Authors: Payton Lane
Tags: #work romance, #alpha hero, #Contemporary Romance, #small town
CHASING TEMPTATION by PAYTON LANE
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product
of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
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For Lynne Kelley, Hart and Style is more than a business, it's a home. People know her name, and that simple fact fights against everything she was brought up to believe in—always separate business from pleasure. Her life, her business breaks all those rules. She couldn't be happier. That's until a devil in a suit offers to buy her store.
Nathan Craine eats small businesses for breakfast, and he wants Hart and Style. Nothing will stand in his way. He's certain the owner will hand over the store; it's only the matter of naming a price, but to his surprise Lynne refuses to sell, now or ever. Unfortunately for her he won't stop there.
Both are determined to win this battle, yet the more time they spend together, the deeper their attraction grows for each other. Someone will have to lose, and the cost of winning could break them.
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Lynne Kelley squared her shoulders and channeled Scarlett O'Hara. “As God is my witness, I won't be cynical for the next five minutes.”
She glanced down both sides of the street to double check for any mood killers and to make sure there would be no witnesses for what she planned to do next.
No one who knew her would ever imagine her capable of the giggle escaping her lips. One look at the siren-red hair slicked back with gel, and no one would suspect she ever squealed with glee. Her current love affair with punk rock attire sealed the illusion of an anti-social cynic.
Another quick glance assured her the streets were empty. A key clutched in her right hand, Lynne skipped across the road. After six years, four months, and twelve days of putting the most diehard miser to shame, she placed the owner's key for Hart and Style into the lock. She let out a lover's sigh when it clicked open.
The earthy scent of fresh flowers assailed her. Blush-colored tulip bouquets sat in homemade vases on tables around the store. The sun hit the multicolored glass, filling the room with iridescent rays. She toed off wedged heels and her feet sank into the beige carpet. A toe wiggle and another skip brought her to the cash register. She ran a hand along the counter and barely resisted the urge to twirl.
“Seriously, where are the woodland creatures when you need them?”
The bell over the door rang and Lynne snatched her hand from the cool surface. After lifting her gaze to glare at the idiot who stole her one moment of unadulterated happiness, Lynne froze.
“Oh,” slipped through her lips.
Life could not have gotten that good in twenty-four hours. A man stood at the glass doors. He had a tailor’s dream body. No need to make alterations to trick the eye into believing the man’s shoulders were broad or that his arms had lean muscles. A vest peeked underneath a well-constructed silk jacket that only enhanced an already athletic body. She narrowed her eyes. She'd bet her bottom dollar those buttonholes were hand sewn. Cuff links caught the morning light as he moved to shut the door behind him.
And, oh, even with the scowl slanting across his face, the hue of his mahogany-toned skin made her want to run her tongue along his Adam's apple to see if he tasted as good as he looked.
Her libido took a backseat when he still hadn’t spoke. She crossed her arms, cleared her throat. Apparently the five minutes of non-cynicism were up.
“May I help you?” she asked while mourning the
part of her morning.
“Morning,” he said.
The scowl transformed into a smile that men in those kinds of suits shouldn’t be allowed to possess. He stuffed large hands into his slack's pockets and stepped toward the counter. “Saw that you were open and decided to come in.”
His smile went up a notch, now selling scorching sex fantasies—no. Bridges. Selling Bridges. “Nice store.” He paused. “Nice retail.”
This wasn't the average customer. Customers didn't say “nice retail.” Nice clothes or nice merchandise, maybe. Customers didn't wear three-piece suits at seven o'clock in the morning.
Not in Valley City where gossip might as well be the local newspaper. It's why she loved it here. It's why she narrowed her eyes and leaned back against the counter. The other shoe would likely drop in a big pile of dog crap.
“I'm sorry,” she said, “but the store isn't open yet, and, it won't be open until ten.”
He walked to the wall of evening gowns and picked the most expensive dress. He tested the silk between his thumb and forefinger. The inspection could have been misconstrued as a caress. Just watching the intensity in his eyes change to appreciation made her ache low in her center. She shook her head and cleared her throat again.
He placed his hand back in his pocket. “Very nice retail.”
She knew flirting when it bit her in the butt. Normally, if he hadn't ignored her implied demand, or even if they hadn't been in the store this early in the morning, she might have flirted back.
Okay, it was the fact he had on a three-piece suit in the morning. No man like that would be interested in someone who had a noticeable love affair with hair gel. She didn't fit into the uppercrust of society. This man probably rubbed elbows and platinum credit cards with those types of people. If he were a serial killer, she'd be dead by now.
No, he was another kind of trouble.
She pushed down the attraction and asked, “What do you want? I doubt you're here to buy something.”
“To the contrary. Would you mind giving me a tour?”
“I would mind, but I don't think you're easily deterred.”
He smiled again and she wanted to sigh. Not only had she been cheery this morning, but Lynne had also reverted to teenage years, sighing over a cute guy.
“Never deterred,” he said again. “For future reference. What do you say, a tour?”
Her father would say it was better to know thy enemy. The man hadn't said he was one, but she didn't have to get bitten by a snake to know it would hurt.
“Your name,” she demanded.
She had expected Sin or The Second Coming. Didn't either of those usually show up at your weakest moment? The name
did no justice for a man who stood in front of her with such entitlement.
. Let's begin with my nice merchandise.” She gestured to the evening gowns he still stood next to. “We don't import any of our clothing. All the clothes you see are from local designers.”
“More expensive,” he noted almost to himself.
“The customers not only desire quality but want their clothes to have a special meaning when they put them on.”
“Quality doesn't make good business sense when it pushes you into the red every month.”
“And who is to say I'm in the red every month? You're assuming, Mr. Craine. You should know what that can make you.”
“Touché.” The smile remained on his face. “You don't carry men's clothing. Why?”
“It doesn't make sense to do so in a town that's more than half female.”
“You have the statistics? And the men here are just out of luck because you don't find them important enough customers?”
“I live here.” Feeling defensive she added, “I did look into men's clothing. For me, right now, that's too much of a risk.”
He made a dismissive noise at her explanation, and Lynne gritted her teeth.
Second Coming murmured, “The fresh bouquets are a nice touch, but, again, expensive.”
“Not when you get them at a discount,” she said.
His eyes glinted. Lynne suspected he was enjoying this byplay. “Let me guess, good friends with the owner of a local florist in town.”
“She invited me to her baby shower,” she said matter of factly.
He waved his hand in the air. “Isn't that what they call nowadays BFFs?”
“No, it's called networking.” Lynne smiled this time and hoped it appeared as disingenuous as she felt. “I'm sure you've heard of it.”
He moved from the evening gowns to the other side of the room where scarves and costume jewelry dangled from the wall.
“No mirror for your customers to look at themselves.” He flicked his hand at a maroon scarf. “I'm surprised about that.”
She bit back a comment on where he could put a mirror. “Have you seen all that you've come to see?”
It was his turn to smile again, and for the life of her Lynne couldn't stop the sigh.
“I could be a customer who prefers one-on-one meetings with the owner,” Nathan said.
“And I could be Gandhi reincarnated.”
She crossed the room to him. He was trailing his finger down a rhinestone necklace.
Would he stop touching things like that?
She fought the involuntary shiver. The attraction she had for him should have died the moment he said BFFs, but it hadn't. She'd have to ignore it because this man was the Spawn of Satan. Had to be.
She said, with steel in her voice, “I prefer we finish this talk in my office.”
Lynne had to tilt her head to meet his gaze, which probably killed her I'm-the-boss demeanor. If only she had kept on her wedged heels.
She turned, and he placed a hand on the middle of her back. It was a thoughtless gesture of a thousand businessmen, but the heat of his palm emanated through the thin shirt. Dear baby Jesus, she wanted to hum. She wanted him to run his hand farther down. Lynne picked up her pace to escape the touch.
They passed the stock room and turned left to get to the office. Once there, she sat on the edge of the desk and gestured to the chair only a few inches away. Before he sat down, Nathan unbuttoned his jacket, but now he had to tilt his head to meet her gaze. She smiled. He touched his thumbs together and steepled his fingers into The Mr. Burns.
“Excellent,” she blurted out. “What part of the nether world did you come from?”
“That isn't important.” He smiled again, but this time it didn't reach his eyes.
There were no lines around his mouth. Apparently he didn't smile often, so why did he feel the need to do it with her?
Before she could ponder it further, he spoke again, “I own several businesses and I want to buy yours.”
“What makes you think I'm selling?”
“For the right amount of money anyone is more than willing to sell.”
“You have a point.”
She curled her hand into a fist to keep it from touching her chest. Men like this ate fear along side their caviar. They could walk into a crowd and the people would part like the Red Sea. Nathan Craine would expect no less treatment. For all of mankind she had to take him down a notch.
“Let me be frank,” she said. “I'm not one of those people. You can find some other sucker to sell to you, because, again, I won't sell. You have nothing to offer me.”
He waved his hand in a dismissive gesture and threw out an outrageous number. “That should cover how much you paid for this place plus a pretty good profit, including the retail you've already ordered for the next six months.”
If he really knew how much she’d paid for this place, he wouldn't have offered her that number. Too high. Although, that chunk of money would be nice. She could open up another store—heck, several stores.
She broke the eye contact and glanced at the wall next to her. The candid photo of her best friend Megan and Lynne stared back. Before Lynne had come into Megan's life, the woman didn't smile. Scratch that. She smiled, but only in business situations.
Lynne's gaze strayed to the next photo. A family portrait, or at least the closest to a family Lynne would ever get. In order to get a family photo, everyone had to be present. Megan, her husband Aiden, Megan’s mother, Nicole, and Shep, her mother's husband, Aiden's mother, and even Butch were squished together while Lynne took the photo. Her family had entrusted her with the store. No amount of money could ever mean more than these walls.
She glanced back at Nathan while he waited, and since he didn't understand, she smiled, and knew it didn't reach her hazel eyes. And, if he were as smart as she suspected, he would see the glint.
“It's still early in the morning so I'll be polite, Mr. Craine. No, thank you.”
His lips quirked. “Where were you going to tell me to put my offer?”
“Use your imagination.” She did her own version of the Excellent Steeple. “I'd say I enjoyed this conversation, but we both know that would be a lie.”