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.
“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.
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.