Home>>read A Ruthless Proposition free online

A Ruthless Proposition(4)

By:Natasha Anders

Cleo endeavored not to dwell too much on the unwelcome and intimate physical reminders of her lapse in judgment last night. But that wasn’t an easy thing to do when she could barely suppress a shiver as she recalled how masterfully he had flipped her onto her stomach and dragged his wicked lips down from the nape of her neck to—

“Miss Knight?”

Whoa. She snapped out of the raunchy daze and stared blankly into his impatient face.

“The phone call?”

“Yes, of course,” she sputtered, feeling foolish as she dialed the number.

Miles Kinross, as she had suspected, had already retired for the night and not alone, if the sultry feminine voice in the background was anything to go by. Kinross was a handsome man and—if office gossip was to be believed—like Dante Damaso, he rarely dated the same woman for longer than a month or two. Cleo was in the middle of explaining what they needed when the phone was yanked rudely from her hand and Dante took over the conversation.

She straightened her shoulders, determined to ignore his boorish behavior, and headed over to the lavish buffet breakfast he must have ordered from room service. At least he’d remembered to order enough for two this time.

She allowed herself another flash of aggravation at the memory of how he had completely overlooked her need for a meal last night. Inconsiderate bastard. No wonder she’d been so susceptible to his dubious charms; she’d been suffering from impaired judgment due to starvation. Dying of hunger now, she heaped her plate with scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, and toast before sitting down to dig in.

She barely managed more than a mouthful before he concluded his call.

“There’s no time for breakfast. We’re running late as it is. Our first meeting is in forty minutes, and the driver has informed me that it’ll take at least half an hour to get there in rush-hour traffic. I don’t want to be late. It’s unprofessional and considered extremely rude in Japan.”

“Oh, but . . .” She stared longingly down at her still-full plate.

“If you’d been up earlier, you would have had more time to eat,” he pointed out as he picked up his briefcase.

Yeah, right. Cleo had dawdled over her morning prep, gathering her courage to face him. She had tried to anticipate every possible scenario: he’d sweep her up into his arms and propose a torrid affair, he’d be unable to meet her eyes and unsure of what to say to her, he’d explain how their indiscretion had been only a passing thing, never to be repeated.

She hadn’t expected this. This complete lack of acknowledgment of what had been a huge breach of office conduct. In fact, he was so completely normal and unaffected she wondered if he even remembered their little oopsie.

She shoveled down one last forkful of eggs before getting up with a resigned sigh. She smoothed her black, pin-striped pencil skirt down over her thighs and glanced up in time to catch a smoldering look in his dark eyes.

Oh . . . my.

“Let’s go,” he growled, stepping aside and allowing her to precede him.

For one glorious moment, that look helped her push aside her insecurities and made her feel powerful and feminine enough to add a deliberate little shimmy to her walk as she sidled past him.

Dante bit back the stream of profanity threatening to escape his lips and focused instead on internalizing his annoyance. A resurgence of sexual tension was the last thing he needed right now. He’d believed he had successfully put the whole incident firmly behind him, but the way that no-nonsense skirt clung to her pert little ass was more than a little distracting. Especially now that he knew she was probably wearing cute little cotton cartoon-character panties—similar to the ones she’d worn last night—beneath the pin-striped twill. He ground his teeth as he followed her out, forcing his eyes up from the tight curve of her butt to her narrow back, and tried to regain his focus. He was only marginally successful, distracted by the light, fresh scent of her shampoo as it wafted back toward him, and the sassy bounce of her silky hair.

He battled with his hormones all the way down to the car, where the stifling humidity and heat outside displaced his infuriating horniness with discomfort of a different kind.

“Wow, this humidity is crazy,” his distracting little assistant said as they settled into the air-conditioned black luxury sedan.

Dante grunted noncommittally and yanked out his tablet to check his notes for the meeting.

“Is it always like this in Tokyo?”

Why the hell was she still prattling on? She rarely made small talk with him, and he preferred it that way. When they did speak, it was strictly work related.

“I’ve never been to Japan before, so I didn’t know what to expect. Weatherwise, I mean. I knew it was summer and knew it would be hot, but I really wasn’t expecting this humidity. I mean, it’s like a sauna out there.”

He sighed before putting his tablet aside. “Chloe,” he said, keeping his voice low so the driver couldn’t hear them. “Last night was just to relieve some of the stress of the day; you know that, right? I don’t usually fuck my employees. Too damned messy.” And quite frankly, he didn’t relish the potential sexual-harassment lawsuits from disgruntled sexual partners in the workplace, but he didn’t tell her that. God knows he didn’t need to plant that idea in her head. And then, of course, there was the fact this had happened so unexpectedly he hadn’t gone to the usual legal lengths to protect himself. He was generally a hell of a lot more careful and more discreet when it came to choosing his sexual partners. He cleared his throat before continuing.

“We were both tense and in need of some stress relief. It’s not necessary to make this awkward.”

She muttered something beneath her breath, and he frowned.


“Cleo. It’s Cleo,” she said, meeting his gaze head-on, her ridiculously beautiful green eyes brimming with defiance. “My name’s Cleo, not Chloe.”


“Right. Of course.” He cleared his throat. Of course he knew her name was Cleo. He even remembered thinking Cleopatra Pandora Knight was a damned stupid name. But for some reason, after months of calling her nothing but Miss Knight, that pertinent fact had completely slipped his mind. He felt his cheeks heat up as he recalled using “Chloe” during and immediately after sex the night before. What kind of asshole forgets a woman’s name while he’s naked in bed with her?

“And don’t worry, I wouldn’t dream of making anything awkward for you. I’m just curious about the country. I’m not fantasizing about some happily-ever-after love affair with you or anything. The thought of that is as distasteful to me as it probably is to you.”

Distasteful? Who the hell did she think she was? Better women than she would kill for the chance of a love affair with him . . . and why the hell was he even offended? She was nothing more than his employee. His very annoying and very temporary employee. So they’d had a little lapse in judgment. So what? Shit like that happened all the time. Not to him, but there was a first time for everything.

“Let’s just keep our focus on work,” he stipulated. “The sooner we get this delay sorted out, the sooner we get out of here and on with our lives.”

“Amen to that.”

Cleo was proud of herself. Proud that she had managed to keep her temper in check and her mouth shut. And definitely proud that she had managed to curb the impulse to slap the stupid man right across his handsome, smug face.

Just do the job, Cleo. Keep doing the job, and when something more interesting comes along, you can move on with your head held high.

This wasn’t going to be another one of her failures. Another lost opportunity because she couldn’t hold her tongue or restrain her impulsive nature and uncertain temper. Working for Dante Damaso had tested her to her limits, even though—thankfully—she’d rarely had to deal directly with him until this trip. She wasn’t going to let him ruin this career opportunity for her. The potential for growth in this company was huge; Dante had hired her as a temporary replacement for his pregnant assistant, with the assurance that after Donna returned, they would find a permanent position for Cleo within the company. And while Cleo still wasn’t entirely sure this was the kind of work she wanted to do for the rest of her life, it was what she’d fallen back on when her true vocation had slipped beyond her reach. It didn’t light up all the empty spaces in her soul the way dance did, didn’t inspire her or make her want to leap out of bed in the mornings even when every muscle in her body protested the slightest of movements, but it was something. And she was relatively good at it. So it would have to do.

Up until this job she’d been drifting from one temp position to the next, but this was the first one offering job security, benefits, and all the other good stuff grown-ups aspired to. Cleo, who had felt like a total failure up until that point, had jumped at the opportunity. God knows she had to stop depending on her big brother to help her out every time she failed at something.

Luc was getting married soon, and while his fiancée, Blue, was a sweetheart, Cleo couldn’t keep staying with him every time she lost an apartment because she was unable to pay the rent. Luc had never minded; he insisted that the house, which had once belonged to their grandparents, was half hers anyway and she had as much right to stay there as he did. But with Luc probably starting a family soon, Cleo just wouldn’t feel right running to him every time life dumped an obstacle on her path. She already felt like a loser. And sleeping with the boss—just another thing in a long line of really bad decisions—intensified that feeling times infinity.