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“So, I might be slightly claustrophobic,” I confess to my companion in disaster.
Rather than being alarmed, Claude appears to be completely calm. He hangs up the little phone in the elevator and turns to me. “They are already working on it,” he says, that liquid voice soothing me. “It won’t be long.”
“Still. You might see an unpleasant side of me,” I warn. I can already feel my face getting hot and my breath getting shallow.
“Let’s sit down, shall we?” Claude says, still ridiculously calm.
I watch him lower that long body onto the floor of the elevator and sit cross-legged on the metal. Without any better ideas, I follow suit.
“My sister-in-law is extremely claustrophobic. She takes the stairs everywhere. She has incredible calf muscles.” He lets out a low chuckle that does something strange to my stomach. “I find it’s best to talk about something else. Take your mind off it.”
“Okay. What should we talk about?” I am way too high up on the freaked out scale to make a decision as big as choosing a topic of discussion.
“You, Janice. I want to know so many things about you.”
I am stunned. “Why?” I blurt out.
He shrugs his massive shoulders. “You are a smart, classy, very attractive woman. I think it’s normal, albeit slightly unprofessional, for me to be intrigued by you.”
“I’m…I’m speechless,” I admit.
“I’m sorry if I overstepped,” he says, a contrite look on his face.
“No. It’s okay.” I reassure him. “I’m flattered.”
“Good. Flattered beats offended. So tell me about yourself.”
“I’m not sure where to start.”
“What’s your greatest passion?”
I smile. This I could talk about all day. “Photography. I’ve loved it since I was a kid. Even wasted some time and money getting a degree in it.”
“Wasted? Why do you say that?”
“Because I can’t make a living doing it.”
He cocks his head. “Why not?”
I bite my lip. As I do, I notice Claude’s eyes travel to my mouth. My stomach is acting up again. “What about you? How did you get into interior design?” I ask, deflecting.
He rips his eyes off my lips. I feel a little bereft. “Always liked it. I used to rearrange my parents furniture at least once a week when I was kid. Me and my friend Tommy built doll houses and gave them away to the local shelters and stuff.”
“And no one questioned…” I stopped. I shouldn't gender stereotype. I oughta be ashamed.
“Did anyone think I was gay?” He laughed. “They sure did. And Tommy sure is. He actually works for a firm across the bay. We’re still best friends even though we compete for clients sometimes. I love that guy. But, alas, I’m straight.” As if to prove the point, his gaze wandered over me. When it returns to my eyes he blushes. “Sorry.”
I smile at him. “I have to tell you that I am against mixing business and pleasure. I did that once. It was a bad idea.”
“Okay. That’s a fun subject. Tell me about it.”
“Um…” What else do I have to do? Besides, I really do need to keep my distance from this gorgeous man, and telling him a story that is an abject lesion in why we shouldn’t immediately jump into one another’s arms is probably a good idea. “Okay. So it was about a year ago…”