Crumble

820830
Charlotte is about as ambitious as they get, which is how she managed to become the youngest partner in Sydney’s most prestigious law firm. She worked hard to get to where she is and is determined not to let anything compromise everything she’s built. So when she finds her world turned upside down by her new assistant, Ashton, she must decide if, perhaps, there are certain people worth fighting for as well.

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10. 10

As per usual, the recreation room at Patterson and Pierce remained vacant in the early hours of the morning. Stretching her arms behind her back to loosen her muscles, Charlotte rolled her head in a circle to ease the ache in her neck before she raised her gloved hands in her fighting stance. Inhaling deeply, she bounced on her toes several times before beginning to jab at the leather bag to her front.

After the steamy and intimate few hours she had spent in the hotel suite with Ashton, she had passed the remainder of the weekend finding every possible distraction to keep her mind from wandering back to that time. She threw herself into a mountain of paperwork, determined to keep her mind preoccupied until she was forced to face the man who now so completely consumed her thoughts.

Although her Sunday had been spent in an extremely productive manner, the feeling of anxiety had yet to subside from the pit of her stomach. It seemed everything reminded her of that night: her heart rate had increased to rapid palpitations at the sight of her curtains fluttering in the window as it caused her to recall the moonlight streaming through the thin veils in the hotel room.

Deciding she needed to retain a tight grip on reality, she had allotted extra time for her early morning workout in effort to spend an extended period pounding out her frustrations. In truth, she had hoped Kayla would be right: that sleeping with Ashton once would relive her of her desire and allow her to continue working with him in a strictly professional manner.

In retrospect, this idea was completely ridiculous. Sex never failed to complicate a relationship and her current interaction with her assistant had fallen victim to said phenomenon. As much as her mind screamed that she should be satisfied and move on, her body seemed to disagree. Just the thought of him caused her skin to light ablaze and every muscle in her body to ache with desire.

Cursing her weakness, she lay into the leather bag, punching viciously, channeling her inner frustration into each powerful blow. The bag was pummeled backwards forcefully before swinging forwards and bumping against her navel. Panting and sore, she hugged the sticky leather, stabilizing the swinging bag between her gloved hands as she rested her cheek against it for a moment and closed her eyes.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were upset.”

Her eyes shot open as a deep, velvet voice caused every hair on her body to stand on end. Peeling herself from the leather bag, she stepped to the side and smoothed her sweat dampened hair back from her forehead.

“Ashton,” she smiled brightly, “Fancy running into you here.”

This was not the first time she had encountered her assistant in the gym in the early hours of the morning. Ever since their initial meeting in this particular spot, she had been meticulous in ensuring their paths never crossed during her workout for an extended period of time. She was quite certain she would not be able to handle the sight of him panting and sweaty in her current state of emotional instability. Thus, she timed her workouts so she was finishing just as he entered the gym, allowing her to send a quick nod in his direction before hurrying towards the showers.

However, it seemed he had worked out her fool proof plan.

Forcing her cheeks to remain locked in a broad smile, she allowed her eyes to flick downwards to soak in his appearance. After a few instances of passing him on her way to the showers, she had come to notice he was always clad in a variation of the same outfit: loose shorts, a sleeveless top, and beanie in which to tuck away his curls. Today was no exception, the loose white tank top hanging from his shoulders emphasizing the lean muscle of his arms while showcasing his deliciously prominent collarbones.

His brow furrowed as he studied her for a moment, his tongue poking between his lips as he searched for the right words. “Are you upset?”

She was not entirely sure why his question caught her off guard. Perhaps it was because she still had yet to identify the emotions currently bubbling in the pit of her stomach. The conflict between her rational mind and wanting body had become too much for her to handle and she had responded to this inner turmoil by pretending it did not exist.

“Are you?” she shot back, casting off his question in hopes she would not be forced to give an answer.

Emerald faded to jade in the morning light, the golden ring surrounding his irises becoming more visible as he kinked one side of his mouth into a satisfied smirk. “I enjoyed myself.”

Pressing her lips together to keep from smiling, she breathed out a laugh through her nostrils as she averted her gaze from his eyes, horrified at the flush which heated her cheeks.

“I’m not a child, you know.”

Her gaze snapped back to match his, her lips parting as her brow furrowed in confusion. “I’m well aware.”

He studied her for a moment before shaking his head lightly. “Are you? It seems to me you think I’m going to become attached to you.”

“Aren’t you already?” she whispered as she knocked her gloves together.

“No,” he spat out immediately, his curls bouncing as he shook his head at her raised eyebrows. “I’ll admit that I’m protective, but it’s only because I feel as though you are a part of my life now. And I’ll always protect the women in my life, no matter what my relation to them.”

He paused for a moment and Charlotte opened her mouth to speak, but he regained his line of thought before she had a chance to respond.

“It’s not as though I want a relationship,” he sighed, “I think I’m just intrigued. I can never anticipate how you’ll react to my words or what you’ll say next and that excites me.”

The way in which he characterized her bewildered Charlotte greatly as she never thought herself the exciting type. However, it seemed his presence stirred changes within her, a feat which was remarkable in its own right as she had vowed she would never alter herself to satisfy the desires of a man.

If possible, her emotions were even more jumbled than they had been a few moments ago, and she blinked rapidly as she spoke. “I’m not sure what you want from me, Ashton.”

He exhaled deeply through his nose and pursed his lips, pounding the fists of his large red gloves together. “What do you want, Charlotte?”

“I want,” she replied, taking a deep breath through her lips and allowing the cool rush of air to her lungs calm her anxiety, “I want this to happen without all of the emotions getting in the way.”

“Who says they have to?” he responded nonchalantly, shrugging his shoulders.

Her eyes widened in surprise as she tilted her head to the side. She had not expected him to agree to a casual relationship so easily. “Really?”

Shrugging once more, he tightened the straps of his gloves on his hands. “Why not? You have the control, remember?”

Blinking slowly, she carefully contemplated his offer. He was suggesting a completely physical relationship, one where they ignored the emotional aspect of a sexual relationship and focused primarily on their chemistry.

It was intriguing, to say the least. She could no longer deny her body craved his touch, after being with him less than forty eight hours before, she already ached to feel him again. Perhaps, this was the best solution.

Before she could agree, he stepped towards her, towering over her petite frame, his eyes sparkling as their gazes met. “Will you work out with me?”

Pressing her lips together, she gulped as she nodded, her words exiting her lips in a soft whisper. “Of course.”

His lips twisted into a smirk, his dimples indenting his cheeks deeply. “How do you feel about sparring?”

“You want to fight me?” she asked in surprise, her eyebrows raised to convey her emotions.

He nodded silently.

“You do realize I am the better trained boxer in this situation, right?”

The corners of his mouth lifted upwards, his lips parting in an open mouthed smirk. “I guess we’ll see.”

“Fine,” she shrugged, leading the way to the practice ring at the center of the gym. Ducking beneath the ropes acting as the boundary, she swung her leg over to climb into the ring and began to bounce once she regained her footing.

Shaking out her arms, she warmed her muscles as Ashton positioned himself before her, planting his feet on the ground and lifting his arms into the proper stance. Light laughter filled the air as she readied her stance, spacing her feet just slightly and raising her fists to just below her chin.

Their eyes locked and she found herself stuck in that moment; the moment where she wondered whether he would make the first move. They danced in a circle, silently sizing each other up as their gazes remained connected in a staring contest, each willing the other to throw the first punch.

Only the sound of their steady breathing filled the room, her heart rate increasing with each passing second of inaction. Finally unable to take the tension any longer, she extended her right arm outwards in a forceful jab. He raised his left arm to block the blow while simultaneously throwing his right arm towards her body.

They settled into a rhythm of punches, Charlotte utilizing the basic combinations she had been taught as a child consisting of a mixture of jabs and uppercuts. Despite her extensive training, she and Ashton were well matched, blocking each other’s blows quickly before throwing another punch. They found themselves stuck in a continuous pattern, neither able to successfully knock their opponent to the floor.

Chest heaving as he panted, Ashton held his hands up in defense, indicating they should stop, his voice coming out in short, heavy breaths. “Shall we call it a tie?”

Charlotte considered his offer for a moment before sending a jab straight into his unguarded abdomen. He grunted as he doubled over, falling to his knees before lying back, his chest rising and falling with shallow breaths.

“You should know by now, Ashton,” she spoke, grinning triumphantly, “I always win.”

Groaning, he stretched out his legs, hooking his feet around her ankles and pulling swiftly to send her toppling to her knees. She braced herself for the fall, landing with her knees spread so she was straddling his waist, her gloved fists pressing to the soft floor on either side of his head. Pressing her palms firmly against the ground to keep their heads from colliding, she inhaled sharply as she realized the closeness of his lips to her own.

“I’d say we’re both winners in this situation, Charlotte,” he replied, his voice low and smooth as his lips stretched into a cocky smirk, the early morning light dancing in his jade eyes.

Her mouth went dry as her gaze dropped to his mouth, her tongue poking out to wet her lips as she planted her hands firmly and pressed away to keep herself from leaning forward.

“We should get ready for work,” she whispered, sitting back until she had enough leverage to rise to her feet. Slipping off her gloves, she stepped over his body as she made her way back to the locker rooms, breathing deeply to calm her rapid heartbeats.

Once safely inside the women’s locker room, she kicked off her shoes and stripped off her socks, tucking them safely beneath the laces before sitting down on the bench which stretched the length of the room. Her fingers curled over the light wood, gripping tightly to keep her body firmly pressed to the seat. She was afraid if she let go she would run to him.

Knowing he was just a few rooms over was causing her rationality to become cloudy. If she considered their situation logically, further complicating their relationship could end in complete disaster; the kind of catastrophe where they both lost their jobs.

However, Charlotte was not naïve enough to believe she would be able to resist him. It had been mere minutes since she was in his presence and her body already tingled for his touch. Besides the fact that she could feel their chemistry fizzling with each word they exchanged, she could no longer deny the fact that she enjoyed Ashton’s company. He put her at ease, empowered her to be bold, and made her laugh in a way only her closest friends had been able to do before.

This level of comfort frightened her to no end and she inwardly cursed her complete lack of bravery. Perhaps it was time to be ambitious when it came to her personal life as well.

Slowly unfurling her fingers from the bench, she stood and made her way to the door, poking her head out and looking either direction to ensure no one spotted her on her mission. Rising to the balls of her feet, she quickly tiptoed across the hallway and quietly pushed open the door to the men’s locker room.

Eyes wide and lips parted in awe, she watched as Ashton reached behind his head to tug his shirt over his shoulders, an agitated scowl twisting his lips, his brow furrowed in annoyance. For some unexplainable reason, the sight of him upset caused heat to rush to her core. She blinked slowly, unable to form a coherent thought as she watched him hook his thumbs into the waistband of his shorts.

Just as he began to push his shorts down, he noticed her gaping in his direction.

“Charlotte!” he yelped, startled by her presence as he quickly removed his fingers from his shorts, “What are you doing here? This is the men’s room.”

“I know,” she paused, as she began to chew on her bottom lip, “Look, I don’t know what we are…I just know, I enjoyed myself as well.”

His eyebrows lifted in slight surprise a smile stretching his lips as he allowed her to continue.

“And I want to keep enjoying myself.”

Her smile grew as his eyes began to shimmer with each passing second, jade darkening to a deep emerald as his lips mimicked her actions.

“Ok,” he whispered, taking a step towards her.

“Ok,” she grinned in response. Reaching down, she peeled her sweat dampened tank top from her body to drop it, along with her sports bra to the floor.

Plump lips twisted into a smirk, a wicked glint entered his eyes as he took in her topless form. “What are you doing?”

“Taking a shower,” she replied casually, pushing her shorts over her hips as she walked towards the nearest shower stall, kicking them to the side once they pooled at her ankles. “Do you plan on joining me?”

“Someone could walk in.”

Smirking, she shrugged as she opened the stall door, “Then we’ll have to be quiet, won’t we?”

Within a few seconds, his shorts and boxers lay in a pile at his feet and he was hurrying after her into the shower. Giggling, she stepped onto the cool white tile, curling her toes as she turned the shower handle.

The cool water hit her skin rapidly, sending tingles throughout her body before it began to warm, raising her body temperature as well. Tilting her chin upwards, she allowed the stream to wet her face and hair, the corners of her lips curving into a smile as she felt Ashton’s wide palms slide over her hips. His lips pressed kisses to her wet shoulder, his right hand flattening over her navel as his fingers reached towards her center.

She became warm beneath his touch, her breathing becoming shallow as she felt him harden against her lower back. Turning quickly in his arms, she tangled her fingers in the wet curls at the nape of his neck as she pressed her lips to his, sucking forcefully.

His palms curved over her backside, cupping gently and squeezing before sliding beneath her thighs and lifting easily. Her ankles locked behind his back and she squeezed her knees against his waist as she lifted her hips before lowering herself onto him.

Their lips parted for a moment, her breaths short and shallow against his mouth as she began to roll against him. She clung to his shoulders as he planted his feet firmly on the floor, bending his knees to stabilize himself as he began to thrust upwards. Their positioning gave him limited range of motion, causing his movements to be short and rapid. Nevertheless, Charlotte could feel that fire burning quickly.

Pressing her lips to his shoulder to ensure she emitted no noises, she circled her hips as she felt her climax build. The warm spray of the shower left slick moisture upon their skin, causing their bodies to glide effortless against each other’s. Charlotte squeezed her eyes shut, tightening the grip of her legs around his waist as she felt her walls contract. He increased the quickness of his thrusts as his hands slid beneath her hair to cradle the back of her head.

With three more powerful thrusts, she gasped against his shoulder as the fire spread to her extremities. Her eyes remained tightly closed, her toes curling behind his back as she ground her hips into his, every nerve end tingling as her body trembled.

He came within moments of her, filling her warmly and slowing the movement of his hips as the fog of their highs began to settle. They remained intertwined for a moment, allowing jets of water to wash them of their recent activity before Charlotte unwrapped her legs from his waist and lowered her feet to the floor.

Shaking her head, she laughed as she grabbed his travel size bar of soap and began to rub it over his chest. “Well, that was certainly the most fun I’ve had in a shower in a while.”

His deep, melodic laughter echoed off the tile as he took the soap from her hands and proceeded to swipe the bar across her stomach. “Agreed.”

Smiling, she stood on her toes and pressed her lips to his gently, her eyes crinkling as she pulled away. He returned her grin, shaking out his wet hair as his hands moved around to her back.

They lathered each other up slowly, their hands smoothing over every square inch of each other’s bodies, lingering over the more sensitive spots as they caressed and pressed more firmly. His large hands glided gently over her skin as he washed off the soap and his long fingers massaged her scalp as he rinsed the shampoo from her hair.

Sighing in content, Charlotte turned the shower handle to stop the flow of water. Ashton stepped out of the stall first, grabbing a large white towel from a stack to the right. He wrapped the terry cloth around his lower body, tying it to anchor firmly at his hips before shaking out a towel and holding out for Charlotte.

Stepping out of the stall, she smiled as she raised her arms above her head and twirled, allowing him to envelop her in the soft cloth.

Grinning, she pressed a palm flat to his chest and tilted her chin up to catch his gaze. “This will be fun, you know. Our little secret.”

His eyes darkened slightly, flooding with hurt at the thought of keeping their relationship hidden, but as he nodded slowly, Charlotte let out a sigh of relief at the indication that he understood why it must be so.

“I have no doubt,” he smirked, emerald gradually fading back to jade as that devious twinkle returned.

Raising her cheeks in a smile, she lifted herself to the balls of her feet and kissed him deeply. She wanted to be able to feel his lips upon hers for the entirety of the day and he happily obliged with her silent request by pulling her hips into his body and returning the pressure.

Inhaling deeply, she smiled automatically as she pulled away, stepping back to create distance and quell the urge to kiss him for several more hours.

“I’ll see you soon,” she whispered, tightening the towel beneath her arms.

He nodded, raising a hand in a wave as half his lips curved into a small smile. “Bye.”

Shooting him one last delighted grin, she turned on her heel and walked back towards the women’s locker room and back towards reality. 

...

Humming softly to herself, Charlotte pressed her lips together to contain the wide grin threatening to stretch across her face. It seemed her entire morning had consisted of attempting to rein in her happiness. Her interaction with Ashton that morning had left her entire body buzzing, and, try as she might, she seemed unable to express any emotion besides complete and utter joy.

The fact that Ashton seemed to be stuck in the same predicament only served to amplify her emotions. When she had passed by his desk after making herself look presentable, his lips had twisted into a smirk so ridiculously sexy, she felt her core light on fire at the sight of it spreading across his lips. They exchanged greetings, both commenting on the greatness of the morning and fighting to hold in laughter at the double meaning.

She had smiled in gratitude as usual as she accepted her morning coffee from him, the wicked twinkle in her eye the only indication that their relationship was not strictly professional. After maintaining eye contact for an inappropriate amount of time, she allowed her lips to kink into a subtle smirk before clearing her throat and asking for her agenda for the day. He rattled off her usual order, citing client meetings and the various briefs which needed to be completed by the end of the day.

The entire time, their gazes remained locked, their sparkling eyes engaging in a staring contest, each silently daring the other to look away first. Their lips mirrored each other’s subtle smiles, the corners lifting just slightly as not to give away their happiness. When he handed her the usual stack of files, their fingers brushed, igniting that spark which always seemed sizzle between them. He dropped his left eye in a sly wink as she turned to walk into her office, leaving her veins coursing with adrenaline and her nerve ends tingling.

She had entered her office to hear a call coming in on her direct phone line and she immediately became tense as she concluded the identity of the caller. There were very few people who had access to her direct office line, as she preferred to have Ashton filters her messages for unwanted callers. However, after deciding that it best that Leo and Ashton have no interaction whatsoever, even indirectly, she left a message at Rockwell Incorporated and left the number to her direct line with Leo’s assistant. This allowed Leo to contact her without being forced to speak to Ashton first.

Sighing, she threw her bag down on the couch and bent over her desk to answer the call before it stopped ringing.

“Hello?”

“Good morning, Charlotte!”

“Leo!” she replied, forcing a smile to her face in hopes it would reflect in her tone, “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I wanted to apologize again for my behavior at the gala, it was completely inappropriate.”

“It’s alright,” she sighed, lifting the phone cord to allow her the ability to walk around her desk and take a seat in her chair.

Although she was still hazy on the details regarding Leo and Maddie’s troubled relationship, she decided it was none of her business. Asking for more information would cause her to become involved in a complex web of hatred and hurt of which she had no desire to be a part. Her relationship with Ashton was complicated enough without her knowing every aspect of the pasts of his family members as well.

“Well I’m glad you’re not upset with me,” he laughed, “I actually called to discuss our meeting. The completely professional, business based meeting we have yet to have.”

Charlotte became antsy at the thought. She could practically hear Patterson’s voice asking her why this deal had yet to be closed. In terms of time, it had not been too long since she had been assigned the task of landing this client, yet it had never taken her so many days to get a signature. Perhaps it was because she avoided any situation which required her to be alone with Leo.

“That’s right,” she responded, “We must fix this situation.”

His bright laughter rang through the phone. “Unfortunately, I am currently out of the country. I have some business in America for the next few weeks. Would it be alright if I gave you a call when I return?”

“You’re calling me to tell me you’ll call me later?” she asked skeptically, “How very chivalrous of you.”

Once again his laughter filled her ear. “I wouldn’t want you to think I’m avoiding you.”

Despite her natural dislike for Leo, she couldn’t help but smile at his efforts to mend their relationship. “I would never think that of you.”

“Good,” he answered, “Well, I’d better go, we’ve just arrived at the hotel. But I’ll give you a call when I get back to Sydney.”

“Sounds good,” she replied, bidding him goodbye before hanging up the phone.

Her muscles relaxed instantly upon ending the call. Deep down, she was elated that Leo and Ashton would be on completely different continents, even if only for a few weeks. She could breathe easily knowing there would be no unwanted confrontations during that time.

Smiling to herself, she dove into her day, meeting with clients and working on briefs for the remainder of the morning. This was how she found herself singing softly and smiling foolishly as she read through yet another new client contract. Her feet were bare, her legs tucked beneath her on the leather chair, the end of a pen stuck between her teeth as she chewed thoughtfully.

A series of knocks on the door brought her attention from her work and she once again forced herself not to smile as she bid the person entrance. She knew it was Ashton from the knocks. He always utilized the same combination of one loud, one soft, and one loud knock when he needed her attention.

A moment later, the wooden door swung open and Ashton poked his head through the small crack, his naturally disheveled curls falling across his forehead.

“Hello,” she greeted him brightly, finally allowing that joyous smile to stretch her lips. Not being forced to hide her happiness was such a relief.

“You have a visitor,” he spoke. Although he verbally ignored the lightness of her tone, the gleam in his emerald eyes indicated she was not alone in her elation.

Her brow furrowed in slight confusion at the words as she was not expecting another client until late afternoon. “Who?”

Rather than speak a name, he opened the door wider, revealing the petite figure of Victoria Holmes. Charlotte’s eyebrows raised in surprise as she removed her feet from beneath her, allowing her toes to curl into the plush carpeting below her desk.

“Mum! What are you doing here?”

“I’m glad you’re so eager to see your mother, Charlotte,” Victoria responded, pursing her lips and pushing them to the side, clearly unimpressed by her daughter’s surprised reaction to her unexpected visit.

“Sorry,” she breathed out, flattening her palms on her desk to brace herself as she hurriedly slipped back into her heels, “You rarely visit me at work.”

Victoria shrugged, making her way to the couch and perching herself on the edge. “I was in the area.”

Charlotte nodded, shifting her gaze to Ashton, who shot her a sympathetic glance before shutting the door and leaving her alone with her mother.

She took a seat next to her mother on the couch, angling her hips so she was facing the woman while crossing her feet at the ankles and resting her laced fingers atop her knee, just as her mother had taught her was proper.

“So…” Charlotte began, still unsure as to the reason behind her mother’s unannounced arrival.

Before Victoria could speak, the office door opened once more, and Ashton came bustling in, holding a plastic tray on which sat two tea cups and a few packets of sugar. Slightly taken aback yet pleasantly surprised, she exhaled through her nose as she lifted her cheeks in a smile.

“Thank you, Ashton,” she spoke politely, her eyes gleaming with gratitude as he set the tray down on the table to their front and nodded his understanding of her need for a distraction.

Just as quickly as he had entered, he exited the room silently. Apparently Ashton shared Charlotte’s belief about tea: that sipping a cup of the wondrous drink could diffuse even the most awkward of situations.

Folding her hands into a bowl shape, she held the cup gingerly in her hands, inhaling the soothing scent before curving her lips over the top of the china and slowly sipping the hot liquid. Sighing in contentment, she smiled softly at her mother as she watched Victoria stir sugar into her tea with delicate swirls of a small spoon.

To be honest, Charlotte was impressed her mother had not commented on Ashton’s presence. She was sure Victoria would have an opinion on the man her eldest daughter had hidden from the rest of her family. Yet despite having spent an appropriate amount of time with Ashton, Victoria seemed to hold no opinion of the beautiful man, and instead seemed slightly distracted.

“Mum?” Charlotte asked, drawing her mother’s attention back to reality, “Is everything alright?”

Victoria blinked once, her previously clouded eyes clearing to the vivid darkness which usually possessed them. Pressing her lips into a firm smile, she nodded. “Of course. I was just in the area and decided I would stop by.”

“You just happened to be in the city?” Charlotte asked skeptically, knowing her mother detested the crowds of city life. She spent as little time in Sydney as she could manage, preferring to reside in the small town home owned by the Holmes family situated just on the outskirts of the city: just close enough to Sydney to remain informed but far enough away as not to interact with ‘those city folk’.

“I was having brunch with my friend Melissa, do you remember her?” Victoria replied.

Charlotte nodded, bringing her cup to her mouth to take another sip of her tea.

“Well,” Victoria continued, “Melissa was telling me about her son.”

Eyes wide, Charlotte’s lips froze around the edge of the cup, her heart rate beginning to accelerate as her mind began to decipher the true reason behind her mother’s visit.

“He’s quite successful, you know,” Victoria went on, ignoring the sight of her daughter visibly tensing, “And it just so happens he recently moved to Sydney.”

“That’s fantastic,” Charlotte responded, her voice cracking slightly.

Nodding, Victoria stretched her lips into a small grin. “I’ve told her you’ll meet him for drinks tonight.”

“Mother!” Charlotte scolded, appalled that her mother believed she had any say in Charlotte’s love life.

“Now, Charlotte,” Victoria reprimanded, using the tone reserved for her children when they misbehaved, “He’s new the city and he know no one. It’s only polite that you’ll meet him.”

“Fine,” Charlotte sighed, seeing the reason behind her mother’s words. It was not as though it was a date and it never hurt to be friendly. She had spent much of her childhood feeling as though she did not belong in the world of high society, allowing her to sympathize with a newcomer to the city.

“Marvelous,” Victoria grinned, setting her now empty cup down on the table and smoothing out her skirt as she pushed herself off the couch.

“Was that all?” Charlotte asked, her eyebrows raised in surprise as placed her teacup on the table and rose to mimic her mother’s standing position.

Victoria’s smile widened as she leaned over to press a soft kiss to her daughter’s cheek. “Yes, dear. Call me tomorrow and tell me how it goes.”

Charlotte nodded in agreement as she returned the kiss to the air near her mother’s ear. “Sure.”

With one last smile, Victoria exited the room, leaving Charlotte bewildered and wondering to what she had just agreed.

She had little time to ponder on her confusion as moments after Victoria’s departure, the door opened once more and Ashton entered. He paused to push the wooden door shut before shoving his fingers in the pockets of his trousers and walking slowly to where Charlotte stood near the couch.

“How’d it go?” he asked in concern, eyes narrowed and brow furrowed.

“Surprisingly well,” Charlotte replied easily, shaking her head as she piled the teacups and empty sugar packets back on the tray.

“Just a social visit, then?”

“Not exactly,” she paused, flattening her palms against the front of her skirt to smooth out the soft material, “Apparently I’m going on a date tonight.”

Ashton’s eyes widened and Charlotte watched in amusement as his eyes flashed through a wide range of emotions before settling on what seemed to be happiness. “Great!”

“You’re encouraging this?” she asked, pleasantly surprised by his mature reaction to their odd situation.

He shrugged. “Why not? If I can’t take you on a date, then somebody should.”

Her heart ceased to beat within her chest, her breath catching in her throat as her mind reeled with the implications of his seemingly simplistic statement.

“Would you like to take me on a date?” she whispered, her fingers scratching lightly against her skirt to calm her nerves.

The sparkle in his eyes became more brilliant, his plump lips kinking into that smirk which she found so irresistible. “I would like that very much.”

She found herself tempted to agree before realizing their conversation completely contradicted their original agreement concerning their relationship.

“That would be dangerous, don’t you think?” she replied, chewing on the corner of her lip, “Considering our agreement to no emotions.”

“Perhaps,” he responded immediately, his relaxed to suggest their interaction was not affecting him nearly as much as it was her, “But I’m willing to risk it if you are.”

The pressure of her teeth upon her bottom lip had become so forceful she could taste blood. Quickly removing her lip from its position, she swiped out her tongue to soak up the blood as she blinked rapidly, unsure as to how to respond to his declaration.

A date would mean conversation; not the physical activity they were accustomed to, but a setting where they would be forced to keep a steady stream of words flowing while resisting the urge to tear off each other’s clothes. But most frightening of all, a date would entail revealing emotions, a path down which Charlotte was not yet ready to travel.

To any normal pair, it would seem simple. However, Charlotte had known from their first meeting that her relationship with Ashton would never be normal.

Sighing, she shook her head slightly as she tugged down the sleeves of her cardigan. “Perhaps someday.”

“I’m going to hold you to that,” he smirked, stepping backwards, his eyes twinkling with a mesmerizing mixture of wickedness and hope.

“Good,” she whispered as he turned towards the door.

Flashing one last smile, he reached for the door handle and disappeared into on the bustling main floor.

Inhaling deeply, Charlotte sank down onto the couch. So far, her morning had been quite eventful. She could work easily without fearing another Ashton/Leo showdown and she was meeting a near stranger’s son for a blind date that evening.

But perhaps the most unexpected turn of events was that somewhere in the midst of the chaos of her morning, she had learned to hope. Hope for a future with Ashton which required more intimacy on an emotional level. One which, up until this point, she had feared as it would only unnecessarily complicate their lives. Still, she could not deny that deep down part of her longed for that closeness and she had grown tired of constantly disallowing her own happiness.  

Once again unable to contain her smile, she pushed herself off the couch and made her way to her desk to return to the pile of paperwork calling her name. 

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