Smallville, Oliver, Chloe, prequel to In This Late Hour.
They still don't belong to me. There is no justice in the world. And If I owned an Ollie, I could do something about that.
She's not making this easy. Luckily, he never could resist a challenge.
It seemed like a good idea until he got off the elevator.
He’d slipped security a fifty and flashed the cleaning woman a smile, and it was smooth sailing for a full flight.
Then the doors slid open, and he’d stepped into darkness, spotted the room’s only occupied desk, and started having second thoughts.
She was frowning into the glow of her monitor with focused eyes, fingers flying a mile a minute. Seemed Watchtower was a workaholic. And probably with good reason – even alone in a pitch-black basement, she somehow seemed in her element.
Clark was going to kill him. Possibly with his bare hands.
“Burning the midnight oil?”
To her credit, she didn’t even blink. “Clock hasn’t struck twelve yet,” she said distractedly, squinting at the screen. “Besides, I don’t turn into a pumpkin until well after four.”
She unleashed a flurry of keystrokes before she finally turned, one eyebrow arched high in clear curiosity. “Oliver Queen on enemy soil. To what do I owe the honor?”
“I come bearing gifts.” He moved forward, holding his offering high, and she eyed his advance with amusement.
“You know, it’s customary to send flowers after you nearly get someone killed.”
“The thought did cross my mind,” he mused, setting the cup beside her keyboard and burying his hands in his pockets. “But floral deliveries of the female persuasion tend to incite tabloid frenzy. ‘Fraid you’ll have to settle for the fix.”
“A coffee run could be just as newsworthy, considering the source. I can see it now. ‘Billionaire Playboy Schleps Starbucks to Basement Dweller. Apocalypse Nigh.’”
“Catchy.” Chuckling, he rocked back on his heels a bit. She wasn’t making it easy to rethink this whole thing. “I’ve never seen you in your natural habitat. Curiosity got the better of me.”
With a snort, she rolled her eyes skyward. “Yeah, I’m sure the Planet pit of despair is high on every hero’s can’t-miss list.” She leaned forward on her forearms, her mouth a wry line. “Speaking of, how’s the new bird?”
“Flew the coop,” he admitted, pulling up a chair and settling in across the desk. “Claimed she didn’t play well with others, but between you and me, her right wing beat a lot harder than the left. We may have had a few differences of opinion.”
“Having perused her work, I can’t say that I’m surprised.” She shrugged without apology. “She’ll be back. Justice has no party. And if she thinks she’ll be caged as part of a team, at least this one’s gilded with solid gold.”
He nodded, watching her eyes flick back to the monitor. After months of cross-country contact, it was a little strange to spar with her face-to-face.
Especially when said face was currently black-and-blue.
The scrape followed the line of her cheekbone, an angry shadow in the scant light, and he reached out to touch her without thinking. Quick fingers batted his hand away before it reached its target.
“Believe me, I’ll heal,” she mumbled. He cocked his head, trying to figure out if he’d imagined the bitterness he heard. When she smiled on its heels, too fast and too bright, the slip became glaring. “Unless you’ve come to discuss hazard pay, in which case, consider me mortally wounded.”
“We can talk about it when we renegotiate your contract.”
“If I actually had one, that’d be cause for celebration,” she replied, pulling her brows together. “But I can’t exactly call my union rep. And since you’re not usually one for plainclothes patrol, I can’t help but wonder what you’re really doing here.”
He could still duck out with some semblance of dignity. Problem was – wrath of invulnerable farmboys notwithstanding – he wasn’t sure he wanted to.
One hand delved inside his blazer, and he dropped a thin envelope next to her nameplate.
“I’ve got a proposition for you.”
She eyed the thing as if it might bite. “FYI, I don’t have the greatest track record with proposals from the filthy-rich and philanthropic.”
“And here I thought I’d be an exception to the rule, given the past few months.” He rocked to his feet, and she craned her head back to hold his gaze. “Take a look. Not the most orthodox of investment ventures, I admit. But the payoff looks promising.”
He turned on her inquisitive stare, heading back to the elevator.
“I’ll be in touch.”
The revolving door was still spinning behind him when his phone rang, and he stopped on the wide steps to answer the call.
“Have you lost your jolly green mind?”
His face split into a grin, and he tossed a casual wave to a couple strolling by. At that volume they could’ve caught it from the sidewalk. “And hello to you, too. Which part of that ‘I’ll’ didn’t you understand?”
Her disbelief crackled through brief silence. “You can’t be serious.”
“Not usually, but I have my moments.” Leisurely, he paced the concrete, kicking at a wadded wrapper. “Don’t tell me you’ve never thought about it.”
“Riding out the adrenaline high,” she snapped. “Not over coffee and casual conversation. Mildly insulting, by the way. I must be a sure thing if all it takes to woo me over to the dark side is an unmarked envelope and a hot cup of house blend.”
“The dark side,” he scoffed, mostly to cover his laughter. “Wow. Tell me how you really feel.”
“Besides blindsided?” she groused. “Like we were doing pretty well with the status quo.”
She wasn’t wrong. Still, he couldn’t quite bring himself to concede defeat.
“I don’t know what else to tell you. I’d ask you to sleep on it, but considering your caffeine habit, the chances of that happening are pretty slim.” He made his way down the steps, ambling toward the car at the curb, its door open and waiting. “The offer’s on the table, and the decision is yours. That’s it. That’s my pitch.”
A sigh sounded in his ear, overwhelmed but a little amused. “Never thought I’d use this particular cliché, but ‘this is all so sudden’ seems really fitting right about now. I just…” She groaned, sounding more exasperated with herself than with him. “I think you may have the wrong girl here, Oliver.”
Standing by the open door, he shook his head. He’d bet on dark horses before, but they were never unworthy of the risk.
The words hung heavy as he climbed inside, hitched on a breath.
“Ship sails at eight, with or without you.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” she said, and he could almost hear her sad smile. Concession or not, he’d already lost. “Even if the raging migraine does kind of cancel it out.”
“That’s me. Walking contradiction.” His driver closed him inside and rounded the back of the car, and he couldn’t resist a last-ditch effort.
“Chloe.” There was no response, and he glanced down at his phone to make sure the call time was still ticking. “It wouldn’t be a cage, not for you. You’ve got ties. I get that. Just make sure they aren’t tying you down.”
The car pulled away, and she hung up without a word.
“Well, that went well,” he muttered.
Sliding down the seat, his head fell back to the leather, and his thumb traced quick numbers from memory.
To hell with ideas. He needed a plan.
“Base,” Vic’s voice barked. “We got girl power?”
“We will.” No way he was giving up this easy, dark side be damned. And if it was wooing she wanted, he could sure as hell do better than coffee and a piece of paper.
“Tell the boys to suit up. We’re on recon.”