"I SHOULD fore-warn you the purchaser intends to renovate. Big time."
"Renovate? Big time?" Breanna Black blinked at her soon to be departing next-door neighbour, Carol. "Do you know what that involves, exactly?"
"I overheard elevator-and-wall-demolition-to-make-way-for-indoor-pool mentioned. Amongst other things."
The words were still echoing in Brie's head at Carol and George's farewell dinner more than twenty-four hours later. She shook her head as she rinsed her hands in Carol's upstairs bathroom. The Reece-Bartons had sold their beautiful mansion, East Wind, to a moron. East Wind was a mirror image of Brie's West Wind next door, built by brothers in the late nineteenth century. Obviously Leo Hamilton - her new clueless neighbour - didn't appreciate historical structures or their significance. She swiped up the hand towel, rubbing away at the excess energy she didn't know what to do with. An indoor pool? For heaven's sake. If he wanted-
"Apologies for the interruption, George…" An unfamiliar voice drifted up the stairs. "…didn't realise you had company…"
Deep and rich and silky, the timbre seemed to harmonise with the foyer's warm wood-panelled walls where she imagined the recent arrival standing. Pushing the bathroom door wider, she cocked an ear in the direction of the stairwell and listened.
The actual words were muffled by the flautist's rendition of Greensleeves and the disorder of mingled conversations from the twenty or so guests, but it was the tone that hooked her attention. Would he look as scrumptious as he sounded? she wondered. A shiver of lust shimmied down her spine. Would he sound the same in bed?
Then George and his visitor moved from the foyer, their voices merging with those at the dinner-party.
Wow. Brie straightened away from the wall she'd been leaning against and moved to the mirror. She hoped he'd stay for a drink at least so she could get a gander at him but she took her time repairing her make-up, determined not to give in to temptation and rush downstairs merely to satisfy her curiosity. Whoever he was.
Finally, she slid her lip-gloss into her purse and exited the bathroom. He was probably married with six kids… except he didn't sound married. "And what exactly does married sound like?" she scoffed out loud. Short, then - being six foot tall herself had its disadvantages. Except she couldn't imagine anyone with a voice like that being anything but…
He appeared on the top stair as if she'd conjured him up, and her normally forthright and confident "hi" turned into a breathless school-girl sound of awe and appreciation.
He gave a brief half nod. Said, "Evening," in that sexy-as-sin voice. One hand on the newel post, he stepped onto the upstairs landing. Thirtyish. Tall. Taller than her.Close-cropped dark hair, steel grey eyes. Whipcord lean and tanned - her idea of perfect man in one succinct package from his clean-shaven jaw to his crisp white business shirt and twilight blue tie to his perfectly pressed charcoal trousers… with security pass clipped to his belt.
She almost groaned aloud. Perfect to look at but sadly that's where it ended.
Her smile remained frozen in half bloom on her lips. She refused to be seduced by his better-than-gorgeous looks. Beauty was only skin deep after all. Wasn't it great timing that she'd just fixed her lip-gloss? She frowned at the ridiculous thought that popped up from nowhere. No. It wasn't great at all.
What she really wanted to do was tell him exactly where to stick his reno ideas. But she straightened slowly, drew in air tinged with the faint scent of skin-warmed cotton and reminded herself there was nothing to be gained by rudeness. Pull yourself together, Brie. Smile. Forget those pesky little renovations he's planning and try the neighbourly, welcoming approach.
To start with at least.
"Mr Hamilton. I couldn't help but notice your name…" Oh… Wrong place to look. She gave a little shrug - wrong place to wear it - and dragged her eyes from his crotch and up to meet his grey impenetrable ones. "I'm Breanna Black." She stepped forward, stuck out her hand. "Your next door neighbour."
He nodded, all unsmiling and enigmatic. "Breanna." He took so long to extend his own, Brie wondered for a moment if he intended responding at all.
When he did, at last, take her hand in a decisive grip, she didn't reciprocate like some weak-willed female meeting her teenage idol but with the same strength and intensity as he. He looked…startled. His eyes widened and his jaw tightened and she got an impression of hard, wide, slightly roughened palm before he released her… Or had she pulled free first?
Whatever, that first contact was as brief as it was disconcerting so she followed up quickly with, "Call me Brie. I've heard you're moving here from Melbourne?" And a few other not-so-good things besides.
"It's more of an investment, but yes. You heard correctly." The way he said that last, almost accusatory, made it sound like she was the town busy-body when he was the ignoramus with no appreciation for history or architecture. And okay, she was interested only because he was going to be living next-door - and renovating - which might affect the property value of her own home.
"Bad week at the office?" she murmured. "Thank God it's Friday?" When he simply stared at her and made no attempt to reply, Brie continued, "Carol told me. That you're from the mainland." She defended what she considered her reasonable query, even if he did not. "She and George are more friends than neighbours. So… you've big plans for this place?" The words shot out before she could stop them. "An indoor pool, I hear?"
"Do you believe everything you hear?"
His cool stare matched his barely veiled criticism then he glanced down the stairwell, giving her time to check out his profile. The neat shape of his ear, the pin-prick of evening stubble along the sharp jawline. Her trained therapist's eye couldn't help but notice his sun-tanned skin would benefit from one of her men's all-fruit facials, and her mouth tingled at the errant thought of licking it off- Stop.
She pressed her lips together. Unlike the Reece-Bartons, this man was not her friend. In any way. If she could just convince her woman's body of that fact. "Not at all, but I believe Carol. Are you aware that this home is a signific-"
"Chris, up here." He raised a hand to some unseen body below, effectively cutting Brie off.
The life-long sense of powerlessness she'd always felt at being repeatedly ignored bristled along her spine. "Excuse me?"
His focus turned sharply and wholly back to Brie. She wasn't being ignored now and the words she'd been about to say melted off her tongue. They stood almost eye to eye. Mouth to mouth.Breast to chest. Her nipples tightened. So did her belly. Somehow he made her feel dainty and petite, an achievement no man had ever accomplished. His gaze seemed to check her out from the roots of her hair to her low-heeled boots and every place between.
"My architect," he said, finally.
Architect. Chris. Right. Now she had his attention back, she struggled to regather the thread of their conversation. "What does he think of your plans…?"
But she was suddenly speaking to empty space because without a second glance he was headed back the way he'd come, his masculine scent drifting on the air behind him. No 'beg your pardon' or 'nice to meet you, catch you later'.
Rude. Inexcusably, unjustifiably rude. Brie saw a blonde clutching a tablet device to her ample bosom which was plumped over an inappropriately low neckline. She watched the woman move to meet him at the foot of the stairs. His architect. Female. Of course. He actually smiled at the woman and Brie fought a stab of pique. He wasn't ignoring Chris.
She watched them compare notes, converse a moment, then George appeared and both men walked towards the front door while Chris and her tablet headed towards the kitchen. The guys shook hands but just when Brie thought he'd forgotten she'd ever existed, Leo Hamilton turned his head and that enigmatic silver gaze found her, skimming her entire body again.
Her skin prickled, as if he'd given her an all-over body scrub with one of her salon's best exfoliating mitts. She shivered and resisted the urge to soothe her arms.
A corner of his mouth lifted. A smile? Or a smirk… As if he knew the effect he'd had on her. She narrowed her eyes. Damn. She was a confident woman when it came to any man, hunky or otherwise, so why this particular man wielded that power she had no idea - he was irritating and arrogant and dismissive. And a bunch of other things she refused to waste her time thinking about.
If he began to raise his hand in some sort of belated farewell, she didn't see it. Eyes averted and head high, she started downstairs. She heard the front door close and aimed a smile George's way. "I hope I didn't scare him off."
"I'd venture your new neighbour's not a man who scares easily," he said, returning her smile. "He had a plane to catch." George fell into step beside her as they headed back to the dinner table. "You'll have plenty of time to get acquainted," he said with the devil in his voice.
A half-laugh caught in her over-heated throat and she had to clear it. "He's not my type."
"No." Granted, conservative senior cit George probably thought every man was her type since he'd probably never seen her turn into her driveway with the same guy twice.
But he'd be wrong. She enjoyed men but she was discerning in her choice of partners. The arrogant guy next door with the mellow bedroom voice? No way.
She shook off the double distraction of him and her bedroom in the same image. Apart from finding out what his intentions were for East Wind - which she could do by talking with his architect if necessary - she couldn't wait to ignore Leo Hamilton the next time she saw him.
Leo leaned back against the prestige cab's head-rest as they headed for the airport. What in God's name had happened back there? His whole body was still vibrating, as if he'd been blasted side-ways by a sonic boom.
The after-effects of the shockwave that was Breanna Black.
His libido had jolted awake and demanded breakfast, an occurrence so unexpected and so irrational given his usual taste in women that he'd left Chris with the calculations he'd intended checking through alongside her.
He barely noticed Hobart's lights winking as he crossed the Tasman Bridge. A neighbour who could light his fire with just a look was a complication he didn't need. Perhaps he could oversee what needed to be done via email? He dismissed that idea with an impatient snap of fingers against his thigh - this project was as personal as it was important.
Whereas she wasn't important.In any way. He refused to alter his plans on a woman's account. Particularly one he'd just met.
And now he was going to be at the airport half an hour earlier than planned where he'd no doubt spend that time digging her out from beneath his skin.
He didn't have time for the attraction. The distraction. Or whatever the hell Breanna Black was.
Still… If he had to choose one word to describe her it would be stunning. Not in the usual way one called a woman stunning but in a stun-gun kind of way - and he was still feeling the burn.
She was all about impact rather than beauty - there was nothing subtle about her. Her cheekbones were too wide and too sharp for her face. Then there was the eye-popping lime-tasselled top that stretched taut over firm, round and very generous breasts. Her mouth…ripe and red and damned if he hadn't wanted to move in and-
He closed his eyes but the woman's image blistered the back of his eyelids. Her hair a shiny river of blackberry silk flowing over her shoulders. Midnight eyes flashing with an inner fire which made him wonder if that apparent passion for knowing other people's business extended to her bedroom.
Leo pinched the bridge of his nose to alleviate the tension building between his brows. He wasn't being entirely fair. Breanna had introduced herself at least, whereas he'd not exactly been Mr Congeniality.
Nice work, Hamilton. Way to antagonise the new neighbour. His sister needed an ally in this new community - another woman she could rely on when he wasn't around - not an adversary.
So he wouldn't be telling Sunny about bumping into Ms Black yet, he decided. If he happened to see her next weekend - and he didn't intend going out of his way to do so - but if he did, he'd make more of an effort. For Sunny's sake.