I’ve been dying to tell everyone Brett Baker’s story. He’s our CEO in the After Office Hours series. I fell in love with him the moment he appeared in Desire Actually. And he only got sexier in Love Affair to Remember. So at last, he demanded his own story in Pretty in Pink Slip, After Office Hours, Book 3. I just knew he’d have to have Ivy Elliot. And she had to have him.
Anything can happen After Office Hours…
She’s a single mother. He’s a brilliant CEO. And she’s got something he wants. Badly.
Ivy Elliot dreams of being a stay-at-home mom, but in a career-oriented world, she’s reluctant to admit it. Besides, she’s a single mother and quitting work to homeschool her daughter just isn’t an option. Asking for a raise, however, is an alternative. But when she works up the nerve, disaster strikes. Instead of a raise, Ivy gets the dreaded pink slip.
But Ivy is also handed the key to making her dream come true. If she sues the company for the terrible names her boss Rhonda called her when she asked for a raise… she might very well get millions.
Brett Baker has worked his whole life to be able to take a company of his own into the Fortune 500, and he’s sitting on the cusp of his dream. Until Ivy could potentially ruin all his plans by suing the company for discrimination and harassment. He’s got to use every weapon in his arsenal to make sure she doesn’t do that.
Even if it means falling in love with her.
She gave her heart and soul to the wrong man once. Can she ever trust enough to give it all again?
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After Office Hours, Book 3
© 2017 Jennifer Skully
Brett Baker’s smile was like something straight off a movie screen. It always made Ivy weak in the knees. Which was why she never failed to ask him if he had any new baby pictures of his granddaughter.
“Are you kidding?” Brett reached for the smart phone he kept in his suit pocket, dazzling Ivy with that gorgeous smile.
He was the sexiest grandfather she’d ever seen, obviously working out daily, his shoulders broad and his chest muscular beneath his white dress shirt. Sure she was partial to older men, but she liked his sense of humor, too. The entire company had celebrated his October birthday a couple of weeks ago in the cafeteria, and he’d enjoyed the joke as much as anyone when the fifty-two candles on the birthday cake set off the smoke alarm.
He leaned close over the sill of her office cubicle so he could show Ivy the picture and look at it himself, too. His aftershave was something subtle and tempting. Or maybe that was just his fresh morning-shower smell. “Will you look at that cutie?” He beamed at the picture. “She already knows how to smile.”
The baby looked more like she was passing wind, but Ivy smiled and agreed right along with him. “So how old is she now?” Of course, she knew, but she liked to keep him talking.
He grinned, flipping to another picture. “My darling little Valerie was born on September twenty-third, so she’s six weeks and six days old.” He laughed, and Ivy felt the delicious vibration of it in the pit of her stomach. “My daughter’s a math teacher,” he explained, “and she actually adds in the hours and minutes, too. But I’ll spare you that.”
“Thank you so much.”
She’d always thought of him as a workaholic because he was here before she arrived at eight and his car was still in the parking lot when she left at five. But though he was divorced, where his daughter and granddaughter were concerned, family was first. He’d even left a conference right in the middle when Megan went into labor. Sure he’d had two of his best executives, Parker Hunt and Gloria King, to take over for him, but his rush to his daughter’s side had endeared him to Ivy. Made him more than just a CEO.
Of course, he wouldn’t even know who she was if she didn’t sit right between Grady’s and Rhonda’s offices.
The light on her console went out. “Grady’s off the phone now.”
“You can just wait,” Brett called out to Grady. “We’re looking at baby pictures.”
She was pretty sure Grady did an eye roll. Since falling for Ivy’s friend, Jordana Davis, Grady Masterson was a new man. He’d always been a great boss, but now he laughed more, smiled more.
“All right,” Brett said to her softly. “Duty calls. And I know you’re bored with all the pictures.”
“I most definitely am not.” Nothing about Brett Baker could ever bore her. “Please, drop by any time to show me more.”
He laughed, turned the phone dark, and strolled into Grady’s office.
Her pulse was racing. She’d actually sounded forward, even flirty. He was the CEO. She was just a lowly admin. He’d never notice her. Even if he did, it wasn’t like anything would ever happen. And she didn’t want it either. She’d gotten herself into one dicey relationship, and once was way more than enough. The only reason she didn’t regret it was her six-year-old daughter Joy. She could never regret having Joy.
Rhonda Clark’s voice snapped through the open door of her office. Speaking of bosses…
Ivy had more than one, since Jordana had been promoted from Human Resources Admin to HR Manager. Now Ivy was admin for both Grady and Rhonda. But working for Rhonda wasn’t supposed to take up more than half her time.
It should have been easy, and Ivy had wanted the additional duties for the extra money. But the raise she’d been hoping for hadn’t materialized. Rhonda said she was still in training, and since she didn’t have a college degree… Rhonda always punctuated that with a shrug of her shoulders.
Not finishing her degree was the biggest regret of Ivy’s life.
“I want that report on my desk first thing in the morning, Ivy.” Rhonda stood in her open office door.
Rhonda always wanted things first thing in the morning. “I’ll have it done,” Ivy told her. Although it wasn’t past ten in the morning, she already knew she’d have to work on the report tonight. Since she had to pick up Joy at five thirty, she’d never been able to stay late—which Rhonda knew—and she finished a lot of work after Joy went to bed. Of course, then, because she couldn’t prove she’d been working, she didn’t get paid for the overtime. In Rhonda’s mind, she should be able to finish all these projects and reports before she left for the day.
“You’d get more work done if you did less fraternizing.” Rhonda kept her voice low so it didn’t carry into Grady’s office.
“It wasn’t fraternizing. It was just baby pictures.” And it was Brett. How was Ivy supposed to say no to the CEO?
Because of her daughter, Ivy didn’t date. She didn’t want Joy to get attached only to have the guy leave. So Ivy’s few relationships were conducted clandestinely, away from home. God, they weren’t even relationships. They were more like… well, not relationships. And she hadn’t had a non-relationship in over six months.
Therefore she deserved the few minutes she got up close and personal with Brett Baker and his baby pictures. The few heady minutes next to his body heat, with the smell of his aftershave swirling around her. She deserved them because she knew nothing would ever come of them.
“Well, I don’t expect to see any overtime on this,” Rhonda sniped at her. “You should be able to finish it before you leave.”
Rhonda had no clue how long things took. She underestimated the effort required, usually by half.
Maybe it was time for a new job. Except that Ivy loved working for Grady. She’d even followed him here from his last position since they worked so well together. Plus she’d made good friends, especially Jordana and Gloria. She didn’t want to leave. She didn’t want to start over somewhere else with all the upheaval and uncertainty of a new job.
But whatever she did, she was not giving up any so-called fraternization with Brett Baker and his granddaughter’s pictures.
* * *
“West Coast manufactures thin film,” Grady was saying. “It would be perfect for our application. See here?”
Grady had a schematic up on his computer screen, but Brett wasn’t concentrating. Standing next to the desk, looking over Grady’s shoulder, Brett could see right into Ivy Elliot’s cubicle between the two offices.
She typed away, then stopped, biting her lip, thinking as she pushed a silky lock of short dark hair behind her ear.
“Yeah. Let’s bring their sales people in, see what they can offer,” he told Grady. “And send me the website link, too.”
But his gaze was on Ivy. He’d taken stock of her skirmish with Rhonda, though he hadn’t been able to hear what it was about. Rhonda was both his blessing and his curse. Her knowledge in the Human Relations field was invaluable, often averting disasters before they happened, and her instincts about new hires were spot on. But she had favorites, and just as quickly held grudges.
He had a feeling she’d taken a dislike to Ivy Elliot.
That situation—and Ivy, especially Ivy—would bear watching.
* * *
“She’s driving me crazy,” Ivy told Jordana and Gloria over a small bowl of chili for lunch. She was on a budget and brown-bagged it most days, but once a week they all went out, usually on Friday. Despite the fact that it was only Thursday, after the morning she’d had with Rhonda, she’d needed a good talk with friends who understood.
Both Jordana and Gloria had their run-ins with Rhonda. And those battles seemed to be increasing to outright warfare.
“You can’t let her walk all over you,” Jordana said. They’d chosen a diner for lunch, and Jordana had ordered the grilled ham and cheese while Gloria had the Chinese chicken salad.
Ivy’s mouth watered for a taste of both. And some French Fries. Maybe she’d make Joy grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. Comfort food.
Gloria snorted. “No one can stop Rhonda walking all over them, Jordana, and you know it.”
Jordana hung her head, wagging it sadly, her long brunette hair barely missing the blotch of ketchup on her plate. “Yes, I know. But I’ve got Grady to stick up for me, and you’ve got Parker. Poor Ivy doesn’t have anyone.”
Poor Ivy. Neither of them needed someone else to fight their battles. They both handled their clashes with Rhonda so much better than Ivy did. She didn’t seem to have what it took to stand up to Rhonda the way she knew she should.
Not that she was going to admit that to her friends.
“Girls, girls,” she jumped in. “I can totally handle it. But only because I’ve got you guys to whine to.”
“We need a better strategy.” Gloria speared a mandarin and chewed thoughtfully. She was beautiful—and Ivy would not add for her age to that. At forty-eight—she’d had a birthday just a few weeks ago but her candles hadn’t set off the smoke alarm—Gloria was the kind of sophisticated, elegant woman Ivy strove to be: self-controlled, smart, confident, articulate. Which were all the reasons Parker Hunt had fallen for her.
Ivy equally admired Jordana, who was only thirty. Yes, she was four years younger than Ivy, but she was already a manager, a position for which she’d had to go up against Rhonda. And she’d won. She was totally together. Plus she’d completely wowed Grady.
Ivy suddenly wondered if she were jealous. Jordana had Grady. And though Gloria and Parker had been together officially for only a month, they were meant for each other. For her friends, it was more than just having someone to back them against Rhonda. It was having someone to share everything else with. A man to go home to.
But Ivy had Joy. That was more than enough for her.
Except sometimes, late at night, alone in her bed. But really, been there done that, got the T-shirt and the heartache to prove it. If she could find the perfect man, maybe. But after Parker and Grady, how many more perfect men could there be?
An image of Brett Baker, gorgeous smile and toned body, jumped into her mind.
No. No, no, no. He wasn’t even a fantasy. He was the CEO.
“Earth to Ivy.” Jordana nudged her. “We need a strategy.”
Ivy smiled big. “I totally love that you guys use the royal we.”
“The three musketeers,” Gloria said sweetly and honestly, tucking her blond hair behind her ear. “We’re going to do everything we can for you.”
Ivy let her spoon plop into her chili. “You’re right. I am letting her walk all over me.”
Her mother had called her a doormat. Joy’s father had left Ivy high and dry when he found out she was pregnant. After treating her like a doormat for years. He hadn’t married her, and he’d even claimed Joy wasn’t his child.
So Ivy had to admit she had a history of allowing people to take advantage. If she thought about it too much, she felt like a failure. Especially since she hadn’t finished her college degree either.
“I didn’t mean anything negative,” Jordana said. “Just that—”
Ivy flapped her hand. “I know what you meant. You guys have been telling me all along. And I keep telling you I can handle it, but I don’t. Honestly, I know you want to just step in and do something,” she stressed. “But really, we’re all waiting for me to do something.” Why couldn’t she be as strong as Jordana or Gloria?
“You work for Grady, too, you know. Rhonda’s monopolizing your time.”
“Actually, she’s not. I take it home with me.”
Jordana shook her finger at her. “But you don’t get paid for it. That’s just wrong. And it’s illegal. You can’t expect hourly employees to work off the clock and not pay them.”
Ivy tipped her head. “Do you believe I’m inefficient?” She stopped Gloria when she opened her mouth to protest. “I’m serious. Rhonda claims I work hard, but I don’t work smart.”
“She’s crazy,” Jordana retorted, her teeth grinding.
“How did she ever get into Human Resources when she actually hates people?” Gloria asked. It was rhetorical because no one had answers about Rhonda.
But maybe Rhonda had a point. Ivy had worked hard in college. But she’d never graduated. Instead, she’d fallen in love with her professor. Who had eventually become Joy’s father. And he’d left her.
She wasn’t doing something right. Except for raising Joy. Her daughter was her only success. What Ivy really wanted was to stay home with Joy, homeschool her, help her get the absolute best start in life. Instead, Joy went to a decent school in a decent neighborhood because that’s all Ivy could afford. She wanted more than decent for Joy. She wanted exceptional.
But now, even when they were together, she was giving her daughter short shrift because she worked in the evenings. And didn’t get paid for it.
“No,” she said, as if the girls had said something. “I’m doing a good job.”
“A great job. Grady certainly knows it,” Jordana reinforced.
Ivy continued to bolster herself. “If the work can’t get done during office hours, then the expectations are way too high.”
“Of course they are.” Gloria leaned forward in earnest agreement. “You’re right, we do want to step in and make it all better for you. Strangling Rhonda would be the best idea.”
“But you might get arrested,” Jordana observed with total solemnity.
Gloria grinned evilly. “Not if you both cover for me.”
Just like Grady, after Parker had come back into her life, Gloria had started smiling more, laughing more. Making more jokes. But Ivy was deadly serious right now. “I really appreciate the support—” Jordana and Gloria had become her rocks over the past couple of months. “—but I’m not a little girl with a booboo you can fix. I can’t go to the HR Manager and say my boss is mistreating me. I can’t go to my other boss and say that either. This problem is mine to solve.”
She had to tackle Rhonda, to prove to herself that she was strong enough. She would force Rhonda to acknowledge that there needed to be compensation for the constant underestimating of her time. “If she can’t assess the job properly, I’ll just have to make her pay for my overtime.”
Both Gloria and Jordana raised their hands. “You go, girl.”
They all high-fived in the center of the table.
“But let me ask you this,” Gloria said, her head tipped to the side. “What do you really want to do? What I mean is that you’re sort of falling into Human Resources.”
“Or,” Jordana added, “we’re pushing you into it.”
The chili suddenly seemed way too spicy and Ivy’s cheeks heated. She wasn’t sure she wanted to answer these questions. “Of course you’re not pushing. I want to move up. I need the money for Joy.”
“Yes, but,” Gloria persisted, “sometimes we get locked into jobs we don’t really like. Especially if it’s just about the money.”
Ivy’s chili was definitely too hot, burning her throat a little. It wasn’t about the questions. It was about her failures. About the dreams she would never realize. And about wanting to do something that would be frowned on in a career-oriented world.
“Come on, spill,” Jordana urged. “I can see it written all over you.”
“It’s really not possible,” she said softly.
“Everything’s possible.” Gloria’s voice was just as soft, encouraging Ivy’s confidences.
For Gloria, everything was possible because she was at the top of her field. She hadn’t dropped out of college. She hadn’t had a baby she couldn’t afford to raise. She’d made good choices.
“We’d really love to know.”
Ivy didn’t have friends. At least not until these two women had taken her under their wings. She hadn’t confided things in years, except to her mother, who’d never been the most sympathetic ear. She’d even forgotten what it was like to have someone to share your feelings with. To talk with about your dreams, as silly as they might seem. “It sounds dumb, but what I’d like to do more than anything is homeschool Joy.” She’d even love to have more children, homeschool them all, be a full-time mom. But then she’d need a husband.
“Wow,” Jordana said. “That’s amazing. I could never do that, but it sounds fabulous.”
“That’s perfect,” Gloria said, setting down her fork, her eyes narrowed. “Maybe you could make a business out of it by starting a day care.”
Ivy groaned. “Yeah, but then I’d have to deal with other people’s issues all the time. And believe me, I see how badly some of those moms can behave.”
Jordana licked crumbs off her finger and thumb. “Don’t kids who get homeschooled become sort of isolated and maybe even antisocial? Because they’re never around other kids?”
“It’s not like that at all. There are online communities of homeschoolers. The kids get together for outings and projects, sports, all sorts of activities.”
Jordana blinked, then smiled. “Learn something new every day.”
“It sounds like you’ve really looked into this.” Gloria gave her a thoughtful, considering gaze.
“It’s just a pipedream. And really, after the women’s movement, aren’t we all supposed to be out there earning more money and making our way in a man’s world?” Right, which was why she was still a secretary. And embarrassed about a silly dream, especially with two friends who were climbing the corporate ladder.
“The essence of feminism,” Gloria said, “is the freedom to do what you want, whether it’s being President of the United States or a stay-at-home mom.”
“That’s beautiful,” Jordana said, awe in her voice.
Ivy felt the same awe. But there was also reality. “You still have to support your kid. And without a partner to help…” She shrugged with the impossibility of it.
“But maybe you could think of a way to have both,” Gloria suggested, staring across the room, as if she were already devising a plan. “Some way of making a career out of homeschooling.”
“Like homeschooling other people’s kids?” Jordana asked.
Gloria shrugged and nodded. “Maybe.”
“Or,” Ivy said, pausing, thinking, “doing something with outside programs and activities for homeschoolers.” It was just an idea, encouraged by friends who thought outside the box. It would probably never come to anything. And yet it was nice to dream.
Before considering anything else, however, she needed to tackle Rhonda.
Ivy could never be strong enough to create her own specialized business if she couldn’t even handle a difficult boss.
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