Ethan’s probably not even in, but I’ll spend all night dwelling on my complete and total pissed-offness if I don’t at least try to confront him.
When the elevator finally opens on the fifth floor, I expect to find the reception area dark and empty. Instead, the dragon receptionist is still there, working on her computer. She looks as surprised to see me as I am to see her, and I grind my teeth together in annoyance. It never occurred to me that she would still be here, working, so I haven’t bothered to come up with an excuse. I obviously should have.
I brace myself for an argument with her, because if Ethan is here, I am not leaving without seeing him. But unlike when she barked at me this morning, this time she’s all sweetness and light when I approach her. Which only makes me angrier.
“Good evening, Ms. Girard. Just let me call ahead and let him know you’re here and then you can go right in.”
“I thought I needed an appointment.”
“Most people do,” she says with a benign smile. “But Mr. Frost was very clear on the fact that you’re to be allowed access to him whenever you need it.”
Unaware that I am now fuming, she picks up the phone and dials two numbers. Seconds later, I can hear Ethan’s voice over the telephone. Then she’s pointing me in the direction of his office with a smile.
“Have a good evening, Ms. Girard.”
“Thank you, Mrs.”—I glance down at her nameplate, which holds a position of honor in the center of her pristine desk—“Lawrence.”
“Call me Dorothy, dear. Everyone else does.”
I’m not sure my heart can handle the shock of calling the dragon lady by her first name, no matter how charming she is right now. So instead of answering, I just nod weakly and then head to where she’d directed me to go.
I end up walking through another reception area, with another desk that obviously belongs to Ethan’s personal assistant, at least judging by the nameplate on the desk. Though he’s nowhere around—he must have left at five o’clock like a normal person—his desk is about a million times messier than Mrs. Lawrence’s.
Right past the reception area is the door to a huge office, one whose lush furnishings make both reception areas look tiny and ill-styled. Certain that this is Ethan’s office, I push the half-closed door open without bothering to knock. After all, it’s not like he isn’t expecting me.
Except once I get in there, I realize he’s in the middle of a business call. Though he’s leaning against the front of his desk instead of sitting behind it, his conversation makes it very obvious that I’ve interrupted some major deal brokering. On Trifecta, I wonder, or something else entirely?
Either way, I start to step back out—an intern has no business being in on any of these calls. But he stops me with a wave and a smile, gestures for me to sit anywhere I’d like. I know he expects me to pick one of the chairs immediately opposite his desk, but both are a little close to his long, Armani-clad legs for my comfort.
So I choose the indigo couch that’s toward the back of the room, grouped with a couple of chairs into a relaxing sitting area. As I settle onto the cushions, it occurs to me that I probably should have taken one of the chairs, since it sends a different message.
It’s too late now, though, so I stay where I am. I don’t settle back, though. No need to look like I’m getting comfortable in here. Not that there’s any chance of that, to be honest. This office, while incredibly appealing in its own way, is designed to intimidate much more than to welcome. Even the colors—cool blues and grays—while soothing in some small way, scream power and privilege and unemotional calculation.
I’m prepared for a long wait. Though I’m doing my best not to eavesdrop, it’s hard not to hear some of the discussion, and it sounds very important. In my opinion, it’s definitely got something to do with the merger I’ve been assigned to research. I think about leaving and coming back tomorrow, after I’ve had time to plot out my words better and he’s no longer on the phone, lounging against his desk looking like a cover model for the Armani summer fashion campaign.
But to my surprise, he wraps his conversation up within a couple of minutes, telling whoever is on the line that “something’s come up.”
Then he’s striding over to me, a smile on his face and a wicked gleam in those Pacific Ocean eyes of his. I stiffen, expecting him to sit next to me on the couch, but instead he takes the chair to my right. Despite the small distance, there’s an unmistakable intimacy in the air between us, one that makes me squirm even as it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up.
“Chloe.” His voice is as warm and familiar as the smile on his face. “How was your day?”
It’s an innocent question, but it triggers all the anger and discomfort I’ve been feeling since the moment he walked into that conference room and spoke to my boss. I tell myself to chill, to temper my response, but the second I open my mouth everything just comes pouring out.
“How was my day? How was my day? How the hell do you think my day was when you deliberately sabotaged me?”
The smile disappears from his face, is replaced by a wariness that tells me he’s as intelligent as all the business and tech blogs give him credit for. He doesn’t make excuses, doesn’t blow me off. Instead, in a voice that says he’s taking me, and my words, very seriously, he says, “Explain.”
“What’s there to explain? You basically painted a target on my back and gave them carte blanche to fire at will.”
“What do you mean, who? Everyone. I’m a brand-new intern who’s just finished her second day with the company. It was bad enough that you walked into that meeting with me, but to take the most coveted research assignment away from the guy who’s been there the longest and give it to me for no reason—”
“There was a reason.”
“Yeah, well, wanting to sleep with me isn’t actually a valid reason. Trust me, if I hadn’t known that already, it would have been hammered home today.”
“What did they do?” The question is deceptively quiet, his face maintaining its placid lines. But there’s a fire in his eyes that tells me there’s a lot more going on under the surface than he wants me to know about.
“What they did isn’t the point. The point—”
“It’s the point to me.” He leans forward, brushes one of my wayward curls out of my eyes. For the past few minutes they’ve been escaping the stranglehold I put them in earlier. Like the rest of my body, they have a tendency to spring out of my control whenever Ethan Frost gets a little too close.
But I refuse to be shaken by his touch or swayed from what I want to say. Not this time. “No, the point is you can’t just go around showing blatant favoritism. Especially when I’ve given you no encouragement.”
“It’s not favoritism. I read your file yesterday, cover to cover.”
“Because your skill at getting your point across impressed me in the cafeteria.” He smiles at my disbelieving look. “What can I say? I like a woman who knows how to argue.”
“What is it with you?” I’m completely exasperated at this point and don’t even attempt to hide it. I’ll treat him like my boss when he starts acting like it. Until then, he’s just another guy annoying the hell out of me. “Don’t you know getting involved with an intern is never a good idea? That’s got to be on the first page of CEOs for Dummies.”
He laughs, not some polite little chuckle but a full-out belly laugh, and the sound is so sexy that it shoots right through me, making my knees tremble and putting the rest of me on alert despite my anger. And that isn’t even taking into account how the laugh changes the sharp and reserved planes of his face, warming everything up until he looks a million times more approachable.
It’s a good look for him, and one that my instinct tells me not many people get to see. Which is ridiculous when I think of how I’ve seen him interact with people over the last two days—the easy way he speaks to everyone from cafeteria workers and security guards to Maryanne, who is an executive in the legal department.
“I think you have CEOs for Dummies confused with Politics for Dummies.”
“Is there a difference?”
“Politicians are the married idiots who keep getting in trouble for sleeping with the interns when they should be running the country. I’m not married and I don’t want to run anything but Frost Industries.”
“Tell that to someone who believes it. You put me on the Trifecta merger, the biggest merger in this company’s history. You want to run a lot more than just Frost Industries.”
“Touché. But when they’re absorbed by us, they’ll become part of my company and I will have spoken nothing but the truth.”
“That’s a nice loophole. You sure you haven’t been reading Politics for Dummies in your spare time?”
He laughs again. “I like you.”
“Well, that’s a shame, since I can’t stand you.”
He leans in even closer, and I have to fight not to swallow my tongue. Which, I know, is anatomically impossible, and yet feels like a totally reasonable description of what happens when he comes within centimeters of brushing against me.
“You sure about that?”
No. “Pretty sure.”
“I don’t think you are.”
I fake boredom that I’m far from feeling at this point. “Oh, yeah? What makes you say that?”
He reaches over, runs his fingers lightly over the hollow of my throat. “I can see your pulse right here. It’s beating fast. That’s a big sign that someone isn’t telling the truth.”
“Don’t get too excited.” I force the words past a suddenly tight throat. His hand on my skin is strangely soothing and also incredibly exciting. I want to lean into him, to arch my neck and press against that hand in encouragement. Not that I have any intention of letting him know what he does to me. “I’m just nervous.”
It’s the wrong thing to say. I know it as soon as the words slip past my lips. His eyes take on a wicked gleam that only makes my pulse beat faster.
“Do I make you nervous, Chloe?”
“You’re my boss. Of course talking to you makes me nervous.”
Ethan doesn’t like that. I can see it in his eyes and in the way his jaw clenches. He doesn’t take his hand away, but his fingers stop their gentle, rhythmic stroking. I miss it immediately, feel bereft, though I don’t know why.
“Why do you always have to do that?” he demands.
“Do what?” If he doesn’t take his hand away soon, I’m not going to be responsible for my actions. Like leaping on him and demanding that he touch me all over. Only the knowledge that I would regret it—greatly—keeps me seated with my legs primly crossed.
Well, that and the fact that I’ll probably freeze up the second he touches me, really touches me. I’m not that woman, the one who can throw caution to the wind and just enjoy wherever the ride takes her. Not when it means giving up control. And certainly not when it means yielding to a man who could hurt me as easily as pleasure me. I did that once and look what it got me.
“Why do you have to bring everything back to the fact that I’m your employer?”
“Because you are. The power dynamics at work here are a pretty big issue whether you want to admit it or not.”
He drops his hand, sits back abruptly. Which is exactly what I want him to do. So why do I suddenly feel even more lost than usual?
“Have I misunderstood?” he asks after a moment, a truly horrified look on his face. “Am I overstepping my boundaries?”
“Well, duh. I thought I made that clear earlier.”
For a second he looks a little sick, very different from the confident man I’ve seen up until this point. But then his face closes up and all I get is blankness when he says, “I’m sorry. I thought I made it clear earlier that your internship is completely safe. No matter what happens or doesn’t happen between us, you’ll never have anything to worry about on that front.”
“Jesus, Ethan, I didn’t say I thought you were sexually harassing me. I said that you’d overstepped your bounds when you went to my boss and gave me the best assignment. I don’t need your favors. Especially when they end up causing me nothing but grief.”
Though his face doesn’t change and he’s no longer touching me, I can feel the tension slowly leak from him. “You’re wrong about why you got that assignment, you know.”
“Oh, really? So you’re saying I got it on my merits?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.” He meets my disbelieving gaze levelly. “I told you, I read your file last night. I was incredibly impressed, not just with your grades but with the paper you submitted with your application. On intellectual property.”