Ruby Dunroy swept into the dining hall at Mackenzie Castle for the Archer Enterprises annual Christmas party. She cast her eyes around the room and waved to her friend Clarice across the buffet table. Ruby squeezed her boyfriend Tom's arm and took a deep breath. “This is it.”
Tom pressed her hand tighter. “You look magnificent, sweetheart. You'll really knock 'em out with that gown.”
The robin's-egg blue satin shimmered against Ruby's skin. It set off her curves at accentuated her full bust. It surrounded her in an envelope of heady confidence she never experienced in her business suit. Just for one night out of the year, she could be a royal princess. Every eye gravitated toward her in stunned awe.
Well, not really, but at least Clarice noticed. Tom unfolded her hand from his elbow and steered her into the room. “You go ahead and talk to your friends. Just don't forget I have to leave by ten-thirty.”
“Don't worry. I won't make you late.”
He kissed her knuckles, and Ruby glided across the floor into the sea of voices. Chandeliers shone overhead, and delicate harp music lilted amidst the murmured conversation. Clusters of friends and coworkers mingled here and there.
Ruby took a glass of champagne from the tuxedoed waiter's tray. She hurried over to Clarice, and the two young women gave each other a quick hug. Clarice held her at arm's length. “You look amazing! Where did you find that gown?”
Ruby twirled in a circle and ended with a curtsy. “You won't believe it. I found it at a second-hand store. Isn't it delicious? I've been hiding it in my closet since March.”
“It matches your eyes perfectly. I feel so underdressed standing next to you.”
Ruby surveyed Clarice's white chiffon. “You look great, too. You look like an angel on top of the tree.”
Clarice smacked her lips. “Oh, perfect. Just what I need—a sharp stick up my ass.”
Ruby dissolved in giggles. “Who else is here from the HR department?”
Clarice waved her hand toward the room. “Angela Donaldson and Christa Murchison are cruising the bathrooms in search of the perfect eye shadow, and Marsha Barkley and Caroline Sotherby are camped out over by the punch bowl plotting to take over the world.”
Ruby scanned the party with a critical eye. “And I see Charlie Montgomery from the Engineering department hitting on Rita Pomperoy as usual. I guess some things never change.”
Clarice turned back to the buffet table. “Forget about them. We're here to have a good time, and I see you hitting the champagne early. That's good. Have some of this crab dip. It's scrumptious.”
“I'm not hungry, and I better tell you I have to leave by ten-thirty.”
Clarice gasped. “What for? That's not even two hours. That doesn't give us any time at all to get into trouble.”
“I know, but Tom has to work tonight, so whatever drunken mischief you have planned, we better get started now.”
Clarice threw up her hands. “You are such a killjoy. Come on. I want to find Peter Roslin from accounting. I've had my eye on him for months, and tonight's the night.”
“You don't need me for that. You better....” The words died on Ruby's lips and she stared across the hall toward the entrance.
Clarice followed her gaze to see what made her stop talking, and a sudden intake of air hissed through her teeth.
The double doors swung open, and a crowd of people flooded into the room. One tall man in a crisp black tuxedo strode through the doors. His bright black eyes scanned the party and he laughed over his shoulder at something someone said behind him.
A dozen magnificent women surrounded him on all sides. Two hung on his arms, a cluster hovered in front of him and hurried through the doors to get out of his way. Another bunch of glittering admirers followed. Laughter and excited voices clouded around the man. He barreled into the room and headed straight for the bar. In two seconds, he seated himself on a stool and shouted orders to the bartender. The women fluttered around him like sequined butterflies.
Ruby looked him up and down. His sturdy shoulders filled out his suit, and his muscular biceps stretched the sleeves when he put his arm around one of the women. Salt and pepper tinged the hair around his temples, but his dark eyes shone with magnetic fire. Another woman leaned close to whisper something in his ear. He circled her waist with one powerful arm and kissed her on the lips before returning to the flurry of conversation firing all around him.
Drinks, laughter, and excitement created a halo of energy all around him. His eyes danced around the hall. Every face turned toward his irresistible center. His eye touched Ruby before one of his admirers stepped between them to block his view.
Clarice growled in Ruby's ear. “Oh, great. Just what we need to spoil the party.”
Ruby snapped out of her trance. “You didn't really expect him to stay away from his own party, did you? He's the CEO.”
Clarice waved her hand up and down. “Yeah, but look at him. Why does he have to flaunt his slutty girlfriends in front of the whole company?”
Ruby would give anything to turn away in righteous disapproval, but she couldn't tear her eyes away from the scene. “They're hardly sluts. Look, there's Priscilla Connor. She's Archer Enterprises' wealthiest client, and she's married.”
“Then what's she doing sticking her tongue in his ear? I guess you're gonna tell me next that's her way of renegotiating her contract.” Clarice ended with a snort of laughter.
That made Ruby turn away at last. “You can think what you want about Chad Archer, but he knows how to run a business. He's built this company up to multi-billion dollar profits. He didn't do that by playing it safe. If he can't flaunt his success, what's the point?”
Clarice grumbled something about propriety, like she ever cared about that. She towed Ruby away from the buffet table at last, and they wandered in the direction of the punch. Clarice found her friend Tanya from accounting who told her all about Peter Roslin's activities, but that prize of mathematical wizardry never showed up in person.
While Clarice and Tanya gabbed about people they knew, Ruby shifted from foot to foot. She looked around the dining hall, but she refused to look toward the bar again. She didn't want to see Chad Archer and his entourage. She couldn't get the image of Priscilla Connor sticking her tongue into his ear out of her head. His lips dragged across his admirer's mouth when they kissed, and his meaty hand caressed around her hips when she turned away.
Why did Chad Archer have to be so infuriating? Couldn't he make a subdued entrance like any billionaire CEO? He had to show off his conquests, especially to his staff.
Ruby kicked herself for even thinking about him. Of course, he would never take any notice of a lowly HR assistant like her. Still, she couldn't stop herself getting sucked into the dynamic tumult of excitement and energy surrounding him. He carried this thrilling charge wherever he went.
If he walked into HR, even without dozens of beautiful billionairesses hanging on his arms, he sent the place into a whirlwind of excitement. Even dowager managers like Marsha Barkley and Caroline Sotherby rushed to his side and batted their eyelashes at him. They talked faster and raced around to fulfill his ever whim.
Clarice pretended to hate him, too, but Ruby knew lots of people in the company who worshiped the ground Chad Archer walked on. Even men caved under his dominating authority and admired him. No one could resist his attraction. His success, his confidence, his sheer audacity made everyone respect him and want to be like him.
Clarice laid a hand on Ruby's arm. “We're going to listen to the harp. Do you want to come?”
Ruby shrugged. “You go ahead. I think I need another drink.”
She didn't really need another drink. She hadn't touched her first, but what kind of Christmas party could this turn out to be when the best entertainment they could find was listening to a harp? She could listen to it very well from where she was.
She turned the other way and spotted Tom chatting to the engineers. He smiled and waved to her. At least she could leave with him in a few hours. She wouldn't get trapped here watching drunken women sob into their mascara when their crushes went home with somebody else. She wouldn't finish the evening holding Clarice's hair while she vomited in the bathroom. Ruby did that before at bygone Christmas parties. She thanked heaven for Tom now.
Just then, a shout went up behind her. She glanced over her shoulder to see Chad Archer on his feet. He pointed across the bar and snapped his fingers at someone. He shouted orders before putting his arms around two butterflies and parading out of the room. Wonderful. Now Ruby wouldn't have to avoid looking at him.
She slipped her hands down the slippery sides of her gown. She didn't have one pocket, so she had to leave her phone at home. She didn't see a clock anywhere in the dining hall. What time was it? How long until she could make a polite escape?
Every year, she told herself she wouldn't bother with this party. Every year, she got caught up in the rapture of planning, finding herself the most spectacular dress in the world, and making her fairy tale entrance. Once she got here, she detested it until she left. Every year followed the same pattern. Why did she think this year would be different?
She had nothing left to do but join Clarice and her friends near the harp. Instead of listening to it, the HR and accounting girls bantered about which guys in the company they liked. They compared notes on which ones who had done it with and what their friends reported about the guys' performance.
Ruby cringed. She must be the only woman in the building with a steady boyfriend. “And then I told him,” Clarice was saying, “if he wanted to spank something, he could take out his monkey and spank that.”
Explosions of laughter drowned out the music. Gusts of racket shot back and forth, but no one made any attempt to include Ruby in the conversation. She had no exploits to impart, and everybody knew it. In spite of her Cinderella ball gown, she was a dump, a frump, a lump. That's all she would ever be.
She pried herself away from that nexus of enlightenment and strode across the room to Tom. She threaded her arm through his elbow and squeezed. At least she had this. His comforting presence protected her from all the buzz and fluster all around her.
Tom talked to Harvey Benton, the senior engineer. They got into a detailed discussion about hydraulics. Ruby didn't understand a word they said. She held onto Tom's arm and studied the outfits of the people around her. She gratified herself none of them wore a gown as stunning as hers. She was the belle of the ball after all, even if she wasn't a raging sex machine.
She made up her mind to interrupt the mechanic's lesson. She squeezed Tom's arm again and whispered up to him. “Let's get out of here. I want to go.”
Tom nodded and finished what he was saying before he turned to Ruby. “I just want to go to the john first. I'll meet you at the front door.”
Ruby didn't let go of his arm. “That's okay. I'll come with you. I need to go, too.”
He escorted her through the hall, but they didn't get to the bathrooms without getting roped into another three conversations. The talk went dragged on. Minutes ticked by. Ruby itched to leave, but she put on a polite face. She smiled and talked to those people who stopped her.
At long last, they broke through the other end of the hall to the lobby. Tom ducked into the men's bathroom, while Ruby went into the women's. She didn't really need to go. She just wanted to get out of the dining hall for a minute. The oppressive pressure to socialize with every single solitary person stifled the air out of her lungs.
She splashed water on her face and patted it dry with a towel. She put in her appearance. She made her impression with her glorious gown. Now she could leave. She waited in the lobby until Tom came out.
He took her hand, but instead of leading her back toward the entrance, he looked right and left and steered her the opposite way to the emergency exit. Ruby cried out, “Hey! What are you doing?” but he swallowed the words with his lips covering her mouth.
He pushed her back against the wall and his weight sank on top of her. Champagne tingled on his breath when he exhaled into her nostrils. She collapsed back against the wall and let him kiss her. She closed her eyes and relaxed into his kiss. As soon as he finished, they could leave.
His tongue poked through her lips and touched hers. His pungent saliva woke her sleeping soul. She looped her arms around his neck and hummed into his mouth. She could shelter in him. He always made her happy and contented. In three years together, he never let her down.
She fingered his hair, and the fuzzy pleasure of his kiss shimmered all up and down her body. The champagne worked on her mind to make her melt under him. His warm hands slid over her hips to her thighs and back up to her sides. He traced around her waist with his thumbs to tickle her sides.
Her body tensed under his touch. Sweet bliss twitched between her legs, and her thighs glided against each other under her gown. The smooth, cool satin excited her tender spots to make her juicy and pliant for his touch.
His hands crept higher, over her ribs to her breasts. He squeezed her chest and dug his hips into her pelvis. He breathed low into her ears. “Come on, baby. You know you drive me nuts.”
Her breasts heaved into his hands. Her body responded in a haze of alcohol and excitement. She rose on tiptoes to meet him, and his weight crushed the breath from her nostrils. She squeaked in tense anticipation.
His hands raked down her belly to her hips. They surrounded her waist and down her back to her ass. He lifted her two cheeks in his big hands to pull her off her feet. “Yeah, baby. You know you love me.”
She gasped out loud. “I love you.”
He ground his bulging crotch into her saturated mound. “Is this what you want, baby? Is this what you want me to do to you?”
She glowed all over in arousal. Her crotch ached for it, and she rode down hard on that nagging spike. He towed her toward him with both hands around her ass. He rubbed her up and down on his prick to drive her wild.
At that moment, a gaggle of voices echoed through the lobby. Footsteps tripped over the tiles. Before she could tear herself out of his arms, a mob of party-goers came around the corner heading for the stairs.
Ruby couldn't move fast enough to get Tom's weight off her in time. The mob ground to a halt right in front of them, and Ruby found herself staring straight into Chad Archer's wide eyes. He ran his gaze down to Tom's hands around her ass and Tom's cock jabbed between her legs. His eyes crept back up to Ruby's heaving cleavage pressed against Tom's dinner jacket. He saw it all in one glance.