John Strauss held office hours at this hotel maybe four times a year. I had never actually seen him but he was rumored to be a nice man in his seventies with white hair.
The only other thing I knew was that he apparently never let anyone know when he decided to randomly drop in. As Brooke so kindly pointed out, it was his hotel—one of the many—so it should be no surprise. But my shock came from the timing. The Strauss office was on the same floor as the penthouse. Last night, I had actually looked at the door on the opposite end of the hall while I was being kissed down by Preston.
My stomach plummeted and I could actually feel my face pale. Was John Strauss in his office last night? Did he arrive early this morning? Maybe he saw me sneak out? The options were limitless but the end result would likely be the same: my termination.
“Did he say why he wanted to see me?”
Brooke looked up from the computer. “He just said to call you in because he needed to discuss an issue about last night.”
All the breath coaching in the world couldn’t help my lungs in that moment. Because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t freaking breathe. I tucked a lock of hair behind my ear hoping the small task would stop the trembling in my fingers. It didn’t.
I ran my palms down the front of my pants and adjusted my sweater. I wasn’t in my normal business skirt and button-up but I still looked better than casual. Thank goodness because apparently I had to go face Mr. Strauss.
I walked down the corridor and turned the corner. There was a private hall with several business rooms, one of which was where we held our staff meetings. I used the express elevator at the back of the office and headed to the top floor where Mr. Strauss had his office. At this rate, I was praying I wouldn’t run into Preston since check-out was at eleven.
Coming face to face with the office door, I chanced a look over my shoulder at the penthouse entrance. Funny how a panel of white wood, a brass doorknob and some shiny hinges made my knees weak. Of course, the memories that accompanied that door also escalated my heart rate. I looked back at the task before me, banishing last night from my mind the best I could, and knocked on the office door.
A low voice called out, instructing me to enter.
Deep breath, I reminded myself.
Walking in, I kept my eyes on the floor. No matter how many times I tried to look confident, I ended up feeling—
“Guilty.” Mr. Strauss’ voice rang out.
“Excuse me?” I looked up and—
Oh. Holy. God.
“I said, guilty Miss Riley. You look guilty. Tell me, have you done something wrong?”
My mouth hung open and I gaped, because standing behind a massive mahogany desk in a sleek three-piece suit and perfectly combed dark hair was—
“Preston? I thought I was here to see Mr. Strauss.”
He folded his arms and grinned wide. Apparently I missed the joke. Which was what this had to be. A joke.
“I am John Preston Strauss.”
“But…you’re not old.”
He smirked. “You must be thinking of my father, John Charles Strauss. Either that or my older brother John Charles Junior.”
“Wait, you all are named John?”
“I think after last night you’re safe to call me Preston,” he said with a wink.
I reminded myself to ask my mother later if I was born with a heart arrhythmia because what was going on in my chest felt like a war zone. Between shock and awe lay a meltdown, and I was on the brink of losing it.
“Sit,” he said and motioned to the chair on the other side of the desk. He took his seat gracefully as I fumbled into mine.
Words! I needed words. But the only thing that came out of my mouth was, “I ah…I’m—”
“You left,” he interrupted my mumbling. “You left me last night.”
That wasn’t what I was expecting him to say. There was no emotion behind the declaration indicating he cared either way. Just a mere statement of events.
I had no idea what to make of this guy or his motives. But I thought we had both been clear on what last night was. A one-time thing. And technically I had left early this morning, but judging by the look on his face that fact wouldn’t help my case.
“Forgive me, Mr. Strauss, but isn’t leaving the protocol?”
“Again with the rules.” He grinned and rested his elbow on the chair’s armrest and placed his face between his thumb and first finger. “And, yes, it is. I just find it odd. Usually, I don’t fall asleep before I see a woman out.”
“Lucky me,” I said, then snapped my mouth shut.
This whole thing was effed up to say the least and I was treading very dangerous water. The more the moment sank in and the shock wore off, the more I realized the truth. He knew I was an employee and still asked me back to his room. This had been a set-up. He seduced me dishonestly and on purpose.
“Whatever it is that has you sporting that angry scowl,” he waved his finger in the direction of my face, “I suggest you stop.”
My anger flared. The same feelings I had been running from—the feelings this man had made me forget—were crashing into me full force. I was lied to, deceived and played. Again. And one stupid decision had landed me on the opposite side of the desk from my “boss” as he sat there holding my future in his hands.
No way. Not this time. Not again.
“Is this a joke? Some sick game you play with your employees?”
“No.” His tone was harsh and I felt like I had just overstepped.
Yes, I was mad and ready to fight, defend, do what I had to do to stifle my way out of this mess, but circumstances or not, Preston was imposing as hell. And every bit as sexy as I remembered.
Though he clearly shaved, his strong jaw smoother looking that last night, his eyes were still a vibrant green made more dazzling in the bright light filtering through the large windows. Crisp and cut in his perfectly tailored suit, his body radiated every bit of strength and finesse as it had last night. Calm, controlled and confident as sin. He knew it and I knew it. The only question now: What was his angle?
“Why am I here, Preston?”
“You rushed off so quickly I figured I owed you a proper good morning.” Again, I couldn’t detect a hint of emotion in his statement. Was he kidding? Serious?
“It’s the afternoon and I was getting along just fine without the sentiment.” I crossed my arms trying really hard to ignore the stupid smirk on his face, the first indication that he was clearly loving this.