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"Don't look now, but Aiden just walked in." That statement was followed up with a long, lingering sigh of adoration.
Waiting in line to order her morning coffee, Chloe Reiss smiled at her coworker Holly, who was standing in front of her, facing the line of people behind them. Her friend had a dreamy, wistful look on her face, one that was common among most of the women who set eyes on Aiden Landry, and especially for the ones who worked with him at Perry & Associates. The man was gorgeous, sexy and charminga lethal combination any female with a healthy libido was quick to appreciate.
Including Chloe. Because she'd never be able to touch that, looking was all she had the luxury of doing. She and Aiden worked for the same ad agency and had been required to sign a strict "no dating coworkers" agreement as part of their employment as advertising executives. She understood the need for such a rule, especially in a career where creativity, drive and focus was key. Dating was a huge distraction, and more times than not, it ended in a messy breakup that made working together difficult and awkward, if not impossible.
But Chloe had to admit that the firm's policy was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because it kept her from doing something incredibly foolishlike giving in to the heated attraction between her and Aiden and doing all kinds of wicked things with him. A curse, because it kept her from experiencing what she was certain would be the most phenomenal sex she'd ever had. As it was, a little harmless flirtation would be all that they'd ever indulge in, but there were definitely times she wished she could straddle the line between business and pleasure with Aiden.
She and Holly took a step forward in the line, and Chloe casually glanced over her shoulder. Piercing blue eyes met hers, as if Aiden had been waiting for her to turn around. The slow, purely male smile easing up the corner of his mouth gave her a jolt of instantaneous awareness, stronger than any shot of caffeine ever could. In return, she waggled her fingers at him in a playful morning greeting before returning her attention to Holly.
"Coffee is on me this morning," Chloe said as they stepped up to the barista. The day was off to a fine start.
Holly asked for a Chai tea, and Chloe ordered a skinny vanilla latte for herself and a cappuccino with one packet of sugar for Aiden. Two years of them working together as account executives for Perry & Associates had given her some insight into the man's vices. She knew how he liked his morning java, and because coworkers often met up after hours at the Executive Bar located on the ground floor of the high rise where they worked, she also knew his alcoholic beverage of choice was Glenlivit Scotch neat.
After paying for the drinks, she and Holly picked up their orders at the other end of the counter.
"Thanks for the tea," Holly said, and shifted anxiously on her feet. "I hate to bolt on you, but I have a marketing report that's due on Leland's desk first thing this morning. You know he'll start bellowing if it's not in his chubby little hands at eight o'clock sharp."
Chloe grinned at Holly's apt description of her marketing supervisor. "Go ahead. I'll talk to you later."
Holly took off for the bank of elevators located in the lobby outside of the coffee shop, and Chloe headed toward Aiden, two cups of brew in her hands. Still waiting in line, he watched her approach, a dark, curious brow raised as she neared. The man was model gorgeous, with chiseled features and a sensual mouth. His pitch-black hair, cut into a neat, short style, combined with those devastatingly sapphire blue eyes, was one helluva potent combination that never failed to make her a little breathless when all that hotness was directed at heras it was right now.
In Chloe's estimation, Aiden was total male perfection, and then some. Tall, lean and built like a Greek God, he wore the expensive cut of his tailored suit with flawless ease and effortless sophistication. The times he took off his jacket, usually by the end of the workday, was always an added visual treat for Chloe, because those crisp white dress shirts he favored showcased his broad shoulders and hinted at the athletically honed body beneath. And when he rolled up the sleeves and exposed those strong forearms well, she wasn't a girl prone to swooning, but there was just something incredibly arousing about a man with arms and hands that spoke of inherent power and strength that did it for her in a major way.
And Aiden Landry had a pair of big, strong hands, and nice long, capable fingers. The kind she imagined could give a woman all kinds of erotic pleasure. Unfortunately, she'd never find out for real. Instead, she'd just have to be satisfied with the fantasies she spun in her head.
Reaching Aiden, she handed him the tall paper cup of espresso and cream, topped with a generous dollop of foam. "I've got you covered this morning. Cappuccino with one packet of sugar."
"Thanks." He smiled his gratitude as he stepped out of the coffee line and fell into step beside Chloe as they headed for the building's elevators. "Looks like I owe you one."
She cast him a sidelong glance filled with teasing intent. "You know I like to keep it that way."
Amusement glimmered in his eyes. "What? Me, owing you?"
She took a drink of her latte and nodded. "You never know when an outstanding favor might come in handy."
He chuckled, the deep, smooth sound stroking across her senses like an intimate caress. "Yeah, you like having me indebted to you, don't you?"
"Oh, absolutely," she agreed, enjoying their flirtatious banter. It gave her an extra pep in her step, and released all kinds of feel-good endorphins inside her. "You know what they say. Keep your friends close, and your work rival even closer."
The corner of his mouth quirked with a playful grin. "Are you saying you like having me on a short leash?"
"The shorter, the better." They were joking, of course, as they'd done for the past two years. But oh, the images that flooded her mind, of him wearing nothing but a leather studded collar and her tugging on a chrome chain leash like he was her personal plaything, willing to obey her every command, was a heady fantasy, indeed.
They arrived at the elevators, and since it was close to eight o'clock in the morning, there was a mad rush for those who had a time clock to punch. The Boston high rise, located in the financial district, boasted forty-two floors and was comprised of a few hundred companies and firms, which made for a congested elevator ride in the morning and at quitting time. Since she and Aiden weren't in any big hurry, they sipped their coffees and gradually shuffled their way forward.
"Are you ready for your presentation for Organic Kitty this morning?" he asked, referring to the pitches she'd been working on for the past month.
She always had a little flutter of nerves the morning of any client meeting, and this one was no exception, especially since she was going it solo, which was happening more and more lately as she built her own client base. She felt confident about her overall campaign and was certain she'd meet, or exceed, all of the client's expectations.
"I was up until two this morning putting the final touches on the proposal, and I'm pretty damn happy about it," she told him.
"You know I'll be at the meeting." He sipped his cappuccino, his eyes crinkling slightly at the corners as he grinned mischievously. "For moral support, of course."
"Of course," she replied drolly, and rolled her eyes, not buying his "moral support" statement for a minute. And he knew it, too.
Perry & Associates had a lax policy about allowing other employees to sit in on presentations, as a learning experience and to keep abreast of what the agency was doing, so long as there were no disruptions. But for someone as experienced as Aiden, his strategy was more about keeping himself informed on what the competition was doing. Chloe was just as guilty of doing it to his presentations, too.
But while there had been some incidences of back-stabbing with other employees, she and Aiden had never stooped to that level. Over the years, they'd developed a mutual respect for one another and their work, probably because they'd started out on the same marketing team that had required them to work together on various projects. They'd learned early on to trust one another with their ideas and campaigns, but now, with each of them building their own client base, there was a level of competition between them that kept them both striving to one up the other.
And ultimately, they both had their eye on the next rung in the corporate ad agency ladder. Word had gotten out that Perry was looking to promote someone within the firm to a senior executive position within the next few months, and that person would be given their own team to manage. It was a huge coup, and one that Chloe had every intention of achieving. She'd worked extremely hard establishing herself as a qualified leader within the firm, and she'd like to think she deserved the promotion.
But first things first. She and Aiden were both being considered individually to lead a huge upcoming campaign for the St. Raphael Resort, an exclusive matchmaking retreat that catered to singles looking to find lovea multi-million dollar campaign that came with a generous, five-figure bonus and would elevate their standing within the firm, as well as in the advertising industry. If Chloe nailed today's presentation for Organic Kitty, she was fairly optimistic that she'd be assigned the St. Raphael Resort account. From there, it was a logical leap to the senior executive position.
She smiled to herself as they waited for the next available elevator, enjoying those visions of grandeur dancing in her head. As much as she liked Aiden, as a person and a coworker, her own competitive streak drove her to succeedon her own, and without relying on anyone else to get her there.
With the morning crowd finally thinned out, the next elevator enabled them to step on board without feeling crushed. She and Aiden ended up in the back. Standing so close to him, she could feel the heat of his body. And God, he always smelled so damned delicious, like sandalwood and fresh, clean citrus. Whatever his cologne, it was like breathing in a tempting aphrodisiac that never failed to arouse her womanly senses.
After stopping on various floors to let other people out, they finally arrived at the thirty-second floor, which opened directly into the reception area of Perry & Associates.
"Break a leg today, Chloe," Aiden said, winking at her.
She laughed at his choice of words. "Don't you wish."
They parted ways, and as soon as Aiden was out of sight, her thoughts returned to the Organic Kitty presentation and how she intended to win over the client.
Aiden sat at the back of the conference room, along with a few other colleagues, silently watching as Chloe worked her magic in wooing the higher-ups at Organic Kitty with her stellar campaign. She'd focused on giving the company a much needed boost to their consumer visibility through new branding and a catchy slogan. Her voice was strong and engaging as she spoke, and her PowerPoint slides showcased a multitude of innovative advertising ideas, clever marketing and social media strategies focused toward elevating the Kitty brand, as well as attracting new buyers.
The clients were riveted by her persuasive and appealing presentation. Aiden was riveted by the woman herself. As always, she was confident, commanding and in control, traits he found sexy as hell. Today she was wearing a conservative, but feminine skirted suit in navy blue, a professional choice for her meeting with clients. The cream silk blouse layered beneath the tailored jacket hinted at a softer, more sensual side, as did the peek of lace from the camisole she wore.
His gaze traveled down the length of her body, to the fitted skirt that hugged the curve of her hips and rounded bottom and ended just below the knee. From there, she had a fantastic pair of long, slender legs that most of the men in the firm took the time to notice as she walked by, probably because of the four inch heels she always opted to wearthe kind that made guys think of sex and sin, and doing both with her while she kept them on.
Yeah, he was definitely guilty of utilizing that fantasy a time or two, and now was not the time or place to let his thoughts wander in that direction. Shifting subtly in his seat, he glanced back up at her pretty face. Her rich, dark brown hair was pulled back into a sleek, sophisticated ponytail, and her bright hazel eyes were more green than brown at the moment. Her enthusiastic expression matched the same infectious energy infusing her voice and body language, adding a nice little punch to her very compelling sales pitch. It was clear to anyone who watched Chloe that she was incredibly passionate about her work, as well as the advertising campaign she'd created for Organic Kitty.
While Aiden was highly attracted to Chloe on several different levels, her utter focus, control and drive when it came to advancing in the corporate world reminded him of his ex-wife and how her ambition had eventually destroyed their marriage, and his trust. Paige had refused to allow anything to get in the way of her success as a defense attorney, not even an unplanned pregnancy that she'd made clear she never wanted. A pregnancy she'd terminated without any discussion or input from him.
The end result of what she'd done in order to pursue her professional goals still cut Aiden deeper than a knife and had shattered his illusions of love and commitment, and the sanctuary of marriage. After their bitter divorce three years ago, he'd vowed that he'd never get seriously involved with another career-minded woman again. No, the next time he put a ring on someone's finger, he'd be damned sure she was on the same page as him when it came to the importance of family.
Career-wise, Aiden recognized that Chloe and Paige had a lot in common. But while his wife had been cold and calculating, Chloe was the complete opposite. Chloe was undoubtedly driven to succeed, but having worked with her for the past two years, he also knew she was warm, genuine and friendly. Most important, she respected her colleagues and had a great reputation in the industrytwo exceptional qualities that were hard to find in such a cutthroat business.
But damned if he wasn't overwhelmingly attracted to her, despite the many reasons why he shouldn't want her. He'd be a liar if he said all that confidence and sass of hers didn't do it for him in a major way. Sexually, he liked a woman a little on the aggressive side, a woman who knew what she liked and wasn't afraid to challenge him in the bedroom. Judging by their seductive flirtations and Chloe's determined attitude when it came to getting what she wanted, Aiden highly suspected she was exactly that kind of woman.