This Man (This Man #1)(5)


by Jodi Ellen Malpas

‘He’s probably shit in bed,’ Kate muses. ‘All the hot ones are. What’s your brief?’

‘Ten new bedrooms in the extension. I thought I was going to a country mansion, but it’s a mega plush hotel come spa. The Manor, have you heard of it?’

Kate’s face screws up into a clueless expression. ‘Nope,’ she replies, getting up to turn the oven off. ‘Can I come next time?’

‘No, I’m not going back. I can’t work with that. Besides, he has a girlfriend. And I could never look him in the eye again, not after my performance.’ I push myself up from the chair, throwing the spatula into the empty mixing bowl. ‘I’ve passed it over to Patrick. Wine?’

‘In the fridge,’

We make our way up to the flat and change into our PJ’s. I dump my bag on my bed and it flops open, the calla lily Ward gave me making an appearance. Understated elegance. I pick it up and twirl it in my fingers for a few moments, then dump it in my wastepaper basket. Forgotten...

Once changed into my slob out clothes, I load the DVD player with the latest offering from the local rental shop, jump on the couch with Kate and try to concentrate on the movie.

It’s impossible. My mind’s eye is trampled with a tall, lean, dark blonde, green eyed male of a certain age, with a dribble worthy gait and bag loads of sex appeal. I doze off with the words “But I want you” pin-balling around my head. Not so forgotten…

Chapter 3

After two progress meetings with clients and stopping by at Mr Muller’s new townhouse in Holland Park to drop off some samples, I’m back in the office listening to Patrick moan about Irene. It’s a normal Monday morning affair after he’s endured a whole weekend away from the office with his wife. I really have no idea how the poor man pokes up with her.

Tom breezes in with the widest grin on his face, and I know immediately he must have pulled over the weekend.

‘Darling, I’ve missed you!’ He air kisses me and turns to Patrick, who holds his hands up in a don’t-even-think-about-it gesture. Tom rolls his eyes, completely un-offended, and waltzes to his desk.

‘Morning, Tom.’ I greet brightly.

‘I’ve had the most stressful morning. Mr and Mrs Baines have changed their bloody minds for the thousandth time. I’ve had to cancel all the orders and re-arrange a dozen workmen,’ He waves his arms in the air in frustration. ‘I got a sodding parking ticket for not displaying a permit in a resident’s zone and, to top it off, I snagged my new jumper on them hideous railings outside Starbucks.’ He starts picking the stray wool from the hem of his hot pink, V neck jumper. ‘God damn it, look! It’s a good job I got laid last night or I’d be in the depths of despair.’ He grins at me.

I knew it.

Patrick walks away, shaking his head. His attempts to tone Tom’s gayness down to more tolerable levels have proven ineffective. He’s now given up.

‘Good night?’ I ask.

‘Wonderful, I met the most divine man. He’s taking me to the Natural History Museum at the weekend. He’s a scientist. We’re soul mates, for sure.’

‘What happened to the personal trainer?’ I ask. That was last week’s soul mate.

‘Don’t, it was a disaster. He turned up at my apartment on Friday night with the Dirty Dancing DVD and an Indian takeout for two. Can you believe that?’

‘I’m shocked.’ I tease.

‘I bloody was. Needless to say, I won’t be seeing him again. What’s happening with you, darling? How’s that gorgeous ex-boyfriend of yours?’ He winks. Tom doesn’t hide his attraction to Matt, which makes me laugh but makes Matt extremely uncomfortable.

‘He’s okay. He’s still the ex and still straight.’

‘Damn shame. Let me know when he comes to his senses.’ Tom saunters off, tweaking his perfectly positioned blonde quiff.

‘Sally, I’m emailing you a design consultation fee for Mr Ward. Can you make sure you send it today?’

‘I will, Ava. Seven day payment terms?’

‘Yes, thank you.’ I turn back to my desk and resume colour matching, reaching over to grab my phone when it starts dancing around my desk. Glancing at my screen, I nearly fall off my chair when I see the name Jesse flashing up. After a few seconds of staring, my brain finally gets the shock message and my heart commences sprint in my chest. What the hell?

I never stored his number – Patrick never got round to passing it to me and after handing the project over to him on Friday, I no longer needed it. I wouldn’t be going back, and I meant it. And even so, I wouldn’t have saved his number under his first name. I hold my phone in my hand, scanning the office to see if the continuous ringing has drawn any attention from my colleagues. It hasn’t. I let it ring off. What does he want?

I make for Patrick’s office to ask if he’s notified Mr Ward of the change in arrangements, but then it rings again, halting me in my tracks. I take a steady breath and connect the call.

If Patrick hasn’t advised him yet, then I will. And if it doesn’t suit, it’s bad luck. I make a rubbish job of convincing myself that I’ve passed the contract over because Patrick’s more suitable for the project. I know damn well that’s only half the reason.

‘Hello.’ I say, stamping my foot a little for sounding apprehensive in my greeting. I was aiming for sure and confident.

‘Ava?’ His husky voice has the same impact on my weak senses as it did on Friday. But at least over the phone he can’t see me physically trembling.

‘Who’s speaking?’ There. That sounded better – professional, business-like and steady.

He laughs lightly, and it throws me completely off guard. ‘Now, I know you already know the answer to that question because my name came up on your phone,’ I cringe on the spot. ‘Trying to play it cool?’

Oh, the arrogant arse! How does he know that? But then realisation dawns on me. ‘You added yourself to my contacts list?’ I gasp. When did he do that? I mentally sprint through our meeting, settling on my visit to the toilet when I left my portfolio and phone on the table. I can’t believe he went through my phone!

‘I need to be able to get hold of you.’

Oh, no. Patrick, obviously, hasn’t told him. Nevertheless, you don’t go around snooping through strangers phones. He really is very self-assured. And storing it under Jesse? That’s a bit familiar.

‘Patrick should have contacted you,’ I coolly inform him. ‘I’m afraid I’m unable to assist you, but Patrick will be more than happy to help.’

‘Patrick has been in contact,’ he replies. I sag in relief but then frown. Why is he calling me then? ‘I’m sure he will be happy to help, but I’m less than happy to accept it.’

My mouth gapes. Who does he think he is? He’s called to tell me he’s not happy? Oh, this man is way past arrogant. I close my gaping mouth.

‘I’m sorry to hear that.’ I sound less than sorry; I sound irritated.

‘Are you?’

And I’m thrown again. No, I’m not sorry. But I’m not about to tell him that. ‘Yes, I am.’ I lie. I want to add that I could never work with an arrogant, good looking swine like him, but I refrain. That wouldn’t be very professional.

I hear him sigh. ‘I don’t think you are, Ava.’ My name sounds like velvet rolling from his lips, causing a familiar shudder to course through me. How does he know I’m not sorry? ‘I think you’re avoiding me.’ he adds.

I’m going to dislocate my jaw at this rate. He’s right. He sparks some very unwelcome feelings in me, and the fact I know he’s involved with someone else has not helped one iota.

‘Why would I do that?’ I ask cockily. That should shut him up.

‘Well, because you’re attracted to me.’

‘Excuse me?’ I splutter. His self-assuredness knows no bounds. Has he no shame? The fact that he’s bang on the money is way beside the point. You would have to be blind, deaf and numb not to be attracted to this man. He’s the epitome of male perfection and, quite clearly, he knows it.

He sighs. ‘I said…’

‘Yes, I heard you,’ I interrupt him. ‘I just can’t believe you said it.’ I slump in my chair.

I’ve never known anything quite like it. I’m completely stunned. The man has a significant other, and he’s flirting on the end of the phone with me? What a player! I need to turn this conversation back around to business and get off of the phone quickly.

‘I apologise for not being available to assist with your work.’ I blurt and hang up, staring down at my phone.

That was really quite rude and extremely unprofessional, but I’m completely staggered by his forwardness. Passing the contract over to Patrick is looking more and more sensible by the minute. A text arrives.

I notice you didn’t deny it. You should know the feeling’s mutual. Jx

Shitting f**king hell! I slap my hand over my lips to stop my mental explicit language from falling out of my mouth. No, I didn’t deny it. And he’s attracted to me? I’m a bit young for him, or is he too old for me? A kiss? What a cocky arse! I don’t reply – I have no idea what to say to that.

Instead, I throw my phone in my bag and go to meet Kate for lunch.

‘Holy Moses!’ Kate exclaims, staring down at my phone. Her red hair is swinging from side to side in its ponytail as she shakes her head. ‘Did you reply?’ She looks up at me expectantly.

‘Christ, no.’ I laugh. What would she recommend I say to that? It’s got me completely stumped.

‘And he’s got a girlfriend?’

‘Yes.’ I nod, raising my eyebrows.

She places my phone back on the table. ‘That’s a shame.’

Is it? It actually makes things a lot easier. It totally trumps the looks and reactions he spikes in me. Kate’s far more daring than me. She would have replied with something shocking and suggestive, and probably made his jaw drop. That girl would give any bona-fide man-eater a run for their money. Not slow in coming forward, she mostly scared men off on the first date – only the strongest survive. Kate’s long, red hair is as vibrant as her personality. She’s confident, strong minded and determined.

‘Not really,’ I muse, picking up my cheeky lunchtime wine and taking a sip. ‘Anyway, it’s only been four weeks since Matt and I split up. I don’t want any men in my life, not in any capacity.’ I like the fact that I sound resolute. ‘I’m enjoying being single and carefree for the first time ever.’ I add. And it really does feel like the first time ever. I was with Matt for four years and previous to that, I was in a three year relationship with Adam.

‘Have you seen the prick?’ Kate face distorts into one of disgust at the mention of my ex’s name.

She can’t stand Matt and was delighted when I split up with him. Kate catching him at it with a work colleague in a taxi only confirmed what I already knew. I don’t know why I ignored it for so long. When I confronted him calmly, he fell apart with apologies and nearly fell over when I told him I wasn’t bothered. I really wasn’t, much to my own surprise. The relationship had run its course, and Matt was of the same opinion. It’s all been very amicable, much to Kate’s disgust. She wants flying plates and police intervention.

‘No.’ I confirm.

‘We are having fun, aren’t we?’ She grins as the waitress approaches with our lunch.

‘I’m just going to the loo.’ I get up, leaving Kate dowsing her chips in mayonnaise.

After using the toilet, I stand in the mirror re-applying my lip gloss and fluffing my hair. It’s behaving today, so it’s down and tumbling all over my shoulders. I brush down my black capri pants and pick a few hairs off my cream blouse. My phone rings as I make my way back to the bar. I drag it from my bag, rolling my eyes when I see it’s him again. He’s probably wondering where my reply to his inappropriate text message is. I’m not playing games with him.

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