Hi you all! I'm back so soon! First of all, to the beautiful people who reviewed- I love you! To everyone who read, liked and favourited- I love you as well!
At 8 reviews, 6 followers, 3 favourites and 351 views, I am a lot more confident and unafraid now. I'm taking risks and hoping you will guide me...
This is the maximum I have diverted from the story so far and it will only go further away. If you don't like it, please tell me. I'm hoping you will enjoy this a lot!


Cross looks into my eyes, stormy grey and so intense I could just stare into them forever. "Zoe, please. I need you."

I could hear it in his voice too. He was seriously turned on and ready to go but I was not ready to be fucked by my Boss's boss in his office. "Please don't make this any more difficult than it already is."

He leans in again, for another kiss maybe. I think he assumes that if he gets me turned on, I'll go ahead with this. He couldn't be more wrong. The more turned on I am, the more I realize how wrong this is and the more I need him away from me. Thus, knowing he is off-guard, I use both my hands, place the palms flat on his chest and push with all my strength. I think I pushed too hard and imagine him falling flat and hurting himself which was scary but he is so strong, he only stumbles back a few paces which was a relief.

Just then I hear a voice in his office, so close that for a second I think there's someone else in the room.

"Sir, your two o'clock appointment is here."

He stands behind the sofa, flushed and scowling, his chest heaving. His tie is loosened and the fly of his slacks strained against a very impressive erection.

Jeez, keep it in your pants buddy.

However, if that's what he looks like, I may not be much better off.

"Christ." He shoves both hands through his hair. "It's the middle of the fucking day. In my goddamn fucking office!"

Damn straight. Now you realize that?

I straighten my appearance and untie my hair since the ponytail is just a mess now.

Cross retrieves his coat, shrugging into it before adjusting his tie. He moves back towards the door just as I crouch to retrieve my purse and he lowers with me.

He catches my chin, forcing me to look at him. "Hey," he says softly. "You okay?"

My throat burns from embarrassment and anger at myself about what I had just let happen. I am aroused and mad and thoroughly self-conscious. I've never in my life lost my mind like that. And I hate that I'd done so with him, a man whose approach to sexual intimacy is so clinical it depresses me just thinking about it.

I jerk my chin away. "I'll be a lot better when I get out of here."

"Zoe, I want you so badly it hurts. I'm dangerously close to taking you to the couch and making you come 'til you beg me to stop."

Time to use the last weapon in my arsenal. "I'm sure the room is soundproof and all but if you try to touch me again, I'm screaming and banging the door till I get attention. I'm highly uncomfortable and in a very unappealing situation right now. I hope you get that and just open this goddamned door." I say, in a little more than a whisper looking directly into his eyes. He needed to think that I would go through with it, even if I wasn't sure about it myself. Clutching the strap of my purse, I stand on shaky legs.

Cross stands with me. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean for it to happen like this either. We got off on the wrong foot. Give me another chance. I'll be done by five. I'll come get you then."

"No, you won't. Thank you for apologising but what's done is done."

"All I need is another go. And I will take it even if you don't give it to me."

"I would say I'd like to see you try but I would be lying. I lost my head for a second there, but it was just a good-bye kiss. I still don't want what you want."

His fingers curl around the door handle. "Yes, you do. You just don't want it the way I want to give it to you. So, we'll revisit and revise."

It seemed useless arguing with him. I'll just have to completely ignore him and go my way.

I set my hand over his and yank on the handle, ducking under his arm to squeeze out of the door. His secretary shoves quickly to his feet, gaping, as do the woman and two men who are waiting for Cross. I hear him speak behind me.

"Scott will show you into my office. I'll be just a moment."

He catches me by reception, his arm crossing my lower back to grip my hip. Not wanting to make a scene, I wait until we are by the elevators to pull away.

He stands calmly and hits the call button. "Five o'clock, Zoe."

I stare at the lighted button. "No."

"Yes. If you're busy today, then tomorrow"

"I'm busy all weekend."

Stepping in front of me, he asks tightly, "With whom?"

"That's none of your -"

His hand covers my mouth. "Don't. Tell me when, then. And before you say never, take a good look at me and tell me if you see a man who's easily deterred."

His face is hard, his gaze narrowed and determined. I shiver. But I am stubborn and now, pissed as heck.

Swallowing, I wait until he lowers his hand and say exactly what he needed to hear.

"I would suggest you do the same, Mr. Cross. When I make my decision, I make it. No one, no matter how rich, good-looking or persistent can change my mind. And I also suggest you understand that I'm not a prize you can win. In case you hadn't noticed, I have a mind along with the body you're so desperate to get into. And when my mind looks at you, it screams and tells me to run into the opposite direction. So despite your warning, I think my answer will be never."

The elevator arrives and I step into it. I get in without looking at him but I hear his voice as clear as possible just before the doors close. "We're going to happen, Zoe."

It sounded as much like a threat as a promise.


"Don't sweat it, Zoe," Mark says, when I arrive at my desk nearly a quarter after two. "You didn't miss anything. I had a late lunch with Mr. Leaman. I just barely got back myself."

"Thank you and sorry." No matter what he says, I still feel terrible. Where did my kick-ass Friday morning go?

We work steadily until five, discussing a fast-food client and contemplating some possible tweaks to ad copy for a chain of organic grocery stores.

"Talk about strange bedfellows," Mark teases, I laugh at how close it is to my current personal situation.

I shut down my computer and am pulling my purse out of the drawer when my phone rings. I glance at the clock, see it is exactly five, and consider ignoring the call because I am technically done for the day.

But since I still feel shitty about my overly-long lunch, I consider it penance and answer. "Mark Garrity's -"

"Zoe honey. Richard says you forgot your cell phone at his office."

I exhale in a rush and sag back into my chair. I can picture the handkerchief wringing that usually accompanies that particular anxious tone of my mother's. It drives me nuts and it also breaks my heart. "Hi, Mom. How are you?"

"Oh, I'm lovely. Thank you." My mom has a voice that is both girlish and breathy, like Marilyn Monroe crossed with Scarlett Johansson. "Clancy dropped your phone off with the concierge at your place. You really shouldn't go anywhere without it. You never know when you might need to call for someone -"

"I'm good too Mom, thanks for asking. Also, what does Dr. Petersen say about you tracing my phone?"

The silence on the other end of the line is telling. "Dr. Petersen knows I worry about you."

Pinching the bridge of my nose, I say, "We need to talk, Mom. Properly and calmly. And maybe have another joint appointment with Dr. Petersen."

"Oh...of course. He did mention that he'd like to see you again. And we are meeting tomorrow, dear."

"I know, but not like that. A proper long conversation not through Richard or Dr. Petersen. Maybe the day after? It doesn't matter when. I need to talk to you."

"Okay. We'll work something out. How is your new job, honey?"

She sounds a lot more relaxed now. I think it is because I'm not as angry as she expected me to be. Which I am not. She needs to learn like a toddler what is okay and what is not okay and I need to be patient with her because I owe her that. "I really really like it."

"That's wonderful, Zoe! Is your boss treating you well?"

"Yes, he's great. I couldn't ask for anyone better."

"Is he handsome?"

I smile. "Yes, very. And he's taken."

"Damn it. The good ones always are." She laughs and my smile widens.

I love it when she is happy and love it even more when it is because of me. She has suffered enough on my account. "I can't wait to see you tomorrow at the advocacy dinner."

Monica Tramell Barker Mitchell Stanton is in her element at society functions, a gilded shining beauty who'd never lacked male attention in her life.

"Let's make a day of it," my mom says breathlessly. "You, me, and Cary. We'll go to the spa, get pretty and polished. I'm sure you could use a massage after working so hard."

"I won't turn one down, that's for sure. And I know Cary will love it."

"Oh, I'm excited! I'll send a car by your place around eleven?"

"We'll be ready."

After I hang up, I lean back in my chair and exhale, needing a hot bath and wishing the massage could happen today.

As I swap out my heels for my walking shoes, my phone rings again. My mother is rarely distracted for long. The five minutes since we'd ended our call was just about the right length of time for her to realize the cell phone issue hadn't been resolved. Once again, I debate ignoring the phone, but I don't want to take any of the day's crap back home with me.

I answer with my usual greeting, but it lacks its usual punch.

"I'm still thinking about you."

God dammit this man! I am getting a headache which doesn't completely justify me banging the receiver of the phone against my head. But I do. Frustration does that to you.

"Mr. Cross. How can I help you?"

"I can still feel you, Zoe. Still taste you. I've been hard since you left, through two meetings and one teleconference. You've got the advantage, state your demands."

"Ah," I murmur. "Lemme think."

I let him wait, smiling as I remember Cary's comment about blue balls. "Hmm...Nothing is coming to mind. But I do have some friendly advice. Go to the Church this Sunday, maybe? Or find a woman who would do anything to get under you. I'm sure there are plenty standing offers. Release your pent up sexual energy with her and when you come back on Monday, you will be over me! I don't know about you, but that would help me a lot."

The creak of leather sounds over the phone and I imagine him leaning back in his desk chair. "That was your one free pass, Zoe. The next time you insult my intelligence, I'll take you over my knee."

"I don't like that kind of thing, actually. And we can avoid it completely by not having a conversation ever again."

"We'll discuss. In the interim, tell me what you do like."

I stand. "You definitely have the voice for phone sex, but you're not using it on the correct person. I have a date with two very hot brothers."

Not completely untrue. I needed a Supernatural marathon to get over this mind-fudgery.

I should've hung up then, to gain the full effect of the brush-off, but I couldn't resist knowing if he is as ticked as I had imagine he is. Plus, not being with him gave me a lot more courage.

"Oh, Zoe." Cross says my name in a decadent purr. "If only you give me a chance, you'll know I'm worth much more than two hot men."

I ignore the statement as I sling my bag and purse over my shoulder, grateful he couldn't see how my hand shook. "I don't think so. Because you would have to be brave and selfless and romantic and kind to be even compared to them. So far, I haven't seen any of these in you. So bad luck, sex isn't what always wins bets. Good night, Mr. Cross. Have a great weekend."

I hang up and take the stairs, deciding the twenty-floor descent should serve as an avoidance technique because I wouldn't put it past him to be waiting in the lift for me again.


I am so grateful to be home after the day I've had that I practically dance through my apartment's front door. My heartfelt "God, it's good to be home!" and accompanying spin is passionate enough to startle the couple on the couch.

"Oh," I say, wincing at my own silliness. Cary isn't in a compromising position with his guest when I barge in, but they were sitting close enough to suggest intimacy.

"Hey, baby girl," Cary calls out, pushing to his feet. "I was hoping you'd make it back before Trey had to leave."

"I have class in an hour," Trey explains, rounding the coffee table as I drop my bag on the floor and put my purse on a barstool at the breakfast bar. "But I'm glad I got to meet you before I left."

"Me, too." I shake the hand he extends to me, taking him in with a quick glance. He is about my age, I guess. Average height and nicely muscular. He has unruly blond hair, soft hazel eyes, and a nose that has clearly been broken at some point.

"Mind if I get something to drink?" I asked. "It's been a long day."

"Go for it," Trey replies.

"I'll take some wine." Cary joins us by the breakfast bar. He is wearing loose-fitting black jeans and an off-the-shoulder black sweater. The look is casual and elegant, and does a phenomenal job of offsetting his dark brown hair and emerald eyes.

I go to fridge and pull out a random bottle of wine for Cary and juice for me.

Trey shoves his hands in the pockets of his jeans and rocks back on his heels, talking quietly with Cary as I uncork and pour.

The phone rings and I grab the handset off the wall. "Hello?"

"Hey, Zoe? It's Brian."

"Brian, hi." I lean my hip into the counter. "How are you?"

"I hope you don't mind my calling. Your stepdad gave me your number."

Gah. I've had enough of Stanton for one day. "Not at all. What's up?"

"Honestly? Everything's looking up right now. Your stepdad is like my fairy godfather. He's funding a few safety improvements to the studio and setting up a whole mini-library here. That's why I'm calling. The studio's going to be out of commission for the rest of the week. The meet-ups will resume next Monday."

I close my eyes, struggling to tamp down a flare of exasperation. It isn't Brian's fault that Stanton and my mom were overprotective control freaks. Also, he sounds so happy and excited, I may need to let this one pass. I am seriously debating having some wine myself but decide to avoid it. "Sounds good. I can't wait. I'm really excited to get back. Last time was so much fun."

"I'm excited, too. I'm going to make sure you attend every meeting, Zoe. Your parents are going to get their money's worth."

I set a filled glass in front of Cary and take a big gulp out of my own. It never ceases to amaze me how much cooperation money could buy. But again, that wasn't Brian's fault. "No complaints here."

"We'll schedule one first thing next week."

"Great. See you then." I hang up and catch the glance Trey shoots Cary when he thinks neither of us is looking. It is soft and filled with a sweet yearning, and it reminds me that my problems could wait. "I'm sorry I caught you on the way out, Trey. Do you have time for pizza Wednesday night? I'd love to do more than say hi and bye."

"I have class." He gives me a regretful smile and shoots another side-glance at Cary. "But I could come by on Tuesday."

"That'd be great." I smile. "We could order in and have a movie night."

"I'd like that."

I am rewarded with the kiss Cary blows me as he heads to the door to show Trey out. When he returns to the kitchen he grabs his wine and says, "All right. Spill it, Zoe. You looked stressed."

"I am," I agree, grabbing the bottles and moving into the living room.

"It's Gideon Cross, isn't it?"

"Oh, yeah. But I don't want to talk about him." Although Gideon's pursuit is exhilarating, his goal sucked. "Let's talk about you and Trey instead. How did you two meet?"

"I ran across him on a job. He's working part time as a photographer's assistant. Sexy, isn't he?" His eyes are bright and happy. "And a real gentleman. In an old-school way."

"Who knew there were any of those left?" I mutter before polishing off my first glass.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing. I'm sorry, Cary. He seemed great, and he obviously digs you. Is he studying photography?"

"Veterinary medicine."

"Wow. That's awesome."

"I think so, too. But forget about Trey for a minute. Talk about what's bugging you. Get it out."

I sigh. "My mom. She found out about my interest in Brian's club and now she's freaking out."

"What? How'd she find out? I swear I haven't told anyone."

"I know you didn't. Never even crossed my mind." Grabbing the bottle off the table, I refill my glass. "Get this. She's been tracking my cell phone."

Cary's brows rise. "Seriously? That's...creepy."

"I know, right? That's what I told Stanton, but he doesn't want to hear it."

"Well, hell." He runs a hand through his long bangs. "So what do you do?"

"Get a new phone. And talk to her. And meet with Dr. Petersen to see if he can talk some sense into her."

"Good move. Turn it over to her shrink. So...is everything okay with your job? Do you still love it?"

"Totally." My head falls back into the sofa cushions and my eyes close. "My work and you are my lifesavers right now."

"What about the young hottie bazillionaire who wants to nail you? Come on, Zoe. You know I'm dying here. What happened?"

I tell him, of course. I want his take on it all. But when I finish, he is quiet. I lift my head to look at him, and find him bright-eyed and biting his lip.

"Cary? What are you thinking?"

"I'm feeling kind of hot from that story." He laughs and the warm, richly masculine sound sweeps a lot of my irritation away. I throw a cushion at him which he catches easily and puts aside. "Sorry but he's got to be so confused right now. I would've paid money to see his face when you hit him with that bit he wanted to spank you over."

"I can't believe he said that. What the hell is he into?"

"Spanking's not deviant." He falls into the couch, a brilliant smile lighting up his handsome face. "You're a huge challenge to a guy who obviously thrives on them. And he's willing to make concessions to have you, which I'd bet he's not used to. Just tell him what you want."

What do I want? "I don't exactly know what I want but whatever it is, I'm just not that into him. The way he treated me, so business-like, I can't get over that."

"Come one, Zoe. It's not like you have never had a one night stand."

"I have, I know. But even that was a lot more respectable than this. Frankly, I just don't have the time to accommodate a relationship right now. Of any kind. What with the new city, new job and my Mom giving me grief."

"First, he does not want a relationship either. A little physical release might even be good for you. Second, don't give me the 'I-don't-have-the-time' thing. Any kind of relationship needs work. No one has an hour marked out in their calendar for talking to their boyfriend or girlfriend. You need to accommodate it. Also, despite all the things you just mentioned, you did join the book club."

"Yes that's coz I love reading."

"Precisely my point. You did it coz you wanted to. Do you want this or not? Apart from this lame excuse is there anything else holding you back?"

"Well, there's the obvious. His brusque approach turns me off too."

"You can't blame him for that either, really. He was being straightforward about what he wants."

When he said it like that, I was thankful to Cross for being honest. He could've played me, faked wanting a relationship and used me. Instead, he was truthful from the very beginning.

"I guess it's good that he was honest but how? And why can't he respect my opinion and just move on? I still don't want this."

"Again, why?"

Why? Why indeed…

'Because it's too much effort." I finally admit. "Because he is a celebrity. You know how hard it was for me to adjust when mom married Richard. And that was only coz I was his wife's daughter. Imagine how stressful it will be if people find out Cross and I are together. I'm not good at handling this. It's not even about being good at it. I just don't like to be the centre of attention."

"You're overthinking this, as you always do. If that happens, you will manage it. And that's a big ass if. Mostly, go in for the sex, baby girl. God knows you need it."

"I'm going to ignore that jibe and present you with two scenarios. A- We have sex, like he wants to. I don't think I'll be okay with that. Quickies between work, nights at either of our place. Nothing I couldn't do without. B- We do want more! What if he feels like he wants to date? Or worse. What if I want to date? A powerful man like him will want to himself what's his and yet he has made clear he doesn't want a relationship. Ughh… It's just too much."

"All right, all right. I get it." He sets his glass down on the table. "Let's go out. Hit a bar. Dance 'til we drop. Maybe meet some guys who'll talk you up some."

"I was gonna watch some TV and turn in, actually."

"No, that's not happening. Clubbing and dancing is when you truly let go. I know it, I've seen it. You need to loosen up about this."

I shake my head and stand. "Fine. Let me take a shower and we'll go."


I throw myself into clubbing like it is going out of style. Cary and I bounce all over downtown clubs from Tribeca to the East Village, wasting stupid money on cover charges and having a fabulous time. I dance until my feet feel like they are going to fall off, but I tough it out until Cary complains about his heeled boots first.

We stumble out of a techno-pop club with a plan to buy me flip-flops at a nearby Walgreens when we run across a hawker promoting a lounge a few blocks away.

"Great place to get off your feet for a while," he says, without the usual flashy smile or exaggerated hype most of the hawkers employ. His clothes - black jeans and turtleneck - are more upscale, which intrigues me. And he doesn't have fliers or postcards. What he hands me is a business card made from papyrus paper and printed with a gilded font that catches the light of the electric signage around us. I make a mental note to hang on to it as a great piece of print advertising.

A stream of quickly moving pedestrians flow around us. Cary squints down at the lettering, having quite a few drinks in him. "Looks swank."

"Show them that card," the hawker urges. "You'll skip the cover."

"Sweet." Cary links arms with me and drags me along. "Let's go. You might find a quality guy in a swanky joint."

My feet are seriously killing me by the time we find the place, but I quit bitching when I see the charming entrance. The line to get in is long, extending down the street and around the corner. Amy Winehouse's soulful voice drifts out of the open door, as do well-dressed customers who exit with big smiles.

True to the hawker's word, the business card is like a magic spell that grants us immediate and free entrance. A gorgeous hostess leads us upstairs to a quieter VIP bar that overlooks the stage and dance floor below. We are shown to a small seating area by the balcony and settle at a table hugged by two half-moon velvet sofas. She props a beverage menu in the center and says, "Your drinks are on the house. Enjoy your evening."

"Wow." Cary whistles. "We scored."

"I think that hawker recognized you from an ad."

"Wouldn't that rock?" He grins. "God, it's a great night. Hanging out with my best girl and crushing on a new hunk in my life."

"Oh?"

"I think I've decided to see where things go with Trey."

That made me so happy. It feels like I've been waiting forever for him to find someone who treats him right. "Has he asked you out yet?"

"No, but I don't think it's because he doesn't want to." He shrugs and smoothens his artfully ripped T-shirt. Paired with black leather pants and spiked wristlets, he looks sexy and wild. "I just think he's trying to figure out the situation with you first. He wigged when I told him I lived with a woman and that I'd moved across the country to be with you. He's worried I might be bi-curious and secretly hung up on you. That's why I wanted you two to meet today, so he could see how you and I are together."

"I'm sorry, Cary. I'll try to put him at ease about it."

"It's not your fault. Don't worry about it. It'll work out if it's supposed to."

His assurances don't make me feel better. I start thinking of ways I can help.

Two guys stop by our table. "Okay if we join you?" the taller one asks.

I glance at Cary, and then back at the guys. They look like brothers and they are very attractive. Both are smiling and confident, their stances loose and easy.

I am about to say, Sure, when a warm hand settles on my bare shoulder and squeezes firmly. "This one's taken."

Across from me, Cary gapes as Gideon Cross rounds the sofa and extends his hand to him. "Taylor. Gideon Cross."

"Cary Taylor." He shakes Gideon's hand with a wide smile. "But you knew that. Nice to meet you. I've heard a lot about you."

He's a dead man.

"Good to know." Gideon settles on the seat beside me, his arm draped behind me so that his fingertips could brush casually and possessively up and down my arm. "Maybe there's hope for me yet."

Twisting at the waist, I face him and whisper fiercely, "What do you think you are doing?"

He shoots me a hard glance. "Whatever it takes."

"I'm going to dance." Cary stands with a mischievous grin. "Be back in a bit."

Ignoring my pleading glance, my best friend blows me a kiss and the guys follow him. I watch them all go, my heart racing. After another minute, ignoring Gideon becomes ridiculous, as well as impossible.

My gaze slides over him. He is wearing dress slacks in graphite gray and a black V-neck sweater, the overall effect being one of careless sophistication. It's a good look on him, giving him a softer feel but I know it was only an illusion. He is a hard man in a lot of ways.

I take a deep breath, feeling like I needed to make an effort to socialize with him. After all, isn't that my big complaint? That he wanted to skip past the getting-to-know-you stage and jump straight into bed?

"You look..." I pause. Fantastic. Wonderful. Amazing. So damn sexy...In the end, I go with the lame, "You look good."

His brow arches. "Ah, at last there is something you find good about me."

The edge to his tone rubs me the wrong way. "As if you didn't know that, right?"

"I do actually. But it felt a lot better to hear it from you."

My hands flex restlessly in my lap. "Well, glad you liked something I said."

"I always like what you say. You never cease to surprise me." He stares at me a minute, and then nods. "How was your date with the hot brothers?"

Oh hell. I look away. It is a lot easier teasing over the phone. Doing it while squirming under that piercing blue stare is mortifying. "It does not mean what you think it means."

He brushes the backs of his fingers over my cheek and murmurs, "Really? So what does it mean?"

I hear the amusement in his voice and swiftly change topics. "Do you come here often?"

What even? Where did that clichéd line come from?

His hand drops to my lap and catches one of mine, his fingers curling into my palm. "When necessary."

"Ah. So when you are on the prowl?"

His mouth curves into a genuine smile that hits me hard. "When expensive decisions need to be made. I own this club, Zoe."

Of course he does. Jeez.

A pretty waitress sets two pinkish-coloured iced drinks in square tumblers on the table. She looks at Gideon and gives him a flirtatious smile. "Here you go, Mr. Cross. Two Virgin Flamingo Cocktails. Can I get you anything else?"

"That'll be all for now. Thanks."

I could totally see that she wanted to get under him, then I was distracted by what we'd been served. It is my beverage of choice when clubbing and what I've been drinking all night. My nerves tingle. I watch him take a drink, and stare at him, thinking about how to put the question.

"Not bad," he murmured. "Tell me if we made it right."

He moves in towards me for a kiss, but I see it coming and turn away.

My gaze falls to my drink on the table, my thoughts swirl around in my head, a clusterfuck of impressions and recollections and confusion. "How did you know?"

"Know what?" he asks.

"What I like to drink? What Cary's name is?"

He inhales deeply, and sets his drink down. He shifts on the sofa and draws a knee up onto the cushion between us so that he faces me directly. "You visited another of my clubs earlier. Your credit card popped and your drinks were recorded. And Cary Taylor is listed on the rental agreement for your apartment."

The room spins. No way...My cell phone. My credit card. My effing apartment. I couldn't breathe. Between my mother and him, I feel claustrophobic.

"Zoe. Jesus. You're white as a ghost." He shoves a glass into my hand. "Drink."

It is my drink. My drink that he knew about. My favourite drink that he found out about by stalking me. I pound it, draining the tumbler. My stomach churns for a moment at the sudden flood, then settles. "You own the building I live in?" I ask.

"Oddly enough, yes." He moves to sit on the table, facing me, his legs on either side of mine. He takes my glass and sets it aside; then warms my chilled hands with his.

"Are you crazy?"

His mouth thins. "Is that a serious question?"

"Yes. Yes, it is. My mom stalks me, too, and she sees a shrink. Do you have a shrink?"

"Not presently, but you're driving me crazy enough to make that a possibility."

"No, don't make this about me right now. Is this behaviour normal for you?" My heart is pounding. I can hear the blood rushing past my eardrums.

He shoves a hand through his hair. I notice he does this whenever posed with a situation which requires some explanation. "I didn't do anything wrong. I only accessed information you voluntarily made available to me."

"No! Not to you! Not for what you used it for! Why do humans even interact anymore then? Why not just search for everything available on the vast internet?" I stare at him, more confused than ever. "Why would you do that?"

He has the grace to look disgruntled at least. "So I can figure you out, damn it."

"Why don't you just ask me? Is that so effing hard for people to do nowadays?"

"It is with you." He grabs his drink off the table and tosses back most of it. "I can't get you alone for more than a few minutes at a time."

"Because the only thing you want to talk about is what you have to do to get laid!"

"Christ, Zoe," he hisses, squeezing my hand. "Keep your voice down!"

I study him, taking in every line and plane of his face. He said once that I was mystery to him. Well on a scale of mysteries, if I was a plain old UFO sighting, then he was the Loch Ness monster.

His gaze darts over my face. "Why are you looking at me like that?"

"I'm thinking."

"About what?" His jaw tightens. "And I'm warning you, if you say anything about churches, three-ways or releasing sexual energy, I won't be held accountable for my actions."

That almost makes me smile. "I want to understand a few things, because I think it's possible I'm not giving you enough credit."

"I'd like to understand a few things myself," he mutters.

"I'm guessing the 'I want you under me' approach has a high success rate for you."

His face smoothens into unreadable impassivity. "I'm not touching that one, Zoe."

"Okay. You want to figure out what it's going to take to get me into bed. Is that why you're here in this club right now? Because of me? And don't say what you think I want to hear."

His gaze is clear and steady. "I'm here for you, yes. I arranged it."

Suddenly the threads the street hawker was wearing made sense. We'd been hustled by someone on Cross Industries' payroll. "Did you figure that getting me here would get you laid?"

His mouth twitches with suppressed amusement. "There's always the hope, but I expected it would take more work than a chance meeting over drinks."

"You're right. So why do it?"

"Because you're out trolling. I can't do anything about whatever you meant by the hot brothers thing, but I can stop you from picking up some asshole in a bar. You want to score, Zoe, I'm right here."

"That should not concern you. I have flat out refused you multiple times. It is not my fault that you are unwilling to accept it."

"Because I know my approach was incorrect. As I said, I want to start over. Get another chance. Show you that I may be honest but not as crude as you think I am." He fingered one of my silver chandelier earrings. "I need you but I also want you to need me."

His voice has softened, and it stirs an alarming yearning. "Is that all you want? What if even after giving you a second chance I'm not interested?"

"Then I will accept it and leave you alone. At least give me a fighting chance."

I know that is a lot of the appeal for him. Gideon Cross wouldn't be where he is, at such a young age, if he took "no" without giving it his all. "What's your definition of dating?"

A frown marred the space between his brows. "Lengthy social time spent with a woman during which we're not actively fucking."

"Don't you enjoy the company of women?"

The frown turns into a scowl. "Sure, as long as there aren't any exaggerated expectations or excessive demands on my time. I've found the best way to steer clear of those is to have mutually exclusive sexual relationships and friendships."

There are those pesky "exaggerated expectations" again. Clearly, those are a sticking point with him. "So, you do have female friends?"

"Of course." His legs tighten around mine, capturing me. "Where are you going with this?"

"You segregate sex from the rest of your life. You separate it from friendship, work...everything."

"I've got good reasons for doing that."

"I'm sure you do. Okay, here are my thoughts." It is difficult concentrating when I am so close to him. "I told you I don't want to date and I don't. My job is priority number one and my personal life - as a single woman - is a close second. I don't want to sacrifice any of that time on a relationship and there's really not enough left over to squeeze in anything steady. Plus, I don't like being in the eye of people. Dating you would get me there."

"Alright. I get it."

"But I like sex."

"Good. Have it with me." His smile is an erotic invitation.

I shove his shoulder. "I need a personal connection with the men I sleep with. It doesn't have to be intense or deep, but sex needs to be more than an emotionless transaction for me."

"Why?"

I could tell he isn't being flippant. As bizarre as this conversation must be for him, he was taking it seriously. "Call it an essential. It pisses me off to feel used for sex. I feel devalued."

"Can't you look at it as you using me for sex?"

"I would know it in my heart that it isn't true." He is too forceful, too demanding.

A sizzling, predatory glimmer sparks in his eyes as I bare a weakness for him.

"Besides," I go on quickly, "that's semantics. I need an equal exchange in my sexual relationships. Or to have the upper hand."

"Okay."

"Okay? You said that really quickly considering I'm telling you I need to combine two things you work so hard to avoid putting together."

"I'm not comfortable with it and I don't claim to understand, but I'm hearing you - it's an issue. Tell me how to get around it."

My breath leaves me in a rush. I hadn't expected that. He is a man who wants no complications with his sex and I am a woman who finds sex complicated, but he wasn't giving up. Yet.

Now was the time to drop the hammer. "That's what is not possible. You see the situations I put up are juxtaposing against each other. I don't want a relationship right now. I also want to stay away from any sort of publicity as your new arm-candy. But, even in a purely sexual relationship, I need some sort of comfort level. We may need to spend at least some time together when we are not having sex. Which poses a paradox. I need to be in a semblance of a relationship but I don't want it. Are you getting my point?"

"It is very confusing but I am. What if we don't meet publicly? I am effluent enough to arrange that people are looking in the opposite direction from me. A situation like today for example."

"Isn't that too much work?"

"I don't mind it one bit."

"Okay fine. I wasn't giving you credit for making an effort but you did that today. You should've done it in a less creepy manner" – I hold up my hands in a surrender position when he tries to cut me off - "but I admit you did try to set up a time to talk and I wasn't helpful. However, stalking is a big no. You want to know where I am, what I am doing or what I like, ask me and I promise to tell you unless a life depended on it."

He leans in and kisses me but on the cheek. It is such a sweet gesture that I can't help but smile. "Also, for your sake, Gideon, know that there are no exaggerated expectations - when you and I spend time together not having sex, I won't think it's a date. All right?"

"That covers it." Gideon smiles and my decision to be with him solidifies for me. His smile is like lightning in the darkness, blinding and beautiful and mysterious. "I know this will work because now you want it too."

"And what makes you so sure?"

"You called me Gideon for the first time right now." He laughs as he looks at my thinking face.

"Wow. You're right. Aye, I need another drink."


There. Did you like it? Did you hate it? Did you feel it was okay? Whatever it is, tell me! I'm dying to hear from you...

Thanks for reading, I will always love you!