Seven

I spent the better part of Saturday running at the lake, trying to get some air, some distance, some clarity to my thoughts. Even so, the hour-long drive to my parents’ house gave me plenty of time to return to the tangle of frustrations in my head: Miss Mills, how I hated her, how much I craved her, the flowers Joel sent. Leaning farther back into the seat, I tried to let the soothing sound of the car engine calm me. It wasn’t working.

So here were the facts: I felt possessive of her. Not in a romantic sort of way, but in a “hit her over the head, drag her off by the hair, and fuck her” way. Like she was my toy and I was keeping the other boys in the sandbox from playing with her. How sick was that? If she ever heard me admit to that, she would cut off my balls and feed them to me.

Now the question was how to proceed. Obviously Joel was interested. How could he not be? All he had was secondhand information from my family, who obviously adored her, and I’m sure they’d showed him at least one photograph. If that was all I knew about her I’d be interested too. But there was no way he could have an actual conversation with her and still find her appealing.

Unless he just wanted to fuck her . . .

The sound of the leather steering wheel straining under my grip told me I’d be better off not thinking about that.

He wouldn’t have agreed to meet her at my parents’ home if all he wanted was sex, would he? I considered this. Maybe he really did want to get to know her better. Hell, even I could admit to having been a bit intrigued before we actually spoke. Of course, that hadn’t lasted long, and she’d proven to be one of the most aggravating people I’d ever met. Unfortunately for me, she was also the best sex I’d ever had.

Fuck, he’d better never get that far. I wasn’t sure I knew where to hide a body around here.

.

I still remembered the first moment I saw her. My parents had come to visit me one Christmas while I was living abroad, and one of my gifts had been a digital photo frame. While going through the photos with my mom, I paused the slideshow at a picture of my parents standing with a beautiful brown-haired girl.

“Who is this with you and Dad?” I asked. Mom told me that her name was Chloe Mills, and that she worked as an assistant for my dad and was all kinds of wonderful. She was probably only twenty in the photograph, but her effortless beauty was arresting.

Over the years her face would pop up in photos that my mom sent to me; company functions, Christmas parties, even parties at the house. Her name was brought up occasionally as my family recounted stories about the general goings-on of work and life.

So when the decision was made that I would come home and take over as COO, my father explained that Chloe was getting her business degree at Northwestern, had a scholarship that required real-world experience, and that mine would be a perfect job for her to shadow for a year. My family loved and trusted her, and the fact that my father and brother had absolutely no reservations about her ability to handle the job spoke volumes. I immediately agreed. I was a bit worried that my appreciation for her appearance would interfere with my ability to be her boss, but I quickly reassured myself that the world was full of beautiful women and it would be easy enough to separate the two.

Oh, how stupid I’d been.

And now I could see all the mistakes I’d made over the last few months, how even from that first day, it was all leading up to this.

To make matters worse, I couldn’t seem to seal the deal with anyone lately without thinking of her. Just the thought of the last time I tried was enough to make me wince.

It was a few days before the Window Incident—as I was now referring to it—and I had a charity event to attend. Coming into the office I was stunned to see Miss Mills in an incredibly sexy blue dress I’d never seen before. The minute I saw her I’d wanted to throw her on the desk and fuck her senseless.

All that night with my beautiful blond trophy date by my side I’d been distracted. I knew I was coming to the end of my rope and eventually I was going to snap. If only I’d known how soon that would be.

I tried to prove to myself that Miss Mills wasn’t really getting inside my head by going home with the blonde. Stumbling into her apartment, we’d kissed and undressed quickly, but everything felt off. It’s not that she wasn’t hot and interesting enough, but as I lay her down, it was dark hair I envisioned spread across the pillow. When kissing her breasts, it was soft, full ones—not silicone—I wanted to feel. And even as I rolled on the condom and moved into her, I knew she was just a faceless body I was using for my own selfish needs.

I tried to keep Chloe from my thoughts but was unable to stop the forbidden image of what it would be like to have her under me. Only then did I come hard, quickly rolling off my date and immediately hating myself. Now I was even more disgusted with the memory than when it happened, because I’d let her get into my head and stay there.

If I could make it through tonight, things would get easier. I parked the car and began mentally chanting, You can do this. You can do this.

“Mom?” I called out, looking into each room I passed.

“Out here, Bennett,” I heard her answer from the back patio.

I opened the French doors and was greeted with my mother’s smile as she put the finishing touches on the outdoor table.

I leaned over so she could kiss me. “So why are we eating out here tonight?”

“It’s such a lovely evening, and I thought it might make everyone more comfortable than sitting in that stuffy dining room. You don’t think anyone will mind, do you?”

“Of course not,” I said. “It’s beautiful out here. Don’t worry.”

And it was beautiful. The patio was topped with a massive white pergola, the beams draped in heavy greenery. The centerpiece was a large rectangular table that sat eight; it was covered in a soft ivory tablecloth and my mother’s favorite china. Candles and blue flowers overflowed small silver pitchers running the length of the table, and a wrought-iron candelabra flickered overhead.

“You do know that not even I can keep Sofia from tearing this stuff off the table, though, don’t you?” I popped a grape into my mouth.

“Oh, she’s with Mina’s parents tonight. And just as well,” she said. “If Sofia were here all the attention would be on her.”

Shit. With Sofia making faces across from me, I would have had something to distract me from Joel.

“Tonight is about Chloe. And I’m really hoping that she and Joel hit it off.” She continued flitting around the patio, lighting candles and making last-minute adjustments, completely unaware of my anguish.

I was screwed. As I was contemplating making a run for it, I heard Henry—on time for once. “Where is everybody?” he yelled, his deep voice echoing through the empty house. Opening the door for my mother, we stepped inside, finding my brother in the kitchen.

“Sooo, Ben,” he began, leaning his lanky frame against the counter. “Excited about tonight?”

I waited until Mom left the room again to eye him skeptically. “I guess,” I answered, going for casual. “I think Mom made lemon squares. My favorite.”

“You’re so full of shit. I’m looking forward to watching Cignoli make a play for Chloe in front of everyone. Could make for an entertaining evening, don’t you think?” Just as he was pulling a chunk of bread from one of the large loaves on the counter, Mina walked in and swatted his hands away.

“Do you want to send your mother into a fit by ruining the dinner she has planned? You be nice tonight, Henry. No teasing or joking with Chloe. You know she has to be nervous enough about all this. Lord knows she puts up with enough crap from this one,” she said, gesturing toward me.

“What are you talking about?” I was growing tired of the overeager Chloe Mills fan club around here. “I haven’t done anything to her.”

“Bennett.” My father stood in the doorway, motioning for me to come with him. I followed him out of the kitchen and into his study. “Please be on your best behavior tonight. I realize you and Chloe don’t get along, but this is our home, not your office, and I expect you to treat her with respect.”

Clenching my jaw tightly, I nodded in agreement, thinking of all the ways I’d disrespected her in the past few weeks.

While I went down to the washroom, Joel arrived, bringing a bottle of wine and a few variations on his eager greetings: a “You look fantastic!” for Mom, a “How’s the baby?” for Mina, and a solid handshake-and-man-hug combination for Henry and Dad.

I lingered down the hall, mentally preparing myself for the night ahead.

We’d been good friends with Joel growing up and throughout school, but I hadn’t seen him since coming home. He hadn’t changed much. He was a bit shorter than me, with a slim build, jet-black hair, and blue eyes. I suppose some women would consider him attractive.

“Bennett!” Handshake, man hug. “God, man. How long has it been?”

“A long time, Joel. I think since right after high school,” I answered, shaking his hand firmly. “How have you been?”

“Great. Things have been really great. How about you? I’ve seen your pictures in magazines, so I guess you’re doing pretty well for yourself.” He patted my shoulder amiably.

What a dick.

I gave a small nod and a forced smile in return. Deciding I needed a few more minutes to think, I excused myself and headed up the stairs to my old room.

Just walking through the door I felt calmer. The room had changed little since I was eighteen. Even while I was out of the country, my parents kept it virtually the same as the day I left for college. Sitting on my old bed I thought about how I’d feel if Miss Mills actually became involved with Joel. He really was a nice guy, and though I hated to admit it, there was definitely a chance they might hit it off. But the thought of another man touching her made every muscle in my body clench. I thought back to the moment in the car when I told her I couldn’t stop. Even now, with all my false bravado, I didn’t know if I could.

Hearing a renewal of greetings and Joel’s voice downstairs, I decided it was time to man up and face the music.

As I cleared the final landing, I saw her. Her back was to me . . . and the air left my lungs.

Her dress was white.

Why did it have to be white?

She was wearing some sort of girly summer thing that stopped right above the knee and showed off her long legs. The top was made of the same material, with little ribbons tying it together at the top of each shoulder. All I could think was how much I would love to pull those ribbons loose and see it all fall around her waist. Or maybe drop to the floor.

Our eyes met across the room and she smiled such a genuine, happy smile that for a second even I believed it. “Hi, Mr. Ryan.”

My lips twitched in amusement, watching her play the part in front of my family. “Miss Mills,” I replied, nodding. Our gaze never broke, even as my mother called everyone onto the patio for drinks before dinner.

As she passed, I turned my head, speaking in a voice low enough that only she could hear. “Successful shopping trip yesterday?”

Her eyes met mine, that same angelic smile on her face. “Wouldn’t you like to know.” She brushed by me, and I felt my entire body stiffen. “And by the way, a new line of garter belts came in,” she whispered before following everyone else outside.

I stopped and my jaw went slack as my mind raced back to our tryst in the dressing room at La Perla.

Up ahead, Joel leaned in close to her. “I really hope you didn’t mind the flowers I sent to your office yesterday. I admit it was a bit much, but I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.” I felt a knot tighten in my gut as Joel’s words snapped me out of my dirty daydream.

She turned back to look at me. “Flowers? Did I have flowers delivered?”

I shrugged and shook my head. “I left early, remember?” I walked by on my way outside to make myself a Belvedere vodka gimlet.

As the evening wore on, I couldn’t help but keep track of her in my peripheral vision. When dinner finally began, it was apparent that things were going relatively smoothly between her and Joel. She was even flirting with him.

“So Chloe, Mr. and Mrs. Ryan tell me you’re from North Dakota?” Joel’s voice interrupted yet another fantasy—this one of my fist hitting his jaw. I looked over to see him smiling warmly at her.

“That’s right. My dad is a dentist in Bismarck. Never was much of a big-city girl. Even Fargo felt huge to me.” A small chuckle escaped my lips, and her eyes shot to mine. “Amused, Mr. Ryan?”

I smirked as I took a sip of my drink, staring at her from above the rim. “I’m sorry, Miss Mills. I just find it fascinating that you don’t like the city, and yet you choose the third-largest city in the U.S. for college and . . . everything after.”

The look in her eyes told me that under any other circumstances, I would either already be naked with her on top of me, or lying in a pool of my own blood on the rug.

“Actually, Mr. Ryan,” she began, the smile returning to her face, “my father remarried, and since my mother was born here, I came to spend some time with her before she passed.” She stared at me for a moment and I had to admit I felt a hint of guilt twisting in my chest. It was quickly suppressed when she looked back over at Joel, biting her lip in the innocent way that only she could make look so damn sexy.

Stop flirting with him.

I clenched my fists as they continued to speak to each other. But several minutes later I froze. Could that be? I grinned into my cocktail. Yes, that was most definitely her foot creeping up my pant leg. Fucking devious little minx, touching me while carrying on a conversation with a man we both knew could never satisfy her. I watched her lips as they closed around her fork, and my cock hardened as her tongue slowly ran across them to remove the traces of marinade left behind by the fish.

“Wow, top five percent of your class at Northwestern. Nice!” Joel said and then looked over at me. “Bet you’re glad to have someone so amazing working under you, huh?”

Chloe coughed slightly, bringing her napkin up from her lap to cover her mouth. I smiled as I quickly glanced over to her and then back to Joel. “Yes, it’s absolutely amazing having Miss Mills under me. She always gets the job done.”

“Aw, Bennett. That is so sweet of you,” my mother gushed, and I watched Miss Mills’ face begin to redden. My smile vanished when I felt her foot at my crotch. Then, ever so slightly, she pressed against my erection. Holy shit. Now it was my turn to cough, choking on my gimlet.

“Are you all right, Mr. Ryan?” she asked in feigned concern and I nodded, glaring daggers at her. She shrugged and then looked back over to Joel. “So how about you? Are you from Chicago?”

With the toe of her shoe, she continued to rub gently against me and I tried to keep control of my breathing, keep my expression neutral. As Joel began telling her about his childhood and going to school with us, finally talking about his successful accounting business, I watched her expression morph from one of feigned interest to one of genuine intrigue.

Hell no.

I slid my left hand under the tablecloth and met the skin of her ankle, watching her jump slightly at the contact. I moved my fingertips in light circles, ran my thumb along the arch of her foot, feeling increasingly smug when she had to ask Joel to repeat himself.

But then he mentioned he’d like to meet her for lunch sometime this week. My hand came to cover the top of her foot, pressing it more firmly against my cock.

She smirked.

“You could spare her for a lunch break, couldn’t you, Bennett?” Joel asked with a cheerful smile, his arm resting over the back of Chloe’s chair. It took everything I had not to reach across the table and rip that arm from his body.

“Oh, speaking of lunch dates, Bennett,” Mina interrupted, tapping my arm with her hand. “You remember my friend Megan? You met her last month at the house. Midtwenties, my height, blond hair, blue eyes. Anyway, she asked for your number. You interested?”

I glanced back over to Chloe when I felt the tendons in her foot tighten, and watched her swallow slowly as she waited for my answer. “Sure. You know I prefer blondes. Might make for a nice change of scenery.”

I had to restrain from yelling out as her heel dug down and pinned my balls to my chair. Holding them there for a moment, she lifted the napkin from her lap and dabbed at her mouth. “Excuse me, I need to use the ladies’ room.”

Once she was in the house, my entire family scowled at me.

“Bennett,” Dad hissed. “I thought we talked about this.”

I grabbed my glass and brought it to my lips. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Bennett,” my mother added, “I think you should go apologize.”

“For what?” I asked, setting down my drink a little too roughly.

“Ben!” my father said sharply, leaving no room for argument.

I tossed my napkin onto my plate and pushed away from the table. I stormed through the house, searching the bathrooms on the first two floors, until finally reaching the third floor, where the bathroom door was closed.

Standing outside, my hand resting on the knob, I debated with myself. If I went in there, what would happen? There was only one thing I was interested in, and it sure as hell wasn’t apologizing. I thought about knocking but knew for a fact she wouldn’t invite me in. I listened carefully, waiting for any noise or sign of movement from inside. Nothing. Finally, I turned the knob, surprised to find it unlocked.

I’d only been in this bathroom a few times since my mother had remodeled it. It was a beautiful, modern room with a custom-built marble counter and a wide mirror covering one wall. Above the vanity table was a small window that overlooked the patio and grounds below. She was sitting on the padded bench in front of the table, staring out at the sky.

“Here to grovel?” she asked. She took the cap off her lipstick, which she carefully applied to her lips.

“I was sent to check on your delicate petal feelings.” I reached behind me to turn the lock on the bathroom door, the audible click ringing in the silent room.

She laughed, meeting my eyes in the mirror. She looked completely composed, but I could see the rise and fall of her chest; she was every bit as worked up as I was.

“I assure you, I’m fine.” She put the cap back on her lipstick and shoved it into her purse. She stood and started to move past me to the door. “I’m used to you being a prick. But Joel seems nice. I should get back downstairs.”

I put my hand on the door as I leaned closer to her face. “I don’t think so.” My lips lightly grazed under her ear, and she shuddered with the contact. “You see, he wants something that’s mine, and he can’t have it.”

She glared at me. “What year is it? Two? Let me go. I am not yours.”

“You might think that,” I whispered, my lips ghosting along the column of her neck. “But your body,” I said, running my hands under her skirt and pressing my hand against the damp lace between her legs, “thinks otherwise.”

Her eyes closed and she let out a low moan as my fingers moved in slow circles against her clit. “Screw you.”

“Let me,” I said into her neck.

She let out a shaky laugh, and I pushed her against the bathroom door. Grabbing each of her hands, I raised them above her head, keeping them captive in my own and bending to kiss her. I felt her struggle weakly in my grip and I shook my head, tightening my hold.

“Let me,” I repeated, pressing my hardened cock against her.

“Oh, God,” she said as her head tilted to the side, allowing me access to her neck. “We can’t do this here.”

I ran my lips down and across her collarbone to her shoulder. Shifting both of her wrists into one hand, I reached down and slowly pulled one of the ribbons holding her top together, kissing along the newly exposed skin. Moving to the other side I repeated the action and was rewarded when the bodice slipped down to reveal a white lace strapless bra. Fuck. Did this woman own anything that didn’t make me nearly come in my pants? I trailed my mouth down to her breasts while my free hand unfastened the clasp. There was no way I was missing the sight of her bare breasts this time. It opened easily and the lace fell away, revealing the vision that filled every one of my filthiest fantasies. As I took one pink nipple into my mouth, she moaned and her knees buckled slightly.

“Shhh,” I whispered against her skin.

“More,” she said. “Again.”

I lifted her and she wrapped her legs around my waist, bringing our bodies together more firmly. I released her hands and she immediately brought them up to my hair and roughly pulled me closer. Fuck, I loved it when she did that. I pushed her against the door but then realized there were too many clothes in the way; I wanted to feel the heat of her skin against my own, wanted to bury myself balls deep in her and keep her pinned to the wall until everyone had long since gone to bed.

She seemed to read my mind as her fingers moved down my sides and began frantically tugging my polo from my pants, lifting it up and over my head.

The sound of laughter outside floated up through the open window, and I felt her tense against me. A long moment passed before her eyes met mine, and it was clear she was struggling with what to say.

“We shouldn’t do this,” she said finally, shaking her head. “He’s waiting for me.” She halfheartedly tried to push me away but I held my ground.

“Do you actually want him?” I asked, feeling a wave of possessiveness boil up inside me. She held my gaze but didn’t answer.

I set her down and pulled her to the dressing table, stopping to stand just behind her. From where we stood, we had a perfect view of the patio below.

I pulled her bare back to my chest and brought my mouth to her ear. “Do you see him?” I asked, my hands sliding along her breasts. “Look at him.” I skimmed my hands down her abdomen, along her skirt and to her thighs. “Does he make you feel like this?” My fingers floated up her thigh and underneath her panties. A low hiss escaped my mouth as I felt the wetness there and pushed inside. “Would he ever make you this wet?”

She groaned and pressed her hips back into me. “No . . .”

“Tell me what you want,” I whispered against her shoulder.

“I—I don’t know.”

“Look at him,” I said, my fingers moving in and out of her. “You know what you want.”

“I want to feel you inside me.” She didn’t need to ask me twice. I quickly undid my pants and pushed them down my hips, grinding into her ass before I lifted her skirt and gripped her panties in my hands. “Rip them,” she whispered.

I’d never been able to be this raw and primal with anyone before, and it felt so fucking right with her. I yanked hard and her flimsy panties tore easily. I tossed them to the floor, running my hands along her skin and sliding my fingers down her arms to her hands, where I pressed her palms flat on the table in front of us.

She was a fucking gorgeous sight: bent at the waist, skirt pushed up over her hips, perfect ass on display. We both moaned as I lined myself up and slid in deep. Bending over, I placed a kiss and another “Shhh” on her back.

More laughter came from outside. Joel was down there. Joel, who was basically a good guy, but who wanted to take her away from me. The image was enough to make me push into her more forcefully.

Her strangled sounds made me smile, and I rewarded her with an increase in tempo. A twisted part of me felt a sense of vindication seeing Chloe muted by what I did to her.

She was gasping, fingers searching for something to hold on to, and my cock so hard inside her, harder every time she tried to make a sound but couldn’t.

Speaking softly against her ear, I asked if she wanted to be fucked. I asked her if she liked my mouth dirty, if she liked to see me filthy like this, taking her so rough she would bruise.

She stuttered out a yes, and when I moved faster and harder, she begged for more.

The bottles and jars on the table were rattling and tipping over with the force of our movements, but I couldn’t find it in myself to care. Gripping her hair, I pulled her up so her back was against my chest. “Do you think he can make you feel this way?”

I continued to thrust in and out of her, forcing her to look out the window.

I knew I was slipping. My walls were falling around me but I didn’t care. I needed her to think of me tonight as she lay in bed. I wanted her to feel me when she closed her eyes and touched herself, remembering the way I’d fucked her. My free hand ran up her sides to her breast, cupping it and twisting her nipples.

“No,” she moaned. “Never like this.” Sliding my hand down her side I placed it behind her knee and hitched it up to the table, opening her up wider and allowing my thrusts to deepen.

“Do you feel how perfectly you fit around me?” I groaned into her neck. “You feel so fucking good. When you go downstairs, I want you to remember this. Remember what you do to me.”

The sensation was becoming too overwhelming and I knew I was getting close. I was beyond desperate. I craved her like a drug, and this feeling consumed my every waking thought. Taking her hand in mine, I laced our fingers and moved them down her body to her clit, both our hands stroking and teasing. I groaned as I felt myself glide in and out of her.

“Do you feel that?” I whispered into her ear, spreading our fingers so they slipped on either side of me.

She turned her head and whimpered into the skin of my neck. It wasn’t enough, and I needed to keep her quiet. Removing my hand from her hair, I gently covered her mouth and placed a kiss against her flushed cheek. She let out a muffled cry, the possible sound of my name, as her body tensed and then tightened all around me.

After her eyes closed and her lips relaxed into a satisfied sigh, I started taking what I needed: faster now, watching in the mirror so I could see how my thrusts made her breasts move.

My climax began to rip through me. Her hand fell from my hair to cover my own mouth and I closed my eyes and let the wave overtake me. My final thrusts were deep and hard as I spilled into her.

I opened my eyes, kissing her palm before removing it from my mouth and laying my forehead against her shoulder. The oblivious voices from below continued to carry up to us. She leaned back into me and we stood there quietly for a few moments.

Slowly, she began to pull away, and I frowned at the loss of contact. I watched as she straightened her skirt, retrieved her bra, and attempted to retie the straps of her top. As I reached down to pull up my pants, I grabbed the torn lace of her underwear, shoving it into my pocket. She was still struggling with her dress and I walked over, brushing her hands away and retying the straps without meeting her gaze.

The room was suddenly too small and we glanced at each other once in an uncomfortable silence. I reached for the knob, wanting to say something, anything, to fix this. How could I ask her to fuck me and only me, and not expect anything else to change? Even I knew asking for that was likely to earn me a swift kick to the nuts. But the language for what I felt when I saw her with Joel wasn’t crystallizing fast enough. My mind was blank. Frustrated, I opened the door. We both stopped short at the sight before us.

There, standing outside the doorway, arms folded and eyebrow raised knowingly, was Mina.

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