“It's rare to read a book that is incredibly smart, supremely sexy, and wonderfully human, but Off the Clock is all those things and more. Roni Loren's first Pleasure Principle novel is a complex, interesting, emotional, decadently erotic romance that will both satisfy you and leave you begging for more." --Wit and Sin book blog
OFF THE CLOCK
Book 1 - The Pleasure Principle Series
Finalist for the RITA Award for Best Erotic Romance of the year!
FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF THE LOVING ON THE EDGE NOVELS, THE FIRST IN A SENSUAL NEW SERIES
Overtime has never felt so good…
Marin Rush loves studying sex. Doing it? That’s another story. In the research lab, Marin’s lack of practical knowledge didn’t matter, but now that she’s landed a job at The Grove, a high-end, experimental sex therapy institute, she can’t ignore the fact that the person most in need of sexual healing may be her.
Dr. Donovan West, her new hotshot colleague, couldn’t agree more. Donovan knows that Marin’s clients are going to eat her alive unless she gets some hands-on experience. And if she fails at the job, he can say goodbye to a promotion, so he assigns her a list of R-rated tasks to prepare her for the wild clientele of The Grove’s X-wing.
But some of those tasks are built for two, and when he finds Marin searching for a candidate to help her check off her list, Donovan decides there’s only one man for the job—him. As long as they keep their erotic, off-the-clock activities strictly confidential and without strings, no one will get fired—or worse, get attached…
READ CHAPTER 1
Copyrighted Material Roni Loren 2016 - All Rights Reserved Berkley Publishing Group
*18 and over only*
“I’m going to wrap my fingers in your hair and slide my other hand up your thigh. You have to be quiet for me. We can’t let anyone know.”
Marin Rush paused in the dark hallway of Harker Hall, her tennis shoes going silent on the shiny linoleum and the green Exit signs humming softly in the background. She didn’t dare move. She’d been on the way to grab a soda and a snack out of the vending machine. Her caffeine supply had run low and watching participants snore in the sleep lab wasn’t exactly stimulating stuff. But that silk-smooth male voice had hit her like a thunderclap, waking up every sense that had gone dull with exhaustion.
She’d assumed she was the only one left in the psychology building at this hour besides the two study subjects in the sleep lab. It was spring break and the classrooms and labs were supposed to be locked up—all except the one she was working in. That’s what the girl she was filling in for this week had told her. But there was no mistaking the male voice as it drifted into the hallway.
“I bet you’d like being fucked up against the wall. My cock pumping in you hard and fast.”
Holy. Shit. Marin pressed her lips together. Obviously two other people thought they were alone, too. Had students snuck into the building to get it on? Or maybe it was one of the professors. Oh, God, please don’t let it be a professor. She should turn around right now and go back to Professor Roberts’s office. Last thing she needed was to see one of her teachers in some compromising position. She would die of mortification.
But instead of backing up, she found herself tilting her head to isolate where the voice was coming from, and her feet moved forward a few steps.
“Yeah, you like that. I know. I bet you’re wet for me right now just thinking about how it would feel. Maybe I should check. Keep your hands against the wall.”
A hot shiver zipped through Marin, making every part of her hyperaware. .
“I’m so hard for you. Can you feel how much I want you?” That voice was like velvet against Marin’s skin. She closed her eyes, imagining the picture the stranger was painting—some hot guy behind her, pinning her to the wall, his erection rubbing against her. She’d never been in that situation, but her body sure knew how to react to the idea. Her hand drifted up to her neck and pressed against her throat, her pulse beating like hummingbird wings beneath her fingertips.
She waited with held breath to hear the woman’s response, but no voice answered the man’s question. Can you feel how much I want you? he’d asked. And hell if Marin wasn’t dying to know. She strained to hear.
“I tug your panties off and trail my hand up your thighs until I can feel your hot, slick . . .”
Marin braced her other hand against the wall and leaned so far forward that one more inch would’ve sent her toppling over. Your hot . . .
The curse snapped Marin out of the spell she’d fallen into, and she straightened instantly, her face hot and her heartbeat pounding in places it shouldn’t be. There was a groaning squeak of an office chair and another slew of colorful swearing.
Whoever had been saying the dirty things had changed his tone of voice and now sounded ten kinds of annoyed. A wadded-up ball of paper came flying out of an open doorway a few yards down. She followed the arc and watched the paper land on the floor. Only then did she notice there were three others like it already littering the hallway.
Lamplight shifted on the pale linoleum as if the person inside the office was moving around, and Marin flattened herself against the wall, trying to make herself one with it. Please don’t come out. Please don’t come out. The silent prayer whispered through her as she counted the doors between her and the mystery voice, mentally labeling each one. When she realized it was one of the offices they let the Ph.D. students use and not a professor’s, she let out a breath.
Either way, she had no intention of alerting her hall mate that he wasn’t alone. But at least she could stop worrying she’d gotten all fevered over one of her professors. Now she just had to figure out how to get past the damn door without letting him see her. She’d gotten used to skipping meals to save money since starting college a few months ago. But she wasn’t going to make it through the next two hours of data entry and sleep monitoring if she didn’t get some caffeine. No wonder none of the upperclassmen had wanted to fill in during break.
Marin’s gaze slid over to the stairwell. If she stayed on the other side of the hall in the shadows, she could probably sneak by unnoticed. She moved to the right side wall and crept forward on quiet feet. But as soon as she got within a few steps of the shaft of light coming from the occupied room, a large shadow blotted it into darkness.
She’d been so focused on that beam of light that it took her a moment to register what had happened. She froze and her gaze hopped upward, landing on the guy who filled the doorway. No, not just any guy, a very familiar guy. Tall and lean and effortlessly disheveled. Everything inside her went on alert. Oh, God, not him.
He had his hand braced on the doorjamb, and his expression was as surprised as hers probably was. “What the hell?”
“I—” She could already feel her face heating and her throat closing—some bizarre, instant response she seemed to have to this man. She’d spent way too many hours in the back of her Intro to Human Sexuality class memorizing each little detail of Donovan West. Well, his profile, really. And his walk. And the way his shoulders filled out his T-shirts. As a teaching assistant, he usually only stopped in at the beginning of class to bring Professor Paxton papers or something. But each time he walked in now, it was like some bat signal for her body to go haywire.
It’d started with the day he’d had to take over the lecture when Professor Paxton was sick. He’d talked about arousal and the physical mechanics of that process. It was technical. He’d been wearing a T-shirt that read Sometimes I Feel Like a Total Freud. It shouldn’t have been sexy. But Lord, it’d been one of the hottest experiences of her life. He’d talked with his hands a lot and had obviously been a little nervous to be in front of the class. But at the same time, he’d been so confident in the information, had answered questions with all this enthusiasm. Marin hadn’t heard a word in the rest of her classes that day for all the fantasizing she’d been doing.
But now she was staring. And blushing. And generally looking like an idiot. Yay.
She turned fully toward him and cleared her throat, trying to form some kind of non-weird response. But when her gaze quickly traveled over him again, all semblance of language left her. Oh, shit. She tried to drag her focus back to his face and cement it there. His very handsome face—a shadow of stubble, bright blue eyes, hair that fell a little too long around the ears. Lips that she’d thought way too much about. All good. All great.
But despite the nice view, she couldn’t ignore the thing in the bottom edge of her vision, the thing that had caught her attention on that quick once-over. The hard outline in his jeans screamed at her to stare—to analyze, to burn the picture into her brain. The need to look warred with embarrassment. The latter finally won and her cheeks flared even hotter. She adjusted her glasses. “Uh, yeah, hi. Sorry. I thought I was alone in the building. Didn’t mean to interrupt . . . whatever.”
He stared at her for a second, his brows knitting. “Interrupt?”
Goddammit, her gaze flicked there again. The view was like a siren song she couldn’t ignore. Massive erection, dead ahead! She glanced away. But not quick enough for him not to notice.
“Ah, shit.” He stepped behind the doorway and hid his bottom half. “Sorry. It’s uh . . . not what it looks like.”
She snorted, an involuntary, nervous, half-choking noise that seemed to echo in the cavernous hallway. Really smooth. She tried to force some kind of wit past the awkwardness that was overtaking her. “Ohh-kay. If you say so.”
He laughed, this deep chuckle that seemed to come straight out of his chest and fill the space between them with warmth. Lord, even his laugh was sexy. So not fair.
“Well, okay, it is that. But why it’s there is just an occupational hazard.”
His laugh and easy tone settled her some. Or maybe it was the fact that he was obviously feeling awkward, too. “Occupational hazard? Must be more interesting than the sleep lab.”
He jabbed a thumb toward the office. “It is. Sexuality department. I’m working on my dissertation under Professor Paxton.”
She could tell he didn’t recognize her from class. Not surprising since she sat in the back of the large stadium-style room and tried to be as invisible as possible. Plus, she was wearing her glasses tonight. “I’m with Professor Roberts. I’m monitoring the sleep study tonight.”
“Oh, right on. I didn’t realize he’d taken on another grad student. I’m Donovan, by the way.”
“Mari.” The nickname rolled off her lips. No one called her that anymore. But she knew he probably graded her papers, and the name Marin wasn’t all that common. She forced a small smile, not correcting him that she was about as far from a grad student as she could get. She wanted to be one. Would be one day if she could figure out how to afford it. She’d managed to test out of two semesters of classes, but high IQ or not, that dream was still a long way off—a point of light at the end of a very long, twisting tunnel.
Marin shifted on her feet. “I was heading to get a Coke so that I don’t fall asleep from doing data entry and watching people snore. You need anything?”
“A Coke?” He glanced down the hall. “Don’t waste a buck fifty on the vending machine. I’ve got a mini-fridge in here. You can come in and grab whatever you want.”
Are you an option? I’d like to grab you. The errant thought made her bite her lips together so none of those words would accidentally slip out. She had no idea where this side of herself was coming from. Not that she’d really know what to do after she grabbed Donovan anyway. This was a twentysomething-year-old man, not one of the few boys she’d awkwardly made out with in high school. This was a guy who’d know how to do all those things she’d only read about in books.
“No, that’s okay, I mean . . .” She shifted her gaze away, willing her face not to go red again.
He caught her meaning and laughed. “Oh, right. Sorry. Yes, you should probably avoid strange men with erections who invite you inside for a drink. Good safety plan, Mari.” He lifted his hands and stepped back fully into the doorway, the pronounced outline in his pants gone. “But I promise, you’re all good now. You just caught me at an . . . unfortunate moment. And now I’m going to bribe you with free soda so that you don’t tell the other grads in the department about what you saw. I keep these late hours and work through holidays to avoid that kind of torture.”
He gave her a tilted smile that made something flutter in her chest. She should probably head straight back to the office she was supposed to be working in. He was older. Kind of her teacher. If he found out she was one of Pax’s students, he’d probably freak out that she’d seen him like this. But the chance to spend a few minutes with him was too tempting to pass up.
Plus, the way he was looking at her settled something inside her. Usually she shut down around guys. Being jerked around from school to school on her mom’s whims hadn’t left her with much time to develop savvy when it came to these things. But something about Donovan made her want to step forward instead of run away. “Yeah, okay. Free is good.”
“Cool.” His face brightened. Maybe he’d been as lonely and bored tonight as she had been. He bent over and picked up the papers he’d thrown into the hallway and then swept a hand in front of him. “Welcome to my personal hell. The fridge is in the back corner.”
Marin stepped in first, finding his office a sharp contrast to the sterile sleep lab. His desk was stacked with photocopied articles and books, a Red Bull sat atop one of the piles, and a microphone was set up in the middle with a line going to the laptop. Along the back wall was a worn couch with a pillow and a blanket. More books were on the floor next to the makeshift napping quarters. Controlled chaos. She carefully made her way to the fridge and grabbed a Dr Pepper.
“Did you want me to get you something?” She peered back over her shoulder.
Donovan was busy gathering a pile of papers off the one other chair in the small office. “No, I’m good. Just opened my third Red Bull. I think my blood has officially been converted to rocket fuel. Don’t light any matches.”
She smiled and stepped back toward the door. “I hear ya. Well, thanks for the drink. I’ll let you get back to—uh, whatever it was you were doing.”
He pointed to the spot he’d cleared. “Or you could stay for a sec and take a break. God knows I need one.”
She hesitated for a moment, knowing she was taking the I’m-a-fellow-grad-student charade to far, but then she thought about the endless boredom awaiting her in the sleep lab. She moved her way around the desk and sat. What could a few more minutes hurt? “Yeah, you sounded kind of pissed off when I walked by.”
He stilled, and she cringed when she realized what she’d revealed.
He lowered himself to the chair behind his desk. “You can hear me in the hallway?”
“I—sound travels. The hall echoes.” She made some ridiculous swirling motion with her finger—as if he needed a visual interpretation of the word echo. She dropped her hand to her side and tucked it under her thigh to keep it from going rogue again.
“Good to know. So you heard . . .”
He laughed, all easy breezy, like they were discussing what they’d had for lunch today instead of X-rated talk and random erections in an institute of higher learning. “Well, then. Guess I should probably explain what I’m doing so I don’t look like a total perv.”
“It’s fine. I mean, whatever.” She wasn’t sure if she sounded nonchalant or like she’d taken a few sucks off a helium tank. She guessed the latter.
He lifted a crumpled paper off his desk. “This is what you heard.”
She leaned forward, trying to read the crinkled handwriting.
“Scripts,” he explained. “I’m doing my dissertation on female sexual arousal in response to auditory stimuli. I’m recording scripts of fantasies that we may use in the study.”
“Your study is about dirty talk?” she asked, surprised that the university was down with that. And if he was the one doing the dirty talking, where did she sign up to volunteer?
He smirked and there was a hint of mischief in that otherwise affable expression. “Yes, I guess that’s one way to put it. If you want to be crass about it, Ms. Sleep Disorders.”
“I’m no expert, but I know what I heard.”
“Fair enough. But yeah, I’m focusing on the effect of scripted erotic talk on women who have arousal disorder. A lot of times, therapists suggest that these clients watch erotic movies to try to increase their libido. But in general, porn is produced for men. So even though that method can be somewhat effective, the films don’t really tap into women’s fantasies. They tap into men’s. Erotic books have worked pretty well. But I want to test out another method to add to the arsenal—audio. It’d be cost effective to make, wouldn’t send more money to the porn industry, and could be customized to a client’s needs. Plus, it’s easy to test in a lab.”
Marin liked that he was talking to her like a peer, and his frankness about the topic saved her some of the weirdness that would normally surface when talking about sex. Academic talk soothed her. Plus, his passion was catching. That’s what she loved about this environment. In high school, everyone acted like they were being forced to learn. She’d always been the odd one for actually enjoying school. Books and all that information had been her escape. Schools changed. The people around her changed. Books were one of the few things that stayed constant. But here at the university there were people like Donovan, people who seemed to be mainlining their education and getting high off what they learned. “So what were you so frustrated about?”
He grabbed his can of Red Bull and took a sip, keeping his eyes on her the whole time. “I’m discovering that women are complicated and that I’m having trouble thinking like one.”
“Ah. And this is shocking news?”
“Well, no. I knew it was going to be tough, but the fantasies are turning out to be harder than I thought. We did a round of romantic ones in a small trial run, and they were a major fail. Women reported enjoying listening to them but the arousal was . . .” He gave an arcing thumbs-down. “My friend, Alexis, one of the other grads working under Pax, told me that I needed to go more primal, tap into the forbidden type of fantasies, that sweet romance makes a girl warm and fuzzy but not necessarily hot and bothered.”
Marin’s neck prickled with awareness, but she tried to keep her expression smooth. “Makes sense.”
“I—uh, I mean . . .”
“Never mind. I retract the question.” He leaned back in his chair and ran a hand through his dark hair, making it even messier. “I met you like five minutes ago, and I’m already asking you if taboo fantasies do it for you. Sorry. Hang out in this department too long, and you lose your filter for what is acceptable in normal conversation. I spent lunch yesterday discussing nocturnal penile tumescence with a sixty-five-year-old female professor, and it wasn’t weird. This is my life.”
Marin smiled and played with the tab on the top of her soda. “I’m clearly hanging out in the wrong department. My professor just talks about sleep apnea. Though I’ve been monitoring the sleep lab and can confirm that nocturnal penile tumescence is alive and well.”
“Ha. I bet.”
She wet her lips and, feeling brave, leaned forward to grab the script he’d left on his desk. He didn’t make a move to stop her, and she squinted at the page, trying to decipher his handwriting. The fantasy looked to be one between a boss and subordinate. She saw the parts she’d heard him read aloud. I’m hard for you. I tug down your panties.
She crossed her legs. The part he’d gotten hung up on had various crude names for the female anatomy listed and scratched out—like he couldn’t decide which one would be most effective. She didn’t have input to give him on that, but just seeing the fantasy on the page had her skin tingling with warmth, her blood stirring. She shifted in her chair. Kept reading.
“Okay, well that’s a good sign,” he said, his voice breaking through the quiet room.
Marin looked up. “What?”
He leaned his forearms against the desk, his blue eyes meeting hers. “You just made a sound.”
“I did not.”
“Yeah, you did. Like this breathy sound. And your neck is all flushed. That one’s working for you.”
She tossed the paper on his desk. “Oh my God, you really don’t have a filter.”
He smiled, something different flaring in his eyes, something that made her feel more flustered than those words on the page. “Sorry. It’s all right, though. Seriously. You already saw me with a hard-on. Now we’re even. But this is good information. I thought this one may be too geared toward the male side—a fantasy that’d appeal to me but not necessarily to a woman. You’re telling me I’m wrong.”
“I didn’t say anything.”
“You didn’t have to. You’re like . . .”
She could feel her nipples pushing against her bra, their presence obvious against her T-shirt, and fought the urge to clamp her hands over them, to hid her traitor body. She stood. “Okay, so I’m leaving now.”
“No, no, come on, wait,” he said, standing. He grabbed her hand before she could escape, and the touch radiated up her arm, trapping her breath in the back of her throat. “You can help. I’ve got a stack of these. I need to know which ones to test next week and which ones to trash. Or maybe you can offer suggestions? I promise to keep my eyes to myself. And I swear, if you help me, I’m yours for whatever you want. I can take a shift in the sleep lab for you or something.”
She stared at him. He was kidding, right? He had to be kidding.
“You want me to read through fantasies and tell you which ones turn me on?” His hand was so warm against her cold one. And she’d said the words turn me on to him. Out loud. She might just die. “Can’t you ask your friend who’s in this department to do that?”
“She’s a lesbian, so her fantasies don’t quite line up with these. I need a straight girl’s opinion. Wait—are you straight?”
She blinked. Were they actually having this conversation? “I—yes. But this is beyond embarrassing.”
“Why? Because you get turned on by fantasy stuff? It’s not embarrassing. It’s human. You’d be shocked by how many people struggle to tap into that part of themselves. That kind of responsiveness is a good thing.”
Responsiveness. Donovan West was taking about her sexual responsiveness. Hello, alternate universe. “Donovan, I don’t know . . .”
He let go of her hand and opened a drawer. “Here. I have an idea. I’ll give you some headphones and a thumb drive with the ones I’ve already recorded. You can take them back to your lab and listen to them while you do data entry. Then you can just tell me which ones you recommend when you’re done. You won’t have to feel self-conscious sitting with me. Plus, I need to record some more tonight, and I can’t do that if someone’s in here with me.”
He held out the earbuds and a blue thumb drive. She eyed them like they would bite her, but on those files would be Donovan’s voice in her ear, saying those explicit things, things she’d never had a guy whisper to her. Things she’d only imagined in the private quiet of her room when she gave her mind leave to go to those secret places. The temptation was a hot, pulsing thing low in her belly.
She needed to say no. Make some excuse. Stop this lie she’d started.
She took the items. “Okay.”
His eyebrows lifted. “Yeah?”
“I’m not making any promises, but I’ll let you know if I’ve listened to any before I leave tonight.”
His grin was like a physical touch to her skin. “That would be amazing. I’ll owe you big-time, Mari.”
She got caught up in that smile like a fly in a web and wanted to linger, wanted to stay there all night and listen to him talk about his research, what made him passionate, what else made him smile like that. But if she stayed, she’d only risk embarrassing herself further, or worse—get herself in trouble. Because the thing blooming inside her with him looking at her like that, like her opinion mattered, was intoxicating and potent. She wanted to cling to it, to wrap herself up in that feeling and jump into the unknown without thinking about the consequences. Something she could never do.
She lived her life carefully, always making sure to stay between the lines on the road. No alcohol. No drugs. And definitely no risky behavior with boys. She’d learned from her mother that one foot off the path, one chased whim, could lead to chaos. She knew enough about her mom’s disorder to know that those genes probably lingered in her, too, and this pulsing desire to flirt with Donovan, to push this charade further, could be a dangerous one.
She probably shouldn’t listen to the tapes at all, shouldn’t open that door. Things were safe right now, calm. She needed them to stay that way.
But Marin couldn’t bring herself to hand the flash drive back. Not yet. She didn’t want to do anything to erase that smile off of Donovan’s face.
So she mumbled a quick good-bye and headed down the hall with the thumb drive tucked in her pocket and the soda in her hand. She’d only told Donovan she’d try. She had an out. She needed to take it and focus on her job. Get those little numbers entered into the computer, get lost in the monotony, and forget about the sexy T.A. down the hall.
But it wasn’t more than twenty minutes after she stepped back into Professor Roberts’s lab that the temptation proved to great. Maybe she’d just listen to one, show Donovan a good faith effort, and be done. She cued up the recordings, and Donovan’s voice filtered into her head.
“I spot you first across the bar. You look beautiful and I know you’ve come here with someone else. I can see him getting you a drink. But I can feel your eyes on me, taste your desire, and I know that tonight, it’s going to be my hands on you, my body moving over yours, and my name on your lips . . .”
Marin didn’t get another lick of work done that night.