La Petite Mort
By Jasmine Haynes
Previously published as part of the Laced with Desire Anthology
Available as an e-book only
“This is one classy erotic romance! The sex is sizzlin’.”
Coffee Time Romance
“My heart melted with this man’s tenderness.”
Two Lips Reviews
Sophia, a gorgeous cosmetics executive and former supermodel, may appear to live a charmed life but now she’s seeing it for what it was: She’d never married, never had children, and above all, had never fallen in love. The time has come for Sophia to live, to do the things she’s always wanted—including fulfilling a no-holds-barred sexual fantasy that has occupied her lonely nights.
Sophia wants to be worshipped in bed by two men devoted to every sensuous curve of her wanting body. Her boss Ford is only too happy to oblige—a man who has always wanted to please Sophia in any way she wanted. And he has a handsome and willing friend to join them. Together they’re making Sophia’s fantasy a reality. But are they up to giving Sophia everything she’s been denied?
This excerpt contains explicit sexual content
In her dream, she died.
She didn’t wake up with a scream lodged her in her throat. She awoke with a whimper, her lashes gummed together with tears and mascara.
Forty-three years old, former model turned cosmetics executive, Sophia never retired for the night without removing her makeup and attending to her regimen of moisturizers.
But she hadn’t done it last night.
And when she’d finally slept, she’d dreamed about what the doctors would do to her on Monday. Hair freshly done, makeup perfect, she’d worn a pink St. John suit with black piping and pearl buttons. They’d stripped her down to nothing, yanked her feet up into the stirrups, pumped drugs into her arm, and made her count backward from one hundred, just like in the movies. She couldn’t remember past ninety-seven.
Then the dream doctors removed it while she slept. It. A thing. A growth. A lump attached to her uterus. They would poke it, prod it, do whatever the hell they did with those things. And in three days, they’d give her the results. The nebulous they. Malignant or benign?
Sophia knew what the answer would be. She rolled out of bed before she starting screaming for real.
She was catastrophizing. Sophia had gone from a lump to uterine cancer to death in one fell swoop. It was natural to be frightened, but things would have been easier if she’d had someone with whom to talk through her fears, help exorcise them.
But she didn’t. So her thoughts kept running to the extreme.
Thank God the interminable day was almost over. Her panty hose felt too tight, her feet ached in her pointed shoes, and she’d botched her presentation. How on earth could she have forgotten the board meeting? She hadn’t even practiced her talk. The night before a meeting, Sophia always did several run-throughs in front of the mirror, perfecting the hand gestures and facial expressions that would most effectively get her point across. Not to mention choosing the right outfit.
The only thing she’d done this morning was studiously avoid the pink St. John with black piping.
As the other VPs and board members, six men, five women—Caprice Cosmetics was gender-diversified—filed from the conference room, Ford stopped her before she could sneak off to her office to lick her wounds. “Everything all right, Sophia?”
Ford Connelly, CEO of Caprice, her boss. He was sharp, didn’t miss a beat, and he’d known she was off her game.
“Everything’s good, Ford.” Except the acrid scent of hours-old coffee, made during the afternoon break, turned her stomach.
“You look a little tired.”
Now she looked like her dream. She pasted on a smile. “Thank goodness it’s Friday. I can have a nice restful weekend.” There was rain in the forecast. February in San Francisco was usually rainy. She could light a fire, watch old movies. Her stomach plunged. After her nice restful weekend, there’d be Monday and her procedure. She hadn’t told Ford yet that she’d be out Monday. She’d planned to tell him this morning, but she’d forgotten the board meeting, then things became too hectic.
Ford closed the boardroom door after his ever-efficient administrative aide, Constance, left. “Sit down a minute.” He politely indicated the chair Sophia had just vacated.
She perched on the edge of the cushy conference chair, then jumped in to explain the disjointed delivery of her presentation. “I apologize for the few stumbles I had. It won’t happen again.”
God, she hated Ford seeing her as incompetent. He was handsome, intelligent, urbane, with short dark hair, penetrating hazel eyes, a chiseled jaw, and a cleft in his chin. And tall, six-three. At five-nine, she felt delicate beside him. Not that she had designs on Ford. He was her boss. She’d never cross that line. It was just that she knew she was a figurehead for Caprice, the supermodel who exemplified the products they peddled, the pretty face that illustrated how well their products worked. Unlike the other vice presidents, she didn’t even have a domain; she was simply executive vice president. Of nothing. She’d wanted this position, needed it. In the throwaway world of high fashion, you might as well be dead after forty, unless you did ads for anti-aging products. She’d wanted something more. Yet her accomplishments at Caprice so far didn’t amount to much. She hated for Ford to think she was totally useless. Even if she was.
He took the chair next to hers, swiveling until their knees almost touched. “Your idea is good, but we need more hard-line data before committing dollars.”
Her plan was to market a new line of skin care specifically for teenage girls. Caprice dealt with that demographic only in terms of acne management, concentrating the bulk of research dollars on baby boomers. But teenage girls could be a huge market share, starting them early on a skin-care regimen that, when they reached their midforties, would cut ten years off the aging process. She knew she needed data to back up her proposal, she’d just been distracted. Since this whole thing started during her annual exam two weeks ago, there’d been the sonogram, a probe, and now the so-called “minor procedure” on Monday.
Her throat clogged up, and she couldn’t get a word out for a long moment. Then she forced herself past it. “I’ll have that data on your desk on . . .” Not Monday. She wasn’t even sure about Tuesday. God, she wasn’t sure about the rest of her life.
“The end of the week is fine.” Ford stretched out a hand, stopped short of actually touching her. “But there’s something else bothering you.”
She had to tell him she’d be gone on Monday. She just hadn’t decided what to tell him. Maybe the best approach was not to give him any explanation. “I need to take Monday off. I should be back Tuesday. I’ll use a vacation day.” The anesthesia would wear off quickly, and the doctor said she would have only mild soreness, if anything at all.
It seemed sacrilege that something so potentially devastating would have so little discomfort.
Ford simply stared at her.
The silence beat at her until a flush rose to her cheeks. “What?” She wasn’t usually so blunt, but he unnerved her.
“In the three years you’ve worked for me, you have never taken a vacation day on the spur of the moment.”
He remembered? She took a one-week vacation three times a year to visit her mom in Texas. Her dad had passed ten years ago, and her mother now suffered from Alzheimer’s. Sophia made sure she had the best care possible.
So Ford was right. She didn’t take off at the spur of the moment. “There’s always a first time.” She smiled brightly.
Ford held her with a steady, penetrating gaze that made her want to fidget. He obviously wasn’t buying it. Sophia tried to wait out his silence. Her heart pounded, her temple throbbed. And still he didn’t say a word. She should have noticed he’d used that technique in staff meetings when someone was holding back the full story on a messy issue.
“It’s personal,” she finally said. “Female issues.” That would cut him off. Men couldn’t abide discussing female things.
“A troublesome boyfriend?”
“Of course not.” Sophia hadn’t dated since she started at Caprice. She didn’t have time for men. Besides, she avoided even the slightest hint of scandal like she spurned fast food. She’d had enough scandal when she was younger.
“Then what other female issues could there be?”
She couldn’t believe he was so persistent. Or that he didn’t get what she meant. He’d been married for twenty-five years, and had three children, two of them girls. He’d gotten divorced last year, but he still had to understand what “female issues” meant. God, this was excruciating. “I mean physical female issues.”
“I’ve never known you to have issues before, Sophia. You’re the calmest person I’ve met. But something’s been bothering you for a couple of weeks, and we need to discuss the problem. Don’t fob me off with this female crap.”
He thought she was talking about PMS. She wanted to laugh—really, she did. Most bosses, most men, would have backed off long ago. Why did he have to push? Maybe she needed to hit him over the head with it. “Fine. Since you need to know before I can have even one day off, I’m having a procedure to remove a polyp from my uterus, then they’ll do a biopsy.” She glared at him. “Satisfied?” Her blast of anger was almost cleansing, wiping out the fear.
He sat back, his eyes serious, flecks of amber in the hazel. “I’m sorry. I’ve been worried about you.”
“It won’t affect my work.” She groaned inwardly. It had affected her work; she wasn’t prepared for the meeting today.
“I didn’t mean your work. I was worried about you.”
“Me?” She was an employee, an executive, true, but still a commodity he had to manage.
“Yes, Sophia, you.” He leaned forward, his knee brushing hers, and this time, he touched her, his fingers on the back of her hand. “How soon will you get the results of the biopsy?”
Her nose prickled. Her eyes started to ache. The dream came flooding back. But she would not cry in front of Ford Connelly. “Three days. By Thursday at the latest.”
“Take the time off until then.”
“I don’t need to.” She’d spend it thinking the worst. She already was.
“You can be with your friends and family.”
“My family’s in Texas.” Just her mom, who didn’t even remember she had a daughter. “I’m fine coming back to work, Ford, but I appreciate your concern.”
“All right.” He tipped his head, spearing her with his gaze. “Do you have someone taking you home?”
“Of course.” The surgery center wouldn’t allow you to drive yourself. “I’ve scheduled a driver.” Why was he asking? They’d worked together for three years. He was pleasant and a good boss. But he didn’t know her. And she didn’t know him.
“I’m not talking about a driver. I’m talking about a friend who’ll get you settled and take care of you.”
Her throat clogged just as it had when she’d woken from the dream. It hadn’t occurred to her to call someone she knew. She didn’t have friends, per se. She had . . . acquaintances. She was a private person. In her career, you had to be or people took advantage. There were all sorts of sycophants out there who couldn’t wait to use you. Boy, didn’t that sound bitter, but she’d learned that lesson the hard way when she was twenty-two. Her father had never forgiven her for the way she’d learned it. He hadn’t spoken to her since, not relenting even the day he died, though she’d striven the last twenty years to live her life scandal free. Not even a whiff. Giving up so many things she’d wanted, even craved.
She had no real friends. Was that what Ford wanted her to admit?
“No,” she managed. “I do not have anyone picking me up. I’ll be fine.” Her nose suddenly stuffed up, and her eyes hurt. If she didn’t get away right now, she wouldn’t be responsible for what happened. She tried to rise.
Ford didn’t release her hand. “Well, I’m not letting a fucking driver take you home. I’ll pick you up.”
She stared at him. Why would he do that? Her heart beat so hard it set her pulse thrumming in her eardrums. “I really don’t need you to do that, thank you.”
He squeezed her hand, looked into her eyes. “I want to.”
She sucked in a breath, held it, forced it out. Ford actually felt sorry for her. Sophia suddenly saw her life for what it was. She had no friends and no activities except those associated with her work, and even then, she was just a face on a piece of poster board. She’d never married, never had children, never truly fallen in love. She’d never even had an orgasm while a man was inside her. So many things she’d missed out on. When she died, she would die totally alone. She was so damn pathetic even her boss pitied her because she had to hire a driver to take her to and from the surgery center.
Ford shook her hand gently when she didn’t answer. “Let me do this for you, Sophia.”
The words overwhelmed her. His kindness made her heart ache. Her chest felt so agonizingly tight, she thought her ribs might crack from the pressure. For the first time in more than twenty years, Sophia lost control and burst into tears.