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It was a gift, really, and probably had more to do with the way he looked than anything else. Though he could be charming when he really wanted to.
Dana watched as he managed to charm the pants off yet another customer.
It was truly disgusting.
She shook her head the tiniest amount. What on earth did all those women see in him? She decided to make an inventory of all things good about him. Though that did mean putting to the back of her mind the list she'd already formed of all things bad.
She'd worked with him for months now, and that latter list was getting long
Okay, so there was his height. That was good. A woman always found it distracting if the man was so short that every conversation was directed at her breasts.
He was fairly broad too, indicating—incorrectly—that he spent a lot of time doing physical exercise to keep in shape. Dana, however, knew better. His idea of physical activity was probably limited to one particular room of the house, and that room wasn't the kitchen.
Oops. That was from the All Things Bad list, wasn't it?
He was a fairly good judge of clothes too. All the right clothes for all the right occasions. What he spent on a shirt would keep Dana and her daughter in groceries for a week. On this occasion he was wearing a rather nice green one, which managed to highlight the colour of his eyes. Clever guy.
His face was fit for the pages of a glossy magazine on any newsagent's stand worldwide, complete with dimples, unbelievably white even teeth, that Dana was convinced in her own mind he had polished regularly, and a smile that could charm Eskimos into buying snow. Which, granted, was a terrific asset when it came to selling houses to people. Especially houses that didn't exist yet beyond a great big muddy hole in the ground.
Boyish dark blond hair, cut to just above his collar, with a side parting that managed to allow thick locks to fall across his forehead when he leaned forward to talk to a woman. As if by accident? Dana smiled slightly to herself. Like hell.
He really did tick a lot of boxes on the All Things Good list. He was a partner in a thriving company, came from a good family, and was generally an all-round eligible bachelor. Very eligible. Women really, really liked Adam.
Dana, meanwhile, found him a right royal pain in the ass. But then, after all, she worked with him.
He glanced up at her from beneath thick lashes. When he found her looking at him, with just a faint smile on her lips, his eyes narrowed slightly before he glanced away. Dana knew that he wasn't used to her smiling at him that often.
They were just very different people, that was all. Nobody had ever said they had to like each other. Which was just as well, really. Dana had managed to avoid him for years, but, since she'd bought a half-share of the company he owned and ran with her brother Jack, she had seemed to spend every single day arguing with him about something. Or about nothing. Or about pretty much anything, for that matter. When it came to Adam Donovan, it seemed that Dana was the only woman in the country who didn't see him as God's gift. And she liked it that way.
Adam really wished that she'd stop smiling at him. It was disconcerting. Dana didn't smile without reason. She wasn't a natural-born smiler. Well, not so he'd noticed since she'd started working with him.
There he was, switching on the patented Donovan charm to seal them another contract, and she was smiling at him. How was a man supposed to work under these conditions?
Even as he was smoothly convincing Mr and Mrs Lamont of the benefits of under-floor heating in their modern interior, Dana Taylor was plotting something. He could feel it.
His partner's sister, now his partner herself, was a devious woman.
Adam had met devious women in his time. Dated a few, avoided a few, run away very fast from a few. But this one.well, suffice it to say she was devious on a whole new level.
Dana just had a knack of getting people to do things when they really didn't want to. They'd walk in with an attitude of 'no way, uh-uh, not doing that', and leave blinking and wondering how'd they managed to change their minds without knowing that they were doing it. It was a gift when it came to awkward customers or building crews, but it was annoying as all hell for someone who shared an office with her.
He glanced across at her again. Still smiling right at him. He felt his palms begin to sweat. Any minute now she'd have him wearing a skirt, and he probably wouldn't notice until there was a draught.
He let the Lamonts look at the sketches of their dream home and excused himself for a moment.
In two long strides he was stood in front of her.
'Okay, what?' His low tone dictated a voice level for a private conversation. She just stared at him, a blank expression on her face. He hated it when she did that.
'Is something wrong?'
He frowned. 'You tell me.'
The smiling continued. 'Nope, you've lost me, I'm afraid.' Given the opportunity, he would love to. 'You're smiling.' 'Am I?' She smiled even more. 'Is there a law against that?'
'You don't smile.'
'I most certainly do. See?' She tilted her head and smiled a big fake smile that showed her straight teeth.
'You don't smile at me.'
'Does that upset you?' She blinked innocently.
He practically growled at her, instead whispering through slightly gritted teeth, 'You could just come on over and do that thing you do to help sell this house.'
She shrugged, smiling over his shoulder at the Lamonts. 'Oh, you're doing just fine, from what I can see.'
He studied her through narrowed eyes for several long moments. She was just so completely and utterly irritating. Everything about her irritated him, from her beautiful, flawless, not-a-hair-out-of-place exterior to her highly organised way of doing things. She was what would have once been termed as 'unflappable', and that just really annoyed Adam.
Adam, who lived by the seat of his pants in a chaotic little world of his own.
It had worked for him his whole life, and he had never felt there was a single thing wrong with it. Until Little Miss Perfect came along.
'Stop smiling at me, then.'
She raised her elegant eyebrows a barely visible notch and looked up at him with cool blue eyes. 'Well, if it's annoying you so much.'
Adam shook his head, cupped one large hand over her elbow and pulled her up from her perched position on the edge of the desk. 'Customers, Dana. The people who pay our wages.' He leaned close to her ear. 'People we are not having an argument in front of. So, whatever it is you're doing—quit it:
Dana gently extricated her elbow from the warm grasp that tingled through to her skin, smoothed the front of her jacket with her hands and then side-stepped to get past Adam's bulk. Her calm smile remained throughout. She had irritated him, and that was always worthwhile.
Mrs Lamont smiled as she approached. 'The house is beautiful, Dana. You have just done some wonderful things with the plans for the interior. I'm so glad Lucy recommended you.'
Dana smiled a more genuine smile. Louise Lamont's sister Lucy had been a friend from her college days, and Donovan & Lewis had designed her new home for her just a few months ago. 'I'm really glad you like it, Louise. All we did was put what you'd described into a few pictures, and it's every bit as beautiful as you knew it would be.'
Ah. There it was. That thing she did.
Adam smiled. Louise Lamont hadn't had any more of an idea of what she wanted in a house than she had of how to perform major brain surgery. Every design magazine she'd bought had changed her mind, until the place was pretty much bound to end up looking similar to Santa's grotto. Then there was Dana, and suddenly Louise had loved a mixture of modern clean lines and classic design, just as if she'd wanted it all from the beginning and it had been her idea and not Dana's. The woman really did believe that the house had been all her idea and that she was practically a design genius! Devious.
Louise positively beamed. 'Lucy can't wait to see you at the reunion. She says she's going to tell everyone that they should see Donovan & Lewis if they want a house done.'
Dana felt warmth tinge her cheeks. She avoided Louise's direct gaze and glanced over her shoulder. 'I'm not actually going to make it to the reunion, I'm afraid. We're terribly busy at the moment.'
Adam's eyebrows raised. She was uncomfortable? That got his interest.
'Oh, but you must, Dana. Everyone's expecting to see you since that article you had done in Ireland's Home & Hearth! She practically drooled the name of the design magazine. It had been obvious from day one that that was where Louise would have liked to see a photo spread of her new house. Nothing to do with family comfort or a personal pleasure in her surroundings.
'Not this time.' Dana smiled sweetly. 'But I'm sure I'll make the next one.'
Now, that was a lie. Adam didn't know how he knew, but he knew. He'd just caught Dana Taylor lying about something. Oh, this was good. It had to be something big, and Adam really, really needed to know what it was. That kind of information could prove worth a fortune on the open market. How to flap the unflappable.
'Well, we're not so busy we couldn't spare you for one evening, Dana.' He stepped into the fray with a wide smile. 'A reunion, is it? I just love those—don't you, Louise?'
Louise fluttered her eyelashes at him, blushing faintly at his use of her first name. Good God. Dana wanted badly to be sick.
She turned her head slightly towards Adam and gave him one of her best 'stay the hell out' smiles. He'd witnessed them several times, so it shouldn't take much for him to know it was time to stop.
'I love them, Adam.' The woman actually giggled like a ten-year-old. Dana knew that for a fact, due to the endless giggling of her own ten-year-old. Oh, come on! She glanced at Mr Lamont to see if he'd noticed. But they'd obviously hit that period in their marriage where he had developed selective deafness.
'You should go, Dana. I bet it would be fun.'
Under normal circumstances she'd have wiped the grin off his face with a swift, cutting remark that would in turn have led to a disagreement and stony silence in the office for a few hours. Instead she took a small breath and stared him straight in the eye. 'You know how seriously I take my work, Adam. I really don't have time to go.'
Adam had translated her smile to mean 'stay the hell out', and grinned even wider. This was great. Seriously. He'd pay good money for moments like this. He slung an arm around her slender shoulders, fitting her pretty much under his expensively scented armpit, and, giving her a squeeze, continued to flirt with Louise.
'She's just so dedicated, isn't she? But I think I'll manage to persuade her to go along, don't you?'
'Oh, I'm sure if anyone can it would be you. I'm sure you're very persuasive.'
Ugh! The very thought. Dana managed not to shudder.
'Not this year. Maybe next time.' She side-stepped out of Adam's grip and pointed at the plans in front of Mr Lamont. 'You'll see we've kept the staircase open to allow light to flood through to the dining room.'
Mr Lamont nodded and studied the plans again.
Adam wasn't so easily distracted. 'When did you say this thing was, Louise?'
'Oh, it's this weekend. It's not too late for Dana to go. She was so popular back in college. I think that's why Lucy said Jim took such an interest—' Louise's eyes burned into the back of Dana's head. 'Oh, Dana, I do hope that's not the reason why you're not going. Is Jim going to be there? Oh, my, that could be awkward, couldn't it?'
Adam's eyebrows shot upwards. 'Jim who?'
Dana's eyes locked with Mr Lamont's for a second before she smiled and turned back round. 'Jim Taylor. My ex.' She aimed the words at Adam with an icy stare. 'And, no, that's not the reason I'm not going, Louise,' she lied without losing her smile. 'I really am busy. After all, we wouldn't want your project falling behind schedule, would we?'
Louise looked terrified at the very idea. 'Oh goodness, no, we wouldn't! I've planned to have photographers there for Christmas—haven't I, Paul?'
Paul Lamont glanced in her direction. 'If you say so, pet, I'm sure you have.'
'Well, then.' Dana nodded coolly. 'We'd better get these final plans approved, hadn't we?'
She shot a sidelong threatening glare at Adam as she turned. She could see plainly how he wanted to continue enjoying her discomfort, and with a spark of her eyes she warned him to drop the subject. Just try it and see what happens, bucko!
Adam took the hint and dropped it.
Until about twenty seconds after the Lamonts had left
'You're not going to this reunion because your ex-husband might be there?' He nodded with a sarcastic twist of his lips. 'That's mature.'
Dana folded the Lamonts' plans carefully and placed
them back inside their manila folder. 'None of your business, is it?'
'Possibly not, but—'
'I think you'll find the conversation ended with "possibly not".' She turned and frowned over at him. 'Stay out of things that don't concern you, Adam. You'll live longer that way.'
'What are you so worried about? Are you afraid he'll find out you still love him or something?' He waded on in with his size thirteens. 'Is that it? Or maybe you don't want him to know that you've stayed single all this time?'
On her way to the filing cabinet, Dana stopped dead and swung round with flashing eyes. 'I am not still in love with him! And I've damn well had dates since I split with him. Not that that's any of your bloody business either!'
Adam actually rocked back slightly. Little Miss Perfect had a temper? Since when? His mind moved more slowly than usual, distracted suddenly from simple thought by how her flashing eyes and flushed cheeks changed her usual cool exterior. She looked sexy. All she needed was to do the whole 'remove one pin and shake her hair loose' thing.
He recovered with, 'You don't have a date, do you?'
She placed a hand on her hip, cocked her head to one side and practically spat the word at him. 'What?'
Posted September 21, 2011
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