Chapter 16: Careful, There
Lunch had been an awkward event. Elisabeth, who I was seated across from, had taken charge of most of the conversation, while Andy traded regular glances with William over the table. They’d send each other cheeky smiles, but Elisabeth paid it none of her attention, which guided me to believe that the two men behaved like this on a normal basis. It wasn’t surprising, when taking into account that they were best mates, but it annoyed me nonetheless, because I was certain that I was the cause of their amusement on this particular day.
Things had taken a turn for the worse when John Night had arrived by our table, with his fellow partners by his side. I’d met Mr Philip Day, John’s first partner in establishing their empire. He was a nice man of short build, with a beer-belly that strained against his expensive suit. Clearly, his weight-gain was climbing up the scale rather than down, or else the garments wouldn’t have looked so unfitted.
While asking how my day had been thus far, John had grabbed his son’s shoulder. ‘Brilliant,’ I’d said. It wasn’t entirely a lie. The professional aspect of the firm had kept me on my toes all day, even if my boss had kept me on my toes for another reason entirely.
Looking John in the eye, while knowing I’d slept with his son, was a dreadful experience. I should not be sitting on the information of how his son looked without clothes – which was a devastating view. I worried my gaze had been a tad too fleeting, but I hadn’t been able to help it. What I’d done was unbecoming, and I was scared he’d catch onto it somehow. Underestimating his perceptive character was not something I intended to make a habit of.
So when it was time for William’s meeting with Clifford Paints, I was relieved. Finally, I’d be provided with intellectual distraction.
Elisabeth was unlinking her MacBook Pro from her stationary version when the woman named Violet caught my eye. The sexual prowess she wielded was outstanding. It was noticeable from her confident strut, which I paid keen attention to as she guided the people from Clifford Paints toward a conference room. Instead of watching the floor in front of their feet, the two men kept their eyes glued to her firm derriere. It made me groan. I hated to bear witness to women be objectified like that, and especially a woman like Violet, who obviously had a well-functioning brain to offer.
“Ready, then?” Elisabeth asked and sent me an encouraging smile.
“Yes,” I confirmed and showed her my notebook.
“Excellent. Might you fetch Will for me? I’ll get set in the meantime.”
A lump gathered in my throat as I nodded my head at her. After a deep breath, I turned for his office and scraped together what little I had left of strength, but just as I was about to knock on his door, he ripped it open and nearly crashed into me. In my rush to dodge him, I tripped on my heel. As I was about to tilt backward, his hand shot forward to grab my arm, and then he yanked me forward again with such force that I knocked face first into his chest.
The irony of the situation was not lost on me. By trying to evade him, I’d only ensured bumping into him. However, since his intoxicating scent hit me before his muscles did, it successfully distracted me from the pain. Good grief, he smelled amazing. What fragrance did he wear, I wondered.
“Careful, there,” he scolded when I turned my head to regard him. Hyperaware of his proximity, I felt the thumb of his hand – around my arm – gently rub me. Delicious electricity derived from his action, leaving my skin to tingle beneath his touch. No man had ever made me feel this way, when merely a touch would send my heart into overdrive.
Blushing scarlet, I cleared my throat and clutched my notebook to my chest while I tried to ignore how hard my heart pounded against it.
“Your clients are here,” I murmured. “Elisabeth asked me to fetch you.”
“Violet’s already notified me.”
“Do you always charge out of your office as though you’re late for a flight?”
In the corners of his mouth, a smile threatened, but it never made it to full bloom. “As a matter of fact, I’m nearly late for a meeting.”
“Right. Am I insured under the firm’s policy if I end up seriously injured next time you stampede out of your office like a bull? Because I didn’t find that clause in my contract. ‘If your boss happens to run over you, you are entitled to compensation depending on the extent of your injuries’,” I joked.
“I’ll personally make amends if that happens,” he ensured me, and his tone spilled of an insinuation I couldn’t quite decode. “Though, for next time, try not to be such a slow turtle.”
My nostrils flared. “Why don’t you try walking next time, instead of bolting out like you’re trying to outrun The Flash?”
“DC Comics?” His head tilted as he caught onto my reference. “That was unexpected. Anyway, it’s not every day that I have a slow turtle lurking outside my door. You know, if you want to touch me, you don’t need to risk your health in order to have an excuse. Just do it. I won’t mind.”
I glowered up at him. How he was able to angle everything as though I were incurably smitten with him was beyond me. It must be a talent, and it made me grit my teeth. Eventually, I retorted through them, “Weren’t you running late?”
His light blue eyes stared down at me, and I saw intrigue etch through their hue. Slowly, he released my arm to journey his hand to the small of my back instead.
“Right this way.” He gestured down the aisle beside the open landscape. Acutely aware of his hand on my back, I heard my pulse drum behind my ears while my heart felt to have relocated to my throat. It tempted to ask him to remove it, but simultaneously, I never wanted him to.
We exchanged no words during our swift journey to the conference room, to which I was grateful, because I wasn’t confident I’d be able to string together any coherent response. His touch was far too distracting. However, that didn’t prevent me from wondering about the reason behind his preference for silence. Perhaps he was mentally preparing for the meeting. Even so, a small part of me hoped it were because I’d rattled him equally.
When we reached the door, I was about to open it for him, seeing as I considered my role here similar to that of a servant, but he beat me to it. Pushing it open, he gestured for me to enter first.
“Mr Night,” a stranger greeted immediately, rising from his seat.
“Mr Clifford,” William greeted him in return. “This is Miss Cara Darby, a new intern of ours. She’ll be helping Miss Tallis with the report,” he introduced me, head cocking in Elisabeth’s direction by the end of the table.
Violet studied me from head to toes where she stood beside Mr Clifford, but her expression was unreadable. Now that I was provided with a close look of her again, I assumed her to be in her early thirties. There was no presence of a ring on her fingers, so I also gathered that she weren’t married or engaged.
“Hello,” I greeted, slightly awkward, before I walked over to shake their hand. As I escaped William’s touch, I was struck by how cold my back felt without it. Odd. I’d never noticed escaping someone’s hold quite so consciously.
After formally greeting Gerard Clifford, I moved my hand to greet his son, Tom Clifford. As I grabbed my seat beside Elisabeth afterward, I placed my notebook to the table and puffed out a breath of relief.
The meeting was intense. I was overcome with awe as I watched Violet and William inform Mr Clifford and his son of their misconducts. Strikingly professional, the solicitors guaranteed that they’d do anything in their power to aid them out of the mess they’d brought upon themselves. Apparently, Mr Clifford had been selling paint under an expired licence, and he hadn’t done anything to rectify the situation. Clearly, he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, and now he was paying the price.
William was shockingly patient when he said, “Because of your failure to renew your licence according to timeframe, its been revoked. There’s very little we can do about that. What I advise you to do now, if you wish to continue your business, is to apply for a new one. We’ll try our best to speed up the process for you. In compliance with the TBL, you’ll have to pay all outstanding fees, including the penalty fines. That includes the price for a new licence. You’re no longer eligible to pay the price for a renewal. And Mr Clifford, if you continue to operate your business before you do this, you’re under the threat of having your chance at a licence permanently revoked, seeing as you’ll be operating illegally – this time while aware, which will undoubtedly result in a harsher, and thereby permanent, penalty. We won’t be able to help you, then. Nothing will.”
I didn’t dare to question the state of my knickers while I watched him. He was in his element, and it was awe-inspiring to witness. I had never been this desperate for a man’s sexual attention before – never been so aroused. I could almost hear my ovaries call his name. Clever as he was, he was tantalising to a fault.
I could hardly fathom that I had managed my way into this astounding man’s bed. How lucky was I? His brain nearly gave me an orgasm in itself, and yet I was adamant to cast the idea of him aside. For a brief moment, I hated myself for it, but in the next, I didn’t.
This was precisely why I couldn’t have anything to do with him in that sense. I’d been seated here for half an hour by now, and I hadn’t dribbled down a single note. To make matters worse, I hadn’t had the mind to watch Elisabeth’s work. All I had done was ogle and drool after the male solicitor in the room. He was much too distracting – far too arousing.
This wouldn’t do. He was going to ruin both my degree and me.
Tormented, I sat there, till the meeting finally concluded. When it did, I remained paralysed in my chair, flabbergasted. My face had been constantly flushed. I felt out of breath, for crying out loud. Under the table, I squeezed my thighs together, desperate for some sort of friction, and I shocked myself at the same time. My fluids had not only drenched my knickers, they’d also lubricated the better part of my inner thighs. My skin was moist and sticky.
“Cara?” Elisabeth called after Violet and William had escorted Mr Clifford and his son out of the room. My head jerked up, and when I met her eyes, I found her frowning at me. Only then did I realise that this was the second time she was calling my name.
“You okay?” she asked, concerned.
“Yeah.” I swallowed. “Just a bit overwhelmed.”
She smiled knowingly. “Yeah, well, a lot of misfortunate fates have been within these walls. You get used to it after a while. You won’t feel as bad. Exposure therapy, kind of. While we often deliver bad news, I like to think we’re ultimately helping them. Tough love, of sorts.”
I nodded. “That’s one way to look at it.”
“Well, now that I’ve written down the first draft of the report, I’ll have to do some polishing. We should probably do it together. Will and Violet are likely to want it on their desk by the end of the day.”
“Sounds good. May I use the loo before then?” My voice held a pleading tone to it, because I was anxious to clean up the mess that William had unwittingly made. Would I have to bring spare knickers to work from now on?