Fifteen

The theme of the conference this year was The Next Generation of Marketing Strategy, and as a way to embrace the new generation, the organizers had scheduled a poster session for students getting their degrees. Most students from Chloe’s program were here, standing straight and eager beside their poster boards. In fact, presentation at this venue was considered a requirement for Chloe’s scholarship, but I had applied for an exception for her given the size and confidential nature of the Papadakis account, her primary project. No other student here was managing a million-dollar deal.

The scholarship board had been happy to grant the exception, practically drooling over the prospect of putting Chloe’s success story in their program brochure once the design was completed, signed, and released publicly.

But although she had no presentation at the meeting, she insisted on walking through every aisle and looking at every poster. Given that I was apparently incapable of being more than four fucking feet away from her and didn’t have a meeting until ten, I followed her around the entire time, counting posters (576) and staring at her ass (perky, fun to spank, currently wrapped in black wool).

She’d mentioned in the elevator that her best friend, Julia, provided a majority of the wardrobe I loved/hated. This morning’s selection of a fitted pencil skirt and deep blue blouse was now also on my list. I tried a couple of times to convince Chloe that we needed to go back to the room to get something, but she’d only raised an eyebrow and asked, “Get something? Or get some?”

I’d ignored her, but now I wished I’d admitted I needed one more round before conferencing. I wondered if she’d have gone for it.

“Would you have gone back to the room?” I asked into her ear as she carefully read an undergraduate poster on a rebranding idea for some small cellular company. Graphs were taped to the poster board, for crying out loud.

“Shhh.”

“Chloe, you’re not going to learn anything from this poster. Let’s go get a cup of coffee and maybe a blow job in the bathroom.”

“Your father told me it was impossible to predict where I’d get my best ideas, and to read everything I could find. Besides, these are my student colleagues.”

I waited, toying with a cuff link, but she apparently wasn’t going to address the latter part of what I’d said. “My dad doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

She laughed, appropriately. Dad had been on every top-twenty-five list of CEOs practically since before I was born.

“It doesn’t have to be a blow job. I could fuck you against a wall,” I whispered, clearing my throat and looking around to be sure no one was near enough to hear. “Or I could lay you down on the floor, spread you wide, and make you come against my tongue.”

She shivered, smiled at the student near the next poster, and walked closer to read it. The man held his hand out to me. “Excuse me, but are you Bennett Ryan?”

I nodded, distracted as I shook his hand, watching Chloe move farther away.

The aisle we were in was practically deserted but for the students standing near the posters. Even they had begun to wander off to more interesting areas of the room, where larger companies—conference sponsors, mostly—had put together shiny, trademark-filled posters in the interest of getting the inaugural student-led session off the ground successfully. Chloe bent and wrote something on her notepad: Rebranding for Jenkins Financial?

I stared at her hand and then up at her face, fixed in a thoughtful expression. The Jenkins Financial account wasn’t one of hers. It wasn’t even one I handled. It was a small account, occasionally half-ass managed by one of the junior executives. Did she actually know how much it was struggling with the dinosaur marketing campaign we had?

Before I could ask, she turned and moved on to the next poster, and I was mesmerized with Chloe at work. I’d never let myself watch her so openly—the surreptitious stalking I had done only told me she was brilliant and driven, but I never realized the breadth of her company knowledge before.

I wanted to compliment her somehow, but the words got tangled in my head, and a strange defensiveness surged in my chest, as if to praise her work would somehow break strategy. “Your penmanship has improved.”

She smiled up at me, clicking the end of her pen. “Fuck off.”

My dick twitched in my pants. “You’re wasting my time here.”

“Then why don’t you go glad-hand some executives over in the reception hall? They have breakfast there. Those little chocolate muffins you pretend not to like?”

“Because it’s not what I feel like eating.”

A small grin pulled at her lips. She watched my face as another student introduced herself to me.

“I’ve followed your career ever since I can remember,” the woman said, breathless. “I heard you speak here last year.”

I smiled, shook her hand as briefly as I could without appearing rude. “Thanks for saying hello.”

We moved to the end of the aisle and I wrapped my hand around Chloe’s elbow. “I have one more hour until I have a meeting. Do you have any idea what you do to me?”

Finally, she looked up. Her pupils were so large her eyes turned nearly black, and she licked her lips into a wet, decadent pout. “I suppose I need you to take me upstairs so you can show me.”

.

Chloe was still looking for a new pair of panties when I was already five minutes late to my one o’clock. It was with Ed Gugliotti, a marketing executive for a smaller Minneapolis firm. We used Ed’s firm to subcontract smaller jobs, and had a more significant project we were thinking of passing off to him to see how they handled it. As I zipped my pants, I reminded myself that Ed was himself pathologically late.

Except this time he wasn’t. He was already waiting for me in one of the hotel meeting rooms, two of his junior people sitting beside him, eager smiles in place.

I hated being late.

“Ed,” I said, greeting him with a handshake. He introduced me to his team, Daniel and Sam. They shook my hand in turn, but by the time I got to Sam, his attention was behind me, at the door.

Chloe had walked in, hair down now, looking wildly beautiful but professional, miraculously hiding the fact that she’d just had a screaming orgasm atop the desk in her hotel room.

Gugliotti and his men watched in rapt silence as she walked over, pulled out a chair, and sat down beside me, turning to give me a small smile. Her lips were red and swollen, and a faint red mark bloomed on her jaw. Stubble burn.

Too right.

I cleared my throat until everyone finally looked back at me. “Let’s get started.”

It was a simple meeting, and the kind of thing I’d done a thousand times. I described the account in the most general, nonconfidential terms, and of course Gugliotti told me he thought his team could come up with something great. After meeting the men he’d assign to it, I agreed. We planned to meet again the following day, when I would present the account in its entirety and officially hand it over. The meeting was over in less than fifteen minutes, giving me time before my two o’clock. I looked over at Chloe and raised an eyebrow in silent question.

“Food,” she said with a laugh. “Let’s get some food.”

.

The rest of the afternoon had been productive, but I’d been entirely on autopilot, and if someone had asked me specifics about the meetings, it would’ve taken me a good long time to remember any details. Thank God for Chloe and her obsessive note taking. I’d been approached by many colleagues, had likely clasped a hundred hands over the afternoon, but the only touch I remembered was hers.

She distracted me endlessly, and what bothered me was that it was different here than usual. It was work, but it was a completely new world, one where we could pretend our circumstances were whatever we wanted them to be. The itch to be near her was even greater than it was when I had to keep my distance. Looking back to the evening keynote speaker at the podium, I tried unsuccessfully once again to redirect my thoughts to something productive. I was sitting up front, I had given the keynote last year at this very conference, and yet I somehow couldn’t find a way to engage.

I saw her shift in my peripheral vision and instinctively I looked across the table at her. When our eyes met, every other sound blended together, floating around me but never breaking into my consciousness. Without thinking, I leaned toward her, she leaned toward me, and a tiny grin flickered across her mouth.

I thought about this morning, and how transparent she’d been in her panic. By contrast, I’d felt strangely calm, as if everything we’d done had been leading to that precise moment when we could both see how easy it was to just be.

A cell phone ringing somewhere behind me broke me from my trance, causing me to look away. Quickly sitting back in my chair, I was shocked to see how far forward I’d actually been leaning. I looked around and stopped dead as a pair of unfamiliar eyes met mine.

This stranger had no idea who we were, or that Chloe worked for me; he’d only glanced at us and quickly looked away. But in that moment, every bit of guilt I’d been suppressing hit me. Everyone knew who I was, no one here knew her, and if it ever got out that we were fucking, the judgment of an entire community would follow her around for the rest of her career.

A quick glance back at Chloe told me she could see panic written all over my face. I spent the rest of the lecture staring forward, not giving her another glance.

.

“Are you okay?” she asked in the elevator, breaking the heavy silence that had accompanied us for fourteen floors.

“Yeah, just . . .” I scratched the back of my neck and avoided her eyes. “Just thinking.”

“I’m going out with some friends tonight.”

“That sounds like a good idea.”

“You have dinner with Stevenson and Newberry at seven. I think they’re meeting you at that sushi place you like in the Gaslamp.”

“I know,” I said, relaxing as we fell into the familiar details of work. “What’s their assistant’s name again? She always comes.”

“Andrew.”

I looked over at her, confused. “That’s a touch manlier than I was expecting.”

“They have a new assistant.”

How on earth did she know that?

She smiled. “He was sitting next to me at the keynote and asked if I’d be at the dinner tonight.”

I wondered if his was the pair of unfamiliar eyes that caught me staring at Chloe, and he asked because of the way I looked at her. I stuttered out a few sounds before she interrupted me. “I told him I had other plans.”

My unease returned. I wanted her with me tonight, and soon she wouldn’t be my intern anymore. Could I be her lover then? Could I still be her boss now? “Did you want to come?”

She shook her head, looking up at the doors as we reached the thirtieth floor. “I think I should probably go do my own thing.”

.

The short drive back from the restaurant was quiet and lonely, with only my jumbled thoughts to keep me company. I made my way through the large lobby to the elevator, and robotically moved to Chloe’s room before remembering I wasn’t actually staying with her. I couldn’t remember which room was mine and tried three on the floor before giving up and checking back in at the reception desk. When I returned, I realized my room was just next to hers.

It was a mirror image of her room, but completely different in all of the ways that couldn’t be seen. This shower hadn’t washed away our pretenses last night; we hadn’t slept together, curled around each other in this bed. These walls hadn’t been filled with the sounds of her coming apart beneath me. This desk wasn’t broken from a late-morning quickie.

I checked my phone and saw that I had two missed calls from my brother. Great. Normally, I would have already spoken to my father and brother several times, telling them about meetings or potential clients I’d met. So far, I hadn’t talked to either of them once. I’d been afraid they would see right through me and know that my head was not in the game this week.

It was after eleven and I wondered if she was still with her friends, or was she back already? Maybe she was lying there awake, obsessing about all of the same things I was. Without thinking, I reached for the phone and dialed her room. It rang four times before a generic voice mail answered. I hung up and tried her cell.

She answered on the first ring. “Mr. Ryan?”

I winced. She was with other students. Of course she wouldn’t call me Bennett now. “Hi. I . . . um, was just making sure you had a way to get back to the hotel.”

Her laugh came through the line, muted by the sound of voices and the pulsing of loud music all around her. “There are about seventy cabs waiting outside. I’ll just grab one of those when we’re done.”

“When will that be?”

“When Melissa finishes this drink and probably another. And when Kim decides she’s done dancing with every filthy manwhore here. So you can expect me back sometime between now and tomorrow morning at eight.”

“Are you being a wiseass?” I asked, feeling a grin spread across my face.

“Yes.”

“Fine,” I said, exhaling heavily. “Just text me when you get back safe.”

She was quiet for a beat and then said, “I will.”

I hung up and dropped my phone on the bed beside me, staring at the floor for probably an hour. I didn’t even know what to do with myself.

Finally, I got up and walked back downstairs.

.

I was still in the lobby when she came back at two in the morning, cheeks bright and smile firmly in place as she dropped her phone into her purse. My phone buzzed in my hand and I glanced down.

I’m back safe.

I watched her walk past the reception desk and directly toward where I sat near the bank of elevators. She stopped when she saw me, bleary-eyed, in my rumpled suit. I was sure my hair was a fucking joke because I’d been worried sick. I suddenly had no idea what I was doing waiting for her like an anxious spouse. I only knew I couldn’t be the one to decide we wouldn’t work, because deep down, I wanted to figure it out.

“Bennett?” she said, glancing at her friend, who waved and walked to the elevator. I didn’t give a damn what the friend was thinking, but I could feel her stare on us until she got into the elevator.

Chloe was wearing a tiny black dress and heels I wanted to petition become a uniform until her internship ended. Thin straps crisscrossed all the way from her pink-painted toes midway up her shins. I wanted to peel the dress from her body and fuck her into the couch, gripping those heels for leverage.

“Hey,” I mumbled, mesmerized by the miles and miles of bare leg in front of me.

She walked closer, stopping just a few inches away. “What are you doing down here?”

“Waiting.”

I struggled to hide how she affected me, how my present thoughts could barely be torn from the fantasy of my fists in her hair, the way my thumbs could completely cover her small, pink nipples, or how her clit was the softest part of any body I’d ever touched. I wanted to taste her from her toes to her earlobes, telling her every thought I had on the way.

“Are you drunk?”

I shook my head. Not the way you mean. “Someone saw me looking at you earlier.”

“I know.” She reached up, ran her fingers through my hair. “At the keynote. I saw your face.”

“I panicked.”

Chloe didn’t say anything in response to that; she just laughed, a soft husky sound.

“I’m not worried about how it looks for me. I’m worried about how it looks for you,” I said.

I heard her sharp inhale, felt her fingers tighten in my hair. When I looked up at her face, she looked bewildered.

How could she not know how infatuated I’d become? I was sure she could see it every time I looked at her. As always, I wanted to grip her from behind, spank her when she made a sound. Pull her hair when I came. Bite her breast again. Drag my teeth over her spine. Pinch the back of her thigh and then smooth it over with the softest touch.

But I also wanted to watch her sleep, and then watch her wake up and see me, and gauge her feelings from that first, unfiltered reaction.

I was starting to see that this wasn’t just sex, and it wasn’t just working something out of my system. Sex was just the fastest route to the deeper possession I needed. I was falling in love with her, and falling too fast and hard to easily find any footing.

It was scary as fuck.

I decided to give her the truth.

“I need another night.”

She sucked in a breath and stared, and only then did it occur to me that she could be feeling something very different than I was.

“Feel free to say no. I just . . .” I ran a hand through my hair and looked up at her. “I just would really like to be with you again tonight.”

“Greedy, aren’t you?”

“You have no idea.”

.

Upstairs in her room, between her sheets, and with her body coiled tight and sweet, sucking me in, everything else slipped away. Her scent and noises clouded my brain, made my thrusting erratic and hard. She was drenched—all of her: skin outside and flesh inside, slick and pulling me deeper. Her legs clamped around my hips and she flipped me over with a laugh, riding me with her back arched away and her head thrown back, fingers digging in my abdomen, anchoring herself in me. Her skin shone and I sat up underneath her, needing to feel the slide of her chest over mine as she slithered and slid. I pushed her back again, hovering over her once more this time with her legs on my shoulders and her mouth quivering as she struggled to find words.

Her nails dug into my back and I hissed, telling her “more” and “yes” and wanting her to mark me, to leave something that would still be there tomorrow.

She came once, and then again, and once more, and pulled at her hair, looking wild and untamed. I collapsed on her, incoherently stringing words together as I came, trying to tell her what we both already knew: that whatever happened outside of this room was irrelevant.

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