He answers with Try to use my imagination.
He’d accused me of being afraid of his imagination not so long ago. I’m not. Maybe you need to draw me another picture.
Yes, he types. Maybe I do.
I am grinning when the exchange ends and I begin thumbing through my prospect lists, contemplating lunch. Frustratingly, my mind goes back to Chris’s relationship with Mark. They were both control freaks. Both into the club activity. What if they had tried to share a woman and they’d clashed? This idea twists me in knots for all kinds of reasons, and I shove it aside. No. That isn’t what happened. That would mean Chris lied to me about his sexual preferences. Or would it? He told me what he favored. Had he ever said he’d never gone other directions? Chris didn’t lie to me, but is it possible that he didn’t exactly tell me the truth? I swallow hard. Who am I to judge where those lines are? I haven’t exactly been completely truthful with Chris and I don’t know if I can be. Not without destroying us.
• • •
My day is finally nearing an end just before seven and I’m about to gather my things to leave. “You ready to dart out of here?” Ralph asks from my doorway. “I’ll walk you and Amanda to your cars.”
As much as I don’t want to walk to my car, or rather Chris’s, alone, I don’t have the energy to answer the questions that would come when they discover I’m driving the 911. I regret driving it, for the complications it presents. And thankfully, the parking lot has cameras and Mark is still here. “I have to check in with Bossman on a couple of things so go on without me.”
Amanda appears in my doorway. “Tuesdays are supposed to be slow. That’s why we don’t have more staff scheduled, but today was insanity. What did you do to bring in so many customers? They were all asking for you.”
“Mark gave me a prospect list I called down. I guess the calls worked. Unfortunately, not one of them bought anything, but I have high hopes a few will be back.”
I chat with them for a few minutes until they finally depart. I’m beyond ready to leave myself. My cold Chinese food between clients has long ago worn off and no sleep the night before has taken a toll.
“What exactly do you have to run by me?”
I look up to find Mark standing in the doorway, his tie loose and his hair rumpled. He’d had a meeting with several people today that had lasted hours and he seems oddly harried. “The prospect list,” I reply. “I was hoping you could tell me which ones own pieces that Riptide might contact tomorrow.”
“I emailed you a list of those prospects earlier this afternoon.”
“Oh. Hmm. I guess I should check my e-mail. I was slammed with people today.”
“And yet we had no sales.”
My spine stiffens and I am instantly transported back to my past, when my father, and yes, Michael, were quick to flatten me when anything went wrong. Anger begins to stir inside me and not at Mark. I thought I’d put it behind me, but I clearly have not. Choose success, Mark had said, and yet he’s here trying to make me admit to failure that doesn’t exist? My anger shifts, twists, and turns inside me. No matter what the outcome, I cannot lie down for Mark as I have others in the past.
“You know,” I say, and I am proud of how strong my voice is, how steady my gaze, “if you’re trying to get me to ‘choose success,’ assuming my failure isn’t going to help. No sales today might be correct, but I have several customers I feel will buy, and buy well.”
His lips twitch. “Good to see you feeling confident enough to put me in my place.”
My eyes go wide. Had I really just put him in his place? And he let me, even seeming amused when I barely think he’s capable of such a feeling. Self-doubt rips through me and I try to reel it in, to remind myself he doesn’t seem upset, but I can’t do it. He’s my boss. He’s my path to financial security. I have to justify my reply. “I’m just . . . trying to make sure you know I don’t like failing, either.”
“And I approve.”
A frisson of pleasure runs through me with his words and the light in his eyes. Pleasing Mark pleases me and it’s not sexual. No. Chris has that part of me wrapped up tightly enough that there is no room for anyone else. It’s that power thing Mark has along with his role of authority. The pleasure of seconds before begins to ebb and fade at the uncomfortable reminder that even after daring to stand up to him, I did not stand my ground, and I am not in full control of how my past influences me.
“You look tired,” he says. “And so am I. Why don’t I walk you to your car?”
“I look tired,” I repeat. “Compliments will get you everywhere, Bossman.”
“Ah now,” he purrs, his voice low and rough, “if only it were that easy.”
I swallow hard at the heat in his stare and quickly reach for my purse and briefcase, and words, oh the words I can never control, tumble from my mouth. “Somehow I doubt anything easy would hold your interest.” Oh shit. Had I just issued him a challenge? I didn’t mean to. My eyes jerk to his. “Not that I—”
Laughter rolls from his lips, deep and rough like his voice. “Relax, Ms. McMillan. I know you weren’t issuing a challenge, though if you have a change of heart that sways in my direction, I’ll be happy to take you up on one.” He pulls his keys from his pocket. “Let’s get out of here. I’m of the opinion we both had way too long of a night for a long day like this one.”