I Thought I Hated Himbyfirstkiss©
I knew the second I was assigned to his project that there would be trouble. I'd never worked closely with Daniel Sutcliffe and never wanted to. Of all the architects in our firm, he was the worst; not that he was lacking for talent, goodness knows he had that in spades, which was half the problem. But Daniel's issue was that he knew how good he was, and his standards were superhumanly exacting.
He'd been working for Maddock for almost twenty years and either felt the sting of a stalled career or a large sense of entitlement; at any rate, the chip on his shoulder was roughly the size of Texas. None of the junior architects or draftsmen liked him; behind his back we called him "the Dragon".
The venerable, elderly Mr. Maddock, of Maddock Architects, had assigned me personally to the restoration project, assuring me that although I was still relatively new to the firm he felt I was capable of handling the pressure, that and I was the only architect he knew under the age of forty who specialized in historical restoration and could draft by hand.
"Those new-fangled computer programs just boggle my mind," Mr. Maddock had teased, watching out the corner of his eye as I stood nervously in his office. "The client is anxious to have this property restored to original, historical condition as accurately as possible. She wants hand-drawn plans, so that's what we'll give her. You'll be working under Sutcliffe, but I want to you deal personally with the client as much as possible. Mrs. Kendall is a bit temperamental and demanding, but I just know she'll like you."
I tried my best not to look disappointed. Dragon Sutcliffe as a project partner and a bitchy client? Just what I freakin' needed. Still, I was aching to prove myself at Maddock Architects; their reputation was stellar, and simply getting hired was already a huge accomplishment in my fledgling architectural career. I didn't want to let the old man down. Smiling, I accepted my role in the project with as much grace as I could muster.
Back at my desk I leaned my head against my drafting table and tried not to cry. I could feel the panic rising in my belly already and I hadn't even started work. Around me the other junior architects went about their business, but couldn't hide their curious glances; I just couldn't bring myself to meet their inquiring eyes and see pity reflected back. I was still the new girl at Maddock and the only woman architect they'd ever had on staff; I wasn't going to show any more weakness than absolutely necessary.
A shadow fell across my drafting table, and looking up I saw Dragon Sutcliffe towering over me.
"You're Clara Kovacs?"
I nodded, my mouth suddenly too dry to speak. Around me the usual din and chatter of the junior architect bullpen died completely.
"My office, now." The Dragon walked away without even waiting to see if I followed.
Gathering up a pad of sketch paper and a few pencils I hurried after his retreating form, moving past the desks of my fellow junior architects without making eye contact.
The offices of Maddock Architects are located in an old industrial space; the lobby and reception areas are situated in the front of the building and lead into the central, open "bull pen" where my work area and those of the other underlings take up more than half of the building; along the deep mezzanine on the second floor are offices for the higher-ups, Daniel Sutcliffe being one of those. His office was in the east corner of the building where morning light filtered hazily through the original factory windows. I sat down uninvited in the chair directly across from the Dragon's desk and tried not to stare.
"What the hell kind of name is 'Kovacs' anyway?" He growled, looking up from the messy spread of papers on his desk and examining me with cold, grey-blue eyes.
"Hungarian." I replied automatically; it was a question I'd heard a million times.
"Born there?" The question was clipped, unfriendly.
I sighed, trying not to sound defensive. It was entirely possible he was trying to be nice, but somehow I doubted it. "Second generation. My father immigrated to Canada in the late-fifties."
Sutcliffe nodded curtly, and I couldn't help but get the impression he was giving me his permission for something; existing perhaps? Not knowing how to respond, I sat expectantly, pencil poised over a fresh piece of paper. The Dragon ran off a rapid list of jobs for me which I jotted down as quickly as my hands were able; he didn't stop for breath or to see if I was getting everything, he just arrogantly assumed that I did.
My mind was spinning when he dismissed me only minutes later and I stumbled back to my desk to make out more legible notes before I forgot everything he'd told me. I took deep, calming breaths, trying to remind myself that this project should be approached just the same as any other. Somehow, the Dragon had me so terrified I felt like falling to pieces. Sensing eyes on me, I looked up to find him watching me coldly from the balcony of the second floor.
Shit, I thought, trying to keep my face calm and reveal nothing to him, they don't pay me enough for this crap.
Less than three weeks later and my work station was so crowded with photos, sketches, and notes that there was hardly room for my cup of tea. As awful as the first day had been, I was enjoying working on the project; Mrs. Kendall had bought the dilapidated old Victorian farmhouse with the intention of fixing it up and preserving it as a landmark. I'd spoken to her several times over the phone and despite her prickly exterior, found myself liking her very much; we shared the same concern for the preservation of historically significant architecture.
She'd already commended me on my passion and drive, and had encouraged me to spare no expense; it had been hard not to gasp out loud when she'd said those magic words. Every architect dreams of a project with an unlimited budget.
There was no denying that the house needed significant and expensive work. It had been lying uninhabited for more than ten years, and on first impression seemed little more than fodder for the wrecking ball. I'd driven myself out to the site one morning to explore what I could and found myself entranced. Sure, the house needed a lot of work, but the bones of the architecture were breathtakingly good.
The original woodwork was all still intact, everything from crown mouldings to a staircase so wonderful it took my breath away. Beneath the flaking layers of bad linoleum and mouldy carpets were hardwood floors in need of little more than refinishing. The plaster was damaged in a myriad of places, but the structure was sound and the fieldstone foundation practically perfect, astounding in a dilapidated house circa 1860. I'd snapped a whole lot of photos to take back to the office, even dropping off a second set of prints for the Dragon, who'd said nothing about my effort.
We hadn't had a project meeting since the first brief one, although I'd occasionally come in in the mornings to yellow sticky-notes of instructions written in Daniel's scrawling hand and stuck to my drafting table. But with these lists of tasks completed, I wasn't sure what the Dragon was intending for the next step.
I'd taken it upon myself to make a file of Mrs. Kendall's demands and to start a few basic sketches, nothing which could be called a definitive plan, but something which I felt gave me a jumping off point once Daniel did get around to speaking to me. I was working on just such a sketch, an exterior detail of the vergeboarding on the veranda, when the familiar shadow towered over my drafting table.
Looking up I mustered up a bright smile as Daniel loomed over me, a scowl on his face.
"What's this?" He asked bitingly, frowning at the half-completed drawing.
The hostility in his voice had me taken aback. I gestured towards the reference photos tacked around my drafting table. "Mrs. Kendall expressed an interest in seeing initial sketches of our ideas before we started on the working drawings, so I was just putting together a few things to show her."
"Our ideas?" The sentence dripped with sarcasm.
I returned the Dragon's scowl. "Fine, my ideas." I was proud of my work; I wasn't going to apologize for it.
Daniel picked up a quick sketch I'd done on-site of the cornice over the bay window on the ground floor and cocked his eyebrow. As he studied my sketch, I studied him.
Daniel Sutcliffe had to be somewhere between forty and forty-five; tall, broad shouldered, and clean shaven, his dark hair was peppered with grey at the temples. He was really very handsome, but the permanent scowl made him intimidating and twisted his face in an unattractive way. I tried to picture unsuccessfully what he'd look like if he actually smiled. I'd never seen him be friendly with any of the other employees and wondered if he was married with kids. A quick, surreptitious glance at his left hand revealed no wedding band; hardly a surprise there, Daniel was so difficult a woman would have to be insane to marry him.
He threw the sketch down without comment; I breathed a silent sigh of relief. No criticism from Daniel was practically a complement.
"My office, now." Daniel snapped as he strode purposefully away from my desk. I sighed heavily not wanting to take a break from my sketches; he shot a threatening look over his shoulder. Heads at the surrounding work stations popped up, eyeing us warily.
"Fine," I growled, throwing my pencil down; my neck had started to hurt anyway, an indication I could use a break from being crouched over my drafting table, although I wasn't about to let the Dragon know that.
"Close the door." He said icily as I strode into his well-appointed office.
"I believe that should have been 'please close the door'," I replied, my voice equally as cold; I was pissed at having my work interrupted. "Or 'close the door, please' would have worked just as well." In my anger I didn't care how rude I sounded. Daniel glared, giving me a very effective "if-looks-could-kill" stare that had the power to slay a lesser woman in her tracks. My stomach quivered but I held firm. I did, however, shut the door.
"Sit down. Please." Daniel's tone was so condescending it knocked the breath from my lungs. I sat.
"You've been speaking to Mrs. Kendall. How long has this been going on?" Daniel's statement should have been a question; instead it came out as a snarled bark that twisted the corners of his mouth.
I sat in stunned silence for a moment, trying to control my trembling hands. Why could he so easily make me feel as if I'd done something wrong? "Since the beginning," I said weakly. "I assumed you didn't want to be bothered since Mr. Maddock asked me to have direct contact with her when he assigned me to this project."
The Dragon arched a handsome raven eyebrow. "And why the hell would he have done that?" Sarcasm swam through each drawled word; I could feel my proverbial hackles rise.
"I don't know," I snapped bitterly; I wanted to add 'because you're a rat bastard with no people skills', but I didn't. "Why don't you go and ask him?"
Daniel's grey-blue eyes were hard and cold as steel; the expression on his face was one of such incredible distain I wanted to turn and run, but I stayed in my seat and faced him out of sheer stubbornness. Just what had I done to make him hate me so much?
"You amaze me," Daniel's voice was low and edged with loathing. "You come waltzing into this firm with your tight, little sweaters and have every man in the place eating out your hand in a matter of weeks." The Dragon allowed his ice cold gaze to travel over my body languidly, I shuddered under his scrutiny and he chuckled cruelly. It was the first time I'd heard him laugh and I didn't like it much, even if it did send an unexpected shiver down my spine.
"How wonderful life must be, Clara, to have everyone tell you how talented, and smart, and pretty you are all the time."
I stared dumbly at Daniel, not understanding where the personal attack had come from. How could I possibly explain to him how wrong he was, how difficult my young career had already been so far, how I had to fight hard for every job, every opportunity? As a woman in a predominantly male field, I'd had to work twice as hard to be taken half as seriously, had to prove myself anew each day; and coming to work at Maddock had been no different from any other firm I'd been at.
"What is this really about, Daniel? That our client would rather deal with me than you? That there's finally a female architect at this firm? That I'm actually good at my job? Or that you can't make me scurry about and kiss your ass like all the other junior architects do?"
I stood up, shaking with anger; I'd come too far and worked too hard to have an asshole like Dragon Sutcliffe chase me away. "Because I haven't figured out what I've done to piss you off so much. I'm not here to be your toady, but I'm also not here to threaten your precious manhood, if that's the problem."
Daniel was on his feet as well, and crossed past his desk to stand towering over me, making me wish that for once I was a little taller than 5'3".
"Do not presume to think that you have any effect on my manhood." Daniel's voice was so quiet and hostile I almost had to strain to hear it. The look in his eyes had me wishing I'd kept my mouth shut, but I wasn't about to back down.
We stood so close I could feel the heat radiating off his broad chest. Defiantly, I set my chin higher and tried to look him in the eye as he looked down at me. He smirked.
"You're just a tiny, little fish who wants to swim in a great, big pond, aren't you?" He drawled, leaning down so that we were almost nose to nose.
"And you're just an antiquated dinosaur with a small modicum of success and an even smaller prick." I spat back, not willing to let him win.
"What's this obsession you have with my lower regions, Clara?" His voice fairly dripped with implication; I could feel the blush rising, and silently cursed my fair complexion as my face burned.
"A little sensitive about the size, are we?" I asked snidely, getting my guard up for the next attack.
"Bitch!" Daniel countered.
"Asshole!" I snapped.
"Child." Daniel said the word slowly, the hateful tone sending shivers up my spine. His glare was challenging, mocking.
How the hell had it escalated to this? I felt ashamed of being reduced to name calling like we were kids on the playground. The steely spark in the Dragon's eyes told me he knew he'd gotten the better of me.
"Screw this," I muttered, spinning about and making my way towards the door. "If you don't have anything to say to me about the actual project, I've got work I could be doing. Mrs. Kendall wants to see my sketches before we begin the working drawings next week."
Daniel's large, attractive hand slammed into the door beside my head, keeping me from opening it and fleeing back into the main room.
"Never walk away from me," he snarled, and turning back around to face him, I knew suddenly why they called him the Dragon.
Daniel leaned over me, both hands pressed firmly against the door, his arms trapping me in place. His grey-blue eyes were so pale they were practically silver, and his expression was one of feral animosity. His was breathing hard and I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised if he started to spit fire.
I could feel my knees shaking, but my pride kicked in and I set my chin a little higher; there was no way I was going to back down; if I did, he'd own me forever.
"If you have something else to say, Daniel, I suggest you say it." I glanced down casually at my wristwatch before shooting him a sickeningly sweet smile. "I have a meeting with Maddock in five minutes."
The ice-cold light in his eyes flickered and changed; smiling darkly the Dragon ran one finger along the line of my jaw, sending shivers right through me; I gasped and he chuckled lowly. "So you'll play teacher's pet with Maddock, but not me."
"I don't 'play' anything with anyone, least of all you." I spat out, hating myself for feeling breathless at his close proximity. My heart was racing and I kept trying to convince myself it was out of fear.
"That's a shame, Clara. Are you certain you don't want to play with me?" Daniel's remarkable eyes were silver shadows; unreadable and enigmatic.
"Play what? Cat and mouse?" I could feel my lip curling with distaste. "With you? No thank you."
Daniel leaned even closer, his breath hot against my flushed cheeks. "Look at you, all in a flutter, and still so polite." One raven eyebrow arched strikingly. "Do you always say please and thank you?"
"One of us has to."
My retort didn't please Daniel; the harsh, angry lines on his face melted away to reveal a stony, blank expression even more frightening than his ire. I tried to remember to breathe, all the while praying my knees wouldn't give out. There was a familiar heat between my legs that somehow had something to do with the Dragon and I hated myself for admitting it.
He really was very handsome, close up.
Daniel took a step closer, blocking all else with the wide wall of his chest and bending down, whispered hotly in my ear. "By the time I'm done with you, you'll be begging me please."
Cheeks burning, I pushed ineffectively against the hard, broad plain of his chest. Under the crisp fabric of his perfectly pressed shirt and expensive silk tie he was solidly muscled. I gasped.
"Not bad for an old guy, huh?" His breath against my neck was making my knees weak; my heart beat so quickly I was sure he could hear it. I pushed against him again, and Daniel stepped back, the look on his face very clear: he'd let me go because he'd chosen to. Scowling, I ran shaking hands over myself, straightening my blouse and skirt and taking deep, calming breaths.
"Asshole," I muttered, wrenching open the door of his office with more force than necessary. The cooler air of the great room beyond felt wonderful against my flushed face. I struggled to regain my composure; over the railing I could see Maddock waiting at my work station on the ground floor, he smiled jovially up at me.
I stopped at the top of the stairs and glanced back, Daniel was standing in the doorway of his office, leaning casually against the jamb, his arms crossed over that surprisingly fit chest. There was a satisfied smirk on his face that made my blood boil. "That's it, run along," he chided, laughing coldly as I glowered at him; from the floor below I could hear Maddock call my name.
I barely noticed when the room around me began to go dark and employees started filing past, calling out their good-nights as they left. I responded automatically, but my eyes never left the sketches laid out on my drafting table. Mrs. Kendall had called shortly after my meeting with Maddock had wrapped up; she was coming by the next afternoon to sign the contract and review the estimate, and could she see what we'd come up with so far? I'd agreed, of course, and grimly set to finishing the preliminary sketches as quickly as I could, knowing there was a long night ahead. Valiantly, I tried to ignore the wrenching, burning crick in my neck and the dull ache of fatigue behind my eyes.
The prickly sensation of being watched crawled up my spine, and looking up I saw the Dragon, leaning over the mezzanine balcony, watching me work. He's shed his suit jacket and tie which served to make him look more relaxed, even younger. In one hand was a rolled up set of architectural plans, in the other two steaming mugs.
"What do you want, Daniel?" I called up, averting my eyes back to my sketch, trying not to notice how striking the raven wave of his hair against his forehead was. Why did he have to be so cute? He'd be so much easier to deal with if he was fat and ugly.