The team of executive editors walked into the room, talking and laughing like it was any other day. Like all this shit was normal. Like I wasn’t walking some fine line between heaven and hell. The heaven part began to dissipate, speared by the sudden intrusion of twelve of my top employees.
And the hell was about to get a whole lot more intense.
I was still trying to recalibrate after an impromptu orgasm that had been so quick-rising and mind-blowing that I was still reeling. I felt like my heart was beating somewhere outside my chest, exposed and bloody for everyone to see. I had to glance down for a second just to make sure I was fucking zipped up.
It was probably a good thing Lila had sucked me off five minutes ago because there was no way I could’ve kept my cool otherwise.
Because sitting right across the table from me was Mark fucking Faber. A guy who’d worked for me for five or six years, who was friendly enough, who I’d socialized with from time to time and gotten to know, who I’d once had a conversation with about poker and who’d ended up joining in our occasional game.
Who’d been there that night.
What the fuck had I been thinking? How had I allowed things to get that out of hand? I’d been completely unprepared for her reaction. Yeah, I’d revved her up and I’d planned it that way. For me. So I could tease her and torture her like she’d done to me since the minute she’d swanned into my life like a million-watt lightning bolt of sexuality whose sole intent was to twist my heart and my soul into roped, tightening pleasure-knots.
I hadn’t predicted exactly how turned on those beads would get her. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. Right there in front of the boys. She’d offered those perfect, creamy breasts to my mouth. She’d begged me, pleading and demanding. And I’d gone with it. Of course I had. She’d been so wet I hadn’t been able to see anything past that juicy little pink pussy. I’d forgotten everything but her, like those movie shots where everything on the periphery fades out. She’d come right there on the fucking poker table, laid out on a bed of money like a goddess Greek mythology had forgotten to document. The Goddess of Jackpots and Orgasms.
By the time reality had kicked in they were already there. Before I could even react or fight them off. Now, the memory was almost too rage-inducing to handle. If I could’ve blocked it out I would have but it flashed through my mind in excruciating play-by-play detail. Jon had been kissing her face. Cole’s hands had played with her silky hair.
And Mark Faber had kissed her breast. Licking that perfect rosy nipple that was mine.
He was looking at her now. I could see it on his face: he was remembering how she felt. How she’d tasted.
I was about to fucking lose it. My inner caveman was seriously considering breaking free.
I couldn’t do this.
But Lila was looking at me. She could tell I was about to go ballistic, maybe. She was watching my expression, reading it. She placed her hand on my thigh, under the table. She just left it there, holding me in place. She recognized him. She knew what was going through my mind.
It was good. That light warmth calmed me a little, diffusing a single degree of my fury.
I had to take it.
I had to own up to the fact that it was my own goddamn fault. For putting her in that position. For not letting her come before the start of the poker game, when she’d asked for it. Begged for it. For not insisting she cover up a little, to save the skimpy, practically-transparent outfits for me and for me alone. I’d been blinded and blind-sided by this tsunami of lust that was so new to me. Of course I’d experienced lust before, but not like this. Nothing like this. This lust was madness-edged and brutal. Like it had one hand gripped around my heart and the other grasped tightly around my balls.
That old version of myself had been entranced by Lila Carmichael. Covetous and wild. Now, I was so in love with her I could barely see straight. The emotions were ten times more complex. And if I was going to spend a lifetime both protecting her while simultaneously allowing her to exist and work and live her life, I was going to have to man up and calm the fuck down.
Mark Faber wasn’t the only one riveted by Lila. They were all staring at her. At the vision that was Lila. Her eyes matched the sea-green of her dress. A few tendrils of her golden hair had escaped the clip she’d pinned it up with, framing her face in elegant coils. Her full lips were pink and almost-swollen … from the blow job she’d just given me.
God, help me.
Her right hand rested on my leg. And her left hand, gently clasped around a mug of coffee, displayed the ring. One million dollars’ worth of Tiffany’s finest.
“Nice to see you all,” I began, willing my own steadiness. I didn’t want to fuck around. It was better just to get right to the heart of the fucking matter. And it turned out to be easier to do than I thought. I was steady when it came to work and leadership within the company I’d built from the ground up. As long as I focused on them – and noton her – I was fine. My voice sounded unwavering, almost arrogant. Which was also fine. Better to come across as a prick than a pussy-whipped mess. “Most of you know by now that I’ve hired a new assistant. This is Lila Carmichael.”
Lila smiled a little. She seemed cool and quietly confident. Aware of her own power. She’d changed over the past month. She’d always exuded a kind of sensual prowess, even if she hadn’t always been aware of this. She had bowled me right over with it the moment I’d laid eyes on her. Now, she was more experienced. She knew her own influence. It sort of radiated from her along with her golden glow.
“As some of you might have heard,” I continued, “Lila is now not only my new assistant but she’s also my fiancée. We plan to marry soon.”
I let this information settle for a few seconds. There were some surprised murmurs, some not so surprised. A few of them offered their congratulations. Ashley Lynch, executive editor of the Fashion section of the magazine, obviously hadn’t heard the news. Her eyes widened. Ashley was a tall, willowy woman with dark hair she always wore pulled back in a tight bun, which made her look severe. Her chunky, black-rimmed glasses and flowing outfits were her trademark. It wasn’t a look that endeared her to men, but she was good at her job. I’d been encouraged to head-hunt her from another magazine about two years ago. I’d offered her big money to jump ship and she’d worked out well. The fashion shoots had received glowing reviews and had been called ‘hip, must-have and oh so New York’ by the New York Times, a quote that had become a sort of tag line for the department. Ashley had walked in, glanced at Lila, then turned her attention to the agenda. But she was listening now. Staring at the ring. And I knew the first fucking person she would call.
I let the unpleasantness of that realization drift. I hadn’t thought much about my ex since Lila had showed up on the scene. I’d mostly ignored Shawna’s irate and frequent phone calls. To be honest, I was fully aware I’d been a complete asshole to her. I wasn’t proud of it, but in my mind the whole thing was well and truly over. It was best to make that crystal clear.
The entire thought process left me feeling irritated. When I spoke again, my voice sounded mildly pissed off. Which was probably a good thing. I didn’t want there to be any misunderstandings about the next detail. “Lila just graduated from Princeton. Top of her class. She has some experience in publishing and will be working alongside me in whatever capacity she and I choose. With my assistance – and yours – she’ll be learning the ropes. The ins and outs of the entire magazine. She’ll spend time in each department, to be informed directly by each of you. I want her to learn the workings of the company from the ground up. So I’ll thank you in advance for welcoming her and guiding her in whatever way she requires as she settles into her new role.”
I glared at Mark Faber. Except him. I had a distinct urge to fire his ass on the spot. But I inwardly applauded myself on my restraint. I could sack him if the need arose. If he made one wrong move or if it all became too much to bear. Until then, I had enough on my plate besides looking around for a new head of the Political and Current Affairs Department. The guy had around twelve degrees and must therefore be smart enough to decipher that I would happily throttle him if he so much as touched a hair on her pretty little head.
He saw the look I gave him. He said something polite and non-suggestive to Lila and she smiled at him briefly and replied with a tactfully abrupt – for my sake, I knew – response before turning to the next person as I began to introduce them, one by one.
On to the next item on the agenda, which was filling me in on all I’d missed since I’d been away. Taking my spur-of-the-moment hiatus from life so I could gorge myself on her beauty and her sweetness. Her smile and her laughter. Her initiation and her satiation. Her luscious body and that tight little –
No. Control it. Do. Not. Rise.
It was agonizing, with her delicate little hand still resting on my thigh like that.
I stared at Ashley Lynch, who was speaking. I concentrated on her bulky glasses and her beaky face. The way her hair was scraped back into its school-marmish bun. She was working some odd look that might have been edgily fashionable but it was doing her no favors. I wondered, and not for the first time, what she and Shawna had ever had in common. My ex-girlfriend was a highly successful model who wrote a monthly column for Skyscraper. A day in the life of a jet-setting supermodel, that kind of thing. It had been Ashley’s idea. They’d become friends and still were for all I knew.
This was better.
Listening to Ashley Lynch’s androgynous monotone as she talked about her vision for the next fashion spread was helping. My hard-on was back under control.
Which was a very good thing because my phone rang and it was a call I would need to take. A police detective. Jake had mentioned him this morning. My brother had given the guy my number, at the detective’s insistence. He wanted to speak to me about the accusation against Jake for insider trading that my brother was tangled up in. I’d already made up my mind to do everything I could to pay our way out of it, if it came to that. And I knew I might have to spend the next few hours dealing with whatever it was this cop was going to tell me.
I stood up. To the collective group: “Sorry, I have to take this.”
I made a decision right there and then, even though I knew it would have a major downside; that downside, though, was a million times more palatable than picturing Mark Faber drooling all over Lila for the duration of the morning. I needed to know where she would be. I needed to concentrate. I had the NYPD on the other end of the line, awaiting my undivided attention. “Ashley,” I said. “Show Lila around today. Give her a tour of the Fashion department and introduce her to your people. Looks like I could be tied up for a while.” I realized how fucking abrupt I sounded. “Thank you,” I added. Ashley’s tense, puckered face softened by a miniscule degree. Usually I was more dedicated to my people skills but today was already having its way with me. I’d been given a practically-public blow job by my unbelievably hot nymph of a fiancée and my brother was about to get arrested.
I looked at Lila as I left. “You all right?”
“Fine.” She smiled in that sexy-demure way she had.
I had an urge to tell her I loved her, but was aware of the twelve pairs of eyes staring at me. Certain revelations would undoubtedly cross her path today that would shake her. I wished I’d prepared her for what she was about to learn. I hadn’t wanted to shatter any of the moments we’d so far shared together and my admissions would have. But I wished to hell right now that I’d done it anyway.
“I’ll see you later,” she said.
It was one of the most difficult things I’d ever done it my life: leaving her. Pathetic, possibly. I didn’t even fucking care. I felt like scooping her up and taking her someplace private, where we could be alone and talk and laugh and make love in that insanely beautiful way we had. So I could wrap myself around her. So I could reach her and kiss her and touch her. So I could get inside.
It was all I really wanted to do.
Instead, I opened the door and closed it behind me as I answered the phone. “Alexander Wolfe.”
“Mr. Wolfe, this is Detective John Rizzo with the NYPD. How are you this morning?”
“Well, I’ve been better. Despite my track record, I don’t enjoy putting people away. I’m gonna cut right to the chase: the FSE is demanding justice. Someone’s head has to roll, Mr. Wolfe. Your brother’s laptop was seized and we have enough evidence to put him away for ten years.”
Ten years? Shit. What the fuck had Jake been up to? “I’m sure we can come to an agreement, Detective. I have very deep pockets.”
“They’re not gonna be satisfied with a pay-off this time, Mr. Wolfe. They want blood and they want time. I suggest you meet with your brother, prep your lawyers to within an inch of their lives, and get ready to write some fat checks. Even so, you’ll be lucky if he gets less than two years.”
I ran a hand through my hair. My skin felt clammy as a low-strung terror iced through my veins. Jake had spent a week in juvie once when he was sixteen. It hadn’t gone well. Jake wasn’t cut out for hard time. He looked tough but his chasms of vulnerability somehow still shone through the hard-man façade. The combination was like a beacon for thugs and bullies. My heart skipped a couple of beats at the thought of Jake behind bars. My little punk brother who’d had every hard knock life could cough up. Because of that, he couldn’t quite shake his fuck you attitude.
I suppressed the urge to swear at and/or threaten Detective Rizzo. “I’ll be in touch as soon as we’ve met with our lawyers, Detective.”
“Make it sooner rather than later. An arrest will be issued next Friday if we haven’t heard from you by then.”
The line went dead.
I leaned against the wall for a second, feeling suddenly drained. I wished I could take him away, hide him somewhere. Maybe we could pull it off. He could simply disappear, change his identity, live out his life in a beachfront condo in Rio or somewhere. If I thought it would work, I might have suggested it. But Jake didn’t do rules. He wouldn’t stay put or abide by an imposed lock-down. He’d turn up in New York, no doubt, or get pinged by some power-happy border control officer once the heat died down.
I called my lawyers.