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Home Sweet Love
 


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Home Sweet Love


  Home Sweet Love

  by

  Ava Miles

  ~ Dare Valley~

  Moira & Chase

  © 2017 Ava Miles

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  Chase Parker doesn’t believe in all that gushy home sweet love stuff.

  Moira Hale sure as heck does.

  Becoming a respected corporate executive of a billionaire enterprise is more enduring, according to Chase. He lost his home in a tragedy as a kid and doesn’t plan on building another one ever again. But he finds himself stuck in small town Dare Valley recovering from a skiing accident—and in a home much like the one he lost.

  Moira is excited to have her first real home in addition to a fantabulous new job, working in tandem with Chase’s boss on a high-powered fundraiser. She and Chase don’t have to worry about an office romance technically because they don’t work together. And so, while Chase is recovering, they decide to “hang out” and enjoy each other.

  Neither anticipate how deep their feelings go. Chase certainly doesn’t expect to sift through the ashes of his past in order to heal and share his memories with Moira—or find comfort in all the things he’d locked away. But soon Chase discovers how sweet home can be…all the while falling in love.

  To all the healers in the world—Eastern, Western, natural, conscious, and unknowing. Thanks for doing your part and sharing your gifts with all of us.

  And to my divine entourage, who continues to show me how best to share my gifts with the world and all that is possible.

  Chapter 1

  Chase Parker didn’t like the thought of rubbing elbows with his mortal enemy.

  Certainly not at the invitation-only fundraiser he and his work colleagues were planning. Moira Hale, the intriguing new director of The Artemis Institute of Innovation, was the one who’d made the ludicrous suggestion. Of course, he couldn’t exactly blame her. She had no way of knowing Maurie Wallins, the CEO of K-Barker, was his mortal enemy or why.

  The asshole had slept with his wife. His now ex-wife.

  Which was not the kind of thing a professional could mention in a business meeting.

  Chase and Moira were sitting in a conference room at The Grand Mountain Hotel with the man who had brought them together—Evan Michaels, their boss. He and Moira represented the two branches of Evan’s work. While Chase was the chief financial officer of Quid-Atch, the global defense contractor company that had made billions with Evan’s inventions, Moira would be running Artemis, Evan’s pet philanthropy project—a private institute designed to foster young inventors with seed money and training. So far, Artemis was in the start-up phase.

  This team-building weekend in Dare Valley, Colorado, where Evan and Moira both lived, had been Evan’s idea. He’d wanted them to plan Artemis’ first fundraiser together to ensure they were all on the same page.

  Right now they were not.

  “I can’t believe you want to invite Quid-Atch’s competitors to Artemis’ first fundraiser, Moira.”

  Chase shifted his gaze to Evan, who was wriggling like he was sitting on the hot seat. If he was considering Moira’s lamebrain idea, he was. He knew better than anyone that Maurie Wallins was toxic.

  “When Evan endowed Emmits Merriam University with the largest gift anyone has ever given a U.S. university to support young inventors,” Moira said, tucking a lock of her brown hair behind her ear, “he put Artemis on the map. We have to invite Fortune 500 company executives who support innovation, and that means going to companies like K-Barker and Longburrow. We’ll lose credibility if we don’t.”

  “But they’re Quid-Atch’s competitors,” Chase repeated, pushing back from the table and crossing his arms. “You don’t know the kind of dirty tricks we have to guard against when we’re competing for defense contracts, and we have a huge U.S. Defense Department bid going on right now, Moira. To the tune of seven hundred million dollars. Tell her, Evan.”

  Even though Evan was technically the chief executive officer of Quid-Atch, he left much of the day-to-day work to Chase. But he knew about the big bids, the kind that could cause layoffs if they didn’t win. This was that kind of bid.

  After over a year of preparation, they had eighty-seven days to put all the remaining pieces together. The project management leader they were putting forward for the bid was the best candidate out there, and they’d paired him with a first-rate team of subcontractors. Chase never settled for less than a winning strategy.

  “Chase is right in saying a seven-hundred-million-dollar bid is a really big government bid for us,” Evan said in a neutral tone. “I could barely talk him into taking time off for this team-building workshop, but Artemis’ first fundraiser is critical.”

  Moira’s eyes widened like silver dollars, likely because of the amount of money they were discussing, but she immediately narrowed them again. She really was one determined woman. Chase usually admired that about her—it was why he’d approved hiring her for the director job even though her experience, while impressive, was limited to human resources.

  He’d be better off if it were the only thing he admired about her. Truth was, he was having a tough time fighting his attraction to Moira Hale. She was funny and no-nonsense, smart as a whip, and sexy to boot with her clear green eyes, curly brown hair, and petite figure.

  It was a unique experience for a man who’d sworn off romantic feelings after his divorce.

  It was also a problem.

  While Chase could have delegated his work with Moira to someone else, the grant Evan had given Emmits Merriam for the Artemis Institute was high-profile news. Everyone knew the institute was tied to Evan, which meant it reflected on Quid-Atch. Besides, if he hadn’t agreed to come to Dare Valley this weekend, Evan might have given Moira her way. It reaffirmed Chase’s need to oversee the center’s ongoing business.

  “I see Moira’s point about credibility, Chase,” Evan said, making him want to growl. “But, Moira, I also hear Chase’s concern about inviting our competitors to the fundraiser, especially when we have such a huge bid in the works.”

  “One we’re not assured to win outright, Evan,” Chase reminded him. Since Moira looked puzzled, he glanced her way, trying not to register how pretty she looked in the green ski sweater that matched her eyes. “On some bids, we’re in a strong position to win, either because we had the preceding contract or because we’ve done a lot of work in the area in which we’re competing. Not this time. It’s a wide open field.”

  And his mortal enemy was gunning for them like always. Chase hated competing with Maurie Wallins. He played dirty, but he knew how to skirt the line between unethical and outright illegal, which was how he’d made K-Barker so successful. Chase simply didn’t do business that way, and luckily Evan agreed.

  Moira folded her hands and looked intently at them. “I appreciate your point, but if Artemis is going to be seen as an independent center, we need to be neutral about who we invite to our fundraisers.”

  Chase was ready to snap back at her, like a taut rubber band, but Evan slapped a hand on the table and stood up. “I think we need to table this discussion for a few days while I consider the pros and cons. Is everyone ready to hit the slopes?”

  Chase didn’t like that suggestion. “I think—”

  “I’d love to,” Moira said, standing up and smiling as though she’d won a minor victory.

  Maybe she had. Evan usually fell in line with Chase’s wishes. Whenever he delayed giving an answer, Chase knew they were destined to go back and forth on the topic for days.

  “Fine, let’s go,” Chase said, keyed up with nervou
s energy from the discussion. He would talk to Evan later.

  They left the conference room and headed to the small private room holding their ski gear. The hotel was a destination for skiers, so there were several rooms like this right on the slopes. Chase did his best not to watch Moira get dressed. Oddly, it was arousing to see her putting on clothes. He forced himself to keep his gaze away from her as he clamped on his ski boots, picked up his skis, and walked out into the snow. He put on his skis and waited for Evan and Moira to join him. When they did, they moved in tandem to the ski lift.

  Growing up in Wyoming, Chase had cruised down his fair share of slopes, whenever he could scrape enough money together. Money wasn’t a worry now, but time was. It had been a long time since he’d gone skiing.

  Chase continued to fight the urge to look at Moira as they all hopped off the ski lift at the top of the hotel’s luxurious ski slopes. Finally, as they stood at the top of the hill, he let himself look his fill. She met his gaze and held it. There was a sea of white behind Moira, and in her red suit, she looked like a lone flame that could melt everything in her wake. Including his resistance.

  Her mouth tipped up at the corners as she continued to stare right back at him. Sometimes he thought she engaged in staring matches with him because she was competitive, and she wanted him to know she wouldn’t back down. Chase had a good poker face, and he could out-stare even the most trained politician or defense minister in the military business dealings he conducted for Quid-Atch. However, a few times he caught a softer glint in her eyes, the kind a woman had for a man she found pleasing.

  That softer glint kept him awake at nights and made him analyze all the reasons why he’d be an idiot to ask her out.

  Chase Parker didn’t date. He made deals. Ran a corporate empire. Had sex occasionally with an interesting companion he’d selected to look good on his arm. He certainly didn’t date colleagues, even peripheral ones like Moira.

  “I’ll see you at the bottom,” Chase said and turned to fly down the slopes.

  The blue sky was brilliant—even through his ski goggles—and he loved the punch of cold air on his face as he wove his way down the slopes, making sure to keep clear of beginner skiers.

  He pulled up at the bottom of the slope and took a deep, cleansing breath. Skiing was invigorating. He wished he had more time for it, he realized. There were a lot of things he didn’t have time for, but that’s what happened when you spent every waking moment working.

  Someone punched him in the shoulder.

  “Why didn’t I realize you were a pro at skiing like you are at everything else?” Evan asked after skidding way too close to him. He was wearing a lime green ski suit with black racing stripes.

  Only Evan could pull off a ski suit with racing stripes.

  “Because we’ve never gone skiing together,” Chase answered, causing Evan to roll his eyes behind his dark ski goggles.

  Moira, who’d just pulled up beside them, shook her head. “How is that even possible? I thought you two were known for hanging out at Europe’s finest ski resorts.”

  Chase snorted. “That was all Evan—in his playboy days—before Margie.”

  “My one and only,” Evan said, a charming but dopey smile on his face.

  “I only visited Evan in Europe when he needed to get his head out of his ass,” Chase continued. “I sleep better at night these days knowing he’s all grown up. It was a burden to remind him to eat before he met her.”

  It was meant to be a joke, but it was mostly true. Chase had helped Evan grow up, and yes, while it galled him to admit it, there were times when he’d needed to remind the sometimes-forgetful inventor to eat. And shower.

  Evan made a dramatic show of looking over his shoulder. “My head doesn’t seem to be up my ass anymore, Chase.”

  Moira laughed again, and they slowly made their way back to the lift. Evan and Moira were chatting about the view and how wonderful it was to be living in Dare Valley. Evan was new to the small town, but Moira had been born here. While she’d lived in Denver for a while, this was home to her. She had plenty of family here—a family Evan was now connected to through his wife.

  Yet another reason Moira was off limits.

  “Don’t have anything like this view in the D.C. metro area, do you?” Evan said, clapping him on the back as they sat in the lift.

  It was obviously rhetorical, but Chase answered him anyway. “No, but we have the Smithsonian museums and a heck of a lot more restaurants.”

  Evan cracked his neck. “They had all that and more in Paris, but I still prefer it here.”

  “Because the woman you love is here,” Chase said with a grin.

  When they crested off the lift, Chase skied to the right and stopped, waiting for the others to catch up with him.

  Evan flashed a smile to a few skiers as he passed them, and one of them whisper-shouted, “Isn’t that Evan Michaels?” As a billionaire inventor and the only man in town in possession of both a red Ferrari and a black Lamborghini Reventon, Evan had achieved a weird celebrity status among some Dare Valley folk. Being Evan, he enjoyed every minute of it.

  “Good thing they can’t ask for your autograph,” Moira joked as they joined Chase.

  “Oh, they could ask for it,” Evan said. “You wouldn’t believe the kinds of places I’ve had…ahem…models ask me to autograph.”

  “If anyone suggests something super inappropriate,” Moira said, “leave them to me. I’m good at kindly brushing those sorts of overtures off.”

  Chase wondered about that. She was beautiful, but she wouldn’t be an easy mark for the kind of guy who picked up women at bars. She was too confident, too no-nonsense. It was part of her appeal.

  “I’m thirsty,” Evan announced, planting his poles in the snow. “See you guys at the bottom. Chase, you won’t catch me this time.”

  There was a sluice of snow against skis as Evan pushed off and sailed down the hill. Honestly, there was no way Chase was going to race Evan. There were some lines work colleagues and friends didn’t cross.

  “Afraid to race him?” Moira asked.

  “No,” he replied, feeling a sheen of snow cover his face and melt as the wind rose up.

  “I didn’t think so,” she said matter-of-factly. “I’m not sure anything scares you.”

  You do sometimes, he wanted to say, but refrained. Getting older meant knowing when to keep his mouth shut. “Fear pisses me off,” he said instead.

  “Oh, I like that. Do you mind if I use that?”

  “Not at all.”

  Then she tugged her yellow ski goggles up, giving him a clear view of her green eyes. Clearly she was in no rush to ski, and neither was he, it seemed. The edges of her brown hair curled around her white stocking cap, and his eyes narrowed on her lush, red lips, slightly cracked from the cold. He didn’t want to stop looking at her.

  “Why aren’t you afraid of me?” he asked. “Most new hires are. God’s honest truth.” He worked hard to overcome that with each new executive hire. If they didn’t stop walking on eggshells around him, they were reassigned. Fear had a way of creating obstacles in the best of working relationships.

  She took her time, keeping her gaze on him. “I’ve never been afraid of anyone, really. What’s the point? It’s like my Uncle Arthur says. Everyone puts their pants on the same way when they get up in the morning.”

  Chase knew about her uncle, Arthur Hale, one of the legends of modern journalism. He supposed with an uncle like that, she was used to powerful men. “Except nudists,” he said as a joke.

  Joking was one of his tools to make other people more comfortable around him.

  Her mouth curled. “Ah…I see what you did there. No pants.”

  He shook his head, knowing he was bordering on flirting with her. “None whatsoever.”

  “Do you think nudists ever ski?” she asked, grinning now.

  He rolled his tongue around his teeth. This conversation proved the old adage he’d heard from his father. The topi
c didn’t matter—a man and woman could flirt about anything.

  “Be a cold proposition,” he said, unable to stop himself from smiling back.

  “I suppose we should probably follow Evan,” Moira said, not making any move to pick up her ski poles.

  Her green eyes continued to gaze at him, as if waiting. That was when he was sure of it. She was waiting for him to make the first move. If anyone was going to make it, it had to be him.

  Moira had been a human resources manager before. She would understand his dilemma.

  He’d never dated an employee.

  Moira isn’t my employee, he told himself.

  But they would still have to see each other professionally if things didn’t work out. He’d seen other people date at work, and when things went south, it usually ended up in reality-TV drama territory.

  He hated drama.

  But he knew Moira did too.

  What are you thinking? He gave himself a mental slap. After his marriage to Trisha, he’d learned every painful thing one person could do to another. There was no going back.

  Still, rather than suggest they follow Evan, he found himself asking, “Are you having fun?”

  “Skiing as part of a work day at The Grand Mountain Hotel? Knowing the famous Chef T is going to make us lunch? Are you kidding? I have the best job in the world.”

  That snagged another smile out of him. “I feel the same way. You’re still happy you’ve moved back to your hometown? I heard what you said to Evan, but is that the truth? Leaving the big city can be a big transition for anyone.”

  She rubbed her gloves together like she was cold. “I miss things about Denver, but there’s plenty to do here. I have my family, which keeps my social calendar full. And I have a home, a real home. Apartment living sucks. I’m happy to be here, Chase. Truly.”

  “I’m glad. I want you to be happy.” He cleared his throat, realizing it wasn’t a common sentiment for one co-worker to share with another. “I would have hated for you to return to your hometown and regret it, no matter how much you love your job.”

 
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