“He doesn’t have long, and Julian will uncover our charade in less than a week if we stop seeing each other now.”
“What are you suggesting?”
“That we’ll start seeing each other for the time being.”
“No.” My stomach felt hollow, my voice bouncing inside it.
“Because I hate you.”
“Your body told me a different story when I leaned in to kiss you earlier.” He advanced toward me predatorily, his movements sleek and smooth. His hand clawed into the tender flesh of my neck, and my belly clenched deliciously, approving of his touch. He was right. He was everything dark and sinful. Impossible not to yield to.
“My body is a liar.” The words felt heavy on my tongue.
“Your mouth is, and hell if I don’t want to fuck the truth out of it.”
I looked away, watching him in my periphery leaning nearer and nearer. I took three steps back. He ate the distance between us with one stride. I walked backward. He followed me. Finally, my back hit the black blinds. Chase boxed me with his arms above my head, a menacing sneer on his lips.
No more barriers. Just us and that thick, almost tangible tension lingering in the air like sweet smoke.
“If you pretend to hate me . . .” His voice was silk and velvet, his hot breath fanning the side of my neck. “At least do it like you mean it.”
His knee poked between my thighs as his mouth descended in slow motion onto mine. His body molded into my frame. I stood there, eyes open, watching in gut-swirling horror as his mouth met mine. Yet I pulled him closer, my nails sinking into his shoulder blades. His lips were warm and soft. Softer than I remembered. They felt different. Like his soul was touching mine through this brief brush of our lips. It surprised and scared me, how charged it felt to be in his arms, to drink from the well of his scent and warmth and feel.
He tasted like a touch of whiskey and mint gum, exploring, probing, awaiting permission to plunge in with his tongue. I sighed into our kiss, feeling my muscles relaxing without my consent. I was a pool of desire when Chase put his hands on my cheeks, framing me with his strong fingers.
“This is a bad idea,” I heard myself whispering, but I still didn’t let go of him.
He groaned, the tip of his tongue touching mine. A current ran through both of us, and we shivered into each other.
“I wish you were someone else.” His lips spoke into mine. “Soulless, like me.”
The door flew open before I swallowed his words with a hungry kiss.
“Ronan is waiting on that growth report from quarter three . . .” Julian stopped on the threshold, a folder in his hands, his eyes on us. Chase’s mouth left mine swiftly, and my gaze dropped to the floor. I was horrified, but I wasn’t sure why. As far as Julian was concerned, we were an engaged couple fooling around in Chase’s office. If anything, getting caught was beneficial, so why did I feel like a fraud?
Julian curled his fingers over the doorknob, cocking his head sideways. His smile wasn’t that of someone who’d caught two lovebirds having a clandestine moment. He looked like he was dissecting a mouse with a scalpel. “Please, don’t stop on my account.”
Chase tucked me under his arm. It was the first time I felt protected by him, and I didn’t know what to make of it.
“Unfortunately, this is not a peep show, hence the drawn blinds. And the fucking door. Were you born on a bus? Knock, God dammit.”
Julian propped his shoulder against the doorframe, grinning fully now. “Are you blushing, brother? Is there anything I should know?”
“Yes. If I ever get a chance to piss in your drink, rest assured, I will do it. No second thoughts.”
“You seem very . . . prickly.” Julian rubbed at his chin, looking between us. “Dare I say, even uncomfortable together.”
“We felt very comfortable yesterday, when we broke your bed together, weren’t we, baby?” Chase dropped an impersonal kiss on my head. I nodded stiffly, more concerned with sticking it to Julian than berating Chase at the moment.
“Don’t worry. I’ll send a replacement this afternoon.” Chase chucked my chin lovingly. He was disgustingly good at playing the dutiful fiancé.
“Make it white. I’m redecorating.” I played along.
“Bull, meet shit. I wasn’t born yesterday.” Julian’s beady eyes danced in their sockets. “You’re lying. You’re not together, but Chase is now working his way back into your good graces, and the naive little girl that you are—you are falling for it.”
I swallowed down my pride—and anger—keeping my smile intact. A part of me had pondered the same thing. Whether Chase had suddenly begun to kiss me and take interest in me just because he needed to keep me close. I knew very well that he wanted us to be fake-real-dating. With all the perks of a couple, but without the commitment and feelings.
“I really don’t appreciate what you are insinuating,” I heard myself say in my bubbly, customer-oriented, can’t-we-all-just-get-along voice. “Chase and I have been together for almost a year. I understand in light of what Clementine said, you are a little suspicious, but you are being unnecessarily crude right now.”
“Oh, Maddie,” Julian sighed melodramatically in the same tone he’d say, Oh, you little idiot. “We both know you two weren’t together the entire time.”
“We do?” I perked up, going for sarcasm. Chase’s body quivered with an unrestrained chuckle next to me.
“Unless he cheated on you with at least three women. Chase here is not very good at keeping his private business . . . well, private. And I do like to pay him surprise visits, just to check on my baby bro.” He winked at Chase.
I felt physically sick, even though Julian’s information came as no surprise to me. I knew Chase had hooked up with women after we’d broken up. Sven had flat-out told me so. And yet feeling his arm draped on me and knowing it to be true made me want to curl into a ball of misery and self-loathing.
“All is forgiven and forgotten,” I said breezily, swallowing down the bile in my throat. I hated Chase so much in that moment I wanted to stab him with a sketching pencil. I felt like Eliza Hamilton. Smiling to the world to save face while her brilliantly devastating husband owned up to his affairs.
“Is that so?” Julian arched a cynical brow.