Copyright © 2013 Mary Hughes
All rights reserved
The last Friday of Cliff and Vickie’s vacation from corporate responsibilities saw them competing again, in the company gym.
“I don’t…know why…you do this,” puffed Cliff.
Vickie couldn’t even answer. Her lungs hurt too much. But she was half a flight of stairs ahead of him. Totally worth it.
In the last minutes of their routines, Cliff made an awesome comeback. But if she could hold on, it would be the first time she’d actually made more stairs than he had. She dug deep for every spare bit of energy, burning sheer willpower in the last seconds. She knew she would pay dearly for it in the morning.
But as the routine ended she glanced over and saw she’d won…er, got more stairs. So totally worth it.
Cliff tottered painfully over to the bench. Vickie tottered behind, grateful to collapse on the bench next to him.
But Cliff took a few deep breaths and managed to slow his breathing from freight train to nearly normal. The cheater. He smiled. “Ready for another round?”
She whacked him with the palm of her hand against his muscular shoulder. The satisfying smack stung. “Ow.” She nursed her hand against her breasts.
“Serves you right.” He smirked.
“Does not.” Damn. She was going to have to work on her comebacks.
“Does too.” Cliff grinned and stretched his long legs out in front of him. “Your CEO abuse is highly frowned upon in these here parts.”
“Ha.” She was finally getting her breath back. “CEO stands for Cliff’s Ego’s Obstinate.”
“That’s reaching a little.” Cliff flung his arms over the back of the bench, tilting his face up. Suddenly his grin of savored effort became a rictus of pain. “Yeowch! Got a cramp on my shoulder. Does it hurt!”
Vickie sprang to her feet. “Put your arm back down and hold still.” She scooted around the back of the bench. When he’d creaked and groaned his arm into place she pressed fingers into his back between his shoulder blades, and slowly felt the vast acreage for the knotted muscle. “It’s a good one.” She located the offending tissue and began massaging. “Sit still and we’ll have you fixed up in no time.”
Yikes. Fixed up in no time, how June Cleaver. Although finally touching these lovely, warm, broad shoulders was soooo nice…
She mentally slapped herself. “This is your fault, you know. If you hadn’t gone and made this a contest, you wouldn’t have gotten a cramp. What a macho!”
“My fault?” Cliff’s tone was aggrieved. “Who reset her machine to compete with mine?”
“You didn’t have to raise the ante.” The knot under her fingers began to ease. Vickie’s fingers relaxed in response. With a will of their own, her hands began stroking his shoulders and straying to his chest. His lovely, oh-so-caress-able chest…caress? In a definitely not-caressing move, she dug her fingers savagely into his bulging triceps.
Cliff yelped in agony. “I thought massage was supposed to stop it from hurting.”
“Sorry.” She let up a bit, not trusting herself to say anything more. Since she’d realized she was falling in love with Cliff, she’d been especially careful to keep things light and frothy. If he even guessed she considered him marriage material…that was too damned close to lovesick. She knew he’d push her away, and she’d lose even their enjoyable friendship.
But it was hard, and her growing emotions pushed her, if not to make it a lasting relationship, at least to take it the next step, into the physical.
She struggled to keep her mind on the task at hand. Don’t think about any thing else, especially not that back. Keep those visions of masculine muscles out of your mind. Hard, thick muscle roping miles-wide shoulders… Okay, that didn’t work. So thing of something, anything else. Like their competition…so much fun. No, like eating while they worked…meals shared, watching his sharp white teeth bite into a sandwich, masculine lips moving… Crap. Okay, since that didn’t work, pretend you’re petting Dad’s dog…
Her strokes had softened again. Cliff relaxed, his head lolling onto her middle. It felt right, there against her body. She sighed, gave up and just enjoyed. She stroked his shoulders, neck and back, surveying the terrain and storing all the data for later retrieval. He sighed in reply, his tension seeming to flow from him, his head relaxing completely against her. She cradled him between her arms as she continued to caress his upper shoulders. Gradually the realization dawned—they were alone together.
Her hand strayed over his shoulder onto his chest. He took her hand and brushed it with his lips. His breath was warm. She bent over slightly.
He turned up and back, his mouth opened to say something.
Their eyes met and locked, the air suddenly crackling with tension.
With exquisite slowness their lips met in a kiss. At first tentative, the soft sliding of skin, the barest tasting of breath, each touch urging more, each taste priming a deeper one, until finally her lips parted in invitation and he thrust his tongue boldly into her mouth.
Her heart missed a beat, dropped down to swell her belly, leaped back into her throat and finally settled in her breast, pounding at the bones of her chest, clamoring and clanging in excitement. She cupped his face and came around the bench. He cradled her face in return and stood. Her arms wound tightly around his shoulders, pulling them together.
His breathing was strong and vital. She’d never known anything like it. How anyone could express their openness and desire through their breathing was a new revelation in communication. Her body folded into his, molding to the hard planes of his body. She stroked his back as he released her face with one hand and stroked her hair.
No man had tasted anything as wonderful as Cliff. With a little moan she thrust her tongue into his mouth in return. His hand glided down her hair to her back, then her hip, tugging her into him. She reciprocated, her hands wandering in an idyllic garden walk down his well‑muscled back to his taut buttocks. His hand—oh, his clever hand—cupped her rear and massaged gently. Her legs grew weak and her pelvis flowed into molten lava.
“Vickie, sweetheart.” Cliff’s arousal pressed insistently against her, and for the first time she couldn’t find any excuses, not that he wanted his brassboard nor that he was trying to butter her up for the job.
He wanted her.
She trembled with excitement. His kisses came hot and fluid over her mouth, increasing in fervor. Not only did he want her, but he wanted her now.
But while she wanted him with body, heart and maybe even soul, he hadn’t given her the least sign that he wanted her in any way but this. Echoes of Ron, her broken engagement and lost job thudded painfully in her chest. She’d lost everything.
She couldn’t go through that again.
She broke away from him, feeling as though a part of herself was tearing away. “Cliff, please stop. I—I can’t do this.
His face tensed; his eyes hardened.
“I really want to, but I can’t, I just can’t. I’ve worked too hard to be professional, and these office romances always turn out sour.” She turned away and tried to put on her corporate mask, to rebuild the crumbling wall that protected her. She erected it too hastily; she turned back and the way he looked at her—equal parts anger and disdain, but both underlined with pain—made her want to shrivel into a worm.
It was the pain that made her suck in her breath. Haltingly, fearfully, she told him about Ron.
She didn’t dare look at him while she talked. She finished up with, “After Ron left, I put my whole self into my new job. I worked hard to get back my self‑respect, and it’s tied up in my career and I can’t lose it again. If I go to bed with you and it doesn’t work…Cliff, don’t you see? I’ll have lost my self-respect, my job…and worse, your friendship. I can’t handle that.” Hesitantly, she raised her eyes and finally looked at him.
His gaze was intent, seeming to peer into her psyche. Then his eyes softened. “I understand. It’s okay.”
That softness, that understanding…she did something she swore she’d never, ever do again. She broke down and cried. Really bawled this time.