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Excerpt from “Lies Between the Sheets” by Christine Hartmann
She opened the drawer, grabbed a caramel bar from among the gaudy options, bit, then felt rather than saw the person behind her. She knew the scent. An aroma that wasn’t store-bought but body-made—feral and irresistible. She swiveled slowly in her seat.
Hayden rubbed the front of his slim-fit shirt, like an iron gliding over cotton, steaming wrinkles from a hard, flat surface. His eyes, quick-moving and piercing, gazed down at her from beneath furrowed brows, as though he were pulling her into focus. From her seated position, face level with his belt, she fought against a draw that pulled her eyes toward an inspection of areas she knew she had no business looking at. She tossed the candy bar into the trash and rose abruptly, her chair banging into the divider between her cube and Tanice’s.
“I need help.” His hands rubbed his thighs and searched for a place to rest, sliding distractedly around his waist until finding a mooring in his back pockets. In a similar fashion, his eyes roamed her face, hair, and chest before springing, as though caught in a compromising situation, to her computer screen. “I know you’re really good with…figures.”
Her eyebrows shot up.
He rubbed his forehead. “I really like the way your…” He glanced from her diamond earrings to the monitor and back again.
The more delightfully flustered he became, the faster blood rushed through her system. She smiled but said nothing.
If her face hadn’t been beet red, and if she hadn’t been worried about the sweat stains rapidly forming in the armpits of her white blouse, she would’ve enjoyed the moment. Cool, collected, commanding Hayden struggling to form a coherent sentence. Part of the reason people in the office latched their expectations, fears, or fantasies onto him was that he seemed too perfect to touch. In Hayden, friendly and aloof were not opposites but complements, two sides of the same personality. But she confused him. It thrilled her.
“Want a candy bar?” Her fingers hooked the drawer handle.
“I’ve got this thing.” He looked around, as though suddenly lost. “I can show you if you come with me.” He turned and, without looking to see whether she was following him, marched toward the bank of elevators at the far end of the open space, suddenly transformed into a man who knew what he wanted and knew he could get it, striding along the floor with the confidence and nonchalance of a lion in the savanna, all lithe body, bushy mane, and swinging tail. She snatched a tissue from her desk to hide her grin and followed, keeping a few paces behind, her face turned to the white boards lining the wall. She perused the latest marketing figures while pretending to blow her nose, hoping it seemed natural to multitask.
The elevator doors slid open as she arrived. A cluster of coworkers edged themselves between her and Hayden. She was grateful for the distance and distraction. On successive floors, the others got off. After the sixteenth, she and Hayden stood in opposite corners, alone. Her gaze focused involuntarily on the security camera in the ceiling, wondering whether anyone was watching them. When she peeked at Hayden, she saw him staring at it, too. They traveled in silence to the roof, where he held the door open and ushered her out with a brush of his hand against her lower back that made her draw in her breath.
Outside, the damp, cold San Francisco wind made her blink. A gust whipped the forgotten tissue from her hand. They watched it flutter through the sky like a lost bird, wheeling over potted shrubbery and aluminum tables and chairs until it flew over the glass walls lining the edge of the roof and dove to the street. Hayden motioned with his chin at a bank of tall, sculpted boxwood rectangles that formed a corner. He sauntered toward it, a thin, straight compass needle drawn to north. Janessa linked her hands behind her back and followed in the slow, undulating motion of a runway model, placing one foot deliberately in front of the other in a straight line, as though she knew exactly what she was doing.