Saturday, Conor slid out of the back of his sedan, thanking his driver and asking him to wait a few minutes. He stood on the sidewalk in jeans and a short-sleeved button-up shirt, staring at Ma Charisse. He would’ve brought the papers with him, but he knew she wouldn’t sign them. While he admired her independence and will to set things straight, he didn’t want to wait however long it took her to get a loan before he saw her again.
He’d thought about her all last week and all this week. Guilt about Elise had vanished, replaced by the guilt over the contract. He wanted to erase the pain he’d caused Charisse and didn’t think the roses were cutting it. Maybe she’d at least let him take her to lunch.
He stepped through the door and spied Charisse right away. She wore crimson pumps with blue jeans and a crimson tank top that matched the shoes. He loved her casual clothing. He’d been so startled when she’d walked into his office last week with her hair slicked back and conservative dress on. She’d looked gorgeous, but this was better. He could see her passion in the clothes she wore today.
Charisse rolled a brush through a customer’s blonde hair as she waved a hair dryer over it. Her own hair was pinned up with cascades of curls down her back. He had to repress his lust as he remembered crushing the curls in his palm while they kissed in the back of the salon. He wanted to kiss her again. He wanted to stroll through Central Park this afternoon, getting to know her better. And then take her back to his penthouse. Maybe he could find out what bank she was using and get them to push the paperwork through faster.
He turned away from her to keep his desire down. Only half the stations were filled. He didn’t know if that was normal for a Saturday or if something had cut into her business.
“Mr. Grishin,” said Mei, the receptionist. “May I get you a cup of coffee? Are you here to see Charisse?”
“No coffee, thanks. And yes, I’m here to see Charisse.”
“I’ll let her know you’re here.”
He watched the young woman stand and head back to Charisse. Charisse switched the dryer off and turned. Her tan face darkened to a red.
He smiled and waved, hoping he hadn’t upset her. Blushing made her appear radiant despite her uncertain expression. Though she didn’t smile, her look softened and she waved back. He needed to somehow convince her to go out to lunch now and dinner later.
She turned to Mei, nodded her head and said something that he didn’t hear over the other hairdryer going. As Mei walked toward him, Charisse finally gave him a slight smile before attending to her customer again. Hope spread through his veins, making him itch to go over and kiss her cheek like they were already boyfriend and girlfriend. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
Mei said, “She’ll be right with you. You can have a seat either here, or in the back.”
He walked to the back, hoping for a little privacy when Charisse came to talk to him. Only one stylist was working on the side with the coffee counter. Not ideal, but okay. He smiled when he saw all the single roses he’d sent her in a line of slender vases next to the coffee maker. Maybe he’d overdone it, but she hadn’t trashed them. And the rest of the salon looked elegant with the white roses.
He sat on the loveseat and flipped through a magazine about how to snag a man. Marie might’ve used some of the moves, but Charisse didn’t play games. He liked that about her; he liked her honesty.
“Getting some tips for catching a man?” Charisse asked.
He set the magazine back on the table and looked up. Her thick eyelashes curled back and her eyes expressed flirtatious mockery.
“Actually, I was hoping for an article on how to get a woman to accept a gift, but it’s all about men.”
“All women’s magazines are about men. Maybe try the self-help section of the bookstore.”
“That would take too long. I need a five-second fix.”
She smiled as she sat down on the couch. “Maybe Twitter then. Besides, I accepted all your flowers.”
His hand reached out of its own accord and brushed her cheek. Tiny sparks of desire prickled through his fingertips when they touched her silk smooth skin. He murmured so he wouldn’t be overheard. “You should accept the salon.”
She slid away from him and frowned. “The paperwork is in the process.”
Regret jolted him. He’d gone too far. He dropped his hand and said, “Do you have time for lunch?”
She bit her lip. “I do, but I really don’t think we should see each other right now.”
He needed to keep it light and keep his distance. She made it so damn hard. He tried to grin casually and said, “Look at it this way, maybe we’ll go out to lunch and hate each other. Then I can tell you whatever number you’ve come up with is too low and raise the price by ten percent.”
“And how is that supposed to make me feel better?”
“You won’t have a lovesick suit following you everywhere like a lost puppy.”
She bowed her head, but he caught a glimpse of a smile. She looked up, her eyes flirtatious again.
“All right. There’s a place a block away that has good sandwiches.”
“Great!” He couldn’t believe she’d said yes. He stood up and followed her to the door, aware of the women watching them as they left. She’d probably slap him if he held her hand in front of them, so he refrained.