a secure vehicle. The driver couldn’t see through the divider. No one would barge in on them. No one would stop them.
I’m pregnant. The words popped onto her tongue and tried frantically to break out of her mouth. That would nip this little infatuation they both seemed to be indulging right in the bud. She was pregnant with another man’s baby. She was hormonal and putting on weight in odd locations and wasn’t anyone’s idea of desirable right now.
But she didn’t. He was already feeling the burden of taking care of his employees. How would he react to her pregnancy? Would all those promises to reward her loyalty and take care of her be just another weight he would struggle to carry?
No. She had worked hard to take care of herself. So she was unexpectedly expecting. So her job was possibly standing on its last legs. She would not throw herself at her boss with the hopes that he’d somehow “fix” her life. She knew first-hand that waiting for someone else to fix your problems meant you just had to keep on waiting.
She’d gotten herself into her current situation. She could handle it herself.
That included handling herself around Chadwick.
So she cleared her throat and forced her voice to sound light and non-committal. “Maybe you can find something that doesn’t involve beer.”
He blinked once, then gave a little nod. He wasn’t going to press the issue. He accepted her dodge. It was the right thing to do, after all.
“I like beer,” he replied, returning his gaze to the window. “When I was nineteen, I worked alongside the brew masters. They taught me how to make beer, not just think of it in terms of units sold. It was fun. Like a chemistry experiment—change one thing, change the whole nature of the brew. To those guys, beer was a living thing—the yeast, the sugars. It was an art and a science.” His voice drifted a bit, a relaxed smile taking hold of his mouth. “That was a good year. I was sorry to leave those guys behind.”
“What do you mean?”
“My father made me spend a year interning in each department, from the age of sixteen on. Outside of my studies, I had to clock in at least twenty hours every week at the brewery.”