I stared at his arm, his dress shirt peeking out from his suit jacket, and could feel him watching my face, watching every single breath I took, every gasp and every time I bit my lip to keep from making a sound. His confident, firm touch built a heavy ache between my legs and I pushed into him, wanting more, and harder somehow. In the distance a dish crashed to the floor, but Max quietly moaning my name immediately eclipsed the sound.
Our waiter emerged from the kitchen and headed toward us.
“Look at you,” Max said, leaning to kiss my neck just below my ear. His breath was warm on my skin, and I was torn between focusing on his touch and fretting about the man walking across the room toward our table. The combination of his touch and the fear of being caught almost made me fall to pieces.
As if he knew this, Max murmured, “No one in here knows you’re about to come all over my hand.”
I expected him to stop, to put his hands on the table, but Max simply stilled his thumb as the waiter stopped at our table, and refilled his water. Ice clinked against the glass, and a drop of condensation slid from the rim to the tablecloth, fanning out and growing larger and larger as more water fell. It was as if the glass were melting along with me. From above the table, it looked like Max had simply reached across his body and put his hand on my leg. He slid his thumb across my cl*tonce, and I gasped.
“Your food should be out in just a minute,” the waiter said with a bland smile.
Max pressed his thumb hard into my cl*tand I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from crying out. He smiled up at the waiter. “Thank you.”
The waiter turned and walked away and when Max looked at me, with such barely concealed mischief, dizzying relief mixed with a vague stab of disappointment, and I felt myself fully melt in his hands.
“That’s it,” he whispered, rocking his palm against me as he slipped a third finger inside. With this, he stretched me to the blissful edge of pain and I felt indecent, like I was doing something irrevocably filthy, but he just watched me crave more of it all. “Oh, fuck, Sara. That’s it.”
My nails dug into the leather cushion below me, and he risked being noticed by beginning to pump his fingers, his shoulders rocking. My head fell back against the booth and I let out the smallest moan, completely disproportionate to the shaking cl**ax that tore through my body.
“Oh God,” I groaned as he prolonged it with his long fingers pushing even deeper. I turned to press my face into the shoulder of his suit to stifle my cry.
He slowed, and stilled, before kissing my temple, and then pulled his fingers out. Lifting his hand from under the table, he pressed his fingers to his mouth once, briefly, before wiping them on his napkin.
And then he licked his lips, watching me. “Your tongue tastes like candy, but your pu**y tastes even better.” He leaned in and kissed me deeply. “I want it to be my c**k inside you next time.”
Jesus, who was this woman possessing my brain? Because I wanted it, too. Even after what he’d just given me, I wanted to climb into his lap and take all of him inside.
Before that line of thinking could get me into even more trouble, my phone buzzed in my purse. I pulled it out: Bennett.
BACK FROM MY MEETING. LET’S SIT DOWN AT 2.
The clock on my phone read one forty-five. “I have to go.”
“We’re establishing a pattern here, Sara. You come, you go.”
I offered him a half-smile, half-wince, but when the waiter came back with our food, I slid a twenty onto the table and asked him to put mine in a to-go container.
“I’d like your number,” Max said, stuffing the money back in my purse.
I had no idea how this had unraveled. Okay, that was a lie, I knew exactly how it had unraveled—he’d started whispering in that hot accent and then fingered me—but I knew better than to let myself get involved with Max. For one, he was a player, and in no way did I want to go down that road again. And two, my job. It had to come first.
“I will eventually get it from Ben, you know. We go way back.”
“Bennett won’t give it to you without my permission. Very few people want to punch my ex more than I do, but Bennett is one of them.” I kissed Max’s jaw, relished the sharp stubble, and got up. “Thanks for the appetizer. Delete the video.”
“I’ll consider it if you go out with me again,” he answered, eyes shining with amusement.
I exited and crossed back over Fifth, biting back a smile.
Three days after I’d given her an orgasm for lunch I wasn’t any less obsessed.
“So who are you bringing tonight?” Will asked absently, eyes on the folded copy of the Times in his hand.
The drive back to the office from the tailor had been silent up to this point, broken only by the sound of the engine and the occasional car horn or shout from the street. I continued to go over the files I’d brought—photographs from a new exhibit in Queens—as I answered, “Going solo, actually.”
He looked up at me. “You don’t have a date?”
“No.” I glanced over just in time to see his eyebrows inch up in surprise. “What?”
“How long have we known each other, Max?”
“And in all that time, have you ever attended a social function without a date?”
“Perhaps we could check Page Six. I bet they’d know,” he deadpanned.
“It’s unusual, that’s all. It’s our biggest event of the year and you don’t have a date.”
He laughed. “Are you serious with me right now? ‘Who is Max Stella taking?’ is one of the first things people ask when there’s a party like this.”
“I like how you play me up as the skirt-chasing wolf in contrast to you, all upstanding and virtuous.”
“Oh, I never said anything about being virtuous,” he said over the top of his paper. “I’m simply suggesting that people might wonder if you’re meeting someone there, that’s all.”
I turned back to my files as I considered this. In truth, I hadn’t made a date for the fund-raiser. I hadn’t made a date because I wasn’t interested in taking anyone.
Which was weird. Maybe Will was right. Ever since I’d met Sara, other women seemed predictable and tame.
Will was also right when he said the annual Stella & Sumner Charity Gala was our biggest event of the summer. It was held at the Museum of Modern Art, and everyone who was anyone in New York would be in attendance. With dancing, dinner, and the silent auction that followed, we managed to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a pediatric cancer foundation every year.
The dreary sky of the afternoon had cleared, but the smell of a storm still hung in the air when my car stopped at the barricades in front of the museum. A valet opened my door and I climbed out, fastening the button of my tuxedo jacket as I stood. My name was called from several directions, the pop and flash of cameras erupting like a small lightning storm within the press area.
“Any truth to the rumor of a Smithsonian endowment?”
I smiled and posed for pictures, waving as I made my way inside. I felt like I was on autopilot, glad that I’d kept the press from inside the event tonight. I simply didn’t have the energy.
Guests were directed through the museum and out to the garden, where the majority of the party would be held, where crowds of well-dressed people mingled while sipping cocktails and champagne, discussing money and each other and whoever happened to be the gossip of the day. A series of white tents had been erected, each of them lit from below by pools of brightly colored light. An orchestra sat at one end of the garden, a DJ booth for the after party at the other.
The air was heavy and humid, and the night clung to my skin almost uncomfortably. I crossed to a line of large tables dressed in white and dripping in crystal. Reaching for a flute of champagne, I felt someone come near beside me.
I blinked over to see Bennett standing next to me.
“It’s bloody hot out here, is what it is,” I said, nodding toward the drink he held in each hand. “Here with your Chloe, I assume.”
“Flying solo tonight,” I answered. “Hosting duties and what have you.”
Bennett laughed, bringing his glass to his lips. He didn’t comment but it was impossible to miss the way his eyes shifted over my shoulder.
I turned just in time to see Chloe and Sara walking back from the restroom. Sara looked stunning in a light green gown with beading covering the bodice and trickling into the skirt. Silver stilettos peeked out beneath the hem of her dress.
It took a moment before I could speak.
“She’s here with someone, Max.”
I turned and gaped at Bennett before looking around our immediate vicinity to try to spot who she might have come with. “She is? Who?”
“Christ, I’m kidding. Look at your face.” He scratched his jaw and waved casually at someone across the room and I legitimately wanted to punch him.
“Max,” he said, voice low and serious now. “Sara is Chloe’s best friend and an important member of my team. I trust your business sense more than I trust almost anyone’s, but your history with women is not exactly pristine. I’m the last person to point fingers, trust me, but don’t do anything stupid.”
“Calm down. It’s not as if I’m planning to drag her off for a romp in the coat closet or anything.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” he said with a smile, draining his glass.
Bennett looked almost relieved as I left him at the table, and for the briefest of moments, I felt almost guilty for lying to him. The truth was that while I did want to drag Sara off to the nearest coat closet, I also wanted a moment to just watch her.
I made my way across the garden, shaking a few hands and thanking others for their donations, keeping Sara in my peripheral vision as I went. I stopped to the side of the large Lachaise nude sculpture and watched her from a distance, captivated by how beautiful she looked tonight.
Her gown was long and fitted, displaying every curve perfectly and emphasizing some of my favorite ones.
I remembered the way she’d looked that night on the dance floor, wild in her too-short dress and too-high shoes, and compared that to the sophisticated woman here tonight. I could tell even then that what we’d done had been out of character for her. But I don’t think I’d understood exactly how much until tonight. She was poised and delicate . . . though, still, there was something else, some neglected recklessness beneath her prim exterior.
My eyes moved along the line of her throat and across her collarbone, and I wondered what she was wearing under her gown. I wondered what had brought forth the woman who had f**ked me against a wall in a club full of people.
I was fairly certain Bennett hadn’t been joking when he’d suggested I stay away from Sara. Or that his fiancée would have his balls—and mine, too—if she found out. Bennett was obviously aware that I had more than a casual interest in Sara, but he was tight as a vault and, despite his protests, would never interfere if this were what Sara wanted.
But Chloe—she was a different matter altogether. She seemed too smart, her gaze too knowing. I didn’t know much about the future Mrs. Ryan, but I was sure that if Bennett had finally met his match, I did not want to be on her bad side.
And despite that, I was quite enjoying this little game Sara and I seemed to be playing.
When the orchestra shifted into a slower song, I watched as a few people excused themselves from their circles and ventured out onto the dance floor. I walked around the edge of the garden, stepping behind Sara and tapping her on one bare shoulder.
She turned, her smile slipping from her face when she saw me.
“Well, hello to you, too,” I said.
Sara took a long sip from her champagne flute before addressing me. “How are you tonight, Mr. Stella?”
Mr. Stella, was it? I smiled. “I see you’ve done a little checking up on me. I must have made quite an impression.”
She returned a polite smile. “A quick Google search gives a girl plenty of information.”
“Hasn’t anyone ever told you the Internet is full of rumor and falsehood?” I stepped closer, brushing the backs of my fingers along her arm. It was soft and smooth, and I noted the way goose bumps spread along her skin. “You look stunning tonight, by the way.”
She met my eyes, sizing me up. Even as she put a little distance between us, she murmured, “You don’t look so bad yourself.”
“It would be a shame for both of us to have gotten all dressed up and not share a dance. Wouldn’t you agree?” Sara glanced around the garden and I added, “Just a dance, Petal.”
She emptied her glass and set it on the tray of a passing waiter. “Just a dance.”
Placing my hand on the small of her back, I guided her to a dimly lit corner of the dance floor.
“I enjoyed our lunch the other day,” I said, taking her in my arms. “Perhaps we could do it again. Maybe with a slightly different menu?”
She smirked, and looked past me.