I look down at his lovely hand, his wrist adorned in a beautiful gold and graphite Rolex. ‘How old are you?’ I blurt. Oh, good God. My brain is like scrambled egg, and I know I’ve just blushed a sharp shade of red. I should just keep my mouth shut. Where the hell did that come from?
He looks at me intently, his green eyes burning into mine. ‘Twenty one.’ he answers, completely pokerfaced.
I scoff mildly, and his eyebrows jump up questioningly. ‘Sorry.’ I mutter, turning back to the table. I’m feeling flustered. I hear him exhale heavily as his lovely hand reaches back down to my portfolio to start turning the pages again, his left hand resting on the edge of the table.
I notice no ring. He’s not married? How can that be?
‘This, I like a lot.’ He points to the photographs of Lusso.
‘I’m not sure my works on Lusso would fit in here.’ I say quietly. It’s way too modern – luxurious, yes, but too modern.
He looks up at me. ‘You’re right, I’m just saying…I really like it.’
‘Thank you.’ I feel my colour deepen as he studies me thoughtfully before returning to my portfolio.
I make a grab for my water, resisting the temptation to chuck it down my front to cool me off, but very nearly do when his trouser clad thigh brushes against my bare knee. I shift quickly to break the contact, glancing out the corner of my eye to see a small smirk breaking at the edge of his mouth. He’s doing this on purpose. It’s too much.
‘Do you have a toilet?’ I ask as I place my glass back on the table and stand. I need to go and compose myself. I’m a ruffled mess.
He rises from the couch swiftly, moving back to let me pass. ‘Through the summer room and on your left.’ he says with a smile. He knows he’s affecting me. The way he’s smiling at me, knowingly, I bet he has this sort of reaction from women all of the time.
‘Thank you.’ I edge out of the small gape between the table and the sofa, my task hampered as he makes no attempt to give me more space. I have to virtually brush past him, and that has me holding my breath until I’m clear of his body.
I walk towards the door. His eyes are on me; I can feel them burning a hole through my dress. I roll my neck to try and rid myself of the goose bumps jumping onto my nape.
Stumbling out of his office, I head down the corridor before wandering through the summer room and staggering into the ridiculously posh lavatories. I brace myself over the sink and look in the mirror. ‘Jesus, Ava. Pull it together!’ I scorn my reflection.
‘Met the Lord, have we?’
I swing around and find a very attractive business lady, faffing with her hair at the other end of the room. I have no idea what to say, but she’s just confirmed what I already suspected – he does have this affect on all women. When my brain fails to deliver on anything suitable to say, I just smile.
She returns my smile, amused and knowing of the reason for my flustered state, before disappearing from the toilets. If I wasn’t feeling so hot and nervous, I might be embarrassed at my obvious condition. But I am hot, and I’m very nervous, so I brush off my humiliation, take some steady breaths and wash my clammy hands with the Noble Isle hand wash. I should have brought my bag. I could do with some Vaseline on my lips. My mouth is still dry and my lips are suffering as a consequence.
Okay, I need to get back out there, get the specification and be gone. My heart is pleading for some let up. I’m completely ashamed of myself. I re-pin my hair and exit the toilets, making my way back to Mr Ward’s office. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to work for this man; I’m just way too affected by him.
I knock before I enter, finding him sat on the couch looking over my portfolio. He looks up and smiles, and I know now, I really have to leave. I can’t possibly work with this man. Every molecule of intelligence and brain power I possess has been zapped from my body by his presence. And worse of all, he knows it.
I give myself a mental pep talk, making my way over to the table, ignoring the fact that he’s following my every move. He leans back on the sofa in a gesture for me to squeeze past, but I don’t. I take a seat on the opposite sofa, perching on the edge.
He flicks me a questioning look. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Yes, I’m fine,’ I answer shortly. He knows. ‘Would you like to show me where your intended project is so we can start discussing requirements?’ I force the confidence into my voice. I’m just following protocol now. I’ve absolutely no intention of taking this contract on, but I can’t just walk out – as tempting as it is.
He raises his eyebrows, clearly surprised by my change of approach. ‘Sure.’ He gets up from the sofa, striding over to his desk to collect his mobile. I gather my things, stuff them into my bag and follow his gesture to lead the way.
He quickly overtakes me, opening the door and performing an exaggerated gentlemanly bow as he holds it open. I smile politely – even though I know he’s playing with me – and exit into the corridor, heading towards the summer room. I stiffen on a gasp when he places a hand at the small of my back to guide me.
What’s he playing at? I’m trying my hardest to ignore it, but you would have to be dead not to notice the affect this man’s having on me. And I know he knows it. My skin’s burning all over – almost certainly warming his palm through my dress – I can’t get my breathing under control and walking is taking every bit of coordination and effort I possess. I’m pathetic, and it’s bloody obvious he’s enjoying the reactions he’s drawing from me. I must be quite amusing.