A Ruthless Proposition

By: Natasha Anders

Cleo endeavored not to dwell too much on the unwelcome and intimate physical reminders of her lapse in judgment last night. But that wasn’t an easy thing to do when she could barely suppress a shiver as she recalled how masterfully he had flipped her onto her stomach and dragged his wicked lips down from the nape of her neck to—

“Miss Knight?”

Whoa. She snapped out of the raunchy daze and stared blankly into his impatient face.

“The phone call?”

“Yes, of course,” she sputtered, feeling foolish as she dialed the number.

Miles Kinross, as she had suspected, had already retired for the night and not alone, if the sultry feminine voice in the background was anything to go by. Kinross was a handsome man and—if office gossip was to be believed—like Dante Damaso, he rarely dated the same woman for longer than a month or two. Cleo was in the middle of explaining what they needed when the phone was yanked rudely from her hand and Dante took over the conversation.

She straightened her shoulders, determined to ignore his boorish behavior, and headed over to the lavish buffet breakfast he must have ordered from room service. At least he’d remembered to order enough for two this time.

She allowed herself another flash of aggravation at the memory of how he had completely overlooked her need for a meal last night. Inconsiderate bastard. No wonder she’d been so susceptible to his dubious charms; she’d been suffering from impaired judgment due to starvation. Dying of hunger now, she heaped her plate with scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, and toast before sitting down to dig in.

She barely managed more than a mouthful before he concluded his call.

“There’s no time for breakfast. We’re running late as it is. Our first meeting is in forty minutes, and the driver has informed me that it’ll take at least half an hour to get there in rush-hour traffic. I don’t want to be late. It’s unprofessional and considered extremely rude in Japan.”

“Oh, but . . .” She stared longingly down at her still-full plate.

“If you’d been up earlier, you would have had more time to eat,” he pointed out as he picked up his briefcase.

Yeah, right. Cleo had dawdled over her morning prep, gathering her courage to face him. She had tried to anticipate every possible scenario: he’d sweep her up into his arms and propose a torrid affair, he’d be unable to meet her eyes and unsure of what to say to her, he’d explain how their indiscretion had been only a passing thing, never to be repeated.

She hadn’t expected this. This complete lack of acknowledgment of what had been a huge breach of office conduct. In fact, he was so completely normal and unaffected she wondered if he even remembered their little oopsie.

She shoveled down one last forkful of eggs before getting up with a resigned sigh. She smoothed her black, pin-striped pencil skirt down over her thighs and glanced up in time to catch a smoldering look in his dark eyes.

Oh . . . my.

“Let’s go,” he growled, stepping aside and allowing her to precede him.

For one glorious moment, that look helped her push aside her insecurities and made her feel powerful and feminine enough to add a deliberate little shimmy to her walk as she sidled past him.

Dante bit back the stream of profanity threatening to escape his lips and focused instead on internalizing his annoyance. A resurgence of sexual tension was the last thing he needed right now. He’d believed he had successfully put the whole incident firmly behind him, but the way that no-nonsense skirt clung to her pert little ass was more than a little distracting. Especially now that he knew she was probably wearing cute little cotton cartoon-character panties—similar to the ones she’d worn last night—beneath the pin-striped twill. He ground his teeth as he followed her out, forcing his eyes up from the tight curve of her butt to her narrow back, and tried to regain his focus. He was only marginally successful, distracted by the light, fresh scent of her shampoo as it wafted back toward him, and the sassy bounce of her silky hair.

He battled with his hormones all the way down to the car, where the stifling humidity and heat outside displaced his infuriating horniness with discomfort of a different kind.

“Wow, this humidity is crazy,” his distracting little assistant said as they settled into the air-conditioned black luxury sedan.

Dante grunted noncommittally and yanked out his tablet to check his notes for the meeting.

“Is it always like this in Tokyo?”

Why the hell was she still prattling on? She rarely made small talk with him, and he preferred it that way. When they did speak, it was strictly work related.

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