Authors: Marissa Clarke
Will should’ve known someone from the office would spot him in this restaurant. He just wished it had been someone other than Claire.
but Claire. She hadn’t made eye contact as she’d rushed for the door, but there was no way she’d missed seeing him.
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
Suzanne cleared her throat. “Earth to William.”
“I’m sorry. Yes, I’ll be in the city for a while.”
She ran her finger around the rim of her glass in a calculated, sensual stroke and met his eyes. “How long?”
From the moment they’d met up, she’d been coming on way too strong. She had no interest whatsoever in just chatting. She had an agenda, and it wasn’t to catch up on old times. “I’m not sure yet.”
She reached across and placed her hand over his. “Well, you’re here tonight, at least.”
This was a terrible idea. He should never have agreed to meet. He shifted in his chair, pulling his hand away from hers, and glanced over at a table occupied by a lone redheaded woman fiddling with her phone. A bowl and an empty wineglass sat abandoned at the place opposite her. The woman met his eyes and grinned.
“Something wrong?” Suzanne asked, withdrawing her hand from the table.
“No. I’m sorry. I’m a little distracted.” His eyes snapped to hers. She wasn’t wearing the smoldering, seductive look she’d been using on him since they met outside the Anderson Building; it was a sympathetic smile.
“It’s okay, Will. I get it.” She gestured to him, then back to herself. “There’s nothing here. You’re not ready.”
She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. She smelled like one of those expensive clothing stores his mom used to drag him to when he was little. “Thanks for the drink.” She collected her purse, rose, and took a few steps toward the door. “Call me if anything changes.”
Suzanne’s tall heels clicked on the tile floor as she sauntered toward the exit, but her practiced gait did nothing for Will. He closed his eyes and pictured Claire scrambling awkwardly to collect the items that had spilled out of her purse on the elevator. And then there was the glimpse of that pink thong through the rip in the back of her skirt.
Yep. That did it.
He placed his napkin higher on his lap to cover the rising bulge in his pants and took another sip of his drink.
When he glanced to his right, the redhead saluted him with her wineglass, then chugged the contents. He turned to glance out of the restaurant window, see if he could spot Claire anywhere outside, but he was met with a sidewalk full of strangers. Maybe he could find out her companion’s connection to Claire. As he rose to go speak with her, she scooted out the door just as Claire had—as if she’d seen a ghost.
was the ghost, sort of. A mere fragment of whom he’d been before… He downed the rest of his drink in one shot and tossed a couple of bills on the table.
His phone dinged as he stepped out of the restaurant. It was the information from Jim on Claire Maddox. He hadn’t gotten a lot of info, but he did have an address. Will typed the address into the maps feature on his phone to double-check.
What was an hourly-wage temp worker doing living in one of the most expensive properties on the Upper West Side?
Claire turned on the water to heat up her bubble bath and pushed down her disappointment. Of course Will Anderson was going out with hot models at night. He was gorgeous, rich, and single. Even if he’d misled her by saying he didn’t date, she had no right to be throwing a pity party. It’s not like she had a claim on him. She wasn’t a victim. She’d simply said yes to dinner. She was an eager and willing participant. Very eager and willing, which was not normal.
Sinking lower in the bubbles, she rolled her neck to release tension. She was leaving the country soon, and should enjoy her last two weeks here to the fullest, right? She should do everything to the fullest from now on. No more pulling back. It was time to explore her long-awaited freedom.
Still, seeing him with the model stung.
From the vanity in the corner, her phone rang and she sank under the water long enough for it to roll over to voicemail. Heather was the only one who would be calling, and Claire didn’t want to talk to her right now. She emerged and wiped her face, only to have her peace and quiet interrupted by her phone again. Leaning back, she closed her eyes. Heather would give up eventually.
Crap. It was the doorman. Nobody ever visited. Not since her grandmother, Sissy, got so sick the last time and refused to see anyone but Claire. Maybe it was another package sent by some family friend of her grandmother’s she’d never met. More chocolate or flowers or bouquets of cookies.
She wrapped up in a towel and dripped across the floor to the antiquated intercom. “Yes?”
“I’m sorry to bother you this late, Miss Maddox,” the doorman’s voice answered through the tiny speaker, “but there’s a man here to see you. He says you’re expecting him.”
No. Freaking. Way
. There was no way he’d come here. He had no idea where she lived.
“A Mr. William Anderson.”
She was glad she had released the talk button because a startled gasp erupted from her.
“Shall I send him up?”
She should meet him down in the lobby, not let him come up to her apartment. Shaking, she pushed the button. “No…?”
Shit, that came out like a question.
“No,” she said more forcefully. But then she imagined Will and her having an awkward discussion about Sparkle Jeans in front of the doorman and quickly changed her mind. She pressed the button again. “Um. Yes. Tell him to come up, but give me ten minutes please.”
She stared at the speaker for a moment, and when the doorman didn’t respond, she decided that silence was affirmation.
Right. Get dressed. See what he has to say. Send him away.
Three easy steps to peace of mind and no additions to the daily Claire-ism tally.
She trotted back to the bathroom, nearly slipping on the trail of water she’d left behind. She ran a brush through her dripping hair and wrapped another towel around it to dry it out. She stared at her reflection in the mirror and shook her head. No makeup, wet hair. Could it be worse?
Knock, knock, knock.
Yes, it could. What did he do, vault up the damn stairs like Superman? She snatched her bathrobe off the hook on the door and pulled it on. The silky fabric stuck to her wet shoulders. She leaned over and untwisted the towel from her hair.
“Give me a minute,” she called, straightening up and giving herself a head rush. That had sounded really pissy.
It was an odd time to just drop by. He was supposed to wait in the lobby for ten minutes before coming up.
She strode to the door, catching the back of a chair for support as she slipped on the water from before.
Knock, knock, knock.
“I said, hold on!” She jerked the door open to find Will right outside with a smile on his face.
Dang. Those dimples.
Claire gritted her teeth. She was supposed to be mad.
All manner of pissy remarks about intruding on her privacy popped through her head, but just the sight of him made them wither. Instead of a pithy greeting, she just stood there, staring at the big, handsome man filling her doorway.
Will knew he shouldn’t have surprise-attacked her like that, but he wanted to see her. No. He
to see her and clear up the unfortunate occurrence at the restaurant. And then it dawned on him maybe she wasn’t alone.
He looked past her into the apartment, but saw no signs of anyone else. “Did I interrupt something?”
She looked fantastic in the bathrobe with her wet hair dripping on the floor. Delicious. He placed a hand on the doorframe and leaned closer. “Alone?” God, he hoped so.
“How was your date?”
“It wasn’t a date.”
“What do you want, Mr. Anderson?”
Well, there was some ice water in all the wrong places. The use of his formal name caused his stomach to churn. He’d overstepped the boundaries. “I wanted to talk to you. I told you I don’t date, and that’s true. You are the first woman I’ve asked out in over eight months. I just wanted you to know that.”
Completely flustered, she shifted her weight from foot to foot and looked over her shoulder into her apartment. “Well, you caught me at a really bad time.”
His brow furrowed. This was a nightmare. He’d interrupted…something. His chest filled with a concoction of guilt and jealousy—both volatile alone, but immobilizing together. “You’re not alone. I didn’t mean to…” God, what a fuckup he was. Of course a beautiful woman like this wouldn’t be sitting home alone. He took a step back. “I’m really sorry. I’ll just talk to you tomorrow. Good night.”
He took off toward the elevator. He should never have done something this impulsive. He didn’t really even know why he had come here uninvited other than the moth-to-the-flame syndrome he’d acquired since meeting her—he just couldn’t keep his mind, or his body for that matter, away from her. He pushed the button and was relieved the car was still on the floor and the door slid open right away. He stepped inside, and his eyes met hers.
“Wait! Will, stop.”
He pushed his hand against the black plastic gasket inside the door and it stopped with a jerk, then slid back open. He held his breath, hoping he hadn’t really blown it by coming here.
Clutching the front of her robe shut, she stood completely still. “Don’t go. You surprised me, that’s all. Please, come in.” She shrugged in a fragile, helpless sort of gesture. “I’m actually glad you’re here.”
He stood there frozen a moment, processing her words. A flood of relief washed through him in addition to something else that bordered on pain right behind his sternum. She said she was glad he was there. When was the last time someone other than his family had said that? He stepped out into the hallway and the elevator slid shut silently behind him.
Something was happening between them. Something he felt, but couldn’t identify with words, that caused his insides to churn and his chest to ache.
“I’m alone,” she said, gesturing to the apartment.
He stopped within a foot of her. “So am I.” He’d never felt more alone in his life, and for some reason, this woman presented a lifeline—the first one he’d had since Afghanistan.
“We both are,” she said so softly he barely heard it. But he felt it. All the way down into his soul, he felt it.
After following her into the apartment, he leaned against the closed door, and to his surprise, she reached out and touched him. He held his breath as she ran her fingers across his jawline and then traced his lips. He needed this so badly. Not just to be touched, but to be touched by
Entwining his fingers through hers, he met her heated gaze.
This was not what he’d intended when he came in here, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. She remained just far enough away to not touch him anywhere, but she made no move to free her hand.
Will fought the urge to pull her against him and kiss her. She stepped all the way in so that her feet were between his and her body pressed fully against him. She felt so good. It took every ounce of willpower he had not to rush her, to give in to his body’s demands and run his hands all over her small, curvy body.
Instead, he gave in to what his own body had been screaming for him to do since he met her in that elevator. He wrapped an arm around her waist and placed the other on the back of her neck as he pulled her in closer. So close, he could see the gold flecks in her eyes that matched her hair. Sunshine. Warm, bright, promising.
What does sunshine taste like?
And then she kissed him.
Claire held her breath as she stood on tiptoe and brushed her lips against his—such soft lips, which was unexpected in light of his strong jaw and chiseled features. Gently at first, then more insistent, he slanted his mouth over hers, coaxing her to open to him. Her heart kicked into hyperdrive when he took her bottom lip between his teeth and released it. Gasping, she savored his minty smell and ran her hands over the hard muscles of his shoulders. She’d never been kissed like this. It was as if they had all the time in the world as their tongues danced together, causing chills to shoot up and down her spine. She needed more. Moaning in the back of her throat, she pressed harder against his body, eliciting a deep groan from him that made her dizzy—one step short of crazy. The hard press of his erection against her belly made her want to climb him like a jungle gym and lick him from head to toe. Never had a man moved her this way. He was like an addictive drug, which, considering the fact that she was leaving the country soon, was not a good thing.
“Wow,” she said, pulling away before she totally lost it and needed to call Will-aholics Anonymous. “Wow,” she repeated, placing her hands on his chest, which didn’t help because it was a firm wall of muscle begging to be explored, and at that moment, her hands were regular Lewis and Clarks ready to strike out on their own uncharted Anderson expedition.
No. Be responsible, Claire.
“Isn’t there a rule against this?”
“God, I hope not.”
“You’re my boss.”
Still leaning against the door, his brow furrowed. “I suppose that’s correct, technically. I’m an owner, but not your direct boss. And I work remotely. My being in the office is a fluke.” He ran his lips along her jaw with a featherlight touch that was no doubt leaving scorch marks. “Besides, you’re a temp. Surely company policy against fraternizing with employees doesn’t count.”
That was splitting hairs, but at this point, screw responsibility. She’d buy it wholesale.
“Do you want to stop?” he asked.
He pulled her back against him, and she sighed as her whole body hummed with pleasure. He took her earlobe between his teeth and scraped them along it, catching her as her knees buckled.
“Almost a Claire-ism,” she whispered, reveling in his tongue on her neck.