Damien greeted Michelle in the conference room, and she barely recognized him. He resembled Mr. Carlucci, her third grade teacher and her first love. A corporate-casual businessman in cuffed khaki trousers and a pink oxford shirt stood before her—not the t-shirt-and-jeans-clad dude she’d met previously. A medium-length haircut had tamed his thick wavy hair. He’d even trimmed his scruffy beard to a nice Hollywood stubble.
Damien possessed a cultured swag that made her want to unbutton her dress, lay back on the table and let things just happen. But who was she kidding? She’d probably spontaneously self-combust if he got too close.
She reminded herself to keep their interaction professional. It was safer that way.
“I see you’ve stepped up your game, Mr. Anthony,” she said, casually.
“Ms. Taylor, I find that people are more apt to sign those big checks when I don’t look like I recently bought weed,” he said as he pulled the door closed and sat next to her at the head of the sleek stylish conference table.
He smelled fantastic—fresh, clean, refined. And slightly sweet.
“Good point. Is this your way of buttering me up before giving me the smackdown with your estimate?”
“No. That’s what these are for.” He reached down the long table and pulled a platter of sticky buns, danishes and doughnuts in front of her. “We also have some fruit over there on the credenza if you’re into that kind of thing.”
Michelle laughed. Why’d he have to be gorgeous and funny?
“What’s the damage?” she asked, wincing to brace herself for the figure.
“Don’t you want to look at the design first?”
“No. I’m one of those bad news first kind of people. How much?”
“Remember, your house is very old,” he began, “and although there’s been some additions made and changes to the house over the years, it still needs an overhaul.” Damien opened a white folder labeled Taylor Design and Renovation and laid it out in front of her.
She gasped, blinked a few times as if that was going to make the amount smaller. Then she clutched her chest. “Good Jesus,” she said, blinking once more. “That much?”
Damien nodded. “Yes, but—”
“Can I have some water please?” She swiped a sticky bun from the platter, ripped a piece off and shoved it in her mouth.
Damien returned to the table with a bottle of water, a glass and a couple of napkins. “Are you gonna be alright? You look like you’re about to pass out.” He poured the water into the glass for her. “I know CPR, if you need a little mouth to mouth.”
He sat in his chair and chuckled as if her shock amused him. “I’ve witnessed a lot of reactions over the years when clients discover that renovation costs on HGTV and DIY Network aren’t based in reality. Yours is up there with some of the best.” He pulled a piece from her sticky bun, stuck it in his mouth and sucked some caramel goo from his thumb and index finger.
Michelle cut her eyes at him. He was getting a little too comfortable with her. “I don’t need CPR, I need a discount. And are you always so forward with your clients like this?”
“No, you’re the first,” he said. “I can’t help myself. I like you, you’re funny.” He pinched a corner of her sticky bun and proceeded to pull off a large chunk.
“You want my water too?”
He reached for a water bottle with his free hand. “Got one. But I can do this for you.” He scribbled a number on a notepad and showed it to her. “How’s that?”
Michelle looked it over and countered his percentage with one of her own. “Not as good as this.”
Damien laughed and tapped the notepad with a pen. “For that right there, we’d have to rustle up some sheets.”
That was bold. But she did want to save some money. Every penny counted. What the hell was she thinking?
Michelle squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. “No, that’s not a good idea, especially since I’m not a hooker.” She blacked out her figure with the Sharpie from the pen cup on the table. “How about we go with this?”
Damien considered her counteroffer for a few seconds. “That’ll work,” he said, extending his hand. They shook on it to make it official.
“I would’ve settled for less,” Michelle said, thinking she got the best of him.
Grinning, he closed her folder. “I would’ve given you more.”