Bennett shifted in his chair and I stepped between his legs, reaching out to push the hair—that eternally freshly f**ked hair—from his forehead. The soft strands slipped between my fingers and I tilted his head back, bringing his eyes to mine. I’ve missed you so much, I wanted to say. Stay. Don’t go so far away. I love you.
The words stuck in my throat and nothing more than a “Hi” slipped out instead.
Bennett tilted his head, smile widening as he looked up at me. “Hi.” Warm hands gripped my hips, pulled me closer. Laughter curled around the single word and I knew he could read me like a book, saw every thought as clearly as if it were written across my forehead in ink. It’s not that I wasn’t comfortable saying I loved him, it’s just that it was so new. I’d never said it to anyone before him, and sometimes it felt scary, like opening up my chest and handing him my heart.
His hand moved up to rest on my breast, thumb brushing along the underside. “I can’t help but wonder what’s under this pretty little sweater,” he said.
I sucked in a breath, felt my ni**les harden beneath the thin cashmere. He slipped one button through the hole, and then another, until the cardigan fell open and his eyes moved over my barely-there bra. He hummed in appreciation. “This is new.”
He couldn’t contain his smug smile. “I would never.”
“You bought me a four-hundred-dollar slip and then used it to tie me to your bed, Bennett.”
He laughed, pushing the sweater from my shoulders, taking his time to unwrap me like a gift. Long fingers moved to the waist of my skirt and the soft sound of the zipper filled the room. He did as he’d promised, purposefully peeling the wool from my h*ps and down my legs to pool at my feet, leaving me in only my lace bra and rather skimpy panties.
The air conditioner switched on and a low whir carried through the apartment, a burst of cool air rushing along my exposed skin. Bennett pulled me down onto his lap, my legs on either side of his hips. The rough fabric of his pants brushed against the backs of my bare thighs, my practically na**d ass. I should have felt vulnerable like this—with me in so little and him fully dressed—but I relished it. It was so much like our first night together at his home, after my presentation, after we’d both admitted we didn’t want to be without the other and he let me tie him up so I could have the nerve to hear how much I’d hurt him.
And then I realized this position was intentional. I suspected he was thinking about that exact night, too. His eyes shone with such hunger, such adoration, that I couldn’t help but feel a sense of power, like there wasn’t anything this man wouldn’t do if I just asked.
I reached for the buttons of his shirt, wanting him na**d and over me, behind me—everywhere. I wanted to taste him, scratch marks into his skin, and connect them with my fingers, my lips and my teeth. I wanted to stretch him out on the table and f**k him until any thought of either of us ever leaving this room was a distant memory.
Somewhere in the apartment, a phone rang. We froze, neither of us saying anything, both waiting, hoping it had been a fluke and that nothing but silence would follow. But the shrill ringtone—one I’d become all too familiar with—filled the air again. Work. The emergency ringtone. And not the regular emergency one—the emergency-emergency one. Bennett swore, resting his forehead against my chest. My heart pounded beneath my ribs and my breaths felt too quick, too loud.
“Fuck, I’m sorry,” he said when it continued to ring. “I have to—”
“I know.” I stood, using the back of the chair to support my shaky legs.
Bennett scrubbed his hands over his face before he stood and crossed the room, finding his phone where he’d slung his jacket over the back of the couch. “Yeah,” he said, and then listened.
I bent for my sweater and slipped it over my shoulders, found my skirt and pulled it up my hips. I carried the dishes into the kitchen while he talked. I was trying to give him some sense of privacy but grew concerned as his voice continued to rise.
“What do you mean they can’t find it?” he shouted. I leaned against the doorway and watched as he paced back and forth in front of the wide wall of windows. “This is happening tomorrow and someone’s misplaced the f**king master file? Can’t someone else handle this?” A pause ensued in which I swear I actually watched Bennett’s blood pressure rise. “Are you kidding?” Another pause. Bennett closed his eyes tight and took a deep breath. “Fine. I’ll be there in twenty.”
When he ended the call, it took a moment for him to look at me.
He was right. It wasn’t okay. It sucked. “Can’t someone else handle it?”
“Who? I can’t trust something this important to those incompetent assholes. The Timbk2 account launches tomorrow and the marketing team can’t find the file with the financial specs—” He stopped and shook his head, reached for his jacket. “God, we need someone in New York who knows what the f**k they’re doing. I’m so sorry, Chlo.”
Bennett knew how much we needed tonight, but he also had a job to do. I knew this better than anyone.
“Go,” I said, closing the distance between us. “I’ll be right here when you’re done.” I handed him his keys and stood up on my toes to kiss him.
I grinned. “I know. Now go save the world.”
You have got to be f**king kidding me.
I turned the key in the ignition and revved the engine hard enough for the RPMs to hit red. I wanted to peel out and tear down the street, leaving the sign of my frustration as black tire marks on the road.
I was tired. Fuck was I tired, and I hated to have to clean up other people’s messes at work. I’d been working twelve-, fifteen-, hell, even eighteen-hour days for months, and the one night I was able to put aside time with Chloe at home, I was called in.
I paused as the word seemed to bounce around inside of my skull: home.
Whether we were at my place or hers, out with friends, or in that tiny little shithole Chinese restaurant she liked so much, it felt like home to me. The strangest part was that the house that had cost me a fortune had never felt like home until she spent time there. Was her home also with me?
We hadn’t even had time to pick where we would live in New York. We had identified the new location for RMG, made a map of where each of our offices would be, drawn up blueprints of the renovations and hired a designer . . . but Chloe and I didn’t have an apartment to go to.
Which was the greatest sign that old habits die hard, because in reality my relationship with her had completely altered my relationship to my job. Only a year ago I’d been committed to one thing: my career. Now, the thing that mattered most to me was Chloe, and every time my career got in the way of being with her it burned me up inside. I don’t even know specifically when that had happened, but I suspect the change had been effected long before I would have ever admitted it. Maybe it was the night Joel came to my parents’ house for dinner. Or maybe it was the next day, when I fell on my knees in front of her and apologized the only way I knew how. Most likely it was even earlier than all of that, on the first night I kissed her roughly in the conference room, in my darkest, weakest moment. Thank God I’d been such an idiot.
I glanced down at the clock on my dashboard and the date, backlit in red, hit me like a fist to the chest: May 5. Exactly one year ago, I’d watched Chloe walk off the plane from San Diego, her shoulders set in hurt and anger at how I’d essentially thrown her under the bus after she’d covered for me with a client. The next day she’d resigned; she’d left me. I blinked, trying to clear the memory from my mind. She came back, I reminded myself. We’d worked it out in the past eleven months, and despite all of my frustration with my work schedule, I’d never been happier. She was the only woman I’d ever want.
I thought back to my previous breakup, with Sylvie almost two years ago now. Our relationship started the way one climbs on an escalator: with a single step and then moving without effort along a single path. We started out friendly and easily slipped into physical intimacy. The situation worked perfectly for me because she provided companionship and sex, and she’d never asked for more than I offered. When we broke up, she admitted she knew I wouldn’t give her more, and for a while the sex and quasi-intimacy had been enough. Until, for her, they weren’t anymore.
After a long embrace and one final kiss, I’d let her go. I’d gone straight to my favorite restaurant for a quiet dinner alone, and then headed to bed early, where I slept the entire night without waking once. No drama. No heartbreak. It ended and I closed the door on that part of my life, completely ready to move on. Three months later, I was back in Chicago.
It was comical to compare that to the reaction I’d had to losing Chloe. I’d essentially turned into a filthy hobo, not eating, not showering, and surviving entirely on scotch and self-pity. I remembered clutching to the tiny details Sara would share with me about Chloe—how she was doing, how she looked—and trying to determine from these tidbits whether she missed me and could possibly be as miserable as I was.
The day Chloe returned to RMG was, coincidentally, Sara’s last day at the firm. Although we had made up, Chloe had insisted that she sleep at her place and I sleep at mine so that we would actually get some rest. After a chaotic morning, I walked into the break room to find Chloe snacking on a small pack of almonds, reading some marketing reports. Sara was heating up leftovers in the tiny microwave, having refused our entreaties to give her a big sendoff lunch. I came in to pour myself a cup of coffee, and the three of us stood together in loaded silence for what felt like fifteen minutes.
“Sara,” I said, and my voice felt too loud in the silent room. Her eyes turned to me, wide and clear. “Thank you for coming to me that first day Chloe was gone. Thank you for giving me whatever updates you could. For that, and other reasons, I’m sorry to see you go.”
She shrugged, smoothing her bangs to the side and giving me a small smile. “I’m just glad to see you two together again. Things have been way too quiet around here. And by quiet I mean boring. And by boring I mean nobody screaming or calling each other a hateful shrew.” She coughed and took an almost comically loud slurp from her drink.
Chloe groaned. “No chance of that anymore, I assure you.” She popped an almond into her mouth. “He may not be my boss anymore, but he’s still most definitely a screamer.”
Laughing, I stole a peek at her ass as she stood and bent down to pull a bottle of water out of the bottom shelf of the fridge.
“Still,” I said, turning back to Sara. “I appreciate that you kept me up to date. I would have probably lost my mind otherwise.”
Sara’s eyes softened and, as she fidgeted, I could tell she was a little uncomfortable in the face of my rare display of emotion. “Like I said, I’m glad it worked out. These things are worth fighting for.” She lifted her chin and gave Chloe one last smile before leaving the room.
That giddiness I’d felt after Chloe’s return made it easy to ignore the whispers that followed us through the halls of Ryan Media Group. I had my office and she had hers now, and we were each determined to prove to ourselves as much as anyone else that we could do this.
We’d lasted almost an hour apart.
“I missed you,” she said, slipping into my office and closing the door behind her. “Do you think they’ll give me my old office back?”
“No. Much as I like the idea, at this point it would be blatantly inappropriate.”
“I was only half serious.” She rolled her eyes and then paused, looking around. I could almost see each memory coming back to her: when she’d spread her legs across the desk from me, when she’d let me make her come with my fingers to distract her from her worries, and, I imagine, each time we’d sat together in this office, not saying everything we could have said so much sooner.
“I love you,” I said. “I’ve loved you for a long time.”
She blinked up and then moved close, stretching to kiss me. And then she pulled me into the bathroom and begged me to make love to her against the wall, at noon on a Monday.
As I pulled into the parking deck at the offices and turned into my spot, I remembered Sara’s words. Shutting off the car, I stared at the concrete wall in front of me. These things are worth fighting for. Sara had taken her own advice home to Chicago’s most deplorable womanizer. She’d looked out for me when she knew I was broken and lost without Chloe. In contrast, I’d let Sara continue on with a man I knew was unfaithful, all because I felt it wasn’t my place to interfere. Where would I be if Sara had done the same?
Contemplating what that said about me, I climbed from the car and into the main lobby. The night security guard waved, then went back to his newspaper as I headed to the elevators. The building was so empty I could hear every creak and click of the machine around me. Wheels whirred along cables and the car gave a quiet thud as it settled on the eighteenth floor.
I knew no one else was here. The team was scrambling to find the newest version of the file, and in their panic were probably scouring their local document files on their laptops. I doubted anyone had thought to come in and check the work server.
In the end I’d had to leave Chloe for what amounted to twenty-three minutes of work, which effectively guaranteed my mood tomorrow would be thunderous. I hated having to do someone else’s job. The contract had been mislabeled and—exactly as I had suspected—put into the wrong folder on the server. In fact, a hard copy was sitting faceup on my desk, where someone actually competent might have noticed it and spared me this trip to the office. I forwarded the file to one of my executives in Marketing and made several copies of the document itself, highlighting the parties on the first page and pointedly placing one on the desk of every person involved in the account, before finally leaving the office. It was, in a way, kind of dickish of me to be so precise. But then, this was what they earned when they pulled me away from Chloe.