Perdita drummed her fingers on the sleeves of her jacket and tried not to look as if she were sulking. What a waste of time this so-called leadership development course was turning out to be! So far all she had done was spend hours filling out a questionnaire in the expectation that she would turn out to be a dolphin--warm, friendly, expressive-- only to be informed that in spite of answering every question in a carefully dolphinesque way, she was in fact an attention-seeking peacock.
And, just to add to her humiliation, it appeared that she was the only peacock. Everybody else got to be a jolly, sociable dolphin or a nit-picking owl-- not that Perdita would have wanted to be one of them--while she was left in the corner on her own.
She had known this course was a mistake. Not wanting to look as if she were envying the dolphins, who were all bonding madly and agreeing with each other in the corner, Perdita inspected her nail polish for chips instead, and was momentarily distracted in admiration of the colour.
Vixen, it was called. Now that was what she called a colour to be reckoned with. But the deep red might have been a give-away, she realised belatedly. The female dolphins probably stuck to a non-threatening pale pink and, as for the owls, they would be too busy checking their spreadsheets to even think about painting their nails.
Perdita sighed, tucked her hands away and started tapping a foot instead.
'It looks like we're the only two on our own. Do you think that means we belong together?'
Turning sharply, Perdita found herself looking into a pair of amused grey eyes, and she was conscious of a tiny jolt of recognition. It was the man who had arrived late the night before.
He had missed dinner and the introductory briefing, but she had noticed him later in the bar, although for the life of her Perdita hadn't been able to work out why. It wasn't as if he were particularly striking or different in any way. He was just a man--not particularly tall, not particularly handsome, not particularly anything.
Perdita couldn't understand why she had noticed him at all.
She had been in the centre of a group who were definitely having the best fun, but he hadn't made any attempt to come over and join them. Instead he had talked for a while with a quiet group of people--owls, probably--before disappearing and leaving Perdita feeling unaccountably piqued at his lack of interest.
But now here he was.
She studied him with interest. Up close, he was a lot less ordinary than he had appeared across the bar. The grey eyes were very keen, and creased with a fan of laughter lines, she couldn't help noticing. She was always a sucker for those. The hint of humour made an intriguing contrast with his austere features and that firm, not to say stern, mouth.
Hmm. Not gorgeous, not even that attractive, taken bit by bit, Perdita decided, but she was uneasily aware that her hormones, which had been in hibernation since Nick had broken her heart, were definitely stirring.
Unaccountably ruffled by her reaction to him, Perdita put up her chin. 'You don't belong with me unless you're a peacock,' she told him and her bright brown gaze skimmed over his grey jumper and black trousers. 'And I have to say that you don't look like one to me!'
The corner of his mouth twitched in acknowledgement of his apparent lack of flair. 'No, I'm not a peacock. Apparently I'm a panther,' he said.
His face was completely straight, but the grey eyes gleamed in a way that made Perdita feel quite...funny...
'Really?'she said, wondering if he were joking. According to the bumph they had been handed that morning, panthers were typical alpha males: forceful, decisive, ambitious and more than a little ruthless, and Perdita hadn't been at all happy to discover that she was not just an attention-seeking peacock, but she also had a strong panther ascendant. Talk about an unappealing combination!
'I wouldn't have put you down as a panther,' she told him honestly.
Although, on second thoughts, there was something about his mouth that made her think he probably wasn't someone to mess with.
'That'll be my strong owl ascendant confusing you,' he said and Perdita laughed.
'Ah, so when you're not prowling around dominating everyone, you're poring over your spreadsheets and double-checking your calculations?'
'While you peacocks hold court in the bar,' he agreed suavely.
Perdita looked at him sharply, but it was impossible to tell whether he had noticed her last night after all, or was simply picking an easy example of what peacocks might do.
'I wanted to be a dolphin,' she confessed, just trace of sullenness in her voice, and he raised an eyebrow.
'Why?' she echoed incredulously. 'It's obvious, isn't it? Everybody loves dolphins. I don't see why I'm not one, in fact,' she grumbled. 'I filled out the form really carefully. I was sure I'd be a dolphin. I mean, I'm friendly, aren't I? I can do all that team stuff they're supposed to be so good at.'
'Dolphins are very patient and relaxed,' he pointed out, and Perdita bridled.
'I'm relaxed! I'm more relaxed than anyone! And I can be patient.'
In reply, he looked down to her pointy suede boots. One was tapping the floor and, as Perdita followed his gaze, she stopped it abruptly and jerked her foot back.
'I'm just bored,' she told him crossly. 'I've had enough of standing here on my own while those owls and dolphins sit around bonding and congratulating each other on being good team members!'
She eyed the group of dolphins in the far corner sourly. 'Look at them, all eek-eeking to each other! Any minute now they'll be balancing balls on their nose and clapping their flippers.'
Her companion laughed. 'You are definitely not a dolphin,' he told her. 'If ever I saw a peacock, it's you!'
Perdita scowled. 'And you would know so much about this because...?' she asked sarcastically.
A smile hovered around his mouth as he studied Perdita, her slender figure quivering with annoyance. Even if she hadn't been banished to a corner on her own, she would have stood out in the room--in any room, he decided.
Although not strictly pretty, she was immaculately groomed, but it wasn't her looks that drew the eye. Instead, there was a vibrancy about her, a forcefulness of personality that was evident in the generous mouth, the lively planes of her face and the dark, sharp eyes, in the quick gestures and the way she threw back her head and laughed.
'I saw you in the bar last night,' he told her. 'You had the biggest group around you and you were making them all laugh. And this morning, at breakfast, no one was really talking until you came in and sat down. You were the one who broke the ice when they were handing out the questionnaires.'
'There you are,' said Perdita, not quite sure whether to be pleased that he had noticed her after all or put out at the faint undercurrent of laughter in his voice that suggested he found her somehow amusing. 'That proves I'm a dolphin, surely? I was being fun and friendly...those are dolphin characteristics,' she pointed out.
'Yes, but a dolphin just likes to play along with everyone else. That's why they're all getting on over there,' he said, following her gaze to the group in the corner, who did indeed seem to be having a much better time than the owls at the other end of the room. 'But, if you were in that group, you wouldn't just sit there being like everyone else.You'd be dominating it completely, and the group dynamics would be quite different.'
'I would not dominate it!' Perdita's dark eyes sparkled with temper.
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March 10, 2008
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