“He said, ‘If I were you, I’d be pissed at me too.’ It showed empathy without being a suck up. You and I both know that only the strong would survive a relationship with you. You’re a force of nature, and you always have been. You don’t need someone who’ll kiss your ass, Maggie. You need a man who can stand on his own two feet and back you up when things get hard. And one who will challenge you when you’re being too stubborn for your own good.”

“I don’t need a man,” I said, showcasing just how stubborn I could be.

“You might want to hear him out,” she said.

“Why would I want to do that? To give him one more chance to disappoint me?”

“To find out what he’s made of, honey. Because this is going to piss you off, but I think you two are a lot alike.”

“I do not go around—”

“Aaand you proved my point,” she laughed. “Of course you haven’t made the same choices he has. But you both take no prisoners and you have a heart of gold.”

“Since when does Company Man have a heart at all, much less one of gold?” I demanded.

“You should discuss that with him,” she said. “It was slow this afternoon, so I caught up on the books then. I’ll cover the desk if you want to go find him.”

“Mom, it was slow because of the economic crash we have coming. You can’t afford to be turning away guests like you did with him.”

“You let me worry about that, and you take care of your own mess,” she warned. I hugged her.

“Thanks, Mom.

Then I stood on the sidewalk trying to decide what to do. I decided to brazen it out. If I’d learned anything in my adult life, it was that my mom was almost always right. She didn’t make my decisions for me, not even when I was four and insisted on wearing cowboy boots everywhere—but part of maturity was learning to listen to the people who always have my best interests at heart. My mom. Layla and Sarah Jo. So I dialed his number.

“Hello?” he said.

“It’s Maggie,” I said.

“I know. I mean, I’m glad you called. What can I do for you?” He asked. He sounded awkward. It was annoyingly adorable on someone so masculine and self-assured.

I couldn’t pretend I didn’t feel a rush of excitement sweep along my skin at just the sound of his voice. I was done pretending. If I wanted something real, I had to be willing to face it and untangle the mess we’d made. That started with something I wasn’t particularly good at. Listening.

24

Jeremiah

“I’ve reconsidered hearing you out. Would you like to meet somewhere?”

“Yes. Absolutely. I’m staying in Pendleton, but I can meet you wherever you want.” I said.

“I’ll meet you at the coffee shop on Magnolia Street. About an hour?”

“I’ll be there.”

“Good,” she said.

She was fifteen minutes early, but I was already waiting in a booth.

“You’re early,” she said, sitting across from me.

“I didn’t want you to show up and have to wait on me and change your mind.”

“I don’t want to have this conversation,” she confessed. “But I know it’s the right thing to do. No matter how uncomfortable I am.”

“I’m not trying to make you uncomfortable. I appreciate you hearing me out.”

We ordered coffee and sat in silence for a minute.

“I’ll try to keep an open mind,” she said.

“Good. I want you to see here, on my phone, these are the numbers and that in green in the column beside them is the acceptable range for those numbers.”

“Wait, what?” she said.

“They’re listed for reference so you can see that the plant simply didn’t have the productivity and cost-efficiency to continue.”

“I know what they mean. I just can’t believe I put on a cute top and swallowed my pride so you could show me a fucking spreadsheet, Jeremiah. Is that all you’ve got?” she asked.

“I did what was necessary, and it was the right thing. I didn’t come to apologize for my decision, but to tell you I was sorry for hurting you and to see how you are.”

“I’m mostly pissed off right now,” she said.

“I can see that.”

“What did you say to my mom?”

“What?” I said.

“At the B&B. What did you say to her?”

“Not much. She wouldn’t rent me a room and let me know exactly why. She also described you as her sweet and innocent daughter,” I gave a smirk.

“You made an impression on her and I was curious how you did it.”

I faltered. “I just told her I’m looking into making some changes.”

“To your green column of acceptable range?” she snapped.

“No. In a number of areas, actually.”

“Showing me your Excel worksheet didn’t exactly get me to throw my panties at you,” she said, “what’s the rest of your defense?”



Tags: Natasha L. Black Romance
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