My mother always told me to find a woman who would be my equal in every way.
“Don’t let yourself fall for someone who’ll put your world before theirs. Fall for the powerhouse who lives as fearlessly as you do. Find the woman who makes you want to be a better man.”
I’d definitely found my equal, the woman who made my life a living hell and lived to antagonize me. A woman whose mouth I wanted to tape shut . . . every bit as much as I wanted to kiss it.
My girlfriend, my former intern, Miss Chloe Mills. Beautiful Bitch.
At least, that’s how I used to see her, back when I was an idiot and blind to how hopelessly in love I was with her. I’d most certainly found the woman who made me want to be a better man; I had fallen for the fearless one. It just so happened that most days I was unable to get more than two minutes alone with her.
My life: finally get the girl, never actually get to see her.
I’d been traveling for the better part of the last two months in search of office space for the Ryan Media Group branch we were setting up in New York. Chloe stayed behind, and while our recent—and rare—weekend together here in Chicago was full of friends, sunshine, and leisure, the time alone with her wasn’t nearly enough. We’d socialized the entire weekend, from morning until well past midnight, stumbling back to my place each night, and would barely manage to get our clothes off before having quiet, sleepy sex.
The truth was, our lovemaking each night—which had grown both more intimate and more wild over time, and allowed us only minimal sleep—still never felt like enough. I kept waiting for it to feel like we were settled, or had established some solid routine. But it never happened. I was in a constant state of longing. And Mondays were the worst. Mondays we had wall-to-wall meetings, and the entire workweek stretched out ahead of me: bleak and Chloeless.
Hearing the familiar cadence of heels clicking on the tile, I looked up from where I stood at the printer waiting for some documents to appear. As if hearing my inner plea, Chloe Mills walked toward me, wearing a slim red wool skirt, a fitted navy sweater, and heels that, quite frankly, didn’t look very safe outside of the bedroom. When I’d left early this morning to prepare for an eight o’clock meeting, the only thing she’d been wearing was a pale beam of light from the sunrise through the bedroom window.
I suppressed my smile, and tried not to look too desperate, but I don’t know why I bothered. She could read my every expression.
“I see you’ve found the magic machine that takes whatever is on your computer screen and puts it on paper,” she called. “In ink.”
I slid my hand into my pants pocket, jiggled some change there, and felt a trickle of adrenaline slip into my veins at her teasing tone and approach. “Actually, I discovered this wonderful contraption my first day here. I just liked the moments of blissful quiet when I’d make you get up and leave the outer office to retrieve my documents.”
She stalked toward me, her smile wide and eyes mischievous. “Asshole.”
Fuck, yes. Come to me, lovely. Ten minutes in the copy room? I could easily make your day in those ten minutes.
“You’re in for a workout tonight,” she whispered as, without slowing her pace, she patted my shoulder and continued past me down the hall.
I stared at her ass as she gave it a little shake, and waited for her to come back and torture me some more. She didn’t. That’s it? That’s all I get? A pat on the shoulder, some verbal foreplay, and an ass-wiggle?
Still, tonight: our first full evening alone together in weeks.
We’d been in love for over a year—and fucking longer than that—and we’d yet to have more than the length of a weekend alone together since San Diego.
I sighed and pulled my papers from the printer tray. We needed a vacation.
Back in my office, I dropped the files on my desk and stared at my computer monitor, which, to my surprise, displayed a mostly empty calendar. I’d pulled insanely long workdays the entire week before just so I could get home to Chloe early, so aside from Payroll grabbing me early this morning, my schedule had remained open. Chloe, however, was clearly busy in her new position.
I missed having her as my intern. I missed bossing her around. I really missed her bossing me around in return.
For the first time in months, I had time to sit in my office and literally do nothing. I closed my eyes and a hundred thoughts filtered past in mere seconds: the view of the empty New York offices just before I’d left for the airport. The prospect of packing up my house. The far preferable prospect of unpacking in a new home with Chloe. And then my brain went down its favorite path: Chloe naked and in every conceivable position.
Which led back to one of my favorite memories of Chloe and me: the morning after her presentation. Due to the heat and tension that came with actually admitting we were no longer hate-fucking but actually interested in something more, we had had one of our biggest arguments ever. I hadn’t seen her in months, so I showed up at her presentation for the scholarship board to watch her nail it. And she did.
Afterward, though, despite everything we’d said upstairs in the boardroom, there was still so much more to say. The reality of our reunion still felt so new, and I hadn’t been sure where we stood.
Once we were on the sidewalk, I stared down at her: at her eyes, and lips, and her neck, which was still a little red from the biting kisses I’d placed there only minutes before. The way she reached up and rubbed her finger over what appeared to be a small hickey pushed an electric reminder from my brain to my cock: this reunion is nice but it’s time to get her home and fuck her into the mattress.
I wasn’t sure we were on the same page about that, though.
Outside in the daylight, she looked like she was about to fall over. Of course she was. Knowing Chloe, she’d probably been preparing and fine-tuning her presentation for the last seventy-two hours straight, no sleep. But I hadn’t seen her in so long—could I keep it together long enough to just let her go home to rest? If she needed to nap, I could just hang out and wait for her to wake up, right? I could lie down near her, reassure myself that she was really here and we were really doing this and just . . . what? Touch her hair?
Holy shit. Had I always been this creepy?
Chloe hitched her computer bag up over her shoulder, and the movement pulled me out of my thoughts. But when I blinked back into focus, I saw that she was staring off into the distance, toward the river.
“You okay?” I asked, ducking to meet her eyes.
She nodded, startling a little as if she’d been caught. “I’m fine, just overwhelmed.”
“A little shell-shocked?”
Her exhausted smile pulled at something tender beneath my ribs, but the way she licked her lips before speaking tugged inside me a bit lower. “I was so sad thinking I wasn’t going to see you today. And this morning, I spent the entire walk between your building and here thinking how weird it was that I was going to be doing this without you, or Elliott, or anyone from Ryan Media. And then you came here, and of course you pissed me off, but you also made me laugh . . .” She tilted her head, studied my face. “The presentation was exactly what I wanted it to be, and then the job offers . . . and you. You told me you love me. You’re here.”
She reached out to press her palm flat to my chest. I knew she could feel my heart slamming against my sternum. “My adrenaline is slowing and now I’m just . . .” She moved her hand away from me and waved it in front of her before it seemed to deflate at her side. “I’m not sure how tonight is going to work.”
How tonight was going to work? I could tell her exactly how it would work. We’d talk until it was dark, and then fuck until the sun came up. I reached for her, slipping my arm around her shoulder. Christ, she felt good.
“Let me worry about all of that. I’ll drive you home.”
This time she shook her head, pulling more fully back into the moment. “It’s okay if you have to go back to work, we can—”
Scowling, I growled, “Don’t be ridiculous. It’s almost four. I’m not going back to work. My car is here and you’re getting in it.”
Her smile turned sharp at the corners. “Bossy Bennett emerges. Now I’m definitely not going with you.”
“Chloe, I’m not kidding. I’m not letting you out of my sight until Christmas.”
She squinted up at the late afternoon June sun. “Christmas? That sounds a little gimp-in-the-basement for my tastes.”
“If you’re not into that, this relationship might not work after all,” I teased.
She laughed, but didn’t answer. Instead, those deep brown eyes stared up at me, unblinking and hard to read.
I felt so out of practice with this, and struggled to hide my frustration.
Placing my hands on her hips, I bent to press a small kiss to the center of her mouth. Fuck, I needed more. “Let’s go. No basements. Just us.”
I cut her off with another kiss, paradoxically relaxed by this tiny disagreement. “My car. Now.”
“You sure you don’t want to hear what I have to say?”
“Absolutely positive. You can talk all you want once I have my face firmly planted between your legs.”
Chloe nodded and followed when I took her hand and gently pulled her toward the parking deck, but she was smiling mysteriously all the while.
The entire drive to her place, she tickled her fingers up and down my thigh, leaned to lick my neck, slid her hand over my cock, and talked about the tiny red panties she put on this morning, needing that little confidence boost.
“Will it shatter your confidence if I tear them off?” I asked, leaning to kiss her at a red light. The car behind me honked just when it was getting good: when her lips were giving way to tiny bites and her sounds filled my mouth and my head and—fuck—my entire chest. I needed to get her naked and beneath me.
In the elevator on the way up to her apartment, it was wild. She was here, holy fuck she was here, and I’d missed her so much; if I had my way, this night was going to last for three days. She pushed her skirt up over her hips, and I lifted her, stepping between her legs and pressing my aching cock into her.
“Going to make you come so many times,” I promised.
I rocked my hips against her and she gasped, whispering, “Okay, but first—”
The elevator dinged and she wiggled herself free, slipping to the floor. With a hesitating look, Chloe smoothed her skirt back down, and walked ahead of me into the hallway and toward her apartment.
My stomach dropped.
I hadn’t been back here since we were apart and I’d conned her security guard into letting me up to talk to her. I’d ended up spending the entire time conversing with the outside of her door instead. I felt strangely anxious. I wanted to only feel relieved at our reunion , not think about everything we’d missed out on in our months apart. To distract myself, I bent low and sucked at the skin beneath her ear and began working on the zipper at the back of her skirt as she fumbled with her key.
She swung the door open, turning to me. “Bennett—” she started, but I pushed her inside and back against the nearest wall, quieting her with my mouth. Fuck, she tasted good, a mix of the lemon water she’d been drinking and that familiar taste she always had: soft mint and softer, hungry lips. My fingers teased at the back of her skirt but I lost my finesse, yanking the zipper down and shoving the fabric to the floor, immediately reaching for her blazer. Why the fuck is she still wearing this goddamn thing? Why is she still wearing anything?
Beneath her deep purple dress shirt, her nipples hardened as I stared, and I reached out to circle one with a fingertip. Her sharp gasp pulled my eyes to hers.
“I missed this. I missed you.”
Her tongue peeked out to wet her lips. “Me, too.”
“Fuck, I love you.”
When I kissed her throat, her chest lifted and fell with quickened breaths, and I wasn’t sure how this was going to go down, how I could possibly slow down. Would I take her here, fast and hard first, or would I carry her to a couch or chair, kneel down, and just taste her? I’d been thinking about all of it for so long—playing out in my head how every scenario would go—and in the moment I felt a little paralyzed by the reality of her here, in the flesh.
I needed it all. I needed to feel her sounds and her skin, lose myself in the comfort of her hand wrapped around me, watch the sweat bead her brow while she rode me, showing me how much she’d missed me, too. I’d see it in the way her rhythm would falter when she got closer, or she would clutch me when I would say her name in that quiet whisper she always liked.
My hands shook as I reached up and carefully slipped her top button free. It registered somewhere in the ever-shrinking evolved portion of my brain that I didn’t want to destroy the buttons on the shirt she’d worn for her thesis defense.
I also wanted to savor this. Savor her.
“Mmm?” I undid another button, ran a finger across the hollow of her throat.
“I love you,” she said, her hands braced on my forearms, eyes wide. My hands faltered, and I lost my breath. “But . . . you’re going to hate what I’m about to tell you.”
I was still stuck on the I love you. My grin felt a little out of control. “What . . . ? Whatever you have to say, I’m sure I won’t hate it.”
She winced, turning to look at the clock on the wall. It was the first time it occurred to me to take a look around her apartment. I stepped back in surprise; her place looked nothing like I expected.
Everything about Chloe had always been impeccable, stylish, current. But her apartment could not be farther from that description. The living room was tidy, but full of worn furniture and things that didn’t look like anything she would own. Everything was brown and tan; the couches looked comfortable but like they were made out of the same material as a stuffed animal. A small collection of wooden owls was clustered on a shelf near a tiny television and, in the kitchen, the clock that she’d glanced at had a big smiling bumblebee on the face with the words “Bee Happy!” in garish bubble letters.
“This . . . is not what I expected.”
Chloe followed my attention around the apartment and then let a loud laugh burst free. It was the same laugh she used to let out before she would verbally eviscerate me. “What would you have expected, Mr. Ryan?”
I shrugged, not wanting to insult her but feeling sincerely curious about this disconnect. “I just expected your place to look a little more like you.”
“What, you don’t like my owls?” she asked, grinning.
“I do, yes, they just—” I started, running a nervous hand into my hair.
“And these couches?” she interrupted. “Don’t you think we could have fun on them?”
“Baby, we could have fun on any surface in this place, I’m just saying I expected your place to be less . . .”
Fuck. Why was I still talking? I looked over at her and she had a hand over her mouth, laughing silently.
“Calm down,” she said. “This was my mom’s apartment. I love it, but you’re right. None of this stuff is mine. When I was in school it just didn’t make sense for me to sell it, or to get new things.”
I took another curious glance around. “You could buy yourself hundred-dollar panties but you didn’t want a new couch?”
“Don’t be such a snob. I didn’t need a new couch. And I frequently needed new panties,” she said quietly, meaningfully.
“Hell yes you did.”
With this perfect reminder, I stepped close to her, resuming my gentle attack on her line of buttons. Pushing her shirt over her shoulders and down her arms, I stared at where she stood in front of me, in only a red lace bra and matching underwear. They were tiny.
“Tell me what you want,” I said, feeling a little desperate as I pushed her hair behind her shoulder so I could suck on her neck, her jaw, her ear. “My cock? My mouth? My hands? Christ, I’m doing it all tonight but where does one start? I haven’t seen you in months and feel like I’m losing my mind.”
I reached for her arm, urging her closer. “Baby, put your hands on me.”
She ran her hands up my neck and cupped my face. I could feel her shaking. “Bennett.”
Only when she said my name like this—like she was shy and maybe even anxious—did I remember she said she had something to tell me other than I love you. Something I wouldn’t like.
“What is it?”
Her eyes were enormous, searching mine and full of apology. “I just finished my defense, and—”
“Oh, shit. I’m such an ass. I should take you to dinner or—”
“—and I promised Julia and Sara that we would go out—”
“—maybe we could get some dinner after I make you come—” I barreled on.
“—for drinks after my presentation—”
“I just need to hear you come once and then we can go. Just give me . . .” I stopped, finally letting her words settle in. “Wait, what? You’re going out with Julia and Sara? Tonight?”
She nodded, eyes tight. “I didn’t know you’d be here. I can’t tell you how much I want to call and cancel. But the thing is, I can’t. Not after how good they’ve been to me the last few months . . . when you and I were . . .”
I groaned, pressing the heel of my hands to my eyes. “Why didn’t you tell me this before I got you naked? Holy shit, how am I supposed to let you go now? I’m going to be hard for hours.”
“I tried to tell you.” To her credit, she looked as frustrated as I felt.
“Do we have time to . . .” I shook my head, looking around as if the answer were buried somewhere in this ancient furniture. “I could probably get us both off in, like, two minutes.”
She laughed. “I’m not sure that’s something to brag about.”
The hell it wasn’t.
Her small gasp of surprise was stolen by my lips as I kissed her, tongue and teeth and not even caring if we only had a few minutes. I could do a few minutes.
I slid my hand over the racing pulse in her throat, between her breasts and lower, down the front of her stomach. I moved lower still, finding that familiar, favorite place where she was warm and slick, and the roof could fall in and I wouldn’t even notice because, God, nothing existed but her and her little sounds and quiet whispers to keep going, keep going.
“Bennett,” she whispered. “Please.”
I reached down for my own pants, and had just started to speak—
And was interrupted by a sharp knock on the door.
A familiar voice floated into her entryway. “We’re here, Miss Serious Business Graduate, and we’re ready for the drinking!”
“This is a joke. Tell me this is a joke,” I said, glaring at her.
She shook her head, biting back a smile.
“I am in no mood to share right now. You have got to be fucking kidding me.”
“I forget how much I love seeing you on an angry tear.”
She walked to the door in her fucking underwear, and opened it a crack before turning and sprinting into her bedroom, leaving me to greet the intruders.
What in the actual fuck.
“I’ll be out in a few!” Chloe yelled over her shoulder, her nearly bare ass disappearing into a bedroom down the hall.
Julia whistled loudly, stepping over the threshold, and then stopped, and broke into laughter when she saw me.
“Wow, I didn’t expect you to answer the door in your underwear, Chloe.” Sara walked in with her hands over her eyes, reaching out blindly. She grabbed a handful of my half-unbuttoned shirt and shrieked when she uncovered her eyes and saw that it was me she was holding on to. “Mr. Ryan!”
“Hello, ladies,” I said, voice flat. I straightened my shirt, pulled my tie back into place.
“Oh boy, did we interrupt something?” Julia asked, eyes wide and teasing.
“Yes, in fact. We were . . . becoming reacquainted.”
Chloe called out from one of the bedrooms down the hall to help ourselves to the champagne in the fridge, and I tried to ignore the way Julia’s eyes dropped to my zipper. I stood still, letting her take a good long look. My erection was gone anyway.
“I didn’t realize it was to be a girls’ night out,” I said, when the silence felt like it had dragged on forever.
Sara stepped back, her eyes seeming to struggle to stay above my shoulders, and explained, “I don’t think any of us expected you to be here and . . . want a night in.”
I most definitely wanted a night in. In every part of Chloe.
Julia studied me for a minute and then smiled. “I’ll admit I was pretty sure Bennett would be here.”
I couldn’t help but mirror her grin. She had, after all, called me to urge me to go to Chloe’s presentation. She was obviously on my side.
Even if she had interrupted my attempt to fuck Chloe for the first time in forever.
I turned, moving into the kitchen to wash my hands. Julia followed, and behind me I heard her open the bottle of champagne, the squeak and pop and then the quiet fizz reminding me how much I’d rather be opening that bottle over Chloe’s naked body, and licking the foamy bubbles from her skin.
Julia continued, “But I think we should all go out to celebrate, and he can have as much of her as he wants.” She poured four flutes of champagne and then handed one to me. “You’ll just have to wait until later to . . . reacquaint.”
Chloe emerged from her room in black skinny jeans, strappy black heels, and a shimmering blue tank top that made her skin look golden.
No way in hell would I be able to keep my hands off her if she wore that out.
“Chloe,” I started, walking over to her and setting my champagne down on the kitchen counter with a shaking hand. I scowled at her hair, tied back in a sleek low ponytail.
Her eyes sparkled with amusement and she stretched to reach my ear so only I could hear. “You can take it down later.”
“You should count on it.”
“Do you want to grab it? Pull it?” she asked, kissing the shell of my ear. I nodded, eyes closing. “Or do you want to feel my hair down and loose on your stomach while my mouth works your cock?”
I reached for my champagne with a shaky hand, downed it. “Let’s go with yes.”
Need coiled low in my stomach and I was torn between wanting to smash something and wanting to drag her back into her bedroom and peel those jeans down her legs. Absolutely no part of me felt like spending an evening drinking wine and eating cheese and listening to girl talk. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep it together.
As if reading my mind, she whispered, “It’ll just make it better when we get home.”
“I doubt that is even possible.”
Her fingers lightly scratched over my chest. “I’ve missed that surly face.”
Ignoring her, I asked, “How about you come to my place later? Go out with the girls, enjoy this night. I’ll be there when you’re ready.”
She stretched and slid a slow, warm kiss across my mouth. “What happened to not letting me out of your sight until Christmas?”
I’d expected a dance club, maybe something fancy with twenty-dollar drinks and miles of twenty-something coeds in tiny black dresses. What I hadn’t expected was a low-key bar in the suburbs, with darts and what Julia called “the best sampling of beer in Illinois.”
As long as they could make me a vodka gimlet and I could be in constant physical contact with Chloe, the night might not be too much of a disaster. I followed the girls inside, shooting daggers at every leering douchebag in the place as we made our way up to the bar. Julia plopped herself down on a worn leather stool, shouting something to the bartender about the usual for the ladies and something pink for the pretty boy.
On second thought, this was going to be a long night.
Sara—clearly still a bit unnerved by my company—sat on the other side of Chloe, and made her recount every last detail about her defense. Chloe told her about Clarence Cheng, about how I’d barged in there and been an asshole, how she’d presented both projects, and even been offered a job.
“Two jobs,” I clarified, staring her down so she knew I was thinking she’d better damn well fucking take the job at RMG.
She rolled her eyes but none of us could miss her proud smile. With their beers and my pink Cosmo raised in the air, we toasted Chloe on a job well done.
Beside me she downed her beer and then wiggled off her seat. “Who’s up for some darts?”
Sara raised her hand and jumped a little. After a single beer, she seemed tipsy and loose enough to not act like we were still in the office. I slid my gaze down the length of Chloe’s body. I rather liked the idea of watching her stretching and moving to play darts in that tight little number.
“You coming?” she asked, leaning down and pressing her breasts into my forearm.
“Hoping to, very soon.” I let my eyes linger on her mouth before dropping to her chest. Beneath the thin fabric of her top, her nipples pebbled.
Her laugh brought my attention back to her red lips and she pushed them together in a playful pout. “Is Bennett a little keyed up?”
“Bennett is a lot keyed up,” I said, pulling her between my legs and kissing the curve of her ear. I wanted to be patient and let her enjoy this night, but patience had never really been my strong suit. “Bennett wants Chloe naked and touching his cock.”
With a giggle, she danced away and to the back of the bar, her arm linked with Sara’s.
Julia put her hand on my shoulder, glancing quickly behind us to make sure Chloe was out of earshot. “You did good.”
I was uncomfortable discussing personal issues with all but a few people in my life, and this most personal of all conversations was the last thing I wanted to have with a virtual stranger. Still, Julia had taken the time to track me down for Chloe’s sake. That definitely took balls.
“Thank you for the call,” I said. “But I do want you to know I would have gone to her anyway. I couldn’t stay away anymore.”
Julia took a sip of her beer. “I figured if you were anything like her, you were about to head in for another round. I called because I wanted you to have that confidence you needed to go in and just be your best bastard self.”
“I wasn’t too much of a bastard.” I frowned, considering. “I don’t think.”
“I’m sure,” Julia drawled. “You’re the portrait of compromise.”
Ignoring this, I lifted my fruity girl drink and drained it.
“She’s so happy tonight,” Julia murmured, almost to herself.
“She’s thin.” I glanced at where she stood, poised and ready to throw a dart. She did seem happy, and for that I was thrilled, but the difference in her body was also hard for me to ignore. “Too thin.”
Nodding, Julia said, “She exercised too much, worked too much.” Her eyes searched mine for a beat before she added, “It wasn’t good, Bennett. She was a wreck.”
“So was I.”
She acknowledged this with a teasing smile. The sadness was in the past, after all. “So if you’re going to keep her in bed for the next few days, just make sure you give her breaks to eat.”
I nodded, moving my eyes to the back of the room, where my girl spun a couple of times, took aim, and then barely hit the dartboard. She and Sara broke into laughter, pausing only to say something that then made them both laugh harder.
And while she played and danced to the Rolling Stones, I felt the weight of my love for her settle into a heavy warmth in my stomach. Two months apart was nothing in the grand scheme of what we had ahead of us, but in our shared history it felt enormous. I wanted to dwarf it with time spent together.
I needed to get back, get closer. I waved to the bartender, mouthing, “Check,” when she looked at me.
Julia stopped me with a warning hand on my arm. “Don’t fuck it up. She’s independent, and she’s been doing it on her own for so long she’ll never be the girl to tell you how much she needs you. But she’ll show you how much she wants this. Chloe is about action, not words. I’ve known her since we were twelve, and you’re it for her.”
Two smooth arms slipped around my waist from behind, and Chloe pressed a kiss between my shoulder blades. “What are we talking about over here?”
“Football,” Julia said just as I answered, “Politics.”
I felt her laugh and she slid under my arm, wrapping herself around me. “So you were talking about me.”
“Yes,” we both answered.
“And what a mess I was and how happy I look tonight, and how Bennett better not fuck it up this time.”
Julie glanced at me, punting that one in my direction as she lifted her beer, raised it in a silent toast, and then left us alone at the end of the bar.
Chloe turned her brown eyes on me. “Did she tell you all of my secrets?”
“Hardly.” I set my drink down and wrapped my arm around her. “Can we go now? I’ve been away from you for too long and I’m reaching the limit on how much sharing I’m willing to tolerate. I want you alone.”
I felt her laugh as a small shaking of her body in my arm, and then the quiet sound made it to my ears. “You’re so demanding.”
“I’m just telling you what I want.”
“Fine then. Be specific. What do you really want?”
“I want you on your knees on my bed. I want you sweaty and begging. I want you wet enough to drink from.”
“Shit,” she whispered, her voice strung tight. “I’m already there.”
“Then damn, Miss Mills. Get the fuck in my car.”