Numerous readers have asked about Josh’s father’s backstory. Those of you who’ve already read Leaning Into Touch may be interested in this short story. Hopefully it will give a little more insight into a beloved secondary character. If you haven’t read Josh and Finn’s story, stop here. Unless of course, you’re into spoilers.
The life of an accountant was nonstop excitement. Random strangers pulled me aside at parties to ask how I gotten started on my thrilling ride wheeling and dealing with spreadsheets and budgets. The mere mention of the word ‘audit’ had them racing to my side, begging me to speak slowly so they could take in every bit of my undoubtedly riveting tale of my career of ruthless mathematician behind a calculator. Wait. Exaggerate? Me? Well, maybe a touch. I smiled at my ridiculous musings as I pulled open the door to the office of GDC, Green Design Construction, my newest victim. Excuse me… client.
My grin froze when I caught my reflection in the glass. I patted down a wayward lock of my salt and pepper hair and straightened my red and blue tie. Red wasn’t my color but one of my son’s friends insisted it was a power color. Grant knew fashion better than Josh or me so I figured his suggestion that I go with my charcoal suit and a bold striped tie was a sound one. He’d said I’d “kick ass and look like a boss”.
Frankly, I had my doubts. I was more nervous about meeting the CEO of this firm than I should have been. First of all, I rarely met with anyone that far up the chain. Presidents and CEOs always pushed off pesky meetings with auditors to their Chief Financial Officer. Apparently, the CFO had recently been dismissed and rather than handing the meeting off to his Vice President, Lars Olsen had decided to take it upon himself to deal with me directly. Great.
I stepped inside the elevator, carefully avoiding any other reflective surfaces. If my hair was a mess, so be it. I wasn’t looking for a date. This was a business call. I had to be professional, concise and ideally not get distracted by my posh surroundings. It was all about the numbers. Fuck. I had to think about something else quick or my handshake would be pure slime.
Slime… hmm. That reminded me of Josh. He loved that shit when he was a kid, I thought with a half chuckle. I wondered how his date went last night. I’d give him a call later and offer to take him out for dinner sometime soon. From what I could tell from the figures I’d gone over, I might be stationed at GDC’s San Francisco headquarters for a while.
When the doors slid open, I adjusted my briefcase and strode purposely toward the pretty blonde receptionist seated behind the sleek wood and steel desk and cleared my throat.
“Hi, my name is Jeff Sheehan. I’m here to see Mr. Olsen regarding the—”
“Hello there. I’m Lars. And you’re… the accountant.”
I whirled around at the sound of the big booming voice with my hand outstretched but stopped in my tracks with my mouth wide open.
Holy crap. Lars Olsen was a big dude. Not overly tall but still impressive. He was the kind of person you noticed the moment they walked in a room.
Lars was maybe an inch shy of my own six feet but he was burly. His shoulder span rivaled a linebacker’s and I could tell his arms were heavily muscled through his navy striped button down shirt. My gaze traveled down his chest to his thick waist before darted back to his face. His blue eyes twinkled merrily as his full mouth curled in amusement.
There was nothing quite as mortifying as being caught staring at close-range. Except perhaps a sudden inability to refocus and act like a professional businessman instead of a star-struck teenager. I didn’t know what was wrong with me but I was tongue-tied and utterly mesmerized. And all he did was say “hello”.
“H-hey. I—I’m Jeff,” I said in a raspy voice as he took my hand.
“Pleased to meet you,” Lars replied.
Those four words inexplicably reverberated through my body. Maybe it was his deep timbre or maybe the extra pressure he applied in the simple handshake. I had no clue why my dick jumped in my trousers but I quickly lifted my suitcase to shield the evidence as I shook his meaty paw.
“Yes, um… we have some numbers to go over. I’ve been looking through your sheets and—”
Lars threw his head back and guffawed. “And what did you find in my linens?”
I sputtered incoherently, unable to come up with a response that wasn’t lame or inappropriate. I failed. “Your wife?”
He cocked his head and narrowed his eyes but he didn’t respond. He froze and so did his receptionist and the phones and hell, maybe the whole damn city. I felt like the idiot actor with the worst lines in a play who knew it was only a matter of seconds before the audience booed him offstage. I licked my lips and offered a quick apology. But Lars intercepted me with a friendly smack on the back and another deep chuckle.
“I’m not married. But let’s talk about those sheets.” He paused and raised his forefinger like a teacher making an important point. “Excuse me, spreadsheets. Would you like some coffee or—”
“I’m not married either,” I blurted, unsurprised by the instant flush of heat on my cheeks. “Divorced. It was a long time ago, but— I’m…yeah. Coffee would be great.”
Lars studied me for a long moment. Then he smiled. A kindly, sweet gesture meant to set me at ease. It worked. I felt my heartbeat slow and resume a closer to normal beat. I returned the gesture and lowered my briefcase. His gaze followed the movement and to my mortification, so did mine. And yeah, I had a boner. There was no way he could miss it. The fabric on my suit jutted out a good couple inches in a lewd show of blatant arousal.
Oh my God. I might actually pass out.
No joke. I was closing in on sixty, for fuck’s sake. My heart couldn’t take this kind of pendulum swing. And really… one would think at my age, the last thing I’d have to worry about was popping wood in front of a sexy man. And why did I find him so attractive in the first place? Lars was a gray haired bear of a man with a trimmed beard and a ruddy complexion. He reminded me of a construction worker past his prime who was good with his hands and— No. That wasn’t helping.
I needed the carpet to swallow me whole, roll me out the door, and the universe to give me a redo, one that hopefully included amnesia on his part because I wasn’t sure how I’d recover from anything quite this embarrassing and still manage to work with this man for the next few weeks.
“Coffee,” Lars repeated thoughtfully.
Then he winked and his friendly expression morphed into something decidedly mischievous and… seductive. Of course that had to be my imagination.
I gave him a weak smile and pursed my lips before attempting to salvage what was left of my dignity. “Yes, please. Coffee sounds nice.”
“You got it,” he said in a husky tone. “This way.”
I loved the simplicity of numbers. They didn’t lie. They might confound some people but they didn’t deceive. Not really. If someone didn’t understand an equation, that was their problem. Two plus two would always equal four. Not almost five or maybe something more than three. Just four. For someone who’d craved a modicum of truth in which nothing and no one could pretend to be something they weren’t, numbers were my anchor. My happy place.
However, Lars was fucking up my mojo big time. I couldn’t concentrate around him. The smell of his cologne, the sound of his deep baritone voice and that funny way he crinkled his eyes as he explained which accounts corresponded to which project. I lost my train of thought more times than I cared to count. Pun intended. Two weeks into our daily briefings, I was a mess.
I sat at the glass conference table in Lars’ huge corner office and stared at view of the Bay Bridge and Alcatraz. It was a gorgeous day in late July and for once, the weather cooperated. It actually felt like summer when I headed into the office this morning. I stopped by Starbucks and treated myself to an iced coffee with extra milk and at the last second ordered a second one. I glanced at the condensation running down the side of the extra cup and wondered if I claim they were both for me. I felt like a grade school kid bringing an apple to the teacher. Or a kiss ass. And this wasn’t how these things worked. I was supposed to be the badass here. The maestro with a calculator who could make or break his client’s yearly visit with the IRS. But I morphed into a tongue-tied adolescent whenever Lars walked into a room.
Shit. The coffee was a bad idea. I’d have to drink them both.
I reached for the plastic cup just as the door opened. The condensation and my slick palms were a dicey combination. I fumbled the drink, catching it just before it slipped from my hand and splattered over the table and me.
“Good morning, Jeff. How are you to—”
“Here.” I stood abruptly and shoved the cup at Lars. “This is for you.”
I sat down and bent my head, flipping through the browser on my laptop. I had no idea what I was looking at but it was better than making moon eyes at my client. I waited for him to join me but when a few seconds passed, I bravely craned my neck up to see what was keeping him.
Lars raised the iced coffee and shot a glorious grin at me. His eyes twinkled with his usual humor but there was something more than a simple gesture of gratitude. I had no idea what it might be though. Indigestion?
“You brought me a Frappucino?” He pulled out the black leather chair and sat beside me.
“Um…no. It’s an iced coffee. Frappuncinos scare me. Too many choices, too many ingredients. I saw you drinking one of these the other day so I thought you might want one. It’s okay if you don’t. I’ll drink it. Oh and—” I stood again and dug into my pockets then tossed ten sugar packets at him. “—here’s some sugar too. You might need to sweeten it up. The extra five shots might have been overkill.”
“Five shots?” he asked incredulously.
“Too much, huh? I tried to call Josh to see what he usually gets, but he didn’t pick up so I copied the girl ahead of me in line. That might have been a mistake. Like I said—”
“It’s perfect. Thank you,” he said softly as he unwrapped the straw and poked it through the top. His smile twitched in a reflexive wince when he took his first sip.
I pushed the sugar toward him. “Trust me. This helps. I used five. One for each shot. Tomorrow I’m ordering my plain ol’ coffee. I don’t know how you drink this stuff.”
Lars let out a hearty laugh. “I like plain ol’ coffee too. My ex used to buy that hazelnut crap. It smells fantastic but it tastes like dirt in my opinion. Charlie thought I was being difficult. Difference of opinion, I ‘spose.”
I smiled, unsure how to respond. More coffee talk? No, I should turn his focus to the problem I’d found in his books last night. I bit my bottom lip and glanced at my computer screen before asking, “So you’re divorced too?”
“No. Never married. No kids either but you probably know all that from my bio,” he said with a chuckle.
“I rarely read bios. Your personal life isn’t my business, just your numbers and— I guess I shouldn’t have asked if you were divorced. That was out of line. I apologize.”
Lars scoffed. “Don’t be silly. In fact, I’m sorry there hasn’t been more time to chat. I’ve been swamped with my new project. They always need me onsite in the beginning.”
“So you’re not allergic to the visiting accountant?”
We’d held short meetings that lasted approximately thirty minutes every morning over the past two weeks, but these sessions were abbreviated and often interrupted. No wonder I still felt a little jumpy around him.
He chuckled merrily. “Not at all. Let’s sit back for a few minutes and enjoy our very strong iced coffees with a little get-to-know-you conversation before we dive back into those numbers you love so much.”
I melted under his warm smile. God, he was handsome. Not traditionally maybe but wow, he did something for me. Something he’d no doubt prefer I kept to myself. I clandestinely adjusted myself and nodded.
“Okay. Um…so you’re single?” I asked.
Oh boy. Well, at least he’d know right away why I was, I thought ruefully.
“I am. Charlie and I split up a year ago after ten years together. And I’m eternally grateful we didn’t put a ring on it,” he snorted with a half laugh. “That man took me to the cleaners as it was,” he groused as he uncapped his cup and emptied at least five sugar into his drink before stirring it with gusto.
I kept my gaze on his precise movement but my head was spinning. Man? Sure, Charlie was a man’s name but I knew a Charlene who went by Charlie too and— Lars was gay? I narrowed my eyes and leaned in slightly to observe him because frankly, I wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly. I assumed he was straight. His masculine voice, rugged looks and commanding presence reminded me of an old time cowboy. And the decades I’d spent in my own closet made me think guys like Lars were always straight.
“You’re gay?” I squeaked before I could stop myself.
“I am. Out and proud for about twenty-five years. You?” He inclined his head and smiled.
The kindness in the simple tilt of his mouth was my undoing. That had to be why I didn’t change the subject. I’d only spoken about this once before and it hadn’t gone well. Actually, it ruined my life. Confiding in a veritable stranger, a client no less, was unwise… and just plain stupid. But there was something about Lars. I didn’t understand it but I was drawn to him. I wanted to know more about him than what a few spreadsheets could tell me.
I swallowed hard then cleared my throat as I weighed which version of the truth to tell. See? This was why I liked numbers.