He noticed she didn’t specify when—and the bitterness that had been blown away at the sight of her began to fester back. She’d return some time at her convenience, no doubt—probably when she didn’t have something better to do. It wasn’t about them, it was all about her. He worked his scratchiness up some more—it was a good way of fighting off the lust, and he felt more in control of it when he kept his cynicism to the fore.
They loaded into the car and as they pulled out he couldn’t help the sarcastic cut to his question. ‘Was it good fun?’
She kept looking out the window but he could have sworn her shoulders jerked—had she just flinched? ‘I enjoyed it. Hopefully they did too.’
The insecurity in her voice made him feel mean. He softened. ‘I’m sure they did. All I could hear was giggles when I got there.’ Princess Elissa had charmed again.
The stiffness in her shoulders eased a little. ‘Yeah.’
A quick glance showed a soft smile curving her lips—as if she was remembering something funny. She looked unbearably sweet and he resolved not to talk any more—not to interrupt her happy thoughts, and not to be drawn under her spell and charmed himself.
By public transport it could easily take over half an hour to get home, but in his car, with the way he drove, it was a little under fifteen. But it was still too long for James—and yet, not long enough.
He drove the car into the basement park beneath the apartment block, need eating at him—not just for the obvious, but simply for more time with her. Quiet time, quality time. He wanted to know what was going on in her head—what made her smile like that.
‘Thanks so much for the ride. I’m sorry I kept you waiting.’ She slid from the car.
‘No problem.’ He moved quicker, beating her to the boot, lifting her container out and keeping a firm hold on it. He swiped his key card to summon the lift, pressed buttons. She leaned back against the wall of the lift and her eyes closed. Her mouth had drooped. Her full lips looked pouty, way too kissable—and sad.
‘You look tired. Come up and have a coffee.’ The words were out before he thought further.
Her eyes flashed open and she looked at the lift controls. He hadn’t pressed the button to her floor so by the time she was about to say no—and he was sure she was going to refuse—the lift had flown up past it and the doors opened onto his lobby.
He entered the pin, diffusing the alarm, opened the door and walked ahead of her, heading to the kitchen.
Liss trailed behind him, more certain with every step that this was a bad move but one she couldn’t stop.
She wasn’t quite sure what mood James was in—sarcastic or maybe a more gentle one. In some ways it would be better if he was all sarcasm. It would stop her from wanting to get closer—and she badly wanted to. The way he wore jeans should be illegal, and the way he’d smiled so genuinely at those girls had been criminal. He was a thief of hearts. Alarms rang loud in her ears—she should be back in her own apartment where she would be safe. But he’d been kind enough to give her a lift; she couldn’t be rude. A quick coffee couldn’t hurt, could it? She’d keep her distance—admire from afar.
She stopped in the living area, with him in the kitchen, fussing over a gleaming coffee machine.
‘Great view.’ It looked out over the harbour, the water sparkled and the skies were blue. The quintessential, stunning Sydney view. She turned and took in his apartment—the quintessential, also stunning, bachelor pad —complete with neutral colourings erring to the darker shades, a large modern but comfy lounge suite, the requisite high-tech entertainment system and high-tech gadgets. There was also one wall of shelves— clearly the repository for anything and everything: books, CDs, DVDs and papers, magazines, a coffee cup and a three-quarters-empty bottle of red. The mishmash of colour and content was the only hint of maximalist in the whole minimalist look. She stepped closer to check out his choice of reading and viewing material, fiddling with the string of beads one of the girls had threaded onto her hair.
‘Don’t take it out. It looks nice.’ He handed her a coffee and she lifted it to her lips quickly, not wanting to smile at the compliment. The scalding-hot liquid was nothing on the perils of James Black in conciliatory mood. She retreated to the window and the safety of the view outside.
‘You go there often?’ He moved to the window too—the other end of it.
‘I’ve been there a few times.’
‘So what—it’s how you do your bit?’