Four

Panic. The emotion gripping me as I all but sprinted to my office could only be described as pure panic. I couldn’t believe what was happening. Being alone with her in that tiny steel prison—her smell, her sounds, her skin—made my self-control evaporate. I was unraveling. This woman had a hold on me unlike anything I’d ever experienced.

Finally in the relative safety of my office, I collapsed on the leather sofa. Leaning forward, I gripped my hair tightly, willing myself to calm and my erection to subside.

Things were going from bad to worse.

I’d known from the minute she reminded me of the morning’s meeting that there was no way in hell I could form one coherent thought, let alone give an entire presentation in that fucking conference room. And forget sitting at that table. Walking in there to find her leaning up against the glass, deep in thought, was enough to make me hard again.

I’d made up some bullshit story about the meeting being moved to a different floor, and of course she called me on it. Why did she always have to antagonize me? I made a point of reminding her of who was in charge. But as with every other argument we’d ever had, she threw it right back in my face.

I jumped slightly at a loud thud in the outside office. Followed by another one. And yet another. What the hell was going on out there? I stood and made my way to the door, opening it to find Miss Mills slamming down her folders in different piles. I folded my arms and leaned against the wall, watching her for a moment. The sight of her so angry was not diminishing the problem in my trousers in the slightest.

“Would you mind telling me what your problem is?”

She looked up at me as if I’d sprouted an extra head. “Are you out of your mind?”

“Not even a little.”

“Pardon me if I feel a touch edgy,” she hissed, grabbing a stack of folders and roughly shoving them into a drawer.

“I’m not exactly thrilled with the—”

“Bennett,” my dad said, walking briskly into my office. “Great job in there. Henry and I just spoke with Dorothy and Troy and they were—” He stopped and stared at where Miss Mills stood, white-knuckling the edge of her desk.

“Chloe, dear, are you okay?”

She straightened and stretched her fingers, nodding. Her face was beautifully flushed, her hair a little wild. From me. I swallowed and turned to look out the window.

“You don’t look well,” Dad said, walking to her and putting his hand on her forehead. “You’re hot.”

I clenched my jaw as I watched their reflection in the glass, a strange feeling clawing its way up my spine. Where is this coming from?

“Actually,” she said, “I do feel a little off.”

“Well, you should head home. With your work schedule and having just finished the semester at school, no doubt you’re—”

“We have a full calendar today, I’m afraid,” I said, turning to face them. “I was expecting to finish Beaumont, Miss Mills,” I growled through clenched teeth.

My father turned his steely gaze on me. “I’m sure you can handle whatever needs to be done, Bennett.” He turned back to her. “You go on ahead.”

“Thank you, Elliott.” She looked at me, arching a perfectly sculpted brow. “See you tomorrow morning, Mr. Ryan.”

I watched her walk out and my father closed the door behind her, turning to look at me with fire in his eyes.

“What?” I asked.

“It wouldn’t kill you to be a little nicer, Bennett.” He moved forward and sat on the corner of her desk. “You’re lucky to have her, you know.”

I rolled my eyes and shook my head. “If her personality were as appealing as her PowerPoint skills, we wouldn’t have a problem.”

He cut me off with a glare. “Your mother called and told me to remind you about dinner tonight at the house. Henry and Mina are coming over with the baby.”

“I’ll be there.”

He made his way over to the door, stopping to look back at me. “Don’t be late.”

“I won’t. Christ!” He knew as well as anyone that I don’t show up late for anything, even something as simple as a family dinner. Henry, on the other hand, would be late to his own funeral.

Finally alone, I stepped back into my office and collapsed into my chair. Okay, so maybe I was a little on edge.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out what remained of her underwear, ready to discard them into my drawer with the others, when I noticed the tag. Agent Provocateur. She dropped a pretty penny on these. And it sparked my curiosity. I opened the drawer to examine the other two pair. La Perla. Damn, this woman was serious about her underwear. Maybe I should stop into the La Perla store downtown sometime and at least see how much my little collection was costing her. I ran my free hand through my hair and tossed them all back in the drawer slamming it shut.

I was officially out of my mind.

.

As hard as I tried, I couldn’t focus on a damn thing all day. Even after a vigorous lunchtime run, I still couldn’t get my mind past the morning’s events. By three, I knew I had to get out of there. I reached the elevator and groaned slightly, opting for the stairs and then realizing that was an even worse mistake. I sprinted down eighteen flights.

Pulling up to my parents’ home later that evening, I felt some of my tension slip away. As I walked into the kitchen, I was immediately engulfed by the familiar smell of Mom’s cooking, and my parents’ happy chatter coming from the dining room.

“Bennett,” my mom sang as I stepped into the room. I bent down and kissed her cheek, allowing her a brief moment to try and fix my unruly hair. Finally swatting her hands away, I grabbed a large bowl from her and placed it on the table, snatching a carrot as commission. “Where’s Henry?” I asked, looking out toward the living room.

“They’re not here yet,” answered my dad as he walked in. Henry was bad enough, but throw in his wife and daughter and they were lucky to even make it out of the house at all. I walked to the bar outside to make my mother a dry martini.

Twenty minutes later, the sounds of chaos came from the foyer, and I stepped in to meet them. A small, unstable body with a toothy grin hurled itself at my knees. “Benny!” the little girl squealed.

I snatched Sofia up and smothered her cheeks with kisses.

“God, you’re pathetic,” Henry groaned as he walked past me.

“As if you’re any better.”

“You should both shut up, if anyone wants my opinion,” Mina added, following her husband into the dining room.

Sofia was the first grandchild and the princess of the family. As usual, she preferred to sit on my lap during dinner and I tried to eat around her, doing my best to avoid her “help.” She definitely had me completely wrapped around her finger.

“Bennett, I’ve been meaning to ask you,” my mother began, handing me the bottle of wine. “Would you invite Chloe to dinner next week, and do your best to convince her to actually come?”

I groaned in response and received a quick kick in the shin from my father. “Christ. Why is everyone so insistent on getting her over here?” I asked.

Mom straightened, wearing her best Firm Mother face. “She’s in a strange city all alone, and—”

“Mom,” I interrupted, “she’s lived here since college. She’s twenty-six. It’s not a strange city to her anymore.”

“Actually, Bennett, you’re right,” she answered with a rare edge in her voice. “She came here for college, graduated summa cum laude, worked with your father for a few years before moving to your department and being the best employee you’ve ever had—all while she attends night school to get her degree. I think Chloe is pretty amazing, so I have someone I’d like her to meet.”

My fork froze in midair as those words sank in. Mom wanted to set her up with someone? I tried to mentally file through all of the single men we knew and had to discount each of them immediately. Brad: too short. Damian: fucks anything that moves. Kyle: gay. Scott: dumb. Well, this was odd. I felt something constrict in my chest, but I wasn’t sure what it was. If I had to put a name on it, I’d call it . . . anger?

Why would I be angry that my mom wanted to set her up? Probably because you’re sleeping with her, dumb ass. Well, not really sleeping with her so much as fucking her. Okay, fucked her . . . twice. “Fucking her” would imply an intent to continue.

Oh, also, I felt her up her in an elevator and was hoarding her shredded panties in my desk drawer.

Creeper.

I pressed my hands to my face. “Fine. I’ll talk to her. But don’t get your hopes up. She’s about as charm-free as they come, so that’s a hard deal to close.”

“You know, Ben,” my brother chimed in, “I think everyone here would agree that you are literally the only one who has a hard time getting along with her.”

I looked around the table, frowning at the heads bobbing up and down, agreeing with my idiot brother.

The rest of the night consisted of more talk about how I needed to try and be nicer to Miss Mills, and about how great they all thought she was, and about how much she would like my mom’s best friend’s son, Joel. I had completely forgotten about Joel. He was nice enough, I guess. Except he’d played Barbies with his little sister until he was fourteen and cried like a baby when he took a baseball to the shin in tenth grade.

Mills would eat him alive.

I laughed to myself at the thought.

We also talked about the meetings we had lined up for this week. A big one was planned for Thursday afternoon, and I would be accompanying my father and brother. I knew that Miss Mills already had everything all planned and ready to go. Much as I hated to admit it, she was always two steps ahead and anticipated everything I needed.

I left with the promise that I would do my best to convince her to come, although to be honest I didn’t even know when I would see her in the next few days. I had meetings and appointments all over the city, and I doubted that in those brief moments I was actually in the office I would have much good to say.

.

Glaring out the window as we crawled down South Michigan Avenue the next afternoon, I wondered if my day would ever improve. I hated sitting in traffic. The office was only a few blocks away, and I was seriously considering just having the driver take the car back and getting out and walking. It was already after four, and we’d managed to travel only three blocks in twenty minutes. Perfect. Closing my eyes, I rested my head on the seat and recalled the meeting I had just left.

Nothing in particular had gone wrong; in fact, quite the opposite. The clients had been thrilled with our proposals, and everything had gone off without a hitch. I just couldn’t shake my horrible mood.

Henry had made a point of telling me every fifteen minutes of the last three hours that I was behaving like a moody teenager, and by the time the contracts were signed, I wanted to beat the shit out of him. Every chance he got he asked what the hell my problem was, and frankly, I couldn’t say I blamed him. Even I had to admit I’d been a prick the last couple of days. And for me, that was saying something. Of course Henry declared as he left to head home that my problem was I needed to get laid.

If he only knew.

It had been one day. Just one day since the event in the elevator left me rock hard and with an itching desire to touch every inch of her skin. The way I was acting you’d think I hadn’t had sex in six months. But no, nearly two days of not touching her and I felt like a lunatic.

The car stopped again and I thought I would scream. My driver lowered the separator between the front and back seats, tossing me an apologetic smile. “Sorry, Mr. Ryan. I’m sure you’re going crazy back there. We’re only four blocks away; would you rather walk?” Glancing out the tinted windows, I noticed we’d stopped right across the street from La Perla. “I can pull over just—”

I was out of the car before he had a chance to finish his sentence.

Standing on the curb waiting to cross, it occurred to me that I didn’t have a clue what point there would be to going inside. What was I planning on doing? Was I buying something or just torturing myself?

I stepped into the store and stopped in front of a long table covered with frilly lingerie. The floors were a warm honey wood, the ceilings littered with long cylindrical light fixtures, clustered into groups throughout the large room. The dim lighting cast the entire space in a soft intimate glow, illuminating the tables and racks of expensive lingerie. Something about the delicate lace and satin brought on that all-too-familiar desire for her.

Running my fingers along a table set near the front of the store, I became aware that I had already garnered the attention of the sales staff. A tall blonde walked toward me.

“Welcome to La Perla,” she said, looking me up and down like a lion eyeing a steak. It occurred to me that a woman in this business would know how much I paid for my suit, and that my cuff links were real diamonds. Her eyes practically turned into flashing dollar signs. “Is there something I can help you find today? Maybe a gift for your wife? Your girlfriend perhaps?” she added, a hint of flirtation in her voice.

“No, thank you,” I answered, suddenly feeling ridiculous for even being here. “I’m just looking.”

“Well, if you change your mind, let me know,” she said with a wink, before turning and making her way back to the sales counter. I watched her walk away and was immediately disgusted that I hadn’t even considered getting her number. Fuck. I wasn’t a total manwhore, but a beautiful woman in a lingerie store, of all places, had just flirted with me and it hadn’t even occurred to me to flirt back. Christ. What the hell was wrong with me?

I was just about to turn and leave when something caught my eye. I let my fingers run across the black lace garter belt hanging on a rack. I hadn’t realized women really wore these outside of Playboy photo shoots until I’d started working with her. I remembered a meeting our first month working together. She had crossed her legs beneath the table and shifted in just the right way that her skirt rode up, revealing the delicate white strap attached to her stockings. It was the first time I’d seen evidence of her penchant for lingerie, but it wasn’t the first time I’d had to spend the lunch hour beating off in my office thinking about her.

“See something you like?”

I turned, startled to hear a familiar voice behind me.

Shit.

Miss Mills.

But I’d never really seen her like this before. She looked stylish as always, but completely casual. She was wearing dark fitted jeans and a red tank top. Her hair was in a sexy ponytail, and without makeup or the glasses she sometimes wore around the office, she didn’t look much older than twenty.

“What the hell are you doing here?” she asked, her fake smile slipping from her face.

“How is that any of your business?”

“Just curious. You don’t have enough of my underwear that you have to start a collection of your own?” She glared at me, motioning to the garter belt still in my hands.

I let go of it quickly. “No, no, I—”

“What exactly do you do with them, anyway? Do you have them tucked away somewhere like little mementos of your conquests?” She folded her arms across her chest, causing her breasts to push together. My eyes fell straight to her cleavage and my dick stirred in my pants.

“Jesus,” I said, shaking my head. “Why do you have to be such a bitch all the time?” I could feel the adrenaline trickling into my veins, feel my muscles tensing as I literally shook with lust and rage.

“I guess you just bring out the best in me,” she said. She was leaning forward, her chest nearly touching mine. Looking around, I noticed we were drawing attention from the other people in the store.

“Look,” I said, trying to compose myself. “How about you calm down and lower your voice.” I knew I had to get out of here soon, before something happened. For some sick reason, fighting with this woman always ended with her panties in my pocket. “What are you doing here anyway? Why aren’t you at work?”

She rolled her eyes. “I’ve been working for you for almost a year, so you’d think you’d remember that I check in with my advisor every other week. I just finished and wanted to do some shopping. Maybe you need to put an ankle bracelet on me so you can creepily stalk me full time. Though, hey, you managed to find me here without one.”

I glared at her, struggling to find something to say. “You’re always so fucking pissy with me.”

Nice one, Ben. Really clever.

“Come with me,” she said, and grabbed hold of my arm, dragging me to the back of the store. She pulled me around a corner and into a dressing room. She had obviously been here awhile; there were piles of lingerie on the chairs and hangers full of unidentifiable scraps of lace. Music was being piped through overhead speakers, and I was glad I wouldn’t have to worry about keeping my voice down as I strangled her.

Closing the large mirrored door opposite a silk-covered chaise, she stood with her eyes locked on mine. “Did you follow me here?”

“Why the hell would I do that?”

“So you just happened to be browsing around a women’s lingerie store. Just some pervy thing you do in your spare time?”

“Get over yourself, Miss Mills.”

“You know, it’s a good thing you’ve got that big dick to make up for that mouth of yours.”

I found myself leaning forward, whispering, “I’m pretty sure you’d be thrilled with my mouth too.”

Suddenly everything felt too intense, too loud, too vivid. Her chest was heaving, and her gaze shifted to my mouth as she bit her bottom lip. Slowly wrapping my tie around her fist, she pulled me to her. I opened my mouth, feeling her soft tongue press forward.

I couldn’t pull back now, and slid one hand to her jaw and the other up to her hair. I removed the clip holding her ponytail and soft waves fell around my hand. I fisted the mass tightly, jerking her head to better accommodate my mouth. I needed more. I needed all of her. She moaned and I pulled it tighter. “You like that.”

“God, yes.”

At that moment, hearing those words, I didn’t care about anything else: where we were, who we were, or how we felt about each other. Never in my life had I felt such raw chemistry with anyone. When we were together like this, nothing else mattered.

My hands ran down her sides and I gripped the hem of her shirt, bringing it up and over her head, breaking our kiss for only a second. Not to be left behind, she pushed my jacket from my shoulders and it dropped to the floor.

My thumbs ran circles across her skin as I moved my hands to the waist of her jeans. Quickly undone, they fell to the floor, and she kicked them off along with her sandals. I kissed down her neck and shoulders.

“Damn,” I growled. Looking up I could see her perfect body reflected back at me in the full-length mirror. I had fantasized about her undressed more times than I could probably admit, but reality, in daylight, was better. So much better. She was wearing sheer black panties that only covered half her ass, and a matching bra, her silky hair spilling down across her back. The muscles in her long, toned legs flexed as she pushed up on her toes to reach my neck. The visual, along with the feeling of her lips, made my dick push painfully against the confines of my pants.

She bit my ear hard as her hands went to the buttons of my shirt. “I think you like it rough too.”

I undid my pants and belt, pushing them and my boxers to the floor, and then pulled her with me to the chaise.

A thrill shot through me as my hands moved around her ribs to the clasp of her bra. Her breasts pressed against me as if urging me on, and I kissed along her neck as my fingers quickly unhooked her bra and I slipped the straps from her shoulders. I pulled back slightly to allow the garment to fall and for the first time took in the full view of her breasts completely bared to me. Fucking perfect. In my fantasies I’d done everything to them: touched them, kissed them, sucked them, fucked them, but nothing compared to the reality of just staring at them.

Her hips rolled over me, and nothing but her tiny panties separated us. I buried my face in her chest and her hands ran through my hair, pulling me closer.

“You want to taste me?” she whispered, staring down at me. She pulled my hair hard enough to yank my head away from her skin.

I had no smart-ass remark, nothing biting to get her to stop talking and just fuck me. I did want to taste her skin. I wanted it more than I think I’d ever wanted anything. “Yeah.”

“Ask nicely, then.”

“Fuck asking nicely. Let me go.”

She whimpered, leaning forward to let me suck a perfect nipple into my mouth, causing her to pull harder on my hair. Damn that felt good.

So many thoughts ran through my mind. There was nothing in this world I wanted more than to bury myself in her, but I knew when it was over, I would hate us both. Her for making me weak, and myself for allowing lust to override my common sense. But I also knew I couldn’t stop. I had turned into a junkie, living for my next fix. My perfectly constructed life was crashing around me and all I cared about was feeling her.

Sliding my hands down her sides, I let my fingers run along the waist of her underwear. A shiver went through her, and I closed my eyes tightly as I bound the material in my hand, willing myself to stop.

“Go ahead and rip them . . . you know you want to,” she murmured into my ear and then bit down hard. A half-second later, her panties were nothing but a mess of lace in the corner of the room. Grabbing her hips roughly, I lifted her and held the base of my dick with the other hand, and pulled her down onto me.

The feeling was so intense that I had to forcefully still her hips to keep from exploding. If I lost it now, she would only throw it back in my face later. And I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction.

Once I felt in control again, I began moving her hips. We hadn’t been in this position yet—her on top, face-to-face—and even though I hated to admit it, our bodies fit together perfectly. Bringing my hands down her hips to her legs, I gripped one in each hand and wrapped them around my waist. The change of position brought me deeper inside her, and I buried my face in her neck to keep from groaning out loud.

I was aware of the sounds of voices all around us as people entered and left the other dressing rooms. The thought that we could get caught at any moment only made this better.

Her back arched as she stifled a moan, and her head fell back. The deceptively innocent way she bit her lip was driving me crazy. Once again I found myself looking over her shoulder, to watch us in the mirror. I had never seen anything so erotic in my entire life.

She pulled my hair once again, guiding my mouth back to hers, our tongues gliding together, matching the motion of our hips. “You look so good over me,” I whispered into her mouth. “Turn around, you need to see something.” I pulled her up and turned her to face the mirror. With her back against my chest, she lowered herself back onto me.

“Oh, God,” she said. She breathed out heavily as her head fell back against my shoulder, and I was unsure if it was from the feeling of me inside her or the image reflected in the mirror. Or both.

I gripped her hair and forced her head back up, “No, I want you to look right there,” I growled in her ear, meeting her gaze in the mirror. “I want you to watch. And tomorrow when you’re sore, I want you to remember who did it to you.”

“Stop talking,” she said, but she shivered and I knew she loved every word. Her hands ran up her body and behind her until they dug into my hair.

I touched every inch of her body and I trailed biting kisses along the back of her shoulders. In the mirror I could see myself sliding in and out of her; and as much as I didn’t want these memories in my head, I knew that was a sight I would never forget. I moved one hand down to her clit.

“Oh, shit,” she whispered. “Please.”

“Like this?” I asked, pressing, circling.

“Yes, please, more, please, please.”

Our bodies were now covered in a thin sheen of sweat, leaving her hair sticking slightly to her forehead. Her gaze never left where we came together as we continued to move against each other, and I knew we were both close. I wanted her to meet my eyes in the mirror—and then immediately knew it would show her too much. I didn’t want her to see so plainly what she was doing to me.

The voices around us continued, completely unaware of what was going on in this tiny room. If I didn’t do something, our little secret would not be kept for long. As her movements became more frenzied and her hands gripped my hair tighter and tighter, I pressed my hand against her mouth, stifling her scream as she came apart around me.

I muffled my own moans against her shoulder and with a few more thrusts, I exploded deep inside her. Her body slumped into me as I leaned back against the wall.

I needed to get up. I needed to get up and dress, but I didn’t think my shaky legs could carry me. Any hope I’d had that the sex would become less intense, and that I would get over this obsession, was quickly being crushed.

Reason was slowly beginning to seep back into my consciousness, along with the disappointment that I had once again succumbed to this weakness. I shifted her up and off my lap before bending to reach for my boxers.

When she turned and looked at me, I expected hatred or indifference, but there was something vulnerable in her eyes before they snapped shut and she looked away. We both dressed in silence; the fitting room area suddenly seemed too quiet and too small, and I was overly aware of each breath she took.

Straightening my tie, I picked up the torn panties from the floor, depositing them in my pocket. I went to grab the door handle and stopped. Reaching out, I ran my hands slowly along the lacy fabric hanging from one of the hooks on the wall.

I met her eyes and said, “Get the garter belt too.” And without looking back, I walked out of the dressing room.

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