“This is as epic of a shit show as I’ve ever seen.”

I glance to my right where a disturbingly attractive man seems to struggle with guiding a straw into his mouth after uttering a statement so true, I feel it in my soul. 

His awkwardness with the straw draws attention to his thick-framed black glasses, slicked back dark hair, and ugly holiday sweater that looks like he really did nab it off a rack at a thrift shop. The dork-chic look can’t possibly hide his chiseled jawline and sculpted pecs though. That Santa decked with faux fur trim riding a sequined reindeer molds to his torso in all the right places. 

It’s such a striking contrast of fashion horror and masculine beauty that I’m only able to tear my eyes away when another peal of drunken laughter emanates from the corner of the room where the other employees of Chiles, Gardner, Goodman, McBeal, Shore, and Specter Law Offices have gathered to watch the carnage at a closer range.

“Look at them.” The Clark Kent doppelgänger gestures with his glass toward the crowd pressing in against Janice, who is likely to be the former head of HR by Monday morning. “They’re like sharks smelling chum in the water. That poor woman has to bury the entire firm’s skeletons, but they’re egging her on like they forget what might come out of her mouth about them after a few vodka tonics.”

He’s not wrong and yet… He is. Her slurred rants have been directed toward a very specific recipient in a very personal way. 

“So, I told Al he could take his jam of the month club and shove it up his hairy ass!” Janice laughs like this is the funniest joke of the year. The other associates laugh along with her.

I turn back toward the bar to wait for my drink. This is just too painful to watch. Embarrassing comedy always makes me uncomfortable. “Actually, I’m more worried about her admitting their whole sordid affair publicly. Do the partners ever actually attend this party? Or worse—their spouses?”

“I have no idea,” the guy confesses after managing to slurp up the dredges of clear liquid in his glass. “I’m an intern. And frankly, what I’ve seen so far makes me want to go the prosecution route instead of private law.”

Oh, so he’s an intern like me. Interesting. I take a conservative sip of my Pappy Van Winkle 15 year, knowing it won’t make me as loose lipped as poor Janice. This bourbon is for savoring, not for chugging. I just need a little liquid courage to get through this night of social networking. I don’t want to tank my career before it begins by crying on some hot guy’s shoulder about my lack of an actual social life. This little impromptu drink and show with an attractive man is the closest thing I’ve had to a date in years, and the holidays always seem to make loneliness that much sharper.

He leans against the bar beside me and holds up his glass to indicate to the bartender he’s ready for a refill. “What makes you think she’s having an affair with him?”

“She’s only disparaged him. None of the other partners. Her pejoratives are specific and full of intimate details like having a ‘hairy ass.’” I make an air quote with my free hand. “She’s never said something as generic as ‘ugly gorilla.’”

He tips his head side to side as he weighs my judgment. “That’s speculative, at best.”

“I caught them in flagrante delicto in the copy room on my first day,” I admit. 

The memory of that hairy ass thrusting between two legs that had surprising limberness for their age is seared into my memory for all time. My cheeks heat of their own accord. There’s no way to hide how red I must look. It would be like searching for a very specific type of porn in the privacy of my own apartment then trying not to blush furiously when I accidentally viewed something I never wanted to see and can’t ever unsee. An exercise in futility. And also a new trigger that forevermore will produce the same visceral physical reaction.

He laughs. It’s such a bold, boisterous sound. The kind that makes me think he was the life of the party at his frat rather than the geeky pre-law student who spent all his free time studying in the library. “You’re going to make a great attorney. What year are you?”

“How do you know I’m an intern, too?” I never mutually confessed that.

“Your expression perked up when I admitted I’m an intern.” Blessedly, he remains silent about my expression when reliving my only experience of real-life porn.

I really need to work on my poker face. “I’m a 3L. How about you?”

He raises his glass along with his eyebrows in a show of solidarity.

“I would toast to our final push, but I’m pretty sure it’s bad juju to touch my full glass to your empty one.” I mean it as a witty repartee to regain a little footing after my naïve expression gaffes, but he doesn’t take it as such.

His laugh is a little less bold and a lot more tense. He places his glass on the bar as his shoulders creep toward his ears ever so slightly. The flirtiness of a few seconds prior crumbles beneath the weight of renewed awkwardness. His tone takes on a slightly biting edge. “You’re obviously not at Columbia, or we’d already know each other.”

“NYU,” I supply, annoyed by his overtly imperialist implication. So much for even a smidge of camaraderie to get through this evening. “We’re obviously sworn enemies.”

He nods, his mouth firming into a tight line. 

We size each other up in a wholly different way, but he keeps his thoughts to himself this time. I might not be able to control my expressions, but he can’t hide what he sees in me mirrored in his eyes.

He’s old money. I’ve worked hard to get here and likely come from poverty.

His clothes are casual and purposefully distasteful. My outfit suggests I’m desperate to fit in with a classy, slinky black cocktail dress that was purchased on a nearly maxed out credit card from the clearance rack at Barney’s.

His lips twist into the hint of a sneer as he imagines me going into family law practice—working long, depressing hours for minimal pay—while he’s obviously going to make the big bucks representing corporations who want to screw their innovation leaders out of intellectual copyright and fair compensation.

I purposefully—and artfully, I might add—allow a drop of my drink to spill from between my lips and the glass onto my bare chest where gravity does the rest of the work for me. Not even a hint of a shudder slips down my spine as that droplet of high-end bourbon rolls through the valley of my classy-for-the-occasion cleavage. 

I swipe at it with my fingertip then bring the stray liquid to my tongue. Predictably, his wide eyes follow the motion even as his gaze darts between my breasts and my mouth.

“Oops,” I whisper conspiratorially. “This is too expensive to waste even a drop. I might be clumsy, but I appreciate a good bourbon when it’s afforded to me.”

“You’re definitely going to make a great attorney.” He clears his throat of gravel. “Not only do you not play fair, but you also know how to use every card in your hand to your advantage.”

“Imagine that. I’ve actually learned something even though I don’t attend an Ivy League school.” Satisfaction swells in my chest, so I take a healthy sip of my fancy bourbon as a reward for a well-fought win. Even if it is small and inconsequential.

He openly breathes a sigh of relief when a fresh drink is placed in front of him on the bar. He gulps it down in a few lovely swallows that make his Adam’s apple bob with the effort. The glass rings with the sound of defeat when he slams it down on the bar top. He turns to face me with a hint of respect dancing behind those glasses that don’t hide as much as he probably would like. “I was going to get drunk on expensive liquor and stuff myself with enough food to slip into a coma until after New Year’s. What are your plans tonight?”

I wrinkle my nose in distaste. Not because I don’t admire his goals but because… Is he seriously propositioning me for a one-night stand after what just transpired between us? “My plans are to enjoy enough liquid courage to make networking slightly more palatable. Unlike you, I actually need good recommendations from these people.”

His eyes study me, but his expression remains disappointingly neutral. “You actually want an offer from this firm.”

He doesn’t phrase it like a question, so I don’t bother with an answer. “And your daddy probably got you this internship that you don’t really want because he plays golf with one or more of the partners. I believe this is where we part ways. I’m not interested in going home with you now instead of doing what I came here to do.”

“So, you’re saying if I stick around until you’ve done what you came to do, you’re interested in going home with me later?”

The audacity of this man! Never will I admit I’m attracted to his blunt honesty nor will I allow my jaw to fall to the ground the way he must expect. Although my fingers do tingle with the urge to slap him. Because, well… Honestly, that is an expected response, and the tilt of his full lips indicates he’s absolutely salivating for me to make a scene and ruin this opportunity for myself.

I sip my drink as I mentally run through my options.

He orders a third and waits, seeming content to allow me the time to choose the most tantalizing prospect. 

“Are you ready?”

He seems as though he barely stifles the urge to roll his eyes. “I’ve been waiting for years.”

“How do you feel about slumming it tonight?”

He scoffs. “Obviously, I slum it whenever the mood strikes me since I’ve already offered just that. Try again. I must say, I’m disappointed in your lead-in, counselor.”

My smile threatens to crack the known parameters of my face. “Oh, I’m sure you do. I’m also certain you’ve enjoyed the most high-end head the oligarchy of New York has to offer in your hush-hush secret society sex ring at Columbia. No, I’m not talking about a quick and dirty orgasm in the dark where no one will ever publicly know how low you’re willing to go.”

He cuts off the rest of my proposition by leaning in and presumptuously brushing his warm, full lips against the shell of my ear. “Oh, darling. Too many assumptions to address at once, but I absolutely cannot let the single orgasm thing go. You would get no less than twenty from me tonight.”

There’s no hope of not at least chuckling at his overconfidence. He’s old enough to know that’s nearly physically impossible. I pull back just enough to regain eye contact. There’s barely a breath between our faces. “I’ll allow your misplaced ego to remain intact, but I cannot suffer the thought of letting you walk away so much less satisfied tonight.”

He pulls back to a more respectable distance with a fresh gleam in his eyes and a soft smile toying with his lips. “Go on, then. Give me your counteroffer.”

“This evening could be a total loss for both of us, or we could band together to up the stakes and make it more…entertaining. It must look as bad for you to show up to the holiday party for Daddy’s golf buddies without a plus-one as it does for me. Perhaps we could help each other. I’ll feed your craving for dipping your toes in the common cesspool, and you help me navigate the social etiquette of the upper echelon.” I thrust my hand into the empty space between us. “Deal?”

Immediately, he folds my outstretched hand between his much larger ones and pulls me close to him, once again whispering in my ear. “If we’re going to go the old cliché fake relationship route, then at least make it look realistic. We’ve been sleeping together for months since meeting during our internship here. There’s no reason for us to shake on anything.”

Duly chastised, my cheeks heat with renewed embarrassment. “You’re right. My apologies.”

“Don’t apologize, darling. Not to me. Not ever.” 

My nose wrinkles again of its own accord. “Are you going to call me ‘darling’ all night? That’s not very professional. You should at least know my name.”

His finger presses against my lips. “No. No names. You said you were going to make this entertaining for me. I will enjoy the cheesiest possible terms of endearment you can throw at me, and I’ve got a veritable smorgasbord of names I’m already thinking of for you.”

I nip at his finger until he relents, grinning. The masochist obviously loves even the threat of being bitten. “What part of I need a good recommendation did you not understand?”

He shrugs, seemingly unperturbed about upholding his end of this deal. “Everyone’s a sucker for an office romance. Except here, apparently. They’d rather their practicing attorneys sign NDAs to be in a relationship with an attorney in a competing firm, and I, for one, am not willing to break up our blossoming relationship to stay here. You can have the good recommendations, and I’ll happily look elsewhere for employment.”

“Oh. So, that’s your angle.” I nod, impressed. “Well, great. We can both get exactly what we want out of this evening, then.”

He tsks, his lips forming a shapely pout that mesmerizes my gaze. “I think the terms of me dipping into your pool still warrant some negotiation, but we’ll leave that for later in the evening.”

It’s my turn to tsk. “I hope you’re not implying you’re going to wait until I’ve had a few too many expensive bourbons to open said negotiations. That’s criminal conduct, unbecoming to anyone, much less a law student.”

He places his glass very carefully on the bar and faces me with his full attention. “Do you want to have sex with me?”

I would have been so much more specific with that amount of honesty. Yet, I’m also enjoying this little game, so I don’t prompt him for bullet points about time, location, and duration. “Just because you feel like slumming it tonight doesn’t mean you’ll feel the same in the morning. It also doesn’t mean I’m in the mood to suck high-end dick just to pretend I fit in for a few precious hours.”

A very Grinch-like grin curls his mouth at both corners. “You’d suck my dick for hours?”

“I only promise things I can actually deliver on. Twenty orgasms aren’t one of those things, sadly for you.”

The sparkle in his eyes and the low rumble of laughter from his chest is more intoxicating than the bourbon. This could be a very dangerous game, but I’m already addicted to the rush of our banter. I should shut this down, thank him for his time and the entertainment, then move on to the schmoozing part of my evening. Unfortunately, I am woefully out of practice in the flirting department, and that’s another item I need in my wheelhouse to make it in the New York law scene. He might be just another rich Columbia silver spoon who’s only using me, but that only makes me feel better about using him in return. Equality and all that jazz.

“Gil!”

A brief hint of panic crosses my companion’s face before he wipes the slate clean and turns to the approaching suit with a wide smile and open posture. “Chuck! Merry Christmas! Thanks for the prank!”

They exchange the obligatory handshake while Chuck chuckles. “Prank? I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Ugly sweater Christmas party ring a bell?”

Chuck grins. “I never imagined you’d believe me. Even if you did, I thought you’d figure it out since this isn’t a Christmas party.”

“It’s a holiday party,” I mutter quietly. “A third of the attorneys are Jewish, some celebrate Kwanzaa, and a good portion are atheist.”

Chuck only now seems to notice my presence, sweeping his gaze from the top of my head to the tips of my second-hand Mahnolos in appreciation. “And who is this lovely, young, knowledgeable thing?”

Even though I let the “thing” remark roll off my shoulders, I don’t get a chance to paste on an ingratiating smile and introduce myself. 

A warm, firm hand at the small of my back draws me into the bubble of conversation. “This is my fiancée. She’s a fellow intern at the firm and a 3L at NYU.”

Chuck’s gaze volleys between us. “I didn’t realize you were engaged. Congratulations! When’s the big day?”

My expression has to give me away because there is no way my eyeballs aren’t popping out of my skull.

Gil—whoever the fuck he really is—must take my stupefied silence as the biggest gold star he’s ever received for his work. “We’re thinking after graduation but before the bar exam. Isn’t that right, sweetheart?” He delivers a good-natured smile and an even better-natured laugh. “My mom would prefer as soon as possible, of course, but that’s just because she wants grandkids so badly she can taste it. Any good pointers for how to hold her at bay until we’re ready? Your first grandchild was born this year. How did you and your wife tolerate the waiting game?”

Fiancée? Wedding? Children?

I was hoping for a way to make this evening a little less terrifying, and now my whole life is being mapped out for me, and I might just be hyperventilating under the fake pressure.

Chuck shakes his head. “I’ll have to ask my wife and get back to you. For me, I didn’t want to see Jack jump into family life before he was ready. Or before he knew a lifetime with the same woman wasn’t going to make him bald before his time. Even if they end up divorced in two years, she’s always going to be his baby mama. You know what I mean?”

“Sure, sure.” To my horror, Gil nods. “And then there’s the whole having sex with the same woman for the rest of your life. Gotta make sure you wanna tap that for the next fifty or so years. Assuming any of us bastards live that long!”

The clink of their glasses together actually overshadows their laughter. My face must be redder than the garland draped from the ceiling.

“Good on you for finding a woman you want to do all that with.” Chuck slithers away to join the growing ranks surrounding Janice.

“Jackass,” Gil mutters as soon as he’s out of earshot before turning to me. “You really want an offer from this firm?”

“You really don’t? Seems like you fit in around here, what with your good ole boys’ club banter.” My heartrate slows to a more tolerable rhythm. What did I expect from Columbia after all? I knew what I was signing on for.

He shrugs and finishes off his third drink. “Hey, you gave me free license to have fun tonight, so I figure I’ll go out with a bang.”

“Speaking of bangs.” I raise my drink then twist the glass until my bare ring finger takes center stage for his gaze. “I admire the way you raised the stakes so quickly to throw me off balance, but if we shouldn’t be seen shaking hands, then you’re going to have to come up with another way to hide the fact you’re obviously lying. No engaged or married woman in this room isn’t wearing a rather noticeable piece of hardware.”

His eyes widen, and he drags a hand down his mouth. “Shit. You’re right. I didn’t think of that.” He glances around like a three-carat diamond is going to magically appear on one of the nearby tables. “Guess I need more work at thinking on my feet.”

“I guess so. I hope you’re not–” 

Every word perched on my tongue disintegrates with a rushed, warm, damp kiss planted on my cheek. “Hold down the fort. I’ll be back.”

His ass matches his chest. Even the corduroy pants that normally would earn a big no from me gain newfound respect as he disappears into the crowd, presumably toward the door.

I don’t blame him. We’re perfect strangers, and he owes me nothing. Honestly, if I had realized sooner he was the only one dressed in ugly couture, I would have offered to be his cover for an early exit anyway. 

Still, there was something about him that piqued my interest in spite of being so obviously out of my league. It’s a shame we won’t be continuing our evening of pretend, but I have work to do.

***

 

“And what do you think so far?” Rebecca sips her Chardonnay like the class act she always is. She’s been the kind of mentor every female law student wishes for.

“It’s been a privilege to apply what I’ve learned at one of the most prestigious firms in New York. I don’t want to seem presumptuous, but I could see myself blossoming in the culture of love of the law this firm provides.”

Her laughter balances the perfect combination of haughty and genuine. “The culture here is a shit show run by pigs who care more about their next lay than the law. Let’s not pretend otherwise. Still, all the more reason for good women who truly do enjoy practicing law to change the firm from the inside out. Don’t you think?” She sighs before I can respond. “Poor Janice. We need more females in this business who think with their heads and not with their hearts.”

“I completely agree. I–”

Kiss number two already feels familiar. Perhaps that’s only because this one arrives mid-sentence like the first. And what a damning display of hypocrisy it is.

“Sorry that took longer than expected,” Gil breathes as he replaces the contact of his lips with his hand on the small of my back. He offers me a rocks glass half-filled with golden brown liquid. “I brought you a fresh drink to make it up to you.”

Rebecca eyes us with suspicion which I wholeheartedly share. “I didn’t realize you’d come with anyone.” She extends her hand toward Gil who’s choking back laughter at Rebecca’s unintentional pun. “I’m Rebecca Remberton. Pleased to meet you. And you are?”

Her introduction sounds pleasant enough. Except for the weight she applies to her last question. Having an unnamed fiancé will be seen as a broach of trust. Something which should have been mentioned to my mentor, at least in passing. This faux pas can only be taken as an intentional omission by a woman who has sworn off men for life after being one of the most sought-after divorce attorneys in the city who knows firsthand trust is a more precious commodity than the stocks being traded on Wall Street.

There’s no way to introduce them properly without knowing my fiancé’s full name either. Oh, this night has gone to hell in a handbasket. Why couldn’t he have just bailed to find an easier target to slum it with tonight like the no-good silver-spoon he is?

“You know I hate it when you disappear like that.” My glare isn’t pretend at all, even if the words are a total lie.

“And you know I hate it when you forget to put your ring back on after washing your hands.” He holds up a rock big enough to make me choke on my bourbon that he weirdly ordered as if he knew what I’d been drinking just by a glance. “Thankfully, an honest guest turned it into the maître D’. I’m going to have to add an insurance addendum into the prenup.”

“Well, if you hadn’t insisted on buying something so large and gaudy without my input, maybe I’d be able to adjust to wearing it faster. We should definitely add my desire to keep my name to the prenup, so you won’t be able to undermine me on that front as well.”

Our sharp grins compete for dominance until Rebecca clears her throat. “I see you’ve decided to travel the hard road. At least you’ll have personal experience to bring to the courtroom. That’s not something that can be taught even in the best law schools. I’d say I wish you luck, but I make it a priority to never lie when lies aren’t warranted. Do call me when you pass the bar though. I think you will be a beautiful fit for the culture at our firm after all.”

I release a pent-up breath when she canters away. “Seriously? First, we make a deal to get through this party intact, then you bail to presumably find an easier hookup, now you’re back with an actual ring which almost cost my offer to this firm? Where did you even find a ring at nine o’clock on a Friday night?”

He shrugs, not the least bit apologetic. “The Walgreens down the street. I had to guess on the size, but at least it’s dim enough in here no one will realize it’s fake.”

I got myself into this mess. This is all my fault. “You didn’t have to come back, Gil. I would have been fine on my own.”

“If I’m going to marry you, then it goes without saying that I’ll always come back for you.” He grabs an hors d’oeuvre from a passing tray and pops it in his mouth without any further fanfare.

He’s relentless and unabashedly so. This, at least, makes me laugh. “So, future husband. I already know you’re a 3L at Columbia, your nickname is Gil, and you don’t want an offer from this firm. Might as well spill the rest now, since we’ll be spending the next fifty or so years together until you die.”

He shakes his head in lieu of an answer until he finishes chewing. “What, and ruin the mystery that keeps you so attracted to me? No way. I’ve at least gotta make you addicted to the multiple orgasms only I can deliver before I tell you my full name. Until that happens, I’ll settle for keeping you company during this way too disturbing party.”

He makes me laugh, that much is certain. “Okay, I let the weird specific orgasm number slide before, but you do know that’s physically impossible, right? I can’t let you walk out of this party tonight without that knowledge, if nothing else.”

“Maybe it is; maybe it isn’t. I operate under the belief you’ll never know what you can achieve unless you set the bar high.”

“I’ll buy that. But, doesn’t setting the bar unattainably high only lead to certain defeat?”

“Probably. But, it’ll be a hell of a lot of fun to fail. Repeatedly.” He grins then sobers as his gaze focuses on someone behind me. “Excuse me for a minute. I see someone I actually want to speak with.”

That’s insulting. I thought he was enjoying speaking with me. I twist the bauble around my ring finger where he slipped it while masterfully avoiding an actual introduction with Rebecca. It’s not such a bad ring, really. Even if it is fake. It feels light on my finger. I’d never need to remove it to wash my hands or hair or…anything else, really. I’d always imagined a traditional diamond engagement ring, but I could be on board with a colored stone like this faux emerald.

I laugh to myself. Without the aid of the hot dork known as Gil. There’s letting my imagination run away with me, then there’s just being stupid. And I’ve worked too hard to be stupid now.

I spin around to find my comrade in arms shaking hands with none other than Donna Specter. The seeming only partner in the firm who’s made an appearance tonight.

Huh.

When I suggested he got this internship through Daddy’s connections, I never imagined she would be the six degrees of Gil’s legal heritage.

He rewards me with a surprisingly warm smile when I intrude on their conversation, wrapping my arms around his elbow with obvious possessive intent. “Donna, I’d like you to meet my fiancée. She’s a fellow intern and 3L at NYU. I know you were hoping, but she’d be a far better fit here than I would.” He presses a tender, much less rushed kiss against my temple and whispers, “She’s not an attorney, but she has the ears and the respect of all the other partners. Get some face time, impress her with your genuine self, and that offer will be as good as yours.” He straightens and flashes Donna a smile that must surely break hearts. “I’m going to get us refills on our drinks before they close the bar for dinner. Can I get you anything?”

She raises her full martini glass with a knowing smile. “I already refreshed for that reason. Go on though before everyone else gets the same idea, and you’re stuck in line.”

He nods, disentangles my vice grip on him, then departs.

“He’s phenomenal, isn’t he?” Her eyes shine with clear admiration even though she doesn’t stare at the fantastic sight of his ass walking away. “I insisted he intern here after watching one of the mock trials he did last year. You’re a lucky woman to be with a man of impeccable moral character and intelligence like his.”

“I’ve never met him before tonight,” I blurt. Entertaining ourselves for the evening is one thing, but I can’t blatantly lie to a partner. “He goes to Columbia. I attend NYU. We’ve never even crossed paths at the firm during our internships.”

“I know. He told me.” She laughs, and there’s nothing reserved about it. “I just wanted to see how you’d react to being put on the spot like that.” She leans in and drops her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Honestly, I don’t blame you. I would’ve given my right arm when I was in your shoes to have a plus-one who knew what needed to be accomplished at these God-awful parties.”

I’m shocked. I’m in shock. She has completely shocked me. This isn’t a good look for a New York City legal hopeful, so I shake myself out of it. “The party is lovely. Thank you for throwing it for us.”

She rolls her eyes and finishes off her drink in three swallows, and I think I’m in love. “Please. These parties are a joke. Why do you think none of the partners attend? Honestly, I’m not even staying for dinner. I just came to wish everyone happy holidays. Our firm wouldn’t exist without the hard work of everyone, regardless if their names are in the title. The least we can give our employees is a nice party where they can relax and vent about the year without us overhearing. Still, they have their own social hierarchy, and it’s difficult for a newcomer to find their footing. I am glad to have met you though. Gil speaks very highly of you, and that means something since he’s only known you for a few hours by my understanding. I’d like to give you the chance to put me under your spell, too. Call my personal secretary after New Year’s, and she’ll set up a time for us to meet. I very much look forward to you selling me the way you’ve sold him.”

“Thank you for the opportunity. I will. Call, I mean. Not bore you with a sales pitch.” Is tonight even really happening? Is any of this real? Maybe I’ve had too much expensive bourbon, and this is all some weird dream. 

She places her empty glass on the tray of a passing waiter with a genuine smile and an even more genuine, “Thank you,” before turning back to me. “I’d wish you luck in your last semester, but if you’ve landed a full internship here outside the summer months, then you won’t need it. You’ve already proven you’re the best of the best. A powerhouse couple like you and Gil could really shake up the legal scene in the city, and I look forward to seeing you both flourish. With or without the ring.”

“With,” I assure her before I even fully realize what I’m saying. “I’m so grateful for Rebecca taking me under her wing, but I can be one of the best divorce attorneys in the city without having suffered through my own divorce.”

I want to slap myself for that infraction of talking poorly about an associate at the firm who’s given me so much of her time, but Donna only pats my shoulder with understanding in her eyes. “I believe you. Don’t let that one get away.”

She winks then departs.

My mind spins with tonight’s events. If this isn’t a dream, then I just promised one of New York’s best and brightest legal partners I’d marry the man I’m fake engaged to. Of all the times I felt like law school might break me, nothing compares to tonight.

It was just supposed to be a typically awkward company holiday party with enough fun to dull the edges of misery.

Gil finds me with his promised fresh drink. He takes one look at my undoubtedly horrified expression and places yet another kiss on my cheek. “I know. It’s unexpected and unbelievable, but you’ll adjust a lot faster if you just lean into it.”

“This isn’t supposed to happen,” I counter. “We’re complete strangers. This is real life, not a movie. We can’t get married. We know nothing about each other.”

“We know enough to pretend it’s a possibility.” He wraps my ringed hand around the fresh glass even as he passes off my empty to another waiter. 

“I don’t believe in love at first sight. I don’t believe in miracles. My brain works logically. That’s how I got accepted to NYU in the first place.”

“Getting accepted to Columbia was my miracle, or so I thought. Yet here you are. A second miracle I don’t nearly believe in.” He wraps his already comforting arm around my shoulders to lead me toward the dinner tables.

I plant my feet firmly on the ground. “What do you mean, getting accepted was your miracle?”

He shakes his head then places another infuriating finger over my mouth. “Ssh. Don’t ruin this second miracle for me. I’ve never had a woman look at me the way you do.”

I raise my blue-eyed gaze to his mesmerizing green one. “And how do I look at you?”

“Like I’m a privileged white man who hasn’t earned his way to this spot. Like I belong to a secret sex society at an Ivy League school where I get high-end head but still enjoy dipping my stick in the common cesspool every once in a while. Like I’m not terrible at flirting with the classy as hell, hotter than the sun woman standing beside me at the bar.”

“Oh, so you’re only attracted to me for my cleavage?” I laugh it off, but the thought stings.

“Just like you’re only attracted to me for being out of your reach, right?” He meets my darting gaze with a steady one.

This is crazy, but I take his advice and lean in to press a kiss directly against his pillowy soft lips. “Thank you. Whatever this night is or isn’t, you didn’t have to stick your neck out for me the way you did by all but guaranteeing me a meeting with a founding partner. Wherever tomorrow takes us, I’ll always remember what you did for me.”

“Just like I’ll always remember the way you made me feel.” He pastes on a fake grin. “But, if you really want to thank me, sex is still on the table for after this party, right?”

“How do you manage to make me both want to slap you and suck your dick for hours?” 

“It’s a gift.” He winks. “Now, come on. The worst part of the night awaits us, Sugar Tits.”

***

 

“So, then I said to her, ‘We should get a snake!’” Gil cracks up laughing at the look of horror on the faces of the people surrounding us at the dinner table. “I mean, what could be more terrifying than that? Puppies and kittens might teach us to be responsible for another life, but kids are a whole different ballgame. I tell ya, you should have seen the look on her face when I woke her up in the middle of the night to let her know Slinky had escaped his cage! You can’t replicate that kind of sleeplessness with an adorable, fluffy kitten.”

The woman sitting next to me leans over and whispers in my ear, “I don’t care how good he is in bed, run. Do not walk. Run out of this engagement.”

I may very well be working with these people in the near future, even if they’re not in my specific division, so I’m not having nearly as much fun as Gil with our lies. Mine tend to be on the subtler, more believable side. “He is good in bed. Good enough to put up with that damn snake.”

“He’d better go down on you for hours,” she chuckles. “And even then, I’m not sure any amount of attention is worth a missing snake in the apartment.”

“His best record is twenty in one night,” I murmur, hiding my smile behind my glass of bourbon.

“No.” Her mouth falls open as the invisible force of her disbelief flattens her against the booth. “That’s not even possible!”

Gil leans over with a grin on his face. “What’s not possible?”

“Y–you.” She points at him. “You’re some kind of god.”

“It’s possible.” He pretends to mull it over. “That would explain why she calls me god multiple times every night.”

I roll my eyes as everyone at the table exhibits a mixture of amusement and discomfort. Equal parts laughter and throat clearing weigh on my shoulders. I squeeze Gil’s thigh beneath the table. Hard. “Honey. Some things are better left unsaid.”

“You’re right. Of course. My apologies. I tend to get carried away. Part of the law school mindset. Ego will get you everywhere.” He’s the picture of calm, confident contrition. Such an enigma that makes me want to peel back all his carefully constructed layers to find what truly lies in the center of that hard chest. 

I wouldn’t mind peeling him out of that ugly sweater either.

“Hard work will get you everywhere,” an older gentleman at the table insists. “I started at this firm in the mail room, not a penny to my name. I kept at it, worked hard, was friendly and respectful to everyone. I climbed my way up the ladder to be head administrative assistant in the controller’s office.”

“Really? I would love to hear more about that.”

Admittedly, I’ve only known Gil for a few hours, but he seems genuinely interested and not at all placating. He leans forward, propping his chin on his hand, disregarding the old elbows off the table adage as he gives the older man his full attention. The rest of the table breaks up into smaller, more intimate conversations. None of them are interested in the wisdom of the working world this man might impart. Except for Gil.

It’s just another little piece of him that’s a conundrum. And so damn attractive.

“Are you going to eat that?”

“Hmm?” I’ve been studying him so closely, I entranced myself.

He gestures toward my barely touched plate of salmon cakes and wilted spinach. “If you don’t want your dinner, do you mind?”

I push my plate in front of him, already full from the salad course. Times might be changing, but women are still judged on their appearance. Especially in the cutthroat corporate world of New York. “Far it be for me to deny you the coma you’re planning until New Year’s.”

He just grins in thanks and digs in, continuing his conversation with the old man about his time in the trenches in one of the biggest law firms in the city.

By the time he eats both his dessert and mine, I’m covering yawns with my hand more than trying to join in any of the smaller conversations around me.

Other employees are slowly filtering out the door, the party winding down. Thankfully, some of the other HR staff helps Janice into her coat and outside to one of the waiting town cars. Even more thankfully, Mr. Shore never showed up to the party. 

“I’m so glad I won’t be there Monday morning to hear someone in the office betray her,” I mutter to Gil.

He doesn’t mask his surprise. “Why won’t you be there Monday?”

“My internship is up as of the first of the year. Honestly, it was a nearly inhuman stretch to juggle classes, readings, and work outside the summer months. I’m glad I had the foresight not to even try to intern during the spring semester.”

“What are your plans for New Year’s?”

A sleepy smile spreads across my face. “Are you looking for another fake date? Don’t want to go alone to Times Square?”

He shakes his head with a rueful smile, but a flash of hopefulness lightens his eyes. “I’m actually catching a flight early tomorrow morning to visit my folks back home.”

“Is it breaking our negotiated rules if I ask where you’re from?” It’s a miracle we haven’t learned each other’s names the whole night. I think we purposefully ignored our individual introductions to our dinner party. The mystery has been half the fun.

“Detroit,” he answers simply.

“Oh.” An automatic frown tugs at my lips. I can’t imagine never seeing him again. “Is that why you don’t want an offer here? You have plans to move back to Detroit after graduation to take the Michigan bar?”

“Depends. Will you agree to move to Michigan after our wedding?”

Even though he already seems like an intrinsic part of my life, I laugh at the thought of moving so far away. “My family all lives in Jersey. They’re just a train ride away. I’ve dreamed of living in the Big Apple ever since I was a little girl, so no. I’m staying put.”

His eyebrows pop as his shoulders deflate. Which is the fake part of his personality—the confidence or the dejection? “Guess I’m going to have to land a bigger, better offer at another firm here.”

So, the confidence is real. “There is no better firm in New York City. Why do you think I want an offer from this one so much?”

“Any firm will be better once I join it.”

His genuine ego both attracts and terrifies me. “You’re so sure of yourself, but I hope you have a back-up plan. Why even intern here if you don’t want an offer? That’s wasted time you could have spent at a firm you like more, building relationships, showing them your potential.”

He rises from his seat and extends a hand toward me. “I wouldn’t say this internship was a total loss.”

“Right. You got a fake fiancée out of it. How could I forget that?” I take his offered hand and gasp when he pulls me flush against him.

“We haven’t finished our negotiations yet. Do you want to have sex with me?”

I’m no virgin. I’m not even a stranger to hookups after a Tinder date, but there’s something in his eyes that tells me a night with this man could break me. Although there was a time I thought law school would break me, too. “I should warn you. It’s been a while for me. You might have to clean out the cobwebs first.”

He laughs. It’s the same boisterous sound that first captured my attention. “Duly noted, but that’s not an answer. I need a yes or a no.”

If he already respects me enough to be crystal clear about consent, then there’s nothing holding me back. “Yes. If we’re only going to have one night together, then I want to find out just how unattainably high you’ve set your personal bar.”

“Who said anything about one night? I’m going to marry you.”

***

 

“I have condoms. They’re not expired, and they’re the right size. Are you on the pill, just in case? Ah, shit. I don’t have a sexual health screening to show you. Why has it been so long for you?”

I blink at him, and it’s not because my tiny living room is too dim in the lamplight. This has got to be the worst cross-examination I’ve ever heard. “Are you…a virgin?”

He scoffs. “No. How could I possibly be a virgin when I belong to Columbia’s secret sex ring society?”

I’m not sure if the disappearance of his confidence makes me want to give him an extremely gentle ego boost, or if I want to do dirty, dirty things to the adorkably awkward hot guy fidgeting in my living room as he glances at his unfamiliar surroundings. 

Seriously, he’s looking anywhere and everywhere but at me. The woman he just couldn’t wait to have sex with at the beginning of the evening.

“Listen, I’m not going to back out, but if you’re a virgin, I need to know. Things will progress very differently depending on your answer.”

That makes him give me his undivided attention at his squints his eyes. “Which answer would make me seem more attractive to you?”

“The one that isn’t a lie.”

He exhales so deeply, Santa seems to move on his sweater. “I’m not a virgin, but it’s a been a long time for me, too. I don’t want to change a thing about the way you looked at me when you first saw me at the bar, but frankly, graduating at the top of my class matters way more to me than sex.”

“That answer is extremely attractive to me.” I approach him slowly, not in a seductive way, but like he might bolt out my front door he’s still standing in front of. “Especially because it’s the same reason it’s been so long for me.”

This seems to ease his nerves. He reaches out his hand to thread through my hair, watching intently as he combs through the brown strands. 

“I hope you know I wasn’t going to hold you to that ridiculous number,” I murmur as he continues to play with my hair. “And I know how to get myself there. You don’t have to do anything but be a willing participant. Maybe hold out longer than ten seconds. That would be nice.”

“Really?” He smiles at this, but it’s softer, less sharp and less ego-driven than what I’ve seen from him before. “That’s a terrible litmus test for a husband contender. You should put me through my paces during this test drive. See what I’m capable of. What I can do for you.”

“You would seriously base a marriage on sexual prowess?” Somehow, that fits with what I know of his personality. 

The exquisite lips I haven’t kissed yet pull down. “Let’s not pretend sex doesn’t matter. If anything, I’m worried neither of us will be able to cede control. We might be incompatible because we’re too much alike.”

That idea makes me bark out a harsh laugh. “You may be right. The high-society sex ring you don’t currently participate in aside, I’m sure you’re used to being serviced and worshipped in a certain way. You probably prefer a submissive woman in bed.”

He threads his hand to the bottom of my shoulder-length blunt cut then rests on my shoulder. Tapping his finger once against my skin in a very deliberate way meant as a pause to give me time to reconsider, he slides the strap of my cocktail dress down slowly when I continue to meet his gaze steadily. “We need to re-open negotiations. If you’re going to test drive me, then we need a destination and knowledge of the rules of the road. What’s off the table?”

Somehow, the sensation of him dragging the other strap down my shoulder only heightens my awareness rather than distracting me. “Do you mean defining preferred kinks? How dominant do you get at Columbia?”

His chuckle is low, husky, and his pupils dilate to swallow his brown irises. “What do you want me to do to you, counselor? What am I not permitted to do to you? Be very explicit, please. There can be no room for misunderstanding.”

I’ve never had a man be so blunt with me before. It’s usually just strip clothes as fast as possible, fall onto the nearest flat surface, and get at it. This verbal foreplay turns me on more than any bumbled attempts to fondle my breasts. “I don’t want to be bound in any way. I’ve already made a serious lapse in judgment by bringing a complete stranger to my apartment. You could rob me blind and leave me tied up for days if you wanted to. Anything else is fair game. What am I allowed to do or not do to you?”

“NYU, you have already done far more to me than I ever imagined, and I’m entirely at your mercy as it is. If you do much more than suck my dick for hours as promised and let me into your,” he leans forward to run his nose along the length of my neck down to my collarbone where he inhales deeply, “sweet-smelling pussy, I’m afraid I won’t survive the night.”

I shiver at his dirty words. They’re such a delicious contradiction to the high-brow way I’ve heard him speak most of the night. “You haven’t even kissed me yet. What if there’s no spark?”

He pulls back, an expression of disbelief painted across his sharp features. “My lips have been tingling all night from the few times I’ve pressed them against your skin, but maybe it won’t be the same for you. Let’s find out, shall we?”

My heart gallops as adrenaline rushes through my body. This isn’t my first kiss, but it’s the first kiss I’ve ever shared with my fake fiancé, and my brain doesn’t care that my body already feels owned by this man. I’m desperate for him to seal the deal. 

He takes his time, leaning into my personal space as his eyes fall closed and he inhales my breath. Everything about him calls to a deep place inside me. His scent makes my mouth water, the heat radiating from his body both relaxes and tenses my muscles in anticipation, the sight of his face etched in agony threatens to buckle my knees, and his continued hesitation snaps the last of my restraint.

“Do it already, Columbia,” I growl.

His eyelids snap open, and that familiar grin makes an appearance. “So, you do prefer me to be in control. Noted.”

If I had known that’s all it would take, I would have begged as soon as we walked in my front door. The moment his lips meet mine, and his tongue plunders my mouth, I know I’m right. He’s going to break me. He’s going to ruin me for any first kiss after this.

We’re not even to the main event, but sparks dance behind my eyelids as he hauls me against his chest and wraps his hand around my neck to bend me to his will. He moans into my mouth. Loudly. As unabashed and clear as his laughter at the bar. 

It’s not about control. It never is. If he’s putting on a show for my sake, it doesn’t matter. Nothing, nothing makes a woman feel sexier than a man showing his unrestrained want. 

As if I had spoken the words aloud, he submits to my desire, tugging at the zipper on the back of my dress. He’s frantic but gentle at the same time, obviously reining himself in enough to not tear the delicate, expensive fabric. The black silk pools at my feet, and he steadies me as I step out of the trap. 

His gaze sweeps up and down, searing my skin as I stand before him in nothing but a black lace matched set and stilettos. 

“Goddamn,” he growls. “You were obviously planning to go home with someone, and I’m lucky as fuck that man is me.”

I cross my arms across my chest, instantly on the defensive. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

He rolls his eyes before peeling his hideous sweater up and over his head, sadly to reveal a plain white tee beneath. “Please. Every guy knows if the woman has on her best lingerie, it wasn’t him who decided to have sex that night.”

My skin sizzles with an entirely different kind of heat, and I have to forcibly hold onto that mentality when he sheds the undershirt to reveal the kind of sculpted torso I thought might be hiding beneath that ugly sweater. “You’ll be shocked to know women like feeling sexy for themselves. It has nothing to do with taking a man home for the night.”

“Okay,” he agrees, obviously faking his capitulation. “Let’s go with that. Quick and dirty for round one, then slow and sensual for round two?”

I press against his firm, warm chest when he reinvades my personal bubble. Thankfully, the burn of my indignation overrides the lust tingling my fingertips with first bare contact. “Hold up, buddy. Exactly how many condoms do you have on you?”

He huffs but fishes his wallet out of his back pocket, pulling out a strip of three. “I never said I was going to have twenty orgasms. I promised you would.”

My eyes zero in on where the line has been torn. I’m no stranger to prophylactics, so I know two are missing since these aren’t singles. So much for my earlier concern he might be a twenty-five-year-old virgin. “Care to rephrase your prior argument of celibacy for the past three years? Also, I’d like to draw the court’s attention to the fact you obviously have these ready to go in your wallet. So, who exactly, was planning to get laid tonight?”

He chuckles, casts his gaze to the ground, then shakes his head before returning direct eye contact. “As an aside, I fully approve of your jealousy and claim on me. For the record, I throw myself at the mercy of the court. Please advise on how to proceed. Would you prefer me to be a high-class manwhore who fucks through the oligarchy of New York City, only occasionally getting my rocks off by slumming it, or do you want a man who was awarded the honor of Eagle Scout and takes always being prepared seriously?”

I throw my hands up in the air, frustration boiling over. “Why do you do that? Why do you insist on asking what I prefer instead of just being whoever the fuck you really are?”

“Because you aren’t attracted to who I really am,” he grinds out, wrapping my upper arms in a vice grip that should concern me, but instead only pools wetness between my thighs. I’m disappointed. In myself. “Now, for the last time, do you want me to have my way with you, or do you want to have your way with me?”

I lift my chin in the sort of defiance that buoys my spirits and helps me buy into the lie that all hope isn’t lost for me. “Both.”

“So be it,” he spits out through gritted teeth. “Turn around. So help me God, if you move a muscle, I will spank your ass raw.”

“I’m not into pain,” I mumble as I acquiesce to his demands. My hands clamp onto the soft, worn fabric of my second-hand couch. Presenting my ass for his taking feels a touch melodramatic, but widening my stance is just good business. Especially with the tell-tale clank of a belt buckle being released followed by the rasp of his zipper coming undone. I don’t release my pent breath until the sound of foil being ripped open signals he’s donned protection.

“For the record, I wanted to undress you.”

“I’ll keep that in mind for next time.” His words are far closer than expected. “For the record, I didn’t want rough and impersonal with you, but I’m trying very hard to follow your cues, and this seems to be the way you want it.”

I glance over my shoulder to find him blatantly staring at my ass. The one that’s only minorly covered in black lace. I can’t get a clear view of his dick since it’s already wrapped up, but it’s long, thick, and ready to get down to business. “Has it really been three years since you’ve had sex?”

He raises an eyebrow as his gaze settles on my face. “We’ve already established that fact.”

“Then, why are you still hesitating?”

“Because you’re being so damn argumentative at every turn, I’m not really sure how much you want this.” He slides his dick through my folds like he expects me to renege at this point.

“Gil.” I paste on my best courtroom smile. “I want to have sex with you. I’m nearly naked and braced against the arm of my couch. If you don’t do something soon, this is going to be a very short test drive. I’m not about to buy a car with a faulty engine.”

A look of disbelieving rage passes over his face, but the same time, his chest ripples like he’s holding back outright laughter. He caresses my ass with the palm of his hand, the warm sensation skittering goosebumps over my chilly flesh. Until he swats the same spot with enough force to focus my attention and harden my nipples inside my bra.

“Buckle up, Buttercup. You’re never going to drive another car again.”

He thrusts into me in one fluid motion. Our mingled moans of relief swell and fill the space, accentuating the harsh fullness of him seated completely inside me. He leans over, his chest flush with my back, infusing a sense of warmth and protection even as my body still ripples with shock. 

He pants in my ear as if he’s struggling. “Shit. Sorry. You warned me I’d have to clean out the cobwebs first. Are you okay?”

I wriggle my hips, desperate for friction in places I’m not getting it to override the discomfort. “Yes. Now, please, fuck me.”

His rumble of laughter only teases my center since he still refuses to move in earnest. “Do you like it rough, NYU?”

“Sometimes,” I admit through gritted teeth.

“And now is one of those times?” he muses aloud.

“Columbia…” I warn.

He sucks on the sensitive skin at the base of my neck as his hands glide down my sides to clamp around my waist. “I’ve got you, baby.”

Cool air replaces the warmth of his body against mine. He pulls his dick out as I whimper at the loss, only to ram back in again at full speed and strength. My arms give way and my breath gusts from my chest as the force of his thrust slams my hips against the arm of the couch. The furniture acts like a fulcrum, and he uses that leverage to its fullest advantage, pistoning in and out at the point of balance. My clit rubs against the arm of the couch with every thrust, leaving my hands free to clutch the cushions in front of me as the point of no return barrels into the past. 

“God, yes,” I groan between his powerful thrusts. “Just like that.”

“Thank you for the feedback,” he grunts as he clamps his hands tighter and drives faster and harder. 

No more words are exchanged. Only the animalistic sounds of flesh slapping against flesh, harsh, panting breaths, and the occasional grunt of physical exertion float on the air as sweat coats my skin and the sense of an inflating balloon of pleasure builds at my center that’s being savagely yet expertly used for his own gratification.

“Fuck,” he pants. Begs. “I’m going to come.”

Those words are exactly what I need to push me over the edge. A burst of white-hot sensation explodes at my center, traveling down my limbs in a reverberating shimmering ecstasy. My fingers claw at the rough fabric of my couch as if beyond my control, and my thighs widen to draw his cock deeper into my body to prolong the bliss coursing through me. His long, drawn out moan of orgasm wafts through my overwrought senses, and he answers my body’s call by impaling me deep as his hands lock on my hips, immobilizing me while he fills the condom.

Time loses meaning as a hazy curtain of warmth envelops my spent muscles. Slowly, my senses return. The scents of sweat, latex, and sex tickle my nose. His fingers are kneading the flesh at my hips in a soothing rhythm that accentuates my still-throbbing clit. His harsh breathing sings a new melody in my ears that are buzzing like after hours in the front rows of the best concert I’ve ever attended. I peel my eyes open to be met with the fuzzy, close-up pattern of my couch fabric I’ve never noticed before. 

“Columbia,” I whisper. 

There’s so much weight in that single word. Hands down, that was the best orgasm I’ve ever had, and not because of how hard I worked for it. He kept his promise. He delivered in ways I wasn’t sure existed, and with barely any guidance from me. What happens now? The inevitably awkward clean-up followed by the even more awkward dash? If he wants to use the old, “I’ll text you,” I’ll be crushed. We don’t have names. We don’t have numbers. We have nothing after tonight.

My heartrate and breathing pick up speed as tension settles into my shoulders. The sharp pleasure from the arm of the couch now only makes my hips ache. The hips he’s still resting his full body weight against like he’s coming out of his haze slower than me. The once sexy position of being bent over a piece of furniture to be used at his will feels demeaning rather than empowering. 

But, that’s on me. I wanted this. It was the best orgasm of my life. There’s no shame in that. If I didn’t want this, I would have said no. In spite of my typical post-hookup misgivings, the deepest part of my psyche believes Gil would have accepted that and walked away. Even if he does enjoy slumming it sometimes. I cling to the respect he’s shown me as a seed to plant in my self-respect garden.

As initially suspected, any hookups I have after this will be measured against him.

Before I can wriggle against his weight and ask him to move, he slides his hand up my spine slowly, meaningfully, worshipfully. I feel his other hand move against my center as he grasps the base of his talented dick and pulls out slowly, holding onto the condom. He’s even purposeful and careful about this, which I suspect carries over into every aspect of his life.

I push off the couch to stretch my taut muscles and face the music. 

He surprises me by wrapping his arms around me and pulling me against him. His firm lips travel aimless paths against my neck, shoulder, upper back as he uses one hand to swipe my hair out of his way and the other to knead one of my breasts. “How was that? Everything you wanted?”

This feels all wrong. Backwards, and not just because he’s a complete stranger who was thrust into my life only hours ago. He’s holding me now and kissing me in ways usually reserved for foreplay, to warm up to the main act. I’m not unfamiliar with a guy needing some affirmation after the deed, but this cocky stranger doesn’t seem like he swims in those murky waters. 

“Yes,” I choke out against my tightening throat. “Thank you. It was perfect.”

“Hey.” He spins me to face him, a look of concern etched in his painfully beautiful features. His glasses are skewed on his face, and the jarring sight makes me laugh a little. He never even took them off before pounding me senseless. “What’s wrong?”

I shake my head and avoid the weight of his gaze. “Congratulations. You accomplished exactly what you set out to do. Enjoyed your holiday slumming and ruined me for any other man.”

“Ah.” He bites back the smile obviously threatening to erupt on his face. “So, you weren’t lying. It really was perfect.” He kisses the tip of my nose. “Those tears you won’t let fall are an unfortunate resounding endorsement. Where’s your bathroom?”

I can’t help but laugh at his honest, back-to-business attitude. I point toward the hallway. “First door. There are fresh towels on the shelf if you want to freshen up.”

“I’ll even thoroughly wash, so you won’t gag on the taste of latex while you suck my dick for a few hours.” He grins.

“So, when you suggested slow and sensual for round two, you really meant slow and sensual for you.”

He swats my ass. Hard.

“Ow!”

He winces. “Too much?”

“Yes! What the fuck, Columbia?”

“Hey, I only have one night to learn the ropes. I’m working blind here, since you’re too busy being sarcastic to give me much guidance.” He caresses my ass even as he argues. 

I run my hands up his fantastic chest I haven’t even had the chance to touch yet. His eyes darken when I slide my fingertips over his nipples. Right before they widen in horror as I pinch and twist them. 

He leaps back with a yelp. “Ow! What the fuck, NYU?”

I shrug. “You’re so busy only caring about what I want that you haven’t given me any guidance. I’m working blind, too. Maybe you like a little pleasure spiked with pain.”

“No.” He shakes his head for emphasis and nearly trips over the pants I didn’t realize he hadn’t completely removed. “No pain. Only pleasure, thanks.”

The sight of this gorgeous man standing in my living room sparks a bubbling burst of almost giddy joy in my chest. He still hasn’t fixed his crooked glasses. He’s holding up his pants with one hand while his dick is still encased in a used condom that pokes out from his undone zipper, and that horrid sweater I first saw him in lies in a heap near the front door. The zany scene almost makes his chiseled abs, sculpted pecs, and bulging biceps look like they’ve been Photoshopped onto the wrong body.

“Yeah.” He sighs like he can read my thoughts. “I know how it must look. Trust me when I say I’m completely aware I don’t have my shit together quite yet. I’m a total work in progress.” He shuffles past me toward the hall and the bathroom but calls to me before closing the door. “If you really want to know what I want, then please be naked and in your bed by the time I’m done. I only have hours to learn your body, and I plan to work you over so hard you’ll need at least until the New Year to recover.”

“How are you going to learn all that in only a few hours?” It took me years to learn myself. And in some ways, I’m still learning.

He pops his head out of the bathroom doorway and winks at me. “I got into Columbia and landed an internship at one of the biggest firms in New York City. I’m a quick study.”

His confidence repulses me as much as it attracts me. Maybe someone could teach him how to find a balance between calm self-assurance and overbearing blowhole. He’s shown little peeks of humility that could be cultivated under a skilled teacher. And I am obviously not the person for that job since I’m striding down my hallway, stripping off my bra and panties as I go. 

Would I be as willing to overlook his personality flaws if he wasn’t hiding a god-like body beneath his hideous clothes? I hate to admit it—even if only in the privacy of my thoughts—but, the answer is an obvious probably not. If he was balding early, sporting a beer belly, or had rancid meat breath, I might have been entertained by his comment at the bar, but I certainly would never have asked him to stick with me for the night. I definitely would not be climbing into my bed naked just because he asked me to.

God. What kind of horrible, immature person am I?

He peeks his head in by the time I’m simmering in self-deprecation. “Why do you look so angry? Are you going to kick me out now?”

“I’m angry at myself,” I mumble then gesture at his fine as hell naked body standing in my doorway. I mean, stark naked as the day he was born. And that dick I couldn’t get a good look at in the living room is at the center of the sort of masculinity that should only be gracing the pages of highly altered magazine spreads. The glasses perched on his nose only make him a thousand degrees hotter. “Look at you! You’re freaking gorgeous! I wouldn’t have brought you home and had sex with you if you were ugly! What’s wrong with me? I’m a horrible person! You are slumming it in ways you couldn’t have even known, pal.” I point at myself. “I’m a heartless, soulless wretch, and there’s a reason I’m going to be one of the best damn divorce attorneys in New York. Because I do not give a damn about people.”

A slow smile spreads across his fantastic lips as he gazes at the floor, shaking his head. After a few bursts of laughter that ebb and flow, he crosses the room to climb in the opposite side of my bed. Laying on his side, he props his head on his fist like he lays here beside me every night, talking about anything and everything. “I’m just as shallow. Would it make you feel better to know I spend every free minute I have at the gym because I know damn well this body is the only thing that makes women ignore my personality? I hate to burst the bubble of your snap impressions of me, but I’m terribly awkward. I’m a complete and total nerd, which is how I got into Columbia in the first place, and also probably why I’ve never been invited into the secret society sex ring. I have an ego a mile high because I know I’m smarter than almost everyone I’ve ever met, and I don’t know how to keep my mouth shut when I should.”

I flop onto my back. “That doesn’t make me feel any better! You just listed all the ways you’re an equally horrible person instead of refuting every judgment I made about myself!”

His grinning face appears above me. “Would it make you feel a little better to know I would never have considered slumming it with you if you didn’t have one of the best racks I’ve ever seen?”

“Maybe a little,” I admit with a pout. I do have a nice rack. He’s not lying about that.

“Would it make you feel even better if I spend some time adoring these great tits?” He removes his glasses, placing them on the nightstand, before kissing his way down my neck, licking a path through the center of my chest before finally enclosing his warm, damp mouth over one of my nipples.

I moan as I thread my fingers through his thick, not at all balding, hair. “What happened to sucking your dick for hours?”

“Mmm.” He releases me with a slightly rough pop and speaks as he migrates toward the other breast. “You have me until I have to leave for my flight at five. We have plenty of time to explore all our options.”

I glance at the clock even as he sucks on my sensitive flesh. “We don’t have that much time. It’s already almost one in the morning.”

“Better make these next four hours count, then,” he mumbles with his mouth full.

“Right.” I sigh and give in to the new lust he’s creating in me. “Because after the New Year, you’ll go back to your celibacy until graduation. And after you become one of the best attorneys wherever you land, you’ll be up to your balls in classy women who can deepthroat for hours without even smearing their expensive red lipstick. No more slumming it.”

His gaze is gentle when he hovers his face directly above mine. “Your mind works in the most fascinating ways.” He kisses me. Deep, languishing, as slow and sensual as he promised round two would be. “It’s entirely selfish, and probably one of the stupidest things I’ve ever thought, but I am absolutely in love with the way you view me.”

“I view you as a grade A piece of man meat,” I remind him, wincing at my blunt honesty. It doesn’t sound nearly as good coming out of my mouth as it does his.

“No, you don’t. At least not at first. There’s no way you could have when we first met at that bar. You assumed I’m from one of the wealthiest families in New York, who got a free ride into an Ivy League school, a coveted internship that my father bought me, and you were so convinced I was balls deep in high-end cock suckers at a secret sex society. You took one look at me and assumed I’m a powerful, wealthy, sexual man. You saw in me what I want to be. And for the first time in my life, I thought I might actually be able to rise to the occasion.”

His confession floors me. I have no words. All his fake confidence had been just that? Fake? 

He kisses me again. Softly. Tenderly. “But, you saw more than an alpha male in an ugly sweater. You must have seen a decent man, too. Or, you never would have assumed I’d even be willing to slum it for the night for my own entertainment. For reasons I may never know, you trusted me with your weaknesses in this cutthroat game and asked for my help. Goddamn if your faith in me doesn’t make me want to attain everything you saw when you looked at me for the first time.”

“I compared you to Clark Kent in my mind,” I admit. “The geeky glasses covering a handsome face. The hideous sweater that molded to what I could tell was a perfect body beneath. You were goofy yet aloof. Mysterious but open.”

He drops his forehead to mine and laughs. “You think I’m Superman?”

“I think you could be,” I tell him in all honesty.

He raises his gaze to meet mine. “Normally, I enjoy proving people wrong. But for you? I want to work as hard as it takes for you to be right. I want to stay and fight instead of running away.”

“You were considering quitting? When you’re so close to the finish line?”

“My life is nothing like your fantastically creative brain imagines. Law school is hard, NYU. It’s so fucking hard.”

I laugh at that. “Law school is so fucking hard, Columbia.”

He kisses me again. “We should reward ourselves for all the effort.”

“We should,” I agree.

And we do. For hours. I’ve never had a sex marathon like it in my twenty-five years, but it’s so much more than sex. It’s whispered hopes and dreams. It’s stretching our bodies to the limits of pleasure and pain and consciously taking the time to learn another person’s most carnal desires without judgment. It’s laughter and dozing off between orgasms. He only delivers five, but that’s a personal record for me that I never believed was possible. And he uses all three of the condoms he arrived with.

My body can’t fight exhaustion anymore. I haven’t stayed up all night since undergrad, and I sure as hell wasn’t working full time and under the stresses of the final year of law school back then. 

I’m only vaguely aware of his lips pressing against my cheek when he leaves my bed. As I flirt with the kind of coma he spoke of earlier, I implicitly trust him to see himself out, not rob me blind, and lock up.

When I wake around two the next afternoon, my sore body convinces my mind it wasn’t all a dream.

As does the note he left me.

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