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Chapter 6
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It was unusually quiet on the train. The tin-can sound of music from someone’s ear-phones, a semi-stifled yawn here and there, but not a single conversation to break through the numbing, cyclical sound of screeching metal as the cart jerked along the tracks. Louise glanced at the window. It was still dark and the interior of the railcar was perfectly mirrored in the glass pane. It was a miserable sight. Too early for the droves of teenagers on Christmas vacation heading into the city, the only other people here were poor sods like her who had to work between Christmas and New Year’s. Yesterday—Boxing Day—had been even worse. The handful of commuters that had joined her then had looked so sorry for themselves it had been almost comical. Louise hadn’t minded going into work on a public holiday. Henderson’s had been closed to the public, and they’d had plenty of peace and quiet to prepare for the start of next week’s sale. Just what she’d needed to mentally process her first meetup with Hirst.

  One elbow on the window ledge, Louise returned her attention to her phone and the digital version of her infamous spreadsheet on there.

  Item one: kissing. Tick.

  “What have I learned?” the corresponding line read.

  First of all: don’t slap the guy!

  She snorted. Yeah, that was kind of critical. Though it had put Hirst on his toes for the rest of their exchange. No harm in that, right? He was the type that needed a strong hand, she could tell.

  How he’d love to take control if he could, she mused, a smile playing around her lips. He’d been positively chomping at the bit. And there had been moments when he sort of had, too, she supposed. But then again, what choice did she have? She was so inexperienced all she could do was let him take the lead where their actual activities were concerned; that was the whole point of this project in the first place. A pleasant tingle spread through her stomach when she recalled how his lips had parted against hers, how his fingers had brushed through her hair, the inadvertent breath she had taken at the contact…

  "A good balance between lightness and depth," she read, scrolling through her key notes. Yes, that. And tongue, of course. "Expert tongue technique." She had logged that last bit in bold and underlined it. Twice.

  What that entailed exactly she couldn’t quite say. To be honest, when they had gotten to the tongue part, things had started to go a little blurry.

  In any case, my instinct about him was right, she thought. I made a good choice in picking him. It was early days, but Hirst certainly hadn’t disappointed. She was learning from a pro, here.

  They should definitely practise some more, of course. Years of his kind of experience weren’t just transferred during one session. But she had the feeling she was laying a good foundation, and at least the edge had been taken off so she wouldn’t be completely lost with David when the time came. Plus her attempt to keep up hadn’t been all that bad, Hirst had given her plenty of proof of that… The tingling in her stomach intensified. With a sigh, she switched off the screen and put her phone face down in her lap. She closed her eyes and for a moment she indulged in the delicious fantasy of David’s mouth touching hers, kissing her in the exact same way Hirst had. To translate that sensation to the person she was actually hoping to share it with one day. Oh, God… If only she could be exploring all this with him, instead of with that self-satisfied bastard!

  Her phone vibrated against her thighs.

  Louise’s eyes flew open. David! She hadn’t heard from him since he’d sent her that generic and toe-curling Christmas card, and it had just been agony. They had hung out almost every day during the past semester, so being without any news for pretty much a whole week now felt like being on the most brutal diet ever invented. Why wasn’t he texting her more? Frankly, she felt a bit hurt. But then again, he was a guy, and maybe guys just weren’t in the habit of keeping constantly in touch with their friends? She could hardly expect him to be texting back and forth with her for days on end like she did with Jeanie, could she? To be honest, Louise didn’t really know. She had never been friends with a guy before…

  He’s not my friend.

  The realization hit her smack in the face. But there was no denying it. She’d known what she wanted from David Brown the day she first laid eyes on him. And it wasn’t friendship…

  If only I could make him feel that way about me, too.

  She was sure he’d be texting her plenty, then…

  I bet Tina is getting messages.

  If she wasn’t physically with him, that was. For about the twelfth-thousandth time since she’d known him, Louise cursed herself for not being on social media. There’d be stuff on there for sure; if not on his profile then definitely on Tina’s: Louise’s roommate was always posting round the clock. But when they had first met, Louise had bragged to David about how she thought all that was a waste of time and so shallow, and that she’d much rather read a good book, not to mention how those companies were just making everyone feel miserable on purpose and that she was against that on principle, upon which David had seemed really impressed, reassuring her he rarely used his own socials anyway. So if she were to create an account now—and right after he’d started dating Tina, too— it would be completely obvious and so unbelievably embarrassing.

  I could ask Jeanie, Louise thought, swiping her screen and for the second time failing to produce the correct pattern to unlock it. She’s friends with David online, she’s sure to have seen updates… Or even cut out the middle woman and revert straight to making a fake profile for herself and trying to befriend him that way?

  Question was, of course: did Louise really want to know? One Christmas card alone had been enough to get her obsessing for days, and not in a good way… How would she feel if she saw stacks of pictures, all with Tina and David in cute-couple poses?  The fact Jeanie hadn’t brought it up yet didn’t bode much good…

  Excited but terrified at the same time, the waiting message icon throbbing up at her like a neon sign, Louise finally managed to draw the correct pattern and unlock her screen.

  ‘Good morning, sunshine.’

  She pulled a face. What a disappointment; it was Hirst.

  ‘If it isn’t God’s gift…’

  ‘Aha you concur,’ he joked.

  ‘What r u doing up so early?’ she typed back, hoping it sounded rude.

  ‘No rest for the wicked. Or dog owners.’

  She raised an eyebrow. Spencer Hirst with a dog? An image of him walking through Hyde Park with a velvety grey Weimaraner, a beige French Bulldog, or some other trendy, high class breed, popped into her head. Still, it was strange to picture him with a pet; something to love and care for.

  He probably picked the poor thing out to match the carpet, she thought, with a snort.

  Not so different from the manner in which he selected his girlfriends, she supposed. Just another expensive ornament to decorate himself with.

  ‘Sleep well?’ Hirst continued.

  ‘That’s none of your concern.’

  ‘Of course it is! Wouldn’t want to be the cause of a sleepless night.’ Wink wink.

  Louise rolled her eyes. ‘Plz... Don’t flatter yourself.’

  ‘Just speaking from experience.’

  So he had jerked off to her. Or at least, that’s what he wanted her to think. ‘How romantic,’ she typed, sarcasm oozing from every letter. ‘U rly know how to make a girl feel special.’

  ‘ Hey, you wanted to learn. I’m giving you pearls here.’

  ‘Get to the point alrdy.’

  ‘I’m trying to.’

  ‘?’

  ‘Point 2, to be more precise.’

  Louise’s heart skipped a beat. She bit her lip, hesitating. It was a bit premature to start thinking about the second item on her list when she really wanted to practise what they’d done last time a bit more, but Hirst didn’t need to know that, of course. As long as she got him in the same room with her, she could just break things off whenever it suited her.

  ‘When?’ she typed, suddenly excited in spite of herself.

  ‘Today.’

  ‘Told you, I’m working all week.’

  ‘So? New Year’s is coming up. I could do with some last-minute shopping.’

  Louise’s eyes grew wide. What? Was he planning to come around to the store??

  ‘Umm… no! That’s NOT an option!’ she typed.

  But he’d already gone offline.

  ‘Hirst.’

  No reply.

  ‘Spencer!’

  Louise chewed her lip as she waited for him to come back on. Nothing. The ticks by her last two texts remained greyed out. What was he doing? Picking up after his dog or something? With a frustrated grunt she touched the little telephone icon next to his name. It rang and rang, but no luck.

  Crap!!!

  ‘I better not be seeing you today!’ she typed, furious. ‘This job is vital to me. I don’t need you messing that up, understand?’

  There. He’d have to see the message at some point. All she could do was wait and hope he’d take it into account when he did…

*

 

Spencer stepped out of the elevator and scanned his surroundings. It was almost lunch time, and the jewellery department at Henderson’s was busy, but not as frenzied as it had been at the height of the season. People ambled about looking for a New Year’s present, an accessory for their party outfit, or to return a Christmas gift that had missed the mark. When he spotted Hepburn, he smiled to himself. She was standing behind one of the glass counters on the left, completely engrossed in her dealings with an elderly woman and her daughter. He observed her for a moment as she punched the touch screen on the cash register, then tore off the check that came belching out of the machine like she’d done so all her life. Her outfit reminded him of what she’d been wearing at the Country Club that night; black stockings and skirt, smart white blouse, but with a name-tag pinned to it this time. She hadn’t tied up her hair, either. It was falling freely onto her shoulders in a bushy, curly spill. Wild, he thought, and his smile grew. Yeah, there was that side to her character, too. Never in a million years had he expected it, but after seeing that dorm room of hers he was positive. No one who was purely factual and all-organized could live in such a mess. There was a deeper, more uncontrolled part to Louise Hepburn. A part that she kept well hidden from everyone, probably even from herself. But he’d seen it—he’d felt it, when they kissed—and he was planning to tap into it, starting right now.

  It was her colleague, a raven-haired beauty, who spotted him first. As Spencer strolled over to their counter, the girl gave Hepburn the kind of nudge-and-whisper he’d seen girls do countless times before. Hepburn looked up, and did a double-take, recognition flashing in her eyes—recognition, and alarm…

  Surprise, surprise, sweetheart...

  But it was the other one that made the first move. She flipped her long, straight-ironed locks over her shoulder and sashayed over to him. ‘Good afternoon, sir,’ she beamed, her black eyes twinkling. ‘Can I be of assistance?’ She made it sound like she was proposing something grossly indecent.

  Hepburn should take notes, he thought. This one knows how to flirt.

  He gave her an approving look up and down. ‘I’m sure you could, Yasmin,’ he said, reading her name out from the tag pinned to her blouse. ‘But I’m here to see your colleague today.’

  The girl’s disappointment was tangible. ‘Oh. Yes, of course.’ She reluctantly made way for Hepburn, exchanging a quick, meaningful look with her, then went on to help the next customers.

  Louise stepped forward, arms wrapped around herself in a defensive hug, a dark look on her face. ‘I told you not to come here!’ she hissed.

  Spencer leant on the counter. ‘Hello, my sweet. Ready for part deux?’

  ‘Stop it! I’ve no time for you today. You want to get me fired?’

  ‘Really, Hepburn, you ought to lighten up a little. You’ll spend a fortune on Botox if you keep frowning like that all the time.’

  She parried his intentionally sexist comment by completely ignoring it, thereby beautifully circumventing his attempt to draw her out, and continued: ‘How did you manage to find me anyway?’

  ‘I asked the receptionist.’

  ‘Well, you shouldn’t have.’

  ‘Well, I did.’

  She let out an exasperated grunt. ‘It’s bus-y,’ she enunciated, like she was talking to a toddler. ‘I have to wo-rk. Go. Away.’

  He pulled a mock-insulted face. ‘Why, miss, I’m appalled! Is this how Henderson’s treats its customers? I have a right mind to speak to your superior.’

  She rolled her eyes. ‘You’re not a customer, Hirst.’

  ‘I am, though. No, seriously. I need a present for Daphne when she gets back from Switzerland.’

  She gave him a foul look. But he could see her hesitate, torn between her work ethos and her objection to play along with his charade. Spencer already knew what sentiment would get the upper hand. Louise Hepburn took everything seriously, even a temp job as a sales girl.

  Poor thing, he thought. She really does need to lighten up. Luckily for her, he was here to help.

  ‘Well,’ he insisted. ‘Am I going to get some service here or what?’

  ‘Fine,’ she caved, disgusted. ‘What did you plan on giving her?’ And she added, wickedly: ‘Your fidelity, perhaps?’

  He pulled a face. ‘Touché, Hepburn.’

  She gave him a triumphant grin.

  ‘If anything, you should be glad I’m such a scoundrel, where would your little experiment be otherwise?’

  She shrugged, her face a mask of indifference. ‘I could always ask someone else.’

  The comment struck him unexpectedly. No, he definitely didn’t want that… But he retorted: ‘Maybe I should ask someone else? I’m sure Yasmin over there would be more than happy to help me pick something out.’

  ‘All right, all right,’ Louise sighed. ‘What did you have in mind? Earrings? A bracelet ?’

  ‘I was thinking a watch. Something classy; something elegant.’

  ‘Any particular brand you favour?’

  ‘Swiss made, naturally. The top quality range. Apart from that, I don’t really care.’

  Louise pulled out her key ring and opened one of the glass display cases. ‘These are all Swiss,’ she explained, as she pulled out a couple of the shelves and put them out on the counter. ‘You have titanium wristbands, ceramic ones, and then the golden range, of course. I suppose you’re not considering leather?’

  ‘We’re talking about Daphne here,’ he scoffed. ‘Not my grandmother.’

  ‘Budget?’

  ‘Irrelevant.’

  She glowered at him. ‘You’re such a show-off, Hirst. Don’t you ever get tired of all that bragging and boasting?’

  ‘Why would I boast? Simply stating the facts is usually more than sufficient.’ He ignored her withering glare, then turned his attention to the watches again. ‘Well, I confess I have absolutely no idea which one Daphne would like best. They’re all more or less of equal quality. So it just comes down to a matter of taste, I suppose.’ He paused and looked at her. ‘I know: why don’t you decide for me?’

  She blinked, clearly taken aback. ‘Oh no,’ she huffed. ‘I couldn’t do that.’

  He shrugged, pretending not to understand. ‘Why not?’

  She moved her shoulders in that way of hers, like she did when she was feeling uncomfortable. ‘Daphne’s not a friend of mine. How am I to know what she likes?’

  ‘You’re a woman, and so is she,’ he replied, in an even voice. Then, the moment of truth: ‘Just pick the one you would like for yourself.’

  Hepburn chewed her bottom lip. He could see the thoughts milling about in her head. This is a bad idea, she was telling herself. I don’t know why exactly, but it is! Her instinct was right, of course, but he certainly wasn’t going to enlighten her. Despite her obvious reservations, her gaze travelled over the watches all the same, her head slightly tilted. A jolt of satisfaction went through him. He wondered which one she’d recommend. The most expensive one, probably. Make him pay through the nose. Ironically, that was exactly what Daphne herself would prefer, too. But Hepburn took him by surprise.

  ‘I’d go for this one,’ she said, plucking a watch with a platinum gold wristband from its holder. The face was pearlized, giving it a soft-pink gleam, its only other embellishment twelve little brilliants to mark the hours. ‘It’s elegant and it goes with any outfit. Plus it’s timeless. You could wear it for a decade and it’d still not be out of fashion.’

  He couldn’t have said it better himself.

  ‘Hm.’ He tipped his head to one side, like he was thinking it over. ‘I don’t know. I would have to see it on a wrist. Put it on for me, will you?’ He scoffed when he saw her expression. ‘Hey, be grateful I’m not buying Daphne lingerie.’

  Clearly uncomfortable, but somehow unable to resist his request, Hepburn removed her own watch —a shocking blue-and-white plastic thing with a cat motif she’d probably been wearing since childhood—and slipped the other one on.

  ‘Here, let me,’ he said, when she started fidgeting with the lock. The skin on the inside of her wrist was cool and as delicate as silk under his fingers, and he could feel a familiar stirring in his underbelly. He caught her gaze, their faces close now he stood bent over her arm. Immediately, her eyes darted away again, fixing down on the watch like it was an anchor in a stormy sea. He stifled a smile and decided to put her out of her misery. With one easy flick of his thumb he flipped the lock shut, then turned her wrist over, thereby deliberately brushing along her skin. Goose-flesh appeared where he had passed, the little hairs on her arm rising up. She pulled back from his touch a little too abruptly to be casual, then turned to the side, shaking her arm to position the watch—and to shake off the tension, he presumed. She turned her wrist over a couple of times to let the diamonds catch the light. They sparkled rainbows in the store’s spotlights, and he could see her smile in spite of herself, her whole face lighting up at the sight of such beauty.

  He knew how she felt.

  ‘What do you think?’ she asked, turning to him with that same smile—a smile without an ounce of sarcasm or hostility—still on her face, and for a moment he was blinded, the words stuck in his throat.

  ‘Shall I gift wrap it for you?’

  He nodded. ‘Please.’

  He saw a small jab of regret on her face when she had to take the watch off again. She placed it in its box, then locked the shelves back into the display case, and scanned it. It was pricey. Not the most expensive in the range, but very nearly anyway. Diamonds and gold, a winning combination. Spencer paid it without a second thought. She tore off a sheet of festive paper and started with the gift-wrap. This was clearly something she was less skilled at. Without saying a word, he watched as she worked. He could see she was getting more and more anxious again, her body registering the weight of his gaze like a physical thing. ‘It’s hot under these spotlights,’ she phew-ed with a little apologetic giggle that astounded him. She wiped her forehead, sweat prickling by her hairline.

  ‘There,’ she finally announced, turning the present towards him. ‘All done.’

  The parcel was a bit wonky, but he was focused on something else.

  ‘Beautiful,’ he whispered.

  She flicked her eyes to his, her cheeks colouring when she saw he was looking straight at her. ‘Oh I— I forgot the bag, of course!’ she stammered.

  He leant in closer. ‘Come have lunch with me.’

  Scissors in one hand, she gave a brusque pull at the paper ribbon on the bag, giving it an interrupted, too-tight twist. ‘No dates, remember?’

  ‘It wouldn’t be a date. More like a working lunch, if you know what I mean.’ He gave her a hint of smile, just enough to get the message through.

  ‘I can’t. I missed the train this morning. Yet again. I need to get to my hours.’

  ‘Ask Yaz there to cover for you. I’m sure she’s the type of girl who’d understand.’

  Louise turned her head and considered her colleague, who was helping a young couple that had her opening every single display case on their quest for the perfect engagement ring.

‘Yasmin’s busy, I—’

  Spencer realized he was going to have to cut to a more direct approach. ‘All right, we’ll make it quick, then. No lunch, just work. Meet me in five minutes in the men’s department, by the fitting rooms.’

  ‘What? I don’t think—’

  But he simply turned and walked off, without another word. He could feel her bewildered energy follow him all the way back to the elevator.

  Now it was simply a waiting game.

*

 

He was trying on the jacket of a new navy-blue suit for size when she appeared around the corner of the fitting area, the bag with Daphne’s present in both hands like it was a ticking time-bomb. He suppressed a smile. He’d known Hepburn wasn’t the type to allow a job to remain unfinished.

  ‘Thank you,’ he dismissed the assistant, without taking his eyes off himself in the mirror. ‘Miss Hepburn and I can take it from here.’

  The man nodded and left, with a quick glance at Louise’s nametag.

  ‘Great,’ she groaned. ‘Now he’s going to think you’re my boyfriend!’

  ‘So?’

  ‘Well, you’re not!’

  ‘I’m sure Yasmin is already convinced I am.’

  Louise pulled a face. ‘Most likely.’

 ‘Oh, let them have their gossip, who cares?’ He shrugged his shoulders to adjust the position of the jacket, facing the mirror once more. ‘What do you think? Is it a winner?’

  She eyed him over critically. ‘Not bad. The colour suits you.’

  ‘Sold. Now just the pants then,’ he looked at her over his shoulder and grinned. ‘Won’t you slip into the stall with me and check out the fit, please, miss?’

  She gave him a shocked look.

  ‘What?’ He raised an eyebrow. ‘Don’t pretend that’s the only reason you came here.’ He jerked his chin at the bag in her hands.

  Louise’s gaze shot across the fitting area. There were other customers, but not in the immediate vicinity. No shop assistants in sight either, for the moment.

  ‘The camera’s…’ she began.

  ‘Best slip inside quickly then, before anyone starts paying attention.’

  He could feel her hesitation. ‘It’s now or never,’ he said, already holding the stall door for her. She waited a moment longer, then, cheeks bright red, she succumbed and hurriedly brushed past him anyway. With a smile he followed her inside and locked the door behind them with a short, dry click. All of a sudden, they were very close together. She didn’t know where to look. ‘Here.’ She shoved the bag with the watch into him. ‘Put this away before you forget it again.’

  He didn’t take it. Instead he put one hand against the wall above her shoulder, leaning in. He flipped a lock of her hair behind her ear. ‘I didn’t forget it,’ he whispered. ‘I left it, so you would have an excuse to come bring it to me. Something you knew full well.’

  She swallowed, the muscles in that lovely throat of hers moving under her skin. ‘I didn’t.’ It was nothing more than a whisper, and even she seemed to realize how feeble it sounded.

  ‘What’s the matter?’ he scoffed harshly. ‘You feel uneasy doing it here?’

  ‘I could lose my job.’

  ‘They’re not allowed to film inside the stalls, and the door is locked, what are they gonna do?’

  ‘People will hear…’

  ‘Then we’ll just have to be really quiet, now won’t we?’

  She gazed up at him, her eyes huge. Spencer had looked into a great many deal of brown eyes in his day, but Louise’s were a shade he’d never come across before: a warm honey and amber type of hue that made you think of mulled wine and winter fires. She had never looked more vulnerable, and all of a sudden he realized what a risk she was truly taking. That to her, this job really mattered. And for the first time since the start of all this, he felt a stab of guilt.

  It’s not my fault. She asked for it herself.

  She didn’t realize the full extent of her request, of course. How could she? The same inexperience that had caused her to make it in the first place was what actually prevented her from truly grasping its implications.

  That’s what’s wrong with this whole thing.

  She had given him permission to use her, but that didn’t take away from the reality that he was in fact using her. Part of him felt like scum for putting her in this position. But another part… Another part only wanted one thing.

  A waft of her perfume reached him. No, not perfume, just soap and shampoo. A lovely clean, uncomplicated smell.

  ‘Show me what you’ve learned,’ he ordered—more coldly than he had intended, as if he wanted to punish her for making him doubt himself. She frowned, not understanding, and he specified: ‘Kiss me, like I taught you yesterday.’ Then, with a derisive scoff: ‘Consider it an exam. You’re good at those, aren’t you?’

  She straightened her shoulders, rising to the challenge. ‘The best!’

  ‘Then prove it.’

  He could see her breathe in — could feel it, actually, her body so close in the tight cubicle it brushed up against his. God, he was already getting hard, merely from the prospect of her touch. But he suppressed the instinct to take over. She had to do this all on her own. After all, she wanted to learn, right?

  Louise put the bag down on the floor, then—slowly, haltingly, her eyes darting away every time they met his—she proceeded to put her arms around his neck. Her uneasiness was tangible. Spencer didn’t move, he gave her nothing, not even in his expression, just stood and waited to see what she’d do next. She swallowed uncertainly, then fluttered her eyes closed and leant in. Gingerly, her lips brushed over his, and a rush of pleasure shot up his spine. God, she was delicious. She started feeling her way now, shyly experimenting with degrees of pressure and depth, and he could feel his desire grow in leaps and bounds. It burned in his belly and throbbed through his cock with every hesitant caress of her lips. He wanted to lick her. To open that careful, tentative mouth of hers with his tongue and just push inside. To greedily taste her soft, delicious wetness. And then he wanted to shove her up against the back of the stall and push inside of her in earnest. He breathed in deeply, trying to remain stead-fast. But when he felt the tip of her tongue trail along his upper lip, he couldn’t hold back any longer. He pulled her into him. And it was as he had imagined it to be. Plump, warm, wet. He explored every inch of her with the thrill of an adventurer discovering virgin territory, which in a way she was, of course. This was divine. How long had it been since he had kissed a girl like this? With such undivided, almost reverent attention? He couldn’t remember. Nor could he remember when he’d last felt so intensely aroused.

  ‘And?’ Louise huffed, breaking the kiss. She was breathing hard, her chest heaving underneath her smart work blouse.

  He frowned, not wanting to lose time on talking. ‘And?’

  She gave him a coy look. ‘Have I passed my exam, sir?’

  A grin spread on his face. So she was capable of a joke. ‘With flying colours, Miss Hepburn,’ he breathed. ‘Ready to proceed?’

  She nodded, her response a sigh against his mouth. ‘Yes, please...’

  They took up where they left off, but this time, he was in the lead. He sat down on the bench and pulled her with him, thereby giving her no choice but to open her legs and straddle him. She followed, a tad clumsily but without protest, her skirt riding high up her thighs in the process. But when she registered his arousal, her inexperience showed, and she tensed up, pulling back for a moment. He didn’t say anything, just let her feel it, curious to see her reaction. A few layers of fabric were all that was keeping him from being exactly where he wanted to be, and she knew it. Unsure, she bit her lip, not realizing it was just about the sexiest thing she could’ve done right now, and his fantasy of just ripping her clothes off and taking her  up against the wall of the cubicle made a big comeback. But what followed was almost more gratifying. Her hands loosely on his shoulders, Hepburn held his gaze for a minute, then slowly started pressing her body down into him. He watched her face, saw her attention turn more and more inward as became focused on what she felt. He let out a grunt when she shifted her weight and suddenly hit the right spot, grimacing in spite of himself. Famished for her, he pulled her more forcefully into him, made her strain against his cock now. ‘Louise…’ he whispered, unable to stop himself, as he brushed his mouth over the soft, honey-coloured skin of her neck. He sought her lips again, kissed her deeply and full of passion. His hands moved up along her sides, pulling her blouse out from the waistband of her skirt. A shiver went through her when he cupped her breasts, so warm and supple in their bra, the nipples sticking up like little, hard buds through the fabric. He gave them a soft pinch and she gasped, her thighs inadvertently clenching around him. Again, that desire to just ravish her. To tear that blouse clean off, send all the buttons flying, and see what she had to offer. But he was fast beginning to appreciate the benefits of delayed pleasure. And there was nothing more pleasurable than seeing her squirm a little. So he moved his lips to her ear and whispered: ‘Show yourself to me.’

  She shivered under his breath. In fact, she was slightly trembling all over, overwhelmed by all these new sensations. He felt another stab of guilt, which immediately morphed into ravenous desire. She leant the side of her head against his now, instinctively looking for comfort while she tried to decide—tried to think—despite the state she was in. He could have made it easy on her, but that wasn’t the nature of this game… ‘Come on,’ he whispered. ‘It’s no big deal.’ Except it was, of course, for her anyway. She sat back, gave a quick look over her shoulder.   ‘The door is locked,’ he reminded her. ‘No one is going to come in.’

  ‘I can’t…’ she breathed miserably, desperately searching his face for an ounce of consideration. But her cheeks were flushed, her eyes heavy-lidded, the pupils huge. And he knew she was done for.

  He held her gaze, caressing her cheek with the back of his fingers, then whispered in his best, most private tone: ‘Sure you can. Trust me.

  She blinked a couple of times, fast, and looked over her shoulder again. Then she swallowed and started fidgeting with the buttons on her blouse. Satisfaction washed over him. Again, he had to remind himself of how inexperienced she was. She had probably never gone this far with a man before.

  She’s so unspoilt, he thought. What a treat.

  He couldn’t believe how lucky he was. But most of all, he couldn’t believe how interested he was. It was all going so slowly and hesitantly, they were really nowhere yet. Objectively speaking this was a joke compared to the experience he had under his belt. He had experimented, tried all the fads and the kinky stuff too. And still, sitting here waiting for Hepburn to reveal herself to him, excited him more than any of that. It was a big deal to her. And the weight of her emotion was so strong it spilled over to him, almost making him feel a bit nervous himself.

  When she was finally down to the last button, she shifted awkwardly in his lap, faltering to take the final step. He decided it was time to come to her aid. She’d done more than enough; he could take it from here. With one hand, he moved the loose slip of her blouse to one side, and then the other. He inhaled deeply. The girls he usually dated wore expensive lingerie, of the type that didn’t serve any other purpose than to be taken off again as fast as possible. So the sight of Louise’s simple, white cotton bra took him completely by surprise. It didn’t have any embellishments other than a subtle lace pattern near the top and a little, demure bow in the middle, where the two cups met.

  It was, quite frankly, the hottest thing he’d seen in his life.

  He looked up at her, desire pulsating through his body. Her eyes were enormous now, the brown gleaming like liquid amber. He slid the blouse off her shoulders, then pulled her bra straps aside. She averted her head, and he felt himself yearning for her with every fibre of his body. Now only the clasp in the middle was left. When he clicked it loose, her hands shot to her chest. She was holding the bra up now, pushing it against her, both straps loose around her shoulders. Spencer took hold of her wrists and gently guided them away from her body. She didn’t resist. It was a step she just couldn’t have taken without his help. When the bra fell open, a jolt, like a sob, passed through her. He breathed out, for a moment revelling in the privilege of witnessing such beauty up close. Her skin was lighter there, where it had never been exposed to the sun. He tried to catch her gaze, to make sure she was okay, but she was still looking away, breathing hard. He had no idea why she was so self-conscious. She had great tits. Not very big, but still a nice handful anyway, and very shapely. They presented themselves before him, all prim, the lovely brown nipples bulging outwards a little, just asking to be licked. Carefully, he guided her hands to his shoulders and left them there, then cupped her breasts, the weight agreeable in his hands. She exhaled at his touch, her shoulders finally relaxing. And Spencer felt himself relax too. It was all right, she liked it.

  He ran his thumbs over her nipples, enjoying the sight and feel of them growing even harder under his touch. He had planned to tease her a little first, but at such a tantalizing sight, right in front of him… Slowly, reverently, he closed his mouth around Louise’s left nipple. When it touched the raspy surface of his tongue, she jolted, the movement reverberating through his lap. He sighed in pleasure. She tasted just like she smelled, fresh and warm and infinitely sweet. He started sucking her, with slow, deliberate, rhythmic pulls, relishing in the sound of her little, stifled moans. Her nipples were taut, her breasts full under his kneading hands. She dug her fingers into his shoulders. ‘Spencer…’ she breathed, and a hot shiver went through him hearing her use his name. She put her head in her neck and started riding in his lap. His cock was throbbing against her now, begging to be released. He moved his mouth to her other breast, his hands sliding downwards. He squeezed her waist, her flesh an earthy, visceral comfort. When he released her, she opened her eyes and he could see her looking at herself in the mirror behind him before finding his gaze. Her expression was dulled by lust, the eyes dark and cloudy now. He ran his thumb over her bottom lip. She wasn’t wearing lipstick; the rosy colour of her mouth was her own. As he kissed her, he wondered if she was rosy between her legs too. A vague image of her pussy flashed through his mind, making his desire rise to unbearable heights. He had to feel her. Now. She was willing; it was clear enough. She had allowed him to do all he wanted so far. She wouldn’t say no… He moved his hand up her leg, pushing her skirt further upward, his thumb following the curve of her inner thigh.

  ‘Stop!’

  The word was a heavy, mossy stone sinking to the pit of his stomach.

  'Stop, that's enough.'

  Damn…

  Reluctantly, Spencer removed his hand. ‘You sure?’ he managed hoarsely, well-aware he was clutching at straws.

  She nodded and panted: ‘Yeah. We’ve pretty much covered item two now, right?’

  ‘I guess so…’ He was still catching his breath. It was kind of hard to think.

  ‘Well then,’ she whispered. ‘I have to get back to work anyway. Yasmin ’ll be wondering where I am.’ She glanced at her watch. ‘Especially if I still want to sneak a bite to eat.’

  Spencer was stunned. Was this really happening? How could she be so practical, so level-headed, even now, just out of the height of the action, when her pupils were still wide enough to make you think she’d done a line of coke? Was she made of steel?!

  ‘The offer for lunch still stands,’ he tried, weirdly practical, all of a sudden, too.

  ‘No, thanks.’ She fastened her bra. ‘I brought a muesli bar from home. Besides, the rules, remember?’

  The rules… Fuck the rules and let me fuck you! he wanted to say. But he managed to bite his tongue just in time.

  She was already getting up off his lap. Quick! ‘Wait a minute,’ he said, holding her by the arm. ‘You haven’t received your reward yet.’

  ‘Reward?’ She sat down again, frowning.

  Having her weight back on him again felt nice. He shot her his best wicked schoolboy look, and said: ‘You’ve done well. A very promising student, indeed. And the right motivation is key to any endeavour, isn’t it?’

  She raised a sceptical eyebrow.

  He snatched the bag off the floor and took the parcel out.   ‘Here,’ he whispered hotly, pressing it into her hand. ‘For you.’

  Something flashed in her eyes. Desire? His stomach churned with sudden excitement.

  ‘Daphne’s new watch…’ she mumbled.

  ‘Your new watch.’

  She huffed out her breath. ‘Oh, no. I couldn’t possibly. That watch wasn’t meant for me.’

  ‘It was. Why do you think I let you pick it out? I was planning to give it to you all along. Besides, you’re clearly in need of one.’ He gave an appalled look at the blue-and-white cat debacle on her wrist.

  She put her head in her neck for a second, her shoulders drooping, and uttered an exasperated sigh. ‘We’ve been over this, Spencer.’ She tumbled the box through her hands, looking at it as it passed from one hand to the other. ‘No gifts.’

  ‘Why not?’ he shrugged. ‘What harm could it possibly do?’

  ‘Because then it would be like I owed you something.’

  Exactly. Not that he explicitly expected something in return, of course. But in his experience, things like watches the price of a family vacation to the Caribbean did tend to weigh on the balance of a relationship somewhat. In this particular case, however, he was prepared to waive the advantage. ‘Hey, no strings attached,’ he said, in truth. ‘I promise, Lulu.’

  It was like a screen got pulled down behind her eyes; she shut off so abruptly. ‘Don’t ever call me Lulu again!’ She shoved the present back in his hands and pushed up from his lap.

  He blinked, completely taken aback. ‘All right, I won’t. Sorry. Jeez…’

  She pulled her blouse back on, buttoning it down with fast, irritable movements. He watched her, confused and vaguely uncomfortable. What the hell had just happened? Why was she so angry all of a sudden?

  ‘Well, what am I supposed to do with this then?’ he complained, holding up the present.

  She shrugged. ‘Give it to Daphne.’

  Spencer felt bitter disappointment rise to his throat. He had been impressed by Hepburn’s taste in choosing the watch. It was by far the classiest one in the collection, confirming her dress at the Christmas Ball hadn’t been a fluke. Why wouldn’t she just take it? Rejecting a rose was one thing, but this was an object of real value. What kind of woman turned down a piece of jewellery?

  This is not your average woman, Spence. You should know that by now.

Dammit! It was his own stupid fault. He had been on the brink of persuading her, he’d felt it, had seen it in her eyes. But he had moved too fast and overplayed his hand. She wasn’t ready to give in to temptation just yet. Still, he couldn’t help being a little impressed at how incorruptible she was.

  A though nut to crack, this one, he contemplated, as he watched her straighten her clothes in front of the mirror. She clucked her tongue when she discovered a runner in her tights. He smiled. But nothing I can’t handle. His self-confidence returned. Maybe it was even better like this. After so much effort, the final reward would taste double as sweet…

  ‘When can we meet next?’ he asked, standing up.

  She thought it over. ‘I’m off work at lunchtime on Wednesday, the store is closing early for New Year’s. I have to work later that night, of course, but I’ve basically got the whole afternoon to myself.’

  The way in which she said this proved to Spencer that in spite of her fiery reaction just now, Louise Hepburn wasn’t exactly reluctant to meet him again. ‘Are you free?’ she inquired, doing her best to sound indifferent, but again with that tinge of concealed eagerness in her tone. ‘You could come round to my dorm again...’

  ‘No,’ he replied. ‘I mean, I’m free, but I can’t meet you in Kingsmore. I’ll never make it back into the city on time for Daphne’s return. She’s coming home from Switzerland that night to celebrate New Year’s with me.’

  ‘Oh.’ He couldn’t read her expression. Disappointment? Or the usual disgust?

  ‘I tell you what,’ he said. ‘Let’s meet at my place, here in London. It’s not that far from Henderson’s. You could come in straight after your shift. Make it a real lunch appointment, so to speak. We’d have a couple of hours before Daphne’s arrival…’

  She shrugged. ‘Okay.’

  He got up, disrespectfully tumbling the parcel back into its bag, like it was the watch’s fault Louise hadn’t accepted it. ‘Good. Then I’ll give you a present you won’t want to turn down.’

  She raised her eyebrows. ‘And what might that be?’

  He shrugged, and answered matter-of-factly: ‘An orgasm.’

  She stifled a little smile. ‘Well,’ she sighed, a challenge in her eyes. ‘We’ll just have to see about that then, now won’t we?’

  ‘Oh, you will, I’m sure of it.’ He flipped open the lock and held the door for her, but she shook her head, retreating deeper into the cubicle. ‘You go first. They mustn’t see us coming out together.’

  ‘Okay.’

  ‘Until Wednesday then,’ she nodded.

  ‘Until then.’

  Neither of them moved.

  ‘Well?’ she frowned.

  He scoffed, surprised at himself. ‘It seems I can’t bear to tear myself away from you just yet, Hepburn.’

  A wicked expression flashed across her face. She moved towards him, and a longing sensation flowed to his chest. Eager, he leant into her, expecting one last, passionate kiss. But she turned her cheek, effectively deflecting him, then put her lips to his ear and whispered: ‘Let me put you out of your misery then.’

  Stunned, he stood and watched as she slid past him and left the stall, callously abandoning him like an unwanted pet.

  He couldn’t help but grin.

  She had personality, you had to give her that.

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