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'Don't date this man.'
Didi O'Flanagan paid scant attention to her workmate's warning, barely glancing up as she scoured her bag for lip gloss. 'Whatever he did, Roz, he probably doesn't deserve to have his photo plastered to the mirror in a public restroom…' Her words segued to a hum of approval, lip gloss momentarily forgotten.
Maybe he did deserve it. His eyes—deep dark blue—were the kind of eyes that could persuade you to do things you'd never do in your right mind…
'Only the woman who put it here knows that.' Roz leaned in for a closer look. 'You must've really ticked her off, Cameron Black. Still, you are a bit of a hunk.'
'Yeah…' Didi had to agree. Dark hair, squared jaw. Perfect kissing lips. What did the rest of him look like? she wondered. She imagined a man with looks like that would keep his body toned to match. In fact she could imagine quite a lot about that body. 'We could try Googling those "don't date him" websites…'
'Hmm, revenge. Undoubtedly a dish best served online…' Roz agreed. 'But right now, if we want to keep our jobs, we'd better get out there and start serving those impatient big-shots,' Roz reminded her, heading for the door.
Didi blinked, feeling as if she'd somehow stepped out of a time warp. 'Right behind you.'
Cameron Black. Why did that name sound familiar? Didi wondered. Shaking the thought away for now, she unscrewed her tube of colour, slicked coral gloss over her lips.
She twitched at a few blonde spikes, straightened her uniform's little bow tie and fiddled with her name-tag, which always seemed to tilt at an angle no matter how many times she adjusted it.
She couldn't resist; her gaze slid back to the printout on the mirror. Below the picture were the words, 'He's not the man you think he is.' On impulse, she reached out. She didn't care what he'd done, it wasn't right. That was what she told herself as she peeled it off. There were two sides to every story. Not that she knew much about relationships. In her twenty-three years there'd been only one serious relationship, and that mistake had coloured her perception in a very uncolourful way.
But she couldn't bring herself to crumple the paper and toss it in the waste basket on her way out as she'd intended. It seemed a sacrilege to spoil that perfect face. She folded it into quarters, then again, carefully creasing the lines before sliding it into the pocket of her black trousers.
A few moments later Didi circulated the crowded room with her tray of finger food. Predominantly male executives in business attire made for a sea of sombre suits interspersed with splashes of colour and the occasional whiff of feminine perfume.
Didi aimed a winning smile at the group of men she'd targeted as being the head honchos. 'Would you like to try a crab cake with lemongrass sauce? Or perhaps one of these baked cheese olive balls?'
As expected, her smile was ignored as they continued their discussion around the model of a proposed development for one of Melbourne's inner city precincts on a table in front of them, but a few greedy fingers plucked her dainty morsels off the tray.
Rude, rude, rude. Her smile remained, but inside she gritted her teeth as she skirted the group to reappear around the other side. She hated this subservient, thankless job. But right now she had no alternative if she didn't want to slink home to Sydney and admit she'd made a mistake—
'Thank you, Didi.'
The unexpected rich baritone voice had her looking up—way up—at the man who'd taken the last crab cake and had the courtesy to use her name. 'You're welcome. I hope you enjoy…it…' Her voice faded away as her gaze met a pair of twinkling blue eyes…
This couldn't be the man whose photo was warming her right hip even as he smiled. Could it?
Yes. It could—and it most definitely was. So the woman who'd left the picture in the Ladies had known he'd be here—maybe she still was, and wanted to witness his humiliation.
The cheap printout didn't do him justice—he was gorgeous. His eyes were navy, almost black. And focused wholly on her. He'd shaved tonight; no sign of that stubble. Just smooth tanned skin…Her palms itched to find out just how smooth. The maroon and black tie's sheen accentuated his snowy white shirt, drawing her attention to a prominent Adam's apple and solid neck. His hair was shorter than it was in the picture and the room's light caught threads of auburn amongst the brown.
He wore a pinstriped charcoal suit and she knew from her experience with fabrics that it was Italian and expensive. Touchable. Warm from his body heat. Her insides did a slow roll and her fingers tightened on the tray.
As she watched he lifted the crab cake to his lips before popping it into his mouth, still smiling at her, and for an instant she bathed in the warmth before he turned away.
No. She wanted to bask in that heat a moment longer. 'You forgot to dip,' she found herself saying. Loudly. Too loudly. His gaze swung back. 'And that was the last one…' She trailed off, lost for a moment in his eyes.
His lips stretched into a smile as he continued chewing.
She had a completely inappropriate image of dipping her fingers in the sauce then sliding them between his lips, and her pulse quickened.
'That's too bad,' he said, his voice a tone or two lower, his eyes a tad darker. As if he was sharing the same fantasy. 'It was delicious nevertheless.'
'Try a cheese and olive ball.' She offered her tray up like some kind of entreaty. 'It's a different texture but if you like olives—' Cheeks heating, she caught her runaway tongue between her lips to stem the verbal tide. What the heck was she doing?
'I love olives.' He selected one, his gaze once again focused on her, warming her from the inside out.
'When you've quite finished.'A man with thick white hair aimed his glare at her over the rim of a pair of butt-ugly spectacles. As I was saying, Cam…'
Cam held Didi's eyes for a second longer, then gave a conspiratorial wink before getting back to business.
Cam…Cameron Black. Didi mentally repeated his name as she watched one long tapered finger touch the model of his proposed development as he spoke. What would it feel like to have that finger touch her? Anywhere. For any reason…
Get real, she admonished herself. Step away before you make a complete and utter fool of yourself.
This man was into property deals and big-business networking. He didn't have time for the simpler things like social conversation. No doubt he spent his entire life dealing with men like Mr White Hair. He was one of those men for whom making money was more important than relationships—hence the poster, no doubt.
As she stepped back she couldn't help noticing the arched façade of the model he was touching. She frowned, squinting without her glasses. It looked like her apartment building.
It was her apartment building. They'd been served with eviction notices months ago, but Didi hadn't got around to finding herself a new place yet. At least not one she could afford.
Resentment simmered beneath her carefully cultivated waitress persona. That was where she'd seen his name. Cameron Black Property Developers were kicking her out along with several other families in three weeks; she'd seen the signage on the vacant lot next door where a pawn shop and a sleazy tattoo parlour had recently been demolished. All destined to be part of a new complex that would take months to complete.
A different kind of heat fired through her veins. The burn of disappointment, anger. Outrage. Greed was Cameron's motivation. Certainly not concern for the residents who couldn't afford to move to the more upmarket parts of town.
She should bite her tongue, turn around and head to the kitchen to refill her depleted tray. But she'd never been one who could keep her mouth shut. 'Excuse me.'
Six heads turned, six pairs of eyes drilled into hers, but it was Cameron Black she focused on. 'Have you given any thought to the tenants you're turfing out at number two hundred and three?'
His jaw firmed, the warmth in his eyes vanished. 'I beg your pardon?'
She waved a hand over the model. 'I don't know how people like you sleep at night.' She scoffed out a humourless laugh. 'Mrs Jacobs has been there for fifteen years—she's had to go to Geelong to live with her daughter's family. And Clem Mason's—'
'Watch yourself, girlie,' Mr White Hair warned.
Fired up now, Didi didn't spare him a glance. 'Do you know how hard it is to find suitable accommodation at affordable rates, Mr Black? Do you care at all about the ordinary people trying to get by on the basics who live—make that lived—in that building?'
'I'm not aware of any problems.' His voice was cool professionalism.
'Of course you're not.' And he'd probably trotted out that same line to the pinner-upper of the photo in her pocket. She could only shake her head on behalf of women everywhere. 'Maybe that's why you're the current Pin-Up Boy in the ladies' loo.' Her voice carried way further than she'd meant it to and a hush descended around them like a suffocating shroud.
Twin spots of colour slashed Cameron Black's cheeks and his mouth opened as if to speak, but she turned away, her runaway tongue cleaving to the roof of her mouth. Before she made matters worse, she set her tray on a nearby table and quickly made her way towards the restroom.
She pushed through the door, found it empty and leaned back against its solid barrier with a heartfelt sigh. Tonight her mouth might just have cost her this job.
She stepped to the vanity counter and turned on the tap, dabbing her neck with cold water. Thankless or not, she needed this work. Why couldn't she control her tongue? And why did the man-to-die-for have to be her evil landlord?
The door swung open with a whoosh, pushed wide by a very tanned, very firm, very masculine hand. Didi's breath snagged in her chest. Then she steeled herself to meet Cameron Black's grim reflection in the mirror.
Instead of feeling threatened, she felt…anticipation. It buzzed through her body, turning her legs to liquid and drawing her nipples into tight points of sensation. Damn him, she didn't want to feel as if she were poised and breathless on the edge of a lava pit. She wanted to get herself together, and how could she do that when he'd invaded the only place she'd thought safe?
She turned so that she could meet him face to face on equal terms, gripping her fingers on the counter top at her sides for support. Except he had a good fourteen inches on her. Struggling to keep the nerves from her voice, she lifted her chin and met his gaze. 'I think you made a wrong turn somewhere.'
'Not me. You.' His gaze darkened, indigo satin over hot coals, and his voice was silky smooth when he advised, 'You really shouldn't bad-mouth the people who help contribute to your pay at the end of the evening.'
How was it that even though his eyes remained fused with hers he managed to conjure a shimmer of heat up the entire length of her body as if he'd swept a hand from ankle to clavicle and every place in between?
She shook her head. 'I tell the truth, Mr Black. Unfortunately the truth often gets me in trouble…'
When his gaze finally released her he scanned the room. 'And how do you know my name?'
She arched a brow. 'I'd suggest most of the women at this function know your name by now.'
His eyes narrowed. The door swung closed behind him, swirling the air and leaving the two of them alone. The scent of his cologne reached her nostrils in the draught he'd created. Without thought she breathed deep, inhaling its fragrance: snowflakes on cedar-wood. As if by some force she didn't know she had, it seemed to draw him closer. It seemed to draw the walls in, suck the air away, until he was standing so close she could feel his body heat through the fine-textured weave of his shirt.
He placed his hands firmly on the counter top, a fingerprint away fromhers, boxing her in. 'What game are you playing at—' and even though she was certain he remembered her name, his gaze slid over the swell of her left breast where her name-tag hung at its permanent forty-five-degree angle '—Didi?'
She slid an unsteady hand into her trouser pocket, the backs of her fingers bumping against his and sending fireworks shooting up her arm in the process, and pulled out the folded sheet of paper, thrust it at his chest. 'It's not my game.'
Straightening, he unfolded it and scanned the contents. She watched his jaw bunch, his knuckles whiten on the paper. In the silence that followed she could hear the quickened rasp of his breathing, could almost feel his anger as a third entity in the room with them.
'I found it on the mirror.'
She flinched again when he closed a substantial fist around it, crumpled it beyond redemption with an impatient crackle, then shoved it in his pocket. She had to bite her lip to stop herself from asking for it back. Of course she wanted it back…so she could grind her heel into his face when she left her flat in three weeks' time with nowhere to live.
'Thank you,' he said quietly. 'I've been having some trouble with an ex girlfriend.'
'No kidding. Did you kick her out too?'
'As a matter of fact it was she who did the kicking.'
She was tempted to dole out more sarcasm but the complete lack of emotion in his expression stopped her—too complete. Too controlled. He'd blocked the pain, she thought, and stuffed her hands into her trouser pockets to curb her natural instinct to reach out to him. He was hurting, and she understood too well how it felt to be tossed aside. 'Yeah, well, you're better off without someone like that.'
And I'm better off not knowing. She needed to remember who he was: Evil Landlord. He might be hot sex in a pinstripe suit but his motive in life was greed. Keeping her backside against the counter top, she sidled closer to the door—she had to get out before she changed her mind and offered something stupid, like sympathy. Or sex on the vanity unit.
Cam sensed her imminent departure but he wasn't done with her. He slammed his hands back on the tiles on either side of hers. Wide and wary silver eyes snapped to his. She was petite. Dainty. But he knew the aura of fragility was purely that—an aura. He liked that about her—a woman with guts in a compact little package.