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'Hold the lift! Shoot, shoot, sh-ooot! Aargh!'
Her mad dash to get in the staff lift before the doors closed failing miserably, Juliette came to a frustrated stop. Except that she didn't. Stop, that was.
The three-inch stiletto heels on her knee-high boots, wet from the snow falling heavily outside, found no traction on the marble floor whatsoever, so that instead of stopping Juliette skidded unsteadily along the floor, an expression of complete panic on her face as she slid towards the closing metal doors of the lift, seeming to gain speed as she went.
In those brief few secondsand she really couldn't have said how manyeverything was happening in slow motion, her whole life flashing before her. And what a complete and utter disaster that was
But at the very last second the lift doors miraculously stopped closing and began to open again slowly, painfully slowly, but enough that she didn't hit solid metal after all, just fell into the lift instead.
Or at least she would have done, if one of the stiletto heels on her boots hadn't caught and stuck in the gap between the lift shaft and the lift itself, holding her foot immobile but hurling her torso forward.
The whole thing mightonly mighthave been funny.
If she hadn't had an audience to her comic turn. But the man who seconds ago had stepped into the lift, and had obviously pressed the button to ascend, had unfortunately witnessed the whole incident.
And so it was, as Juliette hurtled into the lift head-first, strong arms reached out to catch her. Which was very unfortunate for the man, because Juliette had instinctively thrust her umbrella out in front of her in an effort toregain her balance as she began to slide. Luckily for him, it had one of those stubby ends, rather than a pointy one, otherwise she would have skewered him with it.
'Are you okay?' he asked with concern, even as he steadied her into an upright position.
Did she look okay?
She had just hurtled across ten feet of marble at what had felt like the speed of soundonly to come to a bone-wrenching halt as the heel of her boot became stuck.
To make matters worse, she'd probably ruined her boots, and she'd only had them a weeka present to herself for having successfully completed a month of working at the job from hell. Because the lingerie department in this prestigious store, in the run-up to Christmas, certainly qualified as that! And, with 'just five more shopping days till Christmas', it only promised to get worse
'Let's have a look at your boot,'the man murmured as he released her and bent down to inspect the damage, giving Juliette an uninterrupted view of the top of his head.
She hadn't been able to look at him beforeat first because she'd been travelling too fast to focus on anything, and then because her embarrassment at having literally thrown herself into his arms had been too acute.
She didn't recognise the top of that dark head, the hair thick and ebony, but nevertheless she knew the man had to work at Romeo's, too. Otherwise he wouldn't have been getting into the staff lift in the first place. Probably one of the office bods from the sixth floor; they didn't socialise with the sales staff.
'Itseemstobestuck,' the man muttered, his words interspersed with efforts to release the stiletto heeland Juliette with itfrom the hole it was trapped in.
Well, whoever he was, he certainly wasn't any rocket scientist, Juliette thought disgustedly as she glared down at him. She could have told him that much herself.
This had not been a good day so far, and it certainly wasn't getting any better.
And this man's fingers, as they encircled the slenderness of her ankle, weren't helping, either. His ringless hands were long and tapered, artistically sonot the sort of hands any red-blooded woman could ignore while she still had breath in her body.
He was probably ugly as sin, she decided self-mockingly. With her track record, how could it be any different? A university student who had lied about his age, knowing she didn't go out with younger men. Another man who'd turned out to be married with three young children. And another one who was gay and had just been using her to hide the fact from his family.
The man looked up. 'Perhaps if we were to remove the boot this might be a little easier ?'
No, he wasn't ugly. Sinfully good-looking might be a better way to put it perhaps!
That public-school voice didn't sound in the least foreign, but the man definitely had a Mediterranean look about him. His skin was dark and swarthyonly the deep blue of his eyes at variance with that olive colouring.
He raised dark brows as Juliette continued to stare down at him. 'The boot ?' he prompted.
Idiot, she chided herself ruefully. She had just done a good impression of an elephant trying to perform Swan Lake, and now she was caught up in the way he looked! While he probably thought she was a total klutz
Which she undoubtedly was, Juliette accepted, feeling horribly self-conscious. Could today get any worse? Given the way her luck had going lately, the answer to that was yes, it certainly could!
'Of course.' She moved awkwardly to unzip the boot, stepping out of it to move into the lifther hopalong performance making her look something like Quasimodo, she was sure.
Not that it particularly mattered how she appeared to this man, she decided now that she could get a better look at him. His suit was obviously expensively tailored, the black leather shoes hand-made and the white shirt definitely looked like silk.
One of the executives of Romeo's, then, she acknowledged with disappointment. A man hardly likely to so much as notice that one of the temporary female Christmas staff was even alive! Despite the fact she had just launched herself at him, hitting him solidly in the chest with her umbrella. No doubt he was right now rueing the fact that he had arrived late this morning, because otherwise he wouldn't have met her at all.
'There you go.' He held up her boot triumphantly, then grimaced at the badly grazed heel, at the same time stepping forward into the lift so that the doors were at last able to close.
'It doesn't matter.'Juliette kept her gaze averted from his as she bent to put the boot back on. 'Thanks, anyway,' she added awkwardly, choosing to look down at his expensively shod feet rather than at the man himself.
'At least you weren't hurt,' he said encouragingly. Her pride was in tatters, but, no, she wasn't physically hurt! Maybe if she had been she could have cried off sick for these last few days before Christmas. She was absolutely
Juliette looked up at him blankly. Only the fact that one of those long, elegant fingers was held poised over the lift buttons made her realise that he was waiting for her to tell him which floor she worked on.
'Four,' she sighed. 'Thank you,' she added with a grimace as the doors closed and the lift began its ascent.
With Juliette's stomach plummeting every foot of the way.
Not a great fan of lifts, or enclosed spaces, she usually chose to walk up the four floors to her department.
'Come and work at Romeo's,' her friend Lisa had prompted her five weeks ago, when Juliette had left her last job.
Left? She had been thrown out through the door so fast her size fours had barely touched the ground! 'It'll be fun,' Lisa had assured her brightly.
Fun? For the first month Juliette had been so bored by the lack of customers that she had been in danger of falling asleep half the time. But the last week had more than made up for that, as hordes of menold, young, fat, thin, handsome, uglyhad crowded in from morning till night in search of that 'special' piece of underwear for the womanor in some cases women in their lives.
Why was it, she had wondered at least a dozen times, that it was only women who worked in the lingerie department? Especially at Christmas. Because some of the conversations she'd had over the last week had been enough to make her blush to the tips of her ears.
Were all men total morons, she had asked Lisa, when it came to buying underwear for the wives, girlfriends, sistersand in a lot of cases, she was sure, the mistressesin their lives?
'Totally,' Lisa had answered with a giggle. She was part of the permanent staff at the huge Romeo's store, but in the perfume department.
Maybe if Juliette's father hadn't died when she was eighteen, or if she'd had brothers, it might not have been so embarrassing for her, but as it was
'What's happening?' she gasped, her thoughts interrupted as the lift began to make a grating, groaning sound. Her eyes widened and she reached out instinctively to grasp the arm of the man at her side.
'I have no idea, but' The man didn't finish what he was saying as the lift came to an abrupt halt. The light flickered on and off, and mere seconds later they were plunged into complete darkness. 'OH, NO! Oh, no!' Juliette's fingers tightened on the muscled arm beneath her hand even as she began to hyperventilate. 'I can't We're going to''
'Stay calm,' the man's disembodied voice advised firmly. 'The emergency light will come on in a There,' he said with satisfaction as a dim red light flickered on over the top of the doors, throwing a dim, eerie red glow over the interior of the lift. Not in the least reassuring!
'I hate lifts.' Juliette heard herself begin to babble. 'I only got in one this morning because I was so late. And I was only late because my alarm didn't go off.And then I missed my bus. And I had to walk. And then you didn't hold the lift for me. And I slid. And my heel got stuck. And my boot's ruined. And'
'Are you becoming hysterical?' the man asked warily, no more than a blurred outline in the dim red interior.