Seeming to remember this at the same time I did, Chloe pulled up her panties and slid her skirt back down her thighs before letting me take her hand to help her stand. As usual, I was struck by the quiet all around us, and wondered if we were ever as controlled and sneaky as we thought we were.

She looked around, a little dazed, and then tossed me a lazy grin. “This will make it even harder to stay awake in my meeting.”

“Not sorry,” I murmured, bending down to kiss her neck.

When I straightened, she turned and walked into my washroom, pushing the sleeves of her sweater up her forearms so she could clean her hands. I stepped close, pressing my front to her back, and moved my hands under the water with hers. Soap slid between our fingers and she leaned her head back against my chest. I wanted to spend an hour washing her scent from our fingers just so I could stand this close.

“Are we staying at your place tonight?” I asked. It was always a hard choice. My bed was better for play, but her kitchen was better stocked.

She turned off the water and reached to dry her hands on my towel. “Your place. I have to do laundry.”

“Don’t ever let me hear you say romance is dead.” I took my turn with the towel and then bent to kiss her. She kept her mouth closed, eyes open, and I pulled back a little.

“Love you. Maybe I don’t tell you enough. Maybe that’s why you used the bat signal.”

I smiled, my heart squeezing tightly beneath my ribs. “I know you do. And that isn’t why I texted. I texted because I don’t get enough of your exclusive attention lately and I’m a greedy bastard. Hasn’t my mother warned you that I’ve never been good at sharing?”

“After we move to New York, things will quiet down and we’ll have more time.”

“In New York? Doubtful,” I said. “And even if things do settle down, wouldn’t it be nice to get away for a little bit before all that anyway?”

“When?” she asked, and looked around as if her packed calendar permeated every surface.

“There won’t ever be a perfect time. And when we move offices, it will be even crazier for a while.”

Laughing, she shook her head. “Well, I can’t think of a worse time. Maybe late summer?” With a quick kiss, she turned and grabbed her phone from my desk, eyes widening when she saw the time. “I have to go,” she said, kissing me once more before leaving my office.

And the topic was dismissed.

But the word vacation stayed in my mind.

I’d had big plans for tonight: make dinner, eat dinner together, finally decide which apartment we were going to rent in New York, discuss what to keep from both his place and mine, figure out when in the hell we’d find time to pack it all in the first place.

Oh, and spend the remaining eight hours relearning every inch of my Beautiful Bastard’s body. Twice.

But that itinerary was before he’d walked through the door of his house to find me cooking dinner in his kitchen. Before he’d tossed his jacket and keys to the couch and practically sprinted across the room. Before he pulled me back against him and sucked at the skin below my ear as if he hadn’t tasted me in weeks.

Needless to say, the plan had been downsized dramatically.

Even so, Bennett seemed inclined to skip steps.

“We’re never going to eat at this rate,” I said, tilting my head back as he kissed along my neck. His warm breath curled over my skin and the knife I’d been holding clattered to the cutting board.

“And?” he whispered, pressing his h*ps to my ass before turning me to face him.

The cabinets were hard against my back. Bennett was harder against my front. He bent down, towering over me without the benefit of my shoes, and brushed his lips over my throat.

He laughed softly, hands skimming my sides to rest at my hips. “Exactly. And God, it feels like I haven’t touched you in weeks.”

“This afternoon,” I corrected, pulling back just enough to meet his eyes. “It was this afternoon, you know—when I sucked you off at your desk?”

“Oh, yes. I seem to remember something like that. It’s a little hazy, though. Perhaps you could refresh my memory . . . tongue, c**k . . .”

“Nice mouth, Ryan. Does your mother know you’re such a pig?”

He barked out a laugh. “If the way she looked at us after we f**ked in the coatroom at my cousin’s wedding in February is any indication, then yes.”

“I hadn’t seen you in two weeks!” I said, feeling my cheeks warm. “Don’t look so smug, you ass.”

“But I’m your ass,” he said, and pressed a lingering kiss to my lips. “Don’t pretend like you don’t love it.” I couldn’t argue. Bennett might have spent more time out of Chicago than in it lately, but he was all mine. He never left any doubt about that. “And speaking of asses”—he reached down and squeezed mine, hard—“the things I’m going to do to yours tonight . . .”

I started to reply—to argue or say something smart in return that would put me back in the verbal driver’s seat—but I couldn’t think of anything.

“Jesus. You’ve been stunned silent,” he said, eyes wide in surprise. “If I’d known that’s all it’d take to get a little peace and quiet, I’d have brought it up ages ago.”

“I . . . um.” I opened and closed my mouth a few times but nothing came out. This was new. When the oven timer cut through the air, I forced myself to pull away, still a little off balance.

I pulled the bread from the oven and drained the pasta, feeling Bennett move up behind me again. He hooked his chin over my shoulder, wrapped his arms around my waist.

“You smell so good,” he said. His mouth went back to work on my neck, as his hands began a slow descent down to the hem of my skirt. I was more than a little tempted to let him finish.

Instead, I nodded to the cutting board. “Can you finish the salad for me, please?”

He groaned and loosened his tie, grunting something unintelligible as he began working at the opposite counter.

Ribbons of garlic-scented steam curled up from the bowl as I tossed the pasta and sauce together, trying to clear my head. As usual, it was impossible when he was nearby. There was just something about Bennett Ryan that seemed to suck all the air out of a room.

I’d been blindsided by how hard I’d fallen for him, and lately I missed him so much when he was gone. Sometimes I’d talk to my empty bedroom. “How was your day?” I’d ask. “My new assistant is hilarious,” I’d say. Or: “Has my apartment always been this quiet?”

Other days, when I’d worn his shirt to sleep so many times it had lost his smell, I’d go over to his place. I’d sit in the huge chair that looked out over the lake, and wonder what he was doing. Wonder if it was possible for him to miss me even a fraction as much as I missed him. Jesus. I never used to understand women who acted like this when their boyfriends traveled. I used to just assume it was a good opportunity for a full night’s sleep and some downtime.

Somehow, Bennett had managed to work his way into every part of my life. He was still the same stubborn, driven man he’d always been, and I loved that he hadn’t changed who he was just because we were together. He treated me as an equal, and even though I knew he loved me more than anything, he never cut me any slack. For that I loved him even more.

I carried our plates to the table and glanced back over my shoulder. Bennett was still grumbling to himself as he sliced a tomato.

“Of course.” He brought the salad over, smacking my ass before pulling out my chair.

He poured us each a glass of wine before dropping into the seat across from me. Bennett watched me take a sip, his eyes moving from mine, to my lips, and back up again. A sweet smile pulled at the corner of his mouth, but then he seemed to blink back into focus, remembering something. “I’ve been meaning to ask you, how’s Sara?”

Sara Dillon had graduated from the same MBA program that I had, but had since left RMG to work for another firm. She was one of my best friends, and Bennett had offered her the Director of Finance position in the new branch but she’d turned him down, not wanting to leave her family and the life she had in Chicago. He didn’t blame her, of course, but as the big day drew closer and we still hadn’t found anyone, I knew he was beginning to worry.

I shrugged, remembering the conversation I’d had with her earlier that day. Sara’s douchebag of a fiancé had been photographed kissing another woman, and it seemed Sara might really be seeing what the rest of us had suspected for years: Andy was a cheating dick.

“She’s okay, I guess. Andy still claims he was set up. The other woman’s name still pops up in the paper every week. You know Sara. She’s not going to show the world how she feels, but I can tell she’s completely shattered over this.”

He hummed, considering. “Think she’s finally done? No more taking him back?”

“Who knows? They’ve been together since she was twenty-one. If she hasn’t left him by now then maybe she’ll stay with him forever.”

“Wish I’d gone with my gut and knocked him on his ass at the Smith House event last month. What a miserable sleaze.”

“I’ve tried to talk her into coming to New York but . . . she’s so stubborn.”

“Stubborn? I can’t possibly see why the two of you are friends,” he deadpanned.

The rest of the meal was all talk about work, about getting the new office off the ground and all the pieces that still needed to be put into place before that could happen. We’d begun discussing whether his family would be going back to New York again before the new offices opened when I asked, “When did your dad get back in town?”

I waited a moment, but when Bennett didn’t answer, I looked up, surprised to see him pushing his food around his plate.

“Everything okay over there, Ryan?”

A few seconds of silence passed before he said, “I miss you working for me.”

“I know. It doesn’t make any sense to me, either. We were awful to each other, and it was an impossible situation.” Holy crap, what an understatement. The fact that we managed to survive working in the same office together for ten months without bloodshed or some sort of manslaughter stapler incident still surprised me. “But . . . ,” he continued, looking up at me from across the table, “I saw you every day. It was predictable. Consistent. I pushed and you pushed back. It was the most fun I’ve ever had at a job. And I took it for granted.”

I set my glass down and met his eyes, feeling an overwhelming surge of affection for this man. “That . . . makes sense,” I said, searching for the right words. “I don’t think I appreciated what it meant to see you every day, either. Even if I did want to poison you on no less than twenty-seven separate occasions.”

“Ditto,” he replied with a smirk. “And sometimes I feel guilty for how many times I threw you out the window in my fantasies. But I most certainly plan on making it up to you.” He picked up his glass, took a long drink.

“Well, first I’m going to peel off that skirt.” He bent to glance under the table. “I’d hassle you for wearing that lacy stuff underneath just to torture me, but we both know I’m into that kind of thing.”

I watched as he straightened and leaned back in his chair, hands clasped behind his head. The weight of his attention brought goose bumps to my skin. Anyone else would have been intimidated—I could still remember a time when I was—but right now all I felt was adrenaline, a thrill that shot through my chest and settled warm and heavy in my stomach.

“And that sweater,” he began, eyes on my chest now. “I’d like to rip it open, hear the sound of those little buttons as they pop off and scatter across the floor.”

I crossed my legs, swallowed. He followed the movement, a smile slowly lifting at the corners of his mouth.

“Then maybe I’d spread you out on this table.” He leaned over, made a show of testing its sturdiness. “Put your legs over my shoulders, suck on you until you’re just begging for my cock.”

I tried to seem unaffected, tried to break from his stare. I couldn’t. I cleared my throat, my mouth suddenly dry. “You could have done that last night,” I said, teasing him.

“No. Last night we were tired and I just wanted to feel you come. Tonight, I want to take my time, undress you, kiss every inch of that body—fuck you. Watch you f**k me.”

Was it suddenly getting warm in here?

“Pretty sure of yourself, aren’t you?” I asked.

“And what makes you think I don’t have a list of my own?” I stood, dessert forgotten as I rounded the table to stop in front of him. His c**k was already stiff, straining against the fly of his pants. He followed my gaze and smirked up at me, pupils dark and so wide they drowned the hazel surrounding them.

I wanted to rip off my clothes and feel the heat of that stare on my skin, wake up in the morning exhausted and sore and with the memory of his fingertips still pressing into my body. How did he make me feel this way with just a look and a few dirty words?