Magda leads me back to the lounging area, positively giddy, like a liberal soccer mom ecstatic that her kid’s going to prom—except, you know, her kid’s the dress.


At least one of us is excited.


The second Zane comes into view, I clam up, the mere sight of him, even from a distance, making my anxiety shoot through the roof. He looks up, catching my gaze, and I have to break it ever so briefly before meeting it again, keenly aware of his piercing eyes and their unwavering, laser-sharp focus.


Thankfully, Magda carries the conversation so I don’t have to.


“Doesn’t she look wonderful?” she beams, smiling at me and then looking to her patron. “It’s like it was made for her!”


I try not to think about how many times she’s said those exact words to him. And I imagine she’d do so no matter which dress I picked. Normally, this kind of sales hype turns me off but, in this very particular instance, her ramblings are nothing short of my saving grace. Silently, I will her to keep talking, to keep this awkward, hovering tension at bay as long as possible.


Zane makes no motion or gesture, his expression unchanging, his attention never deviating. “Do you like it?”


“Y-yes,” I croak, wishing he was asking if I wanted him to get it for me, instead. The answer to that would be a resounding ‘No’.


“Okay,” he affirms, his tone un-telling, a sharp contrast to eyes that blatantly refuse to give me space. “I imagine she needs some shoes to go with it,” he adds, his words directed at Magda even though he doesn’t spare her so much as a glance when he says them.


I blink against a surge of goosebumps across my arms, resisting the impulse to cross them over my chest.


“Of course!” Magda chimes, her own eyes beaming with enthusiasm—and dollar signs. “I have the perfect pair.”


She dashes off like an Olympic hopeful and I’m left standing across from my boss in a seven-thousand-dollar dress as he watches me without a word, his sexy, golden eyes openly drinking in mine without restraint that they might as well be glued together. The way he keeps staring is borderline creepy. Heightened. It’s like bearing the weight of the only piece in an art exposition; on prominent display by default.


I tense, my entire body like a metal coil pulled taut. I have to clench my teeth to stop them from chattering, like they’re trying to mimic the pulsations of the battery in my chest.


Thankfully, Magda returns before it fractures my rib cage, smiling almost caricature-like, seemingly incapable of veiling her eagerness.


The complete opposite of the man boring optical holes through me, his expression unreadable.


In her hands is a sophisticated, uniquely-structured black box. She lifts the cover to reveal a pair of rounded, dark nude pumps. Scarlet adorns their soles, the heels moderately high, but not intimidating. She takes one out, allowing me a closer look. A thick, horizontal strap categorizes the stiletto a Mary Jane, a row of tiny crystal strings dangling from it, catching the light.


Zane rises from the couch, his first show of engagement since we arrived. “I’ll take it from here.”


My heart pounces into my mouth, thundering, my eyes bulging toward my employer—and the statement he just produced. Fretfully, I watch as he closes the distance.


My panicked, disoriented gaze darts to Magda to find her just as shocked, but she composes herself with record speed, offering another enthusiastic, “Of course!”


My mouth falls open without restraint, but only a crease between my brows accompanies it as I look between them.


“Please take your time,” she encourages, handing him the box. She gestures to the couch. “Please make yourself comfortable while you try them on. I’ll be just over at the other end if you need anything.”


I feel myself sway around a breathless nod, even though I want nothing more than to beg her not to go. But my silent prayers are in vain and less than ten seconds later, Magda is out of the picture again…leaving me alone with her wealthy patron.


“Have a seat,” he says, his molten eyes flitting to the sprawled sofa.


I swallow against both the depth and proximity of his voice, trying to subdue the tremors in my hands as they retrieve the box from his. Acute shivers ripple through the rest of me as I walk past him, propping myself on the very end of the long chaise. I commit my mind only to the sole, immediate task of separating my feet from my flats, my eyes studiously cast to the floor. I set the box down to reach for my own shoes, struggling to take the elementary pair off through the fit of jitters rummaging through my body. But the shaking only amplifies with each passing second. Like the foreign dress adorning my body, dread encases me from top to bottom, cinching my waist against my will, forcing me to try it on for size. I’ve genuinely never experienced this level of physical distress in my entire li—


My heart somersaults a hundred consecutive times, my hands going static as the feel of someone else’s replaces them.


Zane’s crouched form appears at my feet, gently lifting my leg and sliding my plain, ballet flat off. My foot retreats impulsively but he holds steadfast, his long fingers locking around my ankle as he reaches for one of the designer Mary Janes.


My lips part impulsively, but all the protests in the world die on my tongue. I want to say the words. To tell him I can do it myself. That I’d rather do it myself. But…I don’t.


I can’t.


I stare down as absolute shock floods my belly, stunned to oblivion and utter disbelief, watching his big body crowd mine through impossibly-stretched eyes. Even squatting, his stature is imposing, less than half a head shorter than my seated form.


No. Not squatting.




​ ***

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