Eric strolled in just as his dossier reappeared on her screen, and Tabitha swallowed at the sight of him, suddenly wishing she had stuck with her usual formality when they'd been on the phone and kept their relationship on a strictly last name basis. She didn't want him to get the wrong idea, especially since her own treacherous hormones already had the wrong idea and had her pussy muscles clenching in response to his tall height and broad shoulders filling the doorway as he paused on the threshold.
Instant attraction. Not only was it not good, it was unprecedented.
Tabitha stood up behind her desk and proffered a hand across the glass top as he approached, thinking Evelyn had somehow bamboozled her and that her brother's profile did not do him a bit of justice. There was nothing about the man that needed to be "made over."
He was inhumanly gorgeous, the black hair he had mentioned in his profile was sleek and wavy, worn in a longish but masculine and neat style combed back off his forehead and glistening beneath the fluorescent lights of her office.
Tabitha slowly moved her gaze down, taking in the aquiline nose, angular jaw, and cleft chin--the cleft he had neglected to mention in his profile as he had mentioned his dimples--immediately drawn back up to his indigo eyes, ridiculously long-lashed, so dark and intense they almost looked black.
She almost smiled when he grinned and she noticed the big dimples to which he had previously alluded, mentally taking his measurements and surprised he had been so accurate with his description. Most men--most people--boasted, overcompensated for some shortcoming or were too humble with their self-assessment. Rarely had she met anyone who'd been so accurate. Accurate and modest. God, the man can't be this perfect!
Tabitha slid her gaze down further to take in his outfit and amended her last thought. Today was not Friday, but he was definitely dressed down.
Okay, he wasn't perfect. Thank God for small favors.
His sense of fashion seemed to come straight from a discount store. Actually, a discount store would have been a step up. She could easily see the man perusing the aisles of a neighborhood thrift shop. Not that there was anything wrong with that. She frequented some of the better thrift shops herself when she was on the hunt for that perfect item for a client and not that his clothes were ill fitting, quite the contrary.
He had the kind of body on which clothes hung well, any clothes, pulled off the casual ragged, torn-up look with sensual style rather than coming off as a slob.
Tabitha glanced at her clock as he caught her smaller hand in his big one and gently squeezed. The resultant energy tingled all the way up her arm until she thought he had one of those practical joke buzzers in his palm, but there was nothing touching her palm except his smooth, warm skin.
He noticed the direction of her glance and grinned, showcasing those dimples to their fullest effect. "Come on now, you have to admit I'm on time."
Tabitha arched a brow. "Just," she said coolly.
"Let me guess, you're the type who turns up to all her appointments at least a half-an-hour early, am I right?"
"Why don't you have a seat and we can get started," she said, ignoring his quip. That he was so on target about her was totally beside the point.
He released her hand slowly, his body heat and intensity overwhelming and invading her comfort zone so much, it made her think twice about walking across the room to close the door before she finally did just that.
When she got back behind her desk and sat down, Eric was still standing and running a hand over the glass top admiringly, glanced up at her with a knowing look.
"I knew you'd be a glass and chrome type."
Tabitha glanced at him with a start, entranced by his long fingertips stroking her desk, imagined him caressing her skin instead of the smooth cold glass, her body wantonly arched beneath his manipulations. "Excuse me?"
"I got a definite vibe from your voice on the phone the other day." He glanced around her uncluttered office and nodded. "Cool, Spartan, functional."
His matter of fact appraisal made her feel as if her character had just been attacked, that maybe she should defend herself, but he spoke up again before she had a chance.
"Don't get me wrong. I like the look. It suits you."
"Not quite an apology."
He arched a lush brow. "Do I owe you one?"
"No, I suppose you don't. You were just making an observation after all." She leaned her elbows on the desk, folded her hands and leaned her chin on her clenched fingers as she looked at him. Two could play the intuitive game. "What type are you?"
"Eclectic, whatever feels good at the moment."
"Mmm-hmm." Just like she thought. A free spirit. He probably would have been right at home at Woodstock.
"Is this part of the interview process?"
"Everything you say to me here is basically part of the interview process. I get to know what you like, your general style, it helps me when I finally have to go and pick things out for you. That is, if you're not with me at the time I make the purchases."
"You mean I have that option?"
"If you have the time, of course you do. Most of my clients don't use the option. Time constraints are one of the main reasons people hire me in the first place. Your time is valuable, so why not let me do what I do best while you're using your time to do what you do best?"
"I like that philosophy."
Most men did. Most of her clients of the male, no-time-or-desire-for-frivolous-nonsense persuasion where shopping was concerned, did. Must have been something in the Y chromosome, some anti-shopping gene.
Tabitha looked at her monitor and hit the Enter key twice to make room for additional information. "Now, you mentioned eclectic..." Tabitha paused to glimpse his outfit. Not quite as out there as some of the Woodstock fashions she had seen, but definitely unconventional for the business world in which she moved. The white T-shirt tucked into a pair of blue wash-and-wear Levi's hinted at firm well-muscled abs that tapered down to a slim waist, would have been more suitable attire for a Grease revival. Same went for the black distressed leather blazer that clung to his broad shoulders and had Tabitha's fingers itching to divest him and see if his physique was as hard as it looked.
He had the anarchistic artist look down to a science, and she wasn't sure yet whether or not it was a façade, or a well-honed image he'd perfected just for their meeting today, because Eric seemed like the type to go out of his way to shock.
Eric finally took the seat across from Tabitha's desk, resting his right ankle on his left knee and giving her a good view of a comfortable, well-worn black desert boot.
"So, let's get back to your sty--"
"I don't like suits and ties. I did the whole corporate dress for success deal years ago, and I'm not interested in reimmersing myself. What you see here is as dressy as I usually get."
True, the customer was always right, but Tabitha took offense at his tone, as if he was too good for a suit and she wasn't; as if he were attacking her tastes without even knowing what she might have planned for him.
"There are a lot of things we can do with slacks and a suit jacket that don't involve a tie."
"There are a lot of things I could do with a tie that don't involve clothes at all."
If she'd had liquid in her mouth, she might have spewed it across the desk in his face. As it was she had to tamp down a strong urge to laugh, and instead frowned to show her displeasure.
Her look didn't go a long way to putting him in his place, however.
He simply grinned at her, a smug boy who had just put his second grade teacher on the spot with his risqué comment in front of the class.
"Other than the suit and tie aversion--"
"I'm fairly easy."
She just bet. "That helps a bit." Although she didn't consider the subject closed by any stretch of the imagination.
He'd insulted her and Tabitha did not take well to insults. Rather than dwell on it though, she typed in "easy and casual" on his profile, then peered at him. "Would it be safe to say blue or black are your favorite colors?"
"Today they are. Tomorrow it might be something that's at my fingertips when I reach into my closet."
Tabitha shifted in her chair, crossed her legs to stem the sudden flow of wetness in her panties. She'd never found wise-asses a turn-on, but there was something intrinsically sexy and inviting about his grin, something raw and challenging in the depths of those indigo eyes.
She highlighted and underlined "easy and casual," already envisioning him in a charcoal single breasted suit and vest to highlight those beautiful dark eyes, and a black T-shirt underneath. There, no tie! "Any colors or materials you don't like?"
He shrugged, but rather than give off uncertainty, the motion emitted his indifference.
Tabitha stopped herself from flinging her mouse over the pad, and stared at him across the desk as he merely arched a thick brow. "This is not the best way to build rapport, Eric. I need cooperation from you to make this work. This relationship has to be a two-way street, give and ta--"
"Okay, okay." He chuckled, put up his hands as if in surrender. "You're absolutely right. I have to apologize for dragging you into this."
That was more than she expected, but less than she deserved, and Tabitha waited for the other shoe to drop. She was sure he had something up his sleeve, especially when she realized what he had said. "Dragging me into what?"
"Vega vendettas and power struggles."
"I'm not following."
"I have to be honest, my sister damn near twisted my arm to sell me on the idea of a makeover and personal shopper."
"You don't have to feel obliga--"
"But, now that I'm here I'm getting used to the idea of having a fashion consultant."
"Let's get something straight, I can't work miracles."
"I don't expect you to."
"And I won't do anything to your wardrobe you don't want me to do."
"I leave myself and my wardrobe at your total discretion, Tabitha."
She stopped herself from sputtering at his silky warm murmur, the sound of her name on his lips, still waiting for that big size twelve desert boot to drop.
At the thought, he did lower his right foot to the polished parquet floor, rolled his chair closer before leaning his elbows on her desk.
Tabitha purposely held her ground, though she was tempted to roll her chair back an inch or two, his clean musky scent riding the wind to her nostrils and making her light-headed.
It should have been illegal for a man to smell as good as he looked.
"Well, ah, that's good to hear."
"And I promise to cooperate and be a good boy for the rest of our meeting."
She didn't think he could or would keep that particular promise, not even if he tried, not a "good" bone in that big well-built body.
"Scout's honor." He raised his hand and grinned at her silence.
"Was I what?"
"A Boy Scout."
"Even better. I was an Eagle."
She wasn't that up on what the qualifications for an Eagle Scout were, but she was sure they were pretty extensive and doubted that Eric's footloose and fancy-free mien had held him in good stead with the fraternity.
"I could show you my merit badges," he said at her doubtful look.
"I bet you could." What did they give merit badges out for? She was certain he'd excelled in totally different areas of achievement and socialization than had the rest of his troop. And despite his aversion to suits and ties, she could imagine him in the little green shorts uniform, politely helping an old lady across the street and shamelessly flirting with her all the way.
Tabitha bet he had nice legs too, to go with the rest of that hard body she'd been secretly ogling since he'd arrived.
"What about you?"
"Me?" She raised a brow.
"I can see you in a little Brownie's uniform selling cookies door to door."
The double entendre didn't escape her--she knew he'd meant it not to--his smile slow and seductive as he sat back in his seat waiting for her response.
"I was entirely too busy with more important activities to indulge in that particular whimsy." Too busy surviving, she thought.
Tabitha had never had to sell cookies door to door, but she'd had to barter, borrow and steal for a meal more times than she liked to count.
She especially remembered a period when her mother had neglected to come home for several days after Tabitha's father had left them. Everyday for a week she had come home to an empty house, and an even emptier refrigerator before going out to the neighbors to play "Whimpy from Popeye" with promises that her mother would gladly pay them Tuesday for a meal today.
No, hawking hundreds of boxes of overpriced cookies for top-selling honors and a cheesy overrated prize had not been high on her list of eight-year-old priorities.
"So, back to least favorite colors and materials?"
"I'm not too fond of orange and pink, unless they're on a woman. As for materials, I like anything that's washable."
She wanted to ask him if that jacket he was wearing was washable since it looked like it had been through the ringer. Distressed leather had been a trend back in the 90's, which looked to be about when he had bought the jacket. Of course, leather and blazers were pretty timeless...
"Before you ask, yes, it is."
"I'm sorry? Yes, what is?"
"The jacket's washable."
Her jaw dropped but she quickly coughed into a fist to cover her shock. "What are you, a mind reader?" she asked and watched as he fidgeted in his seat, for the first time since he'd come into her office looking uneasy, as if she had hit a nerve.