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The forbidden, p.18
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       The Forbidden, p.18

           Jodi Ellen Malpas
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  offers his hand. “Pleasure to meet you, Annie,” he says around a big, toothy grin. “Jack’s told us wonderful things about you.”

  I laugh, slightly uncomfortable, feeling my cheeks flush. I bet he has. “Nice to meet you, Terrence,” I reply, accepting his hand. His delighted eyes take in my form, and I look at Jack when I hear a low, throaty growl emanate from his direction. His eyes, narrowed to slits, are trained on Terrence.

  “These are my partners, Dick and Seth, and their PA, Lydia.” Terrence motions to the two men seated next to him, and then to the lady.

  I shake hands with them all and take a seat as Lydia pours everyone a glass of water and sets some plates and the cakes between us on the table. Her smile is friendly and her fifties-style glasses suit her heart-shaped face perfectly.

  Jack slips his jacket off and hangs it on the back of his chair—the chair directly opposite me. He lowers to the seat and begins to tap his pen on the leatherbound writing pad before him.

  He smiles, the smile that’s so dazzling and genuine, it makes me smile, too. “You’ve got this,” he mouths across the table.

  My nerves vanish just like that, and the fact that he’s here suddenly fills me with comfort and ease. I’ve just fallen for him a little bit more.

  “Guys.” Jack looks to the men from Brawler’s. “We’re working with Annie for the first time on a new art gallery in Clapham.” He pushes the drawings across the table to them, and they all look down with hums of praise.

  Like he’s read my thoughts, he glances toward me, a secret smile hiding behind his professional front. “She’s diverse, hugely talented, and passionate about what she does.”

  I melt all over the chair, and Jack breathes in, holding my eyes for perhaps a moment longer than should be acceptable for business associates. “She won’t disappoint.” He clears his throat and realigns his focus. “I assure you.”

  I just stare across the table in silent awe, watching his mouth move as he speaks. He looks so fucking sexy, relaxed back in his chair, reeling off words that are making me fall harder and harder for him. He recommended me. He set this up, gave me this amazing opportunity.

  He takes his phone from his pocket and spins it in his hand. “So, guys.” Jack waves his mobile between me and the people from Brawler’s. “Over to you. This is a long-term project. We need to get off to the best start.”

  His gray eyes meet mine fleetingly, and I frown across the table at him, my head tilting. Long-term. Best start. My brain threatens to go off on a tangent, but I quickly rein it in. I can’t allow myself to think beyond today.

  I cough and realign my focus, set on nailing my meeting. “So, tell me about the project,” I say, giving the other people in the room my undivided attention. “Your partnership with a giant social media company means expansion.”

  “Yes. We’ve acquired a plot of land in Blackfriars,” Terrence says, pushing over a portfolio. “It has planning permission for a ten-story building, our new home.”

  I open the folder and scan the details—square footage, surrounding buildings, et cetera, happy to see other modern buildings in close proximity to the space. “You want to stand out.” I state it as a fact, because I know it is. Brawler’s has an ego as big as its share prices. Fucking huge.

  Terrence smiles. “Can you make us stand out?”

  “You mean make you the envy of every company operating within the area?” I ask, closing the file.

  I hear Jack laugh softly and Richard smiles, as well as Terrence. “If that’s how you’d like to put it.” He links his fingers and lays them across his broad tummy, his smile widening.

  I return it. “No point beating around the bush, is there, Terrance?”

  Jack coughs and my eyes shoot across the table, finding him clenching his big hand around his tumbler of water, and as he lifts his glass to his lips he glances at me, his lips straight with displeasure. “Your top priorities for the new home of Brawler’s?” I ask, pulling my attention back to the team of people that I’m trying to sell myself to. He’s feeling threatened, and while it’s quite an amusing sight, I can’t let it distract me.

  “Light and space,” Dick answers. “Clinical, clean, and modern. When it comes to the interior people getting involved, we plan on having open working spaces to connect the entire company, but with clear distinction between departments. That gives you a good indication on the theme we’re going for. We’re excited to see what you come up with.”

  I smile and start making notes, my mind going into overdrive and building Brawler’s in my head as I sit here. “Outside space?”

  “Definitely. Take indoors outdoors.”

  I visualize a courtyard in the center of the building connecting all four sides, every floor visible from every part of the structure. “Do you have any leaning toward a sustainable energy-efficient ethos?”

  “Of course.”

  I nod, happy with his answer. “I’d need to research the surroundings in regards to landscaping and orientation, et cetera.”

  “We can arrange a site meeting, no problem,” Terrence says. “Now, let me ask you a few questions, Annie.”

  “Fire away.” I smile and get ready to sell myself hard.

  * * *

  I’m positively buzzing once the people of Brawler’s have shown us out of their boardroom. “Great job, Annie,” Richard says as he wanders off. “They’d be stupid not to give you the opportunity.”

  “Thanks, Richard.” I turn, ready to say a professional good-bye to Jack, but just as I draw breath, my arm is seized and I’m pushed down the corridor urgently. “What are you doing?” I gasp, my cautious eyes darting warily.

  “We need to de-brief.”

  “We do?”

  “Oh, we do.”

  My body is instantly singing with need. And my mind is racked with worry. “Jack, what if someone sees us?”

  He opens a door, pushes me inside, and locks it behind us. I swing around and find Jack yanking the buckle of his belt undone as he stalks toward me. He looks coiled with desperation and ready to explode, and my body is responding—my heart thumping, my tummy twisting, and a pulse kicking between my thighs. I gasp when he grabs me around the waist and carries me to a desk. He sits me on the wood and pushes me back, lifts my dress, and spreads my thighs. Oh fuck! He moves in and cups my cheeks, sealing our lips and kissing me hungrily. My body temperature rockets, and I’m instantly in the game, feeling my way to the tops of his trousers and unfastening them.

  “That was the most painful hour of my fucking life,” he mumbles, licking and biting his way up my cheek.

  “More painful than running with a hard-on?” I ask, pushing his trousers down his thighs before slipping my hand into the top of his boxers. I grab his cock and squeeze, reveling in the heat and hardness of his smooth flesh.

  He jerks on a groan, releasing my lips and resting his forehead against mine, blinking slowly. “I’m in pain whenever we’re not touching,” he says softly, dragging his thumb across my swollen bottom lip. His eyes close as I draw my palm down his erection, his forehead becoming wet on mine. “Have you any idea how you make me feel?”

  I smile on the inside, wondering if it’s as alive as he makes me feel. “I think I do,” I reply, rolling my thumb around the pulsing head of his cock, spreading the moisture.

  His hand comes down and grips mine for a second before he pulls it away and hauls me to the edge of the wood. “Are you going to let me fuck you on my desk?” He pushes my knickers to the side and nudges at my opening teasingly. The heat is almost unbearable.

  “Do I have a choice?” My head drops back, my hands weaving through the hair at his nape as he pushes his way inside me.

  “No,” he admits on a long exhale, edging in that little bit more.

  “God, that feels good,” I breathe.

  Jack does this to me. He makes me forget everything, consumes me to a point that I forget my name. He brings his hands to my arse and tugs me forward until we’re locked together,
deepening our connection. My head falls forward, my forehead finding his for support. Slowly, he widens his stance, pulling out before plunging forward again, repeating his move in a steady, meticulous flow. The relentless pleasure of him stroking my inner walls leaves no space for anything but that. Indescribable, mind-numbing pleasure. I lock my ankles around his lower back.

  “Feel good, baby?” His soft words are a caress, and I nod against him, unable to catch a breath to voice my answer. Jack mirrors my nod, swaying into me while his palms cup my bottom and pull me gently forward, meeting his advances perfectly every time. We’re so close, the clothes between us not taking even a tiny bit away from our intimacy.

  I let my hands roam across his damp neck, slipping across his skin, molding and squeezing softly. “You’re pulsing,” he whispers, obviously feeling me clenching him. “You’ll have to be quiet when you come, Annie.”

  My breathing becomes erratic as the signs of my orgasm steam forward. “Kiss me,” I demand, pushing my lips to his and forcing my tongue into his mouth, urgency overtaking me.

  “Slowly,” he orders, sweeping through my mouth delicately, matching his drives. My legs begin to tense around his waist, my back straightening and pushing my front harder into his. He nips at the tip of my tongue, and then buries his face in my neck. I take his lead and do the same, sinking my face into his shirt where his shoulder meets his neck, panting vigorously. We’re locked in a cuddle, his arms now wrapped around my waist, mine around his shoulders, as he thrusts us both over the edge. “Fuck,” he mumbles into me, freezing and holding himself deep.

  My moan of release is muffled and long, my body convulsing in his hold, the pressure draining right out of me on delicious, satisfying pulses. I’m clinging to him tightly, hiding in his neck, loving the feel of us locked so tightly together. “Oh wow,” I breathe, my face sticky with sweat. I feel him jerking a little on a silent laugh, squeezing me to the point I can’t breathe.

  “That was a very welcome midafternoon pick-me-up,” he says, making me smile. I pat his back and ease out of his hold, wincing when he slips free. He places a light kiss on the corner of my mouth as he breathes in, and I gaze around the impressive space, taking in his office.

  “So this is where you work?”

  “This is where I work,” he confirms, smiling at me as he releases me and sorts his trousers out before handing me a tissue.

  “Thanks.” I slide off his desk, grimace as I wipe between my thighs, and pull my knickers and dress back into place. I look at the tissue on a frown and Jack laughs, taking it from my hand and throwing it into the bin next to his desk. I grab my slouchy bag and sling it over my shoulder. “This is all a bit risky.”

  He almost scowls, his lovely gray eyes narrowing a touch. “It was either here or on the boardroom table in front of everyone.” He buckles his belt and steps into me, smiling at my blushing cheeks as he runs the pad of his thumb over one. “Though Terrence might have enjoyed that.”

  I press my lips together. “Did you growl, Jack Joseph?”

  “He fancies you. I’ll be keeping a close eye on him.” He plants a chaste kiss on my lips and starts to walk me to the door, but we both come to an alarmed stop when the handle starts jiggling. I look up at him, hoping he might clue me in on who it might be so I can assess how panicked I need to be. He looks blank.

  “Jack?” Stephanie’s yell hits me like a bullet to my temple. His mouth drops open. I begin to shake. “Jack, you in there?”

  “Oh fuck,” he breathes, staring at the door as the handle continues to rattle.

  I clench my eyes shut and try to breathe through my panic.

  “This way,” he grates, taking my arm and pulling me across his office toward a door. “I’ll get rid of her. Give me two minutes.”

  “We work together, Jack,” I whisper-hiss. “We could just be having a meeting.”

  “With the door locked?” he asks, tugging me along. He’s right: that would look so dodgy, and actually, I don’t want to face Stephanie. I’ll probably shake before her with nerves, guilt, and a million other things.

  He pulls a door open and ushers me inside. To complete darkness. I swing around and glare at him. “A fucking closet?” I hiss, outraged, but unable to refuse what he’s suggesting.

  He gives me a pained face—a sorry face—before he shuts the door and I’m alone in the dark. Fucking brilliant!

  “Jack?” I hear Stephanie shout again, and then his phone starts ringing. “I know you’re in there!”

  I suck in a breath in an attempt to keep silent. I hear his office door swing open. “Hey,” Jack greets her, super chirpy. And guilty.

  “What’s going on?” Stephanie sounds affronted, and I wilt on the spot, expecting her to come charging through the door that’s keeping me out of sight at any moment.

  “It’s chaos around here today,” he reels off with ease. “I was trying to get some peace so I can work through some figures.”

  I sag against the wall.

  “I see,” I hear Stephanie say, and in my mind’s eye, she’s gazing around his office suspiciously. My anxiety nearly chokes me as I remain deathly still, dying on the inside.

  “What brings you here?” Jack asks, his footsteps getting louder. He’s walking to his desk? Good lord, don’t lead her this way!

  “It’s been such a stressful morning!” she wails.

  “What’s happened?” he practically sighs. There’s no concern in his tone at all.

  “I was supposed to have lunch with Tessa.” Stephanie’s voice gets louder, too, telling me she’s following Jack toward his desk. I close my eyes even though I’m in darkness. A chair creaks. She’s sat herself down. “And she canceled!”

  “And that’s awful?” Jack breathes.

  “Well, yes,” Stephanie snipes harshly. “She said she had an appointment that she forgot about, but I know she’s having lunch with her new friend from yoga.”

  “Stephanie, she’s probably canceled because she really does have an appointment.”

  “I’m not stupid, Jack. Her new friend doesn’t like me. She wants Tessa all to herself.”

  I frown, opening my eyes and scanning the blackness of my confined space. She sounds completely unreasonable.

  There’s a brief silence lingering, and in that time, I build a mental image of her staring at Jack across his desk. “So what do you want me to do?” Jack asks simply.

  “Well, I don’t know!” Stephanie huffs. “Tessa’s my friend, and I’m not going to let some interloper push me out.”

  My mind twists as my wide eyes stare into my darkness. Whoever Tessa is, I feel sorry for her.

  I hear Jack breathe in, clearly trying to gather some patience. “She’s allowed more than one friend.”

  “No, she’s not, Jack! It’s always been me and her.”

  “Stephanie, I haven’t got time to babysit your friendships.”

  “No, you don’t have time for anything other than work, do you?”

  “How else am I going to pay for the life to which you’ve become accustomed, Stephanie? Get yourself a job. Something to do other than worry about who your friends are friends with.”

  She gasps, truly horrified. “Me? Work? I don’t think so. What would people think?” I stare at the door, flummoxed. “Anyway,” she goes on, that obviously the end of that, “I was thinking you can finish work early. We’ll have dinner. Somewhere nice.”

  She sounds hopeful. I close my eyes and as much as I don’t want to, I let the flood of guilt wash over me and scrub at my skin relentlessly. Because no matter what way you look at this, what I’m doing is wrong. What Jack is doing is wrong. How we’re feeling is wrong. A harsh dose of my reality has just been rammed down my throat. I hope it chokes me. I deserve it. I look around my prison, feeling hopeless and deplorable and immoral.

  “Sure,” Jack answers. “That would be nice.”

  “Great!” She sounds so happy despite the lack of enthusiasm in Jack’s voice.

  A knife wed
ges itself in my chest and twists repeatedly. And I accept the agony. Because I deserve it. But I’m not delusional. Knowing you’re doing something so terribly wrong doesn’t make it easy to stop.

  Chapter 15

  I snuggle down on the couch under my blanket and stare at the wall. I’m in hell and I’m in heaven. I’m flying and I’m drowning. I can’t walk away from him. It’s that simple, if fucking horrendously complicated. Maybe the guilt is something I’ll just have to get used to. At least the guilt tells me I still have a conscience. It’s a small consolation, and maybe a little irrelevant, since I don’t plan on clearing it. Clearing my conscience means no Jack, and no Jack isn’t an option. I’ve tumbled hard, fast, and furiously for him. Unstoppably. I’ve finally fallen for a man—a forbidden man. A man I shouldn’t have.

  In an attempt to stop my mind from dwelling on my fuck-up of a situation, I grab my laptop and try to focus on work. I get into my stride, researching the area of Blackfriars where Brawler’s has bought their land and make endless notes, my vision for their new building getting clearer as I work.

  When I hear a light rapping at the door, I check the time, surprised to see I’ve had my head down for nearly three hours.
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