The message on her inner-office email was typed in bold. The receptionist, her close friend, Bonnie, had even used red font to further drive home her point.
DON'T LOOK NOW!
Of course, the first thing Eva did was spring from behind her desk and stare toward the entranceway of the real estate development office. She'd never learn. Curiosity would definitely kill this cat someday. Possibly today.
She'd never actually been poked with a cattle prod but figured the effect of seeing over six feet of gorgeous, muscular man on a mission, striding toward her office, had to be close to the same sensation. Her stomach plummeted worse than the time she'd bungee jumped. Every inch of her skin prickled with awareness. It even felt as though her hair stood on end like she'd been statically charged.
And none of that stopped her from gazing at the hard line of his mouth and remembering exactly what he'd done with said mouth the last time they'd been together.
She pressed a hand to the fire that burst at her breastbone, as though that would somehow deter the heat she felt rapidly creeping upward, from reaching her cheeks. For a second, she had the completely irrational urge to crawl beneath her desk and hide, but it was too late.
Seth Edwards emitted a low whistle and slowed his pace. The line of his mouth quirked to the left, giving her a peek at the slightly crooked eyetooth that gave his smile a wolfish quality Eva thought perfectly suited him.
"Hot damn, Evie. You're lookin' good. I knew there was a reason to come back to Ontario, aside from the frigid winters."
"Back?" she parroted numbly. He couldn't just come back. She'd spun her life out of control by letting it revolve around him for two years. It had taken her almost as long to quit circling and start moving forward again after he left. Give or take a few dizzying side-trips for hot weekends when he'd been in town and she'd succumbed to his charms.
Never again. She said it every time. Difference was, she meant it this time.
"Well, back for as long as it takes me to build a forty-unit condo complex on the Welland River. And for you to decorate it, of course. Which is what brings me by. Except now that I'm looking at you, going for drinks and catching up strikes me as a better idea. Business can wait. Hell, we haven't broken ground yet. As I recall, you've got a weakness for red. A steak, a bottle of cabernet sauvignon, and we'll see where the evening takes us. What do you say?"
He stepped forward. She recognized the all too familiar flash of desire in his whiskey-colored eyes and knew he'd already mapped out exactly where the evening would take them. Heat churned low in her belly, and she automatically stepped back. Bracing her suddenly unsteady stance by leaning on the doorway of her office, she averted her eyes from his hot stare and cleared her throat. "I'm busy."
The hint of husky laughter that accompanied the single word made her want to slap him.
"I talked to Howard earlier this afternoon. He said things are pretty quiet around here right now."
"Hmm. He also said he'd never work with you again because you're a rule-breaker and renegade. Guess you can't believe everything he says."
Her intended slight didn't appear to offend him in the least. Instead, he shot her another wolfish grin. "Howard's a good businessman. He's willing to bend a few rules if it gets results. And you know I always get results. So about tonight. Would you prefer Italian?"
"Howard reported to you on my work life, not my social life. I told you, I'm busy." She felt an inordinate amount of pleasure when his smug smile slipped on his tanned face.
He recovered quickly, and she was treated to another flash of dental-poster white teeth. "Ah. Hot date, or just a cozy evening with a main squeeze?"
She pushed back the tiny thrill she got that he cared enough to ask. Ignoring the question, she tossed her hair in a way she hoped conveyed breezy confidence and struggled to keep her tone professionally modulated. "Nice seeing you, Seth. Call Bonnie when you get far enough along in your project to discuss design. I'll look forward to working with you again."
He braced a hand on the doorframe where she leaned, inches away from the pulse pounding wildly in her temple. The rough skin of his palm proved he was an architect devoted to every aspect of a project and prepared to dig in and get dirty when the need arose. The remembered rush of those calloused palms grazing her hips and thighs, breast and belly, tumbled through her. Breathing deeply through her nose, the heady scent of fresh timber, sunshine, and pure male filled her head, making her dizzy. She must have blinked a second too long. When she opened her eyes, his feral grin had spread to full-blown proportions.
"Do you really look forward to working with me again, Evie?"
She ducked from beneath his arm and retreated to the relative safety behind her desk. "Not really. They pay me to say that. Fortunately, I'm paid well enough to accept the less desirable tasks gracefully."
He barked husky laughter. "I'm tempted to ask what I'm less desirable than, but I'm afraid you'd answer me. Am I really so difficult? I gave you free rein on the Jameson place, and you made it a masterpiece." His voice dropped until she could feel the rumble of it vibrating in her chest. "You remember the Jameson project, don't you, Evie?"
How could she forget? Four thousand square feet of unmitigated elegance. Eighteen rooms. And they'd christened every one.
Her phone rang, and she lunged for it. Answering seemed more appropriate than begging him to quit filling her head with images that liquefied her spine.
"Eva Delucca. Your dreams to my design." She nodded toward Seth, but he ignored the hint and remained standing in her doorway, staring with unabashed curiosity.
"I guess my warning worked. You're conscious," Bonnie intoned dryly. "Does he still look as good to you as he did to me?"
She threw a note of flirtatious delight into her voice. "You know it. I'm glad you called. I was thinking about you."
"Were you thinking you'd like to shoot me for letting that Greek God bod march past my desk?"
Eva leaned the cheek of her butt against her desk, turning her back on Seth. She emitted a throaty laugh that nearly choked her. "Precisely. Are we still on for tonight?"
Bonnie snorted. "Ah, sure. I've got a bottle of tequila. Mi casa, es sous casa and all that. How does Taco Bell drive-thru grab ya? Are you buying?"
"Of course I am." She glanced at Seth. He'd thrust his hands into the pockets of his faded Levis. An unfamiliar consternation creased his tanned face, leaving his usual dimples as flat creases bracketing his mouth. She decided to pour it on a little thicker "Sounds divine. I can't wait. Bye for now."
She disconnected and glanced up as though surprised to still find him in her office.
"The hot date, I take it."
Feigning a glance at her watch, she smiled tightly. "Bonnie finishes work soon. If you want to schedule that appointment, you should do it now."
He tilted his head forward once. "I'll get right on that. I can see you're very busy."
Seth didn't bother to stop at reception. He'd moved around, but it appeared Eva had moved right on. He may have put physical distance between them, but that was all. She'd never been far from his mind. When Howard had approached him with a new project, he'd been eager to leap at the opportunity, regardless of what the job entailed. Seeing Eva had factored prominently in his enthusiasm.
Her chilly reception surprised him. The hot ache it had created around his sternum surprised him even more. Not that he'd expected a long-lost lover returned greeting or anything. The circumstances surrounding his departure--and subsequent departures--had been too strained for that.
Unfamiliar regret surged through him. When he'd been offered a chance at a historical restoration project he knew would keep him out of the country for the better part of two years, he'd tried to discuss it with her. Discussion had never particularly been his or Evie's strong suit; the timing had never felt quite right. Even when they'd taken off for a long weekend before his departure, he'd been unable to find an appropriate way to broach the topic.
They'd always shared a spark that could combust in seconds, but their final getaway had been--something more. Those three days were forever seared into his mind. The quintessential California dream. Long, hot days and longer, hotter nights. The intensity of it had impacted them both. Even now, seeing Napa on a wine label could tug at something deep inside him. He'd thought everything had simply been amplified because of the separation to come, but his twenty-twenty hindsight was telling him he should have examined things a little closer.
There were things he'd attempted to express physically that would have been better expressed verbally. He thought she'd understood. Eva wasn't a fan of unnecessary words any more than he was. It was one of the many, many things that made them such a perfect fit.
Except, despite their spark, he realized he'd been subconsciously waiting for it to fizzle the entire time they'd been together. When he'd flown home for his mother's fourth wedding, Eva had been pissed, but he'd managed to cajole her into forgiving him and attending the ceremony. It hadn't taken much to reignite her. Nor had it on the two other occasions he'd been home. Fun, flattery, a bottle of merlot, and everything had burned brightly again. Today, however, the flame appeared to be as thoroughly doused as a campfire beneath pounds of sand and a hundred stomping Boy Scout feet.
She'd held her lush curves in a stiff, hands-off posture. Her full lips hadn't shown a hint of a smile, and most disarming of all was the flatness in her big dark eyes. Eva had the most expressive eyes he'd ever seen. She could speak volumes without saying a word. With a mere sweep of her lashes, she could cast him a glance filled with promise of pleasures to come.
He couldn't even count the number of times the look had given him an inappropriate response for time and place. They'd shared numerous moments during their first project working together working project together. He had fond memories of every square inch of the five-million-dollar palace he'd built on the Niagara Parkway for a Calgary oilman. As he did of the stretch limo when he'd been Howard's best man. On one wild occasion, he and Eva had even made the friendly skies a whole lot friendlier.
The mile high club. The worst sort of cliché. It was also cataclysmically orgasmic. His pulse spiked thinking about it. It dipped again immediately when he pictured the cool disinterest in her expression today. He would have been happier if she'd screamed and cursed at him.
He clicked the remote for the Navigator he'd leased yesterday. The headlights blinked, making the gleaming black vehicle appear to wink at him knowingly.
Seth was no fool. The short-term lease was a good indication of how he lived his life in general, which was an excellent indication of how he'd managed to turn the hottest woman he'd ever met stone cold. Except in the past, she'd never objected to his footloose proclivity to pursue whatever project piqued his interest. What had changed?
The term biological clock sprang to mind. It made him snicker, because he knew she'd slap him if she ever heard him use the phrase in reference to her. Evie didn't have a biological clock. She was forever young. They were kindred spirits as far as being dedicated to freedom and self-indulgences.
He settled in the driver's seat. The sun had heated the dove grey leather to a degree that scorched right through his clothes. It wrapped the desk-wearied muscles of his back like a warm hug, but it was far from what he actually wanted to be wrapped in.
A gut punch of desire stabbed through him. He wanted to reacquaint himself with the taste, touch, and smell of every inch of her pale olive skin. To feel the silky brush of her long black curls against his chest as she rose above him.
His fist tightened on the steering wheel until his knuckles whitened. Damn. He'd be around for at least a year, probably more. There was no way he'd watch her sashay around without knowing that, at the end of the day, those endless legs of hers would carry her in his direction. He'd find a way to melt her ice-queen act.
Unless someone else already had. The throaty burst of laughter she'd delivered to whoever had been on the phone rang in his ears. She'd shared that same secretive, naughty laugh with him. Once upon a time, he'd believed he was solely responsible for that particular laugh. Something foreign writhed through his chest, settling low in his belly.
St. Catharines didn't have that many fine dining establishments where you'd take a lady like Eva. He debated the wisdom of barhopping every one until he accidentally bumped into her but discarded the notion. If this were a new relationship for her, making her uncomfortable on a dinner date certainly wouldn't cast him in a favorable light.
The weight in his belly shifted, plunging lower. He wanted to laugh at his sudden and aberrant urge to slug a man he'd never even met.
Parking in the too-narrow drive of the upscale town home he'd also leased for a year, Seth sighed over the characterless collection of pale beige and paler beige boxes that surrounded him. This was precisely what had driven him to become an architect. There was no excuse for the blandness. Buildings were meant to inspire, to embrace and invite, like the arms of a beautiful lover.
He sighed again as he unlocked the door and surveyed his standard, Sears-brand central furniture, planted without design on builder-beige broadloom. Maybe he'd invite Eva over to see what she could do with the place. It would be a good icebreaker. Unleashing her passion for decorating might let loose a few of the other passions he knew simmered inside her.