I snap myself out of my ridiculous inertness, suddenly aware that I’ve still not said anything. Has he noticed my reaction to him? What about big guy? I glance over, seeing the big guy stood motionless, glasses still in place, but I know his eyes are on me. I mentally shake myself and step back, away from Ward and his potent grasp. His hands fall to his side.
‘Hi,’ I cough to clear my throat. ‘Ava. My name is Ava.’ I offer him my hand, but he’s unhurried in accepting it, like he’s unsure whether it’s safe to, but he does…eventually.
His hand is clammy and slightly shaky as he squeezes mine firmly. Sparks fizz and a curious look flits across his stunning face. We both retract our hands in shock.
‘Ava.’ He’s trying my name on his lips, and it takes all of my strength not to moan again. He should stop talking – immediately.
‘Yes, Ava.’ I confirm. He’s the one who seems to be off in his own little nirvana now, while I’m becoming increasingly aware of my rising temperature.
He suddenly seems to come to his senses, shoving his hands in his trouser pockets as he shakes his head slightly, retreating backwards. ‘Thanks, John.’ he nods to the big guy, who smiles slightly, softening his hard features, then leaves.
I’m alone with this man, who has rendered me speechless, motionless and pretty much useless.
He nods towards two brown leather couches, positioned opposite each other in the bay window, with a large coffee table sitting between them. ‘Please, take a seat. Can I get you a drink?’ He drags his gaze from mine, walking towards a cabinet with various bottles of liquor lined up on top. He surely doesn’t mean alcohol? It’s midday. Even by my standards it’s too early. I watch as he hovers at the cabinet for a few moments before turning to face me again, looking at me expectantly.
‘No, thank you.’ I shake my head as I speak, just in case the words don’t come out.
‘Water?’ he asks, that smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
Oh God, don’t look at me. ‘Please.’ I smile a nervous smile. My mouth is parched.
He collects two bottles of water from the integrated fridge and turns back towards me. It’s then that I persuade my shaky legs to carry me across the room to the sofa.
‘Ava?’ His voice rolls across me, causing me to falter en-route.
I turn to face him. It’s probably a bad idea. ‘Yes?’
He holds up a highball. ‘Glass?’
‘Yes, please.’ I smile. He must think I’m so unprofessional. I settle myself on the leather couch, retrieve my folder and phone from my bag and place them on the table in front of me. I notice my hands shaking.
Christ, woman. Get a grip! I feign making notes as he strolls back over, placing my water and a glass on the table. He sits down on the sofa opposite and crosses one leg over the other, his ankle resting on his thigh. He stretches back. He’s really making himself comfortable, and the silence that falls between us is screaming as I write anything and everything to avoid looking up at him. I know I’ve got to look at the man and say something at some point, but all standard enquiry questions have run, screaming and shouting, from my brain.
‘So, where do we start?’ he asks, forcing me look up and acknowledge his question. He smiles. I swoon.
He’s watching me over the rim of his bottle as he raises it to those lovely lips. I break the eye contact, reaching forward to pour some water into my glass. I’m struggling to reign in my nerves, and I can still feel his eyes on me. This is truly awkward. I’ve never been so affected by a man.
‘I guess you should tell me why I’m here.’ I speak! I look back up at him as I take my glass from the table.
‘Oh?’ he says quietly. There’s that frown line again. Even with that, he’s still beautiful.
‘You requested me by name?’ I press.
‘Yes.’ he replies simply. He smiles again. I have to look away.
I take a sip of my water to moisten my dry mouth, and clear my throat before returning my gaze to his potent stare. ‘So, can I ask why?’
‘You can.’ He uncrosses his leg, leaning forward to place his bottle on the table, resting his forearms on his knees, but he says no more. Is he not going to elaborate on that?
‘Okay,’ I struggle to maintain eye contact. ‘Why?’
‘I’ve heard great things about you.’
I feel my face burning up. ‘Thank you. So, why am I here?’
‘Well, to design.’ He laughs, and I feel stupid but slightly irritated as well. Is he making fun of me?
‘Design what exactly?’ I ask. ‘From what I’ve seen, everything is pretty perfect.’ He surely doesn’t want to modernise this lovely place. It may not be my forte, but I know class when I see it.
‘Thank you,’ he says softly. ‘Do you have your portfolio with you?’
‘Of course,’ I reply, reaching into my bag. Why he wants to look at it is beyond me. It won’t reflect anything like this place.
I place it on the table in front of him and expect him to drag it over to his side, but to my horror, he stands in one fluid movement and walks around to me, lowering his lovely lean body onto the sofa next to me. Oh, Jesus. He smells divine – all fresh water and minty. I hold my breath.
Leaning forward, he opens the folder. ‘You’re very young to be such an accomplished designer.’ he muses, slowly turning the pages of my portfolio.
He’s right, I am. It’s only thanks to Patrick for giving me free reign on the expansion of his business. In four years, I’ve fallen out of college, picked up a job in an established design company – that had the financial stability but lacked the new freshness in modern ideas – and made a name for myself on the back of it. I’ve been lucky, and I appreciate Patrick’s faith in my capabilities. That, coupled with my contract at Lusso, is the only reason I’m where I am at the age of twenty six.