Fic- Husband Material – Chapter 7

At three o’clock, Max followed two of the company’s newest fund managers out of the meeting room. As they neared mahogany row — where the founders, general partners and managing directors had offices — one manager elbowed the other.
“I’d like a piece of that,” Scott Parsons muttered under his breath.
Max couldn’t see who he meant, but the guy’s suggestive tone spelled trouble. Not to mention a total disregard for company policy, a lack of respect for co–workers and unacceptable behavior from someone in his position.
“You want to share?” Eric Richardson asked.
Scott laughed. “You think there’s enough for both of us?”
Curiosity got the better of Max. He glanced over their heads and saw Kate with her back to them.
They were talking about Kate. His Kate.
His temperature shot up. His blood pressure spiraled. Muscles bunched and knotted. A protective instinct roared to life. He wanted to punch someone — two someones.
Don’t lose control, Cooper. She’s worth it, but they aren’t.
Max took a deep breath, three actually. “I don’t know what the corporate environment was like where you came from, but here at Andersen Willet, we respect employees like my hardworking, brilliant assistant over there.”
He pushed his way between the two pea brains and strode toward Kate. She spoke with a very pregnant, very glowing Danielle Freed, the executive assistant to Connor Andersen. Max waited for Kate to notice him. She didn’t. Funny, but she was normally so attuned to him.
“Kate,” he said finally.
She straightened and turned. “What are you doing here?”
“The presentation, remember?”
“Oh, yeah,” she sounded preoccupied.
“That graph you added at the last minute was a huge hit.” He smiled. “Made several of the higher–ups take notice.”
The corners of her mouth lifted. “Good for you.”
“Are you heading down?”
“Yes.” She waved the folder in her hand at Danielle. “I’ll talk to you later.”
“One day we’ll be working up here,” he whispered, walking Kate to the elevator. “An office on mahogany row. Can you imagine?”
She nodded. “Maxwell, we need to talk.”
“I know.” This wasn’t the best time or place, but he wanted to get it over with. Inside the elevator, he pressed the button for their floor and the doors closed. “I wanted to tell you that I’ve been reviewing my husband–material notes.”
“You took notes?”
“A student, remember?”
Max expected a smile. He didn’t get one. The muscles in his shoulders tensed.
She watched the floor numbers decrease. “It’s not so clear–cut.”
“True, but I’m finished with the lessons.” He needed to save the Flying C ranch, but he also needed to stop these crazy feelings about Kate. As soon as he got married, things between them would return to normal. They had to, right? “It’s time to find a wife.”
The corners of her mouth tightened. “You need to find her yourself.”
“I know, and I’ve already started,” he explained. “I created a spreadsheet with information about each wife candidate to make sure I choose the correct one.”
“Oh, Maxwell.” Kate sighed. “You’re one of the best analysts on Wall Street, but you don’t have a clue unless it relates to economics, the Dow or NASDAQ.”
He drew his brows together. “What do you mean?”
“You research information to rate a company’s stock performance — buy, sell, hold and all the variations in–between — but you can’t use the same process to pick a wife.” She bit her lip. “What are you going to do? Downgrade each of the women on your list until only one is left?”
Her words ripped his logically conceived method in two. He raised his chin. “That was the plan.”
The elevator stopped, the doors opened, but no one stepped inside. The doors closed.
“A wife is not a commodity,” Kate said. “She’s the woman who will wake up next to you every morning, who will be the mother of your children, who will grow old with you.”
“I understand that, but I have to be realistic.” Max shifted his weight uneasily. “I’m not looking for true love. Just someone I can grow to love over time.”
“No.” Kate’s lower lip trembled. “You have to follow your heart, not pick out a wife as if you were buying a new car and hope it’s what you need over the long haul.”
“Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
“This shouldn’t be a desperate choice, Maxwell.”
Sweat broke out on his forehead. He couldn’t allow his mother to lose the ranch, but what would be the price he paid? Spending time with Kate had given him a glimpse into what a couple — what a husband and wife — could have together. Yet finding that with someone took time. Something he didn’t have. “What do you suggest?”
A beat passed. And another. Kate flipped her hair behind her shoulder and stared into his eyes. “Marry me.”
The air whooshed from his lungs. Her proposal was an invitation into Heaven and a ticket straight to Hell. He stared at her. Stunned. Grateful. Confused.
The elevator stopped on another floor. The doors opened and three people entered, talking about a hit reality TV show. He felt as if his chest might explode. Who cared what bozo was going to be kicked off the show when the most important person in his life had just proposed.
Marry me.
Was she serious? No, she had to be kidding. But the way her gaze held his, he wondered.
Marry me.
Kate would be a great wife. He knew that with pulse–pounding certainty. She was caring, nurturing and an amazing kisser. She took care of everything and made life easy for him. Time after time, she’d worked to make him shine in the spotlight not wanting any credit except a simple thank–you. If he hadn’t known what he wanted in a wife before, he knew now.
Marry Kate?
She was willing to sacrifice so much in order to marry him. But Max couldn’t ask her to do that.
He wasn’t husband material. She deserved an equal in the area of romance and relationships. He also knew how focused she was on her career — all those late nights and weekends. She thrived at work as much as he did. Sure, she could find another position, but he couldn’t ask her to do that. He didn’t want to.
Selfish as it might be, he needed her in his office, not in his bed. Though, he had to admit, that was an appealing thought, but not enough for him to want another assistant. Surely she would understand.
The elevator stopped and the trio exited.
“So what do you say?” she asked him once the elevator doors closed. “Will you marry me?”
Her lighthearted tone contradicted the anticipation in her eyes. Emotion, an unfamiliar mix of regret and guilt, clogged his throat. He was doing the right thing, the only thing. “I’m flattered, Kate. Any man would be. But you deserve better than a guy like me.”
“Isn’t that for me to decide?”
“You’re too valuable to me,” he countered. “If we got married, you couldn’t be my assistant.”
“So I’m too valuable in the office,” she said carefully. “That’s it, right?”
The disappointment in her voice hit harder than a thousand–point drop in the Dow. Max hadn’t wanted to hurt her, but he wasn’t going to lie either. “Yes.” “You are not an A student, Maxwell.” Anger flared in her eyes. She grabbed a pen from her notebook and scribbled a giant F across his piece of paper and shoved it at him. “You failed your husband–material lessons. Miserably.”
“You’re important to me, Kate,” he said. “I’m not going to let you throw away your career for me.”
“It’s a job, Maxwell, my job.” She pursed her lips. “Nothing else.”
“It’s more than that, Kate.” He wanted to convince her, needed her to agree with him so the gnawing anxiety in his gut would disappear. “We’re in this together. You and me. I don’t know what I’d do if I ever lost you.”
She tilted her chin. “You’d better figure it out because I’m no longer your assistant.”
“No. You can’t quit.” His mind reeled. His stomach clenched. Max had never considered the possibility that Kate would leave him. “What will you do? Where will you go?”
“Mahogany row,” she said. “I’m Connor Andersen’s new executive assistant.”

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