My heart sank in my chest. Fantasizing about him was a one-way ticket to trouble. I was on the cusp of getting my graduate degree. He was an executive. He had nothing to lose, and I stood to lose it all.
I showered and dressed quickly to meet Sara and Julia for brunch. Sara and I got to see each other every day at work, but Julia, my best friend since middle school, was tougher to nail down. She was a buyer for Gucci and dutifully filled my closet with samples and overstock. Thanks to her and her discount, I owned some of the most beautiful clothes money could buy. I still paid a pretty penny for them, but it was worth it. I made decent money at Ryan Media, and my scholarship covered all of my school costs, but even I couldn’t spend nineteen hundred dollars on a dress and not want to off myself.
I’d sometimes wondered if Elliott paid me so well because he knew I was the only one who could handle his son. Oh, if only he knew.
I decided that it would be a bad idea to talk to the girls about what was going on. I mean, Sara worked for Henry Ryan and saw Bennett around the building all the time. There was no way I could ask her to keep that kind of secret. Julia on the other hand would kick my ass. For almost a year she’d listened to me complain about what a dick he was, and she would not be happy to find out I was screwing him.
Two hours later I was sitting with my two best friends, drinking mimosas on the patio of our favorite restaurant, talking about men and clothes and work. Julia had surprised me with a dress made from the most sumptuous fabric I’d ever felt. It sat in a garment bag slung over the chair next to me.
“So how’s work going?” Julia asked between bites of her melon. “That douche of a boss still giving you a hard time, Chloe?”
“Oh, Beautiful Bastard.” Sara sighed, and I carefully studied the condensation on my champagne flute. She popped a grape into her mouth and spoke around it. “God, you should see him, Julia. It’s the most perfect nickname I’ve ever heard. He is a god. And I mean that. There’s nothing wrong with him, physically. Perfect face, body, clothes, hair . . . Oh, God, the hair. He’s got that artfully arranged messy thing going on,” she said, motioning above her head. “Looks like he just banged the hell out of someone.”
I rolled my eyes. I never needed a reminder about the hair.
“But—and I don’t know what Chloe has told you—he really is awful,” Sara continued, growing serious. “I mean, I wanted to shove a pocket knife into each of his tires within the first fifteen minutes of meeting him. He is the biggest dick I’ve ever met.”
I almost choked on a piece of pineapple. If Sara only knew. Truly, the man was blessed in the man-parts department. It was unfair.
“Why is he such a jerk?”
“Who knows?” Sara said, and then blinked away as if she was really considering whether he had a good excuse. “Maybe he had a hard childhood?”
“True,” she conceded. “Maybe it’s some sort of defense mechanism. Like, he’s bitter and feels like he has to work harder and prove himself to everyone all the time because he’s so damn pretty?”
I snorted. “There isn’t a deep reason. He thinks everyone should care as much and work as hard as he does, and most people don’t. It pisses him off.”
“Are you defending him, Chloe?” Sara asked with a surprised grin.
I noticed Julia’s blue eyes were trained on me and had narrowed in silent accusation. I’d done my share of complaining about my boss in the past several months, but maybe I’d never mentioned that he was gorgeous?
“Chloe, have you been holding out on me? Is your boss a hot piece?” she asked.
“He is gorgeous, but his personality makes it pretty hard to appreciate.” I tried to be as nonchalant as I could. Julia had a way of reading every thought I had.
“Well,” she said, shrugging her shoulders and taking a long sip of her drink, “maybe he’s pissed off because he’s got a tiny dick.”
I tipped back my champagne flute as my two friends howled in fits of laughter.
Monday morning, I was a bundle of nerves as I made my way into the building. I’d made my decision: I wasn’t going to sacrifice my job because of our lack of judgment. I wanted to finish this position with a stellar presentation for the scholarship board and then leave and start my career. No more sex, no more fantasizing. I could easily work—business only—with Mr. Ryan for another few months.
Feeling the need for a boost of confidence, I wore the new dress Julia had given me. It hugged my curves without looking too provocative. But my secret confidence weapon was my underwear. I’d always had a thing for expensive lingerie, and early on had learned where to hunt for the best sales. Wearing something sexy under my clothes was empowering, and the pair I had on would most certainly do the trick. They were black silk in front, embellished with embroidery, and the back consisted of a series of delicate tulle ribbons, crisscrossing to meet in the center near my tailbone with a dainty black bow. With each step, the fabric of my dress caressed my bare skin. I could take whatever Mr. Ryan had to say today, and I could dish it right back to him.
I’d arrived early to have time to prepare for the presentation. It wasn’t strictly my job, but Mr. Ryan refused to have a dedicated assistant, and when left to his own devices, he was a disaster at making meetings pleasant: no coffee, no pastries, just a room full of people, pristine slides and handouts, and, as always, endless work.