Thankfully, I proved myself pretty quickly after that. There were times when he even seemed impressed with me, although he was always short and on edge. I chalked it up to his being a giant asshat, but I had always wondered if there was something specific about me that rubbed him the wrong way.

Besides that towel, of course.

When I arrived at work, I bumped into Sara on my way to the elevator. We made plans to have lunch next week and said good-bye as she reached her floor. Arriving at the eighteenth floor, I noticed Mr. Ryan’s office door was closed as usual, so I couldn’t tell if he was here yet. I turned on the computer and tried to mentally prepare myself for the day. Lately, anxiety hit every time I sat in this chair.

I knew I would see him this morning; we went over the schedule for the coming week every Friday. But I never knew what kind of mood he would be in.

Although his temper had been even worse lately, his last words to me yesterday had been, “Get the garter belt too.” And I had. In fact, I was wearing it now. Why? I had no idea. What in the hell had he meant by that? Did he think he was going to see it? No f**king way. Then why had I worn it? I swear to God, if he rips it . . . I stopped myself before I could finish.

Of course he wouldn’t rip it. I was never going to give him the chance.

Keep telling yourself that, Mills.

Answering some e-mails, editing the Papadakis contract for intellectual property issues, and making a few hotel inquiries took my mind off the situation for a bit, and about an hour later his office door opened. Looking up, I was met with a very businesslike Mr. Ryan. His dark, two-button suit was impeccable, complemented perfectly by the pop of color in his red silk tie. He looked calm and completely at ease. No trace remained of the wild man who had f**ked me in the La Perla dressing room approximately eighteen hours and thirty-six minutes ago. Not that I was counting.

He nodded once and turned back to his office.

Okay, so that’s how this was going to play out. Fine by me. I wasn’t sure what I’d been expecting but was somewhat relieved that things weren’t different. Things between us were getting more and more intense, and it would mean a harder crash when it all stopped and I was left to pick up the pieces of my career. I hoped we could limp through this without further disaster until I finished my degree.

I followed him into his office and took a seat. I began going over the list of tasks and appointments that needed his attention. He listened without comment, jotting things down or entering them into his computer when needed.

“There’s a meeting with Red Hawk Publishing scheduled for three this afternoon. Your father and brother are also planning to attend. It will probably take up the rest of the afternoon, so your calendar has been cleared . . .” And so it went, until eventually we got to the part I’d been dreading.

“Lastly, the JT Miller Marketing Insight Conference is in San Diego next month,” I said, suddenly becoming interested in what I was doodling in my calendar. The pause that followed seemed to drag forever, and I glanced up to see what was taking so long. He was staring at me, tapping a gold pen on the desk, his face completely void of any expression.

“Will you be accompanying me?” he asked.

“Yes.” My one word created a suffocating silence in the room. I had no idea what he was thinking as we looked at each other. “It’s in the terms of the scholarship that I attend. I, uh, also think it’d be good to have me there to, um, help manage your affairs.”

“Make all the necessary arrangements,” he said with an air of finality as he resumed typing on his computer. Assuming I had been dismissed, I stood and began walking toward the door.

I turned to look at him, and even though he didn’t meet my gaze, he almost seemed nervous. Well, that was different.

“My mother has asked me to extend an invitation to you for dinner next week.”

“Oh.” I felt heat bloom across my cheeks. “Well, please tell her I’ll look at my schedule.” I turned to leave again.

“I was told I must . . . strongly encourage you to attend.”

Turning back slowly, I saw he was now staring at me, and he definitely looked uncomfortable. “And why exactly should you do that?”

“Well,” he said before clearing his throat, “apparently she has someone she would like you to meet.”

This was new. I’d known the Ryans for years, and although Susan might have mentioned a name in passing, she’d never actively tried to fix me up with anyone.

“Your mother is trying to set me up?” I asked walking back toward his desk and folding my arms over my chest.

“So it seems.” Something in his face didn’t quite fit his nonchalant answer.

His brow furrowed in obvious annoyance. “How the hell would I know? It’s not like we sit around discussing you,” he growled. “Maybe she’s worried that with that sparkling personality of yours you’ll end up an old spinster wearing muumuus and living in a house full of cats.”

Leaning forward with my palms on his desk I glared at him. “Well, maybe she should be more worried that her son will turn into a dirty old man who spends his time hoarding panties and stalking girls in lingerie stores.”

Jumping out of his chair, he leaned toward me, his face furious. “You know, you are the most—” He was cut off as the phone rang. We stared fiercely at each other from across the desk, both of us breathing heavily. For a moment, I thought he would throw me across the desk. For another moment, I wanted him to. Still glaring at me, he reached for the phone.