Saturday, October 17, 2015

Entire First Chapter of A SLOW-BURNING DANCE - The Weathermen 5


Chapter One

As far as Sela Chavez was concerned, she could have gone her entire life without speaking to Damien Rivera again, and she wouldn’t have given it a second thought. She placed a hand over her eyes to shade them from the fake sun while she stared at his imposing figure, standing about five hundred feet away, pointing and gesturing toward the construction foreman overseeing the remodeling of the strip mall where her dance studio, Canción de la Danza would soon open.

She knew, of course, that his company, Rivera Construction, was providing the financial backing as a favor to Tomás Rodriguez, the developer of the mall and Damien’s friend. Rivera Construction didn’t finance small projects like strip malls under normal circumstances. Heaven forbid Damien Rivera take on something that wouldn’t net him millions in profits.

What she hadn’t known was that the man himself would show up here and try to run the show. He had thousands of employees. Surely there were a few who could keep an eye on things for him. Why couldn’t he stay in the building that housed his damn company?

Damien gestured widely. “Tomás wants this entire area for parking. The stores need to frame it in a horseshoe. There is too much dead space here. We can fit more parking slots.” His voice was even sexier than she’d remembered, but that didn’t mean he’d changed. His back was to her, but as he and the foreman shifted to the left slightly, Sela caught sight of Damien’s profile.

She hadn’t seen him in six years, but he still looked the same. Tall, muscular, and too arrogant for her taste. Her brother, Santino, worked for Damien in his IT department, and had recently told her that Damien wasn’t so much arrogant as confident. Sela, in turn, had told Santino that the fine line between confidence and arrogance was too thin to be measured.

Damien appeared to be done berating the foreman, who sprinted off toward the construction trailer, and Sela realized if he glanced to his left a fraction further, he’d spot her. She turned in the direction of what would soon be her dance studio, hoping he wouldn’t notice, and thought she’d gotten away with it until footsteps behind her grew loud.

“Hold on a minute,” he called, his voice angry. “Who are you? This is a construction area. You shouldn’t be here.”

Manda huevos! She turned to face him, wishing she’d known before signing the papers that he’d be this closely involved. Why hadn’t Santino warned her? She’d have leased space for the studio across town. Or on another planet.

Damien stared at her with his mouth open. His full-lipped mouth that looked good enough to eat. Stop that! That’s exactly how he wants you to react. Seriously, the man hadn’t aged a bit in six years, and was just as fucking gorgeous as she remembered. Perhaps he now had just a touch of gray in his black hair, at the temples, but that only made him more distinguished.

His dark eyes flashed with recognition. “Sela ... Santino said you were opening a studio here.”

No shit. Her brother had worked for this man for six years. No doubt Damien knew way more about her than she’d be comfortable with, but she couldn’t stop her brother from gossiping. He was worse than most of her friends.

“Yes, I am.” She placed the hardhat she carried on her head. “I’ll be careful. I’ve been inside buildings under construction before.”

She started to turn around, but he caught her arm, and Sela fought the urge to shake off his grip. Not because she was angry that he’d touched her, but because the jolt of electricity running up her arm either meant she’d just been electrocuted, or her traitorous body had responded once again to this man.

She’d made that mistake six years ago, and it had taken her months to get over the reality that thirty-four year old men like Damien weren’t interested in nineteen year old girls like Sela. She never wanted to feel that foolish in front of this man again.

“Hang on. Let’s talk. It’s been ... what? A couple of years? More?”

“Six. It’s been six years.” Why had she said that? She didn’t want him thinking she’d been sitting around daydreaming about him. He nodded slowly, those dark, hooded eyes roving lazily over her skirt and tank top. Arrogant man. He wasn’t even trying to hide the fact that he was checking her out, but the lust on his face threw her determination to keep him at a distance off balance. It was a far cry from the dismissive look he’d once given her.

“You’re right. It has been that long. The last time I saw you was after we all moved underground and your brother came to work for me. You were barely out of high school, but now look at you.” He squeezed her arm and gave her body another slow assessment. “All grown up and too stunning for your own good.”

Sela resisted the urge to roll her eyes even while her heart fluttered at his words. He certainly hadn’t called her stunning, or anything else, on that day. He’d barely acknowledged her existence. Had she really changed that much, or was he merely older and getting desperate now?

The face of the last woman splashed all over the tabloids with his hadn’t looked much older than she was now at twenty-five. If the rag mags were right, that particular relationship had lasted all of three weeks. She’d stopped keeping track of his escapades a while ago, and Santino hadn’t mentioned any of them lately, but that was no reason to think he’d changed.

“Thank you.” She didn’t know what else to say. This wasn’t how she’d expected things to go if she ever had the chance to speak with Damien Rivera again. She had never planned on being one of his conquests, but right now she longed to discover if those lips tasted as good as they looked.

The corners of his mouth turned up as he gave her a curious look. “I’ll walk with you to look at the space. There are some details I need your input on.” She raised her brows, and he chuckled. “That surprises you?”

She pulled her arm out of his grasp because the urge to move closer to him was too damn strong now. “Yes, it does. You’re the construction expert, not me.”

“It’s your studio. I want you to be happy with it, and I’m sure Tomás would appreciate your tenancy for a long time.”

She narrowed her eyes. This conversation was already longer than the only other one they’d had. Why the sudden interest in her? What had Santino been telling him? “All right. Let’s walk.”

He waved her ahead of him, which did nothing for her confidence level. She’d worn hard-soled boots, knowing she’d be walking in a construction zone, but the skirt was short and she was suddenly too conscious of her ass moving underneath it. Sela swore she could feel Damien’s eyes on it.

“Three walls are going to be mirrors, right?”

Had his voice always sounded that seductive?

“Yes, but there is space behind them. That’s why I came here today.” She stopped before one of the frames. Each wall would contain floor to ceiling mirrors that spanned the length of the framing. She pointed toward the four-foot wide space behind it. “I’ve now been told I can’t have this space behind the walls on three sides, but I need it.”

“It’s a fire hazard.”

Sela sighed. “That’s what Tomás told me, but he also said if I have a door to the back it will pass inspection.” She walked to the back wall and pointed. “We have a door.”

Damien shook his head. “I see that, but it still won’t pass inspection. The span is too long for the other two walls. I spoke with Bart Tabor, the building inspector, earlier this morning about your unit and several others. We have to find a way to either put an opening that leads back into the studio within the mirrors on the two side walls, or you’ll need to decrease the length of each of those walls by six feet.”

She put her hands on her hips. “Have you ever been inside a dance studio?”

He grinned, and her damn pussy grew wet. She averted her gaze. This man was not going to lure her into becoming another hash mark on his bedpost, beautiful dark eyes or not. “I admit I have not.”

“The dancers need to see their bodies from all angles. It’s part of how they learn to move and become aware of their presence. I already have windows along the top in the back. They will be a distraction, but I was told I had to have them.”

“That was for aesthetic reasons. We wanted the building to look as good from the back as it will from the front.” His gaze traveled over her tank top again, and the desire in his eyes sent a shiver down her spine. She hadn’t missed the double entendre.

He took a few steps closer, and she inhaled the scent of very expensive, subtle cologne. “We want these buildings to blend in with the rest of the town. Sultry, hot, simmering. That’s why I’m personally involved in such a small project. When people from the other cities come here to visit, I want them to think they’ve stepped into a town where balmy ocean breezes fill the air. I want them to smell the spices and fresh fruit. I want them to think they’re back on the surface, in Puerto Vallarta, or Brasilito Beach.”

Anyone over the age of ten would likely remember the smells and sounds of living on the surface. They’d remember the scent and the feel of rain, the wind in their hair, and the sound of real birds. She swallowed hard against the sudden lump in her throat as Damien’s words conjured up memories she’d been trying for nearly seven years to bury.

His handsome face registered confusion, and then concern. He took another step closer to her, and she stood still, mesmerized by his eyes. They really were beautiful, but she imagined he knew that. “Are you all right? Have I said something to upset you?”

She shook her head and forced a smile to her face. “No, of course not. The description of what you’re trying to do here makes sense, but I need the space behind the mirrors for lockers, storage, and office space. I don’t want to take any space away from the flooring. If I do, I can’t hold classes large enough to make any money.”

He glanced around, spotted the blueprints on a makeshift table, and strolled toward them. She followed, admiring his ass in tight jeans. The fact that he’d checked out her ass earlier gave her the right to look at his, as far as Sela was concerned.

Damien rolled them out, muttering softly under his breath as he traced his finger along the walls. Then he flipped the pages until he came to one for another unit. “What about a corner unit instead? That way you can put in doors on two outside walls. It’s larger, so you could eliminate some space behind the adjoining wall without losing total floor space.”

She glanced over his shoulder. “That one is already leased. All the corner units are.” Tomás had told her that a new Internet phone carrier was launching its business, and had paid a premium for the coveted corner suite Damien now pointed to.

Damien smiled and shook his head. “This one isn’t leased anymore. They pulled out less than an hour ago when they realized people would be parking all around the building.”

She frowned. “What difference should that make?”

“They had envisioned a park-like setting for their customers to gaze out at while they browsed for new phones.”

She chuckled. “All right. I’m not sure how to react to that. I appreciate the offer to take over the suite, but I can’t afford the rent.”

“Yes, you can. I’ll speak with Tomás. We’ll charge you the same rent.”

She narrowed her eyes again. “Why would you do that?”

“Because you’re Santino’s sister, and because this suite will better serve your needs.”

Why was he being so nice to her? While she was thrilled he now saw her as a woman instead of a kid right out of school, she didn’t want to be just one more in a long line of them. She knew his reputation. The entire city knew it. “You’re in business to make money. What do you get out of doing me such a generous favor?”

He reached out and brushed a hand along her arm before she could react. “I’m glad you asked. I happen to have an extra pair of tickets to the Music Pavilion Friday night.”

She gaped at him with her mouth open for several seconds before speaking. “Are you seriously telling me you have tickets to see La Concepción? They’ve been sold out for six months.” La Concepción was the hottest Cuban music band ever to hit any of the underground cities, and Sela worshipped them.

His grin sent her desire spiraling out of control, and she struggled to keep a lock on her emotions. “That’s exactly what I’m saying. Box seats, overlooking the ground floor, with a lovely vista of the fake outdoors on each side.”

The Music Pavilion was an outdoor arena with lawn seating, and limited seating under a large, shell-shaped awning. The box seats were crazy expensive and almost impossible to come by, since only people who made as much cash as Damien did could afford them, and they rarely let them go. They overlooked the first dozen or so rows of floor seating under the awning, but also afforded patrons a view of the outdoors on both sides. Sela had never been in one, but Santino had, and had told her the acoustics were amazing.

“You’re inviting me to the concert?”

He nodded.

“Why?”

Damien looked confused. “Can’t a guy ask a beautiful girl out on a date?”

The temptation to toss aside her pride and simply accept was strong, but what would that make her? “Thank you for the compliment. I mean that, but I don’t want to become the next front page news in the tabloids with you, Damien.”

Now he looked wounded, and her heart sank. She wasn’t trying to be a bitch, but reality was reality. “I won’t let that happen.” His voice was soft, and that surprised her. It almost sounded apologetic. “Look, I know there are a lot of stories circulating about me. It comes with the territory, but my intentions are sincere. I would love to take you to the concert. Santino told me how much you love their music.”

She took several deep breaths and tried to collect her thoughts so she could say this without sounding like a shrew. “I haven’t seen you in six years and now all of a sudden you’re giving me compliments, offering me a corner suite for the same rent as an interior one, and asking me out on a date.”

“Sela, I—”

She cut him off. “I’m sure my brother tells you everything about me, so you must know I’m not the kind of woman who dates around the way you do.”

The change that came over his face floored her. She’d hurt him just now, and she felt terrible about that.

“I’m not asking you because I want to make you a conquest.”

“Damien, I’m sorry. It came out wrong.” That was an understatement.

“Look, I know what the tabloids say, and I’ve done my fair share of dating around, as you call it, but there’s nothing implied here. You’re Santino’s sister, so I’m happy to help you get the suite you want. You’re also a beautiful woman, and wanting to take you to a concert isn’t a crime.”

“We haven’t spoken in six years. What’s changed?”

“I met you a long time ago. You were just a kid.”

“I was a nineteen year old woman.”

“Sela, I barely remember that day. If I hurt you in some way, I assure you it was unintentional.”

She was stunned into silence, and he looked like he’d just stepped in a huge pile of dog shit. She was being utterly unfair here. She’d been attracted to him the second she met him, but he didn’t know that. He had done nothing hurtful toward her then, and he wasn’t doing anything hurtful now. She was the one acting like a bitch.

The atmosphere in the building was suddenly oppressive. Sela wanted to leave before she did or said something foolish.

“Thank you.” The response was automatic, but she had to say something. “I’m really sorry. I never meant to upset you. You’re right. We met a long time ago, and I’ve made assumptions about your life that obviously aren’t true.”

“Thank you for that. I never meant to upset you either. The corner office is yours. I’ll have the papers sent to your email this afternoon.”

He turned and walked out of the building before she could think of something else to say. She followed, desperate to turn this around, but unable to find the words. She was so damn confused right now, and wished someone would step in and help her make sense of it. The guilt was horrible. What the hell was wrong with her?

The same foreman Damien had been arguing with earlier walked toward them with a pained look on his face, and Sela knew she’d lose her chance to salvage this conversation in about two seconds. She opened her mouth to say something—anything—but it was clear that Damien’s attention was already focused on the next problem.

“Take care of yourself, Sela.”

It took her a second to speak. “Okay. Thanks. Bye.” She stood watching him walk away, wanting to cry. What the hell had she done?

~~~~

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