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Enjoy the Excerpt from "The Spy Who Wants Me"
Another foreign curse came from the new Project Manager’s end of the lab.
Chantal bit her lip and looked over her shoulder to find Mat scowling at one of the technicians. Again. The poor tech looked ready to cry.
Who could blame him? Mat was over six feet tall with the solid muscles found in many Ukrainian men. The only colors she’d ever seen him wear were black and shades of grey. Even his lab coat was a special order slate grey. When she’d told him the monochromatic dressing made him look like a hit man for the Russian mob, Mat had admitted he was color blind – after giving her a lecture on the difference between the two nationalities. He’d told her that dressing like this was his way of preventing himself from leaving the house looking like a circus clown. But added to that, his black as coal hair, trim mustache and close cropped beard gave him a decidedly intimidating look.
Especially when he was angry. Like now.
Mat never had been the warm-fuzzy type. Calling him a people person was a stretch even she hadn’t been able to make when she was head over heels for the man. He wasn’t the worst manager in the world. In fact, he was actually pretty decent at it and even better when his scientists and technicians were efficient. Only he had an abrasive way of dealing with them if they weren’t.
Abrasive as in almost scary until you got to know him better.
Deciding their department really couldn’t afford to lose another team member after their former PM’s disappearance, Chantal got up from her lab stool and headed toward the mini-contretemps.
“Wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?” she asked Mat with a smile and a nod for the technician.
Mat turned his scowl on her while the tech he’d been upbraiding stared at her as if she’d just stepped in an electromagnetic field and then tried to use her electron scan microscope.
She turned up the wattage on her smile and made sure it included both men. “Is there a problem here, gentlemen?”
“I…uh…” The technician swallowed twice and gave Mat a sidelong glance before continuing. “I was trying to explain to Dr. Chernichenko that we’d already done the tests on mercury reclamation from fluorescent bulbs and that the ROI was too low to make it a viable project.”
Chantal remembered the tests. “Unless a different reclamation process can be developed, I agree.” She looked up at Mat, trying to ignore how being this close to him made her body go haywire. “Were you thinking of trying a different process?”
“I want more information on the one already tried,” he said with a stubborn tilt to his chin.
It was the technician’s turn to glare at her.
“I can get that for you and fill you in on the preliminary trials if you like,” she added.
The sense of relief from the tech was palpable as he realized she wasn’t setting him up for more of the same with his new PM.
Mat frowned however. “I don’t want to take you away from something important.”
“Bringing the Project Manager for Material Reclamation up to speed on all our current and recent projects is important.”
Mat sighed and rubbed his eyes, a gesture she remembered from their college days that meant he was more stressed than tired. The man was almost inhuman when it came to getting tired…he could go for hours. In more arenas than academia. The thought brought the heat of a blush to her cheeks while her thighs clenched together involuntarily. Thank goodness for lab coats that hid embarrassing reactions.
“Thank you. I would appreciate that,” Mat said.
The look of shock the technician gave Mat’s polite response was comical, but Chantal did not crack a smile. Mat might think she was laughing at him and even she wasn’t going to beard this bear in that way.
To stop herself from reaching out and touching that particularly tempting bear, she crossed her arms under her chest. “It’s past lunch time and I don’t know about you, but I could use something to eat.”
Mat nodded, his grey gaze skimming her body like a barely there caress. “We could meet in the cafeteria…or we could go offsite.”
“The cafeteria would probably be better.” Less chance she would make a fool of herself. “We can talk freely without worrying about being overheard.”
Mat’s scowl was back. “I suppose.”
“Would you rather eat offsite?” And if so, why hadn’t he just said so?
He shut his eyes and tensed his jaw like he was trying to bite back words.
“We could eat in your office,” she suggested, wanting to take that look of strain off his features. “We’d have privacy without the distractions.”
Which wasn’t going to do a thing for her own strain, but she had to deal with her attraction to him or quit her job. And she had no desire to leave Environmental Technology Research and Design.
“You’d think so, wouldn‘t you?” He opened his eyes, the irises storm cloud gray now.
She remembered that shade, but not from frustration at work. Stifling a groan, she gave herself a strong mental shake. Her attempts to deal with her reaction to him were not going to succeed if she couldn’t stop memories of the past from intruding on the present.
The reminder should have been enough to bolster her flagging self-control. It didn’t. The problem being that she’d been using the same self-lecture for two weeks and it wasn’t getting any more powerful with repetition.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Nothing you need to worry about.”
“Okay then. We’ll meet in your office.”
“Yes.” The clipped single-word response wasn’t all that he was thinking, but typical for the stoic scientist, he wasn’t sharing whatever else was on his mind.
Chantal had enough of her own worries, she should not be concerned with his. Only it never worked that way. By nature, she was too empathetic to others and it was even worse when it came to this man. She had to watch it to stop his moods from dictating her own, even when they hadn’t said a single word to each other.
The last two weeks had proven one truth beyond the shadow of a doubt. She was not and probably never would be completely over Matej Chernichenko.
Not that she was going to do anything about that fact, but facing the truth was the first step in dealing with it. Isn’t that what someone had told her after her parents’ deaths? She’d hidden in her room, wanting to pretend they were still alive, that the world was not what it was.
She hadn’t been allowed the luxury. She’d known the people around her, the ones forcing her to face reality, were only trying to help. She just didn’t understand why truth had to hurt so much.
She forced a smile. “Good. I’ll pick up lunch at the deli and bring it to your office.”
“Good, that will give me a chance to finish up here.”
The technician who had looked so relieved got a worried expression on his face again and turned to hurry off without another word.
Mat ignored his defection. “You remember what I like?” he asked her.
“Yes.” She remembered far too much.
Her suggestion they meet in his office was probably the height of idiocy. Offsite would have been better, even if they had spent the hour whispering over a table in some dark corner of a crowded restaurant. But making bad choices when it came to men was a failing of hers, she thought cynically.
Matej Chernichenko had been her first object lesson in how poor her judgment regarding men was, but he hadn’t been the last one.
She was absolutely not going to let him be a repeat though, lunch date in his office notwithstanding. She might be unforgivably gullible where men were concerned, but even she was savvy enough to know that the same man was bound to hurt her the same way if she gave him the chance.
She wasn’t about to do so, no matter how foolish some of her choices in the past might have been.
“I’ll see you in about thirty minutes then.” She turned to walk away.
“It wasn’t waking on the wrong side of the bed that made me cranky this morning, little one.”
The endearment she had not heard in ten years stopped her more forcefully than if he’d grabbed her physically. She looked back over her shoulder at him. “It wasn’t?”
“Are you going to tell me what was?” she asked fatalistically.
“Waking up alone.”