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A Ruthless Proposition(5)

By:Natasha Anders

Cleo had been good at only one thing in her life: dancing. And after years of hard work and countless personal and physical sacrifices, she had been well on her way to establishing herself as a talent of note before an accident just after her twenty-fourth birthday had robbed her of that career path. Doctors told her she would never dance professionally again, and it was a fact Cleo had difficulty accepting. She still felt like she could dance; it was still there in her heart and soul. How could they tell her she couldn’t do the one thing she loved above all else? Without dance in her life, she had found herself rudderless and devastatingly average. Now all she had left were her brain and a sharp tongue that kept getting her into trouble at the worst possible times. That tongue had been responsible for most of her past workplace failures, but her intelligence was what kept her constantly employed, even if she couldn’t quite keep the jobs.

She glanced at Dante, who was poring over his iPad again, and managed, barely, to keep from rolling her eyes in derision. She watched him covertly and tried to keep her appraisal objective. He was sickeningly good-looking. Dante Damaso was all gorgeous golden skin, topped with black-as-night wavy hair he kept clipped ruthlessly short and combed back with a conservative side part. There was barely enough of the luxurious, thick and silky mass for a woman to run her fingers through. His honey-brown eyes were framed by lush, long lashes that curled slightly at the ends and stern, straight eyebrows. His mouth had a full, curved bottom lip and a thin, perfectly bow-shaped upper lip, and it would have been beautiful if not for the cynical sneer perpetually twisting his lips whenever she was in his general vicinity. And, of course, he had the straight nose and high cheekbones to go with his perfect looks.

It was nauseating, really; a crooked nose would have made him more approachable, more human. It was almost obnoxious for him to be this good-looking! And now that she knew what he looked like beneath his expensive, bespoke dark-gray suit, it was even worse. At thirty-three he was in his prime. He had washboard abs, a butt you could bounce a coin off, gorgeously muscled arms, and—her personal weakness—killer thighs and calves. And he certainly knew exactly how to use that perfect body to please a woman. No wonder his gorgeous lady friends were always hanging around even after he ended things with them—mind-blowing sex and multiple orgasms could become dangerously addicting.

While Cleo could definitely empathize with those women, amazing sex wasn’t enough to make her moon over a guy or she’d be in serious trouble right now. Dante Damaso epitomized masculine perfection; it was a damned crying shame such good looks were wasted on a nasty specimen like him.

To distract herself from the awkward situation with her boss, Cleo turned her attention to the city just a window’s breadth away. She couldn’t remember ever seeing this many pedestrians in one place, hustling and bustling and going about their daily lives. She craned her neck and couldn’t prevent a giggle from escaping when she spotted a guy in a panda suit crossing the intersection in front of their car. She scrambled for her phone and managed to catch his back as he walked away, his gigantic panda head towering above the other, completely unconcerned pedestrians. Nobody even stared. She absently started taking a few more pics and then several selfies, trying to get as much of the city in the background as possible and adding the really good ones to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. She positioned herself with her back to the window and took a few duckface selfies while they were stopped at a particularly busy intersection.

Dante was so engrossed in his reading that it took a while before the annoying clicking sound penetrated the heavy fog of statistics eddying in his brain. When he finally became aware of it, the click that followed was almost jarring as it jerked him fully aware of his surroundings. He looked over to where Chl—Cleo—was sitting on the far end of the backseat and blinked when he saw her sucking in her cheeks, plumping up her lips, and lowering her chin as she held her phone slightly above face level and snapped a photograph. Well, that explained the annoying clicking. She shifted her chin slightly to the left and took another picture. Then another and another.

“I hate to interrupt this narcissistic little lovefest you’ve got going on with your phone, Miss Knight, but surely you have something a little more productive to do with your time?”

She jumped and dropped her phone, which bounced off the seat and landed right between his shoes. She swore beneath her breath and bent over to retrieve it. He gaped as she squirmed her way between the front passenger seat and his knee, her round butt sticking up and wriggling temptingly right within cupping range of his hands. He held said hands up and away from her body in case they were tempted to do something stupid, like explore the silky smooth skin of her thighs, which was being revealed one tantalizing millimeter at a time as she maneuvered her way a little farther down.

He wasn’t quite sure what to do with the provocative, twisting bundle of femininity half draped over his lap, but when one sharp little elbow missed his groin by just an inch, he cursed and took hold of that same elbow and dragged her up onto the seat beside him.

“What in the ever-loving hell are you doing?” he asked, sounding livid even to himself.

“My phone . . .”

“Yeah. I know. And I would have retrieved it for you. You didn’t have to drape yourself all over me to get to it.”

“I didn’t.” God, her cheeks were flushed, her usually sleek hair was a mess, and two of her mother-of-pearl blouse buttons had come undone to reveal the pretty blue-lace edge of her bra. She looked like a woman who had just been soundly kissed, and because it aroused him to the point of pain, it brought his suspicious nature to bear.

“Are you coming on to me?” he hissed. “Wasn’t one night enough for you? If you want more than that, you need but say it. But don’t expect anything other than sex from me. Just because you’re Luc’s sister doesn’t automatically entitle you to more than that. Once we get this deal out of the way, we can fuck again if that’s what you want, but it will never be more than that. Entender? Understand?”

“Oh, I entender,” she said, her voice trembling slightly, making him wonder at the extreme emotion he could sense just beneath the surface. “I entender that you’re a smug, arrogant butthole who thinks the sun revolves around him. I don’t like you. But then I don’t have to like you; you’re just my boss. And while I may have had a moment’s weakness last night, it just makes me human. And trust me, one night was enough to last a lifetime. It was great, but I’m not looking for an encore.”

Cleo let her words sink in, knowing she had just kissed any future with this company good-bye. She allowed herself a moment’s regret before clearing her throat and pointing to the floor between his feet.

“Now, would you mind fetching my phone for me please, sir? I’d hate for you to get the wrong idea if I went fishing for it again.”

He kept his gaze level with hers, and the grim set of his mouth told her he wasn’t at all impressed with her. Well, to hell with him. His opinion mattered not at all.

“Just because we have shared some level of intimacy does not give you the right to speak to me so,” he said after a long and unnerving moment of silence. His voice teemed with barely restrained menace. “We are not contemporaries, we are not friends, and we are certainly not lovers.”

“No, we’re employee”—she touched her chest and then lifted the same hand to point at him—“and employer. You’re my boss, and as I very much doubt I’ll have a job after this anyway, I should probably voice my opinions now, while I have you here.”

“Why would you not have a job after this? You think I am so lacking in morals I would fire you because we spent a mutually pleasurable night together? That was last night, and we were done with work. In this car, right now, I am your employer, and I will be spoken to with respect.”

“Oh, does that mean I get to call you an arrogant butthole after hours?” She watched his face tighten and knew she was pushing every single danger button he possessed.

“What you call me in the privacy of your thoughts is of no concern to me. Just keep those thoughts to yourself.”

“So, you’re basically placing a gag order on me,” she clarified.

“If that is how you wish to perceive it, then so be it.”

He reached down to retrieve her phone—a clear indicator he considered the conversation closed—and glanced at the screen before handing it over.

“This isn’t exactly what I would call professional behavior,” he said, nodding down at the ridiculous pouting picture of her on the screen.

Embarrassed, she cast her eyes down, hating to feel so completely wrong-footed.

“It was meant to be ironic,” she attempted to explain even while she knew he would never understand the intended humor behind the picture.

“I trust you will conduct yourself appropriately at this meeting?”

Damn it. So much for trying to impress the man with her professionalism and ability to do the job. She tried her best to keep her reply humble.

“Yes, sir. I apologize if my earlier lack of professionalism caused you to think otherwise, sir,” she said in her best no-nonsense voice, although she couldn’t quite disguise the sarcasm dripping all over that last word. He raised his eyebrows, indicating he hadn’t missed the acerbity, then raked her body from top to toe with his gaze.