She heard Sloan’s husky voice at the same moment that his heated palm cupped the back of her neck. She sensed him kneeling beside her chair, but she couldn’t bring herself to raise her head, because she knew her face would be an open book at the moment.
“Ziara,” he tried again. “Are you okay?”
No, she wanted to cry. Instead, she wiped the emotion from her face as she would tears, then sat up straight. She nodded shortly. “Yes. I’m just tired.”
Skirting around her, he propped himself on the edge of her desk. She tried hard not to notice the sculpted muscles of his thigh, revealed by the pull of his slacks.
That husky drawl came again. “Do you need to go home?”
Like the snap of a twig, the pressure broke her prized control. She tilted her head to the side in order to face him. “Why are you being so nice to me?”
He choked on a laugh, those electric eyes widening. “Am I not supposed to be?”
“No. I mean, after...” She shook her head. “I’m not handling this very well.”
“Me, either,” he said, his voice deepening as he slid off the desk, then lifted her to stand before him. Using her arms to draw her against his chest, he bent to take her lips in a kiss that made no mistake as to his needs.
To Ziara’s shame, she couldn’t pull away, even knowing they were at the office. Her lips opened with a groan and her mind shut down. On a purely physical level, she met him pant for pant, kiss for kiss, lick for lick. Sloan’s hands tightened to the point of pain on her arms, but it was one more sensation in the flood. Her control completely evaporating, she allowed him to lead her wherever he wanted to go.
Suddenly he pulled away, staring down at her, leaving her dazed and panting. “Not one word. Just go in my office.”
Confused, Ziara thought he was speaking to her until she caught a glimpse of Patrick sweeping past. Her eyes snapped shut, her head dropping forward in shame. How could she have let this happen? Here of all places.
With a nudge of his fingers under her chin, Sloan raised her face. Opening her eyes, she noted his expression numbly at first, then with growing awe.
Instead of the crazed lust or judgment she’d expected, his eyes sparked with honest desire and a touch of tenderness. A reverence she’d never expected to receive from a man warmed the icy blue of his eyes. The look sent her own need into hyperdrive.
“I guess we’ll have to put this discussion on hold,” he said, tracing her moist lips with his thumb. His eyes narrowed in resolve. “But we will talk, Ziara, because neither of us is going to be able to ignore what’s happening here.”
Turning, he entered his office and shut the door behind him, leaving her to wilt into her chair. She should be worrying about Patrick—what he’d seen, what he assumed. She should be worrying about Vivian and her own future. Instead, she trembled inside, thinking only of Sloan’s parting words.
* * *
Sloan and Patrick remained in conference so long that Ziara took the opportunity to slip out and head home. She desperately needed some time to herself, time to sort through her feelings.
As she concentrated on assembling lasagna for dinner, hoping the tedious layering would help her focus, she acknowledged that she’d had other reasons for calling a halt to things in Las Vegas. Reasons much deeper than Sloan being her boss.
Because, deep down, the thing she feared most was what might come the morning after. She didn’t know how to do more, or whether he would want to do more...or if he would even care about the consequences. But every time he looked at her with that mixture of passion and admiration, she came a foot closer to crossing that inevitable line. She forced her mind to give it a rest as she focused on the task at hand. Sauce, noodles, sauce, ricotta cheese, mozzarella, then noodles again. Swaying slightly to the sultry jazz music playing through the house’s sound system, she savored the feel of the cool tile beneath her bare feet. Breathing deep, she pulled in the smell of tomatoes and oregano enriching the air around her, blending with the darkness creeping down outside to cool the summer heat.
She’d just grated a small block of Parmesan onto the top and put the pan in the oven when the doorbell rang. An uncharacteristic expletive slipped out as she wiped her hands. The sound of her own doorbell now filled her with dread.
She barely got the lock turned when the door burst open. Sloan stalked through, slamming it shut behind him. Holding her gaze, he slipped the lock back into place, then strode across the small foyer to where she’d backed up against the love seat.
Without a word, his hands anchored in her hair, dragging her mouth to his. She had a brief moment to wonder about his obsession with her hair before surrendering to the dark current of desire.