They kept their affair strictly separate from business, and made every effort to be discreet. But they'd gotten into the habit of meeting at each other's places after work every evening. Since they'd first made love, their passion had only been burning brighter.
"We're in big trouble," Clark said, nibbling on Jeannie's ear. "I can't get enough of you."
Sultry laughter escaped her kiss-swollen lips as she stretched languidly on his bed. "I don't see that being a problem."
"You are rather insatiable." It was his turn to chuckle. God, she was sexy as sin.
And it wasn't just about the sex. Being with Jeannie filled his life with warmth and laughter that he'd been without for so long. He craved her presence like an addiction. Had he ever felt this way about Catherine? He pushed away thoughts of his late wife and the guilt churning in his stomach. This moment was about him and Jeannie. No one else.
"I'm starving," she said.
"Again?" he asked teasingly.
"For food. I have other needs, too." She slapped him lightly on his bare shoulder. "Do you want to order pizza? You never have anything in the fridge to cook with."
"Let's go out to dinner. We should get some air. We rarely move more than a few feet from the bed."
"Sounds like fun. Did you have a place in mind?" She stood up and strolled toward the bathroom.
He loved how comfortable she was with her naked body. It allowed him to enjoy her beauty at his leisure. "Do you feel like Korean barbeque?"
She turned back to face him and crinkled her nose. "But I can't eat Korean barbeque without roasted garlic."
"Then we'll be sure to get you roasted garlic," he said, perplexed by her reaction.
"You don't understand," she said, blushing. "I don't want to kiss you with garlic breath."
He burst out laughing. She was so adorable. "I'll have roasted garlic, too. Two garlic breaths cancel each other out."
"Okay." She smiled. "We'll have mint chocolate chip ice cream for dessert. But I still don't want you kissing me until I've brushed my teeth and used a mug of mouthwash."
"You're being silly, you know that? What if you had some garlic bread with your pasta?"
"Same protocol," she said solemnly.
"Got it. The garlic protocol." He bit the inside of his cheeks to hold back his amusement.
Clark got out of bed and walked over to stand in front of her, equally naked. "Since I have to refrain from kissing you until the completion of the garlic protocol, I guess I should get my fill now."
He leaned down slowly, relishing the anticipation in her eyes. When their lips finally met and they pressed against each other, bare skin rubbing bare skin, the playfulness of the moment vanished in a puff of smoke. He hurriedly maneuvered them into the shower and rained kisses on Jeannie's face as the warm water poured down on them.
With an impatient growl, she tugged down his head and thrust her wet, glistening breast toward him. Not needing any more encouragement, he took her in his mouth, and licked and teased her until she shivered in his arms. He hissed when she wrapped her hand around his hard-on and squeezed.
"God, Jeannie. I want you so much."
"Take me. I need you inside me. Right now."
"I don't have a condom," he stated the obvious, glancing down at his naked body.
"I'm on the pill, and I'm clean. You?"
"Then get on with it," she ordered, sending a thrill down his spine.
They coupled against the slick tiles of the shower, frantically riding their passion to the end. Jeannie began to slide down the shower wall, limp from her climax, and Clark propped her up and pressed his shaky body against hers so she could stay upright. Their bodies fit so perfectly, and their lovemaking was unlike anything he'd experienced before. It satisfied and fulfilled him in a soul-deep manner. He wasn't sure if he could ever live without it. Without Jeannie.
He inhaled shakily. No. They were just friends with benefits. It felt like more than sex only because they understood each other so well from their years of friendship. Despite his effort to free himself from it, his guilt about the fight he had with Catherine before the accident continued to haunt him. And he couldn't relinquish the feeling that he was betraying his wife's memory by being with Jeannie…by being so happy with her, because he was doing exactly what Catherine had feared. He couldn't allow himself to want more. Besides, Jeannie had made it clear that she wasn't ready for a serious relationship, and that she might never be after her nightmarish marriage.
He pulled out of her warm cocoon, and watched for a second to make sure that she could stand on her own. When she didn't slide down the wall again, he grabbed a bar of soap and lathered his hands.
"Now let's get you washed up," he said, running his hands over her body.
She hummed under her breath, and said, "And I'll do you next."
They were able to get out of the shower without too much delay, and made it out the door without tearing each other's clothes off again. It was a quick drive to Los Angeles's Koreatown and Clark valeted his car at his favorite Korean barbeque restaurant.
The restaurant was crowded but they were seated without too long of a wait, and soon they had meat sizzling on the grill in front of them. Clark manned the grill and piled Jeannie's plate with perfectly cooked slices of beef and pork.
"You're a very sweet man," she said suddenly. "Do you know that?"
"Sweet?" The tip of his ears burned hot. "If you say so."
"I like you grilling for me and serving me. It makes me feel special."
His gaze locked with hers. "You are special."
"See? Sweet." With a smile, she dug into the meal with relish.
Watching her happily devour her food was so satisfying. It felt good to take care of her. Like she was his to take care of. Clark shied away from the thought. They were friends. That was all.
"So are you excited about Package Deal's Winter Ball?" he asked to distract himself from his wayward thoughts.
"I vacillate between being a nervous wreck and being super excited." She laughed lightly. Her laughter was fast becoming his favorite sound in the world. "You're still coming, right?"
"Of course. I'll be there to support you and Package Deal," he said. He wouldn't miss it for the world. It was Package Deal's biggest fundraiser of the year, and Jeannie had worked so hard on it.
Once they'd finished off a massive amount of meat, they got back in the car and drove to the nearby Larchmont neighborhood. Its main street was filled with eclectic stores and restaurants, and he knew a place there that made incredible ice cream.
They circled the street until they found a parking spot, and then got out and walked hand in hand toward the ice cream shop. It was a fair evening and there were many other couples walking down the street. He was happy he had Jeannie by his side. She squeezed his hand, and he squeezed back then brought her hand to his lips.
She ordered mint chocolate chip, and he got a java caramel swirl cone. They claimed a small table on the sidewalk patio, and quietly enjoyed their ice cream, watching the passersby.
"This is the best mint chocolate chip ice cream I ever had," she said.
"I doubt it's better than mine, though," he teased.
"Let me see." She leaned over and licked off some of his ice cream, as naturally as though they were a real couple.
And he loved it. The closeness and the intimacy of her casual action made him giddy with joy. Hell. How could he have been so stupid? No matter how hard he'd tried to fool himself that it was just sex and fun, the truth refused to be silenced. He wanted Jeannie. All of her. He didn't want to be goddamn friends. He didn't want to be temporary lovers. He wanted a lifetime of happiness with her.
But what if a secret part of him had always wanted Jeannie? Had Catherine seen that? Was that why she was so jealous of their friendship? No, these feelings were new and powerful. He'd never felt this way before. But… His head threatened to burst.
"Do you want to try mine?" Jeannie asked unaware of his sudden turmoil. "Yours is really good, but I still say mine is better."
"No, thank you," he said stiffly.
She cocked her head at his changed tone. "Hey, are you okay?"
"I think the long day finally caught up with me. I'm exhausted," he said, which was partly true.
"Oh, you poor thing. Why didn't you say something? Let's finish our ice cream on the walk to your car, and get you home."
Clark nodded. God, he wanted her…but he couldn't have her. She deserved better than a broken man being torn apart by guilt.
He had to let her go.
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