Loose Ends


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Chapter 1

When Sophie’s alarm went off on her phone, she didn’t slap around until she found the device and silenced the soothing yet entire evil melody of Rufus Wainwright’s Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk. Instead, she smiled as she heard the song she’d set as her wake up tune.

She was more of an indie folk kind of girl and hated Taylor Swift on most days, but not today. Today, she loved Taylor Swift.

Sophie threw her plush duvet to the floor, grabbed the television remote from the nightstand, and jumped up onto the mattress.

“We! Are never ever EVER! Getting back together!” she shouted into rather than sang into her make-shift microphone as she tested the bed’s mettle with a bounce, then vaulted in two bounds into the hall. As she prepared her morning coffee, she looked sideways to the calendar hanging by a magnet clip on the fridge, to today’s date where she had put a big red star in the box.

Two and a half years after she left Ray, she was finally getting her divorce decree. Her lawyer had sent her an email the previous night and let her know it would be delivered to his office by five o’clock, and he’d be working late if she didn’t want to wait out the weekend.

Hell no, she didn’t want to wait it out. When Ben had alerted her earlier that week that he’d called in a favor and gotten her file bumped to the top of the list, she’d sent out a mass email to select friends and family about a divorce party to be held that Sunday night. She needed that decree. The Department of Vital Statistics might consider her marriage over and done, but for Sophie it wasn’t over until she had that piece of paper in her hands confirming that life as Mrs. Raymond Munn was over.

Tugging her messy slept-upon ponytail free to pull her red hair into a bun, Sophie trotted into the living room.

Along one wall of her condo was a collection of fan art she had proudly framed and displayed. Ever since her first book was published, she’d been getting stuff like it in the mail. She kept most of it and framed as much as she could, save for the odd submission that featured her swashbuckling heroine being defiled by the tentacled demons she was always fighting.

“Good morning, Bess; good morning, Not-Sym,” she chirped as she passed the massive poster that dominated the display.

The heroine of her books, Bess, flashed her bloodthirsty grin. Next to her stood her lover, the bastard prince-turned-mercenary, Sym. Allegedly. In her head, he was big and ugly, but most of the fan art that she had seen have been kind to him and turned him into a cover model worthy of an old school romance novel This incarnation in particular was a panty-melter, what with the wild hair and square jaw, to say nothing of the bulging muscles. Impressive, but not her villain-turned-hero.

In front of the poster, Sophie stopped and planted her hands on her hips. “Today’s the day. I made it through my divorce without resorting to hiring a hit man, having a public meltdown, or stabbing my lawyer in the face. Can I get a round of applause?”

She clapped for herself, but her two companions remained in their poses.

Sophie had been married at eighteen to the garage band rocker, which had been fun for the first four or five months. Then came supporting him as he strove to become the next Bono, all the while working on her feet all day before coming home to chase her own dreams.

Then came the bestseller, Blood Red Widow. With their separation came the battle to keep her money from becoming Ray’s money. When divorce proceedings began, no one had paid any attention to Sophie and her little book of demons and witches and the battle for Devil’s Moss. It was only when Blood Red Widow was optioned by TBO and what Variety described as a Battle Royale for the lead role of Bloody Bess began did anyone the divorce get any press.

Well, if you can count a blurb on TMZ that garnered thirty-three whole comments as press.

Taylor was still cheerfully outlining her lover’s shortcomings when Sophie returned to the bedroom and plucked her phone from its dock. Ten-thirty. Two texts. Six emails. Easy morning, at least until she got on her MacBook and looked at her work email. Or not. It didn’t feel like a work kind of day. It felt like an ice cream with a side of cookies for breakfast kind of day.

She ran a hot bath and sat on the edge as she perused her email. When she saw the name Ben Croft in the list of recipients, her heart thumped. What if something happened that caused a delay? Downtown invaded by giant robots? Somewhere, a courier could be buried under rubble of a destroyed building as alien fire destroyed Edmonton. Or, more likely, she forgot to sign something. The absolute worst case scenario, worse than giant robots, was that somehow Ray was up to no good again. There was no going back on the divorce, the judge had signed off on it, but it wouldn’t surprise her if Ray tried to have another go at her money.


                   Don’t forget, after 5pm today. The offer to drop the paper off to you still stands.

                   Ben Croft, Q.C.

                   MacKenzie, Purcell and Croft              

Sophie exhaled and set her phone aside.

There were a lot of things Sophie didn’t like about Ben Croft.

His cologne, for one. It smelled like leather and wood smeared with lemon. She could picture him walking into Harry Rosen and demanding to be sold the most expensive product on the counter, even if it smelled like horse shit. She hated how when he stood close that scent filled her head and stayed with her for the rest of the day, bringing with it a train of wicked thoughts.

She also didn’t like his tie. Every time she visited his office, he was wearing a variation of the same grid-patterned silk tie. One day it was blue. Another day it was purple. He had a habit of playing with it while leaning back in his executive throne, like he wanted anyone sitting across from him to think about how expensive it must have been. It irked her that the more he played with it, the more she wondered what it would feel like wrapped around her wrists.

And she hated his eyebrows. Well, not both of them. Just one. He had a scar bisecting the dark hairs, and it happened to be the brow he’d raise as she was speaking, just before he’d say something to passive-aggressively insult her. She suspected that he stood before the mirror and practiced that brow-raise. She hated that she constantly wondered how he got the scar.

Then there was the beard. She just didn’t know what to make of the beard. It wasn’t one of those out-of-control beards worn by men in skinny jeans who hung out in tea houses. It wasn’t a bad beard. It was kind of sexy, the kind that would leave just enough of a wicked burn on sensitive skin, but she didn’t like it. She kept expecting him to stroke it thoughtfully.

More than anything, she hated his smile. It wasn’t a real smile. It was a weapon. When he first turned it on her, Sophie lost her breath and got hot in all the right places. As far as ammunition went, his smile was perfect, but she still didn’t like it. She couldn’t stand conceit and fakery, even if it was delivered in all its panty-melting glory.

But he had been a damn good lawyer. Worth every penny, if her bank account was any indication. After today, she’d miss those pervy little moments she’d indulged in when he wasn’t looking, but that was about it. One more aspect of her life as Sophie Munn banished into the past.

She cut the water and went back into the bedroom, then returned to the bathroom a minute later completely naked and carrying the Bluetooth speaker she’d left charging the night before. She sank down to the nose, grateful that she’d had the foresight to have the bathroom redone when she moved into this place. She did some of her best thinking in the bathtub, and justified the renovation by telling herself that her thoughts would only get bigger with the tub.

Champagne, she thought as she soaked, then crinkled her nose. Appropriate, but she hated champagne. Cold beer and a pizza. Ice cream. All the junk she could cram into her mouth.

But first, one last meeting with Lawyer Man.

* * * * *

Coming downtown was always an experience Sophie felt required some strong medicine before and after. Since keeping a tumbler full of whiskey in the cup holder wasn’t an option, she picked up a mochaccino on the way and puffed on her electronic cigarette until she reached the busy core. She didn’t bother looking for a spot on the street. Hell, no. She paid for a spot in the parking garage a block from her lawyer’s building.

On the brief walk, the wind whipped her hair, and ultimately her coffee, in her face. She felt like a sticky mess by the time she stepped into the lobby.

As she checked in with the security desk, she glanced towards the restroom sign and thought about putting on lipstick and maybe a bit of mascara. Not that she wanted to impress Ben, but she hated looking like hell when she met with him. He’d give her that look, that perusal that told her exactly what he thought of her trainers and fraying jeans. It would irk her while she was in his company, and then it would irk her a little more when she thought about it once she was out of his orbit.

Once she was cleared to go on up to MacKenzie, Purcell and Croft, she instead pulled out a moist towelette from her bag and scrubbed her face with it, because to hell with the ridiculously good-looking man in the nice suit and ugly tie.

The car whispered to a halt on the tenth floor, and when the doors opened Mr. Ben Croft stood on the other side. The sight of him leaning back against the wall, hands tucked into his pockets, almost knocked her back.

With his smile and his quick look down her body -- that look -- she recovered and greeted him with a smile of her own.

“Tell me your courier wasn’t delayed,” she said as a greeting.

“My courier wasn’t delayed,” he told her, and pushed away from the wall. Today he wore a red tie. He was empty handed and she was disappointed. She had hoped he would hand over a manila envelope and she’d be back down in the lobby in seconds.

She followed him through the glass doors and into what he had joking referred to as “the belly of the beast” the first time he greeted her. Almost like he was making fun of her career choice, he had described the offices as a dragon’s lair of wealth where the most clever and most deserving can walk away rich while the stupid and unworthy left with empty pockets. Her eyes had rolled so hard she had a headache afterward.

“You didn’t have to wait. I would have paid to have the decree sent to my place,” she said as they reached his office.

Ben turned on his heel and flashed a smile. “The cut-off time for the courier was at six o’clock, and I wanted to make sure there were no screw-ups--no misspelled names or dates or anything before I handed it over. Come on. We both know you wanted this to be an event.”

“Unless a marching band busts out and you have a baby otter for me to cuddle, this isn’t exactly an event.”

As he moved behind his desk, Sophie’s stomach gave an excited flip.

This is it. Ten years. Teen bride. Loser husband. Working my ass off to pay the rent while he didn’t do much of anything. As soon as that paper is in my hand ...

“I keep a bottle of champagne in the fridge for occasions like these,” Ben said as he pulled open his desk drawer. “Interested?”

Sophie stifled a laugh and shook her head. “Bubbly’s not my thing.”

He produced the envelope and Sophie held her breath.

“There’s a greasy spoon around the corner. They make a hell of a burger and beer on tap.”

“Will you just give me that thing?” she snapped.

Ben chuckled as he held the envelope out. She snatched it from him.

Sophie gleefully tore open the top and shimmied the contents into her hand, then laughed as she looked upon the proof that her life with Raymond Munn was finished.

“Oh, thank God--and my attorney.” Her irritation with him forgotten, she held up the decree and grinned. “Are there any laws against me having this turned into wallpaper?”

“Maybe you could just kill him in one of your books.”

“I did that already in my latest book,” she countered, and as he strayed to the sideboard she slid the document back into the envelope.

“Am I going to make it into the next book?”

“Who do you think I had execute him? In my head, you know how to wield a big axe.”

He said nothing as he reached into the mini fridge, and Sophie shook her head with a laugh as he produced a tiny bottle of champagne, one of about a dozen on the shelf. “Wow, Ben, I knew you were well prepared, but this is unexpected--and I mean it. I don’t like champagne.”

“Humor me. I worked harder on this case than most others. You didn’t make it easy, what with becoming rich and famous during the marriage.”

“I’m not rich and famous, I’m .... financially comfortable and somewhat well known.”

He popped the cork and half-filled two tumblers from the bar above, then held one out to her.

“All right, I’ll humor you, for your hard work,” she said and took the glass from him.

It wasn’t great champagne, she guessed, though she wouldn’t know the difference. How good could champagne that came in trial size be?

They both took a sip, and Ben cocked his head. “All I had to do to get you have a drink with me was get you a goddamn divorce.”

“You are the man,” she played along, and after another sip she set her glass aside, “and I’m the woman who has to get going.”

“You came all this way downtown and I can’t even convince you to grab a burger with me?”

“You got your drink, don’t push it.” She tucked the envelope into her messenger bag and held out her hand. “It’s been fun, Ben. When my next husband -- a toy boy with six pack abs -- tries to take me for all I’ve got, I’ll give you a ring.”

Ben drained his glass, then set it aside hers. “Hold up, I’ll walk you down.”

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Chapter 2

Yes, there were a lot of things Sophie didn’t like about Ben Croft, but when the lights went out and the elevator shunted, she didn’t think much of anything other than plummeting ten stories to the lobby, and only when the squealing stopped and everything went still did she realize that her face was now buried against his warm, hard chest.

“Easy. It’s just a little--” his disembodied voice began, and was cut off by a second squealing rattle.

The arms now around her tightened, and Sophie crushed as tight as she could against him. She had been annoyed when he’d insisted on walking her down, but now she thought that she could have been stuck here alone. She was so grateful for his irritating sense of chivalry she could have kissed him--if kissing didn’t involve moving.

“Hey, it’s OK. Look, we have light.”

She didn’t want to look. She wanted to stay right where she was, protected by this strong embrace. She didn’t believe him when he told her that it was OK. It couldn’t possibly be OK. The elevator had just stopped working. Nothing OK could possibly come from being trapped in a box that was suspended ten floors above the ground.

 Sophie had been fearless in the face of nasty critics, fans who threatened to set her car on fire when she killed of this character or that character, random accusations of plagiarism, and an entire book filled with drawings of her heroine Bess engaged in some very questionable sex with the gang of ogres she battled in the second instalment.

Metal death box? Definitely one of her weaknesses.

“I’m not going to let go, but I need you to move with me so I can press the emergency button,” Ben said quietly, his deep resonance as soothing as his arms.

Moving sounded like a terrible idea. Sophie said as much by muttering against him, but the only other option was to remove herself from his grip and that wasn’t happening.

She shuffled along with him, toes bumping his, until she was backed into the corner of the elevator. His brawn formed a wall between her and the reality of her situation as he took his arm away.

Her alarm went up as the trill of the ringer fill the elevator car, followed by a dial tone.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he growled, then placed a hand on her upper arm. “Do you have your cell phone on you? I left mine at my desk.”

Sophie didn’t move for another moment. She inhaled and exhaled, filling her head with the horrible scent of his cologne and the whiff of men’s deodorant that rode on it, and then let it go.

Five times she did this, leeching comfort from him until she had willed her panic deep into the pit of her stomach.

“Yeah,” she said, and lifted her head. She hauled her bag in front of her. “What do you think happened?”

“Could be a power outage or it could be just us. The thing is that during a power outage, the elevator is supposed to take you to the ground floor. We just stopped.”

“You’ve been through this before?” she asked in the same low voice he spoke with, as if they weren’t trapped at all but hiding from a machete-wielding clown.

“I’ve worked in this building for five years. This isn’t my first time waiting it out on the elevator.” He took the phone from her and tapped the screen, and as he looked at her he smiled. “You’ve got bars. I’ll see if I can get the security desk.”

“What if he doesn’t answer?”

“Then we call 9-1-1.” Some of her panic must have shown on her face. As he brought her phone up to his ear, he placed his hand on her shoulder. “I don’t think it will come to that.”

“I don’t know what would be worse: stuck here for a few hours or having a breakdown while I listen to them try and get us out.”

With the absence of his embrace, Sophie hugged herself and looked around the small space that just moments ago had been so insignificant. Now it was all so ominous, save for the little enclave in the corner she and her fellow captive had claimed in the corner.

“Yeah, hey, Dave, it’s Ben Croft on tenth. I’m on the elevator with a client and we’re not moving. When you get this, if you could call--” Sophie recited her phone number into the mic, “--as soon as you can, or better yet get us out of here. Thanks.”

“He’s probably busy watching hockey,” Sophie grumbled as he handed back her phone. “Should we call 9-1-1?”

“I say we give it another fifteen.”

“Then we panic and flail?”

He laughed. “I think we should keep the flailing to a minimum, don’t you?”

As the urge to throw herself back into the safety of his arms enticed her, she cringed. God, she had really latched onto him, hadn’t she? Still, if the elevator so much as burped she’d do it again.

“Uh, sorry I grabbed onto you when the lights went out.”

“Completely understandable and totally welcome. I had a brief moment myself and the only thing keeping me from soiling myself was the thought of dying in a beautiful woman’s arms.”

He smiled in a way that challenged her to make some sort of remark like she always did when he tried to flirt.

Sophie was too rattled by their predicament to be rattled by his magnetism. “That’s actually a little comforting, like you mean that you intend to sacrifice yourself so I can land on your body and live.”

Ben laughed, and Sophie had to admit that in spite of the terror still sticking to her skin, it was a good laugh that took over his whole face. She’d never seen it before.

The tickle it brought lasted a glorious few seconds before terror crept up. “Look, I’m going to sit down if that’s all right with you. Sitting will prevent me from either passing out or throwing up.”

“If those are the only options, please sit down.”

Back still to the corner, Sophie slid down and made as little movement as possible arranging her legs. In the second before her ass hit the elevator floor, she worried that centering all her weight into two cheeks would cause the elevator to give out, and she huffed out her panic.

“Are you all right?” he asked, brows pinched together in worry.

“Yeah, I just don’t want to die.” She let her butt drop the rest of the way and paused. When the elevator didn’t rock and send her to a screeching death, she allowed herself to start breathing again.

Ben’s gaze remained on her, and as his expression went from concern to appreciation Sophie gave the hem of her skirt a tug.

He cocked his head. “Well, this is awkward.”

“How so?”

“Stuck in an elevator with a woman who can’t stand me.”

Sophie’s cheeks heated up. While she didn’t particularly like Ben Croft, she didn’t hate him. She couldn’t even say he made her uncomfortable. The thrill that skipped under her skin when he flirted left her ticklish, but that only irked her. Maybe in different circumstances she would have eaten it up like hot fudge and milky ice cream, but every visit to Ben Croft’s office was like preparing for battle. Every time, that charming smile disarmed her.

She’d always thought she did a good job of hiding her disdain. Now that he’d put it right out there, she could add mortification on top of fright.

“That’s not true,” she said truthfully. She could stand him. She’d been doing a good job of standing him this last year and a half since her divorce proceedings began. “I just like keeping things professional and you ... don’t.”

Ben chuckled. “You don’t like flirting?”

“I don’t like that it seems as though you’re doing it because it’s a part of your job, like every woman who comes in your office is in need of an ego boost because her marriage is over and the failure is hers. I don’t need to be made to feel better. Getting rid of Ray makes me feel better. I’m not failing. I won.”

“Technically, I won,” he reminded her for the umpteenth time as he took a seat on the floor next to her. “Or rather, won on your behalf. And you’re right: you don’t need anyone to make you feel better. The flirting, however, is about making me feel better. I like flirting with you. I like watching you try not to like it.”

The heat must have finally pricked her cheeks, because his insufferable grin widened.

Sophie dragged her bag onto her lap and clutched it. “Can we talk about something else? Something relaxing? Not your self-perceived ability to charm the panties off of anyone you set your sights on?”

He drew his leg closer to his body, propping his forearm on his knee. “If you’re trying to hurt my feelings, I’ll have you know that I’m impervious. I would have made a hell of a Firestone Demon.”

A delighted smile popped onto her lips before she could stop it. “Don’t tell me you actually read my book.”

Books. I read all three, and I’m waiting for the fourth,” he told her, “I can’t believe you just killed off Lady Elise like that. What’s the matter with you?”

For the first time since meeting Ben Croft, Sophie laughed. Not the nervous giggle she mustered during their first meeting, but a truly enjoyable laugh that bubbled up from the pit of her stomach.

“I didn’t like the way she treated Sym, so I exercised my right as creator to have her disemboweled by trolls. I can’t believe you actually read my stuff. I can’t believe you read anything but GQ.”

“Normally, I don’t, but you piqued my interest. Now, there’s something I’ve been wondering --”

“No, I’m not going to tell you who Bess’s real parents are. You have to wait for the next book like everyone else.”

He held up his hand. “That’s not it, though I suspect that you haven’t even figured it out yet. What I want to is whether you color your hair red to match Bloody Bess?”

“No,” Sophie snapped, then rolled her eyes. “Kind of. I went on Twitter and promised to dye it for a convention if I got enough donations to fund I set up for the children’s hospital. Afterwards, I liked the way it looked and so I kept it this way, but don’t think for a second that Bess is some sort of wish fulfillment for me. I’d rather not have a threesome with the demon kings of the North amidst the blood bath I just unleashed.”

“Actually, I was thinking you were more like Sym: level headed but unable to keep your emotions off your face even when your life depends on it.”

Once again she was impressed. She had put a lot of herself into Sym, but she never expected someone like Ben Croft to pick that up. The man was good at seeing through people, that was for sure.

Then again, that’s what made him such a good lawyer. The first time she’d seen him in action at her side castrating her estranged husband’s demands one by one until Ray was as white as a sheet, she’d been wowed. Even without being prompted, he’d picked out all of Ray’s lies and used them against him, his smile widening with every strike.

He scooted a little closer. “Also, having seen the pictures of you before the dye job, let me say that it’s a definite improvement. You’re a hell of a sex kitten with red hair.”

Sophie scowled. “You can’t help yourself, can you?”

“I can. I just don’t want to squander an opportunity. Besides, if I keep pinching you, you’ll keep your mind off of ...”

He tapped the floor between them.

“Boom, splat, dead? Thanks.” She rested her head back into her corner. “At least if I die, I don’t die as Mrs. Raymond Munn. I mean, I know the ink is barely dry on my divorce decree, but it’s done.”

“Sophie Clairmont will look much better on your tombstone than Sophie Munn,” Ben said, and mirrored her pose. “Do you have plans to celebrate?”

“A bubble bath, a beer, and three hours of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.” Ben’s mouth twitched, and that one little quirk was as effective as if he had said what she knew he was thinking. “What?”

“I would have expected you to cut loose.”

“I’m cutting loose. I usually work on a Friday night. Tonight, I’m binge-watching.”

“I mean get dressed up and go out. Have dinner. Drink a little too much. Collect some numbers. Stay up all night and get breakfast with some good company.”

Sophie raised her brows. “Watch a lot of Sex and the City reruns, do we?”

“Don’t try and pull the boring writer in a cardigan act on me. You just divorced a bad boy. At some point in your youth, you had a naughty streak”

Sophie cringed. “I had a naughty streak, emphasis on the past tense. It wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. That’s why I’m now a boring writer in a cardigan.”

“Who writes about strong, confident women whose lust for life earns them the respect of axe-wielding barbarians--in close-combat battles that often end in sex scorching enough to melt your face and shocking enough to give you palpitations.”

“Come on, it’s not that shocking.”

“Come on, yourself. Don’t make me tell you what I did after reading that first scene between Bess and Sym. I never would have thought that sex in a dungeon surrounded by skeletal remains could be so hot.”

She had to agree. Her first scene between Bess and her villain turned hero had made her fans lose their minds, mostly for the length and kink involved. It had taken her days to write it, what with all the breaks she had to take to burn off the heat she’d created.

Still, she wasn’t about to admit it to Ben when he was fishing. “Hey, what about you? You’re working in a Friday night. Don’t paint me as some loser when you’re the one who scheduled this appointment. It’s not like you had some barbarian orgy to go to either.”

“True, but only because my plans were cancelled. I was supposed to take my daughter to the movies, but she got a better offer from a friend who brought home a new kitten.”

Sophie was actually shocked. “You have a daughter? There are no pictures in your office.”

“Have you ever looked at the background on my computer?” he pointed out, and she had to concede. “She’s seven. I usually get her on Friday nights and all of Saturday, but I was willing to negotiate and take her on Sunday instead. I don’t keep pictures of her out where everyone can see them because it would be like salt in the wound to anyone in my office already torn up in a custody battle”

Sophie held up her hands. “Wait a second, are you married? Have you been hitting on me all this time while you have a wife at home?”

He held up his left hand and wiggled his naked fingers.

“That doesn’t give me an answer. You could have taken it off in your quest to pick me up.”

“If I was the type of guy to take off my wedding ring to pick up women, wouldn’t I be the type of guy to lie when asked if I was married?”

“Good point, but I’d like to remind you that we could plummet to our deaths at any second now so you might want to try some honesty before you check out.”

“Not married, not anymore,” he said, and then Sophie witnessed the impossible: Ben Croft looked away, his expression suddenly uncomfortable. He bit his lip and made a fist.

“And it turned you into a bloodthirsty divorce lawyer?”

“I wouldn’t blame you for drawing that conclusion, but no. I was a bloodthirsty divorce lawyer before I got married. It runs in the family. It just ended with a hell of a lot of drama.”

“She took half of everything?”

“Try, she screwed around the entire marriage. Needless to say, I pick Kayla up at the curb.”

Sophie actually cringed. “Here I thought I had it bad. I’m so sorry I thought you were just a heartless bastard.”

This time when he laughed it sounded genuine and happy. “I didn’t actually know that, but thank you nonetheless--unless the heartless bastard thing was doing something for you. Then I take it all back.”

“Hell, no, I love a man with cracks in his veneer.”

A small pop in her throat alerted her to the fact that she may have just given Ben the impression that he had a shot, and the tingle that ran across her shoulders brought to her attention that he might not be entirely wrong in making that assumption.

If he had any retort for her, Sophie was saved by the bell. Her phone trilled in her bag. She plucked it out and put it on speaker. “Hello?”

“Are you on the elevator?”

“Yes! We are! Who is this?”

“Dave, down at the front desk. Is Mr. Croft there?”

Ben took the phone from Sophie. “Dave, it’s me. What’s going on?”

“The hell if I know,” the guard said, his words crackling through the tiny speakers on her phone. “I’ve got the elevator guy on his way. He should be no more than ten minutes, and then he can just bring the car down to the lobby. The others seem to be working fine.”

“So, we’re in the haunted elevator car,” Ben joked.

“I’ll ring you back when the elevator guy gets here. Just sit tight and don’t move around a lot.”

“We didn’t plan on it. Thanks, Dave.”

He left her phone sitting on the floor between them and settled back.

“Ten minutes,” Sophie said. “That’s not so bad, is it?”

“Ten minutes before you can go home to fuzzy slippers and Buffy, am I right?”

“Oh, piss off,” she snapped, but a giggle escaped at the very end. “Like you’re not going to go home and put on some fuzzies of your own. Albeit, your fuzzies are probably more expensive than mine.”

“I don’t have fuzzies.”

“Everyone has fuzzies for cold winter nights.”

Ben chuckled and raised his hand. “I swear, I do not have fuzzies. I sleep commando.”

“You are such a liar.” She sat up straighter and smirked at him. “You’re just trying to maintain this image of the handsome, polished lawyer, but you’re not fooling me. If we left here tonight and went back to your apartment, I’ll bet it would take me no more than ten minutes to find a favorite sweatshirt and a pair of fleece pajama pants.”

Ben raised his brows. “Handsome?”

“You would hone in on that,” she retorted, smiling as she settled back. If only he knew she had honed in on the whole commando thing as soon as the words were out of his mouth. She tried to shoo it away, but the image of him sprawled face down on an enormous bed, hair mussed from being squashed in his pillow, was hard to get rid of.

“I do have one pair of comfort pants,” he conceded. “Not fuzzy, though. Just comfortable. They have Homer Simpson on them. I wear them when Kayla is around so I don’t give her the traumatic experience of seeing Daddy’s penis jumping out of his boxers to say hello.”

Sophie sighed. “I knew it.”

“I am looking forward to a hot shower, though,” he said, and Sophie began to suspect that he was deliberately putting thoughts of his naked body in her head. She wouldn’t put it past him, and it wasn’t entirely unwelcome.

“Long day?”

He rubbed his big hands over his face, the sound of his palms going against the grain of his beard crackling. “That and I can’t wait to wash off this nasty cologne.”

Sophie looked sideways at him. “I thought that was your signature scent or something. You’re always wearing it.”

“That I am and that it is, but it doesn’t make it any less funky. Every year my grandmother gets me a bottle from the Avon catalogue and--yes, that’s right, go ahead and laugh.”

Making a fist in front of her mouth to keep from snorting did no good. “I honestly thought you were trying to make an impression with that cologne. I figured it cost a fortune and was made from the unfiltered piss of pygmy jaguars or something.”

“Oh, I’m making an impression, all right. I’d skip it, but I never know when she’s going to pop up while off to the sales and it makes her smile when she gets a whiff of it on me. It’s the same with the tie. She’s been giving me the same tie since I left university.” He straightened the red tie and shrugged. “Different colors, but the same pattern. I have no idea why. She must just be stuck in her ways.”

“Wow,” Sophie said, but the sentiment was more to herself. The next thing he was going to tell her was that he wore the beard, which was growing on her the more she looked at it, as a memorial to his dearly-departing grandfather.

She leaned forward and peered at his him, and his grin returned.


“Tell me how you got that scar on your eyebrow.”

He reached up and swept his finger across the injury in question. “Occupational hazard.”

“Angry husband?”

“Angry wife. I was having a drink with a client in a hotel bar when his future-ex walked in. We’d just disclosed proof that she was screwing around and she was out for blood. She threw a highball. The son of a bitch ducked and I ended up in the emergency room wondering if I was going to be blind in one eye.” Sophie cringed, and Ben shook his head. “That’s nothing. I play football, so I’m used to getting knocked around. Have a look at this.”

Ben shrugged out of his jacket. Arm out, he rolled up the sleeve and ran his finger along an uneven scar that ran from his wrist. He might has well have peeled his shirt off and offered her a lap dance. All she needed was that flash of skin and hair along his thick forearm for her to go hot all over.

“A few years ago I slammed into a chain-link fence that had a piece sticking out. One second I’m saving the game by catching a fly ball, the next minute I’m bleeding all over the backseat of my buddy’s car on my way to the emergency room.”

Her fingers twitched with wanting to trace that line, and further up to probe beneath his sleeve. She hadn’t realized that Ben was that muscular. Broad, yes, but she didn’t expect to see definition.

“Don’t tell me I’ve made you squeamish,” he joked, “not with what comes out of your head.”

Sophie was grateful that he took her open-mouthed expression to be the result of his gruesome injury. She shook her head. “I can write a decapitation scene with my eyes closed, but real blood and real injuries, I’m a total wimp.”

His smile took on that naughty tinge as he leaned back He didn’t put it back on. He just slung it over his lap and ran his other hand through his hair. In an instant he was adorably rumpled, the rascally twin of her take-no-prisoners lawyer.

“My turn,” he said, resting his head back. “You’ve got my embarrassing secrets and near-death experiences, and now I want something in return--why did you marry Ray Munn?”

Her first inclination was to push him back, but the disbelieving tone with which he’d asked his question made her laugh and groan at the same time. “You called it earlier. It’s because I thought he was a bad ass, and you know how young girls are: can’t resist a bad boy. I was a dumb kid. I married Ray because it seemed like a great idea at the time.”

“Was he your first?”

“I’m absolutely not answering that.”

“Why not? Who am I going to tell?”

“It’s not about who you’re going to tell, it’s about you asking me an inappropriate question to begin with.”

“What can I say? You’re trapped in an elevator with an inappropriate guy. Don’t make me point out the barbarian orgies again.”

The urge to resist waned with her laughter. “Yes, he was, and let me tell you that was a misfire--and before you even think about asking about the frequency of my orgasms, let me stop you right there and assure you that I’ve always done just fine.”

“I wasn’t going to ask, but thank you for volunteering that information. What do you mean by misfire?”

“I equated sex with love, as most girls at that age do, so I married him when he asked.”

“Is he the only man you’ve ever been with?”

“He was until we separated,” she said, pleased to burst his notion that she was some repressed nerd girl. “Seriously, we broke up three years ago. I didn’t take up knitting.”

“And now?”

“And now, with the divorce and the deadlines, there are warm fuzzies.”

Ben leaned towards her and gave her that insufferable smile. “You can be better than warm fuzzies, Sophie.”

As his soft words cascaded over her, so did his gaze. It was only a glance from her face to her toes and back up again, but beneath the skin Sophie felt like a storm had begun to brew. Her pulse picked up and flooded her ears with the rush of blood, and electricity prickled through her.

Something needed to be said to break the silence. She couldn’t stand it, and she had no escape from it, except to give in to the compulsion to close the gap between them.

Ben reached up as she leaned towards him, cupping her cheek.

He paused, his gaze falling to her mouth. “You know how long I’ve been wanting to plant one on you?”

She laughed in a whisper and tipped her head to one side. “Let me guess: since the moment I walked into your office.”

“Hell no. You were too buttoned up when I first met you, like you were coming in for a job interview.” Closer and closer he came, so that his next words brushed against her mouth. “It was when you started to loosen up. After a while, you’d come into my office looking like you’d just been tossed in by the wind, but you always looked sexy as hell with your hair all messed up, makeup a little smudged and your cheeks pink from the wind, like you’d just finished with some really dirty business.”

“I suppose that’s a plausible,” she murmured. “Any thoughts to shoving everything off of your desk and throwing me down?”

“It’s funny, but that’s the one scenario that never played out,” he admitted. “I pictured having you bent over the arm of the sofa, up against the bookcases with your legs wrapped around me, the carpet on all fours while I give it to you from behind.”

Sophie moaned, a sound that was cut off by his mouth against hers.

 The ferocity in his kiss surprised her, beckoned her. Tempted from her safe little corner, Sophie grasped his shirt.

His hands were rougher than she imagined, and for a moment she flashed on what he had said about playing football. She imagined him stripping of in a pristine bathroom and leaving his dirt and grass-stained clothes on the floor, and as the thought of thick soap suds sliding down a hard torso she deepened the kiss.

Though he began as mercilessly as his first impression that day in his office, as soon as she was tucked into the crook of his arm, he softened.

“You’re not going to smack me in the mouth now, are you?”

Sophie pressed a hand to his warm chest. “What makes you think I’d do that?”

“It’s a threat you’ve made before,” he reminded her, laughter shaking his words.

“I did, didn’t I? The first time you asked me out for a drink, wasn’t it?”


He swept his tongue across her bottom lip. It was the perfect temptation to sate that hunger in every molecule of her body.

She took his invitation, parting her lips and welcoming the silky sweep of his tongue against hers, and pulled him as close as she could.

Their predicament ten stories up not forgotten but made inconsequential by how desperately aroused she had become, Sophie scrambled up, pushing her fingers through that thick hair as she squirmed deeper into his clutches.

Even the notion that getting involved with Ben Croft could lead to no good seemed foolish. How could a little of this be a bad thing? She knew it was easy to say as her libido awakened against his and craved more, but she didn’t give common sense a word in edgewise.

He broke that devastating kiss far too abruptly and she reached up. Hand on the back of his neck, she drew him back

Once again, Ben withdrew, this time laughing as he disentangled himself and pushed her down.

“I think we should probably get that,” he said, and as the buzzing in her ears abated she heard her phone going off.

“Oh, right.” Her hands trembled as she reached for the offending device and answered. “Hello?”

“We’re about to bring the elevator down,” Dave announced on the other end. “It’ll be about another minute. It might start and stop a few times, but don’t worry. The guy says it’s perfectly safe. The elevator is fine, but there’s just a computer glitch.”

“Dave, assure me that computer glitches don’t cause the elevator to shoot like a rocket,” Ben asked, a little more hoarse than he had been.

Dave laughed. “No, you’ll be fine. You’ll be out of there in no time. See you in a few.”

Sophie disconnected and took a moment to gather her courage before she looked to Ben. He was gloriously rumpled, hair mussed into curls and cheeks flushed scarlet.

He ran his hand across her cheek and laughed. “You look like you were gnawing on some poison ivy.”

“You and your beard,” she said with a giggle, and looked down. “I’m not the only one about to broadcast what we were doing in here, am I?”

“I don’t think that’s going anywhere,” he said, and once he got to his feet he folded his jacket in front of him. “I’d offer you a hand, but something tells me that you’re not moving a muscle until you’re on the bottom floor.”

“You guessed that right.” She pulled her knees closer to her and looked up at him. “What?”

That naughty smirk spread wide. “So I won’t be able to convince you to head back up on the next car, can I?”

Sophie could feel the purr vibrating up her throat, but bit down on her bottom lip to keep it in. She couldn’t help her smile, though, and beamed up at him.

“Change your mind about walking me out?”

“I was thinking we could act out a few of those scenarios I mentioned earlier, and maybe come up with a couple more.”

There was no question that Sophia wanted to return to ride back to tenth with him, and would, but the sensible side that had all along been scolding him for his flirty ways pushed to the forefront of all those sinful compulsions crowding her mind and body.

It might not get the last word, but it would at least have its say.

“You know that this would just be sex, right?” she asked.

Ben seemed taken aback, an expression stolen as the elevator quaked and then began to move.

He cleared his throat and looked down on her. “If that’s how you want it.”

There was a bit of unexpected frost to that tone. Sophie had expected his smile to get wider and naughtier, but he actually seemed to be a little hurt that she’d mentioned it.

She felt like she ought to apologize, but flicked the compulsion away like it was a bug caught on her coat.

“Well, I did just get my hands on the divorce decree, so technically I’ve been divorced for about twenty-minutes or so. Needless to say, I’m not exactly looking to jump into something right now.”

He was quiet as the elevator descended, and Sophie couldn’t tell whether his ego had taken hit because she hadn’t turned to mush and declared her adoration for him, or if his wound went deeper.

He glanced up at the number panel, then nodded and held out his hand. “I’ll try not to fall madly in love with you while I’m giving the insides of your thighs a rash to match your face.”

Sophie laughed as she took his offering and got to her feet. “That’s charming, Ben. Keep talking like that and my panties are going to melt right off.”

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Chapter 3

Though Sophie had passed through the half-lit office with him just a little while ago, the atmosphere was different this time. There seemed to be a hush all around them as they slipped past the reception desk and into the interior of his office, and once Ben rested his hand on her lower back Sophie could have sworn the air crackled.

Now that the wall that separated client and attorney had been torn down with a kiss, Sophie welcomed the familiar way he loped alongside of her. When he ran his hand down to sit just above her ass, she cast him a look that she hoped invited him to peruse lower.

As they passed over the threshold to his office, Ben accepted with a squeeze as he turned her around. Back against the jamb, Sophie took hold of his tie and wrapped it around her palm.

“Apologies to Granny,” she said as she bunched the fabric in her palm until he was close enough to kiss.

“She’s been telling me I need to work less and play more anyway.”

“I don’t think this is what she had in mind,” Sophie countered against his mouth.

Ben drew back and raised his brows. “Can we take Granny off the topics of conversation for the rest of tonight?”

Sophie giggled. “Fair enough, but if Granny is off the table then so is any mention of my ex-husband.”

“I like a good negotiation. Fair enough, but I have a very big mouth and very little tact. It might slip out, and so I’m going to need a little effort on your part to keep me adequately distracted.”

His voice lowered to a sinful, rasping timbre with his last words, and Sophie enjoyed every aspect of their journey through her body until that resonance found the tip of her clit.

She let the tie slip slowly through her fingers. “And what do you have in mind?”

“How many times have you been in this office?”

“I don’t know. About twenty-five, thirty? I wasn’t keeping count.”

“You know those scenarios I mentioned? I’ve probably billed you for hours I’ve spent making them up in my head. Let me make it up to you while we play out a few of my favorites.”

Sophie shivered her agreement as he took her around the waist and pulled her against him so his hard poke nested against her through their clothes. “Any about the elevator?”

Ben’s tongue snaked along her lower lip . “On your back, feet on my shoulders, holding onto my wrists.”

“Oh, I think I like that one the best. Almost makes me want to get back in there,” Sophie whispered, and gave her mouth to his.

Unlike in the elevator when their kiss had been exploratory and desperate, this meeting of lips and tongue was the beginning of something that promised to make her first night as a single woman one to remember.

“What do you say you let me see you in nothing but the tie?”

Ben drew back, his cocky expression renewed with a vengeance. As he stepped away, Sophie clung to the edge of the door, convinced it was the only thing keeping her from sliding to the floor and melting into a puddle. Flashing her a naughty smile, Ben tugged his tie loose and turned just as he went to work on his buttons.

She was surprised by how fearless she felt as she watched him undress. An hour ago, the idea of actually screwing around with her divorce lawyer in his office was about as likely as being kidnapped by a herd of flying monkeys.

Now, she wanted to be the one to work those buttons one by one and split his shirt open to reveal what was all hers for a little while.

The more layers he lost, the less in control she felt of herself. She was sure she’d leave nail-marks in the crown moulding as he shucked off his shirt and gave her the broad expanse of his back, complete with the startling ink that splattered between his shoulder blades.

“You really don’t strike me as the type of guy who would have a tattoo,” she said, and her curiosity pushed her away from the entrance.

“You dated the bad boy, I was the bad boy, if only for three semesters.” He half-turned to look at her. “You recognize it?”

“Of course. I’d have to hand in my nerd card if I didn’t. It’s Excalibur still in the stone.” She traced her fingertip along the outline of the hilt. “Does it have special meaning?”

“Not really. I just thought it looked cool.” He turned to face her and gave her collar a tug. “What about yours?”

“How do you know I have a tattoo?”

“I don’t. It was just a hunch. I’ll bet yours is hidden like mine so the world doesn’t know you have it. Why don’t you let me see if I can find it?”

Sophie was so tempted she ached, but once she splayed her hand across his chest, she prevailed against the urge to go quickly and pushed him away.

“You were in the middle of a striptease. You have to finish yours before I give you one.”

He caught her wrists. “So we’re still negotiating?”

“We’re not. I’m telling you what to do.”

For a moment she thought--and hoped--that he’d challenge her. The desire to do so was written all over him, in the lines around his mouth as his smirk resurfaced, and in the swell of his chest as he took in a deep breath.

He chuckled and opened his hands to let her free. “I knew it. You do have a bit o’ Bess in you.”

“It’s the hair. It makes me bossy.”

Hands on her hips, she maintained his gaze as he reached for his waist. The metallic click of his buckle begged for her attention, as did the whisper of his slacks sliding down his legs. She prevailed as long as she could, until the snap of his waistband, and as he bent to shove his shorts down she lowered her gaze.

His cock bobbed as he kicked his clothes aside. He mirrored her pose. She couldn’t tell if he was mocking her, or if he was simply putting himself on display for her, but either way it was a magnificent sight to behold.

“That wasn’t much of a striptease,” she croaked, and swallowed hard to parch her dry throat with the moisture that had gathered around her tongue.

Ben cocked his head and grinned. “I’ve still got the tie, though I think it might look better on you.”

Sophie pressed her tongue to her teeth, and in spite of the fever racing through her blood, she giggled.

“Why don’t you take a seat, and I’ll show you how it’s done?”

His laughter joined hers, husky mingling with her giddy. “I’m looking forward to seeing what a boring author in a cardigan has in her arsenal.

Painted bronze in the incandescent light, Ben strode towards his desk.

“Not there,” she called after him, and looked to the sofa to her right. “Park it right there.”

“Come on, it’s been ages since I’ve had a bit of fun while sitting at my desk.”

“I’m not here to indulge your fantasy of being the most important man in the world, fielding calls and making deals while getting head underneath the desk. Take a seat, Mr. Croft.”

Ben groaned as he settled onto the sofa, but his expression turned serious once he kicked off his shoes and planted one sock-covered foot on the edge of the coffee table. Head tilted back and eyes glittering in her direction, he grasped his cock beneath the ruddy crown.

A little regretful about shooting down the idea of giving him head underneath the desk, Sophie whisked her scarf from around her neck and let it trail behind her as she moved to the sideboard.

The champagne bottle was still open, but she didn’t touch it. She turned over one of the glasses and slipped into the built-in bar fridge for something with a little more character She just dropped two ice chunks into the glass and splashed the vodka in it, then let it rest on the edge of the sideboard as she began to undress.

“Those are a lot of layers,” he remarked as she did away with the knitted crew-neck.

Sophie tugged the two tanks she wore underneath from the waist of her skirt. She wondered how many freshly-divorced women had undressed in this office, and concluded with amusement that she was probably the first who had stripped down to a She-Hulk tank.

It didn’t matter that her purple bra and panty set was far from risqué. The more she revealed, the faster Ben pumped himself. She kicked away her scuffed flats and held the drink away from her as she sashayed across the room, her next move changing in her head with every step.

Ben let his hands fall to either side of his thighs, and Sophie loved what she saw: long and thick, cut and trimmed, a mouthwatering contrast to the furred canvas from which it rose.

“This is much better,” he said as she knelt on the edge of the sofa, and skimmed a hand along her flank as she straddled him.

“Any thoughts to shoving everything off of your desk and throwing me down?” she returned, and when he reached for the glass she held it away from him. “No, this isn’t for you. It’s for me.”

“Going to make me work for it?” he asked on a chuckle.

Sophie merely took a sip, set the drink aside, then settled back against his thighs. “Well? ”

“It’s funny, that one never played out,” he admitted. “Maybe later.”

She slipped her free hand between them and replaced his fist with hers around his shaft. Ben gurgled and turned his head to escape her hungry mouth.

He gave her bra a snap. “Take this off.”

Ignoring him, Sophie burrowed into the crook of his neck and breathed him in. That foul cologne wasn’t half as foul now that it imprinted itself on her brain, forevermore associated with the raw sex that radiated all around him. She licked and sucked along the hot slope, then bit down as his cock jumped in her hand.

Another growl and he tugged at the bra until it gave. The straps cut into her upper arms as he yanked it aside.

Sophie gasped as pushed her down on the seat. He rose up onto his knees and hooked his fingers into her waistband.

“These, too, and then we’re coming up with a few new scenarios that’ll put all the other ones to shame.”

She clapped her hands on his wrists to stop him. “Tell me you’re the type of guy to keep condoms in his office.”

He flashed his grin. “I’m the type of guy who keeps condoms in his desk drawer, but I’m not going to need them with what I’m about to do to you.”

A shiver went through her as she loosened her grip, ending in a delicious ripple coasting along the length of her pussy. She raised her hips, then her legs. Once her panties were banished, she pushed up onto her elbows as he pushed her thighs apart.

“Seems as though I’m a little overdressed now,” he said, and gave his tie a tug before slipping his fingers between her thighs.

“I wouldn’t say that.”

Sophie grasped the tie and pulled him into another kiss. He gave her none of the power now, tongue invading her mouth with the same insistence as his fingertips. Drawing her legs closer against her, Sophie opened up and welcomed the invasion of one finger.

Corking her to the knuckle, Ben drew back and hissed. “Jesus, you’re tight.”

“You sound surprised,” she managed to reply as he stroked precisely along her inner wall, sending one tiny spasm after another along her pussy.

“I’m a little surprised,” he replied at last, his latest entry sinfully slow. “I would have expected a woman who once wrote about ogre sex to be a little more --”

Sophie gave the tie a tug, but laughed nonetheless. “That’s the sort of thing that gets you stabbed in the neck in my books.”

He returned her breathless laughter. “I know. That’s why I’m glad we’re at a safe distance from the cup full of pens on my desk. Though, if you like a little bit of pain I can deliver that as well--both ways.”


The word chucked from the back of her throat, as much out of surprise as it was from the perfect ripple that ran through her. Ben’s smile faded, but the effect was perfectly devilish, as though he could see the chaos he had put in her head.

Holding onto that awful tie, Sophie bucked up in tune with his thrusts. While his strokes remained steady, she craved a rougher touch. The plea was on the tip of her tongue, but as she gazed into his eyes she could’t bring herself to make it. That look was far too knowing and bore too much of a challenge. He knew what she wanted, and there’s no doubt he’d give it to her if she asked, but she found herself far too addicted to their own push-and-pull relationship to give it up too quickly.

She wanted him to hold back, to work her over and over until she couldn’t stand it any longer--or he couldn’t.

And so she tipped her head back against the armrest and kept up with his infuriatingly slow pace. She let him build her pleasure slowly, and gave him only the sounds of her body as he tuned her so perfectly. Through the buzzing in her ears she caught his low laughter.

“I’m not out to make you come just yet,” he whispered, then buried to the knuckle and flexed his fingers. “I just want you good and ready.”

“Ready for what?” she asked, her blood singing with the possibilities.

“Anything. Everything.”

Another minute, or maybe more--Sophie had lost her perception if time--he withdrew.

She opened her eyes as he kissed her, tongue so slow and seeking that it invoked the ghost of his fingers moving inside and sent a ripple through her.

Ben lowered his face into her neck. “Comfortable?”

As the resonance of his question and the scratch of his beard penetrated to the bone, Sophie sighed as he moved lower.

“Very,” she managed to say, but lost whatever it was she meant to say next as he snaked his tongue around her nipple. With the nip of his teeth she almost begged him for more, but it seemed as though this was only a warning shot. He lifted his head and rose up.

Looking down between them, Sophie found him so hard she wondered how he could stand it. Though in the shadow of their bodies, his cock was brilliant in its arousal, shining at that smooth head and arced almost completely to his belly. She longed to wrap her hand around it and do to him what he did to her, but she knew she didn’t have half his patience. She’d lose herself in the frenzy and when it was all over they’d be completely sated, and she’d have to wait to know what it felt like to have him belly-to-belly, chest-to-chest, and mouth-to-mouth as he drove into her.

“Up,” he said, and at the same time he caught her by the wrists and pulled her up. He led and she followed, until Ben rested on the floor, head resting against the seat, and he guided Sophie up, up, up over his brawny body.

With his hands cradling her, she eased down onto his mouth and grasped the sofa back just as he gave her the length of his tongue along her slit.

It was a dirty trick, she realized almost immediately. He’d given her far too much room to move, and possessed by the perfection of his tongue curling around her clit and move she did. He kept no pace but hers, lapping to the rhythm of her hips. As she predicted, the bristle on his chin rubbed her raw, but rather than irritate the friction only made her hotter when combined with the silky glide of his tongue.

But it was the hungry sounds he made as he devoured her that made the ride so delicious. Though muffled between her thighs, the pleasure he gained from the act swirled around and inside of her.

The sudden intensity as he sealed his mouth around her made her push up onto her knees. Ben grasped her hips and pulled her back down. She didn’t fight it. It had just been a moment of weakness after six months of solo sessions, her body trying to escape a pleasure that couldn’t be controlled, but the moment had passed. She was his, rocking to match the way he sucked her, licked her, until she went into autopilot and she soared into oblivion with the tip of his tongue as her vessel.

When she could take no more, Sophie shunted her hips and Ben released her. Her head still bobbing over her heavy body, she leaned against the sofa back and shuffled her legs to free him. Any thoughts of showing him her bravado vanished as he righted himself.

Sophie flopped down onto her side and muttered for him to give her a minute to catch her breath. She felt his smile curving on his mouth as he kissed from her ankle, all the way up to her shoulder where he propped his chin.

“Crows,” he whispered, prompting a sleepy giggle.

“Care to guess the meaning?”

Kneeling at the edge of the sofa, Ben stroked over the black marks on her upper thigh. “One for every book published?”

“Finished,” she corrected him, and with a sigh she propped up on her elbow to watch is examination of her tattoos. “There are five crows, see? Three published, and two more finished.”

Ben raised his brows. “Really?”

“The first three were published in one year, but now that the money is coming in it’s about the frenzy, the companion book and the graphic novels and so on, the fifth book is being held until the TV series debuts.”

“You’re only twenty-nine. By the time you’re sixty, you’ll have a whole murder of crows winding around you.”

As though following the imaginary flight of the crows yet to be inked, Ben ran his hand along her flank and to her breast. His thoughtful look gave way to that mischievous satyr beneath as he pinched the hard nub between thumb and forefinger.

“So which scenario is next?” she asked, eager for more as his touch chased away the syrup-like lethargy in her blood.

“Conference table,” he said quickly, and tucked his hand between her legs.

Still sensitive, she flinched as he brushed the puffy flesh around her clit, but parted for him as he sought the wet shelter he had made.

“I think that’s a little cliché. Conference table. Desk. You might as well suggest we do it in front of the window. It’s like we’re staging a porno.”

“You just ran out of surfaces,” he teased.

“We says we need a surface?” She looked past him to the bookshelves that ran across one length of the wall. “ Is that bolted on good enough?”

He glanced over his shoulder and grinned. “That depends on that you have in mind.”

“You mentioned this before in your scenario where you bang the book nerd up against a wall of law texts.”

Ben touched his forehead to hers. “From the front and from behind.”

“Then let’s scratch both those off your list.”

“You think you’ve got your land legs back?” he teased, and righted himself. She wasn’t so sure as she took his hands and got to her feet. Shaky, yes, but the promise of things to come gave her the mettle she needed.

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