I’ve been back in the city for a week, and memories of Christmas break are beginning to fade, or more like merge with all the other holiday memories. Even Mark barging back into my life out of nowhere is starting to seem like something that happened a while ago. Or only in my dreams.
No, that’s a lie.
He’s still my first thought when I wake up and the last before I fall asleep. Because the sex we had was mind-blowing. I’ve never had better. And the feelings his kisses woke inside me won’t go away no matter how much I try to ignore them. It’s like he’s always there, in the back of my mind. Watching me. Sometimes I even find myself talking to him. It’s unnerving.
Especially, since he hasn’t been returning my calls.
He lit out of town while I was getting changed at my parents place on Christmas Day.
Left me a note nailed to the wooden door of his father’s cottage, with his phone number and a vague excuse of having urgent business to take care of.
A phone number that might not even be his, since I called a million times and must’ve left about half as many voicemails.
Desperate. That’s how I was coming across, but it’s stopping right now. This very morning.
My apartment is cold, and the sky outside looks dreary, grey and overcast, like it’s evening instead of morning. It snowed during the night, and will likely again any minute.
I love the beginning of winter; I don’t much care for the rest of it though.
My phone rings while I’m shivering in the kitchen, waiting for my coffee to brew. It’s my editor, and since it’s barely past six AM, I wonder if he even left the office last night.
“Nicole, are you ready?” he asks as I pick up.
I nod my assent and roll my eyes, before I realize he can’t see me, and reply with, “Yes.”
“I don’t have to tell you how important this interview is. Don’t be late. We might not get a second chance,” he says, not even pausing for breath. “Are you prepared?”
“I am, Sam, don’t worry.” It’s the truth too. I was up until three AM prepping for it. Because in a couple of hours, I’ll be having brunch with Milton Harrison, the head of Harrison and Associates Bank. He hasn’t granted an interview in over twenty years.
“Just don’t be late. And wear something nice.”
He hangs up before I can reply, which is probably for the best. Sam has been stressing over this interview for the last three weeks, questioning my readiness the whole time, and it’s seriously starting to get on my nerves.
I spend the next hour or so picking out an outfit that’s womanly yet professional at the same time. Milton Harrison is old school. He likes his women classy and feminine. No one quite gets why he even agreed to let me interview him. Least of all me. I’m a young professional woman, with a reputation as a real go-getter, and I don’t think I can actually pull off feminine. I completely forgot how to be that in the last few years while I toiled and struggled to get this position at the Wall Street Journal as one of the staff writers. It’s still very much a man’s world down on Wall Street, and I’ve adapted well. And apart from my curvy shape, I was never very feminine to begin with.
It’s times like these I wish I still had a roommate, so I could get some feedback on outfits. The rest of the time I prefer living alone.
In the end, I opt for a black pencil skirt, a silk blouse and a blazer. I’ll have to wear stilettos to make the outfit work, and I’m dreading the snow. But this outfit is the most feminine slash professional thing I own. I really should do some shopping one of these days.
After a quick shower, I’m ready.
I arrive at the chic restaurant where the interview will take place almost a half an hour early. Punctuality’s never been my thing, I’m always early.
The waiter seats me, and I order a coffee while I wait. It arrives in a beautiful, ornate pot, with a matching gold-rimmed cup and saucer, and I’m afraid I’ll break both if I touch anything.
The room is about half full of men in expensive business suits. I recognize some, but not well enough to say hello. I bring out my tablet and notes, then sit back and watch.
The restaurant is gorgeous, and the chair I’m sitting in is possibly the most comfortable one I’ve ever sat on. It’s plush, done up in cream velvet with small flowers worked into the fabric. The table I’m sitting at has a marble top and golden legs that look like lion’s paws. In fact, the whole space looks like some ballroom in a European castle.
Most of the bankers and businessmen are there for meetings, though a few are having brunch with girlfriends. These women all look like models, though if we’re being honest, they’re most likely escorts. I look out of place in my business attire, and a mass of loose, dark brown hair and probably weigh more than any two of them combined.
I’m still idly taking in my surroundings, when the whole room seems to do a three-sixty. Mark is sitting with a group at one of the window tables. The other men are talking, but Mark’s bright blue eyes are fixed on me, boring into me like he can see right into my soul. All the butterflies in my stomach are back in a flash and I forget I’m supposed to be mad at him. I just want him to come over here so we can finish what we started on Christmas Eve.
I’m mad at him. He abandoned me for the second time when he left this time, and it won’t happen again.
A man clears his throat beside me. “Good Morning. Are you Nicole West?”
I break eye contact with Mark, acting like I didn’t even recognize him, and stare up at Milton Harrison, extending my hand.
“I am. Thank you for meeting me here today.”
We shake hands and he sits down. I can still feel Mark’s gaze on me like heat coming off a fireplace, but I ignore him completely as I focus on the task at hand.
Only that’s very hard now that Mark’s watching me. A fog is rising in my mind, and all I’m really thinking of is Mark’s chiseled abs, his bulging biceps, his tattooed chest and arms, as I knelt in front of him and…
I fire off the first of my questions. Once the conversation gets going, I manage to chase Mark from the forefront of my mind. But he’s still there in the back. Watching. Listening.
I live for these interviews. They’re my chance to make a difference in the world, and I soon have Milton struggling to find the right answers. With the way he’s diplomatically avoiding my more pointed questions, I might not get much out of him.
“You are one tough girl, aren’t you?” he finally snaps once I start seriously grilling him.
I smile flirtatiously, though inside I’m seething. Girl? I’ll show him girl. But I shouldn’t make him mad, else I might never get another interview with anyone.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Harrison. Sometimes I get a little carried away. You know how it is. I just want to do my best.”
He chuckles at my obvious discomfort, which is only slightly faked. I’m getting afraid he’ll cut this interview short.
“Sure, sure, I understand. You wish to make a name for yourself,” he says, something more fatherly crossing his face. “But I will not comment on the Martinez affair.”
Hell, there goes the whole article. Harrison’s involvement with one of the biggest Mexican drug cartels is the main reason I sought this interview.
“Consider it a chance to tell your side of the story,” I suggest, surprised I have to. I thought this was exactly why he was meeting me at all. “The story will get out one way or another.”
He pales at my thinly veiled threat, his whole face tightening. “There is no involvement. We cut all ties as soon as we learned where the money was coming from.”
That’s a lie. Martinez and his dirty money were behind many of the projects backed by Harrison until someone leaked the information. My sources say it still is, even though Harrison and his bank are now claiming they’ve cut all ties.
“So the Imperial project is not going ahead then?” I ask.
The look Harrison gives me now is pure venom. In a moment he’ll tell me to go to hell with my questions and walk out.
“Good Morning, Milton,” a very familiar voice says to my left. “Long time.”
“Ah, Mark,” Harrison says, clearing his throat. “Are you finally established in the city?”
They shake hands, though Mark’s gaze lingers on me. Or, more accurately, on my cleavage.
They’re speaking, but I’m ignoring him so completely the words don’t even register. I can almost feel the air crackling from his annoyance at this. But he ignored all my calls, so I have nothing to say to him anymore.
“And how are you, Nicole?” he asks, and it takes my mind a few seconds to decipher the words.
“Have we met?” I shoot back, my own anger crackling now. He’s seriously gonna pretend he’s not been dodging my calls? Well, we’ll see about that.
His cocky grin is replaced by a look of dumb confusion. Serves him right.
“If you’ll excuse me,” I say and stand up. “I have to go freshen up.”
My legs are jelly over what just happened, so I don’t know how I get to the bathroom without falling. For the whole way, I can feel Mark’s gaze on me, piercing me like a thousand daggers.
But I’m done pining over him. Or wishing we could ever share something more than a troubled past.
The bathroom is huge, bigger than my whole apartment, and it’s stifling hot inside. Though maybe I only feel like that because I just saw Mark, the man I’ve been lusting over for the last three weeks. And I ignored him. Pretended I didn’t know him. What was I thinking?
I’m about to splash some cold water over my face, but remember my elaborate makeup just in time.
When I straighten up from bending over the sink, Mark’s standing right behind me, his eyes piercing me through the mirror.
“Didn’t recognize me back there, huh?” he growls more than says, and it’s enough to make my panties wet. Or maybe that’s because he’s leaning against me, his hard cock pressed into my back. Even though I’m wearing stilettos, he towers over me.
I’m blushing a hot pink, my mind trying to come up with a snappy comeback, but failing. Of course I recognize him. I never want to not recognize him again.
He hugs me from behind and slides his hand down behind my blouse. My nipples instantly harden. I yelp as he pinches my right one painfully. “Maybe this reminds you?”
His other hand slides over my ass, squeezing hard.
“No, Mark,” I manage. “Someone will see.”
But my voice is sultry, and my whole body is vibrating in anticipation. I want him so bad I might explode. But this is so improper. So dirty. Yet so exciting.
He slides my skirt up over my hips, as he kisses my neck, biting down just right, eliciting another sigh.
“I thought you were mine,” he whispers, as he slides down my tights.
It’s such a gentle movement, abruptly cut short as he rips off my panties, the elastic digging into my flesh painfully before it finally snaps. I yelp again, trying to turn and stop what he’s doing. But he has me pinned against the sink, holding me tight.
“Not here,” I manage, and it’s something between a plea and an invitation.
“Why not?” he asks. I hear his zipper open.
“Someone will come in,” I whisper, though I’m not sure I care any longer.
He spreads my legs further apart with his knee. “Let them. Then everyone will know you’re mine.”
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