The bathroom was empty. At least, for now. Claudia Graves shut the door on the restaurant sounds of clinking silverware and chattering couples and went straight to the sink, avoiding her own reflection as she turned on the water and let it run.
She didn’t know what she was doing in here, she just had to get away. Away from him, away from their table, away from the question he’d just asked. Her face flushed with a flood of emotions; shame, satisfaction, bitterness, disgrace, they all blended as she tried to catch her breath.
“Get a grip,” she spat at herself, finally allowing a glance into the mirror. Her carefully applied countenance stared back, a stranger in her reflection; raven black hair straight and clipped around her pale face, just the way he liked it. Contacts turning her green eyes a dark and mysterious hazel brown, maroon lipstick to match her slinky, form fitting dress.
No wonder he wanted her. Who wouldn’t? She’d made a career out of playing the young ingénue, the svelte temptress, her mouth full of husky come on lines, her panty drawer full of thongs, her body never less than flawless, her hair and nails impeccably tended, her outfits never less than flawless.
It was all a mask, every inch of it, culled carefully from studying her subject for weeks before starting her latest job. And that’s all it was supposed to be: a job. Seduce and destroy. That was the mission. Same as all the others; so many, many others. The jobs came as mysteriously, as frequently, as the generous payments did. It usually took a few months, at most, for the “target” to fall head over heels for Claudia.
Once they did, she would break their hearts and ruin their lives — leave them at the altar, a thousand guests and the gathered press whispering, gossiping, tarnishing their reputation, just the way her clients liked it. It wasn’t particularly hard on her, emotionally speaking. The targets were not the most upstanding or handsome of characters and she could easily see how someone would hold a grudge against them. But this time, the target was different.
Richard Laymon was different. Sure he was rich, like the others, but he was also young, devilishly handsome, charming, with an air of aloof mystery about him. Despite having spent so much time together, she rarely knew what he was thinking.
Claudia suspected he liked it that way.
It had already been six months, and although he seemed fully committed to her, she hadn’t been sure if she would be able to hook him to the point where he’d be head over heels for her. They hadn’t even had sex yet. And then, all of a sudden, out of the blue, just a few minutes earlier, it had happened. All she’d worked for, these long months, it had all–
The bathroom door suddenly burst open and two women, giggling and fanning their faces, flooded in from the restaurant. Claudia immediately bent back to the gushing water as the women joined her at the long, marble sink. They set their identical clam shell purses down on the marble counter top and gushed about the billionaire’s bombshell moment.
“Can you believe it?” one said to the other, mouth shaped like an oval as she re-applied a garish shade of bright pink lipstick. “Richard Laymon, of all people, proposing during dinner.”
“I thought he’d be a permanent bachelor,” said the other, straightening her wig.
Claudia smirked; not if she had anything to do with it. The first woman clucked. “Oh no, I hear he’s head over heels for this one. Pretty young thing, too.”
The second sighed. “No doubt she’s just out for all that high tech cash of his.”
Claudia’s face burned as she stared down into the running water. The second woman clasped her purse and then abruptly left, leaving the first woman without a hen to gossip with.
Claudia took the bait and looked over. “Did you hear the news?” the woman asked hopefully.
Claudia looked back, nonplussed. “What’s that?”
The woman, fortyish and plump, offered a disapproving frown. “About the billionaire, Richard Laymon. He just proposed to his girlfriend over dinner!”
Claudia smiled blandly, offering no response. The woman, spurned by Claudia’s indifference, reached for her purse and clipped it shut. “I just think it’s romantic, that all. Young love? True love? Isn’t it grand?”
Claudia couldn’t force herself to nod and the woman made an abrupt departure. Claudia looked back at her reflection and made a slight “tssking” sound. “It would never last anyway,” she sighed, finally turning off the water. “Not in a million years.”
A familiar voice from the doorway chuckled and she turned, finding Richard there in his khaki linen suit, a crisp white shirt unbuttoned at the collar, broad shoulders filling the doorway. Even now, six months later, his striking appearance still took her breath away.
“Never in a million years, huh?” He propped the bathroom open with one Italian leather loafer and leaned back against the doorjamb, arms crossed in front of his chest, daring her to pass.
The blush rose to her young face once more. She leaned her hip against the granite counter, wanting to keep some distance between them, not trusting herself if she moved any closer.
He was tall and lanky, fit from weekly racquetball sessions at his tech company’s onsite gym, barely out of his twenties and already a billionaire several times over. And still, he looked as casual, as carefree, as if he’d just come in from surfing all afternoon.
His boyish face was still beaming at her. She looked away and muttered, “You know what I mean.”
He was earnest. “I don’t, Claudia. I thought… I thought we had something. Something worth sharing forever.”
Her eyes flashed back at his. “You don’t mean that,” she spat, hardly knowing where the sudden tidal wave of emotion had come from. She never let the job get to her like this; never let the target get this close to her hardened heart. “You can’t mean that.”
She’d done this, what, half-a-dozen? A dozen times by now? How had this scamp of a computer geek made her “job” so difficult? What made this “target” so damn special?
He inched forward, or tried to anyway, but she held up a firm hand to stop him. Amazingly, he paused. “I do mean that, Claudia. I would never toy with your emotions like that.”
His tone held no accusation, and yet those words cut deep all the same. Wasn’t that exactly what she was doing with him? Right now? For the last six months? Toying with him? With his emotions, with his heart?
She stared at his broad chest, his long fingers, his narrow waist and sighed. God, how she wanted him to hold her, to melt into those arms and feel him deep inside of her.
She snapped herself out of it, forced herself to focus. “No, Richard, I don’t think you would do that to me.”
She closed her eyes and took a breath. In that moment, he crossed the room and knelt before her, right there on the bathroom floor, a small but priceless engagement ring staring up at her out of an open jeweler’s box.
The air caught in her throat as she involuntarily gasped.
He rushed forward, voice squeaking, hands trembling. “So… will you say “yes,” Claudia? Will you make my dreams come true?”
Why was she hesitating? Why was this even an issue? “Yes” was the proper answer. “Yes” was the ticket to a $50,000 bonus from her client and the satisfaction of yet another covert assignment.
“Yes,” she said, for all the wrong reasons.
He stood, abruptly, and dragged her from the bathroom. Heads turned as he led her, giggling, toward the front door. “But dinner?” she asked, not feeling very hungry and looking behind her at their now empty table for two.
A waiter, smiling at his hundred dollar tip, waved them goodbye. A busboy was already clearing their uneaten dinner plates. Richard leaned in, breath smelling minty. “It’s all been taken care of, my dear.”
His breath in her ear, the words he was saying, made her tremble inside. The night was young, and he had said the magic words, bought himself a one-way ticket straight into Claudia’s bed. She, for one, couldn’t wait.
Claudia heard a cluck and, as she passed by a table on the way out of the restaurant, noticed one of the women from the bathroom. She smirked, holding on to Richard all the tighter.
Harriman, Richard’s longtime and faithful driver, was waiting at the curb. An older, rarely smiling man, he immediately opened the back door of a giant SUV with a casual nod of his head.
Claudia got in first, stomach in knots, her new engagement ring scratchy on her finger, Richard sliding in beside her. He sat closer than usual, hands to himself, as usual. Not for the first time, she wished otherwise.
It was a strategy of hers, in the past, to make her targets wait until they “put a ring on it” before sampling any of her well-practiced wares. It was a novel approach, she knew. These days, most girls gave it up the first time out, spoiling the chances of illusion. Not Claudia; she knew the score and knew how to play it well.
With each passing day, their devotion to her grew until, at last, they could wait no longer. Finally, if only for a glimpse of her honey pot, for a chance to slip inside her, feast on her young, slender body, the men would propose.
With Richard, it had been harder than ever. Hearing him in the shower each morning, knowing he was naked, soap gliding down his long, slender torso, drove her insane with desire. Watching him on the beach, stepping from the ocean in his snug red trunks, she had to look away. Lying next to him each night, her hands itching to caress his hairless chest, her mouth tempted to sample a deep, long kiss, had proved almost impossible.
Six months was a long time for a girl in her prime. Not so much when the men were old fogies or lechers like most of her targets, who cared only about their money and hadn’t seen a gym in decades, but with Richard it had been a particularly long stretch.
“Where to, sir?” asked Harriman, turning around in the front seat.
Richard looked at Claudia and smiled slyly. “Take the long way home, Harriman.” Harriman agreed, his stiff chauffer cap nodding slowly as Richard pushed a button on the door to raise the heavily tinted, soundproof barrier between the driver’s seat and the backseat.
The sound of the mechanical window sliding up into its berth made Claudia shiver with desire. He’d never done that before. The backseat was dark but dimly lit by the moonlight filtering in through the windows. They cast shadows on Richard’s lean face and reflected off his dark brown eyes, making the white of his crisp designer shirt all the more brilliant.
He looked at her carefully as she licked her lips temptingly. He watched her, lick them, and she could hear his slight intake of breath. He cleared his throat and offered that adorably crooked smile of his. “Now that it’s official…” he began.
“Almost official,” she corrected him, surprised at the huskiness of her voice as she turned in her seat to face him. She crossed her legs and the sensation made her blink slowly and lick her lips again. The tight, silken dress didn’t leave much to the imagination, and she smiled as he admired the swell of her breasts.