I study the copy. A tally—I think those are the arguments. I make a note of this on the margin. Six arguments on this particular day. Sounds about right. The little slashes I have no idea about. But the X’s? I think of Valentine’s cards and kisses. None of those are going on in our office. This has got to be his HR record.
I fold up my laptop and put it away, then brush my teeth and get into bed.
Joshua’s jibe about my work clothes—my “weird little retro costumes”—has prompted me to find the short black dress from the back of my wardrobe to wear tomorrow. It’s the opposite of a gray ankle-length shift dress. It makes my waist look little and my ass look amazing. Thumbelina meets Jessica Rabbit. He thinks he’s seen small clothes? He ain’t seen nothing.
Little runts like me usually come across as cute rather than powerful, so I’m pulling out all the stops. The fishnet tights are so fine they feel like soft grit. My red heels that boost me up to a towering five-feet-five inches.
There’s not going to be a single mention of strawberries tomorrow. Joshua Templeman is going to spray his coffee out his nose when I walk in. I don’t know why I want him to—but I do.
What a confusing thought to fall asleep with.
Falling asleep with his name in my head is probably the reason for my dream. It’s the middle of the night, I’m lying on my stomach and I press my cheek into my pillow. He’s braced over me, pressed against my back, warm as sunlight. His voice is a hot whisper, right in my ear as he twists his hips to grind himself against my butt.
I’m going to work you so fucking hard. So. Fucking. Hard.
I get a full impression of his heaviness and size. I try to push back against him again to feel it again, but he mutters my name like a reprimand and crawls up higher, his knees straddling my hips. His fingertips smooth along the sides of my breasts. His exhale steams against my neck. I can’t get a decent lungful of air. He’s too heavy and I’m too turned on. Sensitive, forgotten parts of me blaze to life. I scratch my fingertips against the sheets until they burn with friction.
The realization that I’m having a dirty dream about Joshua Templeman suddenly jars me and I teeter on the edge of waking, but I keep my eyes shut. I need to see where my mind takes this. After a few minutes, I sink back in.
I’ll do anything you want, Lucinda. But you’ll have to ask.
His tone is that lazy one he sometimes uses when he looks at me with that certain expression. It’s like he’s seen me through a hole in a wall and knows what I look like, down to my skin.
I twist my head, and see his wrist braced by my head, the sleeve of a business shirt loose with no cuff link. I can see an inch of wrist; hair, veins, and tendons. The hand bunches into a fist and the mere thought of him being overcome makes me clench inside.
I can’t see his face. Even though this may destroy everything, I roll over onto my back, the blankets and sheets beginning to twist me up. I’m tangled up in his arms and legs. I realize I’m turned on, and the realization that I am probably wet hits me as I look into his brilliant navy eyes. I let out a theatrical gasp of horror. A husky laugh is his reply.
I’m afraid so. He doesn’t look sorry.
There’s so much delicious weight, pressing me down. Hips and hands. I move against Dream-Joshua sinuously, feeling him bite back a groan, and I realize something shocking.
You want me desperately.
The words echo out of my mouth, true and undeniable. A kiss on the pulse in my jaw confirms what I already know. It’s stronger than attraction; darker than wanting. It’s a restlessness between us that has never had a true outlet, until now. The cream sheets are blazing hot against my skin.
You’re tied up in fucking knots over me. I feel hands sliding along my body, weighing curves, buttons popping and seams unfurling. I’m being peeled, inspected. Teeth bite, and I’m being eaten. I have never had anyone burn for me like this. I’m shamefully turned on and even though I’m on my back, the look in his eyes confirms it’s me who is winning this game. I try to tug him down to kiss me, but he evades and teases.
You’ve known all along, he tells me and his blazing smile tips me over the edge. I tremble awake. I jolt my hand away from the seam of my damp pajamas, my face burning red in the darkness. I can’t decide what to do. Finish the job, or take a cold shower? In the end, all I do is lie there.
The hanging shape of my black dress at the foot of my bed is menacing and I stare at it until my breathing slows. I look at my digital clock. I have four hours to repress this memory.
IT’S SEVEN THIRTY A.M. on a Cream Shirt Day. The reflection in the elevator doors confirms my trench coat is longer than my tiny dress, so I look like a high-class call girl, en route to a hotel penthouse with only lingerie on underneath.
I had to get the bus today. I could barely climb from the curb onto the first step without showing my underwear, and as the doors closed behind me, I knew this dress was a catastrophic lapse in judgment. The enthusiastic set of honks from a passing truck as I teetered up the sidewalk to B&G confirmed it. If Target were open this early, I’d duck in and buy some pants.
I can get through this. I will need to remain seated for the entire day. The elevator doors open and of course Joshua is at his desk. Why does he always have to be at work so flippin’ early? Does he go home? Does he sleep in a morgue drawer in the boiler room? I suppose he could ask the same of me.
I was hoping I’d have a minute or two alone here in the office to get settled in for a long day of remaining seated. But there he is. I hide myself behind the coat rack and pretend to rifle through my handbag to buy myself some time.
If I focus on the dress as my main issue, I can ignore the flashbacks to last night’s dream. He lifts his eyes from his planner, pencil in hand. He stares at me until I begin to untie the belt on my trench coat, but I can’t continue. The blue of his eyes is even more vivid than in my dream. He’s looking at me like he’s busy reading my mind.
“It’s cold in here, no?”
Mouth pursing into a kiss of irritation, he waves his hand in circles as if to say Get on with it. Fortifying myself with a deep breath, I take off the coat and hang it on my special padded hanger. I feel the friction of the tiny fishnet diamonds between my thighs as I walk toward our desks. I’m pretty much wearing a swimsuit.
I watch his eyes drop to his planner, dark lashes making a half-moon shadow on his cheeks. He looks young, until he looks up and his eyes are a man’s, speculative and hard. My ankle wobbles.
“Wowsers,” he drawls, and I watch his pencil make some kind of mark. “Got a hot date, Shortcake?”
“Yes,” I lie automatically and he puts the pencil behind his ear, cynical.
I try to perch my butt nonchalantly on the edge of my desk. The glass is cold against the backs of my thighs. It’s a dreadful mistake but I can’t stand back up now, I’ll look like an idiot. We both stare at my legs.
I look down at my bright red heels and I can see faintly up my own dress, the tiles are polished so bright. I let my hair fall across my eye. If I focus on this stupid dress, I can forget how my brain wants him to lick me, bite me, undress me.
“What’s up?” For once his voice sounds normal. “What’s happened?”
I pick vaguely at an irregular diamond on my thigh. The dream is surely written all over my face. My cheeks are getting warm. He’s wearing the cream shirt, soft and silky as the sheets in my dream. My subconscious is a deviant. I try to make eye contact but chicken out and manage to saunter around to my chair. I wish I could saunter out of here, all the way home.
“Hey.” He says it more sharply. “What’s up? Tell me.”
“I had a . . . dream.” I say it like someone might say, Grandma’s dead. I sit down in my chair, pressing my knees together until the bones grind.
“Describe this dream.” He has the pencil in his hand again and I am like a terrier watching the motion of a knife and fork. We start playing Word Tennis. Whoever can’t think of a reply first loses.
“Your face has gone all red. All the way down your neck.”
“Quit looking at me.” He’s correct, of course. This mirror-ball office confirms it.
“Can’t. You’re right in my line of vision.”
“It’s not often I see such an interesting choice of thigh-revealing attire in the workplace. In the HR manual for appropriate business attire—”
“You can’t take your eyes off my thighs long enough to consult the manual.” It’s true. He looks at the floor but after a second the red sniper-dot from his eyes recommences at my ankle bone and slides up.
“I have it memorized.”
“Then you’ll know that thighs are not an appropriate topic of conversation. If I get my polyester sack dress I guess you’ll be kissing them good-bye.”
“I look forward to it. Getting the promotion, I mean. Not your thighs— Never mind.”
“Dream on, pervert.” I type in my password. The previous one expired. Now it’s DIE-JOSH-DIE! “It’s my job, not yours.”
“So who’s your date with?”
“A guy.” I’ll find one between now and the end of the workday. I’ll hire a guy if I have to. I’ll call a modeling agency and ask for the catch of the day. He’ll pick me up in a limo out front of B&G and Joshua will have egg on his face.
“What time is your date?”
“Seven,” I hazard.
“What location is your date?” He slowly makes a pencil mark. An X? A slash? I can’t tell.
“You’re very interested; why is that?”
“Studies have shown that if managers feign interest in their employees’ personal lives it increases their morale and makes them feel valued. I’m getting the practice in, before I’m your boss.” His professional spiel is contradicted by the weird intensity in his eyes. He’s truly captivated by all of this.