Today's Reading

"Oh hi, Stella, I thought it might be you."

She looked over her shoulder and was jarred by the unwelcome view of Philip James peering around the door frame. The severe cut of his tawny hair emphasized his square jaw, and his polo shirt was tight across his chest. He looked fresh, sophisticated, and smart—precisely the kind of man her parents wanted for her. And he'd caught her working for pleasure on the weekend.

Her face heated, and she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. "What are you doing here?"

"I had to pick up something that I forgot yesterday." He extracted a box from a shopping bag and waved it at her. Stella caught sight of the word TROJAN in giant capital letters. "Have a nice weekend. I know I will."

Breakfast with her parents raced through her mind. Grandchildren, Philip, the prospect of more blind dates, being successful. She licked her lips and hurried to say something, anything. "Did you really need an economy-sized box of those?"

As soon as the words left her mouth, she winced.

He smirked his a ssholest smirk, but its annoyingness was softened by a show of strong white teeth. "I'm pretty sure I'm going to need half of these tonight since the boss's new intern asked me out."

Stella was impressed despite herself. The new girl looked so shy.

Who would have thought she was so gutsy? "For dinner?"

"And more, I think," he said with a twinkle in his hazel eyes.

"Why did you wait for her to ask you out? Why didn't you ask her first?" She'd gotten the impression men liked to be initiators in matters like these. Was she wrong?

With impatient motions, Philip stuffed an entire militia of Trojans back in his shopping bag. "She's fresh out of undergrad. I didn't want to get accused of cradle robbing. Besides, I like girls who know what they want and go for it...especially in bed." He swept an appraising gaze from her feet to her face, smiling like he could see through her clothes, and she stiffened with self-consciousness. "Tell me, are you still a virgin, Stella?"

She turned back to her computer screens, but the data refused to make sense. The cursor on the programming screen blinked. "It's none of your business, but no, I'm not a virgin."

He walked into her office, leaned a hip against her desk, and considered her in a skeptical manner. She adjusted her glasses even though they didn't need it. "So our star econometrician has done it before. How many times? Three?"
 
No way was she going to tell him he'd guessed correctly. "None of your business, Philip."

"I bet you just lie there and run linear recursions in your head while a man does his business. Am I right, Ms. Lane?"

Stella would totally do that if she could figure out how to input gigabytes of data into her brain, but she'd rather die than admit it.

"A word of advice from a man who's been around the block a few times: Get some practice. When you're good at it, you like it better, and when you like it better, men like you better." He pushed away from the desk and headed for the door, his bag of condoms swinging jauntily at his side. "Enjoy your endless week."

As soon as he left, Stella stood up and shoved her door shut, using more force than was necessary. The door slammed with a hard, vibrating bang, and her heart stuttered. She smoothed damp hands over her pencil skirt as she brought her breathing back under control. When she sat down at her desk, she was too jittery to do more than stare at the blinking cursor.

Was Philip right? Did she dislike sex because she was bad at it? Would practice really make perfect? What a beguiling concept. Maybe sex was just another interpersonal thing she needed to exert extra efforts on—like casual conversation, eye contact, and etiquette.

But how exactly did you practice sex? It wasn't like men were throwing themselves at her like women apparently did to Philip. When she did manage to sleep with a man, he was so put off by the lackluster experience that once was more than enough for both of them.
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