An Innocent Obsession

CHAPTER ONE

Emery

I can’t breathe.

I can’t stop shaking.

Today is the day. It’s happening. I never thought I would come within a hundred yards of the man I love beyond reason and accountability, but today I will.

Clarke Carroway is…

No, there are no words to describe him. Not a single one that would do him justice.

I stare into the mirror and try to control my breathing, watching my friend Karen twist a braid into a blonde crown on my head. Does Clarke like braids? I know so much about him. Practically everything. His preferred brand of toothpaste, the color of his bedsheets, the fact that he keeps packets of sugar in the pocket of his dress pants and forgets to take them out.

Yes, these are the perks of being a house cleaner for the obscenely rich.

Scrubbing floors is not my only job, though.

Twice a week, I volunteer in the file room at Carroway-Silver, a corporation that has revolutionized the renewable energy industry. Clarke sits at the helm of the company he created and rules it with quiet authority, spending his days on the top floor of merely one of the skyscrapers he owns in New York City.

And while he’s behind that desk making multi-billion-dollar decisions, I do very bad things. Inexcusable things that could not only lose me my cleaning job but get me in trouble with the police. Can I help needing to be close to Clarke any way possible, though? No. Every single time, I tell myself I shouldn’t take off my clothes and writhe about in the expensive sheets that smell of musk and male. I try so hard to stop myself, but as soon as I catch a whiff of his scent, I find myself crawling in, desperate to be near him in some small way. I shudder to think what would happen if my supervisor caught me.

Or Clarke.

What would happen if he walked in and caught me naked in his sheets?

“What in God’s name are you thinking about, Em?” Karen chuckles as she puts the finishing touches on my new hairstyle. “Your cheeks are bright red.”

I press my cool palms to my face and once again remind myself to inhale, exhale. “I just can’t believe I’m going to be inside his office. He’s going to be so close.”

In the mirror’s reflection, I watch Karen cast a glance around my tiny bedroom. At the pictures I have taped to the walls. Pictures I had no right to take. “You know well enough what Clarke Carroway looks like. The sight of him shouldn’t shock you.”

“I’ve never been this close,” I whisper, running my hands down the front of my blue, thrift shop dress, wishing it was nicer. Newer. “What if he…looks at me? What if I freeze?”

“You won’t,” Karen says, patting my shoulder. “Everything is going to be fine.”

Closing my eyes, I let Karen’s reassurances wash over me. What would I do without Karen? I’m nineteen years old and she should have kicked me out of the orphanage when I turned eighteen. But she let me stay—and thank God. I have nowhere else to go. I have some money saved from working two jobs, but my dream is to go to college. Karen has agreed to let me keep my room at the home until I’ve saved enough for a full year of classes.

“Tell me again why you’re going to be in Mr. Carroway’s office,” Karen says, pushing a bobby pin into my hair in that no-nonsense manner of hers. “I thought your coworker was the liaison between him and the records room.”

“Marion usually brings him the requested files, but she’s on vacation in Fort Lauderdale with her family.” Finally. It only took her a year. “So I’m bringing him the files while she’s gone.”

Karen narrows an eye at me in the mirror. “And this close proximity to Mr. Carroway wouldn’t happen to be the reason you applied for the file room job, is it?”

“It’s terrible of me, isn’t it?” I murmur. “Why can’t I get him out of my head?”

My friend humphs in her throat. “I still remember the first day you laid eyes on him. The gossip section of the newspaper, wasn’t it?”

Heart fluttering, my gaze drifts over to the glossy clipping affixed to my wall. In the fading picture, Clarke is crossing Fifth Avenue, a black overcoat flapping behind him in the wind. Oh, he’s beautiful. Harshly masculine, tall, commanding, robust. His dark hair twists around his head in the breeze, a groove of annoyance between his black brows. That’s what made my palms start to sweat the first time I saw the picture—his expression. Clarke Carroway didn’t have time for photographers or any other nonsense. He had an empire to run. And an iron fist with which to do it.

In my dreams, he rules me with that iron fist.

“Yes,” I breathe. “That was the first time I saw him. In the Sunday gossip section.”

“Your father had only dropped you off the week before, so you must have been…”

“Fourteen. I was fourteen.” My hands are still trembling as I apply a coat of balm to my lips and press them together. “It’s been five years, Karen. I should have put the infatuation behind me by now, but I can’t. I…think it’s even getting stronger.”

Karen gives me an assessing look. “Maybe you should leave the files to someone else?”

I should. I have no idea how I’ll react when the object of my obsession is mere feet away. Will I faint? Will I break into a giggling fit out of sheer nerves?

Worse, what if Clarke Carroway—the man who rules the fantasy world in my head—looks straight through me? I’m not sure my heart could withstand it.

Still, if I pass up this chance to be near him, I could regret it forever.

I reach over and pat Karen’s hand. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.” I push back my chair and stand, scrutinizing my reflection in the mirror. Normally, I would be wearing baggy clothes and my waist-length blonde hair would be tucked up beneath a hat. When I arrived on the orphanage doorstep, Karen took one look at me and declared I wouldn’t be safe on the streets alone and proceeded to help me hide my appearance. I’m not sure what she found so dangerous about how I look, but I trust my friend.

Today, however, I’m not hiding.

“Thank you, Karen,” I say softly, turning and pulling the older woman a fierce hug. “For finding me this dress and doing my hair. You don’t know how much this means to me.”

Karen pats me on the back. “I just hope I don’t regret it.”

Half an hour later, I’m even more grateful for Karen’s presence in my life. On my subway ride to Carroway-Silver, several men attempt to speak to me. They give my body lecherous looks and don’t even attempt to hide it. Even the grandfatherly security guard in the Carroway-Silver lobby licks his lips and grunts as I flash my badge and pass through the metal detector, when normally he would have given me a friendly smile. By the time I get to the files room, my heart is rapping against my rib cage and I’m wishing I’d stuck with the baggy clothes. But I don’t have time to dwell, because before I know it, it’s time to bring the files to Clarke’s office.

“Oh my God,” I manage, fanning my face and picking up the stack, holding it tight to my chest. He’s going to be right in front of me. Right there. “It’s really happening.”

Clarke

I press a thumb to the center of my forehead, attempting to lessen the pounding. How long is the conference call going to continue? Speaking to our product distributors or my research team is what I enjoy, but this? I’m not sure why the board of Carroway-Silver decided I required a publicist, but the woman doesn’t seem to understand I hate cameras. Her sole mission seems to be getting me in front of them as often as possible.

“Ms. Sterns, I have another call. Please email my assistant and I’ll discuss the interviews with her, but I can’t promise I’ll agree to any of them.”

“Oh, but Mr. Carroway! You’re simply amazing on camera.”

“It’s true,” chirps the second woman on the line, whose only function appears to be agreeing with the first woman. “She’s so right.”

I pinch the bridge of my nose and pray for patience. When did my career become less about the technology and more about social media clicks? Progress is what I’m passionate about. Cultivating a better future through the use of clean energy.

My gaze ticks over to the picture on my desk. I’m a decade younger, standing in front of a hill covered in wind turbines. The man standing beside me in the shot, my late business partner, is shaking my hand, his expression brimming with optimism. He’s also a decade younger in the photo, but he would only live another three years. If Gary Sterling could see me now, stuck behind a desk, getting pitched on an Entertainment Tonight piece, he would never stop laughing. Can’t say I would blame him.

“If talking interviews aren’t your thing, Forbes has been begging me to run a feature. It would only require a quick photo session. Maybe, I don’t know, some of you in the gym pumping iron or hitting a speed bag—”

“Oooh,” chimes the other one. “I love that!”

“Or more serious shots of you could work? Checking operations in the field…”

The idea of being in the field makes me sit up straighter.

“If we sent you to Egypt for the shoot, you might even get hot enough to take off your shirt. Who says sustainable energy can’t be sexy?”

“No one says that!” says woman number two. “No one at all!”

All right, this is getting ridiculous. “I understand your job is to make Carroway-Silver more accessible, but please find me a way to do that without a camera in my face.”

“Um…” Nails drumming in the background. “How do you feel about a Reddit AMA—”

I don’t hear another word of the conversation.

One minute I’m in hell and the next, I’m convinced I must have died from boredom during the phone call, because there’s suddenly an angel in my office. She’s let in by my secretary, a small stack of files in her arms, and she stops in front of my desk, waiting. Shifting side to side, looking everywhere but me. Her blue eyes dance all over the goddamn office, but they refuse to land on me and I swear to God, I almost leap over the desk so I can clasp her face in my hands and demand—demand—she look at me.

Where did she come from?

There is no way, zero chance, I’ve seen this girl before. She must be new.

I’ve never seen anyone more extraordinary in my life.

The faded denim color of her dress matches her eyes almost perfectly. The sun from my office window is causing the deep gold of her hair to glow, having the same effect on her skin. Christ, she looks so fucking soft. Head to toe, but especially that mouth. It looks as though her lips are swollen from sucking the juice out of strawberries—and that thought makes my cock stiffen in my pants. No. She, as a whole, is doing this to me.

Never in my life have I reacted to a woman this way. In the past, I dated, but it became quickly apparent that my bank account attracted women I had nothing in common with. A lot like the publicist that continues to chatter on in my ear, others seem to latch on to me because of my persona. They want nothing to do with me. Who I am. I’m good for a flashy Instagram picture and fancy parties. To some people that’s enough, but not me. So it has been a long time since I’ve bothered with women at all. Leading to having my name on an annoying amount of Most Eligible Bachelor lists. Kill me now.

There’s another reason I haven’t dated in five years, though, isn’t there? I’m a realist, so I find it hard to admit that I’ve sensed…something. Someone. Hovering just at the edge of my world. It’s so hard to explain. Sometimes I turn a corner on the street or walk through the hallway of my home and I swear, there’s an elusive presence right at my fingertips that I can’t quite grasp. Somehow that presence is more real to me than anything else in my life.

Finally, finally, the girl’s eyes land on me and widen—and a sound escapes me.

My whole body reacts at once. My gut tightens, my lungs empty, I’m hard. I’m so fucking hard and hot, my cock is pressed to the underside of my desk.

“Shut the door,” I rasp at my assistant, who is still hovering in the doorway.

The publicist mistakenly assumes I’m talking to her. “What was that, Mr. Carroway?”

I slam the phone down into its cradle.

The girl and I stare at each other across my desk. I should stand, but I can’t. My erection would scare the hell out of her. Rightly so. It’s highly inappropriate, not to mention unprofessional. She’s just a girl trying to do her job and she’s turning me on so much, I’m unzipping my pants beneath the desk. Jesus, I can’t help it. She’s having an effect on me I can’t explain. As she stands there, innocently clutching the files to her breasts and blinking at me, I’m powerless to do anything but stroke my cock.

“What’s your name?”

She sucks in a breath and drops the files.

Thank God there is a panel of wood blocking the view, because she drops to her knees to gather the scattered papers and that’s all it takes. The sound of her knees hitting the carpet of my office makes me come. I bite down hard on my wrist as ropes of spend shoot from my cock, hitting the carpet with light thuds. Can she hear them? Why do I want her to? My fucking head is spinning. I can’t believe what I’ve done. What I want to do again. My dick is still semi-hard, despite the intensity of my climax, and demanding my attention.

No. It wants her attention. Wants to cram itself into the little hole between her legs.

Control yourself, Clarke. What the hell is going on here?

Doing my best to breathe and get myself back under control, I zip myself back into my pants and blot the sweat from my upper lip, just in time for her to stand again.

“I’m s-sorry, Mr. Carroway. I think…I-I think I mixed up some of the paperwork, but I can go back down to the file room and reorganize them.”

When I notice the sheen of tears in her eyes, it’s like a knife to the heart. Knowing I shouldn’t get any closer to her after displaying such a lack of control, I can’t help standing and rounding the desk. Comforting her is suddenly my life’s top priority. “Don’t worry about the files. Please.” Her face tilts up as I approach and I momentarily lose my train of thought. “Please don’t worry about a single thing. Ever again.”

“That’s impossible, don’t you think? Worrying makes us human.”

“Not you. Not anymore. I’ll worry for both of us.”

She tucks some hair behind her ear, a pink flush weaving up her neck. “You have the whole planet to worry about, Mr. Carroway. Let me fuss over a few files.”

I’m drawn closer, close enough to see her individual eyelashes. “What else do you worry about…”

“Emery Lake,” she whispers.

“Emery Lake,” I say, hoarsely—and I catch the files before she can drop them again. Never taking my attention off of her, because I physically can’t, I set down the stack, leaving nothing between us. I can’t stop my eyes from dropping to her sexy, little tits. They’re not on display and thank God, because I think I would fire every male in the building. Simply for having the nerve to be in the same office where even a hint of Emery’s cleavage was showing. Starting now, every man in my employ better run in the other direction when they see her coming. “What else do you worry about, angel?”

Those blue eyes evade me. “Oh, just the usual things.”

“Why do I think you’re fibbing?”

“Because you’re a genius,” she whispers, swaying toward me, before she catches herself. I watch in fascination as she mumbles under her breath, apparently attempting to gather herself. “I should really get back to the file room.”

“No.”

Her sweet, swollen lips pop open. “No?”

I clear my throat and make a useless attempt to get my animal instincts under control. The idea of her leaving this office and passing through an office full of men makes me want to rip my computer off the desk and throw it through the floor-to-ceiling window. This possessiveness is so unlike me, I don’t know how to handle it. I’ve never experienced it.

“I’ll escort you back to the file room,” I say, leaning down to inhale the scent of her hair. There’s something familiar about the note of magnolia I’m catching, but I can’t place it. “But I would really rather you stay here. With me.”

I must be losing my mind, because I don’t even realize I’ve crowded Emery up against the edge of my desk until our hips meet and a sob wrenches from her throat, that long mane of blonde hair tickling the desktop when her head falls back. “Mr. Carroway…” Her tits shudder up and down. “I didn’t expect this. I didn’t expect you t-to…”

“To what? Touch you?” I drag my forehead down the curve of her throat, my mouth salivating over her skin. Jesus, it’s so flushed and flawless and smooth. “I didn’t expect this, either, angel. I don’t know what’s happening to me. Remind me I’m your boss and I shouldn’t be doing this. Tell me to stop.”

No. Please no. But…oh God,” she says on a gasp, her thighs starting to shake where they’ve settled on either side of my hips. “I’m going to embarrass myself.”

“Never,” I mutter thickly, licking the fluttering vein at the base of her neck. “There’s nothing you could do in front of me I wouldn’t love.” My hands settle on her knees, thumbs circling once on the soft insides of her thighs—

She slaps a hand over her mouth and screams, her body shaking violently against mine. I have a moment of fear that I’ve inadvertently hurt this beautiful creature…but I realize quickly she’s having an orgasm. Not just any orgasm, though. She’s staring blindly up at me, teeth marks on her lower lips, legs dancing around me, body heaving. I’ve never seen anything more sensual or incredible in my life. I barely touched this girl and now she’s having a full-body climax, her back arching to show off her tight-peaked tits. I’m not sure what I’ve done to deserve this gift from God, but I’m never letting her go. I’m not even sure I’m capable of letting her out of my sight.

Finished shaking, Emery covers her face with her hands. “Remember when you were eight and you thought hiding like this made you invisible?” she says, her voice uneven. “I really wish that was true right now.”

“Emery,” I rasp, letting my hands ride higher on her thighs and watching in fascination as her hands shoot to the edge of the desk, clenching around the wood, my barest touch almost seems to cause her sexual pain. “That was beautiful. You, angel, are so fucking beautiful.”

She searches my eyes. “Am I dreaming this?”

“I could ask myself the same question.”

Her nose wrinkles. “If I’m dreaming?”

A warm laugh is drawn out of me. “No, if I am.”

“Oh.” Her expression turns a little dazed, as if the relief of her orgasm is finally registering. “What do we do now?”

“There are two things I’d like to do.” The pressure in my cock is becoming unbearable and I reach down to adjust it, noticing Emery’s body as jerk as I complete the action, a moan tumbling out of her mouth. “All right, three things. I’d like to do three things, but I’m going to do two of them. For the time being.”

She nods and folds her hands in her lap, eager and adorable. “What are they?”

I press my lips together to trap a growl, but I end up letting it out as soon as my lips brush her ear. “I want to spread your legs apart and see the mess you just made for me in your panties.” A shudder passes through Emery and her fingers fly to the sides of my suit jacket, twisting in the material. “And then I want a desk brought in here. Starting now, you’ll be working in here with me.” My hands turn into fists on the desk. “Are there men in your life? Any men at all, Emery. Friends, brothers, a father…” I swallow a roar. “Boyfriends?

“No. None.” I search her eyes to make sure she’s telling the truth as she continues, a small frown wrinkling her brow. “There is a man who operates the building elevator and—”

And?”

“And the men who come down to the file room to request records.”

I swear to God I’m one second from beast fucking her on this desk, this need to possess is so strong. So rampant. “You will take my private elevator from now on, Emery. And no more file room.” I pick up the phone and bark the orders into my phone before hanging it up. “You’re my new assistant.”

She faints.