tagRomanceHardwired for Love

Hardwired for Love

byEmmeline©

"A first date on Valentine's Day? Sounds like another notch to be added on your dates-from-hell bedpost to me."

I rolled my eyes at my coworker, Taylor, who also happened to be my best friend. "This one is going to be different."

"Right," she replied. "It's cute how you always say that."

I opened my mouth to blast her with a snappy retort but lost my train of thought when I caught sight of the man stepping off the elevator.

"Here comes Mr. Meaniehead," I muttered, feeling my eyes get squinty.

Taylor deigned to raise her gaze from her phone screen to peer around. "Who? Matthew Grant, the IT guy?"

"Yes." I sniffed. "Remember when he got mad at me that time?"

"Well, in his defense, you did pour orange juice all over your new printer."

I pointed a finger at her. "It was a freak accident! And there was a spider!"

She held up her hands in mock surrender. "Hey, I'm just saying."

We watched as he stopped to talk to one of the managers outside the elevator doors.

Taylor propped a hip on the corner of my desk and smoothly flipped her long, auburn hair over one shoulder. "I think he's cute. Reminds me a little bit of Tom Hardy with that dark hair and those broody eyes." She wagged her eyebrows suggestively.

I snorted in derision, but truth was, the tech guy was kind of hot. "Too bad he's got the personality of bad-tempered llama," I grumbled.

"Know many llamas, do you? Had a date with one?"

"Shut it, Tay."

I scowled in IT Guy's direction. It seemed like I'd had to contact tech support way more than everyone else in my department. It was embarrassing. I wouldn't put it past that guy to be breaking my computer on purpose just so I'd have to humiliate myself over and over by asking him to fix it. I had even caught him staring at me on the sly a couple times...undoubtedly plotting new ways to torture me via technology.

"Ooh, Stell, it's your lucky day," she teased. "He's coming this way."

"Yeah." I sighed. "I had to put in another repair request."

It was her turn to snort. "Not orange juice again, I hope?"

I felt my eye begin to twitch as IT Guy stopped in front of my cubicle and consulted his clipboard.

"I have a repair request from Stella McGuiness in the Accounting Department. Aren't you Stella?"

His dark eyes met my own dark blue ones with cool neutrality, but there was something in his regard that always flustered me. Not quite a gleam or a twinkle, but whatever it was made my scalp prickle with an awareness I had no name for. It threw me off kilter. He threw me off-kilter, and it annoyed me.

And he knew my name. I was certain of it. My eyes narrowed, and I pasted a syrupy, sweet smile on my face. "Yes, I'm Stella."

Matthew consulted his stupid clipboard again. "Looks like you reported that your computer fan is running too loud?"

"It's making a weird, roaring noise when I turn it on."

"Hmm," he replied with a raised eyebrow.

It seemed like a very condescending raised eyebrow to me. Human Resources would probably frown on you punching him in the throat, I reminded myself.

"Let me take a look," he said.

Taylor and I moved out of the way so he could kneel down for a closer look at my PC tower under my desk. He bent forward, placing his little box of tech tools on the floor, and we unashamedly checked out his very nice ass, outlined by his pulled-tight khakis.

I elbowed Taylor hard when she held up her phone as though about to take a picture.

She cocked one brow. "So, tell me more about the newest prospect taking you out for Valentine's."

I frowned at her, not really wanting to talk in front of him.

"Oh, he isn't listening. Are you, Matthew?"

IT Guy grunted.

"See? Not listening," Taylor said.

I rolled my eyes again and gave up. "We're going to Cuore Mio, that nice Italian place over on Chadwick Street."

"Who set up the date this time?" she asked.

I folded my arms across my chest. "Our mothers go to the gym together," I replied, feeling my cheeks turn pink.

"Oh, you poor, poor girl. This is going to be hideously bad. I swear that you're purposely setting yourself up for failure with this never-ending string of losers."

"His name is Richard. And I've spoken to him on the phone a few times. He actually sounds pretty okay."

She eyed me doubtfully then shrugged. "Well, don't forget to wear your sexy undies in case you decide to screw his brains out."

"Taylor!" I growled.

"What?" she protested. "If any girl needed to get laid in the history of womankind, it would be you. A couple more years of bad dates and you'll be surrounded by cats in your lonely apartment wondering what the hell happened."

"I'm only 28, for God's sake."

"Meow, Stella. Meow. It's time for you to quit mooning over that stupid hipster-wannabe ex that dumped you a freaking year ago and get on with your life."

"Bitch," I said without heat. "I haven't mooned in at least six months." I gave her the side eye. "Get out of my cubicle and go do some work."

She winked and blew me a kiss on her way out.

I smiled and turned around, then jumped back upon seeing IT Guy, still kneeling but staring up at me. One hand rested on his hip, and I couldn't help but notice the slight bulge of arm muscles under his shirt.

His sexy muscles, my lady parts slyly whispered.

I shook myself mentally as he stood, looming over my much shorter stature.

"I think it was just gunked up with dust," he said. "Let me know if it keeps making a noise. I may need to check out your wiring."

"Ah, will do," I said. He felt too close for some reason, and I errantly wondered if he thought I was pretty.

What the hell is with you, I chastised myself. I did need to get laid ASAP.

"So, hot date on Valentine's, eh?"

I blinked up at him. Holy shit, he had been listening.

"Um," I said. "Yeah, first date." I tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear. "Taylor's right, it's probably going to be a complete disaster, but you know...you never know."

"Yep," he said.

The look in his eyes was indecipherable, but I couldn't seem to look away.

"So...is there Mrs. IT Guy?" I blurted and clapped a hand over my mouth. Crap! I hadn't meant to say that!

That damned eyebrow rose again.

"No, I'm divorced," he replied quietly. "She said I'm an incurable asshole and a bane to women everywhere."

"Oh," I said as an awkward pause ticked by.

A slight smile crossed his face and was gone again. He nodded and looked down at his clipboard, writing for a moment.

He turned and started to walk away. "Let me know if your computer keeps crying out in agony. Oh, and Stella?"

"Um...yeah?"

"Get a lid for that plastic cup on your desk."

I glared at his back but found myself fighting back a laugh.

***

Oh, dear mother of God, it was so not going well.

The evening had started off with promise. I was wearing a black and crimson print silk blouse with a deep cowl neckline that showed just the right amount of not-slutty cleavage paired with a swirly, black skirt that hit an inch or two above my knees. Combined with the red, fuck-me heels I had borrowed from Taylor, I was looking pretty hot, if I did say so myself.

Richard, my date, had picked me up out front of my apartment. I had only seen him in a photo before tonight and was relieved to see he was nice looking and suitably dressed. He had even scored gentleman points by opening my car door for me.

We were seated at a cozy table in Cuore Mio, which was both lovely and elegant without being too snotty. It could have been the beginning to a wonderful evening. Instead, I picked at a breadstick and forced myself not to sigh out loud in disappointment.

Richard spared me a brief glance over the screen of his phone. "Sorry, Mom always loves a play-by-play." He rolled his eyes before gluing them right back to his smartphone. His thumbs flew nimbly back and forth.

I wondered what in the world he could be telling her that took this long. Good grief, we had only driven across town and been seated at our table.

Glancing idly around the crowded dining room, I couldn't help but take in all the happy couples celebrating the holiday of love. Taylor was right. I shouldn't have agreed to do the first date on Valentine's. It was just asking for disaster.

As I chewed on another bite of breadstick, I promptly choked upon seeing a lone, familiar figure stride through the front doors into the restaurant. Holy shitake mushrooms! It was IT Guy.

I gulped down some water and craned my neck to see if he had a female companion. Oh Lord, I pleaded to the Almighty, please don't make me watch him get all lovey-dovey with his date for the evening.

My irritating coworker sure did look handsome, I couldn't help but noticing. He wore grey dress pants with a blue button down that stretched nicely across his shoulders.

I breathed a sigh of relief when he walked into the bar. At least in there I wouldn't have to watch him meet some skanky woman. The thought made me a little sick to my stomach, but I couldn't say exactly why.

I looked back at Richard and was momentarily blinded by the flash of his camera phone.

"Ack!" I blurted.

"Sorry," he said, not sounding particularly sorry. "Mom wanted a pic to post on Facebook."

"Um, Richard, why would your mom be posting my picture on Facebook?"

"I've been telling her how we've hit it off so well. She's posting to all her friends that I've finally met my Miss Right, and it's all thanks to her." He smiled mistily.

"But, this is our first date..." I said, my voice trailing off.

He held up a hand. "Some things are just fate, Ella," he said seriously and glanced over as his phone beeped again.

"My name is Stella," I said through gritted teeth.

He rolled his eyes again without looking up. "That's what I said, darling."

My eye twitched.

He chuckled, eyes still on his phone. "I mean, I don't normally even go for chubby girls, but you carry the extra pounds well, just like Mom said." Winking, he continued in a suggestive tone. "Besides, it won't even matter when we get busy horizontally with the lights off."

I dug a fingernail into the palm of my hand for ten seconds before I trusted myself to open my mouth. "Excuse me, I need to visit the ladies' room," I managed to say evenly.

"Don't be long, sweetums, the server will be coming to take our order soon."

I walked away without replying. Jesus in a rowboat. I needed my couch and Netflix so much right now. And wine, I needed copious amounts of wine. Scratch that, I needed all the wine.

Once in the restroom, I stared at my reflection in the mirror over the sink. It's true I wasn't a tall, thin knock-out like Taylor, but I was pretty enough in my short, curvy way with shoulder-length, ash-blonde curls. I tried to eat healthy, but let's face it, my love of chocolate ensured I would never be svelte.

I rubbed my temple to assuage the headache starting to brew there. I couldn't do this. I didn't want to do this. I had done similar variations of Richard in what felt like fifty versions before. And none of those fifty versions bore the slightest resemblance to Fifty Shades.

Plucking my own phone from my purse, I texted Taylor. When she didn't answer after a couple minutes, I called her, and of course, it went straight to voicemail.

I headed out of the restroom, glaring angrily down at my phone screen. "Dammit!" I growled aloud. Didn't that hussy know I needed her to call me to give me an excuse to leave? Ugh, why hadn't I just driven my own car!

Because I really had thought this date would be the one to not suck.

"Stupid Stella," I muttered and cursed my earlier foolish optimism.

Taylor hadn't made specific plans for Valentine's, but I was sure one of her adoring throng of admirers had sweet-talked his way into her evening—or knowing my red-headed and slightly slutty friend, his bed.

I would just have to make up an excuse and get an Uber, I decided.

"Stella."

I looked up to see a tall man standing in the murky shadows of the short hall that led down to the restrooms and almost stumbled in my stilt-like high heels.

He moved closer, and I realized it was him...Matthew, aka IT Guy.

"Gah! You almost gave me heart failure," I wheezed, pressing a hand to my chest.

His lips twisted. "Sorry." He tucked his hands into his pockets. "How's the big date going?"

My pride had the words "It's fine" all queued up to say, but apparently even I couldn't spout that big of a whopper to save face.

"It sucks," I confided forlornly. "He's been texting his mother non-stop since we got here."

Matthew winced. "Ouch."

Yeah," I agreed. "I'm trying to get Taylor to call me with an excuse so she can come and get me. I know that sounds terrible, but..."

Matthew made a rude noise. "Dude sounds like a douche canoe." Shrugging, he slid a hand over his jaw as though thinking. "I'll help you. Just go and sit back down."

You-you will?" I stuttered over my words in surprise as he turned and walked away without replying or explaining just how he planned to help. I shook my head in confusion and headed back to the table.

Richard frowned at me when I reseated myself. "Geez, you were gone forever. Did you have to go take a giant dump or what?"

My eyes flew wide in embarrassment. Did he really just say that?! "Sorry, but—"

"I went ahead and ordered for you," he interrupted. "Shrimp Alfredo, the same as what I ordered."

My mouth opened and closed. "I'm allergic to shrimp!" I finally managed to squeak out.

"You can just eat the noodles, right? Mother never mentioned you were a picky eater." His phone buzzed, vibrating the table.

"Stella."

I looked up in bemusement to see IT Guy looming over our table, frowning at me.

"Listen," he said, his dark eyes gleaming with an intensity I had never seen in him. "I know we said we could see other people, but seeing you with this guy feels like a knife right in my gut." Matthew glared over at Richard, who was almost comically sitting with his mouth agape.

"Oh," I said, blinking. "I, uh."

"I was a damn fool, Stella. You are mine, and I sure as hell am not sharing you with some idiot." He glanced briefly back at Richard. "No offense."

Richard puffed up in indignation. "What the hell! What is this crazy man talking about? You never told me you were seeing someone! My mother is going to be so angry! What will all her friends on Facebook say?"

An unexpected wicked glint in Matthew's eyes was the only warning I had before he surged a hand through the back of my blonde curls and leaned down to plant his mouth on mine. His lips slanted over my own in a way that screamed a clear message to my lady parts that he was here to take possession.

My toes curled inside my fuck-me shoes. Holy crap, I had never been kissed like that. I should have been mortified. I should have pulled away. Geez, this was IT Guy, the jerk!

But I never could have known that he would taste so good...with his hand tight in my hair, holding my head in place like some fucking caveman, his tongue bolding sweeping inside my mouth like it had every right to be there.

When he finally released me, I was wide-eyed, breathless, and licking my lips. There was light applause from the surrounding tables.

"What a schmuck," an elderly man grumbled from nearby. "I never woulda let some guy kiss my girl like that."

Matthew pulled me to standing with firm grip on my elbow. "I'm sorry," he said to Richard. "I thought I could be happy simply being her secret sex toy, but I realized tonight that I can't bear for her to be with any other man but me."

I stared dumbly up at IT Guy. Secret sex toy?! Oh boy, I was pretty certain I was going to be starring as the next Facebook whore of Babylon.

Matthew turned back to me and drew me closer. "I want you to be mine, baby," he said in a low voice, his eyes pinning me in place. He leaned down to kiss me again, sweetly this time, and even if it was all for show, my heart melted in a big puddle at his feet.

"For crying out loud," the elderly man growled. "You two lovebirds take it outside. I'm trying to eat some nice calamari here."

"Whatever," Richard snarled. "I was only taking out her fat ass as a favor to my mother anyway. I don't normally date freakish losers."

His words stung, and I flinched. But I knew I had embarrassed him, and he was striking back. I lifted my chin. "I'm sorry, Richard." I fumbled for my purse. "I'll take care of the ch--."

"She's the most beautiful woman in this room, and if you truly don't see that, you're fucking blind," Matthew growled. "Maybe you would have noticed if you hadn't been stuck to your damn phone the whole time, you mama's boy."

I froze, my head swiveling back around.

"And I already paid the check, asshole. Let's go, Stella."

My thoughts whirled in a crazy tumble as Matthew wrapped my cashmere shawl over my shoulders, placed what felt like a possessive hand at the small of my back, and towed me through the restaurant and out the front door.

I shivered in the chilly air when we finally paused outside on the sidewalk. "I can't believe you did that," I hissed, the heat of his hand searing my skin through the thin material of my clothes. I wondered if I should move away. After all, it had all been for pretend, right?

I eased back to give myself some breathing room.

He shifted forward, his thigh brushing the folds of my skirt.

"I just kinda...winged it," he said gruffly. "Too much?"

"Secret sex toy? Really?" I whispered.

The wicked smile that bloomed across his face made me forget how to breathe.

He shrugged one shoulder and leaned closer to my ear. "Trust me, that guy's gonna go to bed tonight wondering what kind of crazy, hot sex we're having. Hell, he's going to be picturing it in glorious, graphic color."

I might have moaned, just a little. Was it possible to have an orgasm from a sexy man whispering in your ear? I suddenly think it might be.

"Are you hungry, Stella?"

His low, gravelly tone sent tingles straight between my legs. My heart beat faster, and I could swear it felt like his fingers had slid lower on my back. Like, nearly in ass territory.

I nodded, biting my bottom lip, words escaping me.

Matthew's eyes dipped to my mouth, and I wondered if my lips were puffy from his kisses. I wanted quite desperately for him to slide that hand down over my ass and kiss me again, right here on the street.

This was crazy! I was reading too much into it. I had to be. I mean, this was IT Guy, my tormentor in computer repair.

"C'mon," he said.

We walked a few blocks further down the street, his hand never budging from my back. He pulled me into a little place that the sign proclaimed to be Rose's Diner.

"It's not fancy," he explained almost apologetically, "but the food is awesome."

"Hey," I said. "As long as you're not feeding me food that will potentially land me in the ER, I'm good."

I struggled not to squeal like a little girl when he grasped me around the waist like I weighed nothing and placed me gently on a shiny red bar stool at the counter. He sat beside me, his big body crowding into mine.

I glanced at the menu without really seeing it. Why was he doing this? He could have just taken me home...or hell, just left me outside the restaurant. It wasn't like we were friends or anything. Oh God, I thought suddenly. He feels sorry for me! It was the only explanation that made sense.

"Thank you for what you did," I forced out through stiff lips. "It was very kind of you to take pity on me. I guess you can see I'm a bit of a raging disaster—"

The rest of what I had been about to say was cut off when Matthew curved a hand over my nape, jerked me closer and kissed me again. This time like he was starving...but not for food...for me.

I was trembling when he finally lifted his mouth from mine and whispered against my lips, "Trust me. Kindness was the furthest thing from my mind tonight."

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byEmmeline© 46 comments/ 20370 views/ 98 favorites

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