I woke to a nibble on the shell of my ear. What the…
Last night. Last night. Oh my God. Did I? Panicked, I momentarily froze in bed as I wracked my hungover brain, trying to remember the end of the evening. I was never so relieved when a paw smacked me in the jaw.
“Jesus…” I grumbled, turning to find Tallulah licking my ear and swatting my face. I pulled the sheet over my head, blocking Ugly Kitty access. Undeterred, she climbed on top of me and settled on my chest.
“Meow.” She nuzzled at the sheet hiding me.
I attempted to lift my head, but it hurt too much. “What? What do you want?”
“Ugh.” Even her tiny cry hurt. I would have sworn there was a little drummer getting warmed up inside my skull. There was no rhythm to the pounding, just a hammer whaling against the bass, then the snare, followed by a few slams of the cymbals. Ugh.
What the hell did I drink last night?
I remembered Chase showing up, and dragging him out onto the dance floor so I could rub my body against his and tempt his willpower. Oh God. I’d made it a game—see if I could get Chase to give in.
We’d laughed over shots of disgusting Peppermint Schnapps, and Christian and Jules had eventually joined in. The two of them were looking mighty cozy, I remembered. Things got a bit fuzzier after that.
There was the cab ride home.
I remembered being tired.
I just needed to close my eyes for a bit, put my head down to rest while we drove across town.
I’d rested it all right. In Chase’s lap.
I remembered he’d woken me. When I’d lifted my sleepy head, I’d brushed against the crotch of his pants.
He was hard. And I made a comment about it. Awesome.
Chase had helped me out of the car and told the cabbie to keep the meter running.
The elevator had taken forever. When we stepped inside, I leaned against his chest and took a deep breath, smelling him up close.
I told him he smelled good enough to eat.
I suggested he purchase a cabin in the woods and chop wood shirtless.
His arms were wrapped tight around me as we walked toward my apartment. In hindsight, I might have actually needed the support to walk.
We’d arrived at my door.
I vaguely remembered wrapping my arms around his neck and inviting him in. He smiled and shook his head.
“There’s nothing I’d like more than to come inside. And I mean that in more ways than one.” He’d kissed the top of my head.
The top of my head!
“But not this way. Get some sleep.” Taking my keys from my hand, he’d opened all of my locks and waited for me to go inside.
The last things I remembered were his arms over his head as he leaned against the doorframe and him saying, “We’ll finish this game next week. Things are going to be a lot more fun around the office, that’s for damn sure.”
I’d canceled my lunch date with Chase a little later that morning, too hungover to get out of bed. When he tried to push me into rescheduling for Monday, I was noncommittal and eventually stopped responding to his texts.
A line had been crossed, and I didn’t know how to back up other than cut myself off completely. It was my own fault, and Monday morning I was adamant about fixing what I’d screwed up.
“Morning.” Chase stood in the doorway of my office with the exact same stance he’d had the other night at my apartment door.
I had psyched myself up all day yesterday—I was a professional, I could put what happened Saturday night behind me and work around Chase like nothing had happened. I glanced at my phone…7:05 on Monday morning, and I’d already failed. Great. Just great, Reese.
Chase grinned like he knew I was thinking unprofessional thoughts.
I folded my hands on my desk. “Good morning, Mr. Parker.”
His brows jumped. “Is that how we’re going to play this?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Mr. Parker.”
Chase walked to my desk. “I like the sound of you calling me Mr. Parker. You’ll have to keep it up.”
I swallowed as he moved even closer. My voice showed signs of weakening. “No problem, Mr. Parker.”
“How about, please, Mr. Parker?”
“Please, Mr. Parker, what?”
“Just wanted to hear how good it will sound coming from your lips.” He closed the distance between us, coming around to the other side of my desk and leaning his hip casually against it. He reached out and rubbed my bottom lip with his thumb, speaking directly to my mouth. “Please, Mr. Parker. It will be coming from these lips…mark my words.”
What the hell did I get myself into?
It was ironic that I was supposed to be preparing for a focus group, when I was completely unable to focus. The morning blown by my wandering mind, I was glad Monday afternoon was tightly scheduled so there would be no more room for screwing around.
The first of two meetings was at one o’clock in the large conference room on the east side of the building. It was next to Chase’s office, and I couldn’t stop myself from peeking inside as I passed. With the blinds open, his office was a virtual fishbowl. He sat at his desk, leaning back in his leather executive chair with one hand behind his head; the other held his corded desk phone while he talked, looking up at the ceiling.
Momentarily distracted, I stopped paying attention to where I was going and walked straight into Josh. Upon impact, I squeezed the tall coffee in my hand, causing the lid to pop off. I then bobbled the laptop and notepad in my other hand. As I leaned forward in a fruitless attempt to stop everything from falling, I proceeded to pour the entire contents of my coffee all over the front of my blouse, and everything fell to the ground—followed by my empty cup.
“I’m sorry. I walk too fast,” Josh said.
“No. It’s my fault. I wasn’t paying attention.”
He looked at my shirt. There was steam coming off of it. “That must have been pretty hot coffee. Are you burned?”
Chase came out of his office with some paper towels, handed them to me, and bent to pick up my laptop and notepad. Handing the dripping equipment to Josh, he said, “Why don’t you dry off the laptop, and I’ll take care of Reese.”
I blotted at my blouse, but it wasn’t much use—I’d spilled a forty-ounce coffee, and the skin underneath was almost as soaked as the fabric of my sheer shirt.
“You need more than a handful of paper towels. Come with me.” Chase guided me into his office. I was hyper-aware of his hand splayed out at the small of my back, a few of his fingers fanning to that place that isn’t quite ass, but no longer back either. I was pretty sure it was innocent, but my thoughts were anything but.
I was pissed at myself, at how unprofessional I was, and I projected my frustration at Chase. “This is all your fault, you know.”
“You have me distracted today.”
Instead of feeling bad that he was the cause of my mess, Chase looked pleased. “I can’t wait to see the mess you make when I actually try to distract you.” He reached into a closet and pulled out a white dress shirt. “Here. Put this on.”
“I can’t wear your shirt.”
“Why not?” He flashed a dirty grin. “It’ll be practice for when you’re making me pancakes the morning after.”
I hated that I visualized myself standing in front of that big, stainless steel, double-oven stove I knew he had in his house, wearing one of his dress shirts. I’d gone from acting bothered, to hot and bothered in less than ten seconds.
Chase caught the look on my face and chuckled. “There’re towels in my private bathroom.” His eyes dropped to my chest, where my nipples stood up proudly through my soaked shirt, and grumbled, “Get out of that wet shirt, before I help you out of it right in the middle of my office with the blinds open.”
I didn’t doubt he would do it for a minute, so I quickly trudged to the bathroom, hoping I’d also find my wit there, along with a clean shirt.
A minute later, I looked in the mirror, happy with my reflection. I must say, I totally rocked a man’s shirt. Even though it was ten sizes too big, with a few buttons left open at the top and a knot at the waist, Chase’s dress shirt actually looked kind of cute with my black pencil skirt. I was rolling up the sleeves when there was a light knock at the door.
Except for my thoughts about you. “Yes.”
When Chase opened the door, he had a folded T-shirt in his hand and was looking down at it. “I have this old Brown T-shirt that was stuffed in my gym bag if you want to try—” He paused, stopping in his tracks as he looked up at me. “Wow. Looks better on you.”
Earlier in the day, the man had told me he was going to make me beg, and that hadn’t made me blush. Yet something as simple as looks better on you had my cheeks heating. It wasn’t so much the words as the intimacy with which he said them.
He stepped into the bathroom and took over the rolling of the sleeves. “Let me.”
We exchanged a few silent smiles as he worked on the shirt.
“How are you feeling today?” he asked.
“Glad to hear it. We’re sharing a meal tomorrow tonight.”
“Are you telling me or asking me?”
He finished rolling and waited until I looked up. “Telling. You owe me, considering what a gentleman I was the other night.”
He had been gallant. “Thank you for that, by the way. You were very respectful, and I didn’t make it easy for you.”
“No. You definitely made it hard.”
I shoved his shoulder playfully. “Come on, Bossman. We’re already late to the meeting.”
Elaine Dennis, the VP of Advance Focus Market Research, had just started her presentation when we walked into the conference room a few minutes late. Her pitch detailed her company’s experience moderating focus groups in the women’s industry, and she spoke a lot about the importance of running groups in different geographic areas.
“The women’s products industry is very different in New York and the Midwest. Most women want the same things—smooth skin, to feel beautiful and pampered, to look attractive to the opposite sex—but what works for selling beauty can be quite disparate in various geographic areas.”
Getting comfortable in my seat, I attempted to put the last fifteen minutes behind me and took notes as she worked through her presentation. I’d done plenty of marketing focus groups during my years with Fresh Look, but there was always something new to learn. The ad world changed by the minute, and advertising to women was even more of a challenge. Let’s face it, we women wear our right to change our minds like a badge of honor—what we want today could be passé by tomorrow.
I was sitting two seats away from the presenter on the right side of the long conference table. Chase sat a half dozen chairs away from her on the far end of the opposite side of the table. It wasn’t the first time I’d noticed he didn’t sit at the open head of the table during marketing meetings. He was the kind of boss who had his eye on everything, and participated, but didn’t feel the need to constantly remind people he was in charge. Holding my pen to my lips, I wondered if he did it on purpose.
When my eyes flicked back to him, he was watching me intently. I looked away, but two seconds later, I glanced back again. He looked around the room to see if anyone was paying attention to him. Of course everyone else was watching the presentation, as we both should have been.
Then he mouthed to me, I really love that you read lips.
I smiled coyly and scanned the room before looking back.
It felt like we were in middle school, trying not to be caught passing notes. His gaze was glued to my lips as his mouth formed soundless words. I also really love your lips.
Flustered, I shifted in my chair to face the woman giving the presentation. I managed to hold out for less than five minutes before my eyes wandered back. This time, Chase didn’t even bother to see whether anyone was watching. He mouthed, I really like my shirt on you.
I shot him a look of warning. It didn’t scare him one bit. He continued—and like an ass, I couldn’t look away.
I can’t wait to see what’s underneath it.
I wanted to kill him. I also wanted to hear what he was going to do once he saw what was underneath. Luckily, my focus was forced to return to the room when I heard my name spoken.
Josh had opened a discussion on in-store product placement testing vs. focus groups and asked me to share my experience from Fresh Look. It took a minute to regain my footing, but marketing wasn’t just my job, it was a passion. Once I began talking, that passion took over. Over the next hour and a half, I did my best not to fidget when I found Chase watching me.
At one point I was putting on Chapstick—something I did a dozen times a day—and Chase was mesmerized watching me line my lips. It made between my legs tingle, and I squirmed in my seat.
When it was Chase’s turn to speak, I admired how he dominated the room with his thoughts and ideas. He was so different than my boss at Fresh Look—a typical CEO whose presence had been felt in almost a bullying kind of a way. There was no way Scott Eikman was not sitting at the head of the table during a meeting like this. My old boss would have been there with his arms folded over his chest, making everyone around him sit up straighter.
Chase’s style was understated, and he captured the room with brains and natural charisma. He caught me watching him while he spoke, and the corner of his mouth twitched up. Luckily, unlike me, he didn’t become tongue-tied when being watched so closely.
After all the questions had been answered, Elaine went in to close the deal. “I know you said your timeline was evolving, but we have two focus groups available this week, if you’d like to jump in. One is in Kansas and one here in New York City.”
Of course, she’d also spent a good deal of her presentation speaking about the importance of collecting feedback from the Midwest, in addition to both the coasts. And she just happened to have two such groups available for us to join in the next few days. I had to hand it to her, though—she gave a good sales pitch.
Josh told her we’d get back to her quickly, and the projector had not even cooled down from her presentation when the second appointment was escorted into the room. I was disappointed that Chase had said he wouldn’t be able to sit in on the second focus group presentation, but also relieved I’d have nothing to distract me.
When the meetings finally ended at six, we sat around the conference room discussing the two companies. We agreed unanimously that Elaine’s Advance Focus was the better firm to handle our focus groups. Josh looked to Lindsey and me.
“Think we can pull together the rest of the samples and presentations in time to join the groups Elaine has running this week in Kansas and here in the city?” he asked.
“We can,” Lindsey said. “It’ll be close, but we can pull it together tomorrow, I think.”
Josh nodded. “I need to be here for a photo shoot we have going on the rest of the week uptown. So which one of you is staying in New York and which is heading to Kansas?”
Lindsey looked to me, and I said, “I’ll do whatever you don’t want to do.”
“Good. Because I hate to fly. I’d rather cover the New York focus group.”
“Well, that was easy,” Josh said. “Chase may want to join you for some of the focus group here, Lindsey. Let him know when you’re confirmed with the details.”
She nodded. “Will do.”
While I was going to miss out on spending time with Chase, I knew deep down that I needed some distance between us. A few thousand miles might be the only thing that could separate us enough to let me clear my head.