Unbuttoning the CEO, page 6part #1 of The Suits Undone Series
“Nic,” she said.
“It occurs to me that if you’re undecided, you might want to get a taste of what you’d be giving up if you turned me down.”
His green eyes clouded, and his nostrils flared. Those were good signs, right? She rounded her desk and stood behind him. Her fingers circled his waist and traveled up to his chest. Then she pressed herself against him, reveling in the contact.
Encouraged by his sharp intake of breath, Gracie’s fingers slid from the solid expanse of his chest to his taut stomach. Her fingers burrowed under his shirt and traced the defined muscles of his smooth abdomen. His muscles contracted as her fingers skated over them.
His voice shook, and Gracie smiled. Definitely a good sign.
“How am I doing so far?” she asked.
“I’m impressed. But I’m not totally convinced yet.”
Gracie trailed a finger down his stomach to the zipper of his jeans. His jeans were no match for the impressive erection that pressed against them.
She moved her hand up and down the contours of his erection, applying gentle pressure at the base of his cock. “Not impressed, huh?”
Nic leaned over and placed the palms of his hands on her desk. “Keep going,” he whispered.
Gracie’s head swam. She’d weakened him. Aroused him. And that knowledge spiraled through her body, awakening every erogenous zone, from the tips of her nipples to the bundle of nerves between her legs. She throbbed—everywhere. Every stretch of skin tingled as though she were made of nothing but pulse points.
Her hand worked him, kneading and rubbing his cock through his jeans. Nic’s knees buckled and she dipped with him. Her fingers pulled on his zipper. “Enough,” he said as he spun her to face her. “What else you got?”
Gracie bit her lower lip. What next? “A kiss?” she asked.
“Good idea. It could be a deal breaker. We’ll see where we go from there.”
She nodded and lifted her head toward his. “I’m a nibbler.”
Nic gazed at her lips, and his pupils flared. “Nibble away. Don’t let me stop you.”
His height forced her to stand on her toes. For a woman who’d been taller than most of the boys in her class in high school, that particular physical trait provoked a flurry of sensual images to flash through her mind. Sex against a wall. It was a possibility. And given the breadth of his shoulders, she imagined he’d hold her up just fine. Oh, glorious day.
Pressing into him, she licked his lips, beginning in the center of his top lip and circling his entire mouth. He parted his lips, and Gracie took the opportunity to nip at them. His guttural moan rumbled through her, reminded her that she had so many places on his body still to explore. His soft lips brushed against her own, teasing and taunting her. Then she slipped her tongue inside his mouth, seeking to regain control.
Nic wrapped a hand around her ponytail and angled her face away from him, closing his mouth over the skin just below her ear. Gracie breathed and his hair tickled her nose. His scent—a natural musk with hints of orange—wrapped around her like a warm blanket. She snuggled into him, and his arms enveloped her.
A series of knocks on her office door yanked her out of the moment. They sprang apart and paced to opposite sides of her office. “Yes?” Gracie called out.
Brenda poked her head in. “Gracie, Ms. Rubio has a question about next week’s schedule. Are you available?”
Gracie grabbed her ponytail and draped it over her shoulder and down her chest. “I am, Brenda. Be right there.”
Nic stared at her, undermining her effort to get a handle on herself. His features revealed nothing, but his flushed face spoke volumes. He nodded his head, but she had no clue what he was assenting to.
“We begin this weekend,” he said. “And get plenty of rest. You’ll need it.” He winked at her and strolled out the door, implanting a delightful image of his jean-clad ass in her brain.
Ethan needed a sign. Something. Anything. An hour before his date with Gracie, he paced inside his walk-in closet, asking himself the same question over and over again: Should he go through with their arrangement?
He trailed his fingers over the row of tailored suits that made up his regular wardrobe. Bypassed the monogrammed shirts. Removed the Breitling watch he’d purchased with his very first bonus all those years ago. And as he rooted through his closet to find an old pair of jeans, he was keenly aware that his relationship with Gracie was based on a façade.
He froze. Relationship? What relationship? Gracie wanted a short-term arrangement. He did, too. They both wanted to explore their attraction and enjoy each other. What was so complicated about that?
If he thought for one minute the board would approve a sizable donation to Gracie’s organization, he would have made up some excuse to renege on their agreement. But as far as the board was concerned, his stint at LTN needed to be over yesterday, and the board’s chair had asked him not to draw attention to himself, probably because Ethan had suggested he had an easy way to accomplish that. So now he was Nicholas Hill. What a mess.
He wasn’t any closer to resolving his dilemma when he got out of the shower. With a towel around his waist, he dried his hair and avoided his reflection in the foggy mirror.
The ring of his phone jerked him out of his thoughts. Hearing the tone he’d assigned to close family members, he immediately picked up. “Hello?”
“Hey, Ethan. Just checking in on my big brother.”
His sister’s cheerful voice always made him smile. “Since when, Em?”
“Scratch that. You’re right. I’m way too busy to be checking up on the likes of you. Sophie begged me to call, but then she fell asleep. She wanted to talk to you, I swear, but by the time I got around to it, the kiddo had collapsed on the couch. Dear God, she had a traumatic night.”
Hearing the clank of dishes in the background, Ethan pictured his sister in the kitchen, phone pressed between her ear and her shoulder to hold it in place.
“I refused to give her Nutella for dinner and she lost it. Cried when I gave her spaghetti instead. Do you have any idea how disgusting it is to watch a child cry and eat spaghetti at the same time? Too many things dangling. Seriously, it was a consider-having-your-tubes-tied moment.”
Ethan saw the scene play out in his head. Sophie did have a flair for the drama. “Never a dull moment in your household, Em.”
“Ain’t that the truth? So what’s going on with you?”
“If you must know, I have a date, and I’m going to be late if I don’t get off the phone soon.”
“One of those high-society types skilled at making you act like a jackass?”
Em always considered herself his protector and moral compass, no matter that she was the younger of the two. “Hold back you’re feelings, why don’t you, Em?”
“Sorry. I’m usually not that judgmental.”
She cackled. “You’re right. Such bullshit. Okay, so if she isn’t a prima donna, who is she?”
“Someone I met doing community service.”
“Excuse me? Do you mean, actually serving the community? Or writing a check?”
“Ha, ha. Actually serving the community, wiseass. She’s the director.”
“Ooo. I like her already. There’s a snag, though. I can sense it.”
His sister always had a knack for ferreting out when he was troubled by something. “She has no clue who I really am.”
Ethan lowered his head and gave a bitter laugh. “Meaning, she thinks I’m just a computer consultant who’s done relatively well for himself.”
Em whistled. “Yikes.”
Her reaction didn’t surprise him, and it only strengthened the ache in his gut. He’d regret this, for sure. “I get it, believe me.”
“Well, look, you’
“Thanks for the advice, Em.”
“Always free and completely useless, big bro. I’ll have Sophie call you next week.”
“Give her a big hug and a kiss from her uncle, all right?”
He walked to his bedroom, mulling over his sister’s observations. Em had a point. He’d been so concerned about hurting Gracie he hadn’t considered how the charade might cause him pain, too. Just great. Now he had more to worry about.
He darted a glance at the alarm on his nightstand. Shit. No time to think about it now, though. With any luck, Gracie would reconsider her proposal and make the decision for him. But Ethan didn’t bother to hold his breath.
* * *
The weekend had come too soon, and Gracie wasn’t sure she’d ever be ready for her liaison with Nic to begin. Trying to avert a wardrobe crisis, she paced her apartment as she listened to Mimi on the line.
“Where are you going?” Mimi asked.
“He didn’t tell me. He said casual would be fine. And he’s picking me up in thirty minutes. Enough with the questions. Give me wardrobe advice.”
“But how can I?” Mimi asked. “I don’t even know where you’re going.”
“Mimi,” Gracie said through gritted teeth. “I need help.”
“Okay. What would you wear if you were meeting a friend for coffee?”
“Um. Dark jeans. And a silk blouse to dress it up.”
“Then go with that. Make sure to show some cleavage, though. And heels. You need heels.”
“Right. I’ve got to go.”
Gracie ended the call and ran to her bedroom. She rummaged through her closet, praying her jeans were clean. Dark jeans? Check. Silk red blouse? Check. She sprinted to the bathroom and began removing her clothes. She looked down at her underwear. Uncheck. The granny panties would have to go.
Slipping into the shower, Gracie tried to calm her nerves. Taking deep breaths, she turned the shower knob just short of scalding. As the hot water ran down her body, she pictured the way the night would end. In Nic’s bed. Or her bed. Or on the floor. It didn’t matter. She pressed her hands against the tile and raised her face to the bathroom ceiling, soaking her hair in the steamy water. A shower. She’d love to shower with Nic. The slip and slide of their bodies. Argh. Thinking about Nic while she showered was not an effective way to calm her nerves.
As soon as the water cooled, Gracie jumped out of the shower, almost tripping on her bathroom rug as she reached for the towel. She dressed in seconds, knowing she would need plenty of time to dry her thick hair. Fifteen minutes later, she’d applied her lipstick, given up on drying her hair completely, and walked across her living room floor so many times she wondered if her downstairs neighbor would show up any minute.
Nic arrived at six o’clock. Exactly.
“Hi,” she said as she opened the door.
“Come in. I just need to grab my purse and my jacket.”
Nic’s large frame filled the foyer. He wore a brown leather bomber and faded jeans. His cream V-neck sweater revealed a hint of the chest she’d explored yesterday.
“Where are we headed?” she asked.
Behind her back, she twisted her hands. They were clammy. Grrr. She smoothed her hands over her jeans as she listened to his answer.
“We have a dinner reservation at eight. I figure we could go bowling before then. It’s a family favorite. I used to play a lot when I was a kid. Are you game?”
Gracie loved the idea, but she downplayed her excitement. Maybe this date wouldn’t be as terrifying as she’d imagined. “Sounds like fun. You’ll have to be patient with me, though. I haven’t played in a long time.”
He pushed off the wall and sidled up to her. “I was hoping you’d say that.” Then he took her jacket from her hands and stood behind her. As she slipped her arms through the jacket’s sleeves, he caged her in his arms. His warm breath drifted near her ear and she jumped. “Are you nervous?”
“What gave it away? The sweat on my upper lip?”
“Yes,” he said.
She whipped around and stared him down.
He took a step back with his hands in the air. “I’m kidding.” Then he grabbed the ends of the scarf she’d just draped around her neck and tugged her flush against him. “Why don’t we get the kiss out of the way? From there, everything should go smoothly.”
Oh, yes, please. She reached into his jacket and threaded her hands together at his waist. “I should say no just to spite you.”
“Ah, Gracie, but you’d only be punishing yourself.”
She couldn’t help but to grin at his conceit. “Wow. Someone’s cocky this evening.”
“Hold that thought for a couple of hours. Trust me. It’ll come in handy later.”
She lifted her chin. “Are you stalling?”
He didn’t answer. Instead, his mouth swept over hers as his hands rubbed her back. Gracie opened her mouth and welcomed him inside. His lips danced across hers like silk, and then he followed his careful ministrations with a gentle tug of her bottom lip. Gracie was startled by the attention Nic paid to her mouth. The kiss was not a means to an end. It was the end itself. And Gracie enjoyed every minute of it.
Pressed against him, Gracie knew Nic was as affected by the kiss as she was. She reached between them, seeking his hard length. Once again, though, he stopped her. “Bowling,” he said in a rough voice. “We’re going bowling. And we need sustenance. Then you’ll see how cocky I can be.”
Gracie laughed and pushed him away. He seemed to know exactly what to say to ease her jitters. “If you don’t stop talking yourself up, I’m going to start to think you’re all hype. Let’s go.”
* * *
After Gracie bowled her second strike of the night, Nic no longer made suggestions about her form. She maintained a straight face, enjoying his confused expressions when she bowled an impressive set. Served him right for assuming she wouldn’t be able to keep up with him.
In between frames, they discovered they had a lot in common. “So is this what you usually do on the weekends?”
He made a big show of drying his hands. “I don’t bowl that much anymore. But my dad taught me, and we try to play whenever I visit.”
They’d both learned to love the sport from their dads. She considered that a plus, and it gave her insight into his childhood. “My dad taught me, too. He played in a league, and when I was old enough, he took me with him.”
“He taught you well, it seems.” He picked up his bowling ball, approached the foul line, and released it with a significant show of power behind it. The ball bounced into the gutter, and he dropped his head. When he turned toward her, he smiled.
As he walked toward her, Gracie held her breath and pretended not to be dazzled by the warmth in his gaze. This man had the capacity to devastate her if she wasn’t careful.
He reached her and helped her stand. “Lest you think I suck at all sports, I should point out I’m an avid runner.”
“That’s great. I run, too.”
He tipped his head back and stared at the ceiling, a playful grin telling her he didn’t take himself too seriously. “Of course you do.”
She considered suggesting they run together, but she held her tongue and prepared for her next frame. She couldn’t assume that he’d want to, and more to the point, she had no business searching for ways for them to spend more time together. That wasn’t part of their deal.
Thirty minutes later, Gracie stood outside the bowling alley as Nic tried to hail a taxi. The deal they’d struck weighed heavily in her thoughts. “That was fun,” she told him. She jumped from foot to foot to counteract the cold—and to hide her nervousness.
A taxi arrived at the curb, and Nic opened the door. Gracie rubbed her hands together and climbed in, grateful to get out of the cold. With his gaze fixed on her, Nic gave the driver the restaurant’s address. When the taxi moved into traffic, Nic turned to her. “You played me.”
Gracie placed a hand on her chest, pretending to be surprised by the accusation. “Played you? How?”
“You suggested you weren’t very good. Then you whipped my butt.”
“All I said was that I hadn’t played in a long time. Plus, not being very good is relative. I’m not very good compared to my dad. How was I supposed to you know you’re . . . uh . . . less than proficient . . . at bowling?”
Nic replaced his frown with a sly grin. “I get it. You only pretended to need my help so you could get close to my body. That’s why you stuck your butt against me as I helped you with your form.”
Gracie laughed. “Ha. Let’s not be coy, Nic. You chose bowling because you assumed you’d get to rub against me. And you did. It just so happens that I followed all that fondling with a big ol’ can of whoop-ass.”
Nic threw his head back and laughed. A deep, guttural laugh that made her toes curl. The streetlights flickered in the cab, casting spotlights on his features. Right now, the delicious column of his throat took center stage. Gracie leaned over and kissed him there. Nic stopped laughing. When she raised her head, she looked into his eyes. The more they stared at each other, the warmer the temperature in the cab seemed to get.
“I’m not hungry,” she said. “We could skip the restaurant and order take-out later.”
“Ah, Gracie. You’ve just made me a very happy man.”
Nic leaned forward to speak to the driver. “Change of plans, my friend. We’re headed to West End. Take Canal Road.”
The driver peered through the rearview mirror. “You got it,” he said.
Gracie slid down along the backseat and covered her face. Yep. She and Nic knew they were going to have sex, and now the driver knew, too. But she was less concerned about the driver’s impression of her than she was about Nic’s. She was not a vixen by any means. And she imagined Nic would pick up on that fact within seconds.
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