Dishes clattering wakes me. When I peel open my eyes, I’m treated to the sight of bare-chested Rob, a white towel wrapped around his waist. He grips a silver tray cover in his hand.
“Figured you’d be hungry, so I went ahead and ordered breakfast.”
He swipes a strip of bacon from one of the three plates sitting on the table in the corner. The aroma of maple syrup, salt, and something fried wafts to my nostrils. As if on cue, my stomach growls.
I beam up at him before climbing out of bed. I pull on his shirt and plop down on the nearest chair. “Amazing in bed and amazingly thoughtful. Thank you.”
It didn’t take long for him to bounce back last night for round two, then three, then four. I thought my hour-long performance for him the hotel in Taipei was impressive, but I was wrong. Rob’s stamina puts mine to shame.
I drain the bottle of water he hands me. “What kind of exercise do you do? Last night you were…”
Flashbacks rotate through my mind as I scan the space around me. The chair he bent me over. The wall he pinned me to. He took the reins with confidence the entire night. All I had to do was lie back and enjoy.
He chuckles while chewing. “A bit of everything. Rugby, martial arts, boxing, running.”
After leaning down to kiss me, he removes the rest of the silver tray covers. Bacon and eggs rest on one plate; French toast with fresh berries sits on the other.
“What’s that?” I chomp on a slice of toast while pointing to a trio of unfamiliar fried balls sitting on the third plate.
“Scotch eggs. I realized that Scotch is the only thing I’ve seen you consume in the time I’ve known you. Thought I’d stick with the theme.”
I smile, then take a bite. “How was your shower?”
“Good.” He downs half a glass of orange juice, then hands it to me. The mid-morning light hits his skin, highlighting the water droplets on the side of his neck. “It would have been better if you were in there with me.”
Stretching my arm across the tiny table, I run my fingers through his damp mass of dark hair. A soft moan slips from him between bites.
“You should have woke me up to join you.”
“Didn’t want to disturb you. But next time…”
His eyebrow wag sends a jolt through my body. I hope next time is very, very soon.
We finish breakfast in companionable silence. I’m normally halfway home at this point during a morning after, but today marks a milestone. With Rob I’m utterly comfortable in every sense of the word.
I snatch a triangle of French toast. “Big plans for today?”
“I have to check in with the office remodel later, then catch up with some paperwork.” He swipes one of the Scotch eggs from the plate. “But I was hoping you would have dinner with me tonight. I’m craving steak, and I hear Harris’ makes a New York strip that’s to die for.”
My stomach does a somersault. As much as I’ve enjoyed the past ten hours with Rob, I can’t afford to be foolish. We’ll be working together soon, and we need to draw clear boundaries.
He squints at me. “Have I said the wrong thing?”
“I just think we shouldn’t let ourselves get carried away. We’re coworkers, after all.”
He shoots me a heavy dose of side-eye.
I take a breath. “Look. Last night was amazing. This morning is, too. But I’m not going to lie, this new job at Offshoot means everything to me.” I pause, letting the words soak into the air between us. “I’ve been waiting for a break like this for years. I don’t have a stellar degree or impressive connections to fall back on. I just don’t…”
The frown on his face causes a punch to my chest. Hurt feelings maybe? I shake my head, refusing to be fazed.
“I don’t want to screw up the best job opportunity I’ve ever gotten because we couldn’t keep it in our pants.”
A soft smile spreads across his face, erasing any worry of hurt. “Layla, I’m not asking you to marry me. I’m asking you to dinner.” He clears his throat. “And don’t talk yourself down. Your portfolio blew me away the moment I looked at it. Phoebe thought so too. She told me there were applicants with big names on their resumes, but none of their skills or talent came close to yours. In the creative field, degrees are one thing. But raw talent, hard work, and ambition are something else entirely. You’ve got those in spades.”
My cheeks burn. He slides his hand across the table and interlaces his fingers with mine. “If you’re not into this, that’s fine. All you have to do is say so. The moment you do, I’ll just be Rob your coworker. We’ll put this all behind us.”
He lifts my hand to his mouth, pressing a soft kiss to my knuckles. I hum my approval.
“But if you want to see where this can go, if you like having me in your bed, I’m up for it. No pressure.”
I gnaw my bottom lip. He’s right. We’re adults who clearly make each other very happy between the sheets. Why not enjoy it? I recall the job description duties I skimmed last night when I received Phoebe’s job offer email. I’ll be working from home most days. We’ll be communicating via email with the occasional phone call, so we won’t have to worry about awkward run-ins in the office.
When I take a breath, all the muscles in my shoulders loosen. Dinner is definitely doable.
He gives my hand a soft squeeze, and I melt all the way.
“Dinner sounds great. What time?”
Rob greets me at the corner of Van Ness and Pacific, right in front of the massive beige brick exterior of Harris’ Steakhouse. In the dark indigo glow of nighttime, he cuts a killer figure. Yet another impeccably cut suit, this time in jet black with a navy dress shirt. No tie though. I dig the casual touch it brings.
I tug the open collar. “Hey, handsome.”
He pulls me into him for a kiss. “Hello, beautiful.” It’s not so much a greeting as it is a growl. “That dress. Fuck me.”
The way his green eyes move slowly from my neck to my knees tell me I chose my outfit well. It’s a simple dress for sure, with its long sleeves and below-the-knee hemline. The fit is what makes it, though. It clings to me like a second skin, the “v” neckline offering a peek of cleavage. The black color provides a much-needed demure touch. In any other color, I would look positively indecent.
I wag my eye brow at him. “Later. Dinner first.”
I pull away, leading him by the hand inside. Through the hum of nearby traffic, his low growl cuts through. I grin to myself. This dress is a whole new form of foreplay.
A tux-clad host leads us to a two-person booth in a dimly lit corner. When I lower myself onto the plush seat, I have to swallow back a deep sigh. Thick padding rests under the rich leather upholstery. It’s like I’m sitting in the world’s most elegant beanbag chair.
Rob orders a bottle of Malbec before skimming the menu. I take a gander around the space, which is swathed in earthy browns and grays. Everything from the button tufting of the seats to the white tablecloths to the ornate gold chandeliers radiates old timey charm. I lean up and glance at the painting above us. In it, a narrow river cuts through a lush meadow. Mahogany beams frame it.
“God, I love this place,” I sigh.
Rob peers up from his menu. “You’ve been here before?”
“It’s been forever. My church youth group in high school had a formal dinner here.”
He coughs through a sip of water.
He nods, wiping his mouth with his napkin. “You don’t seem like the church-going type.”
I grin, tracing the rim of my water glass with my finger. “You are correct. I quit going to church when I hit college. Couldn’t take the holier-than-thou BS any longer.”
The server returns with the wine and pours us full glasses.
“I couldn’t either. Haven’t been to mass since I moved away from Dublin a dozen years ago.” He clasps his hands in a mock-pray pose. “My mum still prays for my lapsed soul.”
I raise my glass in mock toast, and he clinks it back. “Cheers to that.”
Over the best glass of Malbec I’ve ever had in my life, we chat about our backgrounds. I fill him in on growing up as a kid of immigrants in Sacramento, spending my summers in either Manila to visit my mom’s family or Taipei to visit my dad’s side. I give him the PG-rated version of my strained relationship with my mom and sister. I share how my dad passed away when I was in college, and how my mom decided to move to Taipei on a whim after that.
I learn that he’s the youngest of three, was a rugby star growing up, but endured a serious knee injury as a teen that prevented him from pursing the sport further. He spent most of his injury recovery time reading, which ignited his interested in publishing. After studying abroad in Taiwan for a year, he set his sights on relocating there, but not before spending a handful of years in London, working for publishers there to hone his skills.
With every story we exchange, the warmth inside me deepens, creating a sense of comfort I’ve never felt before. It’s a feeling so different, it’s almost overwhelming. Even though we’ve known each other for less than a week, I feel more comfortable sitting across the table from him than I have with any other guy I’ve dated. The thought of sharing a meal with him fills me with giddiness. In this moment, there’s no one else—not a friend, family member, work buddy—I can say that about.
He peers at me over our shared shrimp cocktail, concern filling his eyes. “I’m sorry to hear your family isn’t supportive of your career. I don’t know what I would do if my family were to criticize what I did for a living. I’m lucky that my parents were always supportive of my dream to work in publishing, even though it means I live a half a world away from them.”
Flush engulfs my cheeks at the genuine care he expresses for me. This something different feels like a raw connection. It digs deep inside me, planting roots, aching to spread.
I shrug, and shove another jumbo shrimp in my mouth. After chewing and swallowing, I flash a close-lipped smile at him. “It’s fine. I’m used to it.”
With lighting fast fingers, he captures my hand in his. “It’s not fine. I’m sure your mom and your sister are good people overall, but there’s no reason to make you feel bad. If you love what you do and can support yourself, they should be happy for you.”
Those roots unfurl in my chest, giving way to small bursts that leave me short of breath. Every second my gaze stays locked with Rob’s is a second I wish would stretch for hours. I haven’t the slightest clue why our connection feels so strong so soon, but I don’t care. Everything in me screams to go with it.
“Thank you.” My voice is a hair above a whisper.
Rob stares back, urgency in his hypnotic green gaze. His mouth opens, but then the server appears.
“Your petite filet, madam.”
He sets my plate down first, then Rob’s filet mignon. When I take the first bite, the salty, fatty, peppery flesh nearly melts in my mouth. My head falls back in a groan.
Rob chuckles. “That good, huh?”
I indulge in another bite, moaning louder.
“Careful. You’re going to give me a complex if you keep that up.”
I point my fork at him. “The steak here is better than sex.”
The wrinkles in his forehead deepen before an unfamiliar look flashes across his face. “Is that so?”
The way he says it, I could swear he’s taking my words as a challenge.
“If you don’t believe me, take a bite.”
One bite in, and his face becomes a giant grin. “Okay, you win. That’s incredible. But it’s hardly better than sex with you, Layla.”
I lean across the table, hoping the neckline of my dress is doing its job. A half-second later, Rob’s green eyes cloud over when they fall to my chest. “I never said this steak was better than sex with you.”
Under the dim mood lighting, Rob’s cheeks flash red. He takes another bite, I suspect to keep the fire inside him at bay. Under the table, I slip off my heel and run my bare foot up his thigh. His jaw locks, his eyes widen, and his gaze falls to his plate.
“Layla,” he mutters with strangled breath.
I curl my toes against the rock hard bulge resting under the fabric of his pants. Keeping my eyes on my plate, I indulge in a few more bites. My foot stays pressed against his erection. I can’t help but grin to myself. Thank goodness this tablecloth hits the floor.
It’s like an unspoken contest, the way we finish our meals in a handful of minutes. I silently applaud us for choosing filets instead of larger cuts for our meals. I highly doubt I’d be in such a frisky mood after dining on porterhouse.
Tossing my napkin on my plate, I stand up and lean over to his side of the table until my mouth grazes the shell of his ear. “Meet me in the men’s bathroom in one minute.”
Thankfully when I enter, the men’s bathroom is empty. I choose a stall at the far end and wait. A handful of seconds later, the door creaks open.
“Layla?” Rob’s strangled voice sends a wide grin across my face. I barely have the stall door open before he shoves into this tiny space with me. Firm hands squeeze around my waist, and his lips crash against mine.
“We have to be quick,” I say between desperate, breathy, filthy kisses.
My hands fall to his belt, while he heads for the hemline of my dress. He hikes it up to my waist while I unzip him. Shoving my hand inside, I wrap my fingers around his cock. The gravelly groan he lets out is like music to my ears. My small hand does a piss-poor job of capturing his full length, but he doesn’t seem to mind. Every pant, every growl, the way he digs his fingers into the flesh of my hips is proof.
He slips his hand inside my panties, cupping me. The soft pad of his palm delivers delicious warmth. He moves in slow circles, the firm pressure perfect. Every muscle inside me tenses, riddled with pleasure. When he backs off to give his thumb access to my clit, I have to bite my lip to keep from shouting.
To distract myself, I shift my focus to him. My slow, measured strokes turn rapid in no time.
“Fuck, Layla,” he growls through gritted teeth. The faster I glide along his length, the more desperate he grows.
At this point in our manual play session, we’re not even kissing. Instead, our foreheads are pressed together, and we’re panting the same hot, wet, sweet air in the tiny space separating our mouths.
I indulge in a soft nibble of his bottom lip, but then my head falls back. Warmth and pleasure consume my lower half. He moves his thumb quickly and with precision, each tiny rapid circle shoving me closer to the edge. My knees lock, my jaw, clenches, and I open my eyes. Drunken pleasure glazes his green eyes. Muscles bulge against his jaw, and his teeth grind together. I bet he’s about to lose it.
But then the corner of his mouth quirks up, and his stare narrows. “You first.”
Before I can protest, he moves his free hand to my body. Two thick fingers slip inside, pressing deep until they hit the sensitive spot. Combined with the press of his thumb, I’m a goner. My mouth falls open, my head tilts back, and climax hits. A tidal wave of pleasure engulfs me, thrashing through my legs. My grip moves from his cock to his shoulder while my other hand grips the back of his neck. It’s the only way I stay standing when both my legs give out, annihilated by the orgasm Rob has delivered to me with both hands.
A pitchy cry rips from me, but he seals his mouth over mine to muffle the sound. When I finally come down, my head falls on his shoulder. His hands wrap around my waist, propping me up so I can stand.
I bend my neck up to see him. “Ladies first, huh? Such a gentleman.”
He winks, and my heart does a loop around my chest. “I’ve always been big on manners.”
I capture him in my hand once more, but this time, I don’t stop until he’s the one grunting and shuddering. It’s only a minute before release finds him. Just before he spills, I turn him toward the toilet to avoid a mess.
Sweat beads speckle his brow. I tip-toe up to lick at them.
“Yum.” I hum. “Way, way better than steak.”
He chuckles, wiping the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. With his foot, he flushes the toilet. “Excellent aim.”
After I straighten my dress back to its proper place, he pats my ass, and we wash up at the sink. We quickly tip-toe out back to our table, which has been cleared. All that’s left is the wine and a dessert menu.
“Up for something sweet?” Rob asks, the gleam in his eye renewed.
I have to look away, I’m so giddy. How in the world did I find this guy? Someone who sets me at ease the moment I’m under his gaze, who I can share meaningful conversation with, then fuck in a bathroom stall.
“Only if we can get it to go. I’d like to pick up where we left off, if you’re in the mood.”
Rob flags down the server, orders a death by chocolate cake to go, and offers his credit card. I start to protest and offer to split, but he shakes his head. That smug half-smile is back, and so is the pulse between my legs.
“Tonight is on me.”
I tap my foot against his lap once more. “I was hoping so. I could use a good ride.”