Authors: Kim Linwood
He’s so focused that he forgets to put on the wealthy playboy mask he wears like a second skin. These are the only times I think I see the real unguarded Declan. I like to think that if he’d spent the whole night, I’d have been able to see it while he was relaxed and happy. I think about that more than I probably should.
While I watch, he wets his lips with his tongue, and I remember where that tongue has been, and what it felt like sliding over my skin. He leans back and stretches, working out the kinks in his neck and it makes me want to volunteer to give him a backrub so I can feel his muscles under my hands again.
I’m basically going crazy.
Working all this overtime together is like being trapped on one of those reality shows where everyone eventually sleeps with everyone, except there’s just two of us. Once I get voted off this stupid island, I’m going out and getting laid ASAP.
“We can’t use this guy.” He tosses the folder onto our messy reject pile. “Too unstable.”
I flip open the cover to see who he’s talking about. Lloyd Peterson, Chief Accountant. There’s a picture clipped to it of a scrawny old man with a bad combover and horn-rimmed glasses. His vest pocket even has pens sticking out of it. I’m not sure if I could find a more stereotypical picture of an accountant if I went Googling for one.
He was the last decent option on our potential witness list. Finding credible people to testify on Cooper’s behalf has been like finding needles in a hay field. Forget the stack. A few flat out laughed when we asked.
Looking up at Declan, I cock my head. “Unstable?”
His sigh is long and resigned. “I really hoped this guy would work. He’s been with the company for longer than I’ve been alive and knows everything there is to know about their economy. Seems friendly to Cooper. Hell, Cooper suggested him as an option.”
“Then he must be crazy,” I mutter under my breath.
Declan growls in frustration. “Cooper must be suicidal or something. He forgot to mention that he bumped this guy down from CFO to just accountant five years ago. Along with a matching pay cut. I gave him a call earlier to sound him out, and on the surface he seemed all about toeing the company line, but sometimes you have to trust your gut, and there’s something about him that makes me think he’d be a wildcard on the stand. He’s the best we’ve got, but that doesn’t mean shit if he gets up there and switches sides. I’m not gonna risk it.”
Sounds perfect to me, but I don’t think Declan and I are working towards exactly the same ends. I’m still hoping to steer things to some sort of reasonable settlement. “I’m all for taking the chance.”
“I bet you are. Anything that’ll drive this case right into the ground, right?”
“Hey, I really thought my idea about trying to track down his regular prostitutes as character witnesses was inspired.” I grin. “Getting screwed is in their job description.”
Declan laughs and kicks at my foot under the table. Warmth spreads out from the middle of my chest, a much more dangerous feeling than just attraction. I’m actually starting to like him. He’s really not bad when he’s like this. Not pranking me or trying to scare me off.
I smile. “Alright, alright, we’ll leave it as a backup plan. But you said he’s the best we’ve got and we know the plaintiff’s going to have people lining up around the block for their chance to rip on this guy. Do we really want to show up without
Cooper? Other than Peterson, all we’ve found are a couple people who agree that many of his practices are common in the industry.”
“It’s better than someone who’s going to fuck it all up. I’m dropping him.” He shrugs. “It’s not worth the risk. Maybe if we go over the financials again we’ll find something new.”
? I groan. “Declan, we did that already. With a fine tooth comb. They’re great proof—if you’re trying to get him convicted.” Not to mention that I’d rather stab myself with one of Lloyd Peterson’s pens than open that mountain of decimals again.
Declan laughs humorlessly. “Yeah, this isn’t exactly an easy starter case for you, is it? Unfortunately, he’s paying us top dollar to get him out of this mess, so get to work. You can’t say I didn’t warn you that I was going to make your life hell.”
I sigh. “Alright. Fine. One more time, and
I’m calling the hookers.”
eclan takes off his suit jacket and rolls up his sleeves. He’s already pulled off his tie and undone a couple of buttons, exposing just enough skin and ink to make it impossible for me to concentrate.
I’d say he’s just messing with me, but his office feels like a sauna, so I think something is screwed up with the air conditioning. I’ve taken off what I can too, and pulled my hair up off my neck. Once in a while I catch him looking, and wonder if he thinks about that night as much as I do when we’re together.
It doesn’t help that the financials aren’t any more interesting the second time around.
A drop of sweat makes its way down the side of Declan’s neck, and suddenly I’m back in my room with his glistening body straining above me and my tongue tracing that same line.
He coughs and I pull my pen out of my mouth. I’ve been absentmindedly sucking on the end of it, and his expression is so cocky that I just know he can practically read my mind.
“See something you like?” He asks.
I could deny it, but what’s the point? It’s too hot to be coy. “Yeah, but don’t get all full of yourself. It doesn’t take much to outshine Cooper’s ground maintenance budget. Did you know they cemented up their fountain to save money?” I frown and shake my head sadly. “No wonder people were unhappy. Everyone likes fountains. Besides, shouldn’t you be reading your own papers?”
His smirk widens. “Sure, but it’s hard to concentrate when you’re squirming in your chair right across from me. One could be fooled into thinking that your mind isn’t entirely on your work.” His foot hooks round my calf, stroking softly up and down, making me jump. “You’re blushing. You weren’t thinking of anything... naughty, were you?”
“Obviously, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Stop touching me.”
He doesn’t. I could move away, but I don’t.
“Say it like you mean it, and maybe I’ll listen.” His foot slides farther up, almost slipping in under my skirt.
“Don’t you think we’re a little old for playing footsie?” This time I move my leg away, trying to ignore the tingles he’s sending up my thigh.
He considers my words for a moment, his gaze distant while he chews his lip. “You know what? You’re right. Why play footsie when we could be fucking on my desk?” He grabs it as if he’s about to stand up. “No time like the present, right?”
Oh for... “I don’t know, ask me again in a decade and I’ll let you know.”
“I think you are vastly overestimating my patience.” He laughs and I watch him count to five on his fingers. “How about now? I think now might be even better.”
I roll my eyes. “Yes, you must be right. I can just tell that right now is the perfect time to tear off our clothes and go at it. Right here, right now.”
Crap, it was supposed to be a joke, but saying the words out loud was a huge mistake. My panties are sticking to me, and it’s not from the temperature.
He doesn’t get up, but he does lean over his desk, coming closer. “I knew it. You’re thinking it over, aren’t you? I can see it. Right now, I bet you’re picturing yourself spreading your legs and leaning over.”
He leans closer. “Naked.”
He grins. “On top of this desk, with your gorgeous tits mashed down until they spill out around you.”
Reaching out, Declan touches my arm gently. I startle, but I don’t recoil. “Your sexy arms tied behind your back.”
His voice softens. “Helpless while I step up behind you and put my hands on your curvy hips, gripping them hard. Waiting for me as I inch closer, until just the tip brushes against you, and I make you beg for it.”
This time I try to pull away. The game is going too far, but his hand locks around my wrist, his strong fingers like iron holding me in place. Molten heat rushes down between my legs, making me yearn for him. My mouth opens to tell him to let go, but all that comes out is a tiny helpless sigh.
“‘Mr. Riordan,’ you say while I run my hands over your burning hot, smooth skin. ‘Fuck me.’ But I tease you instead, pushing into you. Just a little bit, just enough for you to know that my cock’s inside you, ready to stab straight in to fill you up.”
My breath hitches and I’m waiting for each new word as it pours out like velvet from between his perfect lips. I squirm in my seat, wanting to touch myself, or even better, wanting him to touch me. To make me feel good, like he did in my bed.
“‘Make me yours,’ you say as I slide in until you’re full of me. Of all I’ve got to give you. Every single pulsing inch. And then I fuck you hard, and there’s not a single thing you can do about it.” He strokes my forearm with his thumb, without letting me go.
My heart’s pounding like a jackhammer. I know we’re supposed to be working, and I know if I don’t resist he’ll know how much power he has over me. Knowing those things doesn’t make me want him any less. Without even thinking, I lean closer, like I’m on autopilot.
Declan smiles as I fall more deeply under his spell. “And then I put my mouth close to your ear and say, ‘Claire... we should be doing our fucking job and not fooling around in my office.’” Suddenly his tone is matter-of-fact, almost annoyed. The moment is broken just like that, leaving him grinning at me cruelly while I’m still trying to catch my breath.
“Wh—What?” It takes a second for my mind to catch up, and when it does, I hate him with every inch of my humiliated soul. I fell, even knowing he was playing me, and he knows it. I sit up straight, but I’m too far gone for dignified. The best I can hope for is righteous indignation. “Screw you, Declan.”
He laughs. “God, you’re easy.”
I swallow, trying to regain at least a shred of pride. “Thank you for reminding me why we’ll never work out. Now, when I go out with Michael on Sunday, I can have a good time without worrying about an ass that isn’t worth my time.”
Did I just use my even bigger ass of an ex to try and make Declan jealous? Why yes I did, and it’s going to take a lot of alcohol and ice cream—not necessarily together—to scrub that from my brain.
“Michael?” He blinks briefly, before he remembers. “Your ex? You’re back together?” He narrows his eyes, watching me for a sign that I’m lying. I shrug. “No way. Think of a better story next time, babe. You’ll be at home in your granny panties reading case files.”
I let a huge grin spread across my face. “Sorry to disappoint, but nope. I’ll be dancing the night away in something sexy at his parents’ 30th wedding anniversary. Michael knew I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
The very best lie has a grain of truth.
Declan leans back into his chair, putting his hands behind his head. “Well good for you. I guess it just goes to show that there is someone for everyone. Even the rats who are willing to nibble up other people’s scraps.”
I can’t tell if I’m the rat in that equation or the scrap. Either way I want to slap that smirk off his face. “At least I have someone who tells me he cares.”
“Words, words, words.” Declan stares me right in the eyes. “From a lawyer to someone who wants to be one, remember this. They don’t mean shit. You know damn well he’ll never be half as good for you as I am.” A flash of annoyance crosses his face. “I mean was.”
The suddenly shuttered look in his eyes tells me I shouldn’t push it. He didn’t mean to say that, but still bitter from his teasing, I can’t help needling him even more.
“Is that a promise? Or a regret?”
His face goes hard and he gets up, walking out of his office and leaving me sitting there feeling like a fool. No matter how hard he shoves me away with one hand, my stomach still flutters when he crooks his little finger with the other.
his was a mistake. A really stupid, stupid, stupid mistake. I love Michael’s parents, but coming to this party is the dumbest thing I’ve done since... well, actually pretty much everything involving Declan.
“Are you sure you want more meatballs?” Michael asks as I wave down a waiter and refill my plate. “That skirt looks a little tighter than it used to be.”
I grit my teeth and smile, because it’s that or stab him in the eye with one of my growing collection of hors d'oeuvre picks. “Have you always been this pleasant, or have you been working on it just for me?”
“Give me a break, Claire. I just meant—”
“Save it. I know what you meant.” I turn away and walk over to the pool.
Four months ago I would’ve agonized over a comment like that, wondering if he was falling out of love with me and trying to fix it by changing myself. Tonight, instead of that gnawing doubt that I expect to feel, there’s nothing.
It’s freeing. I take a deep breath and push Michael out of my head.
It’s a gorgeous evening. Cotton candy clouds float above me in a sea of orange and pink as the sun drops lazily over the horizon. The whole sky is reflected in the water and I wish I was here for a different reason so I could enjoy it instead of eating my weight in finger food to avoid saying the wrong thing.
I just want to put in enough time to be polite, and then go home.
His mother smiles and waves from across the pool. I nod and wiggle my fingers in response, feeling like an imposter. He still hasn’t told them I kicked him out, or why. I didn’t really expect he would, but I’d hoped.
I think his parents suspect something is off with us, though. They’re not stupid. When we said hello, Michael had tried to put his arm around my waist, but I kept moving out of the way. Since then I haven’t said more than two words to anyone. If he wasn’t following me around like a lost puppy, I wouldn’t even be near him.
If they don’t see it, they’re blind.
“Mikey!” Some cousin I vaguely remember from his mother’s side claps Michael on the arm and drags him off to talk sports.
Seizing the opportunity, I make a beeline for the punch bowl. I’m at my limit for wine and stuffed full of meatballs, but I desperately need something to drink. It looks like fruit punch, and I take a gulp, coughing in surprise when it burns all the way down, making my eyes water and my stomach turn to liquid fire.