Kai smiled to himself. She picked up the pen. He knew she would. He could always tell a submissive when he saw one.
Ms. Erin Chandler was looking straight at him, her expression hard. Before that, she had been trying to avoid his eyes, but now she was apparently so affronted by his praise that she refused to back down, even if it was a completely silent war that was happening right in front of her coworkers.
It was just the sort of fun that Kai enjoyed the most. But right now he had more important things to deal with. He needed this job. Badly. He couldn’t let himself be distracted by a fine ass and a fiery disposition.
But the girl did have a fine ass. Her skirt hugged her curves just right, and her heels were high enough to give a nice sway to her hips. He thought when he had glimpsed her peering through the glass, that she would be pretty, and he wasn’t disappointed. With her up-turned nose and sweetly curling lips, she was more cute than beautiful, but he liked that elfin look. Innocence could be a wonderful thing to play with, and she had that in spades. She looked to be as young as her early twenties, but she would probably look youthful well into middle-age.
Now is not the time… He dragged himself back to the priority at hand.
“As you can see from this painting, your eye is drawn from the street up to the gorgeous concave curve of your facade,” Kai explained. “Right now the fountain is too big, like a pyramid squatting on your front doorstep. It blocks the portico that runs along the first floor of the plaza, echoing that enticing inward curve. With a sundial, the art will work with the building in harmony instead of concealing it.”
Kai was glad to see that Allison Stern, the head of the PR department, was nodding along. Allison was the one who had called to let him know he was one of the finalists in the competition. She had told him that he beat out hundreds of other proposals.
He wasn’t sure if Allison was on his side or not, but right now she was returning his easy smile. Allison was a stylish woman, packaged and polished, as if every detail had been considered carefully. People in publicity were always hard to read. They were experts at the smoke-and-mirrors game.
“That is something to consider,” Allison told the rest of the table. “The bamboo planters would hide the front of the building at the street level.”
“Even more than the fountain does now,” Mrs. Roberts agreed. Kai could tell Mrs. Roberts was on his side. He always did well with maternal, older women. She actually looked a bit like his mom with her plump cheeks and tired eyes.
“The question is: do we want a forest maze or an open plaza in front of our building?” Michel William asked from the top of the table.
Kai had seen the proposal that Hannah Ho had submitted, just as he had carefully examined all of the plans by his competition during the online contest. He had heard of Hannah before they became finalists—she was part of the post-postmodern school in urban planning, using an organic and sincere approach in direct reaction to the destructive tendencies of postmodernism. Kai had scrabbled his way up as outsider artist, and if anything, admired the meta-modernist architects who defied tradition and relied on the tension of transformation, finding the hidden beauty in something awkward or even ugly.
Kai had tried to get Hannah to talk out in the reception room, but she was tight-lipped. She focused on large-scale corporate work, and made things that filled space in a harmonious way, rather than art that made you think. Bamboo was exactly what she would propose—a soothing green mass to balance the hard glass of the building, literally symbolizing Michel William's green roots. She was probably dying for a job right now, too, and she definitely had a much bigger nut to meet than Kai did.
“Your company is all about natural energy,” Kai reminded Michel William. “Your building faces south and should embrace the sun, not the shadows.”
The others around the table were nodding. The CFO brought up the biggest line item of the budget—the cost for the raw bronze for the sundial and benches. But Kai knew his stuff and could answer every question, from the comparative exchange rate if the casting was done in Canada vs. an American-made product. American-made won the day, as he had expected. It was quick work to clear up the last few questions of cost, including the fact that the plumbing for the fountain could be left under the plaza so they wouldn’t have to rip up the flagstones that were already laid down. They would only have to replace the ones under the fountain and remove the ones under the base of the individual benches and the sundial to install the anchors.
William's assistant Nathan was now frankly appraising him from the other end of the table, silently letting Kai know that he had his vote! The women were also in the palm of his hand, except for Erin Chandler. He shouldn’t have allowed himself to murmur those little words of praise when she picked up the pen. Who knew what kind of pull she had as a member of the PR team?
But Kai couldn’t help himself. He really wanted to tell Erin that she was a bad girl. She had peeked at him through the glass door of the reception room, and then ran away when he saw her.
Erin met his gaze firmly. “I’m not sure about those round balls for benches. They look like they might be uncomfortable to sit on.”
Bad girl, was on the tip of his tongue. He was sure Erin had said it because he had gotten to her.
Allison Stern turned to that page of the proposal, tilting her head at the benches formed by three balls grouped together. “They look like bronze exercise balls. I’ve never seen seating like this before.”
“You said no flat surfaces or people would try to sleep on them,” Kai reminded her. “And I don’t like those tacky benches with arms or with the ridges built into the seat.” Hannah had put ridges on her proposed seating. “The balls contrast with the linear thrust of the sundial. They echo the semi-circle of the plaza itself.”
“But are they comfortable to sit on?” Michel William asked.
“I’ve already made the pattern and it’s very comfortable. It’s at my studio in Bushwick. I couldn’t bring it with me because it definitely wouldn’t fit in the cab!”
Everyone laughed again, as he had intended.
William said, “You certainly went the extra mile on this proposal, Kai.”
“I want to work with your company, Mr. William. It would be a real honor to design the plaza for this ground-breaking building.” Kai hesitated, but now was the time to ask. “I am curious, though, how a man like you ended up with a fountain in the first place?”
William let out an exasperated “humph!” The others looked uncomfortable. “Truth be told, in the original plans it was supposed to be part of the cooling system for this building. But that’s outdated technology. BioEnd developed a breakthrough in the HVAC system that regenerates the heat to supplement the power of the pumps. We should have scrapped the fountain when we went with the new technology, but there were too many other details we were dealing with.”
Kai smiled. “Well, I’m glad because then you wouldn’t be getting such a stellar sundial now.”
William was nodding slowly, tapping a pen on the proposal in front of him, looking down the length of the table at the large painting that Kai had worked on for weeks. Nobody else dared to speak. William was known to run his company like it was a team, but everything Kai had read about the guy proved that he had the final word on anything important. Seeing that useless fountain every day must really piss him off.
“I like it,” William finally said. “I liked the idea of a sundial from the beginning. But I want to be sure you can sit on these benches. Allison, why don’t you go to Mr. Miuro's studio and give the bench a test run? I want a report back by Monday.”
Allison looked anything but happy at the surprise task, but she said, “Absolutely, Michel. I’ll send everyone a memo on Monday morning.” Turning to Kai, she said, “We’ll work out the details before you go.”
This was his cue to pack up, which Kai did, shaking hands with each person who stopped by on their way out of the conference room. Nathan, William's assistant, hung back as if to speak to him, but was called out by William as he left.
Only Allison and the perky but still piqued Erin were left in the end. He made sure Allison had his address to come by his studio that night, even though it was a Friday. He would have agreed to anything if it would land him this job.
“I have a red-eye to catch tonight to Los Angeles, but I can make it if I come by around six,” Allison told him.
When Kai said good-bye to Allison, she turned to her assistant, “Show Malachi the way to the elevators, Erin.”
Kai stuck out his hand to Erin, knowing she couldn’t refuse while her boss was standing right there. “Thank you for your help, Erin. I’m told you put together our proposals. I liked the blue cover.”
Erin slowly shook his hand. “Allison picked out the blue one for you.”
He pulled her hand slightly towards him, unbalancing her a bit and bringing her onto her toes. “Thank you, anyway.”
Erin took a tiny step forward to regain her balance, unclasping his hand. He had to let go of her, though he wasn’t ready to, yet. He usually didn’t care much about whether women liked him, maybe because so many did. But he wanted to give Erin a bit of a spanking for pointing out the unusual benches, even if it was a metaphorical spanking.
He followed her through the hall and back out to the reception area where the flirty receptionist leaped up to say good-bye to him. But Kai wasn’t thinking about her. He was watching Erin disappear behind the frosted glass again. He hoped she would glance back at him, but she didn’t. He was surprised and a little disappointed.
It was too bad she wasn’t coming to his studio tonight with her boss. But it was probably for the best. He should be thinking about this job, not trying to provoke a woman he had just met. But for some reason, Erin Chandler stuck in his mind. He could still feel her hand in his, soft but firm. He had a feeling her whole body was soft but firm, just like her hand. A fresh, ripe girl ready for the picking…
He thought he had wanted this job as much as he possibly could before the interview. Now he wanted it even more.