Authors: Amanda K. Byrne
She wondered how he could be so certain about it. She’d be constantly looking over her shoulder, waiting for Tony to sneak up behind her. The familiar cold rush of anxiety hit her limbs, and she fought off a shiver.
She swallowed the last of her gin and tonic, steeling herself. “I grew up outside Phoenix. I ended up at Cal Poly, and my junior year, I met Sam. He was a sweetheart, confident, smart. High school was hard, and I didn’t date a lot. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I started having more confidence in myself. I always assumed he’d noticed and that was why he’d hit on me. I was excited it was paying off. Sam was a good looking guy, more attractive than any guy who’d noticed me before.”
Heat crept up her neck as she replayed her words. “Ugh. Listen to me, I sound pathetic. I wasn’t exactly starved for male attention. It was just usually the shallow kind, more interested in arm candy than anything else. Sam was the first guy to come along who wanted to get to know me as much as he wanted to get me into bed.” She clutched her glass, wishing for more alcohol. “A few months in, he started taking subtle digs at me. He’d ask if I’d put on a few pounds, or comment on the poor grade I’d received on an important paper. It didn’t take a lot to break down the confidence I’d gained, given how shaky it was to begin with. He’d become unbelievably jealous over nothing, screaming at me, and then beg me to forgive him. He loved me. He’d tell me, often, how he couldn’t live without me.” She paused, debating how much more to tell Taylor.
She’d have to tell someone the story sometime. And she
to tell him. If what they had was going to work, he’d need to know, need to understand, and she suddenly very much wanted him to understand.
“He never raised a hand to me. I always thought it was inevitable. Someday, when I wasn’t prepared for it, he’d hit me.” Condensation slipped down the sides of her empty glass. She ran a finger through it. Such a brief sketch of her past relationship, of the man who’d whittled her self-confidence and pride to nothing. “I lost touch with a lot of my friends because of Sam. There was one who stuck with me through all of his threats. It was mostly because of her I managed to leave him. I got a job in Sacramento and started therapy. I took self-defense classes. I don’t date. I’m fine with it. I prefer it, most of the time. It makes life less complicated.”
She stared into the melting ice. “Seven years ago.” She couldn’t bring herself to tell him about Sam breaking into her apartment, the knife at her throat, the stares at work, the trial. Even now, it embarrassed her — she’d forever have an ex-boyfriend who ended up in prison because of her. She took comfort that it was because she’d finally had the strength to say no, and she hoped, when she told him, Taylor would feel the same way.
“We aren’t dating.”
Her head came up as disappointment balled in her stomach. His hazel eyes were warm and gleaming with mischief. “I never saw the point of labels.”
Was it any wonder she’d grown to like this man so much?
“You were going to say something. Earlier. About Saturday?”
Now would be a good time for a hole to open up under her. “Oh. I didn’t…I didn’t want you to think I was trying to change things between us.”
“I know.” Or she knew that now. Learning to take Taylor at his word was an ongoing process.
“Sara.” He caught her hand as it dug into the fry basket. “Stop thinking so much. Whatever happens, happens.”
“You’re so…weird.” She burst out laughing. “Don’t look surprised. It’s not an insult. You’re unlike anyone I’ve ever met. You don’t talk. You don’t push, or at least not in an obvious way. You don’t do anything that would attract attention to yourself, and I get the feeling it’s natural for you. Not something you trained yourself to do, for survival or something. It’s just because it’s who you are.”
His brows came together. “What’s the point in talking if you don’t have anything to say?”
She studied his hand, still holding hers, clasping it gently, his thumb brushing along the outside edge. The gesture calmed her — and excited her. She wanted to get up and go around the table. She wanted
to slide in next to her. She wanted him to push. Push her past the lingering doubts and terror. If she did it of her own volition, she’d stop, make a fool of herself. She needed him to take control, so she could lose it. So she could make him lose it.
She pulled her hand free instead, plucking out a fry. “Do you know what I like most about you?” She kept her tone conversational. “Your silence. I like that I can sit with you, or walk with you, and we don’t have to talk. There’s no pressure to have a conversation unless I want to.” She licked salt from her lips, chasing it with gin-flavored water. “It’s exhausting sometimes, the measures we go to in society, making sure we fit in, that we don’t rock the boat. You could give two shits what people think of you.” Until Taylor, she hadn’t realized that’s what had been missing. The quiet. Companionable silence.
She let the conversation lapse, mechanically eating most of the basket of fries. She was going to kiss him. It was the one step she could take. Maybe it was ahead of schedule, but they didn’t have one, did they? No written directive proclaiming the kiss had to come after so many more weeks of denying she really wanted to know what this man looked like naked.
Nerves resurfaced with her resolution. She excused herself and hurried to the restroom. The warm water ran over her hands as she soaped them, ridding her skin of the last of the salt.
Taylor had already paid their tab by the time she returned, no steadier than when she’d left. Heart beating at a rapid pace, she brushed past him when he held the door open for her. Jittery excitement rose with each step toward the street her bus stop was on.
If she was going to do this before she could talk herself out of it, she’d have to spring it on him. Trying not to telegraph her intent, she gave him a quick smile and turned to walk off, toward her bus stop. Then she spun around and kissed him.
He didn’t respond. His lips remained immobile against hers, and a flush worked its way up her neck to the tips of her ears. Dropping onto her heels, she offered him another tight smile and headed off to her bus stop.
Stupid. Stupid stupid
to attempt something with a man who had only recently given her any indication he might be interested in something more. Her heels clicked over the sidewalk as she hurried toward the bus shelter, away from Taylor. The best, or worst, part of all of it was he’d probably act like nothing had happened.
Best. Best thing. It would mean they could continue to work together without awkwardness.
The part of her brain that wasn’t working overtime to rationalize the situation registered the sound of footsteps coming up behind her. Her shriek of surprise was muffled by a hot, firm mouth, lips molding to hers, begging her to respond.
Taylor’s hands slid down, over her hips, gripping and yanking her to him, and her arms wound around his neck as she opened for him. His tongue tangled with hers, giving her exactly what she needed, lust and heat and a kind of claiming that crushed her doubts to a million tiny pieces.
She kissed him back, licking into his mouth, giving him more than he’d asked for, bound and determined to make him remember this one kiss, as if it was the only one they’d ever share.
The kiss was all demands. There was no softness, no gentle exploration. The need that had flared to life as his mouth continued to assault hers ratcheted higher, and she forgot they were on a crowded sidewalk during rush hour. She wanted that mouth all over her. On her neck. Her breasts. Over her belly. Between her thighs. Especially there, stoking the fire until it flamed out of control.
The kiss broke, the two of them panting, his eyes cloudy with desire. “Sara.” His hands were in her hair, and she dimly wondered where the pins holding it up had gone. He kissed her forehead. “You should go home,” he murmured.
Yes. Going home would be good. He should come with her so they could continue this with far less clothing.
“Stay safe.” His lips brushed over hers, and then he was gone.
* * *
Taylor cursed himself as he strode away. He hadn’t meant to kiss her this soon, certainly not like that. But the single touch had snapped his control, and he couldn’t let her go home without getting a better taste.
He’d expected her to be startled. Not match him with a raging need for more. The sight of her flushed cheeks and glassy brown eyes was almost too much. He’d wanted to steer her toward her bus and hustle her on, following her home where he could rip aside the sleek little suit she wore and bury himself inside her.
He could do it. All he had to do was knock on her door and he’d have her pinned to the wall in seconds.
The idea had its appeal. It could also push her too far, too fast, and his need to slake his hunger would only leave him craving more.
He remembered what she’d told him, both in the bar and as she’d left his office this morning. There was more. He’d get it out of her eventually. In the meantime, he’d push her. Not hard. He wasn’t going to break her. Now that he’d felt her lush body pressed against his, though, he was going to have a hard time waiting. He wanted to explore every inch of it, use it for their mutual pleasure.
He wanted to watch her put to rest the last of the fear she carried with her. He couldn’t have her if she was scared.
was scared. Whether she knew it or not, she’d unleashed a potent desire, to hold her, to comfort her, to take her, again and again and again. And give it all back to her, tenfold.
Sara was a very dangerous woman. He’d have to watch his step.
“Not a problem, Mr. Tanner. It’ll be done today.” It
be done today. Sara would make sure of it. She’d stand over Jeremy’s desk until he fixed the problem, because there was no way in hell she was going to do it.
Fuck it, she probably would.
“Frankly, Ms. Andrews, I’ve been told that before. Mr. Potter assured me several times it would be taken care of. Why would I believe you?”
Because I’m not Jeremy
. “I’m very sorry you’ve been having problems getting this resolved. I will personally see that it’s done before close of business today.” She pushed the words out through clenched teeth, her forehead to her desk. It was all that kept her from seeing red.
Her shoes were red. A bright, shiny red, shoes she’d put on this morning to go with the fantastic mood she’d woken up in. Taylor had kissed her back. No, he’d
her. Kiss didn’t describe what he’d done to her mouth.
After a few more platitudes, she managed to get Mr. Tanner off the phone. She fumbled the receiver back into its cradle, keeping her head on her desk. The stream of curses leaving her mouth did little to quell the anger at Jeremy’s incompetence. Neither did pounding her fists onto the desk top.
She shot out of her chair, her frustration and anger building to a boiling point. All the missed meetings, the failures to follow up on client requests, leaving her holding the bag time and again…she paced the floor in front of her desk, needing an outlet for the furious energy waiting to blow.
it!” she hissed, slapping her hand against the wall. The sharp sting vibrated up her arm, and she stared at the wall, then at her hand. The energy had to go somewhere. Her fingers curled into her palm, forming a fist.
She punched the wall.
It hurt like a bitch. She did it again. Again, and again, the worst of the rage draining out through her fist.
She’d been covering for Jeremy for months. Actually, they were coming up on a year. When she’d gone to Larry in the past, she’d couched it as concern that Jeremy might be trying to do too much. The old man couldn’t see what a dipshit Jeremy was and how close they were to losing every single client he touched because he was so far out of his league he should be playing fucking T-ball.
Dammit, her knuckles were beginning to swell.
“Looks like you could use some ice.”
She didn’t jump at the sound of Taylor’s voice. It was a very near thing, though, and she congratulated herself. Progress. She turned around, and he held up a plastic bag and a small towel. “Or you could kiss it better.” Those words did not just leave her mouth. They’d shared a kiss. One kiss. Granted, it was a kiss that blasted the top of her head off, but it was a single kiss.
His small grin went wicked, and he crossed the room. Taking her hand, he brought it to his lips, brushing them over the reddened skin. “Want to tell me why you were punching the wall?” he murmured. He dropped her hand, wrapped the bag in the towel, and led her over to her chair.
She whimpered when the scratchy cloth came into contact with sensitive flesh. “Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do when you’re angry? Punch things like walls?”
“Women typically scream in frustration.”
“Hard to do in an office,” she said. One of his hands cradled her injured one, the other pressing the makeshift ice pack onto her knuckles. “Jeremy’s been slacking off. Again. He was supposed to have a proposal sent over to Mr. Tanner a few weeks ago and hasn’t done it yet. Since I’m also on this client, guess who gets to write the proposal? This girl.” She jerked a thumb at herself. “Every time I’ve tried to talk to Larry about it, he blows it off. I can’t go any higher than him, either, or I would.” Larry was the head of their department; the next stop was the company president, and she wasn’t to the point where she wanted to take it to him. Yet. She was close.
“Jeremy’s related to him. Somehow. Not sure how.” Taylor lifted the ice off her hand, tilted it this way and that, and lowered the pack again.