Crap. “I’m truly sorry about that, it wasn’t intentional. We were just trying to be persuasive and it seems we missed the mark.”
“Fair enough.” He stirred his drink and shrugged. “I’m curious, what are you doing in a bar like this?”
The question sounded like he thought I was here on the prowl—which was not at all the reason. “It was my friend Riley’s idea.” I pointed a blaming finger at Riley across the bar, who seemed to be too enamored with her company to notice. “She’s a little adventurous.”
“So are you,” he said touching my hand with the tip of his finger. “Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Excuse me?” The conversation had turned decidedly flirtatious and I wasn’t sure how to react. I’d never been hit on by a potential client before and there were no company guidelines addressing this type of situation. Regardless of how attracted I was to Vincent, if anybody at work suspected I was mixing business with pleasure, my professional reputation would be ruined. I’d seen it happen before.
“Don’t tell me your partner is.”
“You mean Richard? He’s definitely not my boyfriend.”
“Good. So you’re single.” He leaned his breathtaking face closer to mine heightening awareness of him.
I stood my ground. “Maybe I am, maybe I’m not. Either way I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t date potential clients,” I said, hoping the brush-off would end the personal discussion and we could return to talking about business.
Those seductive lips so close to mine curved into a smile. “Who says anything about dating? I just want to finish what you started this morning.”
“What are you talking about?”
“We were here.” He gently but firmly took my hand in his and placed it on his chest. The move caught me off guard and all I could do was suck in a deep breath when I felt the sudden warmth of his body and the strong beat of his heart beneath my palms. “Let’s move it further.” He began to move my hand slowly downward. As my fingertips traced the hard contours at the base of his pecs and the firm cut of his stomach through his shirt, goosebumps ran across my skin and the hairs on the back of my neck stiffened. My pulse quickened and my lips parted to accommodate faster breaths. It wasn’t until my fingers reached the base of his stony abs that my mind caught up and I pulled away.
“This morning was an innocent mistake,” I shot back, aware I was more aroused than offended by the gesture. “I don’t know what kind of girl you think I am exactly, but I don’t mix business with pleasure.”
“I do.” His sexy voice could tear down any woman’s defenses. I knew I had to get away, afraid I wouldn’t be an exception.
“Good for you. Thank you for the drink Mr. Sorenson but if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my friend.” I rose from my seat with the intention of leaving but turned back to that gorgeous face one last time. “If you’re still interested in Waterbridge-Howser, you have Richard’s number.”
His lips curled into that same wicked smile from earlier. “We’ll be in touch.”
When I returned to Riley’s table, she was by herself.
“What happened to the British guy?” I asked.
“I got bored with him. But nevermind that. What happened with you and you know who?”
“Nothing. It was just a professional discussion. All business.” I was trying to convince myself as much as her.
“Yeah, right. You’re going to get laid tonight.”
I shook my head vehemently. “No,” I repeated. “Let’s go. I’ve had enough of this place.”
We had taken off two hours ago from Cape Town International and were heading back to JFK. Riley and I had made the most out of the rest of our stay; we hadn’t had fun like that in a long time and I was already dreading returning to work. While I enjoyed working at Waterbridge-Howser, no job beat out long scenic hikes around Cape Town and watching Riley flirt with the locals.
I looked over to see Riley still fast asleep next to me, her head lolling on the backrest. If only I could get a few minutes of shuteye. Riley had tried to prod me about what happened between Vincent and me at the bar, but I left it vague, knowing that she would never let it drop if she knew the truth.
My head still pounded from the celebratory shots she insisted we take for our last “night” in South Africa. She had made some new friends on the beach who took us to the best viewing spot in town, and we’d stayed up all night watching the sun rise over Table Mountain. I had to admit, it was gorgeous, but we regretted it afterwards when we had to pack and head to the airport. Bleary eyed with the beginnings of what I was sure would be an awful hangover, we dragged ourselves to the gate and boarded. Riley had fallen asleep almost as soon as she sat down.
The ding of the seatbelt sign brought my attention back to the folder open in front of me. Richard had sent me an email late the previous night asking me to look over Vincent’s file again. He was nervous that Vincent hadn’t called us yet, which made me nervous as well.
We hadn’t seen any sign of Vincent Sorenson after that night at the bar. When we were exploring the wilderness around Cape Town, I was half expecting him to pop out of a forested area nearby locked in a mortal engagement with a panther, or make a dramatic appearance by falling out of the sky with a parachute. Something death defying. But there was nothing.
That night, Vincent had been so close to me I could smell the masculine scent of whiskey and spice from his clothes. I remembered his mouth lingering close to mine as he trailed my fingers down the chiseled expanse of his torso. I wondered how his lips would feel against my exposed neck. Would his kisses be soft or desperate?
I shook the thought out of my head as I flipped through Vincent’s file. He had studied mechanical engineering at Berkeley, though his professors would have said he had majored in surfing, and mechanical engineering was just his pastime. He graduated and promptly took up a life of surfing and seasonal jobs. But a few years later, he designed and built the first prototype of his surfboard camera by himself in his apartment—he seemed like he knew how to use his hands and was obviously into mixing business with the rest of his life.
I recalled the texture of his hands from when he pulled my hand to his chest at the bar. They were neatly maintained but strong and calloused from all his outdoor activities. A slow heat gathered in my core as I imagined him sliding them up my thighs—I had resisted him in Cape Town but I wasn’t sure I could resist his intimate touch again.
I shook my head. One encounter with Vincent Sorenson and I was already squirming in my panties. Since when did I start fantasizing about near strangers, and potential clients at that? Besides, anything happening between me and Vincent was bound to be a dead end. Those women around him at the bar were a thread away from having their dresses pooled on the floor. How could I compete with that? Did I even want to? I’d made a mistake with a man like that once, but I wasn’t about to do it again.
Riley let out a soft snore, her head rolled with the tilting of the plane and stopped gently on my shoulder. She always made it seem so easy. If she wanted a guy, nine times out of ten, she got him. What would she have done with Vincent? I shook away the thought.
Whatever reason Vincent Sorenson had for not contacting us, I just hoped it didn’t have to do with me shooting down his advances. I put the papers carefully back into the folder and tucked them away. Vincent was only a dangerous fantasy that needed to disappear. I leaned my head back and pulled the itchy airline blanket over my head, hoping to get some sleep before we arrived in New York.
My legs were rubber and sweat drenched the shirt on my back. I was willing my legs to move but they wouldn’t. The air was the consistency of mud. What was I running from?
Run. Just run.
Fear coiled in the pit of my stomach and I wanted to vomit.
Someone was behind me. Blue eyes burning hot and cold at the same time behind thick spectacles. How can he be so fast? He grabbed my arm, twisting it behind me. Pain flashed through my shoulder, but I couldn’t open my mouth to scream.
The shrieking of my alarm clock woke me up. I ripped my sheets off, damp with sweat. Damn it, I’d thought I was over that. I shook my numb right arm, aware I must’ve been sleeping on it all night, and clumsily hit my hand against the nightstand in confusion before I realized the alarm clock had fallen on the floor. Reaching down, I picked it up and squinted at the red letters. 7:00 a.m. I got up and snuck into the bathroom, noting Riley’s bedroom door was still closed. She didn’t have to get to work until nine, and she usually slept in until the absolute last minute.
My heart rate had slowed to normal by the time I finished my morning shower and dressed myself for work. I took the elevator down, sipping on my breakfast smoothie. Broccoli, oatmeal, protein powder, orange juice, a banana and yogurt: it was the breakfast of champions. Riley introduced me to it as a hangover cure, but it quickly became my go to morning snack. Looking at my reflection in the elevator doors, I decided I’d definitely dressed the part of a professional in my white blouse, a-line skirt, and black heels. Heck, if I had a few million dollars I’d trust myself with the money.
I power walked the streets of the Lower West side until I reached the subway station, only slowing to step over the manhole covers to avoid getting my heels stuck. At the intersection, a herd of commuters merged with me. Men and women in business suits moved in perfect synchronicity, all without any conversation.
That was the strangest thing about New York City I had never gotten used to. People could be right on top of one another but no one ever said a word. It was similar in Boston where I went to college and worked for a year afterward, but before that I lived in Coppell, Texas, where nearly everyone knew your name. You just felt more like a person when people actually recognized your existence.
I still thought of Texas as home, even though I hadn’t been back in years. My parents still lived there but we’d been out of touch since I left for college. They were workaholics and expected the same of me—at the expense of my childhood and a real relationship with them. I wasn’t bitter, but I also wasn’t fond of their attempts to steer my life. They had their own lives now and I had mine.
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