Authors: Rosalie Stanton
Hunter laughed. “No kidding. So you guys…”
“Why? He not Prince Charming after all?”
A week’s worth of wondering amassed into something she couldn’t measure. There was no answer. No answer to whether or not the man who made her feel so many wonderful things had been worth the risk. Lennon might not be Prince Charming…but then again, she’d fled before she could find out.
She started and came back to herself, giving her head a hard shake. “What?”
“I just…I hope you can be happy.” He brought his hands up. “I know, fired and pissed at me for being a douche and…whatever with your boss—”
“Yeah. I was a screwed up kid. And just so I know I got this out later when I replay this conversation—for what I did to you, I am sorry.” Hunter shrugged almost defensively and looked away, the hint of rouge staining his cheeks. “I’m trying really hard to not be that guy anymore.”
Kenzie studied him for a long moment. It would be easy, she knew, to let him dangle. To keep him in emotional limbo—small price for everything he’d thrown at her. But she was tired of keeping score, and as long as she held onto any part of the past, particularly her anger, the path forward would always be rigged with obstacles.
She deserved more. And it killed her to admit it, but so did Hunter. The guy who had earned her wrath wasn’t the one standing here, from what she could tell. Hard as that might be to admit.
If he could change, she could too. It just had to be something she wanted.
What she wanted right now was Lennon. He might break her heart, but he might not. She owed it to him—to herself—to try.
To Hunter, she said, “I don’t think you’re that guy anymore. Or you really proved our old drama teacher wrong.”
He chuckled. “That would require work. Work sound like me?”
She shrugged. “Point taken. I…I want you to be happy too.”
“It almost sounds like you mean that.”
“I almost do.”
Hunter held her gaze for a long moment, his smile warm. Lines she hadn’t noticed at first seemed to dissolve, and she found herself with the alien thought that this guy, whoever he was, might be someone she wouldn’t mind getting to know. Kenzie dismissed the notion almost as soon as it formed, but that it had been birthed at all left her startled.
Things didn’t always go as planned. Hunter had been the plan once. Then he hadn’t. Her other plans hadn’t gone so hot, either. Breaking and entering, trying to put Lennon out of her mind, trying to pretend…
Well, she was done with that. If nothing else, Lennon deserved her honesty.
That was what she would give him.
* * * * *
Good news—it was the end of a long, miserable week.
Bad news—everything else was shit.
At least Lennon had the comfort of a nice, warm bed, woefully empty as it might be. And seeing as he officially had no obligations from now until bill collectors began pounding on his door, he had a good long time to look forward to spending in bed. Perhaps he’d pick up some Ben and Jerry’s and make a good showing of it—chick flicks, bubble baths, the whole nine yards.
He had to hand it to Kenzie, though—the girl had put up a killer fight. Finding the Buckingham file on his desk the morning after the blackout had momentarily rendered him speechless. After the initial shock wore off, however, he conceded he should have seen it coming. Kenzie couldn’t sell anyone up the river, no matter what the personal cost for not doing so. He doubted she would have been able to go through with it, regardless of the circumstances.
Still, Lennon would not be outdone by one noble gesture. He’d met with Kayla Bryant later that afternoon and handed over the file on the condition she’d honor the deal with Kenzie. He had no idea how often Kenzie checked her bank account, but the next time she did, she’d be in for a surprise.
The move had effectively killed his career. Or rather, it would have, had he not tendered his resignation, capped with an explanation as to the file’s disappearance that likely should have left him feeling a whole lot guiltier than he did. Lies of omission, however, had the appeal of seeming innocuous. All Doran and Gage knew was his apartment had been burglarized, and the Buckingham file was all the thief had taken. Lennon’s silence on the matter might result in further action, but nothing from which he couldn’t recover.
The rest of the week had consisted of private meetings with clients—most of whom swore they’d follow him to a different firm, and even a few who insisted he should go into practice for himself. Now, with the remnants of his professional life confined within a small cardboard box, Lennon stepped off the elevator—which proved more difficult each time, as he couldn’t stop seeing Kenzie—and turned the familiar corner toward his apartment.
For the first time, he had no goal. No target. No bullseye.
He took a deep breath, shifted the box in his arms, and unlocked the door.
At this point, he felt nothing could surprise him.
Except Kenzie, who stood waiting on the other side.
It was one of those moments one couldn’t prepare for—something that happened often in fantasy or daydreaming, but never reality. A lapse between trying to wake up while reconciling with the veracity of the moment, trying to determine how much one’s eyes could deceive one’s self when desperation came knocking.
The box in Lennon’s arms went crashing to the floor. His chest heaved. His mouth ran dry. All he could do was stare.
If her presence wasn’t confusing enough, the soft smile on her face left him winded.
“Hello,” she said, as though breaking into his home was so old hat by now he should have known to expect her.
The suspension between his brain and his mouth collapsed, dots connecting faster than he could identify them. Words returned, then, and he didn’t know which to select first. All wanted their chance to be heard.
What made the cut, though, was an ineloquent, “This is becoming a bad habit for you, isn’t it? Word to the wise—most people wait until someone’s home before coming inside.”
Lennon blanched almost the instant he registered what he’d said. To his surprise, though, Kenzie only chuckled.
“I was going to wait,” she said, “but your neighbors kept staring at me. Did I mention the other night that you live in a really snooty building?”
“I’ve been told.”
Kenzie tilted her head, glancing at the box at his feet. “Anything important?”
“Nothing that can’t wait.” Lennon swallowed hard and hazarded a step forward. “What are you doing here?”
“What? Can’t a former secretary who you fucked blind in an elevator drop by for some cozy catch-up?”
The mention, however casual, of their intense lovemaking had Lennon tightening all over, his cock stirring and fully captivated by Kenzie’s soft brown curls, warm eyes, and bewitching smile. His mind wasn’t as quick to join the game.
“Catsup?” he asked dumbly.
“No, catch up, like we should catch up.”
“Oh. I’d never heard of cozy catsup.”
Kenzie laughed. “You’re surprised to see me, aren’t you?”
“Wow, you’re a hard one to fool.” Lennon paused, his breath hitching. “What are you doing here?”
“Would you believe I was in the neighborhood?”
“And decided for some late-afternoon breaking and entering?”
Kenzie tilted her head. “The last time went pretty well, if I remember correctly.”
“I told you to take the Buckingham file.”
“Yes,” Lennon agreed curtly. “To my office.”
“Well, to be fair, you never specified where I should take the file.”
“And here I thought it was pretty cut and dry.”
“You know what they say about assuming, don’t you?”
Lennon drew in a deep breath, a dull buzzing rising in his ears. “Let’s try again,” he said. “What are you doing here?”
At last, she wet her lips. Her tell, her nervous habit. Perhaps she wasn’t as confident as she seemed.
“I…ah. I’ve…” Kenzie crossed her arms and fidgeted, turning briefly to the television, where the tape sat ejected from his VCR, its infamous label as obvious as a spotlight. “Umm, I see you’ve been watching—”
Something in his chest jerked. “No,” he said, moving quickly through his living room. “I couldn’t—”
“Lennon, it’s okay. Seriously. I left it with you for a reason.” She crossed her arms. “Plus, you’re literally the only person on the planet who still owns a VCR unironically. You deserve a medal for that alone.”
“But it’s not that.” He damn near skidded to a halt at her side, doing his best to ignore the way his heart skipped in her proximity. He hurriedly pushed the video back into the player, and switched on the television just as the opening credits of a show began flashing across the screen. At her look, he grew sheepish. “I couldn’t…not after…”
Kenzie blinked at the screen. “What’s this?”
“The West Wing,”
Lennon said. “I never found out what happened after Season Two.”
“The West Wing?”
Kenzie’s brow gathered. “Yes, I know what a show is. What happened to my tape?”
A cold shiver raced through his body. There had never been a chance of watching the tape again with any sense of gratification after what they had shared in the elevator. And no matter how much he cared for her, longed for her, knowing what he’d had and lost was infinitely worse than not knowing what he could never touch. He’d erased the tape before he could tempt himself into one more time for old time’s sake. As it was, he had memories now. A few lovely hours together boiled down to a few bittersweet flashes.
“I couldn’t…after…” Lennon sighed. “After you, I couldn’t watch it anymore.”
An unreadable look took hold of her face. “Oh.”
“Not because…dammit. Because looking at that while not having…” He huffed and shook his head. “What are you doing here, Kenzie? And don’t change the subject.”
At last, the blush he’d missed so much spread across her cheeks, her mask of cool confidence melting away. “I…” She frowned and looked to the ground, her gaze centering on the box. “What’s that?”
“Don’t be a jackass.” She pointed. “What’s that?”
He glanced down at the sad collection of personal effects. “The summary of my career at Doran and Gage. I’m officially unemployed.”
“Oh, my god. Lennon—”
“It’s all right.”
Lennon nodded. “In the form of giving Kayla Bryant everything you wouldn’t.”
That seemed to shut her up, though Kenzie’s jaw suddenly had an issue with gravity. Her wide eyes betrayed a mix of awe and fear, tied in with something else—something he couldn’t identify. She blinked rapidly, as though awaiting an explanation, but he refused to cave. She’d broken in here, after all. None of this was her business.
Except, of course, the part of him that feared he’d been wrong the other night and was already half in love with her.
After a long moment, she found her voice. “You…you gave Kayla…dammit, what were you thinking?”
“Don’t worry.” Lennon held up a hand. “You’re still getting your money.”
“That’s not what I…I just…” Kenzie shook her head. “I didn’t want you to lose your job, Lennon! That was the whole point.”
“And the job wasn’t worth it to me. You think I didn’t know what would happen the second I handed over those files?”
A mixture of anger and sadness flirted with her face. “And what exactly did you think that would prove?”
“Clearing my conscience.”
“You didn’t do it to get me over here?”
Lennon snickered. “You’re unbelievable, you know that? You were here already!”
“Well, how was I supposed to know you didn’t expect that?”
He blinked at her. “Are you serious? Is this conversation seriously happening?”
Kenzie looked about as confused as he felt. “I don’t know. I just…I came here to… How could you do that?”
“Your whole career, you ass!”
“It was just a job.”
“No, it wasn’t. Not to you.” Kenzie’s voice scratched. “I wasn’t there long enough to see everything, but I know you worked hard for it. I know what a Doran and Gage position does for someone’s portfolio.”
“It’s not worth what it does for my conscience.” Lennon drew in a deep breath and took a step forward. “Last time. Please…what are you doing here?”
She wet her lips, the fight abandoning her eyes, though he sensed it hadn’t gone far. “I…I ran into Hunter. And, by that, I mean I went to see him.”
“You did? After what he did to you?”
“Really more to give him a piece of my mind.”
“Ah.” Lennon arched a brow. “So, is he still attached to his balls?”
“That’s not important. But it just…something happened. I…I was stupid.”
“No, leaving that night. Without…without seeing where it would go.” She paused on a sharp exhale. “Seeing where’d we go.”
Something seized hold of his throat, which wouldn’t have been problematic were it not for the boulder that had formed in his stomach. At once breathing became damn near impossible. Whatever part of him had wilted a week ago, ragged and torn from the brutal blow his ego had been dealt, slowly began to stir.
“You were right,” Kenzie whispered. “I was…trying to make you answer for him. For what he did to me. The tape…all of this…it was convenient for me. I’m not the sort of woman to do flings. And I don’t…I can’t figure out what came over me.”
“In the elevator?”
“In all of it.”
“I liked what came over you.” Lennon sealed another space between them. “This week has been a nightmare for me.”
Kenzie’s shoulders slumped. “Me too.”
“I’ve missed you.”
Her eyes widened, shining with something that looked suspiciously like tears. “I’ve missed you too. God, Lennon, I’m terrified.”
“Of you, this…whatever’s happening to me.” She pointed to the box at his feet. “How you could throw away your career—”
“Like I said, it was about preserving my conscience.”
His will deflated. There simply was no lying to her. “What do you think? No. Of course not. It was for you. It was all for you.”
“Why does a man do anything? Because I think I might be in love with you.”
And that was it. Something in her changed, then. Something powerful, and he saw it. Saw the change, saw the command that took her face, the knowledge of something unseen. What had happened he didn’t know, but he had enough insight to recognize, at that moment, a part of his life had shifted. A part of his life, perhaps all of it, would never be the same.
Then Kenzie was a blur of motion, pressed to his chest, cupping his cheeks, and drawing his mouth down to hers. She inhaled him, consumed him, her lips whispering against his in soft, tentative strokes. No longer a woman clinging to something slipping away. This was different. In the way her tongue caressed his, in how she nipped at his lips, in the gentle explorations of her hands as they relearned his body. Lennon felt his inhibitions melt, the innate resistance, the nervous rattle in his chest just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Waiting for the realized dream, the hope he’d nursed all week, to come to an end.
Kenzie sucked his lower lip between her teeth, her hands pulling at his dress-shirt.
“Do we have to do all the talking now?” she asked after she released him. “Can we save some of the talk for later?”
“On one condition.” Lennon’s head dipped, and he pressed kisses along her throat. “You promise you won’t change your mind.”
“I won’t. I promise.”
“We do this, and we do it all the way. Morning-after talk, a real first date, a weekend getaway, arguments over why
Sex in the City
is a terrible movie, hospital visits, family events, holidays…the full fucking shebang.”
He slipped his hand under the hem of her shirt, dancing his fingers along her smooth, taut belly. A hard shudder ran through him. In his mind, he had already escorted her across the threshold to his bedroom, stripping her down so his eager eyes could absorb every luscious curve she possessed.
“I want a real try. Don’t phone it in on me.”
Kenzie shook her head, stretching her arms high above her in tacit permission to shed her top. Lennon’s breath hitched. Despite whatever they’d shared in the elevator, or whatever he’d seen on the tape, Kenzie in the nude was something he had never witnessed in person. It was all he could do to keep his hands tempered.
“I promise to try,” Kenzie agreed, seizing one of his wrists and dragging his hand upward until the swell of her lace-clad breast rested in his palm. Lennon shuddered again, his cock tenting his trousers, drunk on the promise of her sweet body.
“I promise to try,” she said again. “But I can’t promise it’ll work.”
Her words lent him pause. “What?”
“I can’t promise we’ll live happily ever after.”
“No one can. It’d be unfair of me to expect that of you or anyone. And that’s not what I want. All I want is your word you’ll be here in the morning. Breakfast tomorrow. Then we’ll go to a movie. It’ll be a clean start for us both.”
Her mouth pulled into the loveliest smile he’d ever seen. “I’m free tomorrow.”
“Damn straight you are.” Lennon jerked her to him, hiking her into his arms. “What would you say to a bed?”
“Mr. Bishop, I am not sure if I trust your intentions are pure.”
“You can guarantee they’re not.”
A giggle rumbled through her throat. “Somehow I think I’ll be okay with that.”
Kenzie could have floated.
A week could do strange things to a person’s mind, especially one who had gotten so accustomed to her seat on the fence anything else felt too foreign to be any kind of real. From the moment she’d left Hunter’s front porch, her mind had taken her down a variety of choose-your-adventure endings, taunting her with the possibility that whatever shot she’d thought she had with Lennon was in the pisser, all the while whispering doubts about whether she was ready for a relationship in the first place. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The moment her gaze landed on Lennon’s face, though, the second he began questioning her presence and her motives, she’d known there was nowhere else she wanted to be.