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'You want us to turn this smaller bridge into a clone of the historic Pyrmont Bridge. I'm sorry, but we can't do that for you. The sites simply don't compare.' The boss of the Sydney-based Morgan Construction, Building and Architecture braced his feet on the uninspiring bridge in question, drew a deep breath and blew it out as he addressed the middle-aged man at his side.
Rick Morgan's rich voice held an edge of command and control that shivered over Marissa Warren's senses. The three of them stood atop the small Sydney bridge while the Morgan's boss explained the company's stance on the refurbishment plans. Rick could bring about virtually any architectural feat, be it in refurbishment or new construction. What he wasn't prepared to do was break his own code of working standards.
A pity Marissa couldn't push away her equally unfeasible reactions to the man. She hadn't expected an attack of awareness of the company's big boss. The girls in the office swooned about Rick, but Marissa was no longer interested in hot corporate types. Been there, so over that.
It must be the sway factor of the bridge getting to her. Or the sea wind pressing hard against her back trying to disrupt her balance. Those must be responsible for the odd feelings coursing through her.
Anything other than genuine attraction to this corporate high-flyer who owned the large company that employed her. Since she'd started at Morgan's six months ago she hadn't said more than 'good morning' to the boss in passing and, frankly, close proximity to a man with power on his mind made her want to run in the other direction, as fast as her pink glow-in-the-dark joggers could take her.
It hadn't exactly worked out wellfor her the last time, had it? Tricked, taken advantage of and publicly dumped, all in the name of career advancement. Michael Unsworth's, to be precise.
Marissa tugged her gold blouse into place over the chocolate skirt and noted Rick's words on her steno pad. Not noticing him. Not the charisma, nor the stunning grey eyes fringed with thick black lashes. Certainly not the leashed sensuality that seemed an integral part of him. So totally not noticing any of that.
Anyway, she'd just recently finished telling her Blinddatebrides.com friends Grace and Dani, aka Englishcrumpet and Sanfrandani, about her utter commitment to finding her Mr Ordinary. Though she'd only known Dani and Grace over the Internet a matter of weeks, they were wonderful women and understood and encouraged Marissa's dating goals. She meant to find that Mr Ordinary, to prove to the world Well, simply to prove she could control her own destiny, thanks very much.
'This bridge isn't a key thoroughfare, Cartwright. It doesn't impact on port access for large seafaring craft.' Rick's strong tanned hand gestured to emphasise his words. 'It isn't a Heritage listed structure and its refurbishment won't make it look like one. The work needs to be about strength, durability and safety in keeping with the established design. The company's initial assessment explained this.'
The bridge spanned two small juts of Sydney's coastline. It rested within the city's sprawling confines but was far from core harbour material. Here there were no stunning views. No Sydney Harbour Bridge. No shell-shaped Opera House rising as though directly from the water.
Unlike Pyrmont, with its massive central swing span, this bridge was just a smallish, nondescript one tucked away on a commercial section of shore.
'You're not listening to what I want.' Cartwright's mouth tightened.
'I've listened. As did the Project Manager who liaised with you initially. The advice in his report was sound.' Overhead, a seagull offered a cry to the pale blue sky as it searched the ocean below for food.
Rick had a strong face to match his strong tone. Wide cheekbones and a firm square jaw that, even at nine-thirty in the morning, revealed a dark beard shadow beneath the skin. A tall vital man with thick shoulders and defined musculature beneath the perfectly cut charcoal suit and pale green shirt.
Marissa didn't want to be aware of him, but she couldn't seem to help it.
'We can make something truly stupendous of this area.' Cartwright repeated his mantra.
For about the tenth time, paying apparently no attention at all to Rick's explanation.
The company boss growled softly beneath his breath.
It was not a sexy growl!
Marissa inhaled the tang of sea air and Rick's citrusy aftershave cologne and stopped herself from closing her eyes in what would have been a completely inappropriate appreciative sigh.
Instead, she forced her attention to Cartwright's rounded face. Maybe she could help 'Since you're limited with what you can do in terms of refurbishing this bridge, perhaps you could implement some onshore improvements to emphasise the dock area and make the most of that aspect of things?'
'My thoughts exactly, Marissa. Something more commercially viable.' Rick cast a quick glance her way, offering a small nod of approval. The quirk of his lips that went with that approval made her tummy flutter.
Okay, so the company boss could show appreciation as well as look good. He still fell under the Tall, Dark and Aggressive about Success category.
She reminded herself rather desperately that that definition was one hundred per cent not right for her. Despite what her headed-for-thirty-years-of-age and back in the dating pool hormones might suggest otherwise. What did they know, anyway?
Enough to make her join a dating site, and to recognise an appealing man when she saw one?
The first had been a sensible, well-considered decision, nothing more, and, as for the second
'Not going there,' Marissa muttered towards the foaming sea and tossed her head of curly hair before she remembered the hard hat squashed over the top of it.
Fine, so the impact was lost a little. And she hadn't actually been thinking about emotions. She'd made her choices clinically. That was all she needed to remember. Marissa grimaced and shoved the hat out of her eyes.
'Are you all right?' Rick leaned his head close to hers. The grey of his eyes deepened with a combination of amusement and interest as his gaze roved over the hard hat, her face, the hair sticking out about her cheeks and neck.
'I'm fine, thank you.' He probably wondered why she'd tossed her head like that. 'It was nothing, really. I had a twitch.'
In the brain. It started when I looked into your eyes this morning as you said, 'Good, you're here,' in that deep, toe-curling voice and it hiccups back every time I look at you or listen to you.
'Er a twitch that made my head nod and the hat fall forward.'
Toe-curling, authoritative voice, Marissa. Get it right if you're going to think it at all.
'I see.' Though his lips didn't move, Rick's eyes smiled.
Marissa stared at that charming expression and thought, deadly. The man was deadly to her senses.
'A central steel swing span' Cartwright began again.
'Would require a whole new bridge, one far larger than this one and located in deeper water.' Rick raised a hand as though to push it through his hairalso covered by a hard hat, except in his case he looked good in itand dropped it to his side again. 'As Hedley told you in his assessment.'
'Hedley isn't management level,' the man spluttered. 'He doesn't understand some of the committee members' vision for the project. We could have the bridge swing open and closed at certain times of the daya ceremonial thing even if only smaller craft passed through. It could create a major tourist attraction.'
'But you don't have the funds or planning permission to make that kind of change,' Rick pointed out gently, 'nor the conditions or traffic to demand it.'
'I have influence where the approval is concerned.' Cartwright suddenly turned to glare in Marissa's direction. Are you getting all this, girly? I don't see that pen moving.'
'It's a stenographer's pencil,' Marissa corrected kindly while Rick's big body stiffened at her side. 'I've written down every new piece of information you've provided and, actually, I'm almost thirty. Not quite a "girly" any more.'
'Miss Warren is part of the Morgan's team. She is not'
'Not at all perturbed,' Marissa inserted while a flow of gratified warmth filled her.
Rick drew a breath. His gaze locked with hers and the starch left him. His voice dipped about an octave as he murmured, 'Well, you really don't look '
'That old?' She meant her response to sound cheerful, unconcerned. Instead, it came out with a breathless edge, the result of that considering gaze on her. Of the way he had championed her, despite never having worked directly with her until today.
And perhaps a little because of her need not to feel quite as ancient as she did in the face of her looming birthday. 'Thank you for thinking so.'
Thank you very, very much and you look appealing yourself. Very appealing.
Did hormones have voices? Whispery ones that piped up right when they were least welcome?
First chance we get, Marissa thought, those hormones and I are having a Come To Mama meeting and I'm telling them who's in charge of this show. Namely, me.
Stupid birthdays, anyway. They should be cancelled after twenty-five and never referred to again.
You'll have found Mr Right by your birthday and won't have time to notice that over a third of your estimated life span has passed you by while you wasted some of it on Michael Unsworth, the cheating, lying, using
'Well. What was it we were saying?' Marissa forced a smile. She mustn't think of Michael, or of Rick Morgan's charismatic presence.
'We were discussing this bridge ' Prosaic words but Rick's gaze moved over her with a delicious consciousness before it was quickly masked.
He was attracted to her!
Her hormones cheered.
He couldn't be attracted. At all. Why would he be?
A moment later he blinked that consciousness away and turned to stare at the other man. 'Unless you have something new to add to the discussion, Cartwright, perhaps we could wind this up.'
Focusing on work was a great idea, really. If her heart had already done a little flip-flop dance, well, that didn't matter. She would simply force all systems back into submission because control was the thing.
Control her destiny and it couldn't hurtcontrolher, and that was exactly how she wanted things to be.
Rick cleared his throat. 'Mr Cartwright, your committee members will have my report before your eleven o'clock meeting this morning.'
'There's no need to send it to everyone. I'll deliver it at the meeting.' The man actually seemed to believe that Rick would agree to this.
'I assure you, it will be no trouble to see the report into the hands of the whole committee.' Deep voice. Steel-edged politeness.
Marissa had arrived at work this morning expecting to be stultifyingly bored with office filing for at least the next several days. Instead, Rick's secretary had propped himself up in her doorway and croaked out his request that she meet his boss on site so he could take himself off to the doctor.
Next minute Marissa had been whipping along in a taxi, and then she'd found Rick waiting for her at the bridge site like a knight in shining hard hat.
Well, not really a knight. No horse. But he'd listened patiently as she'd given a flurried explanation to go with her sudden appearance, then he'd said, 'Yes, I know. Shall we?' and had cupped her elbow to escort her onto the bridge.
That constituted contact, which was why she could blame this entire blip in her reaction to him on her senses, not her intellect.
Rick went on, 'The report will explain why your ideas won't work, and will agree with my assessor's initial report and recommend the committee works directly with him from now on. Had there not been a temp from downstairs manning my office the day you made your appointment, you'd have been informed that you should meet with the Project Manager today, not me.'
Having a temp make an inappropriate appointment for him explained how Rick had ended up wasting his time on this meeting. Marissa had wondered. Her attraction to him didn't explain anything, except her hormones apparently hadn't read her Blinddatebrides profile or her list of requirements in a prospective mate.
Date. Prospective date. And this man wasn't one. She expected all of her to take note.
'You'll be billed for this discussion. I hope your interactions with our company will remain amicable and be a little more focused in the future.' Having made it plain that the man's efforts to bypass the proper channels hadn't come free of charge, Rick nodded. 'Now, if you'll excuse us.'
Good. It was over. They could get back to the office and Marissa could forget this weird awareness of the boss and return to her real work. In this instance, taking care of the backlog of filing Gordon had left behind before he'd gone on holiday and, once that was done, a long list of non-urgent hack work he'd left for her.
Rick's firm fingers wrapped around her elbow.
Nerve-endings. Senses. Her gaze flew to his. He was already watching her. His fingers tightened.
For a frozen heartbeat his gaze became very intent indeed. Then he shook his head and swept her away along the bridge and she started to breathe again and reminded herself of her focus.
Nice. Ordinary. Guy.
Someone to have babies with. If they wanted to. At some point when they decided they'd like that. No rush at all. Again, Marissa was the leader of this particular outfit, not her clock or her hormones or anything else.
She frowned. What did she mean, clock? As in ticking biological clock? How silly. She simply wanted someone steady and dependable and completely invested in building a solid relationship of trust, friendship and affection with her.
Sure, that might mean a family one day, but she didn't feel driven to have children. Just because she found herself noticing mothers with babies in supermarkets and shops and on the street
No. The Big 3-0 didn't stand for B. A. B. Y.
Not at all.
It only stood for birthday-she-didn't-want-to-think-about.
And just because she'd noticed the Morgan's boss
'Tom explained he was unwell before he sent you out here to meet me?' Rick spoke the words as he steered her along. 'Did he give you his travel pack?'
'I met with Tom briefly at the office before his wife whisked him away to go to the doctor.' Marissa tapped the bag that slapped against her hip with each step.
Rick must be around six foot two inches tall. Much of it appeared to be strong, ground-eating legs, not that she wanted to think about his legs, or even his anatomy in general. 'And, yes, I have Tom's travel pack.'
The shoes that went so nicely with her chocolate-brown knee-length skirt were also shoved in the tote.
'You'll need it for dictation on the trip back to the office.' He hit the base of the bridge without slowing his pace, though he took care to make sure she could keep up.