After two failed attempts to get together for a drink-though they were planning to have sex, they never changed the wording from Zoe's original invitation-they agreed on some ground rules.
Phones off, batteries out. She would take care of the hotel room, he would have to approve it. No explanation needed for last-minute cancellation due to work.
He would supply drinks. Plum brandy-the irony isn't lost on him. A reminder to himself that everyone has hidden motivations.
"Do I need to get these notarized?" he asks her.
She quirks an eyebrow in his direction before allowing herself a small smile.
She once told him that there wasn't a woman alive who could fix him. What she didn't say was that she prefers him this way.
The appeal isn't about attraction. Both use appearances in their arsenal of weapons; at a casual glance from powerful men, Zoe is dangerous sexuality, a carefully cultivated image of visible allure deflecting attention from her control and knowledge.
What they also share is a desire to stay unattached. They won't put their emotions at risk. Security is paramount.
He's safe, and a respite from the masks she wears. As she is for him.
He learned this from before: luxury is a trap. Too many men in power whose corruption was draped in jewel-toned cloths. But after years of wearing the Company's suits for mere functionality, he hasn't yet lost the thrill at lightweight wool in his hands, the slight catch against his fingers of starched Egyptian weave. He's learning to appreciate the privileges that this job permits.
He tells himself that he's not attached and takes a perverse enjoyment when the fine cotton shirts get sliced, bloodied, torn.
Zoe has the same cachet: an expensive indulgence. She's becoming a guilty pleasure.
"Don't move," she tells him, eyes gleaming in the half-light. She checks the knots.
"For how long?"
"Until I say." She's sitting across his hips, carfully leaning over him, close but not touching.
He stares at her cheeks and lips, thinking about tracing the plane from cheekbone to mouth. She leans forward and kisses him but pulls back after just barely brushing his lips.
"You like to watch, don't you," she says. It's not a question. So he watches her as she sits up straighter, unzips her dress in the back and slowly pulls the straps down.
If she had lived, if he had stayed with her, Jessica's John would have had no appeal for Zoe Morgan.
The man he might have become would have seen a siren in high heels and a short dress: unattainable, a fantasy, a nightmare. That John might only glimpse this truth: being with her would mean losing everything Jessica's John would have prized the most.
Jessica's John might have sensed the danger, but wouldn't know how deep and true it ran.
He appreciates the irony that he doesn't have nightmares the one time he ends up actually sleeping next to her.