Cath leaned against a table strewn with crumpled tubes of paint and jars full of brushes, pressing her damp palms against the surface and willing her heart to stop pounding. You’re not really attracted to City. You’re just looking for your clothes, and then you’re going home. A blip, remember? This is a blip.
Dimly, she realized he’d spoken. “Sorry, what?”
His lips twitched, and the dimple made another appearance. “I only said ‘Good morning.’ Are you all right?”
She’d been on the money predicting he’d have a posh accent, anyway. Maybe she could blame the hangover for her reaction to the smile. She needed to eat something. Or get laid.
It had been a while. Could you still say that when it had been two years? It had been a while.
“That depends,” she said.
“On what I did last night.”
He pursed his perfect lips, a frown line appearing between his eyebrows. “You don’t remember?”
“Not much.” She drew her index finger along the surface of his worktable, as if checking for dust.
“Do you remember refusing to tell me your name or where you live?”
“We talked?” Funny, she couldn’t resurrect any memories of speaking to him. Only his hand, warm and solid, guiding her. Only the way he’d made her feel.
The way he was still making her feel, come to think of it. She was bare-legged in this strange man’s apartment, asking him to reveal the details of what she’d done while drunk last night. The situation ought to have been intimidating. She ought to have been queasy with remorse.
She wasn’t, and she could only conclude the reason was City. He projected calm.
“You kept calling me ‘City,’” he said.
Cath nodded. “Yep. That’s what I call you.”
He gave her a wry smile, and she held on tight to the edge of the table. Maybe calm didn’t quite cover it. Not when he smiled, anyway.
“That’s precisely what you said last night.”
His voice wasn’t at all what she’d expected. It was low and warm and soothing, and it took the edge right off his fancy accent.
“Did I say why I wouldn’t tell you my name?”
The smile widened, and she decided it ought to be classified as a misdemeanor. Grinning with Intent to Discombobulate.
“You told me you were sad and quite tired, but you didn’t require my help, and all you needed to set yourself to rights was a cup of coffee and something to eat.”
“So how did I—”
He raised one finger to prevent her interruption, his eyes twinkling with amusement. She’d never noticed how unusual his eyes were before. They were green over brown, both exotic and warm.
“Then,” he continued, “when I tried to introduce myself properly, you covered my mouth with your hand and insisted we remain strangers, because you could tell I was a very nice man”—he pronounced the word nice as if it were a razor blade he was carefully spitting out—“and I’d be far better off not knowing you.”
Cath was impressed. Her drunk self had more sense than she’d given her credit for.
“That’s true,” she offered. “I’m not really your type.”
He cocked an eyebrow but let the comment slide.
“Since I’m here, I guess that means you took a pass on the opportunity to hop the next train and leave me to my own devices?”
“It was nearly midnight,” he said, defensive. “All the shops were closed, there were no cabs to be found, you wouldn’t tell me where you lived or let me see you home, and you could barely stand up. So yes, bringing you here seemed like the right thing to do.”
A thought distracted her from the question she’d been forming. “What were you doing at Canary Wharf at midnight on a Friday?”
“Trolling for prostitutes.”
He delivered the line in such a dry, remote tone, it took her a second to get that he was joking, but when she did, she couldn’t prevent herself from teasing, “You must have been so disappointed with the selection.” She glanced down at her small, decidedly unvoluptuous body in the oversized shirt.
“I wouldn’t say that, love.”
The dimple appeared again. She lost a few seconds gazing at his mouth, and then she came to and let her eyes slide down his torso to alight on his hand, which still held a paintbrush.
She hadn’t expected the smile. Or the paintbrush.
She definitely hadn’t expected him to flirt with her.
“I’d been to see a film,” he explained.
“I passed out,” she replied, attempting to steer the conversation back toward the safer ground of her humiliation so that she could get the details she needed and scurry home.
“I suppose you did. You were terribly tired. I made a pot of tea, and by the time I’d finished you were asleep at my kitchen table. I tried to rouse you, but you said, ‘Leave me alone,’ and then something that sounded very much like, ‘Don’t murder me.’” He reported all this matter-of-factly, as if drunk women passed out on his kitchen table every Friday night.
Which, for all you know, they do.
“Nice of you not to.”
“I seem to have convinced you I’m a nice man.”
Cath nodded her agreement, though he didn’t look all that nice at the moment. The gleam in those green-brown eyes was positively rakish. She hadn’t thought City had a speck of rakishness in him.
“Sorry about the stripping part,” she mumbled, partly because she was sorry but mostly because she wondered what he’d say.
The smile he gave her made her toes curl, it was so wicked. “You do remember,” he said in that low rumble.
“You were very, uh, gentlemanly about that.”
“You were very intoxicated.” He turned away to set the paintbrush down on the tray at the base of his easel.
She stared at her toes until they uncurled. This was her cue to ask what he’d done with her clothes. She would have, only City asked, “How are you feeling?” and so she had to keep talking to him. She tried to mind it but failed. The man was proving to be an enjoyable conversationalist, and he was remarkably easy on the eyes.
“I’m fine, thanks. I have a little headache, but the shower helped. And the toothbrush.”
“Glad to hear it. Would you like breakfast? I fried up some bacon.”
The mention of bacon made her stomach rumble.
“That sounds like a yes.”
“I do have a weakness for the bacon-sandwich hangover cure,” she admitted. “But it seems a little lowbrow for you, City. I can’t imagine you drunk, much less hungover.”
He took a few steps closer and studied her, an unabashed appraisal that should have been rude or even scary but instead sent syrupy heat creeping through her abdomen. “Considering you don’t know my name, you seem to have a lot of ideas about me.”
Oh, she had ideas. She had a whole slew of new ideas about him, and she needed to find an exit strategy quick, because none of them was on the list of things she was supposed to be thinking about. Banker, she reminded herself. He’s a banker, a very boring banker. Enough already. Just, whatever you do, don’t flirt with him.
“I don’t need to know your name. I’ve seen you around, and I know your type.”
Aaaand she was flirting with him.
It won her a smirk. “What’s my type, then?”
“For starters, you come from money. You went to expensive boarding schools, graduated from either Oxford or Cambridge, and now you work at a bank in the City—thus the name.”
He frowned and wiped his hand over his mouth. What a mouth.
“Just let me know when I get something wrong,” she offered.
“By all means, carry on. You’re doing a brilliant job so far.”
“Which was it, Oxford or Cambridge?”
“Cambridge. Trinity College.”
She resisted the urge to gloat. Gloating was well outside the range of acceptable responses to City on this particular morning.
So is flirting with him.
Right. But it was so much fun. She hadn’t flirted in ages.
“Let’s see,” she said. “I know you like to jog. Judging by those shoulders and arms, I’d say you also row, yeah?”
“Some. I play rugby, too.” He gave her half a smile, and she made an effort to suppress the image of City in a rugby jersey with pink cheeks and dirty knees, tussling over a ball. A human orgasm.
Her good sense was now officially yelling Mayday!
She was now officially ignoring it.
“What do I do for fun, then?” He stepped even closer. This flirtation had turned into a two-way party. She needed to find a method of steering the conversation back toward bacon sandwiches and, say, the location of her skirt, because it probably wasn’t good that she could smell him now, and on this man linseed oil was an aphrodisiac.
“Well, you go to the symphony, spend weekends in the countryside, and date women who wear twinsets and have names like—”
Without the least bit of warning, he kissed her. Not a preamble sort of kiss, either. No, he really kissed her, one huge hand cupping the back of her neck, and his warm, firm lips knew exactly what they were doing, which was driving every single thought from her head. Only the man remained, the mouth, the sensations coursing through her, heating her up from the inside. Heating her up fast. Could all bankers kiss like this?
Cath rose on her toes, angling her mouth and pressing closer, but he pulled back a few inches. Then a few feet.
She wanted to say something. The only word that came out of her mouth was a shaky “Whoa.”
She tried again. “What was that, City?”
“You tell me, Yank.” His lips curved into that sexy smirk again.
“I’m pretty sure you just kissed me.”
“Yes, I did. Shall I apologize?”
“It was terribly impolite. I didn’t ask your permission.”
Cath leaned back against the table, crossed her arms over the tight peaks of her nipples, and tried not to smile like a girl who’d just been kissed silly. She failed. She was failing a lot around this guy. It ought to have been worrisome, or at least embarrassing, but his lips had liquefied her brain.
First kiss in two years would do that, she supposed.
“I was much more impolite than you. What with the passing out and all. You’re being very nice about it.”
City scrubbed his hand over his jawline, pensive now. “I would appreciate it,” he said after a moment, “if you would stop calling me ‘nice.’”
He took a step closer, and her heart rate spiked.
“You are nice.” Her voice came out all weak and wavery. This was how Little Red Riding Hood had felt when she’d discovered the Big Bad Wolf wearing Grandma’s bonnet.
“No,” he replied. “I’m not.”
Another step, and his eyes traced a path over her arms, down her stomach to her hips. The brightly lit art studio made her purple underwear visible through the white T-shirt. She could tell that City noticed, and that he was enjoying the view.
She sat down on the edge of the table. “You brought me here with impure motives?” The idea gave her a stupid thrill.
He shook his head. “No. I developed them after you arrived.”
Cath fingered the hem of the shirt where it hit her mid-thigh. “You shouldn’t admit to that sort of thing. It’s perverted to lust after half-naked drunk girls.”
“Not perverted.” He stepped closer until his thighs brushed her knees. “Only male. And at any rate, you didn’t get me lusting with the strip show. Though it was . . . fetching.”
“No?” It was a wonder she could speak at all, considering there was a tall, hard, hot man crowding her and using up all the oxygen. “What irresistibly attractive thing did I do, then?”
One more step, and he was between her legs. “You talked. Rather a lot.”
“All sorts of nonsense. You’re not very fond of my country, I gather.”
Cath shrugged, sheepish. “Sometimes I miss Chicago.”
“I’d never heard you talk before. You ought to do it more. It’s charming.”
“People who talk to themselves at the train station are generally understood to be crazy. Especially in your country.”
“You could talk to me.”
“I hardly know you.”
“I’m superb,” he said. “You’re going to like me.” Big, warm hands covered her bare thighs, and she shivered. “Though I should probably reiterate, I’m not at all nice.”
“I am,” she whispered. “I’m a very good person. Not the kind of girl who gets drunk and has to be rescued from train stations.”
“I know.” He moved his hands up a few inches to the crease where her thighs met her hips.
“Or who makes out with strange men on tables. I’m a thoroughly respectable woman.”
“You don’t kiss like one.” He smiled that shark smile again.
New Cath had a death grip on the tattered vestiges of her willpower, but she’d lost control over her body. Her palms smoothed over the muscles of his forearms, and her butt scooted her closer to the edge of the table by an inch or two. Or four.
At least her mouth still worked. “I’ve reformed. The kissing is sort of a holdover.”
“Don’t reform. I like you bad.”
“I don’t want to be bad.” But her arms had reached up and twined around his neck, and she had to murmur the last part against his lips.
“I do,” he said, and took over.