Or, read chapter five after the jump!
Neil Elwood was kissing me, and it was every bit as good as my highly detailed memories. His soft lips coaxed mine apart. His tongue swept in and darted along the edges of my teeth. He held me with a splayed hand at my lower back, an arm around my shoulders. Pulled up tight to his chest, I gripped the lapels of his black wool coat and held on. There was little else I could do. It was like the man exuded some kind of pheromone that made my central nervous system go offline. Standing without wobbling was not an option. It didn't help that it had been so long since the last time I'd been kissed, I'd forgotten how to do it properly, and I didn’t remember to breathe. I tore our mouths apart and, with a noisy gulp of air, inhaled the scent of him, the faint trace of his cologne and the wooden cask ghost of whiskey.
And that was my clue. "Have you been drinking?"
"Quite a lot," he admitted sheepishly. "Otherwise I wouldn't have had the courage to come over here."
"And when the hangover hits you, you'll probably regret that you had the courage." I pressed my palms to his chest and pushed back a step. "As romantic and like-the-movies as you may have imagined this whole scenario, you've jerked me around so much in the last twenty-four hours that I don't even know how to respond."
Apparently, drunken honesty was contagious. And thank god for that, because I could have easily been swept along in what he wanted, without a single thought to the consequences. That made Neil a very dangerous man for me to be around.
He looked crestfallen. "You're right. I shouldn't have... I just wasn't sure how we'd left it. And I would like, very much, to see if there's anything between us."
"I think it's pretty obvious that there is." There was no point in denying that anymore. "But I’m not sure it’s going to work.”
"It isn't that I'm looking for a serious relationship," he continued, watching me warily. I wondered if he thought he hurt my feelings by not holding onto some tortured, unrequited love for me.
I had to put that notion to bed, right away. Christ, had I just thought about bed? No, serious relationships, that’s what we were discussing. Keep it together, Scaife. You can’t be stupid about this.
"I’m not in the market for anything serious, either. At least not right now. Not for a while." It wasn't a ploy; having a boyfriend was fairly low on my list of priorities. "I just got a life of my own two years ago, when I graduated college. I'm not ready to share it with anyone else."
He smiled with... was that admiration? I didn't think I'd said anything all that admirable, just honest.
"That sounds fair. But earlier today you suggested we might see each other casually." How did he manage to sound so reasonable and smart while being stinking drunk? It probably had a lot to do with the accent. He could have come in here and said he was turning Porteras into a car magazine, and I would have praised his vision, because he sounded so cultured and posh.
God, I could be so stereotypically American sometimes.
I shrugged. "That was before I really thought about the job you offered me. I would love to take the position, but the last thing I need is to have people saying I got a promotion because I slept with the boss."
"That would be a problem, if we were indiscreet. Do you plan on broadcasting all of our sexual activities to the entire office?" He raised an eyebrow.
"No, of course not." I tried to think of a time I'd ever... Oh, fine. I'm caught. "I do occasionally discuss private matters with one of my work friends."
"So do I, which is exactly why I'm here." He motioned to the couch. "Do you mind if we -"
"Oh, yeah, sorry." I covered my eyes with one hand, but it didn't do much to hide my embarrassment. "I'm sorry, I don't entertain much."
"On the contrary, you entertain me immensely." He sat on the couch and frowned as he picked up the hemostat Holli used as a roach clip. The burned down end of a healthy sized joint was still clamped tightly in the pinchers.
I grabbed it from his hand and in my panic, tossed it over my shoulder to clatter on the kitchenette floor. "It's my roommate's," I explained quickly. "I would never -"
"Don't be so jumpy, I'm not here to inform on you." He patted the sofa beside him, but I didn't sit there. I sat on the arm of the easy chair, well out of the field of his sexual magnetism.
Who was I kidding? He could be in Finland right now, and my girl parts would still be all achey at the thought of him. Just the fact that he’d said “our sexual activities” had sent my pulse due south.
"Sorry, I thought I might have shocked you." Why had I said that? Maybe explaining further would make things better. "You know, different generation and all."
Explaining further never made awkwardness better. I should have known that by now.
"Yes, terribly shocking," he mockingly agreed. "Since youth and recreational drug use were invented only five years ago, I've obviously never been exposed to either."
My face flamed with embarrassment. "Did you come over here just to tease me?"
His expression softened into one of remorse at hurting my feelings. "I think it's quite obvious that I came over here because I'm still attracted to you. I've thought of you every day. I may have said that before, but it bears repeating. If I hadn't stolen your plane ticket - and let me express again how very sorry I am about that, in hindsight -"
"Forgiven," I interrupted him. The sudden shift in his mood seemed to have less to do with alcohol than with me, and I was flattered and slightly overwhelmed. But something he'd said before wriggled in my brain. "You said you talked to a work colleague, and that's why you're here?"
"Rudy," he admitted. "I'm sorry, I know he works with you, but he's been my best friend for years. I suppose it does change the dynamic, now that he's working for my company… but I needed to speak to someone. He’s the only person in my life who knows about you, how we met. And he's the only person in New York I trust in personal matters. There was a bit of a custody battle, and I lost most of my friends here."
I frowned. "I thought your daughter was twenty-four."
"Custody of the friends." He smiled sadly. "Acquaintances, really. I spend a lot of my time working. Elizabeth made most of our connections here through her charity work."
"Ah." I really, really didn't want to talk about his divorce, almost as much as I didn't want to think about him being lonely in the city. I remembered the two weeks at NYU before housing had dropped Holli into my lap, how awful and empty they had seemed. I didn't need to sympathize with Neil in that way, because it was just another excuse to get involved with him for a wrong reason. If we were going to do this, we were going to do it right.
I took a breath and carefully considered my response. "I don't know how I feel about you telling... whatever it is you told to Rudy. I have to work with him, too. But if you trust him to keep your secret, I can. You have more to lose in this situation than I do, I think."
Neil shook his head. "This is all going much differently than I expected."
"You expected you'd show up and we'd fuck?" The word sent a jolt of tension through me.
"Can you blame me for trying?" He gave me that half-smile that melted my bones. "I should go. This was an inappropriate visit."
I watched him as he stood and strode toward the door, and my chest tightened. Okay, so he'd let Eye-Rolling Rudy in on our dirty little secret from six years ago. I'd told Holli, hadn't I? And she occasionally worked for the magazine. It might not have been the same level on the indiscretion scale, but if he was feeling even a fraction of the emotional confusion I was suffering from, no wonder he’d needed a sympathetic ear.
Plus, he wasn't looking for a serious relationship. Though conventional wisdom held that I was a slut for wanting sex without a commitment, conventional wisdom could kiss my ass. I loved sex, and finding someone I wanted to have it with, someone who was actually good at it and who didn't want to involve me in their five-year plan, was absurdly difficult in a city of eight million people. Especially when you were holding every available man to the impossible standard of being as amazing as Neil Elwood.
And here he was, the guy who set the bar for my sexual expectations. And he wanted exactly what I wanted.
He stopped, his forehead creased with confusion.
"If you're down for a little extracurricular fun, and this isn't some kind of weird male sexual scavenger hunt wherein you need to fuck your secretary to score points..." My voice trailed off. I had gotten off track somewhere. I inhaled through my nose and straightened my spine. "Then fine. Let's just see each other casually."
"When you say 'see each other'..." he began cautiously.
"I mean have sex. In a friendly, no-strings kind of way." It never crossed my mind to be worried about whether or not he'd think it was slutty of me to want such an arrangement. It was strange, but I felt like I could trust him to be honest with me. Maybe having the kind of sex you have with a person you think you're never going to see again is the way all relationships should start.
"And nothing is going to happen tonight," I stated firmly. It took a lot of self-control not to whimper during that sentence. I'd spent so many years fantasizing about him and only him, and now he was standing right next to me, totally willing to do all the nasty things I'd dreamed of. But I had a strict "no sex with drunk people" policy.
A slow smile tilted his lips, and the naughtiness promised in the expression was enough to make goose bumps stand out on my skin. "Quite right. We've waited six years, there should be nothing to another… twenty-four hours?"
"Twenty-four hours?" I echoed, my heart lodging firmly in my throat. I crossed my arms over my chest, acutely aware of my hard nipples chafing against the thin flannel of my pajamas.
“Twenty-two?” He stepped toward me, his lips still twisted in a wry grin, and looked down his straight, classically handsome nose at me. He didn't touch me, but he stood so close his coat brushed my sleeves. A thrumming, purely sexual energy throbbed between us. If he'd opened his arms, if he'd made any move to embrace me, I would have fallen against him gladly, drunk rule or not. But he didn't. He just gazed down at me thoughtfully, his eyes moving over my features as though he were deciphering an intricate code. "I think six years of wanting you is long enough, Sophie."
Six years of wanting you. He'd wanted me, just like I'd wanted him. Relief and tension at the same time make for a strange sensation. I could think of lots of good reasons not to let him push me up against the wall and fuck me with all my clothes on, and none of them, not even the fact that I was wearing embarrassing pajamas, seemed good enough.
My tongue darted out to wet my lips, and I glanced up. It was easier to make eye contact when I could be sarcastic and guarded. "Well, now that all that's out of the way... I would offer you a drink, but I think you've had enough."
"No, I have a car waiting." He leaned down, his lips a fraction of a millimeter from mine. "I'll see you tomorrow, with further instructions."
He kissed me, far too briefly, and left.
I stood by the door for a long time, wondering what exactly had just happened. At the moment, it seemed like I was getting what I'd hoped for, after six long years of not hoping very much. At the same time, I'd just agreed to have sex with my boss, again.
Holli's bedroom door opened a crack. "Is it safe to come out?"
"I have no idea." I walked on numb legs to the couch and dropped onto it. I put a couple fingertips to my bottom lip and smoothed over it slowly. I could still feel him there, a relentless tingle that echoed all the way down to my very wet panties.
"I peeked. Don’t be mad.” She padded into the living room. “In person, he just looks like a normal... person." She shrugged.
"Okay, clearly you've taken your contacts out, because he's gorgeous." We never, ever agreed on men, mostly because when Holli was into guys, they looked like they'd just run away from their Disney Channel contracts.
"Yeah, I guess. If you're into the daddy thing." She shrugged.
It takes different strokes, I guess. "He could have been horrifically scarred in a chemical fire, and it wouldn't matter. He just... does something to me."
"Yeah, naughty, spanky things." Holli's eyes glittered with lascivious enthusiasm. "What do you think he's going to do to you this time?"
"If I stopped and thought about it, I wouldn't be able to sleep tonight." I probably still wouldn't. How was I going to get through the night and the next day knowing that I was about to repeat the most fantastic sex of my life?
God, I hoped I had a fresh set of batteries.
* * * *
My eyes popped open before the alarm went off. I'd never been so excited to get to work in my entire life. Not even on my first day. Not even when Madonna came in to have lunch with Gabriella last year.
I wondered if Neil would appreciate the magnitude of rating higher than Madonna, and covered my face with my pillow, squealing. I knew had to get myself under control. If I spent all day swooning over the fact that Neil and I were going to hook up, I wouldn't bring my A-game. I wasn’t about to drop the ball within days of a huge, surprise take over by new employers.
I won't bore you with the details of my morning commute, the way the details of my morning commute bored me. Instead, I'll just say that I got to work and was at my desk, periodically checking the time, trying to control my hormones, which were in full-on rage mode before Neil even arrived.
He got to the office at eight-thirty, and greeted me casually as he handed over his coat. Strangely, knowing that we were going to have sex soon removed a lot of the awkwardness between us, and we were able to function like two normal human beings. Two normal, incredibly horny human beings. I felt confident that I could speak for both of us on that matter, because his hand brushed the small of my back as I moved to hang up his coat, and I caught his eyes lingering on my backside when I turned.
"You can't do that," I reminded him. "We'll get found out. Also, it's in the employee handbook, under 'sexual harassment policy.' The words 'zero tolerance' are mentioned."
"Point taken," he said dryly. "I have six people coming in this morning to throw shoes and scream at me”
"Coffee and water for six. No problem." Of course, I already knew about the shoe meeting, but he didn't need to know that. Before I took over the beauty editor job, I wanted to make myself look indispensable. I found it never hurt to leave on a high note, as evidenced by my college transcripts. “Do you need me to sit in and take notes?”
"Yes, please do. Oh, and before I forget..." Neil set his black leather messenger bag on my desk and lifted the flap. He pulled out an iPad in a sleek black cover and handed it over to me. "Start with the document labeled, 'Instructions.' And you'll need this."
My eyes widened as he pulled a slender card free from his wallet. He held it between two fingers, offering it to me. "The name of the hotel and the room number are listed in the document. Unless this evening is inconvenient for you?"
I know for a fact he saw my hand shaking when I took the key card from him. The corner of his mouth twitched. He could tell I was dying for him. Judging by his ruthless efficiency in setting up our "date," I had to surmise he was as desperate for me as I was for him.
Turning the card over in my hand, I glanced at it with feigned disinterest before slowly pushing it into the unbuttoned top of my black silk shirt. I knew he could see the slightly darker outline of my black lace bra beneath, and I took my time slipping the flimsy key into the cup of my bra.
He chuckled and shook his head.
Only when the door to his office had clicked safely closed behind him did I dare to lift the cover on the tablet and press the power button. The document titled "Instructions" sat on a nearly empty desktop, and I opened it, my gaze flickering nervously to his door.
The text of the instructions document was a simple note, addressed to me:
This key belongs to the W hotel on Lexington Ave. Meet me in the "Wow" suite.
The "Wow" suite? I resisted the temptation to Google and threw myself into work. I had hoped his instructions would have been a bit more explicit. Some clue as to what kind of night he was expecting, what he wanted to do to me... anything. The fact that he denied me even that small pleasure maddened and distracted me. That was probably the point. Maybe he was under the impression that I was still a naive college student, but I was sure I could find some way to torment him in return.
A wicked idea sprang to my mind, aided by the memory of his voice in my ear, my hands guiding his. There had been a mirror in our hotel room six years ago, and I'd sat on his lap at the edge of the bed, both of us watching as I pushed his fingers in tight circles over my clitoris. My face grew hot as I remembered the sight of his cock stretching me, the sound of my slick flesh moving under his hands as I gasped and wriggled on him.
“Look at how beautiful you are,” he had whispered against my jaw, his gaze meeting mine in the mirror. “Never be timid about your own pleasure. Don’t be ashamed to come.”
That image of my own passion, and the hungry way he'd watched me using his fingers to get myself off, were seared into my mind.
Yeah, I could definitely do something with that.
The workday passed at such a sluggish pace, I thought for sure that time had slowed down specifically to cock block me. I sat through the shoe meeting, where no one actually threw any shoes at Neil, though Rudy looked like he was getting close when they clashed over a Manolo. Rudy loved the stacked heel and red-and-black color scheme. When Neil said it looked like a clown shoe, it seemed like some serious Real Housewives throw down shit was about to start. But in the end, Neil made a point regarding the resemblance to a piece from the previous season, and Rudy had to concede. I think Rudy was as surprised as I was at Neil's familiarity with fashion. Though his company owned a men's fashion magazine, as well, I hadn't realized how hands-on his involvement must have been, for him to fill Gabriella's role at Porteras.
It was strangely easy to sit through the meeting without having sexy thoughts. Well, without too many. I was routinely distracted by the sight of Neil's big hands on the delicate, feminine shoes, turning them this way and that. I thought of him sliding such an item off my foot, his hand skimming up my calf, under my skirt - but I cared more about the magazine than my libido, so I kept that kind of daydreaming to a minimum.
Neil at work was an entirely different creature that I expected. He had a good eye for design, but an even better talent for listening as the fashion team presented each piece and explained why they thought it should make the issue. He asked questions, occasionally dictated a note to me, and by the time the meeting was over I realized I didn't have that queasy, on edge feeling in my stomach I used to get when sitting in on these things with Gabriella. Working for her was supposed to have been a learning experience, but it was difficult to learn from someone when you were constantly monitoring your behavior and schooling a blank facial expression because you were terrified of saying or doing something unfavorable.
After the meeting, while Neil was away at lunch, I sent a quick text to Holli: Seeing Neil after work. Will be late. Don't worry.
She replied lightning-fast: Awwwwwww yeah. Get you some!
While I was typing a snarky reply, another text popped up, this one from Jake. "Going out with some of A's friends tonight. Single guys, interested?"
Oh, Jake. We'd broken office sexual harassment policies time and again by bouncing romantic ideas off each other. When he wanted to know which vibrator his girlfriend, Amanda, would like best, he'd come to me. When I couldn't figure out why my ex-somewhat-steady-sex-partner couldn't get off with me on top, he'd drawn me all sorts of diagrams on the backs of discarded photo proofs. Sometimes it was awesome having a platonic straight guy friend. Other times, like now, when he was considering asking his girlfriend to move in with him, he could project like, well, a projector. Ever since he'd gotten serious about Amanda, he'd wanted to fix me up with Mr. Right. I was certain he'd already planned our double dates, with just an empty gray "insert Sophie's husband" space where my future spouse could be slotted in.
I sighed and dialed his number.
"Jake." He always answered that way, even though I'd pointed out how douchey it sounded.
"Hey, I'm out for tonight. I'm meeting a guy for sex in a hotel room." I added the last bit in the hopes he would take the hint that I wasn’t looking for a Prince Charming right now.
"And for that you'd pass up meeting the guy who could be the guy of your dreams?" He exhaled into the phone speaker in frustration. "Are you sure you're not interested? One of them is a Kennedy."
"Oh yeah, because that's a real incentive.” I snorted. “I've always wanted to die under mysterious circumstances in my thirties."
"It sounds like you're trying to do die under mysterious circumstances in your twenties," Jake scolded. "This guy... he's not a stranger, right? You're not about to be murdered in a hotel room?"
"No, it's someone I trust." Leave it to Jake to turn my love life into an episode of Dexter. Not that I didn't appreciate his concern. I just wished that when people were concerned for me, they gave me credit for having a functioning brain.
"Well, have fun." The resignation in his voice made it clear that he would be looking for my face on the news.
"You too. And if you hear of a grisly murder at the W, feel free to tell my mutilated body, 'I told you so.'"
After we hung up, I made a mental list of what I had to accomplish between the time I got out of work and the time I was supposed to be showing up at the hotel. I texted Holli and asked her to bring by my new black dress with the plunging v-neckline and kimono sleeves. The thing barely covered my ass, it was so short, but since covering my ass wasn't the point, I didn't worry too much.
At six o'clock, I knocked on the door to Neil's office. "It's Sophie."
"Come in," he called, and I was relieved to find him alone inside.
"Is there anything else you needed me for?"
He smiled, but he looked tired, and I got the horrible feeling that didn't bode well for our evening. His sleeves were rolled back, his elbows leaning on glossy photographs spread out over his desk. He checked his watch distractedly. I was almost afraid he would cancel, but when he looked up, his gaze caught mine with heated intensity. "No, I'm sure I can get by, if you have somewhere... interesting to be?"
"I do." I cleared my throat. "And do you have somewhere interesting to be?"
“Oh, I think I’ll find some way to entertain myself.” A slow grin spread across his face.
I smiled and turned for the door, stopping to add, "Then I guess I'll see you in the morning."
"I very much hope so." The prospect seemed to energize him, at least, even if he dropped the pretense of our verbal game. "Go on. I should be there by eight."
I paused, the tip of my tongue pressed against my front teeth as I considered saying anything else. But it was better just to leave it. I took the garment bag Holli had dropped off, pulled on my coat, and headed to the W.