I hope you all had a fabulous Valentine’s Day! We’ve got Norwegian relatives visiting, and it was great fun celebrating the holiday with them!
After Office Hours, Book 1
© 2016 Jennifer Skully
Jordana licked the gloss on her lips. Grady could almost taste the fruitiness of it. His blood roared in his ears, rushing straight down.
He’d never cheated on his wife, never wanted to, never even thought about it. God help him, though, he was thinking about it now. What had seemed inconceivable in the aftermath of Darlene’s divorce email consumed him now. He couldn’t even bring his wife’s face to mind. Maybe it was the anger flushing away the image, but all he saw was Jordana’s lush mouth, and he fell headlong into the deep blue of her eyes, suddenly under the influence of her fast-acting citrusy scent. It seeped in through his pores and took him over. Their proximity revealed the slight rise and fall of her chest with each shallow breath she took. His gaze focused on a lock of her brunette hair against the rapid flutter at her throat. He had the insane urge to bend down and lick her right on that pulse point.
Back up, back up, back up.
The danger signal rang in his head. Taking that first step away was the hardest move he’d ever made.
“I understand.” He sounded disgustingly wheezy.
“Do you?” Her voice was still husky, hypnotic.
Hell, yes, he understood intensity, and he was desperate right now. His fingers curled with the need to touch her. His mouth salivated as if she were a savory-sweet piece of meat. His head ached with the fear that he’d lost his mind. Because she wasn’t his wife and he shouldn’t be feeling any of this.
“Teach me.” His voice actually cracked in the middle.
“Teach you what?”
The distance between them shrank. His back was against the wall—physically as well as metaphorically—and he didn’t even know how he’d gotten there. “How to make a woman feel desired.” He gritted his teeth. “How to make my wife feel desired.” He stressed the word. It needed stressing. His wife. Not Jordana.
The spell around them shifted, space stretched like elastic, and she was no longer within breathing distance. He wasn’t sure she ever had been. It might have been his imagination.
“Are you asking me to give you lessons?”
“Pointers. Examples,” he said quickly. “Like what you just told me.”
They still spoke in hushed voices. Her gaze slid down to his mouth, and a lick of heat passed through him. He told himself that he wanted the theoretical side of desire, but he couldn’t help wanting to know more about what turned her on.
“Kissing.” The word sizzled on her lips.
“Kissing,” he repeated. “I can do kissing.”
“Not just any old kiss.” Her mouth curved in the slightest yet sexiest of smiles. “Wrap your hand gently around my throat. Or cup my face in your palms. Hold me still, devour me with just your lips, nothing else touching, not our bodies, not even our arms. Nothing but the heat between us.”
She created an image so tangible that he could taste her on his tongue. His breath came faster, and his pulse beat against the surface of his skin. He needed a demonstration. He wanted…
“You need to watch some chick flicks.”
He wasn’t sure he’d heard correctly. “Chick flicks?”
Her smile flashed, her hands moved, animation exciting all her facial muscles. “Bridget Jones’s Diary.”
Good God. Bridget Jones’s Diary? A man had to have some limits.
She recognized his shock. “When Colin Firth kisses her at the end, it’s to die for.”
“Then I can just fast forward to the end.”
“No-ooo,” she exclaimed in two syllables and a wave of her hands. “If you don’t see the entire thing, you won’t get why the kiss is so hot.”
He didn’t think he’d get it if he watched the movie five times, but then the sparkle in her pretty blue eyes clued him in. “You’re making fun of me.”
She would have been completely serious except for the slight twitch of her lips. “Of course not. And there’s a reason they’re called chick flicks. Because we—” She put a hand to her chest, at which point he thought he might have a heart attack. “—love them. And why? Because they depict what we desire.”
“So I can learn everything I need to know from watching chick flicks?” God forbid.
She laughed. He’d heard her laugh before. After all, he’d seen her five days a week in the nine months since she’d been hired. The lovely sound, however, had never resonated inside him to the point that he missed the next thing she said. “What?” he had to ask.
“Not what, but who. James.” As if just the first name said it all, she sighed, affecting a dreamy gaze. “He’s an actor. Becoming Jane. Boy, can that man kiss. Oh, oh.” She fluttered her hands at him. “Penelope. He’s in that movie, too, and he kisses her the same way. Like he’s been thinking about it for months, years even, and suddenly he can’t stop himself.”
He didn’t know who this James person was. “Becoming Jane. Boy, Can That Man Kiss. And Penelope. I haven’t heard of any of those movies.” Becoming Jane sounded familiar for some obscure reason he couldn’t recall, but the other two were a mystery. Darlene had never been the chick-flick type.
Jordana gave him that tinkling laugh again, covering her mouth with her hand. “It’s not a movie. I meant that James can really kiss. Penelope is sort of a fairy tale. And Becoming Jane is about Jane Austen.”
“So watching these movies is supposed to teach me how to kiss?”
She shrugged, a sexy little shimmy that seemed to twist through her whole body. She’d laughed, shrugged, and done all those things in front of him before, he was sure, but her gestures had never elicited a response like this. He’d never even actively noticed. It had all been subliminal. But somehow, from the moment she’d told him exactly how to make her melt with desire, he couldn’t stop noticing.
“It’s a start,” she said. “But it isn’t just the kiss. It’s all the stuff leading up to the kiss. The dance. The furtive looks. The subtext. The innuendo.” She rolled her eyes like a teenage girl, and he was suddenly aware of their twelve-year age difference. “You’re married,” she added. “You must have done the dance at some point.”
“I’ve been married for fifteen years, and we dated for five years before that.” They’d both thought it was reasonable to get their careers going strong before getting married. “It’s been a long time.”
“That’s your problem then. You’ve forgotten. You need reminding.”
Jordana had certainly reminded his body of something.
She gasped. And that did more strange things to him. “You’ve got to watch Castle. I think it takes them something like five seasons of that show to finally get there.” In her excitement, she bounced a couple of times on the toes of her high-heeled shoes. “And Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Not the Angel thing, but Spike.”
He didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. Except that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was some sort of teenage angst show about vampires… and teenage girls.
Sighing exaggeratedly, she caressed him with another dreamy smile. “The whole secret love-hate relationship is so sexy. It’s totally what women want. We want the fantasy. That we’re the only one and you’ll do anything to have us.”
That dreamy smile was getting to him, making his heart kick and his palms sweat. Not to mention other things. But a man truly did need to have his limits. “No self-respecting man of forty-two watches chick flicks and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
She put her hands behind her back and took one step too close to him. He couldn’t think when she was this close. Or rather, he thought too much about things he shouldn’t even allow into his married brain. “Are you saying,” she said, deadly soft, “that you’re not willing to do anything, absolutely anything, to get your wife back?”
The challenge jerked him out of the sexual daze he’d fallen into. Darlene had left him and not five minutes later, he was entertaining inappropriate thoughts about another woman. A much younger woman with gorgeous blue eyes and sexy, messy, silky dark chestnut hair and… other attributes he had no right speculating about. And she’d just voiced the only question that really mattered: Was he willing to do absolutely anything to get Darlene back?
“You’re angry right now.”
Her remark brought her face into focus again. She’d heard his side of the phone argument, and he was pretty damn sure he’d revealed everything in the heat of the moment. “You could say that.” He could feel his teeth start to grind again.
“But do you really want to throw away fifteen years of marriage?”
In his anger, yes. If Darlene was cheating on him, definitely. But if he was completely honest, did she bear the entire blame? Or had he simply dug a hole so deep in the sand that it covered not only his head, but sucked in his whole body, too? He’d been comfortable with their life, but he’d never asked if she was. He’d taken everything for granted. He was complacent, just as Darlene had claimed. It didn’t justify cheating or excuse divorce by email, but did he want their marriage to be over without even a fight? “I don’t know.”
He was answering Jordana. He was answering himself.
“So show her what she thinks she’s been missing. It certainly couldn’t hurt.”
He tried to lighten the moment. “It could if anyone found out I turned into a chick-flick addict.”
Her mouth in a half smile, she drew her fingers across her lips. “Totally sealed.”
He sighed, trying to sound dramatic. “All right, you win. But I don’t have Netflix, and I’m not even sure where there’s a video store.” In the age of mail-order DVDs and streaming, most of the video stores had gone out of business.
She beamed in high wattage. “You’re in luck. I have them all on DVD and I’ll let you borrow them.”
“Wonderful,” he said dryly.
“And for every movie you watch, I’ll give you a gold star.”
“Great.” He almost groaned. “I’ll be the teacher’s pet.”
She clapped her hands. “Doris Day and Clark Gable in Teacher’s Pet. I forgot to mention all the classics you should watch, too. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Pillow Talk. An Affair to Remember. They’re fabulous.” She cocked her head. “Although the kisses aren’t quite the same as you see in movies today.” Then she added with huge affectation, “Oh my gosh, we can’t forget Love Actually. Yeah, Love Actually is totally perfect.” She gave him a cheeky smile. “So many chick flicks, so little time.”
What the hell had he gotten himself into?
* * * * *
The next morning, preparations for the quarterly company meeting commandeered everyone’s focus. Rhonda wasn’t satisfied with the changes Jordana had made to her presentation, despite the fact that they were exactly what she’d asked for. Jordana was also in charge of making sure the cafeteria was converted into a makeshift auditorium with enough chairs, bottles of water, the right AV equipment, that all the VPs had their updated agenda, and on and on.
She didn’t have a moment to pass over the DVDs she’d brought for Grady. She hadn’t stopped thinking about last night. He’d made her laugh, especially with his obvious horror at having to watch chick flicks. Sometimes attraction was like a bolt of lightning the first time you saw a man, that chemical thing that tripped all your nerve endings. Other times it was slow-growing, until one day you realized your feelings for a guy had been percolating inside you. This was somewhere between the two, where lightning struck and suddenly made her see Grady Masterson as far more than the VP across the hall.
Of course, he was married, even if his wife had just dumped him. And Jordana stuck strictly to single men.
Over the years, she’d been absorbed by her career, and dating had never been top priority. Men tended to get in the way, wanting you to divide your attention between your work and their needs. That was one of the reasons she didn’t go in for long-term relationships. Besides, keeping everything short-term meant there was less chance of being hurt or getting dumped. She also wasn’t ashamed to admit she liked hot, fast, and intense, something with a bit of an illicit nature, like sneaking away at lunch for a quickie. She preferred the high of lust versus the pressure of a relationship, at least until she’d achieved her career goals. That didn’t mean she would never think about marriage. She saw herself as a mother eventually, and having her dad run off when she was only three—no calls to check on her, no letters, not even a card on her birthday—had taught her that a child needed both parents. So she’d get married at some point in the future, but at thirty years old, there was plenty of time ahead of her for all that.
Her career came first right now, and she’d fallen behind right out of the gate. It took her three years to finish junior college because she was working at the same time. Same with university. She’d had a scholarship to San Francisco State, but she’d worked as well and couldn’t handle a full load of classes every term, so she’d graduated later than planned.
“Hello. Earth to Jordana.”
Jordana nearly fell off her high heels. Squatting on the floor to arrange bottles of water and cans of soda in the ice filling the metal tubs, she hadn’t even heard Rhonda crossing the floor in her sensible, rubber-soled shoes.
“I asked if you’d loaded my presentation on the laptop. And you were a million miles away.”
Jordana pushed herself up from her crouch in the front of the drink tubs. “Yes, Rhonda.”
To put it diplomatically, Rhonda was a micromanager, with occasional bursts of outrage she pretended hadn’t happened. That trait made it doubly odd for her to run the quarterly leadership workshops. Rhonda accentuated her matronly appearance by favoring staid business suits and a short hairstyle that added an unnecessary sense of plumpness to her face. She refused to dye the gray out of her hair, saying that as a woman in a man’s world, she wouldn’t use her sex appeal to her advantage. What sex appeal? Jordana hadn’t asked that obvious question in the nine months she’d been Rhonda’s assistant. She circumvented the micromanaging with politeness and ignored the outbursts. She didn’t work in Human Resources for nothing, after all.
“You can look it over and make sure everything is the way you want it.” Jordana had loaded the PowerPoint presentations. All the speaker had to do was a push a button to move through their slides. She tapped a few keys, and Rhonda’s headcount numbers appeared. Staff had grown by 20 percent over the last quarter, and all the new hires were in Manufacturing, which was exactly where they should be. After a long stint of R&D, the company was scheduled to begin shipping product by the first of the year, and they’d received a large influx of cash from a group of venture capitalists in order to make that happen.
Rhonda plodded through every slide, making more changes Jordana knew she’d have to fix before the meeting. “Are you sure about this number?”
“I checked it the first time you asked me, Rhonda.” Jordana forgave the micromanaging, but she still let her boss know she was doing it. Again.
“Oh yes. I forgot.” Rhonda allowed her the reminder. She’d never gone off on Jordana, maybe because Jordana called her on the small managerial infractions.
Rhonda Clark wasn’t the best boss or the best example to follow, but she knew her stuff, and Jordana soaked up knowledge like a sponge. She wanted the VP spot, not Rhonda’s specifically, but something in a fast-growing, dynamic company. That’s why she’d gone for a start-up, because she wanted training in everything to do with the HR field. Since college, she’d worked in two conglomerates, and while the experiences had been good—she’d even worked in Payroll for a while to familiarize herself with that technical area—overall, she’d been slotted into one tiny area of expertise, never getting the big picture. That wasn’t for her. She had too much to catch up on to remain narrowly focused. If she wanted the top job, she had to be proficient in every aspect.
Training aside, with a start-up, there was the added benefit of stock options when the company went public.
While Rhonda went through her presentation, Jordana returned to stacking drinks in the tubs. Even organizing events like this, she considered a skill to be learned. The meeting could totally suck, and she’d been to plenty of yawners like that. There was an art to making sure the assembly listened to every word.
Of course, there wasn’t much she could do about Rhonda’s actual performance.
“Oops,” Rhonda said loudly.
“What did you do?” Jordana didn’t panic. Yet. Rhonda wasn’t the most technically savvy, but she couldn’t do that much damage in five minutes.
“All I did was tap a key and it went away.” Rhonda stared bewildered at what was now a blank screen rather than her document.
“You probably just closed the file.” Jordana had merged all the presentations into one file so that the change in speaker was seamless.
The file, however, wasn’t in the directory. She checked the trash, just in case. She did a search. Nothing.
“Only you, Rhonda. You hit one key, that’s all?”
“I don’t know.” Rhonda made a face. “This pop-up thingie appeared, and I clicked Yes to get rid of it.”
“Hmm.” The file simply wasn’t on the company server. Somehow Rhonda had trashed it, then deleted it out of the trash, too—if that was even possible without knowing you were doing it. Jordana didn’t scream. Everything was backed up on her computer. She had time to fix it. “I’ll run upstairs for a minute.”
“But we have to start in a minute,” Rhonda whined.
Not that Jordana was an eye-roller, but seriously. “The room’s empty, Rhonda. We’ve got time to fix it.”
There were a lot of things Jordana didn’t want to learn from Rhonda. Like being a worrier and a nitpicker. “I’ll be back.”
The cafeteria door opened with the first arrivals. The warehouse contingent came for the free drinks. Jordana squeezed past them and headed across the lobby to the stairs, her heels clicking on the tile floor. She pushed upstairs against the flow of accountants coming down.
The building was divided in two, the cafeteria and a testing facility downstairs on either side of the lobby. Upstairs was Marketing, Customer Service, and the CEO’s office on one side, Accounting, HR, and Grady’s office on the other side. The factory, warehouse, and R&D were in the bigger building across the street. She had time. It would take at least five minutes for everyone to arrive and get seated.
After swiping her card key for the outer door, Jordana skirted the outside of the Accounting bullpen. She turned the corner into her cubicle next to Rhonda’s office. Ivy, Grady’s assistant, had already left for the meeting, and Grady’s office was empty, too.
She smiled thinking of the bag of DVDs she’d dump on him after the meeting. Or maybe she should wait until after office hours.
Jordana punched in her password for her screensaver. In a matter of seconds, she had the file copied onto a flash drive. That way, if anything else went wrong during the meeting, she could quickly transfer.
Tucking the flash into the palm of her hand, she glanced at her watch. Almost show time. Rhonda was probably hyperventilating and clutching her chest by now. It wasn’t as if their CEO couldn’t talk off the cuff for a few minutes. Brett Baker didn’t require slides to do his rah-rah bit.
She was moving fast as she rounded the corner, heading for the door to the upstairs landing.
And smashed right into a hard chest.
He grabbed her shoulders to steady her. She knew that chest. Her face buried against it, she knew that scent, too. Manly soap and tall, sexy man.
“We have to stop running into each other like this,” Grady said.
She liked the hint of laughter in his voice. And his hands on her shoulders. And her face in his chest. It was enough to make her forget about the flash drive.
“You’re finally getting it.” She kept her words soft, a little seductive.
He stepped back, and after a beat longer than necessary, dropped his hands. “Getting what?”
“What women want.”
“Really?” His tone was slightly mystified, his head tilted to the left. “How?”
“That was extremely sexy. Putting your hands on me to keep me steady. Talking before you let me go. Drawing out the moment.”
His mouth lifted at one corner. “Was I supposed to let you fall?”
“If I’d bumped into Rhonda, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have held me up. And you wouldn’t have done it if you’d crashed into Brett.”
A full-throated laugh burst out of him. “You’ve got me there.”
“So that means you’re learning.”
He regarded her with those delicious hot chocolate eyes of his. “I wouldn’t have done it for Rhonda either.”
“See.” Something tingled low inside her. “You really are catching on.”
His raised brow accentuated a naughty, crooked smile. “But what if you thought I was sexually harassing you?”
She heard the ticking of her internal clock. She even thought she could hear steam venting out of Rhonda’s ears. But she couldn’t move. This was way too much fun. “You knew I wouldn’t. Especially after our conversation last night. Lesson number two, learn when a woman doesn’t want anything from you at all. And steer clear.”
“I’m still not sure how I’ll know.” This close, he seemed bigger, taller. And totally sexy in his white shirt and tie.
“When a woman brings you a big bag of chick flicks, you just know which way it is.”
“You brought me presents.” He grimaced. “Thank you so much. My weekend will be the envy of every red-blooded American male.”
She winked. “I’ll let you slip in a pre-season football game as well.”
“I’m afraid I only watch the Super Bowl.”
Jordana gaped at him. “That’s sacrilege.”
“Even un-American,” he agreed with a straight face and a slight curve of his mouth. “I prefer Indy car races.”
She imagined the thunder of the engines pounding in her chest. It was almost sexual. She felt her body swaying into him.
Jordana’s internal alarm was now shrieking, and everything she’d ignored for the last few minutes came charging back. The meeting. The flash drive with all the presentations. Rhonda’s wrath.
Grady made her forget all her important duties. And that could be very dangerous.
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