At any turn, p.4
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       At Any Turn, p.4

         Part #2 of Gaming the System series by Brenna Aubrey

  I swallowed my next bite and nodded. “Before you say anything about the hours—”

  “I wasn’t going to say a thing about the hours. I know this situation is going to suck up your time whether you want it to or not. ”

  I blew out a breath. “Thanks for understanding. ”

  “Of course, you know what this means, don’t you? You’ll need to unplug this weekend. ”

  “Oh, will I?”

  She nodded. “No cell phone. No laptop. Okay?”

  I grimaced. “I can’t make any promises. ” Who knew what these asshole insurance people would want next from me?

  “There’s that new movie about the astronauts at the space station. We could go see—”

  My desk phone beeped and Maggie’s voice came over the intercom. “Adam, you have a call from Mr. Macy. ”

  I shot up out of my seat, wiping my mouth and throwing down my napkin. Emilia sat back, clearly disappointed. I turned back to her as I picked up the phone. “It’s my lawyer. I can’t blow him off. ”

  “Hey, Joe,” I said into the phone. And spent the next half hour talking to him while Emilia sat on the desk in front of me, having cut my steak into the tiniest bites imaginable. She fed it to me in pieces every time I stopped talking. And while I did talk, she held the fork, poised, inches from my mouth as if getting ready to launch an assault.

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  At first I was so focused on the phone call that I barely paid attention to what she was doing, just chewed whenever she slid a tiny bite in my mouth. But after a little while—and as Joe continued with his legalese—it became a game. It had been a long day and my brain was shutting off.

  I’d stop talking and I’d jerk my head to the side to avoid her attack. Or I’d duck my chin down. I actually had to keep from laughing toward the end when she almost speared the tip of my nose with the fork. Thank God for the amusement because the lawyer was droning on about depositions on-site. I finished my last bite of cold steak about a minute before I ended the call.

  I leaned back in my chair, noting how smug she looked. This was the first time all day I’d even felt like smiling, let alone laughing. “Brat,” I said.

  She wore business attire—a button-down white blouse, a short gray skirt that ended a few inches above her knee and dark nylons. Sexy as hell. I devoured her with my eyes, wishing I had the time to fool around with her. She must have read my mind when she laid her foot on top of my thigh, having long since kicked off her shoes. Her eyes gleamed.

  “Hmm. I get called a brat for force-feeding you steak? What do you call me if I do this?” Her foot slid from my thigh to rub against my crotch. Her touch shot a bolt of pleasure straight through me. I clenched my jaw, responding immediately.

  I hissed out a long breath as I grew hard under her attention. Seizing her ankle, I pulled it away. “Oh, I’ve got lots of names for that. They’re all good. ”

  She raised her brows at me. “You don’t want more?”

  I gave her a weary sigh. “It’s not about what I want. It’s about all the shit I’ve gotta get done tonight. Besides I thought you didn’t want to be that girl—”

  She smiled, sliding her other foot along my thigh on a similar path as the first one. “A girl can change her mind, can’t she? Especially when the boss is extremely hot in his tie-just-removed-collar-unbuttoned kind of way. ”

  I gave her one last half-hearted protest.

  “Maggie’s still here…”

  She smiled. “Give me five minutes to convince you why fucking right now is a good idea. ”

  I laughed at her echoing of my words that first night together in Yosemite. Her foot slid over my crotch again and I blew out a tight breath. God, it felt so good.

  I grabbed her other leg and tugged her toward me. She slid off the desk and straddled my lap, her skirt scooting up her thighs. “You only needed about one and a half,” I murmured before I landed a kiss on her succulent mouth.

  “Ninety seconds?” she said when I let her catch her breath. My mouth was already moving down her neck and toward the top button of her blouse. “I must be getting rusty. ”

  I had her shirt unbuttoned, bra unfastened and her delicious, hard nipple in my mouth when the phone beeped again. Maggie. Goddamn it.

  I pulled my mouth away. “What?” I snapped.


  A pause. “Just letting you know I’m leaving for the evening. Need anything?” I might have laughed. Emilia had my earlobe in her warm mouth, scraping lightly with her teeth as she sucked. Hot lust shot straight down to my core. I was having all my needs seen to at that very moment. My hands crept under her skirt, edging the lacy tops of her thigh-high stockings. My fingers locked around her underwear.

  “I’m good. Thanks,” I grunted. The minute the intercom clicked off, I shredded her panties.

  “From zero to panty-ripping in four minutes,” she laughed as I unzipped my pants. “Maybe I’m not so rusty after all. ”

  My hand slid over her wet flesh and my cock surged. “So about those boss-employee fantasies…” I began to stroke her and her eyes rolled back under her lids as she threw her head back, exposing her throat in that way that made me absolutely crazy for her.

  “Told you I don’t have those. ”

  “Mmm. Well, I think you’re about to fulfill mine. ”

  I slid into her, groaning. She felt like heaven. “God, you feel so fucking good. ”

  “Fucking good. That’s what we do. We do fucking good,” she laughed, moving on top of me.

  “We do everything good,” I muttered hoarsely against her mouth.

  I wanted to lose myself in her. Forget all the troubles of the day and immerse myself in all that was Emilia. I remembered that first night I’d brought her to orgasm. We’d been sitting like this. She’d been straddling me on that lounge chair down on the stretch of beach behind my house. I’d shredded her panties then, too, and God, I’d wanted her so badly then that I’d almost thrown away all my convictions and taken her right there.

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  I thought back to the moment I’d touched her. The way she’d responded to me, the soft moans and cries as she’d fought to keep herself from being too loud. How she’d buried her face in my shoulder. The way she’d moved, the way she’d breathed. The intensity of her climax. It had intoxicated me. That was the moment I knew it would be impossible to get her out of my blood.

  That night I’d sent her home in a car, still burning for her. I’d worked through the night, trying to get that temporary obsession out of my brain. Fighting to convince myself that it was temporary. But here we were, five months later, and I was every bit as hooked on her now as I was then.

  I grabbed her, leaning forward, and lifted us off the chair, settling her back on my desk as I pushed into her in earnest. She curled her legs around me, pressing against me. And I pushed into her one last time, my orgasm ripping through me in sharp, intense waves.

  I waited a long moment after we were done to reach down between us and finish her. She looked up at me with a languid smile and those gorgeous brown eyes, tightening her legs around me as I stroked her. When she came, her back arched and she pushed her beautiful breasts upward.

  I could watch her come over and over again. It was a thing of raw beauty. But I forced myself to stop, to pull my hand away. When she sat up, we kissed. She hooked her hands around my neck and laughed. “We do do everything good. ”

  Afterward, she set a plate of her cookies on my desk and went to pull down the Murphy bed from the wood cabinet and fluffed my pillows. And when I thought she’d collect the dishes and go home as I sat at my desk and revised my official statement before sending it off for approval, she surprised me by curling up on the bed and falling asleep instead.

  I joined her after midnight.


  For the rest of that week, I was in survival mode. I didn’t allow myself time to think. Time to reflect. I couldn’t allo
w myself to think about that young man’s family and the debris his destructive actions had left behind.

  To be accused of creating a means for addiction—well, it was personal to me. It cut me to the bone. Because of my history, my own dance with addiction in those closest to me and in myself. I kept it inside like a gremlin, imprisoned under lock and key. But it held the potential to transform into a monster. And there was just a tiny mental gate between who I was and who I could become, immersing myself completely in that world, smothering myself with work to numb the pain.

  And I was all too aware of it. Always.

  We held a brief press conference (took no questions) and released a statement of condolence to the families. I took no responsibility for what was not my responsibility to take. It was a horrific week, but once the press got hold of another story—an uprising in a small Middle Eastern country that threatened to start yet another war—our lives started to calm down.

  That weekend the two of us resolved to stay in, take it easy. Live quietly before the next week would come crashing down on us again. It was hard to let go and back away from work, but as I’d known she would, Emilia kept me on the straight and narrow.

  After a quiet lunch, I went out for a run in the late afternoon. I preferred to run outdoors while the weather was still good. Emilia would have come with me, but her friends, Alex and Jenna, showed up with a big bag of her mail from her old apartment and she’d begged off.

  I loved running with Emilia, but without her, I could go farther and faster and it was exactly what I needed to help clear my head. An hour later, I returned to a shrieking girlfest that I could have done without.

  Alex squeaked at a very high pitch, her arms wrapped around Emilia’s shoulders. Jenna just had her hands on her cheeks, her pale eyes as huge as silver dollars. Something had happened. Emilia was flushed and shaking.

  I tensed, immediately going into protective mode. What had happened? My eyes flew to the pile of opened mail on the table in front of them. Bad news?

  I was sweaty from my run, but I didn’t care. “Emilia? You okay?”

  Alex peeled away from Emilia to turn and come toward me at a run. I backed off and held out a hand. “Sweaty,” I said, but it was more to avoid the awkward moment. Alex was always throwing herself at me and it was weird how Emilia either took no notice or wasn’t bothered by it. Frankly, I didn’t have the patience to deal with Alex. I wanted to know if Emilia was okay.

  Alex bobbed up and down on her tiptoes in my line of vision. “She’s more than okay, Adam! She’s—”

  “Alejandra!” Jenna interrupted. “Let Mia tell him, please. ”

  My eyes locked on Emilia’s. She sent me a tremulous smile. Okay, so it wasn’t bad. I let out a breath, relaxed my shoulders and waited.

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  Her smile grew as she held up a folded letter. “I got accepted!”

  I stepped around Alex and went to her immediately. Her joy washed over me. I pulled her into my arms, holding her tight and she didn’t even seem to mind that I was sweaty and smelled like a horse.

  I kissed her hair. “That was quick! They must have really wanted you. No surprise. Congratulations!”

  She pulled me tightly to her, grabbing on to me like a lifeline. “Thank you,” she whispered into my ear.

  I kissed her cheek. “I knew you’d get in. UCI’s a great school. ”

  Emilia tensed in my arms and the two girls—thankfully—quieted. I was getting tired of Alex’s high-pitched squeaks. I turned my head to look at them and Alex and Jenna exchanged a long look. Emilia had her head tucked down, under my chin. She hadn’t relaxed.

  Jenna reached out and grabbed Alex by the upper arm. “Let’s go down to the beach and watch the sunset. ”

  Alex nodded and turned immediately. They were out the door in less than a minute and I gazed after them, puzzled. Taking a deep breath, I stepped back and watched Emilia closely. She avoided my gaze.

  “So it isn’t UCI—yet. I was sure other schools would want you, too,” I said quietly.

  Emilia’s jaw tensed and she placed the letter down on the table beside me so that I could read the letterhead. The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

  When she spoke, it was in a voice so quiet I could barely hear her. “It’s not just any other school. It’s my dream school. ”

  I didn’t take my eyes off the letter. Under the letterhead stating the name of the university was its location: Baltimore, Maryland. Fucking Maryland.

  She watched me carefully. I could feel her eyes on me, like a physical touch. So I kept my face completely neutral. My heart thundered at the base of my throat with a strength I hadn’t felt in a while. That familiar feeling of adrenaline releasing into my blood.

  “Your dream school? You didn’t tell me you had a dream school…”

  She frowned. “I applied so long ago. Before I failed the first time at the MCAT. I’d interviewed with them months before I ever—before we ever—”

  “That’s awesome. I’m sure it’s a great feeling. ”

  I put my hand on the counter and leaned against my arm. She looked away, appeared to be watching my hand, which, unfortunately, was white-knuckling the edge of the table. I forced myself to relax.

  She rubbed the inside of her wrist with her thumb and shifted her weight from one leg to the other. “The doctor I did my research under as an undergrad is a respected alum of Hopkins. He works out of St. Joseph Hospital. He encouraged me to apply with his recommendation. ” She squared her shoulders. “It’s in the top five of all medical schools in the US and the number one school for oncology. ”

  I nodded. My mouth was dry. Yeah this was fear. Icy fear. I had to think quickly. “So are you gonna go?”

  She was avoiding my gaze again. I tried to figure out how to attack this. If I was too vehement, she would get her back up and dig her heels in the way she always did when she felt like I was railroading her. She sighed. “I don’t know. ”

  There it was. I don’t know. She might as well have said, “Hell, yes. ”

  “That’s four years. Longer if you do your residency there, which it sounds like you want to do. ”

  Her brow puckered. She was probably thrown off by the blandness in my voice. What she didn’t know was that on the inside I was reining in a massive need to reach out and crush this threat, control this situation. The desire was like a wild beast pulling against its tethers, willing to thrash itself to death in the process. I’d take care of this threat later, after I had time to think, strategize, with a cool head. For now, she needed to not feel threatened by me.

  I nodded. “I understand. ”

  She finally glanced up into my face, her big brown eyes scouring my every feature. “You do?”

  “It’s your dream, Emilia. I just hope it’s not your only dream. ”

  Her mouth slacked open and she worked her jaw for a moment as if trying to figure out what to say. Perhaps she didn’t understand my meaning. I wanted to be part of her dream, too.

  She surprised me by reaching out to take my hand, closing her smaller one around it. “Of course not. ”

  “Then let’s not talk about this now,” I said in the most neutral voice I could manage. “Let’s see if we can figure this out later. ”

  A bicoastal relationship for four years, likely longer. It wasn’t any dream of mine. It sounded like a goddamn nightmare. Sure, I could fly out there every weekend, but who wanted five hours in the air each way just to spend forty-eight hours trying to cram in every conversation, every look, every caress, every event, every fuck—and go another drawn-out week with an empty bed and meals alone? I’d fall right back into my old patterns again. I knew that for a fact. It would be the only way I could cope without her.

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  We’d be without each other for long stretches of time. And long-distance relationships—I knew damn well they didn’t last. My cousin Britt had been engaged to her hig
h school boyfriend—once supposedly the love of her life and one of my closest friends in high school. Once she went off to college in Chicago, the relationship hadn’t held out more than a year. By then she’d met Rik, who would become her husband, and my friend Todd had been devastated.

  Long-distance relationships did not work. And ours couldn’t survive three thousand miles and four years—probably more.

  Fuck. She wasn’t even gone yet. Hadn’t even made the decision to go and it felt like someone had shot me in the chest with a twelve-gauge.

  She moved back into my reach again and pulled me into her arms. I closed my eyes, allowed myself a grimace when she couldn’t see me and bent my head to kiss her hair. There was no fucking way I was going to be able to do without her. I’d just have to convince her that UCI was a wonderful alternative to her longtime dream.



  The day after Emilia got her acceptance letter, we sat at the card table in the game room at my house. Emilia was across from me, impatiently tapping the cards on her hand as if to remind us that we had a game to play here. But Heath had just laid down the gauntlet by bringing up the age-old question: In a fight, which would win, the ships from Star Trek or from Star Wars?

  “Well, which version of the Enterprise are we talking about? Because that makes a big difference. ” I turned to Heath as I grabbed another pita chip from the nearly empty bowl and popped it into my mouth, sending a wink at Emilia across the table in response to her long-suffering sigh.

  “Does it matter? Any version of the Enterprise against a star destroyer would be vapor,” Heath replied, snatching up the last of the chips from the bowl before I could get the rest.

  I cleared my throat of crumbs and sipped some ice water, thinking. “Okay, the Enterprise from the reboot movies then. But any version beats a star destroyer in maneuverability alone. ”

  Emilia huffed and slapped a hand on her forehead. “This is such a man discussion. You guys will be at this for hours. Come on! I have some ass to kick, people,” she said, holding up her handful of cards.

  Heath reflected for a moment while chewing his chips, then nodded. “Sure, a star destroyer can’t maneuver its way out of a paper bag, but it doesn’t need to. As demonstrated in Empire during the asteroid field scene, the sheer amount of firepower far exceeds that of the Enterprise. ”

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