Jamie Witmer recognizes a good thing when she sees it, whether it’s the elegant buildings she helps design, or her effortless working relationship with her partner, Weston Archer. But being the second-place team at their Boston firm isn’t enough to get Jamie and Wes invited to the couples-only bonding retreats with a potential new client. So, Jamie has an idea—she and Wes will become married friends with (company) benefits…
Wes has always thought of Jamie as a great friend and better business partner, but her crazy plan—and their co-workers’ easy acceptance of the change in their relationship—has him questioning what he thought he knew. Fake marriage leads to close contact. Contact leads to temptation. And when they finally act on all that heat, the passion is more intense than even Wes could have imagined…
They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But now that their friendship is irrevocably changed, it might be time for something even sweeter to begin…
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Trying not to wince, Jamie Witmer walked into the employee lounge and found everyone from Blain & Douglas Design gathered around a cake. At her arrival a chorus of "Congratulations, Jamie!" erupted from her overenthusiastic co-workers.
The only thing keeping her from running back to her office was the cake. God, she loved cake.
"Thanks for giving me a warning," she muttered to her design team partner.
"I know how much you love surprises." Weston Archer had worked with her the last five years. They'd learned a lot about each other over that time. "Look. There's cake," he pointed out, knowing how much she loved cake.
It was impossible to spend eight to ten hours a day with someone and not know them on a personal level. Sometimes even more than an actual spouse. Or so she assumed. Neither she nor Wes had a spouse, so she didn't know for sure.
"Five years with the company." Rob Blain patted her shoulder in a fatherly way, despite him being only six years older than her. "Your hard work means a lot to us."
"Your paycheck means a lot to me," she joked, making the whole group laugh.
Rob had hired her after her first job out of college in an architecture firm turned out to be more about making coffee than about creating anything. He'd told her he appreciated her vision.
At the time, she wasn't exactly sure what her vision had been other than being able to afford her own place in Boston so she could ditch her two roommates. She'd realized that goal in four months and set her sights on the next thing she'd wanted.
Blain & Douglas Design paired employees into teams. One architect with one structural engineer. The teams were rated based on a number of criteria, including how much revenue the team brought in, how many jobs they were able to complete in a year, and the most creative design as chosen by Rob Blain, CEO.
The incentive program was designed to encourage friendly rivalries among the teams and get everyone to try harder. However, Jamie was what Wes called obsessive. She liked to think of it as a healthy level of competitiveness.
A year later, with Weston as her partner, they became Design Team Two. And that is where they'd stayed ever since, thanks to Duane Larkson and Neil Hooper — the current Team One.
Wes and she had been close a few times, but it was a frustrating cycle. They didn't get the bigger clients because they weren't the top team, and they couldn't become the top team unless they got a bigger client.
She hated being in second place more than anything. Except maybe winter in Boston.
After gorging on cake and wading through more congratulations, she made her way back to the office she shared with her partner. It was large enough to accommodate their two desks, which faced one another, as well as a worktable and a drafting table. The giant whiteboard that took up an entire wall was generally covered with hieroglyphs and doodles that only made sense to them.
They had a window, though on blah January days like today, she almost wished they didn't.
"It's snowing again." Weston pointed at the flake-speckled window. The horrid sound of tiny pellets of ice hitting glass made her shiver. It wasn't just snow, it was sleet. Even worse. "I'll drive you home if you want."
Weston knew more than just her dislike of surprises or love of cake. He also knew she'd grown up in Virginia Beach, and therefore was too warm-blooded to appreciate Boston's snow and cold weather.
"At least it will put a clean coating on top of the four inches of gray sludge already out there."
"That's the spirit." He laughed. "Did you get your day off?" "Yes." She waved the festive-looking voucher in the air. A free day off work to celebrate her milestone with the company. An even better incentive than the cake.
Blain & Douglas was an innovative company. They had a lot of perks other companies didn't have. Though she wasn't able to utilize all of them.
She couldn't bring her pet to work, since her apartment didn't allow pets. She wasn't in a position to use the adoption reimbursement plan at this point. And since she wasn't married she hadn't been invited to attend the event at the couples-only resort to schmooze a huge new client.
Lance and Holly McCafferty owned Atlantic Global Transports, one of the biggest importers in the world, and they wanted to move their corporate headquarters into a new, state-of-the-art building in Boston.
And Jamie desperately wanted to design it.
Unfortunately, three years ago the couple nearly got divorced because Lance was spending too much time in their China office and not enough time at home. Since they had worked through their issues, they now went everywhere together.
Jamie's boss thought a couples' retreat would be a great way to bring them into the fold. It was a good angle, but one Jamie had yet to figure out how to get invited to.
She tapped her voucher against her temple as she tried again to come up with a way to get in on the event.
"You'll get another voucher for a day off once he announces the rankings next week." Weston rolled out a blueprint on the worktable.
"Do you really think we're going to be Team One for last quarter?" She had her doubts. Mostly she was trying to keep from getting her hopes up. She'd been let down before.
Wes tilted his head to the side, as if seriously considering it, then shook his head. "No. Probably not."
"Damn it!" She flopped down in her chair and let her head fall to her desk. "We just need an in. If someone big would look at our stuff they would love it. But everyone always asks for the best, and Rob always points them toward Duane and Neil."
"Being Team Two isn't that bad." Wes was content with where they were. Wes was content with just about everything. He was the most easygoing person she'd ever met. It was rare to get him worked up. Though she did try, for the sport of it.
"Being on Team Two isn't going to get me a weeklong trip to Jamaica to strengthen my marriage," she complained. She let out a sigh as the ice pellets against the glass increased their tempo.
"If it bothers you so much, bring it up with Rob."
"I did. He added a singles' meet-and-greet ski trip in Vermont to the list of company activities."
Weston pressed his lips together, no doubt to keep from bursting out laughing. She couldn't help it, she started to laugh too. It was pretty funny. She hated the snow, didn't know the first thing about skiing, and was hoping for a tropical vacation in the middle of winter, where she could charm their biggest client into giving Team Two a chance. Instead she was offered a ski trip.
"That's what you would call bad luck."
"Yes. Thank you for that." She tried for a glare, but it only made him laugh harder.
"Irony is a bitch," he said.
"It's not only the skiing. I'm not interested in a singles' meet-and-greet. I don't want to meet an approved panel of potential boyfriends, selected by my boss."
"Because you're doing such a good job meeting men on your own."
Oftentimes being this close to a co-worker had its advantages, but there were other days ...
"You sound like my mother." She rolled her eyes.
"You don't have a mother."
She gave him an annoyed look. "I know I don't have a mother. I meant if I had a mother she would probably be whining about how I don't meet nice men, and trying to guilt me into giving her grandchildren." She guessed that was what mothers did. That's how it looked on Lifetime movies.
"I don't want you to give me grandchildren. And as far as nice guys go, I don't think you'd know one of those if one came in here and handed you his kidney."
Wes had a point. Her dating history was legendary. He never let her live down the time one of her dates showed up in their office with a bouquet of roses and wings attached to his back.
"Remember Cupid?" he added with a smirk.
"Yes. I still can't believe you called my dad."
"The dude was a whack job. I wanted your dad to run him through the system so I could be sure he wasn't dangerous. Your dad is a retired cop. You have a valuable resource at hand, yet you continue to rely on a computer algorithm to find a mate."
"My dad is retired. He's supposed to be enjoying his time fishing and sitting on the beach in Virginia, not running background checks on the guys I go out with. Besides, he always finds a problem with everyone."
"I think you have that backwards. I think you always pick men who have problems."
"Whatever. Are we going to design something today or not?"
* * *
Weston hid his smile as he clipped down the edges of the drawing she'd handed him. Jamie never ceased to amaze him. Her designs were strong and yet beautiful. She had some skill he could never put into words.
At times when she first came on board, he might have had to move a beam or a column to support the weight of a wall or a second floor, but over the years she'd learned a lot about his side of the business. He rarely needed to do major changes. She even anticipated what he would need for the necessary utilities and functionality.
They didn't just design a building. It was an attitude, and it said, I'm going to be standing here for a very long time. Get used to it.
"I like this."
"You always like them. I can't tell if you have really good taste or if you're just lazy."
Some days it was probably a little of both.
Jamie's cell phone rang, sparing him from coming up with an answer. She tucked her pencil behind her ear and hit the button for the speaker.
"Hi, sweetie. How's the weather up there? It doesn't look so good on the Weather Channel."
"The Weather Channel is lying to you. It's eighty-two degrees and sunny."
"Hmm. Maybe I'm reading it wrong." Jamie's father was immune to his daughter's smart-ass comments.
"Hi, Mr. Witmer."
"Hey, Wes. Is Jamie behaving herself?"
"You're kidding, right?"
"She's trying to come up with a way to weasel a free vacation, and she's still using a dating site. And not one of the respectable ones either."
Jamie stuck her tongue out at him.
"Jamie, I don't want you going out with some loser." Her father spoke into the speaker louder than necessary.
"I know, but they really like going out with me."
Wes could almost hear her father shake his head over the phone. The poor man had his work cut out for him. He'd raised a daughter all by himself, since Jamie was six. Wes had to give him credit. She turned out pretty good. Despite the smart mouth.
"Wes, maybe you know someone suitable. Don't you have a younger brother?" Mr. Witmer suggested.
"No way am I signing up one of my friends or family members for this level of crazy." That comment earned him a smack in the arm from the eraser she hurled at him.
Jamie huffed at her father's easy agreement. "Thanks, Dad."
"Well, it's not like you make it easy. You're so consumed with your job, you don't have any time to meet anyone suitable."
"Sorry, Mr. Witmer, I'm going to have to take a different stand on this. I like that she's consumed. It means we design lots of great buildings."
"You kids today think everything is about money and moving up the ladder. Well, guess what? When you get to be my age you'll realize the ladder just goes to a very lonely place and the money spends. You should want more for yourselves. Bonds, family, and maybe some children."
Wes covered his mouth to hold in his laughter. Jamie's expression was hilarious.
"Nice talking to you, Dad. Wes and I are being called into a meeting. We have to get going."
"All right. Do you think you'll get to use your day-off voucher to fly down and see me some weekend?"
"I'm hoping to work something out next month."
"Okay. Love you."
"Love you too."
Wes looked down at his work, feeling awkward at their casual, yet genuine, bond. Neither of his parents had ever told him they loved him. Yet Jamie and her father said it every time they spoke on the phone. It sounded as natural as their hellos and goodbyes.
"Goodbye, Mr. Witmer."
"Take care, son."
Wes would never tell anyone how those words made him feel. He'd only met Mr. Witmer face-to-face one time. He was stern, as one would expect a police detective to be, but he was incredibly sincere. Something Wes's own parents rarely were.
When the man had clapped him on the back and thanked him for being a good friend to his daughter, Wes knew he meant it. He also knew if he stopped being a good friend to Jamie, there would be hell to pay.
After the call was disconnected, Jamie picked up her pad of paper and came over to sit next to his desk.
"What?" he asked.
"We have to have a meeting. I don't like lying to my dad."
He smiled and pulled out his own tablet so they could discuss something in a meeting format. He found it sweet that she didn't like to lie to her father, but yet was trying to figure out how to hijack a marriage retreat.
Life sure had been more fun over the last five years.
* * *
Jamie was surprised to find Duane Larkson waiting for her when she got off the bus the next morning. Everyone knew she didn't drive in bad weather, which could be anything from flurries to the sleet pinging off her coat at the moment.
"Good morning." He stood from where he'd been leaning against the wall and held out a cup of coffee.
She held up her hands, which were full with her laptop bag and the tray holding two cups of coffee.
"I guess you're already set."
"Looks like it. Thanks though." Her breath puffed out around her. No one should be able to see their breath. It was unnatural. "Are you coming inside?" she asked at the door.
"Actually, I wanted to talk to you alone."
"Alone but inside, right?" What kind of person stayed out in this weather willingly? She wasn't sure if she would ever acclimate to Boston.
"Oh, sure." He looked at her as if she was the strange one. "Do you want to come to my office?"
Something about going to his office felt wrong, but she shrugged and followed him. Nodding at his assistant, who was already working at her desk, Jamie shifted her things so she could pull down her hood.
"What's up?" Using her teeth, she tugged off one of her mittens and tucked it in her pocket before taking a sip of coffee.
"I don't know if you've heard, but Neil is retiring this summer."
"I heard something about that. I'm sorry you'll have to get used to working with someone else." She couldn't imagine having to start over if Weston left. She'd choke him until he changed his mind. Fortunately, Wes was a lot younger than Neil.
"Actually, I was hoping you might be willing to take his place."
She blinked a few times, not sure what he was saying. Things began to click. The secret meeting. Warming her up with coffee. "Are you trying to steal me away from Wes?"
"I spoke with Rob and he agreed there may be some benefit in realigning the teams. Fresh perspectives create fresh ideas. And you would be defaulted into Team One."
As much as she wanted to be Team One, she wanted to earn it. She didn't want to step into it. And she really didn't want to have to work with Duane. The plan had always been for Wes and her to knock Duane out of the spot. That was what she wanted.
"Stability and reliability create a bond that allows fresh ideas to grow and mature to their full potential. At least that's how it seems to work for Wes and me."
"No one is going to make you leave Wes. We just wanted you to know you had that option if you wanted it. I'd be thrilled to have you on my team. I think the two of us would be great together."
"Thanks, but I'm happy where I am." This was not exactly true. She wanted to be number one, but she didn't want to have to sell her soul to the devil. Or Duane, as it were.
"Are you really happy, Jamie? Or are you content?"
She wanted to ask what the difference was, because she thought they seemed like the same thing to her. But she could tell by the way he spoke there was a definite distinction, and she didn't want to give him more fuel for his very stupid fire.
"Whatever I am, I'm with Weston. We're a team."
With that she left his office, nodded to his assistant, and hurried to her own work area. Their assistant, Cindy, smiled tightly, having been able to see where she'd just come from. Jamie looked away from the woman, shame tickling up her spine until she realized she was being silly. She had done nothing wrong.
Except ... she was thinking of how nice it would be to be handed the McCafferty job without so much as a hesitation. Damn it, she needed to get in on that trip. If she could just talk to them and get a feel for what they were looking for, she would be able to design something magnificent.
In their office, Wes was already hunched over a drawing, his brows pulled together. His dirty-blond hair needed cutting. She noticed it was starting to curl around his ears as she set his cup down.
Excerpted from "The Work Wife"
Copyright © 2018 Allison B. Hanson.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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