“Don’t worry. You’ll get used to it,” he joked. He glanced at his watch. “I need to go. Make yourself at home. The staff will be happy to prepare anything you want to eat. Here is the key to a new Lexus. I think you’ll find it reliable,” he said and lifted her hand to press the key into her palm.

“I told you I don’t want a new car,” she said.


Her resistance amused him. Most women he’d dated would have been thrilled to receive a new car. In fact, a few had hinted that a luxury vehicle would be the perfect gift for any occasion. The only thing better, of course, would have been an engagement ring, and that would never have happened. “I’ve leased it for you. Since yours is in the shop, you need something to drive. Oh, and I’d like for you to move in.”

He turned and walked toward the door.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she said as his hand touched the doorknob.

Surprised by her response, he turned around. “Why not?”

“Because then people might find out that we’re involved. I don’t want to have to explain our arrangement.”

He felt a crackle of impatience. “I make it a policy to never explain myself.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not you. Aunt Charlotte will expect an explanation from me. I never know when she’ll start with her mother hen routine, even now.”

Irritation nicked at him. “We’ll see,” he said, turning around to look at her. “In the meantime, bring some of your clothes and belongings here for convenience sake.”

“Do you order everyone around like this?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest.

“I’m decisive. I see a logical course of action and take it,” he said.

“Part of your charm?” she said, a gently mocking smile playing on her lips. “What’s logical about your arrangement with me?”

“I want you, and you might not want to admit it, but you want me, too. I just figured out a way to make it happen,” he said, still uncomfortable with the intensity of his desire for her and the way she affected him. He had broken some of his rules to get her out of his system. He knew his response to her wouldn’t last. Nothing was forever.



Since Bella was scheduled off from the restaurant, she went to her aunt’s house to begin getting ready for the grand reopening. Michael had mapped out an action plan with a target date just weeks away. Inventory needed to be ordered immediately and Charlotte would want to hire staff. Bella also needed to organize customer records so they could send out a mailing. Michael had suggested several customer incentives.His ability to detach himself emotionally bothered her. Sure, he possessed enormous insight and experience and knew how to make things happen, but she wondered how someone who seemed so cold one moment could be so hot the next.

Her skin grew warm at the memory of how passionate he’d been, how passionate she’d been. She knew his difficult childhood had made him determined not to be vulnerable, but Bella didn’t believe such a thing was possible.

Pushing aside her thoughts, she dug into her tasks. Hours later, she heard the sound of the side door opening.

Charlotte looked at Bella in surprise. “It’s you. I wondered whose car that was. A Lexus? Did you win the lottery?”

Bella’s cheeks heated. One more reason she should have refused the use of the car. “Lucky break,” she said. “My Volkswagen broke down last night. The car I’m using is a rental.”

“Lucky break, indeed,” Charlotte said. “Enjoy it while you can. What are you working on?”

“I was going to do an inventory order list, but I thought I should check with you first,” Bella said.

“Good thinking,” Charlotte said. “I made one last night.”

Concern rushed through her. She searched Charlotte’s face for signs of weariness, but all she saw was a glow of anticipation. “You’re still working your other job. I’m afraid you’re doing too much.”

Charlotte smiled. “I’m too excited to sit still. I thought I’d lost my chance. I can’t wait to get everything ready to go.”

Bella laughed and shook her head. “Force yourself to sit still every now and then, starting now.” She led her aunt to a chair and urged her to take a seat. “Let me get you some water.”

“But I don’t need—”

“Yes you do,” Bella insisted. “Don’t try to do everything at once. I’m here to help you. Remember? Speaking of which, I’ve been working on a customer mailing list.”“Perfect,” she said. “And I called a few of my former employees to ask if they could give me some quality employee recommendations and two of them said they wanted to come back to work for me.”

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