“YOU HAVE A BOARD MEETING later today, and also dinner with the mayor tonight,” Bianca said, trailing me out of the office. The vanilla scent of her perfume wafted around me as she tried to keep in line with my steps. “I already sent for your dry cleaning. It will be hung up by the time you return home.” She stopped, which in turn caused me to pause and lift an eyebrow.
“What is it?”
She was frantically scrolling through her iPad.
“Nothing. Just had to make sure your spot was reserved for tonight.”
The pleased expression on her face made me smile. Bianca was my lifeline. She’d been with me since the beginning, always by my side, picking up every piece I dropped. And never in all that time did the lines between boss and employee ever blur. I had too much respect for her to pursue anything, and she had a fiancé at home that would probably gut me if I ever tried.
“Thank you, B. Please, send it to my calendar.” I was already running late.
By the time I made it, Dennis was sitting at our usual table where we met once a week to eat and catch up. He’d taken me under his wing when I first came to the city, working under him fresh out of college. He was a rounded man with white hair. A soft smile that could easily be mistaken for a pushover. Those who knew him, though, knew better. He might have been kind, but he was the devil when it came to making deals.
I couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment our relationship changed from business to family. Maybe it was after my parents passed. Those were the darkest moments of my life. Moments I still woke up drenched in sweat from. He’d been there with me through it all. Helped me make the hardest decisions a child never wanted to have to make.
He and his wife couldn’t have kids. Maybe it was out of pity, but they took me in and sort of claimed me as their own after that.
“Sorry I’m late,” I said as I sat, setting my briefcase beside me. A spread of pretzels and cheese was already on the table, alongside our favorite beers.
“No worries. I’m just an old man with little time left on his hands, but who’s counting?”
I flattened my smile. He loved to goad me.
His chuckle was warm as he reached for a pretzel. “How’s business?”
I took a sip from my beer, the foamy chill welcomed down my throat. Summers in New York were brutal for men like me who ran on the hotter side. Any cold beverage was a blessing.
“The usual. You? Any new deals?”
His eyes twinkled. “I’d have to shoot you if I told you.”
I flashed a grin. “That’s what I love to hear, Dennis. A sure sign I need to get my people to dig a little deeper because you and I both know once I figure out who you’re in bed with, they’ll be taken right out from under you.”
He gave a bark of laughter, clutching his stomach. He loved the competition as much as I did, and our companies were at the top of them all, trying to one up each other.
“You know it’s true. I learned from the best.”
“Oh, my boy. This old bastard still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. Just you wait.”
“I’m counting on it,” I said seriously. Dennis wasn’t in the best condition health wise. Just as he went big with his business deals, he did the same with booze and good food.
We spent the next hour bullshitting, before I had to head out for my board meeting. Every day it was the same. Meetings. Phone calls. Paper work. Deals. More meetings. My life was orderly. Predictable. Dull.
Most days, I didn’t mind it. There was enough thrill in making deals that it kept things interesting, but I found myself growing bored lately. Maybe that was why I’d used Tinder more often than not. Searching for the next fix that chased away the loneliness.
After the day was over, I rode the elevator down to the lobby, about to head out to meet the mayor. My nose was stuck in my phone when the elevator doors opened.
And there she was.
Her big, chocolate-colored eyes were wide when they landed on me. She was wearing a one-piece bathing suit, a towel wrapped around her waist. Her dark hair was slicked back, droplets of water dripping from the ends, curving over the sweet swell of her breasts. She must have just come from the pool.
Damn, she was beautiful. Achingly so.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, every muscle in her body tense as she wrapped her arms around herself.
I chuckled. Tucked my phone into my pocket. “I live here.”
“Oh. Right. Sorry.” She fidgeted, refusing to give me another dose of those puppy eyes.
The doors began to close, so I reached out, holding them open for her.
“Sorry,” she said again as she moved to the other side of the tiny cubicle. I knew I should get out. Leave. But I couldn’t make my feet move. My entire day… hell… my whole week had been dull. She was bright, bringing color back to the world.
“What floor?” I asked as we sort of just stood there.
“Sorry… umm… eighteen.”
I knew that. I just liked hearing her speak. The curve of her words. The way her tongue pressed against the roof of her mouth. How her lips took on different shapes.
“You say sorry a lot,” I observed.
The side of her cheek brightened with pink. With the cold distance between us, no one would guess that I’d gotten her off. That she wanted to do the same for me. It made me smile to myself.
She risked a small glance in my direction. “Sorry.”
I was grinning. “You know… you shouldn’t apologize for being you.”
She tucked her hair behind her ear. Managed somewhat of a smile. “It’s just a nervous habit.”
I couldn’t stop watching her. She was cute in a quirky way. Judging her tiny frame, no one would suspect the fire brewing within her, desperately waiting for someone to breathe life into.
“Are you enjoying the building?” I asked, trying to break the ice.
Her gaze stared straight ahead. “It’s nice.”
“How about the view? The condo has the best view of Central Park.”
“I like it.”
There was a charge building in the air, buzzing between us. I was afraid of what would happen should we touch.
“So you… you like to swim?” I asked, staring at the goose bumps building along her skin. “I do, too. Usually try to do laps on the weekends. It’s refr—”
She spun so fast on me that I tensed up. “I want to repay you. For the other night, I mean. I’m available on Thursday… if you are.”
A smirk broke out on my face, spreading like a vine. She was awkwardly forward. There was something refreshing in it. An inexperienced assertion that was begging for a chance to learn.
“Next time, you should try looking me in the eyes.” I paused as her face reddened, loving every bit of control I had over her. She was like a gazelle, waiting for me to sink my teeth into her. “And… I’m not in the habit of sleeping with my employee’s wives.”
“Oh, I… um… I’m sorry.” She was flustered, turning her body away from me.
I meant what I said, but there was something about Corinne I couldn’t ignore. Something I’d never tasted before.
The doors opened to her floor. She stepped out, not bothering with goodbye.
Just before the doors closed, I said, “How about dinner at my place? Meet me here. Thursday. Eight PM. We can talk.”
She swiveled, slightly shocked, and nodded as the doors closed.
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About CANDACE KNOEBEL
Candace Knoebel is a hopeless romantic with an affinity for whiskey and good music. Her love of words began when she met the boy who lived in the cupboard under the stairs. She’s a self-proclaimed Lost Girl. Words are her mirror.
With two completed series, her work ranges from paranormal to contemporary, all centered heavily around romance. Currently she lives in Florida with her husband and two children, and has just completed her thirteenth novel, The Taste of Her Words.
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