“Karen,” he said finally in his perfect, quiet, deep voice, and a smile spread unconsciously across my face. Not just a smile, a grin, like I’d just been offered a giant slice of cake.
Dear God, I am in so deep.
Biting the inside of my cheek, I worked to straighten my expression. Judging from the way Pippa’s elbow connected with my ribs, I was pretty sure I failed.
She leaned toward me. “Easy, girl,” she whispered. “It was only two syllables.”
The door opened and Sasha, another intern, slipped in with a wince. “Sorry I’m late,” she whispered. A glance at the clock on my laptop told me she was actually perfectly punctual, but Anthony of course wouldn’t let it slide.
“All right, Sasha,” he said, watching her squeeze awkwardly between the long row of chairs and the wall as she made her way to the empty seat in the far corner. The room pulsed with silence. “Lovely jumper. Is it new? Blue is a great color on you.” Sasha took her seat, her cheeks brilliant red. “Good morning, by the way,” Anthony said with a wide smile.
I closed my eyes, taking a deep breath. He was such an asshole.
Finally, the meeting started in earnest. Anthony went down his list of questions for each of us, papers were passed around, and as I swiveled in my seat to hand the stack to the person on my right, I glanced up. And nearly swallowed my tongue.
Niall Stella was only two seats away from me.
From beneath my lashes I looked at him, the angle of his jaw—always clean-shaven, never even a hint of scruff—his thickly lashed eyes and perfect, dark brows, his impeccable shirt and tie. His hair looked so smooth in the dim light of the conference room. I actually frowned when I noted it would probably be soft, too—because of course it would be—and I wondered for the hundredth time what it would be like to run my hands through it, tug him down, and—
“Ruby? Did we hear back from Adams and Avery yet?” Anthony asked.
I straightened in my chair and blinked down to my laptop, having stayed up late with this file just last night.
“Not yet,” I said, with barely a waver in my voice. “They have our plans, drafted and ready for signature. But I’ll double back with them if I haven’t got a call by the end of the day.”
And okay, yeah, that was startlingly articulate considering how Niall Stella had turned his full attention to my face.
Pretty damn happy with myself, I typed up a quick reminder and propped my elbow on the table, tugging on a strand of hair as I scrolled through my calendar.
But something felt off. I sat in this chair for one hour every week, and I was almost certain that I’d never felt what I was feeling now. It was a pressure on the side of my face, the actual physical weight of someone’s attention.
I twisted the hair around my finger and casually glanced at Pippa. Nope, nothing.
With what I assumed to be a subtle lean forward, I craned my neck farther, glancing to my right, and immediately froze.
He was still looking at me. Niall Stella was looking at me. Really looking. Light brown eyes met mine and held what could never be called a glance, but a full-on look. His expression was curious, as if I were a new piece of furniture someone had just randomly placed in the room.
My heart took off, pulse pounding in my veins. Inside my chest, everything felt liquid and wild, and if someone had yelled Fire! I’d have gone down in flames, because there was absolutely no way I could control even a single thing happening to my body.
Niall Stella blinked before looking away from my face. “Yes?”
“Do you mind giving us the status from Planning on the Diamond Square proposal? I want my team to get you some specs by the end of the week but we don’t know the dimension of their shared space . . .”
I zoned out as Anthony, predictably, phrased his question in a way that made it about seven times longer than it needed to be.
When his question drew to a close, Niall Stella shook his head. “The dimensions,” he said, and began shuffling through a stack of papers in front of him. “I’m not altogether sure I’ve got them—”
“The dimensions were set to be finalized this morning,” I answered for him, and explained that the permits would be delivered no later than tomorrow. “I asked Alexander to send a copy of the blueprints this afternoon.”
The room went so silent I worried for a minute I had simply lost the ability to hear.
Except everyone was staring at me. Oh my God, what had I done?
I’d answered a question clearly not meant for me.
I’d answered a question he definitely knew the answer to.
I felt my brows pull together. But then, why hadn’t he answered?
I leaned forward and looked at him.
“Good,” he said. Quiet. Deep. Perfect. Shifting in his chair, he met my eyes and gave me a flicker of a grateful smile. “Forward it along?”
My heart had completely left my body. “Of course.”
He was still looking at me, clearly as confused as I was over what had just happened, but pleased in a mysteriously lingering way. I wasn’t even sure what prompted me to speak up. One minute Niall Stella was looking at me, and the next he was fumbling as he tried to recollect data and answer a question I was sure he could have answered in his sleep.
It was almost as if his mind was elsewhere. It was something I’d never seen happen before.
“Now for the big news,” Anthony said, glancing through a stack of papers before handing them off and getting to his feet. I looked up, jarred by the change in his tone. Anthony loved having the attention of the room, and from the sound of it, he was gearing up for something big.