I sauntered to the elevator with my well-practiced “confident” walk, stretched my arm to push the button—
And my high-heeled sandal slipped.
My knee gave in, and I grabbed onto the first thing I could reach to prevent me from the total embarrassment of ending up on the floor in front of everyone. I turned to thank the helpful soul…and came face-to-face with Richard and a lazy twist of his lips settled in the corner of his mouth. I continued to squeeze his arm and my chest brushed his side. But it was more than that; he placed his other arm on my lower back to support me, and I felt a slight tug. The bastard pulled me closer to him in front of everyone watching and my space was suddenly invaded by the scent of his cologne. By Richard.
My insides tightened, and my lips pained as I was still trying to keep them in a semblance of a smile in front of everyone.
“You okay there?” he asked, his expression no less mocking than it was earlier. “You seem flustered. I understand. You finally get to see my place.”
The following moment was the testament to the long road that got me to that point in my career. All the brutal hours I’d slaved in the office, the hard work, missing friends’ events because of last-minute urgent assignments, working through my own birthdays—it all came down to that. My self-control to not kill Richard when every inch of my body believed spending the next twenty years in prison would be well worth it.
I smiled into his snake-green eyes, pushed his arm away and stepped into the elevator. Just as the doors closed separating us, as he thankfully decided to stay with the next group, I managed to think of an appropriate response. But it was too late.
I needed to regroup, figure out what I really wanted. I wanted…something. But hooking up with a random guy definitely wasn’t it.
A woman had other ways to satisfy her sexual cravings. Mine came in trendy silver, with an electronically operated, “modest-sized” device designed specifically for ”her” pleasure. It was there for me when I needed it, it didn’t require any work on my part to get it ready, and it didn’t ask to rank our latest adventure when we were done. “Tara, sweetie, how was it? I feel like this one was at least a solid eight.” My Adam & Eve had a bit more common sense than that.
Today, our ”date” started just like it always did—a quick steamy shower to get my limbs soft and ready, and a little spritz of perfume (hey, I knew my date wasn’t real, but I was trying to get in the mood). I dropped onto my silk, thousand-thread-count sheets, and…nirvana.
Only the ordeal didn’t go according to my plan. The moment I closed my eyes, I saw Aidan’s face. Grinning and looking at me with a devilish smile on his face. His arm with the snake tattoo that went all the way up and around his bicep slid under my blouse and reached for my breasts. Hang on a minute. Why had Aidan invaded my intimate session with my vibrator? Why did he think he was welcome?
I needed a restart.
Some more perfume, extra pillows behind my back.
There, much better.
Ahh, it felt so good.
Aidan, that time bare-chested, showed me exactly where that tattoo disappeared. In the masculine curve between his hard bicep and his shoulder blade.
I wouldn’t be masturbating to the image of Aidan stripping in front of me. He was exerting himself for me at work, not for my climax. We might have shared burritos, but it still didn’t give him the right to turn into my made-up, perfect man who helped me release my tension at the end of a busy day.
Go away, Aidan.
I was doing something wrong here. As a method of last resort, I tried to bring up the images of a real bad boy I’d met during my trip to Buenos Aires many years ago. Our one real night was steamy, but it couldn’t be compared to the many fake ones when I’d used those memories to help my battery-operated assistant.
Yet, no matter how hard I tried to work my tricks, the images of a bad boy came with a sexy tattoo on his arm, a set of mischievous dimples, and there was nothing remotely Hispanic in those sexy blue eyes.
Fifteen minutes later, orgasm-less and totally frustrated, I threw my vibrator aside and climbed under the covers.
I turned and saw an impeccable suit and a sarcastic grin on the face of its owner. I stood up straight and gritted my teeth.
“Richard,” I hissed. “Have you spoken to your shrink yet? Why are you here?”
“The shrink gave up on me long ago.” He smirked. “I enjoyed your presentation. I almost forgot how inspiring you could be. Nice job. Wanna invite me as a guest speaker next time?”
“Is there a reason you came to listen to a Women’s Network event?”
“Why not? You wouldn’t want to exclude me just because I’m a man, would you?”
“No, I’d want to exclude you because you’re a jerk,” I countered and instantly regretted it, seeing his turned up lips and a smile soaked with sarcasm. Calling my “partner” a jerk wasn’t exactly what I’d call professional, but it was Richard, and I’d had a stressful day.
“By the way,” he said, “How come you aren’t married with two point five kids by now?”
I glared at him. “I chose not to. Why aren’t you?”
He folded his arms across his chest and slanted against the wall. “If you insist on rejecting me, I can always marry a twenty-year-old ten years from now.”
I advanced toward him, hands on hips. Of course, he never failed to turn our chat into utter travesty. “A twenty-year-old? How predictable.”
He smiled, and I hated that smile. It reminded me of him trying to pursue me during the training program when he thought I’d never say no to his less-than-smooth pickup techniques, which I knew he used on another girl that same evening.
Luckily, we heard footsteps, sparing us the continuation of our verbal insults, which would’ve likely lead us to lose our tempers, raise our voices, and turn the conversation into something else entirely. Briefcase fights. We’ve resorted to those. I hit him with my red purse in the midst of a passionate argument, forgetting it had my laptop. Richard survived; my laptop didn’t.
My mouth dropped open at what I saw.
Colorful ink formed a tattoo of a snake that twisted around his arm. A tattoo. It started from the middle of his forearm and disappeared into the sleeve at his elbow.
Wait a minute. Tattoos were taboo, a part of a bad-boy image. Bad boys—at least not those whose badness was openly displayed in the form of body art—did not hold leadership jobs at Fortune 500 companies. I once knew a CEO and I wouldn’t mention his name, so as to not cause him any embarrassment, who flew to Bermuda to get his tattoo removed. It was a tiny image of a skull on his back and nobody would have found out that he had it, if only he weren’t planning a New Year’s Eve bash. Which, at the insistence of his girlfriend, was going to happen at a spa where all the guests would be in their bathing suits. Needless to say, the CEO had flown as far away from New York as possible to guarantee he wouldn’t run into anyone he knew and got rid of the forbidden skin art and his reputation was saved.
So, as we dug into our burritos, I kept glancing at his tattoo. Trying to imagine how high up his arm the snake ended. Would it be covering his entire bicep or end just above his elbow? Perhaps I was staring a little too openly, but the discovery was a bit too shocking.
“How’s Jake, Martha?” Richard asked. “Got any new photos?”
Martha shifted her weight from one foot to the other, glancing from Richard to me and back. I sighed. I mentally promised to tell her later I wasn’t mad that she’d shared her grandson’s photos with Richard. Actually, I was mad, but not at her. Was it unreasonable to be angry that my nemesis knew about my admin’s family?
She muttered something under her breath and left, and I turned to Richard. “Well?”
“I didn’t know I had to make an appointment to work on the project that John entrusted to the two of us, Tara.”
“If you’ve got nothing better to do than wait for me, I s’pose that’s okay. It’s eleven, must be coffee break hour for you.”
He shook his head, as if he were finding me quite troublesome. “I checked your schedule, and I knew you’d be back from your morning meeting by now.”
“Could you be any creepier?”
He wiggled his eyebrows. “I’m resourceful.”