MATTHEW CROMBY mopped the entryway of the big offices that had taken him on six months ago. It wasn’t his dream job, night janitorial services, since once upon a time he’d dreamed of going to college, but he didn’t let himself think about the things he’d once wanted, the wrong turn his life had taken. He had a job, and it wasn’t easy for an ex-con to get work.
At eleven sharp the golden boy himself walked by, no briefcase, probably headed to his private suite upstairs. His silken brown hair was windblown, in his eyes, and right then Matthew flashed to a fantasy that it was tangled from the touch of his hands. Yeah, right. One thing he’d learned; Dove Hollister was as coldly unattainable as he was beautiful. And he didn’t see someone like Matthew or care that his eyes followed him the nights Matthew worked here.
“It’s wet, see?” Matthew warned him while the deep, burning ember in his gut made him want to see the big man fall on his ass. For some reason Dove brought it home to Matthew that he’d once dreamed of being an explorer: an archeologist or an astronomer, walking in different worlds. Maybe if he’d done something with his life, someone like Dove would look at him. Instead, he was lucky to have a job cleaning the floors, the johns, the hallways.
“What?” Dove Hollister had a faraway look in his eyes, his gaze passing over Matthew, who was just dirt under his expensive leather loafers.
Matthew tried to swallow his resentment. “The floor. Wet. Slip on your ass. Get it?”
“Do you think that’s a good way to speak to the CEO?” It was said quietly, and now Dove was finally looking Matthew in the eye. “And you can’t smoke in this building!” He sounded appalled.
Matthew wasn’t impressed. “It’s after hours. Haven’t seen anyone.”
“It’s my building!” Dove snatched the cigarette from Matthew’s mouth, standing there with it, looking stupid. “Uh.”
Dove’s eyes saucered at Matthew’s rudeness. “What did you say?”
He certainly had the big man’s attention now, and part of him rode it like a hot wind, knowing he’d fall and burn, but not before Dove acknowledged him. After months of watching him walk by, disinterested, Matthew needed to make an impression on the man he both disliked… and desired.
“You can’t fire me if I quit!” Matthew growled. Shit! He hadn’t meant to go that far; he needed this job. Why was his mouth always acting for him, swinging punches before his head caught up?
“I’m not going to fire you. I just don’t want you smoking in my elegant foyer, isn’t that clear?”
“It’ll be more elegant if you get out of my way so I can finish mopping it.” Matthew shoved some of his blond hair out of his eyes, wishing stupidly that they were friends, that Dove stopped and chatted with him sometimes like in his daydreams.
He was such an idiot and now he was totally overreacting, blowing it.
“Have a nice day. Sir.” Matthew turned his back on Dove and went back to the janitor deal. Few more hours and he’d be back in his crappy apartment, lying on his bed. And maybe he’d think about those dark, startled eyes, the tangled brown hair tumbled over the forehead, and Dove’s height, which he secretly found sexy, though he knew his fantasies made Dove out to be nicer than he was.
Dove’s cell phone went off and he answered it, no doubt already forgetting Matthew. “Yeah... hey. I’m sorry; I meant to call about him. How is Antony doing? Did you get back the test results? Uh huh. Look, I want to know what’s wrong with him.” …“No, I don’t believe that! He’s just lazy. He needs to focus, and let me make it clear that he’s your problem; I have a company to run!” …“Fine, but I have plans this weekend, so just send him back to boarding school, okay? Yeah, that’s the way I want it and I’ll thank you not to lecture me about being a parent! Antony is very well provided for. I know, I sign the fucking checks.”
Dove clicked the cell closed, breathing hard.
And Matthew burst out, “You selfish prick!”
“What did you say to me? How dare you listen to my phone call?” Dove stormed toward Matthew and—
—slipped and fell on his hot, muscled ass.
Matthew smirked, watching as the big man kept sliding and couldn’t regain his feet so that he hit the wet floor with a smack that was very satisfying, almost as if Matthew himself had delivered it.
And wasn’t that a thought?
He looked down at Dove, who was staring up at him with his mouth agape, his wide dark eyes fixed on Matthew’s face, his hair in his eyes, his suit all messed up.
Seeing him like that, Matthew’s body responded, but his disillusionment that Dove wasn’t anything like his fantasy man sharpened his arousal, so he took another dig, “Shouldn’t eat the donuts they bring round, huh?”
“What?” Now Dove was well and truly pissed. “You know what? You are fired!”
Matthew swallowed, hiding how humiliated he felt. Another job gone. What would his parole officer say? How would he keep his small, dingy apartment with only one part-time job at the new age shop?
But he couldn’t let this man see his worry. In prison, he’d tried so hard to learn how to conceal his emotions and hide himself, because showing any vulnerability was a bad idea. Still, a flash of what he was feeling must have been on his face, because Dove took a deep breath, eyes softening slightly.
But any kindness from this man, this beautiful, unattainable man, would rub like acid on Matthew’s pride, his wounds. He would never trust anyone again. He let his mop fall, clattering loudly against the black granite floor. “Go fuck yourself!”