Sidling up to a frosted glass partition, Erin peeked through the narrow clear strip below the sunburst BioEnd logo.
There he was. Dark hair, tanned skin, and nice broad shoulders. She could hear his laugh through the glass, and he seemed relaxed sitting in the chair closest to Emily's reception desk. Emily was giggling self-consciously, touching her hair too much, chatting about a restaurant she had been to the night before.
Suddenly Malachi turned and looked at Erin, meeting her eyes through the glass.
She drew in her breath. Blue eyes. He had bright, piercing blue eyes framed by long black lashes and dark brows. She had expected his eyes to be dark, like the Japanese he appeared to be. But even from ten feet away, she was struck by the vivid blue color.
He stared intently at her, while Emily kept chattering as if she hadn’t noticed anything.
Erin forgot how to breathe, mesmerized by his hold on her through his eyes.
Then she blinked and the spell was broken. Erin ducked down. She was being stupid, of course. He had seen her! And now he could see the shadow where she hunched behind the frosted glass.
But nothing could make her look through the narrow chink in the glass again. Bent over, she turned and hurried down the hall to the conference room. She felt like a real idiot. But she couldn’t help herself. The way he had looked at her… almost as if he was reading her mind.
Erin was so flustered that she didn’t tell her boss that Malachi Miuro was waiting in reception. She tried to forget about it, so she would be relaxed when he came in. He had only seen her eyes—the rest of her had been hidden behind the frosted glass. He wouldn’t recognize her if she kept her cool.
The senior executives arrived at the conference room, including Michel William who was now pushing sixty and had an overwhelming passion for renewable energy that inspired everyone in his company.
Before they called in the two artists, the proposals were discussed by the executives. Erin didn’t say a word. She took notes for Allison who led the discussion and was in charge of the project. Allison pushed Hannah Ho’s concept of wide bamboo planters that served as benches as being better suited to their building over Malachi Miuro’s modernistic sundial design.
“Bamboo is renewable,” Allison said, holding up the red folder. “And it will cast some shade on the plaza, which really needs it since we’re facing south.”
“That’s why the sundial would work.” William lifted the blue folder with Malachi's proposal. “But I’d like to hear from the artists themselves.”
Emily showed in Hannah Ho and she looked just like her photo—a pretty Asian-American woman with an easy smile. Hannah had plenty to say for herself and her “green design” and what she didn’t say, Allison said for her. Erin had to admit that the idea of islands of lacy bamboo forests sounded appealing. She could sit there and eat her lunch.
William asked a few questions, but the bulk of the discussion came from the CFO in regards to re-piping the plaza to water the bamboo in the giant planters. The dozen or so participants who were gathered around the table seemed to like the idea of bamboo. Erin didn’t see any reason why Mrs. Roberts, the Director of Human Relations, should be involved in making this decision, but Michel William always made a big deal about how he liked to work from consensus. This project was tailor-made to bring his entire company together in one giant PR stunt, and they all seemed to like Hannah Ho.
“I can work with her,” Allison said after Hannah left the room. “She’s got an international appeal that we can parlay into overseas coverage.”
Nods met this observation from around the oval table. Erin thought Allison was overly-pushy and domineering, but then again, her boss had been fighting her way through the New York corporate world for nearly twenty years so she probably knew what she was doing.
“Malachi Miuro,” Emily announced as she opened the door.
He was suddenly there, his eyes sweeping the room. Erin thought he hesitated a moment when he saw her. “Please, call me Kai."
Allison went forward to greet him. “Welcome, Mr. Miuro. We have a seat for you here.”
But Kai just smiled and nodded to her, going straight to the man at the head of the table. “Mr. William, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I wanted to tell you how impressed I am with your work. I’m very proud to be a finalist for this project.”
Erin watched along with the others as Malachi Miuro shook hands with their founder. The sculptor knew a fair bit about BioEnd and Michel William, which he displayed as they chatted quietly for a few moments. Erin wanted to be cynical; she had seen enough of Allison's maneuvers to know a practiced charmer when she saw one. But Kai was so relaxed, wearing black jeans and a navy suit jacket, his straight hair in need of a cut. He didn’t fit the image of a slick self-salesman or a huckster trying to steal a buck. There was a distinct whiff of bad-boy about him, and she was sure he had at least one tattoo covered over by his business-casual clothes.
Kai worked his way around the table, shaking everyone’s hand. They were pleased, and showed it.
When he got to Erin, her hand was in his before she knew it. It felt square and hard, a little rough like he worked with them a lot. And then she was looking into those remarkable blue eyes again.
He recognized her.
How could he not? The nerves in her hand seemed electrified, like a spark ran from his body through hers. His smile deepened at her reaction.
“This is our copywriter, Erin Chandler,” Allison was saying behind her.
“We’ve already met,” Kai said. His voice was low and confidential, as it had been with everyone.
“You know each other?” Allison demanded. “How?”
“We met in reception,” Kai said.
Allison dismissed that as irrelevant, and directed him to the empty seat at their end of the table. Erin sat down quickly, suddenly wishing the table was square so she could hide behind Allison. She was sure she was red in the face because the pressure was unbearable. But she tried to act like nothing had happened as she opened the blue folder and stared blankly down at Kai's graceful rendition of a sundial in geometric shapes—a triangular base, long spear for the dial, and round balls grouped in a semi-circle marking each number of the clock.
Kai noticed that they were all looking at the image in the folder. “That’s an old drawing. I brought a newer one for you to see.”
He unzipped the black portfolio he was carrying. Allison protested, “I told you not to bring new materials. We have to consider each project on the same basis.”
Kai paused, the large painting half out of the portfolio. Looking down at Michel William, he grinned. “Then it’s a good thing I didn’t bring the clay model of the sundial. I was afraid it wouldn’t fit in the cab.”
In the midst of general laughter, Kai pulled out a striking watercolor of the blue-glass BioEnd building. The concave front of the tower seemed to catch the light of the afternoon sun.
In the front of the semi-circular plaza stood the dramatic slash of the sundial. Kai had given the painting a low perspective, showing the dark purple shadow of the sundial crossing the bench that was labeled IV.
Erin drew in her breath as did several others around the table. She had always liked the idea of a sundial.
“I love it,” Mrs. Roberts said immediately. The plump forty-something woman was leaning forward eagerly. “The antiquity of a sundial is unexpected. It’s exactly what the architect intended when he put a 100-year-old fountain in front of our modern building.”
There were murmurs of agreement from all of the women. Even Mr. William was nodding, though not as enthusiastically. Were they looking at the painting or Malachi Miuro?
Kai's eyes met hers again for a moment, and Erin quickly glanced down at the proposal. She couldn’t breathe when he looked at her that way! But it wasn’t her fault; the others seemed just as enthralled by him. Including Nathan, Mr. William's assistant.
“Get Kai an easel,” Allison ordered.
Erin jumped up and went to pull out the easel from a narrow closet in the wall paneling. Kai had certainly gotten around Allison easily enough. She wasn’t protesting his use of unauthorized materials anymore.
On her way back, Erin checked the thermostat. It felt too warm in the conference room. But it was reading 78 degrees, as usual, and William wouldn’t allow them to lower it any more than that.
She set up the easel next to Kai's chair and took the watercolor from his hands without directly looking at him. She wasn’t going to turn into a giggly girl like Emily. She was a professional and planned on making something of herself in this company. She wouldn’t let him get to her.
As Kai turned back, he knocked his pen off the table. It landed on the floor between his chair and the easel. He started to reach for it, but Erin was already bent over picking it up. Their heads came very close, so close that she was enveloped in his musky scent.
“Good girl,” he murmured under his breath.
She looked sharply him. He didn’t just say that!
Allison was busy looking at the specs in the blue folder as if she hadn’t really considered them before. Erin acted like she hadn’t heard anything.
Kai took the pen from her slowly, so slowly that Erin had to look at him again. He was smiling at her, seeing her embarrassment. But there was approval in his eyes.
Erin pulled back, feeling flustered.
How dare he say that to me! Like I’m a trained collie or something.
It didn’t get any better as she went and sat down. Her hips shifted in the seat, and now she was sure she was red.
Maybe he meant it as a joke, but it wasn’t funny. It was completely inappropriate. Against all professional standards!
Only one thought managed to rise through the emotions he had shaken and stirred with hardly any effort—Erin wasn’t going to let him see that he had gotten to her.