MARKET FOR LOVE Excerpts:
**Please note: these are LONG excerpts. Feel free to shorten to fit your posting needs.
“Three double-espressos, please,” Miranda barked at the purple-dreadlocked college student behind the counter of her building’s lobby coffee shop. “With soy milk and a dash of hazelnut syrup. And can you put all three double-espressos in the same big cup, please? Just leave off the lid. I’ll drink it here.”
The purple-dreadlocked clerk didn’t acknowledge Miranda’s order. He just stared at her.
Miranda rolled her eyes. She didn’t have time for this. “Pardon me, but are you hard of hearing?”
“No,” the glassy-eyed, purple-haired clerk said after a long, awkward moment. “Sorry. I was just kind of freaked out by your--face, that’s all.”
“My face? Are you implying there’s something wrong with my face?” Miranda’s temper—short in even the best of circumstances—let loose in full post-market-crash fury. “Because if you are honestly going to stand there making comments about my face when your hair looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, then you have really got a lot of nerve, buddy.”
Purple Dread Head’s mouth popped open for a moment, then clapped shut with a click. Silently he turned his back on Miranda and began frothing some milk for her espresso order.
“That’s more like it,” she said under her breath. “Lazy freaking hippie.”
Tossing petty insults at low-paid service workers wasn’t exactly Miranda’s style----in fact, she’d put herself through business school slinging lattes at this coffee chain’s main competition----but losing eighty-seven million dollars’ worth of her clients’ money in one day wasn’t exactly her style, either. With that kind of bad news weighing her down, Miranda figured she was entitled to blow her stack a little bit. She stepped down to the end of the counter to await her order, seething, and grinding her teeth in time to the espresso machine.
As she stood there, gathering up about nineteen packets of sugar for what would probably be the most intense shot of caffeine in her life, Miranda felt a sharp tap on her shoulder.
“I really think you owe the Rastafarian behind the counter an apology, miss.”
Miranda whirled around. A tall man stood just to her left, carrying an extra-large mug of hot chocolate complete with about four inches worth of whipped cream on top. A tall, slim, trim, well-dressed, and very attractive man. Dark hair in an immaculate, well-combed cut. Ice-blue eyes. Jawline so angular and sharp it was probably capable of shredding lettuce. Broad shoulders, square chest, dimpled chin. A stop-your-heart-right-between-beats kind of tall, attractive man. In other words ….
Drop. Dead. Gorgeous.
“I have access to a private office suite on this floor,” he said, his voice even and businesslike. “Private bathroom, too, which should also have some better facial soap available. You can clean up, take a breather, whatever you need to do. Follow me.” Without waiting for Miranda’s reply, the man took her by the hand and gently led her across the lobby. Before Miranda knew what hit her, she was whisked into a small, luxurious office, complete with leather-on-mahogany furniture, Oriental rugs, and a six-foot-high decorative fountain.
“The bathroom’s over there,” the man said, pointing to a doorway just to the right of the fountain. “If there’s anything else I can get for you, let me know.”
“Umm,” Miranda mumbled again, and made a beeline for the bath. Her eyes widened as she closed the heavy paneled door behind her and took in the posh powder room. Everything was made of marble—even the ceiling. The fixtures were spotless polished white porcelain. On the gleaming countertop was an array of high-end toiletries—and a few brands even the hopeless shopaholic Miranda hadn’t heard of. There was a basket of clean, folded silk-terry washcloths, and another, smaller basket full of cotton balls and cotton swabs. There was even a laundry pen for removing clothing stains, a lint brush, and a miniature fabric steamer. After some consideration, she chose a bottle of astringent and a cotton ball to strip off her ruined makeup. It worked perfectly. It even helped exfoliate the top layer of her skin, revealing a healthy glow she’d never been able to achieve with hundreds of dollars’ worth of other cleansers. Miranda made a mental note to pick up a bottle of the stuff next time she was at the mall. She used the laundry pen to clean the makeup off the collar of her suit, and then applied some moisturizer to her face, dabbing some extra around her eyes in hopes it would help reduce the puffiness all her crying had caused.
Satisfied with her refreshed appearance, Miranda took a deep breath and headed back out into the tall, super-sexy-yet-anonymous man’s private office.
He was waiting for her just outside the bathroom door and when her brown eyes met his blue ones, her stomach did a flip-flop rivaling that of any Olympic diving champion. “Oh!” she squealed as her hand jerked itself onto her belly.
“Feeling all right?” he asked. “I have some antacid in my desk drawer if you need it.”
“No, umm, that’s OK,” Miranda replied, her voice still high-pitched and squeaky. “I umm, I just hiccupped, is all.” A lie. The truth was, this man was making her feel—well—quidgy. Quidgy all over, but especially right between her legs. It was a delightful feeling, but a scary one, too. She decided she needed to thank him, guzzle her giant espresso, and make a graceful exit before anything got out of hand. “I, ahhhh, I really need to get back upstairs.”
“Suit yourself,” the man said. “But you’re espresso’s getting cold. You’re welcome to have a seat and relax for a few minutes while you finish it.” He indicated one of the heavy leather armchairs, gesturing for her to sit. Without thinking, Miranda did. She noticed with surprise that there was a huge fireplace directly across from her chair. The tall, azure-eyed man flipped a switch, and a blazing fire appeared out of nowhere.
“Gas fireplaces are the eighth wonder of the world,” he said as he sat down in the leather chair opposite her. “Don’t you think?”
“Umm,” was all Miranda could say. The quidgy feeling that was so delightful in the nether parts of her body had a funny way of paralyzing her from the neck up. After much concentration, she finally got her jaw and lips to work. “I, umm, never knew this place was here,” she stammered.
“My company has several floors of offices in this building,” the man said. “The management gives me use of this little private hideaway as thanks for all the money I drop here in rent. I can use it whenever I need some privacy.” He paused, smiled. “Or, when someone I know needs some privacy.”
“That’s nice,” Miranda said, drinking the rest of her espresso in one gulp. The quintuple dose of caffeine hit her bloodstream like a shot of heroin. She could almost feel her pupils dilating.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” the man asked, his turquoise eyes meeting hers. “You seem kind of—agitated.”
“That’s because I am!” she blurted. The caffeine was working fast—too fast. Miranda felt her heart start racing, felt her lips forming words faster than she could think about what they might be. “I’ve had such a bad day! I lost eighty-seven million dollars for my clients just this morning! I’m totally screwed! I’m going to get fired! I hate myself! I’m ….”
“Whoa!” the tall man said, holding up both hands. “Slow down. Like I said back at the coffee shop, ingesting that much caffeine in the space of two minutes isn’t good for people your size. Or to be more specific, very attractive young women of your size.”
“Are you coming on to me?” Miranda sputtered, her mouth going a mile a minute. “Because if you are, you should really stop. You know why? I’m a walking disaster area. That’s what my last boyfriend called me when we broke up. Plus ….”
The tall man’s blue eyes were serious. Miranda felt them drill into her, felt them penetrate the private, sensual part of herself she’d kept carefully locked away ever since her last boyfriend—a dry-as-a-bone commodities broker named Paul--had dumped her more than four years before. And now, the attractive-yet-mysterious man sitting across from her didn’t just penetrate that most private part of Miranda’s inner being. He downright melted it—hell, vibrated it—with just one ice-blue glance. “You don’t look like a walking disaster area to me,” he said.
“But I am! Didn’t you hear what I just said? My ex-boyfriend called me a walking disaster area, and he was right. Because only a walking disaster area would lose eighty-seven million dollars of her clients’ money in the space of fifteen minutes.”
The tall man’s expression softened. He loosened his green silk tie, stretched out his legs a little. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the stock market in my career, miss, it’s that you can often earn money back just as fast as you lose it. If you know how to play the game.”
The man’s acute comment caught Miranda off-guard. “I ….”
“I bet your work has something to do with the telecom sector,” he said. The accuracy of his guess shook Miranda to the core. “That area’s taken quite a beating this morning, as I understand it.”
“How did you know?” Miranda’s voice trembled, just as she felt her nether parts getting warmer and warmer.
“I have a live CNBC feed in my limo,” he explained. “Plus, by my calculations, that’s the only market sector where it’s possible for anyone to have lost, say, eighty-seven million dollars from their fund portfolio just this morning. Am I right?”
Miranda nodded, unable to speak.
“I bet if you can make even a portion of that money back for your clients by the end of the market day, your boss won’t be too upset with you,” he went on. “In fact, I’m sure of it.”
“B-but I’m an analyst!” she protested. “I’m not a broker! I have to do weeks and weeks of research and analysis before I can recommend any stock to my clients. I can’t day-trade! It’s against the rules!”
“I never said you had to day-trade,” the man said, leaning in closer. Miranda could feel the tiny stirrings in the air between them from his breathing. Those stirrings excited her. Excited her a little too much, in fact.
“Then what can I do?” she sputtered. “The SEC regulations on what analysts can and cannot do are pretty strict, you know.”
“I’m familiar with all the SEC regulations, miss. I did your job once myself. What I can tell you--based upon my own past experience as an analyst—is there is quite a lot you can accomplish in a short period of time if you’re creative.”
Creative? Miranda wasn’t creative. Not even close. She was a right-brained, numbers-obsessed, stock-market-loving bean counter. That was the whole reason she had gone into finance in the first place instead of say, oil-painting. Miranda voted Republican, checked her stock portfolio every day, and always wore gray or black pinstriped suits with pantyhose and high heels.
“Umm,” she stammered for the umpteenth time that morning. “I’m not really--creative. I’m more of a ….” She trailed off. Suddenly her tongue felt too large for her mouth.
“It’s all right, miss,” the tall, azure-eyed man said, taking her right hand in his and squeezing it. “We all have bad days in this business. Goes with the territory. As long as you can make up some of your losses, I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
As long as you can make up some of your losses. He made it sound so easy.
But it wasn’t. Anyone who’d ever invested a dime in the stock market could tell her that. “Well, um, I guess I should really be going!” Miranda stood up, looking right and left for a wastebasket where she could toss her empty espresso cup.
“I’ll take that,” the tall man said, standing up. He reached for the empty, and their hands touched again. Miranda felt a bolt of lightning streak right through her body as his skin grazed hers. She’d never felt these kinds of sensations before. Not with Paul. Not even with her old college boyfriend Bradley--the man to whom she’d given her precious virginity. Not with anyone.
The entire lower half of Miranda’s body was in flames.
Her nipples had gone rock-hard, and the space between her thighs was slick as melted butter. Her head throbbed, and her lips, teeth, and tongue screamed for the feel of his mouth on hers.
What the hell was going on?
Miranda felt her cheeks flush. How could this be happening? She was a prim, proper, and very strait-laced woman. She didn’t go throwing herself with wild abandon at total strangers--let alone total strangers she’d met while on what was supposed to be a five-minute coffee break from work. And yet, her body was telling her that throwing herself at this nameless man with wild abandon was exactly what she had to do, right now, just to stay alive, just to keep breathing.
Without giving the matter another thought, Miranda leaned forward and kissed the tall, generous, anonymous man’s lips. And it wasn’t just any kiss, either. It was a grab-his-ass, stick-her-tongue-halfway-down-his-throat kind of kiss.
It was a kind of kiss Miranda hadn’t known she was capable of giving anyone--let alone a man she’d met less than ten minutes ago, a man whose name she still didn’t know.