He touched the chair against the back of my knees. I sat, knotted my fingers in my lap and crossed my ankles.
“Hi, Ashley,” Rachel said, leaning forward as Shane sat his tall frame back down. “You look…er…really well.” Her blue eyes were wide behind her spectacles as she absorbed my new look. “Have you been on holiday or something?”
“Er, no, no holiday.”
Everyone at the table turned to me. Even a young, pimpled guy opposite was peering around the tall floral centerpiece to stare.
“How are you, Rachel?” I asked, trying to keep my voice casual.
“Fabulous, thanks and this is great, isn’t it? They always do such a lovely job at The Fenchurch.”
I nodded and reached for the slim glass of water a waiter set before me.
“Have you two met before?” Rachel asked, flicking her gaze between Shane and me.
“No,” Shane answered, smiling my way. “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure.” His lips looked soft and sensual, his top left tooth crooked by a millimeter over the right one and his eyes sparkled as though full of sin. Dark, naughty, expert sin. The sort of sin bad-boy pirates and dukes intent on satisfaction had in their eyes.
“Ashley,” I said, unknotting my fingers and holding out my hand. “Ashley Jones. I’m from the Chelsea branch.”
He took my hand. Curled big, warm fingers around mine and squeezed gently. “Shane Galloway, Huddersfield branch. It’s lovely to meet you, Ashley.”
A snake of sensation washed up my arm, ran across my shoulder and settled in my chest. I pulled in a breath and was treated to a lungful of his light aftershave. He tipped his head slightly as he carried on staring into my eyes. He pulled in a deep breath too.
“I, er, it’s a pleasure to meet you as well.” I extracted my hand and dragged my gaze from his. If I wasn’t careful I could almost fool myself into thinking he was attracted to me. I wasn’t an expert in this sort of thing but in my books, lingering handshakes, prolonged eye contact and inhaling perfume were all connected to human attraction.
“So, congratulations,” he said, reaching for a seeded bread roll.
“For what?” I asked, watching him tear the roll in half. His fingernails were neat and perfectly square. He had a faint line on his left ring finger.
“For being employee of the year at your branch,” he said, smearing a thick wedge of butter onto his roll.
“Oh, yes, that. And you too.” I reached for my own roll although I suddenly didn’t feel hungry. There was a heaviness in the pit of my stomach like hunger but I didn’t think food would sate it. A quiet read of Pounding Without Sound would fill the gap. Marie and Travis getting it on together in the restroom of a Boeing 747 was always a good read when I needed something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Or rather, I needed to put my finger on.
“Yeah,” he said. “Personally I didn’t sell quite as much as last year because I’ve been a bit distracted.” He bit into his roll.
“Oh,” I said. “Why is that?”
He swallowed. “It’s just been a crap year.” He leaned back and his soft suit jacket touched my bare shoulder. “What with one thing and another.”
“Like what?” I didn’t move away from the warm, slightly scratchy touch of his suit. It felt nice, it felt up close and personal.
He turned to me and lowered his voice. “I got divorced in March and took an unpaid month off to visit a mate in Australia, and then in September, I started a part-time university course in marketing, which has taken me out of the office one day a week.” He smiled. “Still, hopefully the course will make me even more productive in the future. It’s already given me some great ideas.”