This man, p.3
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       This Man, p.3

         Part #1 of This Man series by Jodi Ellen Malpas
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Page 3

  Author: Jodi Ellen Malpas

  I scoff mildly, and his eyebrows jump up questioningly. ‘Sorry. ’ I mutter, turning back to the table. I’m feeling flustered. I hear him exhale heavily as his lovely hand reaches back down to my portfolio to start turning the pages again, his left hand resting on the edge of the table.

  I notice no ring. He’s not married? How can that be?

  ‘This, I like a lot. ’ He points to the photographs of Lusso.

  ‘I’m not sure my works on Lusso would fit in here. ’ I say quietly. It’s way too modern – luxurious, yes, but too modern.

  He looks up at me. ‘You’re right, I’m just saying…I really like it. ’

  ‘Thank you. ’ I feel my colour deepen as he studies me thoughtfully before returning to my portfolio.

  I make a grab for my water, resisting the temptation to chuck it down my front to cool me off, but very nearly do when his trouser clad thigh brushes against my bare knee. I shift quickly to break the contact, glancing out the corner of my eye to see a small smirk breaking at the edge of his mouth. He’s doing this on purpose. It’s too much.

  ‘Do you have a toilet?’ I ask as I place my glass back on the table and stand. I need to go and compose myself. I’m a ruffled mess.

  He rises from the couch swiftly, moving back to let me pass. ‘Through the summer room and on your left. ’ he says with a smile. He knows he’s affecting me. The way he’s smiling at me, knowingly, I bet he has this sort of reaction from women all of the time.

  ‘Thank you. ’ I edge out of the small gape between the table and the sofa, my task hampered as he makes no attempt to give me more space. I have to virtually brush past him, and that has me holding my breath until I’m clear of his body.

  I walk towards the door. His eyes are on me; I can feel them burning a hole through my dress. I roll my neck to try and rid myself of the goose bumps jumping onto my nape.

  Stumbling out of his office, I head down the corridor before wandering through the summer room and staggering into the ridiculously posh lavatories. I brace myself over the sink and look in the mirror. ‘Jesus, Ava. Pull it together!’ I scorn my reflection.

  ‘Met the Lord, have we?’

  I swing around and find a very attractive business lady, faffing with her hair at the other end of the room. I have no idea what to say, but she’s just confirmed what I already suspected – he does have this affect on all women. When my brain fails to deliver on anything suitable to say, I just smile.

  She returns my smile, amused and knowing of the reason for my flustered state, before disappearing from the toilets. If I wasn’t feeling so hot and nervous, I might be embarrassed at my obvious condition. But I am hot, and I’m very nervous, so I brush off my humiliation, take some steady breaths and wash my clammy hands with the Noble Isle hand wash. I should have brought my bag. I could do with some Vaseline on my lips. My mouth is still dry and my lips are suffering as a consequence.

  Okay, I need to get back out there, get the specification and be gone. My heart is pleading for some let up. I’m completely ashamed of myself. I re-pin my hair and exit the toilets, making my way back to Mr Ward’s office. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to work for this man; I’m just way too affected by him.

  I knock before I enter, finding him sat on the couch looking over my portfolio. He looks up and smiles, and I know now, I really have to leave. I can’t possibly work with this man. Every molecule of intelligence and brain power I possess has been zapped from my body by his presence. And worse of all, he knows it.

  I give myself a mental pep talk, making my way over to the table, ignoring the fact that he’s following my every move. He leans back on the sofa in a gesture for me to squeeze past, but I don’t. I take a seat on the opposite sofa, perching on the edge.

  He flicks me a questioning look. ‘Are you okay?’

  ‘Yes, I’m fine,’ I answer shortly. He knows. ‘Would you like to show me where your intended project is so we can start discussing requirements?’ I force the confidence into my voice. I’m just following protocol now. I’ve absolutely no intention of taking this contract on, but I can’t just walk out – as tempting as it is.

  He raises his eyebrows, clearly surprised by my change of approach. ‘Sure. ’ He gets up from the sofa, striding over to his desk to collect his mobile. I gather my things, stuff them into my bag and follow his gesture to lead the way.

  He quickly overtakes me, opening the door and performing an exaggerated gentlemanly bow as he holds it open. I smile politely – even though I know he’s playing with me – and exit into the corridor, heading towards the summer room. I stiffen on a gasp when he places a hand at the small of my back to guide me.

  What’s he playing at? I’m trying my hardest to ignore it, but you would have to be dead not to notice the affect this man’s having on me. And I know he knows it. My skin’s burning all over – almost certainly warming his palm through my dress – I can’t get my breathing under control and walking is taking every bit of coordination and effort I possess. I’m pathetic, and it’s bloody obvious he’s enjoying the reactions he’s drawing from me. I must be quite amusing.

  Annoyed with myself, I walk a little quicker to break the contact of his hand from my back, stopping when I reach the point of two possible routes.

  He reaches me, pointing out across the lawns to the tennis courts. ‘Do you play?’

  I actually laugh, but it’s a comfortable laugh. ‘No, I don’t. ’ I can run, but that’s about it. Give me a bat, racket or a ball, then you’re asking for trouble. The corners of his mouth twitch into a grin at my reaction, bolstering the green of his eyes and lengthening his generous lashes. I smile, shaking my head in wonder at this glorious man. ‘You?’ I ask.

  He continues through to the entrance hall, me following. ‘I don’t mind the odd game, but I’m more of an extreme sports kinda guy. ’ He stops, and I halt with him.

  He looks ridiculously fit and toned. ‘What sort of extreme sports?’

  ‘Snow-boarding, mainly, but I’ve tried my hand at white water rafting, bungee jumping and skydiving. I’m a bit of an adrenalin junky. I like to feel the blood pumping. ’ He watches me as he speaks, making me feel scrutinised. You would have to anesthetise me before you got me doing any of his blood pumping pastimes. I’ll stick to a run every so often.

  ‘Extreme. ’ I say, studying this magnificent man of an age I don’t know.

  ‘Very extreme,’ he confirms quietly. My breath catches again and I close my eyes, mentally yelling at myself for being such a loser. ‘Shall we continue?’ he asks. I can hear humour in his voice.

  I open my eyes to be met by his penetrating, green stare. ‘Yes, please. ’

  I wish he would stop looking at me like that. He half smiles again and walks into the bar, greeting the men I saw earlier by clapping them on the shoulders. The woman is no longer here. The two men are very attractive, young – probably late twenties – and perched on bar stools, drinking bottles of beer.

  ‘Guys, this is Ava. Ava, this is Sam Kelt and Drew Davies. ’

  ‘Good afternoon. ’ Drew drawls. He’s a bit miserable. His appearance – he’s handsome in a rugged kind of way – and character, tell me he’s smart, confident and a business type. His black hair is perfectly styled, his suit pristine, his eyes shrewd.

  ‘Hi. ’ I smile politely.

  ‘Welcome to the pleasure dome,’ Sam laughs, raising his bottle. ‘Can I buy you a drink?’

  I notice Ward shake his head lightly on an eye roll. Sam grins. He’s the polar opposite of Drew – all casual and laid back, in old jeans, a Superdry T-shirt and converse. He has a cheeky face, complimented by one dimple on his left cheek. His blue eyes twinkle, adding to his cheekiness, and his mousey brown, shoulder length hair is all over the place.

  ‘No, I’m fine, thanks. ’ I answer.

  He nods at Ward. ‘Jesse?’

‘No, I’m good, I‘m just giving Ava a tour of the extension. She’ll be working on the interiors. ’ he says, smiling at me.

  I quietly scoff to myself. Not if I have anything to do with it. Anyway, he’s jumping the gun a bit, isn’t he? We’ve not discussed rates, briefs or anything, for that matter.

  ‘About time, there are never any rooms available. ’ Drew grumbles into his bottle. Why have I never heard of this place?

  ‘How was the boarding in Cortina, my man?’ Sam asks.

  Ward perches on another stool. ‘Amazing. The Italian way of skiing follows pretty closely to their laid back lifestyle,’ He smiles broadly, the first proper full beam smile since I’ve laid eyes on him – all straight, white and lush. This man is a God. ‘I got up late, found a great mountain, ran the slopes until my legs buckled, had a siesta, ate late and started all over again the next day. ’ He’s addressing us all but staring at me. His passion for the slopes is demonstrated in his wide smile.

  I can’t help but return his beam. ‘You’re good?’ I ask, because it’s the only thing that comes to mind. I imagine he’s good at everything.

  ‘Very,’ he confirms quietly. I nod my approval, and for a few seconds, our eyes are locked. I’m the first to break it. ‘Shall we?’ he asks, pushing himself up from the stool and gesturing towards the exit.

  ‘Yes. ’ I smile. I’m supposedly here to work, after all. All I’ve achieved so far is a hot flush and an establishment of extreme sports. I feel like I’m in a trance.

  From the moment I pulled up to those gates, I knew it wasn’t going to be an average day to day meeting, and I was right. In the four years I’ve been visiting people in their homes, work places and new builds, I’ve never come across a Jesse Ward. I probably never will do again. It’s undoubtedly a good job.

  I turn to the two guys at the bar, smiling my goodbye, prompting them to raise their bottles before they continue with their conversation. I walk towards the door that leads back to the entrance hall, feeling him close behind me. He’s too close; I can smell him. I close my eyes, sending a small prayer to God to get me through this quickly, with at least a bit of dignity intact. He’s just way too intense and it’s throwing my senses in a million different directions.

  ‘So, now for the main feature,’ He begins to climb the wide staircase. I follow him, gazing around the colossal void that leads to a huge gallery landing. ‘These are the private rooms. ’ he says, pointing to various doors that lead off of the landing.

  I follow, admiring his lovely backside, thinking he possibly has the sexiest walk I’ve ever had the privilege of seeing. When I drag my eyes from his tidy rear, I see that there are at least twenty doors, evenly spaced and leading into rooms beyond. He leads me until we reach another grand staircase that stretches to another floor. At the foot of the stairs, there’s a beautiful stained glass window and an archway leading to another wing.

  ‘This is the extension,’ He guides me through to a new section of the mansion. ‘This is where I need your help. ’ he adds, halting at the mouth of a corridor that leads to a further ten rooms.

  ‘This is all new?’ I ask.

  ‘Yes, they’re all shells at the moment, but I’m sure you’ll remedy that. Let me show you. ’

  I’m way past shocked when he takes my hand, tugging me down the corridor to the very last door. Inappropriate! His hand is still clammy, and I’m sure mine is trembling in his grip. The arched brow on a slight grin he flashes me, tells me I’m right. There’s some sort of super charged current flowing through us – it’s making me shudder.

  He opens the door, directing me into a freshly plastered room. It’s vast, and the new windows are sympathetic to the existing property. Whoever built this did an excellent job.
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