Eight

The moment he opened the door and we came face-to-face with Mina, I froze.

“What exactly were you two doing in there?” she asked, her eyes moving between the two of us. A recap of all she could have heard flashed through my head, and I felt a burst of heat spread along my skin.

I chanced a look over to Mr. Ryan as he did the same, then turned back to Mina and shook my head. “Nothing, we needed to talk. That’s all.” I tried to play it off, but knew the tremor in my voice gave me away.

“Oh, I heard something in there, but it certainly wasn’t talking,” she said, smirking.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Mina. We were discussing an issue at work,” he said, trying to move around her.

“In the bathroom?” she asked.

“Yes. You sent me up here to find her. This is where I found her.”

She shifted in front of him, blocking his path. “Do you think I’m stupid? It’s no secret that you two don’t discuss anything; you yell. So, what? Are you two, like, dating now?”

“No!” We both yelled at once, our eyes meeting for a brief moment before quickly darting away.

“So . . . you’re just fucking then,” she said, and it seemed that neither of us could find the words to reply. The tension in that hallway was so heavy I briefly considered how much damage a jump from a third-story window could do. “For how long?”

“Mina . . .” he began, shaking his head, and for once I actually felt bad about his discomfort. I’d never seen him look like this before. It was as if all this time it really hadn’t occurred to him that there could be consequences outside of our own turmoil.

“How long, Bennett? Chloe?” she said, looking between us.

“I—we just—” I started, but just what? How could I explain any of this? “We—”

“We made a mistake. It was a mistake.” His voice cut through my thoughts and I looked over to him in shock. Why did it bother me so much that he said it? It was a mistake, and yet hearing him say that . . . hurt.

I couldn’t tear my eyes away as she began to speak. “Mistake or not, it needs to stop now. What if I’d been Susan? And Bennett, you’re her boss! Have you forgotten that?” She exhaled deeply. “Look, you two are adults, and I don’t know what’s going on here, but whatever you do, do not let Elliott find out.”

A wave of nausea hit me at the idea of Elliott ever finding out about this, at how disappointed he’d be. I couldn’t bear that. “That won’t be a problem,” I said, purposefully avoiding Bennett’s gaze. “I intend to learn from my mistake. Excuse me.”

I moved past them and toward the stairs, anger and hurt settling like a lead weight deep in my stomach. The strength of my work ethic and motivation had always buoyed me through harder times in my life: breakups, the death of my mother, rough patches with friendships. My value as an employee at RMG was now tinged with self-doubt. Was I making him see me differently because I was fucking him? Now that he’d seemed to register—finally—that if others knew about us it could be bad for him, would he start to question my judgment more globally?

I was smarter than this. It was time I started acting like it.

I composed myself before stepping outside and returning to my seat beside Joel.

“Everything all right?” he asked.

I turned my head, letting myself look at him for a moment. He was really quite cute: neatly combed dark hair, a kind face, and the most beautiful blue eyes I’d ever seen. He was everything I should be looking for. My gaze shot up a moment later as Mr. Ryan returned to the table with Mina, but I quickly looked away.

“Yeah, I’m just not feeling well,” I said, turning back to Joel. “I think I might need to call it a night.”

“Here,” he said, standing to pull out my chair. “I’ll walk you to your car.”

I said my good-byes, feeling the unfamiliar shape of Joel’s palm on the small of my back as we walked into the house. Once in the driveway, he gave me a shy smile and took my hand. “It was really nice meeting you, Chloe. I’d like to call you sometime and maybe have that lunch.”

“Let me see your phone,” I said. Part of me felt bad for doing this, having been with one man upstairs not even twenty minutes ago, and now giving my number to another. But it was time to move past this, and a lunch date with a nice guy seemed like a good place to start.

His smile widened as I handed him his phone, and he gave me his card in return. Taking my hand, he lifted it to his lips. “I’ll call you Monday, then. Hopefully your flowers aren’t completely wilted.”

“It’s the thought that counts,” I said, smiling. “Thank you.”

He looked so sincere, so happy at the simple possibility of seeing me again, and it occurred to me that I should be swooning, or giddy. I really just wanted to throw up.

“I should go.”

Joel nodded, opening my car door for me. “Of course. I hope you feel better. Drive carefully, and good night, Chloe.”

“Good night, Joel.”

He closed my door and I started the engine, my eyes straight ahead as I drove away from my boss’ family’s house.

.

The next morning at yoga I considered spilling my guts to Julia. I’d felt reasonably certain I could handle things on my own, but after an entire night of staring at the ceiling and completely freaking out, I realized I needed to confide in someone.

There was Sara, and more than anyone Sara would understand how maddening my hot boss could be. But she also worked for Henry and I didn’t want to put her in an awkward position by asking her to keep such a huge secret. I knew Mina would be happy to talk if I asked, but there was just something about her being a Ryan, and knowing what she might have heard that left me feeling less than comfortable.

These were the times I really wished my mom were still alive. Just thinking about her brought a wrenching pain to my chest and tears to my eyes. Moving here to spend the last years of her life with her had been the best decision I’d ever made. And even though living so far from my dad and friends was tough at times, I knew everything happened for a reason. I just wished the reason would hurry up and make itself known.

Could I tell Julia? I had to admit I was terrified of what she would think of me. But more than that, I was terrified of saying the words to someone out loud.

“Okay, you keep looking at me,” she said. “Either you have something on your mind or I’m the embarrassing and gross kind of sweaty.”

I tried to tell her nothing, I tried to brush it off and let her think she was being absurd. But I couldn’t. The weight and the pressure of the last few weeks came crashing down and before I could control it, my chin started to tremble and I began bawling like a baby.

“That’s what I thought. Come on.” She offered me her hand and helped me up and, gathering our belongings on the way, led me out the door.

Twenty minutes, two mimosas, and one emotional breakdown later, I was watching Julia’s shocked expression at a table in our favorite restaurant. I told her everything: the panty ripping, my liking the panty ripping, the various locations, the mid-make-out-session-I-hate-yous, Mina catching us, my guilt over feeling like I was betraying Elliott and Susan, Joel, Mr. Ryan’s caveman declarations, and finally, my fear that I was in the most unhealthy relationship in the history of the world, with no power at all.

When I looked up to meet her gaze, I winced; she looked like she’d just watched a car wreck.

“Okay, let me make sure I’ve got this straight.”

I nodded waiting for her to continue.

“You’re sleeping with your boss.”

I cringed slightly. “Well, technically not—”

She threw her hand up to stop me from finishing. “Yeah, yeah. I got that. And this is the same boss you oh-so-lovingly refer to as ‘Beautiful Bastard’?”

I sighed heavily and nodded again.

“But you hate him.”

“Correct,” I mumbled, my eyes shifting away from her. “Hate. Very big hate.”

“You don’t want to be with him, but you can’t stay away.”

“God, it sounds even worse to hear someone else say it,” I groaned as I buried my face in my hands. “I sound ridiculous.”

“But the sexytimes? Are good,” she said with a touch of humor in her voice.

“Good doesn’t even come close to describing it, Julia. Phenomenal, intense, mind-blowing, multiple-orgasmingly amazing doesn’t come close to describing it.”

“Is ‘orgasmingly’ even a word?”

I rubbed my face with my hands and sighed again. “Shut up.”

“Well,” she replied thoughtfully, clearing her throat. “I guess a small penis isn’t his problem, after all . . .”

I let my head fall to my arms on the table. “No. No, it most definitely isn’t.” I looked up slightly at the sound of her muffled laughter. “Julia! This is not funny!”

“I beg to differ. Even you have to see how insane this is. I mean, of all the people I’ve ever known, you’re the last person I would have ever imagined ending up in this situation. You’ve always been so serious, with each and every step of your life so planned out. Come on, you’ve only had a few real boyfriends, all of whom you’d been with for what everyone considered a really silly amount of time before you slept with them. This man must be something else.”

“I know there’s nothing wrong with having a purely sexual relationship with someone—I can handle that. And I know that I can at times be overly controlled, but it’s the fact that I feel I have no control over myself when I’m with him. I mean, I don’t even like him, and yet . . . I keep going back.”

Julia took a sip of her mimosa, and I could practically see the wheels turning as she considered everything I’d told her. “What matters to you?”

I looked up to her, understanding. “My job. My life after this. My sense of value as an employee. Knowing my contribution matters.”

“Can you feel good about those things and still fuck him?”

I shrugged, unable to actually untangle my thoughts on the matter. “I don’t know. If I felt like everything was separate, maybe. But our only interactions are at work. There isn’t any instance where it isn’t about both work and sex.”

“Then you have to find a way to stop doing this. You need to keep your distance.”

“It’s not that simple,” I retorted, shaking my head and beginning to ramble. “I work for him. It’s not as if all instances of being alone with him are easily avoidable. The number of times I’ve sworn off sex with him and then had sex with him hours later is ridiculous. And on top of that, we have a conference to attend in two weeks. Same hotel, same general vicinity at all times. Beds!”

“Chloe, what has gotten into you?” Julia asked in an astonished tone “Do you want this to continue?”

“No! Of course not!”

She eyed me skeptically.

“I mean . . . it’s just that I’m different with him. Like, I want things I’ve never wanted before, and maybe I should let myself want those things. I just wish it was someone else making me want them, someone nice, like Joel for instance. The boss is not very nice.”

“Boss man makes you want what? Like spankings and stuff?” Julia responded with a chuckle, but when I looked away I heard her gasp. “Oh my God, he’s spanked you?”

My wide eyes shot back to her. “A little louder, Julia. I don’t think the guy in the back heard you.” As soon as I was sure no one was looking, I smoothed loose tendrils of hair back from my forehead. “Look, I know I need to stop this but I—”

I paused as I felt goose bumps rise along my skin. My breath caught in my throat and I turned slowly to look at the door. It was him, scruffy and dressed down in a black T-shirt and jeans, sneakers and hair in even sexier disarray than usual. I turned back around to face Julia, feeling all the blood drain from my face.

“Chloe, what’s wrong? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost,” Julia said, reaching across the table to touch my arm.

I swallowed hard in an attempt to find my voice, then looked at her. “Do you see that man next to the door? The tall, good-looking one?” She raised her head slightly to look and I kicked her under the table. “Don’t make yourself obvious! That is my boss.”

Julia’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped. “Holy shit,” she gasped, and shook her head as she looked him up and down. “You weren’t kidding, Chloe. That is one beautiful bastard. I wouldn’t kick him out of my bed. Or car. Or dressing room. Or elevator, or—”

“Julia! You’re really not being helpful here!”

“Who’s the blonde?” she asked, motioning toward them. I turned back to see Mr. Ryan being led to a table with a tall, leggy blonde, his hand on the small of her back. A sharp stab of jealousy pressed into my chest.

“What a prick,” I hissed. “After his behavior last night? He has got to be kidding me.” Just as she was about to respond, Julia’s phone rang and she reached for it in her purse. The “Hey baby!” greeting told me it was her fianc?, and this would take awhile.

I glanced again at Mr. Ryan, talking and laughing with the blonde. I couldn’t tear my eyes away. He was even more attractive in a relaxed setting: smiling, eyes dancing when he laughed. Dick! As if he heard my thoughts, he lifted his head and our eyes locked. I clenched my jaw and turned away, tossing my napkin to the table. I had to get out of here. “I’ll be right back, Julia.”

She nodded and waved absently, never pausing her conversation. Standing up, I quickly made my way past his table making sure to avoid his eyes. I had just turned the corner and spotted the safety of the ladies’ room door when I felt a strong hand on my forearm. “Wait.”

That voice sent a jolt through me.

Okay, Chloe, you can do this. Just turn around and look at him and tell him to fuck off. He’s an asshole who called you a mistake last night and shows up with some blond bimbo today.

Straightening my shoulders, I turned to face him. Shit. He looked even better up close. I’d never seen him looking anything other than perfectly groomed, but he obviously hadn’t shaved this morning and I desperately wanted to feel the scratch of his stubble on my cheeks.

Or thighs.

“What the hell do you want?” I spat at him, pulling my arm free from his grasp. Without the benefit of my heels I felt like he towered over me. Looking up at his face, I could see faint circles under his eyes. He looked tired. Well, good. If his nights were half as bad as mine, I was happy.

Running his hands through his hair, he glanced around uncomfortably. “I wanted to talk to you. To explain about last night.”

“What’s there to explain?” I asked, nodding my head toward the dining room and the blonde still sitting at his table. My chest twisted tightly, painfully. “Change of scenery. I get it. I’m actually glad to see you here like this—it helps remind me why this thing between us is a terrible idea. I don’t want to be indirectly fucking all of your other women.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” he asked, looking back at me. “Are you talking about Emily?”

“Is that her name? Well, you and Emily have a lovely meal, Mr. Ryan.” I turned to leave but was once again stopped when he grabbed my arm. “Let. Go.”

“Why would you even care?”

Our argument had begun to attract attention from the staff passing through to the kitchen. After a quick glance around, he pulled me into the ladies’ room and locked the door.

Fantastic, another bathroom.

I shoved him away when he stepped closer. “What do you think you’re doing? And what do you mean, why would I care? You fucked me last night, told me all about how I couldn’t possibly want to go out with Joel, and now you’re here with someone else! I let myself forget you’re a manwhore. Your behavior is completely expected—I’m pissed at myself.” I was so angry my nails were practically cutting into the palms of my hands.

“You think I’m here on a date?” He exhaled heavily, shaking his head. “This is fucking unbelievable. Emily is a friend. She runs a charitable organization that Ryan Media supports. That’s all. I was supposed to meet her Monday to sign some papers but she had a last-minute flight change and is leaving the country this afternoon. I haven’t been with anyone else since the wi—” He paused to rethink his words. “Since we first . . . you know . . .” He finished, motioning vaguely between us.

What?

We stood there, staring at each other as I tried to let his words seep in. He hadn’t slept with anyone else. Was that even possible? I knew for a fact that he was a womanizer. I’d personally witnessed his ever-expanding collection of arm candy at corporate events, not to mention the stories swimming around the building. And even if what he was saying was true, it didn’t change the fact that he was still my boss, and this whole thing was seriously wrong.

“All those women throwing themselves at you and you haven’t nailed even one? Aw, I’m touched.” I turned for the door.

“It’s not that difficult to believe,” he growled, and I could feel his eyes burning into my back.

“You know what, it doesn’t matter. It was just a mistake, right?”

“Look, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” He moved closer and his scent—like honey and sage—washed over me. I suddenly felt trapped, like there wasn’t enough oxygen in the tiny room. I needed to get out of here, now. What had Julia said less than five minutes ago? Don’t be alone with him? Good advice. I happened to like this particular pair of panties and didn’t really want to see them in tatters in his pocket.

Okay, that was a lie.

“Are you seeing Joel again?” he asked from behind me. My hand was on the knob. All I had to do was turn it and I was safe. But I froze, staring at that damn door for what seemed like minutes.

“Does it matter?”

“I thought we covered this last night,” he said, his breath warm against my hair.

“Yeah, a lot of things were said last night.” His fingertips moved up my arm and slipped the thin strap of my tank top off my shoulder.

“I didn’t mean to say this was a mistake,” he whispered against my skin. “I just panicked.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s not true.” My body instinctively leaned into him, my head tilting slightly allowing him easier access. “We both know it.”

“I still shouldn’t have said it.” He brushed my ponytail over my shoulder and his soft lips moved across my back. “Turn around.”

Two words. How was it possible that two simple words could make me question everything? It was one thing for him to press me against a wall or forcefully grab me, but now he was putting everything in my court. Biting my lip hard, I tried to bring myself to turn the handle. My hand actually twitched before it fell to my side in defeat.

I turned and looked up to meet his eyes.

His hand came to rest on my cheek, his thumb brushing across my bottom lip. Our gazes locked, and just when I thought I couldn’t wait one more second he pulled me to him, pressing his mouth to mine.

The moment we kissed, my body gave up fighting and I couldn’t get close enough. My purse landed on the tile floor at my feet and my hands dove into his hair, pulling him to me. He backed me into the wall and ran his hands down my body, lifting me slightly. He pushed into my yoga pants and cupped my ass.

“Fuck. What are you wearing?” He groaned into my neck, his palms sliding back and forth over the pink satin. Lifting me fully, he wrapped my legs around his waist and pressed me further into the wall. He moaned as I took his earlobe between my teeth.

Pulling one side of my top down, he sucked one of my nipples into his mouth. My head fell back and hit the wall as I felt the scruff of his unshaven face against my breast. A shrill sound broke through my haze and I heard him swear. My phone. Placing me on my feet, he stepped away, his face already back in its usual scowl. I quickly rearranged my clothing and reached for my purse, grimacing when I saw the picture displayed on the screen.

“Julia,” I answered breathlessly.

“Chloe, are you in the bathroom fucking that nice slice of man cake?”

“I’ll be there in a second, okay?” I ended the call and shoved the phone back into my bag. I looked up at him, feeling my rational side return after the small interruption. “I should go.”

“Look, I—” He was cut off as my phone rang again.

I answered without bothering to look at the screen. “God, Julia! I’m not in here fucking the piece of man cake!”

“Chloe?” Joel’s confused voice sounded through the phone.

“Oh . . . hi.” Shit. This could not be happening to me.

“I’m glad to hear that you’re not . . . fucking . . . man cake?” Joel said, laughing tightly.

“Who is it?” Bennett growled.

I pressed my hand to his lips and gave him the dirtiest look I could manage. “Look, I can’t really talk right now.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry to bother you on a Sunday, but I couldn’t stop thinking about you. And I don’t want to get anyone in trouble or anything, but right after you left I checked my e-mail and there was a confirmation for delivery of your flowers.”

“Really?” I asked, feigning interest. My gaze was locked with Bennett’s.

“Well, it seems they were signed for by Bennett Ryan.”

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