My eyes widened. “Yeah. I’ve always wanted to go.”

“Well, want no more. I thought we could go to one this weekend, grab a bite to eat afterwards,” he said.

I smiled. “That sounds wonderful.”

“Fantastic. I’ll pick you up tomorrow at 7?” he asked.

I nodded. “Perfect.”

It was so Ryland. He wasn’t a movie and dinner kind of guy. He was extravagant and cultured, and taking me to a Cirque du Soleil show was exactly the kind of thing I should have expected. I probably shouldn’t even be anticipating a normal dinner. He was far from pedestrian.

Ryland raised an eyebrow. “You seem in particularly high spirits this morning. Is my competition that severe?”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” I stammered.

“Did you and Ian go out?” he asked, and I could tell he was fishing.

“We did,” I responded quickly. “An authentic Russian place. They prepared dinner right in front of us, and he even taught me some Russian. Not that I know how to use any of it, but he said I pronounce it very well.”

“I don’t doubt this,” Ryland replied. “Your intelligence suggests you would pick up a new language very well. I know several, Russian among them. Did he teach you any swear words?”

I giggled. It was amusing and kind of cute the way he was already trying to one-up Ian. “No, no swear words.”

Ryland flashed a toothy grin. “I’ll teach you some swear words.”

“Russian ones or English ones?” I asked.

“Whatever you’d like,” he replied.

“Maybe you should have done that when we first met, you’d be a bit higher in the standings right now,” I joked.

Ryland gave me a genuine smile, then, something I was quickly learning was abnormal for him. “Was that a jab?”

“No, sir. I would never take a jab at my boss,” I replied, following it with a wink.

Ryland let a cocky, but amused chuckle out. “You’re already armed and prepared for battle.”

I shrugged. “What can I say? I don’t like to lose.”

Ryland leaned in so close I immediately became conscious of how many people were already in the office. They were all in their own worlds, not paying any attention to us, but if even one of them turned around or so much as caught a reflection of us in their screens, we were in a very compromising position.

“Neither do I,” Ryland hummed finally.

He stood back up and turned his back to me, walking away without another word and sending a chill racing down my back.

Ryland

I pulled up in front of Sascha’s flat, having chosen my Porsche as our chariot for the evening. I didn’t think Sascha a material type of woman, but people reacted automatically to luxury. Anything that could induce a mind of seduction in her mind worked to my benefit. I climbed out of the car and walked up to where she was standing on her stoop. She looked ravishing. She was wearing a red qipao type dress that showed off her legs, with her blond hair up in a high bun.

I, of course, greeted her with a kiss to her cheek and loved the way she immediately blushed. Ian may have pigeonholed himself after rushing her in the bar, but I’ve been nothing but respectful. I can flex my romantic muscles a bit and I can tell she’s going to love it.

I hold her door open for her and wait for her to get in and buckled before I let myself in. All of the things a gentleman should do, and then head for the theater.

“Are you excited?” I asked.

“I am,” she replied. “Have you been to one before?”

“Only this one,” I responded.

She gasped a little. “You’ve been to this one before? Won’t that be boring?”

I side-glanced her. “I don’t imagine anything with you will be boring.” Her blush came back and I made it a personal mission to get her to do that as much as I could. “Besides,” I continued, “this one is never quite the same each time. I find something about it vastly intriguing. I’m excited to hear your thoughts.”

She chuckled a little bit. “Of course.”

“What?” I asked.

“No, I just might have expected you’re bringing me on a date specifically to stimulate conversation. That’s very like you,” she explained.

“Am I that easy to read?” I asked.

She shrugged. “I think transparency is a good thing.” She looked at me with a smirk. “Besides, I’ve never had a man take me out for conversation before.” There was a fire behind her eyes. “Now I’m even more excited.”

I had to turn away from her in that moment. If I continued to look at her with that determined expression on her face, I was going to pull into the nearest alley and let loose. She was the most unusual, interesting, mysterious woman I’d ever known. I was excited to see where this evening would lead us.

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