Conundrum.

 

I’ve always thought it was a funny-sounding word. I don’t think I’ve actually ever used it. Don’t think I’ve had to. I’ve been in plenty of sticky situations. Found myself in a pickle more times than I can count. And, yet, have never once needed to resort to exercising my use of this particular strip of vocabulary.

 

I guess there’s a first time for everything.

 

Here I am.

 

Caught in a conundrum.

 

A blind-siding, gut-shredding, elephantine conundrum.

 

Unmitigated tension settles across my shoulders like a pair of giant hands, testing the resilience of the bones beneath them.

 

Mellow background music fades in and out over the manic thumps of a restless heart, over the sound of expedited blood filling my ears.

 

I stare at the sole, slender piece of silverware angled against a wall of raspberry-laden chocolate, its miniature, holographic flower of a head lodged between the arcs of the cordiform, like a decorative centerpiece.

 

The weight of implication suffuses the air like the rich aroma of the dessert in front of us.

 

The implication…of an indirect kiss.

 

Ho.

 

Ly.

 

Fuck.

 

An inglorious spray of blood threatens to exit my nostrils at the thought. At the very notion. My own heart pounds with contentious effort to contain it, throwing an uncontainable tantrum in a heaving chest that it comes close to rupturing. For seconds, I just stare between my two-week-old boss and the edible fashioned in the crazed muscle’s image, intended to be shared with one utensil. Like a child who’s seeing chocolate for the very first time. Except, my loss is not for knowledge of what’s in front of me—but why.

 

Zane gestures to the communal presentation. “Go ahead.”

 

“Th-there’s only o-one spoon,” I blink.

 

His answer to that is a plain and simple, “Yes.”

 

No elaboration. No change of tone. Nothing.

 

Jesus…

 

I offer silence.

 

He offers every indication that he thinks nothing of sharing a fancy spork with a stranger—or give two shits about the obvious inference. He barely even looks at it, his sharp, entrancing eyes still trained on me.

 

Once again, I’m caught between falling into the depths of his hypnotic gaze and fighting to escape its bottomless allure, my mind wrestling with my externalities.

 

An invisible force coaxes saliva from between my lips against my will, and I do everything in my currently-dwindling power to convince myself that the dessert in front of me is responsible.

 

Until the action replicates itself.

 

South of my face.

 

My thighs twitch against the sensation of moist, involuntary motion. I swallow down spittle and soaring anxiety, blinking away paralysis even as my treacherous mouth continues to water at the sight of the gorgeous delectable.

 

I’m just not sure which.

 

I’d be committing outright perjury if I said I wasn’t unduly tempted by the inherent proposition. But I can’t reconcile going forward with such an openly suggestive act. Certain boundaries cannot—should not—be crossed.

 

“Turns out, I’m actually quite full,” I force, my fluttering gaze cast to the elegant plate and its decadent contents. “I doubt I can eat any more. But, please, help yourself.”

 

Zane continues to stare at me like he’s trying to stare through me. However, he doesn’t insist or push it. “Very well.”

 

He signals for the maître d’ again, never taking his eyes off me.

 

“Apologies for the inconvenience,” he says without looking at him. “We won’t be having dessert, after all.”

 

Lucien doesn’t miss a beat. “Not a problem, Monsieur. Perhaps you would prefer something else?”

 

“Nothing for me, thank you,” I promptly state, hoping the firmness of my tone comes across clearly despite the subtle shivers lacing it.

 

Zane is a little less modest. “Another glass of Pinot Noir,”—he solicits, having barely touched the one next to him—”and…the final item on the menu.”

 

Lucien nods, unfazed by the lack of eye contact, carrying the posh dessert away without a word. I mourn in silence as it disappears with the proficient waiter, a part of me already regretting the decision to forfeit it. But it was either this or the most awkward digestive event of my life.

 

Expeditiously, he returns with the newly-fetched glass of red wine at his patron’s request and, once again, I’m ever so grateful for his speed and timeliness…until he places a smaller menu in front of me.

 

My brows crinkle in an involuntary attempt to meet, the pair of eyes below them darting to Zane’s in confusion. He remains silent as Lucien takes leave once more and, this time, his departure feels more permanent for some reason.

 

My employer holds my gaze, offering a single, prompting nod. “Open it.”

 

***

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THIS CHAPTER MAKES ME FEEL...
  • Fascinated
  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Bored
  • Afraid

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