By the time he'd walked away, she'd felt two inches tall. It had set the tone for their working relationship. He didn't approve of her and somehow managed to find Julie when she wasn't at her best, and now she stood here feeling like a child who'd been called to the principal's office.
As the uncomfortable silence stretched in his office, Julie shifted from side to side until finally she raised her head to meet his gaze. Gabe wordlessly appraised her, his expression giving nothing away. It wasn't fair for one man to look that damn good. The bastard. "Please don't," she croaked as she lowered her lids, unable to keep still under his scrutiny.
He raised a brow. "Don't what?"
"Look at me like that. Say what you have to say, write me up, or fire me. Just get this over with, please."
"Why would you think I'd write you up?"
She shrugged. "I've been warned, haven't I? Look, I'm a big girl; I can handle it."
"Hmm, I wonder. I'm not going to write you up, Julie, but I am curious about something."
She nibbled her bottom lip, as she gathered enough courage to meet his gaze again. Was it her imagination or had his eyes just darkened to a deep gold? "What?"
"Why do you let them do it?"
Julie frowned. "Do what?"
"You let them use you as a sounding board without a word of thanks. They don't even use your name. Doesn't that get annoying after a while? At the very least, shouldn't they compensate you for the treats you provide?"
This line of questioning was particularly uncomfortable because she'd been thinking the same thing earlier. As much as she wanted to agree, she was loath to tell him he was right. There was no point in stroking his already overinflated ego. "I don't mind. Look, I promise I'll keep the chitchat to a minimum, but I really have a lot of work to do. Is there anything else you wanted to discuss with me?"
"Actually there is. I have a special project I'd like you to help me out with, but it would require you to put in some late hours."
"That shouldn't be a problem."
"Perhaps we can talk about it over lunch?"
Julie remembered she'd promised Rob she'd go home and get those peanut butter cups. It was either that or listen to some more bitching and moaning for the rest of the afternoon. "I actually planned on going home for lunch. I needed to get something I left behind."
"Go now. You live a few minutes away, don't you? You have my permission to get whatever it is you need, and we'll have lunch when you return. I don't have time to go over it with you now, as I'll be in a meeting until twelve thirty."
She gulped. Lunch alone with the boss? Julie might find the man sexy as hell, even though it would take Chinese water torture for her to admit it, but she could think of a thousand things she'd rather do than have lunch with Gabriel Carland. For one thing, the man saw way too much for his own good. And he got under her skin far more easily than anyone she'd ever met. Not that he'd be interested in her beyond work-related matters. "Will anyone else be joining us?"
He took a seat behind his massive oak desk and began rifling through files. Without bothering to look up again, he waved her off. "No. It'll just be us. I'll meet you out in the lobby at quarter to one. You can leave now."
He didn't have to tell her twice. Turning on her heels, she scurried out of the room as fast as she dared. There was something about that man that wreaked havoc on her equilibrium. She had a perfectly fine boyfriend. A nice, safe boyfriend who didn't have half the female population drooling over him. Someone who wouldn't break her heart. Yep, that was Henry. True blue. He was faithful until the end. Kind of like a basset hound. As unflattering a description as that was, it pretty much summed up Henry White. Sure, their relationship would never inspire any of those sexy romance novels she read from time to time, but he was safe. And he'd never let her down.
However, as she gathered her purse and car keys to go home, the question remained in her mind: how in the world would she get through lunch with her hunky boss without making an ass of herself?
Out of all the women in his acquaintance, why did it have to be her? That awkward mouse of a woman with no claim to real beauty? No. That wasn't completely true. At first glance she was a little on the plain side, but upon closer inspection he realized she had a subtle prettiness that, once recognized, could take a man's breath away. There was nothing exceptional about her features separately, but together they presented a picture of serene loveliness. Her large dark eyes and pixie-style haircut gave her an almost gamine appearance. It made her look younger than the twenty-seven years he knew her to be. Her lips were full and well shaped and always sported a light coating of gloss. Just looking at them filled his head with fantasies of what they tasted like. He'd lost count of the many hours he daydreamed of what flavor she wore. It smelled fruity, but he couldn't pinpoint the exact scent.
Julie had lovely brown skin that reminded him of a dark-chocolate confection. Her body was a whole other story. Though she dressed conservatively, Julie's outfits couldn't disguise those curvy hips, a slender waist, and a high, rounded ass. Hot damn, she had an ass on her. And those tits. Shit. They were more than a handful. And he had big hands. At times he wanted nothing more than to free those bad girls from the restraint of her frumpy clothing--taking his time sucking on each nipple until she begged for mercy.
Gabe couldn't pinpoint the exact moment she'd managed to creep into nearly every single one of his waking thoughts, but somehow she had. He'd contemplated for long periods of time about her appeal. He'd, after all, dated some knockouts. After mulling it over, he'd finally come to the conclusion that it was simply her.
She probably didn't realize it, but Julie's serene aura attracted people to her like moths to flames. She didn't have to say a word to make a person feel better. From his observations, Julie was more than just the office sounding board; she was the glue that held the team together. Even people from other departments came to her desk to talk.
At first Gabe believed it was the candy, but was soon dissuaded when he too fell under her spell. There was something about her that made him want to be in her presence, if for nothing else than just to hear her voice or witness the way she nibbled on her bottom lip when she was nervous. Or the way her brows furrowed when she was in deep thought. He found himself detouring to her desk more than he could explain. She was a hard worker and a determined little thing when she needed to get something done. He couldn't fault her where her work was concerned, but there was one thing about her that bugged the fuck out of him.
Gabe absolutely despised the way the other employees seemed to take advantage of her goodwill. He wished she'd stand up for herself, and often wondered why she didn't. It wasn't because she was timid. Far from it, he'd long sensed the fire within her. No, it was something deeper.
Whenever he walked by, however, she tensed up and became defensive. He'd come down on her a few times for the number of visitors in her cubicle, but not for the reasons she thought. He was probably crazy for feeling this way, but he was jealous of the way she welcomed everyone else in her space except him. It wasn't rational, and it was probably best if he didn't feature her in every single one of his wild imaginings, but hell, he was hooked.
Many long nights he'd dreamed of what that body would look like without any clothing, her big brown eyes staring up at him, her head resting against a pristine white pillow while he plowed his dick into her pussy. He'd bet her cunt was tight. And sweet, just like the candy she provided for the masses. Would she be a silent lover, with soft little moans, or would she scream his name as he fucked her?
Now, as he stood in the middle of his office fighting a raging hard-on, Gabe could no longer deny what he'd been fighting for months. He wanted Julie Bennett more than he could stand, and the frustration was fucking killing him. The only problem was, she didn't seem to know he was alive outside of work. What the hell was wrong with this picture? He was usually on the receiving end of unreciprocated crushes. It wasn't that he was conceited, but he was lucky to have received more than his share of female attention since his adolescent acne had cleared up. Perhaps this was his punishment for being the bastard his last girlfriend had claimed him to be.
Whereas half the women in the office made excuses to come by his office or brush against him, Julie walked the other way when she saw him coming. What would it take for her to recognize him as a man and not just her boss? He'd kill for the day she didn't look at him as if he were a two-headed monster.
The image of her ass swaying back and forth in a skirt that hugged her curves beautifully as she'd hurried out of his office filtered through his mind, and he groaned. He took a few agonizing steps to his desk before taking a seat in his chair. His cock had grown painfully hard, and it wouldn't go down until there was relief.
Thankfully the office door was already closed; he shut his eyes and rubbed his aching hard-on. He inhaled sharply. Shit, he hadn't masturbated in years. There had never been a need to. Pussy had always been readily available to him, but after the last few unsatisfying encounters, Gabe realized any pussy wouldn't do. He wanted Julie's.