Later that week, enjoying her gin and tonic at the end of the day, Elizabeth sees Luke leave his apartment.
“Hot date?” she inquires, taking in the beautifully cut dinner suit.
Got to be Armani. Elizabeth has always thought that men look their sexiest in a dinner suit – except perhaps for a kilt. She quickly brushes away the memory of the tartan trousers. This can’t be the same man. He is really good-looking. Supernaturally good-looking.
“No. Just helping out a friend.”
Lucky friend. Elizabeth tries to think of something to say that will keep him talking for a few more minutes but comes up empty.
The partners’ dinner is the big event of the year. It is a must look good, must network event and Elizabeth must have a date. Gordon & Gordon likes their execs settled and stable, even the junior ones. If Elizabeth doesn’t take a date they will think that she is gay or can’t get a man. These days the modern woman has to have it all.
For the first time she misses James. Not misses him as a person, just misses him to have to take to functions. He could always be relied upon to look and act the part. He could also be relied upon to be a complete jerk when he wasn’t out to impress. Prince Charming hadn’t emerged from the crowd of football-loving guys at the pub so Elizabeth had decided to ask Luke.
“Sure, I can make it,” he says.
“This is a big evening for me, important for work. It’s also very formal.”
“Same gear as last week, right?”
“I’ll look forward to it.”
Problem solved. Perfect. Perfect clothes. Perfect man?
“I’m running late. I’ll meet you there.” Elizabeth’s hands clenched around her mobile phone, she couldn’t keep the stress from her voice.
“No problem. See you soon.” Luke finished the call.
An hour later, Elizabeth arrives at Eileen’s, a five star restaurant. She smooths her beaded Collette Dinnigan dress and contemplates the evening ahead. This is going to be fun. Not a feeling that she usually associates with the partners’ dinner.
The doorman shows Elizabeth into the function room. Chandeliers cast a subdued light over the guests. The flattering lighting makes all the men movie stars and the women beauty queens. But even in that glorious company one powerfully built set of shoulders draws her attention.
She watches Luke in conversation with a small group of people. His back is towards her and for a few moments she lets her gaze drift from the glossy black hair, long but artistically so, across the broad shoulders, down the length of that beautifully tailored Armani jacket to narrow hips and the well-cut trousers that she knows cover muscular legs. Elizabeth notices that she isn’t the only woman similarly occupied. Time to stake her claim. She joins the group and places her hand on Luke’s arm. He turns.
She is face to face with a row of pearl buttons drowning in a leopard-skin print body-shirt! The rest of the evening passes in a blur of bemused looks, scornful glances, and half-hidden gestures. Luke has a wonderful time.
Later that evening, back at Elizabeth’s apartment, she is still very quiet. She starts to make them a drink but Luke takes over. They sit outside.
“You seemed out of sorts this evening. Is something wrong?” he says, handing her a drink.
Elizabeth just can’t hold back.
“Where do you buy such truly awful shirts?” Once the words are out she wants to soften their blow but can’t think how. She drains half her drink in one hit. Luke seems fine.
“I don’t buy them. I borrow them. From the wardrobe department.”
“Wings Theatre Company. It’s where I work.”
“I’m an actor – or trying to be. I’m still looking for that big break. I get castoffs from Wardrobe when they’re finished with them. Still good clothes. I keep costs down, stay out of the rat race and keep auditioning.”
She frowns and rubs her forehead.
“Clothes are just to cover the body. It’s the person beneath that really matters,” Luke finishes gently. He really is from some far away galaxy.
“I’m sorry that tonight didn’t go as well as you wanted.”
“What happened to the dress shirt from the other evening?”
“They wanted it back.”
Elizabeth nods. For some reason this is all the explanation that she needs. She looks up into those big beautiful eyes, dark with concern.
Her glance travels down to his chest where the pearl buttons wink at her in the moonlight. Slouched in his chair the leopard print is pulled tight across his chest. The fabric outlines the contours of his muscles. When he shifts she can see the leopard move. It’s actually a great shirt. She relaxes in her chair and lets her glance travel up again. His smile fills her with warmth.
“Is the shirt really that bad?” he asks.
She reaches up and kisses him. For a moment he is still and then returns the kiss. His tongue searches deeply in her mouth, tasting and exploring. Heat arcs through her body. She sinks against him. The touch of his hands on her bare back pushes Elizabeth out of her comfort zone. What am I doing kissing the worst dressed alien in the universe?
“Sorry.” She creates some distance.
“I just got lost in the moment.” Confusion is written on her face. “Thanks for tonight.” Elizabeth stands to signal that the evening is over.
Luke rises too. He bends and kisses her again, lightly but lingeringly. “I had a great night.”
“I know that I blew it the other night but can I ask a favour,” Luke calls to her a couple of days later as she is leaving for work. “I’ve got an important audition this afternoon and my shower is broken. Can I use yours?”
“Sure. I’ll be at work, but here’s the spare key. Good luck.” Elizabeth continues to her car.
The audition is rescheduled for a couple of hours later. With more time to rehearse Luke immerses himself in the character and the make believe world of the screenplay. Later he uses Elizabeth’s shower to freshen up. He mumbles his lines, eyes closed, faced turned to the jet of water.
Home early from work, Elizabeth pours herself a gin and tonic and makes for her bathroom, drink in hand. A gin-assisted relaxing soak in the bath can soothe away most worries.
Luke turns at the sound of the door opening.
Every perfect droplet of water cascading down every perfect muscular male contour is imprinted on her mind. Who cares about the clothes?
Now Elizabeth Forbes has an even better secret.
© 2010 Lesley Ann Smith
About the Author
Lesley Ann Smith writes short and novel-length romantic fiction across a range of sub-genres, all with fresh character-driven plots. Most recently her romantic fantasy short story, Tempest, has been published in the Little Gems Anthology: 2009 Turquoise by the Romance Writers of Australia. Her romantic suspense novel has been requested by a New York publisher. For more information visit her website at http://www.lesleyannsmith.com