“Mistake?” His brows furrowed.
“I wasn’t thinking clearly and you took advantage of it. We can still move on and pretend like it never happened, or I can transfer you to Richard—” My nails dug into the palms of my hands.
He let out a frustrated breath, shaking his head. “I’m not working with anyone else but you. I thought that was settled.”
“Look, I admitted I’m attracted to you, but we shouldn’t have acted on it. You’re a client for Christ’s sake. You caught me off guard and I was confused.” I tried to make it sound as convincing as I could, but he didn’t look like he was buying.
He stooped to pick up the paperwork and my work bag. As he walked over to me, I scrambled to my feet. My heels felt wobbly, and I took a step back, worried he was going to kiss me again.
He eyed me darkly, “Are you sleeping with anyone?”
He just wasn’t going to give up. “No, but I don’t—”
“Then there was no mistake. Stop apologizing, and stop denying what happened. We both wanted it.” His brows narrowed, his gaze was intense. It was clear we were both exasperated, but for very different reasons. “If you still think you’re confused, I’ll make you a bet: before this week is done, you’ll be touching yourself while thinking about me.”
His casual reference to my masturbation routine left me shocked and wordless. Though I was no prude, I hadn’t talked openly about touching myself to anyone but Riley and certainly not with any men I’d dated. And I wasn’t even dating Vincent!
He watched my shocked expression as if waiting for me to speak, but I couldn’t think of a coherent response.
“Right now I have a meeting. What I said earlier stands. If you’re not my point of contact, I’m not doing business with Waterbridge-Howser.” He gave me the signed contract and guided me to the door, his hand at the small of my back. I didn’t have the energy to fight it. “This isn’t over Kristen. We’ll discuss later.”
When I stepped out of the office, no one seemed to notice my shellshock or even pay me any attention. I let out a deep breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding and checked my reflection in the glass wall, one eye trained on the office staff. The collar of my blouse had been turned upwards and I quickly folded it down. I ran my hands over my skirt to smooth out the wrinkles, but my panties were a lost cause. I’d have to pick up a spare on the way back or do without for the rest of the day. As I ran my fingers through my hair, I could see my face was a shameful red in my reflection.
The sooner I got out of there the better. That kiss was a mistake that might cost me more than my career. Now that Vincent had seen the effect he had on me, I had a nagging feeling he wouldn’t stop until he had exactly what he wanted.
I studied my face in the Waterbridge-Howser bathroom mirror again, searching for traces of what happened in Vincent’s office. It still didn’t look right. For the third time, I wiped off my lipstick and reapplied. It had to look fresh, like I decided to redo it after getting the contract in anticipation of the big celebration. This was a huge deal. I should be happy.
During the walk back to the office, I’d decided I was going to remain his point of contact. Nervous as it made me, landing Vincent would be huge for my career. I couldn’t let that opportunity slide. Even if I’d just let something almost unthinkable happen. A client had kissed me, and I had reciprocated. I knew he expected it to happen again, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to resist his potent sexual energy. It was irritating that a bad boy like him could have such an effect on me. Hadn’t I told Riley I liked nice and caring guys?
I closed my eyes again. I was still embarrassed. This was a high point in my career, but I felt awful.
I gave my makeup and hair one final appraisal before deciding they were fine. I practiced my celebratory smile but it looked off. I’d never been good at being phony.
The door opened and two first-year analysts walked in. I couldn’t wait any longer. It was showtime.
I walked out the door and Richard was waiting for me. “So how did it go?” he asked. His gray eyes were bolts of intensity. How on earth had he made it back from Jersey already?
I took a deep breath, put on my best fake smile, and held up the file. “The docs are signed. Deal’s closed. We got it.”
His hands shot up in triumph then came down awkwardly into a single clap. He looked torn whether or not to hug me but didn’t, instead taking the documents from my hand. I let them go willingly.
He quickly leafed through each of the required signatures as I shifted back and forth on my feet. “See, I told you we impressed him. Carl will be pleased. God I can smell the bonus already. Definite promotion.”
I nodded, smile still plastered on my face. The feelings stirring through my body weren’t fit for expression. More than anything, I was beginning to feel anger. This should be my breakthrough moment; I’d worked so hard for it. Instead, I was concerned about hiding my relations with Vincent from my employer so I wouldn’t get fired.
“You know, I was worried you were in there crying because something had gone wrong,” he said, his eyes fixed on the final signature. “I’m surprised he didn’t want me there for the signing. Did he say anything important?”
Before I could respond, a shrill voice came from our left. “Did I just hear we got Sorenson?”
I turned and saw the blonde curls and round face of Molly, another analyst. She had been at the company for five years and did good work, but hadn’t quite broken through yet. Her voice also carried in a way I didn’t think was possible before I’d met her. Not for the first time, I wondered if it could be heard on adjacent floors.
“Kristen and I locked it down today,” Richard said, holding up the documents.
“Wow, congrats!” She turned and waved her finger at me. “Now you better make sure you don’t let him take all the credit here. I saw you go to that meeting.” Molly worked under a different manager and had known Richard long enough that she could get away with such comments.
I barely trusted myself to speak but I had no choice. Still with my best fake grin, I shook my head. “I won’t.”
“Well I won’t stand for it if I hear you did.”
I nodded, wanting to put an end to the conversation. While we’d been talking, heads had been popping out of cubicles offering their congratulations. The rest of the work day passed in a blur of emails and catching up on other work. It seemed everyone was excited but me. How could I have let Vincent kiss me?
I walked into my apartment emotionally drained; I wanted to collapse on my bed and cry. Riley was sitting in the living room watching one of the housewives shows and eating noodles. She waved when she saw me come in and finished chewing.
“How did it go?” she asked excitedly. I’d texted her on the way to the meeting with Vincent for moral support, but had forgotten about following up afterward. There would definitely be missed messages on my phone when I looked at it.
“We got it,” I said wearily.
She screamed in delight, got up, and bounced over in her blue shorts and sorority t-shirt to hug me. I dropped my bag and reciprocated as best I could.
Riley seemed oblivious to my mood. “We have to go out and celebrate,” she said.
“I don’t know. I’m really tired.”
“Come on! This is the biggest moment of your career. I would kill to have something like this happen at my job.”
I looked at her and my shoulders slumped. “Sorry, I just need to wind down with a bath and fall asleep tonight. It was a really big day.”
She looked at me and frowned. “Are you okay? Did something happen?”
Maybe someone. I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it yet, so I shook my head. “I’m just totally beat. Stressful day.”
I felt her gaze linger for a second longer but she moved on. “Okay. But we’re celebrating this weekend and I’m absolutely not taking no for an answer. We can try that new tapas place. Sangria!”
I smiled. “Sounds like a deal.”
Riley nodded and went to the fridge to get what was probably her seventh diet coke of the day. “So what actually happened in the meeting?”
I looked away. “It’s kind of a blur. We talked, and after a while he was satisfied and signed. It’s hard to remember the details.”
“So this means a promotion, right? I remember you saying landing accounts was everything.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
I’d lied to my roommate. Remembering every second of that meeting was no problem at all. The problem was forgetting.
I went to my bedroom to change into my robe before walking into the bathroom. As I drew hot water for my bath, my thoughts lingered on Vincent. The audacity he had to kiss me in his office had me stuck between upset and impressed. I supposed it was to be expected from an adrenaline junkie like him. Obviously most of the risks he’d taken up to that point had worked out just fine. If this one failed, it was no sweat off his back. I recalled the incident in Cape Town. Compared to being bitten by a poisonous spider, kissing a girl was nothing.
I shrugged off my robe and poured my favorite bubble bath soap under the tap. The cinnamon candle I chose was one of my favorites, and I lit it while waiting for the tub to fill up. Once it had, I turned off the tap and stepped in, submerging myself up to my neck.
The warm water and fragrant scents had an immediate effect on my nerves. I’d chosen bubbles with notes of vanilla, sugar, almonds, and just a hint of musk. The combination was relaxing while making me feel sexy—something I needed because I wasn’t getting anywhere with my dating life. Or lack thereof. It’d been a long time since I’d even kissed someone, let alone had to resist a kiss. I’d forgotten these things take willpower.
I leaned back and closed my eyes, feeling the bubbles pool around my chest and neck. This was just what I needed. I wiggled my toes and started a body scan meditation I learned in yoga class, gradually relieving the stress from my system.
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