Secrets don’t belong in the office—or the bedroom.
Alex Brannigan walked up to Cailin on the dance floor like he owned the place. Owned her. And for a few perfect hours, he controlled her like he did everything else in his life—completely. Giving her pleasure. Saturating her with his need.
Then she woke to an empty bed. Alex was a one-night stand she didn’t think she could forget, but still, just a one-night stand. No big deal, right?
She was still telling herself that Monday morning when she walked into her new office and there, behind the desk, was the one man she thought she’d never see again. Too bad the fact that he’s her new boss isn’t the only reason he’s unavailable.
What the heck am I doing here?
The warm summer breeze caressed Cailin’s bare—very bare—thighs. Her new black sheath dress, a “knockout” according to the teenage assistant at the mall, lingered just below the crease of her…um…rear, with no intention of going any lower. Revealing cutouts along her back, rib cage, and what little there was of the skirt were lined with silky mesh material that stretched over her curves. At twenty-eight, she wasn’t too old to wear young clothes, but she felt more and more naked with every passing minute.
Atlanta had an active twentysomething party scene, and it seemed as if every participating member had shown up for the grand opening of the latest downtown hot spot, Thrice. Nerves fluttered in her stomach and down her wobbly legs as she waited in the long line to enter the rocking new nightclub. Moving to Atlanta was a huge step for this small-town Alabama girl, but she’d made it. The transfer had been approved the same day her divorce finalized. At the time, Cailin hadn’t been sure whether to celebrate or bawl her eyes out, but she’d done enough bawling in the year it took to divorce Sean to last more than one lifetime. The past twelve months had been hell, and all she’d wanted was a chance to start over. A clean slate.
And look where it had landed her. In line. At a bar.
Here she was, a long way from the provincial town she’d grown up in, alone in a city she’d only rarely visited, surrounded by strangers, and…free. Being on her own was oddly freeing. She was learning things about herself that she’d never realized before. Good things.
And then there were the things she wished would go away, like the idea she’d woken up with this morning.
Anonymity wasn’t always a good thing. It tempted people to act in ways they normally wouldn’t, to indulge in fantasies they’d normally never consider if someone they knew was around to see—and condemn—them. Cailin had lain awake last night, staring at the darkened ceiling, alone and hungry. And not for food. Two years was a long time to go without touch, much less sex—especially when she’d spent half that time married—and she found her craving was getting harder and harder to ignore. Taking care of it herself just didn’t feel the same. She wanted human interaction, a man’s hands on her body. And this morning, she’d awakened with an idea of how to get it.
Thus the trip to Crazyville, um, Thrice.
It was risky, at least for her. Definitely unhinged. She’d been a virgin on her wedding night. She didn’t do casual sex. Or she hadn’t, but what other choice did she have? And it just so happened she had a really long, empty weekend ahead of her and a new nightclub opening not twenty minutes from her home. Best of all, nobody knew her. Nobody would be watching her “moral slipup,” as her mother would’ve called it. And nobody would talk. She could go, have a drink, maybe meet someone. Maybe go home with him. That’s what normal people did, right? At least, people who didn’t marry right out of school and who’d never in their life set foot in a bar.
What a backwoods idiot she was. She just prayed, after the amount of money she’d blown on her outfit, that the backwoods part of her was well hidden—and that this little foray into mental illness was somehow successful.
“You do realize you’re asking God for a hookup, Cailin,” she told herself, ignoring the questioning look of a cute young thing with a ring in his nose passing on his way to the end of the line. “That just proves how crazy you really are.”
The cutie did a quick twist to stare at Cailin as he went by. His gaze zeroed in on what she knew was a mostly bare back and clearly outlined butt. Her garters played peekaboo through the cutouts, extending just below her hemline to catch sheer thigh-high stockings, but the woman at the store had assured her it was utterly sexy. Cailin didn’t know about that—naughty might be a better word, but when had she ever been naughty? It was definitely past time to give herself a break from the good-girl routine. Tonight she could be anyone she wanted to be—and the woman she wanted to be was a sexy siren, ready to entice. Tilting a look over her shoulder, she gave the guy a smile, ignoring the jittery feeling in her stomach. Maybe she’d see him inside.
A group of women in line ahead of her giggled when the man winked back at her. They struck up a conversation about her dress, and by the time she greeted the broad-shouldered bouncer a half hour later, it felt as natural as buying a ticket to a movie. The way he eyed her legs helped her relax even more. She couldn’t swear, but she was pretty sure her reaction to that look was something like preening.
“Well, ready or not, here we go!” she whispered as she walked through the wide double doors.
The inside of the club was everything she’d ever imagined a bar to be: dark corners, flashing lights, driving music. The beat hit her middle, and the urge to dance struck hard. Since the dance floor was below the entry, almost like a sunken pit in the middle of the room, she skirted it to look around for a few minutes, fortifying herself with a fruity drink complete with miniparasol before approaching the stairs to go below.
“Alex! You made it!”
In a dark corner of the club’s bar, Alex Brannigan settled his frosty mug of even darker beer on the table and stood to bump knuckles with Damien, his childhood friend and owner of Thrice, before he wrapped the other man in a back-thumping bro hug. “Of course. Wouldn’t miss it; you know that.”
Damien flashed his signature pretty-boy smile, one Alex knew for a fact was a hundred percent genuine, gestured him back to his seat, and took the other one. “So what do you think?” He waved a hand to indicate the noisy room. “Great, isn’t it?”
“You’ve done a phenomenal job.” It was the truth. The place was a crush. Packed to the rafters, with every table full, the bar overrun, and the dance floor wall-to-wall mania. Damien’s infamous Midas touch was showing again. No one would have guessed that what used to be a dilapidated old warehouse could be turned into the trendiest nightclub in Atlanta. No one but Damien. Alex’s friend had an eye for the unusual, as he’d proven with his last two clubs, one in LA and the other in Denver. Hence the name.
Alex took a sip of the bitter beer, letting it soak into his taste buds as they discussed the renovations. Damien’s love for his work shone through, and Alex’s chest ached with envy. Not too long ago, he’d had the exact same enthusiasm for what he did, working his way to the top of the corporate ladder with the speed of an express elevator. He still loved the job itself, but at his level it wasn’t just about the job. It was about the politics, and God knew he was eyeballs-deep in the shit of politics. With no way out. Not without hurting the people he cared for the most.
“So what do you think of Atlanta so far?” his friend finally asked him, rubbing a hand across the dark stubble shadowing the lower half of his face.
“It’s definitely not LA.”
Damien laughed. “No, it’s not. But it has its moments.” Two skimpily clad women sauntered by, their hips swinging in opposite directions like clashing bells. Damien watched their progress with a less than professional eye. “Yep, definitely has its moments.”
Alex chuckled, shook his head, and finished off his beer with a final swallow.
Damien’s unrepentant grin gave the totally false impression of an innocent little boy; only the strong edge to his jaw and the hungry look in his eyes gave away the lie. “Hey, there’s a reason I do what I do.” His expression turned greedy as he surveyed the female population weaving around them. “And the nice thing about the women here? They’re not all silicone and collagen injections. The more natural the better, I always say.”
Alex silently agreed.
A waiter with a black apron around his waist approached the table. “Mr. Adams, Brad has some questions about—”
Damien raised a hand to cut the guy off, that hundred-watt smile softening the gesture. “I’m coming; give me just a minute.” He turned to Alex, clapping him on the back as he rose. “You won’t be a stranger, will you? I’ll have Brad send over another beer.” He nodded at Alex’s empty glass.
“Thanks, but I’ve got to head back.” It had been a long day in an even longer week, but he hardly knew what else to do with his time anymore but work. He stood and walked with Damien toward the bar. “Congratulations, man. Thrice looks like a helluva success.”
“Yeah, it does, doesn’t it?”
Alex gave the man a rueful grin. “And that’s what we’ve always loved about you: your humility.”
Damien barked out a laugh, then headed behind the bar.
Alex started the long walk toward the front door. The bar area was situated above the dance floor, which was sunk a whole level underground, the overhang surrounded with a wrought-iron balcony of sorts that allowed partygoers to watch the action below before deciding to dive in. He stopped at the edge, leaned his forearms on the hard railing, and let himself get lost in the mindlessness of writhing bodies and pulsing rhythms for just a few minutes.
Women glanced up, over, and around, his dark good looks drawing them in. He knew what they saw; he saw it in the mirror every day. A stranger. The crisp, dark hair, brown eyes, engaging smile—they belonged to someone he didn’t recognize anymore. Inside he was numb, hanging in a limbo that dulled the hungry edge with which he usually tackled life, completely disconnected from the successful business persona that conquered anything put in his path. Oh, he knew why, understood what the problem was, but he couldn’t fix it. Just wallow in it, hide it, and hate himself the whole time.
He shook his head and straightened, turning toward the door. He had to get back to the office before he got downright maudlin, and that he would never accept, ever.
The wide glass doors leading out to the street still loomed half a room away when he spotted her, the sight literally stopping him in his tracks. Thick, curly blonde hair swayed to below her shoulders, and when she pushed it back to tuck behind a delicate ear, soft caramel eyes shone in the dark of the room. She looked younger than his own thirty-six years, or maybe that was just the innocence in her unlined face talking. But her body didn’t say innocent; it screamed come take me. All lush curves and mysterious hollows encased in a black dress that should be declared illegal for the way it conformed to her shape. Damn if his cock didn’t sit up and beg with that very first glimpse. And the longer he looked, the harder he got, until every single thought vanished and all he could concentrate on was making his way toward her. He needed to know her name; he wasn’t sure why, and he didn’t care. Knowing was all that mattered.
Think, idiot, and with something besides your hard-on. Can you afford this?
White-knuckling the wrought iron to halt his progress, he stopped, dropped his head, forcing out the picture of her lithe form making her way down to the dance floor. Weigh the cost. Consider the risks. But all his brain wanted was to justify his hungry gaze on her.
The past two years had been consumed with protecting his reputation, insulating himself from innuendo, rumor, the wagging tongues that followed success—his in particular. Practicality said that at some point, he had to have another woman, if for no other reason than to relieve the constant blue balls he lived with every day. His libido shouted yes! at the thought, but his brain brought the tongue-hanging drive for sex to a screeching halt. His arms shook at the force of his grip on the balcony, but he refused to let go. Think.
He closed his eyes, letting the world around him fall slowly away. Okay, so he’d think. One, he was in a new city, one not nearly as gossip hungry as LA. Two, it hadn’t been long enough for his employees to get to know him, professionally and personally, or for him to worry about what they might say. Not that he’d seen anyone he knew tonight anyway. And three, if he didn’t act and act soon, he was gonna fucking do something drastic, like throw himself off the nearest bridge high enough to put him out of his misery.
That’s what he told himself, anyway.
The truth was, she captivated him. No name, no conversation, not even eye contact. None of it mattered. When he raised his eyes and caught sight of her in the midst of the crowd, slender arms arched above her body as she writhed to the beat of the music, logic fled, and the heavy haze of desire demanded he have her.
Guess that answered his question. He really was losing touch with reality.
Too bad. For the first time that he could remember, Alex Brannigan threw caution completely to the wind and made a decision based solely on his dick. God forgive me, he thought as he made his way down to the lower level. There was no going back now.
A PAUSE IN the cacophony was followed by the sultry sound of a sax filtering across the dance floor. Cailin stopped to catch her breath at the sound. She hadn’t been completely alone as she danced; several men had approached, partnered her for a few minutes, then left, leaving her available for another dance, another partner. She’d thought she would feel awkward dancing with strangers, but she didn’t. She enjoyed it. And she didn’t feel like a slut, either.
As the timbre of the music worked its way into her bones, she let her body move, sway, absorb the pleasure of sense and sound. When broad, heavy palms landed on her rocking hips, she startled. She whipped her head around, only to meet the darkest, sexiest brown eyes she’d ever seen. They blazed with emotion in a face that put Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and every other Sexiest Man Alive to absolute shame. Her mouth opened in a soft “oh” as she stared.
God, he was beautiful.
And then he smiled. It was soft, secretive, sexy. Steaming. Her legs wobbled beneath her, but his grip kept her upright. Then his body made contact with hers—full-body contact, her back, point by point, met by the muscled heat of his chest, stomach, thighs. A gasp escaped as his pelvis brushed the base of her spine and an unmistakably rigid bulge made itself known. The next moment, she was lost in the intensity of his touch.
Her head turned to the side, Cailin tried to smile, but nerves and something else had wicked the moisture from her lips. He moved against her, his hips more agile than Patrick Swayze’s in Dirty Dancing, and nuzzled his sharp nose against the cheek closest to him.
Her head reeled, her tongue tied itself in a firm knot, and she wished the solid floor beneath her would do her a favor and swallow her whole. Fast. “Hi.”
And then she gave herself up to the music. Talking was impossible, but moving wasn’t. And it felt delicious. She melted into the firm body supporting her, countered the sway of his hips, and fell in love with a man she’d spoken only one word to. Of course, she only loved him for his body. Nothing could compare. Nothing could ever feel as good as he felt against her. His arms circled her waist, his hands flat on the soft curve of her stomach. She wanted them on her breasts. On her mound. Between her legs. The music made love to her, one beat at a time, and he partnered it perfectly until her brain couldn’t think, couldn’t tell where she ended and he began. Didn’t want to. All she wanted was for this moment to last forever.
Which, of course, it couldn’t.
At the music’s final note, the man turned her in his arms, his tight grip pulling her into his body until her front was as firm against him as her back had been. She looked up—and up. Her head tilted back farther than she’d imagined it would have to in order to meet those chocolate eyes. He had to be at least six-four, much taller than Sean—
No, she wouldn’t think about Sean tonight. In the fantasy world she’d created, Sean no longer existed. He belonged to tomorrow and reality. Now was for sweet heat and the fantasy lover staring down at her.
“I’m Alex,” he said. His voice was a mix of gravel and velvet, the sound clenching her womb. Cailin blushed as a rush of hot moisture coated her inner thighs.
Alex tucked his head down to hear her, and at her name, he turned, eye to eye, his wide pupils mesmerizing her. Time stopped. Sound receded. And then he wet his bottom lip with a slick pink tongue. “Nice to meet you, Cailin.”
That seductive smile flashed again, so close she could touch it, taste it, before he straightened. The press of the heavy wall of his chest into her sensitive breasts brought a moan to her lips, one she abruptly cut off as soon as she realized what she’d done. Jeez, Cailin. Get it together. But he didn’t seem to mind. In fact his eyes heated further, and he rubbed lightly against her. In the back of her mind was the thought that if anyone else had pulled that move, she would have to remove his balls with her knee, but with Alex, it felt right. She didn’t know why. It just did.
Music swelled again, and Alex took control, moving her against him, the subtle rubbing of their bodies the most sensual foreplay she’d ever experienced. She knew in that moment that she would have sex with this man. If he wanted her—and the erection still going strong between them said he did—she would have him. She wouldn’t lose this opportunity. Guess she’d found her courage…in his arms.
The minutes passed with no regard to how much she wanted them to pause. As the next song came to an end, she realized they were close to the edge of the dance floor. Alex stepped aside, took her hand in his, and led her toward what looked like a dark hallway heading off to one side. Cailin balked, some unwanted feminine instinct waking her to reality and danger, but Alex soothed her. “Offices. The owner’s a friend of mine. I thought we could talk someplace quieter.”
Turning for a last look at the crowded dance floor, she followed him down the long hall, berating herself for the stupidity of the move but unable—or unwilling—to say no. Something deep down in her soul, some gut feeling she thought she’d lost when her marriage fell to pieces, trusted this man. Maybe it was the way he seemed to read her mind, to know what she needed before she did. The way he anticipated every move, as if even a breath didn’t escape his notice. She’d never felt like the center of a man’s entire concentration. She wanted more, wanted to bask in the intensity of Alex’s attention.
And the occasional employee passing them assured her they weren’t completely alone. If she screamed, someone would hear. Wouldn’t they?
A wide, heavy door marked, appropriately enough, OFFICE waited at the end of the passageway. Alex knocked, and a dark-haired man with classic playboy looks opened the door. The surprise on his face eased more of her worry. So this wasn’t a regular occurrence; thank God, even if she did want to sink through the floor in embarrassment.
“Damien, could I—”
“No problem.” The man didn’t ask for an explanation, and his cheeky grin said he didn’t need any. “Just lock up when you leave.” He nodded politely at Cailin before turning to walk back the way they’d come.
Alex gave a rueful snort and dragged her inside. The minute the door clicked shut, he had her backed against its unforgiving surface.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered roughly. “I need—”
Cailin kissed him before he could finish.
Head over to the "Extras" page for a deleted scene!