“Goddamn it, I don’t have time to nursemaid a damn baby.” Ben snapped his phone closed. “I’m meeting with Senecorp at ten this fucking morning, and that contract was supposed to be ready.”
Peter gave him a sidelong glance as he made his coffee. Out of habit, he poured Ben’s, leaving it caffeine-coma black as he added sugar and cream to his own Colombian blend. “Janet hears you barking like that, she’ll wash your mouth out with soap.”
“I’ll shove Irish Spring dry up the ass of whatever moron in Personnel decided to send me an intern while Alice is on vacation. Christ. I would have come in this weekend if I’d known, but Alice said she had it handled. Fuck.”
“Alice doesn’t usually make mistakes. Whoever the intern is, she’s probably top of her class.”
“Great. She knows her way around a stack of books. Doesn’t mean a fucking thing in the real world.”
Turning, Ben saw Janet, their CEO’s imperious admin, standing in the doorway of the office kitchen.
“Since I and everyone else can hear you,” she said coolly, “Your finished contract is on your desk. The baby intern scaled the walls of her crib and spent most of the weekend getting up to speed on the negotiations with Senecorp so you’d have it first thing this morning. You’ll find her sucking her thumb at Alice’s desk. I’ve given her a handful of Cheerios to keep her happy. I trust you’ll handle any diaper changing personally.”
Peter shot him a droll I-told-you-so look. Ben narrowed his gaze, but when he turned that irritated expression on Janet, she didn’t blink. She and Alice had worked for Kensington & Associates long enough to know they were utterly indispensable. Alice had been Matt’s admin before she took paralegal training, after which she became Ben’s assistant, but both women routinely handled the diverse personalities of the five men who comprised K&A’s executive management. That included Ben’s formidable Irish temper, which he knew had been rising to the top more often of late, enough that he’d had to suffer jokes about male menopause at the ripe old age of thirty-two. And send apology bouquets to both admins more than once.
“Thank you, Janet,” he said. “I appreciate your excellent hearing.”
“Hmm.” She gave him a reproving look and then vanished, her heels soundless on the carpeted hallway.
“The contract will probably be fucked up five ways to Sunday,” he muttered. “Only thing worse than an intern that doesn’t know anything is one who thinks she does.”
“Maybe she’ll have a great rack and a nice ass.”
“I can get that from a Playboy centerfold. Doesn’t help me when Matt is tearing me a new one for sloppy prep work.”
“You’re way tougher on yourself than Matt could ever be.” Peter gave him a thoughtful look. “You’re pretty grumpy these days. I know you’re getting plenty, so maybe you’re fucking the wrong type of women.”
“There is no such thing, Dr. Phil. Bite me.”
“Pass. Haven’t had my shots. I know where you’ve been.”
Ben snorted. “Places you can only dream about now, ball-and-chain.”
Taking his coffee, he headed for his corner office. He balanced the cup with his briefcase as his phone buzzed with several incoming messages. He had forty-five minutes to review and fix that contract, and then he had a meeting with Johnson in Matt’s office that would take up the hour before his ten o’clock. If the intern hadn’t totally screwed it up, he could have her run the contract over to Senecorp so they could digest it before he arrived.
The desk where Alice was normally stationed, a few paces from the door of his office, was vacant. The baby intern had escaped from her high chair or the Cheerios hadn’t been sufficiently entertaining. Setting aside his briefcase, he took a seat at his desk, his eye on the contract sitting neatly in the middle of it. When he had a free weekend, he spent it immersed in sweet female ass and Irish whiskey, his reward for work weeks often eighty plus hours long. He worked hard, played hard, with exacting demands in both areas of his life. Which was why Alice’s voicemail this morning had set him off.
The revisions for the Senecorp contract will be done by the intern Personnel has hired. Don’t worry. She’s good. And don’t curse when you get this message.
“I’ll fucking curse if I want to,” he muttered. Just not around Alice. Or Janet. Cognizant of her superhero hearing, he’d have toned it down in the kitchen, except he hadn’t realized she’d arrived as early as he had this morning.
As he scanned the contract, his brow eased. Well, hell. The revisions were damn near perfect. Some of the points had even been tweaked for smoother language, keeping his original meaning intact. Not a typo to be found, not even a random crayon mark or a smudge from fingers stained with Juicy Juice. His lips quirked. Putting the document down, he rubbed a hand over his face.Hell, what was the matter with him these days? He didn’t used to get so worked up about shit like this. Yeah, he was an ogre on details, but he’d had a scathing sense of humor about it. From Peter’s sidelong glances, he knew he and the others had ongoing theories about him, especially Jon, Mr. Touchy-Feely-Let’s-All-Hug. He gave them credit for sticking to the guy code, though, giving him room to steer the boat the way he needed to steer it for right now.
Still, he had to push down resentment at Peter’s teasing. It was easy to be smug about the hollow state of a single guy’s sex life when you were married to the submissive of your wildest dreams, the way Peter was. Though Dana was blind, she had the courage and unbridled sensuality of a woman with all her senses intact. Ben knew it firsthand, because on one memorable night, Peter had enlisted his help to make one of her fantasies come true, to be taken by two men at once.
All five members of Kensington & Associates executive management were hardcore sexual Dominants, and four of them had found their perfect submissive match. Soulmates, if you believed in that bullshit, and it was hard not to, looking at how they got along with one another. Ben remembered the aftermath of that night with Dana. He’d gone into the bathroom to clean up, and when he came out, he’d seen her curled inside the curve of Peter’s muscular body. His arms were wrapped around her like she was the beginning and end of everything, his lips cruising over her temple and cheek, his deep voice rumbling soft in her ear. Ben felt like an intruder. He’d slipped out without another word. He didn’t really do cuddling, anyhow.
So here he was, four years later, still single. That didn’t bug him. If he wanted a more serious relationship, he could seek it. Yeah, maybe in his few off hours he’d started opting for whiskey and strolling through the Quarter, rather than seeking female companionship. No big deal. His tastes were the most extreme, so club submissives had been good enough for him for the past year or two. Dating was too much effort, always the wrong ingredients, a meal he had to eat to be polite, but couldn’t wait to finish and step away from the table.
Things had changed, and much as he knew that was the way of the fucked-up world, it didn’t always sit so well. It stirred up shit he didn’t want stirred, and maybe that was what kept griping his bowels. Hell, maybe it was time to take a vacation, go somewhere tropical where he could seduce pretty women and get his boxers out of their permanent bunch. Except all he seemed to see when he imagined that vacation was a stretch of empty beach, nobody on it but him.
Christ, was he lonely? He didn’t need down time. He needed more up time, juvenile sexual pun intended. He’d drive down to Baton Rouge, do an extra session at Club Surreal this week. In the past couple years, Surreal had opened a sister club here in New Orleans, appropriately called Club Progeny, but he preferred to go to Baton Rouge when he didn’t want to run into one of the other guys. He’d find one of his regulars, or a new submissive looking for a club-only experience. Take her on one of his extreme roller coaster rides, not letting her off until she was too shaky to walk. When he was breaking down her shields, opening her up to everything he demanded, getting the maximum level of response, far beyond what she imagined was possible, time stopped for him. It was all about that moment. It was the same feeling he’d had when he was doing trial lawyer work, earlier in his career. When he felt the steel jaws closing around his opponent, knowing he was the guy with his foot on that spring lever, it had been almost as good as sex. Negotiations with Matt’s acquisitions gave him the same sensation, particularly when it was a hostile takeover.
Jon had recently observed that Ben was Genghis Khan in a previous life, happy with nothing but conquering. Asshole. Their mechanical genius didn’t do barbed digs, though. If Jon said something like that, he was sending a message. Ben chose to ignore it.
The light tap of heels moving from the carpet to the wood floor around the admin desk alerted him to the arrival of his intern. He bit back a sigh. He really wasn’t in the mood to be charming and welcoming, but he’d make the effort. He wasn’t in the habit of snarling at women even on his worst days, particularly young ones right out of school and wet behind their ears.
Then he glanced out his doorway, and discovered another way time could stop, one he hadn’t experienced in a while. His gaze got stuck in full lock.
She’d turned to the file cabinets, so he’d missed her face. Instead, he saw a classic Audrey Hepburn slim hourglass shape, complete with tailored skirt that nipped off above her knee. When she sat down, a hint of thigh would tease male senses. She was wearing those provocative nylons with the old fashioned lines up the back, and they were perfectly straight. Following the contour of calf, the sweet valley behind the knee, they ran up the back of her thigh and disappeared beneath the snug hold of the skirt. Her pale yellow blouse was translucent silk that showed the impression of her bra in the same color, making him wonder if there were panties in that same butter color beneath the skirt.
Her dark blonde hair would fall a little further than her shoulder blades, but right now it was clipped shorter by a wide bronze barrette, a Celtic knot design with a tiny shamrock done in emerald rhinestones. As she put the files away, he saw well-kept nails, a French manicure with white tips that drew attention to capable, feminine grace. There was something familiar about the way she moved.
He didn’t know what scent she was wearing because he wasn’t that close, but he wanted to be. His gaze slid back down to that tempting ass, shaped nice and round by the tailored skirt, held tight enough it made a lovely quiver when she shifted. If she’d bend down to the lower file drawers, he could let his mind go some pretty interesting places. Not that he’d be anything but professional with her, of course. Baby intern and all that.
She turned then, and his attention coursed up the flare of hips, registering generous breasts, probably a C-cup, cradled in a lacy, low cut bra, thank the lingerie gods. The two-button opening of the collar was modest, but would still give him a glimpse of bare curve at the right angle. She was perfectly put together, office executive with appealing woman, class and style all the way. Jesus, this was an intern? Then he reached her face and was poleaxed.
Holy Christ, it was Marcie.
Snapping his chair back to an upright position, he managed to send his pen spinning off his desk when he set down his coffee. He damn near splashed the document she’d prepared for him.
When Lucas, K&A’s CFO, had married Cassandra, she’d been the guardian of five younger siblings. Marcie was the next oldest girl, about to turn seventeen when Ben first met her. She’d already been pretty, but pretty teenager had obviously given way to breathtaking young woman. For the past four years, she’d been away at college. During her freshman and sophomore years, he’d seen her briefly at holidays, because the five K&A men were a family. They’d congregate at Matt’s family estate in Texas, or Jon’s second home in Baton Rouge for family get-togethers. But for the last two years, Marcie hadn’t been home, though Lucas and Cass had flown out to see her once or twice. She’d been doing work co-ops in Europe, then New York City. If not for the occasional postcard, he’d have had no contact at all.
During the first two years of college, she’d sent him lots of letters. Not emails. Handwritten letters on scented girly stationary, with clippings from her studies or the college paper to interest or amuse him. At the beginning, when she told him she was going to write him, he’d told her he wasn’t going to become her pen pal. She’d fixated on him in high school, a crush he’d always carefully managed with platonic affection. While she seemed to accept that, she sought his advice on a variety of things, often inappropriate. The guys had teased him about his wary navigation of those treacherous waters, but he’d opened the letters, read each one, and even answered a few.
Yeah. He’d become her regular damn pen pal.
She was family, damn it. She was like having an annoying little sister, one he’d taken under his wing. All the kids had needed some one-on-one in the male role model department, given that Cassandra’s father had bailed years before and Jeremy, the oldest son, had been a drug addict living on the street. When it was obvious Marcie was gravitating toward Ben, Lucas had trusted him to give her that big brotherly protection and guidance while he and the others focused on the rest of the family.
Honestly, she got under his skin. Her worries and fears, her successes and missteps. Used to being “second Mom” when Cass was working her ass off to take care of all five of them, she was a serious kid, too locked down, one who’d had too many responsibilities thrown on her too early. He knew enough about that to feel a kinship with her right off.
When her letters and phone calls slowed to a trickle in her junior year, he’d received the infrequent post cards, sometimes a passed-on hello when she talked to Cass on the phone. It was all normal for a girl growing into a woman, of course. She shouldn’t be spending all her time writing to a guy almost a decade older.
He admitted he missed those letters, the things she talked about with him, no matter how wildly unsuitable some of those past topics might have been. They’d been friends—in the ultra-cautious way that an older man and jailbait could be. He almost snorted at the thought. She wasn’t jailbait now, but God above, he knew trouble when he saw it.
“Baby intern?” She’d come to his door, was studying him. Jesus, her voice. How had she developed that sultry little purr to tag her syllables? She was…how old was she? Twenty-three. Barely. “You’re still such an asshole. I’m surprised Janet doesn’t smack you down a couple times a day.”
“She leaves that to Alice. And Alice is out of town.” Ben kept his gaze fastened on her. “When’d you get home?”
“Couple weeks ago. Hi.” Marcie’s voice softened. There was a touch of shyness to her smile, something he remembered from her teens, but it was also openly glad to see him. “Did you miss me?”
“Hi yourself.” He realized his voice had become husky, and he cleared it. “Who are you again?”
She crinkled her nose, stuck her tongue out at him. When she’d done that as a teenager, he definitely hadn’t reacted the way he did now. He watched that tongue go back between her full lips, touching them briefly, an involuntary gesture. Leaning in the doorway, she crossed her arms beneath her ripe breasts, hooking a delicate ankle around the other heel. “Cass told me you needed someone to fill in while Alice was island hopping, so I had her set it up with Matt as a surprise. I’ve heard working for you is like working for Satan, and I figure that’ll look good on a resume. Especially if you give me a glowing reference letter.”
For some of the thoughts he was having, he was going to get up close and personal with Satan. He needed to stand up, go give her a friendly hug, stop acting like something else was happening in this room, in the way they couldn’t seem to stop looking at one another. She was a kid. Like a little sister.
She was also apparently tired of waiting on him. Straightening, she moved across the carpet. The heels she wore were pencil thin, four inches, and made her legs look ready to wrap around a man’s hips. She still had those solemn, steady brown eyes. Her features had traces of the girl he remembered, but they’d become more refined. Her makeup was applied with a light touch, because with those doe eyes and thick lashes, the cushion of her bottom lip frosted with a light gloss, she didn’t need much. A few wisps of hair strayed over her brow and around her temples, increasing the focus on her face while emphasizing the delicacy of it.
He realized then why her movements had seemed familiar. They were like Cass’s. Lucas’s wife was a top negotiator with nerves of steel who could hit a guy broadside with understated female wiles when it worked to her advantage. Then she’d move in for the kill, so smoothly a man died with a smile on his lips. Her younger sister had obviously inherited some of that, but this was also Marcie, a separate and unique entity with mysteries of her own.She had a gymnast’s grace. In high school, she hadn’t had the time to join teams or clubs, but she’d pursued gymnastics on her own, used the school equipment to stay flexible and lean, and he knew she continued that in college. She’d excelled at everything she attempted, studying business principles practically from the time she was in middle school. Majoring in business and minoring in pre-law, she was as brilliant and driven as her sister, who’d been a child prodigy of Pickard Consulting, a negotiation and corporate investigations firm.
The slim choker she wore caught his attention. The pendant was a crystal disk with a tiny trio of blue flowers pressed under the glass. Forget-me-nots. Something about that niggled at his mind, but the fact there was a lock above the pendant, a small key hole decorated with scrollwork, was even more distracting. It could be an affectation of course, not a true lock.
She was coming around the desk, giving him a warm look. Since he hadn’t moved, he saw a flash of uncertainty behind it, something hard to pin down, as if she wasn’t sure a hug would be welcome. Get up, asshole. Say hello, be nice. What the hell’s the matter with you?
Why wasn’t he getting up? When he was younger and more street raw, Matt’s father and then Matt himself had hammered courtesy into him as a mandate, not just as a way to hustle marks. Like Matt’s unbreakable rule about not cursing around women, somewhere along the way, that and the rest of it had become part of who Ben was, the instinctive breeding of a Southern male rising above the circumstances of his birth.
But he was also a Dom with extreme preferences, whose radar was on full alert. Something was keeping him right where he was, studying her with firm, unsmiling lips and a calculated gaze he intended her to see.
It was a weighted moment, that indefinable quality teetering on a scale between them. When her gaze shifted to the floor between his knees, her lashes lowering, it hit him in the solar plexus. But then her smile became a wry twitch of her lips. Putting her hand on his shoulder, she gracefully squatted and picked up the pen by his polished shoe. Her palm slid down over his biceps, an exploratory touch. When she placed her hand on the desk to lever herself back up, she caught the edge of his notepad, knocking it off as well.
“Oops.” With a glance at him beneath those long lashes, she knelt fully to reach further under the desk. As she did, she walked over his polished shoe, stretching out to retrieve the pad. He got an eyeful of Marcie on her hands and knees before him, her ass turned up, her back that shallow valley that made him imagine caressing the sweet, naked line of it. Her skirt was pulled drum tight over those toned cheeks, the cleft nicely teased. His palm would make a firm smacking sound on it if he gave her a swat for dropping his papers.
What would it be like to cover her with his body, hold her there on her elbows as he ripped the fragile silk open, her breasts filling his hands so he could squeeze? She’d gasp, rub her ass against his cock, wanting, begging…
Christ. Okay, if he invoked that name one more time, he was going to have to go to mass or confession, something he hadn’t done well…ever. To be a lapsed Catholic, you had to be a practicing one first, right?
She’d knocked that pad off deliberately, was doing this deliberately. He wrapped his mind around that as she straightened, turned in the span of his knees to put the note pad on his desk next to the pen. She took her time, straightening things, making sure they were exactly the way they’d been before she’d disrupted them. Kneeling there, her back to him, her hair was in range of his fingertips. He could unclip that barrette, bury his fingers in those thick strands, pull her head back to set his teeth to her throat. She smelled the way a candy shop did, so many flavors to sample and explore.
Now she shifted back toward him, her hands settling on his thighs as if to push herself back to her feet. He was surprised the heat coming off him didn’t burn her fair skin, even through his slacks. Her gaze traveled along his thighs, lingering over his groin, where it was starting to be very obvious he was responding to her. He stifled a growl. She was putting off every signal in the world, challenging him to take over. When she moistened her lips at the size of his reaction, her eyes widening slightly, he almost gave himself away by putting a death grip on the chair arms. Those sultry lashes lifted, her brown eyes meeting his.
“Something else I can do for you, Mr. O’Callahan?”
He saw it in her eyes. She wanted to go down on him, wanted to feel his hand fisted in her hair, driving her according to his will. Since she wanted it that bad, he wouldn’t give it to her right away. He’d make her get up, turn around so he could grasp her hips, work her against him in a lap dance then and there, make her show him how much her pretty ass hungered for his cock. And then he’d blister it good, so that he’d wring a few tears out of her before he fucked her right here on his desk.
Holy fuck. She was teasing him the way a sub did, trying to goad a Dom into action. He had to be mistaken, but the set of her chin said she could get more determined about it, until she’d be outright bratting, blatantly topping. What the hell was going on here?
He didn’t know, but while one part of him was reeling, the part of him that was sure of this ground, as sure as breathing, steadied and locked like a collar clamping around a pale white throat. He knew this terrain, even if being on it with Marcie was unexpected.
“What are you doing?” As she rose to her feet, he met her eyes squarely.
“Just helping.” She wasn’t up to that direct stare. But that only made it worse, because what she did wasn’t calculated. She responded the way a natural submissive did when a Dom finally got his shit together and took the reins. She looked down. Back at his desk, straightening the contract unnecessarily, shifting his coffee further out of the way. Then she stepped back, and she was smiling again, though it was a little forced. As she put that distance between them, she shrugged her shoulders, tossed back her hair. He’d seen that look before, usually when figuring her way through the difficulties that had been their home life until Lucas and Cass had gotten together and moved things in a better direction, with the K&A men becoming their extended family to help out.“Hey, why don’t you let me take you to dinner tonight?” She held that smile, probably trying to pretend that whatever she’d been trying to pull hadn’t taken an unexpected turn for her as well. Her cheeks had a light flush. “You can bring me up to speed on the things you need me to do, and I can tell you all about my co-ops in the Big Apple and Europe. Don’t say no, because I’ve never paid you back for that trouble you bailed me out of in college. It can be an adult thank-you for helping me out when I was a kid.”
“You’re still a kid.”
That smile disappeared. He was getting an overwhelming compulsion to lick at that frosted color, see if it tasted sweet. As her brown eyes became more thoughtful, she leaned in, reaching out to touch his face. He caught her wrist, holding her there.
She blinked at him. Her fingers closed, touching his knuckles in a light caress. “I’m not a kid anymore, Ben. Will you let me take you to dinner?”
“To catch up.”
“Among other things.”
“No,” he decided. She reacted with a brief flash of hurt, which quickly disappeared behind an unfathomable expression. He needed to make this right, put it on the proper footing. She was still Marcie. He needed to talk to her about this kind of behavior. If she used it on the wrong guy…well, it wouldn’t be good for a lawyer to have a murder rap hanging over his head.
“I’ll take you to dinner. Old family friends don’t pick up the tab.” He managed a charming smile he hoped didn’t look like a big bad wolf salivating. “Pretty girls especially don’t have to pay.”
“Not with money.” She slipped his hold with a devilish grin and a little sass to her walk as she headed back to the door, contract in hand. It was as if that hurt look had never existed, but he knew better. Whatever Marcie had been trying to do, she wasn’t the duplicitous kind when it came to emotions. “I better get back to work,” she added, throwing him a look, the blond hair spilling over her shoulder. “My boss might paddle my ass if I don’t get this contract over to Senecorp this morning. At least a girl can dream he might. Oh, and Matt said he wanted to meet with you about fifteen minutes before Johnson arrives. I’ve pulled the file and the notes you’ll need.”
“Marcie—” He was going to give her a piece of his mind and then some, but of course Peter buzzed him. By the time he’d glanced toward the phone and debated whether to answer, she’d grabbed up some other folders on the desk and was gone, moving with breezy energy on those thin heels.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so outmaneuvered, taken by surprise, flat out punched in the gut. By a freaking kid, a twenty-three year old baby. He had about a hundred things to wrap his mind around from that little interchange, but there was one thing his aching hard-on was telling him, loud and clear.
That’s no baby, buddy. She’s a freaking natural submissive, hungering for a Master.
What the hell had happened to Marcie? Did she know she’d just thrown down a gauntlet to an experienced Dom, daring him to pick it up?
He was afraid she sure as hell did.