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Fiona packed the gifts back in the bag and asked the restaurant if a concierge could have them delivered to the hotel. It was amazing to see she was actually capable of making her own arrangements.

After dinner, coffee was poured but there was no dessert. What was a birthday party without cake? Ben looked bored to tears. I needed to rescue him. I leaned in closer. “No cake on your birthday? That’s practically a crime.”

He shrugged. “I’m not allowed to have cake.”

“Allowed?” I wasn’t gluten free, all organic, diary free, or vegan. I liked food. I often ate too much of it. Sue me. “We need cake.” I pushed my chair back from the table and grabbed my handbag. “Thank you for dinner,” I said to Fiona. Then I grabbed Ben’s hand. “Come on.”

His eyes widened and darted up to mine, and after a second of hesitation he rose to his feet. “Fiona.” He bent to press a kiss to her cheek.

She smiled, fake as all get out. “Off so soon?”

He shrugged. “Yes, if that’s okay with you all.” He directed the question to the table.

Everyone nodded and smiled, no one willing to disagree with him.

Genius.

Fiona couldn’t say anything. Everyone else had already agreed. I could’ve kissed him. But I would save that for later.

Once we were safely outside the restaurant, Ben gripped my hand, lacing his fingers between mine, his mouth twitching in a smile. “Phew. Thank you for rescuing me.”

I beamed up at him, feeling like an utter genius, and squeezed his hand.

We ventured to the bar/restaurant inside the lobby of our hotel, slid into a secluded booth, and ordered two glasses of fizzy champagne.

When the server came back, I ordered the biggest slice of chocolate cake they had.

“Really?” Ben grinned at me. “Sure you can handle all that, sweetheart?”

I nodded enthusiastically. “Bring it on.”

When the server delivered the cake, it was with a little Parisian smirk. It was towering off the plate.

“I didn’t expect it to be so large,” I commented.

Ben’s eyebrows raised suggestively. He handed me a spoon. “Ladies first.”

I was about to argue that it was his birthday and he should do the honors, but his stern expression left no room for discussion. I accepted the proffered spoon and dug into the dense cake. My favorite bite, the little triangle piece right from the tip. Ben’s eyes followed my movements, watching as my mouth closed around the spoon.

“Mmm,” I moaned, dropping my head back. His eyes widened and he visibly swallowed.

Ben dug in, joining me in chocolate bliss. “I haven’t had cake in . . . years.” He took a bite and his eyes slipped closed as he chewed. “Holy shit.”

I laughed. These calories were sooo worth it. So was watching Ben’s expression. He clearly enjoyed himself. Ben leaned back against the booth, crossing his arms and observing me. I took another bite, licking the chocolate frosting from my spoon. As my tongue darted out, his breathing hitched, his chest rising and falling systematically. I liked that I was having an effect on him. Lord knows he affected me. My entire body hummed in arousal when he was near. And forget it when he swept that deep hazel gaze fringed with dark lashes over my curves. I mentally parted my knees, ready and waiting.

“Hope it’s been a good birthday.” I lifted my champagne glass and clinked it against his.

“It is now.”

I smiled at the compliment, glad I’d had the courage to save him. “I got you something, well, made you something.”

“You made me something? What is it?”

“It’s nothing big; I just felt dumb giving it to you at the restaurant.”

He leaned back in his seat, studying me. “I like that you waited.” Ben’s gaze followed my movement as I reached into my purse to retrieve the gift.

I handed him a flat package wrapped in brown paper, suddenly feeling like an idiot. This isn’t sixth grade, Emmy.

Ben looked down at the gift, his eyes wide and filled with disbelief. “You made this for me?”

I nodded sheepishly.

“I’ve never gotten a homemade gift.” He held it with reverence as if it were something priceless and important, rather than a CD—a playlist I’d burned just for him.

“It’s nothing. Open it.” Homemade gifts and cards were pretty much the norm in my family. Growing up, we didn’t have much extra money and we tended to get creative.

Ben tore away the paper and smiled when he saw the silver disk with my messy writing scrawled in black marker: Birthday Boy. I picked out a bunch of sexy jams, songs I was hoping he hadn’t heard before from the eclectic mix of music on my laptop.

“Thank you, this is awesome. The best gift I got all night.” His smile was genuine for the first time tonight, reaching his eyes and crinkling the corners.

My heart pounded in a strange rhythm, knowing he was watching me. These simple acts—the cake, the homemade gift—I don’t know why, but he acted as if these gestures meant more to him than the thousand-dollar dinner and extravagant gifts he had just received.

“You’re welcome,” I murmured. Why my voice had gone all husky and low, I didn’t know.

“Let’s get out of here.” His tone left little room for argument. But wasn’t this what I wanted? I wanted to feel desired and sexy, to lose myself in this man.

The glass of fizzy champagne had gone straight to my head, and I clutched Ben’s arms as we made our way to the elevator. He was unusually quiet and intense, and I wondered what was going on inside his head.

Once inside the elevator, Ben left no doubt where we were headed. He punched the button for his floor then turned to face me, caging me in with his arms against the wall. He dipped his head to inhale the scent of my neck, sending a rush of pleasure tingling down my body.

“Come upstairs with me,” he growled, his warm breath washing over the curve of my jaw. My pulse drummed in my throat where his lips hovered.

I didn’t answer—couldn’t. My body wanted this. My brain wasn’t so sure. Whatever was between him and Fiona was a definite concern. Once he was done with me, it would be like a Taylor Swift song—heartbreak city. No amount of ice cream or vodka would cheer me up. Would I lose my job, too?

Ben pulled back and met my eyes, his fingertips grazing the thinking lines etched into my forehead. “Hey,” his voice went all soft and sweet. “Stop fighting this.”

Easy for him to say. I swallowed the lump lodged in my throat. “I don’t do the casual sex thing.”

“Who said that’s what I wanted?” I remembered his earlier comment that only three girls had gotten it. I guess that made me lucky number four. “You’re the one who ran out of my room the other night.”

Why had I done that? I’d been tipsy from the alcohol, and humiliated that I let things go that far. I knew my heart was already engaged, and it was safer and easier to flee than face an awkward postsex discussion. “Ben, what am I supposed to think? You’re you . . . and I’m me . . .”

Confusion fixed across his features and his mouth pulled into a tight line, but he stayed silent.

The elevator stopped, and he motioned for me to exit as the doors slid open. We walked to his room in silence.

When we reached his room, Ben, still watching me quietly, let me inside.

“I’m sorry I left,” I said.

He nodded and lifted my hand to his mouth. “Spend the night with me.”

Raw need blossomed inside me. I was powerless against his charms. “Like a sleepover?”

“Yes. With playtime,” Ben confirmed, a smirk tugging his lips.

My pulse thundered in my ears. “I like playtime.”

His hands circled my waist, hauling me closer. “Good girl. And this time I get to taste that sweet pussy.”

I turned bright pink and my knees trembled. I braced my hands against his shoulders, needing something sturdy to grasp on to. I nodded, completely lost and falling. Falling for this beautiful man whose deep hazel eyes were watching mine.

“I want you. It’s simple. Don’t make it complicated,” he whispered.

My eyes slipped closed. “This isn’t just sex, Ben.”

Soft fingertips stroked my jaw. “I know, beautiful. Stop assuming you know what I want. I’ve never had a girl like you. Soft . . .” His thumb caressed my cheek. “Sweet . . .” His lips pressed over mine. “And southern . . .” His hand found my backside and he squeezed, pulling me closer. “Let me do this. Let me have you, Emmy.”

I opened my eyes and nodded. He could have anything he wanted, so long as he touched me soon. My knees were jelly and my nipples were hard and tingling. “Only if I can have you, too.”

“You can have anything you want.” His tone was so solemn, so sincere, I believed him.

With a sudden burst of confidence that I could have this man, I dropped to my knees in front of him. I needed to consume him, to own him. I fought with his belt and button then tugged open his zipper. His hands remained at his sides, and when my eyes fluttered up to watch his, a playful smirk was tugging his lips. The growing bulge in his trousers proved he wasn’t as calm and in control as his expression demonstrated.

Seeing him up close and personal was so intimate; I nuzzled my nose and mouth against his flesh, breathing in his scent. He smelled so good. A trace of soap and musk. All man. I wanted more. Moving lower, I pressed tender kisses along his length and heard him suck in a breath.

I could feel him watching me. Knowing he was looking down at me only fueled my desire and I licked and suckled as I tried to take him deeper. His hips pushed forward as he invaded my mouth, and my hands scrambled to stroke his engorged shaft.

It was a powerful thing, pleasing him like this, being in control of his pleasure. I thrust my mouth down around his cock, taking him all the way to the back of my throat. His large length hit my tonsils and I gagged, salivating around him. Ben moaned and his knees went stiff. I knew I had done something right. I loved learning what he liked. If he wasn’t going to tell me, it was up to me to find out. And, apparently, he liked it deep. I continued my ministrations, not stopping until he bumped against the back of my throat with each thrust.

“Yeah baby, fuck.” His fingertips threaded through my hair, tugging me closer. A low whimper escaped the back of his throat, the sound raw and primal. A rush of endorphins hit my bloodstream and I tightened my grasp around him, needing him closer, wanting him inside me. I let his cock fall free from my mouth and rose on shaky feet. His big hands cradled my jaw, and he kissed me deeply, his tongue flirting with mine.

“Ben . . .”

“Anything you want . . .” he breathed against my mouth.

I had no idea how to ask for what I wanted, so instead I kissed him again, the one thing I felt confident with. His breathing was accelerated, just like mine, so I at least felt comforted that I wasn’t alone in the craziness overtaking my system.

He tugged at the button on my jeans, popping it open while he kissed me. “Take off your panties, baby. I need to be inside you.”

His deep, sexy voice sent shivers racing down my spine as I fought for control. His fingers skimmed across my belly, lighting up my nerve endings and making my pulse race.

“I don’t want to use a condom. I want to feel you. I’m clean. Are you on the pill?”

I nodded and it was all the information he needed. He captured my mouth in a hungry kiss and his hands found mine. He helped me pull my jeans and panties down my legs until I was bare from the waist down.

Ben suddenly lifted me, and I wrapped my legs around his waist. He walked us backward until my back hit the wall, forcing a breath from my lungs. I groaned at the sensation of his thick erection pressing against me. I ground my hips against his. But Ben, always in control, made no move to join our bodies and continued kissing me deeply. I craved him, I needed him.

“Ben . . .” I whimpered, breaking free from the kiss.

“Tell me what you want.” His lips rubbed against mine as he spoke, our foreheads resting together.

Was he serious? I could feel his erection nudging me. “Please.”

“Beg for it, baby.”

“Bennn . . . I need you . . . deep inside me . . .”

His guttural moan sent a new wave of wetness rushing against his hardened flesh. He was teasing me, running his slickened manhood along me, making me whimper.

“You want me to fuck that beautiful pussy, baby?” Ben pressed his hard tip against me without entering.

“Yes please. Ben, fuck me.” How I always seemed to end up begging for him I had no idea, but this man made me crazy with desire. I’d never been this way before—this out of control and desperate. He pushed against me, sliding inside slowly, letting his body invade mine until he was deeply buried within me. The pleasure/pain combo sent a groan tumbling from my throat. I gripped his shoulders and he held my ass in his hands, lifting me up and down, fucking me hard and without mercy.

My back bumped against the wall with each thrust, but I didn’t care if I had bruises tomorrow. I wanted it hard. Needed it. I needed him to claim me and show me I was his. Watching Ben lose control was a thing of beauty. His face remained impassive, but his pulse thrummed in his neck and his muscles tensed and quivered as he held my weight.

Never normally vocal during sex, I mumbled his name and moaned with each stroke. Sex had never been so intimate before. This was more than sharing in bodily pleasure. Ben’s gaze stayed locked on mine as he read my every cue, responded to my every need. I braced my hand on the wall behind my head. Ben’s hand cradled the back of my head in his hand.

“Is this hurting you?” Without waiting for my answer, he walked us across the room and tossed me down on the bed.

The physical separation was abrupt and unwelcome. I instantly missed him. His erection hung heavily between us and I couldn’t resist the urge to lean forward on the bed and plant a damp kiss against his tip. His hands moved to my hair and arranged it away from my face.

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