Desire by Design
Author:Paula Altenburg

chapter Two

Eve unclenched her fingers and took a deep breath. At least she controlled the purse-strings, and therefore, much of the project. That thought raised her flagging spirits. She could make an architect stick to a budget; she’d done it before. This architect was no different than any other she’d worked with.

Except this one was famous. And the mayor’s nephew.

She rubbed her aching temple.

“I’d love to see your ideas,” Matt said, his words catching her by surprise. “May I?”

Before she had time to recover, he’d flicked on a desk lamp and was standing in front of her drafting table, gazing down at house plans she’d finished a few nights ago for a private client. She’d picked them up from the printer on her way to work that morning so she could give them one last proof before dropping them off.

The irony of the situation did not escape her. She had just been criticizing one of the country’s finest young architects, yet his first sample of her own work—other than the plans he claimed to have reviewed—was to be the house plans for a client who could give Bob Anderson a run for his money.

She forced herself to move in a calm and assured manner when what she really wanted to do was dive across her desk and throw her body over those plans to hide them from sight. “Those are for a client who is very particular about what he wants.”

Matt stared at the plans, his expression noncommittal. The expensive Italian suit made her self-conscious about her own worn-out, shiny-kneed jeans, and she couldn’t remember if she’d put on any makeup that morning. When she worked on site, regulations required her to wear steel-toed boots and a hard hat. They said nothing about lipstick. She wished they were having this conversation in her office at Sullivan Construction, and she were wearing her high heels.

Chewing on her naked lower lip, Eve tried not to notice how very tall he was or how very blue those eyes were when he looked at her. She tried not to notice the beginnings of a five o’clock shadow on a strong jaw or that he had a slight cleft at the curve of his mouth. She also tried not to notice how her breath quickened when his arm brushed against her shoulder.

She was unsuccessful on all counts.

He ran a hand through his short-cropped black hair and glanced down at her. His eyes twinkled with a glimmer of sympathy. Pure, physical attraction struck her, hard.

“I’ve had difficult clients, too. Tell you what,” he continued. “Why don’t we schedule a meeting to share our ideas? That will give me time to get some sketches together to show you.”

Time to prepare would be good, although she was was too rattled to make a firm commitment. “I have a lot of work on the go right now, but I should be available early next week.”

They were still in front of the drafting table, standing too close together. Matt was making no signs of leaving, just watching her face, and Eve wasn’t sure what to do about it.

“I wouldn’t mind having a quick tour of this site,” he hinted, his incredible eyes crinkling at the corners.

While she was cautious of his motives, Eve wasn’t about to pass up a chance to wow him with her accomplishments. She’d seen his work; let him see hers. “I’ll get you a hard hat.”

She grabbed her own, as well as a spare kept on a hook on the wall for visitors. She passed the spare to Matt. As he took it, his fingers caught hers, just their tips brushing the backs of her knuckles, and when she looked up at him, he smiled into her eyes. “Thanks.”

The fine dark shadow on his jaw showed off the perfect whiteness of his teeth. Eve blinked. The man was gorgeous. And he knew how to rock it.

She put more distance between them and settled her hat in place. She reached for the door, but Matt got to it first. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had held a door for her out of politeness and not because her hands were full.

He got full marks for manners. The jury was still out on his intentions.

They both stepped from the dingy trailer into the sunshine. Shouting to the site supervisor to let him know where she was going, she led Matt across the torn-up lot to the heavy, steel doors of the new federal building.

Inside, black mirrors greeted them from an otherwise empty foyer. Thick cables crisscrossed the dusty granite floors. The smell of drying paint from the glassed-in office suites tickled her nose, while clouds of Gyprock dust drifted in the air. Hammers thundered in far-off parts of the building.

Eve loved everything about a construction site, including the creative challenge of working within a budget. Here, outer offices were given extra attention while inner offices were designed more for function to save money. Nowhere, however, had corners been cut.

She was proud of this particular project and, as she walked him through, didn’t try to hide it. She’d done this design, too. She knew just where she could cut costs—and those cuts usually involved the little details most architects considered important to their professional identities. What would an architect of Matt’s caliber do when she had to tell him he couldn’t have some of those pricy little details?

“Nice,” he said when they were back in the foyer, his expression warm and unsettling.

Eve tried not to feel insulted by his lack of enthusiasm. It wasn’t the Taj Mahal, granted, but he could at least acknowledge it for what it was: a quality piece of construction.

Then she wondered if it was the building he thought was nice or if he meant something else. She recalled the twinkle in his eye earlier. She knew how to deal with it when men were blatantly interested in her. She could laugh it off and pretend they were joking, and no one was offended. But Matt was subtler than that. More charming.

And Eve was uncomfortable with this kind of attention. She had no idea how to respond.

“What would you have done differently?” she asked.

As Matt looked around, he appeared to be giving the question careful consideration. Then those blue eyes fixed back on her. Twin creases embracing the corners of his mouth made a brief, attention-grabbing appearance. “For starters, I’d have added a Starbucks.”

Eve wanted to laugh, but she wasn’t sure he’d meant to be funny. He was too hard to read, so she left it alone.

He walked with her back to the trailer, and the site supervisor came over to greet them. Eve introduced the two men, then she excused herself with a lame comment about mountains of paperwork to be done.

She dashed back into her office, leaving them to talk outside in the sunshine. Instead of digging into the invoices, however, she peered through a crack in the blinds and waited for Matt to leave.

She didn’t want to find Bob Anderson’s interloping, over-priced nephew reasonable, understanding, or most especially, attractive. She didn’t want to see the sympathy, or the interest, or even the humor, in his eyes. She’d fallen for his type before, and it had been a disaster.

She breathed a little easier once he was gone, then told herself to relax. She was being ridiculous. He was showing professional courtesy, nothing more. As long as he didn’t interfere with her doing her job, there was nothing for her to worry about.

She slumped back in her chair. Who was she trying to kid? She had yet to meet an architect who didn’t interfere with her job.

The phone rang, and Eve wished she could ignore it and stick her head under something dark and heavy. Instead, she answered it. “Hello?”

“Hello, Eve.”

Just what she needed. A phone call from her mother.

A selfish thought lifted her spirits. Maybe her parents’ fortieth anniversary party was about to be canceled.

No such luck.

“I’m planning the menu for the party,” her mother said. “I thought I’d make tourtière, just for you. You will be coming, won’t you?”

There it was again—the guilt trip. The anxious little quiver to her mother’s voice, making it sound as if the anniversary would be a disaster if Eve wasn’t there. In fairness, their large, Acadian French family was very close-knit, and they’d all be disappointed if she didn’t show up.

“I wouldn’t miss it,” Eve said, smothering her sigh. After all, why wouldn’t she want to hear tired family jokes about her oddball career choice, her failed marriage, and, oh yes, the current lack of a man in her life?

They might be a close family, but that didn’t always translate into understanding and sensitivity.

She made the appropriate noises as her mother outlined the family weekend she’d planned. Then Eve said she had work to do and extricated herself from what would surely be a much longer conversation than she wanted to deal with just then.

The second Eve said good-bye and hung up, however, the phone rang again. She made a face at it. What detail could her mother possibly have forgotten?

“Have you missed me?” whispered a low, husky, male voice.

Eve hadn’t heard that voice in over five years…and had hoped never to hear again.