“I can explain.” Her eyes darted around the room in search of an escape she knew didn’t exist.
“Your office. Now,” he ordered, grabbing her laptop in one hand and her wrist with the other.
Though she was horrified, his warm fingers wrapped around her wrist thrilled her. The pull she fought ignited, flashing across her skin like fire. And then she remembered this might be the end of her career. He propelled her into the library office and dropped the laptop on her desk. He released her wrist and shut the door, turning the lock.
“Do you have any idea—” His eyes blazed, the words cut short as he tugged at his tie. Liese watched apprehensively as he paced the room, his head down, fingers gripping the back of his neck, jaw working as he ground his teeth together. She couldn’t begin to imagine what he would do if he saw some of the other images she’d saved.
He gestured to the laptop. “What the hell was that!?”
Liese jumped, a squeaky sound came out of her, and she clapped a hand over her mouth. Ryder rarely raised his voice.
It would be in her best interest not to reveal that her best friend had created a whole series of photoshopped pictures of the two of them. She also thought it wise not to say anything about the folder she’d created to store them, or how they fed her unhealthy infatuation with him. Or how they functioned as her primary source of masturbatory material.
“It was mostly a joke,” she mumbled.
“Do you think this is funny?” He looked incredulous as he towered over her, but his voice was smooth silk. Livid though he was, the tension between them pulsed like shock waves through the air.
“Not particularly, no,” Liese replied, refusing to look away for fear of appearing weak, or guilty. If she could maintain a façade of self-righteous indignation, maybe he wouldn’t touch her laptop again. In her peripheral vision, Liese noted the way his hands continued to clench and unclench at his sides.
“Where did that picture come from? Are there more?”
Much to her dismay, his palm settled on the laptop.
“I really wouldn’t—”
Ryder ignored her half-made request and flipped it open. It only took a few seconds for the screen to flicker to life and the advertisement to pop up. The gif played in a loop, the vigorous pumping continuing endlessly.
Liese sighed. “I don’t think there’s a way to explain this without it sounding incredibly bad.”
She buried her face in her hands and wished she could disappear as Ryder began to inspect the advertisement. Liese peeked through her fingers to watch him lean forward, hands splayed on either side of the laptop. He squinted at the image, and then looked her over. His eyes moved down her body and back up, tracking her with an expression that bordered on predatory. Satisfied fascination knotted Liese’s stomach as the change took place: the undeniable draw she’d kept in check all this time echoed in his eyes. Some invisible line had been crossed, and Liese doubted she’d be able to return to the safety of the other side—the side where she pretended the attraction was all in her head.
“Please tell me that’s not you.” A note of aggression lent a sharp and bitter tang to the words. His fingers flexed against the desk, the tips turning white with pressure.
“It’s not my body,” Liese whispered, shaking her head.
“You’re quite sure about that?”
“Is that so?” He quirked an eyebrow, relief relaxed the tense line of his jaw. He inspected the scene again, apparently no longer fazed by the naked, gyrating bodies now that he knew she hadn’t made a porno and pasted his head on her previous partner. Ryder minimized the picture, allowing a series of folders to pop up on the screen.
“Do you have any idea how fortunate you are?” he asked as he moved the cursor over the page. “I don’t think you understand the gravity of this situation. If anyone other than me had seen this, you would have been terminated immediately, regardless of how well you do your job.”
“I’m really so—” Liese stopped mid-apology, her eyes drawn to the moving cursor. “Don’t open that!” she screeched, lunging forward to cover the flood of thumbnails. He caught her hand mid-air, and her collection of Ryder-inspired porn became a glaring beacon on the screen.
“Jesus,” he choked, his fingers gripping hers, keeping her close as he processed the images. And there were a hell of a lot of them. “What the . . .”
There were more than thirty thumbnails, so it was difficult to figure out which photo held his attention until he slid his finger across the mouse and clicked on an image.
It exploded onto the screen like a porn-tastic grenade. Of all the pictures available in her “RW” file, he had to choose this one. Liese had never taken the time to fully appreciate the lengths to which Marissa had gone to make the photos realistic, but this particular image showcased her talent well. Her knowledge of Liese’s pornographic predilections might have been embarrassing, but Ryder bearing witness to them was a humiliation too severe to endure.
Liese saw herself perched on all fours on the bed, her long hair wrapped around “Ryder’s” hand as he took her doggy style. The fingers of his free hand were anchored in the black satin laces holding her leather corset together. A blindfold covered her eyes. Black garters and ripped hose completed the look. The action shot had caught the penetration mid-thrust, lending it an erotic charge some of the other pictures lacked. That and the red handprint on her ass.
“Sweet mother of all things holy. Am I . . . Are you . . . Is that?” He released her hand and used the table for support to get a better look at the image. Ryder exhaled a labored breath, and his fingers went to his mouth, tapping at his lip in agitation.
Liese couldn’t recall a previous occasion when he’d been anything less than composed and articulate. And she had no justifiable defense for the image. But part of her wanted him to react to it, wanted the wanting to stop so they could just give in already.
“They’re photoshopped,” she repeated.
His gaze lifted, and the heaviness of it made her squirm. “Yes, you’ve mentioned that already. My question is where the hell did the photos come from?”
“Um, well . . .” Liese hesitated, trying to think of a way to word it without making the situation worse. “It’s . . . it’s difficult to explain.”