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The forbidden, p.17
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       The Forbidden, p.17

           Jodi Ellen Malpas
slower 1  faster

  He laughs loudly and then turns to the woman who’s on her hands and knees in front of him, her long blond hair skimming the grass. I smile like crazy when I see him drop to one knee and take her hips, looking over to me and fist pumping the air. “Tart,” I say to myself, following the path and heading up alongside him, watching as he manipulates the woman into various positions.

  “Morning.”

  “Shit!” I yelp, jumping mid-stride, looking up to see Jack running next to me. I blink rapidly when his shimmering beauty hits me like a right hook to the eye. Fucking hell; he looks otherworldly. My breathing that was perfectly controlled goes to shit. I’m breathless. “What are you doing here?”

  “I run every morning.” He performs a quick, expert turn and starts jogging backward a few paces in front of me. “But I’ve never had this amazing view before.” He puckers his lips and kisses the air.

  I laugh through my labored breathing, dropping my eyes to that lovely, huge, solid chest. “Do you always run bare-chested?” I ask, ripping my stare away from the thrilling sight.

  “Only when I’m trying to impress.” He turns back the right way, and I feel him look down at me. I peek out of the corner of my eye. He winks cheekily.

  I grin. “I’m impressed.”

  “Me too,” he counters, taking a lazy trip down my body with equally lazy eyes. “Really impressed.”

  I suddenly feel more eyes on me and look across the grass to find Micky standing again, watching us warily. Shit. “Micky’s here,” I say, returning my focus forward and trying my hardest not to look guilty. Just a pleasant morning run with a colleague. The colleague who fucked me stupid. The colleague who is married. The colleague who I’m now having an affair with. “Don’t look!” I snap when I see Jack start to glance around. “He will seriously lose the plot if he finds out about us.”

  “Take a left up here,” he orders.

  I look up to see the path forking up ahead and follow his instruction, peering over my shoulder to find Micky no longer in view. “Jack, we can’t be seen together,” I pant, now struggling like hell with my breathing, maybe assisted by a little panic.

  He turns into me mid-stride and grabs me, swiping me from my feet and carrying me behind a tree, his hand slapped over my mouth. Once he has me pushed up against the bark, he removes his palm and replaces it with his mouth. I’m instantly consumed, matching his hungry kiss. My hands are on a mission, feeling every part of his bare chest. “Hmmm, you taste fucking good, girl.”

  I smile into his mouth and reach up to fist his hair. “I’m sweating.”

  “And I want to lick it all off.” Jack’s tongue runs from my cheek to my ear and traces the shell, making me pant, shudder and push myself onto his mouth. He growls, circling his hips into my lower tummy. “So fucking good.”

  “You have a thing for licking me, don’t you?”

  He pulls back, a spectacular smile on his face. “Are you objecting?”

  “No.” He can lick me until I disappear for all I care.

  He reaches forward and traces the bridge of my nose, looking at me fondly. “What are you doing today?”

  “Finalizing some drawings, submitting an application, chasing decisions on another one.”

  His stifles a yawn, glancing away, losing complete interest. “Sounds riveting.”

  “Hey!” I smack his arm, spiking the cutest chuckle.

  He grabs my cheeks and squeezes them until my lips are pouting. Jack mirrors my protruding pout around a grin. “I’m not sure how I feel about being with a woman who’s potentially more talented than me.”

  “Potentially?” I mumble through my squished mouth.

  “Well.” He shrugs. “The jury’s still out over your bedroom skills.”

  I gasp, disgusted, and Jack mimics it, totally taking the piss. I scowl at him, and he scowls right back. My nose wrinkles, and his wrinkles in return. I force my tongue through my lips, childishly sticking it out at him in a demonstration of how affronted I am. He grins and releases my cheeks, hauling me into his chest and cuddling me. “I love your work ethic, for the record. Not many people can say they love their job. You’re one of the lucky people in this world who get something more than money out of it.”

  I return Jack’s hug. “And what about your job? Are you one of the lucky people?”

  “I guess so,” he says into my hair. “Though my work is more of a good distraction these days.” He releases me and fusses over my face for a few moments, ridding my sticky skin of hair. I’m not sure how to read into that statement. So I don’t.

  “Ready?”

  “Yes,” I assert, joining him when he starts to jog back to the main path. “Act normal,” I say, knowing Micky is about to come into view again at any moment.

  “Right,” Jack says sharply. “How was your day yesterday?”

  I throw him an incredulous look. “What?”

  “I’m making conversation.”

  “Seriously?”

  “Yes, I want to know how your day was.” He’s hiding a smirk as he focuses forward, not indulging my narrowed eyes.

  “Amazing,” I confess, deciding to play along with his playful banter. “But I didn’t get much work done. Yours?”

  “I got lots of ‘work’ done.” He grins. “And it was the best day ever.”

  I smile up at him and he looks down at me, his gray eyes the brightest I’ve ever seen them. The notion that I am the cause of such a beautiful sight does things to my heart that’s beyond comprehension.

  Puckering his lips, he kisses the air. “I better go. Call you later, gorgeous.” He sprints off and I get the pleasure of his wet, naked back for too short a time before he disappears from view as I gradually slow my pace and come to a stop.

  “What the hell did he want?” Micky asks, strolling across the grass toward me.

  “Nothing.” I raise my arms in the air and stretch, dead set on nailing coolness.

  “Is he bothering you?”

  “No.”

  “Then what did he want?”

  “I bumped into him, that’s all,” I say tiredly, dropping my palms and pushing them into the ground, looking up at him. “It’s done with, Micky. I already told you that.”

  He’s bristling like a threatened bear, but it doesn’t stop him from pushing his palm into my back. “Straighten your back,” he grumbles. “If you’re going to stretch, do it properly.”

  “Your man-bun is wonky,” I quip, hissing when my hamstrings burn. “That hurts!”

  “Quit complaining.”

  I unbend and stand up straight, tossing him a dirty look. “Go stretch your client.”

  He frowns and looks toward the woman currently spread-eagled on the grass. “I’m working on it.”

  I laugh. “Is that Charlie?”

  “Yes.”

  “You’re losing your magic, Micky.”

  He scoffs and loops his arm around my neck, hauling me in. “I am not losing my magic.” He leads me back up toward his client, roughing up my ponytail. “And if I ever do, you must kill me.”

  “That would be an injustice to female eyes everywhere.”

  “True,” he agrees, releasing me when we reach his workout area. “Charlie, this is Annie.”

  She smiles coyly, her pretty face flushing. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

  “I bet,” I laugh, backing away. “I’ll leave you guys to it. I have to get to work. Nice to meet you, Charlie.”

  “And you!”

  I flip Micky an approving look before turning and jogging home.

  * * *

  I glug back a pint of water and toss my iPod into the fruit basket before throwing the double doors open and breathing in some more air. Making my way to the secret spot in my courtyard, I push my way through the leaves of the willow tree and land in the deckchair, stretching my legs while checking my phone. I have a text message from Jack. I open it quickly.

  Running with a hard-on is fucking painful.

  I laugh loudly and rela
x back in my chair, daydreaming for a few minutes as I run through yesterday and this morning. Jack runs every morning, which means I might have to, too. Will half an hour every day be part of our ongoing routine? I want to be grumpy about it, but I can’t, not when it means that 1) I’ll get to see Jack, and 2) I’ll tone up in the process. We just might have to think about where we run to avoid being seen together. I start to punch out a reply to him, but I’m interrupted halfway through my message when my phone rings.

  I don’t recognize the number. “Annie Ryan,” I announce when I answer.

  “Miss Ryan, my name’s Terrence Pink, CEO for Brawler’s.”

  “Oh, hello.” I sit up straight in my chair, wondering why a world-renowned tech company would be calling little old me. “How can I help you?” I’m raging with curiosity.

  “We’re expanding, building new premises, and we’ve heard your name on the grapevine. I’m hoping we could meet to discuss.”

  They’ve heard of my name? “Of course!” I rush into the kitchen and grab my diary. “When is convenient for you?”

  “The sooner the better. Today?”

  I wince. My day is packed, especially after yesterday when I achieved a great big fat zero in the studio. “Could we do tomorrow?”

  “I’m sorry; I know it’s short notice, but we’ve already seen others and hope to make a decision very soon so the project can move forward.”

  I bite my lip and bite the bullet. This is too good an opportunity. “Two o’clock?”

  “Two o’clock it is. We’re floor ten, 25 Churchill Place, Canary Wharf.”

  I scribble it down. “See you then.” I hang up and the message I’d half typed out in reply to Jack appears on my screen.

  Morning sex would remedy…

  But I delete it instead of finishing it and sending it. Because that would just be reminding him that there will be no morning sex in this relationship, and I don’t want him to feel as grumpy as me at that notion. I pout, bringing my phone to my mouth and chewing the corner. No morning sex yet, but when? No snuggling in bed and simply being together, either. I stamp those thoughts away and run into my office ready to hit Google and research Brawler’s in preparation for the meeting.

  Chapter 14

  I walk into the building that houses Brawler’s, gazing around at the impressive space, not quite believing that I’m here. Everyone knows that Brawler’s is the giant in the tech world. That they dazzle with their innovative approach to marketing and development. What I didn’t know is that this project, the new offices, is a move being made after Brawler’s announced they’re launching a partnership with one of the world’s largest social media platforms. To say I’m intimidated by this meeting would be a slight understatement. But, as I’ve reminded myself countless times, while their area of expertise is tech, mine is designing buildings. And that’s what I’m here to potentially do.

  I step inside the elevator with a guy and scan the list of companies on the wall sign to the side.

  “What floor?” he asks.

  “Ten, please,” I answer, my scanning eyes freezing when I make note of the companies that operate from floor ten. “What?” I say out loud, my mouth going dry. I look up to see we’re at floor eight already. “Oh no,” I squeak, turning back to face the doors just as they slide open and reveal the biggest silver engraved sign saying, JACK JOSEPH CONTRACTORS, above a sign that says BRAWLER’S. They share a floor?

  “You okay, love?” the man asks, waiting for me to exit. No. No, I’m not okay.

  I force myself out of the elevator, looking cautiously around, not quite believing that I’ve found myself in Jack’s office. It’s modern, smart, and impressive. Just like Jack.

  I announce myself at Brawler’s reception, then take a seat in the waiting area, unable to stop my eyes from flitting everywhere nervously. He might not be here. He might be out for a meeting. I’m scanning the space again, reaching up and loosening the floral tasseled scarf that I have wrapped around my neck. I feel like I’m suffocating. I can’t deny I would love to see him, but I can’t promise I’ll be able to keep my hands to myself. Is he here?

  And like he’s heard me ask, a door across the waiting area opens and Jack walks out, fastening his suit jacket. Good lord, he looks too delicious for his own good, his gray suit pristine, his tie perfectly knotted, and his hair a sexy mess. Fucking hell. He looks straight at me, like he knew I’d be here, and then it occurs to me: he did know I’d be here.

  Jack strides forward with purpose until he comes to a stop before my seated form. His hand comes up and cups his chin, stroking down his scruff as he stares at me. “Annie,” he rasps, making my heart gallop and my tummy flutter. He presents his hand. “Good to see you.”

  I briefly close my eyes to gather myself. He needs to stop saying my name, and I really shouldn’t entertain his prompt to make physical contact with him. I’m already struggling to cool down my rising temperature before I burst into flames at his feet. “You too.” I push myself to my feet and place my hand in his, for no other reason than the receptionist will think it odd if I don’t. I go stiff from head to toe when he locks me in his grasp, squeezing gently, his gray eyes dancing. “Gotcha,” he whispers.

  My mouth drops open a little, and I quickly and discreetly reclaim my hand and look away from him before I give myself away. “Don’t say that,” I warn seriously, at risk of self-combusting. I look up through my lashes and catch his mild grin. “You knew I’d be here.”

  “I recommended you.” He shrugs like it’s nothing.

  “Why would you do that?”

  He leans forward, bringing his face close to mine. “Because I wanted to lure you here under false pretenses so I can fuck you over my desk.”

  My mouth falls open in shock and my panicked eyes quickly scope the surroundings. “I should slap you,” I retort indignantly when I’ve ensured no one’s in earshot.

  He laughs softly. “I recommended you because you are an amazing architect and I just know you can pull this off. Plus, my company will be doing the build so it means I’ll get to see you more.”

  I narrow suspicious eyes on him. “So it’s not a completely selfless move?”

  “We’re all winners.” He signals me down the corridor on a cheeky grin that I can’t help but match. I can’t believe he’s done this. “We’re in Brawler’s boardroom. Last door on the right.” I take the lead, following Jack’s extended arm. “And after the meeting, I want you on my desk,” he whispers into my ear, making my shoulders roll and a shudder travel down my backbone.

  “You’re coming in to the meeting?” I ask, my alarm growing. I have to be all professional in front of him? Jesus, I’ve been trying to do that since I found out he’s Colin’s contractor, and I’ve not been very successful.

  “I’m coming in to the meeting.”

  Oh, God. “Please don’t look at me.”

  “You’re asking the impossible, Annie,” he says seriously, slowing to a stop when the lady from reception appears, looking apologetic.

  “Mr. Joseph, your wife is on the line.”

  I nearly pop a back tooth with the force of my bite, discreetly looking at Jack. His fresh face definitely takes on an edge of unease. “Tell her I’m in a meeting.” He clears his throat and overtakes me, opening the door for the boardroom and gesturing me in.

  I wander past Jack, glancing up at him. He smiles, but it’s small and strained. I hate that just the mention of his wife wipes away the sparkle in his eyes that I love so much. It makes me want to take him and run away, to get him away from the source of his misery. And now my misery, too.

  The boardroom is big, a huge table taking up nearly all the space, with at least thirty executive chairs positioned around it. There’s a projector screen on the far wall and a sideboard loaded with glass bottles of water and platters of cakes. Richard is sitting at the table, along with three other suited men and a woman.

  “Annie, you know Richard,” Jack says. “And this is Terrence, who I believe
you spoke with.”

  Terrence nods, his eyes glimmering at me as he stands and
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JODI ELLEN MALPAS SERIES:

One Night
This Man

 

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