Nine

I watched as several expressions passed over her face at once: embarrassment, annoyance, and then . . . curiosity? I could vaguely make out a man’s voice on the other end and felt the caveman begin to awaken. Who the hell was calling her?

Suddenly, her eyes narrowed, and a tiny voice inside told me I should be nervous. “Well, thank you so much for letting me know. Yes. Yes, I will. Okay. Yes, I’ll call you when I decide. Thanks for calling, Joel.”

Joel? Fucking Cignoli.

She ended the call and slowly put the phone back into her purse. Looking down, she shook her head, a small laugh escaping before a wicked smile graced her mouth.

“Is there anything you’d like to tell me, Mr. Ryan?” she asked sweetly, and for some reason it made me even more anxious. I racked my brain but couldn’t think of anything. What was she talking about?

“That was the strangest conversation. It seems that when Joel checked his e-mail this morning, he had a delivery confirmation for my flowers. You’ll never guess what it said.”

She moved one step toward me, and instinctively I moved one step back. I didn’t like where this was going. “It turns out that someone signed for them.”

Oh, shit.

“The name on the slip said Bennett Ryan.”

Fuuuuuck. Why the hell did I sign my own name? I tried to think of a response but my mind was suddenly blank. Obviously, my silence told her everything she needed to know.

“You son of a bitch! You signed for them and then lied to me?” She landed a hard shove on my chest, and I had a sudden instinct to protect my balls. “Why did you do that?” My back was now against the wall and I was frantically searching for an alternative exit.

“I . . . what?” I babbled. My heart felt like it was going to claw its way out of my chest.

“Seriously! What the hell?”

I needed an answer and I needed it fast. Running my hands through my hair for the hundredth time in the last five minutes, I decided it was probably better to just come clean.

“I don’t know, okay?” I shouted back. “I just . . . fuck!”

She took out her phone and appeared to be texting someone.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Not that it’s any of your business, but I’m telling Julia to just go on without me. I’m not leaving here until you tell me the truth.” She glared at me and I could feel the anger coming off of her in waves. I briefly considered telling Emily what was going on, but she’d seen me follow Chloe; I was pretty sure she’d figured it out by now.

“Well?”

I met her eyes and let out a deep sigh. There was absolutely no way I could explain myself and not sound like I’d lost my mind. “Okay, yes, I signed for them.”

She stared at me, her chest heaving and her fists balled so tightly that her knuckles were white. “And?”

“And . . . I threw them away.” As I stood facing her, I realized that I deserved every bit of her anger. I was being unfair. I was offering her nothing but still standing in the way of someone who could possibly make her happy.

“You are fucking unbelievable,” she growled through clenched teeth. I knew she was doing everything she could to keep from lunging across the room and pummeling me. “Explain to me why you would do that.”

Here was the part I didn’t know how to answer. “Because . . .” I scratched the back of my head. I hated that I’d let myself get into this situation. “Because I don’t want you to go out with Joel.”

“Of all the asinine, chauvinistic—who in the hell do you think you are? Just because we’ve had sex does not mean you get to make decisions in my life. We aren’t a couple, we aren’t dating. Hell, we don’t even like each other!” she yelled.

“You think I don’t know that? It doesn’t make any sense, okay? But when I saw those flowers . . . come on, they were fucking roses!”

She looked as if she were ready to have me committed somewhere. “Are you on some sort of medication? What does the fact that they were roses have to do with anything?”

“You hate roses!” When I said this, her face fell, eyes soft and dark. I rambled on. “I just saw them and reacted. I didn’t stop and think about it. Just the thought of him touching you . . .” My fists clenched at my sides and my voice trailed off as I tried to regain my composure. I was getting angrier by the second: at myself for being weak and letting my emotions get out of hand, again, and at her for having this fucking inexplicable hold on me.

“Okay, look,” she said, taking a calming breath. “I’m not saying I agree with what you did, but I understand . . . to a point.”

My eyes flew to her in shock.

“I would be lying if I said I haven’t been feeling similarly possessive,” she said reluctantly.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Did she actually just admit to me that she felt this way too?

“But that doesn’t change the fact that you lied to me. You lied right to my face. I might think you’re an arrogant asshole most of the time, but you’ve always been someone I trusted to be honest with me.”

I flinched. She was right.

“I’m sorry.” My apology hung in the air, and I wasn’t sure which of us was more surprised by it.

“Prove it.” She looked at me so calmly, not an ounce of emotion visible in her features. What did she mean? Then, it hit me. Prove it. We couldn’t speak through words, because words only led to trouble. But this? This is what we were, and if she would give me this one chance to make up for what I’d done, I’d take it.

I hated her so much in that moment. I hated that she was right and I was wrong, and I hated that she was forcing me to make a choice. I hated how much I wanted her, most of all.

I closed the distance between us, wrapping my hand around the back of her neck. I pulled her to me, meeting her gaze as I drew her mouth to mine. There was an unspoken challenge there. Neither of us would back down or admit that this—whatever this was—was beyond our control.

Or maybe both of us just had.

The moment our lips touched, I was overtaken by a familiar buzz coursing through my body.

My hands fisted deeply into her hair, forcing her head back, to take everything I pressed into her. This might be for her, but I was damn sure going to control it. Pressing my body to hers, I groaned at the way each of her curves fit against me. I wanted this need to go away, to be satisfied and move on; but each time I felt her, it was better than I remembered.

Falling to my knees, I grasped her hips and pulled her closer, my lips moving across the waist of her pants. Lifting her shirt up, I kissed each inch of visible skin, enjoying the tensing of her muscles as I explored. I looked up at her, hooking my fingers into the waistband. Her eyes were closed and she was biting her lower lip. I felt my cock harden in anticipation of what I was about to do.

I pulled her pants down her thighs, goose bumps breaking out over her skin as I trailed my fingers down her legs. Her hands went to my hair and pulled roughly, and I groaned as I looked back up at her. I traced the edge of the delicate satin of her lingerie, stopping at the thin straps on her hips. “These are almost too pretty to ruin,” I said, wrapping one strap around each hand.

“Almost.” With a quick tug they broke easily, allowing me to pull the pink material away and stuff it into my pocket.

A sense of urgency took over me then, and I quickly freed one of her legs, placing it over my shoulder and kissing along the soft skin of her inner thigh.

“Oh, shit,” she said on an exhale, running her hands into my hair. “Oh, shit, please.”

As I first nuzzled and then slowly licked along her clit, she gripped my hair tightly, moving her hips against my mouth. Unintelligible words fell from her lips in a hoarse whisper, and seeing her come undone so completely made me realize she was as helpless against this as I was. She was pissed at me, so pissed that part of her probably wanted to hook her leg around my neck and strangle me, but at least she was letting me give her something that was, in many ways, so much more intimate than simple fucking. I was on my knees, but she was vulnerable and bare.

She was also warm and wet and tasted just as fucking sweet as she looked.

“I could fucking consume you,” I whispered, pulling back enough to glance up at her expression. Kissing her hip, I murmured, “This would be so much better if I could spread you out somewhere. A table in a conference room, perhaps.”

She tugged on my hair, pulling me back to her with a smile. “This is working just fine for me. Don’t you dare stop.”

I almost admitted aloud that I couldn’t, and I was starting to abhor the thought of even trying but soon was lost in her skin again. I wanted to memorize every curse and plea that escaped her mouth and know that I was the reason for it. I moaned against her, causing her to cry out as she twisted her body closer. Sliding two fingers inside her, I pulled on her hip with the other hand to urge her to find her rhythm with me. She began rolling her hips, slowly at first, pressing into me, and then faster. I could feel her tense: her legs, her abdomen, her hands in my hair.

“So close,” she panted, her movements faltering, growing jagged and a little wild, and fuck if I didn’t feel a little wild myself. I wanted to bite and suck, bury my fingers inside and completely unravel her. I worried I was growing too rough, but her breaths turned into little pants and tightened into pleas. When I twisted my wrist and pushed in deeper, she cried out, legs shaking as her climax overtook her.

Rubbing her hip, I slowly lowered her leg and watched her feet just in case she decided to kick me after all. I ran a finger across my lip and watched her eyes return to focus.

She pushed me away and quickly righted her clothing, looking down at where I kneeled in front of her. Reality crept back as the various sounds of people dining on the other side of the door combined with the sound of our heavy breathing.

“You’re not forgiven,” she said and reached down for her purse, unlocking the door and leaving the room without another word.

I stood up slowly and watched the door close behind her, trying to sort out what had just happened. I should have been furious. But I felt the corner of my mouth lift in a smile and I almost laughed at the absurdity of it.

Damn her, she did it again. She was beating me at my own game.

.

My night had been hell. I’d hardly slept or eaten, and I’d suffered a near-constant hard-on since leaving the restaurant yesterday. I knew I was in for it as I headed to work. She was going to do everything she could to torture and punish me for lying to her; the sick thing was . . . I was kind of looking forward to it.

I was surprised to find her desk empty upon my arrival. Strange, I thought, she was rarely late. I continued into my office and began getting things in order for the day. Fifteen minutes later, I was distracted from a phone call when I heard the outer door slam. Well, she certainly didn’t disappoint; I could hear drawers and files slamming and knew this would make for an interesting day.

At ten fifteen I was interrupted by my intercom. “Mr. Ryan.” Her cool voice filled the room and despite her obvious annoyance, I found myself smirking as I pressed the button to respond.

“Yes, Miss Mills?” I answered back, hearing my own grin reflected in my tone.

“We need to be in the conference room in fifteen minutes. You’ll need to leave at noon to make the lunch meeting with the president of Kelly Industries at twelve thirty. Stuart will be waiting for you in the garage.”

“Are you not accompanying me?” Part of me wondered if she was avoiding being alone with me. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.

“No, sir. Management only.” I heard papers rustling as she continued to speak. “Besides, I have arrangements to make for San Diego today.”

“I’ll be out in a moment,” I let my finger slide off the button, standing to adjust my tie and jacket.

When I stepped out of my office, my eyes landed on her immediately. Any doubts I might have had about her making me suffer were confirmed. She was leaning over her desk in a blue silk dress that showcased her long lean legs perfectly. Her hair was piled on her head, and when she turned in my direction, I saw she was wearing her glasses. How was I going to manage to speak coherently with her sitting next to me?

“Are you ready, Mr. Ryan?” Without waiting for an answer, she gathered her things and began walking down the hall. There seemed to be more sway to her hips today. The sassy bitch was taunting me.

Standing in the crowded elevator, our bodies were unintentionally pressed together and I had to stifle a groan. It could have been my imagination but I thought I saw a hint of a smirk as she “accidentally” brushed against my semierect cock. Twice.

For the next two hours, I was in my own personal hell. Every time I looked at her she was doing something to bring me to my knees: sly glances, licking her bottom lip, crossing and uncrossing her legs, or absentmindedly twirling a tendril of hair around her finger. At one point, she dropped her pen and casually placed her hand on my thigh as she bent down to retrieve it from under the table.

At the lunch meeting that followed, I was both grateful for the reprieve from her torment and desperate to get back to it. I nodded and spoke at appropriate times, but I was never really there. Of course my father had noticed every second of my surly, quiet mood. On the drive back to the office, he started in on me.

“For three days, you and Chloe will be together in San Diego without the buffer of office doors, and there won’t be anyone there to run interference. I expect you to treat her with the utmost respect. And before you get defensive,” he added, holding his hands up as he sensed my quick rebuttal, “I’ve already spoken to Chloe about this.”

My eyes widened and flashed to his face. He had talked to Miss Mills about my professional conduct?

“Yes, I’m aware that it’s not just you,” he said, leading us into an empty elevator. “She’s assured me that she gives every bit as good as she gets. Why do you think I suggested you as her program mentor in the first place? There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that she could hold her own with you.”

Henry stood silent next to him, a smug smile stretched across his face. Asshole.

I frowned slightly as the realization hit me: she had spoken in my defense. She could have easily made it sound like I was a tyrant, but instead she accepted some of the blame.

“Dad, I’ll admit that that my relationship with her is unconventional,” I began, praying that no one understood how true that statement really was. “But I assure you, it in no way interferes with our ability to conduct business. You have nothing to worry about.”

“Good,” Dad said when we arrived at my office suite.

We walked in to find Miss Mills on the phone, speaking almost inaudibly. “Well, I’m going to let you go, Dad. I have some things to take care of and I’ll let you know as soon as I can. You need to get some sleep, okay?” she said softly. After a brief pause she laughed, but then didn’t say anything else for a moment. Neither I nor the two men beside me dared say anything. “I love you too, Daddy.”

My stomach tightened at the words, and the way her voice shook when she said them. When she turned around in her chair, she startled to find us standing there. Quickly she began gathering the paperwork on her desk.

“How did the meeting go?”

“It went smoothly, as always,” my father said. “You and Sara really do a superb job taking care of things. I don’t know what my sons would do without the two of you.”

Her eyebrow lifted slightly and I could see her struggling to not gloat in my direction. But then her face transformed into a puzzled expression and I realized I’d been full-on grinning at her, hoping to see some of her trademark sass. I put on the best scowl I could manage as I walked into my office. It only hit me when I closed my door that I hadn’t seen her smile once since we’d come back and heard her on the phone.

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