Everything about Chloe had always been impeccable, stylish, current. But her apartment could not be farther from that description. The living room was tidy, but full of worn furniture and things that didn’t look like anything she would own. Everything was brown and tan; the couches looked comfortable but like they were made out of the same material as a stuffed animal. A small collection of wooden owls was clustered on a shelf near a tiny television and, in the kitchen, the clock that she’d glanced at had a big smiling bumblebee on the face with the words “Bee Happy!” in garish bubble letters.

“This . . . is not what I expected.”

Chloe followed my attention around the apartment and then let a loud laugh burst free. It was the same laugh she used to let out before she would verbally eviscerate me. “What would you have expected, Mr. Ryan?”

I shrugged, not wanting to insult her but feeling sincerely curious about this disconnect. “I just expected your place to look a little more like you.”

“What, you don’t like my owls?” she asked, grinning.

“I do, yes, they just—” I started, running a nervous hand into my hair.

“And these couches?” she interrupted. “Don’t you think we could have fun on them?”

“Baby, we could have fun on any surface in this place, I’m just saying I expected your place to be less . . .”

Fuck. Why was I still talking? I looked over at her and she had a hand over her mouth, laughing silently.

“Calm down,” she said. “This was my mom’s apartment. I love it, but you’re right. None of this stuff is mine. When I was in school it just didn’t make sense for me to sell it, or to get new things.”

I took another curious glance around. “You could buy yourself hundred-dollar panties but you didn’t want a new couch?”

“Don’t be such a snob. I didn’t need a new couch. And I frequently needed new panties,” she said quietly, meaningfully.

With this perfect reminder, I stepped close to her, resuming my gentle attack on her line of buttons. Pushing her shirt over her shoulders and down her arms, I stared at where she stood in front of me, in only a red lace bra and matching underwear. They were tiny.

“Tell me what you want,” I said, feeling a little desperate as I pushed her hair behind her shoulder so I could suck on her neck, her jaw, her ear. “My cock? My mouth? My hands? Christ, I’m doing it all tonight but where does one start? I haven’t seen you in months and feel like I’m losing my mind.”

I reached for her arm, urging her closer. “Baby, put your hands on me.”

She ran her hands up my neck and cupped my face. I could feel her shaking. “Bennett.”

Only when she said my name like this—like she was shy and maybe even anxious—did I remember she said she had something to tell me other than I love you. Something I wouldn’t like.

Her eyes were enormous, searching mine and full of apology. “I just finished my defense, and—”

“Oh, shit. I’m such an ass. I should take you to dinner or—”

“—and I promised Julia and Sara that we would go out—”

“—maybe we could get some dinner after I make you come—” I barreled on.

“I just need to hear you come once and then we can go. Just give me . . .” I stopped, finally letting her words settle in. “Wait, what? You’re going out with Julia and Sara? Tonight?”

She nodded, eyes tight. “I didn’t know you’d be here. I can’t tell you how much I want to call and cancel. But the thing is, I can’t. Not after how good they’ve been to me the last few months . . . when you and I were . . .”

I groaned, pressing the heel of my hands to my eyes. “Why didn’t you tell me this before I got you na**d? Holy shit, how am I supposed to let you go now? I’m going to be hard for hours.”

“I tried to tell you.” To her credit, she looked as frustrated as I felt.

“Do we have time to . . .” I shook my head, looking around as if the answer were buried somewhere in this ancient furniture. “I could probably get us both off in, like, two minutes.”

She laughed. “I’m not sure that’s something to brag about.”

Her small gasp of surprise was stolen by my lips as I kissed her, tongue and teeth and not even caring if we only had a few minutes. I could do a few minutes.

I slid my hand over the racing pulse in her throat, between her br**sts and lower, down the front of her stomach. I moved lower still, finding that familiar, favorite place where she was warm and slick, and the roof could fall in and I wouldn’t even notice because, God, nothing existed but her and her little sounds and quiet whispers to keep going, keep going.

I reached down for my own pants, and had just started to speak—

And was interrupted by a sharp knock on the door.

A familiar voice floated into her entryway. “We’re here, Miss Serious Business Graduate, and we’re ready for the drinking!”

“This is a joke. Tell me this is a joke,” I said, glaring at her.

“I am in no mood to share right now. You have got to be f**king kidding me.”

“I forget how much I love seeing you on an angry tear.”

She walked to the door in her f**king underwear, and opened it a crack before turning and sprinting into her bedroom, leaving me to greet the intruders.

What in the actual fuck.

“I’ll be out in a few!” Chloe yelled over her shoulder, her nearly bare ass disappearing into a bedroom down the hall.

Julia whistled loudly, stepping over the threshold, and then stopped, and broke into laughter when she saw me.

“Wow, I didn’t expect you to answer the door in your underwear, Chloe.” Sara walked in with her hands over her eyes, reaching out blindly. She grabbed a handful of my half-unbuttoned shirt and shrieked when she uncovered her eyes and saw that it was me she was holding on to. “Mr. Ryan!”

“Hello, ladies,” I said, voice flat. I straightened my shirt, pulled my tie back into place.

“Oh boy, did we interrupt something?” Julia asked, eyes wide and teasing.

“Yes, in fact. We were . . . becoming reacquainted.”

Chloe called out from one of the bedrooms down the hall to help ourselves to the champagne in the fridge, and I tried to ignore the way Julia’s eyes dropped to my zipper. I stood still, letting her take a good long look. My erection was gone anyway.

“I didn’t realize it was to be a girls’ night out,” I said, when the silence felt like it had dragged on forever.

Sara stepped back, her eyes seeming to struggle to stay above my shoulders, and explained, “I don’t think any of us expected you to be here and . . . want a night in.”

I most definitely wanted a night in. In every part of Chloe.

Julia studied me for a minute and then smiled. “I’ll admit I was pretty sure Bennett would be here.”

I couldn’t help but mirror her grin. She had, after all, called me to urge me to go to Chloe’s presentation. She was obviously on my side.

Even if she had interrupted my attempt to f**k Chloe for the first time in forever.

I turned, moving into the kitchen to wash my hands. Julia followed, and behind me I heard her open the bottle of champagne, the squeak and pop and then the quiet fizz reminding me how much I’d rather be opening that bottle over Chloe’s na**d body, and licking the foamy bubbles from her skin.

Julia continued, “But I think we should all go out to celebrate, and he can have as much of her as he wants.” She poured four flutes of champagne and then handed one to me. “You’ll just have to wait until later to . . . reacquaint.”

Chloe emerged from her room in black skinny jeans, strappy black heels, and a shimmering blue tank top that made her skin look golden.

No way in hell would I be able to keep my hands off her if she wore that out.

“Chloe,” I started, walking over to her and setting my champagne down on the kitchen counter with a shaking hand. I scowled at her hair, tied back in a sleek low ponytail.

Her eyes sparkled with amusement and she stretched to reach my ear so only I could hear. “You can take it down later.”

“Do you want to grab it? Pull it?” she asked, kissing the shell of my ear. I nodded, eyes closing. “Or do you want to feel my hair down and loose on your stomach while my mouth works your cock?”

I reached for my champagne with a shaky hand, downed it. “Let’s go with yes.”

Need coiled low in my stomach and I was torn between wanting to smash something and wanting to drag her back into her bedroom and peel those jeans down her legs. Absolutely no part of me felt like spending an evening drinking wine and eating cheese and listening to girl talk. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep it together.

As if reading my mind, she whispered, “It’ll just make it better when we get home.”

“I doubt that is even possible.”

Her fingers lightly scratched over my chest. “I’ve missed that surly face.”

Ignoring her, I asked, “How about you come to my place later? Go out with the girls, enjoy this night. I’ll be there when you’re ready.”

She stretched and slid a slow, warm kiss across my mouth. “What happened to not letting me out of your sight until Christmas?”

I’d expected a dance club, maybe something fancy with twenty-dollar drinks and miles of twenty-something coeds in tiny black dresses. What I hadn’t expected was a low-key bar in the suburbs, with darts and what Julia called “the best sampling of beer in Illinois.”

As long as they could make me a vodka gimlet and I could be in constant physical contact with Chloe, the night might not be too much of a disaster. I followed the girls inside, shooting daggers at every leering douchebag in the place as we made our way up to the bar. Julia plopped herself down on a worn leather stool, shouting something to the bartender about the usual for the ladies and something pink for the pretty boy.

On second thought, this was going to be a long night.

Sara—clearly still a bit unnerved by my company—sat on the other side of Chloe, and made her recount every last detail about her defense. Chloe told her about Clarence Cheng, about how I’d barged in there and been an asshole, how she’d presented both projects, and even been offered a job.

“Two jobs,” I clarified, staring her down so she knew I was thinking she’d better damn well f**king take the job at RMG.

She rolled her eyes but none of us could miss her proud smile. With their beers and my pink Cosmo raised in the air, we toasted Chloe on a job well done.

Beside me she downed her beer and then wiggled off her seat. “Who’s up for some darts?”

Sara raised her hand and jumped a little. After a single beer, she seemed tipsy and loose enough to not act like we were still in the office. I slid my gaze down the length of Chloe’s body. I rather liked the idea of watching her stretching and moving to play darts in that tight little number.

“You coming?” she asked, leaning down and pressing her br**sts into my forearm.

“Hoping to, very soon.” I let my eyes linger on her mouth before dropping to her chest. Beneath the thin fabric of her top, her ni**les pebbled.

Her laugh brought my attention back to her red lips and she pushed them together in a playful pout. “Is Bennett a little keyed up?”

“Bennett is a lot keyed up,” I said, pulling her between my legs and kissing the curve of her ear. I wanted to be patient and let her enjoy this night, but patience had never really been my strong suit. “Bennett wants Chloe na**d and touching his cock.”

With a giggle, she danced away and to the back of the bar, her arm linked with Sara’s.

Julia put her hand on my shoulder, glancing quickly behind us to make sure Chloe was out of earshot. “You did good.”

I was uncomfortable discussing personal issues with all but a few people in my life, and this most personal of all conversations was the last thing I wanted to have with a virtual stranger. Still, Julia had taken the time to track me down for Chloe’s sake. That definitely took balls.

“Thank you for the call,” I said. “But I do want you to know I would have gone to her anyway. I couldn’t stay away anymore.”

Julia took a sip of her beer. “I figured if you were anything like her, you were about to head in for another round. I called because I wanted you to have that confidence you needed to go in and just be your best bastard self.”

“I wasn’t too much of a bastard.” I frowned, considering. “I don’t think.”

Ignoring this, I lifted my fruity girl drink and drained it.

“She’s so happy tonight,” Julia murmured, almost to herself.

“She’s thin.” I glanced at where she stood, poised and ready to throw a dart. She did seem happy, and for that I was thrilled, but the difference in her body was also hard for me to ignore. “Too thin.”

Nodding, Julia said, “She exercised too much, worked too much.” Her eyes searched mine for a beat before she added, “It wasn’t good, Bennett. She was a wreck.”