Authors: Lauren Jameson
Why couldn’t he understand that I loved him, loved all of him?
Maybe I was competing with the ghost of sweet Marie, after all.
Even though he had shared his story with me, I could see clearly that he wouldn’t—no, couldn’t—give me that last piece of the puzzle.
“I see.” I felt my inner barriers rising, walling off my heart as I shoved the covers off and slid out of bed. I fumbled with the clasp of the bracelet that he had secured around my wrist earlier. When the heavy weight fell into my hand, I clenched my palm around it, then threw it at him.
“You know what, Zach? This time I’m going to go before you throw me out. Hear this, and hear it loud and clear.
It was getting to be a bad habit, sitting at my desk at work, trying to hold it together after an emotional showdown with Zach.
This time, there was one big difference, however. I was strong enough to know that this mess, this entire clusterfuck—this had nothing to do with me. I had tried. I had given everything, had given things that I hadn’t even known were mine to give.
Though I was in a lot of pain, I found some comfort in that.
“You look great today, Devon.” I looked up to find Tony giving me the once-over, stark admiration in his eyes. I raised my eyebrows at him, and he shrugged sheepishly. “We’re not allowed to date, but that doesn’t mean I can’t look.”
I rolled my eyes and laughed, though I felt somewhat buoyed by the comment, a lifesaver in a dark-water kind of day.
“I brought you a coffee. It’s on your desk.” Tony looked over to where the paper cup sat in front of his computer, then smiled back at me at the gesture. A tendril of pleasure wove its way through my misery.
I had deliberately done my best to look good that morning. The new Devon, the one who had stepped all the way out of her shell and would never go back in, refused to hide in black clothing and shyness anymore.
Today, I wore a turquoise blouse that actually fit, rather than hanging loosely over my frame in an attempt to hide my figure. My slacks were the color of a mocha latte, and my shoes matched, with a heel significantly higher than I was normally comfortable in.
I was dying inside, but no one needed to know that but me.
As I waited for my computer to boot up, I reached down for the purse that I had secured under my desk. My mouth was sore from Zach’s assault on it the night before, and I was desperate for a good dose of medicated lip balm.
When I again straightened, he was there, his expensive black suit fitted to him in ways that made my body jealous.
“You’re here.” His voice was full of surprise. I narrowed my eyes, taking no little satisfaction in the fact that the normally unflappable Zachariah St. Brenton looked like a mess, apart from the suit.
His skin was pale, and dark shadows bruised the skin beneath his eyes. He didn’t look as though he had slept for even a minute, and his hair stood on end.
“Of course I’m here.” I fought hard to keep the waspish tone out of my voice. I had already given this man everything. I wasn’t going to let him know that he had my grief, as well. “I work here. Why are
here? And by ‘here’ I mean at my desk, keeping me from doing my work.”
His eyes widened, and he actually looked taken aback. I didn’t care if he was about to get mad from my lack of respect, or whatever else he could come up with to get his panties in a twist about.
His emotions were no longer my problem. I had learned that much.
“I can’t believe you stayed.” He cocked his head, studying me intently. I stared right back. I thought I detected a hint of astonishment in his eyes, but it was gone as fast as it had appeared.
“Am I not supposed to be here?” If he was about to try to fire me because I’d been screwing the boss, then I wasn’t going to go down easy. “I like it here. I’m staying. With or without you.”
“No, no. Of course you’re supposed to be here. I just . . . I’m surprised.” In my peripheral vision I could see that we were beginning to attract nearly as much attention as we had the other day. I shifted uncomfortably at the realization.
I truly did like my job. If we weren’t together, then these little visits from Zach were going to have to stop.
Otherwise, my life at work was going to become a living hell. I would forever be the woman who had had an affair with the CEO, and nothing else.
“Miss Reid. Can we talk?” I felt myself wavering at the entreaty in Zach’s voice, but I steeled myself against it. “Let’s go for breakfast.”
“I think everything was said last night, Zach.” I kept my words to a whisper, aware that the entire department was trying to eavesdrop. “Please. Leave me alone.”
My words seemed to trigger something in him. Before my eyes he transformed, dominant Zach coming to the fore. Even through all of my anguish, I felt heat rush to parts that I shouldn’t have been thinking of.
Cut it out!
I lectured myself to no avail. I was so deeply attuned to this man that it was going to take me years to get over him.
He looked down at me intently, and I understood that in that moment I had all the power. I sputtered, unable to come up with the right words.
“Unless you use your safe word, then I am going to continue.” He fixed me with the look that told me if I argued, I would be punished later.
I felt my world, and my self-control, spinning out of my grasp.
“Now I must insist. Come with me.” I opened my mouth to say no, and he countered. “I don’t want to scoop you over my shoulder and carry you away, but I will if I have to, so you might as well come.”
He turned and walked away, and I saw that his steps weren’t as sure as they normally were.
The uncharacteristic uncertainty boxed me into a corner, and I had no choice but to do as he said. Fuming, I followed him into the conference room, where I grabbed the remote and began to randomly hit buttons, trying to frost over the windows.
Instead I made a projection screen drop down out of the ceiling, and turned the lights out.
Zach calmly took the remote from my hand as I exclaimed with frustration, the sound echoing off the walls of the closed room. Pressing the correct buttons—of course—he turned on the lights, frosted over the windows, and sent the screen back into the ceiling.
“Please hold still and listen.” His tone told me that he expected to be listened to, but there was a nervousness to the way he held himself before me. To put my own stamp on his instructions, I planted my feet shoulder width apart and stood with arms akimbo.
As I faced him, I realized anew just how angry I was. I loved this man—really, truly loved him, a feeling that was worlds apart from what I thought I had felt for my ex. I was so hurt, and so angered, at his treatment of it.
“I know I’ve handled this poorly.” His voice was somber, a break from the commanding tones that usually sounded when he spoke. It had the desired effect, I thought, because he halted my inner tirade in midstride.
“Just . . . listen for a moment, all right?” Running his hand through his hair, showing me his agitation, he began to pace. It was something that I had never seen the cool, calm and in control Zach do before. Ever.
“I am sexually dominant. You know this. You are sexually submissive. You may not want to admit it, but you know that that’s true, too.” My heart gave a giant throb, remembering the state of nirvana that his dominant nature had brought me to the night before.
“I don’t know what that has to do with anything, Zach—” I started to protest, but he held up a hand, palm out, and silenced me with one look.
“With you—God, Devon, with you I don’t have to control everything. It’s the first time in years that I’ve been able to breathe.” His eyes sought for and caught my own, and I inhaled sharply when I saw the raw honesty reflected there.
“You could have fooled me.” I raised my eyebrows at him. I was sure that he believed what he was saying, but part of it didn’t ring true for me. “You seem to be quite in control when it comes to me.”
The barest hint of a grin curled Zach’s lips, and he looked so damn sexy that my stomach clenched.
“Needing control and enjoying it are two separate things.” The faint smirk faded, and he moved forward, catching my stiff fingers in his own. “The second you walked out the door last night, I wanted you back. I didn’t expect this to go so far, and I don’t know if I’m any good for you in the long run, but I don’t know if I can live without you, either.”
His words took the wind right out of my sails. I stared at him, mouth agape, my brain furiously trying to comprehend what he had just said.
“I—I don’t understand.” My voice shook. I wasn’t sure that my heart could hold to another of Zach’s come here–go away changes in mood.
But . . . oh, how I wanted him. Wanted him forever.
“What’s changed?” Though I was still wary, I felt my heart thaw, just a fraction, when he released my hands, then curled his fingers around to the back of my waist. The possessive gesture, his fingers at the small of my back, made need unfurl inside of me like a flower reaching up for the sun.
“Up until the moment you walked out the door last night, I was convinced that I had to be strong enough for both of us, that it wasn’t right to inflict my demons on your life.” I huffed in frustration—this was what I had been running from when I landed in San Francisco, a life that followed the expectations of others. “But when I told you my story . . . you didn’t flinch. You didn’t turn away. You weren’t disgusted with me.”
Irritation washed through me.
“Of course I wasn’t disgusted with you. Why on earth would I be?” Exasperated, I shoved at his chest, staring up at him like he had grown a second head when he threw his head back and started to laugh.
“Zach, are you feeling all right? I know you couldn’t have gotten much sleep last night.” I moved restlessly in his arms, trying to free myself, but he only drew me closer, nuzzling his face into my hair.
“You don’t even see it, do you? Most people would have been turned away by my never-ending issues. But you see only the good. You’re a gift.” His lips grazed over the tender skin that covered the pulse in my neck, and my knees went weak.
“Zach, I can’t do this again. I need all of you, or nothing at all.” He let me push him away this time, and I stepped back until I was out of his aura, where I could
When I looked back up, he had the bracelet in one hand, and a small box in another. I felt my blood begin to fizz through my veins in decadent anticipation, even as my mind rapidly ran through a list of every bad thing that could possibly happen in the next five minutes, trying to prepare me.
“You are the first woman that I have met since losing Marie who is worth the risk.”
I began to tremble when he took my hand in his and fastened the bracelet on my wrist again. The circlet of star sapphires winked up at me, warm and stunningly beautiful.
“I would rather take whatever I can have with you and risk the notion that I might lose you someday, than never have you at all.” Once the bracelet had been secured on my wrist, Zach held out the other small box. I felt as though I was trying to push through a heavy fog in the air as I closed my fingers around it.
Chills shimmied up and down my spine as I opened the box and found a ring inside. A solitary star sapphire winked out of its white gold setting at me, making me promises that I couldn’t quite believe.
“What—what is this, Zach?” I stared up at him, wide-eyed. This couldn’t possibly be happening. I was dreaming; I had to be dreaming.
“It’s whatever you want it to be, Devon.” A small, choked sound escaped my throat as Zach took the ring from the box, and slipped it on my finger—my ring finger. Feeling a little bit wild, I began to tremble.
His hand, stroking the tender skin on the inside of my wrist, brought me back down to earth.
“I mean it. I will do whatever makes you happiest. Devon, you’ve taught me that I can be dominant and still take risks with someone. I want to be with you, whatever that means for us. I will marry you tomorrow if you’ll have me. Or we could get engaged. Or it can be a token from someone who loves you.” His voice shook over the one word that I had been so longing to hear. “I’ll even accept that it’s a friendship ring, so long as that friendship comes with undying devotion . . . and sexual benefits.”
I barked out a laugh, reaching out to bury my fingers into the fabric of his suit jacket.
“Say it again.” Light began to fill me, and I still felt as though I were dreaming.
“Say what?” He shot me a sexy grin, all innocence and light now that he saw my response clearly in my eyes. “Sexual benefits?”
“Don’t tease me! Say it!” Zach extinguished all traces of humor. Taking both of my hands in his own, he looked down into my eyes, and I saw what I needed to know before he said it.
“I love you.” My heart stuttered in my chest. “I love you, Devon, and this ring can mean anything you want it to, anything at all, as long as it includes love.”
“I love you, too.” I closed my eyes for a long moment as I let the bone-deep bliss wash over me. I had no idea how we had arrived at this point—the last two months had been a wild ride.
But now my life was on track, and I had everything that I could possibly want.
“How about this? The ring means that I am yours. It means that you are mine.” I found myself crushed against Zach’s chest, my lips devoured the instant I was done speaking. Heat poured through me as he pinned me to the long, hard length of his body.
One hand slid up to palm my breast through my blouse. I gasped as my nipple pebbled beneath his touch.
“You look amazing today.” Releasing my lips only long enough to whisper in my ear, Zach closed his teeth over my pulse, marking me, before he returned to kissing me senseless. “You need to wear color more often. I’ll buy you some.”
“What are you doing, Zach?” I moaned into his mouth as he released my breast, clasped me around the waist, and lifted me up. My legs twined tightly around his waist, my heated core blazing against the firmness of his erection.
“I’m going to take you on the conference room table, Devon.” He placed my bottom against the edge of the table, my legs still entwined around him, and busied himself with undoing the buttons on the front of my blouse.