Beautiful Bastard (Chapter 9 LESSONS LEARNED)

I was an ass. There was just no other way to explain it. Standing there facing Rosalie, the words had just come out. It was a mistake. I could see Ms. Mills looking at me from the corner of my eye; and seeing the pain and shock on her face made me feel like I'd been punched in the stomach. I could only imagine how she felt. I had just shared one of the most intense and amazing sexual experiences of my life with this woman and I just referred to it as a mistake. God, even I wanted to kick my own ass.

"Mistake or not, it needs to stop now." Rosalie's words pulled me from my thoughts. "What if I would have been Esme? Bennett, you're her boss! Have you forgotten that?" Her statement only deepened the shame I felt over my behavior. Was I taking advantage of her? I thought back to our now numerous encounters, and was somewhat relieved to recall her being an absolutely active participant; but even that didn't ease my guilt. "Look, you two are adults, and I don't know what's going on here. But what ever you do, do not let Daddy Carlisle find out."

My father. In all that had occurred, I don't think I'd ever fully considered the consequences of him finding out. Not only would I be in deep shit, Ms. Mills would be devastated. I had seen for myself firsthand the relationship my parents had with her, and this kind of situation had the possibility to damage that beyond repair. My parents were good, kind people and I knew they would never be too harsh, but that didn't change the fact that they would be deeply disappointed…in both of us.

I felt her tense beside me at the use of Rosalie's nickname for my dad. I knew she had to be having the same internal debate with herself that I was. But I still wasn't ready for her response when it came.

"That won't be a problem," she said, giving me a glare that actually made me recoil slightly. "I intend to learn from my mistake. Excuse me." Before I could even think of a way to stop her, she turned and walked down the stairs.

"Have you lost your mind, Bennett?" Rosalie unsuccessfully attempted to whisper to me. I turned quickly to her as her fist collided with my bicep.

"Rose!" I yelled, rubbing the sore spot on my arm and glaring at her. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

"How long has this been going on with you two? I get the feeling this wasn't a one time thing, for some reason."

I really didn't want to get into this, especially here. "Rose, I love you-but this is none of your business." Her eyes grew wide and her mouth fell open.

"None of my business?" she spat angrily. "Well, if you'd wanted to keep it between the two of you, you shouldn't have been fucking her in the bathroom while your entire family was right downstairs."

"I'm not discussing this any further with you," I said with an air of finality. "And I'm asking that you please keep this between us. I wouldn't want this to look bad for everyone involved." She continued to glare at me, but didn't respond. I decided that I'd been gone too long already and turned to leave, but was stopped by a hand on my forearm.

"You really are a bastard sometimes. You know that, right?" Without waiting for an answer, she brushed past me to return to the party. As she reached the first step, she turned to look at me. "And for God's sake, fix your hair."

I frowned but automatically raised my hand to my hair, combing it back with my fingers as I descended the stairs behind her.

As we stepped onto the patio, I was overwhelmed by an urge to strangle Mike. He sat leaning into her, a worried expression on his face, asking if she was alright. Was she? Before I'd even had a chance to sit down, she said she wasn't feeling well and excused herself for the night. I was just about to offer to walk her out when Mike stepped in. Fucking Newton. He really was making it easy for me to hate him.

Using the excuse of an important phone call, I quietly followed the both of them and waited by the doorway. My chest filled with an animalistic rage as I watched them together, and the air left my lungs as I saw him hand her his phone. She entered something into it; she was going to see him again, even after what we just did. I swore under my breath as he moved closer and kissed her hand, tucking a piece of her hair behind her ear. The same ear I'd just kissed and whispered into. Mike stood and watched her leave before turning back towards the house. Our eyes met, and I swear I saw a challenge there. That was it. I had to make this right.

I slept like hell that night. I lay in my huge bed for hours, watching the city lights outside my window; the memories of this evening replaying over and over in my mind. My plan had blown up in my face, but I still couldn't regret the things that we'd done to each other. It was wrong, and complicated and twisted and fucked up, but that still didn't take away from the fact that it was amazing. I shook my head, thinking about how 'amazing' was an understatement. My balls tightened and my cock twitched at the mere thought of fucking her. It was heaven and hell all wrapped up together, and the most intense thing I'd ever experienced. No matter how much I thought it over, I was at a complete loss as to how to deal with something, for the first time in my life.

The sun light began to permeate the city outside, reflecting off the chrome and glass buildings. I reluctantly gave up on sleep and headed to the shower; if I hurried I could fit in a run before meeting Tasha to sign the donation paperwork. I never did work on Sunday, but when she called late last night and explained her travel situation, I had agreed. In reality, all I wanted to do was go for a drive and get as far away from my problems as I could, but as usual, work had to come first. The rest would have to wait.

At 10:30, I met Tasha outside a little bistro downtown and we exchanged pleasantries. My family had known her family for years, and she ran one of the most influential charities for autistic children in the country. She was beautiful and intelligent, and although we were great friends, we were never interested in each other romantically. Holding the door open for her, I guided her to our table, making sure to pull out her chair. My mother raised me to be a gentleman, no matter how much I seemed to be ignoring that lately.

We had been joking about a mutual acquaintance of ours when I suddenly felt I was being watched. Looking up, my stomach dropped when I met the eyes of Ms. Mills. She looked away quickly, embarrassed that she had been caught staring, and spoke to her friend. When the other girl's phone rang, she excused herself and headed to the back of the restaurant. Before I even had a plan, I told Tasha I would be back. She nodded with a small chuckle and a wink, and I stood up to follow Ms. Mills across the room. God, she looked sexy. She was dressed for the weekend, wearing tight black yoga pants and a white tank top. Her hair was pulled into a pony tail, and as she walked ahead of me I couldn't help but watch her perfect ass, remembering the last time I had seen it on display.

Grabbing her arm, I forced her to look at me. I knew she would fight me; nothing between us was ever easy. Our emotions were always in a constant battle, never letting us coexist peacefully. It was just the way we were.

"What the hell do you want?" She looked absolutely livid, and I couldn't blame her. My behavior had been so…unfair and despicable. Doing and saying something one moment, and acting out the exact opposite the next. I had to make it right.

"I just wanted to talk to you about last night," I said, my fingers running nervously through my hair. If I looked half as nervous as I felt, I was in trouble. I knew the look she was giving me right now; she was contemplating ripping out my heart and feeding it to me.

"What is there to explain? You're obviously over it," she said, nodding towards my table. "That was quick, even for you." What was she talking about? Then it dawned on me: Tasha. She thought I was on a date? I watched her for a brief moment, astounded. Was there a possibility she felt this insane, unhealthy obsession in return? I wanted to ask her why she would even care, but I needed to do that in private. Noticing a door ahead, I pulled her in and locked it behind me. It was only then that I realized where we were. Oh, shit. .another bathroom.

Before I could respond, she started in on me; she thought I was fucking other women. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I tried to explain about Tasha, that we were just old friends and that it was completely innocent. The rolling of her eyes told me she didn't buy it. I cringed at the thought of what I was going to have to tell her. Why was I justifying myself to this woman, who was obviously going to turn around and do the exact same thing to me? Was she really this much of a hypocrite? I felt compelled to explain myself nonetheless. "I haven't been with anyone else since the wi-," I stopped. There was no way I could even utter that word. "Since we first… you know…"

"You really expect me to believe that? All those women throwing themselves at you and you haven't even snagged one?! Awww, I'm touched," she practically sneered at me.

"It's not that difficult to believe," I growled back. This was un-fucking-believable. What the hell had I done to warrant her not trusting me? I could admit to being a fucking asshole, but I'd never given her any reason to doubt my word. She was acting like a jealous… I had to stop and let that thought sink in for a moment. She was behaving almost as insane as I was.

She turned to leave, but stopped to glare at me over her shoulder. "Oh, right-because you are such a one-woman man, aren't you? Give me one reason why I should believe you. You can't, not that I care. You know what? It doesn't even matter. It was just a mistake, right?"

A sickening feeling settled in my stomach. I knew those words had been hurtful, but I hadn't understood exactly how badly I had hurt her. I couldn't let her go.

"Look, that's what I wanted to talk to you about," I said as I stepped closer to her. I might have felt that way, but even I knew I shouldn't have said it. She still tried to leave and I felt panicked, blurting out the first thing that came to mind. "Are you seeing Mike again?" But before I could take it back, I noticed her hand froze on the doorknob.

"What's it to you?" she asked quietly. She seemed to be struggling with the idea of leaving, and as usual I didn't know what I wanted her to do. It was never a good idea for the two of us to be alone like this. Less than two minutes had elapsed since we started talking, and my traitorous body was already responding to her presence. Without thinking, I stepped towards her, pressing my body to her back.

"I thought we covered this last night," I said. Goosebumps were forming on her skin and my body seemed to override my brain. I brushed the thin strap on her shoulder over and swept my lips softly against her skin, letting myself get lost in her delicate smell.

"Yeah, a lot of things were said last night," she replied softly.

"I didn't mean it," I murmured against her skin.

"That doesn't mean it's not true." Her head tipped slightly, allowing me to taste her neck.

"I shouldn't have said it." Moving her ponytail so I could kiss along her back, I heard her breath shutter. Her body responded just as insanely to me as mine did to her.

"Turn around," I whispered against her hair, waiting for her response. It had to be her choice. My head wanted her to stop me, to slap me across the face and walk out. But my body had other ideas.

My selfish body wanted to kiss her and touch her; to make her mine. I watched her hand closely, waiting for her to leave, all the while silently praying that she would. When her hand fell to her side, my eyes closed in defeat. She wasn't strong enough, either.

Turning slowly, she looked into my eyes; eyes that mirrored the same defeat I felt. I pulled her to me, my hand going to her hair. I tried to stop; tried to talk myself into leaving, but I couldn't. We kissed, hands touching, teeth nipping, bodies close together. I needed more and pulled her up, connecting where we needed it most. Our moans blended together and our mouths searched for more, my hands slipping into her pants, lifting her to me and pressing her back against the wall. I could feel the soft silk and lace covering her ass, with the outline of a heart cut into the fabric. I groaned. "Fuck. What are you wearing?" I whispered into her neck. I lifted her further, and she answered by wrapping her legs around my waist.

Brushing my lips across her chest while I pulled her shirt down, I had just placed one perfect nipple in my mouth when I heard a phone ring nearby. Of course. Setting her on her feet, she straightened her top and reached into her discarded purse for her phone. I roughly ran my hands through my hair again, willing myself to keep from grabbing that phone and flushing it down the toilet.

It must have been her friend from the table. So that was Alice; fiance to the great nickname-spiller. I cursed silently as she hung up. She was just putting her phone away when it rang again.

"God, Alice! I said I'll be there in a minute!" she yelled, but then her eyes dropped and several expressions passed over her face. Anger, embarrassment, annoyance and then…curiosity? Looking up at me, our eyes locked, the tension in the room building again. I could vaguely make out a man's voice on the other end and felt the caveman begin to awaken. Who the hell was calling her?

Suddenly her eyes narrowed, and a tiny voice inside told me that I should be nervous. "Well, thank you so much for letting me know. Yes. Yes, I will. Okay. Yes, I'll call you when I decide. Thanks for calling, Mike." Mike? Fucking Newton.

She ended the call and slowly put the phone back in her purse. Looking down, she shook her head slowly, a small laugh escaping her lips. That little voice inside me was getting louder. Looking up at me, a small, wicked smile graced her mouth. "Is there anything you'd like to tell me?" she asked sweetly, and for some reason it made me even more anxious. I racked my brain, but couldn't think of anything. What was she talking about?

"You see," she said continuing to shake her head. "That was the strangest conversation. It seems that when Mike checked his email this morning, he had a delivery confirmation for my flowers. You'll never guess what it said."

She moved one step towards me, and instinctively I moved one step back. I didn't like where this was going. "It turns out that someone signed for the flowers." Oh shit. "The name on the slip said Bennett Ryan." Fuuuuuck. Why the hell did I sign my own name? I tried to think of a response but my mind was suddenly blank. Obviously, my abrupt silence told her everything she needed to know.

"You son of a bitch! You signed for them and then lied to me?!" she yelled, with a violent shove on my chest, and I had a sudden instinct to protect my balls. "Why did you do that?" My back was now against the wall and I was searching for an alternative exit. Why hadn't I thought this plan through better?

"Answer me, damn it!"

I needed an answer and I needed it fast. Running my hands through my hair for the hundredth time in the last five minutes, I decided it was probably better to just come clean.

"I don't know, okay?!" I shouted back. "I just….fuck!" Scrubbing my hands over my face, I began pacing across the floor. Looking up, I noticed that she'd taken out her phone and appeared to be texting someone. "What are you doing?" I asked.

"Not that it's any of your business, but I'm telling Alice to just leave without me. I'm not leaving here until you tell me the truth." She glared at me and I could feel the anger coming off of her in waves. I briefly considered telling Tasha what was going on, but knowing her, she'd figured it out by now.

"Well? I'm waiting, Ryan." I met her eyes and let out a deep sigh. There was just no way I could explain myself and not sound like I'd lost my mind.

"Okay, I signed for them," I replied in exasperation. She just stared at me, her jaw clenching and her fists balled so tightly that her knuckles were white.

"And…?" she said, her eyes never leaving mine.

"And…I threw the flowers away." As I stood facing her, I realized that I deserved every bit of her anger. I was being unfair; I was offering her nothing, but still standing in the way of someone who could possibly offer her everything. It wasn't fair and it wasn't right, but I knew I couldn't fight it. I was like a junkie. Being with her sexually was the most intense high I'd ever experienced. When we were apart, I found myself replaying each of our encounters, both hating it and wanting the chance to get another fix at the same time.

"You are fucking unbelievable," she gritted through clenched teeth. I knew she was doing everything she could to keep from lunging across the room and pummeling me. "Why? Why would you do that?"

Here was the part I didn't want to get into. "Because…" I bit my lip and scratched the back of my head, still trying to figure out the best way to answer this. I fucking hated that I'd let myself get into this situation. Letting out a long sigh, I just blurted it out. "Because I didn't want you to go out with Mike, alright?!"

"Who in the hell do you think you are? Just because we've had sex does not mean you get to make decisions in my life. We aren't a couple, we aren't dating. Hell, we don't even like each other!" she yelled.

"You think I don't know that?! It doesn't make any sense. But when I saw those flowers…come on, they were fucking roses for God's sake!" I exclaimed without thinking, and she looked at me as if she were ready to have me committed somewhere.

"Are you on some sort of medication? What the hell does the fact that they were roses have to do with anything?" Everybody in the entire restaurant could probably hear us. Thank God it was Sunday and the place was practically empty.

"Fuck! I don't know! I just saw them and reacted. I didn't stop and think about it. Just the thought of him touching you like…" My fists clenched and my voice trailed off as I tried to regain my composure.

I was getting angrier by the second; at myself for being weak and letting my emotions get out of hand, and at her for still having this fucking inexplicable hold on me.

"Look, I'm not saying I agree with you, but I understand what you did…to a point." My eyes flew to her in shock. "I would be lying if I said I haven't had similar…possessive feelings," she said reluctantly. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Did she actually just admit to me that she felt this, too? "But that doesn't change the fact that you lied to me. You lied right to my face. I might think you're an arrogant asshole most of the time, but you've always been someone I trusted to be honest with me." I flinched as her words hit me. She was right.

"I'm sorry." My words hung in the air, and I wasn't sure who was more surprised by them; her or me.

We stood across from each other, our gazes never wavering, neither of us knowing what to say.

"Prove it." She looked at me so calmly, not an ounce of emotion visible in her features.

What did she mean? Then, it hit me. Prove it. We couldn't speak through words, because words only led to trouble. This? This is what we were, and if she would give me this one chance to make up for what I'd done, I had to take it. I hated her so much in that moment. I hated that she was right and I was wrong, and I hated that she was forcing me to make a choice. I hated how much I wanted her most of all.

I closed the distance between us, wrapping my hand around the back of her neck. I pulled her to me roughly, meeting her gaze as I drew her mouth to mine. There was an unspoken challenge there.

Neither of us would back down or admit that this…whatever this was… was beyond our control.

The moment our lips touched, I was taken over by a familiar buzz coursing through my body. Her hands remained at her sides, allowing me to lead the kiss; as my tongue met hers, she moaned into my mouth.

My hands fisted deeply into her hair, forcing her to bend to my kiss. This might be for her, but I was damn sure going to control it. Pressing my body to hers, I groaned at the flawless way each of her curves fit against me. I wanted this need to go away, to be satisfied and move on; but each time I felt her, it was better than I remembered.

Falling to my knees, I grasped her hips and pulled her closer, my lips moving across the waist of her pants. Lifting her shirt up, I kissed each inch of visible skin, enjoying the tensing of her muscles as I explored. Hooking my fingers into the waist of her pants I looked up at her. Her eyes were closed and she was biting on her lower lip. I felt my cock twitch at the sheer thought of what I was about to do.

I pulled her pants down her thighs; goose bumps breaking out over her skin as I trailed my fingers down her legs. Turning her slightly, I finally got a chance to see the panties I had been imagining. Pink satin; a small heart cut out across her ass. Pink lace lined the heart, but still left enough skin visible to send a surge of arousal straight through me. Her hands went to my hair and pulled roughly. I fucking loved it when she did that. I bit my lip and groaned as I looked up at her. My fingers ran along the edge of the delicate satin, stopping at the thin straps on her hips. "These are almost too pretty to ruin," I said, wrapping one strap around each hand. "Almost." With a quick tug they broke easily; allowing me to pull the pink material between her legs slowly and stuff it in my pocket.

A sense of urgency took me over then. I quickly freed one of her legs and placed it over my shoulder.

As my lips met her sensitive skin, her fingers gripped my hair tightly and moved her hips against my mouth. I realized that she was as helpless against this as I was, and the intensity of that knowledge almost overwhelmed me. She was warm and wet against my lips and I savored every moment, taste, and sound as my tongue teased her heated flesh. I wanted to memorize every moan and plea that escaped her mouth and know that I was the reason for it. The feeling was so vivid that I moaned against her, causing her to cry out as she twisted her body closer. "Oh god, Ryan," she whispered breathily as her hands moved above her head to press against the door. I slid my fingers inside her, and almost immediately she tightened around me, her climax taking her.

She pushed me away slightly and quickly righted her clothing; looking down at me where I kneeled.

Reality crept back as the various sounds of people dining on the other side of the door combined with the sound of our heavy breathing. "You're not forgiven," she said and reached down for her purse, leaving the room without another word.

I stood up slowly and watched the door close behind her, trying to sort out what had just happened. I should have been furious. I should have ran out after her and made her finish what she started. But a smile lifted at the corner of my mouth and I almost laughed at the absurdity of my thoughts. Damn her, she did it again. Once more she proved to be my equal as she beat me at my own game. Only one thought stood out in my mind: game on, Mills.

My night had been hell. I'd hardly slept or eaten, and I suffered a near-constant hard-on since leaving the restaurant yesterday. I knew I was in for it as I headed to work. She was going to do everything she could to torture and punish me for lying to her; the sick thing was…I was kind of looking forward to it. She was such a bitch, and yet somehow it seemed to make me want her more.

I was surprised to find the outer office empty upon my arrival. Strange, I thought, she was never late.

I continued my way into my office and began getting things in order for the day. Fifteen minutes later, I was distracted from a phone call when I heard the outer door slam. Well, she certainly didn't disappoint; I could hear drawers and files slamming a bit harder than necessary, and knew this would make for an interesting day.

At 10:15 I was interrupted by my intercom. "Mr. Ryan." Her cool voice filled the quiet room and despite her obvious annoyance, I found myself smirking as I pressed the button to respond.

"Yes, Ms. Mills?" I answered back sarcastically.

"We need to be in the conference room in fifteen minutes. You then have the lunch meeting with the president of Kelly Industries at 12:30," she stated, her tone entirely professional.

"Are you not accompanying me there?" I asked in confusion; this was an extremely rare occurrence.

Part of me wondered if she was just avoiding being alone with me again. I wasn't sure how I felt about that.

"No, sir. Strictly management only," she replied nonchalantly, and I heard her papers rustling as she continued to speak. "Besides, I have the arrangements for Seattle to make anyway."

Well, that made sense…I supposed. "Alright, I'll be out in a moment," I retorted and let my finger slide off the button, standing up to adjust my tie and button my jacket.

When I stepped out of my office, my eyes landed on her immediately. Any doubts I might have had about her making me suffer were confirmed. There she stood, leaning over her desk in a beautiful white dress with gold, brown and copper print that showcased her long lean legs perfectly. Her hair was piled on her head accentuating her beautiful neck and when she turned to look at me, I saw she was wearing her glasses. How was I going to manage to speak coherently with her sitting next to me?

With her notebook, Blackberry and pen in hand, she stood and glanced over at me. "Are you ready, Mr. Ryan?" she said in a casual tone as she turned and began walking down the hall toward the elevators. There seemed to be more sway to her hips today, like she was trying to taunt me, to break me. Something I intended to ask her about after the meeting.

Standing in the crowded lift, our bodies were unintentionally pressed together and I had to stifle a groan. It could have been my imagination but I thought I saw a hint of a smirk as she "accidentally" brushed against my semi-erect cock. This woman was evil and confusing, and never ceased to amaze me.

For the next two hours, I was in my own personal hell. Every time I looked at her she was doing something to bring me to my knees; sly glances, licking her bottom lip, crossing and uncrossing her legs or absentmindedly twirling a tendril of hair around her finger. At one point, she dropped her pen and casually placed her hand on my thigh as she bent down to retrieve it from under the table.

Leaning over I whispered in her ear, "What exactly do you think you're doing, Ms. Mills?" She didn't meet my eyes as she busied herself looking at the documents before her.

"I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about, Mr. Ryan," she answered quietly.

"Oh, I think you do, you little tease. Are we going to talk about this?"

"I believe…," she said, finally meeting my eyes quickly before looking away. "…that we've already discussed the matter. I told you yesterday-you are not forgiven."

Looking around to make sure the others were still interested in the slide show, I leaned in closer and whispered, "Well, that being said, I'd still like another chance to prove how sorry I am." She might have appeared cool on the outside, but I knew her well enough to see through it.

"Mr. Ryan, I'm quite sure that your days of proving anything to me are over."

"I don't think I'd be so sure about that, Ms. Mills, " I said before sitting back in my chair. What the hell was I doing? Was I insane? This was the wrong woman to taunt, even I knew that.

As Murphy's Law would have it, the meeting lasted longer than expected and my father, brother and I had to leave immediately for the lunch meeting that followed. I nodded and spoke at appropriate times, but I was never really there. I was more intent on getting through this meeting so I could get back to the office and sort out what game she was playing.

We returned to find Ms. Mills on the phone, speaking almost inaudibly. "Well, I'm gonna let you go, Dad. I have some things to take care of and I'll let you know as soon as I can about my visit. You need to get some sleep, ok?" she said softly. After a brief pause she chuckled lightly, but then didn't say anything else for a prolonged moment. Neither I nor the two men beside me dared say anything. "I love you too, Daddy."

My stomach tightened as I heard the loving tone in her voice with those words. When she turned around in her chair, her eyes went wide at the sight of us standing there behind her and she began gathering the paperwork on her desk. She glared at me before turning a softer glance to my family.

"How did the meeting go, Carlisle? Emmett?" she said sweetly, as if I wasn't in the room. I rolled my eyes at the juvenile behavior.

"Well, Chloe," my father stated, smiling at her warmly. "It went smoothly, as always. You and Angela really do a superb job taking care of things. I don't know what my sons would do without the two of you." Her eyebrow lifted slightly and she cleared her throat to speak.

"Well sir, that's something I actually need to speak with your son about. He's going to find out; I'm going to need to take some time off to go home for awhile." I was surprised by the brief sense of panic I felt at those words. She never asked for vacation, and rarely even called in a sick day, so her sudden request took me off guard.

"When?" I asked, trying to appear casual.

My father stepped forward before I could speak and placed his hand on her shoulder. "I think that's an excellent idea. You haven't been home in a while; this will be good for you."

"But," I tried to interrupt but my father shook his head.

"There's nothing you can't manage with the help of a temp, Bennett," he said sternly. I felt my jaw clench.

"We can discuss this later. Right now, the three of you are due for a phone conference in Mr. Ryan's office," she said smiling warmly to them and avoiding my eyes entirely.

I nodded my head, but inside I was fuming. There was no doubt in my mind that while her wish to see her father was genuine, this was also a way to put some distance between us. Maybe this would be a good thing; remove the temptation to avoid falling victim. "Of course. Enjoy your vacation, Ms. Mills."

And with that I walked into my office and slammed the door.

The minute I did it, I was filled with regret. Great-my father was going to have my ass for behaving like that again. Making my way to my desk, I cringed as I heard my dad and Emmett enter. They said nothing as they made themselves comfortable, and I avoided looking at them as I went over some paperwork on my desk.

"Bennett." I sighed at my father's stern tone and set my pen down before meeting his eyes. He was sitting on the leather couch, a disappointed look on his face. "Bennett, do we really need to keep going over this?" he asked quietly.

"Don't waste your time, Dad," Emmett chimed in from across the room. He was standing near the large window, leaning forward watching the traffic below. "I've already had this conversation with him. It won't do any good." I frowned as I peered at him. Judas.

"I just don't understand why you two can't be pleasant to each other. You're both smart, wonderful, determined individuals who obviously work together well. I've never heard you say one remark in regards to her performance." I thought I heard a snicker come from Emmett but my attention was quickly drawn back to my father. "I guess I'm just failing to see the connection here. Son, it's been almost a year. Why can't you two just get along like normal adults?" he asked plainly.

Before I could even contemplate an answer, Emmett turned to face me. "I'll tell you the same thing I told him, they're too much alike. They're both too stubborn to back down and too hard-headed to admit when they've judged someone wrong," he said smugly .

"I agree with your brother, Bennett. I've seen the way you two work together; you're an amazing team. You just need to let that carry over onto a personal level." His face turned suddenly serious.

"You two have the IABC Workshop in Seattle the week after next, am I right?" I nodded stiffly, not liking where this was heading.

"For three days, you and Chloe will be together without the buffer of office doors, and there won't be anyone there to run interference. I expect you to behave as you were raised and treat her with the utmost respect. And before you get defensive," he added, holding his hands up as he sensed my quick rebuttal. "I've already spoken to Chloe about this." My eyes widened and flew to his face. He had talked to Ms. Mills about our personal relationship?

"Yes, I'm aware that it's not just you; and she's assured me that she gives every bit as good as she gets. Why do you think I suggested her as your assistant in the first place? There wasn't a doubt in my mind that she could hold her own with you. How many assistants did you go through the year before coming to Chicago, Bennett?" he asked with a smirk on his face.

Emmett didn't even try to hide his snicker this time. It was true that while working for LVMH, I had gone through two assistants during my final year, but that had been due to my high expectations. It was nothing like my current situation with Ms. Mills.

I frowned slightly as the realization hit me: she had essentially spoken in my defense. She could have easily made it sound like I was unfair to her, but instead she told my dad that she was just as much to blame and could handle it. Saying I was shocked would be an understatement.

"Dad, I'll admit that the relationship Ms. Mills and I have is unconventional," I began, praying that no one saw how true that statement really was. "But I assure you, it in no way interferes with our ability to conduct business. You have nothing to worry about." This seemed to placate my father, and the subject moved on to other matters as we awaited our call.

"So," my brother began. "Did you guys hear about the little poker game some of the interns set up in the mailroom last night? I'm told it was quite the event." He shook his head as the laughter overtook him.

"They are an interesting bunch of characters," my father stated humorously. "Emmett, how in the world do you find out about all this?" Even I was curious.

"Oh, I know pretty much everything that goes on around here," he remarked. It might have been my guilty conscience, but I swear he looked at me longer than necessary. "I have to tell you-some of those interns scare the hell out of me." His laughter brought on my own chuckle; I couldn't have agreed more. Our conversation was cut short as the intercom buzzed, informing us that our call was ready to begin.

The rest of the day was busy, but rather uneventful. The more thought I gave it, the more Ms. Mills's impending vacation seemed like a good idea. I was spending far too much time and energy thinking about the situation. I hardly remembered a thing from that morning's meeting, and I, of all people, knew that wasn't a very good way to do business. The sheer magnitude of this distraction was so far out of character for me, that it was actually a bit frightening. It would be best to get a handle on things before spending three days together, with only a thin hotel wall separating us. Despite my best efforts, that simple thought was enough to cause my cock to harden slightly. I knew I was in for another long night.

The next few days were extremely busy. I had no more than a few moments at a time alone with her, which strangely seemed to add to the sexual tension that constantly pulsed between us. Small things, like her hand brushing mine as she passed me something during a meeting, a glance across the table as we sat in on a lunch conference, or even the sound of her voice on my voicemail, seemed to amp up my libido even more.

When Thursday morning dawned, I knew we needed to have some sort of discussion. I would be away from the office all day Friday, and today was our last day together for the rest of the week. She had been at a class with the other executive assistants all morning, and I felt myself getting anxious in regards to what I would say to her. I knew I wanted to fuck her again; there was absolutely no question about that. Despite my inappropriate thoughts, my conscience and my own need for self-preservation had been plaguing me all week.

She was right to put distance between us. This pull we felt when we were together was entirely unhealthy. Nothing good could come from it, and I decided once again to use the time apart to build up some sort of resistance to her. Entering the office after lunch I was surprised to find her seated at her desk busily working on the computer. I stopped as I reached the door, once again taken aback by how beautiful she really was. I would never tell her that, but it was impossible to ignore.

"I didn't know you would be in, Ms. Mills," I said, trying to keep any emotion from my voice.

"Yes, I had some last minute arrangements to handle with regards to Seattle, and I still needed to discuss my absence with you," she said, never looking up from her computer monitor.

"Would you like to step into my office, then?" I asked, not sure how I wanted her to respond.

"No," she said quickly. "I think we can handle this out here." Looking up at me with a sly look she motioned to the chair opposite her. "Would you like to have a seat, Mr. Ryan?" Ahhh, the home court advantage. I almost chuckled as I realized that she was using one of my own tricks against me. I hesitantly took the seat across from her and waited for her to begin.

"I know you'll be gone tomorrow, so there's no reason for me to be here. I've arranged for you to have a temp while I'm gone next week, and I've already given Angela a detailed list of your schedule and things you'll need. I doubt there will be any problems, but just in case, she's promised to keep an eye on you," she raised an eyebrow in challenge and I rolled my eyes in return.

"You have my numbers, including the number of my father's home in Forks, if you need anything."

She began going through a list in front of her, and I noticed how cool and efficient she was. It wasn't that I wasn't already aware of these things, but somehow it seemed a bit more apparent to me right now. Looking up, our eyes met and she continued, "I'll just plan on picking you up at the airport in Seattle."

Our eyes held for a few moments, and I was almost positive that our thoughts were the same; Seattle would be a colossal test. If we could somehow manage to stay away from each other there, maybe everything would be alright.

The atmosphere in the room began to shift slowly, the silence saying more than words ever could. I clenched my jaw tightly as I noticed that her breathing had picked up. It took every bit of will power I had to not walk around the desk and kiss her. "So, I'll meet you in Seattle then," I said softly, meaning more than my words entailed.

"Yes," she answered flatly.

"Have a nice trip, Ms. Mills," I said, my voice showing none of the inner turmoil I felt. I stood, nodding curtly to her and walking into my office, shutting the door behind me.

All weekend, I thought about what it would be like to have Ms. Mills gone for an entire week. On one hand, it would be nice to enjoy a full day at work without a hard-on or having to partake in a bathroom "session." On the other, I wondered if it would feel odd not having her there. She'd been a near constant in my life for the last year, and regardless of my dislike for her personally, it was somewhat comforting to have her around.

Angela entered my office at nine o'clock sharp, smiling brightly as she approached me. She was followed by an attractive twenty-something brunette who was introduced as Kat, my new temporary assistant. She looked up at me with a somewhat timid smile, and I saw Angela place a reassuring hand on her shoulder. I frowned a bit, realizing what that meant: she'd already been informed about the "Beautiful Bastard". Great.

I decided that I would use this as an opportunity. I would prove to everyone that my undeserved reputation was simply a result of working with someone as unpleasant as Ms. Mills, and not related to me in any way.

"It's very nice to meet you, Kat," I said, smiling widely while offering her my hand to shake. She looked at me strangely, with a sort of glazed over expression across her face, before shaking her head slightly and taking my hand.

"It's nice to meet you, too, sir," she said hesitantly, as she looked at Angela questioningly. Angela looked down at my hand and back up to me strangely before speaking to Kat.

"Okay. Well, I've already gone over with you everything that Chloe left for me. Here's your desk," she said leading her over to Ms. Mills's chair.

A strange feeling crept over me at the image of someone else sitting there. I didn't like it; I knew that much already. I felt my smile falter and I turned to Angela, "Well, if she needs anything she'll let you know. I'll be in my office." Before turning, I saw the frightened look Kat exchanged with her. I knew I should be sorry, but I just couldn't find it in myself to care.

Kat quit before lunch. Apparently I came off a bit gruff when she spilled coffee on my desk and managed to start a small fire in the breakroom microwave. The last I saw of her, she was in tears sprinting out my door, wailing something about a hostile work environment.

The second temp came in around two o'clock that afternoon in the form of a young man named Zack.

Zack seemed highly intelligent, and I looked forward to working with someone other than an emotional female. I found myself smiling at the sudden turn of events. Unfortunately, I spoke too soon.

Sitting next to Zack during a financial presentation downtown, I became a bit uncomfortable and realized that all might not be what it seemed. Every so often I would feel his wool-covered calf brush up against mine under the table, or catch a lingering look at my lap from the corner of my eye. Huh.

Well, this was certainly a first. My suspicions were confirmed as we stood in the elevator awaiting our floor. As the door opened and a few more bodies entered, I was pushed back into Zack's body. My head snapped up at the feeling of something firm behind me. Zack was gone within fifteen minutes.

The third was no better. Her name was Kathy; she talked too much, her clothing was too tight and the way she gnawed on the cap of her pen made her look like an animal trying to free itself from a trap. It was nothing like the way Ms. Mills would pensively hold the end of her pen between her teeth when she was deep in thought. That was subtle and sexy, but this was nothing short of obscene. She was gone by Tuesday afternoon.

The week continued on in much the same way, with me going through five different assistants. I heard the booming laugh of my brother in the hall outside my office on more than one occasion.

Jackass. He didn't even work on this floor. I began to feel that people were enjoying my misery a bit too much and maybe even saw it as a case of reaping what I sowed.

Although I had absolutely no doubt that Ms. Mills had already been informed of my temp nightmares by Angela, I received several texts from her throughout the week, checking on how things were going. I began looking forward to the texts, even checking my phone periodically to see if I might have missed an alert. I hated to admit it, but at this point I would have traded my right nut and my Porsche to have her and her harpy disposition back.

It was obvious that besides missing her body, which I did desperately, I had to admit that I also missed the rivalry we had between us. She knew I was bastard, and she put up with it. I had no idea why, but she did. I felt my respect for her professionally, as well as personally, grow during that week apart. I found myself wondering what she was doing and who she was doing it with. I wondered briefly if she'd had any more phone calls with Mike. We had managed to reach a precarious cease-fire in regards to the flower incident, and I wondered if he had called to follow up. I briefly considered calling my mom and casually asking if she knew whether they'd ever gone out, but I knew that would only invite more questions.

I started packing for my flight on Sunday night, and heard my phone chirp from the bed next to my suitcase. I reached for it and was surprised by the name.

Pick u up tomorrow morning 11:30.

Terminal B near arrival screens. Text when you land.

I paused for a moment, realizing that I would see her tomorrow.

I will.

Thanks

I briefly wondered if she would respond, but quickly pushed the thought aside and resumed packing.

When my phone chirped again a minute later, I found myself staring at it. Surely that couldn't be her again.

You're welcome.

Everything go ok?

I was a bit taken back that she had inquired as to the rest of my week. We were in such unchartered territory here. We texted and emailed frequently, but it was usually restricted to simple yes or no answers. Never anything personal. Was it possible she had the same strange frustrating week that I had?

Great.

You?

I laughed softly as I pushed send; this situation kept getting stranger. Less than a minute later I received another one.

My dad is great. I've missed him.

Excited to come home.

See you tomorrow.

Setting the alarm on my phone, I placed it on the nightstand and sat next to my luggage on the bed. I would see her in less than twelve hours. I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about that. My life had become so unsettled, and it was a state that was completely foreign to me. There were so many reasons why I had to stay away from her, and so many more why I couldn't. I'd done so well all week, but she had been 2,000 miles away. What would happen when we spent all day together and she was just down the hall from me at night? I wasn't sure I was ready for that. I shrugged as I realized that whether I was ready or not, it was coming. I just hoped I had the strength to resist.