Authors: Stephanie Haefner
Text copyright ©2016 by the Author.
This work was made possible by a special license through the Kindle Worlds publishing program and has not necessarily been reviewed by Melody Anne. All characters, scenes, events, plots and related elements appearing in the original Melody Anne's Billionaire Universe remain the exclusive copyrighted and/or trademarked property of Melody Anne, or their affiliates or licensors.
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Colin Rutherford IV pulled his 1961 Ferrari 250 California Spider into an empty parking space a few storefronts down from his destination. The only spot open, it would have to do. The jeweler didn’t have valet, and even if it did, he’d never trust such a delicate piece of machinery to a random stranger.
After securing the lock, he stepped forward, eyeing the facades in front of him. Designer shoe store, flower shop, a café, ophthalmologist. Where the hell was the jeweler? He looked up and down the street, then across to the other side.
“Are ya lost?”
He turned toward the voice. With a mess of lavender-colored hair twisted up on top of her head, she wore skin-tight plaid pants and a faded black tee shirt. The flour-dusted apron tied around her told him she worked there. The hot pink logo emblazed across her chest matched the one on the awning above her head.
“No.” He flashed his best smile. “I’m looking for the jeweler.”
“You’re lookin’ at it. Or at least the space where it used to be.” She bent and stretched to wipe off a bistro table. Man, she had a fine ass.
“When did it close? My family has been loyal customers for decades, so this is pretty inconvenient for me. ”
“Not sure when they closed. We’ve been open for five months. Are you having a jewelry emergency? Is there an urgent need for an engagement ring?”
“God, no!” He laughed. “It’s my mother’s birthday.”
“Aww. That’s really sweet.”
She obviously didn’t know Victoria Vandercamp Rutherford. She’ll probably coo over the bauble for a second, then add it to the massive collection in her boudoir, never to be touched again. But he better not show up to the party tonight empty-handed. “Is there another jeweler around here?”
“I’m not sure, but I just baked some lemon cookies with almonds and dried cranberries. Maybe she’d like some of those instead?”
“Doubtful. My mother hasn’t touched a carb since elementary school.”
“Oh…kay. Can I help you with anything else then?”
Colin looked at her and for the first time in the five-minute exchange, noticed the crisp blue of her eyes and how the thin line of black eye makeup made them stand out against her porcelain skin.
. And then he wondered what that hair would look like spread across his white pillowcase.
He shook out of his haze. There’d be time to get a gift later. “Yes. Some coffee.”
She waved him over. “Come on in.”
Following behind, his senses were smacked with the scent of lemon and he salivated. Maybe he’d take one of those cookies with his coffee. Or two.
“Whaddya want in it?”
“Nothing. Just black.”
“Have a seat. I’ll bring it over.”
He did as he was told, absorbing his surroundings. The walls were decorated with various pieces of art, some decent, some hideous. The tables were painted with various colors and patterns, mismatched chairs at every one, and the shelf above the back counter held rows of random mugs. It looked like a damn flea market in there, but he kind of liked it.
“Here you go.” She smiled as she set the mug in front of him, white ceramic with the iconic Las Vegas sign on it.
“Thanks. I’m digging your décor.”
“Yeah? I know I’m not keeping in line with all the upscale businesses and boutiques around here, but I gotta be me, ya know?”
Must be nice to be whomever you wanted. As a Rutherford, it was the only luxury he wasn’t allowed.
“Can I have a couple of those cookies you were talking about?”
“Sure. Be right back.”
He took a sip of the dark liquid. Damn it was good. Reminded him of the brew he drank last month during his business trip to Venice. It’s hard to find coffee that good in the States.
She reappeared with a gold-rimmed plate holding two cookies and set it in front of him. “Let me know what you think. It’s a new recipe.”
She walked away, and after watching the sway of her hips, Colin bit into the cookie. The edges were a little crispy, but the inside warm and soft. Creamy and nutty, with a burst of lemon and zing of cranberry. He finished it in three bites.
That’s a good fucking cookie
. He devoured the second and looked around for her, needing more. Possibly the rest of the batch.
He stood and stepped to the counter, scanning the chalkboard menu above him. A long list of vegan bakery options, and gluten free, too.
“What’s the verdict?” she asked.
“Delicious. Probably the best cookie I’ve ever had.”
She beamed. “Glad to hear it.”
He pointed up at the menu. “So this is a thing? Does anyone actually buy vegan baked goods?” The business side of his brain had taken control of his mouth. “I can’t see there being a huge market for that.”
“I do okay.”
“Are there a lot of people who actually follow that lifestyle? It’s odd, don’t you think?”
Her smile flattened. “You think it’s odd not to eat meat or animal products?”
“A little bit. Humans are omnivores. We’re meant to eat meat.”
“We’re meant to kill innocent animals?” She crossed her arms over her chest, hip cocked. It looked sexy as hell, but he was sure that was not the look she was going for at the moment.
“Don’t get upset. It’s nature. We’re at the top of the food chain. The circle of life.”
“Don’t get all
“What are you talking about? You can calm down now. Don’t bite my head off.”
“No, you’d rather I bite the head off an animal instead. If you had any clue what those poor creatures go through, you’d change your mind. Actually…you probably wouldn’t. You probably enjoy being cruel.”
“Look, I didn’t come in here for an argument.” He threw a twenty on the counter. “Keep the change.”
As he reached the door, her voice carried through the café.
! For the record, that best-cookie-you’ve-ever-eaten is vegan.”
* * *
Jilly Cole had experienced her share of assholes in her lifetime, but this one might have taken the gluten-free cake. Who the hell did he think we was, coming in here with his fancy suit and insulting her business? Her way of life? This guy had his head up his ass and wasn’t remotely in tune with the 21
She took the rest of the Lemon Dream cookies off the pan, arranged them on a platter, and set them in the display case.
and come back for more of these awesome cookies, Mr. Omnivore, and see what happens.
Why did this jerk in particular bother her so much? It’s not like he was the first to make rude comments about her lifestyle and choice of menu offerings. Most people in her life didn’t really understand it. But this guy…
Why were all the hot ones assholes? Maybe that was the problem. She’d kinda sorta started to like him before she found out he was a jerk.
The door chime sounded and her next-door neighbor trudged in. “Hey, Sandra. The usual?”
“Yes, plus an espresso on the side.”
“Three weddings this weekend. I was at the shop til 2 a.m. this morning.”
“Yikes. You’ll need some sugar, too. Take one of my new creations, on the house.” Jilly placed a Lemon Dream cookie in a paper bag and handed it over.
“Thanks, honey. How are things here? Doing any better?”
She sighed as she filled a to-go cup with her signature brew and a shot of amaretto flavoring. “Not really. But I’m still waiting to hear back from two restaurants as to whether or not they’ll serve my vegan and gluten-free desserts. They both seemed really interested.”
“I guess. I’m just in a pissy mood. I had to deal with a narrow-minded jerk this morning.”
“Don’t let those people get to you. Do what you do best and the right people will find you.”
“I hope so.”
Sandra started to turn, but faced Jilly again. “Is that all, or is there something else?”
Should she even say the words out loud? “I guess I’m just disappointed. He seemed…different. I see my share of stuffy suits in here, and he certainly looked the part, but he was different at first.”
“And you liked him?”
“It’s silly, but yeah. Kinda. I thought there might have been a spark.”
“I didn’t take you for the kind who’s attracted to the suit type.”
“I’m so not.” Jilly pictured her last three boyfriends, all hipster types, but none of them had worked out either. “Maybe it’s time for a change, but not to someone who completely disrespects my beliefs.”
“Absolutely. What do I owe you?”
“Nothing. The talk was a lifesaver this morning.”
“Jilly…” Sandra slapped a ten-dollar bill on the counter and pulled out her mom voice. “You need to stop giving away stuff for free.”
Sandra took her coffee, espresso, and cookie. “Forget about that jerk.”
Done. Jilly vowed not to waste another second thinking about Mr. Omnivore.
* * *
Colin lay in bed, wide-awake at 3 a.m. Not uncommon for him—insomnia was a frequent bedmate. Tonight he couldn’t stop thinking about those damn cookies. And the woman who created them.
She intrigued him. The hair, the eyes. The way her lips curled when she was pissed off. She had a fire inside her, so different from the women in his social circle. Each boring Stepford Wife was a carbon copy of the rest, and he’d had plenty of opportunities to snag his own. He’d rather be single. He’d rather have a woman like…what was her name?
He grabbed his cellphone and scrolled through emails from lawyers, CEO’s, and shareholders from various Rutherford corporations. A bunch of shit he didn’t particularly care about at the moment. Someday he’d run the Rutherford empire, but for now he was satisfied with his piece of the pie. The piece he’d created all by himself. At twenty-one when his trust fund had matured, he took every last dime and invested it in a vintage car restoration company. He’d been obsessed with old cars ever since he was a kid. He traveled the world in search of rare gems that needed a little TLC, and hired the best in the industry. The refurbished vehicles brought in a killing at auction.
His father was livid, but it only took three years for him to eat his words. Ragtop Restorations quickly became one of the biggest car restoration companies in the country, with clients seeking them out from thousands of miles away, ready to pay top dollar for his team’s expertise. They could hardly keep up with the demand. Colin could comfortably live the rest of his life without touching a dime of the Rutherford billions, but what fun would that be?
Colin set the phone down and closed his eyes, but there she was again. He liked her. She had sweetness and charm, but could flip the switch to attitude and fire in half a second. If she could bake that well with vegan ingredients, he could only imagine what she could do with real ones. Combine all that with those gorgeous eyes and she was one amazing woman.
He needed her. And he needed more of those damn cookies.
Saturday morning, Jilly headed to the café. Not as early as during the week, but early enough. In her opinion, there was no reason anyone needed breakfast before 8 a.m. on a weekend. As she rounded the corner onto Market Street, she saw someone leaning against her building. And the closer she got, the more she realized who it was.
“Now, is that any way to treat a customer?”
She pushed her key into the lock. “It’s how I treat jerky customers who insult my business and way of life.”
“That’s not what I did.”
“You’re joking, right?” She stepped though the doorway, letting the door slam in his face, and flipped the light switch.
The bell tinkled above the door. “You misunderstood what I said. I’m a businessman. A very successful one. I was simply trying to determine whether or not a niche business like this really has the potential to become successful.”
“I don’t give a rat’s ass what you
about my business. It’s mine. I’ll do what I feel is best. And right now, the best thing for it—and my sanity—is for you to leave.” She left him standing there and headed for the kitchen to suck in a few deep breaths and calm her erratic heartbeat.
This man infuriated her. And also got her blood pumping in ways she refused to accept. Why did he have to look even hotter in jeans and a button-down? Dark hair, expertly trimmed and styled to perfection. Deep dark eyes, that tiny bit of stubble that looked sexy as hell. Even a freaking dimple!
But she’d been rude to him and walked away. He had to get the hint, right?
Nope. When she returned to the café, he had made himself comfy on a chair with one of the copies of the paper she had delivered daily.
“Good. You’re back,” he said without looking up. “I’ll take a coffee and a few of those lemon cookies when you get a chance.”
“Oh no you won’t.” She stomped over and snatched the paper from his hands. “You’re not welcome here.”
“Money is welcome everywhere.” He flashed his annoying grin again, but this time the dimple did nothing.
“I don’t want your money. I want you to leave.”
The door chime tinkled.
A witness. Now she couldn’t kick Mr. Omnivore out on his ass.
“Morning, Jilly.” It was Dr. Schweitzer from the ophthalmologist’s office.
She unclenched her fist and set the crumpled paper on the table, flashing her brightest faux smile. “Good morning. What can I do for you?”
“I need a vanilla soy latte, a half dozen muffins, and a dozen cookies. Mix ’em up for me.”
“Comin’ right up.”
The doctor browsed some of the art pieces she displayed on consignment for local artists, like he often did, and she got to work on his order. She set a bakery box on the front counter and began adding baked goods to it.
“Jilly…. That’s an interesting name.” The omnivore stepped to the counter. “Is it short for something?”
She avoided his eyes and grit her teeth as she replied. “Jillian.”
“I like it. It suits you.”
“I don’t care what you like,” she said, her voice low, hoping the doctor didn’t hear.
“My name’s Colin Rutherford the fourth, in case you were wondering.”
She grabbed three Lemon Dream cookies and set them in the box. “I wasn’t, but it sounds pretentious.” She met his gaze. “It suits you perfectly.”
That damn smile again. “I’ll take these,” he said as he reached into the box and took the Lemon Dreams.
Her jaw dropped. “What the hell are you doing?”
“I get the feeling you weren’t going to bring me any, so I might as well take the opportunity that’s presented to me.” He grabbed a napkin and stepped away from the counter. “Finish up with his order. I can pour the coffee myself.”
“You most certainly will not!”
Dr. Schweitzer turned toward her. She smiled at him then turned back to Mr. Omnivore. “Do not go behind this counter. I’ll bring you your damn coffee.”
Yep. Real fucking great.
Jilly rang up the doctor’s purchase and he left. Dread crept into her spine. She was alone with the asshole again, and there was no one there to make her control herself and her emotions.
She set the steaming cup of coffee on his table, not a single word, and headed back to the counter. She was almost to the safety of the kitchen when she heard his voice.
“Can I try a muffin?”
She rolled her eyes so hard it hurt, then spun around to face him. “Sure. What kind?”
“Let’s go traditional with the blueberry.”
She plated it and set it on his table. “Anything else?”
“Not now.” He flashed his pearly whites.
Jilly continued with her day, trying as hard as she could to ignore him. The morning stayed relatively busy with customers stopping in for breakfast pastries and caffeine concoctions. Mr. Omnivore—Colin—stayed put the entire time and sampled close to a dozen different things out of her display case: muffins, scones, turnovers. Even a gluten-free bagel with vegan cream cheese.
A lull hit so she stopped by his table to refill his cup. “You’re paying for all those, you know. I don’t care that you only took a few bites of each.”
“I completely intended to. They sounded good, so I tried them all.”
He shrugged. “Some were good. Some were rather disgusting.”
Another open-jaw moment. “What do you mean?” No one had ever said that about her baking before.
“I’m sure your vegan, gluten-free, and taste-free friends love them. They obviously don’t mind food that tastes like cardboard. But some of this stuff just doesn’t compare with the real thing.”
. Jilly needed to stay calm and remember this asshole’s opinion meant zero to her. “Then go somewhere else and get real stuff and stop bothering me.”
“I could, but no one has these.” He held up a Lemon Dream cookie. “And these are phenomenal.”
She hated to admit it, but she liked hearing that. Even from an asshole. She wouldn’t tell him that though. Instead she dug into her apron pocket for her order pad and ripped off the top sheet, with its long list of pastries, and set it on his table.
She turned to leave, but his voice cut through the silence again.
“I’ll need you to add the rest of the lemon cookies in the case to my bill and box them up. And I’d like to place an order for tomorrow.”
“For what?” she asked as she turned back?
“More cookies, of course.” That damn smile again, teeth so bright they probably glowed in the dark.
This guy was seriously testing her patience, but could she really afford to turn down a custom order? Not when invoices were starting to go unpaid.
“Fine. But I gotta warn you. There’s a three dozen minimum on custom cookie orders.”
“I want five dozen. And I’d like to make it a standing order. Every Sunday morning.”
Jilly crossed her arms over her chest. “Are you serious?”
“I never joke about cookies. What can I say? I have a sweet tooth.”
The money would be nice. Specialty cookies went for four bucks each, forty for the dozen. An extra $200 a week would definitely help her financial situation.
“Then I guess your sweet tooth is going to bring in a ton of cash for me.”
But could she handle seeing him every single Sunday for the next who-knows-how-many weeks? The cockiness? The entitlement? The hotness?
She was about to find out.
* * *
Colin had only planned to take home the rest of the cookies in the case, not the order for five dozen every week. It was a spur-of-the moment decision. He wasn’t sure what he’d do with sixty cookies each week, but he just had to have them. An excuse to come back to the café, maybe? He’d never in his life needed an excuse to approach a woman. If he wanted to talk to someone, he did it. He was far from shy.
But Jilly was different. A challenge. And he liked it.
He stood and fished through his wallet for a hundred dollar bill and handed it to her. “Keep the change.”
“That’s like a thirty-five dollar tip.” She stepped behind the counter and pulled a twenty out of the register. “Here.”
“I’m not taking that. You waited on me all morning. You deserve it.”
“You’re right. You’re annoying as hell.” She stuffed it into her apron pocket. At least she’d smiled while she insulted him.
“Have dinner with me tonight.” It came out of his mouth before he could give it serious consideration.
“What? Are you high?”
Just on you.
“I think we’d have fun.”
“Uh…no. I don’t even know you.”
“Sure you do. I’m Colin Rutherford the fourth. Surely you’ve heard my family’s name before. We own half the city and corporations all around the world.”
He watched her eyes bug out slightly. “Oh.”
“But don’t be intimidated. I’m a nice normal guy.”
And now the bugged-out eyes were rolling in their sockets. “You’re ridiculous, you know that?”
She tried to hide her smile, but was unsuccessful. And damn did that turn him on. She liked him. She just wouldn’t admit it.
* * *
Ho. Ly. Shit. He was one of
Rutherfords? The thought hadn’t even occurred to her. But it sure explained a lot. And she sure as hell wasn’t going out on a date with him. Not now. Not ever. Regardless of how cute he was. Er…how cute
thought he was. Assholes could be cute. That’s how they sucked women in. But Jilly was smart. She wouldn’t let him suck her in.
He finally left and afternoon business came in spurts. She mixed her cookie dough in between making fancy coffees and plating or bagging desserts. By closing time at three, she was tired, but had to get five dozen cookies in the oven.
An hour later, her text alert sounded on her cellphone. Jilly’s BFF and roommate, Charlene.
Where r u?
At the cafe. Custom order. Gotta get it done before I leave.
We have plans with Eddie and Josh tonite, remember?
Ugh. The sucky part of having a best friend who’s in a long-term relationship was that she was constantly trying to find a long-term relationship for Jilly, too. They’d already tried hooking her up with three of Eddie’s friends. Maybe the fourth one’s the charm?
The last thing Jilly wanted to do was get dressed up and go to dinner with another random guy who’d probably think she was weird for being vegan, wouldn’t understand her busy work schedule, and would probably ask why she had lavender-colored hair. Same questions, different douche. She should be used to it by now.
I remember. Do I have to? Im really tired.
YES! Eddie told him all about u and he’s totally excited to meet u.
If this one says one word about what I order for dinner, Im walking out.
Jilly got back to work on her cookies. Colin’s cookies. She boxed up the ones that were cool enough then moved the last batch to cooling racks. She had about twenty-five minutes before she could add those to the box as well.
Leaned against the metal counter, Jilly pulled out her phone and typed Colin Rutherford IV into her browser. Yikes. There were a lot of articles that mentioned his name. Business pages, newspapers, a few car websites. And of course, society pages, with a different girl on his arm in every photo. So, he was one of
kinds of rich boys? She wasn’t surprised.
The nerve of him to ask her out. To think she was like those high-society girls who got off on designer clothes and million-dollar houses. Whose only achievement in life was to look pretty on the arm of a rich husband. If that’s the kind of girl he thought she was—or thought he could mold her into—he was sorely mistaken.
Men like him were useless. A waste of space. They took advantage of the women in their lives then tossed them aside when they weren’t pretty enough or young enough anymore. She should know. She’d experienced it first-hand. Her mother would still be alive if she hadn’t gotten tangled up with one.
Cookies and coffee was as far as her relationship with Colin Rutherford IV would go. It would be an insult to her mother’s memory if she let it go any further than that.