Suspiciously Obedient

Page 12

“I can’t say it enough,” he said quietly.

Silence hung between them like a condemned man, suspended from a hangman’s noose. There was a kind of death in the air, a ragged, jutted feeling that this rift between them could never be mended. Yet he was here, she had to give him credit for that.

“The second reason I’m here,” he stated bluntly, “is because I never expected to feel what I feel for you, Lydia.”

She opened her mouth to speak and he took one step closer and gently laid his fingertips against her lips. She pulled back as if he had shocked her with an electric bolt.

“Let me speak.” That was more the Michael Bournham she had seen from afar, and on rare occasion, up close. “I’ll give you plenty of time, I assure you,” he explained. “I most certainly did not join this reality TV show so that I could intentionally make love with the most stunning woman I have ever met in my entire life and then have it caught on video tape, so that it would go viral and ruin the one true thing that I most want.”

Although he hadn’t touched her again, it was as if someone had snapped a circuit breaker and jolted her with thousands and thousands of volts, burning deep into her brain. She stared at him, completely transfixed, his words pouring over and around her, and yet somehow also sinking in.

He ran a frantic hand through his hair and began to pace. “Lydia, here was the deal—you were never part of the deal.” A wry grin in his eyes floated up to the ceiling as he stopped and massaged the center of his forehead, as if in physical agony. “The producers of Meet the Hidden Boss came to me and explained that sales spike when CEOs do this sort of thing. I have, as you know, a deal with the board. Had, I suppose I should start to speak of that in the past tense, too, shouldn’t I?” he said bitterly. “I had a bargain, and I thought that this would be part of my strategy, that I would…” he said with a cadence that made it clear that he needed to speak his entire story. It made her less interested in interrupting and more attentive. He said that she would get her say, right? For now then, she would at least get the full story, even if she would never get that happily ever after that she had so carefully studied in her marketing proposal.

“When Jonah, Jonah Moore, the producer, proposed the idea, I was to become a middle manager.”

“Hence, Matt Jones,” she said flatly.


“Director of social media.”


“So, you took the job in order to—”

“Yes,” he cut her off, “I think you get the picture.”

“Oh, I do,” she said with extraordinary derision.

“It sounds so ridiculous now, but it is what it is and I have to make peace with it. I’ve never been one to flinch from reality.”

“Or reality TV shows,” she shot back.

“Touché,” he said, those sapphire eyes boring into hers. The skin underneath his eyes tucked up as he cocked his head and proceeded to explain. “I played the part, but you were there on day one. Day one,” he laughed, “in the parking lot, reading that damn book, in that tiny little red car of yours, all curves, and divine, and lush, and everything that I remembered you were two years ago.”

“Two years ago?” she rasped. Her hand went to the base of her collarbone, her fingers fluttering there in surprise. She cleared her throat. “Two years ago, what are you talking about?”

“Employee orientation,” he confessed.

“You remember me?” she gasped.

“You remember me?” he inquired. At a standoff, they just stared. “My God, what a fool I’ve been,” he said, closing his eyes, tipping his face up to the ceiling, and making her want him even more. God damn it.

Staying silent, she let her arms down, her hands loose at her sides, brushing against her hips. Listening to him was her only option at this point, short of storming out of the room. What good would that accomplish? At least now she got to understand more about why he did what he did.

“I have no justification for what happened.” He made a dismissive noise with his lips. “Has it really been just over twenty-four hours?”


He nodded, pursing his lips. “It has, hasn’t it? So much has happened.”

“To you and me, both,” she said.

“Not yet,” he objected, though his tone was pensive.

“What do you mean, not yet?” Now the anger bubbled up to the surface. “Millions of people have already seen that by now. For God’s sake, my grandmother has seen it.” She gestured toward the back of the apartment.

He held a palm up to her in deference. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he said, “hold on. All I mean is that you haven’t been identified yet.”

“As if that isn’t going to happen within the next few minutes,” she sputtered. “It’s already happening. People are going to figure out pretty damn quickly who I am, and when they do…” Oh, god, she hadn’t really thought through the implications of this. “And when they do, I’m ruined.”

That simple statement seemed to make him collapse. She had imploded the great Michael Bournham. Now it was her turn to get the information that she wanted. This wasn’t about him coming in here and giving her his narrative, it was about her taking back what little self-respect and integrity she could claw away. “You said two years ago”—she stared him down—“you met me at that orientation and you were attracted to me and you said nothing.”

“Yes,” he said simply.

“Because I was just an administrative assistant?” Acerbic and pissed off, she decided that she didn’t care that he was the great Michael Bournham. She didn’t care in this angry moment that he wasn’t Matt Jones. What she cared about was that he was going to cough up whatever she needed to know so that somehow, in the great melée of this chaotic clusterfuck, she would have some piece of him that he gave to her willingly. Or not.

“You’re right,” he admitted, “there’s nothing to stop this, it’s a juggernaut that’s completely out of my control.”

“Nothing’s out of your control.”

“This one is, Lydia, just like I was completely out of control when I made love to you.”

“Which time?”

The question shocked him, and he tipped his head, an expression of emotion she couldn’t name, so raw and so real that it almost broke her resolve and made her fling herself at him, wanting the comfort of his arms one more time, his lips on her neck, his body pressed against hers.

“Both,” was all he said.

Whatever Mike had thought this moment would be like, what he was experiencing was ten times more grueling. He had expected her to refuse to see him, or to be angry, or to storm off or scream at him, but instead she was doing exactly what he would have done in her place. Hold his feet to the fire, not let him get away with trying to shunt off responsibility, and carefully extracting whatever information would help. He’d give it to her, no problem, but she was asking questions that he hadn’t even considered, probing him in ways that were uncomfortable. Could he say “I love you”? That he’d loved her since the day he met her? No, that wouldn’t be true and it wouldn’t be fair, because she would know it wasn’t true. Could he say that he was swept up by lust and not a small amount of love? Yes, and if he could say that he should say that.

“I did not follow up with you after we met two years ago because I believed that you thought that I was an ass.”

“I did.”

“And I’m not in the habit of spending time chasing down women who have a predisposed desire to dislike me.”

“I had no such thing,” she argued.

“You surely did.”

“You acted as if I were some lowly administrative assistant and questioned why on earth I would be in such a position.”

“Yes.” It was his turn to answer with monosyllabic responses.

“And you don’t see why I would find that offensive?”


“Why not?”

“Was I wrong?”

That seemed to take the wind out of her sails. She sighed deeply and looked down at the floor, thinking about the statement. Her eyes flashed with a righteous response. “You were the one man who could have changed that.”

“True,” he said, shrugging.

“So, why didn’t you?”

“I don’t have an answer for that, Lydia.”

“You captivated me but life went on.”

“Yeah, life went on.”

“So, did life go on in the office the other night? You forgot about the cameras because life went on in your pants?”

“Life went on in a hell of a lot more than just my pants, Lydia.”

She blushed, and it pleased him. It wouldn’t solve anything, and he certainly would leave here with empty arms, but it made him happy, at least as happy as he was capable of being in the middle of what was about to be a tsunami of indescribable proportions that wiped out his career, his life, and possibly his heart.

“You really didn’t plan this.” Her tone of voice was between a question and a statement. She seemed fearful of replying, as if choosing one or the other would commit her to hating him or believing him.

How could she understand the truth? He had gone to a place inside himself with her, enraptured by her, and had forgotten who he was, and what he was doing. This was his one chance to tell her. “I really forgot. I…live a life of such total control, Lydia, and then I met you.”

Lydia made the first move, stepping close to him again. He needed her to have as much control as possible, and when she pressed the flat of her palm against his beating heart he knew he had no right to the hope that coursed through his veins. Her eyes were tortured; he imagined that his were even worse, more twisted.

“Matt, oh…” She stopped herself, flinching.

“Mike is fine,” he said, steadying his breath, hoping that she would give him a chance. He didn’t know what was coming next, but if all he could have was a kiss, an embrace, a chance that there might be a future, then he could weather the storm.

“Mike,” she said, with a hint of a smile on her face, “I have to know that you didn’t plan this.”

“Absolutely not,” he said hoarsely, flat and firm. “You were never, ever any part of any marketing policy…” He fumbled for words. “Or stunt, or a way to increase profits. I swear to you, Lydia.” Taking a chance, he covered her hand with his own. She didn’t pull away. “You have my word on that.” Something went veiled and hooded in her eyes, and he realized how little credibility he really had. Vulnerable and stripped naked, Michael Bournham now stood here in this little apartment in a part of Cambridge that a couple of months ago he’d never have even driven through, standing in front of a woman he had noticed two years ago and had never had the guts to pursue. Why had it taken the facade of Matt Jones to break through?

She stood on tiptoes and put both hands on either side of his face. “It’s the eyes,” she said. “I always knew they were fake. They were too green to be real.”

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