Dimitri walked into the old building, taking in the details as he went. The brick building was old, but solid with huge windows that harkened back to the industrial era when factories needed big windows to allow air flow in order to cool down the factory floors. It had character and charm, he thought, even if he preferred more modern, clean lines.
“I’m here to speak with Ms. Pepper Abbot,” he told the first woman he spotted. She was sitting at a sewing machine and looked up at him with a stunned expression.
“I’m sorry?” the woman replied, not immediately moving to find the woman in question.
“Ms. Abbot,” Dimitri repeated impatiently. “Is she here?”
Another woman stepped out of an office, a professional, if wary, expression on her face. “May I help you?” she asked, obviously someone with more authority.
Dimitri moved towards the other woman. “I’m looking for Ms. Pepper Abbot. I’m told that she works here.”
The woman crossed her arms, pressing the large notebook to her chest like a shield. “Ms. Abbot isn’t here at the moment. I’m her business manager, Nancy Coldron. How can I help you?”
Dimitri wanted to snap at the woman, impatience making his blood boil. He paused, irritated by his annoyance over such a simple issue. He never got angry, he reminded himself. He was always cool and in control. “My name is Dimitri Bosalis,” he said, handing her a business card. “Tell Ms. Abbot to call me and set up an appointment.”
With that, he turned on his heel and walked out, looking around to ensure that his prey wasn’t hiding somewhere. Although, why the lovely woman might hide, he wasn’t sure. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to get her out of his mind ever since that morning when he’d spotted her in Central Park. He’d been trying to contact her for three days. It was infuriating that a woman could distract him so badly. He was sure that a simple conversation with her would satisfy his curiosity and allow him to regain his normal control.
“Can I tell her what this is in regards to?” the woman called out from behind him.
Dimitri rested his hand against the door handle as he turned back to the woman. “It’s personal,” he admitted, then walked out, fully expecting a phone call from Ms. Abbot within the hour.
Although, he’d been expecting that phone call for three days now, and it hadn’t happened.
Curiosity, he told himself as he slipped into the open door of the waiting limousine. He was simply curious. Nothing more.
Twenty-four hours later, Dimitri was ready to fire anyone who spoke to him unless the person was a gorgeous brunette in outlandish clothes. He was furious that the beautiful, elusive woman hadn’t called, which was why he was now standing in front of her apartment door, ready to break it down if she didn’t answer.
A moment later, the heavy door swung open and there she was! He stared down into a face surrounded by thick, dark, wavy hair, enormous light blue eyes fringed by dark lashes and pale, beautiful skin. Her nose was small and her lips red and impossibly sexy as she smiled up at him.
Damn, she was even more beautiful up close. Of course, he’d only seen her through the window four days ago, but still…those eyes! Her blue eyes were surrounded by the longest, lushest lashes he’d ever seen. Surely, they must be fake. But he didn’t care. Those crystal blue eyes glowed up at him and he felt that ridiculous zing shoot through him. He remembered feeling that same sensation four days ago when he’d watched her smell that damn flower. Now he knew it wasn’t a fluke.
Jerking out of his stunned silence, he shifted his feet slightly. “Ms. Abbot?” he asked.
“Yes?” she replied, leaning against the door as if she were prepared to slam it shut at any moment.
“I’m Dimitri Bosalis,” he explained. “I have a business proposition for you.”
The woman blinked, watching him warily as if she knew that he was lying. The truth was, he had no idea what he was doing here. And that infuriated him. This woman had ignored his calls, hadn’t responded when he’d gone to her office personally, and had ignored every other effort on his part to contact her. Which was why he was standing here in front of her door, looking like a fool. Dimitri hated looking like a fool!
“Um…I think that you should speak to my business manager,” she explained cautiously. “I’ll get her phone number.”
His hand sliced through the air impatiently. “I don’t want to deal with Nancy Cordon. I will deal only with you.”
The woman frowned thoughtfully and he wanted to pull her into his arms and kiss her full, red lips. He wanted to hold her soft curves in his arms and…? Ti Diablo! Ochi! He was here simply to speak to her, to get her out of his mind so that she would stop distracting him!
Pepper’s neck hurt from looking up at this stranger. He was huge. Tall, handsome, and she absolutely loved the lilting accent that revealed his Greek heritage. Josh had called her several days ago, letting her know that a guy named Dimitri Bosalis wanted to talk to her about a business issue. She remembered her brother-in-law’s comments that this Bosalis guy was a good man. Since Josh respected him, and had done business with him, she knew that she was safe. Josh Starke was wonderful and Pepper loved him simply because he loved Pepper’s sister so completely. So if Josh said that this Bosalis guy was worth her time, she’d talk to him.
“Come in,” she finally said, stepping back to allow the man into her loft.
But as soon as she turned and closed the door, Pepper knew that she’d made a mistake. There was something about him, something that she didn’t understand. He was…“big”…the word kept popping into her mind instead of other, more apt adjectives. And handsome. She liked that scar just under his hard jawline and the sharp look in his dark, penetrating eyes. She liked his broad shoulders and the way his immaculate suit moved over his flat stomach. But it wasn’t his physical appearance that disturbed her so much, although he was big enough that his size warranted caution. No, it was something…strangely elusive. Something that compelled her to move closer. Which is why she stepped backwards, crossing her arms over her stomach, and looked expectantly up at him.
“What’s your proposition?” she asked, forcing herself to focus on business. She needed to stop molesting him with her eyes. That wasn’t a good start to any business meeting, she admonished herself silently.
His dark eyebrow lifted and she shifted on her feet. Then she heard her words and closed her eyes briefly. Taking a deep breath, she started again. “Sorry, that came out wrong. I meant what’s your business proposal?” she replied, floundering when her cheeks turned pink.
“I understood what you meant.” He looked around at her loft and Pepper remembered that she hadn’t bothered to make her bed this morning, her design table was piled with sketches, and the floor around it piled high with clothes.
“What is all of this?” he asked, gesturing disdainfully at the piles of clothes on the floor.
Pepper’s wariness returned, her lips unconsciously compressing as she tried to figure out if she’d made a huge mistake by letting him into her private space. “I thought you had a business proposal?” she prompted.
His eyes sharpened on her features and she took a step backwards.
“You are a designer. I know that much.” He looked down at one of the piles, grimacing slightly as if irritated by the fact that his five thousand dollar shoes were touching a pile of clothing that had definitely seen better days.
Pepper bristled defensively at the look in his eyes. “Yes, that’s correct.” Her chin lifted defiantly and she crossed her arms protectively over her chest. She hated when people mocked her passion for “renovating” clothes! It wasn’t just her passion, it was her obsession.
“So, what is all this?” he asked…demanded. “I’ve discovered that you are a…different sort of designer.”
Relief surged through her when he spoke this time. His voice wasn’t disdainful. It was…curious. Pepper could handle curiosity. In fact, it was the main component of her marketing strategy.
Feeling better, Pepper laughed gently at his tone, shaking her head. “I take used clothing and design the pieces into something different. More stylish.”
His eyes lifted from the pile, boring into her gaze. “Explain,” he ordered.
Pepper’s eyebrows lifted in surprise.
Despite his abrupt tone, there was something about him that called to her. Perhaps it was the brief, startled look in his eyes when she’d first opened the door. Or maybe it was Josh’s assurance that he was a good man. Or maybe, it was that incredible zing she’d felt when she’d first opened her door. The sensation had only increased as they’d stood here in her loft. After all the men she’d dated over the years, this one had finally given her that special sensation that both Rayne and Sloane had described when talking about their husbands.
“Ask nicely,” she dared to say, then waited tensely.
For a long moment, Pepper thought he might lose his temper. He stared at her, those dark eyes warning her that she’d ventured into dangerous territory. And yet…she still wasn’t afraid. Even as he looked at her, her lips curled upwards, unconsciously revealing the playful nature that had gotten her into trouble more than once in the past.
“Please,” he growled, sliding his hands into his pockets as he glared down at her. But was there amusement in that glare? Amusement and…perhaps a tinge of admiration? “I would like to understand your business enterprise more thoroughly.”
“Better,” she replied tartly. She relaxed her arms, letting them fall to her sides and she stretched, taking one of the designs from her drawing table that she’d finished just before he’d knocked on her door. “I take used clothing and change it up. I take off any damaged parts and reshape them. Men’s dress shirts are my favorite,” she said, her finger sliding along the drawing. “This white dress shirt is going to become a tunic shirt for women, with pleats in the back and a more streamlined front.” She lifted several shirts. “On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, I shop the local thrift stores to find supplies. This past weekend, I found several men’s shirts that will be perfect for tunic shirts.”
He glanced at the drawing, although he wasn’t really interested in the picture there. But his eyes flashed from the drawing, to her features, then back to the drawing again. Taking the picture from her fingers, he looked at it more closely. When he lifted his eyes again, he asked, “You can do this?”
Pepper laughed, thinking that his expression was cute, especially since he looked so raw and powerful. “Yes. This is what I do,” she told him. “And this one,” she said, handing him another picture. “I take old jeans and turn them into skirts, adding a bit of bling or a touch of fun fabric. Everything seems new again after I switch fabrics, notions, or features around.”
He looked more closely, even bending down to pick up one of the old, torn up pairs of jeans. “You’re going to transform this,” he said, lifting the pair of jeans that had no discernable hem on either leg, “into this?” he asked, lifting the picture of a cute skirt with stripes and a ruffle along the bottom.
Pepper smiled proudly. “Yep. That’s what I do.” A moment later, her smile faded, concern lacing her gaze as she tilted her head. “I thought you had a business proposal for me. How could you have a suggestion if you don’t know what I do?”
The man dropped the picture onto her table, then looked around a bit more. There were piles of clothes and, now that she’d explained things to him, Dimitri recognized that the piles were sorted into clothing types. There was a pile of jeans in one corner of her loft, another pile of men’s dress shirts, colorful print shirts, and another pile that seemed to just be a mishmash of everything. Perhaps that was the pile she hadn’t sorted yet?
Dimitri realized that she was waiting for an answer about his presence. No way was he going to admit he just wanted to meet her so that he could get her out of his head. Kolasi, this woman had broken into his concentration too many times over the past few days and had even invaded his dreams! That had only increased his ire.
“I assumed you were a normal type of designer.” With his hands on his hips, he continued to look around. “How long have you been doing this?”
She shrugged and he watched her eyes shutter, closing off from answering his question. There was a story there, he thought. A dark secret to her past. Something she didn’t want him to know, which only made him more curious. No, he wasn’t intrigued, he was merely…curious. Curious and eager to get back to his life, a life without distractions, gamoto!
“I started when I was fourteen.”
His eyes narrowed. Fourteen seemed a bit young to have started working on her life’s vocation. “And now you’re …?”
“I’m twenty-seven,” she told him. “And how old are you?”
Startled for some odd reason, Dimitri laughed. “Older than you.”
She crossed her arms under her breasts again, glaring up at him. He wanted to chuckle at those pretty, blue eyes trying to appear angry. Her lashes were too long and those eyes too blue for her to pull it off, but he respected the effort.
“If you’re going to be vague, then I will reply in the same way.”
Damn, he liked a saucy woman! Which was ridiculous. He’d never allowed anyone, not even his mistresses, to tease him. It just didn’t happen!
He moved closer. “Are you daring to be impertinent with me, little one?” he growled, although his tone was closer to playful than annoyed. He liked her, he thought. Dimitri actually…liked and…respected this tiny slip of a woman with crazy-long lashes and lush, gorgeous hair.