Beautiful Stranger [Beautiful Series]

Two

Saturday my life was perfect: blazing career, orderly flat, several women available for play whenever and wherever. Sunday and Monday: a fucking mess. I was unable to concentrate, obsessively watching that damn video, and had a stranger’s knickers burning a hole in my bedroom bureau.

Shifting in my chair, I ran my thumb over the screen, turning my phone on for the thousandth time today. The lunch meeting had veered off-topic again, and I’d tried my best to look like I gave even the slightest fuck what anyone was going on about, but as soon as the topic of American football came back up, I was done.

All I could think about was her anyway.

I glanced down, making sure the volume was muted and hesitating for only a moment before pressing play.

The screen was dark, the image was blurry, but I didn’t need to make out every detail to know what came next. Even without the sound I could remember the throbbing music, the way her hips moved to the beat while her skirt slipped further and further up her thighs. American women didn’t appreciate the value of perfectly pale, unfreckled skin, but my stranger had the most exquisite skin I’d ever seen. Fuck, I would’ve licked her from ankle to hip and back again if she’d given me the chance. I knew now that she was dancing just for me, that she knew I was watching.

And she fucking loved it.

Christ. That tiny slip of a dress. Her messy chin-length caramel hair and those enormous, innocent brown eyes. Those eyes made me want to do very, very bad things to her while she watched.

Her perfect arse and tits didn’t hurt, either.

“You’re a terrible lunch date, Stella.” Will reached over and pulled a chip from my plate.

“Mmm?” I murmured, eyes still down, careful not to react in any way. “You’re discussing American football. I’m over here killed by boredom. I am sitting here, quite literally dead.”

If there’s one thing I’d learned in this business, it’s that you never, ever show your cards, even when you’re holding the worst hand imaginable. Or a video of a girl dancing just before you fucked her against a wall.

“Whatever you’re looking at on that phone is obviously a hundred times better than how the Jets are gonna look this year. And you’re not sharing.”

If only he knew.

“Taking a peek at the market,” I said with a small shake of my head. I almost whimpered as I closed the video, slipping my phone into the inside pocket of my suit jacket. “Boring stuff.”

Will drained the last of his drink and laughed. “I hate that you’re such a good liar.” If we hadn’t been best mates since opening one of the most successful venture capital firms in the city three years ago, I might have actually believed him. “I think you’re looking at porn on your phone.”

I ignored him.

“Hey, Max,” James Marshall, our head tech advisor, piped in. “Whatever happened with that woman you were talking to at the bar?”

Normally when my best mates asked about a random woman I’d met, I’d shrug and say, “Quick shag,” or even simply, “Limo.” But for some reason, this time I shook my head and said, “Nothing.”

Another round of drinks arrived at our table and I thanked the server absently even though I hadn’t yet touched my first one. My gaze moved restlessly around the room. It was the typical lunchtime crowd: business meetings and ladies who lunch.

I wanted to crawl out of my skin.

James groaned, closing the file he’d been looking over as he slipped it into his briefcase. He lifted his glass to his forehead, wincing. “Is anyone else still paying for the weekend, though? I’m too old for that shit anymore.”

I lifted my scotch to my lips and immediately regretted it. How could a drink I’d had practically every day since puberty suddenly remind me of a woman I’d seen exactly once?

I looked up at the sound of a throat clearing.

“Hey,” Will said. I followed his gaze to where a man was crossing the dining room. “Isn’t that Bennett Ryan?”

“Well, I’ll be damned,” I said, as the tall shape of my old friend moved across the restaurant.

“Do you know him?” James asked.

“Yeah, we went to uni together; he was my flat mate for three years. Called a couple of months ago, wanted to borrow my place in Marseilles to propose to his girlfriend. We talked about Ryan Media’s expansion to the New York office.” We watched as Bennett stopped at a table on the far side of the room, smiling like an idiot before bending to kiss a stunning brunette.

“I’m guessing France did the trick.” Will laughed.

But it wasn’t the future Mrs. Bennett Ryan who had my attention. It was the beautiful woman who stood beside her, reaching for her purse. Caramel-honey hair, the same red lips I’d been kissing at the club, the same wide brown eyes.

It was all I could do to stay in my chair and not go straight to her. She smiled at Bennett, and then he said something that made both women laugh as the three of them left the restaurant and I could do nothing but stare on.

I supposed it was time to pay my old friend a visit.

“Max Stella.” Large metal doors separating an inner office from Ryan Media’s outer reception area opened, and The Man Himself walked out to meet me. “How the hell are you?”

I stepped away from the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Fifth Avenue and shook Bennett’s hand. “Brilliant,” I said, glancing around.

The space itself was at least two stories high in the atrium, and the polished marble flooring gleamed in the full sun. A small seating area was set off to the side, with leather couches and an enormous glass-bubble chandelier hanging from at least twenty feet up. Behind the broad reception desk, a smooth waterfall was built into the wall, the water cascading over slate-blue stone. A small cluster of employees hurried from the elevators to various offices, throwing Bennett nervous glances.

“Looks like you’re settling right in.”

He motioned for me to follow him inside. “We’re slowly getting things rolling. New York is, after all, still New York.”

He led me into his office, a corner suite with seamless windows and a breathtaking view of the park.

“And the fiancée?” I asked, nodding to a framed photograph on his desk. “I’m guessing she liked the Mediterranean. Why else would she agree to marry an arrogant twat like you?”

Bennett laughed. “Chloe is perfect. Thanks for letting me take her there.”

I shrugged. “Just an empty house most of the time. I’m glad it did the trick.”

Gesturing for me to sit, Bennett sat himself in a large wingback chair, his back to a wall of windows. “It’s been a while. How are things?”

“Fantastic.”

“So I hear.” He scratched his jaw, studying me. “I’d love for you to come over sometime now that we’re moved in. I’ve told Chloe all about you.”

“I hope that’s a slight exaggeration.” Of anyone in New York, Bennett Ryan probably had the most dirt from my wildest days.

“Well,” he conceded, “I’ve told her just enough to want to meet you.”

“I’d love to catch up, any time.” I glanced at the buildings out the window behind him, hesitating. Bennett wasn’t easy to read in these kinds of situations; it was one of the things that made him so good at what he did. “But I’ll admit that I’m here to ask a favor.”

He leaned forward, smiling. “I figured.”

I’d comfortably worked with some of the most intimidating people in the world, but Bennett Ryan never failed to make me take the time to choose my words carefully. Particularly when asking about something this . . . delicate.

“I’ve been a bit preoccupied with a woman I met the other night. I let her go before getting her number, and have been kicking myself ever since. As luck would have it, I spotted her having lunch with you and your lovely Chloe yesterday afternoon.”

He considered me for a moment. “You’re talking about Sara?”

“Sara,” I said, perhaps a bit too triumphantly.

“Oh no,” he said, immediately shaking his head. “Not a chance, Max.”

“What?” But with Bennett I couldn’t maintain an innocent expression for long. The man knew me only from my university days. Maybe not my best representation of good behavior.

“Chloe will have my balls if she finds out I let you anywhere near Sara. No way.”

I pressed a hand to my chest. “I’m wounded, mate. What if my intentions are honorable?”

Bennett laughed and stood to walk over to the window. “Sara’s . . .” He hesitated. “She’s just come out of a bad breakup. And you’re . . .” He looked at me and raised an eyebrow. “You’re not her type.”

“Come on, Ben. I’m not a nineteen-year-old wanker anymore.”

He threw me an amused smirk. “Okay, but you’re talking to the man who saw you successfully hook up with three women in a single evening, without any of them knowing about the others.”

I grinned. “You’ve got it all wrong. They were all very well acquainted by the end of the night.”

“Are you shitting me?”

“Just give me her number. We’ll consider it a thank-you for the loan of my gorgeous villa.”

“You are such an asshole.”

“I believe I’ve heard that before,” I said, standing. “Sara and I, we had . . . an interesting conversation.”

“A conversation. Sara had a conversation with you. I’m skeptical.”

“A rather enjoyable one, yes. She’s intriguing, that little one. Unfortunately, we were interrupted before I could get her name.”

“I see.”

“What luck I had, running into you lot and all.” I raised my eyebrows expectantly.

“Lucky, yes . . .” Smiling, Bennett took his seat again, looking up at me. “But I’m afraid you’ll have to find your luck somewhere else. I’m quite fond of my testicles; I’d like to keep them. I’m not going to smooth the way for you here.”

“You always were a prick.”

“So I’ve heard. Lunch Thursday?”

“You bet.”

I left Bennett’s office intent on having a look around the company’s new quarters. They’d taken over three floors of the building and I’d heard they’d already had quite a bit of work done. The spacious atrium was breathtaking, but the office areas were just as lush, with wide hallways, travertine floors, and plenty of natural light coming through windows, glass block walls, and skylights. Each office seemed to have a small sitting area—nothing to match Bennett’s, but perfect for sit-downs that didn’t call for the formality of a conference room.

That said, the conference room was breathtaking: a wall of windows looking out on midtown Manhattan, a wide polished walnut table that seated at least thirty, and state-of-the-art technology for presentations.

“Not bad, Ben,” I murmured, walking back into the hallway and staring up at a large Timothy Hogan photography installment. “Good taste in art for a total wanker.”

“What are you doing here?”

I looked up to find a very surprised Sara frozen halfway down the hall. I couldn’t help breaking into a grin; this really was my lucky day.

Or . . . not, if her expression was any indication.

“Sara!” I sang. “What a lovely surprise. I was just at a meeting. I’m Max, by the way. Pleasure to finally put a name to the”—I dropped my eyes and studied her chest, and then the rest of her, through her snug black dress—“face.”

Christ, she was hot.

When I looked back up, her eyes had grown to roughly the size of dinner plates. Honestly, the woman had the most enormous brown eyes. If they were any bigger, she’d be a lemur.

She grabbed my arm, pulling me down a hallway, her fitted knee-high boots clacking on the stone tiles.

“Lovely to see you again so soon, Sara.”

“How did you find me?” she whispered.

“A friend of a friend.” I waved my hand dismissively and looked her over. Her bangs were swept to the side and held in place by a tiny red clip, which matched her full crimson lips. She looked like she had stepped right out of some sixties photo shoot. “Sara is quite a lovely name, you know.”

She narrowed her eyes. “I should have guessed you’re a psychopath.”

I laughed. “Not quite.”

A young woman walked by, ducking her head and muttering a timid, “Good afternoon, Miss Dillon,” before scampering away.

And we have a last name. Thank you, terrified intern!

“Aaah, Sara Dillon,” I crowed. “Perhaps we could continue this conversation in a more private location?”

She looked around and dropped her voice. “I’m not having sex with you in my office, if that’s what you’re here for.”

Oh, she was fantastic. “I actually just came by to welcome you properly to New York. But I suppose I could just do that out here . . .”

“You have two minutes,” she said, turning on her heel and moving toward her office.

We turned corner after corner, finally reaching another smaller reception area lined in windows overlooking the city skyline. A young man sitting at a circular desk looked up at us as we passed.

“I’ll be in my office, George,” she said over her shoulder. “No interruptions, please.”

With the door closed behind us, she turned to face me. “Two minutes.”

“If pressed, I could get you off in two minutes.” I stepped forward, reaching out to brush my thumb along her hip. “But I think we both know that you’d like me to take longer.”

“Two minutes to explain why you’re here,” she clarified, her voice shaking slightly. “And how you found me.”

“Well,” I began, “I met this woman on Saturday. Fucked her against a wall, in fact. And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her. She was extraordinary. Beautiful, funny, sexy as hell. But she didn’t give me her name, and she left me with nothing but her knickers. That could hardly even be considered a trail of breadcrumbs.” I closed the distance between us, tucking her hair behind her ear and running my nose along the side of her jaw. “And when I came this morning, touching myself while thinking about how she felt, I still didn’t know what name to say.”

Clearing her throat, Sara pushed me away, moving to the other side of her desk. “That doesn’t explain how you found me,” she said, cheeks flushed.

I’d seen her under the strobe lights, head thrown back and eyes closed, but I wanted to see her bare, with the sunlight streaming in through her office windows. I wanted to know exactly how far that blush would spread down her body.

I dropped the teasing bit a little. This Sara was so starkly different from the flirtatious Chicago transplant I’d met at the bar. “I happened to see you at lunch yesterday with Ben. We go way back. I simply put two and two together and hoped I’d see you again.”

“You told Bennett about Saturday?” she hissed, and the flush I’d been admiring drained from her face.

“God, no. I assure you, I don’t have a death wish. I just asked for your number. He refused.”

Her shoulders relaxed the smallest bit. “Okay.”

“Look, it’s a coincidence that I saw you, and I’m coming off a bit strong by being here, but I did want to see Ben regardless. If you ever want to have dinner . . .” I dropped my card on her desk and turned to leave.

“The video,” she said abruptly. “What did you do with it?”

I turned back, and the urge to tease her became almost unbearable. But the longer I took to answer, the more panicked she appeared.

Finally she broke. “Did you put it on YouTube or PornTube or whatever sites people use?”

I burst out laughing, unable to keep it in. “What?”

“Just please tell me you didn’t.”

“God, of course not! I’ll admit I’ve watched it approximately seven hundred thousand times. But, no, I would never share it.”

She looked down at her hands in front of her, picking at her fingernail. “Could I see it?”

What was that in her voice? Curiosity? Something more?

I moved around the desk to stand behind her. She was still tense but she leaned back against me, her hands clenched in fists at her sides. I pulled my phone from my jacket and found the video, pressing play and holding it up for her to see.

With the volume up, the beat of the music played from the small speakers. She appeared on the screen, dancing with her arms above her head, and just like the first time I watched it in person, I felt myself begin to harden.

“That right there,” I said against her neck, “is when you wondered whether I’d notice your dress hitching up. In’t it?” I pressed my hips against her backside, leaving no question as to what she was doing to me.

I set my phone on the desk in front of her, placing my hand on her waist. “And there,” I said, nodding to the video again. She picked up my phone and looked at it more closely. “The way you looked at me over your shoulder, that’s my favorite part. That look on your face, it’s like you’re dancing just for me.”

“Oh God,” she whispered. I hoped she was remembering what it felt like, what it was like to have me watch her.

And then she picked up my hand and moved it slowly to the hem of her dress, which she lifted to her hip. Her skin was smooth beneath my palm, and I slipped my hand to her stomach, the muscles of her abdomen quivering under my touch.

“Were you dancing for me?” I asked, needing the reminder.

She nodded, pushing my hand lower. Christ, this woman was a tangle of contradictions.

“What else did you think about?” I asked. “Did you think about my face between your thighs, and my mouth?”

She nodded again, biting her lip.

“I wanted to touch you,” I said, my hand moving down beneath her underwear. “Just like this.”

Her body bowed beneath me, curving against my own to bend over the desk. “I want to feel how wet you are,” I said, my breath ragged, my voice low and rough. “How wet you are knowing that I came this morning while watching you.”

My fingers slipped lower.

She gasped.

“Are you watching?” I asked, pushing a single finger inside. She nodded and I slipped in a second, my thumb moving in circles over her clit. “You’re so fucking wet,” I said, my teeth dragging along her shoulder.

“We . . . shouldn’t do this here,” she said.

And still, she pushed farther into my hand. All around my steady rhythm, I could feel her begin to tighten, her breath coming out in tiny, sharp pants.

With a guilty wince, I removed my hand and turned her to face me. She looked practically drugged, eyelids heavy, lips parted.

“And unfortunately my two minutes are up.”

I kissed her cheek, the corner of her mouth, and then each of her eyelids when she closed her eyes. And then I took my phone out of her hand and walked out of her office.