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Talie Calhoun sprinted across the marble lobby of the Radcliffe Tower as the lift doors began to close. The occupant of the lift obliged by holding the lift and she beamed a grateful smile in his direction.
'Thank you so much! It's my first day and I am sooo late,' she said, all in a rush as she checked her wrist watch and let out a tiny wail of anguish before looking up at her fellow passenger. Nothing unusual there. Looking up was what she did, mostly. Her grandmother had warned her. If she didn't eat up her spinach and crusts, she wouldn't grow tall and her hair wouldn't curl.
One out of two to granny.
Oh good grief. It was just her luck that the man was a serious babe magnet. Slate grey eyes, cheek bones to die for, a mouth that you just knew would melt your bones. If you were in the market to have your bones melted, that was. In short, the kind of man that you wouldn't want to meet unless your makeup was perfect, your clothes elegant - but sexy - and your hair was totally in control. Instead, she was pink in the face, dishevelled and flustered. She wasn't even going to think about her hair...
'That's not good is it?' she said, offering a smile, but if she'd been hoping for reassurance, she was out of luck.
'It does suggest a certain lack of enthusiasm,' he replied, coolly.
Would it have hurt the wretch to smile?
'Which floor?' he enquired.
'Oh...' She consulted the card she was holding. 'Thirty-two, please.' Then, as her knight errant pressed the button for her floor. 'It's not true, you know,' she said. 'I am incredibly enthusiastic.'
He lifted his left eyebrow no more than a millimetre. It expressed a world weary lack of belief that she found totally galling.
'No, honestly!' she protested. Then, 'But you're probably right. This may be the shortest temp job in the entire history of temping.'
'If it was important, maybe you should have set your alarm a little earlier.' Her outraged response to this calumny was still a fledgling thought when he said, 'Who are you going to work for?'
'The Finance Director.'
'Then you are in trouble.'
A twinge of unease tightened her stomach. She couldn't be that unlucky...
'Look, it wasn't my fault. My alarm was set for six o'clock. I was almost here an hour ago.'
'I should perhaps warn you that the Finance Director never accepts "almost" as good enough.'
'Please... Tell me that you're not him...'
'No. You're safe for another couple of minutes.' His smile was definitely worth waiting for. Tiny creases appeared at the corners of his mouth and eyes to demonstrate that although it was more ironic than ha ha ha, it was the genuine article.
'Whew!' she said, flapping her hand as if to cool her cheeks - actually it wasn't wholly pretence... 'That would have been a really bad start.'
'Late is bad enough. Have you got a good excuse prepared? Delay on the Underground is a favourite I believe.'
'With good reason,' she declared, 'but it wasn't anything that simple. I wish it was.'
The eyebrow did its job again, inviting her to elaborate. Or maybe in disbelief... 'Look, it's just me, okay? I seem to have this fatal attraction for calamity, mayhem and misadventure. Today it was some poor man having a seizure down in the Underground.' 'That's a reason for him being late, not you,' he pointed out.
'Yes, but I will get involved.'
'Oh. I see.'
For a moment she suspected that he was laughing at her. No, his mouth was perfectly straight...
She dragged her gaze from the kind of lower lip that sent a rush of hormones to her brain.
'He'd, um, collapsed on the platform. People were walking right past him. I suppose they thought he'd been taking drugs or something. It wasn't exactly a rerun of While You Were Sleeping -'
'The movie? Where the girl rescues the guy when he falls onto the track and then everyone thinks she's his fiancée...' She stopped. Clearly he hadn't a clue what she was talking about. 'Obviously I couldn't just leave him there.'
'Obviously,' he said. And then he did smile. Really smile. He was clearly killing himself with the effort not to laugh out loud.
Why did men always do that?
Because she was only 5'3 in her thickest socks and twenty pounds overweight according to some stupid height/weight chart in one of her aunt's slimming magazines?
Why was it that only tall, thin people were taken seriously?
'You find that funny?' she demanded.
'No! No, absolutely not,' he said, rapidly losing the smile. 'You weren't afraid?' Then, 'I suspect that's why none of those people stopped.'
'Of course it was, but he was sick. He needed help. I grabbed the nearest person and wouldn't let go until the poor woman got out her mobile phone and called for an ambulance, then I did what I could to make him comfortable. Of course it took the paramedics forever to get through the rush hour traffic and then I had to stay and explain what had happened, what I'd done.'
'Is he going to be all right?'
Okay. He'd smiled at the wrong moment, but he had asked the right question...
'I think so. He was a bit dazed, but he seemed to have pretty much recovered by the time I finally got away.' The lift stopped, the doors slid back. 'Uh-oh. This is my floor. Well, thanks for holding the lift.'
'Any time,' he said, and then he smiled again. And her bones ... melted. 'Just yell.'
Oh good grief. She'd yelled...
In the hallowed precincts of the Radcliffe Tower...
'I only do that in an emergency,' she said, suddenly wishing she was six inches taller so that people would take her seriously.
She was tired of men smiling indulgently at her. Not that she could have done anything about it if they were gazing at her with undiluted passion. But even so. A girl needed a morale boost once in a while.
'Keep your fingers crossed for me.'
'I will,' he said, then spoiled the effect by saying, 'but I doubt that will be necessary. I suspect you could talk your way out of anything.'