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 f**k 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?”
“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 fiancé, 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 f**k off. He’s an ass**le 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.
“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 f**king all of your other women.”