‘Hey Stace, I kind of ate the chicken parm in the fridge . . . is that okay? Sorry but I was starving, and it looked so good!’ It was one of the rare nights Abbey was staying home, and that disheveled hair was clue enough to tell me where she’s been.
‘Yeah, that’s fine. I’m not eating in today,’ I replied, voice raising at the end. I didn’t pry, definitely not wanting to know why she was so hungry.
‘Oh really, big date?’ She asked, tone even.
Damn her psychology minor, I didn’t know what gave it away. Though there would be no reason to lie to her; I wouldn’t have to tell her who I was going out with. And besides, she could be great help in helping me choose what to wear.
‘Kind of,’ I said, almost shyly. ‘Although I’m not sure exactly what to wear.’
She nearly leapt off the ground to her feet. ‘Well, what are best friend’s for?’
We spent half an hour playing clothing matchmaker, going through everything in my wardrobe. It’s been a while since I’ve been on a first date so most of it was boring, monochromatic work clothes.
‘Hm, this won’t do,’ she said firmly, shaking her brunette locks. ‘Look what Todd did to you.’
The mention of his name still sent of pang of pain through me. ‘Oh well, I guess the navy dress then?’
‘The navy – ‘ She held up a hand, breathing out a big sigh. ‘Oh Stacey, how far you have slipped. Look, when is your date?’
I allowed her to call it that because I was too deep in this lie, though underneath the formal title of “business dinner”, that’s exactly what this was. ‘Seven-thirty.’
She glanced at the Michael Kors on her wrist. ‘Well, we have just over an hour. We’re going shopping and you’re going to thank me for it later.’
‘Is that really necessary?’ I groaned, feeling tired from the workday. My muscles ached and feet were sore.
‘It wouldn’t be if your wardrobe didn’t scream “past the hump”. Let’s go.’
We made the most of our hour at the Manhattan Mall, where all the brand-name retailers congregated in one building. Though I was only looking for a single outfit for tonight, I somehow left with two dresses, two sleeveless blouses, three skirts, dark-wash jeans jeans, a pair of peep-toe pumps, and a maxi-dress. I didn’t even want to know how much damage that did to my American Express.
‘You look fucking hot,’ Abigail said firmly as I put on my chosen outfit for tonight, a cream sleeveless blouse, the dark-wash jeans, and the peep-toe pumps. ‘I’d do you.’
‘Ugh, shut up,’ I said, sticking out my tongue. ‘But honestly, thank you for doing this Abbs, I look so much cooler than that boring navy dress.’
‘Ditto. It’s great you’re getting back in the game. You should get going now, don’t want to be tardy. And if you need me to clear out of here . . . I could always go to Luke’s,’ she winked.
I blushed, and a slick heat captured me as I played her insinuation in my mind.
I wouldn’t mind making that a reality. As I left the apartment, a small smirk tugged at my mouth. I enjoyed dressing up for Chris. I wanted to impress him tonight.
It’s seven thirty-two.
She was late. I didn’t like it when people were late, because I treasured my time. We all got the same amount of it, so why should I waste mine waiting for others? It’s a sign of disrespect.
It’s now seven thirty-three.
I’ve had business deals fall through because clients were late to meetings. Unless it’s a huge whale of a client, I have a strict five-minute policy for meetings. If you’re five or more minutes late, don’t even bother showing up.
I didn’t know what I’d do if Stacey broke that same policy. I wanted this dinner a lot more than a business meeting, but my values were firm. However, I couldn’t see myself walking out of here in two minutes.
While I was sipping angrily on the lemon water, thinking about how I’d scold her when she arrived, I saw her.
Fuck, she looked good. That sleeveless blouse fell above her tits in the most flattering way, giving them a perky demeanor. Her red toenails, same shade as her hair, was revealed in a pair of open-toe heels, and speaking of her hair, it was straightened to perfection, the long flowing strands reaching down to just above her ass.
But those fucking legs. I didn’t know who created those jeans, but he or she deserved a damn fashion award because those jeans hugged her thighs and calves like a second layer of skin, a perfect fit. Long and round, all I could think about was parting those thighs with my knee and slamming into her.
She finally saw me, and began walking towards the table, an easy smile over her face. I, however, could not return it. Though I just took some water, my mouth dried and my snarky comments disappeared into the background.
‘Hi,’ she said, voice husky and rich.
My dick was screaming for release, and that voice didn’t help. ‘Hi yourself,’ I replied, suddenly finding mine. ‘You look . . . I don’t even have the words Stacey. You look just sexy.’
She laughed a genuine, full sound that I’ve never heard before. It was high and sweet, a mixture of girl and woman that was a beautiful song in my ears.
‘Well thank you, I had some help from Abigail,’ she said as her eyes scanned me. ‘You look pretty sharp yourself boss.’ She stopped a beat at my chest, and yesterday’s encounter ran through my mind.
‘It’s one of my better black suits,’ I chuckled, feeling completely old-fashioned compared to her. Several of the male patrons noticed her as well, and I spent a few seconds glaring at each of them.
‘So, tell me about yourself Stacey,’ I said after we ordered. While I wasn’t a big wine-drinker, I got a few last-minute tips from Luke. ‘Where are you from?’
She raised a brow. ‘I thought this was a business meeting,’ she mused, those hazel eyes making my dick squirm.
I smiled. ‘This is business. I’d like to get to know my employee.’ She rolled her eyes, and that defiant attitude made me want to grab that hair.
‘Fine. I’m from Galway,’ she began. ‘It’s a port city in Ireland.’
That explained the red hair, ivory skin, and that hint of an accent I had a hard time pinning down. ‘That sounds lovely. Are your family still there?’
She smirked at me. ‘Do you ask about everyone’s families, Chris?’
I leaned forwards, arms resting on the table. ‘Only people I’m interested in.’
She looked away for a brief minute, her eyes leaving mine, but she quickly recovered, a slight hint of amusement dancing on her lips. ‘Yes, my family is still there. Both my parents and my brother. They work on a fishing boat.’
‘Hmm,’ I breathed. I couldn’t imagine Stacey hauling fish out of the blue waters. She seemed too intelligent for that line of work. ‘Are you familiar with the oceans?’
‘I love the ocean,’ she said, smiling at me. ‘It’s the thing I miss about home the most.’
I tilted my head. ‘Even more than your family?’
I could see her deciding how much to say, and apparently she decided to leave it alone. ‘What about you?’ she asked, changing the topic. ‘What’s your story?’
I decided not to press. ‘I grew up in California, and transferred to Connecticut for Yale. After working for Garrett for a few years, I decided to open my own firm here with my siblings.’
‘My father,’ I said acidly, and she understood from my tone.
Our food arrived, and we spent the next hour continuing getting to know each other. I would have never guessed that she was always short and skinny as a child judging by her healthful, lanky physique now, which somehow I have developed a taste for.
She told me about growing up in Ireland, being raised Catholic but later deciding to forgo religion. I had a suspicion that played a hand in her questionable relationship with her parents.
I grit my teeth as she told me horrible stories of growing up poor, of being a hungry little girl living in low-cost rentals with broken heaters. Having to move from place to place, and as a result, enrolling in too many schools to count.
She was never given an opportunity to hold onto friends for more than a few months at a time, and worked jobs since the age of ten to provide for her family.
I would have left as soon as I could too. Thankfully, her excellent grades landed her a scholarship in the states, and she’s been staying here on a work visa ever since.
Somehow, she never complained once as she talked about her terrible childhood, and mixed in with my perverse attraction to her was now a genuine respect.
Plates nearly empty and wine flowing, we were inside our own bubble, completely entranced by the moment. She intrigued me completely, and I felt comfortable sharing personal anecdotes about myself as well, a sign that she was an avid, honest listener. Then, that all changed.
Suddenly, her eyes fixated on a spot over my right shoulder, and a nervous look fell on her face. Then, a strained smile. ‘Hi Damon,’ she said tightly, and a tall African-American man strode beside me.
‘Stacey . . . hello,’ he said, and immediately my skin began to crawl. There was something off-putting about this fucker. ‘I hope I’m not interrupting, it’s just so nice to see you again.’
‘You too,’ she said, forced, and her lack of effort in the conversation should have been clue enough for any normal man.
‘Is this your boyfriend?’ he pointed to me without looking. It took all my willpower not to break that finger right off his hand.
‘Oh, no. No, it’s nothing like that,’ she explained firmly. As if she was trying to convince him. As if she was trying to convince herself.
I knew that this dinner was under platonic premises, but hearing her clarify it still felt like a punch to the gut.
‘Well . . .’ he said in almost a slither. ‘Well maybe we could grab a drink sometime. I never asked you since you were working under me –’ his hand moved from hers to her shoulder. Her exposed shoulder. She leaned away from his touch, obviously uncomfortable, face contorted in a pained expression. ‘ – but I think you’re very, very – ’
‘Get the fuck away from her,’ I said in my most authoritative tone, standing and with one swipe, knocked his hand off of her shoulder. ‘Take a hint, asshole.’
If he was surprised, he didn’t show it. A devilish grin spread over his face. ‘Or else what?’ he muttered, tilting his head sideways, staring into me. He had the air of arrogance of a man who was used to intimidating others.
I stood between him and Stacey. ‘You don’t want to find out,’ I warned, flexing my fists. ‘Trust me.’
Face to face, I realized he was a huge individual, standing an inch or two taller than me. He had broad shoulders as well, and his frame was massive. I wasn’t sure if I could take him in a fight, but I wouldn’t mind trying.
I felt Stacey’s hand on my wrist. ‘It’s okay Chris, it’s fine.’
‘It’s not fine,’ I growled without turning my attention away from the man in front of me.
He looked me up and down, as if analyzing his chances of winning a fight. He must have been impressed with what he saw, because his voice turned jovial. ‘Take it easy friend, we’re just talking.’ He looked at Stacey, who was now standing beside me, tugging at my hand. ‘Call me sometime doll.’ And then, he strode away.
‘You didn’t have to do that Chris,’ Stacey sighed, folding herself into the chair.
I narrowed my eyes at her. ‘Of course I did,’ I scowled. ‘I saw the way you reacted to that pervert – you hated his touch.’
She rolled her eyes. ‘I didn’t need you to save me, I could have handled him myself.’ Her voice was full of annoyance, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
‘I don’t give a shit Stacey, I will do what I need to protect you,’ I snarled, and her face twisted up at mine, looking into my eyes. ‘It’s not your decision.’
‘Not my – ’ She cut herself off, shaking her head and breathing deep, and soon, her face was back to the calm canvas I was used to seeing. ‘Why, Chris?’ she asked in a normalized tone. ‘Why do you want to protect me? Who am I to you?’
I shook my head, deciding whether to just say what I’ve been thinking this whole time. ‘I don’t know,’ I muttered. ‘I’m too fucking annoyed right now to cross that boundary between employer-employee.’
Her eyes bored into me, filled with something close to disgust, making me feel like I did something wrong. ‘Then I don’t feel like this dinner needs to continue.’
She stood up, collected her things, and dug into her purse for a bill.
‘Stacey, don’t be ridiculous,’ I muttered, grabbing her wrist. ‘This meal is on me.’
She was stronger than I anticipated, and thrust out of my hold, setting down her money. ‘I wouldn’t want to cross that boundary between employer-employee, boss.’
That word cut into me like a hot butter knife, and I didn’t have time to react as she stormed away. ‘Fuck,’ I muttered as I quickly threw down a few bills and slipped into my coat. ‘Stacey!’ I yelled towards her direction, but she ignored me and those long legs moved quick, and suddenly, she disappeared from view.
Using my full stride, I ran after her. This night wasn’t going to end like this.
‘Mind your own business!’ I called out as his strong hands grasped me and whisked me around. He moved fast, as I was barely able to walk three steps away from the restaurant before he caught up to me.
‘It’s dark out,’ he said calmly, not even breathing heavy from the explosive run. ‘I am not letting you walk home alone with that creep lurking close by.’
I pulled away from him and kept walking. ‘Whatever, dad,’ I muttered.
He quickly set pace beside me, and we walked silently for a few minutes before I realized I had severely underestimated the October evening cold. I gripped my elbows in an effort to warm myself up, my exposed arms littered with tiny goose bumps. ‘You’re shivering. Here,’ he said as he removed his pea coat and hung it over my back. ‘This should help.’
Though I was still pissed about him treating me like a child, the thick material infused with his body heat warmed me immediately, and I didn’t refuse the gesture. ‘Thank you,’ I murmured.
‘You’re welcome,’ he said gently, so gently it was as if he was asking for forgiveness. ‘Who was that guy anyways? You were under him?’ The jealousy was blatant in his tone, and I issued a laugh quietly.
‘Damon owns the art gallery I used to work reception for,’ I explained. ‘It was obvious that he had a thing for me ever since day one, always giving me extra attention, making the effort to touch me as much –’
‘Details not needed,’ Chris seethed, and I wondered if there were limits to his jealousy.
‘Okay then,’ I agreed. ‘But that’s what he meant about me working under him.’
‘I don’t like him,’ he said firmly. ‘He’s a creep and you deserve better.’
I laughed, wisps of smoky white air protruded from my mouth, an omen of the coming winter. ‘Better? Like who, who do I deserve?’ I wanted to tease him because he was so reluctant to just tell me the truth. If he was going to toy with my feelings, I wasn’t above playing with his.
As expected, that triggered no response from Chris, and we walked silently until we reached my building. He stepped in front of me and turned around to face me. ‘I – I’m sorry about what happened tonight,’ he said as I gripped his coat tighter, the wind biting through me. He, on the other hand, may as well be in the Bahamas, barely showing any signs of chill. ‘I shouldn’t have fought your battle for you.’
I was surprised; I’ve never heard Chris apologize for a single thing in the short time I’ve known him. ‘I appreciate that,’ I said, ‘And though it ended early, dinner was delicious and I had a good time.’
‘As did I.’ He was staring at my lips, and I knew exactly what he wanted. His square, masculine jaw flexed and I knew he was fighting the urge to just leap forward and kiss me. He was waiting. Waiting for my approval.
A hotness pursed up my body at the realization that he was waiting for me. The control felt right, and somehow, I was turned on by the authority he allowed me. But I was at a crossroads on what to do next. I’ve fantasized about this man for weeks, and the urge to give into his green eyes was nearly undeniable.
But if I learned anything from my poor upbringing, it’s that feelings pass, and one must be pragmatic to secure their future. I was in America on a work visa, and that meant I must be employed. What would happen if Chris and I didn’t work out? I knew that he’s not going to fire himself, and the other partners all shared his last name.
I remembered the two associates that I let go because of their office romance. Neither of them had the threat of deportation on their backs, but they still reacted as if their lives were over when I issued them the bad news.
No, I had to let this go, because even though the man was sex on feet, this job was the best thing that ever happened to me, and I was not about to squander my future on some fleeting, hormonal fling. I did not want to return to Galway and the fishing boats.
‘I should be going, Abigail’s waiting on me,’ I offered gingerly as I handed his coat back to him. His eyes flashed waves of hurt and confusion, and he stared at the coat in his hands, unmoving, not saying a word. ‘Good night Chris.’
But he didn’t reply, he stood as still as a statue.
Deciding that this was my cue to leave, I walked up the steps and opened the door. Before I closed it, I couldn’t help but take another glance back, and my heart nearly broke as I saw him still standing in that position, staring into the coat he held with both hands.