Bennett sifted among people hurrying through the concourse on the ground
floor of the Sheppard Building. The day after Christmas, everyone seemed to
be in a hypnotic stupor. Without bothering to check the directory, she
walked briskly to the first open elevator and pressed “11,” just as a large
hand reached around her.
“What floor do you want?” she asked without a glance at the person attached to the hand, obviously a man.
“You got it.”
As more people entered the elevator, Chelly turned slightly and ventured a casual look at the man’s long, somber face. His eyes were hidden behind dark glasses, which he retained, despite the elevator’s dim lighting. He was tall, towering several inches above her five-foot-seven, and ruggedly handsome.
Looking down his nose at her, his lips formed a broad line which curved up at the ends in a token smile. He didn’t seem quite detached enough to be a native. He had dark hair which curled a little at his ears and neckline.
Chelly dismissed the interest she felt. It was probably just nerves. The job prospect. Or maybe rebound. Rejected by one man, it seemed reasonable that she might seek approval from other men. For a long time, she had practiced ignoring men, given Eric’s edicts. Now she might be vulnerable. She would have to keep a handle on any renegade emotions. To be smart, she probably should avoid men altogether, at least for a while. She definitely would never let herself trust another one. That would be her mantra. Never, never trust another man. She thought of her dad. Okay. Never trust a man under forty.
Still she pondered. If she were looking for a man, this one would be choice. Poised, he exuded the confidence of the mature alpha male, absent all the posturing.
Of the handful of passengers sharing the elevator, two exited on the third floor. Self consciously Chelly kept her gaze averted, particularly avoiding eye contact with the tall man. Was his suit an Armani? Either that or a really nice knockoff.
She looked up and focused on the lights monitoring the elevator’s climb. Hairs bristled on the back of her neck. She had the eerie feeling the tall fellow was watching her. He was definitely the kind of man who gave the term, “power suit” its reputation. She looked back at the floor. Seeking a distraction, her eyes drifted to his feet. Cowboy boots?
The worn, scruffy footwear rudely nullified the man’s G.Q. look. Maybe he was a wealthy eccentric. More likely, this cowboy was from out of town, like her, and didn’t know any better. Head still bowed, she bit her lips and smiled to herself.
After the other passengers exited at the next stop, the tall man eased over in the car putting himself directly behind her. Chelly stared at the stainless steel doors which barred her escape and shimmered his warped reflection with her own. Was she imagining it, or was he appraising her?
He had followed the girl in the drab brown suit through the revolving door of the Sheppard Building, marveling at her gosh awful taste and frumpy hairdo thinking it must be a costume. He hadn’t been to Tennyson in a couple of months. Was this a new rage? Lord, he hoped not. What kind of style would camouflage feminine curves like hers in a tweed awning? Would any thinking woman purchase clothes like that on purpose? And the clunky shoes? Well, he admitted grudgingly, they certainly completed the ensemble.
He was oddly mesmerized, however, as he watched her flow across the marble floor of the concourse, directly to an open elevator. She moved gracefully, with an admirable economy of motion, surprising for a woman as tall as she was.
When she turned to study the selection board inside the elevator, he saw her face, classic features, a surprisingly appealing face--acceptable nose, full mouth, and large, dark, almond eyes behind those ridiculous glasses.
She pressed “11.” His floor. Good.
He avoided eye contact. Women were too damned aggressive these days, if a man appeared even mildly interested. He was surprised when she asked what floor he wanted without looking at him. Unusual.
She had a deep voice, a tone lower than he expected. He liked that. As he verified she had selected his stop, he moved with most of the other occupants further back in the elevator, betting with himself about whether or not she would look at him. He was surprised to be interested, yet he continued watching her.
Ah-ha. There. She glanced at him.
But instead of the come-on he was used to, she quickly averted her eyes. What was this? A reticent female in downtown Tennyson? Well, what do you know?
Keeping her head down, a few moments later she sneaked a look at his boots. He saw her swallow the smile. He glanced at his aged footwear and his mouth twitched. This woman was...interesting. She certainly piqued his curiosity.
Perhaps she was self conscious about her poor eyesight and that kept her from flirting with him. Were those bifocals? He looked more closely but didn’t see any lines.
After everyone else abandoned the elevator, he moved over behind her, giving him the angle to peer through her glasses.
What the hell? There was no correction in the right lens. He shifted and leaned a little to check the other one. No correction there either, not even magnification. The frames looked too cheap to have come from a professional.
Now why would such a sweet thing sabotage her own good looks? What was her game: the ridiculous wardrobe, hair bound up, phony horn-rimmed specs? Also, where was the cough-inducing fragrance? This female smelled of soap and shampoo, maybe a subtle cologne. Curious. Very curious.
The woman minced forward, as if moving as far away from him as possible in the confines of the elevator car. He stifled a wry smile and eased back a step to get a better angle, see her from tip to toe. If she stood straight, she’d be tall, maybe five-eight. Striking.
Despite the oversized clothing, she had too much bust to be willowy. Of course, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. His taste ran to well-endowed women. He bit back another smile.
Her ankles above the clunky shoes were shapely and he could visualize legs that stretched up and up, a long, long way.
Why was she going to DMD? A new client maybe. She wasn’t wearing a wedding ring, but she had a tan line where a ring had been. Maybe she wanted a divorce. Not his job, but he could find out who she was, where she was going, maybe meet her.
When they reached the eleventh floor and the doors opened, he loitered as she scurried off the elevator. She was careful to move aside, out of his way, but he was suddenly in no hurry.
Now what? She seemed to be having second thoughts.
Chelly was sweating by the time the monitor reached “11.” The muted bell bonged and the heavy elevator doors yawned wide. She glanced back. The man nodded, indicating she should go ahead. She stepped out quickly, moving forward and to one side, clearing the way. She drew a deep breath and hesitated as she surveyed the layout.
The Diet, Manning, Diet lobby was done in mahogany/burgundy posh and was reverently silent. Standing in the terrazzo entry, stalling, Chelly inhaled again, enjoying what seemed almost a religious experience.
Thinking how goofy she must look, standing there staring at the place like a country bumpkin, she bit her lips to squelch a giggle, laughing at herself. She glanced from side to side to make sure no one else witnessed her provincial behavior.
No. The woman behind the receptionist’s desk was busy. She looked like a model, straight, sleek, with just the right blend of nature and make-up. The threadlike headset appeared to be something of a halo as she pressed keys and her dulcet tones hummed into the button-sized microphone poised in front of her broad, luscious mouth.
Chelly had dressed with the intention of appearing unglamorous, but she obviously had carried the look too far for this dazzling place with its ostentatious atmosphere.
Suddenly she felt intimidated. She should have known a glitzy place like DMD would project a certain image. The palatial ambiance and the drop-dead-gorgeous greeter signaled tough requirements ahead.
Unnerved, deciding in a flash that, dressed as she was, she was not DMD material, Chelly eased back two steps before she turned around to find herself face-to-face with the Armani. The man wearing it glowered down his nose at her and raised his hands in what she supposed was a defensive move to keep her from running him down.
Undisturbed by their sudden proximity, the tall man’s gaze appeared to be on her, although she couldn’t really tell, since his eyes were still hidden behind the shades. He regarded her curiously, a half smile on his face.