At any turn, p.20
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       At Any Turn, p.20
 

         Part #2 of Gaming the System series by Brenna Aubrey

  I glared at him sidelong. No one, not even him, was privy to the details of my sex life.

  “Either get your mind back in the game or go do something else,” I snapped.

  The Con itself was three days of pure chaos, pure adrenaline, and an unbelievably fantastic high. People loved our product. Lived our product. There were demos and trials and contests. There were cosplay competitions where people dressed as their characters in the game. And, as Jordan predicted, there were some chainmail bikinis. I was certain that, somewhere, Emilia was violently rolling her eyes.

  There were roleplaying events and head-to-head duels—both virtual and recreated in live-action. I’d never been as proud of our game as I was during those days, seeing the real faces of our players. They were surprisingly of all ages, even retirees. I had the chance to walk around amongst the exhibits and contests. Sometimes I was recognized by the players—sometimes stopped by a reporter and asked about the lawsuit, to which I gave my standard “no comment” answer.

  When I saw Emilia, she looked tired. It did not appear as if she was getting much sleep. We were playful with one another whenever we had a second to talk. Once she sidled up to me and, when no one was looking, squeezed my bicep. “I just had to get me a little bit of that,” she murmured before walking away.

  I resolved to sneak in a covert slap of her ass.

  Still, she looked so strange to me. With her large brown eyes and dark eyebrows and that bizarre white hair, she looked almost otherworldly, like the elf maidens she so liked to parody on her blog.

  At the employee costume party, she’d added bright pink and purple braids to that white hair. She wore a short skirt in the style of a ballerina tutu and dainty little fairy wings, her face all painted with bright, glittery colors. She looked exotic, different, almost like one of Jordan’s models. Her long legs were prominently on display and I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

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  I’d chosen to go as a famous nonplayer character who gave almost every newly created character his or her first quest. He was a sad, broken-down shadow of a man who pined for his lost love. He gave new players the simple request to go into the nearby meadow and brave hostile creatures in order to pick a bunch of yellow daffodils in remembrance of the woman he’d lost.

  He wore his former uniform of the High Guard—complete with an old-style military coat and kilt. Maggie had tracked down someone to put the costume together for me and when I’d shown up at the party, everybody immediately knew who I was supposed to be.

  “General SylvanWood!” they exclaimed. I was only missing the pointy ears. SylvanWood was an elf, but I drew the line there. I’d wear a kilt, but I wouldn’t wear pointed ears. Even my geekery had its limits.

  That last party got kind of crazy in the after-hours. We had some strange competitions and games before the night devolved into a platform pulsing with mildly inebriated dancers and crowds of awkward people installed around the bar.

  My kilt, unfortunately, attracted a lot of the wrong kind of attention. Even the five-years-ago me would have been uncomfortable with the flirtatious interns. I’d dealt with overly enthusiastic coworkers before, but this batch of interns from the university just down the road from Draco’s central offices seemed more obnoxious than usual. And they hardly left me alone.

  The more alcohol they got in them, the less subtle they became. I finally ended up installing myself with the awkward drinkers at the corner of the bar beside Jordan, while observing the wild goings-on of my employees unwinding after many days of difficult work. As the night wore on, the crowd became less inhibited. And, after excusing herself for nearly half an hour—because I did keep track of her movements—Emilia returned and went straight to the bar, asking for a drink.

  I caught her eye across the bar and she smiled at me. I didn’t take my eyes off her and she raised her brows at me in a question. I motioned for her to come to me and she laughed, downed her shot and walked off.

  I seethed, my eyes following her. Blondie was trying to get my attention, wanted to know if I liked to dance. I ignored her.

  Emilia waded into the crowd and began to dance in a group with some of the people in marketing. After fifteen minutes of this, I could see that she was losing her judgment, because the idiots she was dancing with had their hands all over her and she was doing nothing to discourage them.

  If looks could kill, the glare I was sending those guys would have flattened them. It might have been all in good fun, but it was pissing me off. One danced in front of her, his hands on her hips, another behind her, moved up to grind on her every once in a while. Fury burned through every vein, stiffened every muscle. I closed a fist on the bar.

  Jordan followed my gaze. “Down, boy. She’s just dancing. ”

  She was more than “just dancing” and appeared to be wasted after one shot. I’d never known her to be that much of a lightweight. I turned to the bartender and ordered my own shot of tequila.

  Jordan almost fell out of his chair openmouthed when the bartender poured the drink. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you touch that stuff. A hundred bucks says you can’t down it. ”

  I raised my brow. It was so on. I tilted my head and knocked it back—the entire thing, before I could feel the burn. I admit that I did sputter and cough a little—but not so much that it was unmanly. At least in my mind.

  But I could hardly feel the desired effect quickly enough so, with my glaring eyes never leaving Emilia’s dancing form, I ordered another one.

  “Double or nothing,” I said to Jordan and he shrugged and laughed. “Making a hundred-dollar bet with a multimillionaire is pointless,” he said.

  I didn’t care. I wasn’t drinking to impress him, anyway. I downed drink number four before I fumbled off my bar stool and made for the dance floor, toward Emilia and her disturbing shock of multicolored hair. She looked very little like my Emilia, this pale, white-haired imitation. But watching her dance suggestively with my assistant head of marketing was now fucking pissing me off.

  The minute I joined them on the dance floor, my employees cheered and clapped loudly. Hopefully they weren’t expecting much in the way of moves. I would have been the first person to admit that I did not dance to contemporary music. In fact, I danced like ass because I’d never learned. I had done ballroom practice with my cousin Britt in junior high school. We’d learned things like the foxtrot, the triple swing and the waltz. But I’d never learned any of these dances.

  And I was a computer nerd—when did I have the desire or need to dance, anyway? I did the last two years of my high-school education via independent study. While my classmates were struggling through algebra, I was designing my own artificial intelligence algorithms. And when my classmates had been trying to get lucky in the back of their parents’ cars with their virginal prom dates, I was carrying out a nice, comfortable affair with a gorgeous, experienced law student. So I never went to prom nor had I really wanted to. I’d lived far from the typical teenage life and as a side effect had no idea how the hell to dance this way.

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  But it didn’t look hard and I had a shitload of alcohol in me. And it was really just about following the beat, right? Emilia was thrusting herself at that asshole Richard (who I was now thinking of as “Dick” because he’d just had his hands all over my girlfriend). The brief question of whether or not she was even my territory crossed my mind. I waded stiffly through the sea of dancers toward her. Whether or not she was truly mine wouldn’t prevent me from staking a claim. I could see Jordan watching me with concerned eyes, but I didn’t care. If I got out of hand, he’d come over and bounce me, surely. But by then I’d probably be passed out. I’d been drunk a few times in my life, but it was far from a regular occurrence for me.

  Along with her fluffy white tutu, Emilia wore a purple tank top that clung to her breasts and waist. No matter what she wore, she was gorgeous. The dancing would be a great excuse for me to get m
y hands on her again.

  So I came up behind her and did some awkward gyrations, hoping I blended in enough with the crowd. Beyoncé’s “Naughty Girl” started and half the room cheered and clapped. And Emilia was playing along twisting her hips and swaying to the music. Her back was to me so I moved in close and put my hands on her waist, trying my best to follow her movements.

  She didn’t even miss a beat, apparently unfazed that some stranger (at least I could have been) had come up behind her and was now pressing himself to her backside. It felt dirty. But it felt good, too, fuck it all.

  At that moment, I was only wondering how much she’d let me touch her. Few in the crowd really knew about Emilia and me. In fact, so few people knew about what we’d been to each other, that it was almost as if that was what had cursed us. What had erased “us” from all memory, even our own. We didn’t have anyone rooting for us to be together.

  My hands were on her round, tight ass and she was only now starting to show an interest in who I was, casting a glance over her shoulder. When she locked gazes with me, she froze for mere seconds before resuming. A few moments later she did an about-face and turned her back on Richard. Score one for Adam and zero for Dick. I shot a smug smile at him over her shoulder, but he didn’t react. I still had the buzzing desire to fuck him up later for having touched her the way he had.

  Emilia closed ranks with me and looped her hands around my neck. Her hips brushed up against my crotch and I was instantly erect. Every brush after that was sheer, delicious torture. I pressed my hand to her back, pulling her closer to me. She seemed to have no problem with the display, though I did feel the curious glances of other employees being cast our way. I didn’t give a shit. And if she didn’t, then this was happening, because it felt too good.

  We danced like that for a few more songs before she turned to nudge her way toward the bar again. I followed her. I’d only seen her take one shot, but she seemed way more affected by it than she should have been.

  “Haven’t you had enough?” I leaned down and spoke into her ear so she could hear me over all the noise.

  She was moving in place to the music. “I’m just getting started,” she said. And then she stumbled on her high heels. She stood much closer to my height than normal. I looked down. She typically never wore heels that high, but these shoes were huge and kind of trashy and made her fantastic legs look even better.

  I wanted to lick those legs, from her thin ankles to her muscular calves to the silky tops of her thighs. Look away, Drake, look away. I had to will myself not to think about that as my erection swelled to epic and uncomfortable proportions under the kilt.

  But willing myself not to think about how much I wanted every inch of her was like asking a nomad in the Sahara not to take a drink when he had an entire oasis in front of him. I caught her when she stumbled. “You’re going to kill yourself in these fucking things. You’ve had enough. ”

  “I’m just a little dizzy. It’ll pass. ”

  “Emilia—”

  She turned and jerked her head defiantly away from me. “Bartender! A round of shots here,” she shouted, pointing to both of us.

  She seemed to be amused, apparently unaware that I’d already done my fair share of shots, but that pleasant, buzzed feeling was starting to fade and I wasn’t ready to give it up yet and go back to the void of reality. So we grabbed seats next to each other and did two more shots each.

  After the second round, she put the back of her hand to her mouth and said. “Shit, I’m going to puke. ”

  “No more drinks for you,” I said.

  She darted a look at me. “You’re not the boss of me. ”

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  I laughed. In my current state, that was the funniest shit in the world. “Actually, I am. ”

  She raised her hand to get the bartender’s attention and I pulled her arm down. “You’re done unless you’re planning on redecorating his bar with your puke. ”

  She looked green at that moment—and pale. “Oh God, maybe you’re right. ”

  “What?”

  “I said, ‘Maybe you’re right. ”

  “Huh?” I said again, putting my hand up to my ear with a smile.

  She caught on to me. “You’re enjoying me saying that to you too much. ”

  “There’s no ‘maybe’ about it. I’m always right. ” I laughed.

  “Fuck you,” she said, giving my arm a playful push.

  “Yes, please,” I muttered as I waved the bartender over and settled both our tabs. “I think it’s time for you to call it a night. ”

  She grimaced at me. “It’s a night. ”

  I rolled my eyes. “Funny. ”

  She slipped off her stool and wobbled on those ridiculous heels. “Where the hell did you get those?” I said, steadying her arm. She didn’t pull away this time.

  “Alex picked them out for me. ”

  I laughed. “That figures. ”

  She wobbled again and looked up at me. “Aw, fuck it. ” She kicked them off, opting to go barefoot, and bent over to grab them. When she straightened suddenly, she almost tipped over. I grabbed her and pulled her to me again, when she fell back against me, we both wobbled.

  “I don’t think it’s just the shoes,” I said.

  She glanced at me sidelong. “Maybe not. ”

  When we got to the elevator, I asked, “Where’s your room?”

  “Third floor…um, 309 or 903 or something. ”

  “Probably 309. ”

  “Yeah, no penthouse suite for me. ”

  “Me either,” I said with a grin. Okay, it was a suite, but not the penthouse.

  “Let’s go to yours,” she said. “I have a roommate. ”

  I’m sorry to say that the suggestion in her invitation sent all my blood rushing straight to my cock. I wish I could claim that lack of blood circulation to my brain had impaired my judgment. But it probably was more like I was thinking with the head below the belt instead of the normal one.

  She was drunk. I wasn’t much better and we shouldn’t have been doing anything. All of these things ran through my head in the split seconds between the elevator doors opening and my pressing the button for the eighth floor—my floor.

  She was on me the minute the doors closed. Her mouth on mine, her breasts pressed against my chest. She tasted like tequila and lime. I buried my tongue in her mouth, let her push me against the wall as she hooked her hands around my neck and ground her pelvis against mine.

  “Fuck yeah, do you look amazing in a kilt,” she breathed. “What do you have under there?”

  I sent her a wicked smile. “The usual things. ”

  She kissed me again, murmuring against my mouth. “You’ve been hard all night,” she said. “I felt it when we were dancing. ”

  I closed my eyes, enjoyed the pressure of her hips against mine. “Yes,” I said. I could barely get it out. I was so turned on it was difficult to talk.

  I hoped to God it was me she really wanted and she wouldn’t have been in this elevator with Richard-Dick or anyone else who might have tried to get with her tonight. The thought pissed me off again.

  “Has it been a long time?” she said, looking up to trap my gaze in the tangled web of her beautiful brown eyes.

  I scowled at her. “You know exactly how long it’s been,” I said.

  “Those interns in marketing are always talking about how hot you are. How they wish they could climb on for a ride. ”

  I laughed. “Hmm. That’s not really news. They aren’t subtle. ”

  “You haven’t been tempted?”

  “What about you, dancing with that idiot’s hands all over your ass? I could ask you the same thing. ” A strange fist of emotion closed around the base of my throat. I was angry, frustrated, confused and completely filled with lust. My arms tightened possessively around her. She frowned, but before she could say anything, the doors to the eighth floor opened.
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  We fumbled our way out—Emilia dropped a shoe at one point and thought it was the funniest thing ever. I bent to scoop it up, almost tipping over myself and we finally stumbled to my suite.

  I stood by the door, trying to clear my head for a moment while she dropped her shoes and moved deeper into the room. It wasn’t a penthouse suite, but it wasn’t bad. I’d stayed in better places, but then I hadn’t spent much time up here during the convention—nor had I planned to bring anyone back to my room with me. It had a sitting room, a conference table, a couple widescreen TVs. The bedroom was on the other side of the suite, separated by a set of double doors, which were now open.

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  I leaned back against the door, watching her, trying to access the reasoning portion of my brain through the pleasant buzz fog the alcohol had conjured up. But all I could do was watch her, want her more than I’d ever wanted a woman before—even during that month when I wouldn’t let myself sleep with her, when we were first seeing each other.

  I’d wanted her then—badly. That month had been a long, slow torture—though in the most pleasant of ways. A voluntary self-blue-balling. But now that I knew how good it could be between us—and when it was good, it was the best I’d ever had—I doubted I had the will or even the desire to stop this, regardless of the amount of alcohol involved.

  This one night might not change anything between us. We were still firmly ensconced in our own cleverly designed defenses. She was hiding things from me. Maybe she didn’t even have the feelings she once professed to have. Maybe this was all just physical for her.

  At this point, in this condition, I didn’t care. I could kiss a beautiful swimsuit model and only think of Emilia—cock-blocked by my own damn memories and imagination. Now I had the real thing in my hotel suite and I wasn’t going to pass up this opportunity. She wasn’t drunk enough that she was beyond the ability to consent.

  I left the door and followed her into the room. “Wow, nice digs,” she said, turning back to me and laughing. “I got my glitter all over you when I kissed you,” she said, moving up to me to swipe her hand across my jaw.

  I snaked an arm around her waist to cinch her to me. “How about you?” I said.

 
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