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