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'You'll have that for me by three? Fantastic'
Dani forced her body to freeze at the sound of that voice. 'No problem.'
Dani knew the breathless assistant would have it for him by two at the latestjust as she would if he'd asked her.
Alex Carlisle, CEO of Carlisle Finance Corporation, on his rounds againgliding through the open-plan area and bewitching his staff so they performed above and beyond. She wondered if he even knew the effect he had on his legions of adoring employees.
And Dani was the latest. Not looking was impossible. Her lashes lifted.
Truthfully she was probably the only one whose work was suffering because of him. She found him so distracting she wasn't getting half as much done as she should. Half of her wished he'd go away so her insides wouldn't be so pummelled, but all of her wanted him to stay.
He was so good to look at, she'd been watching him all week. She'd seen how he abandoned his lavish office suite at the top of the building and came to talk with his worker ants all of whom then frantically tapped faster at keyboards to get the work done for him. Charismatic, confident, Alex Carlisle got everything he wanted, every time. And if the water-cooler gossip she'd got from one of the secretaries was anything to go by, women were a big part of what he wantedbeautiful, highflying, high-society women. He played a lot, apparently. And all his female employees wished like crazy he'd play with them.
Dani totally understood why they did, but she wasn't going to admit she was floored by him too. So predictable. Anyway she couldn't afford to fixate like this. She checked the time. Only a few minutes and she could go to lunch. She'd never clock-watched before, usually enjoyed her work so the hours flew, but she had a mission to fulfil. Besides, something about this place made her antsy. OK, it was him. She was waiting, always waiting for him to appear. Now he had, she couldn't wait to bust a move, so restless it was as if she had creepy-crawlies infesting every inch of her clothing.
Unable to resist the compelling force of him, she lifted her head and looked again. She was such an idiot. It was as if she'd been tossed into a stormy kind of teen crushshe'd never experienced one in her youth, but it seemed there was a time for everything. She only had to hear his voice for her heart to thunder and the adrenalin to flood her system, so sitting still was no longer possible.
Concentrate, you fool.
The excitement was a waste of energy anyway. The water-cooler woman had also informed her that, while the man might play fast and loose in his own social set, he never ever fooled around at work. Big shame. She watched as he stood talking with her supervisor. He was tall; his tailored trousers seemed to go on forever.
Yeah, Dani, all the way to the floor.
But her self-mockery didn't stop her looking. He'd shed his jacket so he wore just the pale blue shirt, sleeves rolled partially up his armsthe ultimate ad for corporate wear. He turned. Caught her look on the full. And then held it prisoner. Oh. Wow.
All but his face blurred. The low noise of the office became a distant hum. The sudden silence was nice and her antsy body stopped still, bathed in his gaze. Dani's favourite colour was green. And Alex Carlisle's eyes were very, very green.
He moved, one small step. Was he coming over? To talk to her?
Someone called his name. He turned away, his smile flashing back on. And it was gonethe stillness, the warmth, the quiet. All disappeared the instant she blinked.
Good grief, what was she doing sitting there like a Muppet? unable to move or speak or even breathe? She shook her head and released the air held too long in her straining lungs.
But how glad was she that he hadn't come over? Because when he'd looked at her she'd been unable to think of anything. Not a thing. All power had gone from her brain to somewhere else entirelyand was warming her up. She couldn't see how any of them got any work done when he was on the floor.
OK, so it was two minutes 'til lunch. But she'd arrived early, as she always did, and had already promised to work late tonight, so she needn't feel guilty about stepping out now. Because she desperately needed to get outside and gasp in some fresh air.
She walked down the length of the floor to the lift, keeping well to the side of the room. She was short enough not to be noticed and she was only the temp, after all. She moved fast. usually she took the stairs but he was near the stairs and, as much as she was drawn to him, her instinct told her equally loudly to stay well away. And this instinct was just strong enough to beat the one that made her avoid small, confined spaces. She could do it. Sure she could.
But when she got to the lift and pressed the button, her nerves sharpened. She counted to ten as she waited, trying to slow her breathing to match it with her mental chanting. It was only a lift. People went up and down them millions of times a day without accident. People didn't get trapped in them.
Trapped. Her scalp prickled as if she were under one of those huge cover-your-whole-head driers at the hairdresser and it was on too hot and she couldn't get it off. She didn't want to be trapped.
She redirected her thoughts. Forced the fear to the back and focused on a plan. If she ate on the run, she'd have time to go to the public library and be able to check the message boards on the Internet. The search was all that mattered.
The lift chimed and she made herself move into it, closing her eyes as the doors slid together. It would be over in a whirl. Such fears were childish.
But there was a noise. She opened her eyes again in time to see the doors sliding back again. An arm was stretching out between themmaking them automatically reopen. And stay open.
'I'll be back shortly.' The arm held firm. 'Email the guest list through to lorenzo, as well, will you? And make sure the catering staff have the right number of vegetarians this time. We don't want to upset anyone again. Oh, and can you make sure Cara gets the message about Saturday?'
Jeez, the lift could have been down and back up again in that timewell, almost. At last, the rest of him stepped in.
He smiled at her. 'Sorry about that.'
Was he really? Or was that just his polite upbringing talking, hiding the real ramifications of his childhoodthat he had the right to make others wait, that his time was more important than hers? Dani only had an hourunpaid and alland she had to make the most of it. But that thought and every other disappeared as the doors finally slid shut.
Dani stepped right back, standing stiffly against the far wall of the lift. Would the fear never leave her?
He leant his back against the side wall so he was at right angles to her. Not even covertly looking at her. No, his gaze was open, intense and relentless.
She kept her eyes fixed on the doors, trying to stop the sensation that they were closing in on her. At least the lifts in this building were science-fiction fastonce they were allowed to get started. But the sense of airlessness closed in too.
He pressed the button again and finally it began its swift descent.
Dani gritted her teeth, sweat sliding down her back. 'Are you OK?'
Dani couldn't answer. Too busy holding her breath. Five, four, three
There was a groaning sounda metallic moan that, although slow, was definitely getting louder. Dani's muscles flexed. The lift stopped, dropped another foot and then stopped again. Dani's stomach just kept on falling.
She looked at the lightsno floor indicated. The doors half opened and she had a glimpse of metal and concrete. Between floors. She was damn glad when the doors closed again.
There was a second of complete silence.
'I'm sure it won't be long.'
'I'm not worried,' she lied, flicking a glance his way and looking straight back at the doors again when she registered he had a smile on. His smiles weren't good for her blood pressure. Nor was being stuck in a very small space. Adrenalin rippled through her muscles but the nausea rose faster. She inhaled through her nose, aware of every inch of her body. Surely those few years of physical training would stand her in good stead. She could overcome fear. She could breathe.
He'd lifted away from the wall. 'No, really, it won't be long.'
Sure. No matter how stiff she tried to stay, her limbs insisted on shaking. Her heart was shaking too, the beats falling over themselves, and she couldn't breathe fast enough. She couldn't get any oxygen in.
'We never have trouble with these lifts.'
Oh, yeah? Well, they were now. 'You probably confused it by making it wait so long with its doors open,' she said. The spark of anger pushed the bile back down.
'It's a machine. Machines don't get confused. Only people do that.'
She was confused nowher body wanting to run, her brain wanting to shut down altogether, her stomach wanting to hurl its contents.
'You're new here,' he said. 'I've seen you in the office.'
Distraction. Excellent. 'Yes,' she said, barely controlling the wobble in her voice. And after another stumbling beat she looked from the doors to him.
His eyes were very wide and very green and filled with a painfully gentle concern. He took a step towards her. 'My name is'
'I know who you are,' she cut him off. She couldn't think enough for conversation.
'You do?' His eyes narrowed and his smile twisted, bitterness thinning his sensual lips. 'Then you're one up on me.' He took the last step closing the gap between them. 'I have no idea who I am.'
The bitterness surprised her, blasted the smothering fog from her head. She looked closer at him. 'You're Alex. And you're stuck in a l-lift.'
She glanced at the walls; they were nearing her again. The fear crept back up. She gulped in air. Were they running out of oxygen already? And had she just whimpered?
'There's no need to be afraid.'
Wasn't there? Didn't she know exactly how frightening it was to be stuck in a small place for too long?
'Hey.' He put his hands on her shoulders. 'It's going to be fine.'
At his touch she looked back into his face. Green eyes gazed at her, deepened by the dark lashes that framed them. Everything else in the world receded again. Yes, she'd look at him, focus on him, forget everything.but green eyes. The colour swirled, the black centre spread. His gaze flickered, dropped to her mouth. Made her realise it was dry. She touched her tongue to the corner of it and then she found she was looking at his. It was extraordinarily fine, with lips that were currently curved up in a smile.
She couldn't take her eyes off him. She couldn't answer. 'Sweetheart?'
Funny how just one word, said in just the right way, could change everything.
She gazed at him, feeling that restlessness inside roar, and her chin lifted.
His hands moved, dropping to circle round her waist.
'It's going to be just fine,' he said. And then slowly, so slowly, giving her all the time to turn away, he lowered his head.
But she didn't turn.
His lips were warm, firm but not forceful, not invasive, just gentle. He lifted his head a millimetre and his green eyes searched hers. 'See?'
Still she said nothing, but the smallest of sighs escaped as she lifted her chin back up to him.
Those strong hands at her waist then lifted her right off her feet. Automatically she put out her own handsnot to punch, but to steady. Her fingers connected with cotton and curled around the hard muscles. The heat of him burned through the shirt. She spread her fingers widerwow, he was broad. All she could hear was her breathingtoo short, too fast.
Their gazes remained locked all the while he lifted her, sliding her up against the back wall of the lift until her eyes were almost level with his. Her heart thundered while her toes stretched down, vainly searching for something solid like the floor.
This time when he kissed her he stayed, his lips moving over hers slowly teasing. Oh. Her eyes closed as again and again his mouth caressed hers, making her brain go so mushy. And then Dani had to move: softening, opening, relaxing yet seeking at the same timemore. And he gave it, his tongue sweeping into her mouth and curling with hers. It was like feeling all her favourite things at oncethe heat of a summer's day, the freshness of sea breeze and the sensation of diving into the deepest warm water. Only it was better. It was all-in-one. And it was real.
Her hands slid over his arms, her fingertips exploring his strength and heat, the breadth of his back. She lifted a hand, ran it through his hair. Short, dark, gorgeously thick. She moved, resting her palm on the back of his neckso warm. Both hands lifted to hold his face close and the kisses changed againdeeper, more hungry, fevered. Now every inch of her wanted every inch of him hard up against her. She wanted to feel his body above her, beneath herall around. But she couldn't tear her mouth from his. She didn't care about the tightness of his hands bruising her waist. She just didn't want the soaring feeling to end. It was as if a veil had been lifted to reveal a bottomless need she hadn't known she had. To be close.
And his need, too, seemed as strong. His kisses on her face and neck were fast, passionate, until their lips connected again and they could plumb the depths of each other in a long, long carnal kiss.
He pulled her away from the wall, close against his body. One hand quickly moving beneath her bottom to take her weight so she didn't fall from his hold. She responded automatically, hooking her legs around his waist. Gasping at how good it felt to have his body between hers. He was big, strong and fantastically hard. Basic instinct screamed at her now. Bursting with need for bare skin, she pressed her mouth harder against his, her fingers fighting with his shirt.
But then she felt him stagger. He pushed her, lifting her away and down until her feet hit the ground. But then the ground itself bumped up and down.
Oh, no, that was right. They were in a lift. Dani tore her gaze away from him. Looked beyond to the lights, to the door. The lift had finally moved again, descended. And now those doors were opening.