VERONICA “FLASH” REDDING slammed her locker door shut for the last time. She pulled on her leather bomber jacket and popped her collar to hide the red welt on the side of her neck. Trading her steel-toed work boots for bright red Pumas, she put the boots in her backpack, slung her backpack over her shoulder and took a quick steadying breath. She could do this. More importantly, she had to do this. She would have told herself to “man up” but with the way the men in her life were behaving lately, manning up would be a step down. She’d have to woman up instead.
She found her boss, Ian Asher, standing behind his desk, poring over a set of blueprints for their next construction project—a small and desperately needed medical clinic in the rural Mount Hood area. A handsome thirtysomething black man stood next to him—had to be Drew, their recently hired project manager. She listened as he listed off changes they’d have to make to comply with new building regulations that might pass the Oregon legislature next year. Flash stood in the doorway while she waited for them to acknowledge her existence. Considering how good Ian had gotten at ignoring her, this might take a while.
“What if these regs don’t pass?” Drew asked Ian. “You really want to redo the whole plan to comply with building codes that aren’t even on the books yet?”
“They’ll be on the books,” Ian replied.
“He’s sure,” Flash said from the doorway.
Ian glanced up from the blueprints and glared at her.
“Flash, how can we help you?” Ian asked. He did not look happy to see her.
“Our boss’s dad is a state senator,” Flash said, ignoring Ian to speak to Drew. “That’s how he knows the codes will probably pass.”
“If we don’t build it to the new codes and they go through, then we’ll have to retrofit it next year,” Ian said. “We’re going to do it right the first time. And my father has nothing to do with it.”
“What’s the deal with all the new regs, anyway?” Drew asked. “Four bolts per step? And that’s a lot of steel reinforcements for a one-story medical clinic.”
“You moved here from the East Coast, right?” Flash asked.
“DC,” Drew said. “Why?”
“You know you’re standing on a volcano, right?” Flash asked. “And not a dormant volcano, either.”
“Stop trying to scare the new guy, Flash,” Ian said, his strong jaw set so tight she almost heard his teeth grinding.
“Scare me?” Drew scoffed. “What’s going on?”
“We’re overdue for a massive earthquake in the Pacific Northwest,” she continued. “And not your average massive earthquake. I’m talking the sort of earthquake that they make disaster movies about starring The Rock.”
Drew’s eyes widened hugely, and Flash grinned fiendishly in reply. She knew she was grinning fiendishly because she’d practiced that grin in the mirror.
“Is that true?” Drew asked Ian.
“We’re in a safe zone here,” Ian said. “Safer. It’s the coast that’ll get hit the hardest.”
“Yeah, we’ll be fine on the mountain,” Flash said. “Unless the earthquake triggers the volcano to erupt.”
“I...” Drew gathered up the blueprints. “I’ll just go call the architect. Now. Right now.”
“I can weld your desk to the floor if you want,” she said as Drew pushed past her and walked down the hall at a brisk clip. “My treat!” she called after him.
“You’re a horrible person,” Ian said when they were alone in his office.
“Hazing the newbies is what we do. You want me to remind you how the guys hazed me when I started here?” she asked. “I mean, it was nice of the boys to build me that tampon caddy for my locker in the shape of a tampon, but did they really have to make it five feet tall and carve my name into it?”
“Yeah, they’re lucky they have their jobs after that stunt.” Ian sat down in his desk chair. “You got them back good enough, didn’t you?”
“You mean when I welded their lockers shut with all their stuff inside?”
“Yes,” he said, glaring at her again. Or still. Glaring had been his default expression around her for the past six months. “That’s what I mean.”
Ian was a gorgeous man and when she got on his bad side—which was often—she had to count to ten to keep herself from begging him to throw her down on the desk, rip his tie off, shove it in her mouth and do things to her body that it didn’t know it wanted done to it yet.
“Safe to say we called it even after that,” she said.
“They didn’t do something else to you, did they?” Ian asked, running one hand through his sandy blond hair to pull it off his forehead. He needed a trim. She liked it longer, especially when it fell across his eyes while bending over to look at blueprints. But if Mr. Ian “Bossman” Asher wanted his hair to match the fancy suits he wore, he should probably tidy up. “I thought things—”
“The guys and I are good now,” she said. “I haven’t had to weld anyone’s car door shut in months.”
“Thank God. You are a lawsuit waiting to happen.”
“Because I’m the only woman on your crew?”
“Because you’re a maniac.”
“Do you call all the women who don’t like you ‘maniacs?’ Does it make you feel better about yourself?” She crossed her arms over her chest, leaned casually in the doorway. She felt anything but casual around Ian Asher, but he didn’t need to know that.
He didn’t say anything for a moment. Then he nodded. “You’re right. That wasn’t fair of me,” he said, sitting forward at his desk and clasping his hands. His jaw was set tight like it usually was when she stepped into a room. “I’m sorry I said that.”
She shrugged. “It’s all right. After you fucked me and dumped me, I called you every name in the book and invented a few of my own. You can call me a ‘maniac’ if you want.”
Ian stood up immediately, walked—almost ran—to his office door, pulled her inside and shut the door behind them.
“Can you keep your voice down?” he asked. “I’m trying to run a reputable company here.”
“Then why did you hire me?” she asked.
“I didn’t hire you. My father did.”
“Oh, yeah. Then why haven’t you fired me?”
“Because you’re very good at what you do.”
“You’re not so bad yourself,” she said with a wink. Since she had nothing to lose anymore, she turned and sat down on the top of his desk.
“I wasn’t talking about that night.”
She crossed her legs, which was hard to do in loose canvas pants but she made it work.
“Oh... ‘That Night.’ It has a name. I’m so good in bed our one night together has a name.”
“That Stupid Night,” he said. “That Drunk Night.”
“We weren’t drunk. You’d had two beers and I had two shots of whiskey and neither one of us is a lightweight. Don’t blame booze for your own bad decisions,” she said, raising her chin. “Or was it a bad decision? You tell me.”
“Yes, it was. That I’m having this conversation with you is proof it was a bad decision. I don’t want to be having this conversation with any of my employees. I’m trying to be a good boss here. You’re not helping.”
“How am I not helping?” she asked.
“Because you don’t want me to be a good boss.”
Flash almost felt bad for him. Almost. He was rich, he was handsome, he had been handed a high-paying job at a multimillion-dollar construction company with a bow tied around it, compliments of Daddy, so it was really hard for her to muster up any sympathy for the man. If he ever had a real problem in his life, it sure as hell wasn?
Then again he was also six-two, broad-shouldered, and annoyingly good in bed. She knew that for a fact thanks to “That Night” six months ago. And that meant she did feel for him a little bit. A little teeny tiny bit. Not that she would tell him that. He didn’t need to know she liked him. In fact, the less he knew about that, the better.
“Poor Ian,” she said, shaking her head. “A victim of desire. You’re a Lifetime movie. Can we get Chris Hemsworth to play you? You two have the same hair. And the same shoulders. I remember because I’ve bitten them.”
“You’ve bitten Chris Hemsworth’s shoulders?”
“A lady never bites and tells. Too bad I’m not a lady.”
“Flash.” He started to cross his arms over his chest but then seemingly thought better of it. Instead he stuffed his hands into his pockets, as if they’d be safer there.
“You aren’t supposed to call me Ian. When you call me Ian people start to think we are more to each other than boss and employee.”
“Once upon a time I hopped into your shower to wash your semen off my back after you put it there after some very intense doggy-style fucking. Now...tell me again how we’re just boss and employee.”
“You,” he said.
“Why do I put up with this?” he asked. “Some kind of latent masochism, right?”
“It’s the hair, isn’t it?” She ran her fingers up her short scarlet red hair, spiking it even higher. It was a classic punk look according to Suzette, the multi-pierced stylist who had talked Flash into trading in her long traditional locks for a short, wild razor cut two years ago. Long hair and construction sites didn’t go well together, anyway. Plus she liked scaring the old-timers at work, who still thought any woman with hair shorter than her shoulders was a lesbian or a communist. Not that she minded be mistaken for a lesbian. They were half-right, anyway. But a communist? Oh, please. Socialist, maybe, but a communist? Ridiculous.
“What do you want?” he asked. “Please tell me and leave my office so I can, you know, do what I do.”
“Masturbate while thinking about me?”
“Flash, please.” He looked so wildly uncomfortable right now she almost laughed out loud. Not often a man as strong and as handsome and as together as Ian Asher looked self-conscious. It was kind of adorable. Which made it so much fun to torture him like this.
“You know that’s not my real name. My name is Veronica. You can say it. You called me Veronica that night. I mean, ‘That Night,’” she said, putting the words into finger quotes.
“Everyone calls you Flash.”
“You called me Veronica when you were inside me.”
“Dammit isn’t my name, either. Say my name and I’ll tell you why I’m here.”
“Flash, I’m not—”
“Say my name and I’ll tell you why I’m here. Then I will leave you in peace. Or in pieces depending on how much I’m annoying you today.”
“Pieces is more accurate,” he said. “I need to be steel-reinforced around you. You are an earthquake.”
“That’s the sexiest thing any man has ever said about me.”
Ian removed his hands from his pockets, stood up to his full height and stepped forward, close enough to her that he could bend and kiss her if he wanted to. He must not have wanted to, unfortunately.
“Veronica...” he said softly, so softly it was almost a whisper, and almost a whisper was exactly how he’d said her name that one stupid night. Her plan to torture him was backfiring. Now she remembered it all...everything she wanted to pretend meant nothing to her. No pretending when he said her name, no pretending when he looked at her like that.
They’d gone out for drinks one night after work, about six of them, her and Ian and four other guys. The others were all family men, had to get home early. She and Ian had lingered at the bar, talking. But not about work, about art. His father had hired her, not him, and he hadn’t known that she’d learned to weld because she was a metal sculptor in her free time, an artist. He’d assumed she’d picked up the trade from her father the same way he’d gotten into the construction business. She’d shown him a picture on her phone of the six-foot-high climbing rosebush she’d welded out of copper and aluminum, and he’d called it a masterpiece. And then he’d called her a masterpiece. And before either of them knew it, they were kissing. They’d kissed all the way back to his place and all night and here she was, six months later, still thinking about it.
“I quit,” she said.
Ian’s eyes went so wide she almost laughed.
“I quit. This is my two weeks’ notice.”
Ian stepped back in obvious shock.
“I think that’s just what I said. Let me rewind the tape.” She feigned listening to a handheld tape recorder and nodded. “Yes, that’s what I said. I quit.”
“Why? Is it because—”
“Because you and I fucked? No. Don’t flatter yourself.”
“I didn’t...” He sighed. “I’m not flattering myself. I know you weren’t thrilled with how I handled the situation.”
“You dumped me after one night and said you couldn’t date an inferior.”
“I didn’t say that. I said I was your superior and therefore could not date you. You remember that part about me being your boss?”
“Only for two more weeks.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I got a new job. A better job.”
“Better? Better than here?”
She almost rolled her eyes.
“Yes, Ian, believe it or not, some people, like, oh...women, for example, might not consider working with nothing but men the ideal workplace scenario. I like the guys. We get along okay. But I like women. I would like to have some in my life. I would also like to have a job where I don’t weld all day and then go home and weld some more for my other life. You can’t blame me for that.”
“I don’t, no. You’ve stuck it out here longer than anyone thought you would.”
“I had to fight tooth and nail to earn the respect of the crew. I’m a little tired of fighting to be treated like a human being. You can’t blame me for that, either.”
“No.” Ian nodded. “So...where are you going?”
“You know Clover Greene? Runs the nursery down the highway?”
“Yeah, Clover’s great. I bought my Weedwhacker from her.”
“I’m her new assistant manager. The pay is the same as what I make here but the hours will be better, the work not as backbreaking. I don’t like going home too tired to sculpt. I’ve been putting my art career on the back burner too long. I don’t want to do that anymore. Something had to give,” she said.
“Your art’s important to you,” he said. “I appreciate that. I hate to lose you. We’re not going to find another welder as good as you.”
“You will. But you won’t find one as fun as me.”
“You put truck nuts on my bumper to punish me for telling you we couldn’t keep sleeping together.”
“So? It was just a prank.”
“You didn’t hang them on my bumper. You welded them on my bumper. Giant. Metal. Testicles.”
“Your truck needed a new bumper, anyway, and you know it.”
“Flash...” She could tell he wanted to say something but wouldn’t let himself say it. Well, she knew how he felt. She’d wanted to say something for six months now. If only she could weld her mouth shut.
“You’re welcome,” she said.
“Wait, I didn’t thank you for anything.”
“I assumed you were going to thank me for leaving. I know I’ve been a...” She paused, searched for the right word. “A complicated employee. I know you’ll be more comfortable at work with me gone.”
“I’d rather be uncomfortable and have you here.”
“I’d rather work for a woman I respect.”