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'I am not getting into that thing!'
Bria Green glared at the chauffeur, who stared at her with amused detachment like he'd seen it all before, and pointed at the gleaming-black limo parked at the kerb.
'I didn't ask to be picked up. Who sent you?'
The chauffeur, simply known as 'Len', from his name tag, removed his cap and rubbed at a shiny dome almost as highly polished as his car.
'Look, miss. I'm just doing my job. Your name and flight details were on my list, so here I am. I don't know who makes the bookings, I just follow instructions.'
Bria's anger deflated a tad. It wasn't this guy's fault that Daddy dearest was up to his old tricks again.
Len held open the door to the limo, and she wavered slightly before a strong waft of spanking-new leather and wood polish hit her like a frigid gust on an icy Melbourne day.
She hated the smell: rich, pungent, nauseating. The smell she'd grown to hate as a child when she'd been dropped off at the school gates every morning, and had faced the merciless teasing of the other kids for turning up to school in a chauffeured limo.
Shaking her head, she backed away from the open door like an abseiler having second thoughts about jumping off a cliff.
'No. I can't. I'm sorry.'
Len frowned, staring at her with genuine confusion in his crinkly brown eyes.
'But, miss, I'm instructed to take you to the Mansion hotel. It's my employer's orders.'
Taking a deep breath, she clutched her suitcase handle, gripped by an irrational fear that if she released it for one second it would be whisked away and stuffed into the limo's boot, leaving her no choice but to enter the opulent confines of the car.
'Excuse me, is there a problem here? Do you need some help?'
Great, just what she needed, some stranger with an upper-class accent poking his nose into her business.
With her temper rising by the minute, she forced a tight smile and looked up at the man, determined to fob him off, ditch Len and find the nearest taxi to take her to the hotel.
However, the first part of her plan faltered when her wary gaze met curious dark-brown eyes, eyes she would've flicked past if they weren't part of a striking ensemble of high cheekbones, strong jaw, straight Roman nose, Mediterranean tan and black-as-coal hair which framed his face, highlighting the perfection.
Striking? Who was she kidding? The guy was gorgeous, imposing, and staring at her with obvious concern.
'I'm fine,' she said, waving him away with one hand while maintaining a death grip on her suitcase.
She travelled extensively to promote Motive, her architectural business. She knew the dangers of landing in a strange city and being accosted by wackos, no matter how incredible they looked.
His deep voice rippled over her, the posh accent reminiscent of the time she'd spent in London. The time she'd rather forget.
She nodded emphatically and turned away, only to be confronted by the burgundy leather seats of the limo, and a bar tucked discreetly into the far door.
Suddenly, the choice between getting into the limo and possibly being abducted didn't seem so far apart after all.
'I'm sorry for intruding, but it appears you don't want to get into the limousine with this man.'
Len puffed up like a jellyfish.
'Hey! I resent what you're implying, sir. I'm only doing my job, and right now that's taking Miss Green to her hotel.'
The stranger ignored Len and focussed that unnerving, steady gaze on her.
'Would you prefer to take a taxi?'
She nodded, grateful that someone had picked up on her distress and wasn't making a big deal about it.
All she wanted to do was grab a cab to the hotel, take a long, hot bath and prepare for her presentation. She didn't need any more dramas.
'Miss Green, are you sure?'
Len didn't give up easily, and she managed a weary smile to reassure him.
'I'm sure. And don't worry about your employer. If you have any problems, get them to contact me direct.'
Shrugging, Len doffed his cap in her direction before closing the door and heading to the driver's side of the car, obviously washing his hands of the crazy lady who'd rather ride in a beat-up taxi than a stretch limo.
'Thank you,' she said, turning to the stranger, but already looking past him, her eager gaze fixed on the last taxi standing at the rank.
'My pleasure. Would you care to share my taxi?'
She knew it. Mr Nice Guy had an ulterior motive. He'd helped her get rid of Len only to coerce her into goodness knew what during what could prove an interminable taxi ride to anywhere.
An amused gleam lit his dark eyes, as if he could read her suspicious mind.
'I took the liberty of snaring the last taxi for myself. The driver said a major football match has just finished in the city, so there won't be another taxi along for a while.'
'That's okay. I'll take the shuttle bus.'
Though that would put her plans of having a bath and time to prepare her talk way behind, considering she was staying at Werribee, miles out of town.
He hesitated for a moment before shrugging.
'Suit yourself. I'm staying at the Mansion hotel, and you probably would've been out of my way.'
'You're staying at the Mansion? Are you there for the architects' conference too?'
'No, I'm not attending the conference. I'm into property development, and have other business to attend to while I'm there.'
Bria toyed with the leather handle on her case as she weighed up her options: take a ride with a handsome stranger to her hotel in the relative comfort of a taxi, or spend an interminable few hours while the shuttle stopped at countless hotels.
She may be stubborn, as her father repeatedly told her, but she wasn't stupid, and the decision was a no-brainer.
Sticking out her hand, she said, 'Sorry for being a bit abrupt. I'm Bria Green, and if your offer for a ride still stands I'd like to take you up on it. Strange coincidence, but I'm staying at the Mansion too.'
He raised a dark eyebrow as he clasped her hand in his.
'Sam Wali. And of course you can share the taxi with me.'
She smiled, a strange flutter of uncertainty causing her to leave her hand in his longer than necessary. His hand was warm, his grip firm without crushing, and though she didn't sense anything untoward from him a slight shiver skittered down her spine at the intensity of his dark stare.
'Do you believe in fate, Miss Green?'
Bria dropped her hand quickly, hoping she hadn't given him the wrong idea, and wondering how she got herself into these situations. For a strong, opinionated career-woman, she had a habit of making the odd impulsive decision which had far-reaching repercussions.
Clearing her throat, she said, 'I believe we make our own fate, Mr Wali.'
He smiled, and all her misgivings disappeared in an instant, the genuine warmth lighting his face and capturing her with its animation.
'Please call me Sam. After all, we're going to be sharing a taxi together.'
'Bria,'she said, hating the flicker of awareness his simple words elicitedthe flicker that told her, no matter how strongly she'd sworn off men after Ellis 'the lowlife' Finley, this handsome stranger had the power to intrigue her. 'And thanks, once again.'
He barely acknowledged her gratitude.
'You are ready to depart?'
She nodded, biting back a grin at his formal speech patterns. Combined with a strong upper-class English accent, a designer suit which appeared hand-made to fit his imposing physique, and the solid platinum-and-gold watch on his left wrist, Sam exuded wealth and powereverything in a guy that usually made her wary, yet she found herself nodding anyway.
'Come. We will go.'
Before she could move, he'd whisked her suitcase away and was heading to the waiting taxi, his long strides eating up the footpath.
Hoping she was doing the right thing, and too tired to care one way or the other, she followed him, taking the time to admire the flattering fit of his charcoal-grey pinstripe suit and the impressive way he held himselfwith casual grace underlined by strength.
She might have been tired but she wasn't dead, and when he reached the taxi and swivelled to face her, appearing surprised she hadn't kept up, she quickly raised her gaze from where it had been hovering around his body and forced a smile, hoping he couldn't see the surge of uncharacteristic heat in her cheeks.
* * *
Bria glanced at her watch, roughly estimating that they were ten minutes away from the hotel, and she was rather grateful.
Since the initial small talk with Sam they'd lapsed into silence, and while it wasn't uncomfortable it was a tad disconcerting to be confined this closely with a guy like him.
A guy like what? Intelligent, articulate and suave?
She may be going through a dating drought by choice, but she wasn't completely oblivious to a sexy guy, and she could think of worse ways to while away the time between the airport and her destination.
'How long are you staying at the hotel?'
'Just a few days. The conference ends on Sunday after my presentation, but I'm staying on for an extra day. I heard they have a fabulous day spa there, so I thought a little R and R would be a good idea. And you?'
Not that she particularly cared. Sam was one of those guys that flitted in and out of places, focussed on business and little else. She could tell. If he were any other type of guy he would've been talking non-stop to impress herusually about himselfor pushing her for a date. Instead, he'd done her the courtesy of staying silent for most of the trip.
'I'm staying tonight and tomorrow.'