"Lizzie, don't do this to me. You know I can't live without you."
Instantly, Lizzie Landry felt her determination weakening. How does he do that? she wondered. At the same time, she found herself thinking that he really would be lost without her, and she did worry that he
She caught herself.
Oh, come on. What was her problem here? After five years with Ethan Traub, she ought to be immune to his considerable charm and shameless flattery. And she was. Pretty much. It was only that she did hate to leave him when he needed her. Which was constantly.
But no. She had to be strong. The break had to be made.
She put on her sternest, most unwavering expression. "Ethan, you've been putting me off for months, and it's not going to work this time. We have to talk about this."
The melting look in those dark velvet eyes of his faded as he scowled. She watched as his perfect, manly lips assumed a downward curve. "There's nothing to talk about," he grumbled. "You're coming to Montana with me. Eventually, if you're still unhappy with"
Lizzie put up a hand. "I'm not unhappy, Ethan. It's been wonderful working for you. If I still had to work for someone, I would want it to be you."
"Great, then. We have no problem. You can keep working for me."
"No, I'm not going to do that. I want to be my own boss. That was always my goala goal it's time I reached. And you know that I'm ready to move on because I have told you so. Over and over and over again. Two weeks' notice. I think that's fair."
"Two weeks!" he blustered, rising from behind his desk. Bracing his knuckles on the desk pad, he loomed toward her, six-foot-four of killer-handsome, seriously imposing Texas male. "It's impossible. It's not going to happen. You'll need more than two weeks to find your replace-mentnot that you're going to be finding one right now. We're leaving on Thursday."
"Ethan, I told you. I'm not going to"
"Oh, yeah." He cut her off before she could finish her sentence. "You are. For so many reasons."
Lizzie tried not to groan. "Please don't start on the reasons. I've heard them all."
"And now you're going to hear them again."
"Do I have a choice?"
"None." And he proceeded to tell her everything she already knew. How he couldn't get along without her, how it just wasn't reasonable for her to be talking about cutting out on him now. "You know I need time, Lizzie. It's not going to be easy finding another assistant as good as you are. Someone flexible as to living arrangements.
Someone smart. Someone calm and capable. But also fun to be around. Someone who can manage the office, the houseand have my back on the personal front."
There was more in the same vein. Okay, yes. She'd been flattered the first time she heard it. But after months of trying to tell him she was ready to move on, listening to how she couldn't go was getting old.
She waited for him to wind down before reminding him, yet again, "Montana doesn't work for me. I'm a Texan, born and bred right here in Midland. And I'm staying here in Midland and opening my bakery as planned. You need to get used to that idea because you are not changing my mind. Not this time."
"Traub Oil needs you."
"Traub Oil managed fine without me for over thirty years."
"All right, then." He straightened to his full height. "I need you." He towered over her now because she remained in the chair on the far side of his desk. She considered rising to face him. Upright, after all, she was only a few inches shorter than he was and could almost stand head-to-head with him.
But no. She stayed in her seat. And concentrated on projecting calm determination. "You don't need me, Ethan. Not really. You're going to be fine."
He shook his head. "Lizzie, Lizzie, Lizzie
" And then, with a heavy sigh, he folded his long, hard frame back into his fat leather swivel chair. "How about a bonus? A
severance bonus. Stick with me a little longer, you walk away with more cash."
Do not ask, her sternest inner voice instructed. But money was money. She'd been flat-broke once. She never, ever wanted to go there again. "How big of a bonus?"
He named an eye-widening figure.
She let out a strangled laugh. "You're kidding."
"I am serious as a failed blowout preventer."
Okay, she was weakening now. Genuinely weakening. Plus, well, she did feel a little bad about letting him go to Montana without her. He had big plans for Montana. Maybe she ought to stick with him through that, at least
There was a gleam in those dark eyes now. He knew he had her. "Think of it, Lizzie. You know you can always use a larger cushion. Startup costs multiply. They inevitably turn out to be more than you projected."
Okay, he had a point there. "How long would I have to stay on?"
He gave an easy shrug. "Oh, I'm thinking a few more months should do it."
"A few monthsas in three?" She was the one scowling now.
His rueful smile could charm the habit off a nun. "Just think about it. That's all I'm asking. We'll discuss it more later."
"But Ethan, I"
He made a show of eyeing his Rolex. "Whoa, look at the time
"I've got that meeting with Jamison in five. You should have reminded me."
"A minute more," she piped up desperately. "Let's just get this settled."
"Can't right now. Sorry."
"You have my offer. Think it over." He was already on his feet again.
"But I have thought it over and I"
"Sorry. Really. Got to go." And, again, he was out the door before she could pin him down.
Lizzie slumped in the chair.
But only for a momentand then she was drawing her shoulders back, smoothing her hair that tended to frizz, even in the relatively low humidity of West Texas. She was not giving up on this. Today, one way or another, she was going to finish giving her notice.
Put it in writing, her sterner self insisted. That way he would have no choice but to accept the inevitable.
But no. She just couldn't do that. Not to Ethan, who was not only her boss, but also a true friend, the one who had come through for her in a big way when she most needed some help and support.
She would get through to him. After all, he couldn't escape her indefinitely. Especially not given that she lived in his house. No matter how hard he tried to avoid her, he had to come home eventually.
The meeting with Roger Jamison went well, Ethan thought.
Roger would have no trouble holding down the fort while Ethan was in Montana. And later, if things went as Ethan planned, he would formally name Roger to replace him as Traub Oil Industries' chief financial officer.
After the meeting with Roger, Ethan could have returned to his corner office, but Lizzie would be there at her desk, guarding his door. And waiting to continue explaining how she was leaving him.
He was meeting his stepfather, Pete Wexler, for lunch at the club at noon. So he went on over there an hour early. He got a Coke and sat out on the clubhouse front patio and enjoyed the late-May sunshine.
Pete showed up a few minutes early and he grabbed Ethan in a hug. "This is great," Pete announced. "Good to get away from the office, get a little one-on-one time." Pete clapped Ethan on the arm as he released him. "Shall we go on inside?" He gestured toward the wide glass doors.
Ethan led the way. They got a table with a nice view of the golf course.
And as soon as they put in their order, Pete started telling him what he already knew. "You're leaving Thursday."
"Your mother and I will try to get away Friday morning. It's important to both of us, to be there for your brother's wedding." Corey, born third in the family after Ethan, was getting married on Saturday. Corey and his bride, Erin, were settling down together in Thunder Canyon, a great little mountain town not far from Bozeman. There was already a big Traub family contingent in the Thunder Canyon area. Ethan had cousins there, and his older brother, Dillon, the doctor of the family, had settled there, too. Pete was still talking. He named off Ethan's remaining siblings. "Jackson, Jason and Rose are going to make it, too. The whole family will be there
Ethan sat back in his chair and listened to his stepdad ramble on and thought about how long it had taken him to accept Pete into the family. At least twenty years.
But eventually, Ethan, like his four brothers and his sister, had come around. How could he not? Pete was a good man. A kind man, with a big heart. He doted on Ethan's mom and had consistently been there for his stepchildren.
The hard fact, Ethan saw now, was that it had taken him a couple of decades to forgive poor Pete for not being Charles Traub. Ethan's dad had been tall and commanding, a self-made millionaire before he was thirtyback in the day when a million bucks actually counted for something. He'd died on an oil rig twenty-eight years ago, when Ethan was nine.
Pete had been there for Ethan's mom, Claudia, from the day that the accident happened. And that had stirred up the town gossip mill in a big way. Ethan and his brothers had suffered no end of bloody noses and black eyes defending their mother's honor and, by extension, Pete's. At the same time as they stood up for the man, they were all secretly suspicious of Pete's motives.
But in the end, there was no denying that Pete Wexler was a rock. He was no maverick. He liked to take things slow and steady, which, in terms of TOI, sometim...