“Take your time.”
My lips twitch. Fine, there’s nothing exciting about my paisley yellow, cotton thong, but his guttural rasp makes me feel like I’m wearing nothing. When I’ve stretched the moment long enough, I get to my feet again and attempt to keep my breathing even. He’s moved closer, close enough that I could reach out and touch him, his chest rising and falling faster than before.
“Where do you want me?” he rumbles.
In my apartment. Covered in whipped cream.
“Uh, the couch,” I blurt, wondering who I’ve become. “Let’s get comfortable. I might have to sketch for a while once we know the direction we’re taking.”
He nods, takes off his jacket and lays it down beside mine.
We take seats beside each other on the couch and I open the fabric sample book, removing a few squares and setting it aside. “Okay, so…” I walk toward Daws on my knees and kneel beside him on the couch. He watches me approach like I’m carrying a grenade, but remains still as I settle in, my knees a quarter inch from his gigantic thigh. “I bet you grumble like a bear when you have to get dressed up, right? Maybe for a wedding or a…date?”
“Don’t go on many dates,” he grunts.
“You don’t? Why?”
My surprise has him raising a brow. “You’ve got eyes, Nebraska.”
I blink them. “I don’t understand.”
“Come on now. We both know I’m a mean-looking son of a bitch. It tends to intimidate people. And I’m not as nice to everyone as I am…”
A legion of butterflies take flight in my chest.
“What about you?” His blue eyes take on a dangerous glint, those thick fingers flexing where he rests them on his thighs. “I’m assuming you don’t date.”
“Dating implies you’ve gone out multiple times. But who would let you go? One date and you’d be engaged, unless the man was a goddamn idiot.”
He practically shouts the last part at me. Is he upset? Maybe he doesn’t like talking about his love life? Or maybe he just wants to keep our relationship professional, too. In which case, I definitely shouldn’t be prying into his personal affairs. Still…I haven’t really talked to anyone about what happened on the reality show. Every time I bring it up to Jocelyn, she rolls her eyes and tells me to toughen up. “That’s nice of you to say,” I murmur. “I don’t date. I thought I would want to eventually, but I have a hard time figuring out someone’s intentions.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, there was one guy. A contestant on the reality show.” I swallow my embarrassment. “He pretended to be interested in me, but only so I’d share my design plans. It was obvious I was a frontrunner and he…used me for information. We never kissed or anything, but he bought me flowers and…ugh. Isn’t that humiliating?”
“For him it is. Not you.” The sincerity in his tone has me glancing up and I know he really means what he said. He’s even mad on my behalf, that upper lip halfway to a snarl.
I’m so mesmerized by this unique man that I speak without thinking. “Isn’t it funny that I have such a hard time trusting men now, but I trusted you right away?”
His chest shudders. “You can trust me, Nebraska. I’ll never let you down.”
Oh lord, I want to kiss him so bad. Would he welcome it?
His lap is the Promised Land. I want to be cradled in it and have this man’s big arms wrap around me like a barrier from the rest of the world.
You’re keeping it professional.
Not to mention, the clock is ticking and I have a miracle to pull off.
Shaking myself, I start sorting through the fabric squares in my lap. “As I was saying, I bet you hate dressing up.”
“You’ve got me.”
“What is your biggest complaint?”
He rubs at his throat, as if imagining a tie wrapped around it. “Suits are uncomfortable.”
“Where? In the arms?”
“Yeah. Never found one that didn’t feel like a straightjacket.”
I giggle and his gaze zips to my mouth. “I’m thinking of a way to be fashion-forward and unique, while striving for comfort. Wool is out. Not breathable enough. And a silk blend isn’t masculine enough for you.” I finger the square of jersey knit. “We’ll go with this and splash it up. Some interesting stitching along the lapel, but nothing flowery. Maybe a…gun barrel.”
I realize that as I’ve been speaking, I’ve unconsciously moved closer to Daws and now my knees are pressed to the side of his thigh. “You’re really good at this,” he says, a line rippling in his cheek, his eyes resolutely forward. Those big hands rake up and down his thighs as if drying his palms and the air around us is close. Expectant.
But maybe I’m just imagining it?
“May I?” I ask, holding the square of jersey material up.