“Hey, Candy Girl, whatcha got today?” Rob Danford plopped onto the extra chair in Julie's cubicle and dug through the chocolate and caramel confections in the crystal candy dish. A frown suddenly pulled the corners of his lips down. “What? No peanut butter cups? I thought you said you were bringing them in today.”
It was difficult not to roll her eyes and to maintain the smile on her face, but somehow she managed. It wasn't that she minded the moniker “Candy Girl,” given to her by her coworkers because she usually kept her dish filled with candy. What bugged the hell out of her was being taken advantage of.
Rob had a lot of damn nerve to enter her space and complain about the treats, which she provided for free. He was the biggest mooch in the office. The only time he ever came by her desk was to dump some work on her or take handfuls of chocolate at a time. He was one of the reasons she had to fill her dish up more than once a week. It was becoming an expensive endeavor, and she didn't recall him offering to reimburse her.
She wanted so badly to tell him to kiss her black ass, but instead she sighed, feeling a knot form in her stomach. She hated confrontation of any kind. Really fucking hated it. “I'm sorry. I forgot to bring them in today. I had an early-morning doctor's appointment and was running late. I'm going home for lunch anyway, so I'll bring them when I come back.”
Rob poked out his lips and slumped in his seat, giving the appearance of a sullen child. “I suppose I'll have to wait until then.” Someone really needed to tell him pouting was not attractive for a forty-plus, balding man with a pronounced paunch. She might have pointed it out to him, but he wasn't the type to take criticism well and would probably make her workdays miserable for weeks to come. It simply wasn't worth the aggravation.
She pointedly turned to her computer and focused on the screen, hoping he'd take the hint and leave. When he lingered, she realized he wouldn't go away until his presence was acknowledged. The smile she'd been holding on to was getting harder to maintain as she turned around to face him. Why couldn't he simply buy a clue and leave her alone as most people would have? “Is there anything else I can help you with?”
Rob crossed his thick arms over his chest. “Vivian wants to leave me. She says I'm an inconsiderate slouch. Can you believe that? I've given her the best fifteen years of her life. I don't ask for much. Just a hot meal when I get home, a clean house, and my children to be taken care of. I bust my ass in this office all day while she gets to stay home. I treat her like a queen. Most women would love to be a housewife and stay home and watch soap operas and talk shows all day. Hell, I remember getting off work early one day, and she was watching Dr. Phil. Doesn't that woman realize how good she has it?”
Was this guy for real? Out of everyone in the office, why did she have to be the one people chose to unburden their problems on, especially when she never invited them to? If anything, she discouraged it, made a point not to ask anyone about their personal lives outside of work. Yet somehow a “how are you?” turned into: “my husband is having an affair”; “my kids won't listen to me”; or “I have this rash on my genitals, and I don't know if I should go to the doctor.” There were quite a few things she wished she didn't know about her coworkers. Most of them unloaded on her as if she were a trained psychologist; it was emotionally draining. She had her own problems and really wanted to tell them all to fuck off. But as always, she kept these thoughts inside, not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings. Julie had learned many years ago it was best to go with the flow, and continued on with this mantra through sheer force of habit.
She pinched the bridge of her nose to fight off the impending headache she felt coming on. “Do you help her around the house any, or maybe watch the kids to give her a break?”
Rob's look said it all. He crinkled his nose in apparent distaste, as if something as simple as helping his poor wife out every once in a while was beneath him. “Why the heck should I? Didn't you hear me? I bust my ass to make sure the bills are paid. Her job is to take care of our house and kids. How hard is that?”
Poor Vivian. Julie saw right then and there, trying to reason with Rob would be a wasted effort; besides, she had piles of work to get through. “Look, I'm sure things will work out for the two of you. There are the kids to consider, and I'm sure if you show her she's appreciated, she'll realize you care, and change her mind.”
“Hmm. I suppose I could take her someplace nice. Just me and her, let her order anything she wants. She likes those burgers at Five Guys.”
Was he for real? “You're going to spoil her, Rob.” This time she did roll her eyes. “Look, I really need to get this project finished before I head out to lunch. The sooner it's done, the faster I'll get home to get those peanut butter cups for you.”
“You're okay, Candy Girl.” Rob made a big production of standing and brushing the creases out of his pants. Before he left her cube, however, he took another fistful of candy, leaving her dish nearly empty.
“Miss Bennett, I'd like a word with you in my office.”
She stiffened at the sound of the smooth baritone that broke the quiet of her work space. What now? This day was going from bad to worse and it was still morning. She could only imagine what her boss wanted to talk to her about. He'd already gotten on her case about the excessive amount of visitors going in and out of her cubicle. Seeing her talking to Rob probably hadn't helped.
With a resigned sigh, she pushed away from her desk and stood up, making no attempt at eye contact. Not that she could without nearly breaking her neck. He was a giant of a man, towering over her measly five-feet-four-inch frame by well over a foot.
Turning on his heels, he didn't wait to see if she followed him, because that bastard knew she would. He walked with the confidence of a leader, chest forward and long, purposeful strides. His movements were surprisingly graceful for one so large. She practically jogged to keep up with him. When inside his office, he leaned against his desk instead of taking the chair behind it. “Close the door, Miss Bennett.”
Julie gulped. She was in trouble now. Her boss only called her by her surname when he was annoyed with her, which seemed to be a lot lately. When he wasn't snapping at her, he was sending her narrow-eyed stares. It was enough to make any woman a nervous wreck. Moistening her suddenly dry lips, she did as she was told, shutting the door with no little reluctance. Though he hadn't invited her to, she took a seat on his couch, unsure if her legs would hold her beneath the weight of his penetrating topaz gaze.
Deciding to cut him off before he went into his rant, Julie blurted out, “Before you say anything, let me first apologize. I know you've already spoken to me about the amount of traffic I get in my cubicle, but I'm honestly trying to limit my number of visitors. I'll do better next time.” She couldn't look at him. She kept her head bowed, sure she'd see the disapproval in those all-seeing eyes. The man had a way of discomforting her without even trying, and she had a feeling he knew it.
She'd never forget the day he started with the company five months ago. Julie had been late that morning due to some errands she needed to run. There'd been a buzz in the office for weeks about the hotshot upstate New Yorker who planned on infusing the company with new ideas and taking its marketing into a new direction. Not particularly excited about change, the marketing-department staff had dreaded Gabriel Carland's arrival.
* * * * *
Breezing into her desk around midmorning, Julie wasn't surprised to see one of her coworkers in her cubicle digging through her candy dish. It was a rare day when she entered the office and didn't find someone standing beside her desk. “Morning, Doris. Did you meet the new director yet? Is he old and obnoxious like you were speculating the other day?” Julie greeted as she flopped in her chair and powered up her computer.
“No. Actually he isn't. As a matter of fact, he's nothing like I expected.” The redhead pulled out a chocolate-covered toffee from the dish.
“What? You mean he's not short, fat, and bald?” Julie giggled, repeating what Doris had predicted their new boss would look like.
“Why don't you judge for yourself…Julie, isn't it?” A deep, melodic baritone with the hint of a cultured New York accent reached her ears, sending a shiver down her spine. She didn't need to look up to know she'd stuck her foot in her mouth.
Doris stood up. “Uh, I'll catch you later, Candy Girl—I mean, Julie. Hi, Mr. Carland.”
“I thought we'd already agreed we wouldn't stand on formality around here. It's Gabriel, or Gabe if you'd like.”
Doris grinned, showing all thirty-two of her teeth, and began to twirl an auburn lock around her index finger. “Thanks, Gabe. I'd better get back to work.” She turned to Julie. “We'll talk about that project once you've settled in. Later, Gabe.”
Julie wanted to be sick. It would have been nice to have a cup of coffee before being thrown under the bus. She stood and forced herself to look at her new boss. The moment her eyes locked with that hard light brown stare, her breath caught in her throat.
Not only was he far from short, fat, or bald, he was the living, breathing personification of sex in a business suit. Standing several inches over six feet, he dwarfed her petite frame, appearing larger-than-life with incredibly broad shoulders. The guy seemed better suited to being a Mr. Universe contestant than a marketing director. With those sinister dark brows slashing over bedroom eyes, a full bottom lip, and chiseled, rough-hewn features, he was by far one of the most attractive men she'd ever laid eyes on. His only imperfection was a long nose that was slightly off center, as if it had been broken a time or two.
His clothing was impeccable—and obviously tailored—doing little to disguise his perfectly sculpted swimmer's body. Her mouth went dry, and her body tightened in instant awareness of his nearness. To her chagrin, her nipples hardened to tight tips, forcing her to cross her arms across her chest so he wouldn't notice. Remember Henry, remember Henry, she silently chanted.
With one raised brow, his gaze swept over her briefly before his eyes locked with hers, his mouth tightening briefly. Heat flamed her cheeks. He obviously found her wanting. “Candy Girl?”
Her tongue had cleaved to the roof of her mouth, and her lips moved, but no words would come.
“Cat got your tongue?”
“I, uh… It was a nickname given to me by one of my coworkers because I, uh…keep candy at my desk. It kind of stuck.” Nervous laughter trilled from her lips, and she wanted to kick herself. Did she have to sound like such an idiot?
Gabe stared at her as if she had two heads, and did little to hide his seemingly instant dislike of her. “I see. Well, Julie, let's keep the office gossip at a minimum, shall we? And I think we'll all get along just fine.”
* * * * *
By the time he'd walked away, she'd felt two inches tall. It had set the tone for their working relationship. He didn't approve of her and somehow managed to find Julie when she wasn't at her best, and now she stood here feeling like a child who'd been called to the principal's office.
As the uncomfortable silence stretched in his office, Julie shifted from side to side until finally she raised her head to meet his gaze. Gabe wordlessly appraised her, his expression giving nothing away. It wasn't fair for one man to look that damn good. The bastard. “Please don't,” she croaked as she lowered her lids, unable to keep still under his scrutiny.
He raised a brow. “Don't what?”
“Look at me like that. Say what you have to say, write me up, or fire me. Just get this over with, please.”
“Why would you think I'd write you up?”
She shrugged. “I've been warned, haven't I? Look, I'm a big girl; I can handle it.”
“Hmm, I wonder. I'm not going to write you up, Julie, but I am curious about something.”
She nibbled her bottom lip, as she gathered enough courage to meet his gaze again. Was it her imagination or had his eyes just darkened to a deep gold? “What?”
“Why do you let them do it?”
Julie frowned. “Do what?”
“You let them use you as a sounding board without a word of thanks. They don't even use your name. Doesn't that get annoying after a while? At the very least, shouldn't they compensate you for the treats you provide?”
This line of questioning was particularly uncomfortable because she'd been thinking the same thing earlier. As much as she wanted to agree, she was loath to tell him he was right. There was no point in stroking his already overinflated ego. “I don't mind. Look, I promise I'll keep the chitchat to a minimum, but I really have a lot of work to do. Is there anything else you wanted to discuss with me?”
“Actually there is. I have a special project I'd like you to help me out with, but it would require you to put in some late hours.”
“That shouldn't be a problem.”
“Perhaps we can talk about it over lunch?”
Julie remembered she'd promised Rob she'd go home and get those peanut butter cups. It was either that or listen to some more bitching and moaning for the rest of the afternoon. “I actually planned on going home for lunch. I needed to get something I left behind.”
“Go now. You live a few minutes away, don't you? You have my permission to get whatever it is you need, and we'll have lunch when you return. I don't have time to go over it with you now, as I'll be in a meeting until twelve thirty.”
She gulped. Lunch alone with the boss? Julie might find the man sexy as hell, even though it would take Chinese water torture for her to admit it, but she could think of a thousand things she'd rather do than have lunch with Gabriel Carland. For one thing, the man saw way too much for his own good. And he got under her skin far more easily than anyone she'd ever met. Not that he'd be interested in her beyond work-related matters. “Will anyone else be joining us?”
He took a seat behind his massive oak desk and began rifling through files. Without bothering to look up again, he waved her off. “No. It'll just be us. I'll meet you out in the lobby at quarter to one. You can leave now.”
He didn't have to tell her twice. Turning on her heels, she scurried out of the room as fast as she dared. There was something about that man that wreaked havoc on her equilibrium. She had a perfectly fine boyfriend. A nice, safe boyfriend who didn't have half the female population drooling over him. Someone who wouldn't break her heart. Yep, that was Henry. True blue. He was faithful until the end. Kind of like a basset hound. As unflattering a description as that was, it pretty much summed up Henry White. Sure, their relationship would never inspire any of those sexy romance novels she read from time to time, but he was safe. And he'd never let her down.
However, as she gathered her purse and car keys to go home, the question remained in her mind: how in the world would she get through lunch with her hunky boss without making an ass of herself?
* * * * *
Out of all the women in his acquaintance, why did it have to be her? That awkward mouse of a woman with no claim to real beauty? No. That wasn't completely true. At first glance she was a little on the plain side, but upon closer inspection he realized she had a subtle prettiness that, once recognized, could take a man's breath away. There was nothing exceptional about her features separately, but together they presented a picture of serene loveliness. Her large dark eyes and big natural hair gave her an almost gamine appearance. It made her look younger than the twenty-seven years he knew her to be. Her lips were full and well-shaped and always sported a light coating of gloss. Just looking at them filled his head with fantasies of what they tasted like. He'd lost count of the many hours he daydreamed of what flavor she wore. It smelled fruity, but he couldn't pinpoint the exact scent.
Julie had lovely brown skin that reminded him of a dark-chocolate confection. Her body was a whole other story. Though she dressed conservatively, Julie's outfits couldn't disguise those curvy hips, a slender waist, and a high, rounded ass. Hot damn, she had an ass on her. And those tits. Shit. They were more than a handful. And he had big hands. At times he wanted nothing more than to free those bad girls from the restraint of her frumpy clothing—taking his time sucking on each nipple until she begged for mercy.
Gabe couldn't pinpoint the exact moment she'd managed to creep into nearly every single one of his waking thoughts, but somehow she had. He'd contemplated for long periods of time about her appeal. He'd, after all, dated some knockouts. After mulling it over, he'd finally come to the conclusion that it was simply her.
She probably didn't realize it, but Julie's serene aura attracted people to her like moths to flames. She didn't have to say a word to make a person feel better. From his observations, Julie was more than just the office sounding board; she was the glue that held the team together. Even people from other departments came to her desk to talk.
At first Gabe believed it was the candy, but was soon dissuaded when he too fell under her spell. There was something about her that made him want to be in her presence, if for nothing else than just to hear her voice or witness the way she nibbled on her bottom lip when she was nervous. Or the way her brows furrowed when she was in deep thought. He found himself detouring to her desk more than he could explain. She was a hard worker and a determined little thing when she needed to get something done. He couldn't fault her where her work was concerned, but there was one thing about her that bugged the fuck out of him.
Gabe absolutely despised the way the other employees seemed to take advantage of her goodwill. He wished she'd stand up for herself, and often wondered why she didn't. It wasn't because she was timid. Far from it, he'd long sensed the fire within her. No, it was something deeper.
Whenever he walked by, however, she tensed up and became defensive. He'd come down on her a few times for the number of visitors in her cubicle, but not for the reasons she thought. He was probably crazy for feeling this way, but he was jealous of the way she welcomed everyone else in her space except him. It wasn't rational, and it was probably best if he didn't feature her in every single one of his wild imaginings, but hell, he was hooked.
Many long nights he'd dreamed of what that body would look like without any clothing, her big brown eyes staring up at him, her head resting against a pristine white pillow while he plowed his dick into her pussy. He'd bet her cunt was tight. And sweet, just like the candy she provided for the masses. Would she be a silent lover, with soft little moans, or would she scream his name as he fucked her?
Now, as he stood in the middle of his office fighting a raging hard-on, Gabe could no longer deny what he'd been fighting for months. He wanted Julie Bennett more than he could stand, and the frustration was fucking killing him. The only problem was, she didn't seem to know he was alive outside of work. What the hell was wrong with this picture? He was usually on the receiving end of unreciprocated crushes. It wasn't that he was conceited, but he was lucky to have received more than his share of female attention since his adolescent acne had cleared up. Perhaps this was his punishment for being the bastard his last girlfriend had claimed him to be.
Whereas half the women in the office made excuses to come by his office or brush against him, Julie walked the other way when she saw him coming. What would it take for her to recognize him as a man and not just her boss? He'd kill for the day she didn't look at him as if he were a two-headed monster.
The image of her ass swaying back and forth in a skirt that hugged her curves beautifully as she'd hurried out of his office filtered through his mind, and he groaned. He took a few agonizing steps to his desk before taking a seat in his chair. His cock had grown painfully hard, and it wouldn't go down until there was relief.
Thankfully the office door was already closed; he shut his eyes and rubbed his aching hard-on. He inhaled sharply. Shit, he hadn't masturbated in years. There had never been a need to. Pussy had always been readily available to him, but after the last few unsatisfying encounters, Gabe realized any pussy wouldn't do. He wanted Julie's.
When rubbing his dick through the material of his slacks didn't cut it, he unbuckled his belt and unzipped his fly. His cock throbbed painfully, chafing against silk boxers. Easing his shaft from its prison, Gabe circled it with his fingers and brushed off the drop of precum on the tip. Licking his lips, he squeezed his eyes shut as he moved his fist along his dick, imagining soft feminine fingers on his member instead of his own.
Damn, if she were here right now, he'd have his desk cleared off with her on it. She'd be begging for mercy by the time he was through with her. He'd sample each of her sweet holes and savor the taste of those sweet, juicy lips he'd longed to kiss for God knows how long. Then he'd ease into her pussy and fuck her until she came. Finally he'd take that ass. Would she let him fuck her there? Had she ever done it before? The thought of taking her anal cherry sent him over the edge. Gripping his cock, he let out a loud grunt. Quickly grabbing some tissues on his desk, he placed them over the tip of his dick to catch his cum.
What had that woman done to him? Candy Girl, indeed. She had something much sweeter than candy, and he intended to get some.