Part 2: Control
She raises her brows, looks down her nose at me. “Pretty sure.” But her voice shakes, just a little.
It’s the sign I’ve been waiting for. I lean closer, until I’m in her space. Not enough to really crowd her, but more than enough that she knows I’m her. “I don’t think you are.”
“Oh, yeah?” An obviously faked yawn this time. “What makes you say that?”
“I can see your pulse right here.” I reach over, runs my fingers lightly over the hollow of her throat. Her skin feels like silk and suddenly I’m dying to know if she feels like that all over. “It’s beating fast. That’s a big sign that someone isn’t telling the truth.”
“Don’t get too excited. I’m just nervous.” But she leans into me, her upper body arching into my hand.
I trace a soothing circle on her collar bone. “Do I make you nervous, Chloe?”
“You’re my boss. Of course talking to you makes me nervous.”
My jaw clenches at her obvious attempt to derail this thing growing between us. “Why do you always have to do that?”
“Do what?” She shifts a little but doesn’t move away. She doesn’t move closer, either. Instead, she stays where she is, legs primly crossed and eyes blazing with a heat that scorches me to the bone.
“Why do you have to bring everything back to the fact that I’m your employer?”
“Because you are. The power dynamics at work here are a pretty big issue whether you want to admit it or not.”
The words—and the sentiment behind them—freak me out enough that I drop my hand, sit back. Crowding her when I know she’s interested is one thing. Messing with her if she feels like she can’t say no is another thing entirely. Just the thought that I might be making her uncomfortable in a harassment sort of way makes me sick to my stomach.
“Have I misunderstood?” I ask when I can speak through the horror. “Am I overstepping my boundaries?”
“Well, duh. I thought I made that clear earlier.”
“I’m sorry. I thought I made it clear earlier that your internship is completely safe. No matter what happens or doesn’t happen between us, you’ll never have anything to worry about on that front.” I start to stand up, to back off as completely as I can. The last thing I want to do is make her feel like she can’t say no.
But she reaches out, rests a hand on my knee. It’s the first time she’s touched me voluntarily and it feels good. Probably better than it should considering our current conversation. But then she says, “Jesus, Ethan, I didn’t say I thought you were sexually harassing me. I said that you’d overstepped your bounds when you went to my boss and gave me the best assignment. I don’t need your favors. Especially when they end up causing me nothing but grief.”
The obvious annoyance in her voice relaxes me as nothing else can. She’s not afraid of me and that’s all that matters. Still, I want her to understand the truth, to know that she has nothing to worry about on that front from me. And I also want her to know that I value her work very much, and will no matter what happens between us.
“You’re wrong about why you got that assignment, you know.”
“Oh, really? So you’re saying I got it on my merits?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.” I meet her disbelieving gaze levelly. “I told you, I read your file last night. I was incredibly impressed, not just with your grades but with the paper you submitted with your application. On intellectual property.”
“I know the one.”
“I was fascinated,” I tell her truthfully. “The argument you made was original, well researched, and well thought out, and also happens to be exactly what I believe about those cases and that particular issue.”
She looks like she wants to believe me, but just can’t. “It’s not a popular stand. In fact, I nearly didn’t submit that paper at all because I was afraid it would work against me.”
“But you did submit it. And while your opinion varies even from that of my chief counsel, it dovetails nicely with my own. If I hadn’t met you, I might not have given you the Trifecta merger based solely on the merits of that paper, but I would have seriously considered it. Having met you and been impressed by both your intellect and your spirit, it was a no-brainer. I’d decided to request that you do the research for the merger even before I saw you this morning.”
She studies me, and I’m pretty sure she’s trying to decide if she can believe me. I try to look as trustworthy as possible—not because I’m trying to fool her, but because I’m being honest. And because want her to have faith in herself, to realize just how smart and strong she really is. It takes guts to turn in a paper like that when she’s trying to get an internship. Hell, it takes guts to write it in the first place and I am very impressed. Would be even if I hadn’t spent last night staring at the ceiling and imagining what it would feel like to have her legs wrapped around me while I plunge inside of her.
“Do you mean it?” she asks, after thinking over my words. “You think I’m good enough to do this project?”
“My company wouldn’t be as successful as it is if I was in the habit of putting incompetent people into positions that matter, Chloe. I don’t know how many other ways to say it.” I look her straight in the eye as I answer her questions.
She smiles and it’s radiant. Gorgeous. “Thank you for giving me the shot.”
“You look like you swallowed the sun.”
“I feel like I did. I promise I’ll do a good job on the project.”
“I have no doubt.” I get serious again as I remember her earlier words. “But what’s going on over there? You said you’re having problems with the other interns?”
“It’s no big deal. I can handle it.”
The thought that people are messing with her—even though I know she can handle it—pisses me off. “What exactly do you have to handle?”
“Nothing you need to worry about.”
“You sure about that?” I push, because I want to know. And because I want her to trust me.
“Positive.” I push to my feet. “Thank you for your time. I won’t keep you.”
I reach out, snag her elbow. “What if I want to keep you?”