by Marie Bassette
Tech-talk is something Aria Finch is fluent in. Romance and run-of-the-mill human interaction? Not so much. She’s intent on keeping her life simple and to the point. Good career? Check. Boyfriend? Check. Spoiled cat? Double check.
When it comes to her boss, however, everything she’s struggling to build seems to go out the window. North Acquati is determined, successful, and gorgeous. Which wouldn’t be a problem if Finch hadn’t gotten herself wined, dined, and gifted a mysterious box that could get her killed.
Her confusing feelings for North and the sudden danger she finds herself in only intensify as she’s tangled deeper into the web of North’s latest secret project. But is their chemistry genuine? Or is it nothing more than an elaborate manipulation with potentially devastating consequences?
FROM THE AUTHOR
"Aria thinks of herself as a total loser, but I think she’s kind of cool. I would love to be able to write code and do cool computer things. I started writing the book and she came alive to me immediately. I feel like a lot of her inner conflicts are things that are residual from going through that whole awkward self-discovery phase myself.
North is a strong voice as well, and, like Finch, she just sort of asserted herself on the page as soon as I began writing. Their chemistry is fun to play with and half the time I found myself wondering what was going to happen next between them. Writing it was probably as surprising as reading it can be, and I feel really privileged to be able to share this story with others. <3"
“Oh my god,” I whispered. “This really happened.”
I snuck a peek at North, whose lithe body was tangled in the sheets beside me. I wasn’t sure I wanted to believe where I was or what was happening, but between the sun streaming warmly through the massive windows and the obnoxious chiming of my cell phone’s alarm clock, I had no choice but to face reality.
“I’m afraid so,” North said, half sitting up. The sheet slid down a little, revealing the soft skin just above her breasts. A powerful longing shocked me as my mind was flooded with memories of their taste. We had somehow made our way from the company’s dinner to her huge, air-conditioned apartment. From there, my memories were vague.
North smiled wryly and I hurriedly looked away. My cheeks were burning, a mixture of embarrassment and confusion. I was afraid to move, guarding my body militantly from her eyes in the light of morning.
North seemed detached enough about having me in her bed, despite my never having been to her apartment before, but I felt too vulnerable. I blearily took in the sparsely collected furniture of her spacious bedroom. The end table alone was probably more expensive than my car payment and rent combined.
“How did we get here?” I asked, searching my mind for memories of the night before.
It was scary not knowing. I couldn’t believe how calm North was being. I felt very sure that life as I knew it was over. Her burnt chestnut curls slid over her shoulders as she turned from me to check the time.
“Could you turn that thing off?” North asked curtly.
It was a tone I recognized. Commanding, but still husky with sleep. North continued talking even though I wasn’t prepared for her words to become real in my mind. “Taxi, if memory serves. We were—”
“Wasted. Yeah,” I said, glaring at her as I grabbed my phone. “Obviously.”
North’s lips pursed in a tolerant smile, and she rolled out of the ridiculously luxurious bed. Her long legs carried her briskly across the room, where she began rummaging through the huge closet. I watched her stealthily from behind the screen of my phone, secretly disappointed when she hid her radiant body in a silky wine-colored robe. I was confused by my desire to put her back right where I found her. Why would I even think that when I just wanted to get the hell out of there?
North disappeared briefly in the closet, searching for something she didn’t seem to be able to find. When she emerged again, I let my eyes devour her before she turned her cunning gaze on me again. I felt like a visitor to a foreign country and knew I should be a more gracious guest. It was probably a mistake to be lashing out at her, but she was taking it in stride. Almost as if…
“Have you done this before?” I blurted. “I mean…with a woman?”
“No,” North said firmly, sitting down on the edge of the bed. From her tone, it seemed as if she had reassured me of this a hundred times already. Apparently, it was getting old.
“I’m in so much trouble…”
I dropped my head into my hands, trying to hold back a flood of hot tears as I considered the life I had just thrown away. It had been a great job. I was comfortable with the people I worked with. Apparently too comfortable.
“Don’t worry,” North said, my hands suddenly in hers. “I won’t fire you.”
I looked up, my shimmering eyes peering into her face. I’d never noticed how kind it was before. I had always been so focused on her beauty. And her ferocity.
“It’s not just that,” I said, pulling away from her gentle grip. I looked down at my phone on the bed between us. A notification was flashing on the screen. Four missed calls. “I have a—”
“Boyfriend. Yes, I remember.”
I thought she was teasing me, but her expression softened when I met her eyes. The pain I was feeling must have been visible on my face. I’d have to tell him. We’d break up. Everything was ruined.
North shifted, looking down at the bed. I recognized her brainstorming look immediately and felt a nauseated twinge in my stomach.
“You can call him if you like,” she finally said. “Let him know—”
“Let him know what? That I’m naked in my boss’s bed? No thank you.”
She pursed her full lips again. I had the feeling that if I kept talking, they might disappear completely.
“—that you’re all right.”
“All right is a bit of an exaggeration.”
I didn’t like the pitch of my voice, so I was sure North didn’t either. I was usually so conscientious about the way I spoke to her. She could destroy my career with a word, but somehow, I was beyond caring. “I’m not all right, North. I might never be all right again!”
“You’re being melodramatic, Aria,” North said, her cool demeanor as composed as ever. I cringed at the sound of my first name coming from her lips, recalling how she had said it last in a low moan as she climaxed around my hand. I groaned in discomfort as another flash of heat made its way unwelcomely through my body.
“Call me Finch,” I grumbled, desperate for some sense of familiarity as my eyes searched the ground for my clothes. I had to get out of there before anything else happened that might threaten my sense of normalcy.
“Fine,” North said, as if indulging a small, spoiled child. The tone annoyed me, but when I looked at her, I could tell that I’d hurt her feelings.
“I’m sorry.” I sighed, leaning against the headboard of her massive bed. “I just feel so guilty…”
“From what I remember, this was all your idea,” North said, that ghost of a smile playing her lips. “Your exact sentiments being, ‘Fuck Thom, he doesn’t even feed the cat.’ And then you passed out before we even finished.”
My cheeks burned hotly with the fact of the matter, which finally brought her suggestion of a smile into an outright grin. She was toying with me.
“I did?” I asked, my voice small. I don’t know why I bothered asking; it sounded just like me.
She nodded, draping a long leg over my stomach and mounting my body. I inhaled sharply as I felt the heat of her middle against my abdomen. The scrape of her neatly groomed pubic hair against my bare skin, but I restrained myself. North hovered over me, brushing the blond hair away from my face as her mouth dropped to my ear.
“You did.” The sheer force of her tone caused my hips to buckle against her, and the flush on my cheeks deepened. A physical testament to my desire dampened her thigh. I wouldn’t be able to fight my way out of it with the evidence still hot against her leg, so why was I trying so hard?
“Nguh…” I was all out of snappy comebacks, and she grinned, kissing the nape of my neck gently. I hated myself for not having the power to resist. “But work…” I tried weakly.
“Don’t worry,” she said, her hand disappearing under the sheet. I closed my eyes, gasping as her fingertips slowly disappeared inside of me. “I’m giving you the day off.”
* * *
North and I had fallen into a light, postcoital slumber. Mine was haunted by images of Thom, dressed, for some reason, like my childhood Sunday school teacher. He was shaking his head in disapproval, a deep frown on his face.
“Fuck you, Thom,” I said to him. “You don’t even remember to feed the cat.”
I woke up feeling absurdly annoyed at my boyfriend, despite being the one who had just orgasmed powerfully for another person. Up until that point, things had been okay with Thom and me. We’d been dating a few months. I wasn’t considering that he was “the one” yet, but he was all right. He didn’t smoke or listen to maudlin country music or anything, and the sex had been okay, so I was holding out hope.
But all that was going to change too. I would have to tell him what happened. Or at least break it off with him. If I was willing to throw him under the bus for a terribly planned night with the woman I’d admired professionally for the past six years, I was clearly incapable of committing to him.
North stirred as if she could sense my wakefulness and opened her dazzling brown eyes. They locked on me, and, as if dissatisfied with what she found, she slid out of the bed. I was shocked once again by her unbelievable body. It seemed to radiate and hum, almost as if it were alive by the very merit of its perfection. The childish feeling I’d had so often that morning came back as I found myself tempted to look away, certain I might get in trouble for enjoying this moment. There was no way someone as immature and inexperienced as I was should be allowed to look at or touch her. And yet…
I expected the same gentle tolerance that she had shown me earlier in the morning, but all traces of the vulnerable woman were gone. She, too, seemed to be seeking the normalcy in our routine, and had readopted her collected, ball-busting attitude. I could tell everything I needed to know about her mood just by the way she walked toward the private bathroom without a glance at me. She hesitated in the doorway before she entered.
“We left our clothes in the living room.” North was unashamed of her nakedness but chose not to look directly at me when she spoke. Instead, she kept her back toward me and her hand on the doorframe. “I’d serve you breakfast, but that’s really something I reserve for people who allow me a first-name basis.”
And with that, she shut the door.