I Thought I Hated Him Ch. 02byfirstkiss©
I broke the kiss reluctantly, watching warily as Daniel's silver eyes came back into focus, a faint flicker of hesitation disappeared before I could be sure I'd really seen it.
He held up a hand of warning, silencing me. "Clara," his voice was a deep, raspy growl. "For once, please don't say anything." There was a scowl on his handsome face which somehow seemed less fearsome now.
I reached up to trace the furrow between Daniel's eyebrows as he frowned and I smiled up into his eyes softly. "Your place or mine?"
The smile that lit his face was breathtaking, the transformation remarkable; the Dragon looked ten years younger. He leaned down to plant another dizzying kiss on me. "I live around the corner."
Nodding, I wordlessly scooped up our drawings and my purse and followed Daniel from the building, waiting patiently with trembling knees as he locked up.
In the parking lot he eyed my beat-up old Jeep with trepidation before reaching out his hand towards me.
"What?" I asked guardedly.
"Keys," he growled.
"What about your car?" I looked around the empty parking lot questioningly.
"I walked. Keys."
"Fine." With a sigh of frustration I handed them over.
Daniel drove my temperamental Jeep like he'd been doing it for years, getting the hang of the sticky clutch before we'd gone a block. I wondered vaguely if he tackled everything in life with the same smooth, effortless skill.
My blood began to cool slightly, leaving my mind racing; panic began to creep in at the edges. Was I actually going home with the Dragon? I glanced sidelong at Daniel; he was stonily composed, nothing showing on his handsome face. What the hell was going on in his head?
"You're over-thinking this, aren't you?" Daniel asked with a sarcastic drawl, arching an eyebrow enquiringly.
"N-no," I sputtered defensively, feeling very young all of a sudden. I'd never gone home with a guy I didn't know, never mind an older co-worker who I could have sworn hated me an hour ago; but the quivering anticipation didn't dull even as we pulled to a stop and Daniel shut off my Jeep. He turned towards me to hand back my keys; our eyes met and the desire flared again in a wave so strong it stole my breath.
Daniel lived in an amazing art deco high-rise, but his firm grip on my elbow propelled me forward before I had time to gawk at the luxurious exterior or sumptuous lobby. There was an attractive, blond man who got on the elevator with us; he looked to be about thirty-five and judging by his expensive suit, successful. Of course, to live in Daniel's building I was thinking you'd have to be.
He smiled flirtatiously at me before turning to Daniel. "Sutcliffe." His greeting was short and dripped with contempt.
"Mallory." Daniel answered, not even looking at the man, but keeping his eyes firmly glued to the elevator door as we lurched into motion.
"Who's your friend?"
Daniel still had his hand on the back of my arm and he squeezed it reassuringly; his thumb rubbed distractingly across my skin, but he said nothing. I didn't like the way the other man was eying me, but Daniel's silence pissed me off; I wasn't sure if he genuinely didn't care to enlighten the blond man, or if he was ashamed of me.
"I'm Clara Kovacs," I held out my hand and the blond man shook it, flashing me with another bright, but ineffectual smile. "Daniel and I work together."
"Lawrence Mallory." He let his gaze run up and down my body and I fought to suppress a shudder of disgust at the blatant appraisal. "I didn't know you had a secretary, Daniel."
Daniel's eyebrow shot up and he turned to Mallory with a sneer. "She's not my secretary. She's an architect, and a damn good one." His voice was low and dangerous.
The other man seemed nonplussed and dismissed Daniel with a wave of a manicured hand. "Sure thing, Sutcliffe; whatever you say."
Beside me I could feel Daniel tense, his nerves drawn taut. The elevator door binged cheerfully and came to a smooth stop on the eleventh floor. Lawrence Mallory shot me another flirtatious smile and passed me his business card. I scowled.
"Anytime you want to get together with a real man Sweetheart, you just give me a call."
Daniel took a threatening step forward, but the elevator door slid closed as Mallory chuckled. Daniel whirled around to face me, his expression stormy. "You should not have spoken to him."
"I beg your pardon?" I asked sardonically, still affronted by Lawrence Mallory's cheek. "You're actually going to tell me who I can and cannot speak to?" Personally, I had no desire to ever see the blond man again, but Daniel's possessiveness irked me; he had no right.
Daniel stood towering over me, his grip on my upper arm becoming painful. "I do think I know what's best," he growled.
"You can't be serious! I'm a grown woman Daniel, despite what you may think. And I can take care of myself."
"Not if you're going to call that prick." Daniel snapped, his eyes flashing silver. He grabbed the business card from my hand and tearing it in two, threw it over his shoulder.
"Thanks, Daniel. But I am perfectly capable of making my own decisions." I could feel my temper spark at the Dragon's arrogance.
Daniel moved even closer, his mouth hovering over mine, his face was twisted with anger, but it made him look more handsome knowing I was the cause of this little bout of jealousy. It gave me a small feeling of power, knowing how irritated Daniel was that another man had shown interest in me. I smiled coyly, tilting my chin up further. "I wonder if he's busy later tonight? Maybe I will call Mr. Mallory…"
The look on Daniel's face told me immediately that I'd gone a step too far; his anger melted away to reveal the stony, blank expression I'd seen in his office earlier that day and it was infinitely more intimidating than his anger ever was.
"Like hell you will," he spit out; and grasping the back of my head forcefully, Daniel kissed me.
Every cell in my body seized up, winded by the ferocity of Daniel's kiss and the sudden jolt of desire that raced through me. I moaned loudly and held on to his arms to keep from falling. He plundered recklessly, his tongue hot, his breathing ragged; as if from far away I could feel the elevator slide to another stop. A musical bing preceded the opening of the door and the faint chill of air from the hallway as it rushed into the stifling heat of the small space of the elevator. Daniel and I broke apart as a small, elderly woman stood open-mouthed in the doorway.
"Mrs. Goldstein," Daniel drawled smoothly, taking me by the elbow again and ushering me past the stunned woman. "Have a good night."
I could feel her eyes follow us down the hall.
Daniel practically shoved me into his apartment, his mouth set in a grim line. My heart was beating rapidly, the thrumming in my ears from his possessive kiss dying down only as Daniel stripped off his jacket and shoes and stood waiting while I did the same.
"Fuck." He muttered, striding past me into his apartment; silently I followed. "Now the whole fucking building is going to know."
I could feel my anger rise again. "What's wrong with that?" I asked sharply. "You're not ashamed of me, are you?"
"No Clara, I'm not ashamed of you." His voice sounded suddenly old, tired; Daniel sighed. "I just hate gossip. And that old biddy will tell everyone. By tomorrow morning they'll all be talking."
Smiling faintly I crossed the living room to stand beside Daniel as he stood glaring out the huge window onto his balcony. The lights of the city beyond threw his handsome face into relief, etching the strong lines of his cheekbones and jaw with a dim glow. He was such a study in contradictions; tough-talking and rude one moment, passionate and masterful at times, and weary and irresolute the next. I touched his arm hesitantly; not at all sure what he really wanted from me.
"Let them talk," I suggested, not wanting to hide the teasing grin which had snuck across my face. "I suspect you've given them so little to talk about over the years. So they'll know you have some young thing up here, who cares?"
Daniel stood stock still, no emotion betrayed on his chiselled face; I had to admit to myself that he frightened me. How much did I really know about the Dragon? He was a damn good architect, that much was evident; but outside of his professional life I knew absolutely nothing about him. I guessed he wasn't quite old enough to be my father, but he was definitely over forty. Personally I liked the little creases around his grey-blue eyes and the smattering of grey hair at his temples. I'd always been attracted to older men, but had never done anything about it.
At twenty-nine you'd think I would know more about men; but honestly, I don't. I have had exactly three boyfriends since high school, which means that I've slept with exactly three men, and one was so awful it shouldn't count. Calling my past boyfriends 'men' hardly qualified either; Craig was a bass player in a band, didn't have a real job, and lived with his mother; Andy made cappuccinos at my local café, fancied himself a writer, and lived with his mother; Victor was an artist with a show at the local gallery, a bevy of admiring female followers, and lived with his mother.
"What are you thinking about?" Daniel asked gruffly, shocking me from my reverie; no one had ever asked me that before. His body was a solid wall of warmth beside me and together we looked out over the dark city skyline. The view from Daniel's apartment was amazing.
"I was thinking you're the first man I've been with who didn't still live with his mother." I tried to hide my smile, but failed.
It must not have been the answer Daniel was expecting to hear; his laugh was abrupt and sharp, as if it had been forced from his chest. He coughed, laughing and shaking his head.
"What were you thinking?" I asked bravely; my stomach was in knots, afraid of what Daniel would say in return.
"I was wondering what I was doing when you were born."
That was not the answer I was expecting. I shrugged. "I don't know. How old were you in 1978?"
There was silence for a moment. "Fifteen."
"Did you wear bellbottoms and listen to disco?" I couldn't resist teasing and was rewarded with a rare smile.
"No disco, although I might have owned one pair of bellbottoms." Daniel turned to stare down at me. "If you decide to leave now, that's fine by me."
Again, that was not what I was expecting to hear. "Having second thoughts?" I chided, watching as the lines softened around Daniel's eyes.
"No. But I thought you might."
I made no move to agree or disagree, and instead returned my attention to the brilliant city skyline beyond the balcony doors. It seemed easier to look out there than at him.
"You know, I wanted you the second I saw you come waltzing into Maddock Architects."
I was speechless for a moment. "I… I thought you hated me."
Daniel chuckled warmly, sending a shiver up my spine. "If I hated you Clara, I wouldn't have brought you home."
"But this afternoon in your office, what about all those terrible things we said?"
He reached out and tucked one wayward curl behind my ear. The brief touch of Daniel's fingers against my neck made me gasp. "I think you have a great deal to learn."
There was a small hint of challenge in his voice and the tiniest edge of condescension which teased at my temper; I'd never desired someone before who I wanted to fuck one minute and throttle the next. Daniel said he wanted me the moment he saw me, and yet he'd treated me with disdain and contempt mixed in with grudging acceptance and antagonistic passion; he was right, I guess I did have a lot to learn, because I sure didn't understand what the hell was happening between us.
"I suppose you're going to volunteer to teach me?" My voice came out edged with scorn I didn't really feel, it just felt safer with the Dragon if I had my guard up.
Daniel arched an impossibly handsome eyebrow derisively. "I told you that you could leave if you wanted to; I'm hardly keeping you here against your will."
I am so in over my head. My heart was beating frantically and I could feel Daniel looming over me again, but still I kept my gaze glued to the view outside. I wanted him; he knew it just as well as I did. Everything felt like it was spinning out of control and I knew I wasn't ready to let go. I shot a sidelong glance up into Daniel's face, once again his eyes were steely blue and completely impassive; if it hadn't been for his passionate kisses earlier, I wasn't sure I would really know that he did want me.
When I opened my mouth the words that came out were completely unexpected. "I still have a lot of work to do on the Kendall house and the meeting is pretty early tomorrow. I should go." I turned my back on Daniel and crossed the room to grab my coat and the drawings I'd brought with me. As I slipped my shoes back on I looked quickly his direction; Daniel remained at the window, alone in the darkened room, his aloof features dimly lit by the glow of the city lights beyond. If he'd looked lonely or regretful that I was choosing to leave I might have stayed. But he didn't, so I left.
That night I pulled an 'all-nighter', the first since university; partly because I was frantic to get the project presentation perfect for Mrs. Kendall, and partly because I was too keyed-up to sleep anyhow.
Sleeping with the Dragon would have been a huge mistake, I kept telling myself over and over as I sat hunched over my drafting table in my tiny apartment, fingers frantically sketching out page after page of architectural details, until everything down to the antique hinges on the doors were documented. I didn't want to miss a single feature, terrified that Daniel would find my mistakes and parade them in front of everyone.
I'm so freakin' unprofessional, so stupid for falling for the Dragon's little game. I'm no different from any other junior architect in the firm; he'll chew me up and spit me out, just like every other underling he's sent running in the other direction. Only this time he would have gotten a little ass on the side, which would have been convenient for him and a big mistake for me.
My mind raced as I showered and dressed for the big meeting, all the time praying that Daniel wouldn't be awful to me, wouldn't reveal anything to Maddock or Mrs. Kendall that would betray what had happened between us the night before.
Stupid, stupid, stupid; the chorus ran through my head as I went through my morning routine, struggling to make the bags under my eyes look less harsh; I wasn't going to let Daniel think my sleepless night was on his account.
The lights were on in Daniel's office when I arrived, but the door was closed and I couldn't tell if he was there or not. I didn't see a trace of him until the meeting was about to start.
"Let me do the talking, Clara." The Dragon drawled expressionlessly as my shaking hands tacked the preliminary plans to the boardroom corkboard.
I opened my mouth to argue, but Maddock stood watching the two of us warily. Grimacing I nodded, too tired to argue; besides, I was scared I'd say something stupid and fuck up with Mrs. Kendall anyway.
Daniel sailed through the presentation in an almost pleasant manner, answering Mrs. Kendall's obsequious questions with practiced flair. Maddock added his own opinions, and I sat shamefaced and silent through the entire proceeding. I didn't care so much Mrs. Kendall hardly seemed to notice me after we'd been speaking so often or that Daniel was taking control, but his smooth, detached manner pissed me off. Did nothing rattle him?
I smiled when I should have smiled, passed the appropriate plans and papers Mrs Kendall's direction when prompted, and signed off on the contract and estimate like a good little girl, all the time hearing the meeting through a fog of exhaustion. Daniel barely spared me a glance, although he did give me due credit on the sketches, which surprised me. Seated at the head of the table, Mr. Maddock beamed down on us like some benevolent overlord while I struggled just to maintain a professional veneer.
Mrs. Kendall fawned and gushed, agreeing without question to every expensive renovation we proposed and before I could really get a handle on what had taken place, she'd signed all the paperwork, commended us on our good work, and bustled from the room.
I sat at the boardroom table, exhausted and dazed. Maddock sent me a wide, Cheshire-cat grin that I couldn't help but return.
"Nice work Sutcliffe, Clara. The firm is very pleased with your progress." He patted me on the shoulder in such a fatherly manner I just about burst into tears of exhaustion. "Didn't I tell you that Mrs. Kendall would be a great client? And I knew that you and Sutcliffe would make a great team. This project is going to be wonderful. Mrs. Kendall has some very influential friends in this city. You just watch, soon enough the two of you will have more project offers than there are hours in the day."
I mumbled my thanks as Maddock waltzed out of the boardroom, closing the door behind him; Daniel remained silent as he stood in the corner, watching me with hawk-like eyes as I gathered up our drawings and put them in order.
"Clara," his voice was low, hinted with a note of warning. I couldn't look at him.
"That went well, don't you think?" I asked brightly, hating the chipper tone I used. "She didn't say 'no' to anything."
"Clara." Daniel hissed.
"So, you'll start on the working drawings, and I'll put in a call to tender and see if I can find us a good contractor and a structural engineer; I think the roof needs more work than we originally supposed. I know Wesley Bruch does a great job on historical restorations, I wonder if he's available? I'll call him this afternoon and get him to send us a quote on his rates. Maddock probably has a list of contractors the firm has worked with before; I'll get a hold of it." I packed the signed paperwork into the appropriate files for the administrative assistants.
"Dammit, Clara!" Daniel actually sounded earnest, and I looked up at him in shock. For a moment he almost sounded human.
"What Daniel?" I asked wearily, tired not just from the late night I'd had, but from this endless game we seemed to be trapped in. "I suppose you want to talk about last night, want me to apologize for leading you on, or whatever the hell you call it. I'm not going to."
"I don't want an apology." Daniel ground out, through clenched teeth. "I told you that you could leave if you wanted to. I wouldn't, however, mind some sort of explanation."
I sat still for a moment, processing the request. Did I feel that he deserved an explanation? He'd phrased the question almost politely, a new tactic. I didn't trust him, but felt compelled to be honest.
"I shouldn't have gone home with you last night, it was a mistake."
"Nothing happened." The fact was stated coldly. Daniel's face was expressionless.
"I know, but it was a bad choice regardless. I shouldn't have kissed you either." I lowered my eyes to the tabletop, tracing the grain of the wood with a shaky finger.
"If I remember correctly, I kissed you." Daniel said bluntly.
"Fine," I conceded, waving a hand dismissively. "Still, going home with men I hardly know is not a habit I've formed over the years. I've never done it Daniel, I shouldn't start now. I wasn't thinking clearly last night, but sleeping with you would have been a mistake." I went back to tracing the lines of the wooden tabletop, watching out of the corner of my eye as Daniel began to pace the room.
"It's not professional, Daniel. It's not right. I have my career to consider, my reputation; as do you. I've risked too much to get a job at this firm, worked too hard. I can't throw it all away simply because I want to sleep with you. I'm not that sort of girl, and I don't think you're that sort of guy either."