“Because – ”

The elevator slowed down rapidly. I wasn’t sure if the butterflies in my stomach were because of the abrupt deceleration, or because of what he said next.


“ – you seem way too smart, talented, and interesting to be working for a jackass like that.”

Just then the elevator doors dinged open. He broke our gaze and walked out onto the 23rd floor, leaving me stunned in his wake.

11

But I recovered quickly.

I followed him out into the main lobby, past the receptionist’s desk which was adorned with flower arrangements that would be thrown out by the cleaning staff at night. The receptionist was gone for the weekend, so I buzzed us through the main door using the badge in my purse.

Actually, everybody had left for the night. The entire floor of cubicles was quiet and half-dimmed.

“You sure do have it in for Klaus,” I said, picking the conversation back up.

He grinned. “And you don’t?”

“I have to work with him every day. What did he ever do to you?”

“I had to suffer through a couple of conference calls with him.” Connor shook his head in exaggerated regret. “Forty-five minutes of my life I’ll never get back.”

“Forty-five minutes?! Try six months,” I retorted.

“Which you’ll never get back. You really shouldn’t be wasting your time as his punching bag, Lily.”

“That’s all very nice, but a girl’s got to eat.”

“That she does. But never take bread scraps when you could – and should – be dining out on lobster.”

“I don’t know what world you live in, Mr. Brooks – ”

He looked over at me like You did NOT just call me that.

“It’s Connor. My friends call me Connor. Klaus calls me Mr. Brooks.”

I couldn’t suppress my smile.

“Ah, I knew I could make you laugh.”

“That was a smile, not a laugh,” I said, intent upon not giving in that easily. He was charming, but he was kind of infuriating, too.

“I’ll get there,” he said confidently, and grinned.

“Yeah, well, I don’t know what world you live in, Connor, but in mine, bread scraps are sometimes all you get.”

“We either make our own realities, Lily, or we accept the realities others impose upon us. You’ve got way too much going for you to accept a reality that includes Klaus as a part of it.”

Ooooh, Mr. Philosophy, I thought, annoyed. Mr. Mommy and Daddy Paid For My Education at Harvard and Gave Me My Million-Dollar Business Contacts.

As though he could read my thoughts, he stopped on a dime, caught my arm, spun me gently to face him, and stared into my eyes.

It took me a couple seconds to hear his first few words, because that hand on my arm was making my legs go weak.

“Did I have a lot of advantages growing up? Yes I did. I’m a very lucky guy, and I recognize that. But part of my upbringing was that I learned my strengths, and I learned what I was worth, and I never let anybody tell me differently. When I look at you, Lily, I see a beautiful – ”

I almost collapsed.

Did he just call me beautiful?!

“ – woman who is poised, very intelligent, in control of herself, doesn’t take any crap – oh, wait, skip that last part,” he said, as though making a mental note. Then he started walking again. “Is it this way?”

What a JACKASS! I seethed inwardly as I ran to catch up.

“You know, you talk a big game for a guy who’s here to look at somebody else’s business files on a Friday night after closing hours.”

“Uh oh, did I touch a nerve?” he laughed.

God, he could be so infuriating!

“Why are you here, exactly?”

He put his hands in his pockets, looked around the empty cubicles, and shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know… thinking about buying the company.”

I snorted. “Right.”

He gave a little eh, who knows look. “Maybe one day. Once I save up my pennies.”

“So you can have a whole company to kiss your ass, huh?”

Oh man, as soon as I said it, I wish I could have taken it back.

But he just roared with laughter.

“I don’t know about other people kissing my ass, but…”

Here he cast a sly look down at my backside.

“…I wouldn’t mind kissing somebody else’s.”

Again – beet red. Fwoosh! All the blood went to my face.

But this time I stopped dead in my tracks.

“Hey,” I snapped.

He turned around with that surprised look again. “What?”

“You know that’s highly inappropriate, right?” I said, crossing my arms.

I thought he was going to come back with something even more risqué, but he surprised me by putting out his hands in a conciliatory gesture.

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