Val caught her heel between the flagstones in the empty plaza. Her ankle twisted. When her knee struck the ground, her leather folio tumbled, the artist renderings and spec sheets fluttering out as it opened—she was helpless to stop it. The pain was stunning. Her hip struck the stone; her nerves sang in agony.
Running steps behind her forced her to push herself up, to look behind her.
The man who dropped to his knees next to her spoke quietly with a touch of an accent.
“Are you alright?”
Val blinked and shook her head. To speak would have been to unleash the tears balancing on her lashes.
He took her hands, pulling her up to sitting. She winced, breath hissing between her lips. He turned her palms up, running his thumbs over the heels of her hands, dusting the debris from her skin. His eyes were amber, his lashes impossibly long, his features severe.
Setting her hands down again, he stood. He bent to retrieve her things, gathering them with a practiced shuffle-tap and placing them inside the leather folio before offering to help her up.
Val took the offered arm and stood, smoothing her skirt as she did. She wobbled slightly and swore roundly. Her now broken Fendi pump had cost her as much as a full month’s split of the rent. She’d been enchanted by the impossible stiletto heel and the bow, not to mention that they were named for her—d’Orsay. A good luck charm for this, the meeting that would decide her future with the firm.
Some luck, she thought darkly. Her skirt was damp from the stones, her hair loosened from its pins by the fall and the misty air.
“This is remarkable,” the man said, touching his fingertip to the asymmetrical curves on the rendering. “Almost as if the artist was inside my imagination.”
“It’s… for a client,” Val stammered. She stuck out a hand. “Valentine Dorsay, Foxe and Dean Associates.”
“Valentine,” he repeated, taking her hand and squeezing gently. “Aubrey Finch.”
“Aubrey Finch?” she asked.
“We can’t have met. I’d remember.”
Val held back the urge to smooth the slight crease between his eyes as he struggled to place her. “This,” she said, picking up the rendering of the staircase, spiraling whimsically through fourteen feet of space, “is for your house.”
“For my—“ Realization dawned; his smile was radiant. “Foxe and Dean. Of course.”
“We’re both going to be late,” he said, checking his watch. “Shall we?”
He offered her his arm; the gesture should have seemed old-fashioned. Val put her hand on his arm and promptly stumbled on her broken heel.
Aubrey held her steady, but his gaze traveled down her leg, past her skinned knee to the offending shoe. He gestured towards the nearby row of wrought iron benches. Val hobbled with him, sitting gingerly.
Aubrey leaned down and began untying his shoes. Val watched him untie them both, then remove the left one, along with his sock. He tucked the sock inside the toe of the shoe before moving on the right one.
“What are you doing?” Val asked.
He smiled up at her. His warm, luxurious eyes, compelling in such an austere face, sparkled merrily.
“You can’t walk in those shoes, so we’ll both go in to this meeting barefoot and let them think what they will.”