A Ruthless Proposition

By: Natasha Anders

When she had the door firmly shut behind her, she wobbled over to the bed, where most of the contents of her suitcase were chaotically strewn all over the duvet cover, and sank down in relief. Her entire body still shook in the aftermath of the best sex—and the biggest mistake—of her life.

She buried her face in her hands.

“It’s just sex,” she told herself, and was embarrassed by the unsteady pitch of her voice. And by the lie. She was definitely embarrassed by the blatant lie, even if the only person she was trying to deceive was herself. That wasn’t just sex. That had been the most mind-numbing, bone-melting, awe-inspiring forty-five minutes of her life, and there was no getting around that. The irritating man certainly knew his way around a woman’s body. Her nipples ached just thinking about it, and to be frank, everything else was still tightening and convulsing in the aftermath of the soul-shattering orgasm she’d just had.

But to sleep with Dante Damaso? She shuddered in a way that had nothing to do with the microexplosions still tingling all over her body and everything to do with the fact that she could barely stand the man. So what if he was mouth-wateringly gorgeous? He was still an obnoxious, misogynistic jerk with a smug self-assurance that rubbed her the wrong way every time he spoke. Then there was the way he practically sneered every time he said Miss Knight, or the way he couldn’t seem to look at her when he talked to her, or seemed incapable of a single please or thank-you. And—horribly—after one stupid mistake on her very first day of work, he now insisted on painstakingly checking every single letter she typed for him before she was allowed to e-mail it. It was humiliating, and while the mistake hadn’t been repeated since then, he made it absolutely clear that he did not trust her to do anything more challenging than make coffee, water the plant, and send his kiss-off notes. Of course, he didn’t micromanage the rest of his staff the way he did Cleo, and she knew if he weren’t one of her brother’s buddies, Dante would probably have fired her within the first week. But she was damned if she’d quit, the way he obviously expected—wanted?—her to.

And she had slept with him. She couldn’t even blame alcohol, exhaustion, or temporary insanity . . . hold on. Maybe she could blame temporary insanity. She must have lost her mind. Why else would she have slept with the condescending, arrogant bastard?

She headed toward the en suite bathroom, tugging off her hopelessly wrinkled dress as she went. She fumbled with the complicated bells and whistles in the shower cubicle. It’s a shower; why is it so damned difficult anyway? She finally got the water going and gratefully stepped beneath the powerful spray before swearing and fumbling with the knobs and buttons to set it to a temperature less than scalding.

“Damn it.” The words were mild but heartfelt. She didn’t know if she was sophisticated enough to be cool about a one-night stand. With her boss. Whom she despised.

She rested her forehead on the cool tiles before thumping it softly and rhythmically against the unforgiving surface. This was a disaster. She enjoyed sex, but she had never previously indulged outside at least a semicommitted relationship. This was uncharted territory for her. Where did they go from here?

Of all the stupid . . . She shook herself. She wasn’t achieving anything with the self-recriminations. It had happened. Now she needed to figure out how the hell she was going to get through the rest of their time here and what she would do if she had to find a new job once they got back to Cape Town.

It would suck if it came to that, because she really enjoyed the challenge of this job. Back in South Africa, Dante regularly swapped her for other executive assistants in the upper echelons of his global, multi-billion-dollar leisure industry conglomerate, and it was on those days Cleo truly liked her new job. None of the other executives seemed to doubt her competence and rarely gave her the mind-numbingly boring and simplistic tasks Dante liked to saddle her with.

Cleo finished her shower and wrapped herself in the warm terry-cloth robe provided by the hotel. She sauntered over to the huge floor-to-ceiling window and stared out at the sprawling nightscape. She had always dreamed of visiting Japan—had hoped to dance here someday. She allowed herself a small, wistful smile and a momentary pang at the thought of all she’d lost before shoving the memory of what she’d once been able to do—what she still yearned to do—back into a box and placing it into a mental drawer. She could never fully shut that damned drawer; it was always slightly open, and every so often something—the dream of a different life—would escape from it and haunt her reality. She drew in a long breath and released it shakily. She had way too much else going on right now. She couldn’t allow the coulda/shoulda beens to intrude on what was already an emotionally impactful night.

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