Until He Met Meg(4)

By: Sami Lee

‘A little,’ she admitted. ‘I got caught in the rain earlier.’

She was soaked through. Bryce noted the almost transparent condition of her blouse. His blood surged in a way he couldn’t control. Simple testosterone. A woman in a translucent blouse was bound to get any man’s pulse accelerating. Even his.

Self-recrimination assailed him. She was shivering in her skin and he was thinking of what she might look like out of her clothes. What kind of behaviour was that? He leaned forward, shrugged out of his suit jacket and held it out to her.

‘Oh, I couldn’t.’ She was clearly shocked at his gesture.

Bryce continued to hold the garment toward her. When she still hesitated he commanded with impatience, ‘Come on, you’re going to freeze to death.’

She bridled at his tone. He thought she was going to reject his offer again. But in sudden decision she unclipped her seat belt, turned her back to him and slipped her arms into the jacket. Their closeness brought her scent into his personal space. A delicate, feminine fragrance swirled around him, teasing his senses as effectively as the roses in his garden.

Her surprising impact on him lingered even after she slid back to her side of the cab and re-fastened her seat belt. He sounded as grouchy as a woken bear. ‘You ought to have worn a coat.’

‘It was sunny and warm this morning. I thought winter was over.’

‘Maybe by the calendar, but there’s often a last burst of cold before spring starts in earnest.’ He wanted to confirm his earlier suspicion about her background. ‘I take it you’re not from Sydney.’

Her sigh was wistful. ‘No. I’ve always wanted to come here, though. Despite the events of the past couple of weeks I’ve really enjoyed myself.’

He shouldn’t ask, yet Bryce found himself intrigued. For no other reason than that she’d piqued his curiosity and they were stuck together for the time being, he asked, ‘What’s been so bad about the last couple of weeks?’

‘I lost my job. Well, not exactly. I quit but I sort of had to. I was working as a retail assistant in a furniture store. Relations with my supervisor got a little strained when he asked me out and I said no. Soon after that, I started losing shifts.’ She shrugged, a c’est la vie kind of gesture. ‘I decided it would be easier to just leave.’

Fury rose swiftly within Bryce. Being an employer himself, he was livid that a man in a position of power would act in such a fashion. ‘That’s harassment. You should have reported him.’

‘I didn’t have any proof that was why I lost shifts. The store manager said they were cutting back everyone’s hours. Besides, I thought it would be easy to get another job.’ Her mouth twisted in derision. ‘Turns out no one in retail seems to be hiring now, and they won’t be hiring again until the Christmas season. I don’t have money to last until then.’ She heaved a sigh full of dismay. ‘I’ll have to go back home.’

‘Where’s home?’

‘Karawak Downs. It’s about an hour west of Dubbo. In other words, the middle of nowhere. My Dad owns a hardware store there. I’ve helped out in the shop since I was fourteen, when I started working after school. It’s how I got my retail experience, but not much experience in anything else. Anyway, I’m not planning to be a sales assistant forever.’

She left the statement hanging in the air as she lowered her head in an abashed gesture. ‘I’m rambling.’

‘It’s all right.’ To his surprise Bryce found that he meant it. ‘You can’t say something like that and not elaborate. What is it you really want to do?’

‘You’ll think it’s silly.’

‘Try me.’

She turned and pinned him with her bright eyes. He saw them spark with enthusiasm. ‘I want to be an interior designer.’

He’d half expected she would say she wanted to be an actress. She had the looks for it. ‘What’s silly about that?’

‘My Dad and brothers say it’s a waste of time — frivolous girly stuff. But it never seemed frivolous to me. My Mum and I used to sew together. We’d make curtains and lounge covers and things like that. Our house wasn’t much, but it only takes a few simple touches to make a house a home, doesn’t it?’

Bryce had no earthly idea what she was talking about. What was so darned special about curtains?

‘Anyway I did an online course in design. But there’s not exactly a great call for decorators in Karawak Downs, so I came to Sydney. I want a position with a design company, but I had to settle for furniture sales. I can’t get a job in the industry without experience apparently.’

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