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“I don’t owe you anything!”

“Really?” Quick as a striking snake, his hand flashes out. Grabs on to my wrist. And then he’s pulling me closer, until our bodies are once again touching and his face is only inches from mine.

“Let me go!”

“Not until you tell me what’s going on in that head of yours. I’ve given you time and leeway and as much control as I’m capable of, but it’s still not enough for you.” He leans forward until his lips are all but touching mine. “Would you really rather go out with that harmless little boy you were just talking to instead of me?”

He’s so close that I can see green flecks mixed in with the wild blue of his irises.

So close that I can smell the minty scent of his breath.

So close that I can feel the reckless heat of his body pouring into mine.

I take a deep breath, and as I do, my whole body lights up with arousal. Because it’s his air that I’m breathing, his essence that I’m drawing deep inside myself. And despite everything, despite all I know about him and all my righteous indignation, it feels so good. So perfect. So right.

He brings his hand to my mouth, brushes his index finger across my lower lip. Once, twice, then again and again until I yield. My lips part on a shattered gasp and his finger sneaks inside, strokes across the very tip of my tongue.

I gasp again, lean my head back against the cool leather of the booth. I’ve gone weak, boneless. There’s no rage, no indignation, nothing but pure sensation inside me. That’s what he does to me so effortlessly. Turns me into nothing but a chaotic mess of cravings and desires.

“Chloe.” He whispers my name, and my already splintered resolve breaks wide open.

I close my lips around his finger, suck it deep into the recesses of my mouth. Run my tongue down its underside before swirling over and around it. Top to bottom, top to bottom. Again and again and again even as I pull him deeper inside me.

Ethan groans, low and tortured, and I see it happen. See the last thread of control snap as he rips his finger from my mouth, plunges his hands into my hair and yanks my mouth to his.

There’s a part of me that registers where we are. Yes, it’s a secluded booth in the back corner of the patio. Yes, we’re alone out here. Yes, we’re pressed against the back of the booth, so you have to be close to see what we’re doing. But we’re still at work, still in the most public of venues. We should not be doing this, and we certainly shouldn’t be doing this here.

And yet I don’t give a damn. I don’t try to stop him, don’t even think about trying to stop him. I’m too caught up in the taste and scent and feel of him to think of anything else. Too caught up in the pleasure to do anything but grab on to his shoulders and meet his tongue with my own.

I thought his other kisses were intense, powerful, drugging, but those stolen moments in his office have nothing on this embrace. Nothing on this kiss. There’s an urgency here, a desperation that was lacking in those earlier moments with him. It should probably scare me—would scare me if I was thinking clearly—but right now all I can think about is more. Taking more. And giving more. Giving everything.

My hands come up, tangle in the cool silk of his dress shirt and tug. Ethan bites at my lower lip in response and I gasp at the darkly seductive edge of pain that tangles with the pleasure. He takes instant advantage, strokes his tongue across my own. Over the top, then underneath to the slick, sensitive bottom. I’ve never been kissed there before and it feels shockingly good, so good that I find myself opening even more, sucking him deeper and deeper inside me.

He groans again, a dark, devastating sound that rips right through me, and my hands move of their own volition. Now they’re tangled in the wildness his hair, tugging him closer and closer as I yield completely. As I do what I’ve been afraid of all along and give him everything.

Ethan takes it. Of course he does. And I revel in his possession, in the strong, sure way his arms wrap around me and pull me against his long, muscular torso.

I love the way he tastes, like mint and blueberries and tart, sweet lemonade. Like lazy summer days on the beach and warm, sexy nights in bed. Like my darkest fantasies and deepest fears all mixed into one. He’s sex and seduction, danger and desire, all rolled into one explosive package. I should be wary. Hell, I should be terrified, but in these precious, stolen moments all I can be is delighted. And aroused—definitely aroused.

I nip at his lower lip, slide my tongue inside his mouth. Explore him as he has explored me. He shifts a little, shoves the free-standing table back against the other edge of the booth. Then pulls me on top of him so that I’m straddling his lap, my sex pressed intimately against the hardness of his erection.

His hands are on my hips now, lifting and lowering me in time to the slow, sexy thrust of his hips. Need claws at me, and I feel empty, aching, desperate to be filled. I moan, pull at him in a frantic effort to bring him closer, to take him inside me.

He steadies me with his hands, his body, his mouth. Eases the ache even as he stokes it. Calms me even as he takes me higher. His mouth is still on mine, his lips and tongue exploring and enticing, teasing and tantalizing, until I’m afraid I’m going to lose my mind.

“Ethan!” I gasp. “Please!”

“I’ve got you, Chloe.” His hands clutch at my hips, shimmying me against him in such a way that my whole body lights up at the contact. “I’ve got you, baby.”

And then he closes his teeth over my lip, a long, slow bite that hurts just enough to mix with the other rioting sensations inside me and send me hurtling over the edge. Pleasure explodes inside me and I cry out against Ethan’s lips, but he’s got me. His mouth absorbs my cries even as his body moves to wring every last drop of pleasure from my own.

When it’s over, when I can breathe and move and maybe even think again, I lift pleasure-drugged eyes to Ethan’s.

“That’s twice you haven’t gotten to come.”

He smiles at me, strokes a tender hand down my cheek. “I can wait.”

Just then the whoosh of the automatic door sounds, signaling the fact that someone else has joined us on the patio. Ethan immediately lifts me off his lap and onto the seat beside him, then makes a totally useless effort at tamping down my riotous mess of curls.

“I’ve got it,” I say, reaching into my purse and pulling out four hair sticks. As Ethan watches, a surprisingly gentle look on his face considering the fact that he’s still very obviously aroused, I twist and gather my hair into a bun at the nape of my neck. Once it’s as controlled as I can make it, I reach for the hair sticks, but he beats me to it. He gathers them up, then pushes them—one after another—into my hair, taking great pains not to scratch or jab me.

When he’s done, I shake my head a little, just to make sure none of the sticks is going to fall out. They stay put, and while it’s not perfect, at least my hair no longer screams that he’s spent the last fifteen minutes running his hands through it. That’s something, I suppose.

“Let me take you out tonight.”

I stiffen at his words, identical to those he said last night. The last vestiges of orgasm-induced pleasure leak away as all the things I’ve spent the last few minutes not thinking about find their way back into my brain. I’m not angry anymore. Nor am I determined to tell him off. I’m just sad. Sad that the only person I’ve been really attracted to in years—maybe forever—has an outlook so different from my own. Sad that no matter how good he makes me feel and how much I want to return the favor, that there can be nothing else between us. Which means, really, that there can be nothing between us at all.

I may want him, he may feel the same way, but there’s no way I can be with a man who would do what Ethan did in that conference room today. Not when I know firsthand the misery such ruthlessness can cause.

“I can’t,” I tell him.

“You mean you won’t. You had no problem making plans with that kid from R&D for this evening.”

For a minute I can’t even remember whom he’s talking about. Then an image of Zayn asking me for drinks flashes through my mind, followed quickly by the knowledge that he’ll be thrilled to find out that Ethan knows who he is. “We’re friends.”

He snorts. “Yeah. He looked very friendly while he was feeding you.”

“You saw that?” I feel myself blushing, embarrassed that he saw me make such a mess of myself.

“Hard to miss it. The guy had his hands all over you.”

“No, he didn’t! That’s rid—” I break off as it occurs to me what’s really going on here. “You’re jealous!”

“Of course I’m jealous. I don’t like any other man putting his hands on you. You’re mine, even if you don’t know it yet.”

“Yours?” The warning bells go crazy, and I scoot farther around the booth, shoving the table back to its normal position as I do. “We haven’t even been on a date yet.”

“A fact I’m trying my best to remedy.” I climb out the other side of the booth, but he’s already up, waiting for me. “You agreed to go out with me last night. You were still planning on it this morning in the lobby of Trifecta—I could tell by the way you smiled at me. So what the hell has happened between now and then to change your mind so completely? I just don’t get it.”

I think about telling him to go to hell, think about just storming away. But now that I’m more sad than pissed off, I can totally see that he deserves an explanation. If a guy treated me the way I’ve treated Ethan—letting him make me come, letting him buy my friend and me drinks and dinner, letting him send me presents—I’d be beyond pissed to be shot down without so much as a word.

“Look, I’m sorry. We just have different philosophies on life and—”

“Are you kidding me? Different philosophies?”

“No, I’m not joking. It’s important—”

“How do you know?”

“That it’s important to share similar values with the person you’re dating?”

“That our values and philosophies are so different to begin with.”

“I saw you today.”

He looks baffled. “I saw you, too.”

“No, I mean with the people from Trifecta. You were brutal with them. They had really valid requests and you just shot them down like they were nothing. Stole those patents from them, even though the owner’s son was totally responsible for one of them.”

“You can’t be serious. You’re walking away without giving me a chance because of something that happened in a business meeting?”

“See? You can’t even understand what you did. They’re people, with dreams and hopes and ideas. Good ideas. It’s bad enough that you bought up their stock and forced them into becoming part of Frost Industries. But to take away their only chance at making a good livelihood again…I just can’t wrap my head around it.”

I expect him to make another argument, to try once again to change my mind. But instead he’s looking at me like he doesn’t know me. Or, worse, like he doesn’t want to.

I wait for him to speak, but he doesn’t. Silence stretches between us, tight and angry. The weight of it pushes on me, makes me feel angrier, gloomier, lonelier than I already do. Which, believe me, is not something I need.

I’ve just about made up my mind to walk away when he says, “You really believe that? You really think that’s how I operate?”

“It’s not like I read some ridiculous article from the tabloids. I saw you pull the rug out from under them. Saw you destroy them. Worse, my research had a hand in helping you do it. I’m having a hard time living with that, let alone all the rest.”

“Must be nice to sit there in your ivory tower and cast aspersions on things you don’t understand.”

His words, so close to Brandon’s, so close to my father’s, make me see red like nothing else could. “Oh, don’t you pull that self-righteous act on me. I’m about as far from a princess as anyone can get, and I’m not a moron. I understand plenty. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.”

“I find it rich that you’re calling me self-righteous when I’ve never heard a more sanctimonious load of bullshit in my life. And from a future lawyer.”

“Oh, right. A lawyer joke. How original. Especially coming from you. I’m the one standing here talking about doing the right thing, for everyone, and you’re condemning me. So don’t you dare talk to me about how amoral lawyers are.”

“That’s what you think? That backing off and leaving Trifecta to flounder in their own incompetence would be the right thing for everyone?” He laughs, but there’s no amusement in it. In fact, the sound is so painful, so agonized, that it chills my blood. “You know what? You’re right, Chloe. We’re not a good match. You abhor pragmatists, and I—Well, let’s just say I have better things to do than waste my time on supercilious little girls who spend too much time hiding behind their rose-colored glasses.”