“I’ll be impressed if we do.”

“Really? I wasn’t sure impressing you was possible.”


“I’m impressed when someone does something exceptional, Ms. Smith.” Certain she’s about to correct me on the use of her name again, I quickly ask, “When will you be back in New York?”

“I’m at the airport now. If we take off by eleven L.A. time I should be there by eight New York time.”

“Call me when you get in. I leave in the morning. We need to discuss some things before I do.”

“Oh. Well . . . I . . .”

“For once, she’s speechless,” I say dryly.

“No. I’m not.” She sounds convincingly indignant. “But if this is about us and—”

“Last night never happened,” I say. “You said so in your note, and therefore there’s nothing to talk about in that regard. Call me when you get here.” I pause, and for no reason other than it’s not what she’s expecting and because it leaves me in control, not her, I softly finish the sentence with “Crystal” and then hang up.

It’s nearly nine when Crystal calls me again and I answer as I climb into my rental in the hospital garage. “I just got home,” she says.

“There’s a restaurant named Jake’s a block from your apartment. Meet me there in thirty minutes.”

She’s silent a moment and I’m certain she’d expected me to say my hotel room. Until a few minutes ago, so had I. “Okay. I’ll be there.”

“Until then,” I reply, hanging up. And when I start driving, it’s with determination to keep things with Crystal where they belong: all business, and me in control.

Fifteen minutes later I arrive at Jake’s, a ritzy American cuisine joint, and since it’s Sunday night and a later hour, it’s sparsely populated. I easily claim a fairly private but compact, black half-moon shaped booth. Combine the size of the seating with the back corner location and the seductive glow provided by a dangling tear-drop light, and we’re in intimacy overload.

I’ve just settled into the seat facing the door when Crystal enters, and there’s an instant thrum of awareness in me that I don’t expect or welcome. She spots me and comes forward, her black trench coat parting to reveal a slim-cut, fitted red dress that hugs the curves I know so intimately. Tracking her every step, that thrum becomes deeper, and unwillingly I find myself anticipating how she smells, remembering how she tastes. My reaction to her remains wholly illogical in every way. She’s blond, when I like brunettes; outspoken and quick-witted when I prefer quietly intelligent; and last night she painted a picture of obvious expectancy, whereas I crave eager and willing.

The more she closes the distance between me and her, the more certain I am that a public place isn’t where I need to be with Crystal. It’s alone with her, f**king her the right way, until she’s begging, not demanding. Washing away the memory of how out of myself I’d been when we were together, allowing myself to get my head back on straight—where it has to be when I return to San Francisco and face what awaits me there.

Standing up, I greet her coolly, a perfect gentlemen as my parents taught me to be. I’m taken off guard by the way her sweet, feminine scent stirs memories of her naked and in my arms, and it spikes an instant, ravenous hunger through me. Our eyes connect and I see heat there, and the confirmation that we both know damn well that last night happened, and it’s not going away. Now we both have to decide what, if anything, to do about it.

“Hi,” she says softly, almost timidly, and this part of her is as much who she is as the one who screamed more at me. The contrast appeals to me. She appeals to me.

“Hello, Ms. Smith,” I reply.

“Make up your mind,” she insists. “Is it Crystal or Ms. Smith?”

My lips curve. “I find I’m surprisingly willing to keep my options open where you’re concerned. Let me help you with your coat.” I step behind her, my hands settling on her shoulders, my actions making my words a command rather than a question. I do not intend to ask Crystal Smith for anything.

“Thank you,” she murmurs, shrugging out of the trench coat.

Testing the tension between us, I drag it down her arms, letting my hands caress the sheer red chiffon sleeves of her dress, and she shivers. The attraction between us is a simmering heat ready to boil over, and no matter how absolutely wrong she is for me, or me for her, we aren’t through with each other.

The waiter appears and I’m handing off Crystal’s coat when she whirls around and intercepts it. “I’ll keep it here,” she says quickly.

The way she holds it close tells me she’s preparing for a fast retreat, which means I’d been right. She ran from my hotel room.

I motion to the seat, silently suggesting we sit, but she doesn’t immediately move. Of course not. That would suggest a hint of submission, and she doesn’t intend to submit. And since I don’t intend to ever convert another woman who isn’t already living the lifestyle, we have no options. We cannot f**k again, no matter how much tension is in the air.

So we stand there, the seconds ticking by, and I arch a brow. Her sweet little pink tongue flicks over her lush, red-painted lips, and I think of how close I’d been to having that tongue and mouth on my cock. I slide into the booth, noticing how Crystal sits far from the center, where lovers might gravitate. We, though, are not lovers. We are “just a f**k.” Not even two.

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