She was the one to pull away. I would have found the strength to break the kiss, but I was grateful she’d mustered the resolve first. I stepped back, breathing heavily.

“You have my lipstick all over your face,” she said, reaching her hand out and touching my lips.

“It’s all over you, too. We could always skip dinner and go have a shower back at my room.”

“See, you can’t say stuff like that. I’ll get the wrong idea.”

“That’s giving you the right idea. The idea that I want to take you to bed and keep you there for the next four days at least.”

“Four days?”

“Is that too long?”

“I’ve never been involved in anything that took more than fifteen minutes,” she laughed.

“I could change that. It would be an honor to set that right,” I said, too serious all at once. Fifteen minutes? Did the men in this backwater know nothing about the female body? It was a matter of pride to remedy the deficiency she’d suffered.

“Let me,” I said, my voice more urgent than I meant it to be, if I’d even meant to say it at all.

She touched my lips with her fingertips again, she reached into her purse with the other hand and took out some packet she opened. For a second I thought it was a condom, but she pulled out a moist towelette and cleaned the lipstick off my face. When she handed it to me so I could return the favor, it was smeared with streaks of red. I carefully wiped off the smudges of lipstick around her mouth, on her chin. Once I’d cleaned her up, I kissed her again. And again. Right there in front of the restaurant. Our arms were around each other when a man cleared his throat.

“Pardon me, are you Leeds, the seven o’clock reservation, party of two?” the voice said.

I lifted my mouth from hers reluctantly.

“Yes,” I ground out without turning around.

“We can offer you a private table for the evening. Upstairs in the VIP room.”

“Very good,” I said, my eyes never leaving Maggie’s.

“Are you sure?” she whispered.

“Sounds perfect to me,” I murmured, offering her my arm. She took it and we went into the restaurant with our heads held high. Up a curving flight of stairs tucked back in a corner, we found ourselves in a round, velvet booth in a small, low-ceilinged room lit by candles. I had preordered the chef’s tasting menus and the wine, so the waiter had no reason to bother us.

“I appreciate discreet service,” I said.

“If you wish it, we can use the dumbwaiter,” the maître’d indicated a small door in the wall.

“That sounds great,” I said.

Just like that, we had the plush, dim room all to ourselves. There was absolutely no way we’d make it out of this dinner without fucking no matter what our best intentions had been when we defined the brief and celibate relationship we’d discussed. She glanced at me. Her eyes were wide and bright, and I could tell she was nervous.

“I’m not going to do anything you don’t want me to do,” I said, “that’s also a matter of pride.”

“We should have waiters come up here and refill our water glasses and stuff to keep us honest,” she said.

“If you’re uncomfortable we can change to a table downstairs,” I offered.

“That isn’t what I want. I want to be here with you. I’m just not confident that I can keep from, you know…”

“I’m a strong-willed man. If you truly don’t want to have sex with me, I can assure you we won’t, even if you beg, which I’m perfectly capable of making you do,” I said archly.

“I don’t doubt that,” she said, her voice shaky, “but I don’t expect you to be responsible for keeping me from doing something I’d regret. That’s on me.”

“So what are you saying?”

“I’m saying if you make me beg, give me what I’m begging for.”

My mouth watered when she said it. I wanted to give her a screaming orgasm right that second. But I knew what she meant. She meant that she’d take responsibility for her own actions like any grown-ass adult. She didn’t mean she wanted me to take her in a restaurant booth. So it would be an exercise in restraint. I could handle that. I nodded.

The light above the dumbwaiter flashed on, and I removed a tray of glasses and the wine as well as an antipasto platter. We picked at that and gazed, literally gazed at each other. There was such pleasure in just looking at her in knowing that we shared the same ridiculously impure thoughts about each other. That we were, by mutual agreement, not entertaining those thoughts. It was rather like we were partners in crime.

It was dangerous to forget we were adversaries, that no matter how close she curled up to me in the booth, in daylight we were on opposite sides of a life-changing decision. My employer needed me to assess the viability of keeping this plant open versus relocating overseas for a cheaper alternative. Maggie’s friends and community and daycare business all depended on keeping the factory operational and open. We were at cross-purposes. There was no way we could ever make anything work between us, not even in a short-term fling. Which she wasn’t willing to have anyway.

Tags: Natasha L. Black Romance