“Don’t worry, mate,” I told him. I turned to her and murmured, “She doesn’t let me f**k her in cars. Or on Tuesdays.”

“She doesn’t,” she whispered, though she did let me kiss her again.

“Shame,” I said into her mouth. “I’m good in cars. And especially good on Tuesdays.”

“So this conversation with Will,” she said, reaching across and shoving her hand beneath the suit jacket I’d laid across my lap. “If you didn’t tell him my name, what did you tell him?” She pressed her palm against my cock, squeezing.

Was she going to give me a wank in the cab?

“Sixty-fifth and Madison,” I told the driver. “Take the long way round.”

He shot me a look, most likely at the prospect of driving through Columbus Circle at rush hour, but nodded, taking Fifty-seventh toward Broadway.

“No sex in cab,” he said, quieter this time.

I turned to Sara. “I mentioned I’d met a woman, whom I was f**king quite happily. I may have also mentioned this woman was unlike other women I know.”

Sara tugged at my zipper, deftly pulled my c**k out, and gave me a rough squeeze. A strange warmth spread up my spine as I registered at the same time as I hardened that she was learning how to touch me quite familiarly.

“How am I different?” Leaning into me, she sucked on my ear and then whispered, “Other women don’t get you off in cabs?”

I stared at her, wondering who this woman really was; this fresh, innocent, and highly fuckable woman who barely needed anything from me other than a good shag. Was she playing me? Was this real?

Or would she break after a few orgasms, admit she didn’t like the arrangement anymore, tell me she wanted more?

Most likely. But as I looked at her—at her red pout and giant brown eyes so playful and filthy—no way was I going to give her up before she made me.

“I didn’t tell him much actually. Serious conversations with Will always devolve into insults about penis size.”

“Well, then I’m sure you went easy on him. ‘I refuse to enter a battle of wits with an unarmed man,’ ” she said, giggling into my neck and beginning to stroke me.

“Truly,” I whispered, turning to kiss her. “Though I’ll be honest: I have no idea how big his dick really is.”

“Well, if you want to know, I’m happy to find out and tell you all about it.”

I laughed, growling into her mouth, “It’s refreshing to have a chat with a woman who doesn’t feel the need to show off her intelligence all the time.”

“No sex,” the cabbie growled, glaring at us in the rearview mirror.

I raised my hands and grinned at him. “I’m not touching her, mate.”

He seemed to decide to ignore us, turning up the talk radio and rolling down the window to let in the late afternoon breeze and the incessant city noises. Sara’s hand began to slowly stroke up, twisting at the top, and back down.

“I’d suck you off if I didn’t think he’d notice,” she whispered. “I mean, you deserve the best. At least you’re beautiful on the inside, Max. Right where it counts.”

I burst into laughter, pressing my face into her neck to stifle the groan that followed when she focused her efforts on my tip. “Fuck, that feels good. A little faster, love. Can you?”

She faltered at the term of endearment, and then turned her face to suck on my jaw, her fist tight and fast over my cock. She glanced at the cabdriver but he was absorbed in the radio program and yelling at the traffic in front of us.

I nodded, smiling against her cheek. “I never would have guessed you’d be so good at this.”

Her laughter vibrated along my neck and beneath my skin. I’d never heard her make such a goofy, indelicate sound. Another one of her walls I’d penetrated. Victory surged warm and sharp in my chest, and for a brief pulse I wanted to yell out the window that she was letting me in.

She licked up the side of my neck, nibbled my lower lip. “You have the most perfect cock,” she told me. “You’re making me want you on a Tuesday.”

“Fuck,” I groaned. And as I came, jaw clenched, fists tight at my sides, I realized that Sara, too, had made me forget to act like a bloody arse about the whole thing and stop worrying about whether she was f**king with my head.

Sara reached into her bag, fished out a tissue, and wiped off her hand while it was still inside her purse, giving me a goofy grin and hiding the evidence from our cabbie. And then she leaned forward, and kissed me so sweetly it made me want to throw her down on the car seat and make her come against my tongue just to hear her little hoarse cries.

I learned something else about Sara in that expression: her first instinct—and the one she continually battled—was to please me.

But then we pulled up a block away from my apartment and she sat back, smiling pleasantly. “Is this where you’re getting out?”

I hesitated, wondering if she’d want to come with me. “I suppose, unless you’d like—”

Her voice was quiet, which I realized was her attempt at easing the harshness of her words: “I’ll see you Friday, Max.”

We were done. I was excused.

“Are we going to talk about it today?”

I turned from where I stood on the ladder and looked at Chloe. She held a paintbrush at her hip, and leveled her stare at me.

She narrowed her eyes. “About the breakup. About your sudden move. About Andy and this mystery man you’re now f**king, and about how different your life is now from how it was only two months ago?”

I plastered a smile on my face. “Oh, that? What’s there to say?”

She laughed, but then wiped a delicate wrist across her forehead, leaving a faint smudge of paint. Bennett was out of town on business and Chloe was determined to get the entire interior of their massive apartment painted while he was unable to micromanage the operation. She looked exhausted.

“Why didn’t you just hire someone to do all of this?” I asked, looking around. “Lord knows you can afford it.”

“Because I’m a control freak,” she said. “And stop trying to change the subject. Look, I know how that relationship slowly dragged you down, but I feel weird that I don’t know more about the real him. Bennett knew Andy through city events, but I never knew him that well, and—”

“Because,” I said, interrupting her, “you would have seen right through him. Just like Bennett did.” The familiar pang ricocheted through my stomach at the mere thought of Andy.

Chloe started to say something but I held up my hand.

“Come on. I know Bennett was wary of Andy from day one, even if he didn’t think it was his place to interfere. And I think by the time I met you, even I suspected Andy was cheating. I didn’t want him to be around you, where you’d be able to see what I’d sunk to so blatantly.”

Her eyes turned down at the corners, and I realized before she even said it what she was going to say. “Sweetie, I didn’t need to know him personally to know he was a cheating dirtbag. No one did. The only thing that helped him look decent was you.”

I swallowed a few times, willing the tears back. “Do you think it says something about me, like I’m stupid or blind to have spent so many years with him?”

I thought back to our first anniversary dinner at Everest, and how he arrived a half hour late and smelled strongly of perfume. Such a cliché. When I’d asked him if he’d been with someone else he’d said, “Baby, when I’m not with you, I’m always with someone else. It’s just how my life is. But I’m here now.”

I’d assumed he meant he was always working when he was away from me. But in truth, it was probably the only time he’d been honest with me about other women.

“No,” Chloe said, shaking her head. “You were young; he must have seemed unreal to you when you met. He’s charming as hell, Sara, that was for sure. But it’s not healthy to change everything so fast and not talk about it. Are you really okay?”

I stared at the paintbrush in my hand and then dropped it back in the can. “No.”

“Maybe a little. I wish I’d left and he’d realized how he messed up. It would be nice to hear him grovel. But the truth is, I probably wouldn’t answer, anyway. I would never go back to him.”

“What did he do when you told him you were leaving?”

“Yelled. Threatened.” I looked out the window and remembered Andy’s face contorted in rage. His anger used to make me calmer, but that last time it made something in me snap. “He threw my clothes onto the street. Pushed me out the door.”

Chloe surprised me by dropping her paintbrush on the plastic tarp without even bothering to look where it landed. She walked over and wrapped me in a tight hug. “You could ruin him.”

“I suspect he’ll do that himself eventually. I just wanted out.” I smiled against her shoulder. “And I had the family attorney evict him. I think the papers liked that one. It was my damn house, remember?”

It had been good to get it all out. Chloe wasn’t a stranger to heartbreak, and the entire time we talked about Andy, I remembered how a little over a year ago, when she’d abruptly left Ryan Media, she’d sequestered herself in her apartment and hadn’t been in contact for a week. When she finally called, she told me everything that happened between her and Bennett—how they’d started off their secret fling, and how she’d decided that she needed to leave him.

It had been a revelatory moment for me, but in the completely wrong way. Her decision to leave her job and potentially sacrifice her relationship only strengthened my resolve to see things through with Andy. I’d wanted to work hard enough on it for both of us. The thing is, Bennett was the right guy for Chloe to work things out with. Andy would never have been that for me, not really.

Thinking about my ex always left me with a hangover, but talking about him coiled a lead ball in my gut that wouldn’t seem to disappear no matter how many rooms I helped Chloe paint or how many miles I ran along the river later that day.

For a brief moment I considered calling Max, but the answer to one man problem was never to create another. He might have wanted dinner the other night, but it wasn’t because he wanted depth. He wasn’t going to be that guy, either.

Monday and Tuesday flew by. Wednesday was a wall of meetings with new clients, and it felt like every minute ticked by in the span of a year. Thursday was worse in a completely opposite way: Chloe and Bennett left to take a long weekend over the Fourth of July holiday, and George went home to Chicago. The offices grew silent, and although we were a booming business, my entire team had been strangely too efficient. I had nothing to do and all around me the halls echoed.

Why am I here, I texted Chloe, not even expecting an answer.

I asked you the same thing before I left yesterday.

My footsteps echo in the hallway when I get more coffee. I’ve had enough coffee now to stay awake for a month.

So text your beautiful stranger. Booty call. Use that energy for something useful.

It doesn’t work that way.

What does that mean? How does it work??

I slipped my phone back in my purse and sighed, staring out the window. I hadn’t told Chloe anything else about the arrangement with my stranger, but I could see her patience wearing thin. Thankfully she wasn’t in town; I could put my phone away and keep the secret all mine, at least for a few more days.

New York weather in June was beautiful, but the moment July arrived it was unbearable. I began to feel like I never got away from the mazes of high-rises and more than a little like I was being baked in a brick oven. For the first time since I’d moved, I missed home. I missed the wind off the lake, tunnels of air so strong they would push you backward as you walked. I missed the green sky of summer storms and outlasting them at my parents’ house, hunkered down in the basement for hours playing pinball with my dad.

The best part of being in Manhattan, however, was how I could just walk aimlessly for a while and randomly stumble upon something interesting. This city had everything: yakisoba delivered at three in the morning, men who found warehouses full of mirrors for sexual escapades, and pinball in a bar in walking distance from my corporate office. When I saw the hint of the machine’s lights through the window, I faltered, feeling like the city had given me precisely what I needed.

Maybe more times than I really gave it credit for.

I ducked into the dark building, inhaling the familiar smell of popcorn and old beer. In the middle of a sunny Thursday, the bar was dark enough to make me feel like it was midnight outside, that everyone else was sleeping or in here, drinking and playing pool. The machine up front that I’d seen was a newer one, with polished levers and emo punk music I had no interest in. But in the back corner stood an older model with KISS in all of their painted-faces glory, and Gene Simmons’s mouth open, tongue darted down.

I made change for several dollars at the bar, ordered a beer, and made my way through the small crowd of people to the game in the back.

My father had been a collector. When I was five and wanted a puppy, he got me a Dalmatian, and then another, and then somehow we ended up with a huge house full of deaf dogs barking at each other.

Then there were classic Corvairs, mostly bent-up frames. Dad rented a garage for those.