We are taking book requests on our companion website. You can request books here. Make sure, you are following the rules.

Pleasing Mr. Parker: Chapter 14

Maria

The Bahamas, time has flown by. The spa has been busy, and alongside running it and setting up things with Todd for the new products, I’ve barely had time to think.

Of course, there’s that one thing which keeps knocking on the door to my brain. Forcing itself in, no matter how much I try to keep it out, adding a new bolt to the door each day. It just knocks louder until my head feels like it might explode with pressure.

Griffin Parker.

I should have known when I accepted this job that it wouldn’t be easy working with him. I knew there was something that first time I met him in California. He was so restrained and in control. I thought it was because it was business. I should have listened to my instincts. Griffin Parker is a man who is not used to being told no. He’s a man who craves being in charge. To command. To control. Heat fires in my core at the memory of his lips against my skin. It may make him invincible in business, and it may make him the most incredible, pantie-burning lover, but in terms of me and my personal life? It makes him the devil. I can’t let a man control my future again.

I’m shoved back into the present as Will thrusts a long purple gown into my hands.

“Try this one, Maria.”

I hold up the hanger and look down at the thin fabric of the gown.

“Wow, it’s so light.”

“It’s silk. You’ll look like a queen.” He rummages around in the pile of garment bags he’s brought over to my apartment and pulls another dress off a hanger, handing it to Harley.

“Ooh, I like!” Her face lights up as she eyes the pink fabric. “Thanks, Will.”

“Don’t thank me yet. We’ve still got to get all this back to Sylvia before opening tomorrow morning. Otherwise, she’ll have my balls on a spike.” He looks at Harley and raises a brow.

“Okay, point taken. I won’t let you down.” She gives him a small salute. “I can’t believe Mr. Parker has us figured out.”

“That man knows everything that goes on around here… except…” He reaches into another bag and pulls out two deep blue velvet boxes. “About these!” He grins as he holds up the boxes like trophies.

“What are those?” Harley’s eyes widen as she holds her hands out. “Please tell me they’re shiny, Will? I’ll love you forever!” she squeals as he pops the lid and reveals a glittering pair of diamond teardrop earrings.

Harley bounces up on her toes and kisses him on the cheek as she lifts them from the box and stares at them.

“They’ll look amazing,” Will says, before turning to me. “Okay, next!” He grins as he opens the second box and a necklace with a long diamond chain hanging down the middle catches the light.

My hand flies to my mouth. The diamonds look very real. And very expensive.

“I can’t wear that. Where did you even get it?”

He shrugs my comment off with a light laugh. “A friend who happens to be a designer at Van Cleef and Arpels.” He takes the necklace from the box and places it in my hand. “It will look amazing with the plunging neckline of that dress. Just guard them with your life, okay?” He looks between me and Harley, and we nod in response.

“You’re the best, Will,” Harley sings as she gathers up her dress, zipping it back into its garment bag. “Right, I’m off to deliver Suze’s to her,” she says, grabbing the other bag Will has prepared.

I kiss her and Will goodbye and then sink into the sofa.

I’m relieved Harley has asked Suze to be her plus one. It’ll be nice to have some allies to talk to. Asking Todd to accompany me probably wasn’t such a great idea. I’ve only spoken to him in a work capacity. The evening could be awkward if conversation dries up. And then there’s Griffin. I’ve barely seen him since we got back from The Bahamas, since whatever the hell that was that happened between us.

My throat goes dry… whatever the hell that was.

No matter how hard I try, I can’t get it out of my head. I almost had a one-night stand with my boss on a work trip. Because that’s what it would have been. If he hadn’t gotten a call, I know we would have ended up having full sex. It’s obvious to me now that Griffin Parker, sun, and cocktails render me completely incapable of acting with any modicum of sense.

I practically rode his face and moaned like I was in a casting couch audition.

He’s my boss.

So stupid.

Harley said he doesn’t date anyone connected with work since all the drama with Gwen. And he even said it himself when he came to the spa the other day. He doesn’t date people he works with. And neither do I. It’s a recipe for disaster. The repercussions don’t bear thinking about.

Besides, he made it quite clear the morning after, on the journey back to New York, that he wasn’t giving it any further thought. He never mentioned a thing. If I hadn’t been there myself, I would never have believed it had even happened by the way he was acting so cold and business-like. Maybe in his eyes, it never did. He probably has nights like that all the time and they all merge into one.

But I don’t.

The way he… no! I must stop. I can’t allow myself to indulge in memories of a night that should have never happened. But the memory of his deep voice growling out commands to me as he held me open and studied me with that look of pure, unfiltered desire on his face? That memory alone sends goosebumps coursing over my entire body. I should have known from the way he is at work—ruthless, powerful, downright brilliant at what he does—that he would be the same out of his suits.

Griffin Parker sure knows how to play dirty.

I need to forget. Push it to the back of my mind and carry on. I have a job to do, a spa to run and make even more successful than it already is. That’s why he hired me. If he thinks I’m here for anything else, then he’s mistaken.

That one night was just that—once only.

One mistake.

One lapse of judgment that would make things too complicated if ever repeated.

It was alcohol mixed with tropical heat and an incredible setting.

Nothing more.


“You look wonderful.” Todd holds his arms out and cups both of my elbows as he kisses me on each cheek.

“Thank you. So do you.” I smile at him.

The tension that’s been following me around all day falls away as he launches straight into a story about his day at work and we walk from my apartment to the elevators. He’s dressed in a black tuxedo; an easy smile on his face as he talks. I was worrying about nothing. This isn’t awkward. I know he’ll chat all night long, judging by how he’s already slipped straight into a conversation with ease.

And he’s a good-looking man. I only noticed when Harley pointed it out. He’s got a youthful boyishness about him. Despite him being around thirty, the same as me, his dimples and blond curls make him seem younger. And I can relax in his company. Not like when I’m near Griffin, wondering what mood he’s going to be in. He’s the total opposite to Todd—dark, brooding, intense, in both personality and looks.

God, why am I even thinking about him?

Todd pushes the elevator button as he continues his story. I had zoned out. Led astray by thoughts of a man who should not be taking up any space in my head.

I look at Todd and try my best to give him my full attention and not be rude. I said I’d meet him at the gala, but he insisted on meeting me first, so I don’t have to walk in alone. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’ve walked into many places alone. And rather than making me feel self-conscious, it’s done the opposite—I’ve felt empowered. Large business dinners at my old hotel in California, regional and national management conferences—I’ve held my head higher for each one I’ve attended. I earned my right to be there and am proud of what I’ve achieved.

The Songbird’s main ballroom is already filled with guests when we arrive. We each take a glass of champagne from a passing server and look at the chart near the entrance to see where we’re seated. I could have asked Harley earlier today. I’m sure she would have seen it, as despite Emily organizing the galas, Harley told me Griffin has final say over everything. Including the seating plan.

“There we are.” Todd points to the table on the front left of the chart and then places his hand on my back, steering me toward the front of the room. I spot Harley and Suze sitting at a table in the center as we pass. Harley gives me a grin and a wave as she talks to the man next to her, who I don’t recognize. Meanwhile, Suze is deep in conversation with the lady next to her and they’re laughing about something.

We reach our table and Todd pulls my chair out for me, sitting next to me once I’m seated. There are three other couples who are already at the table, so we say hello and introduce ourselves. They all know Emily and launch into stories about the other galas they’ve attended. Two of the men are trying to out-do each other by dropping not-so-subtle hints about how much they’re planning to donate to tonight’s charity, which is to raise money for the pediatric oncology department at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

Todd catches my eye and raises a brow, his lips curling. I bite mine to hide my smirk. At least the hospital will benefit from their public pissing match they seem intent on having.

“You made it!” a female voice calls out.

I look up as Emily approaches in a long, dark evening gown, her auburn hair in an elegant chignon at the base of her neck. She beams ear-to-ear and embraces each of the two loud men in turn. They exchange some words and Emily laughs, swatting one lightly on the chest. Then she greets everyone else at the table and comes to perch on the seat next to me.

“Maria, I’m so glad you could make it. That dress is beautiful, and that necklace…” She grabs my hand and squeezes it on top of the table. “… just divine. And Todd, how lovely to see you.” She smiles past me, and her brows shoot up in greeting.

I can see why her galas do so well. She talks with everyone, and Harley said she knows half of Manhattan through her charity work and her father’s business connections. She said he does something in corporate technology systems and I.T. Emily’s been so kind, telling me about places I should eat and visit in New York. She’s dropped into the spa every day since I got back from the business trip.

“Thank you so much for coming. I’m so glad Griffin suggested we sit at the same table. He’s so thoughtful like that. We can get to know one another better,” Emily says as she looks behind me. “Ah, here he is now. Griffin, you don’t mind if we swap, do you? You are next to Maria, but you see each other every day at work. It’s not fair that you should have her all to yourself.” She laughs and looks back at me as a presence behind my chair makes the hairs on my arms stand up.

“Not at all.”

The second the deep, gravelly voice reaches my ears, my nipples pebble into peaks and heat ignites low in my stomach. I turn in my seat as he greets the other people at the table, charm mode in full swing as he shakes hands, kisses cheeks, and pays compliments, causing many cheeks to blush. I look at Emily, who’s watching him too.

“Handsome, isn’t he?” she whispers, eyeing him in his tuxedo, his dark hair perfectly matching the immaculate black fabric. “Women always donate more when he comes. That’s why I schedule the galas for when he’s in town.”

“Smart.” I smile, because despite the gnawing in my stomach at the sight of Griffin spreading charm around like butter on hot toast, it makes sense now why Harley said Emily insists Griffin accompany her and doesn’t bring a date. That way, he’s able to network and drum up larger donations with ease using his blue-eyed charm.

“You’ve known each other for a long time, haven’t you?” I ask, my eyes firmly stuck on Griffin and the way his eyes crease at the corners as he laughs. I remember those lines and that laugh. The way they sent shivers running up my spine when they were focused on me—and only me.

The gnawing in my stomach deepens as one woman from the table slides closer to him as he speaks.

“We have.” Emily smiles in Griffin’s direction. “Practically family. I grew up with the Parkers. Our fathers are best friends.” She snorts and scrunches her face as something Griffin says makes the woman sidled up to him throw her head back in laughter and place her hand on his arm.

Emily’s eyes stayed fixed on the two of them. “Always a long line of women ready to fall at his feet, but if they knew him like I do, then they’d know he’ll never settle down. Griffin’s wife is The Songbird.”

The woman laughs again, stroking Griffin’s forearm up and down.

“He’s had relationships before, though, hasn’t he?”

I don’t know why I’m asking, it’s not like I should care.

“Oh yeah, plenty. Most get fed up when they realize they’ll always come second to work. And the ones that stick around longer? They’re just after his money, like Gwen.”

“Gwen?” My ears prick up, and I dart my eyes to Todd, who’s busy talking to Reed and another unknown blonde on his arm who have joined us at the table.

“His last girlfriend,” Emily mutters the word girlfriend as though it tastes sour. “She didn’t deserve him. She tried to sell confidential spa formulations to a rival hotel in exchange for a higher position there once she realized Griffin would never marry her.”

I frown over the table toward Griffin. As though sensing it, he looks back, locking eyes with me.

“I thought it was never proven who took them?” I say as I hold his darkened gaze.

Heat rises in my chest as he rolls his bottom lip between his teeth, and I see a flash of perfect white.

I know what that mouth is capable of.

I swallow and break eye contact, turning to Emily, who has leaned closer.

“It wasn’t ever proven. But we all know it was her. Griffin does too,” she whispers, straightening up and plastering a bright smile on her face as he finishes his conversation and rounds the table toward us.

He places himself behind my chair as he extends a hand to Todd, and they shake as Griffin’s second-nature business charm persona stays firmly in place.

“Todd. Good to see you. I’m sorry to hear you had a family emergency. I hope everything is okay now?”

“It is. Thank you for asking.” Todd looks at me. “I’m just so sorry that I couldn’t make it.”

“It was unfortunate, wasn’t it, Maria?” Griffin says, leaning down over the back of my chair to greet me.

His expression is serious as Todd carries on spouting apologies. I turn my cheek, expecting him to graze the air next to it like he did when greeting the other female guests. But his warm lips make contact close with my ear, sending a bolt of electricity through me as he whispers softly so only I can hear.

“Beautiful dress… you look good enough to eat.”

I swallow down the tiny gasp before it escapes my lips, but it’s not disguised enough. His eyes flash as he stands. He knows he’s affecting me. I swallow down the bubbles in my throat as he undoes the button of his dinner jacket with one hand and then takes a seat on the other side of Emily. She immediately turns her attention to him, and he smiles, diving into a conversation with her without so much as glancing my way again.

The three-course dinner is soon over. Griffin hasn’t looked at me once. But there are enough different conversations going on around the table that I have little time to think about it. Todd is good company, chatting to myself and Emily, and discussing city politics with Reed, whose date spends most of the night on her cell phone scrolling through social media and taking selfies. And Griffin has given most of his attention to the two wives of the men who were discussing donations at the beginning of the night, telling them about a friend of his whose child was treated at the hospital. Their wide sympathetic eyes soon turned into elbows in their husband’s sides. I fight hard not to let my mouth drop open when one man pulls Emily to the side as we finish eating and tells her how much he would like to donate.

I look past the two of them as I stand from my chair, but Griffin has already disappeared from the table, his seat empty.

“Would you like a drink from the bar?” Todd asks as he makes his excuses to Reed and pushes his chair back.

“It’s okay. I’ll get them. You and Reed carry on chatting.” I place a hand on his shoulder to stop him from standing and he flashes me a smile and wink as he reaches up and squeezes it.

“Okay, Babe.”

My step falters. Maybe I misheard him? Babe?

He’s already back in a deep conversation with Reed, so I make my way over to the bar and am pleased that Harley is leaning against it, her eyes bright with mischief as she sees me approaching.

“God, Maria. I wanted to tell you earlier, but girl, that dress…” She pulls me into a hug. “I want to rip it off you. No wonder Todd can’t tear his eyes away.” She inclines her head and I glance back to the table where both Todd and Reed are looking in our direction.

“No. He’s just…” I trail off as Todd flashes me a slow, sexy smile. Babe. I swallow. “Okay, maybe he is.”

I turn my back to him and face the bar, smoothing down the silky fabric over my hips. It’s a close-fitting dress with a plunging neckline, showing off a larger amount of cleavage than I usually would, something which makes me feel rather exposed suddenly, especially because Will’s addition of the diamond necklace drapes down right between my breasts.

“But we both know it’s not Todd’s eyes making you blush tonight.” Harley stares straight ahead, a smirk on her lips as she takes a sip from her champagne flute.

“What are you talking about?”

The bartender takes my drink order. Harley’s still smirking as I turn back.

“Harley?” I glance side to side, but the other people at the bar are deep in their own conversations.

“You don’t have to be a genius…” She rolls her eyes and sighs at my blank face. “Okay. Don’t look at me like that. It’s perhaps not so obvious to anyone else, but this is me, remember?”

“You and your incredible man-reading?” I bump shoulders with her to show I’m kidding.

“Exactly.” She grins. “That and the fact he had me re-arrange his schedule like there was a threat to national security when he heard you would be in The Bahamas with Todd.”

“You mean alone? Todd had to cancel, remember?” I thank the bartender as he finishes up with the drinks I ordered for myself, Todd, Reed, and his date.

“No.” Harley widens her eyes at me, singing out the words. “Mr. Parker had me book all those huts the moment he knew you were going. One for you, and one for him. Todd’s room was going to be on the other side of the hotel.”

“What?”

I stare at her, not sure what to make of it. He knew he was coming all along. He had planned to be there? Booked us rooms next to one another? I pull my shoulders back as the muscles in my back tighten. So all that talk about him coming to assist as Todd couldn’t make it was all a lie. A cover-up that I fell for, to disguise the fact that despite what he says, he doesn’t trust in my ability to do my job properly.

“That bastard,” I hiss, my eyes roaming the room in search of him.

“I don’t get it. You’re upset?” Harley looks at me with a confused expression. “I think you two would make a great couple. He’s not as bad as you think, you know. You just get to him. He doesn’t like to not be the one in control. I think you make him feel reckless. He’s never made me re-arrange his schedule like that before. Not to take a trip. His brother was meant to have the jet in Boston. I don’t know what favor he had to pull to get it.” She pulls her shoulders up to her ears and gives an excited wiggle on the spot as she grins.

I continue my search for him as Harley carries on talking.

“No wonder he’s been insufferable since you got back. I bet when he heard Todd wouldn’t be there, he hoped something might happen.”

There! Dark hair across the room. He’s standing with a group of men, drink in one hand, the other casually slung inside his pants pocket as he laughs.

Damn him, why does he have to look like that?

I curse the way my stomach lifts. Like it’s about to start a little dance, just for him. I avert my eyes before he sees me looking. That’s all I need. For him to notice me watching him and think I’m hung up on him somehow. Hung up on a meaningless night that should never have happened.

“Maria?” Harley elbows me. “Why are you looking at him like that?” Her mouth drops open as I meet her gaze. “You didn’t?” She narrows her eyes, studying me. “Oh, my God. You did!” She claps a hand over her mouth as her eyes dart between mine. “Okay. I need to know everything. Let’s find somewhere quiet.” She grabs my hand and pulls me.

“What about the drinks?” I point at the glasses on the bar.

“Oh, for God’s sake. I deserve a medal for this patience I’m about to demonstrate,” she says to the ceiling, before thrusting mine and her drink into my hands and gathering up the other three herself.

She marches over to the table, plonking the glasses down and sloshing some of their contents over the rims.

“Here are your drinks. Now, I’m stealing Maria for something very important. No one objects, do they? No? Good. See you later.” She turns and grabs my elbow as Todd looks perplexed.

Reed smiles, his eyes eating up her curves in her pink dress as he runs his hand around his chin. “As long as you steal me next.”

She shoots daggers at him before her eyes sweep over to his date, who’s sitting looking bored with her arms crossed.

“Reed, you didn’t introduce us to your friend.” Harley waits, a satisfied smirk growing on her face as Reed shuffles in his seat, running his hand around the back of his neck as he laughs uncomfortably.

“Harley, this is… this is Felicia.”

“Ugh… really?” The blonde next to him comes to life, throwing her phone into her clutch and flinging her chair back with a disgusted groan as she stands in her sky-high heels. “You know something? You’re a total jerk, Reed Walker.” She scowls at him. “Felicia is my sister. I’m Farah.” She picks up the full glass of champagne Harley just delivered and throws the contents in Reed’s face, then flicks her hair over her shoulder and stalks off.

“What the…” Reed grabs a napkin off the table and scrubs it over his face. “What the fuck was that, Harley?” He looks at her with round eyes, then dabs at his soaked shirt.

“That“—Harley clicks her tongue—”was Farah. Or do you have problems with your hearing and your memory?” She throws him a fake smile and then turns, propelling me across the room toward the main door with her.

“I can’t believe she just threw that in his face!” I say, glancing back at Reed, who’s staring after Harley with a smile on his face. What the…?

We walk out into the main lobby and find a quiet corner with seats, away from the other guests who are passing in and out to use the restrooms.

“From what you told me you’ve heard going on through the wall, and the fact he can’t even remember a single woman’s name, I would say it’s the least he deserves,” Harley huffs as we take a seat.

“Except he just used your name. Twice,” I say, wondering why he looked pleased about getting a face full of champagne.

“That’s different. I work for his best friend. He hears my name all the time when I transfer his calls.” She brushes her dress down and then fixes her eyes on mine. “Enough about him. Tell me about The Bahamas.” She leans forward onto her knees so I can keep my voice low.

“What makes you think there’s anything to tell?”

She purses her lips and cocks her head to the side. “Don’t play that game, or we’ll be here all night… but fine… if that’s what you want, I’m not going anywhere.” She leans back in her seat.

“All right, all right,” I mutter.

She jumps forward again like an excited puppy so our heads almost touch.

“Did you two have sex all trip?” she whispers.

“No!” I whisper back.

“Well, what then?” She taps her foot on the floor as she fidgets on the edge of her seat. I bet she was one of those kids that tore open all the presents on Christmas morning before their parents even woke up.

“We had a nice time. He was less… Griffin.”

Harley nods. “And?”

“And we had drinks and dinner, then went back to our rooms and had a swim in the pool together.”

“Please tell me you wore the bikini I packed for you, and not that hideous thing you put in?”

“What’s wrong with my bathing suit?”

Harley raises a brow as if that is enough explanation.

“Yeah, I did.”

She grins and claps her hands together as the back of my neck grows hot. I’m not sure why I chose that bikini when I got back to my room, and not the full one piece I had packed. Oh fuck, who am I kidding? I totally chose the sexy swimsuit after Griffin tucked that frangipani flower in my hair and I got all lust-drunk and stupid on the cocktails.

I drop my head into my hands. It was my fault it happened. I threw myself at him. And I definitely kissed him first. I remember that much.

“Oh, God,” I groan.

Harley places a finger underneath my chin, tilting it up so I have nowhere else to look but straight into her eyes.

“What’s wrong? Did he turn you down?” Two lines form between her brows.

“Not exactly.” I look back at her, keeping my voice as quiet as possible. “He went down on me at the side of the pool.”

“I knew it.” She smiles as her shoulders relax and she exhales a long stream of air. “God, for a minute, I thought I had lost my touch.” She laughs in relief.

“Did you hear what I said?” I hiss at her. “Harley, he’s my boss!”

“I heard you. But I knew you were going to say something like that. It’s obvious by the way he’s looked at you since we met you. He totally wants to fuck you so much that your insides turn into a mold of his dick. What was the sex like?”

I don’t answer, and Harley frowns at me. “Maria?”

“It never got that far, thank God.” I place my hand against my chest, my heartrate increasing from talking about that night. “He got a phone call and went inside to take it. I went back to my room, and that was the end of it. It’s not been mentioned since.”

Harley looks at me like I’ve gone mad. “No wonder he’s such a moody bastard this week. He’s got a serious case of blue balls. Why would you leave him? Was it that bad? Was he like… slobbering all over you?”

“What? No, it was… it was…” I drop my voice. “I came so hard my legs were shaking for an hour afterward.” I catch her eye and giggle for the first time since this bizarre conversation began. Despite everything, I cannot deny, Griffin Parker sure knows what he’s doing.

“I don’t understand. What’s the problem?”

I sigh. I’ve told Harley about my ex before, and about him and my dad both betraying my trust and stealing from me. She knows how hard I’ve worked to get to where I am, despite their setbacks. Maybe it makes little sense, but my job is me. It’s who I am. It’s what I love. I can’t jeopardize that for a man. Especially one like Griffin Parker.

She grabs my hand in hers. “Look, the way I see it, you’ve both been betrayed by people close to you. You can take that shared history and turn it into something new and wonderful together. You both understand how the other feels.”

Tension builds in my head, like someone is tightening it with a vise. Could that be true? No… it would never be that simple.

“I work with him, Harley. Besides, he hasn’t mentioned it. It was just one night to him.” I blow out a deep breath, rubbing at my temples. “He probably regrets it as much as I do.”

Harley’s eyes go round, and she straightens up in her seat, looking behind me.

“Why don’t you ask him what he regrets?” a deep voice grumbles.


Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset